Wednesday, September 30, 2009

You say you want a revolution?

A columnist for Newsmax wrote a blog entry on the website the other day (since removed) in which he asserted that President Obama's behavior may result in a military coup as a means of solving the "Obama problem." The "problem," according to the author, is that Obama is installing a Marxist state.

Media Matters notes that this military coup fantasy is part of a larger pattern of revolutionary rhetoric from within the conservative movement.

This increasingly violent, revolutionary rhetoric coupled with the apocalyptic fears completely detached from any kind of objective view of reality leads me to suspect that for such hardcore movement conservatives there simply is no such thing as a legitimate government that is not run/dominated by leaders they view as part of their In-group. That's why I've been calling this phenomenon conservative supremacism.

I'm also pleased (sarcasm) to see the Newmax writer using the same Orwellian tactics that Lanny Davis used to defend the military coup in Honduras. That is to say, using the military to overturn the results of an election is characterized as a lamentably necessary means of saving democracy and the Constitution.

Is there any kind of bigotry Glenn Beck doesn't excel at?

Taking a minor pause from attempting to "refound" America in order to save it from evil, nefarious Marxist "liberal fascists," aka "progressives," Beck took a moment to demonize secularists, atheists, and in general people who believe in the separation of church and state, blaming them for the murder of a Chicago teen who was beat to death by a gang.

After rolling footage of the incident, with numerous people standing around and watching as the teen is killed, Beck asks

How have we arrived at this place? What has caused this?

Is it capitalism that has failed here? Is it the evil greedy corporations? Is it because there's no cap-and-trade or universal health care? Or not enough social justice? Is it because of Republicans or Democrats? Or is it the fact that, just like some our new money, God is no longer imprinted on America.

Instead of being held up, God is being taken down.

The 10 Commandments at a courthouse? That's horrible — take it down! "Thou shall not kill" — too controversial! Can't pray in school; can't sing Christmas carols — that's all offensive.
Then he moves on to blame atheists in particular

According to a survey, a group now being called "religious nones" (as opposed to atheist?) are on the rise. They project that one quarter of Americans could claim "no religion" in the next 20 years. Right now those who claim "no religion" make up 15 percent of the country and are the fastest growing religious group.

So if those who don't believe in God are growing, what do they fill the void with? Stuff; things; power; careers; celebrities; politicians... government.

Government will solve all of your problems. Put your faith in them, not God.

Barack Obama — remember the Hope poster? — put your hope in him; he'll save you.
Right, got it. Atheists worship the Dear Leader, bowing at the alter of Government. Atheists are to blame for teens getting murdered; if only we ignore the First Amendment and its guarantee of freedom of conscience and used the government to impose religion on citizens via schools, the courts, and all of our money then this wouldn't have happened.

Beck, constitutional authority that he is, goes on to assert that what made America unique among countries was that "we recognized God's authority and said so in our Constitution." At which point he quotes the Declaration of Independence; there is no mention of God in the Constitution.

I've covered this before, but no one tops the oratory skills of Robert Green Ingersoll, who can explain to Beck that both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were revolutionary in the fact that they took "God" out of the government.

As to atheists and secularism causing violence, this is simply scapegoating that has no basis in any kind of actual study of reality. (Beck might want to ponder why European nations that are notably more "godless" than the United States have lower rates of violence.)

An example of conservative supremacism

National Review writer John Derbyshire apparently dreams about ending women's suffrage. Why? Because they don't vote the way John Derbyshire wants them to vote. Derbyshire joins the illustrious ranks of Neal Boortz and Ann Coulter in seeking to disenfranchise people for political reasons.

Anyone who finds such a desire seductive should spend some time with Thomas Paine.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More on the dishonesty behind the attacks on ACORN

That's Rachel Maddow again examining how a politically motivated desire to frame ACORN for voter fraud is behind efforts to demonize the organization. This is important to remember as ACORN is now being cited in an attempt to delegitimize the election of Al Franken to the Senate.

Meanwhile, Anonymous Liberal has written another good post about the inherent dishonesty involved in the production of the ACORN "sting" videos. He makes one of the same points that I have made about them. Quoting myself:

Look: As noted before, the purpose of the ACORN "sting" operations engaged in by Giles and O'Keefe was not journalism, but propaganda. There is no context. If they were doing journalism they might have attempted to provide evidence that there is systemic tax fraud going on at ACORN offices, or that any such incidents as the fictional scenario they came up with ever actually happens. (Or even have revealed that the Philadephia office they tried the scam on turned them into the police.)

But they can't do it, because I'm guessing the number of times a pimp walks into an ACORN office with his prostitute girlfriend and asks for tax advice about his underage illegal immigrant brothel is about zero. Which is why the libertarian in me gets so annoyed with these sorts of "stings": people shouldn't be manipulated into committing a crime that they would not normally commit. And if you've ever watched any of the gotcha/surprise reality shows, it's easy enough to put someone in some absurd situation and manufacture a desired outcome (e.g. Zach Braff furiously cussed out a twelve year old boy on an episode of Punk'd and seemed to be pretty close to wanting to hit the kid).
Now here's A.L., who makes the point I was trying to above, but in a more articulate fashion, while also raising another important point about how people are likely to react when confronted directly with potentially criminal behavior.

What O'Keefe and Giles are doing isn't quite entrapment, but it isn't remotely the equivalent of a sting either, unless you assume that ACORN employees are routinely confronted with fake-looking pimp and prostitute duos who come into the office asking for advice on how to set up a prostitution business. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that real pimps and prostitutes don't usually wander into the offices of community services organizations and explicitly ask for help in setting up their illegal businesses. It's a safe bet that none of the employees filmed surreptitiously in these videos have ever encountered a situation like this before. So all these videos really show are people's instant reactions to a situation far removed from their everyday experience and training.

That's why the comparison to Sasha Baron Cohen is so apt. When confronted by very unusual behavior or unusual situations, people have a tendency to be agreeable and to play along. Most people don't like confrontation and will instinctively go to great lengths to avoid it. If you doubt this, go watch Borat or Bruno or any episode of the Ali G Show. It is this same human tendency that serves as the basis for all of Cohen's comedy. He specializes in getting people (often famous people) to say things that they would not normally say.

What you say on the spot, when confronted with an unusual request, is a very poor indicator of your overall judgment. It's just your instant reaction, and it is usually driven, more than anything else, by a desire to avoid an awkward situation or a confrontation. This is especially true when you are confronted with possible criminal activity; many people are understandably reluctant to confront criminals about their criminal activity to their face, especially when you are alone with them. Better to placate them and then figure out what to do after they are they are gone.
He then notes that one of the employees who the two filmers are using to say ACORN organizationally encourages criminal activity actually did contact the police after they left his office.

Another point he makes is worth looking at

ACORN employees are trained to help poor people (the vast majority of whom are not criminals) deal with common problems. So, at worst, what you have here are examples of employees who, eager to help whomever comes through the door, offered to help people whom they should not have (and without a promise of anything in return). There's no quid pro quo even alleged. And again, what's captured on film are not final decisions, but instant reactions.
I find this point particularly relevant to the Brooklyn video, in which the employee was clearly being emotionally manipulated in an effort to manufacture propaganda.

Heinous speculation

Remember the tragic story of Bill Sparkman?

William E. Sparkman Jr. was a 51-year-old single father who once battled Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma while he pursued his teaching degree, according to a March 2008 article profiling the London, Kentucky man.

Sparkman worked two jobs while he earned his degree and was treated for cancer.

Sparkman worked as substitute teacher and a census taker for the U.S. Census Bureau. He was found dead Sunday, Sept. 13, with the word "fed" scrawled onto his chest, according to a law enforcement source.
While there has been some possibly premature speculation (including on my part) that Sparkman's death may have been the result of anti-government sentiment or drug related crime, two individuals in particular have engaged in irresponsible and defamatory speculation.

Dr. Steven Taylor marvels at this one

I have thus far avoided commenting on the murder of census worker Bill Sparkman, because we simply do not have all the facts yet. The lack of sufficient facts has not stopped many others from engaging in quite a bit of wild speculation—and it is one such incidence of wild speculation that draws my attention for this post.

Writing for World Net Daily Roger Hedgecock (talk radio host, sometimes Rush Limbaugh guest host, and former mayor of San Diego), spins a pretty wild theory: Dead Census worker: Victim of open borders?

Hedgecock’s reasoning (so to speak)? Well it goes something like this: lots of national forest land in California has been known to be used to cultivate drugs. Some of that drug cultivation has been linked to Mexican drug gangs. Ergo, Sparkman’s death in Kentucky on national park land might be linked to illegal immigration!
That's right, Sparkman's death was the result (maybe) of those darn criminal Mexicans that liberals keep letting into the country. If you read the article, you'll see Hedgecock was clearly motivated to find a politically convenient group to blame so as to counter speculation that Sparkman's death was the result of anti-government sentiment.

The other one goes well beyond using a tragic death to further turn Mexican immigrants into a bogeyman and instead defames the victim himself! And unlike Hedgecock, who at least has a shaky chain of reasoning to base his speculation upon, Dan Riehl's despicable speculation has no basis in evidence, although he too seems motivated by a desire to counter speculation that anti-government sentiment may have played a role in Sparkman's death.

I haven't written much about the case of the census taker found hanged in Kentucky with "Fed" written on his chest. Yes, it might be an example of overblown right-wing paranoia over census takers being fomented by demagogues like Michele Bachmann. Or it might not. Hell, this is rural Kentucky. It might be moonshiners, drug dealers or just plain crazy people behind it. Until we have some actual evidence, I see little reason to speculate.

But conservative blogger Dan Riehl has his speculation machine fired up. What possible reason did his mind fix on based on the data? That the victim, Bill Sparkman, might be a child predator. you can tell by the headline:

Was Census Worker Bill Sparkman A Child Predator?


He was an Eagle Scout and a scoutmaster. He wasn't married. Ergo, he might be a child molester? Seriously? I think this kind of idiotic speculation says far more about Riehl's delusions than it does about Sparkman's reality.
And more than it says about Riehl, it says something about the way that people who have little credibility and employ reckless thinking for ideological purposes are elevated to positions of status in the conservative media, not inspite of such behavior, but because of it.

Dan Riehl is one of the blogs that Michelle Malkin routinely links to in order to buttress whatever outrageous, silly, or wrongheaded point she's trying to make; and Riehl has even appeared on Fox News despite incidents like this (itself inspired by Michelle Malkin.) Roger Hedgecock routinely makes absurd, ideologically motivated claims which is why he gets to guest host Rush Limbaugh's radio program.

Being wrong isn't a hindrance, it's a career maker.

Assassination fodder

I've been tryin to think of an apt metaphor to help describe why I (and others - most notably, Dave Neiwert) believe that the extremist rhetoric which has become normalized as mainstream conservative rhetoric contributes to the breakdown of democratic discourse and increases the likelihood that such rhetoric will translate into acts of politically motivated violence.

I think I've settled on the metaphor of global warming and hurricane intensity. While we can not know with certainty that any particular hurricane intensity is the result of warming, we can expect that warming will tend to increase the intensity of hurricanes. Likewise, while any particular act of violence may not be linked with certainty to extremist rhetoric (also noting that an individual's behavior will have multiple interlinked causal factors) we can surmise that such rhetoric will increase the potential for politically motivated violence. I say surmise because unlike with global warming, this is not hard science, but conjecture; but if you've read Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners it's hard to escape the conclusion that it's well founded conjecture.

Which is why I'm willing to call the rhetoric of a member of Congress, who denies the citizenship of the first black American president (who happens to have a foreign sounding name) and labels him "un-American," calling him an "enemy of humanity" at the Christian nationalist "Take Back America" conferance, assasination fodder.

It was Obama's reversal of the "Mexico city" policy that urned the ire of Trent Franks, who accused the President of being dangerously godless and said that he should have "no place in any station of government." The rule reversed by Obama was one instituted by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, in which both presidents used the power of the Executive branch to impose their personal religious views on others by refusing to allow funding for international agencies which provide family planning services. See here for my previous commentary on the policy; and here where I note the irony of those who militantly seek to reduce the reproductive rights of women calling their oppenents "Nazis."

When we have a member of Congress speaking to an extremist Christian nationalist conferance that seeks to "Take Back America" from America's supposedly "first Muslim president," who is helping to bring about the New World Order, admonishing audience members to stock up on guns in preparation for "bloody battle" with Obama the Marxist Nazi, we have someone with the prestige of the United States Congress mainstreaming the sort of apocalyptic rhetoric that animates extremists to go out and kill.

"That's the nature of these people"

Who are these people? Black people? Nope. "ACORN people."

Who just happen to be black.

The quote in the post title comes from a disturbing video which features an angry white guy and wife chasing after a trio of black people shouting at them that they're ACORN frauds and what not.

Dave Neiwert describes the video (linked in the link above) as such

One People's Project has the full-length version of this video, taken from the big 912 rally in Washington, D.C., showing a middle-aged white man and his Asian wife chasing after and harassing a trio of black people -- primarily two teenagers and an adult guardian (possibly their mother) who were selling "Don't Tread on Me" flags along the long grassy mall.

As you can see, the man -- who identifies himself as Tim Jones -- shouts after them: "ACORN! These people are ACORN!!! They are frauds!!! ACORN is fraud!!! Obama sucks! This woman sells signs for profit of ACORN!!"

It attracts more harassers, and it verges on the point of an outbreak of violence when the D.C. bicycle police show up and break up the scene.
And goes on to ask

The bigger question is: Why target African Americans when there are are hundreds of vendors at these things? And why assume that they have anything to do with ACORN?

Because, to the teabaggers, ACORN is synonymous with scary black people. The kind who, in the minds of Glenn Beck and his followers, are lurking, waiting to overthrow America when Obama orders them to. (Even if they later turn out to be a dance troupe.)
Neiwert concludes by noting that "ACORN" seems to have become an epithet which has the functional equivalency of the 'N' word. That certainly appears to be the case in the video. And having grown up in the South, I must say that hearing/seeing the angry white man in the video address a black teenage male as "boy" in such a tone of voice is fairly offensive. (Indeed, the older woman accompanying him, apparently his mother, is angered to the point of violence shortly after that remark.)

This gets back to an idea I've had for several years now that forms of prejudice that once animated conservative politics which are no longer socially acceptable have survived by becoming more generic. Yet, maintaining a structural similarity to the original form of bigotry, the more generic meme can still serve to transmit prejudice. For instance, instead of blaming Jews for destroying Christmas, blame communists, then liberals, then "s-ps." As you transition from Jews to s-ps the apparent bigotry lessens at each step.

I explored this notion at length in my post noting how Bill O'Reilly's demonization of "s-ps" serves to transmit more obviously prejudiced forms of bigotry. (And for a related process, see this post.)

In this case: instead of hating black people you can hate "ACORN people" (who just happen to almost always be identified with black people.) Arthur Goldwag noted something similar in response to a comment I made about the structural similarity of Glenn Beck's conspiracy theories which posit ACORN at the head of a plot to overthrow American democracy to traditionally bigoted conspiracy theory.

Not to plug my book, but in the sections on the Illuminati and the Council on Foreign Relations (which to this bunch is a secret society), I wrote about some of Beck’s predecessors. Building on the conspiratorial writings of Nesta Webster (which drew extensively on Augustin Barruel’s and John Robinson’s 18th century anti-Mason tracts), the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and a thoroughly caricatured and tendentious appropriation of Carroll Quigley’s scholarship about the Cecil Rhodes circle, writers like Gary Allen, Joseph Welch, Willis Carto, Myron C. Fagan, Cleon Skousen and others connected the dots from Satan through the Jews, the Jews through the Masons, and the Masons through Woodrow Wilson, the billionaire architects of the Federal Reserve (who oddly enough also underwrote Bolshevism) and the One Worlders at the UN.

Not all of them were explicitly anti-Semitic, but anti-Semitism provided a strong impetus for their theorizing. The comparatively philo-Semitic Robert Welch wrote that anti-Semitism was yet another Communist plot, designed to distract attention from their own sinister agenda and bring discredit on anti-Communists (”Lenin himself did what he could to have himself and his fellow Communists of the Jewish race hated more as Jews than as Communists).” Now that the standard bearer for liberalism is black, it stands to reason that the right wing conspiracist cast of villains will be darker-hued. In a sense SEIU and ACORN are Cadillac-driving welfare mothers writ large–only now they don’t just steal nickels and dimes from hard working white Americans but have the power to expropriate everything they have.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Today's discount book purchase

The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam (hc) by Barbara Tuchman for 1 dollar.

You might recall that I had begun reading and blogging this back in Aug. 07. As usual, my eyes were larger than my brain, and having checked out more books than I could finish before their return date, I ended up having to return the library copy I had checked out well before I finished it. (I never got past the skimming phase, in actuality.) When I went to recheck the book out the library no longer had a copy. I suspect that particular copy was sold at a library book sale.

So I was lucky enough to have someone donate a different copy to the library (my copy is a used book but not a retired library book) which I was then able to aquire.

Belief versus evidence: torture doesn't work

From Scott Horton

Advocates often portray torture, like waterboarding, as black magic that quickly enables the interrogator to break through his subject’s defenses and force him to divulge the location of the bomb that will destroy Los Angeles. But what does the scientific literature say? A 2006 Intelligence Science Board flatly noted that there was no data supporting the claim that torture produces reliable results. The 372-page report would be summed up by this passage: “The scientific community has never established that coercive interrogation methods are an effective means of obtaining reliable intelligence information. In essence, there seems to be an unsubstantiated assumption that ‘compliance’ carries the same connotation as ‘meaningful cooperation.’ ” In other words, waterboard someone or smack his head against the wall, and sure enough, he’ll open up and talk. But does that mean you’ll get reliable info that you couldn’t have gotten using more conventional techniques? Absolutely not. Dick Cheney insisted that two CIA analytical reports (that he apparently pressed to have prepared) concluded that his torture techniques rendered positive results. But these reports were declassified and published, and lo, they don’t say what he claimed they do.

Now another important contribution to the scientific literature has appeared. Irish neurobiologist Shane O’Mara of Trinity College Dublin, writing in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, takes a special look at the Bush Administration’s enhanced interrogation techniques:

the use of such techniques appears motivated by a folk psychology that is demonstrably incorrect. Solid scientific evidence on how repeated and extreme stress and pain affect memory and executive functions (such as planning or forming intentions) suggests these techniques are unlikely to do anything other than the opposite of that intended by coercive or ‘enhanced’ interrogation.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Smear is their product

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

The report featured in the discussion above can be viewed here.

This also reminds of Island of Doubt's observation that the same people spreading disinformation about global warming are the same people spreading disinformation about health insurance reform.

The post title is an alllusion, of course, to this.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Skeptic blog recommendation

Noticing that Arthur Goldwag noticed my excerpting of his book, I see that he has a thoughtful skeptic blog which covers much the same area as the book.

I bookmarked it.

Beck almost says it

Yesterday, when I heard Glenn Beck say that he'd be discussing President Obama's address to the U.N. with John Bolton, I already knew what to expect. As Dave Neiwert has noted previously, when Beck and Bolton get together to talk about such things, they come pretty close to talking about New World Order conspiracy theory without flat out saying it.

I kind of missed the phrase "New World Order"; though Beck hasn't hesitated to promote the NWO theories previously, in all these cases he scrupulously avoids the phrase, even when his content is straight from NWO theorizers. But other than that, this was a classic piece of Patriot-movement propaganda. Especially the part about the "range of issues."
Which is why I thought it significant when during the segment Beck said to Bolton that President Obama is moving the United States towards "One world order."

Of course, checking You Tube to find this particular clip (it's not there yet, as far as I can tell), I see that Neiwert isn't entirely correct.

And here's the transcript from a day before (I believe) the clip above.

You add global finance, France, the UN, Russia, China has asked for a global currency. France said yesterday or day before, new world order. One financial system needs to come out of this. Last night for the first time ever all the central banks globalized and they all made one move together and they're all now saying we need to meet, we need to control the globe's financing. The UN is talking about a UN financial network. One currency. You add to the disenfranchisement now, what is it, 79% of Americans are Christian? How many of those actually still believe in the resurrection, how many believe still really in the return of Christ? 50%? 40%? I don't know, but it's large, that actually say, you know, there is some day where all these things are going to come true. Well, one world finance, one world currency, new world order, going to spook the bejesus out of those people.
Update: Unrelated to Beck's new world order conspiracism, but equally demonstrative of his derangment, in his new book, Beck asserts that Woodrow Wilson and FDR (and Tiger Woods) are bigger "bastards" than Hitler, Pontius Pilate, Pol Pot, and Robert Mugabe. Keith Olbermann is worse than Hitler; Teddy Roosevelt and Bernie Madoff are listed as worse than Mugabe and Pol Pot.

Yes, this is supposed to funny. But it's not. The Tiger Woods bit falls flat; the rest is humor predicated on the assumption that the audience hates the targets of the "joke" as much as Beck does.

Update II: I'd be remissing in not reminding who it is that Beck believes is busy facilitating this "one world order": ACORN.

That video above is just unbelievable, unbelievable that it was broadcast on what is supposed to be a mainstream tv network. It could just as easily fit in here, with these other fringe/lunatic conspiracy theories (Someone left that link in response to a Ron Paul post I wrote.) Really, let's think about this: Beck is floating the idea that the economic meltdown was manufactured by ACORN as part of a 40+ year plot to usher in a socialist government and that Obama is ACORN's Manchurian frontman of the conspiracy.

That's just as crazy as any other conspiracy about sinister forces secretly working behind the scenes to control the fate of the world. ACORN plays the role in Beck's conspiracy that Jews, Illuminati, Masons, or the Bilderbergs play in other paranoid, New World Order type conspiracies.
So to recap Beck's worldview: a thuggish/totalitarian, murderous minority/poor advocacy agency with incredible powers is working to crash the American government by "overwhelming the system" in order to install a Marxist government headed by a black nationalist backed by a Marxist black nationalist army of brownshirts* (in reality a highschool dance group), ultimately a step towards creating a one world government. The money behind this plot is fronted by George Soros (Jewish international financier) and the mastermind is Saul Alinsky (Jewish radical.)

I don't believe for one second that Beck understands the implications of the above (I think he's too dumb, to be honest) but this sort of secularized scapegoating and conspiratorial thinking plays to volatile and divisive emotions.

It's easy to see how this sort of rhetoric can draw extremists into his audience, confirming their worst fears and serving (in their minds) to legitimize their own bigoted beliefs.

*Don't expect the notion of fascist Marxists to make sense.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Was a census worker lynched?

The AP is reporting that a census worker has been found hanged to death.

WASHINGTON — The FBI is investigating the hanging death of a U.S. Census worker near a Kentucky cemetery, and a law enforcement official told The Associated Press the word 'fed" was scrawled on the dead man's chest.

The body of Bill Sparkman, a 51-year-old part-time Census field worker and occasional teacher, was found Sept. 12 in a remote patch of the Daniel Boone National Forest in rural southeast Kentucky. The Census has suspended door-to-door interviews in rural Clay County, where the body was found, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Investigators are still trying to determine whether the death was a killing or a suicide, and if a killing, whether the motive was related to his government job or to anti-government sentiment.
If this was a homicide, is it possible that the person(s) responsible for this thought they were fighting oppression.

A previously undisclosed discount book purchase

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith (hc) by Jon Krakauer for one dollar.

I bought this about a month or so ago, but didn't think to mention it as I already own a copy which I have read. I got this one as a gift for someone who had mentioned in passing how strange the origins of Mormonism are.

This is actually one of the most interesting books on religion I've read. It is a case study examination of two Mormon fundamentalist brothers who kill their sister-in-law and niece on what they believe to be the order of God; the story cuts between details relating to the murder and Mormonism's early history of authoritarian violence.

For more on the book, see Robert Wright's review.

In July 1984, in a Utah town called American Fork, Dan Lafferty entered the home of his brother Allen, who was at work, and killed Allen's wife and 15-month-old daughter. Dan, now serving a life sentence, has no remorse about the murders and no trouble explaining them. His older brother, Ron, who assisted in the crime and is now on death row, had received a revelation from God mandating that Brenda and Erica Lafferty be ''removed'' so that, as God put it, ''my work might go forward.'' Brenda Lafferty, a spunky 24-year-old, had been bad-mouthing polygamy and in other ways impeding the fundamentalist mission that had seized Ron and Dan.

Parallels between the Lafferty brothers and Islamic terrorists aren't obvious, and Krakauer doesn't explore them very explicitly. The author of ''Into Thin Air,'' the best-selling account of death on Mount Everest, he is essentially a narrative writer. He mentions Osama bin Laden near the beginning and end of the book and leaves it for readers to draw their own conclusions, with some help from the book jacket's reference to ''Taliban-like theocracies in the American heartland.''

Still, by setting Mormon fundamentalism in its historical and scriptural context, and by powerfully illuminating Dan Lafferty's mind, Krakauer provides enough raw material for a seminar on post-9/11 questions. What drives people toward fundamentalism, and then toward violence? Where is the line between religious fanaticism and insanity? How heavy is the influence of religious history, in particular scripture, as opposed to the material conditions of modern life?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Excerpt of the day

From Cults, Conspiracies, & Secret Societies: The Straight Scoop on Freemasons, the Illuminati, Skull & Bones, Black Helicopters, the New World Order, and many, many more by Arthur Goldwag

While psychologists may be able to identify specific clinical pathologies in the thought patterns and behavior of the conspiracy-minded, for me the hallmark of the conspiracist personality is its naive religiosity, which is surprisingly akin to the all-encompassing, steadfast piety of very young children. Children and conspiracy theorists are philosophical occasionalists, in that they believe that everything that ever happens is an occasion for a transcendent power (God, proponents of One-World government) to impose its will. They are magical thinkers (if I step on this crack, I'll break my mother's back) and obsessive pattern seekers (if a Rothschild handled Cecil Rhodes's money, then Rhodes scholars must all be Zionists). They accept that appearances can be deceiving (a frog may turn out to be a prince; Hillary Clinton is really a Jewish lesbian named Rodenhurst) and never doubt for a moment that someone, somewhere, can provide the answer to any question, not matter how vexing (a parent, a pastor, a third-party political candidate). Not that there aren't significant differences between children and conspiracists. Children forgive and forget; conspiracists store up their grudges and grievances and keep them fresh for centuries.

Quoting the Roman poet Archilocus's aphorism that "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing," the philosopher Isaiah Berlin famously contrasted the intellectual styles of pluralists and monists. If conspiracists were intellectuals, they would be hedgehogs, but they're not usually thinkers - they're people of faith, more often than not, and usually of a fundamentalist bent. The object of their faith is not necessarily religious (though it frequently is) - I am referring to the manner of their believing rather than its contents. Uncritical and credulous in regard to their own authoritative texts, dogmatic and literal-minded in the ways they interpret them, conspiracists attribute those same qualities to their adversaries. Not only do they grant credence to outrageous libels - for example that the Talmud instructs Jews to defraud gentiles, or that Jesuits pledge to murder as many Protestants as they possibly can; they take it for granted that all Jews and Jesuits would honor such unholy covenants. Instead of dismissing the blasphemous writings of occultists out of hand, the conspiracist fears them; stranger still, he believes them. Because the conspiracist is God-fearing, he sees the hoofprints of Satan everywhere.

...As illustrated by innumerable Zen parables, the ability not just to tolerate but to revel in mystery and ambiguity is a signature of enlightenment - an attribute no conspiracist, for all the priveleged knowledge he or she claims to possess, can lay claim to.

"The only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing," said Socrates. Conspiracism is the delusion that one knows everything.

Not entirely honest

In my post chastising Time magazine for white-washing the extremism and intellectual dishonesty of Glenn Beck, I linked to a post by Eric Boehlert observing that the last time a president was hated this much by the "right-wing" a president was killed: JFK.

While that may be the case, it's also misleading, as JFK's killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was not a "right-winger" but was instead a communist who had previously attempted to kill a member of the John Birch Society. (I'm not sure why this didn't occur to me at the time I posted it, but sure enough, it came to me while I was away from a computer.)

I have removed the link from that post and linked to this post as explanation.

For more on Oswald and his motivations, see here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

L. Ron Hubbard's conspiratorial mind

"Our enemies on this planet are less than twelve men. They are members of the Bank of England and other higher financial circles. They own and control newspaper chains and they are oddly enough directors in all the mental health groups in the world which have sprung up." - L. Ron Hubbard, quoted by Arthur Goldwag in Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies

Notice that this is a variant of New World Order/one world government conspiracy which substitutes psychiatrists for the role played by Jews, Masons, or Illuminati, etc.

It's not surprising then, that a business disguised as a religion founded by Hubbard would teach its adherents that psychiatrists caused the Holocaust and are out to rule the world.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Is there anyone sane working at Fox News?

If there is, what intellectual leaps and hurdles those individuals must be capable of, to rationalize working at a network that has unleashed this madman on America.

That's Glenn Beck saying that President Obama is at the head of a communist revolution conspiracy which links him to ACORN, SEIU, Woodrow Wilson, Saul Alinsky, and Che Guevera.

What evidence does Beck have to link them? Well, he drew a tree, put all their names inside the tree and drew lines connecting them. Since Che Guevera is a murderous Marxist radical and Glenn Beck connected Obama, Alinsky, et al to him by literally drawing a line connecting them on a chalk board, Obama is in the process of implementing a totalitarian communist revolution. QED.

And Woodrow Wilson and the Students for a Democratic Society are the same thing. The air tight evidence? Beck wrote SDS above Wilson's name.

And since Beck has connected the "progressive" Wilson to the "progressive" Obama, we can expect Obama will soon start putting critics in prison for sedition. Beck conveniently forgot to mention that the "Red Scare" was a major impetus for repression during the Wilson administration; a minor detail, I suppose, when it comes to portraying Obama and Wilson as both being agents of a century long conspiracy to foment a communist revolution in the United States. Plus, we all know "liberal fascists" like, say, Walter Karp absolutely love Woodrow Wilson.

Beck does have a point, however. I remember not too long ago when a couple of prominent progressives - Michelle Malkin and Ben Shapiro - were calling to prosecute Al Gore for sedition under the same statute Woodrow Wilson used against his opponents. In his full article featured at the Marxist propaganda outlet, Shapiro, after warning his readers not to "buy into the slogan" freedom of speech, suggested that maybe putting Bush critics in concentration camps would be necessary to win the "war on terror."

Beck must have forgotten to pencil his frequent guest Malkin into the "tree of revolution."

Update: You can see the influence Beck's intellectual hero Cleon Skousen has had on him by listening to this lecture about new world order conspiracy theory. (h/t Rod Dreher)

Update II: Dr. Steven Taylor at Poliblog notes the similarity in style between Beck and End Times evangelists like Hal Lindsey and Jack Van Impe.

The style is one of breathless revelation of what is presented as complex and hidden truths that become obvious once sufficient light is cast upon them by a sufficiently savvy interlocutor. Ultimately it became a mix of half-truths, obfuscation, exaggeration, and seeming knowledge–all of which would take too much time for most people to even bother trying to sort out.

Quote of the day

"If one were to watch Fox News or listen to Rush Limbaugh -- as millions do -- one would believe that the burden of the ordinary American taxpayer, and the unfair plight of America's rich, is that their money is being stolen by the poorest and most powerless sectors of the society. An organization whose constituencies are often-unregistered inner-city minorities, the homeless and the dispossesed is depicted as though it's Goldman Sachs, Blackwater, and Haillburton combined, as though Washington officials are in thrall to those living in poverty rather than those who fund their campaigns. It's not the nice men in the suits doing the stealing but the very people, often minorities or illegal immigrants, with no political or financial power who nonetheless somehow dominate the government and get everything for themselves. The poorer and weaker one is, the more one is demonized in right-wing mythology as all-powerful receipients of ill-gotten gains; conversely, the stronger and more powerful one is, the more one is depicted as an oppressed and put-upon victim (that same dynamic applies to foreign affairs as well)." - Glenn Greenwald, "The distracting benefits of ACORN hysteria"

Time magazine does it again

First, Time does a fluff cover story on Ann Coulter, white-washing her long history of lies and hate-mongering.

Now, Time has done it again. For Glenn Beck.

Maybe, just maybe, after President Obama gets assassinated or some federal building (or, per Coulter's suggestion, the New York Times building) gets blown up, magazines like Time and the New Yorker might rethink their efforts to rebrand lunatic hatred as anything other than what it is.

Once upon a time, Time was willing to call such individuals what they are: extremists. Please note the contrast in tone. While the current Beck/Coulter articles are "fair and balanced," they are not objective - they are instead relativistic. The previous article (from 1961) is objective, i.e. it accurately describes its subjects.

Update: Time's decline is even worse than I thought.

Four years ago, I dropped what had been nearly a lifelong subscription to your publication, because on the 10th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, you devoted not a single word to that event -- but instead devoted your cover to Ann Coulter, a woman who only a year before that had uttered the infamous line, "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building."
Blogger's Note - When first posted, "... President Obama gets assassinated ..." provided a link to an article about JFK being assassinated. I removed the link for this reason.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The triumph of anti-intellectualism

From USA Today

The British producer of Creation, a film about Charles Darwin, says he has not been able to secure a U.S. distributor because the evolution theory is too controversial for American audiences, The Daily Mail reports.

The film, starring Paul Bettany and Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly, opened the Toronto International Film Festival last week.

Producer Jeremy Thomas says the film has been picked up in almost every country in the world and that he finds it "unbelievable" that the topic remains a "hot potato" in the USA.

A country born out of the Enlightenment, founded by people for whom democracy was an outgrowth of a scientific rationalist outlook, can't find a distibutor for a biography about a man who co-discovered one of the most profound realizations in human history. A man rivaled in scientific significance only by Newton, Einstein, and the Copernican revolution.

Yet anti-scientific religious propagnda has no problem getting distributed.

'Wandering in a vast forest at night, I have only a faint light to guide me. A stranger appears and says to me: "My friend, you should blow out your candle in order to find your way more clearly." This stranger is a theologian.' - Denis Diderot, Pensées philosophiques (1746)


Check out the film's interactive site. You can view that in the US, at least.

See here for Eugenie Scott's review.

Glenn Beck's extremist inspiration

Recall that I had agreed with Little Green Footballs that Glenn Beck was showing his "dark roots" of John Birch Society type intellectual influences when he went on tv and promoted a bizarre conspiracy theory about Rockefeller Plaza being a secret tribute to fascism and Marxism.

Alexander Zaitchik, writing at Salon, explains how Beck's political views have been heavily influenced by Cleon Skousen, who "was too extreme even for the conservative activists of the Goldwater era, but Glenn Beck has now rescued him from the remainder pile of history, and introduced him to a receptive new audience."

What has Beck been pushing on his legions? "Leap," first published in 1981, is a heavily illustrated and factually challenged attempt to explain American history through an unspoken lens of Mormon theology. As such, it is an early entry in the ongoing attempt by the religious right to rewrite history. Fundamentalists want to define the United States as a Christian nation rather than a secular republic, and recasting the Founding Fathers as devout Christians guided by the Bible rather than deists inspired by the French and English philosophers. "Leap" argues that the U.S. Constitution is a godly document above all else, based on natural law, and owes more to the Old and New Testaments than to the secular and radical spirit of the Enlightenment. It lists 28 fundamental beliefs -- based on the sayings and writings of Moses, Jesus, Cicero, John Locke, Montesquieu and Adam Smith -- that Skousen says have resulted in more God-directed progress than was achieved in the previous 5,000 years of every other civilization combined. The book reads exactly like what it was until Glenn Beck dragged it out of Mormon obscurity: a textbook full of aggressively selective quotations intended for conservative religious schools like Utah's George Wythe University, where it has been part of the core freshman curriculum for decades (and where Beck spoke at this year's annual fundraiser).
The article goes on to note Skousen believed, like Robert Welch of the John Birch Society, that Dwight D. Eisenhower was a Communist agent; and that Skousen was "the nation's most prominent Birch defender."

Skousen went on to help develop one of the modern incarnations of one world government conspiracy theory

Skousen laid low for much of the '60s. But he reemerged at the end of the decade peddling a new and improved conspiracy that merged left with right: the global capitalist mega-plot of the "dynastic rich." Families like the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds, Skousen now believed, used left forces -- from Ho Chi Minh to the American civil rights movement -- to serve their own power.

In 1969, a 1,300-page book started appearing in faculty mailboxes at Brigham Young, where Skousen was back teaching part-time. The book, written by a Georgetown University historian named Carroll Quigley, was called "Tragedy and Hope." Inside each copy, Skousen inserted handwritten notes urging his colleagues to read the book and embrace its truth. "Tragedy and Hope," Skousen believed, exposed the details of what would come to be known as the New World Order (NWO). Quigley's book so moved Skousen that in 1970 he self-published a breathless 144-page review essay called "The Naked Capitalist." Nearly 40 years later, it remains a foundational document of America's NWO conspiracy and survivalist scene (which includes Skousen's nephew Joel).

In "The Naked Communist," Skousen had argued that the communists wanted power for their own reasons. In "The Naked Capitalist," Skousen argued that those reasons were really the reasons of the dynastic rich, who used front groups to do their dirty work and hide their tracks. The purpose of liberal internationalist groups such as the Council on Foreign Relations, argued Skousen, was to push "U.S. foreign policy toward the establishment of a world-wide collectivist society." Skousen claimed the Anglo-American banking establishment had a long history of such activity going back to the Bolshevik Revolution. He substantiated this claim by citing the work of a former Czarist army officer named Arsene de Goulevitch. Among Goulevitch's own sources is Boris Brasol, a pro-Nazi Russian émigré who provided Henry Ford with the first English translation of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion."
Zaitchik also notes that Skousen's extremist ideas have become the backbone of Beck's "9/12" movement.

Beck continued to mention the book during 2008, but his Skousen obsession really kicked in as the 912 concept began to take shape. Even before Obama's inauguration, Beck had a game plan for a movement with Skousen at the center. On his Dec. 18, 2008, radio show, one month before Obama took office, Beck introduced his audience to the idea of a "September twelfth person."

"The first thing you could do," he said, "is get 'The 5,000 Year Leap.' Over my book or anything else, get 'The 5,000 Year Leap.' You can probably find it in the book section of, but read that. It is the principle. Please, No. 1 thing: Inform yourself about who we are and what the other systems are all about. 'The 5,000 Year Leap' is the first part of that. Because it will help you understand American free enterprise … Make that dedication of becoming a Sept. 12 person and I will help you do it next year."
That Glenn Beck is using his Fox News platform to mainstream extremist ideas (and extremists themselves) has long been obvious. We need more David Frums out there calling Fox out on this.

The audience for Beck’s Friday night special were each given copies of two books. One of them was Cleon Skousen’s Five Thousand Year Leap. Skousen, who died in 2006, is one of the legendary cranks of the conservative world, a John Bircher, a grand fantasist of theories about secret conspiracies between capitalists and communists to impose a one-world government under the control of David Rockefeller.

There’s always been a market for this junk of course. Once that market was reached via mimeographed newsletters. Now it’s being tapped by Fox News.

What you can learn about a person by who they hate

Anonymous Liberal on anti-ACORN hysteria

That the GOP and its conservative supporters would single out this particular organization for such intense demonization is telling. In September of last year, the entire world came perilously close to complete financial catastrophe. We're still not out of the woods and we're deep within one of the worst recessions in U.S. history. This situation was brought about by the recklessness and greed of our banks and financial institutions, most of which had to be bailed out at enormous cost to the American taxpayer (exponentially more than all of the tax dollars given to ACORN over the years). The people who brought about this near catastrophe, for the most, profited immensely from it. These very same institutions, propped up by the American taxpayer, are once again raking in large profits.

But rather than focus their anger on these folks, conservatives choose to go after an organization composed almost entirely of low-paid community organizers, an organization that could never hope to have even a small fraction of the clout or the ability to affect the overall direction of the country that Wall Street bankers have. ACORN's relative lack of political influence was on full display yesterday, when the U.S. Senate (in which Democrats have a supermajority) not only entertained a vote to defund ACORN, but approved it by a huge margin (with only seven Democrats opposing).

Meanwhile, with a Democratic President elected on a mandate to reform health care and large Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, the prospect of meaningful health care reform passing remains doubtful. Why? Because such reform is opposed by very influential lobbies, groups that--unlike ACORN--have the money and the clout to actually affect the lives of average Americans in significant ways.

But thanks to the Glenn Becks of the world, ACORN has now been so demonized that its future as an organization is in doubt. Never fear, though, I'm sure Beck will find some other obscure powerless group to demonize soon.

Fox News: The Queen of Hearts of journalism

'Let the jury consider their verdict,' the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

'No, no!' said the Queen. 'Sentence first - verdict afterwards.'
--Lewis Carrol,, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Ch. 12

From Media Matters

What of the intrepid young muckrakers behind the supposed exposé? Quality citizen journalism is a friend to our democracy, but irresponsible citizen journalism isn't. On the September 10 edition of his Fox News show, Glenn Beck hosted Hannah Giles, the young woman portraying a prostitute in the surveillance videos. He asked her how she came to be involved in the project. Here are her exact words:

I had a summer internship with the National Journalism Center out in Washington, D.C., and they set me up with a job. But one day I was jogging after work and I saw an ACORN, and I was like, hmm, you know, I've never seen them before, I don't like them. And I came up with the idea: What if a prostitute walked into ACORN, had no legal paperwork at all, and wanted a house to set up her business?
Two elements of that testimony should call Ms. Giles' work into serious question. The first is her attendance at the National Journalism Center in Washington. The NJC is but one of the many right-wing institutions conservatives have established to flood the field with young, motivated, and rapidly partisan "reporters." The NJC was established with hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from the Bradley and Olin foundations, both prominent conservative donors. Among its distinguished alumni are Ann Coulter and Debbie Schlussel.

But beyond this, consider the candid wording used by Ms. Giles -- who is the daughter of conservative blogger Doug Giles -- when talking to Beck: "But one day I was jogging after work and I saw an ACORN, and I was like, hmm, you know, I've never seen them before, I don't like them." In the same sentence, Giles is admitting that she simultaneously a) knew nothing about ACORN, and b) knew they were guilty of something awful. In no actual journalistic institution -- or any introductory logic class, for that matter -- would such a statement be allowed to go unchallenged. But Beck accepted it without comment.

Let us now turn to the content of the videos themselves. Again, it does appear that in certain cases, ACORN employees willfully broke the law, and they should be punished accordingly. But all of a sudden, these videos -- four, thus far -- are being promoted as unimpeachable proof that all of ACORN is equally corrupt -- all 1,200 chapters and thousands of ACORN employees. This is literally the opposite of how a credible investigation is supposed to function. Sweeping conclusions should only be drawn after all the facts are in. By comparison, here, the conservative media has a few isolated facts but is willing to extrapolate an entire thesis from them.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Question: how would Beck and Fox News react if this happened at ACORN rather than KBR?

Let's notice the strange dichotomy by which allegations of ridiculous, implausible imaginary crimes sanctioned by individual employees caught in a Borat-like entrapment scheme become evidence of sinister, nefarious evil "thug" machinations and organizational corruption when the function of the group involved is to register poor people and minorities to vote and to help them find affordable housing but the same perception does not hold when allegations of actual crimes happen in the real world involving corporations which have close ties to the former Vice President of the United States.

So I ask: what would the reaction over at Fox be if this had happened at ACORN rather than KBR?

In 2005, Jamie Lee Jones was gang-raped by her co-workers while she was working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. In an apparent attempt to cover up the incident, the company then put her in a shipping container for at least 24 hours without food, water, or a bed, and “warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.” Even more insultingly, the DOJ resisted bringing any criminal charges in the matter. KBR argued that Jones’ employment contract warranted her claims being heard in private arbitration — without jury, judge, public record, or transcript of the proceedings. After 15 months in arbitration, Jones and her lawyers went to court to fight the KBR claims. Yesterday, a court ruled in favor of Jones.” Mother Jones reports:

Jones argued that the alleged gang rape was not related to her employment and thus, wasn’t covered by the arbitration agreement. Finally, two years later, a federal court has sensibly agreed with her. Tuesday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2 to 1 ruling, found her alleged injuries were not, in fact, in any way related to her employment and thus, not covered by the contract.

One of the judges who ruled in her favor, Rhesa Hawkins Barksdale, is a West Point grad, Vietnam vet, and one of the court’s most conservative members, a sign, perhaps, of just how bad the facts are in this case. It’s a big victory, but a bitter one that shows just how insidious mandatory arbitration is. It’s taken Jones three years of litigation just to get to the point where she can finally sue the people who allegedly wronged her. It will be many more years before she has a shot at any real justice.

By Fox's own standards, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity should lose their jobs

Eric Boehlert explains

Fox News' Glenn Beck recently aired a video indicating that an ACORN employee shot and killed her husband, without first bothering to verify whether the husband is, in fact, dead. He isn't. The video is, in other words, a fraud. But that didn't stop Beck from calling it evidence of "murder" and perhaps even "premeditated murder." Of a person who is still alive.

Sean Hannity aired it, too.
At which point Boehlert wonders

So, given Fox's promotion of this hoax-video ... how did Fox react to the allegedly-forged documents used in a CBS news report about George W. Bush's apparent failure to fulfill his commitments to the Texas Air National Guard?
And then he lists several examples of Fox figures expressing outrage and indignance.

Will Fox hold Beck and Hannity (and the rest of the people at Fox who have promoted a false claim in order to bring down ACORN) to the same standard it held Dan Rather?

The bigger picture

If you're curious why I've devoted so many posts to defending ACORN (relative to the magnitude of ridiculous charges leveled against them) over the last few days, this post from Glenn Greenwald covers the why. Before I quote it, I'll quote what I wrote in my first post on the ACORN sting "scandal."

And given that the Republican party is becoming the party of southern, white fundamentalist Christians, it probably is worth noting again the narrative that has been built around the politically motivated desire to demonize ACORN: a community oriented organization of "thugs" is stealing elections for liberals who want to take the money of hardworking, middle class whites and give it to lazy, good-for-nothing criminal minorities.

This is a dangerous sort of scapegoating to engage in. As Hunter at Daily Kos has noted, ACORN has come to be the catch-all bogeyman for conservative fears.
And I'll also quote from a post I wrote on efforts to demonize the estate tax as a "death tax"

Our tax system has been rigged to flow wealth upwards to the richest 1 percent of the country like Niagra Falls in reverse, yet the middle class, feeling the squeeze of an increased tax burden, votes to restore a system of wealth transferance that harkens back to feudal aristocracy. I expect that in the future anthropologists are going to look back on this "Death tax" craze like we look back on witchcraft crazes. Funny thing is those served as a means of redirecting people's attention away from the source of their troubles, too. In the words of anthropologist Marvin Harris:

The principal result of the witch-hunt system was that the poor came to believe that they were being victimized by witches and devils instead of princes and popes. Did your roof leak, your cow abort, your oats wither, your wine go sour, your head ache, your baby die? It was the work of the witches. Preoccupied with the fantastic activities of these demons, the distraught, alienated, pauperized masses blamed the rampant Devil instead of the corrupt clergy and the rapacious nobility.
Which gets us to Greenwald's post:

This is the paradox of the tea-party movement and other right-wing protests fueled by genuine citizen anger and fear. It is true that the federal government embraces redistributive policies and that middle-class income is seized in order that "someone else benefits." But so obviously, that "someone else" who is benefiting is not the poor and lower classes -- who continue to get poorer as the numbers living below the poverty line expand and the rich-poor gap grows in the U.S. to unprecedented proportions. The "someone else" that is benefiting from Washington policies are -- as usual -- the super-rich, the tiny number of huge corporations which literally own and control the Government. The premise of these citizen protests is not wrong: Washington politicians are in thrall to special interests and are, in essence, corruptly stealing the country's economic security in order to provide increasing benefits to a small and undeserving minority. But the "minority" here isn't what Fox News means by that term, but is the tiny sliver of corporate power which literally writes our laws and, in every case, ends up benefiting.

It wasn't the poor or illegal immigrants who were the beneficiaries of the Wall St. bailout; it was the investment banks which, not even a year later, are wallowing in record profits and bonuses thanks to massive taxpayer-funded welfare. The endlessly expanding (and secret) balance sheet of the Federal Reserve isn't going to fund midnight basketball programs or health care for Mexican immigrants but is enabling extreme profiteering by the very people who, just a year ago, almost brought the global economic system to full-scale collapse. Our endless wars and always-expanding Surveillance State -- fueled by constant fear-mongering campaigns against the Latest Scary Enemy -- keep the National Security corporations drowning in profits, paid for by middle-class taxes. And even health-care reform -- which supposedly began with anger over extreme insurance company profiteering at the expense of people's health -- will be an enormous boon to that same industry, as tens of millions of people are forced by the Government to become their customers with the central mechanism to control costs (the public option) blocked by that same industry. That's why those industries are enthusiastically in favor of reform: because, as always, they will benefit massively from it.

This is what is so strange and remarkable about these tea-party protests. The people who win when government acts aren't the poor, minorities or illegal immigrants -- the prime targets of these protesters' resentment. Their plight only worsens by the day. In Washington, members of those groups are even more powerless than "middle-income Americans." That's so obvious. The people who win whenever the federal government expands its power are the ones who, through their massive resources and lobbyists armies, control what the government does: the richest and most powerful corporations. And yet -- in an extreme paradox -- those are the people who are venerated by the Right: they simultaneously spew rage at what's happening in Washington while revering and defending the interests of the oligarchs who are most responsible.
Seen properly, the attack on ACORN are ultimately about giving people a demon to hate, a witch to hunt. And while they're busy doing that, the people who finance the Glenn Becks, Rush Limbaughs, Malkins, O'Keefes and Giles (who will certainly have no difficulty finding employment within conservative movement media) will continue to transform American democracy into a system of plutocracy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cool site of the day

Via Rationally Speaking, a site in tribute to the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of On The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin:

On the Origin of Species: The Preservartion of Favoured Traces

We often think of scientific ideas, such as Darwin's theory of evolution, as fixed notions that are accepted as finished. In fact, Darwin's On the Origin of Species evolved over the course of several editions he wrote, edited, and updated during his lifetime. The first English edition was approximately 150,000 words and the sixth is a much larger 190,000 words. In the changes are refinements and shifts in ideas — whether increasing the weight of a statement, adding details, or even a change in the idea itself.

The second edition, for instance, adds a notable “by the Creator” to the closing paragraph, giving greater attribution to a higher power. In another example, the phrase “survival of the fittest” — usually considered central to the theory and often attributed to Darwin — instead came from British philosopher Herbert Spencer, and didn't appear until the fifth edition of the text. Using the six editions as a guide, we can see the unfolding and clarification of Darwin's ideas as he sought to further develop his theory during his lifetime.

Proof ACORN is evil: Brooklyn employee gave pretend prostitute advice on how to get out of abusive relationship!

Glenn Beck has promised that he's going to center his show today around the third set of videos released by Giles and O'Keefe where they go into an ACORN office, pretend to be a prostitute and pimp to elicit advice which they secretly film, which they then can turn around and give people like Glenn Beck who works himself into a fit of hysterics about evil ACORN is and what not.

I just got done watching the full 15 plus minutes of footage and I really don't get it. I invite you to watch the clips yourself and see if you walk away with the impression that the ACORN employee(s) they talk to are evil, criminal "thugs."

The woman they spoke with was told that Hannah was trying to escape an abusive pimp and wanted to figure out a way to set up a bank account and a business so that she could hide her income from him. And the ACORN employee - without judgement of her but with sympathy for her condition - proceeds to give her suggestions on how to do that.

Really, it's not legal. But it ain't evil! That my views on the illegality of prostitution (I think it should be decriminalized, for mostly the same reasons I think the "war on drugs" should end) color my ambivalence about the situation is most certainly the case. And likewise, the fact that Giles, O'Keefe, Hannity, Beck and the rest seem to take these videos as evidence that "ACORN" is evil and corrupt and what not certainly relfects a prejudice on their part: and after watching these videos, it appears that the crime of this employee is that she treated an apparent prostitute with compassion.

Of course, Beck and the rest will say that the failure of the woman is that she is promoting prostitution. But this is dishonest. Watch the video, the woman is concerned with helping the pretend prostitute out of her abusive situtation and doesn't want to be judgemental. She says that it's her life and she can do with it what she wants, but that she should start thinking for herself and her safety and to save up money. When Giles says that its a dangerous job and that she knows underage girls that she wants to protect, the woman nods her head in agreement.

I mention this because I suspect that will be one of the points that Beck and others will scream indicates that "ACORN" is pro-underage illegal prostitution. Watch that segment (it's about 3.5 minutes into the second video) and you'll see that Giles mentions this as kind of an aside to the employee's comment about it being a dangerous professsion. It's pretty clear from the video that Giles was trying to bait the woman (as O'Keefe does in other portions of the video) into agreeing tacitly with a gotcha moment, but it's also clear from the video that the employee had no idea that Giles was suggesting she herself would be running an illegal immigrant underage prostitution ring. What Giles quietly says is that she knows (the audio is difficult to make out, but I believe she says "we've got") underage girls from El Salvador that she wants to protect and give a place to live to. Within the context of the conversation, an easy interpretation of Giles' remark is that she's aware of underage prostitutes, and being a young prostitute herself coming from an abusive pimp, she has empathy for the plight of such girls and wants to help them.

How the ACORN employee's response indicates something corrupt or evil about herself is beyond me.

Update: It seems my inability to keep pace with the anti-ACORN hysteria has gotten the best of me. I now see that Beck was making reference to the 4th "sting" operation from an ACORN office in San Bernardino. While this is certainly the most sensantional of the videos released so far; it's also the most propagandistic. The woman featured in the video maintains that she was not being serious. For example, in the video she claims to have killed her husband, but a supervisor told The San Bernardino Sun that the employees husband is indeed alive. Jim Miller, who also appears in the video (and has been represented by Glenn Beck as an employee of ACORN) told the paper that he is not an employee of ACORN.

The account of the incident Miller gave the paper seems, to me, consistent with his behavior in the video. In the video, you can see him sitting there, just sort of trying to absorb the absurdity of the situation.

Glenn Beck told his audience that this video demonstrates the "true colors" of ACORN. Yet even if the employee in the video was not faking her responses, it is ridiculous to attribute her behavior to the organization as a whole, especially since she notes that her supervisor and ACORN itself would not approve of the fake prostitute's plan to set up a brothel with underage girls from El Salvador. O'Keefe, appearing on Beck's program, said that he suspects ACORN trains its employees to act like this. I encourage anyone who isn't prejudiced with paranoid, conspiratorial hatred of ACORN to watch that video and come to the conclusion that the behavior exhibited by the employee must have been the result of training. You really must watch the clip to realize the profound absurdity of the notion.

Really, this isn't much better than were I to go into a Wal-Mart, find an employee in the car parts section who is willing to advise me on how to buy black market car parts, then turn around and claim I've proved Wal-Mart is training employees to do so. Of course, this still wouldn't rise to the level of absuridty demonstrated by the anti-ACORN propagandists, because I'd have to also posit that Wal-Mart is training employees to do so because it will help them achieve their dreams of totalitarian control of America. Or something like that.

That isn't to say that I don't believe that ACORN needs to do a better job of training/screening its employees (as I said in the first post commenting on these "stings.") And if there is corruption and fraud at ACORN I don't have a problem with the organization being held to account for that.

But none of these video actually demonstrate what they claim to prove: that there is systemic fraud and corruption at local ACORN offices. What they have effectively demonstrated is that local employees of some ACORN offices can be manipulated into yielding footage of that can be used by Fox News to demonize the group. A pimp or prostitute walking into an ACORN office to ask for help setting up a brothel featuring underage illegal immigrants ain't gonna happen in the real world!

Another clue that these videos are pure propaganda and not journalism is there no context. Never do the filmmakers, or Fox for that matter, examine the actual work that ACORN does. The filmers weren't interested in that. What they wanted to do was fabricate an incident which could "prove" what they already believed.

In my previous post on the bigoted nature of these attacks on ACORN, I noted that while these manufactured incidents of imaginary crime are taken to indicate a grave, immediate and present danger to American democracy, it's interesting to note how this only seems to be the perception when the corruption can be attributed to a group that focuses its efforts on helping minorities and the poor.

Funny how fake crimes that reveal more about the prejudices of the filmers than it does about the organziation they seek to smear generate more outrage and hysteria than actual crimes.

For instance, KPMG helped rob the government of billions of dollars, but I don't recall anyone dreaming up elaborate conspiracy theories with KPGM as a sinister group of "thugs" out to rule the world, using their magical powers to manufacture catastrophes and what not. Funny how the stereotyping of an organization as "thugs" is reserved for an organization that primarily helps register the poor and minorities to vote.

And while the Drudge/Hannity/Limbaugh/Malkin axis of misinformation believes that two low level employees of ACORN - who were immediately fired when their behavior was discovered - looking the other way at a fictional illegal immigrant underage prostitution ring that could only be dreamed up from the dark bogeyman world of conservative fears means that "ACORN" is in favor of child prostitution, it's interesting that the same conclusion was not drawn when two high level power brokers of Republican politics - Tom DeLay and Ralph Reed - lobbied on behalf of a government that actually was facilitating virtual sexual slavery. I don't recally anyone in the Malkin-sphere saying that DeLay and Reed "proved" the Republican Party was a bunch of "thugs" in favor of wage/sexual slavery.

Funny how that works.
Here is another example of that funny dynamic: while Beck and the rest are working themselves into a frenzy over this ACORN "scandal," the 19th US soldier or contractor in Iraq has been killed by electrical wiring.

Michelle Malkin, who is oh so outraged about the incidents in the ACORN videos which didn't actually happen, managed not to find the same outrage about contractor corruption in Iraq. No, those wanting to investigate the billions of dollars that actually have been lost in Iraq to corruption, war profiteering, and cost plus/no bid contracts were just "obstructionists" to her.

Update II: Some more actual corruption that doesn't seem to earn the ire of Beck and friends.

Jennifer Hall-Massey knows not to drink the tap water in her home near Charleston, W.Va.

In fact, her entire family tries to avoid any contact with the water. Her youngest son has scabs on his arms, legs and chest where the bathwater — polluted with lead, nickel and other heavy metals — caused painful rashes. Many of his brother’s teeth were capped to replace enamel that was eaten away.

Neighbors apply special lotions after showering because their skin burns. Tests show that their tap water contains arsenic, barium, lead, manganese and other chemicals at concentrations federal regulators say could contribute to cancer and damage the kidneys and nervous system.


This pattern is not limited to West Virginia. Almost four decades ago, Congress passed the Clean Water Act to force polluters to disclose the toxins they dump into waterways and to give regulators the power to fine or jail offenders. States have passed pollution statutes of their own. But in recent years, violations of the Clean Water Act have risen steadily across the nation, an extensive review of water pollution records by The New York Times found.

In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.

However, the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment. State officials have repeatedly ignored obvious illegal dumping, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which can prosecute polluters when states fail to act, has often declined to intervene.
Of course, if you watch Beck, populist champion of the American people, you know that those who favor environmental protection and regulation are just another part of the grand ACORN/Obama/Alinsky conspiracy to install Marxist liberal fascist totalitarian rule by "overwhelming the system."

Good thing families like the Hall-Masseys have someone like Glenn Beck looking out for them, telling them they really need to be worried about the scary"community organizers" who want take their hard earned money and use it to steal an election for a Manchurian president and to give it to underage illegal immigrant prostitutes to quicken the demise of American freedom and capitalism (a likely scenario, to be sure.)

Yep, the Hall-Massys are lucky, just like the folks in Libby, Montana are lucky that Beck and the rest are protecting them from the liberal fascists at the EPA.

Update III: I hadn't bothered mentioning this, but O'Keefe has previously used these same propaganda tactics against Planned Parenthood. In a statement posted at Huffington Post by ACORN representative Mike Shea promising to use these incidents to review and improve policies and procedure for proper employee behavior, he brings it up

What these activists have done to us is not original. The "producer" of these videos has a history of targeting progressive organizations. Dianne Quest, of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, wrote us about their experience: "(James) O'Keefe (the activist) has a sordid history of preying on receptionists and other front-line service workers for respected organizations. In 2008 he pulled a similar stunt on Planned Parenthood when he and another female colleague secretly recorded phone conversations with staff who handle fundraising calls at a few of the organization's affiliates. During the calls, O'Keefe pretended to be interested in setting up funds for low-income women in need of health care. Once the conversation hit a comfortable stride, O'Keefe would change his tune and explain, in explicit language, that his real intent was to target women of color in an effort to control minority populations. The audio recordings were edited in an attempt to make it appear that Planned Parenthood was complicit in accepting donations for racist purposes. O'Keefe's intent then, as it is now, was to entrap an organization whose mission he is ideologically opposed to, and masquerade his efforts as investigative journalism rather than the propaganda videos they are."
And here is another example of corruption that actually happened.

[New York Federal Judge] Rakoff characterized the settlement [which he rejected] as "unfair," "inadequate" and "unreasonable." One year after the collapse of investment banking behemoths threw the economy into crisis, the case raises profound questions about why so few Wall Street titans have been indicted and the continuing lethargy shown by the top cops charged with policing the market.
Again, I don't hear Giles, Beck, and O'Keefe calling Wall Street collectively "thugs" who want to destroy American because they are criminal by nature. (Beck has taken to inviting his audience to conclude the Rathke brothers are sinister because they look like James Bond villians, according to Beck.)