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January 10, 2011


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Thank you for writing this.

It is bizarre to me that commentators who had no difficulty accepting the absurd notion that Congressman Grijalva could single-handedly sink the entire state's economy with one throwaway comment on Olbermann's show can be so dismissive of the possibility that nearly two years of hyperbole and demonization can create an environment where an act of violence like this can be contemplated. The Arizona Daily Star, who should know better, generally poo-pooed reports of the threats against our two congresspeople during the campaign season, downplaying even the stories of actual vandalism at their offices. I doubt that they feel at all foolish about this now, but they should.

The "both sides do it" mantra is both dishonest and evasive. I have yet to hear of an example of an actual left-winger with the status and influence of a Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, or, for that matter, Gabby's opponent in the last election, using comparable rhetoric. The Star itself repeated this claim, citing no evidence, and even went so far as to force an apology out of David Fitzsimmons after he pointed out the influence of the poisonous rhetoric of the right. The "curse upon both houses" meme is repeated over and over for the same reason why a small-town cop would dismiss an act of drunken mayhem by the bankers son as mere youthful excess, namely as an excuse to do nothing and take no responsibility.

This being said, there is a more disturbing current here that speaks badly for Tucson's future. I appreciate that you alone among commentators have pointed out that this took place in "suburban Tucson," a subtle way of pointing out that this did not take place in Tucson proper, but in the unincorporated no-man's land on the fringes of town. This fact gives me some small solace, as I can always argue to myself that this would never have happened in the actual Old Pueblo. However, we have to come to terms with the fact that this is part of a larger ugliness that is stinking up our political culture in Tucson.

Traditionally, we have regarded our elected officials in Tucson as our friends and neighbors. We expect to see our Representatives out in public: at shows, shopping, whatever. Our two Congressmen are both folks with substantial roots in the community and years of community service which pre-date their adventures in public office. In contrast, their opponents in the last election were relative nobodies who lacked any depth of understanding of the community and who had no qualification for office save their partisanship. The only way such individuals can win is by creating an environment in which community is divided from politics and elected officials are demonized as alien. One certainly does not shout down and treat ones own neighbors with the sort of disrespect that Gabby has faced over the last year, much less shoot them, so only a constant drumbeat from partisans with a national, not a local, agenda, can make one feel otherwise. Unfortunately, the calls for greater security which will arise from this incident are sure to exacerbate this divide.

I am heartened by what has occurred in Tucson since this incident, and my hope is that we can reverse what is happening so we don't become more like Phoenix in this regard.

Things are much worse here now than they were in 2000. On this year's legislative agenda for the NRA is a bill that would require cities to resell seized weapons, rather than destroy them. What could possibly go wrong, indeed?

Paul Krugman has a great a great column in the morning Times:

The pushback from the right has been predictably vigorous, and by the end of this saga, most likely successful. Indeed, they can argue that the shooter's politics are more left than right, or that he was so mentally ill that it hardly mattered. This, of course, largely misses the point.

The American right succeeds only by whispering the N word into the ears of working-class America. This has been its functional strategy for over 40 years. Many books have been written about this (Rick Perlstein's Nixonland is great). It's very success means it's also been maintreamed. The left grumbles all the time about Rush Limbaugh's obsessive racism but the MSM treats him with virtual deference.

What this means is that a very low bar for political discourse is now the rule and that the profanity of the bleachers has spilled onto the field of play. Make no mistake: there is no Republican majority without the sub rosa racism of its messaging machine.
The vitriol and ugliness of the American right is now the one necessary element of its politics. Indeed, you could say it IS its politics. If they were to soften their messaging in an effort to assauge critics, they would also self-castrate politically. Jazzing the base with incendiary and misleading rhetoric is a built-in feature of the machinery. Otherwise, the rubes might vote their real-world interests.

The MSM, corporatist and smug, will play its trump card, the false equivalency. And if one journalist strays too far from this command-and-control function, he'll pay a price, often literally. There are enforcers like David Brooks, Diane Rehm (I love her, but...), Kathleen Parker, Richard Cohen, and - locally - Bob Robb who make this unexamined rule the law.

I doubt there's any way to put this genie back in the bottle short of dramatic demographic change. Maybe we can wait this out until Hispanics start voting. But there's no guarantee the right won't turn on a dime and conjure their dark arts with that group (they laugh when you see Jesus on a tortilla!). Advertisers know the game. They aim low and hit the target.

What's needed in Arizona is a kook-adjuvant; a kook-booster shot, if you will:

They want guns in my workplace? And in your workplace? Fine. Then why not guns in their workplace too? Why don't they do unto themselves what they do unto others? Why the chickenshit liberal ban on weapons in their rented State House?

So what is needed is a ballot initiative that outkooks the kooks and makes them vulnerable to their own philosophy:

We the people of Arizona believe that if guns should be allowed in State Parks, on AZ college campuses, and in AZ bars then they should be no ban on them in the State Legislature either. This amendment legalizes open and concealed carry in the State Legislature by all citizens.

I'd sign to put that on the general ballot in a Tucson second. In fact, I'd man a booth in a public place to encourage others to sign. And if it the proposition should pass and become law, and if someone should open rapid fire in their place of business?

You'll see plenty of genuine contrition radiating from me. But I'll also sigh and say: That's just the cost of being free in a free country...

My home state has morphed into something I know longer recognize. The political atmosphere is toxic and I'm uncertain there's any turning back.

The Tucson outrage ties the loose threads for me: Hyenas on the radio and Internet find convenient cover in the First Amendment for their demonizing and bumper sticker sloganeering; This reckless talk sanctifies ethnic profiling and helped turn the Second Amendment into a buyers market for the deranged.

These comments are not directed at free speech (I'm a former reporter and recognize that not all speech is protected nor should be) or responsible gun ownership. Just at losers like the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner and the commentariat that poisoned the marketplace of ideas.

What sort of complicit world have we inherited that gives a green light to this lethal extremism? You oppose people politically? Put them on an Internet "target list?" Shoot them? That goes for federal judges and 9 year old children standing by. There is no excuse or defense of this but a clear directive for all of us to reverse course. What a mess.

State legislator Jack Harper, R-Surprise, is now running 2 bills that would allow guns on campuses. If any enduring good comes out of the Tucson tragedy, it may be that there'll be some pushback on our loosey goosey gun laws. Between "open carry" and "guns in bars", I think we've gone over the edge. Maybe the citizenry will wake up and react!? Enough is enough!

Related subject: when NPR interviewed Chris Dodd (outgoing Senate Finance Chair) on his career and concerns, he noted the 70-odd gun shops in proximity to the Arizona/Mexico border. The inference was that they were helping supply the narcos and the US was turning a blind eye.

And while we're turning the spotlight on this madness, consider whether the Glock pistol should even be offered for public consumption. It is a military and law enforcement weapon and shouldn't really be sold at retail. I once was responsible for the largest firearms business in AZ and was appalled at the yahoos buying Glocks from us.

For me, I'm not inclined to focus on politics here so much as common sense and the need for investigative reportage as to how the NRA works its voodoo.

Check this out:

Charles Heller, one of the co-founders of the pro gun-rights Arizona Citizens Defense League, tells me that the group has put together model legislation that would require the state to help train members of Congress and their staff in the use of firearms.
"Our model legislation is called the Giffords-Zimmerman Act," said Heller. (Giffords staffer Gabriel Zimmerman, 30, was killed on Saturday.) "It would require the Arizona Department of Public Safety to provide firearms training, using firearms confiscated by the state, to members of Congress and people who work for them. Facilities would be made available to them in a way that wouldn't interfere with the training of police and other safety employees."
Heller speculated that a response like this could prevent future attacks on members of Congress. "I don't think having a firearm on her would do Congresswoman Giffords any good," said Heller. "However, if it was known that members of her staff were well armed, that very well could have dissuaded [the shooter]."

Charlie Heller and Russell Pearce need to really step up and show they have some balls. Until they allow open carry in the AZ State Legislature they are just sissy men afraid to step up and show the nation that guns make for a civil society. Come on girly-men! Show us what you got. Allow open carry in your legislative workplace. Or do we have to pass a proposition to force it on you?

Thanks koreyel for posting that information. It is inconceivable that these men have founds new ways to introduce more nonsensical gun "laws" into our state. The thinking of some of these legislators in Arizona is enigmatic.

It is hard to believe that Pearce finds the 14th Amendment out of date with American society today, but an older Amendment (the second) is somehow more relevant than ever??? There should be no doubt now that the liberal (how ironic) gun laws in Arizona contributed to the ease in which Loughner obtain a weapon.

It is a little harder to blame today's partisan politics on this event given his motives. He was not an avid Sarah Palin follower nor visited her website from what has been discovered so far.

Nor did he have issue with immigration or "Obamacare" or gay rights, nonetheless this should open up the discussion that it is a possibility for someone of like mental affliction can be compelled by such contemptuous political wrangling.

This is also a national issue; especially on the health care front. Our nation is damaged by a degenerating medical readiness. As a nation we are prone to mental defectiveness starting at a young age. Giving children powerful drugs for behavioral issues to limited access to mental health care.

Arizona can serve as the "capital" for what not to do in this sense. Not only has funding for transplants been cut but so too has funding for the severely mentally ill. It would not benefit the state nor the nation to "punish" Arizona by not allowing "rewards" such as a National Championship to be played in Glendale. But scrutiny of the State Legislature should not let up. New lax gun laws should not be allowed.

I hope the state, especially its voters, are awakened by this tragedy and realize that we must change and mature beyond an existence of "the Tombstone of America." It is not a cute, catchy, or romantic title of nostalgia...

Having lost a daughter myself, I am just heartbroken about the death of the little girl this weekend.

The whole event is sad, but the loss of a child makes it more so.

When dealing with humankind in general and Americans/Arizonans in particular, I have always made it a point to set the bar very low: to keep my expectations at a very low threshold. Thus, it helps to keep my disappointments at a manageable level.

After observing the reaction of people on AzCentral and other sites online concerning this tragedy, I'm afraid I'm going to have to lower the bar down to the ground. From elected officials, to tv and radio hosts, to AzCentral bloggers, it is obvious that they have chosen to take the rhetoric to a new lower, meaner and uncivil level.

Someone on this blog recently asked Jon if he had any hope left for Arizona. After this event and especially its aftermath, I don't. None.

The kid who did this was/is demented.

The state is headed for the same prognosis.

In a conversation on John King's show on CNN tonight a panel member suggested that Arizona's gun laws might be too liberal. The Republican Party representative said that it was 'only 48 hours after [the Giffords shooting]' and that now was not the time to discuss gun laws(!). He said that when he felt the time was right, he would be ready to go "toe-to-toe" with the gentleman who made the suggestion.

The use of phrases such as "toe-to-toe" reveals much: it appears that in the Republican Party violence trumps reason and responsibility.

Groking a Glock.
Check this out:

Thanks again, Jon, for your bulls-eye insight. I suppose the pun is intended. But shooting the heart out of the issue is far better than shooting pols with whom we may disagree.

"Is the Giffords Shooting a New Kind of American Murder?" by Mark Ames

Intriguing read Rate Crimes. As the nation jostles back in forth over who, what, Right, or Left is to "blame" for this maybe we are given some insight from this very knowledgeable author who has studied these types of tragedies.

Although the Right is responsible, in my opinion, for more "violent rhetoric," this rampage shooter may have been from neither "side." He may have felt bullied and expelled from society by his "congressional district" and its constituents.

The VF writes makes an intriguing point. But he loses traction with me when he uses the term "clip." A clip is used in a rifle such as the M-1. Most semi-automatic weapons use a magazine. The two are not the same.

It's not an inconsequential point. Look at today's firepower. Who knows what the American political assassins of the 19th century, say, might have done if they had rapid-fire, extended magazine semi- and full-automatic weapons.

As I write, the alleged shooter is in an environment with many mitigating factors, from mental illness, to the economy, to the phenomenon of young men not growing up, to suburban disconnection, to murderous video games, all in a society that has tossed aside norms, both for "liberation" and for commercial gain. But the political atmosphere of incitement, particularly the one peculiar to Arizona, bears the most scrutiny.

This column ought to win a Pulitzer.

This morning we were stumbling over phrases to describe what you've got the term for, "false equivalency." I shut off John King fast last night when he swooned over how both sides have escalated the rhetoric.

I just happened to read DEADLINE MAN in December and since then we have been rounding up Mapstone books in sequence and I had the great luck at the end of last week to lay hand on SOUTH PHOENIX RULES, which reads as if it were both written and published in 2011. There's no plowing through it fast, not this week.

Jon Talton,this column shows you as a truly admirable man, not that your books don't. Bless you and stay safe.

Meanwhile, women, know your place! Health care providers and pharmacists are allowed to deny women emergency contraception, based on their moral objection to the theoretical possibility of a fertilized egg being extinguished.

But anyone can buy a gun and ammo in Arizona with no questions asked.

I was unaware of Loughner's reading Ayn Rand, but I guess it's not surprising. I guess it's also not surprising that Rand's "philosophy" was gradually mainstreamed into our political consciousness by those who financially benefitted by it. I guess it's not even surprising that she was a tweaker(a condition that isn't exactly conducive to rational thought) who was personally as amoral, unwholesome, and loathesome as one could possibly be. And I guess it isn't surprising that some 22 year-old with a short-circuited brain might be influenced by reading books written by her, Hitler, and other functionally insane monsters who were able to pinpoint and exploit the hatred, fear, and selfishness lurking among the "sane" population.

David Brooks morning Times column serves as an excellent bookend to Paul Krugman's column yesterday:

What strikes me here is Brooks, the inveterate sociologist of American moods and values, steps back from his own shtick to critique those who would politicize the meaning of this act. This is odd for several reasons. The most obvious being that this is what David Brooks does for a living. Another is that conservatives generally have no problem blaming the "culture" (say Hollywood liberals, computer games, TV, the 1960s, music, etc.) as the real culprit for all that ails us. Apparently, this "culture" doesn't include NRA pornography or the rhetorical violence coming from right-wing media.

The Culture War is raucous and unpleasant but it's not simply an argument about the epiphenomena of American public life. There are political consequences to everything and in this respect, the American right is legitimately empowered to draw attention to this fact. In doing so, they avoid some crucial facts that are not advantageous to their arguments.

Daniel Bell in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism linked the leveling powers of a dynamic economy to a coarsening of the culture itself. The right, which celebrates unrestricted, unregulated capitalism, will then take the cultural consequences to blame liberalism. This is fundamentally dishonest since culture and economics are inextricably interwoven. James Howard Kunslter is one of the few writers who consistently makes this point.

The debate about the Tucson tragedy is as inevitable as it is justified. Cultural critiques aren't simply appropriate at one time and never at another. They are, in fact, always political. We spend a lot of time in this site talking about things like the built environment, the various policies that shape our cities, the aesthetic valuation of cities, and the endless economic factors that inform - and derive from - our political choices. Why do we consider ourselves "liberals"? Precisely because we think there are values that the market shouldn't mediate or crush beneath its own economic imperatives.

This is our paradox. I consider myself primarily a conservative because conserving is what I want to do - the land, other species, old buildings, and the possibility of cultural values other than the right of powerful and wealthy actors to do whatever they want to do. If it takes the government to serve as a necessary buffer for those values, so be it. This puts us in the cross-hairs of corporate propagandists and their political thugs. This is why we fight.

Isn't it ironic that despite the state's "liberal" firearms laws, no one in the assembled crowd surrounding Rep Giffords had, or was willing to use their firearm to defend her.

Well actually "beasense" we apparently just missed that fustercluck. Give it a year or two. This via HuffPo:

But before we embrace Zamudio's brave intervention as proof of the value of being armed, let's hear the whole story. "I came out of that store, I clicked the safety off, and I was ready," he explained on Fox and Friends. "I had my hand on my gun. I had it in my jacket pocket here. And I came around the corner like this." Zamudio demonstrated how his shooting hand was wrapped around the weapon, poised to draw and fire. As he rounded the corner, he saw a man holding a gun. "And that's who I at first thought was the shooter," Zamudio recalled. "I told him to 'Drop it, drop it!' "
But the man with the gun wasn't the shooter. He had wrested the gun away from the shooter. "Had you shot that guy, it would have been a big, fat mess," the interviewer pointed out.
Zamudio agreed: "I was very lucky. Honestly, it was a matter of seconds. Two, maybe three seconds between when I came through the doorway and when I was laying on top of [the real shooter], holding him down. So, I mean, in that short amount of time I made a lot of really big decisions really fast. … I was really lucky."

One more thing...
Also at HuffPo there is this:

"Mental health experts say that, unlike many other states - where little can be done to force an unstable person into treatment until he or she becomes violent and poses a danger to themself or others - Arizona is different.
Any person in Arizona can petition the court for a psychiatric evaluation solely because a person appears to be mentally ill and doesn't know it.
"When people appear mentally ill or show some instability, how do you get them to [mental health] resources if the system doesn't know those people are out there?" Cash said. "Our crisis line is manned 24/7. Anyone concerned about his behavior could have called at any time."

So I am thinking...
Given Jon's reporting of this:

''I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. ... No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out.''

Should I call?

When I watch the neurosurgeon's update on Gabby Giffords' condition, I'm reminded of my late friend Dr. Jack's long experience that his patients did better when they had prayers coming their way. It is also time to re read Rabbi Kushner's "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" and realize that neither God nor the right-wingers are responsible here. (At least that's how my faith and belief system have come to work.)

"neither God nor the right-wingers are responsible here." - Jim Hamblin

Jim, I believe that you may have omitted the word, 'entirely'. To some measure, we all have some responsibility for the failings of our society. Being an apologist is irresponsible.

Rate: if you're indicating that I am an apologist, perhaps I need a better thesarus . . .

Thank you Jon for writing this! We are saner in Tucson, I was horrified by the events. I also look forward to seeing you this weekend at Clues Unlimited. I've always enjoyed your writing and reporting!!

One of my first cogent thoughts, after the outright horror at the loss of life, was: "Holy !!@#. Frank Rich warned us this might happen."

I've been extremely disappointed with the coverage of this issue given by the Arizona Republic. The editorial board blasted Pima County Sheriff Dupnik for daring to suggest a political connection, and even went so far as to call the shooter's actions the work of an "apolitical" madman.

Robert Robb, in today's column, repeated the lie that there is no evidence that the shooter "imbibed in" conservative political rhetoric, claiming that he acted out of random craziness.

Yet, his website comments, YouTube postings and other ramblings paint a more specific picture. Whatever odd obssessions he might have had about government imposed grammar (Ebonics?) or mind-control, his obsession in recent months, culminating in a political assassination, reveals a number of positions characteristic of right-wing Tea Partiers:

* Strict constitutionalist views, under which modern federal laws (such as the healthcare law) are "unconstitutional", and those who vote in support of them -- Giffords, for example -- are "treasonous". His criticisms of the community college he attended as "unconstitutional" may well be based on the view that the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly authorize the use of federal taxpayer funds to subsidize such institutions.

* A pattern of anti-government rhetoric which challenges its legal authority.

* An anti-Federal Reserve, anti-paper currency obsession, and the desire to return the country to hard currency -- in his case, not the gold standard, but a bimetallic standard using gold and silver (incidentally favored by many libertarians). He even goes so far as to claim that modern currency is "illegal" under the United States Constitution.

See for example:

All of this is very characteristic of Tea Partiers, especially the right wing consisting of libertarians and (especially) militia types.

As for his precise motives in this case, we do know that Giffords voted for the "treasonous" healthcare law and also that she voted against SB 1070. In Arizona that makes you a liberal Democrat if not worse.

Giffords' office door was smashed the night after she voted for the healthcare bill, and at another of her public events a protester brought a gun (a fact that came to light when he accidentally dropped it).

It's significant that the shooter didn't target a conservative: he targeted a "liberal" politician.

The fact that he seems to have psychological issues doesn't change this. Sheriff Dupnik's point was that these individuals are more vulnerable to such rhetoric and more likely to act upon it in violent ways:

"I think that when the rhetoric about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia of how government operates, and to try to inflame the public on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, has impact on people, especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with."

The point being that you can be a madman AND be politically motivated, and that madness feeds into, and makes one more vulnerable to, hate-filled radio propaganda of the kind that spews forth every hour of every day on AM radio and on the Internet.

Robert Robb's column continues the shameful mistreatment of one of the few public figures in law enforcement willing to speak candidly about the current political atmosphere, both nationally and in Arizona.

Dupnik had pointed out, quite accurately, that Arizona has become a "Mecca for prejudice and bigotry". (Does anyone seriously doubt this?)

Robb, unable to deal with actual quotes as they are given, constructs a straw man to smear Dupnik:

"In his remarks, Dupnik has simultaneously said: (A) those who disagree with him about immigration are bigots; and (B) we really need to reduce the vitriol in our political speech."

He certainly said (B), but it's quite possible to characterize extremists in Arizona as bigoted without implying that everyone who disagrees with your views on immigration is a bigot. Dupnik said no such thing, but this, like much else, is swept under the rug as conservatives desperately work at spin-control.

Emil, I appreciate what you write here, particularly because the pushback from the right is intent on obfuscating its own role in condoning bigoted and violent rhetoric. You only need to read any immigration thread on to understand just how vile human emotions are on this issue. Has ANY Republican politician shown the slightest bit of courage in standing up to these haters? As nearly as I can tell, John McCain was the last one and that was during the primary season in 2008. He has now fully swung over to the dark side.

There is a reason for this, just as there is for Sarah Palin's grotesque invocation of "blood libel" for criticism directed at the her and the right. The moment the right begins to scrub itself of its own questionable allinaces is also the moment the grand coalition of corporate interests and the working class falls apart. This is also why maintaining the False Equivalence myth is so vitally important to the right. Without it, the MSM might actually begin calling out Republicans for their rhetoric.

One correction: Gabrielle Giffords didn't vote on SB1070 because she's in Congress, not the state legislature.

erratum: False Equivalence myth should either read equivalence myth or simply False Equivalence. I capitalize some ideas in order to indicate the accepted semantic meaning (another example: Culture War). I'm not aware of there being any rule here about this although I occasionally see others doing the same thing.

"False Equivalence myth should either read equivalence myth or simply False Equivalence." - soleri

Should it be rather, 'Fatuous Evasion'.

When you can't tell whether you were at a U of A basketball game or a memorial service, then it must be that the memorial service was done in very poor taste.

Soleri, yes, on SB 1070 I should have said that she opposed SB 1070 instead of saying that she "voted against" it. That said, the issue DID come up in her congressional races:

"Her district was littered with signs proclaiming, "Giffords Opposes SB1070," referring to her opposition to tough anti-immigration measures."

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