Can we do anything about gun violence in the U.S.?

Seems like we have to reset this one every few weeks and that's not normal or OK.

Seems like we have to reset this one every few weeks and that’s not normal or OK.

Once again, Americans are reeling at the sight of another mass shooting. In what’s become all-too-commonplace, we react with horror, sorrow, anger, and discussion, but at the end of the day, we all know this will happen again. President Obama said as much during his remarks addressing the shooting in Oregon, and regardless of your politics, every American probably agrees with Obama when he said it’s likely he’ll have to address another mass shooting before his term is over. However, in our efforts to end the horrific violence caused by guns, we address a few key issues: the ease in which potential shooters access guns, how we handle mental illness in the United States, and whether any reasonable limitations on gun ownership are appropriate if it means preventing another mass shooting like we’ve seen across the country, year after year.

The following piece attempts to address a few key issues. First, we must try to find a way to prevent mass shootings from ripping apart communities across the country and if reasonable gun legislation is off the table (despite overwhelming support in most parts of the country), we need another solution. We simply cannot accept mass shootings as normal, or something that cannot be prevented because the Second Amendment prohibits the adoption of any legislation preventing some individuals from accessing firearms. The piece takes a look at perhaps a key psychological reason why it’s so challenging to pass reasonable legislation aimed at ending the scourge of gun violence affecting Americans every single day. Additionally, we must consider our rhetoric towards guns–especially the paranoid notion that someone is coming for them–which may–or may not–be contributing to gun-related violence in the United States.

What’s laid out here isn’t a series of concrete solutions to gun violence, but perhaps it will provide us with an outlet for deeper discussion–on both sides of the aisle–on what can be done to make sure we can end the evils of gun violence and mass shootings in the United States.

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Dear GOP: Boehner quit you, not the other way around

"Goodbye, nut jobs!" -What John Boehner quite possibly could be thinking right now. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

“Goodbye, nut jobs!” -What John Boehner quite possibly could be thinking right now. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

Alright, the headline is slightly misleading, since outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, didn’t actually quit the Republican Party, but his surprising resignation, nonchalant attitude at his press conference, and subsequent trashing of fellow Republicans and conservative groups, like Texas Senator and GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, seemed to indicate a man who could no longer stand what’s become of his beloved party. The Republicans are in disarray, helped by a huge swing to the far right, allowing fringe elements to infect the party at almost every level, leaving establishment members like Boehner little choice by to take a lifeboat to safety.

Boehner isn’t the first high-profile Republican to essentially jump ship in recent years. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell–a lifelong Republican–famously endorsed President Obama not once, but twice, and chastises his party (he still considers himself a Republican) often on television. Longtime Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter switched parties not long after Obama’s election, and others are sure to follow. Not all will take the same or similar routes pursued by moderates like Powell or Specter, but Boehner is not the first and nor will he be the last big Republican name to call it a day.

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Remembering September 11, 2001

Every 9/11 leads me back home to Tell City, Indiana

By: Deborah Ludwig

I was working in downtown Cincinnati at the Cigna offices on Seventh Street when my boss received a call from his dad in the New York office letting him know a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. He shared this information with us and we all imagined it was a small plane and that the pilot had somehow lost control.

It was a splendid September morning in Cincinnati, just like it was in New York City: warm, sunny, clear blue skies. The weather was perfect. Soon that blue NYC sky would turn to dark gray then black.

We gathered in the kitchenette where a TV had been turned on and were stunned by what we saw: a gaping hole in the North Tower with fire spewing out of it. I was horror struck, and even more so as we witnessed the second plane, United 175, crash into the South Tower. The shock of it was chilling. We remained glued to the television and when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon, I lost it, crying and wondering, ‘what city would be next?’

I made my way back to my desk and called my sister Karen, who I knew would be home. She was working on her dissertation. I told her to turn on the television. As we were talking, she gasped and said, “Oh, my God. One of the towers just fell.” Shortly afterwards, we were all sent home. Even away from the chaos and fear, we felt it and didn’t know if we too might be next on the target list. I made it home just before Tower 1 crumbled, as if it were a sheet of ash and smoke cascading to the street.

I spent the next few days glued to the television. Somehow I felt that if I paid attention, sat vigil with the emergency workers, medical personnel, the people searching for loved ones, and New Yorkers trying to cope with the devastation to their city, that somehow I was offering them support, love, and strength. My sister nagged me to turn off the TV because my nonstop mourning was becoming unhealthy.

I thought that with the number of people affected by this tragedy that most Americans probably would know someone who worked in the World Trade Center or knew someone who did. Well, ended up I did know someone. Two people, actually: one who got out, another who did not. Her name was Stacey Peak. She graduated high school a year ahead of me. She was 36.

Remembering September 11, 2001

Stacey was from my hometown in southern Indiana had been living in New York City for about two years, working at Cantor Fitzgerald as a gas/power stock broker. I heard the news from my mother. She told me that Stacey’s mother had received a call from her that morning. She was on the 105th floor of the north tower when she made the call. Newspaper reports later revealed that her mother said Stacey was hysterical when she called, telling her that she was trapped and didn’t know if she’d be able to get out. She told her mother she loved her and then had to hang up.

I am forever haunted by that detail, wondering what those last moments of her life must have been like, the horror of rising flames and intensifying heat, knowing you were about to die. I know that is morbid, but it’s what I can never stop thinking about when I see photos of her lovely face and hear stories from friends and family. I also think of the helplessness her mother must have felt, not being able to protect her, save her. The anguish must have been intolerable and suffocating, as she waited for news of her daughter, holding out hope that somehow she escaped the carnage.

I did not know Stacey except casually, but the hometown connection, and discovering that she was single, never married, living life on her terms, taking acting classes, all of it somehow connected me to her. Sadly, her remains were never found. There is a memorial to her erected in our hometown, Tell City, Indiana, in Sunset Park by the Ohio River. Every year on September 11, the Perry County News highlights a story about her and local news stations in Evansville remember people from the area who perished that day as well.

Healing definitely takes time and the scars from that fateful day remain, the images and stories etched in our collective memory—for those of us who lived through it anyway. So as I do every year on this date, I will take a moment to remember Stacey, send a smile and a blessing heavenwards, say a prayer for her family and friends, and recommit to doing my best to try to make this world a better, more peaceful place.

Cross-posted at Writing Life.

No More Loose Change

By: hlward

As I have shared in this space before,  I love a good conspiracy theory. A worthwhile conspiracy theory needs to start from a kernel of truth, or at least potential truth. Once that kernel exists, the best possible breeding ground is a lack of verifiable information. A few holes in an official story. Maybe some redacted documents.


If all those things are in place and the event in question happens to be one of the biggest stories of a brand-new century, well, you’ve got yourself one heck of a greenhouse for conspiracy theories.

Unfortunately 9/11 meets all of those requirements. Which is why there are theories refuting every single aspect of the official version of what happened that day and the days before and after. Some of them are fanciful, some bigoted, some outright disgusting.

Another thing about conspiracy theories, though, is that sometimes they have more than a kernel of truth, and sometimes people who are supposed to be able to tell you that something is just a silly theory have been kept in the dark just like you have.

You may remember that former Senator (and all-around good government straight-shooter) Bob Graham co-chaired a 2003 Congressional joint committee into the events surrounding 9/11. You would think that if anyone would be able to shut down foolish questions about 9/11 it would be Senator Graham.

But he has some of the same questions “conspiracy theorists” have. And Bob Graham is nobody’s tinfoil-hatter. He just can’t get the FBI to tell him the truth. Any truth.  Senator Graham has asked enough inconvenient questions to get himself detained at Dulles airport by the Bureau.

Yes, seriously.

There are almost certainly untruths we have been officially presented regarding 9/11. Those lies – let’s call them what they are, shall we? – might be for reasons as anodyne as not wanting to embarrass important people. They might be far more sinister. We don’t know. Bob Graham doesn’t know. That’s a problem, and it’s one that won’t conveniently go away.

As a nation we will never be able to put even the wildest of the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 in the ground until we – or at least our most trusted representatives – can get straight, unredacted answers instead of ridicule and intimidation.

I want to see those conspiracy theories settled. I want them buried in unmarked graves and forgotten. But until our leaders are willing to be honest with We The People about one of the greatest national traumas in decades, we will live with this fetid breeding ground of dark fantasy.


I dared to challenge a cop… Part 2

In part 1, I shared my encounter with a crooked cop in 1999. He cited me for reckless driving, which was a completely bogus charge. He was in the wrong, and he knew it, which is why he failed to show up in court a month later. I was exonerated, but since that injustice against me I’ve been wary of police personnel and their intentions. I dared to challenge him, question him, at times my voice dripping with sarcasm. There was no witness to this abuse of police power, nor did I have a camera to videotape the incident, as is often the case these days when evidence of police brutality is captured and shared on social and news media sites. It is important to note that I walked away from this heated exchange physically unharmed. Many of our fellow Americans cannot say the same.


The Black Lives Matter Movement has increased awareness about the number of African Americans killed—often unarmed—by police and imprisoned for even minor infractions. Whether you agree with Black Lives Matter’s ideas or tactics, to dismiss what it is they are trying to accomplish and communicate means racial tensions and misunderstandings will continue during law enforcement interventions and that needed adjustments to policies that will eradicate institutional racism will never happen. It behooves white people to listen to what they are saying, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us, and even more important, to listen without getting defensive.

Brittney Cooper wrote on of Black Lives Matter:

“To be clear, the Black Lives Matter Movement is not an anti-cop movement. It is a movement that vigorously and voraciously opposes the overpolicing of Black communities and the state-sanctioned killing of unarmed Black people (and yes, all people) by the police. It is a movement that insists on holding police accountable for their violence and that will hold police to a higher standard precisely because the state gives police the right to use lethal force. With more power comes more responsibility.

 But here’s the thing: White people know this. Conservative Black people who insist on speaking about the rule of law and the issue of Black-on-Black crime know this. This is basic. They know that these young people don’t want to kill cops. They want the cops to stop killing them.”

Law enforcement officers deserve our respect, but respect goes both ways. One can simultaneously support policemen yet still want them to be held accountable for gross negligence or outright murder. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive, but that seems to be what is reflected on today’s social media sites: If you support Black Lives Matter, you must hate all police. If you support the police, you hate African Americans. It’s not that simple.

Still, there are many instances where police officers have been exonerated, even when video proves what transpired. Below are a few examples of police overreach or blatant disregard for life: Continue reading

This Is What Labor Day Is

April 20, 1914 

The good news is that you have work. The bad news is that you work for Mr. Rockefeller’s Colorado Fuel & Iron Company in Ludlow, CO. You live in a tent on company land with your wife and two young sons. It’s hard, but the community of about 1,200 other mining families sticks together and you keep each other’s spirits up. You can’t help but worry lately. You’ve been on the front lines of a strike, because you’ve got to have something just a little better. You only get paid for the coal you dig out of the mountain, but the work you have to do before and after that – like digging tunnels and carting the coal out – you give the company for free. At first you thought maybe the company would listen to you and the other UMWA boys, but the past few days things have been getting kind of nasty.

If that was you, the next thing you would have seen is two companies of Colorado National Guardsmen installing machine guns on a ridge near your camp. You’d have spent the day trying to protect your family from a militia stirred up and paid by mine owners. By dark, the entire camp was on fire. Miners and their wives and children were slaughtered. At least four women and eleven children died in one pit under a burning tent. Because you and your co-workers thought it was reasonable to demand that you not be asked to work more than eight hours a day, and that you be paid for your work.

Today we call that the Ludlow Massacre. The land the camp was on is owned by the UMWA, and there’s a nice monument there.

March 25, 1911 

The early morning is still cold as you walk the few blocks from your parents’ apartment in a Greenwich Village tenement to the Asch Building. You’ll spend the day – Saturday – cutting fabric on the 9th floor, as you do every day. But today is payday! At 16 years old, the thought of putting that seven dollars in your pocket at the end of the day is exciting enough to get you through the day.

If you were that girl, late that afternoon you would have smelled smoke. You would have been part of a panicked crowd pushing for the doors – which the company kept locked to keep you keep you and your co-workers from stealing – and you and 146 other workers from the eighth, ninth and tenth floors would have been asphyxiatd, burned or fallen to your death.

May 4, 1886
You’re standing in Haymarket Square in Chicago chanting, “Eight-hour day with no cut in pay.” You’re tired of working until the bossman lets you go, and you’ve seen too many men die from the working conditions in the plant where you work. This British guy, Samuel Fielden, he’s making a lot of sense to you and the hundreds of other men who have showed up. You’re all pretty angry about what the police did to break the strike at the McCormick plant yesterday.

If you were that man, probably a German immigrant, around 10:30 that night you would have heard a homemade bomb go off, and then gunfire, lots of gunfire. Seven policemen and at least four of your worker brothers would be dead, although no one can honestly say how many strikers were wounded or died.

We celebrate “Labor Day”  in the United States not “in honor of the workingman”, as many will tell you. No, we have a day off because President Grover Cleveland needed to calm the Labor movement in the 1890’s. On this three-day weekend, take a moment to imagine what it was like to be the people described in the events above. They were not unique. Women, men and children all over America, and for decades, bled and died for your eight-hour workday. For your two and three day weekends. The very least we can do is honor their memories once a year.

I dared to challenge a cop… Part 1

“…the officer could be heard saying that the traffic stop occurred “because you made direct eye contact with me and held on to it.”

 “The traffic infraction was verified by the video; however making direct eye contact with an officer is not a basis for a traffic stop.”

The above incident happened recently. The “because you made direct eye contact with me and held on to it” comment reminded me of a police encounter I had back in 1999. I was pulled over by a cop in Covington, Kentucky. I’d been to a holiday party, celebrating with theatre friends and colleagues and was heading home, back to Hyde Park, which is about seven miles northeast from downtown Cincinnati off I-71. It was after midnight,

The encounter occurred at an intersection where there was a stoplight. It was green and I had the right of way because I was turning right. The cop was coming from the opposite direction and turning left. I looked the cop straight in the eye, held that contact for a few seconds as I made my turn, basically indicating/reminding him that: “Hey, buddy, I have the right of way.”

I guess he didn’t like being challenged by a woman, so he pulled me over, saying I had caused him to veer into the oncoming lane, that I was driving recklessly, when in reality it was he who was doing so. He didn’t have his lights or siren on either, otherwise, of course, I would’ve pulled over.

He stood at my driver’s window explaining this. I challenged him by asking, “Aren’t police officers held to the same traffic laws as the rest of us?” In the meantime his crony cop buddy had walked to the passenger side of my car, gawking in the window at me. Talk about an intimidating and scary situation: a small woman late at night alone with two male cops. I was scared, but I’m an actor, so I played the bravado for all it was worth. In my mind, these guys were the kind of policemen who would plant drugs in someone’s car or orchestrate something incriminating just to make an arrest.

The officer wrote a ticket, handed it to me, and said I could contest it in court. To which I replied, looking directly at him (he could hardly make eye contact with me), “Oh, you better believe I’ll see you in court, officer.”

I drove away, trembling and tears welling up in my eyes. My tough exterior crumbled as I seethed at the injustice of it. I ended up writing the Covington chief of police and carbon copied the Kentucky state attorney general as well as Covington’s judge-executive and three county commissioners. I was willing to pay the fine and court costs if needed because I was not going to just pay the fine and was determined to have my day in court to refute it. I showed up in court a month later, but that cowardly cop was nowhere to be seen. I was exonerated and didn’t have to pay one cent.

This encounter and the fact that the chief of police in Covington never responded to my letter spawned resentment toward policemen. Even to this day I’m a bit distrustful.

Read my detailed letter: Police Complaint

I would be remiss if I failed to admit that I have also been granted leniency by cops on occasion, either because I am a woman or they knew my father, who was employed by the Indiana department of corrections. It is because of experiencing the extremes of police encounters that I view the current narrative saturating the media that states you either “love or hate the police, affording no middle ground” as a gross over-simplification of the dynamics of equal justice and policing at play in our society.

This issue is too vast to possibly address all the intricacies in a blog post. The majority of policemen in this country are decent people who do a good job. They take pride in their work and want to protect and serve. It is a tough occupation and oftentimes a thankless one. They sometimes endure vitriol from citizens, encounter criminals, and face the possibility of being injured or killed in the line of duty, which is frightening, I’ve no doubt.

However, police possess much power and they are armed—at times heavily. They are granted a good deal of leniency with regards to the law that backs them up, even when sometimes what they have done is lawless. There are bad apples in the system and accountability is important when an arrest or traffic stop goes terribly wrong. That’s not to say we shouldn’t mourn the killings of police officers either. Of course, we should, even those in the Black Lives Matter movement don’t want to see cops killed, despite what some in the media are claiming. We can do better. We must.

Part two will focus on over-policing, the Black Lives Matter movement and why they should not be dismissed or demonized, and the contrast between my police encounter to that of Sandra Bland.

The GOP “pledge” is a ridiculous stunt and means nothing

Do you see anything binding about this "pledge?" I sure don't... (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

Do you see anything binding about this “pledge?” I sure don’t… (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

The headline sounds like a Trump-ism and it probably resembles what Trump will say when he announces his run as an independent around July 2016. Here’s the thing, without a binding agreement, the pledge is nothing more than a great way for the GOP to earn media and for GOP chair Reince Priebus to look like he’s leading the party, but he’s missing a crucial element: Trump’s supporters aren’t necessarily ardent Republicans, they are just conservatives.

Confusing partisanship and ideology is fairly commonplace in American politics and it remains confusing for some studying political behavior at the graduate level. Yes, partisanship and ideology are closely related, with most liberals identifying as Democrats and most conservatives identifying as Republicans, but one’s ideology doesn’t mean they are “party people.” Yes, they may tell a pollster they are a “Republican,” but that may have more to do with their ideology lining up with one particular party than the strength of their partisanship. (Essentially, the Republicans better represent a conservative ideology, therefore a conservative identifies as a Republican.) Trump attract ideologues on the right. Conservatives who fully agree that we need to kick out the “illegals” and build a gigantic wall along both the Mexican AND Canadian borders don’t necessarily rock elephant lapel pins and pendants, but they do support the tea party and other movements associated with the Republican party, but more explicitly tied to the conservative ideology.

This is an important point for Priebus and other Republican bigwigs worried about the Trump-effect. Trump can sign the loyalty pledge now, in early-September 2015 when the stakes are high for both Trump and the Republican Party, but if Trump’s support among Republican party elites starts to wane, but his support among those identifying as very conservative remains high, the likelihood Trump bucks the pledge and runs as an independent strengthens.

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