Tuesday, June 14, 2022

One Small Step

The Senate has come up with a gun-control bill that is a start…

The Washington Post ran an altogether remarkable paragraph on Monday to kick off its coverage of the bipartisan agreement on gun violence that emerged over the weekend. This was it.

A bipartisan group of senators announced Sunday that it had reached a tentative agreement on legislation that would pair modest new gun restrictions with significant new mental health and school security investments — a deal that could put Congress on a path to enacting the most significant national response in decades to acts of mass gun violence.

It could do that. It could also provide a lake of stew, and of whiskey, too, that you can paddle around in a big canoe. Even assuming that the plan passes the Senate at all, which is still not a mortal lock, to assume that this is some sort of stepping-stone toward more toothsome gun control regulations seems to be wildly optimistic. Remember those heady days when the Affordable Care Act was supposed to put us all on the road to universal healthcare and Medicare For All? All that’s actually happened is that the ACA has been fighting for its own life ever since. Republican governors even refused the FREE MONEY!!! available to them to expand Medicaid coverage, and then they bragged about it. Keep that part of the story in mind as we go along here.

I do not in any way mean to disparage the hard work done by Senator Chris Murphy and the others to pry the agreement they got out of the Republican morass that is the Senate minority caucus. The provisions of the bill are certainly helpful with regard to a number of the country’s problems. The difficulty comes when one realizes that one of the problems being addressed is decidedly not Too Many Damn Guns, and also, that there are a number of self-destruct mechanisms built in to the agreement.

Under the tentative deal, a federal grant program would encourage states to implement red-flag laws that allow authorities to keep guns away from people found by a judge to represent a potential threat to themselves or others, while federal criminal background checks for gun buyers younger than 21 would include a mandatory search of juvenile justice and mental health records for the first time.

Other provisions would prevent gun sales to a broader group of domestic violence offenders, closing what is often called the “boyfriend loophole”; clarify which gun sellers are required to register as federal firearms dealers and, thus, run background checks on customers; and establish new federal offenses related to gun trafficking.

I trust that I don’t have to explain the problem with a program to “encourage” states to do things, especially when those states are run by conservative Republican governors and conservative Republican legislatures. Generally, history tells us, this money, assuming the state even accepts it, ends up in the general budget, and/or someone’s cousin’s concrete and asphalt business. Hell, just light that money on fire on Main Street and shoot it full of holes.

However, this pale pastel of a framework is the only kind of bill with a ghost of a chance of bringing along 10 Republicans in the Senate. And even so, the flying monkeys went predictably ballistic. Rep. Ronny Jackson, the former White House physician who claimed the former president* was the Slenderman, leaped to the electric Twitter machine to lose most of his shit.

I WILL NOT support the horrendous anti 2nd Amendment bill that’s being proposed in the Senate. It’s AWFUL! This is a MASSIVE violation of your Constitutional rights, and it MUST be rejected!

Rep. Andy Biggs chimed in with the customary paranoia:

The House’s recently passed gun control legislation would not have prevented the Uvalde or Buffalo mass shootings. This legislation is part of a broader goal to take all of our guns and erode the Second Amendment.

And Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene gabble-gooble-red-flags-gobble:

There should be ZERO votes for red flag laws in the @HouseGOP. Stop helping Joe Biden and the Democrats hurt Americans. The people will not forget.

And so on.

I hope the thing passes. But I’m not going to fall for the alleged magical powers of the word “bipartisan” to turn chickenshit into chicken salad. This is a good start in the same way that making sure your shoes are tied is a good start to a marathon.

It’s not much, but it’s better than “thoughts and prayers.”

Thursday, June 9, 2022

They Saw The Carnage

Charles P. Pierce on yesterday’s testimony from Uvalde.

WASHINGTON — They were the witnesses to the unthinkable and now they are witnesses to encroaching oblivion, trying to beat it back with their fresh memories of blood and death. All over Capitol Hill, the talk on Wednesday was all about this country’s insane addiction to its firearms. The Senate debated some bills, the Senate Judiciary Committee having taken on domestic terrorism and white supremacy on Tuesday, and that was about guns, too. Even the breaking news was about guns; an armed man was arrested in the general vicinity of the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The Supreme Court did not hand down its expected endorsement of more guns. And in the Rayburn House Office Building, the teeth came right down to the bone.

A young survivor of the Uvalde Massacre testified via videotape, showing unimaginable courage. (I mean, Jesus, it’s only been a couple of weeks since they were all caught up in Salvador Ramos’ unfortunate exercise of his Second Amendment freedom, and now they were asked to tell the Congress of the United States about it.) Miah Cerillo is in fourth grade, and she shouldn’t have to be talking about what an AR-15 can do to the human body. Miah is the student who covered herself with the blood of a slain classmate in order to keep from being shot to death herself. She is now famous for that. She should not be famous for that. Nobody should.

We were just watching a movie. And then [the teacher] heard something and went to lock the door. He was in the hallway and then he came in and attacked. And then she went to the back of the room and she told us to go hide. And then we went to go hide behind my teacher’s desk and behind the backpacks and then he shot the little window. and then he went to the other classroom, and there was a door between our classrooms and he went through there and shot my teacher and killed my teacher, and he shot her in the head and then he shot some of my classmates, and the white board. When I went to the backpacks, he shot my friend that was next to me. I thought he was gonna come back into the room, so I grabbed the blood and I put it all over me.

Miah also talked about how she called 911 using the telephone of one of her murdered teachers. Pause for a moment and ponder the uncommon cool-headedness under fire that Miah Cerillo demonstrated—both in using the blood of a murdered classmate as camouflage and in finding a way to call for help from the police which, as we’ve subsequently learned, never came. Now ponder what kind of a country it is that demands this kind of steadiness under fire from a fourth-grader watching a Disney movie in school. Miah’s father, Miguel Cerillo, came all the way to Washington to testify about his daughter.

Hello, I came here today because I could’ve lost my little girl. She is not the same girl that I used to play with and run with. She was daddy’s little girl … I do not know what to do because I think I would have lost my baby girl. I thank you all for letting me be here and speak out, but I wish something would change, not only for our kids but for every single kid in the world that goes to school and is not safe.

There is a debate going on in journalism right now about whether or not showing pictures of the carnage would help make it more real and help institute real change. People who believe it would cite the precedent established by Emmett Till’s mother, who insisted on an open-casket funeral so that the world could see what his murderers had done to him. If, as I suspect, nothing will come of this, there’s no problem. Just put Dr. Roy Guerrero on TV and let him describe what he saw on May 24.

Guerrero is the pediatrician in Uvalde. He was born and raised there, and he even attended Robb Elementary School. He’s treated every sneeze and sniffle, every fever that unsettled nervous parents. He helped Miah Cerillo through serious liver surgeries when Miah was small, which should have been risk enough for one lifetime. On May 24, though, he walked into his old school and found himself in Fallujah.

The hearing room plunged into a deep, signifying silence.

I will never forget what I saw that day that, for me, that started like any typical Tuesday at our pediatric clinic. Moms calling for coughs, sports injuries, right before the summer rush. School was out in two days and summer camps would guarantee some grazes and ankle sprains, injuries that could be patched up and fixed with a Mickey Mouse sticker as a reward. Then, at 12:30 business as usual stopped and with it my heart … What I did find was something no prayer will ever relieve. Two children whose bodies had been pulverized by the bullets fired at them. Children decapitated. Children whose flesh had been ripped apart, but the only clues to their identities was the blood spatter.

Having virtually laid the bleeding bodies on the floor of the hearing room, Dr. Roy Guerrero got down to the real business he’d come to Washington to discuss—our insane addiction to our firearms.

Adults are stubborn. They are resistant to change even if the change will make things better for ourselves, but especially when we think we are immune to the fallout. Why else would there have been such little progress made in Congress to stop gun violence? Children all over the country today are dead because laws and policies allowed people to buy weapons before they are old enough to buy a pack of beer. They are dead because restrictions have been allowed to lapse. They are dead because there are no rules about where guns are kept, No one is paying attention to who is buying them. The thing I cannot figure out is whether our politicians are failing us out of stubbornness, passivity, or both.

If you figure that out, Dr. Roy, pass the answer along to the rest of us. But it’s clear that he has his hands on one piece of it, that encroaching oblivion that always shrouds the aftermath of horrible crimes like this one.

I said before that as grown-ups, we have a habit of remembering the good and forgiving the bad, never more so than when it comes to our guns. Once the blood is rinsed away from the bodies of our loved ones and scrubbed off of the floors of the schools, supermarkets, and churches, the carnage that we have seen is erased from our collective conscience and we return to nostalgia, to the rose tinted view of our Second Amendment as a perfect instrument of American life.

I chose to be a pediatrician. I chose to take care of children, keeping them safe from preventable diseases. That I can do—keeping them safe from bacteria and brittle bones, I can do. But making sure our children are safe from guns, that is the job of our politicians and leaders. In this case, you are the doctors and our country is a patient. We are lying on the operating table, riddled with bullets like the children of Robb Elementary and so many other schools. We are bleeding out and you are not there.

As eloquent as Dr. Guerrero was, his testimony was not the most dispiriting element of Wednesday’s hearing. That came one panel later, when Dr. Guerrero and Miah Cerillo were replaced by activists and purported experts. There was a guy from the gun-safety group Everytown and a woman from the Heritage Society, and what they said was entirely predictable. The members of the committee chose up entirely predictable sides.

For example, Rep. Andrew Clyde, Republican of Georgia, explained that the answer is to harden schools into firebases in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Clyde also attempted to soak up the blood in Uvalde with the pages of the Constitution.

For almost 250 years, since the founding of our nation, countless hundreds of thousands of men and women have sacrificed their lives to provide the freedoms we enjoy today. Indeed, those freedoms were bought at a very high price and must be guarded continually so they can be passed on to further generations. If we allow emotions to drive our actions, actions that have constitution-altering consequences, we will destroy the very foundation of our country and break faith with those who gave everything that we would be free. Evil deeds do not transcend constitutional rights. It’s the other way around. Constitutional rights are the ones that transcend evil.

It should be noted that, in his other life, Rep. Clyde owns a gun store, and not a small one, either. From Business Insider:

When not working in Washington, D.C., Clyde leads the No. 4-ranked firearm store in Athens, Georgia, according to Yelp: Clyde Armory. According to Clyde’s 2021 federal financial disclosure, the congressman’s stake in the store is worth anywhere between $5 million and $25 million, and it earned him between $1 million and $5 million in income in 2020 alone. The store’s website shows it sells a multitude of firearms and accessories, including military-style semiautomatic rifles, weapon silencers, and ballistic helmets. Among the items for sale at Clyde Armory: a Colt-manufactured AR-15 rifle for $1,349.95 and a .50 caliber semi-automatic rifle for $11,384.95.

And a familiar oblivion closes in from all sides and only Dr. Roy Guerrero and Miah Cerillo have to live with the memory.

It provides absolutely no solace to anyone, but one can hope that those vultures who dismissed the dead and wounded in the name of “freedom” and their own pocketbook will be reminded again and again of the carnage by their opponents in the mid-terms and common human decency.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Speaking Of Smoking Guns

I don’t own a gun or a rifle or a shotgun.  I never have, and it’s safe to say I never will.

It’s not that I’m opposed to them as existential things, any more than I am to a power drill — I do own one of those — or any other inanimate object that is a tool that can be used as a weapon.  Thanks to my father taking me duck hunting, first when I was twelve and then for several years after, I know how to shoot and take care of a shotgun.  I even achieved a pretty decent marksman level at camp with a .22.  So it’s not like my innate pacifism kicks in and I recoil, so to speak, at the thought of a gun.  I just don’t have a need for one.

But I don’t understand the fetishization and fixation that some people have for them.  This is more than just a hobby or an interest in collecting memorabilia about Ethel Merman or the Titanic.  There are people who proudly display every gun they own, often posing with their children carrying more than just a revolver or a small-bore shotgun.  That, at least to me, moves it beyond just a hobby into a world of obsession.  And I’d say the same about someone in his sixties posing in the dress that Merman wore in her last appearance in “Gypsy.”

The difference, of course, between the dress and an AR-15 is that no one has ever walked into a school or a supermarket and killed a lot of people with a dress.  And that’s where the talk about “common sense” gun regulation goes a little astray because the folks who see their guns and the Second Amendment as an absolute will not give in to the idea that licensing and insurance and other simple things we do to regulate automobiles and barbers apply to them.  It’s not the Constitution, it’s the mindset that anything that regulates a gun is a violation of the Second Amendment.  Never mind that every other article or amendment to the foundation of our civil society is not absolute — we have a lot of limits to the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and the press provisions, including bans on pornography and laws against libel or violations of national security.

So it isn’t the laws that are the problem.  It’s the idea that it’s acceptable to murder children in their classroom because to try to control that is a violation of some idea of freedom.  I don’t think that’s what the framers had in mind, and to the vast majority of Americans who have seen it time and time again, they feel powerless to do something about it.

As I’ve said many times before in this space, it’s going to require a fundamental change in our culture to fix it.  I don’t say we can’t do it; we’ve managed to revamp our culture before to the better.  For example, in my lifetime smoking cigarettes has gone from something everyone did to practically vanishing from public view.  It was done by showing us how much damage tobacco was doing and fiercely regulating the sale and advertising of the products as well as taxing the hell out of them.  We could do the same with guns; not by banning them but by making them hard to get and expensive to own, not to mention socially unacceptable.

It won’t be easy, and it will be a long battle, but as long as it can prevent another mass shooting, it’s worth it.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Sunday Reading

When the Cost of Liberty is the Occasional Massacre — Jamelle Bouie in The New York Times.

The gun was legal.

Under state law, the young man who killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, was entitled to his guns. He bought his AR-platform rifles legally for his 18th birthday. He had no criminal record. He was, until the moment he shot his grandmother, a law-abiding citizen, the kind of person we are supposed to trust with high-powered firearms.

But this gets to the fundamental problem with the conservative idea that the only people with guns we have to worry about are the “bad guys.” It’s the idea that, as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas put it last year, after a gunman killed 10 people at a grocery store in Boulder, Colo.: “You go after violent criminals, you go after felons, you go after fugitives, you go after those with serious mental illness, you stop them from getting guns. And when they try to illegally buy a firearm from you, lock them up and put them in jail.”

To the conservatives who posit a sharp distinction between “good guys with guns” and “bad guys with guns,” law-abidingness is an inherent trait of a class of individuals. It is an ontological category; some people have it, others don’t. Any form of gun control is verboten in this worldview because it could interfere with the ability of a “good guy” — of a “law-abiding citizen” — to obtain that to which he is entitled.

This is not how the world works. People are law-abiding until the moment they are not. They are “good guys” with guns until their circumstances and their choices make them “bad guys” with guns. And from the perspective of the person who sells guns and ammunition, there’s no way to know whether a law-abiding customer will, at some point, become a criminal.

The most vociferous supporters of permissive gun laws seem to believe that an armed society will be, for the most part, self-regulating. That we will be able to keep weapons out of the hands of the wrong people and insofar as we can’t, a law-abiding citizen will be there, with a gun, to stop the bad guys, whenever and wherever they appear.

But people don’t exist on such a strict binary. And when we allow for the unlimited proliferation of weapons, we guarantee that when the switch flips, people will die.

If that is the cost of freedom — if our liberty demands the occasional massacre — then conservatives ought to make that case.

Doonesbury — Action figure.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Beyond Redemption?

Jack Holmes:

LONDON—It is a remarkable thing to watch the American horror unfold from another place. Great Britain is not perfect, God knows. Maybe it isn’t even Great. But it is not a place where children are shot to death in school so often that it scarcely ever qualifies for the nightly news. Kids are shot in school all the time in the United States. It is a fact of life. But on May 24, 2022, there was an incident of uncommon horror in Uvalde, Texas. Mind you, the horror is familiar to the victims and their families and the kids at those other schools, the ones who still have to show up for class every day. The horror they saw is just as real. It will have done just as much damage, having heard or seen or felt the bullets fly, even when fewer than 15 people die. But this is the one that will make the news. The other times that the kids were murdered in math class aren’t worth our time. We’re busy. Your friend was shot to death against her locker? Get back to us when she’s one of a dozen.

In truth, the ones that make the news are just a tiny sample of it all. A splashy front page in amongst the square miles of obituaries. That goes for school shootings, that goes for mass shootings. It goes for all of it. Most gun deaths are quotidian, in a disgusting American sense. About 45,000 Americans die at the point of a gun in a given year, and a lot of those are suicides. People, usually men, putting a gun to their heads. It’s silent until it isn’t. And the silence we greet it with is loud indeed. There are murders, too, and we’ll hear a lot in the coming days about “Black-on-Black crime,” and Chicago, and how criminals will never abide by gun laws. The thing to remember is that this is never about the fact that the United States is home to 400 million civilian-owned firearms. It’s never about the fact that this kind of mass death at gunpoint does not happen in other rich nations that are home, supposedly, to the rule of law. No wonder only a bit over half of homicides are cleared by the cops in the Land of the Free. We’re putting them to work.

And a lot of people don’t die, by the way. Their murders were merely attempted. They will live on, God bless them. The kids in Uvalde will be traumatized, but even some who were shot will live, God willing. We never talk about the ones who are shot and don’t die. We don’t talk about the people who went to Iraq and Afghanistan and came back unable to sleep through the night or play in the backyard with their kids. And we don’t talk about the kids who will never play basketball again. Have you ever thought about what it might be like to be shot and live? To never be the same? What it might feel like to have the volcanic lead pierce your flesh? Have you ever read about what it’s like to be shot with a bullet from an AR-15? To have your body torn asunder by the almighty power assumed by mere mortals? It’s unlikely you’d live from that. But those that do can rarely hope to live full lives again. If you make it physically, even, it will take momentous strength—uncommon fortitude—to survive the horrors of the mind that await you. You are fucked, in other words, if you’re lucky enough to survive.

And the greatest horror of all, maybe, is that there may well be no way back for the United States. There is no taking back the 400 million guns, no convincing the chorus of the loud and the deranged that something must be changed. Any measure, even the most mild restriction, is a “gun grab” or an assault on Second Amendment rights as detailed by right-wing justices hand-picked for the purpose. You can call for voluntary—voluntary—voluntary—gun buyback programs and be called a gun-grabber, a totalitarian, a hater of liberty. Never mind the kind of changes that would actually make a difference. We’re told the answer is more guns. Guns to defend yourself, so you can get in a shootout at the grocery store. Guns for armed guards at schools, so they can shoot it out with school shooters. About a third of Americans own a gun, and many are quite reasonable about the proposition. But others aren’t. The rest of the country and the politicians that represent them have found no answer, and the game is up anyway. “In retrospect,” reads a famous tweet from Dan Hodges, “Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

This is the gun country, where your kid might just be shot in the head at school. Is that too graphic? Is it too much to bear? Because that’s the country you’re living in. It’s the country where more than 450 people just shoot themselves every week. It’s the country where you might just get shot at the mall, or the movie theater, or the subway, or anywhere at anytime. Here’s hoping you aren’t in the wrong place at the wrong moment. In a time when the democratic process itself is under attack, when people are running to be governor of a state on the platform of throwing out votes if they don’t like who got more of them, it is the gun thing as much as anything that has me convinced that the United States of America may well be a nation beyond repair. Those kids in Texas had two days left until school was out for the summer. You have to wonder whether the sun will ever shine the same way.


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Another Massacre

Washington Post:

UVALDE, Tex. — A gunman wearing body armor and carrying a rifle killed at least 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in this Texas city on Tuesday, authorities said.

It was the deadliest mass shooting to unfold at an American school in nearly a decade.

The massacre began at 11:32 a.m., police said, on the third-to-last day of the school year. The shooter opened fire in a fourth-grade classroom, a parent said, sending children fleeing for their lives. They crawled through windows and hid in a nearby funeral home to escape, witnesses said.

Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Texas Department of Public Safety said that 19 children and two teachers were confirmed dead. The gunman was killed by law enforcement officials.

Before the gunman drove to the school, he shot his grandmother, police said. She was airlifted to a hospital in San Antonio, as were several other victims.

The shooter barricaded himself inside the school and exchanged gunfire with officers as they entered the building, said Marsha Espinosa, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security. One U.S. Border Patrol agent was wounded.

The gunman was identified by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) as Salvador Ramos, 18, a resident of Uvalde.

An emotional President Biden, speaking to the nation Tuesday night from the White House, urged lawmakers to pursue tougher restrictions on guns. For years, Biden has been at the forefront of efforts to pass such restrictions, which have been blocked by Republicans and some Democrats.

“Why are we willing to live with this carnage?” he asked. “Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God’s name is our backbone?”

Biden noted that mass shootings have become almost commonplace in the United States, unlike in other countries. “It’s time to turn this pain into action,” Biden implored. He concluded his remarks with a prayer for the parents of the victims.

Charles P. Pierce goes to the source:

Fourteen students and a teacher are dead after a shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, according to Gov. Greg Abbott.

The 18-year-old suspect, a student at Uvalde High School, is also dead, he said.

“He shot and killed horrifically and incomprehensibly 14 students and killed a teacher,” Abbott said during an unrelated press briefing.

The suspect also allegedly shot his grandmother before entering the school and again opening fire, Abbott said. He did not say anything further about her condition. Abbott said the shooter had a handgun and also possibly a rifle.

Fuck you and your adverbs, Governor. “Horrifically”? I have no doubt. “Incomprehensibly”? Give me a goddamn break, will you? What’s incomprehensible about it? You signed the permitless carry bill last September. People told you what could happen, and this is what they said. From the Texas Tribune:

“The permitless carry bill will cause more violence and loss,” said U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, in a statement Wednesday. “Despite overwhelming support for common-sense gun violence prevention legislation like universal background checks, Texas Republicans, led by a cowardly governor, are more interested in groveling for the gun lobby’s attention than they are in preventing gun violence and honoring victims and survivors in El Paso and across Texas.”

Back in 2019, after mass shootings in Beaumont and Odessa, Governor, you conjured up a scarecrow of an action plan to get you through the bad news cycle. This, of course, went nowhere, which is precisely where it was intended to go. You got to blame the pandemic, which was nice for you. Profile In Poltroon.

There are too many damn guns in this country. There are too many damn guns in Texas. There are too many damn guns in Uvalde County. There are too many damn guns in the city of Uvalde. And, on Tuesday, there were too many damn guns on Old Carrizo Rd in Uvalde, Texas. And, on Tuesday, there were too damn many guns at 715 Old Carrizo Rd in Uvalde, Texas. And, on Tuesday, there were too damn many guns in the Robb Elementary School at 715 Old Carrizo Road in the city of Uvalde, in the county of Uvalde, in the state of Texas, in the United States of America, where there are too damn many guns.

It is too damn easy to get guns in this country. It is too damn easy to get guns in Texas. It is too damn easy to get guns in Uvalde County. It is too damn easy to get guns in the city of Uvalde. And, on Tuesday, it was too damn easy to get guns on Old Carrizo Rd in Uvalde, Texas. And, on Tuesday, it was too damn easy to get guns at 715 Old Carrizo Rd in Uvalde, Texas. And, on Tuesday, it was too damn easy to get guns in the Robb Elementary School at 715 Old Carrizo Road in the city of Uvalde, in the county of Uvalde, in the state of Texas, in the United States of America, where it is too damn easy to get guns.

Goddamn this country and its politicians and their adverbs. Goddamn them all to hell.

As long as it is acceptable by the lawmakers of this nation to murder children in their classroom in the name of “freedom,” nothing will be done.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Sunday Reading

A Consequential Gun Ruling — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker on a pending Supreme Court ruling that could make the problem worse.

During the Supreme Court oral arguments last November, in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., et al. v. Bruen, a major gun-control case, Justice Clarence Thomas and Barbara Underwood, New York’s solicitor general, had an exchange about the kinds of place a person might carry a gun. “It’s one thing to talk about Manhattan or N.Y.U.’s campus,” Thomas said. “It’s another to talk about rural upstate New York.” The individual plaintiffs in the case, a challenge to New York’s licensing requirements for carrying a concealed pistol in public, live in Rensselaer County, which, Underwood told Thomas, is more “intermediate” than rural. It’s “not that far from Albany,” she said. “And it contains the City of Troy and a university and a downtown shopping district.” There was an echo of those words on May 14th, as reports came in of a shooting in upstate New York: if Payton S. Gendron, from the small town of Conklin, which is near a university, had driven two and a half hours northeast, he would have ended up in Troy. Instead, he drove more than three hours northwest, to Buffalo, where he killed ten people at a Tops supermarket.

Gendron sought out Black victims, according to his online posts; they indicate that he had become fixated on the “great replacement” theory, which posits that there is a plot to supplant white Americans with supposedly more tractable minorities. That world view, in this Trump-distorted era, is not rare. An Associated Press/NORC poll conducted last December asked respondents to assess the statement “There is a group of people in this country who are trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants who agree with their political views.” Thirty-two per cent either “somewhat” or “strongly” agreed. The vitriol of Gendron’s alleged screeds and the brutality of his attack are nonetheless startling—a warning about the prospect of more politicized violence in the country’s near future.

What seems tragically mundane, though, in American terms, is that Gendron, who is eighteen, is reportedly the owner of at least three guns: a Savage Axis XP hunting rifle, which he received as a Christmas gift when he was sixteen, the legal age to own one in New York; a Mossberg 500 shotgun, which he bought, legally, in December; and a Bushmaster XM-15 semi-automatic rifle—the apparent murder weapon—which was also legal when he bought it, in January, for less than a thousand dollars, and which he then easily modified to allow for a larger capacity magazine than is permitted in the state. An alarm that Gendron’s high school raised last year, when he said that his post-graduation goals included “murder/suicide,” was not in itself enough, under the state’s “red flag” law, to forestall the purchases.

Gendron’s arsenal accounted for a handful of the estimated four hundred million guns owned privately in the United States. Four days after the shooting, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives issued a report showing that licensed gun manufacturers produced more than eleven million new weapons in 2020—almost triple the number produced in 2000. The report also documented an increase in the number of “ghost guns”—weapons assembled from parts by illicit dealers or by people at home, and bearing no serial numbers. Law enforcement seized more than nineteen thousand such guns last year, suggesting that a far larger number is unaccounted for. (Last week, Illinois became the eleventh state to pass a law restricting ghost guns.) In 2020, some forty-five thousand Americans died of gun-related wounds, more than half of them suicides. When it comes to guns, no corner of the country is untouched.

The New York State Rifle decision, which is expected by the end of June, could make the rules even looser. It has the potential to be the most significant—and, depending on how broadly it is written, most disastrous—gun-law decision in a decade. The ruling should arrive around the same time as the one in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that is expected to overturn Roe v. Wade. Both cases are the product of decades of advocacy on the right. New York State Rifle is a long-awaited successor to District of Columbia v. Heller, the landmark 2008 decision that enshrined gun ownership as an individual right under the Second Amendment, rather than as the primarily militia- or community-based right that courts had long understood it to be. Under the New York law—six other states have similar statutes—people who want a license to carry a concealed pistol in public for self-defense must have jobs that make them targets (judges, bank messengers) or show “proper cause,” meaning a need specific to them (for example, a person subject to a particular threat) rather than a general fear of crime. The plaintiffs argued that it is illegitimate under Heller to ask people to explain why they should be granted a license. More broadly, their view is that not just owning a gun but carrying it in public places is a right that should be limited only in extraordinary circumstances.

Heller does allow for some gun regulation, but it is not clear about how much, which is why New York State Rifle presents such an opportune opening for those who’d prefer as little as possible. The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Paul Clement, argued that an injustice is being perpetrated against New York gun owners, because they can’t walk around with their weapons as easily as gun owners in Arizona can. Thomas’s comment about urban and rural New York is not a sign that the conservatives would uphold gun laws focussed on cities. Indeed, Justice Samuel Alito offered the view that carrying a concealed weapon on the subway might make sense for “people who work late at night in Manhattan,” and wondered why they shouldn’t be able to easily do so.

For all that, the goal of implementing sensible gun-control laws is not hopeless—most Americans favor restrictions such as universal background checks. The challenge is that the Republican Party has made gun extremism into an organizing principle. The idea that Americans must be armed to defend themselves against every enemy, stranger, or person of a different race—and, ultimately, against their own government—has become intertwined with Trumpism. Like Trumpism, it needs to be countered with a different political vision.

In the oral arguments, Clement strongly objected to the notion that New York has any legitimate reason to discourage the proliferation of guns. “In a country with the Second Amendment as a fundamental right, simply having more firearms cannot be a problem,” he said. He’s wrong about that. The horror in Buffalo is a reminder that it is a very American problem.

Doonesbury — Kids these days.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Once Again

Here we are again, friends: watching loops of video of people grieving, of a suspect in custody, of stern-faced officials making statements, and then the national media attention until we move on to the next time or, in the case of this past weekend, shifting the scene from Buffalo to suburban Los Angeles.  The body counts.  The words of condolence blending with calls for someone to do something… but what?

The most frustrating and agonizing thing about this is that it is a sick version of the film “Groundhog Day” where we wake up and repeat the same thing over and over, learning nothing.  And we are a nation that has the short-term memory of a goldfish, along with the willingness to accept the plain fact that once we did nothing when twenty children were mowed down at Sandy Hook, all the hand-wringing and talks of doing something was just so much talk.

This time, however, there is a clear connection between the shooter and a mindset within the Republican party.  “The great replacement theory” may not have been a plank adopted by the GOP, but so far they have done nothing to step away from it or isolate the members of the party — including those in a leadership position — who espouse or echo it.  They may not have written out a 180-page manifesto, but why bother when you have a major news network providing the coverage?  Of course they will deny and deflect, but it’s time to hold them accountable.  Call them out.  Make them pay attention, and if that doesn’t work, vote them out.  They share the blame, so make them take the fall.

Perhaps the horror unleashed in Buffalo on Saturday will cause Carlson and his allies to rethink their paranoid, racist and inflammatory rhetoric. That is doubtful, however. After all, this is just the latest in a series of mass shootings inspired by the “great replacement” theory, including the Walmart shooting in El Paso that left 23 dead and the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in which 11 people died. Since those massacres, the “great replacement” theory has only become more popular with Republican voters, largely thanks to Carlson and similar figures on the right. It has also become popular with Republicans, including J.D. Vance, the Republican nominee in Ohio’s Senate race. Just this week, the conspiracy theory got another round of hype as Republican pundits and politicians pretended to believe that President Biden was stealing baby formula from Americans to feed “illegals,” their slur for refugees applying for asylum. Those who would support deliberately starving babies for racist and xenophobic reasons aren’t likely to feel any real empathy for the victims and their families in Buffalo. We cannot legitimately hope that they will be chastened by this latest round of violence, but we can make clear that their hateful rhetoric helped to unleash it.

This will not be the last time we do this, but one can only hope.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Sunday Reading

Second to None — Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald.

Conservatives have a special purgatory for uppity black women who dare question America’s founding myths.

New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones — her Pulitzer Prize-winning “1619 Project” centralized slavery in America’s origin story, a heresy that inspired laws banning her work from classrooms — now lives there. And she’s about to have company.

In her new book, “The Second,” Emory University history professor Carol Anderson takes on an even more sacred cow: guns. She argues that the Second Amendment — which supposedly came about solely as a hedge against tyranny — had at its heart a much less noble concern: Southern states demanded the right to bear arms because they feared rebellions by enslaved Africans.

All that talk about “a well-regulated militia?” Anderson told me in a telephone interview that that was just the cover story. State militias had not performed well either in fighting off the British or in defending against a domestic uprising: Shays’ Rebellion. “What the militia was really good at, however, was putting down slave revolts.”

So the South held America hostage. It refused to join the new nation unless it was guaranteed the right to keep its guns. Not that this was the region’s only demand. Ultimately, the Constitution contained several clauses protecting slavery and slave owners.

It was to be a recurring theme. From the Founders in 1787 to today’s refusal to enact needed voting-rights reform because of so-called bipartisanship, protecting Black people’s humanity has always come in second to other concerns deemed more vital. But as Anderson noted, “When you’re willing to sacrifice Black folks for what you consider to be the larger issue, you end up sacrificing the larger issue as well.”

Meaning that America cannot credibly practice racial discrimination, then tout itself as a beacon of freedom. That’s a hypocrisy with which geopolitical foes have taunted presidents from Kennedy to Biden.

But as Anderson observes, the Second Amendment betrays Black folk not only in its origin but also in its application. Put simply: The right to keep and bear arms does not extend to Black people. If it did, would the NRA — that vigilant defender of gun rights — have kept silent when a John Crawford III or a Tamir Rice, the one a man legally carrying a firearm, the other a boy legally playing with a toy gun, were executed by police?

By its loud silence, the group gave tacit approval of what Anderson calls the “fractured citizenship” of African Americans. “When they were enslaved or free blacks, when they were Jim Crow blacks or when they were post Civil Rights Movement black folks, that did not alter how the right to bear arms, the right to a well-regulated militia and the right to self-defense did not apply to them.”

Yet the same people who keep silent when Black people are deprived of those rights — and their lives — are only too happy to tell us how we all need guns for self-defense. As Anderson noted, when “Black” is perceived as America’s “default threat,” that argument “puts Black folks in the crosshairs.” Indeed, all of us end up enduring daily mass shootings so that some of us can be ready when the hypothetical Black man comes through the hypothetical window.

In “The Second,” Anderson highlights the manifest hypocrisy of the Constitution’s most troublesome amendment. She makes a compelling case that, for all the noble rhetoric, it was created mainly to oppress.

And that it is still working as designed.

Doonesbury – Who’s calling?

Monday, June 7, 2021

Swiss Army Knife Massacre

This is madness.

A federal judge Friday night overturned California’s longtime ban on assault weapons, saying the state’s law was unconstitutional and that prohibiting such firearms for decades was “a failed experiment.”

In a 94-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of the Southern District of California said that sections of the state ban in place since 1989 regarding military-style rifles violate the Second Amendment. Benitez characterized the assault weapons Californians are barred from using as not “bazookas, howitzers or machine guns” but rather “fairly ordinary, popular, modern rifles.”

The judge then compared an AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife.

“Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment,” Benitez said in the ruling.

In addition to issuing a permanent injunction Friday, Benitez granted a request from California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) for a 30-day stay of the ruling, which will bring about an appeal from the state.

“Today’s decision is fundamentally flawed,” Bonta said in a news release. “There is no sound basis in law, fact, or common sense for equating assault rifles with Swiss Army knives — especially on Gun Violence Awareness Day and after the recent shootings in our own California communities.”

Why, just the other day I was using my Swiss Army knife to tighten a screw and accidentally shot and killed 17 people in a school. And last weekend my neighbor was using the corkscrew to open a bottle of wine and killed two people at a party in Miami.

Ever since the Supreme Court came up with the Haller decision that basically granted open season on people on the business end of weapons in the name of “Freedum!”, we have been in what Tom Levenson at Balloon Juice calls a murder-suicide pact. There has to be a way to stop it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Murder In Boulder

Here is a link to the Boulder Daily Camera.

Ten people, one of them a Boulder police officer, are dead following a shooting at a King Soopers in south Boulder on Monday.

After police earlier in the day did not confirm the number of fatalities, Boulder police Chief Maris Herold said at an evening news conference there were 10 dead, including Boulder police Officer Eric Talley.

“My heart goes out to the victims of this incident and I’m grateful for the police officers that responded, and I am so sorry about the loss of Officer Talley.”

Herold said police received a call at about 2:30 p.m. of a man with a rifle at the King Soopers at 3600 Table Mesa. Herold said Talley was the first on scene and was fatally shot.

Herold said Talley’s actions were “heroic,” and also praised the officers who followed him in responding to the active scene.

“Police officers’ actions fell nothing short of being heroic,” she said.

The other nine victims have not yet been publicly identified by the Boulder County Coroner’s Office, but Herold said they were working to notify families as soon as possible.

“I know there are people out there waiting for an answer, and I’m sympathetic to that,” Herold said.

Police said the shooting and possible motive were still under investigation, but police do have one suspect in custody and do not believe there is any threat to the public.

I lived and worked in the Boulder area from 1982 to 1988 when I was in grad school, and from 1983 to 1984 I lived about a mile from the store where the shootings took place. That was my local supermarket, and judging from the aerial footage, it still looks much the same as it did when I shopped there. It’s a nice residential neighborhood on the south side of town with an amazing view of the Flatirons Mountains that dominate the western skyline.

This is madness, and nothing is being done to stop it.  We will see the images, including the bodies, on TV, we will shake our head and offer thoughts and prayers, and then move on.  It doesn’t matter whether there’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House or whoever is in the majority in the House and the Senate.

It’s not a matter of courage.  It’s a matter of persistence.  We can defeat the gun lobby and have meaningful gun control without overturning the Second Amendment.  But we really have to want to.  Apparently we don’t yet.  So when?

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Time for my annual recap and predictions for the coming year.  Let’s see how I did a year ago.

Barring natural causes or intervention from an outside force, Trump will still be in office on December 31, 2019. There is no way he will leave voluntarily and even with the House of Representatives in Democratic control and articles of impeachment being drafted they will not get to the Senate floor because the Republicans are either too afraid to rile up the base or they’re too enamored of their own grip on power to care about the government being headed by a poor imitation of a tin-pot banana republic authoritarian douche-canoe.

That was an easy A.  As of today, the articles of impeachment are still with the House as Speaker Pelosi holds on to them.

The Mueller Report will be released to Congress and even though it’s supposed to be classified it will be leaked with great fanfare and pundit predictions of the end of the Trump administration with calls for frog-marching him and his minions out of the West Wing. Despite that, see above.

I get a C on that.  There were no leaks and the Mueller report was too nuanced for the punditry to read it and spit out sound bites.  The unintended consequence, though, was that the day after Mr. Mueller testified before Congress, Trump picked up the phone and placed an overseas call to Ukraine.

There will be no wall. There never will be. Immigration will still be a triggering issue as even more refugees die in U.S. custody.

That was a gimme.

There will be no meaningful changes to gun laws even if the NRA goes broke. There will be more mass shootings, thoughts and prayers will be offered, and we’ll be told yet again that now is not the time to talk about it.

Another gimme, more’s the pity.

Obamacare will survive its latest challenge because the ruling by the judge in Texas declaring the entire law unconstitutional will be tossed and turned into a case study in law schools everywhere on the topic of exasperatingly stupid reasoning.

Roe vs. Wade will still stand.

With the Democrats in control of the House, the government will be in permanent gridlock even after they work out some sort of deal to end the current shutdown over the mythological wall.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the Willie Horton for the GOP base and blamed for everything from budget deficits to the toast falling butter-side down.

An A- on these three.  As of today, Obamacare is still in place but the Supreme Court is sniffing around the whack-ass lower court ruling, so see below, and the same goes for Roe v. Wade.  The House has passed over 250 bills and sent them on to the Senate, but Mitch McConnell has not touched them, and won’t.

We will have a pretty good idea who the Democratic front-runner will be in 2020. I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chances are still good (she announced her exploratory committee as I was writing this), as are Sen. Kamala Harris’s, and don’t count out Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, but who knew that Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic loser in the Texas senate race, would raise a lot of hopes? That said, fifteen years ago when I started this blog, Howard Dean looked like the guy who was going to beat George W. Bush.

A big old red F on that one.

The economy will continue with its wild gyrations, pretty much following the gyrations of the mood of Trump and his thumb-driven Twitter-fed economic exhortations. The tax cuts and the tariffs will land on the backs of the people who provide the income to the government and the deficit will soon be out there beyond the Tesla in outer space. But unlike that Martian-bound convertible, the economy will come crashing back to Earth (probably about the time I retire in August) and Trump will blame everyone else.

That’s a C.  It hasn’t happened yet, but with the deficit doubling since Trump took office, something will have to give.  The question was — and remains — when will it?

There will be a natural event that will convince even skeptics that climate change and sea level rise is real and happening. Unfortunately, nothing will be done about it even if lots of lives are lost because [spoiler alert] nothing ever is done.

That’s an A.  It’s already happening.

I’m going out on a limb here with foreign affairs predictions, but I have a feeling that Brexit will end up in the dustbin of history.

Another big old red F, right up there with the Dolphins and the Lions ending up in the Superbowl in 2020.

Personally, this will be a transition year.  My retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools occurs officially on August 31, 2019, and I’m already actively looking for something both meaningful and income-producing to do after that.  (E-mail me for a copy of my resume; nothing ventured, nothing sprained.)  My play “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, for a two-week run on March 30, and I’m planning on returning to the William Inge Theatre Festival for the 28th time, either with a play or most assuredly with a scholarly paper.  I have my bid in for a variety of other theatre events and productions; I think I’m getting the hang of this playwriting thing.

Things went pretty much as planned this year.  I retired on August 31 and started my new part-time jobs the next week.  The run of “Can’t Live Without You” was great, and I had a very busy year in getting plays done and conferences attended and new friends made from Miami to Alaska.

On to the predictions:

  • Trump will survive impeachment.  The fix is in.  Revelations about his corruption will keep on coming, and yet the Republicans will cower with him.  It will be his big campaign rallying point.
  • I have no idea who the Democratic Party will nominate for president, and neither do you, but whoever it is will beat Trump in November despite the best efforts of the Kremlin.  I hope it is by such a margin that even Fox News will call it a blowout.  Trump will scream and carry on about it being rigged, but by this time in 2020, he’ll be doing everything he can to trash the place on the way out the door with pardons and lame-duck appointments of Nazi sympathizers and pedophiles.  (If I’m wrong on this and Trump is reelected, I’m moving to Montserrat.  It’s safer to live on an island with an active volcano.)
  • Obamacare will survive in the Supreme Court but by a 5-4 ruling.
  • There will be more restrictions placed on reproductive rights, but Roe v. Wade will not be struck down.
  • The Democrats will take back the Senate by one seat and all that bottled-up legislation will finally get through in time for the House, still under Nancy Pelosi, to pass them all again and get them signed by the new president.
  • The economic bubble will burst, the trade deals with China and Europe will screw over the American consumer, and it’s going to look like one of those 19,000 piece domino videos.  Trump and Fox will blame the Democrats for the monster deficit and carry on about how we need to cut more taxes and destroy Social Security and Medicare to save them.
  • Even with the Democrats taking over in 2020, they won’t be in office until January 2021, so I’ll save predictions for what they’ll come up with in terms of health care, gun safety, and climate change until this time next year, assuming my house in the suburbs of Miami at 10 feet above sea level is still on dry land.
  • As for me, my playwriting and productions thereof will continue.  I’m planning on my 29th trip to the Inge Festival in May and hope to be invited back to Alaska in June.  As I’m writing this, the novel that I started twenty-five years ago tomorrow is on the glide path to land by the time I go back to work next week.  I can predict that it will never be published because I never meant it to be.
  • As for hopes for the new year, I hope for continued good health and fortune for my friends and family.  I can’t ask for more than that.

Okay, your turn.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Buyback Backlash

Via Digby, the circular mindless drivel of the Very Serious People continues to twirl.

CHUCK TODD: I tell you, this is tricky. Claire, I want to show you some poll numbers here. Among Democrats, the mandatory buyback program is extraordinarily popular, mandatory. This has surprised a lot of people. It’s got 74% support. Now look at it among Independents, and you start to see a declining support for it. But it’s basically one to one, among independents. Now, look at it among Republicans, two to one, essentially, against it, which gives you an overall support number of 52%/44%.

This, to me, seems to be the trap for Democrats, if you will. This is extraordinarily popular. And it’s growing in popularity. And it may be a case where the public’s ahead of the politicians. But you’ve been in that Senate. Are Chris Coons and Pat Toomey right about this?


SENATOR CLAIRE McCASKILL: Well, this is really what you started with. There’s two things here. Do we want to get things done and reassure the American people that their democracy works? Or do we want to continue to be inspirational only, with policies that, frankly, are not realistic, in terms of the way our government’s set up? They’re not going to get done…

Well, of course they’re not going to get it done.  We knew that from the start.  But what makes me crazy about this and all the other pundit idiocy is their amazement that something so popular with the electorate would hit a brick wall when it arrives in Congress.  Don’t they know about lobbyists, campaign contributions, and threats of retribution for voting against the NRA or any other group that has any kind of clout in their district?

Or, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, it’s so popular no one will vote for it.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Core Values

According to the New York Times, the two shootings over the weekend that killed 29 people — 20 in El Paso and nine in Dayton, have shaken the nation to its core.

On Sunday, Americans woke up to news of a shooting rampage in an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio, where a man wearing body armor shot and killed nine people, including his own sister. Hours earlier, a 21-year-old with a rifle entered a Walmart in El Paso and killed 20 people.

In a country that has become nearly numb to men with guns opening fire in schools, at concerts and in churches, the back-to-back bursts of gun violence in less than 24 hours were enough to leave the public stunned and shaken. The shootings ground the 2020 presidential campaign to a halt, reignited a debate on gun control and called into question the increasingly angry words directed at immigrants on the southern border in recent weeks by right-wing pundits and President Trump.

“It’s outrageous,” said Terrion Foster, who works in accounting and lives in Kansas City, Mo., where he was out shopping at a farmer’s market near downtown on Sunday afternoon. “It’s really sad because I feel like you can’t go anywhere and be safe. I’m 50 years old and I didn’t think I’d be alive to see some of the things that are going on today.”

The shootings prompted Republicans, including Mr. Trump, to condemn the gunmen’s actions and offer support to the people of Dayton and El Paso. Democrats urged Congress to take action and pass stricter gun laws. “We have a responsibility to the people we serve to act,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

I would really like to believe that the massacres this weekend will be the final straw.  That finally the NRA and their Republican minions along with the rest of the gun lobbyists realize that enough is enough and something really has to be done to not just deal with the proliferation of weapons that can be purchased legally, but with the mindset that one amendment to the Constitution outweighs all the others.

But if the slaughter of kindergartners in Connecticut and a shooting spree at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas and a garlic festival in Gilroy and on and on and on, going back in a year, a decade, and a century didn’t do anything but generate thoughts and prayers and blaming outside agitators like violent video games — which are just as popular in Canada and Australia and Great Britain and Japan but have fewer deaths from guns in a year than we have in a weekend — or nebulous catch-phrases like “mental health” — again, also existing in other places without the same carnage — then why should the headlines and the BREAKING NEWS and the shock and horror result in anything more than what we’ve seen for the last fifty years?

We have already heard and will continue to hear that “now is not the time to talk about gun control,” which is one of of those phrases that is meant to deflect our attention until the next shiny object pops up on Facebook or Instagram and the dead are buried and the debris swept away.  But when someone says that now is not the time, it reveals their core value, which is to say that there is never the time because to do so would mean they truly have to tell the truth: that they view human life as expendable in favor of some mythology that the right to keep and bear arms is the only core value we have, setting aside the rest of those that this idea of a nation were built on: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  They are absolute in their grasp of one amendment to the detriment of all others, and like other fundamentalists, never allow for any other interpretation.  And when you pose the obvious rejoinder — When is the time to talk about gun control? — they will, in some way, shape, or form, tell you Never.

If we are truly shaken to our core, than we can expect to see a massive uprising in this nation the likes we have never seen before and action from our representatives in such a way that would truly change the world we live in.  If we can outlaw child pornography and saying “fuck” on national networks in contravention of the First Amendment; if the Supreme Court can waive the Fourth and Fifth Amendments in the hunt for terrorists; if we can consider the death penalty to be within the limits of the Eighth Amendment, and if citizenship can be questioned in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, then what makes the Second sacrosanct?

As long as our core values make it acceptable to slaughter people in a shopping mall and claim that the uninfringed right to own the tool that did the job is one of those core values as well, the nation will go on being bewildered, and people will still die.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Sunday Reading

When Hate Came to El Paso — Richard Parker in the New York Times.

EL PASO, Tex. — The older man next to me on the metal bench, dressed so dignified in his peach dress shirt, dark pants and dress shoes, touches me gently on the elbow.

It is Saturday late afternoon, and we are both in front of MacArthur Middle School, where the flags already droop in the desert heat, approaching 100 degrees, at half-mast. Police officers, Red Cross workers and firefighters of all kinds come and go. This little school is where the living come to look for the missing and the dead after a white male from the Dallas suburbs named Patrick Crusius, 21, allegedly came to my hometown to commit the largest massacre of Hispanics in American history. The handwritten sign over the schoolhouse door says it all: “Looking for Family and Friends.”

Behind his glasses, tears welled up in the eyes of my bench mate, Charles Almanzar, 70. Wordlessly, he shows me his phone: There is a picture of two small children, a girl of 2 and a boy of 5. The little boy is in the hospital. The little girl is still missing, the subject of a frantic search by Mr. Almanzar’s brother-in-law. Their mother, Jordan Kay Jamrowski Anchondo, at just 25, is dead, killed by Mr. Crusius, along with at least 19 others, at a Walmart not far from downtown El Paso.

If you want to know what a mass shooting is like in your hometown, it’s like this: text alerts on your phone, a frantic woman on local television begging people to bring water to waiting families, 200 people lining up to give blood in the blistering heat, helicopters thundering overhead, the dead left lying inside the crime scene called “horrific” by the police chief. Those waiting on word of dead and lost stand calm and dignified as strangers pull up with truckloads of that bottled water. It’s also like this: a stab in the heart not to your hometown, but to your people, in my case Latinos. Mr. Crusius specifically came here to my town, to kill my people.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God,” my little sister, Janet, also the child of an American father and a Mexican mother, says to me. “Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God.”

I read the manifesto believed to be by Mr. Crusius, though not confirmed by the police, who traveled over 600 miles to kill and wound men, women, old people and children. Cell phone video posted online by victims betrays the dreaded elapse of time as they die: ten shots fired from an AK-47, not in rapid succession but in cunning staccato. First a shot. Then a long pause. Then one after another after another. And then there is the shout in Spanish: “Hay, no!”

“Oh, no!” the man screams.

“This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” the manifesto reads, before eerily and coolly describing the killer’s preferences of weapons and ammunition, politics, economics and racist philosophy. His idea is devastatingly simple: Killing Hispanics will stop immigrants from coming and drive citizens to leave. “I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by invasion.”

Of course, Latinos arrived in Texas from Mexico in 1690, when it was all New Spain. My people settled the harsh brush country of south Texas, fought Comanches and Apaches and brought Christianity to America. My mother’s uncle, a Mexican citizen, fought in the Navy in World War II and perished. My Mexican grandfather came to Texas as an orphan, lived in Laredo and returned to Mexico. My Arkansan father, a soldier, met my mother in Monterrey and we settled way out here in the deserts of West Texas in 1970. We invaded nothing; we were already here long before Mr. Crusius was even conceived.

But he is just another passing figure in the moment of modern American violence that we all are living through: the predictable weakness of Republican politicians in the face of the gun lobby amid the ready availability of weapons of war. The other day, I perused a pawnshop, bought a fine fly rod but noticed that the only guns in vast supply were AR-15s, the kissing cousin of our favored weapon of war, the M-16.

Most significantly though, the El Paso massacre — and that’s what it is, it is not a mass shooting but a premeditated massacre — was the inevitable byproduct of the Trump era’s anti-immigrant, and anti-Latino invective, which with its pervasive, vile racism has poisoned our nation.

El Paso-Juarez is a big, bustling desert city of over two million, straddling the United States and Mexico. My hometown has virtually zero modern history of ethnic strife; El Paso alone is over 80 percent Hispanic. We switch from English to Spanish without skipping a beat and we are fine with that. But the Trump era is not.

It has brought us walls, internment camps and children in cages. The massacre is the outcome I have feared for years now, and I can’t help but feel that its genesis lies with the president of the United States.

To put all of this into perspective, there have been other massacres of Latinos in American history. The worst was the notorious Porvenir massacre, 101 years ago, in what is now a vanished border town. Texas Rangers descended on the town in the early morning hours of Jan. 26, 1918, led off 15 Hispanic men and boys and executed them. The remaining inhabitants did exactly what Saturday’s shooter wanted: They fled to Chihuahua.

Back at MacArthur Middle School, Mr. Almanzar tucks away his phone. A Jehovah’s Witness, he had been out knocking on doors when the horror struck. Many asked him how God would allow this, and he gently responds by showing me Job 34:10, which in part reads: “Far be it from God, that he should do wickedness.” No, we both agreed, switching from English to Spanish. God did not do this.

We did. In allowing those weapons of war on our streets. In giving credence to sociopathic racists, only one of whom will be in jail tonight. In poisoning our body politic with the occupant of the White House. On the horizon, storm clouds build over the desert mesas to weep upon this desert city. And still the people keep coming, desperately bringing water to those here, quietly searching for the dead.

Josh Marshall on the interplay of manifestos and right-wing dialogue.

Authorities are still sorting out the background of the gunman in this horrific far right terror attack in El Paso, Texas. But he appears to have left a “manifesto” and a lengthy social media trail. Assuming these identifications are correct, they portray a sadly familiar “great replacement” theory white supremacist radical.

What is particularly notable in this case is the intermingling and co-evolution of these manifestos with more mainstream righting media dialog.

There’s abundant evidence the shooter is a big fan of President Trump and certainly of his worldview. And yet the manifesto includes a sort of preemptive rebuttal of any claims that he is a Trump supporter or that Trump influenced. He predicts that “the media” will identify him as a white supremacist and blame President Trump’s racist and xenophobic rhetoric for radicalizing him and provoking the attack. Such claims would be “fake news” and such claims will indeed only prove that “the media” is “fake news.

After these horrors, we expect rightwing talking heads to attack any suggestion that these attacks might be related to the President’s politics and rhetoric. But here the assailant is doing so himself in advance. Indeed he denies Trump’s influence by using Trump’s signature attack lines. For someone who specifically denies Trump radicalized him, he’s very focused protecting the President. He doth protest rather too much.

The gaslighting is actually baked into the attack itself. He wants to be both the assailant and part of the post massacre spin and pro-Trump defense.

Baltimore Responds — Osita Nwanevu in The New Yorker.

Not long after President Trump issued his first tweets about Representative Elijah Cummings, on Saturday—Cummings’s Baltimore-area district, Trump wrote, is a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess”—the staff at Chase Street Accessories & Engraving, in the downtown Baltimore neighborhood of Mount Vernon, fired up a laser engraver for a one-off piece of merchandise: a mug printed with an outline of the city and the words “I LOVE MY DISGUSTING RODENT AND RAT INFESTED MESS.”

“It was really just for fun,” Robbie Marcouillier, the shop’s manager, told me on Monday. “We had no intention or plan of really doing anything other than making us happy.” But word about the mug spread quickly.

“I was actually at a community event, and I had people coming to my table, and they’re asking me, ‘Are you the disgusted people? We saw you on Reddit!’ ” he said. “It was, like, Wow, this is something people really didn’t like, having their home insulted like this.”

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun was working on its own soon-to-be-viral response to Trump’s comments. “While we would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner,” an editorial posted that evening read, “we would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are ‘good people’ among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.”

On Monday, I spoke to the editorial’s author, Peter Jensen, who has worked at the Sun for more than three decades. “I never in my life believed I’d be writing an editorial that describes the President of the United States as a rat,” Jensen told me. “That’s just sort of something that one doesn’t anticipate. And yet, there are so many people who apparently felt that needed to be said—who feel much better about themselves or about the country today because it was just said out loud.”

In the editorial, Jensen also argued that Trump’s attack on Cummings returned “to an old standby of attacking an African American lawmaker from a majority black district on the most emotional and bigoted of arguments.” Jensen said, “Naturally he fell back on the place being ‘unfit for human habitation,’ ‘devastated,’ ‘rat-filled’ and all the other terminology he knew. I mean, it’s just so obvious that I think even his supporters acknowledge this is a pattern of behavior.”

As the editorial acknowledged, there are parts of Baltimore that are genuinely and seriously grappling with crime and poverty. John Bullock, a professor of political science at Towson University, in Maryland; a Baltimore city councilman; and the head of the council’s Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, is intimately familiar with the parts of the city that are struggling the most and the changes that have reshaped it.

“Sometimes we use the term ‘rust belt’ when we look at cities that have gone through deindustrialization—the loss of manufacturing jobs and the poverty and population loss,” he told me. “Baltimore’s clearly an example of that. It’s also been exacerbated by drug addiction that has come along with it. So, yes, we do have significant issues of crime and public safety. My district is West Baltimore and Southwest Baltimore—and we do have some of the highest rates of folks who are returning home from prison, folks who are dealing with addiction, of gun crime, unemployment, all of those things.”

Twenty-two per cent of Baltimore residents live in poverty, a rate well above the national average, of about thirteen per cent. In 2017, Baltimore had the highest homicide rate of any major American city, with a rate of fifty-six murders per a hundred thousand people. Jill Carter, a state senator who represents parts of West Baltimore, emphasizes the role that racism has played in creating some of the problems facing the city. “Wherever you see places especially that are not just largely minority but largely African-American, you have to always look at the roots of the problem,” she said, “and the roots of the problem stem from slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and ongoing discrimination and inequity in the lives of African-Americans in America and in places like Baltimore City.”

The disparities between Baltimore’s black and white residents are made plain in basic statistics. The median income of white households in Baltimore is around seventy thousand dollars a figure higher than the white national median, of sixty-two thousand dollars. Black households have a median income of less than thirty-seven thousand dollars, a figure just below the black national median, of about thirty-eight thousand dollars. “Now that Trump has highlighted some of these issues,” Carter said, “I think it’s incumbent upon him and other people of good will to figure out what we’re going to do now to make it better, as opposed to just casting aspersions on the congressman who happens to be investigating him.”

Dutch Village, in North Baltimore, is one of several apartment complexes in the Baltimore area owned by the family real-estate firm of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser. In 2017, Alec MacGillis, of ProPublica, reported on shoddy construction, mice droppings, and sickening mold at a number of Kushner-owned Baltimore properties, including Dutch Village. The complex, which resembles a Dutch village about as closely as Trump resembles a statesman, consists of more than five hundred squat, identical townhomes. On Monday afternoon, Wendy Hosear was sitting outside the complex, braiding her hair. She grew up in West Baltimore and had lived in Dutch Village for about a year. I asked her what she made of Trump’s comments about Baltimore and her former community.

“Personally, I don’t see the problem in what he said, because he’s right,” she said. “I’m trying to figure out what all the money they send to him’s going to, because West Baltimore looks crazy! West Baltimore is so dirty—and it’s not like he was saying it to be disrespectful. He was telling the truth. And anybody who lives in Baltimore knows it’s the truth. That’s one of those ‘it hurts because it’s the truth’ type of things.”

“I lived in West Baltimore,” she continued. “I know what it’s like over there—the killing, the dirt, everything. The air is different over there. Just coming off the highway—police sirens.”

Hosear’s brother, Deyonta’ Hosear, came outside, and I mentioned the charge that Trump homes in on black figures and largely black cities—first Chicago, now Baltimore—when he talks about dysfunction and decay.

“Black people make a stronger statement,” Deyonta’ said, shrugging. “Especially when you talk about the struggle that black people go through compared to white-people struggles.” He went on, “You don’t see people on white social media always posting their friends that die. You don’t see them posting their relatives that are dead all the time. They aren’t struggling all the time like that.”

“Trump was trying to come for Elijah Cummings,” Wendy said. “I’m completely understanding everything Trump’s saying! They’re sending them so much money to help the communities in his part of the town or whatever—where is that money going to? Because I don’t see it going nowhere in West Baltimore. I don’t see no difference in West Baltimore. It’s been that way for a minute.”

Doonesbury — On the job.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Circular Firing Squad

Via the Washington Post:

National Rifle Association President Oliver North has been ousted amid internal strife and external pressure.

In a statement read at the NRA’s annual meeting in Indianapolis on Saturday, North said he would not seek a second term, citing confrontations with board members and donors over what they called exorbitant payments to a law firm, a lawsuit against the group’s longtime public relations firm and press reports about alleged financial mismanagement.

“There is a clear crisis,” North said in the letter, which was read by NRA Vice President Richard Childress. “It needs to be dealt with immediately and responsibly so the NRA can continue to focus on protecting our Second Amendment.”

The announcement by North, who said he created a committee to look into the organization’s finances, came a day after NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre issued his own letter to the NRA’s board claiming North had attempted to extort him.

According to that letter, North told LaPierre that he would send the board a letter alleging sexual harassment by a staff member, a “devastating account” of the NRA’s financial status and accusations of profligate spending on clothes and travel, unless La­Pierre resigned from his position and withdrew the NRA from a lawsuit it filed against Ackerman McQueen, the public relations firm it has used for decades.

“I believe the purpose of the letter was to humiliate me, discredit our Association, and raise appearances of impropriety that hurt our members and the Second Amendment,” LaPierre wrote in the letter, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. “I believe our board and devoted members will see this for what it is: a threat meant to intimidate and divide us. I choose to stand and fight, and hope to bring 5 million members with me.”

The NRA’s board will meet Monday to determine next steps. Tom King, a board member and president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, said he supports LaPierre.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of nuts who took an organization that once advocated for sensible gun control and stayed out of politics and turned it into a screaming mob of thugs with the finesse of a jackhammer and the sense of humor and tolerance of the Taliban.

And of course it all comes down to money.  It always does.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Fast Action

It took New Zealand less than a week to immediately ban the weapons used in the mosque massacres last Friday.

Even if it could pass constitutional muster — which it probably could since the 2nd Amendment talks about “well regulated” — nothing like the swiftness and surety of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s actions could happen here.  American politicians are too enamored of the money — or the threat of the lack of it — from lobbyists and PAC’s to do any more than offer thoughts and prayers.  And even those come at a cost.

So while the thoughtful and caring people of the world deal with problems like this with dispatch, we worry where our next electoral victory will come from.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

That Moment Of Silence

There will be a lot of commemorations today to mark the first anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Our school administration will hold a moment of silence in the entryway to our building that houses the offices of the fourth-largest school district in the country, and I am very sure that there will be sincere and meaningful words spoken to honor the memories of the people who were killed and comfort the families of the lost.  And well there should be; to forget them and the moment is as much as crime as the assault itself.

But we should also remember that not a whole lot has been done to prevent something like that from happening again, because since that horrible day in February, a lot more people have been killed or wounded in mass shootings both in schools and other places. Legislation has been passed in Florida to harden the schools so a gunman will find it harder to get in, and I know for a fact that millions of dollars are being allocated to beef up security, hire more school police, and buy closed-circuit TV equipment to see them coming before they enter the schoolyard.

That’s fine; I’m sure the people of Florida are all in favor of having safe schools, although based on some of the plans I’ve read about, the school is going to look more like a prison than a place of learning.  And in all the dollars being allocated for new door locks, new CCTV systems, new ID card readers, and new school resource officers (that’s “police” in educational lingo), I haven’t seen anything put up to prevent anyone from arming themselves and going off.

I don’t mean gun control; that’s not going to happen as long as the gun-rights people hold the strings of power in Tallahassee and Washington, and repealing the Second Amendment isn’t going to happen at all.  (We Americans love our anachronisms: the Second Amendment is from a time when the country was 98% rural and we had no standing army.  It has survived, just as our 18th century system of weights and measures has, and defiantly so.  We’re not giving an inch.)  And even if we did, it would only increase the black market for guns and ammo.  Take a lesson from Prohibition.  What I mean is that nothing is being done to seek out and get help for people who might commit harm to themselves and others.

That sounds hard to do, and it is, but in nearly every case after the horror and the smoke is clearing, someone steps up and says they saw signs that the shooter was having problems, but, and they always say this, “I had no idea they’d go this far.”

Does that mean we should all be paranoid and freaked out every time someone on the train starts talking to themselves or accosts you for whatever reason is causing their outburst?  Common sense can distinguish between someone listening to music on a Bluetooth or someone presenting a danger to themselves and others.  And we’re spending a lot of money to paper public places with “SEE SOMETHING SAY SOMETHING” posters.

I certainly do not have the answers, and I have yet to hear from anyone in or out of public office or in a position of authority come up with a way to stop a massacre before it happens.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  So in the moments of silence that will be offered today, perhaps we should collectively seek out ways to end the torture, stop the carnage, and hold back the tears.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Time for my annual recap and predictions for this year and next.  Let’s look back at how I did a year ago.

  • There will be indictments at a very high level in the administration as the Mueller investigation rumbles on.  Plea bargains and deals will be made and revelations will come forth, and by summer there will be genuine questions about whether or not the administration will survive.  But there won’t be a move to impeach Trump as long as there are Republican majorities in the Congress, and invoking the 25th Amendment is a non-starter.

I’ll give myself a B on that since it was pretty much that way a year ago and the gears of justice grind slowly but irresistibly.  No high-level members of the administration were indicted, but shame and scandal did bring down an impressive number of folks who had hard passes to the West Wing.

  • The Democrats will make great gains in the mid-term elections in November.  This is a safe bet because the party out of power usually does in the first mid-term of new president.  The Democrats will take back the Senate and narrow the gap in the House to the point that Speaker Paul Ryan with either quit or be so powerless that he’s just hanging around to collect pension points.  (No, he will not lose his re-election bid.)

I’ll go with a C on that since I hit the nail on the head in the first sentence; I should have just left it there.  But no; I had it backwards: the House flipped but the GOP still has the Senate, and who knew that Paul Ryan would decide to quit?

  • There will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and Trump’s appointment will flail as the Democrats in the Senate block the confirmation on the grounds that the next president gets to choose the replacement.

I’ll take an A- on that since I got the timing wrong, but I think Brett Kavanaugh did a great job of flailing (“I like beer!”) before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The predator still got on the court, though, and we all hold RBG in the Light for at least another two years.

  • There will be irrefutable proof that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, but they’ve had a hand in elections in Europe as well and will be a factor in the U.S. mid-terms.  Vladimir Putin will be re-elected, of course.

A+ Duh.

  • Raul Castro will figure out a way to still run Cuba even if he steps down as president, and there will be no lessening of the authoritarian rule.

Another A+, but what did anyone expect?  Trump’s half-assed attempts to restrain trade with Cuba, along with Marco Rubio doing his yapping perrito act, only make it more ironic when it’s the administration’s policy to cozy up to dictators like Putin and the Saudis.  If Trump owned a hotel in Havana he’d be down there in a second sucking up to the regime with video to prove it.

  • The U.S. economy will continue to grow, but there will be dark clouds on the horizon as the deficit grows thanks to the giveaways in the GOP tax bill.  If the GOP engineers cuts to entitlement programs and the number of uninsured for healthcare increases, the strain on the economy will be too much.

I’ll take a B on this since I didn’t factor in tariffs and the trade war(s) he’s launched that led to wild uncertainty in the markets, not to mention Trump’s bashing of the Fed chair that he appointed and told him to do what he’s doing.

  • This “America First” foreign policy will backfire.  All it does is tell our allies “You’re on your own.”  If we ever need them, they’re more likely to turn their backs on us.

I get an A on this because it has and they are.

  • The white supremacist movement will not abate.  Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.

Sadly, a very predictable A on that.

  • A viable Democratic candidate will emerge as a major contender for the 2020 election, and it will most likely be a woman.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren is considered to be the default, but I wouldn’t rule out Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York just yet.  (Sen. Gillibrand would drive Trump even further around the bend.  She was appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when she became Secretary of State in 2009.)

I get a B on this because it was rather easy to spot and I’m already getting begging e-mails from Ms. Harris.

  • On a personal level, this will be a busy year for my work in theatre with a full production of “All Together Now” opening in March and several other works out there for consideration.  I will also be entering my last full year of employment in my present job (retirement happens in August 2019) but I’ll keep working.

This was a great year for my playwriting with a lot of new friends and opportunities out there and more to come in 2019 (see below).

  • People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.

Yep.  I’ve already blocked them out.

Okay, on to the predictions.

  • Barring natural causes or intervention from an outside force, Trump will still be in office on December 31, 2019.  There is no way he will leave voluntarily and even with the House of Representatives in Democratic control and articles of impeachment being drafted they will not get to the Senate floor because the Republicans are either too afraid to rile up the base or they’re too enamored of their own grip on power to care about the government being headed by a poor imitation of a tin-pot banana republic authoritarian douche-canoe.
  • The Mueller Report will be released to Congress and even though it’s supposed to be classified it will be leaked with great fanfare and pundit predictions of the end of the Trump administration with calls for frog-marching him and his minions out of the West Wing.  Despite that, see above.
  • There will be no wall.  There never will be.  Immigration will still be a triggering issue as even more refugees die in U.S. custody.
  • There will be no meaningful changes to gun laws even if the NRA goes broke.  There will be more mass shootings, thoughts and prayers will be offered, and we’ll be told yet again that now is not the time to talk about it.
  • Obamacare will survive its latest challenge because the ruling by the judge in Texas declaring the entire law unconstitutional will be tossed and turned into a case study in law schools everywhere on the topic of exasperatingly stupid reasoning.
  • Roe vs. Wade will still stand.
  • With the Democrats in control of the House, the government will be in permanent gridlock even after they work out some sort of deal to end the current shutdown over the mythological wall.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the Willie Horton for the GOP base and blamed for everything from budget deficits to the toast falling butter-side down.
  • We will have a pretty good idea who the Democratic front-runner will be in 2020.  I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chances are still good (she announced her exploratory committee as I was writing this), as are Sen. Kamala Harris’s, and don’t count out Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, but who knew that Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic loser in the Texas senate race, would raise a lot of hopes?  That said, fifteen years ago when I started this blog, Howard Dean looked like the guy who was going to beat George W. Bush.
  • The economy will continue with its wild gyrations, pretty much following the gyrations of the mood of Trump and his thumb-driven Twitter-fed economic exhortations.  The tax cuts and the tariffs will land on the backs of the people who provide the income to the government and the deficit will soon be out there beyond the Tesla in outer space.  But unlike that Martian-bound convertible, the economy will come crashing back to Earth (probably about the time I retire in August) and Trump will blame everyone else.
  • There will be a natural event that will convince even skeptics that climate change and sea level rise is real and happening.  Unfortunately, nothing will be done about it even if lots of lives are lost because [spoiler alert] nothing ever is done.
  • I’m going out on a limb here with foreign affairs predictions, but I have a feeling that Brexit will end up in the dustbin of history.
  • Personally, this will be a transition year.  My retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools occurs officially on August 31, 2019, and I’m already actively looking for something both meaningful and income-producing to do after that.  (E-mail me for a copy of my resume; nothing ventured, nothing sprained.)  My play “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, for a two-week run on March 30, and I’m planning on returning to the William Inge Theatre Festival for the 28th time, either with a play or most assuredly with a scholarly paper.  I have my bid in for a variety of other theatre events and productions; I think I’m getting the hang of this playwriting thing.
  • I will do this again next year.  I hope.  As Bobby says, “Hope is my greatest weakness.”

Okay, your turn.  Meanwhile, I wish continued good health and a long life to all of you and hope you make it through 2019 none the worse for wear.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sunday Reading

A Small, Sure Sign of Hope — Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker on how Lucy McBath’s win in the Georgia 6th is a harbinger.

Three years ago, HBO aired a documentary called “3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets,” which examined the tortured aftermath of the death of Jordan Davis, a seventeen-year-old boy who was shot as he sat in an S.U.V. parked at a Florida gas station. At the start of the film, you see Lucy McBath, Davis’s mother, sitting at a table, depleted, telling how she came to name her son after the Biblical River Jordan. “I wanted to name him something that would symbolize the crossing over and a new beginning,” she says. Later, you see a more resolute McBath seated in a Senate hearing room with Sybrina Fulton—whose son Trayvon Martin was also shot to death at the age of seventeen—giving testimony about Stand Your Ground laws and their impact on her son’s death.

The two moments are as apt an encapsulation as you’ll find of the significance of McBath’s victory last week in the race for Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, situated just north of Atlanta. McBath, a Democrat who ran on a platform of growing the economy, funding education, and addressing climate change, was inescapably wed in the public’s mind to the issue of gun reform. Her despair and her resolve are equal parts of her political identity. She narrowly defeated the Republican incumbent, Karen Handel, in a race that remained somewhat low-profile among the prognostications about which districts the Democrats might flip in the midterms. Last year, the Democrat Jon Ossoff gained national attention in his bid to win the seat, which opened after the Republican Tom Price left it for what turned out to be a short stint as the Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Trump Administration. Ossoff lost to Handel in a runoff, by less than four percentage points, with 48.1 per cent of the vote. A measure of the skepticism about McBath’s chances could be seen in the fact that, before last Tuesday, the race was being referred to in some quarters as the “Ossoff race without Ossoff.”

McBath’s victory reflects several trends: the inroads that Democrats are making in Republican suburban districts that Trump’s tax cuts and border-fearmongering were supposed to secure, the record number of women elected to public office in the face of the mainline misogyny that is a feature of the Trump era, and the fading ability of gun-rights appeals to safeguard Republican districts. It is also worth noting that nine new African-American candidates were elected to Congress in the midterms—all of them Democrats, five of them women—and that, once all the outstanding races are called, will likely bring the ranks of the Congressional Black Caucus to a record fifty-six members. All but two of them are in the House, and the majority of those members won election in majority-minority districts. The nine incoming representatives, however, were all elected in largely white districts—a fact that may complicate the calculations of the caucus and the voting behavior of its members. McBath will be the first African-American to represent her district.

There are other, subtler dynamics at play in the Georgia Sixth results. The fight over Georgia’s gubernatorial race, between the Democrat Stacey Abrams and the Republican Brian Kemp, who, until last week, served as Georgia’s secretary of state, focussed on Kemp’s record of voter-roll purges and voter suppression. Many elections come down to turnout; in Georgia, the question was how many potential voters would be turned away. Kemp, however, was just following a playbook pioneered by Handel, who preceded him as secretary of state, serving from 2007 to 2010. Early in the 2008 Presidential campaign, when it was optimistically suggested that Barack Obama’s candidacy might put Georgia in play for the Democrats, Handel engineered a purge in which some four thousand eligible voters were flagged for removal for being “non-citizens.” (At the time, I was teaching at Spelman College, and this happened to one of my students. It took, in part, the intervention of a local CNN station to get her registered; a panel of federal judges overturned Handel’s order.) The gerrymandered redistricting in the Republican-controlled state legislature was also intended to thwart Democrats.

In a sense, the race in Georgia’s Sixth District was a small-scale version of the governor’s race. McBath’s results—she won 50.5 per cent of the vote—are particularly notable, given that black voters make up roughly a third of the electorate in the state but only thirteen per cent in the district. Ossoff ran in 2017 on a platform that was similar to McBath’s on issues such as climate change, the economy, and Medicaid. Ossoff also campaigned against subsidies that made it easier for foreign airlines to compete in the United States, recognizing that Delta Air Lines is headquartered in Atlanta, and that voters employed at the nearby Hartsfield-Jackson airport were affected by the issue. (McBath worked for Delta for thirty years.) The 2017 race became the most expensive House contest ever, costing some fifty-five million dollars. McBath’s campaign spent $1.2 million, but she improved on Ossoff’s margin by more than two points.

There are a number of ways to look at this outcome. The district, despite its history as a home of G.O.P. stalwarts—it was Newt Gingrich’s seat for twenty years—was trending toward the Democrats. In 2000, George W. Bush beat Al Gore by thirty-six points there. In 2012, Mitt Romney’s margin of victory was twenty-three points. In 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by just a single point. It is sixteen months further into the Trump era than when Ossoff ran, and it is entirely possible that the President has worn out the grace period that moderate voters were inclined to give him last year. But, crucially, McBath represents a movement. Her son was shot by a white man named Michael Dunn, following a dispute over playing loud music, on November 23, 2012. Trayvon Martin had been shot nine months earlier, as he walked, unarmed, through a gated community where he was staying. Both deaths occurred in Florida and became central to the debate over the so-called Stand Your Ground gun laws in that state. George Zimmerman was acquitted in Martin’s death; Dunn, in a second trial, was sentenced to life without parole. The film “3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets” follows McBath and her ex-husband, Ron Davis, as they pursued justice for their son over two trials. (They requested that the prosecutors not seek the death penalty.)

When I interviewed them after a screening of the film, at the Schomburg Center, in Harlem, McBath emphasized the extent to which she had channelled her sorrow over her son’s death into action with the groups Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. McBath served as the national spokesperson for both organizations and testified on the dangers of Stand Your Ground laws before the Florida, Georgia, and Nevada state legislatures. In 2016, McBath, with Sybrina Fulton and seven other women who had lost children, most of them to gun violence, appeared in support of Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, under the banner of the Mothers of the Movement. McBath’s campaign Web site carefully noted that she supports “2nd Amendment rights of Georgians,” but she also promised to “push for implementing background checks for all firearm purchases; raising the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21 years of age; working to defeat conceal carry reciprocity measures; and introducing legislation to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and other criminals.”

McBath was elected nine months after seventeen people were shot to death at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, and a little more than a week after eleven people were killed in the Tree of Life synagogue, in Pittsburgh, and two were murdered in a Kentucky supermarket. She was also elected almost exactly six years after her own son died. The plague of gun violence and the intransigence of the gun lobby in the face of it have often seemed like an unbreakable stalemate. McBath’s election is a small, sure sign of hope.

Speaking of Oz — Julia Baird in the New York Times on how hard it is to speak Australian.

SYDNEY, Australia — Running out of gas is one of the most foolish things you can do, but I was guilty of it several times when I was a lean-living university student. That changed, though, when Hugh Jackman was hired as the attendant at my local gas station. He was older than me, clean-cut and hot, an improbably nice star of local high school musicals who was known to date unassuming women. I tried not to stumble over my feet — or, say, into his arms — as he greeted me with a big grin when my Volkswagen Beetle sputtered in: “Jules!”

That year, I never ran out of gas.

Today, Mr. Jackman, the star of films like “Wolverine” and “Les Misérables,” is widely adored in Australia, even by those who never saw him behind a cash register. He holds a special place in Australian hearts because international success has not made him pretentious. Most crucially, his accent is still intact.

Australians have a strong, often irrational suspicion of people who leave the country, succeed and change. Even Paul Hogan, the comedian and actor who played that most iconic Australian caricature, Crocodile Dundee, belied his working-class image after he found global stardom and dumped his wife for his more glamorous — and American — co-star. Occasional grumbling is heard about the model Elle Macpherson or the singer Kylie Minogue, both of whom have acquired “global” accents.

By shifting accents, Australian expatriates are seen to be shifting class and status, indicating a sense of superiority to those who remain in Australia. The quickly acquired faux-British accent in particular has been associated with pretension, or a snootiness that reveals desperation to cover a humble antipodean past, to disown a sunburned, bikini-clad family. Part of our fight against a long-held cultural cringe has been the insistence that we do not need to erase our accents to, say, host a TV show or radio program.

The problem is, sometimes we do need to adapt the way we speak. When I moved to Manhattan in 2006 to work at a newsmagazine, my accent became a hurdle. “We are cursed by a common language,” my editor was fond of telling me, a line he ascribed to some British statesman, who doubtless looked down his pince-nez at his convict-descended cousins. After he told me that he could not understand 80 percent of what I was saying, I began to emphasize my R’s and slow my speech.

We Australians are used to people being rude about the way we talk. Winston Churchill was particularly cruel about our accent. He described it as “the most brutal maltreatment that has ever been inflicted on the mother-tongue of the great English-speaking nations.” At best it’s called cute; at worst it’s dismissed as incomprehensible.

But given that it is so hard to mimic, perhaps we should be proud of its uniqueness.

What Americans — and, to a lesser extent, the British — fail to recognize is that as much as they mock us, they are almost constitutionally incapable of imitating the Australian accent, no matter how often they repeat “G’day, mate!” Even the great Meryl Streep failed to capture it when she portrayed Lindy Chamberlain in the 1988 movie “Evil Angels,” about a woman whose baby is killed in the Australian outback. The line remains famous for its melodrama — “The dingo’s got my bay-bee!” — but in Australia it’s also famous as a reminder that even Hollywood’s greatest stars cannot master our way of speaking.

Foreign media’s inability to capture how Australians really talk has been back in the news recently, thanks to the new season of the American sitcom “The Good Place,” part of which takes place in Sydney. On social media and in newspapers, Australians are baffled — if not outraged — by hearing American actors mock and mangle the way we speak. This has revived a long-held resentment about the fact that we so often appear as caricatures, fools or comic figures onscreen, with failed attempts to capture our accents that make us seem like bigger idiots.

Why are we so hard to imitate? Maybe part of it is that there’s something deeply laid back about the Australian accent. One theory suggests that this is because of our habitat: Given the swarms of flies buzzing around the outback, the legend goes, we developed a pattern of speech that would involve only opening our mouths slightly for fear of letting in insects. That’s probably not true, but we can conduct entire conversations while barely moving our lips.

In recent years, another startling theory emerged: Drunken convicts are to blame. Dean Frenkel, a lecturer in public speaking and communications at Victoria University in Melbourne, wrote in 2015: “Our forefathers regularly got drunk together and through their frequent interactions unknowingly added an alcoholic slur to our national speech patterns. For the past two centuries, from generation to generation, drunken Aussie-speak continues to be taught by sober parents to their children.” A horde of linguists dismissed this, but the theory, predictably, got coverage around the world — it’s what people want to think about Australia.

Professor Frenkel is right that our speech is lazy. He thinks we use only two-thirds of our articulator muscles. We replace T with D (“impordant”) and drop I’s (Austraya) or make them into oi’s (roight!). But we also add vowels in surprising places (future becomes fee-yu-cha).

But the people best placed to mock Australian accents are Australians. Self-parody is a national sport. On Twitter, we lampoon our country by calling it #Straya. We shorten “Good on you” to “onya” and we stretch out the greeting “mate” to “maaaaaaaate,” the length depending on the depth of affection and time of day. These kinds of joyous subtleties are lost on outsiders, though. And that’s what American television and movie producers need to understand. Next time, hire Australian actors to do Australian accents. Like, say, my mate Wolverine.

Doonesbury — Phoning it in.