A Brief Break

This is just to let everyone know that I will be out of the country Jan. 18-22, and my Internet access may be limited. So there may be a delay in approving/ responding to comments.

The Christian Persecution Complex, and the Myth of the School Prayer Ban

Prayer in school

Christians really have it rough in America, don’t they? They have to purchase all their earthly goods using money with “In God We Trust” (the official national motto) emblazoned on it. They have to recite a Pledge Of Allegiance with “one nation under God” inserted into it. Most of their leaders at national, state and local levels are fellow Christians, and their president is sworn into office with his hand on a Bible. Milestone ceremonies such as weddings and funerals are almost always conducted by ministers. Witnesses in court swear to tell the truth “so help you God”. Christians control most of what kids learn in school and most of what citizens see and hear in the media — which just might explain why you hear so much about Islamic terrorists and almost nothing about the equally prevalent (and usually closer to home) Christian terrorists.

The nefarious War On Christmas limits their celebration of their favorite holiday to only three months out of the year– and even then, some wretched spoilsports insist on extending holiday good cheer to everyone instead of restricting it to Christians. Gays are trying to get married, which somehow would make Christians less married.  And oh yes, prayer has been “outlawed” in public schools. Which, as everyone knows, is why schools are failing so miserably, and kids have no moral compass, and the nation is rapidly going down the drain.

Except that the last named is a patent lie. Or, to be as charitable as possible, it’s at least a patent misconception. The continually falling crime rate suggests that Americans are finding their moral compass rather than losing it. More to the point, prayer has never been banned from schools, not by the Supreme Court, nor Congress, nor President Obama, nor Michael Moore, nor anyone else. What really happened was that the Supreme Court put a damper on (though by no means did it entirely eliminate) religious tyranny. And many Christians, deprived of their tyranny, feel that they themselves are being tyrannized.

To be sure, there are plenty of Christians who are perfectly decent human beings. Many of them even recognize the importance of separating church and state. But they, alas, are not the ones who have inherited the scepter and the megaphone.  It has always been the very worst representative of Christendom who usually have risen to the upper echelons of society; consequently, mainstream Christianity, perhaps more than any other religion, has devolved with an arrogant attitude of unbridled entitlement; many Christians tend to feel that they have an unassailable right to control the world, to make their beliefs official policy for everyone– while at the same time whining about how much they are being persecuted and oppressed. We’ve already discussed how anyone who challenges their vendetta against gays is portrayed as being bigoted, hostile and anti-Christian.

Unfortunately, we already have a history — a very long and very bloody history — to illustrate what happens when the church is granted its desire for absolute domination.  In the good old days when religion ruled the world with an iron crucifix, anyone who ran a little afoul of the official doctrine or lifestyle would be the recipient of a very special religious ceremony. It might entail, for example, having deep gashes cut into their limbs and chests, which then would be filled with hot lead. Or being skinned alive. Or having all their flesh ripped off by hooks. Or being dismembered at the rate of one joint per day. Or having all their bones broken and then being dragged through the streets.  Or, if they were very lucky, they merely had a hot iron mask placed on their face, leaving them blind and disfigured. Or were merely subjected to the heretic’s fork.

heretics fork

And this type of treat, mind you, was not reserved just for nonbelievers; quite often the victims were themselves pious Christians who happened to interpret the Bible in a slightly different fashion from whoever was in a position of authority at the moment. Cecco d’Ascoli, an Italian scientist, was burned at the stake in 1327 for calculating the date of Jesus’ birth using the stars. A  Spanish Protestant writing master was burned at the stake in 1676 for decorating his room with the (so-called) Ten Commandments. Nothing like a little fatal torture to teach people about the Love Of Christ and the Will Of God.

Incidentally, it’s another misconception that burning at the stake involved anything so merciful as merely setting someone afire. In reality, the “heretics” generally were slowly roasted alive. This became the preferred method of execution after some Christian or other began to worry that some Biblical passage or other prohibited the shedding of blood. So they came up with a prolonged and agonizing method of killing that didn’t spill a drop. Whatever it takes to keep God happy.

Note that the two incidents mentioned above occurred more than three centuries apart; so obviously, they weren’t just isolated outcroppings of a temporary hysteria. Christianity’s endorsement of torture and barbarism lasted nearly 1500 years — which rather neatly coincides with the era in which the church controlled government.  Fifteen centuries of unrestricted license to murder, torture, maim and commit the most vile acts the twisted mind can conjure up. And yet Christians today feel victimized because they no longer can force students to pray, and some people wish them “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas”.

This reign of terror more or less started winding down about the time the pious brought their faith to the New World, in a quest for religious freedom and tolerance — which included stamping out the native religions if not the natives themselves. In the Shangri-La of religious freedom and tolerance they founded, citizens might be horse-whipped or pilloried for missing a church service, and they might be hanged for being a “witch”, but at least they wouldn’t be burned a the stake for “heresy”. Maybe Christians so often feel persecuted because they so often have persecuted each other.

Eventually,  a more genteel social order developed in which a legal structure was in place to protect against these horrors; but that doesn’t necessarily mean that theocrats wouldn’t still do something comparable if they still could get away with it. They’ve still found plenty of other ways to lord it over the populace.

Those of us beyond a certain age (and mind you, I’m not all that old) grew up in an environment in which Christianity’s sway was still near-absolute and generally unquestioned. Church attendance was mandatory — sometimes literally so, as a judge could order people to attend church as part of their “rehabilitation”. Prayers and Bible readings were routine in school classrooms. Teachers could be fired for teaching scientific principles that the church did not approve of. Prospective graduates, in addition to attending a commencement ceremony to receive their diplomas, had to attend a baccalaureate to be given a final push toward a Christian life — just in case the previous 12 years of programming didn’t completely take.  Anyone who dared question any of this would become the target of relentless Christian bullying.

But this finally began to change in the Sixties, And the change was, in no small measure, the result of the actions of one incredibly courageous woman. It’s hard not to admire her sheer cojones even if you don’t approve of her actions.

mmohair

Madalyn Murray O’Hair (1919-1995) was an army veteran, a respected social worker, and a devoted single mother of two. And oh yes, she was also an atheist.  And that one little thing, in the eyes of her community and indeed her nation as a whole, more than cancelled any of the good she may have done.  “Atheist” had come to be synonymous with pure evil — an attitude many people still possess today. Good Christians often utter the word with the same kind of snarl with which you’d expect them to say “traitor” or “terrorist” or “pedophile” or “liberal”. Not surprisingly, then, she and her two sons were not very popular in the city of Baltimore, where they lived. And it became much worse after she initiated the lawsuit that would make her “the most hated woman in America”.

That all began in 1960 when her 14-year-old son Bill* begged her to intervene because he was being forced to participate in prayers at school. So she launched a lawsuit which eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. And she won. And how did the Good Christians react? Here’s her account of what happened, even before the Court delivered its ruling:

I’d been a psychiatric social worker for 17 years, but within 24 hours after I started the case, I was fired from my job as a supervisor in the city public welfare department. And I was unable to find another one, because the moment I would go in anywhere in town and say that my name was Madalyn Murray no matter what the job opening, I found the job filled; no matter how good my qualifications, they were never quite good enough. So my income was completely cut off.

The second kind of reprisal was psychological. The first episode was with our mail, which began to arrive, if at all, slit open and empty — just empty envelopes. Except for the obscene and abusive letters from good Christians all over the country, calling me a bitch and a Lesbian and a Communist for instituting the school-prayer suit — they somehow arrived intact, and by the bushel-basketful. Hundreds of them actually threatened our lives.

(There were) anonymous phone calls we’d get at every hour of the day and night, which were more or less along the same lines as the letters. One of them was a particular gem. I was in the VA hospital in Baltimore and I had just had a very critical operation; they didn’t think I was going to make it. They had just wheeled me back to my bed after two days in the recovery room when this call came in for me, and somebody who wouldn’t give his name told me very seriously and sympathetically that my father had just died and that I should be prepared to come home and take care of my mother. Well, I called home in a state of shock, and my mother answered, and I asked her about Father, and she said, “What are you talking about? He’s sitting here at this moment eating bacon and eggs.” Obviously, that call had been calculated to kill me, because whoever it was knew that I was at a low ebb there in the hospital.

Then they began to take more direct action. My Freethought Society office was broken into; our cars were vandalized repeatedly; every window in the house was broken more times than I can count, every flower in my garden trampled into the ground all my maple trees uprooted; my property looked like a cyclone had hit it. This is the kind of thing that went on constantly,constantly, over a three-year period.

But it was just child’s play compared to the reprisals visited upon my son Bill. He’d go to school every day and hand in his homework, and a couple of days later many of his teachers would say to him, “You didn’t hand in your homework.” Or he’d take a test and about a week later many of his teachers would tell him, “You didn’t hand in your test paper. You’ll have to take the test again this afternoon.” This was a dreadful reprisal to take against a 14-year-old boy. It got to the point where he had to make carbon copies of all his homework and all his tests to prove that he had submitted them.

But that’s nothing to what happened after school, both to him and to his little brother, Garth. I lost count of the times they came home bloodied and beaten up by gangs of teenage punks; five and six of them at a time would gang up on them and beat the living hell out of them. Many’s the time I’ve stood them off myself to protect my sons, and these fine young Christians have spat in my face till spittle dripped down on my dress. Time and again we’d take them into magistrate’s court armed with damning evidence and eyewitness testimony, but the little bastards were exonerated every time.

But I haven’t told you the worst. The neighborhood children, of course, were forbidden by their parents to play with my little boy, Garth, so I finally got him a little kitten to play with. A couple of weeks later we found it on the porch with its neck wrung. And then late one night our house was attacked with stones and bricks by five or six young Christians, and my father got very upset and frightened. Well, the next day he dropped dead of a heart attack. The community knew very well that he had a heart condition, so I lay a murder to the city of Baltimore.

These were, one gathers, the actions of True Believers who felt that they were being persecuted and oppressed because of their beliefs.

But please note that contrary to what you so often hear, the Supreme Court’s ruling did not — repeat did not — ban prayer in schools. On the contrary, in several cases addressing the issue over the years, the Court consistently has affirmed that prayer on school property is a constitutional right — provided it is performed at an appropriate place and time. But the appropriate place and time do not include during class or in any manner that might constitute a government endorsement of religion. It was not until the year 2000 that the Court finally got around to figuring out that this eliminates official school functions such as ballgames.

Students and teachers, however, have the right to — and often do — still pray on campus. They may pray between classes, at lunchtime, before school starts, after school is over, etc. etc.– so long as it doesn’t dovetail with official school business and doesn’t drag in unwilling participants.  In short, it’s an arrangement designed to satisfy everyone.

But Christian extremists absolutely refuse to be appeased. They want a battle, they want an enemy, they want power. They will settle for nothing less than complete dominance. In the words of one of the leading icons of the “religious right”, Randall Terry, founder of the (so called) pro-life group Operation Rescue:

I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you… I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good… Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism.

For people like this “religious freedom” isn’t about having the right to pray; it’s about having the “right” to force other people to live by your beliefs.

We still have a long way to go before religious neutrality achieves anything like an equal footing with Christian authoritarianism; before nonreligious politicians have as much a chance to be elected to office as Christians do; before it is no longer the default mode for children to be indoctrinated into whatever religion their parents follow; before mainstream Christians are more concerned with following the teachings of Jesus than with demonizing non-believers; before the U.S. as a whole recognizes that true freedom of religion must necessarily include freedom from religion. But we have at least made some progress. And to fundamentalist reactionaries, that progress is construed as a personal affront. They no do doubt will even consider it a vicious attack to report the facts we’ve reported here; what they cannot do, however, is dispute that these are indeed facts.

Rather than acknowledge — and perhaps try to make amends for — the multitude of evils that have been done, and are still being done, in the name of their faith, they try to shift blame to their critics, portraying themselves as hapless victims of a secularist jihad. In doing so, they continually spread such dishonest narratives as the “War on Christmas” and the fabled “school prayer ban”.

(* Christians often delight in pointing out that as an adult, Bill converted to Christianity despite his atheist upbringing. The part of the story they tend to leave out is that he demonstrated his “Christian values” by abandoning his daughter Robin, whom his mother adopted and raised as her own.

Indeed, O’Hair may have been too generous for her own good. She made a practice of offering jobs in her organization to former felons — which probably made her considerably more charitable in that regard than most churches. In 1995, one such former employee and convict whom she’d fired for stealing from her enlisted two accomplices to abduct and extort O’Hair, Robin and O’Hair’s other son Jon Garth — both of whom were officers in O’Hair’s organization. All three eventually were murdered and dismembered. 

After learning of the crime, Bill responded by writing an article attacking his murdered mother, brother and daughter, with not a kind word for any of them. He characterized his mother — the mother who had bravely stood by him during his childhood years of being brutalized by Christian bullies, and had gone to bat for him in the courts at his own pleading and at great risk to herself — as the embodiment of pure unadulterated evil. He repeated as undisputed truth every unsavory rumor and allegation he could think of about his mother, including the accusation that she had a fondness for — horrors — pornography, and the suspicion that her organization was, like a good many churches, less than perfectly forthright with the IRS.)

Political Discourse in the Age of Obama

political debate

(From Actual Conversations)

ME

So why do you hate President Obama so much?

THEM

Are you kidding? He’s worse than Hitler. He’s destroyed America.

ME

Then I have to wonder what country we’re living in. How exactly has he done that?

THEM

He’s a dictator, a tyrant, a king, a monarch.

ME

Even assuming that’s true, you surely must realize that Republicans in Congress have opposed him bitterly at every turn – even on things they formerly supported. Wouldn’t you say that rather limits his potential for dictating, tyrannizing, kinging, monarching and Hitlering?

THEM

Well, Obummer bypasses Congress with his dirty tricks. He’s issued all these executive orders, which is absolutely unprecedented.  He should be impeached for that.

ME

Actually, every president issues executive orders. And quite often they’re in defiance of Congress.

THEM

Yeah, well… Ovomit has issued more of them than any other president.

ME

Actually, he’s issued the fewest per year of any president since Grover Cleveland.

THEM

Yeah, well… it’s not just the number, it’s the kind of executive order that matters. I mean, Obeyme has used his office to give amnesty to illegal aliens. Just because he’s a foreigner himself. He ought to be impeached for that.

ME

Actually, many presidents have granted amnesty to undocumented aliens.  Reagan and Bush Sr. did so without Congressional approval. Should we impeach them all retroactively? What makes Obama different, other than his ethnic heritage?

THEM

Now there you go. Why do liberals always have to bring up race?

ME

I seem to recall that a non-liberal introduced the topic of the president’s roots and supposed foreign birth. Whether or not I’m a “liberal” is irrelevant, but race is sometimes very relevant, or at least potentially so. Because sometimes it’s the only reasonable explanation for the way some people behave. And that’s certainly the case when it comes to the obsessive hatred of President Obama.

THEM

Well, I don’t hate him just because he’s a nigger. Makes no difference to me. I hate him because he’s a dictator, a tyrant, a king, a monarch. He’s worse than Hitler. Just look at the whole socialism thing.

ME

What socialism thing is that?

THEM

Come on, he’s a socialist. Everybody knows that.

ME

Socialists themselves don’t know it. They find it quite amusing that some people believe Obama to be one of them.

THEM

Well, what would they know? Rush Limbaugh says he’s a socialist. Just look at Obamacare. It’s socialized medicine. Just like Hitler. He ought to be impeached for it.

ME

What is your definition of socialism?

THEM

Well… I don’t really have one. But Glenn Beck says it’s socialized medicine. And Obarfbag has rammed it down everyone’s throats, even though nobody wants it. Just like Hitler.

ME

It’s true that most Americans will say they oppose “Obamacare”, if you use that word. But if you ask them about what the Affordable Care Act actually does, an overwhelming majority support it. So the president has been placed in the difficult position of giving Americans what they want, even though they’ve been convinced that it’s something they hate and fear.

THEM

Oh yeah? I bet people don’t really want death panels.

ME

Agreed. And exactly what passage in the ACA provides for death panels? Have you actually read it?

THEM

No, but Sarah Palin says it has death panels. And I’m sure she’s read it. She’s very smart.

ME

Moving right along. Is there anything else that prompts you to hate Obama?

THEM

Sure, lots of things.

ME

Such as?

THEM

He lies.

ME

Ah, that might explain the animosity. No other politician has ever lied before. But how significant are his lies? On a scale one to ten, with one being “I did not have sex with that woman” and ten being “WMDs in Iraq” — or reverse the polarity if your values are those of the political and media mainstream — just how damaging have been whatever lies he’s told?

THEM

He’s lied, and he should be impeached for it. Take that global warming crap. It’s worse than Hitler.

ME

So you don’t believe global warming is a problem?

THEM

Hell no. It snowed in Montana last week.

ME

And no doubt it also snowed in Wasila. But other than that, what convinces you that global warming is a hoax? How much professional training and experience have you had in climate science?

THEM

None. But Sean Hannity says global warming is a fraud.

ME

I guess that settles it then.

THEM

You’d realize it too if you weren’t so brainwashed by the liberal media.

ME

Of course. Why do you suppose the president would pursue the effort to combat global warming if it doesn’t exist?

THEM

It’s just one of Hussein’s ways of wrecking the economy.  Just like Hitler. And he needs to be impeached for it.

ME

Actually, the economy has been improving at a pretty steady pace under “Hussein”.  Unemployment is at its lowest since 2008. Gas prices are at their lowest since 2010. Home construction has more than doubled. The deficit has experienced its largest reduction since World War II. Consumer Confidence Index has risen from an all-time low of 37.7 to at least 83. And the rate of growth for corporate profits under him absolutely dwarfs that of any other president – which doesn’t t do much for your “socialism thing”.

THEM

You really like to throw statistics around, don’t you?

ME

Sorry, I guess that’s not playing fair.

THEM

You don’t really believe he had anything to do with any of that, do you?

ME

So he has total power to destroy the economy, but no power at all to improve it?

THEM

Well, I suppose he could improve it if he wanted to. But he wants to make Americans suffer.

ME

Why?

THEM

That’s just what liberals do. They’re worse than Hitler.

ME

There’s a limit to how far you can go in blaming “liberals” for your problems. We could debate how much influence any president has on the economy. But what’s beyond question is that the economy has improved while Obama’s been in office. And since that also happens under just about every other Democratic president, it’s probably not just coincidence.

THEM

Well, the economy may have improved a little bit, but it’s still really crappy.

ME

If so, it indicates what terrible shape it was in when Obama came along. His predecessor demolished the economy along with many other things. If you’re looking for someone to accuse of trying to “destroy” America, maybe Bush would be a better place to start.

THEM

Well, you have your opinion and I have mine.

ME

Unquestionably. But this is not a matter of opinion. If you’re interested, I can provide plenty of solid facts and figures that add up to a blistering indictment of the Bush administration.

THEM

Why do you hate America so much?

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.