Bill Maher makes us dumber: How ignorance, fear and stupid clichés shape Americans’ view of the Middle East

Steven A Cook and Michael Brooks write: Last Sunday was the 14th anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq. Given the outcome of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the milestone passed almost completely without comment among the many who led the charge to Baghdad in 2003. There are soldiers of all ranks who went into battle carrying copies of Ibn Khaldun’s “The Muqaddimah,” Hans Wehr’s Arabic-English Dictionary and other works that might help explain the land and region to which they were ostensibly bringing liberty. Many of these honorable men and women are wiser and more in touch today with the history, politics and culture of the Middle East than when the invasion order came. The same cannot be said for America’s political leaders or Americans more generally.

Prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and certainly before the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001, Americans lived mostly in ignorance of the Middle East. All these years later they remain ignorant but in a different way. Previously, Americans had simply been uninformed about the region. What little they knew tended to be shaped by the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the fading memory of the Iranian hostage crisis and the brief Persian Gulf War of 1991 to reverse Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait.

Today Americans remain ignorant about the Middle East not because they are unaware of the region, but because they are poorly educated about it. It was not long after the Twin Towers fell and the smoldering fire at the Pentagon was extinguished that terms like jihad, Salafi, Wahhabi, madrassa and al-Qaida became part of the American political lexicon. It seemed that anyone who had attained the rank of colonel, or could claim (legitimately or otherwise) onetime employment at the CIA, or was a columnist who had visited an Arab country once or twice was booked on television to shed light on “why they hate us.” To be fair, this reflected a surge of genuine interest in the Middle East. Suddenly, university Arabic classes were oversubscribed, and books about the region that once reached tiny audiences did very well.

As 9/11 became a distant memory and the Iraqi venture became a disaster, the laudable desire to learn more about the Middle East seemed to fall off even as the casualties returning home continued at a steady pace. Yet in ways the region continued to be an obsession — not just for policymakers and foreign policy analysts, but also for a network of groups and individuals that fostered mistrust and fear of Middle Easterners in general and Muslims in particular.

People like Frank Gaffney, Brigitte Gabriel, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer had long been fringe figures in American public discourse. But their dogged efforts to brand Islam a hostile political ideology and characterize Muslims as a fifth column in the United States paid off in a variety of ways that reinforced one another. The controversy over the “ground zero mosque” in lower Manhattan is instructive in this regard. Such people were able to inject their Islamophobic worldview into the reporting on the debate over the “mosque” — actually a community center with a prayer room — which then wended its way into political spheres where these ideas became increasingly more mainstream. While figures on the far right and the emerging alt-right may have been responsible for propagating Islamophobia, liberal punditry and pop culture also gave it wider currency. [Continue reading…]

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Khalid Masood: From Kent schoolboy to Westminster attacker

The Guardian reports: In an old school photograph, the smiling face of Adrian Ajao is a picture of a healthy, happy, middle class boy from Tunbridge Wells. Beaming with satisfaction after a football marathon, he stood on the cusp of a fruitful life.

What led that bright, sporty, popular teenager to become the Islamic State-inspired killer responsible for the attack on parliament this week confounds those who knew him then and is now the focus of a urgent and sprawling investigation by the security services.

“He was a smashing guy, really nice chap,” said Stuart Knight, an old classmate at Huntleys school. “The picture of us in the football team was after we did a 24-hour sponsored football match to raise money for the sports hall. We would have been about 14 years old. Everyone got on with Adrian, he was a lovely bloke.”

But there are themes running through the life of Adrian Ajao, who was born as Adrian Elms and who died as Khalid Masood that help explain what went so terribly wrong and turned that “lovely bloke” into the most murderous terrorist in Britain since 2005. [Continue reading…]

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New research identifies a ‘sea of despair’ among white, working-class Americans

The Washington Post reports: Sickness and early death in the white working class could be rooted in poor job prospects for less-educated young people as they first enter the labor market, a situation that compounds over time through family dysfunction, social isolation, addiction, obesity and other pathologies, according to a study published Thursday by two prominent economists.

Anne Case and Angus Deaton garnered national headlines in 2015 when they reported that the death rate of midlife non-Hispanic white Americans had risen steadily since 1999 in contrast with the death rates of blacks, Hispanics and Europeans. Their new study extends the data by two years and shows that whatever is driving the mortality spike is not easing up.

The two Princeton professors say the trend affects whites of both sexes and is happening nearly everywhere in the country. Education level is significant: People with a college degree report better health and happiness than those with only some college, who in turn are doing much better than those who never went.

Offering what they call a tentative but “plausible” explanation, they write that less-educated white Americans who struggle in the job market in early adulthood are likely to experience a “cumulative disadvantage” over time, with health and personal problems that often lead to drug overdoses, alcohol-related liver disease and suicide. [Continue reading…]

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American Muslims are young, politically liberal, and scared

The Atlantic reports: Muslims may be the religious group that’s most talked about and least understood in the U.S. President Trump has put Islam at the center of his policymaking, making shaky claims about how assimilated Muslims are into American life. And yet, in part because the group is so small, actual data about their religiosity, political leanings, and engagement with American culture is relatively scarce.

A new survey from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, or ISPU, offers a rare look at this changing community. The report covers interviews with nearly 2,400 American residents from diverse religious backgrounds, including roughly 800 Muslims. The data suggest that this rapidly growing group is strongly shaped by a few factors. U.S. Muslims are younger and more liberal than their neighbors. They tend to be fairly religious. And they are extremely anxious about what’s happening in America.

Over the past decade, the Muslim community has grown significantly. According to the Pew Research Center, their share of the U.S. population more than doubled between 2007 and 2014. The group now makes up roughly 1 percent of the populace. [Continue reading…]

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Most American young adults see Trump presidency as illegitimate

The Associated Press reports: A majority of young adults – 57% – see Donald Trump’s presidency as illegitimate, including about three-quarters of blacks and large majorities of Latinos and Asians, a new poll has found.

GenForward is a poll of adults age 18 to 30 conducted by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

A slim majority of young whites in the poll, 53%, consider Trump a legitimate president, but even among that group 55% disapprove of the job he’s doing, according to the survey. [Continue reading…]

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American husbands are incomparably more deadly than terrorists

Nicholas Kristof writes: It’s true that Muslim Americans — both born in the United States and immigrants from countries other than those subject to Trump’s restrictions — have carried out deadly terrorism in America. There have been 123 such murders since the 9/11 attacks — and 230,000 other murders.

Last year Americans were less likely to be killed by Muslim terrorists than for being Muslim, according to Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina. The former is a risk of approximately one in six million; the latter, one in one million.

The bottom line is that most years in the U.S., ladders kill far more Americans than Muslim terrorists do. Same with bathtubs. Ditto for stairs. And lightning.

Above all, fear spouses: Husbands are incomparably more deadly in America than jihadist terrorists.

And husbands are so deadly in part because in America they have ready access to firearms, even when they have a history of violence. In other countries, brutish husbands put wives in hospitals; in America, they put them in graves. [Continue reading…]

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Popular support for the rule of law and democracy has weakened across America

Austin Sarat writes: There is much to celebrate in the court decision against President Trump’s immigration ban. It was a stirring victory for the rule of law and reaffirmation of the independence of the judiciary. Yet America faces a serious problem which that decision did not address: the erosion of public faith in the rule of law and democratic governance.

While we have been focused on partisan divides over government policy and personnel, an almost invisible erosion of the foundations of our political system has been taking place. Public support for the rule of law and democracy can no longer be taken for granted.

In 2017, the rule of law and democracy itself are under attack by President Trump and his administration. This is as much a symptom as a cause of our current crisis. Public Policy Polling has released the startling results of a national survey taken this week. Those results show significant fissures in the public’s embrace of the rule of law and democracy.

Only 53% of those surveyed said that they “trust judges more than President Trump to make the right decisions for the United States.” In this cross-section of Americans, 38% said they trusted Donald Trump more than our country’s judges. 9% were undecided. Support for the rule of law seemed higher when respondents were asked whether they thought that President Trump should “be able to overturn decisions by judges” when he disagrees with those decisions. Here only 25% agreed, with 11% saying they were unsure. [Continue reading…]

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America’s long history of rejecting immigrants

Paul A Kramer writes: The Statue of Liberty’s long career as a beacon to the oppressed began in 1882 with refugees whose religion some Americans feared. The czar was cracking down on Jews, and tens of thousands of people fled across Europe, many reaching the East Coast of the United States. Jewish American organizations rushed to aid them, as commentators debated what the sudden influx meant. What, if anything, did America owe these impoverished strangers, with their non-Christian faith? In a booming industrial society hungry for workers but fearful of beggars and bomb-throwers, were they a benefit or a danger?

It was at this moment that a Jewish American poet in New York, Emma Lazarus, made her way to the depot on Wards Island, where the refugees were being housed. Moved by their suffering, she taught classes and pressed for better shelter, food, and sanitation. Later, Lazarus was asked to contribute a poem for an auction to raise funds for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, and here she did something strange.

Until then, the icon had symbolized Franco-American friendship and trans-Atlantic republicanism. But in her sonnet, Lazarus recast it as a welcome signal to the poor and threatened, a “Mother of Exiles” calling out to the world to give over its “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Lazarus’ statue was not asking: “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me”; it commanded. The poem wore its ambivalence about immigrants on its sleeve — “wretched refuse,” it called them — but it also expressed the idea of the United States as a haven for outcasts in bold new ways, ways that would face repeated onslaughts in the coming decades.

Last week, Donald Trump launched the latest of these attacks, issuing an executive order that suspends the entrance of all refugees for 120 days, prohibits the entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries for at least 90 days, and bars Syrian refugees indefinitely. Given the racist, anti-immigrant nationalism at the center of Trump’s presidential campaign, his action came as no surprise. For his supporters, it represented a blow against menacing Islam and an assertion of white, Protestant identity as the genuine core of what it means to be American. For Trump’s many critics, it represented an outrageous affront to the United States’ deepest values as a beckoning “nation of immigrants,” the tradition that Lazarus championed.

Both stories about immigration and America — that there was a glorious past in which America was pure and protected from outsiders, or that Americans have always prized multicultural inclusion — remake the past to score political points in the present. In fact, Trump’s vile exercise in nativism — the xenophobic celebration of the national self — is only the latest maneuver in a series of battles over immigrants’ role in American life and America’s place in the world. Viewed historically, the claim that these anti-immigrant policies are “not who we are,” while stirring, does not hold water. American nativist politics have deep roots.

The founders made clear enough who among immigrants they envisioned to be potential citizens, barring naturalization to all but “free white persons” who had been in the country two years. In the mid-19th century, America’s first mass nativist movement directed Protestant nationalist fury against Irish Catholic immigrants suspected of depravity and papal allegiances that would corrupt the United States’ free institutions. In the 1880s, anti-Chinese movements, fired by fears of labor competition and civilizational decline, won the first congressional legislation restricting immigrants on the basis of racialized national origin. Hatred of immigrants as poor and working people — assumed to be lazy, immoral, and given to “dependency” on American largesse — animated U.S. nativism from its birth. [Continue reading…]

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Only a third of Americans think Trump’s travel ban will make them safer

Reuters reports: Imposing a temporary travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim countries, President Donald Trump said the move would help protect the United States from terrorism. But less than one-third of Americans believe the move makes them “more safe,” according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Tuesday.

The Jan. 30-31 poll found roughly one in two Americans backed the ban, which also suspends admission of all refugees for 120 days, although there were sharp divisions along party lines.

Trump has pushed back against critics who say the travel ban targets Muslims. He says the “extreme vetting” is necessary to protect the country and its borders.

“This is not about religion,” Trump said in a statement after announcing the travel ban on Friday. “This is about terror and keeping our country safe.”

In the Reuters/Ipsos poll some 31 percent of people said the ban made them feel “more safe,” while 26 percent said it made them feel “less safe.” Another 33 percent said it would not make any difference and the rest said they don’t know. [Continue reading…]

As usual, the unimaginative pollsters sliced the pie in a predictable way by identifying Democrats and Republicans. What would perhaps have been more enlightening would have been to differentiate between those who do or do not possess passports.

The implications of border regulations are significantly different for people who never venture overseas.

 

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The U.S. is no longer a ‘full democracy,’ a new study warns

Amanda Erickson writes: The government of the United States got a downgrade this week: We’re no longer a “full democracy,” according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest Democracy Index. For the first time, we were bumped down to “flawed,” thanks to an “erosion of public trust in political institutions.”

According to the report’s authors, a flawed democracy has free elections but “weak governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.” Other countries that share this dubious honor include Italy, Japan, France and India. Rankings are based on a country’s electoral process, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture.

That downgrade puts us at 21 in the rankings. Norway, Iceland and Sweden were ranked as the world’s most vibrant democracies, followed by New Zealand and Denmark; Canada and Ireland tied for sixth place. Syria and North Korea came, somewhat predictably, in last. [Continue reading…]

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California is America — only more so. The white supremacists led by Trump are a relic of the past

Governor Jerry Brown’s California State of the State address given in Sacramento yesterday begins 20 minutes into this video:

 

Jerry Brown: The recent election and inauguration of a new President have shown deep divisions across America.

While no one knows what the new leaders will actually do, there are signs that are disturbing. We have seen the bald assertion of “alternative facts.” We have heard the blatant attacks on science. Familiar signposts of our democracy — truth, civility, working together — have been obscured or swept aside.

But on Saturday, in cities across the country, we also witnessed a vast and inspiring fervor that is stirring in the land. Democracy doesn’t come from the top; it starts and spreads in the hearts of the people. And in the hearts of Americans, our core principles are as strong as ever.

As we face the hard journey ahead, we will have to summon, as Abraham Lincoln said, “the better angels of our nature.” Above all else, we have to live in the truth.

We all have our opinions but for democracy to work, we have to trust each other. We have to strive to understand the facts and state them clearly as we argue our points of view. As Hugo Grotius, the famous Dutch jurist, said long ago, “even God cannot cause two times two not to make four.”

When the science is clear or when our own eyes tell us that the seats in this chamber are filled or that the sun is shining, we must say so, not construct some alternate universe of non-facts that we find more pleasing.

Along with truth, we must practice civility. Although we have disagreed — often along party lines — we have generally been civil to one another and avoided the rancor of Washington. I urge you to go even further and look for new ways to work beyond party and act as Californians first.

Democrats are in the majority, but Republicans represent real Californians too. We went beyond party when we reformed workers’ compensation, when we created a rainy day fund and when we passed the water bond.

Let’s do that again and set an example for the rest of the country. And, in the process, we will earn the trust of the people of California.

Let me end in the immortal words of Woody Guthrie:

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me…

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

California is not turning back. Not now, not ever. His truth is marching on.

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Parts of U.S. are heating faster than globe as a whole

The Guardian reports: Global warming obviously refers to temperature increases across the entire globe. We know the Earth is warming, we know it is human-caused, we have a pretty good idea about how much the warming will be in the future and what some of the consequences are. In fact, when it comes to the Earth’s average climate, scientists have a pretty good understanding.

On the other hand, no one lives in the average climate. We live spread out north, west, east, and south. On islands, large continents, inland or in coastal regions. Many of us want to know what’s going to happen to the climate where we live. How will my life be affected in the future?

This type of question is answered in a very recent study published by scientists from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The team, which includes Dr. Raymond Bradley and researcher Dr. Ambarish Karmalkar looked specifically at the Northeastern United States. They found that this area will warm much more rapidly than the globe as a whole. In fact, it will warm faster than any other United States region. The authors expect the Northeast US will warm 50% faster than the planet as a whole. They also find that the United States will reach a 2 degree Celsius warming 10–20 years before the globe as a whole. [Continue reading…]

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Evidence of Russian malware found on U.S. electrical company laptop

The Verge reports: A utilities company in Vermont has detected evidence of Russian malware, according to a report this evening from The Washington Post, which cited anonymous US officials. The code is said to be connected to a Russian hacking outfit the US government has named Grizzly Steppe.

According to the company, later revealed to be the Burlington Electric Department, the code linked to Grizzly Steppe was found on just one laptop, and the laptop wasn’t connected to the electrical grid — allaying earlier fears that Russia had hacked into the nation’s electrical grid. Owned by the city of Burlington, the utility firm confirmed the breach in a post on its Facebook page.

“The grid is not in danger,” Vermont Public Service Commissioner Christopher Recchia told the Burlington Free Press. “The utility flagged it, saw it, notified appropriate parties and isolated that one laptop with that malware on it.” [Continue reading…]

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The most defining moments in America, as ranked by each generation

Quartz reports: Historic events come to define our national identity. But do we all agree on what’s important?

Pew asked 2,025 Americans from each generation to name the 10 events in their lifetime with “the greatest impact” on the country. The answers reveal a world newly redefined by the rise of domestic and foreign terrorism, and the transformative role of technology and civil rights.

Everyone agreed on one thing. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, stood out as the most important event, cutting across age, race, and political party. Roughly three-quarters (76%) of all respondents included the terror attacks in their top 10, and the events of that day were seen as the most defining overall for each generation, even ranking ahead of World War II for the Silent Generation (born between 1901 and 1927). The next closest contender was Barack Obama’s election to the White House, which 40% of the public named as one of their top events. (It shared the top spot among the survey’s black respondents.) [Continue reading…]

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What it was like as a Muslim to cover the election

Asma Khalid writes: Sometime in early 2016 between a Trump rally in New Hampshire, where a burly man shouted something at me about being Muslim, and a series of particularly vitriolic tweets that included some combination of “raghead,” “terrorist,” “bitch” and “jihadi,” I went into my editor’s office and wept.

I cried for the first (but not the last) time this campaign season.

Through tears, I told her that if I had known my sheer existence — just the idea of being Muslim — would be a debatable issue in the 2016 election, I would never have signed up to do this job.

To friends and family, I looked like a masochist. But I was too invested to quit.

I was hired by NPR to cover the intersection of demographics and politics. My job required crisscrossing the country to talk to all kinds of voters. I attended rallies and town halls for nearly every candidate on both sides of the aisle, and I met people in their homes, churches and diners.

I am also visibly, identifiably Muslim. I wear a headscarf. So I stand out. And during this campaign, that Muslim identity became the first (and sometimes only) thing people saw, for good or for bad.

Sometimes I met voters who questioned the 3-D nature of my life, people who viscerally hated the idea of me.

One night an old journalist friend called me and said, “Look, don’t be a martyr.”

It was a strange comment to me, since the harassment seemed more like a nuisance than a legitimate threat. And I knew if I was ever legitimately concerned, I had two options: I could ask for a producer to travel with me, or I wouldn’t wear a headscarf. (And a couple of times I didn’t.) Without a hijab, I’m incognito, light-skinned enough that I can pass as some sort of generic ethnic curiosity.

For many journalists, the 2016 campaign was the story of a lifetime. And it was indeed the story of a lifetime for me, too, but a story with real-life repercussions.

And I hung on, because the story of Donald Trump’s America is not some foreign story of a faraway place; it’s my homeland.

I’m from Indiana. We grew up in a mostly Democratic county. But my town was predominantly white and fairly conservative, a place where the Ten Commandments are engraved in marble outside the old County Courthouse.

I loved our childhood — summers playing basketball, winters sledding. We weren’t outsiders — I sold Girl Scout cookies, was captain of the tennis team.

We were part of the club — or so we thought. [Continue reading…]

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Most Americans are suckers for fake news

BuzzFeed reports: Fake news headlines fool American adults about 75% of the time, according to a large-scale new survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for BuzzFeed News.

The survey also found that people who cite Facebook as a major source of news are more likely to view fake news headlines as accurate than those who rely less on the platform for news.

This survey is the first large-scale public opinion research study into the fake news phenomenon that has had a sweeping effect on global politics, and that recently caused a gunman to threaten a DC pizza place. The results paint a picture of news consumers with little ability to evaluate the headlines that often fly toward them without context on social media platforms. They also — surprisingly — suggest that consumers are likely to believe even false stories that don’t fit their ideological bias. And the survey calls into question the notion — which Facebook has reportedly begun testing — that consumers themselves can do the work of distinguishing between real and fake news.

The new data comes from an online survey of 3,015 US adults conducted between Nov. 28 and Dec. 1. For more on the methodology, see the bottom of this article. A detailed summary of results to all questions can be found here. Additional calculations can be found here. [Continue reading…]

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