[ Posted Thursday, December 18th, 2014 – 18:03 PST ]
[Program Note: No fresh column today, sorry, but I am up to my eyeballs in getting my year-end awards columns (the first of which runs tomorrow) ready. Consider today's comments section an "open thread" where you can suggest any notable names for the various "McLaughlin Awards" I hand out every year. Here is Part 1 and Part 2 of last year's awards, so you can see the category list (which is extensive). Let me know your suggestions in the comments! Also, further programming news: next week we'll have a column Monday and Tuesday, but will then take a break until Friday, when the second installment of this year's awards will run. In any case, please enjoy the following, which was last year's Christmas column.]
Originally published December 23, 2013
Ho, Ho, Holy Cow -- Santa Gets Fighter Escort On U.S. Military Site (Reuters)
A U.S. military website showing Santa Claus delivering his presents while guarded by warplanes has some children's advocates worried.
In a twist to its tradition of tracking an animated version of Santa Claus' sleigh and reindeer as he flies around the globe on December 24, the military is adding the animated fighter plane escort to give a realistic feel to the popular feature, said a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
"We wanted to let folks know that, hey, this is a NORAD video, and we're the military and this is our mission," said the spokesman, Navy Captain Jeff Davis.
[Note: The above article is real. What follows, however, is not.]
We hereby interrupt our live coverage of Pope Francis leading Midnight Mass this Christmas Eve, because we've got some breaking news from the Pentagon. We apologize for pre-empting our traditional Christmas Eve programming, and promise we will continue our coverage after the newsbreak, on a slight time delay so our viewers won't miss a single minute of the Pope.
We take you now to our Pentagon correspondent, who is awaiting the start of this extraordinary and unprecedented Christmas Eve press conference...
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[ Posted Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 – 17:13 PST ]
Today, the Cold War's end is finally in sight. Begun almost immediately after World War II, the Cold War was the defining issue in American foreign policy right up to 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. One final legacy remained for another quarter-century after the Berlin Wall came down, though: America's Cuba policy. This final leftover from the Cold War will now be brought to an end, decades after it had been proven not to work. President Barack Obama just spoke on the telephone with the leader of Cuba to finalize the two countries' new relations -- an event that hadn't happened in over half a century. The Cold War is now almost completely a matter of interest only to historians, to put things into context.
America's Cuban policy was always a personal one, driven by our hatred of Fidel Castro. The Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis cemented our policy into one of irrational behavior -- doing the same thing for 50 years, while continually expecting a different result. Harshness towards Cuba during this time was an absolute requirement for American presidents, lest they be painted "soft on communism." We slapped an economic embargo on the island that the rest of the world largely ignored (Cuban cigars and beach vacations have always been available in Europe), in order to crush the Cuban economy and force the Cuban people to overthrow Castro. The C.I.A. plotted (this is historical fact) with the Mafia to smuggle James Bond-like weapons (such as exploding cigars) into Cuba to get rid of him. None of it worked. Fidel Castro held onto control during the presidencies of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush's son -- a total of ten presidents Castro lasted through. His continued leadership of Cuba showed how ineffectual our embargo and diplomatic shunning of Cuba has been, throughout the past five decades.
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[ Posted Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 – 16:52 PST ]
The Bill of Rights celebrated its 223rd anniversary yesterday. Anyone who believes this is a positive addition to America's history should thank the Anti-Federalists, since they were responsible for the creation of the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. There aren't a whole lot of folks today who call themselves "Anti-Federalists," so you'll have to salute their memory instead.
George Washington's greatest failure as the first leader of our country (by his own admission) was his futile effort to prevent partisanship from ever developing in our national government. Washington was a starry-eyed idealist (one might almost say "Utopian") in his vision for how the new country should be governed. He even devoted much of his farewell address to denouncing what was then known as "factionalism," which now reads as an admission of defeat for his grand ideal of sober-minded men working for the betterment of their country instead of getting caught up in the passions of politics. But without such factionalism, the Bill of Rights wouldn't ever have even existed.
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[ Posted Monday, December 15th, 2014 – 18:05 PST ]
The 2014 midterms are over. The lame-duck Congress is wrapping things up and preparing to flee Washington. The holiday season is in the air. So, naturally, it is now time to turn our attention to the 2016 presidential contest.
I know, I know -- it's still way too early for this stuff. We have over a year before the first primary will be held, and then almost another full year until the general election happens. Nonetheless, over the weekend a flurry of speculation broke out over Jeb Bush's possible candidacy. Bush made some moves which strongly indicate he may indeed become the third Bush to make a run for the presidency.
If Jeb does run, he may face Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side. Now, a "Clinton versus Bush" contest doesn't exactly thrill many people who are looking for perhaps a little more variety (and a little less dynasty) in our presidential choices, but it is indeed worth contemplating at this point, at least if Jeb is serious about running.
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[ Posted Friday, December 12th, 2014 – 17:29 PST ]
Before we begin, a quick program note is necessary. This column will go on hiatus for the next two weeks, as we bring you instead our traditional year-end "best of/worst of" columns. So join us back here in the new year, after the holidays, when Friday Talking Points resumes on the second of January.
There were two big things going on in the political world this week: the release of the Senate torture report, and the cromnibus bill which kept the government open. For the most part, we're going to cover the torture report at the end, in a very unusual talking points section.
Which leaves us with the subject of how bad laws get made. How do bad laws get made? Quickly, for the most part.
No, that's not a joke. The worst laws nearly all have one thing in common: they are rushed through very quickly, usually because Congress is facing some self-imposed deadline (which is being generous, because what that last bit really should read is: "because Congress wants to scarper off to enjoy yet another multi-week vacation."
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[ Posted Thursday, December 11th, 2014 – 13:00 PST ]
Because I'm in the midst of an awfully stormy day (the power's already gone out once), I'm going to post this as today's article, while I still can.
Below is the full text of John McCain's speech on the Senate floor this week on the subjects of torture and the report Dianne Feinstein's committee just released. McCain's words are important, because they show how this issue should never be considered a partisan one, but instead a moral one. McCain speaks with the courage of his own convictions, and he paid a high price for those convictions.
So, without further ado, here is what former P.O.W. John McCain had to say on torture this week.
-- Chris Weigant
Senator John McCain, Senate floor speech, 12/9/14
Mr. President, I rise in support of the release -- the long-delayed release -- of the Senate Intelligence Committee's summarized, unclassified review of the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" that were employed by the previous administration to extract information from captured terrorists. It is a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose -- to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the U.S. and our allies -- but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.
I believe the American people have a right -- indeed, a responsibility -- to know what was done in their name; how these practices did or did not serve our interests; and how they comported with our most important values.
I commend Chairman Feinstein and her staff for their diligence in seeking a truthful accounting of policies I hope we will never resort to again. I thank them for persevering against persistent opposition from many members of the intelligence community, from officials in two administrations, and from some of our colleagues.
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[ Posted Thursday, December 11th, 2014 – 11:55 PST ]
I'm in the midst of a very big storm right now, and the power has already gone out once. Because of this, I cannot guarantee I will be able to post a column today. I'll do my best, but have no computer that runs on candlepower. Also, the site itself may go down, as my ISP may also have power problems today. I'm hunkered down, riding the storm out, but while I do have power thought I would warn everyone in case there's no column possible today. Thanks for your patience.
[ Posted Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 – 18:13 PST ]
Thanks to the tireless efforts of Senator Dianne Feinstein, we now have an official record of what, exactly, was done in all our names in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. As President Obama has already admitted, this can be summed up as: "We tortured some folks." We can't pretend it wasn't torture anymore, because the facts weren't swept under a historical rug this time.
What does it all mean? Well, that's a subject that is fiercely being debated right now, both by those who hold human rights dear and by more than a few torture apologists. Even the term "torture apologists" should be a shameful one to use in America, when you stop and think about it.
The report has been out for more than a day now, and I'd like to share my own personal reflections. These are somewhat random and unconnected in nature, I admit, but there are many facets to the fact that America tortured prisoners. In other words, I'm not going to attempt some grand narrative which builds to a solid conclusion, instead I am just going to set down my own reactions to America torturing, Feinstein reporting on it, and the reactions of others to her report. Maybe, given a little more time, I'll come up with a better overview, but for now this'll have to do.
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[ Posted Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 – 18:14 PST ]
I realize that this is supposed to be a one-subject day in the political world, but I am going to allow the Feinstein torture report at least one day's worth of consideration before I comment on it. So, while I allow time for rumination on the torture report, I'm going to address something else going on in Washington this week: the last-minute tug-of-war over funding the federal budget. Republicans have made their opening bid, indicating what they're going to include in their sweeping "cromnibus" budget bill. Democrats are objecting to several measures contained within the Republican plan, which range from the incredibly important (letting Wall Street essentially gamble on derivatives with taxpayer-backed money) to the petty (gutting Michelle Obama's school lunch program). Somewhere in between is the subject of legalizing recreational marijuana in the District of Columbia.
Initiative 71, which legalized marijuana possession (but not sales) for recreational adult use in the District, passed overwhelmingly, one month ago (7 in 10 D.C. voters approved it). But because Washington is not a state (it's a federal district), Congress has the final veto on D.C.'s budget. When D.C. voted (by an identical 7-in-10 margin) to legalize medical marijuana back in the 1990s, Congress effectively blocked the will of the voters for an astounding 11 years. They even blocked (until a federal court ruled against such an un-American notion) the official counting of votes for that initiative. I mention this to show how Draconian the congressional veto of D.C. marijuana law has been used in the past. This context is necessary to compare with what Congress is now contemplating doing.
One Maryland Republican in the House, apparently still upset that his state donated the land for D.C. centuries ago (or something), pushed an amendment to the cromnibus that would have flat-out overturned the will of the people on Initiative 71, and kept recreational marijuana fully illegal in District law. Democrats indicated that this was a deal-breaker for them (on the entire cromnibus bill), so today a compromise of sorts seems to have been reached.
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[ Posted Monday, December 8th, 2014 – 17:55 PST ]
What, exactly, is a conspiracy theory? How do you define the term?
I have to admit, I had never really given these questions much thought before. Conspiracy theories seem to be almost self-evident, usually through the context in which they are presented. If you read something written by a serious believer, it's pretty obvious. If you see conspiracy theorists portrayed in a movie or television show, once again it's usually obvious -- even when they're not literally wearing tin-foil hats. But when studying the history of conspiracy theorizing, coming up with a clear definition of the term is an absolutely necessity, since it will dictate which data is included and which is omitted in the study.
When reading the new book American Conspiracy Theories (Oxford University Press -- also available at Amazon.com) and while interviewing its two authors, I found myself returning again and again to my own personal definition of what constitutes a conspiracy theory. If any given conspiracy theory is later proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be true, would you still call it a conspiracy theory -- either before or after the actual conspiracy has been shown to exist?
The authors of American Conspiracy Theories are Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent, both political science professors at the University of Miami. They devote the initial chapters of the book to explaining their own definition of what constitutes a conspiracy theory for the purposes of their study, and then present a historical overview of American conspiracy theorizing for roughly the past century. The three sources they used to compile their data are interesting: they fielded a survey in an attempt to understand conspiratorial thinking (and who is affected by it), they studied a very recent slice of conspiracy theories posted on the internet to see the current state of such theorizing, and they conducted an exhaustive search of over 120 years of printed letters to the editor of the New York Times. This last source is particularly brilliant, because it reveals the extent of conspiracy theories all the way back to the 1890s (a decade which was, incidentally, a hotbed of conspiratorial theorizing).
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