Do You Believe In Magic?

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has reported from war zones and written a number of powerful books about our culture. I was fascinated by his recent interview on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, during which he addressed some of the cultural idiocy that exists in the US.

Hedges decried the media’s tendency to cover sensational stories over substance. He also discussed unfettered capitalism, domination of US media by a half dozen corporations, and the Christian right’s use of the despair created by the Great Recession and lasting unemployment in order to drive Americans into a non-reality-based belief system.

“I think we have powerful proto-fascist movements in this country,” said Hedges, “and I look at the Tea Party, the militia and the Christian right, where they celebrate the language of violence, they celebrate the gun culture, and they channel what I would describe as a very legitimate rage, and a legitimate sense of betrayal towards the vulnerable; towards Muslims; towards undocumented workers; towards homosexuals, intellectuals, feminists, liberals…they have a long list of people they don’t like. And I think that remains a very powerful and frightening undercurrent in American society.”

“What you get when you enter that kind of ideological belief system, you no longer deal with reality. You believe in magic,” Hedges continued. “You believe that Jesus will intervene to protect you and promote you, and then it becomes impossible to have a kind of rational discussion, for instance, with people who believe that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago.”

To make the point, Hedges noted that he visited the Creationist Museum where dinosaurs are displayed alongside Adam and Eve in a representation of the Garden of Eden. In discussing his tour of the park, Hedges recalled a guide saying, “I suppose you wonder why the T-Rex had such big teeth.” She explained that it was because “Adam and Eve needed the T-Rex to open the coconuts.”  When a child asked how Noah had managed to get the dinosaurs onto his Ark, the tour guide responded that “Noah only took the dinosaur babies.”

Hedges stated that this kind of walking away from science is what allows totalitarian systems to thrive. One of the concerns is the Christian right’s lust for apocalyptic violence. He said, “It’s almost a celebration of the destroying of a world that almost destroyed them.”

As for the state of our government, Hedges stated, “We have the facade of the democratic state, and yet we’ve undergone a corporate coup d’etat in slow motion.”

For more insights from Chris Hedges check out his weekly column at

Colbert Exposes Abuses Of The 501(c)4.

Although known for his comedy, Stephen Colbert has shown an aptitude for investigative journalism that surpasses many of the so-called “legitimate” news operations. His reporting on the IRS “scandal” is but the latest example.

Long before traditional news organizations began reporting on the abuses of political PACs and Super PACs, Colbert exposed the inappropriateness of political organizations being awarded 501(c)4 status. Following the lead of Karl Rove, Sarah Palin and hundreds of right wing groups, Colbert formed his own 501(c)4 called the Colbert Super PAC SHH! in 2011. By simply signing a few papers with the help of Republican attorney and former chairman of the Federal Elections Commission, Trevor Potter, Colbert legally declared his organization a non-profit and began collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars. According to Potter, he did not have to reveal the names of his donors. He did not have to adhere to spending limits. The only restriction was that he could not directly coordinate his expenditures with any candidates.

Interestingly, he never actually filed a 1024 form to request tax-exempt status from the IRS. (Of course, neither did many other Super PACs.) But now that the IRS is under investigation, Colbert realized that he, along with thousands of Tea Party groups, could file the form with the assurance that the IRS would not dare deny it while the IRS, itself, was under investigation. So Colbert filed the form under the new name Making-America-A-Better-Tea-Party-Patriot-9/12-Place-To-Constitution-America-Tea-Party-Nominally-Social-Welfare-Conservative-Political-Action-Tea-Party-Secret-Money-Liberty-I-Dare-You-To-Deny-This-Application-Of-America-Tea-Party.

Once again, Colbert has exposed the reality of 501(c)4s and the absurdity of our political system.

To be clear, the 501(c)4 designation was never intended to be used by political groups…not even by satirical groups such as Colbert’s. It was intended for use by genuine charities that serve the public interest and need to keep their donors anonymous so that the donors would not be hounded by thousands of other charities seeking funding.

But the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashed a torrent of political groups claiming non-profit status so that corporations could keep their political donations anonymous. Not long afterward, the Tea Party movement began swamping the already understaffed IRS with thousands of requests for non-profit status. Is it any wonder, then, that the IRS chose to target these groups for extra scrutiny? What public good did the groups serve beyond providing cover for anonymous donors who wanted to use their money to attack political opponents and affect the outcome of elections?

Whether the IRS decision to request more information was politically-motivated is still unclear. But two things are clear: The IRS should scrutinize such groups, denying 501(c)4 status to those groups that are primarily political, like…say…the Tea Party. And Stephen Colbert is a unique talent.

“RNC Needs To Be Closed For Repairs.”

That’s what former Senator and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole said about today’s Republican National Committee. Asked if he would fit into the GOP today, he said, “I doubt it…Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have made it. Certainly Nixon wouldn’t have made it, because he had ideas.”

Now Former Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) has reiterated Dole’s comments. “The Republican Party is undergoing some, you know, significant and serious changes, and they are going to have to rethink their approach as a political party and how they are going to regroup and become a governing majority party that appeals to a broader group of Americans than they do today,” she said.

Dole and Snowe are the latest in a long line of moderate Republicans to decry their own party…or, more accurately, what’s left of their party.

But don’t expect Dole’s and Snowe’s comments to make much of an impact on the party. Today’s Republicans, especially their Tea Party parasites, simply don’t listen to reason. They live in an imaginary world where faith prevails over science; ideology over mathematics; anger over compromise; fantasy over history.

According to today’s Republicans, Ronald Reagan never raised taxes, Reagan and Bush never presided over deficits, and neither contributed to the national debt. They believe Watergate was merely a second-rate burglary, Reagan never sold weapons to Iran, and Bush never lied about WMD in Iraq.

In Republican World, only liberals and socialists rely on government while Republicans rely on their investments and hard work. On their own Red Planet, Republicans believe that government is unnecessary because free markets are self-correcting and self-policing; if corporations cheat or lie, they simply won’t survive…never mind the impact on consumers.

In Republican World, all scientists are wrong about climate change; all economists are wrong about the negative effects of austerity; and evolution is just a theory.

Most important, in the new Republican Party, all real Republicans toe the party line; independent thought is heresy; and former Republican officials who criticize the party are just that…former Republicans .

Vast Right Wing Conspiracy Revisited.

During President Clinton’s two terms as president, a right wing witch hunt led by Ken Starr and financed by libertarian billionaires spent years trying to uncover dirt on the president and his wife. They claimed that Clinton’s investment in a development named Whitewater was fraudulent. They claimed that Hillary hid legal records from her time as an attorney at the Rose Law Firm. They claimed that Hillary was at the heart of a “Travelgate” conspiracy that resulted in the death of Vince Foster. Some even accused her of murder.

So after eight years and $70 million, what dastardly deed did special prosecutor Ken Starr uncover? An Oval Office blowjob by White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Oh my! Although not the scandal Starr and his minions wanted, it was enough to embarrass the president and initiate impeachment proceedings after he claimed it didn’t happen.

Unfortunately for Starr and right wingers, it was not enough to have the president removed from office.

Fast forward 15 years and you see the same strategy; the same witch hunt; the same torches and pitchforks…just a different Democratic president.

Since Teapublicans took control of the House in 2011, we have seen Solyndra-gate, Fast & Furious-gate, and Benghazi-gate. Now there is IRS-gate and AP-gate. These are merely second-rate attempts to fire up the right wing echo chamber and energize the conservative base. None of them rises to the status of a real scandal.

But the right wing will keep digging.

After all, that appears to be the only thing they’re really good at…using a combination of money and lies to smear the reputations of their political opponents and to distract the media and voters from the real issues at hand. While voters have been focused on the scandals, few have noticed that Teapublicans have not put forward a single jobs bill; or that they have made no attempt to resolve the nation’s budget impasse; or that they have watered down consumer protections against another financial crash; or that they have secretly passed a bill to protect Monsanto from lawsuits; or that they have cut funding for necessary regulation designed to catch tax cheats, catch Medicare fraud, and keep our food safe; or that they are gearing up for another disastrous fight over the debt ceiling.

It seems that the right wing political strategy is nothing more than a high stakes version of three card Monte.

Onward Christian Soldiers?

On a recent holiday, my wife and I visited a historic church. Aside from the architecture, what struck me were two monuments on the church grounds: One was a war memorial placed directly in front of the main entrance honoring those church members who had served in war. The other was a gravestone dedicated to all the unborn who had lost their lives.

The contrast was striking. Obviously, the church supports killing on one hand and loathes it on the other. Is this what it means to be “pro-life?”

When did “Christian” churches begin to formally support our war machine? Based on what Biblical teaching? When did Christ ever sanction violence, let alone killing? How did “turn the other cheek” become “bomb the bastards?” Did God issue orders to invade Iraq as He did Jericho? How about Afghanistan? Vietnam? Korea?

I know this may seem particularly blasphemous to post on Memorial Day. (For the record, I honor all of those who have passed before us – soldiers and civilians alike.) But, if you believe in the 10 commandments, where is the asterisk noting that killing is okay as long as you’re wearing a military uniform?

A lot of Christian Americans have decried the violence of Muslim extremists. How is Christian support of war different? Aren’t churches supposed to be our moral compass? Shouldn’t they all hold steadfast to the teachings of their prophets and saviors? Shouldn’t they at least try to separate their teachings from the military, which is inherently about death and destruction?

But if churches can rationalize support for war, how is it not hypocritical for them to decry a woman’s choice to end a pregnancy? This is exactly the kind of hypocrisy that led the Church to torture and murder those it considered guilty of blasphemy or witchcraft.

Political Wars – From Reasoned Debate To Party Tribalism.

Despite our political differences, almost all Americans would agree on one thing: Our political system is broken. But why? What led us from the relative political unity following World War II to the anger and divisiveness of today?

It didn’t just happen.

A few individuals intentionally created the politics of destruction, most notably the so-called three amigos consisting of Jack Abramoff, Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed. Beginning in the 1980’s, these three not only viewed politics as a quasi-military, win-at-any-cost enterprise. They viewed it as a profit center in which they could squeeze millions from conservative groups and ideological billionaires to control the political dialogue and enrich themselves at the same time.

As leaders of the College Republicans, these first-rate bullies embraced combative politics. The only thing they treasured more than money was confrontation with liberals, progressives, and moderates of either party. As their power and standing in the Republican Party and conservative circles grew, our national politics devolved into a series of culture wars combining right wing militancy with the evangelical fervor of “Christians” unhappy with what they believed to be a nation in moral decline.

Abramoff was eventually arrested in 2006 and sentenced to six years in prison for mail fraud, conspiracy to bribe public officials and tax evasion. As executive director of the Christian Coalition, Reed was also implicated in the scandal but not charged. However, he was previously found to have violated federal campaign finance laws in 1990, 1992 and 1994. Meanwhile, Norquist has continued to gain power, having established Americans for Tax Reform and created the notorious Taxpayer Protection (No New Taxes) Pledge that all Republican candidates are asked to sign.

But the three amigos are not entirely responsible for our poisonous politics.

When Newt Gingrich was selected as Speaker of the House, he transformed Congress by pushing Republicans to vote as a unified block or risk being labeled a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and forced to face a difficult, and expensive, primary fight in the next election. Rather than fight, most Republicans submissively fell into line. As a result, we have an uncompromising, European-style parliamentary party in a two-party system that was based on compromise.

Adding to the dysfunction, the Tea Party movement, feeling displaced by minorities and disenfranchised by large corporations that had shipped jobs overseas, attached themselves to the Republican Party like leeches determined to bleed the party of every remaining moderate.

There you have the perfect political storm. A storm that destroyed the party of Lincoln and has now taken aim at our federal government. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

You can learn much more about the three amigos in Thomas Frank’s book The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule. Frank summarizes the thesis of his book this way, “Bad government is the natural product of rule by those who believe government is bad.” I also highly recommend It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How The American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics of Extremism by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Orenstein.

Neither of these books were written by anti-conservative ideologues. To the contrary, they were written by thoughtful and highly-respected moderates who are as dismayed by our take-no-prisoners style of politics as I am.

The DDT Of Our Time.

In 1972, the federal government banned the use of the pesticide DDT for agricultural use in the US. At the time, many species of birds (including the Bald Eagle) were on the path to extinction, and DDT was considered the culprit.

Not surprisingly, farmers were outraged. They were convinced that DDT was their only means of controlling the devastating effects of grasshoppers and other common pests. They were equally certain that DDT was not responsible for all the environmental ills attributed to it.

Decades later, the ban has proven to be justified as most species of birds have dramatically rebounded.

Now we’re facing a similar situation. Only this time the pesticide is Neonicotinoid, a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically related to nicotine. These insecticides created by Shell and Bayer are now the most widely-used in the world. And they are believed to be related to the colony collapse disorder resulting in the disappearance of billions of honey bees, which is why Neonicotinoids were recently banned throughout the European Union.

Of course, agribusiness and chemical companies are outraged. They are aggressively fighting a similar ban in the US by saying their scientific evidence doesn’t support such a ban.

If they’re right, the makers of Neonicotinoids could unnecessarily see their profits suffer. We could also see modest reductions in crop yields. But if they’re wrong, we could see the end of the honey bee and a near total collapse of food production.

What would you do?

Marketing Guns To Kids.

For many years, I’ve used mock guns to teach disarms to martial arts students. Some time ago, government agencies banned the sale of such items if they too closely resembled a real gun. They dictated that they be colored red, orange or yellow, and that they not include any detail so that no reasonable person would mistake them for a gun.That meant that they pretty much resembled a colored block of rubber or wood with a handle. The fear was that, if they were too realistic, criminals might use one of these training aids to hold up a convenience store.

Yes, I know, it never made much sense to me, either.

Now gun manufacturers have made such restrictions pointless. It seems that bluing, silver and black are not exciting enough to attract women and kids to the shooting “sports.” So, the murder-for-sale industry is now marketing guns in a variety of colors. This trend began when they began offering pink guns to women, presumably so that attackers wouldn’t know whether to back off in fear or simply curl up in laughter.

Not satisfied to stop there, the gun industry decided to offer guns in a full range of candy-like colors, such as red, blue, green and yellow. Of course, the new colors made them much more attractive to young children. And since they look like toys, when a young child discovers a colored gun in mommy’s or daddy’s nightstand, the child is almost certain to play with it.

What did the gun industry do when it was made aware of the potential danger of these guns? Did they immediately stop marketing them? Did they recall the lethal “toys” already on the market?

Of course not.

These upstanding Second Amendment absolutists simply encouraged parents to give guns to kids so they could start shooting them at targets (and each other) at ages as young as 5! Thanks to the NRA and their Teapublican supporters, there is virtually nothing that can be done to stop them.

On the other hand, it’s still illegal to sell or own a rubber or wooden “gun” that appears too realistic.

Worse Than Watergate?

Every time there’s even a hint of a scandal in a Democratic administration, conservatives are quick to call it “worse than Watergate.” It’s obvious that they need a history lesson. Because, nothing…I mean nothing…has approached the abuse of power that is now known as Watergate.

For conservatives and those too young to remember the Nixon administration, Watergate was more than just a single break-in at the Democratic headquarters in the office complex known as Watergate. It was a wide-ranging criminal enterprise directed by the President of the United States and the aptly-named Creep (Committee for the Re-election of the President).

Operatives known as the plumbers committed break-ins at the homes of reporters and political enemies. They set up illegal wiretaps. Nixon ordered the IRS to audit political enemies. He ordered the plumbers to spy on Democratic candidates, to use a variety of dirty tricks to disrupt their campaigns, and to leak embarrassing information. In short, he intended to use the full power of his office to short-circuit democracy and our electoral process so that he would be re-elected in 1972.

After a Watergate security guard interrupted the plumbers break-in at the Democratic headquarters, the repercussions resonated throughout the administration and the White House. Not only did Nixon resign under threat of impeachment, more than 40 operatives spent time in prison.

No president has so abused the power of the office and, had it not been for Watergate, Nixon would more likely be remembered for committing war crimes in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Chile. The only administration that has remotely approached the corruption of Nixon’s was the George W. Bush administration.

Corruption is corruption no matter who commits it, and it should be punished whether it was committed by a liberal or a conservative.

But let’s keep things in perspective: nothing in the Obama administration has risen to the level of Watergate. Not the imagined “scandals” of Solyndra and Fast & Furious. Not Benghazi. And unless it can be determined that the IRS was acting at the direction of the White House in scrutinizing Tea Party organizations, or that anyone above the level of the Assistant Attorney General ordered the phone records of AP reporters in order to track down a serious security leak, the Obama administration should not be compared to Nixon’s…except in contrast.

The Benghazi “Smoking Gun” Goes Up In Smoke.

Just when Darrell Issa and his melodramatic, partisan witch hunters thought they found the “smoking gun” showing malfeasance by the Obama administration with regard to Benghazi, they found that the “gun” was aimed at them.

On Tuesday, ABC News reported to have found an email showing that the State Department crafted the talking points for Ambassador Susan Rice’s appearance on Sunday morning news shows in order to cover up its incompetence. Issa’s committee immediately jumped on it as if it was catnip and they were a herd of crazed cats.

Then other news organizations examined copies of the original email and found that it had been misquoted by ABC. It seems ABC had been given an altered version of the email by an undisclosed “source” – most likely Issa.


A day later, CBS reported that Republicans had altered several White House emails regarding Benghazi in order to make the emails appear damaging to the White House and the State Department.

Double oops!!

In addition, former Ambassador Thomas Pickering refuted claims by Issa’s committee that he had refused to testify, publicly stating that he had offered to testify before the committee but was turned down.

Triple oops!!!

Then McClatchy newspapers reported that the late Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens had, on at least two occasions before the Benghazi attack, refused offers from military personnel for additional security for the consulate.

Quadruple oops!!!!

So after months of sensational reports and accusations that the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton were negligent in protecting the consulate in Libya and conspired to cover up their incompetence, the only ones who appear to be involved in a conspiracy and cover-up are Rep. Issa and his torch and pitchfork crowd.