Saturday, January 15, 2011

Steelers 31, Ravens 24

Some of you know that I'm a rather huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was terrified going into today's game against the Baltimore Ravens, perhaps our biggest rival. It's not that I thought the Steelers would lose, just that Steelers-Ravens games are always tense affairs, and this was no exception. I'm not sure I have any nerves left.

What a game, though. After getting up 7-0, the Steelers fumbled twice inside their own 20 and ended up down 21-7 at the half. My mood, needless to say, was not good. It was anger and frustration mixed with resignation, and I just didn't see how they'd ever come back against a tough Ravens D with an o-line that has been weak all season, in part because of injury, and just didn't seem to be able to afford Ben Roethlisberger enough protection for the offence to move the ball consistently. And it didn't help that their first drive of the second half ended with a punt.

But then... then it was time for the Ravens to turn the ball over. The Steelers great D stepped up and made things happen, forcing three turnovers and going up 24-21. Then the Ravens tied it with a FG after the Steelers made a huge stop (and after a Ravens TD on a punt return was called back).

And then, on 3rd and 19, with just a couple of minutes left, Roethlisberger found one of the Steelers' speedy young receivers, Antonio Brown, for a 58-yard bomb down inside the Ravens' 5. And after being stopped twice, Mendenhall rushed it in for the winning score.

Awesome. Simply, utterly, amazingly awesome. Wow.


And now I suppose I have to root for the Jets over the Patriots tomorrow -- because the Steelers have a much better shot of beating the former than the later, and would host the Jets instead of having to travel to New England.

But I'm trying not to think too much about that now.

I'm ecstatic, I'm on a major sports high, and now I'm just going to sit back and watch the Packers-Falcons game (go Pack!) without being anxious about the Steelers.


Oh, speaking of Steelers fans...

I have quite a bit of Steelers gear and periphernalia that I've accumulated over the years, and my kids often wear their Steelers shirts (my older daughter has earrings, too), but I've got nothing on a guy named George Danesky:

Danesky, a 62-year old semi-retired transplant from South Fayette has created nothing short of a Steelers sanctuary in the basement of his Blue Ridge, Ga., home, about 100 miles from Atlanta, near the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee.

Literally one-half of his home is completely devoted to the Steelers.

"We live in a 5000 sq.ft. house. The basement is 2500 sq. ft Every inch of that 2500 sq. ft. is painted in official NFL Steeler gold and all trim is black. The entire basement is dedicated to, used for games, partying, and display of our thousands of Steeler items," which includes jerseys, helmets, footballs, framed prints, pennants -- many of them autographed -- as well as figurines, bobbleheads, Iron City cans, banners, posters, and all manner of novelty items.

The basement is wired with 16 methodically placed 16 speakers, so that the effect is like being in the stadium. The speakers are attached to a 72 inch H.D. television.

There is a full kitchen and a 30 foot bar equipped with its own television mounted on the wall. The entire area is heated with a double sided fireplace in the very center of the room, both sides have firescreens adorned with the Steeler emblem.

A full bath and a guest bedroom, are also all Steeler decorated, including sheets, comforter and curtains and there is an area he refers to as, "the locker room" which houses all of his family's Steeler jerseys, coats, t-shirts and other clothing.  His Chrysler PT  Cruiser is decked out too, in a black and gold paint job and "GOSTLRS" vanity plates.

You might think this is lame. (It might be if it were for, say, the Jets.) If you think that, you clearly know nothing of sports fandom, which is about passion and loyalty and pride. Personally, I think it's pretty cool. And while I'll never match Danesky -- who will? -- his example certainly gives us Steelers fans something to admire. Here are some photos (the post at the Post-Gazette's Blog 'n' Gold has more):

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Who the hell is Reince Priebus?

Why, he's your new RNC chair!

With Michael "gaffe-fest" Steele out of the way, after a memorable two-year term of one embarrassing (for him and his party) moment after another, Priebus, previously the GOP party chair in Wisconsin before working for Steele at the RNC, stormed to a win in the seventh round of voting yesterday afternoon to capture the top spot at the Republican National Committee.

So let the Reince Priebus era begin!

Think Progress has a helpful overview of just who this guy is and what he's all about: 

– Priebus's law firm sought funds from Obama's stimulus package: Connecticut GOP chairman Chris Healy noted that Priebus's Wisconsin law firm helped its clients obtain federal stimulus funds, citing the fact that Priebus's name was attached to the "Stimulus and Economic Recovery Group." Priebus immediately responded to the story, claiming he had never worked with his firm's "Stimulus and Economic Recovery" group. 

– His law firm says the recently passed health care bill is constitutional: Priebus's law firm not only says the law is constitutional, but has touted its benefits to clients. 

– Implicated in voter caging: While Priebus was chair of the Wisconsin GOP, the state party engaged fomented voter fraud conspiracies and hatched a voter caging plot with well-funded right-wing allies to suppress minority votes. One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross said, "When voter suppression allegations have surfaced in Wisconsin for the past decade, the name Reince Priebus isn't far behind."

– He has the backing of many of the Barbour clan: Henry Barbour, a committeeman from Mississippi and the nephew of Gov. Hale Barbour (R-MS), enticed Priebus into running for the RNC chair. Also, Nick Ayers, a close Barbour associate and executive director of the Republican Governors Association, reportedly gave behind-the-scenes support to Priebus, leading many to believe Priebus would favor Barbour for president in 2012. Priebus responded by saying, "I'm not Haley's choice, I don't think that Haley has any horse in the race, and he's made that pretty clear on the record."

– Priebus had close ties to former chairman Michael Steele, then stabbed him in the back: Priebus was Steele's general counsel and frequently served as Steele's top liaison to committee members. In a memo sent to RNC members, Connecticut Party chairman Chris Healy said that Priebus is partly responsible for the RNC's poor performance. Commenting on Priebus' run, Steele recently said, "It's disappointing, you would hope that the bonds of loyalty were thicker than they apparently were."

– Priebus mistakenly called for Obama's execution: In a media conference call about Osama Bin Laden, Priebus slipped and accidentally called for the "execution" of Obama three separate times. "My guess is he would believe that Obama should be executed and he oughta be treated as a war criminal," Priebus explained. 

And this is from his Wikipedia page:

In the December 1, 2010 RNC candidate forum, Priebus provided a few details about his politics. He said he believes the RNC is "part of" the Tea Party movement; believes in the Christian God and stated that if he were elected as RNC chair it would be through God's blessing; believes it is the Republican Party's mission to "save our country, to save our party, and to take back the White House"; believes someone who is "pro-abortion, pro-stimulus, pro-AIG ... might not be a Republican"; and believes that being pro-life is "paramount" to the Republican Party platform. He wants to ban earmarks and to require photo IDs to vote. He opposes the legal recognition of same sex marriage.

So... he's a self-aggrandizing hypocrite and opportunist who's connected to Haley "perfect Republican" Barbour, who has been involved in racist voter suppression, who, like his former boss, is fully capable of making appalling gaffes, and who is an ideological extremist who adheres to far-right (but mainstream GOP) positions on social and economic issues and loves the Tea Party?

Wow. Does it get any better than that?

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Ted Williams's tale of homelessness and what helping really means

Last night I saw some commentary on the sad story of Ted Williams, the previously homeless man with the golden voice, who was discovered on the street, made into an instant celebrity, and then presented with job offers to put that voice to use. Problem solved!

It turns out, surprise of surprises, that Mr. Williams had some issues with substance abuse and other problems that helped put him on the street and no doubt helped to keep him there. Once off the street, it became obvious to those around him that helping just wasn't going to be as easy as providing a roof over his head and money in his pocket.

At the moment, it appears that a benefactor has provided resources for him to enter a rehab centre. We wish him luck.

The talking head on MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan show (didn't catch the name of the young fellow) could only say lamely that this will now make it harder for us to want to help people on the street. What a stupid thing to say.

Although I have done work on the issue of homelessness, I don't claim to be an expert. I can tell you, however, that anyone with a lick of sense saw this train wreck coming a mile away.

People end up on the street for any number of reasons and I suppose there are a few stories like the one made into a movie with Will Smith where he plays a perfectly ambitious guy who finds himself on the street, through no fault of his own, while being trained to be a stockbroker. Yeah, I'm sure that happens all the time. It turns out all he needed was an opportunity and -- Bob's your uncle -- problem solved, credits roll, a few tears in the movie theatre are shed and everyone is happy.

In the real world, I suspect that most people living on the street need a range of services to get back on their feet. In most cases it's just not going to be that easy. There may be addictions involved, as in Mr. Williams case. There may be psychological issues, as is so often the case now that we have emptied so many facilities in the interest of budget cuts. There are very likely issues to do with providing fairly mundane but essential supports to integrate people back into the world, especially if they have been out of that world for a while.

I'm just saying that Mr. Williams's story should not make us nervous about helping homeless people. What it should do is serve to remind us that helping is frequently not as easy as flipping a switch and then walking away smugly satisfied that we have made the world a better place by our supposedly selfless act.

There is usually a lot more involved. Perhaps this case can remind us of that, as much as Americans like simple and happy endings.

Apparently the only lesson drawn by the guy on MSNBC is that we shouldn't help people at all if it's going to be hard. That's no fun.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Republicans should man up and back stiffer gun laws

Bang. Bang. Bang.

That's the sound of Democratic Party leaders smashing their heads against the wall after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that, in light of the Tucson shooting of 20 people, including a member of his own branch of Congress, he will not be supporting any bill that would expand federal gun regulations.

The doomed fate of any gun-restriction bill is as disappointing as it is expected.

Disappointing because a recent poll shows that more Americans support increased gun restrictions, and because authorities in Tucson say the gun used in the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) – a 9-mm semi-automatic Glock with a 31-round clip – would have been illegal six years ago under President Clinton's assault weapons ban of 1994.

Expected because the power of the gun lobby in Washington, combined with historic GOP backlash against any legislation that smells of Second Amendment infringement, effectively killed any Democratic hopes of reauthorizing the ban in 2008, four years after the bill's 10-year sunset clause expired.

Faced with a Republican-controlled and Tea Party-influenced House of Representatives, Democrats have resorted to tepidly backing a Republican-proposed and severely gutted version of the 1994 bill: a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines, or clips.

The argument for such a ban is simple but not overwhelmingly popular: nobody but a mass murderer hoping to gun down a parking lot full of civilians needs 31 bullets in a semi-automatic weapon for protection, Democrats say. While true, this argument hasn't convinced opponents, and it won't get legislation passed.

The Democrats' idealism is noble, and their efforts might be regarded as irreproachable if it weren't for the constraints of political pragmatism and the Speaker's perfunctory refusal to even entertain such an idea.

Rest assured, Democrats. There is another way.

When Republicans spin the rhetoric surrounding a controversial issue, it's called "framing the argument." When Democrats do it, it has no name because they don't have much of a track record of ever having effectively done it. Now is their chance.

Republicans love their country. They love their Constitution. They love their guns. And they love to entertain thoughts that one day they will be able exercise their patriotism and give their double-action Smith & Wesson some real action and defend of their homeland against Commie terrorists who want to invade their homes and burn the Stars and Stripes swaying in the Midwestern winds on their lawn.

This is fine. These beliefs are admirable. But what ever happened to excellence, discipline, and self-responsibility, the core values of American conservatism?

Republicans, of all people, should be the last to lean on the government in order to uphold a law that allows 31 rounds in the clip of a semi-automatic weapon. To rely on government bailouts for this kind of social assistance is antithetical to the most basic tenets of conservatism, and it should be utterly insulting to the true patriots of this country to ask the government to essentially subsidize ­– via legalization – the unskilled and un-sharp-shooting of those who claim to stand for individual liberties in the ongoing battle against socialism, treason, and terrorism.

Republicans are not lazy, deranged, sissy stoners who require 31 rounds of ammunition to protect themselves, their families, their country.

Republicans are masterful marksmen – whether in war, in politics, or in defending property lines – who can etch themselves into the history books of American Independence with a single shot (or possibly two, for those who hold the double-tap method of execution in high esteem).

It's time Republicans put an end to the excessive government handouts that serve no other purpose than to give unqualified, unskilled, undisciplined, and generally unexceptional Americans an undeserved sense of machismo. It's time they back a law that separates the boys from the men. It's time these faux Republicans MAN UP and start proving their patriotism.

(Cross-posted from Muddy Politics.)

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Gingrich shows up in South Carolina, presidential speculation runs amok

"Gingrich visits South Carolina as presidential decision looms," headlines McClatchy, suggesting that he may very well "toss his hat in the ring for the chance to challenge President Barack Obama next year":

"I'm looking at making a decision by the end of February," Gingrich said. "I'm trying to methodically see if it's possible and if there's enough support to make sense out of it."

Oy. This again? Allow me quote myself from October 2009:

Please. This is what Gingrich always does to keep his name out there, and to maintain his quasi-celebrity status on the national political scene, more with the national media than with the party leadership or base.

He's an attention whore, you see. Whenever he's not getting enough attention, he floats the "I may run for president" bullshit, knowing that the media will lap it up and put him back in the news.

And he doesn't mean it... He won't run, and never will, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that he knows he'd lose, badly. He likely wouldn't even make it out of the Republican primaries, where his pompous, self-absorbed windbaggery would put him at a disadvantage against his sucking-up-to-the extremist-base rivals. (Sure, he'd suck up, too, and he's surely an extremist of sorts, but it's hard to see Republican primary voters trusting him.)

He also knows full well that all the old dirt would come out, and a lot more we don't know about yet -- the truth about the character and conviction of Newt Gingrich -- and it's that, one suspects, that motivates any reluctance he might have to re-enter electoral politics, perhaps even more than the fear of losing...

The fact is, Gingrich enjoys a certain status on the national scene. Simply put, he is respected. Some of us find that respect seriously misplaced -- and I wish we'd dispense with the "big thinker" label for a self-aggrandizing partisan who is "big" only relative to the smallness that rules the GOP -- but the media love him, and not just the right-wing kind. And he's not about to give that up by risking the truth coming out, which it would, nor by fighting it out in the GOP gutter only to lose, which he would.

So please. Enough.

Yes, enough -- though, to McClatchy's credit, the article isn't fawning and instead delves into Newt's sordid past and notes how difficult it would be for him to win. 

Which is a welcome change from the usual media infatuation with this massively egotistical blowhard.

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Fasten your seatbelts

Because as always, it is:

Funny business, a narcissist's personality -- the things I have said on my way up the ladder so I could move faster. I often forget that people who are not entranced by my beauty might really be listening to me. That's one trait all self-absorbed quitters like me have in common, whether we like it or not: the complete inability to feel anything except how it affects me. Sooner or later, someone is going to catch on, no matter how many careers I have ruined or lies I have told. And in the last analysis, nothing's any good unless you can look up just before your servants serve you dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is -- Glenn, um, I mean Todd. Since there is no one with my mixture of incredible charm and tiger-like slinkiness, there is no one else that could be president. You might be able to lock and re-load, you might be able to see Russia from your window, or maybe you went five colleges, but you're not a real Republican unless you can blame the other side and prove you are always the victim.

Nice speech, Sarah. But I wouldn't worry too much about your heart. You can easily fit that award where your heart ought to be.

Fasten your moose straps, there is bloody libel to pay tonight.

While I laud President Obama for an incredible and moving speech, I fear it is only a matter of days before America goes to back to work -- being the same divided nation, with each side (one a lot more nasty, armed & dangerous than the other one) hunkered down.

You cannot ignore the fact that America today is a country brimming with anger and strife. For years, we have ignored the rotting outer core in the pursuit of satisfying the inner one. The collective effort we had in building a great nation for over 200 years has slowly been dissipating since we turned the keys over to über-right and religious fanatics in 1981. Our country is broke and our society is broken. What we have been witnessing for the past decade is a carnival act of vultures using politics, religion, and jobs to abscond with all the spoils.

In just about every statistic that is measured, we are below average when compared to the rest of the world.  The only places we come out as leaders of the pack are in military might and waging war -- and even those two have not had a good ride as of late. Look at the state of education, health care, savings, tolerance, happiness, poverty, and manufacturing in this country -- nothing we do anymore screams innovation or leadership. All it screams is how much money it can make for the investor class. The politicians can rile up the crowds with American exceptionalism all they want. All the facts prove they are wrong.

Where we are exceptional is in the amount of guns we own.

You have to wonder, is there anyone really trying to re-build and invest in our country, not just take the lion's share and leave the crumbs for everyone else? It really seems that the few who control so many of the assets of our wealth just want to plunder what is left before the leeches cling to their skin. It is a sad time, and it is a dangerous time.

We are a nation that loves instant gratification at the expense of our future. We put our heads in the sand when it comes to making hard decisions. And finally, we have become a country where sacrifice and compassion have actually turned into a dirtier words than liberal. It is hard to believe we want to live in this kind of country -- but in a place where a complete dolt like Sarah Palin is acceptable as a leader because she is hot, it really does appear that the the future of the noble experiment called America is shaky at best.
The next two years will be nothing but frustrating. We have learned nothing from the past week. We never do. Louis Gohmert, Virginia Foxx, and Trent Franks have already gone back to slinging the dirt. The teabaggers are blaming Giffords herself. And right-wing pundits are tripping over themselves defending their heated and gun-filled rhetoric.

Meanwhile, as her adoring fans struggle to get food on the table, Sarah "Blood Libel" Palin laughs all the way to the bank. Some country.

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Elephant Dung #9: Christie challenges Palin to go unscripted

Tracking the GOP Civil War

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see here. For previous entries, see here.)

Given that so many Republicans are trying to distance themselves from the half-term Alaska ex-governor, it makes sense that many of our Elephant Dungs will be about Palin. Of course, given her significant popularity with the GOP base, including the Tea Party, these Republicans need to be very careful, and so their criticism tends to be indirect. Often, they're not really criticizing her, more challenging her, likely knowing that she'll fail.

This is surely the case with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's recent comments:

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey says it’s way too early to handicap the field of his fellow Republicans who might run for president in 2012, but on Wednesday he voiced a few sharp words about the most famous one.

He argued that unscripted, even adversarial exchanges with reporters and the public are essential to judging a candidate, and that if Sarah Palin continues to avoid them, "she'll never be president."

At a lunch with New York Times journalists and the newspaper's publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., Mr. Christie was asked about the Sarah Palin video, released earlier in the day, that had caused a stir. He said he had not yet seen it, but he doubted that it would shed much light on her character.

"I think people need to be judged by the way they conduct themselves in the public arena, in a way that is as minimally staged as possible," he said. "That's where you really get to know people."

When it was noted that Ms. Palin has preferred communicating with the public in ways she can control, Mr. Christie said that "rightfully has been criticized."

I don't much care for Gov. Christie, to say the least, but I think he's right about this. Now, given that Palin never goes unscripted, and is as packaged as they come even if she presents herself as somehow raw (her "reality" show was just the latest example of how everything she does is carefully managed), there's no way she'll ever go "as minimally staged as possible."

And why? Because she's a self-destructive disaster whenever she goes off script, or whenever she's out on the public stage without everything pre-determined. Just think back to the '08 campaign. There was a reason she was kept away from the media. She may have given a jolt to McCain's campaign, but McCain's people clearly understood that she was not to be trusted, and that despite her popularity with the base she would only end up embarrassing herself (and further undermining McCain). And when she was sent out without a script, or put in a position where she was forced to think on her feet, as in the interview with Katie Couric, she did just that, proving to be a moron. This is why her media appearances are limited to Fox News and otherwise friendly outlets/shows. And why her other public appearances are at partisan rallies where she is idolized, as with Tea Party events.

(She's doing a TV interview on Monday, her first since the Arizona shooting. Guess which network. Answer below.)

Now, there are many other reasons why Palin will never be president -- unless the country goes completely mad, which is not out of the question. Her utterly unpresidential response to the Arizona shooting, including her incredibly awful Facebook statement/video, which was more about herself than anything else (as usual), and which featured the repugnant claim that she's victim of "blood libel," for example. (And, of course, she may not run, as I've been suggesting.)

But Christie is right that her detachment from the public -- her stagedness -- is a huge problem for her. He doesn't go so far as to criticize her directly (he just says it's right that she's been criticized by others), but you don't have to read too far between the lines. He probably thinks she's incapable, if not incompetent, and that there's no way she'll ever go unscripted.

Because Sarah Palin and "Sarah Palin," her public persona (her character), are pretty much indistinguishable. Maybe there's a trace of authenticity in her private life, but in public, wherever she happens to be, she's a big phony. And the American people, many of whom would apparently like to sit down for a beer with George W. Bush, supposedly one of the reasons he beat the far more intelligent and far more qualified John Kerry in '04, just don't care for such phoniness, such artifice, in their politicians.

* Fox News, of course, with Hannity. Duh.

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Tim Pawlenty, a social conservative extremist, just like the rest

Think Minnesota Gov. and likely GOP presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty is a sensible Midwestern moderate, an old-school sort of Republican, an antithesis to the Sarah Palins of the party?

Think again.

As Pawlenty told right-wing hatemonger Bryan Fischer on Wednesday, he's not just a fiscal conservative but a social one as well. He's "a strong supporter of the family, pro-life positions, traditional marriage positions" -- in other words, he's anti-abortion and anti-gay, the proponent in Minnesota of an amendment that would ban same-sex marriage, the proponent of conservative judicial activism ("strict constructionists") and the repeal of Roe v. Wade.

And, he said, he would reinstate Don't Ask, Don't Tell, misleadingly claiming that "the combat commanders and the combat units" are against gays being allowed to serve, even though a huge majority not just of the American people but of the men and women in uniform supported DADT repeal, including not just Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but perhaps America's most revered current military commander (and conservative wunderkind), Gen. David Petraeus.

Sure, Pawlenty may just have been pandering to the right-wing GOP base, and appearing on right-wing shows and playing up (or exaggerating) one's conservative bona fides is de rigueur for Republicans, but there's really nothing to suggest that he isn't the sort of social conservative he claimed he is. Really, it's just that most of the media's attention has been on his similarly conservative economic views, and that he doesn't come across as an unhinged extremist on social issues the way other leading Republicans do -- the way, say, Palin and Huckabee do. And in presenting himself as a credible social conservative, he's clearly distinguishing himself from another moderate-seeming fiscal conservative, Mitt Romney, who has tried so desperately to flip-flop himself into conservatives' hearts while failing miserably to overcome his decidedly un-conservative past (health-care reform, anyone?).

However sincere he may be, it's just so transparent what Pawlenty is doing, and it's telling that he'll even pander directly to a bigot like Fischer. In today's GOP, that's just what you have to do to get anywhere, particularly at the national level, with presidential aspirations driving you ever further to the extreme right.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Giffords opens eyes, but conservatives accuse Obama of lying

In one of the most cynical displays in recent memory, following the lead of Gateway Pundit Jim Hoft, several conservative websites -- including Fox Nation and MRC arm CNS News -- suggested that President Obama lied last night when he said that Rep. Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time shortly after his Wednesday night visit to the hospital.

In a recently-completed press conference, Giffords' doctor Peter Rhee explained that what Obama said last night about Giffords opening her eyes was "true." 

As if we needed yet more evidence that many conservatives have zero credibility. They just attack Obama (and any other opponent) no matter what, regardless of the facts.

In this case, Giffords opening her eyes should be cause for celebration. It's wonderful news, and yet another sign of an amazing recovery. It certainly should not be turned into partisan fodder -- which is precisely what these conservatives were doing in claiming, without any evidence at all, that Obama was lying.

As Steve Benen writes:

The "lie" the right had uncovered wasn't a lie at all.

But stepping back, it's worth realizing how truly ridiculous the criticism from the right is even at face value. Obama had heartening news about a congresswoman who very nearly died, and that news happened to be true. For some conservatives, however, this was not only an opportunity to catch the president in some kind of "gotcha" moment -- an effort that proved wrong anyway -- but also to parse the meaning of the word "open."

Is the right really this desperate? Do they hang on the president's every word, wondering how to manipulate his every remark into some kind of cheap attack?

Good lord, these guys really need to grow up. This is just pathetic.

Yup. Pathetic -- and revealing of what they're all about.

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Follow President Obama's example

As so many persist in trying to shoehorn Saturday's tragedy in Tucson into the neverending partisan skirmishes and the inevitable blame game, trying to seek advantage for whatever ideological side to which you belong, we should all follow the example of President Obama who, in one of his finest moments since he took office, rose above all the rancor and spoke from the heart and to the nation in an effort to heal rather than divide. Some notable excerpts from his speech at Wednesday night's memorial service:
And our hearts are full of gratitude for those who saved others. We are grateful for Daniel Hernandez, a volunteer in Gabby's office who ran through the chaos to minister to his boss, tending to her wounds to keep her alive. We are grateful for the men who tackled the gunman as he stopped to reload. We are grateful for a petite 61 year-old, Patricia Maisch, who wrestled away the killer's ammunition, undoubtedly saving some lives. And we are grateful for the doctors and nurses and emergency medics who worked wonders to heal those who'd been hurt.

These men and women remind us that heroism is found not only on the fields of battle. They remind us that heroism does not require special training or physical strength. Heroism is here, all around us, in the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens, just waiting to be summoned - as it was on Saturday morning.

Their actions, their selflessness, also pose a challenge to each of us. It raises the question of what, beyond the prayers and expressions of concern, is required of us going forward. How can we honor the fallen? How can we be true to their memory?

You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations - to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless. Already we've seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems. Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized - at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, "when I looked for light, then came darkness." Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man's mind.

So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.

But what we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together."

Then, from later in Obama's speech.
I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here - they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

That's what I believe, in part because that's what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation's future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us - we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations.

Christina was given to us on September 11th, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called "Faces of Hope." On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child's life. "I hope you help those in need," read one. "I hope you know all of the words to the National Anthem and sing it with your hand over your heart. I hope you jump in rain puddles."

If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit."

We all owe it to Christina's memory to try to live up to her young, burgeoning example and stop the nonsense. We should follow President Obama's example and rise above it. Let the Fred Phelps and Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs and other hatemongers of the world show themselves for who they are and let us show that we are far better than that by refusing to get dragged even close to their level. Do it for Christina.

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Photo of the Day: Obama and McCain in Arizona

By R.K. Barry

Check out McCain in the background.

So John, do you think it would be okay for this brave young gay man to serve openly in your version of the U.S. military?

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The United States of Goldman Sachs

In 2007, Charles Ferguson directed the great documentary No End in Sight. Last year, he helmed another that told the story of an entirely different type of destruction, Inside Job, only this time the war wasn't against another country, it was against the world's financial system and instead of only those actually in Iraq and their families paying a price, we all suffered for Wall Street's greed and Washington's malfeasance.

As Ferguson did in No End in Sight, he makes a very complicated subject easier to understand through his masterful presentation of the facts and history of the situation (narrated by Matt Damon here) and interviews with key subjects. It's not an easy task in Inside Job because trying to explain the mechanics of financial derivatives and its role in the economic collapse is nowhere near as easy to do as it was to show all the mistakes and blunders involved in the Iraq war.

Not surprisingly, most of the key figures such as Alan Greenspan, Timothy Geithner, etc., refused to be interviewed for the film, but what's shocking is that Wall Street and financial service figures who do give interviews feel completely at ease showing their arrogance and defending the industry's actions.

Inside Job, briskly edited by Chad Beck and Adam Bolt, shows how decades of deregulation under presidents of both parties led to one crisis after another, each bigger than the last, with seemingly no one in Washington learning any lessons.

The film also provides fascinating tidbits such as the fact that as recently as the early 1970s bond traders' salaries were low enough, that some had to take second jobs to make ends meet. It also tells how employees of various financial firms engaged in cocaine-fueled parties with prostitutes which were billed to the companies as things such as computer supplies.

The handful of firms who would tell their clients a purchase was good while betting on its failure behind their back is staggering, though not as staggering as the refusal of regulators to do any regulating or the number of former top Goldman Sachs executives who end up serving in presidential administrations of both parties. (When Hank Paulson stepped down as Goldman CEO to be Dubya's treasury secretary, he had to sell $450 million in Goldman Sachs stock but thanks to a law signed by the first Bush, he paid exactly zero taxes on it and some say the rich are taxed too much?)

Ferguson's No End in Sight proved to be not only informative, but to provoke outrage at all of the things that were and weren't done prior to the Iraq war. Inside Job does just the same for the history of the financial collapse, especially when you see all of the names who profited from Wall Street's greed that have populated the Obama Administration, not that he invented the problem.

It began with Reagan, got worse with the first Bush, declined further under Clinton and took the big nosedive under the second Bush. Now, Obama's advisers come from the same group and Congress passes reforms without teeth because Wall Street controls what happens. Inside Job tells this infuriating story in great detail and it tells it well.

(Cross-posted at Edward Copeland on Film.)

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Glenn Beck: Lies and the manufacturing of paranoia

I hate thinking about Glenn Beck. I hate watching him on television. I hate reading his crap on the web. I hate writing about him. But the truth is that he is such a perfect example of everything that is wrong with the right in America that it is impossble to ignore him, despite the fact that he continues to be an idiot.

Many have been making the point that those on the right railing about the extent to which Obama and progressives want to destroy America run the very serious risk of making their political opponents targets of violence. Beck and others so consistently make the absurd claim that Obama and his political allies have a plan to take away our freedom, our money, our guns, our very way of life, you name it. They work so hard to create a wildly paranoid right-wing culture and then claim surprise that people might respond irrationally.

I wrote about this a few days ago, but I notice that Harold Meyerson of The Washington Post makes a similar case and expands the argument in useful directions. Please take a few moments to read it.

It doesn't matter if this is what happened in Arizona. If it isn't, it will happen soon enough somewhere else if these bastards continue on this path. (Oh, sorry. Was I being disagreeable while disagreeing?)

Beck's duplicity and hypocrisy know no bounds and I am getting tired of stating the obvious. But as long as he and others like him continue to lie about their political opponents and deny the consequences of such lies, let us have the strength to challenge them, every day if necessary.

And, by the way, the poison is in the lies that feed paranoia, not the excitable tone or unpleasant character of the words used by the speaker. That is what should concern us. The target symbols and talk of second amendment remedies or of locking and loading are really only an issue because of the lies that manufacture such paranoia.

So we are left talking about rudeness as if that were the point. It's not.

Anyway, have a look at the Meyerson piece. It says it all for me.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost)

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Thank you, President Obama

By Creature

You gave a speech the country needed.

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History reloaded

By J. Kingston Pierce

Much has been said (and probably remains to be said) about failed former half-term Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s offensive “crosshairs” map of the Democratic U.S. lawmakers she thought, in her infinite wisdom, deserved ouster because they’d supported President Obama’s historic health-care reform legislation last year. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona), who was critically wounded this last weekend during a deadly shooting in Tucson, was among the people pinpointed on that map.

Now, The Stranger--the marginally less boring of two “alternative” weekly newspapers serving Seattle--has come up with its own version of Palin’s chart, substituting for her “targets” the names of political figures who were, indeed, assassinated over the last century and a half, or who survived assassination attempts.

Palin’s map is on the left, The Stranger’s is on the right. Click on either image to open a larger version in a new window.

(Cross-posted at Limbo.)

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Gun sales soar after Arizona shooting

Yes, that's right, the Arizona shooting that left six dead, including a nine-year-old girl, has spurred gun sales across the country:

One-day sales of handguns in Arizona jumped 60 percent to 263 on Jan. 10 compared with 164 the corresponding Monday a year ago, the second-biggest increase of any state in the country, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data.

Handgun sales rose 65 percent to 395 in Ohio; 16 percent to 672 in California; 38 percent to 348 in Illinois; and 33 percent to 206 in New York, the FBI data show. Sales increased nationally about 5 percent, to 7,906 guns.

Federally tracked gun sales, which are drawn from sales in gun stores that require a federal background check, also jumped following the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, in which 32 people were killed.

"Whenever there is a huge event, especially when it's close to home, people do tend to run out and buy something to protect their family," said Don Gallardo, a manager at Arizona Shooter's World in Phoenix, who said that the number of people signing up for the store's concealed weapons class doubled over the weekend. Gallardo said he expects handgun sales to climb steadily throughout the week. 

Really? For self-protection? Then why did sales of the weapon Jared Lee Loughner (is alleged to have) used, the Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol, also increase dramatically following the shooting? Do people really need to protect themselves, and their families, with a gun that is designed to kill large numbers of people in short order? And why, in any event, would a targeted political shooting, an assassination attempt, compel so many people to arm themselves? It's not like violent crime was about to go up.

As another Arizona gun-store owner explained, "[w]hen something like this happens people get worried that the government is going to ban stuff." Ah, so now we find ourselves in the vicious cycle. It was very much the anti-government, pro-gun right-wing political culture that provided the broader context for the shooting. And now, in direct response to the shooting, that culture, already a powder keg on the brink of explosion, feeds upon itself and expands, with more and more people acting on their anti-government, pro-gun fantasies and arming themselves against the "enemy."

Honestly, if the shooting wasn't all that surprising, should we really be surprised it if happens again and again, and perhaps to even worse degrees?

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Playing politics with the Tucson tragedy

Nobody doubted the depth of denial that would gush from Rush Limbaugh's radio studio following the murderous rampage in Tucson this weekend. The "vitriol in politics" became a primary focus of the national media almost immediately after the news of the shooting broke.

Those who had made references to "second amendment remedies" and "firing machine guns" and "violent revolution" were targeted for contributing to the hate-filled rhetoric that has marked the past two years of political discourse. Having defended most of the Tea Party and Fox News celebrities who led the march against Democrats in November by riling their base and inciting the masses to join this new wave of "activism," Limbaugh, among many others, was put on the defensive.

Before his broadcast, I ignorantly maintained a sliver of hope that as one of America's most popular political personalities, Limbaugh would join the bipartisan movement to condemn both the savage murders and the extremism that has taken over this country. Instead, he demonstrated general ignorance of mass media's influence by denying the persuasive power of celebrities and excused the tone of politics by pointing fingers at the "liberal" media for "politicizing" the Tucson shooting as some sort of bizarrely-contrived Democratic conspiracy.

The attempted assassination of a politician is as political as it gets, but a Democratic Congresswoman taking a 9-mm bullet in the head at point-blank range wasn't enough to deter the almighty Limbaugh from accusing the left of political opportunism.

In a rant that should be remembered only in the history archives of national radio as the beginning of a giant's end, Limbaugh lambasted the left for capitalizing on a tragedy and criminalizing all Americans by anticipating the assassination as a means for pushing through a political agenda.

"I guarantee you," he said, "that somewhere in a desk drawer in Washington, D.C., someplace, in an FCC bureaucrat's office or some place, the government machinery will be in place to take away as many political freedoms as they can manage on the left. They already have it in place... just waiting for the right event for a clampdown. They have been trying this ever since the Oklahoma City bombing."

He continued: 

Here you have a 22-year-old kid, a dopehead – marijuana – just genuinely insane. Irrational. And the first thought – the desperate hope that the losers in November of 2010 had – was that they could revitalize their political fortunes because of this unfortunate shooting of a Congresswoman in Arizona. That was the most important thing to them, and that to me is sick. You know that they were rubbing hands together. You know that they were e-mailing and calling each other on the phone saying, "Ah-ha, this might be the one. This might be the one where we can officially tie it to these guys and shut them up and shut 'em down." They want you to believe that sadness was on the order of the day, and I'm sure it was, but... they couldn't help themselves. They just couldn't help themselves. [Emphasis added.]

Not surprisingly, Limbaugh was short on the details of exactly how Democrats would go about utilizing this event for their own political ends. But thankfully, there is such a thing as daily news to pin facts to the allegations made by the pill-popping millionaires on the right who see nothing but conspiracies in every gesture of every Democrat in the country.

According to The Hill, the first freedom attacked by the left is the right to use violent language against elected officials. After waiting more than a decade for a right-wing nut to shoot a bullet through the brain of a politically moderate member of Congress, Democrats finally had the opportunity to go for the jugular of America's constitutionally protected political liberties. So what did they do?

They proposed a bill – like socialistic opportunists will – that would make it a federal offense to use language or symbols that threaten or incite violence against a member of Congress or a federal official – a protection, it should be noted, that is already provided to the president.

The alleged aim of this proposed legislation is to quell the violent language that has become so common in American politics, but below the surface it's pretty obvious that Democrats are targeting right-wingers, Tea Partiers, and extremist conservatives in general – "to shut them up and shut 'em down," just as Limbaugh predicted.

The second "political freedom" Democrats are seeking to revoke is the right to carry high-capacity magazines like the one used by the Tucson shooter this weekend. This law actually isn't new; it was in place for a decade but expired in 2004. After seeing one man gun down twenty people in a matter of seconds with a clip that would have been illegal six years ago, Democratic lawmakers in D.C. thought it might be timely to re-implement the ban.

"The only reason to have 33 bullets loaded in a handgun is to kill a lot of people very quickly," Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said in a statement Monday, according to The Hill. "Before 2004, these ammunition clips were banned, and they must be banned again."

What they're really doing is taking our guns away, and Republicans will see to it that this doesn't happen – as they did in 2008 when Democrats proposed a reauthorization bill. It died in committee.

And lastly, what Democrat-imposed unraveling of the Constitution would be complete without the infringement on First Amendment rights?

According to several news reports, the Arizona state legislature is giving the federal judicial system the finger by going against an appeals court ruling last year that upheld the First Amendment rights of church members in Kansas who had taken to protesting funerals of military service members.

The congregants of Westboro Baptist Church believe any unnatural death is the manifestation of God's wrath against American society for its tolerance of homosexuality. They planned to protest the funeral of 9-year-old Christina Green, one of the six victims of Saturday's shooting, but will be unable to now, as the state legislature has barred Westboro from coming within 300 feet of the funeral.

God sent a "soldier veteran" to Tucson on Saturday, Rev. Fred Phelps said in a video posted after the shooting. "Congresswoman [Gabrielle] Giffords, an avid supporter of sin and baby killing, was shot for that mischief... God avenged himself on you today, by a marvelous work in Tucson. He sits in the heavens and laughs at you and your affliction. Westboro prays for more shooters, more violent veterans, and more dead. Praise god for his righteous judgments in his Earth. Amen."

It is truly sickening... how far Democrats are willing to go in order to push their agenda down the throats of America's patriots.

This is what "democracy" is all about for liberals – violating "political freedoms" by denying people the right to threaten an elected official, banning assault weapon magazines, and stomping on the First Amendment rights of church-going Kansans who want to picket the funerals of victims killed in a failed political assassination.

This is what Democrats do when they lose midterm elections – they upend the Constitution and attempt to unravel the very fabric of this country in order to "revitalize their political fortunes" by capitalizing on tragedy.

Probably most of the nation can agree with Limbaugh when he says, "to me that is sick."

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