Category Archives: terrorism

FYI: I’ll Just Leave This Here

March 6, 2018  “A South Carolina white supremacist who praised racist mass shooter Dylann Roof and longed to commit violence against Jews, Muslims and people of color has reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors that will likely result in a relatively short stint in federal prison.”  [HuffPo]

March 2, 2018   “Nikolas Cruz left at least 180 rounds of ammunition — inside magazines that bore Nazi swastika symbols — at the scene of the Parkland school shooting.Along with his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, Cruz abandoned at least six magazines that each contained 30 bullets at the scene of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, according to two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.” [SunSentinel]

December 16, 2016  “Dylan Storm Roof’s website hinted at why he chose “historic” Charleston to shoot nine people to death at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Along with a long, hate-filled screed, the 21-year-old included photos of himself burning an American flag, taking aim with Ca pistol and posing proudly at sites connected to the Confederacy.” [CNN]

August 6, 2012  “Before he strode into a Sikh temple with a 9 mm handgun and multiple magazines of ammunition, Wade Michael Page played in white supremacist heavy metal bands with names such as Definite Hate and End Apathy.” [CBS]

January 7, 2010   (DC Holocaust Museum shooting) “Prosecutors said that von Brunn, an admitted white supremacist who lived most recently in Annapolis, had been planning the assault for months and that he hoped “to send a message to the Jewish community” that the Holocaust was a hoax. “He wanted to be a martyr for his cause,” a prosecutor said in court.” [WaPo]

July 28, 2008  “Jim David Adkisson told investigators all liberals should be killed and admitted he shot people Sunday morning at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, according to a search warrant affidavit obtained by CNN affiliate WBIR.” [CNN]

Generally speaking —

August 22, 2017  “Terrorists murdered 3,342 people on U.S. soil from 1992 through August 12, 2017. Islamist terrorists are responsible for 92% of all those murders. The 9/11 attacks, by themselves, killed about 89% of all the victims during this time. During this time, the chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack committed by an Islamist was about 1 in 2.5 million per year.

Nationalist and Right Wing terrorists are the second deadliest group by ideology, as they account for 6.6% of all terrorist murders during this time. The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the second deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history, killed 168 people and accounted for 77% of all the murders committed by Nationalist and Right Wing terrorists. The chance of being murdered in a Nationalist or Right Wing terrorist attack was about 1 in 33 million per year.”  [Forbes]

ADL 2017 Report 

“Unlike 2016, a year dominated by the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, Florida, committed by an Islamic extremist, a majority of the 2017 murders were committed by right-wing extremists, primarily white supremacists, as has typically been the case most years.”

I’ll just leave this here.

 

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Filed under Gun Issues, Hate Crimes, Politics, terrorism, White Supremacists

Our Own Reality Show: Late Night Version

Nightmare Trees Dems

We have a presidential candidate who gets up at odd hours of the night to tweet insults to former beauty pageant winners, and who expended a great deal of time and energy bemoaning the categorization of his White Supremacist followers as “deplorable.”  If these are one’s priorities so be it, but there’s a difference between nightmares and issues – a differentiation not tackled all that efficiently by his supporters and surrogates. 

Republicans appear to be beset with nightmares, not the least of which is we, as a nation, might seem weak in the eyes of others.  Strength is Action. Action is Strength. We must, like a Hollywood B-Movie production complete with car chases and explosions, appear strong.  As we do when bombing some location into gravel and small piles of rubble. This is the nightmare of the small man in the bar just before closing time, well liquored up, who decides to demonstrate his masculinity by punching some fellow who has offer some vague (and probably misinterpreted) insult.   Should these people wake up and read the information available they’d find that the United States spent some 54% of its discretionary spending on the military.

Military Spending Discretionary And, how does this compare to military spending by other nations?  The U.S. spends approximately $2.77 for every dollar spent by the Chinese.

Military Spending Comparisons So, this ought to give some comfort to those whose sleep is disturbed by dreams of military annihilation at the hands of the nefarious.  We have the best equipped, best lead, most professional military in the world.  There are issues here – not nightmares.

One issue is the tendency toward militarism, the notion that all problems have a military solution and thus the military must be accorded a prime place in national planning and policy.  This topic was explored here about eight years ago:

“Evidently lost on the militarists is the notion that one can be supportive of the military without adopting militarism. In fact, a “muscular” militarism that posits the application of military force to each and every conflict is counter-productive to long term military interests. The ‘whack-a-mole’ Bush Administration/McCain policies have the U.S. Armed Forces stretched to the limit, with used and abused equipment, and over-deployed troops, who are facing serious obstacles to receiving comprehensive care and benefits after their service. A cogent, less militaristic, policy would recommend the continual evaluation of our deployment ramifications, sentient assessments of our capacities, and a rational review of our own recruiting and remuneration standards. A less militaristic policy would allow us to employ the diplomatic tools in our arsenal to spare the unnecessary exploitation of our military. When we ‘wise up’ we’ll realize which Party’s candidates can deliver these policies.”  [DB]

In short, if we’ll stop all the posturing and flag waving pseudo-patriotism and start thinking about how and when the use of military force is applicable without draining our resources and putting our diplomatic efforts in jeopardy, then we can all sleep a bit better.

The second nightmare which seems to be grabbing hold of the sweat soaked sheets of our Republican friends is that someone, somewhere, is cheating us out of what is rightfully ours.  Taxation! Tax money being spent on Welfare Queens and Food Stamp cheats!  Oh, the misery.   Waking up and using The Google will solve one part of the nightmare – we really aren’t “taxed to death.”

“The tax burden is lower in the U.S. than in many other developed nations. Of 34 OECD countries, the U.S. tax rate for the average single American with no children ranks No. 17. The tax burden on a single person with two kids ranks 27th. Comparing tax rates across countries is difficult, however, without taking into account how much people benefit from their tax payments in college tuition, retirement income, or more intangible rewards, such as security and the social safety net.” [BlmbNews]

The reality is that there is no monster under the bed.  We aren’t even in the top ten OECD countries in terms of taxation.  But, but, but, how about welfare cheats?   If we look at the SNAP program from the USDA we find that: “The SNAP national payment error rate for fiscal year 2014 is 3.66 percent.  This indicates a 96.34 percent accuracy rate of providing benefits to low income people.  In fiscal year 2014, over 99 percent of participating households  were eligible for SNAP as determined by income and other program criteria.” [USDA]  I can’t speak for anyone else, but if I could get my total financial records into the 96.34% accuracy category I’d be one happy camper in sweet dream land. 

However, nightmares aren’t made of rational ruminations about fiscal accuracy and accounting practices.  They come from anecdotal renditions and repetitions of ‘stories’ about seeing some guy drive up in a new pickup and toting out a case of Budweiser.

“The Act precludes the following items from being purchased with SNAP benefits:  alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, hot food and any food sold for on-premises consumption. Nonfood items such as pet foods, soaps, paper products, medicines and vitamins, household supplies, grooming items, and cosmetics, also are ineligible for purchase with SNAP benefits.” [USDA

Under the terms of the 2002 legislation, no “illegal immigrants” are eligible for SNAP assistance. [USDA]  Further, ‘non-qualified aliens’ are not eligible for a host of other benefit programs, as specified in bureau or agency rules:

“Federal public benefits include a variety of safety-net services paid for by federal funds. But the welfare law’s definition does not specify which particular programs are covered by the term, leaving that clarification to each federal benefit–granting agency. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a notice clarifying which of its programs fall under the definition. The list of 31 HHS programs includes Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicare, TANF, Foster Care, Adoption Assistance, the Child Care and Development Fund, and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.” [NILC]

Sleep well Republican friends, the undocumented are not eligible for support,  and we are being most parsimonious in regard to our bestowal of benefits. 

Democrats might sleep more comfortably if the following situation were improved:

“Despite growth in SNAP caseloads since the onset of the Great Recession, about 17 percent of those eligible go unserved and SNAP is missing nearly six in ten eligible elderly persons. SNAP policies that improve program access and increase staff capacity to process applications as well as SNAP outreach can help communities, families and businesses maximize federal dollars.” [FRAC]

We should not forget the other monster in the closet. Others.  If slavery was America’s Original Sin, and segregation its phalanx of myrmidons, then racism is the residual.  However, demonization is not necessarily the exclusive domain of people of color – we’ve demonized Irish and Eastern European immigrants, Asian and Chinese immigrants, Jews, Catholics; and lest we forget “commies” during the McCarthy Era. 

Perhaps some right wing individual tosses and turns on the mattress because the phone answering service wants to know if he’d like the message options in Spanish?  This is America, Speak English!  The immigrants will, like most others before them, and the native language will be lost in three generations:

“The authors found that although the generational life expectancy of Spanish is greater among Mexicans in Southern California than other groups, its demise is all but assured by the third generation. Third-generation immigrants are American-born with American-born parents but with three or four foreign-born grandparents.
In the second generation, fluency in Spanish was greater for Mexican immigrants than for other Latin American groups, and substantially greater than the proportions of Asian immigrants who could speak their mother tongue very well. In the third generation, only 17 percent of Mexican immigrants still speak fluent Spanish, and in the fourth generation, just 5 percent. The corresponding fourth-generation figure for white European immigrants is 1 percent.
What is endangered, said the authors, is not the dominance of English but the survival of the non-English languages immigrants bring with them to the United States.” [Princeton Edu/Massey 2006]

If we’re looking for some reason to lose sleep it might be because by the 4th generation we’ve lost 95% to 99% of the language facility we might have had in this increasingly shrinking world.

But, wouldn’t we all sleep more peacefully if we’d just SAY we need to fight “radical Islam?”

First, there’s a little problem defining “radical.”  Do we mean what might be considered conservative Islam, men with beards, women in burkas?  This leaves us with a problem – what to do with the Muslim family who wants the daughter to go to medical school because there’s a need for women doctors to treat women patients?  What to do with the millions of practitioners  of Islam who are not conservative? And the millions more who have a special word for the ISIS thugs who flout their disregard for the basic tenets of Islam – daesh. (That stuff you scrape off the bottom of your shoes.)

Sleep well, the odds against an American being killed in a terrorist attack are 1: 25,000,000. [TechJuc] Another comforting (?) thought is that an American is far more likely to be shot by a toddler than a terrorist. [Snopes]

But that is another nightmare we don’t like to talk about.  I’d sleep better if we could do something about keeping firearms out of the hands of toddlers…

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Filed under anti-immigration, anti-terrorism, conservatism, Federal budget, Gun Issues, Immigration, Islam, Nativism, Politics, racism, Republicans, Taxation, terrorism, White Supremacists

#Enough Thoughts and Prayers, rights aren’t necessarily conveniences

Mass Shooting Victims

The photos of the victims of mass killings in this country show the faces of America. White, black, brown, gay, straight, men, and women. From the very young to the elderly.  And they all died too soon at the hands of those who could arm themselves with lethal weapons without any inconvenience.

The 2nd Amendment says we all have the right to keep and bear arms … there is NO mention in the Amendment that purchasing firearms has to be “convenient.”

The gun fetishists among us cry that their “rights are infringed” if they are to be inconvenienced in any way when purchasing or procuring lethal weapons. They cite their imaginary well greased slippery slope to full tilt gun control.

And, lo! cry the fetishists and their allies, any imposition of a burden of responsibility is a denial of our civil liberties.  But, wait a minute. It is inconvenient to register to vote – however, that’s the inconvenience we accept to prevent voter impersonation.  It’s inconvenient to edit and fact check news articles – but that’s the inconvenience we accept as part of the freedom of the press to avoid charges of libel.

It is inconvenient for government officials to get search warrants, but that’s the balance we have to prevent unlawful searches and seizures.  It’s inconvenient for the judicial system that a person may not be compelled to testify against himself – but that’s the inconvenience we accept to make the system work under constitutional principles.

How easy it appears to be to have advocates of the implementation of the Patriot Act speaking of national surveillance, and justifying those National Security Letters, while bemoaning the restrictions on those included on the terrorist watch list who seek to purchase lethal weapons.

If we didn’t infer “convenience” in the 2nd Amendment, then might we have fewer suicides, fewer murders, fewer mass shootings and killings.  Fewer funerals, fewer remembrances, fewer tragedies, and a much safer society?

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Filed under Congress, conservatism, gay issues, Gun Issues, Hate Crimes, Senate, terrorism

Feinstein Amendment Fails, and Heller Helped

Feinstein Amendment

Senator Feinstein’s (D-CA) amendment (S.Amdt 4720 to S. Amdt 4685) to H.R. 2578 failed on a 47 to 53 vote June 20, 2016.   In contrast with many pieces of legislation, the Feinstein Amendment was short and relatively simple:

At the appropriate place, insert the following:
      Sec. ___.  Hereafter, the Attorney General may deny the
    transfer of a firearm if the Attorney General determines,
    based on the totality of the circumstances, that the
    transferee represents a threat to public safety based on a
    reasonable suspicion that the transferee is engaged, or has
    been engaged, in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in
    aid of, or related to terrorism, or providing material
    support or resources therefor.
For purposes of sections
    922(t)(1), (2), (5), and (6) and 925A of title 18, United
    States Code, and section 103(g) of Public Law 103-159 (18
    U.S.C. 922 note), a denial by the Attorney General pursuant
    to this provision shall be treated as equivalent to a
    determination that receipt of a firearm would violate section
    (g) or (n) of section 922 of title 18, United States Code, or
    State law. A denial described in this section shall be
    subject to the remedial procedures
set forth in section
    103(g) of Public Law 103-159 (18 U.S.C. 922 note) and the
    intended transferee may pursue a remedy for an erroneous
    denial of a firearm under section 925A of title 18, United
    States Code. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, such
    remedial procedures and judicial review shall be subject to
    procedures that may be developed by the Attorney General to
    prevent the unauthorized disclosure of information that
    reasonably could be expected to result in damage to national
    security or ongoing law enforcement operations, including but
    not limited to procedures for submission of information to
    the court ex parte as appropriate, consistent with due
    process. The Attorney General shall establish, within the
    amounts appropriated, procedures to ensure that, if an
    individual who is, or within the previous 5 years has been,
    under investigation for conduct related to a Federal crime of
    terrorism, as defined in section 2332b(g)(5) of title 18,
    United States Code, attempts to purchase a firearm, the
    Attorney General or a designee of the Attorney General shall
    be promptly notified of the attempted purchase.
[text] (emphasis added)

It’s simple – Been under investigation for suspicious activity related to terrorism? Been investigated or under investigation for aiding abetting terrorists – the purchase of a gun can be delayed.  If a person thinks they have been unfairly denied such a purchase – there’s an appeal process.

And Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) couldn’t bring himself to vote for it.  There will be some excuse offered – was the wording not perfect? Was the appeal process not made clear? Was it not going to exactly prevent the last couple of terrorist related mass shootings? Will it not prevent all gun violence? Or, the silliest reason yet offered, WE have to fight them over there so they don’t come here.  (Hint: some are homegrown here) No matter – The Senate Has Spoken – the terrorists cannot take a full bottle of shampoo on a commercial airliner but they can walk into any gun store at any time and buy any gun to kill as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time.

Sad.  Just who is looking out for our national security?

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Filed under Gun Issues, Heller, terrorism

GOP’s State of Confusion: Anti-LBGT or Anti-Muslim or Both

Confused

OK, I am officially confused. Which is it, does the GOP want to be seen as the champion of conservative religious tenets which hold homosexuality as sin and corruption; or, does the GOP want to be thanked as the protector of homosexuals from the evil-doing nasty folks of IS/Daesh?

Invisible Victims

No matter how hard some conservatives may try to avoid saying LGBT, the attack in Orlando, Florida was made on a GAY nightclub.  As noted previously Representative Dina Titus (D-NV1) was capable of observing this fact; while, on the GOP side of the aisle Representative Cresent Hardy (R-NV4) just couldn’t quite resist the temptation to generalize the victims.  Somehow, Representative Hardy’s lights couldn’t illuminated the fact that the victims were in a GAY nightclub.  He’s not alone.

The Republican National Committee’s first response mentioned “lifestyles,” but even that was edited out of their second edition – now the terror attack was made on “any American.”  Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX)  publically denied Pulse was a GAY nightclub immediately before blocking attempts to provide LGBT protections in a bill before his committee. [TP]

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) was blunt: “This body should not be engaged in political games,” Cruz said. “We should be focused on the threat and keeping America safe and defeating radical Islamic terrorism.” [BusIns] Against whom?  Once again, the victims of the horrendous attack were invisible.

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was just as vague in remarks made on the Senate floor yesterday — “This week in Orlando, Americans were targeted deliberately and taken  forever from their families by a terrorist ISIL has claimed is “one of  the soldiers of the caliphate.” It is clear from his behavior that this was not a random act of  violence. This was a calculated act of terror.” [LoC pdf]  Scrolling down the entirety of the  Majority Leader’s comments yields exactly Zero references to the victims of the Orlando attacks – patrons of a GAY nightclub.

Yes, it was obviously calculated, and yes, it was an act of terrorism – against the patrons of a GAY nightclub.

Squirrel Logic

But wait, after making the victims of the assault on the Pulse nightclub almost perfectly invisible in their comments about the attack, the GOP would now have us believe they champion GAY rights? Excuse my confusion – I would have thought these people were invisible to you but…

Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) appears on the scene with this bit of baffling political analysis:  “Democrats are in a perplexing position. On the one hand, they’re trying to appeal to the gay community, but, on the other hand, they’re trying to also appeal to the Muslim community, which, if it had its way, would kill every homosexual in the United States of America,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL)” [TPM]

And, far be it from Mr. Trump to pass up an opportunity to stick his oar in the muddied waters:

Donald Trump, in his first major speech after the weekend’s tragedy suggested that Hillary Clinton “can never claim to be a friend of the gay community.”  “She can’t have it both ways,” Trump said. “She can’t claim to be supportive of these communities while trying to increase the number of people coming in who want to oppress them.” Ask yourself, who really is the friend of women and the LBGT community: Donald Trump with his actions or Hillary Clinton with her words?” [TPM]

There seems to be more than a little political semantic gamesmanship here.  The message to the heretofore invisible LGBT community seems to be either you are anti-Islam or you have to be anti-LGBT, there is no middle ground.  This conflation of all practitioners of Islam as anti-gay is as inaccurate as it is distasteful divisive rhetoric.   Those unsure of this might want to consider the following comments by an Islamic scholar in the Dallas Morning News:

“As Muslims we believe there’s no compulsion in religion. That’s actually a Quranic verse. Everyone adheres to their own set of values, their own set of morals. But that should not lead to the oppression of another person or to harming another individual. The way that we talk about that is the way that we talk about anything in the Quran or in the prophetic tradition.

Yes, you’re going to find Muslims that would offer revised interpretations of the Quran. But I think one thing that’s important to stress is that conservative is not the same thing as radical. If a person has conservative views that they uphold within their own family life, so long as that does not lead to denying, belittling, or dehumanizing someone else, then I don’t think that’s particularly problematic.”

Thus much for the lack of middle ground.  Doing a quick inventory – Islam is not a compulsive religion (check), Islam has conservative followers (check), Islam teaches that one’s beliefs may not “deny, belittle, or dehumanize” someone else. (check) Conservatives are not necessarily radicals. (check) Only in the most bigoted way imaginable could a person decide that all members of the Islamic faith are radicals. Only in the most prejudicial manner could a person proclaim that all followers of Islam are necessarily so anti-gay that they could excuse or rejoice in the killing of their fellow citizens.

There may be a second message in the dog whistling coming from these Republican remarks.  It’s  message to their own base.  If the actual victims of the massacre are invisible, and if they can be generalized out of the picture, then it’s possible to believe that all Muslims are radical, and it’s acceptable to “monitor, screen, place them under surveillance, and restrict their freedom and liberty” in the name of public safety for “all Americans” (except the ones we won’t name.)

A third screech from the dog whistle may be aimed at a more general audience.  By creating an artificial “either/or” proposition the GOP can seek to associate Democrats with Muslims.  The inference is that Muslims are dangerous, Democrats support Muslims, ergo Democrats are dangerous.  Their’s is a simple but demonstrably false syllogism which depends on the acceptance of the initial false proposition that ALL Muslims are dangerous. I’m fond of calling this Squirrel Logic: Squirrels have hair on their heads. That man has hair on his head. Therefore, that man is a squirrel.

A Broader Perspective

While the GOP may wish to fixate on the terrorism facet of the attack on the GAY nightclub, what happened seems far more complex.  The horrific massacre had more than one element – it had a very disturbed radicalized young American man wielding military weaponry with a high lethality rate, in a GAY nightclub, who intended to kill GAY people.  It really isn’t hard to unpack the elements.  A marginalized person (self or otherwise?) who attached himself to a radicalized version of a religion, and who had easy access to a military weapon and enough ammunition to launch a killing spree in a GAY nightclub, the victims in which have themselves been marginalized in anti-LGBT rhetoric. 

Taking any one of the elements out of the toxic equation shouldn’t lead us to conclude that there is any single policy change that would have prevented the tragedy.  However, removing at least one certainly wouldn’t hurt and might help avoid subsequent attacks.

It would help if we could tone down the anti-LGBT rhetoric. Just as it is no longer socially acceptable to make a joke of someone’s ethnicity, wouldn’t it be nice if the mocking, demeaning, and dismissal of a person’s sexual orientation were no longer acceptable in polite society.  This isn’t “political correctness,” it’s merely fine old fashioned good manners.  It would be even more helpful if we could enact statutes protecting the rights of members of the LGBT community and being as concerned about their rights as we are our own.

It would help if we toned down the anti-Islam barrage.  Those whose image of Muslims, and especially of Muslim Americans, is composed of TV footage of Daesh outrages, or foreign cultural practices commonly abhorred, should take note of the many resources available for better understanding their Muslim neighbors.  They should consider the following statements from Muslim community leaders:

Dawud Walid the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan says Mateen doesn’t represent Muslims in the U.S. His message to the public; Muslims are American and as all other Americans, they are loyal to their country even if they disagree with certain issues.The rule of American Muslims is to abide by the laws of the land and to be peaceful and this recent extremist act that took place this morning, is the rare exception and in no way embodies our morals or our values as Americans citizens who just happen to be Muslims,” said Walid. [CBS Detroit]

Or, this:

“We condemn this monstrous attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured. The Muslim community joins our fellow Americans in repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence.”

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.” [CAIR]

A little more mutual understanding should certainly help more than vilifying the American Muslim community.

It would help if we made it less likely that a disturbed or deranged individual could  get access to a military style weapon of war, which were never designed for civilian use.   There are listings of weapons by lethality. The AK-47 style; the M-16 (AR-15) “family”; the M240 machine gun; the PK machine gun; the QBZ 95 assault rifle.  It would seem reasonable that if a gun is listed as one of the five most lethal weapons in the world that common sense implies its ownership should be restricted.  Perhaps restricting the magazine capacity would assist in diminishing the lethality of these weapons when they are misused by civilians? That, too, sounds like common sense.

It would help if we de-stigmatized those who are harboring feelings which are anti-social and the antithesis of stability.  Who missed the signals that the Orlando shooter was demonstrating troubling personal behavior? Were the signals and warnings acted upon appropriately? Who could have warned authorities that the Aurora, Colorado theater shooter was exhibiting disturbing behavior – do we need to emphasize the necessity of giving local authorities a warning about those who combine disturbed thinking with fixations on violence?  Who might have warned authorities about the intentions of the Colorado Springs PPA facility shooter?  We are fond of saying “If you see something, say something,” why not practice what we’re preaching? And, why not support the funding and increased resources of our mental health services?

If we persist in seeing only those elements of mass shootings which conform to our pre-existing ideologies then we’ll miss the opportunities available to diminish the likelihood of further mass tragedies. A broader perspective is required to reach better horizons.

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Filed under anti-terrorism, gay issues, Gun Issues, Islam, Mental Health, Nevada politics, public safety, terrorism

Birds of a Feather in the Refuge

Wampler “Birds of a feather, flock together.” So sayeth all grandmothers offering advice about the accumulation of friends and acquaintances.  For all the palaver about a “peaceful” occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge from the Bundy Boys, they’ve kept company so far with the two notorious cop-killers in southern Nevada, and now it comes to light they have an armed felon in their midst.

Neil Wampler, California patricide, “…Wampler was a ubiquitous presence at the start of the occupation, often seen roaming the compound and talking to reporters. He said he drove to Oregon from his home near San Luis Obispo after seeing an online call for people to support the cause in Burns.” [Oregonian]  And, yes, by his admission, he’s armed.

Little wonder Mr. Wampler’s concerned about gun rights, as a convicted felon (2nd degree murder of his father during a drunken fight) Mr. Wampler doesn’t have any.   As a convicted felon he is prohibited from firearm ownership in California, and in Nevada, and in Oregon.   Mr. Wampler doesn’t agree, however:

“California and federal law generally prohibit felons from possessing firearms. Wampler told The Oregonian that he can legally possess a gun. Cipolla, the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said Wampler cannot have a gun because of his murder conviction.” [Oregonian]

Thus we can assume that Mr. Wampler is a law unto himself; if he says his criminal record doesn’t prohibit his gun toting, then his sovereignty must be respected? This position seems to capture the sovereign notion that the law applies to thee but not to me.  And, Mr. Wampler isn’t the first of the Malheur Loons to make threats, he just seems to be the most recent:

“We are peaceful people, I certainly am,” he says. “And the only circumstance, the last extremity, I think that any gunshots would be fired is if the federalists tried to root us out of here. They would find out then, that we are not playing. We’re not gonna give an inch. And I say that very seriously.” [Oregonian]

Shorter version: If the authorities try to make us leave the Refuge we’re going to start shooting people, even if we Loons have worn out our welcome in the county. [Oregonian]

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Filed under Gun Issues, terrorism

Profiles in Cowardice: GOP Soft on Terrorism

Gun Congress I should have known, given that Senator Dean Heller’s last campaign material came from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, that he’d cave to NRA radicals on the following bit of legislation: S.Amdt. 2910 to S.Amdt. 2874 to H.R. 3762

All those links refer eventually to a simple amendment —

“To increase public safety by permitting the Attorney General to deny the transfer of firearms or the issuance of firearms and explosives licenses to known or suspected dangerous terrorists.” {Sen}

And, how did the junior Senator from Nevada cast his vote?  Here’s the roster from vote # 319 —

Heller Terrorist Vote 319That’s right – all those “Nay” votes were to prevent the Department of Justice from refusing to approve gun sales to those on the Terrorist Watch List.  In other words, spoken so often in the last 48 hours, Senator Heller doesn’t want terrorists flying but he evidently has no problems allowing them to waltz into a gun store and loading up on – say,  “1600 rounds of ammunition, another 4,500 rounds ‘at home,’ two assault rifles and two semi-automatic handguns.” [ABC]   

“Senators will need to decide where they stand. Or do they stand with the NRA?” Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday, declaring that the Senate had been “complicit through our inaction” in the 355 mass shootings that have taken place in the United States since the start of the year. “Those who choose to do the NRA’s bidding will be held accountable by our constituents.” [WaPo]

That pretty well sums it up.

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Filed under Gun Issues, Heller, terrorism

They have nothing: The GOP and Modern American Life

Black Hole Answer: They have nothing!  Question: What does a political party do when it has failed to research, compile, and publicize a platform of policy proposals addressing American issues?  What’s happened to the Republican Party?  There area clues.

They fall back on old issues, pounding away at uninspired and unoriginal grandstanding rhetoric as if the grandstanding were an alternative in itself.  Witness the latest “vote” to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  The only alternative proposal in the hopper is Coupon Care or “Voucher Hospital,” which didn’t withstand scrutiny for the last several rounds.  The Republicans talk as if the extension of family benefits for children up to age 26 can be maintained, or the provisions disallowing elimination of insurance for pre-existing conditions can be continued, without sending the whole system into a downward spiral – unfortunately for the GOP, the system IS working.  However, that didn’t stop one more amendment to:

To repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 entirely,” from hitting the floor of the U.S. Senate for another vote.  [rc 253]

You read that correctly – the Senate Republicans wanted to repeal the ACA entirely – repeal the prohibitions on refusing insurance for pre-existing conditions, repeal the insurance for young people who stay on their parents’ policies until 26, repeal  the prohibition of arbitrary rescission of coverage, repeal your guarantee of a right to ask that your insurance plan reconsider a denial of payment.  Repeal prohibition of that bogus insurance that put limits on lifetime coverage; repeal the review of premium increases; repeal the provision that at least 80% of what’s paid in for premiums must be used to pay for medical treatment.  Repeal preventive health care; repeals insurance company barriers to emergency services…. [DHHS]

It’s been five years since the Affordable Care Act and Patients’ Bill of Rights became law.  Meanwhile, the Senate tried once again to repeal the ACA and Patients’ Bill of Rights “entirely.”   Who were the 49 Senators who voted for repeal?

ACA repeal vote senate 2015And, so Senator Heller, exactly what do you propose to replace the measure which has added  16.9 million more Americans to the number of those with health insurance? [Forbes]  Spare us the vague rhetoric about “free market solutions,” or “protecting individual choices,” or “big government intrusion into American lives.”  Those 16.9 million people aren’t rhetorical place-holders, they are real Americans who want real health insurance – so, what’s your plan?  Crickets.

We can expect more rhetoric about abortion! about immigrants! about Tyranny! about anything EXCEPT those issues which should be attracting our attention, and precipitating practical remedies.

They avoid rational responses to current policy issues(1) What do we hear from our Republican representatives and officials about gun violence in America?   Reaction to the Charleston, Chattanooga, and Lafayette shootings have drawn the same old responses we heard after the IHOP shooting in Carson City, NV,  the VA Tech shooting, the Aurora Theater shooting….  The Republican response has been little more than a recitation of NRA talking points which conveniently boil down to we can’t do anything about the proliferation of guns because: 2nd Amendment.

So, they talk about “mental health,”  but between 2009 and 2011 the legislatures of 34 states cut funding for mental health care services by a total of $1.6 billion.  Some House Republicans tried to bring a funding bill to the floor last January, but as with most legislation in the GOP controlled House it got chopped into bits in the hope that some portion of it could survive. [TheHill]

It’s instructive to note that Representative Murphy introduced his bill (HR 3717) in December 2013, and it bounced around committees until a last subcommittee hearing in April 2014. [Cong]  Then came the portion of the program known as Dueling Bills, the GOP version (HR3717) vs. a Democratic party member sponsored HR 4574 – and the fight was on concerning funding for substance abuse treatment, and treatment under Medicaid, and for veterans.  [NAMI pdf]

Less rationally, Republicans tell us that our personal safety is an individual responsibility and we’d all be safer if we went to the restaurant or theater with weapons.   Former Texas governor Rick Perry:

“I will suggest to you that these concepts of gun-free zones are a bad idea,” Perry said. “I think that you allow the citizens of this country, who have appropriately trained, appropriately backgrounded, know how to handle and use firearms, to carry them. I believe that, with all my heart, that if you have the citizens who are well trained, and particularly in these places that are considered to be gun-free zones, that we can stop that type of activity, or stop it before there’s as many people that are impacted as what we saw in Lafayette.”[CNN]

And who might these “backgrounded” appropriately trained, knowledgeable, people be?  In a dark theater… and how many of these “backgrounded,” trained, knowledgeable people will it take to create complete chaos? And, more casualties?  Are we willing to create the possibility that our schools, churches, and theaters could become shooting galleries?

(2) What do we hear from the Republicans about terrorism?  Plenty, as long as we’re speaking of ISIS or Muslims.  Not so much if we’re speaking of the home grown variety.   The propaganda wing of the GOP can’t seem to remember any reports of domestic terrorism which can’t be attributed to Muslims.  Interesting, because in September 2011 the FBI released its warning about the Sovereign Citizens and their form of domestic terrorism.  The timing is important because by June 2011 the Department of Homeland Security had eviscerated the analytical unit that produced their report on domestic terrorism including white supremacist and Christian Identity activities. [WaPo]

“Last night, a shooter who held white supremacist and extreme anti-government, anti-feminist views “allegedly killed two people and wounded nine others who were watching the new comedy ‘Trainwreck,’ a film written by and starring the feminist comedian Amy Schumer.”  As the Southern Poverty Law Center pointed out in wake of the Lafayette, Louisiana, shooting, “in the last five years, an attack from the radical right was carried out or thwarted on average every 34 days and that the overwhelming majority of those attacks, 74 percent, were carried out by a single person, or a group of no more than two people.” [RRW]

We might add that two individuals associated with right wing extremism assassinated two police officers in Las Vegas in June 2014, and draped the Tea Party flag over one of their bodies. [ABC]  

The Republican formula “Say No Evil” about radicalized anti-abortionists, anti-immigrant, anti-integrationists, may work well in fund raising e-mails about Tyranny In America! or, Big Brother, or whatever the fear du jour may be, but it’s obviously NOT helping track the lone wolves who shoot police officers, or threaten to shoot BLM employees, or shoot patrons in movie theaters.

(3) What happened to that Comprehensive Immigration Bill?  A comprehensive immigration policy reform bill passed the U.S. Senate in June 2013. [NYT]  More specifically that would be 760 days ago, or 108 weeks plus 4 days, and it’s politely referred to as Stalled.  The stall began in December 2013, as the House decided to go “piecemeal.” [MPI] As of February 2014 the Speaker was whining the House couldn’t pass the bill because it didn’t trust the President. [WaPo] However, in April 2014 the Speaker was mocking conservatives for blocking the bill. [WSJ]   By June 2014 Senators were blaming ultra-conservative members of the House for the Great Stall. [9News]  The calendar moved on to January 30, 2015 and the internal struggles of the House Republicans still kept the bill in abeyance. [MPR]

760 days, 108 weeks + 4 days, or 18,240  hours later, there is still no passage of an immigration reform bill in the House of Representatives – whole or piecemeal.

In this morass it may be counted as a minor miracle if Congress can manage to pass a relatively uncontroversial highway funding bill. [TheHill]

Once upon a time, not so long ago, Congress was expected to be filled with Republicans and Democrats who having different perspectives would file differing bills on the same general topics.  Compromises would be worked out among the ladies and gentlemen of the august legislative bodies, and conference committees would work out the differences between measures.  This requires that both sides bring something to the table.  How do we know the GOP isn’t packing anything in its collective briefcase?

When the highway bill comes up they want to “repeal Obamacare” just one more time, or when legislation stalls it is everyone’s fault and no one’s fault that we can’t seem to enact comprehensive immigration policy reform.  How many votes on various and sundry “anti-abortion” proposals has the House taken, instead of taking any votes on whether or not to have universal background checks for gun sales? 

How many hours has the House spent on the Benghazi attack compared to the number of hours it has taken testimony on the condition of our roads, airports, dams, and bridges?  How much time was expended dreaming up a bill to exempt veterans from the ACA and Patient’s Bill of Rights if those individuals already had “government” insurance? (A specious proposal if there ever was one.)

How much more time before the Republicans come to realize that most of the American public – that portion not infatuated with the celebrity bashing all immigrants – would very much like to see something accomplished. 

It’s hard to accomplish anything when what’s being brought to the table is essentially nothing.

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Filed under anti-immigration, Gun Issues, Health Care, health insurance, Heller, terrorism

The Halloween Campaign Season

Halloween House It’s always great fun when Halloween and Mid Term Elections converge.   Or, as comedian Jon Stewart puts it, “We’ve got nothing to fear, but fear itself, so we’re going with fear.”   If I were really getting into the spirit of the campaign/Halloween season I’d put the Halloween candy up on the roof, take down the ladder and lock it up in the shed, and then tell the kiddies that if they are patient, hard working, diligent, and patriotic some day the candy will trickle down to their eager little mitts.

However, since I’m definitely not a Republican, the candy will stay on the porch where everyone gets a shot at it.   So, what’s scary this season?

Halloween Pumpkin

It’s three pumpkin scary that there are still a large number of voters who are clinging to the failed and long debunked hoax that what is good for Wall Street is necessarily good for Main Street.   Wall Street, and the financialists therein,  love the witches brew of mergers and acquisitions – whether the companies involved are actually improved or gutted – and tales of layoffs, off-shoring, and other devices to reduce costs and improve “shareholder value.”  Anything which reduces the expenses is received with joy, such as not paying their share of taxes by using accounting tricks and the ever popular Inversions.  

So, when faced with the probability that they might have to contribute their fair share or face their responsibilities, the corporate shills resort to dragging out their well rehearsed talking points – taxes cost jobs, the wealthy create jobs, taxes make us less ‘competitive,’ and regulations are a burden.  These lines are just so much mush in the core of an over-ripe pumpkin.

The good folks on Main Street and Elm Street are left holding the bag, every time a multi-national corporation plays games with the tax system Main Street and Elm Street have to foot the bills for roads, infrastructure, education, national defense, and health services.  

Halloween Pumpkin

Another three scary pumpkins for a political system so cynical that cheating is required to win.  There’s NO epidemic of voter impersonation fraud in this country.  An analysis of 2,068 cases of fraud in the entire nation since 2000 revealed that there were only 10 cases of voter impersonation fraud. There are approximately 146,000,000 registered voters in this country.  Do the arithmetic.  Your calculation should result in an answer of 6.84e-8.  (If that “e-8” is throwing you, just remember to move the decimal point place 8 places to the left.)

However, that infinitesimally small number hasn’t stopped candidates from advocating Photo ID laws, the purpose of which  is to reduce the number of the elderly, the young, the ethnic minorities, and the women at the polling stations.   We even have our very own Vote Suppressionist running to be the chief election officer (Secretary of State) in Nevada.  Voting suppression bills are enacted because voters buy into the fear-mongering about fraud, and the utterly illogical personalization talking point, “Would you want your vote to be canceled out by a fraud?”   The answer, of course, is “no,” but the odds against this actually happening are literally astronomical.

Halloween Pumpkin

It’s also three pumpkins scary we have media outlets which cater to the least attractive  human characteristics – like, fear and what it does to otherwise rational beings.   Yes, what the Islamic State proposes to do in Iraq and Syria is serious stuff, but remember the odds of being killed in a terrorist attack are 1:20,000,000.   The terrorists would no doubt like to get us sufficiently agitated so that we’d agree to send troops to their region, which would make it ever so much easier to kill Americans. 

And yes, the Ebola virus is a nasty little bug. However, it tends to thrive in places where medical facilities are both rare and not well regulated.  It seems to prefer places with inadequate sanitation infrastructure.  Thus far that does not describe the public health systems in North America and western Europe.  What should concern us more than the incidents are questions about how our privatized health care delivery services are to regulated in order to prevent outbreaks of any infectious disease.

There is an old bit of business advice which says, “You can’t control what you don’t own.”  We can apply the adage to public health care facilities.  Government standards can be enforced in public facilities, whereas under the current system of corporate health care standards come in the form of guidelines – the implementation of which may not be as uniform as we’d like. One relatively recent report says that public hospitals declined by 27% in major suburban areas from 1996 to 2002, and by 16% in major cities.  [AmMedNews]  Are standards of accreditation strong enough to maintain a level of health care practices in which the environment is safe for both the patients and the medical staff?  This question leads to our next set of pumpkins.

Halloween Pumpkin There ought to be three scary pumpkins awarded to the advocates of de-regulation.  The exploiters, polluters, and “shareholder value” advocates have been beating drums about “burdensome regulations” since the corporate interests organized their campaigns to repeal any law which impinged on their profits.  For example, since January 2011 the House of Representatives have voted 297 times to weaken public health and environmental protections. [CWA]  

Though the Enron Debacle seems a distant memory from 2002, the Republicans are still trying to repeal the Sarbanes-Oxley Act which sought to curb the abuses that allowed the scam to spread through the financial sector.  Opponents of financial regulation are still calling for the Act’s amendment or outright repeal in spite of the benefits stemming from its enforcement.   The Dodd Frank Act, enacted in the wake of yet more financial sector abuse, and the cavorting in the Wall Street Casino leading to the Housing Bubble disaster,  passed its 4th anniversary with more calls from the GOP to repeal it.

It would be remiss not to mention the REINS Act again.  This bit of legislation from the House is a de-regulator’s wet dream, and everyone else’s nightmare.  Congress would have to approve any and every regulation set forth by any agency of the federal government – environmental, financial, and (compliments of the Smith Amendment) public health. [See H.R. 367] Representative Jason T. Smith (R-MO8) offered amendment #450 which included all regulations under the Affordable Care Act.  This is as good a time as any to see what Representative Smith’s amendment would do in terms of hospital regulations.

Section 3025 of the ACA outlined a “readmission reduction program” which penalizes hospitals which have readmission rates higher than acceptable.  The idea was to get hospitals to use Best Practices (pdf) to reduce the readmission rate for cardiac patients, those who were at risk of being readmitted because of a lack of resources, and those who might show signs of infections after initial hospitalization.   Now, imagine the members of the House of Representatives “de-regulating” hospitals which have high readmission rates by refusing to approve the CMS standards.   That’s more money in the coffers of the 81% of Alabama hospitals which have been penalized; 82% of the hospitals in Arkansas which have been penalized; 89% of the hospitals in Illinois which have been penalized; and the 153 hospitals in Texas (out of 322) which have been penalized. [Kaiser]

Want to get scared again?  There’s credible research suggesting that hospital acquired infections affect the readmission rate [AmMedNews] and hence the regulations from Section 3025 relate to hospital sanitation practices and the prevention of hospital acquired infections.  Now, grab the remote and try to find a cable news channel that isn’t overloading the airwaves about Ebola. Quiver again, while thinking that Representative Smith’s little amendment could remove the incentive for corporately owned hospitals to literally clean up their acts.

Halloween Pumpkin

Instead of being fearful, let’s enjoy the Halloween season with thoughts of increasing the minimum wage and adding about $22 billion to our gross domestic product. [TP]  Or, we could think about further reducing our dependence on foreign oil by encouraging more solar power research, and ending the $4 billion annual subsidy paid by taxpayers to highly profitable Giant Oil Companies.  Or, we could think of reducing the burden on college students by allowing them to renegotiate or refinance student loans.  We could start by insuring students aren’t required to repay more than 10% of their annual income. [WH] We could improve the Voting Right Act and insure that everyone, in every state has an equal opportunity to cast his or her ballot.  We could enact legislation to require equal pay for equal work, improving family financial situations across the country.  We could employ people in our construction sector by starting to work on our infrastructure issues – our airports, dams, bridges, water lines, wastewater facilities, and  levees could all use some work.  [ASCE]  We could enact reasonable gun safety legislation.  And we could enact legislation to insure there’s no discrimination of any kind in American commerce.

The scary part is that none of these things will get started, much less accomplished, with Republicans sowing fear and discomfort – belaboring spooky apparitions like “Benghazzziiiii,” or “IRSssssss,” or “ISISssssss,” or other specters, wraiths, and spirits.   It’s Halloween after all, and  those are manufactured phantoms, nor more material than the costumes available at any big box store.   Instead of focusing on the Spooks of October, we ought to be enthusiastic about the opportunities in November, such as electing people to state and national offices who aren’t afraid of their own shadows.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Health Care, Iraq, terrorism, Vote Suppression, Voting

The Excruciating Banality of Evil

Amid the wreckage of the Boston Marathon we don’t know who unleashed the bombs, nor do we know why.  However, there’s one element of which we can be reasonably sure:  No matter the self-referential and self-justifying rationale in the fevered imagination of the bomber, we can be certain that the ultimate motive was purely banal.  We’ve seen this before.

We saw it when high school dropout Eric Rudolph, who only lasted 18 months in the U.S. Army, bombed clinics providing abortions, targeted gay night clubs, and set a bomb in the park at the Atlanta Olympics, imagined himself a Survivalist, a “champion” of anti-government enthusiasts.  Whatever he might have imagined about his life, the truth was more sordid — a youngster indoctrinated by a mother with  fervid — if not downright paranoid — delusions who was unable to hold a job and unable to function in the political, economic, or social life of modern America.  His dysfunctionality, banal though it may be, cost lives of perfectly functional people.

We saw it when Timothy McVeigh, who set his heart on being a member of a U.S. Army elite force and couldn’t make the grade, determined to attack the “government” which had rejected him and caused the deaths of 168 people in Oklahoma City.

We saw it when Faisal Shahzad, a financial analyst, went into a tailspin in 2009 which ultimately led to defaulting on his mortgage and being sued by his bank, the home going into foreclosure in September 2009.  On May 1, 2010 two street vendors in Manhattan foiled his feeble car bomb attempt in Times Square.  Once again, a failed human being determined to foist his failure on others.

Not to put too fine a point to it, but behind every self-serving rationalization for perpetrating pure evil there is usually a failed human life determined to reap vengeance, get attention, or secure revenge on others whose lives are mundane but functional, average but admirable.

When law enforcement officers finally discover who was responsible for the carnage on Boylston Street there will be, no doubt, a rambling rationalization citing Great and Significant  motivations for the miserable event.   Here’s my speculation: The Great and Significant motives will devolve into the results of the mundane banality of a failed life.

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