Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Ky in f

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

When "Thoughts and Prayers" Are Not Enough: How to Beat the NRA on Guns

After yet another tragic mass shooting, the contours of the debate on gun rights/gun restrictions has taken on their usual familiar forms. Republicans first send "thoughts and prayers" and say we can't talk about any new laws right after a tragedy. They hope everyone will move on in a few days and they'll never have to answer any tough questions after the mourning "thoughts and prayers" period. 

Then Democrats propose some sensible smaller bore stuff that 75+% of the country supports, but which of course has no chance of going anywhere because the Republican party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the NRA. Then Republicans point out that the handful of small bore Democratic proposals would not in fact prevent every shooting (duh of course not.- we still have laws though even though they don't prevent all crimes....we have red lights, stop signs, speed limits, and drivers' ed training courses, yet there are still automobile accidents, so should we just get rid of them?). Then a few days after this, Republican leaders in Congress quietly announce that they will do nothing. And a week later no one even remembers the shooting. And somewhere in there you'll have conspiracy theorists like Info Wars claiming it was a false flag operation funded by Geroge Soros and that the advocates are really just paid actors.

So far the Parkland school shooting has been different. After the initial sequence above, we haven't moved on yet. The kids are staying in the news, organizing rallies, speaking their minds in very public forums. And it just feels different. When adults speak after other shootings, supporters of our status quo always can find a way to make it seem partisan. But these kids aren't even old enough to vote yet, so the political media wasn't quite sure how to handle them and really still isn't prepared. The usual CNN/Fox talking points aren't really working. The youngest soon-to-be adult generation, with a more pure and clear-eyed perspective always  sees through the bullshit talking points older generations use.

But now that we are at over two weeks since the shooting, it's starting to fade a little from the mind of the public like every other shooting. But these kids are doing a great job keeping it going as long as possible. 

It took merely a few days for Republicans to start proposing things like arming teachers at schools as a realistic alternative to just passing workable regulations. Because of course we all want our old history professors packing heat! This proposal to arm 5+ teachers at every public school in the United States would put at least 700,000 more guns in society. I'm not really even going to address this ridiculous proposal any more in this post. Just know it's something the NRA has proposed for years because it will result in the sale of at least 700,000 more guns. That's all they care about. It has no chance of happening and wouldn't solve any problems.

The idea that we need more teachers carrying guns as a deterrent like car alarms deter thieves is patently absurd and also should not be their jobs. School shooters won't just go find another school to shoot up. They are targeting that school because of some personal connection. And some schools now actually have ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training for school shootings like we are living in war zones in Fallujah or Kandahar. We can do better than this. This is the summary of the training:
At a recent PTA meeting, we brought in some of the police officers who work closely with our school district to talk about ALICE, which is their approach to handling active shooter situations. One part of it is that if the shooter does enter the room where kids are at, the kids are told to run around, yell loudly, throw things like books or wads of paper, etc. Just be a distraction. At first I was like, really? you think a shooter armed with a machine gun is going to confront Samantha armed with a book and just say oh, nevermind, I won't kill her? And then it punched me in the gut: If she's face to face with a shooter, she's going to die regardless. The goal will be for her and her classmates to make their deaths take 20 seconds rather than 10. That's 10 more seconds for other kids to run, 10 more seconds for first responders to get to the scene and take out the shooter. A lot of lives can be saved in 10 seconds... 
Just to be clear, this is the current state of affairs: We live in a country where kindergartners learn how to maximize the number of lives they can save as they're being massacred.

Here are some stats on guns:
- There are over 300 million guns in the United States, nearly 1 per person.
- Over 3 million new guns are bought every year.
- Just 3% of the population (9 million or so people) own over 50% of the guns.
- Just 25% of people in the US and 40% of households overall own guns.

So this is another issue where the silent majority is held hostage by 25% of the country, just as on like Climate Change and Immigration Reform.

First, we should all be able to agree that banning certain types of weapons will reduce in crimes being committed by those weapons. The limited studies the CDC is permitted to do bears this out.  It seems logical, right? Any time you prohibit the sale of something, consumption or use of it goes down. It becomes harder and more cumbersome and, well, illegal to purchase.

You don't even have to "believe" it as if it's a leap of faith like virgin birth or something. You just have to support the evidence. Critics of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, like Marco Rubio, point out that it had little effect on gun crime overall. And that's true, but that wasn't the goal of the law. 

Louis Klarevas, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts at Boston who wrote a book on mass shooting violence published in 2016, says that the impetus for a federal assault weapons ban came in 1989. That year Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, an Ohio Democrat, introduced the original assault weapons ban bill after a gunman armed with an assault rifle killed five children and injured 29 more in a schoolyard in Stockton, Calif.
“The guy used an AK-47 variant, with large capacity magazines” capable of holding 10 or more rounds, Klarevas said. The shooting “got a lot of attention” and galvanized public opinion. National polls conducted in the months following, for instance, showed that over 70 percent of Americans supported bans on assault weapons like the one used in Stockton.
 But Metzenbaum's bill didn't pass, and Congress spent several years debating other assault weapons measures that were less stringent in nature. None of those were ever signed into law. 

Momentum returned with two back-to-back mass shootings in 1993: one at a San Francisco law firm that killed eight people and injured six more, and another on a Long Island Railroad train that left five dead and 19 wounded. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, architect of the 1994 assault weapons ban, said that “it was the 1993 mass shooting at 101 California Street in San Francisco that was the tipping point for me. That’s what really motivated me to push for a ban on assault weapons.”
The San Francisco shooting “made clear that the increasing sophistication of weapons had made it possible for a mass shooter to murder large numbers of people in a matter of minutes,” Feinstein said. “The goal of the ban was to reduce the frequency and deadliness of mass shootings.”

The purpose of the law was to reduce mass shooting massacres and the statistics show it was a success.

Source: Washington Post

Another point pushed by the NRA is that if we were all right-to-carry states, that too would be a deterrent. And well not only aren't states with right-to-carry laws a deterrent, as the NRA proclaims, this Stanford study shows that it actually increases incidents of violent crime. As the Vice column on the study concludes, "the good guy with a gun" theory as a deterrent to crime is a myth. Again, it's a pretty simple concept: more guns owned = more guns used in violent crimes, more guns owned and carried publicly = more guns used in violent crimes. [Not to mention the elephant in the room with several high-profile police shootings in the last few years of non-white citizens lawfully exercising this freedom in right-to-carry states, contrasted with the stand-off with Cliven Bundy threatening law enforcement while armed. Right-to-carry in many minds means a right-to-carry for white guys. Everyone else is a threat who should be taken out!]

We should act immediately on the small bore proposals being discussed, supported by anywhere from 60% to 90% of the country:

- Ban AR-15's and similar assault rifles (I know Marco Rubio said it would ban 200 guns while there are maybe 2000 similar ones that would be still be for sale, due to loopholes. Ah, the old loopholes that Marco Rubio and Congress are apparently powerless to close.) Anyway fine - start with banning the 200 and we'll deal with the 2000 later.

- Ban the bump stocks that allowed the Vegas shooter to turn his assault rifles into machine guns.

- Ban high-capacity magazines. This is like the last line of defense to reduce the number of fatalities during mass shootings. Every second matters at that point. During the most recent incident the Parkland shooter only stopped shooting because when he loaded a new magazine, his gun jammed with 150 ammo rounds left.

- Mandatory criminal background checks. This sounds like a no-brainer and is done in some states already. As part of this, anyone with histories of domestic violence or restraining orders (huge indicators of gun violence) would be banned from buying guns. Related - the NRA opposes a national computerized searchable gun registry, so therefore so does the Republican congress. This is the ridiculous way that law enforcement is tracking guns in 2018 - stacks and stacks of paper in boxes. This law that the NRA supports is literally making it more difficult for law enforcement to solve and prevent crimes. Also there would need to be a way to hold gun sellers and second-hand dealers accountable for this as well. If they are found to have sold to someone who was in the "do not sell to" database, who then commits a violent crime with that gun, the dealer should be fined or in some instances jailed too. And allow victims of these crimes then also be allowed to sue the dealers.

- Allow the CDC to study gun violence in a more robust way (see below).

I'm hesitant about the mental health background check database, but would be willing to sign on to that too, as it could be another issue where it hurts a few to help the many. It just seems like it could be used for nefarious reasons. And in some cases those who may need mental health would forgo it so they could purchase a gun. But at state level you could expand "Red Flag Laws", that now only five states have on the books. This allows for a temporary seizure of someone's guns before they can commit a violent crime if they have any incidents involving threatening behavior, substance abuse, signs of mental illness, accusations of domestic violence, etc. Parents, friends, teachers, et al, could call it in to the proper authorities and perhaps save lives.

The U.S. outlawed flamethrowers a long time ago and you know what - there were no public attacks by flamethrowers last year. Machine guns were staples of organized crime in the 20th century. And in 1986 Congress passed the Firearm Owners Protection Act, which updated and strengthened the Gun Control Act of 1968, which, by the way, was originally spurred on because of the fear of the Black Panthers exercising their right-to-carry freedom, and also with the assassinations of MLK and RFK fresh in everyone's minds. Of course we've had two members of Congress shot and nearly killed in public in the last 8 years, and even that didn't spur Congress to act on gun control. 

The 1986 law contained the Hughes Amendment banning the sale of machine guns to civilians from that point forward, signed into law by that noted liberal pacifist Ronald Reagan. And somehow freedom prevailed and there are no more mass shootings by machine guns because you can't buy them anywhere! There are NRA offshoots like the NFA (National Firearms Association), which still pushes for a repeal of this ban nearly every year.

In re of the Hughes Amendment, this was only a little over 30 years ago that an entire party had not yet been taken over by the gun lobby. What happened? Funny I should ask myself that question.

I've been getting a history lesson lately on all of this. I did not realize the NRA was basically a non-entity until the late 1970s. It was just a club for hunting enthusiasts and marksmen and really for 200 years there was very little thought given to 2nd Amendment rights. Then in the late 70s/early 80s political activists realized they could get these conservative-minded voters to the polls to vote for conservative politicians on this single issue, as long as they always felt gun ownership rights were under siege by liberals. The first time the NRA ever endorsed a politician was Ronald Reagan in 1980. Slowly over time, the NRA then became the mouthpiece for the gun manufacturers with the main goal of selling as many guns as possible with as few restrictions as possible...and here we are.

The NRA lobbied to have a law passed absolving gun manufacturers and gun dealers of any liability whatsoever for the harm their products cause, unlike every other regulated industry in the country. This innocuous-sounding law, The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, was signed into law in 2005. You can't file a class-action suit against gun manufacturers and dealers to hold them liable for producing and selling weapons of war, unless they are defective and injure the shooter. Dealers are the key here. The stores who sell guns to people who have no business owning guns must be held accountable if the background check bill is to be effective.

The NRA also lobbied for legislation that forbids the CDC from studying gun violence and making recommendations. In 1996 the Dickey Amendment passed doing just this:

On Tuesday, as teenagers swarmed the Florida legislature to advocate for gun control, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) renewed a familiar call for Congress to repeal an amendment that blocks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from funding research into the public health effects of gun violence.
It isn’t the first time that Democrats and thousands of medical professionals have called for eliminating the provision, written by former Congressman Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) and enacted in 1996 as part of an appropriations bill in the aftermath of a mass shooting. After the mass shooting in San Bernardino in 2015, nine medical associations urged Congress to overturn the amendment. Weeks after a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., left 49 people dead, Republican lawmakers impeded efforts to eliminate the Dickey Amendment once again during a mark-up in the House. 
Dickey eventually changed his position on the matter and called for Congress to overturn the amendment. “Doing nothing is no longer an acceptable solution,” he wrote in a 2015 letter to Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.)

We could reverse both of these legislatively at some point, hopefully in the near future and possibly enact all or some of the proposals outlined above.

But the key is changing the culture. 

We need to fight the "freedom" argument with the public health argument. It was the same argument MADD used to help enact stricter tests, preemptive enforcement, and more stringent penalties for drunk driving, which was a big culture change in our society in the 1980s. After years and years of senseless deaths and injuries caused by drunk drivers, communities finally acted. It was strengthened by public ad campaigns of sympathetic survivors and the PSAs that we still see versions of today about designated drivers and not letting friends drive drunk. Of course the bar and restaurant owners lobby is not quite the NRA and there is no constitutional right to drink alcohol and/or drive automobiles.

But the same arguments were used to restrict smoking in public places beginning in the 1990s. And prior to then Big Tobacco was seen as about as powerful a lobby you had in Washington. They owned nearly every Southern politician's votes. But people started suing and winning. Public opinion changed. With the percentages of adults smoking decreasing every year, younger generations grew up knowing cigarettes were addictive and bad for you and didn't want to be surrounded by cigarette smoke everywhere. And ultimately businesses went along with it because they didn't want to be held liable for creating an environment where their employees, clients, tenants, et al, could be getting harmed by second-hand smoke and suing them some day. A common theme to changing culture and behavior is the ability to sue.

Thirty years ago you could smoke in nearly building in the country. Now if you smoke within 20 yards of an entrance to a building people look at you like you're a criminal. In 30 years will the gun owners of 2048 be treated like the smokers of today?

I would also propose requiring gun owners to pay some type of personal liability insurance. I heard about this proposal a few years back and it's a total free market, constitutionally-sound way to force responsible gun owners to help pay the liability costs to society of irresponsible gun owners, the same way auto insurance works. There is not a constitutional right against paying insurance if product ownership requires it.

Some actuaries can figure out the public health costs of gun ownership and rate them accordingly. Your insurance rates would rise with every gun purchase. Also allow health insurance companies to access gun databases and charge gun owners more for health coverage just as they would smokers or drug users. Gun ownership fetish-ization and desire to assemble arsenals is an illness and a health risk of sorts, same as drinking a fifth of whiskey or smoking two packs of cigarettes daily also is.

Public figures and groups increasingly are lacking shame in the Trump Era, but ultimately the 75% needs to make the 25% understand that this can't continue. This is not an overnight project, but over time as we change the culture we can make it so very few people, even some enthusiastic gun owners, will want to be associated with the NRA. The mayor pro tem of Dallas is already telling the NRA to move their convention out of Dallas. Now imagine that nationwide. And in the last few weeks dozens of companies are disassociating themselves from the NRA's toxic brand - rental car companies, airlines, chain restaurants, and Dick's Sporting Goods.

And ultimately you just need simple messaging. Keep repeating something like "The NRA represents the needs of gun manufacturers and dealers not gun owners." We can do better and we have to do better. And every day another kid growing up in our insane do-nothing gun politics will say, "Enough!", like the Parkland kids have done the last few weeks. And they'll register to vote. And every election we will have more and more kids voting who believe in this kind of world and more old white men dying off who believe in the fantasy world that the NRA and Fox News is selling them. This is our future. It's not inevitable, but we're getting there.

P.S. Also check out this post by Dan Pfeiffer from October after the Vegas shooting. He makes some great points more eloquently.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Why Are We Led By So Many Damaged Men?

I just read the long New Yorker profile of Carl Icahn from the summer. And my first reaction was - why are so many of the super rich and successful business people (well strictly men, in this case) such mentally and emotionally damaged people?

This passage early on in the piece stuck with me:
The old conundrum about whether it is better to be loved or feared has never posed much of a dilemma for Icahn. In “King Icahn,” a 1993 biography, the author, Mark Stevens, described his subject as a “germophobic, detached, relatively loveless man,” and quoted one contemporary saying, “Carl’s dream in life is to have the only fire truck in town. Then when your house is in flames, he can hold you up for every penny you have.” When the biography was published, Icahn stocked his office with copies to give to visitors. These days, he bristles at the term “corporate raider,” favoring the euphemism “activist investor,” but the reality is that when Icahn targets a company the response from management is generally terror. He has a volatile temper and a vindictive streak. Everyone makes time to take his calls.
How screwed up of a person do you have to be to still feel as Icahn does, or did at the time his biography was published 25 years ago when he was nearly sixty, to be a multi-billionaire, yet still be so insecure and needing "a win" at all times? Now in his eighties, he used Trump's sycophantic idolization of him to try to get the EPA to make a change that would directly benefit his business empire.

These "alphas" spend their whole lives using money and power in an attempt to fill the emptiness in their hearts. And no matter how much money they make and power they accumulate, it's never enough to fill that gaping hole.

They need constant acknowledgement of how great and smart they are. Along with Icahn, I immediately thought of Trump, Welch, and others of that ilk. And as a society what do we really get out of this? Some jobs I guess, but their goal is making deals that benefit themselves. The jobs created are often accidental or at best beside the point.

The kicker is that our society lionizes these figures and their success, so it's a constant feedback loop where being a "successful businessman" or at least playing one on a reality TV show is all that matters. And now the results of society enabling this mental illness every day is on display from the White House.

Friday, September 29, 2017

In Defense of Not #StickingToSports

(SI cover, week of 9/25/17)
After the election last year I noted that now more than ever this was NOT the time to #StickToSports. It was not time to just go about our lives pretending a normal person had just been elected president. People who are telling sportswriters, athletes, coaches, and other sports fans to #StickToSports whenever they make a political point are really telling them to go along with the status quo and to normalize this situation.

In the ensuing months, it became even more obvious that acceptance of the status quo would be a normalizing device for white supremacy, misogyny, and xenophobia, as part of an administration that is looking more and more like a (thankfully incompetent) version of a kleptocratic, ethno-white nationalist autocracy.

#StickingtToSports is a tacit endorsement of the present state of affairs. Remaining apolitically neutral in this extremely politicized environment, with our ignorant President tweeting out attacks and opinions on whatever topic was just aired on Fox and Friends, is a political statement in and of itself. That is essentially saying "your grievances aren't important, or at least not important to me." Discrimination in the criminal justice system? Racial profiling? Police shootings? White supremacists demonstrating and believing they have a strong ally in the White House? Not my problem. Threats to curtail freedom of speech and expression? Not my problem, as long as it’s not affecting me, personally, which is a version of holocaust survivor, Martin Niemöller's famous poem,
"First they came...."

Weirdly, I never remembered the anthem being a big deal during NFL games when I was younger and it turned out my memory was correct. Prior to 2009 players would usually remain in the locker room during the anthem, except for Super Bowls or other special games. 
As recently as 2015, the Department of Defense was doling out millions to the NFL for such things as military flyovers, flag unfurlings, emotional color guard ceremonies, enlistment campaigns, and — interestingly enough — national anthem performances. Additionally, according to Vice, the NFL’s policy on players standing for the national anthem also changed in 2009, with athletes "encouraged" thereafter to participate. Prior to that, teams were not given any specific instructions on the matter; some chose to remain in the locker room until after opening ceremonies were completed. (It’s unclear whether the policy change was implemented as a direct result of any Defense Department contracts.) 
In 2015, Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake (R) and John McCain (R) revealed in a joint oversight report that nearly $5.4 million in taxpayer dollars had been paid out to 14 NFL teams between 2011 and 2014 to honor service members and put on elaborate, “patriotic salutes” to the military. Overall, they reported, “these displays of paid patriotism [were] included within the $6.8 million that the Department of Defense (DOD) [had] spent on sports marketing contracts since fiscal year 2012.”
 “While well intentioned, we wonder just how many of these displays included a disclaimer that these events were in fact sponsored by the DOD at taxpayer expense,” they added. “Even with that disclosure, it is hard to understand how a team accepting taxpayer funds to sponsor a military appreciation game, or to recognize wounded warriors or returning troops, can be construed as anything other than paid patriotism.”
The way NFL owners tried to co-opt the protests was a mixed bag. I'll give them credit for showing they had the players' backs. But they seemed very careful not to come out and say they wouldn't cut anyone for exercising their rights, as our Dear Leader demanded. Joining arms to show unity is literally the least you could do and offend no one, while burying the original point of the demonstrations. None of these big Trump donors have had an issue with anything he has said or done until it affected them personally. 

As an aside, I do think the issue inflamed more people all because of social media and how headlines are written now. So many people just read headlines and not the story. For over a year now headlines have called this an "Anthem protest." Some of that was maybe due for editing reasons. Some of it maybe for clicks. But in any case, way too many people were ignorant or willfully ignorant, including our President, and have continued calling it an "Anthem" or "Flag" protest. Yeah it's an "Anthem" protest in the same way a hunger strike is protesting the taste of food. Such a widespread dumb take. 

I was also reminded of this story from last September. Last year Colin Kaepernick met with former Seattle Seahawk and army green beret, Nate Boyer, after he wrote a column saying he was disturbed by Kaepernick sitting during the anthem. So they met, talked it out, and decided kneeling was a more respectful way to protest. Boyer joined Kaepernick on the field for the game after this with his hand on his shoulder in support.
"We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammates," Boyer says. "Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother's grave, you know, to show respect. When we're on a patrol, you know, and we go into a security halt, we take a knee, and we pull security."
Violent protests are obviously wrong and counterproductive and should be condemned. But for a country founded on protest, I find it baffling how resistant people are to various peaceful protest movements. There are very few forms of nonviolent protests that people seem to support. 

This is how we used to treat peaceful marches in the South:

Oh wait, we're still kind of doing that. Here is St. Louis last week after a police officer was acquitted by a judge for shooting an unarmed suspect, after being on caught on tape saying he was going to kill the suspect, being caught on video planting a gun in his car, and with forensics showing no DNA of the victim on the gun.

The elderly woman who was trampled was charged with "interfering."

So what are peaceful demonstrators to do? Block traffic? People complain. 

Inconvenience people in any minor way? People complain. 

Organize protests in various cities with outside groups involved? People complain and tell protesters they have nothing better to do and need to get a job. 

Take a knee or raise a fist during the anthem while at your job, inconveniencing no one? People complain it's not the right time and place - you should be doing it alone in your basement, I guess, where no one may be offended seeing it, because that's how you affect change! Or post a rant in an Internet comment section. That should do the trick!

Speak out on an issue? People complain you should put your money where your mouth is. 

Donate money to organizations that will advance your causes as Colin Kaepernick and Eagles Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long (who is playing for free this season, donating all of his game checks), and many others have done? People complain you're just trying to get attention. (well, yes, Sherlock, that's the point of all of this!)

Taking a knee before the anthem even starts? Fans in Arizona booed. And if standing and honoring the country during the anthem is some sort sacred ritual to these fans, shouldn't they be singing, hands on hearts, and not focused on what a few dozen players are doing? 

If you feel like you are on the right side of an issue, more attention being drawn to it should not worry you.  The real issue with many critics seems to be PWB - Protesting While Black. Listen to how many commentators on Fox News last week referred to the protesting players as "ungrateful" - as if rich black athletes need to be "grateful" because their wealth and status was given to them (by white people), and not earned. Hmmm. You can trace that strain of argument all the way back to the days of slavery where slaves were supposed to be grateful that their "massas" provided them food, clothing, and shelter.

Anyway, here was a key Gallup polling statistic I saw this week in re of MLK:
In 1963, King had a 41% positive and a 37% negative rating; in 1964, it was 43% positive and 39% negative; in 1965, his rating was 45% positive and 45% negative; and in 1966 -- the last Gallup measure of King using this scalometer procedure -- it was 32% positive and 63% negative.Gallup did not measure King in 1967 or 1968.
So the more effective King's protests were in achieving tangible gains for black people - desegregation, voting rights, fair educational opportunities, etc, the less popular he became among white people. He started out with an image of a clean cut, articulate preacher, seeking equality and justice. And by the mid 1960's he was thought of as a radical troublemaker. King is now held up as a godlike figure like Gandhi, a standard-bearer for effective peaceful protest movements. Yet in his own era, he and his methods were about as unpopular and divisive as NFL players kneeling during the national anthem are today.

And for the fence-sitters, #StickToSports-ers, I am reminded of MLK's Letter From a Birmingham jail in 1963:
"First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;" who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." 
Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."
Time and time again history repeats itself. And comfortable middle class white people continue to act as the "white moderates" of King's era. This is a chance to be on the right side of history at the right time, when it matters, and not thirty years after the fact. And all that is asked is that you engage on the issues, perform a little self-examination, and endure a few minutes of potential discomfort watching the national anthem at a sporting event, while respecting other people's rights of free expression, which our great Constitution ensures - yes our Constitution, not our President or Senators or the anthem. Our nation has already survived previous anthem protests. Like this:

John Carlos and Tommie Smith protesting during medal ceremony in 1968 Olympics

And this:

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf praying to Allah during national anthem at an NBA game in the 1990s

And this:

Browns players kneeling during the national anthem during the preseason, August 2017

I'm pretty sure we will survive this too and be better for it. Groups of people who suffered a real or even a perceived injustice are given a platform to try to be change agents. If certain laws or rules go unchallenged out of fear of speaking out or due to forced performative patriotism and obsession with order, we become a weaker country. And if by speaking out, those issues get addressed, it makes the country stronger and is better for all of us in the long run.

Former Missouri Secretary of State, US Senate candidate, and military veteran, Jason Kander, summed up it perfectly in this tweet:

Amen. That's a sentiment we all can stand and salute.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Welcome to the Resistance

I've been grappling with what to post as a follow up to the presidential election in November for, oh, about eleven weeks now. I've had dozens of conversations about it and the way forward. Donald Trump and his administration are every bit as dangerous a threat as the pre-election warnings promised. This is the biggest threat to our democratic institutions in a long time, maybe since the Civil War. The delusional premise among some pundits that Trump would move to the middle to find common ground with Democrats was laughable. So now we have a Cabinet full of bankers, oil men, climate deniers, unqualified dopes, and a white supremacist as chief strategist attempting to carry out the bold and divisive campaign promises. Great job, voters.

The Democratic party is powerless at every level of the federal government, save for the bills and nominations the U.S. Senate is able to filibuster. And the GOP has dominant holds on 30+ governors and state houses. So dig in, it's going to be a long 2-4 years. 

And the chances of the Dems retaking one of the two houses of Congress in 2018 are both long shots, unless Trump remains deeply unpopular. The Senate map for the Dems in 2018 is terrible with them mostly playing defense in states Trump won. So realistically the best case scenario is probably just a loss of a few seats and not a disaster, where their minority shrinks to the point that they are unable to win a majority in 2020. 

The House may provide more fertile terrain, but with only 40-50 competitive seats, they will need to do very well to reclaim a majority there. So that's what we're up against nationally. At the state level, there are some prime opportunities to pick up wins in gubernatorial elections in OH, MI, WI, MA, MD, FL, and some other swing or blue states where Dems lost badly in 2010 and 2014. And aside from that just organize locally. Treat things like State Senate elections with increased importance. If Barack Obama didn't win his Illinois State Senate election in 1996, he probably would not have been a presidential candidate in 2008. Start small and pay attention to every election.

But forget all that for a minute because that is the finish line for the first leg of this battle. And we have a lot of work ahead as #TheResistance before we get to the next election. So what can we do in the meantime? I'm not quite sure the leadership of the Democratic party and the old White House media people covering the Trump administration have reckoned with this new reality. I saw an unattributed quote passed around on Twitter this week (sic): "it's like democrats and republicans were playing a board game, then the republicans were like 'fuck it' and lit the house on fire, but dems are still just sitting in the burning house trying to win the board game." And I think this nails a little of bit of my impression of what is happening. The opposition needs to be stronger and better organized.

I knew it was going to be bad, but I didn't quite grasp all of what was coming until after the election. I believe in institutions as a check on power, to make the world more peaceful, to prevent humanity from acting on its worst impulses. The institutions we set up after the 20th century world wars - NATO, the United Nations, International Criminal Court, etc., while imperfect, have served to ultimately keep the world much more peaceful than it was prior to their creation. There is accountability and you risk economic sanctions by not complying with the rules and norms established by the institutions. Free trade also serves to keep us connected and more peaceful, with obvious economic disincentives to go to war. But the last few years have seen right-wing nationalism spread through Europe and now the United States, threatening the institutions, signaling exits from said institutions and trade agreements. There will be a power and influence vacuum and Russia and China seem more than willing to step in to fill the void with unknowable consequences for the rest of the world.

I'm ultimately a liberal institutionalist at heart, so I believed our institutions and rules would protect us from authoritarians and tyrants here in the United States. But there is little I've seen from our institutions so far to give me hope in the near future. You can't count on the Electoral College, Congress, the agencies the Trump regime is attempting to silence, etc. All of the usual checks on executive power will be hamstrung or will be going along in silent agreement. We are left with independent media and hopefully lawyers and courts. And ourselves. We can't assume everything will be OK and that the Democratic opposition and institutions will be sufficient to thwart an authoritarian regime. This is a fight you will need to stay engaged in daily, doing whatever you are able to do. This Sarah Kendzior piece really nails it - required reading for how to handle this regime. 

The good news is we are in the majority (if we could stop having purity/purge litmus tests among ourselves that would be great). We need to find common cause with liberals, leftists, #NeverTrump conservatives, and independents. We may disagree with some of these people on many issues, but we all agree Trump is an unprecedented threat to our republic and must be defeated at all costs. I think we all mouthed those platitudes to each other last summer but then went right ahead and allowed our common cause to be divided over petty issues and the result was the person with 46% of the vote, 2.8M less than the winner, becoming President. Let's not repeat that mistake.

If you aren't already you should immediately follow these people on Twitter:

Several of them are experts in covering authoritarian regimes and how they manipulate people. Re-reading a lot of Sarah Kendzior's posts from November are prescient for predicting what was to come in the opening days of the Trump administration. A flurry of activity, seemingly frantic or chaotic. Lots of distractions. Multiple stories being leaked to different reporters, neither of which turn out to be true, so then the administration can attempt to discredit the media. 

Do your best to stop focusing on Trump's tweets or whatever boldface lies the administration told, realized it looked ridiculous, and then walked back that particular day. It provides some comic relief for us liberals, but ultimately it's just an empty sugar rush. Keep your eye on the ball and don't get distracted from whatever executive orders or bills are due to be signed or voted on that day.

What else can you do? Contribute money to the ACLU and other organizations who will be vital in this fight. Call your congressional representative and Senators about every issue that is a concern. Even if you are in a deep blue or deep red district or state, make your voice heard. Order of preference to make an impact: phone calls, handwritten letters, emails. Social media contact means nothing. Check out for more info on where your contact can make the most impact. It'll tell you where your closest geographical swing district is. Join local or national social media groups to find out where protests are happening and how you can be a part of it. 

That's a lot to digest for now. I'll probably be blogging a lot more this year. Hopefully many more short posts rather than occasional long ones. Stay tuned. 

In the meantime, Organize. March. Protest. Resist.