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Archive for January, 2011

Hey Everybody, It’s National Let’s Pick on Sarah Palin Day

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Ready for your daily smile?

Here’s notoriously blue comedian Louie CK on Sarah Palin.

How f***ing sacred is this person who’s never contributed one thing to anyone’s life but her own? And not even thinking about her politically or whatever she represents, it’s just that she’s just a coarse, selfish person who has ferocious protection and it makes no sense to me… By the way, I said something that I think is true, I wrote one Twitter that I said, please find me a picture of Sarah Palin with more than one black person because I couldn’t find one. And then she went to Haiti a week later. She threw together a trip to Haiti. So I believe I made that happen. So that’s positive.

And this is from a Huffpo commenter to a story about Palin’s Blod Libel video (I hope someone sues my pants off if I have violated copyright law):

Hey, look, Sarah Palin’s statement is clearly the product of a deranged mind, acting alone.

People close to her have been worried for some time about her obsession with guns, the gold standard, Fox News and extremist politics. Over the last two years, things have got worse, her hair and voice changed, she’s put out long, rambling statements onto the internet, bizarre Twitter messages that are impossible to interpret and contain basic spelling errors.

But most mainstream Republicans would distance herself from her – don’t you get it? Just because she’s saying the same things they are, doesn’t make her a Republican – don’t jump to conclusions, she could be an extremist left-winger.

I think, until we know more, all we can say for certain is that she’s an apolitical lunatic, just out to make herself famous.

There. doesn’t that feel better?

Written by slothropia

January 25th, 2011 at 9:53 am

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Peoria CBS Affiliate Manufacturing Consent?

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On January 12, I attended the monthly meeting of the Peoria Area Peace Network (PAPN). thew guest speaker was peace activist Eric Stoner who talked about what he found on a recent trip to Afghanistan. After Stoner’s presentation he was interviewed by local tv station WMBD. Mike Perillo of the PAPN has this to say about WMBD’s coverage of Stoner:

I do want to make a few comments on the WMBD interview. After having watched the interview, which was good for the most part, there are two lines that stick out. First, Kim Behrens says in a voice-over “Stoner admits the United States Military has helped rebuild the country [Afghanistan]” and then the anchorman, Jacob Long, who, as his bio describes “loves telling great stories”, does so by ending the segment on this: “Stoner would like to see the fighting stop, but says U.S. forces are playing a big role helping Afghan people restructure their government.” Notice that neither of these comments appears in quotes on WMBD’s website. Furthermore, WMBD never shows the video clips of Eric saying this. I knew Eric wouldn’t have made these comments or he was taken completely out of context.

After talking to Eric, he said that these two supposed statements he made were “just not true”, and there was nothing that he said that could have been misinterpreted that way. They had put words into his mouth, or as Eric put it “that is simply bad journalism”. We have not heard from WMBD after Eric sent them an email explaining to them that their credibility as journalists and a new outlet will be affected for their actions. We do not know if this was how Kim edited the video, or if the Jacob made the last comment on his own, or if someone in the higher-ups decided that these two pro-military comments should be added. I do not know right at this moment what further action the PAPN will take, but something needs to be said and done to make others aware of this. The media has done this for a long time now, and seeing it at a local level to this degree is very disappointing.

Mike and the PAPN and Eric Stoner himself have every right to be angry and disappointed with WMBD in this regard. But perhaps they should not be too surprised. In 1988 Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman wrote a book titled Manufacturing Consent, in which they discussed the role of the mass media in U.S. political discourse. They present a “propaganda model” as a tool to understanding how mass media distorts information and news.

Using the propaganda model, Manufacturing Consent posits that corporate – owned news mass communication media — print, radio, television — are businesses subject to commercial competition for advertising revenue and profit. As such, their distortion (editorial bias) of news reportage — i.e. what types of news, which items, and how they are reported — is a consequence of the profit motive that requires establishing a stable, profitable business; therefore, news businesses favoring profit over the public interest succeed, while those favoring reportorial accuracy over profits fail, and are relegated to the margins of their markets (low sales and ratings).

News media depend on government and corporate sources for the news they disseminate. Print or electronic outlets are reluctant to criticize such sources too harshly and so distort information to protect themselves from reprisals from business and government.

Chomsky and Herman further posit five “filters” that media outlets apply to distort news and information:

1. Size, Ownership, and Profit Orientation: The dominant mass-media outlets are large firms which are run for profit. Therefore they must cater to the financial interest of their owners – often corporations or particular controlling investors. The size of the firms is a necessary consequence of the capital requirements for the technology to reach a mass audience.

2. The Advertising License to Do Business: Since the majority of the revenue of major media outlets derives from advertising (not from sales or subscriptions), advertisers have acquired a “de-facto licensing authority”. Media outlets are not commercially viable without the support of advertisers. News media must therefore cater to the political prejudices and economic desires of their advertisers. This has weakened the working-class press, for example, and also helps explain the attrition in the number of newspapers.

3. Sourcing Mass Media News: Herman and Chomsky argue that “the large bureaucracies of the powerful subsidize the mass media, and gain special access [to the news], by their contribution to reducing the media’s costs of acquiring […] and producing, news. The large entities that provide this subsidy become ‘routine’ news sources and have privileged access to the gates. Non-routine sources must struggle for access, and may be ignored by the arbitrary decision of the gatekeepers.”

4. Flak and the Enforcers: “Flak” refers to negative responses to a media statement or program (e.g. letters, complaints, lawsuits, or legislative actions). Flak can be expensive to the media, either due to loss of advertising revenue, or due to the costs of legal defense or defense of the media outlet’s public image. Flak can be organized by powerful, private influence groups (e.g. think tanks). The prospect of eliciting flak can be a deterrent to the reporting of certain kinds of facts or opinions.

5. Anti-Communism: This was included as a filter in the original 1988 edition of the book, but Chomsky argues that since the end of the Cold War (1945–91), anticommunism was replaced by the “War on Terror”, as the major social control mechanism.

I would suggest that in the case of WMBD v Stoner, the television station applied filter number 5 to its coverage of the PAPN event and interview with Stoner.

Also possibly relevant is the fact that WMBD is owned and operated by the Nexstar Broadcasting Group. Wikipedia informs us that “The CEO of Nexstar, Perry Sook, has donated over $4,300 to Republican candidates and officials.” That’s not a lot of money in the Citizens United era, but it does show that the ownership of WMBD is clearly in the GOP camp, and while the people of the U.S. have turned against the war in Afghanistan, many elected Republicans (and too many elected Democrats) have not.

The lesson learned (though probably not for the first time) by PAPN is that even local media have internalized the rules about what is and is not acceptable political discourse.

Written by slothropia

January 24th, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Contact Governor Quinn to End Capital Punishment

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The Illinois legislature has passed the bill that would end capital punishment in the state. It will only become law if Governor Quinn signs it in the next 58 days. Anyone, but most especially Illinois residents, who read this, please contact the Governor and let him know you want him to sign the legislation.


Office of the Governor
207 State House
Springfield, IL 62706
Phone: 217-782-0244
TTY: 888-261-3336


Office of the Governor
James R. Thompson Center
100 W. Randolph, 16-100
Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: 312-814-2121

You can send the Governor an email by navigating to

Written by slothropia

January 13th, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Two Sword Lengths: Violent Imagery in U.S. Political Rhetoric

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Let me tell you a story. In 1935, Sir Albert Lambert Ward was a Member of parliament serving the British House of Commons.

From the front Government bench soldierly Sir Lambert Ward had hoisted himself up to plead the Government’s case on a bill. In excitement he moved farther & farther out toward the centre of the hall. Suddenly came hoots of laughter and great cries of “Order! Order!” Sir Lambert looked around in bewilderment, hesitated, looked at his feet, jumped back.

Centuries ago British members of Parliament were occasionally given to the regrettable practice of pointing their arguments with their rapiers. To check the habit two red lines were drawn down the centre of the House of Commons about six feet, or two sword lengths, apart. When Sir Charles Barry’s present Victorian Parliament building was erected (1840-50), strips of red carpet before the Government and Opposition benches took the place of the original red lines, and to this day no member may step off the carpet while addressing the House.

Opposition and government members of Britain’s Parliament are still separated from each other by two sword lengths, a reminder that electoral politics, representative democracy, is a substitute for civil war. And vice versa. The U.S. Civil War began in 1861 because slave states did not accept the results of the Presidential election of 1860 in which a candidate opposed to slavery was elected President. The Civil War was, in fact, an early example of a “second amendment” solution.

Political rhetoric is full of martial imagery. Candidates and parties wage “campaigns”. Parties “target” districts and voting blocs, candidates promise to “fight” for their constituents. Volunteer canvassers are sometimes referred to as “foot soldiers”. Politicians and parties use military language and metaphors in an array of countries with differing political cultures, most of which do not have a recent history of political violence. But merely using military metaphors in political speech does not inspire political violence. England has had two civil wars in the last 600 years but the most recent was in the 17th century (never mind the several Celtic uprisings that have occurred from time to time). Canada’s closest brush with domestic political violence was the FLQ Crisis in 1970, the work of a handful of far left radicals never supported by the broader Quebec society.

The United States has suffered more than its share of political violence, even in recent years and up to the horrific event in Tuscon on January 8. Upon hearing of the shooting of Representative Gifford, I (and many others it turned out) could not help but think of the violent rhetoric deployed by the right (fringe and mainstream) in recent years. There remains no identified direct link between Sarah Palin’s notorious gun sight map and Loughner’s actions last Saturday. Nor is there any demonstrated link between the shooting and any other specific example of violent right wing rhetoric. Loughner’s motive remains unclear if not unknown or unknowable.

That does not mean that the right has not created a toxic political environment through the use of violent imagery. I am not sure I agree with every point made by Cenk Uygur but he makes a strong case that something bad has been going on for several years now:

Leaving aside any culpability the right might share for Loughner’s actions, I don’t think the existence of violent right wing rhetoric and imagery in today’s U.S. politics can be seriously denied. And to anyone who wants to argue that the “left” (meaning the centrist Democratic Party) is just as guilty of violent rhetoric, I say, show me. Show me the evidence, the examples of the left using hate filled and violent language for political purposes. I have an open mind. I can be convinced.

While we wait for such evidence, let us contemplate what the right’s motives are for using violent language. Is the use of violent, eliminationist rhetoric strategic and if so, what is its purpose and effect.

David Neiwert, author of The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right has been studying this problem for many years now. On Saturday he wrote in a post at Crooks and Liars:

We don’t yet know why the shooter — identified as a 22-year-old man named Jared Loughner — shot Giffords and a number of other people… But it’s impossible to survey the events so far and not come to the preliminary conclusion that this was yet another awful act inspired by right-wing hate rhetoric.

I warned against precisely this kind of outcome in my book, The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right. Events like this one, I explained then, reflect

a particular trend that has manifested itself with increasing intensity in the past decade: the positing of elimination as the solution to political disagreement. Rather than engaging in a dialogue over political and cultural issues, one side simply dehumanizes its opponents and suggests, and at times demands, their excision. This tendency is almost singularly peculiar to the American Right and manifests itself in many venues: on radio talk shows and in political speeches, in bestselling books and babbling blogs. Most of all, we can feel it on the ground: in our everyday lives, in our encounters, big and small, with each other.

When the conservative movement’s True Believers are fed a steady diet of extraordinary warnings intended to induce a paranoiac, panicked fear — They’re Destroying America! They Want to End Your Liberty! Health Care Reform is the End of America! — and simultaneously fed a diet of suggestions that the solution is simply to do away with them (see Sean Hannity’s recent bit of eliminationist “humor”), then what other outcome should you expect?

People are acting out in an eliminationist manner because they have been inundated with, and have naturally internalized, a broad range of eliminationist ideas and talking points. Such speech is being bandied about in every cultural bandwidth—from talk radio, to the local press and in letters to the editor, to blogs and national mainstream media.

I’ve also explained the dynamic at work here:

The critical components that distinguish irresponsible free speech from responsible are interworking pieces: whether it is intended to harm by scapegoating or demonizing, and whether or not it is provably false…

This is true of so much far-right wingnuttery — the “Birther” conspiracy theories, the FEMA-camp claims, the “constitutionalist” theories about taxation and the Federal Reserve, to list just a few examples — and yet people believe them anyway.

This rhetoric also acts as a kind of wedge between the people who absorb it and the real world. There is always a kind of cognitive dissonance that arises from believing things that are provably untrue, and people who begin to fanatically cling to beliefs that do not comport with reality find themselves increasingly willing to buy into other similarly unhinged beliefs. For those who are already unhinged, the effects are particularly toxic.

All of these theories, you’ll observe, serve the explicit purpose of supporting a scapegoating narrative. And a number of them have been featured in some shape, form, or fashion, in the mainstream public discourse because they have been presented seriously for discussion by various right-wing talking heads, most notably Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs.

But pointing out their ethical and moral culpability inevitably means that they immediately blame it on the “crazy” people, and who can take responsibility for “crazy” people?

Who indeed? Certainly not Beck, Palin, Limbaugh or O’Reilly, all of whom have denied any responsibility for last weekend’s shooting, despite the absence of any request for them to do so. Palin’s guilty conscience betrayed them all when she so quickly removed the infamous gun sight map from her website.

Assuming the validity of Neiwert’s theory of eliminationist rhetoric, why does the right employ such tactics? Brian Topp is a strategist and former official with Canada’s center left New Democratic Party. Writing in the Globe and Mail he comments on right-wing rhetoric in the U.S.:

Why do populist right-wingers need to play these games? Because they can’t defend their program on its merits.

Help for the poor through tax giveaways to the rich. Economic security by breaking people’s pensions. Fiscal responsibility by bankrupting the state. Jobs by promoting economic recklessness that has produced a global economic crisis. A better society by promoting gross income disparity. Double and triple the police and prison apparatus to deal with a crime rate that has long been in decline. Better health care by making it available only to those who can afford it. Getting the state out of people’s lives by imposing narrow religious views in the schools. Legislating responsibly by abdicating the legislative and budget process to corporate lobbyists. Peace by warmongering. None of the central goals of American populist right-wingers hold up in rational debate. So a smokescreen is required. Take our country back! Respect the constitution! And… lock and load!
It’s had a good run in the past two years, this latest manifestation of right-wing unreason in the United States. But perhaps this is the moment its real nature stands revealed. Like all right-wing populism, that is something it cannot survive.

It would be nice to see the end of “right-wing unreason” in U.S. politics, but I don’t see it happening any time soon. Such tactics will only be abandoned when they have been defeated – at the ballot box. In the meantime, the crazy talk will continue and there will be outbreaks of violence on some scale for the foreseeable future.

U.S. centrists and all three of its leftists need to consider how best to respond to such right-wing eliminationist rhetoric without stepping over the (rhetorical) two sword lengths line. Hate speech must be countered and violence confronted, but not in kind. The grown ups will have to lead by example and sadly, there aren’t too many grown ups these days in the Republican Party or the broader conservative movement.

Written by slothropia

January 12th, 2011 at 11:30 am

Leave Aaron’s Health Care Alooone

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Had I not seen this I would not have believed it:

Scott Keyes at Think Progress got the interview and wrote about it:

This week, ThinkProgress caught up with Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) to ask whether he would be joining his colleagues in rejecting government-sponsored health care for himself, given his push to repeal health care reform for the nation. Schock told us the “only” reason he would stay on the congressional health care plan because he was “a 27-year-old single male” who was “actually lowering” the premiums of his older colleagues. He also brushed off the notion that this was hypocritical on his part, calling them “completely separate issues,” despite the numerous similarities including taxpayer subsidies and a highly-regulated exchange:

SCHOCK: It is, yeah. I had Blue Cross Blue Shield when I came here as a 27-year-old single male. I paid about $80 a month. And now, because I’m in a risk pool with a bunch of older seniors, my health care costs me $170 a month now for the same Blue Cross Blue Shield coverage. So I think it’s kind of interesting how people make such a big deal out of the health care coverage we have, which is not bad by any means. But I haven’t given it much thought because quite frankly I think I’m helping out the institution by lowering the risk pool for some of my older guys.

TP: I just know there are a lot of people who have made the hypocrisy charge, that there’s an average of $700 per month in taxpayer subsidies on these employee government health care plans, yet saying that the general public is not getting the same types of subsidies and help in buying health insurance for themselves.

SCHOCK: No, I get that argument. The only thing I would submit is because I’m an outlier in the group, I’m actually lowering the…(crosstalk)…When you’re under 30 in a body of…but, so.

TP2: Sir, you receive taxpayer subsidies even though you do have a lower rate. And you’re within a pool that’s highly regulated, as health reform does for the rest of the nation. Don’t you think it’s fair if you’re going to repeal health reform for everyone else, you should at least reject this subsidized, highly-regulated plan that members of Congress and their staff benefit from?

SCHOCK: No, I really actually think they’re completely separate issues.

TP2: Why’s that?

SCHOCK: Because I don’t think what we do with the health care bill has anything to do with what kind of health insurance programs members of Congress pay for.

TP2: No, it’s quite similar. There’s an exchange, there’s subsidies, just like you benefit from an exchange and subsidies, that are paid for by taxpayers.

SCHOCK: Well, I think the bill we voted on is completely different.

Representative Schock thinks the two things are separate but can’t explain how. He can, however, flap his flippers on command as he balances a beach ball on his nose.

Written by slothropia

January 8th, 2011 at 8:45 am

Illinois Senate Bill 3539–Abolish the Death Penalty

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Cross posted at Peoria Progressive.

Overnight I received an email from Michael Perillo of the Peoria Area Peace Network asking if I would urge my state legislator to support Illinois Senate Bill 3539, which would end capital punishment i the state. I was glad to do so for three reasons.

1. The death penalty is not a deterrent. Canada abolished the death penaltyin 1976 and the murder rate has decreased since that time even when the conviction rate for first degree murder increases. Juries are more likely to convict in murder cases when their deliberations are not clouded by the possibility of committing state sanctioned murder themselves. Life in prison is the real deterrent to murder.

In the U.S., the murder rate is lower in non-death penalty states than in those with capital punishment.

2. The work of The Innocence Project has abundantly demonstrated that innocent people are often convicted of crimes, including murder, they did not commit.

3. By some strange coincidence, people of color are disproportionately represented on death rows in the U.S.

Also, if it is wrong for humans to kill each other, then the state should try not to kill humans.

If you live in Illinois and do not know how to contact your legislator, please call this number at (217) 782-2000 and ask for them by name, or if you do not know who represents you just check out the Equal Justice USA (EJUSA) website and enter your zip-code. You can either call, email or do both and say to your legislator: “I’m a constituent and I urge you to support SB 3539.

Written by slothropia

January 6th, 2011 at 10:23 am

Aaron Schock, Destroyer of the Middle class

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Well, the holidays are over and I’m out of egg nog so it’s time to climb out of my cozy little burrow and engage the world, or at least the blogosphere, once more.

And I have drafted a provocative title for my first post holiday post, no? Do I really mean to say that Aaron Schock is trying to destroyed the middle class in the U.S.? Why yes, yes I do. Please allow me to ‘splain.

Schock is a Republican, and the Republicans in congress do not talk much these days about unemployment and the need to create jobs. They do talk a lot about “balancing the budget” and reducing federal spending. They see the deficit and national debt as a crisis but unemployment not so much. What most economists will tell you however is that it is going to be pretty hard to do much about deficits until unemployment is solved.

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s my favorite Nobel Economics laureate, Paul Krugman:

What the government should be doing in this situation is spending more while the private sector is spending less, supporting employment while those debts are paid down. And this government spending needs to be sustained: we’re not talking about a brief burst of aid; we’re talking about spending that lasts long enough for households to get their debts back under control. The original Obama stimulus wasn’t just too small; it was also much too short-lived, with much of the positive effect already gone.

It’s true that we’re making progress on deleveraging. Household debt is down to 118 percent of income, and a strong recovery would bring that number down further. But we’re still at least several years from the point at which households will be in good enough shape that the economy no longer needs government support.

But wouldn’t it be expensive to have the government support the economy for years to come? Yes, it would — which is why the stimulus should be done well, getting as much bang for the buck as possible.

But of course, Schock and his reactionary party opposed the inadequate stimulus proposed by Obama and disposed by Congressional Democrats. stimulus Obama supported. And based on the year end tax cut sell out and GOP rhetoric, Republicans don’t care about the deficit anyway, as long as taxes for the wealthy are cut and the rich become richer.

On December 30 of last year the Peoria Journal Star published one of their periodic puff pieces written by Karen McDonald and based on an interview with Rep. Schock (or maybe just a press release – hard to tell) in an attempt to convince Schock’s constituents that he has their best interests at heart, that he is working to make life better for the good people of the fightin’ 18th. The piece, touches on the plans Schock and the GOP have for the upcoming congress:

Schock recently was appointed to Congress’ most powerful committee – the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee – for the 112th Congress. It also has jurisdiction over trade policies, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income and Medicare, among other responsibilities.

He said top priorities for the new Congress will be approval of the nation’s free trade agreement with South Korea – recently reworked from its original 2007 form to address concerns from both sides – and free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. They are important to growing the agriculture economy in the 18th District and manufacturing base, Schock said.

When Congress reconvenes Jan. 5, Republicans will be in charge of the House and hold more seats in the Senate.

“We can’t fix the unfunded liabilities in our entitlement programs and make significant cuts in federal spending with just a Republican House. These efforts will require bipartisan support,” Schock said.

So Schock wants to “fix the unfunded liabilities in our entitlement programs and make significant cuts in federal spending “. That is, he wants to cut and/or privatize social security and medicare while taking demand out of the economy during a period of high unemployment and under employment. So why would anyone who is not stinking rich vote for this guy?

Is it just me or does it not seem odd that Schock fails to mention a determination to fix unemployment as his primary goal in the upcoming Congressional session? He seems to think that trade deals will give the economy a boost, based apparently on the success of NAFTA in creating new employment in this country . Caterpillar, a major employer in Schock’s district, have created a lot of new jobs recently – in other countries.

Schock has it easy since getting the GOP nomination in Illinois 18 back in’06. His political life could become more interesting now that Illinois has lost a seat in the House of Representatives. He may find himself running in a district not so friendly to GOPers and Tea Baggers next time. Maybe that will encourage the Congressman to moderate his views and join with the Democrats on some House votes. But I doubt it.

Written by slothropia

January 4th, 2011 at 12:21 pm