Race, American Exceptionalism, and the Delicate Art of Criticizing Obama

A few weeks ago I had my virtual fingers slapped by some Facebook friends.  It happened after I clicked, for the first time ever, one of those little “Like” buttons at the bottom of an op-ed.

Here is the paragraph in the op-ed that caught my eye:

To be sure, no white candidate who had close associations with an outspoken hater of America like Jeremiah Wright and an unrepentant terrorist like Bill Ayers would have lasted a single day. But because Mr. Obama was black, and therefore entitled in the eyes of liberaldom to have hung out with protesters against various American injustices, even if they were a bit extreme, he was given a pass. And in any case, what did such ancient history matter when he was also articulate and elegant and (as he himself had said) “non-threatening,” all of which gave him a fighting chance to become the first black president and thereby to lay the curse of racism to rest?

You of course are free to agree or disagree, but I thought the paragraph did a good job of describing how a first-term Senator with a thin resume and a dodgy taste in friends was able to convince 69 million Americans that he should be elected to the most powerful office in the world.  I saw the Like button, I clicked it, and I went on to something else.

I’m not sure what I thought the Like button would do, but I soon found out.  It copied the headline and subhead of that Norman Podhoretz op-ed in the Wall Street Journal to my Facebook wall, topped by an unambiguous statement of my approval.  Thus:

Kirk Petersen likes a link:

“What Happened to Obama? Absolutely Nothing.
He is still the same anti-American leftist he was before becoming our president.”

The first response came from a civil and fair-minded friend, who pointedly asked, “What is it you like about that, Kirk?”  Other offended friends, thoughtful people one and all, weighed in, and I quickly realized I had fallen into the common trap of overlooking the rhetorical excesses of someone with whom I otherwise largely agreed.

Labeling Obama a leftist is certainly fair game, but calling him anti-American borders on calling him a traitor. Besides being unfair, it’s counterproductive. It’s the type of drive-by slur guaranteed to alienate virtually all of those 69 million Americans, some of whom might otherwise be open to a more measured critique of the Obama presidency.

So after a feeble attempt to defend my beliefs while regretting Podhoretz’s choice of words, I deleted the link and posted this instead:

Two lessons learned tonight: 1) Inflammatory language inflames people. 2) Impulsively clicking a “Like” button on an op-ed can be an insufficiently nuanced way of expressing an opinion.

Three weeks later, also in the Wall Street Journal, Shelby Steele provided the missing nuance.  It is not that Mr. Obama is anti-American, but rather that he rejects the very idea of America as the one indispensable nation.

Mr. Obama came of age in a bubble of post-’60s liberalism that conditioned him to be an adversary of American exceptionalism. In this liberalism America’s exceptional status in the world follows from a bargain with the devil—an indulgence in militarism, racism, sexism, corporate greed, and environmental disregard as the means to a broad economic, military, and even cultural supremacy in the world. And therefore America’s greatness is as much the fruit of evil as of a devotion to freedom.

Mr. Obama did not explicitly run on an anti-exceptionalism platform. Yet once he was elected it became clear that his idea of how and where to apply presidential power was shaped precisely by this brand of liberalism. There was his devotion to big government, his passion for redistribution, and his scolding and scapegoating of Wall Street—as if his mandate was somehow to overcome, or at least subdue, American capitalism itself.

Anti-exceptionalism has clearly shaped his “leading from behind” profile abroad—an offer of self-effacement to offset the presumed American evil of swaggering cowboyism. …

So, in Mr. Obama, America gained a president with ambivalence, if not some antipathy, toward the singular greatness of the nation he had been elected to lead.

In 2009, during his “global apology tour” shortly after taking office, Obama was asked if he believed in American exceptionalism.  His answer showed that either he did not understand the term, or that he was carefully pretending not to understand it:  “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”  Obama thereby signaled that he rejected a belief of America’s role in the world that goes back more than 170 years, to Alexis de Tocqueville.

As Shelby writes,

Clearly Americans were looking for a new kind of exceptionalism in him (a black president would show America to have achieved near perfect social mobility). But were they also looking for—in Mr. Obama—an assault on America’s bedrock exceptionalism of military, economic and cultural pre-eminence?

American exceptionalism is, among other things, the result of a difficult rigor: the use of individual initiative as the engine of development within a society that strives to ensure individual freedom through the rule of law. Over time a society like this will become great. This is how—despite all our flagrant shortcomings and self-betrayals—America evolved into an exceptional nation.

To describe Mr. Obama’s attitude as anti-American is to caricature it.  But he does seem motivated by a vision of America as just one more unremarkable country among many.  That point of view has a constituency — but I’m not part of it.

Two lessons learned tonight: 1) Inflammatory language inflames people. 2) Impulsively clicking a “Like” button on an op-ed can be an insufficiently nuanced way of expressing an opinion.

Facebook Continues to Peddle Scams To Its Members

(Welcome, Social Media Today readers. While you’re here you might want to look at other posts under my Social Media tag.)


Several weeks ago, I wrote about having been taken in by an IQ test scam on Facebook.   Lots of other people have also written about that and other scams.  Somehow I naively thought that once Facebook realized it was enabling deception on its service, it would get rid of the scams.  But if anything, the scams have become more plentiful — and more disgraceful.

The image above is a screen shot, captured today, with my annotations in red. It’s an ad — but if Facebook permits advertisers to use Facebook blue and otherwise mimic Facebook’s look and feel, it thereby lends Facebook’s credibility to the ad.  So when the text falsely says “3 of your friends have challenged you to beat their IQ scores,” Facebook is lying to me.

As before, clicking to accept the challenge leads to a brief quiz with a few easy questions, which then leads to a screen asking me to enter my cell phone number to get the results:


If I enter my cell phone number — as I was foolish enough to do before — I expect it will then give me a code and ask me to send it as a text on my cell phone.  Doing so will constitute a confirmation that I agree to their terms of service.

Now, let’s take a closer look at that page:


The barely readable diagonal blue text at right says “$9.99 Monthly Subscription.” The barely readable “Terms” link leads to a page with more than 9,000 words of dense legalese.  Somewhere therein it says that using the “service” constitutes agreeing with the terms.  Way at the bottom,  it states that the terms are $9.99 a month.

Facebook peddles plenty of other scams to its members as well, such as this:


And this:


And this:

message_center-copyThis one is particularly diabolical, as it has grabbed the name of one of my Facebook friends — a woman who, I am quite confident, has an IQ considerably higher than 106:

charlene_li-copyEach of these ads-that-look-like-Facebook-applications leads either to an IQ scam or some other “service” that will be billed to your cell phone.  For example, one of them led to this landing page, which is a model of transparency and rectitude by comparison:


The eye is naturally drawn to the simple images in the center, but at least the text on the periphery (both at top and left) discloses the $9.99 monthly charge.  Try to navigate away from the page, however, and you’ll get this popup message:


It’s a standard Windows popup message, the text at top and bottom is generated by Windows.  The only customization is the text in the middle — which tries to keep you on the site by telling you that “Cancel” means the opposite of what it says on the line below.

Once you’ve “agreed” to the terms for one of these scams, you can get out of the charges by spending half an hour or so in voicemail hell with your phone company.  But how many teens and tweens have incurred the charges without realizing it, or without having the courage to tell Mom or Dad that there may be a problem on the cell phone account? The fact that there are competing scams says to me that it’s a business model that works for the scammers.

Facebook didn’t actually create these scummy scams.  It just knowingly profits by driving its 200 million members to them.  That is to say, it profits in the short run.  In the long run, it’s hard to believe that it is truly in Facebook’s best interest to participate in victimizing its members.

J’accuse, Zuckerberg.

Think Twice Before Having Fun on Facebook

(I subsequently wrote a followup to this post.)

(Insert cruel joke here about my apparent IQ)

I love the Internet. For starters, I met the Web Goddess on an online divorce support group. Thanks to the Internet, I have been able to pontificate on this blog to an audience of literally dozens of people who otherwise would be bereft of my wisdom.

But it’s still the Wild West on the World Wide Web (WWWWW). Web-enabled social media platforms such as Facebook lend themselves to scams that depend on social engineering as much as they do on TCP/IP. I think of myself as a reasonably sophisticated Internaut, but I got pwned this morning — before church, no less.

The Facebook message claimed that four of my friends had challenged me to an IQ test, with the smartest of them scoring 127. I was encouraged to click Continue to find out who they were and see if I could beat them. OK, Facebook friends — it’s on!

The welcoming page at the IQ site included a screen (see top image) with the words “Answer the questions quickly and accurately to find out your IQ.” OK, speed counts, good to know — bring it!

After racing through 10 multiple-choice questions (sample: of these four presidents, which was America’s 16th president?), I get to the screen below. My heart’s pumping — I just know I aced all those questions! But now they want me to tell them my cell phone number… am I going to get junk calls?

Oh well, I can always hang up, and at least they’re not asking for a credit card number. After I enter my cell number and click Next, I get a screen that tells me I have been sent a text message with a code number, and I have 30 seconds to enter the code number in a field on the web page. Crikey, my cell’s in the other room, the webpage is counting down the seconds, and I’m not sure how to retrieve a text message, I rarely use that service.

I get the code number entered with about four seconds to spare… which leads to a screen telling me I have to accept the Terms and Conditions. Damn! I’m out of time! But maybe it will still work a few seconds late. I select the Terms and Conditions approval box and click Next.

The next screen tells me to select the special ringtones I have ordered… and I start to have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I hit the back button to get to the page where I entered my cell phone number, and I see the virtually camouflaged reference (in the calculator screen in the picture above) to a $9.99 per month subscription. In small type at the very bottom (click the image to see a full-size version), there are five nondescript links, the fourth of which is the Terms and Conditions I didn’t read because I was running out of time.

The Terms and Conditions are a true work of art. (They were in a pop-up and I don’t know a way to link directly, but I’ve captured the complete text just in case.) In addition to telling me that my high IQ will now cost me 10 bucks a month until I cancel, the term sheet contains this cheeky statement: “YOU AGREE TO REVIEW THIS AGREEMENT FROM TIME TO TIME AND AGREE THAT ANY SUBSEQUENT ACCESS TO OR USE BY YOU OF THE SERVICES FOLLOWING CHANGES TO THE AGREEMENT SHALL CONSTITUTE YOUR ACCEPTANCE OF ALL SUCH CHANGES.” In other words, if they change the price to $10 a minute, it’s on me to opt out — and if I use the ringtone in the meantime, I’m hosed.

So after all my rushing, I ended up spending 28 minutes in voice-response hell with Verizon, before I got a human to tell me that I can cancel the ringtone “service” and I can dispute any charges that may get applied. I spent the 28 minutes rethinking my arrogant attitude toward the clients of Ponzi artist Bernie Madoff — clients who, I recently opined, should have known better.

Look, I freely acknowledge that I screwed up here. But shame on Facebook for enabling this. There apparently have been a variety of IQ test scams, none of which look any more dangerous than the standard Facebook fare offering superpokes, virtual hugs, good kharma and the like. If you Google “Facebook IQ test scam” you’ll get 86,000 results, some of them going back at least to 2007. (Let’s make it 86,001.)

I’m tempted to say “shame on Verizon” as well, but the ability to charge goods and services to your cell phone is at least potentially useful, and the nice Verizon lady assured me I would lose no money over this. Even though I “agreed” to the Terms and Conditions.

But here are other candidates for the IQ Test Hall of Shame: The aptly named Shadylizard.com, a ringtones peddler; Media Breakaway LLC, which according to the Terms and Conditions runs Shadylizard.com; quizyou.net, the site that hosts the phony quiz; and the “service” providers used by Media Breakaway to deliver ringtones: Flycell, Ringaza, Jamster and SendMe Mobile.

Media Breakaway LLC, according to its Flashy website, is based in Westminster, Colorado, and offers “performance-based marketing solutions for our business partners.” If you have any comments or suggestions about their “solutions,” their phone number is 303-464-8164. The CEO, Scott Richter, can be reached at scott@mediabreakaway.com.

(Images above may be subject to copyright; publication here is believed to be permissible under the fair use doctrine of U.S. law.)