Tuesday, December 30, 2014

December 29, 2014

Those on the rightward fringe apparently believe that life is one vast conspiracy, that the government or others of the establishment are lying to them constantly. The truth about the world and, most importantly, the keys to happiness are simple and within reach of all if only the veil is lifted. Or, perhaps more accurately, there is an industry devoted to helping disaffected people to think along those lines.
For whatever reason, I have been the recipient of emails since mid-November that are aimed at that fringe. They include these titles: Tea Party Politics, Tea Party Bulletin, Survival Joe, Liberty 24/7, Conservatives United, The Right To Bear, 2d Amendment Insider, Preserve Freedom, Patriots and Politics, and Patriot Health Report. Others (Investor Insider, Gold Silver Central, Natural Health Online, and Health and Wellness Today), probably derive from the same sources. The total of these messages, over forty-four days, is 269, six per day.
There are two themes to many of these communications. The first is the grabber, which may play on paranoia: "What will you do when the government barges into your home and SEIZES your guns TOMORROW. . . and FEMA tries to cram you into one of their camps like sardines?" or on partisanship: "This Former Marxist Destroys Liberal Ideas in Just 4 Minutes (VIDEO)" or on anti-government suspicion or resentment: "At this moment, a shocking cover-up involving Obama, Congress and the FDA is threatening the lives of over 45 million Americans. . . including you."
The second is a commercial pitch: subscribe to a newsletter or buy a book, often to learn health secrets. For example, drawn in by this headline, "Welfare Fraud is a Huge Problem & this Shocking Interview Proves It (VIDEO)," you are led to "Weird Trick Restores Your Vision." You can cure all known vision limitations by means of the weird trick, knowledge of which is suppressed by the establishment, which makes money from exams, surgery, glasses, etc. Other health tricks, alleged to cure Alzheimer’s, shed weight, cure diabetes, etc. appear repeatedly.
I’ve clicked on a number of the links to commercial pitches; each of them is presented by a "video" (text which someone also is reading). As shown by the preceding item, sometimes there is an element of bait and switch. Another example is found on Tea Party Politics. It begins, "Fellow Patriot, Obama's sinister new agenda is unfolding. There's a reason why he's disarming millions while hoarding enough ammo for a 30 year land war. Sandy Hook's got nothing to do with it. It's way darker than that. . . and it's all explained in this controversial video. . ." That sounds like something to do with gun control. However, the pitch is about a supposed food crisis, and the solution is to buy an "aquaponic" system which will grow food without soil as well as raising fish. Result: buyers will eat while others starve during the troubles ahead.
Some messages go directly to the commercial pitch, without anything seemingly relevant to the page. One 2d Amendment Insider leads off with "The Eyecare industry is FURIOUS at this woman who stumbled upon a ground-breaking system to restore anybody's vision to 20/20 in as little as 2 weeks!" and then gives us the same "weird trick" video described above.
Survival, in one form or another, is a recurring theme. On Patriots and Politics, we can buy a "Fight Fast Pen." It is, we are told, a real pen, "but it also doubles as a very nasty tool to protect yourself and loved ones." Conservatives United offers the "Stinger Spy Pen," apparently a different device. Tea Party Politics will tell us how to build an unregistered AR-15. It also offers a "killer throwing knife" and throwing instructions. Following the warning about seizing guns and FEMA camps, Survival Joe ("Helping the average Joe prepare for the coming crisis") advertised "The Complete Survival System" (a book).
Apart from self-defense, there is advice to buy gold to avoid the "dollar crash" or a collapse of the investment markets. On Conservatives United, I learned of an "underground bank account" (also "secret" and "hidden") which allowed someone to turn $27 into $886,000 in four years. It turned out, after much evasion and repetition, to be about Bitcoins. Apparently the pitch hadn’t gone on long enough, so then we were touted to a book denouncing Obamacare and another on keeping our information secret.
In some of the ads the anti-establishment theme is underscored, and the sales pitch ramped up, by telling us that we must act quickly, because the government or some other evil force will shut the offer down.
The "videos" seem to go on forever. The one for aquaponics was described as "very short," but ran more than thirty minutes; one about Alzheimer’s was described as taking five minutes but went on for forty; Bitcoin, etc. lasted for about forty-five. I’ve have had the patience only to listen to a few to the end, but they all seem to move at a snail’s pace. It would be amazing if many people were able to stick with one of these tedious, repetitious pitches long enough to learn how to buy whatever is on offer.
Apparently these advertisers think that conservatives are very patient and have little to do, in addition to being anti-establishment and gullible.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

December 16, 2014
The right continually bleats about how exceptional America is or, as Fox’s Andrea Tantaros puts, how awesome we are. Rush Limbaugh worries that we do not emphasize American exceptionalism enough. Therefore, he has assumed the burden of properly indoctrinating our youth in that belief through a series of "Rush Revere" books. There are three so far, each subtitled "Time-Travel Adventures With Exceptional Americans." The notion of education of the young by Rush is a bit frightening, but he is indeed illustrating American exceptionalism; what other country would have, as a major political influence, anyone so aggressively, deliberately ignorant?
If one needed another example of our negative exceptionalism, consider torture. The Senate released a study of our record on that subject, which ought to give the right pause. Instead their reaction has been to defend the practices (Cheney would "do it again in a minute"), or complain that reporting on — and criticizing — a practice the whole world knows we indulged in is going to cause a backlash from terrorists, or claiming that it’s a plot to distract attention from Benghazi or the IRS or whatever the latest faux-scandal might be.
Sadly, a poll showed that over half the population approves of the "enhanced interrogation techniques," with only 30% disapproving. The column by Andy Borowitz [90] disclosing that Cheney will lead a "torture-pride" march slips from humor to near-reality.
How have we reached this state? One explanation is offered by Andrew Bacevich:
Since at least 1940, when serious preparations for entry into World War II began, the United States has been more or less continually engaged in actual war or in semi-war, intensively girding itself for the next active engagement, assumed to lie just around the corner. The imperatives of national security, always said to be in peril, have taken precedence over all other considerations. . . .
. . . The size, scope, and prerogatives accorded to the so-called intelligence community — along with the abuses detailed in the Senate report — provide only one example of the result. But so too is the popular deference accorded to those who claim to know exactly what national security requires, even as they evade responsibility for the last disaster to which expert advice gave rise.
. . . As long as the individuals and entities comprising that [national security] apparatus persist in their commitment to permanent war, little of substance will change. . . .[91]
There’s not much likelihood of a major alteration of governmental, political or popular attitudes toward the national security state. Even Mr. Obama’s diplomatic recognition of Cuba, a modest step away from the Cold War, has met with opposition. The Washington Post expressed disapproval because Cuba still isn’t living up to our standards which, in the current context, is more than a little tone-deaf.

90. http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/cheney-lead-torture-pride-march 91.http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/12/09/torture-report-highlights-consequences-permanent-war/MdEpEx2ilVexZuECsJ88TN/story.html

Sunday, December 7, 2014

December 6, 2014
Conservatives — and I use the word only as a contemporary political reference — pretend to be the strong ones in our society: aggressive, macho, stand-and-fight types. Why then are they afraid of so much? Ebola, ISIS, Iran, terrorists, immigrants (including children), liberals, progress, health care, the theory of evolution, all put them into panic mode; each of the above threatens the society if not our very lives. It’s amazing that they find the courage to go out of the house.
Of course there is one thing they are not afraid of: climate change. I don’t mean that they are unafraid of any discussion of the issue; that too causes panic. It’s the effects of climate change that they are sanguine about. Of all of the threats we allegedly face, the one which is supported by scientific research, by hard facts, is the only one which causes them no concern. That brave attitude soon will be underscored by the appointment of Senator James Inhofe as chairman of the Senate committee dealing with the environment. The committee which ought to be doing something about global warming will be headed by the author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. Our future is threatened by doing something about the major threat to our future; that’s conservative logic. 
Who is behind the "conspiracy"? Here’s an interview of Inhofe:
That's some hoax, I countered. But who has engineered such a scam? Hollywood liberals and extreme environmentalists, Inhofe replied. Really? I asked. Why would they conspire to scare all these smart people into believing a catastrophe was under way, when all was well? Inhofe didn't skip a beat: To advance their radical environmental agenda. I pressed on: Who in Hollywood is doing this? The whole liberal crowd, Inhofe said. But who? Barbra Streisand, he responded.[86]

Conservatives’ insouciance regarding the fate of the planet is, of course, the product of another, their greatest, fear: the federal government, which might take away their freedoms. Of course, it’s the freedom of corporations to make money which they have in mind. Take Inhofe as an example; his state, Oklahoma, set a record for high temperature, and suffers from drought.[87]   However, here is his priority: "We must continue to work to increase exploration and production of natural gas and oil . . . .Unfortunately, however, many current environmental regulations are not grounded in science. [Oh, so we should, after all, rely on science? Never mind.] As a result, they usually do harm and put undue restrictions upon the freedoms of many Americans. . . .[88] 
Wikiquote has a collection of Senator Inhofe’s penetrating observations, including this one, xreferring to his book: "Well, actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night,’ my point is, God's still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous."[89]  It will be comforting to reflect on that as the sea rises around us.


86. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/03/inhofe-barbra-streisand_n_6261874.html
87. http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/01/06/3125531/inhofe-winter-climate-change/ 

88. http://www.inhofe.senate.gov/issues/energy-environment

89. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/James_Inhofe

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

December 1, 2014
A fatal shooting which occurred recently in Cleveland has received less attention than the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Twelve year old Tamir Rice was wandering around a park area carrying and sometimes pointing a toy gun. Someone nearby called 911 and reported that the boy was pointing the gun at people; the security video, which filmed the boy for an extended time, shows one such incident.[84]  The caller, although stating that he was frightened, said twice that the gun probably was "fake," and that the person holding it might be a juvenile. The dispatcher made a point of determining whether the person with the "gun" was black or white. After being asked three times, the caller said, quietly and reluctantly, "black."

The dispatcher sent a patrol car to the area, omitting the caller’s references to age and fake gun. The boy had been seated at a table in a gazebo but, just before the police car arrived, started to walk toward the street. He was alone, although the later police report claimed that he was with others. The video shows the police car driving up, at considerable speed, onto the park grass, in between the boy and the sidewalk, and as soon as it is at a stop, the passenger door opens and Tamir falls to the ground. Some news reports have stated that the officer fired within two seconds of opening the door; it looks to me like it was less than a second. The police report claimed that the boy was pulling the gun from his waistband. The video isn’t clear enough to determine whether that is true or not, but the story about others being present makes one suspicious, and so does the sequence.
The driver got out and the two cops wandered around the car, pointing their guns two handed, apparently afraid that the mortally wounded boy would jump up and attack. It was a ludicrous parody of a dangerous confrontation, something copied from TV. An FBI agent, on an unrelated case, came by and attempted first aid; the policemen had not. When one of them reported the incident and asked for medics, he described the twelve-year old as a "black male, maybe 20." Tamir died the next day.     
Under the circumstances, one could blame the boy for acting irresponsibly or the parents for allowing him to wander around with a gun which someone might think real, but many of us were out and about at that age with cap pistols or bb guns without being shot down. One could, more logically, blame the manufacturer and seller of the gun; it does look more real that the old cap pistols. More importantly, these are different times: we are in more danger from nervous police than before, so selling replica guns is inviting disaster.
Also in Ohio, a man who had picked up a pellet gun for sale at a Walmart, and then wandered around the store with it, was shot and killed by police after a 911 report claimed he had pointed the gun at shoppers. The surveillance video does not show that, but again shows police firing as soon as the man was encountered.[85]  Like Tamir, he was black. The store has removed such guns from its shelves. Better late than never.

84. Reports and videos are here:

85. http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/sep/25/ohio-shooting-walmart-video;

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