Our Inability to Pay (Attention)

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is its natural manure.” ~ Thomas Jefferson, November 13, 1787 in a letter (from Paris) to William Smith

There will be several things come out of the heinous shooting of eighteen people in a Safeway parking lot in Tucson, Arizona on a bright January morning that in themselves could be heinous.

One of the things that will come under attack is free speech.

“That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences,” said an emotionally stricken Arizona Sheriff Clarence Dupnik several hours after the shootings; referring to what he described as “vitriolic rhetoric” in the public debate forum.

His words echoed some of the words of Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords – one of the victims – in a statement she issued last March after her Arizona congressional office was vandalized.

I was moseying around on the ‘puter early Saturday afternoon as I began to see my twitter stream fill with reports of a shooting in Arizona that included early reports of the death of Giffords.

Horrified, I called my husband Bob to my desk.

“Look at this,” I said. “A politician in Arizona has been shot and killed in a grocery store parking lot.”

“What happened?” Bob asked. “Who is it?”

“I don’t know much yet – the details are just starting to come in. Turn the TV on.”

The two of us watched both Fox News and CNN, seeing conflicting reports on Twitter that Gibbons was not dead but headed into surgery.

Sure enough both television channels were echoing the (very early) death report as being put out by NPR and Reuters.

I was confused enough that I kept switching between both channels with an eye on my Twitter stream.

Soon a vexing Twitter remark appeared that seemed to take on a life of its own. The remark was directing people to a “map” that Sarah Palin had posted on her site in March of last year “targeting” several Democratic districts up for reelection in November with a cross-haired gun sight over each.

Gabrielle Giffords was on that map.





Meant to stir emotion and incite reaction?

That’s what politicians do.

That’s what the media does.

That’s what anyone seeking attention does.

That’s what the alleged gunman did.

Hell, that’s what I’m doing now.

Everybody does this who wants to make a difference.

Were Palin’s remarks wrong? It depends on your historical perspective – more on that in a bit.

What I found immediately fascinating was that while Twitter and Facebook were going wild with their own special brand of vitriol – and I mean wild – over the Palin fault-finding – CNN and Fox were not mentioning it. 

I didn’t hear the Palin demonizing on the channels until much later in the evening when Wolf Blitzer’s CNN segment came on. Donna Brazile and Roland Martin briefly touched around the dinner hour on the saga with Martin calling Palin out (rather lightly) by name as being at fault for this travesty.

But for the most part, network coverage seemed to be limited on the Palin haranguing.

Maybe I missed the TV coverage of the firestorm that had erupted on Facebook and Twitter in the daylight hours over Palin’s supposed part in the drama. Maybe they were busy fact checking but if that were the case why report an erroneous death within minutes of the event?

Reports also began to stream that Palin had deleted her offending rhetoric but even that conclusion was under doubt as the day wore on and remains in doubt as I write this.

I hope she hasn’t/doesn’t delete them after the fact and I’ll tell you why.

Passion will color judgment in the public’s reaction over this just as it has for the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, in his viewpoints on society and government.

The issue here is not reason – it is unreason. The issue is not free speech – it is how free speech is twisted and misunderstood by ignorance.

Ignorance and her ugly twin sister frustration are the culprits here.

That the public is often misinformed was one of Thomas Jefferson’s tenets. Rebellion and blood-letting is a part (and consequence) of that unfortunate state of being. Our Founding Father believed it was the responsibility of government to remedy/repair that by open discourse and access to the facts.

“The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them.” ~ Thomas Jefferson,
November 13, 1787 in a letter (from Paris) to William Smith

Public discourse and persuasion is the remedy for dissatisfaction – not suppression or rejection of public discontent.

I fear, though, what we’re going to see is the muting of discontent through “laws” that may be passed in haste to “protect” our elected officials from the discontented and fringed lone wolves in our society who act through ignorance, prejudice, frustration, insanity or a combination of all four in rash and ill-intentioned actions that have disastrous consequences.

The end result will be a further distancing of our elected officials from their constituents.

Already, in a lightening-fast announcement within hours of the shooting, Wednesday’s scheduled House vote over repeal to the landmark $940 billion health-care legislation was canceled so they can “take whatever actions may be necessary in light of today’s tragedy.”

Uh oh – I see the devil in those sketchy details.

I see more ramrod legislation in the shadows of the high-minded and noble sounding sacrifice.

22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner is reported to be a high school drop-out with substance abuse issues.

He has had at least one law enforcement run-in.

He was denied admission to the Army.

He appears isolated and lonely.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he is unemployed.

His convoluted social media contributions are being examined as to his motive and state of mind.

There is no small (and early) condemnation of his alleged actions as those of someone insane; at the very least seriously unbalanced .

The horse is out of the barn on this one.

Jared Lee Loughner is no different than John Hinckley or Mark Chapman – he’s a disenfranchised youth whose juvenile frustrations (and illnesses) have spiraled out of control.

Should his actions cause fundamental change in how our republic operates?

I don’t believe so.

Should his actions be examined as to their root causes?

I believe absolutely they should be.

Instead of labeling our disenfranchised youth (and they’re growing in numbers) as incorrigible maybe as adults we could pave a way to understanding. Maybe we could demand of our government that instead of throwing up concrete barriers around our institutions and placing guards with submachine guns at the ready they open wider the avenues of discourse.

Maybe we could, as soon as possible, fix our broken educational system.

Maybe we could put some teeth into the war on drugs.

Maybe we could restore the mental health assistance we used to provide to those who needed it.

Let’s address the real causes of these events so we don’t have to address the results like we do now in Arizona.

I remember being mightily disturbed the day Timothy McVeigh was put to death by lethal injection exactly three months to the day before the 9/11 attack.

I recall thinking it had been barely four years since his conviction.

Justice seemed hurried to me at the time.

Something seemed to have changed at that point in time.

I don’t think we were listening then and I don’t think we’re listening now to what our Founding Fathers told us.


About Maureen Sharib

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4 Responses to Our Inability to Pay (Attention)

  1. Apparently the guy who shot President McKinley couldn’t read English but his act was blamed on inflammatory language in the newspaper.


  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Our Inability to Pay (Attention) | MaureenSharib -- Topsy.com

  3. Brenda Le says:

    Maureen, You read my mind and said it more eloquently than I could have. Our system is placing blame and debating in the wrong direction. Education, Parents, Mental Health Laws, and Drugs are the real culprits in this society. Mental disorders are contstantly being ignored, there are no laws on the books – ANYWHERE that protect us from mental illness. A person can wrack up 5 misdomeanors by the time they are 19 and they are sentenced to nothing more than “anger management” sessions. Some parents know their child is mentally ill and choose to turn the other way. Some parents put forth effort, try hard and seek out help – only to be told, “until they commit some kind of crime or harm someone, there’s nothing we can do!”

    I would bet in this case, Jared Lee Loughner’s professors were told just that!

    It’s obvious the man has had mental issues for many years and there were no laws on the books to stop him. His parent’s role remains to be seen. Our dirty politicians are so self absorbed, they fail to see the big picture – as you mentioned above, the war on drugs, education reform, new mental health laws, and the list goes on. It’s been reported this man is a registered Independent, has never actually voted. Do you think it’s possible this could have nothing to do with politics? He might have targeted the congresswoman because she was simply the “authority figure” closest to him? He had easy access to her? And he knew it would make big news?

    I fear this is only going to get worse and no ammount of gun control, or limiting what someone can print and say is going to fix it. I don’t know about your town, but my small town USA is crawling with people just like Jared Lee Loughner.


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