Monday, January 10, 2011

Tragedy in Tucson

This is a fitness blog dedicated to matters of fitness and wellness.  Every so often, an event occurs that captures our collective attention:  9/11, the Columbine massacre, Oklahoma City bombing, and now the tragic shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others at a Safeway in Tucson, Arizona.  I'm finding it difficult to come up with a relevant fitness topic in the face of such a horrific event, so I'm just going to speak my mind on this one.  In my experience, the gym has become the "town square" of today's society -- the place where people of different backgrounds, opinions, and mindsets come together and, therefore, current events like this one are relevant to a health and wellness blog.  Or, "It's MY damn blog and I'll talk about what I want to talk about!"

As a personal trainer for 14 years, I've had the great pleasure and privilege to work very closely with an incredibly diverse bunch of people:  older, younger, men, women, black, white, brown, American, foreigners, Democrats, and Republicans.  While our main focus is always fitness and working out, inevitably, current events and politics come up for discussion.  Some trainers I've known along the way have advised me to steer clear of two topics:  politics and religion.  Since I believe our psychology and thought processes are SO integrally connected to our fitness and well being, I think it can be a good thing to (within reason) discuss current events and controversial issues.  Oftentimes, the "heat" generated from a person's firmly held belief or opinion provides excellent motivation to perform physically challenging tasks.

Anyway, I am personally sickened and saddened by the tragic shooting rampage at the supermarket in Tucson.  I believe that this is one of those moments has the ability to define an era.  It is a moment that presents our society with a choice, a fork in the road, if you like.  I am sickened and saddened, but I am not surprised.

The truth is, this event has been brewing for some time now.  The hateful, vitriolic rhetoric in our politics has been out of control for some time now.  People say it began with the proliferation of cable news outlets and the radio shock jocks in the past 10 years.  I'd say it goes back a bit further to the Clinton years (remember the Vince Foster suicide was really a "murder and coverup" by the Clinton White House?) and has been exponentially magnified with today's 24 hour echo chamber of a media cycle.

By all accounts, Gabby Giffords is a lovely woman, well-liked by her colleagues, Democrat and Republican alike.  It's what makes it all the more sad -- she's clearly not a blatantly partisan politician.  She's a centrist Democrat from a Republican-leaning district who voted for the Health Care Bill, pushed for immigration reform and campaigned against the anti-immigration policies adopted by her state.  At the same time, she's favored traditional Republican policies such as tightening border security with Mexico and, ironically enough, loosening of gun control laws.  So, when the leader of the Tea Party in Arizona puts out a statement saying, in effect, that even though she's "a liberal" no one deserves violence, blah, blah...  To say she is "a liberal" is factually incorrect and needs to be called out.

So, too, does the violent imagery embraced by the Republican right in the last election where phrases like, "don't retreat, instead RELOAD!" were cast about by the likes of Congresswoman Michelle Bachman and former VP candidate Sarah Palin.  Sarah Palin putting up a map on her website "targeting" hot districts with the crosshairs of a gun was irresponsible, at best.  Sharron Angle talked about using "Second Amendment remedies" if she and her supporters weren't successful at the ballot box.  Huh?!  Where's the outrage, my friends?  Agree or disagree with their policies, these are supposed to be leaders. This is simply unacceptable in the civil Democracy we purport to be.

The folks on the right are criticizing the Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik for expressing his exasperation at the vitriolic rhetoric and the fearful and racist policies his state has embraced.  I think the man is entitled to express his opinion on the matter.  In fact, there may be NO ONE more qualified to state his opinion on this matter.  He is, after all, a law enforcement officer on the ground and NOT an elected politician with a political agenda.  He is seeing the fallout from all the hate and anger.  We ought to pay closer attention rather than dismiss his views as partisan rhetoric.

My big issue comes down to the distortion of facts by the folks on the right, namely Fox News and its subordinates.  To compare President Obama to Hitler for advancing his health care plan is simply outrageous and out of touch with reality.  As it is to say that the federal government wants to take away your personal freedoms.  Yet, when mainstream politicians and media personalities carelessly perpetuate these lies over and over it is only a matter of time before a deranged individual with absurdly easy access to high powered firearms takes matters into his own hands.  "Taking back his country."

Which brings me to the issue of gun control.  The Second Amendment of the Constitution guarantees the rights of its citizens to bear arms.  This does not mean that right should go completely unregulated so that a deranged individual with a history of mental illness can purchase a Glock 9-mm handgun, with a chamber able to hold 30 bullets in a clip with the sole purpose to kill as many people as quickly as possible.  We need common sense regulation as it pertains to guns in today's society.  The founders could never have foreseen the technology we have today.  If people's backgrounds can be checked with the purchase of an airline ticket then certainly the same can be done with the attempt to purchase a firearm.  The truth is that Congress is held hostage, literally, by the NRA gun lobby whose sole purpose is protect the right of the gun industry to sell as many of their products as possible.  It's not about the sacred right to bear arms.  It's about profit, pure and simple.  Guess where all the weaponry used by the Mexican drug gangs comes from?  Yup.  The US of A.  We get their drugs and they get our weapons.

This could be a turning point.  But it's going to call for some brave, moderate Republicans to take a stand and say "no more" to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.  It's time to take responsibility.  I've been saying for some time now that the Republican party is headed for a split between the intolerant ultra-right wing and its more moderate, fiscal conservative/social moderate types.  The time has come.  The opening is there for anyone brave enough to take it.  It is going to have to be someone with the courage to stand up to a powerful gun lobby and the hateful rhetoric we've heard coming from the right for the past decade.  I'm an unabashed liberal, but I am rooting for a charismatic, unifying figure to emerge from the Republican party who is willing to call out the fear-mongerers and say, "NO MORE".

As Gabby Giffords herself said so prophetically, "words have consequences."


  1. Well said. I'm in complete agreement with your post.

    I have only 2 comments-

    1) To spread the word on something positive that can be done here via the words of US Navy Capt. Mark Kelly, the husband of Congresswoman Giffords,

    "If you are inspired to make a positive gesture, consider two organizations that Gabby has long valued and supported: Tucson’s Community Food Bank and the American Red Cross.”
    I think it would be especially meaningful to see the local community food bank inundated with donations.

    2) Re: Fitness. Our health and our health care, which includes our mental health. States that cut health care programs often start with the kinds of programs that might have helped someone like Jared Loughner. No matter how we look at it this was a political event. Being pro-gun rights, anti-health care for all, anti-community outreach all contribute to these kinds of situations.-Remember how Obama was vilified for being a "community organizer"- that is exactly the kind of work and programming necessary to combat the political/chemical stew that sets such an event in motion. So, ultimately it is very much about fitness and health and your blog couldn't be a more appropriate forum.

  2. I admire your courage to bring up the forbidden topic of politics on your fitness blog. I've always been too worried about offending people to share many of my beliefs. I'm probably on the opposite side of the political spectrum than you, but I still respect your opinion and the civility used to express your beliefs.

    The shooting was a tragedy. I'm sick of all the name calling and political division among Americans on both sides of the isle. I wish we could be more unified as fellow countrymen and human beings despite our differences.

  3. Very well written Dale. Kudos.

  4. Wanna know what I think is the biggest contributor to the partisan vitriol? Bloggers.

    Not you, of course. But the countless politically oriented blogs out there that don't seem interested in (or perhaps aware of) traditionally held journalistic standards that assured accuracy and objectivity. These blogs--on both the left and right--rarely present any issue in a dispassionate, non-partisan manner. Instead, they distort the issues to followers who prefer being spoon fed the point of view they hold anyway rather than being forced to work a little harder by seeing all sides of an issue.

    In the past few years, these blogs have been becoming more popular and more widely read, while mainstream newspapers and television news organizations watched their customers abandon them for the more immediate--and free!--information available online. As a result, newspapers have been bleeding red ink due to unprecedented declines in subscriptions and readership.

    Mainstream news organizations, both print and television, decided it was more profitable to relax their standards of objectivity in favor of presenting mindless infotainment (Lindsay Lohan Back In Jail!!!) and news presented from a particular political point of view. The latter gave rise to the Keith Olbermanns and the Bill O'Reillys and the Sean Hannitys and...I hate to include her because she is my favorite...the Rachel Maddows. These people are all entertainers whose speciality is political news. They aren't there merely to inform, but also to persuade. And that means making passionate, and all too often distorted, claims and accusations.

    Regardless of your political beliefs, it's more exciting to watch Keith Olbermann rail against Sarah Palin or listen to Rush Limbaugh excoriate Obama than it ever was to watch Walter Cronkite chronicle the first lunar landing because Olbermann/Limbaugh/Hannity/Maddow/O'Reilly et. al appeal to our emotions.

    The politicians know these news organizations are now operating more and more like partisan blogs, so they play to those extremes, aware that misinformation delivered to Fox News or MSNBC will not be questioned but will be presented as fact. They count on their base getting their news solely from increasingly partisan news outlets. And so the political parties get more and more extreme. And the bloggers continue to blog. And the news organizations try to catch up by being more like blogs. And the cycle starts all over again.