When — and why — did the U.S. become so gun-crazy?

Another weekend — another mass killing, this one in California on a college campus. A no-doubt mentally ill young man stabs and kills his three roommates, then goes on a shooting spree, killing three others and injuring 13 before finally turning the gun on himself. His motivation, according to videos he made and page after page he posted online, was that girls were shutting him out.

The families of the victims, the students at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the rest of us are left to pick up the pieces. But most people just go on with their lives.

When did we become so numb to this violence? When did our politicians become slaves to the National Rifle Association?

For most of this country’s history, the 27 words of the Second Amendment were interpreted to mean just what the words said — a “well-regulated militia.” It wasn’t until 1977, when the new NRA leadership, made up of staunch conservatives, decided to push for a novel interpretation of the Second Amendment, to give all individuals, not just militias, the right to bear arms. The view was first mocked, but by 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out legal precedent and said the right to own a handgun could not be abridged, ruling against the District of Columbia’s law on handgun restriction. Justice Antonin Scalia used some legal obfuscation in writing his decision, saying that some weapons bans, such as those on assault rifles, would still be constitutional. But to hear the NRA talk these days, every weapon is off limits.

Since 2006, there have been more than 200 mass killings in the U.S., according to research by USA Today. A mass killing is defined as killing four or more people at one time. The overwhelming majority are by shooting. And the biggest reason is that there are so many guns.

There is no national gun registry, so there’s no definitive way to count how many guns people own in the U.S. But according to a wide-ranging study by the Pew Research Center, there are between 270 million and 310 million guns in the United States. That’s close to one firearm for every man, woman, and child in America. Thirty-seven percent of Americans said they or someone in their family owned a gun. So it’s an actual minority of Americans; it’s just that so many gun owners own multiple guns. A gun owner like Elliot Rodger, the shooter in Isla Vista, Calif. The percentage of people who are gun owners actually has gone down — the same survey gave the figure as 49% in 1973.

Hunting and recreation used to be biggest reasons for gun ownership. Now people claim that it’s safety and protection. Yet nearly 60% of people in the same study said they would be uncomfortable with a gun in the home. They are concerned — correctly — about the chances of gun accidents.

The differences in attitudes about guns and gun ownership go along political, gender, and racial lines. The vast majority of gun owners are male (74%) and white (82%). Fewer than 30% of Republicans think stricter gun laws would cut down on mass shootings, while more than 70% of Democrats think so. Thirty-one percent of whites own a gun, while that figure is 15% for blacks and 11% for Hispanics.

The numbers are the most startling when we compare gun ownership in the U.S with gun ownership worldwide. Outside the U.S., there is roughly one gun for every 10 people. The U.S. sees 3.3 homicides by firearm for every 100,000 citizens. By comparison, Canada’s rate is 0.5 homicides, and in the United Kingdom, that rate is 0.1.

So no wonder there are so many shootings, when there are this many guns. According to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 16,000 homicides in the U.S. each year. Out of those, more than 11,000 are gun-related.

No one is trying to remove guns from people’s homes, no matter what propaganda the NRA pushes. Some members of my extended family hunt, and I have enjoyed venison at their tables.

But when the lead story on the nightly news is a shooting; when so many candidates shoot guns in their campaign ads; when they wave guns around at political conventions — I can’t help but think we’ve gone off the deep end.

The father of one of the victims of the Isla Vista shootings has made emotional pleas in recent days about gun laws.

“Have we learned nothing?” Richard Martinez, father of 20-year-old Christopher, the last of shooter Elliot Rodger’s victims, said during an interview on CNN. “These things are going to continue until somebody does something. So where the hell is the leadership? Where the hell are these people we elect to Congress that we spend so much money on? These people are getting rich sitting in Congress, and what do they do? They don’t take care of our kids. My kid died because nobody responded to what happened at Sandy Hook.”

Many people in the country — gun safety advocates, many politicians, and a majority of the populace — thought that the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adult staff members were killed, would be a turning point. Many hoped for passage of common-sense gun measures, like enhanced background checks to make sure the mentally ill don’t have access to weapons. Measures like closing loopholes at gun shows, which really have no rules at all. Proposed changes in ammunition, to limit the size of high-capacity ammunition clips. All of these measures still have majority support throughout the country, many even from NRA members.

So why don’t they pass? The measures had bipartisan support in the Senate, yet they failed in the face of a GOP filibuster. Some states, like Colorado, passed some gun restrictions after the Sandy Hook shootings. Yet in a recall election heavily financed by the NRA on one side and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on another, at which gun-supporting shooters turned out while gun-safety voters didn’t, two state senators who had voted for the measures lost their seats. The nominee for U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, is being held up in the Senate, even though by all accounts he is well qualified and says he will spend most of his time fighting child obesity. He supports limited gun-safety measures, and too many senators are afraid of pressure from the NRA.

Samuel Wurzelbacher, aka “Joe the Plumber,” who enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame during the 2008 presidential election, wrote his own letter of condolence, if you can call it that, to families of the Isla Vista victims, but it rung pretty hollow. “As harsh as this sounds — your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.” Well, I guess if your career has failed as a country singer, would-be politician, and just about everything else you’ve tried (because he was never a plumber to begin with), you might as well try to squeeze some publicity out of making outrageous comments.

Maybe he’s trying for a new gig as an NRA spokesman.


No easy answers to fixing the VA health system

The current problems in the Dept. of Veterans Affairs’ hospital system seem insurmountable. We’ve all seen news reports of huge backlogs  and “double” lists of reported and actual wait times, some of which left some veterans to die while waiting for care at various VA hospitals across the country.

Yet politicians who breezily call for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki don’t really understand why the system is the way it is or why the backlogs exist. Many pundits who say the system is a recent disgrace or scandal haven’t been paying attention. This isn’t a new problem for the VA, and it’s not one that’s going away anytime soon.

The $53 billion military health care program now consumes 10%  of the Pentagon’s nonwar budget. That’s a big number, but it’s one that doesn’t meet the health care needs of the military. In 2009, when President Obama took office, he allowed two new areas of coverage – military members with PTSD from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and Vietnam veterans suffering a variety of ailments from being exposed to Agent Orange. Adding those extra veterans added about 300,000 extra military members to the rolls.

In must-watch TV on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart continued his slams against treatment of veterans, which goes back to the start of our country. He included the refusal of the Reagan administration to recognize the problems of Agent Orange; the refusal of the government to advance the bonus payments to unemployed World War I veterans in the “Bonus Army” that marched on Washington in 1932 (instead they were attacked by forces led by no less than Gens. Douglas MacArthur and George Patton); and the continued growth of the backlog of processing veterans’ requests for treatment and disabilities, which skyrocketed while the VA tried to handle the increased numbers of troops during the Bush administration and grew more when the Obama administration added those extra categories.

Of course, the same politicians calling for Shinseki’s removal aren’t blameless. Senate Republicans blocked extra funding for the VA in February. You can’t treat people if you don’t have the funds to do it. And the gigantic system grew up over decades. The Defense Dept. and the VA have different computer and processing systems. So when an active member of the military moves from the Defense Dept. system to the VA system, the whole process starts over, rather than using existing medical records. Meshing them is a monumental task.

So we have an underfunded system with problems of monumental growth, more serious health issues, and outdated and incompatible computer systems.

For a start, let’s look at the issue of funding.

Most of you reading this probably have a pretty good idea of what you pay for health insurance each month, whether you’re part of an employer health insurance plan, you’re on Medicaid or Medicare, or you have individual coverage. There’s a lot of variance, depending on where you live, what type of plan you have, whether you pay for individual or family coverage, how high your deductible is, etc. The U.S. average monthly premium for family coverage in an employer-sponsored plan in 2013 was $380, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust. Since 2003, health insurance premiums have increased 80%, nearly three times as fast as wages (31%) and inflation (27%).

Members of the military and their families, whether they are actively serving or are retired, get their health insurance a different way. They use TRICARE, the government program that lets families buy health insurance. And they pay less than the rest of us – a LOT less. Remember that “retired” in the military doesn’t mean you’re 65 years old, it means you’ve served the minimum number of years to retire with full military benefits. And that includes a pension and health insurance. For life.

TRICARE premiums for beneficiaries have not kept up with inflation and the overall increase in health care costs during the past two decades. Congress raised TRICARE Prime annual enrollment fees for retirees in 2011 — the first time the fees had gone up since 1995. Right now, TRICARE Prime retirees pay $273.84 annually for individual coverage and $547.68 per year for family coverage through Sept. 30, 2014.

Those are ANNUAL rates, not monthly rates. Remember, most of us pay an average of $380 per month through an employer for family health insurance. Military retirees pay less than $46 per month for family monthly coverage.

I’m all for honoring returning members of the military. I’m old enough to remember the shameful treatment veterans got when they returned from Vietnam. But if a military family is paying $46 per month for insurance, no wonder the VA health system doesn’t have enough money.

And despite all these problems, what do members of the military think of the care they get? Veterans consistently rate the care they get from the VA more highly than most other Americans rate their own health care. In a recent survey, 81% of veterans expressed satisfaction with their care from VA hospitals, compared with 77% satisfaction from Medicare and Medicaid patients. And we know that America’s seniors love Medicare.

So what are the answers? Pay for it. DON’T privatize it, as that will make the system even more dysfunctional and more expensive. And modernize the records systems and mesh them with those of the Defense Dept.

We might as well wave a magic wand.


Don’t count out the Tea Party so quickly

Many in the media are declaring the death of the Tea Party. After all, Tea Party candidates are not winning primaries in 2014 the way they did in 2010 and 2012. So the movement must be all washed up, right?

“The Tea Party’s Over,” declared the National Journal. “That doesn’t mean the influence of the conservative grass roots has petered out. If anything, it demonstrates that conservatives have already reshaped the House to their liking in recent elections.”

The GOP establishment “is confronting a Tea Party suffering from waning enthusiasm, controversial candidates, and bad publicity, early signs of a shift in the movement that rocked politics and left a mark, from deep budget cuts to immigration and last fall’s government shutdown,” said a story on Tea Party influence on GOP identity in the Tampa Bay Times.

A grass-roots group launched “Operation American Spring” and bragged that it would draw an estimated 10 to 30 million Tea Partiers and like-minded individuals to Washington, D.C., last week. The number of demonstrators was closer to 10 actual people than 30 million. This was a group that planned to take over Washington in an “armed revolt,” to rid the government of President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, House Speaker John Boehner … well, it was hard to keep all of their planned priorities straight. It was all done “as a start toward constitutional restoration.” Because of course, electing a president and having him win the needed majority of Electoral College votes as well as the popular vote – twice – obviously is unconstitutional.

Needless to say, the few that showed up didn’t accomplish much. They complained that it rained – that’s why people didn’t attend. They promise there will be more by Memorial Day, the traditional time the Rolling Thunder motorcycle riders show up in D.C. I’m not holding my breath.

Which brings us back to Tea Party candidates. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky faces a wealthy Tea Party challenger in businessman Matt Bevin. Voting is still going on as I write this, but due to several missteps by Bevin’s campaign, not the least of which was when Bevin attended a meeting devoted to cockfighting, McConnell looks to breeze through – the latest polls show him up by 20 points. (Update: McConnell won, 60% to 35%.)

In Mississippi, conservative Sen. Thad Cochran faces a Tea Party challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel. But recent news threatens to derail that primary challenge. A conservative blogger and McDaniel supporter broke into a nursing home where Cochran’s wife has lived for several years with advanced dementia. The blogger took pictures of Rose Cochran for an online video to slam the senator for – something. Rumors about an affair with a staffer? The McDaniel campaign’s muddled and changing response only made the candidate look worse.

In North Carolina, state House Speaker Thom Tillis won the GOP primary by beating back multiple Tea Party challengers, including one who compared food stamps to slavery. In Idaho (also having a primary today), video of a GOP gubernatorial debate went viral when two “fringe” candidates were included – one wearing a Duck Dynasty-type beard and a biker in leather who said a “Masai prophet” told him he would be president. I don’t think incumbent Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is too worried about them. indeed, the real Tea Party challenge is state Sen. Russ Fulcher. But including the two crazies in the debate limited the challenger’s screen time. (Update: Otter won, 51% to 44%.)

Yes, the “establishment” wing of the party seems to be winning this year. But are we?

Candidates who used to be described as “mainstream” or “moderate” have veered sharply right – so sharply right that in North Carolina, Tillis says he doesn’t believe there should even be a minimum wage. He backs stricter voter ID laws and rejects the state expansion of Medicaid.

And the establishment candidates are benefiting from millions being spent in TV ads. Mainstream GOP groups backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Realtors, and others are pouring money into races to outspend Tea Party candidates. In Republican Idaho, groups have spent $700,000 on ads for Tea Party challenger state Rep. Bryan Smith. Incumbent Congressman Mike Simpson has been the recipient of more than $2 million in ads from D.C.-based corporate groups. (Update: Simpson won, 62% to 38%.)

In The New York Times, Harvard government and sociology professor Theda Skocpol insists that the Tea Party has won by “Leverage, not Popularity.”

“The Tea Party has won the heart and soul of the Republican Party. This is due not to its popularity, but to its challenges and threats of challenges to candidates who are less right-wing, or willing to compromise,” she wrote. “The big picture then, is clear enough. Tea Party forces have overwhelmingly won the war. All the Republicans running for the Senate this year have adopted hard-line Tea Party policy positions across the board.

“Until Republicans move toward the middle ground in important policy areas and cooperate with Democrats to accomplish what most Americans want, we cannot say that the Tea Party is dead or dying. Tea Party forces do not have to be popular or win most elections to maintain their extremist grip on one of America’s two great political parties.”

House Speaker John Boehner admitted it the day before the six-state primary election: “There’s not that big a difference between what you call the Tea Party and your average conservative Republican.”



New York Times fires Jill Abramson: Was it sexism?

I have been reluctant to weigh in on the matter of The New York Times‘ firing of Executive Editor Jill Abramson, because 1) so much has been written about it already, and 2) I wasn’t there, so what do I know? But I have been reflecting on my years in the newspaper business, working for both male and female bosses, and certain things have fallen into place.

Yes, women and men are treated differently in newsrooms. Although goalposts have been uprooted, not just moved, there remains a double standard, not just in the newspaper industry, but at all workplaces.

In my first job at a daily newspaper in central Illinois, I remember a male colleague telling me – confidentially – that he had just been given a raise because he and his wife had a baby. I didn’t even know how to respond. Should I have said, “Congratulations! You’re going to need more income” or “That’s so unfair”? (“That totally sucks” was an uncommon term in the 1970s.) Was my work now worth less than his? Of course, with more responsibilities at home, he didn’t have to cover the same amount of evening meetings that I did.

At the same paper, a friend who had graduated college with me and I started work on the same day. He covered the police beat. I wrote features and wedding notices. Now, to be certain, his talents tended toward straight news, while mine were feature writing and editing. Still, we were pigeonholed pretty early.

When I worked for The Milwaukee Journal, now The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, in the early 1980s, I had the unenviable task of filling in on the overnight desk while the usual editor was on vacation. It meant starting about 10 p.m. and working until 6 a.m. – not the best shift for a morning person like me. The reason given was “Well, you’re single. You can’t expect a married guy to do this.” At the same paper, a group of women reporters got together for lunch once a month to talk about issues of sexism in the media. I remember one discussion about the double standard that Margaret Thatcher faced as prime minister, since the press always zeroed in on what she was wearing. With obsessions about Hillary Clinton’s clothing, have we really changed that much? And the men at the paper, especially those in sports, made fun of these monthly lunches.

I have worked for both men and women editors over the years. Some of both the men and women were truly awful, and some of both were a joy to work for and taught me a lot. I have been a boss, too, of both men and women (full disclosure: not a role I particularly enjoyed). I think I can say with certainty that I treated both genders equally, although I can’t say that’s how they treated me. I have friends who are women physicians who told me that during their residencies, they had to “turn themselves into a man” to get by.

So what about Jill Abramson? According to various news reports, she found out that she was being paid less than a predecessor, and that she had earned less as a managing editor than a deputy managing editor under her. Unfair? Yes. Are there extenuating circumstances? Most likely, including the tenure at that particular paper.

More disturbing are the reports that her “style” is what the Times execs objected to. Politico Magazine Editor Susan B. Glasser wrote an eye-opening piece called “Editing While Female: Field notes from one of journalism’s most dangerous jobs,” in which she comments on the story from her viewpoint. Glasser was pushed out as national news editor of the Washington Post. A good friend, Natalie Nougayrede, was forced to quit her job as editor-in-chief of Le Monde.

“This has happened to just about every woman I know who has dared to take up a highly visible leadership position in our great but troubled news organizations. Including me,” Glasser wrote. “We like to pretend it’s different now, that Hillary Clinton really did shatter the glass ceiling into thousands of pieces. But it’s not true. There are shockingly few women at the top anywhere in America, and it’s a deficit that is especially pronounced in journalism, where women leaders remain outliers, category-defying outliers who almost invariably still face a comeuppance.”

We heard a lot of these same issues in Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook. The same kind of characteristics that win points for male bosses (boldness, authority, strength) are detracting in female bosses (bitchiness, pushiness, bossiness).

A recent cover story in the May issue of The Atlantic headlined “The Confidence Gap,” by TV journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, described a truth that too many women probably realize: Too many women lack self-assurance, and men have too much. Even if it’s not deserved.

Let’s face it, women: Some odds are still stacked against us. Kay and Shipman offer some advice – to become more confident, women need to stop thinking so much and just act. Even when those actions show our “temperament.”

“Dr.” Rove’s new smear shows where real brain damage is

So Republican strategist and sleazy rumormonger Karl Rove hints that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must have a “brain injury” because a few years back, she fell, got a concussion, and developed a blood clot. Obviously, he infers, she’s not capable of being president.

This from a guy whose own presidential boss called him “Turd Blossom.” On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart even gave this a new hashtag – #BRAINGHAZI.

“Thirty days in the hospital?” Rove said, according to the report of a speech he gave at a conference a week ago. “And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that.”

According to Politico, Rove was trying to inject questions about Clinton’s health into the debate. And he wasn’t being too subtle about it.

It would be one thing if what Rove said multiple times during his speech was anywhere close to the truth. Thirty days? Of course, she was in the hospital for only four days. He must be skewing the numbers again, just like he did in Ohio in the 2012 election. And yes, Hillary Clinton has worn those same sunglasses before.

Clinton’s people pushed back, as did many Democrats and many in the media. “Karl Rove has deceived the country for years, but there are no words for this level of lying,” said Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill. As for Clinton’s  health, he said, “She is 100 percent. Period.”

Of course, initial reports of Rove’s smear used the term “brain damage,” which Rove immediately denied saying. True, he said “brain injury.” Not a lot of difference, is there? It’s the old GOP trick of claiming that his words were taken out of context.

“In other words, Rove didn’t say Hillary Clinton has brain damage,” writes Peter Beinart in the Atlantic. “He hinted it, thus giving himself deniability while ensuring that the slur lingers in the public mind. Which is what he’s been doing his entire career.”

Let’s remember how Karl Rove first got involved in politics. In 1970, when he was still a college student, Rove used a fake identity to sneak into a campaign office for Alan Dixon, who was running for Illinois treasurer. Rove stole some stationery with campaign letterhead and printed fake campaign rally fliers promising a rally with “free beer, free food, girls, and a good time for nothing.” These were distributed at rock concerts and homeless shelters – Rove hoped the rowdy crowd would disrupt Dixon’s rally. Dixon won anyway.

That’s one political smear he admits to. He has never admitted his likely involvement in the whispering smear campaign against Sen. John McCain (R, Ariz.) in the 2000 GOP primary battle, supposedly for fathering an African-American “love child” (McCain and his wife adopted a daughter from Bangladesh). McCain had been gaining strength, but he lost South Carolina to George W. Bush, eventually giving Bush the GOP nomination.

There have been other smears of which he is likely guilty. But that’s how he plays the game – intimate something negative or tawdry and see what sticks.

Look, there are things to question about Hillary Clinton’s career, and her age in 2016 will be one of them, although there’s an awful lot of sexism in talking about it, since so many male candidates are older. Some on the left say she’s too much of a hawk. Those on the right say, well, that she’s Hillary Clinton. And don’t forget BENGHAZI!

I think this latest approach from Rove is likely to backfire, since the obviousness of the attack may have the effect of angering women and older voters. It makes it look like the GOP is so scared of Hillary Clinton in 2016 that there’s no level they won’t stoop to to bring her down.

No, I think the sheer stupidity of bringing up this false report shows something else – Karl Rove is past his prime. Whose brain should we be worrying about now?



Get ready for Benghazi-palooza

Well, summer must be on its way. The weather is turning more hot and humid. TV shows are airing their finales. Kids are looking forward to the end of school. And the Republicans are gearing up for more hearings on Benghazi.

The chairman of the new House select committee on Benghazi, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R, S.C.), was on Sunday talk shows this week, “demanding” to know from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton why the U.S was still in the Libyan city on Sept. 11, 2012, when four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, died in a terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate. He will make sure, he insisted to (where else?) Fox News Sunday, that his committee will get to the bottom of the Benghazi attack, once and for all. Earlier, he even slipped and called the committee’s purpose a “trial.”

Actually, Clinton already has answered that question and many more. In a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in January 2013, Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R, Calif.) asked her why the U.S. was still in Benghazi despite continued threats and an attack on a British diplomat. Here is part of Clinton’s answer:

“Our team, led by security professionals, but also including intelligence professionals and others, did not recommend, based on those incidents, abandoning Benghazi. In part, because over the last years we have become accustomed to operating in dangerous places. … And we do, as by necessity, rely on security professionals to implement the protocols and procedures necessary to keep our people safe. … Because you know, most of the time they get it right. I was also engaged …  in the issues related to the deteriorating threat environment, particularly in Libya. There were other places across the region. We were also watching to try to see what we could do to support the Libyan government to improve the overall stability of their country to deal with the many militias.”

Of course, that wasn’t Clinton’s only stop on the Benghazi outrage tour. She also testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R, Calif.), who has spent $14 million in U.S. taxpayer money on repetitive hearings.

There have been 13 public hearings and 50 briefings on the topic, and 25,000 documents have been released, according to Politico. Just how much more do GOP politicians hope to uncover? Or is this just the next moving target, since the Affordable Care Act signed up 8 million people? They can’t really vote to repeal it again, as they’ve done more than 50 times.

And it’s not just GOP politicians: When President Obama announced the latest ACA figures, even Fox News knew the jig was up. So the mentions of the Affordable Care Act continued to drop, and the mentions of Benghazi skyrocketed. Fox pundits were demanding that, during Obama interviews with meteorologists about the White House Climate Change report, those same meteorologists ask questions about Benghazi.

Right. Because Benghazi is so tied to global warming. Sorry, there’s just no “there” there.

In April 1983, when Ronald Reagan was president, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, was destroyed by Islamist militants, killing 61 people. In October 1983, 241 U.S. servicemen were killed in Beirut when a truck bomb exploded in barracks housing the servicemen, who were in Beirut as part of an international peacekeeping force. The U.S. Embassy was rebuilt and had been open for only six weeks when it was bombed again in September 1984, killing 20 people. There was ample evidence of lack of security in all three cases, as later investigations found, but Democrats did not make political hay out of the attacks. They didn’t use the attacks as an excuse to raise political money, as Republicans are doing now.

House Speaker John Boehner told Fox News on Sunday that he wanted committee members to investigate “the number of requests for security and why it was not provided.” Um, Mr. Speaker? It wasn’t provided because the GOP cut funding for embassy security overseas. Also, Ambassador Stevens repeatedly asked that security NOT be increased at the Benghazi consulate. He was an effective ambassador who wanted to be able to move around among Libyan people and not be isolated by security.

Let’s face it: Republicans have nothing to run on this fall, so they have to gin up their base with faux outrage over a tragedy, asking questions to which they already have the answers. Even though the families of the four Americans killed have specifically asked Congress NOT to hold any more hearings. And of course, the real reason for this bogus committee and these bogus hearings is to try to tarnish Hillary Clinton’s standing before the 2016 presidential election.

Welcome to election season. Let’s see if the rest of the media – besides Fox – are gullible enough to play along.

No, CNN, space aliens didn’t take down Flight 370

It might be overkill to poke more fun at CNN for the network’s over-the-top coverage of the missing Malaysian jetliner. Yet when the cable news station pulls something like this, it’s too hard to resist.

CNN has been the brunt of many well-deserved jokes over the last two months since the flight went missing on March 8. The coverage was seemingly around the clock and included interviews with psychics, questions about black holes, and suggestions that the reason the flight went missing might be due to supernatural forces. No matter what bit of non-news was reported, CNN always used the all-cap lead-in of BREAKING NEWS. What was thought to be flotsam from the flight turned out to be garbage – breaking news. The supposed path of the flight changed – breaking news. The flight is thought to be in a different ocean – breaking news. Each tidbit, no matter how inconsequential, was reported breathlessly.

To attempt to justify the over-saturation in coverage, CNN polled more than 1,000 Americans about what they thought happened to the plane. The poll was done with CNN’s usual polling practices by telephone. Some of the results are predictable: Nealy 80% of Americans think there are no survivors. Slightly over half think the public eventually will find out what happened to the flight, while 46% think the flight’s status will forever remain a mystery. About two-thirds think it’s somewhat or very likely that the flight crew had something to do with the disappearance; 57% thought terrorists might have been involved; and 42% blamed hijackers. Only 9% of survey respondents blame aliens.

Wait, WHAT?

Yes, CNN asked survey respondents the following question, with four possible answers: “Now here are a few groups that some people have suggested may be responsible for the disappearance of Flight 370 if an accident or mechanical failure was not the cause. As I read each one, please tell me whether you think it is very likely, somewhat likely, not too likely, or not likely at all that the disappearance of Flight 370 was due to actions by that group.” The choices were:

A) Terrorists or people associated with a hostile foreign government.

B) Hijackers not associated with a terrorist organization.

C) The pilot, co-pilot, or another member of the plane’s crew.

D) Space aliens, time travelers, or beings from another dimension.

Note: The directions to those asking the question in the survey were to put A, B, and C in random order, but always put D last. Well, gosh. At least we got through some semi-realistic possibilities until we got to the space aliens.

How could a question like that get into what is supposed to be a serious poll, you may ask. I wish I knew the answer to that.

But CNN does have one silver lining – its ratings grew over the last two months. So I guess we can expect more of the same if network officials see space aliens as the key to success.

If Donald Trump doesn’t like bad publicity, maybe he should keep his mouth shut

So real estate magnate and professional publicity hound Donald Trump called into Fox News’ morning show, “Fox & Friends,” last week to discuss the infamous audiotape of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racial remarks and asking his girlfriend/assistant/whatever she was not to bring blacks to Clippers games. Trump made his usual outrageous comments because, well, he’s Donald Trump. And now he is blasting the media for reporting what he said.


The Donald seems to love to call into conservative radio and TV shows, because he knows he’ll always get some airtime. The three Fox talking heads didn’t disappoint — they let him ramble on for more than five minutes. Trump did criticize Sterling’s remarks, but he also said that Sterling had been “set up” by the “girlfriend from hell.”

Of course, reporters couldn’t resist such a quote, so it got reported widely. And why not? By that point, everyone was criticizing Donald Sterling’s comments. No one was defending him, and Trump didn’t say anything else that was new. And news media reporting on Trump’s quotes didn’t say that Trump was defending Sterling, either — they just repeated a juicy quote. Indeed, they also repeated his slams against Sterling. But I guess that wasn’t good enough for The Donald.

“I knocked the hell out of Donald Sterling for five minutes, said what a bad guy, said, you know, horrible things he said,” Trump said on the cable news show on May 5. “And then I said just in passing and by the way, the ‘girlfriend from hell,’ and everybody laughed. Which is obviously true — I mean this girlfriend is taping him, and with very bad intentions obviously. She’s bad news.”

Trump lamented that “thousands of articles” repeated the “girlfriend from hell” line while ignoring the fact that he condemned Sterling’s comments. (Thousands? I think you’re overestimating your impact here, Mr. Trump.)

“Reporters are really dishonest, especially political reporters,” Trump said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Oh, REPORTERS are dishonest? This from the man who supposedly sent private investigators to Hawaii to dig up “the truth” about President Obama’s birth certificate? He promised bombshell disclosures that never were released. (Wonder why?) This from the guy who complained that the 2012 election results were a “travesty and a sham,” and shouldn’t be believed? That Obama “lost the popular vote by a lot,” and that we should “have a revolution,” even though Obama won the popular vote by nearly 5 million? This from the fellow who tweeted “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”? This from the man who said a “confidential source” had called him and said Obama had added $6 trillion to U.S. debt, despite the fact that the actual U.S. deficit has been DROPPING since Obama became president, after the initial expenditure for the stimulus package? This from the one who tweeted the lie about Chrysler sending Jeep manufacturing jobs to China? (For more, read “Donald Trump’s 50 Stupidest Tweets.” If you can stand to.)

And why, Trump demands, aren’t the media covering BENGHAZI? Trump claims that the “liberal” media are covering up the story of the Libyan attack on the U.S. consulate in 2012, trying to protect possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Uh, maybe because there’s no news there? Just about all media reported how House GOP leaders are setting up a special committee to keep investigating Benghazi because — well, it’s not really clear why, except to fight to keep the story alive. The release of a White House email sent the Fox network and conservative media into a new feeding frenzy. Fox even broke away from a joint news conference between President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel because “no one was asking any questions about Benghazi.” Again, maybe that’s because the other, more professional reporters in the room had more important issues to talk about, such as the continued crisis in Ukraine, the chances and effects of more U.S. and European sanctions against Russia, and the NSA spying scandal.

Look in the mirror if you want to see dishonesty, Mr. Trump. If you can see underneath your hairpiece, that is.


Waterboarding = baptism? $arah Palin’s 15 minutes are up

Yes, that’s the name “Sarah” with a dollar sign for the “S.” Because apparently money is the only thing $arah Palin believes in anymore.

$arah Palin recently gave a speech for the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association for which she no doubt was paid a hefty fee (her net worth is estimated at $12 million). She didn’t disappoint the red-meat crowd when she threw them this tasty morsel: Terrorists “obviously have information on plots to carry out jihad. Oh, but you can’t offend them, can’t make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

You know, in my church, baptism is a sacrament, just like it’s a sacrament in just about every other Christian church (Christian Scientists, Quakers, and Unitarians don’t baptize). Whether it’s baptism by immersion at a conscious age of consent or baptism by water on the head of an infant, it’s an act that represents the individual’s becoming a part of the church.”Meet your new brother (or sister) in Christ,” is what our ministers say after an infant, a toddler, a teen, or even an adult baptism takes place.

For $arah Palin, who claims to be a born-again Christian and who claims the high moral ground on cultural issues – well, she was all wet on this one.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture called on $arah and the NRA to repudiate the statement. Of course, since the GOP doesn’t apologize for anything, we’ll all grow old waiting for that to happen. As the group’s letter to the NRA, signed by 17 faith leaders from different religions and denominations, said: “For Christians, baptism is a profoundly holy act. It is in stark contrast to the abhorrent act of waterboarding. Equating baptism to an act of torture like waterboarding is sacrilegious – and particularly surprising coming from a person who prides herself on her Christian faith.”

In a separate letter to $arah Palin herself, the group said: “Your statements play into a false narrative conveying that somehow, the conflict between the United States and the terrorist cells is a conflict between Christianity and Islam, or Islam and ‘the West.’ ”

Faithful America, a group with the wonderful tagline “Love thy neighbor. No exceptions,” started an online petition to object to $arah Palin’s statement drawing a parallel between waterboarding and baptism. “This is what we’ve come to in America: A former candidate for vice president can equate torture and Holy Baptism, and one of the nation’s most powerful political lobbies erupts into cheers and applause.” Started only a few days ago, the petition has nearly 60,000 signatures so far.

In a published blog on the Huffington Post titled “Sarah Palin’s Heresy,” Rabbi Menachem Creditor also objected to her words about torture: “Most faith traditions incorporate water’s restorative power. The Muslim ritual ablution of Wudu, the Jewish Mikveh ritual bath, the Hindu ritual immersions in the River Ganges, and the Christian practice of baptism, each point to renewal, transformation, and life. How dare the NRA tolerate – worse, amplify – hatred garbed in religious symbolism.”

The blog Patheos had an interesting take on why $arah Palin was correct in her take on waterboarding and baptism, quoting the Rev. Daniel Brereton:

“We baptized ‘combatants’ with waterboarding. … We raised to life new creations of our own making, creating enemies in our own image. We baptized the innocent in the indiscriminate and remote violence of drone warfare. … We baptized prisoners at Abu Ghraib with brutality, humiliation, and torture. And we were surprised when we raised to life new hatred, horror, and disgust. … We are still baptizing the world with American violence.”

Gone are the days when $arah Palin was treated as a kingmaker or queenmaker. Her endorsements don’t carry the weight they used to, and these days she waits until she sees a clear front-runner before endorsing. That way, she can claim her endorsement helped. But most political observers know better. She’s selling fewer books, and fewer people are contributing to SarahPAC. And whatever she was paid by the NRA, she doesn’t command the top speech fees she used to get.

The half-term governor of Alaska was Sen. John McCain’s running mate in 2008 on the GOP ticket. “If I were in charge,” she told the NRA, to the cheers of the nearly all-white and mostly Republican audience. Thank the Lord that she isn’t.

How do you like your “patriot” now, Fox?

No matter where you get your news, you’ve probably heard or read about Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who refused to pay public grazing fees for his cattle for 20 years. If you read a straight news version, you learned about a man who withheld the heavily subsidized rate of $1.35 per cattle unit per month and now owed the federal government $1 million, having racked up quite a bill. But if you get your news with a right-wing tilt, you got 24/7 coverage of a “patriot” who had been “wronged” by evil federal agents.

Despite losing at every level, from government appeals to the courts, Bundy refused to pay. He had multiple opportunities to make good, just as countless other Western ranchers have done. But Fox News and others in conservative media land — not to mention several prominent Republican politicians — touted the deadbeat Nevada rancher as a “patriot,” comparing him to the Founding Fathers, Gandhi, and Rosa Parks.

This saturated coverage stirred up armed militia members in neighboring states to come to join Bundy’s fight. Assault rifles in hand, they lined highways, ready to shoot it out with those evil feds who were trying to enforce the law by removing Bundy’s cattle from federal land. Those militia members were only too happy to explain to the cameras how the federal government has “no right” to demand payment from Bundy. It was “the people’s land,” after all. They were “sovereign citizens” who “didn’t recognize” the existence of the United States. And they did this all while waving American flags.

Of course, it turns out Bundy is a racist windbag and a liar. In video shown widely on Thursday, April 24, he is seen ranting against “the negro,” suggesting that African-Americans might be better off as slaves picking cotton. No surprise there — that kind of thinking goes hand in hand with the militia movement, as it has throughout its history. As explained thoroughly in a segment on The Rachel Maddow Show the same day, the militia movement really started when white Southerners wanted to keep federal forces from coming South to protect black citizens after the Civil War. The idea of posse comitatus, or “power to the county,” means that “sovereign citizens” don’t need to obey federal and state laws, only the county sheriff. Other laws don’t apply to these loons. Don’t pay your income taxes? No problem. Drive without a license plate? Don’t need one. Refuse to get a state ID? You can print your own from the Internet from a URL conveniently supplied in an ad from the back of an Aryan Nation magazine.

“I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing,” Bundy said.”If I get a letter from the federal government, I don’t even open it.” (But you’re certainly happy to get that free mail delivery, aren’t you, Mr. Bundy?)

Bundy claimed that his family had been ranching the land since the mid-1800s, and they never had to pay anything for grazing cattle on public land. Land records, however, showed that his father didn’t buy the ranch until the 1950s. The Bureau of Land Management started the grazing fee program in Nevada in the 1940s.

Of course, ol’ rancher Bundy just can’t keep his mouth shut. On CNN on April 25 (why are news organizations still giving this nutjob a microphone?) he said this: “If I call — if I say negro or black boy or slave, I’m not — if those people cannot take those kind of words and not be offended, then Martin Luther King hasn’t got his job done then yet.”

Well, of course, Martin Luther King is dead, shot and killed by a white supremacist. So he was kind of stopped in his tracks before he could get his job done, wasn’t he?

Once Bundy’s repugnant racial views were made public, the right-wingers couldn’t run away fast enough. Indeed, “repugnant” seemed to be the favorite term used by Sen. Ron Paul, Fox News and radio host Sean Hannity, and many others. Texas Gov. Rick Perry made an early comment still supporting Bundy, then quickly realized his error and backtracked quickly.

You’ve got a lot to answer for here, Fox, National Review, and others. You backed the wrong horse in this fight, Sens. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Dean Heller. Those like Democratic Nevada Sen. Harry Reid were right on the money when they called this crowd “domestic terrorists.” What else would you call a group of people who refuse to follow federal laws and call for the dissolution of the nation?

U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford (D, Nev.) represents the state’s Fourth congressional district, which contains the Bundy ranch and the federal land in question, as well as many surrounding communities. Horsford, who ironically is African-American, appeared in a segment of the same Rachel Maddow Show Thursday night. He described how he had been meeting with constituents and listening to how frightened they were of the gun-toting lunatics on Bundy’s ranch. Children are afraid to walk to school. Families are afraid to go to church on Sundays because the towns are full of armed militia members. Other ranchers, who have paid their bargain grazing fees (the same fees on private land can be nearly $20 per month), have no sympathy for Bundy and his crowd. They all want the militia members to leave so they can get back to their lives.

Look, you want to have a debate about federal overreach, fine. You want to talk about states’ rights, go right ahead. But use an argument based in fact, not with examples of armed scofflaws who are frightening their neighbors with their heavy weaponry and militant rhetoric.

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