Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Seriously–Part II

Amid the traumatic national shock that followed the Tucson shooting, many people from both sides of the political spectrum, attempted to learn if the suspected shooter 22-year-old Jared Loughner was politically motivated or whether this was bildethe act of an attention-seeking mentally-disturbed individual.

There was enough evidence on both sides of the argument.
The congressional elections between Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Tea Party Republican candidate, Jesse Kelly had been hotly contested. Many thought the tone, the level of rhetoric around the nation had become excessive. Some questioned whether the fact that Giffords is Arizona's first Jewish Congresswoman might have been a motive.

Others saw a conspiracy elsewhere, citing the campaigning style of Giffords' opponent, Kelly, as less than commendable. For example, Kelly ran an ad urging his supporters to "get on target for victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly."

Note it doesn't say, help vote Giffords out of office.
More suspiciously, according to Arizona Capitol Reports (subscription-only newsletter), Jesse Kelly was apparently so eager to challenge her again, that he requested a legal inquiry as to whether he could run again if Giffords lost her seat:
Attorney Lee Miller, who serves as legal counsel for the Arizona Republican Party, told our reporter Kelly’s campaign contacted him earlier this week to find out how the seat would be filled if Giffords couldn’t serve.
On the other hand, Most people who knew Jared Loughner confirmed that he was troubled. Almost immediately, stories began to emerge from classmates and friends of obvious mental instability.
Videos of text posted on a YouTube channel set up in the name of Jared Lee Loughner show a deep distrust of the government and religion, describing US laws as "treasonous" and speaking repeatedly of his wish to create a new currency. "The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar," he wrote. "No! I won't pay debt with a currency that's not backed by gold and silver! No! I won't trust in God!" His Internet postings also indicated an interest in hardline ideology, listing Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels's The Communist Manifesto and Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf among his favourite books.
There's something for every finger-pointer there, it seems. Based on this reading list, the Conservatives and Liberals could both happily make claims about the shooter's political ideology. Because everybody knows that whoever reads Mein Kampf must be a Nazi and whoever reads The Communist Manifesto has to a card-carrying commie. That's taken for granted, isn't it?

Other books, such as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Brave New World,” “Animal Farm” and “Fahrenheit 451,” suggest an interest in or antagonism against oppressive regimes committed to stifling all individual initiative and thought. Still, where does "The Wizard of Oz," “Peter Pan" or "Alice in Wonderland" fit in?

Mea Culpa?

Regarding criticism about the use of cross-hairs to "target" Democratic candidates running against Tea Party candidates, (as well as some of her remarks), former vice-presidential candidate and ex-governor of Alaska Sarah Palin - excuse the expression- came under fire. Her video-taped response turned out to be a public relations disaster. sarahpalin01

In it, Palin dramatized her outrage at the very idea that she could be responsible. It was a smear by the liberal media, she told us, this, on the very day of mourning for victims of the attack. How, she asked, could she be blamed for the criminal actions of a lunatic. (This was in no way a mea culpa thingy.) This claim that people cannot be held responsible for actions done in their name smacked of a shrugging off of responsibility and to the more legally-minded, seemed demonstrably untrue. There is a well-established legal definition of incitement to violence, and it involves three parts:
(1) that the person is directly being encouraged (or “incited”) to commit some act of violence, and
(2) there is a clear and present danger that the person will commit the act, and
(3) that the person does, in fact, commit the act.
Whether Palin was actually guilty of this is another question.

I, like a lot of Americans, found the whole video presentation by Palin disturbing and a little perplexing. Side-step the bizarre application of the phrase "blood libel," a term once used by militant bigoted Christians to slander Jews. And forget the poor timing. Ignore, if you, can, the narcissism of her victim-hood. Excusing all those other errors in judgment and lapses in taste and sensitivity, one is still left with an ambitious person with a clear inability to accept even the possibility either her words or deeds were ill-advised. (I am not speaking of an apology of some kind of admission of guilt.) That lack of self-reflection alone should disqualify any candidate for high office.

This was not the only time her careless manner of speaking has landed her in hot water. When Palin talked about "hunting down" Julian Assange like a terrorist- (despite the fact he still hasn't be charged, tried or convicted) it could be easy to say, she is merely ignorant of due process. Still, she wasn't hunting the co-founder of Wikileaks to give him a gift, she was really talking about hunting, as she does in Alaska.. to caribou. In other words, she was referring to the assassination of an innocent man.

But then Beck is hardly any better. In the past, Beck has "joked" about putting poison in Nancy Pelosi's wine. Taking on an Oscar-winning film maker, he once said: "Hang on, let me just tell you what I'm thinking. I'm thinking about killing Michael alg_resize_mouth_glenn-beckMoore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it."
It is easy enough to write this off as irresponsible and rather childish behavior from an adult who presumably should know better. I have heard people tell me, "Oh, get over it. It's only a joke. He isn't serious." But, given the fact that Beck seems to take himself seriously and expects others to do the same, given the fact that Beck isn't speaking on some lonely AM radio station in the middle of nowhere but on an international cable network, it is a serious matter indeed. People watch and people believe.

Whether either of these two choose to admit it or not, if nothing else, this kind of talk sets a tone, a kind of tacit acceptance of violence, a climate in which people are permitted to make entirely specious claims, to resort to name-calling and to use thinly veiled threats and intimidation- whether actual or implied- to express themselves.

Following the shooting of Giffords in which six innocent bystanders were killed, there were calls for a lowering of the violent rhetoric. If there was a moment of self-reflection, a consideration that foolish words can lead to thoughtless actions, it certainly didn't last long. These calls were, for the most part, ignored. The best response the Far Right could give was to point fingers at the Left and shout, "You do it too!" and then, it was business as usual.

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of Beck's favorite themes is the liberal Nazi takeover that is secretly (well, nearly) plotting to take over the country. Any proposal or any piece of legislation, any line from a speech, with the magical use of Beck cross-eyed history lessons and pseudo-journalistic style, can be magically transformed into a Nazi bogyman.

A fair question: What could be the motive for people like Beck to paint the president as a Nazi? To harp day in and day out about a threat that a fascist state is about to emerge, that the progressives are about to round up all the conservatives and put them into labor camps. Any day, so he claims. Does he think this kind of talk enhances his credibility? Is credibility even an important issue for Beck?

In Defiance of Godwin's Law

If you've never heard of it before, Godwin's law is a tongue-in-cheek observation made by Mike Godwin in 1989 which has become an Internet adage. The law states: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches.

The rule, please note, doesn't make any comment upon whether the statement is valid or not, merely that as the longer the argument continues, the greater the likelihood that the Nazi bogeyman will appear. It is precisely because such a comparison or reference may sometimes be appropriate, Godwin has argued that overuse of Nazi and Hitler comparisons should be avoided, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact. Other corollaries to this rule state that the person who first uses this comparison usually loses the argument because it has a tendency to boomerang on the proponents.

This point may or may not have escaped the executives at Fox News.

As a matter of fact, Fox News is constantly using the Nazi analogies, especially Glenn Beck. In my previous blog post I quoted Dana Millibank of the Washington Post noted,
"In his first 18 months on Fox News, from early 2009 through the middle of this year, [Beck] and his guests invoked Hitler 147 times. Nazis, an additional 202 times. Fascism or fascists, 193 times. The Holocaust got 76 mentions, and Untitled-1Joseph Goebbels got 24 mentions."

In November of 2010, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes defended a recently aired Fox expose on George Soros titled “The Puppet Master,” which accused the Jewish financier of funding a conspiratorial “shadow government” and manipulating regimes and currencies to his own benefit. (As another blogger noted, the very term "puppet-master" is highly charged racial term, dating back to Nazi claims that political leaders in Germany, and later America and Britain, were puppets of the Jews.) According to liberal pundits and some Jewish leaders who condemned the broadcast, the news story flirted with anti-Semitic stereotypes.

And this in turn led four hundred rabbis from almost all of the main branches of Judaism in the US to take out two full page ads, one in the Wall Street journal and another in Forward, calling upon Rupert Murdoch, owner of New Corp's Fox News to take action against what they see as excessive use of the Holocaust and Nazi analogies to disparage his mostly liberal political opponents.

The main problem with using this comparison, is, as Godwin's law states, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact. It wasn't that everybody was forbidden to use these terms and those comparisons except for Jews, as Roger Ailes attempted to suggest. Rather, the problem is that every time you compare this event or that government proposal to a Nazi Holocaust, you disrespect, you desensitize, and you blur the meanings ever so slightly. When everything is a Nazi plot, an atrocity, then nothing is. When everybody you disagree with become Hitler's twin, then nobody is a Nazi.

Control of the Comparison

Strangely enough when these excesses by conservative media or politicians are brought to the publics attentions, it can easily be twisted. Especially with compliant media organizations. Case in point:
Say What? Democrat Compares Republicans to Nazis
The newfound civility didn’t last long. Political rhetoric in Congress doesn’t get much nastier than the words of one House Democrat during the debate on repealing the health care law.
In an extraordinary outburst on the House floor, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) invoked the Holocaust to attack Republicans on health care and compared rhetoric on the issue to the work of infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
“They say it's a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels," Cohen said. "You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it. Like blood libel. That's the same kind of thing. And Congressman Cohen didn’t stop there. “The Germans said enough about the Jews and people believed it--believed it and you have the Holocaust. We heard on this floor, government takeover of health care. Politifact said the biggest lie of 2010 was a government takeover of health care because there is no government takeover," Cohen said.
That serves a warning to any Progressive politician who dares to make the parallels that Beck and others make on a daily basis. Basically the message is: "We can talk about Nazis, the Holocaust, eugenic experiments, prison camps and death panels, we can make phony comparisons about Obama and Hitler, but anyone on the Left should refrain." In other words, the control over that imagery and those comparisons belong solely to the Right.

The argument from the Far Right is Cohen is an elected official and shouldn't be throwing around phrases carelessly. If, they say, Palin is to be held to a certain standard then why shouldn't politicians on the Left as well? It's a good point.

And besides, they say, who really takes THAT Beck character seriously? Seriously or not, some people seem to enjoy watching him, for whatever reason. Through late January and into early February 2010, Glenn Beck drew nearly three million viewers each night. That's quite an audience. What about Cohen? Congressman Cohen's speech was given to to a mostly empty House chamber where Republican efforts to repeal the health care law was taking place. Still there was widespread condemnation for Cohen's remarks. For Beck's remarks, a shrug.

But it's true: Beck isn't an elected official. It's the nice thing about being a "personality." You don't have the same kind of scrutiny and you don't have the restraints. That responsibility stuff can sure be a hindrance to free speech. Despite his non-elected status, Beck certainly enjoys campaigning although nobody is quite certain what he is running for. glenn-beck

In August of 2009, Beck told his audiences in town hall meetings on health care, that the Obama administration had plans that should that "should horrify America . . . particularly if you're elderly, handicapped or have a very, very young child." In his typical hackneyed version of history, both inaccurate and revisionist, Beck connected Woodrow Wilson, the progressive, with the Nazi eugenic experiments and German scientist's attempt at a master race. He went on: "The builder of the master race was only part of the problem in Germany, made possible after they began to devalue life. They tried to figure out how much is a life worth, and put a price on how much each individual was worth -- and some were worth more than others."

Beck explained to his flock - without the slightest supporting facts- that Obama and his advisors favored health care rationing and then, bringing in allegations made by Sarah Palin about Obama and death panels, capping it with "so bureaucrats could decide who was worthy to live."

This isn't any thing new for Beck. Besides his tours, he delivers the same message (or something similarly outrageous) every day on his radio talk show or on his TV show.

When Beck equates the president's policies with Nazi eugenics, it's perfectly acceptable. And it's perfectly acceptable to pound that lie into the public's head day after day. But when a Democrat mentions this Big Lie approach, made famous by the Nazis, then suddenly it becomes a nasty attack on the Republicans.

A little research shows that Congressman Cohen had it slightly wrong however. It was not Joseph Goebbels who coined the phrase, "the big lie." It was Hitler himself in his book "Mein Kampf." Here is the relevant passage: the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.
It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying. These people know only too well how to use falsehood for the basest purposes.
Congressman Cohen's words seem fairly appropriate, after all. "The Big Lie" is not merely an untruth that is repeated every day but it is some distortion so monumentally large that the idea that it could be false is beyond the capacity of simple minds to imagine. To take an example for Orwell, Peace is War. Freedom is slavery and Ignorance is Power .

Why, apart from fear-mongering and sensationalism, does Fox News constantly compare the left and progressives with the Nazis? Let me know what's your best theory.


Monsanto confirmed they will not be advertising on Glenn Beck’s show in the future. In statements sent to the StopBeck effort, Monsanto advised:
“We purchased ad time via the local cable company – but not that specific program.”
Addressing our request that Monsanto refrain from advertising on Glenn Beck’s show going forward, Monsanto’s spokesperson added:
“We’ve verified that there are no additional ads scheduled for the Glenn Beck show. The show is not in our future media schedule.”
Good news happens every day.. but you sometimes have to search for it.


Glenn Beck@ Nomadic ViewOn any given day, one can find American conservative radio and television host and political commentator, Glenn Beck diagramming and explicating his theories. Or in the guise of a disembodied voice on his radio talk show.  Essentially he has become the star-child for Fox News, but not without giving some credence to criticism that Fox is not really a news organization but a propaganda/ entertainment network.

Today Beck might be feverishly lecturing about the imminent overthrow of the United States government, how Soros and secret organizations are plotting and conspiring. He seems to take himself very seriously and can easily work himself into a self-indulgent weep about the state of things. Behavior that would shame your average nine-year old is generally on display; sometimes he can get carried away and sound threatening. Most of the time, Beck's schtick is a fascinating example of what passes for informative broadcasting at Fox.

Beck and the Televangelists

His technique is taken, nearly directly, from the televangelists of the 1970s and 80s. It was used back then mostly to scare little old ladies in Des Moines with an excitable nature, who had too much time and money on their hands . These preachers were quite the hoot for smug teenagers like me who would watch their theatrics with a mix of revulsion and amusement. I could feel the magnetism of it, the desire to believe and at the same moment, I couldn't stifle the occasional giggle.
The stage would be darkened, except for the blackboard and a podium and the preacher would take the Bible- always very heavy and well-worn - and cook up an impressive batch of mind-melting End Times extravaganzas. Taking a large helping from the Book of Revelations,(can't beat it for imagery) add a couple of dollops of the Book of Daniel or better yet, a few of the more obscure books from the Old Testament, (easy on the Hebrew stuff, This is Christianity) then a pitch of random current events, both major and minor, and sprinkle in some suggested prejudice and stereotypes and presto! you have a convincing end of the world prophecy. Served sizzling hot.

There was never any real moral teaching involved. Oddly, the preacher never ended his mish-mash with a moral homily, as one might expect. The conclusion was merely an affirmation that the Bible was always correct, in its own mystical way, and the end was coming. Get your house in order because there's nothing to be done about it.

On a more cynical note, the performance was highly effective at separating the fools from their money. Grannies with sheltered lives and sizable bank accounts would work themselves up into a tizzy about all their imagined sins and scramble to write out their checks.

In Beck's case, you don't have the end of the world: you get the more secular version, the Fall of the American Republic. Part of Beck's appeal is his outrageousness which tends to attract the curious but also the disenfranchised and right-wing extremists. He offers them explanations and validations to their conspiracy theories, filling in gaps with his often inaccurate history and incorrect information. Even his fellow Fox New host Bill O'Rielly noted that Beck succeeds because he is willing to go five steps further than he does. And that's saying a lot.

Obama and the Fuhrer

According to Washington Post's Dana Millibank, writer of an unauthorized biography of Beck, "Tears of a Clown":
At the heart of Beck's technique of amplifying fringe theories is his obsession with Nazism. For much of the past 70 years, there has been an unwritten rule in U.S. political debate: Avoid Hitler accusations. Once you liken your opponent to the Nazis, any form of rational discussion becomes impossible. But Beck, it seems, has a Nazi fetish. In his first 18 months on Fox News, from early 2009 through the middle of this year, he and his guests invoked Hitler 147 times. Nazis, an additional 202 times. Fascism or fascists, 193 times. The Holocaust got 76 mentions, and Joseph Goebbels got 24 mentions.
With some spectacular sleight of hand, Beck can warp anything done or said by Obama into a neo-Nazi plot. Beck doesn't mind being bizarre about his claims.

Beck has compared the health care reform to "Mein Kampf," stated that Al Gore was using the same tactics to warn against climate change as Hitler used against the Jews, and even told his audiences that Obama's call to form a "civilian national security force" would be tantamount to forming an SS army.Obama Nomadic View
The truth is a lot less dramatic and threatening. But then, isn't it always?

As a senator and during his campaign, Obama called his fellow citizens to greater public service.
"Loving your country shouldn't just mean watching fireworks on the 4th of July," he said in a speech in Colorado Springs, Colo. "Loving your country must mean accepting your responsibility to do your part to change it. If you do, your life will be richer, our country will be stronger."
Obama reflected on how the presidencies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy both made public service hallmarks of their administration and how the nation was the better for such efforts.
"I won't just ask for your vote as a candidate," he said. "I will ask for your service and your active citizenship when I'm president of the United States. This won't be a call issued in one speech or one program. I want this to be a central cause of my presidency. We will ask Americans to serve. We will create new opportunities for Americans to serve."
Doesn't sound all THAT much like the Fuhrer to me. Still, despite the inaccuracy and intentional misrepresentations, the honeyed words of Glenn Beck are referenced by countless right wing bloggers as the gospel, all without question and with as much anxiety as those little old ladies in Des Moines on Sunday night.

All this could be written off as mere modern age huckster-ism with a political slant. Generally harmless and always hammy. And yet, like most thrills in life, Beck's type of show tends to suffer from diminishing returns. After you've compared everything to Nazi Germany and everybody to Goebbels or Himmler or Eva Braun, where can you go next?

Who's Laughing Now?

Sarah Palin, Nomadic ViewThere's a serious side to all that nonsense.  That serious consideration changes Sarah Palin from a ditzy unqualified source of amusement to somebody that needs to be retired and out of the eye of the public ASAP.

We must not forget that these people, who may not be dangerous as individuals, could have a very harmful effect by attracting and validating the views of extremists. Whether they intend to or not- and that's debatable- people like Palin and Beck can become focal points for all types of radical and violent groups. And recently when this point was brought home with the shooting of Giffords, Palin's response was denial and shifting of responsibility.

We can laugh when Palin mangles the English language with her misplaced relative clauses and made-up vocabulary. We can chuckle at Bachmann when she attempts to recite early American history from high schools classes she apparently slept through. We can giggle when Beck tells his audience that the United States purchased Alaska in the 1950s. (I enjoy poking fun at Palin on this blog if only because she takes herself so seriously. Come by on Thursdays.)

You may say that these people are simply trying to be famous. That's obvious. But they are also attempting to create a nationalist political movement, which is essentially anti-government, even, as some have charged, seditious. Celebrating Conservatism, listed as a member of the national Tea Party Patriots organization, holds armed rallies in celebration of their Second Amendment rights. As one human rights activist wrote:
"You have to wonder: If these teabaggers' views are so extreme that they have to carry guns to emphasize how much they can't tolerate your beliefs, what do they suggest be done with everyone who disagrees with them if they actually gained the power they demand?"
Not a bad question to ponder.

The Tea Party movement is well-financed by the second largest privately held company in the United States with an annual revenue of about $98 billion. The Koch brothers most assuredly have their own political agenda, dovetailing neatly with their corporate needs. In a New Yorker article, Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”

This kind of backing and that kind of following means people like Beck and Palin and Bachmann and all the others must be taken very seriously.

As history demonstrates, laughing often ends in a gasp.

To continue to Part II of "Seriously" click on this link:

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