Yesterday, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released its report on its year-long investigation into the right-wing media's ridiculous claim that the Department of Justice's handling of alleged voter intimidation by members of the New Black Panther Party indicates racially-charged corruption on the DOJ's part. Unsurprisingly, given the commission's conservative activist composition and its previous flawed draft report, the report largely adopts the right-wing media's storyline as its own.
The three commissioners who opposed the release of the report are not happy with the investigation's direction or the report's conclusions, and are making their feelings known.
Republican Vice-Chair Abigail Thernstrom - who has called the case "very small potatoes" and said that the USCCR majority's investigation "doesn't have to do with the Black Panthers, this has to do with their fantasies about how they could use this issue to topple the [Obama] administration" - wrote in her dissent:
This investigation lacked political and intellectual integrity from the outset, and has been consistently undermined by the imbalance between the gravity of the allegations and the strength of the evidence available to support such charges. Some commissioners offered serious, principled critiques of the process, and questioned the evidentiary record. Their views were contemptuously ignored by the commission's majority.
Likewise, Democratic commissioners Arlan Melendez and Michael Yaki slam the investigation as "a tremendous waste of scarce government resources" that "squandered" the commission's reputation. They also criticize the USCCR majority and the pseudoscandal's chief promoter, Fox News, for having "given the NBPP more media attention than it ever could have garnered or purchased on its own." From the dissent:
The Commission's investigation into, and this Report concerning, the New Black Panther Party ("NBPP") have been a tremendous waste of scarce government resources. They have wasted our own resources at the Commission but those of the Department of Justice as well. In addition to squandering time, money and attention, the majority has further squandered the reputation of the United States Commission on Civil Rights as it spent more than a year on an Ahab-like quest to hobble the Obama Administration and to attempt to rehabilitate the disgraced record of the previous Administration's Department of Justice.
Our dissent does not attempt to make definitive claims about the motives or actions of the United States Department of Justice ("Department") past or present. We have no special insight into the hearts or minds of the people working at the Department. Where we differ from our colleagues is that we did not enter into this investigation having already made up our minds that there was wrong-doing by the Department. Therefore, we did not interpret all evidence in light of any foregone conclusions or ignore any evidence that flatly contradicted any conclusions.
Our dissent should also not be read as a defense of the NBPP. The NBPP is a hate group whose views are as ugly as they are outlandish. We would not even bother to include this disclaimer were it not for the fact that a good deal of this Report relies on sources who maintain absurd beliefs in the out-sized significance and influence of what is in reality a tiny fringe group. Among the many ironies surrounding this NBPP hullabaloo is the fact that the NBPP's exaggerated sense of its own importance (or menace) and its conspiracy theory mentality is matched (or even exceeded) by the Commission's majority and its ideological allies in the news media and in government. A further irony is the fact that, but for the constant promotion of this partisan investigation by FOX News and the USCCR, the NBPP might well have vanished into even further obscurity these last two years. We must posit that the USCCR majority has given the NBPP more media attention than it ever could have garnered or purchased on its own.
After reading today's article in County Fair by David Holthouse about the 2011 SHOT Show, Josh Sugarmann the executive director of the Violence Policy Center sent us the following comment:
Most Americans would be shocked at what the gun industry has become. Firepower and immense ammunition capacity define today's increasingly militarized gun industry. In America today, virtually anyone with a clean record, a credit card, and grudge can set up their own army.
The Violence Policy Center is a national non-profit organization that works to stop the annual toll of death and injury from gun violence through research, advocacy, and education.
From the January 25 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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"Our dual tube feature maximizes operator lethality," said sales representative Chad Enos as he brandished a floor model of the KSG 12-gauge, a new pistol-grip shotgun produced by the American firearms manufacturer Kel-Tec. "This bad boy looks like it shouldn't be legal. But it is."
"Glass reinforced polymer grip and stock assembly with hardened steel tube magazines," said Enos. "Twenty-seven inches muzzle to stock with an 18-inch barrel, so it's just as compact as legally possible."
The Kel-Tec display area was packed during the 2011 SHOT Show, held January 18 to 21, the largest annual gathering of firearms makers and dealers in the United States.
The KSG was one of the hottest guns to debut. As demonstrated by Enos, a selector switch enables the shooter to alternate between two seven-shot magazines. This means the KSG holds 15 rounds, with one chambered. A standard police-issue shotgun holds six.
This was the 33rd annual SHOT Show. It was the biggest show in SHOT history and drew roughly 50,000 attendees who reveled in the firepower displayed by around 1,600 exhibitors spread across more than 650,000 square feet of total exhibit space -- five times the size of the casino floor at Caesar's Palace.
Looming over the main entrance to the Sands Expo & Convention Center was a massive banner of a leering Grim Reaper with glowering red-eyes, wielding a scythe. It advertised a laser scope called the Eliminator.
Death personified also symbolized the timing of SHOT, which began just 10 days after Jared Loughner opened fire on a crowd in Tucson, Ariz., killing six people and wounding 13, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Loughner used a Glock-19 handgun, the same gun used in 2007 by Virginia Tech spree shooter Seung-Hui Cho to kill 32 people and wound 17. Lougher's Glock-19 was equipped with a 30-round magazine. Cho's held 15 bullets.
The manufacture for sale in the U.S. of handgun magazines holding more than 10 rounds, known as "high-capacity" magazines, was prohibited under the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB). That law expired in 2004. Attempts to renew it have been thwarted by the National Rifle Association, aided by legions of firearms industry lobbyists.
The self-defense applications of high-capacity handguns that fire 15, 30, or 50 rounds without reloading are dubious at best. Yet since the expiration of the AWB, high-capacity magazines have become integral to the core marketing strategies of most firearms manufacturers whose products are designed first and foremost to kill people, not for hunting or precision target shooting.
Unlike televisions or blue jeans, firearms don't wear out in a matter of months or years. Gun ownership has been in long-term decline over the last 40 years. The industry experienced a brief resurgence in 2009 after President Obama's election stirred fears of new gun control laws. However, that buying surge has evaporated and left the industry reeling as many recent buyers have sold their firearms, flooding the secondary market.
To lure repeat buyers, increased lethality has become the nicotine of the firearms industry. Every year gun makers roll out new lines of assault rifles, tactical shotguns and handguns that hold even more bullets, or fire even faster, or boast new gadgetry that supposedly enables their user to kill other human beings more efficiently than ever before.
At SHOT, the guns on display at the Smith & Wesson exhibit made for a Darwin-chart of the evolution of the modern handgun from the straightforward, Wild West-style, six-shot revolver to new-fangled guns like the Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22P. It's all curves and serrations, equipped with a 25-round "banana clip" magazine, a muzzle flash suppressor and a "ported" barrel with holes to lessen blowback and heighten control during rapid fire. The M&P 15 is part of Smith & Wesson's popular "Military & Police" line of firearms that, despite their branding, are perfectly legal for civilians to purchase.
Glock, the maker of the gun used in the Tucson shootings, went big at SHOT with one of the largest and most luxurious exhibits. It resembled the waiting lounge in a five-star hair salon, with plush silver carpeting and shiny black logo towers proclaiming "25 years of perfection." Placards trumpeted ergonomic features "resulting in reduced recoil and faster follow-up shots."
It's not just firearms manufacturers rolling out new, more deadly products every year at SHOT. Ammunition-makers likewise promote new bullets designed to heighten the damage they cause to the human body. For example, this year the Nebraska-based handgun ammunition manufacturer Hornady, one of the leaders in the industry, introduced .44 Special and .45 Colt caliber rounds to its popular Critical Defense line of "personal defense" hollow-point handgun rounds. (Hollow point bullets expand or "mushroom" when they enter a human body, amplifying tissue damage, blood loss and shock.)
"The only problem with typical hollow-point rounds is that when they travel through heavy clothing, the tip of the bullet tends to clog up, which doesn't allow the bullet to fully expand," explained Hornady salesman Tom Mills. "The Critical Defense line bullets solve that problem by having a flexible tip that allows for maximum penetration and maximum expansion." Mills holds up a gleaming Critical Defense .45 Colt round. "This offers 13 inches of penetration into ballistic gel [which simulates human tissue] when fired through the standard FBI heavy clothing protocol. In other words, 'Hasta la vista, baby.'"
From the January 21 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program:
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In a January 19 post on National Review Online, Daniel Foster attempted to defend former Nevada Senate Candidate Sharron Angle's famous "Second Amendment remedies" line by saying she was only warning that "we're a few awful bills away from folks starting to seriously consider revolution. From the National Review Online:
I didn't think Angle was an ideal candidate, but I think it's clear from context that what she was saying was more along the lines of "Winning this election is important because things are so bad we're a few awful bills away from folks starting to seriously consider revolution."
One thing she was certainly not saying is that the Second Amendment legitimizes political assassinations. If only it were obvious to liberals that conservatives would not endorse, even in principle, the right of a John Wilkes Booth to afford himself of "Second Amendment remedy."
From the January 19 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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This should be a major news story -- deserving of signifcant coverage on cable TV and on leading mainstream media news sites:
SPOKANE, Wash. — A backpack found along the route of the Martin Luther King Jr. march in Spokane contained a bomb "capable of inflicting multiple casualties," the FBI said Tuesday, describing the case as "domestic terrorism."
The FBI said the Swiss Army-brand backpack was found about 9:25 a.m. PST on Monday on a bench at the northeast corner of North Washington Street and West Main Avenue in downtown Spokane.
In an interview on msnbc cable's "The Rachel Maddow Show," Spokesman-Review reporter Thomas Clouse said confidential sources told him that the device was equipped with a remote control detonator and contained shrapnel.
The fantasically good news here is that a major tragedy was averted -- in large part because of alert Spokane citizens who spotted the backpack, thought it suspicious, and called the police, just as authorities have asked the public to do ever since 9/11. The bad news, of course, is that someone out there wanted to cause a major tragedy -- on Martin Luther King Day, no less -- and that person, or persons, is still at large.
An explosion and the potential for multiple murders that a shrapnel bomb could have caused to those celebrating Dr. King's legacy would have been a staggering blow to a nation that is still reeling and feeling the aftershocks of the first assassination attempt against a member of Congress in nearly 33 years. Even though the bomb didn't explode, the episode raises deeply troubling new questions about the extent of violent politically fueled anger in America in 2011, and why it seems that liberal targets like Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and now King Day marchers are the ones in the crosshairs, to use the controversial word of the day.
In other words, it's what Joe Biden might call a BFD. But you wouldn't know that if, for example, you visited the two websites that -- in my own 30 years of experience as a journalist, for better or worse -- do more than any other to set the agenda on national coverage in newsrooms across the country.
One of those (note I said "for better or worse") is The Drudge Report, which ultimate Beltway insider Mark Halperin has said "rules our world." In the 16 or so hours since the FBI went public with the "domestic terrorism" angle, Matt Drudge has spotlighted articles about things like a man arrested for taking photos at Miami airport, a blogger who may lose his firearms permit for a post related to the Tucson massacre, and laser incidents against airplanes -- but nothing about the thwarted Spokane bombing.
OK, so that's Matt Drudge -- but the silence of the leading mainstream news website -- that of the New York Times -- is a little harder to explain. I've checked their home page at least a half-dozen times since last night, and I have yet to see a featured story on the FBI investigating "domestic terrorism" in Washington State. The lack of Times coverage may explain while for the most part, the coverage of this story on cable TV -- the people who routinely hyped run of the mill car chases and blown-tire airplane landings -- has been very minimal. I say for the most part because there have been a couple of exceptions. "The Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC featured the Spokane story as major breaking news at the top of its broadcast last night, and for a time it was the lead story on the Huffington Post. Major news outlets -- but with a liberal orientation.
Which is why I can't help but wonder if there's a backstory here related to the past weeks coverage of the assassination attempt on Rep. Giffords, and the right-wing critique of some of that coverage. As you surely recall, the fact that a Democratic congresswoman was targeted in a state that has been a bastion of the Tea Party Movement and unrest over issues like illegal immigration provoked a number of articles about political rhetoric on the right -- including the fact that Giffords had been mapped with crosshairs in the now famous political mailing by Sarah Palin's PAC.
When it emerged that alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner was an almost certainly mentally ill 22-year-old who seemed to follow some bizarre conspiracy theories but not the political rhetoric of Palin or the Tea Party, there was massive pushback from conservatives who accused the mainstream media of jumping to unfair conclusions. Most famously, Palin herself emerged to call this a "blood libel." The former GOP veep nominee was savaged for using that charged term, but you have to wonder now if the pushback from Palin is actually a case of "mission accomplished."
That's because with this new episode in Spokane, not only have the pillars of the mainstream media not raced to any conclusions, but they seem to be in a competition as to who can most ignore the story altogether. But there's no need to jump to unwarranted conclusions here; the actual facts have been laid out by the nation's preeminent law enforcement agency, the FBI -- that we are dealing with a case of "domestic terrorism," that the sophisticated device along the King Day parade route was capable of causing mass casualties, and the target was American citizens celebrating an icon of the progressive movement, Dr. King.
Maybe the implications are just a little too frightening for the mainstream media to want to deal with. But this episode seems to clarify what some of us have been reporting and writing about for the last two years, that there is an escalating tide of political violence in this country, and the majority of perpetrators or incidents involve the targets of eliminationist rhetoric from the right wing. This is a major issue for America -- on a par, in my opinion, with U.S.-China relations or the future of health care reform -- and the media is dropping the ball here, big-time. It's not too late to pick it up.
Last night on his Fox News show, Glenn Beck spent a considerable amount of time attacking the Chinese for the deplorable conditions endured by much of their workforce. Employing his trademark overwrought sarcasm, Beck ticked off the indignities of working for the Chinese company Foxconn, like low wages, overcrowding, substandard company housing, and high worker suicide rates.
Now, I know that the Glenn Beck show isn't big on context, self-awareness, or accurate retellings of American history, but it's more than a little ironic for Beck to be outraged about inhumane working conditions in China and simultaneously portray the American Progressive movement as the "cancer" of American politics, given that much of the Progressive agenda was aimed at correcting those same injustices of industry.
On today's edition of his Fox News show, Sean Hannity suggested that 33 bullet clips should not be restricted, in part, because "if you're equipped in the use of a gun, it's nothing to drop a clip, throw one in, pull it back, and you're ready to shoot again. It does not take that long to do that. Alright, so you got ten shots, ten shots, ten shots. I mean, I can do it in two seconds."
Sadly, Hannity ignores the fact that it is precisely the vital time span that it took for Jared Loughner to try to reload his clip that allowed four individuals -- Patricia Maisch, Bill Badger, Roger Salzgeber and Joseph Zimudio -- to stop Loughner's shooting rampage during Gabrielle Giffords "Congress On Your Corner" event. There is no way to know, but this means that it is possible that if Loughner had smaller clips and had to reload more often, he would not have been able to get off as many shots before being stopped.
While Loughner stopped shooting and attempted to switch magazine clips, he was hit by a chair and tackled to the ground according to Bill Badger. Badger was one of the two men who pushed Loughner to the pavement and held him there. Then Patricia Maisch, after being told to grab Loughner's additional magazine clip, wrestled the magazine clip away from Loughner.
From the January 14 broadcast of Dial Global's The Ed Schultz Show:
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Fox & Friends hosted GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) to suggest that more people carrying guns would deter crime, as well as falsely claim the District of Columbia is the "criminal capital of the country." In fact, numerous experts have argued that there is no link between laws allowing people to carry guns and a decrease in crime.
Right-wing media have accused Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of being a liberal activist in the wake of the tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona. However, Dupnik has previously encouraged gun ownership among his constituents, has advocated for citizenship checks of students in public schools, and supported the controversial Arizona immigration law after some provisions were removed.
From the January 12 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
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This afternoon, the Huffington Post picked up the Columbia Free Times' report that the South Carolina firearms retailer Palmetto State Armory was advertising the sale of assault rifle components engraved with the phrase "You Lie." According to the Free Times' initial report, the company's website stated, "Palmetto State Armory would like to honor our esteemed congressman Joe Wilson with the release of our new 'You Lie' AR-15 lower receiver":
After they published their article, the web page was apparently removed.
Wilson, of course, is infamous for shouting "You lie" at President Obama during President Obama's September 2009 speech before a joint session of Congress. He subsequently apologized.
How does Glenn Beck fit in? Palmetto State Armory has been a Beck advertiser. Here's audio of Beck calling them the "on-line source you've trusted for years," promoting on-air their "brand new store in the Midlands," and lauding their "stock of tactical firearms":