fe015-vendetta_movie

Legal, but not constitutional: how the government is weasel wording the public about Edward Snowden and the NSA

Homeland Security PrecrimeThe Edward Snowden/NSA/PRISM uproar continues, and in the argument over whether or not he’s a Real American Patriot or your basic criminal vigilante the whole fucking point is getting lost. In fact, that argument is precisely the one that the Obama administration and the GOP’s security-state architects want us waging because it distracts us from the actual issue we need to be discussing.

You may have noticed, in reading the various statements from government officials, the recurrence of a theme: the program that Snowden exposed is legal. Keep track of how many times you hear that word. It’s. All. LEGAL.

Yes it is. And the effectiveness of the government’s rhetoric right now is unfortunately due, in part, to the language employed by the left over the past decade, which has lambasted the Bush administration’s illegal domestic spying program. Illegal. Legal. Therein lies the problem. (I have to admit that I have been culpable in this – somehow I didn’t quite grok how that framing was inadvertently legitimizing the Patriot Act and FISA.)

The problem isn’t legality, it’s constitutionality, and there’s a huge difference. The programs that Snowden dropped the dime on are legal because they’re defined by laws passed by Congress. Period. If Congress passes a law, it is by definition legal until such time as it is either overturned by either the Supreme Court or subsequent legislative action. It sounds, from what I can gather, like the NSA program is functioning as designed (it’s hard to be certain since everything about it classified, but let’s play along for the moment). The law passed both houses of Congress, was signed into law by the president, is administered by a court and has not been turfed by SCotUS. Done and done.

The thing is, the process I just described means that if Congress passed legislation explicitly banning free speech, or establishing Catholicism as the official state religion, or banning blacks and women from voting, or granting police the right to enter your home anytime they like without a warrant, or eliminating habeas corpus, and if the president signed the law, and if the Supreme Court found nothing wrong with it, then that law would be legal in the same way that current domestic surveillance programs are legal.

So when an Obama mouthpiece or a Capitol Hill Republican screeches that the program is legal, understand that for what it is. A law can be immoral, unconstitutional, racist, sexist and oppressive in a hundred different ways while being perfectly legal.

And when you get the corrupt leaders of two parties in agreement over the need for and value of a security state, and they’re able to install five or more like-minded individuals on the nation’s highest court, they have assumed the ability to ignore the Constitution whenever they feel like it.

The NSA spying program is legal, but it is unconstitutional. I suppose you could, in the spirit of tedious technical accuracy, say that it’s constitutional if the Supreme Court says it is. But Edward Snowden, like a lot of us, believes that the Bill of Rights means what it says. A lot of people believe that when a government uses its legislative and judicial apparatus to pretend that words don’t mean what they clearly say that it has forfeited its legitimacy.

How many people believe this and what are they prepared to do about it? This is the tipping point upon which we are balanced, and only time will tell whether the citizenry will demand that its government stop hiding behind a corruption of the word legal and begin behaving in accordance with the principles unambiguously codified in the Constitution.

In the meantime, whenever you hear the words “legal” and “illegal” being used to damn Edward Snowden, understand: you are being manipulated and lied to.

CATEGORY: FreedomPrivacy2

Boston Marathon bombing investigation reveals security state’s hypocrisy toward photographers (shooters, know your rights)

It’s become a little too common a story:

  1. police thugs beating the hell out of a citizen (who may or may not have done anything)
  2. citizen with camera takes pictures or video of police abuse
  3. police arrest photographer
  4. because apparently it’s illegal to record police brutality

The new trend is to make photographing the police illegal, although they will also arrest you for “obstructing law enforcement” – something you can apparently do from a distance. The Ministry of Homeland Security even wants us to view public displays of photography as potential terrorist activity.

But in Boston last week, the authorities were singing a very different tune, begging citizens to review their stills and video from the site of the Marathon bombings for clues to the identity of the attackers. How convenient. And utterly hypocritical. Carlos Miller over at PhotographyIsNotACrime is dead on the money.

After more than a decade of profiling citizens with cameras as potential terrorists, law enforcement officials are now hoping these same citizens with cameras will help them nab the culprits behind the Boston Marathon terrorist explosions.

Adding to the hypocrisy is that these same authorities will most likely start clamping down on citizens with cameras more than ever once the smoke clears and we once again become a nation of paranoids willing to give up our freedoms in exchange for some type of perceived security.

After all, that is exactly how it played out in the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks where it became impossible to photograph buildings, trains or airplanes without drawing the suspicion of authorities as potential terrorists.

In fact, the Department of Homeland Security along with the FBI routinely advises that photography in public must be treated as suspicious activity – even after a federal lawsuit forced DHS to acknowledge there is nothing illegal about photographing federal buildings.

CATEGORY: PhotographyI have friends who have been hassled by the police and private security for engaging in perfectly legal activity, and I even had a rent-a-cop try to chase me away from a parking deck once even though it wasn’t the subject of my shooting. Since the authorities are unacquainted with the Constitution and the law, it’s up to us to help them.

So, if you’re a shooter, read this from the ACLU. In fact, print out a copy and stick it in your camera bag. While we’re at it, here’s a nicely constructed one-pager called The Photographer’s Right from Bert Krages, a nationally recognized attorney and photographers’ advocate. If you’re confronted by police or security, be polite, but feel free to assert your basic Constitutional rights.

Thanks to Lisa Wright for pointing me at this story and to Stuart O’Steen for the Photographer’s Right link.

CATEGORY: PoliticsReligion

The devil is in the details: WHICH Christianity are we making the official state religion, exactly?

CATEGORY: PoliticsReligionLegislators in North Carolina recently introduced a bill to make Christianity the official state religion. That bill has now been turfed, but we can probably expect similar moves in the future.

An Omnibus Poll, sponsored by YouGov.com and the Huffington Post, reveals just how far from the nation’s roots we have traveled on the subject of separating church and state and retaining the nation’s neutrality when it comes to how Americans chose to practice their respective religions.

According to the survey, 34 percent of Americans would favor making Christianity their official state religion while less than half (47 percent) oppose the concept. Thirty-two percent of those polled indicated that they would also favor a constitutional amendment that would make Christianity the official religion of the United States with just over half (52 percent) opposing the notion.

Leaving aside for a second the abject failure of millions of Americans to grasp the most basic precepts of their Constitution, this poll actually provides more questions than answers. Lots more. And in truth, these are questions with roots that are hundreds of years old.

If you’ve visited America anytime during the past couple of centuries, you realize that the nation has something of a church and state problem. You can argue the details all you like, but the bottom line is that the Framers of the Constitution set the stage for controversy by being too damned vague. I mean, “separation of Church and State” – what the hell does that really mean, anyway? We have these problems before us today because Jefferson, Madison and Co. didn’t have the basic good sense to insist on specificity, which is odd, given that all the Founding Fathers were pretty clearly fundamentalists. As, one assumes, were the Founding Mothers. They just toss terms like “God” and “Church” and “separation” around like we all know what they mean, when clearly we don’t.

So here’s what we have to do. Let’s forget separation of Church and State and accept that we are One Nation Under God, In God We damned sure Do Trust, and that we are a Christian Nation® (this part is crucial). Let’s get past all that soulless secular humanism and By God establish a state religion. Better yet, let’s charge Congress with the job, since so many of the members of that august body have thought long and hard on the subject already.

Here’s how it works. The U.S. will adopt as our national religion that which Congress can agree on sufficiently to pass by a two-thirds majority, and by this I mean they must pass each plank of the resolution by that margin. Understand, “God” is way too vague, and you can’t very well build a moral society around vagaries. We have to insist that Congress agree on what God is and how He (She) should be worshiped.

For instance, we’ll need Congress to decide whether the Bible is intended as a metaphorical guide or as literal, journalistic fact. Was Mary literally a virgin? Did Abraham literally live 900 years? Did Moses literally tie his ass to a tree and walk 40 miles? These are not small issues, and if they are not settled by legislative fiat we risk another millennium of sectarian strife.

Other issues we’ll need Congress to rule on:

  • Should baptism be by sprinkling as an infant or by immersion once one is born again? And, how quickly can we set in place an emergency re-baptism program for all those people that had it done wrong the first time?
  • Is God a man, a woman, both, or neither?
  • What race is God? This will be important when we do physical and artistic representations of Him/Her/It.
  • What about those places where the Bible appears to contradict itself, as in Genesis 1 & 2? Are we to take these as tests by God, or error by monks, or what? Confusion in one’s prime legal texts can lead to all sorts of mischief, as I think is more than evident from the fact that we’re even having this little chat to start with.
  • We’ll need a plan to transfer power from the President to Jesus when He makes his triumphant return to Earth after the Rapture.
  • We’ll also need a policy of engagement for Armageddon. When do we launch the nukes, and at whom? Once we know who’s on God’s side and who’s on the side of Satan, shouldn’t we just go ahead and launch a pre-emptive strike?
  • How old is that darned Earth, anyway? I mean, it’s important to know what to tell kids about dinosaurs if the world is only 6000 years old.
  • What the hell do we do about those damned Jews, who have made clear that they aren’t on board with Jesus as the Son of God? Do we wait and let Jesus deal with them himself or should we set about making them either believe what we believe or leave?
  • And don’t even get me started on Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, and other varieties of Satanist. If we’re truly a Christian land, is it right that their blasphemy should be tolerated, and worse, that they should be able to benefit from social programs paid for by Right-thinking Christians?
  • Should the Office of Homeland Godliness be a Cabinet-level appointment reporting to the President? Should the President be the de jure head of the Church? Should it be a separate branch of government insulated from the meddling influence of future secular legislators, and especially from Satanic minions on the Supreme Court? Or, for that matter, should we rework the government and Constitution so that we replace the democracy with a Christian theocracy?
  • What should our foreign policy toward non-Christian nations be like? Some of them are Godless, but strategically important (Britain, Canada, anybody with oil, etc.) Should a nation’s relationship with God be a consideration in conferring most-favored-nation status?
  • There’s also the woman problem. Are they to be submissive to their husbands, as dictated by some, or are they to be accepted as full partners in God’s Church of America? Can they be ministers, for example? And while we’re on the subject of troublesome sorts, is the Church going to take the “accepting” stance toward gays or are they all going to hell? If the latter, should we get them on their way or let God deal with them in His own good time?
  • Finally, what about the athletics programs? Back in the ’80s in Wilmington, NC, there was a huge hullaballoo over – of all things – softball. The local Mormon church signed up for the city-run league, causing the other churches to pitch a galloping hissy fit. Said one spokesman, “we do not feel we can extend the hand of Christian fellowship to people who do not worship the same god we do.” The Mormons stood their ground, those who worshiped a different god from the Mormons stood theirs, and the city was forced to cancel the whole damned league. But that was over 20 years ago – we’re past all that now, right? Nuh-uh. The same kind of conflict broke out again last year in Pennsylvania.

Give me another hour or two and I’ll come up with more questions, but you get the idea. The success of a faith-based government hinges on getting these issues settled and chiseled into stone sooner rather than later. If Congress leaves wiggle room and unanswered questions we’ll be at each other’s throats until the Second Coming, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what the Framers intended.

_____

An earlier iteration of this post originally appeared on January 20, 2010.

Rand Paul filibuster: If a Senator talks to an empty chamber, does he make a sound?

Rand Paul is still talking after almost 8 hours. One wonders how he has managed to not leave the floor for the Senate lavatory in all that time. It’s ok to dislike Rand Paul and still think he’s currently doing a public service. It’s probably not correct to suggest that this was prompted by standard GOP obstructionism. They’d use the modern, silent filibuster to demand a more warlike demeanor, and it took hours for even a few other GOP Senators to show up and give the guy a break from talking. (Like Cruz is now by simply reading Tweets about the filibuster.) There are also the small issues of Paul having previously sponsored a bill that would require issuing a warrant before using a drone for surveillance in the United States as well as this being the culmination of his pecking at the administration over drone issues. It appears that the final prompt for this filibuster was the letter that Paul received from AG Holder which claimed that the executive branch has the authority to run a targeted killing program inside the US against US citizens, though it probably never would.

So the eye of this storm is the administration’s wishy-washy statement that the President can kill Americans without legal process but that he won’t. Filibustering the vote for John Brennan’s nomination as director of the CIA is an appropriate place to force the conversation, given that Brennan is largely the architect of the administration’s targeted killing program.

Paul, however, has not kept to such a narrow issue. He’s been questioning the whole concept of Battlefield America and its place in the unending War on Terror. He’s questioned the lackluster and expansive definition of al Qaeda that includes anyone “affiliated” with al Qaeda. It hard to be sure whether following the wrong link on the internet would classify you as affiliated. Just now, he’s talking about how most of the drone strikes have not been against people who are actively involved in combat. Of course the big example is Anwar al-Aulaqi, the Yemeni-American who was killed in a drone strike.

What little we do know about the targeted killing program, and it’s very little since the administration only releases information under extreme pressure, is that it’s based on the concept of imminence. Targets are supposed to be an imminent threat, which most would read as actively planning an attack. Nothing i’ve read indicates that al-Aulaqi was actively involved in any imminent threats against the United States. If he was, the administration never bothered indicting him for a crime. Instead, it launched a Hellfire missile from a drone, which not only killed al-Aulaqi but also his 16 year old son (also an American citizen). The administration’s response to questions about the son were basically, “He had an irresponsible father.” Of course the son was affiliated with someone who was affiliated with al Qaeda, which by our War on Terror definitions make him a terrorist. In any case, at 16 he’d be considered a combatant by the Obama administration because he was of “military age.”

The al-Aulaqi case pretty succinctly sums up the targeted killing issue, though there are enough examples, discussions, and nuances to fill books. Paul’s not addressing every one or getting them all right, but that’s not enough reason to discount him. It all boils down to the Executive Branch deciding that it has the right to kill anyone, anywhere, for reasons that it alone knows. AG Holder has written that “due process” doesn’t involve courts. It can be nothing more than President Obama and John Brennan sitting in an office deciding who lives and who dies.

It’s disturbing. It’s been disturbing for the last 11 years, and it’s only grown larger and more malignant to whatever is left of our Republic. Until 2008, Democrats and liberals who generally vote for Democrats would probably be up-in-arms if they found out that Bush was doing the same things Obama does today. So far there’s only one Democratic Senator involved in this filibuster. I’m no fan of Rand Paul, and i won’t be a fan of his when this filibuster ends. But on this he’s right, although 11 years is a long time to wait for even a glimmer of Congressional oversight on Executive power. What’s most unfortunate is that it had to come from Senator Paul, and that liberals and Democrats appear willing to allow a Democratic president to trample the rule of law … never mind morals.

There will be at least a few of us who will remember this day. When America elects another Republican to the White House and he uses these new powers in such a way that upsets Democrats, we’ll be here to remind you that your party didn’t stand up for what was right. It didn’t stand up between 2001 and 2008, and it kept extremely quiet after 2008 when it was a Democrat doing the evil. You won’t listen. After all, you voted for for these people, just like all the Republicans who voted for Bush twice and never raised a voice in defense of what are supposedly our most cherished principles.

For now, i’m going to go back to watching the Senator from Kentucky continue pushing through this. He seems to be one of the first to say a lot of things that need to be said on the Senate floor. That’s probably why the place is empty.

sandyhook

Deconstructing the NRA response to Sandy Hook

Every good recipe for deception begins with an ounce of truth.

Whoever is managing the current public relations crisis facing the National Rifle Association clearly understands this fundamental principle. In the days since the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, the NRA has offered a textbook execution of the crisis communication playbook, employing everything from ducking out of sight for a few days to clever messaging strategy to an attempt to throttle the public profile of media coverage through timing tactics that are as cynical as they are traditional. My former colleague Patrick Veccio, who spent a lot of years in the newsroom watching how PR firms attempted to play the press, explains that last part:

Public relations professionals, press agents and political spokespersons try to avoid announcing bad news until late afternoon Fridays. They hope the bad news will be less apt to get attention or generate discussion over the weekend. They hope by Monday, the story will be running out of legs because the weekend has defused it.

After a week of silence, LaPierre and the NRA knew they had to say something before gun control advocates took ownership of the discussion about preventing another Sandy Hook slaughter. No matter when the NRA brass crawled out of their spider hole, they were going to have to face the blinding media light.

Obviously, the “quiet until late Friday” trick was doomed. The delay in answering questions until Monday, though, is a deliberate move. Monday is Christmas Eve. Tuesday is Christmas. LaPierre and Keene hope the weekend and the holidays will give them time to regroup and mitigate the damage from LaPierre’s ranting.

The NRA obviously hoped that by the time America surfaced from its extended holiday food- and gift-fest the edge would be off its outrage over Sandy Hook. They also probably hoped you didn’t notice the Christmas Eve ambush of a suburban NY firefighting crew at all.

A gunman ambushed firefighters responding to a house fire in the Rochester suburb of Webster, N.Y., early Monday, killing two firemen and injuring two others.

The shooter was later found dead of gunshot wounds near the scene, according to Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering.

Pickering, choking up frequently as he spoke to reporters, said all four firefighters who responded to the call at 5:35 a.m. ET came under fire when they drove up.

The dead are Lt. Mike Chiapperini, 43, a volunteer firefighter and the Webster Police Department’s public information officer, and Tomasz Kaczowka.

“It is a very difficult situation,” Pickering said, his voice quavering.

“People get up in the middle of the night to fight fires,” he said. “They don’t expect to be shot and killed.”

It isn’t yet clear how successful the NRA strategy has been or will be. For sure, they find themselves in the crosshairs of mainstream media coverage of the Sandy Hook aftermath and they’ve taken a serious whipping in the online/social media world.

Twitter’s reaction to Friday’s press conference was swift and almost universally negative. A search for the #NRA hashtag yielded thousands of tweets criticizing LaPierre for his proposals for a database of people with mental illness and to put armed guards in schools.

Though a handful of NRA supporters and conservatives using the #tcot hashtag offered completely positive comments, others criticized the organization.

“This press conference [is the] best Christmas present the White House and the Democrats could get!” wrote Twitterer R. Saddler.

Many who tweeted about the conference remarked about the surreal atmosphere of the press conference itself, in which two protesters shouted at LaPierre and were quickly escorted out. Syndicated columnist Tina Dupay called it a perfect example of a “tone deaf” press conference, and Matt Seaton of The Guardian said it should make year-end lists as the worst speech of 2012.

Twitterer Tom Sauer perhaps put it most succinctly:

“Well that was a train wreck.”

It probably seems obvious to say that whatever the nation and its elected leaders decide to do or not do about firearms, that decision should be a result of thoughtful, informed consideration of the issue, not the efficacy of the NRA’s spin job. Still, we live in a media-driven culture with a frightfully brief attention span. Our ability to lose focus, especially in the presence of artful misdirection, isn’t to be underestimated. It’s therefore important for us to cast as much light as possible on said misdirection.

On December 20, Michael Sebastien at PR Daily published their Top 10 PR disasters of 2012. He probably wishes he’d held fire for a few days. While the Komen affair, Romney’s 47% gaffe, Todd Akin, Lance Armstrong and Chik-Fil-A kept industry observers marveling at just how much foot one mouth will hold, the NRA’s performance since Sandy Hook would certainly rank them in the top three if we were compiling the list today.

That said, this rumble has barely begun and in the final analysis, Wayne LaPierre’s abject cluelessness may wind up not mattering in the least.

Rohit Bhargava does a wonderful job of explaining how the NRA made use of the three biggest PR crisis response tricks in the book.

NRA MESSAGE #1 – GUNS ARE NOT THE PROBLEM – UNSAFE AND UNPROTECTED SCHOOLS ARE THE PROBLEM.
Strategy: Elevate the issue. If the issue being debated is easy access to deadly weapons, then the NRA will lose. If the issue, instead, becomes that our schools are not safe enough … then the NRA has a chance. So we saw over and over again throughout the press conference that NRA CEO Wayne Lapierre talked about the ways that our schools aren’t safe enough, and called on the government to spend whatever would be necessary to better protect schools.

NRA MESSAGE #2 – THE ONLY DEFENSE AGAINST A BAD GUY WITH A GUN IS A GOOD GUY WITH A GUN.
Strategy: Play offense instead of defense. When it comes to defending anyone’s right to have guns, the NRA would have a difficult argument because anyone can point to mentally unstable people like the shooter* as reasons for why gun access should not be so free. Instead, the NRA laid out plans to introduce a comprehensive “school shield program” led by independent experts. Introducing such a program lets the NRA flip the issue to go on the offense to solve what they have already positioned as the biggest issue – school safety.

NRA MESSAGE #3 – OUR CULTURE OF VIOLENCE IS REALLY TO BLAME FOR MASS SHOOTINGS.
Strategy: Change the bad guy. A topic that has not been getting nearly enough attention is how violent video games and “blood soaked films” are creating a desensitized culture of violence. The last mass shooting was at the opening of a very violent Batman film. In his short talk, Lapierre called this a “race to the bottom” and likened it to pornography. Add to that the media’s coverage of the shooter and how they have turned him into something of a celebrity, and the argument that the real bad guy is media and entertainment (and not guns) is complete.

As I said above, textbook. But closer analysis reveals that these techniques were merely the tip of the iceberg. Behind the scenes there’s somebody who’s as deft with messaging as LaPierre is ham-fisted and alienating at the podium. Deft and borderline sociopathic.

Let me repeat what I said at the outset: Every good recipe for deception begins with an ounce of truth. When we speak truthfully, when we connect the words coming out of our mouths with the reality of the world as the audience perceives it, we establish common ground. We sow credibility. We demonstrate that we’re acquainted with the facts. Saying something overtly true greases the skids for whatever we say next.

LaPierre’s speech, for all its flaws, is a master class in using truth or shared values as a jumping off point for statements that range from deflective to outright dishonesty. I want to walk through some of the key passages, highlighting misdirections and deceptions as I go, and paying special attention to the places where fact goes in service of a lie.

The tone is established in the third paragraph:

How do we protect our children right now, starting today, in a way that we know works?

All we care about is children, he asserts, and he sets up what is to come as being solely concerned with efficacy and efficacy.

How have our nation’s priorities gotten so far out of order? Think about it. We care about our money, so we protect our banks with armed guards. American airports, office buildings, power plants, courthouses — even sports stadiums — are all protected by armed security.

We care about the President, so we protect him with armed Secret Service agents. Members of Congress work in offices surrounded by armed Capitol Police officers.

Yet when it comes to the most beloved, innocent and vulnerable members of the American family — our children — we as a society leave them utterly defenseless, and the monsters and predators of this world know it and exploit it. That must change now!

This is clever. A lot of us think our priorities are out of order (although we might disagree vehemently about the specifics). We do care about money. We do protect these other venues with armed security. We do keep the president under heavy guard. And we do love children. So what’s to argue with?

In what is perhaps this performance’s finest moment, a subtle linkage is established between caring and guns. If you care about something, you protect it. And best way of protecting is to surround it with guns. We have a blatantly emotional appeal masquerading as pure reason, and if you weren’t paying attention LaPierre might, at this juncture, be sounding pretty reasonable.

The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters — people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day. And does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school he’s already identified at this very moment?

How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame — from a national media machine that rewards them with the wall-to-wall attention and sense of identity that they crave — while provoking others to try to make their mark?

A dozen more killers? A hundred? More? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?

It’s true – we don’t know how many. And there is every reason, given our history, to assume that there are madmen out there doing precisely what he says. But we would know if we’d … wait, if we’d do what?! There’s so much wrong with the national database idea it’s hard to know where to start, but here are three things to think about:

  • Any number of past perpetrators have been in the system and it hasn’t stopped them in the end. Heck, the guy who killed those firefighters in Rochester had been in prison.
  • Right now, people with mental issues are encouraged to seek help and they know they can do so with the assurance of confidentiality, which is certainly important if you ever hope to have another job. So once you realize that something as simple as seeking relief from depression might ruin your life for good, what are the chances that you take that risk?
  • Finally, LaPierre’s suggestion works fine unless you recall that the 2nd Amendment isn’t the only thing in the Bill of Rights. His idea represents such a radical breach of individual liberty it’s hard to imagine what Constitution he thinks might be left to defend.

Next we get this:

Meanwhile, federal gun prosecutions have decreased by 40% — to the lowest levels in a decade.

Assuming this is accurate, what am I being asked to conclude? That the Feds don’t want to stamp out gun violence? Or are there other reasons? Like enforcement has had an effect and there are fewer guns out there? That what has been rounded up represents the low-hanging fruit? That more resources are now required? That the NRA has done all it can to hamstring the authorities at every turn? Good questions. I’d like to know more, but LaPierre wants me to draw a misdirected conclusion and move on. In cases like this, it’s usually safe to assume that what you aren’t being told works against whomever is talking, because if they could tell you more, they would.

So now, due to a declining willingness to prosecute dangerous criminals, violent crime is increasing again for the first time in 19 years! Add another hurricane, terrorist attack or some other natural or man-made disaster, and you’ve got a recipe for a national nightmare of violence and victimization.

Violent crime is increasing? I know you want me to buy that this is about a “refusal to prosecute,” but by “violent crime” are you referring to crime committed with guns?

Through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse. And here’s one: it’s called Kindergarten Killers. It’s been online for 10 years. How come my research department could find it and all of yours either couldn’t or didn’t want anyone to know you had found it? Then there’s the blood-soaked slasher films like “American Psycho” and “Natural Born Killers” that are aired like propaganda loops on “Splatterdays” and every day, and a thousand music videos that portray life as a joke and murder as a way of life. And then they have the nerve to call it “entertainment.”

And:

In a race to the bottom, media conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate and offend every standard of civilized society by bringing an ever-more-toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty into our homes — every minute of every day of every month of every year.

A child growing up in America witnesses 16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence by the time he or she reaches the ripe old age of 18. And throughout it all, too many in our national media … their corporate owners … and their stockholders … act as silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators. Rather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize lawful gun owners, amplify their cries for more laws and fill the national debate with misinformation and dishonest thinking that only delay meaningful action and all but guarantee that the next atrocity is only a news cycle away.

Very true. No doubt. Anybody with a critical bone in his or her body is sympathetic to the idea that we’re overrun with violence in this society. I’m even willing to accept, for a moment, the idea that this is all desensitizing. So, the problem is games and media, right? Well, they have the same games and media in other countries, countries with gun violence rates that are a fraction of ours. What’s the key variable, then?

The goal in this whole sequence is simple and it leverages one of the most powerful instincts in the American mind: either/or. It’s black or white. You can’t have it both ways. You’re with us or against us. The problem is that it simply isn’t true. Sometimes – most times, really – effects do not stem from a single cause, they result from a complex melange of factors. Is it possible that our rash of high-profile gun violence is due, in some measure, to other mediated factors like violent movies and games? Certainly. Would cleaning up those industries help reduce violence? Maybe. But let’s be clear: none of that diminishes the roll played by the wide availability of firearms. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

The media call semi-automatic firearms “machine guns” — they claim these civilian semi-automatic firearms are used by the military, and they tell us that the .223 round is one of the most powerful rifle calibers … when all of these claims are factually untrue. They don’t know what they’re talking about!

Which can only mean that a .223 caliber round isn’t sufficient to kill an unarmored child or teacher, right?

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away … or a minute away?

Beautiful false dichotomy here. It asks me to assume that the bad guy has a gun (which is certainly a safe assumption in a world where the NRA is allowed to buy and bully its way to such overwhelming legislative influence, I guess). Now, would you rather be able to defend yourself or not? Well, sure, if I buy your assumption. The problem is that I don’t. The real dichotomy is this: which would you rather face: a bad guy with a gun or a bad guy without a gun?

As for the second part of the equation, are you suggesting that the alternative to addressing our gun problem is a police station within a minute of every home? You understand what is meant by the term “police state,” right?

You know, five years ago, after the Virginia Tech tragedy, when I said we should put armed security in every school, the media called me crazy. But what if, when Adam Lanza started shooting his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, he had been confronted by qualified, armed security?

You mean like the armed security guard at Columbine? Also, Virginia Tech had a well-armed police force – are you saying we need armed police in every classroom now?

Is the press and political class here in Washington so consumed by fear and hatred of the NRA and America’s gun owners that you’re willing to accept a world where real resistance to evil monsters is a lone, unarmed school principal left to surrender her life to shield the children in her care? No one — regardless of personal political prejudice — has the right to impose that sacrifice.

There’s so much manipulative misdirection in this little paragraph that’s it’s almost hard to untangle. First, misdirection: those kids were killed by the press and political class in Washington, certainly easy enough targets. Battle between good guns and evil monsters. And if you don’t agree with me, you’re imposing sacrifice on the innocent. My professional compliments to the sociopath who wrote this.

But do know this President zeroed out school emergency planning grants in last year’s budget, and scrapped “Secure Our Schools” policing grants in next year’s budget.

Of course, legislators vote on budgets. I wonder what would happen if I tabbed how Congressional reps voted on these items and then cross-referenced those results with their NRA ratings? Hmmm.

Now, the National Rifle Association knows that there are millions of qualified active and retired police; active, reserve and retired military; security professionals; certified firefighters and rescue personnel; and an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained qualified citizens to join with local school officials and police in devising a protection plan for every school. We can deploy them to protect our kids now. We can immediately make America’s schools safer — relying on the brave men and women of America’s police force.

Part true, part problematic. Not only an unsubstantiated emotional appeal to our reverence for police, military, firefighters and other “patriotic” and brave citizens (because if you disagree, you aren’t a patriot), but also the invocation of one of the NRA’s favorite words: “trained.” They can’t say hello without helping you understand that a gun is perfectly safe in the hands of a trained citizen (they use some form of the word ten times in this speech alone). There’s no arguing that training is good, of course. Then again, a few months back some highly trained police officers opened fire on a suspect outside the Empire State Building. When the smoke cleared, nine civilians had been hit - all by police fire. LaPierre wants you to believe that a police officer at Sandy Hook would have meant no dead children. Possibly. Or possibly many more.

Our training programs are the most advanced in the world. That expertise must be brought to bear to protect our schools and our children now. We did it for the nation’s defense industries and military installations during World War II, and we’ll do it for our schools today.

LaPierre is now so far over the top that it’s almost impossible not to snark. That armed guard in Mrs. Snodgrass’s class is going to save the day when the Japanese bomb Pleasant Grove Junior High.

If we truly cherish our kids more than our money or our celebrities, we must give them the greatest level of protection possible and the security that is only available with a properly trained — armed — good guy.

“Cherish our children more than our celebrities”? Wait – did I miss where there’s an armed guard on every movie set? Also, again – guns = good guys.

There’ll be time for talk and debate later. This is the time, this is the day for decisive action.

We can’t wait for the next unspeakable crime to happen before we act. We can’t lose precious time debating legislation that won’t work. We mustn’t allow politics or personal prejudice to divide us. We must act now.

First, we establish that debate is bad. So when Congress takes up gun reform, you’ll know. There is an element of truth to the idea that one doesn’t stand around hemming and hawing in the face of a clear and present danger, and he hopes to insinuate that assumption into your thinking. Second, we must act now! He’s trying to turn the urgency around and, as Bhargava explains above, go on the attack. Bad guys are coming right now and every second we refuse to put more guns out there we risk our children, whom we love almost as much as we do Cameron Diaz. I do wonder, though. Several days elapsed between the sandy Hook killings and this press conference. If every second is that critical, why did they wait, in the process risking the lives of countless innocent citizens?

So, how effective was the NRA’s response? Too soon to tell. On the one hand, we just witnessed an absolute case study in how to manage crisis. Whoever crafted the strategy knows his/her stuff, and as my analysis of the LaPierre speech suggests, is willing to pull every switch on the control panel in pursuit of a goal. Whoever is behind this is either a true believer or as malignant a prostitute as the PR industry has ever spawned.

On the other hand, the speech overreached significantly in places, and in doing so threatened to descend into self-parody. Put another way, our evil genius needs to lay off the mustard. Also working against them was LaPierre himself, a walking, talking caricature of a bright-eyed fanatic. It’s bad enough that he simply doesn’t seem to be able to comprehend why people would see guns as part of the problem. What’s worse are his performative skills – anytime you’re in an organizational crisis and you have to put a buffoon up in front of the cameras, you’re in deep trouble no matter how brilliant the script.

In the end, the NRA has been hit, but the extent of the wound remains to be seen. Recent events have been, in some respects, a dog and pony show. Ultimately, my opinion doesn’t matter, nor does yours. The ones that matter are those of our legislators, and they get a good bit of money from pro-gun interests. There are a thousand ways for Congress to put on a concerned face and look very intent about getting something done, only to emerge later, fingers pointing in all directions, bemoaning that as hard as they tried, this was the best they could do. The best, of course, then becomes one more ineffectual, “compromised” gun law that the NRA can one day point to, saying “see, gun laws don’t work.” It’s quite the entertaining bit of kabuki when you think about it.

If you’re hoping to see meaningful action taken, you do have one important thing on your side: As much as they hate it, the National Rifle Association has now become the spokesman of record for mass murder in America. If you need proof, this very press conference was it. Madman kills a bunch of children and teachers. NRA forced to call a press conference defending itself.

Sandy Hook may or may not prove to be the tipping point (my money says not), but when you work in PR you accept that sometimes there’s not much you can do. The architect of last week’s response did about all that could have been hoped for, but when push came to shove, was simply outgunned.

sandyhook

A brief word on “politicizing the tragedy” at Sandy Hook Elementary

sandyhookWe have heard, over the last 24 hours, all kinds of comment on the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Predictably, much of the public response has taken the form of outrage over the broad availability of the weaponry used in these murders, to say nothing of other high-profile mass killings in places like Aurora, Colorado. And Chardon, Ohio. And Seattle. And Oak Creek, Wisconsin. And Minneapolis. And Fresno. And New York City, near the Empire State Building. And how many more?

We’ve also heard, every bit as predictably, that we shouldn’t “politicize” these tragedies. Somehow, arguing that gun policy needs to change is disrespectful to those killed as a result of our current gun policies. If those children had been killed by terrorists, though, we’d need to make martyrs of them before their bodies were cold – so that “we’ll never forget” or so at least we could “give their sacrifice meaning.”

Listen. I’m a gun owner. I have explained why, and nothing in that explanation suggests that I’m eager to hand over my weapons. I understand that this is a complex issue.

But this trope, this “politicize” meme, is utter silliness. Those who say we shouldn’t politicize the Sandy Hook tragedy are missing the point. It was, by definition, a political tragedy. The availability of guns is a political decision. It derives from laws that legislatures have passed. Lax regulations surrounding gun show purchases are a function of laws that elected politicians passed. The 2nd Amendment, whatever you may believe about its intent, was explicitly embedded, by the politicians we call “Founding Fathers,” in our nation’s most foundational political document. You might just as sensibly argue that we shouldn’t be politicizing elections.

I know we’re all tired of the corrosive effect that our politics have exerted on the society in recent years, and the deluge of campaign ads we had to endure throughout the course of this year was enough to test the patience of a saint. I know we’d all like our leaders to act in our best interests and to stop being so, well, political.

But pretending that something doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. When you get right down to it, there is very little about our lives that isn’t, in some respect, political. How we engage the politics of our world, our nation, our communities, is up to us. But let’s stop with the counterproductive, self-delusional denial. Let’s especially stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated by those who have a vested interest in us not “politicizing” these tragedies, because if we don’t, it buys them more time to work with their hired legislators to make sure that no more laws are passed. And that’s political, isn’t it?

What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary yesterday was the direct result of political decisions our society has made. You’re not politicizing anything when you recognize and acknowledge something that was already politicized.

A quick, nonpartisan democracy lesson for our anonymous faux-patriot thugs

Let’s start with this.

DENVER – A Mexican restaurant in the Highlands neighborhood declined a Mitt Romney campaign stop.

Now the owners of Rosa Linda’s Mexican Café are getting death threats, nasty threatening phone calls, and insulting e-mails criticizing their choice.

“I don’t want people to be angry at me,” Rosa Linda Aguirre, the owner of the neighborhood staple, said. Continue reading

Heads up, Denver: Hot Coffee director in town for Wednesday night screening

American propagandists and PR hacks have developed remarkably innovative ways of making words lie. Back in the ’80s we had “freedom fighters,” which was the way we described death squads who were friendly to America. “Pro-life” can be used to describe those who bomb clinics and murder physicians. “Enhanced interrogation,” of course, means “torture.” And so on. In some cases this Orwellian distortion of the language falls under the category of “euphemism,” but the more insidious innovations can be so subtle that we don’t recognize the way the language is being gamed unless we think about it very hard.

One of the most dangerous new lies: “tort reform.” Continue reading

Imagine there's no boycotts: that sounds like Communism to me

Following up on yesterday’s post about how unfair it is when progressives fight fire with fire

One of the architects of the modern conservative boycott movement back in the day was the now-deceased Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the “Moral Majority.” His strategy was simple. Identify those television and radio stations whose programming “promoted” a “liberal agenda” or “secular humanist” values, then leverage the purchasing power of the congregation to bully offenders into changing their programming. Sadly, this brand of thuggery (remember, this is generally the same crowd screeching right now about how “liberals” are “censoring” the “free speech rights” of the richest, most successful, most widely heard man in political talk radio) proved effective enough that it has now become a go-to weapon in the arsenals of interest groups across the partisan spectrum. Continue reading

Nota Bene #123: Behold the Chickenosaurus

“There ought to be limits to freedom.” Who said it? Continue reading

#Occupy Portland: The end of free speech, or the end of taking responsibility?

By Greg Stene

The City of Portland and the Occupy movement are both to blame for Portland’s impending Sunday morning, at 12:01 a.m., dismantling of the Occupy movement’s tent city in downtown Portland.

They’ve both blown an excellent opportunity for the protection of both free speech and the community’s rights. Here’s why:

Basically, though parks are part of the streets, parks and sidewalks that have been traditionally protected as free speech public forums, the government has a well-established right to regulate the time, manner, and place of the speech.

So, scratch the right to be in the park making your point after closing hours. And there’s even no right to pitch a tent, if the regulations say you cannot.

End of considerations. And all those Occupy people who complain about it are just a bunch of whiners.

Actually, here at the end is where it gets interesting, and possibly lengthier than we had thought at the beginning when we compressed a good century’s worth of free speech principles into a short paragraph.
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Are you ready for some FOOOTBAALLLL?! A couple of notes on the Hank Williams, Jr. hullaballoo

Hank Williams, Jr. said some stupid shit. Because, you know, he’s not exactly a rocket surgeon or a model of progressive, pro-human ideals. I can’t imagine that this comes as much a surprise to anyone. Now ESPN has done what they pretty much had to and kicked Hank to the curb. Read all about it.

Two quick thoughts.

First, that Monday Night Football intro sequence was getting tired. Five years ago, in fact. Continue reading

NASA, American exceptionalism, and me: older, and less viable

Fourth in a series

As a child turning teen in the late 1950s, the black-and-white RCA in the living room received only three channels … well, four, but we didn’t watch PBS. So I read. Newspapers, of course (after Dad finished sports and Mom finished news). And books. The library was only two blocks away, so I spent afternoons there sampling the stack. I was a small-town boy at the end of the idyllic “Father Knows Best” decade of Eisenhower placidity, a geeky kid feeling the first pangs of puberty.

I longed for adventure beyond being a Boy Scout or tossing a football with neighborhood pals. In the library I found adventure stories set in space, spun with well-chosen words and exquisitely crafted plots.

I discovered Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End.” Then Robert A. Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children,” Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” and Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation and Empire.” Science fiction (or, in Clarke’s case, science prediction) captivated me. I became a sci-fi cognoscente.

Then, in 1957, came the shocker: Sputnik. Continue reading

Nota Bene #119: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Who said it? Continue reading

In Defense of "Jesus Glasses"

Jesus Glassesby James Corbett

The facts of my case are fairly simple. Chad Farnan, a 15-year-old self-described Christian fundamentalist student in my Advanced Placement European History class, sued me for a “pattern” of statements unconstitutionally hostile to religion. His claim was based on hours of illegal and surreptitious recordings.

In my attorney’s opinion, the law was on our side, so he advised me to seek a summary judgment. I now believe that was a critical error because when a defendant requests a summary judgment rather than a jury trial, the law requires that all the facts presented by the plaintiff be accepted as truthful. No fact may be disputed, only the law. My attorney believed a fair application of the Lemon test would turn in my favor, but the test fails in a case such as mine both as a matter of law and of logic. Had I gone to court, I could easily have demonstrated that Chad and his mother are Continue reading

Some thoughts on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

I’ve been listening to news about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) ever since a federal judge in California overturned it and subsequently had her ruling stayed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. I’ve heard about generals who are arguing against it, claiming that allowing openly homosexual servicemen and women will damage the military’s readiness to fight by interfering with unit cohesion. I’ve heard about men and women who were discharged under DADT who filed to rejoin the military one day only to find that their ability to do so was stopped cold the next. And I’ve heard activists complain bitterly that the Department of Justice under President Obama is defending DADT instead of letting it die as Obama would personally prefer.

I have some thoughts on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Continue reading

Speaker wannabee Boehner recycling platitudes of speakers past

The three pillars of any democracy are the rule of law, transparency, and a functioning civil society. Over decades, all three of these pillars have been chipped away in the people’s House.

A wonderful sentiment, don’t you think?

House minority leader John Boehner, R-OH, spoke these words to conservatives in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute this week. I was moved: If I could be convinced he would adopt the solutions he offered in this speech in a fair, even-handed manner, I’d vote Republican in November. (Well, maybe not … he and 434 other people actually still call their congressional pay-to-playground the people’s House despite their average annual median income of $650,000.)

If the GOP takes control of the House, Boehner would displace Nancy Pelosi as speaker. (There’s even a Boehner for Speaker website.) Given that pundits of many political persuasions believe a GOP takeover is within reach, some of his ideas merit inspection — but he is not their most credible advocate.
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America vs. the Terrorists, 9/11/10: a status report, nine years on…

In September 11, 2001, al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four passenger jets. They flew three of them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The fourth was retaken by the passengers and crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. These things we know. Since then, much has transpired. For example:

  • The US invaded Afghanistan, the nation that had harbored the terrorists and their mastermind, Osama bin Laden. The war has not been uniformly well managed and attempts to install a stable self-government have so far failed. Many experts argue that our efforts there have been woefully counterproductive. Continue reading

Sarah Palin: Tweeting to the top in a $12 million year

Dr. Laura: don’t retreat…reload! Steps aside bc her 1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence ‘isn’t American, not fair.

This is a political communication from a woman whom her supporters wish to be the leader of the free world. That’s the title generally accorded to the president of the United States.

The quote, a tweet from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and self-proclaimed chief Mama Grizzly, offers advice to conservative talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger who quit her job after using the word nigger 11 times in a call from an African-American listener, prompting numerous protests.

Palin’s advice consists of six letters — “reload.” Her explanation of the advice — consisting of a treatise on the First Amendment, the conditions under which that amendment does not appy, the existence of activists politically opposed to Schlessinger’s conservative ideology, the means of silencing a political opponent, the definition of “American,” and whether the contretemps between Schlessinger and activists is “fair” — consists of 91 characters, not counting spaces.

Palin has mastered the art of remotely operated and ideologically congealed political dialogue that includes inventing words.
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For a political rookie, a devolution to abhor and avoid

A young Afghan war veteran, whose family has lived in my district for eight generations, wishes to be my next representative in Congress. He would succeed the imploded former Rep. Eric Massa, whom I supported, and who taught me the bittersweet consequences of commingling voter naїvete with false hope, as did candidate-turned-President Obama.

This young Democratic candidate has sent me three letters (I’m sure thousands of other District 29 voters received them, too), saying, in effect, this: “I need your help.”

All across America, as savvy political incumbents and their often hapless, outspent challengers belly up to the fundraising trough, they reach out to folks like you and me – the so-called little guys — asking for $10, $25, $50, whatever we can spare to set this country back on the right path. They’re all saying, with false modesty: “I need your help.” (They want our little donations for less than $200, the amount at which candidates must report them to the Federal Election Commission, so they can say they’re supported by real people, real voters, not PACs and pass-downs from the national parties.)

This young man from my district fought in a war with real bullets, bombs, and IEDs. He faced menacing threats each day in theater. Now that he’s home, he’s filed for entry into another war. For that, I commend him – and feel sorry for him. I don’t know if, despite a pair of master’s degrees, he’s sufficiently trained for this kind of warfare.
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