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Moral Anesthesia

It’s interesting to consider what the latest right wing craziness tells us about their vision of America. Judging from the recent NRA ad portraying secret service protection for the President’s children as some sort of elitist perk, their idea of a “free” country is one that’s in more or less permanent paramilitary lockdown. The children of America, they believe, should live lives as circumscribed and carefully controlled as the children of prominent figures who are the targets of frequent death threats. No more walking to school without an armed guard, no more taking off for a game of baseball in a nearby park, no more spur of the moment pizzas with friends…

The intent of all this nonsense, however, is even more worrisome, from the NRA ad, to recent right wing denunciations of President Obama having his picture taken with children (even his own) to the bizarre conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook massacre being a “false flag” and the grieving parents actors.

All of this serves a simple, and very dangerous aim in an environment of gun proliferation and inflammatory rhetoric – the rejection of empathy. The Sandy Hook bystanders and parents seen weeping on TV? Fakes! No need to feel sympathy for them. In fact, they deserve nothing but contempt for engaging in such cynical and cold-blooded performances. In fact (some have even claimed) there’s no reason to feel any grief at all because the children in question weren’t even killed!

The protection of the President’s children isn’t rooted in genuine concern for the children of a man who receives hundreds of death threats. It’s nothing more than the trappings of power, yet another sign that this uppity so-and-so considers himself more important than the average Joe Citizen.

Even when the President is pictured sitting on a sofa with his own children, it could not possibly be because he’s a normal and affectionate father who is proud of his daughters and considers them an important part of his life. It can only be a photo-op intended to boost his agenda, and all the more reason to despise a man so devoid of human feelings he would exploit his own children for political gain.

In short, the aim is dehumanization. Any moment in which their opponents might inspire a sense of fellow feeling must be neutralized. Perceived opponents, ranging from President Obama to survivors whose emotional impact is inconvenient to the gun lobby, must be presumed to be devoid of feelings as the rest of us understand them. Their expressed suffering or concern is of no account because it isn’t real.

This is a form of moral anesthesia. And it’s valid to ask, when it becomes a trend, exactly what people who do this are trying to talk themselves into.

The Answer, Joe, is “Yes.”

You talk over a woman guest trying to make a point. You and the other boys on the show chuckle, roll your eyes, and ridicule the women who disagree with you. You %F#@ SNAP YOUR FINGERS at Mika while she’s talking…

Because, unlike Mika, my job does not depend on lying to you about this, I’m going to say it.

Yes, Joe Scarborough. You are a chauvinist.

“I’m going to start killing people.”

James Yeager, CEO of Tactical Response:

F*ck that. I’m tellin’ you that if that happens it’s gonna spark a civil war, and I’ll be glad to fire the first shot. I’m not puttin’ up with it, you shouldn’t put up with it, and I need all you patriots to start thinkin’ about what you’re going to do, load your damn mags, make sure your rifle’s clean, pack a backpack with some food in it, and get ready to fight. I’mnot f*ckin’ puttin’ up with this, I am not letting my country be ruled by a dictator, I am not letting anybody take my guns. If it goes one inch further, I’m going to start killing people.

Years ago, online and in various southern neighborhoods, I began seeing a weird anti-gun control bumper sticker, that asked, “If guns are outlawed, how can we shoot liberals?”

The first time I saw it, I honestly thought it was a pro gun control dig at gun culture akin to, “If guns are outlawed, how can we knock over liquor stores?” After all, shooting people because you don’t like their politics is illegal. All the gun people know that—right?

Apparently not, because quite a few gun people seemed to consider this slogan a witty and telling statement against gun control. I guess a significant number of Americans don’t consider shooting liberals “illegal” in the sense that robbing someone at gunpoint is illegal.

So now, in the wake of a year punctuated by mass shootings every few months, the Obama administration is making tentative movements towards considering some form of control over assault weapons, and the gun people are once again invoking the, “touch my guns and I’ll kill you argument.” Call me a dewey-eyed, kumbaya-singing moonbat, but I question the long-term effectiveness of this pro-gun “argument.” Yes, the first impulse rational people feel when someone waves a gun at them and threatens to shoot is to duck and cover. The second, however, is to work out some way of taking the damned gun away – even if the gun-waver was someone previously assumed reasonable and moral enough to own a dangerous weapon.

This is the problem with that “base” the Republicans have been courting and indulging for the past twenty years. It doesn’t matter whether certain members of that base are “sincere” about threats to “start killing people,” or whether, as some moderate Republicans have insisted over the years, they are hyperbolizing, bullsh*tting, just saying things for effect, etc. No sensible adult is going to bet lives on a well-armed person being just a big ol’ kidder when he points a gun and says “I’m going to shoot you.”

The NRA and other groups opposed to gun control would do well to keep that in mind.

Okay. When?

Here is what we know.

A gunman walked into an elementary school this morning and opened fire.

We’re getting conflicting reports about the death toll. Twenty-seven dead, 18 of them children. Twenty dead, 10 of them children. Twenty-six dead…

The president has released a statement. He says “Now is not the time” to have a conversation about our gun laws.

Okay.

When? How long is the interval after a mass shooting when we can have this talk?

I ask because, looking over the past year, it’s hard to find a really broad window in between mass shootings where the gun people would deem it “appropriate” to have this discussion.

Last February, there was the shooting in the school cafeteria (3 dead), and the shooting at a health spa (5 dead.)
In April, there was the Oikos University shooting here in the Bay Area (7 dead)
In May, a guy opened fire in a Seattle Cafe (5 dead)
In July, we had the Aurora Theater shootings (12 dead)
In August, the gunman at the Sikh temple (6 dead)
In September, a workplace shooting at Accent Signage (5 dead)
Just a few days ago, there was that shooting at the mall in Oregon (3 dead)

So I’d really like to get a high sign from the gun people about when we can have this very serious talk. Preferably, I guess, it would be at some point when memorials were not being planned and relatives of the dead not struggling to cope in the wake of yet another mass shooting.

When would that be in this country?

*

The Tipping Point

Almost two weeks ago, Frank Rich wrote a piece in Salon on the likely right wing reaction if Obama won the election. His point was that, in spite of the repeated predictions by liberals, the Republican party is unlikely to seriously reassess its swing to the right.


I think the party, the radical, conservative, right-wing party, is going to keep moving to the right. Keep getting rid of dissidents, purging dissidents. To liberals, something like the Richard Mourdock thing is, “Oh my god, this is the end of the Republican Party,” but, no. A lot of Republican powers that be circled back to Todd Akin once the spotlight was off of him. That is the party. For liberals to have the illusion that it’s going to change, or that they’re going to learn a lesson if Romney loses, is to make the same mistake liberals always make.

… they’re going to be very angry. They’ll be angry at Romney, but they’ll forget about Romney in two minutes. They’re really going to be angry at Obama because they can’t believe that this collectivist black man has, in their view, bamboozled the American public once again.

The current reaction from the Republicans (which includes both John Boehner and Mitch McConnell refusing calls from the president on election night on the grounds that they were “sleeping.”) so far indicates that Rich is correct, but he got one thing slightly wrong. Yes, the right wing is really angry at President Obama – but they’re really, really angry at their fellow citizens who voted for him.

And so the weird American-hating “patriotism” of the GOP’s base becomes even more obvious and disturbingly more mainstreamed. It includes gun-waver Ted Nugent referring to Obama supporters as “sub-human varmints” and “Pimps whores & welfare brats & their soulless supporters,” and a Republican party treasurer in Texas calling Obama supporters “maggots,” and calling for an “amicable divorce” from Obama supporters via secession. Bill O’Reilly has declared that the problem is that 50% of the voters “feel they are entitled to things,” (“Things,” I gather, being healthcare, a livable wage, and access to the ballot.) Blogger John Hinderaker has announced “The takers outnumber the makers.”

And there are a few chilling indications that some people in positions of authority have decided to punish voters for the election’s outcome. The CEO of Murray Energy, the coal company that forced employees to show up, without pay, at a Romney speech, responded on Wednesday to Obama’s election by laying off 156 people after reading out loud an unctuous and insulting prayer. On Thursday, a man claiming to be a business owner in Georgia called C-Span and boasted about cutting employee hours and laying off two people because of the election. “I tried to make sure the people I laid off voted for Obama,” he said. A Las Vegas businessman, who remained anonymous, claims to have laid off 22 employees because of the election. “Most of them Hispanic.” If this trend is genuine, it poses a threat to the First Amendment rights of thousands of American workers.

All this illustrates the danger of the steady march to the right that Frank Rich has described. At a certain point political extremism, whether to the extreme left or the extreme right, becomes the open rejection of political freedom. Political beliefs become akin to religious fanaticism, where “error” has no rights. In the mind of this kind of extremist, the very existence of someone who disagrees, their very participation in the political process, is a problem. And if that problem can’t be solved by convincing them, it must be solved by threatening them into silence, or blocking their access to the ballot.

With its history of voter suppression, its embrace of incendiary rhetoric, and its cultivation of the gun lobby, the Republican party is, I believe, already more than halfway to that point.

Just in Time for Halloween!

I suppose it’s appropriate that we get this truly scary, fanged, and drooling glimpse of the face of modern capitalism on October 31st. CNBC Senior Editor John Carney has decided to weigh in on the subject of price gouging during a disaster.

What’s striking is the bland cluelessness, a level of naivete that, feigned or not, borders on the murderous. After pointing out that, once a few of these layabouts experience having to pay, say, $100 for a case of bottled water, they’ll have received a salutary lesson in being prepared for disaster, Carney observes:

One objection is that a system of free-floating, legal gouging would allow the wealthy to buy everything and leave the poor out altogether. But this concern is overrated. For the most part, price hikes during disasters do not actually put necessary goods and services out of reach of even the poorest people. They just put the budgets of the poor under additional strain.

Right. The poor never have to do without “necessary goods and services” in normal times, so they certainly won’t have to do without them during disasters like floods and hurricanes! For the most part, anyway. And if a few poor people are unlucky enough not to be part of that “most,” seeing a few bodies of neighbors who’ve died from hypothermia or thirst will teach the rest of those lazy beggars a lesson about the dangers of overconsumption!

Carney apparently believes the plight of many people during a disaster is about dickering over prices rather than access to resources that could save lives. “This is a problem better resolved,” he declares, “through transfer payments to alleviate the household budgetary effects of the prices after the fact, rather than trying to control the price in the first place.”

Of course, this is only going to help those people who managed to survive in a “marketplace” where the prices of goods are jacked up to the point where they end up having to choose what live-saving goods to purchase. Potable water? Uncontaminated food? Dry warm blankets? Hey, if you can’t afford all of them that’s just now how the marketplace works, buddy, and if you or a member of your family ends up not making it because you chose wrong, those are the Randian breaks.

Surely the transfer payment you get later will compensate for having to watch them die.

But wait! There’s more! Carney has followed this post up with another mentioning merchants giving away perishable goods, in which he asks:


Clearly, people could pay market prices for the perishing goods. Does the fact that they aren’t mean consumers are gouging merchants? Should this be illegal?

Is this man from another planet?

“Fings Break”

From Monty Python:


Dino: You ought to be careful, Colonel.

Colonel: We are careful. Extremely careful.

Dino: Of course, uh, fings break, don’t they?

Colonel: Break?

Luigi: Well, everyfing breaks, don’t it Colonel (knocks a ceramic vase off the desk) Oh, there,

Dino: Oh see, my brother’s clumsy, Colonel. When he gets unhappy he, uh, breaks fings. Like, say he don’t feel the army’s playing fair by him, uh, he may start breaking fings, Colonel….

Colonel: Are you threatening me?

Luigi: No, no, no, no, no, whatever made you think that, Colonel?

Dino: The Colonel doesn’t think we’re nice people Louie,

Luigi: We’re your buddies, Colonel.

Dino: We want to look after you!

It’s not just a few right wing crackpot business owners slipping their leashes and letting their enthused support for Romney carry them away to the point where they obliquely threaten the people who work for them. The idea comes from elected officials and candidates.


GOP Rep. Joe Walsh:

“If you run, manage or own a company tell your employees! What was the CEO this week that said, if Obama is reelected, I may have to let all of you go next year? If Obama’s reelected, if the Democrats take Congress, I may not be able to cover your health insurance next year.


Mitt Romney, from Presidential Small Business Town Hall:

I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections. And whether you agree with me or you agree with President Obama, or whatever your political view, I hope, I hope you pass those along to your employees…

Nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision and of course doing that with your family and your kids as well.

These people are scared. Republican efforts to make it as time-consuming and expensive as possible for many low income Americans to vote just aren’t enough. There are still a few members of the middle class, the ones who work in cubicles, who will likely get past the poll workers and actually get to fill out a ballot.

So, the GOP wants business owners to morph into the Vercotti Brothers. They want rank and file workers walking into the voting booth thinking, not of what a given candidate could do for them, but what their boss might do to them if his or her favored candidate doesn’t get elected.

Because the boss is worried! Honest! The boss wants to look out for you!

The boss just wants you to know that fings break.

Excellent Video about Ryan’s Visit to a Charity

Ryan’s budget would cut food assistance programs for people at risk of hunger.

It’s not surprising that the St. Vincent De Paul Dining Room was furious with Paul Ryan for using the place for a photo op. The reason he cited was a no doubt well-founded fear of losing donors.

The people who actually run these non-profits must get sick of Randian libertarians touting private charities as a sufficient safety net for the poor when they are already swamped.

The Republicans Just Don’t Care Anymore

They’re using any argument, explanation, and claim they can get their hands on, no matter how stupid or hateful.

One interesting example, Via Thinkprogress, is Linda McMahon Connecticut Republican Senate candidate, who faced some heat for telling the Hartford Courant Editorial Board that Catholic hospitals should have the option of denying rape victims the morning-after pill.


HARTFORD COURANT: So a rape victim, in a hospital. And it’s a hospital that is run by a Catholic institution. Emergency contraception, should that be—should she be sent to another hospital in the middle of the night when she’s in dire distress?

MCMAHON: I don’t think that the government should overreach. I mean it’s a separation of church and state in my view, and I think that a religious institution has the right to decide what its policies would be in that, in that case.

COURANT: Yeah and I respect that, I just wonder if that institution, gets a certain, a majority of it’s money from the government, if it’s mostly federally funded, does that play a role in your thinking?

MCMAHON: Well I just think again, that it is an issue of separation of church and state, and that institution should decide what its role would be, and what it’s comfortable with doing in that instance.

Asked about this during a debate, she offered an explanation:


I want to clarify one thing, that Congressman Murphy had said about this um, the rape issue and contraception. That was asked in the Hartford Courant review board and it was really an issue about a Catholic church being forced to offer those pills if the person came in, in an emergency rape. That was my response to it. I absolutely think we should avail women who come in, with rape victims, the opportunity to have those morning after pills or that treatment that they should get.

Somehow, we’re asked to believe, McMahon mistook the words “a rape victim, in a hospital. And it’s a hospital that is run by a Catholic institution” for “a rape victim in a church.” Rather than take responsibility for what she actually said during the interview she’s willing to feign thudding stupidity.

Keep Talking, Mitt

It just makes your cluelessness about what Americans face more and more evident.


Mitt Romney in The Columbus Dispatch:

‘We don’t have a setting across this country where if you don’t have insurance, we just say to you, ‘Tough luck, you’re going to die when you have your heart attack,’  ’ he said as he offered more hints as to what he would put in place of ‘Obamacare,’ which he has pledged to repeal.

‘No, you go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it’s paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital. We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.’

The best response to this I’ve seen so far is from karoli at Crooks and Liars:


Let’s start with Ann, your very own wife. Your campaign loves to talk about how she fought back against MS and cancer to be here today. Do you truly believe that would have been possible if you didn’t have the health insurance and means to make sure her medical bills were covered?

How did Ann discover she had breast cancer? Did she find a lump and go to the doctor? Or did she have a mammogram? Was it covered by your health insurance? If so, then imagine yourself penniless (I know, it’s a stretch of your imagination, but try). Do you think it would have been caught early enough to be handled with a lumpectomy? Because it wouldn’t have.

What if you were poor instead of rich in 1998 when Ann started having MS symptoms? Do you think she would have been able to go to a doctor? No, here’s how that would have gone. Perhaps she felt dizzy from time to time, or had pain she couldn’t explain. Maybe her vision got weird or she was having memory lapses. Whatever the symptoms, if you were not insured and did not have any money, the emergency room would not have helped you one bit.