Whistle-blower, maybe. Hero, probably not.

I just can’t figure Edward Snowden.  The more little pieces I hear about and read about him, the more I wonder about him and his motivation.  This is why I found Jonathan Capehart’s piece so interesting.  Writing in the Washington Post’s Post Partisan blog, Capehart begins

A sidewalk encounter with a friend drove home my conflicted feelings about Edward Snowden. The national-security leaker was surely a “narcissist,” he said, but Snowden was definitely “a hero.” And the more my friend talked about the reaction to Snowden, especially that of congressional Democrats, the more angry his own reaction appeared to become. Part of me wished I could work up that much passion for this self-professed champion of government transparency. Alas, I can’t.

I feel the same way.

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

Snowden told the Guardian which broke the story that he wanted to go to a place where the government doesn’t spy on people.  The last time I checked, Hong Kong has a complicated legal relationship to China.  China is not exactly a country that eschews spying on citizens.  In an article about extradition the Guardian says

Hong Kong has not accepted a political defence against extradition since the handover in 1997. In the 1930s it turned down a bid by French authorities for Ho Chi Minh’s return to what was then IndoChina, in a case that went all the way to the privy council. More recently, in 1994, its courts stayed the extradition of the politician Jeffrey Kitigan to Malaysia.

Guy Goodwin-Gill QC, a leading expert on extradition at Blackstone Chambers in London, noted that the international climate had changed, with offences that previously might have qualified – such as hijacking – no longer accepted as political.

“The times are very much one of co-operation across a broad range of activities. You hardly ever find a state refusing extradition for political offences any longer,” he said.

In the case of Snowden, “you certainly see political dimensions: you have members of the US senate or House of Representatives calling him a traitor – so they are building a very good case for another state to treat this as political,” added Goodwin-Gill.

Of course, there are avenues for appeal through the courts in Hong Kong which could drag out the process for years according to some British legal experts.  It remains unclear why he went to part of China when he was professing a wish to be free of surveillance.

I have also heard that he may have misrepresented his salary to the Guardian – that it was much lower than he claimed.  Snowden also claimed that as a contractor with the NSA he had broad authority to do a lot of things that some experts question.  This is from NPR

Edward Snowden’s claim that as systems administrator for a defense contractor in Hawaii he had the authority “to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president,” just isn’t plausible, says a former national security lawyer at the Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Carrie Cordero, the former Justice and DNI lawyer, is now director of national securities studies at Georgetown University Law Center. She tells Steve that “the notion that this individual has the authority to go ahead and … ‘wiretap’ people is just ridiculous.”

Without discussing the details of how such surveillance programs work and the safeguards that are in place to protect privacy, Cordero says that Snowden’s claim “does not resemble anything close to what I observed within the intelligence community.”

Snowden may turn out to be a braggart who stretches the truth.  And this may damage his credibility overall.  But the bottom line for me is that he doesn’t seem to have told us anything that a lot of people didn’t know before.  Capehart again

We absolutely should know what our government is up to. And, according to The Post’s Walter Pincus, we’ve known about this for quite some time.

The legendary national-security writer cites a May 2006 USA Today story that revealed “the NSA ‘has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth,’ attributing that information to ‘people with direct knowledge of the arrangement.’” Then there was the March 15, 2012, Wired magazine story on the new $2 billion NSA Data Center in Utah and “its ability to ‘intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.’”

“Was there any follow-up in the mainstream media to [James] Bamford’s disclosure, or anything close to the concerns voiced on Capitol Hill this past week? No,” Pincus writes in Tuesday’s paper.

So where should we go from here?  I agree with Capehart’s conclusions

Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a debate about what we now know and its appropriateness now that we know it. Eugene Robinson zeroes in on this in his Tuesday column.

The NSA, it now seems clear, is assembling an unimaginably vast trove of communications data, and the bigger it gets, the more useful it is in enabling analysts to make predictions. It’s one thing if the NSA looks for patterns in the data that suggest a nascent overseas terrorist group or an imminent attack. It’s another thing altogether if the agency observes, say, patterns that suggest the birth of the next tea party or Occupy Wall Street movement.

Is that paranoia? Then reassure me. Let’s talk about the big picture and decide, as citizens, whether we are comfortable with the direction our intelligence agencies are heading. And let’s remember that it was Snowden, not our elected officials, who opened this vital conversation.

Yes, Snowden opened this conversation. But that’s as much credit as I’m willing to give him.

That sounds about right.  Let’s see if Congress talk about this without a lot of finger-pointing and hysteria.  Should the result be changes to the Patriot Act, we can give Snowden a little piece of the credit.

Photograph: AP

Race: the elephant in the room

If you look behind the numbers of most polls, President Obama is losing the white male, and to a lesser extent, the white female voter.  Why you may ask yourself are these folks voting against their own self-interest?  There is a fear of change.  Fear of loss of power.  And race is at the core.  If I had any doubts about this, they were ended with the reactions of John McCain and John Sununu about Colin Powell’s endorsement of President Obama yesterday.

John Sununu who is not known for his rationality said in an interview with Piers Morgan

“When you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to wonder whether that’s an endorsement based on issues or whether he’s got a slightly different reason for preferring President Obama,” Mr. Sununu said.

Mr. Morgan asked flatly, “What reason would that be?”

Mr. Sununu responded, “Well, I think when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him.”

Do you think Sununu has endorsed Mitt Romney because Romney is white?  I don’t think so.

Sununu later released this statement

Colin Powell is a friend and I respect the endorsement decision he made, I do not doubt that it was based on anything but his support of the President’s policies. Piers Morgan’s question was whether Colin Powell should leave the party, and I don’t think he should.

John McCain was not as overt saying

Mr. Powell had “harmed” his legacy by endorsing Mr. Obama a second time. Appearing on Brian Kilmeade’s radio program, Mr.  McCain said “General Powell, you disappoint us and you have harmed your legacy even further by defending what is clearly the most feckless foreign policy in my lifetime.”

Remarks like these from leaders of the Republican party help to fuel the ugly streak we see in the election.  The billboards in minority communities telling people voter fraud is a crime, the t-shirts with the logo “put the white back in the White House”, and the persistent view that the President is not a citizen and certainly not Christian.  David Sirota wrote a piece titled “5 Signs Racism Still Rules Politics”  which is quite instructive.

1. Joe Biden Is almost never called a socialist or a Marxist. Despite a Senate voting record and presidential policymaking record that align him with moderate Republicans from a mere decade ago, Obama is regularly derided as a socialist, a communist or a Marxist. By contrast, Obama’s own white running mate, Joe Biden, has as liberal — or at times even more liberal — a voting record as Obama, but (save for the occasional Newt Gingrich  outburst) is almost never referred to in such inflammatory terms.

2. Romneycare is Obamacare, yet the latter is criticized. It’s a well-known, undisputed fact that Romneycare was a conservative health insurance model constructed by the right-wing  Heritage Foundation , and that it was Massachusetts’ state-level  model for the federal healthcare bill ultimately championed by President Obama. Nonetheless, under the first African-American president, the very same healthcare model the GOP championed is now being held up by the GOP as a redistributionist boondoggle

3. A white president would never be criticized for these statements about Trayvon Martin. No white president has ever been blamed for the varied and disparate transgressions committed by white folk.

What the President said was

“When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids, and I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together.”

4. America would neither ignore nor laugh off a young black male relative of Obama publicly fantasizing about violence against a presidential candidate. As I reported last week, Romney’s son, Tagg Romney, cheerily riffed on his fantasies about committing an act of violence against a sitting president of the United States.

5. If one of Obama’s teenage daughters was unmarried and pregnant, it wouldn’t be considered a “private” matter.When Sarah Palin was put on the Republican ticket in 2008, Bristol Palin’s pregnancy did not initiate a national discussion about the issue of teen pregnancy, unprotected sex or promiscuous fornication outside of wedlock.

Pictures show the difference between the crowds at rallies.  You rarely see any brown or black faces at Romney rallies.  His crowds tend to be older and whiter.

Mitt Romney arrives to campaign at Worthington Industries, a metal processing company, in Worthington, Ohio, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012.  | AP Photo

Let me end with some observations from Eugene Robinson.

This election is only tangentially a fight over policy. It is also a fight about meaning and identity — and that’s one reason voters are so polarized. It’s about who we are and who we aspire to be.President Obama enters the final days of the campaign with a substantial lead among women — about 11 points, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll — and enormous leads among Latinos and African Americans, the nation’s two largest minority groups. Mitt Romney leads among white voters, with an incredible 2-to-1 advantage among white men.
It is too simplistic to conclude that demography equals destiny. Both men are being sincere when they vow to serve the interests of all Americans. But it would be disingenuous to pretend not to notice the obvious cleavage between those who have long held power in this society and those who are beginning to attain it.When Republicans vow to “take back our country,” they never say from whom. But we can guess.
Robinson concludes

Issues may explain our sharp political divisions, but they can’t be the cause of our demographic polarization. White men need medical care, too. African Americans and Latinos understand the need to get our fiscal house in order. The recession and the slow recovery have taken a toll across the board.

Some of Obama’s opponents have tried to delegitimize his presidency because he doesn’t embody the America they once knew. He embodies the America of now.

I can’t help but feel that if President Obama wins a second term we will have turned a corner –  whether the Republicans can accept it or not.  If the country is not to continue on this divided path the Republicans deal the elephant of race.

UPDATE:

Charles Blow has an interesting chart in Saturday’s New York Times.

Both photographs by AP.

Watching the circus

Watching the circus in Washington used to be a fun activity, but right now it is just depressing.  I got home from work last night expecting to watch the Republican vote on the Speaker’s plan only to learn that it had been postponed.  When I went to bed at 10 it was still pending.  At 5 this morning, I learned it didn’t happen because the Republican leadership didn’t have the votes.  All this for a bill that is DOA in the Senate.

We are all being held hostage by a handful of tea partiers and other Republicans who are convinced that their election gave them some kind of mandate to kill the country.  As they are learning in Wisconsin, people are beginning to have buyer’s remorse.  On the other hand, the tea partiers are threatening to run against the very people they elected if the new Congressmembers don’t come through.  Among those making the threats are Sarah Palin and the founder of the Texas Tea Party on Al Sharpton’s MSNBC show last night.  So I don’t think the 20 or so votes that Boehner is looking for will materialize, but then again, this whole spectacle is full of surprises so one never knows.

Everyone, including President Obama, has let this small faction define the fight.  I think Eugene Robinson is right:  The Republicans have one easily stated idea:  Reduce the deficit (and deny Obama a second term) while the Democrats and particularly Progressives don’t have an easily stated idea.

Those who would chronicle events in Washington can find no richer source of analogy and metaphor than the Three Stooges. These days, I’m thinking of the times when an exasperated Moe, having suffered the indignity of an accidental spritzing or clobbering, turns to Larry or Curly and demands, “What’s the big idea?”

The premise of the debt-ceiling fight is too far-fetched for a Stooges film, since no audience could imagine leaders of a great nation stumbling into such a mess. Moe’s trademark line is still relevant, however, even if it’s not followed by the two-fingered poke in the eyes that our elected officials richly deserve.

It is clear that unless President Obama ends up taking unilateral action to break a hopeless deadlock, Republicans will win. The House, the Senate and the White House are all working within GOP-defined parameters: New tax revenue is off the table, painful budget cuts are a given, everyone seems to accept the principle that a debt-ceiling increase — which allows the Treasury to pay bills Congress has already incurred — must be tied to reductions in future spending.

Besides not having an easily stated idea that everyone repeats, the Democrats have done all the compromising.  And it hasn’t worked out so well.  Look back at the retention of the Bush tax cuts:  Do you see any jobs?  Robinson concludes

Obama talks about “winning the future,” but that’s too nebulous. I’d suggest something pithier: jobs, jobs, jobs.

People may dislike paying taxes, but they dislike unemployment more. Progressives should talk about bringing the nation back to full employment and healthy growth — and how this requires an adequately funded government to play a major role.

The next time Moe asks about the big idea, Democrats, say “jobs.” You might avoid a slap on the noggin and a poke in the eyes.

I think it maybe time for the President to stop trying to compromise, to get together with Reid and Pelosi and make a real proposal.  To quote Paul Krugman

Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?

The answer, it turns out, is yes. And this is no laughing matter: The cult of balance has played an important role in bringing us to the edge of disaster. For when reporting on political disputes always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty for extremism. Voters won’t punish you for outrageous behavior if all they ever hear is that both sides are at fault.

,,,

So what’s with the buzz about a centrist uprising? As I see it, it’s coming from people who recognize the dysfunctional nature of modern American politics, but refuse, for whatever reason, to acknowledge the one-sided role of Republican extremists in making our system dysfunctional. And it’s not hard to guess at their motivation. After all, pointing out the obvious truth gets you labeled as a shrill partisan, not just from the right, but from the ranks of self-proclaimed centrists.

But making nebulous calls for centrism, like writing news reports that always place equal blame on both parties, is a big cop-out — a cop-out that only encourages more bad behavior. The problem with American politics right now is Republican extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse.

Time for the President to not only talk the talk as he did last week, but also walk the walk.  Compromise by only one side has lead to this circus that is not even very entertaining.  At the very least, round up enough votes in the Senate to pass the Reid plan so the Democrats can at least say they did something.  You can compare plans here.  And please, let there be only one vote.  I don’t think anyone can take this again in 6 months.

 

 

 

 

Leaving Afghanistan

Last night, President Obama announced that 10,000 American soldiers will leave Afghanistan by the end of the year with about 20,00 more gone by the end of next summer.  This leaves about 70,000.  These will in the President’s own words,  “…continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead.  Our mission will change from combat to support.  By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security. ”  OK then.  But why wait until 2014?  Do we expect things to be any different by then?  Or are our troops in Afghanistan there to stabilize the border with Pakistan?  Can’t really tell.

Soldiers watch Obama's speech from Afghanistan.

           (AP Photo of Soldiers in Afghanistan watching the speech)

According to my rudimentary math, we are going to take a year to move out 30,000 soldiers and it appears that the President’s “steady pace” is 30,000 a year. (70,000 over 30 months.)  I think the Russians left faster but they were on the same continent and I think we can say they were in retreat while we are claiming, if not victory, than mission accomplished. 

Here is link to a graphic from the New York Times about troop levels.

Meanwhile it looks as if we will be working on a political solution.  An excellent idea, but why are we waiting until next May to “shape the next phase of this transition”?  Is NATO too busy?  Maybe bombing Libya.?

If Afghanistan is the “good” fight, we still have about 47,000 troops in Iraq, the “bad war”.  They are all coming home beginning this summer.  According to this story in the Huffington Post

The United States has been in Iraq since 2003, and there are currently about 47,000 U.S. troops still in the country. Withdrawal, set to seriously go into effect by late summer, involves not only removing U.S. forces, but also pulling 63,000 contractors, closing 100 bases and getting rid of one million pieces of equipment.

This is supposed to happen by the end of this year.  I point this out in part to show that withdrawing more that 30,000 troops a year is logistically possible and in part to provide some good news.

Almost everyone seems to want us to stop fighting in the entire region (the Middle East and Northern Africa).  Even the United States Conference of Mayors wants money spent on our own infrastructure and deficit reduction.  And my only quarrel with the President is timing.

I think no one will be happy with this speech.  Those that want us to stay and fight will be unhappy that we are actually starting to leave.  Those that want us to leave will be unhappy with the pace of withdrawal.  And those of us who want to use the money elsewhere will find that we are still going to be spending money in Afghanistan for a long time to come.

As Eugene Robinson said

I doubt the speech will please either hawks or doves. From his frankly uninspiring, let’s-all-eat-our-peas delivery, I have to doubt whether the president even pleased himself.

Race is complicated

3 days ago no one had heard of Shirley Sherrod who turns out to be the wife of Charles Sherrod, a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

The Nation reports on Melissa Harris-Lacewell’s appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Up until a few days ago, most of the nation didn’t know who Shirley Sherrod was, but for people who have made a life and a career out of studying civil rights, like Nation columnist Melissa Harris-Lacewell, that name was no news to them. Shirley Sherrod is the wife of Charles Sherrod, a foundational member of the Civil Rights Movement and one of the founders of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Lacewell explains that Sherrod “was not just a bureaucrat working away in Georgia; this is a woman who is part of a family that has made real contributions to advancing the conversation on race in America.”

And even though right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart only showed a short excerpt of Shirley Sherrod’s NAACP banquet speech and the administration rushed to judgment, Harris-Lacewell told Morning Joe that some good could come out of this scenario. She says that a national conversation on race is a bad idea, but a national classroom on race should be considered. Embedded under all of this mess is a beautiful story of Sherrod, the Spooner Family and interracial cooperation around issues of justice, Harris-Lacewell says. “The real narrative that Ms. Sherrod was telling is the narrative of someone who’s father was killed by the Ku Klux Klan, who developed prejudices and yet found a way through her advocacy and work to be a true advocate for this white farm family.”

And lest we forget, the NAACP also rushed to judgement by first applauding her dismissal.  I guess we can forgive Ben Jealous who is too young to have lived though the SNCC days or the segregated schools attended by Shirley Sherrod.  Did he recognize the last name, I wonder.  The white family she helped, the Spooners, jumped to her defense.

Image: Former Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod

For wisdom on this issue, I turn to Eugene Robinson’s column in today’s Washington Post.

After the Shirley Sherrod episode, there’s no longer any need to mince words: A cynical right-wing propaganda machine is peddling the poisonous fiction that when African Americans or other minorities reach positions of power, they seek some kind of revenge against whites.

A few of the purveyors of this bigoted nonsense might actually believe it. Most of them, however, are merely seeking political gain by inviting white voters to question the motives and good faith of the nation’s first African American president. This is really about tearing Barack Obama down.

It looked like a clear case of black racism in action. Within hours, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had forced her to resign. The NAACP, under attack from the right for having denounced racism in the Tea Party movement, issued a statement blasting Sherrod and condemning her attitude as unacceptable.

But Breitbart had overstepped. The full video of Sherrod’s speech showed that she wasn’t bragging about being a racist, she was telling what amounted to a parable about prejudice and reconciliation. For one thing, the incident happened in 1986, when she was working for a nonprofit, long before she joined the federal government. For another, she helped that white man and his family save their farm, and they became friends. Through him, she said, she learned to look past race toward our common humanity.

In effect, she was telling the story of America’s struggle with race, but with the roles reversed. For hundreds of years, black people were enslaved, oppressed and discriminated against by whites — until the civil rights movement gave us all a path toward redemption.

So why was she forced to pull over and text a resignation?  Robinson explains

The Sherrod case has fully exposed the right-wing campaign to use racial fear to destroy Obama’s presidency, and I hope the effect is to finally stiffen some spines in the administration. The way to deal with bullies is to confront them, not run away. Yet Sherrod was fired before even being allowed to tell her side of the story. She said the official who carried out the execution explained that she had to resign immediately because the story was going to be on Glenn Beck’s show that evening. Ironically, Beck was the only Fox host who, upon hearing the rest of Sherrod’s speech, promptly called for her to be reinstated. On Wednesday, Vilsack offered to rehire her.

Shirley Sherrod stuck to her principles and stood her ground. I hope the White House learns a lesson.

Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture has apologized and offered her a job.  President Obama called to apologize.  It seems unlikely at this writing that she will go back to work for the USDA, but one can never tell.

The New York Times story points out

That, however, is unlikely to be the end of it for Mr. Obama, who has struggled since the beginning of his presidency with whether, when and how to deal with volatile matters of race. No matter how hard his White House tries to keep the issue from defining his presidency, it keeps popping back up, fueled in part by high expectations from the left for the first black president, and in part by tactical opposition politics on the right.

The Sherrod flap spotlighted how Mr. Obama is caught between these competing political forces, and renewed criticism from some of his supporters, especially prominent African-Americans, that he has been too defensive in dealing with matters of race — and too quick to react to criticism from the right

“I think what you see in this White House is a hypersensitivity about issues of race, that has them often leaning too far to avoid confronting these issues, and in so doing lays the foundation for the very problem they would like to avoid,” said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an advocacy group here.

I don’t pretend to know what the President should do.  On one hand you have the right including leaders like Newt Gingrich and the Tea Party quick to find reverse racism, i.e. favoritism, is anything that the President tries to do.  It is unlikely that given what is happened Congress will vote to fund the settlement for black farmers denied loans and other benefits for which he requested an appropriation.   The lawsuit was settled in 1999, but farmers have never seen a penny.  According the NPR story, some of them are hopeful that the Shirley Sherrod incident will help move things along, but I am afraid just the opposite will happen.  I hope they are right.

A small group of black farmers rally at the Agriculture Department

The White House may have, as Eugene Robinson hopes, learned the lesson not to react without all the facts.  But I fear that race is still an issue that divides us to the point we can’t talk about it.  During the Lincoln-Douglas debates. the part of Andrew Breitbart/Glenn Beck was played by Stephen Douglas.  Douglas said “I do not regard the negro as my equal, and positively deny that he is any kin to me whatsoever.”  The problem for all the modern day Stephen Douglas’s is that a black man has been elected President.  The problem for Barack Obama is being the first.  And the ultimate irony is that it is almost exactly one year since Henry Lewis Gates was arrested.

Keeping the Faith

I’ve been thinking about the mid-term elections a lot recently.  With financial reform and health care reform passed, President Obama has kept two big promises.  Of course, neither bill is perfect.  But both are steps in the right direction.  So when his poll numbers go down anyway and the pundits think mid-term election disaster it is hard to keep the faith.  In this connection, I’m looking at a piece from last Sunday’s Boston Globe and Paul Krugman’s New York Times column from yesterday.

The Globe article by Joe Keohane in the Ideas section was titled “How Facts Backfire”  and the role factual information plays in a democracy.  It was pretty bleak and discouraging.

It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. This notion, carried down through the years, underlies everything from humble political pamphlets to presidential debates to the very notion of a free press. Mankind may be crooked timber, as Kant put it, uniquely susceptible to ignorance and misinformation, but it’s an article of faith that knowledge is the best remedy. If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.

Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

Paul Krugman wrote Friday about the Republicans proposed economic plan.  Basically tax cuts for the rich and nothing for the rest of us according to Krugman.

Republicans are feeling good about the midterms — so good that they’ve started saying what they really think. This week the party’s Senate leadership stopped pretending that it cares about deficits, stating explicitly that while we can’t afford to aid the unemployed or prevent mass layoffs of schoolteachers, cost is literally no object when it comes to tax cuts for the affluent

And that’s one reason — there are others — why you should fear the consequences if the G.O.P. actually does as well in November as it hopes.

For a while, leading Republicans posed as stern foes of federal red ink. Two weeks ago, in the official G.O.P. response to President Obama’s weekly radio address, Senator Saxby Chambliss devoted his entire time to the evils of government debt, “one of the most dangerous threats confronting America today.” He went on, “At some point we have to say ‘enough is enough.’ ”

But this past Monday Jon Kyl of Arizona, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, was asked the obvious question: if deficits are so worrisome, what about the budgetary cost of extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which the Obama administration wants to let expire but Republicans want to make permanent? What should replace $650 billion or more in lost revenue over the next decade?

His answer was breathtaking: “You do need to offset the cost of increased spending. And that’s what Republicans object to. But you should never have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.” So $30 billion in aid to the unemployed is unaffordable, but 20 times that much in tax cuts for the rich doesn’t count.

The next day, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, confirmed that Mr. Kyl was giving the official party line: “There’s no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue, because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy. So I think what Senator Kyl was expressing was the view of virtually every Republican on that subject.”

The Republicans seem to be making it pretty clear that they want to go back to the old economic way.  Krugman continues

But we’re talking about voodoo economics here, so perhaps it’s not surprising that belief in the magical powers of tax cuts is a zombie doctrine: no matter how many times you kill it with facts, it just keeps coming back. And despite repeated failure in practice, it is, more than ever, the official view of the G.O.P.

Why should this scare you? On paper, solving America’s long-run fiscal problems is eminently doable: stronger cost control for Medicare plus a moderate rise in taxes would get us most of the way there. And the perception that the deficit is manageable has helped keep U.S. borrowing costs low.

But if politicians who insist that the way to reduce deficits is to cut taxes, not raise them, start winning elections again, how much faith can anyone have that we’ll do what needs to be done? Yes, we can have a fiscal crisis. But if we do, it won’t be because we’ve spent too much trying to create jobs and help the unemployed. It will be because investors have looked at our politics and concluded, with justification, that we’ve turned into a banana republic.

Krugman also looks at the facts

…But the real news here is the confirmation that Republicans remain committed to deep voodoo, the claim that cutting taxes actually increases revenues.It’s not true, of course. Ronald Reagan said that his tax cuts would reduce deficits, then presided over a near-tripling of federal debt. When Bill Clinton raised taxes on top incomes, conservatives predicted economic disaster; what actually followed was an economic boom and a remarkable swing from budget deficit to surplus. Then the Bush tax cuts came along, helping turn that surplus into a persistent deficit, even before the crash.

So the facts seem to be higher taxes on higher incomes results in lower deficits and more economic benefit for the rest of us.  But if we believe Joe Keohane, the facts don’t matter much to those that have settled beliefs.

…Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.

This effect is only heightened by the information glut, which offers — alongside an unprecedented amount of good information — endless rumors, misinformation, and questionable variations on the truth. In other words, it’s never been easier for people to be wrong, and at the same time feel more certain that they’re right.

So how exactly do the Democrats combat all the Republican nonsense?  Not only the Kyl and McConnell quotes that Krugman mentions, but also statements that if the Republicans take over during the mid-terms they will repeal the health and financial reforms.  They know very well that if they try, there will be a Presidential veto and that they will not be able to keep that promise, but despite that fact, they will be believed.  Keohane discusses a number of studies and possibilities but the most immediate solution to this problem seems to be increasing self-esteem.

One avenue may involve self-esteem. Nyhan worked on one study in which he showed that people who were given a self-affirmation exercise were more likely to consider new information than people who had not. In other words, if you feel good about yourself, you’ll listen — and if you feel insecure or threatened, you won’t. This would also explain why demagogues benefit from keeping people agitated. The more threatened people feel, the less likely they are to listen to dissenting opinions, and the more easily controlled they are.

Increasing the self-esteem of the American electorate right now means creating jobs and making some radical moves on the economy.  Some of the benefits of the reforms will also begin to impact voters by fall.

The Democrats should take Eugene Robinson’s advice on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown last night. 

I mean it’s not like the Democrats don’t have something to run on this fall. So get out there and run on it.

Gene also said in a recent column in the Washington Post

One reason I’m not so confident of a Republican blowout in the fall is that while polls clearly show that the country is in an anti-incumbent mood, there’s also considerable evidence that people see the GOP as part of the problem, not part of the solution. A new Post-ABC News poll, for example, showed that 58 percent of voters have “just some” confidence, or even less, in President Obama’s leadership, and that 68 percent were similarly doubtful about the ability of congressional Democrats to lead. But 72 percent had little or no faith in congressional Republicans — which suggests to me that the GOP has work to do before its leaders start picking out new office suites in the Capitol.

Another reason for caution is that the Republican Party is out of step with the American public on so many issues. Americans want to see unemployment benefits extended. They want tougher financial regulation, complete with consumer protections. Even health-care reform, which the GOP succeeded in painting as the apocalypse, becomes more popular as the months pass and somehow the world does not end.

I have to believe that there is a large portion of the American electorate that can be swayed by facts.  And the ray of hope is in the slide that Olbermann showed with the results of the NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll which indicates that the majority would like more, not less regulation of Wall Street, big business, the health care industry and, by a big margin, the oil industry.  They won’t get that from the Republicans who want a moratorium on regulation.

Some Reasons for Hope

Yesterday I was feeling a little discouraged about health care reform, but this morning there are a few things that make me believe that the Democrats , in particular, the progressives, are pushing back.

The first story that caught my eye in the New York Times this morning was about advertisers cancelling ads on the Glenn Beck Show on Fox News.

ABOUT a dozen companies have withdrawn their commercials from “Glenn Beck,” the Fox News Channel program, after Glenn Beck, the person, said late last month that President Obama was a racist with a “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”

The companies that have moved their ads elsewhere in recent days included ConAgra, Geico, Procter & Gamble and the insurance company Progressive. In a statement that echoed the comments of other companies, ConAgra said on Thursday that “we are firmly committed to diversity, and we would like to prevent the potential perception that advertising during this program was an endorsement of the viewpoints shared.”

The companies that have moved their ads elsewhere in recent days included ConAgra, Geico, Procter & Gamble and the insurance company Progressive. In a statement that echoed the comments of other companies, ConAgra said on Thursday that “we are firmly committed to diversity, and we would like to prevent the potential perception that advertising during this program was an endorsement of the viewpoints shared.”

The companies may still be advertising on Fox, but not on Glenn Beck’s shows.  A small victory. 

Then there is the still optimistic Eugene Robinson reminding us this morning what thing would have been like if Obama had lost.

We’re told the economy is on the mend, but we still see six-figure job losses every month. The health-care debate has become so polarized that even if it ends in breakthrough legislation, chances are that opponents will still be irate and supporters more exhausted than overjoyed. The deficit is gargantuan, bipartisanship is nonexistent, the prison at Guantanamo is still open, and the war in Afghanistan looks like a potential quagmire. The summer has become a bummer.

But anyone sliding into a slough of despond should keep things in perspective. Almost every day, there’s some reminder of how far we’ve come since President Obama’s inauguration — and how much worse things could be.

On Thursday, there were two such aide-mémoires. The first was a report in The Post that Dick Cheney, in his upcoming book, plans to detail his behind-closed-doors clashes with George W. Bush. The story, by Post reporter Barton Gellman — whose book “Angler” is the definitive account of how Cheney, as vice president, basically tried to rule the world — quotes a source as saying that Cheney believes Bush went all soft on him during the second term.

That was when Bush ordered a halt to the waterboarding of terrorism suspects, closed the secret overseas CIA prisons, made diplomatic overtures to hostile states such as North Korea and Iran, and generally started to behave in ways that Cheney apparently deemed entirely too reasonable.

Othere recent revelations (not by Mr. Cheney) include his wanting a pardon for Scooter Libby (and not getting it) and his campaign to build secret prisons.  If this is true, more places than the Brattleboro, Vermont need to be indicting Dick Cheney for war crimes.  And does this mean that Cheney was no longer President during the second W term? 

Robinson continues

I know that I’m not alone in wishing that Obama were moving more quickly to erase the stain that the Bush-Cheney excesses left on our national honor. I wish Guantanamo were already closed — but Obama did set a date certain for shutting the place down and pledges to follow through. I’m troubled that he hasn’t flatly rejected the concept of indefinite detention — but he at least recognizes that some kind of due process needs to be involved.

I’m most troubled by Obama’s resistance to a full-bore investigation of the Bush-Cheney transgressions. I can only hope that the president sees the error of his ways — or at least that the probe of CIA interrogation abuses that Attorney General Eric Holder might launch is allowed to follow the evidentiary trail to whatever crimes it may reveal.

We are then reminded that Sarah Palin could have replaced Dick Cheney as Vice President.

But witness Sarah Palin’s weird near-daily eruptions — about imaginary death panels and the like — and reflect on what the summer would have been like if she were serving as vice president of the United States.I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling much better about everything.

I’m seeing some signs of hope too, Gene.  I never believed that the election of Barack Obama was a magic bullet that was going to instantaeously cure all our ills, but it sure does make a difference in lots of intangible ways.  The biggest being the need to confront our continued racism.