Amateur Topologist

Everything but topology.

Category: Politics

The Fundamentals of Fundamentalists

People like to make fun of religious fundamentalists for seeming to spend half their waking hours preaching on Facebook, in person, via e-mail, etc., to people who they barely even know telling them about the evils of homosexuality, abortion, Muslims, and women wearing pants. The natural response, of course, is to laugh at them, to wonder how someone could possibly be so deluded, and to wonder why they seem to spend all their time obsessed about these things; in some cases, people might even speculate that their obsession is due to a kind of repression, such as people who are constantly obsessed with the ‘evils’ of homosexuality possibly being in the closet themselves. You laugh, you maybe feel sorry for them; if you’re feeling particularly brave, you even reply to them and try to show them (and possibly others) the error of their ways, and then you move on.

But… step back and think about it. Put yourself in their position, and suppose you were a fundamentalist Christian who constantly sees the world in terms of good and evil, who perceives everything around them as part of this epic struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Every single person you see that doesn’t follow your particular brand of Christianity is doomed by God to an eternity of brimstone and hellfire, when if only they would accept that you’re right and listen to you, they would instead be enjoying an eternity of unimaginable happiness when they die. And to make it worse, the signs that you’re right are all around you! It’s just common sense, why won’t they listen to you? So you spend as much time as you can afford to proselytizing to the unwashed masses, telling them about your Lord and savior Jesus Christ, all in hopes that at least one person will see the light and be saved from Satan and his minions. And in fact, it would be extremely bad of you to not try your hardest to convert these poor lost souls (not to mention Jesus’s command to be fishers of men).

This isn’t me trying to say that people should stop doing what they do when confronted by the aggressively religious; by all means, confront, debate, ignore, troll, whichever you choose to do. Just don’t assume that they’re acting out of irrationality; to them, it make perfect sense.

Glenn Beck's Common Sense Part 8: CAPS LOCK (AND ITALICS) ARE CRUISE CONTROL FOR CORRECT

And so we enter the final chapter of Common Sense, titled “Is it a rising or a setting sun?” And within the first two paragraphs, he italicizes no less than five phrases and uses all caps twice, including the rarely-seen small caps: “WE ARE NOT SHEEP. AMERICANS HAVE NEVER BEEN SHEEP”. Yes, he really does make ‘AMERICANS’ smaller than the rest of his text. I have no clue why he does that. He then arrogantly goes on to proclaim that “If the American experiment fails, then so does the cause of liberty, not just here, but around the world.” Really? So out of all the countries in the world, now and forever, none of them have ‘liberty’ except for the US? I don’t even know what to say to that.

He then brings up a list of inventions from ‘the lone entrepreneur’ attracted by ‘America’s promise of freedom’, including the computer, lightbulb, car, telephone, assembly line (treating workers like machines is freedom now?), and… the Popsicle? But you know, I guess that governments and non-American individuals can’t compete: just look at this sorry list of inventions:

• The Internet (a project of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, a government agency)
• The World Wide Web (invented by the British Tim Berners-Lee)
• Arguably, the concept of a computer itself and much of modern computer science was invented by British mathematician Alan Turing (who later committed suicide after being put on mandatory estrogen therapy for his homosexuality, an act which the British government has only recently apologized for)
• GPS, which was originally a US Navy project
• The vaccine, invented by Edward Jenner in the 1770s

I could go on, but that’s not the point.

The point is that Glenn Beck is incredibly crazy, and that the ‘common sense’ he’s devoted this entire book to are nothing more than the ramblings of a madman interspersed with the occasional good point. Is it an act? Is he just trying to make money? Or does he, perhaps, actually believe what he’s saying? The point is immaterial because the end result is the same: there are people who believe this, who honestly believe that September 12th was a moment when the nation came together instead of a moment when America was basically reeling in shock. I don’t attribute this to maliciousness, at least not for the majority of people. Unlike some people I know, I think that Republicans are simply misinformed. But the misinformers, the Glenn Becks and the Ann Coulters and the Rush Limbaughs of the world, are the root cause of the problem.

So what do we do about it? We, the progressives (liberal is a dirty word now) have to take back modern political discourse and shape it for a better cause. I think the advent of the Internet has helped, enabling the random person to have a voice, no matter how insignificant or small. But the important thing is to not give up hope; if you give up on Obama and Democrats, then it will only legitimize his critics when they point to a low approval rating, deliberately glossing over the fact that it’s low because to many he’s not progressive enough. Donate to your favorite political causes, write about what you’re interested in, just don’t give up. But what I don’t think you should do is splinter off into a third party; sure, if you live in a solidly blue state, like Illinois or California or something, by all means vote SPUSA. But if you live in a battleground state, then splitting the progressive vote could easily lose you the state; remember what happened to Gore in 2000. Don’t let that happen again in 2012.

Glenn Beck's Common Sense Part 7: Did Glenn Beck Rape and Murder the Truth in 2009?

The penultimate part starts with an attack on Walter Lippmann, who dared to suggest that “the media should play a role as intermediary between politicians and a public too self-centered an uneducated to really grasp what was really going on.” I agree, Glenn, how dare those reporters suggest that a population 20% of which believes the Sun goes around the Earth, only 40% of which believe in evolution, and over 50% of which don’t know that the earth takes one year to revolve around the sun aren’t exactly the brightest bulbs in the box? Say it isn’t so! I mean, hell, if you tried explaining even the basics of nuclear physics to a random person (important to understand in the debate about nuclear energy), they’d probably have no clue what the hell you were talking about. And Beck can’t get out of this by blaming the socialist education system; these polls are of adults, which would probably include a good chunk of people who were in grade school during the Reagan era.

There’s one quote in particular that struck me as odd: Beck quotes Woodrow Wilson as saying, “Our problem is not merely to help the students to adjust themselves to world life…[but] to make them as unlike their fathers as we can.” It’s an interesting quote, and so I decided to try to find out what went in the ellipsis. The problem is, a Google search for the first half returns nothing giving the full quote; every single instance online is abridged in the exact same way. This site sources it as from Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, which I don’t have a copy of; I do plan on going to the library and checking it out to see where Goldberg got this from.
Anyway, then he goes on to list statistics about poor performance of inner-city public schools and expects the reader to make the logical leap that this is because of the education system and not, say, due to chronic underfunding or anything.

And then he brings up the real shocker: the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. He even mentions that the US and Somalia are the only UN members that haven’t yet ratified it, and lists what rights the Convention requires countries to give children as “access to education and health care; programs that develop their personalities and talents; and the opportunity to grow and develop in an atomsphere of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality, and solidarity.” I guess we’re supposed to take these as bad things, since he never really says why they’re bad, other than that they’d force the US to be accountable to, gasp, an “international community”.

And now we turn to the final segment of the chapter: “Only a Moral and Religious People”. And with a name like that, you can tell it’s going to be good! He starts by declaiming the emphasis on money and material goods in today’s society, yet he curiously doesn’t place any of the blame for this on advertisements, which instill us with the message that “more money = better than.” What does he blame instead?
“It’s a sad contradiction, but our homes now seem to have plenty of room for everything—except God.”
All right then. Clearly religion is what we need more of if we want to be moral. Just look at these upstanding citizens:

Oh. Uh. Hm. But here’s the really funny part: look at what Our Holy Founding Fathers had to say about religion:

Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst.
– Thomas Paine

Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.
– Benjamin Franklin

I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life, I absenteed myself from Christian assemblies.
– Benjamin Franklin

During almost fifteen centuries the legal establishment known as Christianity has been on trial and what have been the fruits, more or less, in all places? These are the fruits: pride, indolence, ignorance and servility in the laity, and in both clergy and laity, superstition, bigotry and persecution.

My point here is not that nobody who is religious can be moral, or that everybody who follows some religion is some kind of slavering God-zombie. I’m not PZ Myers. My point here is that Beck pulling the assertion that religion is necessary for a moral society completely out of his ass, with nothing to support it but some cherry-picked quotes; the only mention he gives to the fact that atheists can be moral people is when he notes: “Religion is not the cause of intolerance any more than the lack of it is the cause of mass murder.” So… atheists aren’t necessarily mass murderers. Thanks, Glenn! And I’d also like to note that if your religion tells you to hate gay people, then your religion kind of is the cause of your intolerance. Just saying.

Later this week, part 8. We’ll finish off the review with Beck’s (and my) closing thoughts.

Glenn Beck's Common Sense, Part 6: Apropos of nothing, Glenn Beck has a really punchable face

Chapter 5 is titled “The Cancer of Progressivism”. It’s exactly what you think it is, except that instead of any actual, solid definition of ‘progressivism’, he just uses it to stand for ‘a very bad thing that I don’t like!’ Throughout the chapter, he never actually defines what ‘Progressives’ are or what they believe that’s in any way consistent with the people I know that call themselves progressives. For example, he claims that “One of the hallmarks of Progressive thought is the concept of redistribution: the idea that your money and property are only yours if the State doesn’t determine that there is a higher or better use for it.” Uh, what? He can’t be complaining about eminent domain, because that’s written in the Holy Constitution, Peace Be Upon It. So I’m guessing he’s conflating (probably intentionally) progressivism with Communism, which is absolutely disingenious and reminiscent of McCarthyism. He then goes on to rant about how Teddy Roosevelt believed property is “subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it.” Again, this quote strikes me more as Teddy Roosevelt saying that just because you own something, it doesn’t mean you can do whatever the hell you want with it. People who own factories don’t have the right to dump their shit into the air, people who own houses can’t set up a nuclear plant in their backyard, etc. It’s not entirely unreasonable, yet this strikes Beck as being the worst thing in the world.

So now we move on to the environmental movement. He asks whether “[environmentalists] honestly believe that the environment can really be “saved” through government intervention”, despite two pages earlier stating that “[progressives] love their country and genuinely believe that this is the best way forward.” He throws out the old “global cooling/warming” canard, first noting that (supposedly) scientists believed the earth was cooling in the 1970s, and so we can never trust them again on anything ever. The problem here is twofold: first off, the scientific papers of the time were merely reporting that temperature was on a downward trend over a timescale on the order of decades, as exemplified by this quote:

However, there is no physical basis for predicting either the timing or magnitude of such changes because we do not yet understand the underlying causes. Likewise there is no real basis for the alarmist predictions of an imminent ice age which have largely been based on extrapolation of the 30-year trend of falling temperatures between 1940 and 1965.

Second, serious scientists have never really called it “global warming”; again, this is a popular phrase picked up by the press because it’s easier to remember than “anthropogenic climate change”; yes, some parts of the earth will get colder, and some will get warmer, but the point is that it’s changing beyond normal parameters.

He then brings up the mercury level of CFLs; four milligrams of mercury per bulb, compared to .12 milligrams in a can of tuna. I’m not entirely sure what the point of that comparison is; does somebody need to tell him that you don’t eat CFLs? You might as well complain about the levels of mercury in your dental fillings, or your thermostat (which, according to the EPA [PDF], can contain up to 3000 milligrams of mercury.)
He then assaults the reader’s intelligence with this quote, which is probably one of the dumbest:

Isn’t it amazing that the law does not require one human being to save another human being from injury or death? if you see a stranger, or even a relative, drowning in a pool, the law doesn’t impose any obligation on you to save them, even if you could do so without any risk to yourself. Yet the same legal system requires you, under threat of penalty, to recycle, to avoid letting your car idle, and to put CFL bulbs with poisonous mercury into your homes—all to save the environment.

So wait. Glenn Beck thinks that the government interferes too much in our lives, and yet simultaneously thinks that we should be legally obliged to save other people’s lives? I mean, what? Seriously, what? Does he really want people untrained in first aid trying to ‘rescue’ people from car accidents, accidentally paralyzing or breaking something because they equate “car wreck” with “must remove person immediately!”, thinking that they’re about to die even when they’re in no further danger? And for that matter, if we were required to aid other people in danger, wouldn’t being legally required to protect the environment follow? After all, if we fuck up the environment, it would lead to the deaths of millions of people. But thinking things through to their logical conclusions isn’t exactly Glenn Beck’s strong point.

Another thing Beck really seems to be freaked out about is the mandatory testing of newborn infants for certain genetic diseases. I mean honestly, what’s so bad about that? Testing for genetic diseases can save lives if they’re caught early. But no, he’s worried about some future dystopia where “those accused of murder and rape have their blood and DNA protected more than innocent newborn babies.” Innocent until proven guilty? What the hell is that? Whenever you’re accused of something, you lose all your rights, end of story. He’s also conveniently ignoring genetic patenting, which hinders research and effectively grants corporations exclusive rights to research into certain areas.
On another privacy-related note, he brings up the DHS report titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment” (available on Wikileaks). From my reading of it, all that it seems to be saying is that Obama’s stances on various issues, both perceived and actual, have been inciting various extremist groups; Beck’s claim that the report states “veterans of the armed forces pose a heightened security risk to the country” is a (likely intentional) misreading of the section on disgruntled military veterans, which notes “DHS/I&A assesses that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.” I mean, noting that people who already have combat training would be valuable targets for extremist recruiting is kind of common sense. He then goes on to insult every single congressperson who spoke out against Bush’s warrantless wiretapping by noting that since they didn’t say anything about a report that suggests that further action might be advisable sometime in the future, without actually putting any action into place, they’re “cockroaches who care nothing about liberty and freedom.” Really? Fuck you.

This is already the longest section of the review, and I’m not even done with the chapter yet. Coming up on part 7, Glenn Beck rages against the public schooling system, and intimates without saying it that only Christians can possibly be moral.

Glenn Beck's Common Sense, Part 5 – I can't think of a witty title for this one

Okay. I know this is a bit late but I’ve been poring over this chapter and there really isn’t too much to write about. Here’s a refund.

So he opens the chapter asking us if we want a job with among other things, no performance reviews, good medical benefits, traveling the world, and working with people who hate you but have to suck up. I’m sorry, are we talking about politicians here or CEOs? But of course we’re only talking about politicians. Although I don’t think that Beck believes CEOs are completely innocent (he seems to both be a capitalist and hate CEOs). Anyway, he goes on to complain about how Congress didn’t comply with stuff like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (no job discrimination) and such until 1995. What’s he talking about? I don’t know, he doesn’t have any fucking sources! It’s really frustrating, because at least if I knew what he was talking about I could specifically rebut facts. But Googling is showing nothing, and the list of sources at the back is too fucking huge and involves too many things I don’t have ready access to to see where he’s pulling this from.

He then asks whether Congress doesn’t want to abide by these rules; the two options he provides are “it’ll impact their jobs” and “they don’t want to deal with the rules.” I’m not entirely sure what he’s going for here; I mean he can’t possibly be calling for scrapping important laws like Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act. But maybe I have too much faith in Glenn Beck.

He then goes on to talk about how Congress has a huge re-election rate for various reasons, such as fund-raising and gerrymandering. Here, he’s basically spot-on: some of the districts are absolutely ridiculous, and he even has a solution: term limits on all public servants. I’m going to assume he only means elected ones, as firing the low-level bureaucrats ever 5 years or so would be kind of… stupid. It’s not an entirely unreasonable assumption, either; he’s actually making a fairly cogent point here.

And once again, Glenn Beck finishes the chapter with a reference to 9/11, and talks about the post-9/11 days as if they were some kind of happy paradise where everybody was united and “late-nite comedians deffered their jokes.” Wait, what? Isn’t Glenn Beck the sort to rant about POLITICAL CORRECTNESS? Isn’t not making jokes about something like 9/11 basically an obvious example of the self-censorship people like Glenn Beck like to stereotype as ‘political correctness’, which is actually no more than not calling a black person ‘nigger’ or a gay person ‘faggot’. I mean, I was kind of 10 years old at the time, but I don’t exactly think I’d really want to go back to how I felt on 9/12.

Chapter 4 may have been a disappointment, but just wait for Chapter 5, on the cancer of progressivism! Yes, that’s the actual title.

A Review of Glenn Beck’s Common Sense, Part 9/11 Never Forget: The 9/12 Project

So, given that today is the day before Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project will supposedly come to fruition, I decided to go a bit out of order and cover the section of Common Sense that has to do with the 9/12 project. Lucky you! And due to the especially short nature of this part (one whole page!), I can basically quote the entire thing and still have it fall under fair use!

The 9/12 Projects has 9 Principles and 12 Values. The values aren’t really that interesting, just stuff like ‘Hard Work’, ‘Gratitude’, ‘Honesty’, that sort of thing. The 9 Values is where the real crazy is at.

1. “America is good.” No, no no. America is not fundamentally good or fundamentally bad. It is fundamentally America, and the usage of ‘American’ as a synonym for ‘good’ is one of the most disingenuous, jingoistic (god I love that word), and scary things to come out of modern American political discourse. America’s laws, and even its constitution can change. I might be reading a bit much into this, but I guarantee you that when people say ‘America is good’, they don’t mean that it’s good right now, they mean that it is impossible for them to imagine a scenario in which America does wrong; to them, whenever the nation-state acts in a way perceived as ‘wrong’, it’s not actually America doing it.
2. “I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life.” Stylistic issues aside (what the hell is with the noun capitalization, are we speaking German again?), this one is rather… interesting. Does that imply that belief in God is necessary to be a true-blue American, and that atheism is a sure-fire path towards moral decay? Oh, sillly me. 11 pages back, he says “It wasn’t about any one particular creed, dogma, or church, but rather about all religions that inspired men to selflessness, virtue, and godliness.” Oh, of course. Note the monotheistic language; although I’m sure he didn’t mean to offend polytheists (I hope he didn’t, anyway), I wonder how he’d react if someone asked him whether prayer to his Gods is an important part of his life.
3. “I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday.” There’s not much to say about this one; not much can be said. Honesty is good, yadda yadda. Moving on.
4. “The family is sacred. My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government.” If I were the sort to really, really read into things, I would read this as saying that Glenn’s had some trouble with Child Protective Services and/or domestic violence claims. But nothing’s coming up, so eh. But really, what the hell? Is he saying that each family unit is its own little sovereign nation-state which should remain unburdened by petty government laws? Because that’s what I’m getting out of it. Am I the only one? No?
5. “If you break the law you pay the penalty. Justice is blind and no one is above it.” So… are there no such things as extenuating circumstances now? Does that mean that he supports life sentences for the corporate heads who literally embezzle million of dollars? I know if I stole a million dollars from a bank I’d never see daylight again. But no. I’m just a poor non-corporate-executive, I don’t get special treatment. Example (click for big, link to story):

Homeless man gets 15 for $100; AIG exec gets 4 for millions. 6. “I have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but there is no guarantee of equal results.” This is another one of those things that seems innocuous at first, but then you look at the subtext and you realize what he’s actually saying. He’s basically implying that there’s no welfare right here, that if you try your hand at entrepreneurship and you lose everything you own… tough shit? Good luck next life? 7. “I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who i want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable.” So… no taxes then? And let’s not forget that you work hard by driving to your job on government-funded roads, using government-funded traffic lights; the reason that people aren’t speeding is because of government-funded police and the government-funded court system, and in case your house burns down, the government-funded fire department will be right there. BUT OH NO I HAVE TO PAY TAXES WHAT THE HELL IS THIS SHIT. 8. “It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.” No objection here. He’s free to be as goddamn crazy as he wants on-air. 9. “The government works for me. I do not answer to them; they answer to me.” To that, I just have this to say: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” The purpose of government is to serve its citizens, yes, but it’s impossible for government to serve its citizens when they refuse to give it something back in return. Think of it this way: when you were growing up, your parents’ responsibility was to take care of you, yeah. But you had to give a little as well. It’s not a perfect metaphor, but it gets the point across. 10. And now we come to the 12 principles. For this, I figured it’d be more entertaining to find a post on the 9/12 forums or something from beck himself that violates each principle, in subtle or in flagrant ways. Enjoy! Anyway, that’s it for the 9/12 project. As I said before, I’ll be doing chapter 4 next, where Glenn Beck talks about the perks and privileges of the political class. Guess how many of them apply to executive CEOs? (hint: most of them!) Glenn Beck's Common Sense, Part 4: Facts are hard :( Chapter 3 is all about the US Tax Code, and right at the beginning he throws around the word ‘fascism’ when he notes that the IRS used to be called the “Bureau of Internal Revenue”. Because, y’know, income tax is fascist because it applies to 75% of Americans. On page 38, he then does an about-face and uses Russia as an example: according to Beck and his mysterious sources, after Russia went to a flat tax their income went up by 25%. The problem here is Beck is assuming that the flat tax is the only thing Russia was doing in terms of economic policy at the time, when they were actually enacting broad economic reform. The other problem is that studies have found that not only was the tax revenue increase mostly attributable to increased compliance, the compliance was itself due mostly to administration and enforcement policy changes, rather than tax rate changes. So basically, he’s full of shit. Later on in the page, Beck uses some devious, devious math. He says that about 7.6 billion hours were spent on tax work, which for the sake of argument I’ll grant. But then he uses the scare figure of that being the equivalent of 3.8 million full-time employees to imply that the tax code is a huge burden. Now, let’s see here. Ignore for now the fact that richer people tend to have more complicated income structures and therefore spend the bulk of the time. According to CNN, in 2008, there were 156.3 million tax filers. That works out to a whopping 48 hours per person. And even then, this article notes that self-filers spent an average of eight to twenty-seven (shouldn’t the average be a single number?) hours on taxes. So that means that non-self-filers, who I’m guessing are the people who have complicated income structures, make up the bulk. Once again, he’s being deliberately dishonest with his math. Then he rails on for a while about how the tax code is used to punish people, but he really doesn’t give any specific examples or ideas for tax reform, except that only a few people should pay the income tax I guess? He doesn’t say where the hell the government should get its money from, although I bet he doesn’t think it should get it at all. Small government and all that. And then he goes back to the founding father dicksucking, quoting George Washington and conjuring the image of the founders writing out the Constitution. He goes on and on about how we’re a republic, not a democracy, which is pretty goddamn hilarious given the populist rage he’s attempting to foment (take back the republic from the republic!). He inadvertently notes that to those who support SOCIALISM over capitalism, “having a cap on success is an appropriate price to pay for also having a cap on failure.” He actually doesn’t do anything to counter this point, which is pretty funny, because it’s entirely true. If you fail, you can basically lose everything, whereas success has the whole diminishing returns thing going for it. Are rich people necessarily happier than non-rich people? Maybe, but it’s not like Bill Gates is ten million times happier than I am. On the other hand, loss of wealth and failure suffers from no such effect; the guy who has nothing and struggles to eat every day is pretty much as miserable as you can get. Next, Glenn Beck talks about the perks and privileges of the political class. Guess how many of them apply to executive CEOs? (hint: most of them!) But first, a special interlude about the 9/12 project and how fucking scary it is sometimes. A Review of Glenn Beck's Common Sense, Part 3: What the hell are sources? Chapter 3 is entitled “Money: The Opiate of the Masses”, and with a title like that you’d think he’d start out denouncing the importance of purchasing and spending in our modern society. But no. There is no mention whatsoever within this chapter of the spending habits of the individual America (save for an unintentionally accurate comparison near the end.) Instead, the entire chapter is a screed against government overspending. I do agree with him that the government spending more than its income is a bad idea, but he doesn’t even to consider the possibility of, gasp, raising taxes! Instead, he notes the huge amount of debt we owe and our massive interest payments on it, without giving any way to reduce these payments. And this chapter in particular is where a rather huge flaw of the entire book shines through: sourcing. In any respectable book like this, you have to cite your sources. Glenn Beck certainly does so, although I can’t speak for whether the sources are accurate. But what he does not do, which makes the part of me that had to spend hours upon hours making sure my high school history papers were properly cited in Chicago format weep, is that he has zero footnotes or endnotes. Not only that, he doesn’t even give his reader the courtesy of sorting his sources by chapter; they’re all sorted alphabetically by last name. Granted, that is a legitimate way to organize your sources, but when you give the reader no way to link statements to sources, it really strikes me as a way to use sources to obfuscate the fact that you have no clue what the fuck you’re talking about. And that is especially important in a part that deals with numbers and specific data. In one especially disingenious section, Beck notes that the 2008 profits of Exxon Mobil GE, Wal-Mart, and IBM total$87.61 billion. He then notes that even if these profits were to be taxed at 100%, then we wouldn’t even have enough additional income to match interest payments. Fair enough. But he seems to be forgetting that it’s also possible to tax the employees of these companies, especially the CEOs and the other high-ranking businesspeople! It’s not like net income is the only corporate-related earning source. He then notes that the sum total of all personal income tax revenue for the next decade would not be enough to pay down the national debt. Well… no shit? If you’re really, really deep in debt, you don’t try to pay it off all at once by starving yourself and your family. You pay off the interest on your debt plus as much as you can afford; as you pay off principal, your interest payments go down and your principal goes down even faster. And on this point, he’s just plain, flat-out wrong. According to official IRS data, the total income tax revenue as of 2007 was about $2.6T. Now, unless my math is off, I’m pretty sure that ten times that would be$26 trillion, which is just a small bit larger than the national debt. So I’m honestly not sure where the hell he’s getting his numbers, because he’s flat out fucking wrong. And once again, he’s completely ignoring the possibility of raising taxes. It’s not like it hasn’t been done before:

Source: http://politicalreform.com/charts/taxthresh3.png

The rest of the chapter is fairly vanilla ‘Social security is a Ponzi scheme’ bullshit that others have debunked better than I; it’s not particularly interesting (although he calls politicians ‘lecherous’; I don’t think he knows quite what that word means!). He actually does note that if China were to massively hike interest rates, it would cause a global economical collapse that would make the current one pale in comparison. He even notes that this is “a logical case”; but he then dismisses it, saying… nothing. He just says that “logic is in even shorter supply among our leaders than intelligence.” Pray tell us, Glenn, what’s the flaw in this argument? He never answers. He draws a parallel between the US and Zimbabwe and the Weimar Republic and says that we’re about to undergo hyperinflation, but….

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US_Historical_Inflation.svg

Even during the great depression and other times of economic misfortune, inflation rates never went above 50%, and even then only for brief periods of time. This is hardly what I’d call ‘hyperinflation’. Granted, past performance isn’t an indicator of future behavior, but nowhere does Glenn credit anything for the idea that we’re about to experience hyperinflation. Once again, the lack of sources really causes this book to suffer. D-, see me after class Mr. Beck.

Coming up on Part 4: Glenn Beck takes on the US Tax Code. Here’s a preview: It’s too complicated, he misuses averages, and SOCIALISM!

A Review of Glenn Beck's Common Sense, Part 2

Welcome to part 2 out of (hopefully) 9 in my mega-review of Glenn Beck’s Common Sense. In this part, I’ll be tackling the first actual chapter of his book, entitled “The Reshaping and Redefining of America.” Hopefully, I’ll keep the review/book length lower than Part 1; I think I wrote twice as many words as Glenn himself did.

Beck opens with the usual ‘politicians are corrupt, we’ve lost control of America, etc.’ stuff. I agree with him on this point (although definitely not in the way he means it!), in that special interest groups have far too much power. He actually does get it right when he remarks that

Through legitimate “emergencies” involving war, terror, and economic crises, politicians on both sides have gathered illegitimate new powers—playing on our fears and desire for security and economic stability—at the expense of our freedoms.

Now, I’m not saying that Glenn Beck is a modern-day intellectual. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that there’s been a major power play in American politics, especially after 9/11 and the PATRIOT Act. The issue of the growing power of the executive branch, especially with signing statements and such, is a serious issue, one that I don’t mean to discuss; suffice it to say that Beck and I agree on this point. But where we diverge is on the solution to this problem.

On the very same page with the quote I mentioned above, he literally states that “free government housing,… [or] welfare dependency” constitutes selling one’s birthright. How? He doesn’t elaborate on this; presumably the reader is left to conclude that accepting anything for free makes you less of a man or something, I don’t know. According to Glenn Beck, we’ve become a nation who “would rather be cared for, fed, clothed, housed, and told what’s best for us by a parentlike state.” I’m sorry, but the last time I checked, one of the duties of a nation was to ensure the health of all of its citizens, not to leave them alone to die naked and penniless in the streets. If he’s trying to scare his audience, then I’m not sure how he hopes to accomplish this by the image of a nation providing food, clothing, and housing for its citizens. The entire reason that nations exist is to improve the welfare of their citizens; if we go back to the Constitution, one of the reasons it was created in the first place was to “insure domestic tranquility, [and] promote the general welfare.” And as for the state ‘telling us what’s best for us’… isn’t that basically what laws are? The government telling us that it’s better that people not kill, steal, etc.?

A few pages later, Glenn Beck seems to get it again when he complains about “politicians and the media [telling] us that America is about having the most stuff, the nicest cars, and the biggest homes.” He just seems so close to realizing that in any sort of capitalistic society, there will always be incentive to create a need to increase demand, and therefore profit. But according to him, “compassion and capitalism go hand in hand.” What? He doesn’t back this one up either, nor his assertion that capitalism and greed are mutually exclusive. Isn’t a corporation legally obligated to its shareholders to make as much money as it possibly can? He asks whether our “public servants” (quotes his) really are interested in defending our “life, liberty, and property.” Now, while the individual government employee may not give a shit about you and your house, the government as a whole is obligated to. But what does a corporation have to care about? Nothing but its bottom line. If you live in an area with unfair laws, you can get them challenged. If you have to deal with a corporation with unfair contracts because they’re the only ones that provide service X, you can… what?

Again, for the most part this chapter isn’t terribly unreasonable; he’s mostly right at least about the causes of the current sorry state of America: our politicians are utter shit. The really horrible stuff comes in later chapters, like in chapter 5, “The Cancer of Progressivism”, where he states that religion is necessary for a moral society. I can’t wait!

A Review of Glenn Beck's Common Sense, Part 1

I recently picked up a copy of Glenn Beck’s Common Sense. Why, I don’t know. It just jumped out at me in the bookstore, and it was 30% off anyway. So I decided that, since just burning it would be silly, I’m going to read through it and post my response to each chapter, with counterarguments and citations and such. There are eight chapters (if you include the introduction and the chapter on the 9/12 project), and I’ll probably do a chapter every few days (except for chapter 5, which I’ll have to split into two posts due to its sheer size), so this should take about a month as long as college life doesn’t interfere too badly.

First, a bit of information about the book itself: it goes for incredibly cheap on Amazon (about \$7 or so), it’s 111 pages long (174 with the copy of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense he included as well as sources), and oddly enough for a political book, I can’t find a single positive review printed on it. Now, onto the introduction.

The very first sentence of the introduction is “I think I know who you are.” Beck then proceeds to list the qualities he believes the audience for the book has. Several of them, such as “you try to do the right thing every day,” or “You sometimes argue with friends about politics, not because you are a political activist, but because you think the issues are actually important” are so trite as to be essentially meaningless. Others, such as “… you stopped expressing opinions on sensitive issues a long time ago because you don’t want to be called a racist, bigot, or homophobe if you stand by your values and principles” or “Now our government, the instigator of our problems, is telling everybody that they have to start sacrificing” are thinly-veiled attacks on progressives. We’re only in the introduction and, without explicitly mentioning it, Beck has started his assault on what be perceives to be the cause of all of modern America’s ills: the government. He briefly seems to realize that there might be other problems when he remarks

… you wonder why it makes you feel like a bad parent if your kids don’t have certain shoes, the newest video games, or aren’t signed up for five different sports teams

Sadly, it’s unlikely that Glenn Beck will attack corporate advertising for turning wants into perceived needs. There’s also a bit of unintentional comedy in

You’re not a prude, but you happen to think that a three-year-old shouldn’t be watching shows that treat sex lightly and mock mothers and fathers. But what can you do? The other shows are worse.

If Beck is using this introduction as a method of venting his own complaints about parenting, then clearly he needs to either subscribe to Nickelodeon or Noggin, or possibly even… turn off the TV or not let his kids watch it! Shocking, I know. Aren’t Republicans supposed to be all about personal responsibility? So why is Beck complaining about how the TV is doing a poor job of raising children?

Anyway, once we’re done with the list of grievances Beck has nailed to the metaphorical door, he states that “The fastest way to be branded a danger, a militia member, or just plain crazy is to quite the words of our Founding Fathers.” What the hell? I don’t think that quoting the founding fathers (I absolutely refuse to deify them with a proper noun) makes you crazy at all. But what I do think is that crazy people tend to quote them in their political arguments, as if they were absolutely perfect and had no moral flaws in and of themselves. Do I need to remind them that the three-fifths compromise, which literally stated that slaves were not a whole person, was put in the Constitution by the founding fathers, or that the famous phrase “all men are created equal” didn’t include people with an excess of melanin? Do you have any doubt that, were they to be transported to today, they would nearly have a heart attack at the fact that we elected a… a NEGRO to the office of President? But I don’t want to go on a tangent here about how stupid founding father worship is; this is about Glenn Beck’s book.

He wants us to realize how America changed from how it used to be; notice the subtle implication that change is always bad. If the typical Beck reader is about 40 or so, then in their childhoods rights for non-whites was a new concept, gay rights were practically non-existent. Lawrence v. Texas, which ruled sodomy laws as unconstitutional, wasn’t even until 2003! I know he didn’t mean it that way, but it’s still rather amusing. The introduction ends with Beck imploring us to ‘declare the causes that unite us’, advice which the modern Republican party does sorely need. We’ll see what those causes are over the next nine chapters (hint: veiled racism/classism/bigotry!)