Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I Stand Against The Death Penalty Because ...

it dehumanizes the condemned and condemners, fosters rather than abates violence, and is inherently arbitrary, discriminatory and unreliable.

As described in the New York Times, photographer Marc Asnin asked his fellow photographers to upload self-portraits with a caption of 140 characters or fewer describing why they oppose capital punishment.  The result is a powerful combination of pictures and words that convey the myriad reasons the death penalty is so abhorrent. 

With this inspiration, I decided to join the effort.  Here's the link to add your own selfie against the death penalty and to support this project.

Friday, October 10, 2014

America's Soundtrack of Hysteria

Guest Post by Tom Engelhardt

It happened so fast that, at first, I didn’t even take it in.
Two Saturdays ago, a friend and I were heading into the Phillips Museum in Washington, D.C., to catch a show of neo-Impressionist art when we ran into someone he knew, heading out.  I was introduced and the usual chitchat ensued.  At some point, she asked me, “Do you live here?”
“No,” I replied, “I’m from New York.”

She smiled, responded that it, too, was a fine place to live, then hesitated just a beat before adding in a quiet, friendly voice: “Given ISIS, maybe neither city is such a great place to be right now.”  Goodbyes were promptly said and we entered the museum.
All of this passed so quickly that I didn’t begin rolling her comment around in my head until we were looking at the sublime pointillist paintings of Georges Seurat and his associates. Only then did I think: ISIS, a danger in New York?  ISIS, a danger in Washington?  And I had the urge to bolt down the stairs, catch up to her, and say: whatever you do, don’t step off the curb.  That’s where danger lies in American life.  ISIS, not so much.
 
The Terrorists Have Our Number

I have no idea what provoked her comment. Maybe she was thinking about a story that had broken just two days earlier, topping the primetime TV news and hitting the front pages of newspapers.  On a visit to the Big Apple, the new Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, claimed that his intelligence services had uncovered a plot by militants of the Islamic State (IS, aka ISIS or ISIL), the extremists of the new caliphate that had gobbled up part of his country, against the subway systems of Paris, New York, and possibly other U.S. cities.

I had watched Brian Williams report that story on NBC in the usual breathless fashion, along with denials from American intelligence that there was any evidence of such a plot.  I had noted as well that police patrols on my hometown’s subways were nonetheless quickly reinforced, with extra contingents of bomb-sniffing dogs and surveillance teams.  Within a day, the leading officials of my state, Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, were denying that they had any information on such a plot, but also taking very public rides on the city’s subways to “reassure” us all.  The threat didn’t exist, but was also well in hand!  I have to admit that, to me, it all seemed almost comic.

In the meantime, the background noise of the last 13 years played on.  Inside the American Terrordome, the chorus of hysteria-purveyors, Republican and Democrat alike, nattered on, as had been true for weeks, about the "direct," not to say apocalyptic, threat the Islamic State and its caliph posed to the American way of life.  These included Senator Lindsey Graham (“This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed here at home"); Majority Leader John Boehner, who insisted that we should consider putting American boots on Iraqi and perhaps even Syrian ground soon, since “they intend to kill us”; Senator Dianne Feinstein, who swore that “the threat ISIS poses cannot be overstated”; Senator Bill Nelson, who commented that “it ought to be pretty clear when they... say they’re going to fly the black flag of ISIS over the White House that ISIS is a clear and present danger.” And a chorus of officials, named and anonymous, warning that the terror danger to the country was “imminent,” while the usual set of pundits chirped away about the potential destruction of our way of life.

The media, of course, continued to report it all with a kind of eyeball-gluing glee.  The result by the time I met that woman: 71% of Americans believed ISIS had nothing short of sleeper cells in the U.S. (shades of “Homeland”!) and at least the same percentage, if not more (depending on which poll you read), were ready to back a full-scale bombing campaign, promptly launched by the Obama administration, against the group.

If, however, you took a step out of the overwrought American universe of terror threats for 30 seconds, it couldn’t have been clearer that everyone in the grim netherworld of the Middle East now seemed to have our number.  The beheading videos of the Islamic State had clearly been meant to cause hysteria on the cheap in this country -- and they worked.  Those first two videos somehow committed us to a war now predicted to last for years, and a never-ending bombing campaign that we know perfectly well will establish the global credentials of the Islamic State and its mad caliph in jihadist circles.  (In fact, the evidence is already in.  From North Africa to Afghanistan to Pakistan, the group is suddenly a brand name, its black flag something to hoist, and its style of beheading something to be imitated.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Do Not Vote Republican

It is not true that all politics is local.  Voting for a Republican congressperson or senator means you are aiding and abetting a national party that is little more than a collection of far right wing lunatics who don't believe in man-made climate change (much less in mitigating it), the minimum wage (much less in increasing it), recklessness of Wall Street (much less in regulating it), immigration by people of color (much less in reforming it), gun control (much less in legislating it), or a woman's right to her own choice (not only to terminate a pregnancy but to use birth control).

The first one -- climate change -- should be enough to disqualify anyone from office.  It is the single most critical issue of our time and you can't find one Republican candidate who is not only willing to proffer a solution but who is willing to admit the problem even exists.  A recent study found that 3% of current Republican members of  Congress accept that climate change is real and caused by human beings.  Think about that. Virtually every Republican in Congress and Republican hopeful refuse to accept the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community on climate change, often with the ridiculous refrain that they are not scientists themselves so how could they know.  It really shouldn't be controversial to insist that our leaders rely on expertise in determining government policy.  But I would venture that far more Republican members of Congress believe in the Biblical prophesy of End Times than they do in man-made climate change, and that's a big problem.

So what do they believe in?  They believe the unemployed are lazy. They believe that terrorists are around every corner.  They believe in deregulating Wall Street, and that all regulation is an anathema except when it comes to women's health.  They believe that corporations are people too.  They believe that advancing LGBT rights poses a threat to their way of life.

A sampling from a New York Times article on the rightward shift of GOP candidates is telling:
One nominee proposed reclassifying single parenthood as child abuse. Another suggested that four “blood moons” would herald “world-changing, shaking-type events” and said Islam was not a religion but a “complete geopolitical structure” unworthy of tax exemption. Still another labeled Hillary Rodham Clinton “the Antichrist.”
Worried yet?  Given demographics and gerrymandering, the House is sure to remain in Republican control for the foreseeable future.  And without a late get-out-the-vote surge, it looks like the Senate may be in Republican hands for at least the next two years.

What would a Republican majority actually mean?  Certainly we would have more gridlock, which if Republicans are passing bills would not be a bad thing.  Whatever disastrous legislation reached the President's desk would thankfully get vetoed.  On the other hand, Republicans would likely attach unacceptable riders to critical spending bills, creating even more chaos.  Ezra Klein speculates that one thing that might pass is the Keystone XL pipeline, given its support among some Democrats.  Not a problem, I suppose, if you don't believe in climate change.

With nothing better to do, we are sure to see more symbolic efforts to repeal Obamacare and, of course, the inevitable hearings on faux scandals.  Can you say "Benghazi"?

An area in which a Republican Senate would make a significant difference is with Presidential nominations.  While Obama in the past year has been successful in pushing through judicial nominations to fill vacancies and redress the imbalance in the judiciary caused by years of Republican intransigence, that would abruptly end.  Most importantly, if a Supreme Court vacancy opens, Republicans would have the power to block any nominee who didn't meet their litmus test, which would be anyone to the left of Antonin Scalia.

So, even if you are a registered Republican, don't do it.  Even if you aren't fond of your Democratic candidate, don't do it.  Even if you believe in limited government, don't do it.  Even if you oppose much of Obama's vision, don't do it.  Voting Republican means voting for a dystopian world of ever-worsening environmental degradation, widening inequality with no safety net, more scandalous behavior from Wall Street and the prioritizing of fundamentalist Christian values for everyone.  Don't do it.

(Better yet, give to Act Blue or directly to individual progressive candidates and work to defeat the right wing scourge)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Barbara Lee Continues To Speak For Me

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons -- Authorization for the Use of Military Force ("AUMF")
After the attacks of 9/11, Congress gave President Bush carte blanche to use military force.  Only one member of Congress -- one -- had the integrity, the courage and the wisdom to just say "no."  Congresswoman Barbara Lee -- my Congressperson I'm proud to say --warned her colleagues to be "careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target" and explained that the AUMF "was a blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the September 11 events—anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation's long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit."

Congresswoman Lee, as we now know, was prescient.  Neither President Bush nor his successor, I'm afraid, could be trusted with such authorization, which has been used to justify warrantless wiretapping, indefinite detention at  Guantanamo, various and sundry military actions, armed drones and, most recently, airstrikes against our newest terrorist enemy.

Congresswoman Lee has issued a statement expressing grave concern "about the expansion of U.S. airstrikes into Syria and continuation of airstrikes in Iraq." 
It is clear we are rapidly becoming more involved in another war in the Middle East.

President Obama has put together a strong international and regional coalition to address the ISIS threat. We must now leverage this regional coalition to achieve the political solution that will end this crisis. Only a political solution that respects the rights of all Iraqis and Syrians will ultimately dismantle ISIS

I have called and will continue to call for a full congressional debate and vote on any military action, as required by the Constitution. The American people deserve a public debate on all the options to dismantle ISIS, including their costs and consequences to our national security and domestic priorities.

he rapid escalation of another war in the Middle East underscores the danger of the blank check for endless war passed by Congress in 2001. I could not support this blank check for endless war or the 2002 blank check for war in Iraq. I have introduced legislation to repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force and continue to build bipartisan support for their repeal.

There is no military solution to the crisis in Iraq and Syria. In fact, continued U.S. military action will result in unintended consequences. We must remember the roots of ISIS - President Bush’s ill-begotten war.Congress needs to debate the political, economic, diplomatic and regionally-led solutions that will ultimately be the tools for U.S. and regional security.
Barbara Lee was right in 2001.  She is right in 2014.

Walling In Or Walling Out?

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
-- Mending Wall, Robert Frost


As the Mets put the finishing touches on their sixth losing season in succession, there is a gnawing sense that Met fans will we have to endure more disappointment next year -- despite the emergence of some wonderful young players (e.g., Jacob DeGrom, Zack Wheeler, Juan Lagares) and what should be the hopeful return of Matt Harvey.

The team's remarkable run of medical malfeasance has taken its toll again -- this time on David Wright's shoulder -- which should have been correctly diagnosed and repaired rather than played through and further damaged.  Terry Collins, a lousy manager who has admitted he would rather play mediocre veterans than develop talented youngsters, will be back at the helm.  And ownership - still plagued by Madoff-related debt and recently stung by a Neanderthal-inspired sex discrimination lawsuit -- is without the wherewithal to spend on a big bat (or two) necessary to complement the emergence of a promising young pitching staff.

So, instead of getting the hitters they need, the Mets will try to enhance the warning track power of the hitters they have by bringing in the fences.  ESPN reports that Citi Field will undergo "a modest reconfiguration in right and right-center field" this offseason to help the power numbers of Curtis Granderson and David Wright.

After 2011, the Mets changed the stadium's dimensions (as pictured above) and the team still lost more games than it won.  Unless the Mets can bring in the fences when they are up at bat and push them back when the opposing team hits, I'm not sure another retweaking is really the answer to the Mets' woes.  And it raises the troubling question:  What is management walling in or walling out?

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Wheel Turns, the Boat Rocks, the Sea Rises: Change in a Time of Climate Change

Guest post by Rebecca Solnit

There have undoubtedly been stable periods in human history, but you and your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents never lived through one, and neither will any children or grandchildren you may have or come to have. Everything has been changing continuously, profoundly -- from the role of women to the nature of agriculture. For the past couple of hundred years, change has been accelerating in both magnificent and nightmarish ways.

Yet when we argue for change, notably changing our ways in response to climate change, we’re arguing against people who claim we’re disrupting a stable system. They insist that we’re rocking the boat unnecessarily.

I say: rock that boat. It’s a lifeboat; maybe the people in it will wake up and start rowing. Those who think they’re hanging onto a stable order are actually clinging to the wreckage of the old order, a ship already sinking, that we need to leave behind.

As you probably know, the actual oceans are rising -- almost eight inches since 1880, and that’s only going to accelerate. They’re also acidifying, because they’re absorbing significant amounts of the carbon we continue to pump into the atmosphere at record levels. The ice that covers the polar seas is shrinking, while the ice shields that cover Antarctica and Greenland are melting. The water locked up in all the polar ice, as it’s unlocked by heat, is going to raise sea levels staggeringly, possibly by as much as 200 feet at some point in the future, how distant we do not know. In the temperate latitudes, warming seas breed fiercer hurricanes.

The oceans are changing fast, and for the worse. Fish stocks are dying off, as are shellfish. In many acidified oceanic regions, their shells are actually dissolving or failing to form, which is one of the scariest, most nightmarish things I’ve ever heard. So don’t tell me that we’re rocking a stable boat on calm seas. The glorious 10,000-year period of stable climate in which humanity flourished and then exploded to overrun the Earth and all its ecosystems is over.

But responding to these current cataclysmic changes means taking on people who believe, or at least assert, that those of us who want to react and act are gratuitously disrupting a stable system that’s working fine. It isn’t stable. It is working fine -- in the short term and the most limited sense -- for oil companies and the people who profit from them and for some of us in the particularly cushy parts of the world who haven’t been impacted yet by weather events like, say, the recent torrential floods in Japan or southern Nevada and Arizona, or the monsoon versions of the same that have devastated parts of India and Pakistan, or the drought that has mummified my beloved California, or the wildfires of Australia.

The problem, of course, is that the people who most benefit from the current arrangements have effectively purchased a lot of politicians, and that a great many of the rest of them are either hopelessly dim or amazingly timid. Most of the Democrats recognize the reality of climate change but not the urgency of doing something about it. Many of the Republicans used to -- John McCain has done an amazing about-face from being a sane voice on climate to a shrill denier -- and they present a horrific obstacle to any international treaties.

Put it this way: in one country, one party holding 45 out of 100 seats in one legislative house, while serving a minority of the very rich, can basically block what quite a lot of the other seven billion people on Earth want and need, because a two-thirds majority in the Senate must consent to any international treaty the U.S. signs. Which is not to say much for the president, whose drill-baby-drill administration only looks good compared to the petroleum servants he faces, when he bothers to face them and isn’t just one of them. History will despise them all and much of the world does now, but as my mother would have said, they know which side their bread is buttered on.

As it happens, the butter is melting and the bread is getting more expensive. Global grain production is already down several percent thanks to climate change, says a terrifying new United Nations report. Declining crops cause food shortages and rising food prices, creating hunger and even famine for the poorest on Earth, and also sometimes cause massive unrest. Rising bread prices were one factor that helped spark the Arab Spring in 2011. Anyone who argues that doing something about global warming will be too expensive is dodging just how expensive unmitigated climate change is already proving to be.

It’s only a question of whether the very wealthy or the very poor will pay. Putting it that way, however, devalues all the nonmonetary things at stake, from the survival of myriad species to our confidence in the future. And yeah, climate change is here, now. We’ve already lost a lot and we’re going to lose more, but there’s a difference between terrible and apocalyptic. We still have some control over how extreme it gets. That’s not a great choice, but it’s the choice we have. There’s still a window open for action, but it’s closing. As the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Society, Michel Jarraud, bluntly put it recently, "We are running out of time."

 New and Renewable Energies

The future is not yet written. Look at the world we’re in at this very moment. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline was supposed to be built years ago, but activists catalyzed by the rural and indigenous communities across whose land it would go have stopped it so far, and made what was supposed to be a done deal a contentious issue. Activists changed the outcome.

Fracking has been challenged on the state level, and banned in townships and counties from upstate New York to central California. (It has also been banned in two Canadian provinces, France, and Bulgaria.) The fossil-fuel divestment movement has achieved a number of remarkable victories in its few bare years of existence and more are on the way. The actual divestments and commitments to divest fossil fuel stocks by various institutions ranging from the city of Seattle to the British Medical Association are striking. But the real power of the movement lies in the way it has called into question the wisdom of investing in fossil fuel corporations. Even mainstream voices like the British Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee and publications like Forbes are now beginning to question whether they are safe places to put money. That’s a sea change.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Purist's Take on Improving the National Pastime

Rob Manfred will take over as the new Commissioner of Baseball from the ex-Wisconsin car dealer Bud Selig who, having presided over the Steroid Era, the advent of interleague play, and the malfeasance of Met ownership, is retiring after this season.  It is unclear what new ideas Manfred might have but change, when it comes to baseball, is generally not a good idea and any tinkering with tradition should be done, if at all, with great care.  That said, I have a few humble suggestions, pretty much all of which harkon back to those halcyon days of yore (i.e., after Jackie Robinson, before Ron Blomberg).

1.  Do away with the Designated Hitter Rule.  The DH is wrong for so many reasons: it upsets the traditional symmetry of 9 players on a side all of whom field and hit; it eliminates late-inning strategy; it allows players past their prime and one-dimensional players to keep playing.  It is also the product of racism.  This was the subject of one of my very first blog posts: The Designated Hitter:  The Legacy of Racism.

2.  Speed up the game.  Games have been getting longer over the last few decades.  There is no reason for a 9-inning game to last more than 3 hours and here are some ways to avoid it:  (1) prohibit batters from stepping out of the batters box after every pitch; (2) limit the amount of times the catcher and other players can approach the mound to talk to the pitcher; (3) cut the time between innings; (4) do away with instant reply (see below)

3.  Eliminate instant replay.  I am ok with the original instant replay rule, which was designed to review home runs.  New fangled ballparks with unusual angles and idiosyncratic seating make it much more difficult to discern with the naked eye when a ball was actually hit out of the park.  But the success of the original rule has led to the inevitable slippery slope -- expanded replay into many more areas of the game.   These rules which seek to eliminate human error are applied by human beings, resulting in ... plenty of human error.  More problematic is that exciting, close plays are immediately challenged, stopping play, upsetting the flow of the game at pivotal moments.  Instant reply is causing delay, uncertainty and more bad calls.  We need to accept that baseball is a game of imperfection.

4.  Outlaw the shift.  With more advanced statistical measures, teams can now discern where hitters are most likely to hit the ball.  They are increasingly using this data to employ an extreme infield shift to shut down the effectiveness of left-handed pull hitters.  A shift was occasionally used in the past, most notably against Ted Williams, but it is becoming routine in today's game.  The shift has played a role in the reduction of offense this year.  It isn't fair to lefties.  It also looks weird to have players so out of position.  And do we really want to see Big Papi and other lumbering sluggers lay bunts down the third base line to defeat the shift as opposed to swinging for the fences?

5.  Play the Fall Classic in the Fall.  Because of the increasing amount of playoff games, the World Series is now played in late October, early November.  Baseball is a game that should be played in warm weather, not snow.  To get back to an early October World Series, I would reduce the regular season from 162 games to its pre-1961 level of 154, and include scheduled double-headers, which are now only used to make up for rain outs. The reduction in games can be accomplished by eliminating interleague play.

6.  No interleague play.  If the Yankees and Mets want to play each other, let them go back to playing the Mayor's Trophy Game.  Inter-league play dilutes some of the mystique of the All Star Game and World Series, which used to be the only times when players in each league played each other.  It forces National League teams to use a designated hitter when the AL team is at home, and forces American League pitchers who never otherwise hit to do so when the NL team hosts.  And since not all teams can play each other, it gives an arbitrary and unfair advantage to teams who get to play lesser teams in the other league.

7.  Turn down the noise.  I went to Fenway Park this summer and was struck by how quiet it was.  There was no blasting of music or sound effects during the game, leaving us with the sounds of the game itself and the crowd.  It was delightful, and quite the contrast to the mind-numbing cacophony at most ball parks.

8.  Reinstate Pete Rose.  It has been 25 years since Rose has been banished from baseball for gambling.  He is 73 years old.  One of the greatest, most exciting players in history has paid his debt and should be let back into the fold.

9.  Just "play ball."  Let's do away with the National Anthem before the game and God Bless America during the 7th Inning Stretch.  I wrote about this here awhile back.  It has never been clear to me why we must reaffirm our love of this country -- including the 1/3 of  Major League Baseball players who are foreign born -- not once, but twice during a baseball game.  It seems to me that we show our faith in what is great about the United States by enjoying the American game itself, and I truly believe there are few things more patriotic than standing up during the 7th Inning Stretch and singing about "peanuts and crackerjacks" at the old ballgame.

10  Appoint an independent commission to investigate whether Mets ownership should be forced to sell the team.  Ever since the Wilpons were 'victimized' in the Bernie Madoff scandal they have survived thanks to their friendship with Commissioner Selig, by obtaining emergency loans and relying on a very reduced payroll.  Granted when the Mets do have money they spend it stupidly.  (See Mets or Bust.)  But a team with New York's market is acting like a small market team, alienating fans and squandering what little good will they have left.  And, now, with new allegations stemming from a sex discrimination lawsuit, an investigation is even more urgent.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reverse Barometers and Perpetual War


General Custer to officer:  Anything that man tells me will be a lie.  Therefore, he will be perfect reverse barometer. . . .
Custer to Jack Crabb:  What should I do, mule skinner? . . . . Should I go down there, or withdraw? . . .  What's your answer, mule skinner?
Crabb:  General, you go down there.
Custer: You're saying, go into the coulee?
Crabb:  Yes, sir. 
Custer:  There are no Indians there, I suppose?
Crabb:  I didn't say that. There are thousands of Indians down there, and when they get done with you, there won't be nothing left but a greasy spot. . . . You go down there if you got the nerve.
Custer:  Still trying to outsmart me, aren't you, mule skinner? You want me to think that you don't want me to go down there, but the subtle truth is you really don't want me to go down there. . . Men of the Seventh! The hour of victory is at hand!  Onward to Little Bighorn and glory!

* * *
Near the close of the movie Little Big Man, General Custer (played by Richard Mulligan) realizes that Jack Crabb aka Little Big Man (Dustin Hoffman) who he hired as a scout, hates him so much that he will purposely give Custer the wrong advice.  Custer therefore treats Crabb as a "reverse barometer," doing the opposite of whatever Crabb tells him.  As the passage above shows, Crabb gets Custer completely flustered to the point where he is able to trick him into making the disastrous decision to attack at Little Bighorn. 

Dick Cheney, John McCain and their fellow War Mongers have much in common with Custer, as he was portrayed in this movie -- arrogant, unfettered by facts, unshakably stubborn and unable or unwilling to reverse a decision or admit a mistake.  They have been wrong about everything, particularly when it comes to terrorism and the Middle East.  But rather than being shamed into silence and appropriately shunned, they continue to seize center stage.  They plague us with their latest ideas for the latest crisis which, invariably, is the same wrong advice that got us into these messes in the first place: perpetual war.

In this way they should provide a useful service as reverse barometers.  Whatever they say, President Obama should enact the reverse.  When they insist that we stay in Iraq, rely less on diplomacy, employ troops on the ground and more bombs from the air in more places, we should do the opposite.  But it seems that, as in the movie, the reverse barometer can sow confusion.  And so after being relentlessly bombarded with the need to act quickly, decisively and, above all, militarily, the President, as William Greider puts it, "is embarking on another Long War in the Middle East."

The fact that we are only committed (for the time being) to air strikes with a limited amount of advisers on the ground is far from comforting.  Greider explains:  "President Obama’s vague assurances are doubtless sincere, but he has left a lot of open space to revise and reinterpret his intentions. If everything does not go well in Iraq, Obama will be pressured to escalate. War enthusiasts in the reserve army of pundits are already clamoring for him to do so. White House sources are already assuring reporters that Islamic State targets in Syria will be bombed. What happens if they don’t fold? The president will be pressed to send more troops—if not in regular uniforms, then as Special Forces, who will use clandestine methods."

Similarly, David Corn notes why it is difficult to "put the case for war back in the box" after commiting us to renewed military action even with a more nuanced approach than his predecessors:  "If US air strikes can make a difference, if other nations join in, if the Iraqi government gets it acts together, if the Iraqi military can do its job, then the United States will use its military might in a limited way to vanquish ISIS. A conditional case for war does not easily sync up with the stark nature of such an enterprise. If any of these ifs don't come to be, will Obama be cornered and forced by his rhetoric to do something? After depicting ISIS as a peril warranting a US military response—and with much of the American public convinced of that—can he then shrug his shoulders and say, "Never mind"? Will he provide the hawks an opening for political attacks and demands for greater military intervention? In his speech, the man who ran for president with the pledge to end the Iraq War declared, "We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq." But what if all else fails?"

Onward to Little Bighorn and glory!

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Pros and Cons of Voting for Hillary Clinton (A Work in Progress)

There are essentially two reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton if she chooses to run for President and secures the nomination of the Democratic Party.  Both are hugely important. 

First, a Republican President would be devastating for the environment and any hope to combat climate change, for the economy, for immigration policy, for civil, criminal and human rights, for foreign policy, and for the federal judiciary.  With an aging Supreme Court, the next President likely will have an opportunity to nominate at least one and probably several new justices.  Republican nominees would solidify a right wing majority for at least another generation with disastrous consequences. 

The second reason to support Hillary Clinton is that she would be the first woman president in U.S. history, a critically important  milestone that is way past due. 

Now, the reasons against voting for Clinton.  Here's a start.

1.   Iraq.  Hillary Clinton not only voted for one of the worst foreign policy decisions in our nation's history she repeatedly went in front of the cameras to cheerlead in the run up to it.  My stomach still turns when I think about her and her cohort John McCain on the TV, arrogantly making the case for war.  23 Senators voted against the Iraq resolution.  Clinton was not one of them.  Whether it was a crass political move or an honest belief in the need to overthrow Saddam Hussein, this one is unforgivable. 

2.  Clinton's apology was lame. "I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had.  And I wasn't alone in getting it wrong.  But I still got it wrong."  No, she wasn't alone in getting it wrong.  But there were some who were getting it right.  As Peter Beinart points out, Clinton, like many others who "got it wrong," failed to read the full classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction -- a report that convinced, for example, Senators Leahy and Graham to vote against the Iraq War resolution.  The failure to do due diligence before the vote to ensure that she did, in fact, have the best information, makes her subsequent apology meaningless.

3.  You can judge a lot about a person by her friends.  Henry Kissinger is one of the most villainous U.S. political leaders of the 20th Century.  His role in the Viet Nam War, from undermining the Paris peace talks prior to Nixon's election to directing the massive clandestine bombing campaign in Laos and Cambodia, which indiscriminately killed and displaced millions of civilians, should be enough to disqualify Kissinger from polite company, much less make him a sought-after foreign policy consultant. Of course, there is plenty more, including his planning of the overthrow of Salvador Allende, Chile's democratically elected president.  But in reviewing Kissinger's new book, Hillary Clinton says this: "Kissinger is a friend, and I relied on his counsel when I served as secretary of state. He checked in with me regularly, sharing astute observations about foreign leaders and sending me written reports on his travels. . . . what comes through clearly in this new book is a conviction that we . . . share: a belief in the indispensability of continued American leadership in service of a just and liberal order."  WTF

4.  Wall Street.  Speaking of friends, it is hard to imagine Hillary Clinton being the voice of the 99% or taking on the financial industry given her close ties to Wall Street.  She has been paid $200,000 a pop for speaking engagements before investment banks and private equity firms, including Goldman Sachs twice.  Yes, Goldman Sachs, one of the Wall Street firms responsible for the last financial meltdowns, which, by the way, also donated between $250,000 and $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation.

5.  Big Dog in the House.  Bill Clinton, leashed or unleashed, is not the man I would choose to have the ear of the next president.  When I think of the Clinton Presidency, I am reminded of his support for the war on drugs, habeas reform, welfare reform, and deregulation of the financial industry.  I have never heard Hillary disavow any of these disastrous policies.

6.  DOMA.  President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law in 1996.  Hillary has only very recently changed her views (along with Bill) on gay marriage.  She claims she has evolved with the rest of us (kind of like her Iraq excuse), but Andrew Sullivan provides the context and it isn't pretty:  "She was not just another evolving American.  She was the second most powerful person in an administration in a critical era for gay rights. And in that era, her husband signed the HIV travel ban into law (it remained on the books for 22 years thereafter), making it the only medical condition ever legislated as a bar to even a tourist entering the US. Clinton also left gay service-members in the lurch, doubling the rate of their discharges from the military, and signed DOMA, the high watermark of anti-gay legislation in American history. Where and when it counted, the Clintons gave critical credibility to the religious right’s jihad against us. And on the day we testified against DOMA in 1996, their Justice Department argued that there were no constitutional problems with DOMA at all (the Supreme Court eventually disagreed)."

7.  Dynasty.  Should our country really have two families (Bush and Clinton) running the country for all but 8 years since 1988? 

Do the pros outweigh the cons? To be continued.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Green Ribbon Wouldn't Have Saved Robin Williams

Guest post by Heidi Pie Aronson

Breast cancer used to be a shameful secret. Now everybody knows what a pink ribbon stands for. It’s less well-known that green ribbons signify depression awareness, along with Lyme Disease and pedestrian safety. But a green ribbon wouldn’t have saved Robin Williams’ life. Our vague ideas about celebrities’ “struggles with depression” don't reveal how lethal or how omnipresent it is.

Depression is dangerous because it is hidden. Depressed people are ashamed. We keep it secret, and we don’t ask for help. We don’t think we deserve help. A recent Canadian study found that 24% of patients who had attempted suicide "reported not receiving care or even perceiving the need for care." This is why our friends and family don’t know what to do for us. And end up keeping quiet themselves.

Let's run full-page ads in magazines educating readers about depression's warning signs. And not ads with a woman gazing wistfully into her cup of tea. Depressed people don't see those ads and think "Poor lady, she's sad. I am, too, maybe I'd better get some medical attention." Instead we think, "How pathetic (I am)." Or "I hope I'm hiding it better than she is." No, let's run an ad with a noose hanging in a bedroom doorway. Or a drawer in a morgue, with a handmade Mother's Day card taped to it.

I wouldn't even mind a drug company sponsoring the ads. Anti-depressant medication not only saved my life and saved my daughters from losing their mother (saved my younger daughter from not being born at all, in fact)--it gave me my life. It made my glass look half-full rather than half-empty, until I could hold fast to the idea that I was worth fighting for. But let's not argue over the drugs. Not all depression is treated with drugs.The point is to let the secret out. This is not a case for green ribbons, but for ACT UP. Depression Kills! Fight Back!

Or we can just state the facts,courtesy of the American Psychiatric Association:

"Major Depressive Disorder is a medical illness that affects how you feel, think and behave causing persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. Depression can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. It is a chronic illness that usually requires long-term treatment."

Then let's list the warning signs. Have you or someone you love:
*   ...felt sad, empty, or hopeless most of the day, nearly every day, for the last two weeks?
*   ...lost interest or pleasure in normal activities?
*   ...lost a lot of weight in the last month? lost your appetite?
*   ...had trouble sleeping, particularly with waking up too early? Or been sleeping a lot more?
*   ...been physically agitated, or noticeably slowed down?
*   ...felt especially fatigued or low-energy?
*   ...felt worthless or excessively guilty, nearly every day?
*   ...had trouble thinking, concentrating, and making decisions?
*   ...had recurrent thoughts of death, or thoughts or plans about suicide?

An"official" diagnosis of Major Depressive Episode requires five of the nine symptoms, but let's not get hung up on details. The more symptoms you have, the more severe your illness. It is an illness.You wouldn't say "I'm okay, don't worry about it" if you had breast cancer--then you would die. If you or someone you love is ill, get help right away.

Let's hang these ads in every library, police station, school and doctor's office. Let's hang them in restaurants--more people die of depression than of choking. And if you think you've never been out to dinner with a depressed person,who smiled at the table but snuck off to sob in the bathroom, think again. A sign might just change what we do after we dry our tears and walk back to our seat.

Dying of depression should be unacceptable, and it is up to us to decide to make it so. Depression is not preventable, but it is treatable, and it is all around us. Some of your friends and neighbors--as Robin Williams was our neighbor--are depressed right now. They aren't wearing green ribbons,though. We have to find them in the darkness, and keep them safe.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Jewish Offensive

Many of my oldest and dearest friends who have a deeper and far more personal connection than I to Israel and its People, have been writing and posting links in support of Israel's right to defend itself from Hamas' terrorist rocket attacks.  Some, in doing so, challenge any attempt to insert into the discussion the relevance of the plight of the Gazans, the underlying policies of the Israeli government or the disproportionate number of civilian casualties caused by Israel's military response. 

More than 30 years ago, as a far-too-strident college kid, I gravely offended my relatives at a Passover Seder by pointing out the irony of celebrating freedom of the Jews while Israel was suppressing the freedom of others.  My family's response consisted of silence, throat-clearing, dirty looks and from one great uncle, a grudge that he carried against me for years.  I would like to think that in the decades since I have gained some sense of humility, a less Manichean world view, and a more nuanced perspective of the Middle East.

But even a nuanced discussion about Israel is rarely easy, and when people are getting bombed and killed it seems near impossible.  Moreover, I don't pretend to having anywhere near a full grasp on the complicated history of the region -- modern or Biblical -- or on the myriad interests that continue to weigh down any hope of peace.  At the same time, I feel strongly that it is not as simple as the equation I have been taught since my youth: the unimaginable horror of the Holocaust and the fact that Israel is surrounded by enemies bent on its destruction means Israel can do no wrong in protecting itself. 

So, at the risk of again causing offense to loved ones once, I feel the need to acknowledge what I believe are truths about the current situation

First, of course, I acknowledge that Hamas is a repugnant terrorist organization that doesn't believe in Israel's right to exist, and that its firing of rockets indiscriminately into Israel and using civilians as human shields are inexcusable war crimes.  I also acknowledge the disturbing undercurrent of anti-semitism, particularly in Europe, that has frighteningly risen to the surface, sometimes violently, during the current crisis.

But I also must acknowledge that Israel is an occupying power whose blockade and restriction of rights in Gaza have caused enormous hardship, poverty and despair; that Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people; and that Benjamin Netanyahu's government has pursued policies that have undermined Palestinian moderates and the possibility of negotiating for a two-state solution -- which I believe is the only long-term chance for peace.  I must also acknowledge that the use of collective punishment and the launching of attacks with the likelihood of causing a high number of civilian casualties -- including children -- violate human rights, international law and a sense of decency regardless of whether many of the victims are being used as human shields. 

What follows are excerpts from some powerful, eloquent Jewish voices, many of them Israeli, that have resonated with me over these tragic weeks-- although I don't agree with everything they say.  Click on the links to read them in full.  While provocative and perhaps causing offense, my hope is that they can be part of the discussion. My hope is that there can be a discussion.
There are only two sides, and they are not Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs. They are moderates and the extremists. I belong to the moderates, wherever they are.   Noa
Operation Protective Edge is a product of tunnel vision, prompted not only by the single-minded Hamas stockpiling of sophisticated rockets and construction of offensive tunnels while its people have been drowning in dire poverty and hopelessness, but also by the reluctance of Israel’s current leadership to look beyond the here and now and offer workable options to ongoing conflict and strife.  Naomi Chazan
It’s an awful thing to make a truly tragic mistake, one that costs many lives.  It’s worse to make that same mistake over and over again. Four operations in Gaza, an immense number of Israeli and Palestinian hearts that have stopped beating, and we keep ending up in the same place. Etgar Keret
The infrastructure for terror is the occupation. We consider ourselves a nation of peace seekers who just want to be allowed to live in peace, and I believe that no Israeli wants to kill or be killed. But it’s about time we understood that the Palestinians live in a constant state of war – whether it be the siege of Gaza or military rule in the West Bank. . .  The entire world understands the connection between the occupation and terror. It’s only us who don’t. Only we feed ourselves stories of global Jihad and anti-Semitism being the root of the problem, while the most simple explanation is right in front of us. World history makes it clear: Either the occupied minority are made citizens of the occupying state, or it is granted independence. There are no other nations stuck in this kind of limbo, without citizenship and without a state, like the Palestinians. And there are certainly no  other nations that would tolerate it.  Noam Sheizaf 
Nothing would weaken Hamas more than growing Palestinian faith that through nonviolence and mutual recognition, they can win the basic rights they’ve been denied for almost half a century. Israel’s best long-term strategy against Palestinian violence is Palestinian hope. Unfortunately, as effective as Benjamin Netanyahu has been at destroying Palestinian rockets, he’s been even more effective at destroying that.  Peter Beinart
A war against Hamas is not an unjust war. Hamas has been a failure at everything except murder. Its strategy is the targeting of civilians, those of its enemy and (since the brutal response of its enemy is an important element of its the-worse-the-better calculus) of its own . . . These are monsters. But the population of Gaza are not monsters and the Palestinian people are not monsters; and I will confess that I have found myself unable to be satisfied, in the analysis of responsibility in this war, by the assertion, which is incontrovertible, that the killing of non-combatant Palestinians by Israel in Gaza is one of Hamas’s war aims, and so Israel is completely absolved if it obliges. A provocation does not relieve one of accountability for how one responds to it . . . . Israel has a strategy for war, but it does not have a strategy for peace.  Leon Wieseltier
When the guns go silent, we’re going need to renew a vision that blends resolve with tolerance, strength with utter decency, individual freedom coupled with a sense of serving something greater than ourselves. Can we pull it off? The ground is shaking here, and it’s not only because of the rockets. When the guns fall silent, this society had better be prepared to start talking.  Daniel Gordis
I will tell you what my hope and prayer for the future of Israel is. I would like to see Israel removed once and for all from the front pages of all the newspapers in the world and instead conquer, occupy and build settlements in the literary, arts, music and architecture supplements. This is my dream for the future.  Amos Oz 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Just Some Folks Torturing Other Folks



Previewing a declassified report that concludes the prior Administration used techniques on terrorism suspects amounting to torture, President Obama conceded that "we did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks."

Of course, Obama couldn't quite make himself confront Bush, Cheney & Co. with a point blank accusation.  First, he had to couch the statement by using the pronoun "we" as if either he or his political party or the citizens of the United States were responsible for torture.  Then, like a good Dad who praises his child before making a critical remark, he stated that a lot of things were done right, before pointing out that "we tortured some folks."  'That's OK, Junior, try harder next time.'  And, by the way, what were those "right things" to which he was referring?

To further minimize the impact of his statement, Obama relied on the colloquialism -- "folks."  We tortured "some folks."  He sounds like President Gomer Pyle.  'Well, golly.  I guess we tortured some folks.'   Those who were tortured were real flesh and blood people, human beings capable of feeling the extreme pain and humiliation of "enhanced interrogation techniques."  They were entitled to being treated as such.

It gets worse.  The President then rationalized the use of torture in the context of the stressful times we were in.  While it was certainly not cool to torture folks, it was understandable that our government would resort to such techniques because, you know, it was kinda scary back then.
I think it's important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the twin towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And, you know, it's important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots, but having said all that, we did some things that were wrong.
So, our folks -- meaning, the leaders of our government -- were frightened and working under pressure, but, nevertheless, they were "real patriots" and so we shouldn't hold them accountable just because they tortured other folks.

As if the use of torture was simply an understandable spontaneous reaction to the tragedy of 9/11 and not a well calculated policy decision that those in the Bush Administration and their allies and apologists continue to believe was justified. As Charles Pierce puts it:  "Quite simply, nobody who engaged in torture, nobody who worked to establish a legal rationale for torture, nobody who applauded torture or encouraged it or welcomed its practice, has any right to be referred to by anyone, let alone the president, as a patriot."

I've written before that President Obama's biggest mistake when he first took office was refusing to allow his Justice Department to investigate, much less prosecute, the government officials who authorized torture.  He maintained that since his Administration wouldn't condone torture we can simply move forward.  (See, e.g., Pitfalls of Only Looking Forward, Tortured Logic.)  But we are not moving forward.  If we are to remain a nation of laws, when high government officials break the law or cynically bend the law to justify human rights violations there must be consequences.

Obama's latest comments, as mealy-mouthed as they were, elicited the predictable backlash from the right while the media noted that they "reopened debate."   The upcoming report by the Senate Intelligence Committee is significant, but without a true reckoning that confirms once and for all the immorality, illegality and inefficacy of torture, we remain stuck in a debate that should have been resolved.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

An Open Letter To Kamala Harris

Dear Madam Attorney General:

I write to urge you to not appeal Jones v. Chappell, the recent federal court decision holding that the administration of California's death penalty is irrevocably dysfunctional, resulting in systemic delays in which only the "random few" are executed in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. 

As U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney found, of the over 900 people that have been sentenced to death since the adoption of the death penalty in 1978, 13 have been executed, 94 have died of other causes.  There are currently 748 death row inmates. The process for reviewing their death sentences takes an average of 25 years and is getting longer -- delays, as the court found, that are inherent in the system and not the fault of inmates themselves.

I had the good fortune of meeting you in 2007, at a Death Penalty Focus Awards Dinner when, as San Francisco District Attorney, you were given the Mario Cuomo Acts of Courage Award for declining to authorize death penalty prosecutions. 

Subsequently, when you campaigned for Attorney General, you acknowledged that California's death penalty system is flawed.  You argued that the death penalty has not made us safer and that the money spent every year on the death penalty could be far more productively used to fund programs which aim to stop recidivism. As you put it, "not housing octogenarians on Death Row could put 1,000 more cops on the street."

I imagine as Attorney General you now have an even clearer sense of how broken and how costly the death penalty is.  As the bipartisan California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice found, the system continues to be "plagued with excessive delay in the appointment of counsel" and "a severe backlog in the review" of cases before the California Supreme Court.  

An extensive study headed Judge Arthur Alarcon determined that California's death penalty system has cost taxpayers roughly $4 billion "to fund a dysfunctional death penalty system that has carried out no more than 13 executions."  But despite these vast expenditures, the current Chief Justice of the State of California Tani Cantil-Sakauye acknowledged, the death penalty is not effective and fixing its problems would require "structural changes" that the State cannot afford. Her predecessor, Ron George, who was Chief Justice for 15 years, came to the same conclusion, describing California's death penalty scheme as "dysfunctional."

The infrequency of executions and the randomness with regard to which condemned inmates actually will be executed have made a mockery of the supposedly rational justifications for the death penalty – deterrence and retribution.  In a well-reasoned and well-documented opinion, a federal judge has now agreed:  "For all practical purposes ... a sentence of death in California is a sentence of life imprisonment with the remote possibility of death -- a sentence no rational legislature or jury could ever impose."

As Attorney General, representing the People of California, you have a duty to enforce and apply the law.  But where a court has found that law to be unconstitutional, you are well within your discretion to abide by the court's decision.  By not appealing a ruling that confirms what you have long stated -- that California's death penalty is broken -- you will again be taking the kind of principled position for which you were honored when we met years ago and for which you are so admired.


(Related post:  California's Cruel and Unusual Death Penalty)

Friday, June 13, 2014

George Bush's Iraq: The Long Reach Of The Pottery Barn Rule

"You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people,' he told the president. 'You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You'll own it all."
-- Secretary of State Colin Powell to President George W. Bush per Bob Woodward
Americans are famous for their ahistorical perspective and collective amnesia, but as President Obama comes under increasing criticism for "losing" Iraq -- by the very same group of dead enders that were wrong on every aspect of the initial invasion -- do we really have to be reminded that the Iraqi debacle did not start with Obama's election in 2008? 

Jay Bookman at the Atlanta Constitution states what should be obvious:  "The tragic sequence of events now playing out in Iraq was set in motion by the decision of President Bush, Vice President Cheney and others to use the attacks of Sept. 11 as cover to carry out the invasion that they had long coveted. We ignited this inferno, even if others have since added fuel to it, and the claim that we did so out of humanitarian concern for the Iraqis is just as empty as those depots of WMD turned out to be."

But the Bush Administration didn't just lie about the rationale for invading Iraq.  Once we shocked and awed our way into the country, that good old lethal combination of arrogance and incompetence that characterized everything Bush/Cheney did left a political, economic and bureaucratic vacuum that is a root cause of the current chaos and resurgence of violence there.

Dexter Filkins states that "when the Americans invaded, in March, 2003, they destroyed the Iraqi state—its military, its bureaucracy, its police force, and most everything else that might hold a country together."  Remember, we were going to be welcomed as Liberators and, as the neocons promised, would create a free market paradise -- after first destroying the economy - as a first step towards democratizing the entire Middle East?  How'd that work out again?  If only Obama had kept us there a little longer....

Further, Fareed Zakaria explains, "having invaded Iraq with a small force — what the expert Tom Ricks called “the worst war plan in American history” — the administration needed to find local allies. It quickly decided to destroy Iraq’s Sunni ruling establishment and empower the hard-line Shiite religious parties that had opposed Saddam Hussein. This meant that a structure of Sunni power that had been in the area for centuries collapsed."  And as a direct consequence of these decisions "to disband the army, dismantle the bureaucracy and purge Sunnis in general," we get Nuri Al-Maliki, Iraq’s Prime Minister, whose hard-line authoritarianism and brutal attempts to crush the Sunni minority opposition has been, according to Filkins, the dominant factor in Iraq's collapse.

While conservatives audaciously claim that this is all Obama's fault for leaving the country before we finished the job -- as John McCain nonsensically puts it,"we had the conflict won" -- or as Maxwell Smart would put it, "we missed it by that much" -- they conveniently overlook that Maliki would not allow U.S. troops to remain.  (Recall Bush signed the Status of Forces Agreement in December 2008, setting January 1, 2012 as the deadline for all U.S. forces to depart; no new deal could be agreed upon; Maliki refused to agree to legal immunity for U.S. troops.)

But even if we could have left a residual military force in Iraq, to what end and for how long?  Sure, according to Steven Benen, "we could have embraced perpetual war and kept a lid on Iraqi violence by trying another decade – or two, or more – of war, sacrifice, investment, and training. . . Perpetual war may inexplicably sound appealing to some Republican policymakers, but (a) they have no credibility; and (b) there are many problems perpetual wars can’t solve. This is one of them."

The right seemed to have reached a new plateau for hypocrisy when Ollie North started blithering about the impropriety of negotiating with terrorists for hostages in the wake of Bowe Bergdahl's release.  At least North wasn't opining on the very same conflict with which he played such an ignominious role.  Former Bush officials, their apologists and enablers in government and media are offering their views on the very same situation that they so tragically got wrong in the first place.  They should be shamed and shunned -- or as Charles Pierce more colorfully says, these mendacious idiots "should be abandoned on cannibal island where they belong."  Instead, they are permitted to take to the airwaves to discuss what should have been done and should now be done to save Iraq.  No one should listen.

They broke it and they will forever own it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

When The Lunatic Fringe Goes Mainstream

While outraged conservatives fear that President Obama's exchange of five Taliban prisoners for the release of POW Bowe Bergdhal will precipitate terrorist attacks from Islam Jihadists, they conveniently ignore the onslaught of shootings by their very own brethren.  Indeed, with the Las Vegas shooting this past weekend of two police officers and a civilian, there have now been 40 people killed by in the United States by right wing violence since September 11, 2001.

Homegrown right wing fanatics have a long and bloody history in this country, but the recent spate of shootings feels like something new, more like of a frightening trend than the random spasm of a lunatic fringe.  And while it would be folly to try to pinpoint any one cause, there seem to be a confluence of contributing factors.

First, of course, is the ready access to guns -- military-style guns -- and the N.R.A.'s ability to prevent a majority of cowering politicians from enacting even the most minimal gun control legislation.  There have been 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook and, if anything, the gun fetishists have gained influence.  The Open Carry Texas movement, involving men brazenly displaying their assault weapons in fast food restaurants, seemed to discomfit even the N.R.A.  But only temporarily.  Meanwhile, no tragedy seems to be able to move the government from its blithe acquiescence to these gun nuts.

Closely related is the deep-rooted belief among a wide swath of conservatives that the Second Amendment sanctions their fundamental right to armed revolution in response to what they perceive as tyranny.  As Ed Kilgore puts it, they believe that "virtually unlimited access to weaponry, including military weaponry, is essential to the maintenance of liberty on grounds that patriots might need to emulate the original American Revolutionaries and undertake the armed overthrow of the government."

The problem is that what they view as tyrannical encompasses pretty much anything that a Democratic Administration, especially the current one, endorses.  Obamacare is an assault on freedom.  Climate change is a hoax.  Legalized abortion is akin to the Holocaust.  The IRS is a tool to deny free speech to the Tea Party.

And right wing politicians eagerly play along.  For example, as Brian Beutler describes, "when Democrats tried to pass an extremely modest gun law in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, Ted Cruz said the real goal was 'a federal list of every gun owner in America.'  When Democrats more recently proposed a constitutional amendment to effectively reverse the consequences of the Citizens United ruling, he said they were trying to 'repeal the First Amendment.'" 

And what makes this particularly explosive is the apocalyptic rhetoric of mainstream conservatives -- Republican politicians and Fox News pundits alike -- who pander to their base, stoking their anger and feeding their paranoia by engaging in relentless falsehoods and implicitly condoning whatever measures are taken to redress the government's infringement on their liberty.

Back in January 2011, after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Tuscon, I wrote that it was inevitable that the increasingly inflammatory rhetoric and violent imagery from the right was bound to land somewhere: "Republicans have demonized the President and others who oppose their political and social world view, and have called, perhaps metaphorically, for their demise in offensively graphic terms. Tragically and predictably, not everyone understands it as metaphor."

Things have only gotten worse.  As Paul Waldman writes "when you broadcast every day that the government of the world’s oldest democracy is a totalitarian beast bent on turning America into a prison of oppression and fear, when you glorify lawbreakers like Cliven Bundy, when you say that your opponents would literally destroy the country if they could, you can’t profess surprise when some people decide that violence is the only means of forestalling the disaster you have warned them about."

Waldman says that "it may be going too far to say that conservative politicians and media figures whose rhetoric has fed the deranged fantasies of terrorists and killers have blood on their hands."  I'm not so sure.