Race and Myth Revisited

DDHow you have felt, O men of Athens, at hearing the speeches of my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that their persuasive words almost made me forget who I was – such was the effect of them; and yet they have hardly spoken a word of truth. But many as their falsehoods were, there was one of them which quite amazed me; – I mean when they told you to be upon your guard, and not to let yourselves be deceived by the force of my eloquence. They ought to have been ashamed of saying this, because they were sure to be detected as soon as I opened my lips and displayed my deficiency; they certainly did appear to be most shameless in saying this, unless by the force of eloquence they mean the force of truth; for then I do indeed admit that I am eloquent. But in how different a way from theirs!

— Socrates, The Apology

In a written account of a runaway from slavery, authorities stopped a suspected fellow, questioning him closely. “Where are you going?” they asked. “I am from South Carolina!” he replied. Puzzled, unsure about his answer, they let him continue on his way. His empathetic response won the day.

“I’m from South Carolina!” Do you think I am so stupid as to run away, knowing what I face if captured? Surely the masters of fear succeeded in deterring the thought of escape and made profoundly clear my lot, and I my willingness to accept it without challenge.

“I’m from South Carolina!” Need I say more than this simple moral plea, even for a bondsman? Is justice found in the demands for denigration and physical cruelty that respect no rights except wealth and power?

“I’m from South Carolina!” I know you will never admit my feat of deception, or the success of my journey so far; it casts a long shadow on your beliefs and institutions and shows how the cherished follies you substitute for truth fall woefully short, including the idea that superior intelligence and character is tied to skin color and the land of birth or heritage. I am African. Stop me–and reveal to yourselves your failure, and know you will fail again. You can not face this failure, so you will ignore my success. Let me go; you will pretend this never happened and that your fears and narcissism are intact.

“I’m from South Carolina!” You are powerless. I will not respond to your confrontation. Nor be drawn into a defensive fight. I have said enough. My truth is deaf to your demand. Let me pass.

I.

These four dialogues—different than Plato’s—are multiple sides of the gnostic “that-which-is,” the search for a reality based in truth, in which no simple explanation by itself gives the right reason, but they all do so collectively, as air, water and sun enjoin the storm.

The South Carolina runaway flees at the zenith of oppression by race. At a time and point when the enslaved were captured as fighters and sold like commodities. They were shipped stacked like casks of myrrh, the dead deposed like scraps; landed, then worked like beasts, bought and sold as capital on balance sheets, widely used as instruments of status and pleasure—while being sources of ridicule and disdain and proclaimed sub-human. In America, the enslaved lost the fight for any external right of freedom by government, except those granted by individual property holders.

But the experiences of slavery and the enslaved reveal something more. Race in the form of slavery was at the center of a global debate about the sacred nature of life, the authority and rule of a divine presence, about the relations of a highly visible and tempting secular life of wealth and ease to the unseen admonitions of logic and faith. Some men refused to hold the enslaved as property because it profaned a sacred trust.

Over time the discussions and views which once vigorously embraced the deep, centered questions of slavery and race moved away from the foundations of faith and in-depth human inquiry. No longer was the discussion filled with the terms of the celebrated principles of the gifted Greek philosophers and others who carefully charted the grand reviews of who we are, of life’s meaning, of the nature and fundamentals of truth, and how suffering, punishment and accountability are described and distributed in secular and sacred justice.

Over time, we have forgotten race had a deeper, more profound core: it was a prism into humanity, into how we thought and felt about ourselves and others; about who we were and what we celebrated; about what values were inviolate and what principles we would defend, even how we saw the image and hand of God and stewardship and mercy and how we responded to its paradox.

Race tested the limits of governments and men to envision the reach of deceit and sin. It set limits on liberty. It changes economics: in the 1781 case of the British slaver, the Zong, its insurers were ordered by a lower court to pay the costs of Africans jettisoned as cargo because the ship ran low on drinking water. The court found that even for the enslaved, the British maritime principle holds that a captain who jettisons part of his cargo in order to save the rest can claim for the loss from his insurers.

The case was so egregious that the British high court threw out the lower court’s ruling to issue an insurance payout on the dead souls of a deliberately jettisoned cargo of men, women and children, a ruling which had suddenly made slavery’s horrors benign and its greed for profits obscene.

In a three-day period on the Zong, 54 children and women, then 36 men, were lost, followed by another 42 thrown overboard (and these numbers may be too small). Many on the last two days were jettisoned after it rained!

A Replica of the Zong.

A replica of the Zong

Chained together, 10 enslaved jumped from the Zong in protest. These captives would not settle for the lives of slaves as a condition of the death of others. They surely would not settle today for the crumbs of riches given as welfare. Even then they would not settle, before the courts ruled, ignoring precedent, that the killing of innocents was lawful.

The Zong case revealed a shameful paradox: that men could turn other men/women/children into slaves, sell them for profit; that God and law had become separated in the souls of some. It held another lesson hidden in its horror: that truth will embody change. The old status quo passes and brings new issues forward. But the new issues of freedom after slavery turned race from reality to myth.

In an irony of American thinking, the greater the progress made against racial oppression, discrimination, bias and injustice, the more the old roots that anchored the discussion were pulled up. The buying and selling of human beings, forcibly transmitting across an ocean to an alien land, is the central issue of slavery, not the work ethic of those enslaved. But powerful outside forces shape the conditions of slaves and their descendants, and their hard work to become victors over the odds seems to garner less respect.

Race became a story robbed of its epic soul. No longer debated in the words of Christ and Socrates, or the great English, French and German philosophers, or the Grimké sisters, Frederick Douglass, or the eloquent abolitionists, including England’s William Wilberforce and Granville Sharp, race, no longer a pivot point, has became a wedge of hate and blame—of power and politics. Hate and blame used denial to limit and distract its discussion. Race has evolved into a debate over stereotypes, from which there is little escape, with all sides engaging in blame. Too little, too much; too lazy, too mean; too denied, too rigged; too late, too entitled.

We have forgotten the inclusiveness with which Frederick Douglass addressed a nation from Arlington Cemetery in May 1871, when he asked, “What Shall Men Remember?”

If we ought to forget a war which has filled our land with widows and orphans, which has made stumps of men of the very flower of our youth, and sent them on the journey of life armless, legless, maimed and mutilated; which has piled up a debt heavier than a mountain of gold—swept uncounted thousands of men into bloody graves—and planted agony at a million hearthstones; I say that, if this war is to be forgotten, I ask, in the name of all things sacred, what shall men remember?

 II.

A country has forgotten and altered its meaning. The profound has been replaced by the stupid. Instead of Monroe Trotter, Henry Highland Garnet and W.E.B. DuBois’ gifted insights, we get Michele Bachmann’s mangled facts and Newt Gingrich’s Mau Mau spree. Instead of lynchings, we get leeches; even as the lynching of young men continue by gunshot rather than rope. Instead of a common humanity, we get officials who said their idea of God led them to refuse to marry those in love with members of different races. Instead of respect, we get soldiers refusing service under a legally installed black Commander-in-Chief as a matter of “conscience.”

We get a party that ignores its historic Southern strategy, directly tied to exploiting race; only to remind us that white Democrats were once racists—and the same group to which its Southern strategy appealed!

We get a news media that says the right to private conversations under free speech inoculates someone with racist views from consequences; ignoring that a doctor using drugs privately is at professional risk; a person sleeping with your spouse can be sued; a baseball player, track runner, cyclist, or weight lifter privately using drugs can be barred from competition. Donald Sterling needs to know words are acts. Words do not belong in a separate category when it comes to consequences, especially in the marketplace and under a signed agreement of authority that spells out consequences for acts of speech.

The days when property holders who claimed the ownership of people and occupied high office are gone, because law—words—created a new reality. It is perfectly permitted within the culture, when mayors, city council members, and the President call a racist myth reprehensible to take action—no society has to endorse its sin to preserve its freedom. And four hundred years of evidence and witness that includes four years of a war that produced the largest number of American war dead of any conflict, is not a rush to judgement about liberty and rights. Continue reading Race and Myth Revisited

Take Five (Hot Mess in the Summertime edition)

Take-FiveONE: Happiness Is a Warm Diorama

Last Friday, the NRA opened its “National Sporting Arms Museum” in Bass Pro Shops’ mammoth flagship store in Springfield, Missouri. Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris was so taken with the NRA’s National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia that he generously underwrote the new museum, where visitors will have an opportunity to drool over almost 1,000 guns, some of them historic, plus “detailed dioramas and displays.”

Guns & Ammo sent author and gun enthusiast SP Fjestad in for a preview. He was not disappointed:

The firearms displays are grouped within time periods, with some of the best dioramas I’ve ever seen placed in between them. These included a buffalo hunter, a 1950s hunting cabin, Lewis & Clark, Native American hunter, and modern-day father and daughter decked out in camo.

Yes, that does sound special, and worth every penny of the free admission. The new collection complements the Virginia museum‘s 1,700 guns and “state-of-the-art” firing range boasting “touch-screen target retrieval.” Impressive as all that is, I can’t help but think the NRA needs to let its corporate imagination run just a little wilder.

The full text of every piece of gun control legislation the organization has helped to defeat over the years might make a nifty exhibit, although it would take a hellaciously long time to read them all. What about a Gallery of Preschool Firearms Victims, or a Worst Gun Massacres Hall of Fame? Hey, Charlton Heston’s cold, dead hands could certainly pack in the crowds, especially if they were holding something sleek and high-caliber. Personally, I’d love to see an interactive, animatronic Wayne LaPierre that turns bright red and spews spittle at the utterance of certain, uh, trigger words, like “regulation” or “background check” or “civilized society.” Then again, the real Wayne LaPierre could do that even better, and he’s already on the payroll.

TWO: The Fun Also Rises

Used to be that when I heard the words “bull run” the first thing I thought of was Manassas, but that may change if entrepreneur Rob Dickens’ new brainstorm, The Great Bull Run, is successful. Its website describes it as an “adrenaline-filled experience” you can “[cross] off your bucket list without breaking the bank.” It kicks off in Petersburg, Virginia on August 24, with stops in Georgia and Texas scheduled for later in the year. Florida, California, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Illinois will be added to the roster in 2014.

The website generously credits Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls as inspiration, but notes that the American version has “significantly more safety protections” and its bulls “aren’t killed after the event or otherwise abused in order to make them run.” And those aren’t the only differences. I have no idea what extras, if any, Pamplona features in its Eurotrashy, old-fashioned event, but Dickens and Co. are offering up a little something they call Tomato Royale, inspired by yet another Spanish tradition, La Tomatina Buñol. Pamplonians (Pamplonites? Pamplemousses?) can read it and weep:

Tomato Royale is an insane tomato food fight that happens three times a day at each event. When the music starts, participants sprint to crates of tomatoes stationed around the arena and the free-for-all begins! Hurl tomatoes at your family, friends and fellow participants without guilt, inhibition or remorse!

Each bull run ticket also includes entry to Tomato Royale, but non-runners can join in the fun, too.

Having done it more than once as a farmhand, I have no desire to try and outrun half a ton of annoyed male bovine again, but the idea of throwing tomatoes at total strangers, especially Republicans, sounds pretty groovy. Prices at various venues range between $35 and $65 for the run, which also gets you into Tomato Royale and entitles you to a free t-shirt and a free beer. Yep. Free t-shirts and beer. Sucks to be you, Pamplona.

THREE: Pity Party

Much was made of the Republican Party’s attempts, post-election, to strategize its way out of its current doldrums, to broaden its appeal, to become – however improbably – the Party of Know.

It all kicked off with the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” whose 100-page report, released in March, advocated greater outreach to minorities, women and young voters. The same week, RNC Chair Reince Priebus dutifully announced a $10-million minority outreach effort, and did the interview circuit to inform everyone of what everyone except the RNC already knew:

“Focus groups described our party as ‘narrow minded,’ ‘out of touch,’ and ‘Stuffy old men.’”

Priebus then trotted out a canard beloved of Republicans who refuse to admit their ideas stink:

“It all goes back to what our moms used to tell us: It’s not just what we say; it’s how we say it.”

The great Will Durst described this wrongheaded approach much more eloquently:

No need to demonstrate more compassion, the trick is to seem more compassionate… In other words, all they need to do is to bleach the leopard’s spots.

The spot-bleaching and the minority outreach, to date, have been less than successful. Pablo Pantoja, the acclaimed “Director of Florida Hispanic Outreach for the Republican National Committee,” gave up on his party in May:

“Yes, I have changed my political affiliation to the Democratic Party.

It doesn’t take much to see the culture of intolerance surrounding the Republican Party today.”

No, it certainly doesn’t, especially with old white conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly noisily insisting that the party is barking up the wrong demographic. Between sips of embalming fluid, Schlafly recently told a rightwing radio host:

… the people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes…

A couple of weeks later, Georgia conservative social activist Rich Thompson – at an event ludicrously christened “The True Rainbow Coalition: Building an Organization in Minority Faith Communities” – showed just why GOP minority outreach was doomed from the get-go:

… right now an extremely disproportionate number of people of color are being paid by the government. Therein lies a serious problem. We can’t just cut everybody off instantaneously. But we have to have a serious conversation about how we get people to being producers and not receivers. So I thank you for coming this evening to find out how we can better message to people of the black community, the Latino community, and the Asian community.

The party’s efforts to court women have been no more effective, and are painfully epitomized by the 43 restrictions on women’s reproductive rights passed in 2012, not to mention the 92 passed in 2011.

As to the youth vote, the College National Republican Committee has provided their elders little cause for optimism:

The Republican Party’s troubles with young voters are well known. But a new internal report virtually elevates the threat level to apocalyptic, declaring that the GOP needs a “fundamental re-thinking” of its approach in order to remain viable with the younger generation.

Adding to all this bad news for Republicans is that their fondness for lying has not gone unnoticed. The Center for Media and Public Affairs released the results of a study showing that PolitiFact “has rated Republican claims as false three times as often as Democratic claims.” Meanwhile, there are indications that the RNC’s smarm offensive may well have come too late:

The Republican Party’s ratings now stand at a 20-year low, with just 33 percent of the public holding a favorable view of the party and 58 percent judging it unfavorably…

But at the end of the day, the biggest problem for Republicans might not be their strategists, their candidates, or their elected officials. It might be their voters:

A new CNN poll shows just how far away from sanity the Republican Party has drifted. According [to] the poll, 80% of Republicans think George W. Bush’s presidency was a success.

And a more recent poll confirms that many of the party’s voters still have their heads screwed on at least half a turn too loose. Asked which direction Republican leaders should move, 54% of respondents opted for “conservative direction” while only 40% urged a move toward moderation. Even more amazingly, 35% of respondents believe Republicans have “compromised too much” with Democrats, and 32% believe the amount of compromise has been “about right.” It would have been fascinating to see how many respondents could even name a single example of their party compromising with Democrats, other than the bipartisan Gang of Eight immigration bill hammered out in the Senate, since consigned to the House to die a painful death at the hands of – wait for it – intransigent Republicans.

On same-sex marriage, 31% of respondents believe the party’s stance has been “too conservative,” but 27% feel it’s “not conservative enough.” On abortion, “too conservative” was the choice of 25% while “not conservative enough” garnered 26%.

Favorables and unfavorables for various GOP leading lights were also intriguing. Would-be Veep Paul Ryan scored 65% favorable against a mere 15% unfavorable, but “next big noise” Ted Cruz was favorable to only 33% of respondents, while 13% gave him a thumbs-down and a surprising 53% had no opinion.

Best of all, the survey found that Republicans of the Tea Party persuasion constitute 37% of respondents, but 49% of those who “always vote in primary” are Teabaggers. All of which means that 2014 may not be as dire as Nate Silver has been hinting, and 2016 is looking up. Continue reading Take Five (Hot Mess in the Summertime edition)

Take Five (Talking Second Amendment Blues edition)

ONE: Apocalypse Whenever

The Internet has really revolutionized insomnia. By 5:00 this morning I had already finished watching a Julian Lennon interview from 1999 and several videos of cats riding Roombas, before rashly moving on to footage of speeches from the NRA’s recent annual meeting in Houston.

The only thing rivaling the brimstone stink of the rhetoric at this year’s conclave was a Zombie Industries product being hawked there, a female target mannequin – christened “The Ex” – capable of bleeding when shot. Another one of the company’s range of charming models – “Bleeding Rocky Zombie” – had been removed from the company’s kiosk at the NRA’s request due to its resemblance to President Obama. “The Ex” was hastily renamed “Alexa” after the marketing geniuses at Zombie Industries finally decided there is such a thing as bad press after all.

The NRA’s rare circumspection over “Bleeding Rocky Zombie” was deeply overshadowed by the vicious, imbecilic sentiments of many of the convention’s speakers, starting with those of the organization’s executive vice president and perennial poster boy for vicious imbecility, irascible pipsqueak Wayne LaPierre.

After a warm introduction from everyone’s favorite America-hating felon, Oliver North, LaPierre manned the podium to talk about gun control pretty much the way people in the 1940s talked about the Axis powers:

We are in the midst of a once-in-a-generation fight for everything we care about. We have a chance to secure our freedom for a generation, or to lose it forever

… we will never surrender our guns, never!

… they’re coming after us with a vengeance, to destroy us, to destroy us and every ounce of our freedom.

LaPierre’s apocalyptic spew was echoed by speaker after speaker after speaker, with frenetic attempts to link any and all gun regulation measures to an undefined but existential threat to The Republic itself. Maybe the NRA was offering a free howitzer to the speaker who could ratchet up the nativist paranoia the highest. Chris Cox, executive director of the Institute for Legislative action, the NRA’s lobbying operation, certainly gave it his all, deftly sounding multiple dog whistles while the crowd bayed for more:

Make no mistake. We are in a culture war. Where we once faced hundreds of voices against us, there are now thousands attacking us every day, from Organizing for America to Code Pink to Occupy the NRA, Wall Street, and for that matter, Occupy Anything-but-a-Job.

Outgoing NRA president David Keene warned of the regulatory Ragnarok to come:

We all know that, as we meet here, our opponents are regrouping, and we know that they’ll be back. They’re as dedicated today as they have ever been to consigning you and me and all those who believe in the freedoms guaranteed us by this nation’s Founders to the outer darkness.

Keene’s successor, Jim Porter, kept it old school, treating his audience to the sort of seditious innuendo he knew they craved:

You know, last fall just before the elections, as community organizer-in-chief, President Obama demanded that his followers extract “revenge”. I can’t remember a president ever publicly using that word against fellow Americans.

Porter probably meant to say “exact” but it hardly matters since everything else out of his mouth was incorrect, much of it deliberately so:

[Obama]‘s now threatening Democratic senators who are friends of NRA. He will destroy them if he can… you know, Obama is meeting and plotting with the “who’s who” of the gun ban movement, scheming to create a gun control by bureaucracy.

Threatening, scheming, plotting… yes, that sure sounds like Barack Obama. And Porter brought some dog whistles of his own:

President Barack Obama is AWOL on virtually every critical threat facing this nation… but there’s one issue where Obama is not AWOL: gun control. But there’s something Obama will never, never understand: you, me, our friends, neighbors, coworkers, colleagues and family, and the larger family of patriots who know that the Second Amendment, the freedom of our Republic, trumps the Chicago political machine and its gun ban agenda every time.

Now, as basic frothing at the mouth goes, that’s not bad, but the NRA’s in-house cranks all lack a certain vim, a certain telegenic je ne sais quoi. For that, they turned to the inimitable Glenn Beck, who obliged in spades, oozing fake sincerity all over the floorboards of the stage for 100 white-knuckled minutes. Beck’s was a soliloquy equal parts hair-on-fire millenarian sermon and triumphalist Thousand-Year Reich chest-thumping. He seemed to draw inspiration from a smorgasbord of conflicting sources: the Bible, the Constitution, the Letter from Birmingham Jail, Atlas Shrugged, the Port Huron Statement, and perhaps even the cover of Sgt. Pepper:

Our right to keep and bear arms will not be infringed. We will follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ. We will follow the footsteps of Frederick Douglass, Winston Churchill, Thomas Paine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ben-Gurion, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Gandhi, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King. Hear me now. Hear me now. We shall overcome. Let us not talk any more about our cold, dead hands, but rather act, rather be the people who have a cause to use our hands…

Yes, because people who don’t have a cause to use their hands might as well not even have hands. Like, why are the most self-evident truths the ones most in need of repeating by visionaries like Glenn Beck? But what the hell are they all going to do with their hands? Beck had it covered:

… we will work together as Americans, not only to preserve our rights, but the rights of our children to be safe, our wives and our daughters to not be held at gunpoint, not be raped…

Possibly sensing that he was stepping on his own message with the “held at gunpoint” bit, he tacked vigorously toward the sublime:

We will not be the generation that loses mankind’s freedom. Instead, let us declare to one another that we, instead, will be the generation that historians look back to with awe and wonder, and say: How did they do it? They’ll look back for inspiration, that even in our darkest times, with the greatest reason for doubt and fear, we rose above it. We pushed the darkness back. We held the torch of liberty. We held it high for all men to see and aspire to…

And – bonus! – made damned sure that universal background checks would never spoil anybody’s Constitutionally enshrined firearm fun. Win-win! Keenly aware of the zealotry hanging moistly over the room, Beck shrewdly pitched his closing comments like unto a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal for his audience:

Jesus was a man of love. He was a man of peace. He was a man of forgiveness. But make no mistake; Jesus Christ was also immovable. The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, and we will win by strapping on the full armor of God. We shall stand firm with the belt of truth, with the breastplate of righteousness, with the shield of faith, with the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit. We will fight their tactics of fear, we will fight their tactics of darkness, we will fight their lies, and we will counter them with love, peace and equal justice for all mankind.

And as much ammo as they can hoard, I expect.

TWO: Nonsense and Sensibility

Beck’s unusual wardrobe tips weren’t the only practical advice on offer in Houston. There was also this, from the “Home Defense Concepts” seminar by Rob Pincus: Continue reading Take Five (Talking Second Amendment Blues edition)

Stormy Monday, 5/6/13

Now that their nine-day recess is over, picture members of both houses of Congress returning to Washington refreshed, energetic, eager to tackle the nation’s woes, and ready to work in a genuinely bipartisan fashion for the good of their constituents. Now picture the exact opposite, which is what will happen this week as the 113th Congress resumes. Oh, and if you’re sick and tired of the phrase “debt ceiling,” you might want to go on recess yourself.

The House Homeland Security Committee begins hearings Thursday on the Boston Marathon bombings. The hearings will continue until House Republican leadership is satisfied that they’ve come up with a way to blame everything on President Obama.

Meanwhile, deceased suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s remains remain uninterred, while Graham Putnam and Mahoney Funeral Parlors continues its search for a cemetery to take them. Surviving suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s three public defenders, meanwhile, might be forced to take three-week furloughs before September 30, the close of the federal budget year, due to sequestration.

Jim Porter looks to become the NRA’s new president tomorrow, succeeding David Keene. Is Porter qualified, you ask? Well, a ThinkProgress item on Friday looked at a June 2012 speech Porter gave to the New York Rifle & Pistol Association, in which he referred to the Civil War as “the War of Northern Aggression,” described Barack Obama as a “fake president” and called Eric Holder “rabidly un-American.” Yes, Porter sounds like the perfect guy for the position. And don’t worry; NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre isn’t going anywhere. Nor will he ever shut the hell up. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 5/6/13

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

Take Five (Busyness as Usual edition)

ONE: Brainy Nights in Georgia

In the wake of the Newtown massacre and other recent mass gun murders, the NRA helpfully busied itself with supporting secession for Wisconsin, decrying the “vicious, violent videogames” that they insist provoke (conveniently well-armed) people to indulge in vicious violence, and, um, rolling out their new videogame.

In vivid contrast, Georgia legislator Paul Battles, being a pragmatic guy, thought and thought and thought about how best to protect children, and after all that thinking came up with House Bill 35:

The Georgia House of Representatives Rules Committee will consider a bill this week that would let school systems arm their staff members. House Bill 35 allows school systems to designate administrators, teachers, or other staff members to carry concealed weapons.

Now, before you go making any mistaken assumptions about Battles, a – surprise! – Republican, he emphatically rejects the suggestion that he’s, you know, a gun nut or something:

“From the very beginning, I’ve said this is a school security piece of legislation,” said Battles. “It’s not about guns. It’s about securing our schools.”

House Bill 35 immediately made me think of Mrs. Hale, my 6th grade teacher, who had a pronounced esotropic strabismus. Forgive me, Mrs. Hale, but I’m very glad you were never packing in our placid Savannah classroom. That I know of, anyway.

The bill passed out of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee last week. And Rep. Battles says that was the biggest hurdle, adding, “I’m sure we’ll have a lively debate on the floor, but I feel like it has great momentum.”

Oh. Great, then.

But inane legislation in Georgia is often a bipartisan thing. State Rep. Earnest Smith, a – crap! – Democrat, is all riled up about Photoshop, especially when it’s used to make fun of Earnest Smith:

… Smith pointed, as proof of the problem, to a picture of his head that was recently edited onto a porn star’s body. That image was created by a blogger who used the image to mock Smith.

Last word to Andre Walker of Georgia Politics Unfiltered, the pixel surgeon responsible for the digital transplant:

“I cannot believe Rep. Earnest Smith thinks I’m insulting him by putting his head on the body of a well-built porn star.”

TWO: “Nothing has changed.”

Attendees at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference can expect to see the likes of Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Allen West and Marco Rubio whip up the sort of rank gumbo of exaggerations, distortions, outright falsehoods and nutrition-free bromides that has kept previous CPAC crowds in drooling thrall.

But wait, there’s more!

Someone named Mitt Romney, who apparently once ran for President, will speak, as will someone named Sarah Palin, who apparently once ran for Vice President.

Of course, I’m being facetious. While I really have no idea who Mitt Romney is, I do remember Sarah Palin. She’s the former mayor of Wasilla who burdened the town with astonishing municipal debt, before going on to become the former Alaska governor who resigned halfway through her term, after burning through many thousands of dollars of public money for no good reason. She did leave her successor a tanning bed, though.

Indications are that Alaska voters have put down their bongs and would now prefer Hillary Clinton over Palin by a 16-point margin in a hypothetical presidential election cage match. Even better, Public Policy Polling also asked respondents to choose their preference of Congress or Palin, and Congress, for all its legendary disapproval ratings, beat Palin 50% to 35%.

And wait, there’s less!

AMERICABlog pointedly notes that CPAC 2013 will again feature the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, a man determined to live the rest of his wretched life being less popular than gonorrhea, but the conclave has once again barred GOProud, a high-profile gay conservative organization.

“We got kicked out last year because we are gay,” tweeted GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia. “Nothing has changed. We won’t be at CPAC.”

However unintentionally, Mr. LaSalvia has just given CPAC a perfect new slogan. “Nothing has changed,” indeed.

THREE: Squawking Heads Redux

In light of recent news that Palin and Fox News have parted company, followed shortly after by the network axing Dick Morris (the World’s Wrongest ManTM), you might be concerned that Fox is going to suffer an acute stupidity deficit. Fear not. They’ve announced with great fanfare that both Herman Cain and Scott Brown have joined the Fox conservative commentator crew.

Proving that he has never actually watched the network, Cain enthused:

“I’m excited about joining the FOX family as a contributor because it is an opportunity to be one more voice for intelligent thinking in America.”

Cain hit the ground running, which is to say he ran aground, in his first appearance with Bill O’Reilly. When the discussion turned to President Obama’s popularity, Cain gave viewers this taste of his intelligent thinking:

“We have a severe ignorance problem with the people who are so mesmerized by his popularity that they are not looking at the facts…

“Martin Luther King Jr. said 50 years ago in 1963 something that is so appropriate to today… There is nothing more dangerous than serious ignorance, and that’s what we have and he gets away with it with the help of establishment media.”

Really? Cain’s new employer has spent more than a decade atop the cable news network heap, which strikes me as pretty much about as establishment as you can get, but maybe I just have a severe ignorance problem.

As to Brown, his first appearance was with Sean Hannity, who asked him why he didn’t want to run for John Kerry’s vacated Senate seat:

Brown… told Hannity that the pace of special elections would have put him in five campaigns in six years and that he might have had to raise another $30 to $50 million, only to “participate in a Congress that’s really dysfunctional and extremely partisan.” Instead, he said, “I felt I could make a difference being on this show…”

Mm-hmm. Far better to participate in a “news” network that’s really dysfunctional and extremely partisan than a Congress that is. Presumably, the Fox gig pays better. Continue reading Take Five (Busyness as Usual edition)

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!

What Do Newtown Conspiracies Really Cover Up?

On the day before one of the biggest mea culpas in sports, the awaited Oprah interview with Lance Armstrong, the efforts to delegitimize President Obama in his second term have increased their velocity and are becoming more extreme and desperate. The efforts are also bigger and more ridiculous. And sad and tragic.

As the empty chair staged at the Republican convention quickly became a set piece to symbolize lynching as empty chairs were roped and swung from trees, so from the tragedy of Newtown, a legion of “truthers” have taken snippets of video and blasted the internet with lies. But look beyond the unfounded proofs that are asserted as facts. What the errors of facts and leaps of judgement and flights of make-believe reveal is a distress that is emotionally frayed. Its deep anger and helplessness has nothing to do with Newtown or the government—or the falsehoods strenuously pushed as facts.

It takes several deep breaths to get past the conclusions that are passing for facts about Newtown. It takes deep reflection to understand the attraction of this insanity in the comment streams. It leaves a country wondering whether it can survive as a civil society when hate and ideology seem to grow without constraint, grabbing our sorrow into its arcade.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) released a computer app for ages four and up that simulates an indoor practice range, and allows players to shoot a digital rifle (M9) at targets that are human coffins that are painted with bulls-eyes one by one. When targeted and hit, the casket falls to the ground, flat. For ninety-nine cents, the app upgrades the firing weapon. Does this promote responsible gun ownership and safety? Is it encouraging the use of safe firearm technologies, including owner recognition? The NRA says yes; their free “one touch” app provides safety information and other updates.

Does the app warn youngsters about the dangers of gun accidents in language they can read or understand? No, but Apple’s iTunes lists it as available to four-year-olds, since it is only shooting at coffins and not human action figures, and therefore is not deemed violent. Does it require supervision? No. Yet it creates the NRA version of video games the NRA argues are responsible for gun violence in the first place. Now the NRA has added to the culture it claims makes killing an attractive macho fantasy with game of its own—for four-year-olds—by reinforcing the thrill for children as young as four of pulling the trigger and watching the coffins fall. Again. And Again. It scores every hit.

The newest National Rifle Association ad,out today, calls the President an “Elitist Hypocrite.” That description is a direct personal attack. It also uses his two children as a part of the attack. They have armed coverage, the ad says. Why shouldn’t the rest of America’s children have armed protection?

Can the same level of training and professionalism be guaranteed for all of America’s children? In the form of teachers, principals, volunteers, and security armed, with no prior experience, nominal training, and no common standard? Or will it vary, as do educational results?

But to the point: do other American kids receive death threats every day? Yes, the President’s adorable girls receive a stream of unpublicized threats. Do other kids get their names associated with the darkest, sickest acts that humans can commit against each other? When given the opportunity for taking the high ground and leading a national stand-down, the NRA instead issued more slime, called attention to the President’s children, adding the kind of inflammatory labels they believe to be partly responsible for the rise in random violence! Their ad targets the President with no real facts, just as spree killers with no real ties target those they want to take out. And the ad ignores and fails to answer the big question: will banning assault rifles reduce the threat for all children, everywhere?

So the NRA ignores the level of threat faced by the President’s family. It ignores that more guns means more opportunities for their misuse. And the NRA ignores that its own ads and apps celebrate and push what it claims to deplore, making them hypocrites and liars, and elitists who value guns over saving lives.

The NRA ad exhibits the same blind fury that shooters do. Its words have the same purpose as bullets.

But Newtown has become a creation myth of disbelief. What’s interesting is no society can sustain itself on negatives, can govern itself as outlaws, can sustain a war against civil authority. The long-term conflicts in Africa’s western, central and eastern regions show clearly the scars of sustained conflicts, both political and armed. Hunger, poverty, illness, violence, helplessness, despair, assassination, and loss of family and community lead to a life of fear and want. But America is unique in trying to build a consensus on disbelief. Continue reading What Do Newtown Conspiracies Really Cover Up?

Slouching Towards Tampa (A Candidacy to Remember edition)

One hundred years ago today, the RMS Titanic slipped into the North Atlantic, taking with it more than 1,500 lives; five days ago today, Rick Santorum went to Gettysburg and suspended his presidential candidacy. Except for the majestic luxury liner, terrible casualties and historic milestone stuff, the two tragedies are virtually indistinguishable.

So what was Rick Santorum’s iceberg? That’s tough to say, because there are so many possibilities. I’m leaning to a campaign appearance in Fairfield, California back on March 29, myself. A Los Angeles Times headline about the event is a cheery highlight of the election season so far: “Rick Santorum invokes Ronald Reagan at Jelly Belly factory in California.”

At the time, Santorum had racked up a number of primary wins, some of them almost surprising if one discounts the depth of “Anyone but Romney” sentiment (which, of course, one can’t). At least part of the GOP “intelligentsia” must have realized that Santorum should be treated seriously. He was certainly being treated seriously by the Romney campaign, meaning that they were delighted to spend, well, titanic amounts of money attacking him. At some point in one of the debates, Santorum even fielded two questions in a row on geopolitics, and answered both with shockingly nuanced calls to moderation.

Rick Santorum had arrived nationally, in other words. So what did he do? He started gnawing off his own newfound prestige like a critter caught in a leg trap:

“Let them know, conservatives all across this country have not given up the fight, we’re not going to concede to the moderate establishment who wants to convince everybody that it’s over, it’s time to go away…”

If you’re unaware of the Republican moderate establishment, they were last seen headed for the exits following the Dole campaign in ’96, but Santorum obviously doesn’t know that.

“They’re asking you, people of principle, to compromise your principles and to be for someone who is less corely convicted than Ronald Reagan because we need to win. My question is, ‘Win what?’ Every time we run someone that the moderate establishment of the Republican Party said we need to win, we lose. Why? Because Americans don’t have a clear choice. They don’t have a vision for someone who actually believes and who dramatically, decisively lays out a vision for the American people to inspire and lift up and get people, like Reagan did, to believe in themselves.”

It’s hard to even imagine a more “corely convicted” politician than Rick Santorum. I admit I don’t fully understand what “corely convicted” even means, but it surely has a Santorian ring to it.

The speech foreshadowed both his eventual withdrawal from the race and his determination to remain an outsider (or maverick, if you will). It was also noteworthy that Santorum used the words “Reagan” and “stool” in the same sentence:

“We as conservatives need to stand up and fight for a candidate who can win this general election, who stands solidly, firmly on the ‘three-legged stool’ that brought the Reagan coalition together.”

He returned to this theme in his concession speech on April 10. Or at least I think he did; Newsmax’s transcript is pretty dodgy:

And laying out not a thee-legged [sic] stool of Ronald Reagan but a four-legged tool [sic] with the Constitution being one of those vitally important legs that we had forgotten about.

He’s right; you can’t be too careful laying out a stool, and no good could ever come from forgetting about vitally important legs. Continue reading Slouching Towards Tampa (A Candidacy to Remember edition)