Previous month:
December 2010
Next month:
October 2011

January 2011

Don't Imagine President Obama In His Underwear

By Brian Dann


I think most people get it.  I really do.  It comes down to this. Be nice to each other.  It’s that simple.  We all just need to be nicer to each other.  We can disagree.  We can be angry.  We can be passionate about this issue or that issue. We can be grateful as I am that President Obama is now our President, or we can even be disgusted by the thought for whatever reasons we have, whether it is the fact that he is a democrat and you are a republican, or even if it is because you are a racist and the President is black, but in the process, in our discourse, we can be respectful to each other, but what we can’t do is be so mean spirited that it fuels a culture of hate so venomous that it is both scary and appalling all at the same time.  But before I go on, I want to try something.  First, clear your head of any thoughts you may be having at this very moment, I’ll wait… Now that you have done that, I want you to think of President Barack Obama, bowling, wearing nothing but his under wear. Take a minute if you need to, to really picture that in your head. Get a really good image of President Obama bowling in his boxers or briefs, whatever you choose.  Good, now that you have that mental image floating around in your brain, forget it.  Erase it completely from your head. Do not think of President Obama, bowling, in his underwear.  You can’t do it, can you?  No matter how hard you try you are now imagining President Obama bowling, wearing nothing but his underwear.  It’s out there, I said it, and now you can’t forget it.  You see, the reason why you can’t get that image out of your head, even though I told you to erase it from your mind, is because, quite simply, words have consequences.  This consequence may be very small.  I used words and the consequence is an image you can’t get out of your head.  But words can also lead to consequences that aren’t small, that are big, very, very big.
Now don’t get me wrong here.  I am in no way insinuating that the hateful tone of our discourse or any individual’s rhetoric was in any way shape or form directly responsible for the shooting that happened in Arizona like some have tried to do.  In fact I will go so far as to say that I do not believe for a second that Jared Loughner, the gunman who shot Gabrielle Giffords, was influenced by anyone other than his own deranged mental illness, not even Sarah Palin as many have also attempted to link to this. Jared Loughner is a mad man who was determined that day to reek as much death and destruction as he could and only a miracle and maybe stricter gun control laws could have stopped him.  But regardless of Jared Loughner’s actions and the tragedy that occurred in Arizona the fact remains that since Barack Obama was nominated as the Democratic candidate for President, the tone of our discourse has been nothing short of appalling, disgraceful, disrespectful, hateful, and at times plain racist.  I knew that when Barack Obama became the Democratic Candidate that this would be a major test for our nation. It would be a test to show who we really are as people.  It would be a test to find out just how far we have come in this country or how far we have not.   It would be a test to show our true colors.  I fully expected we would see the ugly head of racism show itself in ways we expected and did not expect.  But for some reason I never thought the hateful rhetoric and racism would last for so long and at times be so blatant.  For some reason with this President, the critical rhetoric has much more venom, much more of a tone of deny and destroy everything that this President stands for, and do it at any cost. 
The truth is, this is not an article I wanted to write because I didn’t want to finger point and say that it is their fault.  I’m certain that there is hateful rhetoric coming from both sides, the problem is that I can only find evidence of this rhetoric from one side. Two separate incidences occurred that made ignoring this rhetoric impossible. The first was a statement this past Thursday by former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum while being interviewed by the CNS News.  While speaking about President Obama’s stance on abortion, Santorum said,” is that human life a person under the constitution?... And Barack Obama says no. Well if that human life is not a person then I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say 'now we are going to decide who are people and who are not people.”  Just in case you missed it, what exactly does Barack Obama, being a black man, have anything to do with his ability to form a stance on abortion or on any issue for that matter? Exactly what issues is a black man qualified to form an opinion on Mr. Santorum?  Oh, I don’t know maybe basketball, or the right water melon to eat, or maybe the best place to learn tap dancing.  Rick Santorum may have well said “you people.” This is a clearly racist remark, directed directly at our President, from a former U.S. Senator. And this is exactly the type of hateful rhetoric that we have been hearing from all over this country from both government officials and private citizens alike when speaking about our President. The truth is the dirty little secret about this country, that thousands of people will never admit to, is that thousands did not vote for Barack Obama for no other reason than he is a black man.  There are thousands who may have rationalized not voting for President Obama one way or another, and did not want to even admit it to themselves that the bottom line was they did not vote for our President because he is black, but deep down inside at the core of their reasoning, the reason was racism.  There is a reason why at tea party rallies, and even at mainstream republican rallies, the participants are always overwhelmingly Caucasian.  And it is at these rallies that we see the most hateful signs and t-shirts that I can ever remember at a political function short of a KKK rally. Signs depicting our president as Hitler, or the Joker, signs spewing lies about death panels, or messages that the President hates America, that he wants to turn us into a socialist nation, these are just a sample of what has to stop, if for no other reason than it is just not true, it is lies and it is tearing this country apart.  We all need to take a step back.  We need our leaders on both sides to send a clear message to their constituents that we need to be truthful about our discourse and respectful to each other.  The Republican have the house and they have an opportunity to now set the example, but instead the first thing they do is put thru a piece of legislation called the bill to repeal the “Job-Killing Health Care Law Act”.  My god, set the tone from the beginning.  This was wrong on at least two levels.  First there is no concrete evidence that the Health Care Reform act kills any jobs and to use such language in the name of the bill itself is simply petty and childish.  Be respectful and truthful.  Call it what it is, a bill to repeal the health care reform act, and nothing more. The second level is that coming from a group that spent the last two years complaining that the Democrats were not doing enough to create jobs and spent too much time reforming health care, why was anytime at all spent on a bill that had no hope of ever being signed into law, to repeal health care? What about jobs? What about getting down to business on something that was not a total waste a time, just to make a point.  This wasted time, money and showed a complete lack of respect to the political process.
Now I could go on and on about inappropriate statements from various legislators regarding taking up arms, taking them out, and I could write an entire book on Sarah Palin and her endless string of inappropriate comments, but quite honestly, she is too stupid to know right from wrong so what’s the point.  And let me say, that comment directed directly at Sarah Palin is neither hateful, nor inappropriate because it is true and accurate.  She had an opportunity to say to the world that even if she did not intend for those “surveyor marks” or “cross hairs” to us simple folk, to come across the way they did, she understands that in retrospect it offended many, may have been inappropriate, and may have sent the wrong message to the country.  But instead she presented herself as the victim and blamed the press, and the left.  Sure, Sarah Palin and all the others out there who said hateful things are not responsible for the shootings in Arizona, but never the less the negative tone, and the heights that it has reached has done nothing to calm those that need just one spark, one reason to do something crazy.  We need to stop the lies about the state of our healthcare system, the lies about Wall Street, and we need to face the realities that maybe there are actually radical changes that need to be made in this country, and that maybe we are not perfect and that while we consider ourselves to be the greatest nation on this earth, maybe we are not as great as we used to be.  We are no longer number one in education.  We are no longer number one economically. We are no longer number one in manufacturing and for a long time, the only thing that we have been number one in is waging war.  In that we are the best, and that is the one thing around the world that we are known for.  We need to become the nation we once were, the nation that invented things, that produced things, that truly was the greatest at everything we set our mind to, and until we can stop the climate of hate and division that this country has become accustomed to, we will never be that great superpower ever again.  We all want the same thing and the only way to get there is to do one thing, be nice to each other. It’s that simple. Get it?



Arizona, "What Is The Government Going To Do?"

(Update: Origionaly published after the Arizona shooting, the Colorado theater shooting makes this even more relevant)

From 1999 through 2007, in Great Britain, 473 individuals were killed by firearms. During that same time period in the United States, 106,125 individuals were killed by firearms.  What is the difference?  In 1997 it was made illegal for a civilian to own an assault weapon in Great Britain.  No one owns guns, except for firearms that fall into the category used for hunting, and so far the government has not taken over.  There has been no need for their citizens to rise up against a government trying to oppress them, and the argument that now only the criminals will be the ones with guns, simply has not come true. In 2008, gun related deaths in Britain dropped 18% to 42, from 51 the year before, and no, that’s not 42 per 100 people, or 42 per 100,000 people. That’s 42 people total! In 1997 Britain disarmed.  They disarmed because of a massacre that occurred in their country.  Their politicians took charge, passed legislation and did whatever had to be done to make sure that no one else would die because of a firearm.  Imagine that, they actually did something.  What a novel idea! People with guns, killed lots of people without guns, so to stop people getting killed by guns, they got rid of guns! That’s fucking genius! So I suppose that is what will happen here now.  Monday morning the House and the Senate will all get together, forget about their party lines, and with a collective outrage at the events that have unfolded in Arizona, will passing sweeping legislation that will make all assault weapons illegal for civilians to own, finally putting an end to the extraordinary bloodshed that we have witnessed at Columbine, Virginia Tech, in countless schools and workplaces across our country, from inner-city gang violence,  and most recently outside a supermarket in Arizona during a peaceful gathering of Senator Gabrielle Giffords and her constituents.  I’m certain that in the name of the victims that fell that day and the others that were wounded, including the death of a nine year old girl, our politicians will finally ignore the gun lobby and the NRA and pass the necessary laws that will ensure that violence of this magnitude will never happen again.  And then monkeys will fly out of my ass!  Seriously, because that is about as likely as our politicians doing something about this.
Just once I would like to see our politicians forget about getting re-elected, forget about the millions given to them by the gun lobby, and instead do whatever has to be done to save lives.  There is no reason for anyone in this country to own an assault weapon of any kind.  It’s pure and simple.  Make all guns illegal except for ones used for hunting, disarm all civilians, including the criminals and no one will need a gun to protect themselves because there will be no guns for a person to be protected from.  This is not rocket science people!  It is illegal for a civilian to own a grenade launcher.  I don’t need to own my own grenade launcher to protect myself from crazy people with grenade launchers. No one has grenade launchers so that threat does not exist.  The fact is gun control laws as they exist today do not work. The criteria required to declare a person insane is too strict. The fact that the laws are different from state to state make it that much easier for any person no matter what their background to obtain an assault weapon.  The fact that gun shows do not require a seller to perform any kind of background check, and any person, no matter their criminal record or how insane they may be, can walk into these gun shows and walk out with enough fire power to arm a small country, is simply beyond insanity.  The fact that you can buy bullets for these weapons at the same place you can get toys for your kids or your tires rotated is beyond my comprehension.  I have a hard time understanding how the executives at Walmart can sleep at night knowing that the bullets used to kill and wound these innocent people in Arizona, were purchased at one of their stores.  After the tragedy at Columbine, Kmart, where the bullets used in that massacre came from, had enough sense to discontinue the sales of ammunition from all of their stores.  I only hope that the officials at Walmart follow their lead.  The fact is that during the shooting that happened in Arizona the individuals who stopped the man with the gun were all people who were unarmed, and the one person who had a gun for his own “protection” almost shot an innocent bystander, had he not been stopped from doing so.
Tonight on Nightline they interviewed five children who had all left letters as part of the makeshift memorial for those that were killed and wounded outside the supermarket with Senator Giffords.  This nine year old boy read his letter.  He hoped that Gabrielle Giffords would get well soon because, as he put it, “what will we do without her”.  Then the reporter asked him if he has been thinking about this since it happened, and the boy asked, in a way that only a little nine year old boy could, “What is the government going to do, what are they going to do?”  This time it can’t be nothing.  This time it has to be something, because somewhere in Arizona there is a little boy who is scared that a man with a gun, using bullets that came from the same store where his mom and dad buy his toys, is going to shoot him, and all he wants to know is “what is the government going to do?  Well…what?
On this, you can do something.  Call your Senator and your Representatives and leave them a message stating that in the wake of the tragedy that happened in Arizona you would like them to support stricter gun control laws. Believe it or not, they do listen.  To find the direct phone numbers for your representatives in Congress go to


Arizona, A Senseless Shooting, Again, and Again, and Again, and...


I don’t often feature other writers on, but once in a great while I come across an article written so well and so powerful that I realize that there is no way I could have said it better myself.  The shootings in Arizona of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords her staff members, a nine year old girl, and others, defies understanding and deserves only outrage.  I applaud the members of the house from both parties for coming together in the most bi-partisan way to support this senator, her aids and the others that were mortally wounded.  I only hope that this same spirit, that we are more than just party members, we are humans, and that we can accomplish more as friends then we can as enemies,  will be remembered in the days and weeks to come when these legislators debate the issues at hand.  Speaker of the House, John Boehner said of Rep. Giffords, “Gabby was attacked while doing the most important role of a member - listening.”  And in an e-mail I received from former Senator Alan Grayson, he said about Rep.  Giffords, “Gabby is one of the most cheerful, charming and engaging people I have ever known. She's always looking on the bright side. She has something good to say about pretty much everyone. Bad news never lays a glove on her. She loves life, and all the people in it.  No matter what is going on in your life, after fifteen minutes with Gabby, you'll feel that you can touch the stars.”  But what struck me as soon as I heard this news was what a gun, in the hands of someone who should never have had it, did to another human being.  Enough is enough. I ask you to read this article by Dennis Hennigan of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, regarding the shooting in Arizona.  Frankly, I could not have said this better myself.


By Dennis Henigan on January 9th, 2011, (Originally posted  from The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence)
As the nation recoils from the horror of the mass shooting in Arizona, I am struck by a strong sense of terrible inevitability. The cauldron of political violence had been allowed to boil for too long. As it did in 1995 with Timothy McVeigh, at some point violent action was destined to follow the violent talk and the brandishing of guns.
It started two summers ago during the red hot public debate over health care, when angry protesters with guns started showing up at Presidential events and town hall meetings. A dozen people openly carried guns outside the Phoenix convention center where the President was giving a speech, including one with an AR-15 assault rifle strapped to his back. A New Hampshire man stood outside another Presidential appearance on health care reform with a pistol strapped to his thigh. And like a bizarre premonition of yesterday’s shooting, in August of 2009 an armed protester actually dropped his handgun at an earlier “Congress on the Corner” event with Rep. Giffords, then as now outside a Safeway.
And then there was Nevada Tea Party Republican Sharron Angle, with her call for “Second Amendment remedies” to be used “when our government becomes tyrannical.” Indeed, openly displayed pistols became commonplace at Tea Party events. Threats of violence were made against supporters of the President, and the windows of Democratic offices were shattered across the nation, including the district offices of Rep. Giffords (apparently by gunshot), all in apparent response to an appeal from a right wing website. A political extremist, inspired by the ravings of Glenn Beck, was intercepted on his way to attack San Francisco’s Tides Foundation. During her reelection campaign, Rep. Giffords’ Republican opponent exemplified the toxic mix of guns and politics when he held campaign events where he invited his supporters to rally against her by joining him in shooting machine guns.
In the wake of the Tucson bloodshed, there has been much commentary already about the incendiary rhetoric and violent imagery that has invaded our political discourse. The Becks and the Palins who have so poisoned our politics deserve our derision. But it is not only an issue of rhetoric and imagery. The fact is that the rhetoric springs from an ideology of political violence – a set of convictions about the relation between citizens and their government — that has found a home among radical “gun rights” zealots.
When Sharron Angle spoke of “Second Amendment remedies,” she was echoing a core belief of the “gun rights” movement, including the leaders of the National Rifle Association, that guns are legitimate tools of political dissent. The NRA often talks of the Second Amendment as the “First Freedom,” because it is the potential of an armed populace to take up arms against their political leaders that deters tyranny. In the aftermath of Tucson, it is chilling to recall the words of an NRA official, who told the New York Times some years ago, that “the Second Amendment . . . is literally a loaded gun in the hands of the people held to the heads of government.” Or, as NRA Executive Director Wayne LaPierre, told a cheering crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2009, “Freedom is nothing but dust in the wind till it’s guarded by the blue steel and dry powder of a free and armed people . . . Our founding fathers understood that the guys with the guns make the rules.”
Much is yet to be known about the beliefs and motivations of the Tucson killer. But we know for certain what he has done. He targeted a U.S. Congresswoman, who now lies critically wounded, and his attack killed six innocent people, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old child, as well as wounding 13 others. At some level, he felt justified to take up arms against a government official. He sought to “make his own rules” with a semi-automatic pistol. The result was mass slaughter.
In our republic, the rules are made, not through violence, but through the vigorous discussion of issues between the people and their elected representatives. Ironically, that is what was occurring outside that Tucson Safeway when the gunman struck. He was attacking not just Rep. Giffords and her constituents. He was attacking our cherished tradition of peaceful dissent and democratic decision-making. In hindsight, it seems especially appropriate that, during the recent reading of the Constitution on the House Floor, Rep. Giffords read the First Amendment.
The time has come for political leaders of both parties, whether liberal or conservative, to renounce the ideology of political violence. Ideas have consequences. The idea that “the guys with the guns make the rules” has inevitable consequences that can no longer be tolerated.
For more information, see Dennis Henigan’s Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths that Paralyze American Gun Policy (Potomac Books 2009)





The Most Important News Story of 2010 - NOT!


“We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization” - Franklin D Roosevelt
Looking back at 2010, ask yourself what do you think was the single most important news story of this year?  That is exactly what the Associated Press asked 180 of the top U.S. editors and news directors in their annual poll.  Without telling you what I think the single most important news story was of 2010, I will tell you that I believe that all 180 of these editors and news directors got it wrong.  The reason I believe this is because from looking at their answers, what I really believe they answered was, what do you think the most “popular” news story was of 2010, and there is a vast difference between what was the most popular news story and what was the most important news story.  Now don’t get me wrong, all of the stories that were chosen were news worthy stories and deserved the attention that they received.  All of these stories had a vast impact on the world, the environment, and politics.  They kept us interested, engaged us, angered us, and often shocked and sometimes awed us. But I still don’t believe that any of them were the most important.  The winning story of this poll was also the story that lasted the longest, was probably the most disturbing, and coincidently generated the most news readership, the BP Gulf Oil Spill.  I know what you are thinking, what could be more important than the Gulf Oil Spill.  The sheer impact that this disaster has had and will continue to have on the environment, on the people and communities of the gulf coast and on generations to come is immeasurable.  And the way that it was handled by both the government and by BP is inexcusable.  This is clearly a disaster that since it happened once will certainly happen again.  It is important, but never the less it is far from the most important story.  It sold the most news papers, generated the most ad revenue, but it was not the most important. Some of the other stories that made the cut were:

  • The Health Care Insurance overhaul - with legislation that paved the way for millions more Americans to have insurance coverage, the end to pre-existing conditions, extension of coverage for minors, extended drug  benefits, but without the inclusion of a public option, in my opinion, did not go far enough.
  • The Elections in November - Where the Republicans took the house and gained seats in the Senate.
  • The Economy - with unemployment staying above 9%, foreclosures on the rise, home prices down, even though consumers were spending more.
  • The Earthquake in Haiti - Human devastation and a corrupt government.
  • The Tea Party movement – Oh PLEASE, don’t get me started.
  • The Mine Rescue in Chile – It was incredible, emotional and great TV.
  • Iraq - The ending of formal combat operations, but when isn’t Iraq a top news story?
  • WikiLeaks – Hero or demon?  I guess that’s a matter of perspective.
  • Afghanistan – Again, when isn’t this a top news story.  Each day it’s something different.

Each one of these stories that made the cut were all important, incredible, headline making news stories and deserve to be on this list, but the one story that is missing, and that while it might not have made the most headlines and sold the most newspapers, is far more significant than any of the stories mentioned. And that is because this story isn’t just about a disaster or an election, a rescue or the economy.  This story is about the rights of people.  This story is about a monumental leap in human decency.  This is a story about correcting a wrong that regardless of politics or religion, was finally made right and brings our nation one step closer to ending legalized discrimination everywhere in this country. The story that is missing and should have been number one on that list is the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell from our U.S. Military. 
If you’re not homosexual or not in the military don’t be so quick to think that this story doesn’t apply to you because it does.  While this particular chapter of the history of civil rights in this county is focused on homosexuals, this is only the most recent chapter of the battle for equality for all people living in this country.  Discrimination in America has affected African-Americans, Jews, Mexicans, Japanese , women, the handicapped, as well as homosexuals.  This battle while currently focused on the wrongs being perpetrated against homosexuals is part of a long process of eradicating legalized discrimination against Americans from all walks of life.  At one time African-Americans were legally separated from “white” Americans in our schools, at our drinking fountains, on the bus, and even in the voting booth.  At one time women were restricted from voting because the law said that to vote you must own land, and most women did not.   It was just two years ago that President Obama signed in to law the Lilly-Ledbetter Act that guaranteed woman equal pay in the work place.  At one time it was legal for the handicapped to be denied entry in to buildings and even employment due to the barriers of curbs and stairs.  At one time it was legal for Jews to be denied employment or membership in certain clubs for no other reason than they were Jews.  At one time Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps for no other reason than they were of Japanese descent.  And at one time openly gay individuals were denied entry into our armed forces simply because of their sexual orientation and were forced to pretend they were straight or face a military court marshal and dishonorable discharge, not unlike my wife’s grandmother who in world war two was forced to pretend she was Christian or face death at the hands of the Nazis.  All of these injustices were once legal.  While this story made the news for a day or two, it was not seen as meaningful of a story because today homosexuality is much more accepted then it was in the past.  We see gays and lesbians on television all the time. It is no longer shocking to see people of the same sex kiss each other in sitcoms, dramas or movies.  We have openly gay talk show hosts, politicians, and news commentators. And I believe that most of us expected DADT to eventually be overturned, but expecting it to be and it actually happening are two different things.
To help place things in perspective we need to realize exactly where we have come from on the issues related to the discrimination against homosexuals in America.  As recent as 2003, nine states had laws on the books that made sodomy illegal, not only for homosexuals, but for anyone.  That’s right, if a two people of the same or opposite sex wanted to have anal intercourse, in the privacy of their own home, it was against the law. Four additional states specifically directed those laws towards homosexuals. Exactly how they planned on enforcing those laws I am not really sure.  Currently there are fifteen states that do not have any hate crime laws that include crimes involving sexual orientation or gender identity and there are five states that have no hate crime laws at all. As early as 2003 President Bush stated in a press conference that he was for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. In 2004 a Kansas court ruled that homosexuals having sex with a minor could receive harsher sentences than heterosexuals committing the same crime.  These laws exist. These attitudes exist, and they are wrong.  No one is ever going to be able to stop individuals from discriminating, or stop religious groups from thinking that homosexuality is a sickness that they can cure, because the real disease is ignorance.  Ignorance, unlike homosexuality is learned and the cure comes from education, from exposure and from our government and its leaders sending the message that legally these discriminatory practices will not be tolerated.  It was Martin Luther King Jr. who once said, “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important.”
The late Senator Edward Kennedy said during his speech at the funeral for his brother Robert:

“There is discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere. These are differing evils, but they are the common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility towards the suffering of our fellows. But we can perhaps remember -- even if only for a time -- that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek -- as we do -- nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.”
And to that I say, Amen.