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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Remembering Hiroshima

(Disclaimer: this post solely represents the opinion of the author.)

On August 6, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress named Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, the climax of the gruesome struggle in the Pacific between the US and Japan. Approximately 90,000 people were killed immediately, and another 50,000 died within two years. Added to that was the toll paid by the survivors, and their descendents: radiation sickness, cancer, leukemia, mutation, genetic damage, and birth defects decades later add an incalculable amount of human suffering to the toll. Three days later, this Boschian tragedy was re-enacted, at Nagasaki.

It’s almost cliche, now, to dutifully go through the debate: the Japanese started the war, Pearl Harbor, Bataan, Manila, execution of prisoners, refused to surrender. The Bomb not only saved a million(?) Americans, but actually saved Japanese lives as well, by obviating the need for an invasion of Japan.

And so forth. For every one, there is a riposte, every charge, a justification. These justifications-and that’s what they are-are necessary, because they help obscure what the nuclear attack on Hiroshima was:

A massacre. A slaughter of the innocents. I don’t know what else you can call hitting an undefended city, containing few if any targets of military value, with a nuclear weapon.

You can call it justifiable if you want-I’ve given you the basic outline of the usual main points. Many do. But remember what you are doing: you are justifying the massacre of civilians, on a previously-unimagined scale. If massacres are justifiable, then where does it stop? It doesn’t, until it reaches its logical conclusion: justifiable genocide, as promoted in the Times of Israel last year.

Hitler and Stalin both thought massacres were justifiable, as seen in places like Babi Yar, Katyn Forest, the gulag archipelago, and the German concentration and extermination camp system. “Bomber” Harris was a big fan, as seen at Cologne, Hamburg, Dresden, and a hundred other incinerated cities. So was Curtis LeMay, whose firebombing campaign against Japan-hitting a major Japanese city every other day-made Harris look like a bush-leaguer. And of course, the Japanese officers who ordered the rape of Nanking, created IJA Unit 731, and killed hundreds of thousands in China, Korea, the Philippines, and Okinawa thought they were justified too. And Truman, who promised Japan “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on the Earth”, went to his grave justifying his decision.

Nobody escapes the truth. Either these acts are universally wrong, or they are not. And if the massacre on a vast scale is justified, then why not genocide? After a while, they start to become indistinguishable from one another. If it is morally acceptable to nuke a city, then what is forbidden? And why? Is there still something worse, where we can draw a line and say “We won’t do that”?

So, amidst the jingoistic chest-pounding and nationalistic roars on one side, and the solemn memorial of the dead divorced from the acts of the leadership who brought this horror upon them on the other, remember Hiroshima, sacrificed on the altar of the justifiable massacre as an offering to the gods of vengeance. A vast, boiling, multi-colored monument to the failure of human beings to rise above their base, brutal, bloodthirsty programming. Remember the dead, the hibakusha, and the downwinders. And remember, even after all this time-it could still be you, your kids, your family.

We are all downwinders now.

Ferguson Is Your Future Too

(I wish I could say I wrote this, but alas! This post is the work of the Institute’s Cherubic Adonis, the victim of a particularly nasty tech issue.)

This is your future, America. The events in Ferguson, Missouri are a symptom of a broken country. You know it’s broken. You see the damage and you look the other way because it isn’t your children who are being killed at a frightening pace by authority figures in our society. But one day soon, it will be you and your children who are the victims. They will be drawn into the battle on one of the two sides.

Either all Americans share certain “inalienable rights” or none of us do. The problem stems from your own inability to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Prejudice. Now, when I say prejudice, I don’t automatically mean race, but racial prejudice is a big part of the problem. People can be prejudiced in any number of ways. Political prejudice (left vs right), economic prejudice (rich vs poor), intellectual prejudice (intellectual elites vs common man), sexual prejudice (men vs women) are all equally as bad for our national health. Until we, as a society, recognize that we all have value, none of us will really be worth a damn.

Local police forces are now paramilitary units who use counterinsurgency and urban-warfare doctrine to establish control of their areas of operation at any cost. Now, I realize that many people will read this and say, “Oh, you’re exaggerating. This is an isolated incident” but is it really? Take a look and you’ll see that these atrocities occur with staggering regularity in America. Some folks think that this squall will pass (and they may be right), but I guarantee you one thing, this storm isn’t over.

Looking the other way when someone’s rights are being violated doesn’t strengthen your rights. It weakens them. Sooner or later you or people like you are going to become very upset about something (perhaps a big gubmint takeover of *insert cause here*) and they are going to go to the streets because of it. When they do they are going to find out what many minorities in America already know: America does not care about you. America cares about its image and it won’t tolerate you making it look bad on the news. America is a sixteen-year-old girl taking a selfie. America is a self-absorbed douchebag talking into their Bluetooth in the checkout line at the grocery store. America will step over your bleeding (and maybe dead) carcass on its way into a Starbucks to get their caffeine fix. America only cares about America. You aren’t America. America isn’t you. You have become a cog in a machine and if you get worn out or break down, it won’t matter. The machine will continue grinding away. Today it’s Ferguson, Missouri, but soon it will be YourTown, USA. It won’t be fair. It will hurt.  You’ll whine about it and maybe your friends and relatives will be killed or maimed by the “authorities” but don’t expect anyone else to care, because you don’t care right now. In fact, expect people to giggle with glee at your misfortune. Expect to be made into a meme. Expect to be shot through the door when you ring the doorbell and cry for help. Expect to be exploited, first as political fodder and then as comedy, because that’s what America does.

I leave you with an old quote about America by Carl Schurz, “My country right or wrong.” Most people have heard it before but that’s not the whole quote. The whole statement reads, “My country right or wrong; if right to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Until we are all prepared to set America right when it is wrong there won’t be any right to celebrate.

Ferguson, Pt. 1

Some links I found interesting about what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri:

The Covert Action Virus

Twenty or so years ago, I had a conversation with a soil scientist of my acquaintance, who had recently returned from an extended trip through Central America. He had been teaching alternative farming techniques to peasant farmers being squeezed into less and less available land, as part of a private aid group. It sounded to me like an ideal gig for the Peace Corps, so I was surprised when he answered: “Uh-uh. No way. If you’re in Central America with the Peace Corps, everyone just assumes you’re CIA. Nobody will talk to you, and you can’t get anything done.”
I was taken aback, given that, as the Peace Corps itself says:

Persons who have been employed by an intelligence agency, or otherwise have been associated with intelligence activities, are ineligible to serve as volunteers. This exclusionary policy is one aspect of the broader, long-standing policy of maintaining an absolute separation between Peace Corps and intelligence activities conducted by the U.S. government. This absolute separation is necessary to protect volunteers’ safety and to maintain the trust and confidence of the people in the countries in which volunteers serve.

The inverse, however, is also true. Because of this exclusionary policy, the Peace Corps would in fact make an excellent cover for an agent. This goes to the very nature of the deception that is the core of what intelligence agents do: it does not matter what lie is believed, as long as a lie is believed. As long as the target believes something that is not true, he/she can be manipulated. Which means that everything is a potential cover story, a legend, and a potential target for infiltration and exploitation. Every bureau, every commercial outlet, every information source is a potential target. Every cell of the body politic is susceptible to this, either proactively or by being compromised; a virus of deceit, secrecy, and covert action.

The problems with this are obvious, and became apparent to me again this morning, when I opened Firedoglake and saw USAID Fake HIV Center in Cuba Undermines Global Health Efforts. I followed the links; the gist, as reported by the AP, is that “Over at least two years, the U.S. Agency for International Development — best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid — sent nearly a dozen neophytes from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Peru to gin up opposition in Cuba.” These untrained agents, supplied with encrypted flash drives, and codes for communications, “posed as tourists, visited college campuses, and used…[a]n HIV-prevention workshop one called “the perfect excuse” to recruit political activists.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the operation was set up by the same contractor that dreamed up the failed “Cuban Twitter” project.

This program is being defended by the Obama Administration: according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, the program “enabled support for Cuban civil society, while providing a secondary benefit of addressing the desires Cubans express for information and training about HIV prevention.” Note the moment of honesty: the secondary benefit of the HIV awareness program was HIV awareness. The first was covert action.

This type of covert action is not rare, as Peter at FDL goes on to elaborate; nor is it just medical aid being used as cover. The fake NGO that was used to decapitate a FARC unit in Columbia is missing, but he includes the fake hepatitis vaccine program in Pakistan that helped identify Usama bin Laden-since then, the Pakistani Taliban has outlawed polio vaccination and killed 60 vaccination workers, allowing polio to make a robust comeback. Another one Peter could have pointed to was the role of the NED-the National Endowment for Democracy-in Ukraine, where it has spent tens of millions of dollars on a wide variety of programs. As  One of the founders of the NED-“whose purpose is to support foreign organizations sympathetic to US foreign policy goals” explained it in 1991“A lot of what we do was done 25 years ago covertly by the CIA.” And so it is: whether it be Nicaragua, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Albania, Iran, Cuba, Mongolia, or Venezuela, the NED is there. No wonder Putin was pissed about US operations in Ukraine. Every dollar spent there was intended to lessen Russian influence. Every single aspect of the “civil society” NED is supporting there can be considered a covert operation targeted on Russian interests.

And that’s the real issue-the meta-issue. The effect of using everything as a cover for covert operations is the certain destruction of the ability of people to have faith in institutions that, in a democracy, require faith to operate (rampant conspiracy theory-the guaranteed response to pervasive secrecy-has the same effect). You can have democracy-or you can have deceit and covert action. You can have citizen participation-or you can have counterintelligence programs designed to “expose disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize…” You can have journalism-or you can have Operation MOCKINGBIRD, in which the CIA compromised dozens of journalists and fed them CIA propaganda. You can have community policing-or you can have Phoenix Program-style counterinsurgency as law enforcement, in which pervasive surveillance, secret and unconstitutional police methods, and Special Operations teams combine to “neutralize threats.” Radley Balko reports an average of fifty thousand SWAT raids annually in the US…we have come a hell of a long way from “to serve and protect.”

And that’s the point-when everything is a covert action bureau, or cover, that is all it is. It cannot be an institution that operates by deceit and covert violence, AND be a democratically-controlled institution responsive to citizens’ needs. You can have democracy, and freedom, and all the messy processes that democratic institutions require to operate; or you can have the expediency, secrecy, deception, and violence of government-by-secret-police-agency. When your service providers collect and sell your information; when your cell phone is tracked by retailers in the mall; when your movements are tracked via car tracking, facial recognition programs, and ubiquitous cameras; and when your police subvert oversight by deceiving responsible authority, your institutions have become spy agencies, whose tools are secrecy and deception: anathema to self-government in a free society. A paradigm of covert action, or a representative democracy. You cannot have both.

You cannot have both, and there will be no progress until this question is answered, definitively. Subverting change in defense of the status quo, after all, is what intelligence agencies do. Our government is infected with a virus, that has seemingly moved into every cell; healing America will require, first, a robust immune response from a citizenry that will not be able to suspend the necessary weight of disbelief much longer, and second, an intense vaccination course to keep the patient from  relapsing.

 

I’m Not Saying I Agree…But I Understand

Chris Rock once did a stand-up routine where he talked about the OJ Simpson case, and his theme was, “I’m not saying it’s right-but I understand.” This is kind of how I feel about Ukraine: I’m not defending Putin, and I’m not saying taking the Crimea in violation of treaty was right-but I DO understand. Here’s why:

I had forgotten about Zbigniew Brzezsinski’s famous quote: “without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire.” This kind of fanatical bipolar myopia isn’t really funny anymore, given that the Cold War ended a generation ago, but it seems to be the core of much US thinking toward the current crisis in Ukraine, much to the detriment of our understanding why Russia is doing what it is doing. With communism defeated, there was  little ideological reason to continue fighting, beyond the entrenched corporate interests of  surviving Cold War -era institutions and the knee-jerk opposition of the Grand Chessboard-type thinking that thought it was a good idea to, say, march NATO up to Russia’s border. The idea that Russia, and any Russian leader, has a legitimate interest in Ukraine complicates this simplistic Good Guy/Bad Guy  narrative, so attempts to undermine Russian influence in Ukraine are left out of the mainstream conversation, as are the activities of Western intelligence agencies in fanning the unrest, and the uncomfortable presence of a significant fraction of neo-Nazis in Ukrainian resistance.

This reactionary impulse may have something to do with US motivation in aiding the anti-Russian Ukrainians, and maybe some of the Ukrainians are simply US aid sponges,  but there is a long history of antipathy between Ukraine and Russia, even before Stalin starved somewhere around 3.5 million Ukrainians to death in the Thirties. This was repaid, of course, by many Ukrainians welcoming the Nazi invaders of 1941. After the war, a Ukrainian independence movement largely controlled by unreconstructed fascists fought on, until finally crushed by the Soviets.

Fast forward. During de-Stalinization, Crimea is transferred to Ukraine from Russia, though the Russian Black Sea Fleet is headquartered there.

Fast forward. When the USSR collapses, Ukraine has the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal on its territory. In return for giving them up, Russia signs a treaty guaranteeing Ukraine’s territorial integrity; this is the one broken-maybe-by Russia’s incursion into the Crimea. We’ll return to that momentarily. Also, US Secretary of State James Baker promises Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO will refrain from moving East if the USSR stands down. After the USSR dissolves, NATO, of course, immediately adds most the old Warsaw Pact nations of Eastern Europe to NATO, which is why it so infuriated the Russians when Ukrainian President Yushchenko started talking about Ukraine, on Russia’s border, joining NATO, and expelling the Black Sea fleet from Crimea.

So, when Putin outbid the EU for favorable trade terms with Ukraine, he was operating within the accepted rules of the game. Meanwhile, the US is funding the Ukrainian resistance, and is wiretappedamong other things, picking the next leader of the resistance. Then, after Yanukovich’s “turn” toward Russia backfired, and the demonstrations got out of hand-the Russians brokered a deal to end the protests, and Yanukovich agreed to step down and transfer power to the Parliament.

That should have been the end of it; instead, the Ukrainian resistance reneges on the deal, essentially staging a coup d’tat even though they had already won. Furthermore, to complete the circle, there is a significant, visible presence of Ukrainian neo-Nazis in the Ukrainian nationalist movement.

And that’s why Putin is pissed. In his mind, he was playing a clean game, while Russia was being undercut by a covert op; he brokered a deal in good faith, only to see the Ukrainians immediately renege; and finally, the symbols of the hated fascists who killed at least 30 million Russians in the defining event of Soviet history are being prominently displayed, on Russia’s border.

There is simply no way in hell that any Russian leader is going to allow a hostile government with operational ties to Western intelligence to thrive in Ukraine-period. Especially one that reneges on its agreements, and is working hand in glove with both the US and NATO, who have lied to Russia at every step. Especially one that insists on rubbing its identification with the Nazis in Russia’s face. And, since temporal distance seems to have fogged people’s memories, Russia is a major strategic nuclear power and need have no fear of a conventional military threat, since attacking Russia is a prescription for national suicide.

Also, Russia is allowed to keep 25,000 troops in Crimea, although they are supposed to stay in their restricted area. That’s the treaty violation. There are no dragnets, roundups, or mass executions underway. Putin is walking a fine line here, asserting Russian hegemony in Ukraine without taking the irrevocable plunge of massive bloodletting. So far, he can still back out, and there are some signals that he may be looking for a way out. If he is, we should let him, since the alternative is for Russia to go all the way forward, and just take Ukraine, install the government it wants, and then withdraw to avoid a bloody counterinsurgency campaign. The closest analog in recent US history is probably the invasion of Panama in 1988.

So, I’m not saying it’s right, or saying I approve-but I understand.

A Most Dysfunctional House

So we are experiencing a government shut down.

The last time we had one, I was an adolescent and news via internet, blogs, and the like weren’t popular. (Cue the sound of your modem . . . )

I actually had health insurance 17 years ago, and I was (unfortunately) using it.  (I say “unfortunately” because being sick and in the hospital = not fun).  So yes–I spent one shut-down (1995) in the hospital. I would ask my parents and nurses about the effects, but I gathered from my sources it wasn’t really hurting anyone too much. I still really don’t know, but I gather I was being spoon-fed some information so I could focus on recovering—?

Now, I’m not yet insured (not my choice). I have two children.

And I know what it’s like to be poor.

The shutdown hurts the poor.
It hurts children.
It hurts the barely-existing middle-class.

. . . and more . . .

My friend and fellow blogger found this gem:

“We’re not going to be disrespected, We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

— Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN)

I know. Sigh. Deep breaths.

WTF!?!?!

Let’s review:

  1. The Executive Branch approves the ACA/Obamacare, which was drafted by the Heritage Foundation.
  2. The Judicial Branch of the government, the Supreme Court, has ruled that the ACA/Obamacare is Constitutional.
  3. HALF of the Legislative Branch has approved the ACA/Obamacare. Sure, some of the members of the Senate may not like it, but they realize that it is, in fact, law.

Could this be the most dysfunctional House in a century? It certainly seems to be in my three decade lifespan.

Olympic National Park, May 2005. (Photo by me)

The National Parks are gated shut. You can look at the nice photograph, but don’t expect to be able to see anything like it in person right now.

Headstart funding is killed.  Meals-on-Wheels and WIC are slaughtered.  Crucial scientific research on all sorts of things–including pediatric cancer–has ceased because the NIH is gone.

And there’s more we’re not investing in because Rep. Stutzman, Rep. Yoho and others have a point to prove.

I’m sure they’ll figure out what their point in a few weeks.  I’m also sure people directly impacted by this tantrum-led shutdown won’t care, won’t get their medication, their food, their education, etc. These aren’t things you just “make up for” with more later.

So while we wait for the House majority to figure out what the hell their point is, we’re hurting our most vulnerable citizens first.

Investing in the future of this country is clearly not a priority.

Be sure to thank your Representative if they did their best to prevent this.

If you’re in a situation like me, then make your voice heard and call/email your Representative of this sad, dysfunctional House.

I posted the what follows earlier this week. Sadly, it bears re-posting:

(transcript below video):


[clip begins partway through former Vice-President Al Gore’s speech at the Brookings Institution this morning] …I will have more to say about this [climate change report] on many other occasions, but, because this report was released just hours before we gathered here, I would not have felt right about not addressing it.

Now, I’m gonna talk about the potential for a shutdown in just a moment, but, uh, I think the only phrase that describes it is political terrorism. “Nice global economy you got there. Be a shame if we had to destroy it. We have a list of demands. If you don’t meet ’em all by our deadline, we’ll blow up the global economy.”

[pause] Really? Um. Where are the American people in this? Why does partisanship have anything to do with such a despicable and dishonorable threat to the integrity of the United States of America?