Thursday, February 22, 2018

FL lawmakers: pornography more of a priority as a public health risk than guns

About 100 students from Parkland, FL went by bus to Tallahassee on Wednesday to lobby state lawmakers for more gun control laws.    As the students sat in the balcony of the chamber, they had to watch as the assembly ignored them and refused to take up debate over strengthening any gun control laws.

To add insult to their pain, later in the day another group of lawmakers followed their planned agenda with a lengthy discussion of a bill that would declare pornography a public health risk.

Lawmakers' gun obsession so blinds them that they think porn is more dangerous than a gun.   Yeah, yeah.  Of course they were following their agendas.   But they couldn't stop for a moment of recognition of these students?

Never mind.  Election day will come.

That was the Florida state legislature.  Now read on about the very different reception in the White House on the same day, Wednesday.

Something remarkable happened at the White House. President Trump listened.

The White House held what was described as "a listening session."   Invited to participate and tell their stories were students and teachers and parents from the Stoneman Douglas School in Florida, as well as other school shootings.   President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos were there to listen.

I must admit that I was very skeptical.   You just can't put "Donald Trump," "somber," "listen," and "empathy" in the same sentence, so I thought.   I wasn't there, but the clips and commentary I've witnessed so far -- from the liberal left tv position -- are astonishingly positive.

It was somber, student survivors who lived through the Florida massacre last week -- and parents who lost their kids there and in previous school shootings -- spoke emotionally about their experience.    They were listened to, really listened to.   No one yelled;  no one tried to jump in with suggestions or rebuttals.   They really listened.   You could see them taking it in.   The body language, even Trump's, was convincing.

Above all there was respect and empathy.   Can you image Donald Trump listening intently, nodding slightly in appropriate places, but keeping his mouth shut?  No inappropriate commandeering the spotlight to himself.

I didn't think it possible.   But I saw brief clips of it.  Of course, it's exactly what we would expect of Obama, of George Bush, of both Clintons.   But not Trump.

I don't know what will come of it;  and that is the long-range test.   But I have to say that, as I am critical of our president 99% of the time, for this brief moment in time when I was surprisingly impressed, I give him credit

I also give credit to the unknown people who put this together and who must have briefed the White House people on how to listen.    A tip of the hat to you.


PS:  A later news show included other clips from the meeting, one show Trump proposing his solution:   to have certain teachers (maybe 20%) who are highly trained in gun shooting to have concealed weapons, so they can shoot and take out an active shooter before he kills so many kids.    But he proposed it in a most unTrumpian manner -- asking the group what they thought of the idea.   And some of them told him why it is a bad idea.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The iron-bound, closed mind of a former GOP congressman from Georgia vs the kids of Parkland, Fl motivated to activism

I am sickened and disgusted by the closed mind and biased thinking of a former  Republican congressman from my home state, Rep. Jack Kingston  (R-GA)   He was on a CNN news program hosted by anchor Alisyn Camerato, who asked him if he really believed, as he had tweeted, that the teen activists from Florida are incapable of organizing these national rallies on their own.

Although defensively expressing his great sorrow and compassion for the loss-of- life tragedy and for the suffering the survivors sustained, Kingston was scoffingly skeptical:   because he can't conceive of teens having the ability to do this on their own, then of course some left-wing group like George Soros must be coming in with their "ready-made" rally apparatus and using the kids for his own purposes.

Kingston said on air:  "Their sorrow can very easily be hijacked by left-wing groups who have an agenda, . . . Do  we really think 17 year olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?

[In a zinger twitter response, someone pointed out that Joan of Arc, who led her nation in war, and was burned at the stake for it, was 17 years old.]

Host Alisyn Camerato finally interrupted Kingston, who by now had made an odious fool of himself:  "I'm sorry, Jack.  I have to correct you.   I was down there.   I talked to these kids before they even knew how many had died.  These kids were wildly motivated.  No one had even talked to them yet. They had not been  indoctrinated by some left wing group.  They were motivated by what they saw and by what they can do."   Further, she expressed her belief their ability and determination to do the organizing on their own.

Of course, let's hope some adults are advising and assisting them.   But it's important that this is their movement;  and so far it looks like it is. 

Back to the CNN panel:  Finally, the host was able to get Kingston to shut up, stop interrupting long enough for her other guest, former Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) to get in a word.  He began by trying to talk over Kingston's continual interrupting.   "Come on, Jack, Jack, Jack . . .  who cares who pays for the gas for the bus to get their voice to the legislators?  [Kingston interrupts, again]  Jolly:  "Listen, Jack, their message is not a left wing confiscation. [The moderator had to step in again to shut Kingston up and let Jolly talk.]

[Jolly]  "Here's the point.   Here's what the American people are crying out for leadership on.   They want universal and comprehensive background checks;  they want it to be as difficult to get an assault rifle as it is to get a security clearance in this White House;  and they want to see dramatic enforcement of the laws on the books."

Jack Kingston has always been a despicable presence on TV, defending the indefensible, spouting Republican talking points whether they make any logical sense or not;  and always embodying this cynicism toward the good.  And always rude -- he's one of the worst guests on tv for interrupting and talking over other guests.

And later the kids themselves spoke back in response to Kingston:   A very mature 17 year old Delaney Tarr spoke eloquently:  "With any movement there comes this amount of hating and trolling and people telling you that you're just a little kid;  you don't know what you're talking about;  or you're a puppet.   But ultimately we have to move past all that, because the amount of support we're getting is so over-whelming compared to everything else."

And Delaney added on another occasion:
"We're not making this a partisan issue.
It's a life and death issue."

Another said:  "I've cried a lot, and it's turned into anger -- as a motivation to actually do something, not only for my own community but for everyone who lives in the United States."   Another, addressing a group:   "Parkland is strong, and Parkland is the type of community that can make change from tragedy."  

Another:  "This fight is not the easiest fight.  It's not going to be short.  We're going to have to continue for days, months, years, decades because the people in these special interests who want to pass laws to make it easier for people to get guns are not going to stopWe can't either.  We need to get out the vote."

This movement has already begun.  It's led by the kids of the high school in Parkland, Florida;   but, with the rapid communication of social media, kids all over the U.S. are organizing their on their own as well.   They're not just having rallies -- although those are important -- they are sending groups to try to meet with lawmakers;  they're doing protest rallies at the White House, for one.  I'm sure that will spread.   And then there is the grand day of March For Our Lives planned for March 24th.   And then the big focus will be on getting out the vote in November.

One of these speakers, David Hogg, is one of the core group of organizers;  he is a senior at the high school and a student journalist.   While the shooting was still going on and he and friends were hiding in a darkened classroom, David began recording his and others' reactions on his cell phone.  He said at first they thought it was a drill, but then they began hearing shots. Not knowing whether they would make it out alive, he wanted to leave a record for others to know what they went through.    On his recording, David speaks with the calm demeanor of an experienced journalist, maybe one of those we see on TV, coming to us from a war zone via satellite.

How dare Jack Kingston doubt the competence and the sincerity of these kids?   They'll make a better world than my generation did -- and certainly better than Jack Kingston's Republican party is doing.   Now, just keep him off TV, please.   He makes Southerners look bad.


PS:  George and Amal Clooney donated $500,000 to help with the expense of the March for Our Lives in Washington on March 24th, releasing this statement:
"Amal and I are so inspired by the courage and eloquence of these young men and women from Stoneman Douglas High School.   Our family will be there . . . to stand side by side with this incredible generation of young people from all over the country. 

"In the name of our children Ella and Alexander, we're donating $500,000 to help pay for this groundbreaking event.  Our children's lives depend on it."

And, responding to the Clooneys' announcement, Oprah Winfrey later said she "couldn't agree with you more" and pledged to match their $500,000 donation.

So . . . .  take that, Jack!    Yes, these liberal icons with lots of money are supporting these kids' effort and "standing side by side" with them, not hijacking them with a left-wing agenda," as you so boorishly accused George Soros, who by the way has done far more to make the world a better place than you and your selfish, narrow-minded cohorts.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Gloves off: Opinion writers damn Trump

Things are heating up for Donald Trump.  Yesterday -- following Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's Friday announcement of the grand jury indictment of 13 Russians in the cyberattacks on our electoral process -- the New York Times and the Washington Post each featured a major op-ed essay by one of their senior columnists that essentially took the gloves off in getting to the truth about our president, Russia, and our democracy.

THOMAS  FRIEDMAN  (New York Times) wrote:  "Whatever Trump Is Hiding Is Hurting All of Us Now."

"Our democracy is in serious danger.  President Trump is either totally compromised by the Russians or is a towering fool, or both, but either way he has shown himself unwilling or unable to defend America against a Russian campaign to divide and undermine our democracy.

"That is, either Trump’s real estate empire has taken large amounts of money from shady oligarchs linked to the Kremlin — so much that they literally own him; or rumors are true that he engaged in sexual misbehavior while he was in Moscow running the Miss Universe contest, which Russian intelligence has on tape and he doesn’t want released; or Trump actually believes Russian President Vladimir Putin when he says he is innocent of intervening in our elections — over the explicit findings of Trump’s own C.I.A., N.S.A. and F.B.I. chiefs.

"In sum, Trump is either hiding something so threatening to himself, or he’s criminally incompetent to be commander in chief. It is impossible yet to say which explanation for his behavior is true, but it seems highly likely that one of these scenarios explains Trump’s refusal to respond to Russia’s direct attack on our system . . . .

"Up to now, Trump has been flouting the norms of the presidency. Now Trump’s behavior amounts to a refusal to carry out his oath of office — to protect and defend the Constitution. Here’s an imperfect but close analogy: It’s as if George W. Bush had said after 9/11: 'No big deal. I am going golfing over the weekend in Florida and blogging about how it’s all the Democrats’ fault — no need to hold a National Security Council meeting.'

". . . .  America needs a president who will lead our nation’s defense against this attack on the integrity of our electoral democracy. . . .  What we have instead is a president vulgarly tweeting that the Russians are “laughing their asses off in Moscow” for how we’ve been investigating their interventions — and exploiting the terrible school shooting in Florida . . . to throw the entire F.B.I. under the bus and create a new excuse to shut down the Mueller investigation.

". . . . It is so obvious what Trump is up to: Again, he is either a total sucker for Putin or, more likely, he is hiding something that he knows the Russians have on him. . . .

"My guess is what Trump is hiding has to do with money. It’s something about his financial ties to business elites tied to the Kremlin. They may own a big stake in him. Who can forget that quote from his son Donald Trump, Jr. from back in 2008: 'Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets.' They may own our president.

". . . . But whatever it is, Trump is . . . ready to not only resist mounting a proper defense of our democracy, he’s actually ready to undermine some of our most important institutions, the F.B.I. and Justice Department, to keep his compromised status hidden.

"That must not be tolerated. This is code red. The biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy today is in the Oval Office."
And, on the same day, the Washington Post published MAX  BOOT'S article, "Trump Is Ignoring the Worst Attack on America Since 9/11."  Max Boot calls himself a social liberal, fiscal conservative Republican.  He wrote: 

"Imagine if, after 9/11, the president had said that the World Trade Center and Pentagon could have been attacked by 'China' or 'lots of other people.' Imagine if he had dismissed claims of al-Qaeda’s responsibility as a 'hoax' and said that he 'really' believed Osama bin Laden’s denials. Imagine if he saw the attack primarily as a political embarrassment to be minimized rather than as a national security threat to be combated. Imagine if he threatened to fire the investigators trying to find out what happened.

"Imagine, moreover, if the president refused to appoint a commission to study how to safeguard America. Imagine if, as a result, we did not harden cockpit doors. If we did not create a Transportation Security Administration and a Department of Homeland Security. If we did not lower barriers between law enforcement and intelligence. If we did not pass a USA Patriot Act to enhance surveillance. And if we did not take myriad other steps to prevent another 9/11.

"That’s roughly where we stand after the second-worst foreign attack on America in the past two decades. The Russian subversion of the 2016 election did not, to be sure, kill nearly 3,000 people. But its longer-term impact may be even more corrosive by undermining faith in our democracy.

"The evidence of Russian meddling became 'incontrovertible,' in the word of national security adviser H.R. McMaster, after special counsel Robert S. Mueller III indicted 13 Russians and three Russian organizations on Friday . . .  Yet in a disturbing weekend tweetstorm, President Trump attacked the FBI, Democrats, even McMaster — anyone but the Russians. . . . 

"Trump must have thought the Russian operation was significant because he mentioned its handiwork — the release of Democratic Party documents via WikiLeaks — 137 times in the final month of the campaign. On top of that, Russian propaganda reached at least 126 million Americans via Facebook alone.

"The onslaught did not end in 2016. Russian trolls have continued . . . to sow dissension and division.  Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats just testified that Russia “views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.” Yet Trump has never convened a Cabinet meeting to address this threat and has resisted implementing sanctions passed by Congress.

"The president’s obstructionism makes it impossible to appoint an 11/8 Commission to study this cyber-assault and to recommend responses. Various agencies, such as the FBI, are trying to combat the Russians on their own, but there is no coordinated response. . . . [but] A greater federal role is needed, yet Trump refuses to even admit that the problem exists.

"The most benign explanation is that he is putting his vanity — he can’t have anything taint his glorious victory — above his obligation to 'protect and defend the Constitution.'  The more sinister hypothesis is that he has something to hide and, having benefited from Russia’s assistance once, hopes for more aid in 2018 and 2020. Either way, we are at war without a commander in chief."

No longer can we continue to simply scoff and be outraged at the man who controls our nuclear codes and at the majority party in both the House and the Senate -- who so far have shown very little spunk for standing up to this incompetent, if not outright treasonous, president.

Thanks to Friedman and Boot, and other courageous journalists like them, we're beginning to get the true picture.

Anyone who thinks freedom of the press is a quaint notion that got left behind when the internet made news-spreaders (some fake, some not) of us all -- is in for a rude awakening.   Our serious media sources are doing the necessary work that our Republican controlled government is refusing to do.    That cannot and -- I dare to hope -- will not be tolerated any longer.

It's time for the truth.


Monday, February 19, 2018

De-linking mental illness / gun violence

This time, the school shooter had shown signs of emotional disturbance and behavioral problems for years.   So the leading meme -- from President Trump to neighbors -- has become:   finding a way to prevent people with emotional problems from buying guns.

The truth is that they're distorting the facts, and it makes it seem like a different problem than what it actually is.   The truth is complex.   Yes, this 19 year old obviously was disturbed over a long time -- and then his mother died on top of it all.   And, yes, he needed more help than he got.

Yes, we need more funding and resources for treatment and support for people with emotional problems.    But that's not all we need to change -- because the link between people with emotional problems and violence is small and not the primary problem

The book Gun Violence and Mental Illness, published in 2016 by the American Psychiatric Association, analyzes data showing that, of 235 mass killings studiedonly 22% of the perpetrators could be considered mentally ill.   Another look at the data shows that "mass shootings by people with serious mental illnesses represent 1% of all gun homicides each year (reported by the New York Times).

Another perspective on this:   although the U.S. is in class all by itself when it comes to gun violence, there is no evidence to suggest that Americans have a higher incidence of mental illness than other countries.  "Evidence is clear that the large majority of people with mental disorders do not engage in violence against others" (NYT).

So let's (1) stop stigmatizing emotional disturbance by claiming a link to violence;   and (2) stop pretending that throwing a little more money into treatment programs (although any increase is welcome) will take care of the gun violence -- so our politicians don't have to make the hard decisions about doing something about our gun problem.


Maybe today's teens will lead the way

Cameron Kasky is one of several very articulate teens, who lived through the shooting in Parkland, Florida, who is speaking out to demand an increase in gun control laws.  He wrote this for CNN:

"I thought it was going to be a wonderful day. . . .  But then, of course, everything changed. . . .  Toward the end of the day, I went to pick up my little brother Holden from the special needs classroom.   As we exited the school, the fire alarm went off. . . . we were told to run back inside.

"It was very confusing, especially since I was surrounded by special needs students.   But the truth is, nobody really knew what was going on.  We huddled in a room, listening to terrifying noises we couldn't quite identify and spend an hour plagued by uncontrolled anxiety -- waiting for answers.  Waiting for somebody to either come in and shoot us or come in and tell us everything was going to be OK. . .

"Though we made it home, 17 people didn't.  Those 17 people were murdered on the grounds of a school that has always felt like the safest place to be in a town that's been called the safest town in Florida.

"We can't ignore the issues of gun control that this tragedy raises. And so, I'm asking -- no, demanding -- we take action now.  Why? Because at the end of the day, the students at my school felt one shared experience -- our politicians abandoned us by failing to keep guns out of schools.

"But this time, my classmates and I are going to hold them to account. This time we are going to pressure them to take action. This time we are going to force them to spend more energy protecting human lives than unborn fetuses.

"One of the most frustrating arguments I've heard is that it wasn't the Republican Party that killed those people and it wasn't the National Rifle Association -- it was the shooter himself.  I understand where they are coming from. I do not believe this was a direct attack from the Republicans or their close allies at the NRA.

"However, the shooter is not the only one responsible for this tragedy. While the alleged shooter may have had several issues, he also lived in a society where Sen. Marco Rubio refuses to take responsibility for the role gun culture may have played in this tragedy.

"And there is no denying that the NRA continues to donate millions of dollars to politicians at every level of government. Then those politicians -- often "family values" conservatives -- rile up their base by making them think that 'liberals' are going to take their guns away. Not knowing any better, some of these people stockpile guns in advance of a gun ban that never comes, and the gun manufacturers and the NRA make millions.

"But the truth is that the politicians on both sides of the aisle are to blame. The Republicans, generally speaking, take large donations from the NRA and are therefore beholden to their cruel agenda. And the Democrats lack the organization and the votes to do anything about it.

"I'm just a high school student, and I do not pretend to have all of the answers. However, even in my position, I can see that there is desperate need for change -- change that starts by folks showing up to the polls and voting all those individuals who are in the back pockets of gun lobbyists out of office.

"Please do it for me. Do it for my fellow classmates. We can't vote, but you can, so make it count."

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Infrastructure Week -- did anyone notice?

Well, of course Infrastructure Week went almost unnoticed.

First, it landed like the dud that it is.  Although it calls for more than a trillion dollars expenditures, it turns out that Trump's plan is to put only $200 million into incentives for private investors to take on big projects like roads, bridges, railroad beds, airport infrastructure, schools, etc.

The basic problem here is that, even if you favor private investment to public funds for the common good, there is little profit incentive for this kind of project.  And the most needed are often the least profitable for an investor. That's why governments usually do them.

So what will happen is that -- yes, roads and bridges might get built -- but they will be the ones selectively chosen in areas that benefit investors' wealthy friends, developers, and resorts, not inner cities or highways or what's really needed.

OK.   That's why Infrastructure Week was not going to be much anyway.   But then look what else happened in this chaotic world we inhabit.  Things that demanded attention from the White House and the news media.

1,  A growing scandal that just won't go away right there in the White House:   a senior staffer with top secret access, but without a security clearance for over a year.  And a serious domestic violence record to boot.

2.  New developments in Trump's own sexual past:   his lawyer's claim about paying hush money to a porn star Trump had an affair with.  And another Playmate model making her claim with a story to tell about an affair with Trump.

3.  A big failure in the Senate to pass any of several offered and debated immigration bills.   So DACA is still not fixed -- and Trump is blaming the Dems for not rolling over to his plan, when he's the one who cancelled DACA to begin with.

4.  The horrific school shooting that killed 17 students and teachers at a Parkland, Florida high school.    Trump was sharply criticized for not even addressing the tragedy for 24 hours, then only by twitter, and finally a scripted short speech that made no mention of guns.    When he went to Parkland to meet victims and first responders, it was on his way to his weekend retreat at nearby Mar-a-Lago.   In a photo op with first responders, he managed to make a joke that injected himself into the spotlight and turned a somber moment into laughter, not what was appropriate.     Then they took a group photo, showing Trump standing front row center, with a big grin on his face and giving a "thumbs up" gesture.    Does he have absolutely no sense of appropriateness?

5.  And then of course there was the Friday release of Mueller's grand jury indictment of 13 Russians for interfering with our 2016 election.   Instead of forthrightly acknowledging finally that Russians did interfere, he injected himself into it and falsely claimed that it didn't show collusion.   No this indictment didn't name anyone connected with the campaign;  but absence of indictment in this one does not equate to absence of indictment in the future.   In truth, to some of us, the indictment should be taken by the Trump team as an ominous sign that Mueller's investigative team is super-formidable and that they already know much more than we had any idea they knew.   Mueller has only begun to reveal what he has found out.

Yep, that's the week that was.