Thursday, April 26, 2007

Fill In The Blanks

As Alberto Gonzales is to Republicans, Blank Blank is to the Washington press corps.

Well, if you answered “David Broder,” give yourself an A:

The Democrats' Gonzales

By David S. Broder
Thursday, April 26, 2007; A29

Here's a Washington political riddle where you fill in the blanks: As Alberto Gonzales is to the Republicans, Blank Blank is to the Democrats -- a continuing embarrassment thanks to his amateurish performance.

If you answered " Harry Reid," give yourself an A. And join the long list of senators of both parties who are ready for these two springtime exhibitions of ineptitude to end.

Broder would be a “continuing embarrassment” to his inside-the-beltway brethren if any of them tried talking to the rank-and-file instead of reading each other’s clippings. But, like Gonzales, Broder relies on years’ worth of well-rubbed elbows and the noblesse oblige of the Capitol cocktail party set to maintain his position as the titular head of his guild (Gonzo as the nation’s top lawyer, Broder as “The Dean” of Washington newspapermen).

If they were to ever go back to doing what journalists are supposed to do—reporting, newsgathering, that sort of thing—what “The Dean” and all of his dean-iacs might notice is that while Alberto “I can’t recall” Gonzales is at the very least an embarrassment to his party, but more like a disgrace to the nation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is saying out loud and to the president what wide majorities of Americans believe and would say themselves if anyone thought to ask.

Fortunately, for the truly curious among us—and, no, that doesn’t include Broder—we have something called “opinion polls,” and here’s what a very new one has to say:

Do you think the U.S. goal of achieving victory in Iraq is still possible, or not?
Yes, victory in Iraq is still possible....... 36
No, victory in Iraq is not still possible.... 55
Not sure......................................…. 9

Thinking of the situation in Iraq over the past three months, do you think the situation there has gotten better, gotten worse, or stayed about the same?
Gotten better.............................. 12
Gotten worse.............................. 49
Stayed about the same................ 37
Not sure.................................. 2

When it comes to the debate on Iraq who do you agree with more?
The Democrats in Congress, who say we should set a deadline for troop withdrawal from Iraq;
President Bush, who says we should NOT set a deadline for troop withdrawal from Iraq?
Democrats in Congress/should set deadline.... 56
President Bush/should NOT set deadline........ 37
Some of both (VOL)................................... 3
Not sure................................................... 4

In general, do you approve or disapprove of the job that George W. Bush is doing as president?
Approve............................. 35
Disapprove......................... 60
Not sure........................... 5

I could say the numbers speak for themselves, and leave it at that, but I will add an observation. When you hear Senator Reid saying the Iraq war is “lost,” you are hearing from a man who is not only the Majority Leader (and yes, that means he’s in the majority), you are probably hearing from a man who reads the front sections of several newspapers—in other words, the news pages, and not just the opinion page, of newspapers from inside and outside of the (literal and metaphorical) DC beltway.

When you read David Broder, you read the words of a man very much like not only the Attorney General mentioned at the beginning of this extended analogy, but also somewhat like that AG’s patron, George W. Bush.

For as Broder and his establishment media cohorts have spent the last two or three decades cloistering themselves with the power elites on which they are supposed to report, they have joined those elites inside the same echo chamber. It is no secret that President Bush doesn’t like to hear a lot of critical “perspective,” so when you work your way into the king and his courtier’s close confidences, you are likely not to hear much of that criticism, either.

In fact, Broder and his aging band of beltway brothers are probably a little horrified (if not terrified) by the behavior of the next edition of the ruling class. After all the prostration and prostitution, after all the hard work and heavy drinking, after all the time spent earning a season’s pass to the conservative construct of Utopia—what the establishment media calls “access”—the fortunate of the fourth estate cannot simply turn to the left and bow down to the new order. (It’s hard on their aging backs, and the new majority might not trust them—or party with them—anyway.)

And that can’t be a fun position for The Dean. For, while Broder no longer seems to read today’s news, he probably remembers some ancient history. I’m thinking here of Sir Thomas More who, despite working his way up to Lord Chancellor, still found his body a good distance from his head after refusing to acknowledge that there was a new Queen in town.

Of course, I am not going to be recommending The Dean for sainthood any time soon (nor ever). Where Saint Thomas More might have held his ground out of deep moral conviction, Dean David Broder’s allegiance is likely a matter of expedience. He’s assessed on which side his bread is buttered, and he’s scared to death of being toast.

Much like that blankity-blank Alberto Gonzales, don’t you think?

(Hat tips to Josh, and Joan, and about half of the blogosphere, I figure.)

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Plastic: It’s What’s for Dinner

A black mark for the other white meat:

Human consumption of tainted hogs probed
From Times Staff and Wire Reports
April 25, 2007

Health officials are investigating whether humans may have consumed pork from animals that ate feed containing a chemical linked to a recall of pet foods, the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday.

In California, traces of the chemical melamine were detected in hog urine at a farm in Stanislaus County in the Modesto area. The California Department of Food and Agriculture said it traced the hogs to several Northern California meat vendors, and most of the animals were quarantined.

Only the American Hog Farm in Ceres and a vendor in Half Moon Bay had sold the pork to customers. Both operate custom slaughterhouses that sell only to individuals for personal use — not to supermarkets.

It is important to note here that it was the hog urine, and not the feed, that was tested. So, on the bright side, maybe the pigs get their melamine somewhere else—maybe they eat off of fancy mid-century modern plastic plates, for instance—and not from tainted grain or grain gluten. On the dark side, maybe the melamine contamination is prevalent in hog feed across the country, and not just at this farm. We don’t know—at this point, as best I can figure, the FDA hasn’t tested much beyond the dog and cat food stage of this still emerging food safety crisis (and the LA Times story indicates there is some debate about how widespread the distribution was for this particular suspect feed).

Ever reactive, the Bush FDA has now decided to start looking at a selection of six grain products that are used in foods for human consumption.

"We're going to target firms that we know are receiving imported products," said David Acheson, chief medical officer of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in a conference call with reporters. "The goal is obviously to sample as much as we can."

Of course, when Acheson says, “as much as we can,” he is referring to the amount they can afford to test—not the amount they can get their hands on—and there, as they say, is where the fat hits the griddle.

The entire FY 2007 budget for the Food and Drug administration was $1.9 billion—that’s $1.9 billion for the food AND the drugs. After slashing food inspection budgets in past years, the recent E. coli outbreaks traced to spinach and lettuce have motivated the Bush Administration to propose increasing the amount spent on food safety in 2008 by $10.6 million. . . .

Or, roughly, what the US spends in Iraq EVERY HOUR.

The entire FDA budget? That will cost you about a week of the Bush-Cheney fiasco.

So, while Sunni insurgents kill Americans “over there,” maybe, because we don’t have the money to spend on a proper food safety strategy, cheap Chinese foodstuffs can kill Americans over here.

I suppose that’s one way to beef up “homeland security.”

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Dana Perino Explains It All for You

I know that obsessive fans of faith-based reality television still miss the comic high jinks of the Scotty Mac Show—better known to some as the White House press briefing, then hosted by Press Secretary Scott McClellan—but audiences have recently had reason to cheer as springtime replacement Dana Perino has lent a carefree toss of her hair and her own subtle brand of humor to that afternoon giggle we call the gaggle.

Here’s Ms. Perino giving “heck” to Harry—Harry Reid, that is, the Democratic Senate leader from Nevada—after Reid dared to give the White House a little geography lesson.

One thing that concerned me today is I heard that Senator Reid said that the President is in denial about the war. And I think that any quick glance in the mirror would show him that he's in denial on several things -- that Senator Reid is.

First of all, he's in denial about the enemy that we face. This is a vicious and brutal enemy that wants to kill innocent men, women and children of Iraq, people who enjoy and love freedom, and that includes Americans. So it's not in our long-term national security interests in order to not deal with this enemy now.

Secondly, he's in denial about the conflict that we are in, how al Qaeda is inciting sectarian violence. He is in denial about the new Baghdad security plan and the new changes that we've implemented in al Anbar province. He's also in denial that a surrender date he thinks is a good idea. It is not a good idea. It is defeat. It is a death sentence for the millions of Iraqis who voted for a constitution, who voted for a government, who voted for a free and democratic society.

We all want the Iraqis to move faster, to do more and to do it faster, in terms of their political reconciliations. But they're just not ready to do it yet. And Americans are not the type that walk away in times of hardship. To leave people in Iraq flailing and defenseless against an enemy who is determined to kill them. And withdrawal is like crying "uncle," it's giving up. And I can assure you they are diluting themselves if they think that offering a surrender date is in the long-term strategic interests of this country. It is not.

Comedy gold, right?

“Diluting themselves?” What with, I wonder. Show me, Dana, don’t tell me! Tell ya’ what, I will give Ms. Perino the benefit of the doubt and chalk that one up to the bonehead responsible for transcribing these briefings (or should I call it “the writers’ room?”). And that whole soliloquy about the “Baghdad security plan” working—that would be hysterical if it weren’t for all the dead bodies piling up. So, instead, let me point out a couple of other laugh lines.

“This is a vicious and brutal enemy that wants to kill innocent men, women and children of Iraq, people who enjoy and love freedom, and that includes Americans.” What’s more absurd: the usual administration claptrap about how the “evil doers” in Iraq are going to come on over and kill us here, or that Perino and her boss have decided to bring the war home by extending Iraqi citizenship to all Americans? It’s a little avant-garde, but imagine the comic possibilities.

And here’s the wicky wacky one I really want to call to your attention: “ . . . he's in denial about the conflict that we are in, how al Qaeda is inciting sectarian violence.”

Now al Qaeda is inciting sectarian violence? What a scream! Al Qaeda? Really? I mean, Dana, don’t get me wrong, I’m laughing and all, but I ask because I feel almost certain that you said Iran was fueling sectarian violence. I even remember some sketch about “explosively formed penetrators”—that was prop comedy at its best!

Forgive me Dana, I know you have your own style, and I don’t want to mess with that, but if you are going to tell a joke, you gotta tell it right. You see, and I know you’re kind of new to the circuit, so maybe you didn’t pick up on this, Iran is a predominantly Shiite country, and they are partial to the Shiite population of Iraq, while al Qaeda is exclusively a Sunni organization. Iran—Shiite. . . al Qaeda—Sunni. . . got it?

Now, it has been said that al Qaeda was starring in (or maybe they’re just in the supporting cast—we can debate that some other time) a little off-Broadway production called “the insurgency” because of said insurgency’s ties to former Baathists or “Saddam loyalists” who are overwhelmingly, yes, that’s right, Sunni. Insurgents are supposedly trying to drive American occupiers out of Iraq, or at lease pick off a few of those occupiers, maybe destabilize the new, American-backed government. . . that sort of thing. (Not good for the tourist dollar, but I hear it kills in the sticks.)

“Sectarian violence,” on the other hand, is thought to be a bit more, shall we say, sectarian. As Sid Caesar—I think it was him, anyway—always used to remind me: It’s not an insurgency; it’s a civil war. It’s Shiites going after Sunnis and vice-versa. American troops are just, uh, well, “innocent” seems like a silly word, so let’s just say “bystanders.” Americans might still get killed, but it’s likely more because they got in the way.

I know it seems like a subtle point—maybe even a little nitpicky—and keeping it all straight is, uh, “hard work,” but, Dana, it’s like they say, “the devil is in the details.”

In this case, it’s the devil you know, and, clearly, the devil you don’t.

All kidding aside, it’s recitations like Ms. Perino’s Monday briefing that make me certain that over four years into this occupation, the White House neither knows nor cares about the reality of the situation in Iraq. Learning the differences between Sunnis and Shiites, their beliefs, their grievances, or their chief supporters is of little interest to the Bush Administration because, when seen through their partisan prism, it doesn’t serve any purpose.

Distinctions in the type of conflict or the parties involved just muddy the message (be afraid; vote Republican) and do little line the pockets of the war profiteers (aka Bush’s “base”).

But I know what you’re thinking, Dana, “I think I’ll remember the laughter.”

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Friday, April 20, 2007

I’ll ask the questions here. . . .

I was a little nervous when I cross-posted yesterday’s extended capitoilette piece to Daily Kos. As noted, I kind of got blindsided a couple of days back when I wrote about the need for stricter gun laws in the wake of another high-profile gun massacre, and got a string of rather hysterical/hostile comments. It seems that even on the left side of the American blogosphere, happiness is a warm gun.

So, after I published my latest “gun” diary, I added a comment to start the thread and, I had hoped, encourage discussion over diatribe. The comment read like this:

To those that love their guns. . .

Please don’t resort to screaming about how I want to take away your guns. . . I don’t. Just tell me why you oppose:
gun registration,
better background checks,
additional licensing procedures for concealed weapons,
mandatory waiting periods,
restrictions on assault-style weapons, Saturday night specials, and extended clips,
mandatory safety training and periodic recertification,
closing so-called gun-show loopholes,
legal liability for gun manufacturers commensurate with other consumer product liability,
and limits on the number of guns and rounds of ammo you can purchase at any given time and over the course of a year.

(I know VA restricts you to 12 guns per year, but otherwise. . . .)

If you can address those points, we can have a discussion. . . or you can just scream that I want to take away your gun again if that makes you feel better.

Well, I am happy to say that the response as measured by the tone of the comments was a bit more favorable on Thursday than it was on Tuesday—but this might have been a fluke of the lower traffic my diary got during the meat of the day. I am sad to say, however, that I did not get any answers to my questions.

So, while I hope not to have to write much more about the Virginia Tech shooting for a while, I will continue to ask the questions detailed above. And, if you encounter a lover of high-powered side-arms, see if you can get him or her to stop “running around henny penny” screaming about how we are going to seize their precious, precious guns, and try to get them to answer these questions instead.

If you get an answer, please let me know.

(cross-posted from guy2k)

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Instant" Karma

Former Secretary of Labor and University of California professor Robert Reich pretty much nails it:

In the United States, if you are seriously depressed, you can purchase anti-depressive drugs like Prozac, but only if you have a prescription from a doctor. Anti-depressants are enormously beneficial to millions of people but they are also potentially dangerous if used improperly. So, you have to see a doctor and get an assessment before you can go to a drug store and purchase one.

But in the United States, in places like Virginia, a seriously depressed or deranged person can walk into a store and buy a semi-automatic handgun and a box of ammunition. All you need is two forms of identification. You don’t need permission from a doctor or counselor or anyone in the business of screening people to make sure [you’re] fit to have a gun.

We can debate the relative benefits and dangers of anti-depressants and semi-automatic handguns, but if 30,000 Americans were killed each year by anti-depressants, as they are by handguns, anti-depressants would be even more strictly regulated. So why aren't handguns? Consider the politics.

Funny (that would be funny strange, not funny ha-ha) enough, it appears Reich wrote his commentary (which also aired on Marketplace) before the full extent of Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui’s documented psychiatric problems were revealed to the press. Cho, it turns out, was not one of those stereotypical “nice, quiet boys” that everyone scratches their head about after things go to all to hell. No, this was the guy that everyone expected to do something like this. Two female students had complained to police after Cho harassed them via phone calls and text messages, a roommate thought him suicidal, a creative writing teacher brought Cho’s violent plays and stories to the attention of University administrators, and poet Nikki Giovanni threatened to quit the VaTech faculty if Cho wasn’t removed from her class because he was scaring away other students.

In fact, we learned on Wednesday that Cho had been involuntarily detained in a mental facility when it was determined by a psychiatric professional that he presented “an imminent danger to self or others.”

Much attention is being paid to, and much is being made of, the fact that Virginia Tech administrators had not collected all of these incidents in some sort of central file—as if somehow someone in the academic community should have been able to prevent the shooting spree that killed 33, including Cho, himself. While I will be one of the first to advocate for more awareness about mental illness, better mental health services, and easier access to them, the absence of a coordinated University response to Cho is not what facilitated this massacre, and not the most disturbing part of Wednesday’s revelations.

Instead of second-guessing the individual judgments of teachers and administrators—many of whom did their best to intervene—why don’t we focus on this fact: Cho Seung-Hui, a young man with documented mental problems, a man declared “an imminent danger to self or others,” walked into a Roanoke gun shop, and, moments later, walked out with a gun.

In a country of lax gun laws, Virginia has some of the laxest. Virginia has no gun registration, no safety training requirements for gun ownership, no restrictions on the kinds of guns sold, no mandatory waiting period for gun purchase, and performs only the most perfunctory “instant” background checks. Pretty much all you need, as Reich observed, is two forms of ID and you’re good to go. . . and kill.

Almost all Republicans, and an unfortunate number of Democrats, have fought long and hard against real background checks as a prerequisite for gun purchase. Early drafts of the “Brady Bill” suggested a waiting period of a week to allow for a thorough background check; that was negotiated down to five days by the time the bill was signed into law back in late 1993. But part of the law was struck down in 1997, and the waiting period provision expired in 1998.

The Brady waiting period was replaced with the so-called National Instant Check System (NICS) nine years ago, allowing a purchase to be approved in minutes if a check of a federal criminal database shows no felony violations. But even the NICS law has all kinds of exceptions that allow states and private sellers to skirt background checks entirely.

It was gun-loving Virginia’s take on the “instant” check that allowed Cho to instantly obtain a 9 mm Glock semiautomatic, extra clips, and many, many rounds of ammunition. (Cho also bought a .22 caliber handgun at a pawnshop, and additional ammunition at a Wal-Mart—in both of those cases, it was also cash and carry.) It was that instantly purchased murder kit that allowed Cho to turn his Blacksburg stomping grounds into a killing field.

. . . .

Coincidentally, but not really that coincidentally, Wednesday also saw Republicans in the Senate rally to prevent a vote on a Democratic-sponsored revision of last year’s Medicare Drug “reform” that would have allowed the government to negotiate down the prices it pays for prescription drugs. So, for the foreseeable future, the price of Prozac, and all those other anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, statins, blood pressure medications, chemotherapy drugs, etc., will remain artificially astronomical.

Gun prices, however, are still subject to the whims of the open market.

And, Wednesday also saw what five Republican-appointed Catholic men have to say to any woman who makes the mistake of needing a medical procedure called “intact dilation and extraction”—namely, “too fucking bad.” However, as Justice Kennedy said in his majority opinion, if you or your doctor really think you need this immediate medical procedure to preserve your health and well-being, you could always “assert an individual need for a health exception” or challenge the decision again in court. . . and wait the months or years it might take to get a final decision.

However, if you need a gun, maybe to kill somebody’s living, breathing, walking, talking son or daughter, well, you can get that in an instant.

And, also not that coincidentally, Wednesday was another murderous day in Iraq. A series of bombings in Baghdad killed upwards of 170—the deadliest day of many deadly days this year. As military commanders now admit, the Bush surge escalation has actually resulted in a higher number of civilian casualties.

Meanwhile, here at home, we are starting day four of wall-to-wall media coverage of the massacre of 30 college students and two of their teachers, while we pay scant attention not just to the daily horrors in Iraq, but to the roughly 80 people who die each and every day in this country from gun violence.

All of this—the easy access to guns, the poor access to medical and mental health care, the expensive prescription drugs, the disrespect for women and the doctors that try to help them, the ongoing death and destruction in Iraq—all of this can be attributed to what Republicans like to call their “culture of life.” Consider the politics, indeed.

But maybe all of that is just too much carnage to process—too many connections to make—so let me leave you with a simpler equation, again from Robert Reich:

In [the] United States, many people who are seriously depressed can’t afford to see a doctor, let alone get a prescription. Unlike every other advanced nation, we do not provide universal health care, or ready access to mental health services. But unlike every other advanced nation, we do allow almost anyone [to] buy a handgun.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Shocked, shocked

No, really. I was shocked today. You see, I cross-posted to Daily Kos yesterday’s thoughts on gun laws in light of the Virginia Tech massacre hoping to inspire discussion about whether it serves the left to make comparisons to the violence in Iraq, or, perhaps, just provoke a general rant-fest on the horrendous record of the Bush Administration when it comes to gun violence.

I got neither—and what I got instead was indeed shocking. While there were a couple of comments voicing general agreement with my position, the bulk of the two-dozen comments (when you remove mine) are attempts to refute (more like rebuke, actually—the comments were nearly devoid of contrary evidence) my rather matter-of-fact assertion that tragedies like Monday’s murders necessitate that America get serious and strengthen its gun laws.

I didn’t post this on Free Republic or Red State, mind you—this was Daily Kos! I would have assumed that most self-identified progressives take a dim view of those that hide behind the Second Amendment. I would have assumed that saying we need an assault weapons ban, mandatory waiting periods and background checks, and/or legal liability for those that manufacture or sell killing machines would have been a mojo-filled slam dunk.

Boy, was I wrong. Instead, I got hysterical “you want to confiscate our guns!” talk, and that old chestnut (in so many words) “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” I think I count nine different community members that argue that the proliferation of guns in America has nothing to do with gun violence! “It’s a violent culture,” “Killing people is already against the law,” “Criminals will always be able to get guns”—that’s what I get from the community that Republicans call the crazy left wing fringe of the Democratic party.

What I didn’t get was anybody to specifically address my question, which I tried to pose in several different forms. Basically, why does any private citizen need an AK-47 knock-off, or a Saturday night special, or a clip that holds 25 rounds? Why would anyone
have ever thought to guarantee a right to bear these kinds of arms?

Instead, my detractors wildly misread statistics, blame society, and feel somehow vindicated by the revelation that the angry, unstable, misanthropic loner that killed 32 in Blacksburg had purchased his Glock nine and his twenty-two legally.

How does that make it better? That a man-boy as disturbed and impulsive as this guy can just walk into a Roanoke gun shop and purchase a serious people-killer like a Glock (and people-killing is all a Glock is good for) makes it even more obvious that America’s gun laws are too darn lax!

I do not believe that the VaTech shooter would have moved hell and high water to get an illegal gun if a legal one was not made available to him; this guy was apparently too shy to speak—to anyone! And I really don’t think he would have been able to mount as awesome a rock-throwing spree or have been able to stab thirty-odd people to death.

Honestly, I find the “logic” of my critics to be insane!

Sure, I will be the first to admit that our culture has some big problems when it comes to the exaltation of violence and violent solutions to conflict (they say that a fish rots from the head, after all). And, I will go further and say that it might be possible to actually prevent many crimes of passion if this country would commit to fully funding a program of community mental health centers and an inclusive, comprehensive national health insurance program that provides for psychiatric care and counseling. But neither examining our culture nor providing access to mental health care will result in fast fixes.

Tightening gun laws—requiring registration, training, and periodic recertification, mandating longer waiting periods for the purchase of guns and ammunition, capping the number of guns that may be purchased at any given time and over the course of a year, and banning outright the manufacture and possession of assault-style weapons, Saturday night specials, and extended clips—will have a much more palpable and much more immediate effect. I feel certain of this.

It is hard to commit gun violence without a gun.

PS I am heartened by an early morning post to Daily Kos’ front page—not by Meteor Blades’ frightening support for carrying concealed weapons, but by the results of the poll he has attached to his commentary. Though not really scientific, the “sense of the community” is that almost none own a gun, and better than half say that they never have and never will.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What Guns Do

As the terrible, tragic details of the Virginia Tech shootings became known over the course of the Monday news cycle, a certain type of comparison began to crop up in the comments and contributions of several blogs that I make a semi-regular habit of reading. This “analysis” placed the 33 dead in Blacksburg, VA, in the context of the many more killed every day in American-occupied Iraq (one example here).

While I often decry the disproportionate hysterics exhibited by the US establishment media when it comes to a domestic story versus the daily death and destruction that passes for life-as-usual in parts of Iraq, in this case, at least, I feel the attention is justified, and the comparison made by some of my blogging brethren does neither tragedy justice.

Let me just restate the obvious: Iraq is a tragedy—a horrible, outsized, and on-going tragedy. The death and injury that visits the Iraqi people everyday should not be ignored by Americans—and not only because our country bears heavy responsibility for the carnage. Violent conflicts, be they in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Congo, or Sudan—or too many other parts of Africa, South America, Asia, and the Middle East—cheapen every human’s existence and require the attention of the entire world (especially the wealthy parts) if they are to ever really end.

But there is a difference between these wars, genocides, and geopolitical struggles and the individual instances of domestic gun violence of which Americans are all-too-often made aware.

Or, maybe, “aware” is not the right word. . . or, maybe, it’s that all-too-often is just not often enough.

To me, the tragic irony is not borne out in a comparison between Baghdad and Blacksburg, the problem in this case is not that we don’t pay attention when innocents die in Diyala or Darfur, the terrible truth is that we only pay attention when our domestic murders come in multiples.

Gun violence is more than an everyday occurrence in this country, it is an hourly one. Correction: it is a quarter-hourly one. There are, roughly, 12,000 gun murders a year in the United States (if you are looking for contrasts, contrast that with the average 350 gun murders that occur annually in Canada, Great Britain, and Australia combined). If you watch the local TV news in the US, then you likely bear some sort of witness to numerous individual gun murders every week.

But it is only when six or twelve or twenty-two or thirty-three are shot that most of us even look up, take pause, or stop to think at all about what guns do.

And what guns do is kill people.

I’m sure there is somebody out there right now that is raising a finger in protest. Wait, there’s sport. . . competition shooting. . . hunting! And to that person I say: Knock it off! AK-47’s and their clones are not prized by biathletes, 9 mm semi-automatics are not hunting weapons, and you don’t need an extended clip to bring down a sixteen-point buck. You can make your arguments about self-defense and Second Amendment rights (though most of them would be wrong), but you cannot argue that it is either a right or a necessity to own the kinds of weapons that felled those at Columbine, or West Nickel Mines, or the unfortunate students and faculty at Virginia Tech.

Sadly, though, those kinds of arguments are probably going to take up a substantial part of the brief but saturated attention we will pay to Monday’s massacre. It is not happenstance that the first words out of the White House—before President Bush’s official words of condolence that came out late in the afternoon—were these, from acting press secretary Dana Perino:

The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed.

The worst mass shooting in American history happened just hours before, but it was important for the president to remind us that he believes there is a right for people to have guns—lots of guns, if they wish—but, oh, yes, gun owners and your friends, you should also obey the law.

Of course, there used to be a law that banned the production of assault-style weapons and extended clips—that law was allowed to expire by George W. Bush and his rubberstamp Republican Congress back in the election year of 2004. There have also been attempts to close loopholes in gun laws that allow the purchasing of guns without a background check, attempts to impose mandatory waiting periods for the purchase of certain kinds of guns and ammunition, and lawsuits filed by cities and states designed to hold manufacturers of cheap handguns liable for the destruction their products cause. Bush and many of his Republican cohorts (and some Democrats, sad to say) have continuously opposed tougher gun laws, and the Bush Justice Department has fought the lawsuits, siding with gun manufacturers.

So, where does Monday go when Tuesday comes around? There will be memorial services and encomia around the world. There will be “national conversations” and some sort of collective soul-searching—or at least talk of it. And, there will be coverage—around the clock coverage. TV coverage. Newspaper coverage. And even, yes, blog coverage.

But, while I am mostly past expecting real insight or appropriate context from the establishment media (mostly), I would hope for—and I will ask for—much more reality and appropriateness from the blogoshpere. Iraq, and I hate to say this, will be there tomorrow—that fiasco deserves our unremitting attention and that suffering deserves our steady witness—but American gun violence is here today. . . and every day.

Gun violence in America is no less a tragedy than other global horrors, and, in this context, anyway, perhaps it seems a little more so. . .

. . . because this is a tragedy Americans can so easily do something about.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Bush's Faith: The Ultimate Outsourcing of Responsibility?

Since I started this blog, I have many a time touched upon the Bush Administration’s great love of outsourcing, thinking that they must see it as a win-win: win #1 being that they get to line the pockets of friends, cronies, and campaign contributors with taxpayer dollars, and win #2 being that, should anything go wrong (should anything go wrong—doesn’t that now sound hysterical?), the administration can always say, hey, it’s not us, we didn’t screw up, we were let down by the folks we trusted. Be it Medicare drug “reform,” Iraq security and reconstruction, Hurricane Katrina—both the before and the after—homeland “security,” and many, many more, the Bush-Cheney gang has sold America a bill of goods without a warranty, a receipt, or a consumers’ bill of rights (or any other Bill of Rights, for that matter).

What’s got me thinking more about this—OK, even more about this—this week was the leak about Bush looking to appoint a “czar” to oversee the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. (This was apparently on the advice of Newt Gingrich, or so it now seems, and, as of this writing, we know of five retired generals who have turned down the offer to run interference for Bush’s abominable war effort.)

Beyond my first thought—we have a war czar, they call him the Commander in Chief—my second thought—sign on Bush’s desk: the buck stops, uh, um, anywhere but here—and my third thought—the Decider outsources the deciding—I got to thinking if there isn’t something even deeper (not sure that’s the right word) than naked greed and political cover.

I should probably do more reading and research before putting my less than complete knowledge of theology on the page (but it’s late, so I will go with what I remember), but the Bush predilection to ignore the facts—the results of his misdeeds—and continue to stay the course, because he “knows” in his gut that he’s right, sounds to me like an old schism in Christianity: the one between good works and faith.

This was a big debate a thousand years ago—what’s required of a human to gain entry through the pearly gates? Does one have to live a good life, do good deeds, practice what you preach, or is all of that irrelevant? Is faith all that is required for a place in heaven?

Easter got me to thinking about this more. I saw a snippet of New York’s Cardinal Egan (I think it was him) talking about the resurrection: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (that’s from Corinthians—I looked it up).

Now, as a non-believer, what that says to me is “first believe the lie,” and then. . . really believe. (I guess this is not that much different from my musings about tinkerbellistas—clap louder!—but I digress. . . .) I also heard an evangelical leader (I forget who) on the radio this Easter weekend that made it very clear that good works don’t count—faith is all that matters.

So, back to President Bush and his outsourced kleptocracy. Is there something in his and his minions’ deep belief (or convenient belief) in faith—in the idea that faith is all that matters when it comes time to ascend to heaven—that absolves them of any sense of personal responsibility for the hell they have created here on earth? Is the promise of absolution—and the self-assurance that they all will be granted it—so ingrained that it makes day-to-day earthly accountability almost unfathomable?

I know much has been written about the “faith-based” versus the “reality-based” communities—Bush being part of the former (me being part of the latter)—but I am thinking about this in terms of the split in the ancient church more than some current political cleavage. When western Christianity chose to embrace faith as the virtue that counted—I mean really counted—did they do the faithful a great disservice?

Is Bush, to the extent we believe that he really believes what he says he believes, actually just a product of his religion? Is it useless for us, the Left, Congress, America, whoever, to attempt to impose accountability on a President that believes that his savior was tested and tortured for his convictions and rewarded (with resurrection) for his constancy of faith? Accountability is not up to anyone on this mortal plane—that’s up to the holy father—so there is no point wasting time with laws and rules and personal responsibility.

Bush has never been much for work (hard or otherwise), and has proven not much for good works, either, but he is always proud to trumpet his faith—in his policies and in his own salvation. Without his faith, all else is useless. Unfortunately for the rest of us, with his faith, all else is useless, too. Accountability to mere men and women is as nonsensical to Bush as virgin birth is to me.

Perhaps, as Bush sees it, responsibility is just not his responsibility.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Joe Klein: sees wrong, tries to write it

Boy, things must really suck in the elephant kingdom to have a week like this. First, “Clinton ‘Democrat’” turned Bush pit bull Matthew Dowd confesses his doubts about the boy king to the New York Times, then Adam “you call it gossip, I call it ‘news analysis’” Nagourney admits that things look blue for the red party, and now (super-large scare quotes) centrist Democrat (close super-large scare quotes) Joe “Anonymous” Klein seems to agree with the “shrill” (as he has called it) left side of the blogosphere.

Unless, of course, you ask him if he really means it.

Let’s start with that (what do we call it?) opinion piece:

. . . A much bigger story is unfolding: the epic collapse of the Bush Administration.

The three big Bush stories of 2007--the decision to "surge" in Iraq, the scandalous treatment of wounded veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys for tawdry political reasons--precisely illuminate the three qualities that make this Administration one of the worst in American history: arrogance (the surge), incompetence (Walter Reed) and cynicism (the U.S. Attorneys).

. . . .

When Bush came to office--installed by the Supreme Court after receiving fewer votes than Al Gore--I speculated that the new President would have to govern in a bipartisan manner to be successful. He chose the opposite path, and his hyper-partisanship has proved to be a travesty of governance and a comprehensive failure. I've tried to be respectful of the man and the office, but the three defining sins of the Bush Administration--arrogance, incompetence, cynicism--are congenital: they're part of his personality. They're not likely to change. And it is increasingly difficult to imagine yet another two years of slow bleed with a leader so clearly unfit to lead.

“Tried to be respectful of the man” is a nice euphemism for the specific brand of apple polishing Klein has indulged in over the last six years, but never-no-mind! To read Klein is to read a thinly veiled (respectful?) call for the Bush presidency to end early—dare we call it a call for impeachment?

The “shrills” in the blogosphere thought so. . . .

“No!” says Klein (literally).

NO! I am not hinting at impeachment. There are no 'high crimes' here. Just a really bad presidency. In fact, I consider impeachment talk counterproductive and slightly nutso.

No! Whatever you do, don’t take a stand against arrogance, incompetence, and cynicism, Joe, that wouldn’t be “respectful”—and you know, being the consummate establishment media “centrist” beltway insider that you are, that the arrogant, incompetent, and cynical deserve nothing if not respect.

And what exactly are high crimes then? (Not to mention that the impeachment article, Art. II, sec. 4 of the Constitution, says, “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” and that the “high” bit means “committed by a person of high authority,” and not a crime that is somehow “higher”—but I will spare you the lecture on what all that actually means.) You just gave us almost 800 words detailing what sound to me like some very high crimes indeed! Is lying a country into war to settle a personal vendetta not a high crime? Is mismanaging—or, more aptly, purposefully undermining—the VA health system, and then ignoring or covering up the horrific results not a high crime? Is politicizing the US attorney corps in order to influence elections not a high crime?

These are criminal abuses of authority, are they not, Joe?

So, come on: you wrote a pretty good column—now stand by it! Sure, maybe you were being “respectful” by not yourself using the actual word “impeach”—call that literary license—but don’t undermine the entire thrust of your piece and malign your readers by calling those that read you clearly as “nutso.”

I mean, calling people—people that agree with you on this one, no less—calling them “nutso” is so. . .uh. . . shrill.

And really, Joe, to spell out the criminal trifecta as you did, to say that the Bush Administration’s sins are “congenital” and “not likely to change,” to say that it is “difficult to imagine another two years,” and then, in your comment, to essentially say, “but we should endure two more years of ‘a really bad Presidency’ just the same” makes you nothing more than a whiner.

It makes me think this latest column of yours might just be the beginning and the end of your political backbone. So, I’ve adapted a eulogy for you:

Joe Kline’s spine need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what it was in life; let Joe be remembered simply as a good and ‘respectful’ man, who saw wrong and did not try to right it, saw suffering and did not try to heal it, saw war and did not try to stop it.

(My apologies to both Robert and Ted Kennedy)

[cross-posted to Daily Kos.]