Sunday, December 27, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: December 27, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
"I think that the more than the American people understand what Trump stands for, which among other things is his assertion that wages in America are too high. He wants to, quote/unquote, "make America great." And here's a guy who's a billionaire who thinks that wages in America are too high. He thinks that we should not raise the minimum wage. He wants to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to his millionaire and billionaire friends. But I think creating and playing off the anxiety and the fears that the American people have, the fears about terrorism, the fears about our economy, and becoming a demagogue about that, and then trying to get us to hate Mexicans, or to hate Muslims, I think that is a strategy that is not what America is supposed to be about. What I believe, in contrast to Mr. Trump, is that we bring our people together to focus on the real issues, which is the disappearing middle class, massive income and wealth inequality. A corrupt campaign finance system. The fact that we're not effectively addressing the international crisis of climate change. The fact that our kids can't afford to go to college. And moms and dads can't afford child care. Those are the issues that we have to focus on. And we have to look at the greed. The greed of corporate America. The greed of Wall Street, which has had such a terrible impact on our economy and on millions of people. So, I'm trying to bring people together to take on the wealthy and powerful who have done so much to hurt the middle class. Trump is trying to play on fears and divide us up."
-- Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), from an interview on CNN, aired December 24, 2015. His remarks concerned Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Sanders is accusing Trump of exploiting fear, of being a demagogue, of inciting bigotry, and dividing the country.

Putin slyly stirred America’s politics by saying Trump is “very talented,” adding that he welcomed Trump’s promise of “closer, deeper relations,” whatever that might mean, with Russia. Trump announced himself flattered to be “so nicely complimented” by a “highly respected” man: “When people call you brilliant, it’s always good.” When MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said Putin “kills journalists and political opponents and invades countries,” Trump replied that “at least he’s a leader.” Besides, Trump breezily asserted, “I think our country does plenty of killing also.” Two days later, Trump, who rarely feigns judiciousness, said: “It has not been proven that he’s killed reporters.” Well. Perhaps the 56 journalists murdered were coincidental victims of amazingly random violence that the former KGB operative’s police state is powerless to stop. It has, however, been “proven,” perhaps even to Trump’s exacting standards, that Putin has dismembered Ukraine. … Until now, Trump’s ever-more-exotic effusions have had an almost numbing effect. Almost. But by his embrace of Putin, and by postulating a slanderous moral equivalence — Putin kills journalists, the United States kills terrorists, what’s the big deal, or the difference? — Trump has forced conservatives to recognize their immediate priority.
-- Pundit George Will, December 23, 2015, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Comment: Will is accusing Trump of making a false equivalence between the U.S. and Putin's Russia.

Washington Post depicts Ted Cruz’s children as monkeys. And won’t apologize for it.
-- Pundit Moe Lane, December 23rd, 2015, referring to a Washington Post cartoon created by Ann Telnaes and published the previous day. The cartoon accused Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) of using his two daughters (aged 5 and 7) as "political props" by putting them in his campaign commercials. It did so with a drawing of Cruz as an organ grinder, and the children as monkeys held on leashes.

Comment: There are legitimate questions about whether children of politicians should be the target of political debate, or whether children should be involved in political campaigns; I leave those issues aside for now. Lane (and others, like Cruz himself) have accused Telnaes of denigrating Cruz's children, but I don't think that's correct. I think this is a case of mistaken "comparing" language. Telnaes wasn't saying that Cruz's children were literally monkeys – that would be a case of "subhuman" name-calling – rather, she said they were being used to garner attention for his political campaign, analogous (I imagine, "comically" exaggerated, as cartoonists' satire goes) to the way organ grinders would use monkeys to collect money.

"For Trump to get out there and call her a liar and get on his high horse about that is a little ridiculous, given that this is a guy who said he predicted [Osama] Bin Laden when he didn’t, that he saw thousands of American Muslims on video celebrating 9/11 when that didn’t happen, and when he said he made friends with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin in the green room at “60 Minutes” when he was in New York and Putin was in Moscow. So, when it comes to lying, Trump is really not in a strong position to make an that accusation against anybody else in this race."
-- Pundit David Corn, December 22, 2015, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump. Trump had accused Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of lying when she said that the Islamic State was using Trump's rhetoric against Muslims to recruit fighters.

Comment: Corn is using ad hominem reasoning to dismiss Trump's accusation against Clinton. Just because Trump himself has made falsehood statements in no way proves that he is wrong when he claims that Clinton has done the same.

We are not responding to Trump but everyone who understands the humiliation this degrading language inflicts on all women should.
-- Jennifer Palmieri, a spokesperson for the campaign of Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, December 22, 2015. Palmieri was referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump's remarks that Clinton had been "schlonged".

Comment: Palmieri is saying Clinton's campaign won't comment on Trump's language, while at the same time doing the opposite: pointing out that it's degrading language. This is sort of the reverse of an evasion: saying that you won't comment on something, but then doing it.

"She was favored to win and she got schlonged, she lost."
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, December 21, 2015, referring to Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her failure to win the Democratic nomination in 2008.

Comment: I'm not sure what kind of name-calling this would amount to, though it's clear Trump's language ("schlong" is Yiddish for "penis") has a vulgar sexual connotation.

Five years ago, I was fired by NPR for telling Bill O’Reilly that, since the September 11th attacks, I get nervous when I see people dressed in Muslim garb getting on an airplane. By admitting the truth of my own fears, I was pointing out the need to avoid politically correctness and acknowledge the legitimate link between radical Islam and terrorism. I also said once the PC muzzles are off the American people— and after all the fears are expressed — it is paramount to keep in mind that the U.S.A. is a country founded on the ideal of religious liberty. I believed then, as I believe now, that we can’t stereotype any group on the basis of the behavior of extreme, violent or criminal behavior from extreme elements. I don’t want anyone blaming me, a Christian, for the Colorado man who cited his faith as the reason he shot and killed three people at a Planned Parenthood facility last month. My point five years ago was that if our leaders pander to public fears they will see political gain in the short-term. But in a nation of many faiths, the political impulse to exploit anti-Muslim passions amounts to bigotry. And in the long run, it undermines our common American identity, a bond across religious beliefs, place of birth, skin color, and political beliefs. In other words, it is contrary to basic American values and undermines American unity — out of many, one people. The Trump Muslim ban is exactly the type of bigoted overreaction I was warning against. Clearly, most Republicans do not see it the same way. … Right-wing politicians get tons of media attention and fundraising boosts when they call for mass deportation of millions of Mexicans, building a wall along the Southern border, barring visitors from Africa over Ebola paranoia, and banning widows and orphans fleeing from Syria over ISIS paranoia. The American right needs a bogeyman and more often than not, that bogeyman is dark-skinned and a foreigner. The Trump solution is to pull up the drawbridge, wall off the United States and abandon the country’s tradition of inclusion and acceptance. Making American great seems to mean taking the country back to a time of more white people, fewer immigrants and certainly fewer Muslims. It is safe to say the odds of it happening are slim. But Trump is selling fear and even his GOP political opponents are buying it.
-- Pundit Juan Williams, December 21, 2015, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Williams is accusing Trump of fear-mongering, and accusing much of the right-wing of bigotry.

"She's always been – whether it was Whitewater or the email scandal, she always lies. And now to be saying that we're just right in the perfect spot with respect to ISIS, I don't think that's a lie, I really don't think she knows what she's doing."
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, December 21, 2015, referring to Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Comment: Trump is accusing Clinton of distortion – more, that she always lies, which could also involve the "they'll say anything" caricature – but he then immediately contradicts himself and says that Clinton is not lying in her assessment of ISIS. Rather, he says, she's made a false assessment of the Islamic State based on being "out of touch with reality".

"Yes, there have been times where you start seeing on college campuses students protesting somebody like the director of the IMF or Condi Rice speaking on a campus because they don't like what they stand for. Well, feel free to disagree with somebody, but don't try to just shut them up. If somebody doesn't believe in affirmative action, they may disagree — you may disagree with them. I disagree with them, but have an argument with them. It is possible for somebody not to be racist and want a just society but believe that that is something that is inconsistent with the Constitution."
-- President Barack Obama, from an interview released December 21, 2015.

Comment: Obama is calling for setting a higher standard of debate (in particular, not shouting people down or falsely accusing them of bigotry).

INSKEEP: Let me follow up on a couple of things you mentioned. You mentioned slavery. Among the many protests this year are two small but symbolically interesting ones at Ivy League universities. At your alma mater, Harvard Law, there is a seal for the school that is based on the family crest of a slave owner. At Yale there is a school named after John C. Calhoun, who was a great defender of slavery. The call is to get rid of those symbols. What would you have the universities do?

OBAMA: You know, as president of the United States I probably don't need to wade into every specific controversy at a –

INSKEEP: But you can do it. We're here.

OBAMA: But here's what I will say generally. I think it's a healthy thing for young people to be engaged and to question authority and to ask why this instead of that, to ask tough questions about social justice. So I don't want to discourage kids from doing that.
-- President Barack Obama, from an interview released December 21, 2015, with Steve Inskeep of NPR.

Comment: This is an evasion. Like most presidents, Obama has commented on many controversies (including ones related to the one at Harvard Law, such as changing the name of the Washington Redskins), so why not this one as well?

"But what I would say to my successor is that it is important not just to shoot but to aim, and it is important in this seat to make sure that you are making your best judgments based on data, intelligence, the information that's coming from your commanders and folks on the ground, and you're not being swayed by politics."
-- President Barack Obama, from an interview released December 21, 2015.

Comment: This is a platitude: who supports "shooting without aiming", or "being swayed by politics" (whatever that means)?

STEPHANOPOULOS: You just heard Donald Trump call you out. He said you lied. He doubled down on that embrace from Vladimir Putin.

SANDERS: I tell you, it really is rather extraordinary. I think -- and I say this straightforwardly -- I think you have a pathological liar there.


SANDERS: Pathological, I really do. I mean, I think much of what he says are lies or gross distortion of reality. Here's the fact. I mean, he's been saying over and over again that he saw on television, as I understand it, thousands of people in New Jersey celebrating 9/11 right the destruction of the Twin Towers. Either that's true or it's not true. And what I understand, there have been a lot of research, they archive what goes on television. You're a TV guy, right? Everything was saying that was going to be archived. Either it is true, it is not true. Nobody has seen a tape of thousands of people celebrating the destruction of the Twin Towers in New Jersey. It doesn't exist. And he keeps claiming it. That's called pathological lying. Yes, he just (INAUDIBLE) a few moments ago accused me of lying when I said last night is that he has suggested that Mexicans who were coming to this country are criminals and rapists. That is exactly what he said. What somebody like a Donald Trump is doing is playing on the fears and anxieties of the American people. And people are afraid.
-- Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), December 20, 2015, appearing on ABC News' "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos. Sanders was responding to remarks made earlier on the show by Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Sanders is accusing Trump of distortion – perhaps to the point of not caring about truth – as well as exploiting fear.

SANDERS: And somebody like with Trump comes along and says I know the answers. The answer is that all of the Mexicans, they're criminals and rapists. We hate all the Muslims, because all of the Muslims are terrorists.

CLINTON: He is becoming ISIS' best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists.

[End video clips]

KARL: As you heard, an explosive allegation from Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump, saying that ISIS is showing videos of Trump to recruit potential new jihadists. We asked the Clinton camp where they got that from. They have not offered, George, any direct evidence that had happened. Donald Trump, for his part, overnight, Tweeted simply, "Hillary Clinton lied."

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Jon Karl, thanks very much. Let's talk to Mr. Trump right now. We saw that Tweet, Mr. Trump. Are you going to stand by it?

TRUMP: Well, of course I'm standing by it. It was vetted. They went to "The Washington Post." Fox News went out in great detail and looked for it and there's no such video. And they may make one up, knowing the Clintons and knowing Hillary, but there's no -- there's nobody -- she just made it up. I mean she made it up. It was a sound bite. Just like Bernie Sanders lied.
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, December 20, 2015, appearing on ABC News' "This Week" with Jon Karl and George Stephanopoulos. Trump was responding to video clips of statements made by Democratic presidential contenders former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during the previous week's Democratic presidential debate.

Comment: Trump is accusing Clinton and Sanders of distortion (in the case of Clinton, she has not been able to show that video of Trump is being used to recruit jihadists).

Monday, December 21, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: December 20, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
"Look, I can see why people would support that idea on the surface. But the simple fact is how are we going to garner the international support to take out ISIS if the Kurds who are Muslims would be offended by this? The Jordanians will be offended by this. The Turks, the entire Arab world. Apart from the fact that you have the largest Muslim populations are even in the Middle East. They are India and Pakistan and Indonesia. We have to lead as a nation. The United States is not going to be a follower. We have to lead. And do this, it would be an unmitigated disaster. He knows that. This is dog whistle talk. This is to try to get people who are fearful about where we are to be latched on to him. But I think tonight was a good example of why he may not be the proper guy to be commander-in-chief."
-- Republican presidential contender former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL), December 15, 2015, regarding a proposal by Republican presidential contender Donald Trump to ban Muslims from entering the country.

Comment: Bush is accusing Trump of using "code words" and of fear-mongering.

BLITZER: Dr. Carson, who was right in that little debate that we just heard between Senator Rubio and Senator Paul?

CARSON: I think you have to ask them about that. I don't want to get in between them. Let them fight.
-- Republican presidential contender Ben Carson, December 15, 2015, being questioned by Wolf Blitzer of CNN during a GOP presidential debate. The question concerned a disagreement between Republican presidential contenders Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) regarding immigration reform and the government collection of phone metadata.

Comment: This is an evasion. There's no good reason Carson can't express his opinion on these disagreements. If the question had been, "what should our policy be on immigration reform and the collection of phone metadata?" there wouldn't be any basis for ducking the question. The fact that those topics were being discussed by Paul and Rubio doesn't preclude Carson from expressing his views on which (if either) of them is supporting the better policy.

BASH: Senator Cruz, you have not been willing to attack Mr. Trump in public. … But you did question his judgment in having control of American's nuclear arsenal during a private meeting with supporters. Why are you willing to say things about him in private and not in public?

CRUZ: Dana, what I said in private is exactly what I'll say here, which is that the judgment that every voter is making of every one of us up here is who has the experience, who has the vision, who has the judgment to be commander in chief. That is the most important decision for the voters to make. … One of the things we've seen here is how easy it is for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to get distracted from dealing with radical Islamic terrorism. They won't even call it by its name. We need a president who stands up, number one, and says, we will defeat ISIS. And number two, says the greatest national security threat facing America is a nuclear Iran.

BASH: Senator, senator, I just –

CRUZ: And we need to be focused on defeating –

BASH: Senator, a lot of people have seen –

CRUZ: – defeating radical Islamic terrorists.

BASH: – a lot of people have seen these comments you made in private. I just want to clarify what you're saying right now is you do believe Mr. Trump has the judgment to be commander in chief?

CRUZ: What I'm saying, Dana, is that is a judgment for every voter to make. What I can tell you is all nine of the people here would make an infinitely better commander in chief than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), December 15, 2015, being questioned by Dana Bash of CNN during a GOP presidential debate. The question concerned statements by Cruz regarding whether voters would be comfortable with Republican presidential contender Donald Trump having his "finger on the button".

Comment: Cruz is dodging the question using the "not my decision" evasion. Yes, voters are going to have to decide for themselves who they're comfortable with when it comes to commanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and on every other matter of military, economic, and social policy as well. How does that permit Cruz to be silent on whether other candidates would perform well on any of those matters? Certainly, Cruz has voiced his opinion on the merits or weaknesses of other GOP candidates on policies and issues that, ultimately, voters must choose a candidate to suit them. So why can't Cruz do the same on this particular issue? The statements Cruz made about Trump (that Bash alludes to) clearly were critical of Trump: Cruz said it would be a "challenging question" for Trump to face when voters ask themselves "Who am I comfortable having their finger on the button?" In other words, Cruz has determined that Trump is not the best choice to have control of the nuclear arsenal, he clearly expressed that opinion to voters, but now he's saying it's somehow not his job to evaluate Trump on the matter, it's "for the voters to decide".

BLITZER: Senator Paul, you oppose letting in Syrian refugees at this time into the United States. The U.S. has already accepted 2,000 Syrian refugees, including 13 living here in Las Vegas right now. Would you send them back? What would you do with these people?

PAUL: You know, I think we need to set the record straight on this, because I think Marco misspoke about the bill. On the Gang of Eight bill, there was no provisions really for extra scrutiny or safety for refugees.

BLITZER: Senator Paul, you didn't answer the question about the 2,000 Syrian refugees who are already here in the United States. Will you send them back or let them stay?

PAUL: What my bill would do would be only for refugees going forward. So I haven't taken a position on sending anyone home.
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), December 15, 2015, being questioned by Wolf Blitzer of CNN during a GOP presidential debate. Paul initially responded to remarks by Republican presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Comment: Paul initially doesn't answer the question about the Syrian refugees already present in the U.S., though he later states that he's not going to take a position on them (but without giving any reason why he won't take a position on sending them back to Syria or letting them stay here).

HEWITT: Dr. Carson just referenced the single most important job of the president, the command, the control and the care of our nuclear forces. And he mentioned the triad. The B-52s are older than I am. The missiles are old. The submarines are aging out. It's an executive order. It's a commander-in-chief decision. What's your priority among our nuclear triad?

TRUMP: Well, first of all, I think we need somebody absolutely that we can trust, who is totally responsible; who really knows what he or she is doing. That is so powerful and so important. And one of the things that I'm frankly most proud of is that in 2003, 2004, I was totally against going into Iraq because you're going to destabilize the Middle East. I called it. I called it very strongly. And it was very important. But we have to be extremely vigilant and extremely careful when it comes to nuclear. Nuclear changes the whole ball game. Frankly, I would have said get out of Syria; get out -- if we didn't have the power of weaponry today. The power is so massive that we can't just leave areas that 50 years ago or 75 years ago we wouldn't care. It was hand-to-hand combat. The biggest problem this world has today is not President Obama with global warming, which is inconceivable, this is what he's saying. The biggest problem we have is nuclear -- nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. That's in my opinion, that is the single biggest problem that our country faces right now.

HEWITT: Of the three legs of the triad, though, do you have a priority? I want to go to Senator Rubio after that and ask him.

TRUMP: I think -- I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, December 15, 2015, being questioned by Hugh Hewitt of CNN during a GOP presidential debate.

Comment: Trump never answers the question about which of the three components of the U.S. nuclear triad – land-based nuclear weapons, air-delivered nuclear weapons, and submarine-based nuclear weapons – should get priority in being upgraded.

"This group needs to be confronted with serious proposals. And this is a very significant threat we face. And the president has left us unsafe. He spoke the other night to the American people to reassure us. I wish he hadn't spoken at all. He made things worse. Because what he basically said was we are going to keep doing what we're doing now, and what we are doing now is not working."
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), December 15, 2015.

Comment: This is "failed policies" rhetoric.

"Citizens, it's time to take our country back. Bombastic insults won't take it back. Political rhetoric that promises a lot and delivers little, won't take it back. All of our problems can be solved. All of our wounds can be healed by a tested leader who is willing to fight for the character of our nation. … Citizens, it is time to take our country back from the political class, from the media, from the liberal elite. It can be done, it must be done, join me and we will get it done."
-- Republican presidential contender Carly Fiorina, December 15, 2015.

Comment: This is "take back the country" rhetoric.

"America has been betrayed. We've been betrayed by the leadership that Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton have provided to this country over the last number of years. Think about just what's happened today. The second largest school district in America in Los Angeles closed based on a threat. Think about the effect that, that's going to have on those children when they go back to school tomorrow wondering filled with anxiety to whether they're really going to be safe. Think about the mothers who will take those children tomorrow morning to the bus stop wondering whether their children will arrive back on that bus safe and sound. Think about the fathers of Los Angeles, who tomorrow will head off to work and wonder about the safety of their wives and their children. What is Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton done to this country? That the most basic responsibility of an administration is to protect the safety and security of the American people. I will tell you this, I'm a former federal prosecutor, I've fought terrorists and won and when we get back in the White House we will fight terrorists and win again and America will be safe."
-- Republican presidential contender Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), December 15, 2015.

Comment: It's one thing to criticize Obama and Clinton for policy failures, but to say we've been betrayed amounts to questioning their patriotism.

"Just last weekend, just last week, a friend asked one of my daughters, "Do you like politics?" And my daughter said, "No, I don't. And the reason I don't like it is because there's too much fighting, too much yelling. It's so loud, I don't like it." You know, I turned to my friend and I said, "You know, she's really on to something." And when we think about our country and the big issues that we face in this country; creating jobs, making sure people can keep their jobs, the need for rising wages, whether our children when they graduate from college can find a job, protecting the homeland, destroying ISIS, rebuilding defense. These are all the things that we need to focus on but we'll never get there if we're divided. We'll never get there if Republicans and Democrats just fight with one another. Frankly, we are Republicans and they're Democrats but before all of that, we're Americans. And I believe we need to unify in so many ways to rebuild our country, to strengthen our country, to rebuild our defense, and for America to secure it's place it world; for us, for our children, and for the next generation."
-- Republican presidential contender Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), December 15, 2015.

Comment: This is "unify the country" rhetoric.

Obama is the most anti-science, anti-factual president in modern memory.
-- Pundit Victor Davis Hanson, December 13, 2015, referring to President Barack Obama.

Comment: Hanson is accusing Obama of not caring about truth. Hanson lists several instances where Obama's positions are at odds with the facts, but is that a basis to conclude that Obama rejects facts altogether?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: December 13, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
"John, if there’s one or two more of these attacks, Lord forbid, between now and the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee. I mean, I know his proposal is very controversial, but what we’ve got in the United States and we know it now from the FBI are ISIS cells and ISIS personnel and ISIS sympathizers. We don’t know how many exactly they are. We have no way apparently of really vetting them. That woman got in this country and was a terrorist hell-bent on murder when she arrived with her new husband, or the husband-to-be. So, I think the problem, and what Trump is touching in onto, is that Americans want to know basically are the folks coming into the country, are they coming here to kill us, do we have any way to know that, and if we don’t, maybe we ought to have a moratorium on immigration from the Islamic world. And to a lot of folks, I know, that’s fascism or Mussolini, to other folks, it makes common sense."
-- Pundit Pat Buchanan, December 12, 2015.

Comment: Buchanan is using "common sense" rhetoric.

Other than being an old-ish white guy who likes a nice suit, Alec Baldwin doesn't have much in common with billionaire blowhard Donald Trump.

But when I met Baldwin here at the U.N. COP21 climate change conference (more on why he's here in just a minute, and, no, it doesn't entirely make sense), the bassoon-voiced actor told me he thinks we all should be listening more to Trump for one reason: His views are so extreme they might finally convince world leaders to sign a climate change accord.

"If we had Donald Trump come here to Paris and make a speech and give his views on climate change, we'd have an agreement tomorrow," Baldwin told me.

"All you need is for these extremists in business (like Trump) to talk about what they need. You say, 'How do you get Americans to care?' I think we are on the road to caring because we've got some pretty extremist views coming back home. And Americans are wise to that. The climate denial thing in America is (at a low), and most Americans know we need some climate change policy."
-- Actor and pundit Alec Baldwin, as related in a December 11, 2015, story by John D. Sutter of CNN.

Comment: This is "extremist" rhetoric.

O'DONNELL: You note in your piece, Webster defines terrorism as the use of violent acts to frighten people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal, the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. And you say that definition fits what Donald Trump is doing. Explain that.

ABDUL-JABBAR: What I'm trying to say is that although Mr. Trump isn't committing the violence, when the violence happens, he exploits it. OK, so instead of offering a practical and realistic solutions, he's exploiting people's fear and he's doing ISIS's work for them. And that is something that we can't let him keep doing. We have to say something about it, at least, in order to maybe somehow impact it.
-- Athlete and pundit Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, December 10, 2015, during an interview with Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump's proposal to temporarily halt Muslims from entering the U.S.

Comment: Abdul-Jabbar is accusing Trump of exploiting terror attacks.

SCARBOROUGH: Shouldn't you be more assertive when Donald Trump comes out and says he wants to keep all Muslims out of the country?

CRUZ: Look, I've said I disagree with that proposal. But is amazing how eager the media is – I mean, the number one question I get day in, day out is, “Please attack Donald Trump, please attack Donald Trump.” And, you know, I’ll point out, my approach to Trump has been the same as my approach to every other Republican candidate, which is that I’m not interested in personal insults and mudslinging. … Because I don’t think the American people really want to hear a bunch of politicians bickering like kids. They want to hear real and positive solutions to the problems we’ve got … Listen, I get that the media wants us to play theater critics and critique every other proposal. What I’m focusing on are my own policy proposals.
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), December 10, 2015, during interview with Joe Scarborough of MSNBC. His remarks were in reference to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump's proposal to temporarily halt Muslims from entering the U.S.

Comment: Cruz says he disagrees with Trump, yet he mischaracterizes the questions posed by the media. It is legitimate to ask a candidate to defend their own policies as being superior to those of other candidates. That kind of comparison and contrast doesn't amount to "personal insults", "mudslinging", "attacking", "bickering", or asking candidates to be "theater critics". Cruz is wrongly trying to dismiss these questions (which are appropriate questions) as "negative politics".

"In Obama's world, facts don't matter, truth doesn't matter."
-- Pundit Sean Hannity, December 9, 2015, during the first hour of his radio show, referring to President Barack Obama.

Comment: This is "they don't care about truth" rhetoric.

The heartbroken sister of fallen
 Benghazi hero Glen Doherty 
delivered her sharpest criticism yet of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday, saying the presidential candidate “wasn’t truthful” about the 2012 terrorist attack.

“She knows that she knew what happened that day and she wasn’t truthful,” Kate Quigley said on Boston Herald Radio’s “Morning Meeting” show yesterday. “This is a woman that will do and say anything to get what she wants. I have very little respect for her. I know what she said to me and she can say all day long that she didn’t say it. That’s her cross to bear.”
-- Kate Quigley, December 9, 2015, as related in a Boston Herald story by Hillary Chabot and Tom Shattuck.

Comment: This is the "they'll say anything" caricature.

Given Trump's knack for stealing the spotlight, it's easy to think he's alone in his Islamophobic views. That would be a mistake. The other GOP presidential hopefuls may not share Trump's penchant for rabble-rousing, but they're complicit in creating a deeply troubling atmosphere. And I'm not talking about the typical stand-on-the-sidelines sort of complicity. No, these Republican candidates are actively -- and dangerously -- bringing us back to scarier times with their fear-based proposals and angry rhetoric: … Ben Carson compared some Syrian refugees to dogs -- with "mad dogs" among them. Comparing people to animals is textbook propaganda, and it often leads to some pretty nasty places (think: "vermin," "blight," "eradicate"). Just imagine Carson's words blown up on a 20-foot poster. Marco Rubio equated Muslims to "Germans who may have been members of the Nazi party, but weren't violent themselves." Shameful. It was only last century that our elected leaders lumped Japanese Americans alongside our overseas enemies. The end result was internment camps, a concept that Trump refused to dismiss.
-- Pundit Donna Brazile, December 9, 2015, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump's proposal to temporarily halt Muslims from entering the U.S., as well as to remarks by Republican presidential contenders Ben Carson and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Comment: First, Brazile is accusing Trump of bigotry, and the Republican candidates more generally of fear-mongering. She also distorts what Carson and Rubio said: Carson did not "compare" Syrian refugees to dogs in the sense of dehumanizing them and saying they were no better than dogs. Rather, Carson said the fact that some terrorists might pose as refugees in order to enter and attack the U.S. shouldn't cause us to despise all refugees, in the same way that one dog with rabies shouldn't cause us to fear all dogs in general. More, Rubio did not "equate" Muslims with Nazis: rather, he said that there is a difference between violent and non-violent members of the Islamic faith, just as there is a difference between violent and non-violent members of any other religion or movement. 

"It's not just Donald Trump that has said that Muslims are unacceptable for admission to this country … Marco Rubio after the Paris attacks said not only that we should be considering internment, he actually suggested that maybe we should close down cafes and diners where Muslims gather, and in fact, compared them to the Nazi party."
-- Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, December 9, 2015, referring to remarks by Republican presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Comment: Wasserman-Schultz is distorting Rubio's comments in a way that makes him appear bigoted. Rubio did not "compare" Muslims to Nazis in the sense of saying they were the same: rather, he said avoiding saying we're at war with "radical Islam" because we don't want to offend non-radical Muslims would be, "like saying we weren’t at war with Nazis because we were afraid to offend some Germans who may have been members of the Nazi party but weren’t violent themselves". Also, Rubio said any place where people are being inspired to violence should be shut down, he did not specify that it should only apply to Muslims.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: December 6, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
Anyone who follows U.S. political debates on the environment knows that Republican politicians overwhelmingly oppose any action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, and that the great majority reject the scientific consensus on climate change. … More important, probably, is the denial inherent in the conventions of political journalism, which say that you must always portray the parties as symmetric — that any report on extreme positions taken by one side must be framed in a way that makes it sound as if both sides do it. We saw this on budget issues, where some self-proclaimed centrist commentators, while criticizing Republicans for their absolute refusal to consider tax hikes, also made a point of criticizing President Obama for opposing spending cuts that he actually supported. My guess is that climate disputes will receive the same treatment. But I hope I’m wrong, and I’d urge everyone outside the climate-denial bubble to frankly acknowledge the awesome, terrifying reality. We’re looking at a party that has turned its back on science at a time when doing so puts the very future of civilization at risk. That’s the truth, and it needs to be faced head-on.
-- Pundit Paul Krugman, December 4, 2015.

Comment: Krugman is accusing Republicans of rejecting science. He also claims that it's wrong to say that both sides are equally at fault when it comes to being "extreme", but he offers no rigorous evidence to support the claim that one side does it more.

"Meanwhile, from, Nancy Pelosi -- ready for this? -- Nancy Pelosi says Congress has no right to moments of silence for victims of gun violence unless lawmakers intend to take action to prevent it. This is insane. I mean, the woman's brain, there's a flesh eating disease that has entered her skull, a bunch of amoebas running around in there just slowly eating away at her gray matter."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, December 4, 2015, responding to remarks December 3, 2015, by House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Comment: Limbaugh is using "stupid" rhetoric.

"Okay, you still think that I'm wrong about this? Well, then, get this. Criticism of Islam equals Islamophobia, and the attorney general of the United States, Loretta Lynch, has just warned that people will be prosecuted for criticism of Islam -- i.e., telling the truth that Islamic terrorism exists. You can be prosecuted if you tell the truth about Islam. Don't doubt me, folks. … And then we hear the attorney general the United States and the president of the United States say, "Make any criticism of Muslims, and we are coming after you. We are gonna prosecute you. We are gonna deny you your First Amendment rights because we are not tolerating that. That's not who we are." This would... I don't know. What's the difference in this and the government criticizing anybody that went after John Gotti as anti-Italian, and saying, "We're not gonna put up with it"? It's absurd, folks. It's literally absurd."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, December 4, 2015, remarking on President Barack Obama and his administration's refusal to use the term "Islamic terrorism".

Comment: Limbaugh is misrepresenting Lynch. Lynch never said she would prosecute people for linking Islam to terrorism; rather, she said she would do so for "violent talk".

A former U.S. congressman urged Attorney General Loretta Lynch to arrest him after she warned on Thursday that her office would take a more aggressive approach to those spewing anti-Muslim rhetoric.

“I think Islam has a real freaking problem, alright?” Former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh said in a video posted to his Facebook page. “There is a cancer in Islam, and if they’re not going to learn to assimilate, I don’t want them in this country.”

“You got a problem, Loretta Lynch, with me saying that? Then throw me in jail,” Walsh, a conservative talk show host, argued. “I think Islam is evil. I think Islam has a huge problem. I think most Muslims around the world are not compatible with American values. I don’t want them here.”
-- Former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), December 4, 2015, as related in a story by Kaitlyn Schallhorn of The Blaze. Lynch, on December 3, 2015, had threatened to take action against anti-Muslim rhetoric that "edges towards violence".

Comment: Walsh is misrepresenting Lynch. Lynch never said she would prosecute people for anti-Muslim remarks; rather, she said she would do so for remarks that incited violence (which Walsh did not do in his remarks).

If you want to witness an adamantine mind at work, you could do a whole lot worse that observe the 44th president of the United States. Barack Obama is the most rigidly ideological president of my lifetime, a man who has a nearly blind adherence to a particular ideology (progressivism). It’s a disturbing, if at times a psychologically fascinating, thing to witness. We’re seeing it play out in multiple ways, but let me offer just one illustration — his approach to jihadism. It has been clear from the start of his presidency that Mr. Obama has decided that Islam is wholly separate from Islamic terrorism, which explains his refusal to use the words (or variations of the words) radical or militant Islam. It also explains why his administration has used absurd euphemisms like “man-caused disaster” and “workplace violence” to describe Islam-inspired attacks. Why the 2009 Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was an “isolated extremist.” Why the shooting at a Kosher supermarket in Paris earlier this year was “random.” (The gunman had declared his allegiance to ISIS.) And why the president, in an effort to protect Islam, invokes the Crusades at a National Prayer Breakfast, despite the fact that the Crusades happened roughly a thousand years ago. On and on it goes. … Here’s the problem: There is an independent reality apart from what Mr. Obama thinks. He can ignore the truth, but he cannot wish it out of existence. And by ignoring the reality of things, he makes everything worse.
-- Pundit Peter Wehner, December 4, 2015.

Comment: First, Wehner is accusing Obama of being an ideologue. Second, it's one thing to denounce somebody for persisting in a false belief despite evidence to the contrary; it's another to say accuse such a person of being detached from reality. Aren't there lots of people in politics (and not on one side) who stick with questionable beliefs? Are they all "wishing away independent reality"?

At the end of the day, I am the mayor and I own it. I take responsibility for what happened and I will fix it. Nothing less than complete and total reform of the system and the culture will meet the standards we have to set for ourselves.
-- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, December 4, 2015, remarking on the investigation of the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police.

Comment: Emanuel is using "I take responsibility" rhetoric. Isn't it always the case that the mayor is responsible for supervising the police?

"Barack Obama is not a bad president because he was a senator; Barack Obama is a bad president, because he is an unmitigated socialist, who won't stand up and defend the United States of America."
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), December 3, 2015.

Comment: Cruz is demonizing Obama, accusing him of not being willing to defend innocent people, and questioning his patriotism.

"If you can’t come to the conclusion at this point that this is an act of terror, you should find something else to do for a living than being in law enforcement. I mean, you’re a moron."
-- Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), December 3, 2015, referring to investigations into the San Bernardino shootings on December 2, 2015.

Comment: This is "stupid" rhetoric.

"He’s an unbelievable divider. I thought he’d be a great cheerleader for the country. That’s one thing I thought. I said, he’ll unify the country, and he’s really divided the country, he really has. And we’re going to unify the country."
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, December 2, 2015, referring to President Barack Obama.

Comment: This is "unify the country" rhetoric.

"If you look at over the last few days you’re seeing a lot of stories that Obamacare is collapsing of its own weight. And in 2017, unfortunately, you know, if it’s gonna go, let it go now, so that he has to straighten it out, but he’s not going to straighten it out correctly. Because nothing he does is correct. No, nothing he does, if you think about it."
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, December 2, 2015, referring to President Barack Obama.

Comment: This is an exaggeration; absolutely nothing Obama has done has been correct?

It’s estimated that around 50,000 hypocrites will be participating in the Paris climate conference this week. What do you call it when elites fly their private jets to an international climate change conference to forge a deal with despots that caps American prosperity without our consent? You call it progressivism. It’s estimated that around 50,000 carbon-spewing humans will be participating in the Paris climate conference this week. But while President Obama was taking his working dinner at the three-Michelin-star L’Ambroisie, public protests were banned in the aftermath of the Islamic terror attacks. Liberté, not so much. No one inside the confab seemed too disturbed.
-- Pundit David Harsanyi, December 1, 2015, referring to the climate change talks in Paris.

Comment: Harsanyi is accusing attendees of the climate change talks of hypocrisy, given that they are emitting carbon dioxide in order to attend talks on reducing carbon dioxide emissions. This is wrong, because it's not necessarily hypocritical to produce a small amount of something bad in the name of avoiding a larger amount of it down the road: in medicine, we often undergo painful treatments in order to avoid greater pain in the long run. The climate change conference attendees could, in principle, make the same argument. However, they would need to prove that they will actually be doing more to reduce carbon emissions in the long run by having the conference, and they would need to show that the conference couldn't happen effectively without this level of carbon emissions (for instance, couldn't the conference be held online?).

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: November 29, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
Has Donald Trump gone too far this time?

The Republican presidential hopeful is under fire for mocking a New York Times reporter with an 'outrageous' impression of the journalist's physical handicap during a campaign speech on Wednesday.

Not only has the New York Times come to the defense of their reporter, Serge Kovaleski, but the journalist's colleagues and the public at large have taken to social media to register their disgust with the brash candidate.

In a campaign stop in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Trump laid into the journalist, doing an impression that saw him flail his arms while putting on a strange voice.

Before the distasteful imitation, Trump said the story was 'written by a nice reporter'.

But he continued: 'Now the poor guy, you gotta see this guy: "Uh, I don’t know what I said. I don’t remember." He’s going, "I don’t remember. Maybe that’s what I said."'

Kovaleski, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, was born with arthrogryposis.

The condition can cause sufferers' joints to get stuck in one position and can also see people born with weaker or missing muscles.
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, November 25, 2015, as related in a story by Ollie Gillman and Ashley Collman of the Daily Mail.

Comment: Trump was clearly mocking Kovaleski for being disabled. It's not clear exactly what type of name-calling this would be – "stupid" or "subhuman"? Something else? – but it's certainly derisive and unacceptable. Trump's later claim that he was not mocking Kovaleski's disability is simply dishonest.

"In 1620, a small band of pilgrims came to this continent, refugees who had fled persecution and violence in their native land. Nearly 400 years later, we remember their part in the American story -- and we honor the men and women who helped them in their time of need. … I've been touched by the generosity of the Americans who've written me letters and emails in recent weeks, offering to open their homes to refugees fleeing the brutality of ISIL. … Nearly four centuries after the Mayflower set sail, the world is still full of pilgrims -- men and women who want nothing more than the chance for a safer, better future for themselves and their families. What makes America America is that we offer that chance. We turn Lady Liberty's light to the world, and widen our circle of concern to say that all God's children are worthy of our compassion and care. That's part of what makes this the greatest country on Earth."
-- President Barack Obama, November 25, 2015.

Comment: Obama is comparing Syrian refugees to the Pilgrims in the sense that they left their home country in order to avoid violent religious persecution.

Now look at Trump's behavior over the past few days. He has displayed a level of irresponsibility that borders on recklessness. This is a time when the essence of leadership is clarity and restraint -- when even politicians should put aside their usual braggadocio and self-aggrandizement for the good of the country. Trump has done the opposite. He appears to be inflaming the situation deliberately, to advance his presidential campaign. It's rare that we see this level of demagoguery in U.S. politics, but it's frightening. His divisive comments play so directly into the polarizing strategies of our terrorist adversaries -- who want to foment Western-Muslim hatred -- that a case can be made that he has put the country at greater risk.
-- Pundit David Ignatius, November 25, 2015, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: This is "demagogue" and "divisive" rhetoric.

COL. TOM MOE, US AIR FORCE, VIETNAM POW: I would like anyone who is listening to consider some thoughts that I paraphrase from the words of German pastor Martin Niemöller. You might not care if Donald Trump says Muslims must register with the government because you're not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump says he's going to round up all the Hispanic immigrants because you're not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump says it's OK to rough up black protesters because you're not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump wants to suppress journalists because you're not one. But think about this: if he keeps going, and he actually becomes president, he might just get around to you, and you better hope that there's someone left to help you.

TEXT: Paid for by Kasich for America.
-- "Trump's Dangerous Rhetoric", a political ad released November 24, 2015, by Republican presidential contender Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), criticizing fellow Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: The paraphrasing of the famous words of Martin Niemöller – opposed the Nazis – was taken by some as "comparing" Trump to Adolf Hitler. The ad contains some distortions. First, Trump never said Muslims should have to register with the government (though he did – unacceptably – fail to reject the idea). Second, Trump never said he would round up all Hispanic immigrants; rather, he said he would deport all illegal immigrants (which means legal Hispanic immigrants would not be "rounded up", while many non-Hispanic immigrants who are here illegally would be "rounded up"). The implication that Trump is anti-Hispanic on this basis is therefore unfair. Third, while Trump did express approval at a protester being "roughed up" (which is unacceptable), he didn't justify this on the basis that the protester was black; the implication of bigotry is again unfair. Finally, Trump did not suppress journalists by – as the ad depicts – removing Jorge Ramos of Univision from a press conference. Ramos was disrupting the press event, not waiting to be called on before he spoke (as the other journalists were doing), and he was ultimately allowed back into the conference to question Trump. This hardly amounts to some sort of effort to stifle freedom of the press.

COSTELLO: Well, he’s an outsider, and that plays into it, right? Because a lot of Republicans don’t like Sen. John McCain.

AVLON: Unfortunately that is true, in terms of someone who has served his country honorably and was a POW.
-- Pundit John Avlon, November 24, 2015, with Carol Costello of CNN. Their remarks concerned the relationship between Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Republican political contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Comment: Why is it unfortunate that Republicans wouldn't like McCain? Just because he served in the military and was a prisoner of war doesn't mean anyone has to agree with McCain on anything politically. Are Avlon's remarks questioning the patriotism of McCain's opponents? As a result of serving in the military and being a POW, does McCain have some sort of political authority that we have to recognize?

Eminent British scientist Richard Dawkins has drawn criticism on social media for what some say is an unfair comparison between Ahmed Mohamed, the Texas teenager whose school project was mistaken for a bomb, and a young ISIS killer.

But Dawkins says he was merely drawing a parallel between their ages.

"HORRIFIED anyone thinks I could POSSIBLY liken Ahmed to a killer," Dawkins said in a tweet Wednesday. "My ONLY point of comparison was their AGES: kids not immune to criticism."

Dawkins, a leading voice in the atheist movement, was reacting to news that the Mohamed family was demanding $15 million in damages and an apology from city and school officials in Irving, Texas, over their treatment of the teen.

In September, the 14-year-old, who is Muslim, was detained, questioned and hauled off in handcuffs after bringing a handmade clock to school, which a teacher thought could have been a bomb.

"Don't call him 'clock boy' since he never made a clock. Hoax Boy, having hoaxed his way into the White House, now wants $15M in addition!" Dawkins tweeted Tuesday.

The evolutionary biologist has been vocal in his belief that the case -- which made Ahmed a cause célèbre, prompted the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed to trend, and led to a personal invitation to the White House from President Barack Obama -- was a "hoax."

He has repeatedly insisted that Ahmed did not make a clock but rather "took a clock out of its case and put it in a box," and has questioned the teen's motives in doing so.

When Twitter users chided the 74-year-old scientist for "picking on a kid," he responded by tweeting a link to a news story about a child ISIS killer.

"'But he's only a kid.' Yes, a 'kid' old enough to sue for $15M those whom he hoaxed. And how old is this 'kid'?" tweeted Dawkins, linking to a story about a young ISIS killer beheading a victim.
-- Responses to pundit Richard Dawkins, November 24, 2015, as related in a November 25, 2015, story by Tim Hume of CNN.

Comment: Dawkins is being accused of "comparing" Ahmed to a young terrorist in the sense of accusing Ahmed of being violent; Dawkins insists he was only comparing them in terms of age (in the spirit of arguing that teenage children should be held responsible for their actions).

TEXT: Republicans keep saying the same thing.

RUBIO: We are at war with radical Islam.

JEB BUSH: Radical Islamic terrorism.

TEXT: Equating Islam, all Muslims, with terrorists…

TRUMP: We do have a problem radical Muslims.

CARSON: Radical Islamic jihadists.

CRUZ: Radical Islamic terrorism.

TEXT: It’s oversimplification. And it’s wrong. But don’t take our word for it.

GEORGE BUSH: We do not fight against Islam, we fight against evil.

GEORGE BUSH: The war against terrorism is not a war against Muslims, nor is it a war against Arabs. It’s a war against evil people who conduct crimes against innocent people.

GEORGE BUSH: That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.

TEXT: Inciting fear isn’t presidential.
-- Democratic Party political ad, retrieved November 24, 2015. The ad quotes Republican presidential contenders former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL), Ben Carson, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Donald Trump, as well as former President George W. Bush.

Comment: The ad is accusing Republicans of fear-mongering. It is also falsely accusing Republicans (perhaps via code words?) of equating Islam and Muslims with terrorism and terrorists, thereby demonizing them as bigots. Being opposed to radical Islam doesn't mean being opposed to all Muslims, any more than being opposed to corrupt police officers means being opposed to all police officers. Citing George Bush – a Republican – seems like a faulty appeal to authority, perhaps an argument ad hostes. (Plus, the ad cites George Bush selectively: he denounced Islamic radicalism.) 

Donald Trump suggested Sunday the half-dozen white attendees at his campaign rally on Saturday may have reacted appropriately when they shoved, tackled, punched and kicked a black protester who disrupted his speech.

"Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing," Trump said Sunday morning on Fox News, less than 24 hours after his campaign said it "does not condone" the physical altercation.
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, November 22, 2015, as related in a CNN story by Jeremy Diamond.

Comment: Trump is endorsing violence. What was the protester doing to justify a violent response?

"I don't think he's got a strategy that deals with ISIS. I think Obama's strategy – best I've been able to learn, and I've looked really hard at this – it seems to me that Obama is linked to Iran and Syria in this. The sectarian violence throughout the Middle East is his excuse for not doing anything about it. Iran capitalizes on all of this chaos and crisis. And Chris, look, I don't like saying any of this, but it's obvious Obama is very sensitive to Iran's needs and is trying to satisfy them. We have lifted the sanctions. They've got $150 billion they didn't have. They are on the way to get a nuclear weapon, all because of Barack Hussein O, and I think his dealing with ISIS is inept, and incompetent, and nonexistent."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, November 22, 2015, on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, speaking about President Barack Obama.

Comment: Limbaugh is demonizing Obama – portraying him as seeking to help Iran – by misrepresenting the Iranian nuclear deal. The Iranian nuclear deal lifts many sanctions on Iran and allows them to access its financial assets (estimated between $55 billion - $150 billion in value) that were seized, but it also imposes costs: Iran has to surrender 97% of their stockpile of enriched uranium, as well as two-thirds of their uranium-enriching centrifuges. Plus, Iran must provide international inspectors with access to their known nuclear supply chain. Whether the deal as a whole a good idea is fair to debate, but it's false to portray it as nothing but a boon to Iran.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: November 22, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
HILLYARD: Mr. Trump, why would Muslim databases not be the same thing as requiring Jews to register in Nazi Germany? What would be the difference? Is there a difference between the two?

TRUMP: Who are you with?

HILLYARD: I’m with NBC News. Is there a difference between requiring Muslims to register and Jews in Nazi Germany?

TRUMP: You tell me. You tell me.

HILLYARD: Do you believe –

TRUMP: Why don’t you tell me?

HILLYARD: Do you believe there is?

TRUMP: You tell me.

HILLYARD: Should Muslims be, I mean, fearful? Will there be consequences if they don’t register?
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, November 20, 2015, being questioned by Vaughn Hillyard of NBC News. Trump had faced several questions in the preceding days about whether he thought American Muslims should be registered with the government.

Comment: Hillyard is proposing whether registering American Muslims is comparable to what Jews had to do in Nazi Germany, with the understanding that millions Jews in Nazi Germany were eventually sent to concentration camps, victims of the Holocaust. Trump likely finds the implication of genocide unfair – which is probably why he ultimately ignores Hillyard – but Trump doesn't reject the idea of a database. Despite several discussions on the topic – and despite Trump's insistence that other people (not Trump himself) were raising the idea of a database for registering American Muslims – Trump passed up on plenty of opportunities to reject the idea by simply saying, "No, I won't register Muslims" or to accept it by saying, "Yes, I would register Muslims." In other words, Trump simply evades the question and doesn't answer it.

At the moment, Republican rhetoric is spiraling out of control. Donald Trump, for example, is open to a “database system” to track Muslims. “There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases,” he said. And in an interview with Yahoo News, Trump said that “we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago,” with regards to surveillance of Muslims. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, likewise, wants a religious test for refugees: We’ll accept the Christians and reject the Muslims. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio isn’t as extreme — although he’s open to monitoring any place that spreads “radicalism” — but he believes the Western world is in a fight against “radical Islam,” and is bewildered by those who don’t follow his labeling. “I don’t understand it,” said Rubio when asked about Hillary Clinton’s pointed refusal to use the term in the last Democratic presidential debate. “That would be like saying we weren’t at war with the Nazis, because we were afraid to offend some Germans who may have been members of the Nazi Party but weren’t violent themselves,” he said, comparing Islam — a vast religion with 1.6 billion adherents — to Nazism.
-- Pundit Jamelle Bouie, November 20, 2015, criticizing Republican presidential contenders Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Donald Trump for their remarks on Syrian refugees.

Comment: Bouie is accusing Cruz and Trump of being "extreme". He is also accusing Rubio of comparing Islam to Nazism, but this is a distortion: Rubio is saying radical Islam stands to Muslims as Nazism stands to Germans. As such, he is comparing Nazism to radical Islam, not to Muslims in general.

"Politics in the United States increasingly is defined by personal attacks and saying very sensational things in the media. Now, that's true for politics everywhere to some degree. But I think that for young leaders like you, as you get into politics, trying to focus on issues, and trying to debate people you disagree with without saying that they're a terrible person -- I think that's something that you always have to watch out for."
-- President Barack Obama, November 20, 2015.

Comment: Obama is calling for us to set a higher standard of political debate, though as usual, he doesn't mention how he has often described his opponents as being terrible people.

Ben Carson likened Syrian refugees fleeing the country’s bloody civil war and Islamic State violence to dogs on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters following a campaign stop in Mobile, Alabama, Carson stressed that the United States wants smart leaders who care about people, but noted there should always be a balance between safety and humanitarian concerns.

“For instance, you know, if there is a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog, and you’re probably gonna put your children out of the way,” Carson said. “Doesn’t mean that you hate all dogs by any stretch of the imagination.”

Continuing his analogy, the Republican presidential candidate said that screening refugees is like questioning how you protect your children, even though you love dogs and will call the Humane Society to take the dog away to reestablish a safe environment.

“By the same token, we have to have in place screening mechanisms that allow us to determine who the mad dogs are, quite frankly,” he added. “Who are the people who wanna come in here and hurt us and wanna destroy us? Until we know how to do that, just like it would be foolish to put your child out in the neighborhood knowing that that was going on, it’s foolish for us to accept people if we cannot have the appropriate type of screening.”
-- Republican presidential contender Ben Carson, November 19, 2015, as related in a story by Nolan D. McCaskill of Politico.

Comment: McCaskill is using "comparing" rhetoric, but Carson isn't comparing dogs and refugees in an unfavorable way: he's merely saying that, in the same way you want to screen dogs to make sure they don't have rabies, you want to screen refugees to make sure there aren't any terrorists hiding among them; and that, just as you wouldn't treat all dogs the same way you treat a dog with rabies, you wouldn't think of all refugees the same way you treat terrorists who might be hiding among them.

RUBIO: We need to get rid of all these illegal executive orders the President’s put in place. [TEXT: April 14, 2015]

CRUZ: I think amnesty is wrong. [TEXT: August 09, 2015]

RUBIO: DACA’s going to end. [TEXT: November 04, 2015]

TRUMP: They have to go. [TEXT: August 18, 2015]

NARRATOR: These candidates may be different, but their messages are all the same. [images of Trump, Bush, Cruz, and Rubio appear] “No” to DAPA, “no” to DACA. “No” to immigrant families. Now it’s time for our community to say “no”. We will not accept hate, we will not allow anti-immigrant attacks, we will not support the status quo. Because if they win, we lose. SEIU COPE is responsible for the content of this advertising.
-- Political ad released by SEIU COPE (the Service Employees International Union Committee on Political Education), November 18, 2015, criticizing Republican presidential contenders former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Donald Trump for their opposition to comprehensive immigration reform, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).

Comment: The SEIU is demonizing Bush, Cruz, Rubio, and Trump as being bigoted. Opposing illegal immigration is not the same as being anti-immigrant, any more than being opposed to corrupt police officers is same as being opposed to all police.

Obama is an "apologist for Islamic terrorism".
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), November 18, 2015, on the 2nd hour of the Mark Levin Show, referring to President Barack Obama.

Comment: Cruz is demonizing Obama, accusing him of defending terrorism.

"But we are not well-served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. We don't make good decisions if it's based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks. I think the refugee debate is an example of us not being well-served by some of the commentary that’s been taking place by officials back home and in the media. … And so if there are concrete, actual suggestions to enhance this extraordinary screening process that’s already in place, we’re welcome -- we’re open to hearing actual ideas. But that’s not really what’s been going on in this debate. When candidates say, we wouldn't admit three-year-old orphans -- that’s political posturing. When individuals say that we should have a religious test and that only Christians -- proven Christians -- should be admitted -- that’s offensive and contrary to American values. I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric that’s been coming out of here during the course of this debate. ISIL seeks to exploit the idea that there is a war between Islam and the West. And when you start seeing individuals in positions of responsibility, suggesting that Christians are more worthy of protection than Muslims are in a war-torn land, that feeds the ISIL narrative. It’s counterproductive, and it needs to stop. And I would add, by the way, these are the same folks oftentimes who suggest that they’re so tough that just talking to Putin or staring down ISIL, or using some additional rhetoric somehow is going to solve the problems out there. But apparently, they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion. First, they were worried about the press being too tough on them during debates. Now they’re worried about three-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me. … They’ve been playing on fear in order to try to score political points or to advance their campaigns. And it’s irresponsible. And it’s contrary to who we are. And it needs to stop, because the world is watching. I was proud, when the attacks in Boston took place, and we did not resort to fear and to panic. Boston Strong. People went to the ballgame that same week, and sang the National Anthem, and went back to the stores and went back to the streets. That’s how you defeat ISIL. Not by trying to divide the country, or suggest somehow that our tradition of compassion should stop now."
-- President Barack Obama, November 17, 2015. He was remarking on objections (frequently from Republicans) to allowing Syrian refugees into the United States, based in part on concerns that some might be terrorist infiltrators from the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq.

Comment: Perhaps Republicans are wrong to object to taking in Syrian refugees, but that doesn't mean their objections amount to politicizing and fear-mongering, as Obama says. They certainly aren't afraid of widows and three-year-old children; that's a straw man Obama has concocted to make Republicans seem ridiculous.

FORBES: Wouldn't it be reasonable to conclude if you took terrorists from Guantanamo Bay and located them in the city that it could very well enhance that city’s being on one of these targeted lists? Yes or no? That's a pretty easy question. If you disagree with that, you can say "no". If you agree with it, "yes".

LYNCH: Well, Congressman, I thought you were referring to the service members who were on the –

FORBES: I'm making it clear, any list that targets a city or state in the United States, if you bring terrorists from Guantanamo Bay wouldn't it be reasonable to conclude that that can enhance that city's ability to be on one of those targeted lists?

LYNCH: I think there are any number of factors –

FORBES: Would you not agree that that would be a factor that would enhance that ability?

LYNCH: I think there are any number of factors –

FORBES: Would that be a factor?

LYNCH: There are any number of factors –

FORBES: But you would disagree that that would be one of those many number of factors?

LYNCH: Congressman, I don't agree or disagree. I said that there would be any –

FORBES: So you, as the attorney general of the United States, you do not have an opinion on whether or not bringing terrorists from Guantanamo Bay and locating them in a city would have any capability at all of putting that city on a hit list by ISIS? You don't even have an opinion on that?

LYNCH: Congressman, I think there are any number of factors –

FORBES: I'm asking you would that be one of those factors.

LYNCH: I believe I've indicated there'd be any number of –

FORBES: No, you indicated you wouldn't answer the question, and Madam Attorney General, I think that's atrocious that you don't even have an opinion of that.
-- Attorney General Loretta Lynch during a congressional hearing, November 17, 2015, being questioned by Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA).

Comment: Lynch is evading the question, refusing to say that the presence of Guantanamo Bay terrorists would or wouldn't – or even if she's unsure whether they would or wouldn't – incite attacks by ISIS (aka, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) on the city housing the terrorists. If you were to ask your doctor, "Will this medicine I heard about help my illness?" and your doctor routinely answered, "There are a number of factors that will influence your illness", your doctor would be evading the question just as Lynch is. She (and the doctor) could simply say, "yes", "no", or "I'm not sure" instead of withholding any answer whatsoever. I doubt this form of evasion in a court of law would be allowed.