Drudge Retort: The Other Side of the News

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Trump's national security adviser said Saturday that Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections is beyond dispute, marking a sharp reversal of Trump's frequent dismissal of alleged Russian cyber-meddling as a "hoax." H.R. McMaster was speaking at an international conference in Munich in response to a question from a Russian delegate. He spoke shortly after an appearance at the same gathering by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who had dismissed as "just claptrap" allegations of Russian meddling found in U.S. indictments handed down Friday. read more

As Mark Meadows, the chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives, told the Washington Post, "Budgets are aspirational documents and seldom have a real impact on spending." But this doesn't mean that the new budget document should be completely ignored. For one thing, the proposal confirms that the country's finances will be in a wretched state once the G.O.P.'s recent tax-cut bill is fully enacted. Second, it provides yet another window into the deeply inequitable policy priorities of the Republican Party. And, finally, it illustrates the rank hypocrisy and chronic cognitive dissonance afflicting the Party under Donald Trump. read more

Friday, February 16, 2018

The GOP's hand-wringing over "deranged" individuals distracts from America's real pathology: guns. Nobody doubts that Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old man responsible for killing 17 people in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday, is troubled. The troubles are obvious now, the troubles are chyrons on the television, and experts are busy exploring the ruins those troubles have created. Every time someone troubled picks up a gun and murders mass numbers of people, we ask ourselves why it happened as if the answers will ever materialize. read more

Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller's office, indicating he's poised to cooperate in the investigation, according to sources familiar with the case. Gates has already spoken to Mueller's team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. He's had what criminal lawyers call a "Queen for a Day" interview, in which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors' team, including about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed. Gates' cooperation could be another building block for Mueller in a possible case against President Donald Trump or key members of his team. read more

As McDougal was getting dressed to leave, Trump did something that surprised her. "He offered me money," she wrote. "I looked at him (+ felt sad) + said, ‘No thanks - I'm not ‘that girl.' I slept w/you because I like you - NOT for money' - He told me ‘you are special.' " read more


"[T]he right-wing suggests that mental health is clearly the culprit," Jones points out. "Never mind that in reality, mental illness is rarely violent in an external sense. It tends to direct violence toward the self: Research suggests that people with mental illness are more likely to commit suicide rather than they are to kill others if they have access to firearms. They are 16 times more likely to be killed by police even though a 2014 study by the American Psychological Association found that only 7.5 percent of all violent crime could be linked to perpetrators' symptoms of mental illness."

There is really only one way to effectively reduce gun violence, and that is to reduce the number of gun owners. But the only reductions that interest Trump and his party are reductions to the very social safety net that ensures access to affordable mental health care to begin with. For people with mental illness, conservative policies and rhetoric represent an existential threat: The GOP's war on welfare and Medicaid could make it dramatically harder for people to access care, and Republicans have proposed expansive waivers for essential health benefits that would also impact mental health parity in private insurance.

Now, the party's rhetoric on gun violence as a mental health crisis isolates the same vulnerable community they've abandoned by positioning them as a dangerous fifth column. There's a McCarthyite impulse here, a drive to identify and scrutinize the deviant so as to purify society. Profiling the "off" and the "weird" won't reduce the number of mass shootings any more than eliminating their care will. Meanwhile, the grim total of Americans who die at the end of a gun will continue to rise.

"In America, some lives always matter more than others," writes author Jones. "But guns matter more than almost anything else."

The United States is flooded with guns, a reflection both of its cowboy mythos and its obeisance to profit. It's lucrative to make guns, to sell them, and to lobby for their unfettered possession. In 2016, there were nearly 300 million guns in America -- the highest rate of per-capita gun ownership in the developed world. Globally, the United States represents half of the world's supply of civilian-owned guns. But while there's roughly one gun for every person in the country, gun ownership is hardly evenly distributed. The Washington Post reported in 2016 that 3 percent of Americans own half the country's guns. What we do not possess in any disproportionate measure compared with other countries, however, are people with mental illness.

Look exclusively at the money fueling the National Rifle Association, and a clearer picture emerges: Only 19 percent of the nation's gun owners donate to the NRA. Those gun owners lean heavily to the right, and their hostility to any restriction on gun ownership places them firmly outside the American mainstream. If there is an American pathology, this is the demographic where it resides. And if we must rank human threats to American security, the NRA's activist network comes far above even the seriously mentally ill. The beliefs and donations of a select few grip the Republican Party so tightly that they are able to essentially contravene democracy. Most Americans want gun control. But whenever the nation is confronted with tragedy, the Republican Party offers prayers and scapegoats -- and people with mental illness are among the easiest, most vulnerable targets the country has to offer.

The scapegoat, as defined in the Book of Leviticus, is a propitiation. He is to be presented alive before the Lord as an atonement for the sins of the people. The goat is an individual solution to a collective problem; he becomes too dangerous to tolerate. So he is sent into an uninhabited place to wander, where no one can see him. If he suffers, then he suffers alone. This is how the guilty scrub themselves clean: They pass their shame to the innocent. They create outcasts. And then they continue to sin.

"[B]y running up the deficit when we don't need it, Republicans are making it impossible to increase spending when the inevitable recession comes. The only "solution" will be brutal austerity on the poor and middle class (but never the rich!). You can already hear Paul Ryan salivating at the idea of kicking millions of people off of Medicare and Medicaid while demanding Social Security be privatized," writes Justin Rosario.

As for why they're in such a rush to explode the deficit? They have to do it now because they can't rely on Trump to do it for them when the Democrats control Congress. Faced with a massive recession and an angry public, Trump is not going to naturally seek to shred the social safety net. He's going to frantically cast about for whatever will make him the hero and austerity isn't it. Remember, Trump has no ideology beyond himself. If the Democrats put a bill in front of him that will make life better for the poor and middle class while closing tax loopholes for Wall Street bankers, he will sign it as long as it makes him look good with the public. Trump is a populist in the sense he will do anything that is popular and improving the social safety net while clawing back money from the rich is very popular across the political spectrum.

But with the deficit already at $1.5 trillion, a recession will push it close to $2 trillion if not over. Even the Democrats might quail at the thought of pushing the tried and true Keynesian solution of government spending to fight a deep recession with the price tag that high.

And that's the point. With the echo chamber of Fox News, AM Hate Radio and right wing hate sites blaring out a sudden renewal of deficit hawkishness, Republicans, aided by a "liberal" media that will have, yet again, completely forgotten the GOP's responsibility for the massive deficit, will scream at the top of their lungs that the nation is on the brink of collapse unless we cut all this bloated government spending on poor people. They'll probably even have the gall to demand more tax cuts for "job creators" because they're just that shameless.

It would be nice to be wrong. It would be nice to believe that the Republican Party doesn't actually despise the nation so much they would risk a total economic collapse just to achieve their political agenda of undoing the social safety net. But these are the same people that are literally protecting Donald Trump from an investigation into collusion with Russia to steal an election and allowing Russia to continue tampering with our elections because it benefits them. It's been clear for quite some time that the Republican Party has no moral or ethical line they will not cross with reckless abandon in the pursuit of power. They're not even hiding their hypocrisy anymore.

When the recession hits and Republicans start their braying for massive cuts "for the good of the nation", what you'll really be hearing is nothing more than the laughing mockery of soulless monsters demanding the lives of the poor and middle class be sacrificed on their altar of greed.

"There's no point in pining for a lost era when a small group of journalistic elites determined the national conversation; and the democratization of media has brought many benefits, not the least of which is empowering marginalized voices that had traditionally been ignored," Kirchick points out.

The uncomfortable truth, however, is that, while the Internet has given everyone a platform to tell their own stories, many abuse that new power. One result of this media fragmentation is that Americans today live in entirely different information spaces, where the conception of what's true or false depends upon what cable network one views, radio show one listens to, or website one reads. In this sense, America is beginning to remind me of places I have traveled to in the former Soviet Union, such as Ukraine, where part of the country yearns to join the European Union and another believes Europe is a homosexual-fascist despotism.

In 1964, when the segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace mounted a longshot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, the TV networks didn't even cover his campaign announcement and The New York Times put the news on page eleven of an inside section. Half a century later, when another highly improbable figure -- who, unlike Wallace, had never even held elective office -- glided down the escalator of his Manhattan skyscraper to declare his presidential candidacy, the media covered him obsessively and has never looked away. It is not just that we live in a country where celebrities can become presidents, as the many, ostensibly serious people advocating that Oprah Winfrey challenge Trump indicate. We live in a country where the very archetype of the tinfoil-hat-wearing crackpot, whose claim to fame is standing on a street corner shouting obscenities, can have the ear of the most powerful person in the world.

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