Obama/ Osama: The Spin is In

There, it didn’t take long, did it? You might think that any leader who rid the world of a goat-fucking vermin like Osama bin Laden would garner at least a modicum of respect from just about anyone. But you’d be vastly underestimating the infinite capacity of right-wing extremists for hatred,  bitter partisanship, self-delusion. and (more to the point for our purposes) distortion and spin.

A Bit of Nostalgia

Ah, for the good old days of the decade past, when Obama’s illustrious predecessor was in office. Granted, he was far more divisive – not to mention that he permanently pissed off a lot of people by how he got into office in the first place. But after 9-11, that was all swept aside, and Americans of all convictions queued up behind him. He achieved an approval rating of 90%, the highest of any president ever – even though about 50% didn’t even consider him a legitimate president. And those in the media fell all over themselves to lick his boots . Dan Rather (soon to be branded as part of the vast librulmedia conspiracy out to destroy him), declared “wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where”.

Never mind that he’d ignored explicit warnings about terrorists plotting to attack high profile buildings with hijacked planes. Never mind that while the nation was under attack, he dallied at photo ops in Florida for at least 25 minutes (not merely 7) without lifting a finger. Never mind that his eventual response was to invade a nation ruled by one of bin Laden’s ENEMIES. Never mind that he expended several years, and trillions of dollars and thousands of military lives and well over 100,000 civilian lives looking for al Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq because, as Donald Rumsfeld explained, it had good targets. (Sort of like looking in the bathroom for keys you left in the garage because the light is better in the bathroom.) Never mind that he changed his story at least 30 times about his reasons for invading Iraq. Never mind that his administration lied over 230 times about the undertaking. Never mind that he continued to enjoy cozy relations with Saudi Arabia, a brutal dictatorship that supplied 15 of the 19 hijackers. He was Our Leader, by god, and it was un-Amurrcan to criticize him. The media frequently referred to those who supported his “war on terror” as “pro-troop”, suggesting that those who disapproved were “anti-troop” (as well as anti-American and pro-terrorist, of course).

And when Saddam Hussein was captured, The Leader was awarded a fresh round of accolades. Anyone who dared question Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld policy on any particular at all was guilty of wishing that Saddam was still at large.

History Fails to Repeat

But that was then and this is now. And with the Rodney Dangerfield president in office, no good deed goes unslimed. This latest accomplishment by the president was viewed by those suffering from Obama Derangement Syndrome as just another opportunity to engage in the most vicious, fruity, childish attacks imaginable.

In fairness, it wasn’t entirely unanimous. I was shocked to see that one of the most entertaining Obama attack websites, one that normally features only the most vile distortions of absolutely everything the man says or does, actually suffered a relapse and, for one day, sang his praises. Sure, the praise was tempered with the observation that he’d “finally” kept a campaign promise, and the obligatory reference to his supporters as “moonbats”. Even so, it was a miracle of miracles.

But that was, to say the least, the exception rather than the rule among the ideologues. There was no grace period out of respect for the troops or other Americans, much less the president. It was just hate, hate, hate and smear, smear, smear from the word go. You would have thought that Obama was responsible for bin Laden’s birth rather than his death.

What They Said

They said that he didn’t look jubilant enough when he made the announcement – evidently he should have turned cartwheels or something. One prominent leader of the Tea Party even insisted that he looked angry because he really didn’t want bin Laden caught.

They said that he was arrogant for pointing out that he was the one who gave the order to launch the raid. Maybe he should have said “an anonymous darkie who deserves no recognition whatsoever”.

They said that he really had nothing to do with the mission at all, and the military went behind his back to act on its own. (Never mind that the military itself tells a very different story, and that such a thing would in fact be very much against military guidelines.)

They said that it was really George W. Bush who nabbed the bad guy. Which perhaps is only fair, since they’ve been blaming Obama for all the damages Bush wrought. (TWO DAYS after Obama was elected, and two months before he even took office, Rush Limbaugh proclaimed that the nation was in the midst of the “Obama recession”. Several months after he was in office, when the economy began to perk up, Limbaugh called it the “Bush recovery”. You just can’t make up this kind of stuff.) Never mind that Bush said several times that he wasn’t even concerned about bin Laden, and back up his words by never talking about him, and by closing down the operation in charge of tracking him down.

They said that it was Bush’s torture of terror suspects that led to bin Laden. (Follow the bounding ball, kiddies: Bush didn’t torture. But he’d do it again. Waterboarding is no big deal. But it extracts priceless information out of hardened terrorists. Take notes if you can’t keep up.) Whereupon Sen. John McCain, who during the previous administration would have needed a crowbar to pry his nose out of Bush’s anus (and so, naturally, packaged himself as a “maverick”), nonetheless spoke up and said that it was nonsense to think that torture could lead to that kind of intelligence. But hey, what would a former P.O.W. know about torture or interrogation? Not a thing, according to fellow Republicans who were outraged by the possibility that such an otherwise loyal comrade might not be totally consumed with contempt for the current president.

They said that Obama (though he didn’t really do anything) did it just to get re-elected. Never mind that the election was still 18 months away and the American public has shown repeatedly that it has the memory span of a gnat.

They said that bin Laden isn’t really dead. (Where’s the long form death certificate?)

They said that bin Ladn’s really been dead for years, and has been kept on ice all this time. (Wasn’t it nice of the Bush administration and al Qaeda to go along with the scheme in order to give Obama a boost in the polls?)

They said that it was inexcusable to delay for 18 hours before giving the go-ahead for the mission. (18 whole hours! A real man would have first spent years looking for the villain in the wrong country.) And they declared it a “double standard” by the media for not tearing into him over that (which in fact they did) after criticizing Bush for dallying “seven” minutes (which in fact they totally ignored until Michael Moore threw it in their faces – double standard indeed). Never mind that there was only about a 50-50 chance that bin Laden was actually inside the compound. We all know that biting your nails over a precarious surgical strike to nab a terrorist mastermind while trying to avoid civilian casualties is exactly the same as kicking back in a classroom while people plunge to their deaths from burning skyscrapers.

They said that it was hypocritical/ ironic that this raid was ordered by a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. I mean, here’s a man who claims to be working toward world peace, and yet he eliminates a cold-blooded mass murderer who’s a major threat to world peace. Go figure.

They said he killed an unarmed man, poor thing. (Even Michael Moore called it an “execution”.)

They said it was kowtowing to Islamic fundamentalist radicals and/or being too secretive to bury the body at sea. It should have been dragged around in the streets by horses first – that’d show ’em that we’re more civilized than they are!

And so on. And on and on and on and on.

Inevitably, as details of this mission surface, there will be questions. And some of the questions might not have the best of all possible answers. It’s war, pal. But these people didn’t wait for the details, the questions or the answers. They just immediately followed their usual tack of believing the worst about Barack H. Obama until proven wrong – and then continuing to believe the worst.

You can’t help but suspect that this is a manifestation of the so-called “black tax” – the social stigma whereby a black man must do twice as much as a white man in order to receive half the credit, or some such. By that reckoning, the president only needs to kill Osama three more times. No, wait – he’s only half black. So maybe once more will do.

Hey, if he faked it once, he can do it again. And were he anyone else but Barack H. Obama, he just might get away with it, given the demonstrated level of public suggestibility.

The Myth Of Constitutional “Gun Rights”; A Second Look At The Second Amendment

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

That, of course, is the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And according to the gun culture, it’s the constitutional provision that confers on them the right (if not the duty) to stockpile all manner of artillery in their basements to protect themselves against curious ATF agents or deer with Uzis. It’s also the “amendment that makes all the others possible.” Seriously.

But there are many hitches to reading this little passage as a license for packing heat. And some of those hitches are to be found right there in the text of the amendment itself. While untangling the thread of the framers’ intent might require expertise in history and/or law, deciphering what they actually said requires only a fundamental knowledge of the mother tongue.

Let’s begin with the most trivial objection and work our way up the ladder.

Where’s the Hardware?

First of all, where do you see the word gun in this statement, or anywhere else in the Constitution? Or where do you see the more euphemistic “firearms”? All I see is “arms”, which could refer to stone knives, boomerangs, or water balloons. Okay, so that’s a stretch. It’s reasonable to assume that the framers intended “arms” to apply to the weaponry they were accustomed to. So maybe you really are authorized to keep a muzzle-loaded musket in your closet. But it doesn’t explicitly say so. And while that in itself might sound frivolous, it might have more weight in context with what follows.

To Have and to Hold

But where do you see anything about ownership of such pieces? All I see is the phrase “keep and bear”. Soldiers routinely “keep and bear” all manner of nifty toys without privately owning them. In Revolutionary times, of course, things were very different; it was expected that citizens would supply their own battle implements to aid the common defense, so “keep and bear” bore the implication of possession. But possession itself is not specifically and literally addressed.

The Long Four-Letter Word

Even if we acknowledge a right to own guns, that’s a matter independent from governmental authority to regulate gun ownership; by no means does one exclude the other. But to hear the gun lobby tell it, any attempt at government regulation (“gun control” in the official media spin), no matter how reasonable, is a commie maneuver to “take away” their precious phallic substitutes – even though the Constitution unequivocally states that arms not only can be regulated but well regulated. If someone proposed a law against firing a bazooka in a crowded mall, these folks would probably howl to the heavens.

This reaction, perhaps, says a great deal about the real motives of the NRA and its comrades – not to defend “freedom first”, but to defend profit first. They like to gauge (double meaning intended) freedom by the number of guns floating around, though for my part I feel a hell of a lot freer strolling through Tokyo than I do strolling through Little Rock. (I also feel freer in resisting the incendiary rhetoric trying to manipulate me into purchasing a dozen semiautomatic rifles when it only takes one to handle that jerk who cut me off in traffic fifty miles back.) Do they want to seize the Constitution and use it for their own lucrative ends? From these cold, dead hands, bub.

You often will hear them claim that restricting Second Amendment “rights” is as bad as restricting First Amendment rights – i.e., free speech. Actually, free speech is restricted; there are laws, for instance, against slander, libel, perjury and fraudulent advertising. But the analogy doesn’t hold up under fire.

Speech is devised for communication, for building relationships, for enshrining ideas, for artistic expression, for many things that exalt the human condition. Guns are devised to kill people. It’s not comparing apples to oranges. It’s comparing apples to pogo sticks.

For a more appropriate analogy, suppose the amendment instead said: “Well regulated transportation being necessary for efficient living in the modern world, the right of the people to operate vehicles shall not be infringed.” Would anyone maintain that it empowered anyone and everyone to drive a car unrestricted without licensing or examination, regardless of health or prior record?

Militias Intent

And why did the framers consider it so important for citizens to be up in arms? Because they might be called upon to participate in the militia, a civilian defense body that has been supplanted by today’s National Guard. Militias are no longer functional – and no, they do not include those characters in Michigan or Montana drilling in fatigues in preparation for Armageddon. They’re not regulated at all. (One might argue that they’re not exactly functional, either.) In other words, the whole concept of a militia is obsolete, and it has dragged the Second Amendment down along with it. Lest you think it’s implausible for an amendment included in the Bill Of Rights to slip into obsolescence without being repealed by another amendment, I suggest you keep your copy of the Constitution open to the same page and continue reading through the Third Amendment. When was the last time you heard of that one applying to anything in real life?

Subject to Review

But let’s cut to the chase, shall we? I lied. The passage quoted above is actually not the Second Amendment; at least it’s not the original version passed by Congress in 1791. It is, rather, a subtly altered version that states later ratified, much to the delight of the gun lobby, which almost always quotes the tweaked edition. Here’s the way the Amendment read as passed by Congress:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Notice the difference? The NRA is really hoping you won’t. But if you look closely, you’ll spot something that was missing from the other version. Actually, two somethings: little spermatazoid markings after “Militia” and “Arms”. They’re called commas, and they can drastically alter the meaning of a sentence. (Which sounds more appealing: ” a million dollars, and beads” or “a million, dollars and beads “?)

Under the standard rules of punctuation for the English language, these commas make “A well regulated Militia” the subject of the sentence – i.e., the thing that “shall not be infringed”. The other two phrases bracketed by commas just amplify that subject.

But guess what? Contrary to what the NRA seems to believe, removing the commas in this instance doesn’t materially alter the gist of the thought. It does make “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” the subject, but it’s a heavily qualified subject; it’s still hard to ignore (though many try) the stated purpose of that right – “a well regulated Militia” – especially since it begins the sentence. They changed the syntax, but they didn’t substantially change the sense. “A well regulated Militia” is the heart of this Amendment whether it’s the thing that shall not be infringed, or whether it clarifies and defines the thing that shall not be infringed.

It would have been easy to add some succinct wording about using weapons to hunt for food or trespassers if that had been the purpose. For that matter, why spell out any specific usage at all, such as “a well regulated Militia”? Merely saying “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” would have covered all the bases, had that been the focus.

Moreover, earlier drafts of the Amendment contained the provision that “no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms”. That’s a very curious addendum indeed if Thomas Jefferson’s vision was aligned with Charlton Heston’s.

And Now the Kicker

In short, there is nothing in the text of the Second Amendment to indicate that it has anything to do with stalking either Bambi or rival gang members. In contemporary application, it simply means that states have the right to maintain armed National Guard units.

But having said all of this, we must add that none of it really matters anymore. Not since a 2008 Supreme Court ruling determined by five “conservative” justices. (You know the type: they scorn “judicial activism” or “social engineering”. Unless it advances their ideology and/ or lines their pockets.) They simply decreed that henceforth, the Second Amendment would say what they wanted it to, whether it really does or not.

Lovely how that works, isn’t it?

AFTERWORD (Jan.21, 2012): The most perceptive criticism I’ve heard of the above post has been to the effect that formal writing of the Revolutionary era was not as standardized in its punctuation as it is today, and it was not unheard of for a comma to stray between a subject and its predicate. True enough. But the fact that this passage was revised before ratification indicates that the framers were cognizant of the different nuances. It also suggests that it was the states that wanted to emphasize the “right to keep and bear arms” rather than Congress.

At any rate, as I stated above, it doesn’t really matter, because in both versions the intent is the same – the two phrases are interdependent. Just try switching them: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms being necessary to the security of a free state, a well-regulated militia shall not be infringed.” Would anyone argue that this establishes the right of a militia to do anything it pleases- to pillage, rape, and demolish at will? Don’t think so. A militia in such a passage would be defined in terms of keeping and bearing arms for the purpose of the security of a free state. Likewise, in the version of the Second Amendment we have, the right to keep and bear arms is defined in conjunction with a well-regulated militia for the purpose of the security of a free state. Nothing more.

Birtherism: The Long And The Short Of It

Whether or not you’re an admirer of President Barack Obama, there’s no denying that the man has an uncanny gift that could almost be called an odd superpower: everything he does triggers an avalanche of reactionary hatred that defies all limits of surrealism. EVERYTHING. Even getting born.

To be sure, there are always grounds for legitimate criticism of any president. But in the case of this president, virtually all of the legitimate criticism has been leveled by those who voted for him. The slime cranked out by the right-wing rumor mill does not in any way, shape or form qualify as criticism. It’s just nasty, juvenile and utterly deranged, rarely bearing any relevance to his actual job performance – or, for that matter, to anything else on Planet Earth. Birtherism is just one example, and it’s an example that has received far more than its share of exposure from the “liberal” media.

President Obama is an American citizen. There is no doubt of that. There has never been any doubt of that. Except in the twisted minds of teabaggers and others of the right-wing fringe, who insist that he couldn’t POSSIBLY have been born in this country, since his father is African, and little Barack spent part of his childhood abroad. But it has absolutely nothing to do with racism, so don’t you even think such a thing.

These people apparently even believe that the socialist/ Muslim/ Klingon cartel that installed the guy in office were scheming even 50 years ago that this lowly kid born in Hawaii – oops, Kenya, or Lemuria, or wherever – would someday be their puppet, so they planted a phony birth announcement in two Hawaiian newspapers. After all, that kind of prescience is a snap when you’re working on behalf of The Anti-Christ.

And unfortunately, it’s people like this who dominate the public forum in the U.S of A. Consequently, the media are STILL treating this non-issue like a major crisis.

Until recently, the president good-naturedly ignored this kookiness like an adult or something. But finally, he caved in to pressure from the loony fringe to release a long form version of his birth certificate (whereupon they began ridiculing him for caving in), saying that it was time to end the “silliness” (an extremely gracious and forgiving choice of words) and focus on weightier matters. (As Stephen Colbert so hilariously pointed out, the “long form” is actually shorter than the “short form”!)

If he really thought this would put an end to it, he was inexcusably naive. As soon as I heard the news, I predicted that it would be a matter of days before the appearance of new conspiracy theories declaring that this birth certificate is also fraudulent.

But I was wrong. It was a matter of MINUTES.

“An OBVIOUS forgery”, they promptly declared. Yes, they did use the word obvious and they did put it in capitals. See, according to the birther gospel, the elements of the evil conspiracy who had the foresight to plant phony birth announcements half a century ago know how to fake documents with Photoshop, but it never occurred to them that anyone else out there also might be familiar with Photoshop.

And so the birthers began latching onto EVERY DETAIL in the certificate and declaring it to be “suspicious”. These claims are often studies in how incomplete information can be used as powerful propaganda – some of the most effective lies are lies of omission.

For example, one detail singled out was that the father’s place of birth was listed as Kenya, East Africa. Aha! Kenya didn’t even exist until three years later. Obvious forgery, right?  Nice try. While it’s true that the independent nation now known as the Republic of Kenya did not formally exist until 1964, the former British colony had been called Kenya since at least 1920.

Naturally, the media pounced on these inept smears and promptly discredited them. Nah, just kidding. The media, as always, figured there is no attack too sleazy or silly to merit the limelight indefinitely, provided it’s aimed at a Democratic president. Instead of “birthers have enough egg on their faces to feed China”, the headlines said, “birth certificate raises more questions than it answers”.

After all, why did the president wait two years to take time out of his schedule to have an official document flown over from Hawaii? It’s not like he had anything better to do like, oh, track down a terrorist mastermind or something.

Frankly, your Professor Of Propaganda suspects that the delay may have been a shrewd political ploy to give the birthers plenty of time to thoroughly make asses of themselves.

Oh. Never mind.

The Myth(s) of the Ten Commandments

If, like most Americans, you grew up in a Judeo-Christian environment, then you’ve surely had plenty of exposure to The Ten Commandments. Or at least you probably think you have. Lawsuits and fierce debates have been waged over the decalogue, and religious propagandists have argued that those two stone tablets are the very foundation of western civilization. But the decalogue is not set in stone. In fact, many things commonly believed about the Ten Commandments are demonstrably false.

Chapter and Verse?
First of all, contrary to what you’ve been taught, this set of commands cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. Nowhere. At least not in that form. It’s actually a heavily edited version of two biblical passages (Exodus 20: 2-17 and Deuteronomy 5: 6-21) . This in itself is very illuminating, because the would-be theocrats who want to shove the Ten Commandments in your face are generally fundamentalists who claim to get their authority as self-appointed guardians of (other people’s) morality from a strict reading of “scripture”, with nothing added or taken away. But clearly they’re not practicing what they preach.

HOW Many?

One thing the anonymous editors changed is the number of commandments listed in the Bible. It’s actually as many as 17 in the book of Exodus and as many as 21 in the book of Deuteronomy, depending on whether certain statements included in the lot should be considered commandments. One is reminded of the scene in the Mel Brooks movie when Moses comes down the mountain carrying three stone tablets and says (quoting from memory here) “My people, I bring you these fifteen — oops!–ten — TEN commandments.”

The Ten WHAT?

Except that they’re not really called commandments at all, not in the Bible. So what? Why shouldn’t you call them commandments even if God doesn’t? Well…

WHICH Commandments?

Because there is another set of statements in the Bible that IS specifically referred to as The Ten Commandments. (Exodus 34: 11-26) though again the numbering is fuzzy. (What does God have against math, anyway?) Though there are some similarities to the other two sets, there are also some interesting gems like “Thou shalt observe the festival of weeks” and “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk”. Not to mention some instructions for cutting down the altars and “sacred poles” of  other nations, and taking their daughters for wives.

Can you imagine some arrogant Alabama judge defying the law over divine instructions like these?

And then there’s the first set of stone tablets that God dictated to Moses, who then smashed them in a hissy fit before anyone could read them. Supposedly the next set was a carbon copy; but it’s clear from these passages that Yahweh either had a poor memory or just changed his mind a lot.

Someone once commented that fundamentalists might benefit if they stopped thumping their Bibles long enough to actually read them. There are few things that illustrate this truth better than the obsession over the so-called Ten Commandments.