Daily Archives: 19 Sep 2015

McCain Was Just as Cynical as Trump Is Now

John McCainI have a bone to pick with Brian Beutler. He wrote, Trump Is Far from the Only Republican to Let Supporters Spout Crazy. It’s in reference to a Trump event last Thursday where an audience member said, “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims.” He went on to say that the president was one and that there were “training camps” where “they” want to kill us. Trump didn’t counter him, and instead talked in general terms. Beutler is right that this is a general problem with politics — most especially with Republicans.

The problem I had was that he contrasted it with McCain’s famous moment in the 2008 campaign when he too was confronted with a crazy person saying that then Senator Obama was an Arab. McCain countered her, “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about.” Beutler noted, “The only reason anyone remembers the altercation is because we expect Republican politicians to behave the way Trump did.” That’s true. But if the same interaction had taken place on 17 September 2007, McCain would not have answered that way.

And so you have to wonder: what is that constant cynicism from the media good for?

That townhall was from 10 October 2008 — less than one month before the election. By that time, it was clear that McCain was going to lose the election. The issue at that point was not winning — it was saving his reputation. He ran a terrible campaign. He was a demagogue. He brought us Sarah Palin. I know that McCain was looking for just such an opportunity. And I’ve long figured that it was largely orchestrated by the campaign. People don’t just happen to find themselves in front of the mic at that point in the general election.

Of course, Beutler is not alone in this. CNN is using the same example. So is ABC News. Even CBC is reporting it that way, Donald Trump, Unlike McCain, Doesn’t Reject Statement From Obama Birther. And I suppose, as a way to blast Trump, this is a good thing. But the two things are totally different. Trump is horrible. He just isn’t much different from John McCain.

Donald TrumpWhat really bugs me is that pretty much every reporter who is willing to lay praise on McCain for that successful bit of political theater is also deeply cynical about politics in a general sense. And so you have to wonder: what is that constant cynicism from the media good for? It clearly doesn’t stop them from totally falling for the most cynical political theater of the 2008 presidential campaign. All that cynicism does is poison the nation into its own dangerous casual cynicism.

But Beutler did make a comparison that is particularly good. When Trump was talking nonsense about vaccines at the Republican debate, neither of the medical doctors on stage were willing to correct him. In fact, the meek and mild PolitiFact rated Carson’s apologia for Trump pants on fire. But this is a point that no one made at CNN or ABC News or even CBC. So as usual, Brian Beutler is an insightful commentator, even if he is wrong to give John McCain any credit for his cynical ploy.

Reaping the Seeds of Islamophobia

Glenn GreenwaldWhat happened in Irving, Texas, yesterday to a 14-year-old Muslim high school freshman is far from the worst instance [of systemic Islamophobia], but it is highly illustrative of the rotted fruit of this sustained climate of cultivated fear and demonization…

The behavior here is nothing short of demented. And it’s easy to mock, which in turn has the effect of belittling it and casting it as some sort of bizarre aberration. But it’s not that. It’s the opposite of aberrational. It’s the natural, inevitable byproduct of the culture of fear and demonization that has festered and been continuously inflamed for many years. The circumstances that led to this are systemic and cultural, not aberrational…

But perhaps the worst of all harms is how endless war degrades the culture and populace of the country that perpetrates it. You can’t have a government that has spent decades waging various forms of war against predominantly Muslim countries — bombing seven of them in the last six years alone — and then act surprised when a Muslim 14-year-old triggers vindictive fear and persecution because he makes a clock for school. That’s no more surprising than watching carrots sprout after you plant carrot seeds in fertile ground and then carefully water them. It’s natural and inevitable, not surprising or at all difficult to understand.

—Glenn Greenwald
Arrest of 14-Year-Old Student for Making a Clock: the Fruits of Sustained Fearmongering and Anti-Muslim Animus

Congratulations Elizabeth II, I Guess

Queen Elizabeth IILast week, a great event took place, Queen Elizabeth II Becomes Longest-Reigning UK Monarch. I’m kidding, of course. The royal family is precisely as important to the UK as Mickey Mouse is to the US — and in exactly the same way. But I do find it interesting. The queen has certainly lived a long time. Next April, she’ll turn 90. And her mom made it to 101, so who knows how long this is going to go on. The things is, it doesn’t matter how old she gets. Any actual duties of the office have largely been passed onto the younger generations. And my, doesn’t Catherine look lovely in whatever she’s wearing.

Apparently, I am not the only one who thinks this. I had always thought that John Oliver was rather a fan of the royal family, but apparently that was just a character he was playing on The Daily Show. Last weekend, on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, he was commenting on a comparison that a broadcaster made between the queen and a new train, “You cannot compare Queen Elizabeth to a train. For one thing, people need trains. Trains still serve a practical purpose in the modern era. You’re being mean to trains.” Which is nothing against her. It’s just fate: she was born to be useless.

The previous reigning champ of reigning was Queen Victoria — who only lived to be 81 years old. Better water, better medicine. But how exactly we got from Victoria to Elizabeth — just 50 years later is kind of a mess. That’s one of the most interesting things about the British royal families, it is not simple. Growing up, I always thought it was father to son to son to son. Of course, the more traditional — and appropriate — way for people to become king is just to kill the current one. But it hasn’t been like that for a long time.

In the following CGP Grey video, he goes through the royal family from 1066. They had been at it before that. And it even took another century for them to decide on some rules about who reigns when the current king or queen dies. Or more like 500 years before anyone got really serious about it. And even still, as I’ve indicated, it is a mess. The only reason I know any of this at all is because I’ve read Shakespeare and Marlowe and I’ve gone out of my way to put it into some kind of perspective — even if Shakespeare is a terrible guy to go to for history. This is a great video though:

So what have we learned? People still respect the royal family out of a ridiculous notion of divine right. Yet as we saw in CGP Grey’s video, there is nothing very divine about it. The best you can hope for are long periods of queens like Victoria and Elizabeth where nothing really happens so that people can continue to live the fantasy that royalty are something important — other than being tourist attractions. They really should just open up Disney UK.

Shocking: Fact Check Fail on Carly Fiorina

Carly FiorinaThis is why we can’t have nice things: our media and its heroic efforts to make the most extreme claims by conservatives sound reasonable. At Wednesday night’s debate, Carly Fiorina claimed that the recent undercover “sting” videos of Planned Parenthood showed “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” That is false. But don’t tell that to the fact checkers! They exist for one thing only: to make sure that conservatives and liberals tell exactly the same number of “lies.”

Irin Carmon at MSNBC got to the bottom of the issue. In the video, there is “stock footage of a fetus outside the womb.” There is a video of a fetus outside the womb on a table with its legs moving slightly. There is just one problem: it is not from the sting operation or Planned Parenthood regardless. According to the group who made the video, it is from an abortion. But as Think Progress reported last month, Anti-Planned Parenthood Group Caught Passing Stillbirth Photo Off As Abortion. So who knows?

What about the person saying that they have to keep the fetus alive to harvest its brain? Well, that’s nowhere. There is an interview with a woman who says this happened. So I guess I would conclude that Fiorina is totally wrong, but not a liar. Let’s go through the main points:

  1. The video is not from the Planned Parenthood sting.
  2. There is a video of a fetus outside the womb, but we don’t know it is from an abortion.
  3. There is no footage of anyone talking about keeping a fetus alive so it can be harvested.

So on all issues, Fiorina was wrong. Thus it only makes sense that CNN’s crack team of fact checkers would decide that the claim was, “True, But Misleading.” But okay, people can be wrong. What is so annoying is that they don’t go by their own reasoning. This is how Tom Foreman at CNN put it:

Is there really something on these videotapes that looks like that? Yeah, there is actually a short portion in one of the videotapes that does show a fetus, looks kinda like that’s what’s going on… but, but it’s edited in, there is no proof nor any way to ascertain that this had anything to do with Planned Parenthood when it came to that piece of videotape.

In other words: it’s false, but I’m gonna say it’s true. Similarly, PolitiFact concluded:

One of the Center for Medical Progress’ videos attacking Planned Parenthood shows an interview with a woman identified as a former tissue procurement technician, who tells about an experience in a Planned Parenthood pathology lab where she sees a fetus outside the womb with its heart still beating. According to the woman, her supervisor said they would procure the fetus’ brain. The video’s creators added footage of an aborted [They don’t know this. -FM] fetus on what appears to be an examination table, and its legs are moving. But Fiorina makes it sound as if the footage shows what Planned Parenthood is alleged to have done. In fact, the stock footage was added to the video to dramatize its content.

Their rating: mostly false.

It’s so aggravating! I have no doubt whatsoever that if a liberal had said something like this, PolitiFact’s rating would have be false, if not “pants on fire.” Now it seems that other fact checkers are doing a better job. But given that the debate was on CNN, the CNN “fact check” is likely to get the most coverage. And second will be PolitiFact.

The whole idea of “fact checkers” is absurd. Reporters should be checking facts all the time. But at least for all of my lifetime, reporters are more interested in just “reporting” what this person said and what that person said. Actually finding out the facts would show “bias.” But it is better to have such fools and no one claiming to check facts if the results are going to be outrageous contradictions like we saw from CNN and PolitiFact.

Morning Music: A Skin Too Few

A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick DrakeMy normal routine would be to take this last day of the week to present a whole set of the featured artist. But with Nick Drake there is no such thing. In fact, there is apparently no video of Nick Drake ever — even of him not performing. So I figured that we would instead watch a 45-minute long documentary from 2000, A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake. It is mostly interviews with people who knew him and worked with him. It sounds like a bit of a snore, but it’s riveting.

The film is helped along by Gabrielle Drake, Nick’s sister. She is also quite a successful actor and is no doubt partly responsible for his music’s increasing audience over the years. Both of the Drake parents wrote and performed music. And there is a moment quite early on, when Gabrielle plays a cassette tape of her mother performing one of her songs. And as Gabrielle mentions, the style is quite similar to Nick’s.

So give it a watch. It’s quite interesting and provides some context for the music:

Anniversary Post: Washington’s Farewell Address

George WashingtonOn this day in 1796, what became known as George Washington’s Farewell Address was first published. It was originally written in 1792, when he was hoping to slip out of office. People often point to his voluntarily stepping down after two terms as being indicative of his greatness. But he never wanted to be president in the first place. People are highly anachronistic about the presidency. President Obama may well be the most powerful man on earth, but George Washington sure wasn’t. Indeed, the Address was originally titled, “The Address of General Washington to the People of the United States on His Declining of the Presidency of the United States.” Being a general was a bigger deal than being president.

The document itself is interesting, because it includes most of the things that conservatives once stood for: federalism, religion, balanced budgets, free trade, and the avoidance of foreign conflicts. That doesn’t much sum up the modern Republican Party, does it? The two big ones that they’ve turned their backs on — federalism and foreign conflicts — were both abandoned for political expediency. Federalism had to go so Republicans could court the bigots in the south. And Foreign conflicts became a great way to keep the nation terrified and electing Republicans. Of course, Republicans are also frauds about the other things. Religion is just a license to hate. Balanced budgets are something that matter when Democrats are in power. And “free trade” is the term they use to skew the economy against workers and toward the rich (for example, free trade for factory workers and protectionism for neurosurgeons).

It really would be wonderful if the United States had a conservative party. There is one — buried inside the Democratic Party. The Republican Party is basically a fascist group — as Steve M called them, a failed state. Whether the American people will ever realize that is open to debate. And I’m not sure a majority of Americans deserve any better.


See also: Thomas Paine’s Letter to George Washington.