Assassination in Arizona

I haven’t posted earlier for two reasons – first, there’s still a lot of information and insight coming out of the investigation in Arizona. Second, the pace of rapid fire punditry was somewhat overwhelming. At a certain point, while people are still in surgery, I don’t really care to be arguing with conservatives on Twitter about the level of their leaders’ culpability for their persistently violent rhetoric in opposition to the Obama administration and Democratic policy pursuits.

The press and public figures may not be willing to admit it, but violence has been a hallmark of American politics since our country’s inception. While over the course of our history violence has been perpetrated to further political means by both sides of the political spectrum, over the last hundred years (at least) conservatives have been far more likely to use violence as a means of political expression. From the Oklahoma City bombing to the murder and lynching of countless civil rights activists (or random African-Americans) during the Civil Rights era, the American right has a real, terrifying history of using violence. It is this history that makes the comments by Republican figureheads like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Sharron Angle and Michele Bachmann so dangerous. The rhetoric exists in a historical context that is marred by violence.

In many regards, the violent rhetoric that we see realized in Tucson started with President Obama’s inauguration and the legislative process of reforming health care. The August 2009 recess was defined by the frequent disruptions of town hall discussions by Tea Party radicals. Many town halls were canceled because of threats made against legislators. The threats weren’t solely directed at people making policy – many organizations that supported the President and reform, including my own labor union – were inundated with threats of violence from conservatives.  One Glenn Beck viewer became so inspired by Beck’s smears of the non-profit Tides Foundation that he took up arms and drove to Oakland to try to kill them all, only to end up in a fire fight with the police.

A lot has been made that Rep. Gifford was one of the Democrats literally put in the crosshairs by Sarah Palin’s PAC. Gifford herself thought that it was provocative and dangerous, telling MSNBC “they’ve gotta realize there are consequences to that action.” Of course, Palin and her staff immediately tried to scrub references to the target map after the shooting. One spokesperson even went so far as to suggest the scope crosshairs were not even targets.

In fact, she said that the “target list” was not intended to allude to guns.

“We never ever, ever intended it to be gun sights,” she said.

“It’s surveyor’s symbols,” the interviewer Tammy Bruce suggested. Bruce, a Palin supporter, describes herself as “a gay, pro-choice, gun owning, pro-death penalty, Tea Party Independent Conservative. ” Her show is promoted as a “chick with a gun and a microphone.”

Mansour agreed. She said that the graphic was contracted out to a professional. They approved it quickly without thinking about it. “We never imagined, it never occurred to us that anybody would consider it violent,” she said. Rather, she said, that it was simply “crosshairs that you would see on a map.”

There is “nothing irresponsible about our graphic,” she said.

I am hard pressed to think of a single statement in American politics that is more outrageous and dishonest than this. Even Sarah Palin thinks the target symbols were target symbols, saying in a tweet:

@SaraPalinUSA Remember moths ago “bullseye” icon used 2 target the 20 Obamacare-lovin’ incumbent seats? We won 18 out of 20 (90% success rate;T’aint bad)

As I said, I can’t think of a more dishonest, outrageous statement in recent political history than Palin’s spokesperson saying these were surveyor marks and not bullseye targets. If they were in fact a surveyor or mapping symbol, then Palin would not refer them to as “bullseye icon[s]” and her staff would not be scrubbing the internet of that image and those tweets. Beyond this, Dave Weigel points out that Palin repeatedly doubled down on the target map throughout the 2010 campaign. Any suggestion to the contrary is completely ludicrous.

The fact that we are even in a position where the leading public figure of one political party has to deny that her words and her imagery actually encouraged violence is a testament to how outlandish Palin’s rhetoric was to begin with. But as bad as she has been, she is hardly the sole perpetrator of violent rhetoric on the right. It is disturbingly ubiquitous from leaders on the right, especially as the Tea Party has risen as a power base within the GOP. Something is deeply wrong when the language of violence is used to create enthusiasm for one political party, due to unhappiness with the previous results at the ballot box. When words like traitor, socialist, fascist, and communist are tossed around as needs for Republicans to “take our country back” and use “Second Amendment remedies” to achieve their goals, it is not shocking that some of their followers eventually do take up arms.

Yesterday Paul Krugman blogged:

You know that Republicans will yell about the evils of partisanship whenever anyone tries to make a connection between the rhetoric of Beck, Limbaugh, etc. and the violence I fear we’re going to see in the months and years ahead. But violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate. And it’s long past time for the GOP’s leaders to take a stand against the hate-mongers.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik gave a soul-searching press conference yesterday (quotes from an emailed transcript & this story):

“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And, unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the Capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.””It’s not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. And that’s the sad thing of what’s going on in America. Pretty soon, we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serve in public office.”

“It’s time to do a little soul searching about the rhetoric we hear on the radio, how are children are being raised,” the sheriff said.

Republicans are calling for Sheriff Dupnik to resign over these comments, citing fears that they will prompt violence against the right. This would be remarkable if it weren’t entirely within the playbook of the modern Republican Party – attack your opponent where you are most weak.

There is still a tremendous amount of information that will come out about the motives of John Loughner. There is no scenario wherein someone takes a gun into a crowded political event and starts shooting that doesn’t involve them being mentally sick. But putting a gun to the head of a congresswoman point-black and pulling the trigger is an inherently political act. Regardless of what the final answer, if one emerges, about Loughner’s motivations, there is simply no reason for leading Republicans and media figures not to follow Sheriff Dupnik’s advice and do their own soul searching and tone down their rhetoric.

This Is A Problem

This paragraph, in the New York Times article on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against former CIA prisoners who were tortured in overseas prisons after their extraordinary rendition, is the sign of a very large problem:

The sharply divided ruling was a major victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to advance a sweeping view of executive secrecy powers. It strengthens the White House’s hand as it has pushed an array of assertive counterterrorism policies, while raising an opportunity for the Supreme Court to rule for the first time in decades on the scope of the president’s power to restrict litigation that could reveal state secrets.

For the life of me, I cannot remember President Obama campaigning for office on “a sweeping view of executive secrecy powers.” And it’s not just this.

Among other policies, the Obama national security team has also authorized the C.I.A. to try to kill a United States citizen suspected of terrorism ties, blocked efforts by detainees in Afghanistan to bring habeas corpus lawsuits challenging the basis for their imprisonment without trial, and continued the C.I.A.’s so-called extraordinary rendition program of prisoner transfers — though the administration has forbidden torture and says it seeks assurances from other countries that detainees will not be mistreated.

Again, even without checking the cached versions of, I’m quite certain these were not core planks in the Obama campaign’s case to the American public about what an Obama administration would do regarding civil liberties, the rule of law, and restoring the Constitution following Bush/Cheney administration abuses.

Of course, looking beyond his candidacy for office, we were told by President Obama in February 2009 that:

Living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.

I suppose it is technically true to say that “America does not torture” as long as any people who have been tortured or subjected to rendition are denied their day in court and the chance to present evidence that these things happened. Of course, putting our hands over our ears and shouting “La la la la la la” whenever someone tries to have legal remedies for torture doesn’t exactly constitute any lived value I learned about in civics class or Sunday school.

Glenn Greenwald makes an observation that I think captures the gravity of what is actually happening now under President Obama, following what happened under President Bush:

The history of America’s torture regime will record not only the criminality and shamefulness of the torture itself, but also the subsequent — and ongoing — effort by the U.S. Government to prevent its victims from obtaining any justice while protecting the perpetrators from all accountability.

To say that I am disappointed with the administration’s embrace of illegal and immoral legal doctrines put forth by the Bush administration’s sadistic and un-American legal team is an understatement. I’m embarrassed by it. It is indefensible, especially when done by a President who at one time taught constitutional law. A lot was made earlier this week when General Petraeus said that if a rightwing church in Florida burned the Koran, “It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan.” I really hope that the Mighty General speaks up again, because I don’t know how hiding behind state secrets privileges to protect torturers does anything to help our presence in Afghanistan nor the troops the President has sent there.

As a side note, Marcy Wheeler writes:

So basically, the government can kidnap you and send you to be tortured–as they did with Binyam Mohamed–yet even if your contractors acknowledge what they were doing, if the government wants to call their own law-breaking a secret, the most liberal Circuit Court in the country agrees they can. [Emphasis added]

Among other things, this is as solid example as exists today as to why we need more liberal judges confirmed to the federal bench.

At War

Reading Glenn Greenwald’s latest posts on the war in Afghanistan and the bizarre place the rule of law currently stands in America (viz. no longer existing in a meaningful form), I can’t help but think that Hunter S. Thompson was 100% right and utterly prescient when he wrote this on the morning of September 12th, 2001 on

The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.

It’s truly saddening that Thompson continues to be proved right, day in and day out, five years beyond the end of his life.


Senator Scott Brown:

Newly-minted Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) appeared on Fox’s Neil Cavuto and showed none of the outrage and concern about terrorism that he exuded during his Senate election campaign. Asked for his reaction, Brown said he felt for the families, but quickly shrugged off the attack and transitioned to say that “people are frustrated” and “no one likes paying taxes.”

What Greenwald Said

Glenn Greenwald:

The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum writes a whole column today correctly observing that many Islamic extremists — including Terrorists — are well-educated, wealthy, sophisticated intellectuals — sometimes even quite Westernized — yet, to her apparent befuddlement, remain vehemently “anti-American.” Though she calls on the U.S. to fund programs to more actively promote “counter-arguments” to their animosities, there is, as usual, absolutely no discussion of why people like that would develop anger so intense towards the U.S. that it would cause them to give up their own lives to slaughter innocent civilians. It is, by definition, impossible to develop effective “counter-arguments” when one remains petrified even of acknowledging, let alone discussing and engaging, the “arguments” of the other side.

Talking about why people around the world are critical of the US unto committing violence is undoubtedly hard, but incredibly important. Without acknowledging what the arguments by those opposing the US through violent means are, it is impossible to win over hearts and minds outside the US. As long as there are still terrorist attacks being perpetrated against the US, we have an obligation to find ways to stop them. If some of this search to prevent terrorist attacks include evaluating our enemies arguments and finding ways to neutralize these arguments, then it must be done. That means engaging their critiques, recognizing where they are valid, and responding where they are not. Of course Greenwald is right that this cannot happen as long as the press or political leadership refuse to acknowledge the existence of substantive arguments against American policies abroad.

Republican Amnesia

Rudy Giuliani, 1/9/10:

“What [Obama] should be doing is following the right things Bush did. One of the right things he did was treat this as a war on terror. We had no domestic attacks under Bush. We’ve had one under Obama,” Giuliani said.

Former Bush Press Secretary Dana Perino, 11/24/09:

“We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush’s term”

Clearly the GOP knows that if they repeat the same lie enough times, it will become the truth. What’s so bizarre about this selective form of amnesia is that the imminent and present threat of terrorist attacks within the United States is a driving force for the Republican raison d’etre in the early 21st century. Without 9/11, the Republican security state and war machine can’t get rolling, let alone stay rolling. Without the threat of Al Qaeda, the GOP would only be able to foster fear in the US populace with the threat of a gay man marrying your son.

What’s so depressing is that it looks like the hosts of Today let Rudy get away with as bald-faced a lie as can be told in America today. George Stephanopoulos let’s it go un-rebutted and even his blog entry on the exchange does not point out the Giuliani lied to him and to his audience.  Your media, ladies and gentlemen, still not liberal.

Tribute in Light


I took this photo three years ago on September 11th.  It’s of the Tribute in Light, a few blocks from Ground Zero. Despite the fact that the construction on structures to replace the World Trade Center will go on for years and years to come, the Tribute in Light has always been the most fitting memorial of the September 11th attacks, in my view.