Welcome to Prager Universe

Prager

There is certainly no shortage of right-wing propaganda machines out there these days. It seems like they keep cropping up like mushrooms on a dung heap. Why not– they’re highly profitable. One that has been in my face quite a bit lately, though it has been around since 2011, is the so-called Prager University (PragerU), which has nothing to do with any university or academic accreditation. It’s the brain fart — oops, brain child — of Dennis Prager, who many years ago seemed to be perhaps just maybe one of the few sane and rational members of the right-wing punditocracy, even bordering on being a genuine conservative. But clearly, those days are long gone, and he’s now gone full-fledged winger. Why not– it’s much more profitable. And hey, he’s a radio talk show host, so he’s here to save ya.

PragerU creates 5-minute videos purported to be educational and informative, an “effective counter to the Leftist indoctrination imposed by schools and universities”, as its website boasts. Have no fear, dittoheads; if you don’t like what they teach at real universities, you can always find alternative facts more to your liking at a fake university. And it only takes 5 minutes. The site also advocates “Americanism” (read: reactionary jingoism) as well as “the Judeo-Christian values on which America is founded” (I’m guessing Prager buys into the myth of a “Christian nation”) and “the rational case for God’s existence“. Lunch not included.

What the videos actually do is recycle the same inane right-wing myths, soundbites and talking points you hear in many, many other media outlets. With a heady mixture of straw men, red herrings, cherry picking, false equivalence, spin, framing, distortion and outright lies, PragerU weaves an alternate universe for its compliant fan base that, coincidentally, is pretty much identical to the alternate universe inhabited by Fox “News” et al.

It’s a Bizarro dimension in which there is a constitutional right to own guns, global warming is a hoax, politicians and pundits know more about science than scientists do, racial bias is an illusion and”liberal biasdominates the media.  And of course, there’s the occasional obligatory jab at socialism and communism, which many reactionaries think are the same as liberalism, being incapable of keeping their isms straight. PragerU, like other right-wing propaganda organs, spouts a lot of things that you’re supposed to believe because you’re just supposed to believe. It’s even regurgitated the silly and tired narrative that because the Democratic Party of yesteryear championed slavery and segregation, that must mean the Democratic Party of today (which bears little resemblance save the name) must be more racist than the GOP — which left Lincoln in the dust many decades ago.

Prager himself delivers some of the lectures; in one video he proclaims that the only real question about abortion is whether or not it’s moral — a red herring the size of Moby Dick that we’ve already examined. (Cliff’s Notes: the real question about abortion is how to prevent it. It ain’t by outlawing it.) In another, he asks whether the death penalty is moral, which is also not the right question, at least based on his limited criteria for morality; and even if it’s moral to kill someone that doesn’t make it automatically less moral not to. But he just defends the death penalty simply because he believes some people deserve to die, and that this should be the overriding consideration regardless of the ramifications and consequences of such a policy.

In yet another clip, he bemoans how leftists are trying to impose “European values” on American society, and suggests that they are (by some arcane process he doesn’t get around to explaining) utterly incompatible with American values. In particular, he insists that the European value of equality is, somehow or other, incompatible with the American value of Liberty.

Whipping up white nationalism

PragerU’s “credible, and often well known thinkers” (as the site touts) include the unhinged Michelle Malkin, who seems obsessed with keeping foreigners (like her own parents) out of her precious country. Her PragerU video on immigration is so dishonest and inaccurate (not to mention tasteless) that it was panned even by the conservative “think tank” The Cato Institute. See Cato’s review for an accounting of her misinformation, in presenting which she says:

It’s not hateful to protect our borders. It’s not hateful to protect our citizens. It’s not hateful to protect our values.-

Well yeah, actually it sort of is hateful to suggest that immigrants are a threat to our citizens or our values. What exactly are we supposed to be protecting our citizens and values from, Michelle? Contamination by inferior races and cultures? And “protect our borders” is a meaningless bullshit soundbite that is being wielded constantly to whip up xenophobia and white nationalist sentiment.

Have you ever heard of anyone actually attacking a border? And if someone actually did, would the border shatter like delicate crystal? A border is merely an imaginary and arbitrary line in the dirt. On one side you have Us and on the other you have Them. Sometimes, some of Them try to cross over and become Us — that’s how most of Us got here in the first place. And contrary to what the Protect Our Borders Brigade would have you believe, there is (and long has been) a rather strong and complex (if not Kafkaesque) web of regulation in place to determine who makes that red rover maneuver and how.

Of course, some people do slip through that web and become “illegals” — either by crossing the imaginary and arbitrary line without authorization from Us or by coming across by invite and then failing to return. But contrary to persistent spin, this is not a major problem; “illegal” immigration is not a crisis, and “illegal” immigrants are not a threat. In fact, they make a net positive contribution to the U.S.A., improving the quality of life for all of us by just about any metric.  They are generally hardworking, responsible family people who commit considerably less crime than U.S. citizens. (More on this topic in a future discussion of immigration myths.)

But suppose we choose not to believe such facts. Hey, we do have a universe of alternative facts at our fingertips after all. Suppose we choose to believe instead that “illegal” immigration is a major problem that must be dealt with as a top priority. Guess what? It’s entirely possible to handle it with honesty, integrity and responsibility — and without sinking millions into a goddamn wall.  There is no excuse for cruelly ripping apart families. There is no excuse for singling out those few immigrants who commit crimes and touting them as typical of the lot. There is absolutely no excuse for the kind of malicious and evil lies about the brown menace from south of the border being spread by the 45th White House occupant and his enablers. And note, by the way, that it is indeed Mexican immigrants that are supposedly causing the supposed crisis, even though their numbers have actually diminished during the past few years. You rarely if ever hear about the (mostly white) “illegals” from Europe.

Further extolling the right-wing mantra of “I got mine, so up yours”, the stunningly vacuous Fox “News” mouthpiece Candace Owens, who seems determined to advance the cause of racial equality by demonstrating that African-Americans can be as clueless and naive as anyone, presents herself as a “credible thinker” on matters of race, because after all, she has one. She’s previously declared that she believes blacks have been brainwashed to vote Democratic — isn’t it racist to suggest that an entire ethnic group is gullible? Further attesting to her bigotry, she has admitted that she “became a conservative overnight” because of online harassment that she blamed, without evidence, on a few progressives.

In a masturbatory video on the subject of race, she flaunts her achievements despite coming from a background of struggle (growing up in the jerkwater burg of Stamford, Connecticut) and insists that she never once played the “black card”, which she acknowledges is imaginary. (Really? Can she be certain that she wouldn’t be on Fox if it didn’t need a female black token? She certainly wasn’t hired for her intellect or expertise.) But this imaginary black card, she proclaims, is played by her fellow African-Americans all over the country, and nets them all kinds of special privileges. Damn, I wish I had a black card myself, so I too could be reported as suspicious by neighbors, shot at by vigilantes and beaten by police.

(In the same vein, another black presenter recommends treating blacks just like anyone else, which certainly sounds like a reasonable suggestion. But she also equates, like Owens, efforts to understand and eliminate the factors that lead to rioting with excusing violent and destructive behavior itself. And she insists we shouldn’t be too concerned about white supremacists because there aren’t that many of them, and they aren’t in positions of power. Yes, she actually said this.)

Just how exactly does one play this “black card”, anyway? Well, Owens, um… doesn’t exactly say. (Maybe you need the PragerU graduate level 10-minute video to get such niggling details.) But if the “black card” cancels out the “black tax”,  that sounds an awful lot like creating a level playing field rather than conferring black privilege. And who exactly is playing this card? Well, dang it, she’s not awfully clear about that, either. Except that she does single out Cornel West and Al Sharpton. Which doesn’t do a hell of a lot to buttress her implication that the “black card” is a device employed by slackers and moochers.

Whatever one may think of the work done by Dr. West or Rev. Sharpton, it’s hard for even a Candace Owens to deny that they have indeed worked, long and hard, to get where they are. So just how are they trying to “game the system”? (And is anyone, especially a person with dark skin, so sheltered as to be unaware that the system is gamed already?) By addressing racial bias and injustice? Does Owens believe that all black folks who address racial bias and injustice are just looking for a handout? What about us white folks who do it? What about the civil rights workers, white and black, who risked and even lost their lives so her smug ass could vote? Yes, things have changed since then. But if you believe racial inequity is a thing of the past, you’re living in cloud cuckoo land. Otherwise known as Prager Universe.

Pumping up the Patriarchy

Not only does PragerU champion white nationalism (sometimes with the aid of non-white shills), it also champions patriarchalism  (sometimes with the aid of non-male shills). Accordingly, one video by  one Andrew Klavan “explains how feminism is a mean-spirited, small-minded and oppressive philosophy”. Hey feminists, were you aware that you’re philosophers? And that your philosophy is oppressing… well, someone. To make this point, the video has a cutesy cartoon of a presumed feminist wearing a pussy hat (Don’t all of us feminists do that?) and playing a game of “whack-a-man” (seriously) and then whack-a-mother-holding-a-baby. Isn’t that what feminism is all about? Smacking down men, and smacking down women who are content with staying barefoot and pregnant? And sporting pudenda on your head, of course.

Dissecting this utter waste of pixels exhaustively would require devoting far more space to it than it deserves. Virtually everything in it is either wrong, irrelevant, or just plain WTF. (Did you know that Rosie the Riveter would lose an arm-wrestling match to a man of comparable physique? Don’t tell me you don’t learn anything from these videos.) But one thing we might mention (and then forget about) is that he cherry picks a single verse in the Bible to make the claim that Christianity has been responsible for the progress that women in the Western World have made toward equality. All together now, scratch heads and roll eyes.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Klavan doesn’t really define his conception of feminism at all; he just tells you that he hates it and that it’s bad. He just tells you that it

can poison relations between the sexes—relations which, for most of us, provide some of life’s deepest pleasures and consolations.

Which I suppose must mean, guys, that if you let your woman fill her pretty little head with all that equality and liberation garbage, she might not put out on demand. The closest he comes to a (Prager Universe) definition, which he calls “feminist mythology”, is this:

…that men have oppressed women, and now must be suppressed in their turn, to even things out.

The first component of this “mythology” is intractably true. The second part is a straw man big enough for a bonfire. And the mere fact that some people regard the elimination of male dominance as emasculation is in itself very telling.  Sorry, Andrew, but real men do not feel threatened by strong women. In fact, encountering rock-hard women often makes men rock-hard themselves, if you know what I mean.

It’s also telling that Klavan regards feminism as a call to “abandon femininity” — as if the (male-created) archetype of femininity (dainty, helpless and dependent on men) should be the gold standard to which all females aspire. There’s no problem with women wearing pearls and high heels to the opera if they wish. There’d be a problem with men expecting them to wear them while doing housework. In fact, it’s a problem automatically expecting them to do housework at all. And here we have the two biggest actual myths about feminism: that it entails “attacking men” and that it entails women trying to become like men. It’s an interesting double contradiction: girl power is supposedly hating men, yet wanting to be like them and less like girls.

Klavan seems blissfully unaware that many feminists are in fact…ahem… men. And that without feminism, women wouldn’t be able to vote. (Even worse, he probably realizes the latter fully well, yet still condemns it.) He also seems not to realize that there are many different varieties of feminism. So many, in fact, that it’s just possible an occasional feminist or two might actually lean slightly toward the kind of behavior he excoriates. But to paint all feminism and all feminists with such a mile-wide brush is dishonest, irresponsible and inexcusable.

He is aided and abetted by a non-male shill named Allie Stuckey, who addresses, however fleetingly, the problem of “toxic masculinity”. That’s a concept that’s been batted around quite a bit lately because of all the mass shootings. Virtually all mass shooters (only one exception comes to mind) have been men. Nearly all terrorists are men.  At least 75 percent of violent crimes are committed by males — even though they don’t get PMS. Coincidentally, many of these killers and attackers have a history of domestic abuse or other manifestations of misogyny. Thus the coining of the term “toxic masculinity” to describe a form of obsessive male dominance that is linked to violence. Good thing Stuckey is discussing it, eh?

Except that she really isn’t. Very near the beginning, she pulls a big switcheroo, declaring that those who complain about toxic masculinity are suggesting that the solution is to

make men less toxic. Make men less masculine. Make men more like women.

She doesn’t seem to realize that toxic and masculinity are two separate words expressing two different concepts. Indeed, perhaps the real problem is that so many people just assume the two must be irrevocably linked. As Stuckey herself says

Aggression, violence, and unbridled ambition can’t be eliminated from the male psyche

Or, as some people say whenever a sexual predator is exposed, boys will be boys. They don’t seem to be aware that it’s perfectly possible for boys to be boys without being Kavanaugh-holes about it.

Stuckey conflates many things here that shouldn’t be conflated: toxic with masculine, masculine with aggressive and violent, masculinity with responsible behavior among men,  masculinity with leadership, non-aggressiveness with weakness, and an effort (however misguided at times) to reduce schoolyard aggression with emasculation. And on and on. She even laments that this supposed sissification of America is a major crisis. Almost as big as immigration, no doubt.

The growing problem in today’s society isn’t that men are too masculine; it’s that they’re not masculine enough.

So pop open another brewski, guys, and settle back to watch the Super Bowl. While your woman cleans house in her pearls and high heels. Like the other speakers mentioned here –and indeed like all too many right-wingers — Stuckey is “thinking” in silly and useless stereotypes. She even attributes the number of broken homes in America to men not being manly enough, and even quotes, I kid you not, Barack Obama stating how important it is for kids to have a father figure.

Even when she gets something right (women want “strong, responsible men”), it’s not particularly relevant to her supposed thesis – nobody’s trying to deprive either women or men of that attraction. And sometimes she says things that constitute (unwittingly) an affirmation of the narrative about toxic masculinity that she is trying to discredit (we need better men rather than less masculine men).

Listen up, Ally: masculine is not the same as toxic. Strong and decisive are not the same as aggressive. Masculinity is not the same as male dominance. The architects of civilization have been strong, decisive, and often very masculine men. But they’ve also tended to be the kind of men that many would regard as wusses because they weren’t absolute dicks. They have included artists, scientists, philosophers, scholars and even sometimes clergymen. Meanwhile, the aggressive, male dominant Kavanaugh-holes have worked hard to destroy the civilization the others have built, by raping, pillaging, burning, bombing and genocide.

Some of the architects of civilization, by the way, have been (secretly) gay. What does that do for your premise? Additionally, women have made their contributions too, even though they were held down by male-dominated culture. (And all too often, men have taken credit for their achievements.) What might civilization have accomplished by now, had it not been under the influence of one long testosterone orgy?

We’ve come a long way, baby — and it has not involved “feminizing” men or “devaluing” masculinity. But the fact that whenever a woman speaks up about sexual abuse, she is invariably treated like the criminal, is a good indication that toxic masculinity is very much a problem. And the fact that the most powerful office in the world is currently occupied by a misogynistic pussy grabber who is enthusiastically cheered on by millions of people, is a good indication that feminism still has a long way to go. It does not help matters any to brush aside problems like these with glib straw men.

America is absolutely dumbing  itself to death. And the fact that many people take seriously these videos that offer predigested ideological snake oil is both a symptom and a cause of that demise.

 

Obama Speaks Truth, Obama Haters Have Meltdown

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They called it a shameful statement, an embarrassment, an act of self-destruction on the part of President Obama, a defense of terrorism,  and an out-and-out attack on Christianity. They said that he was equating terrorism with Christianity, a “moral equivalency” that was “stupid and dumb” (both??). They called it “moral stupidity” (at least it wasn’t immoral stupidity). They said the president was displaying his own closet Muslim faith, and his hatred of America itself. They even touted it as proof that “liberals” in general (of which they’re immovably convinced Obama is one) love terrorists and hate America. What horrific utterance did the president commit in order to earn this (self) righteous condemnation? It was a little statement he made at the National Prayer Breakfast:

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ…. So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.

The National Prayer Breakfast is an event sponsored by the ultra-right wing fundamentalist group known by the appropriately godfatherish name The Family. As usual, the president displayed chutzpah in venturing onto hostile turf and offering an olive branch. And as usual, he was eloquent and insightful. In fact, the more rational observers hailed his address as “brilliant”, “remarkable”, and “a powerful celebration of America’s religious tradition.” Naturally, then, the right-wing fanatics went absolutely apeshit, spewing out an avalanche of straw men, dopey insinuations, references to nutty rumors, and downright lies:

The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime. He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share. (Former VA Governor Jim Gilmore)

We all share the values that slavery and slaughter are desirable if done by the right people?

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Guess I missed it. When exactly did he “blame the Crusades”?

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“Nominal Christian”? Cute. Would you say the same about the pope? It was a pope who spearheaded the Crusades. How much more “true” does it need to be?

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Guess I missed it. When exactly did he try to justify horrific acts of barbarism, Islamic or otherwise?  But somebody else missed the fact that he did NOT have to go back 1000 years.

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Guess I missed it. When exactly did he insult Christians? And why would he do that when he is at least a “nominal Christian” himself?

So Barack Obama, leftwing community organizer and closet theologian, used the National Prayer Breakfast to throw a tu quoque at anyone critical of Islam while continuing to fancy himself as the Pope of Islam (Conservative News)

Gotta admit that “tu quoque” is a level of diction several notches above the Palinesque, but unfortunately we can’t say the same for the content.

Mr. President, you… are damning your reputation as a president and may never hold any regard or esteem of the American people. Then again, perhaps that was always your aim, as you fundamentally transform our beloved Constitutional Republic. (Allen West)

The ever-reliable Mr. West, who presumes to give the “Islamapologist In Chief” a history lesson, also claims that lynchings in America were supported by “Democrat (sic) Christians”.

One evil man had the audacity to attack Christianity and defend Islam in the midst of 3,500 Christians at the recent National Prayer Breakfast… Barack Obama and others like him have a direct connection to evil; whereas too often people serving God are not directly connected to truth. This is why Obama can lie and push his destructive agenda and mercilessly attack our freedoms and sacred institutions. (CNS)

This latter, hilariously enough, appears in a piece titled “Christians, It’s Time to  Get Over Your Illusions”.

In the midst of all this sound and fury and manufactured outrage, one little fact was a bit neglected: the president’s observations were absolutely on the mark. Horrific deeds have indeed been committed in the name of Christianity, and just about every other religion that ever has existed. He was right about slavery. He was right about Jim Crow. He was right about the Inquisition. And yes, despite the current tide of trendy historical revisionism, he was even right about the Crusades.

But these episodes are only a sampling of the violence that has been performed in the name of Christianity. We touched upon this in a recent discussion (“The Christian Persecution Complex, and the Myth of the School Prayer Ban”), though it really was just scratching the surface. During the interval of time between Christianity’s coming to power in the Fourth Century, and up to the modern age, there has been an average of one major episode of Christian barbarism every 15 to 20 years. And these are just the major episodes, most of which were massive campaigns that claimed the lives of many victims.

One of these was a campaign by England to “civilize” non-Christians in Ireland by slaughtering tens of thousands of them. One of the commanders of the forces, Humphrey Gilbert, ordered that

the heads of all those (of what sort soever they were) which were killed in the day, should be cut off from their bodies… and should be laid on the ground by each side of the way … (to cause) great terror to the people when they saw the heads of their dead fathers, brothers, children, kinsfolk, and friends on the ground.

And if you’re a fan of Fox “News”, you might have been under the impression that ISIS invented beheading.

As for the beloved Crusades, one (Christian) chronicler of the noble exploits recorded that during one particular siege the noble Crusaders

did no other harm to the women found in [the enemy’s] tents—save that they ran their lances through their bellies

How very Christian of them to be such gentlemen. Makes you wonder what kind of harm they’d been doing to other females they’d encountered.

You might object that some of these episodes were not of a particularly religious nature, or that there were sometimes other motives in addition to religious ones. True, but the point is that these horrible deeds were committed by Christians. Or at least nominal Christians. Furthermore Christian beliefs were often cited as the justification for atrocities, even when they actually may have been committed for other reasons. The very fact that dogma can be considered a justification for savagery is itself a damning indictment of a social order dominated by religious fanaticism.

I’ve always been fond of Philip Roth’s short story Defender of the Faith, in which a Jewish army sergeant decides to crack down on one of his fellow Jewish soldiers because he realizes that defending his religion entails defending it not only from the outside but from the inside. That’s a lesson that many Christians don’t want to learn; but President Obama seems to understand perfectly. If you’re a Christian, perhaps you should ask yourself which sentiment you’d rather have expressing your religious values to the world: (a) “I’m appalled by the things some Christians have done, and I pledge to do better’; or (b) “Atrocities? You’re talking about history. You obviously hate Christianity and hate America.”

In writing for Time about the Bizarro Planet reaction to the the president’s speech, Eric Yoffie notes

One would think that both religious and political conservatives would have applauded the President’s remarks, which celebrated American religion and affirmed the centrality of religion in American society.

And he goes on to ask why such “self-evident” truths should be considered the least bit controversial. He chalks it up to Christian “denial”, and that probably is indeed one factor. But the reaction was probably at least as much political as religious. In other words, it was yet another manifestation of Obama Derangement Syndrome, the obsession with trying to make a scandal out of absolutely anything and everything the current president says or does.

It’s certainly not unheard of for presidents to spark controversy when they’re caught telling lies. But Barack Obama very well might be the first politician in history to possess the uncanny power to generate controversy and cause reactionary heads to explode just by telling the self-evident truth.

 

Propaganda Prop # 6 : The Straw Man

straw man

Once upon a time when I was a teenager and didn’t know any better, I got into a discussion (i.e. argument) with a relative on a topic that he had strong beliefs about. That topic was the hazards posed by certain chemicals used in growing and processing food — a hazard which, he was convinced, was nonexistent, but was merely a fraud concocted by devious scientists, or the government, or some other “them” who couldn’t be trusted. At one point, he said to me, ” if it wasn’t for chemicals, you couldn’t live.” Although I wasn’t even familiar with the term at the time, this was my first real awareness of the straw man tactic, which is the sixth in our series of propaganda techniques.

A straw man is an oversimplified substitute for an actual issue or another person’s actual position on an issue.  Although the term’s origins are unclear, the apparent idea is that metaphorically, someone constructs a cheapened likeness of another person (or position) and knocks it down, then claims to have struck down the real person (or position). I’d never said that all chemicals are harmful; I was perfectly aware, in fact, that the human body is made of them. What I was saying was that it’s a good idea to be informed about what chemicals are harmful and to avoid them if possible.  That’s an argument that’s much harder to dismiss than the watered-down version my relative threw back at me.

You’ve surely had plenty of straw men thrown in your face; there’s not much way to avoid it. If you mention to anyone, for example, that you’re opposed to the war (any war) you’re quite likely to hear someone say “How can you not support the troops?” Or “Why do you hate America so much?”. Or something like that. Mention that you favor reproductive choice, and you’ll surely be labeled “pro-abortion”, and you may even hear someone say that you support “killing babies”.  Either of which constructs a straw effigy in front of the real problem of how to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

In April 2010 the state of Arizona passed Arizona Senate Bill 1070, putatively aimed at curbing illegal immigration. Many citizens, not only Arizonans, expressed concern and outrage because some provisions of the bill opened the door to harassment of legal immigrants or even natural-born citizens of darker complexion.  (Do you suppose it’s just a coincidence that the bill has connections to white supremacists?) But ideological extremists who spoke of opponents to the bill almost uniformly characterized them as being anti-immigration reform, or pro-illegal immigration, or some other such straw personage, often even suggesting that those bleeding-heart libruls who didn’t like the bill should just invite all the filthy scum illegals to come and live in their neighborhoods.

Now it’s certainly possible that some of these people honestly don’t know the difference between objecting to a specific law and objecting to the broad objectives the law supposedly addresses (I’m glancing in your general direction, Ms. Malkin). But some of them did a deliberate switcheroo, replacing substance with straw. Well, after all, they were taking their cue from the straw twins embedded in the bill’s official name: The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, which implies that law enforcement officials strongly support the measure, and that brown people from south of the border are responsible for higher crime. Both of which are, to say the least, unsupported conclusions.

Chances are that at some time during the past few months you’ve seen this graphic making the rounds on the Internet:

OWS hypocrisy

The idea, of course, is to suggest that the participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement are sniveling hypocrites for being anti-corporation when, like the rest of us, they use products manufactured by corporations. Trouble is, the Occupy movement was not organized to protest against corporations. It was organized to protest against corporate greed, corporate crime and corporate domination of government policy. Those are things that many Americans are concerned about, including many who revile OWS.  But it’s a lot simpler and a lot more effective just to dumb down the OWS position as being “anti-corporation”. Don’t strike a match with so much straw flying around.

Almost every criticism/ attack I’ve heard directed at OWS has been a straw man. Indeed, if you’re one of those who are generally classified as “liberal”, you surely get attacked by scarecrow platoons on a regular basis.  “Liberalism” is a rather broad and nebulous concept — much more so than “conservatism”, which is itself a rather imprecise label. And since the lifeblood of propaganda is oversimplification, it makes sense that those who smear “liberals” will dumb down their talking points and employ vast hordes of straw figures to make their case. (“Conservatives”, by the way also tend to invoke reverse straw men to present their own convictions — which is to say they oversimplify them in a positive direction. They might attire their belief, for example, in a supposed Second Amendment right to own guns as “supporting the Constitution”. What they mean in is that they support their own dubious interpretation of one little segment of the Constitution.)

In fact, my absolute favorite single source of straw men is Liberal Logic 101, which has the avowed mission of pointing out the inconsistencies and stupidities of “liberals”; but the site would be more accurately called Straw Man of the Day. Let’s look at a couple of recent examples of its wit and wisdom:

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This one’s a double whammy: it suggests, first that “responsible adults” are the main target of firearm regulation, and second that it really matters whether teenagers “think premarital sex is okay”.  Comparing an innate biological drive with a culturally conditioned addiction,  this cutesy graphic sidesteps two genuine issues: (1) The dividing line between “responsible” and “irresponsible” adults (as if adults were the only ones affected by guns) is often crosshair-thin; and a gun blurs that line faster than just about anything else in the known universe, and (2) Teenagers already think sex is pretty okay; and they’re going to go on thinking it’s okay unless adults inflict some extremely heavy psychological damage; and it just might be prudent to be more concerned with preventing pregnancy and potentially fatal disease than with trying to reprogram their hormones. It’s an artificial dichotomy (something straw-sculpting propagandists just love) to suggest that one must choose between discouraging premarital sex or being prepared for lapses in judgment.

Here’s another gem:

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Is there really anybody out there who honestly doesn’t realize that President Obama has been subjected to more “background checks” than the Pope? Apparently so; and this straw men seems to be an attempt to recruit more devotees to birtherism. Or any of the other Photoshop conspiracy theories accumulating around the president. If gun owners were scrutinized with a microscope even a fraction as big as the one that has been trained relentlessly on Barack Obama, gun regulation advocates would be ecstatic. And chances are that just about everyone would be a lot happier, because there’d probably be far less gun crime.

Gosh, these are like eating peanuts — once you get going, it’s hard to stop. Let’s try one more for good measure:

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The notion that “Obamacare” entails the government “making medical choices for you” has been a heavily used straw man since day one, and not one sliver of its straw has worn off. “Government takeover” is the straw phrase of choice that has been brandished against the Affordable Care Act ever since “socialized medicine” started wearing thin.

These priceless bagatelles from Liberal Logic 101 always end with the observation that “Yes, they are that stupid.” Well, it does appear that somebody is trying very hard to be “that stupid” — or else just very crafty. In any case, I recommend perusing the pages of that website if you’re seeking some textbook examples of straw men.

But really, you don’t have to seek them out at all. They’ll seek you out instead. It seems that straw men are breeding faster than mosquitoes in a swamp. I seem to hear more and more and more of them all the time. Ironically, I also seem to hear more and more instances of “phantom” straw men — i.e., people falsely claiming that someone else has used a straw man.  (See, for example, the attack on one of my previous posts at TheTruthABoutGuns.com and/or my response to it.) Yes, we’ve reached that bizarre point in the so-called evolution of our species when the perception of a straw man has become itself a straw man.

Michelle Malkin vs. Obama’s Dog

There’s a certain fellow sharing my last name, apparently a distant relative though I’d never heard of him until a few months ago, who just loves to send email. Every day. Sometimes I’ll get five or six a day, forwards of forwards of forwards. Almost all of them contain nutty rumors, vicious smears or childish jokes about one or more persons named Obama. He evidently assumes that (a) I actually enjoy reading such stuff, and (b) I can’t get it anywhere else.

I’ve actually read a few of these to see if they’re as idiotic as they appear. They are. Most are too silly even to comment on, but a few possess the added distinction of mind-blowing stupidity. The other day, he sent me the one about President Obama’s dog; and this one, I just can’t resist.

You may have heard about the Prez’s pooch already. The story has gained traction thanks to the blog of Michelle Malkin, one of an endlessly breeding army of vitriolic pundits who get paid handsomely for ignoring whatever brain cells and scruples they own. You may recall that Malkin impugned the patriotism of those who dared question Arizona’s so-called immigration law – apparently not realizing that under its provisions, she herself could be detained as a suspected illegal because she “looks foreign”.

According to a post on her blog (she didn’t write it herself, but it bears her stamp of approval), the Obama family took a vacation to Maine and the first mutt, Bo, was flown on his own plane. Oh, the shame of it – wasting all that money when banks and oil companies are hurting so much. Accordingly, the right-wing blogosphere went apeshit, and the emails have been flying furiously ever since.

As with many Internet rumors, there is less to this story than meets the eye. And as with many bits of popular fiction, it resonates in part because it’s based on actual events. The Obamas really did take a vacation to Maine. And Bo really did fly on a separate plane. But the key word here is separate. He did NOT fly on his OWN plane. It was a plane that was already being used to transport White House staffers. Landing at an airport too small to accommodate a large plane, the presidential party traveled in two smaller ones instead.  Transporting the canine did not, contrary to Malkinoid rumor, entail any added expense. And the suggestion that it did betrays, at best, an utter lack of research.

This rumor is especially instructive because it illustrates how drastically a fact can be altered by omitting or changing just a word or two – and that’s a tack you’ll  see polemicists using over and over again. Take a perfectly accurate statement like “Michelle Malkin blew it on Obama’s dog.”  We could Malkinize it by omitting just two brief words and end up with “Michelle Malkin blew Obama’s dog.”  Interpreted in one way, this claim would imply an action that we could neither verify nor discredit. Yet read another way, it’s just a condensed version of the original statement, and so is still perfectly true – which makes it more accurate than the Malkinized story about Bo. So hey, why not forward it to everyone on your contact list.

But while rumors often get started with an omission, they tend to get embroidered with  new details as they gain momentum.  The version of the shaggy dog story that landed in my inbox, for instance, included the explanation that Muslims consider dogs unclean. (And we all know that Obama is a Muslim/socialist/Nazi/terrorist/atheist/Kenyan/Anti-Christ.) Similarly, one might embroider the Malkin rumor with the observation that some Asians find dogs very tasty.

Whenever  I hear from my distant relative, I can’t help thinking of him as a useful idiot. I know, it’s not nice to call people names. But the phrase isn’t mine, it’s a very old coinage (falsely attributed to Lenin) to describe a gullible person whose passions are easily aroused to serve a manipulator’s cause. The Malkinizers have a cause of promoting bigotry, and they have no shortage of useful idiots to do their bidding. Combating the misinformation they spread online is like taking on a whole nest full of hydras.

For my part, when it comes to taking the word of Michelle Malkin, or taking the word of Obama’s dog, I’ll take Bo any day.

The Great Tea Party Scam: The 5 Top Myths

As you may have noticed, the Tea Party is rapidly drying up. Well, maybe you haven’t noticed, since there isn’t nearly as much media fanfare about its demise as there was about its ascendancy. And let’s face it, the media hype hasn’t exactly been honest and accurate. In fact, few movements, if any, have ever depended more on deception to gain support. Here are the five most common myths you’ll hear about the tea brigade.

Myth # 1: It’s a new faction.
The Tea Party believes that taxes are evil, government regulation of business is evil, secularism is evil, and above all “liberals” are evil. And guns are supremely good. If this sounds familiar, it should. It’s the same sermon that radical Republicans have been preaching for years. So what exactly is new?

Myth # 2 : It represents a large segment of the American public.

Depending on the poll, as little as TWO PERCENT of the American public consider themselves members of the Tea Party (which in fact, is not even a single organization, but several groups sharing the same ideology). A larger percentage (25-30) of Americans have voiced support for some of the Tea Party’s stated objectives, but that covers a broad swath – and bear in mind that its claimed objectives and its actual objectives don’t necessarily mesh. The movement’s decline is probably due to the fact that people have discovered that Tea Partiers are really just radical Republicans in populist garb. Oh, and if you’ve ever enjoyed trying to find Waldo, you might want to study photos and videos of Tea Party rallies and attempt to spot minority faces.

Myth # 3 : It’s a grassroots movement.

The genuine grassroots movement is an endangered species these days, and the Tea Party is not exactly a preserve. Sure, there were a handful of “tea party” and “tax day” protests that sprang up spontaneously. That had been going on for years. But it didn’t become a full-blown movement, much less an official organization, until the media began loudly beating the drum – first right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin and then, immediately, Fox “News”, which has promoted Tea Party events relentlessly. (And by “promote”, we don’t just mean giving coverage to events that had already happened, but giving advance notice for future events and urging people to attend.)  One organization that got the kettle boiling was FreedomWorks (Notice how extremist groups like to co-opt noble words like freedom, liberty, and family?) This right-wing think tank is the brainchild of former congressman Dick Armey, a classic Texas Republican. Additionally, the movement has been heavily funded by a number of right-wing interests, including the billionaire Koch Brothers, who never spare any expense to provide the best democracy money can buy.

Myth # 4: They’re protesting higher taxes.

According to one poll, 44% of Tea Partiers believed that President Obama had raised their taxes, while 34% believed that he’d kept them about the same. Only 2% were aware (or just made a lucky guess) that he’d actually LOWERED their taxes. In fact, taxes in 2009 under Obama and the heavily Democratic Congress were the lowest they’d been since 1971 – that’s THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS, folks. Of course, that applies only to 98% of the population. Taxes indeed were increased on the richest 2% – which, by some wild coincidence, is the bracket to which the Tea Party masterminds belong.

Myth # 5: They’re doing what those guys in Boston did.

The protestors in Boston weren’t just opposing taxes. They were opposing a monopoly on tea that the crown had granted the British East India Company, the Wal-Mart of its day, which would have been able to jack up tea prices as high as it wanted. Given the fondness for unfettered corporatism demonstrated by today’s Tea Partiers, it’s likely that if those guys from Boston showed up at a Tea Party rally today, they’d be branded socialists and possibly subjected to violence.

So Why Are They Blaming the Nice Little Tea Party for Those Nasty Shootings?

Hardly had the cyber-ink dried (or whatever cyber-ink does) on the last post, touching upon the patriotic posturing of today’s right-wing zealots, when the news broke of the Tuscon tragedy and its repercussions. Whenever such an episode of gun violence occurs, there are at least two responses that are very predictable. First, the NRA and its cohorts will rush to the defense of whatever weapon was used, insisting that “guns don’t kill, people do” (apparently believing that all those bullets were fired by bare hands) – even though, thanks to their tireless efforts to make firearms easily available, the line between gun and gunman has become hopelessly blurred. And second, the media will try to fit the incident into some kind of pattern, some kind of narrative.

The big question that has been thrown around over and over again is this: were the assassin’s actions in some way attributable to the poisonous polemics that have become the norm in the American public forum?  Right-wingers, naturally, were quick to answer in the negative, and bolstered their case by pointing out that in addition to being fond of such right-wing reading matter as “Mein Kampf”, the gunman was also known to read Marx. So obviously he’s a librul, huh?

In fact, he doesn’t appear to have been particularly motivated by ideology at all. He was obviously quite disturbed, and theoretically the violence could have happened to anyone at any time, anywhere. But is it really just chance that the victims were a Democratic congresswoman and her supporters?  Or has right-wing invective been ratcheted up to the point that non-right-wingers are bound to be the target of violence? Considering that the gunman was so disturbed, isn’t it likely that he was susceptible to suggestion? And if he was exposed to media rhetoric at all (which is all but certain), isn’t it probable that he was exposed quite a bit to Fox “News” and other purveyors of the constant message that “liberals” are evil beings who must be exterminated?  So what’s so far-fetched about the suggestion that Palinesque polemic egged him on?

In just the first 3 months of 2010, there were 42 security threats against members of Congress. All were Democrats. Just coincidence? And the wording of the threats often echoed Tea Party talking points. Just coincidence? Gabrielle Giffords herself had previously been the object of many such threats. Still coincidence? The election of a black Democratic president has sparked such a spike in threats of violence that the Secret Service is too swamped to deal with them all. Mere coincidence? During the first few months of 2010, death threats against members of Congress rose by 300 %. Also coincidence?

The real question then is not whether hateful rhetoric actually did prompt the killings, but whether it might have; in other words, whether it might do so in the future. And we already know the answer to that question. There have been at least three attempted violent attacks on “liberal” figures that were directly inspired by the frenzied, deliberately misinformed rants of Glenn Beck alone. The murderer of  Dr. Tiller in Kansas apparently was inspired by Bill O’Reilly’s demonization of the victim as a “baby killer”.  A gunman who opened fire in a Tennessee church stated that he wanted to kill all 100 people singled out in a book by Bernard Goldberg, another talking headless at Fox. A Pittsburgh man who murdered three policemen was motivated by the fear that the government was going to take away his guns – a paranoid fantasy frequently peddled by Fox, which he watched regularly. And lest we forget, the Oklahoma City bomber was a right-wing radical who spouted the same “anti-government” (i.e., anti-Democratic) worldview as these media figures.

Nasty bickering over ideological differences is certainly nothing new. But today’s Republicanoid rhetoric has gone way, way WAY beyond incivility, beyond ridicule, beyond anger, even beyond hatred. It now operates in the realm of what is known as “eliminationism” – i.e., the attitude that those who disagree with you are very real threats to life and liberty who must be removed by any means necessary.

But that’s only half the equation. The other half is that this political faction is closely linked with a creepy subculture that glorifies, even idolizes, guns. Combine those two elements and you’re bound to have an explosion eventually. Is it really so far-fetched to think that even the shooter in Tuscon might have been to some degree influenced by this toxic brew?

Inevitably attached to the media discussion about nasty polemics is the knee-jerk defense that “both sides do it”. It just ain’t so, not by a long shot. Oh sure, you’ll occasionally find a left-winger who spews hatred, or who threatens or even commits violence. But with right-wingers it’s not just an occasional thing. It’s deliberate standard operating procedure, 24/7, day after day after day after day. And there’s nothing the least bit subtle about it. Keith Olbermann, who’s generally regarded as the most strident pundit on the left, actually apologized for something he’d said that might be taken to be hateful. The day Beck or Limbaugh or Coulter or O’Reilly or Hannity or Malkin does that, better take cover to avoid being smothered by the droppings from all the flying pigs. In a truly bizarre twist of irony, one of the Arizona shooting victims who vented his rage against a Tea Party official by making a threat similar to what Tea Partiers make with impunity on a routine basis, was arrested and submitted to psychiatric evaluation.

Only one side routinely brings guns, and signs (some mass-produced) promising to use them, to political rallies. Only one side has leaders and revered mouthpieces who routinely say things like  “I tell people, don’t kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus – living fossils.” (Rush Limbaugh) Or “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.” (Ann Coulter). Or “Members of Congress) ought to be lined up and shot. I’m talking about the liberal leadership.” (Duke Cunningham, former CA congressman) Or “You know, it took me about a year to start hating the 9-11 victims’ families”. (Glenn Beck) Or “We are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism.” (Randall Terry of Operation Rescue) Or “Now if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they’re going to be wearing bulletproof vests.” (G. Gordon Liddy, felon turned talk show host) Or “So keep your guns, and buy more guns, and buy ammunition. Take back America.” (Kitty Werthmann, speaker at the “How to Take Back America Conference” in St. Louis) Or “Let’s talk a minute about ‘well-regulated militia’ and why you might need one because the government isn’t doing their job”. (Glenn Beck) Or “If ballots don’t work, bullets will.” (Joyce Kaufman, radio commentator and Tea Party speaker)

When called on the carpet for such remarks, these characters often insist that they were just joking – even though jokes generally are at least marginally funny. Freud would have a field day analyzing how their “humor” is almost always expressed in the vocabulary of violence and hatred.

Another thing you can predict with uncanny accuracy is that whenever the extremists get called out for their hatemongering, they will deny, spin, evade and – inevitably – shift the blame to “liberals”.  Before the shooting, Sarah Palin urged her followers to “reload”, and put images of crosshairs with names on a map. Afterward, she insisted that they were not really crosshairs at all; and yet she promptly took them off her site -why was that? The predictable reply is that she didn’t want anyone to misinterpret after the fact. But wouldn’t it have been just as easy for someone to “misinterpret” before the fact? And then, ever the hand-wringing victim of the “lamestream media” (which in fact promoted her like the greatest thing since toothpaste, even before she became one of its highly paid components), she raged about how libruls were out to get her with “blood libel” – a term that probably was not deliberately offensive, but just typically clueless.

Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh declared that the assassin had the full support of the Democratic Party (even though the prime victim was one of their own).  The head of the Tuscon Tea Party said that getting shot was Giffords’ own damn fault. Media talking heads lambasted “liberals” for supposedly exploiting this tragedy for political gain – even while the Tea Party Express was evoking the incident in fundraising emails. Many suggested that the whole thing might not have happened if only libruls hadn’t tried so hard to take away our guns, and everyone at Safeway had had one so we could’ve had a good old-fashioned Arizona shootout. (In fact, Arizona has some of the most lax gun laws in the universe, and firearms there are more abundant than rattlesnakes.) Bill O’Reilly, who apparently never listens to his own network or even his own words, fumed at those who dared question his brand of discourse as “merchants of hate” whose actions are “unprecedented”.

In my endless exploration of propaganda, I recently came across a website that promises “conservative commentary with an edge” (Is there any other kind of “conservative” commentary these days?) on which the moderator indignantly denied that any leading right-wing politicians had uttered incendiary statements. I promptly enlightened him about a few that readily came to mind, including Tea Party fanatic Sharron Angle, who very nearly was elected senator in Nevada after urging voters to “take out” Harry Reid and mentioned “Second Amendment remedies” as an option when you don’t get what you want. Well sir, he really went on a tear then, declaring that I was obviously one of them moon-eyed libruls, and I was quoting her out of context because she clearly was referring to arming yourself in general  against guvmint tyranny (such as, oh, the current administration) and  meant that you should FIRST try to take out Reid at the voting booth, and how could I be such an idiot as to think she was actually encouraging violence against elected American officials. Despite the well-demonstrated futility of attempting a real discussion with a frothy-mouthed ideologue, I couldn’t resist asking just, um, what country he thought “Second Amendment remedies” alluded to, anyway.

Within days of the massacre, as Gabrielle Giffords lay fighting for her life, fans of Sarah Palin weighed in on a Facebook page, and one had this to say about the 9-year-old girl murdered in the attack: “Christina Taylor Green was probably going to end up a left wing bleeding-heart liberal anyway. Hey, as “they” say, what would you do if you had the chance to kill Hitler as a kid? Exactly.” If you think the other commentators reprimanded her, think again. The next comment was about how “liberals are gong to use this as an excuse to take away all guns.” These folks haven’t just drunk the Kool-Aid, they’ve been baptized in it by total immersion. And sooner or later you have to wonder what kind of ideology would attract such life forms in such large numbers. For while it’s certainly not fair to judge any group by its dregs, these sentiments are all too typical of what you hear expressed at Tea Party gatherings, and by the faction’s political and media leaders.

For a very short time, it looked like there was going to be an era of civility, sanity and mutual respect in the wake of this tragedy. (Even Glenn Beck posted an appeal to stand against violence – next to a photo of himself brandishing a pistol in an attack-ready pose. You think we’re making this up?)  But needless to say, it was very short-lived. The venomous rhetoric will continue, and so will the violence and threats of violence. It’s just too profitable to give up. Eventually, there probably will be a massacre on a much larger scale, and odds are that such an incident might include a right-winger or two among its victims, if only by sheer chance. Then and only then, perhaps, they’ll finally start to look at the root of the problem. And they’ll no doubt conclude that it must be gay marriage.