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Violet nails it


Over at Reclusive Leftist, Violet Socks responds to a recent essay by RFK Jr. that compared last week’s shooting in Tucson to the 1963 murder of his uncle:

But the essay is missing a sentence. I was so sure the sentence had to be there that I read the entire piece three times, and then started doing page searches to find the missing words. Surely the sentence was there and I was just somehow not seeing it. It’s the sentence that goes something like, “Ironically, despite the atmosphere in Dallas, it turned out that Uncle Jack’s assassin was a misguided pro-Castro Marxist.” Because that, of course, is what actually happened. That was the great irony of the JFK assassination. Dallas was infested with wingnuts (though they weren’t called wingnuts back then), and at first everybody thought that’s who killed the president. But lo and behold, it was just Lee Oswald, delusional Communist blowhard. As Jackie Kennedy remarked bitterly, JFK didn’t even have the “satisfaction” of dying for his liberal ideals; instead his assassin was just a “silly little Communist.”

In fact, that’s the point I thought RFK Jr. was going to make when I started reading the essay. Everybody in Dallas in 1963 thought it was a right-wing hit, and they were wrong; that’s the parallel with Tuscon. But no, that wasn’t the point RFK Jr. wanted to make. He just wanted to talk about the dangers of right-wing hate. Okay, fine. That’s cool. Let’s talk about it. But still: how do you leave out the sentence about Oswald? As a writer, how do you do that? I couldn’t. It feels obligatory. You write this highly-charged essay, you make a big deal about how ugly the right-wing stuff was in Dallas, you evoke the horror of the president’s death; even if you want your takeaway message to be about the dangers of superheated rhetoric, how do you leave out the undeniable historical reality that Oswald was cut from an entirely different bolt of cloth? Even if you tuck it in as a parenthetical throwaway (”of course, ironically…”), you still have to acknowledge it. Don’t you?

I had just about persuaded myself to forget about it—chalk it up to a single editorial decision not to muddy the main point—when I learned today that Eric Boehlert wrote an extremely similar essay in 2009: A President was killed the last time right-wing hatred ran wild like this. It’s exactly the same argument RFK Jr. makes, and with exactly the same stunning omission. No Oswald! Oswald has simply disappeared. He’s gone. And everything that motivated the man is gone. No Cuba, no Fidel, no Soviet Union, no Marxism, no Communism, no nothing. There’s not even a nod to Oswald’s real motive, which was the inchoate longing to be somebody, to be a great man, to be important.

So is this what we do now? Is this the program? Fifty years later, we just make it be about whatever we want it to be about? (Mr. Derrida, white courtesy phone. White courtesy phone, Mr. Derrida.)

Ironically, people will accuse me of having an ulterior motive for even saying this. So you’re defending right-wing hatred? So you’re arguing that the left is just as bad? Blah blah blah. Actually, here’s my ulterior motive: truth. I like truth. I like facts. I like knowing what really happened.

A few years back there was a horrible terrorist attack in this country. George W. Bush and his surrogates claimed that Saddam Hussein was behind the atrocity. There was no doubt that Saddam Hussein was an evil man, a brutal dictator with no redeeming qualities.

But he had nothing to do with the attacks on September 11th, 2001.

That’s the truth.


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Beating a dead horse

An example of violent conservative imagery

 


Gallup:

Most Doubt Political Rhetoric a Major Factor in Ariz. Shootings

A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds Americans dubious that the heated language used in politics today was a major factor that influenced the alleged gunman in last week’s shootings in Tucson, Ariz. Twenty percent say such rhetoric was a major factor in the shootings, while 22% cite it as a minor factor; 42% say it was not a factor at all. Democrats are more likely than independents or Republicans to believe political debate played a role.

[…]

The poll was conducted Jan. 11, three days after Jared Loughner allegedly shot and killed six people in Tucson, Ariz., and seriously injured numerous others including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Some of the early news coverage of the shootings discussed whether the increasingly inflammatory language used in political debate today could have motivated the shooter to attack the Democratic member of Congress. That theory was put forth by the sheriff of Pima County, Ariz., who argued that conservative thought leaders like Sarah Palin use language that may encourage their supporters to commit acts of violence against their opponents.

Most Americans reject that theory, with 53% agreeing that commentators who allege conservative rhetoric was responsible were mostly attempting to use the tragedy to make conservatives look bad. Roughly one in three, 35%, say the commentators were making a legitimate point about how dangerous the language used by conservatives can be.

If the connection between violent rhetoric and violence is so obvious, why aren’t more people blaming Sarah Palin and other conservative leaders for what happened in Arizona?

One reason is the lack of a causal connection. Regardless of what one might think of right wing rhetoric, there is no evidence that Jared Loughner was familiar with it, let alone influenced by it.

But another reason might be that for at least fifty years we have been hearing that the high rates of violence in this country are caused by violent cartoons, television shows, Rock and Roll, Hip-Hop/Rap and video games.

Something Not Unlike Research

There are well-conducted studies — notably by the social psychologist Brad Bushman and his colleagues — that show that, for example, exposing a child to a violent videogame, leads to an increased likelihood of aggressive behaviors. Craig Anderson, Bushman, and their colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of this research and concluded that

The evidence strongly suggests that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, and aggressive affect and for decreased empathy and prosocial behavior.

Which suggests that if we had a large increase in the consumption of violent videogames, we’d see a large increase in violence, right? However, we don’t seem to see this. The Figure to the right (below) plots the rates of assaults in the US as reported in the Bureau of Justice Statistics Victimization Survey. When the survey started, there were no such things as violent videogames. But the rates of assaults have steadily decreased. Just for fun, I put in the date when the first version of Grand Theft Auto was released. If anything, the decline in assaults seems to have accelerated during the violent videogame era.



Sometimes you hear that “correlation is not causation.” But we have here is a “negative correlation.” The fact is that despite the rhetoric coming from the right wing in this country political violence is pretty rare in the United States. And despite all the violent imagery in our culture, murder and other violent crimes have been declining since 1993.

This is not to say that violent political rhetoric is a good thing or even harmless. But the problem in this most recent case is that the media and the progressive blogosphere jumped the gun and went off half-cocked. They assumed that they had found a smoking gun but when the evidence began to emerge it revealed that the shooting in Tucson was not a political assassination attempt but something that is unfortunately far more common – a mentally ill spree killer.

As a result, continuing to focus on the issue of violent political rhetoric comes across to the public as trying to politicize a tragedy.

It’s time to stop beating a dead horse.



Tuesday: Guns for everyone (and bullets for every gun) edition

As realists we know that here in the United States we aren’t ever going to outlaw private ownership of guns. But, you might (realistically) think that this Tuesday morning — nearly 3 days after the terrible shooting in Tucson — there would be a steady stream of articles calling for more serious regulation of the guns in this country.

There isn’t. Apparently Gun Control is off the table.


With my background in programming and maintaining databases I should have known better … but I didn’t. Even with all my knowledge, I thought there was something almost automatic about that database of people who shouldn’t be able to buy guns.

I was totally wrong:

After Tucson: Why Are the Mentally Ill Still Bearing Arms?

As far back as the Gun Control Act of 1968, there have been federal laws against selling weapons to mentally ill individuals. But the Virginia Tech tragedy in 2007, in which the shooter Cho Seung-Hui was able to pass two federal gun background checks even after a state court ruled that he was dangerously mentally ill, highlighted the need for better record-keeping and interagency communication to enforce those laws. (More than 30 people died in the incident.) Saying that unstable individuals are disqualified from buying firearms is meaningless if the national background-check system, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), has no record of their illness. That’s why the Brady organization was proud to announce on Friday, just a day before the Tucson shootings, that the number of records of mental illness in the NICS database had more than doubled since Virginia Tech, to more than 1 million records.
. . .
But there’s a problem with that: there should be more than 2 million records in that database, if all the states cooperated fully. According to the Brady organization’s records, Arizona was not even the worst offender — at least the state ramped up its reporting somewhat in the wake of Virginia Tech. But still, Arizona’s own estimate is that the state has 121,700 records of disqualifying mental illness that should go into the NICS database. From the beginning of 2008 to October 2010, however, it submitted only 4,465 records. Worse than Arizona were states like Louisiana, which submitted only one record during that time frame, and Nebraska and Pennsylvania, which didn’t submit any.


I just don’t get this.  We’re willing – sometimes eager – to regulate all sorts of things (drugs, speech, activities) but, don’t even think about controlling guns:

Support for Gun Control Has Dropped in Recent Years

In the wake of Saturday’s shooting in Arizona, there are likely to be new polls out this week measuring the public’s support for stricter gun control laws. Until they surface, it is worth noting that support for stricter gun control has significantly dropped over the last couple of decades, and there is little evidence to suggest that major gun crimes change opinions on the issue.
. . .
The number supporting stricter laws has been gradually declining over the last 20 years. When Gallup first asked the question in 1990, 78 percent favored stricter laws. That was down to 60 percent in 1999, 54 percent in 2004 and 44 percent in 2009 and 2010.

The 1999 Columbine shootings and 2007 Virginia Tech shootings appear to have had little, if any, effect on these views.

The scary thing?  Almost half of us don’t support the national ban on assault weapons!!

There is, however, substantially more support for a ban on assault weapons and semiautomatic firearms, like the one used in Saturday’s shootings. In a 2009 Times/CBS News poll, 54 percent of Americans, including about half of respondents who have a gun in their home, said they favored a nationwide assault weapons ban.


A Right to Bear Glocks?

If Loughner had gone to the Safeway carrying a regular pistol, the kind most Americans think of when they think of the right to bear arms, Giffords would probably still have been shot and we would still be having that conversation about whether it was a sane idea to put her Congressional district in the cross hairs of a rifle on the Internet.

But we might not have lost a federal judge, a 76-year-old church volunteer, two elderly women, Giffords’s 30-year-old constituent services director and a 9-year-old girl who had recently been elected to the student council at her school and went to the event because she wanted to see how democracy worked.

Loughner’s gun, a 9-millimeter Glock, is extremely easy to fire over and over, and it can carry a 30-bullet clip. It is “not suited for hunting or personal protection,” said Paul Helmke, the president of the Brady Campaign. “What it’s good for is killing and injuring a lot of people quickly.”


Do you ever read news stories and see a little movie as you read it?  Since reading this, I keep imagining the scene where Arizona Legislators debated and passed the legislation allowing guns in bars:

In Tucson, Guns Have a Broad Constituency

Arizona’s gun laws stand out as among the most permissive in the country. Last year, Arizona became only the third state that does not require a permit to carry a concealed weapon. The state also enacted another measure that allowed workers to take their guns to work, even if their workplaces banned firearms, as long as they kept them in their locked vehicles.

In 2009, a law went into effect allowing people with concealed-weapons permits to take their guns into restaurants and bars.


And I’ll close today’s list with these thoughts from Bob Herbert:

A Flood Tide of Murder

Excluding the people killed in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 150,000 Americans have been murdered since the beginning of the 21st century. This endlessly proliferating parade of death, which does not spare women or children, ought to make our knees go weak. But we never even notice most of the killings. Homicide is white noise in this society.

The overwhelming majority of the people who claim to be so outraged by last weekend’s shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others — six of them fatally — will take absolutely no steps, none whatsoever, to prevent a similar tragedy in the future. And similar tragedies are coming as surely as the sun makes its daily appearance over the eastern horizon because this is an American ritual: the mowing down of the innocents.

Politicizing a tragedy


This is wrong:

One veteran Democratic operative, who blames overheated rhetoric for the shooting, said President Barack Obama should carefully but forcefully do what his predecessor did.

“They need to deftly pin this on the tea partiers,” said the Democrat. “Just like the Clinton White House deftly pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia and anti-government people.”


Notice that there is no concern about the facts, just the political calculation of how to take advantage of an atrocity.

So what if Sarah and the Tea Partiers had nothing to do with it, let’s blame them anyway.”

Sick.

BTW – Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols WERE associated with the militia movement and anti-government people. Bill Clinton didn’t try to pin the bombing on Bob Dole and the Republicans.


UPDATE:

Just so we’re clear, I’m not feeling sorry for the Tea Party or Sarah Palin. I think this is bad strategery and will backfire.

If the evidence showed that Loughner was a Tea Partying Palinista who was motivated by her target list then I would say go ahead and rub her nose in it.

But that is not what the evidence shows.


2007 letter from Giffords found in Loughner’s safe

Jared Lee Loughner


From NBC affiliate KPNX-12 in Arizona:

Letter from Giffords found in safe of murder suspect

A letter from Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords found in the safe of the home of accused gunman Jared Loughner thanks him for attending a 2007 “Congress on your Corner” event.

Handwriting on an envelope said, “I planned ahead” and “My assassination.”

It contained Giffords’ name, along with what appeared to be Loughner’s signature.

Those facts were contained as part of a federal complaint filed in U.S. District Court that charges Loughner with two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder at Giffords’ “Congress on your Corner” event on Saturday.

This matches up with information we heard yesterday:

Caitie Parker, a former classmate, said Loughner had met Gabrielle Giffords at an event in 2007. He “asked her a question and he told me she was ‘stupid and unintelligent’,” she said. Clarence Dupnik, the Pima County Sheriff, said that Loughner had been in contact with Miss Giffords’s office about the event.

From what I have read about paranoid schizophrenia it is not uncommon for them to fixate on someone. It sounds like Loughner may have been fixated on Giffords a year before Sarah Palin ever came on the national scene.

Here is a copy of the criminal complaint filed against Loughner. From the complaint:

Some of the evidence seized from that located included a letter in a safe, addressed to “Mr. Jared Loughney” at 7741 N. Soledad Avenue, from Congresswoman Giffords, on Congressional stationary, dated August 30, 2007, thanking him for attending a “Congress on your Corner” event at the Foothills Mall in Tuscon. Also recovered in the safe was an envelope with handwriting on the envelope stating “I planned ahead,” and “My assassination,” and the name “Giffords,” along with what appears to be Loughner’s signature.

Sadly, I expect that this information will make no difference to the people determined to “prove” that yesterday’s tragedy was Sarah Palin’s fault.

(h/t 1539days)


Crazy don’t make sense


A few years back here in Merced this guy took off all his clothes and broke into the house of some people he didn’t know. Then he started stabbing the children that lived there with a pitchfork. He killed two children and injured a third before the cops showed up and shot him dead.

We have no idea why he did it. He had no history of mental illness and the autopsy revealed no drugs in his system or any brain abnormalities. Some things just don’t have a reason.

Yesterday a guy named Jared Lee Loughner took a gun to a political event and started shooting. He killed six people and wounded thirteen others. His victims included a federal judge, a congresswoman and a nine year-old girl.

I don’t know why Jared Loughner committed that horrible crime. I doubt we’ll ever really know for sure. It’s one thing to wonder if his motives were connected to political events and rhetoric. It’s another to try to politicize the atrocity even if it means jamming a square peg in a round hole.



Absent more evidence I don’t think it’s fair to blame Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, the Tea Party movement or anyone else except Jared Loughner for what happened. On the other hand, I agree that it would be a good thing if EVERYONE toned down the violent rhetoric and imagery.





When Timothy McVeigh was arrested he was wearing a shirt that said “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” I don’t recall anyone blaming Thomas Jefferson.