Stormy Monday, 4/8/13

Senate bills on immigration reform and gun control originally anticipated this week will likely be delayed. The former is being drafted by a “bipartisan” group of eight senators, who apparently have yet to reach agreement on a guest-worker program, among other details. Despite optimistic noises from New York’s Charles Schumer, an anonymous “member of the business community” quoted by the Washington Post claims the eight have “substantial disagreements on almost all the major parts.”

As to gun legislation, “Senate staffers say a bipartisan agreement has yet to be reached on universal background checks.” The NRA has, um, targeted various lawmakers for heavy lobbying efforts, including Virginia’s Mark Warner. Also lobbying this week are the President, who will speak on gun control at the University of Hartford on Monday, Vice President Biden, who hosts a gathering of law enforcement officials at the White House on Tuesday, and Michelle Obama, who will address the subject of gun violence at a Wednesday appearance in Chicago.

Wednesday sees the unveiling of President Obama’s considerably overdue budget proposal, which will reportedly call for the adoption of chained CPI in exchange for closing some tax loopholes. The budget is also expected to include a proposal for reforming federal employees’ retirement benefits, supposedly saving $35 billion by upping employee pension contributions for newer workers.

No word yet on whether the President’s budget will include new Obamacare provisions to cover all the hair that’s been set on fire as rumors have circulated for weeks. Senator Lindsey Graham has already offered up tentative praise, which is never a good sign. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 4/8/13

Working Rules

By its nature, a rule produces a reaction which can go in either direction, toward compliance or resistance. The NRA, by its nature, resists all gun rules. It consistently demands extreme freedoms (yes, even freedoms can be extreme!) to own and buy and sell the most dangerous weapons of death available to American citizens. Its strategy to resist rules and regulations has been to wrap guns in the flag, and leverage its ideology with cash from supporters and gun manufacturers. So in the NRA view, guns are no longer thought of a commercial product. They are extensions of the Constitution. The constitutional protections afforded ownership, in the NRA view, should be extended to the marketplace. Background checks, equipment limits, and other rules are seen as interfering with the end result of ownership. In the NRA world, not only is ownership constitutionally protected, the marketplace should be unregulated.

Is a constitutional right abridged if a marketplace connected to that right is regulated? Is the right to own a gun mirrored in the right to buy and sell? More importantly, doesn’t the Constitution protect citizens in a way that they can be free from the intentional and unintentional dangers associated with the use of guns? Does the government have the right under the Constitution to pass laws that make me, you, and others less likely to die, singularly and en masse, at the hands of an instrument that others see as the source of the defense of life and freedom? Should the risk associated with guns be greater for some than for others? Is that risk mitigated or increased if we all own guns?

Of course, cars kill people, too. Society has inherent risks. Yet a study released last May by the Washington-based Violence Policy Center found gun deaths actually exceeded car deaths in ten states in 2009. Bloomberg News reported this will be true as a national statistic by 2015! As the numbers of cars on streets and roads increased, public policy, focused on safety (seat belts, enforcement of driving under the influence laws at the local level, improved safety equipment by auto makers, child seats) have saved lives. Deaths from auto fatalities diminished by 22 percent in just five years, from 2005 to 2010. Dramatic proof of the good use of public policy!

But can parallel effective public policy be crafted to save lives when tied to the one instrument whose ownership involves not only fun, sports and collecting, but also involves a latent but inherent right to kill, even if in the name of public and personal safety and the Constitution?

Research is one way of looking at these questions to determine the impact of policy on gun violence deaths and injuries. Gun violence ranges from suicide (52 percent of all suicides) to mass spree killings, growing more common and commanding public attention. Best estimates (probably slightly understated) say 87 people die per day from gun violence. (I have also seen dramatically larger estimates. Whatever the number, a problem, by fact and comparison exists.) Can policy reduce this number?

In the debate over policy, let’s not forget women are on the front lines. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says 58 percent of domestic violence homicides committed against women involve a male intimate acquaintance using a gun.

An older study by two Harvard professors found the US has the highest rate of domestic violence gun murders—82 percent of total murders of an aggregate of 25 high-income nations, while having only 32 percent of the aggregate female population. Every study, every statistic indicates that women are at risk from gun deaths in situations of domestic violence and that the risk is not lessened by gun ownership by women in the household.

In fact, for women the home is the most dangerous source of gun violence and murder against women. Guns of all types are statistically more likely to be used to kill women in their households than to prevent crime or personal attacks (self-defense). Continue reading Working Rules

What Do You Believe?

What do you believe? Who do you believe? And what is the foundation for your beliefs? Those questions were overwhelmed in the noise but were underlined by the rage in the public square this week, on issues from sequestration to the Onion’s infamous tweet during the Academy Awards.

Defended as free speech and satire, whose firestorm of response by many was evidence of its success, the Onion’s 140-character post was never covered by the cover it claimed, of being the occasional moment in a society that cherishes free speech, when a good intent to poke fun goes awry.

It was, instead, the perfect example of irresponsible speech, an imitated form of liar’s rage, a flawed imitation of the disdain that has marked the political language of Republicans, especially, and dominates the airwaves and the internet. This mock and real rage is often packed with lies, to avoid responsibility and to deny its purpose by claiming: look, it’s absurd. This liar’s rage is engaged in; denigrating the President and others, often not for their views, but simply because hate is seen as a constitutionally protected act. The Onion poster falls into using liar’s rage as a mock model. So it’s okay to call a nine-year old a sexually explicit name. No different than other daily online fare. As long as it’s just words, and they are not used to incite, the Bill of Rights says speech is free, and restrictions can’t be imposed.

The folk who make that argument miss the point: the outrage about the Onion post wasn’t over a narrow legal view of whether it violated free speech or whether it was misinterpreted, or as I suggest, it’s evidence of a cultural faux pas, or whether the rest of us didn’t get it. The reaction was a collective, strong-willed assertion that the comment was wrong. Not all free speech is right, and the right to speak or tweet freely doesn’t guarantee that what is said will have an equal place in the public square, which also has the right to shout it down.

The short tweet combined the worst of Rush Limbaugh and Mitt Romney with Donald Trump. It was uncomfortably sexually explicit without the redemption or condemnation found in the best satire. It applied a smear with the full force of scatological misogyny. My daughter tells me it’s a frat boy word. Mis-gauging its impact channels Romney, who repeatedly put forth a worldview that took away the humanity of others. Its crudeness and bullying attack was pure La Donald.

By closer reading, the poster was also a male. (Read it, you’ll agree.) As it was defended, it revealed a large subculture who skip the who and cite their belief in the what; in this case, free speech, its foundation in the constitution.

I agree that the post didn’t “cross the line.” It was wrong. Murder doesn’t “cross the line.” It’s wrong. A country can’t maintain a dual morality, one for crimes of property and persons, and another that says if legal penalties aren’t at stake, anything goes. Gun owners are now citing the right to “constitutional carry,” without restriction or concealment permits (repeal!). A constitutional right doesn’t guarantee approval of every position (guns or free speech) that attempts to be derived from that right. The constitution also guarantees the equal right to be wrong under its authority.

Long before appeals to law, a society decides in dynamic ways its limits and order, its boundaries of behavior, its conscience and sense of embarrassment and shame, its priorities and patterns of care. The Constitution should not be cited to excuse bad taste at best, to conceal honest error, or to be the enabling document for the erosion of the full humanity of others who are diverse and different.

I see the post as a thoughtless and harmful example of how the decency of words has degenerated into a culture that sets no limits on impropriety, including using a sexually explicit, denigrating word against a prepubescence girl in the harsh light on the internet’s public square. Retreating to free speech was something that even the Onion CEO didn’t do. He says in a Facebook the post was “crude and offensive—not to mention inconsistent with The Onion’s commitment to parody and satire, No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire.”

It should remind us that such an ill-advised attack is not by “rights” exempt from being wrong, and by its irresponsibility undermines the protections it cites.

It wasn’t that the rest of us “were afraid to say it.” We knew better. Continue reading What Do You Believe?

Repeal the Second Amendment!

Paradox” is often a word that appears in this column; it’s a fancy way of saying truth embodies its own opposite—in other words, there are exceptions to our most cherished beliefs, our proudest achievements, to every law, rule and principle, to mathematical models and even divine intervention, as there is one historically reported exception to the irreversible finality of death.

But in the national debate about guns and death, the National Rifle Association (NRA) makes no exceptions. They claim truth without paradox. Their leadership believes and expresses confidence the Second Amendment doesn’t provide for any exceptions. Since no law can stop the use of guns for murder, there should be no laws. Since, in their judgment, old laws were ineffective, there is no need for new laws. Since laws will have loopholes and workarounds, what’s the point? Their logic of default hides a fatal flaw found in the paradox of their absolutes.

That paradox is found not in their faith in the gun but in the law. They think the Second Amendment is set in stone. It’s not. As with all bad law, it can be repealed. In fact, I will raise the ante and hereby call for its repeal. It wouldn’t be the first amendment to be repealed.

Whether successful or not, it opens another political front and will force the NRA to divide its energy and resources. The call for repeal mimics the successful strategy of going after policy issues by swinging for the home run—by going after the law which is the context for the policy. The Second Amendment threatens my safety. I have been a victim of robbery at gun point. The right to bear arms has resulted in 1500+ gun connected deaths since the Newtown incident. This “cherished” ideal is tarnished. I call for the Second Amendment’s repeal. Continue reading Repeal the Second Amendment!

A Dialogue of Givers and Takers

Barack Obama, at his inauguration, spoke memorable words: “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.” He called for the unity of the country, especially its national legislators in the House and Senate.

House Budget Chair, Paul Ryan, who ran for Vice President against the winning Democratic ticket, later said these words in a television interview:

All of the statements and all of the comments lead me to believe that he’s [Obama is]thinking more of a political conquest than a political compromise…”

We must choose our battles carefully, and stay united in them to succeed. We can’t get rattled. We won’t play the villain in his [Obama's] morality plays. We have to show that — if given the chance — we can govern. We have better ideas.

No doubt, among those better ideas is Speaker of the House John Boehner’s main priority — a national priority of the “will of the people,” he says — to “help make abortion a relic of the past… Let that be one of our most fundamental goals this year.”

Neither the House Budget Chair or the Speaker of the House mentioned jobs or made jobs a top priority. Ryan seemed to forget about all those millions out of work that he mentioned at every stop during the campaign. For him, did they just go way, having served their usefulness?

The President did not mention jobs directly in his speech, but he expressed three fundamental national principles, endorsed by polls that show his focus on jobs to be “the will of the people.” The first: Continue reading A Dialogue of Givers and Takers

Hitting Rock Bottom

My father was an alcoholic. For years, the members of my family pretended it wasn’t so. We pretended that dad was just dad. He had a lot of good points about him – generous to a fault, reaching out to others who had less than he did (a lesson he and my mother instilled in me that is still alive and active to this day, long after they have both passed away). My father finally admitted he was an alcoholic, and my mother and I finally admitted we were co-dependents, and we started attending AlAnon meetings. A number of years after that, after more pain and anger and confusion and downright craziness, I admitted I still had problems, and started attending ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) meetings.

One of the common themes of AA, AlAnon, and ACOA (as well as NarcAnon and other similar groups) is that at some point, we all hit rock bottom. That we realize that, as much as we have denied our problem, lied about our problem, ignored our problem, and tried to imagine our problem(s) out of existence, they are still there. And we have a choice. We can continue on that path, and continue to watch our lives fall apart while pretending they aren’t, or we can choose to wake up and we can choose to change.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, many of us are asking why. We are asking how. We are asking why and how this could have happened. And, in chorus with this, some of us are asking why now? Why didn’t the Aurora shootings, the Virginia Tech shootings, the Sikh shootings, the Columbine shootings, the Thurston High School shootings matter? Well, I think they did. But, like the alcoholic or drug addict and his/her family, we hadn’t hit bottom yet. It didn’t hurt enough yet for enough of us that we said, “Enough!” Like the family of an alcoholic or drug addict, we could excuse Aurora or Virginia Tech or the other shootings as something awful, but as “not us.” We could say, “Oh my! How horrible, what happened to those people!” Because really, it didn’t hit home.

In my own experience, we excused many of the things my father did. “It was just this time.” “It was a fluke.” “It’s not going to happen again.” Someone on the outside could say, “Hey, folks, are you kidding me?” But unless we, those directly involved, could hear that, those on the outside could just as well be whistling in the wind. We could continue to ignore it.

But when my dad crashed the family car into a telephone pole, and then shortly after, got arrested for drunk driving and I got called to bail him out of jail, well, it woke me up. A bit. After that, my dad started attending AA meetings and my mom started attending AlAnon meetings. Then she brought me with her. Over the years, along with AlAnon, I attended ACOA meetings and also found a therapist who specialized in treating family members of alcoholics and drug addicts. It took some time, after I hit bottom (bottom being I tried to kill myself), but I have grown since then. I have shaken loose from that which I knew, that which blinded me, that which held me prisoner.

And I deeply believe that that process has everything to do with where we are with the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Was Virginia Tech awful? Yes, it was. Was the Aurora shooting horrible? Absolutely? Was Columbine? No doubt about it. Was Thurston High School? Yes, it was, and doubly so because my daughter’s step-sister was enrolled in that school at the time, so it was personal for us. So why wasn’t there the type of outcry that there has been since Sandy Hook Elementary School? Why have we allowed the stories to fade from view, from concern, when it seems like we are not so willing to do that after Sandy Hook? Continue reading Hitting Rock Bottom