The 10 Dumbest Responses to the Hurricanes (So Far)

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Disasters like the recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida, and the fires on the West Coast, seem overall to bring out the best in people. But there are always some people for whom such events bring out, if not the worst behavior, certainly very far from the optimum. And unfortunately, the United States of America currently has a great many such people in positions of influence. Thus, we’ve had our sense of decency assaulted and insulted with the following:

1. Ending D.A.C.A.

This may not sound like a direct response to hurricanes. But they provided a convenient smokescreen for this despicable decision to be revealed, a distraction from some of its sheer dishonesty and awfulness. That’s a familiar pattern for this despot, as it has been for many other despots. Furthermore, it’s worth noting two other things. Ending D.A.C.A. will be another horrific blow to many people who have already been dealt a horrific blow by the severe weather. And some of these individuals have been among the first responders and rescuers — or will be among the repair and restoration personnel — before they get shipped back to where their parents came from.

2. Mr. Showman

After receiving a great deal of flak for a superficial visit to Texas that didn’t entail actually getting within spitting range of the unwashed masses, the putative president finally made an appearance in the vicinity of the damage in Texas, where he commented to the assemblage of media, supporters and protesters, “I want to thank you for coming out.” And rather than express condolences or concern or even resolve to rebuild and persevere, he uttered the immortal line for which his administration is destined to be remembered: “What a crowd, what a turnout.” At least this time he didn’t attack the media or Obama or Hillary.

3. The Not So Great American Photo-Op

Needless to say, he wanted to make sure the media cameras (you know, the ones that always ignore him) captured him “helping out” in the relief effort. So he staged what surely has to be the most comically, painfully embarrassing photo op in the long, sleazy history of American politics. Standing by a truck being loaded up with supplies, looking like a duck out of water or, more accurately, a tycoon out of his gold-plated office, he briefly laid his hands on containers that were being handed to him — containers that he very easily could have just walked over and picked up himself. And oh yes, he told the driver of the pickup (to whom he handed an apparently empty carton that was nothing but a prop) to “have a good time”. No, really.

4. Other fake news

Harvey opened the floodgates on Photoshopped photos and phony stories to go with them. Some of them were harmless and silly, like the shark on the highway — a story that actually was recycled from a few years ago. But others are more malicious, such as a photo purported to show members of Black Lives Matter blockading (“blackading”?) the delivery of relief supplies. The story was, of course, quite false; it was accompanied in some cases by a photo from a protest in Atlanta in 2016 and in others by a photo from Boston in 2015 (and the believers didn’t seem to notice that the two photos were extremely different).  By the way, BLM’s actual response to the disaster was, shall we say, not quite as reported.

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Meanwhile, supporters of the “fake news” president, wanting to attribute to him the real-life heroics Al Gore displayed after Katrina, circulated fake photos of him in a boat handing his red cap to a man in the water (a vital supply, don’t you know) and even, I kid you not, wading in the water to rescue two cats. Which is no doubt the kind of things he does every day.

5. The looting loopiness

As usual in the aftermath of these events, there were a few individuals who salvaged goods from the wreckage; a scant handful of them may have created some additional wreckage in order to obtain salvage. But the number was incredibly small, especially when you consider that Houston has a population of over 6.5 million.  Nonetheless, right-wing news outlets tried to create the impression that a widespread plague of looting was descending upon the soggy city — and that the perpetrators were all rather dark-skinned. Well, perhaps the latter point is important, since it’s often skin tone that determines whether an act of salvage is designated as “looting” or merely “finding”.

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6. Not good

Ah, but it’s been a couple of minutes already since we’ve said anything about the guy in the White House. We certainly don’t want him to feel neglected — he might develop a fragile ego or something. So how about another one of his verbal gems.

{Hurricane Irma) looks like it could be something that will be not good.

7. All a matter of branding

And while we have him in front of the mic, let’s let him muse about the things he considers most crucial at this juncture.

If you talk about branding, no brand has improved more than the United States Coast Guard.

8. Who needs science? We got slogans

Scientists have an annoying habit of providing facts that don’t support people’s ideologies. And thus it was that they reported climate change was apparently a factor that worsened these storms. But of course the punditocracy would have none of it.  They reminded us that climate change is nothing but a librul conspiracy in order to convince people to… well, do something (read, maybe?). And them librulz just love catastrophic weather because it helps them promote their heinous agenda (like scientific literacy, maybe?). One perennially flatulent radio talk show personality whose name rhymes with “hush” not only made this proclamation, but also proclaimed that scientists and “lubberals” were crying wolf over the impending Hurricane Irma — just before he evacuated his Florida home in order to keep his smug ass from being blown away by a nonexistent hurricane.

9. Okay gang, don those tinfoil hats

Not only do they believe that them librulz love deadly hurricanes, many of them believe that them librulz and their evil accomplices (i.e. scientists) actually create them through geoengineering. More than one nutjob floated this idea in the media — including at least one from whom the putative president acquires much of his “information”.

10. Evangelical Eschatological Ecstasy

Of course, there’s also another factor they point a finger to. Just when you thought Christian arrogance had already reached its nadir, a bunch of folks start declaring that these hurricanes never would have happened if only people prayed more. These biblical scholars apparently never heard of a character called Job. In any case, they are divided into two schools of “thought”: those who think the destruction is a bad thing because it means the nation has turned away from God; and those who believe it’s a good thing because it mirrors biblical “prophecy” about the approaching end of the world.  Quite often, these schools of “thought” are both present within the skull of the same fundamentalist. Some of them even added for good measure that the hurricanes are punishment for taking down Confederate statues, which God apparently really wants to keep standing to pay tribute to His holy cause of slavery.

Maybe for once the evangelicals actually have a point. When millions of Americans believe that hurricanes are caused by a failure to pray, and by the removal of Confederate statues, but believe that climate change is a myth, maybe The End really is near.

 

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Charlottesville, Nazis and Confederate Monuments: Myths, Lies, Absurdities and Insanities

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Another tragic demonstration of extremist lunacy. Another subsequent orgy of false equivalence and general stupidity. But this time was different. This time we had the acting president of the United States repeating and amplifying the deranged fringe media rhetoric. Here were some of the most notably absurd, delusional, hateful and downright idiotic reactions to Charlottesville:

1. “Both sides are to blame”

It’s inevitable that whenever a gaggle of right-wing miscreants get caught doing something unpleasant, their defenders will try to defend them by resorting to the “both sides” tactic. “Both sides are equally to blame”. The other side does it too. It’s a result of conflict from “many sides”.

This is never an encouraging bit of rhetorical legerdemain, but in this case it was especially chilling: the supposed leader of the free world declared — twice — that Nazis were morally equivalent to those taking a stand against them. Nazis, he insisted, weren’t all really Nazis or white supremacists, and included some “very fine people”.  As usual, he merely was brainlessly parroting his media enablers, who declared that the demonstrators had “a reason” to be there.  The White House Occupant also tried to defend the white supremacists by saying that they had a permit, and that “the other group didn’t”.  The former is irrelevant; the latter is a baldfaced lie. The counterprotesters did indeed have a permit of their own.

Coincidentally, the white supremacists who are rallying and stirring up violence around the country are the putative president’s most solid base, the main choir he is preaching to — the hardcore supporters who view him as their messiah who will lead them to their Promised Land of ivory purity. It was they, more than anyone, who praised his remarks about Charlottesville — while also praising the murderous driver and belittling and insulting Heather Heyer, the woman he killed. Very fine people, very fine.

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2. What about violence on the other side?

Hand in hand with bothsidesism, you have whataboutism. Like a schoolyard brat caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he often tries to deflect focus away from his culpability by accusing someone else of something.

What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right?’ Do they have any semblance of guilt…. What about the fact they came charging with clubs in hands, swinging clubs?

Once again he’s just echoing unfounded rumors.  There’s been no evidence of any violence by counterprotesters, nothing more than using mace to defend themselves when they were surrounded, threatened and assaulted by the “very fine” Nazis — who were the only ones swinging clubs.  The Cult Of Trumpery, however, has been so desperate to pin blame for violence on the antifascists that they have circulated a fake photo of one of them assaulting a police officer.

3. The “alt-left”

Not only does the putative president parrot the loony ideas of the fringe media, he also uses their vocabulary. There is no such thing as the “alt-left”.  What exactly would an “alt-left” do, anyway? Gang up on people and try to give them healthcare?

“Alt-left” is a label made up by the “alt-right” to help advance a false equivalence.  And while “alt-right” is itself a label of questionable accuracy (which is to say, it’s a euphemism used to cover up fascism and white supremacy), it is at least a legitimate category because it was coined and self-applied by the right-wingers themselves. There is no comparable label, or coalition, on the left.

4. Greasing the slope

It’s a very common tactic, almost a knee-jerk reaction, for right-wing extremists to attach the term slippery slope to any action that doesn’t meet their seal of approval. They never seem to apply it to any situation where it’s actually appropriate — i.e., environmental plundering or the intrusion of religion into government — but they are ever eager to apply it to situations it doesn’t fit.

If we take down Confederate statues, say the putative president and his puppeteers, then it won’t be long before we’re taking down statues of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln, and demolishing Mt. Rushmore. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that they’re comparing a group of historical figures who fought to establish, strengthen and protect the union to a group who fought to rip it apart.

The metaphor of a slippery slop works only if you are talking about a continuum of possible events along the same slope. Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln are on a totally different slope, and indeed an opposing slope, from Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. No, it still isn’t comparable just because Washington and Jefferson owned slaves; Lee and Jackson not only owned slaves, they waged a war against their own country to protect the very institution of slavery.

Most preposterously, some members of the punditocracy even suggested that maybe book burning will come next on the slope. Apparently, they’re blissfully unaware that Confederate monuments are being defended by neo-Nazis; and it was Nazis themselves who were among the most infamous book burners.

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4. Those beautiful statues

Another of the putative president’s tactics was to bemoan the destruction of such beautiful works of art as the Confederate monuments. But no monuments have actually been destroyed, nor is that the plan. The plan is to move them to museums, or somewhere besides the public forum.  Even the one that was torn down by citizens in North Carolina is currently stashed in a warehouse until someone figures out what else to do with it.

And the neo-Nazi mob that gathered in Charlottesville was not there to protect statues. It was there to take a stand for white supremacy — as its swastikas, Confederate flags and chants of “We won’t be replaced” and the like make clear.

Your putative president is obviously very concerned about the preservation of beautiful historical markers. So much so that he’s willing to erect one himself on his golf course, in commemoration of a battle that never occurred. Good thing he’s so adamantly opposed to “fake news”.

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5. Birds of a feather

Those folks in North Carolina were understandably upset about the Charlottesville incident. Even so, their angry reaction was in itself rather dumb. They should have been aware that the punditocracy is constantly on the lookout for any little event they can tout as proof that “liberals” are unruly scum. And guess what? That’s exactly what happened.

It was a different group in Durham, and a much smaller one — just 10 people appear to have participated in actually toppling the statue. But the punditocracy wasted no time in lumping them all together, and declaring that they were all representative of the violent and unsavory Left in general. But they didn’t stop there; they also lumped the protesters together with the Taliban, with the Khmer Rouge, with ISIS — with anyone who’s ever taken down a statue in any manner for any reason.

A few hours later, vandals spray-painted the Lincoln Memorial in Washington with graffiti. (So, Mr. President, was the Memorial equally to blame?)  As of this writing, there is no word on who the guilty party was, or whether they had any particular motive, or what their ideology was, if any, other than destructiveness. What we do know is that this was one of a spate of such vandal attacks that have occurred in DC over the past few months; and there appears to be no rhyme or reason to them.  They have targeted the Lincoln Memorial before, as well as the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, and the Smithsonian Institution. Messages have included “Jackie Shot JFK” and a reference to 9-11.

No matter. As far as the reactionaries were concerned, this latest attack on the Lincoln Memorial was obviously related to Durham and Charlottesville, and was more conclusive proof that them librulz are all a bunch of lawless thugs. It never seems to have occurred to any of them that Lincoln was about as far on the other side of the racism divide as you can get.

Needless to say, we’ve seen the same tactic after a gang of hooded, self-branded “anarchists” crashed a peaceful demonstration in Berkeley more recently. There’s a big difference between anarchist and antifascist — except in the brains of reactionaries.

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6. “Erasing history”

This is the most absurd spin of all, so naturally it’s the most frequently invoked. Eliminating Confederate statues, they say, is an effort by them librulz to erase history and rewrite it to their liking. As if statues are the way we encapsulate, preserve and transmit history. As some people have noted, you’d be very hard pressed to find a monument to Hitler anywhere in the world; yet virtually everyone everywhere in the world knows perfectly well who he was, what he did, and even what he looked like. Monuments do not exist as vessels of history, but as vessels of emotion. (More about that in a moment.)

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Newt Gingrich, whose neurons have not held up well under advancing age, even proclaimed:

And you have a great deal of people on the left who if they could destroy our entire memory of America, they would wipe it out and we would have no knowledge of what it meant to be an American.

There is no reason for you to be this stupid too. So here are two facts Mr. Gingrich is trying to ignore: it was the Confederacy that fought to wipe out “what it meant to be American”.  It is the people who defend the Confederacy who are trying to destroy the memory of what happened.

Far from erasing history, removing Confederate monuments is an effort to get history straight — to cease making heroes of men who fought against their own nation in the deadliest American war ever, for the cause of continuing the practice of brutally enslaving countless others. (And yes, the Civil War really was about slavery.)  And while it’s true that the Founding Fathers also declared war against their own country and were considered traitors, the cause could not have been more different: eliminating oppression as opposed to preserving it.

It doesn’t work to glibly say “heritage, not hate”, because the Confederate heritage is a heritage of hate. And it’s especially bizarre to hear Santayana’s maxim “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” spouted in defense of mobs displaying the swastika and the “heil Hitler” salute.

7. Butwhatabout Muslims?

“Okay, so the Confederates attacked the United States. But so have Muslims. So if we’re going to remove Confederate monuments, shouldn’t we also remove mosques?” That, in all seriousness, was an argument made by an Oklahoma lawmaker, and picked up by many of his kindred spirits on social media.

Have you ever heard anyone suggest the removal of churches because the Confederates were Christians? You’d probably never think of holding Christianity accountable because millions of traitors were Christians; so why would you hold Islam accountable because an infinitely smaller handful of terrorists have been Muslim? (Particularly when terrorist attacks are carried out more often by white Christians than anyone else.)

If, though, there were statues of Osama bin Laden on U.S. soil, it might not be a bad idea to remove them. But there aren’t any. Because Americans had the good sense not to erect any in the first place. There are, however, countless statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson — who killed far more Americans than bin Laden did.  So why the preferential treatment? Are we cutting them slack because they were Americans too? That says we consider it not only acceptable but heroic and honorable to commit mass slaughter and devastation against America if you’re American and a traitor to boot; and that doesn’t speak very highly of our values. Or are we cutting them slack because they were white Christians? I shouldn’t have to tell you what that says about us.

8. Defensive about offensiveness

Also making the rounds on social media was this little gem:

Ok, I can play “Lets Erase History” Erase Welfare, Food Stamps, Free Housing & College – that’s OFFENSIVE to those of us that WORK

You have to be impressed when anyone can compress so much nonsense into such a small space. We’ve already discussed the straw man of “erasing history”. It’s unclear what “free housing and college” is supposed to be referring to but this meme is evidently changing the subject by paying homage to a number of myths about public assistance (“welfare”).

For one thing, there’s the myth that Americans can be neatly divided into either working stiffs or welfare bums. In reality, most “welfare” recipients also work — including quite a few military families. Thus, it’s absurd to suggest that working people on the whole resent “welfare” recipients. There’s also the myth that funding these assistance programs significantly drains the pocket of the average American. In reality, if you earn 50,000 a year, you pay about 10 cents a day for “welfare” — as opposed to about $16.50 a day to support corporations.

The biggest red herring here, however, is the use of the word “offensive”. The official spin is that the whole reason people want to take down Confederate monuments is that they are “offensive” to African-Americans. And hey, so what if they are thereby reminded of the bondage and torture and persecution their forebears endured? They should just get over it like us white folk have done.

It’s probably true that these monuments stir some unpleasant feelings among many African-Americans, but that isn’t the main reason for taking them down. The big problem is not the reaction they provoke among some blacks, but the reaction they provoke among some whites. Monuments, as mentioned, are not erected for the purpose of preserving history. They are erected for the purpose of preserving and inciting emotion – generally pride, honor, duty, etc.

So what response do these monuments provoke in today’s white supremacists? Exactly the response they were designed to. And that’s the main reason they need to come down.

9. Confederate flag and rainbow flag

Meanwhile, back at the loony bin of fairandbalanced Fox “News”. Star Parker declared that the Confederate flag and the rainbow flag “represent the exact same thing”. Parker, by the way, is both a right-wing extremist and an African-American; as such, she’s a popular token black on outlets like Fox, much like the appropriately deranged fellow who keeps popping up at presidential rallies. You have to hand it to them for doing their part for racial equality by demonstrating that African-Americans can be just as dopey as anyone else if they put their minds to it.

10. Butwhatabout Black Lives Matter

Speaking of African-Americans, there’s been another popular thread among reactionaries in comparing the antifascists to Black Lives Matter. And the comparison is somewhat valid, but not in the way they intend. The antifascists are peaceful protesters, and so are those affiliated with Black Lives Matter — which, unlike the guy in the White House, denounces violence promptly and unequivocally.

11. False flag

It goes without saying that, as usual, the right-wing loony fringe media from which your putative president obtains his Real News went ballistic with the conspiracy theories.  The organizer of the Nazi demonstration was actually a “liberal” spy. It was all a setup by Democrats. Obama was behind it. Hillary was behind it. Black Lives Matter was behind it. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe was behind it. Jews were behind it. Extraterrestrial lizard people were behind it. Etc., etc., etc.

12. What matters to the putative president

And of course in delivering his remarks about Charlottesville, the putative president made certain to emphasize what mattered to him most about the community: he owns a house and a winery there. And it is, naturally, the biggest and best winery in the whole fucking galaxy.

The Myth Of Red State Repression (and “Coastal Elites”)

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The good news is that Americans are having conversations about the steep ideological divide that threatens to rip the nation asunder. The bad news is that the discussions invariably revolve around the same absurd narrative: that the interests of Red State voters have been long ignored, repressed, marginalized, swept under the rug. The official spin on the surprise outcome of the 2016 presidential election is that folks in the Heartland were “sickandtired” of being snubbed by the “coastal elites” — so they voted for a self-absorbed billionaire from the rolling plains of Manhattan.

Even Blue State progressives have had a hand in spreading such arrant nonsense. TED Talks hosted a discussion titled Political Common Ground in a Polarized United States. And whom did they choose to have this forum with? Right-wing pundit David Brooks and, for balance… right-wing pundit Gretchen Carlson. In a way, this makes sense. The TED audiences tend to be overwhelmingly progressive (that’s “liberal” to those in the Red States), so yes, maybe it would be constructive for them to hear from the other side of the fence. And as right-wing pundits go, Brooks and Carlson are extremely civil, sane, congenial, and even likable. Just think, TED could have invited Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter instead.

But even though their message was delivered politely and with humor, it was still at heart the same message one normally hears steeped in lye: “you guys need to bow down to us more. Just let us have everything our way, and we’ll all get along”. When one person in the audience asked them to explain how Blue Staters could understand Red Staters better and what evidence there is that Red Staters are trying to understand Blue Staters, Brooks replied:

I would say — and this is someone who has been conservative all my adult life — when you grow up conservative, you learn to speak both languages. Because if I’m going to listen to music, I’m not going to listen to Ted Nugent. So a lot of my favorite rock bands are all on the left. If I’m going to go to a school, I’m going probably to school where the culture is liberal. If I’m going to watch a sitcom or a late-night comedy show, it’s going to be liberal. If I’m going to read a good newspaper, it’ll be the New York Times. As a result, you learn to speak both languages… The problem now that’s happened is you have ghettoization on the right, and you can live entirely in rightworld, so as a result, the quality of argument on the right has diminished, because you’re not in the other side all the time. But I do think if you’re living in Minnesota or Iowa or Arizona, the coastal elites make themselves aware to you, so you know the language well, but it’s not the reverse.

Even while acknowledging in an unguarded moment that the real problem is “ghettoization on the right”, he couches that offhand admission in a by-the-numbers commentary that may not have been the most inane of possible responses, but certainly was in the running. The irony appears totally lost on him of having a person who works in, and distributes right-wing commentary from, the New York and East Coast media (one of a swarm of locusts who do so), bemoaning the “coastal elites” and the leftist media oligarchy that stifles the right-wing message.

And does he really believe that white rural Bible Belt neo-Confederates “speak both languages” just because the nation’s leading newspaper (which they never read) is supposedly left-leaning, or because instructors at major universities (which most of them don’t attend) insist on presenting pesky facts that refuse to fit right-wing ideology, or because most of the pop culture they consume is created by individuals who hold progressive values in private life?

Evidently Brooks, while claiming to listen to musicians besides Ted Nugent, has never noticed that most of them don’t go around singing about their librul lifestyles and convictions. They’re far more likely to sing about their struggles to get there, and their roots in the cotton fields, coal mines and lumber yards. They usually sing songs about the triumphs and tragedies of ordinary everyday people, Blue State and Red State and Purple State. Likewise, most of the movies and TV shows don’t present stories about being glamorous movie stars; they present stories about working folks from all walks of life, all regions of the country. Indeed, many of those stories are specifically Red State stories and/or cater to a specifically Red State audience.  So once again, Mr. Brooks, what exactly do the Texas cattle ranchers and West Virginia miners and Alaska fishermen do that is comparable to this in terms of reaching across the divide?

In addition to buying into and promoting the Red State Repression Myth and evidently the Liberal Media Myth, Brooks also apparently subscribes to what we might call the NewYorkandCalifornia Myth. The aforementioned Hannity, recently exhorting his viewers to harass any media outlet who dared to question his beloved president, urged his minions to remind the librulmedia that there is a world beyond DC and New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco. Punchline: as he sat in his plush studio in the middle of the Big Apple.

According to Red State mythology, the Heartland is peopled by God-fearing, hard-working True Americans (the only True Americans), while NewYorkandCalifornia is populated with terrorists, criminals from Mexico, black hoodlums, communists, “coastal elites” (including, presumably, folks in BuffaloandBarstow), welfare cheats, and above all, Them Librulz. Thus, it’s very important to protect the Real America from NewYorkandCalifornia, which among other things is supposed to justify clinging to the dinosaur of the electoral college. Interestingly, those who fear being dominated by the heavily populated NewYorkandCalifornia and endowing its “coastal elites” with a strong voice in public policy seem to have no concerns at all about the second most populous state: the fast-growing Republic Of Texas, which not only has its own share of wealthy snobs, but even its own coast beside which they can practice their elitism.

In the real universe (with which Fox “News” talking headlesses have barely a passing familiarity) NewYorkandCalifornia consists of two very different states on opposite sides of the continent. What they have in common is a lot of people, an astounding variety of people, including rednecks and racists. They may not be people who work in wheat fields, but they work in an amazing variety of other fields; and many of them have worked in the wheat fields in the past. Coastal cities are filled with people who are refugees not only from other countries, but from Red State America, which they’ve often left to pursue economic opportunity or freedom from persecution. It may not be fair to say that NewYorkandCalifornia, as opposed to KansasandNebraska, is the Real America, but it certainly is a much richer cross-section of the diversity that comprises America. (And I speak in part from personal experience, having spent 15 years in San Francisco and the better part of 3 in L.A., as well as a fair amount of time in both the state and city of New York.)

As for the claim that Red State America has been snubbed and underrepresented in government and public policy, that’s the most laughable notion of all, as a few basic and irrefutable facts will establish.

FACT: In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton received nearly 3 million votes more than her opponent. But he still was awarded the White House, thanks to an archaic system designed specifically to skew elections in favor of (what would become) Red State voters.

FACT: This electoral system is so lopsided that at present a presidential vote in Wyoming carries nearly 4 times as much weight as a vote in California (which is part of deep blue NewYorkandCalifornia). And the disparity is growing worse — or better if you’re a Republican.

FACT: The previous Republican president also lost the popular vote and, in all likelihood, the electoral vote as well. But he was awarded the White House by a wide-reaching network of family connections.

FACT: Since they seized control of Congress in 2010, the GOP has indulged in ferocious gerrymandering, which methodically carves up districts so that minority voters (who overwhelmingly vote Democratic) will have minimal impact on the election outcome. This might very well guarantee a permanent majority in the House, even if Democrats get more votes.

FACT: Republicans in recent years also have undertaken a massive, systematic campaign to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters on the pretext of preventing (virtually nonexistent) voter fraud. This was a major factor in the 2000 election, before which the state of Florida purged tens of thousands of supposedly suspected former felons (and probable Democratic voters) from the rolls. A study conducted after the 2016 election found that in Wisconsin alone (which went red by a margin of 22,748 votes) about 200,000 perfectly qualified (and likely overwhelmingly Democratic) voters were prevented from casting a ballot.

FACT: During the last year of Obama’s administration, the GOP refused to even consider a Supreme Court Nominee. Then, as soon as they got one of their guys in office, they exercised the “nuclear option” on his nominee, to prevent Democrats from delaying his confirmation.

FACT: After consolidating its grip on the government in the recent election, the GOP has dramatically ramped up its efforts to make cities “less liberal” with preemptive and vindictive measures designed to prevent cities from enacting laws that protect the environment, laborers, the LGBT community, or anything else the GOP views as a “liberal” cause.

FACT: Republicans make up considerably less than half of the voting population (about 29 percent actually registered Republican, and another 10 percent or so who lean Republican).Yet they control the White House, the House Of Representatives by a 47 seat margin, the Senate by a 4 seat margin, the Supreme Court, 34 governorships, 31 state Houses, and 35 state Senates.

In short, Republicans enjoy an advantage in government at all levels that is far out of proportion to their representation in the general population. And they have made it very clear that they will do absolutely anything it takes to not only maintain that power but expand it. There is indeed a huge swath of the country that is being repressed, suppressed, oppressed and marginalized. But if you really believe that swath is tinged crimson, then you are severely colorblind.

How to Make People Believe Absolutely Anything (In 5 Simple Steps)

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Anyone — yes, even you — can induce people, or at least a large number of people, to believe absolutely anything, no matter how absurd. And there is plenty of living proof out there. Consider Alex Jones, who has a huge following, many of whom believe that 9-11 was an inside job, that Sandy Hook was staged, that children are being abducted and shipped off to a slave colony on Mars, that pigs and gorillas have been given human brains and are running around talking, that a pedophilia ring is being run out of a pizza parlor, and that millions of people voted illegally in the last election. But perhaps the ultimate illustration of how preposterous persuasion works is a man who gets much of his “information” from Jones: his big fan and close ally, the man currently sitting in the Oval Office.

He is undoubtedly the most dishonest, corrupt and inept individual ever to occupy the White House. Yet he has a loyal cult following who still believe that he is honest, forthright and a successful businessman and brilliant leader who is somehow Making America Great Again — and even believe, perhaps most astoundingly of all, that he is a Good Christian. How did we get here?

Many people felt, and still feel, blindsided by the last election. But while the man himself seems to have come out of nowhere, it was inevitable that someone like him would be elected sooner or later. Because the way has been prepared for literally decades by a fringe media consisting of feverish AM talk show hosts, Fox “News” talking heads, and countless newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites. What they have done, anyone can do. And while it may require time and effort, it all boils down to 5 simple steps.

1. Tell them what they already want to hear

Savvy manipulators know that it’s easier to persuade people to wade in up to their necks if you can just convince them to get their feet wet first. Most of us are constantly seeking confirmation of what we already believe (the confirmation bias). When somebody reinforces our beliefs, we tend to regard them as more reliable and trustworthy in general. That’s why manipulators so often make a display of religiosity; committed religious individuals are especially prone to blind trust in anyone they perceive to be ardent followers of the One True Faith — otherwise priests wouldn’t be able to work their boyish charms so successfully. Begin with “Make America Great Again” (whatever the hell that means), and in no time you can work your way up to “millions voted illegally” and “I had a record-breaking victory”.

2. Stoke emotional responses, especially fear and rage

Ronald Reagan was gifted with that proverbial knack for faking sincerity; consequently, he is widely regarded, even today, as a man of impeccable honesty and character, even though he constantly lied through his teeth. (Indeed, with the exception of George W. Bush, it’s likely that no president lied more — until now, when the current White House Occupant dwarfs them both combined). But his sober demeanor was quite unusual among demagogues; they usually realize that while any statement carries more weight if delivered with emotion, the most potent emotions are fear and anger.

Typically, you just don’t hear demagogues speak in a calm, rational tone of voice; it’s more common to hear them sounding like fundamentalist preachers warning of hellfire and damnation than (like Reagan) kindly uncles delivering a homey morality tale. They will raise their voices, they will pound on their desks, they will relate little stories (factual or not) that supposedly validate their point, they will make their voices quiver, they will sometimes even bring themselves to tears.

The most effective message of all is “you are being threatened” or better yet “you are under attack”; particularly since these are messages that many people are already eager to hear. Thus the eternal popularity of silly narratives like transgender bathroom predators, the War on Christmas, and “they’re coming to take your guns”.

There is a part of our brain (the amygdala) that is constantly on the lookout for danger. In caveman days, it was conditioned to be suspicious of anything unknown; after all, that rustling in the bushes very well could be a lion scouting out lunch.  But even though the human race as a whole has long outgrown this mindset, there are still many people (we generally call them “conservatives”) who view the unfamiliar as something to be feared; and view people who promote, represent or advocate for acceptance of anything unfamiliar as enemies to be hated. Political opponents and ideological complements are no longer viewed as mere opponents and complements; they are mortal foes against whom you should prepare for “another civil war”.

3. Find someone to hate

It stands to reason that if you are going to control people effectively with fear and rage, then there must be a “them” to direct the fear and rage toward. You must find a suitable scapegoat to blame for all your (real or imagined) problems. It’s helpful to pinpoint specific individuals (e.g., Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) but entire demographic sectors work even better. In the past, a number of groups have served this purpose well: Muslims, gays, African-Americans, communists, and most notoriously, Jews.

The current White House Occupant targeted brown-skinned foreigners, falsely claiming that Mexicans have driven up crime and that Muslims celebrated in the streets on 9-11. His cult followers certainly jumped on board with those sentiments, but they reserved their most venomous hostility for a much larger and longer established enemy that the right-wing media have hammered away at for years: “liberals”.

“Liberals” are always an ideal target because they are a motley and loosely defined assortment that constitutes at least half the population of the United States, including many people all around you — friends, neighbors, relatives and coworkers. Yet they are supposedly people who hate America, want to kill you and enslave you (not necessarily in that order), and want to sacrifice unbaptized babies on an altar devoted to the worship of Hollywood celebrities.

4. Project your own sins onto others

The quickest and most effective way to divert attention away from your true motives, flaws and misdeeds is to accuse someone else of the same thing — as loudly, and as quickly as possible, before people start realizing it’s really you who are the guilty party. Thus during the campaign the future White House Occupant made a point of branding his opponent as a liar and a crook, even while he himself was breaking all records for dishonesty and corruption. He was following the lead of his harbingers and cheerleaders in the right-wing media who have been howling for decades about how (all other) media is extremely biased and untrustworthy.

People with legitimate adult criticism usually focus on the specific complaint rather than making a broad generalization. When a person repeatedly applies derogatory labels or vague accusations to someone else, it’s usually a sign that you should examine the behavior of the person doing the applying.

5.  Lather, rinse, repeat

The more frequently people hear something, the more likely they are to believe it. So don’t just state your claims and make your case once. Proclaim them over and over and over, day after day after day. Crooked Hillary, crooked Hillary, crooked Hillary. Fake news, fake news, fake news. Liberal media, liberal media, liberal media. Worship me, worship me, worship me.

And there you have it. It may not be a quick and easy process, but this simple 5-step plan is guaranteed to produce results if you pursue it diligently and patiently. I look forward to seeing you in the White House.

 

 

 

The (Poorly) Armed Assault On “Gun Control”: How the Gun Culture Manipulates Statistics (Part 7)

gun-control-mental-health-cartoon

At long last, we come to the end of this lengthy series on NRA propaganda (though I can’t guarantee there won’t be another series in the future — the gun culture keeps firing plenty of propaganda to go around). In previous installments, we examined what we have termed the Chicago gambit, which consists of cherry picking statistics to make it appear that strict gun laws correlate with higher crime;  the DC gambit, which tries to make the case that looser gun laws cause a drop in crime; the particular case of the latter in Kennesaw, GA; the attempt to corroborate that tenet with national trends in crime and gun sales; and  the comparison gambit, which juxtaposes cherry-picked cities and countries.

As you might have realized, all of these “gambits” are really just variations on a theme. They all involve drawing false equivalence between various sets of gun statistics. But another tactic is to make a false equivalence between guns themselves and various other instruments of harm. Thus we come to:

4. The kitchen sink gambit

The almighty gun has been proclaimed by its devotees as being less harmful than anything and everything else — though maybe not literally the kitchen sink. At least not so far.

Here’s one example that made the rounds on social media not long ago:

Capture

Let’s not even bother dissecting the accuracy of the numbers, although there’s plenty to dissect: that isn’t the primary focus of our discussion here.  The more critical offense, at least for the moment, is comparing apples and giraffes.  Only one of these purported causes of death — the final one on the list, which the gunsters are trying desperately to defend — entails a deliberate harmful action against another person. Yes, that includes the first action listed.

We must assume, based on the (apparently inflated) figure given that “death” from abortion in this case means a terminated fetus. It probably does not refer to the death of a pregnant woman or teenage girl, which has not been a matter of great concern to “pro-life” fanatics — who are often in favor of capital punishment, aggressive warfare and, as in the case here, the unrestricted proliferation of handheld killing machines. In short, this graphic evidently assumes that life begins at conception, or during intercourse, or maybe with the first twinkle in someone’s eye. In any case, it’s based on an arrogant presumption that a personal belief is an inviolable fact that should be mandated into law for everyone.

But even if we grant that belief to be true — even if, in other words, we assume that terminating a fetus is equivalent to killing a breathing viable person — it still would not be true that “abortion is murder”, because there is no intent to kill. The purpose of abortion is not to kill but to end a problem pregnancy, and sometimes even to save a life. Doctors who perform them are not doing so to harm, but to help. No matter what angle you approach it from, abortion does not belong in the same room as “murder by gun”.

And note that the gun deaths include only murder, and not the 20,000 or so gun suicides per year.  (Gunsters tend to omit or downplay suicides when discussing gun deaths, on the apparent assumption that suicide victims are less dead.) Nor, since the list is only about death, does it mention the approximately 70,000 annual nonfatal gun injuries or the 400,000 crimes committed yearly with a gun.

All of the causes of death listed are, to some degree, preventable. But only one is both malicious and utterly inexcusable.

It’s also a common tactic to compare gun homicides to homicides by other means. Sometimes you’ll even hear people claim that gun murders are outnumbered by knife murders or hammer murders, or teaspoon murders or whatever — which isn’t even close to accurate. For 2014 (the most recent year for which such data are available), the numbers are as follows: gun murders, 8124; knife murders 1567; blunt instrument murders, 435.

More important, such comparisons are meaningless because the other objects are designed for practical purposes that do not involve killing, while guns are designed specifically to kill.  When a hammer is used to kill, it’s being misused. When a gun is used to kill, it’s being used “properly”.

Sometimes they will get more specific and say that knives kill more people than rifles do. Which is actually true. But what’s the point? A rifle is not the main type of firearm used in gun violence; but assault rifles/ assault weapons (see previous post for the gun culture’s silly quibbling over labels) have a potential to be deadly on a massive scale. How many more Sandy Hooks are you willing to put up with?

Shortly after that massacre, in which 27 people were slaughtered, a deranged man with a knife attacked school children in China, wounding 22 students. Aha! said the gunsters, why not go after knives instead of the sacred thunderstick. If you really can’t tell the difference between 27 dead and 22 injured, perhaps you should leave the lethal weapons for the big boys to play with.

Inevitably, we get around to the big enchilada: the automobile. Cars kill more people than guns, they say. And furthermore, there are more guns in America than cars. So there.

This is true as far it goes. So what? It’s another pointless comparison. The automobile is not designed to kill. The gun is. Auto manufacturers improve their products by making them safer and safer. Firearms manufacturers improve their products by making them deadlier and deadlier. The gunsters don’t even seem to realize that in making this comparison they are seriously undermining their own case: “gun control” activists would be tickled as an NRA board member in Jesse James’s hideout if firearms were regulated anywhere nearly as strictly as automobiles.

Furthermore, the numbers mentioned don’t tell the whole story. While there may be more guns than automobiles, they are in fewer hands. (Car owners may own 2 or 3 vehicles, but they rarely have a whole trunk full of them.)  About 9 out of 10 households have access to an automobile, while only about a third have access to firearms. Additionally, automobiles are in constant usage, as you can verify by looking out the window of your own, if not the window of your home. Automobiles often are used for hours at a time; outside of hunting, the same is rarely true of guns.

Using a gun, in the strictest sense, means pulling the trigger. But in all fairness, we also should include aiming it or holding it in such a manner that it readily could be fired. Beyond that, it gets a bit murky. Should gun use also include simply wearing one strapped to your hip in public? That doesn’t make sense any more than having a car parked on a public street constitutes driving. It certainly doesn’t count as gun use simply to have one hanging on your wall. (The so-called “statistics” about defensive gun use often include incidents in which the gun owner simply tells someone he has a gun!)

Despite all this, traffic fatalities have fallen sharply, while gun deaths have risen slightly. Here’s a graph provided by the Violence Policy Center:

gun vs car deaths

The VPC also notes that gun deaths have actually surpassed traffic deaths in 21 states plus the District Of Columbia.

As you might expect, the gun culture cries foul over the VPC’s figures.  Writing for Investors Business Daily, “gun rights” activist John Lott (who is about as responsible with data as Ted Nugent is with rhetoric and Dick Cheney is with a hunting rifle), declares:

Over and over again, the VPC has been caught misreporting numbers. [Like anyone else we know?] It is surprising that anyone, let alone the Associated Press, still takes it seriously…The VPC somehow managed to incorrectly add up the firearm deaths for 20 of the 21 states where firearm deaths supposedly exceeded motor vehicle deaths! The mistakes always made firearm deaths appear much larger than they actually were.

Lott is outraged that the VPC includes in its tally those firearm deaths that are “justifiable” (As we’ve mentioned before, the “justifiable” in such shootings is often questionable). And he states that eliminating them reduces the number of states from 21 to 14. Oh, only 14? Well hey, let’s fire off a few rounds in celebration . Other than that, Lott doesn’t go into any detail about how exactly the VPC figures are wrong, or where one might obtain more accurate figures (except from him, of course).

The one state he singles out is Tennessee, in which he claims there were “only” 978 gun deaths in 2014 as opposed to the VPC’s reported 1020. The VPC figure, however, jibes with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adjusted total of 1016 for that state, which still exceeds the number of vehicular fatalities (994 according to CDC).

Curiously he also presents a graph of “corrected” data that actually makes the gun culture’s tenets look even more dubious — even though he is slyly including only accidental gun deaths:

Traffic vs. Firarm

And once again, he tries to downplay suicide by firearm. Acknowledging that gun suicides have been on the upswing, he hastens to add that suicides in general have been on the upswing, so maybe we should let guns off the hook.  But as we mentioned previously , there is evidence that making a quick and easy method of death more difficult to obtain causes the would-be suicides to reconsider. Which is to say, making gun laws stricter could save a lot of lives. Just don’t expect to hear anything that rational and informed coming from the gun culture anytime soon.

Whether distorting facts, making them up, citing them selectively or ripping them out of context, the NRA and its accomplices seldom shoot straight with figures. Whenever you hear them quote one, it’s a very good bet that it’s either inaccurate,  incomplete or misleading.

 

 

NRA Achieves New Low

Many years ago, I wrote a satirical (or so I thought) skit in which the NRA owned its own TV network. Such a network has been a reality for many years now; it’s becoming increasingly difficult for satire to keep pace with reality. (I more recently had an idea for a script about the gun lobby marketing to children; turns out the NRA’s already working on that one.)

The NRA’s most recent nadir of tastelessness is an ad that denounces those who disapprove of the current insanity in Washington (that’s the majority of Americans, folks) as violent, anti-American troublemakers, and implying that we should be suppressed with armed force. (It also calls us liars, which is really rich considering they’re supporting a politician who’s already shattered all records of dishonesty.) Its pious hand-wringing over some people likening the White House Occupant to Hitler is a double-barreled irony.

Not only did the NRA and its accomplices (with zero justification) declare President Obama to be the reincarnation of Der Fuhrer on a daily basis for 8 years, but they are speaking about “liberals” in a manner very similar to the way the Nazis spoke about Jews.

This is the kind of rhetoric that prompted George Bush, Sr. to renounce his lifetime membership in the group. But that was back in a distant age when some of the NRA’s Washington constituents actually possessed a modicum of character

The Swiftboating of CNN: “Working the Refs”

 

 

CNN

He’s at it again. Apparently immune to self-humiliation, a certain self-described “citizen journalist” with a long history of producing dishonest and deceptively edited videos has released another one. His previous efforts have gotten him arrested, sued, forced to pay $100,000, and repeatedly debunked and proclaimed a sham even by (some of) his fellow right-wing fanatics. But he still gets plenty of media exposure for being a fraudulent hack, so he still keeps doing it.  And this time he has a target that his fans are particularly eager to pounce on: CNN.

It’s astounding, and slightly amusing in a perverse way, to hear how often people peg CNN as a staunchly “liberal” network, whatever that means. Mention to one of your right-wing friends or relatives what a cesspool Fox “News” is, and chances are the Pavlovian response will be something like “Oh yeah? Well what about CNN?” During the recent presidential campaign it was common for reactionaries to refer to it as the Clinton News Network. And the current White House Occupant himself, who simply parrots brainlessly whatever he hears from the loony fringe media, has declared the network to be “fake news” and barred it from media conferences.

All of which is supremely ironic; CNN is also a frequent target of criticism by Media Matters, which is devoted to exposing “conservative misinformation”.  In fact, almost every day, Media Matters documents at least one instance of right-wing bias at CNN — evidently the highest frequency of any non-Fox media source. Furthermore, CNN has hired two of the White House Occupant’s lackeys as commentators. And lest we forget, it gave us a decade or so of Lou Dobbs, who, while nominally a centrist, railed against President Obama in a manner reminiscent of Father Coughlin railing against FDR, and now has found a home at Fox. CNN also has offered a frequent platform to the likes of George Will, Robert Novak, Charles Krauthammer, William Bennett, Jonah Goldberg, Tucker Carlson, and even Pat Robertson and Ann Coulter.

Of course, the network also has its instances of left-wing bias. But that’s just the point. Whatever its shortcomings may be as a journalistic source (and it does indeed have some) it’s rather balanced ideologically.  The Pew Research Center ranked it slightly left of center based on the ideology of the average viewer:

Network bias

And bear in mind that such a criterion as viewership probably makes CNN seem more left-leaning that it really is, since progressive (“liberal”) viewers face more limited options — as witness the domination of the media landscape by a rabid Fox,  which sends other networks scrambling to match its strides.

So why would the right-wing punditocracy single out such a relatively middle-of-the-road network to externally brand as the flagship of the legendary (and largely mythical) librulmedia? Simple: precisely because it is relatively middle-of-the-road. Establishing CNN as a benchmark for “liberal bias” by playing up its leftward tilts and ignoring its rightward tilts, the manipulators hope to utterly discredit anything even slightly left of center.

Immediately after the fraudulent anti-CNN video was released, White House spokesbot Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared that any media criticizing her president is “fake news” and in almost the same breath urged everyone to watch the video, “whether it’s accurate or not”. The head can’t stop reeling from the bombardment of irony these days.

Meanwhile, the White House exploited the video in a fundraising letter (Fundraising?? Wasn’t the point of electing a pampered billionaire so the president wouldn’t be so dependent on the public’s money?), citing it as proof that CNN is “pushing phony news stories to boost their ratings, rile up their (wait for it) rabid liberal base, and take us down”.

It’s a tactic that Eric Alterman describes nicely in his book What Liberal Media?, which is well summed up in a column at The Nation. (It is Alterman, by the way, from whom I have borrowed the strikingly appropriate term punditocracy.) He quotes then-chair of the GOP Rich Bond:

If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is ‘work the refs.’ Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack on the next one.

Right-wingers have carried this strategy to outrageous extremes. They howl about the “liberal bias” of the media any time there is a news report that does not reinforce their narratives and beliefs. It’s all part of a strategy to work the refs, shift the goalposts and tilt the playing field. And it’s paying off handsomely.

The ultimate objectives in crying wolf over the librulmedia are twofold: first, to bully media outlets into being even more right-leaning than they already are, and second, to have mainstream news outlets branded as radically leftist in the mind of the public; and by comparison, then, an unhinged right-wing outlet like Fox will be perceived as … well, fair and balanced.  And we’ve already traveled very far down that Orwellian road.