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Giffords assassination attempt: some background reading...

Paul Mason | 11:05 UK time, Monday, 10 January 2011

In March last year I blogged here on the subject of "angry America". I make no comment on the motives of the man accused of the murders and attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona - but the US media is now full of recrimination over the "violent" language and "confrontational politics" much of its media stokes up, so it's relevant again. Here's the link.

Last September I toured the American midwest speaking to people - on both sides of the political divide - who are indeed angry but also see the dangers ahead if politics in America becomes even sporadically violent. Again, here's the link - also to a video report.

Since then one phrase keeps coming back to me - thrown at me during a discussion meeting with playwright David Hare, by a despairing American in the audience: "America is the Weimar Republic with 250 million guns". It's stuck with me not because it is true - it is manifestly an extreme judgement - but because it vividly reminds us why you would not want any kind of descent into political violence in the USA.

There's more from my colleague on the ground, Mark Mardell, here.


  • Comment number 1.

    one either sees the use of a gun as the inability to articulate, reason and debate or one sees it as a supreme form of eloquence?

    if the manifestation of morality are the laws of contract between people then overriding that [e.g by shooting someone] is a moral failure which is a failure of philosophy.

    What did that young man take as the highest idea of the mind? What do the violent speakers take as the highest idea of the mind? If the laws of physics means every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction immoderate speech is likely to lead to immoderate re-actions? Which is why some speakers are banned? Words can be like bullets? Which is why the conversation in pubs tends to revolve around football, weather and other 'safe' topics rather than politics and religion?

    so the crime is to stray from the moderate speech which means one has to have a philosophy of the good. The good does no harm otherwise its not good. If speech is doing harm then good [as the highest idea] is not behind it?

    in this light when we read

    ..but the US media is now full of recrimination over the "violent" language and "confrontational politics" much of its media stokes up,...

    we can recognise not only where the guilt lies but also we can say that those practitioners in media are not concerned with the good as the highest idea of the mind? which makes them a negative and destabilising force in society? They want fights, they want war? They worship Mars and sacrifice innocents upon that altar?

  • Comment number 2.

    There is a great danger of over-reacting and inferring awful things from this incident which had it not involved a politician it would be seen as another in the log line of periodic 'crazy' shootings that seem to infect the USA more than other western countries. We have forgotten the shootings in the sixties of the Kennedys and Luther King when a political/conspiracy interpretation was much more feasible. Although I am not a great admirer of the USA culture and system I feel confident the attempted assassination has more to do with the gun culture and the mental state of a small minority of the population. That is not to say that the violent imagery and rhetoric of Palin et al has no tragic influence.

  • Comment number 3.

    With an ever worsening economic situation in the US (for the have nots), anger frustration and violence might keep increasing:

    "the 300-strong `Ohio Defence Force’, an eclectic posse of citizens who spend weekends with M16 assault rifles and an M60 machine gun training to defend their constitutional rights by guerrilla warfare."

    "So we limp on, with very large numbers of people in the West trapped on the wrong side of globalization, and nobody doing much about it."

  • Comment number 4.

    I thought that you would pick up this story.

    Here's a hair-raising piece (for background info) on this subject from TIME magazine...,8599,2022516-1,00.html

  • Comment number 5.

    It's started...

    Portugal bond yields hit new high

  • Comment number 6.

    The political rhetoric coming from the left in the US and UK is exactly what they themselves are engaging in.

    "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun"

    Obama June 2008

  • Comment number 7.

    Don't you watch any Kevin Costner movies - The Postmen are destined to save a post-Tea Party gun-ridden divided America... or something like that.

    Cliff in 'Cheers' will have the last laugh - white socks and all.

    Btw, don't worry about Portugal. Germany will print another 750 billion of Euro QE and all will be well.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.


    Glad you included those links, this quote from one of your posts does keep popinng up repeatedly here by bloggers in response to various unfolding events in the US.

    "We run a mainframe computer simulation of the global political and economic situation, modelling various outcomes of the resource crunch that begins in the back half of the 2010s. And no matter which way we tweak it, it always comes out with the same result: civil war in America in 25 years's time."

    For obvious reasons, given that the said company is a global player, they were not very interested in publicising the scenario.

    Any chance you could get more details of that model and its various input parameters? It seems more relevent than ever and would surely make a very very interesting, controversial and (BBC management) high ratings Panorama programme in response to this which may spark the right kind of debate to occur here and in the US.

    It is about time you were given a go on Panorama anyway isnt it Paul.....?

  • Comment number 11.


    Is not the Bush-Blair Protocol to attack (with lethal force) anyone who might, conceivably, impinge on your life in the foreseeable future? A sort of refinement of 'Oo you lookin' at ay?'

    I, only recently, posted to the effect that I should be able to 'whup my neighbours ass' (and, for good measure that of his ox and maidservant) should he put his bin out on my frontage. or fail to mend his fence.

    This is the problem we have, minus the guns (for now). Westminster gives such a diabolical lead, in all aspects of human behaviour (too many to list) where is our role model? Royalty are no help.

  • Comment number 12.

    #10 addendum

    No doubt the corporate interests who developed the model would not want to be directly involved but if they would anonamously provide the simulation with the input parameters for a suitable university (or unleveraged learned body of some kind) to play around with it must surely be the a great idea for a very relevent (given recent events) investigative journalistic piece.

  • Comment number 13.

    There can be no doubt that the rhetoric coming from the NeoCon right in the USA has gone beyond the point of normal political debate and its links to gun culture, survivalism and Christian fundamentalism makes the libertarian wing of the Republicans and their Tea Party Neo Troskyist allies in to a potentially violent revolutionary force.

    Given their rhetoric, can anyone be surprised in a country with 250,000,000 guns that the odd unbalanced redneck confuses "gun toting" politics with "gun shooting"?

    If Stephanie Flander's blog highlighting the potential for a Dollar crisis worse than the EuroLand debt crisis were to come to pass this year through an evaporation of confidence in US assets, then the whole thing could kick off bigtime.

    Palin may wrap herself in the flag, but a hell of a lot of the military don't come from her part of the political spectrum and the Federal Government machine is going to be quite hostile to what she stands for - i.e. the "smash the state" school of political anarchy advocated by her and Fox TV.

    If states rebel and refuse to collect or hand over taxes to the Federal Government Washington won't just give up and go away - there will be intervention and by force if necessary.

    If Obama's hand is forced he will have the perfect excuse to move against the NeoCons and to do the one thing that would change the USA's economic woes - trade controls, particularly on imported manufactured goods particularly from China - then harness the power of the central government to stimulate domestic manufacturing industry to get America working again.

    NeoCons should read the warnings - too much buzzing around the body politic in the USA will lead to the fly swatters coming out. Obama should start with a wholesale PR offensive against Fox News and in the UK would should spell out to Murdoch what the price will be here if he doesn't rein in Fox USA.

    On the other hand if whole states go bust and stop providing government services, poeple may just realise where libertarain politics takes you.

  • Comment number 14.

    What came to my mind was the very imtemperate language used by a Guardian columnist among others about housing benefit cuts and indeed any other cuts-(see education) she disapproves of. If someone who has mental health problems takes this kind of thing very seriously he/she might feel justified in violent action against politicians here.Why assume that only 'right wingers' can be extreme?

  • Comment number 15.

    What protects the average American from a gun-carrying person who has evident mental problems?
    Virginia Tech, a 23 year old undergraduate killed 32 people and wounded 25 before shooting himself. The Virginia Report concluded that there existed a gap between Virginia’s mental health system and its gun laws. That was Virginia; this is Arizona.
    But both tragedies seem to exemplify the ease with which a mentally disturbed individual can get a gun.
    The Virginia shooter, Cho had been in counselling, had mental health assessments; a licensed social worker recommended he be involuntarily committed. Cho was taken to a psychiatric treatment facility where a case evaluator and a psychiatrist interviewed him. The conclusion: Cho was no danger to himself or others.
    The psychiatrist ordered outpatient treatment and prescribed no drugs.
    The Virginia Report concluded that Virginia’s mental health facilities lack sufficient resources. Lack of resources results in gaps in the mental health follow-up system.
    Like Loughner, Cho bought a gun; he bought it from a LICENSED dealer. The Federal Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits the sale of guns or ammunition to anyone who has been found to be a danger to himself or others. A 1993 amendment to that law — called the James Brady Amendment - requires background checks before gun purchase.
    Here's the hole: The federal law doesn’t actually require states to report information about mental health findings to the federal agency that does the gun checks. The Virginia findings: only 22 states actually reported the information about mental health. Ironically, Virginia was one of the 22. Cho slipped through the cracks because Virginia state officials mistakenly believed only those who had been involuntarily committed for inpatient were subject to gun restrictions.
    In 2008, as a result of the Virginia massacre, Congress tried to get more states to voluntarily report. According to stats, Arizona submitted only 4,465 records out of 121,700 that should have been sent.
    Even if Arizona had been sending all its records, Loughner WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN SNAGGED since it appears he was never ordered by a court to get mental health treatment.
    Pima Community College said Loughner was suspended after five run-ins with campus police as well as the discovery of a YouTube video in which he accused the college of operating unconstitutionally. The college expelled Loughner telling him that he would need a mental health clearance indicating, in the opinion of a mental health professional, his presence at the College would not present a danger to himself or others. There is no eivdence that the college reported this information to any outside authority. (It may have been prevented by federal privacy laws.)
    Some states have tightened the referral process, but progress has been slow. Meanwhile, gun regulation in some states, including Arizona, has become even looser. Last year, Rep. Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill (backed by the NRA) which repealed the requirement that residents have a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
    Note too that Loughner was able to inflict so much carnage because he used a magazine with more than 30 rounds WHICH IS LEGAL IN ARIZONA!
    What protects the average American from a gun-carrying person who has evident mental problems? The link between the state and the Federal Agency that does the gun check.
    But even if this link was solid, working in good order, what's to stop an unbalanced person from buying a gun on the street?

  • Comment number 16.

    There is no value in political violence. It can only be justified when used specifically in self-defence by a community under attack.

    Poltical violence is the refuge of the fool and the bankrupt.

    Political violence leads only to the slaughter of the innocent.

    The rhetoric of political violence is intemperate and foolish. It can accidentally create a justification for political violence.

    Our circumstances both here and in the States where many folk through no fault of their own find their lives under economic stress, their hopes and dreams annihilated and the prospect of an empty future without hope can easily induce political violence. We must all be aware of our responsibilities as otherwise society could easily collapse into chaos leading to misery and even starvation for millions.

    This is a good point in time for everyone to stand back and ask themselves what are they doing and why. There is a crying need for a new dispensation within our societies but this will not be achieved through the emotions and actions of the fearful; namely, anger, recrimination and violence.

    It is a good point to ask ourselves how did we get here and how do we plan to get to somewhere better. The first question is why have both the US and the UK become less egalitarian societies in the last twenty years? Less polarised societies perform better than where significant inequalities prevail. Surely this is a good place to start.

    Another good place is to ensure that people can find work as it gives them self-respect, a certain standing and even a sense of a stake in the future.

    I think it is time to stop fiddling around trying to find some high faluting macro-economic solution to all our problems. Those measure are just not working. Some direct economic action is needed to get people back into work.

  • Comment number 17.

    ..Some direct economic action is needed to get people back into work...

    i agree that jobs is the key not just to social harmony but earning the way out of the bankers debt [as they refuse to row on the oars?].

    the government hayekists will say the 'market' has the best knowledge how to create jobs without ever trying to prove that. The market is there to deliver profit not social good or jobs [except in the cheapest place]. So the govt will do nothing but sell things off to private firms because that for them is total good. This will lead to a further exporting of jobs and importing of unemployment. they believe Unemployment is price worth paying for them to act out their uncooked doughlike fantasies.

  • Comment number 18.

    'In March last year I blogged here on the subject of "angry America". I make no comment on the motives of the man accused of the murders and attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona - but the US media is now full of recrimination over the "violent" language and "confrontational politics" much of its media stokes up, so it's relevant again.'

    Interesting. No comment... but then... here are some comments from other folk... one presumes deemed in keeping.

    And, frankly, I'd say many others in the media here are full of some sort of mode all by their sweet selves reading a bunch of tweets attributed to impartial 'journalists' here and, er, there.

    I wonder, was America as angry when Mrs. Lincoln's theatre outing took a poor turn? Or Jackie's drive?

    And speaking of an excess of inflammatory rhetoric, has there been any actual prior link shown between the perpetrator and those who it is being claimed inspired him? You know, to get to the 'he saw this, therefore did that..' claims I am witnessing?

    Or like so many adventures in editing, where things have been omitted or played down before in the cause of calming passions, the very same media that was so 'responsible' in distancing individual derangement from tribal confrontation suddenly now seems rather vocal in fanning flames, pointing fingers and 'finding' connections that can prove... nebulous. On a 'two wrongs..' basis, no excuses for the deed here, but fewer still for the selectivity on show already in its knee-jerk, tribal reporting in some quarters.

    Often... uniquely. Like some funding.

    Hence, when seeking facts over views, especially looking at the slant taken from headlines alone, one might seek to pass on anything from certain 'colleagues'.

  • Comment number 19.

    Paul, I think in his instance it was just some nutter with a personal issue and a gun to fire.
    (the phrase 'an axe to grind' stems from before the availability of guns)

    'Violent' language and 'confrontational politics' is instigated not by those in opposition but by those in power.

    'The enemy within'
    (which is usually prefixed (implied or spoken) by 'we will crush')

    Sets out the limits that the powerful will go to to maintain their hegemony.

    It says

    'only a show of force by people not in our pay and greater than we could reasonably respond to with without alienating our core support will be accepted'

  • Comment number 20.


    '' I think in ths instance it was just some nutter with a personal issue and gun to fire''

    That coud equally apply to an awful lot of elected politicians as well, sleek and silver tongued they may be, but the damage they can do is far worse than any individual act.

    Individual acts seem more tragic only because they are more tangible to an individual's capacity for empathy than mass murder or wars based on lies, but whose is the greater crime.. who gets pursued and villified the most in the press?

    Indeed are any of them guilty of anything..did they choose to be delusional, did they choose to have a certain genetic make up and be inserted into a certain early life personality forming environment?

    We need to start asking the right questions again before we can move on from the damaging conflict of a high tech society run by philosophical systems of human management which were developed in the dark ages in response to the environmental pressures and tecnology of that time..

    It is all pretty simple really, if you ask the right questions that is.

  • Comment number 21.

    I really cannot believe how Newsnight opened tonight - "was it caused by political vitriol or the right to bear arms?" iirc.

    Nothing else could've caused it? Or are such tragedies to be mined for ideological opportunism now? I expect a level of bias, but descending to Fox News levels is a new low.

  • Comment number 22.

    #16 stanilic

    These are fair points that you make however,

    'Some direct economic action is needed to get people back into work.'

    If these people were to gain the benefit of their labour (the source of all wealth) then I could agree but that is not the case, these people are expected to labour for the benefit of the already wealthy and accept only crumbs in exchange.

    You can keep your work, do it yourself. I can sit it out as I now know how the system works.

    How much of your store are you prepared to consume in defending it from labour ? (knowing that labour is the only source of replenishment of that store)

    I can refuse to consume your overpriced products (as I know the true costs of production) and steal back where possible your ill-gotten gains.

    I will refute the authorities I gave you until you can show that you are capable of behaving responsibly towards me.

    Quid pro quo works both ways.

    * Stanilic, this post is in no way an attack on you personally or your posts in general which I respect, your post was a good one and raised some serious questions.
    This post is just my way of trying to highlight some of those issues.

  • Comment number 23.

    You chaps could be very glad of Tony Blair`s third way when Keynsianism and Friedmanism finally fail.It hasn`t done the Blair family any harm!

  • Comment number 24.

    #16 Stanilic
    Developing your theme...
    Would one seek to repatriate jobs lost to say India/China using fiscal means (i.e. supertax businesses which have offshored so that it is no longer economically viable to maintain call centres and the like except in the UK).
    Should there also be a tax on companies bringing in IT workers where there is a pool of direct UK substitutes unemployed.
    The (amorphous) market has usurped the nation state and even the EU bloc as the locus of economic power. Is economic power now defined by having an access to resources adequate to sustain the whole population. Division of the fruits of those resources among the population is another discussion.

  • Comment number 25.

    Thanks for all the comments: it is only through this sort of dialogue can a new social, economic and political narrative be formed.

    We are in a time when we are overstocked with -isms which may have been solutions in the past but which are not solutions to where we are now.

    I would say the first task that we have now as both a culture and an economy is to stop seeking our own destruction and understand that we are all tied up in the final outcome. So we all have to accept a mutual responsibility and a common need for the benefits that a human society can and ought to generate for everyone within it. An appreciation of that fundamental will be a revolution in itself and creates all sorts of opportunities.

    This then begs the question as to the organisation of diminished resources. In this regard resources have to be utilised to generate value in both quantitative and qualitative terms. The generation of commercial profit has to be part of that equation but when does a fair return on capital employed become exploitation? (I don't want to get into a debate about surplus value as I am trying to avoid -isms.) Perhaps, as I have long argued, there is a place for both employees and managers to cooperate in running a business. It may be that workers get to take more control so there is less need for managers. Then, where does the proprietor or shareholders sit in all this? Do they possess or do they participate as partners in an enterprise? When does the expectation of a fair return on an investment become destructive in the medium term?

    The government sells of its assets because it has overspent its resources and has become heavily indebted. This means it has failed as a facilitator of social and economic improvement so it needs income to fulfill its responsibilities but it can now only generate that from taxes, levies and fees and thus becomes a burden on society at large. Personally, I consider big government as a busted flush. Like all large organisations it is far too complex to function in a sane and rational manner. Parts of government have become other-directed, more concerned with career and income promotion than performing a public duty. I would suggest that government focuses on facilitating people to take control of their own lives through both subsidy and small income streams thereby encouraging mutual support and common enterprise. From such small acorns etc.....

    These are just a few thoughts for now. The system has to change, so it will change. It behoves us all to want to participate in that change so we can influence it.

  • Comment number 26.

    "Perhaps, as I have long argued, there is a place for both employees and managers to cooperate in running a business. It may be that workers get to take more control so there is less need for managers."

    Managers are workers. It's the owners of capital who are the parasites. Simple loans to purchase capital goods are all that's required. The only reason to own land and capital are to use them. If we collect all land rent for public benefit, then the two exploitative classes are eliminated and workers rule.

  • Comment number 27.


    Intellectually you are perfectly correct, Carol.

    I am concentrating more on the practical level of change. If you present too many concepts all at the same time this just confuses the message.

    Take it at the pace of ordinary folk who have never questioned the way things are. Now is the time they start to ask the hard questions. There will be no change unless people change, then the fact that they have changed will produce the next change. Those changes have to be positive and not reactive.

    At the moment fear of the future is the issue in hand. There is a need for calm and a vision of hope.

    I know I might sound like an old Party hack saying the time is not right for revolution. The fact is that it isn't: this is the time of reaction. Once that is found to be pointless as the clock can't be turned back then it will be the time for positive alternatives.

  • Comment number 28.

    #25 stanilic

    an excellent post that raises some very good questions, I'm going to have to think about it for a bit so I'm off into the garden to fire up my chainsaw :)

  • Comment number 29.

    Before the chainsaw massacre begins can the brain`s trust help me with a problem relating to "size".....steady Carol!It`s the optimum size of a democracy that I am pondering.

    for years I have debated about the EU and quite like the idea of throwing off the shackles of American power over us....but I just can`t get my head round how the EU would ever function as a democracy with 500 million population across 27 countries.I do accept that the UK`s claim to be a democracy is pretty weak but in a global capitalist free market world is democracy a gonner anyway?

  • Comment number 30.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 31.

    I posted a link to Elinor Ostrom, Nobel prize winner for economic science 209 but the mods didn't like it, it is about cooperative economics (as opposed to competitive)

    I like her assessment of traditional economic theory and her conclusions.

    MLA style: "Elinor Ostrom - Prize Lecture". 11 Jan 2011

  • Comment number 32.

    'There's more from my colleague on the ground, Mark Mardell, here.'

    In light of evolving actual news reports and developing background information around this case, the views of colleagues seem to be worth only as much as they reveal about predetermined mindsets as any journalistic professionalism or integrity with, at best, monumentally multiple standard selectivity.

    So good he wrote it twice.

    Febrile indeed.

    Good job you can only get let go by Aunty for being the wrong kind of 'look'.

    Better yet, if nailed, the licence fee payer then uniquely funds the victim and keeps up the market rate support of the perp. Win-win.

  • Comment number 33.

    I am a 41 year old American. And the idea that America is a country that is filled with people angry about politics is widespread in both the american and British media. But i think that its a false narrative.

    Thats not to say that there arent angry people.But things like cable tv and the internet tend to overemphasise them.
    This horrific tragedy was caused by a mentally unstable young man who has held a personal grudge againt Gifford since 2007.thats before anyone ever heard of "Tea Partiers" or Glenn Beck.

    Let me be blunt.Glenn Beck is a jerk and a fool.And his rhetoric is disgusting.But his rhetoric wasnt to blame for what happened in Tuscon.

    The idea that america is Weimar Germany with 250 million guns is quite a fantasy .It reminds me of when i once turned on a tv in a motel that i was staying at.Sean Hannity [ a right wing talking head]was on FOX News ranting about how angry Americans were.And that America was headed for a revolution[strangly enough, this was when Bush was still President].

    I turned off the tv and walked across the street to the local diner [cafe]. And i sat and listened to the local people talk while i ate. The only political thing that they were getting emotionaal about was the way thier town was charrging them for their rubbish removal.

    If you listen to and read the American media ,then you can be forgiven for thinking that america is some divided country on the verge of Civil War. But thats because sensationalism sells.and people that go to political rallies arent typical americans .

    I dont pretend to speak for all americans.But im a 41 year old construction laborer.And i know a wide variety of people.And i simply dont see the political anger that the media is talking about.

    Yes ,there is violence here. I have a co-worker in the hospital right now that was shot a week ago in an armed robbery.But criminal violence and violence by mentally disturbed people, are different from political violence. A mentally ill man that is obseesed about grammer and the government using grammer to mind control him , offers very little in interpeting American politics

    BTW, as a first time commenter here , i would just like to say to MR Mason that i greatly enjoy his blog .

  • Comment number 34.

    Origionally I was inpressed that Mark Mardell made an effort to look into the motivations of this nut while the rest of the BBC was ignoring facts,. because blaiming Palin for all things wrong in the world in much more FUN than actual reporting. I should have waited. In the end the BBC including Mark Mardell ignored the facts of the crime INTENTIONALLY to promote their narative. This is NOT journalism. If Fox news jumped the gun and blaimed it on Muslums you and the BBC HYS posters would be all over them - calling them bigots. Well what does that make the posters here who STILL - call out Neocons Palin Beck etc...


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