Archive for February 2018

Questions About Guns

February 26, 2018

The big question this week is how long will the news media keep reporting on the Parkland, Florida mass school shooting and in particular whether any changes to gun laws will follow. Here are three questions and some observations.

The Second Amendment speaks to the “right to bear arms” but does not refer to what type of arms. Were the founding fathers speaking of single action, ball and cartridge muskets, or did they perceive the coming of bullets and the civil war lever action repeater rifles?

The Supreme Court construed the 2nd Amendment as the right of any citizen to possess a gun for personal protection in the home. The Supreme Court noted that Congress and States legislatures could pass reasonable controls clarifying what type of guns, and where beyond the home, guns could be used. The Court also stated that reasonable controls could also include suspending a citizens right to a fire arm if due process was served.

Question #1: Fully automative guns, both hand and long guns, are illegal to possess, why is it accepted that a military style AR-15 (and other similar brands) are ok?

Leading politicians, Governors, Representatives, and Senators (not to mention the President) are all citing the need to study this latest incident carefully. Most all these politicians sigh and confess that it is difficult to see what could have been done to have avoided the Parkland shootings. These pro-gun politicians allow that tougher background checks, while good, would not have prevented Nikolas Cruz from acquiring legally his AR-15, extra clips and unnecessarily large amount of ammunition (because the FBI did not act upon tips called in by concerned citizens).

Question #2: What is the logic that allows Cruz (age 19) to legally buy an AR-15 when Cruz could not by a hand gun nor buy beer?

Probably the most often heard statement when a pro-gun politicians is asked about simply banning assault weapons is that most AR-15 owners are law abiding citizens and why should they have to surrender their 2nd Amendment rights? These politicians then follow with they support stronger background checks as long as the Federal checks do not inconvenience those lawfully seeking a weapon.

If you listen carefully, pro-gun supporters might accept some toughening of background checks (but not national gun registration list), accept the idea of mental health screening (but no government capability to link gun ownership to some future mental health condition), and at the end of the day, believe guns in the hands of good people is the best defense to guns in the hands of bad people (more guns is the answer to Parkland).

Does this sound disingenuous?

Question #3: If the conclusion to this open discussion does not include further restrictions on availability of guns (e.g. assault weapon ban, restriction on clip size, age and training criteria before guns could be owned), why should we not expect another “Parkland” or “Las Vegas” type mass shooting again soon?

When our politicians discuss publicly guns and gun control, they present a disquieting image which screams their words are insincere.  Some try the “wise man” approach (our society is very complex and the restrictions being suggested will not eliminate gun violence and seem very unfair to law abiding citizens), while others dismiss the subject as inevitable (guns don’t kill, people kill).

Comment: How can our youth not become further disenchanted with government and our elected leaders?

European Socialism

February 25, 2018

Wayne LaPierre, National Rifle Association CEO, spoke this week at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee). At a time when concern and sensitivity for the parents and friends of the 17 killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was called for, LaPierre showed little sympathy and instead stuck to the heart and intent of his (probably) already written speech.

For LaPierre, the mass shootings were cut and dry. The school was simply too soft a target.

LaPierre had come to CPAC to bury Caesar, not praise him, and in the process make clear that all Democrats were really destructive socialist who wanted nothing less than European Socialism to spread through out America… the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Capitalism and our Constitutional rights were what LaPierre proclaimed as the basis of making America the greatest country on earth. The implication, of course, is that Democrats (and by extension) anyone who is not a far right conservative, was set on ending America’s exceptionalism.

I wonder what LaPierre and his speech writers are thinking?

  • Could it be that most CPAC attendees are unaware of European Countries since Europe is so far away?
  • Could it be that most CPAC attendees do not know that European Countries offer their residents universal healthcare which delivers superior healthcare to all residents at one half the cost which Americans pay?
  • Could it be that most CPAC attendees do not recognize the income inequality is greater in the US than in Europe?
  • Could it be that most CPAC attendees think Europeans are envious of American roads, education, and how Americans deal with their elderly?
  • Could it be that most CPAC attendees believe America is the safest country in the world?

La Pierre and his NRA staff have done a masterful job of framing the second Amendment as analogous to breathing fresh air. The logical extension, however, of La Pierre’s argument is for all Americans to openly carry weapons and in any dispute, for any reason, to “stand your ground” and use deadly force if necessary. This is apparently the NRA’s vision of the American Dream.

CPAC is not a monolithic organization as it relates to guns.

  • CPAC has members who do not know which end of a gun shoots bullets.
  • CPAC members/attendees do see lower taxes as good without concern for the consequences such as necessary cuts in social programs aimed at less fortunate Americans.
  • Some CPAC members see religious rights (that is the right to express their deeply held religious views) as a means to discriminate against fellow Americans in what they see as a legal way.
  • Other CPAC members seek weak or no regulations allowing oil and gas exploration freely without regard to consequences.
  • In short, CPAC represents a group of single issue Americans whose America protects those aspects which they believe is best for themselves and consequences be damned.

Unfettered capitalism is a two headed beast. One head which acts as an engine and propels the economy forward, is not only good but necessary. The other head, which is greedy, destructive, and without conscience, is dangerous and demands wise limitations on ability to run free.

A wise CPAC would seek a balance between the old wild west and the modern 21st century in which we live. A wise CPAC would realize that Wayne LaPierre and the NRA have gone off the reservation and should be viewed with a dim opinion.

BS

February 21, 2018

In the aftermath of the Broward County (Parkland) mass school shooting, as predicted, most of Congressional politicians said what was cynically expected. “Thoughts and prayers” was a favorite, followed by “we do not have all the facts yet”. But when there seemed to be a political ground swell to do little or nothing, again, Emma Gonzalez, a student at Parkland High School called the politicians out and label what they were saying as  B… S…

Until now, the media has reported heart wrenching, sobbing cries from parents over their innocent children’s deaths or injuries. In Florida, fellow students have stepped forward and said what any honest broker would say over a complete breakdown of societal sanity. How could a 19 year old legally buy a killing machine, an AR-15, and buy extra clips and ammunition but could not have bought a hand gun due to his young age?

Where in the Country’s founding fathers writings are there any indications that the second Amendment was intended to provide some citizens with the right to deny other citizens with a right to life?

Here is Ms Gonzalas last paragraph in here speech…

The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and our parents to call BS.Companies trying to make caricatures of the teenagers these days, saying that all we are self-involved and trend-obsessed and they hush us into submission when our message doesn’t reach the ears of the nation, we are prepared to call BS. Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS. They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS. They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call BS.

Another anti-gun group, “EVERYTOWN.ORG/THROWTHEMOUT bought a two page ad today in the New York Times. Within the ad was a listing of NRA campaign donations to Congress members. While perfectly legal, one wonders where these Congress members ethics might be.

Check out the names, all of them, and especially the million plus club… Sen Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas; Sen Cory Gardner, R-Colorado; Sen Marco Rubio, R-Florida; Sen Roy Blunt, R-Missouri; Sen Richard Burr R-North Carolina; Sen Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, Sen Rob Portman, R-Ohio; and Sen Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin.

While no one can be sure banning (again) assault style weapons will prevent the next tragedy, one can be fairly certain that anyone, for any reason, who is committed to undertaking a mass shooting will choose an AR-15 type weapon if it is legally available.

 

Meddling, Hmmm, Only Russians?

February 18, 2018

The Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller obtained a grand jury indictment this week charging 13 Russians with interfering in 2016 Presidential election. Mueller’s team detailed a broad effort by Russian sources to influence voters during the election campaign. Clear meddling by a foreign power in a domestic election.

Hmmm. Seems clear cut.

Forget, for a moment, that everything the Russians are accused of is everyday practice of the CIA. Incredulous is all I can think of when I hear the Washington “heavy breathers” taking exception to the Russian activities. Even more astonishing is that the media’s focus is mainly on Russian influence while overlooking social media’s inadequacies and already existing US sources of misinformation/propaganda.

To be clear, of course it is wrong for Russia to interfere with US democratic processes. And, it is reasonable that US agencies could label these Russian actions as unfriendly and maybe tantamount to making war. But in a “tit for tat” world, other than “I gotcha”, what more is there to say?

Well there is more. The Russian are accused of using money to influence social media which in turn was suppose to influence voters. Why is someone not asking the question, were the Russians the only ones who used social media to multiply the impact of their message?

Were the Russians the only ones who wished to see Hillary Clinton defeated?

The message Americans should be hearing is more like “social media, for example twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, by their very nature, should be suspected as publishing (knowingly or unknowingly) propaganda.

Social media outlets, as they are designed, are easily hijacked and used to hype positions favored by these commenters. Alert, alert, social media comments and news-looking content does not have to meet the level of a junior high school essay. There is no one checking the content for accuracy.

In other words, home grown, American through and through sources, like Arian Nation, Citizens Councils (for White America), or the Koch Brothers’ Freedom Partners, to name a few, can make statements, or “like” statements made by others, regardless of whether the subject matter is based upon opinion, hopes, or facts.

Those addicted to social media, or believe what they hear from robocalls, or see in negative TV political ads, and see these sources as offering helpful information are badly mistaken.

So, how is the alleged Russian election interference different from these examples?

In one case it is Americans spreading misinformation and in the other case, it is Russians spreading much of the same misinformation. Hmmm.

A difference without distinction?

IMO, Russian interference in the 2016 election, while totally inappropriate, could served a greater good by revealing how gullible voters can be. More to the point, the Russian interference used the same social media sources many other Americans influence peddling groups use.

Without further questioning, social media content is at best meaningless, if not hearsay, prejudicial and misleading. Hmmm.

Too Soon To Talk

February 16, 2018

When ever there is a mass shooting, the public conversation jumps to guns and the role they played. Soon we hear “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, or a constant crowd pleaser is “our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families”. In a few days (which our leaders said would be necessary to get all the facts), the mass shooting would be pushed off the front page and replaced by some other gruesome news.

Will we hear a repeat of this pablum following the Florida shootings? (You know the February 15th shooting at a school in Broward County, Florida).

Think about what is known so far

  • Assault rifle (semi-automatic)
  • Lots of clips and ammunition
  • Unarmed, soft targets
  • History of anti-societal behavior
  • Warnings to police and FBI in the past
  • Weapons legally obtained

In the 2008 Columbia v Heller decision, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision separated gun possession from any connection with a well regulated malitia. Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, said each American has a Constitutional right to own fire arms for self protection. Scalia was a staunch Catholic and believer in the here after. I wonder what he is thinking now about his 2008 opinion?

President Trump pontificated that it was a top priority for his Administration to ensure school safety. Hmmm, I wonder what he is thinking?

  • Could he be thinking that more armed police in each and every school?
  • Or, could he be thinking that the US is awash in guns with the largest number of guns per capita. (The runner-up country to the US (guns/citizen) is Yemen.)

The answer to mass shootings seems to glare back at us… Guns are simply too available and guns which fire many bullets, seem the preferred weapon of choice in mass murders.

At this point in any similar discussion, some will say that mental health plays a large role in mass killings. Others will say they are responsible gun owners and assault type weapons are particularly desired. So, does this mean that the best way to deal with gun violence is to make guns even more available?

Commonsense cries out that the place for guns are in the home, ton he firing range, or in designated hunting fields.

In rural parts of the country where wild animals pose threats, open carry for hand guns may be justified. But private ownership of military style, automatic or semi-automatic weapons have no place in a sane society.

Will The Chicken Hawks Return?

February 15, 2018

Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, has been testifying this past week before Congressional Committees. One news report quoted Coats as saying the US was running out of time to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs. Coats indicated that soon only military force would remain a viable option. WHAT ???

George W Bush is still alive and so is the chief chicken hawk, Dick Chaney. The memory of their fiasco telling Americans that when the US invaded Iraq our soldiers would be welcomed by Iraqis throwing flower petals at their feet as they marched by. To be sure some Iraqis threw objects at American soldiers feet but flower petals were not the objects.

The Iraq invasion and occupation remains one, if not the, greatest foreign policy failure whose consequences Americans will be visiting for years to come. The invasion opened a pandora’s box (to the surprise of Cheney and Bush) and unleashed sectarian violence through out the region. Instead of intimidating the Iranians, events embolden them to drive even harder developing nuclear weapons.

On the domestic front, Americas recognized once more that older men send younger men off to war, promise the soldiers full support and then proceed to forget about military members including those wounded and maimed when they return home.

North Korea is a two-bit country which may in fact develop nuclear weapons and the means to deliver the weapons to US soil. North Korea will join a list of 8 other nations also capable of deploying the “bomb”. Does Coats think China and Russia will stand by an allow the US to “take out” North Korea or any of the others preemptively?

The conservative right may feel bold and think giving North Korea a “bloody nose” in some type of preemptive move is a wise tactic. Regrettably, these “black-white” thinkers can not recognize today’s world contours. Instead they project American military strength around the world as if military strength was unique and more appropriate than diplomacy. Current generation conservatives appear more comfortable making short term decisions and in the process frittering away America’s moral and strategic leadership.

Strategic patience was the term President Obama used to encompass a comprehensive strategy for combatting North Korea and other uncooperative States. Strategic Patience foresees bad behavior by small countries as a nuisance, not an imminent threat.  And, in any comprehensive policy, President Obama’s Administration tried to engage other powers including Russia and China in attempts to find global solutions for nuisance countries.

In contrast, the Bush/Cheney era was driven by “neo-conservatives” who relied upon rattling the saber rather then undertaking the more nuanced hard work of diplomacy. Sending other people’s children to war against smaller countries was the hallmark of these “chicken hawks”. Shooting first, thinking (about the consequences) later defined these misguided leaders.

Under President Obama, foreign policy was forged with a heavy emphasis on assessing the world as it was and as it was trending. Sending our soldiers into war became a last resort.

I wonder whether Coats testimony has accidentally revealed the emergence of a new generation of chicken hawks?

Due Process

February 12, 2018

The Constitution speaks to “due process” in two Amendments (5th and 14th). Most businesses and institutions have incorporated to some degree the concept into framing their governance rules.  In essence, businesses or institutions will not take anything (employment, benefits, job level) away from anyone with out following a prescribe procedure (hence a due process).

For example, governments are not allowed to arrest someone, put them in jail, and throw the key away (thereby denying the person of life, liberty. or property). Governments may feel certain that a defendant is guilty of some crime but the Constitution guarantees there must be a clear process through which the Government can bring charges and potentially levy a fine or impose jail time.

Recently Americans have been hearing much more about “due process”. As the #MeToo phenomena is spreading, women are accusing others (mostly men) of having harassed or otherwise taken advantage of them against their will. The reaction of businesses and institutions appears also to have changed. Instead of deferring to the police, asking them to sort out if “he said, she said” involved a crime, organizations are dismissing the accused, issuing a platitudinous statement (like for conduct incompatible with our standards), and moving on.

The open question: was the accused afforded due process?

In the real world, there are regrettably many who given a position with control over others, see the opportunity to stretch this control beyond the basic tasks associated with the position. Secretaries make coffee, fetch laundry from the cleaners, and sometimes buy the boss’ wife a present when the boss runs out of time.

Other situations can be darker and more sinister. Some bosses feel free to comment upon a subordinates figure, life style, or preference when not at work. Still others coerce the subordinate into sexual relations with or without promises of advancement in the workplace.

The media (and most Americans) find this an unacceptable corruption of the work place, and the perpetrator a despicable person. But there are subordinates who for a wide scope of personal issues find it advantageous to flirt, entice, or outright proposition superiors. There are numerous reported cases where attractive women accuse sports figures of improper behavior and threaten to sue for millions.

Without due process, how can one be able to sort out responsibility?

Business and institutional behavior recently which has featured fast action to separate accused members from employment, appear to reflect only modest concern over justness, and much more about limiting institutional reputation damage.  They fear more about the accused remaining in place and the media modifying the story to a new story, not about harassment but about an institution protecting an abuser.

So when President Trump spoke out about the discharge/resignation (?) of Rob Porter, a White House aide, the President was pointed in saying “Porter did deny the claims”. The implication was that his staff had acted to quickly to bring about the resignation (or firing). Hmmm.

One might also conclude that with almost two dozen women already having claimed inappropriate behavior by Donald Trump, the President might have been anticipating the desire for caution over his own situation.