Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Several people (including my wife!) have recently asked my opinion on Syria. My answer is almost as complicated as the actual situation. Well, not really, but it offers a nice entry to the subject. So I’m going to try to articulate my thoughts. Briefly.

But before I do, I want to offer one note and one caveat. The caveat is that I approach the issue of how to respond to the ongoing civil war in Syria (as well as unrest in Egypt and elsewhere in the Muslim world) not only from an American viewpoint, but also from the point of view of someone who is a strong supporter of Israel. Thus, I take into account first what is in the best interests of America, but I also consider whether an action will be good for Israel. Second, I’ve been to the Golan Heights and looked across the border at Syrian guard posts and gun emplacements. No, that’s not really relevant to the issue, but when I think about the subject I can’t help but recall the time that I spent (brief as it was) in the Golan and then with a Druze family in northern Israel.

So, should we bomb Syria? In a word, yes.

But of course it’s not that simple.

I think that we should take efforts to seriously degrade if not eliminate Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction against its own people or its neighbors. Chemical weapons are so horrendous, so beyond the norms of modern warfare, that their use cannot be condoned and must, instead, be severely punished. Possession of chemical weapons may not be overly problematic in and of itself, if only for an apparent deterrent effect. However, once a country uses chemical weapons, especially against civilians, then it becomes incumbent upon the international community to do something. Why?


At some point, atrocities become so bad that we, as humans, have a moral obligation to try to stop the atrocities and punish those responsible. Though we’ve spent the 60+ years since World War II saying “never again” with regard to genocide, we’ve allowed genocide to happen over and over and over. The use of chemical weapons against a civilian population isn’t genocide … but it’s not far down on the atrocity scale.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that we have an obligation to protect every civilian everywhere from every despot or act of cruelty. Far from it. And I don’t think that it is necessarily our obligation to invade a country to protect its civilian population from the acts of a tyrant. Nor should we be invading every country that has weapons of mass destruction. I’m not advocating war, though in the case of genocide I might make the case that war becomes just and appropriate.

But where, as in Syria, there is at least the possibility of preventing further atrocities and, at the same time, punishing those who carried out the atrocities, all without substantial risk of loss of life to those carrying out the mission, then I think an attack is justified. However, if we do attack Syria, we should do so with strength and seriousness of purpose, not just launch a few cruise missiles or airstrikes “for show”. If we choose to hit Syria, we should hit Syria hard.

A mere “show of force” sort of strike could, I fear, have the opposite effect of that intended. If Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons is not eliminated or at least severely degraded, then I fear that the Assad regime will choose to use what it left of its chemical stockpiles. Why not? What would they have to lose (especially if Assad can give the order to use chemical weapons from the safety of somewhere else, like say, Iran, where he is reported to be as of today)? I also worry that the use of chemical weapons wouldn’t be limited to Syria’s civilian population or even the rebel armies. No. I fear that Syria might launch chemical weapon attacks against Israel or even Turkey or the Sunni and Christian populations in Lebanon. Or, perhaps, Syria would try to transfer those chemical weapons to Hezbollah for use in Lebanon, against Israel, or for export abroad for use in terrorist attacks. Those are risks that we cannot take.

I don’t think that we should necessarily be aiming to kill Syrian President Assad; but we should make sure that our strikes are strong enough so that he isn’t in a position to lash out like a spoiled child, taking more of his population and the populations of his neighbors (or the world) down with him.


I don’t think that we should be arming the rebels, at least not with any real heavy weaponry. Rifles and bullets? Fine. But we should not be giving them anti-tank rockets, anti-aircraft missiles, or the like. Why? First, as much as we may dislike Assad and his actions, I’m not sure that we’re necessarily that much more comfortable with the rebel groups, especially as it appears that some may be linked with al-Qaeda. We armed the Afghan muhajadeen against the USSR … and then those weapons were turned both on civilians and, eventually, Americans, as the Taliban took power. We need to be very careful that we’re not arming people who will first use them against Assad and then use them against America, Israel, and western democracies. We need to learn from past mistakes; giving people guns with which to fight a common enemy doesn’t necessarily make those people your friends.

Finally, I think that we need to strike Syria because we told them (and the world) that we would if they crossed a certain red line (the red line, in this case, being the use of chemical weapons). We need to “honor” our promise so that we are taken seriously when making ultimatums of this sort. We need our allies to know that when we say we’ll do something, we’ll honor our promise. More importantly, we need those to whom an ultimatum may be directed to know that we’ll do what we said. And in this, I’m looking directly at Iran. If we allow Syria to cross the red line of chemical weapons use without serious repercussions, then Iran will have no reason to think that we’re doing anything but bluffing if we threaten action over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran must understand that, must be made to understand that.

So, yes. I think that we should strike Syria. I think we should hit them hard. We should degrade Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons against its own civilian population or against others. But we should not use those strikes as an chance to tip the scales of the civil war itself.

Oh, and to those who want to compare surgical strikes against Syria to the invasion of Iraq? Please just shut up and go away. The use of surgical strikes to eliminate known and used weapons of mass destruction bears no similarity whatsoever to invading a country on the basis of lies about the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Dangers of a Reality-Free Electorate

We have important issues to discuss in our country and critical decisions need to be made. For example, we need to review economic data to help us determine whether public investment in infrastructure is a spur or drag on the economy. We need to examine scientific evidence to determine whether climate change is real and what, if anything, we can and should do about it. We need to look further at our healthcare system and determine whether the Affordable Care Act will be good or bad for our country and whether it will be good or bad for our economy or whether any adjustments should be made. We need to examine the issue of immigration in order to determine the sort of legislation and policies that will have the most positive impact.

But how can we possibly have those sorts of discussions and debates or make those sorts of decisions given this:

In answer to the question, “Who do you think was more responsible for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina: George W. Bush or Barack Obama?,” 29 percent of a pool of Republican primary voters in Louisiana blamed Obama, who took office in 2009, and 28 percent blamed Bush, whose term lasted through 2008. Hurricane Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005.

I mean, seriously. How do we, as a country and a society, have the necessary discussions (or even negotiations) on critical issues, when a segment of the population remains this uninformed. And query whether they are uninformed intentionally or whether this is the result of listening to serial-lying Fox News. Or ask it this way: Where does this knee-jerk response to blame President Obama for anything and everything, including things that happened more than three years before he was elected President?

Moreover, while this poll is of voters, rather than elected officials, some of the lies and idiocy that have come from elected officials just reinforce the point. Far too many, especially on the right, are quick to latch on to any conspiracy theory, believe anything negative about President Obama, reject ideas that they once supported once Democrats agree with them (healthcare, being the prime example), and reject science as some sort of liberal conspiracy (algebra, too, if you believe Fox News). And if elected officials are aware that their constituents are willing to believe any lie or conspiracy they offer, so long as it puts President Obama or liberals in a bad light, then there will no incentive for those officials to revert to a reality-centric universe, let alone move toward the center of the political spectrum.

If people hear their elected leaders or “trusted” media figures repeat a lie often enough (“death panels!”), then the lie becomes true notwithstanding, you know, the truth. If people hear their elected leaders or “trusted” media figures repeat totally bogus statistics often enough, then those statistics must be “true” and there is no reason to look at or consider contradictory data.

In a sane world, we’d look at economic or scientific data and use that evidence to help us make important decisions. But in our current political climate, not only have science and economic data become suspect; so, too, have reason, logic, and many other forms of empirical evidence. Just look back at the 2012 election and the belief that polls were “skewed”.

With such flawed understandings of reality, it may prove simply too challenging to solve important problems. Compound the inability of one side to rely on actual evidence with that same side’s belief that compromise is wrong (even evil) and the difficulty in resolving problems (or responding to new ones) increases, perhaps to an insurmountable degree.

I haven’t even factored into that analysis the fact that one side (primarily) is relying upon their understanding of what G-d wants or will do. And, of course, they make those determinations with barely a passing glance at what their own holy scriptures do (or don’t) say. What did G-d or Jesus really say about abortion, homosexuality, caring for the needy, welcoming the wanderer? Who cares if it doesn’t fit with the constructed world view in which abortion and homosexuality are evil and the needy and wanderer need to help themselves.*

Until we can bring people back to a reality-based world, I don’t see how we can resolve any of the real issues facing our country.

*As I wrote that sentence it dawned on me that perhaps I’d have a better understanding if I could find a copy the Ayn Rand edition of the Bible. King James had his version. Thomas Jefferson another version. Perhaps the attitudes that we’ve been seeing from the right come not from their fidelity to the Bible but to an underground edition revised by Ayn Rand. Anybody know where I can get a copy?


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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Roundup of Recent Right Wing Idiocy and Hate

I can’t think of any better place to start this new edition of my occasional roundup of recent examples of right wing idiocy and hate than in the great state of Tennessee where Rep. Scott Desjarlais (R-Tennessee) was able to draw a big applause from a crowd at a town hall gathering. What did Rep. Desjarlais do to draw the applause? Simple. He told an 11-year-old girl that her father should be deported.

I know that the video isn’t very good (and the audio is probably worse). From The Raw Story:

11-year-old Josie Molina told Rep. Scott Desjarlais (R) that she has papers but her father does not.

During a question and answer session at the meeting, Molina stepped up to the microphone and, with a quavering voice, asked, “Mr. DesJarlais, I have papers, but I have a dad who’s undocumented. What can I do to have him stay with me?”

Rather than make any attempt to assuage the girl’s fears, Desjarlais said, “Thank you for being here and thank you for coming forward and speaking,” but “the answer still kind of remains the same, that we have laws and we need to follow those laws and that’s where we’re at.”

This “law & order” Republican couldn’t try to soften the blow to a little girl. Rather than doing what would have been the human thing to do and try to make her feel even just a bit better, Rep. Desjarlais played to the immigrant-hating crowd … and got the response that he was probably hoping for. Where is the simple humanity in applauding a little girl’s misery? But then let’s remember that these are the same people who boo American soldiers who just happen to be gay.

By the way, does Rep. DesJarlais’ name ring a bell? If you follow this kind of stuff it should. Remember that he told the little girl “that we have laws and we need to follow those laws”. That is, unless you’re Scott Desjarlais:

Desjarlais is a former physician and anti-choice crusader who was fined $500 by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners after it came to light that he had engaged in multiple extramarital affairs with female patients. When one woman became pregnant, the staunch anti-abortion conservative pressured her into terminating the pregnancy. Another patient charged that Desjarlais prescribed narcotic painkillers to her for recreational use and frequently smoked marijuana with her.

“I know God has forgiven me” for the transgressions, Desjarlais told a conservative radio host in an interview in December of 2012.

And yet he was elected to Congress and has the … er … gumption to stand on a stage and tell a little girl that her father needs to be deported because “we have laws”. Apparently his God forgives forcing women to have abortions, cheating on your spouse, and smoking a little weed … but not being an illegal immigrant.

Next we have one of the most jaw-dropping quotes that I’ve heard recently. And please note that this quote was reported by the conservative Washington Times and Wall Street Journal:

Twenty tea party and conservative groups in Tennessee have signed onto a letter that asks Sen. Lamar Alexander to retire, claiming “our great nation can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship, two traits for which you have become famous.”

Wait, what? (And note that we’re still in Tennessee…) Here’s the whole letter (emphasis added):

Senator Alexander,

You have served a long and marked career. You have been a part of the Tennessee political scene for as long as most of us can remember. You have worked for Howard Baker, Winfield Dunn, served as Governor, were appointed to be the Secretary of Education of the federal government, President of the University of Tennessee, were a serious contender for the nomination of the Republican Party for President, and of course you are currently serving as a United States Senator. Your life-long career in government service is noteworthy.

During your tenure in the Senate we have no doubt that you voted in a way which you felt was appropriate. Unfortunately, our great nation can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship, two traits for which you have become famous. America faces serious challenges and needs policymakers who will defend conservative values, not work with those who are actively undermining those values. Quite honestly, your voting record shows that you do not represent the conservative values that we hold dear and the votes you have cast as Senator are intolerable to us. Furthermore we have serious doubts about your ability to fix our problems since you have played such a significant role in creating them.

The Little Plaid Book you authored contains very sage advice on politics. Rule #297 is especially important because you advise anyone running for office to “Serve two terms, then get out.”  Are you willing to follow your own advice, or will you fall into the mire of hypocrisy?

As you are likely aware, there have been polls conducted that show your vulnerability. While no viable contender has yet emerged, it is becoming more probable with each passing day that one will rise to the challenge. When a serious contender eventually does enter the race, the moment their fundraising capability makes them a viable candidate, your re-election is in serious jeopardy.

Therefore, we urge you to conclude your long and notable career by retiring with dignity instead of fighting against a serious conservative primary challenger who would expose to all Tennessee voters the actual history of your voting record.


Sevier County Tea Party

Tea Party of Lincoln County

Gibson County Patriots

Benton County Tea Party

Carroll County Tea Party

Jackson Madison County Tea Party

Dickson County Tea Party / 912 Project

Obion County Tea Party

Stewart County Tea Party

Tennesseans for Liberty (Madison County)

Volunteers for Freedom (Henry County)

We the People (Tipton County)

Rutherford County Tea Party

TN 9-12 Project

Caney Branch Tea Party

TN Republican Assembly

Smoky Mountain Tea Party Patriots (Blount Co)

McMinn County TEA Party

North Sumner Tea Party

Tennessee 8th District Tea Party Coalition

Just think about that for a moment: “Our great nation can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship”. If that sort of attitude prevailed in 1787, the Constitution, and all of the compromises therein, would never have been written or adopted. And it was that sort of attitude that, in no small part, led to the Civil War. Seriously, do you think that our problem today is too much bipartisanship and compromise? Or is the “our way or we fuck as all” platform, that the Tea Party has adopted?

And this is just too funny not to include. A Tea Party candidate has stepped forward to challenge Sen. Alexander. Look closely at his initial campaign image:

I don’t know. Maybe I’m too picky. But it seems to me that you should probably be able to spell the office to which you want to be elected. However, anyone proficient with deciphering Teabonics will recognize that this is par for the course. After the mistake was pointed out, the image was fixed. But we get a good laugh anyway.

Next, let’s go to right wing radio hosts Kevin Swanson and Dave Buehner on Generations Radio. Apparently, these guys aren’t big fans of homosexuals or the decision of the Boy Scouts to permit gay scouts.

Swanson: Manhood is a problem and the Boy Scouts are going to lead the decline since the final decision came down that the Boy Scouts as a national organization are going to invite homosexuals into the troops.

Buehner: Which is just a matter [of time] until they invite homosexuals, active homosexuals, to be leaders of the troops and pretty soon you’re going to have the sodomy merit badge. Christians are fleeing like rats.

Swanson: And after that I guess it’s incest; after that I guess it’s the cannibal merit badge, where I guess you cut up human flesh, fry it—

Buehner: Cook it in a Dutch oven out in the wilderness.

Swanson: So that’s what the Boy Scouts are doing, they are trying to add abomination on abomination, effectively going into God’s word, trying to find the thing that God really, really, really hates the most. The sins listed in the Bible, going through the lists of sins in the Bible, finding the very worst ones and creating merit badges for them is where the Boy Scouts are headed.

If you really want to listen to them, head over to Right Wing Watch where they have a SoundCloud clip of the program.

Anyway, the real point here is these guys (like many of their colleagues on the right) are quick to equate homosexuality with incest. But, rather than going next to bestiality or polygamy (the usual progression for the homophobic crowd), they move on to cannibalism. Because, you know, showing compassion to homosexual children is just like cannibalism. Moreover, rather than trying to find some sort of compassion within themselves (wasn’t Jesus all about “love”?), they conclude that the Boy Scouts are going through the Bible “finding the very worst” sins and creating merit badges for them. Really? So now the Boy Scouts are going to give badges for eating shrimp, wearing a cotton-polyester blend, and cutting hair? I presume that they already have merit badges for learning how to stone a neighbor who transgresses by touching a football (pig skin).

On a similar note, it’s also worth reading what another right-wing Christian talk show host had to say. Sandy Rios hosts a radio talk show for the American Family Association. And she’s worried about the afterlife for the left, for gay activists, and for President Obama:

I would not want to be in the shoes of any of the left right now. I would not want to be in Barack Obama’s shoes. I would not want to be in the shoes of homosexual activists. I say that with humility and with fear for them because God will even the score, he will sort things out, he will be God and he will not be mocked. Whereas they think they are getting away with breaking all kinds of moral laws and mocking everyone in the process, they just don’t know God, they don’t know who they are up against and we do. And that should bring out some mercy in us because I wouldn’t want to be — what did that old evangelist say: ‘it’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.’

My friend, college professor, and blogger Sheila Kennedy, had a terrific response to this comment from Sandy Rios:

Unlike all us sinners, you see, Sandy Rios knows God.

The monumental arrogance and self-delusion displayed by those who purport to know the mind of a deity they themselves describe as all-knowing and all-powerful is certainly mind-blowing. But what really gets to me is the nature of the God these people have created in their own image: small-minded, vengeful and partisan. Hardly the sort of God worth worshipping.

I don’t mean to be snarky or dismissive, but if God exists, I’m pretty confident she will reward charity, inclusiveness and loving-kindness rather than prejudice and hate. But then, I must hasten to say that I can’t really know.

Unlike Sandy Rios, I haven’t chatted with God lately.

I don’t have much to add to Kennedy’s comments, though I’d of course be concerned for Rios if her blouse and skirt are of two different fabrics or if she and the family ate at Red Lobster last night.

The Washington Times has a similar worry (internal links omitted):

Christian churches are being warned that if they continue to sponsor Boy Scout troops, they are opening themselves to multiple legal challenges that could affect whether they can “freely preach the Gospel.”

The policy change has legal ramifications for religious chartering groups, potentially exposing them to lawsuits if they continue to sponsor troops while seeking to maintain the traditional Christian teaching that homosexual behavior is immoral.

What could happen is “somebody would come and say, ‘We want to use your church for a same-sex wedding ceremony,’ and the church would say, ‘Wait, we have a religious belief against that,’” said Erik Stanley, an alliance lawyer and Eagle Scout.

Most states that have gay-marriage laws also have some kind of “conscience exemption” that does not require churches to perform same-sex ceremonies.

But the rebuttal by such a gay advocacy group would be, “Well no, you don’t — or if you do, you’re not sincere or you don’t follow it, because you allow this Boy Scout troop in, and you had to specifically sign a charter” saying that “you agreed with the BSA policy of allowing in openly homosexual youth,” Mr. Stanley said.

“That’s our basic concern — that it weakens the church’s freedom of religion and freedom of association arguments on that point,” he said, adding that churches may need to separate from the Boy Scouts of America to “protect their right to freely preach the Gospel” and “be a witness to our nation’s youth.”

The problem with all of that hyperbolic fear-mongering is that it’s all bullshit. Grade A bullshit. You have to do all sorts of mental gymnastics to follow the logic of this insane “concern”. One important point to note is that despite the fear being expressed, the author didn’t identify a single example of a church that had been sued to be forced to perform a same-sex marriage. Apparently, the author of this article and the groups “warning” the churches are completely unaware that there is a difference between religious marriage and civil marriage. A Catholic church doesn’t have to marry anyone it doesn’t want to; nor does a Jewish synagogue or an Evangelical Christian church. For that matter, we haven’t seen lawsuits by Jews or Muslims or Buddhists or atheists demanding that Christian churches officiate their marriages on the basis of the fact that they sponsored Boy Scout troops with Jewish, Muslim, or Buddhist kids. You see, to the people pushing this kind of argument, it’s not about reality; it’s about fear. And these homophobic bigots are doing everything that they can to convince their dwindling followers that compassion towards homosexuals will inevitably lead toward some sort of Biblical smackdown or something.

Then we have Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Michigan) who said this week that he wanted to impeach President Obama:

If I could write that bill and submit it, it would be a dream come true,” Bentivolio said. “I stood 12 feet away from the guy and listened to him. I couldn’t stand being there, but because he is president I have to respect the office. That’s my job, as a congressman, I respect the office.”

“I went back to my office and I’ve had lawyers come in,” the congressman continued. “These are lawyers, PhDs in history, and I said, ‘Tell me how I can impeach the president of the United States.’”

(Emphasis added.) Why, I wonder, is that Rep. Bentivolio “couldn’t stand” being just 12 feet from President Obama? Was he afraid that some of the President’s “blackness” might rub off or something? More importantly, when asked why he didn’t introduce a bill of impeachment, Rep. Bentivolio was forced to acknowledge a problem:

“Until we have evidence, you’re going to become a laughingstock if you’ve submitted the bill to impeach the president because number one, you’ve got to convince the press,” he said. “There are some people out there no matter what Obama does he’s still the greatest president they’ve ever had. That’s what you’re fighting.”

In other words, Rep. Bentivolio wants to impeach President Obama even though he has no evidence of an impeachable offense. Hmm. Why then does he want to impeach President Obama? And note further that in Rep. Bentivolio’s warped little world, the “number one” thing you need to do is not to gather evidence; rather, it’s to convince the press. He criticizes people who think that President Obama is the greatest president no matter what he does, yet he wants to impeach without evidence. Irony, anyone? Calling Alanis Morriessette.

I also “liked” this quotation from Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) on Fox News:

“He has an agenda and he’s going to do whatever he has to do to pass that agenda, regardless of the Constitution,” Grimm said. “I mean, I think our founding fathers are turning over in the graves right now because he’s just so blatant in his — the administrators, the people he puts in charge of these agencies are bold and brazen about saying, ‘yes, we’re going to make an end run around Congress.’”

(Original emphasis deleted.) What brazen, unconstitutional, end run has Rep. Grimm fuming? The FCC has proposed a surcharge on telephone bills, that would add, for a period of 3 years, approximately $4.00 per year to an average phone bill (note that was $4.00; I didn’t mistakenly drop a 0…) in order to provide broadband Internet access to schools that don’t currently have broadband.

In the category of “hard to believe” someone actually said that, I give you this item from Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller about the new dog that the Obama family got this week (emphasis added):

It’s a dog named “Sunny.” Apparently it’s a girl and it was born in 2012 in Michigan, where the unemployment rate was 8.8 percent last month. It is the Obamas’ second dog, after “Bo.”

With the addition of Sunny, the Obamas now have two black Portuguese water dogs.

The Obamas do not have any white dogs.

Seriously? First, why was it worth noting, in an article about a dog, that Michigan has an unemployment rate of 8.8%? Note that the article didn’t mention that Michigan has a Republican governor and Republican-dominated legislature. If you’re going to mention the unemployment rate, that seems pertinent, no? But it’s that last line that leaves me nearly speechless: “The Obamas do not have any white dogs.” Obviously, that is concrete proof that President Obama is a racist that hates white people and white culture. Oh, except for the fact that the Obama’s first dog — Bo — is mostly black and a little bit white …

…you know, like President Obama whose mother was white.

Then again, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-California) doesn’t believe that there are different races in America:

Interestingly, that provision for patriotic integration is missing from the Senate legislation. The motto of this country is e pluribus unum, and one of its meanings is “from many nations, one nation, the American nation.” There’s only one race here, it’s the American race. And the only way you accomplish that is through assimilation. That is what our immigration laws are designed to promote, and that is precisely what illegal immigration undermines.

Um, what? I mean… er… Oh, fuck it. I have no words. Seriously.

But to finish, I have to go back to Tennessee and a story that many of you have already heard about. When parents of 7-month-old boy went to court about child support issues and to determine which parent’s last name the child would use, the Tennessee family court magistrate judge decided not only the issues before her. No. She also ordered that the child’s first name be changed from Messiah to Martin.

“The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ,” Judge Ballew said.

Yes. You read that right. Judge Ballew determined that because her religion holds that “Messiah” is a title that has “only been earned by one person” then that title cannot be used as a name. I have to wonder how anyone could become a judge without even a passing, rudimentary notion of that little thing called the First Amendment.

Well, that’s enough for now. I just wish that I didn’t have so much more material that I could have drawn from for this post. If you come across a comment that makes your jaw drop, let me know!

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Friday, August 16, 2013

An Open Letter to Jimmy John’s (and Other Bicycle Delivery Operations)

Dear Jimmy John’s (in particular the store at 1 North Meridian Street in Indianapolis) and other Bicycle Delivery Operations:

This letter is not about the fact that I don’t like your sandwiches (which I don’t, but both my father and daughter do, so…). No, that’s not why I’m writing to you. Rather, I’m writing to you for a much simpler, much more fundamental reason: I don’t want to die or get injured while walking around downtown Indianapolis. For that matter, I doubt many other pedestrians out for a casual stroll on a downtown sidewalk really expect that they are putting themselves at risk of injury because of you.

Yes, I understand that part of your shtick is to promise that your food will be delivered really quickly. It’s catchy and your commercials are funny-ish. But you know what? I shouldn’t have to walk in fear of injury because you have a reputation to uphold. Neither I nor any other pedestrian should ever have to jump out of the way as one of your bike delivery people flies by weaving in and out of pedestrians on crowded sidewalks. Nor should we have to nurse bruised elbows or hips that are bumped by a bicycle racing as if it was in the Tour de France rather than delivering a sandwich. And cars shouldn’t have to slam on their brakes to avoid a bicycle that darts out in front of them. Your bicycle delivery people wear helmets; pedestrians shouldn’t need helmets and elbow guards.

Perhaps you should reflect on the old Domino’s promise of free pizza if it took more than 30 minutes for delivery. The company had to abandon that policy in 1993, in part due to a $79 million judgment against the pizza maker. Google it.

Look, I don’t know how things work in other cities. But in downtown Indianapolis, your store is just a half-block south of Monument Circle, a prominent and popular lunchtime gathering spot, especially on nice summer days. People walk around the circle, they eat at one of several restaurants with outdoor dining, and they congregate to talk to friends. Yet even on the most congested days (like today), delivery guys (well, the occasional girl, but not many) race through the crowds, seemingly heedless of the pedestrians scampering to avoid being run over. Those “Yield” signs on the Cultural Trail? Yeah, I’m not sure that your bicycle delivery guys are familiar with them. Today, I walked to the Circle, walked two laps around the Circle, grabbed some lunch, and walked back to my office. And I had to dodge three bikes. Note: I dodged the bikes; they didn’t dodge me. Some other bikes did swerve to avoid me and other pedestrians; but even then, I and others had to worry until the last moment as to whether the bike was going to manage to avoid hitting us. Should I really have to worry as each bike approaches as to whether it will avoid me or whether I need to take evasive action?

Indianapolis is working hard to become a bicycle friendly city. I think that’s a great idea and I’m in favor of bike lanes and efforts to make drivers more aware of bicycles. But you know what? If bicyclists don’t want to be hit by cars, they should probably think about showing similar considerations for pedestrians. We expect cars to yield to pedestrians and bicycles; so too should we expect bicycles to yield to pedestrians.

Now perhaps the bikes that nearly hit me today weren’t being ridden on your behalf; I didn’t stop to ask (though I’m pretty sure that I saw a Jimmy John’s delivery sack carried by at least one of the riders). But you are the most prominent user of bicycles for delivery in downtown Indianapolis. And to quote a friend of mine after I tweeted about the subject (without mentioning your company at all): “A lot of those Jimmy Johns [sic] guys are a-holes.” He made the connection to your business all on his own.

So which is it that you want? The reputation for providing good food quickly … or the reputation for employing reckless “a-holes” to provide that food. It’s your choice.

And a little (snarky) food for thought: Indiana’s “stand your ground” law allows a person to use deadly force “if the person reasonably believes that that force is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury to the person or a third person or the commission of a forcible felony”. Now I’m certainly not suggesting that anyone kill your bicycle delivery guys, but it would seem that a pre-emptive well-placed elbow or kick to a wheel, if delivered for the purpose of preventing a bicycle from hitting someone just might be justified. I mean, if I’m a pedestrian, shouldn’t I have the right to stand my ground before I or another pedestrian is run over by your bicycle? Note: I’m not advocating violence and I don’t really think that hitting or kicking a passing bike rider is acceptable; rather, I’m making a point (related to several issues, actually…) by going way, way over the top. Snark, people. Snark.

Anyway, perhaps it is time to re-think your delivery strategy or at least re-think how it’s implemented. Maybe a little more training for your delivery people? Maybe instructions to stay off crowded sidewalks? Maybe just telling them to slow down when pedestrians are around. Because, you know, the headline in the newspaper that Jimmy John’s has to pay a massive punitive damages judgment because one of its bicycle delivery people ran over a little old lady walking out of the Hilbert Circle Theater won’t really be good for business. And that would be a shame because both my daughter and father like your sandwiches, even if I don’t.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Why Did Israel Release Prisoners in Exchange for Peace Talks, Why Did the Palestinian Authority Demand the Release as a Pre-Condition to Peace Talks, and Just Who Are the Prisoners Being Released?

Israel and the Palestinian Authority are about to restart face-to-face negotiations with to the stated goal of a peaceful resolution of the conflict. However, there appears to have been quite a bit of arm-twisting and pre-negotiation negotiations before this new round of negotiations could be announced. And some of these pre-negotiation negotiations involved so-called “pre-conditions”; in other words, demands that one side (the Palestinians) had before they would return to the negotiation table.

Much has been made of Israeli “settlement” construction (see “Are Israeli Settlements Really Such a Problem? A Primer” for a more in-depth discussion of settlements) and the Palestinian demand for a freeze in new construction as a pre-condition of renewed negotiations. Apparently, under pressure from Washington, the Palestinians dropped the settlement freeze as a pre-condition. However, another pre-condition was either added or maintained. Palestinians, before they would return to the negotiating table, demanded that Israel free 104 prisoners that had been in Israeli jails since prior to the signing of the Oslo accords in the early 1990s. Israel agreed to this demand (over much anguish and anger within Israeli society). The first group of 26 prisoners is being released this week.

I want to take a brief look at three elements of the prisoner release pre-condition.

First, why did Israel agree to release these prisoners? To me, it’s a sign of how much Israel really wants to find a way to restart peace negotiations. Much like the idea of trading land for peace, Israel is willing to make very painful and potentially dangerous concessions in the name of peace (or, in this case, in the name of a peace process). Those who reflexively criticize Israel for every action ought to consider this prisoner release. I’d also suggest reading my post Gilad Shalit and Israeli-Arab Prisoner Exchanges. Of course, I’m sure that some will see this prisoner release as a sign of Israeli weakness. I don’t.

Second, why do the Palestinians want these prisoners back so much that they are willing to block peace negotiations if these prisoners aren’t released?

Actually, put that question aside for a moment. Instead, let’s look at my third point: The identities of these Palestinian prisoners and the crimes that they committed. You won’t find much discussion of this in any news source (for that matter, few seem to even mention the prisoner release at all, focusing instead of the issue of settlements). Anyway, take some time to learn about these prisoners. Then come back and consider, once again, what this release means with regard to Israeli motives, intentions, and desires, and, more importantly, why the Palestinians want these prisoners released, presumably to re-enter Palestinian society either in the West Bank or Gaza.

The following information was compiled by CiF Watch based on information obtained and tabulated by CAMERA (I’ve made some minor formatting changes and removed internal links):

1. Kour Matwa Hamed Faiz (Fatah. Born 1964, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested 1985) was sentenced to one life term for his part in establishing an armed Fatah cell and for the murder of Menahem Dadon in 1983 and for another attempted murder. Menahem Dadon from Netivot was 22 years old when he was murdered. He had been sent by his employer to purchase building materials in Gaza and whilst in the shop, was shot in the head at point-blank range. He left a pregnant wife and two daughters.

2. Tsalah Ibrahim Ahmed Mugdad (Fatah. Born 1966, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested 1993) was sentenced to 32 years imprisonment for the murder of Israel Tennenbaum and was due to be released on 13/6/2025. Born in Poland in 1921, Israel Tennenbaum from Moshav Vered was a farmer who also worked as a security guard at a hotel in Netanya despite being 72 years old at the time of his death. In June 1993 Tsalah broke into the hotel and murdered Israel Tennenbaum by beating him over the head with a steel rod. He also stole a television from the hotel.

3. Na’anish Naif Abdel Jafar Samir (Born 1967, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested 1989) was sentenced to a life term for his part in the murder of 24 year-old reservist Binyamin Meisner in February 1989. Na’anish was part of a group which lured Meisner into an ally in Nablus (Schem) in which they had pre-prepared a stockpile of rocks. They then stoned Meisner to death.

4. Arshid A’Hamid Yusuf Yusuf (Fatah. Born 1968, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested 1993) was sentenced to five life sentences after having been convicted of the murders of Nadal Rabu Jaab, Adnan Ayaad Dib, Mufid Canaan, Tawfik Jaradat and Ibrahim Said Ziad by stabbing. Arsheed was also indicted on several additional counts of attempted murder of others he also suspected of ‘collaboration’.

5. Al-Haj Othman Amar Mustafa (Fatah. Born 1968, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested 1989) was sentenced to a life sentence for his part in the murder of 48 year-old Frederick Steven Rosenfeld in June 1989. Rosenfeld was hiking in the hills near Ariel when he came across a group of shepherds who stabbed him to death with his own knife and hid his body.

6. Matslah Abdallah Salama (Hamas. Born 1969, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1993) was sentenced to one life sentence for the murder of Reuven David in Petah Tikva in 1991. Together with an accomplice, Matslah entered 59 year-old Iraqi-born Reuven David’s mini-market, tied him up, gagged him and then beat him to death, before escaping in the victim’s car. He left a wife, three children and several grandchildren.

7. Abu-Musa Salam Ali Atia (Fatah. Born 1971, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1994) was convicted of the murder of Isaac Rotenburg from Holon as part of an initiation rite for joining a terror organisation and sentenced to one life sentence. Holocaust survivor Isaac Rotenberg was born in Poland. Most of his family was murdered in the Sobibor death camp, but Isaac managed to escape and joined the partisans. After the war he tried to make his way by ship to mandate Palestine, but was interred by the British and sent to a detention camp in Cyprus until 1947. After his release Isaac arrived in pre-state Israel and fought in the War of Independence. He continued his work as a plasterer even after pension age and in March 1994 was at his place of work in Petah Tikva when he was attacked by two Palestinian labourers with axes. He died, aged 67, two days later.

8. Miklad Mahmoud Ziad Salah (Fatah. Born 1973, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1993) was sentenced to one life sentence for the murder of 39 year-old Yehoshua Deutch in Kfar Yam, Gush Katif, in March 1993. In addition he fired shots at an army post and tried to murder a local resident. Yehoshua Deutch grew flowers and it was in his greenhouse that he was stabbed in the heart by Miklad.

9. Tsualha Bad Almajid Mahamad  (Fatah. Born 1973, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested 1990) was sentenced to one life sentence for the murder – together with accomplices – of Baruch Heizler and the attempted murder of Betty Malka, Shai Cohen and Avishag Cohen in 1990 whilst he was still a minor. Baruch Heizler – named after his grandfather who was killed by Jordanian shelling of the Old City of Jerusalem during the War of Independence – was 24 when he was stabbed to death whilst travelling on the number 66 bus in Ramat Gan after having missed the ride to his seminary. Three other passengers were injured in the same attack.

10. Sha’at Aazat Shaba’an Aataf (Fronts. Born 1964, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1993) was sentenced to 29 years’ imprisonment after having been convicted of accessory to murder and was due to be released on 14/3/2022. Sha’at drove his accomplices to and from the scene of the murder of 51 year-old Simcha Levi in Khan Yunis in 1993. Simcha Levi was born in Persia in 1942 and immigrated with her family to Israel in 1950, settling in Moshav Patish in the Negev. Simcha’s job was to drive Arab labourers to their place of work and on the day of her murder she picked up female labourers in Khan Yunis in the south Gaza Strip. Three terrorists disguised as women beat and stabbed her to death in her vehicle in a pre-planned attack.

11. Abdel-Aal Sayid Ouda Yusef (Born 1979, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested in 1994) was sentenced to 22 years for, along with accomplices, throwing 2 grenades – which did not explode – at Border Police forces. On a different occasion, he placed a bomb next to a Border Police facility but the explosion did not cause damage. Also, he knew about the intention to harm a civilian and aided the process of his murder (Ian Sean Feinberg) by passing information to the perpetrators regarding the absence of soldiers in the area. Also, together with his cell, tortured a local resident suspected of collaboration. After he left the scene, the victim was murdered by his two accomplices. On a separate occasion, he intended to murder a local resident suspected of collaboration. Ian Sean Feinberg was born in South Africa and immigrated to Israel after finishing High School. Having qualified in law before his enlistment, he spent five years serving as a lawyer in the Gaza Strip and was later involved professionally with Palestinian economic development as a legal advisor. On April 18th 1993, during a business meeting in the Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City, terrorists burst into the room announcing that they had ‘come to kill the Jew’. They then murdered him with gunshots and an axe. Ian was 30 at the time of his death. He was survived by his wife and three children.

12. Barbach Faiz Rajab Madhat (PFLP. Born 1974, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested in 1994) was sentenced to life imprisonment for, together with his accomplices, stabbing his employer (Moshe Becker) to death. Moshe Beker was born in Poland in 1933 and immigrated to mandate Palestine in 1935. On January 21st 1994, Moshe arrived at his orchard in Rishon L’Tsion to see whether his employee had arrived. He was ambushed there by three terrorists, who had slept on site and waited for him. They attacked him, stabbed him to death with a knife and a pair of pruning shears, and fled. Moshe, 61 at the time of his death, was survived by his wife and four children.

13. Raai Ibrahim Salam Ali (Fatah. Born 1957, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1994) was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder – using an axe – of 79 year-old Morris Aizenshtat who was sitting on a park bench in Kfar Saba reading a book at the time.

14. Nashbat Jabar Yusef Mahmed (Born 1961, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested in 1990) was sentenced to 25 years for taking part in a lynching of an IDF soldier, Amnon Pomerantz. He was due to be released on 20/9/2015. Amnon Pomerantz was an electrical engineer and scientist and worked in research and development. On September 20th 1990, Amnon left his home in Havatzelet Hasharon for reserve duty in Gaza. Three hours later, he was brutally murdered by a gang of Palestinian rioters after he took a wrong turn on the way to his base and accidentally entered Al Burj Refugee Camp. After they threw rocks at him, they poured gasoline on his vehicle and ignited it with Amnon inside. It was noted that Nashbat did not express regret for his acts. Amnon was 46 at the time of his death. He was survived by his wife and three children.

15. Mortja Hasin Ghanam Samir (Hamas. Born in 1970, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1993) was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his part in the abduction, interrogation, torture and murder of four local residents suspected of collaboration with the authorities – Samir Alsilawi, Khaled Malka, Nasser Akila, and Ali Al Zaabot. Also, he abducted local residents suspected of ‘moral crimes’ for interrogation. His release date was 28.10.2013.

16. Sualha Fazah Ahmed Husseini (Fatah. Born 1973, resident of Judea and Samaria, arrested 1990) was given a life sentence for stabbing Baruch Heizler to death on a bus together with an accomplice and also attempting to murder three additional female passengers. Baruch Heizler – named after his grandfather who was killed by Jordanian shelling of the Old City of Jerusalem during the War of Independence – was 24 when he was stabbed to death whilst travelling on the number 66 bus in Ramat Gan after having missed the ride to his seminary.  Betty Malka, Shai Cohen and Avishag Cohen were injured in the same attack.

17. Ramahi Salah Abdallah Faraj (Fatah. Born in 1966, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1992) was given a life term for killing Avraham Kinstler. Also, whilst in Israel without a permit, he broke into a car a stole a gun. While in prison, he tried to obtain a weapon for another prisoner in order to kidnap a soldier. Avraham Kinstler was born in Polish Galicia in 1908 and immigrated to mandate Palestine with his wife. On July 7th 1992, Avraham – who had not retired – went to work in his orchard as usual. There he was ambushed by a terrorist and murdered with a farming implement.  Avraham was 84 years old at the time of his death. He was survived by three daughters and six grandchildren.

18. Abu-Sitta Ahmed Sayid Aladin (Fatah. Born 1970, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1994) was sentenced to two life terms for killing David Dedi and Chaim Weitzman together with accomplices.

19. Abu-Sitta Taleb Mohammed Ayman (Fatah. Born 1971, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1994) was given two life terms for breaking into an apartment in Ramle and murdering two people, David Dedi and Chaim Weitzman together with accomplices. Afterwards, they mutilated the bodies and cut off their ears as proof of the action. David Dadi was born in Tunis and immigrated to Israel as a child, settling in Ramla. On December 31st 1993, David, along with his acquaintance Chaim Weizman, was stabbed to death in his sleep in his flat in Ramla by labourers from Gaza who were working in a neighboring apartment. David was 43 at the time of his death. Chaim Weizman was born in Morocco. His family immigrated to Israel in 1962 and settled in Ramla. On December 31st 1993 – aged 33 – he was stabbed to death in his sleep by terrorists whilst staying at the apartment of his friend David Dadi. He was survived by his son, parents and siblings.

20. Mantsur Omar Abdel Hafiz Asmat (Born in 1976, resident of Judea and Samaria, arrested in 1993) was convicted of accessory to murder and sentenced to 22 years.  He found out during work about the intention of his colleagues to murder a civilian (Chaim Mizrahi) and during the murder, helped the murderers to overpower the victim and after his death, placed the body in the boot of his car. Chaim Mizrachi grew up in Bat Yam and Holon, later moving to Beit El. On Friday, 29th October 1993, he went to buy eggs from an Arab-owned farm near his home, and was met by terrorists who attacked him and fled in his vehicle after wounding him and stuffing him into the car’s trunk. The terrorists murdered Chaim, then burned and abandoned the vehicle north of Ramallah. Chaim was 30 at the time of his death, and was survived by his pregnant wife, his parents, his sisters, and his brother. Half-a-year after his murder, his daughter was born.

21. Asakra Mahmad Ahmed Khaled (Fatah. Born 1972, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested in 1991) was convicted of the murder of French national Annie Lei in April 1991 and sentenced to life imprisonment. 64 year-old Ms Lei was a tourist visiting Bethlehem and was eating in the restaurant where Asakra worked when he stabbed her to death.

22. Jandiya Yusef Raduan Nahad (Fatah. Born 1973, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested in 1989) was sentenced to 25.5 years’ imprisonment for his part – whilst still a minor – in the murder of 64 year-old Zalman Shlein with his release due on 13/1/2015. Zalman Shlein was born in Poland and as a fifteen year-old boy was forced to escape Nazi persecution by leaving his home and family. He arrived in mandate Palestine in 1947 and settled in Gan Yavne where he married and raised his family, working as a building contractor. In July 1989 he was stabbed and beaten to death by Jandiya and another Arab labourer at a construction site. Jandiya later tried to escape from prison but was caught.

23. Hamdiya Mahmoud Awad Muhammed (Fatah. Born 1972, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested in 1989) was also convicted of the murder of Zalman Shlein and sentenced to 25.5 years with his release scheduled for 13/1/2015. Like his accomplice, he also tried to escape from prison and was caught.

24. Abdel-Nebi a’Wahab Gamal Jamil (Hamas. Born 1963, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested in 1992) was sentenced to 21 years’ imprisonment having been convicted of accessory to murder and was due to be released on 14/12/2013. Abdel-Nebi drove the getaway vehicle after a terrorist shooting at the Machpelah Cave in Hebron in October 1992 in which reservist Shmuel Geresh was killed and Ronen Cohen was injured. 32 year-old Shmuel Geresh – the son of Holocaust survivors – left a wife and two children.

25. Ziwad Muhammed Taher Taher (Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Born 1971, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested 1993) was sentenced to 21 years in prison for his part (together with two others) in the fatal shooting of Avraham Cohen and was scheduled for release on 05/02/2014.

26. Tsabiach Abed Hamed Burhan was arrested in 2001 for the murder of four Palestinians – Jamil Mohammed, Naim Tsaviach, Ayisha Abdallah and Haradi Marwach.

Now I will acknowledge that several of these prisoners were convicted of attacking and/or murdering soldiers; perhaps, those attacks fall within the category of incidents related to armed conflict (a much broader discussion that I’m not conceding, other than for the point of this post). So, for purpose of this discussion (and this discussion only; I’m not conceding the point), I’ll put those prisoners aside and assume that the Palestinians have a legitimate interest in their release (be it as “political prisoners” or “prisoners of war” or whatever). But hacking old men to death with axes, stabbing tourists, or hiding out overnight to ambush the owner of an orchard, don’t seem to be much related to the actual conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Rather, most of these crimes seem to be … well, crimes.

So imagine that you are one of the surviving family members of a victim of one of these crimes and you’ve learned that the person responsible for the death of your husband or father or loved one was being released from prison long before the end of his sentence. How would that make you feel? Is the resumption of peace negotiations (obviously, without any promise of fruition) worth it to you? Are you willing to trade the remainder of a lengthy prison sentence for negotiations? Why or why not? (Essays are due Monday, at least 2,500 words…)

But more curiously, ask again why the Palestinians demanded the release of these prisoners. Did you note that at least two of them were convicted, not of killing Israelis or Jews, but of killing other Palestinians who were merely suspected of collaboration with Israel? Does the Palestinian Authority — and do the Palestinian people — really consider these men to be heroes? Are they heroes worthy of holding up the prospect of peace talks? What is it about these men that makes their release so important that the Palestinians would be willing to forego peace negotiations absent their release? And what does all of that say about both the Palestinian Authority and the culture of Palestinians?

Or, think of it this way: Israel is willing to give up murderers for the potential of peace; Palestinians won’t talk about peace until they’ve won the release of murderers. Which brings me back to something I’ve paraphrased before from Alan Dershowitz: If the Palestinians were to put down their weapons, there would be peace; but if Israel were to put down its weapons, there would be genocide.


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Friday, August 2, 2013

Nope. No Violent Rhetoric Coming from the Right. None at All. Move Along.

Think about your ideal of what the perfect police officer should be like. What characteristics come to mind? Obviously, the officer should be qualified and capable of performing the job. I’d think that we’d also want that officer to be professional in demeanor. I’d also expect that the officer would be fair. The officer should be someone that anyone in the community should feel comfortable approaching. As to characteristics that I think we wouldn’t want to see in a police officer, I’d put things like recklessness near the top of the list. So too would be things like hate and a lack of intellect, understanding, or empathy.

Now what about a school board member? Does that require the same characteristic set or a different sort of person? Obviously the skill set is different, but I’m thinking more in terms of the person’s demeanor, temperament, and so forth. I’d certainly expect that a school board member would have the best interest of all of the school system’s students as a primary concern. And I’d expect that school board member to have a persona that would set a good example for the youth of his or her community.

Well, with those sorts of thoughts in mind, take a moment to watch these videos made by Mark Kessler, Chief of Police of Gilberton, Pennsylvania, and a member of the North Schuylkill School Board:

Well, now. Isn’t that sweet? (Oh, and is that a Confederate battle flag on his shirt in the first video?)

Oh, and before I go on, did you notice those weapons that he was using? The ones with the extended clips or ammunition drums? Now, imagine, just for a moment, that the man shooting those guns isn’t a police officer. Imagine that he is someone who is a bit disturbed. Angry, even. Someone who doesn’t like people who are different from him. And then imagine a room full of first graders or people watching a movie or praying in their temple. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about sane, calm, thoughtful police officers like Mark Kessler, do we?

It’s also worth briefly reading a one of the things that Kessler said in an interview:

“Democrats are the most vile creatures in this country,” he said. “They are vile. They are evil, evil, un-American. I don’t even want to call them people because that’s being too kind. They’re scum. You go against your country. They hate their country.”

Right. People with political views different than those of Gilberton’s chief of police aren’t really “people”. Hmm. Does that formulation remind you of any historical figures?

Now you know me. I’m a strong supporter of the First Amendment. I believe that people can say awful, horrible things. But they can — and must — be held accountable for what they say. I find it completely unbelievable that this man can continue to hold his job as a police officer, let alone the chief of police (he was, earlier this week, disciplined with an unpaid 30-day suspension).

But more importantly, what does this man, the views he so willingly expresses, the anger that seems to seep through his pores, and the positive response that he’s received from many on the right and in the pro-gun community (who seem to view him now as a heroic figure) say about where we are as a country? And no, I’m not talking about the fact that Kessler is apparently too stupid to understand the UN Arms treaty that he rails against or precisely how treaties are ratified in the US, let alone the fact that the President and a majority of the Senate are popularly elected Democrats. No, what I’m talking about is the outright vile and violent rhetoric. One of his videos refers to “shooting libtards out of a tree”. He also apparently uses a photo of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) as a target for shooting practice. And some people think that this is not only funny, but acceptable.

We have a real problem with violence in this country. But since the election of President Obama, the violent rhetoric has been taken to an entirely new level (as I’ve discussed, ad nauseum, on this blog over recent years). And now we have a police officer using violent rhetoric … and ratcheting it up to yet another level.

Ask yourself this: Where does it stop? Where does it go? When does this sort of violent rhetoric paired with the glorification of the gun lead to more than “harmless” YouTube videos or expressions of First Amendment political speech? When does the glorification of violence and violent rhetoric lead to real violence with real, human targets. At what point does the glorification of violence and use of violent rhetoric cross some Rubicon and leave the realm of protected political speech and enter the realm of an incitement to violent action, insurrection, criminal action, rebellion, or treason? I don’t know that I have an answer to that question. But one thing that I do know: This isn’t going to stop. It’s going to keep getting worse and worse and worse. At least it will until respected voices on the right figure out a way to control the violent and crazy elements on their side of the political spectrum. It will continue until we, as a society, say “enough!” and demand an end to this sort of behavior, until we begin to completely ostracize those who would traffic in this sort of speech and conduct, until we reclaim the civility and respectful debate that is essential to the proper functioning of our political process.

Until either someone that people like Mark Kessler trusts and respects says “enough”, that violent rhetoric and the glorification of violence is unacceptable, and explains that a political opponent is not a traitor, or until the community around people like Kessler rejects this sort of language and rhetoric (even if they agree with the broader political point), then people like Mark Kessler are going to keep ratcheting up their hate-filled, violence-tinged rhetoric. And buying bigger guns. And more bullets.

And sooner or later, someone is going to die.

It’s bad enough that we have allowed our nation to become so divided. But if we bring violence and guns into that divide … well, they didn’t have high capacity automatic rifles like those displayed by Mark Kessler when they fought at Gettysburg 150 years ago.

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