Please stop ignoring the real bigotry of Ben Carson’s comments

With the full-court right wing press on to rehabilitate Ben Carson’s statement that a Muslim shouldn’t be elected president, it’s worth noting that a lot of people (particularly in the media) seem to be so wrapped up in the “president” part of Carson’s comments that they’re missing what’s really offensive about what he said.

It’s very easy for Carson to walk back his comments about whether or not a Muslim should be president, because he can just say, as he already has (with an assist from Fox News), that “hey, I’m just saying I personally wouldn’t vote for a Muslim, I’m not saying they shouldn’t be allowed to run.” Perfectly reasonable, right? He’s even been able to walk that back a little, saying yesterday that he could support a Muslim candidate who would “embrace our Constitution and [be] willing to place that above their religious beliefs.” By that, he appears to be insisting that any Muslim candidate for president would have to effectively repudiate Islam, which probably isn’t something he’d ask a Christian candidate to do, but I digress.

The really awful part of what Carson said is back in the original exchange he had with Meet the Press host Chuck Todd on Sunday (which went unchallenged, by the way, and thanks for that, Chuck!):

Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson said he would not support a Muslim as President of the United States.

Responding to a question on “Meet the Press,” the retired neurosurgeon said, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

He also said that Islam, as a religion, is incompatible with the Constitution.

Carson, who is near the top of several early presidential polls, said a president’s faith should matter depending on what that faith is. “If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter,” he clarified.

The implication of that exchange isn’t just that Muslims are unfit to run for office, it’s that they’re really unfit to be Americans, period. Islam is “inconsistent with the values and principles of America,” and “incompatible with the Constitution,” according to Ben Carson, who apparently holds PhDs in political theory and religious studies in addition to the MD that he supposedly has (consider me a skeptic on that one). These are not statements about whether a Muslim should be allowed to run for office, they’re far deeper (and far more bigoted) than that. This is the kind of talk that, if it gets mainstreamed and enacted into policy, ends up with people being herded into camps, or worse.

"At least I'm not saying that Muslims aren't human. I mean, I'm not saying that yet, anyway."

“At least I’m not saying that Muslims aren’t human. I mean, I’m not saying that yet, anyway.”

I understand that Carson’s rejection of the very idea that a practicing Muslim can also be a good American is helping him rake in the campaign contributions, and small wonder when he’s running for the nomination of a party in which a big chunk of core voters think Islam should be against the law. But what the guy said on MTP is just grotesque, and yet most of the public conversation about it is missing the real point.

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The Sunday shows’ fascination with John McCain

For anybody who’s been paying attention, it didn’t exactly take the smart folks at The Upshot (The New York Times‘ data blog) to reveal that John McCain has been the most frequently booked Sunday talk show guest since Barack Obama took office, or that number 2 (no, I don’t mean it that way) on the list is McCain’s affable assistant, Lindsey Graham. But OK, they did it anyway. Turns out McCain has been on your Sunday morning teevee a grand total of 97 times since 2009, out of (my unofficial count) 297 Sundays over that period of time (Graham comes in at 85, and for the Both Sides Brigade, 3 and 4 are Democrats David Axelrod and Dick Durbin). This means that, on nearly one out of every three weeks over the past 5 and a half years, you could turn on some Sunday talk show and see John McCain there complaining about how we’re not bombing enough people around the world. This is more than any other political figure over that period of time, and really, when you consider the potential breadth of topics these shows could be covering and the nearly infinite variety of guests they could be booking, is pretty astonishing.

Over at Daily Kos, Hunter tries to make sense of McCain’s popularity:

I’ll be honest, I find the media fixation with exploring the thoughts of John McCain baffling. I realize this is the part of the bit where I am supposed to come up with some wisdom as to why his thoughts on foreign policy are so dominant despite their own track record, or at least a few conjectures, but I’ve always been stumped by it. It is true that he (1) is a still-living human being who can talk and (2) seems to be always willing to oblige, but that still does not explain the apparent fetish for booking him. Yes, he is one of the Republicans in a position of theoretical foreign-policy authority, but does it not matter that he is demonstrably not good at it?

No, it doesn’t. At the risk of being glib, I’m pretty sure you can boil McCain’s popularity with Sunday show bookers down to a handful of key points: Continue reading

The Lindsey Graham foreign policy playbook, at LobeLog

In case you missed it, and chances are you did, Sunday’s “Meet the Press” finally established once and for all that Senator Lindsey Graham (What? Lindsey Graham on a Sunday morning TV show? How unusual!) is perhaps the keenest foreign policy mind this country has ever produced:

However, when Senator Graham shared his critical thoughts about Obama’s foreign policy record July 20 on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he let his guard down a little, and we got a glimpse of what a Lindsey Graham foreign policy agenda might look like:

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, Senator, there’s a lot to unpack there, specifically with regards to Russia. This crisis over the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight. What did Secretary Kerry not say? What is the administration not yet prepared to do that you think must be done?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

One, he didn’t call Putin the thug that he is.

Intrigued by Graham’s aggressive use of Mean Names to make fun of world leaders he doesn’t like so that they will Do Diplomacy with him, I tried to find out more. I was able to get a look at part of Graham’s foreign policy strategy, which I’ve shared at LobeLog. I don’t want to reveal any more than that here, because it’s really devastating stuff, but there was one plank that I was forced to leave out of the LobeLog piece because it’s frankly too risque — apparently, a President Graham (we can dream!) would always refer to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as “President Farty Butt.”

“Boko Haram leader AbuBakar Shekau? In a Graham administration, he’s ‘Heywood Jablome,’ and that’s from Day One, David.”

I’m telling you, this material is incredibly potent. Could shake up the entire world order, to be honest.

Random wonderments while I was away

Hey out there. Since I was gone for a week I thought the best thing to do a thing that I could try on my first post back would be to collect a few random things I missed while I was away. Since there’s nobody here to stop me, here goes:

  • In a move that’s sure to fix nothing and benefit nobody, the people who are doing a crappy job of governing Gaza and the people who are doing a crappy job of governing the West Bank are talking about developing new synergies between their crappy brands. Before you say anything, I absolutely understand that Israel does its level best to make sure that neither Hamas nor Fatah has any prayer of governing in a non-crappy way, but even under those conditions the Palestinian people are unfortunately stuck with some lousy “leaders.”
  • Speaking of lousy leaders, BREAKING: Cardinal Timothy Dolan is a lousy leader AND a lousy human being. I should just put this one on a weekly repeat blast.
"...so I said, 'Hey, ladies, if your endometriosis is bothering you, just head down to the 7/11 and pick up a box of condoms, OK? What do I look like, Dr. Oz?' HAHAHAHAHA"

“…so I said, ‘Hey, ladies, if your endometriosis is bothering you, just head down to the 7/11 and pick up a box of condoms, OK? What do I look like, Dr. Oz?’ HAHAHAHAHA”

On his way to liberate Ukraine from the Ukrainians ASAP

On his way to liberate Ukraine from the Ukrainians ASAP

  • David Gregory has proven so incapable of filling the shoes of the transcendentally mediocre (or downright awful, take your pick) Tim Russert that NBC hired a psychological consultant (probably; they deny it but that’s just what they would do if they had hired one, isn’t it? Wheels within wheels people) to interview people who know him to try to figure out how come nobody wants to watch him on their teevee. Hey, NBC? If you changed your weekly roundtable format so that each week’s pundits were, say, catapulted into the Potomac River instead of being allowed to talk, I think lots of people would watch that. Put Gregory himself in the catapult during sweeps. Just some friendly advice.
  • Holy crap:
  • Iranian Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi claims that Iran is prepared to modify the design of its Arak heavy-water reactor so that it produces a fifth of the plutonium it would have produced under its current design, and that the P5+1 accepted their plan. No joke here; Arak is one of the two or three biggest sticking points in any comprehensive deal, so if this is true (and it should be taken with many grains of salt until it’s in writing alongside the rest of the deal) then that’s a big step forward in the talks.
  • Most of Nepal’s Sherpas have decided to walk off the job for the rest of the climbing season out of respect for 16 Sherpas who were killed in an avalanche last week. Also no joke here, and good for them. Sherpas regularly put their lives on the line for next to nothing, doing most of the actual work while the rich Westerners they lead up the mountain get to pretend that they climbed Mt. Everest all by themselves, and the big expedition companies who exploit their labor rake in millions of dollars each year.
  • That Shining Beacon of Freedom known as Egypt is still trying three Al Jazeera reporters for the crime of reporting the news, and today the judge threw all media out of the courtroom because one of the prosecution’s key pieces of evidence turned out to be a dud and apparently they’d prefer it if nobody knew about inconvenient details like that. When it comes to freedom of the press, folks like John Milton and Thomas Jefferson had nothing on Egypt’s military technocracy Freely Free Freedom Association for Free Freedom®.
"I love freedom, and press, all of that stuff. See? I let them take photos of me on my bicycle for free! Only 2 years in prison for that."

“I love freedom, and press, all of that stuff. See? I let them take photos of me on my bicycle for free! HAHA, I kid, I kid. Actually 2 years in prison for each photo.”

Be careful out there (kind of)

Marcy Wheeler has some questions about the recent terror threat alert:

There’s a part of me that thinks this might be credible and serious.

After all, between Iraq, Pakistan, and Libya, up to 1,750 men have just escaped prison, and extremists claim responsibility for the first two prison breaks. That’s a lot of men running around who might make mischief (though you’d think it would take a bit of time to organize after the breaks).

That said, there are aspects of this that remind me of the politicized alert surrounding the April 2012 thwarting of our own plot in Yemen (which was rolled out in May 2012, well after any threat had subsided). There’s John Pistole’s ostentatious boosting of AQAP bomb-maker Ibrahim al-Asiri as “our greatest threat.”

The use of a new explosive has been previously reported, but Pistole continued with less familiar details about Underwear 2 that reflect the growing sophistication of Asiri’s sinister craftsmanship. He said the device included redundancy, by mean of two different syringes to mix liquid explosive compounds–”a double initiation system,” apparently a response to a failure of Abdulmutallab’s initiation process. In essence, Pistole said, “they made two devices.”

Finally, Pistole said, the new bomb was encased in simple household caulk in an effort to trap vapors that might alert any bomb-sniffing machines or dogs that did happen to be capable of identifying the explosive.

“So you really have a twisted genius in Yemen,” Ross observed. “That is our greatest threat,” Pistole replied. “All the intel folks here [at the forum] know that is a clear and present danger.”

Similar sensationalized reporting preceded and followed the exposure of the UndieBomb 2.0 plot last year.

The security state and its many, many warts is Marcy’s beat and she’s really good at it. When I wrote that the Obama Administration “ha[s] not played fast and loose with issuing alerts like this,” I was thinking about Bush’s habit of raising terror alert levels any time his domestic approval ratings started to decline, but she points out that they may have played around with terror alerts in order to make the security apparatus look good, which I hadn’t considered. She also makes an excellent point, that with the administration declaring war on the AP’s sources over national security leaks there’s conveniently little independent reporting being done on this stuff, so we’re all stuck taking the government’s word for it.

Still, I’m inclined to agree with Andrew Lebovich (and Marcy, as she says above) that it’s probably wise to treat this warning at least as though it may have something serious behind it:

Of course, making the “massive security apparatus,” coincidentally under a bit of fire at the moment, look useful/important may be the impetus behind issuing the alert, if you’re inclined to be cynical about it.

And then there’s the Republicans. Continue reading

A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing

Wrong kind of wolf, but still a funny picture.

Wrong kind of wolf, but still a funny picture.

I kind of feel bad for the Sunday show hosts on those rare occasions when they book an actual world leader, be it the US President or a foreign leader.

No, Senator, I'm sorry, I wasn't talking about you. YOU LOST THAT ELECTION, OK?

No, Senator, I’m sorry, I wasn’t talking about you. I know you’re a “dream Sunday show guest,” but YOU LOST THAT ELECTION, OK?

It has to be tough to interview these guys; I mean, the default for a Sunday show host is to babble pundit CW back at their guests in a series of inane, unrelated questions, daring to ask a follow-up or challenge a false statement about once every cycle of the Mayan Long Calendar, but how much more careful would you feel you had to be when interviewing somebody of actual import–a president, prime minister, or king? The pressure to be congenial and let the guest talk all over you is probably huge, because, let’s face it, you care a lot more about getting the next world leader to come on your softball program and pop some ratings for you than you do about conducting a tough interview with the one you’ve already booked.

And so it goes even when your invited guest is a pathological liar like Benjamin Netanyahu: Continue reading

Taking an oath

Between trying to complete a move halfway across the country and trying to shake an apparently unshakeable virus, posting around here has been light and will continue to be light for a few days to come. To the extent that this impacts anybody’s well-being other than mine, I apologize. I managed to at least get this written, so that’s nice.

There’s a quote attributed to the Athenian statesman Solon (d. 558 BCE) that goes, “Put more trust in nobility of character than in an oath.” This seems like good advice, but we still seem to place a lot of trust in oaths, don’t we? We make government officials, both elected and appointed, take them. Juries and witnesses in court have to take them. Anybody who enlists to serve in the military has to take one, and if they are later commissioned as an officer we make them take a second, slightly different, oath. It reads:

I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

I watched General Keith Alexander, Director of the NSA, on This Week with Gorbulas Brandybuck George Stephanopoulos this morning, and one bit in particular stuck out at me. Stephanopoulos led off asking the general why the system didn’t catch Snowden before he fled to Hong Kong, but Gen. Alexander went right in to defending the NSA’s activities with this:

And when you think about what our mission is, I want to jump into that, because I think it reflect on the question you’re asking.

You know, my first responsibility to the American people is to defend this nation. And when you think about it, defending the nation, let’s look back at 9/11 and what happened.

As it so happens, unless he took a different oath when he became NSA director, General Alexander’s first responsibility is to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” It’s not to “defend the United States” or to “defend the nation.” His first responsibility is to the Constitution. Now you could easily think these are one and the same, and General Alexander probably thinks that himself, but even if you think the current surveillance system is constitutional, you could probably easily imagine a surveillance system so invasive as to unquestionably violate the constitution, right? Such a system would probably make the country “safer,” in the sense that it would increase the likelihood of nabbing would-be terrorists before they could carry out their plans. I wonder, if such a system were proposed, whether General Alexander would act to uphold his oath, or if he’d act to uphold this new “first responsibility” he’s invented for himself. I worry about how much “protect[ing] the nation” has replaced “support[ing] and defend[ing] the Constitution” as the “first responsibility” in the minds of our elected and appointed leaders since 9/11.

We ought to expect our leaders to uphold their oaths, and to understand what those oaths mean.

LONGISH DIGRESSION: I go back and forth on this NSA/Snowden story. It seems to me that the bias in a free and open society has to be for transparency at the risk of insecurity; obviously a balance needs to be struck between the two, and every government has to keep secrets, but if we aren’t vigilant about minimizing government secrecy then it becomes very easy to lose transparency altogether. When members of Congress or officials in the administration complain that these leaks are going to make it harder to provide security for the public, my reaction is “too bad.” It should be hard to provide security to the public in a free society; to the extent that “providing security” means “we’re going to monitor everybody’s movements and communications just in case some of you constitute threats,” it should be very hard to provide security in a free society. If that’s a bummer for our elected officials and their appointees, well, nobody forced them to take jobs governing a modern democratic nation.

I think the information that Snowden has leaked in terms of the extent to which our government and its vast array of private contractors monitors (or is able to monitor, if they want) our “private” communications is important. People ought to know when their government is spying on them, or has developed the potential to easily spy on them, even if knowing might somehow increase the potential for harm to come to them. That said, this particular case keeps getting mired in back-and-forth arguments about what exactly is being collected and what the government’s technical capabilities are, and, hey, I barely passed an introductory programming course in college. What doesn’t help Snowden is when he decides to “reveal” that we’re spying on China, because a) of course we are, and 2) good. What doesn’t help Snowden’s critics is their incessant and silly obsession with making this story all about Snowden himself (“he should have stayed and faced prosecution!” as though that changes the substance of the leaks), or about Glenn Greenwald (“he’s arrogant!” which, come on), instead of about what the government is doing in the name of “protecting us.” I agree with this post by DarkSyde over at DailyKos:

It seems a bit over the top. Snowden and Greenwald appear subject to a standard of accuracy and at times vitriol quite different than the one facing high ranking NSA and contractor personnel. There is reason to be skeptical of spies in general, but why the high ranking spooks who have been caught splitting semantic hairs, evading, and glossing over key details are not much part of the story, while every last thing Snowden says is scrutinized for the slightest inconsistency, is puzzling. Perhaps what we’re seeing is a secret version of something many reading this would identify with: the difference in the treatment, perception and motive for corporate bigwigs vs the observations of rank and file worker.

When an NSA honcho says government or private spooks are not trolling through the private conversations of U.S. citizens at will, assuming they’re being truthful, they’re talking about policy. When Snowden says someone in his position could review emails or phone records of any conversation of any U.S. citizen, he’s talking about technology. Honchos are thinking about what they have decreed as permissible, Snowden is talking about what is actually possible.

To sum it up, corporate honchos enjoy the benefit of the doubt from the fellow media honchos, worker bees do not. For profit private NSA contractor honchos like Mike McConnell, people who presumably earn seven figures a year, are deeply motivated to perceive and portray their employer and their industry in the best light possible, worker bees are not. Not to mention that up to now, this has all been so secret, even members of the Intelligence Committees in the House and Senate may not always get the full story or hear about problems and abuses. Especially as long as their only source of info is honcho approved and delivered.

It’s really important that we know about what’s possible, because what’s permissible is determined by our intelligence community working in complete secrecy; when people like Keith Alexander talk about what they are and aren’t allowed to do, they’re talking about arbitrary decisions that have been made, and can be changed, at the drop of a hat without anyone knowing about it. We ought to know the potential for abuse even if that potential isn’t being exercised just now.

Also, too, on a Sunday when George Stephanopoulos accepts, without challenge, the NSA Director’s framing of this story as a betrayal of confidence by Snowden against his employer, nothing said about the potential betrayal of confidence by our government against the rights of its citizens, while David Gregory demands that Glenn Greenwald explain why he (Greenwald) should not be carted off in irons for doing journalism (no, Fluffy, we don’t arrest people for being reporters in this country), it’s hard not to see the corporate media double-standard at work in this story.