The (Poorly) Armed Assault On “Gun Control”: How the Gun Culture Manipulates Statistics (Part 3)

kennesaw

Finally, we return to our examination of NRA propaganda. In the first installment, we discussed what we have termed The Chicago Gambit, which consists of cherry picking data to suggest that stricter gun laws cause a rise in crime. In the second installment, we took a look at what we have called The D.C. Gambit, which consists of cherry picking data to suggest that loosening gun laws causes a drop in crime. Now let’s look at the latter in a little more detail.

If you talk to your gun-totin’ friends for very long, chances are you’ll hear them bring up a little city in Georgia called Kennesaw. It makes a very interesting addition to the gun propaganda arsenal, and adds a very interesting wrinkle to the D.C. Gambit; in Kennsaw,  not only are guns allowed, they are legally required. In 1982, the town passed an ordinance requiring every household to own a gun and maintain it in working order. (Kennesaw is also a haven for Confederate nostalgia in the heart of KKK country. Make of that what you will.) And since then, by golly, the crime rate has declined considerably. So bingo! That “proves” that guns deter crime, right? You’d be very hard pressed to find any other interpretation in anything you find by Googling Kennesaw.

But hold on, podner. Not so fast. There are in fact several good reasons to doubt such a conclusion.:

1. The problem of small numbers

Kennesaw is a small town, that had very little crime to begin with. When dealing with such small numbers, a shift of a single crime one way or the other can result in a percentage difference that seems more significant than it really is.

2. The problem of a growing population

The population of Kennesaw has increased from around 5000 at the time the ordinance was passed to around 30,000 now. The number of crimes has remained about the same for the past few years, so naturally the crime rate would show a huge drop. And while you might expect that an increase in population, under normal circumstances, would be accompanied by a proportional increase in crime, this isn’t necessarily true when dealing with such small municipalities.

3. The problem of the law itself

The mandatory gun ownership ordinance passed by the city of Kennesaw is really no such thing. It allows for exceptions among those who do not want to own a gun, and there is absolutely no effort made to enforce it. It says, in essence, “You have to own a gun if you want to, but if you don’t, you don’t, and it’s no big deal because we’re not going to check up on you anyway.” And this is supposedly a deterrent to crime?? This law was a purely symbolic gesture in a town in which most residents were already armed; it was passed as a way of thumbing the nose at Morton Grove, IL, which recently had enacted a gun ban. Kennesaw police chief Bill Westenberger declared that he believed the gun law to be a factor in the city’s low crime rate, but then he added that he believed most people didn’t even know the law existed, especially those who’ve moved to Kennesaw recently. Huh???

4. The problem of Kleck -lessness

If the mere knowledge that residents are packing isn’t what has brought the crime rate down, then the other possible explanation for guns making a difference would be that they have actually been used to prevent crime — in other words, there must have been an increase in the number of defensive gun uses (DGU) in Kennesaw. There’s no evidence this has happened. In fact, so far I’ve been unable to find any record of any Eastwood moment ever occurrring in Kennesaw. Perhaps if we kept digging, we eventually might uncover one or two. But there clearly is not the abundance of them we would have if they were responsible for the plunge in crime rate.

5. The problem of cherry-picked statistics

The year before the ordinance was passed, Kennesaw had 54 burglaries. The year it was passed, there were only 35, a decrease of nearly 33 percent. Many supporters of the ordinance zero in on this one-year time frame as “proof” that the law “worked”. But there are often such fluctuations from year to year, and they can seem more significant than they really are when dealing with small numbers. If you look at the statistics for a longer period of time, you will see that there has been little change overall. Furthermore, FBI statistics show that there was actually a huge surge in Kennesaw crime shortly after the ordinance was passed.

Incidentally, the gun ban in Morton Grove corresponded with a reduction in crime, particularly burglaries. Does that mean the ban actually caused the reduction? Not necessarily. Jumping to such a conclusion would be committing the same two sins the Kennesaw myth does: (a) using a narrow range of data — i.e., cherry picking; and (b) confusing correlation with causation.

Those are sins you’ll see the gun culture committing over and over again.

 

(Still more to come on this topic.)

 

 

 

The Real Lesson of the Midterms?

midterms

After any election, the party that loses the most and the party that wins the most immediately start trying to spin the outcome to their best advantage. And it was no different this year.

While their losses weren’t nearly as massive as the media narrative would have you believe, Democratic spin has tended to exhibit a great deal of wishful thinking, even as it incorporates some valid observations.  They point out that the party in The White House always loses congressional seats during a midterm. That’s generally true, but the party does not always lose control of Congress.

They say that now Republicans will actually have to try to lead rather than throw spitballs, and their ineptitude will be exposed. Maybe so, but we’ve been down this road before; 20 years ago, the GOP enjoyed a considerably more dramatic sweep under Clinton. They used their new majority to indulge in petty persecution of the president, including impeaching him for lying about his sex life. If there was political fallout for their actions, the lessons were quickly forgotten.

Now there is another Republican majority in Congress that promises to indulge in more imaginatively silly wastes of time and money in childish pursuit of a venomous vendetta against President Obama. It’s almost certain that they’ll move to impeach him for… well, something. Or nothing. It really doesn’t seem to matter to them whether or not they have a reason. The word impeach no longer means “to investigate an official for misconduct”; it now means, “to use political clout to try to undo an election you didn’t like.”

Democrats also take comfort in the fact that while their candidates may have lost, their issues won; indeed, most of the Republicans who won were able to do so only because they disguised themselves as Democrats. And there’s a great deal of truth to that.  Republicans often win by assuming “liberal” stances on the stump. But that isn’t necessarily an indicator of how they’ll behave once they’re in office.

As for the notion that the public supports progressive values much more strongly than it supports “liberal” politicians, true enough. Progressive values usually win in most places, even if progressive (or the least non-progressive) candidates don’t. The history of the human race has shown a pretty steady march forward, even if the leaders in charge have taken two steps forward and one step back — or vice versa.

Electing a Republican isn’t necessarily a step backward, and electing a Democrat isn’t necessarily a step forward. But when you compare the two parties overall, you see that Republicans are far more likely to impede progress. They are far more likely (to name just one example) to subjugate scientific research to ideology. Accordingly, it appears that certain key posts relating to the environment are about to be filled by arrogantly ignorant climate science “skeptics” like James Inhofe and Ted Cruz.

The Republican spin, which has become the official spin, is that this election was a referendum on President Obama and/or his policies. Even Obama himself seems to believe that. Thus, Fox “News” and company would have you believe that the results were a huge slap in the face to the president. The election, they maintain, is a mandate to engage in further obstruction and extremism. Indeed, when President Obama suggested that he could work with the new Congress (a suggestion also made by Mitch McConnell despite his history of gridlock), he was met with derision and scorn by the punditocracy.

Thing is, Obama’s approval rating (around 40 percent) is considerably higher than that of Congress itself (around 20 percent). But wait. Maybe people just disapprove of Congress so strongly because it’s too librul, and things will change now that there are going to be more Republicans, and they’re going to be the head of both houses. Well, the problem there is that going into the election, Democrats in Congress had a higher approval (44 percent) than Republicans (40 percent) in some polls. In other words, the public elected the party it dislikes most to run the branch of government it’s most disgusted with. Kind of makes sense if you stare it cross-eyed long enough.

The logical conclusion here is that Republicans won because Democratic voters stayed at home. And this might be due in part to the same factor that Republican voters were so fired up: the propaganda campaign against President Obama. Right-wing fanatics, aided and abetted by the media, have convinced a large portion of the American public that a B-plus president is actually an FFF-minus-minus president. Consequently, Democratic candidates behaved as if he had leprosy, distancing themsleves from his achievements — which very well could be why their constituents were uninspired to show up at the polls.

The absurdity of the whole thing was succinctly highlighted by David Letterman:

Take a look at this: gas under $3 a gallon – under $3 a gallon. Unemployment under 6%, whoever thought? Stock market breaking records every day. No wonder the guy is so unpopular.

Polls indicate that some 63 percent of the American public believes that the country is headed in the wrong direction, while only 27 percent say it’s headed in the right direction. What would it take for people to think it’s moving in the right direction? Who knows? Few people seem interested in answering that question. They just know they’re supposed to hate Obama because they’ve been told to.

They rail about how he’s an embarrassment in foreign policy and he’s trashing the economy and “Obamacare” is an utter disaster. Even in the face of reports showing that unemployment has dropped below 6 percent for the first time since 2008, and millions have healthcare for the first time, and America’s image abroad has improved considerably since Obama took office. Hey, who needs facts when you have Fox?

Which leads us to what may be the real lesson of the midterms: perhaps Americans are currently living in a brainwashed dystopian dictatorship. But the dictator isn’t Barack Obama or anyone in Congress. It’s Rupert Murdoch et al.

 

So NOW Election Fraud Is Considered Newsworthy!

Fox Voter Fraud

There are three things as certain as death and taxes during an election season these days :(1) gas prices will fall at the pump; (2) the airwaves will be saturated with attack ads, and (3) the media will devote lots of time to airing warnings by Republicans that Democrats are out to “steal” the election. And they don’t mind making up stories to support their case.

Normally, their claim is that such theft will be carried out by voters themselves — which, as we’ve discussed before, is extremely difficult to pull off, and too infrequent to have an impact on an election. (Not to mention which, many if not most of the documented occurrences actually involve high-profile Republicans.) In 2012, for instance, they floated rumors about busloads of dark-skinned immigrants with limited English skills being driven to the polls to vote — clearly fraud, right? At least one report even characterized them as “Somali pirates”.

In keeping with the philosophy that no steamroller is too large to attack a gnat with if the political gain is sufficient, Republicans have responded to this virtually nonexistent problem by introducing drastic measures in the form of voter ID laws which have a hugely disproportionate effect on low-income, dark-skinned and foreign-looking citizens — who, by some strange coincidence, tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic. These laws are to a large extent the spawn of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing activist group founded by Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the right-wing think tank The Heritage Foundation. In a rare moment of candor, Weyrich reveals the true purpose of such legislation:

I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

Or as Michigan state legislator John Pappageorge said in 2004, “If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to have a tough time in this election.” (Detroit is the home of a large number of dark-skinned, foreign-looking Democratic voters.)

You can count on the media, and especially Fox “News” to shine a bright spotlight on every single case in which a Democratic voter is suspected of voting fraudulently. But the mysterious disappearance this year of more than 40,000 ballots from a Democratic stronghold in Georgia that could tilt that state’s elections? Not so much so. In seems that in order for suspected fraud to be considered newsworthy, it must meet two conditions: (a) it must be on an insignificant scale, and (b) it must be to the benefit of the Democratic Party.

Thus, we have a great deal of attention devoted this year to a suspected case of actual election (as opposed to voter) fraud. It seems that a few machines in Illinois have been reportedly switching a few votes from Republican to Democrat. Officially, it’s just a glitch, but Fox “News” and their ilk are all over it, brandishing it as undeniable proof that Democrats have “hacked” the machines and are out to sabotage the electoral process and finish converting the nation to a colony of drones who’ll surrender their guns, convert to Islam and keep their radios tuned to NPR.

The deliciously rich irony here is that Democratic and progressive activists have been struggling for years to bring greater accuracy, transparency and accountability to the electoral process. And they have very good reason. For one thing, voting machine glitches of this type have occurred before — except that the machines were flipping votes from Democrat to Republican. During the 2012 election, for instance, there were reports  of machines in Pennsylvania switching votes. What say you, Fox? Same thing happened in Texas in 2006. Tucker? Sean? Bill?  In Florida in 2000, voting machines in Volusia County awarded George W. Bush 4000 superfluous votes, while subtracting 19,000 from Al Gore’s tally. Rather than expose and investigate the irregularity, the media promptly seized upon the inaccurate totals to prematurely project Bush the winner (the first to do so was Bush’s cousin, John Ellis, who worked for — surprise — Fox “News”), permanently casting Gore as a “sore loser” and making it all but impossible for him to obtain a fair recount.

Fox didn’t exactly jump all over those cases of fishy election activity. Could it be because the machines were switching votes from Democrat to Republican.? The vast majority of voting machines are produced by companies with strong ties to the GOP, and in some cases their execs have made it clear that they will do whatever it takes to deliver elections to the candidates of their choice. Still waiting for the Fox exclusive on that one?

Nor are machines the only problem, by any means. As we discussed in the examination of Bush vs. Gore, Republicans have employed a mile-long series of dirty tricks to get into power and stay there. And these, mind you, are not merely isolated actions by individuals, but a widespread systematic process. In the 2000 election, George W. Bush was boosted into the White House by his governor brother’s unlawful purge of tens of thousand of Democratic voters from the rolls. The GOP’s tactics also include some very heavy-handed gerrymandering, which has allowed the party to gain congressional seats in the past two elections even though Democrats received more votes. In at least three states (Florida, Virginia and Wisconsin) GOP-mandering has been ruled unconstitutional. But like The Terminator, they’re no sooner struck down than they get back up and start it all over again. Fox, where art thou?

Okay, since conspiracy theories are so popular these days, here are a couple to try on: (1) Maybe right-wingers are raising such a stink about the Democratic “fraud” in Illinois to divert focus away from their own sins — maybe they even hacked the voting machines themselves. (2) Or maybe Democrats really did fix the machines. Maybe they did it because they knew that was the only way to draw the media spotlight on the potential problems with voting machines, which thereby might lead to tighter regulation of said machines that would make it harder for anyone to cheat.

Stranger things have happened. And infinitely stranger things have been believed.

Obama’s Pronouns Vs. the Flat Earth Mentality

US-POLITICS-OBAMA-HISPANIC CAUCUS

Only a few days after posting yet another examination of Obama Derangement Syndrome, I came across a piece about the Obama Haters’ recent obsession with the president’s use of pronouns.  The claim, you see, is that he says “I” or “me” with inordinate frequency, which proves that he’s an arrogant narcissist.  The pronoun narrative reached its nadir, perhaps, with right-wing pundit Charles Krauthammer, who declared

For God’s sake, he talks like the emperor Napoleon… I mean, count the number of times he uses the word I in any speech, and compare that to any other president.

Well, unfortunately for Krauthammer and his kind, somebody did just that.  The folks at BuzzFeed studied more than 2000 news conferences delivered by all the presidents since 1929, when mass media began coming into its own. And they counted the number of times the presidents used personal pronouns like “I”, “me” and “mine”, calculated their percentages among all words used, and compiled them into a handy chart.

Obama pronouns

And those results do not speak well for Obama Haters, Inc. Far from having the highest frequency of such pronouns, Obama has to date the third lowest. Furthermore, he also has the highest usage of plural first-person pronouns like “we” or “our”, suggesting that he actually may be the most inclusive of modern presidents.

That being said, a glance down this chart indicates that we should exercise caution in assuming that the incidence of such words is always a reliable indicator of narcissism/ arrogance/ self-indulgence. Jimmy Carter is at the upper end of the scale, and he is a manifestly unselfish man who has devoted his post-presidency time to nonpolitical public service. Herbert Hoover is at the very bottom, and yet he was a relentless and unscrupulous megalomaniac who scarcely was capable of doing anything that didn’t advance his ambitions or status. Ronald Reagan also ranks rather low, and yet he had delusions of grandeur that bordered on schizophrenia.

Nonetheless, it’s possible that the haters are, despite their best efforts, on the right track about Obama. His low level of personal pronouns does seem to coordinate with his humility, as reflected in his extraordinary efforts to work with an extraordinarily obstructionist Congress, and his amazing grace and good will in the face of an unbelievable amount of hatred thrown his way.

Whatever the implications, the most obvious problem with the haters’ pronoun narrative is simply that they got their facts wrong. Not just mildly wrong, but wildly wrong. And they did so by indulging in that very egocentrism of which they accuse the president. Having heard him say “I” a few times, they concluded, without bothering to investigate, that he does so with great frequency.

It’s a folly that has plagued the human race from day one: the presumption that the view from one’s own narrow window reflects what the universe as a whole looks like. And it has resulted in a great many irrational beliefs and behaviors, from the hilarious to the horrific. The belief that the world must be flat because I can’t see it curve. The belief that the earth must be the center of the universe because I see the sun move around it. The belief that the old woman down the road must be a witch because my dog got sick after she petted it. The belief that global warming must be a myth because it snowed in my back yard last week. And now, the belief that the president must be a Kenyan communist Nazi Muslim Anti-Christ because Fox “News” says so.

And it’s a folly that likely will continue to  plague the human race in the future. Let’s just hope that its consequences are more hilarious than horrific.

The 35th Worst President Ever?

Obama coffee cup

In case you missed it,  there was a brilliant little political essay  by the brilliant little political essayist Mark Morford at SFGate on July 8 called “The Best Worst President Ever”, eviscerating the oft-heard lament that Barack Obama is “the worst thing that ever happened to this country”, or some such. The Cult Of Obama Hatred is working overtime to drill its mantra into the head of the American citizen: “worst president ever, worst president ever, worst president ever”. Like a broken record, or a record-breakingly inept Republican president wedging “Iraq” and “9-11″  together into the same sentence as frequently as possible, they hope that if they say it long enough and often enough, people will believe it. And it appears to be working, at least for now.

Not long ago, an RRR (rabidly right-wing relative — don’t they make family gatherings fun?) said to me, “Obama has just split this country apart. He’s caused the races to hate each other more when they were beginning to get along, and he’s made the whole nation more divided than it’s ever been before”. Naturally, I was intrigued by this analysis, and I asked him to explain exactly how the president accomplished this. Needless to say, he was unable to name even one thing Obama has done to cause such unprecedented divisiveness. He just knows that somehow, the president has set Americans against each other more than anyone else has ever done, including, say, Jefferson Davis.

I suggested to my RRR that maybe he should consider the possibility that if indeed the nation is more divided than it’s ever been (which is by no means a given) then in fact it has not been Obama but Obama haters who have contributed to it. After all, they’ve churned out the most malicious lies imaginable about the president on a daily basis for the past 6 years, and lies tend to be quite divisive. To which he replied, “Well, you have your opinion, and I have mine.”

This is what we’ve come to in Twenty-First Century America. The difference between lies and truth is dismissed as nothing more than a difference of opinion. And the prevailing opinion is that Obama has “destroyed this country” and “shredded the Constitution” and “mortgaged our children’s future”, or he’s — (insert the popular cookie cutter phrase of your choice). facts and explanations be damned.

Some polls have the president’s popularity at an all-time low. Or as Fox “News” puts it in inimitable Fox fashion, “more people than ever are fed up” with him. In one poll, a plurality (33 percent) of Americans consider Obama the worst president since at least World War II — even topping out George W (28 percent).  Which just goes to show how effective the anti-Obama propaganda has been, and in particular how effective is the technique of sheer repetition. Because reality tells rather a different story.

Determining the best and worst among presidents is necessarily a subjective undertaking to some extent — particularly among members of the contemporary general public, who tend to assess a leader according to how well he conforms to their own ideologies. And since Obama caters to neither the Right or the Left, he’d be getting a double dose of criticism even if he wasn’t the intensive target of Obama Derangement Syndrome. Even Michael Moore declares that he will be remembered only as the first black president. Et tu, Mike?

But future generations won’t care much about present ideological differences, or how the current crop of right-wing radicals detested the current president past all rationality, or how contemporary “liberals” are disappointed that he’s not progressive enough. With a broader perspective, such as that provided by history or even contemporary historians, there are definite objective parameters. It would be hard to call an Abe Lincoln or George Washington or Franklin Roosevelt a bad president, or an Andrew Johnson or Warren Harding or George W. Bush a good one (though some people may try).

A president’s place in history is determined, with pretty decent accuracy, by his cumulative actions in office; and again, there are definite objective parameters. It would be pretty hard to fault, for instance, the Emancipation Proclamation or Social Security or The Peace Corps (though some people certainly try). And it would be pretty hard to praise the intelligence and security failures that allowed 9-11 to happen, or the launching of the Iraqi quagmire based on lies and fraud, or converting a huge surplus into a huge deficit, or shattering Ronald Reagan’s record for presidential vacation time, or muzzling scientific research and playing denial on climate change (though some people certainly try).

And it’s hard to find fault with the retirement of Osama bin Laden; but the Obama haters certainly try — while at the same time trying to credit it to George W. Bush, who’d been out of office more than two years and had long ago given up even looking for bin Laden. But that’s by no means the only one of the current president’s impressive accomplishments.

Among them, of course, is the Affordable Care Act, forever to be spun as “Obamacare”. Surely you’ve heard of it. Socialized medicine. Government takeover of medicine. Nazi medicine. Death panels. Skyrocketing premiums. Doctors jumping ship. Thousands of armed IRS agents ready to enforce it. A dismal catastrophe all around, right? That’s certainly the way it’s being portrayed. And a gullible public gobbles it up.

Yet when you dig beneath the cacophonous layer of Bedlamite frenzy and press the issue, most Americans will quietly if grudgingly admit that “Obamacare” is… (wait for it) actually a success. Most have even seen this for themselves. Yes, even Republicans. Shhhh!!! Don’t tell anyone.

And what about the economy?  That’s certainly an important factor to consider. And the official spin is that Obama’s economic policies have been ineffective if not disastrous. Many Obama haters cite their own change in economic status as “proof”, on the assumption that (a) their own experience typifies the nation’s as a whole — after all, the universe does revolve around them, doesn’t it?, and (b) it’s all Obama’s fault — if and only if they’ve become worse off in the past few years.

Right-wingers have an immutable four-part formula they apply to a president’s impact on the economy: (a) If the president is a Democrat and the economy goes bad, the president is to blame. Period. (b) If the president is a Democrat and the economy improves, it’s due to the Republicans in Congress or the last Republican president, however long ago. (c) If the president is a Republican and the economy improves, it’s all his doing. Period. (d) If the president is a Republican and the economy goes bad, it’s due to the Democrats in Congress or the last Democratic president, however long ago.

Historians and economists, however, are not blessed with such divine insight, and so they have to rely on hard numbers instead. Those numbers almost invariably show that economic improvement coincidentally has a way of occurring when a Democrat is in the White House. And the present president is no exception.

The guys at Motley Fool have compiled tables of how the presidents since 1900 compare in five economic factors. Of 19 administrations, Obama’s ranks fourth in stock market performance, seventh in reducing unemployment, eighth in GDP per capita, and — get this — FIRST in corporate profit growth. The latter isn’t even close: at an annual growth rate of 43.1 percent, Obama’s figure smokes the next closest competitor at 17.7 percent. This, mind you, is a president whom the wingers love to brand a “socialist”. So lopsided is the president’s boon to corporate interests that the Fools suggest, with a perfectly straight face, that maybe he should play fair and bring the percentage down to a more competitive 6.2 by factoring in the final year of the economically disastrous Bush administration. You think I’m making this up?

Okay, so President Obama has plenty of positive things going for him. What about the possibility that there is enough in the minus column to wipe out his assets? Well, it’s really not a realistic possibility at all. Certainly, he’s only human, and he’s exhibited his share of missteps and flaws like any other politician. (And ironically, they tend to be overlooked by the Obama Haters in their rush to circulate nutball rumors.) But contrary to loud and pervasive rumor, there is nothing that promises to make a dent in the history books.

Which certainly hasn’t prevented the haters from trying desperately, comically, to find something. From Benghazi to birtherism to Benghazi to the IRS to Benghazi to the NSA to Benghazi to Fast and Furious to Benghazi to Solyndra to Benghazi. And oh yes, there’s always Benghazi. Failing to gain much traction with these “scandals” they grasp at straws that are excruciatingly silly even by their usual standards.

There is, for example, the “latte salute”. The president’s casual act of saluting two marines while holding a cup of coffee as he exited Air Force One was turned into a tsunami-sized controversy by the hatred industry. The puerile hyperbole over this non-event is perhaps best encapsulated by Karl Rove on Fox “News”:

Are we surprised? After all, we’ve got a chai-swilling, golf-playing, basketball-trash-talking, leading-from-behind, I-got-no-strategy, ‘Osama-bin-Laden-is-dead-GM-is-alive’, community organizer commander-in-chief… It’s not a latte salute, it’s a chai salute because he drinks chai tea. I mean, please! How disrespectful was that?

This thoughtful and mature analysis brought to you by a man who, in many respects, ran the country for 8 years, and is often referred to as “Bush’s Brain”. Hey, let’s all try being as adult and sophisticated as Karl. Hmmm… If he was Bush’s brain, which end would that make Dick Cheney? The reference to “no strategy”, by the way, is a comment taken out of context (a national pastime for Obama haters) and seized upon to advance the myth that the president is weak/ disastrous/ embarrassing in foreign policy. In raising such a hue and cry over the disgraceful latte/ chai salute (Which is it? Makes all the difference in the world, you know.) Fox “News” completely gets its facts wrong  (Fox?? Say it ain’t so!) about the history and protocol of presidential salutes, and asks “Would President Bush ever do this?” The answer to that, it appears, is probably not.

Bush dog salute

Bush salutes several times with a dog, and he’s a patriotic, strong-willed, resolute commander-in-chief. Obama salutes once with a cup of coffee (Or is it tea?  Inquiring minds want to know.) and he’s an embarrassment, a joke, a traitor in league with ISIS who wants to infect you with ebola. But in the interest of being “fair and balanced”, surely Fox soon will launch into a protracted analysis of how Bush’s saluting posture was cowering, wimpy, and quasi-fetal as he clung to the most popular member of his administration, while Obama’s saluting posture is erect, bold, proud and decisive. I’m sure they will. Any day now. Doncha think?

Basically, anything that any other politician could do without raising a Hannity eyebrow becomes a major, major scandal/ outrage/ source of ridicule if Obama does it. Is there anything more worthy of a Lemony Snicket novel than Sarah Palin, that persistent answer to a question nobody is asking, mocking the president for using a teleprompter with a canned one-liner read from a teleprompter?  Considering that nearly all of the media coverage of President Obama is negative, and a great deal of it is deranged and apocalyptic, is it really any wonder that his ratings are so low?

Meanwhile, what gets far less media attention is that a group of 238 presidential scholars has done a periodic ranking of U.S. presidents that placed Obama 15th. That’s 15th BEST, boys and girls, not 15th worst. This, mind you, was after his first year in office and thus before most of his accomplishments. Other surveys of the experts have also rather consistently ranked him highly — as highly as 8th. And highly ranked presidents tend to rise in their rankings after they are out of office.

So, sorry to break the news to you, Obama haters, but posterity promises to be far kinder to Barack Obama than to you. Or to your warped image of him. If you wanted to peg him as, say the 35th worst president ever, then you might have a case. But the worst? Not unless things change very, very drastically. And very, very soon.

Good Cop/ Bad Cop: A Primer For Confused Extraterrestrials

st louis county police

Greetings! This is Qtlrzk from the planet Blexxar reporting again about the strange goings-on on that world whose inhabitants call Earth — it may be better known to the rest of you in the galaxy as Planet Punchline.  As you may know, we’ve been learning about this world by monitoring transmissions from information(?) systems known as TV — especially a system called the Fox News Network, which has the loudest and most widely received signal. This is puzzling, since both its name and the intellectual level of its content indicate that this network is intended for an audience of small furry quadrupeds.

One of the more recent sources of confusion has been the reaction to the behavior of law enforcement personnel in the enclave known as Ferguson in the sector called Missouri in the settlement called the “United” States Of America. After killing an unarmed youth, one policemen has been hailed as a hero, and the force to which he belongs has been extolled as noble and righteous — in native slang, they are “good cops”. This was puzzling because we were under the impression that police were meant to protect rather than destroy other carbon-based life forms.

Furthermore, it wasn’t long ago that law enforcement personnel dispatched to the sector of Nevada were referred to as “armed thugs” — which, we take it, is the equivalent of “bad cops”. Initially, this seemed to us to be such a contradiction that we suspected that in the interval between the two incidents many media personalities had been abducted by interplanetary interlopers and replaced with class four replicants.

On closer inspection, however, we have learned that there is a consistency to the inconsistency. We are pleased to present you with the following compendious guide to the distinction between “good cop” and “bad cop”, which depends on five factors:

1: Offense responded to

Bad cops respond to instances in which citizens blatantly defy the law over a period of years. (Those citizens are called patriots.) Good cops respond to impulsive momentary violations such as walking in the street. (Those violators are called gangsters.)

2. Nature of offender

Bad cops respond to violations by individuals with lighter skin tones. Good cops respond to offenders with darker skin tones.

3. Conduct of enforcers

Bad cops behave with restraint even when faced with confrontation, and back off rather than engage in violence. Good cops kill citizens at the slightest hint of conflict. When others protest such deaths, they brandish their weapons and yell, “I will fucking kill you!”.  They also say “I’m into diversity; I kill everybody” and refer to the national leader as an “undocumented president” and to Supreme Court justices as “black-robed perverts”.

4. Protesters

The protests against bad cops are initiated by individuals and organizations from all over the country, who come with weapons and try to provoke a fight. The protests against good cops are initiated by local citizens; and though they may be supported by individuals from other parts of the country, they come unarmed. Nonetheless, good cops greet them with armaments sufficient to quell a Klingon invasion.

5. Jurisdiction

Good cops serve municipalities. Bad cops serve central government agencies, which puts them more directly under the command of The Evil One, the dreaded Barack Of Obama. We have not yet been able to determine why this leader invokes such fear, paranoia and delirium in so many citizens. We had heard that many of those infected with this peculiar form of madness live in parts of the “United” States Of America in which the ground is red, but our spectroscopic analysis reveals no significant difference in soil tint. We suspect instead that the behavior may be due to some substance in their supply of potable aqueous liquid.

We hope these guidelines will be of help to you should you ever choose to visit this bizarre little planet. If you do make such a rash stop, however, we assume no responsibility for your fate.

Playing Ostrich on Race

Ferguson protest

Whenever an unarmed black teen gets shot by a white guy — which seems to be becoming a trend these days –you can count on two things happening. First, there is an outrage among the public. Second, there is a campaign by many in the media, and other right-wing extremists, to gloss over the incident and the public reaction. It’s really no big deal, they try to tell you. Get upset over something else instead, they say. We saw this with the killing of Trayvon Martin. And more recently, we’ve been seeing it with the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Fox “News” and company have gone into hyperdrive declaring how sick and tired they are of all the media coverage of protests in Ferguson even as they offer endless coverage of Ferguson, and how the real racists are the ones who talk about racism even as they go on and on about racism.  Fox bit off more than it could chew in one priceless unscripted segment in which Steve Harrigan was, in the condescening words of a colleague,

trying to explain the reality of what is happening now — that in the middle of the night, a bunch of people are out for show.

When Harrigan patronizingly referred to the protests as “child’s play”, he was overheard by an angry participant who confronted him and schooled him in very blunt terms — asking him, among other things, “Who’s the child playing with toys? Us or them?”

Fox, of course, is not designed primarily as a news organization, but as the voice of the “conservative movement” (one of my favorite oxymorons) which likes to play ostrich with racial tensions. Republicans sometimes bill themselves as “the party of Lincoln”, forgetting (if they ever knew in the first place) that the party has undergone a radical makeover in more recent decades, and Abe wouldn’t recognize anything about it except the name. The GOP — and Fox — often trot out the scant handful of African-Americans in their midst and pretend that they are a much larger contingent than they really are, and that everything is just peachy keen.

But anyone who’s attended a Republican convention can vouch for the scarcity of dark faces among the delegates, though there might be plenty of them in the service staff — for whom black delegates are often mistaken.  I recall reading about one African-American attendee of a state GOP gathering in recent years who, though he was wearing a badge that clearly identified him, was asked to carry bags or call a taxi six times. But if you shine a light on this lack of ethnic diversity, then wingers, rather than trying to address it, are likely to upbraid you for “playing the race card”.

The trigger-happy cop in Ferguson didn’t even give Michael Brown a chance to carry his bags. What he did was shoot an unarmed teenager — not once, but SIX TIMES, who according to witnesses, was holding up his hands and moving away from the officer. The friend who was with Brown reports that when the cop drove up he yelled at them to “get the fuck on the sidewalk”.  One witness says that he then started driving away, but abruptly reversed his vehicle, after which the confrontation started. After Brown was gunned down, his body was allowed to lie in the street for FOUR HOURS.

Now suppose you didn’t know anything about the color of the parties involved, or you knew that everyone was the same race. Wouldn’t you find it alarming that law enforcement personnel could conduct themselves in this manner? Hell, there are lots of Libertarianoids out there who seem to be on a fulltime campaign to convince people that police in general are jack-booted Storm Trooper thugs; they scout out and publicize every little instance of alleged police misconduct they hear about, and tout it as representative of police activity in general and proof that all police forces should be totally emasculated. And yet they’ve been rather behind the curve when it comes to outrage over the death of Michael Brown. Why? (It isn’t true, as some have suggested, that Libertarians have been totally silent on the matter; but they haven’t been nearly as vocal as one might expect given their obsession with all things constabulary.)

The really extreme right-wingers, however, certainly have not ignored the incident. Instead, they’ve done their best to convince you that there’s really nothing to see here, so move on. And that includes trying to convince you that the dead kid “got everything he deserved”, in the words of pundit Pat Dollard. As phrased by an article in AlterNet (“4 worst Right-Wing Reactions to Michael Brown’s Killing and the Ferguson Protests”),

Conservative media has never met a young black man it couldn’t retroactively [i.e., posthumously] enlist into the shadowy urban gangs of its fevered imagination.

The campaign to  smear Michael Brown is virtually a carbon copy of the campaign to smear Trayvon Martin. They’ve claimed he had a criminal record. Not true. They’ve claimed he had a gang affiliation. Not true. they’ve claimed he had marijuana in his system. Possibly true, but irrelevant. They’ve circulated photos of another, more menacing-looking individual, and falsely identified them as Brown. They’ve claimed that he broke the eye socket of the policeman who killed him. Not true. They’ve circulated still frames taken from a surveillance video which they claim depicts Brown robbing a convenience store earlier that day. But the video does not prove any such thing. It shows a young man fitting Brown’s description bringing merchandise to the counter, having a discussion with the clerk, then leaving — pushing the clerk, who has come out and gotten into an altercation with him. In any case, the officer who shot him did not stop him because he was suspected of robbery; his crime that cost him his life was walking in the street.

Yet pretend that all of the rumors about Brown are true. Say that he really was as monstrous as the wingers would have you believe, and then some. Even so, is it justified to shoot him six times when he’s unarmed? Would anyone ever say that a white teen, because he lived a less than exemplary life (like most teenagers) deserved to be pumped full of lead? Would people say (as some have of Brown) that slaughtering a white teen amounts to “taking out the trash”?  It wasn’t very long ago, lest we forget, that many of these people were manufacturing all the outrage they could muster because the Obama administration gunned down Osama bin Laden. So now they high-five over the same thing happening to an unarmed American kid who apparently never hurt anyone?

“Conservatives” loudly insist that race is not a factor in slayings of this type, yet they undermine their own narrative by trying to justify the perception of the victims as suspicious characters on the basis of their appearance. Fox’s Geraldo Rivera speculated that “the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as [the killer] was”. The rumors of Michael Brown being a gangster have been bolstered by the fact that he sometimes wore red clothing. And LiberalLogic 101, a site that purports to expose flaws in “liberal” reasoning but only exposes its own utter lack of reasoning skills (we mentioned it previously in the post on straw men), suggested that judging someone for wearing a hoodie or a red shirt is no worse than judging someone for wearing a Klan robe. Such is the “conservative” logic behind LiberalLogic 101. And if you really think like this, you have your head stuck in something worse than sand.

Incidentally, the folks at LiberalLogic 101 also recently ran a cartoon depicting President Obama saying, “My position on beheadings is that I be heading to the golf course”.  Coincidentally, researches in one study found that they were able to manipulate the favorability/ unfavorability with which many participants viewed Obama by subtly altering the skin tone in his photograph.

Such individuals have a habit of treating each shooting of this sort as an isolated incident, wrenched free of social context, But as many people, including the author of the AlterNet article have pointed out, the killing of Michael Brown did not occur in a vacuum. Jon Stewart, spot on as usual, goes into a bit of detail about what a vacuum it didn’t occur in.

Forget that in Ferguson, 94 percent of the police are white, and 63 percent of the people are black. Forget that 92 percent of police searches and 86 percent of car stops are for black people.

He goes on to present an account of an incident in which 4 Ferguson police officers beat a 52-year-old man and then cited him for defiling government property by staining their uniforms with his blood. Indeed, the Ferguson P.D. has an apparent history of heavy-handed behavior. Its strained relations with residents, particularly with those of the African-American persuasion, was a time bomb waiting to detonate. And it has.

Stewart also hands Sean Hannity his testicles on a platter for the umpeenth time (not a particularly difficult feat to pull off) and punctures another popular right-wing talking point: that the attention focused on an event like Ferguson or the death of Trayvon Martin is way out of proportion to the attention given to the killings of black citizens that occur in some cities on a daily basis. In the words of one clueless Foxster:

If I were African-American, I would be outraged that more journalists aren’t covering what’s happening in Chicago, and more outraged that people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson don’t head to those areas.

Which is an amazingly brainless comment for at least three reasons. First, as Stewart facetiously asks, “Why all the interest in holding police officers to a higher standard than gangs?” And second, it’s not an either/ or proposition; and as it turns out, those African-American leaders whom the wingers so often upbraid for not addressing gang violence have been very involved in, um, addressing gang violence. Third, there are good reasons for the discrepancy in media coverage: see Trayvon Martin and the “Double Standard “Standard, Part 1 and Part 2.

Okay, we’re being hard on right-wingers here, but there’s a simple explanation: they’ve earned it.  Yet observers on both the left and the right tend to cloud the issue by conflating racism with racial bias. Racism is blatant and deliberate, and as such is readily noted. But racial bias is more subtle and unconscious, and therefore does a lot of damage under the radar.

Racism suggests that the Ferguson cop killed Michael Brown because he was black. That’s probably not true — although it doesn’t speak well for him that the KKK and other racists are rushing to his defense. What’s much more likely, however, is that Brown’s ethnicity contributed significantly to his being a “suspicious character” in the first place. No matter how you slice it, it’s quite possible, if not probable, that if he had been white, he’d still be alive. Compare what happened to him to what happened when a white man walked down the street brandishing a gun, threatening and insulting police and daring them to shoot him. And what did the police do? They negotiated with him for 40 minutes, pleading with him to put down the gun, and all but invited him home for tea.

The killers of both Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown have, thus far, walked free. Compare this to John McNeil, a black man who is serving a life sentence for fatally shooting a white man (who was not a teen) who was armed and threatening on McNeil’s own property. Once again, let me quote Jon Stewart (Don’t you get tired of having to get the facts about current events from comedians?) because he puts it so memorably:

I guarantee you that every person of color has faced an indignity — from the ridiculous to the grotesque to the sometimes fatal — at some point in their,,, I’m going to say last couple of hours. [to the Foxsters] You’re tired of hearing about it?? Imagine how fucking exhausting it is to live it.

As he mentions, this blatant racial profiling occurs even in the “liberal bastion” of New York City.  Indeed, it’s everywhere. Research indicates that people with darker complexions are more likely to be considered untrustworthy or suspicious, and are more likely to be convicted of crime when accused. This bias is often present even among African-Americans themselves. It’s not a simple problem, but it’s a very real, and sometimes deadly problem. And I don’t know what the solution is — although I suspect that an increased awareness would go a long way toward a remedy. Whatever the solution, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve playing ostrich.