Silly Scalia Stories: the Obama Exception in Action

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After Justice Antonin Scalia passed away unexpectedly on February 13, the American Left became giddy at the prospect of having an opportunity to see a measure of sanity restored to the Supreme Court — they were making the rather naive assumption that President Obama actually will have a chance to appoint a replacement.

Many of us feel that if you don’t have anything good to say about the recently departed, you probably shouldn’t say anything at all. And while one well might have nothing but contempt for the man’s actions on the bench, he surely must have had endearing qualities as a human being; indeed, colleague Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is about as far removed from him ideologically as humanly possible, was effusive in her praise, and declared that she and the deceased were “best buddies”. And hey, the guy even loved opera, so how bad could he be?

That said, it’s very difficult to remain silent, however, when you see some of the rampant nonsense that has followed his demise. The late judge’s fans went overboard in their accolades, lauding him as a legal superhero. Perhaps the most commonly reiterated motif was that he was a champion of the Constitution. Well, one certainly should hope so, given his job description. But in truth, his championing of the Constitution wasn’t exactly consistent.

When it suited his ideological purposes, he was quite willing to use the Constitution as wrapping paper for gifts to his cohorts. He was instrumental, for instance, in rewriting the Second Amendment to the specifications of the gun lobby. Coincidentally, he belonged to an arcane “hunting society” whose motto translated into English means, I kid you not, “honoring God by honoring his creatures”. Let’s hope we’re not among the creatures they choose to honor.

Lest we forget, he was also a key player in Bush vs. Gore, which twisted the Constitution into a Moebius strip in order to hand the presidency to a man with whom some of the justices had ideological and personal ties. Coincidentally, Scalia was appointed by Ronald Reagan while Bush’s father was vice president, and his son worked for Theodore Olson, lead counsel for Bush in his suit.

A few years ago, he was questioned about whether he had any remorse about the ruling, and he remained defiantly unapologetic, even inserting the baldfaced lie that the margin was 7-2 rather than 5-4, and that it “wasn’t even close”. For good measure he even displayed his much-praised sophistication and elegance by adding the tags “get over it” and “so there”.

Unfortunately, the excessive praise heaped upon Justice Scalia isn’t the only way in which right-wing fanatics have played loose with the facts in the aftermath of his death. They have used the event, as they use virtually any other event, as an occasion to fire a few broadsides against President Obama. In so doing, they have provided even more illustrations of what we could call The Obama Exception: i.e., the unswerving, obsessive conviction that the current president should be judged by a radically different set of criteria than any other mortal — that anything involving him, however obliquely, must necessarily be a thousand times worse than it would be if it involved anyone else.

Many wingers, for instance, are still doing their damnedest to make a “scandal” of the fact that terrorists killed four people in Benghazi three years ago. Yet many of them are among the people who hailed George W. Bush as a hero after terrorists killed 3000 civilians on American soil. There are quite a few of them whom you’d never convince, no matter how much documentation you provide, that the president is an American citizen; they just know he can’t possibly be, since his father was from Kenya. Yet many of them would have no problem with throwing their support behind red-blooded American Ted Cruz, who was actually born in Canada. They built a three-ring media circus around Obama’s “latte salute” without even mentioning George W.’s canine salute.

And so we have several popular narratives built upon the death of Antonin Scalia that illustrate Obama Derangement Syndrome at its looniest and nastiest. To wit:

1. President Obama’s decision not to attend the funeral was unprecedented

There is no established protocol for whether a sitting president should attend the funeral of a Supreme Court justice. But it’s an outright lie that (as many right-wingers proclaim) this has never happened before. Only one sitting justice has died in the past 60 years; but of the past 10 current or former justices who have died, the sitting president attended the funeral in only 4 cases.

2. President Obama’s decision not to attend the funeral was disrespectful

The president paid his respects by sending Vice President Biden to the funeral, and by himself attending the wake and a memorial service at the Supreme Court. Considering what a high-profile distraction his presence would have been at the funeral, the president’s decision not to attend was perhaps the most respectful thing he could have done. In any case, it is quite clear that he is as usual the target, rather than the perpetrator of disrespect — particularly since the right-wing rumor mill insisted that he didn’t go to the funeral because he was busy golfing.

3. There’s nothing unusual about blocking the appointment of a successor

Those poor “conservatives” just can’t seem to keep it straight about what is and what is not unprecedented. Previously, the longest time the ninth seat on the high court has gone unfilled after a death has been 174 days (the longest is 391 days for all vacancies). At Scalia’s death, Obama had some 340 days left in his term; and the GOP has hinted it is willing to extend the record at least an additional 730 days if another Democrat is elected in November. Additionally, it’s important to note that during those previous vacancies, the process of nominating and deliberating on justices proceeded. Congressional Republicans now have declared that they will not even consider a presidential appointment until one of their guys is in the White House. And this is something that truly is unprecedented.

4. Blocking the appointment of a successor would give the voters more of a voice

For this one we can thank Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who offered this side-splitting excuse for the obstructionism:

The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.

But which Mitch is which? Presumably, it was the evil twin of this Mitch McConnell who voted (along with all of his fellow Republicans) to confirm a nominee in the final year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency and, only a few short years ago during the reign of George W. pontificated that

Any President’s judicial nominees should receive careful consideration.  But after that debate, they deserve a simple up-or-down vote. . . . It’s time to move away from advise and obstruct and get back to advise and consent.  The stakes are high . . . . The Constitution of the United States is at stake.  Article II, Section 2 clearly provides that the President, and the President alone, nominates judges.

Yet now, thanks to the all-powerful Obama Exception, the voters deserve their voices to be heard. Mitch, Mitch. Barack Obama won two elections by very convincing margins. He is the first president since Eisenhower to win twice with a majority of the popular vote. How much louder do those voices need to be before you can hear them too? Do you really believe that President Hillary or President Bernie will appoint someone more to your liking? Or do you believe that President Donald will appoint someone who speaks with the voice of the American people?

5. Democrats who object to the stonewalling are being hypocritical

Over at the ever-entertaining National Review, Jonah Goldberg has been doing what he does best: making an utter ass of himself. This includes some rather asinine “thoughts” on Scalia and how the GOP must “stand firm” on having him replaced any time soon. He has also stated that:

Democrats have been blowing up the appointment process piecemeal since they turned Judge Robert Bork’s last name into a verb back in 1987.

He’s in good, or at least plentiful company here, as other wingnut ideologues have also suggested that it’s hypocritical for Democrats to complain about infantile Republican behavior today, when Democrats torpedoed the Bork nomination 3 decades ago. Media Matters pegs this as a specimen of apples and oranges, though it’s really more like apples and iguanas. As noted above, there is a vast difference between rejecting a nominee and refusing to even deliberate on a nominee, any nominee, put forth by a particular president. As for Robert Bork, he was an exceptionally godawful candidate even by Reaganesque standards (thus Goldberg’s starry-eyed praise for him). Even so, it took the Democratic-controlled Senate 109 days to reject him. (The seat was ultimately filled by Justice Kennedy, who was confirmed in 65 days.)

6. The nomination “controversy”

Why exactly should it be considered controversial? The president nominates, and the Senate votes on the nomination. Period. So there. Get over it. Even Mitch McConnell’s good twin acknowledged as much, once upon a time.

Ah, but there’s always the Obama Exception, isn’t there?  It provides all the justification they need to indulge in frothy-mouthed, faux patriotic eliminationism at the expense of the American public. It’s not exactly a controversy. But it is an outrage and a national disgrace.

Science Deniers, Flat Earthers and the Modern Galileo

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“Ted Cruz DESTROYS Sierra Club President Over Global Warming”. So said the headline of one of the Internet spinfests making the rounds recently. Another said “Ted Cruz 1, Sierra Club 0”.  Or in the words of a blog writer for Michelle Malkin, whose problems with the real world we’ve discussed before, “Global Warming Causes Sierra Club President to Melt During Ted Cruz Questions About ‘Cooking’ Planet”.

Cruz’s own website even crows about his supposed triumph by posting links to gushing reports about the incident from the mainstream media and from right-wing propaganda outlets. (But I repeat myself.) All of which just goes to show that you can spin just about anything to your advantage if you have your skull inserted into your rectum far enough.

This take on events achieved search engine saturation — it was almost impossible to find an accurate account of the incident referred to, because the spinmeisters had piled up such a deep heap of rubbish to dig through. Unfortunately for them, they committed — as they often do — the fatal error of providing a link to a video that is supposed to buttress their cause, but in fact totally explodes it. (Compare, for example, the birthers who provided a link to a video which they claimed depicted an attorney for President Obama admitting that his birth certificate is forged.)

Suppose the spin were true. What if Cruz really had handed Sierra Club president Aaron Mair his testicles on a salver? What exactly would have been the significance? Damn little. Mair’s background is in sociology, history and political science, and he is by profession an epidemiological-spatial analyst, which is basically someone who studies the geographical distribution of disease. He does not claim to be an authority on climate science, which just might be why he accepts the research of those who are experts.

Cruz, however, is another matter. With a background in public policy, law and politics, he believes he does know more about climate science than those who study it for a living. He’s even dubbed climate science a “religion.” He knows that global warming is a hoax because it still snows in New Hampshire. No, really. In fact, he places himself in some rather elite company as a maverick scientific thinker:

Today, the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers. It used to be [that] it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.

Aside from the fact that he is turning reality on its ear, fancying himself a modern Galileo and casting the scientific community in the role of a backward religious establishment, there is something staggeringly stupid about that utterance, even by Cruz’s usual standards. But we’ll return to that later. First let’s look at what actually happened at that hearing.

It helps to understand how hearings work in a GOP-controlled Congress. When Planned Parenthood was the target of a smear campaign by a group circulating deceptively edited videos, Congress went after (not the perpetrators of the fraud, but) Planned Parenthood’s CEO, Cecile Richards, whom they subjected to a very nasty, one-sided, accusatory inquisition.

When terrorists attacked an American consulate in Benghazi, Republicans went after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who coincidentally was the favored contender for the Democratic nomination for president — even though there’s really nothing to investigate, they’ve reportedly now investigated Benghazi more than they investigated 9-11, which occurred on American soil, had a much heavier toll, and actually involved an administration’s gross negligence. And many of us still remember the congressional shark orgy around Clinton’s husband over his sex life, a witch hunt mounted under the comically transparent pretext that it was somehow in the national interest.

So it shouldn’t come as a great shock that given the platform, someone like Ted Cruz would seize the opportunity to grill a Sierra Club representative in an attempt to vindicate his own ineptitude. And while Aaron Mair was not as well prepared for the vicious onslaught as were Richards or Clinton or Clinton (this one was, after all, unscheduled), he was equally firm and patient — I’m not sure that he rolled his eyes even once.

The “platform” was a hearing on government regulation. But at one point Mair observed:

That people of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by pollution, and climate disruption should not be up for debate any more so than the science behind climate change itself.

Well sir, Cruz saw his opportunity, so he pounced.

I’m curious: Is the Sierra Club, is this a frequent practice to declare areas of science not up for debate, not up for consideration of what the evidence and data show?

Among other things, this is a false attribution. It isn’t the Sierra Club that declares “areas of science not up for debate”. It’s scientists themselves. As Mair repeats far too many times (but what else can you say to such Cruzian nonsense on the spot — he had a better response later), the organization stands behind the consensus of 97 percent of scientists. At one point, however, he did refer to the “preponderance of evidence”, which gave Cruz another golden opportunity, noting that as a lawyer he learned that it only took a certainty of 51 percent to establish a preponderance.

I don’t know what kind of lawyer Cruz was, but surely he is not so inept a mathematician as to confuse 51 with 97. If only one scientist says something, or only one percent of scientists say something, by all means you can take it with a grain of salt. If 51 percent of scientists say something, you can consider it a matter of legitimate debate. If 97 percent say something, you’d do well to start paying attention.

Actually, Mair was wrong. He was citing a commonly quoted figure when he said that 97 percent of scientists concur with the global warming scenario, but this figure is off. The actual percentage is more than 99.99 percent. Yet Cruz still knows better.  And he has a simple explanation for why virtually all the scientists are wrong: those scientists only say what they do because they receive “massive grants”.  The “grant” card is a standard component of the anti-sciencer’s toolkit; if all else fails, just suggest that giving scientists money hopelessly corrupts them — unless of course that money comes from a petroleum company, and then the research is above question.

The implication is that nearly all scientists, even the best and brightest, can be bought. If that were true, it’s hard to imagine that science would have made anywhere near the progress it has — we might well be still in the bone knives and bearskins stage.

I’m curious, Senator Cruz: would you prefer that scientific research be carried out by shoe salesmen in their basements on weekends — or by individuals wealthy enough to fund their own research? Just how big does a grant need to be to qualify as “massive”? Should it be in the neighborhood of, say, the 15 million you received from major polluters this year?

Cruz asks whether it’s true that there has been no warming trend for the past 18 years. Mair responds, simply but accurately, that no, it isn’t true. Cruz presses on, laying a trap by asking whether Mair knows what “the pause” refers to. Mair fails the test. So what? “The pause” is a statistical burp that absolutely does NOT show a cessation of global warming. Cruz believes it does. So which of them is more ignorant?

In short, it’s true that Aaron Mair wasn’t stellar in defending himself at his de facto trial; but however bad he may have looked, Ted Cruz definitely looked much worse. And it was entirely his own doing. That tends to happen whenever a pompous individual poses as more knowledgeable about a field than the collective experts in that field — unless of course the individual in question really is a Galileo.

Which brings us back to that little statement Cruz made above. Let’s look at it again. Sorry, but it’s just too good to use only once.

Today, the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers. It used to be [that] it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.

As you probably realize, the clash between Galileo and the church had nothing to do with the shape of the earth. It occurred because Galileo had stated the earth revolved around the sun, while church officials insisted that the earth (and they themselves) were at the center of the universe. They were dead wrong about that, but they at least knew the earth was round — as virtually everyone else did.

Today, the term flat earther is applied figuratively to a person who clings obstinately to a narrow-minded belief that is contradicted by the evidence — like, oh, certain senators from Texas. But once upon a time, many people literally believed that before modern times, people literally believed the earth was flat. Not only is Cruz buying into this myth, he is quite ignorant about a key event in the history of science and the iconic conflict involving the scientific genius whose shoes he presumes to fill.

Did we mention that this character is chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness? Did we mention that he wants to be president of the United States?

 

Teller Tells All: How Magicians (and Others) Manipulate the Mind

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Like just about everyone else on the planet, I’m a big fan of Penn and Teller. Indeed, I’ve probably been a fan longer than most – since I first saw them in 1980, long before they became global superstars. That was literally before they were Penn and Teller; in those days, they were a three-person troupe billed as Asparagus Valley Cultural Society.  The third member, a geeky-looking fellow called Wier Chrisemer, reportedly left the act because he objected to some of the risqué material the other two came up with.

Years later, when I spoke to Teller after catching one of their performances in Las Vegas, I asked him whatever happened to Wier.  Without missing a beat he replied, perfectly deadpan, “we killed him and took his clothes.”  It was a characteristically quick-witted response. Though Teller doesn’t speak onstage, he was once a high school Latin teacher; and he’s always been, like his longtime partner, highly articulate and highly intellectual.

I recently read an article he wrote for Smithsonian magazine outlining the techniques magicians use to fool their viewers. It’s worth reading the original article, because he goes into more detail and illustrates with some specific tricks. But here in a nutshell are the 7 principles:

  1. Exploit pattern recognition.
  2. Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth.
  3. It’s hard to think critically when you’re laughing.
  4. Keep the trickery outside the frame.
  5. To fool the mind, combine at least two tricks.
  6. Nothing fools you better than the lie you tell yourself.
  7. If you are given a choice, you believe you have acted freely.

All of these are interesting to anyone who appreciates a good magic trick – and who doesn’t? But some of them (especially 1, 6 and 7) are quite relevant to other forms of mental manipulation as well.  In fact, one of the most illuminating things about magic is that it helps underscore a fact about human nature that, depending on the context, can be either delightful or disturbing: people enjoy, and quite often crave, being deceived — even many people who are quite intelligent and well-educated. Witness the enormous success of Fox “News”. And many, many cases of the public willingly offering its eyes for the wool to be pulled over.

In the last post, we discussed a deceptively edited video distributed by “pro-life” manipulators that supposedly proved Planned Parenthood sells “body parts” from aborted fetuses. This was unquestioningly distributed by millions of shocked individuals who apparently never stopped to think that “pro-life” radicals might be able and willing to tamper with videos, even though they’d already done so not too long before. The video showed people what they wanted to see, so they assumed they were seeing it.

An even more vibrant example involved a video that wasn’t even tampered with. It was attached to a viral blog post claiming that the clip depicted a lawyer for President Obama admitting his birth certificate was a forgery. The video, of course, showed no such thing; yet millions of people passed it on, believing they actually had heard the lawyer say this, because that was what they really, really wanted to hear.

Or take the Second Amendment. Please. Anyone literate in the Mother Tongue need only read it to see that it absolutely does not unequivocally state that American citizens have a right to own firearms. Yet many Americans are willing to live and even die for such a nonexistent “constitutional right”.  Five prestidigitators on the Supreme Court told them it was there, and they believe that settles it. Not that they needed convincing; they’d already long insisted very loudly that they saw such a right clearly enshrined in the Constitution, no matter how much it wasn’t really there. The fakirs of the gun lobby had already been telling them, long before the Court got around to it.

When a magician fools us, we get something useful out of it – namely, diversion and delight. When a propagandist deceives us, other people get something out of it, to our detriment. Keeping an eye out for the techniques magicians use can enrich our appreciation of being taken in by a trick. Keeping an eye out for the techniques propagandists use can help prevent us from being taken in.

Son of the Return of the Revenge of the Birthers from Planet X – the Endless Series

Like an interplanetary blob that keeps managing to resurrect itself for B-movie sequel after B-movie sequel no matter what the heroes do to squelch it, birtherism just will not die. Birthers absolutely live to hate President Obama; and unwilling or unable to challenge him cogently on the issues, they instead resort to ad hominem attacks and the malicious rumor mill:  he’s a “socialist” and/ or a Nazi who “pals around with terrorists” and “can’t speak without a teleprompter”; he’s the most secretive and power-mad and corrupt president in history; and furthermore, he ain’t even Amurrcan. (But of course it has nothing to do with racism, so don’t you even suggest such a thing.) And proving them wrong only encourages them.

They have indeed been proven wrong, soundly and repeatedly. As we previously observed, the president posted an official copy of his birth certificate on the White House website; and it holds up to the inevitable charges that it’s a forgery. For what it’s worth, I even know of a medical professional who was acquainted with the doctor who delivered Obama. And it didn’t happen in Kenya.

But what do facts matter when you have an ideology to push and an Obama to hate? In several states, certain fringe elements (to put it as kindly as possible) have even filed lawsuits to try to establish, despite the insurmountable proof, that the president is not a U.S. citizen. Some states (notably Arizona, which seems to be trying to corner the market on kooky legislation) are pondering “birther bills” that would require the President to prove his citizenship (again!) before his name can be placed on the ballot there.  And a few days ago, the following headline began to spread like an oil slick across the Internet:

Obama Lawyer Admits Birth Certificate Is Forgery

Now you might think that a headline like that would raise an army of red flags among even the most acute sufferers from Obama Derangement Syndrome. You’d be mistaken. It appears that none of them questioned it. Instead, they just passed it on as gospel. Indeed, this non-story quickly attained what I call Search Engine Overload Bias– meaning that the Internet became so saturated with it that any story refuting it (if in fact anyone connected to the administration bothered to respond to it at all) was pushed so far down the ranking of web pages as to be invisible. (Likewise, it’s all but impossible to dig up an honest appraisal of measures regulating firearms, because the gun lobby has co-opted the term “gun control” and transformed it into a Satanic invective, and has absolutely deluged the Internet with claims that it’s ineffective and downright counterproductive. But that’s another story.)

Try doing a search for “Obama Lawyer Admits Forgery” and see how many hits you get, all parroting a single source: that hallowed bastion of impeccable journalism,   The Tea Party Tribune, which was in turn quoting The Daily Pen. Yep, this earth-shattering “news” story is brought to you by the same crowd that previously proclaimed Obama had hiked their taxes and outlawed fishing; that “Obamacare” is “socialized medicine” that establishes “death panels”; that the United Nations owns the National Parks; that ACORN stole the 2008 election; and that global warming is a “scam”.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. And it would be most extraordinary indeed if a president admitted that an official document posted on the White House website was fraudulent. So where is the proof from these folks who keep saying “show me the proof”? Well, um er… It turns out that while The Daily Pen is the original source of this story, its own source – like the source of so many Obama rumors – was someone’s ass.

The article does not include a quotation, even a fabricated one, from Obama legal representative Alexandra Hill admitting that the birth certificate is a forgery, and for a very good reason: it isn’t, and she didn’t. But it does contain, like any yarn from a spinner of tall tales, embellishment upon embellishment. For instance, there’s this:

Hill went on to contort reasoning by implying that Obama needs only invoke his political popularity, not legal qualifications, in order to be a candidate.

It certainly would “contort reasoning” to suggest that she said any such thing. But nothing is more contorted than saying that

arguments from an Obama eligibility lawyer during a recent New Jersey ballot challenge hearing reveals the image was not only a fabrication, but that it was likely part of a contrived plot by counterfeiters to endow Obama with mere political support while simultaneously making the image intentionally appear absurd and, therefore, invalid as evidence toward proving Obama’s ineligibility in a court of law.

Huh?????

As evidence that the certificate is a not only a forgery but a deliberately absurd forgery, the Pen reproduces an enlarged section of it with a couple of “suspicious” details highlighted:

First, the word “the” appears to be misspelled, and heaven knows there were never any typos in those days of manual typewriters. Second, the first letter in the registrar’s signature includes a couple of erratic marks which are clearly intended to depict … are you ready for this… a SMILEY FACE! I’m not making this up. Never mind that smiley faces are always very distinct frontal images, and these stray marks would make a very indistinct smiley profile. Clearly, it’s proof the whole document is a sham.

In a perfect world, I might be asking whether anyone really believed The Daily Pen’s story. Instead, I find myself asking -rhetorically at least -whether there’s anyone who didn’t believe it. But I also find myself asking just who benefits from a story like this. And as I see it, there’s only one person who might even conceivably benefit: President Obama himself.

The guy surely has his shortcomings – he’s only human. (He also has his strengths, which don’t receive nearly the attention they deserve.) Wouldn’t it do the public a better service to focus on evaluating those actual weaknesses, thus pressuring him to address them? But legitimate criticism of his performance on the job tends to get brushed aside in the frenzy over the tin hat stuff, such as this obsession with his birth certificate. If he really does have even a fraction of the evil about him that the Obama haters claim, he must be howling with fiendish delight right about now.

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 Year of Lying Dynamically

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We’ve already noted Hitler’s notorious observation that a “big lie” is more likely to be believed than a little one, an ironic statement since he was referring to supposed efforts by the Jewish population to deceive people rather than his own efforts to deceive people about the Jews. In any case, the accuracy of his comment has been demonstrated over and over again; but never more frequently than in the year just past.

Perhaps no year in recent memory has been distinguished by conspicuous honesty in media, politics or the public forum, but 2010 really takes the cake when it comes to monumental mendacity. The folks at Truthout have singled out 6 “Big Lies” that were especially popular this past year, and it’s certainly worth reading the article to get the gritty details (although the author seems to get confused by her own numbering system). But briefly, the lies presented are:

1. Health care reform amounts to a “government takeover” of medicine.
2. Barack Obama and Shirley Sherrod are racists.
3. George Soros was a Nazi collaborator.
4. Obama’s trip to India cost taxpayers $200 million per day.
5. Health care reform will result in “death panels”.
6. Barack Obama is incapable of speaking eloquently without a teleprompter.

These lies have three things in common: all are utterly absurd; all are very easily discredited; and all are fervently believed by a large portion of the American population. But this selection of lies is by no means inclusive, and there are several other Big Lies that gained a lot of traction during the past year that would have been worthy of focus.

For example, there is the notion (alluded to in the article) that Obama is not a U.S. citizen; there’s the notion that he’s a Muslim (one moral we can glean is that just about any lie will be believed if it has the word “Obama” attached to it); there’s the notion that scientists have deliberately cooked the books to support the “hoax” of climate change; there’s the notion that ACORN was a corrupt, politically motivated organization that committed significant voter fraud. And on and on and on. We won’t even count such perennial warhorses as the notion that the U.N. is a corrupt, arcane organization that is bent on world domination.

Another interesting year-in-review article focuses on one single liar, but a very prominent one: Glenn Beck. Media Matters serves up a list of 15 lies he served to his fans the past year (by no means an inclusive list), the last of which is repeated claim that if he ever lied on the air, Fox would fire him. Guess which network he’ll be lying for in 2011?

The Media’s Love Affair With the Tea Party

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Quick Quiz: According to an ABC News/ Washington Post survey, what percentage of Americans are active in the Tea Party?
(A.) 10%
(B.) 20%
(C.) 30%
(D.) 40%
The correct answer is (E) 2%. Yes, that’s TWO, with zero zeroes, and not (as Fox “News” might have you believe) 200%.

I know, I know. You thought it was much larger, didn’t you? And certainly you can always quibble about the accuracy of this or any other poll. But the point is that the group is actually much smaller than you’re led to believe by its unceasing media (over)exposure.

Now it should be obvious that such a tiny faction, even if it had an army of the world’s mightiest propagandists at its disposal (which it does), wouldn’t be able to have much of an impact without the cooperation of a fairly large number of relatively normal people. And in fact, according to that same poll, 27% of the American public say they in some way identify with the Tea Party, whatever that means.

What it apparently means is that 27% approve of the group’s CLAIMED objectives, which primarily are (as stated on the Tea Party Patriots website) “fiscal responsibility, limited government and free market(s)”. Well hey, that’s pretty hard to argue with. Just about every politician CLAIMS to have goals similar to these. It’s like running on a platform of mom, apple pie and free oxygen. Only 27% support these goals??? Maybe too many people have listened to what else the teabaggers have said.

They’ve vowed to “take back our country” from the other 98%, and to apply “Second Amendment remedies” if they don’t get their way. They’ve called the president a “Niggar” (sic) and they’ve called him a racist. They’ve called him a Muslim and they’ve called him an atheist. They’ve called him a wimp and they’ve called him a bully. They’ve called him a communist and they’ve called him a Nazi. They’ve called him a foreigner, they’ve called him Hitler reborn, they’ve called him a terrorist sympathizer, they’ve called him the Anti-Christ, they’ve called him the love child of Malcolm X and Elvis. (Sorry, I just made up that last one. Guess I was overcome by the tea fumes myself for a moment.) And oh yes, they’ve called him hateful and divisive.

They’ve claimed he wants to take away our guns and hike up our taxes, that he wants to institute death panels to kill off our seniors, that he wants to destroy America and restrict free speech, and even “outlaw fishing”. (No no no, I did NOT make up that one.) And no, these are not just the actions and utterances of a few isolated elements of the group; even the leaders of the TP have been saying such things. These have included candidates for office, some of whom ran on a pledge to “shut down” the big bad guvmint they were campaigning to be a part of (presumably AFTER making sure it first ordered women to bear the babies of their rapists), but they somehow forgot to pledge they’d shut down the hefty paychecks they’d then be receiving for doing nothing.

Just for good measure, they’ve chanted in unison that “global warming is bullshit.” Now you may say that vilifying science for ideological reasons is an earmark of cult mentality, but these people just can’t be fooled. They know that scientists, including Nobel laureates, are all just a bunch of quacks, and the only place to get reliable info about science is from a trustworthy, totally honest expert like Glenn Beck.

But hey, these must be the sentiments of mainstream America, judging by the election results, right? Haven’t the media been telling us that the TP just pulled of a major revolution of cosmic proportions? Hmmm… Better hold the tea biscuits for a while. There are at least four reasons (which is a thousand by Fox math) to suspect that maybe the revolution was not quite so revolutionary as we’ve been repeatedly told.

First, voters rejected the nuttiest among the nutty of the TP candidates. It’s one thing to say you’ll eliminate Social Security and Medicare; and even if you babble about “socialized medicine” and “death panels” and birtherism, a lot of people might grimace but still vote for you anyway. But when you start advocating “Second Amendment remedies” and equating masturbation with adultery, most folks will start carefully backing away.

Second, California, which has a long tradition of being the crystal ball for how the rest of the nation will look a few years in the future, went as blue as ever if not more so.

Third, the Tea Party candidates really just won races that Republicanoids probably would have won anyway. Can you think of a single exception?

Fourth, and perhaps most significantly, they LOST several races that Republicanoids were clearly expected to win. This includes at least two Senate seats (Nevada and Delaware) where the Democratic candidates was presumed to be thoroughly dead donkey meat before being miraculously revived by someone else’s tea. In other words, it’s probably fair to conclude that because of the Tea Party, the GOP blew a golden opportunity to take the Senate. For what is being hailed by the media as a tea “tsunami”, that’s an awfully weak brew.

Back to that poll once more if we may. It also indicated that as people learn more about the Tea Party, they are more likely to oppose it than to support it. Thus, the TP propagandists have the unenviable task of trying to keep its real objectives concealed. They have had at least a degree of success so far, but it’s going to get harder as time goes on, particularly now that some of these characters are actually going to be governing. Not impossible, mind you, but harder.

It will be interesting to see how the propaganda plays two years from now when the tea has been drained from the cup and we are left with the leaves to read.