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“Problematic Unhinged Rhetoric”: John McCain; President Obama Is ‘Directly Responsible’ For Orlando

When Donald Trump said yesterday that President Obama was “directly responsible” for the deadliest mass-shooting in American history, it was the latest evidence of a candidate who’s abandoned any sense of propriety or decency.

Wait, did I say Donald Trump? I meant John McCain.

Republican Sen. John McCain on Thursday blamed President Barack Obama for the deadly shooting in Orlando that killed 49 club goers.

He said the president is “directly responsible for it because” of his “utter failures” in Iraq.

“Barack Obama is directly responsible for it because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al Qaeda went to Syria and became ISIS and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama’s failures, utter failures by pulling everybody out of Iraq thinking that conflicts end just because we leave,” McCain told reporters on Capitol Hill, according to audio obtained by NBC News.

The senator added, “So the responsibility for it lies with President Barack Obama and his failed policies.”

It wasn’t long before McCain realized this kind of unhinged rhetoric might be problematic, so the senator soon after issued a follow-up statement saying he “misspoke.”

That’s probably not the right word. When someone says “Iraq” when they meant “Iran,” that’s misspeaking. When the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee delivers a 65-word rant blaming the president for a mass murder, that’s more than a slip of the tongue.

McCain added, by way of a “clarification,” that he was blaming the president’s “national security decisions” for the rise of ISIS, “not the president himself.”

How gracious of him.

The clumsy walk-back notwithstanding, what’s wrong with McCain’s argument? Everything.

Right off the bat, let’s not forget that the lunatic responsible for the Orlando massacre was not a member of ISIS. He may have been inspired in some way by the terrorists, and he may have pledged some kind of allegiance to them, but there’s no evidence at all that ISIS was somehow involved in planning and/or executing this attack.

It may be politically convenient to blame a foreign foe for an American buying guns in America and then killing Americans on American soil, but giving ISIS more credit than it deserves is a mistake.

Second, McCain’s broader point is hard to take seriously. Here’s the senator’s logic: Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2010, which eventually and indirectly led to the creation of ISIS, which eventually led lunatics to identify with ISIS, which eventually led to the Orlando mass-shooting.

Even putting aside the bizarre leaps of logic necessarily to adopt such a thesis, McCain is overlooking the fact that (a) he celebrated Obama’s troop withdrawal in 2010; (b) the troop withdrawal was the result of a U.S./Iraq Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the Bush/Cheney administration; and (c) by the senator’s own reasoning, given his enthusiastic support for the war in Iraq, McCain would have to hold himself “directly responsible” for the Orlando slayings, too.

Look, I’m aware of the broader circumstances. McCain is facing a tough re-election fight in Arizona, including a competitive Republican primary. He has an incentive to say ridiculous and irresponsible things about the president, and perhaps even try to exploit a tragedy for partisan ends.

But if these are the final months of McCain’s lengthy congressional career, is this really how he wants to go out? Using the kind of rhetoric more closely associated with Trump than an ostensible Republican statesman?

Postscript: Earlier this month, a college in Pennsylvania awarded McCain a “civility” prize. Perhaps college administrators can ask for it back?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 17, 2016

June 18, 2016 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Iraq War, John McCain, Orlando Shootings | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Terrorists And Their Privacy”: Do Tech Company Profits Trump National Security?

One inevitable sequel to a terrorist attack is seeing the ugly mugs of creeps-turned-monsters thrust before us over a multitude of news cycles. Another is a debate over cellphone encryption.

Encryption is a means of turning information into secret code. Terrorists communicate through encrypted devices to hide their plans and protect the identities of their co-conspirators. For obvious reasons, law enforcement wants to know what’s being said and to whom.

The FBI had been demanding that Apple turn over an encryption key to crack the iPhone used by San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook. Apple has refused, arguing that helping the FBI hack Farook’s iPhone would put the privacy of other iPhone users in jeopardy. That would be bad for business.

Apple’s case has always been morally and legally flawed, but now it may be moot. That’s because on the very day of the terrorist outrage in Brussels, the Justice Department announced it may now be able to get at the information in Farook’s iPhone without Apple’s input.

An unidentified third party has reportedly found a way to hack the phone. That method is being tested to ensure that it doesn’t destroy the valuable data in the process.

If it succeeds, Apple will have lost in three ways. No. 1: Consumers are no longer assured that iPhone data is invulnerable. No. 2: By forcing others to find a means of cracking an iPhone, Apple loses control over the process. And No. 3: Apple is left with having fought the bad fight.

All that goodwill Apple has amassed for its wonderful products could start draining away as Americans wonder what side it’s on. The rampage in San Bernardino took 14 lives and grievously injured 22 others. Survivors and relatives of the dead have protested Apple’s defense of a mass murderer’s cellphone data. That’s definitely bad for business.

Suppose Belgian investigators cleaning up the body parts came across an encrypted iPhone of a terrorist impressed by Apple’s promise of privacy. Would Apple refuse to help uncover accomplices in that bloodbath, as well?

Some argue that Farook’s iPhone 5c is easier to crack than the newer iPhones. Does Apple now want to bet that hacking the iPhone 6 or a later model can’t be done by a highly talented geek?

The Justice Department’s legal basis for requiring Apple to unlock an encrypted device is the 1789 All Writs Act. The law applies only if compliance is not an unreasonable burden. Apple claims invading Farook’s iPhone would be “unreasonably burdensome.”

With a search warrant based on probable cause, law enforcement may barge into your home, break into your metal file cabinets and look in your underwear drawer. (For further information, consult some “Law & Order” reruns.)

One’s cellphone is not a sacred space. Mobile phone users worried that police doing a warranted search might come across their third-grader’s math scores or a prescription for Viagra should not put such data onto their gadget in the first place.

The concern in Apple’s boardroom and elsewhere in the Silicon Valley is that governments less constrained by civil liberties than ours would demand the key to breaking the encryption. They already do, but that’s between the companies and the other countries. It’s really not the American public’s problem — unless you want to argue that tech company profits trump national security.

Apple’s position was insupportable. Now it may be irrelevant. A wise move for those in the tech industry would be to quietly work out some accommodation with law enforcement in the halls of Congress. Rest assured, they won’t want to hold such discussions in the heat of another, even more devastating terrorist attack.


By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, March 24, 2016

March 25, 2016 Posted by | Apple, Cell Phone Encryption, National Security, Terrorist Attacks | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Difference Between Three Dead And Four Dead”: Here’s Why No One Can Agree On The Number Of Mass Shootings

Depending on where you get your news, Thursday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, was the 294th mass shooting, the 295th, or the 45th school shooting of the year. As Dave Cullen wrote in New Republic, news outlets will get the facts wrong in the immediate aftermath of an attack, but the conflicting news reports point to a more serious problem in America’s discussion of its gun problem. Gun control advocates rely heavily on the shocking numbers to make their case, but statistical discrepancies allow opponents to easily undermine the arguments. There’s no case to be made when everyone gets to view the evidence on their own terms.

The confusion stems from varying governmental categorizations. There are mass murders and mass killings, active shooters and serial killers, mass shootings and mass public shootings. For instance, Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowd-sourced website that many news outlets use, defines a mass shooting as one with “four or more people shot in one event.” In other words, they include incidents in which four people are wounded, but no one is killed. Accordingly, the database considers the Umpqua shooting the 295th mass shooting of the year.

The FBI, by contrast, doesn’t have an official definition of “mass shooting” on the books, but in 2014 defined a “mass killing” as one with three or more fatalities in a report about active shooters—“an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area,” like at Columbine or Newtown. Using the three-fatality threshold, the Oregon shooting is the 54th mass killing of 2015. But in July, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) defined a mass shooting as a homicide in which four or more people are killed with firearms—a definition based on the FBI’s definition of a “mass murder” as opposed to a “mass shooting.” Under that definition, the Oregon shooting is the 32nd such incident in 2015.

The conflation of “active shooter,” “mass murder,” and “mass shooting” has allowed the gun lobby to discredit statistics that point to the need for further control. The 2014 FBI report showed that active shooting incidents were increasing, but the NRA and other groups complained that this did not necessarily mean mass shootings were also increasing. Opponents of gun control can claim, like Jeb Bush did on Friday, that “stuff happens,” implying such incidents are just a fact of modern life.

Similarly, Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox has said that the inclusion of statistics from the FBI’s “active shooter” report gives the false impression that incidents are rising when they are not. “A majority of active shooters are not mass shooters,” Fox told Time. “A majority kill fewer than three.” On Friday, Fox wrote in USA Today that “media folks reminded us of the unforgettable, high profile shootings that have taken place over the past few months, hinting of a problem that has grown out of control… as if there is a pattern emerging.”

Fox is correct in pointing out that “active shooters” and “mass shootings” are not the same thing. But other statistics, including a Harvard analysis, show that mass shootings—in which four people were killed—have increased in frequency. The July CRS report also indicated that mass shooting incidents are also becoming deadlier.

Of course, no matter which definition—and which statistics—you choose, America’s gun violence is appalling. The difference between three dead and four dead might be statistically significant, but is morally negligible. Just hours after the Oregon shooting, a man shot dead his wife and two others, and injured a fourth person, in North Florida. On Friday, five people were shot outside a Baltimore shopping center. The Mass Shooting Tracker total is now at 297.


By: Gwyneth Kelly, Reporter-Researcher at the New Republic, October 2, 2015

October 4, 2015 Posted by | Gun Lobby, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Guns, Race, And Fox News’ Pathological Denial”: Conservative Media Desperately Searching For Political Cover

Like frantic shoppers running down a last-minute list, Fox News talkers last week desperately tried to cobble together an inventory of reasons why racist gunman Dylann Roof may not have been primarily motivated by racism.

As the conservative media anxiously and collectively searched for political cover, Fox News hosts and guests offered up an array of illogical explanations: Maybe the Charleston, S.C. church killing was an attack on Christians. Maybe it was an attack on South Carolina. Maybe political correctness was to blame. Or “diversity.” Maybe pastors should be armed. (In any case, Fox Newsers agreed, President Obama was being very, very “divisive” regarding the matter.)

On and on, the alternative explanations were offered up in the face of overwhelming evidence that Roof allegedly had set out to kill as many black people as possible because he wanted to start a “race war.” Period. And the way Roof allegedly chose to do that was to open fire, and then reload, in the basement of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, killing the pastor and eight parishioners.

Like so many Americans, Fox News has been reeling in the wake of the massacre, except reeling in a different way. While Americans recoiled from the raw hate behind the gun rampage, Fox News wrestled with bouts of pathological denial.

Indeed, for Fox News and much of the conservative media, the horrific killings in South Carolina represented a political challenge because the act of mass murder revolved around two topics Fox News has long insisted don’t really afflict America, or don’t require pressing action: Racism and gun violence. That denial has made it nearly impossible for Fox to address the shooting in any coherent way.

For years, Fox News and conservatives have routinely tried to underplay gun violence and even horrific bouts of mass murders — like the Sandy Hook school massacre — insisting the issue represents a “distraction” or a “red herring” touted by liberals to shift the nation’s attention away from truly pressing problems, like the national debt.

But the “distraction” spin is absurd. As Chuck Todd noted on Meet The Press, “50 Americans since 9/11 have been killed in terrorist attacks. We’re up to nearly 400,000 people since 9/11 have been killed by firearms.”

Meanwhile, if current projections hold, for the first time modern American history more people will die in 2015 from gun violence than from automobile accidents. Roughly 20,000 Americans kill themselves each year using firearms. And as Bloomberg News reported, the financial cost of U.S. gun violence in terms of lost work, medical care, insurance, court costs and pain and suffering amounted to nearly $175 billion in 2010.

Despite the avalanche of data, Fox News has led the charge to dismiss the importance of addressing gun safety, and has been especially ruthless in attacking advocates trying to pass new legislation. That hardened political opposition helps explain why the cable channel has been desperately searching for ways to explain away the shocking South Carolina mass murder.

Fox and conservatives have been even more adamant over the years in insisting that Democrats, liberals and minorities over-hype the issue of racism. For instance, on his blog, Peter Ferrara of the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based conservative think tank, reported in 2013 that “racist attitudes” no longer “have any power or influence in American society.” Indeed, The Wall Street Journal editorial page last week casually announced that institutionalized racism no longer exists.

Racism, like climate change, is denied as part of the larger conservative political reality.

Like Prohibition and the Wild West, racism apparently represents a distant chapter in America’s past and is now filed under “archaeology,” as Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin dismissively put it last year while attacking Obama for addressing the issue at all. (Rubin claimed Americans are “held prisoners forever in a past that most Americans have never personally experienced.”)

Why the rising chorus of racism deniers under Obama? It fits a larger, right-wing political agenda. “Some on the right are deeply invested in the idea that anti-black racism is no longer much of a problem in the United States, and certainly not a problem on the scale of false accusations of racism,” wrote Michelle Goldberg at the Daily Beast.

Added Zack Beauchamp at Vox last week: “basically, the fact that America’s got a Democratic, black president means Republicans have grown more skeptical that structural racism is a huge, enduring problem.” The result? “It’s very difficult for Republicans to talk about racism as a serious, enduring problem without alienating a real part of the base.”

The same, of course, goes for Fox News and not wanting to alienate its loyal viewership base. And so in recent years we’ve heard Bill O’Reilly announce, “We are not a racist nation. […] Fair-minded Americans should be deeply offended, deeply offended that their country is being smeared with the bigotry brush.” Steve Doocy declared, “I don’t know that Barack Obama could have been elected president if he was living in a racist nation.”

And there was this from Fox’s Eric Bolling [emphasis added]:

It’s getting tiring. We have a black president, we have black senators, we have black heads of captains of business, companies. We have black entertainment channels. Where — is there racism? I don’t think there’s racism. The only people perpetuating racism are people like this gentleman from the NAACP, are the Al Sharptons of the world. Let’s move on. Let’s move on.

Let’s move on? Tell that to the people of Charleston.


By: Eric Boehlert, Sr. Fellow, Media Matters for America; The Blog, The Huffington Post, June 22, 2015

June 23, 2015 Posted by | Fox News, Gun Violence, Racism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Crafted Public Spectacle”: There Is No Such Thing As A Motive For Mass Killings

Why did the Newtown shooter do it? This is the question to which the media and the public anxiously awaited an answer before yesterday’s release of a report by Connecticut investigators. The report itself even notes this interest, saying, “The obvious question that remains is: ‘Why did the shooter murder twenty-seven people, including twenty children?’”

If we are looking for a reason to make sense of it all, the report leaves us disappointed—and the lack of motive figures in just about every headline covering yesterday’s report. But even looking for one is a futile act.

Here is what the report does find: The shooter had mental health problems, including social dysfunction, anxiety, lack of empathy, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies. But the shooter’s actions cannot be explained away merely by mental illness: although he was troubled, he was not psychotic or insane. Rather, he “had the ability to control his behavior to obtain the results he wanted, including his own death.” There is overwhelming evidence that he acted intentionally and planned his actions carefully. He knew exactly what he was doing.

Despite early speculation, there is little evidence that bullying or other personal grievances provided a motive. While a few teachers, friends, and relatives indicated that the shooter had been bullied as a child, none said that it had been severe, and a larger number said they had never seen him bullied or heard him complain of it.

But this line of questioning is peculiar to begin with. Even if evidence of bullying had been found, it could not possibly amount to a motive in any ordinary sense for a young man to murder people who had never victimized him—particularly not twenty children who had yet to be born when he himself was a child.

When we search for a “motive,” we’re looking for things like self-defense, revenge, jealousy, or personal dispute. There are also motives in which the victim may be somewhat more arbitrary, such as robbery, sexual assault, or sadistic pleasure. But there is no evidence that any of these motives apply to the Newtown shooting, as there almost never is for mass shootings—which is why we speak of them as “senseless.”

The reason that we never find these motives is that the slaughter of random victims is what mass shootings are ultimately about. Indiscriminate targeting is the main criterion that criminologists use to distinguish rampage shootings from other forms of mass murder, like gang violence.

The best framework for understanding rampage shootings at Newtown, Aurora, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and many others is not bullying, mental illness, or gun violence, but terrorism, only without (usually) a political agenda. In terrorism, the true target is society itself; the people who are killed are, grotesquely, a means to this end. Likewise for mass shootings, as forensic psychiatrist Paul E. Mullen wrote in a 2004 article, “Vengeance usually directed against society at large is part of the motivation.”

The particular reasons that drive each shooter are idiosyncratic. The common element is that mass shooters suffer from some toxic, paradoxical mix of narcissism and weak ego that brings them to make a deliberate choice to blame their frustrations on the world as a whole rather than on themselves.

The mass shooting provides a means for the perpetrator to fulfill his unrequited grandiosity and hatred. The motive is not fame but infamy. Mullen writes, “they are eased towards their self-destruction by fantasies of how others will react and by the effects they believe their deaths will produce.”

Like political terrorism, the mass shooting is a crafted public spectacle, a theater of violence in which we are the unwitting yet compliant audience. The report describes the shooter’s obsessive interest in prior massacres. But among its many inconclusions is that it finds “no clear indication why Sandy Hook Elementary School was selected.” Perhaps the answer is too sickening to be sayable: the shooter deliberately chose a target that would maximize the horror and ensure his place in the pantheon of anti-heroes.

Trying to make ordinary sense out of these extraordinary crimes is fruitless. It leads reporters to broadcast the shooters’ manifestos and scribblings, to search for any scraps of frustration or injustice they suffered that might somehow explain their actions.

But this devoted attention is just what allows the shooters to control not only their actions but the meaning of them. Putting a stop to mass shootings begins by agreeing that, once a person has resorted to the mass slaughter of indiscriminate victims, speculating on his motives means spreading half-truths that might encourage others to follow in his footsteps.


By: Ari Schulman, Time Magazine, November 26, 2013

November 29, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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