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.

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* 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:

snowden-oath-keepers

SNOWDEN HONORED HIS OATH
HONOR YOURS! STOP BIG BROTHER
EXPOSE UNCONSTITUTIONAL ACTIONS
oathkeepers.org/expose

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?

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*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.

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* 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.

World Wide Culture War report.

Well it certainly was a busy few days for the culture warriors of the world.  Here’s a little roundup of the good, the bad and the ugly.

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On Friday, members of the Russian band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison for performing a 40 second anti-Putin “punk prayer” inside a Russian Orthodox church in February.  The song was a protest of the church leader’s support for Putin, who won his election two weeks later.  At the trial, the band’s “victims”—none of whom were at the church during the performance—testified that when they heard about it or watched it on Youtube, they had a sadWAAAAHHHHHHH!  they cried, YOU HURT OUR FEE-FEES!  The judge wholeheartedly agreed, and convicted the women of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”  She also said the women had “crudely undermined social order,” offended the feelings of Orthodox believers and shown a “complete lack of respect.”  Of course she did:  Russia has a 99% conviction rate.

Madonna joined a slew of artists, including Faith No More, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pete Townshend, Franz Ferdinand, Sting in condemning the arrests and now the sentencing.  On Facebook she said:

“Even if one disagrees with the location or how they chose to express themselves, the sentence is too harsh and in fact is inhumane.  I call on all those who love freedom to condemn this unjust punishment. I urge artists around the world to speak up in protest against this travesty. They’ve spent enough time in jail. I call on ALL of Russia to let Pussy Riot go free.”

She also played her stadium gig in Moscow with Pussy Riot stenciled on her back.  Putin supporters responded with disapproval: deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin called Madonna a “slut … lecturing everyone on morality.”  LOL.

Madonna had already incurred the wrath of Russia’s conservatives for voicing her support for gay rights at her recent concert in St. Petersburg:  ten anti-gay activists are suing her, demanding $10m for “moral damages and suffering,” apparently without any sense of irony whatsoever.

Today, we learn that Russian police are looking for two other members of Pussy Riot who participated in the performance but have so far escaped arrest.

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Speaking of moral damage and suffering, Republican candidate for Senate and misogynist dumbass Todd Akin—whom we mocked just the other day for his expressed desire to ban birth control and confusing it with abortion—doubled down on the misogyny and dumbassitude over the weekend:

Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri who is running against Sen. Claire McCaskill, justified his opposition to abortion rights even in case of rape with a claim that victims of “legitimate rape” have unnamed biological defenses that prevent pregnancy.

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

This d00d has not the slightest clue about human biology and reproduction (to say nothing of rape).  I feel very sorry for his wife, since obviously the basic workings of a vagina completely mystify him.  I hope she divorces his dumb misogynist ass and finally gets herself laid good-and-proper.

As we noted the other day, my statement “Todd Akin is a misogynist dumbass” is a statement of fact, not an opinion.  It is just too easy to add even more weight to the “dumbass” charge:

A 1996 study by the American Journal of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found “rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency” and is “a cause of many unwanted pregnancies” — an estimated “32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year.”

That’s 32,101 vaginas—yearly—whose magical anti-rape-conception powers just didn’t work, I guess.  As to the “misogynist” charge, well…

Akin said that even in the worst-case scenario — when the supposed natural protections against unwanted pregnancy fail — abortion should still not be a legal option for the rape victim.

“Let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work, or something,” Akin said. “I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”

That’s right: the 32,101 pregnant rape victims every year whose magical anti-rape-conception powers inexplicably fail them should be forced to bear their rapist’s baybeez.

Have I mentioned the fact that Todd Akin is a misogynist dumbass?  Todd Akin is a misogynist dumbass.  The scariest part of the story is this:

The PollTracker Average shows Akin leading McCaskill by a margin of 49.7 percent to 41.3 percent.

Astute readers may notice that Akin is up from when we reported the PollTracker numbers the other day, when he was only ahead 47.7 percent to 44 percent.

Todd Akin, misogynist dumbass.

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So last week, a gunman shot and wounded a security guard at the virulently anti-gay Family Patriarchy Research Council’s offices in D.C.  FRC’s Patriarch-In-Chief Tony Perkins has been running around blaming the violence on The Southern Poverty Law Center’s listing of FRC as a hate group, saying that by doing so it had encouraged and enabled the attack, and that the gunman “was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center.” Perkins said, “I believe the Southern Poverty Law Center should be held accountable for their reckless use of terminology.”  SPLC responded beautifully:

Perkins’ accusation is outrageous. The SPLC has listed the FRC as a hate group since 2010 because it has knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people — not, as some claim, because it opposes same-sex marriage. The FRC and its allies on the religious right are saying, in effect, that offering legitimate and fact-based criticism in a democratic society is tantamount to suggesting that the objects of criticism should be the targets of criminal violence.

As the SPLC made clear at the time and in hundreds of subsequent statements and press interviews, we criticize the FRC for claiming, in Perkins’ words, that pedophilia is “a homosexual problem” — an utter falsehood, as every relevant scientific authority has stated. An FRC official has said he wanted to “export homosexuals from the United States.” The same official advocated the criminalizing of homosexuality.

Perkins and his allies, seeing an opportunity to score points, are using the attack on their offices to pose a false equivalency between the SPLC’s criticisms of the FRC and the FRC’s criticisms of LGBT people. The FRC routinely pushes out demonizing claims that gay people are child molesters and worse — claims that are provably false. It should stop the demonization and affirm the dignity of all people.

Jeremy Hooper at goodasyou.org posted a list (with citations) of some of the many homophobic slurs and lies that have been shat forth from the mouth of Mr. Perkins and his hate group, FRC.  A few of the shit nuggets:

- Says about gay people: “They are intolerant. They are hateful. They are vile. They are spiteful…pawns of the enemy.” (See 0:43 mark.)

- The Family Research Council has distributed a pamphlet that erroneously depicts gay men and lesbians as physically and mentally ill pedophiles who can be cured.

- The Family Research Council has distributed a pamphlet that begins by likening the logic behind same-sex marriage to the logic behind man-horse marriage (complete with horse graphic)

- Compares gay people to terrorists (at 0:31 mark): “[B]ack in the 80s and early 90s, I worked with the State Department in anti-terrorism and we trained about 50 different countries in defending against terrorism, and it’s, at its base, what terrorism is, it’s a strike against the general populace simply to spread fear and intimidation so that they can disrupt and destabilize the system of government. That’s what the homosexuals are doing here to the legal system.”

Here’s a helpful suggestion:  If Mr. Perkins does not wish to be called a hateful liar, perhaps he might consider refraining from telling hateful lies.  Just a thought.

Of course, he’s not alone in all this whinging about the SPLC:

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), one of the nation’s leading opponents of same-sex marriage, told The Hill the shooting was a direct result of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s decision in 2010 to place the FRC on its list of hate groups for its rhetoric on gays.

“Today’s attack is the clearest sign we’ve seen that labeling pro-marriage groups as ‘hateful’ must end,” [president of NOM Brian] Brown said in a statement issued following the shooting.

“For too long national gay-rights groups have intentionally marginalized and ostracized pro-marriage groups and individuals by labeling them as ‘hateful’ and ‘bigoted.’”

For the love of Dog, people!  Don’t you see?!  It’s the hateful bigots who are the real victims here!  Poor hateful bigots!

Just for the record, the Palace stands with this statement from about 40 LGBTQi organizations in condemning the shooting:

We were saddened to hear news of the shooting this morning at the offices of the Family Research Council. Our hearts go out to the shooting victim, his family, and his co-workers.

The motivation and circumstances behind today’s tragedy are still unknown, but regardless of what emerges as the reason for this shooting, we utterly reject and condemn such violence.  We wish for a swift and complete recovery for the victim of this terrible incident.

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Finally, there was the speech given by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where he sought and has received political asylum.  The full transcript is here, and I am not going to excerpt it here because I urge you to go read the whole thing.  Police had previously stormed the building in an unsuccessful attempt to capture him; the action was thwarted by protests and media presence outside the embassy.  The UK has now reiterated that contrary to its treaty obligations under international law, it will not allow Assange “safe passage” to Ecuador.  Leaders from other South American countries are responding to all of this bullying—which the U.S. government is undoubtedly behind—by standing with Ecuador.

The Palace stands with Ecuador, and with the people in the United States and all over the world, who deserve to know when their governments are secretly engaged in corruption, abuse, crime, deceit, torture, injustice, ineptitude and/or embarrassing stupidity.  If we had even a minimally functioning media—whose job used to be exposing such evils rather than protecting, sucking up to, and enabling the perpetrators—there would be no need for a Wikileaks.

Guns and God: America’s Twin Insanities

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When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion. Richard Dawkins

INTRODUCTION: AMERICAN DELUSIONS

In the non-stop media coverage of the Aurora theater gun massacre, two commentaries made a special impression on me: one by John Cassidy, the other by Michael Moore.

Cassidy listed ten illusions most Americans embrace, suggesting that Americans are insane – at least about certain topics or convictions. The ten delusions:

1. Gun laws and gun deaths are unconnected.

2. Private enterprise is good; public enterprise is bad.

3. God created America and gave it a special purpose.

4. Our health-care system is the best there is.

5. The Founding Fathers were saintly figures who established liberty and democracy for everyone.

6. America is the greatest country in the world.

7. Tax rates are too high.

8. America is a peace-loving nation: the reason it gets involved in so many wars is that foreigners keep attacking us.

9. Cheap energy, gasoline especially, is our birthright.

10. Everybody else wishes they were American.

(Source: John Cassidy, Rational Irrationality: Is America Crazy? Ten Reasons It Might Be, The New Yorker, July 24, 2012.)

I agree with Cassidy – I think most Americans believe, embrace and defend every one of these illusions. However, I don’t think Cassidy’s list identifies the top-of-the-line, absolutely most egregious examples of American looniness.

THE TWO GREATEST NATIONAL DELUSIONS

My vote for this distinction goes to twin beliefs widely held that are certifiably delusional and dangerous. One concerns an omnipotent all-knowing all involved and all-American-oriented god in general and the Christian religion in particular; the other is devotion to the Second Amendment of our Constitution.

Cassidy dances lightly around these two berserk national attachments. Yet, the pernicious nature of both warrants attention. Let me offer a few recommendations about our maniacal devotion to a professed semi-divine right to posses, carry and use all manner of weapons for hunting and defense up to and just shy of thermonuclear devices. The NRA, the Republican Party and gun-enthusiast Americans never hesitate to remind gun critics that gun rights, militias and such are protected by the 2nd Amendment.

God and Christianity, the other lunacy mentioned, must wait for explication until another day. (Besides, what chance does reason have against unquestioned, uncritical faith? This is a delusion inculcated by our culture into the norm of society. Only brainwash creep over time can account for such widespread attachment to the literal truth of talking snakes, virgin births, resurrections, a trinity, transubstantiation, an overcrowded and unsanitary ark and an afterlife lottery of heaven or hell and so many other equally delusional notions.)

THE GUN PROBLEM

We’re number one, at least among wealthy nations, in experiencing gun deaths. A Washington Post columnist noted that 80 percent of all firearms deaths in 23 industrialized countries occurred in the United States. For women, the figure rose to 86 percent; for children age 14 and under, to 87 percent and asked, Can anyone seriously claim that our comparatively lax gun laws had nothing to do with these blood-drenched data?” (Source: E.J. Dionne Jr., Rationalizing gutlessness on guns, Washington Post, July 25, 2012.)

After each slaughter, there are always calls from sensible quarters for a ban on automatic weapons (once in effect, but allowed to expire), oversize magazines and other tools of mass as well as personal destruction. But the NRA is politically powerful and the politicians, even good ones, back off, despite considerable support for curbs (a 2011 New York Times/CBS News poll found 63 percent of Americans favor controls). As a result, as Michael Moore pointed out, we experience the equivalent of two Auroras daily (i.e., 24 average gun death a day) and if you add suicides by gun), the annual total amounts to 25,000. Might there be some connection here between gun deaths and the fact that we have 300 million guns in our homes? I dunno. It’s just a thought. (Source: Michael Moore, It’s the Guns – But Not Really the Guns, OB Rag – The Source, July 25, 2012.)

MY DELUSIONAL SOLUTION TO THE GUN DELUSION

I favor a Constitution Amendment to repeal the Second Amendment. By the year 2016 or sooner, there should be no private possession of guns, save for police, the military and extremely special cases of legitimate need, as set out in the new law. If someone must hunt, he/she can follow procedures for checking out an approved weapon under highly controlled conditions for a brief period of time – from a federally operated Regional Gun Lending Library (RGLL). RGLLs will be created and maintained throughout the nation using the weaponry obtained from citizens during a collection period to be established by the gun control amendment that repeals the 2nd amendment. (Maybe a provision can be added allowing for a well-regulated militia in certain states concerned that a force might have to be quickly called up from amongst the farmers and merchants should the Brits decide to return and wreak some havoc. Good idea, Michael Moore.)

There. That’s my delusion. I hope you like it. However, don’t write your Congressperson about it just yet. Let’s wait for four years or so for a hundred thousand or so additional gun deaths before going public with the gun control amendment. Timing is everything – at present, neither of the candidates for president nor any other federal, state or local public office would support repeal of the 2nd Amendment.

In time, however, this idea may seem less delusional to the majority of voters than the other delusions mentioned seem to me today.

Christians: Iris is personally responsible for the Colorado shooting.

What happened in Aurora, Colorado is horrifying.  Human beings died, many more are suffering, and a whole community is grieving.  Instead of reaching out to those who are suffering, @$$clowns are blaming the shooting on… liberals.

Here is the American Family Patriarchy Association blaming the actions of the Colorado shooter — by all accounts a Christian active in his church — on me and my godless liberalism.  Via rightwingwatch:

Fred Jackson, the American Family Association’s news director, while discussing the Colorado movie theater shooting today said that liberal Christian churches and liberal media helped contribute to violent incidents by supposedly deemphasizing the fear of God and the Bible. During AFA Today, Jackson had on as his guest Jerry Newcombe of Truth in Action Ministries to discuss his column on the AFA’s OneNewsNow blaming the shooting on a waning fear of God and Hell, and blamed the American Civil Liberties Union for destroying the public school system by supposedly forbidding students from reading the Bible. “You wonder why all these terrible things are happening to us when there is no fear of God,” Newcombe said.

So how does this work, exactly?  I give money to the ACLU, and god makes one of his minions kill a bunch of midnight moviegoers in…Colorado?  What an @$$hole.  I mean, I don’t want anyone else to die, but for some reason I suddenly have an urge to give more money to the ACLU.

Jackson maintained that unlike in the communities of forty years ago, liberals in the media and churches, along with movies and the internet, have “have come together to give us these kinds of incidents.”

Jackson: In the community there were community standards that reflected biblical principles, whether people knew it or not, the standard in the community was based on Scripture. In that short period of time, roughly forty years, we have seen such a transformation in values in our communities, whether it’s rural or whether it’s big city. I have to think that all of this, whether it’s the Hollywood movies, whether it’s what we see on the internets [sic], whether it’s liberal bias in the media, whether it’s our politicians changing public policy, I think all of those somehow have fit together—and I have to say also churches who are leaving the authority of Scripture and losing their fear of God—all of those things have seem to have come together to give us these kinds of incidents.

Oh, yes.  Up until forty years ago everyone lived such idyllic, peaceful lives, before Iris came along and ruined everything by donating to the ACLU.  The whole country was locked in a perpetual loop of a Leave It To Beaver episode, and good Christian gunmen never went on killing sprees.  Or, you know, not:

Howard Barton Unruh (January 21, 1921 – October 19, 2009) was an American mass murderer (sometimes classified as a spree killer) who killed 13 people on September 6, 1949, in Camden, New Jersey, when he was 28 years old.

His mother supported him by working at a factory while Howard hung around the house and attended daily church services.

Truefax: Howard Unruh is allegedly a (distant) relative of mine.  Anyway, of course the patriarchy putzes didn’t stop there:

Update: Later in the program, Jackson and co-host Teddy James of AFA Journal said the shooting is a sign of God’s judgment for the failings of the public education system and liberal, mainline Protestant churches that affirm gays and lesbians.

I knew it!  It’s the fault of gay people and their liberal churches!

Jackson: I think the sources of this is [sic] multifaceted but you can put it all I think under the heading of rebellion to God, a rejection of the God of the Bible. I think along with an education system that has produced our lawyers, our politicians, more teachers, more professors, all of that sort of thing, is our churches, mainline churches. We’ve been dealing Teddy and I know the AFA Journal has been dealing with denominations that no longer believe in the God of the Bible, they no longer believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation, they teach that God is OK with homosexuality, this is just increasing more and more. It is mankind shaking its fist at the authority of God.

James: And God will not be silent when he’s mocked, and we need to remember that.

Okay, now that’s just silly:  I mock god all the time, and usually all I ever hear in response are crickets.

Next up, we have the odious Rick Warren, who blames the Colorado shooting on… the teaching of evolution.  You know:  the fact that all life on Earth evolved (and continues to evolve) from a common ancestor.  Pastor Warren tweeted:

When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it.

I helpfully tweeted in reply:

@RickWarren How exactly do they act when you teach them they’re unworthy sinners who deserve to burn in hell for eternity?

So, just to recap: prominent American Christians are reprehensible idiots.

Christianity is not the cause of these shootings any more than gay bishops or evolutionary biologists are.  I personally despise Christianity for many reasons, but as PZ Myers points out, “the overwhelming majority of Christians feel no compulsion to murder, so it seems to be a rather ineffective ideology for encouraging killing sprees.”  What’s interesting here is that these clowns are feeling so defensive and lashing out at liberalism and it’s close cousin “reality.”  Christianity is not to blame for the murderous actions of any one individual—but it’s pretty hard to get around the obvious fact that being Christian obviously is not enough to inhibit such actions, either.  Prisons are chock full of Christians, after all.

Remember Boobquake?  From the New York Times:

A senior Iranian cleric says women who wear immodest clothing and behave promiscuously are to blame for earthquakes. “Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes,” the cleric, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Mr. Sedighi is Tehran’s acting Friday Prayer leader.

In response:

[Jenn] McCreight encouraged her blog’s readers to help her poke fun at Seddiqi by dressing “in your immodest clothing to represent Boobquake”, an invitation then extended to the world via Facebook. She described Boobquake as a scientific experiment: “With the power of our scandalous bodies combined, we should surely produce an earthquake. If not, I’m sure Sedighi can come up with a rational explanation for why the ground didn’t rumble.”

Really, mockery at its finest.  I’m sure these fine Christian patriarchs would agree with their Islamic counterpart that “women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society,” but they would be the first to mock any connection between cleavage and earthquakes.  Wait.  Now that I think about it, would they?

Finally, I want to share a point that carlie, a regular commenter at Pharyngula, made on the topic of the shooter, expressing something important and powerful that is all too easy to forget when we are reeling from shock and horror:

They are not other than us. They are very much the same as us. They are people who have had things go wrong in their lives, who grew up blaming other people for their own problems, who listened to a lot of rhetoric about how important it is to have power and how power can be obtained by violence. Calling them psychopaths and monsters allows you to distance yourself from them by saying oh, I’d never be like that, no one I know is like that, it’s not my problem. No. It’s our humanity; we have to own it.

And:

Calling him a psychopath means you don’t have to feel guilty that you support the legislators who cut mental health services to save you thirty cents a year on your taxes. Calling him a psychopath means you don’t have to feel guilty that you don’t volunteer or donate or in any way support your local school district so it can provide adequate services to turn out graduates who are capable of getting a good job. It means you don’t have to feel guilty about cutting social services who can intervene when a family is in trouble.

Separating him out and calling him a monster means you can absolve yourself of your portion of responsibility for supporting an environment that allows a person to have tragedy after missed opportunity after lack of education after no support that ends up in a guy who is angry at the world and has no life skills and can’t think of any other way to express his bitterness. So who’s the monster?

Note that this view does not absolve the gunman of responsibility for his acts; it points out what should be an obvious fact, namely that such acts do not occur in a vacuum.  Though we are all necessarily creatures of our culture, we also share responsibility for shaping it, for good and for ill.  If we’re looking for a monster, we can all take a good long look in the mirror, because under certain circumstances every single one of us is fully capable of truly monstrous acts.  We would do well to remember this.

Wolves run in packs.

Amanda Robb’s piece from 2010 has resurfaced in the wake of last weekend’s abortion clinic attack in Wisconsin.  She makes an important observation on the media narrative (or in this case the lack thereof) concerning the terrorism that lies at the center of the American anti-abortion movement, an observation that unfortunately goes as unheeded today as it did two years ago when she wrote it.  Robb is a journalist, and the niece of Dr. Barnett Slepian, the abortion provider murdered in his home in 1998 by James Kopp.  She struck up an ongoing dialogue with Scott Roeder, who murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in his church in 2009:

I had explained my interest in him when I had first written to him six months earlier: I really need to understand how someone could be moved to murder to stop abortion.

The understanding Robb ultimately gained is this:  the close, long-term and ongoing relationships between Scott Roeder and other anti-abortion extremists who advocate murder and violent attacks on abortion providers constitute a terrorist cell by any rational definition.  Well, outside of the Orwellian definition of “terrorist” currently in vogue within our deranged political discourse: namely, a Muslim male who disagrees with the actions of the U.S. government.  A direct consequence of this refusal to call terrorism terrorism is the “Lone Wolf” narrative that invariably emerges in the wake of anti-choice attacks on clinics and doctors.  It is as false as it is dangerous.  Robb notes:

As soon as Scott Roeder was named the sole suspect in the point-blank shooting death of Wichita, Kan., abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in the vestibule of the Reformation Lutheran Church Tiller attended, a predictable story began to be told. Following the lead of a recent Department of Homeland Security report characterizing right-wing terrorists as lone wolves, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, ABC, NBC and FOX News all ran stories calling Roeder a “lone wolf” gunman.

It is the oldest, possibly most dangerous abortion story out there.

It is also total bullshit.  As Robb demonstrates unequivocally, “for loners, these guys have a lot of friends. A lot of the same ones, in fact.”  You should read her whole article for all the documented details, but here’s a neat graphic that illustrates the anti-choice terrorist nexus in a nutshell:

Of course this level of detail has yet to emerge concerning Francis Grady, the suspect arrested in connection with the recent Planned Parenthood attack in Wisconsin.  After all, it took Robb over six months of investigative journalism to thoroughly document the connections between the individuals discussed in her piece.  But what we do see emerging is more of the same “Lone Wolf” narrative that treats cases such as Francis Grady as freak occurrences instead of the inevitable result of an explicitly violent conspiracy in service of an inherently violent ideology.*

It’s not just the Sober and Serious actors-pretending-to-be-journalists on cable news who fail to call it what it is.  Here we have TPM painting Francis Grady as a “bumbling” dipshit, thereby implying that Grady’s alleged actions were somehow less serious than earlier reports citing a “chemical-based bomb” would suggest.  But lets look at precisely what this man is accused of here:  Mr. Grady smashed a window of a Planned Parenthood clinic with a hammer, poured gasoline inside, and then lit it with a lighter.  The gasoline caught fire, which fortunately sputtered out after he drove away.  But what if it had not?  What if instead the clinic burned to the ground?  Would a homemade bomb (or “IED” as it’s called when deployed by Muslims) that accomplished the same thing really be different in any meaningful way?

Ask yourself this:  if the target were instead a New York synagogue, and Grady a Muslim named Al-Awlaki, would the same actions he’s accused of be deemed terrorism?  Would the NYPD, CIA and FBI infiltrate every political group and mosque to which he ever belonged in a relentless effort to bring terrorism and/or conspiracy charges against as wide a collection of individuals as possible?  Of course they would.

Why is this different?

Now it will not surprise loyal readers here to learn that we are very much in favor of mocking as bumbling dipshits any and all conservative @$$holes who make terrorist attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics, no matter how ineptly.  That is not the problem with TPM’s coverage of the Wisconsin attack.  It’s the characterization of Grady as a “bumbling ideologue driven by religious zeal,” and treating it as a matter of lesser concern than an inept Muslim arsonist would be.  It’s the refusal to call him what he is:  a terrorist.

I don’t mean to single out TPM — they are hardly alone.  I wish to point out that conservative media (read: mainstream media) is not the only culprit here.  The Lone Wolf narrative and the indifference to the seriousness of Grady’s alleged actions is virtually ubiquitous.  For example, one of the early local news report in Wisconsin is headlined:

Explosive device found at Planned Parenthood

It begins this way:

GRAND CHUTE, WI (WTAQ) – Grand Chute police are investigating an explosive device that blew up at Planned Parenthood.

A device that blew up at a Planned Parenthood clinic was “found?”  As Liss put it:  “Found. Well, yes, I suppose one way of describing a bomb going off is to say that a bomb was ‘found.’”  But I submit that only a Caucasian, American-born, Christian terrorist can expect to get this kind of treatment from news sources.  It was merely arson, you see.  Merely a women’s clinic.  (Again.)  Nothing to launch drone strikes over, people.

The sick, sadistic views of Francis Grady and Scott Roeder and James Kopp and Leslie Unruh and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter and an endless army of conservative politicians are now mainstreamAmanda Marcotte enumerates the fine citizens here:

…the people who are on the radio screeching about how women who use contraception are “sluts”, who convene and sit on congressional panels about how contraception is the end of “religious liberty”, who pass laws restricting abortion while making speeches comparing women to farm animals, who melt down on Fox News at the very idea that family planning clinics continue to exist, who try to eliminate all funding for contraception on the state and federal level, and who run for President while talking about the evils of contraception or why we need to “get rid of” Planned Parenthood…

We have come to expect misogyny as a normal if regrettable part of our discourse, at least when it is coming from the right.  And that is bad enough.  But what I wish to point out is that the countervailing narrative is impotent. Insufficient.  It’s the Orwellian euphemisms, the amused belittlement, the indifferent bewilderment coming from the center and the ostensible left that needs to be examined and addressed, pronto.  Not just for what this unfortunate phenomenon says about the culture’s views of women generally —although to be sure that is a vital conversation to have — but for what it says about the normalization of terroristic violence generally, and the privilege of American Christians to engage in it without being widely regarded as the terrorists they are.

In a climate where misogynist and violent anti-choice rhetoric abounds, it is yawningly unremarkable that Francis Grady is openly proud of himself, just as Scott Roeder was — the d00d apparently couldn’t wait to confess, and tried to plead guilty at his first court appearance (the judge declined to enter the plea).  As Amanda points out:

Are we surprised that he’s bragging about his crime instead of recoiling in shame? He probably thinks the Republican presidential candidates who were in the state campaigning when Grady set this bomb off are watching this on TV and approving of him.

Why wouldn’t he think that?  It’s not like a significant portion of mainstream society is likening him to those dirty radical Islamist animals with their total disregard for life.

She continues:

The mealy-mouthed unwillingness to take anti-choice terrorism seriously is a large part of the problem. It’s not called “terrorism”. Conservatives offer half-hearted denunciations, but then immediately turn around and continue to offer support for the narratives that create terrorism, such as claiming that nearly every woman in America is out of line for using her access points to health care—whether it’s private insurance or government programs to fill the gaps—to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Or claiming that the 1 in 3 American women who have abortions are murderers. As long as it’s socially acceptable for men to be angry about women’s bid for equality, and as long as that anger continues to be channeled into hatred for reproductive rights, some of the angry dudes are going to turn violent. Mild denunciations of crossing the line aren’t enough. Anyone who continues to support the narrative that forced child-bearing is an appropriate social control placed on women is responsible for this.

If we’re going to have a nonsensical War on Terror, then I say let’s fucking have it.  I want those of every stripe who perform terrorist acts — and all who conspire with them and provide them with material support** — tried by a jury of their peers on terrorism charges, and if found guilty, sentenced accordingly.

And I want the goddamn media to call it what it is.

__________
* The anti-choice position is inherently violent, as Liss expressed here:

If anyone else suggested that I should be forced to submit my body against my will to nine months of potential discomfort and pain, followed by an act that might include the skin and muscle between my vagina and anus being torn open, I don’t think we’d mince words about whether they were using violent rhetoric.

Substitute “skin and muscle between my testes and my anus being torn open” for “skin and muscle between my vagina and anus being torn open,” and we’d certainly not be mincing words.  Would we?

** That includes, by the way, every single one of the people who have been hired to give speeches and lobby on behalf of MEK:

  • former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace
  • former Supreme Allied Commander Europe (NATO) Wesley Clark
  • President Obama’s former national security adviser James Jones
  • former CIA chiefs James Woolsey, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden
  • former commander of CENTCOM Gen. Anthony Zinni
  • former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton
  • former FBI director Louis Freeh (who curiously enough made no mention in his speech of the 2004 FBI report on MEK’s continuing terrorism plots)
  • former Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Conway
  • former co-chair of the 9/11 Commission Lee Hamilton
  • former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani
  • former US attorney general Michael Mukasey
  • former GWB White House chief of staff Andrew Card
  • former US homeland security chief Tom Ridge
  • former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell
  • former Governor Howard Dean
  • former secretary of Energy Bill Richardson
  • the powerful Washington law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
  • Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA)
  • former Pentagon adviser Richard Perle

Glenn Greenwald has more on the U.S. nexus with MEK here, wherein he concludes:

I know that, in light of recent American history, it’s easy to forget this, but U.S. government officials — whether current or former — are no more entitled to commit felonies and violate U.S. statutes than any other citizens are.

Well, not necessarily Christian terrorists.  Mere arson.  Lone Wolfs, the lot of ‘em.