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COVID-19 Impact On Household Finances By State

Source: WalletHub
A ranking of financial distress per state based on 9 key metrics. The lower the number, the greater level of financial distress people in that state are experiencing, on average. By and large, people in states that voted red in 2016 showed greater levels of financial distress than blue states.

Conspiracy Watch

Conspiracy Theories, Straw Man Arguments,

 and Far-Right, Political Crackpottery

By Steve Rensberry
Opinion/Analysis
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   EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - July 21, 2020 - Under the right conditions and the right circumstances almost every human being, I think, can find themselves tempted to climb aboard the conspiracy crazy train, cockamamie reasoning and all. Newer research has begun to show us why some people seem particularly susceptible to it, but my guess is the risk is there for all of us under times of stress, being the imperfect creatures that we are.
Note: Venn diagram is for illustration purposes only. See ref for link.
Fortunately, cold hard reality has a way of straightening most of us out most of the time, after we discover that the sky really isn't falling like they said it was, or that the government really isn't coming to take away our guns after all. But such theories don't die easily, especially in the kind of complex, internet-driven, changing world of today, a fact that has been brought to light in multiple news stories in recent months. In some cases, perpetrators have acted on such beliefs in violent and socially harmful ways, one example being the case of Robert D. Bowers in Pittsburgh. See: Pittsburgh Gunman Embraced Conspiracy Theories. 
   “More than a quarter of the American population believes there are conspiracies 'behind many things in the world,' according to a 2017 analysis of government survey data by University of Oxford and University of Liverpool researchers,” writes Melinda Wenner Moyer in a March 1, 2017 Scientific American essay, People Drawn to Conspiracy Theories Share a Common Cluster of Psychological Features.
   Citing research by Stephen Lewandowsky of the University of Western Australia (Psychological Science, 2003), Moyer adds: “New research suggests that events happening worldwide are nurturing underlying emotions that make people more willing to believe in conspiracies. Experiments have revealed that feelings of anxiety make people think more conspiratorially. Such feelings, along with a sense of disenfranchisement, currently grip many Americans, according to surveys. In such situations, a conspiracy theory can provide comfort by identifying a convenient scapegoat and thereby making the world seem more straightforward and controllable.”   
   Moyer cites research questioning the wisdom of even trying to counter conspiracy theories with logic or evidence, noting older research that suggested it can just cause some adherents to dig in deeper, but I'm going to give it a shot.  See: Joseph Uscinski
   With that said, I came across a piece recently that I can only describe as a phenomenally fragmented and hysterical piece of mind-numbing conjecture. It was posted on the online site “americanthinker.com” and is basically a conspiracy theory mash-up piece, written by someone going by the name of “Dex Bahr” and entitled “Know Your Enemy: Undeniable Truths About the Left.”  I am not linking this document as I do not want to promote it, but a simple title search will do the trick for anyone interested in seeing the entire piece.
   One thing the article does do rather nicely, intentional or not, is roll just about every far-right conspiratorial idea making the rounds into one little narrative, awkward but concise, and perfect for a bit of literary and logical dissection.
   They're all here: heavy pro-Trump ideation, the denigration of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Covid lockdown “hoax,” Marxist/Socialist/Leftists/Communist/Democratic Party collaboration, and the “sycophantic media." Add to that conspiratorial actions by Google, Facebook and Twitter to squelch conservative voices and influence. Such persecution. Social justice and multiculturalism take a hit, China takes a hit as the source of the “Wuhan virus,” Democrat governors and mayors take a hit, and ordinary citizens in general concerned about systemic racism and inequality in America take a conspiratorial hit. It's all black and white and crystal clear in Mr. Bahr's mind. You're either part of the freedom-loving, patriotic, God-fearing conservative right, or you're a violent, power loving leftist who loves Maxism, authoritarianism, and control. It is an argument stealing and psychological projection masterpiece in some ways, exemplifying that which it criticizes and reapplying many of the identical arguments and criticisms the left uses, in mirror-image fashion.
   One thing that Mr. Bahr's article definitely does not contain, despite its claims, is a list of “undeniable truths.” Instead it contains some rather glaring falsehoods which, if taken literally and acted upon by unstable individuals, could lead to some serious and real harm.
Falsehood No. 1
    Quote: “First, we must begin by properly labeling the truth as it is,” he writes. “For example, everything that is happening now is because the left's plans to remake the United States from a Constitutional republic into (a) borderless global state were (sic) thwarted by the people electing Donald J. Trump for president.”
    The idea that Trump “saved” a country on the brink of a complete leftist takeover is all over the conservative web universe, on sites like “theconservativetreehouse” and “americanthinker,” as is idea of a “borderless global state,” a conspiracy theory centered around George Soros' supposed personal quest to create a borderless utopia. I'm not advocating for any one particular vision, but one thing left unanswered is why such a so-called utopia would not be preferable--conceptually speaking--to living in a “massively-bordered hellhole,” which is more or less the opposite he seems to be advocating for.
Falsehood No. 2
   Quote: “The left not only hates Trump for beating their savior Hillary Clinton, it also loathes the citizens who voted for him.”
   The problematic part of this “undeniable truth” is that it really just insults and broadly stereotypes any American citizen who happens not to be a supporter of the president, for any reason, people who the author just lumps into one giant ugly category he calls “the left.” He is right that a lot of people do loathe citizens who voted for Trump, but what is not to understand about that when some people sincerely believe that Trump is a dangerous and unstable individual? Bahr is being ridiculously over-simplistic and engaging in mere character assassination, attempting to undercut the integrity of law-abiding, patriotic Americas who he doesn't even know.
   Finally, no one I know thinks of Hillary Clinton as anything other than a decent though imperfect human being, least of all a “savior.”
Falsehood No. 3
    Quote: “Once you honestly grasp the level of hatred the left has for us, you begin to understand that the Wuhan virus extended lockdowns and the Black Lives Matter/Antifa led riots are for (sic) express purpose of bringing misery and terror to those who dared to vote for Donald Trump in 2016 and those who are planning to vote for him in November.”
   It's hard to know whether he seriously knows what he's even writing about, least of all understand the principle of cause and effect, but once again he is just insulting and mocking those more liberal than himself, downplaying the lockdowns and protests, misidentifying them as “Antifa led riots” and maligning a movement genuinely concerned with racial justice and equal freedom under the law.
    He's on a hunt to demonize, it appears, at a time when others are trying to work constructively toward a better and more inclusive America, failing to understand because he doesn't want to.
Falsehood No. 4
    Quote: “If past behavior is any indication of future behavior, then the Democrats will continue to scapegoat you for all that is wrong with the country. This is exactly what they are doing now when they speak of white privilege and systemic racism.”
   This is one of those statements that tells us more about the writer than it does about the intended subject matter. The Democrats who I know don't do a lot of scapegoating, but understand that a lot of factors are at play in the country's struggles. Mr. Bahr, however, makes it clear that he thinks white privilege and systemic racism are illegitimate causes.
   Who is scapegoating who? Once again, the author takes a common criticism of the right, as scapegoating negative outcomes by blaming “the media” or Democrats, or left-wing radicals, and attempts to turn it around to use against his enemies.
Falsehood No. 5
   Quote: “The left hates any American who disagrees with them.”
   Sorry, but there's not much that's “undeniable” about this so-called truth either, which is just another case of over-generalization and psychological projection. Traditionally it has been the conservative right who has behaved with intolerance, defending cruel and inhumane punishment, torture even, and hating those who disagree with them in predicable, knee-jerk fashion, a fact which I suspect the writer is keenly aware of.
   And who is this “left” he keeps talking about? It's brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors, co-workers, pastors, parishioners, sometimes husbands and wives who just might happen to differ in their political views, as leftists, rightists, centrists, or as nothing at all.
   He doesn't know them from Adam, but wastes no time painting them as hateful and hyper-intolerant human beings who can't stand disagreement. He is really just describing himself.
Falsehood No. 6
    Quote: “Leftists hate free speech, especially if it criticizes their agenda.”
   Well, you know, nobody likes their agenda to be criticized, but what difference is there between his obvious hatred for “leftist's speak” and what he presumes is leftist hatred for his far-right conservative speech? Not much at all.
   The thing that bugs me the most about this tired old conservative talking point and slur is that rarely does anyone say exactly what kind of speech they feel so restricted from engaging in. Are they angry because that they can't say the “N” word? Is it because they want to be able to call women sluts and dames in public, without repercussions? Is it because public lying, slander and hate speech, speech that hurts and abuses people, has become culturally unacceptable?
   Mostly, the statement is just false, ridiculously broad and simple-minded.
Falsehood No. 7
   Quote: “Leftists love Marxism and therefore hate liberty.”
   Yet another slur and term which many conservatives imagine to be true about “the left,” all evidence aside, and also one which presents a false dichotomy. There may indeed be some left-leaning Americans who love Marxism, as there are right-leaning Americans who are dangerous anarchists and fascists, but I am not one of them and neither are any “leftist” that I know, and to use that as a defining term for the entire spectrum of left-leaning Americans is just ignorance in motion.
   As for hating liberty, I just don't see it in the left's fight for worker's rights, public health, environmental concerns, and marketplace fairness. Bahr wants “the left” to look very evil though, to fire up his buddies, so he tries very hard to make them look that way, by definition. One could equally say, however, with the same evidence-less bluster: “Rightists love fascism and therefore hate liberty,” then call it an undeniable truth.
Falsehood No. 8
   Quote: “The Democrat Party has been hijacked by the Marxist left.”
   This is really part of the same definition and word play the author engages in when he says that “leftists love Maxism,” and another imagined reality without a real-world connection.
   I would agree that the Democrat party has been influenced by the left, but they have also been influenced by moderate and conservative wings of the party. Both parties have undergone shifts in recent years, with one of the most noticeable shifts being a Republican Party's shift to the right, accelerated by Tea Party supporters and the current president's election in 2016, while the Democrat Party hasn't changed nearly as much.
Falsehood No. 9
   Quote: “Marxism is the theory behind socialism and communism, although they all lead to the same result of despair and slaughter. Both are the antithesis to capitalism, yet our federal government and many of our state governments continue to fornicate with socialism? Obamacare, anyone?”
   While Marxist ideas did have an influence on European social democratic parties in the 19th century, the author is simply incorrect to say that Marxism is the de facto theory behind socialism and communism. Socialism can be traced back to the 1789 French Revolution, while Karl Marx didn't pen The Communist Manifesto with Friedrich Engels until 1848, with the specific term they used being “scientific socialism.”
   While the idea that you can group, mix-and-match, or interchange the words socialist, communist, Marxist, leftist, and the like may be popular among the hard right, it really smacks of shoddy research and a lack of scholarly due diligence. He could start with the Encyclopedia Britannica's entry on Marxism. See: Marxism
Falsehood No. 10
Quote: “Socialism is the foot in the door under the guise of equality and communism is the thug who breaks down the door, holds your prisoner and forces you to work for his benefit.”
   It's a nice way to frame a political theory, using an allegory, but once again we can equally say in this preachy word-definition game he likes to play, that “Capitalism is the foot in the door under the false promise of easy property ownership and easy wealth, and the unregulated free market is the thug that breaks down the door, holds you prisoner and forces you to work for his benefit.”
   Bahr's consistent problem is phrasing things in such broad, universal terms that the meaning is all but lost. He's grandstanding to get applause from the converted and taking pot shots at the concept of equality. Its the talk of a privileged and contemptuous mind, not of one which cares much about those less fortunate or in need, unless perhaps spiritual conversion is involved.
Falsehood No. 11
   Quote: “Leftist governors and mayors have gone full communist under the guise of safety in their removal of freedoms during the Wuhan virus lock downs”
   Here we are once again with the communism and leftism tirade, and a gross misrepresentation of the health restrictions put in place to save American lives during a worldwide pandemic. The virus threat has never been a political issue, but this writer is intent on making it one.
   “Mayors have gone full communist!” he says.
   Did they seize all private property? Have they suspended all travel and the entire Bill of Rights?
 I'm sure that Mr. Bahr knows quite well that the virus is more than just “a Wuhan virus” and that the restrictions on his freedoms are only temporary, but he's got an axe to grind and is obviously all-in with defending the president and his judgement. He's playing a game of politics, not undeniable truths.
Falsehood No. 12
    Quote: “They went after our right to peaceably assemble, our free exercise of religion, and our right to free speech. The left went after our right to peaceably gather by limiting the number of people we could congregate with and initiating social distancing. Next, they impeded our free exercise of religion by deeming churches as non-essential and forbidding us from gathering for church services; even if they were drive-thru services. Finally, free speech was attacked when leftist social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter censored any posts or tweets that went against the Covid-19 media narrative.”
   Once again, this is a gross misinterpretation and downplaying of the danger posed by the Covid19 virus and the extenuating circumstances surrounding it, with the limitations put in place after they were urged by non-partisan entities, scientists and health care professionals all across the country and globe, explicitly for reasons of public health. Bahr, however, is doing his best to politicize it and make Covid-19 seem like a weapon “the left” is using against the right merely to limit their freedoms. This is not a partisan issue, but he wants it to be. As for limiting speech, he cites policy changes Facebook and Twitter made to limit fake news and false information from being spread about a serious health issue, then claims both are “leftist social media platforms.”
   Bahr likely knows that the charge of social media bias cuts two ways. Both major platforms have been criticized by the left for their perceived conservative biases, as well as from the right. Think about it though. If Twitter was a “leftist social media platform,” as he says, would it have tolerated Trump's tweets for one day, never mind for three years going on four?
Falsehood No. 13
    Quote: “Google even controls what information you have access to with a search and now is even manipulating stories regarding the up-tick on positive cases of Covid-19.”
   Not to leave out anything, the author next goes after Google, alleging that it manipulates the Covid-19 numbers. The proof? A phenomenon he says occurs whenever you type a number into the Google search bar along with the phrase “new covid cases” after which it always scores a hit. “Think I am kidding” he says, “Just enter any random number and 'new covid cases' and you'll get a series of stories with the numbers you want.”
   This is both bizarre and inaccurate. I personally typed in several numbers that brought up zero hits. Likewise, the frequency of any random number being associated with a Covid-19 search is really not all that surprising is it, given an infection rate that has risen exponentially in just a few short months?
Falsehood No. 14
    Another unfounded assertion he makes is that the Democrats, the media, or “the left” as he imagines it, is playing fast and loose with polling data in an effort to manipulate people into thinking Trump is doing poorly, and to therefore just give up.
   “This is all to dispirit you. Since March, there has been a non-stop pile-on of your emotions. This, in (sic) an all-out, no holds barred effort to convince you to give up all hope and reject President Trump,” he writes.
   I'm sure glad he knows exactly why the Democrats do what they do, and exactly why the polling data is in error, but it sure would be nice if he would present at least some evidence to justify it. Polls are easy to criticize, we all know that, and they also are notoriously upended in due course, and we all know that, but calling this some kind of intentional, underhanded trick the Democrats are playing to deceive the public is lame at best, least of all indisputable.
Falsehood No. 15
    Quote: “The left is willing to destroy race relations, shred the Constitution, call for the defunding of the police, and validate lawlessness, all for the express purpose of achieving an election victory in November.”
   Please tell me the writer isn't so out of touch that he really thinks that everyone to the left of his far-right political philosophy are that shallow and insincere, because they're not. Sorry, but I'm not buying it and Bahr presents not a shred of evidence to justify it.
   The fact is, Trump himself has been accused of shredding the Constitution, destroying race relations, and validating lawlessness, repeatedly and with good evidence. The quote, as well, is worded to once again undercut the integrity of the Black Lives Matter movement, by framing it as a mere political tool used to hurt Trump's re-election chances.
Falsehood No. 16
    Quote: “They claim to offer new enlightenment to the sins of our forefathers, but all they can offer is condemnation as if they are judge, jury and god . . . In the absence of worshiping a Creator, the left blasphemes by making themselves little gods where everything they demand should be a dictate for all and nothing they say is worthy of criticism.”
   Though mostly a religious tenet of the kind that one hears from the pulpit, the author presents this snidely phrase as yet another “undeniable truth about the left,” which it clearly isn't.
   I understand his angst, I really do, and it's informative to know that this is how he and some others on the far-right think, by he should know that there are a lot of people who say the exact same thing about hard-right orthodox conservatives like himself, dogmatic hard-liners who “claim to offer new enlightenment” of some kind, but instead deliver nothing but pain and restrictions -- and act like they are judge, jury and god. Some, in fact, attribute this exact behavior to our current president.
Falsehood No. 17
   Quote: “Arrogance and hubris are two other truths about the left . . . ”
   I realize that this is what the author believes, and that he wants others to believe it too, but it's really just another boring insult and falsehood. Ironically, judging by Mr. Bahr's lengthy rant and the tone of it, he could not fit the description any better himself if he tried. Although he may be a nice enough individual in person, his article is written in a way that makes him appear arrogant, full of hubris, and self-righteous.
Falsehood No. 18
    Another falsehood the writer puts forth is the idea that African-American or black support for President Trump, and Democrat fears about him getting re-elected, is “a huge reason for the left fanning the flames of racial unrest under the lie of systemic racism and white privilege.”
   One thing he does do with this statement is make clear what he thinks about systemic racism in America, which is not very much. Ditto for the idea of white privilege.
   I would serious question, however, whether one single Democrat has ever even considered using race or racial tension as a political tool. I know, as an ex-conservative, that a lot of conservatives and right-leaning Americans have a hard time believing that a lot of liberals or leftists actually care about people, sincerely and deeply, but they do.
Falsehood No. 19
   The author's finally “truths” are all aimed at what he called the “sycophantic media,” a phrase which is seriously ironic given that the Trump administration is considered by some to be one of most sycophantic administrations ever. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/08/sooner-or-later-they-all-go/).
   Attacks on the mainstream media by conservatives are nothing new. The truth is, more than one study has shown conservative media influence in the United States to be just as biased, if not more so, than its liberal counterpart, and far more influential in many areas of the country when talk radio, conservative regional newspapers and other independent religious or conservative media entities are taken into consideration.
Falsehood No. 20
   Quote: “We are in the midst of a cultural revolution brought to you courtesy of the left.”
   This is an interesting statement but another example of argument stealing and projection.
   Simply put, Bahr is looking for intent and malice where there is none. Maybe a cultural revolution is needed., you know, like it has been needed time and again throughout history. Those are the issues he should be addressing.
    As far as who started the "revolution," all I can say is that religious conservatives began waging a "culture war" on the nation and on non-believers more than 40 years ago. My own bookshelves carry several titles about the “the culture war,” going back to the early 1980s, and every last one of them is written by a Christian conservative writer, most of whom were calling not for the war to end but for Christians to jump in with both feet and gain control of every aspect of society and government for Christ and his church. Norman Geisler, Francis A. Schaeffer, Herbert Schlossberg, Marvin Olasky, George Grant, John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, et al, have sounded the same repetitive and hollow note, fighting to stop "secular humanism" from having a place in American society or the world. They want to dominate.  It's not the American way, nor is it the democratic way, in my opinion, but they're convinced they're right.
   Who is Mr. Bahr? That's the million dollar question. You won't find his picture on the internet, but you will find a link to his book, written in 2010, called “No Christian Man Is An Island.” Published by Xulon Press, described as the nation's largest self-publisher of Christian books, the work is a 270-page diatribe saturated with religious allegories and spiritual warfare talk. It takes on secular humanism, the political left, and all the rest of the demons that religious conservatives have created for themselves decades ago. Some sites list the author's name as “Stacy Barr” and others as “Dex Bahr,” which makes me suspect one or the other, or both, are just pen names. No photos accompany any online article or links to the author's book, city or state of residence is given, and the author has no personal website of his own or social media page with any “real-person” information.
   One short bio online says he is a freelance writer, former broadcast news reporter, and has been a Christian since 1980. In the book's acknowledgements he credits his Lord, “my heavenly Father,” a former paster, a friend, some heroes he admires, namely George Washington, General Patton, Ronald Reagan, Jackie Robinson, and Clarence Thomas. Then comes the last line: “I also thank my contemporaries, like James Dobson and Rush Limbaugh, for their immense talent in speaking the truth and for their inspiration.” There's his worldview, in a nutshell.
   It's informative to know how a document like this, as full of confusion and falsehood as it is, can get posted on so many conservative websites, blogs, and news networks, dozens of them, without so much as a single-word being edited or the truthfulness of the article questioned, apart from some negative feedback in the comment sections.
   Around the second week of July, 2020, the entire document, word for word, was published on americathinker.com, together with several other right-wing sites, including: indynews.org, abjure, financialsurivival network, reddit channel “DescentIntoTyranny,” reddit channel “freeworldnews,” worldpronnews.com, paradigmsanddemographics.blogspot.com, franklinncgop.com, gunownersofamericaradio.lybsyn.com, lock N Load with Bill Frady podcast, fsmandfsmwo.blog, freedomandlibertylive.blogspot, stupidfrogs.org, patriotsandliberty.com, fatherlyadviceandrants.com, conservativeammo.com, cosmoscon.com, magatracker.com, orthodoxytoday.org (the voice blog on facebook), conpiracy411.info, rabblerouseruminations.wordpress.com, orthodoxnet.org, anniefields.com, iamamalaysian.com, conservative-headlines.com, riffenberg.wordpress.com, redpillow.net, ccrofnyblog.wordpress.com, akdart.comconservative-headlines.com, orthodoxmartyria.blogspot.com, americanchristiancivilrightsmovement.com, ruthfullyyours.com, and thelibertybeacon.com., and others.
   Two conspiracy-stoking religious sites, Jesus-our-blessed-hope.com, and abundanthope.net/pages/, posted the article; as did a dozen or more with Russian and other foreign domain addresses. I have, by choice, not made an exhaustive and complete investigation of every site the documents has been posted on, which would no doubt take considerable time.
   Two other articles with the “Dex Bahr” byline were posted in similar fashion approximately two months ago, Trump with his bible: Fighting for the soul of America, in which Bahr goes full throttle in defending the president's use of St. John’s Episcopal Church as a photo op during protests ; and Everything with the left is political -- representing another attempt to steal a criticism that has been levied repeatedly at Trump and his supporters. Apart from right-wing websites, a search of Facebook shows the article “Undeniable truths” has made the rounds there too, and probably continues to, with many obvious supporters of the president posting it at length. “A lot is said here,” one person commented. “Much of which can give us hope that even some of the left is seeing their party attempting to destroy their homeland, Keep your Faith and Trust that God Will not abandon his choice for PRESIDENT of our Nation. Know Your Enemy . . . ”

Rensberry Publishing Company / Copyright - 2020