Recent reading.

library4The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden ‘black site’. Ackerman, S., The Guardian (Feb. 2015). (“‘The real danger in allowing practices like Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib is the fact that they always creep into other aspects,’ Siska said. ‘They creep into domestic law enforcement, either with weaponry like with the militarization of police, or interrogation practices. That’s how we ended up with a black site in Chicago.'”) [Gosh, who could have predicted this? –Ed.]

Dear Patricia Arquette: Blacks and gays owe white women nothing. Telusma, B., The Grio (Feb. 2015).

Room for Improvement: Clean up cities. Give the homeless a place to live. And save money too? The shockingly simple, surprisingly cost-effective solution that won over a bunch of conservatives in Utah. Carrier, S., Mother Jones (Feb. 2015). (“You actually need housing to achieve sobriety and stability, not the other way around…giving people supportive housing cost the system about half as much as leaving the homeless to live on the street.”)

The school to prison pipeline, explained. Nelson, L. and Lind, D., Vox (Feb. 2015).

Ax-wielding hair designer burns down Michigan adult store to please God. Kaufman, S., Raw Story (Feb. 2015). [Ugh, this god is THE WORST. –Ed.]

Gazi Kodzo. (youtube channel). [Brilliant, hilarious and scathing. –Ed.]

Abused, isolated and offered for a $25,000 arranged marriage: The extraordinary upbringing and daring escape of a victim of America’s homeschooling fundamentalists. Gould, M., The Daily Mail (Feb. 2015). [WHAT. THE. FUCK. –Ed.]

U.S. Geological Survey: Fracking waste is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in earthquakes. Hayden, J., Daily Kos (Feb. 2015).

8 Things Some A$$#ole Says in Every Debate About Sexism. McKinney, L., Cracked (Feb. 2015). [D00d nails it. –Ed.]

Ending the Neoliberal Neopatriarchy. Campbell, B., iai news (Feb. 2015). (“Global capitalism works with patriarchal principles, institutions, cultures and psyches. So, our liberation from this tragedy is inconceivable − it is, literally, unthinkable − without feminism.”) [h/t Vanina] [Meet the new patriarchy. Same as the old patriarchy. –Ed.]

Feminist writers are so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire. Goldberg, M., Washington Post (Feb. 2015). [Huh. –Ed.]

Why are women leaving the tech industry in droves? Lien, T., The Los Angeles Times (Feb. 2015). [Huh. –Ed.]

Thaddeus Murphy arrested for January Colorado Springs NAACP bombing. King, S., Daily Kos (Feb. 2015). (“Murphy claims he wasn’t trying to harm the NAACP office, but a local tax office connected to it.”) [Or maybe it was the abortion clinic. Or the sex toy store. Po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to. –Ed.]

How our microbes make us who we are. Knight, R., TED Talks via youtube (Feb. 2015). [VIDEO] [h/t SJ] [Amazing. –Ed.]

What The Atlantic Left Out About ISIS According To Their Own Expert. Jenkins, J., Think Progress (Feb. 2015).

30 Signs Of Emotional Abuse In A Relationship. Davenport, B., Live Bold & Bloom (Nov. 2014).

Letter to My Rapist, Jailed for Raping Women Who Are More Respectable Than I Am: I’m writing to you to tell you that we’re both human. Burns, T., AlterNet (Feb. 2015).


For the Quote collection:

No institution in modern civilization is so tyrannical and so unjust to woman as is the Christian Church. It demands everything from her and gives her nothing in return. –Josephine K. Henry (1897)


PLZ NOTE: Acquisition of links and/or bon mots for the Palace Library does not imply the Palace’s 100% agreement with or endorsement of any content, organization or individual.

Recent reads.

library4FOIA Documents Reveal Massive DEA Program to Record American’s Whereabouts With License Plate Readers. Stein, B., ACLU (Jan. 2015).

DHS intelligence report warns of domestic right-wing terror threat. Perez, E. and Bruer, W., CNN (Feb. 2015). [h/t SJ] (“Some federal and local law enforcement groups view the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen groups as equal to — and in some cases greater than — the threat from foreign Islamic terror groups”) [No shit. –Ed.]

Editor of major newspaper says he planted stories for CIA. Lopez, R., Digital Journal (Jan. 2015). [Quelle surprise. –Ed.]

The U.S. Media and the 13-Year-Old Yemeni Boy Burned to Death Last Month by a U.S. Drone. Greenwald, G., The Intercept (Feb. 2015). (“Most Americans, by design, will have no idea that their government just burned a 13-year-old boy to death and then claimed he was a Terrorist.”)

Obama administration to allow sales of armed drones to allies. Ryan, M., The Washington Post (Feb. 2015). [Finally! Now other countries can enjoy burning 13-year-olds to death too! –Ed.]

1 In 3 College Men In Survey Say They Would Rape A Woman If They Could Get Away With It. Culp-Ressler, T., Think Progress (Jan. 2015). [ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME. –Ed.]

How Israeli High-Tech Firms Are Turning the U.S.-Mexico Border into a New Kind of Hell. Miller, T. and Schivone, G., TomDispatch via AlterNet (Jan. 2015).

The Great SIM Heist: How Spies Stole the Keys to the Encryption Castle. Scahill, J. and Begley, J., The Intercept (Feb. 2015). (“The hack…gave the surveillance agencies the potential to secretly monitor a large portion of the world’s cellular communications, including both voice and data.”)

To the Parent of the Unvaccinated Child Who Exposed My Family to Measles. Jacks, T., Mother Jones (Feb. 2015). (“When your child gets sick, others are endangered—including my daughter with cancer.”) [To the parent of that unvaccinated child from Perry Street Palace: FUCK YOU. –Ed.]

What Not To Wear After 50. Combs, C., Better After 50 (Feb. 2015). (“Resting bitch face. Hahahahaha. Just kidding. Wear that one all you want.”)

I’m Brianna Wu, And I’m Risking My Life Standing Up To Gamergate. Wu, B., Bustle (Feb. 2015).

Natural Deception: Conned By the World Congress of Families. Parke, C., Political Research Associates (Jan. 2015). (“the organization is leading a global legislative and public relations campaign against LGBTQ and reproductive rights.”) [They seem nice. –Ed.]

Jeb ‘Put Me Through Hell’. Kruse, M., Politico Magazine (Jan. 2015). (“Michael Schiavo knows as well as anyone what Jeb Bush can do with executive power. He thinks you ought to know too.”)

Here Are 25 Jokes That Only Nerds Will Understand. If You Laugh Then Yep, You’re A Nerd! Boredom Therapy (Jul. 2014).

The Anti-Vaccine Movement Should Be Ridiculed, Because Shame Works. Novak, M., Gizmodo (Feb. 2015). [Hear, hear! He must be reading my blog! This d00d disagrees, though, and says “People who are told their deeply held beliefs are stupid tend to withdraw from the conversation.” Um, perhaps someone can ‘splain to me why getting these assholes to shut the fuck up would be a bad thing? I mean, there is a reason unvaccinated children with measles are found in clusters, and that reason is anti-vaxxers spreading their deeply held beliefs deadly bad ideas to others. –Ed.]

FBI monitored and critiqued African American writers for decades. Flood, A., The Guardian (Feb. 2015).

Policing Our Girls. Hutchinson, S., blackfemlens (Feb. 2015).

Gay People Posting Photos Of Gay People On Facebook Is Persecuting Christians Says Perkins. Badash, D., The New Civil Rights Movement (Jan. 2015). [To all mah gay peeps: go forth and persecute. –Ed.]

Something Really, Really Terrible Is About to Happen to Our Coral. Philpott, T., Mother Jones (Jan. 2015). [I hate people. Have I mentioned that I hate people? Well, I hate people. –Ed.]

How secular family values stack up. Zuckerman, P., The Los Angeles Times (Feb. 2015). (“Far from being dysfunctional, nihilistic and rudderless without the security and rectitude of religion, secular households provide a sound and solid foundation for children”) [h/t SJ]

Why science is so hard to believe. Achenbach, J., Washington Post (Feb. 2015).

10 Senate Ds Think Drillers Should Be Able to Inject Whatever the Frack They Want into Your Water. Liberty Equality Fraternity and Trees, Daily Kos (Jan. 2015). [In case you’re wondering who these motherfrackers are: Michael Bennet (D-CO), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Mark Warner (D-VA). –Ed.]

Obama, Biden & Pelosi Lobbying Hard for TPP. Publius, G., Hullabaloo (Feb. 2015).

Source Code Similarities: Experts Unmask ‘Regin’ Trojan as NSA Tool. Rosenbach, M., Spiegel Online InternationaI (Jan. 2015).

Oklahoma Lawmakers Vote Overwhelmingly To Ban Advanced Placement U.S. History. Legum, J., ThinkProgress (Feb. 2015). [Christ. Doesn’t Oklahoma have enough problems already with all the earthquakes from fracking? –Ed.]

No good deed goes unpunished. Vermont Political Observer (Jan. 2015). (“What I did not anticipate was the vitriolic verbal assault from those who don’t know the difference between the Classics and illegal immigrants from South America.”) [D000000000d. Have you never been on the Internet? –Ed.]

Indisputable proof that prosecutors and politicians are penalized when they hold police accountable. King, S., Daily Kos (Jan. 2015).

Is the US the only country where more men are raped than women? Filipovic, J., The Guardian (Feb. 2015). [American exceptionalism, y’all. –Ed.]

5 Bizarre Realities of Being a Man Who Was Raped by a Woman. Anonymous, via Mannen, A., Cracked (Jan. 2015).

Pipeline explodes in West Virginia. Gardner, F., Daily Kos (Jan. 2013). (“This is the fourth major pipeline incident that’s occurred this month.”)

Hobby Lobby 2: Inside Republicans’ Plan to Kill America’s Most Effective Anti-Teen-Pregnancy Program. Baumann, N., Mother Jones (Feb. 2015). (“An innovative program has reduced the abortion rate and saved a state millions. Here’s why it’s doomed.”) [SPOILER ALERT! Because conservatives. –Ed.]

Black teens who commit a few crimes go to jail as often as white teens who commit dozens. Ehrenfreund, M., The Washington Post (Jan. 2015).

Here’s What It’s Like For A Woman To Send a Job Rejection To A Man. Creighton, J., Medium (Feb. 2015).

Liberal Racism: 25 Things I Learned After I Wrote About ISIS and White Racism at the Daily Kos. DeVega, C., Daily Kos (Feb. 2015).

Women Being Inexpertly Groped In Western Art History. Ortberg, M., The Toast (Feb. 2015). [NSFW] [Hahaha. –Ed.]


PLZ NOTE: Acquisition of links and/or bon mots for the Palace Library does not imply the Palace’s 100% agreement with or endorsement of any content, organization or individual.

She’s baaaaaaack.

frenchflaghalfmastWe have arrived home safely from our journeys to the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, where we stayed in Grand Case on the French side. Naturally, news of the terrorist attacks at Charlie Hebdo rocked the seaside town, and many flags remained at half mast.

The Palace is likewise flying French flags at half mast until further notice.

I am sure Loyal Readers™ have a pretty good idea where I stand on many of the issues implicated in these events, e.g. religion in general and fundamentalist Islam in particular, free speech and freedom of the press, satire and mockery vs. terrorist violence as political acts, the inevitable right-wing blowback in the West including more—and thus more ineffective—mass surveillance. I may have more to say about some or all of that later. For now, I will just leave you with just a few things that resonate with me.

A timely reminder from my friend that people in the U.S. have much, much more to fear from our own homegrown jihadists than we do from Islamic terrorism: Terror From the Right: Plots, Conspiracies and Racist Rampages Since Oklahoma City. (See also.)

These lines from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, written a thousand years ago:

But yours the cold heart, and the murderous tongue,
The wintry soul that hates to hear a song,
The close-shut fist, the mean and measuring eye,
And all the little poisoned ways of wrong.

[h/t Adam Lee]

Happy 4th! Also, R.I.P. American Democracy.

flagdownIn the dizzying throes of my rage and mourning for my country in the wake of last week’s entirely expected and epically craptastic 5-4 Hobby Lobby decision, I naturally started drinking promptly and posted a bunch of hatey shit on Facebook. I also posted on my blog a job application to the Catholic d00ds on the Supreme Court and to the many for-profit companies suing the federal government to get out of the birth-control-is-basic-fucking-healthcare mandate of the ACA, and in lieu of my resumé I helpfully included a recent picture of the interior of my vagina. (For those readers who may not be 100% up to speed, for many fine employers vaginas are now the subject of unparalleled concern, interest and control.)

Now, I realize that ridicule and mockery of Supreme Court justices may not be to everyone’s taste, which is why I really cannot recommend highly enough going other places on the internet. And in a gesture of gracious magnanimity, to readers who prefer a more sobering (and certainly more sober!) analysis, I offer this eminently readable summary of the Hobby Lobby decision by Carmen Green of Georgetown University Law Center. But just FYI, I fully intend to continue drinking, cursing and ridiculing the “Supreme” Court, unless and until I feel it’s time to step away from the bar and go home.

In other words: don’t hold your breath.

It all began to unravel rather quickly with Citizens United, in which the activist Catholic shitweasel majority on the high court overturned a century of precedent and decades of campaign finance reform laws, essentially holding that corporations = people, and corporate cash = protected speech under the First Amendment. These twin delusions are massive affronts to democracy, logic and reality, so easily debunked even a young child could do it (unless of course she too suffered the mind-warping ravages of Conservative Personality Disorder).

‘Cause here’s the thing: corporations are not people.


For one thing, unlike people, they can potentially live forever. That makes them immortal. You know, like vampires. Or possibly tardigrades. But definitely not like people. Perhaps most devastating to the surreal horror fiction unleashed by the court in Citizens United (and expounded upon in McCutcheon) is that unlike people, corporations cannot be put in prison for the crimes they commit:

prisonpopincrease[h/t Sally Strange via Cory Booker]

So these “people” are immortals who are never subject to the same rules of law and justice as everyone else. Is any of this starting to sound to you like a zombie movie yet? Because there’s more.

So, Hobby Lobby. The Catholic fascist men on the highest court in the land have now decided that not only are corporations people, they can now be religious people, they can be stupid, wrong and willfully ignorant religious people, they can force their stupid, wrong and willfully ignorant religious views on their employees, and they can simply ignore laws they don’t like.

Unlike, you know, actual people. Or, say, women.

Earlier this month, from the peaceful sanctity of their buffer-zone protected place of work, SCOTUS struck down a Massachusetts buffer zone law around women’s clinics. That decision was unanimous, thus rendering the entire Supreme Court not just laughably hypocritical @$$holes, but complicit in giving material support to terrorists.

scotusbarrier-500x598RIP American democracy. It was a great idea. Unfortunately, it simply could not survive the scourge of conservatism.


To cheer you up, here’s a little something from Andy Borowitz:

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—By a 5–4 vote on Monday, the United States Supreme Court settled a dispute that Justice Samuel Alito said was “at its core about the rights of women versus the rights of people.”

Writing for the majority, Justice Alito wrote, “It is the duty of this Court, whenever it sees that the rights of people are being threatened, to do our best to safeguard those rights. In this case, it is clear that people’s rights were being threatened by women.”

Acknowledging that some women “might argue that they, too, have some claim to being people,” Justice Alito wrote, “That is an interesting question for another day.”

While the Court’s decision caused an uproar across the country, it received a big thumbs-up from one of the Justices who voted with the majority, Antonin Scalia.

“This has been a crappy year or so around here, what with all that gay-marriage stuff, but at least we finished strong,” he said.


Perhaps you might also enjoy this little roundup of some Facebook highlights. (Iris haz awwsum FB frenz.)


IRIS shared a link: Supreme Court sides with employers over birth control mandate.

FB FRIEND: Assholes.

IRIS: No, no, just vaginas…at least for now.



FB FRIEND2: I hope someone messes with your subsidized Viagra and you all die of horribly painful heart attacks while standing on Legos, sporting those four hour boners that no one will ever touch again.

IRIS: I hate conservatives. They taught me to hate, by hating me.

FB FRIEND3: ^but but but someone somewhere has nice conservative friends and might be offended by that sentiment! no hyperbole allowed when referring to the Right!

IRIS: “Nice conservative” is an oxymoron.


FB FRIEND4: So, in short:
1) I no longer have religious freedom
2) I no longer have the right to privacy
3) “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” does not apply to women
4) I have lost my bodily autonomy and reproductive rights

I am literally in tears right now. Not just for myself (but believe me, I am scared as hell), but how the fuck can I raise a daughter in a society where she has less rights than her mother and grandmother did?

FB FRIEND5: Yes. How can I look my daughter in the eye and tell her she’s as valuable as her little brother? Clearly our society is intent on proving otherwise as often as possible.

IRIS: Passing the ERA would be a start. Then we could demand mens reproductive healthcare be subject to the same employer whims. As it stands, no dice. We are NOT equal under the constitution.

FB FRIEND6: Where is hobby lobby hq? I’m gonna look on Google.

FB FRIEND7: Inside the SCOTUS buffer zone.

FB FRIEND6: I’m gonna punch SCOTUS’ buffer zone in the taint.

FB FRIEND6: That was a joke, NSA.


FB FRIEND8: I’m still at work but do any of my Facebook friends want to explain what’s wrong with this? A friend posted it on my wall:

I think you should read this, Dave. I would argue that your concept of this situation and the assumptions you bring into it are actually more harmful to women and society as a whole than Hobby Lobby’s attempt to protect its freedoms and interests.

Hobby Lobby operates with a philosophy that actually honors and respects a woman’s sexuality and encourages women to respect their own sexuality and be responsible adults with what naturally results from that sexuality. You are the one who would rather treat them as “second class citizens”, like animals with no inherent dignity or honor, like detached individuals with no responsibility to society but to create national headlines out of their supposedly “private” business in bed. I have to put this bluntly because, as I cannot convey to you just how much damage to human dignity you are furthering and feeding.”

– Jared Caspari…/want-birth-control-go-buy/2/

IRIS: Everything. Like, literally every single thing is wrong with this.


FB FRIEND9: Today might be a good day to ask “pro-life” anti-abortion atheists what they think of the ruling.

IRIS: It’s never a good day for that.

FB FRIEND9: Today *especially* is good for that I think. I already tagged them and they are not responding.

IRIS: Maybe it’s because they’re confused by the word “think”?


FB FRIEND10: Come home to cat shit on my bed.
Why, Morgan, why?

IRIS: Cat hates SCOTUS too?

FB STRANGER: Damn. Someone beat me to the SCOTUS joke.


IRIS: Just so I have this straight: not only are corporations people, not only are they religious people, they can force employees to follow their religious beliefs – and never, ever go to prison. That’s it. I’m incorporating.


FB FRIEND7: But ‪#‎HobbyLobby‬ sincerely believes this lie, so they get to enforce their belief in a lie on people like me.

IRIS: I sincerely believe that male Catholic Supreme Court justices should be impeached. How ’bout we enforce my sincerely held belief?

FB FRIEND11: Have you incorporated yet, Iris ?

IRIS: Yes, of course! Iris Inc.’s legal department is already working on the impeachment action. Or so they tell me, anyway. I’m out drinking.


FILM REVIEW: After Tiller.

[TRIGGER WARNINGS GALORE: violence, harassment, rape, terrorism,
contempt for agency, animal cruelty.]

For decades, abortion providers in the United States have been the targets of terrorism*. Since 1977 so-called “pro-life” elements have engaged in more than 175,000 reported acts of disruption (including bomb threats, anthrax scares, chemical assaults and vandalism) and 6,400 reported acts of violence (including bombings, arson, death threats and kidnappings). In the past two decades alone, “pro-life” terrorists have murdered eight clinic workers including four doctors, two clinic employees, a clinic escort and a security guard, and there have been at least seventeen more attempted murders. While pro-choice rhetoric often centers on the pregnant person—as it should—the stories of their doctors are lost in all the noise about “baby killers” and the wholly fictitious Abortion Industrial Complex, except during brief periods when their assassinations make front page news. In the new documentary After Tiller, filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson set out to give these doctors a voice. And what they have to say is both illuminating and moving in surprising ways.

The Doctors

The “Tiller” in the film’s title is Dr. George Tiller, the Wichita-based provider of third-trimester abortions shot and killed in his church in 2009. The film takes us into the professional and personal lives of the only four remaining physicians openly practicing late abortions in the United States, three of whom Dr. Tiller mentored personally, and all of whom were his colleagues and friends. Tiller’s murder only steeled their resolve to continue this work; in the film, his is as powerful a presence as their own.

Dr. LeRoy Carhart, Dr. Warren Hern, Dr. Susan Robinson and Dr. Shelley Sella granted Shane and Wilson extensive interviews and extraordinary access to their daily lives. Part of the reason the doctors chose to participate is their hope that “if more Americans could meet them, and hear where they were coming from—even if they still disagreed with the work that they did—they at least might not want to kill them.” If only. For all of the compassion these doctors show for their patients, for all of the bravery and commitment they display in the face of tremendous obstacles thrown in their way by lawmakers and anti-choice zealots, their enemies are of a decidedly different mind:

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a nurse, receptionist, bookkeeper, or janitor, if you work for the murderous abortionist I’m going to kill you…I figured for every one I killed, I’d get another one to quit.”
Clayton Waagner, anti-abortion terrorist, currently serving 30 years in an Illinois prison.

“Tiller is the concentration camp ‘Mengele’ of our day and needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgement upon our nation.”
Scott Roeder, convicted murderer of Dr. George Tiller.

But if it sounds as if the doctors occupy the opposite end of the abortion extremist spectrum, this is not the case. These physicians think deeply about the complex moral implications of their work, and struggle daily to find the right answer to the question of what is best for people. Sometimes that answer is unequivocal: terminating a third trimester pregnancy. Sometimes not. But unlike that of their tormentors, theirs is not a black-&-white world, populated predominantly with innocent little babies and Evil Baby Killer villains.

The Patients

Which bring us to their patients. They come from a variety of religious, racial, socio-economic and family structure backgrounds, and collectively present the viewer with a wide range of circumstances surrounding pregnancy and the decision to terminate: we see several would-be parents who recently learned that much-wanted pregnancies are nonviable due to devastating fetal abnormalities; a young rape victim in shock and denial; an impoverished mother overwhelmed with family commitments who was unable to secure funds for an earlier, less expensive termination; and a haunting note from a desperate and suicidal 14-year old pregnant for the second time. Having never expected to find themselves in these predicaments, many agreed to participate in the film precisely because they saw sharing their own stories as the only way anyone could possibly understand their plight.

And that’s just what sets late abortions apart from earlier ones, isn’t it? No matter where one stands on abortion rights, no one envisions their future self facing a third trimester abortion, and thus it is all too easy to internalize the simplistic sound bites of abortion opponents without ever really thinking these through. When finally faced with the previously unthinkable, naive narratives bring only additional anguish and obfuscation to a person in a desperate and difficult situation, when what is needed is compassion and clear thinking. In their preliminary counseling sessions we hear these patients express stark, painful emotions: sadness, guilt, anger, grief, fear and plenty of ambivalence—although after ending their pregnancies every single one of them expresses great relief and gratitude. These doctors are keenly aware that their patients may very well feel differently tomorrow or years from now, and in this regard patients are counseled to show themselves some kindness, with the understanding that at this time, they made the very best decision that they could. This exchange is typical of the thoughtful dialogue that occurs before any termination is scheduled; it is in these scenes more than anywhere else in the film that the sensitivity of the doctors and their patients is most vividly on display, and their ethical considerations most evident.

One conversation troubled me, however. At a post-abortion follow-up visit, Dr. Warren Hern adamantly pressures a young rape victim to report her rape. Hern is portrayed as a deeply caring person, and part of his motivation here is that this victim deserves to see justice for her own sake. But he also explicitly reinforces the trope that she should report her rape in order to prevent what happened to her from happening to anyone else. But the implication that a rape victim is in any way responsible for her rapist’s subsequent behavior is 180 degrees off the mark. A rape victim usually has enough trauma and guilt to process without adding to it any responsibility for future victims. She has none. The rapist is 100% responsible for raping. Period, full stop. Here, Hern comes across not as callous, but rather surprisingly oblivious to the consequences for women who choose to report, and the very real concerns that affect those decisions. (See, e.g., here.) At the end of Hern’s conversation with his patient, she promises him she will report, and hugs him. I felt like screaming.

The Adversaries

And speaking of screaming. *ahem*

The filmmakers chose to represent the anti-abortion movement as the doctors themselves experience it, “as a constant presence in the background, whether standing outside their clinics in protest, or lurking in the air as a potential threat,” and they “were careful not to portray the protestors in any extreme or cartoonish way, but rather, in the moments we do have with them, to hear the more reasonable arguments they have against late abortion.” But the protestors are by their very nature extreme and cartoonish: ostentatiously reciting Christian prayers in front of clinics (in violation of Matthew 6:5), delivering self-righteous diatribes at community events, packing a church vigil festooned in “LIFE” regalia, holding up the tiny diaper of a prematurely born infant at a local zoning meeting—and that’s to say nothing of their signage, which ranges from deceitful to absurd to grotesque. But if Shane and Wilson were careful not to turn up the heat on protesters, perhaps this is because the doctors do such a fine job of it themselves merely by recounting their own lives. A doctor’s barn deliberately burned to the ground, killing 22 horses. Bullet holes through clinic windows. A gruesome protest at a child’s middle school on back-to-school night in an effort to intimidate her landlord father from renting space to Dr. Carhart. If that is not cartoonish and extreme, then nothing is. I was left with the feeling that the filmmakers let them off the hook too easily. (If you have the spoons for it, read the NARAL report Anti-Choice Violence and Intimidation to see exactly what this portrayal is missing.)

And of course we never hear any reasonable arguments for restricting abortions. In fact I have never heard a single one. Anywhere. Ever.

Shane and Wilson say that their agenda in making After Tiller was “not political, but humanist.” On the humanist front, they certainly succeed: anyone who watches the film will have difficulty painting abortion doctors (and abortion patients) as two-dimensional caricatures, the way their opponents frequently portray them. That the doctors continue to live and work with the awareness that an assassin’s bullet could strike them down at any time—and that their loved ones are also in danger—is more than just a ringing testament to their personal courage and commitment, borne of compassion for humanity and thoroughly thoughtful concern for what is best for people. When it comes to 21st century abortion politics in the United States, anything that moves the conversation in a humanizing direction is a most welcome and necessary political development. In this realm perhaps more than any other, the personal is political. And After Tiller makes a powerful political statement, whether the filmmakers set out to do so or not.

* If you think “terrorism” is bit of hyperbole, you are not alone. A U.S. government database maintained to track incidents of terrorism includes secular anarchists, animal rights activists, eco-terrorists and of course Islamic extremists, but only two anti-abortion attacks—and one of those was in Nepal. But just consider for a moment how such actions would be characterized if the perpetrators were overwhelmingly Muslims, instead of peaceful and loving followers of Jeezus Haploid Christ.

“I am the anti-abortion extremist, a terrorist to the abortion industry.”
Clayton Waagner, anti-abortion terrorist serving 30 years in an Illinois prison.

“Sweat now or bleed later.”

Via a Greenwald tweet today, I read a story from July about Oath Keepers, “a coalition of current and former military, police, and other public officials [who] have pledged not to obey unconstitutional commands.” The group has launched a billboard campaign, including putting up three massive, pro-Edward Snowden ads in the Pentagon’s subway station. Here’s one:



The group’s press release reads:

Oath Keepers has placed three back-lit signs on the subway platform in the Washington Metro Pentagon Station, group founder Stewart Rhodes announced today.

“The first sign at the Pentagon Station is done in the style of the theater scene from George Orwell’s 1984 and features Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, as ‘Big Brother,'” Rhodes wrote, stating the “sign makes it clear that by exposing the NSA spying on Americans, Snowden honored his oath.”

“This artwork will also be going on a billboard along a major freeway in Maryland, near the NSA headquarters at Ft. Mead within the week,” Rhodes added.

The second sign now in place at Pentagon Station is aimed directly at CIA employees, reminding them that their oath is not to a “corporate culture of secrecy,” Rhodes continued. “The third sign is intended to reach our military personnel within the Pentagon, and any other government employees who have ever served in the military, using the Iwo Jima flag-raising as a backdrop to the message.”

“This is part of a broader effort to place billboards at strategic locations throughout the United States,” Rhodes added, citing current locations including near military bases at Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base, Fort Benning, Fort Hood, Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield.

Now before you dismiss Oath Keepers as deranged wingnuts or libertarian kooks, I beg you to consider that they just may not be so kooky after all. Or perhaps another way to look at it is that they might be just the kooks we need. Of course, it should surprise no one that a coalition of cops and soldiers would tend to lean rightward, and indeed they certainly get a little too close to Teabag-flavored swill for my personal taste. But their mission is the very antithesis of violent, right-wing militia movements. To wit:

[T]here are ten commands the Oath Keepers have forsworn. Those who join the group must refuse

• to disarm the American people

• to conduct warrantless searches of the American people, their homes, vehicles, papers, or effects

• to detain American citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants” or to subject them to trial by military tribunal

• to impose martial law or a “state of emergency” on a state, or to enter with force into a state, without the express consent and invitation of that state’s legislature and governor

• to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty and declares the national government to be in violation of the compact by which that state entered the Union

• to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps

• to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext

• to assist or support the use of any foreign troops on U.S. soil against the American people

• to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies, under any emergency pretext whatsoever

• to do anything that would “infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances”

Of course most liberals will bristle at the refusal to “disarm the American people.” And as this writer points out, the state secession thing is sure to raise a few eyebrows. And for sure, a few of these commands are exceedingly unlikely to be heard outside the fevered dreams of conspiracy theorists (foreign troops on U.S. soil? Yeah, I think…not. But if I am wrong about this, I would be most grateful for the Oath Keepers refusing to assist them). However, some of these commands are more than just likely: several of them have already happened.

If the Oath Keepers are overly prone to see secret plots against our liberties, that’s because open plots against our liberties have been so successful. American police forces infringe on free speech and assembly at almost every major political summit. An American citizen, José Padilla, was famously tried before a military tribunal as an enemy combatant. Cops confiscated legal firearms from peaceful citizens following Hurricane Katrina. And speaking of Katrina, if you thought the item about blockading cities belonged on the “not very likely” list, think again. When victims of the storm attempted to flee across the Crescent City Connection bridge to Jefferson Parish, they were forced back by armed agents of the Gretna, Louisiana police. If there had been some Oath Keepers on the force that day, those refugees might have escaped the devastation.

“Liberal” media organ Mother Jones calls them treasonous. The Southern Poverty Law Center insinuates that they’re domestic terrorists. A guest on MSNBC called them “malcontents” who think they can “break the law and not follow orders if they don’t like what they’re being told.” Say, what? The most charitable explanation I can come up with for these nonsensical ramblings is that they reflect the fevered dreams of Obamabots. For what is treasonous would be issuing or following commands that are clearly illegal under the U.S. Constitution. None of this should be remotely controversial. And it’s really quite rich to call them terrorists when the ten commands the Oath Keepers refuse to obey are explicit refusals to commit violence. Except, perhaps, in the very specific scenario where the U.S. government turns its weapons on We the People in response to an uprising:

Search the group’s founding document and the closest thing you will find to a call to violence is the statement that, should a dictatorship be imposed and a popular uprising break out, its members will not only refuse to fire on the dissenters but will “join them in fighting against those who dare attempt to enslave them.” And even then the “fighting” needn’t necessarily be armed. (They also say they aren’t “advocating or promoting violence towards any organization, group or person.”) Otherwise, the manifesto is a call to stand down, not to rise up. Not every Oath Keeper would appreciate the comparison, but the group has more in common with those dissidents of the ’60s who refused to go to war than with any paramilitary cell.

If we find ourselves under a dictatorship with the American people in open revolt, I don’t know about you but I would welcome any and all resistance against the illegal regime. It would, by definition, have to be made up of ginormous assholes.

And that refusal to fire on dissenters? It’s critical. In light of my post earlier today regarding flashmobs as effective nonviolent protest, Loyal Readers™ may also recall my July post excerpting an interview with Chris Hedges:

Q. Congress seems a wholly owned subsidiary of the multinationals. Obama is pimping for GE in Africa. The Koch brothers have made a downpayment on the Supreme Court. Money will control the next federal election, and most of the state elections. Is there any scenario you see that will return this government to the people?

A. Mass protests that begin to scare the hell out of these people, and begin to disrupt systems that they care about. That really is the only solution.

I think they’re very fragile. I think internally they know how corrupt they are—which is why they passed the NDAA, because they want to be able to put the military on the streets. Because I think ultimately they don’t trust the police to protect them. And those are the sentiments of a dying elite.

So I think when we begin to organize against all the formal structures of power, I think that they may crumble as the Stasi state in East Germany, which, when I was in East Germany, appeared monolithic. [It] fell in about a week. And it fell in a week because Erich Honecker, the dictator for 19 years, sent an elite paratrooper division down to Leipzig to fire on 70,000 demonstrators, and they refused to do it… In the same way that the Tzar sent the Cossacks in to crush the Petrograd bread riots, and they fraternized with the crowd. Both Honecker and the Tzar only lasted another week in power. Once the foot soldiers of the elite will not protect the elite, they’re done.

And that’s why we have to be nonviolent. Because ultimately what we are doing is trying to create a paralysis within systems of power, whereby we speak truth, we appeal to conscience, we expose corruption, fraud, lies by those in power, so that when those forces are called into the street to stop us, they refuse to do so. That’s how all revolutions happen. And that’s really in the end what I’m calling for. I’m calling for the overthrow of this system. Let me say that again for Homeland Security: that’s what I’m doing. And I’m calling for it through nonviolent means, through mass protests. Because as a father of four children, I know that if we don’t stop these forces, they will kill us. They will destroy the ecosystem on which the human species and my children will depend for their life. And that is really the stakes that lie before us, and why there is an imperative for all of us to take risks. I don’t like going to jail, as I have. Going to jail is more time than I care to donate to my government. But it really is the only option left. Because if we fail at this, then it’s not just this particular civilization that will be extinguished, but human habitation.

Jesse Walker, writer for the libertarian* rag, Reason, inquired in June about the group’s thoughts on Snowden’s NSA spying revelations:

Stewart Rhodes, the group’s founder, has emailed me a statement about Snowden:

He is an example of what needs to be done by anyone who has knowledge of such gross violations of our rights. We need more to stand up, because this is surely the mere tip of the iceberg of the infrastructure for a police state that is being built over us.

This is about far more than supposed attempts to ferry out al Qaeda operatives. This is part of a growing Stasi and Checka style surveillance police state which tags, tracks, and prepares plans to detain dissidents with the “Main Core” database of millions of Americans who the regime considers a “threat.”

And this is also really about the absurd claim that the U.S. is a battlefield and the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply to the President’s “surveillance of the battlefield.” That was the claim of neocon, government-supremacist Bush lawyers, like John Yoo, and that idea that the Bill of Rights is trumped by Executive war powers has also been the consistent claim of Obama lawyers such as Harold Koh, justifying even the targetted killing of Americans.

And that absurd view, that so long as they call it “war’ they can sidestep the Bill of Rights and act like Stalin, is shared by both Republicans (like Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, and Rep. Peter King), and Democrats like Harry Reid (who tells us it’s been going on for seven years, so don’t worry about it).

Unless we the people purge out these oath breakers from BOTH parties, we will find ourselves in a nightmare dictatorship and we will have to fight to throw it off. Sweat now or bleed later. Purge them all.

Very, very interesting. No?

* Of course we generally loathe libertarianism ’round here, for these reasons and more. It would be sheer folly, however, to dismiss them as allies on such vital issues as civil liberties or the Drug War. Consider: if Chris Hedges is right that we need mass protests to scare the hell out of America’s Owners—and I think he is—we must recognize that they are precariously reliant on a distracted and divided U.S. public. That’s how the game is rigged, so that Goldman Sachs always wins: we pretend to have meaningful elections and fight amongst ourselves while our common enemies plunder the Earth on an epic scale. Strange bedfellows coming together in common cause is both an extremely threatening state of affairs for the status quo, and absolutely necessary as a matter of math anyway. (Despite popular misconceptions, at best the Palace Army consists of a dismally small number of unarmed pacifists and one unconscionably lazy cat.) My own view is that if the revolution is peaceful—IF—some form of democratic socialism will ultimately prevail over the spectacular flameout of Free Market™ ideology. It’s that very failure that will have sparked the revolution in the first place.

Money and Militarism.

[Cross-posted at The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy.]

Once upon a time, war profiteering was considered profoundly immoral, or so I am told.  Today it is The American Way.

The prospect of decreasing the U.S. defense budget has the Pentagon brass and defense contractors (and their Congressional servants) squawking like chickens that the sky is falling.  But here in the wondrous world of reality, even the “drastic” cuts envisioned by the sequester would roll defense funding back to “only” 2006 levels.  Meanwhile, these unfortunate entities would ride out multi-billion dollar backlogs of existing military contracts.  For years.  Aww.

The public overwhelmingly supports significant cuts to the defense budget, even in districts flush with military cash.  Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama (2006-2011) posed these as rhetorical questions:

“Does the number of warships we have, and are building, really put America at risk, when the U.S. battle fleet is larger than the next 13 navies combined — 11 of which are our partners and allies?

Is it a dire threat that by 2020, the United States will have only 20 times more advanced stealth fighters than China?”

But to hear congresscritters tell it, such questions are hardly rhetorical and the answers are emphatically in the affirmative.  In his final presidential address to the nation in 1961 Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warned of the threat posed to democratic government by the military-industrial complex, noting: “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”  Fifty years later, is there any doubt that his fear has come to fruition?  (Eisenhower also feared that an arms race would siphon resources from vital government services, such as…building hospitals.  How quaint.  The government.  Building hospitals!   Okay, to be fair it sometimes builds hospitals — in Bagram and Baghdad.  But certainly not here.  Because FREEDOM!)

While the drums have been beating relentlessly for massive cuts to domestic spending, the defense industry has posted record profits year after year.  In 2002 the combined profits of the nation’s five largest defense contractors totaled $2.4 billion (adjusted for inflation); by 2011 that number was $13.4 billion — an increase of over 450%.  In the 2005 documentary film Why We Fight, foreign policy analyst Chalmers Johnson pointedly stated, “The ‘defense’ budget is three quarters of a trillion dollars. Profits went up last year well over 25%.  I guarantee you: when war becomes that profitable, we’re going to see more of it.”

But all of these facts and figures tell only one part of the story.  Even putting aside civilian deaths swelling the ranks of Al-Qaeda, encroachments on civil liberties and the militarization of domestic police forces, there are war costs that cannot be calculated in dollars.  In a recent piece in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, provocateur Michael Moore explores why our citizenry is uniquely more violent than almost any other.  He posits three causes:  poverty, fear/racism, and a cultural ethos of what he calls “the ‘me’ society.”  Yet he stops short of connecting these back to the one truly exceptional characteristic of the United States:  enthusiastic warmaking.

Poverty is a symptom of the largest economy in the world spending more on its military operations than nearly the entire world combined.  Over 46 million Americans — 15% — now live below the poverty line.  More than one in five American children.  Not since the early 1960s has there been a significantly higher poverty rate.  Poverty is a symptom of our de facto plutocratic rule:  when war is this profitable, we are indeed going to see more of it at the expense of ordinary citizens.

Fear, and its manifestation in the form of racism, are unfortunate human proclivities that any sane society would work to temper.  Instead, we see them stoked to a roaring flame in support of our state of permanent war:  dehumanizing rhetoric, especially with regard to Muslims, is now a staple of what passes for our political discourse.  But this constant, fear-driven, Us-vs.-Them messaging, so necessary to maintain even minimal public support for vast war expenditures, inevitably fuels hatred and fear of The Other in many forms:  xenophobia, misogyny and homophobia.  It fuels a culture that venerates hypermasculinity and aggression.  How could it not?  More than ever before, the American public now approves of torture, a prospect utterly unthinkable in previous decades, as when Ronald Reagan signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture.  It is hardly a mystery that Americans drowning in this toxic stew kill each other with alarming frequency.

Finally, there is what Moore calls the “me” society.  The “rugged individualist” and bootstrap-pulling fetishes so beloved by conservatives are of course self-serving delusions, as those pesky fact checks of Mitt Romney’s ill-fated “I built that” campaign demonstrated beautifully.  And speaking of inconvenient facts: as a social species our interconnectedness is just reality, whether conservatives like it or not.  Moore characterizes this view as the “lone wolf,” but that’s not quite accurate; at least a lone wolf evokes a noble (if false) visage of an independent citizen.  The real embodiment of this view is much darker: a vicious, dog-eat-dog world — a self-fulfilling prophecy if there ever were one.  It is on vivid display in the right’s hollow mantra of “personal responsibility,” for example in the notion that if one falls ill, fails to rise above one’s economic circumstances, or gets raped, this is a result of one’s own moral failings.  Conservatives will dissemble and rationalize to an astonishing degree in order to convince themselves that this is so, and conversely, that proven solutions to societal problems (such as single-payer healthcare) do not work.

Moore rightly points out that this ethos serves no one in the long run — including, ironically, bootstrap factory owners themselves.  It is here where he comes closest to the big picture:

“…Free medical care, free or low-cost college, mental health help. And I wonder — why can’t we do that? I think it’s because in many other countries people see each other not as separate and alone but rather together, on the path of life, with each person existing as an integral part of the whole.  And you help them when they’re in need, not punish them because they’ve had some misfortune or bad break. I have to believe one of the reasons gun murders in other countries are so rare is because there’s less of the lone wolf mentality amongst their citizens. Most are raised with a sense of connection, if not outright solidarity. And that makes it harder to kill one another.”

Moore stops short on this train of thought, right where he might ponder whether the U.S. military-industrial complex would prefer a society where a real sense of connection makes it harder to kill other humans.  None of these three contributors to our violent culture is happening in a vacuum:  there is a perpetual — and perpetually profitable — state of war that lies right at the heart of it.

I had a wild idea recently: a requirement that defense contractors operate as not-for-profits.  It would not end poverty, fear/racism, or the delusion of independence.  It would not eliminate defense lobbying and media propaganda, or block the revolving door between the Pentagon and private industry.  But it would certainly reduce these things.  Of course, serious advocacy for such an approach would inevitably result in the swift suppression of its proponents — can anyone seriously doubt that?

So, you know, you definitely didn’t hear it here.

Get the lead out.

The other day I was perusing Alternet and just generally procrastinating and being unproductive, and I clicked a link that looked mildly interesting:  An Astonishing Argument for Why Violent Crime Rates Have Dropped.  As Loyal Readers™ well know, I do not generally write about crime per se, although I do write about the militarization of domestic law enforcement, the for-profit prison-industrial complex, the war on some people who use drugs, rape and domestic violence, prison and sentencing reform, domestic terrorism, and other issues primarily from the perspective of responses to crime and violence, institutional or otherwise.  Frankly, I do not know very much about criminology.  Like most people I would guess, I had this vague idea about interrelated and seemingly intractable causes of criminal violence:  poverty, neglect, abuse, failing schools, multi-generational patterns of substance abuse and domestic violence, genetic predisposition, childhood development, poor nutrition, poor maternal health care, poor mental health care, and probably a half-dozen other contributing factors I could rattle off.

I am also aware that despite the uptick in mass shootings, violent crime has dropped off dramatically in the last several decades, all across the country.  After peaking in the early 1990s, by 2010 violent crime rates had dropped like a stone: New York City, down 75 percent.  Washington, DC, down 58 percent.  Dallas, 70 percent.  Newark, 74 percent.  Los Angeles, 78 percent.  Although no one seemed to understand why this was happening, there was no shortage of theories — and no shortage of people vying for credit, either.

After taking office in 1994, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his police chief William Bratton implemented the so-called “broken windows” approach to crime reduction:  in a nutshell, the theory was that tolerating petty crimes would lead to a cycle wherein criminality would only escalate.  I remember:  police began relentlessly cracking down on subway fare cheaters, harmless drunken loiterers, and heretofore unmolested joint smokers.  I also remember a proposed initiative to bust jaywalkers like they do in Los Angeles, but New Yorkers revolted.  This was a step too far.  We’re New Yorkers, goddammit: jaywalking is our fuckin’ way of life.

And lo and behold, over the next few years violent crime in the city did indeed plummet:

In 1996, the New York Times reported that crime had plunged for the third straight year, the sharpest drop since the end of Prohibition. Since 1993, rape rates had dropped 17 percent, assault 27 percent, robbery 42 percent, and murder an astonishing 49 percent. Giuliani was on his way to becoming America’s Mayor and Bratton was on the cover of Time.

Wow, amirite?  At this time I was living in Hell’s Kitchen with my ex, and saw with my own eyes the transformation of my neighborhood from a dogforsaken war zone to a thriving community, humming with small restaurants and other mom-&-pop businesses in only a few years time.  Ninth Avenue had been pocked with boarded-up storefronts, pawn shops, porn shops, gang graffiti, and rundown bars where, upon entering, it was instantly made clear to Your Humble Monarch™ that “outsiders” were not welcome.  On my block I regularly encountered sex workers exhibiting visible signs of brutal violence and prolific drug use, even during daylight hours.  Within a few years they had not exactly disappeared, but could now be glimpsed only rarely, and only in the wee hours of the morning.  Taking their former places on the sidewalks were young adults and students pursuing careers in the arts, families with young children, and tourists venturing over from Times Square for a reasonably priced pre-theatre dinner.  (My ex complained bitterly about the disappearance of so many porn shops and peep shows on 42nd Street.   “What’s next?” he lamented, “Is Giuliani going to have us all wearing uniforms now?” He could be a funny motherfucker, I’ll give him that.)

But there is a glaring problem with attributing any of this crime reduction to the dynamic duo of Giuliani and Bratton:  violent crime in the city had already peaked in 1990, and showed four years of steady decline before Giuliani took office.  More damning than that, the same downward trend was happening everywhere — not just New York.

There were other proposed explanations, including the intuitively reasonable theory that violent crime tracks economic upturns and downturns.  But like the failed Giuliani/Bratton hypothesis, it turns out that violent crime trends do not, in fact, track economic data.  Ditto for other common theories, like the 1980s crack epidemic, increased incarceration rates, larger police forces, and a provocative idea popularized in 1999 by economist Steven Levitt (of Freakonomics fame):  Roe v. WadeYep: “legalized abortion, they argued, led to fewer unwanted babies, which meant fewer maladjusted and violent young men two decades later.”

None of these proposed causes is persuasively correlated, much less conclusively causal.

Which brings me back to the Alternet article I mentioned approximately forty million words ago, An Astonishing Argument for Why Violent Crime Rates Have Dropped, which in turn ultimately led me to this Kevin Drum piece in Mother Jones (on which the Alternet article is based):

America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead

That’s right: lead.  As in, Pb(CH2CH3)4.  As in, childhood exposure to environmental lead from paint, and much more importantly, from leaded gasoline emissions.  It turns out that childhood lead exposure rates track violent crime rates* roughly 20-years down the road, nearly perfectly:

In a 2000 paper (PDF) [US Department of Housing and Urban Development consultant and researcher Rick Nevin] concluded that if you add a lag time of 23 years, lead emissions from automobiles explain 90 percent of the variation in violent crime in America. Toddlers who ingested high levels of lead in the ’40s and ’50s really were more likely to become violent criminals in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

Continued research in the intervening years by Nevin and other has only further cemented these findings.  In states where lead emissions declined more quickly or slowly, violent crime twenty years later followed the same pattern.  The relationship holds for different times, and in different countries.  Drum asked Nevin whether in all of his research he had ever found a country that didn’t fit the theory: “No,” Nevin replied. “Not one.”  This year a published paper examined the correlation at the city level:

Tulane University researcher Howard Mielke published a paper with demographer Sammy Zahran on the correlation of lead and crime at the city level. They studied six US cities that had both good crime data and good lead data going back to the ’50s, and they found a good fit in every single one. In fact, Mielke has even studied lead concentrations at the neighborhood level in New Orleans and shared his maps with the local police. “When they overlay them with crime maps,” he told me, “they realize they match up.”

It has long been known that lead exposure in young children is linked with lower IQ, hyperactivity, behavioral problems, learning disabilities and juvenile delinquency.  All of these consequences are profoundly tragic, destroying thousands of young lives before they even begin, not to mention costing society dearly.  Yet we have not managed to muster the political will — read: the money — to undertake environmental lead abatement on the scale needed to eradicate it.  Even if it were widely accepted that (a) lead exposure is by far the greatest cause of violent crime, and (b) the costs of cleaning it up would yield returns at levels Wall Street hedge funds would envy (a case Drum makes persuasively), it is still difficult to envision meaningful action in the foreseeable future.  As I remarked to my co-bloggers this morning, I disagree with this part of Drum’s conclusion:

There’s nothing partisan about this, nothing that should appeal more to one group than another. It’s just common sense.

The prison-industrial complex — specifically the lucrative boom in private, for-profit prisons — as well as the ongoing militarization of law enforcement and related infusions of cash (virtually limitless funding for anything remotely falling under the rubric of “Homeland Security”) for weapons and other “war on terror” technologies for domestic police forces, make for quite the formidable lobby.  They are typically Republican paymasters, but spineless Democrats have meekly acquiesced to all of these endeavors, lest they be perceived as Soft on Crime.  Worse, Blue Dog Democrats (like Barack Obama) enthusiastically embrace these authoritarian and conservative policies, and in any event are owned by the same constituencies Republicans are.

Drum notes other aspects of the intractability of the status quo and the intransigence of those defending it here:

Mark Kleiman, a public policy professor at the University of California-Los Angeles who has studied promising methods of controlling crime, suggests that because criminologists are basically sociologists, they look for sociological explanations, not medical ones. My own sense is that interest groups probably play a crucial role: Political conservatives want to blame the social upheaval of the ’60s for the rise in crime that followed. Police unions have reasons for crediting its decline to an increase in the number of cops. Prison guards like the idea that increased incarceration is the answer. Drug warriors want the story to be about drug policy. If the actual answer turns out to be lead poisoning, they all lose a big pillar of support for their pet issue. And while lead abatement could be big business for contractors and builders, for some reason their trade groups have never taken it seriously.

More generally, we all have a deep stake in affirming the power of deliberate human action. When Reyes once presented her results to a conference of police chiefs, it was, unsurprisingly, a tough sell. “They want to think that what they do on a daily basis matters,” she says. “And it does.” But it may not matter as much as they think.

That’s all true: all of these factions present serious challenges to meaningful action in their own right.  But in a culture that puts profit and power above all else (including crime prevention), with a government that serves the interests of private capital above all else, it’s the money that erects a nearly insurmountable obstacle to “common sense.”

Drum’s piece is an outstanding example of investigative journalism and competent science reporting (now there’s something you just don’t see every day…). I urge you to read the whole thing: the implications are staggering.

Also, I had a terrifying thought: if we did invest in lead abatement and violent crime plummeted over the next two decades as expected, who, exactly, will fill all those empty prison cells?

*Interestingly, lead exposure also tracks teen pregnancy rates.

Which assault rifle would Jesus own?

The title of this post has been shamelessly stolen from a Jeremy Scahill tweet (although I very much doubt that this sentiment originated with him).  Nevertheless, it poses an interesting question — what would the infamous fictional character of Jeezus think of the recent shooting deaths?  I know exactly what you’re thinking:  maybe we should inquire with a Baptist seminary student dropout in order to find out?

As we noted yesterday, former Arkansas governor, Fox News host and Baptist seminary student dropout Mike Huckabee opined that the Connecticut shootings took place because “we’ve systematically removed God from our schools,” adding, “Maybe we ought to let [God] in on the front end, and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done.”  What a flaming doucheweasel, amirite?  No, not Mike Huckabee (yeah, okay, him too), but this god character.  In response to Huckabee’s weird assertions I mused:

Now so far, I remain unconvinced by this god theory of theirs.  For one thing, it doesn’t account for the 2007 mass shooting at New Life Church in Colorado Springs.  Or the 2008 killings at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville.  And that’s to say nothing of the military bases, restaurants and workplaces, where as far as I am aware gods are generally permitted unfettered access.  But more importantly, if some god demands American schoolchildren recite mandatory prayers to it in exchange for protecting them from violent massacres, then clearly that god is a sadistic, narcissistic @$$hole — and we should do everything in our power keep it as far away from kids as possible.

Obviously the governor has now taken my critique to heart, because he no longer believes the shootings were caused by a lack of mandatory prayers in public schools.*  Nope.  He has retooled his hypothesis and determined that the Newtown massacre was the result of “tax-funded abortion pills.”

Christian-owned businesses are told to surrender their values under the edict of government orders to provide tax-funded abortion pills. We carefully and intentionally stop saying things are sinful and we call them disorders. Sometimes, we even say they’re normal. And to get to where we have to abandon bed rock moral truths, then we ask “well, where was God?” And I respond that, as I see it, we’ve escorted him out of our culture and marched him off the public square and then we express our surprise that a culture without him reflects what it’s become.

Of course our culture is so god-soaked we’re all drowning in it, but no matter:  nothing can ever be Jeezus-y enough for the Mike Huckabees of the world.  Even if American schoolchildren were forced to grovel daily in unison to a malevolent Sky Daddy like good little fascists, there would be Mike Huckabee shrieking about the need for corporal punishment, sex segregation, and a thousand other biblical rules and regulations with no proven benefits (and in fact proven harms) in reality.  And speaking of reality, that magical land where Mike Huckabee dares not tread:

In reality, there are no “government-funded abortion pills.” The Obamacare contraception mandate, which is what Huckabee is likely referring to, does not provide coverage for any abortifacients — and will actually help reduce abortion rates.

Clearly there is not enough mockery in the world for the likes of Mike Huckabee.  But the Palace will continue to contribute whatever small amount of ridicule we can to this worthwhile endeavor.

* Incidentally, there is a whole lot of praying in public schools: ask any kid unprepared for a test.

What digby said.

Like nearly everyone else I know, I’ve been reacting with numb shock and sickening horror to the massacre in Connecticut.  I had wanted to say something insightful — especially in light of my glib comment the other day urging that liberals get over their aversion to guns, as it seems the only people carrying them are either criminals, militarized police forces and/or CPD cases — but it turns out I have precisely nothing to add to the conversation already taking place.  And so it is elsewhere that I will direct your attention, if I may.

In Shut down the pump: a little parable for our time, digby tells two true tales: one of a deadly cholera epidemic in 19th century Britain, and another of gun laws in modern Australia.  Obviously the stories are not analogous in some key ways, but the takeaway is nonetheless provocative.  In the first one, the cholera epidemic did not end by finding a cure for the disease; it ended when authorities shut down a water pump that drew from a contaminated well (after much denial, disbelief and delay, I might add).  In the second, after a massacre in 1996, newly elected Australian Prime Minister John Howard forced the states to adopt a sensible National Firearms Agreement:  a ban on semi-automatic rifles, a ban on semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns, and a tightly restrictive system of licensing and ownership controls.  digby ends with this (emphasis mine):

This did not solve the problem of mental illness or end the primitive capacity of human beings to commit murder and mayhem. Those are huge problems that their society, like all societies, is still grappling with every day. But it did end the epidemic of mass shootings. They have not had even one since then.

The lesson is this: End the epidemic and then we can — and must — talk about root causes and mental health facilities and our violent culture. But first things first — shut down the damned pump.

And speaking of “the damned pump,” we learn from Lee Fang writing at The Nation (also via digby):

The National Rifle Association portrays itself as an organization that represents “4 million members” who simply love the Second Amendment. The truth is much more murky. In reality, the NRA is composed of half a dozen legal entities; some designed to run undisclosed attack ads in political campaigns, others to lobby and collect tens of millions in undisclosed, tax-deductible sums. This power has only been enhanced in the era of Citizens United, with large GOP donors in the last election reportedly funneling money to the NRA simply to use the group as a brand to pummel Democrats with nasty ads. (As The Huffington Post’s Peter Stone reported, even the Koch network now provides an undisclosed amount to the NRA.)

Despite the grassroots façade, there is much evidence to suggest that corporations that profit from unregulated gun use are propping up the NRA’s activities, much like how the tobacco lobby secretly funded “Smokers Rights’” fronts and libertarian anti-tax groups, or how polluters currently finance much of the climate change skepticism movement. In a “special thanks” to their donors, the National Rifle Association Foundation lists Bushmaster Firearms Inc., the company that makes the assault rifle reportedly found with the shooter responsible for the mass murder today in Newtown, Connecticut. How much Bushmaster Firearms Inc. (a firm now known as Windham) contributes is left unsaid.

The Violence Policy Center has estimated that since 2005, gun manufacturers have contributed up to $38.9 million to the NRA. Those numbers, however, are based on publicly listed “sponsorship” levels on NRA fundraising pamphlets. The real figures could be much bigger. Like Crossroads GPS or Americans for Prosperity, or the Sierra Club for that matter, the NRA does not disclose any donor information even though it spends millions on federal elections.

“The damned pump” is comprised of weapons manufacturers and their lavishly funded servants in elected office.  Here’s a helpful list of NRA funding recipients in the last election cycle, three pages long:  if you find someone on it who was elected to be your servant, why not give them a little ringy in protest?  Tell them to support sensible gun control legislation and give the NRA its money back.  It’s blood money — literally — and the blood is on their hands.

In another short post, digby debunks the failed hypothesis of gun proponents that the solution to gun violence is more guns.  Citing this piece at thinkprogress:

[E]ven as more Americans now own more guns than ever before and can easily and legally obtain powerful firearms in almost all of the states, mass shootings have continued unabated. 2012 now has the highest number of incidents, with six mass shootings.

In 1995, “there were an estimated 200 million guns in private hands. Today, there are around 300 million” — a 50 percent jump during a period when the population grew by just 20 percent, but gun laws were drastically loosened. In the past four years alone, “across 37 states, the NRA and its political allies have pushed through 99 laws making guns easier to own, easier to carry in public, and harder for the government to track.” Eight states now allow firearms in bars. Permit holders in Kansas “can carry concealed weapons inside K-12 schools, and Louisiana allows them in houses of worship.” Michigan may soon “make it easier for people to receive a gun permit and open up “gun free zones,” including schools.

Since 1982, the nation has experienced at least 62 mass murders in 30 states and in at least 49 cases, “the gunmen obtained the weapons legally, and the majority of those weapons used were semi-automatic.”

A Mother Jones analysis of 61 mass murders over the last 30 years found that “in not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun.” As one leading expert explained, “given that civilian shooters are less likely to hit their targets than police in these circumstances,” arming civilians could often lead to more chaos and deaths.

“In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun.”  And there are 300,000,000 of them.

Not surprisingly, others have a slightly different prescription for ending the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S.  Via the liberal Christian group Faithful America:

As the nation grieves for twenty schoolchildren gunned down in Connecticut, the religious right has the audacity to blame America’s public schools for protecting students’ religious freedom.

The American Family Association’s leading spokesman used his radio show to argue that God allows violence in public schools because the Supreme Court has prohibited mandatory school prayers.

And speaking live on Fox News, Mike Huckabee said that this shooting happened because “we’ve systematically removed God from our schools.” He added, “Maybe we ought to let [God] in on the front end, and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done.”

Now so far, I remain unconvinced by this god theory of theirs.  For one thing, it doesn’t account for the 2007 mass shooting at New Life Church in Colorado Springs.  Or the 2008 killings at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville.  And that’s to say nothing of the military bases, restaurants and workplaces, where as far as I am aware gods are generally permitted unfettered access.  But more importantly, if some god demands American schoolchildren recite mandatory prayers to it in exchange for protecting them from violent massacres, then clearly that god is a sadistic, narcissistic @$$hole — and we should do everything in our power keep it as far away from kids as possible.

The Palace flags remain at half mast.