Responsibility Begins at Home

Another day, another school shooting, this time in an Atlanta middle school. Not many details yet.

The video is a segment from last night’s Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, and the speaker is David Wheeler, father of Ben Wheeler, a 6-year-old who died in the Sandy Hook massacre. This was testimony in front of the Connecticut legislature.

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Although I’m not sure all of his suggestions would be helpful, one thing he said that I want to second is that it’s not enough to stop the sale of firearms to mentally unstable people. Because at the point that such a person begins a shooting spree, it doesn’t matter if the gun was purchased legally, or illegally, or stolen, or borrowed, or found laying around somewhere. What’s needed is not just to stop sales to someone who might pose a risk to the public, but to block his access to guns, period.

I’ve already said that I think a National Registry of Crazy People is a terrible idea. And as this article points out, most of the time the perpetrators do not fit any profile of a deranged killer until they start killing.

My idea is that if you own a firearm, and you keep it loaded where someone beside yourself has access to it, you are criminally responsible for whatever is done with that gun. Including homicide. Accidents with guns ought to also incur criminal charges. We keep hearing stories about people who shoot themselves, or their children, accidentally because they didn’t know there was a bullet in the chamber — well, you should have known. It is your responsibility to know that.

And I’m talking stiff penalties, I’m talking jail time, I’m talking ruinous fines. Make examples of a few people, and maybe some of these meatheads will learn to check for bullets in the chamber, or stop keeping firearms where their angry adolescent sons can easily get them. And don’t get me started on what should be done with someone who leaves a loaded gun where a small child can reach it.

WaPo Still Running from the “L” Word

Political commentary that makes me wonder if anyone at WaPo has a measurable IQ (from about five days ago, but I’m just now noticing it) — Zachary A. Goldfarb writes,

If there was one word that was used most often to describe President Obama’s second inaugural address Monday, it was “liberal.” Obama supposedly tossed away the post-partisan efforts of his first term and embraced big government, fully committing himself to the cause of gay rights and showing a Gore-like dedication to the climate-change fight.

Yet the next day, the White House expressed surprise at the notion that the president’s speech amounted to an affirmation of liberalism. Press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that he rejected “the idea that this was an ‘ism’ speech.” He added, “It’s on behalf of ideas that represent who we are as Americans.”

In a narrow sense, Carney was right. Opinion polls show that on almost all of the major positions Obama espoused in his speech — entitlements, immigration, climate change and same-sex marriage — a majority of Americans agree with him.

By that measure, Obama did not advance a liberal agenda.

Or maybe, dimwit, by that measure we see that Americans are coming back around to embracing liberalism, the way they used to. Let us consider the words of President John F. Kennedy —

President John F. Kennedy on being a liberal (via)…

“I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose, in human liberty as the source of national action, in the human heart as the source of national compassion, and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas. It is, I believe, the faith in our fellow citizens as individuals and as people that lies at the heart of the liberal faith. For liberalism is not so much a party creed or set of fixed platform promises as it is an attitude of mind and heart, a faith in man’s ability through the experiences of his reason and judgment to increase for himself and his fellow men the amount of justice and freedom and brotherhood which all human life deserves

I believe also in the United States of America, in the promise that it contains and has contained throughout our history of producing a society so abundant and creative and so free and responsible that it cannot only fulfill the aspirations of its citizens, but serve equally well as a beacon for all mankind. I do not believe in a superstate. I see no magic in tax dollars which are sent to Washington and then returned. I abhor the waste and incompetence of large-scale federal bureaucracies in this administration as well as in others. I do not favor state compulsion when voluntary individual effort can do the job and do it well. But I believe in a government which acts, which exercises its full powers and full responsibilities. Government is an art and a precious obligation; and when it has a job to do, I believe it should do it. And this requires not only great ends but that we propose concrete means of achieving them.

Our responsibility is not discharged by announcement of virtuous ends. Our responsibility is to achieve these objectives with social invention, with political skill, and executive vigor. I believe for these reasons that liberalism is our best and only hope in the world today. For the liberal society is a free society, and it is at the same time and for that reason a strong society. Its strength is drawn from the will of free people committed to great ends and peacefully striving to meet them. Only liberalism, in short, can repair our national power, restore our national purpose, and liberate our national energies.

What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label “Liberal?” If by “Liberal” they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer’s dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of “Liberal.” But if by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal,” then I’m proud to say I’m a “Liberal.”

Deal with it, Goldfarb.

BTW, here’s my new roomie, Sadie, courtesy of Bill Bush. Someday maybe I’ll get a photo of her when one of us is no t moving.

Update to Guns and News

Here’s another story about a homeowner defending himself with a gun, which was discussed in the last post, Guns and News — this is from Raw Story

Gwinnett County jail records obtained by The Atlanta Journal Constitution indicated that Phillip Walker Sailors was charged on Sunday with the murder of Rodrigo Abad Diaz.

Friends who were in the car with Diaz told WSB-TV that they were trying to pick up a friend on the way to ice skating on Saturday but their GPS directed them to the wrong address. The friends said that they waited in the driveway for a few minutes before Sailors emerged from the house and fired a gun into the air.

Gandy Cardenas, who was in the car, recalled to WAGA that the homeowner made no effort to speak to the group before opening fire.

“He didn’t talk to them, he just started shooting,” Cardenas explained. “The first shot was in the air.”

At that point, Diaz tried to turn the car around to leave, but Sailors fired another shot, striking the immigrant on the left side of the head. The group, which included a 15 and an 18 year old, said that Sailors held them at gunpoint until police arrived.

Rodrigo Abad Diaz, an immigrant from Cuba, was 22 years old. Phillip Walker Sailors was a law-abiding citizen — well, until he’s convicted — exercising his Second Amendment rights.

Guns and News

The New York Times has a heartbreaking story about the police officers who responded to the Newtown, Massachusetts Connecticut school shooting. Some of the officers are suffering from PTSD, and at least one hasn’t been able to return to work.

The stories also reveal the deep stress that lingers for officers who, until Dec. 14, had focused their energies on maintaining order in a low-crime corner of suburbia. Some can barely sleep. Little things can set off tears: a television show, a child’s laughter, even the piles of gifts the Police Department received from across the country.

One detective, who was driving with his wife and two sons, passed a roadside memorial on Route 25 two weeks after the shooting, and began sobbing uncontrollably. “I just lost it right there, I couldn’t even drive,” the detective, Jason Frank, said.

Some government hoax, huh? And Joe Nocera has compiled highlights of last week’s gun news, including a teenager who accidentally shot his two-year-old brother, an eleven-year-old girl shot (deliberately) in the face by her father, and a drunken man who shot and killed his own dog.

But that was just last week. If we google for news stories going back to the beginning of January, we find the South Carolina man who accidentally shot and killed his eight-year-old son while cleaning his gun; the Pennsylvania man who shot and killed his seven-year-old son when the gun in his car accidentally discharged; the Virginia man accidentally shot and killed by a juvenile relative who found a loaded gun on a table; the Kansas four-year-old who was shot and killed by a gun left on a table by a babysitter. It’s not clear if the toddler shot himself or if one of the other small children left unsupervised in the room set the gun off.

And I could go on and on; start to google for this stuff and there seems to be no end to it. Slate is keeping a running tally of gun deaths they can verify, but of course that’s not all of them. Most of these stories were covered only by local media and don’t pop up in national news coverage, so Slate asks people to send them links to the local stories to confirm that they happened.

If you google for recent news stories of citizens defending themselves with guns, you get a lot of hits, too. But many are of the same story that got covered a lot. Here’s the New York Daily News (turn sound off if you’re at work) covering the story of a Georgia mother with twin children who shot a home invader. That story got reported copiously all over the country. The Washington Post even seems to have snipped at the New York Times because the Times decided not to run a story about it.

There are other “citizen shoots burglar/home invader” stories from this January, many of which were widely reported. In some cases, though, it turned out the “invader” was not necessarily an invader. But the pattern appears to be that every time a citizen defends himself or herself with a gun, it gets on Fox News and is repeated in news outlets around the country. When the babysitter leaves a loaded gun on a table and a four-year-old dies, it’s local news.

BTW, there’s been another accidental shooting at a gun show. An Iowa gun dealer shot himself in the hand while testing a gun he didn’t think was loaded. Well, better his hand than a child’s head.

What the GOP Wants — or What Wingnuts Want, Anyway

The last post asked the question, “What does the GOP want? I think the question can be answered in two ways.

Psychologically, what most of ’em want is a world in which everyone else is just like them — looks like them, thinks like them, etc. Ultimately, this is how they define “freedom.” Freedom to a hard-core wingnut has nothing to do with civil liberty or equal protection under the law. Instead, is the power to reshape the world so that it is more pleasing to them — a world in which they rule and are never challenged or insulted — and the heck with everyone else.

To achieve this, what they must want deep down is the ability to utterly subjugate or destroy everyone who isn’t like them, but of course they can’t admit that, even to themselves. If you pay close attention, though, you notice that most of their rhetoric amounts to demonization of the Not Them people. Because, you know, if They aren’t really human, it’s OK to hate and kill them.

If you think this portrayal of wingnuts is going too far, ask yourself — when was the last time a right-wing pundits or politician addressed liberal and progressive views in a way that was not a straw-man caricature?

For example, Andrew Roshenthal of the New York Times recently commented on a speech by Bobby Jindal:

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, whose name is often mentioned as a future presidential candidate, had a very blunt message for the Republican National Committee at its winter meeting this week. “We must stop being the stupid party,” he said. “I’m serious. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults.”

He said the G.O.P. is guilty of “insulting the intelligence of voters” and has spent too much time “dumbing down” its ideas. “We must reject the notion that demography is destiny, the pathetic and simplistic notion that skin pigmentation dictates voter behavior,” he said. He added that “the first step in getting voters to like you is to demonstrate that you like them.”

It seemed like an extraordinary acknowledgment of what the polls showed in November, which was that minority voters — including a large percentage of Hispanic voters — overwhelmingly rejected the Republicans’ candidates and policies.

But the rest of Mr. Jindal’s remarks suggested that he wants to change the jingle on the commercial rather than the product itself.

“As I indicated before, I am not one of those who believe we should moderate, equivocate, or otherwise abandon our principles,” he said. “This badly disappoints many of the liberals in the national media of course. For them, real change means supporting abortion on demand without apology; abandoning traditional marriage between one man and one woman; embracing government growth as the key to American success; agreeing to higher taxes every year to pay for government expansion; and endorsing the enlightened policies of European socialism.”

That, he said, “is what real change looks like to the New York Times editorial board.”

“[T]hat’s a rather extreme caricature of our positions,” Rosenthal sniffs. Rather. But when do they not do that? When have they not done that going back at least 20 years? Sure, sometimes progressive pundits and politicians present caricatures of right-wing proposals, but not all of the time. You can find plenty of examples of progressives discussing right-wing proposals accurately and seriously. Here’s a randomly selected Ezra Klein column as an example.

But can you ever find a right-wing columnist or politician whose arguments against progressive policy proposals do not ultimately fall back on straw men and caricature?

The truth is, they have absolutely no idea what we think and why we think it. Nor do they care. They only know we don’t agree with them, so we must be evil.

OK, that’s the meta-psychological reason. The more down-to-earth answer is good old-fashioned avarice. The plan is to turn the nation over to the corporations, and reduce everyone who isn’t rich and powerful to the status of sharecropper, if not serf, kept servile by being overworked, underpaid, and eternally in debt — student loan/credit card/payday loan, etc.

See, for example, “Sam Brownback’s Kansas is a resort for ‘makers‘”; “Makers, Takers, Fakers“; “The Rise of the Permanent Temp Economy.”

What Does the GOP Want?

In our last episode, we learned that Republicans want to change the rules so that corporations and empty land count as people, but actual voters are only 3/5ths of a person.

Today the New York Times editorial page is getting downright shrill, and not just because of the vote rigging thing (Charles Blow, “Rig the Vote“). Get a load of the lead editorial:

For most of President Obama’s first term, Republicans used legislative trickery to try to prevent the functioning of two federal agencies they hate, the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. First they would filibuster the president’s nominees to the agencies, knowing that neither agency could operate without board members or a director. Then they would create fake legislative sessions for the Senate during its recess, intended solely to prevent Mr. Obama from making recess appointments as an end run.

Astonishingly, a federal appeals court upheld this strategy on Friday. Mr. Obama had declared that Congress was not really open for business during its one-minute, lights-on-lights-off sessions intended only to thwart him, and he made recess appointments. A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said his N.L.R.B. appointments were unconstitutional, buying the argument of Republicans that the Senate was really in session.

The court even broke with the presidential practice of 150 years by ruling that only vacancies arising during a narrow recess period qualify for recess appointments.

See also “Yet More GOP Obstruction.”

Steve M notes the SCOTUS will review the Voting Rights Act this year, also — “I think it’s safe to say that the fix is in.” Nice republic you had there, while it lasted.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Rubin snarks about Democratic Party totalitarianism; Peggy Noonan warns that President Obama is out to crush the Republican Party; the Ace of Spades thinks “we must do something about the media” because its been allowed to say nice things about Hillary Clinton; and some guy at World Nut Daily asks, “Is Obama Biblical Lord of the Flies?” You can’t make that up. Well, WND can, but I couldn’t.

Republicans Against the Republic

Voter suppression didn’t work, and they’ve run out of persuadable white voters. Now Republicans are preparing to take the White House back in 2016 using the only means they have left — cheating. Rachel Maddow explains —

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Last November, gerrymandering enabled the Republicans to keep control of the House, in spite of the fact that Dem candidates received more total votes than Republican candidates for the House. I’ve been hearing that Dems will need 7 percent more votes than Republicans to take the House back. Now several Republican-controlled states are considering changing the rules to give Republicans an advantage in the electoral college as well.

Josh Marshall explains,

Rather than going by the overall vote in a state, they’d allocate by congressional district. And this is where it gets real good, or bad, depending on your point of view. Democrats are now increasingly concentrated in urban areas and Republicans did an extremely successful round of gerrymandering in 2010, enough to enable them to hold on to a substantial House majority even thoughthey got fewer votes in House races than Democrats.

In other words, the new plan is to make the electoral college as wired for Republicans as the House currently is. But only in Dem leaning states. In Republican states just keep it winner take all. So Dems get no electoral votes at all.

Another way of looking at this is that the new system makes the votes of whites count for much more than non-whites — which is a helpful thing if you’re overwhelmingly dependent on white votes in a country that is increasingly non-white.

This all sounds pretty crazy. But it gets even crazier when you see the actual numbers. Here’s a very illustrative example. They’re already pushing a bill to do this in the Virginia legislature. Remember, Barack Obama won Virginia and got 13 electoral votes. But as Benjy Sarlin reported today in a series of posts, if the plan now being worked on would have been in place last November, Mitt Romney would have lost the state but still got 9 electoral votes to Obama’s 4. Think of that, two-thirds of the electoral votes for losing the state. If the Virginia plan had been in place across the country, as Republicans are now planning to do, Mitt Romney would have been elected president even though he lost by more than 5 million votes.

Remember, plans to do this are already underway in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and other states in the Midwest.

This is happening.

If you look up “republic” in a dictionary, this is what you find —

a (1) : a government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who in modern times is usually a president (2) : a political unit (as a nation) having such a form of government
b (1) : a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law (2) : a political unit (as a nation) having such a form of governmen

Basically, the current Republican Party does not believe in republican government. The people who yap endlessly about what’s constitutional and what isn’t have no respect for what the Constitution is, which is a charter for elected, representative, republican government. The meatheads who romanticize the Revolution and the Boston Tea Party and the rallying cry “no taxation without representation” don’t believe in representation. Ultimately, they won’t be satisfied with anything less than one-party rule, by them, even if they have to subvert the Constitution and the principles of republicanism to do it.

Of course, the current Republican Party is something like a dog chasing a car. The dog wouldn’t know what to do with the car if he caught it. Republicans have no governing philosophy other than cutting taxes. And when there are no more taxes to cut, and government functions are all privatized, and there are no Democrats to obstruct, what would they possibly do with themselves?

Tolerance and Lines

A judge has banned an anti-abortion protester from setting foot in Washington, DC. Surely that’s going too far, even though the guy has made a repeated nuisance of himself.

The ruling came about because the guy climbed a tree with his protest sign to be within sight of the President during the Inauguration on Monday. Capitol police ordered him down and even tried to reach him with a ladder, but he stayed out of reach, and in the tree, for five hours.

I’m sure that’s not the first time someone has climbed a tree to get a better view of an inauguration. But these days, there’s an understandable concern the guy might be hiding a long-range rifle to shoot the President with as well as a sign. I can see a public safety reason for wanting him out of the tree; it was not unreasonable to order him down. But banned from DC entirely?

Here’s the part of the article I found most interesting:

Grogan, 47, who calls himself “Pastor Rick” and runs a ministry and boarding house in Los Angeles, admits he’s an irritant, racking up about 10 arrests and a half-dozen convictions in two years in House and Senate buildings alone.

He said he patiently waits for the proceedings to be gaveled into recess before he stands and shouts — most recently in the Senate gallery when he screamed that legal abortions caused the massacre in Newtown, Conn.

“I preach, and I preach loudly on Capitol Hill,” said Grogan, who said he’s never spent more than a few days in jail. He’s been thrown out of a presidential debate, a Major League Baseball game attended by Mitt Romney and too many buildings to count.

First off, he can’t possibly be running anything in Los Angeles if he spends that much time in DC, but let’s go on — so the guy stands up in the Senate and screams that legal abortion caused the massacre in Newtown. Which is nuts. On the one hand, people have a right to speak, and I acknowledge that what’s insanity to me might be profound to someone else.

On the other hand, the Senate is dysfunctional enough without being interrupted by looney-tunes screaming nonsense from the balcony. As much as I respect protesters, there’s a point at which their exercise of free speech would hold the Senate hostage to a balcony full of screamers, day in and day out. And I would say the same thing about Code Pink as this guy. Just silently holding a sign or wearing a message T-shirt ought to be tolerated, though, and they haven’t always been.

On the other other hand, there’s seems to be nothing we can do about the Crazy on the Senate floor. Not to mention the Asshole.

I’m sure the Right will use this guy to claim that “liberals” are turning the U.S. into a police state. But as a long-time history buff, I assure you that people — both officials and private citizens — were less tolerant of this kind of repeated public obnoxiousness in days past. In the 19th century, Preacher Grogan would have been hauled into an alley and beaten to a pulp by either police or annoyed citizens for being obnoxious. First Amendment or no First Amendment. I’m not saying that was better; I’m just saying that’s how it was.

So what do we do about the Rev. Grogan? Do we want to set a precedent for how far a court may deny any individual access to government? On the other hand, how many public resources must be used to keep an eye on him, in case he decides to take his crusade to the next level and start shooting?

Liberals hate “free speech zones,” I know, but forget that among the first such zones were buffer zones put around abortion clinics to keep the Fetus People from threatening staff or blocking patients from going into the clinics. Another early use of free speech zones were rules keeping religious groups from aggressive proselytizing in airports.

Maybe what we need is a clearer set of rules, so that there’s a clear distinction between genuine security and public nuisance concerns and the right of the people to speak our minds without being herded into “zones.” Or banned from Washington DC.

The Choice About Choice

Roe v. Wade is 40 years old. There are new polls showing that more Americans than ever support Roe v. Wade and think abortion should be legal all or most of the time. One suspects recent wingnut overreach has opened a few eyes.

Although originally a right-wing argument, in recent years I have heard noise from the left about how Roe v. Wade just woke up a backlash, and it would have been better in the long run to let the states come around to making abortion legal, one by one. I say that’s hooey, for reasons well articulated by Mistermix. But I want to articulate some of my own reasons, also.

I am old enough to remember the years just before Roe v. Wade. The notion that people were reasonably and rationally coming around to an enlightened view of abortion before Roe v. Wade stirred the pot is utter nonsense. I was a senior at the Journalism School at the University of Missouri when Roe was decided, and I well remember that long before Roe the Missouri legislature was consumed by the abortion fight. (And, I assure you, liberals were not winning.) For a time after Roe, one could feel the relief coming from Jefferson City that the issue had been taken out of their hands. The legislature could turn to more important issues, like bans on Woodstock-style outdoor rock concerts (seriously).

There’s a video of Andrew Sullivan saying, in effect, women should have just stuck with their coat hangers, because Roe was terrible for politics —

I think it was a horrible decision. I think it ruined a lot of our politics in a lot of areas subsequently, and it’s been a bane of the culture wars. And insofar as it tempted evangelicals to come flooding into political life, I think it’s the worst decision ever made by the Supreme Court.

— as if politics had been perfectly sane before Roe; as if the nation hadn’t already torn itself up over Brown v. Board of Education — we’re still feeling the effects of Little Rock, 1957, I tell you — and as if evangelicals already weren’t up in arms over the “school prayer” decisions and the Equal Rights Amendment.

What happened, as I see it, is that by 1973 the Right knew it had lost on desegregation and school prayer, but the double whammy of the ERA and Roe gave the same old crew new purpose. And yes, Roe drew in some evangelicals who may have been less active before, but abortion was just a culmination of old grievances — many challenges to white supremacy; the sexual revolution and the Pill; the 1960s counterculture; the “Is God Dead?” cover of Time magazine (1966); the school prayer issue; women’s liberation.

It was basically the same crew fighting all those fights — some additions and subtractions along the way, of course, but the organization supporting each backlash grew from the previous one. You can draw a straight line tracking right-wing backlashes from Brown to Roe to today.

How? For one thing, after Brown, conservative white parents — mostly in the South, but not exclusively — pulled their kids out of school and established new private “Christian” schools, which in the South were nearly all evangelical. Before Brown (1954), most conservatives had no issues with public education. After Brown, suddenly public education was substandard, so kids needed to be in private schools. Or, better yet, home schooled. The school prayer decisions followed shortly after Brown and fired up the Christian Right even more.

So, largely because of Brown and other Supreme Court decisions, evangelicals had organized against public education long before they organized against Roe. Perhaps the impact of that wasn’t felt as much outside of the Bible Belt as it was within, but I assure you, within the Bible Belt the evangelicals were armed for a political fight long before Roe.

Is Andy going to argue that we should have allowed the states to desegregate whenever they felt like it? A lot of them would still be segregated, I bet.

This “we should do this gradually” argument could be made at many points of American history. People still argue that the Civil War didn’t need to be fought because slavery would have ended eventually, anyway. Perhaps, but not for a couple more generations, at least. And, anyway, the South started the war, which to me makes that argument rather moot.

What about the American Revolution? Britain probably would have given the 13 colonies more autonomy eventually. Look what happened with Canada! That seemed to work out OK. Andy’s argument could apply to the Revolution as well.

Sometimes ignorance needs an intervention. You can’t force people to stop being ignorant, but you can step in and rescue the victims of ignorance, and usually that’s the right thing to do. Don’t penalize the victims because ignorant people organize and fight back and are nastier than a nest of drunken rabid wolverines. Keep fighting.