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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

Posted in Uncategorized

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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

Sarah Palin is Done Like Dinner

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Sarah Palin has demonstrated bad judgment on so many occasions since her November defeat (with McCain of course) that I am ready to predict that not only will she not be the GOP presidential nominee in 2012, but that she has won her last election for public office. Not even Wasilla dog catcher is within her grasp.

Written by slothropia

April 14th, 2009 at 8:08 pm

Posted in Republican Party

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Where Will Conservative Frustration Lead?

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Cross posted at Daily Kos.

About a month ago, at the end of the business day, I was talking with someone I work with. He was tired, leaving a couple of minutes early. I was working on some tedious but mission critical task, happy for a break. Somehow, the subject of retirement came up.

“Well, I was hoping to retire in a few years,” I said, “But now it looks like I have to work til I’m 70.”

“I hear ya,” he answered, and the floodgates opened. Not about intimate, personal stuff, but about the frustration that comes with being a middle class American in the year of the Common Era 2008.

He allowed as how the state of the economy was causing him significant heartburn. And he was pretty fed up with Bush and company, though he considers himself a Republican.

This was in the middle of the week that began with a huge drop in the Dow and the first reports of Paulson’s initial request, and my colleague’s anxieties regarding these matters were heightened, a common condition it seems fair to say. So his venting continued.

My suspicion that he has always been a habitual GOP voter was confirmed, but he’s fed up with Bush and thinks McCain is nuts. The thought of a Palin Presidency fills him with dread.

He is not, however, completely sold on Obama. The only one of the four major party candidates he is comfortable with right now is Biden. Still, there is a very good chance that he will vote Democratic, at least at the top of the ticket. I suspect he is leaning toward Obama, but won’t know how he is voting until Election Day.

And the financial crisis was bothering him a lot. The crisis and the cratering Dow left him feeling vulnerable and insecure — and angry of course. Angry about the bailout because it’s 700 billion; angry because of his delayed retirement. Mad about a lot of stuff.

Fast forward to now. We’ve had the four debates and a stock market roller coaster. As of now, the polls in the presidential race have moved Obama’s way. I haven’t talked with my colleague, but I suspect that his frustration and anger are reflected in those poll numbers.

There certainly are a lot of high profile Republicans coming out publicly in support of Obama. The latest is former South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler. Like Colin Powell, Pressler is a Vietnam veteran, adding to a long list of et tu’s for McCain to deliver someday (thanks to Talking Points Memo for making me aware of Pressler’s endorsement).

As has been amply documented in blogotopia and elsewhere, many Republicans and conservatives are not taking these developments very calmly. The more conservative and GOP endorsements Obama earns, the more ferocious grows the response from Republican die hards. There are a ton of Youtube videos out there capturing McCain and/or Palin rally goers making racist and maybe threatening statements.

And this was included in a Peoria Journal Star discussion forum last week:

For you Obama supporters my only advice is be careful for what you wish for and heaven help you if you ever remotely think about straying from the liberal plantation.

I wonder what the writer has in mind for his liberal neighbors.

But wait – there’s more. Crooks and Liars provided me with this video of the action at a pro Prop 8 demo and counter demo in California:


The Face of Proposition 8 from Theremina on Vimeo.

As Digby notes in relation to this incident and all the others:

Conservatives are starting to feel very, very freaked out. And they tend to be the type of people who believe violence is the best answer for everything.

I wouldn’t tar all conservatives with the same brush, but the atmosphere is getting tense and ugly. That’s one helluva boil this country seems to be lancing.

A question that rolls around my brain: If Obama wins, will this stuff increase or abate after the election? Or the Inauguration? I don’t mean the political and media opposition to a President Obama, reality based or not. I am referring to the violent street action. How far will they go?

Written by slothropia

October 26th, 2008 at 9:56 pm

Canadian Leaders Debates (and Other Stuff Too)

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My poor consciousness is refracting, like light through a prism. I have spent the last two evenings focusing on about half a dozed major events.

Last night there was the French language leaders debate from Ottawa (Ontario, not Illinois) and the Cubs Dodgers game one (I don’t wanna talk about it).

Tonight there was Chicago/LA game two (still not talking), the Palin/Biden cage match to the death, and the English language leaders debate (still in Ontario).

Pardon me while I exhale.

IRT the U.S. Veep debate, both CBS and CNN have polls instant polls that give Biden an edge. I watched or listened to pretty much the whole thing, and I agree with this caveat: Palin brought her A game. She was articulate and pretty much on message – to a fault really.

If the McCain campaign had a message and a plan, I am sure she would have explained both of them very well.

But Biden’s experience and knowledge of foreign and domestic issues really showed. He know what his message was and he sold it with relish (hold the onions). He showed why Obama picked him.

Meanwhile, this was the second consecutive debate night for the leaders of the Canada’s major federal political parties, along with the Greens. Last night they debated en francais and tonight in English.

I only caught part of each debate. I caught the French debate in translation on CPAC (I would have comprehended about half if I had listened in French). Five leaders sitting around a bed pan shaped table. No podia. Apparently, Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Quebecois and the Liberal Leader, Stephane Dion, did best. Jack Layton of the NDP (NPD in French held his own, I am told. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper was under constant attack from the other parties.

As he was tonight in the English debate. Tonight ‘s big winner, according to some, was Layton. One of Layton’s good moments came when he asked Harper, “Where are you hiding your platform, under your sweater?” Now, I am afraid I have to explain the joke.

Earlier in the campaign, Harper made some election ads wearing a sweater, apparently to generate that casual, man of the people vibe. Hence the sweater reference. Also, the Conservatives have not yet released their platform for this election.

Another good Layton moment came when he attacked the Liberals for propping up the Conservative government. I happen to have some video, right here:

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October 2nd, 2008 at 10:54 pm

Sarah and Hillary

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September 13th, 2008 at 11:32 pm

Why is Charlie so Mean to Sarah?

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I was wondering why the McCain campign was keeping Palin from interviews and Sunday Talking heads tv.

No need to wonder anymore.

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September 11th, 2008 at 10:32 pm

Posted in 2008 Election

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And We’re Back

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Time to get this show on the road, I mean information superhighway.

slothropia now has a new look and i might change it again if I am so inspired. Soon there will be pictures, music and video to distract what few visitors that drop by.

Hard to keep up with all the bizarre soap opera happenings the last few days. Like McCain’s Veep choice late last week.

In the last day or so the world has learned way too much about the Palin’s family business. I don’t know what is true and I don’t know what to say,  so I will wait for more facts to emerge before I form a publishable opinion about all the Palin babies and their national security implications.

It does look like McCain intends to carry on the Bush-Cheny tradition of mendacious incompetence.

Written by slothropia

September 1st, 2008 at 3:34 pm

Posted in 2008 Election

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