This month’s long article at The Week is about how and why Americans are so much more scared of ISIS than even our intelligence agencies say we need to be—and the damaging consequences that fear has for foreign policy:

I am no fan of America’s national security state, which continues to grow steadily larger, more intrusive, and increasingly dismissive of civil liberties. The NSA has removed all expectations of privacy in digital communications, and the TSA is, at best, inept security theater. The Department of Homeland Security’s “If you see something, say something” campaignimagines a terrorist around every corner, while the CIA is busy spying on Congress and torturing away the rule of law.

But sometimes, America’s intelligence agencies are actually the voice of reason, offering a far less scary view of security threats than public perception or political pontificating provides. But we don’t listen.

Perhaps nowhere is this phenomenon more obvious than in an unjustified level of fear of ISIS, says Karen Callaghan, a political scientist at Texas Southern University who researches framing in political discourse about terrorism. If you listen to our hyperventilating national media and bloviating lawmakers, you’d think ISIS presented America with an existential threat. For instance, pointing to media coverage of graphic acts of terror (like beheadings), Callaghan says that this “hyperpublicizing” makes it “difficult for Americans to separate out the truth, difficult to decipher how worried they should be.”

Americans are scared of ISIS. More than 70 percent believe that there are ISIS terror cells in the United States, while 90 percent believe ISIS poses a real threat to America, and 45 percent label the threat “very serious.”

But that assessment is nowhere close to the reality of the ISIS threat.

Multiple U.S. intelligence agencies have repeatedly announced their consensus that ISIS is not an immediate threat to America. General Martin Dempsey, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says there’s no evidence that ISIS is occupied with “active plotting against the homeland.”DHS reports ISIS is not in Mexico, attempting to infiltrate the southern border. The FBI swatted down any notion that ISIS is planning an attack in the New York City subway system.

This mismatch between public perception and intelligence reports is not unique to ISIS. Indeed, it has been frustratingly consistent in Iran policy for years. No less than 16 American intelligence agencies agreed in 2012 that Iran had no nuclear weapons in development — a conclusion that apparently stands today. But Americans are consistently concerned that the United States is not doing enough to stop the “threat” of Iran getting nukes.

It’s understandable, of course, that so many Americans are scared: We are consistently told that we should be, a drumbeat of fear which Callaghan argues “elevates risk perceptions and diminishes the capacity for rational information processing.”

Read the whole thing here.

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‘Say No’ to condescending ad campaigns

Posted on October 6, 2014 at 11.16 am

Last week, the College Republican National Committee (CRNC) released a set of ads aimed at young women voting for governor in six states. If you haven’t seen them already, take a moment to watch this representative ad for Arkansas:

As this ad (and its five siblings) began to make internet rounds, it was almost immediately the subject of derision. Viewers noted that the tone was condescending, even sexist. As one typical review said, “Voting is hard, right ladies? Luckily, the College Republican National Committee is here to help put things in terms we’ll understand: wedding dresses.”

Soon, commentators on the right started playing defense. They highlighted a leftwing video put out by Cosmopolitian (yes, the magazine you probably know better as the source of “1000 Crazy Ways to Use a Can Opener in Your Sex Life” articles) in which a young woman parodies a makeup tutorial video while discussing politics. It’s hypocritical, so the arguments went, to criticize the CRNC video while lauding the one from Cosmo.

But as much as I have no love for Cosmo, here’s the key difference between the two: The Cosmo ad actually contains specific facts and policy suggestions. They may be facts we’d like to dispute (like whether or not women are only paid 78 percent of what men are paid) and policy suggestions we’d like to debate (like the effects of the minimum wage), but they’re undeniably there.

The format is silly; but to Cosmo’s credit, it gives the audience specific information they can research and concludes by encouraging the target demographic—young women—to get engaged in politics and not “let other people speak for you.”

But the CRNC videos? Not so much.

Each one offers only the vaguest possible critiques of the candidates they oppose, like suggestions that he’ll bring higher taxes or cause people to lose their jobs.

Ok, that’s scary, CRNC. And you may well be right. But how will this happen? Can you offer any specifics at all?

Because I don’t know about other young women, but pretty dresses are not enough to make me give someone my vote.

The fact that only ten seconds of each minute-long ad is even customized by state (beyond switching out the names) does not bode well. Indeed, I’d suggest that any campaign ad which can be used in six different states with minimal modification is by definition embarrassingly simplistic and condescending. And if that ad is exclusively targeted at young women—and there’s no similarly patronizing ad campaign made for young men—then, yes, it’s also sexist.

Read the whole thing here.

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IRS ‘hard drive crashes continue as we speak’—Really?!

Posted on September 29, 2014 at 11.12 am

This week, I look at the dangerous precedent the IRS’ hard drive excuse sets for government accountability:

Of course, for many people, distaste for the IRS kicked into high gear with the news that the agency hassled conservative/tea party and even progressivepolitical groups with unfair delays and scrutiny. The government can’t handle criticism, it seems, and the IRS decided to make life miserable for any organization that didn’t adequately bow before the system.

At the center of this scandal is Lois Lerner, the high-ranking IRS agent whorepeatedly refused to testify about her role in this corruption by pleading the Fifth. Because of her silence (only recently broken with protestations of innocence), an archive of tens of thousands of her emails is the one clear source of evidence to determine wrongdoing in the political targeting debacle.

So, inevitably since this is the government we’re talking about, many of those emails are missing.

For months now, we’ve heard excuse after excuse and story after story about these elusive emails. Back in June, the IRS claimed that the emails were gone because of limited email storage space and a computer crash back in 2011.

Since then, new revelations and accusations have been all over the map. In one statement, the IRS suggested that the emails are not missing after all, but it would be a lot of work to find them. Reports have surfaced that the emails could have been saved on a government-wide backup service, but the IRS says no such service exists. Meanwhile, the agency continues to announce the loss of more and more emails in what can only be described as highly convenient circumstances for corrupt IRS employees.

Oh, and did I mention that a Department of Justice attorney who has represented the IRS was apparently himself involved in the original corruption?

I must admit I haven’t paid a lot of attention to the IRS scandal until recently. I tend to be more interested in foreign policy and civil liberties issues, and it’s not like my feelings about the IRS could get much more negative anyway, amirite?

But then I saw this headline: Koskinen: “Hard Drive Crashes Continue as We Speak”

I mean, really? Really?!

Read the whole thing here.

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