Step Back from Brink

A moron in Pittsburgh who reportedly was convinced that President Obama planned to take away his guns ambushed two police officers who responded to a domestic disturbance call on April 4. The 22-year-old gunman, Richard Poplawski, who was wearing a bulletproof vest and was armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, a .22 long rifle and a pistol, shot the two responding officers in their heads, then killed another officer who arrived to back up his comrades. The moron wounded at least one other officer as he reportedly fired more than 100 rounds at reinforcements who finally brought him out alive.

Poplawski was affiliated with Stromfront.org, a white supremacist Web site. His friend, Edward Perkovic, told the Associated Press that Poplawski feared “the Obama gun ban that’s on the way” and “didn’t like our rights being infringed upon.” Poplawski was convinced that the nation was secretly controlled by a cabal that would eradicate freedom of speech, take away his guns and use the military to enslave the citizenry, Dennis Roddy reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Where did Poplawski get such ideas? The National Rifle Association spent more than $10 million last year circulating materials and running ads making unsubstantiated claims that Obama would ban the possession and manufacture of handguns, close 90% of gun shops and ban hunting ammunition, the non-partisan FactCheck.org reported. The NRA continued that campaign against Obama as he took office. In fact, Obama has said he “respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms” and “will protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport and use guns.”

Obama supports “common-sense” measures to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children. He has said he would bring back the ban on assault weapons and make it permanent. He also would close the gun-show loophole that allows private transfers of arms without background checks. But Congressional leaders, mindful of the upheaval after Democrats approved a temporary assault weapon ban in 1994, have not moved on any such legislation.

Rush Limbaugh has been whipping up hatred and fear of Obama on his nationally syndicated radio show. Fox News has produced a steady stream of hysteria, showcasing, among others, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who warns about the “New World Order” and Obama’s “agenda” for “gun confiscation.” Glenn Beck, who banks on his loose hinges, advised his fans to “think the unthinkable.” Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) is staking out the title of paranoia queen of Congress, worrying that the US is making “the final leap to socialism” and urging her fellow Minnesotans to be “armed and dangerous.” Recently she attacked the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, a bill intended to promote volunteerism in the US, claiming “there is a very strong chance” that young people would be forced into mandatory service and sent to “re-education camps.”

Before the shooting, the New York Times’ Charles Blow monitored conservative media to get a sense of the mind and mood of the right. “My read,” he reported April 3: “They’re apocalyptic. They feel isolated, angry, betrayed and besieged. And some of their ‘leaders’ seem to be trying to mold them into militias.”

Some of the distortions can be mildly amusing, Blow said. “But it’s not all just harmless talk.” The language is loaded and so, increasingly, is the citizenry. Blow noted, “the unrelenting meme being pushed on the right that Obama will mount an assault on the Second Amendment has helped fuel the panic buying of firearms.” The FBI reported 1.2 million more requests for background checks of potential gun buyers from November to February than there were in the same four months last year. That’s 5.5 million requests during those four months.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported that the number of hate groups operating in the US has grown 54% since 2000, an increase fueled by immigration fears, a failing economy and Obama’s campaign. SPLC identified 926 hate groups in 2008. “Barack Obama‘s election has inflamed racist extremists who see it as another sign that their country is under siege by non-whites,” said Mark Potok, editor of the Intelligence Report, a quarterly journal that reports on the radical right. “The idea of a black man in the White House, combined with the deepening economic crisis and continuing high levels of Latino immigration, has given white supremacists a real platform on which to recruit.”

Ironically, while right wingers get exercised over the fear that Obama might interfere with their Second Amendment right to own assault rifles, they have overlooked the Bush administration’s dismantling of other basic constitutional rights, including the writ of habeas corpus in Article One of the Constitution, the Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizures; Fifth Amendment right to due process; Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury and the Eighth Amendment prohibition against excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment.

We Are Not Guantanamo

George W. Bush’s administration brought disgrace on this country with interrogation procedures that crossed well over the boundaries of torture. Dick Cheney, in the days after the 9/11 attacks, claimed that US had to work the “dark side” to prosecute the war on terror. He led the fight to keep Congress from approving prohibitions against torture. He insisted that such meddling could harm US intelligence gathering.

When libertarians complained, administration officials cited the case of Abu Zubaida as evidence of the success of its “interrogation” policy. Bush claimed Zubaida was al Qaeda’s “chief of operations” and that enhanced interrogation procedures produced crucial, life-saving information. In 2006, Ron Suskind wrote in The One Percent Doctrine that even as Bush was publicly proclaiming Zubaida’s malevolence, he was aware of doubts regarding Zubaida’s significance and mental stability. On March 29, the Washington Post corroborated Suskind’s account: Zubaida was essentially worthless and we waterboarded him for nothing:

Now the New York Review of Books has published a report leaked to Mark Danner from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which documents in detail the brutal torture of 14 “high-value” detainees in CIA “black sites.” The Red Cross demands “that the US authorities investigate all allegations of ill-treatment and take steps to punish the perpetrators.” Obama’s CIA Director, Leon Panetta, has stated that no one who took actions based on legal guidance from the Department of Justice at the time should be investigated, let alone punished. The CIA’s interrogation methods were declared legal by the Justice Department under President Bush.

It’s easy to rationalize the disappearance and torture of foreigners who may have been connected with plots to terrorize Americans or our allies, or who may have just sympathized with those plots. But Han S. Park, a University of Georgia expert who was visiting North Korea as part of a private US delegation after two women reporters from Current TV, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were captured by North Korean border guards on the border with China in March. Park told CNN International that when he inquired about their status the North Koreans scoffed at any suggestion that the Americans were receiving harsh treatment.

“They laughed. ‘We are not Guantanamo.’ That's what they said,” Park said, according to McClatchy Newspapers.

Obama should declare the self-evident truth that just because the president says something was legal doesn’t necessarily make it so, and he should order the prosecution of those responsible for torture. If he doesn’t, Congress should use its backbone to investigate the illegal use of torture instead of standing up to Obama to protect the prerogatives of health insurance companies.

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2009

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