Monday, May 21, 2018

Never Too Many

According to the defenders of the faith, it’s not the guns that cause the shootings in schools and other places.  It’s too many abortions, too many video games, too many gay people, too many doors, too much Ritalin, and too many soap suds clogging your machine.

But it’s never too many guns.  No, that’s not the problem.  In fact, according to them, we need more guns, not fewer.  Guns for teachers, guns for school police, guns for the crossing guards, guns for the lunch ladies.  So until the smell of cordite and cosmoline overtakes pencil shavings and gym socks, schools will never be safe.

It’s not that we have too many guns in this country.  It’s that we have too many gun nuts.

Friday, May 18, 2018

“What Do You Say Now?”

Via NBC.

One thousand, two hundred miles away from the mass shooting unfolding at Santa Fe High School in Texas, students in Parkland, Florida, were struggling to process the footage they watched Friday.

In teacher Jeff Foster’s AP Government class, what was supposed to be a celebration of the seniors last day at school quickly turned into a painful reminder of their own horrific experiences.

“When I was watching the news on my computer, I made the conscious decision to put it on the big screen and plug in the audio,” Foster told NBC News after the Texas shooting. “Everybody stopped what they were doing and watched it.

“The students all seemed to be in disbelief and angry. Watching them, you could see, looking into the kids’ eyes, you could see them remembering when they had cameras in their own faces three months ago.”

[…]

“You go from saying, ‘We won’t let this happen ever again,’ and then this happens,” said Foster, whose 11-year-old and 6-year-old daughters reluctantly came to visit his school on Friday for the first time since the Feb. 14 mass shooting and were jarred by what they were seeing on the television news.

“What do you say now?”

You don’t say “my thoughts and prayers are with you” because that doesn’t mean anything.  You don’t say “now is not the time to talk about gun control” because now is exactly the time.  You don’t say “arm the teachers” because that’s stupid and impractical beyond repair.

I don’t know what to say.  Do you?

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Gun For Hire

Naming Oliver North as the president of the NRA is basically like naming Keith Richards as the head of Pfizer.

Charlie Pierce:

The jokes, they write themselves. A trade association for the arms industry now will be headed by the most famous arms-trafficker in American history. An organization that wears patriotism as though it were the masque of the Red Death will be headed by a guy who sold missiles to one of the world’s leading sponsors of terrorism. An organization that claims to represent the best in American values will now be headed by a guy who sold out a beloved conservative icon so he could keep his felonious hindquarters out of jail, and who was roundly condemned by that icon’s iconic wife.

If it wasn’t for George H.W. Bush, he’d be making gravel at Leavenworth and telling his fellow inmates that selling missiles to Iran was just what America needed.

Now you know why I spend my off-hours writing fiction.  I’m doing my level best not to find a reason to drink again.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sunday Reading

Beyond Parkland — Elaine Godfrey in The Atlantic on the students marching yesterday to raise awareness of gun violence beyond the mass shootings.

Hundreds of thousands of people rallied in Washington, D.C. on Saturday to express outrage at recent mass shootings in American schools, and to push Congress to enact stricter gun laws. But for many students in the U.S.—and especially students of color—gun violence at school isn’t the only problem. Rather, it’s the violence they face regularly in their homes and yards, in their neighborhoods and communities.

There hasn’t yet been a worldwide march focused on that kind of violence—so they made this one their own.

“I came all the way from Chicago to help change the violence that’s going on with school shootings,” said 16-year-old Kaiseona Lockhart. “And to let everyone know that there’s violence in Chicago.” Lockhart, who lives in Englewood, on Chicago’s south side, recently lost an uncle to gun violence. She’s part of a violence-prevention youth group affiliated with St. Sabina Church. “They trying to put us against each other. They’re trying to say that mass shootings and shootings, they don’t connect, but in reality, they both happen by a gun. We both want to change that.”

In the past month, the gun-control movement has found its voice in a ragtag group of eloquent, Twitter-savvy teenagers from suburban Florida. They survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School this past Valentine’s Day that killed 17 of their peers and teachers and have since appeared on countless cable-news segments and magazine covers calling for stricter gun legislation.

Each of the recent mass shootings in the U.S. have followed a similar pattern—after the killings, there’s a nationwide pang of sadness, a hot flash of anger; but then, after several days of thoughts and prayer and Facebook debates, the conversation dies down. This one, though, seems to have had more staying power. That has a lot to do with the Parkland students themselves. “They’re photogenic and they’re loved by the media. They have a real message,” said David Hemenway, an economist and a professor of health policy at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, in an interview on Friday. “They were born in the Columbine-era, so their whole lives…they have to be trained to protect themselves against mass-killings. It’s crazy.”

But mass shootings, we know by now, are only a small fraction of total gun deaths in the United States. Roughly 1,077 people have been killed in mass shootings since 1966—176 of them children and teenagers. In 2017 alone, Chicago had nearly 3,000 shooting incidents, and 3,457 shooting victims. Between 2006 and 2015, more than 14,500 people were shot in Philadelphia, a rate of one shooting every six hours. About 20 percent of firearm homicides occur in the country’s 25 largest cities. And within cities, the Centers for Disease Control found that black Americans are, on average, eight times more likely to be killed by guns than white Americans.

Black Lives Matter and other groups have been advocating for stricter gun laws similar to those the marchers are demanding for years. But one of the reasons the march has gotten so much attention has to do with where mass shootings typically take place. “The massacre gives the opportunity to do something about this,” Hemenway said, adding, “I think the power structure is mostly white, and when white people are killed, it gets a little more attention.”

Jamin Cash, a 15-year-old at Parkway Center City Middle College in Philadelphia, told me he thinks the attention mass shootings receives is frustrating. “Not to sound insensitive, but it’s unfair that we have to go through this every day, and then something that happens just once [in] a while gets so much attention,” he said, sighing. “But we came.” Cash and several others from his school came to the march clad in matching white t-shirts with the words “Parkway for Parkland” emblazoned on the front above a red heart. On the back of the shirts were the results of a survey his teacher, Maureen Boland, had given to him and his 120 classmates. “56% have witnessed a shooting,” one line read. “60% have lost a blood relative to gun violence. 63% regularly worry about their safety because of guns.”

Cash told me that he’s actually been shot at more than once in his neighborhood. His classmate, Courtney Daniels, another 15 year old, said she recently had a close family friend fatally shot. “I’m hoping people notice that we need to be heard too, that we’re going through the same struggles those Parkland students went through,” Daniels told me. “Youth in general, not just those kids.”

In just one month since the Parkland shooting, the gun control movement has made some small gains: The Florida state legislature passed new firearm regulations, and the federal spending bill signed by President Trump on Friday contains modest steps toward tightening the nation’s gun laws, including the Fix NICS Act, which  strengthens the background-check system for gun purchases. Part of the package also includes a report clarifying that the CDC can conduct research on gun violence reversing a 22-year-old prohibition.

The March for Our Lives organizers, though, are pushing for bigger changes. They want elected officials to pass a federal ban the sale of so-called “assault weapons” like the AR-15s used in recent mass shootings in Parkland and Las Vegas, and prohibit the sale of high-capacity magazines. While legislation like that might have prevented some mass shootings, those two proposals wouldn’t necessarily be top priority for reducing gun violence in urban areas, like Chicago or Philadelphia. After all, Cook County already has a ban assault weapons; semi-automatic handguns are the kind of weapon most commonly used in shootings.

The final item on the march organizers’ petition, though, could potentially reduce gun violence substantially. The organizers want legislators to require anyone purchasing a gun privately—through an individual exchange or a gunshow—to undergo a background check. Because so many guns are purchased privately by individuals and brought into Chicago from places with more lax gun laws like Indiana, experts say universal background checks could actually make a difference in reducing gun violence in cities. “This is an opportunity to get laws which can help everybody,” Hemenway said. “This is not, ‘Oh, let’s just try to protect white kids in white high schools and white areas.’ No, this provides the opportunity to really do something, to try to reduce gun trafficking.”

I watched the march on a jumbotron with Cash, Daniels, and the students from Philly under a cluster of magnolia trees near the rally site. One of the students, another ninth-grader named Brandon Palmer, had told me earlier about how his mother was recently held at gunpoint at the local bank where she works. “In our neighborhoods, this is our daily life,” he explained, his white Parkway for Parkland t-shirt tied around his head like Rambo. Palmer told me he was angry that it took a shooting like Parkland to get people energized about gun violence.

But when I asked if he was excited to be there, his face broke into a grin. “I feel like this is gonna be in the history books in the next couple years,” he said. “The future generations are gonna be learning about this.”

The Tragedy of Hubert Humphrey — Michael Brenes in The New York Times on what America would look like if Humphrey had won in 1968.

On Feb. 17, 1965, Vice President Hubert Humphrey sent President Lyndon B. Johnson a memorandum stating the United States must begin an exit strategy in Vietnam: “It is always hard to cut losses. But the Johnson administration is in a stronger position to do so now that any administration in this century.” Johnson had trounced Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election — and thus, no longer had to prove he was tough on Communism — and the conflict had not developed into a full-blown war. “Nineteen sixty-five is the year of minimum political risk,” Humphrey wrote.

Humphrey gave Johnson the opportunity to change the course of history: By pulling out of Vietnam, he could have avoided opposition from his own party and seeing his vision for the Great Society jeopardized by a foreign war and his aspirations for nuclear disarmament between the Soviet Union and the United States thwarted.

Johnson ignored Humphrey’s advice. In fact, he was described as infuriated with the vice president; the day after receiving the memo, Johnson told his national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, that Humphrey should “stay out of the peacekeeping and negotiating field” on Vietnam.

The president went further, and more or less banned him from the Oval Office for the remainder of 1965. Humphrey lost his responsibilities in the administration on civil rights — the subject that elevated him to the Senate in 1948, when he told the Democrats at their national convention they needed to “get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”

Humphrey, who had long been the most prominent and productive liberal in the Senate — and the Democrat (other than Johnson) most responsible for the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, seemingly vanished from the public eye overnight, In August 1965, the comedian and musician Tom Lehrer sang to a raucous audience, “Whatever Became of You, Hubert?”:

Whatever became of you, Hubert?
We miss you, so tell us, please:
Are you sad? Are you cross?
Are you gathering moss
While you wait for the boss to sneeze?

Vietnam destined Humphrey to a miserable four years as Johnson’s vice president. For his dissent against the war (his “disloyalty”), Humphrey suffered the brunt of Johnson’s unpredictable wrath. Humphrey’s advisers felt Johnson’s intimidating, dismissive treatment was the reason Humphrey reversed his position on Vietnam a year later: why he defended the war as a necessary fight against Communism that provided jobs, hope and prosperity to suffering Vietnamese. It was his only way back into his boss’s good graces.

Humphrey’s support for the war condemned him in history as a supporting player in the tragedy of Vietnam. The war alienated Humphrey from liberals, civil rights activists and young Americans — the same people who, for decades, had loved Humphrey for his support of racial justice, full employment and the labor movement — and ultimately cost him the presidency in 1968. Voters thought Humphrey meant continued war, while Richard Nixon promised “an honorable end to the war in Vietnam.”

But given what we now know the history of the Vietnam War after 1968, Hubert Humphrey — both his life and political career — deserves re-examination. Humphrey forces us to consider the history that might have been: the possibility of ending the Vietnam War before 1973, an expansion of the Great Society in the 1970s, a different America. Without Vietnam (and his being Johnson’s vice president), Humphrey might have won in 1968. The country — and the world — would be drastically different.

Hubert Humphrey arrived in the Senate in 1949 as a liberal in an illiberal institution. Southerners held the reins of power in Congress, and they hated Humphrey for his opposition to Jim Crow segregation and “that speech” at the Democratic National Convention.

While he was determined in his quest for social justice, his legislation often stalled in committee. He gravitated toward the one man who could help him: Lyndon Johnson. By 1954, Johnson needed Humphrey too — Johnson had become Senate majority leader and wanted liberals to fall behind his leadership; Johnson concluded Humphrey was the brightest and most pragmatic of them. It was a devil’s bargain: Johnson helped Humphrey with his relationships with Southerners, and Humphrey vowed to keep the liberals in line.

The partnership between Johnson and Humphrey was as close as that of two antagonists could be. When Johnson became president in November 1963, Humphrey ensured that the Civil Rights Act overcame the Senate filibuster the following summer. Johnson recognized Humphrey’s talents as a legislator and orator (“There are so many ways I envy you,” Johnson said in 1951), and chose Humphrey as his vice president in 1964 — but not before asking Humphrey for his backing (“unswerving loyalty,” as Humphrey recalled) on all his decisions. When Mississippi civil rights activists tried to force the Democratic Party to recognize them over the state’s official, segregationist delegation at the 1964 national convention, it was Humphrey who, on Johnson’s orders, made them back down.

Once in office, Humphrey tried to keep his commitment to Johnson, but on Vietnam his convictions conflicted with his promises. Humphrey had been suspicious of American involvement in Vietnam since the mid-1950s, but became more incredulous of the war’s success after meeting with the veteran intelligence officer Edward Lansdale in 1964, who argued that a political solution to the war was possible. Humphrey sent several memos to Johnson in 1964 implying Johnson should pull back on the conflict, and that he meet with Lansdale. Johnson dismissed each one.

Then, on Feb. 7, 1965, American forces were attacked at Pleiku and nine Americans were killed. Bundy, the national security adviser, sent panicked cables to Johnson demanding the United States retaliate. When Johnson asked Humphrey his thoughts on bombing North Vietnam, Humphrey responded, “Mr. President, I don’t think we should.” Johnson ordered the bombing anyway. Then Humphrey wrote his Feb. 17 memo, and his fate was sealed for 1965.

But Johnson gave Humphrey one last chance to prove his loyalty, sending him to South Vietnam in February 1966 (almost one year to the date of his memo). On that trip, after meeting with Gen. William Westmoreland, American and Vietnamese soldiers, and South Vietnamese civilians, Humphrey convinced himself of the truth he wanted to believe: Vietnam was winnable; it was a war for democracy; it represented a global mission for peace and prosperity.

Humphrey’s adviser Thomas Hughes recalled that Humphrey returned from Vietnam “saying things that were crazy” about the virtues of the war. In a meeting of the National Security Council in June 1966, Humphrey said, “I have come around reluctantly to accepting the wider bombing program.”

For two years, Humphrey seemed to genuinely believe that Vietnam was a necessary war, that it represented a fight against global poverty and Communist tyranny. Humphrey convinced Johnson he believed this, that he had changed, and was welcomed back into Johnson’s good graces. (After Humphrey encouraged Johnson’s staff members to send the president his speeches supporting the war, Humphrey was admitted to the president’s luncheons on Vietnam.)

But as he promoted the war to the American people (his main task after 1966), Humphrey was increasingly taunted by the antiwar movement. When Humphrey emerged as the Democratic candidate in 1968 — after the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the upheaval at the Democratic National Convention — “Dump the Hump” became a common motto. Signs with slogans such as “Killer of Babies” and “Humphrey’s Johnson’s War Salesman” regularly greeted him on the campaign trail.

The protests agonized Humphrey. “All I had ever been as a liberal spokesman seemed lost, all that I had accomplished in significant programs was ignored. I felt robbed of my personal history,” he recalled.

On Sept. 30, 1968, Humphrey had enough of Johnson and his war, and in a speech in Salt Lake City he demanded a halt to the bombing. Humphrey called Johnson to warn him of the speech hours before. Johnson reacted coldly: “I take it you are not asking for my advice. You’re going to give the speech anyway.” Johnson then shunned Humphrey for the remainder of 1968 — indeed, the question remains whether Johnson favored Richard Nixon over Humphrey in the election, and whether Johnson’s hatred of Humphrey led to his loss.

But what if Humphrey had not been Johnson’s vice president — what if Humphrey remained in the Senate? What if Eugene McCarthy received the vice-presidential nomination in 1964 as he wanted? McCarthy would have become Humphrey: forced to defend America’s policy in Vietnam, and painted as a patsy for Johnson’s War. Humphrey would be the skeptic on Vietnam, and eventual vociferous critic — but also more palatable to the party establishment than McCarthy ever was. Divisions within the party would be united under a Humphrey candidacy in 1968, the wounds Vietnam opened among “New Democrats” healed by a Cold War liberal.

Humphrey could have won in 1968 under these circumstances. Would Humphrey have faced the same pressure as Nixon to end the war with “peace through honor?” Most likely, and certainly during his first term. But Humphrey would have immediately searched for a political solution to the war — for the conflict to end peacefully, and without further military commitment. Needless to say, he also would have continued to expand the Great Society, and not begin its long demolition, as Nixon did.

For these reasons, Humphrey represents the possibilities for a different history for the United States after 1968, particularly for Democrats looking today to rebuild their party and understand the mistakes of the past. Vietnam turned America’s leading liberal into a personification of liberalism’s failures. This is the tragedy of Hubert Humphrey and his Vietnam War — one that shapes Americans today.

Banned From Forbes: Why White Evangelicalism Is So Cruel — By Chris Ladd.

*This was originally posted to Forbes on Sunday, Mar 11. Forbes took it down today. This is the explanation I received from the editor. Here is the original article in full:

Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and an avid supporter of Donald Trump, earned headlines this week for his defense of the president’s adultery with a porn star. Regarding the affair and subsequent financial payments, Jeffress explained, “Even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter.”

Such a casual attitude toward adultery and prostitution might seem odd from a guy who blamed 9/11 on America’s sinfulness. However, seen through the lens of white evangelicals’ real priorities, Jeffress’ disinterest in Trump’s sordid lifestyle makes sense. Religion is inseparable from culture, and culture is inseparable from history. Modern, white evangelicalism emerged from the interplay between race and religion in the slave states. What today we call “evangelical Christianity,” is the product of centuries of conditioning, in which religious practices were adapted to nurture a slave economy. The calloused insensitivity of modern white evangelicals was shaped by the economic and cultural priorities that forged their theology over centuries.

Many Christian movements take the title “evangelical,” including many African-American denominations. However, evangelicalism today has been coopted as a preferred description for Christians who were looking to shed an older, largely discredited title: Fundamentalist. A quick glance at a map showing concentrations of adherents and weekly church attendance reveals the evangelical movement’s center of gravity in the Old South. And among those evangelical churches, one denomination remains by far the leader in membership, theological pull, and political influence.

There is still today a Southern Baptist Church. More than a century and a half after the Civil War, and decades after the Methodists and Presbyterians reunited with their Yankee neighbors, America’s most powerful evangelical denomination remains defined, right down to the name over the door, by an 1845 split over slavery.

Southern denominations faced enormous social and political pressure from plantation owners. Public expressions of dissent on the subject of slavery in the South were not merely outlawed, they were a death sentence. Baptist ministers who rejected slavery, like South Carolina’s William Henry Brisbane, were forced to flee to the North. Otherwise, they would end up like Methodist minister Anthony Bewley, who was lynched in Texas in 1860, his bones left exposed at local store to be played with by children. Whiteness offered protection from many of the South’s cruelties, but that protection stopped at the subject of race. No one who dared speak truth to power on the subject of slavery, or later Jim Crow, could expect protection.

Generation after generation, Southern pastors adapted their theology to thrive under a terrorist state. Principled critics were exiled or murdered, leaving voices of dissent few and scattered. Southern Christianity evolved in strange directions under ever-increasing isolation. Preachers learned to tailor their message to protect themselves. If all you knew about Christianity came from a close reading of the New Testament, you’d expect that Christians would be hostile to wealth, emphatic in protection of justice, sympathetic to the point of personal pain toward the sick, persecuted and the migrant, and almost socialist in their economic practices. None of these consistent Christian themes served the interests of slave owners, so pastors could either abandon them, obscure them, or flee.

What developed in the South was a theology carefully tailored to meet the needs of a slave state. Biblical emphasis on social justice was rendered miraculously invisible. A book constructed around the central metaphor of slaves finding their freedom was reinterpreted. Messages which might have questioned the inherent superiority of the white race, constrained the authority of property owners, or inspired some interest in the poor or less fortunate could not be taught from a pulpit. Any Christian suggestion of social justice was carefully and safely relegated to “the sweet by and by” where all would be made right at no cost to white worshippers. In the forge of slavery and Jim Crow, a Christian message of courage, love, compassion, and service to others was burned away.

Stripped of its compassion and integrity, little remained of the Christian message. What survived was a perverse emphasis on sexual purity as the sole expression of righteousness, along with a creepy obsession with the unquestionable sexual authority of white men. In a culture where race defined one’s claim to basic humanity, women took on a special religious interest. Christianity’s historic emphasis on sexual purity as a form of ascetic self-denial was transformed into an obsession with women and sex. For Southerners, righteousness had little meaning beyond sex, and sexual mores had far less importance for men than for women. Guarding women’s sexual purity meant guarding the purity of the white race. There was no higher moral demand.

Changes brought by the Civil War only heightened the need to protect white racial superiority. Churches were the lynchpin of Jim Crow. By the time the Civil Rights movement gained force in the South, Dallas’ First Baptist Church, where Jeffress is the pastor today, was a bulwark of segregation and white supremacy. As the wider culture nationally has struggled to free itself from the burdens of racism, white evangelicals have fought this development while the violence escalated. What happened to ministers who resisted slavery happened again to those who resisted segregation. White Episcopal Seminary student, Jonathan Daniels, went to Alabama in 1965 to support voting rights protests. After being released from jail, he was murdered by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, who was acquitted by a jury. Dozens of white activists joined the innumerable black Americans murdered fighting for civil rights in the 60’s, but very few of them were Southern.

White Evangelical Christians opposed desegregation tooth and nail. Where pressed, they made cheap, cosmetic compromises, like Billy Graham’s concession to allow black worshipers at his crusades. Graham never made any difficult statements on race, never appeared on stage with his “black friend” Martin Luther King after 1957, and he never marched with King. When King delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech,” Graham responded with this passive-aggressive gem of Southern theology, “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.” For white Southern evangelicals, justice and compassion belong only to the dead.

Churches like First Baptist in Dallas did not become stalwart defenders of segregation by accident. Like the wider white evangelical movement, it was then and remains today an obstacle to Christian notions of social justice thanks to a long, dismal heritage. There is no changing the white evangelical movement without a wholesale reconsideration of their theology. No sign of such a reckoning is apparent.

Those waiting to see the bottom of white evangelical cruelty have little source of optimism. Men like Pastor Jeffress can dismiss Trump’s racist abuses as easily as they dismiss his fondness for porn stars. When asked about Trump’s treatment of immigrants, Jeffress shared these comments:

Solving DACA without strengthening borders ignores the teachings of the Bible. In fact, Christians who support open borders, or blanket amnesty, are cherry-picking Scriptures to suit their own agendas.

For those unfamiliar with Christian scriptures, it might helpful to point out what Jesus reportedly said about this subject, and about the wider question of our compassion for the poor and the suffering:

Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.

What did Jesus say about abortion, the favorite subject of Jeffress and the rest of the evangelical movement? Nothing. What does the Bible say about abortion, a practice as old as civilization? Nothing. Not one word. The Bible’s exhortations to compassion for immigrants and the poor stretch long enough to comprise a sizeable book of their own, but no matter. White evangelicals will not let their political ambitions be constrained by something as pliable as scripture.

Why is the religious right obsessed with subjects like abortion while unmoved by the plight of immigrants, minorities, the poor, the uninsured, and those slaughtered in pointless gun violence? No white man has ever been denied an abortion. Few if any white men are affected by the deportation of migrants. White men are not kept from attending college by laws persecuting Dreamers. White evangelical Christianity has a bottomless well of compassion for the interests of straight white men, and not a drop to be spared for anyone else at their expense. The cruelty of white evangelical churches in politics, and in their treatment of their own gay or minority parishioners, is no accident. It is an institution born in slavery, tuned to serve the needs of Jim Crow, and entirely unwilling to confront either of those realities.

Men like Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy group, are trying to reform the Southern Baptist church in increments, much like Billy Graham before him. His statements on subjects like the Confederate Flag and sexual harassment are bold, but only relative to previous church proclamations. He’s still about three decades behind the rest of American culture in recognition of the basic human rights of the country’s non-white, non-male citizens. Resistance he is facing from evangelicals will continue so long as the theology informing white evangelical religion remains unconsidered and unchallenged.

While white evangelical religion remains dedicated to its roots, it will perpetuate its heritage. What this religious heritage produced in the 2016 election, when white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump by a record margin, is the truest expression of its moral character.

You will know a tree by its fruit.

Doonesbury — Appointment TV.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Walking Out To Step Up

TaMara and Betty Cracker at Balloon Juice have recaps of yesterday’s school kids walking out for seventeen minutes to honor the memory of those killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and to demand changes to gun laws at the state and federal level.

What struck me the most about this movement is that this is well-disciplined and deadly serious on the part of the participants.  This is not a lark to them or a chance to cut school.  They realize what’s at stake: not just their lives but the future of the country.  Many of them are old enough to vote now and a lot more of them will be old enough to vote in 2020.

There have been student marches and protests before; I participated in them when I was their age: against the war in Vietnam, against segregation, for civil rights.  But those were distant and abstract causes; Vietnam was a place that few of us could find on a map, and civil rights didn’t divide my white upper-middle class suburban life.  What we were trying to change was an entire culture: no more war, no more racism.  It was noble, it was overarching, and of course it was never going to be fully realized.

These students, these young adults, have a more specific goal in mind and are much more focused.  They don’t want to change the world; they just want to make it safer.  That’s not too much to ask.  We didn’t do it for them, so now they’re stepping up.  And it might just work this time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Seventeen Minutes

High school students across America are planning to walk out of school today at 10 a.m. for seventeen minutes to mark the one-month anniversary of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and to demand changes in gun laws.

Some school districts may take action against the students; some may encourage them.  The ACLU has a primer on the rights and consequences for students for taking such action.  So noted, but a number of schools in Miami-Dade County are planning to participate.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sunday Reading

He’ll Believe It When He Sees It — Charles P. Pierce on Trump’s trip to Pyongyang.

Personally, I won’t believe it until he gets off the plane in Pyongyang. But, if the president*’s visit to North Korea actually comes off, my fondest hope is that they don’t throw him a huge parade with all the trimmings, because, in that case, he might sell them Rhode Island. From CNN:

The talks would be the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader and will take place by May, according to South Korea’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, who delivered the invitation to Trump after a visit by his delegation to Pyongyang earlier this week. Chung said Kim had offered to put Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile program on the table. The White House said Trump had agreed to the encounter. “He will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un at a place and time to be determined,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders. Trump’s decision, after a year in which the two have repeatedly traded insults, is a remarkable breakthrough. It brings the North Korean regime close to its long-desired aim of recognition on the international stage, and offers Trump the tantalizing prospect of a historic diplomatic victory. But the consequences of such a high-stakes gamble remain hard to predict.

Someone smarter than me is going to have to explain how bringing the world’s most paranoid and dangerous one-man show closer to any of its long-desired aims is an historic diplomatic victory. Inviting Kim Jong-un and his country into the international community of nations without some whopping-big concessions on his part doesn’t sound altogether like winning. Apparently, one of the keys to getting Kim to move is to get sockless with him over dinner.

During the visit, Kim reportedly joked over dinners of Korean hotpot and cold noodles. At one meeting, he said previous missile tests had caused Moon to schedule early morning national security meetings. “I decided today (to freeze the tests) so he will not lose sleep anymore,” he said, according to a South Korean presidential official. Kim and the officials shared several bottles of wine, liquor made of ginseng and Pyongyang soju, the official said. “The bottles kept coming,” said another administrative source who had official knowledge of the meeting.

(An aside: during my brief time in South Korea in 1988, I had an encounter with soju, a kind of high-intensity Korean poitin. If these cats were drinking soju by the bottle, it’s a wonder that they all didn’t get up on the tables and dance 60-odd years of hostility away.)

Of course, we have taken a ride on this Tilt-A-Whirl before. Remember the Agreed Framework? That was the deal struck between the Clinton Administration and North Korea back in 1994, by which Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, agreed to freeze his nuclear program in exchange for being allowed to build two nuclear reactors capable only of providing power. The United States also agreed to sell North Korea some fuel oil. There was a picture of then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright toasting the deal with Kim that sent the heads of many conservative commentators to spinning.

That deal began to come a’cropper in 1998, when North Korea fired off a missile test. (They also copped to developing a uranium-enrichment program.) The Clinton Administration decided to pursue negotiations for further agreements under the Agreed Framework. Then, the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush in the White House and everything went to hell. Bush appointed noted Death Eater John Bolton as his arms-control czar and, as armscontrol.org points out, Bolton had his own plans for dealing with North Korea.

Rather than confront the North Koreans and demand they halt their efforts to create a uranium enrichment capability, the intelligence findings gave those in the Bush administration who opposed the Agreed Framework a reason to abandon it. John Bolton, then- undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under President Bush, later wrote that “this was the hammer I had been looking for to shatter the Agreed Framework.” At the behest of the Bush administration, KEDO announced Nov. 21, 2003 that it would suspend construction of the two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea for one year beginning Dec. 1. The suspension came in response to Pyongyang’s failure to meet “the conditions necessary for continuing” the project, according to the KEDO announcement.

KEDO further stated that the project’s future “will be assessed and decided by [its] Executive Board before the expiration of the suspension period.” But a Department of State spokesperson said several days earlier that there is “no future for the project.”

It is here where I point out that Bolton is under active consideration to replace General H. R. McMaster as the president*’s National Security Adviser. Nobody else wants the job, but almost anybody up to and including Zombie Cordell Hull would be a better choice. This also makes clear another perilous element to this sudden diplomatic coup—to wit: nobody knows anything, as the Voice of America points out.

Aaron David Miller, a senior analyst at the Wilson Center, has advised a number of Republican and Democratic secretaries of state. Miller told VOA he believes if this recent offer of direct talks does represent a transformative change in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s position, then it is too valuable an opportunity to waste, and the U.S. should test it — first through discreet dialogue before any structured negotiations take place. Asked who in the Trump administration could prepare and conduct sensitive, complicated and grueling direct talks with North Korea, Miller drew a blank. “Right now, it is hard to identify any single individual or team of individuals that has both the negotiating experience and knowledge of the history, the cultural and political sensitivity, and knowledge of how the North Koreans behave and how they see the world,” he said. He added: “In this republic, you might have to reach for people who have had experience and who are part of another administration. This administration may not be willing to do that.”

So far, it seems to have been the South Koreans who’ve done most of the heavy-lifting, and most of the heavy elbow-bending, to bring us to this point. As I said, I’ll believe this when I see it, but, if the president* does make the trip, oh, what a parade they’re going to throw him. Look out, Providence.

Back To Reality — Emily Witt in The New Yorker on the MSD students’ return to partisanship.

Three weeks after a former student had shot seventeen pupils and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and three days after classes had resumed, the campus was settling into a routine again. A few patrol cars and a small squadron of sheriffs on motorcycles were all that remained of the police presence. The sign-waving supporters outside were gone, and the farm animals trained in emotional support had returned to their paddocks. By the time the school bell rang on Friday, at 7:40 A.M., the one television crew on site was breaking down its tripod. Outside the school fences were piles of rotting flowers, Teddy bears, deflated Mylar balloons, and pinwheels spinning in the sun. What had begun as an emergency was settling into finality.

In the days leading up to the Stoneman Douglas students’ return to school, the movement for gun control they had started had grown far beyond the city, out in the world. The teen-age activists had tolerated expressions of empathy from daytime talk-show hosts (Dr. Phil and Ellen DeGeneres) and lame jokes from the nighttime ones (Jordan Klepper and Bill Maher). John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, George and Amal Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, and other celebrities had made large donations for the upcoming march on Washington. As bereaved parents gave furious speeches at the Florida statehouse, where the legislature was considering a school-safety bill, a delegation of Stoneman Douglas students travelled to Washington, D.C. They met with the Speaker of the House, the House Minority Leader, and the Florida congressional delegation, all of whom afterward posted photos on social media of themselves engaged in thoughtful conversation at conference tables. The students posted photos of themselves with Congressman John Lewis, of Georgia, the civil-rights leader, and with the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.

Emma González, one of the student leaders, hadn’t joined the delegation to Washington, but had stayed at home to work on recruitment for the March for Our Lives, to be held on March 24th, in Washington. The afternoon of her third day back at school found her in the gymnasium of the recreation center at Pine Trails Park, preparing for an information session. Since her return to school, González had dedicated herself to selling the march to her fellow-students. This meant sharing Never Again’s platform about gun control, while also being sensitive to a wide range of political viewpoints. At a meeting the previous day, some students expressed worry that the march’s message was too partisan.

“These are my opinions,” González said to Jeffrey Foster, her A.P. Government teacher, who was there to answer questions from parents. “I’m, like, you can say whatever you want about whatever topic, I’m not telling you what to say there, but make sure the message is cohesive. Here’s how I feel, and here is what goes through my head. You don’t have to listen to me on this, but if you want to help this is a really important way to help.”

The gym had been stocked with pizzas, boxes of tissues, and coolers of drinks. Students arrived, many of them accompanied by their parents, and took their seats. González checked to make sure that bottles of water and paper plates had been put out. She wore a maroon sundress and pink sneakers. Less than two weeks before, I had watched as she sat at a picnic table and chose a Twitter handle. Now she had more than a million followers on Twitter—more, as many pointed out, than the N.R.A. But all of this had happened outside of school. I asked how it was to be back.

“It’s pretty good,” she said. “And if news developments happen in the day—like today, when we found out about the shooting, my friend got upset, and I was immediately able to talk to her. I didn’t have to drive over to her house or run over there, like, she walked down the hallway and we were able to talk to each other. That’s nice. And the support dogs—have you heard about the support dogs?”

The shooting that day had happened at Central Michigan University, where a nineteen-year-old named James Eric Davis, Jr., had killed his parents, who had arrived to pick him up for spring break. For González and the other students, the news of yet another act of gun violence on a campus had renewed their sense of purpose but also their feeling of powerlessness.

“It feels like we’re not getting anything done,” González said. “The wheels of bureaucracy turn so slowly that, no matter what we say and how many people we get to sign petitions, we can’t vote anybody out until midterm elections, which are so far away.” As February gave way to March, two points were proved about the gun-control debate: first, that cynicism about it was not unfounded; second, that, even as the students advocated, the violence would not stop.

To insure that students would be comfortable asking questions, the media were not allowed to remain in the gym for the lecture, so, as González dimmed the lights and began her presentation, I stepped outside. Near the entrance of the rec center, Ryan Deitsch and Delaney Tarr, who had been among the students who went to Washington, D.C., earlier in the week, sat at a table. Never Again had developed a platform, the main tenets of which Tarr read out to me from a yellow notebook with the words “Anything Is Possible!” embossed on the cover in gold.

“Of course, the assault-weapons ban is the most difficult, and that’s the longest-term thing,” she said, flipping pages until she found her list. “But now what we’re really getting into is universal background checks. That would also entail closing the gun-show loopholes, closing straw purchases, and instilling the red-flag system. We also want to get rid of high-capacity magazines, and we want to raise the age from eighteen to twenty-one.” In Washington, particularly when talking to pro-gun politicians, the students focussed their arguments on narrower problems: the law that forbids the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives from creating a searchable database; the Dickey Amendment, which prevents research that advocates or promotes gun control; bump stocks, which allow a semiautomatic weapon to fire at a rapid clip. The students became increasingly adept at identifying political obfuscation: the congressman who might discuss “extensive background checks” rather than universal ones; the congresswoman who brings up mental illness to change the subject from gun control. With Senator Charles Schumer, of New York, they discussed the flaws of the background-check system, and how to improve the original assault-weapons ban, from 1994, which Schumer co-authored, and which the students think could be more effective with the addition of a gun-buy-back program.

I asked what it was like to go back to school. “Boring,” Deitsch said. “It’s been coloring and Play-Doh.” Classrooms had been supplied with games and something called “kinetic sand” to ease the students’ reëentry. “When you sit down with the Speaker of the House and then you’re told to just play with a lump of clay, it’s not really stimulating.”

The Speaker of the House, it turned out, had given the students some pushback on their critique of the Dickey Amendment, and a hallway encounter with Congressman Darrell Issa, of California, had turned downright contentious. The Democrats had been more amenable, but, after speaking to them, the movement added another message. “We also wanted to tell them, ‘Listen, we’re so grateful for the help and everything, but we’re not your pawns,’ ” Chris Grady, a Stoneman Douglas senior who went on the trip, said later, after the meeting in the gymnasium. “Make no mistake about it: we’re our own movement.”

The following evening, the second annual Obama Roosevelt Legacy Dinner, advertised as one of the “premier events for the Broward County Democratic Party,” was held at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel, in Fort Lauderdale. Valets waved attendees into parking lots that overlooked a marina filled with gleaming white yachts. The dinner, tickets to which cost a hundred and seventy-five dollars or more, had been planned long in advance of the shooting, but the agenda had shifted. Bowls of ribbons in Stoneman Douglas colors were available for guests to pin to suit lapels and sequinned cardigans. The crowd was friendly, mostly over the age of forty, and clad in sensible shoes. The yachts outside likely belonged to other people; Mar-a-Lago was a county away. Several Stoneman Douglas students had come to the fund-raiser, too, although not, they emphasized, to endorse a particular candidate. If anything, it was the politicians who wanted their photos taken with the students. In their cocktail-hour soapbox speeches, the Democratic candidates for Florida’s 2018 gubernatorial race emphasized their records and sentiments on gun control. Afterward, a host encouraged guests to proceed to dinner in a “blue wave.”

The national anthem was sung and the Pledge of Allegiance recited, and then the ceremony began. The focus of the night was the violent act that had happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and what to do about it, as if the students had woken the politicians from a long enchanted slumber. There were only perfunctory mentions of health care, climate change, or the tax cut that Republicans had passed earlier that year. There was no mention of the resignations and allegations plaguing the Trump Administration, which had shared the headlines with the shooting and its aftermath for the past two weeks.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz spoke of “the three-legged stool on which future generations can build and thrive: faith, hope, and courage.” Congressman Ted Deutch, at whose behest the students had visited Washington, said “Never again can we fail to take action.” Philip Levine, a candidate for governor, referred to to the students in attendance as “a new greatest generation right here.” Cynthia Busch, the county chairwoman, said that the Broward County e-mail list had tripled in the last week.

“No more deals, no more compromises,” she promised. “We are here to fight.”

The keynote speaker was Congressman Joseph Kennedy III, of Massachusetts. Kennedy is a ginger who speaks in the short staccato bursts of his great-uncle and grandfather. At thirty-seven, he has been tapped by the Party as a rising star, not only because of his dynastic connections and his relative youth but because of his ability to speak about important things without sounding phony. Earlier in the year, he was selected to give the Democratic Party’s response to Trump’s State of the Union address. Now he issued a statement on an issue that, thanks to the relentless activism of the students, was going to be decisive in the midterm elections.

Kennedy began with acknowledgments and a joke about his family’s love of Florida. (“From what I can tell, President Kennedy didn’t get that winter tan ice fishing on Cape Cod.”) But he soon moved on to the heart of the matter.

“Our children wake up every morning in a country where nearly a hundred lives will be lost to guns by the time they go to bed, and they hear a Republican Party say that that is the price of freedom,” he said.

Kennedy recalled other instances of youth activism in American history: the mill girls of Lowell in the mid-nineteenth century; the Little Rock nine, in 1957; the children who marched for civil rights in the “children’s crusade” and were arrested in Birmingham, in 1963; the four students killed by the National Guard at Kent State, in 1970. “From Stonewall to Selma to Seneca Falls, America’s youth forces us to confront where we have fallen short,” he said.

He concluded with a promise that this time the adults would try harder. “Broward, have no doubt: our nation will follow you,” he said. “We will be better than we were in Little Rock, and in Birmingham, and in Kent. We will not force our kids to march alone. We will not tell them to do our government’s job.”

Was the government doing its job? In Florida, the state legislature passed a bill—which now awaits the signature of the Florida governor, Rick Scott—raising the age at which a person can buy an assault rifle to twenty-one. It also allotted sixty-seven million dollars to train and arm teachers, despite opposition from students and lawmakers who predicted that the policy would put more children, particularly African-American students, at risk. (There was also the opposition of Florida state representative Elizabeth Porter, who asked, “Do we allow the children to tell us that we should pass a law that says no homework?”) In the U.S. Senate, Jeff Flake, a Republican, and Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, co-sponsored another bill raising age limits. The President expressed support for the idea, saying at a meeting with lawmakers that “It doesn’t make sense that I have to wait until I’m twenty-one to get a handgun but I can get this weapon at eighteen.” I thought back to what Ryan Deitsch, the Never Again activist, had told me while sitting in the Pine Trails Park rec center the day before: “Until the politicians vote and pass something, all of their words mean nothing. As soon as they’re shot down, it just means that everything we talked about, everything we did in Washington, everything we did in Tallahassee amounts to nothing. And we choose to refuse that reality.”

Time For A Change — Jess Bidgood in the New York Times notes that Florida isn’t the only place where they’re looking at going to the Atlantic Time Zone.

DAMARISCOTTA, Me. — Several years ago, the owner of a sandwich shop on the main drag here grew so tired of turning the clocks back in the fall — and witnessing the early sunsets that followed — that he simply decided not to. That year, he kept his shop on daylight saving time all winter.

“We have such short days,” said Sumner Fernald Richards III, the owner. “It was very nice to get out in the afternoon and still have an hour or two of daylight.”

Changing the clocks brings grumbles around the country, and especially here, in the nation’s Easternmost region, where “falling back” in the wintertime means sunsets as early as 4 p.m. and sometimes earlier. But as the clocks once again were nudged ahead to daylight saving time in many parts of the nation over the weekend, foes of turning the clocks back in the first place saw a glimmer of hope in New England.

Efforts to alter time zones pop up around the country like spring tulips every year, and rarely get very far. But some in New England are trying a different tack this time: They want, in essence, to stay on daylight saving time throughout the year, and think that a concurrent regional approach could be the key. If multiple New England states make the jump at the same time, the thinking goes, it just might happen — even if that means taking the unusual step of splitting from the time zone of the rest of the East Coast, including New York City.

“We are a distinct region of the country,” said Tom Emswiler, a health care administrator in Boston who is part of a dedicated smattering of New Englanders pushing for the change. “If New York wants to join us on permanent Atlantic time: Come in, the water’s fine.”

The efforts to join Atlantic Standard Time would mean that, for about four months out of the year, some New England states would be an hour ahead of the rest of the Eastern time zone. Last year, Massachusetts created a commission to study the question. The states have not coordinated, but in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine, proposals have been filed that could open the possibility for such a change, at the very least, if their powerful neighbor — home to Boston, an economic driver — does.

“Our markets and our businesses would be operating ahead of New York; I don’t know how they’d like that,” State Senator Eileen M. Donoghue of Massachusetts said. She is chairwoman of the state’s commission, which has a major public hearing this week.

The idea, the senator said, requires much more study and perhaps, down the line, will merit a summit meeting of the interested states.

“When you look at the geography, we certainly line up more with the Atlantic time zone,” Ms. Donoghue said. Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and parts of Canada including Nova Scotia are on Atlantic Standard Time now.

Experts say the plan seems unlikely to come to fruition. Even if state legislatures passed these bills — and, so far, only New Hampshire’s House has — it would require either a regulatory action by the federal Department of Transportation, or an act of Congress. The governors of Massachusetts and Rhode Island have expressed reservations about making such a break.

But the debate has renewed musings about why, exactly, this part of the country is part of a time zone that may better serve cities to its west, and whether the region ought to boldly step away from its neighbors — maybe even on principle.

“Why do we essentially torture ourselves — in the spring in particular — and keep changing the clocks and messing everybody up?” asked Donna Bailey, a Democratic state representative from Saco, Me., who filed a bill on the matter this year. Under the current form of the bill, she said, Maine would have a referendum on the issue if both Massachusetts and New Hampshire made the switch.

“If we do it on a regional basis,” Ms. Bailey added, “you carve out a niche for yourself, that you don’t have to be so dependent on New York City.”

Any such switch would create a special complication for Connecticut since the northern part of the state is closely tied to Massachusetts, while many residents of the southern section commute to New York City.

The most frequently cited argument against a change is its effect on schoolchildren, who would most likely board buses in the dark on winter mornings. Proponents counter that the whole state of Maine, as well as communities including Boston, are considering pushing school start times back, too.

Plus, opponents say, such a change could create confusion for businesses and chaos for passengers taking Amtrak trains from New York to Boston and trying to figure out what time it is. Broadcast schedules — and with them, teams like the Patriots and the Bruins — could be affected as well.

“Once you start toying with the clocks, there are repercussions that people don’t bear in mind,” said Michael Downing, the author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time.”

Time was kept locally in the United States until 1883, when railroad companies established the time zones. Daylight saving time began in Europe during World War I as an effort to save energy. It was adopted by the United States in 1918 but repealed the following year after strident objections from farmers, who preferred having more light in the morning, not in the evening.

But more cosmopolitan and some Eastern areas, like New York City and the state of Massachusetts, decided to keep it, opening up an inconsistent approach to timekeeping until Congress split the difference in 1966 and set the rule as six months of standard time and six months of daylight saving time. It is now observed between the middle of March and the beginning of November — except in Arizona and Hawaii, which have opted out.

If nothing else, the bills have sparked renewed rumination on time and light here in New England, and many people have their reasons for considering a change.

“Definitely it would mean a longer day of business,” said Lynn Archer, a chef who owns two restaurants in Rockland, Me., and groaned the other day as the harbor there glowed pink during an early evening sunset.

But the idea has left others — including the editorial board of The Bangor Daily News — aghast, saying it would isolate the state and hurt business. Plus, many Mainers are used to things as they are.

“You’re tough New Englanders, it’s just like — yeah, it’s cold and dark,” said Susan D’Amore, of Washington, Me. “So?”

Doonesbury — Job applicant.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Florida Steps Up

From the Miami Herald:

Three weeks after the Parkland murders, an emotionally raw House gave final passage Wednesday to Florida’s first gun restrictions in three decades and approved $400 million for mental health and school safety.

The vote by a deeply divided House was 67-50 after a debate that lasted nearly eight hours. . Once the bill passed, lawmakers saluted and waved to the visitors’ gallery and Andy Pollack, whose daughter Meadow died in the massacre.

The gun and school safety bill (SB 7026), which earlier cleared the Senate on a precarious 20-18 vote, goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who said he will consult with Parkland families but declined to say whether he will sign or veto it.

“When a bill makes it to my desk, I’ll do what they don’t seem to be doing in Washington,” Scott said. “I’m going to review the bill line by line, and the group that I’m going to be talking to, the group that I care the most about because it impacted them so much, is the families.”

Scott restated his opposition to arming school personnel but did not say whether he will sign the bill or veto it.

All 17 grieving Parkland families signed a letter calling for passage of the legislation.

“More needs to be done and it’s important for the country to unite in the same way the 17 families united in support of this bill,” Pollack said after the vote. “I’m a father and I’m on a mission. I’m on a mission to ensure that I’m the last dad to ever make a statement of this kind.”

Pollack asked supporters to join him on the web site RememberMeadow.com.

Scott reiterated his opposition to arming school personnel, but did not say whether he will sign the bill or veto it.

“I’ve been clear. I don’t think we ought to be arming teachers,” Scott said.

Under the legislation, anyone buying a firearm from a licensed dealer must be at least 21 years old and wait three days before obtaining a weapon, and Florida would have the first statewide program that allows trained school personnel, except those who exclusively teach, to carry guns.

After so many failed attempts, so many “thoughts and prayers” and whiffing at real gun control, this is progress.  No, it’s not everything — c’mon, ban the damn semi-automatic weapons already — but in this state and with the power of the NRA aimed at the backs of every state elected official who supports the bill, it’s a good start.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

One Small Step

Via the BBC:

Florida lawmakers have voted to enact new gun control measures, weeks after one of the worst school shootings in US history took place in the state.

The Senate narrowly passed a bill that would raise the age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21 and require a three-day waiting period for most weapons.

Senators voted 20-18 in favour, after an amendment removed a provision to arm classroom teachers.

The law now requires approval from the House of Representatives and governor.

Given the state’s propensity for fetishizing anything to do with guns, not to mention the basic ownership of Tallahassee by the NRA, this is progress.

Monday, March 5, 2018

They Might Have A Chance

David Hogg and Cameron Kasky, founders of Never Again MSD, on Real Time with Bill Maher.

I admire them for more than just their compelling drive to make something happen. Their vision goes beyond just getting bills passed and people elected; they’ve sparked a visceral response that might actually get some things done. Maybe not today — the Florida legislature is deeply embedded with NRA cronies and deeply in debt to them — but soon, hopefully before more guns take more lives.

And speaking as one of those in the generation that fucked it up, thank you for your gracious acceptance of our apology. We too had dreams of a better world when we were seventeen. I hope yours turn out better.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Officer Fudd

Via TPM:

Imagine if every school campus in the United States had its own volunteer security officer: a former police officer or military veteran equipped with an assault rifle.

That’s the dream of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes.

In the wake of the February 14 massacre at a Parkland, Florida high school, Rhodes is calling on members of his far-right anti-government militia group to serve as unpaid and unaccountable armed school guards — whether teachers and students like the idea or not.

One Indiana Oath Keeper has already deployed to a local school, even though the school district says there’s no need for him to be there.

Rhodes wants the military and police veterans who make up Oath Keepers’ membership to volunteer for unpaid, rotating shifts at schools of all levels, and colleges, throughout the country. He and two other representatives of the fringe militia community will hold a webinar Monday night where they plan to encourage Oath Keepers to station themselves at schools “to protect the children against mass murder, and to help train the teachers and staff.”

“I think it’s essential,” Rhodes told TPM in a Monday phone call. “It’s part of our responsibility to do what we can.”

If they tried that at any Miami-Dade County public school, they would be under arrest.  But first the arresting officer would have to get over his fit of the giggles for Mirandizing some fool in an Elmer Fudd hat and a Rascal scooter.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sunday Reading

The “Never Again” Movement Gains Momentum — Emily Witt in The New Yorker.

On Tuesday morning, the body of the sixteen-year-old Carmen Schentrup was laid to rest in an Episcopalian ceremony at the St. Andrew Church in Coral Springs, Florida. In his sermon, the Reverend Canon Mark H. Sims remembered Schentrup, who liked teal handbags and red lipstick, and who wrote notes on her piano sheet music to remind her where she had left off. At a nearby funeral home, a wake was being prepared for the fifteen-year-old Peter Wang, who was also killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14th. The child of Chinese immigrants who owned a restaurant in West Palm Beach, Wang had wanted to join the military. His fellow J.R.O.T.C. members served as his pallbearers, and West Point posthumously granted him acceptance into the class of 2025.

On Tuesday afternoon, in a parking lot outside a Publix supermarket on Coral Ridge Drive, three white charter buses awaited the arrival of a hundred Stoneman Douglas students and their fifteen adult chaperones, who were travelling to the state capitol in Tallahassee to advocate for stricter gun-control laws. The students arrived carrying sleeping bags, pillows, and permission slips signed by their parents. The media besieged them with questions. A helicopter hovered overhead. Two women wearing the uniform of the nearby gas station stood next to one of the buses. I asked if they were parents. No, they said, but the students were their customers. “We know all of them,” one said, and they wanted to support them.

I approached a student in braids holding an overnight bag and sign that said “ENOUGH.” Her name was Tyra Hemans, and I watched her argue with a reporter about the likelihood that anybody in Tallahassee would change gun laws. “This law does not deserve to take lives anymore,” she insisted, without specifying a law. “It is a law that takes lives, it is a murderous law. It is a dirty law. I’m getting rid of the law.” After the reporter moved on, I asked why she was there. She told me about her friend Meadow Pollack, with whom she shared a birthday and a love of rap music.

Another student, a Never Again organizer named Chris Grady, stood to the side, observing the scene. A slim figure with curly hair, Grady, I had been told by other organizers, would be joining the Army after graduation. I asked if there was a contradiction between advocating for gun control and becoming a soldier. “Not at all,” he said. “These AR-15s, they’re weapons of war. Going to school, you’re not going to war, you’re trying to get an education.” After the Army, Grady wanted to pursue a career in politics. He admitted to feeling “apprehensive” about leaving behind the movement he’d helped galvanize when he ships out in June.

The organizer of the trip, the junior-class president, Jaclyn Corin, rushed between buses, holding lists that assigned seating, and turning down interview requests with an in-motion “I can’t.” Small and blonde, she wore a Stoneman Douglas windbreaker, black leggings, and brown ankle boots.

The young activists had stayed up late yet again the night before, in their unofficial headquarters at the house of Cameron Kasky, a student co-founder of the Never Again movement. “I was with Jackie all night making these bus arrangements,” a junior named Dylan Redshaw said. “I was on my phone on Snapchat crossing off the names because [Cameron’s] printer is broken. It’s been broken for, like, five days.” Kasky was in the parking lot, too, wearing a Stoneman Douglas warmup jacket. He and Corin climbed up to the car to make announcements and offer advice.

“Guys, over the next couple of days there are a lot of people who are being paid a lot of money to ruin what we are doing,” Kasky said. “A lot of people with cameras here are here to help, and a lot of people with cameras here are here to destroy us and to keep the Second Amendment safe. First of all, we’re doing that, too. I want my dad to keep his guns. We’re just trying to just not let seventeen of us get shot in the fucking face again.”

“Amen!” someone yelled in the crowd.

The leaders of the Never Again movement had started attracting the derision of some members of the right wing. On Tuesday, in Florida, an aide to a Republican state representative was fired for e-mailing a reporter to float the theory that the student activists were paid actors. Kasky suspended his Facebook account because, he said, unlike Twitter, “there’s no character count, so the death threats from the N.R.A. cultists are a bit more graphic.” The student tried to joke about some of the more egregious social-media conspiracies: that their classmate David Hogg was an F.B.I. plant, or a twenty-six-year-old felon from California.

Corin called out the names of the students who belonged on each bus, and they boarded. Kasky embraced Corin and Grady in a three-way hug; Kasky was staying in South Florida, to coördinate a CNN town-hall meeting the following day. The photographers in the crowd moved their tripods to record the exit of the bus fleet, but the buses didn’t leave. The air-conditioner on one had failed. A replacement was ordered, causing a delay.

I stood and chatted with Paul Corin, Jaclyn Corin’s father, who had taken the day off work to wish the students goodbye. (Jackie’s mother, Maryleigh, was one of the chaperones.) “I’m staying to feed the dog,” Corin said. He and Maryleigh watched as Jaclyn ran between the buses, the lists still in her hand. She paused for a moment before her parents, tearing up in frustration. “It’s just that everybody’s depending on me,” she said to her dad. “You’re good,” he told her, with a pat on the arm. She rushed away again, climbing the steps of the malfunctioning bus, on which students were popping open the ceiling vents. The first two buses departed shortly before 2 P.M. The one with the broken air-conditioner was replaced just over an hour later. Corin rode on the last bus.

After the first two buses departed, I went to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The roads around it, which had been closed since the shooting, were now passable. The school is in fact a campus of several white buildings with red terra-cotta tile roofs. (The shooting had been in what students call the freshman building.) When I arrived, a small crowd of young people were milling around on the corner of Coral Springs Drive and Holmberg Road, some of them in black funeral wear, having come from funerals. An ambulance pulled up to treat a student who, apparently suffering from heat stroke, sat on the street corner. I walked up to a group of teen-age girls to ask what was going on. They were wearing maroon and white, the school colors of Stoneman Douglas, and it wasn’t until one student, a fifteen-year-old sophomore named Catherine Silva, started telling me why they were there that I realized that they were from another school, West Boca Raton High. That morning, Silva told me, their school had held a seventeen-minute silence for each of the students and staff members who had died in the shooting, after which a spontaneous protest had erupted: a thousand of the students had decided to leave school, and they had simply kept walking the twelve miles southwest to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

“Everyone started leaving the gates of the school, and people were trying to prevent us, like, assistant principals were trying to tell us, ‘No, no, no, go back,’ so we just stampeded through the gates,” Silva told me, a note of elation in her voice. “I think I was one of the first people who was, like, ‘We’re walking to Marjory, we’re walking to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. We’re going. We’re walking all the way there.’ ”

She gestured at the group of sunburned and sweaty teen-agers around her, some with their shirts off, some standing around talking with the Stoneman Douglas students in their funeral clothes. “We have to do this ourselves because, frankly, no one’s going to do this for us. I don’t care if I have to lose my voice from screaming so loud because, apparently, I don’t have a voice anyway in the American justice system. I’ll just scream my lungs out until something is done. Change is necessary. We need change to be safe.”

As I spoke to Silva outside the school, and as the buses drove toward Tallahassee, Florida House Republicans blocked a motion to debate a ban on assault weapons in the state. They spent more time on the afternoon of February 20th debating a resolution to declare pornography a public-health risk.

By air in a puddle jumper from Fort Lauderdale, the approach to Tallahassee, at the eastern edge of the Florida Panhandle, is from the west, a descent over the humid green expanse of the Apalachicola National Forest. Tallahassee has Spanish moss, a columned historic state house, and southern accents. Six days after the shooting, the activists’ visit would mark their first major meetings with lawmakers—not just any lawmakers, but one of the most pro-gun state legislatures in the country.

A welcome ceremony had been arranged for the Stoneman Douglas students at a local school, Leon High. At 9:30 P.M., with word that the first bus was approaching the outskirts of Tallahassee, hundreds of students and staff from Leon stood on the front steps of the school, a W.P.A.-era building with a broad sloping lawn and a grand flight of stairs, ready to welcome their peers from Parkland. As the bus reached the driveway, the crowd grew silent. A teacher from Leon told me that they had been instructed to greet the students with the “subdued clapping” appropriate to the gravity of the moment, but, when the first Stoneman Douglas students stepped off the bus, some couldn’t suppress a few whoops. Accompanied by ushers from the Leon student-government association, the leaders of the Never Again movement ascended the steps with the air of visiting dignitaries, the other students following more bashfully behind them, a few breaking into tears at the sight of the (now gently) applauding crowd that flanked the stairs. They accepted hugs and Saran-wrapped chocolate-chip cookies baked by the children of the nearby Magnolia School, then delivered short speeches of thanks and recognition in English and in Spanish.

Since the first days of the movement, the media scrum had vastly grown, and the steps were filled with reporters querying students in French or German or British accents, often about the whereabouts of the student Emma González. (She had stayed in South Florida to organize.) The students had developed an attitude of greater aloofness with the reporters, the leaders in particular more adept at waving away outstretched microphones. The media horde was told to wait in the school library while the travellers recovered in the cafeteria, and only then were we given free rein to mingle, as the students ate pizza and candy and songs by Drake, Rihanna, and OneRepublic played through speakers.

The students had been coördinating their visit with Lauren Book, a Florida state senator who had, with the assistance of other state senators and staff, helped them organize meetings with Florida state legislators, as well as with the attorney general, Pam Bondi; and the governor, Rick Scott. Also roaming the cafeteria was Book’s father, Ron, a bald and pugilistic-looking figure in a suit and tie, well known in Florida for his forty-year career as a lobbyist. Lauren, who was wearing knee-high boots and a belted black dress with a pleated skirt, welcomed the students, and Ron talked about how lucky he was to work with his daughter. Then he hinted that the school shooting might offer a good opportunity to advocate for limiting Florida’s open-records laws, under which, he lamented, the addresses of the victims had been made available to the public after the shooting. (I had yet to hear a student mention this as a point of contention.) Claire VanSusteren, a staffer of Lauren Book’s, urged the students to be measured. Other students had travelled to the capitol from Parkland in other caravans that day, and, VanSusteren said, had met with legislators and “started getting in their faces and shooting with their cell phones,” resulting in cancelled meetings. By the time that Kevin Rader, a state senator, said, “I know it’s kind of intimidating,” I wondered if any of the adults in the room had noticed that what had gotten the students this far was not waiting for permission or playing politics as usual but a coherent message about gun control, the moral authority bestowed on them by tragedy and by their youth, and a refusal to conduct business as usual. Still, the students listened attentively.

In the mazelike halls of the capitol building the next morning, a shoeshine man made his rounds; gentlemen rushed to open doors for the ladies; and, while most of the legislators had the good sense to ignore the posters advertising February 21st as “Seersucker Day,” at least one full summer suit was worn in the chambers. The Florida state senate opened, as usual, with a prayer from the “chaplain of the day.” It was the first senate session since the shooting, and the chaplain, a rabbi, prayed, “Please, God, help us illuminate the darkness caused by the extinguishing of seventeen lives.” After the Pledge of Allegiance, the lights were dimmed, and a silent slide show played with the names and photos of the dead, bringing some of the Stoneman Douglas students in the galleries to tears again.

Jackie Corin sat in the front row of the balcony overlooking the chambers, next to her mother. Under Jackie’s leadership, the students had formed ten groups of ten, which, throughout the morning, would travel to meet with different legislators. I joined the group that went to meet with Rep. Alex Stark, of Broward County. Stark, a Democrat, agreed with the students’ demands for changes to existing gun laws, and he did most of the talking, reminiscing about the students who had organized to protest the war in Vietnam, fifty years before. He took a question from a student, who asked, “What are you going to do for the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas who have to go back to school?”

“I don’t even have an answer for you,” Stark said. “We have schools in the state that can’t afford student-resource officers,” he said, referring to the armed police officers in schools. He turned the discussion to strengthening the Baker Act, which allows for the involuntary examination of the mentally ill. As to the possibility that the Florida legislature would pass meaningful reforms to existing gun laws, he recalled a law known as the “Pop Tart bill,” which prohibits disciplining students from playing with simulated weapons. Governor Scott signed the bill into law in 2014, after a boy in Maryland was suspended for biting a Pop Tart into the shape of a gun. “This is what we’re dealing with here,” Stark said.

By midday, at a planned press conference, a few of the students were showing signs of impatience. The second speaker, Ryan Deitsch, whose spiky red hair stuck out in crowds, had not prepared anything to say. Fortunately, he said, “I am the president and founder of the M.S.D. improv club, so, hopefully, I can get something in.” He described being amazed by his own classmates. “For the longest time, I’ve only perceived Douglas as just a school of entitled children and those who Juul,” he said, referring to a brand of electronic cigarettes. “Now I’m left seeing that these are powerful speakers.” What was disappointing to him today, he continued, had been the grownups. “The legislature, those in power, have not taken action. They’ve been using their words and using political double talk as much as they can, and it’s not a weapon that I want them to be able to use anymore. They can walk around any question they want, but the more they don’t act, the more they don’t deserve to be in office.” He pointed out that he was a senior, recently of legal voting age. “I want to see those people who shot down that bill, who did not let it get past committee,” he said. “I’m not here for a fight. I’m not here to argue with you. I just want to speak. I just want to see your face and know why.”

The more time one spent in the state legislature, the more it seemed a place of gestures and symbols, from the honorary plaques that lined the representatives’ walls to the hand-sanitizer stations hung at regular intervals for post-handshake decontamination. The balconies of the rotunda, where the press conference was held, were adorned with Florida miscellanea (“Orange state fruit,” “Orange Juice state beverage,” “Porpoise state saltwater mammal,” “Manatee state marine mammal”). As the students spoke, at a podium facing a line of cameras, legislators stood behind them wearing the same fixed smiles that I had been seeing on the Olympic figure skaters on television in the evenings. While some of the students felt satisfied that their voices had been heard in the meetings, others spoke of cancelled appointments, and of one legislator arriving almost an hour late. Governor Scott, however, kept his word to meet with the students, although he did so behind closed doors.

At another meeting, a junior named Casey Sherman asked Manny Díaz, Jr., a Republican representative from Miami-Dade County, about the possibility of arming teachers. She worried it might put more student lives at risks, or that teachers could not be trusted “to handle the gun properly and not harm themselves.” Díaz said that he was not talking about teachers but, rather, “personnel that’s deputized and highly trained,” he said. “Like an air marshal.” (The armed police officer assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had stood outside the building during the shooting, and has since resigned from his job.)

Between meetings, the students were led to the House of Representatives gallery to pass the time. They watched as legislators passionately discussed House Bill 839, about the display of the state motto in schools; House Bill 7051, “An Act Relating to Trust Funds”; and a resolution to recognize Dominican-American Heritage Day. The audience was asked to stand and applaud a legislator’s daughter who had made the maroon remembrance ribbons that many of the lawmakers wore pinned to their lapels. As discussion turned to House Bill 7043, “Dredge and Fill Permitting Program,” I overheard Chris Grady lean over to Ryan Deitsch and whisper something. They stood up and left.

Outside in the hall, the students vented. “This is a practice run,” David Hogg, a senior at Stoneman Douglas, said later. He had just flown in after making an appearance in Los Angeles on the “Dr. Phil” show. As we spoke, he asked if we could go over to the balcony so he could lean against it. “If we can get this done at the federal level, this doesn’t even matter.” The torpor in Florida notwithstanding, the students had managed to force the agenda. By the end of the week, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, and Governor Scott had suggested banning bump stocks and raising the age at which an adult can buy a gun, from eighteen to twenty-one. (Twenty-one is the national minimum age at which a person can buy a handgun but not an assault rifle.)

Throughout the day, the students had been following on their phones the course of a massive protest being held outside the capitol building. In the early afternoon, the rotunda slowly filled. Most of the protesters were young, carrying signs that read “NRA Bribes < Student Lives,” “Kids > Guns,” and, simply, “Help.” They began yelling “Be ashamed,” then “Vote them out,” then “Not one more.” Upstairs, several leaders of the Never Again movement looked almost too tired to notice. Hogg received a phone call from NPR before his phone died. Ryan Deitsch and Delaney Tarr looked over the balcony with mild curiosity. Chris Grady sat alone on the bench of a piano pushed against the wall and stared into space. In an hour, the leaders of Never Again, including Grady, Hogg, and Tarr, would board a plane back to South Florida, where, later that night, I watched them on television debating Senator Rubio and Dana Loesch, a spokeswoman for the N.R.A. The rest of the students would return home by bus. Classes would resume at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School the following week. Downstairs, the protesters chanted, “The students, united, will never be defeated,” as a handful of capitol workers in suits looked on.

“You work for us. You work for us,” the protesters yelled toward the closed doors of the House chamber.

“I Was a Marine.  I Don’t Want a Gun in My Classroom” — Anthony Swofford in the New York Times.

Before the United States Marine Corps allowed me to carry a live M-16 assault rifle, I went through hundreds of hours of firearms training. Classroom sessions devoted to nomenclature, maintenance and basic operation accounted for more than two weeks of study before I even set eyes on ammunition. For weeks, I carried an M-16 without a magazine — a dummy weapon, basically. I secured it with a padlock overnight while I slept in the barracks, and unlocked it each morning before chow.

Only at the shooting range was I allowed to check out magazines and ammo from the armory. The first day at the range I spent 12 hours disassembling, cleaning and reassembling the weapon. I had to do this blindfolded. I had to do this while a drill instructor hurried me, yelling that enemies were at the gate. I had to do this while fellow Marines wept nearby from doing hundreds of burpees as punishment for not being able to reassemble their weapons fast enough.

The military issue M-16 is the model for the AR-15 assault rifle that the accused shooter used to kill 17 people this month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The shooter bought the weapon lawfully. He received zero hours of mandated training. There is no reason that any civilian, of any age, should possess this rifle.

At the White House on Wednesday, President Trump suggested that if a football coach at the high school, Aaron Feis, had been armed, he would have saved even more lives than he did, perhaps even his own, because rather than simply shielding students from gunfire, he could have drawn his weapon, fired and killed the assailant — putting a tidy end to the rampage.

This is absurd. More likely, had Mr. Feis been armed, he would not have been able to draw his weapon (a side arm, presumably) quickly enough to stop the shooter, who with an AR-15 would have had the coach outgunned. Even if the coach had been able to draw his weapon — from where? his athletic shorts? — any shots he managed to fire would have risked being errant, possibly injuring or killing additional students. As some studies have shown, even police officers have missed their targets more than 50 percent of the time. In firing a weapon, Mr. Feis would have only added to the carnage and confusion.

What if a history teacher had also been armed? And an English teacher, and a math teacher, and the janitorial staff members? In this National Rifle Association fever dream, a high school would concentrate so much firepower in the hands of its employees that no deranged individual with a weapon would dare enter the premises.

This sort of thinking also has no grounding in reality. People attack heavily armed institutions all too often, as with the mass shootings in 2009 at Fort Hood in Texas and in 2013 at the Washington Navy Yard. Assailants in such cases aren’t typically worried about losing their lives in the process. Usually, losing their lives is part of the plan.

A few days ago, the lunacy of the suggestion to arm teachers was driven home to me as I prepared to teach my undergraduate creative writing class. I arrived uncharacteristically early and sat down with a few students to banter about this and that.

Suddenly, there was a loud bang outside. Everyone froze, until we realized it was a campus utility truck backing up to a loading dock. Then the students relaxed again.

But I spent the next few minutes before class thinking about whether the windows opened fully and would enable 20 kids to escape an active shooter. I checked: They did not open at all. I noticed to my dismay that the door to the classroom opened out, not in, which thwarted my plan to throw my heavy table up against the door in case a shooter blasted his way down the hall. Even after class began, I found myself fantasizing about inventing a bulletproof Kevlar curtain that I could have at the ready to affix to the door frame if the need arose.

Here is something I didn’t think about: I did not think about arming myself to protect my students. President Trump on Thursday specified that he wants only certain teachers — “highly adept people, people that understand weaponry” — to be armed. I will immodestly state that among professors in the United States, I am almost certainly one of the best shooters. But I would never bring a weapon into a classroom. The presence of a firearm is always an invitation to violence. Weapons have no place in a learning environment.

Last month, the State Legislature in West Virginia, where my university is located, introduced the Campus Self-Defense Act. This would prohibit colleges and universities from designating their campuses as gun-free zones. If this act becomes law, I will resign my professorship. I will not work in an environment where professors and students pack heat.

When I was a young Marine, I had to learn how to use many weapons. It was part of my mission to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” My mission these days is to write books and teach literature and creative writing. It’s a noble calling, too. But no one should be asked to put his life on the line for it.

Marco, Dana, and the Parkland Parents — Charles P. Pierce.

To be honest, I do give Marco Rubio a little credit for showing up to Wednesday night’s CNN town hall in Florida. Not as much credit as I give his senatorial counterpart, Bill Nelson, who complimented Rubio for his presence and then noted that Governor Rick Scott had not put in an appearance. Governor Bat Boy, of course, is expected to run against Nelson this fall, so that was a nice double-axel and Nelson stuck the landing.

Jake Tapper also gets points for keeping a difficult event largely on the rails. Granted, Rubio found the inevitable rake to step on when one of the survivors treed him on why he still takes contributions from the NRA, but he did cop to an evolving position on background checks and on whether we ought to raise the age limit on someone’s ability to buy an AR-15. As we often say around the shebeen, when a goat sings opera, you don’t worry much about whether he’s off-key.

Before we move on to Dana Loesch’s continuing contribution to national mayhem, we feel that we should educate folks a bit on the AR-15, the weapon of choice for all your high-end mass murderers. (Stephen Paddock had 14 of these bad boys in his suite when he opened fire on that country music crowd in Las Vegas.) It is often said that the “AR” in AR-15 stands for “assault rifle.” Au contraire, you elitist European-style socialist. The “AR” stands for “Armalite Rifle,” Armalite being the company that manufactures the weapon of choice for all your high-end mass murderers. As it happens, the AR-15 also was the weapon of choice for the Provisional IRA through most of the modern Troubles in Northern Ireland. It was so popular that it became a synonym for all violent resistance to British rule. (Google “Armalite and ballot box.”) This being Ireland and all, there even was a song about it. Sing it with me now!

And it’s up in Crossmaglen that’s were I long to be/ Lying in the dark with a Provo company /A comrade on my left and another one on my right /And a clip of ammunition for me little Armalite!’

Now that’s market penetration.

I mention all this because, in between bouts of phony outrage and blaming everyone else, Loesch, the national spokesperson for what is essentially a lobbying operation on behalf of weapons manufacturers, set a new bar for pedantic condescension for her answer to a teacher from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who said that, when the Second Amendment was drafted, all people had to worry about was muskets. By now, we’re all used to the rhetorical two-step of what is and isn’t an “assault weapon,” which if often used to short-circuit debate on the question of why an 18-year-old in a Florida suburb should be able to buy the iconic weapon of the Provos. But Loesch broke new ground in this regard:

“At the time, there were fully-automatic firearms that were available, the Belton gun and the Puckle gun.”

Jesus H. Christ on an Abrams, lady. Are you fcking kidding me?

First of all, neither the Belton gun nor the Puckle gun ever was a viable weapons system. Neither one ever worked and the British Army gave up on both of them long before the Constitutional Convention, at which, I would guarantee you, hardly anybody even had heard of them. (As for Loesch’s contention that the Continental Congress put in an order for a Belton gun, the overwhelming historical consensus is that Mr. Belton was a bit of a sharper, and that the gun ordered by the suckers in Philadelphia may not even have existed.) These are the kind of things that impress Ms. Loesch’s regular audience of paranoid shut-ins, but that wasn’t who was listening to her last night.

Second of all, who the hell cares? What kind of an omadhaun throws out historical trivia—and inaccurate historical trivia at that—to win a minor debating point over a teacher who a week ago saw her students slaughtered in front of her? This little moment simply reeked of desperation. Of course, on Thursday, Ms. Loesch, dressed for what appeared to be Alexander Hamilton cosplay, faced a friendlier audience at the annual CPAC wingnuttopalooza in Washington, where she introduced NRA head maniac Wayne LaPierre. Loesch first, from CNN:

“Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it. Now I’m not saying that you love the tragedy. But I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold to you and many in the legacy media in the back (of the room). And notice I said ‘crying white mothers’ because there are thousands of grieving black mothers in Chicago every weekend, and you don’t see town halls for them, do you?” Loesch asked. “Where’s the CNN town hall for Chicago? Where’s the CNN town hall for sanctuary cities?”

(Chris Hayes of MSNBC indeed did host a town hall on gun violence in Chicago, but that must have slipped Ms. Loesch’s mind.)

LaPierre, of course, did not disappoint. From the Guardian:

In a long segment he attacked “socialists” who he said “oppose our fundamental freedoms enshrined in the bill of rights”. “This growing socialist state dreams of manipulating schoolchildren to squeeze them for information about their parents … Do mommy and daddy own a gun?” he said.“And all of this private information will be entered on to that ultimate list, that cloud of data storage … and then it’s just a short hop to the systematic destruction of our basic freedoms in this country.” He added: “If these so-called European socialists take over the House and the Senate and god forbid they win the White House again our American freedoms will be lost forever, and the first to go will be the second amendment to the US constitution.”

He also raved about the Environmental Protection Agency (?) and dropped Saul Alinsky’s name into the bargain. Sooner or later, even the most fanatical charlatan loses the plot and the unthinking crowd moves along to someone selling a better brand of snake oil.

Doonesbury — Have some leftovers.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

“F*ck You, I Like Guns”

A veteran and pacifist on the reality of gun ownership.

America, can we talk? Let’s just cut the shit for once and actually talk about what’s going on without blustering and pretending we’re actually doing a good job at adulting as a country right now. We’re not. We’re really screwing this whole society thing up, and we have to do better. We don’t have a choice. People are dying. At this rate, it’s not if your kids, or mine, are involved in a school shooting, it’s when. One of these happens every 60 hours on average in the US. If you think it can’t affect you, you’re wrong. Dead wrong. So let’s talk.

I’ll start. I’m an Army veteran. I like M-4’s, which are, for all practical purposes, an AR-15, just with a few extra features that people almost never use anyway. I’d say at least 70% of my formal weapons training is on that exact rifle, with the other 30% being split between various and sundry machineguns and grenade launchers. My experience is pretty representative of soldiers of my era. Most of us are really good with an M-4, and most of us like it at least reasonably well, because it is an objectively good rifle. I was good with an M-4, really good. I earned the Expert badge every time I went to the range, starting in Basic Training. This isn’t uncommon. I can name dozens of other soldiers/veterans I know personally who can say the exact same thing. This rifle is surprisingly easy to use, completely idiot-proof really, has next to no recoil, comes apart and cleans up like a dream, and is light to carry around. I’m probably more accurate with it than I would be with pretty much any other weapon in existence. I like this rifle a lot. I like marksmanship as a sport. When I was in the military, I enjoyed combining these two things as often as they’d let me.

With all that said, enough is enough. My knee jerk reaction is to consider weapons like the AR-15 no big deal because it is my default setting. It’s where my training lies. It is my normal, because I learned how to fire a rifle IN THE ARMY. You know, while I may only have shot plastic targets on the ranges of Texas, Georgia, and Missouri, that’s not what those weapons were designed for, and those targets weren’t shaped like deer. They were shaped like people. Sometimes we even put little hats on them. You learn to take a gut shot, “center mass”, because it’s a bigger target than the head, and also because if you maim the enemy soldier rather than killing him cleanly, more of his buddies will come out and get him, and you can shoot them, too. He’ll die of those injuries, but it’ll take him a while, giving you the chance to pick off as many of his compadres as you can. That’s how my Drill Sergeant explained it anyway. I’m sure there are many schools of thought on it. The fact is, though, when I went through my marksmanship training in the US Army, I was not learning how to be a competition shooter in the Olympics, or a good hunter. I was being taught how to kill people as efficiently as possible, and that was never a secret.

As an avowed pacifist now, it turns my stomach to even type the above words, but can you refute them? I can’t. Every weapon that a US Army soldier uses has the express purpose of killing human beings. That is what they are made for. The choice rifle for years has been some variant of what civilians are sold as an AR-15. Whether it was an M-4 or an M-16 matters little. The function is the same, and so is the purpose. These are not deer rifles. They are not target rifles. They are people killing rifles. Let’s stop pretending they’re not.

[…]

I understand that people want to be able to own guns. That’s ok. We just need to really think about how we’re managing this. Yes, we have to manage it, just as we manage car ownership. People have to get a license to operate a car, and if you operate a car without a license, you’re going to get in trouble for that. We manage all things in society that can pose a danger to other people by their misuse. In addition to cars, we manage drugs, alcohol, exotic animals (there are certain zip codes where you can’t own Serval cats, for example), and fireworks, among other things. We restrict what types of businesses can operate in which zones of the city or county. We have a whole system of permitting for just about any activity a person wants to conduct since those activities could affect others, and we realize, as a society, that we need to try to minimize the risk to other people that comes from the chosen activities of those around them in which they have no say. Gun ownership is the one thing our country collectively refuses to manage, and the result is a lot of dead people.

I can’t drive a Formula One car to work. It would be really cool to be able to do that, and I could probably cut my commute time by a lot. Hey, I’m a good driver, a responsible Formula One owner. You shouldn’t be scared to be on the freeway next to me as I zip around you at 140 MPH, leaving your Mazda in a cloud of dust! Why are you scared? Cars don’t kill people. People kill people. Doesn’t this sound like bullshit? It is bullshit, and everybody knows. Not one person I know would argue non-ironically that Formula One cars on the freeway are a good idea. Yet, these same people will say it’s totally ok to own the firearm equivalent because, in the words of comedian Jim Jeffries, “fuck you, I like guns”.

[…]

Let’s be honest. You just want a cool toy, and for the vast majority of people, that’s all an AR-15 is. It’s something fun to take to the range and put some really wicked holes in a piece of paper. Good for you. I know how enjoyable that is. I’m sure for a certain percentage of people, they might not kill anyone driving a Formula One car down the freeway, or owning a Cheetah as a pet, or setting off professional grade fireworks without a permit. Some people are good with this stuff, and some people are lucky, but those cases don’t negate the overall rule. Military style rifles have been the choice du jour in the incidents that have made our country the mass shootings capitol of the world. Formula One cars aren’t good for commuting. Cheetahs are bitey. Professional grade fireworks will probably take your hand off. All but one of these are common sense to the average American. Let’s fix that. Be honest, you don’t need that AR-15. Nobody does. Society needs them gone, no matter how good you may be with yours. Kids are dying, and it’s time to stop fucking around.

What he said.

And don’t get me started on the asinine idea of arming teachers in schools.  Just don’t.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How Movements Begin

The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are picking up the torch.

Via BuzzFeed:

At dusk on Sunday night, Cameron Kasky was taking a brief, quiet moment for himself. He lay on a picnic table in a park not far from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a gunman opened fire Wednesday, killing 17 of his classmates and teachers, and wounding 14 others.

Kasky was exhausted. He estimated that he’d done more than 50 interviews since the shooting, all to promote a movement against gun violence that he and his young friends have spearheaded in the wake of their school’s tragedy.

“We, as a community, needed one thing,” he said of his desire to form the group to give his friends a purpose amid the grief.

Kasky, just 17, said he first came up with the name of this new movement, “Never Again,” while wearing his Ghostbusters pajamas.

In just days, the group of teenage survivors have made themselves impossible to ignore, headlining rallies, penning op-eds, and blanketing cable news coverage over the Presidents Day weekend with their calls for action.

But behind the scenes, they’re also just kids — sitting in a circle on the floor in the home of one of their parents, eating a batch of baked pasta, tweeting at each other, and comparing which celebrity just shared their post. There’s laughter and tears, and “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers plays briefly, but it’s also remarkably businesslike. There’s work to do and a seemingly endless number of phone calls to answer.

“We slept enough to keep us going, but we’ve been nonstop all day, all night,” said Sofie Whitney, 18, a senior who estimated that she has spent 70% of the past 48 hours speaking with reporters. “This isn’t easy for us, but it’s something I need to do.”

[…]

David Hogg, the 17-year-old student journalist who had interviewed his classmates while they hid from the shooter, went on television the next day, pleading with the country for action. “Please! We are children. You guys are the adults,” he said during a CNN interview that was played across the country. “Take action, work together, come over your politics, and get something done.”

Instead, it was the students themselves who took action.

Kasky began a group text with a few friends that has since ballooned to include as many as 19 participants. Someone built a website, while another person designed a logo. “I’ve been there [in the group chat] since basically hour one,” said Whitney. “Cameron just felt really inclined to make a specific movement. You can’t just make change. You have to be organized.”

On Saturday, they fanned out across the television networks, giving as many interviews as they could.

At a Fort Lauderdale rally, senior Emma González delivered a fiery speech against President Trump and the NRA, which quickly went viral and was seen by millions around the globe. “The people in the government who are voted into power are lying to us,” she told the crowd through tears. “And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and are prepared to call BS.”

By Sunday night, as their names and movement trended worldwide, the teens regrouped in a makeshift “headquarters” in a living room. Some of the students hold leadership positions at their school, so they’re used to planning committees and meetings. (As people online tweeted that González should run for president, she joked that she already is president — of her school’s Gay–Straight Alliance.)

[…]

The week ahead is mapped out on whiteboards that were purchased at Target. On the boards are the names of the organizers, with their commitments for the week, and green tape dividing the days in makeshift fashion. Major news network appointments are mixed in with the times of funerals.

As others answered phone calls, Jaclyn Corin, the 17-year-old in charge of logistics for the Tallahassee event on Wednesday, worked on a press release about the event — although she referred to it as “an essay.” The teens are planning to meet with Florida’s attorney general, House speaker, and Senate president. (Gov. Rick Scott’s office told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday he would also meet with the students.) “REMEMBER: THIS IS ALL AT A STATE LEVEL,” Corin wrote in capital letters in the final press release.

Around 10 p.m., concerned parents began to call. One student mentioned she was supposed to be home at a certain time, while another negotiated with his folks, who seemed to be telling him to get more rest.

After people left and the night finally ended at 11 p.m., Hogg tried to go to sleep. He played “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio in a bid to unwind. In a few hours, he had to be awake. He had another interview to do.

I am remembering back to when I was 17 in 1969 and joining the anti-war rallies, signing up to attend the Moratoriums, marching for peace.  But the war in Vietnam was on a different level; it wasn’t being fought in the halls of the local schools and the sense of urgency was not as intense as what these students are feeling.  After all, I had not seen my friends die in the middle of Mrs. Burget’s math class.

I am moved by their passion that is propelling this movement, but it is tempered deeply by the knowledge of what it was made them say “Never Again.”

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Ask Them This

In the wake of yet another mass shooting and the endless cycle of “thoughts and prayers” emanating from elected officials and the perpetual “now is not the time” excuse for avoiding anything to do with gun control, it is time to change the focus from the abstract to the specific: who is paying them to utter their “thoughts and prayers”?

I have resolved to ask every elected official running for office from here on out, regardless of party and regardless of office, how much money they’ve received from the NRA or any other gun lobby.  Then smile and patiently wait for their answer.

It’s a simple question, really, and they should know the answer.  And it should be a matter of public record so if they fudge, we can pull it up and tell them how much they’ve gotten from them.  Then ask them what they plan to do with it.

Asking them where they stand on gun control invites weaseling and mumbling about “defending the Second Amendment.”  What they’re really saying is that being on the payroll of the NRA is more important than actually representing the rest of us who would rather not have to contemplate yet again another somber week of burying children because it’s easier in Florida to buy an AR-15 than it is to buy medicine to control diarrhea.

So ask them: “How much money did you get from the NRA?” and vote accordingly.