Saturday, January 08, 2011

Arizona killing: Thoughts on the Gabrielle Giffords assassination attempt


I was out and about this afternoon when I heard a brief report on a local radio station about a shooting in Arizona.

My first thought: Great, another shooting in the U.S. Another sad story from a violent, gun-crazy country.

I pulled out my BlackBerry and quickly discovered what had happened -- and who the target was.

My second thought: Well, we sort of knew this was coming, right, this sort of political violence, likely by someone steeped in right-wing ideology? It was only a matter of time.

This is when Twitter is such a useful tool, and I used it gather as much information as I could from the many reliable sources I follow.

My third thought: Okay, we don't yet know all the details, and we do need to be careful not to jump to conclusions, but the circumstantial evidence is already piling up.

Giffords is an enemy of the Tea Party. She narrowly beat a Tea Party GOP opponent in November. She's a Blue Dog, a moderate Democrat, but she voted for health-care reform and supported DADT repeal. She's apparently extremely well-liked.

But her office had been vandalized and there are reports she had to cancel a recent event because of the threat of right-wing violence.

Sarah Palin and others had targeted her specifically, using the rhetoric of violence in their campaign literature and propaganda. Palin specifically had put her "in the crosshairs."

Yes, it was only a matter of time that something like this was going to happen.

I retweeted a great deal and tweeted a great deal of my own this afternoon. You can find all that, should you be interested, @mjwstickings.

My fourth thought: Perhaps this will be a turning point, a tipping point. Perhaps now the media and others will start paying attention to the rhetoric of violence that animates American conservatism today. You don't have to go far to find it. Just listen to the Tea Party, to Beck, to Palin. They need to be held accountable.

To be fair, not all conservatives are like this, even if so many of them either partake of it in some way or at the very least enable it by not speaking out against it.

Boehner, Bachmann, McCain -- these three and others quickly condemned the shooting, and I suppose I take them at their word, even if their hands are not entirely clean, particularly Bachmann's, who is the spinner of many a right-wing conspiracy theory, among other craziness.

(Update: Not surprisingly, Fox News is protecting Palin.

(Update 2: Remarkably, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik provided some much-needed perspective, pointing the blame in the right direction: "When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on this country is getting to be outrageous and unfortunately Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.")

My fifth thought: Let's not get ahead of ourselves. As Rachel Maddow tweeted: "There is nothing to be gained from speculating on the motives and affiliations of AZ shooter w/o facts."

True, but, again, the evidence is piling up. See the many tweets I retweeted, including:
-- Digby: "The shooter sounds nuts, but he also sounds like he's influenced by fringy wingnut politics.

-- Peter Daou: "A shooter like this may be mentally ill, but that doesn't mean a stream of rightwing hate has no effect."

And a thought throughout: How horrible.

In all, so far, the shooting left six dead the 12 wounded. The dead include a federal judge (John Roll, who has faced right-wing threats before), a Giffords staffer, and a nine-year-old girl.

Yes, a child.


The shooting took place outside a Safeway grocery store in Tucson, Arizona, where Giffords was holding a constituency meeting.

The killer is Jared Lee Loughner. He is in custody.

Giffords was shot once in the head. She made it through surgery and is in critical condition. Doctors are "optimistic" about her chances for recovery.


As FDL's Jane Hamsher reports, Giffords's Tea Party opponent, Jesse Kelly, held an event in June described as such: "Get on Target for Victory in November Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office Shoot a fully automatic M15 with Jesse Kelly."

As Politico's Ben Smith reports, Loughner "left social media hints," including a YouTube clip:

The police have named a suspect in the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, Jared Loughner. A person under that name has a YouTube account that includes suggestions of anti-government political views.

"You don't have to accept the federalist laws," the video above says; It also insists on the gold and silver standard, talks of revolution, and suggests that the government is imposing "mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar."

His linked MySpace page, no longer available, included statements about the gold standard and about SWAT teams paying for their equipment with illegal currency.

Among his long list of favorite books in his YouTube profile are Mein Kampf, The Communist Manifesto, Siddhartha.

Loughner also "favorited" just one video on YouTube, which shows the burning of an American flag and is accompanied by an anti-government screed.

No, this isn't just pure Republican extremism, and so I think it's wrong to label him so simply. If this is indeed Loughner, he's an anti-government wacko who is generally on the far right but who is obviously outside of the broad political spectrum of establishment politics.

So, again, we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. But it's pretty easy to see how the rhetoric of the right, including of the Tea Party and Republican Party right, could have had a great deal of influence on him.

Again, just listen to Beck, listen to the Teabaggers, listen even to Palin and Bachmann, among many others. They may all claim to by hyper-patriotic, but they're all deeply anti-government and especially anti-Washington.

Palin has called the shooting a "tragedy," and of course she's right, but she needs to be held to account for what she has done.

And what is that? FDL's TBogg quotes Palin herself:

Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!” Pls see my Facebook page.

And also the right-wing (bolding the key parts):

Twenty House Dems from districts that McCain carried in 2008 voted for the health care bill, and Sarah Palin has a target on every single one.

The targets were released on the six month anniversary of Obamacare, and include a lot of familiar names such as John Boccieri (OH), Chris Carney (P N) Gabrielle Giffords (AZ) and Ann Kirpatrick (AZ). The site invites donations, social networking, and the unbeatable Sarah love that has led to a 26:11 win/loss record of candidates in GOP primaries. Granted, some of those were in safe districts, but she’s also pulled off massive upsets that probably outshadow her less successful picks.

Regardless, this site should go a long way towards knocking off the politicians who put their party affiliation ahead of their constituent’s demands. It was announced via a tweet from SarahPalinUSA: "Lies, Damned Lies – Obamacare 6 Months Later; It’s Time to Take Back the 20!"

Here's Palin's map:

Seriously, is it any wonder this has happened?


I'll conclude this post with a comment from Andrew Sullivan:

Giffords was one of twenty members of Congress placed within metaphorical "gun-sights" in SarahPac's graphic. That is not the same thing as placing a gun-sight over someone's face or person. No one can possibly believe -- or should -- that Sarah Palin is anything but horrified by what has taken place. But it remains the kind of rhetorical excess which was warned about at the time, and which loners can use to dreadful purposes. 

We'll have more on this, so stay tuned.

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Some info on the Arizona shooter

Some links I received from a friend.

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BREAKING: Arizona congresswoman shot

A congresswoman from Arizona was shot on Saturday along with several others during at public event at a grocery store in Tuscon, according to her spokesman, C.J. Karamargin. The Tucson Citizen reported that Ms. Giffords had been shot at close range in the head.

The condition of the congresswoman, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, remained unclear. She was taken to University Medical Center in Tucson, the trauma center for the area, about 10 miles away.

CNN quoted a public information officer as saying that 12 people had been injured in all.

What The New York Times has so far.

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Giuliani in 2012?

This is getting better and better.

Rudy Giuliani isn't nearly as perfect a Republican as, say, Haley Barbour or Michele Bachmann, but he'd be a fine addition to what is shaping up to be a hopeless GOP presidential field.

Yes, he's gearing up for another run, says the New York Post, and while I suppose he'd be a moderate in an overwhelmingly right-wing field, at least on social issues, he's very much the sort of national security extremist and 9/11 fetishist Republicans go for these days.

And of course, for grassroots Republicans, completely unelectable. 

Run, Rudy, run! If only to make the GOP that much more ridiculous.

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Pawlenty calls Palin a "force of nature"

Appearing on Nightline this evening, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty made it pretty clear that he's running for president in 2012. He said he hasn't made "a final decision," but that would appear to be a mere formality.

Asked about Sarah Palin, a possible (if unlikely) Republican primary opponent, he praised her (as any GOP hopeful must, given her "influence") and said she's a "force of nature."

So is an earthquake, of course, and while Republicans generally still adore her, at least among the Tea Party base, she's very much a fault line within the GOP, and there's a good reason why many in the establishment, while being careful with their words, have already come out against her.

Pawlenty isn't an idiot. He surely knows she's toxic -- not just with the party establishment, but, as the polls show, more broadly with the American people. But of course he has to bow to her in the hope of ultimately securing her support.

The GOP is very much the Party of Palin, after all, as much as it is still the Party of Rush, and her force, no matter how toxic, will help shape its future, at least over the next couple of years, as her star shines.

And that should put a smile on every Democrat's face.

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Friday, January 07, 2011

Knowing the enemy

By Greg Prince

This isn't exactly new news, but the book taking France by storm is a short (13 pages) call to arms against the real enemies of the day.

The Independent reports:

Take a book of just 13 pages, written by a relatively obscure 93-year-old man, which contains no sex, no jokes, no fine writing and no startlingly original message. A publishing disaster? No, a publishing phenomenon.

Indignez Vouz! (Cry Out!), a slim pamphlet written by a wartime French resistance hero, Stéphane Hessel, is smashing all publishing records in France. The book urges the French, and everyone else, to recapture the wartime spirit of resistance to the Nazis by rejecting the "insolent, selfish" power of money and markets and by defending the social "values of modern democracy".

It doesn't exist in translation yet, I haven't found it as an eBook, and thus far the only source I've found domestically is here. But it sounds like it'll be worth a read.

I prefer to not read large quantities in French, and I'd prefer the electronic version, but lacking those options and at only 13 pages I'm tempted to purchase sooner rather than later.

You may like it as well. If you don't read French, it's sure to be available in translation soon.

(Cross-posted from Greg Prince's Blog.)

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Scenes from the Culture of Fear: Bagel-wielding professor removed from plane

Hey, maybe this should be a new series here at The Reaction: Scenes from the Culture of Fear.

They're not really Signs of the Apocalypse, a series we've been doing for years, more signs that society is going crazy as a result of manufactured terror.

Last week I wrote about a model North Carolina high school student suspended for accidentally having a paring knife in her lunchbox, today it's this:

A Florida professor was arrested and removed from a plane Monday after his fellow passengers alerted crew members they thought he had a suspicious package in the overhead compartment.

That "suspicious package" turned out to be keys, a bagel with cream cheese and a hat.

Ognjen Milatovic, 35, was flying from Boston to Washington D.C. on US Airways when he was escorted off the plane for disorderly conduct following the incident.

Monday's incident is another example of other passengers essentially becoming the authority on terrorist activity on planes.

Recently, passenger complaints have resulted authorities taking action against innocent passengers who went to the bathroom too often on a flight and who were just being annoying.

In the hyper-sensitive world of flying, sneezing too often could get you kicked off a flight and questioned by the FBI.

I mean, I can see if it was a Cinnabon or something, or maybe an explosive jelly doughnut, but this is just crazy.

Welcome to the Culture of Fear.

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Craziest Republican of the Day: Steve King

Certifiable GOP wacko Rep. Steve King (R-IA) -- who's been our CRD several times before (see here, here, here, and here, not to mention here) -- yesterday made what TPM's Rachel Slajda graciously called "an original argument... for why health care reform is unconstitutional."

Responding to Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), who made the sensible and oft-made case that "health insurance counts as interstate commerce and therefore falls under the Congress's constitutional powers, King argued that there are people who never even use health care -- and therefore a law requiring them to buy insurance is unconstitutional." And just who are these people? "There have always been and likely will always be, babies that were born, lived and died within the jurisdictions of the individual states," he said, "who never cross a state line, access no health care and therefore do not impact interstate commerce."

Wait... what? Polis was confused, too. Just who are these people who as babies don't receive any health care at all? This is priceless in its craziness:

I hate to tell you but they show up in garbage cans around this country, sir,

said King.

Yes, that's right, the interstate commerce argument doesn't apply because of all those babies in garbage cans who manage to live and die without ever accessing health care.

"Polis was more or less speechless," notes Slajda. Can you blame him? This is just the sort of unsubstantiated claim, just the sort of insanity with a straight face, Republicans pass off as rational argument on a regular basis -- not just with respect to health-care reform but with respect to pretty much everything.

I realize that Republicans oppose the very idea of factual evidence, but here's the video:

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Oh, Republicans, why do you insist on violating the Constitution?

Two House Republicans have cast votes as members of the 112th Congress, but were not sworn in on Wednesday, a violation of the Constitution on the same day that the GOP had the document read from the podium.

The Republicans, incumbent Pete Sessions of Texas and freshman Mike Fitzpatrick, missed the swearing in because they were at a fundraiser in the Capitol Visitors Center. The pair watched the swearing-in on television from the Capitol Visitors Center with their hands raised.

"That wasn't planned. It just worked out that way," said Fitzpatrick at the time, according to local press on hand, which noted that he "happened to be introducing Texas Congressman Pete Sessions while glad-handing his supporters in the Capitol Visitor Center that he secured for them when the House swearing in began."

House ethics rules forbid fundraising in the Capitol. 

Wow, a violation of the Constitution and an ethics violation. Awesome.

As Steve Benen explains, "[t]here's some question about how far reaching this error might turn out to be," and, indeed, "Dems could argue that all business conducted with votes from Sessions and Fitzpatrick are void, and force Republicans to, as Roll Call put it, 'restart the entire process of opening the new Congress.'"

Oh, if only they would.

At the very least, this whole embarrassing incident shows just how little genuine regard Republicans have for the Constitution, which they claim to hold in absolute reverence -- how little it means to them compared to, say, fundraising.

Behind all the talk, there's really not much walk at all.

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

How long have the House Republicans been back in power?

Even Politico sees right through them -- well, sort of, to a point:

Just hours after taking control of the House, Republicans passed a sweeping set of rules promising transparency and reform.

But the new majority is already showing these promises aren't exactly set in stone.

After calling for bills to go through a regular committee process, the bill that would repeal the health care law will not go through a single committee. Despite promising a more open amendment process for bills, amendments for the health care repeal will be all but shut down. After calling for a strict committee attendance list to be posted online, Republicans backpedaled and ditched that from the rules. They promised constitutional citations for every bill but have yet to add that language to early bills.

Republicans say there are subtle reasons for these moves and that they certainly will follow their own rules throughout the 112th Congress. But the hedging on some promises shows just how hard it will be to always match the sharp rhetoric of the campaign with the ugly and complex work of running the House.

Oh, please. This isn't about Republicans "hedging" or having to deal with the realities of legislating, it's about hypocrisy, about combining right-wing ideology with being full of shit.

They demand that the Constitution be read in full, but it's just a PR stunt. They demand that government be made smaller but want nothing to do with military spending cuts and want to maintain or expand the national security state. They talk up freedom but promote theocratic social conservatism and civil rights abuses. They promote transparency but are closed and partisan. They call for the budget to be balanced but refuse to put tax cuts on the table, including the Bush tax cuts that are such a huge chunk of the deficit, refuse to specify what programs they want to cut, mainly because government programs are generally popular, and push for health-care reform to be repealed, even though the Affordable Care Act would provide enormous savings over the next decade.

This has nothing to do with the ugliness or complexity of being in power in the House and everything to do with Republicans being Republicans, getting elected by deceiving voters and then defecating all over their supposed principles. (Of course, their real principles involve doing whatever it takes to make the rich richer and to establish the infrastructure to protect their beloved oligarchy.)

Am I being too harsh? Please. If you really think the Republicans are sincere in their rhetoric and will really do what they profess to want to do, you deserve the havoc they would unleash upon the country.

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Gearing up for a delusional 2012

Delusions of adequacy. There's no other way to explain it.

With the newly-sworn Congress barely in session, we are well into the horse race leading up to the 2012 presidential election. Chronologically, we're entering the third year or "autumn" of the cycle, and appropriately the nuts are starting to fall from the trees.

Thus far the Obama administration has governed differently than candidate Obama campaigned, frustrating progressives and liberals and compromising away hoped-for policy gains. Given both disappointment among the base and the slow pace of economic recovery, especially unemployment, you'd think the president would be particularly vulnerable to a primary opponent. Certainly, some on the left would welcome the prospect of a Democratic primary, but at this point it doesn't seem likely.

The water is a bit muddied by the successful lame-duck session, which demonstrated that once in a rare while Democrats can accomplish something, yet generated a sense of frustration and wondering where that can-do competence had been the previous two years.

Frustrations notwithstanding, a credible primary challenge on the left seems increasingly unlikely. That leaves the GOP side of the aisle where the excitement is to be found.

Starting with a blast from the insufficiently distant past, CNN reports that former Senator Frothy, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, is making preparations for a 2012 White House run:

A source close to the former senator from Pennsylvania confirms to CNN that later Wednesday Santorum will announced [sic] that he's bringing on board one of the top GOP political strategists in New Hampshire, a state that plays a crucial role in the race for the White House. Santorum will also next week make another visit to the state, which traditionally holds in nation's first primary in the presidential calendar.

Haven't we suffered enough? It's hard to imagine a world in which a Santorum candidacy would be taken seriously, but then I look at the current House of Representatives and wonder if he isn't an ideal stealth candidate. He's got the social conservative bona fides Multiple Choice Mitt lacks. He was a wingnut before teabagging asshattery was cool and the public at large doesn't have the longest of memories.

But things could be even more entertaining. Gazing northward from my comfortable home in Minnesota's Fourth Congressional District, we find the Sixth District, a rather "special" place represented by the always entertaining (usually not deliberately so) Michele Bachmann.

Michele Bachmann is always unpredictable – her logic isn't like other people's logic. There was speculation she would consider taking on Minnesota's senior senator, Amy Klobuchar, who will stands for re-election in 2012. It turns out Bachmann's ambitions may be a bit more grand in scale:

MinnPost has learned that Bachmann loyalists have already begun holding conversations with activists and officials in key early caucus and primary states and will begin travelling to those states in the coming weeks and months. Internal conversations have already begun about who might leave her Washington and district offices to staff a potential bid. And Bachmann told reporters she will likely visit additional early voting states in the upcoming months.

I have to admit this is a bit mind-numbing. Bachmann's ability to raise vast sums of money, mostly from out-of-state, was demonstrated in the 2010 election, but that's not the same thing as a national draw for votes. Bachmann's idiocy is a known quantity in the Sixth and they vote for her anyway. It's probably a mistake to think Americans nationwide, even a majority of GOP voters, are equally forgiving.

There is yet some amusement value to be had here. The GOP leadership created the monster. As Hot Air observes, "[a] 'Palin vs. Bachmann' storyline in the primaries would be the political event of a lifetime." Yeah, it would. The GOP leadership has fed the teabagging beast for electoral advantage, praying all the while they could keep it under control. But the beast doesn't want to be controlled.

When Bachmann stopped having her way with the GOP leadership in the Minnesota Senate, she launched her quixotic bid for Congress in the Sixth. Bachmann aspires to leadership, having recently formed the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives and campaigned actively for far-right candidates in the 2010 season. Not only were her attempts to secure a leadership position within the House GOP solidly rebuffed, she was denied a desired seat on the Ways and Means Committee, to be placed on the Intelligence Committee. Now in principle the Intelligence Committee is prestigious, but it's also a committee that by nature of its work is often out of the limelight – something troublesome for Bachmann, who follows TV cameras like a moth to flame.

Rep. Keith Ellison had this to say about Michele Bachmann's possible candidacy:

I think it would be great for her to run for president. I think she has strongly-held views which she should test on the whole of the United States – see how her views are received across the country, not just in the comfort of the 6th District.

It certainly could be educational:

I think her views would not match up with the mainstream of American society, but I do encourage her to try it, I think it would be a very good thing for her to get out there – and maybe she should resign from office now so she can devote all her time to her presidential run.

Educational indeed. This has potential for some great political theater. Please Michele... please GOP.

(Cross-posted from Greg Prince's Blog.)

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Michele Bachmann 2012? Yes, she can!

Run, Michele, run! Run like the wind!

As ABC News is reporting (and see also her local Star Tribune):

Forget the fervent chatter speculating that Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann is considering launching a campaign to challenge Sen. Amy Klobuchar for the Minnesota U.S. Senate seat in the next national election cycle. Think bigger.

ABC News has learned that Bachmann, R-Minn., also is seriously weighing whether to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012.

A source close to the three-term congresswoman said Bachmann will travel to Iowa this month for multiple meetings to seek advice from political forces there and party elders close to the caucus process before coming to a final decision regarding a potential presidential run.

There's a lot of badness in the news -- those birds falling from the sky, the GOP taking over the House, the Canadian Juniors crapping out against Russia -- but this is awesome news.

I've written before that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is the perfect Republican, given his corpulence (he's got the right Republican look), his racism, his fealty to corporate profiteering, his corporate lobbying, and his white Southern roots, but an argument can be made that Bachmann, more even than Palin, is similarly perfect, that is, that Barbour and Bachmann represent the two leading strains of today's Republicanism.

There's a lot they have in common, but Bachmann complements Barbour with her Tea Party bona fides, her ridiculous conspiracy theorizing, her self-focused faux feminism, and her general right-wing craziness. Forget Pawlenty, Romney, and Thune, these two are as Republican as it gets.

So how about Barbour-Bachmann 2012? Add crazy libertarian Rand Paul to that ticket and you've got it all covered.

Anyway, let's not get ahead of ourselves. For now, let's just encourage Bachmann to run. Not that she really needs any earthly encouragement. She has God behind her, remember?

Go for it, Michele! Your destiny awaits!

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Well, Now, Another Use For Porn: Predicting The Future!

By carl
Some of the methodology of this study is dodgy, but there are some interesting subnotes that bear further inspection:

One of psychology’s most respected journals has agreed to publish a paper presenting what its author describes as strong evidence for extrasensory perception, the ability to sense future events.

The decision may delight believers in so-called paranormal events, but it is already mortifying scientists. Advance copies of the paper, to be published this year in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, have circulated widely among psychological researchers in recent weeks and have generated a mixture of amusement and scorn.

The paper describes nine unusual lab experiments performed over the past decade by its author, Daryl J. Bem, an emeritus professor at Cornell, testing the ability of college students to accurately sense random events, like whether a computer program will flash a photograph on the left or right side of its screen. The studies include more than 1,000 subjects.

Basically, what Dr. Bem...and there's a SciFi name if I've ever heard one...did was turn a traditional memory test on its head, in the first phase of this study. He gave students a memory test consisting of vocabulary words, then gave them the list of words to study afterwards. Turns out the students scored higher on words they later studied more.

As I said, dicey methodology, but it advanced to a later study in which subjects were asked to predict which of two computer screens behind a curtain would present a picture. After the prediction was made, a random generator choose a screen. The outcome was slightly higher than that presented by chance (50%, of those of you who didn't do so good in statistics).

Interesting outcome, to be sure. It's hard to get really excited over slightly better odds of choosing in a simple "left/right" scenario, of course, but who's to say?


Still, the participants beat chance, by 53 percent to 50 percent, at least when the photos being posted were erotic ones. They did not do better than chance on negative or neutral photos.

“What I showed was that unselected subjects could sense the erotic photos,” Dr. Bem said, “but my guess is that if you use more talented people, who are better at this, they could find any of the photos.”

Dr. Bem has his critics. For example, a Dr. Hyman in Oregon claims it might all be a practical joke, which would reflect poorly on the Journal.

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)


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Here's hoping Speaker Boehner learns to speak the truth

A CNN / Opinion Research poll conducted between December 17 and 19 indicated that 56% of Americans hold either a positive view of Obama's health-care reform or are of the opinion that it is not liberal enough. More specifically, 43% like it as it is and 13% would probably have liked to see a public option. That leaves 37% who are opposed because the reform package is too liberal and 7% who have no opinion.

Let's be clear here. Of those expressing an opinion, 56% reject the Republican critique of "Obamacare" and only 37% side with the GOP.

Given those numbers,  it is rather difficult to understand what Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va) was talking about when he said of health-care reform that "we just need to repeal it as the American people have spoken out and said."

I'm sure if I spent just a bit of time doing some Google searches I could find a dozen more Republicans saying that their midterm gains were in large part about Americans rejecting health-care reform. I know recently-installed House Speaker John Boehner has been saying similar things. You will forgive me if I don't dig up all the relevant quotes. It hardly seems necessary. 

John McCain recently railed against the repeal of "don't-ask-don't-tell" as an affront to the electorate despite the fact that polls put support for gays serving openly in the military at upwards of 80%. Same idea. Say the opposite of what is demonstrably true and a lot of people will believe the lie and repeat it either because they want to believe what is untrue or because they are too lazy to do a bit of research.

We're not talking about differences of opinion about things that cannot be shown empirically but about things that are, by modern and generally-recognizable standards of truth, considered to be matters of fact. And before you take issue with polling as a source of gathering information of citizens preferences, I assure you that it has become pretty darn accurate over time.

But just think about the idiotic ideas that have fairly recently been in circulation amongst far too many Americans: Obama is a Muslim; he was not born in America; he is a socialist; he hates America; climate change is an elaborate hoax; and almost any piece of weirdness that comes out of Glenn Beck's mouth. And then there are the claims by various Republicans that Americans reject health-care reform or gays serving openly in the military.

Conservative politics in America seems to be far too much about just saying shit, no matter how absurd, just to see who is either stupid enough or lazy enough to accept it as truth.

I once read something, which I admit may not be true but struck me as plausible and at least suggestive. It was a claim that the KGB, the intelligence agency of the former Soviet Union, would work through its networks to put clearly untrue information in circulation that would support its interests simply because a certain subset of the population will always accept as plausible anything they hear and repeat it.

In my experience, it is not uncommon to hear someone offer an opinion contrary to all facts with the commnt that they had heard it somewhere, though they could not tell you where or what proof was provided.

For the longest time, the suggestion that tobacco did not cause cancer was in this camp, though thankfully that is now a part of the past.

As I say, just put it out there and some people will believe it and repeat it. Too much of politics is done this way, which, when bending the truth, seems to be about the maxim "go big or go home."

What I would say to the Eric Cantors and John Boehners of the world is that they should go ahead and work for the legislative agenda of their choice or the choice of those they think got them elected. But please do try to keep the bullshit to a minimum about the extent to which you are speaking for "the American people."

Although if you want to attack health-care reform, which seems to be pretty popular, and fight for tax cuts for the super rich, which seem to be pretty unpopular, that's fine with me. See you in 2012.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Ayn't She Sweet

The 112th Congress opened today - and it isn't taking long for teabag insanity to rear its ugly head straight from the rectum of an colic elephant. Led by the orange Oompah-Loompah from Ohio and his band of mirthmakers, the next two years are guaranteed to supply a plethora of fodder to the comics, photoshoppers and intelligentsia of this country. Sadly it will also be two of the most pathetic, tragic and regressive years for the America people.

In honor of this new and improved form of psychosis known as the House of Representatives, we announce the creation of the Randbag Award. This award, named in honor of the Queen of Insensitivity herself - Ayn Rand - will be given on a regular basis to a most deserving member of the In-crowd - the teabagger that shows the most insensitivity, insanity, intolerance and/or inappropriate behavior. With the land inside-the-beltway now polluted by an overabundance of dirt-teabags - this is sure to be a very, very competitive award.

First up - Diane Black - freshman Congressteabag from 6th district of Tennessee

One of the early signs for the onset of GOP dementia will be the parade of teabaggers demanding the repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act - the watered-down and insurance company-friendly health care bill that took all the oxygen out of Washington to pass last year.

Ms. Black has stated her case for repeal - and it meets all the earmarks of a Randbag.

There is a mandate there that insurance companies must insure children up to the age of 24, and what we have found is that there are a lot of insurance companies that are just saying we’re not going to be in this business any longer, because we know that we can’t survive if that’s what we’re going to do.

And the second piece of that was to insure children regardless of their health care history, and as a result of that, I know several health care insurance agents in my district who have said we’re just dropping any insurance for children whatsoever.
Those damn sick kids - they are just medical terrorists! Better for them to die than to force insurance companies and agents out of business. After all, it is just too expensive to pay claims to those sick people who paid premiums.

Ms. Black (a registered nurse!) couldn't be more clear - she is more concerned about the bottom line of insurance companies than the health and well-being of children. But then again she is a teabagger who campaigned on the nasty things liberals want to do to ruin America - so this should come as no surprise to her constituents.

Ms. Black thinks the provision in the law that allows parent to keep their children on their policies to age 26 (not 24 as she states - it is amazing how many teabaggers in government don't even bother to get the facts straight while they are criticizing) is just too burdensome for the poor burdened insurance companies. She also thinks that requiring insurance companies to insure sick kids is just another form of cadillac-driving welfare - and that this is just too anti-capitalist.To put this simply,  Representative Diane Black of Tennessee looks forward to watching the ailing children of America drop dead - it is good for the bottom line.

Diane Black describes herself a champion of long-term health care for the disabled - and of course like all good teabaggers - she is for strong family values.  Values like the ones that let families watch their children get turned down for insurance because they have diabetes, cancer, muscular dystrophy or some other illness. Values that will force families to choose between food and medical care for their kids.  I can guarantee you that Diane, her three children and six grandchildren all have good health policies. While she attends Community Church in Hendersonville, I am sure Ms. Black pats the heads of all the healthy children in the pews.

Diane Black believes that access to health care -even for kids - should be based on the ability to pay, not on any moral obligation or need. Diane Black is also saying that it is okay for insurance companies to drop you - and kids - once you get sick, that they are not required to deliver services even after you pay. Diane Black cares more about the viability of insurance companies than she does not care about Americans - or her own constituents.   Or rather Diane Black cares more about receiving her campaign donations from insurance companies, agents and brokers than she does about affordable health care for kids.

Let's give her some credit - Ms. Black is right in one respect - it is time to get insurance companies out of the health insurance business and have universal coverage - so no family has to stress out wondering how they will pay for an ill child.  Only Diane Black is right for all the wrong reasons and Diane Black will NEVER vote for universal coverage.

As another worshipping teabagger at the Temple of AynRand,  Diane Black thinks health care is a privilege - for those rich white folks in Tennessee. For the poor - well that is too bad, have the community take up a collection. In addition, Diane Black was on-board with the hate-the-Islamic-Center crowd. She is a true teabagger through-and-throuh - the hate oozes out of her pores.

For showing insensitivity and idiocy early on - Diane Black is the first recipient of the Randbag.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Quote of the Day: Dana Milbank on Republican hypocrisy (and worse)

As the Republicans take over the House, it's time for some perspective. And Milbank's got it:

For incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor and his House Republicans, something strange happened on the way to Wednesday's "Opening Day" of the new Congress.

For two years, Cantor and his colleagues campaigned against high deficits. Now, in the new majority's first major act, they plan to vote to increase the deficit by $143 billion as part of a repeal of health-care reform. [Ezra Klein has more on this.]

For two years, Cantor and his colleagues bemoaned the Democrats' abuse of House rules to circumvent committees and to prevent Republicans from offering amendments. Now, Cantor confirmed on Tuesday, Republicans will employ the very same abuses as they attempt the repeal.

For two years, the Republicans complained about unrelenting Democratic partisanship. Now they're planning no fewer than 10 investigations of the Obama administration, and the man leading most of those has already branded Obama's "one of the most corrupt administrations" in history.

For two years, the Republican minority vowed to return power to the people. Now the House Republican majority is asking lobbyists which regulations to repeal, hiring lobbyists to key staff positions and hobnobbing with lobbyists at big-ticket Washington fundraisers.

Not that we could have seen this coming or anything. Right, American voters?

Happy New Year! Happy 112th Congress! Enjoy reaping what you have sown!

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What the hell is going on???

By Carl 

First it was Arkansas. Next, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Maryland -- and now Sweden????

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Just four days after thousands of dead blackbirds are found in Arkansas, residents in Sweden are cleaning up their own version of the unusual happening.

Officials in Sweden say about 50 birds were found in the southern Sweden city of Falkoping Wednesday morning.

Earlier in the week, another case of dead birds hit Louisiana, leaving those residents just as confused as others. 

Now, the accepted wisdom is that somehow fireworks are responsible for the bird deaths, and that the fish are dying of unusually cold water. (Possible effect of global climate change and the shift of the Atlantic conveyor in Sweden? Stay tuned.)

Except... it's summer in Brazil. And in New Zealand, which is also reporting tons of dead fish washing up on shores.

And fireworks would explain birds dropping out of the sky, ohhhhhh, sayyyyyy, one minute past midnight on the first, but many of these events are happening days after the last fizzles.

There are plenty of conventional, prosaic explanations for any one of these events, to be sure, but that all of them are happening about the same time in the same mysterious manner leads one to suspect there's something greater at work here.

So what the hell IS going on???

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Top Ten Cloves: Surprises On first day of GOP majority In Congress

10. Representative Steve King (R-IA) insists on having title of House Majority Idiot

9. Republicans hire Rulon Gardner to taunt outgoing Democrats as "The Biggest Losers"

8. To save time, GOP majority insists all floor speeches need to be a Twitter-like 140-characters or less

7. First bill: all members need to be as tanned as new Speaker of the House, John Boehner

6. New Majority Whip Eric Cantor challenges King for House Majority Idiot

5. Swearing in new members is delayed, as newly-elected Tea Party Congressmen show up with misspelled signs and shout down the Speaker

4. New Speaker of House Ceremony delayed -- gavel keeps slipping out of Nancy Pelosi's hand due to it being soaking wet from John Boehner's crying

3. Michele Bachmann gets so excited with having the majority, she gets confused and starts investigating herself for anti-American activities

2. Big confusion -- Tea Party Members thought they were reading the Constitution, but, due to error, actually are reading leaked cables by WikiLeaks

1. LeBron James shows up, announces he's "taking his talents to Congress."

Bonus Links

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Huck Finn, sanitized

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a genuine American classic and one of the greatest works in the history of literature, American or otherwise, is being re-released in a new, cleansed version that takes out the words "nigger," as well as "Injun," the one-word, over-hyped source of controversy that has seen the book, as Publishers Weekly puts it, "disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation's most challenged books."

This, to me, is utterly despicable, a concession to the forces of censorship and oppression. Yes, the book in its new, adulterated version will likely find many new readers, particularly young people, but it won't really be Huck Finn anymore, the timeless masterpiece that Twain wrote, a book written at a certain time and place, including a word or two that justifiably are no longer acceptable, but a book sanitized to appeal to a new time and place, today's America, that apparently is too immature to appreciate the book's, and the author's, context.

No, taking out the word "nigger" certainly doesn't mean that the rest of the book is compromised or worthless. Admittedly, the book even in this version remains a masterpiece, and perhaps the introduction will explain what has been changed.

But it's a slippery slope. Changing an undesirable word here or there, without the author's approval, can lead to more substantive changes that really do undermine the author's intent. This is sort of like what happened in the movie Cinema Paradiso, when sexually-repressive authorities in Italy edited out all the kissing scenes. A kiss is a kiss, sure, not an objectionable word, but the result is still censorship.

The fact is, the word "nigger" used to be used in common parlance, and we don't even have to go back to Twain's time for that. Isn't it better to tell people the truth, and to educate them about its context, than to hide it, to pretend that the realities of the past, including the ugliness, linguistic or otherwise, didn't exist? Are today's children, coming to Huck Finn for the first time, simply to believe, erroneously, that the word was never used? Why not take out references to slavery altogether? Why not turn Huck Finn into a picture book for two-year olds?

It's dangerous to revise the past this way, especially through censorship. It means that we lose touch with the past, that we do not even have the opportunity to understand the past as it was, to read books as they were meant to be read, to be forced to confront that which may not be pleasant, that which may challenge our self-righteous presumptions and biases. In this case, over time, over generations, the very essence of Huck Finn may be lost altogether, all because a single word was changed, all because the censors won.

The battle for true freedom is a battle against this sort of censorship, against efforts to cleanse the past, to cleanse art, to cleanse our culture -- and to cleanse our minds. I am certainly not justifying the use of "nigger" in contemporary speech. It is an ugly word, a word of bigotry. But this is totalitarian manipulation, pure and simple, and we should not accept it.

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"Birther King" to challenge Obama (and America's patience) in 2012

The self-described "king of the birthers," Andy Martin, has announced he will run for president in 2012 and campaign on a mostly symbolic platform aimed more at shaping the debate of the election than actually garnering votes.

Four decades of unabashed anti-Semitism, homophobia, and conspiratorial lunacy have convinced voters a grand total of 15 times not to elect Martin to public office – the most recent attempt being his failed bid for Barack Obama's vacated Illinois Senate seat, a race in which Martin managed to garner a whopping five percent in the primary.

But the "king of the birthers" seems to have finally accepted his fate and learned from his past mistakes. In anticipation of his 2012 presidential run, he has successfully re-crafted his argument, reconstructed his platform and re-packaged his traditionally ignored presence in the national political sphere. In short, he has admitted that the conspiracies about Obama not being born in the United States are illegitimate – even if he hasn't gone so far as to recant his claims that Obama is a Muslim.

"I'm going to have a tremendous impact on the presidential election, not because I'm the frontrunner. Clearly I'm not," he admitted, according to the L.A. Times. "But I'll be driving the agenda in the Republican Party."

Martin doesn't plan to run a strict birther campaign. He plans to run a redefined birther campaign. Acknowledging his change in position since 2004, Martin said he now believes Obama was in fact born in Hawaii. "But," according to news reports, "he believes the White House is blocking the release of the president's full birth certificate because it could contain embarrassing information."

The key term here is "could contain." He's not claiming that President Obama's birth certificate does contain embarrassing information. After failing to convince the American public that Obama was a Kenyan-born Muslim Manchurian Candidate bent on destroying the United States by instituting Sharia Law across the nation, Martin is now stepping back and making a more generalized statement about what could be true.

And that is ingenious. He has created an argument that cannot be refuted.

It's like arguing that the world is flat by refuting naysayers who have not personally piloted an aircraft around the globe to verify its alleged spherical shape.

It's like claiming the Holocaust was a hoax because no scientist has yet disproven the theory that Jewish people are born with a genetic disease that makes them keel over dead at the sight of Swastika arm bands.

It's like saying that dinosaurs were on Noah's Ark. Without the evidence, who's to say they weren't?

The reason Martin can make such claims is that the copy made public, and posted on the president's website, is a short-form "certification of birth," not the long-form "birth certificate." The state of Hawaii, Obama's birth place, does not give access to long-form certificates, according to FactCheck.Org, similar to most other states in the union.

Because Martin believes that the officials who verified the authenticity of Obama's original birth certificate are lying, he has therefore opened up the possibility that they are hiding potentially "embarrassing information" from the public.

And that could mean anything.

It could mean Obama was born with webbed feet, that he had extra digits, that he was born with only one eyeball, or that he has an evil twin. Perhaps the real, non-fudged version of the certificate says that Obama's father is actually Frank Marshall Davis, a black activist and alleged Communist, as Martin claimed in 2008.

Or, perhaps the original document reveals that Obama was born at 7:06 PM, instead of the 7:24 PM time listed on the public copy (7:06 is really 6:66 – the mark of the beast and proof that Obama is the anti-Christ).

It sounds ridiculous, but when you establish a frame for an issue that cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed, there is really no way of silencing such insane theories.

If Martin is correct in claiming that he will be "driving the Republican Party's agenda" in 2012, I look forward to an entertaining year – and a landslide victory for Obama.

The Republican Party would be suicidal to run a smear campaign based on some webbed-foot/evil-twin conspiracy theory. That said, I wouldn't put it past 'em.

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