Fables, flim-flam, and urban legends of our time

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Rove, Bush & Co. have taken newspeak to new lows

‘Tis the jolly season of Santa Claus, with fantasies of sugar plums dancing all about, so it seems appropriate that we Lowdowners kick back and take time in this issue to sift through a vast treasure trove of the political fantasies that have become such an integral part of America’s public discourse. I’m talking about the many urban legends that constantly rip through the body politic. Usually generated by partisans of both parties, special interest groups, corporate think tanks, lobbyists, front groups, and PR flacks, they’re picked up and repeated endlessly as “true” by talk-radio yakkers, cable TV pundits, bloggers, internet chatterers, and even the self-proclaimed “legitimate” media.

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A few of these legends actually are true, and some start with a germ of truth that quickly becomes overwhelmed with creative elaboration, but most are simply myths, fabrications, fibs, propaganda, distortions, outright lies, or orchestrated B.S. Some grow powerful enough to affect an entire election (the Karl Rove-inspired claim by a front group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, that John Kerry did not earn his war medals and possibly was a coward). Some are enormous enough to bamboozle Congress and the public into supporting disastrous public policies (the Bushites’ bogus insistence that Ol’ Saddam Hussein was about to whap us with weapons of mass destruction). And some are just innocent fun and silliness (the internet rumor after the 2000 electoral debacle in Florida that in the seventh century St. Chad of Northumbria was proclaimed the patron saint of disputed elections—a bit of spoofery inspired not only by Chad’s name but also by the fact that he had momentarily been installed as the Bishop of York, only to be deposed shortly afterward because of a dispute over the legitimacy of his consecration).

Here, then, is our holiday offering of some “True or False” urban legends from our political world, including several that you’ll be hearing repeated with growing volume and frequency in the New Year. We mix the serious with the lighthearted.

George W was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Incredible, but true…sort of. The self-declared “war president” was among 156 people in the world whose names were on the list considered by the Norwegian Nobel committee in 2002. (Tony Blair was another; no report on whether Saddam or Osama made the list.) Meanwhile, Jimmy Carter was the deserving one who bagged the Peace Prize that year.

John Edwards caused America’s current shortage of flu vaccine.

Uh-uh. This charge ricocheted across the internet late in this year’s election in an effort to tag Edwards as an ambulance-chasing trial lawyer who sued a U.S. vaccine manufacturer in the 1980s and won a $5 million jury award. Thus, goes this right-wing screed, American drug companies were forced by Edwards’ “frivolous” lawsuit to quit making flu vaccines.

Wrong. U.S. companies abandoned the market because they were not reaping the profit margins they wanted. Liability lawsuits had nothing to do with it. Indeed, since 1980, only seven such cases have been filed in the entire U S of A, and the companies won at least five of them. As for Edwards, a media search of every lawsuit he ever filed revealed that none of his cases—exactly zero—were against flu-vaccine makers.

Social Security is going broke and must be fixed, pronto.

This is a Big Lie. It has been told and retold with growing urgency since the 1970s because Citigroup and other giant financial conglomerates have been drooling to get their fat, grubby hands on this $1.5 trillion trust fund. They have lobbied, funded hokey think-tank “studies,” planted media stories, created front groups (Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation is their current one), and poured money into scores of congress critters willing to carry their water—and now they have the enthusiastic backing of W, who says the partial privatization of the Social Security Trust Fund is necessary in order to “save” it and will be one of his top priorities next year.

This is like a coyote offering to save the lambs. First, the system is not broken. We’ll devote a Lowdown issue to this topic soon, but for now you can take comfort in the fact that, according to the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office, Social Security is financially sound through at least 2052. It is fully capable of meeting all obligations to us future retirees for the next 48 years without making any changes in the system at all. What bank or corporation can claim to be as solid?

Second, minor adjustments to the financing of the fund will make it secure for the next 75 years, way past the time that today’s “fixers” will be dead and gone. There certainly is no need—NONE—to undergo the radical surgery that the lobbyists and Bushites will propose, including privatization, raising the retirement age to 70, and slashing benefits. What they’re proposing is nothing less than an armed robbery—but get ready, for they have already created the mass myth that the system is collapsing and that they are its humble saviors, trying to do us a favor.

Saddam Hussein owns a chunk of a company that publishes such popular red-state magazines as Road & Track and Car and Driver.

Weird…but true. Follow the bouncing ball: Saddam owns a holding company called Montana Management (based in Panama) that, in turn, owns about 2% (currently worth $90 million) of the stock in a French media company whose subsidiary publishes these two mags, as well as Woman’s Day, Elle, and others. Saddam is in the pokey, but as of last year, his Montana Management still owned stock in this publisher. Welcome to the wondrous world of global corporate finance.

The rich pay all the taxes and the burden on them has become too great. To redistribute the burden so that the middle class and the poor pay their fair share, we need to replace the income tax with a national sales tax.

Bogus as a wooden nickel. But this “pity-the-rich” fable is being spread far and wide by the likes of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, various corporate-funded think tanks, and, now, the man-with-the-plan: George W. Next to opening the Social Security fund to a corporate raid, Bush says his biggest economic priority in Term II is to restructure the tax system so consumption and wages are taxed—but not wealth. The urban legend is that the wealthiest few are being socked by the income tax, while the 80 percent majority of Americans skate by, paying only 20 percent of the cost of government. Yoo hoo, you flimflamming greedheads: I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night! First, the wealthiest few haul off the bulk of the income, so of course they pay the most in federal income taxes. Second, and even more important, thanks to loopholes, corporate tax avoidance, and Bush’s earlier tax giveaways to the wealthy, income taxes don’t pay most of the cost of government these days. Instead, wage taxes, local and state sales taxes, liquor and gasoline taxes, steadily rising tolls and fees, and other thoroughly regressive assessments on We the People pick up the tab. Add up the total tax burden, and the working poor pay as much or more than the multimillionaire CEOs pushing Bush’s “reform” scam.

The French, those snail-eating war dodgers, sent a note to Bush in 2003 that demanded that the USA remove America’s World War I and II soldiers who are buried there, saying: “Come pick up your garbage.”

Mon dieu, mes amis, get a grip! This ugly and untrue blot of blather was spewed forth as part of the American right-wing’s mindless, knee-jerk assault on all things French in ’03 after that country declined to join George’s Iraq attack. No such sentiment existed in France, much less a note from the government.

Ironically, it was the GOP in Congress (feverishly cheered on by the White House and right-wing commentators) that went over the top in souring French-American relations. GOP Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite of Florida was the one who raised the matter of disinterring U.S. soldiers from French soil. In March 2003, she introduced her “American Heroes Repatriation Act,” allowing families to retrieve their loved ones from French cemeteries and rebury them here. Being Republican, the issue for her came down to money: Because they didn’t go along with Bush’s war, Brown-Waite said the French should not continue to get the “millions of dollars a year” she claims they earn from American families travelling there to visit 11 burial grounds honoring our fallen soldiers.

Andy Rooney says God talks to him.

True. The long-time commentator on “60 Minutes” is often the subject of apocryphal (i.e., made-up) quotes attributed to him by internet communicators, but this one is true, in a wry way. This February, Rooney commented on the claim by political preacher Pat Robertson that God had told him that Bush would win in “a blow-out.” But, said Rooney, Robertson is not the only one who hears from God. Here’s Rooney’s direct quote:

“I heard from God just the other night. God always seems to call at night. ‘Andrew,’ God said to me—he always calls me Andrew. I like that—’Andrew, you have the eyes and ears of a lot of people. I wish you’d tell your viewers that both Pat Robertson and Mel Gibson strike me as wackos …They’re crazy as bedbugs.'”

Bush now has a mandate from the people to push through his full agenda.

Puh-leeze. Even if his Ohio vote holds up (it’s being challenged over Florida-esque election manipulations and a hand recount is to be done there), George barely squirmed into office with a two-point margin. Indeed, 49 percent of voters soundly rejected both him and the ugly horse he rode in on. When roughly half of the voting public not only rejected you but still want to kick your kiester out of the Oval Office, some measure of humility is in order, not bull-goose braggadocio. Yet, there he is, inhaling his own ego and flatly asserting that the people have rubber-stamped his plans for Social Security, taxes, war, the environment, court appointments, faith-based government, free-trade deals, blah-blah-blah. As you’d expect, right-wing pontificators and corporate gumflappers are fast spreading the myth of Bush’s mandate, but they are not alone. Many of the supposedly responsible media houses are also meekly going along with this absurdity, broadcasting it as truth. Not all of them, though. The latest New York Times/CBS poll puts some revealing numbers to the “mandate” claim, finding that Americans—even many Bush voters—largely oppose the things he’s talking about doing:

• His push for more tax cuts for the rich and corporations? Two-thirds of people polled—including 51 percent of Republicans—think it’s more important to cut the out-of-control federal deficit than to cut taxes. Only one-third think George’s previous tax cuts have been good for our economy.

• Only about a third believe that Bush’s “reform” scheme will make sure that Social Security benefits will “be there for people like me.”

• 67 percent want abortion to remain an available choice, but about the same percent think Bush will appoint Supreme Court justices who’ll outlaw it.

• 55 percent disapprove of George’s handling of the Iraq war, and a plurality (48 percent) now say it was a mistake to invade in the first place.

• Bush’s push for a constitutional ban of same-sex marriages? The majority opposes it.

• A majority continue to believe that the country is going in the wrong direction.

• A third believe that religious extremists have too much influence over Bush, but—here’s a big one—two-thirds say that it’s big business that has too much influence on him.

An Indiana Republican is sponsoring a bill to change the number of Interstate 69 because the religious right says “I-69” has an immoral connotation of oral sex that’s causing teenagers to snicker.

This is simply a spoof of right-wing religious extremism. Still, it’s causing a huge headache for Rep. John Hostettler, a conservative Indiana Republican. Published by the satirical Hoosier Gazette in November and instantly spread worldwide on the internet, this claim was taken as accurate by hordes of people who have besieged Hostettler’s office with criticism for his wackiness. Despite his denials, this item has taken on a life of its own, in part because it sounds exactly like a cause that would get the more uptight sexual moralists in a boil and that Hostettler would support. One thing this urban legend has done is to create a global demand for I-69 buttons.

People in the red states live a life of family values that are stronger than the libertine lifestyles of, say, people in Massachusetts.

A political legend sung by media pundits almost in unison since Bush’s red-state win. They claim that Democrats and liberals of any stripe simply are out of touch with the deep family values practiced by conservatives, especially born-again Christians in the South and Midwest.

Quick: Name the state with the lowest divorce rate in America. It’s Massachusetts, which the right wing, including Bush, decries as the very epitome of despicable liberalism but which has a divorce rate barely half that of Texas.

The lowest rate of family breakups in America is in the blue Northeast, while the highest will be found in the Bible Belt, where you still see bumper stickers that proclaim, “The family that prays together, stays together.” A study by the George Barna Group, a Christian research and advocacy firm, finds that only 19 percent of Northeasterners have divorced, compared to 27 percent of people in the South and Midwest. Barna also found that born-again Christians have more divorces than other Christians and—Holy Moly!—considerably more than atheists and agnostics.

Old St. Chad must be turning in his grave, or hanging—but he’s probably not pregnant.

I’m making moves!

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