This Week in Remembrance
Here's an amazing time-lapse video of the new World Trade Center being built--telling an amazing story of American resilience and courage in the face of tragedy.
We won't ever forget. And we won't ever stop building.
Walt Whitman's lovely "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry."
This Week in The Bubble
The right-wing punditocracy is outraged--outraged, we say!--over a published photgraph of President Obama with one foot on his desk in the Oval Office. Never mind that nearly every president puts his feet on his desk from time to time--as does just about everybody else who works in an office anywhere--if this president does it, surely there's some deeper symbolism at work. At least, according to the folks at the birther-friendly, anti-American, conspiracy-mongering, truthophobic fringe website WorldNetDaily (and no, we would never link directly to that propaganda mill--if you want to expose yourself to that nonsense, you're on your own). This week, they ask this vital question: "Is it possible President Obama had a White House photographer release this official image to the world to send a wordless message of support to the Muslim Brotherhood, Arab street and Islamic community in general? To convey his disdain and disregard for all things traditionally American?"
Answer: No. No, it's not. It's really not. Would it be possible to ask a dumber question? Maybe, but it'd be a tough job to come up with one.
If anybody could though, it would probably be Fox "News" psychiatrist Keith Ablow, who used the 9/11 anniversary as an opportunity to accuse President Obama of hating Americans. Nobody who knows anything about Barack Obama's uniquely American history, or his policies, could believe that. Why does Fox keep this ignorant man on the payroll?
But they're not the only fringe (and not-so-fringe) figures who have gone a little crazy this week. One recent twist is the crush so many conservatives seem to have on Russian he-man Vladimir Putin. They're going so far that if the diplomatic solution to the Syria chemical weapons issue works--the one that Obama and Putin started talking about last year, that Secretary of State John Kerry brought up with his Russian counterpart back in April, and that President Obama discussed with Putin a week before Kerry broached it in public--they've already announced that they'll give Putin the credit, not the administration. It really was a remarkable week in the Syria situation, with Syria literally denying the existence of chemical weapons on one day, and the next agreeing to join the Chemical Weapons Convention and put control of their chemical weapons into international hands. There's still plenty that could go wrong, but it's undeniable that the threat of a US military strike focused Syrian attention in a positive way. That threat was orchestrated by President Obama, not Vladimir Putin. Putin still claims that it was the rebels who used chemical weapons, not Assad, and in the same breath that Assad should be praised for agreeing to give up the weapons he and Putin say he never used. If Putin had his way, we'd not only never have made any threat, but we'd be supporting the murderous Assad regime, as he does.
You can't tell that to the ever-clueless Senator Rand Paul (R/KY), whose latest inane comment was "Advantage Putin." What Paul doesn't know about domestic policy and foreign policy would be enough to fill two separate Encyclopedia Brittanicas, a truth made scarier by his position as a United States senator, and downright terrifying by the fact that there are people in the country who would vote for him for president. Then again, in 1968, a few people voted for Pigasus the pig for president, and his grasp of issues was only slightly better than Sen. Paul's.
There's something we should get straight, here. The Syrian Civil War has been going on for more than two years. In many ways, it's a proxy war, with Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia siding with the regime, and the rebels (themselves a mixed bag), variously linked to the west, including the US (for the moderate rebels) and al-Qaeda. Now, we don't want to be on al-Qaeda's side in any fight, which is part of why we've resisted being drawn in deeper. (And, incidentally, any American who'd rather be on the side of Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah than the United States, simply because he or she doesn't like the president, is a person whose patriotism is more than a little suspect). But because we're the big proxy on one side and Russia is, on the other, there have been back-channel negotiations (and sometimes front-channel ones) between us and the Russians for months. What happened this week, the possible opening up of a diplomatic solution to the chemical weapons issue, is not a case of Putin suddenly having a flash of inspiration. To think that it is denies the hard work that's been going on all along.
And the White House got exactly what it wanted. The whole situation revolved around Obama's concern about Syria's use of chemical weapons. He wanted it to stop. By the end of the week, Assad had admitted to having chemical weapons, and had petitioned the United Nations to be allowed to join the organization of countries that has voluntarily given theirs up. Even if the details have yet to be hammered out, Assad won't be using those weapons again any time soon, if ever. So the administration achieved its objective without having to fire a single missile or take any other military action. If anyone was outmaneuvered here, it wasn't the president, but Assad who was backed into a corner, and Putin, who had to press his ally to admit to and give up his stash.
At the prominent conservative blog RedState (which we don't mind linking to, since they sometimes publish the work of principled, sane conservatives) they posted this: "We've reached a sad state of affairs when the Russian president has more credibility that [sic] the American president but that is where we are." Infamous scandal-whore Matt Drudge tweeted: "Putin is the leader of the free world..." Which tells you a lot about Drudge's idea of freedom. And Rush Limbaugh, apparently trying to reach a new standard of insanity (and he's already set a high bar), claims to believe that President Obama is responsible for Syria's use of chemical weapons, and he's happy that Putin agrees with him.
This stuff truly is crazy. Words have consequences, as Senator John McCain (R/AZ) found out this week at a Town Hall meeting, when an angry constituent said, "I believe wholeheartedly you do not care about the will and well-being of America or its people. You lied to the American people about the chemical attacks in Syria. The American people know that it was our government that is most likely responsible."
Consider that statement: Our government is "most likely responsible" for the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons against its own people. When blowhards like Limbaugh and Pam Geller and Alex Jones--people who use fear and hatred like a mechanic does wrenches and screwdrivers, people who, despite years of documented dishonesty and fraud, have large followings--seek to turn our citizenry against our elected government, they can unfortunately have an impact. People who should know better fall for their lies. Trapped in the bubble, they don't learn the truth. And unthinking fools like Rand Paul "legitimize" these carnival barkers by allowing their names--and by extension, the United States Congress--to be linked with them in public.
The pundits, the Limbaughs and Joneses and Drudges and Becks, know they're lying, of course. They made the stuff up, or they pick it up from each other, but they don't believe it. They don't have to. What's important is that others believe it. And when it's not reported in the mainstream press--because it's utter BS--well, that's because of "liberal bias," and the poor saps who are being lied to are encouraged to tune in tomorrow for more of what only these pundits can tell you (and only they can tell you because only they know what lie they'll spout tomorrow). It is, in fact, a very old trick, but it is just that--a trick. It's not about informing the public, it's about earning a buck in a way that P.T. Barnum would have appreciated. But American government is not a sideshow, and the hucksters shouldn't be calling the shots.
During my younger days, there was a common refrain leveled at antiwar protestors and other lefty types--"America: Love it or Leave it." When folks on the right, elected and otherwise, profess their preference for Putin over the elected President of the United States--when blind hatred* for this president causes them to praise tyrants--maybe they should think about moving to Russia and trying to live under his rule. We'd all be better off without them.
*Side Note: Some Republicans recognize that this is a destructive impulse for their party. A Republican Congressman named Adam Kitzinger (R/IL) said this week, "If we had taken this vote, it would've been the most important in 10 years. The point I tried to make is if you oppose this on principle, great. But if you oppose this because it's Barack Obama's plan, you should really rethink what your job is." But the one-time Republican advantage in foreign policy is gone; the party has swept out the Brent Scowcrofts and Dick Lugars and Colin Powells. They've rejected the most credible president of modern times, when it comes to foreign policy: George H.W. Bush, and the whole foreign policy establishment he represents. Now they're clueless, flailing in the wind, celebrating Putin and turning the challenge of Syria into a flame war. It's a sad spectacle.
This Week in Doctrines
Stephanie Gaskell of Defense One argues that President Obama's Syria speech (transcript) defined the "Obama Doctrine." It's a tough stance that makes the case for American exceptionalism and promises to defend America against any attack, but won't rush headlong into war. Every president eventually lays one out, either directly or through his actions, and now his has been unveiled. Gaskell's piece is short, but important.
This Week in Health Care
President Obama's weekly address this week was on the topic of Syria, unsurprisingly. So the Republican response, delivered by Senator John Barasso (R/WY), provided the GOP's opinion on the Syria debate, and...no, wait, that's wrong. Sen. Barasso wanted to talk about the evils of Obamacare. He was wrong on virtually every point he made. Does he know that? Does he care? Today's Republican party increasingly lives in a reality-free zone, where they deny science and math and history and where objective truth has no value. Voters who don't venture out of the Fox/Limbaugh/Beck bubble have little opportunity to find out the truth, and elected Republicans are happy to keep them in the dark.
In a related note, former half-term governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is out with a new lie about one of her favorite old lies: "death panels." And "family values" Senator David Vitter (R/LA), whose fondness for prostitutes was so pronounced that he's known to have solicited them from the floor of Congress, is holding up Senate business, demanding that the Senate consider his amendment to "end the Congressional exemption to Obamacare." Trouble is, there is no Congressional exemption to Obamacare. He's a Senator, so presumably he knows that. Has anyone ever pointed out to these people that if you have to lie to make your argument, you probably don't have a very solid case?
Also, the ACA has already saved consumers more than a billion dollars.
Side Note: The Washington Post's Ezra Klein on why the GOP's Obamacare "torpedo of lunacy" should make you "pessimistic about the state of American politics."
This Week in Big Government
Boy, those Democrats just can't stop themselves from making government bigger, can they?
Oh, wait. Maybe not: Federal hiring declines to six-year low point.
Meanwhile, how's that growing deficit the right keeps warning us about? Federal deficit on track for Obama administration low.
And how dumb is the sequester? Next year, the FBI will have to close for 10 days.
This Week in Household Finances (with Tanks)
Conservatives and other folks who don't understand economics like to use the analogy of a family's income and spending practices, when talking about government. The Heritage Foundation did so just the other day, so a Washington Post reporter took the analogy and explored it in more depth. Here's why it's makes no sense at all.
This Week in Gun Safety
One of the most common justifications for gun ownership is "self-defense." Setting aside how sad it is for anyone, outside of people in certain particularly dangerous professions, to live a life so afraid of the world that he or she thinks a gun is necessary, the fact is that very few people actually ever use a gun for self-defense. Far more often, guns in the home are used by people in the home, against themselves or against others in the home. Guns are also commonly stolen from homes. Actual self-defense falls way below those other outcomes.
The cold reality is this: introducing a gun into any conflict situation ratchets up the likelihood that somebody's going to die. It turns an argument into a terror-filled confrontation. It makes everything harder to walk back.
Back in 2008, a Pennsylvania woman made headlines when she wore a holstered handgun to her daughter's soccer game. Her gun license was revoked, then restored by a judge. She sued the county sheriff who revoked her license, saying that because of that revocation, her babysitting business had suffered and her neighbors had ostracized her. It's really not hard to see the truth here--who would want anyone foolish enough to wear a gun to a children's soccer game to babysit their kids? And who'd want to hang out with her? The fact that she was delusional enough to think it was the revocation that caused those things, and not the notoriety of her actions, indicates that maybe the sheriff was right in his judgment.
At any rate, this week her husband shot her and then himself, killling them both. It's a tragic ending to a sad life, made worse by the three children they left behind. But it's a good illustration of the truth--if there are guns in the house, the people living in the house are the ones most in danger.
One of the pro-gun death laws passed in 2010 and signed by President Obama was the ridiculous one allowing people to carry guns in national parks. This week's tragic consequence of that law was the 3-year-old who shot herself to death in Yellowstone. It's the first shooting death there since 1978, but as long as that law remains on the books, it's likely to be followed by more. Where there are guns, there are shootings. Where there are shootings, people die.
Sometimes guns aren't turned on family members, but on neighbors, as was the case in Phoenix, AZ this week. What should have been a neighborly dispute turned fatal, because one of the people involved had a gun.
This week a 107-year-old man shot at police officers, until they felt they had no choice but to shoot back, killing him. Again, the man had a gun in his home. At 107, it's not at all impossible that he no longer had the intellectual capacity to know when a gun ought to be used. But he had one, and he used it, and he paid the price.
This week, the state of Iowa started issuing gun licenses to blind people. They can't have driver's licenses, but they can pack heat. No potential pitfalls there.
And in Colorado, pro-gun death forces won a recall election aimed at two legislators who supported laws passed to make Coloradans safer, in the aftermath of the horrific Aurora movie theater mass murders. The legislation has already passed, and the recalls don't change the balance of power. This action doesn't undo those laws. It's merely revenge, spearheaded by the gun industry-financed NRA--and it's a message to other legislators in other places. "Argue in favor of public safety," the NRA is saying, "and we'll come after you, too." Recall politics are rarely a good idea. When voters elect people, they expect those people to serve out their terms. There's always another election coming down the pike, always a legitimate opportunity to seek the removal of a politician you don't agree with. But if politicians on the left and the right can expect a recall attempt every time they act on any issue that's remotely controversial, we're left with ever greater gridlock and dysfunction. That's no way to govern.
The NRA is--and I mean this quite literally--fighting for the "right" of any would-be murderer to acquire virtually any firearm. They're arguing for the "right" of people who can't get on commercial airplanes because they're on terrorist watchlists to be able to stockpile as many guns and as much ammunition as they want. The corollary to their argument--though they'd never phrase it this way, their argument doesn't work unless this is true--is that the profits of the death merchants have a greater value than the individual lives of human beings. A bullet through the brain is a small price to pay to keep gun industry executives well paid. They wrap their argument in the flag and claim it's a defense of the Second Amendment; meanwhile, they make up imaginary threats, like confiscation of guns and fear of a tyrannical govermnent, to keep the people in line. There's a right to own guns, but every right has counter-rights, and in this case the counter-right is the right to not get shot. I have a right to expect that my family and friends can go to a movie, or to school, or to the mall, or anywhere, without being murdered. The NRA chieftains don't care--they genuinely do not care--who has to die, as long as their corporate funders keep selling guns and ammo. They don't speak for me. I surely hope they don't speak for anyone reading this blog.
Americans are allowed to own guns. Many Americans have an unhealthy fascination with them. But the fact remains that guns are tools meant to kill. They're very good at it. And nobody thinks it'll be their spouse, their neighbor, or their child who dies.
Until it is.
This Week in Human Tragedy
This is investigative journalism at its best--a Reuters story about "re-homing," orphaned children brought into the US and then offered up on an unregulated, underground internet "child market." Chilling and awful, and thanks to Reuters for bringing it into the light.
This Week in Despicable Statements
Appearing at the right-wing Heritage Foundation this week, Senator Ted Cruz (R/TX) praised former Senator Jesse Helms (R/NC), saying, "We need 100 more like Jesse Helms in the Senate."
Cruz is an educated guy. He must know who Helms really was--an unremitting bigot who hated gays and blacks with equal fervor, unrepentant about his lifelong support for segregation and his personal antipathy toward people of color, and who probably would have despised the idea of any Latino--even a conservative one--being allowed into the Senate chambers unless he was wearing a white jacket and carrying a tray of mint juleps.
A hundred more like him? That's called a Klan rally. We don't need that in the Senate, and we don't need people who think we do.
This Week in Income Inequality
"Income inequality" isn't some Commie eupehmism for hating the rich, and it's not "class warfare" to mention it. It's a real problem, and one of the root causes of the Great Depression. In 2012, it reached a pinnacle that it hadn't since 1927, in part because the rich lost less than other folks, proportionately, during the recession, and regained it much faster. Brace yourselves, because this matters.
In a related note, here's an interesting piece on the coming "new left," the millienial generation, which, the author says, will reject the Clintonian "Third Way," embraced by President Obama (defined as: "Inclined toward market solutions, not government bureaucracy, focused on economic growth, not economic redistribution, and dedicated to equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome") for a more leftist approach. People who think the centrist Obama is a Socialist had better prepare themselves for that wave, if this author is right.
This Week in Irony
Republican officials in Arizona and Kansas are complaining that obstruction by Republicans in Congress is preventing them from moving forward with their voter suppression tactics, which they'd like to use to ensure that they keep sending Republicans to Congress.
This Week in Science
What happens when some tough little ants take on a big creepy spider?
This Week in RIP
Cal Worthington, car dealer and pitchman extraordinaire, dead at 92. What's happened to the bear is unclear. (Thanks to TWiA special Spot correspondent Maryelizabeth Hart for the tip.)
Photograph via the Los Angeles Times
This Week in Awesome
Also, the story of Donald the duck and Trigger the dog.
This Week in Bears
A well-mannered bear in Gatlinburg, TN uses the crosswalk, and doesn't maul the idiots who get too close. That kind of self-restraint is admirable.