Left Without A Voice.

Last Friday, Keith Olbermann announced that he and MSNBC had decided to end Countdown.  As a result, progressives have lost their strongest voice.  Although MSNBC will continue to feature commentators such as Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, Lawrence O’Donnell and Chris Matthews, none of them, with the possible exception of Schultz, are fire-breathing liberals.

That means there is no longer anyone in the media to offset the hateful rantings of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, etc., etc., etc.

It’s a sad day for progressives and for fairness in media.

Arizona Is An NRA Member’s Wet Dream.

Imagine pulling into a metropolitan gas station and, as you’re filling your tank, a man at the pump next to you gets out of his car with a .44 magnum revolver in a holster strapped to his leg.  Or let’s say you go to a pizza place for lunch and three men walk in wearing guns on their belts.Welcome to Arizona!

For many years, Arizona has permitted “open carry” for any non-felons over 21.  And to make things even more dangerous, last year, the Arizona legislature passed a law allowing any non-felon over 21 to carry a concealed gun without a permit.  The legislators claim that such liberal gun laws will make our state “safer.”

Ironically, the week following the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona legislature has planned to vote on a law permitting teachers to carry guns in schools and universities.  The law will also allow students over 21 to carry guns to class.

All of this nonsense is the result of recent re-interpretations by the Supreme Court of the 2nd Amendment which states “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  Previous Courts held that public safety necessitated some restrictions on this right.  More recently, however, the Court has skipped by the words “well regulated Militia” and focused, instead, on the words “shall not be infringed.”

So here we stand.  Thanks to the NRA and right-wing zealots, the state famous for the Shootout At The O.K. Corrall has returned to its beginnings when “justice” came from the end of a gun.

Is this a great state, or what?

What’s Wrong With Calling For Civility?

Following the Tucson shooting, Pima County Sheriff Dupnik stirred up the proverbial hornet’s nest by suggesting that our rancorous political climate may have contributed to the violence.  And his statements about Arizona’s insane gun laws fueled even more anger from the right.

How dare the good Sheriff ask for more civility in our public discourse!  How dare he try to keep guns away from the mentally unstable or even the deranged!

Never once did he point fingers at a particular party or individual politicians and radio hosts.  Yet following his statements on national TV, right wing radio hosts and right wing politicians went on the attack.

Certainly the right wingers were not responsible for the shooting.  Still, Sheriff Dupnik made some valid points.  Statements such as Sharron Angle’s threat of “2nd Amendment remedies” and “taking out” Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid most definitely could inspire another unblanced individual to act.  Tea Party members carrying guns to Presidential appearances can only be viewed as a threat of violence to President Obama.  Tea Party  signs reading “Next time, we’ll come armed” can only be seen as a threat to elected officials.  And maps of Congressional districts in the crosshairs of a gunsight most certainly present a violent image.

But right wingers claim that the violent implication of these statements and images is a misinterpretation of their intent; a fabrication by the left.  For example, Rush Limbaugh said that liberals were the ones truly responsible for the Tucson shooting.  Half-term Governor Palin defended her Mama Grizzly approach to politics by claiming she and other right wingers are the victims of “blood libel.”  Even The Arizona Republic got into the act by printing an editorial calling for Sheriff Dupnik to “remember his duty” and “to recall that he is elected to be a lawman.”

In other words, right wingers have the right to state opinions in any manner they please.  But if someone on the left takes issue with those opinions, they should remember their place and shut up.

Meanwhile, how have political commentators on the left responded?  Have they displayed similar angst at the suggestion their discourse may have contributed to the shooting (despite the fact that they’ve never encouraged violence)?  No.  Instead of defending themselves, they seem to have taken the Sheriff’s suggestion to heart.  Indeed, Keith Olbermann has announced that he will be acutely aware of language from now on.  He’s even stated that he is dropping his show’s segment “World’s Worst Persons.”

The difference in reaction couldn’t be more revealing.  Either the right is feeling some sense of shame and guilt over the Sheriff’s comments.  Or they are so determined to win at all costs, they simply don’t care if their actions and words lead to more senseless violence.

Personally, I’m betting both of those motives are true.

Giffords Shooting Further Proof That Handguns Are Not Defensive Weapons.

For many years, the National Rifle Association has encouraged changes in our gun laws to allow more people to arm themselves.  The theory is that guns are a deterrent to criminals.  That may sound reasonable, but it’s simply not true.

Take the latest gun violence in Tucson, Arizona.  A young man who is apparently mentally and emotionally disturbed was sold a handgun by a sporting goods store.  A few months later, he walked up to the Congresswoman and shot her in the back of the head at point blank range.  He then sprayed bullets into the crowd killing 6 and wounding more than a dozen others.  Despite the fact that the shooting took place in what is probably the most heavily armed state in the union, not one person drew a gun to fire back.  Why not?  Those in the immediate area all said that the shooting happened in “a flash.”  One eyewitness who was armed said the shooting lasted no longer than 10-12 seconds.  Yet in that time approximately 30 rounds were fired.

That’s a common description of shooting events.  They happen in the blink of an eye.  So even if they’re armed, victims and witnesses usually don’t have time to draw their weapons, let alone fire back.  And, for the sake of argument, let’s say that some of those in the crowd were able to draw their weapons.  Now everyone else in the crowd is in the middle of a shootout – a situation potentially even more dangerous.  With bullets flying in many directions it would be difficult for bystanders to determine who’s the greater threat.  And, if the shootout continues until police arrive, how do the police know who’s a criminal and who isn’t?

Now consider this:  If, in a separate incident, a criminal is already pointing a gun at you from close range, will you have an opportunity to draw your own weapon?  Doubtful.  If you try, you likely will be shot.  Some defense, huh?  And if two people simultaneously draw handguns, the “winner” is the one who doesn’t hesitate to shoot and/or shoots more accurately.

Moreover, handguns are very inaccurate at distances greater than 10 feet.  Police statistics have shown that, in real world situations under stress, only 2 of 10 shots fired will hit somewhere in the target.  In other words, you may have a better chance of surviving an attack by running than by engaging in a shootout.  And, inside 6 feet, you have a better chance of disarming your assailant with your hands (if you practice proven techniques) than trying to draw your own weapon.

Before you get the idea that I’m anti-gun, I should tell you that I have owned rifles and shotguns since I was 13 and have been around them all my life.  But I do not own a handgun, nor do I believe in them.  The attack on Congresswoman Giffords should be evidence enough that our nation’s insane gun laws permitting the widespread ownership and carrying of  handguns need to change.

Republican Leaders Provided Fertilizer For The Seeds Of Hate.

We don’t yet know why an armed lunatic chose to shoot Congresswoman Giffords.  But we do know that the seeds of violence have, for years, been sown by commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and their ilk.  Moreover, we can be certain that those seeds were well-fertilized in the 2008 presidential campaign, most especically at the Republican National Convention.

I watched both national conventions gavel to gavel and was shocked by the vitriol prominently displayed in every speech by Republicans.  Rather than focus on policy, Republicans chose to focus on personal attacks.  From the snarky comments by Sarah Palin to the snide diatribes of Senator McCain, the conservative venom was unrestrained.  We were treated to derisive questions about President Obama’s citizenship and his service as a community organizer.  By contrast, I heard no such attacks from speakers at the Democratic National Convention.

And when the results were in, Republicans suggested that they didn’t lose the election, ACORN helped the Democrats “steal” it.

Since then, the ugly rhetoric from the right has only gotten worse.  Republican leaders have used every conceivable legislative trick to block Democratic initiatives.  They railed about the “big government takeover.”  They talked about “death panels.”  And they howled about Democrats trying to “push through their liberal agenda.”  Then, leading up to the mid-term elections, we were treated to the sight of Tea Party demonstrators carrying signs portraying President Obama as Hitler and as the Joker.  We were also forced to witness demonstrators bringing guns to rallies and threatening to “exercise their 2nd Amendment rights” if Republican Tea Party candidates didn’t get their way.

Here in Arizona, I have often been forced to bite my tongue as local Republican leaders referred to President Obama as “illegitimate” and Nancy Pelosi as “a disgusting pig.”  I have listened to McCain, Governor Brewer and State Senator Russell Pearce vilify latinos.  And, like most people, I have been the recipient of a seemingly endless variety of ugly, untruthful chain emails against our President and his supporters.

Now I know that those on the right will suggest that liberals are just as bad.  But any comparison of Rush, Beck or Fox News Channel with MSNBC is a false equivalency.  Certainly many on the left have contributed to the unpleasantness but, unlike their right-wing counterparts, I have yet to witness a Democrat talking about committing violent acts such as “taking out” an opponent.  I have never heard Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow or Ed Schultz call for Democrats to take weapons to rallies, or to “target” those with whom they disagree.

In any case, we all must change the way we discuss politics.  We must try to respect those with whom we disagree even when we disagree with their opinions.  We must try to separate the policies from the person.  And we must politely, but firmly, tell those who make outrageous statements that they are not acceptable.  We must refuse to vote for candidates who invoke hatred.  And when we hear political commentators make disgusting, violent statements, we must switch channels and inform the station or network that we will no longer tolerate the rhetoric of violence and hate.

If not, the event in Tucson is likely to be repeated across our nation.

A Story To Remember On This Day Of Hatred.

Following the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and many others, I think it’s important to relate a story I was told a few years ago.

I went to a gathering of supporters for Tibetan freedom featuring several Tibetan Buddhist monks who had been captured and tortured following the Tibetan “uprising” of 1959.  One monk told of being captured and forced to act like a draft animal pulling a cart as part of a dam-building project.  He told of being whipped and living on a daily bowl of broth for months.  He and a few other monks escaped the prison camp and made their way to India.  All of the remaining monks in the camp were worked to death or killed.

The monk also told of an uncle who had fought as part of the resistance to the Chinese takeover of Tibet.  The Chinese, he said, came to his village and took note of all those missing.  Assuming the missing were freedom-fighters, the Chinese killed the families of the missing.He concluded by saying that his entire family had been killed along with all of the monks in his monastery.

When he finished his story, a member of the audience asked what I considered an absurd question.  “How does that make you feel about the Chinese?” he asked.  The monk responded, “I bear no hatred toward the Chinese.  They are doing what they believe is correct.  Our plight is the result of our karma,” he said.Upon hearing the monk’s response, I was embarrassed by the anger his story fueled in me.  Then I felt an inner peace as never before.

Please remember this story the next time you or someone you know is the victim of hate.  Nobody should be harmed for expressing his or her beliefs.