Monday, January 31, 2011

Packers: Stop your bickering and put the Steelers in their place

Over the weekend I overheard commentary concerning which NFL team was “America’s Team.” One commentator thought that the Dallas Cowboys were the fan favorite among NFL franchises, and two thought the Pittsburgh Steeler franchise was tops. Green Bay managed to make it into the top-five. I profess not to see the point in making such comparisons, because we’re dealing in different eras and different memories. The only two teams we should be talking about as the greatest franchises in NFL history are the Packers and the Chicago Bears, who have been the two constants since the league began, and are still 1-2 in the number of NFL championships won. Dallas, like the New York Yankees, is a team for the lame bandwagon crowd, for people in markets without teams to latch-on to so they can vicariously be attached to a perceived successful team; nobody wants to be associated with a “loser.” Of course, one loses the emotional highs and lows with a team that isn’t perpetually “relevant.” If you are a Brett Favre fan, you know these emotional swings all too well; last year, the mind-blowing high after his TD pass in the final seconds against San Francisco directly correlates to the primal scream low after his interception in the waning seconds of regulation against New Orleans in the NFC title game. This is what really makes the game special; that is why every year I can't wait for football season to start to put me out of my MLB and NBA snooze.

Since two of the three commentators chose the Steelers as the top NFL franchise, we should examine if that franchise really deserves this status. I think not. People born in the post-baby boom era seem to think so, meaning the merger era. These people seem to be oblivious to the fact that the Steelers were around long before they moved to the AFC. Back in 1933 they were known as the Pittsburgh Pirates before changing their name as not to be confused with the baseball team. For nearly forty years the Steelers were the perennial whipping-boy of the NFL; they did manage to make it to one “playoff” game during that span—losing 21-0 to the Philadelphia Eagles in a 1947 tie-breaker game to determine the eastern conference champion—but the team was better known for its incompetence, such as being the team that cut Johnny Unitas as a rookie in training camp (because he wasn’t “smart enough”). From 1933 to 1971, the Steelers had an overall .384 winning percentage; unlike other teams, it never had an “era” during that period where it won more games than it lost longer than two consecutive seasons. It wasn’t until 2002—70 seasons—before it won more games than it lost over the franchise’s history. And even in the merger era, it had its draught: 26 years passed between Super Bowl wins in 1980 and 2006. Every team has had its “draughts”—especially the Cowboys in the 1980s and 2000s. There is no such thing as a perpetually “dominant” or “relevant” franchise.

Why should the Packers and the Bears be given greater consideration as the most important franchises in NFL history? In the early years, the fledgling NFL had to fight to survive and earn “credibility.” The college game was considered superior to the motley professional game, and it wasn’t until the 1950s that the NFL champions achieved a clear advantage in the College All-Star game (discontinued after the weather-shortened 1976 game, won by Pittsburgh 24-0). It was the Packer and Bear franchises which alone survived and maintained continuity while other franchises came and went, or merged because of the lack of players; some teams even tried to illegally field high school players to fill rosters. Although the dramatic 1958 championship game between the Unitas-led Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants is often credited with giving professional football a higher profile, it was the dominance of the Lombardi Packers in the television age which gave the game a focus it hadn’t had before—greatness in the pro football game had been given a definition. Proof that pro football had a hold on the public imagination was further granted by the “Heidi Game,” when thousands of irate fans flooded NBC phone lines complaining of the network’s cutting away from the final minute of a 1968 contest between the “lowly” AFL’s Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets. While the opening credits of “Heidi” were airing, the Raiders were scoring two touchdowns in a nine-second span--after the Jets had “apparently” kicked a game-winning field goal; after the movie broadcast, NBC management felt compelled to issue an on-air apology to football fans.

Now, will Packer players stop their whiny bickering long enough to end this foolish talk about the Steelers being the “best” franchise?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Washington state joins "patriotic project" of "cleansing" country of "vermin"

I came across the following declaration while surfing the Internet recently:

“Cleansing the USA of diseased illegal vermin is a huge, patriotic project that SHOULD be unifying the Left and Right in the USA.”

This was not on a white supremacist or even a Tea Party website, but one of those Yahoo question and “best answer” pages; the question went something like this: “Who will we blame for the country’s problems when we can’t blame illegal aliens anymore?” Except for one or two who wanted to blame “liberals,” most of the responses seemed completely oblivious to the question.

The sentiment seems to be catching fire, with Arizona-style paranoia catching hold even in an alleged “blue” state like Washington—where Democrats in the state legislature are telling themselves “Hell, if it works for Republicans, it can work for us.” The Seattle Times reported on this the other day, Lou Dobbs-fashion. I always thought the wrong daily newspaper in Seattle folded; maybe people with an inordinate amount of swell-headedness confused the Seattle “Times” with the New York “Times.” Despite the fact that the Times print version has shrunk to little more than a scandal sheet largely dependent on their “network” partners for hard news, it has managed to survive, with local coverage largely pandering to (or attempting to) the right-wing and “populist” segment of its perceived audience; although Latinos represent 10 percent of the state’s population, they are largely ignored, because that would mean some consideration of their opinion on certain matters—such as the Times habit of pounding them into the ground with stories that “substantiate” the prevailing stereotypes and popular prejudices—things it avoids assiduously in regard to the black community.

And so the story in the Times on Thursday concerning the state legislature’s apparent “plan” to “fix” the state budget crisis by denying undocumented workers the ability to obtain a driver’s license, is in reality part of the cynical scapegoating theme based on unproven hysteria and very little common sense. But you’d never know by what the reporter chooses to report as “facts.” I actually expected a story like this from this reporter (who is black); I once or twice questioned her via e-mail concerning what I regarded as anti-Latino bias in her stories dealing with that demographic, and she revealed herself by regrettably falling into the black vs. brown trap. Between black and white is a hard place indeed. Mainstreaming hate against one group tends to legitimatize it against other groups down the road, but that's for another day. In Washington, Latinos have little political or social clout, so it is easy for cowardly, hypocritical politicians and media to pick on them.

According to the story, the driver’s licensing issue is partly about “national security,” and also about money: “‘Illegal aliens are able to obtain Washington driver's licenses and from there they can gain employment, public benefits and other taxpayer-funded benefits,’ said Craig Keller, who heads a group called Respect Washington, which is preparing to back an initiative for the sixth straight year to discourage illegal immigration in the state.”

The “national security” issue, of course, has little application to a Latino farm laborer, but a great deal to do with all of the terrorists in this country who were either U.S. citizens, legal residents or had come into the country with valid visas. And, as usual, the reporter and the Times refuse to talk to anyone who disputes the claims that undocumented workers are a drain on public services or—in the opinion of most economists—that immigrant labor has historically been necessary for the continued economic growth of the country; setting aside the question of being illegal or not for a moment, most of these people of working age are actually here to work, are consumers contributing to the economy, and pay the same sales and property taxes as everyone is required to do. It is not their fault that they can find work and while others whine and bellyache on the sofa that there are no jobs they are willing to do. Undocumented workers are also generally younger, and thus are less apt to use health care services. Study after study by non-partisan groups have revealed that undocumented workers use fewer services than legal residents, and their tax contributions outstrip the services they use. But this simply doesn’t play to the masses for any positive benefit for politicians, apparently of either party at least in this state.

"We are attracting a population to the state of Washington that distorts the state budget, makes teachers scream about overcrowded classrooms and absconds with congressional seats" the story goes on. A Pew Foundation study found that 62 percent of 643,000 Latinos in Washington state in 2008 were native-born citizens (I know, shocking), 47 percent are homeowners (meaning they pay property taxes), and all pay state sales taxes. They account for 14 percent of students in K-12. It is absurd to blame Washington’s multi-billion dollar deficits on the “Mexicans,” and if classrooms are over-crowded, it’s because 3,000 teachers are laid-off because of education budget cuts; “screaming" about kids says more, by the way, about the quality of teacher than the kids. The state and its voters blind refusal to cut tax exemptions or approve an income tax on the wealthy who pay a fraction of their income compared to what the poorest in the state pay comes closer to understanding the real problem in this state, not blaming undocumented workers.

Several months before the Tucson massacre, the Tucson Sentinel published an op-ed that decried the “emotionalism” that clouded the immigration debate. “History is full of appeals to fear, anger and prejudice that have poisoned public discourse, divided communities and fueled violence…emotionalism has not fared well among political philosophers. As one writer put it, emotion is often viewed by scholars as ‘mysterious, inarticulate, thoughtless, blind, impulsive, intractable, extreme, biased, and selfish’…Voting or otherwise acting on the basis of emotion has even been considered by some as a failure of true citizenship…This poses challenges in forming public policy, which typically arises within a framework of laws and procedures that rely heavily on pragmatism, reflection, compromise and the neutral evaluation of empirical data. Considered in this light, Arizonans' fixation on illegal immigration has been excessive. While undocumented immigrants do increase costs and service demands for the state's institutions, there seems little factual basis for blaming illegal immigration for all or even most of Arizona's woes.”
Whether-or-not rationality has come to Arizona after the massacre is uncertain, and even if it does, it will likely be but a brief respite.

The Sentinel went on to say that “Many undocumented Arizonans work — or did until the recession — and thus contribute to the state's economy through their labor, consumption and tax payments. The importation of Mexican laborers is a long-accepted practice in the United States, dating back at least to a 1909 agreement between President William H. Taft and Mexican President Porfirio Diaz.” The Sentinel also pointed out that effective policy-making is hampered by the anti-immigrant forces use of “faulty evidence, highly contested evidence or no evidence” at all. As for crime, “border officials and other law enforcement authorities have repeatedly stated that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants have no connection to drug smuggling and are not criminals; crime, in fact, has been dropping in Arizona.”

The right-wing libertarian Cato Institute, meanwhile, has pointed out that much of the labor that is seasonal and short-term is most efficiently filled by immigrant labor—provided that a common-sense work visa program is instituted, instead of the current non-functional one. One reason why we don’t have one is businesses and private persons were perfectly happy to have labor that seemed available whenever they needed it, so why change the law? Those who resent this ultimately have only themselves to blame, because they sit around waiting for jobs to come to them instead of taking the ones that are available—because they “don’t do that kind of work.”

If Arizona’s immigrant “problem” is greatly exaggerated, then what can we say about the “problem” in Washington? It is clear that both parties are beating on undocumented workers for cynical political purposes; even Democrats, frightened by the Tea Party “express” which will likely run out of steam given sufficient time to expose their empty--if bombastic--banality, are trying to attract that bigoted voting demographic, feeding its search for a minority group to scapegoat for the state’s self-induced problems. That these problems are entirely the fault of a gutless and incompetent state government backed by an equally blind electorate suggests that this state continues to be mired in the backwater “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” days.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Palin-Bachmann in 2012: bring 'em on

After President Obama’s State of the Union speech, CNN came under fire from some commentators for not just airing the official Republican response by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, but the “official” Tea Party” response given by Minnesota’s lunatic congressperson Michele Bachmann. Bachmann has been spouting the same simplistic nonsense well before there was a “Tea Party” movement, which only tells us that “Tea Party” right-wing extremism is as old as the hills these billies came down from. From what we saw from congressional Republicans these past two years, there is essentially no difference between “mainstream” Republicans and Tea Party Republicans; what difference there is seems to be that the latter have not sense enough to keep their silly mouths shut. Obama’s speech was of course subject to the latest media gimmick, the “factcheck”—which seems to have only been in use for the past year, and certainly seemed absent when George Bush was starting his Mideast adventures and judging the effect of his massive tax cuts; the use of this device seems easier to aim at people who are actually trying to put forth policies to fix the economy (Democrats) rather than those who are not offering anything of substance (Republicans). It would be interesting to see the media “factcheck” doing nothing, but that would require some work on their part, instead of relying on “facts” given to them by right-wing think tanks.

Anyways, the real reason why CNN deserves censure for airing Bachmann’s “response” is that she is for all intents and purposes an intolerant bigot who has little grip on reality. A few days ago she gave a speech in Iowa (not, of course, to test the waters for a potential presidential run against the “inadequate black man”) in which she spouted the usual simple-minded anti-tax propaganda and the budget deficit—which is a direct result of Bush’s tax policies and lack of regulatory restraint which failed to allow sufficient cushion to get the country out of its deepest recession since the Great Depression. And it isn’t just a federal problem. In the past two years for the first time in recent history, state government response to pain caused by the recession did not include increased spending, because of sharp revenue falls; instead, massive cuts that have going on for years before the recession are the order of the day—and states have become more dependent on federal assistance. Texas, for example, faces a shocking 25 percent short fall in revenues in the next two years because of its anti-tax policies; Molly Ivins called her state “ low-tax, low-service”—meaning that Texas depends on federal government assistant more than any other state to cover its own shortfalls, especially in health care.

But that’s all just more of the usual hypocrisy. While people are holding signs accusing Obama’s health care plan as creating “white slavery,” Bachmann was telling historical tales according to the right-wing, history-denying Texas Board of Education textbook:

"It didn't matter the color of their (immigrants) skin. It didn't matter their language. It didn't matter their economic status. It didn't matter whether they descended from nobility or whether they have a higher class or lower class. It made no difference. Once you got here, we were all the same. Isn't that remarkable?"

Tell that to Irish Catholics subjected to Know-Nothing Party paranoia, the Chinese subjected to “colored” laws in California, and the stereotypes and prejudices Latino immigrants have endured through-out this country’s history; try to tell them that being “brown” makes no “difference” the way you are treated in this country. It also “mattered” when this country first enacted the immigration quota law in 1924, to keep “illiterate,” “imbecilic” and “criminal” Eastern and Mediterranean Europeans from immigrating in large numbers.

Blacks, of course, were mainly involuntary immigrants, but what does that matter to a historically-illiterate congresswoman and her Tea Party audience? Bachmann went to say that the founding fathers “worked tirelessly” to end slavery, which, of course, ignores the fact that all the founding fathers were dead long before the Civil War; while many of the founding fathers did not like slavery, they never countenanced the idea of actually ending it—in fact it was written right into the Constitution to appease Southern slave-holders. Maybe John Quincy Adams didn’t like slavery, but that didn’t mean he opposed the “peculiar institution” wholesale; he didn’t want it expanding outward. Bachmann, like Sarah Palin, also seems to have similar problems with identifying who a “founding father” is; George Washington was not technically a part of the group that established the governing principles of the country, nor was Adams—although his father, John Adams, was.

Was Bachmann engaging in a sad effort to portray herself and the Tea Party movement as something other than intolerant bigots, especially in the wake of the Tucson massacre? If so, telling blatant feel-good falsehoods designed to obscure the history of discrimination in this country that has not really left us will only fool those who wish to be. Bachmann was subsequently the subject of much harsh criticism on MSNBC, but also by Anderson Cooper over on CNN; Cooper said that on CNN, “facts matter.” Like, since when? I’ll give Cooper some credit for taking on some real right-wing flakes on his show, but for his network in general, not a bit.

I found a recent study by the University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Sexuality about the content of Tea Party websites and their top-heaviness in non-race neutral subjects to be particularly useful in understanding the Tea Party “phenomenon.” For example, subjects dealing with “patriotism/take the country back”—code for white intolerance—is 10 percent of the content; attacks against the alleged “socialist” bogeyman—i.e. the “leveler” of society—is 23 percent of content. Personal attacks on Obama is 8 percent of content, attacks on immigrants is 6 percent, while overt racist commentary is 4 percent of content. Attacks on the media registered at 15 percent, and big government/states’ rights commentary came in with 14 percent. Interestingly, foreign policy issues register a meager 2 percent.

The “mainstream” conservative National Review’s content was examined, and 75 percent of its subject matter dealt in foreign policy, national security and governing issues. However, the content of Glenn Beck’s ranting was closer to the Tea Party’s—although his election year rants were heavier on “big government” and foreign policy than the Tea Party’s. The study also revealed the obvious: Tea Partiers were much more likely to believe that we have gone “too far” in trying to achieve racial equality and equal opportunity; in fact, only 31 percent of Tea Partiers who were part of the study thought that if everyone was treated equally, we’d have fewer problems in this country. Interestingly, only 37 percent of Tea Partiers, and 63 percent of all whites, thought that Obama was “intelligent.” The study also found that half of whites across the ideological spectrum—not just Tea Partiers—gave similarly middling marks to blacks and Latinos on such topics as intelligence, work ethic and “trustworthiness.” Interestingly, Tea Partiers were less to apt to be approving of their fellow whites than the whites as a whole, although we can assume this reflects their belief in the number of minorities, liberals and “socialists” in the country.

I must admit that given all this Tea Party hype, is there a chance that we'll see a Palin-Bachmann presidential ticket in 2012? Sure it's like having a root canal without anesthetic, but being a Democrat I kinda like the sound of it come 2012.

Google caves to industry pressure--sort of

Due to pressure from industry groups, Google has “secretly” installed a software filter that will prevent certain “keywords” from automatically displaying results via its “autocomplete” and “instant” search mechanisms. This step amounts to little more than a fig-leaf, since last summer Google won a court case brought by Viacom in which the search provider was found not responsible for removing copy-righted material from YouTube; if a person or company wanted copy-righted material removed from YouTube, they had to make a specific request in order that it be done. The search terms being filtered-out are ones that supposedly are used by entities involved in piracy and illegal downloads, such as upload/download sites like Rapidshare, Megaupload and Depositfiles, and torrent sites like Bit Torrent. Admittedly, the filter is far from completely effective, and is mainly aimed at “newbies” completely unfamiliar with internet downloading. For example, if someone who does not know what Rapidshare is, they will not come across the term “accidentally.” You would have to type in the entire word before any “instant” search results are listed. However, it is virtually impossible for any filter to prevent access to anything that is uploaded, short of destroying the Internet as an effective medium for communication and commerce altogether; the only way to effectively stop illegal downloads is to shutdown upload/download sites altogether, but new sites pop-up all the time, and sometimes based in countries that don’t respect copy-right law and are out of the reach of international law. Reality is tough to except, but there has been some effort to make such entities “pay sites” and advertisement-laden in order to reimburse owners of copy-rights.

The music industry claims it is losing millions or billions of dollars from pirating, which may or may not be literally true. I buy a song if I absolutely must have it (I certainly won’t buy a whole album unless it’s a “hits” compilation), but if it is something I can live without, I won’t bother; too much of new music does nothing for me, and I already have most of what I do like converted from old CDs. On the other hand, like my preference for paper-bound books over “e-books,” I’d much rather buy a clean, director-approved DVD than settle for an inferior download, "free" or not; the biggest problem I have with industry group bellyaching is that many “illegal” downloads are material that is impossible to find legally; for example, many films that have never been available on DVD (such as Looking For Mr. Goodbar, The Sterile Cuckoo and Lili) or have been discontinued can sometimes be found via torrent, although usually converted from old VHS tapes; I don’t have the time or patience to avail myself to torrent downloads, since it usually takes days or weeks for large files to download by this method—although unlike other download mechanisms, torrent downloads can be saved and resumed at anytime as long as there are peers and seeds online (or so I have read). In 2009, a Swedish court found the torrent provider The Pirate Bay guilty of allowing serial copy-right infringement, and four of its management team were each sentenced to one year in prison and $900,000 fines; the four were released after an appeal, but this past November a Swedish appeals court reduced the prison sentences but raised their liability. Meanwhile, the website continues to thumb its nose at authority, still conducting its business as usual.

It obviously will take a great deal of time before the Internet is completely tamed, and it may never be, short of eviscerating it to the point of rendering it useless. The genie is out of the bottle, and as the record industry has learned, it costs more to stop illegal downloading than regaining the revenue it believes it has lost because of it; all you have to do is look at the slim pickings on record shelves these day.

Police apologists cannot cover-up the tragic truth

There was a story on the front page of the Times on Monday and Tuesday about a shooting involving police at a local Walmart. Apparently an employee observed a heavy-set man in the parking lot carrying a handgun. She called police. After the police confronted the man in a designated smoking area, they escorted him to a police van; he broke away and ran toward a wooded area, with the police in chase. According to the initial report, the man—still running and not turning around—pulled out a gun and fired behind him without looking where he was shooting. The police returned fired, and the man fell dead. A young woman was seen running toward the felled-man, and she too was shot, falling dead near him. Two of the officers were said to be slightly wounded in the confrontation. Witnesses said that they heard one shot, followed by multiple shots fired in rapid succession. The newspaper accounts claim that police do not know who shot the young woman.

Now, a number of questions come at least to my mind:

1. The police were told he was armed. Why did they not confiscate the weapon, since they were arresting him anyways?

2. Why was the young woman shot?

3. What relation was she to the man? Husband, boyfriend, or father?

4. We can assume that the first shot was fired by the man. But “multiple” shots fired in rapid succession rather strongly suggests the police M.O.. How many shots were actually fired by the man, and was it by his weapon that the two officers were wounded?

5. Why are we asking such questions at all?

The answer to the question number five has been one that has long been suppressed by the majority of the public, and has come into sharper focus since the John T. Williams shooting; the word of police cannot be taken without a measure of dispute. No matter how hard the local media wants to spin the inquest results, for the first time in memory the majority of jurors did not find the shooting “justified.” Law enforcement suffered another bit of bad news with the $10 million settlement reached between King County and the family of Christopher Harris. In 2009, Harris received permanent brain damage after his head was violently shoved into brick wall by a King County Transit deputy outside a movie theater in Seattle; I’ve talked about the behavior of these deputies in a recent post, but I had forgotten about this incident. Harris had been mistakenly fingered by a witness as a suspect in an assault outside a convenience store. Apparently when Harris saw two men—deputies dressed in all-black “tactical” uniforms—yelling at him and running across the street toward him, he took off running. Harris stopped outside the theater, apparently believing that he would be “safe” from harm with so many people milling around; despite raising his arm in a gesture to stop, one of the deputies, Mathew Paul, practically dived toward Harris and rammed his head against the wall with shocking violence. Appearing oblivious to the Harris’ injuries, Paul dragged him away from the wall; Harris is obviously unconscious, yet the deputies on the scene seem to take turns shoving his prone body to and fro. The whole incident turns one’s stomach (unless, of course, you are a police apologist).

Meanwhile, some facts have trickled-out in regard to the Walmart shooting (although not necessarily the ones we were expecting). The man shot was Anthony Martinez, 31, who looks like one of those beefy biker dudes; he had been out on bail in Utah on a kidnapping charge after he and the "young woman" were found in California. The “young woman” turns out to be a thirteen-year-old girl, Astrid Valdivia--who was described as a "kidnap" victim, but in fact had run away from home to California with Martinez for reasons that were not immediately clear, but apparently had something to do with why she was subsequently put in a Utah foster care facility. According to initial local (meaning Washington) law enforcement reports, Martinez and Valdivia were described as “boyfriend and girlfriend,” and Martinez had “kidnapped” her, and he was being described as a “violent pedophile” by the media.

Martinez’ brother in Utah disputed this description, telling a Salt Lake City newspaper that Martinez had a relationship with the girl’s mother and had frequently baby-sit her children--that is until one day the husband that someone forgot to mention showed-up, and Martinez was instructed to hide in a closet, where he was found and an altercation took place; this was the "assault" charge on Martinez's record. Martinez also had apparently taken a “fatherly” shine to the girl who was described as “troubled” and “suicidal”--doubtless the reason why she wasn't returned immediately to her family after being found in California. This relationship would certainly explain the girl’s behavior after Martinez was shot; Utah authorities admitted that Valdivia had deliberately disabled her ankle monitor and packed all her belongings before escaping, indicating that this was not a “kidnapping” but entirely of her own intent. Of course, no one wants to believe this story, about a man who had a “good heart” according to his brother, and decided to commit “suicide by police” rather than go to prison. Tragically, the troubled, suicidal girl died as well.

What does the Seattle Times do? Instead of reporting this, it has a story about the handful of police that were shot on duty this past year; I’ve already talked about how despite the inherent danger of police work, law enforcement has only half the workplace fatality rate of the workforce as a whole. There is no disguising the fact that in a tragic world, the police often make it more so.

Monday, January 24, 2011

No "art" in the entertainment

MTV’s new show “Skins” has garnered a lot of adverse “attention” because it shows an “unusual” amount of “skin” for the “tweener” demographic. I don’t know what the show is about, and don’t care because I won’t be watching it anyway. But I’m not sure what the complainers are complaining about; anything “young person”-oriented on cable TV (meaning 16 to 25) has plenty of “skin,” certainly more than you see in “real life,” since these “reality” TV shows are conducted in a world that normal people are unfamiliar with. In any case, MTV and VH-1 have strayed so far from their roots that music video “DJs” have already become museum artifacts. There’s no music; in my John Lennon post, I noted my frustration with contemporary “hits” stations that play the same damn ten boring songs over, and over, and over again for years, it seems. MTV is wall-to-wall “reality” inanity, or insanity. I suppose they still play the music videos still being made, but I’ve never seen them; you are certainly more likely to see them somewhere on the web. VH-1 hasn’t featured the “classics” since the mid-1990s, and seems to have abandoned the music video format altogether as well. Of course, because there are far fewer “hit” songs being made, that also means that there are fewer videos being produced, and the videos that are being made are not particularly creative; MadTV’s parodies of contemporary videos were completely tasteless, and completely spot-on.

But MTV and VH-1’s abandonment of music is not anywhere near as horrendous as Arts & Entertainment’s abandonment of “art.” I recall back in the 1980’s when it was all about “art.” Much of the programming involved biographies, documentaries and British TV shows, but what I enjoyed most were drama productions like Leonard Nimoy’s “Vincent,” a one-man play on the life of Vincent Van Gogh, Tom Cole’s play “Medal of Honor Rag” starring Hector Elizondo and Damien Leake, about a psychiatrist trying to help a scarred Vietnam vet whose medal was both a “blessing” and a curse in his life, and the J.M. Synge play about escaping the dull, meaningless life, “Playboy of the Western World,” starring John Hurt (in Synge’s Ireland, a “playboy” was a trickster). Today, A&E’s programming is just more of those damned “reality” shows.

What does this say about the current state of society? A lack of imagination? A failure to discern great truths from great art—or rather a lack of tolerance or patience for the critical thinking required? A preference for observing the inanity of silly, self-absorbed people you can feel “superior” to? A constant stream of crime shows where “technical” dialogue is mistaken for intelligent or witty dialogue (where are you, Mannix?). Whatever. All I know is that when I want “entertainment” that is art, I won’t be looking on television for it.

Packers need to do more to end Steelers' "luck"

I’ve been listening with increasing frustration to national and local sports media commentary that seems to regard the Green Bay Packer’s victory over the Chicago Bears to advance to the Super Bowl as some kind of fluke. People like Freddie Coleman on ESPN was floored by the performance of Bears’ third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie, and “Softy” over at KJR was mightily impressed by the Bears “stout” defense after the Packers put 48 points on Atlanta the previous week—forgetting, of course, that both regular season games between the two teams were low-scoring affairs; the final regular season game was a 10-3 score, and the earlier 20-17 win by Chicago was due mainly to the fact that Green Bay had to overcome an inexplicable 18 penalties.

I don’t know what game the pundits were watching; for three quarters the Packers astonished by completely dominating the Bears on both sides of the ball. The problem was that this was not indicated on the scoreboard; in the first half the Packers passed-up two 52-yard field goal tries and punted, and in the third quarter, Aaron Rodgers threw a terrible interception on third-and-goal. Much has been made about Jake Cutler (of course he’s “aloof”—he attended Vanderbilt) sitting out in the second half, but the Packers smothered both Cutler and the Bears’ offense while he was in, and keeping him in with an injury would not have been much use to the Bears’ cause. Mike McCarthy seemed content to let his defense finish the job, which may explain his head-scratching play-calling in the fourth quarter, not helped by Rodgers’ by then strange ineffectiveness. Unfortunately, the defense became complacent facing a third-string quarterback, but reawakened at opportune moments to intercept two passes, one to the house that proved to be the winning margin. As one may recall, New England was supposed to beat the Packers in a rout with Matt Flynn filling-in for Rodgers; like the Patriots, the Packers underestimated the play-making ability of an unknown quantity. Although it was a close-run thing at the end, the real question following the game is whether the Packers can put together four quarters in a tight contest against a formidable team like Pittsburgh. What they’ve shown to this point is that they win by starting fast and hanging-on—unlike the New York Jets, who start slow and force the other team to hang-on. That won't be enough against the Steelers--and their "helpers."

Despite being a long-time Packer fan, it has taken me awhile to warm-up to Rodgers, but now that Brett Favre is definitely finished (I think), I can take a more even-headed approach to judging Favre’s replacement. Rodgers, when he’s on, looks like an “elite” quarterback—especially with one of the best crop of receivers in the league. But all too often he just looks “off,” and not necessarily against good defenses, such as in the game against Detroit. Some other impressions have not changed; Rodger’s goofy demeanor and apparent lack of seriousness suggests to me that he really doesn’t have that “killer” instinct when the game is on the line. Criticize Favre all you like, but you knew that every time he got the ball, anything was bound to happen; like last year against San Francisco and this year against Arizona (and nearly against the Packers in Lambeau), he might look pedestrian for 3 ½ quarters, but when the game was on the line, he would take control with a single-minded purpose and put the naysayers to shame. We can’t say that of Rodgers with the evidence he’s provided so far in his career, and he is no less prone to making head-scratching plays like throwing that pass to Brian Urlacher that surprised even him. But the undeniable fact is that the Packers are in the Super Bowl, despite their offense and defense taking an untimely snooze in the fourth quarter that nearly cost them the game. They did enough right to get them this far, but their next challenge will require certain "intangibles" that their opponent seems to possess at inopportune moments.

So what of their opponent, the Steelers? I must confess that I feel a great deal of antipathy toward them, although not as much as toward the Manning-led Colts. My bad feeling dates from the 2006 Super Bowl, when it seemed the officials were conspiring to hand them the game against the Seattle Seahawks. The second-quarter TD pass nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty was referred to as “ticky-tack” by a half-time commentator, and it certainly was compared to the non-calls we have seen recently. In the second half, John Madden strained to find the hold that nullified a pass play to the 2-yard line with the Seahawks down 14-10; a few plays later after an interception, Matt Hasselbeck was called for an “illegal block” even though it was obvious to everyone else that he was going for a tackle, giving the Steelers an even shorter field to score their final points. In the 2009 Super Bowl, the Steelers again benefited from questionable officiating; James Harrison—whose dirty hits this year became the subject of some controversy—should have been ejected from the game after a “play” so egregious and unwarranted that Madden was left wondering what the officials were thinking in allowing him to remain on the field. Harrison, still in the game, would later intercept a pass and take it in for a touchdown. The go-ahead touchdown in the waning moments should have been ruled incomplete; the toe of Santonio’s Holmes’ trailing foot was sitting on the ball of his lead foot as he went out-of-bounds: it never touched the ground. And then then there was the illegal celebration penalty that wasn’t called; had it been enforced, it might have been a manageable 30 yards that Kurt Warner would have needed to cover on the final play.

The Packers are currently 2-point favorites, which is highly debatable, but I desperately want them to end the Steeler’s phony “luck.”

Friday, January 21, 2011

Birk inquest findings more damning on second thought

At first blush, I was somewhat disturbed by the findings of the inquest in the killing of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams by Seattle police officer Ian Birk. Most of the questions were not surprisingly top-loaded in favor of police version of events, and only four of eight jurors agreed that Birk’s actions were ultimately unjustified. Bizarrely, seven jurors thought they heard Birk telling Williams to “come back to my location,” which is an odd way to interpret “hey, hey, hey”—not to mention that by “coming back to him” would have been interpreted by Birk as “threatening.” Five jurors thought that Williams’ upper body had not been “partially” turned toward Birk, yet in the very next breath those same jurors followed-up by stating Williams was in the process of turning toward Birk. Huh? The Seattle Weekly thought the inquest results were “mixed,” the Times thought the result was "divided," and KOMO’s white-bread commentator Ken Schram expressed the all too common attitude of white-bread people that innocent people dying at the hands of police is a “tragedy” rather than a crime.

But as I did initially, many people reached the wrong conclusion from what the jury actually said; a closer examination of the results suggest a very different meaning. Three jurors were apparently torn between their sympathy with police and the ugly truth that confronted them. Thus out of eight jurors, only one was certain that Birk had given Williams sufficient time to drop his knife before he fired the fatal shots. No juror would say that they believed Williams’ knife was open when Birk opened fire. And only one juror would say that they thought Williams posed an imminent threat to Birk. The answer was otherwise “no” or “unknown” to the key questions of justification.

Why is this significant? This is the first time that anyone around here can remember that more than one juror—let alone even one—gave the life of a victim of a police shooting any smidgen of consideration, certainly more than the officer in question did. On all other occasions, it is people like “Mom” in right-wing Bellevue finding it impossible to conceive any scenario where the victim of a police shooting isn’t guilty of “something.” But this case was different. One could not ignore the fact that Birk’s current version of events was different from the one he initially gave: That he saw Williams sitting on a wall with a knife, and when he confronted Williams, the latter jumped off the wall and advanced “menacingly” toward Birk with knife in hand. The alternate story (which Birk and his handlers were obliged to concoct because of the evidence of the police car dashcam gave the lie to the first one) could not be “credible” if it was not supported by another deception: That Williams had turned to face Birk, assumed a crouched position and menaced him with an open knife. While I’ve read several news stories that insist that Birk was the only “living” witness to events, this was of course not true; three witnesses testified at the inquest who flatly contradicted Birk’s story and stated that they did not observe Williams make any threatening gestures. The defense’s efforts to undermine witnesses’ testimony by suggesting that they had not kept their eyes on Williams at all times was merely pathetic. The coroner’s report seemed to offer a fig-leaf of “substance” to Birk’s claim that he had been “threatened”—one wound suggested that Williams’ arm was in a “raised” position—but could have easily been dismissed by acknowledging that four bullets had been fired, and that the alleged “raising” of the arm was a reflexive action in the midst of the shooting. And who did the shooting? That man in the courtroom with the wild-eyed look.

What happened here is quite simple. Williams, who employed himself (when not in a chronic state of inebriation) as a carver of miniature totem poles, was walking through a crosswalk where a police officer was waiting at a stop light. Williams seemed oblivious to everything around him, all his attention concentrated on his project; he never even implied a “threatening” gesture toward Birk, in fact it didn’t even appear that he wasn’t even aware there was a police car there. So why did Birk decide that Williams was a “threat?” Williams’ knife was legal, and he was obviously employing it in a manner that was only a threat to the piece of wood he was holding. Was it because Williams was a racial minority, and such people must have some criminal intent, and so they must be harassed or intimidated at every opportunity, and because society not only allows it, but demands it? Did Birk act on an instinctual impulse because Williams was a non-Asian minority? It is a matter certainly worth examining, given what we’ve learned about the thought-processes of police in their guild newspaper. It is also apparent that Williams did, in fact, respond to Birk’s “commands,” by closing his knife in an effort to remove it as a source of “threat.” The facts reveal that the few seconds that passed between Birk’s “drop the knife” and the gunshots was not sufficient for any normal person to convey a command from the brain to the body to perform any further action; Birk’s story also relies on the completely bogus assumption that Williams even had time to calculate an “attack” plan before (or between) command and shots. Birk, on the other hand, seems to have acted like an instinctive mad man, which is why he would be a danger to the public by putting him back on the street with a gun and badge. From the first moment to last, Birk was the only person in this incident who posed a threat to anyone.

The Weekly expressed the opinion that the finding of "unknown" could easily be translated into "reasonable doubt" in a jury trial, should city prosecutors take that route. Maybe a local trial would produce such a result; but as occurred in the matter of the hate crime murder of a Latino man in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, the federal courts are not adverse to indicting--and convicting--on civil rights charges. That Birk violated Williams' civil rights is much harder even for police apologists to ignore.

The Reagan "revolution": Watt-me-worry? Plenty

Passing by a newspaper stand, I observed one publication “celebrating” the 30th anniversary of the start of the “Reagan Revolution.” I experienced a large part of the “revolution” in the Army. I suppose from a certain perspective there was a revolution; a significant pay raise (it wasn’t hard to be “significant” given my $220 monthly private’s pay), and the awesome new gear that was being built for us to play with. The M60 tank looked so uncool next to the super-sleek West German Leopard 2; the new Abrams M-1 was a vast improvement, at least in style; the tank had been in development for years and had first been put into service a year before Ronald Reagan took office, but he managed to get the credit for that as well as other new weapons systems. He did spend lots of money on the military, because, he said, he wanted to restore pride in being a soldier. Geez, thanks Commander-in-Chief. Truth-to-tell, most soldiers were impressed with Reagan—at least relative to Jimmy Carter, whose effort to rescue the hostages in Tehran was a horrifying disaster. Reagan allegedly conspired an “October Surprise,” promising the Iranians arms in exchange for holding the hostages until after the 1980 election; there is no incontrovertible evidence to prove this, but the Iran-Contra scandal demonstrated that Reagan was not adverse to dealing with the Iranians in such a fashion.

At any rate, I had already soured on Reagan by the time I heard our black platoon sergeant sheepishly confess that he was voting for Walter Mondale in 1984, since most soldiers couldn’t understand why anyone would vote against our sugar-daddy—even if there were some questions regarding his age, the physical effects from the 1981 assassination attempt, and his mental firmness (I recall thinking that if he could string a coherent sentence together without a teleprompter during the first debate with Mondale, his re-election was a certain thing). But Reagan seemed to me someone who just didn’t give a damn about ordinary people; people who were poor were guilty of “envy” of the rich, and should accept their place in the world. This “place” would be all but assured by “trickledown economics,” one of the most monstrous fairy tales perpetrated on the country; perhaps more than any other reason this has been responsible for the ever widening income disparities in this country, and continues to be an example of how the Reagan “revolution” has become devolution. And then there were, of course, all those major scandals that seemed to plague the administration: The rigging of housing contracts in favor of Republican contributors which seemed to involve the entire HUD department, and the Savings and Loan scandal, brought about by an almost total lack of regulation—and referred to as "the largest and costliest venture in public misfeasance, malfeasance and larceny of all time” by economist John Kenneth Galbraith. Although Reagan was not accused of any criminal wrong-doing in Iran-Contra, Oliver North would later claim that Reagan knew “everything.”

But all that was in the future. For the present I watched with some amusement and bewilderment this character that Reagan had installed as Interior Secretary, James Watt. Watt had never held political office—meaning he hadn’t been trained in fooling the masses speech techniques—and had grown-up in a community that was referred to as being stuck in a 1890s time warp, and apparently never ventured far from his Wyoming stomping grounds. Like many in his home state, Watt had an “old west” view of the world, full of wide-open spaces that could be used and abused at will. Watt founded the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a law firm which claimed to be "dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government and economic freedom,” which is a benign way of saying it is a front group for anti-environmentalists opposed to every major environmental regulatory body or law; the Foundation also has found considerable time to dabble in anti-affirmative action and anti-voting rights cases. Watt’s environmental philosophy was little differentiated from what would become known as the “wise use” wing of the anti-environmental movement, which many critics claim uses “populist” rhetoric to garner support from rural people and private property owners, but is in reality a front for commercial and mining enterprises who want to exploit public lands indiscriminately. In her book “Divine Destruction,” journalist Stephenie Hendricks also charges that some “wise use” fanatics, calling themselves “Dominion Theologists,” are "biblical fundamentalists who believe exhausting natural resources will hasten the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.”

Not surprisingly, many people at the time expressed confusion and indignation that Reagan would have the gonads to offer-up an anti-conservation fanatic like Watt as Interior Secretary; if they knew who was going to tag along—Anne Gorsuch and Rita Lavelle—they’d probably would have had an aneurism or two. Unfortunately, the Republicans had a slight majority in the U.S. Senate, and Watt managed to squeak by in the confirmation proceedings. But it didn’t take long before Watt was making headlines for his inability to keep his mouth shut and for being a constant source of embarrassment for the administration. I recall an Oliphant cartoon showing Watt with a “Big Bertha” gun rolling out of his mouth on a rail; the gun barrel had exploded in his face. In regard to the responsibilities of his office, suffice it to say that Watt opposed and tried to declaw anything and everything that had to do with conservation, environmental and species protection. But there was more, a lot more to this fool who could not keep his mouth shut if his life depended on it. Among the “highlights” of Watt’s brief career as Interior Secretary:

* He claimed that the Beach Boys were unfit to appear on stage on the Capitol Mall during Fourth of July celebrations, and announced he was banning them from performing, since “rock bands” attracted the “wrong element.” This managed to embarrass even the president, and Nancy Reagan made a public apology to the band. Watt was presented with a plaster foot with a hole in it at a White House “ceremony.” Perhaps for effect, the foot should have been planted in Watt’s fundament.

* Watt was a Pentecostal, and naturally he never tired of alluding to the coming Endtime. He told a House panel "I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations.” On other occasions, Watt “suggested” that we didn’t need to protect and conserve the environment, apparently because the Lord wouldn’t consider such things as sufficient justification to delay the End. We might as well use-up the earth’s resource while we still have time.

* Pentecostals also have been known to speak in unrepressed, unintelligible “tongues,” which is supposed to indicate that they are awash with the Holy Spirit, or something. Unfortunately for Watt, his unrepressed tongue was all too intelligible. In keeping with the race-conscious “concerns” of his legal foundation, Watt could frequently be heard degrading minority groups. On one occasion, he compared the failure of Communism to Indian reservations; one wonders what he thinks now about the capitalist Indian casino enterprises that are raking-in money. But Watt got into real trouble when in 1983 he told a U.S. Chamber of Commerce audience that "I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent” on a coal-leasing panel—meant to be an “ironic” comment deriding affirmative action. Although Reagan probably shared similar views, to say so in such a reckless, insensitive manner probably was too much even for him given the Barnum and Bailey Circus that Interior had become in the public eye; soon after Watt’s comments were made public, he “voluntarily” resigned.

Watt’s stupid mouth hasn’t exactly stayed out of trouble since. In 1991 he told a Wyoming cattlemen’s association that "If the troubles from environmentalists cannot be solved in the jury box or at the ballot box, perhaps the cartridge box should be used." Sarah Palin would be proud. For anyone who claims that the Tea Party movement and its “Second Amendment” solutions is a “recent” phenomenon that doesn’t have roots in past extreme-right “movements,” this should dissuade such ignorant talk. In 1995, after a stint as a lobbyist in the late 1980s, Watt was the subject of federal grand jury indictments on perjury and obstruction charges involving the previously-mentioned HUD influence-peddling scandal; he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges that he withheld evidence, and received a wrist-slap as punishment.

While Watt was busy making the evening news, his henchpersons—EPA “administrator” Gorsuch and her deputy Lavelle—were busy doing the “dirty work,” cutting staff and replacing them with industry hacks, reducing funding, reducing claims against polluters, and reducing the effectiveness of the Clean Air and Water acts. Gorsuch also aroused the ire of Congress when she refused to hand over documents detailing the administration’s implementation of Super Fund projects. She resigned after she was forced to hand over the documents, which showed that the EPA not only was lackadaisical in initiating clean-up projects, but was even more so in forcing the polluters responsible for creating the toxic messes in the first place to reimburse the government for clean-up costs they were legally obligated to pay. The person who was “responsible” for “advancing” the administration’s Super Fund floppery, Lavelle, would soon be forced to resign herself; she would be convicted of perjury for making false statements in regard to her spending Super Fund monies on activities that seemed to have nothing to do with what they were intended for. Like the Big Boss, Lavelle wasn’t quite finished; in 2004 she was convicted and sentenced to federal prison for wire fraud and making false statements to the FBI. The case involved Lavelle and a partner using forged documents to charge a client for services (involving hazardous waste clean-up!) that were not in fact rendered.

The Reagan “revolution” was so in that it changed the economic, social and environmental priorities of the country—and almost wholly for the worse; even in its effort to create "smaller government," its tax philosophy only produced greater deficits and greater income disparity. We can see those changes easily enough in the economic and social sphere, but the disastrous impact of the “revolution” on environmental policy will take time to be fully appreciated by the public. And Watt’s “legacy” remains with us: His disciple, Gale Norton, became George W. Bush’s first Interior Secretary. Watt himself joyed over the fact that all his nefarious designs were finally coming to fruition after 20 years. After she resigned for “personal” reasons, Norton was replaced by Dirk Kempthorne, who may have been even more an anti-environment fanatic. He attempted to “sneak” through new regulations that further weakened environmental regulations in the waning days of the Bush administration, and during his tenure in office, it was reported that not one single species had been placed on the Endangered Species list—a “record.” Employees in the department also complained of “abusive” treatment from the department’s Bush appointees, like Julie MacDonald, probably because they wanted to do their jobs; after an investigation by the Inspector General during the course of which MacDonald was obliged to resign (sounds familiar), there was further found to be wastage of” hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars” on activities that basically were used to cover-up the management’s “misdeeds” rather than enforce environmental laws.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Palin still doesn't "get it"

Sarah Palin recently appeared on Fox News, given a friendly forum by Sean Hannity to explain—or rather, defend herself and attack the left at the same time. When asked what her thinking was upon learning of the Tucson massacre, Palin claimed that she wondered how evil a person had to be to do this. I frankly doubt this, or if she did, it was because she remembered her gun sight characterization of Gabrielle Giffords with the reload “metaphor,” and she feared the possibility that someone else would remember it as well. Palin came-off as excited, shrill, defensive and combative all at once during the course of the interview. While she mentioned other “unjustly” accused, like Rush Limbaugh and the tea party “patriots,” this was, as usual, all about herself. Palin has to be the most self-obsessed, self-important person in this entire country (Limbaugh is a close second). There was no self-examination, no stepping back to consider even the possibility of the impact of her violent rhetoric. For his part, Hannity complained about being labeled a “merchant of hate,” which is what he is. He once all but admitted that race-baiting radio host Bob Grant was his mentor; Grant, among other things, supported on-air the “philosophy” of the neo-Nazi group National Alliance, and insisted that the OKC bombing was the work of Muslims before the arrest of Timothy McVeigh. While Hannity constantly denounces “racism” allegedly perpetrated by minorities, he forgets to mention his former close ties with neo-Nazis like Hal Turner, and his litany of “guests” who espouse white supremacist views. So it is not surprising that in his book “Conservative Victory” Hannity makes totally baseless and outrageous claims as these:

“Obama and his party stand for America’s economic bankruptcy, virtual surrender in the war on terror, and a culture of death, from abortion to embryonic stem cell research to healthcare rationing tantamount to death panels. He stands for a comprehensive radicalization of our culture, from turning our schools over to homosexual activists, to undermining the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, to expanding the dependency classes. He stands for polarization and alienation between racial and ethnic groups, and between those of different economic circumstances. He stands for government swallowing the private sector and equalizing income and asset distribution; he may even use the courts, if he can pull it off, to impose what he and his fellow radicals call ‘economic justice,’ a grand-scale version of ‘spreading the wealth around.’”

If this isn't a sales job to the forces of hate, I don’t know what is.

Going back to Palin, when asked to explain her infamous “map,” she not surprisingly misrepresented it as completely benign and all in good fun, forgetting about the part where she advises people to “reload” on the targeted persons. She complained that the Democrats had not taken down their own maps of a similar nature, although the worst thing the Fox News crew could find was something that looked like bow-and-arrow targets on red states, but not on actual people, like Palin’s. She further demonstrated her habit of making baldly false assertions by claiming that Tucson shooter Jared Loughner was “left-leaning”; Loughner, in fact, was an aficionado of the declarations of the white-supremacist and anti-Semitic publication American Renaissance. Of course, the left hates her message (as do an increasing number in the center, if polls are to be believed) which she insists are “time-tested truths.” I suppose she means the tax-cutting that does not create jobs, or the “truth” that given unfettered deregulation, financial institutions would try to make ordinary people money instead of losing it all. Maybe she doesn’t even mean that; frankly, I think she would have a hard time explaining the simplistic clichés she routinely expectorates.

Palin also wouldn’t exactly say that she supported taking down websites with clearly violent imagery, and goes on to say suggest that she herself has been engaged in “peaceful” and “respectful” discourse and it is a lie to suggest otherwise. Palin is so hypocritical it is almost shockingly so. She, along with Hannity, Beck, Malkin and Limbaugh, are the last people who should be educating us on civil and respectful discourse; when asked if she would support not using violent rhetoric, Palin waffled, again defending it as a “time-honored” tradition. It simply boggles the mind how Palin will dissemble and deceive at any and all times; it is as if it is a congenital personality defect.

And then she has the absolute gall to quote Martin Luther King Jr. I wrote a post about how not only did Alaska’s Native population have a dim view of Palin as governor, but black leaders in the state were angered by her insistence on feeling no compulsion to hire blacks. The quote was “a lie cannot live,” meaning if there is no foundation of truth to a claim. No one actually said Palin or anyone other than Loughner pulled the trigger; they are saying that she and others contributed to an atmosphere of hate that made such an action more probable to occur. Palin, of course, is entirely in self-denial and self-pity; refusing to contemplate any scrutiny on the effect of violence-suggestive rhetoric has, she again launched into an irritatingly self-serving self-defense—completely oblivious to the fact that she had already promulgated several of her own lies in the space of a few minutes.

Palin never made any effort to even wonder if it was possible that a state where gun-rights fanatics and anti-immigrant fervor borders on the pathological may not be the right place to be putting gun sights on politicians. No, Palin only wants to protect her “career.” At least she had the honesty to admit that much. Her career will be “ruined” unless she “sheds light” on her version of the “truth.” She’s not going to “shut-up,” and neither are other fascist types like Limbaugh, Mark Levin and those tea party “patriots” with their “Second Amendment” solutions—such as the one Loughner utilized. The “republic” will be “destroyed” if Palin and others on the extremist right are “silenced.”

I rather beg to differ. If there is anything this country can benefit from, it’s fewer of these intolerant bigots.

More evidence that combat veterans were just points on a graph

A recent edition of USA Today detailed the disturbing story about how 35,000 “stop-loss” soldiers—more than half of those effected by the policy—have yet to receive the bonuses they had been promised when the Bush administration extended their enlistments to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan; the alleged reason for this was the Pentagon could not “locate” them. The odd part about this is why the soldiers were not paid their bonuses either during their involuntary extensions or upon completion of their extended enlistments. It is likely that the Pentagon didn’t want to “find” them, because it would save a considerable amount of money. But it is just another example of how the Bush administration and military commanders—outside the “hu-ah” chest-thumping—just saw soldiers as colored pins on a corkboard. We don’t need to rehash all the myths that were used to justify the deaths of over 4,000 U.S. service members in Iraq, or the countless number of Iraqi civilians; once U.S. troops leave Iraq for good, Muqtada al-Sadr—recently returned from Iran—will be free to re-deploy his Mahdi Army, with the help of his Shiite sympathizers in the Iraqi security forces, to cause more Iranian-inspired “mischief.” Then we can ask again “So why were we there?”

I can remember when I was in the service, people started counting down the days at the six-months left period. If you were between stations, the best place to be was between the place you were leaving and the place you were going. But for the “stop-loss” soldiers who had done their active duty time, life was about to become more dangerous—not to protect this country’s freedoms, but to restore the Bush’s “family honor.” The Bush people remembered how “easy” the Gulf War was, except that 500,000 troops were involved in that effort, which was extremely limited in its aims: Drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait, and weaken—but not destroy—Saddam Hussein, because a potential power vacuum could easily be filled by Iran. This time, Bush the Younger claimed to have something more ambitious in mind: He gave us the fairy-tale story that not only was he going to “win” the war—meaning ousting Saddam altogether—but occupy all of Iraq and remake the country, an effort that had last been attempted on a country this size since the Marshall Plan after World War II. Naturally, it was only a coincidence that Iraq was an oil-rich country that could benefit from friendly control. Unfortunately, because there was little support for this idea in the UN, far fewer troops would be available while simultaneously trying to flush out Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. U.S. troop strength has been in decline for decades in an effort to cut personnel costs, and military planners justified this by telling us that we could bomb the hell out of the enemy, and we only needed a token number of boots on the ground to “mop-up.” The problem with that theory is that it has never proved true over an extended period of time. But the Bush administration and Pentagon planners made a great many false assumptions about a country (Iraq) with a volatile of mix of groups who did not like each other and were itching to wreak vengeance on one other, as well as U.S. soldiers who got in the way. Given time, these people were not going to lay down and play nice while the U.S. was taking its sweet time “reconstructing” the country’s government and infrastructure—while just barely aware that the situation in Afghanistan was becoming increasingly out-of-control.

Of course, U.S. combat troops in general have had other problems besides being the victims of Bush’s fantasy about being great war leader (when not accused of being murderers and serial sexual assaulters by political advocacy groups and the media); besides many not receiving the pay, health and education benefits due them, an internal Defense Department study last year found that 20 percent of all soldiers—and a higher percent of combat veterans—were on various psychotropic drugs like antidepressants, antipsychotics and sedative hypnotics. Wounded or traumatized soldiers have been routinely sent back into combat, using anti-anxiety drugs like propranolol; doctors and mental health professional have been pressured to under-diagnose their patients in order to return them to combat. All this has either been swept under the rug or ignored when reporting on aberrant behavior by some upon their return from combat duty.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Police publication suggests that beat cops are too paranoid to moderate their abuses

sitting on a bench at the Convention Center bus station, and while I was waiting I had an unpleasant visit from a couple of King County Sheriff transit deputies on bicycles, who decided that two people warranted “The Stare.” One man who required “attention” was merely reading the bus schedules; the other man—me—was apparently “suspicious” because I was short and “ethnic.” One of the deputies disappeared around the corner; the other made a U-turn and gave me “The Stare” again. What an asshole: What is the purpose of such idiotic “techniques”—other than trying to induce a guiltily “furtive” movement that gives a cop an excuse to abuse his power—save make the officer look like a complete jerk and anger the target? I just glared at him stare-for-stare; discombobulated, he nodded his head like he was just trying to be “friendly,” you see. After he disappeared, me and this older black woman standing nearby had a laugh about how the police never seem to be around when something is really happening in the tunnel.

This experience, on a holiday that allegedly celebrates the common humanity of all people regardless of appearance, tells me that cops are probably far down the list of people who appreciate its meaning, let alone respect it. After many recent incidents in which police have been accused of getting their “kicks” out of kicking the bejesus out of “suspects” for no apparent reason save the “thrill” of it, SPD brass has been assuring the public that their beat officers are really “good” people, some of whom may need additional “training.” But it’s all a front that fools no one. At least one former federal attorney is calling for a probe of SPD tactics, and an article in a Seattle alternative weekly, The Stranger, recently offered a link on its website to a half-dozen articles contained in the otherwise secretive Guardian, a police guild publication written for and by cops, and not meant for the prying eyes of the public—and for good reason.

So what are cops thinking?

Decrying “socialism” and “bleeding hearts” over “alleged” police abuses are a typical refrain, and there is a great deal of self-pity all around. One officer states emphatically that there is an increase in “disrespect” for all authority; even teenagers will disrespect—and even strike!—a police officer. This “proves” that police occupy a position in the mind of the public little elevated than the janitor or security guard. If police really believe this, they only have themselves to blame, especially when this “disrespect” comes from people who have done nothing to warrant their harassing attention. Another complaint is that the city is trying to restrict “appropriate means of communications.” For some officers, this may mean a boot, fist or knocking someone’s head against a wall; for others, this means being able to be more “effective” by using “language” that he or she assumes is “appropriate” for certain racial groups. This means, of course, the “liberal” use of racial slurs or the supposed current cultural “lingo.” I remember a cop once referring to me as “homey.” I never heard that term in the neighborhoods where I grew-up (somewhat before my time anyways), and being college-educated, I was somewhat offended by what he was implying. One officer in the paper tried to explain how such terms as “bitch” and “mother-f**ker” could be used to achieve maximum result in dealing with people who could be complete strangers to them; there was no consideration to the fact that not all people would respond to such language in the same way.

One rather humorous article has an officer attempting to define such terms as “reality” and “ignorance.” Naturally, the police deal with “reality,” while the general public is “ignorant.” The problem with some officers is that their “reality” is based on ignorance; every racial or ethnic minority is, in their “reality,” the “enemy,” and even if they are not engaged in a criminal enterprise to make a living, they are still congenitally-wired to criminality and must be occasionally subjected to “intimidation” to keep them in line. This is ignorant thinking, and because many police use this thinking as the basis of their interactions with minorities, ignorance thus becomes “reality”—because of the way people would naturally react to such ignorance.

Another officer derided the concept of “de-escalation.” The problem is that police officers are usually guilty of escalating a situation when there was no need to escalate, save in the paranoid cop’s mind; the John T. Williams case is a classic example of this. It seems to me that some police have this need to intimidate like a playground bully, and when someone is not intimidated, they then have this need to enforce their will on the offender of their bullying sensibility. Amazingly, cops have this paranoia about being “assaulted,” even when the only person doing the assaulting is the cop. They make it sound as if they are always “assaulted.” This is mostly a load of garbage; recently I mentioned one of the incidents that have put the SPD in a bad light, where a gang of officers beat a “suspect” half to death in a precinct lobby for no apparent reason while other officers watched as if this was the common practice. Police say they will lose their “street cred” if they “de-escalate”—meaning the only “language” that“suspects”—usually minorities—understand is getting beat-on. This is what they call “serving the community.”

Another officer laments efforts to curb racial profiling by police. It might help, of course, if police didn’t assume that every minority is a potential criminal, or try to “intimidate” someone who is a minority who isn’t doing anything “suspicious,” like waiting at a bus stop. Nobody likes to be treated like a subhuman creature, but that is what many police officers do. These people just don’t “get it.” The cop making this complaint, a certain officer Pomper—who seems to be the principle offender of human decency in the Guardian—tells his fellows that they should be practicing “equal justice” rather than be forced to practice “social justice”; the problem is that cops usually spurn the former with just as much impunity as it derides the latter. Pomper claims that a change in the DWLS 3 procedure (driving with a suspended license)—that would require officers to submit their citations to the city attorney for review instead giving them directly to the courts for adjudication—amounts to “racial profiling” by the city, because minorities are more likely to receive DWLS citations. The fact is that police target the poor and minorities more than they do whites in nice cars—giving rise to the term “Driving while poor,” in which people least likely to afford the absurd rationales police often give for pulling people over (like driving over the “fog line” or not switching on turn signals fast enough); police frequently use these rationales when they go out on “fishing” for people who they “suspect” might be likely candidates for warrants or being a terrorist watch. The city found that many of these people who were repeatedly pulled over by police were given so many citations that they could not afford to pay them, and their licenses would be suspended because of this. The city wanted to institute a policy of re-licensing people whose only “crime” was their inability to pay these citations. But to officers like Pomper, this amounts to an accusation that police are not only engaged in racial profiling, but they are cavalierly making the lives of the poor worse off because of their prejudices.

So what have we learned about the police mentality, at least insofar as the officers who “contribute” the Guardian are concerned? They are paranoid, obviously. They have no respect for what the public regards as appropriate use of police power. And despite what the top brass tell us, their officers have no intention of moderating their behavior.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Republicans only know how to "preside"; Obama must govern

A recent issue of GQ magazine contained an interview with Jeff Bridges. I didn’t find it particularly enlightening, especially for an actor who has such politically-intriguing films to his credit such as Cutter’s Way, Winter Kills and Arlington Road—the kind of provocative subject matter that most actors with image issues stay away from, yet stay in memory long after one has forgotten last summer’s forgettable blockbuster. Did this choice of films reflect an appreciation of his late father’s experiences in the 1950s during the House Un-American Activities Committee investigations? Although Lloyd Bridges was not officially blacklisted for membership in the Actors Lab, which supposedly had members who were communists, he was “graylisted”—meaning that for a time major studios would refuse to employ him because of his alleged anti-American affiliations; later in life, he would be affiliated with the World Federalist movement, which envisions a “one-world” government that would be better equipped to tackle the various afflictions that are a consequence of human activity. It would have been interesting to hear the son’s reflections on the father’s political philosophy. Instead, the interviewer seemed more interesting in Jeff’s ’ “The Dude” persona, which I found rather corny to begin with.

But there was one interesting tidbit in the interview. Bridges gave George W. Bush a back-handed compliment, observing that even if his policies were of questionable worth, at least he had a comprehensible “vision”—unlike Al Gore or John Kerry, who Bridges regarded as “flip-floppers.” Bush never altered his vision, never admitted to mistakes: He was always “right.” Of course, it’s easy to be “right” if all you believe in is tax cuts, deregulation and invading other countries. But that is not governing; while Bush was busy playing armchair warrior, he didn’t seem much concerned about what was happening in the rest of the country. He gave kept the power elite happy by giving them huge tax cuts and keeping a blind eye to their vices, while leaving Karl Rove to handle potential troublemakers elsewhere. Republicans don’t govern—they “preside” as in over a plantation. As we saw in the handling of Hurricane Katrina, domestic crises are something Bush wasn’t very good at; such problems he passed on to Barack Obama—and the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats made sure it remained Obama’s “problem.” The GQ interviewer did nudge Bridges into offering a criticism of Obama, but he didn’t quite bite. He wouldn’t criticize Obama directly, but did say that although people should want the president to succeed—but if they so desire they can choose someone else in another two years.

That Bridges would not critique the rhetoric of the right and its total opposition to anything Obama wanted to accomplish is rather telling. I don’t know if he’s a closet Republican or is simply disappointed in Obama. But one must ask themselves how exactly did Obama disappoint them? Obama told you what he was going to do, and for the most part did exactly what he said he was going to do. You might have expected more, but given the almost complete opposition of the Republicans and their desire to destroy Obama at the cost of their credibility, expecting “more” was more than unrealistic. The reality is that the 111th Congress was one of the most productive in recent history, something the media would never tell you that; they were too busy giving fringe-right fanatics every opportunity to vent while utterly failing to analyze what they were really up to, failed to point out what good had been accomplished despite Republican obstructionism. That everything the Obama and the last session of Congress accomplished was hated by the Republicans should tell you that they must have done something right.

The fact is that Obama did most of what he promised to do—nothing more and nothing less. Yes, we were disappointed that there was no public option in the health care bill, and yes we were disappointed that he did not pull out of Afghanistan—but we already knew all of that going in, didn’t we? He told us that during the 2008 campaign. He promised health care reform, but not necessarily a public option: Check. He told us that he was going to shift military resources from Iraq to Afghanistan: Check. He told us he wanted a stimulus bill passed: Check. He told us that credit card reform was on the table: Check. He told us that us that we were going to have finance reform: Not what we really needed, but check nonetheless. He told us he was going to push a job-saving bailout for the domestic auto manufacturers: Check—and they are inching toward profitability again.

The problem, as must be pointed out again and again, is with people who were hearing things, or tried push their ideology on Obama, and with a media that allowed right-wing crackpots and teabaggers to define negatively his very real accomplishments. While the health care reform law was hardly the radical legislation the right made it out to be, the media in general refused to call Republicans to account to explain why they thought the various abuses by the insurance industry should not remedied. Today, Obama’s principle problem is the slow pace of employment growth, but unemployment has always taken time to rebound after a major recession; but given rising corporate profits and job-creation in overseas markets rather than domestically, what we did see in the past election cycle was the deliberate corporate interference in the legitimate political process at the expense of working people. Again, the media does not attempt to analyze this probability, merely repeating what their corporate paymasters tell them is allowable to say.

The “other” problem Obama has is simple: He’s a Democrat, and he’s black. For most whites, when you mix the two together, you get a threat to white “privilege.” Obama attempted to show that what he was doing would help all Americans, but many people were congenitally unable to believe that. They just saw a black bogeyman out to rob them. For many whites, there was nothing save turn Uncle Tom like Clarence Thomas that would satisfy them. If Obama was a white man, maybe more people would believe that he had everyone’s interests in mind. But when the right—with the aid of an unquestioning media—threw around terms like “communism” and “socialism” about, in the minds of many paranoids this meant “leveling” with other races—meaning, somehow, a lessening of the power of white privilege; that’s just the way these people think. The right knew how to take advantage of this paranoia for cynical political gain, and it didn’t help Obama that he was at the same time taking a battering from the progressive left for not pleasing them. As they say, Obama is between a rock and hard place: He tries to please everyone, and subsequently no one is “pleased.” Maybe that is the cost of governing, which as I said before, is something that Republicans are not particularly good at.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A lesson from the past

For me, the most fascinating--and appalling--"result" of the Tucson massacre is the right’s almost total lack of self-examination, the extreme-right media’s promise not to be “cowed” by criticism of its hate-filled harangues, and the political left’s apparent desire to avoid the appearance of “partisanship” by declining to discuss the implication that citizens must arm themselves against a government that seems only to be identified with Democrats. For at least a year we have been talking about the increasing stridency of the right’s anti-government, anti-immigrant rhetoric with its suggestion that violent action was needed; it was only a matter of time before some “nut” took the bait. Now that the inevitable has occurred in Tucson, as we all knew, deep down, would eventually happen, the victimizers and the victims have joined hands in “unity,” as if nothing really happened at all. While DHS and the FBI are busy setting-up minorities as “terrorists,” ignored is the fact that an unknown number of white “crazies” are lurking about, ready to respond like “patriotic” minutemen to the call to arms against the "enemy."

The ambiguous response to the meaning of the Tucson massacre, especially by the media that in large part contributed to the atmosphere of hate that permitted it, is instructive to the “natural” response of people most guilty to hide behind the conceit of “plausible deniability,” and their neighbors turning a blind eye to their crimes, because they know that in their silence they were equally as culpable. Only the man who pulled the trigger is guilty; those who propelled him forward in his evil design with their hate propaganda hypocritically join in his denouncement. Having done so, the act is soon to be forgotten. We have seen this kind of denial before: By the Germans and particularly the Japanese following World War II. In France, a scene in the film “Night and Fog” that showed Frenchmen guarding a Jewish deportation camp was forced by censors to be partially disguised so that France would not be embarrassed by the suggestion of collaboration. The 1988 Oscar-winning documentary “Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie” was recently released on DVD—detailing the long and winding road that eventually led to the arrest and trial of the “Butcher of Lyon”—and showed that there were many hands in the denial of criminal acts phase.

As an SS officer and head of the Gestapo office in Lyon, Barbie was accused of personally engaging in torture, and was responsible for the deaths of 4,000 people, including French resistance leader Jean Moulin and 44 Jewish children from an orphanage in the town of Izlieu. The film is over-long and sometimes ponderous, but this is more the fault of the complexity of the case and the effort it took to unravel the truth from some witnesses. Director and chief interviewer Marcel Ophul at times seems like Michael Moore without the showmanship, but he doesn’t allow personal politics to intrude on the proceedings: There seems to be more interviewees sympathetic to Barbie or who simply wanted to let the past die than there were those who wanted to see him pay for his crimes--mainly his victims. 40 years after the end of World War II, the French were ambiguous about Barbie’s arrest and trial. One man in a Lyon pool hall said he didn’t see the point after all these years; besides, he didn’t know anyone who was a victim of Barbie. In Germany, old farmers whose children attended the school where Barbie’s father taught fondly remembered him as “Sonny.” Others remembered him as “intelligent,” “popular” and a “devout Catholic.” Some thought he would become a teacher like his father; others thought he wanted to become a priest. An American officer in the Counter Intelligence Corps who handled Barbie after the war judged him a “professional” who did his job without resorting violence.

But others had a different opinion. Those who had personal contact with Barbie in Lyon testified that far from being the calm professional, he could erupt in screaming fits, beat and kick prisoners in his charge at any moment. One Jewish victim testified that as a girl, Barbie wrapped her hair in his hand and tried to yank it out when she could not tell him where her brother and sister could be found. Another reported that Barbie had constructed a torture chamber which he showed to prisoners in order to convince them to “cooperate”; when they didn’t, they would be placed in spiked manacles and lifted in a harness, or subjected to water torture. A French policeman admitted that screams could be frequently heard from one of Barbie’s prisons that had not been sound-proofed, but he otherwise had no opinion on what was going on there. One woman testified that her father died after his skin was tore off, and dunked in boiling water. Barbie was also said to wander around prison basements where prisoners were lying on the floor; if he saw someone he thought was a Jew, he would try to crush his face with his boot.

These barbarities did not prevent collaboration between some French and the German occupiers in Lyon, and remains a sore spot for the memory of many. French police did cooperate with the Gestapo, and ordinary citizens did inform on each other, especially on Jews. Even the resistance movement was rife with betrayal, often because some members were accused of being communists. Resistance member Rene Hardy, who has been fingered as the man who betrayed Jean Moulin to the Germans, was interviewed in the film and denied the charge, blaming in turn communists or resistance members who liked to brag out loud about what their activities. But Barbie would later implicate Hardy, confessing that he had indeed been “turned.” A Frenchman nicknamed “Rubberface”—because of his misshapen face—took out his frustrations on fellow French by joining the collaborators, aiding the Germans in torturing prisoners. At his trial in 1987, Barbie’s lawyer made much of the fact that French hands were far from clean.

Few Germans interviewed for the film seemed willing to talk (particularly on camera) about Barbie, or when they did, they denied they suspected anything amiss either in his character, or that they knew of any atrocities he had committed. When a woman was asked if she knew that her neighbor, a certain Herr Bartelmus, was Barbie’s deputy and had been sentenced to prison for crimes against humanity, she professed no interest: Old people should be left in peace—let the past die. This seemed to be the attitude of many Germans who were adults in that period. In fact both French and Germans repeatedly asked the filmmakers why after 40 years, people were still harping on this “Barbie business.” A German journalist pointed out that it was easier to get Germans angry about the destruction of 6 million trees than six million Jews. In the early 1970s, a German court refused to bring charges against Barbie in absentia, for the reason that he could not have known that the Jews he was gathering-up and sending to the Drancy holding station would soon be on their way to places like Auschwitz; papers that were introduced into evidence at Barbie's trial would suggest otherwise.

After the war, Barbie was number three on the American’s list for wanted SS men. “Operation Selection Board” was supposed to uncover Nazis like Barbie hiding underground, but somehow he escaped; the operation was so transparent and incompetent that one American agent interviewed likened it to the Keystone Cops. Barbie also managed to slip through “Operation Paper Clip,” which was supposed to arrest former Gestapo agents. Barbie, in fact, was wanted by the Americans—but to employ him, not to arrest him. Barbie’s successes in Lyon against the French resistance would seem to come in handy against communist agitators, and the Americans believed Barbie’s story that he had undercover contacts from Lisbon to Moscow. The paranoia about communists pouring into the West should not be underestimated; Gen. George Patton was reprimanded for suggesting openly that instead of imprisoning Nazis, they should be re-armed and join American forces to drive the Russians out of Eastern Europe. Many right-wing Germans and Nazis expressed surprise that the Americans did not want to help them “finish the job” against the Russians. One SS officer claimed the West owed them a debt because the Russians would have reached the English Channel if not for SS army units; regular German army commanders, however, saw them as incompetent and uncooperative.

American agents in the Counter Intelligence Corps who employed Barbie in Germany did not seem to show much interest in his crimes in France; he seemed to be a “professional” as well as anti-Communist, which was sufficient for to judge him “useful.” At the first trial of Rene Hardy for treason in the arrest and murder of Moulin, the French requested Barbie’s extradition, but the Americans couldn’t “find” him, because they thought that French intelligence was shot-through with communist sympathizers, and they would attempt to extract information from Barbie about their moles and spies. As the Allied occupation was winding down, something had to be done to show gratitude to Nazis in their employ, and Barbie thus was permitted to make his escape via the “ratline,” such as that run by a German Catholic bishop named Alois Hudal, who helped many Nazis like Barbie to escape to Argentina using the communist-fearing Vatican’s influence with the International Red Cross--and, of course, supplying forged documentation; another “ratline” aided Croatian fascist Ustashe war criminals—whose barbarities sometimes exceeded that of the Nazis. Argentine president Juan Peron actively aided in this operation, apparently because of a self-conscious attitude about his own dictatorship while seeing Nazis being tried and in some cases executed for various crimes. From Argentina, Barbie landed in Bolivia, where he was found useful by that country’s military dictators; Barbie was said to use his various expertise in torture and undermining resistance movements to aid the government. It was also claimed that Barbie helped CIA operatives to devise the assassination of Che Guevara.

Why was Barbie allowed to live a free man in South America for over thirty years? Apparently because he was a “nice” man, according to practically every public official who was questioned. Although Barbie lived under the name “Kaltman,” it was no secret as to his true identity; French diplomats certainly knew who he was, but they were not given instructions to seek his extradition. He may never have been called to account had it not been for the Klarsfelds, the Nazi hunters who refused to let his crimes be forgotten. With the downfall of Bolivia’s military regime and civilian rule in place, Barbie was finally arrested. There was still some resistance to extradition in France, because people were afraid of what he would say about French collaboration, and the French had to find some reason to get sufficiently pumped about a trial against a man whose principle victims were Jews and Gypsies; however, the memory of Barbie’s role in the murder of Moulin and other resistance fighters allowed the French sufficient propaganda value to overshadow the collaborationist aspect.

Barbie’s lawyer, Verges, was a well-known leftist as well as a Eurasian. He at first tried to portray the French as equally guilty of crimes against humanity during the colonial period, but after Barbie’s conviction made an about-face and declared the trial an unfair indictment on the honor of France. One young Frenchman expressed surprise that a man of Asian extraction could defend a mass killer who would have had no qualms about having him killed merely because of his race.

The lesson here was lost on Ronald Reagan. On a state visit to West Germany, he refused to visit a concentration camp, because he didn’t want to “reawaken the passions of the times.” But he did visit the Bitburg military cemetery, which included members of the Waffen-SS. Reagan would excuse his blunder by claiming that the SS members were merely young lads duped by the Nazis. In the more recent past, terms and depictions are used to describe Latino immigrants that the Nazis would have appreciated. The atmosphere of manufactured hate allowed recent racially-motivated murders to occur in Baltimore, Long Island and in Arizona, where the Maricopa County Attorney’s office charged a man with a hate crime for killing a third-generation American of Mexican descent and shooting his brother—telling him to “hurry-up and go back to Mexico.” In Auburn, Washington, a man was charged with a hate crime after threatening to shoot three Latino neighbors after they asked him to turn down his music; they were “disrespecting him in his own country.” And then there is the Shenandoah, PA case, where local officials created an atmosphere of anti-Latino hate and the local police enforced an environment of fear among Latino residents. Three police officers—including the police chief—are currently facing federal civil rights charges for their part in the murder of a Latino immigrant; the killers themselves--convicted in the federal trial--had been acquitted in the local trial, apparently because they were "nice boys."

No one wants to admit that the constant barrage of anti-Latino propaganda and imagery by right-wing (and “populist”) politicians and media has anything to do with this; negative stereotypes are rationalized as “group” traits rather than individual traits--hence even acts most people would cringe at are "justified" and blotted-out from the collective conscious. One may recall an incident several years ago in a suburb of Houston; at a party, two neo-Nazi skinheads in attendance thought a Latino teenager--a special ed student--was trying to kiss a girl they thought was white. They dragged him outside, kicked him unconscious, stripped-off his clothes, burned his skin with cigarettes, used a knife to scrawl a racial slur on his chest, took a lawn umbrella pole and thrust it into his rectum--in the process mangling several of his internal organs--and to "hide" the evidence, poured bleach outside and inside his body. The teen was left outside in this condition for hours until discovered in the morning; he would survive, but with permanent internal damage. The Seattle Times published a brief paragraph of the crime, but the only "detail" they left in was that the victim tried to kiss a girl--making it appear that the attack was "justified." I wrote to an editor asking why they left out the gruesome parts; he responded by saying that the paper didn't want to "revolt" readers.

In the meantime, the Tucson massacre should not be forgotten, and should always be pointed to as an example of the consequences of irresponsible hate speech. It should be easy; after all, the principle target in this case was a white woman.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In the aftermath of shooting, still no evidence of self-examination by the right

In the aftermath of the Tucson massacre, what does right-wing hate talk radio have to say for itself? Not much, if a casual scan of the AM dial on Monday was any example. I listened with a certain degree of incredulity as one right-wing host seemed to suggest that Barack Obama’s “combative” rhetoric was to blame, while another suggested that listeners of a mind to do so ought not jump to the conclusion that Obama and the Democrats were responsible for creating the climate of violence that led to the shooting. Outside of local conservative commentator John Carlson, there was no discussion about what role the over-heated pro-gun rhetoric had in the shooting, let alone the anti-government propaganda that targeted Democrats almost exclusively.

In the evening I heard right-wing academic John Lott arguing that the shooting would have been prevented if everyone in attendance was packing a gun; he was a guest on “Coast to Coast,” a radio program that gained notoriety when hosted by Art Bell, and now hosted by George Noory—who when not providing a criticism-free setting for conspiracy theories, paranormal, spirituality and UFOs, supplies a forum for often extreme-right ideology. Some of Lott’s arguments were quite bizarre and tainted with hypocrisy; many gun-rights advocates are paranoid, racist whites, but Lott tried to twist the issue away from right-wing extremism by claiming the people who most need had guns are inner city blacks who are often the victims of crime; I doubt that most people concerned with inner-city crime and violence believe that more guns are the answer. I’ve never owned a gun and don’t plan to; my own feeling is that guns cause more trouble than they prevent. The Tucson shooting could have been prevented not by a people who thought that a routine meet-and-greet was a get-together at the target range, but merely by the presence of a police officer.

Tucson shooter Jared Loughner, whose smirking mug shot reminds one of a shaven-haired Charles Manson, apparently had a fixation on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords since 2007, but one must remember that it wasn’t until almost four years later that he decided that the time was “appropriate” for taking her out—and two years of some of the most violence-suggestive and racially vitriolic rhetoric from the right heard in many decades, made more palpable by anger at the election of a black president in certain extreme quarters. Loughner’s simplistic political ideas (How is one supposed to supply a rational answer to an absurd query like “What is government if words have no meaning?”) and the typical anti-government fanatic’s fixation on Democrats is a “mental illness” that many people seem to suffer from; it must be pointed out again and again the need to recognize that there are “crazies” out there, and there must be some recognition from the right that their hate-inducing rhetoric does have consequences.

This message is not getting across, if Sarah Palin is any example. She claims it is “blood libel” to suggest that the “political climate” she helped foster had anything to do with the shooting; Palin’s ignorance is once more exposed by her use of the term “blood libel,” which refers to the ancient belief that Jews engaged in blood sacrifices of Christian children. Palin’s Facebook page carries a video attacking her critics, but she fails to express any personal responsibility or acknowledgement of the possibility that her violent rhetoric or use of gun target “metaphors” might be taken too seriously by some of her listeners. This is not an issue about whether one “agrees” with Palin on the “issues” or not; Palin’s grasp of the issues is only fit for people who view the world in paranoid clichés. This is about the use of rhetoric that heightens the atmosphere of hate and the “suggestion” that only people packing guns have the capability of setting the country “straight.”

Palin is hardly the only person who uses such subliminal messaging that can be easily “misunderstood” by the wrong people; but given the expected denials of responsibility, the question now is whether people like Palin, Michael (Weiner) Savage and Glenn Beck will conduct some self-examination and moderate their tongues, just as Art Bell decided to avoid inflammatory topics like gun rights following the Oklahoma City bombing, realizing that the wild anti-government conspiracy theories that he gave a forum for on "Coast to Coast" may have had a role in fostering an atmosphere of unwarranted fear and paranoia; of course, there are "alternative" sources for the paranoid mind in search of "proof," such as on Tea Party libertarian Jesse Ventura's TruTV show "Conspiracy Theory." The elites buying up the Great Lakes to control the nation's water supply, the CIA conducting experiments to turn citizens into assassins, internment camps for citizens deemed threats, biological weapons research that could poison the country's food supply--some people don't necessarily believe this is merely "entertainment."

Given the lack of coherent reasoning in their thought processes of the right, it seems unlikely that Bell's example will be followed. Even now, right-wing hate-monger Michelle Malkin is telling her readers not to be “cowed into silence” by the left, referring to the violent rhetoric of the right as merely “peaceful” and “vigorous," while Rush Limbaugh continues to implicate a "majority" of Americans as supporters of the kind of right-wing hate talk that created the atmosphere within which something like the Tucson massacre could occur. Republicans continue to insist on "business as usual" in the current tenor of their propaganda. In other words, nothing was learned.