Saturday, January 22, 2011

Glenn Beck's continuing obsession with Professor Frances Fox Piven and the roots of violence in America

Several months ago I published a post about Glenn Beck's obsession with City University of New York Professor Frances Fox Piven. I talked about having met her briefly in the early '80s in a grad course and about what a wonderful experience that was.

Mostly I wrote about how Beck, and those inclined to buy into his hateful message, can't stand anyone who helps poor people be heard or helps them make a legitimate claim to a decent life in America. I wrote about how Piven's career has been largely dedicated to helping us understand marginalized people and helping them help themselves, and that for this sin Beck was using the full weight of Fox News to vilify her.

Such was the nature of the bile directed at Professor Piven by Beck that it was clear that she would become a target for those misguided sorts who take Beck seriously, which is precisely what is starting to happen.

At the time I felt a bit like I was shouting in the wilderness, as few others seemed to be speaking out about this.

I was therefore pleased to see the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) get involved by writing a letter to Fox News directly to encourage the network to intervene.

In a press release dated January 20, 2011 about the letter, the CCR stated that it has:

issued a written appeal to Fox News president Roger Ailes to help put a stop to the increasing threats against progressive Professor Frances Fox Piven, largely incited by Fox News host Glenn Beck. In the letter, co-written by Legal Director Bill Quigley and Executive Director Vince Warren the CCR asks that Ailes distinguish between First Amendment rights, of which they are "vigorous defenders" and an "intentional repetition of provocative, incendiary, emotional misinformation and falsehoods [that place that person] in actual physical danger of a violent response."

The release goes on to say:

Beginning in September 2010, Glenn Beck started branding Piven, a distinguished professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, as an "enemy of the Constitution." Piven, well-known for advocating for the organizational rights of the poor and encouraging voter registration, has since received threatening phone calls and letters, and has become the subject of many death threats left open to the public on Glenn Beck's website, The Blaze.

Much as it sickens me to repeat some of the threats here, people need to know what we are up against. Here are just a few that appeared on Beck's website:

-- "Maybe they should burst through the front door of this arrogant elitist and slit the hateful cow's throat."

-- "We should blow up Piven's office and home."

-- "Big lots is having a rope sale I hear, you buy the rope and I will hang the wench. I will spin her as she hangs."

Suffice to say, they are disgusting.

Unlike in Arizona, the connections are clear. Beck has picked a target and he is to blame for the violent responses that have followed.

Beck has been getting away with slandering Professor Piven the way he slanders everyone else: with lies and innuendo. He did to her what he does with everyone else with whom he disagrees: he called her an enemy of the state; in fact, he specifically called her an enemy of the Constitution, whatever that means.

I am so weary of pointing out that Beck is a monumental asshole who can only be taken seriously by other assholes. He panders to the worst in those either too stupid or too lazy to do their own research. He feeds people's fears by creating enemies for them, which is always the best way for people to feel good about themselves when they have limited options.

But, in truth, Beck is not that clever. What he is doing has been done successfully throughout history. Pick an enemy, any enemy. Tell lies about them. Get people to focus their energy and anger on hating the outsiders, which, as I said, makes them feel good about themselves, makes them feel a part of something larger and important, at least in the short term.

Entire nations have been built on this insidious in-group / out-group tactic.

As I wrote months ago, Professor Piven's "crime" is that she has been successful in pointing out serious shortcomings in the American experience, especially in the way it treats poor people. She does what people like Beck can't tolerate. She tells the truth and at the same time tells us that we have a lot of work to do if we are to make America the country we would like it to be. Beck peddles simple answers for simple minds. Get in the way of that and expect to be made an enemy of this self-righteous fool. Expect to be made a target.

This is hateful, despicable stuff, though Fox News has already said it will do nothing about it, as it serves its dual mandate of being a mouthpiece for the loony right in America and of making lots of money for Rupert Murdoch.

I have said this so often I am getting tired. We may not yet know fully what happened in Arizona, but what Beck is doing to Professor Piven is the clearest example of a problem about which many of us are so worried. Say that your political adversaries are enemies of the state. Imply that they must be stopped and then step back until some deranged bastard decides to take on the task – until some unbalanced nutjob decides that he can become a hero to the "in-group" created by Glenn Beck and those in his camp.

This is the point. It's already happening in America. What more has to happen before Fox News decides that there is too much of a downside to being associated with someone as disgusting as Glenn Beck? What precisely?

(Cross-posted from Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Keith Olbermann leaves MSNBC

Keith Olbermann announced on air on Friday that that edition of Countdown would be his last. He is leaving MSNBC.

He did not say why, but he hinted that he was being let go: "I think the same fantasy has popped into the head of everybody in my business who has ever been told what I have been told: that this is going to be the last edition of your show."

His was MSNBC's flagship show, its most popular and, in a way, the show that defined the entire network. His being let go may have something to do with Comcast taking over NBC. Perhaps his new bosses just didn't want him anymore.

Perhaps they dislike him, perhaps they dislike what he stands for, perhaps they intend to move the network away from the left. Or perhaps not, or at least not yet. The prime-time line-up will still feature Maddow and O'Donnell, the latter of whom will be moving to Olbermann's 8 pm slot, as well as Schultz. (As Politico is reporting, however, "Comcast distanced itself from any notion that it had something to do with the decision, releasing a midnight statement saying it had not yet closed its transaction with NBC Universal and so does not yet have operational control," and had no intention of interfering with NBC's "news operations" in any event.)

Perhaps money had something to do with it. Given Maddow's success, if not quite as his level, perhaps he just wasn't needed anymore, and perhaps the network, new owner in place or not, figured it was best to buy him out of the remaining two years on his four-year, $30-million contract.

Or perhaps it was just time, given that it was bound to happen eventually. As The New York Times's Bill Carter notes, "NBC's management had been close to firing Mr. Olbermann on previous occasions, most recently in November after he revealed that he had made donations to several Democratic candidates in 2010," including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Similarly, Politico reports that "several sources close to the situation said its roots lay in Olbermann's defiant reaction to being suspended," a suspension that was incredibly stupid.

So while Olbermann may only have learned of his firing, if we may call it that, on Friday, or while perhaps a deal was reached sometime within the last couple of days, it's pretty clear that the network was just waiting for the right time to push him out.

Anyway, I'm sure more will leak out before too long.

As for me, needless to say, I'll miss Olbermann immensely, and I highly doubt that MSNBC will be the same, that is, as effective a vehicle for liberal-progressive commentary in opposition to the conservative propaganda of Fox News, without him.

But of course he'll be back. He'll likely have to do like Conan and stay off the air for awhile, but I'm sure he'll find another network soon enough, assuming he wants to do what he's been doing.

I'd say CNN, but that network, once a leader, is apparently committed to lameness and irrelevance. It's the network of Piers Morgan, after all, all due respect to Anderson Cooper.

So we'll see. We still have Maddow, of course, and Colbert as well. I'd add Stewart, but I fear he may have jumped the shark, as they say, some time ago. But there's no one quite like Olbermann, no one I've found so moving and so inspiring while also so admirably pugnacious among television's leading commentators. I think back to his Special Comment about his father last February, one of the most amazing things I've ever seen on TV, and I'm still almost brought to tears.

What country is this? A country that needs Olbermann on the air.

Good night, and good luck, Keith. Come back soon.


Here's Olbermann signing off:

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Should we stop talking about Sarah Palin?

We write about Sarah Palin a lot here at The Reaction. This isn't because we're obsessed with her, or because we have a "problem" (as the WaPo's Dana Milbank puts it), but because she's one of the de facto leaders of the Republican Party, along with the likes of Dear Leader Rush, and is perhaps its most prominent figure (and certainly its "brightest" star and biggest name), not least given her affiliation with the Tea Party.

Sure, it makes some sense to ignore her, or at least for the news media to ignore her, and therefore not to enable/legitimize her, but it's far too late for that. She is what she is and that isn't changing anytime soon.

The right, as well as much of the GOP, will continue to revere her, even if some Republicans are carefully distancing themselves from her or otherwise trying to undercut her in anticipation of 2012, and for those of us on the other side, it's better to continue to stress that she is not a "rogue" figure but a central Republican figure, a key voice on the right with feet firmly planted in both the Republican Party and the Tea Party, a bridge between the two, even as they overlap more and more.

We have a responsibility, that is, to speak the truth about just who she is and what she represents -- and how powerful she is on the right.

For his part, Milbank, like others before him, is calling for a "Palin-Free February." This is silly, and, to me, a sign of just how impotent and irresponsible the "mainstream" media really are. On this, I agree with Sullivan:

That's the Washington Village's devout wish -- from Palin's former spinmeister at the WaPo, Howie Kurtz, to increasingly embarrassed conservatives like Ross Douthat and now, more formally, from Dana Milbank. To my mind, this really is about the Village, not Palin. They have been deeply uncomfortable with her political presence for two years because she is such a farce as a candidate, such a congenital fibber, and so deeply unready for any political office (including mayor) that they don't know what to do, except squirm. Or attack her critics.

What they should have done is exposed this insanity from the get-go, demanded open press conferences before any exclusive "get" interviews, and treated McCain's worst misjudgment (among countless) as a campaign-ender. But they did not have the balls to do that because it would require leaving the safe box of Beltway normalcy. It might -- and this is what so many of them really care about -- hurt their reputations. Then there's the money factor, as Dana concedes. Their profession is crumbling economically and they are, as Milbank all but admits, scared of offending the third of the country who worships Palin as a cult figure, and just as desperate to get the readers she attracts.

My view is that the reason Palin gets so much attention from readers is not that they are shallow or petty or deluded. It is because they, unlike the MSM, actually see the radical danger of a Palin presidency, and the corrupt state of our politics that such a person could have ever gotten so close to power and even now is the one to beat in the primaries. They are concerned in a climate of polarization, recession and war that a far right cult-figure could easily go further than would normally be the case.

Yes, yes, yes.

Just as I was saying above, we non-MSM Palin critics pay her attention because we see what's going on, and because what's going on worries us deeply.

Only a truly sick society would ever empower someone like Sarah Palin, and, given how powerful she is on the right, and within the Republican Party, it's safe to say that a huge chunk of American society is truly sick.

That makes the current political climate, and Palin herself, extremely toxic, a grave danger to the country. We can't ignore that, and not writing about her for a month not only wouldn't make a difference but would actually be a deeply irresponsible thing to do.

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They call me Mr. President

There's a difference between comedic impersonations and bigoted mockery; between comedy and things that make racists, bullies, mean spirited, angry people laugh. One could invoke the German Schadenfreude, yet the laughter when a clown slips on a banana peel isn't quite the same and isn't as universal as the sound that comes from the man in the white sheet laughing at the humiliation of another man.

I've seen enough bullies in my day. I've seen some of them confronted and heard the common refrains of "I'm the victim here" and the almost inevitable "didn't you know I was joking?" So I wasn't surprised to hear Glenn Beck whine to Meredith Vieira that his detractors didn't have a sense of humor adequate to know that when he advocates beating a public official with a shovel or tells us of the need to shoot Democratic leaders in the head, it's those dumb liberals who are humorless.

For the most part, the law has never found incitement amusing: shouting fire when there isn't one - for laughs. Even those orating innocently about a strike have been punished in America because someone used the occasion to toss a bomb. You don't make bomb jokes in the airport and you don't joke about killing democrats to an audience you know to include deranged and armed enemies of Democrats, even if for no other reason than avoiding making yourself look bad. But looking bad is just what many of these frustrated losers want to do.

But times seem to be changing and that old time evil is bubbling up again, or at least some groups now have enough power to make the clowns take off the blackface and to think twice about anti-Semitic rants and maybe be a bit more circumspect before going after homosexuals, women, and all the other pet victims of the Right.

Mexicans? Chinese? Well they are still targets of opportunity for those willing to descend that far. Some comedians don't realize they're being offensive to people who don't deserve it, some of them don't care as long as they get an audience and others couldn't get a job unless it was entertaining bigots. So if Margaret Cho makes jokes about her Korean family, we don't cringe, unless we are her relatives. When Michael Richards goes on an N-word binge, we question his sense of decency -- to say the least.

Watching Dennis Leary's charity benefit the other day, I was appalled at his crude attempt to make fun of the world's most widely spoken language. No, not the real difficulties of speaking, it but with facial contortions and weird sounds that didn't seem funny or sound anything like Chinese to one familiar with the language. Bad taste I think, and enough to alienate a lot of people to the objectives of his charity.

And then there's Limbaugh.

What is an American president called when he visits China? They call him Mr. President. He's only called a Marxist tyrant by detritus like Limbaugh and the lumps of fecal matter that follow in his wake. We employ a host of people to promote American interests, to show the world our best face and we have this inflated rubber gasbag mooning them.

What is Chinese President Hu Jintao called when he's a guest here? The "Chicom Dictator " says Rush. "Ching chong, ching chong, chong" mocks the flatulent Palm Beach Bastard Billionaire, who makes a living lowering the estimation of my country in the eyes of the world. Condescending, contemptuous and contemptible: "Ching chong, ching chong, chong" while millions of Americans, with or without Chinese origins cringe.

No, presidents from Nixon onward have been treated well in China, it's only in the sewers of the American Right that President Obama is called a Marxist tyrant by detritus like Limbaugh and the lumps of fecal matter that follow in his wake. We employ a host of people to promote American interests, to show the world our best face, to induce them to trust our intentions and yet we have this inflated rubber gasbag mooning them while his adolescent friends laugh and mock.

Of course he knows what he's doing, and of course he doesn't care if he puts a white sheet on Uncle Sam and confirms the belief of billions that we are a nation of snarling pirates who don't deserve respect or trust or cooperation. He'll keep doing it as long as we let him, support him, laugh at him, watch him and patronize his unworthy, unscrupulous and unAmerican sponsors.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Right-wing blogger praises Giffords shooting, targets other politicians

So you think Jared Lee Loughner is just some crazy dude who acted purely out of his own derangement, and that the right-wing anti-government agenda and culture of violence had nothing at all to do with it?

I think that's ridiculous, but, regardless, what's clear is that the right-wing anti-government agenda and culture of violence are very real and very dangerous. And however much that socio-political context may have influenced Loughner, it is certainly influencing others, driving them to violence, as in Oklahoma City, and to more violence that may soon come.

Don't believe me? Let's head on over to Massachusetts for a rather alarming case in point:

Police in Arlington, MA this week seized a "large amount" of weapons and ammunition from local businessman Travis Corcoran after he wrote a blog post threatening U.S. lawmakers in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). In a post on his blog (which has since been removed) titled "1 down and 534 to go" -- 1 referring to Giffords and 534 referring to the rest of the House of Representatives and the Senate -- Corcoran applauded the shooting of Giffords and justified the assassination of lawmakers because he argued the federal government has grown far beyond its constitutional limits. "It is absolutely, absolutely unacceptable to shoot indiscriminately. Target only politicians and their staff and leave regular citizens alone," he wrote in the post.

Charming. (And, hey, I used to live in Arlington, Mass.!)

"We certainly take this as a credible threat," Arlington police Captain Robert Bongiorno told reporters, adding that "multiple federal law enforcement agencies" were involved. Authorities also suspended Corcoran's gun license, though he is currently not facing any charges.

That's the least they should have done. But -- here's the crucial question -- is he a conservative? Is this really an example of the right-wing anti-government agenda and culture of violence in action (or preparing for action)? Looks like it:

Corcoran calls himself "an anarcho-capitalist" and while his blog has been taken down, based on his Twitter page, he appears to hold views similar to those of many in the anti-government libertarian wing of the conservative movement, like many tea party activists. Anarcho-capitalism is a radical subset of libertarianism, and is often referred to as "libertarian-anarchy." For example, echoing calls from many on the right, Corcoran tweeted, "it is unconstitutional for the Feds to even run a department of education."

Don't let the "anarcho" fool you. While anarchism is usually associated with the left, Corcoran's anarchism is very much of the right, where American anarchism is to be found these days.

He also appears to be a fan of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), re-tweeting a positive message about him in May: "Lefties: Before you start fringe-baiting Rand Paul, note that he's better on civil liberties than most Democratic senators. And Obama." He seems to dislike liberals, writing, "You so-called liberals make me laugh – you're all for free speech until someone disagrees, then it's 'report him!'" He also accuses the Daily Kos of "Stalinism."

Yup, he's a conservative, and pretty much all of this is mainstream Republican stuff these days. (And, yes, I admit, Paul has a decent record on civil liberties, and I myself have been critical of Obama's continuation of much of the Bush-Cheney national security state.)

Of course, to be fair, the vast majority of Republicans, and obviously all Republicans in Congress, and also probably most rank-and-file Republicans and movement conservatives, and probably even most Tea Party members, would recoil in horror from such violent extremism. But the point isn't that they would be against such violence but that their anti-government agenda and rhetoric, including the broad anti-government views that prevail in the Republican Party these days, including in Congress, have consequences and can mobilize their followers, or those who think like them, to rise up in violence against the "enemy" that they themselves have identified.

All it takes is one guy with a gun, but what we should realize is that there's an army of such extremists, with arsenals of weapons, preparing for action.

There's your fucking context.

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Right-wing media blame Michelle Obama for rise in pedestrian deaths

Tucker Carlson's web creation, The Daily Caller, had a dumb-ass little piece up yesterday suggesting that Michelle Obama's campaign to get people to exercise more may be responsible for a spike in pedestrian deaths. You know, if you walk more for your health, you might just get hit by a car.

Apparently someone by the name of Barbara Harsha, Executive Director of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), suggested if more people are getting out to exercise, they need to be mindful that steel and rubber objects traveling at significant speeds might run them over if they fail to keep their wits about them.

Sensible enough, I suppose.

Of course, by the time The Daily Caller got a hold of it, it read like this:

In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Harsha said that while there are not yet definitive answers as to why there were more pedestrian deaths in 2010 than 2009, Obama's "get moving" movement could be at least partially to blame.

Okay, fine. Ridiculous, but I get your non-point.

Apparently pedestrian fatalities have increased significantly in the first part of 2010, though no one knows why.

Ms. Harsha claims, in a phone call with Derek Thompson of The Atlantic, to have been misquoted, though it appears more likely that she is credited with saying something she never said. That's not a misquote. That's a fabrication. There's a difference. (The piece at The Daily Caller has been updated to reflect Harsha's claim but still asserts that the GHSA blamed Michelle Obama.)

Technorati has a good description of what was said and what was not said. Here is what was said:

"There's an emphasis these days to getting fit, and I think people doing that are more exposed to risk [of getting hit by a vehicle]," said Harsha, who conceded to having no scientific evidence that the Let's Move campaign has led to an increase in walkers and runners, or deaths.

I guess that qualifies as a statement that Michelle Obama is responsible for the demise of innocent pedestrians.

Anyway, it just bothers me that this is so often the level of discourse in America at this moment in our history. Ms. Harsha's comments were clearly innocent enough, but innocent doesn't cut it these days, not when the right-wing media are hell-bent on repeating each others lies to fabricate a story. 

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)


UPDATE: TPM explains what happened. Basically, The Daily Caller and The Examiner, two conservative media outlets, blatantly misrepresented a GHSA report. That report simply noted that "[a] focus on liveable communities, or 'get moving' health and fitness programs may increase walking and pedestrian-vehicle conflicts."

"That makes it seems like we're blaming Michelle Obama's program," GHSA executive director Barbara Harsha told TPM. "That's ridiculous."

Indeed it is. And while The Daily Caller has added updates to its piece, the misrepresentation -- and the attempt to smear the First Lady, continues.

Yes, that's right, a question mark has been added -- as if that makes such gross, partisan misrepresentation acceptable.

It would sort of be like me changing a post titled "Rational people can all agree that Tucker Carlson is a pompous douchebag" to "Rational people can all agree that Tucker Carlson is a pompous douchebag?"

And why would I ever do that?


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Thursday, January 20, 2011

$trawberry fields forever

In these tough economic times, many families are forced to watch every penny they spend. Most of the money the average lower- or middle-class family earns today is spent on just the basic necessities -- food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Whatever is left over (and often that is not very much) is either saved or spent on some minor "luxuries" like a car, education, a movie, or perhaps even a night out for entertainment.

We all know what happened to the affordable housing. When the country (led by benevolent banks and magical Wall St. financial tricks) went on a manic spree of morphing the basic need of shelter into another form of Texas Hold 'em, America almost ended up as a nation of 300,000,000 Tom Joads. Affordable basic medical care remains unavailable to a large swath of the country. But what if food becomes the next problem for the lower and middle classes? Not because of greedy banks or crooked insurance companies but because the cost of growing and harvesting makes the price of basics like lettuce, milk, and potatoes out of reach to all but the rich.

If the Teabaggers and others on the right have their way, it could. After all, $30 per head of lettuce is a small price to pay when you can feel so warm and fuzzy knowing that all the illegal migrant farm workers have been kicked out of the country.

The government estimates that 80% of all crop workers (the people who pick fruits and vegetables we find so easily in Whole Foods or other rip-off markets) are Hispanic and that half of them are illegal aliens. Other organizations that work directly with migrant workers claim that 90% of farm labor is illegal. Whichever is correct, it almost doesn't matter. No illegal aliens picking limes, no frozen margaritas for the pool party.

Not much has changed since John Steinbeck published The Grapes of Wrath in 1939, only the language.

Picking crops (especially strawberries and potatoes) is nothing short of tortuous hard labor in abominable conditions. The workers have to bend over all day and work through intense weather conditions. The tractors ride by all day collecting the harvest, often knocking down the pickers. Forcing one's body into awkward positions for extended periods of time causes intense joint and bone pain. The vines and plants they must touch are covered in pesticides. The air in hotter climes becomes stagnant and heat stroke is not uncommon. To keep their jobs, workers will pick crops even if the have the flu or gastro diseases or even if they are pregnant.

When the harvest is over, they must find another crop or go without work. Grape pickers earn about $8/ hour, without any overtime or benefits. From this meager salary they must pay rent, buy food, get babysitters, buy clothing for the fields, and take care of any medical needs. Since they are mostly "illegals," they live in the shadow of immigration and often don't seek medical attention when necessary. And they cannot protest the conditions or pay to their employers, as they have no rights. To avoid attention, these migrant workers rarely go into public and often do not send their kids (who might be American citizens under the 14th amendment) to school.

Their hell is your $1.99 iceberg lettuce.

And with the passage of SB 1070 in Arizona, hate towards migrant worker has increased dramatically.

With the country in a long economic slump, many Americans feel these illegals (along with the gardeners, pool caretakers, nannies, and others doing low-paying, labor-intensive jobs) are taking jobs away from Americans. To test that theory, the United Farm Workers ran a campaign called "Take Our Jobs" in the summer of 2010 with the goal of targeting "Americans" (read: white American citizens) to work in the fields. In the three months the campaign was active, 3,000,000 people visited the central website to respond.

Like those pesky visitors at home, the visitors to "Take Our Jobs" were beginning to reek of fish.

Of the visitors, over 40% left hate notes and email. Less than 9,000 (0.03%) stated they wanted to work as fruit and vegetable pickers. Of those 9,000, most demanded a certain number of "perks," like higher pay, benefits, education reimbursement, expense accounts, and 401Ks, before they would take the job. When the campaign was over in September, a grand total of seven people (read: non-illegal aliens) were out picking strawberries.

Does this surprise anyone? These are jobs Americans absolutely refuse to do. Do you think that such staunch anti-immigrant politicians as Jon Kyl would ever consider picking grapes or letting any of his children onto the fields? If Jim DeMint, Michele Bachmann, Steve King and other assorted Republicans and Teabaggers are so gung-ho on throwing out all the illegals, are they willing to subsidize the American public when they have to pay $60 for a lb. of Idahos at Publix or Shop-Rite? Do you think Bachmann even has thought of that? (Don't answer that. Bachmann has no thoughts, just evil energy.)

Even if they did subsidize the cost to consumers, I bet you still wouldn't be able to find more than seven Americans willing to pick the fruits and vegetables that will be served at the next Jan Brewer state dinner. But I bet Jan will have plenty of caviar and truffles.

I give you one guess as to who served those epicurean delights at the Brewer soiree.

"If there was a law, they was workin' with maybe we could take it, but it ain't the law. They're workin' away our spirits, tryin' to make us cringe and crawl, takin' away our decency." -- Tom Joad, played by Henry Fonda), in the movie The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

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Falling Fox

By Capt. Fogg

When one has come to instinctively mistrust the judgment of one's countrymen, it comes as a considerable and pleasant surprise to see public sentiment shift back toward agreement. Of course, where I live, it still seems like the Gospel According to Beck, and no one thinks he's rewriting history by pretending Tom Paine was a Christian nationalist. In fact, support for the network whose scripts are faxed in from the GOP and which makes million-dollar contributions to GOP candidates has only fallen marginally, but according to Public Policy Polling, amongst the public in general, Fox News has fallen from the pedestal to about the same level as CNN, and PBS is now seen as the most trustworthy. No wonder many Republicans want to get rid of it.

Do I doubt these results? Hell no, it's just too much like Christmas in January to want to ruin the buzz.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Top Ten Cloves: Possible reasons Baby Doc returned to Haiti

10. Just wanted to get some new pics for his Facebook Page

9. Just testing the reception and range of his new, 4G Cell Phone

8. Taking the Rex Ryan approach, and that all he needs to be is be better for one day

7. Inspired by Joe Lieberman to be an upstanding, and courageous politician

6. Making personal appeal to diplomats, to diss him, so he'd have a WikiLeaks file of his own

5. When leaving 25-years ago, forgot his American Express card

4. Part of a pitch, to the Kardashians, to get on their show, saying they need a "President-for-Life

3. Said it was the closest place the plane could land that didn't have any snow

2. Decided it was time to bring his talents to Port-au-Prince

1. Oh Shit! ... Screwed up at airport, was supposed to fly to Tunisia

Bonus Riffs

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

That crazy Arizona shooting: Jon Stewart, Sarah Palin, and the triumph of right-wing narrative

I don't really have all much more to say about the Arizona shooting. We've written a lot here already on it, and so much has been written elsewhere that, barring a major development, like Loughner talking, we're all just repeating ourselves. Still, it's important not to let the conservative we're not to blame for anything, it's the liberals' fault for being so nasty narrative prevail, which is what seems to be happening -- because it's easier to blame the crazy dude for doing something crazy than to delve into what might have been behind it, into the culture, into right-wing politics, where what you find now are conservatives crying victim and lashing out at their critics for being mean and partisan and trying to score political points (when of course they're the ones being mean and partisan and trying to score political points).


Last night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart agreed with Sarah Palin that Jared Lee Loughner is crazy and that the right, Palin included, deserves no blame whatsoever for the Arizona shooting.

This, presumably, includes blame for the violent right-wing culture in which the shooting took place, that is, for the socio-political context, because those who are pointing at the likes of Palin and holding them responsible, myself included, make sure to stress that there may very well be no direct link between right-wing politics and the shooting itself. The issue isn't that Loughner is a card-carrying Republican or Teabagger (or both), which he apparently isn't, it's that Loughner didn't commit his act of violence in a vacuum.

This is what Stewart seems to be missing, and, needless to say, I have found his response to the shooting, including his refusal last week to say anything of substance, well, lacking.

In agreeing with Palin, all he was doing was buying into, and propagating, the right-wing spin, the narrative conservatives, finding themselves justifiably on the defensive, are trying so desperately to impose upon our discourse. I get that it's better to be civil than uncivil, but politics is politics, the right is the right, and Stewart is deeply naive if he believes a) that political civility is possible with conservatives being what they are these days, and b) that right-wing politics, and the right-wing culture of violence, had nothing at all to do with the shooting. If he truly believes the latter, it makes you wonder if he's watched his own show the past few years. Wasn't he the one pointing out all those gun-toting extremists at health-care town-hall events and Tea Party rallies?


At Politico yesterday, Michael Kinsley provided a fine analysis of the right's "breathtaking bait and switch on Tucson":

In the week since the Tucson, Ariz., massacre, pleas for "civility" have turned into accusations of incivility, and the whole, useful discussion of "civility" versus "vitriol" has turned into the usual argument over competitive victimhood. The vast right-wing conspiracy has played President Barack Obama like a violin.

And they've done a pretty good job of messing with the heads of the liberal media as well. As a result, anyone who even raises the issue of who might be responsible, or more responsible, for the "atmosphere of vitriol" in which we conduct our politics is guilty of contributing to it. In just a few days, it has become the height of political incorrectness to suggest there might be any connection between the voices on right-wing talk radio and the voices in Jared Lee Loughner's head.

Republicans generally praised Obama's speech at the memorial service in which he took care to absolve conservatives and Republicans of any special responsibility for the tone of the political debate. It is, he said, "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." This sounds like a noble sentiment. But who is to blame for what ails the world if not those who think differently? If those who think the same as you are responsible, it's time to start thinking differently yourself.

Once again, liberals and progressives and Democrats and those generally on the left just don't seem to get it. Or, at least, a lot of them don't. I understand that Obama needed to be cautious, to walk a fine line, and that he said what had to be said. It would not have been "presidential" to have gone on the offensive.

But rank-and-file Democrats and mainstream liberals are backing off, too, perhaps because Obama was so effective (and they feel guilty fighting back against the right), perhaps because they, too, don't want to delve too deeply into what really happened and why, perhaps because they're terrified of Republicans. Whatever the reasons, the upshot is that conservatives like Palin are largely getting away with it.

And, again, what is Stewart's excuse? Given that he has made a name for himself criticizing the "crossfire" of the news media, and that he has fashioned himself a voice of the silent majority against the extremes, even as he himself, not to mention his audience, leans left, it may just be that he thinks now is not the time for partisan rancour. Or maybe he really does believe that Loughner is crazy and that it's irresponsible, and simply wrong, to suggest that there may be more to it than that.

Whatever the case with Stewart and others like him, backing off simply enables the right, and allows it to win. No, this isn't all about partisan winning and losing, but ultimately politics, and hence governing, which is what you need to do if you want to change things, is about who wins and who loses -- not just at the ballot box but in the media, in the world of narrative, in the world of spin. And if you let the right win, in this case and others, nothing will change, including a socio-political culture that is deeply disturbed as a result of years and years of abuse at the hands of conservatives and their ideology of division, violence, and power.

If you really care about America, and Jon Stewart does a great deal, you must do everything you can to prevent that from happening.

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Sarah Palin won't shut up

Thirty-eight percent of Americans let out a long sigh of relief this week when Sarah Palin assured them – and the rest of us who sighed for different reasons – that no amount of criticism will silence the mother of all Mama Grizzlies.

"I will continue to speak out," Palin told Sean Hannity Monday on Fox. "They're not going to shut me up. They're not going to shut you up – or Rush or Mark Levin or Tea Party Patriots, or those who, as I say, respectfully and patriotically petition their government for change."

Damn. Here I was thinking that this new wave of civility in political discourse might convince Fox News contributors (and their big brother, Rush Limbaugh) to embrace a more measured tone – maybe even abandon the venomous, fearmongering rhetoric that has entranced even ideological opposites, if only for its theatrical contributions.

Then I realized that there is no new wave of civility in political discourse, and that describing right-wing radicals as "patriots" who "respectfully petition their government" is about as believable as claiming Paris Hilton is a frugal, teetotaling virgin. There is only those on the left saying the right is venomous and those on the right defending their venom as "patriotism."

Here I was thinking that if the demagoguery ceased, maybe we could all sleep at night knowing that, despite previous news reports, President Obama in fact wasn't going to force us to abort our unborn children and serve their bodies with collard greens to his Kenyan colonialist brotherhood at a dinner funded by Jew-killers like George Soros and domestic terrorists like Bill Ayers.

Then I realized that conservatism thrives and survives on the sensational rhetoric and extremist sound bites aired daily on the Fox network, and for a businessman like Rupert Murdoch, abandoning his bread and butter would be a boon for the evil empire of MSNBC.

Thanks for the reassurance and the clarification, Sarah. It's relieving to know that the sky will continue to be blue.

(Cross-posted from Muddy Politics.)

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Who's to blame for the Spokane MLK parade bomb?

As you may have heard, a bomb was discovered on Monday along the route of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Spokane, Washington.

According to the FBI, the bomb was "a potentially deadly destructive device, likely capable of inflicting multiple casualties." In other words, as one FBI agent put it, it was an IED, an improvised explosive device, just the sort of thing that has taken so many lives, including so many American military lives, in war zones like Iraq. 

Indeed, that same agent, Frank Harrill, the head of the FBI's Spokane office, described the attempted bombing as "domestic terrorism." "Clearly, there was some political or social agenda here," he said.

Yes, clearly -- an agenda more than likely directed at those who would attend an MLK day parade.

Needless to say, with no known suspect(s) so far, it's far too early to blame anyone, though of course we can easily speculate as to the politics of the would-be bomber(s).

But I'm sure Sarah and Glenn and Rush and Sean and the rest are already planning their next move. Still trying to deflect any and all responsibility for the Arizona shooting, including for the violent right-wing culture that lies behind it, they may just tell us that liberals were behind this act of domestic terrorism and that the Democratic Party will defend the terrorists just as they do al Qaeda.

Because conservatives, of course, are peace-loving, violence-hating do-gooders who would never, ever, ever spill blood.

And MLK was a Teabagger, right?

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All out of Joementum: Lieberman announces he won't run in 2012

Perhaps it was inevitable, but now it's official -- or will be soon enough.

Joe Lieberman, once a major player in the Democratic Party (a veep candidate, no less!) and now a quasi-Democratic independent senator from Connecticut, will not seek re-election next year.

He will make the announcement later today.

Why inevitable? Because the writing was on the wall. There was no way he was going to win. In fact, he never would have gotten out of the Democratic primary.

He's unpopular with everyone, but especially with Democrats, and of course Connecticut is a heavily blue state.

And it's not like Republicans would have backed him given his return to the Democratic fold post-2008 (even if Democrats should have given him the boot), with votes for health-care reform and DADT repeal. And there certainly aren't enough genuine independents to propel him to victory -- and, regardless, they don't much care for him either.

Perhaps we haven't heard the last of him. Perhaps Obama, always eager to reach out (and to irritate the left), will appoint him to some cushy post. Perhaps he'll continue to make the talk-show rounds as an "independent." Even if voters don't like him, the news media do, just as they liked McCain for so long, until he lost his marbles.

It's always been about him, and about his shameless career-minded opportunism, but he's managed to convince many in the media, and many in Washington, that he's a go-to spokesman for bipartisanship. This is ridiculous, of course, but it will allow him to remain a visible public figure spinning his self-aggrandizing nonsense should he choose to go that route.

Either way, at least he realizes that his time in the Senate is up.


So... good riddance, Joe.

I once wrote that the Democratic Party should be a big enough tent to include the likes of you, but you did all you could to be a thorn in Democrats' sides, including being a (pro-Bush) Republican for all intents and purposes, culminating in your despicable pro-McCain smear campaign against Obama in 2008, and perhaps you realize now that the Republican Party, moving further and further to the right, certainly has no place for you, nor even for your pal McCain.

And your retirement means that your seat will be easier for the Democrats to win, and to win with a far more progressive candidate than you ever were.

As I joked back in 2009, when you were trying to position yourself as a bipartisan deal-maker on health-care reform (as long as it didn't include a public option and was generally Romney-style Republican), borrowing a hilarious joke from Stewie Griffin (originally directed at Meg):

In an attic somewhere, there's a portrait of Joe Lieberman getting prettier.

That likely won't change, even in retirement.

Au revoir, Joe. 

(photo 1, photo 2)

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Oh shit

Not again.

Two students were shot at a Los Angeles high school today because some idiot put a cocked and locked pistol in his backpack and it went off when he dropped his pack on a table. One could call it an accident, but you'd at least have to put the word in italics.

There's no resemblance to the Tucson shooting, although the student obviously illegally possessed the gun, illegally concealed it, and illegally brought it into a school, even if he wasn't out to shoot anyone at that particular moment. I'll bet there will be more calls to make it even more illegal, but more than likely he was a gang member, so illegality isn't a deterrent any more than it is to a psychotic. It may have earned him some status, in fact.

It may surprise some people, but we have a maze of gun control laws and they aren't doing a good enough job with this kind of crime and these kinds of criminals: gang members, psychotics, and sociopaths -- a tiny but deadly element.

But without knowing just how the kid got the gun, I can only speculate about what went wrong and can't talk about what to do, other than to do a better job with the metal detectors. There's a gun-show loophole. There are hard-to-control private transfers, some legal, some not, and some guns are stolen. Even though nothing short of a 24-hour curfew and a police state with no civil rights will stop such crimes, it's time we stopped being comfortable with more and more "gun control" bills based on twisted descriptions, laden with straw arguments, and riddled with loopholes. It's time for -- no, please don't laugh -- some bipartisan and rational reconsideration.

It's also time to remember that in a huge country, with a growing population, crime can be on the decline and still appear to be on the rise.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Many questions, few answers left in Tucson’s wake

What is government if words have no meaning?

That was the question Jared Lee Loughner posed to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in their first meeting. In their second meeting, he shot her in the head.

The round-the-clock media circus has taken a swipe at every minute detail of Loughner's life in an attempt to understand his motivations for killing six and wounding 14 others in the attempted assassination of a congresswoman.

Unfortunately, the 24-hour-a-day speculation-based coverage of every non-development and irrelevant insight into the life of the accused has taken center-stage in a nation-wide theater production that continues to say a lot but reveal almost nothing.

Loughner has remained silent. The 250 federal officials tasked with investigating the horrific shooting have failed to deliver a motive. And so the media is left chasing its tail in an attempt to assemble a puzzle that has no pieces.

We know he's male. We know he's white. We know he was kicked out of community college for saying weird shit. Based on the videos he posted on YouTube, we know he has a severe distrust of the government, a fascination with the gold standard, and an obsession with currencies, new languages, and grammar.

Are we to believe, as some have claimed, that Loughner was so disgruntled about Giffords' failure to adequately answer the "what is government" question that he decided to try and assassinate her? Was his passion for the gold standard so strong that it drove him to murder, that he thought Giffords was an inadequate leader because she hadn't created her own language, or that his plot to kill the Arizona Democrat was retribution for her not electing him as her campaign treasurer, where he would be in charge of creating a new currency?


Or maybe Loughner had a girlfriend in the Farmtown game on Facebook who dumped him because his land wasn't well kept, and in a fit of rage he took a semi-automatic pistol to a political event. Maybe he read a violent comic book or played violent video games. Maybe he wasn't breastfed as a baby. Maybe he didn't eat his Wheaties. These aren't the actual hypotheses the media have concocted to fill news pages and clog up the airwaves, but they're just as useful in understanding Loughner's motive.

The truth is, we still know almost nothing about his real motivations, and the media's continuous attempts to make sense of his gibberish have become vexing.

I'm not one to delve too deeply into conspiracies theories (mainly because any good conspiracy is unprovable and therefore a gargantuan waste of time), but as the media begin their second week of continuous coverage of this tragedy, my hopes for an explanation – other than insanity – are dwindling.

It's entirely possible that nothing will ever be revealed that adequately explains this tragedy, that there will never be closure for the families who lost loved ones and the victims who are left wondering, "Why me?"

Such an unsatisfying and unresolved ending to the Tucson tragedy wouldn't be unprecedented. The many unanswered questions surrounding the assassination of JFK, the Oklahoma City bombing, and 9/11 – even Roswell, the alleged plot to kill Princess Diana, and the moon landing "hoax" – continue to plague many Americans who struggle with the frustration of the unknown with every anniversary.

It's unlikely that even Loughner himself could provide us with a satisfying answer to the nonsensical question he posed to Giffords, or to the shooting itself. In tragedy, there is no satisfaction.

But it would be better than nothing, which is what we have now.
(Cross-posted from Muddy Politics.)

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