1/27/2011 12:26:28 PM
Oh, the nostalgia of it all! As Nick Turse reminds us in his book The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, when the media went after the Pentagon in the 1980s for outrageous spending, at stake was “a $7,600 coffee pot, $9,600 Allen wrenches, and -- the most famous pork barrel item of them all -- those $640 toilet seats.” Same in the 1990s with the $2,187 the Department of Defense doled out for a C-17 door hinge otherwise purchasable for $31, the $5.41 screw thread inserts worth 29 cents, and the $75.60 screw sets priced in the ordinary world at 57 cents.
Weren’t those the good old days? Now, few take out after the DoD for such minor peccadillos, not when a $75.60 screw set looks like a bargain-basement deal compared to a Pentagon that has already invested $20 billion in training the Afghan military and police and is prepared to pay $11.6 billion this year and possibly $12.8 billion in 2012 for more of the same; or to an intelligence outfit, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, that doesn’t hesitate to sink $1.8 billion into an all-new headquarters complex in Virginia for its 16,000 employees and its estimated black budget of $5 billion; or to the close to $200 million that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has, according to a McClatchy News investigation, sunk into construction projects in Afghanistan that “have failed, face serious delays, or resulted in subpar work”; or to a Department of Homeland Security that thought it a brilliant idea to fund an “emergency operations center” in Poynette, Wisconsin (population 2,266) to the tune of $1 million; or to General David Petraeus who, in 2008 as Iraq War commander, invested $1 million in turning a dried-up lake in Baghdad into an Iraqi water park to win a few extra hearts and minds. (Within two years, thanks in part to neighborhood power cuts, the lake had dried up again and the park was a desolate wreck.)
Where, in fact, are those Allen wrenches now that we need them, now that Congress has insisted that an alternate second engine (being built by Lockheed Martin) should be kept in production for the staggeringly costly, ever-delayed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which already has an engine (being built by Pratt & Whitney)? Even the Pentagon doesn’t want that second multi-billion dollar engine built, the White House has denounced it, but Lockheed is still being paid. All of this, and so much more, should be shocking waste at a moment when Camden, New Jersey, the nation’s “second most dangerous” city, has just laid off nearly half its police force and almost a third of its firefighters. But few here even blink.
Sacred cow? Somehow it seems like the perfect term for the U.S. national security budget. Let Andrew Bacevich, author most recently of the must-read bestseller, Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War, explain just how we landed in this hole and just why we’re not likely to get out of it.
Read Andrew Bacevich’s
“Cow Most Sacred” at
1/26/2011 12:26:34 PM
This article was originally published at
New Deal 2.0
Following last night’s State of the Union address—in which President Obama spoke briefly about the debate over the new health care law—comes this personal account from
Tim Price, a Junior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, about how an unexpected medical crises—and they usually are unexpected—changed his life. Like President Obama said in his speech, the law isn’t perfect, but as Mr. Price says in this piece
when it passed, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief for myself and countless others in my position.”
When I woke up on February 20th, 2008, I had no way of knowing that the day’s events would change my life forever. I was midway through my junior year of college, a political science major swept up in the thrill of a historic presidential election and eager to get to class and discuss the latest campaign developments. After having breakfast and checking a few of my favorite blogs, I gathered my books and headed out into a cold but sunny winter morning.
The walk from the front door of my house to the bus stop wasn’t a long one, but it was made treacherous by the need to cross a busy and poorly marked service road. I stood at the corner and waited for the walk sign to change, unwilling to take any chances. Unfortunately, the driver of the large white van that ran me down wasn’t so conscientious. Halfway through the crosswalk I saw him blow the light and swerve toward me. I knew I couldn’t get out of the way in time, so I waved my arms to signal for him to stop. He didn’t.
I’ll spare you the gory details of what came next, but suffice to say I never made it to class. Broken, bruised, and burned, I spent weeks in the hospital, undergoing multiple surgeries to mend injuries that probably would have killed an older man outright. (”Do you have any medical conditions we should know about?” a doctor asked me through the haze of morphine. “You mean aside from being run over?” I groaned.) I was grateful to be alive, but I knew I had a long recovery ahead of me — one that would be measured in years rather than months — and I knew it was going to cost me. Suddenly, the health care debate playing out on TV wasn’t so abstract. If I was a “young invincible,” I’d just been struck by a Kryptonite meteor.
As a full-time college student, I was fortunate enough to be covered under my mother’s employer-provided health insurance at the time of the accident. But that did little to set my mind at ease about the future. The economy collapsed a few months into my recovery, and even with my graduation plans delayed, I knew I would soon age out of my mother’s group plan and be thrust into the worst job market in 80 years. Equally frightening was the possibility that I’d one day have to purchase insurance on my own and wind up being denied coverage due to my injuries. I knew that the definition of “pre-existing condition” tends to vary according to the insurer’s whims, but I was pretty sure that having more titanium rods and bolts inside me than the Six Million Dollar Man would not work in my favor.
Of course, the doctors and paramedics who saved my life would have done so even if I wasn’t insured, because (government intervention alert!) the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act requires it. It also would have left me footing a six-figure bill. I’d either have wound up even more broke than the typical college student or the hospital would have had to absorb most of the cost, which it would then pass on to everyone else. And all that doesn’t even begin to address how I would have obtained long-term treatment, like physical rehabilitation, additional surgeries, or pain medication. In short, unless we want to live in a society where EMTs find people bleeding in the street and stop to check their insurance cards, we have to accept that increasing access to health insurance leaves us all better off and is a legitimate use of Congress’s commerce powers.
The Affordable Care Act has many flaws, but when it passed, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief for myself and countless others in my position. I knew I’d be able to keep my mother’s insurance for several more years, giving me time to heal and to find a job with decent benefits. I also knew I’d no longer have to worry about an insurer looking at my medical history and finding some flimsy pretense to deny me coverage or rescind it without warning. That’s why the Republican Party’s current push to repeal the law (with the help of three Democrats) without offering any real alternative is so infuriating. Modern conservative ideology seems to treat lack of insurance as either a moral failing or an unavoidable byproduct of economic liberty. Either way, the repealers claim there’s nothing the government can or should do to help.
This callous disregard is understandable, if not excusable. The representatives leading the charge against “Obamacare” are generally affluent enough to afford gold-plated coverage even if it weren’t provided at the taxpayers’ expense. Having their savings wiped out by a hospital bill after a freak accident or serious illness just doesn’t keep them up at night. But what about their constituents? According to a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services, as many as 129 million Americans under age 65 have pre-existing conditions. This means, as Tim Noah puts it, that “[u]p to half of all Americans are stuck in their current jobs because if they leave they will likely find it very, very difficult to buy affordable health insurance.” The newly empowered GOP doesn’t have to lift a finger to address this; Democrats have already done the hard part. All Republicans need to do is stop trying to turn back the clock and acknowledge a simple fact: No matter how young and healthy we are, no matter how hard we work and how much we save, we can never be certain what’s around the next corner.
Tim Price is a Junior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.
Source: New Deal 2.0
Image by aflcio, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/26/2011 12:17:18 PM
Food is infused with politics these days, so foodie columnist Mark Bittman is getting out of the kitchen and into the fray. Bittman announced this week in his popular Minimalist column and blog for the New York Times’ Dining section that he’s shifting gears because of a shift in consciousness:
My growing conviction that the meat-heavy American diet and our increasing dependence on prepared and processed foods is detrimental not only to our personal health but to that of the planet has had an impact on my life and on that of the column. You can see this in dishes like stir-fried lettuce with shrimp, chickpea tagine with chicken, a number of bean dishes and the dozens of other meatless or less-meat recipes that have become dominant in the last five years.
In part, what I see as the continuing attack on good, sound eating and traditional farming in the United States is a political issue. I’ll be writing regularly about this in the opinion pages of The Times, and in a blog that begins next week. That’s one place to look for me from now on. The other is in The Times Magazine, where I’ll be writing a recipe column most Sundays beginning in March.
Here at Utne Reader, we’re quite familiar with the politics of food, having watched the organic, local, and sustainable food movements grow from infancy into cultural phenomena that are making us rethink the American diet. Last year, our “Food Fight” package of stories was one of our most-read cover sections. So we’ll be following Bittman’s coverage in his new role, and likely following his lead on important stories and analysis.
In the meantime, Bittman’s regular readers are distressed that their guru is changing forums. Bittman is more socially and politically aware than most foodies, and vegetarians, vegans, and conscientious carnivores can count on him for recipes that don’t always rely on butterfat, foie gras, and veal for their kicks. In my own household, with two vegetarians and three flexitarians, his cookbooks (especially How to Cook Everything Vegetarian) and recipes have been the foundation of many a meal.
Readers who have followed Bittman’s every sauté, braise, and glaze reduction are sending in their kudos to his final column, making it feel something like a eulogy. But he’ll still be cranking out recipes, and anyway, as one reader points out, “But we’ll always have the cookbooks. And you’ll have the royalties.”
Source: The Minimalist
, licensed under
1/20/2011 12:47:54 PM
This article was originally published at
When I try to figure out why we are still in Afghanistan, though every ounce of logic says we ought to get out, an unexpected conversation I had last year haunts me. Doing neighborhood political canvassing, I knocked on the door of a cheerful man who was just about to tune in to his favorite radio show: Rush Limbaugh. He was kind enough to let me stay and we talked.
Conservatives are often the nicest people -- that’s what I told him -- the ones you’d like to have as neighbors. Then I said: I bet you’re always willing to help your neighbors when they need it. Absolutely, he replied.
So why, I asked, don’t you to want to help out people across town who have the same needs, even if they’re strangers? His answer came instantly: Because I know my neighbors work hard and do all they can to take care of themselves. I don’t know about those people across town.
He didn’t have to say more (though he did). I knew the rest of the story: Why should I give my hard-earned money to the government so they can hand it out to strangers who, for all I know, are good-for-nothing loafers and mooches? I want to be free to decide what to do with my dough and I’ll give it to responsible people who believe in taking care of themselves and their families, just like me. I’ll give my money to the government only to protect us from strangers in distant lands who don’t believe in the sacred rights of the individual and aim to take my freedom and money away.
What a story it is -- a tale of mythic proportions! As an historian of religions, I was trained to appreciate, even marvel at the myths people tell to make sense out of the chaos of their lives. So I can’t help admiring the conservative myth: so simple yet all encompassing, offering clear and easy-to-grasp answers that cut through the everyday complexities besetting us all.
Of course, the answers are far too simplistic, as stupid (in my opinion) as they are dangerous. But I was also trained to be non-judgmental and to admire the power of a myth even when I find it morally abhorrent. And this one is impressive, with its classic good-guys-versus-bad-guys plot line turned into a stark political tale of freedom versus slavery.
White Americans, going back to early colonial times, generally assigned the role of “bad guys” to “savages” lurking in the wilderness beyond the borders of our civilized land. Whether they were redskins, commies, terrorists, or the Taliban, the plot has always remained the same.
Call it the myth of national security -- or, more accurately, national insecurity, since it always tells us who and what to fear. It’s been a mighty (and mighty effective) myth exactly because it lays out with such clarity not just what Americans are against, but also what we are for, what we want to keep safe and secure: the freedom of the individual, especially the freedom to make and keep money.
The President Trapped in a Myth and a War
No politician who aspires to real influence on the national level can afford to reject that myth or even express real doubts about it, at least in public, as Barack Obama surely knows. Not surprisingly, President Obama has embraced the myth in his most important speeches: The bad guys are always out there. (“Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world.”) The good guys have no choice but to fight against the evildoers. (“Force may sometimes be necessary.”)
Because every myth has variants, though, politicians can still make choices. In Obama’s version of the myth, the federal government can be a force for good. So he has a domestic fight on his hands every day against right-wingers who cast the government as an agent of darkness.
He’s not likely to stand a chance of winning that battle if he tries to take on the myth of national security as well. Bill Clinton once put it all-too-accurately: "When people are insecure” -- which is exactly when they rely most on their myths -- “they'd rather have somebody [in the White House] who is strong and wrong than someone who's weak and right."
That’s a truth everyone in the room undoubtedly had in mind back in the fall of 2009 when the top military field commanders came to the White House to talk about Afghanistan. Where else, after all, could our military act out the drama of civilized America staving off the savages? And what better-cast candidates for the role of savages could there be than the Taliban and al-Qaeda?
The generals who run the war also had to confront another vital question: Could they still act out some contemporary version of the myth of good against evil? They’ve given up on the possibility of victory in Afghanistan. So there’s no real chance to go for the classic version of the myth in which the good guys totally vanquish the bad guys.
But since the Cold War era, the myth has demanded only that the good guys don’t lose -- that they merely “contain” the evildoers who “hate our freedoms” (especially our freedom to make and keep money) and will swoop down to destroy us if we give them the chance.
These days the generals must sense that even the containment version of the myth is in trouble. Their predecessors failed to enact it in Vietnam, and though the judgment of history is still out on the Iraq War, it's looking ever more dim, too. If the U.S. loses in Afghanistan, the American public might abandon the myth that justifies the military establishment and its gargantuan budget. As a result, the generals prefer to fight on eternally.
President Obama is trapped at this point. He risks losing both a war and a presidency. Yet if he tries to ease up on the war accelerator, he knows he’ll be pilloried by an alliance of military and right-wing forces as a “cut-and-run” weakling.
If he’s ever tempted to forget that domestic political reality, the mass media are always ready to remind him. Just glance at the 145,000 Google hits on “Obama wimp.” Even his liberal friends at the New York Times have asked in a prominent headline, “Is Obama a Wimp or a Warrior?”
Within the confines of the national insecurity myth, of course, those are the only two options. If pressure is ever going to develop to get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, progressives will have to offer a new option that actually speaks to Americans.
To Myth or Not to Myth
And there’s the problem. Myths are like scientific theories. No mountain of facts and logic, however convincing, can change believers’ minds -- until a more convincing myth comes along.
A handful of progressive political thinkers are trying to persuade the American left to understand this truth and start offering new political myths (their technical term is “framing narratives”). George Lakoff is probably the best known. His books are bestsellers. His articles on websites invariably go to the top of “most read” and “most emailed” lists. Yet he can’t seem to make much of a dent in the actual policies and practices he’d like to change.
Progressives still shower the public with facts and arguments that are hard to refute, as (in the case of the Afghan War) the American people know. After all, more than 60% of them now tell pollsters that the war was a “mistake.” Yet the war goes on and progressives remain the most marginal of players in the American political game because they don’t have a great myth to offer. In fact, they’ve hardly got any good ones.
Political scientist David Ricci claims there’s not much progressives can do about it, precisely because they already have one very successful myth that prevents them -- oh, the irony! -- from taking the power of myths seriously. The progressive heritage, as he tells it, goes back to the eighteenth century Enlightenment, when the radicals of the day decided that fact and logic were the source of all truth and the only path to peace and freedom.
The Bible and all the other ancient tales bind us to the past, they argued. As a result, humanity was letting dead people lock us into the injustices that bred endless war and suffering. It was time to let human reason open up a better future.
If progressives believe they are myth-less, though, they’re blind to the one mythic plot they share with the rest of America: good against evil. Progressives act out that myth on the political battlefield every day, passionately fighting to defeat right-wing evildoers.
The problem is (and forgive me for repeating an old anti-left cliché of the 1960s, but it’s true here): the progressives’ political myth tells only what they’re against, not what they’re for.
In fact, deep down, most progressives do have a dim sense of their deepest principles: the Enlightenment ideals of peace, freedom, and equality based on the Romantic ideal of what Lakoff calls empathy, extended to all humanity and the biosphere as well.
But progressives don’t wrap their policy prescriptions in mythic language that says clearly, simply, and patriotically what they’re for. As a result, they can’t compete with the myth of national insecurity. They’ve got nothing to offer in its place, which is at least one reason why, despite growing opposition to the Afghan War, they can’t build a strong enough constituency to help -- or force -- Obama to end it.
All they can do is demand that he sacrifice his domestic agenda, and -- no small matter for any politician -- his second-term chances, on the altar of principle. As a result, they end up in a political never-never-land, which might feel good but isn’t going to save a single Afghan life.
No individual, much less a committee, can sit down and create a new myth. Myths grow organically from the life of a community. Progressives would find their myth emerging spontaneously if they just spent a lot more time thinking and talking about their most basic worldview and values, the underlying premises that lead them to hold their political positions with such passion.
A strong progressive myth could make it safer for a president to change course and perhaps save his presidency. Failure to stave off the bad guys destroyed Lyndon Johnson and gravely wounded George W. Bush. I suspect Obama would love to have a great progressive myth keep him from a similar fate. He won’t create it, but he’d probably be delighted to see it appear on the horizon.
Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of
Monsters To Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin
. To listen to Timothy MacBain's latest superb TomCast audio interview in which Chernus discusses “us versus them” and “us with them” myths, click here or, to download it to your iPod, here. He can be reached at Chernus@colorado.edu.
Copyright 2011 Ira Chernus
Image by The U.S. Army, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/18/2011 12:48:20 PM
Have more than thou showest,
Speak less than thou knowest,
Lend less than thou owest,
Ride more than thou goest,
Learn more than thou trowest,
Set less than thou throwest;
Leave thy drink and thy whore,
And keep in-a-door,
And thou shalt have more
Than two tens to a score.
No, these aren’t the sage words of David Axelrod, spoken in confidence to President Obama before he hashed out the details of his 2012 budget proposal. Sharp and cryptic, the passage is the utterance of a fool to Lear, the tragic old man of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Traditionally, fools occupied a privileged and important place in a royal court. With well-honed humor, a king’s fool could entertain, advise, criticize, and even ridicule His Majesty without (much) fear of violent backlash. “Laughter was the oil a jester used to slip inconvenient truths into the royal presence without offending it,” writes Jake Page for Notre Dame Magazine. Page argues that the trusted, irreverent wisdom of fools would just as well temper the whims of a modern ruler—like, say, the American president.
Many will likely interject, “But Obama already has a fool . . . that chucklehead at his right hand . . . that Joe Biden fella.” Those same people may be surprised to hear that Biden already has an official title, something nitpickers call a “vice president.” What disqualifies Biden as the Oval Office Fool is his career, his stake in American politics; unlike the vice president, fools are intrinsically outsiders. “Many court jesters did come from the ranks of the physically disabled and many were dwarfs,” writes Page. “Some were ‘naturals,’ people who were what we would call mentally challenged.”
But perhaps Obama already does have his own fool. Could the half-baked ramblings of Kanye West or the penetrating satire of Stephen Colbert count as modern day foolery? Probably not, as neither the rapper nor the comedian have unrestricted access to Obama. Page speculates that Reggie Love, the president’s “bodyman,” fulfills many of the criteria of a contemporary court jester: Love entertains Obama with daily basketball practice, prevents him from enacting some poor decisions (Page recounts a story in which “Love thought that Obama had eaten enough brownies, he snatched the rest away from the president”), and works outside of the political machine.
Hosting an unofficial fool is a good first step for any president, but Page calls for something more drastic: a minor restructuring of our democracy. He suggests,
there be an official position in the executive branch: the Presidential Court Jester. To insulate this office holder from being excluded just when he or she is most needed, the office should perhaps be considered a separate, fourth branch of the government, with rights of attendance to all presidential affairs guaranteed.
As laughable as this proposition may sound—just like the trenchant wit of a fool—there is a dark seriousness to it.
Source: Notre Dame Magazine
, licensed under
1/17/2011 12:21:51 PM
InThe Human Use of Human Beings:Cybernetics and Society, Norbert Wiener’s humane and prophetic examination of the effects of new technologies on culture, psychology, and human imagination and potential, Wiener offered up a thoroughly rational definition of equality: “By which what is just for A or B remains just when the positions of A and B are interchanged.”
Wiener’s book was first published in 1950, and later that same decade Martin Luther King, Jr. would begin to test the Missouri mathematician’s cool (and seemingly irrefutable) proposition against the more complex algebraic of America’s attitudes and public policy regarding race.
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.
--M.L.K., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” 1963,
Like many righteous outlaws, of course, King paid a steep price for the things he espoused and fought for, and though there are still, 50 years later, plenty of people who would qualify—and ignore—his legacy, King’s words (and deeds) still have the power to inspire. That they remain relevant and retain their urgency into the 21st century is both a tribute to the man and an indicator of how far we still have to go.
So on this national holiday that remains in some circles contentious, and that is unacknowledged in far too many others, it only seems fitting to spend a little time actually listening to and thinking about some of the things King said, wrote, and accomplished. With that in mind, here's a brief Martin Luther King Day sampler:
The I Have a Dream speech, from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.
Beyond Vietnam –A Time to Break Silence, a speech delivered on April 4, 1967 at the Riverside Church in New York.
A collection of King’s speeches –including his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance—in text form.
The King Center, established in 1968, provides a nice historical overview, and has a large photo and video archive.
It’s also worth digging into the essays of James Baldwin, a contemporary of Dr. King’s, where you’ll find plenty of lovely proofs of Norbert Wiener’s principle of equality. Like this: “Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated, and this was an immutable law.”
Finally, a few selections from the poetry of Langston Hughes: A Dream Deferred. The Negro Speaks of Rivers. And I Look at the World.
Source: Huffington Post, American Rhetoric, Poetry Foundation
1/14/2011 10:44:54 AM
The U.S. Supreme Court decided in the widely condemned Citizens United case that corporations enjoy the legal status of people—so a Florida woman is seeking the hand of a corporation in legal marriage.
Sarah “Echo” Steiner of Lake Worth, Florida, will hold a press conference on Saturday, January 22, to announce her search for a suitable corporate spouse, reports the Undernews blog of Sam Smith’s Progressive Review, citing a Facebook press release put out by Steiner.
Citizens United specifically recognized corporate personhood when it comes to political donations, but a host of observers worry that corporate rights are going to continue to creep into realms previously reserved for humans.
Steiner tells the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, which savvily points out that “the effort is something of a political stunt,” that she wants to draw attention to the one-year anniversary of Citizens United. She is a Green Party member who’s active in party politics—and of course, she’s single.
“I haven’t found the right man,” she tells the New Times, “but there are plenty of corporations out there.”
Steiner is going to look far and wide for Mr. Perfect Incorporated, telling the New Times that she has already rejected a single-proprietor video company from Ithaca, New York, as too small for her needs. If she finds the right match, of course, she’d have to convince local officials to fork over a marriage certificate—and they already told the New Times they wouldn’t do it. Oh, well. Gays have dealt with this sort of discrimination for years, and corporate America will simply have to build a movement to overcome the prejudice and ignorance. I imagine it can afford some pretty high-powered lawyers.
Steiner isn’t the first to send up Citizens United with a mock campaign. A corporation, Murray Hill Incorporated, is attempting to run for Congress. See the video here:
The Progressive Review
Broward-Palm Beach New Times
1/13/2011 11:26:21 AM
Former Governor Tim Pawlenty was on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart last night. Per Stewart’s request the two stayed clear of the current debate regarding civility in U.S. politics that has dominated the airwaves since last Saturday’s tragic shooting. Instead, the interview circled around one point that Pawlenty either simply did not understand or just refused to answer. Stewart posed the question of whether the Obama administration is fundamentally something different in terms of tyranny, as many on the right would have it. Or—given examples such as No Child Left Behind, enacted under the Bush II administration—is the rhetoric around Big Government simply a tool to fire up a voting bloc, administered when it is politically helpful and otherwise ignored when it would be hurtful. In other words, where’s the consistency? The former governor somehow gets out of the 20 minute interview without ever directly answering the question.
In regards to that discussion of civility that this interview managed to avoid, it’s worth taking a look back at Stewart’s speech at the end of his Rally to Restore Sanity late last year. Some, apparently, have been trying to talk about this for a while now.
Source: The Daily Show
1/10/2011 1:54:34 PM
In the aftermath of Saturday’s gruesome shooting spree in Tucson, people on both sides of the growing American political divide can try to backpedal all they want, but if ever there was a time to point fingers and ask tough questions about the tenor of our national “debate,” that time is now.
Yes, it takes a seriously disturbed individual to open fire on a crowd of innocent people, whether those people are schoolchildren, former co-workers, or merely random targets. You cannot, however, separate Jared Loughner’s actions from the political climate in which they occurred, and to pretend that the attempted (and explicitly planned) assassination attempt on a member of the United States Congress—an attempt that claimed the lives of six others, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge—was purely the act of an isolated madman operating in a moral vacuum is disingenuous, at best.
By now everyone’s heard about Sarah Palin’s disgraceful “target” map. Rational people might view that graphic as nothing more than a folksy way to mobilize campaign resources, but Palin—and the rest of her Tea Party cohort—surely know that there are an awful lot of irrational and disturbed people out there who may not necessarily understand the nuancesof such a subtle motivational tool. Nuances tend to elude the kind of people who might, say, carry guns to political rallies or, say, stomp a woman outside a Senatorial debate in Kentucky.
To say that such deeply angry and irrational people could not possibly be susceptible to deeply irrational rhetorical incitement from pundits and politicians is foolhardy. Gabrielle Giffords knew as much, and said last spring—referring explicitly to Palin’s map—“When people do that, they’ve got to realize that there are consequences to that action.”
There are consequences, and there will continue to be consequences, when, as Extra! magazine noted in its January issue, Fox pundits like Bill O’Reilly joke about “decapitating” newspaper editors and columnists (as he did in 2005, and again last year), or when Glenn Beck “jokes” about poisoning former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Or, for that matter, when Liz Trotta, yet another Fox contributor, “jokes” about assassinating President Obama. Funny stuff, I guess, if you’re a Beltway sophisticate of a certain political persuasion.
Not so funny, however, if you don’t quite get the joke, and really not funny when there are so many people out there who aren’t joking at all.
Source: Extra!, New York Times, Huffington Post, Media Matters
Image on the home page by Freedom To Marry, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/5/2011 10:31:51 AM
Today, as Republicans take their first majority in the House since 2006, surgeon, New Yorker writer, and author of The Checklist Manifesto, Dr. Atul Gawande was on Democracy Now! talking about the return of the term “Death Panels” to our country’s debate on health care reform. Gawande calls the use of that term in the discussion a “travesty” and says, “End-of-life discussions are not death panels, but you say it over and over again, you brand it over and over again, and you begin to define what the meaning is of a major policy that’s passed.”
Related: Read Gawande’s “Letting Go” in The New Yorker, where he addressed the question, “What should medicine do when it can’t save your life?”
1/4/2011 11:50:43 AM
With the near-biblical floods in Pakistan, a public health-care debacle that gridlocked Congress and the news media, Deepwater Horizon’s untimely tantrum, and the Bieber-Kanye-Gaga Trifecta of Pop Culture Doom, it’s a wonder humanity survived 2010. Admittedly, we’ve all had bad years. But—to say the least—the final 365 days of the past decade were not especially fortunate for the people of Earth.
Or, in the satiric words of The Miami Herald’s Dave Barry:
Let’s put things into perspective: 2010 was not the worst year ever. There have been MUCH worse years. For example, toward the end of the Cretaceous Period, the Earth was struck by an asteroid that wiped out 75 percent of all the species on the planet. Can we honestly say that we had a worse year than those species did? Yes we can, because they were not exposed to Jersey Shore.
So on second thought we see that this was, in fact, the worst year ever.
Barry’s hilarious, apocalyptic, month-by-month excoriation of the year that was 2010 will leave you breathless (from uncontrollable laughter) and dejected (from a freshly rekindled universal cynicism). Here are a few of Barry’s choicest dispatches-from-the-recent-past.
From July, on the once-trapped Chilean miners:
In the month’s most dramatic story, 33 copper miners in Chile are trapped 2,300 feet underground following a cave-in caused by a runaway Toyota Camry. The good news is that the men are still alive; the bad news is that the only drilling equipment capable of reaching them quickly belongs to BP. Informed of this, the men elect to stay down there for the time being.
From October, on the state of the Democratic Party:
President Obama, continuing his quest to find candidates willing to accept his help, winds up campaigning in what White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs describes as “some very key student-council races.” Meanwhile Sarah Palin, raising her stature as a potential 2012 GOP presidential contender, weighs in on the issues with a number of important tweets.
I could keep cherry-picking quotes from Barry’s essay, but I’d soon find the entire article copy-pasted into this post.
Good Riddance, 2010! Let 2011 be at least little more heartening!
Source: The Miami Herald
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