The right wing’s attacks on women’s access to abortion once again turned deadly last Friday.
Colorado Spring police arrested Robert L. Dear six hours after he entered a Planned Parenthood facility wielding an AK-47 rifle. By then, he had murdered three people and wounded nine others.
For days, many in the mainstream media refused to speculate about Dear’s motives — a restraint that certainly didn’t characterize their coverage of the Paris terror attacks two weeks earlier. Even after witnesses reported that Dear uttered the phrase “No more baby parts” during his arrest, police claimed the shooter’s intentions required further investigation.
President Barack Obama issued a statement as the attack was still unfolding, calling for action to curtail gun access and support for the law enforcement officials on the scene. Obama didn’t use the words “women,” “abortion,” or even “health care” once.
His message may have resonated with many people who know Colorado Springs as a place where right-wing ideas flourish — and Colorado as a state where lawmakers were successfully recalled in 2013 after they supported gun-control legislation.
But Obama’s decision to dodge any comment about women’s right to access abortion as health care was cowardly — a sign of his unwillingness, common among his fellow Democrats, to take a clear stand in defense of women’s rights and the lives of patients and health care providers.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, likewise urged his constituents on both sides to “tone down the rhetoric” in debates about abortion. “I think we should have a discussion at least urging caution when we discuss some of these issues, so we don’t get people to a point of going out and committing violence,” he said.
4. The family of a white terrorist is interviewed, weeping as they wonder where he went wrong. The families of other terrorists are almost never interviewed.
5. White terrorists are part of a “fringe.” Other terrorists are apparently mainstream.
6. White terrorists are random events, like tornadoes. Other terrorists are long-running conspiracies.
7. White terrorists are never called “white.” But other terrorists are given ethnic affiliations.
8. Nobody thinks white terrorists are typical of white people. But other terrorists are considered paragons of their societies.
9. White terrorists are alcoholics, addicts or mentally ill. Other terrorists are apparently clean-living and perfectly sane.
10. There is nothing you can do about white terrorists. Gun control won’t stop them. No policy you could make, no government program, could possibly have an impact on them. But hundreds of billions of dollars must be spent on police and on the Department of Defense, and on TSA, which must virtually strip search 60 million people a year, to deal with other terrorists.
The Paris attacks should not, however, be seen primarily as acts of revenge from a distinctly twisted crew, even though one of the murderers reportedly shouted, “You killed our brothers in Syria and now we are here.” Instead, they were clearly acts of calculated provocation meant to reshape our world in grim ways. Worse yet, their effectiveness was pre-guaranteed because, as has been true since 9/11, the leaders of such terror groups, starting with Osama bin Laden, have grasped the dynamics of our world, of what makes us tick and especially what provokes us into our own barbarous acts, so much better than our leaders, our militaries, or our national security states have understood them (or, for that matter, themselves).
Here in a nutshell is what bin Laden grasped before 9/11: with modest millions of dollars and a relatively small number of followers, he and his movement couldn’t hope to create the world of their fervid dreams. If, however, he could lure the planet’s “sole superpower” into stepping into his universe, military first, it would change everything and so do his work for him. And indeed (see: invasion of Afghanistan, invasion of Iraq), an operation mounted for an estimated $400,000 to $500,000, using 19 dedicated (mostly Saudi) followers armed only with paper cutters, did just that.
And it’s never stopped since because, just as bin Laden dreamed, Washington helped loose al-Qaeda and its successor outfits from the constraints of a more organized, controlled world. In these last 14 years of failed wars and conflicts of every sort, American military power, aided and abetted by the Saudis, the British, the French, and other countries on a case-by-case basis, essentially fractured the Greater Middle East. It helped create five failed states (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen), worlds in which terror groups could thrive and in the chaos of which they could attract ever more recruits.
Wiping Out the Gray Zones
Think of the Islamic State and various al-Qaeda crews as having developed (to steal a term from commentator John Feffer) “splinterlands” strategies. To continue to grow, they need the U.S. and its allies to lend them an eternally destructive hand to further smash the worlds around them. So in response to the Paris attacks, French President Francois Hollande’s statement that “we will lead a war which will be pitiless” was just what the terror doctor ordered, as was the growing pressure in Washington for a “big military response” to Paris. The first French reprisal air strikes against IS’s Syrian “capital,” Raqqa, were indeed launched within two days.
All of this is like manna from heaven for the Islamic State, the more “pitiless” the better. After all, that group’s goal, as they write in their magazine and online, is “the extinction of the gray zone” in our world. In other words, they seek the sharpening of distinctions everywhere, which means the opening of abysses where complexity and interaction once existed. Their dream is to live in a black-and-white world of utter religious and political clarity (and calamity), while engaging in what American pundits like to term a “clash of civilizations.” And — what a joy for the Islamic State! — Republican presidential candidates are already responding to the Paris attacks, as Marco Rubio did, by calling for just such “a civilizational conflict with radical Islam.” As he put it, “This is not a grievance-based conflict. This is a clash of civilizations… And either they win, or we win.” Jeb Bush similarly responded: “This is an organized effort to destroy Western civilization and we need to lead in this regard.” The answer, of course, is “war.” Various Republican candidates are also now calling for only accepting Syrian Christians as refugees here. You can’t be more black and white than that.
In the European context and with the destruction of those “gray zones” in mind, the Paris attacks should also be considered the Islamic State’s first foray into the politics of the 2017 French presidential campaign. Think of those mass killings as a wholehearted endorsement of the extremist candidate Marine le Pen, whose poll numbers were already on the rise even before the attacks, and her anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant National Front Party. She is now, in effect, IS’s chosen candidate, the one most likely to go after gray zones. In the process, of course, pressure on France’s large, increasingly isolated Muslim population will only increase.
Such attacks are guaranteed to put wind in the already billowing sails of far right-wing parties all across Europe. It should, for instance, have come as no surprise that, in the wake of the Paris attacks, Konrad Szymanski, the European affairs minister for Poland’s new far-right government, almost instantly declared his country unlikely to abide by recently negotiated European Union (EU) quotas on accepting refugees from the Greater Middle East. And we’re only going to see more of this in the post-Paris world. With the assistance of IS and other jihadist groups, the elimination of such gray areas in Europe could, in the end, help crack the EU open, while pushing France’s Muslims into an even worse situation, which would, of course, mean more potential recruits for groups like the Islamic State.
Everyone, It was wrong of me to editorialize. My tweet was inappropriate and disrespectful. I sincerely apologize.
This all happened after The Washington Post‘s Erik Wemple complained that her original tweet showed “bias.” The claim that CNN journalists must be “objective” and are not permitted to express opinions is an absolute joke. CNN journalists constantly express opinions without being sanctioned.
Labott’s crime wasn’t that she expressed an opinion. It’s that she expressed the wrong opinion: after Paris, defending Muslims, even refugees, is strictly forbidden. I’ve spoken with friends who work at every cable network and they say the post-Paris climate is indescribably repressive in terms of what they can say and who they can put on air. When it comes to the Paris attacks, CNN has basically become state TV (to see just how subservient CNN is about everything relating to terrorism, watch this unbelievable “interview” of ex-CIA chief Jim Woolsey by CNN’s Brooke Baldwin; or consider that neither CNN nor MSNBC has put a single person on air to dispute the CIA’s blatant falsehoods about Paris despite how many journalists have documented those falsehoods).
Labott’s punishment comes just five days after two CNN anchors spent 6 straight minutes lecturing French Muslim civil rights activist Yasser Louati that he and all other French Muslims bear “responsibility” for the attack (the anchors weren’t suspended for expressing those repulsive opinions). The suspension comes just four days after CNN’s Jim Acosta stood up in an Obama press conference and demanded: “I think a lot of Americans have this frustration that they see that the United States has the greatest military in the world. … I guess the question is — and if you’ll forgive the language — is why can’t we take out these bastards?” (he wasn’t suspended). It comes five days after CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour mauled Obama on-air for not being more militaristic about ISIS (she wasn’t suspended); throughout 2013, Amanpour vehemently argued all over CNN for U.S. intervention in Syria (she wasn’t suspended).
Labott’s suspension also comes less than a year after Don Lemon demanded that Muslim human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar state whether he supports ISIS (he wasn’t suspended); in 2010, Lemon strongly insinuated that all Muslims were responsible for the 9/11 attack when he defended opposition to an Islamic Community Center in lower Manhattan (he wasn’t suspended). During the Occupy Wall Street protests, CNN host Erin Burnett continuously mocked the protesters while defending Wall Street (she wasn’t suspended) and also engaged in rank fear-mongering over Iran (she wasn’t suspended). I could literally spend the rest of the day pointing to opinions expressed by CNN journalists for which they were not suspended or punished in any way.
By very stark contrast, career CNN producer Octavia Nasr was instantly fired in 2010 after 20 years with the network for the crime of tweeting a positive sentiment for a beloved Shia imam who had just died, after neocons complained that he was a Hezbollah sympathizer. Earlier this year, Jim Clancy was forced to “resign” after 30 years with CNN for tweeting inflammatory criticisms of Israel. As I’ve pointed out over and over, “journalistic objectivity” is a sham for so many reasons, beginning with the fact that all reporting is suffuse with subjective perspectives. “Objectivity” does not ban opinions; it just bans opinions that are particularly disfavored among those who wield the greatest power (obviously, no CNN journalist would be punished for advocating military action against ISIS, for instance).
It began among children. In the village minister’s house, two little girls crawled under the furniture, made silly noises, spread their arms out like wings and tried to fly. The strangest thing—to any person who has spent more than 10 minutes on a grade-school playground—is that it was strange at all.
But standards of behavior for young girls were more exacting in 17th-century New England than they are today. The primary sources adopt a tone of perplexity. Nine-year-old Betty Parris, the parson’s daughter, and her 11-year-old cousin, Abigail Williams, had always been model children, “well Educated and of good Behaviour,” according to one chronicle. Soon, word spread through Salem: They had been bewitched. Clergymen came, then constables.
This was in January and February 1692. By autumn, it had all developed into very grown-up business. Twenty men and women, ages 20 to 80, had been executed under the imprimatur of the highest officials in Massachusetts. (Contrary to popular memory, however, no one was burned alive. Nineteen people were hanged, and one man was pressed to death with large stones in a failed attempt to extract a confession.) As many as 165 more, in two dozen villages and towns, had been publicly accused of sorcery; they ranged from an American Indian slave to one of the richest merchants in the colony.
Then, suddenly, as 1692 turned into 1693, the executions stopped, the accusers fell silent, the jails emptied. Stolid farmers’ wives no longer gibbered and convulsed; New England skies were no longer vexed nightly by the aerial traffic of witches and demons. For the next 300 years and more, people were left wondering exactly what had happened.
If 17th-century accounts of the events in Salem seem convoluted, contradictory, and blinkered by the preoccupations of their era, so too do many of the later explanations. There have been feminist interpretations, of course, and Marxist ones, and Freudian ones. Arthur Miller, in the opening pages of The Crucible (1953), described the witch scare as a kind of reactionary political spasm in response to the changing conditions of early America, “a perverse manifestation of the panic which set in among all classes when the balance began to turn toward greater individual freedom.” In the 1970s, a behavioral psychologist suggested that the Salem villagers’ rantings and ravings were caused by a hallucinogenic fungus on moldy rye bread—that colonial Massachusetts was, in effect, just having a really bad trip.
What we should have learned from Katrina, in other words, was that political poseurs with nothing much to offer besides bluster can nonetheless fool many people into believing that they’re strong leaders. And that’s a lesson we’re learning all over again as the 2016 presidential race unfolds.
You probably think I’m talking about Donald Trump, and I am. But he’s not the only one.
Consider, if you will, the case of Chris Christie. Not that long ago he was regarded as a strong contender for the presidency, in part because for a while his tough-guy act played so well with the people of New Jersey. But he has, in fact, been a terrible governor, who has presided over repeated credit downgrades, and who compromised New Jersey’s economic future by killing a much-needed rail tunnel project.
Now Mr. Christie looks pathetic — did you hear the one about his plan to track immigrants as if they were FedEx packages? But he hasn’t changed, he’s just come into focus.
Or consider Jeb Bush, once hailed on the right as “the best governor in America,” when in fact all he did was have the good luck to hold office during a huge housing bubble. Many people now seem baffled by Mr. Bush’s inability to come up with coherent policy proposals, or any good rationale for his campaign. What happened to Jeb the smart, effective leader? He never existed.
And there’s more. Remember when Scott Walker was the man to watch? Remember when Bobby Jindal was brilliant?
I know, now I’m supposed to be evenhanded, and point out equivalent figures on the Democratic side. But there really aren’t any; in modern America, cults of personality built around undeserving politicians seem to be a Republican thing.
Sam Harris, the prominent secularist and neuroscientist, recently exchanged a series of heated emails with Noam Chomsky, a linguist and leading social and foreign policy critic since the 1960s. Their discussion was buzzworthy because both men are well-known public commentators with occasionally overlapping subject matter who have never shared a forum before. Unfortunately for Harris, who reached out to Chomsky initially, the conversation didn’t go as well for him as he seemed to hope it would when he embarked on it.
A great deal of fuss was made, both by Harris and by his fans in comment threads, about Chomsky’s cantankerousness. Some readers are anxious to call the “debate” in Harris’s favor because of it. While Chomsky does clearly evince impatience and frustration with Harris, the rhetorical flourishes which so miffed Harris are typical of Chomsky’s manner: phrases like “As you know” and the rather more cutting, “If you had read further before launching your accusations, the usual procedure in work intended to be serious, you would have discovered…”
Chomsky, who has spoken at the UN more times than maybe anyone who doesn’t work there, is entitled to some impatience and frustration. Most of his discussion with Harris is driven by the question of intent on the part of perpetrators of terror and war. Harris charges, “For [Chomsky], intentions do not seem to matter. Body count is all.” For Harris, however, “Ethically speaking, intention is (nearly) the whole story.”
Chomsky’s infamous comparison of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant bombing to the terror attacks ofSeptember 11 frames the bulk of the conversation. President Clinton ordered the bombing of the Al-Shifa facility in Sudan in 1998. As a result, half of the pharmaceutical supplies of Sudan were destroyed, in particular their malaria medicine, chloroquine. Although only one person was killed by the missile itself, estimations by Chomsky and others place the resultant death toll in the tens of thousands.
Thus, Chomsky drew the analogy to 9/11, though he has since retreated from the comparison to clarify that, actually, Clinton’s bombing likely killed a lot more people. For Chomsky, it’s instructive to note that we treat 9/11 as one of the most horrendous acts ever to take place – which it is – but regard crimes with comparable or greater death tolls, routinely inflicted by powerful nations against weak ones, as a fact of life hardly worth mentioning.
Officially, the Al-Shifa attack was retaliation for the bombing of several embassies in Africa, justified by accusations that the plant engineered chemical weapons for terrorists. Harris assumes an awfully charitable disposition toward Clinton, arguing that the given reasons are sufficient to establish a moral difference between the Al-Shifa bombing and 9/11. Chomsky responds that all leaders profess benign intentions before committing their crimes, and notes that the official reasons fall apart on closer examination. Indeed, Clinton never provided evidence of Al-Shifa’s weapons manufacturing and later investigations demonstrated the facility had no ties to terror.
Chomsky even goes Harris one further, suggesting that Clinton probably didn’t intend to kill thousands of people by bombing Al-Shifa – he simply didn’t bother to consider the human cost. “On moral grounds, that is arguably even worse than murder, which at least recognizes that the victim is human,” Chomsky writes.
Last summer, thousands of Israelis shared a Facebook post published in Hebrew by little-known right-wing lawmaker Ayelet Shaked.
An excerpt from an unpublished article written by pro-settler Uri Elitzur, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s onetime chief of staff, who passed away in May 2014, the post was published in English translation on a blog on the anti-Zionist website ElectronicIntifada.com. The author of the blog post claimed that the 631-word excerpt called Palestinian children “little snakes” and accused Palestinian mothers of raising their kids to become violent martyrs. And, the blog post said, it read as “a call for genocide” of the Palestinian people.
Shaked, at the time a junior member of the right-wing, nationalist Jewish Home party, quickly defended the post and argued that the translation was unfair, though she later removed the post from her Facebook page.
But the damage was already done. The story was soon picked up by American news outlets, and Turkey’s then prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, even used the incident as an occasion to describe her politics as no different from the Nazi Party. “What is the difference between this mentality and Hitler’s?” he said.
The episode didn’t end Shaked’s political career. Instead, it immediately raised her public profile — and her popularity among voters who share her skepticism about the intentions of the Palestinians and who fiercely oppose ceding the land necessary to create a Palestinian state.
Her rapid ascent to the highest reaches of the Israeli political system hit a new peak Wednesday, less than a year after that controversy, when the 39-year-old computer engineer and mother of two was given control of Israel’s Justice Ministry. Shaked got the post as part of a desperate last-minute deal that saved Netanyahu from a looming deadline that could have lost him his seat.
Netanyahu, who had six weeks from his March election win to name a coalition government, had only 53 of 120 Knesset seats pledging loyalty to him on Wednesday morning. The nationalist, pro-settler Jewish Home party agreed to offer him the eight seats he needed to secure his prime ministership, but with a few conditions: Shaked would be named to the Justice Ministry, and her colleague, Naftali Bennett, to the Education Ministry. They also gained control of the Ministry of Agriculture and members of the party will also gain positions giving them significant influence over settlement policies.
The deal was far from optimal for Netanyahu, who was pigeonholed into it. Shaked, who in 2012 told the Algemeiner, a New York-based newspaper covering Jewish and Israeli news, that she has identified as right wing since she was only 8 years old, almost makes the prime minister look like a liberal. Her appointment is also sure to further strain Israel’s ties with U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, which favors the creation of a Palestinian state and has criticized Netanyahu for using divisive language about the Palestinians.
And as Daniel Levy, Middle East director at the European Council on Foreign Relations, put it in a conversation with Foreign Policy, “If you’re an Israeli with any kind of rootedness in liberal or universalist humanitarian tradition, then the thought of your justice minister being Ayelet Shaked and your education minister being Naftali Bennett probably goes beyond your worst nightmares.”
Other Israeli lawmakers agree.
Zionist Union Knesset Member Nachman Shai said Wednesday that giving Shaked the Justice Ministry “would be like appointing a pyromaniac to head the fire department.”
But she still has some backers. An op-ed published in the Jerusalem Post Thursday said despite her lack of legal background, she “is extremely competent.”
A self-described secular Jew, Shaked was raised in a home where she said political debates were rare. Her mother’s ancestors moved from the former Russian Empire and Romania in the 1880s, and her father, an Iraqi Jew, immigrated in the 1950s. Although she advocates for secular policies like mandatory military service for the ultra-Orthodox, her right-wing views were highly influenced by the religious settlers she fought alongside in the Israel Defense Forces.
Ideo realized there was a big opportunity in death. There are currently 76 million American baby boomers inching reticently in its direction. “We’re a generation that’s used to radicalizing things,” Bennett explains. Now, as many boomers watch their parents die just as Bennett had, accepting the soulless, one-size-fits-all deaths that society deals them, they seem to be rebelling one last time. Everywhere Bennett looked — New York Times opinion pieces and Frontline specials; assisted-suicide laws; the grassroots Death Café movement, where folks get together for tea and cake and talk about their mortality; a campaign in La Crosse, Wisconsin, that got 96 percent of the entire town to fill out advance directives, spelling out their wishes for end-of-life care — he saw his generation striving to make death more palatable, more expressive. And at the far extreme is the crop of phenomenally well-capitalized biotech startups working to get around the insufferable inconvenience of death altogether, either through science-fictionesque “radical life extension” treatments or by uploading your consciousness to the cloud. (These include Calico — Google’s so-called “Immortality Project” — and J. Craig Venter’s company Human Longevity, Inc. The founder of Oracle, Larry Ellison, who set up the Ellison Medical Foundation to defeat death, has explained his motivation succinctly: “Death has never made any sense to me.”) One way or another, Bennett told me, “We’re all holding hands and saying, ‘Forget that shit. Not going to happen.’”
I followed Bennett’s work over the past year — a journey that, in the end, may reveal less about the death of people than it does about the life of ideas, particularly the brand of Big Idea that distinctly Californian institutions like Ideo send careening through the culture. Right away, Bennett understood it would take years to see the sort of wholesale shift he was imagining — a generation or more. There was so much to do, he could really start anywhere. He just needed to find a few suitable clients, to locate a few fissures through which a genuinely different conversation about death could begin to flow. And because he was looking in San Francisco, in the year 2014, the first one he found was a startup building an app.
The app was called After I Go. The president and ceo of the company building it, Paul Gaffney, had founded two other startups but had spent most of his career working near the top of large corporations such as Charles Schwab, Office Depot, Staples, and aaa, primarily helping them find their footing online. He was 47, a loose and affable guy despite being excruciatingly analytic at his core. Once, when I asked Gaffney about himself, he explained that his “personal value proposition” is “establishing a vision for a new outcome particularly in consumer-related spaces enabled by the novel use of technology” — but he managed to sound human when he said it, even warm.
Gaffney described After I Go as TurboTax for death: a straightforward app that would allow people to write wills or advance directives and, in general, preemptively smooth out the many ancillary miseries that can ripple through a family when someone dies. Bank accounts, life-insurance policy numbers, user names and passwords, what night the garbage goes out — all of it could be seamlessly passed on. Whatever fear or despair people feel about death is only heightened by the fear that, because they never got around to making the necessary preparations, their death might burden the people they love. Gaffney assumed there’d be a big market for an app that eliminated that risk. “Simply providing people with that sense of organization would be a huge emotional payoff,” he said. But he was spectacularly wrong. Bouncing his ideas off potential investors, he quickly understood that no one welcomed a chance to prepare for death. It’s thankless drudgery — plus, it reminds you you’re going to die.
Gaffney realized he couldn’t just build the right tool; he also had to build the motivation to do the job in the first place. That’s what people would pay for. Suddenly, the work After I Go needed to do was no longer rational but emotional — which is to say, far outside Gaffney’s personal value proposition. (“I learned a long time ago that I’m not a good test case for how human beings respond,” he explains.) And so he hired Ideo to help.