Irony, thy name is CNN.
After weeks of all-Ebola, all-the-time coverage on cable news channels, some cooler heads are starting to realize the news channels were more than a little over the top in their reporting.
“Ebola hysteria: An epic, epidemic overreaction,” claimed the headline on CNN.com. In an interview with CNN commentator and legal analyst Mel Robbins, CNN credited Robbins with coining the term “Fear-bola,” defined as “an airborne disease that spreads through conversation, entering your brain through your ears. Fear-bola is so contagious that some victims have contracted it by seeing images and videos about Ebola. Once inside your body, Fear-bola attacks that part of the brain responsible for rational thinking.”
Robbins talked about friends’ and family members’ irrational fears that she might catch Ebola if she flew anywhere. “Unless someone barfs or poops on me on the plane, I’m not getting sick,” Robbins said.
Gee: I wonder where so many people got the idea that Ebola was a major threat to the country? Could it have been through constant clamoring by cable news channels, led by CNN, that Ebola was a threat? Could it have been through the breathless reporting about the two nurses diagnosed with Ebola? Up-to-the-minute reports about round trip air travel by one of the nurses from Dallas to Cleveland and back alternately reported, “CDC TOLD HER NOT TO FLY!” “CDC SAID SHE COULD FLY!” “SHE WAS SYMPTOM-FREE!” “SHE MAY HAVE HAD SYMPTOMS!” And now, a TSA agent who patted down that nurse in Cleveland is on paid administrative leave.
There are way too many examples of hysteria throughout the country. A teacher in Maine went to a conference in Dallas — nowhere near Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, mind you, where Thomas Duncan was treated for Ebola and which apparently came up short in its use of universal safety protocols for its health workers. But back in Maine, parents were scared enough to complain, and the school was foolish enough to put that teacher on paid administrative leave for 21 days. A Dallas lab worker who MAY have handled one of the specimens from Duncan went into isolation during a cruise. (She was tested and doesn’t have Ebola.) Students and faculty from Oklahoma who were on the same cruise with the lab worker have been asked not to come to public school for 21 days.
Navarro College not far from Dallas is rejecting applicants from Nigeria, calling it “the responsible thing to do.” Nigeria had 19 cases of Ebola, had a successful quarantine of patients there, and has had no cases in the last 43 days. In fact, the World Health Organization has declared it Ebola-free. Yet too much of the public — and too many members of Congress — are calling for a travel ban on flights from Ebola-infected countries. Even though there are NO direct flights from those countries to anywhere in the U.S.
A friend from Philadelphia was on a trip to Africa in Kenya, thousands of miles away from the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa. Yet his dentist canceled his appointment, asking him to reschedule 21 days later. A passenger who vomited on a recent flight had to stay in the plane’s bathroom the whole time. (She was tested and doesn’t have Ebola.) Hey, she was an an airplane. People do get motion sickness on airplanes.
Perhaps the saddest case was in Nazareth, Pa., where a West African high school soccer player was taunted with chants of “Ebola” by players of the opposing team during a game earlier in October. Luckily, the teams’ coaches, obviously not passing on any semblance of sanity or sportsmanship to their charges, have resigned, and the students might face disciplinary action, according to an online report in The Morning Call.
You want to think the American people are smarter than to fall for this hype, but it’s hard to think rationally when you get all of your information from cable news. Thought has gotten so irrational that nearly two thirds of those queried in a Washington Post/ABC News poll said they’re concerned about an epidemic in the U.S. Not “cases,” not “outbreak,” but “epidemic.” And this is about a disease that is passed ONLY through direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids. A major and serious concern for health workers, but not for the U.S. population as a whole.
Even worse than the over-reporting were some discussions led by right-wing commentators. On Fox News, where some commentators used the Ebola cases to bash (who else?) President Obama, regular contributor and psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow claimed that Obama was letting Ebola into the U.S. because Obama’s “affinities and affiliations” were with Africa. The worst example may have been from radio gasbag Rush Limbaugh, who claimed that Obama was letting Ebola into the U.S. because Obama thinks people in the U.S. “deserve” it as a payback for slavery.
Toward the end of her interview, Mel Robbins said there could be a few more cases in Dallas. As of now, all of the other health care workers who treated Thomas Duncan have been cleared — no Ebola. And Robbins’ advice to Americans, which has been echoed by health professionals everywhere: “If you’re scared about Ebola, you better go get yourself a flu shot.” Flu, of course, kills thousands of Americans every year. Flu, 49,000; Ebola, 1.
At the same time this interview with Robbins was being aired, the headline on the screen behind the CNN host still said “EBOLA EPIDEMIC.”
I guess CNN just can’t let it go.
“The president of CNN Worldwide, Jeff Zucker, attempted on Wednesday to defuse the brewing controversy over his decision to change the network’s official slogan from ‘The Most Trusted Name in News’ to ‘Holy Crap, We’re All Gonna Die.’ ”
That’s not a real news story, of course — it’s political satire written by the brilliant Andy Borowitz and published in The Borowitz Report online through The New Yorker. But you would be forgiven if you thought it was real, given the fevered frenzy members of the media have been spewing lately.
These illness-related figures of speech are done on purpose, as is the hyperbole in the headline. Use whatever imagery you want. So many members of the media — especially cable channels — are out of control with Ebola coverage.
News 24/7 means all-Ebola, all the time. We’ve seen interviews with doctors all around the country, government officials, nurses, and many others. Nearly all of the health professionals are giving thoughtful, measured, serious responses to Ebola questions. It’s still highly unlikely that the U.S. will see many other cases — except for possibly some health care workers. But the anchors and talking heads are driving fear into the hearts of ordinary Americans.
According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, two-thirds of Americans are concerned about a “widespread” Ebola epidemic in the United States. There’s no reason for such fears, but when that’s what you’re bombarded with constantly, people tune out the real answers and listen to the fear-mongering. Forty-three percent of those polled are worried that they or someone in their family will contract Ebola. Unless you’re caring for an Ebola patient and there was a slip-up in the infection control protocol, that’s just not going to happen.
Nurses — the unsung heroes of the health care system — are rightly concerned. Caregivers are those most as risk for being exposed to the Ebola virus, and the only two cases of people contracting the disease in this country are two nurses. According to a CBS report, the largest nurses union, National Nurses United, has been staging protests calling for more training and better protective gear since summer. Nurses are calling on President Obama to invoke his authority to protect health care workers. “Without action at a very high level, how can we expect the nurses to do this on their own?” asked National Nurses United Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro.
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, which treated the Liberian man who died and which employs the two nurses now infected, has apologized for mishandling the protocols. So listen to the experts, listen to the caregivers, and move on. Don’t spend hours of news coverage every day wondering if people who rode on a plane with a nurse should be worried.
It also would help if budgets to the National Institutes for Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local and state health departments hadn’t been cut. The CDC can’t call every hospital, doctor, and nurse in America to deliver information on the best way to handle a possible Ebola patient — that’s the responsibility of local public health entities. But they can’t do their jobs when they’re underfunded and understaffed.
It would help if the U.S. had a surgeon general to be the public face of what the government is doing about Ebola, and to work to spread public health messages. That way, the CDC director could spend more time working on disease response and not testifying before House committees. But we don’t have a surgeon general, because the nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy, the highly qualified candidate recommended by just about every medical organization in the country, remains blocked in the Senate because too many senators are afraid of the National Rifle Association — Dr. Murthy publicly backed the same common-sense gun restrictions supported by most Americans and most doctors and medical associations. Ironically, Fox News, which had led some of smears against Dr. Murthy, recently said the nomination was “tied up in politics.”
And speaking of politics — this being an election season and all — certain politicians are wringing out every drop of fear they can. According to GOP Senate candidates like Tom Tillis (North Carolina) and Scott Brown (New Hampshire), Ebola could come across the border by illegal immigrants and/or terrorists — it depends on which way they’re spinning the silliness. According to Colorado GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner, the CDC is “wasting” money on certain programs that aim to cut obesity — why aren’t they spending that money on something important, like Ebola? I hate to tell you, Rep. Gardner, but one in five deaths in the United States is tied to obesity, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health.
What else kills more Americans annually than Ebola, which has claimed one life? How about heart disease (over 590,000 deaths), cancer (over 570,000), or stroke (nearly 130,000), according to figures from the CDC? How about smoking, flu, or measles from people who aren’t vaccinated, just to name a few others? How about guns, which kill more than 30,000 people in the U.S. every year?
One moment of sanity came from one of the more responsible journalists at Fox News — Shepard Smith. According to a report in New York Magazine, he delivered a message on his show like the Angel Gabriel: “Unless a medical professional has contacted you personally and told you of some sort of possible exposure, fear not. Do not listen to the hysterical voices on the radio and the television or read the fear-provoking words online. The people who say and write hysterical things are being very irresponsible.”
It would help if more of his colleagues listened to him. More of his colleagues, and more of America, too.
The chutzpah of some Republican candidates in this election cycle seems to know no bounds.
ISIS is at the borders, infiltrating the country. We’re all going to die of Ebola. And of course, they blame it all on President Obama and whatever Democratic opponent they happen to be facing.
One of the new claims is by U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton (R, Ark.), who is Arkansas’ GOP candidate for Senate. According to a report in the Washington Post, Cotton told a tele-town-hall meeting that terrorists from the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL) are infiltrating Mexican drug cartels to invade Arkansas.
“Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they’re willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism,” Cotton said in answer to a constituent’s question. “They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas.”
Scary stuff, indeed — all without a shred of evidence. When asked by the Post for evidence to back up his claim, Cotton’s office cited reports in conservative right-wing media, reports that have been repeatedly debunked.
Another recent trip to crazytown was by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R, Calif.). He told Fox News (where else?) that he has “inside knowledge” from a “high-level official” that border security agents have captured 10 ISIS members at the Mexican border. Even Fox host Greta van Susteren looked skeptical. How did Hunter know? she asked. “Because I’ve asked the Border Patrol,” he answered. (The complete — and very entertaining — story is in a report at MaddowBlog for The Rachel Maddow Show.)
Hunter might as well be riding Dumbo the Flying Elephant in Fantasyland — after all, his Southern California district isn’t far from Anaheim. According to a statement from the Dept. of Homeland Security, “The suggestion that individuals who have ties to ISIL have been apprehended at the Southwest border is categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or the facts on the ground. DHS continues to have no credible intelligence to suggest terrorist organizations are actively plotting to cross the southwest border.”
The fact that DHS has to waste time even answering questions about such a stupid claim shows how ridiculous the election has become. Duncan and his office have doubled down on his claim, saying that DHS was “actively discouraging” any talk about ISIS on the border.
So, the MaddowBlog report said: “Hunter has no proof, but he has a source he won’t identify, who gave him information that literally no one else can verify, about an important claim unsupported by facts.” Hunter’s only backtrack was that the 10 individuals he mentioned should probably be referred to as “foreign nationals” with ties to terrorist organizations.
Perhaps the most fun example might be from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R, Texas), who, in a report from Talking Points Memo, hit what the report labeled a trifecta when he combined Ebola, ISIS, and climate change into one complaint about the Obama administration.
In an interview with Newsmax (I’m sure you’ll pardon me if I don’t link to the story), he said, “This President, and this secretary of state, think that more deadly to this country than Ebola is climate change, more deadly than the Islamic State to Thomas Foley is climate change.” Of course, he meant James Foley, the American journalist beheaded by ISIS. But why get details right when you’re a Republican doing a political smear job?
But wait — there’s more! According to an online report from TIME, a scary-sounding voiceover in an ad from the National Republican Campaign Committee claims that “Evil forces around the world want to harm Americans every day. Their entry into our country? Through Arizona’s backyard.” The source for that ad was a right-wing newspaper misquoting a DHS official talking about social media. Several Republicans have used images of ISIS in campaign ads, some even using the image of the ISIS thug wielding a knife over James Foley.
So go ahead — which is the worst? SO FAR? (Cue scary music here.)
If you watch or listen to — well, just about any — news broadcast, you might think we have the new issue that will spell our certain doom — Ebola.
In the latest outbreak, there have been more than 3,400 cases — all but one diagnosed in Africa — of the deadly disease caused by the Ebola virus, but to tune in to many network and cable news shows, you would suspect it was running rampant in U.S. cities, too. (UPDATE: There is now also a case of a nurse in Spain who has been infected.)
The latest scariest-story-in-the-world is that a man inside the U.S. has been diagnosed with Ebola. He flew into Dallas from Liberia via Brussels and was later diagnosed with Ebola at a Dallas hospital. He had been visiting relatives in Liberia and picked up the virus unknowingly. He visited a hospital emergency department twice for fever and other symptoms. The first time, he told a nurse he had been in Liberia, but that information didn’t get transmitted to the doctor, and the patient was sent home with antibiotics. The second time, he was diagnosed with Ebola, and he now is in critical condition. (UPDATE: The patient has now died.)
And we’ve heard every single moment of it. Every detail. The fact that the man didn’t tell the airline that he had been in Liberia. The hospital screwed up, the nurse screwed up, the doctor screwed up. I guess we’re all going to die of Ebola. Except we’re not.
Hour after hour, headline after headline, news crawl after news crawl — they’re all filled with Ebola news. Overblown, hyper-intense Ebola news.
The Ebola virus, while deadly, passes from one person to another only when the second person comes in contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids. It is not transmissible by air, like other airborne diseases we should be more concerned about, which kill thousands of Americans every year. Like influenza (have you gotten your flu shot yet?).
And it can be contained. According to a report in The New York Times, Nigeria, which has far fewer resources and a much less sophisticated and effective public health system than we do here, seems to have contained its Ebola outbreak with aggressive quarantine and other containment actions. “For those who say it’s hopeless, this is an antidote — you can control Ebola,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Miles O’Brien, a former reporter and anchor at CNN and now a PBS Newshour science correspondent, took his former network to task during an interview on CNN’s Reliable Sources. “I wish everybody could take a deep breath and take a break from trying to pull viewers in by scaring them,” he told host Brian Stelter. “And that’s what we’re seeing here. It borders on irresponsibility when people get on television and start talking that way when they should know better.”
O’Brien’s criticism was not limited to CNN. Stelter played a clip from Fox News where a host (with no evidence whatsoever) opined that some Africans “might seek treatment from a witch doctor.”
“Well, we could digress into what motivated that, and perhaps the racial component of all this, the arrogance, the first world verses third world statements and implications,” O’Brien said about the clip. “It’s offensive on several levels. And it reflects a level of ignorance, which we should not allow in our media and in our discourse.”
Certain hosts on MSNBC are doing no better. Chris Matthews, host of Hardball, seems to be in full meltdown mode. In a recent interview with bioethicist Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, Matthews kept reiterating that President Obama “said it was unlikely. It has happened. It’s here.”
Dr. Emanuel would have none of that. “The idea that there’s going to be a widespread outbreak here, I think is just, again, it’s a bit of fear mongering,” he said. “We have a single case.”
Many Republican politicians are joining the fear mongering. There have been calls for stopping all international flights from any country that has Ebola victims. Of course, that wouldn’t have stopped the one U.S. Ebola patient we have, since he flew in from Belgium. We must close our Southern borders, they claim, since people with Ebola might slip past. Some on the right were making that same argument during the summer, claiming that the influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America could bring Ebola into the country. Even though no Central American country has any Ebola cases. So I guess this means we should build a wall around Texas, then, and not let anyone in or out.
Of course, it must be Obama’s fault, according to the right wing. The “government” is lying to us, they claim. And even though the right wing railed against Obama’s supposed “czars” in dealing with serious issues — remember that? — now they want an Ebola czar. Outgoing Rep. Jack Kingston (R, Ga.), told the Washington Examiner that the U.S. needs a “George Mitchell type character” to lead “one central office that’s a clearinghouse” to unify the efforts of government entities like the National Institutes of Health and the CDC. Um, I hate to break it to Kingston, but the NIH and the CDC work together pretty closely.
These attention-getting rants also don’t address two other problems. One is the fact that public health funding has been cut by Congress, mainly because of the sequester legislation passed a few years ago and never undone. Two is the fact that Senate Republicans have been blocking the confirmation of the U.S. surgeon general candidate, Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy. They are taking marching orders from the National Rifle Association, according to a commentary by Bill Moyers, because Dr. Murthy has expressed support for common-sense gun-safety measures supported by a majority of Americans. He wants to treat gun violence as a public health issue, as does every other medical association.
Possibly the biggest problem in all of this overblown hype is the overcrowding that may hit U.S. hospital emergency departments. People with real symptoms, like fever, aches, diarrhea, vomiting, etc., will think they have Ebola, and will visit ERs for treatment. There already have been cases in New Orleans and Washington, D.C., in which Ebola was suspected and ruled out. Ebola symptoms are similar to symptoms of many other diseases, including — you guessed it — influenza.
So I said it before, and I’ll say it again: Get a flu shot.
The GOP loves to scream about “voter fraud” and pass voter photo ID laws that disenfranchise mostly African-American and Hispanic voters — the ones who might be more likely to vote for Democrats. So why is it that whenever there’s an actual case of voter fraud, it’s always by a Republican?
The latest example is from no less than the Arkansas Republican attorney general candidate, Leslie Rutledge. She’s an attorney, remember, so of course she knows better. But she’s registered to vote in Washington, D.C., (and perhaps Virginia as well) and Arkansas, and is running for statewide office in Arkansas.
After learning of the multiple voter registrations, the Pulaski County (Arkansas) County Clerk cancelled her Arkansas voting registration. Which means she can’t run for office, either, because, as the state constitution says, “No persons shall be elected to, or appointed to fill a vacancy in, any office who does not possess the qualifications of an elector.” And the “qualifications of an elector” include the fact that the person must be “lawfully registered to vote in the election.”
So here we have an attorney who served on the legal team for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and she thinks it’s fine and dandy to vote in multiple places.
Rutledge, of course, claimed she was legally registered in Arkansas and did not addresss the multiple voter registrations. She blamed “big bureaucrat, big government” politics. But here’s the thing. Voting records show that she registered to vote in Arkansas 2006. She registered to vote in Washington in 2008 and then voted absentee in Arkansas in 2008 in the general election.
I understand that people move, and it takes a while to clean the voter rolls, so it’s not surprising that someone would be on two different voter rolls at once. But that doesn’t mean you get to vote in both places.
Another recent case involves another Republican candidate, this time in Illinois. Kathy Myalls is running for the Illinois General Assembly this fall, but she’s registered to vote — and has voted twice, in the same year — in both Illinois and Wisconsin. She’s been registered to vote in Wilmette, Ill., since 2005, and in Fontana, Wis., since 1996. Voting records show she voted in both states in both the 2008 and 2012 elections. According to Illinois election officials, the time to challenge her residency has passed, and if she wins in November, the General Assembly can challenge whether to seat her.
The dual voting gambit also was tried by another Wisconsin resident in a different way. Robert D. Monroe, described as a supporter of Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling, was charged with more than a dozen counts of illegal voting, casting multiple ballots in four elections in 2011 and 2012, including five in the 2012 gubernatorial recall. He used addresses in Milwaukee, Shorewood (a Milwaukee suburb), and Indiana, and cast some votes in the names of his son and his girlfriend’s son. According to a criminal complaint, Monroe cast two ballots in the April 2011 Supreme Court election, two in the August 2011 recall election for state Sen. Darling, five in the Scott Walker-Tom Barrett recall, one illegal ballot in an August 2012 primary, and two ballots in the November 2012 presidential election. According to a John Doe voting records investigation, “Monroe was considered by investigators to be the most prolific multiple voter in memory.” Also, according to the John Doe records, Monroe claimed to have a form of temporary amnesia and did not recall the election day events when confronted by investigators.
That’s it! You just forgot! When all else fails, claim amnesia.
What other cases have there been? Here’s a sampling, taken from the MaddowBlog for MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show: “Remember the Nevada voter who cast multiple ballots in the same election because she wanted to test the integrity of the elections system? She was a Republican voter. Remember the Texas voter who cast absentee ballots on behalf of his girlfriend for the five years after she died? He was a Republican voter, too. Remember the Indiana secretary of state convicted of voter fraud? Yep, a Republican.”
Republican voter ID laws stop people from voting. These people are legal residents but have no photo ID because they don’t drive anymore, are out-of-state students (remember the Supreme Court said it was OK to vote where you go to college), or have no birth certificate to get another form of ID. Many have voted for years, but are now out of luck. But these same voter ID laws don’t stop the kind of fraud these Republicans are committing.
Are you noticing a pattern here?
Well, that didn’t take long. Cue the scary music: Republicans are using ISIS to prop themselves up as the supposed best hope to protect the nation’s security. Only the GOP can save you from being murdered in your beds. Members of the Islamic State are clearly the scariest thugs EVER. So say ads backing Republican candidates — facts be damned.
The Texas lieutenant governor claimed that “prayer rugs” have been found on the Texas side of the U.S.-Mexico border (it turned out to be an Adidas soccer jersey). There were earlier claims by a Texas sheriff that “them Muslim books” were found by the border. Again: True Muslims would never discard the Quran. And they would certainly keep any real prayer rugs to give themselves a clean place to pray.
Several Republicans are claiming that ISIS is on our border. Others say ISIS already has “established cells” in Mexico, without any evidence. Scott Brown, running for Senate in Massachusetts (whoops, New Hampshire), has a scary new ad about Southern border security, even though both states are in New England. Perhaps New Hampshire should have considered closing its borders so the carpetbagger Brown couldn’t have moved in.
ISIS beheadings? Check, and horrible. But wait — some fired worker in Oklahoma beheaded one of his coworkers. Now there are “copycat beheadings” by other groups, too. And don’t forget that some of the supposed moderate “CIA-vetted” rebel groups in Syria also are guilty of beheadings. And beheading is how Saudi Arabia carries out its death penalty.
A little historical perspective, if you please. Not that we should hold a contest for worst murderers in history, but as bad as ISIS is — and those guys are bad, no argument — the members of the Islamic State have some pretty serious competition. But they’re the ones with video. They can scare us as never before, and politicians can exploit the whole situation for electoral gain. So let’s take a stroll down murdering memory lane:
Pol Pot. The leader of the communist Khmer Rouge in Cambodia led his forces for only four years: from 1975 to 1979. During that time, about 1.5 million people out of a population of 7 million to 8 million people died. Causes of death included starvation, execution, disease, and simple overwork as the ruthless dictator and his followers forced the populace to work in the rice fields. He especially targeted the educated and former upper classes to form a classless peasant society. There’s a reason they called those fields “the killing fields” — bodies were buried in mass graves. One detention center that held 20,000 people had only seven survivors.
Remember that the U.S. bombed Cambodia as part of the campaign against communists during the Vietnam War. U.S. planes dropped 500,000 tons of bombs on Cambodia over four years. When all U.S. efforts were stopped by 1973, the Khmer Rouge controlled three-quarters of Cambodia. Mission accomplished? Not so much. Maybe the United States should learn a lesson here.
Idi Amin. Amin ruled Uganda for eight years, from 1971 to 1979. He became known as the “butcher of Uganda” during his presidency, when he sent “killer squads” into towns and the countryside to kidnap, torture, and murder supporters of his political rivals and the president he had ousted in a coup, Apolo Milton Obote. Amin expanded his targets to include rival tribal members, journalists, lawyers, homosexuals, students, and senior bureaucrats. The total death toll is estimated at 300,000 to 500,000 people. Idi Amin was never brought to justice.
Rwandan genocide. In 1994, a plane carrying the Hutu Rwandan president, Juvenal Habyarimana, was shot down as it approached the capital city of Kigali. This attack served as a catalyst to unleash Hutu forces on the Tutsi minority in the country. Over the course of three months, 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus would be killed by gun and machete. Women were brutally raped. About 2 million Rwandans fled the country, worsening refugee crises in countries near by. And the world stood by. By the time the U.N. Security Council voted to send in peacekeeping troops, the genocide was largely over. Some higher-ranking Rwandan military and security officials were convicted by 2008.
Need we go on? In 1941, the Nazis machine-gunned nearly 34,000 Jews into the Babi Yar Ravine outside Kiev over two days — possibly the worst atrocity of the war. They covered the bodies with dirt and rock — even those who were still moving. Catholics killed up to 70,000 Protestants in 1572 during the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. And how many people did Josef Stalin have killed during his time in power? Some estimates are as high as 20 million Russians. Bosnian ethnic cleansing of Muslims by Serbs. God knows how many have died in North Korea, because we can never get any real news from there.
Should the United State and the world have gotten involved to stop these atrocities? They did in World War II, and the world was clearly better off without Adolf Hitler’s Nazis. Can we stop every group, every atrocity? Obviously, we can’t. So how to choose?
I suggest that one way NOT to choose what to do about ISIS is to listen to the most hyperactive politicians and media reports and start bombing without a clear goal in mind. Many Middle East countries have joined the fight, at least somewhat — still waiting for Turkey. Several European countries say they’re in. So what are they all going to do? Supply planes and bombs? Pat themselves on the back so they’ll be “part of the team” of good guys? Even the president of Iran says that airstrikes are “a form of theater rather than a serious battle against terrorism,” as President Hassan Rouhani told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in a recent interview.
In an interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes, President Obama said he started the bombing campaign against ISIS because it’s up to America to lead, because “this is who we are. People don’t call Beijing; they don’t call Moscow. They call us.” Maybe. But bombing is not going to do the job without Iraqi forces willing to follow the airstrikes with enough soldiers to root out the well-funded ISIS forces. Their recent history was cutting and running rather than facing the enemy; why should we think they have magically become better fighters? And all this occurs while Congress can’t be bothered with doing its constitutional duty to declare war or authorize the president to take action. The latest GOP talking point is that “it’s up to Obama to call us back” or “it’s up to Obama to write a bill.” Funny, the Constitution says it’s Congress’ job to write laws.
Somehow, I don’t think this is the way Obama wanted to spend his last two years in office.
Eighty-five percent. That’s the record turnout in the referendum on Scottish independence. You want to know what the best turnout in modern U.S. history has been for U.S. voters? Sixty-five percent in 1976.
“Robust voter turnout is fundamental to a healthy democracy,” says an analysis from Fair Vote: The Center for Voting and Democracy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that “educates and enlivens discourse on how best to remove the structural barriers to a democracy that respects every voice and every vote in every election,” according to its website.
The turnout in Scotland was indeed, a record. Some small communities had 100 percent turnout. The lowest overall turnout seemed to be in the city of Glasgow, which had 75 percent turnout — still a figure that dwarfs the turnout of U.S. voters.
So what’s wrong with us, and what can we do to make it better?
Voter turnout in what are considered established democracies around the world averages 70 percent. In the United States, voter turnout for presidential elections averages 60 percent, and turnout for midterm elections averages 40 percent, according to the Fair Vote analysis. In 2012, U.S. voter turnout was nearly 58 percent, and in 2010, turnout was less than 41 percent.
And that turnout is gargantuan compared with turnout in local municipal elections. According to a study in Urban Affairs Review, “turnout in city elections may average half that of national elections, with turnout in some cities regularly falling below one-quarter of the voting-age population.”
Don’t forget that in Ferguson, Mo., the scene of so much protest after a white police officer shot an unarmed black teenager, a majority of the town’s citizens are African-American, yet the city council has just one black member, and the school board is all white except for a Hispanic member. Turnout in Ferguson’s last election was 12 percent. As the Rev. Al Sharpton told the residents of Ferguson, “Twelve percent is an insult to your children.”
Somehow, I think the voter turnout is going to be a lot higher in Ferguson by the time the next election rolls around — voters there now have a reason to be energized (and also to run for office). But what can we do in the rest of the country?
Fair Vote has some ideas that are worth considering, also included in its analysis: Universal voter registration, which would modernize registration structures and make the government responsible for maintaining accurate and complete voter rolls, taking the process out of partisan hands. A national popular vote for president, which would discount the importance of swing states in the Electoral College and make every voter in every state feel like he or she can cast a vote that matters.
Here’s another idea: Make election day a national holiday, like it is in many other countries. That way, people won’t have to worry about missing work or having a paycheck docked just for casting a ballot.
And a note to the Republicans, who fear that their shrinking voter base spells future doom: You’ve been passing voter photo ID laws, cutting early voting days, closing polling stations, making it harder to register, and backing voter intimidation goon squads like True the Vote, all in the name of fighting virtually nonexistent “voter fraud.” According to the website VoterFraudFacts.com, between 2000 and 2010, there were 649 million votes cast in general elections, and only 13 cases of actual in-person voter impersonation — the only kind of electoral fraud that would be stopped by voter ID laws. That’s THIRTEEN cases over ten years. These voter-suppression tactics may be disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of voters in certain states. So, GOP, you may win some elections now, but you’re going to lose in the long run. You know what might work? Quit living in the past and start backing some policies that attract new voters and new kinds of voters. It’s OK to appeal to more than just embittered old white guys.
So do your part. Vote. When you’re online, take a few less of those Buzzfeed polls on what kind of Disney villain you are or where you should really live, and instead, check out the websites of your preferred candidate — and his or her opponent. You’ll learn more about who you’re voting for and against, and you’ll gain ammunition for the next time you get into a political discussion with a friend, neighbor, or relative. You may even change your mind.
Voting is a right. Voting is a privilege. But more than anything, voting is a responsibility. Don’t let those “likely” voters control who gets elected. Let’s all be likely voters.
And the best thing is — we can do it without haggis.
If you listened to nothing but certain news outlets and certain elected officials, you probably think you’re going to die soon.
On Sunday morning talk shows, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R, I’m tough, really I am), made some pretty frightening statements about the threat of terrorists from the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or whatever). We may “all get killed” by ISIS, he said on (where else?) Fox News. President Obama “needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home.”
For this ridiculous, Chicken Little-type fear-mongering, he has been — rightly — severely mocked on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and many other media outlets. Salon.com referred to Graham as “America’s most terrified senator.”
When President Obama addressed the nation about his plans to contain ISIS, he switched the way he usually described the approach to ISIS — “defeat and degrade” — to “defeat and destroy.” Of course, Obama knows full well that terrorism isn’t something that can be destroyed. You can’t defeat an idea. That’s what terrorism is, of course: the use of violence and intimidation to pursue political aims.
And boy, has ISIS ever intimidated the U.S. Those terrorist thugs have us shaking in our very boots.
The right-wing noise machine is willing to broadcast any report of any supposed ISIS threat, no matter how ridiculous it may sound, no matter that there is not one scintilla of evidence of these claims. There are reports that ISIS terrorists are lining up at the border, ready to cross illegally into the U.S. to do us harm. Fox even interviewed a sheriff wearing a cowboy hat (in case you had any doubt he was a “real” Texan) who claimed he had “heard reports” that “them Quran books” and “Muslim clothing” had been found on smuggling routes or dropped off at the border.
(Just to clarify: The LAST thing a real Muslim would do would be to discard the Quran, which he or she would consider sacred. Just sayin’.)
This reminds me of the threats repeated by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R, Idiocy) that pregnant Muslim women are slipping over the border to give birth to “terrorist border babies” so that those children will have U.S. passports, but then are whisked back to grow up in the shadow of terrorist training just so they can return to the U.S. someday and — I don’t know, set off a bomb or something. He obviously hasn’t thought through his “terrorist border babies” theory.
In a story in The New York Times, Michael Schmidt reported about some of this overblown hype and the response from the U.S. government. “There is no credible intelligence to suggest that there is an active plot by ISIL to attempt to cross the southern border,” Homeland Security officials said in a written statement.
On a recent edition of CNN’s Red News/Blue News, host Brian Stelter looked at the question of overblown ISIS hype, and specifically about the threat of ISIS coming over the border. “The evidence is not there,” Stelter said. “And yet the people who say this stuff don’t seem to be held accountable.”
Of course they’re not held accountable. It’s too good a story for the right-wing base. The right-wing Judicial Watch, citing an “anonymous, high-level official,” claimed that ISIS was operating in a Mexican community and “planning car-bomb attacks.” Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D, Texas), whose district includes the border area of El Paso, called the Dept. of Homeland Security and the FBI to check the veracity of that so-called report and found it had no validity. Ever since, he has tried to dispute the report, but the right-wingers already had their minds made up.
“There’s a longstanding history in this country of projecting whatever fears we have onto the border,” O’Rourke was quoted as saying in the Times story. “In the absence of understanding the border, they insert their fears. Before it was Iran and Al Qaeda. Now it’s ISIS. They just reach the conclusion that invasion is imminent, and it never is.”
Look, I get it. It’s an election year, and Republicans, whose shrinking voter base excludes growing sections of the population such as younger people, Latinos, African-Americans, and women, need to rev up their voters and puff out their chests to say that only they are the ones who can protect you, America.
But ISIS beheads people! Well, so does Saudi Arabia. So do multiple rebel groups in Syria, including those supposedly “vetted” by Sen. John McCain (R, I never met a war I didn’t like). And let’s not forget that McCain’s judgment was so poor that he met with and wanted to arm ISIS before it was ISIS — there are multiple photos of him meeting with ISIS leaders in March 2013 on a trip to Syria.
Thomas Friedman asks an excellent question in his column in The New York Times:
“What concerns me most about President Obama’s decision to re-engage in Iraq is that it feels as if it’s being done in response to some deliberately exaggerated fears — fear engendered by YouTube videos of the beheadings of two U.S. journalists — and fear that ISIS, a.k.a., the Islamic State, is coming to a mall near you. How did we start getting so afraid again so fast?”
Tonight President Obama will address the nation on what his administration plans to do about “degrading and ultimately destroying” the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or Levant) or ISIS, ISIL, or just IS.
Whatever you call it, Obama is faced with a messy situation that is only going to get worse. Strategically, militarily, and politically.
Whatever he describes will be demonized by Republicans, neocons, and suddenly war-hungry members of the media as being either too much or too little, too soon or too late, or too fuzzy or too nuanced.
U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R, Ga.), who lost his bid to be the GOP nominee for senator, figured he has nothing to lose, so he let loose with some real Republican tactics and accidentally told the truth about whatever Obama proposes to do about ISIS. As he said in a story in The New York Times: “We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long.”
He’s not the only one, of course. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, whose failed war in Iraq wasn’t apparently enough for him, met with House Republicans to talk about ISIS. He didn’t have anything substantive to say, of course, beyond an admonition that the GOP take a more “muscular” military posture and keep repeating the line that Obama is “weak.” Memo to Darth Cheney: Tell me again who succeeded in taking out Osama bin Laden and who let him slip away.
Some Republicans, like Rep. Peter King of New York, said, “Most of us think we did the right thing in Iraq.” Actually, Rep. King, that’s not even close to being true — vast numbers of Americans say the Iraq War wasn’t worth it. That’s why “boots on the ground” is not an option.
U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R, Ga.) told a group of Republicans at a breakfast in Cobb County, Ga., over the weekend that “I think our enemy stands on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.” to huge applause, according to an online report in the Marietta Daily Journal. There’s real patriotism for you, GOP — calling your president “the enemy.” Imagine what those same Republicans would have done if Democrats had ever been so blatant in criticizing President George W. Bush.
One wonders why media outlets keep giving blanket coverage to anything Republicans say about ISIS, even when it’s substance-free. Sen. John McCain (R, Ariz.), who holds the record for the most Sunday morning talk show appearances, was back on denouncing Obama and demanding “action” without offering specifics. Any specifics he has offered have proven to be wrong, like when he wanted to arm the Syrian rebel group that turned out to be ISIS.
So ridiculous partisanship aside, what can Obama offer? The American public answers vague polling questions on wanting to “do more” against ISIS. The public is still under the delusion that there’s no downside to bombing ISIS targets in Iraq and now possibly Syria.
Do they really think dropping bombs is free? The ones we’ve been dropping in Iraq cost $7.5 million per day. Imagine how fast costs will grow if that expands.
What about human costs? Does the public really think no civilians will be killed — just the ISIS bad guys? Too many Americans are still under the impression that it’s easy to drop a bomb and fly out, and that there will be no repercussions. When war is looked upon that dispassionately and bloodlessly, people think there’s no way anyone in the U.S. could get hurt. Ask the families of the U.S. soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan by those they were training — those who turned on U.S. troops, angered by drone strikes and worse.
ISIS is a different kind of terrorist threat in many ways. The militants hit the jackpot when they faced Iraqi forces who cut and run at the first sight of an enemy weapon. Consequently, ISIS was able to go into various towns and capture American-made weapons and loot deserted banks to the tune of $400 million, according to an NBC report, although U.S. officials estimated that those windfalls were much less. ISIS also is getting huge cash inflows from selling crude oil, often lying about the oil’s point of origin and smuggling it out through Turkey. ISIS shakes down ordinary citizens, requiring drivers to pay “road taxes” in ISIS-controlled areas.
Finally, ISIS gets millions every time the group kidnaps a foreign national and demands millions in ransom. Although the United States and the United Kingdom refuse to pay such ransoms, some European countries and wealthy relatives of kidnapped victims have no qualms about turning over millions of dollars for the victims’ return. ISIS has been paid $25 million in ransom fees in the last two years, the NBC report said.
Even al Qaeda denounced ISIS’ actions as giving terrorism a bad name. And although many in the Middle East are turning against the group’s extreme militancy — the latest Internet meme is burning ISIS flags, which apparently has gone as viral as the ALS ice bucket challenge — it’s picking up supporters from somewhere. There’s no way to really tell; estimates of the group’s strength range from 10,000 to 100,000. Yet as recently as a few months ago, ISIS’ strength was estimated at 5,000 militants. There are certainly some imports from the UK, the U.S., and other countries, as evidenced by the London-accented voice of the militant who beheaded American journalist James Foley, and reports of some U.S. citizens being killed who were ISIS members.
The best hope Obama has is to build a strong coalition of Middle East partners willing to stand up to the militants. That means money, weapons, and troops from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, all of which have been hesitant to commit for fear of offending Sunni neighbors.
Of course, that would be a lot easier if Republican senators weren’t holding up appointments of ambassadors to Turkey and other countries, as they’ve been doing for a long time. Negotiation is more successful when you have a diplomat in place.
The ultimate answer to what happens to Iraq lies in Iraq itself. There will be no control of ISIS without an effective Iraqi government and an effective Iraqi military.
President George H.W. Bush took his time and built an effective coalition against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. They were REALLY willing, unlike the other countries in the coalition his son’s administration built. Will the public, the media, and Republicans give time for Obama to do the same? I think we all know the answer to that.