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Friday, June 26, 2015

Bang Bang Sanity

Here we are yet again.

Nine more Americans slaughtered by a raging madman with a gun and bad haircut.

Nine more innocents slaughtered because we absolutely, utterly, refuse to do anything to prevent it.

This time it was Charleston, but it could have been anywhere.

The place, the names, the blood and the hate, the insanity, they’re all the same.

I waited a week to see what would happen. To see if it would be different this time.

But, of course, it’s not.

It never is.

Oh, they’ll haul down the Confederate Battle Flag, that stinking banner of treasonous bigotry, sure. Social media will raise a great cry of joy at the victory, but it won’t end racism in America any more than outlawing the swastika in Germany got rid of the skinheads. It’s a start, certainly, and one a hundred years overdue, but it won’t do a damned thing to get at the real problem.

And it certainly won’t stop the gun violence in America.

When US Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot in the head by a grinning nut with a gun, we watched six people including a little girl die. Eighteen people were wounded that day. I wrote about rights and responsibilities and about Second Amendment Solutions.  We Americans, we talked about maybe doing something.  Some demanded more laws. Some demanded more guns. Some blamed liberals. Some blamed conservatives. Some blamed mental health. Some blamed the victims. Everybody blamed Obama.

Predictably, nothing changed.

Then another lunatic with a gun slaughtered twelve people inside a movie theater and wounded seventy more.

I wrote The Seven Stages of Gun Violence.  Over the last thirty-six months I’ve updated that piece numerous times with another, and another, and another, and another, and yet another case of armed madness and bloody mayhem.

I said then nothing will change, that nothing can change because we Americans will not change it. We can’t even have a civil conversation about it. Guns are an obsession in our country, a lunatic insanity, the mere mention of which makes us bang bang crazy.

I said that the slaughter will continue, and it has with terrible regularity.

I said liberals will blame conservatives, and they do.

I said conservatives will blame liberals, and they do.

I said the same old argument will continue. And so it has, repetitious and as predictable as clockwork, bang, bang, bang.

And nothing changed.

Fully half of Americans apparently believe gun violence can somehow be brought under control with the addition of yet more gun violence – which is a lot like saying drunk driving can be cured if we just put more drunk people behind the wheel.  They might be right, in an evolutionary sense, but it’s small comfort to those killed and maimed in the resulting blood bath.

The simple truth of the matter is that gun violence isn’t the exception in America, it’s who we are.

The president was right, you don’t find this kind of gun violence in other First World countries. 

What? What’s that? Oh, of course, France. Charlie Hebdo. Fair enough. I’ll give you Charlie Hebdo. Tell you what, I’ll even spot you Anders Behring Breivik. Now, your turn, quick, name twenty more. Name ten more incidents of gun violence in France. Name ten more incidents of gun violence in Norway. No, no, don’t Google it. If it’s as common there as it is here, you should have no trouble naming five examples in either country right off the top of your head.

So go ahead, name them.

What’s the matter? Can’t do it?

Funny, you sure as shit can name that many incidents of gun violence, five, ten, twenty, right here in  America, can’t you? In the last three years.

Gun violence is who we are.

We’re bang bang crazy.

We actually have “National Gun Appreciation Day” in America. All of our heroes are packing. Guns and violence solve all of our problems.  Books, TV, movies, video games, law enforcement, foreign policy, we can’t think of a solution that doesn’t involve guns, or the threat of them. In the United States we believe gun ownership is a fundamental civil right, a Constitutional right … and access to food, clean water, education and healthcare are not. We proudly tell ourselves that an armed society is a polite society, a civil society, a law abiding society – even though that is patently and provably untrue in every example. We say that armed citizens, a good guy with a gun, stop crime, even though that is patently and provably untrue in large part. In America, “guns” and “religion” are commonly used in the same sentence. In America, it’s now possible to print your own untraceable and undetectable gun with a 3D Assembler and a computer and won’t that be fun? We have so many incidents of gun violence in this country that after a while they all just start to sound the same.  In America, guns are so important to us that we demand even those with diagnosed psychological problems have access to guns. And when those same people go on a murderous killing spree, we say it was God’s will and we say it was the victims who were at fault for not having guns of their own – which is exactly what was said at Sandy Hook and last week in Charleston.

Small wonder then that the nuts and disaffected and the simple-minded haters reach for that Second Amendment solution. Honestly, what other examples do we offer?

And so what do we do about it?

As a firearms expert and as a gun owner, and I am both, I’ll say to you in all candor: more guns are not the solution. Having people armed in schools and churches is not the solution. Carrying your mini-14 in a tactical harness to the grocery store isn’t the solution. Living in an armed camp isn’t the goddamned solution. 

You can’t fight drunk driving with more drunk drivers.

So what then? More laws?

Maybe, if they’re the right laws.

The gun fetishists at the National Rifle Association often argue criminals and crazy people don’t obey the law, so more laws won’t stop them – new gun laws only punish “responsible” gun owners and take away their Constitutional rights.

There’s a certain amount of truth to this.

Whenever this comes up, I always ask: what laws would have prevented this latest slaughter?

The response is usually some vague hand waving about more background checks. But background checks wouldn’t have prevented Charleston. They wouldn’t have prevented Columbine. They wouldn’t have prevented Sandy Hook. They wouldn’t have prevented Aurora.  They wouldn’t have prevented Fort Hood, twice. They wouldn’t have kept Gabby Giffords from being shot in the head. They would not have stopped Christopher Dorner. Neither would banning assault weapons. Or high capacity magazines. Or mandating smart gun technology. Or more gun-free zones.

And in this, the NRA is provably correct.

But what both the anti-gun lobby and the pro-gun lobby get wrong is this: While it’s often true laws don’t stop criminals, that is not the law’s purpose

Laws don’t stop crime. It would be nice if they did, but laws don’t stop crime. Instead laws give society legal recourse when its members engage in antisocial behavior.

If there wasn’t a law against theft, you couldn’t prosecute somebody for stealing.

If there wasn’t a law against murder, you couldn’t imprison somebody for killing another.

Laws against theft and murder don’t stop theft and murder, they give society legal options when theft and murder occur.

Saying new gun laws won’t end gun violence is a non sequitur. Of course guns laws won’t end gun violence.

Laws don’t stop crime, however what well written laws do is to put responsibility where it belongs – on the criminal.

Well written laws are about pragmatism.

For example, we all know that laws against drinking and driving won’t stop drunk driving, but they weren’t intended to. We know it’s going to happen. People are going to drink and drive and kill themselves and each other. We know we can’t eliminate it completely. That’s the pragmatism part.

Instead, drunk driving laws were intended to do two things, 1) give us legal recourse as a society, 2) make us responsible for our antisocial behavior – which in turn leads over time to a change in culture.

And that change significantly, measurably, reduced drinking and driving and provably saved lives and made American roads a safer place for all of us.

But, and this is important so pay attention, here’s what those laws didn’t do: they didn’t keep those of us who take responsibility for our own actions from 1) drinking, or 2) driving (note the operative word here is or).

And that’s the answer.

We need gun laws that give society legal recourse by making each gun owner/user personally accountable for their own actions.

Those laws should be designed to change our gun culture over time in order to make gun violence less likely. And, of course, those laws should not keep those of us who take responsibility for our own actions from exercising our Second Amendment rights.

Now, what exactly does such a law look like?

Well, it looks like the NRA.

 

I’ll pause for a minute until you finish screaming.

 

Look, let’s be honest.

More gun-free zones won’t do a damned thing. The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was a gun-free zone.

More background checks won’t do a damned thing – not unless we’re willing to get serious about it, unless we standardize background checks across the nation to include a complete and thorough investigation like the kind used for federal security clearances. We’re talking full national agency checks with interviews by certified investigators (what security clearance adjudicators call a NAC-I). Those cost about $100K and take four to six months. Such a system would require a complete disclosure of all financial, criminal (including juvenile records), and medical records (including mental health records), periodic updates, and a comprehensive database of all gun owners.  It’s possible, but I suspect neither affordable nor politically feasible. Anything less than that is a waste of time. Q.E.D.

Banning the future sales of assault weapons, certain types of ammo, and large capacity magazines won’t do a damned thing. That horse is out of the barn.

So what would?

Well, we make the NRA’s own rules federal law.

That’s right.

image

 

On my range, on any range, military, law enforcement, or civilian, the first rule of gun safety is this:

Always assume the gun is loaded, unless you personally have verified that it is unloaded.

Everything depends from that anchor point.

Everything.

You always assume the gun is loaded. Always. Every time. Even if you just watched somebody else unload it. When you pick up a weapon or accept it from somebody else, you assume it is loaded until you, yourself, personally unload it or verify visually and physically that it is unloaded. Period. No exceptions.

Now, I doubt anybody would want to argue that rule.

Make it the law.

Every gun user is personally responsible for knowing the condition of their weapon. No exceptions.

Every year, hundreds of people are shot with unloaded guns.  In the last year I’ve counted dozens of reports of “accidental” discharges, a number at gun shows by so-called experts. For example, last year in Medina, Ohio, a man was wounded at a gun show by a gun dealer, a gun dealer, who was checking out a semi-automatic handgun he had just bought. The dealer took the gun from the seller and accidentally pulled the trigger without clearing the weapon first. The gun’s magazine had been removed from the firearm but one round remained in the chamber. Both the seller and the buyer should have been held criminally liable for failure to properly clear the weapon.

“I thought it was empty” is the single most common excuse when somebody “accidentally” discharges a weapon.

There are no accidents with guns.

There. Are. No. Accidents.

It’s a killing machine. You’re responsible. Period. No exceptions.

We start right there: anyone who picks up a gun is responsible for its condition. No excuses. Misdemeanor for failure to know the condition of your weapon if only property damage is involved, felony negligence if somebody is injured including yourself, manslaughter if somebody dies.

The next rule of safe gun handling is:

Always point the gun in a safe direction. 

Every year hundreds of people are killed or injured by guns because the operator failed to keep the weapon pointed in a safe direction.

Last year, a pregnant woman, Katherine Lynn Bryan, was shot in the head by William DeHayes. DeHayes was showing Bryan and her husband some of his guns, including a .22-caliber revolver. He picked the gun up, didn’t verify that it was unloaded, failed to maintain muzzle control in a safe direction, failed to keep his finger off the trigger, and inadvertently shot Bryan in the head. She died. So did her baby. The papers called it an “accident.” The police called it an “accident.” DeHayes called it an “accident.”

There are no accidents with guns.

DeHayes didn’t face any charges and he’s still a gun owner.

Know how to use the gun safely.
Before handling a gun, learn how it operates. Know its basic parts, how to safely open and close the action and remove any ammunition from the gun or magazine. Remember, a gun's mechanical safety device is never foolproof. Nothing can ever replace safe gun handling.

Be sure the gun is safe to operate.
Just like other tools, guns need regular maintenance to remain operable. Regular cleaning and proper storage are a part of the gun's general upkeep. If there is any question concerning a gun's ability to function, a knowledgeable gunsmith should look at it.

Use only the correct ammunition for your gun.
Only BBs, pellets, cartridges or shells designed for a particular gun can be fired safely in that gun. Most guns have the ammunition type stamped on the barrel. Ammunition can be identified by information printed on the box and sometimes stamped on the cartridge. Do not shoot the gun unless you know you have the proper ammunition.

Cleaning
Regular cleaning is important in order for your gun to operate correctly and safely. Before cleaning your gun, make absolutely sure that it is unloaded. The gun's action should be open during the cleaning process. Also, be sure that no ammunition is present in the cleaning area.

A few months ago, right across the street from my house here in the Alaskan MatSu, a woman was getting her kids out of her car in a church parking lot. Her .357 fell out of its holster, hit the ground, discharged, and struck her 4 year old child in the leg directly above his knee. Give that some thought, gun people. A .357 magnum round dead center into the bone of a 4 year old child’s leg at close quarters.

The police called it an accident.

There are no accidents with guns.

Always point the gun in a safe direction, that’s rule #1 of the NRA’s own guidelines.

Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot, that’s NRA rule #2.

Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use, that’s NRA rule #3.

You’re responsible for your weapon at all times. You’re responsible for proper and secure carry. You’re responsible for keeping the weapon in proper operating order. You’re responsible for engaging the safety if the weapon is so equipped or for the use of other techniques if it is not. A properly maintained and carried weapon does not discharge when dropped, if it does, it’s your responsibility. Period. No excuses.

Make it the law.

Misdemeanor for failure to point your weapon in a safe direction, for unintentional discharge, for failure to properly maintain and use safety systems if only property damage is involved. Felony negligence if somebody is injured including yourself. Felony manslaughter if somebody dies.

Know your target and what is beyond.
Be absolutely sure you have identified your target beyond any doubt. Equally important, be aware of the area beyond your target. This means observing your prospective area of fire before you shoot. Never fire in a direction in which there are people or any other potential for mishap. Think first. Shoot second.

Make it the law.

Just as you’re responsible for keeping your weapon pointed in a safe direction at all times when not intending to shoot, any gun user should be lawfully accountable for correct target identification when shooting whether it’s on a target range or in the grocery store in defense of an active shooter situation. Period. No excuses. No exceptions.

Misdemeanor for failure to discharge your weapon in a safe direction if only property damage is involved, felony negligence if somebody is injured including yourself, manslaughter if somebody dies.

There are no accidents with guns.

Think first. Shoot second. On or off the range. You’re carrying a killing machine in public, it’s your responsibility. Not anybody else’s. Yours. Period. No excuses.

Never use alcohol or over-the-counter, prescription or other drugs before or while shooting.
Alcohol, as well as any other substance likely to impair normal mental or physical bodily functions, must not be used before or while handling or shooting guns.

We don’t allow people to operate a car, a boat, an airplane when intoxicated. We don’t let doctors to operate when drunk. We don’t allow cops or military personnel to drink on duty.

But every year thousands of Americans are killed or injured by drunks with guns and even the NRA knows just how insane that is and they put it in writing.

Make it the law.

Just like drinking and driving, you’re caught drinking with a gun, you take a breathalyzer or a blood test. We don’t need any new standards, the ones for DUI will work just fine. You’re intoxicated with a gun? You go to jail. And we impound your weapons.  Somebody is injured? Aggravated assault. Somebody is killed? Negligent homicide. You’re operating a killing machine, I don’t think sobriety is too much to ask.

Store guns so they are not accessible to unauthorized persons.
Many factors must be considered when deciding where and how to store guns. A person's particular situation will be a major part of the consideration. Dozens of gun storage devices, as well as locking devices that attach directly to the gun, are available. However, mechanical locking devices, like the mechanical safeties built into guns, can fail and should not be used as a substitute for safe gun handling and the observance of all gun safety rules.

Every year hundreds of people are killed by guns in the hands of people not authorized to have them.

You own a gun, it’s your responsibility. Period. No excuses.  If Adam Lanza’s idiot mother had properly secured her weapons, she and the innocents of Sandy Hook would still be alive. Hundreds of people are killed or injured every single year in the United States by unsecured weapons. Weapons are stolen and fall into the wrong hands, because they are not properly stored.

The NRA itself, by its own rules for safe gun handling, dictates that weapons must be stored so that they are not accessible to unauthorized persons. Note that the NRA doesn’t dictate the method, only the requirement.

Make it the law.

Misdemeanor for failure to properly store your weapon. Felony negligence if somebody is injured including yourself. Negligent homicide if somebody dies. Children are able to access your weapon because you failed to properly secure it? Felony child endangerment. No excuses. No exceptions.

And finally, though it’s not one of the NRA’s rules, I’d add

Never provide a gun to someone not authorized to have it.
If you purchase or otherwise obtain a firearm for another who you know is not legally able to own/operate a gun, you are responsible for that person’s resulting actions with that weapon.

If the people who buy weapons for those not authorized to have them were held to account for their actions, Charleston and Columbine wouldn’t have happened – or at least the likelihood would be significantly reduced.

There are no accidents when it comes to guns.

Make that, that right there, the law. There are no accidents when it comes to guns. Period. No excuses.

Make responsible gun ownership and usage federal law, uniform across the United States.

Conviction on misdemeanor gun safety charges? You lose the privilege for a specified period. You engage in remedial action? You prove you’ve learned your lesson? You prove you’ll be a responsible gun owner in the future? You get your guns back. Happens again, you lose the privilege forever. We don’t give drunk drivers more than two strikes either.

Conviction on felony gun handling charges? You lose the privilege. Period. Your name goes in the federal database and you never own or operate a gun again, this includes cops and military.

You’re caught with a gun after losing the privilege? You automatically go to prison, no plea deals, no excuses.

Don’t want to lose the privilege? Then all you have to do is follow the NRA’s own rules for responsible gun ownership.

Will this eliminate gun violence completely?

No, of course not.

Would implementation of this idea have prevented Charleston?

Maybe. Maybe not. But over time it would make such terrible events less likely and would hold those responsible for enabling the slaughter, such as Dylann Roof’s father (the guy who gave him the gun even though he knew his son wasn’t supposed to have it) to account right alongside the trigger-puller.

Over time, just like with the drunk driving laws, enforcing the NRA’s own rules, the same basic common sense rules that are used in the military, in law enforcement, on civilian gun ranges, and were taught to most of us by our fathers, will change our culture from one of gun fetishists to one of responsible gun owners. And that will reduce gun violence, just as the same approach has significantly reduced drinking and driving.

More, it will provide opportunity for the free market to fill in the gaps. Want to own a gun, but you’re afraid of running afoul of the law because you don’t know the rules? Don’t know how to properly shoot? Don’t know how to maintain and secure your weapon? Plenty of room in there for somebody to teach classes, say even the NRA – should they decide to return to the original charter of their once venerable organization and stop pandering to the lunatics and the gun manufacturers.

Note that I didn’t suggest that you had to take a class. States should decide that. Just like states decide how you’ll get a driver’s license, either by formal classroom or via a knowledgeable mentor. States can levy their own additional requirements. They want background checks, fine. They want waiting periods, fine. They want to limit certain weapons and ammo and specify gun-free zones, that’s up to them.

But at the federal level, we set a basic standard for responsible gun ownership: the NRA’s own rules.

There’s no reason why any gun owner should be oppose this idea. There is no reason why the NRA should oppose this. There is no reason why gun manufactures should oppose this. The rules are ones they all claim to follow now. The only difference is they will be legally responsible for it.

What I’m talking about here is pragmatism.

What I’m talking about is responsible gun culture.

What I’m talking about is sanity.

 

 



Other articles on gun violence referenced in this essay are summed up here.

The Seven Stages of Gun Violence

The Bang Bang Crazy series:

Part 1, What we need, see, are more guns, big fucking guns
Part 2, Gun violence isn't the exception in America, it's who we are
Part 3, Sandy Hook, the NRA, and a gun in every school
Part 4, More dead kids and why we have laws
Part 5, Gun control and a polite society
Part 6, The Christopher Dorner rampage, they needed killin'
Part 7, Still more dead kids and let's print our own guns!
Part 8, Let's try blaming the victim, shall we?
Part 9, Armed soldiers on post, sure, nothing to go wrong there.

 

About me:

As noted elsewhere, I’ve  been around guns my entire life. My dad taught me to shoot when I was a kid – in fact the very first gun I ever fired was my dad’s prized black powder .75 caliber smooth bore Civil War trench piece when I was about four years old. I still own my very first gun, bought from Meyer’s Thrifty Acres in Jenison, Michigan, for me by my dad when I was fourteen years old – a lever action Winchester 30-30. I got my first deer with that gun.  I grew up shooting, at home, in the Boy Scouts, hunting, target shooting, plinking, with friends and with family.  Thirty years ago I joined the military and spent my entire life there. I know more than a little about guns. I’m a graduate of the Smith & Wesson Rangemaster Academy, the nation’s premier firearms instructor school. I’m a certified armorer and gunsmith. I’ve attended pretty much every boarding officer and gun school the military has. I hold both the Expert Pistol and Expert Rifle Medals. I’ve taught small arms and combat arms to both military and civilians for nearly thirty years now. I’ve fired damned near everything the US military owns, from the old .38 revolver to a US Navy Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser’s 5” main battery – and everything in between. I can still field strip a Colt .45 M-1911 pistol and put it back together in under a minute, blindfolded – I happen to own several of them, along with numerous other semi-auto pistols and a number of revolvers. I used to shoot professionally and in competition. I helped to design, test, field, and fire in combat US Military weapons systems. I’ve spent my entire life in places where gun usage is extremely, extremely, common. I have a Concealed Carry Permit. I’m an Alaskan and I typically carry a gun in the wilds of Alaska on a regular basis. I am neither pro-gun nor anti-gun, a gun is a tool, nothing more. If you feel that I’m ignorant of guns, or that I’m anti-gun, or unAmerican, well, you’re welcome to speak your piece – just so long as you can live with what comes after.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Seven Stages of Gun Violence

 

It’s been two three years since I first wrote this on the day after a madman stepped into a darkened movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and started killing people.  Since then more than ten twenty thousand Americans have died from gun violence, three seven times more than died on September 11th, 2001, more than all the military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. There have been so many mass shootings between the day I wrote this and now that I’ve lost track, one killing blurs into another and the bloody rampages seem to be our new national pastime.

I got a lot of email regarding this post. 

And a lot of people told me I was wrong.

I’ve updated the text and have now updated it again and moved the essay forward in the Stonekettle Station timeline. 

I left the original comments intact, but because those comments primarily address the Aurora Massacre (e.g. the original impetus for this essay) I’ve added a demarking comment dated April 3, 2014, for the first update and now another for today, June 19, 2015 for the most recent update.

New comments will appear after that. The line of demarcation should be obvious  //Jim


 

It is easier for a crazy person to get an automatic weapon than healthcare in America.
                                            - Shannyn Moore, Moore Up North

 

 

So, America, déjà Vu.

Here we are yet again.

Another mass killing.

Another hellish scene of smoke and blood and murder.

Another day of death and pain, panic and terror.

September 1999, Fort Worth, Texas, a gunman killed six people during a prayer service, then he committed suicide. October 2002, it was the Washington DC Sniper, ten dead. August 2003, Chicago, a gunman locked six of his former coworkers in a conference room and shot them dead, then he killed himself.  November 2004, Birchwood, Wisconsin, a hunter got into an argument with a group of sportsmen over a trespassing issue, the hunter ended the argument by killing six and wounding two. March 2005, Brookfield, Wisconsin, a man walked into a church and shot seven people dead, praise the Lord. October 2006, Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, a disgruntled truck driver shot five Amish schoolgirls to death and wounded six others before taking his own life. April 2007, Virginia Tech, an angry former student set a record with the deadliest mass shooting in the US in recent years, he killed thirty-two people and wounded fifteen others. Go Team. August 2007, Delaware State University, three students were shot and killed execution style by a 28-year-old and two 15-year-old boys. A fourth student was shot and stabbed. And a month later, September 2007, on the same campus, a student shot and wounded two other students in a dining hall. December 2007, Omaha, Nebraska, a 20-year-old man killed nine people and wounded five others in a shopping mall.  A few days later,  on Christmas Eve, a woman and her boyfriend gunned down six members of her family in their house in Carnation, Washington. February 2008, Chicago, a gunman tied up and shot six women at a clothing store, five of them died. The gunman was never caught. February 2008, DeKalb, Illinois, a man opened fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University. He killed five students and wounded sixteen others. July 2008, Phoenix, Arizona, a former student shot three people in a computer lab at South Mountain Community College.  September 2008, Alger, Washington, a mentally ill man who was released from jail one month earlier shot eight people, six died. October 2008, University of Central Arkansas, gunmen shooting from a car in front of a student dormitory killed two students and wounded a third.  December 2008, Covina, California, a man dressed up like Santa Claus killed nine people at a family Christmas party, then he set the house on fire and shot himself. March 2009, Alabama, a 28-year-old drove through several towns randomly shooting people, he managed to kill ten. March 2009, North Carolina, a heavily-armed gunman stormed into a nursing home and killed eight elderly residents and wounded two more before police killed him. The object of his murderous rage, his estranged wife, was a nurse at the facility –  she escaped unharmed by hiding in the locked Alzheimer ward.  March 2009, Santa Clara, California, six people were shot dead in an apartment building. April 2009, Virginia, an 18-year-old former student followed a pizza deliveryman into his old dormitory, and shot the deliveryman, a dorm monitor, and then himself at Hampton University. April 2009, Binghamton, New York, a man shot thirteen people to death in a bloody rampage at the town civic center. July 2009, Houston, Texas, six people were shot in a drive-by shooting at a community rally on the campus of Texas Southern University. November 2009, Fort Hood, Texas, a U.S. army major opened  fire on his fellows in the middle of a crowded soldier processing center filled with troops preparing for deployment, he killed thirteen and wounded forty-two. February 2010, Alabama, a disgruntled professor opened fire during a staff meeting of the Biological Sciences Department faculty. She killed three and wounded three more. January 2011, Tucson, Arizona, a gunman opened fire at a public gathering outside a grocery store, he killed six people including a nine-year-old girl and wounded twelve more including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in the head.  July 2012, Aurora, Colorado, a masked gunman storms into a packed movie theater and starts shooting, he killed twelve and wounded fifty-eight more. August 2012, Oak Creek, Wisconsin again,  a gunman kills six people at Sikh temple before being shot dead by police. September 2012, Minneapolis, a gunman kills six including himself and wounds five more inside a small sign company. December 2012, Newtown, Connecticut,  a 20-year old gunman with mental problems killed his mother and then shot his way into the Sandy Hook Elementary School and started killing people. He killed twenty small children and six adults and then shot himself.  February 2013, a former Navy officer and Los Angeles policeman declared war on the LAPD, over a period of nine days he killed four people including three police officers and wounded three more before eventually committing suicide by cop.  March 2013, Herkimer, upstate New York, a 64-year old man lit his apartment on fire, then coolly walked into a local barber shop and started shooting. He killed two and wounded two more. Then he drove to another business and killed two more.  He killed a police dog and was subsequently gunned down by the canine’s human partners. June 2013, Santa Monica, California, a 23-year old man went on a killing spree that left six people dead and four wounded and ended when he was shot dead by police inside the Santa Monica College Library.  July 2013, Hialeah, Florida, a man living with his mother lit their apartment on fire and then went on a rampage throughout the living complex, he killed seven before police returned the favor.  Twelve more dead at the Washington Navy Yard.  Another murdered standing watching on a pier in Norfolk. Four more dead, including the shooter, again on Fort Hood, Texas.

And now, Charleston.

Another massacre. Friends, bereft families grieving with loss and concern, a nation left shaken with shock and outrage, left wondering why? How?

Another murderous lunatic with a gun in his hand and a score to settle.

Another excuse from the National Rifle Association and a do-nothing Congress.

Another bloody horror. 

And it’s a horror that has become all too common here in America. 

It’s a horror that while it still shocks and appalls us, it is no longer a surprise – and hasn’t been for a very long time.

The fabled gun battles of the American Old West have nothing on the modern slaughter. Gun fuelled mass murder isn’t the exception any longer, it’s as common and as American as, well, apple pie and happens on average about once a month.

What’s that, you say? Oh yes, another grinning nut with a stupid haircut and a personal arsenal killed some people? Tsk tsk terrible isn’t it? Did they catch him this time, did he kill himself, or did the police shoot him down like the dog he was? People say he was a nice guy, quiet, kept to himself, kind of odd but, man, didn’t see this coming, no Sir.  Here’s a picture of him smiling like a crazy guy, look at those eyes, they’re crazy eyes, anybody could tell he was going to snap. He probably tortured small animals and has his grandmother’s head in the freezer. It’s the parents’ fault you know, for not raising him right.  It’s the atheists’ fault for taking Jesus out of the schools. It’s the doctors, why don’t they get crazy people off the street? It’s the goddamned police, they’re never around when you need them. It’s the government. He’s probably a veteran, you know, those guys are all on the edge.  Guns don’t kill people, you know, no Sir, they don’t. In fact a good guy with a gun is the only … Oops, gotta go, Dancing with the Stars is on.

And now? Well, now we Americans will go through the same old oh so utterly predictable dance. 

 

Stage One, Confusion:

Mass killings are still big news. I have no idea how much longer this will be so, Americans quickly grow bored with sequels. Unless the next act of mass murder is done by a guy in a Bruce Willis costume shooting a chain-gun from the back of a crashing stealth fighter in the middle of Times Square, I suspect that eventually we’ll just stop watching. 

Some guy went bonkers and killed a bunch of people? Yawn, I’ve seen worse.

However, for now, mass murder is still the number one news show money maker, guaranteed to pull in a Forty-share.

Problem is, there’s just not enough actual information about the event to fill up the airwaves.

Nobody really knows anything. 

But Americans aren’t interested in facts and they’re for damned sure not interested in waiting.

Americans want their news the same way they want their food, they don’t care if it’s good for them or not so long as it’s quick and it comes in SuperSize.  

So, over the next few days, until America loses interest, the news outlets will each issue at least three versions of the story, all different, all mutually contradictory. Accuracy doesn’t matter, being first is what matters. Blame, that’s what matters, we need to assign blame to somebody, liberals, gays, commies, survivalist, somebody is at fault and the sooner we assign the blame the sooner we can get back to our freedom and liberty and civilization. 

And besides, it’s not like those first false reports and poor reporting will be wasted, the conspiracy nuts will print those out and tape them up on their bulletin boards right next to pictures of that grassy knoll and WTC #7. False Flag! False Flag! They’ll shout gleefully and manufacture their own false information fresh from their fevered imaginations and within days the airwaves and the internet will be filled with their wild speculation.

You’ll get interviews with at least four witnesses who didn’t actually see anything, including at least one middle-aged hypochondriac who wasn’t actually there on the day of the massacre but once, way back when, happened to be in the same building, and so had to be hospitalized because she was so traumatized by the close call.

You’ll get interviews with at last three professional victims who weren’t there but were near similar events and whose stories are now somehow relevant.

You’ll get earnest opinions from two experts in fields completely unrelated to anything that actually transpired, and CNN will interview at least one former non-combatant Air Force Major who was stationed in Nevada during the Iraq invasion and now teaches law at a small Women’s college on the East Coast.

Eventually, each news outlet will trot out their one remaining gray haired genuine distinguished Newsman, and in dour solemn tones he’ll ponderously opine on the miserable state of journalism in this modern age – then he’ll condemn all the other stations for getting it wrong.

 

Stage Two, Speculation:

Since there isn’t any real information and by the time there actually is America will have completely lost interest, the important thing is to fill up the media channels with something.

The talking heads and paid conspiracy mongers will wax fat and feculent, they’ll condemn the president and talk about false flag operations, hiding their sly grins behind their plastic outrage while the money rolls in.

News anchors, talk shows, bloggers, pundits, and the endless ill-informed mouth-breathing Yahoo commenter will each and all put forward their opinion:

- The shooter is a liberal. It’s all part of a plot by the America-hating tree-hugging, New World Order to make peaceful, patriotic gun owners look bad, then the government will send Interpol in their sissy blue UN uniforms to take away our guns. Oh noes! To the bunkers!

- The shooter is a Muslim. Of course he is. You just can’t trust those people. They hate America. He probably thinks he’ll get forty virgins in Paradise for every American he killed. We should kill all the Muslims.

- The shooter is a member of the NRA. He’s a gun nut. Those guys are all crazy with their gun shows and gun magazines and gun clubs and guns. We should outlaw the NRA.

- The shooter is a member of the Tea Party. The shooter is a member of the Occupy Movement. Sure. They hate everybody and they can’t wait to start killing us all and tearing down America.

- The shooter was just fed up. He was an Illegal alien. He was a member of Al Qaida. He was a Jew. He was abused as a child, born again, gay.

By the time the sad truth comes out, if it ever does, that he was just another nut listening to the voices only he could hear, nobody will care. The only thing Americans will remember is that he is yet another sterling example of whatever political point they’re trying to make at that particular moment.

 

Stage Three, Comparison:

Speaking of furthering particular agendas:

The conservative channels will start running footage of Columbine, Fort Hood, and Waco. The liberal channels will start running footage of the Giffords shooting and Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook.  None of those incidents really has much to do with the current horror, but they are images of bodies and blood and bullets and that’s what counts when you’re explaining how this event is what happens when the End Times are nigh or civilization is on the brink of collapse.

It’s important to associate this mass murder with other horrible events in order to shape public perception in the proper manner regardless of the fact that there is little connection or comparison to be had.

All channels will talk about Bath Salts and Reefer Madness and the unpredictable side effects of depression medication. There’s no indication as yet that the shooter was taking drugs, but then again there isn’t any indication that he wasn’t either.

And, of course, there’s the PTSD and, you know, we should expect more of this kind of thing as veterans start to come unscrewed. Especially if they were bullied as children. Or abused. Or into comic books, or video games, or porn. And, well, even if the guy had nothing to do with the military, it’s important to stress that returning veterans are murderously unstable and something should be done.

The simple truth of the matter is that you don’t walk into a crowd and start shooting people unless you’re, at least to some degree, nuts. But that’s just not enough for us, is it?

They can’t just be nuts, or rather they can be, nuts, but it has to mean something. Somehow. Even though the shooter might be completely insane, America will still demand a sane, rational, understandable reason for their behavior.

Which naturally will lead to endless arguments regarding the sorry state of mental health in this country.

Which, of course, will almost immediately devolve into a debate on Obamacare.

 

However, all of this, Steps One through Three are just the warm up act. Next we get to the main event:

Stage Four, Blame:

Let’s blame Hollywood. Violent movies and violent video games and rock and roll music. That’s what it is.

Let’s blame the families. It’s bad parenting, this guy’s folks should have their asses kicked for raising a psychopath.  But since we can’t do that, we'll punish the shooter’s family by having every single news agency in the world camp out on his mother’s front porch, and we’ll ask her important questions such as “what are you feeling right now?”

Let’s blame the Liberals with their liberalism, their political correctness, their communist Nazism, their coddling of criminals, their gun control and the gay agenda.

Let’s blame the Conservatives with their conservatism, their guns and their bibles and their callous disregard of the human condition. It’s their fault, of course it is.

Let’s blame it on the Me Generation, these selfish little bastards, always with their hands out, me me me. It’s social media, it’s Twitter and Facebook and those self centered bloggers looking for attention.

Let’s blame the Muslims and the godless goat humping atheists and Fast & Furious and bad teachers and Benghazi and Obama and the secret manipulations of the Illuminati.

The politicians and their supporters will all, each and every one, gleefully make hay. Oh they’ll all, each and every one, wax poetic over the dead (with the exception of certain predictable talk radio pundits who’ll insinuate that the dead had it coming for being unprepared and unarmed and ungodly), and they’ll even wipe away sorrowful bitter tears and pause for a moment in patriotic remembrance with their hands over their flinty black hearts with the flags waving and crackling in the cold breeze at just the right camera angle, and they’ll condemn the other guy for politicizing the tragedy, and then they will make just as much political hay out of this as they can because somebody is damned well to blame for this mess.  And it sure isn’t going to be them, no sir, it’s the other guy and his un-American agenda.

Somebody is responsible.

Oh sure, the shooter might have pulled the trigger, he might have planned it all and bought the guns and built the bombs and put on the body armor, but somebody else is to blame. 


Stage Five, Bang Bang Crazy:

And so, once again, inevitably, we circle around the wheel to the perennial American argument: 

Guns don’t kill people, crazy people with guns kill people who don’t have guns.

Therefore, we should ban all guns!

No, wait, if we ban all guns then only people with guns will have guns so they’ll kill the people who don’t have the guns and then there will only be people with guns left and then they’ll kill each other because if you ban guns only people with guns will be criminals and when the government comes to get our guns only the criminals will be free because liberty equals guns! Also what about bears?

OK, then we should give everybody guns!

But if everybody has guns then even criminals will have guns and brown people and yellow people and illegal people and crazy people who don’t love Jesus will have guns and they will break into our houses to steal our guns and rape our women and eat our babies and take our liberty so then police and the military will need bigger guns to keep us safe from those people but then we’ll need even bigger guns because otherwise we won’t be safe from the cops who will use their guns to take our freedom!

OK, well then how about a reasonable common sense compromise?

We all agree that as Americans it’s our basic right to keep and own firearms. But also, some people really, really shouldn’t be allowed to own even a Nerf slingshot, let alone a machine that can punch a couple hundred fist sized holes in a room full of people in under a minute. How about we maybe talk about some kind of reasonable way to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists, and crazy people?

What! Communist! Nazi! How dare you? Second Amendment! Second Amendment! Every red-blooded true blue American has the God given right to own a fully automatic meat-grinding bone-shattering blood-spattering high capacity killing machine if they want to, the Founding Fathers said so! USA! USA! Dead kids? Mass murder? Blood in the streets? That’s the price you pay for freeeeeeeeedom! Besides if there had only been one, just one, god fearing patriot with his own concealed meat-grinding bone-shattering blood-spattering high-capacity peacemaker there at that massacre, why he’d have stood up in his genuine American made American Flag Shirt of Patriotic American By God Freedom and fired up his laser-sight and he would have put that animal down right goshdarned there! Remember, when seconds count the police are only minutes away and idiotic empty NRA platitudes have saved more lives than Charlton Heston did in all those bible movies. Booyah, Baby, give me a Glock Nine and an extended mag any day. Also, we need more Jesus.

 

Stage Six, Acceptance:

By the time it’s determined that the shooter was just plain nuts and his bloody motivation was just plain incomprehensible to sane reasonable people, most Americans will have long since changed the channel and forgotten about it.

Meanwhile Congress, ever eager to do something, will yet again stage a mock vote to defund healthcare in America because they are completely unable to do anything that actually matters other than squabble amongst themselves like spoiled petulant children.

Nothing will be done about the real problem because nothing can be done.

That’s the price you pay for freeeeeeeeeeedom: crazy people with guns.

 


Besides, it probably won’t happen again.



Stage Seven: Déjà Vu:

See Step One.

 

 


Afterword:

Nothing, and I mean nothing not even religion or abortion, generates the hate mail that any article on guns does.

As I’ve said here many, many, many times, and will obviously have to say many, many, many more times: I’ve spent my entire life around weapons, all kinds of weapons – some of which you can’t even imagine. I started shooting when I was about four or so. I got my first deer at 14 and I still own the rifle I shot it with. I helped design, field, and test weapons and I used them for real in the combat zone. I likely know more about weapons and their use than any other ten people you’re likely to come across. I wrote US military war fighting doctrine regarding certain weapon systems. I own guns, all kinds. I’m rated an expert shot with either hand.  I teach guns. I’ve taught guns for nearly 30 years now, I am a professional Rangemaster trained at the Smith&Wesson Rangemaster Academy. I used to shoot professionally, I trained with law enforcement and military instructors. I spent my entire life in the military, in warzones around the world. I have a Concealed Carry Permit and I used to have an FFL (I got tired of paying the annual fee, so I let it lapse).

I know something about guns.

I’ll tell you something: the ignorant, illiterate, and cognitively challenged NRA nuts who troll this site every time I post something about guns are the very last people I would allow on my range or allow to handle weapons anywhere near me or mine. If you’re taking orders from Ted Nugent, you are fucking insane. These people are every bit as insane as the murderous lunatics described in the text above who thought that guns were a solution for their own personal inadequacies.

These people have taken the Second Amendment and perverted it all out of recognition.

However, for the record, the post above does not, repeat does not, advocate for or against any additional laws, regulations, bans, or any other form of gun control.

What I actually said was that all the arguments were oh so tediously predictable. 

What I said was the usual folks would call for gun control.

What I said was then in response the usual folks would scream about Nazis and fascism and explain why nothing ever can work and how dead kids are just the price you pay for freedom.

What I said was that nothing, absolutely nothing, will change. The slaughter will continue. The argument will continue. And nothing will change because we will not let it change, we would rather die than allow a reasoned conversation to take place, let alone any action of any kind.

What I said was that we can’t even have the conversation.

And that is exactly what is happening, because that’s what always happens. Every. Single. Time.

Both sides are perfectly convinced that they are right. That’s it and that’s all. Period. No compromise. No no no. End of discussion and fuck you, Liberals. No, fuck you, Conservatives. 

You cannot reason with unreasonable people and the people on both sides of this ongoing monkey shitfest are profoundly unreasonable people.

People called me a cynic.

They said I was wrong.

But it’s been more than two three years since I wrote the original version of this essay. How many mass murders have happened in that time? How many Americans have died in front of a gun muzzle?

And nothing, not one goddamned thing, has changed.

I think I’m entitled to say I told you so.  // Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station

 


The follow-up series, Bang Bang Crazy, explores certain aspects of the insanity that is the American obsession with guns in more detail.

Bang Bang Crazy, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8.


A note about commenting:

Comments on this post are now in excess of 200.  When that happens you have to scroll to the bottom of the comment queue and hit “load more.” You may have to do this several times to see all the comments including the nested ones. This is a function of the Blogger platform, I have no control over it. // Jim Wright/Stonekettle Station.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Rachel Dolezal, In Passing

image

 

"Jim, how come you haven't written about this Rachel Dolezal thing?"

I’ve got piles of email about this.

About Rachel Dolezal, the former head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, who says she identifies as African American despite being born about as genetically Caucasian as it's possible to be in this world.

Why haven’t I written about it? Here or on my Facebook page?

Well, truth of the matter is that I have written about it, several times.

But I deleted the post before hitting publish.

It's less discretion before valor and more, Goddamn but I just don't want to deal with the resulting shitstorm (which you may refer to as cowardice if you like).

After a week of watching this unfold, a week of thinking about it from my whitey white white Irish/English/Dutch-American straight male identity, I’m not sure I have any more grasp than anybody else or any pithy insight that hasn’t already been offered. And I’m far from certain it’s even my place do so.

But write is what I do, and so this time I’m determined to get it down.

A white woman pretending to be black?

It’s a strange case. Unusual.

Given our history here in America, it’s always the other way around, isn’t it? We’ve got a word for it, passing, when a person of one race is accepted as a member of another.  In point of fact, in this case, to say Rachel Dolezal was “passing” as black, well, the word “passing” is itself a bit of a racial appropriation, since the word came from segregated African-American culture and is typically meant for a person of mixed ethnicity choosing to identify solely as white. It used to happen a lot, back when it was legal to discriminate against people of color here in America. And, of course, there is a lot of baggage that comes along with passing, on both sides of the racial divide. People of color generally resent those who hide their brown skinned origins and kinky hair and pass for white, gaining access to power and privilege. And those with the power and the privilege generally resent those who aren’t as racially pure as they pretend to be – and white people have a few terms of their own in that regard, ones that I’d be just as happy not to have repeated here.

But I think what boggles all of us the most, both black and white, is that in this case it’s a white person passing as black.

What, she was passing as white? Sure. I mean, given the choice? Right? Of course people would want to be white. Sure. But who passes as black? That’s just crazy, man.

That’s what we’re all thinking, right?

Honestly, none of us would have raised an eyebrow if it had been the other way around, would we?

That right there, that weird racist uncomfortable unsaid undercurrent, well, it says something about us Americans and how we still see both ourselves and others even after all our history.

And it tells us just how far we have left to go.

There is almost no way to discuss this without setting off all kinds of triggers, without dredging up an uncomfortable past and an even more uncomfortable present, without picking open scabs that should have been long healed but aren’t and may never be.

Naturally, rightfully so, a lot of people black and white are outraged by Dolezal’s duplicity. Her passing is offensive for many reasons.

Many people are perplexed - including, apparently, her parents and family. For some of the reasons I alluded to above.

And a rather distressing number of self-involved jackasses are attempting to leverage Rachel Dolezal’s duplicity to their advantage, playing a bizarre game of justification politics by making comparisons to Caitlyn Jenner and using terms such as "transracial” and looking for somebody to blame. Like absolutely everything else, they’re absolutely certain Dolezal’s choices somehow justify their opinion of liberals, conservatives, blacks, whites, commies, socialists, illegal immigrants, gay people, Obama, and the supposed downfall of America in a thundering myriad of logical fallacies. These people, well, you know at least they’re not hiding their true selves, they can always be counted on to be the exact assholes they are, selfish, self-centered bigoted scumbags who make every single thing about themselves. Always and without fail.

"I officially today announce that I identify as skinny. From this day going forward, I am skinny. Now in the old days, people’s reaction then would be to call me delusional and maybe think I needed some help. Today I’m brave; it’s a courageous act to identify as skinny when one is not, and I’m sure I will get accolades all across Twitter, and accolades all across Facebook, and accolades all across the drive-by media for positive-thinking now that I identify as skinny. I'm fully expecting that Weight Watchers and others like them will identify and welcome me into the fold as skinny, since I now identify that way. The way I see myself is the way I am, not how you see me. And if you don’t see me that way, you’re the bigot! I’m brave."
- Rush Limbaugh, 6/16/2015

Watching the whole sorry thing unfold on social media and in pundit-space provides a fascinating and revolting glimpse into how we Americans regard identity, race, ourselves, and each other.

And it’s not pretty.

Me?

My initial kneejerk reaction when the news broke was probably similar to most of you: What? Oh, that's just bullshit, man! Bullshit. This fraud is so full of it!

And I sat down to start typing ... and, you know, something horribly similar to Rush Limbaugh came out.

I don’t want to be Rush Limbaugh.

I don’t want to be that bombastic blustering bigot. 

I don’t want to be on the same side as Limbaugh or those like him. I don’t want to define myself that way, and I work damned hard not to. And I looked at it, at those words on the screen, at my own visceral reaction to a woman I’d never met, to a situation I’d never been in, and my own words came back to haunt me.

The only truly inalienable right is the right to define yourself.

That’s what I said. Many times. Here and elsewhere.

Well, sure, okay, but I generally put forward that ideal when I'm writing about gender/sexual identity, specifically when I'm addressing the specious "argument" commonly used by bigots, the one which goes: people choose their sexual identity.

But choosing your race or your ethnicity is different. Isn't it?

Or is it?

You have an inalienable right to define yourself. I've said that, many times, here, elsewhere, publicly, loudly. And either I believe what I said all the way or I’m as big of a poser as any of them. Limbaugh, see, he certainly doesn’t believe that. He wasn’t defending Dolezal’s right to define herself, just as he wasn’t defending Caitlyn Jenner’s right to define herself, he was just being a big fat condescending asshole. 

Limbaugh and the selfish sons of bitches like like him, they’re not outraged at Dolezal’s duplicity, and they are certainly not defending her rights (whatever they are in this case), rather they are using her to make racial and sexual inequality about themselves.

These are the very same people, the very same tone-deaf blind-to-history, ignorant of context bigots who boldly explain how it’s not racist for a white person to use the word “nigger,” see, because black rappers use it. They’re also the same people who call the president the same word, but say it’s not really racist because Obama is half white.  Right now, on the rightwing conservative outlet NewsMax, Limbaugh’s fans are one and all jerking each other off in the comments over how this incident somehow proves their viewpoints on equal opportunity and Obamacare and how white people are the real victims.

Now you have hit on the REAL problem, characterized by the question never asked - why should it matter? The problem is that we've created legal distinctions that are unjust: The law should apply equally to everyone. If Ms. Whatshername wants to "identify" as black what is the harm? If she uses that "identity" to get scholarships, grants, tax advantages of other special treatments under the law, that is clearly wrong - but why should it be possible? The obvious fix is get rid of legal distinctions that lead to such easy and unjust abuses. Legally defined inequality is the problem.

The only truly inalienable right is the right to define yourself, that’s what I said.

And that’s what Rachel Dolezal has done, defined herself.

But, and this is important, I’ve also repeatedly said rights come with responsibilities.

Dolezal’s right to define herself isn’t a right to be free of the consequences and she’s going to have to answer to the people she deceived. And she did willfully deceive people, directly or by omission. She didn’t say, I’m a white woman who identifies as black, who embraces black culture, no, she said I am black and it appears she engaged in a deliberate form of duplicity which I’m at pains to describe in any useful fashion.

"Hopefully nobody goes to that film. We need to boycott that film, from my perspective, because it’s miseducation, it’s misrepresentation, it’s highly offensive to the people that actually were living during that time and also to people today.”

That was Rachel Dolezal in a 2014 radio interview admonishing Americans to boycott the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings specifically because the film featured white actors portraying black characters. And while she may have had a point, the level of irony coming as it does from a white women passing as a black spokesman for the NAACP is staggering – and she must have known it, since you’ll note she doesn’t mention her own whiteness in a conversation where that is very much relevant. Her intentions may have been well meant, nevertheless there’s that whole Dances With Wolves/Avatar thing, where the white guy shows up to save the day by being a better native than the natives. There’s something condescending and paternalistic and Great White Father about it all.

Whoa, now just hang on a minute, Jim, I hear you say in that triumphant tone you use when you’re certain you’ve got me. Let’s  back up. This bit, “She didn’t say, I’m a white woman who identifies as black, who embraces black culture, no, she said I am black.” How is that any different from somebody who says, “I am a woman” instead of “I’m a man who identifies as a woman?” You, Jim, defended one and derided the other. Well?

Yes. Of course, you’re right.

I did say those things.

And they do contradict each other, if you believe as I do in the inalienable right to define yourself.

And somewhere up above, I also admitted to being a straight white male, the very stereotype of privilege and the one least qualified to opine on this subject.

I don’t have a good answer. We’re talking about things that don’t have good, solid, definitive, universal one-size-fits-all answers. We’re talking about race, sexuality, identity, choice, genetics, history, culture, bias, personal experience, perception and all the baggage that comes with those topics. It’s messy and filled with contradiction and emotion and things that make many people very uncomfortable.  There aren’t any easy answers. If there were, well, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

I think it’s subjective, I think it’s context, and I don’t see any way that it couldn’t be.

Those that identify as a sex different from their physical selves, they generally aren’t appropriating another culture or ethnicity in their transition, well, unless we’re going to pull a Limbaugh and argue sex is an ethnicity – and if you’re going to attempt that I’d appreciate it if you’d do it somewhere else.  The vast, vast, vast, vast majority of transgendered people are people who honestly identify as the opposite sex, not people like Mike Huckabee who joked he’d like to go back to high school and be transgendered so he could hang out in the girl’s locker room.

Yeah, but did Dolezal really appropriate black culture for her own advantage?

I don’t know.

I’m not really qualified to answer that question.

The people at the NAACP, her friends, her associates, Dolezal herself, those are the ones who have to answer that question. Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t, but, you know, it’s our own history as a nation which makes us all suspect indeed she did. And it’s our individual history which makes some of us mad that she might have taken something from somebody that she wasn’t entitled to and some of us mad because she apparently got something we didn’t. Take a look to the left and the right and see who you’re standing with and figure out why you’re offended for yourself.

To be honest, I don’t have a snappy tweetable wrap-up.

I don’t have condemnation or praise or even a rationalization for Rachel Dolezal.

She is simply another paragraph in a conversation that’s been going on for more than two centuries here in America.

Oh, you know, I’d love to say that it’s all American culture, black, white and it doesn’t matter, sure. I like to say some white kid named Robert Matthew Van Winkle passing himself off as a black rapper name Vanilla Ice is just as valid as a black man named Ben Carson passing as an old white republican, but I’m neither that foolish nor that naïve. And it does matter. It’s complicated, it’s painful, it hurts, it makes us think – for better or for worse.

Dolezal will have to deal with the consequences of her identity and her choices, just as we all do.

Hopefully, the conversation Dolezal sparked will force us all to reexamine who we are and who we want to be. 

Perhaps. But I’m not holding my breath.

In the end I’m left with this: perhaps if all of us spent a little more time trying to identify with other races, other ethnicities, other sexual orientations, other cultures, other people, well, maybe the world would be a better place.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Death Spiral

 

This is the best Conservatives can offer America.

This cast of paranoid clowns, religious pimps, and suicidal fanatics.

I look at the GOP candidates for president I think, seriously? This, this right here, this is the best you can do?

If Jeb Bush was an airplane, it would be like attempting takeoff with one engine on fire.

Bush opens his bid for President this coming Monday with an underfunded campaign in disarray and already in damage control mode to the accompaniment of headlines that keep using the phrase “Failure To Launch.”

Starting out on the defensive? Not really the most auspicious beginning for the scion of a hereditary political dynasty and the guy who was supposed to pull Republican chestnuts out of the fire.

Still, that's better than Mike Huckabee, who apparently doesn't actually know anybody who isn’t under investigation. These two are the GOP's front runners, that’s right, the Stephen Baldwin of the Bush family and a guy who pals around with child molesters. Now, look, I’m not saying the Democratic lineup is all that spectacular either and sure, you could maybe argue Hillary Clinton also hangs out with a certain sexual predator, but at least so far the Democratic candidates aren’t in any danger of screwing up so bad they literally kill off their own party.

And that’s exactly what GOP Chairman Reince Priebus is worried about.

Wednesday on the The Laura Ingraham Show, Priebus showed no confidence whatsoever that any of the unsavory bunch in the current GOP lineup would be able win the White House in 2016. And that loss, he declared, will be the end of Republicans “as a national party.”

Ingraham: On a scale of one to ten, how do-or-die is the 2016 presidential race?”
Priebus: “Ten. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. I mean, we don’t exist as a national party if we don’t win in 2016.  You can’t compete sixteen years out of the White House, it’s just not possible. ”

The end of the GOP as a national party?  Aww, gee, tough break, fellas.

Republicans have nobody, no goddamned body, to blame but themselves.

The thing that worries Reince Priebus the most? It’s not that the best he can offer America is a squalling pack of unlikeable fanatics, candidates so incredibly shitty they actually make conservatives get down on their knees and pray Mitt Romney will stage a coup at the GOP National Convention and run again, it’s that his own party is about to shoot itself in the head and there’s nothing he can do about it.

You see, sometime this month, the Supreme Court of the United States will rule on King vs Burwell.

And it’s possible, even likely, that ruling will be in Republicans’ favor.

And if that happens, if conservatives win and Obama loses, it will essentially destroy the Affordable Healthcare Act – i.e. Obamacare.

That victory, should it happen, will very likely be a pyrrhic one for the GOP – and the last one they ever win.

 

It’s entirely possible that victory, should it come to pass, will be the place where historians mark the demise of the Grand Old Party.

 

And that, that right there, is what keeps Reince Priebus awake and sweating in the night. If he wins, he loses.

You see, when the Individual Mandate – the provision of the ACA that requires every American to have healthcare insurance – went into effect in 2014, more than five million Americans signed up for health insurance. Many were overjoyed that they could finally afford healthcare for themselves and their families.

But not everybody was happy about it. 

One of those people was a limo driver from Virginia, a guy named David King. King is sixty-four years old and makes a bit less than $39K per year. Before Obamacare, he didn’t have health insurance.

Now, Virginia, being the birthplace of Thomas Jefferson, liberty, and America Fuck Ya! itself, loudly told Obama to go screw himself and petulantly refused to set up a state healthcare exchange. So, in accordance with the provisions of the ACA, Washington D.C. stepped in and set up a federal exchange.

Under the ACA and against his will, David King purchased a healthcare plan with a monthly premium of $648.

$648. That’s a lot for a guy making less than $40K a year. But see King didn’t have to pay that much because under the ACA he qualified for a federal subsidy which reduced his premium to just $275 per month.  Now, if you’ve ever had to buy your own insurance, you know that $275 for a sixty year old male is a pretty damned good deal indeed. And in fact, given his age it’s likely King wouldn’t be able to qualify for healthcare insurance no matter how much he paid if it wasn’t for Obamacare in the first place.

But, King, he wasn’t happy and he resented anything to do with Obama, healthcare, or federal handouts.

So he and three others sued. 

And conservatives, particularly those in Congress and a number now running for president, cheered them on and offered up outspoken and enthusiastic support, both moral and financial.

Anything to stick it to Obama, right? 

Of course, they have no hope of overturning the law itself, that ship sailed long ago, rather King vs Burwell is attempting to have the federal subsidy itself ruled illegal.

You see, the entire case hinges on four words, a single sentence out of a law that totals more than eleven million, five hundred and eighty-eight thousand words.

King vs Burwell contends that in the portion of the law used to calculate federal subsidies it specifically says a healthcare insurance exchange “established by the State.” The State. Literally. That’s their entire case. Those four word, “established by the state” as in a state not the federal government. Despite the fact that the rest of the law, not to mention two hundred years of legislation, make it abundantly clear that’s not what congress intended. Nevertheless, conservatives insist that’s how the law is written and therefore the subsidies are only legally available to people who are lucky enough to live in the states which chose to set up their own state-run healthcare exchanges and aren’t run by selfish assholes.

Thirty-four states opted not to create their own exchanges, including Virginia.

Thirty-four.

And if King wins in front of the Supreme court, if the Supreme Court agrees that only those in state run exchanges and not federally run exchanges qualify for the subsidy, more than six million people in thirty-four states will immediately lose their subsidies and will no longer be able to afford healthcare.

King doesn’t care. Fuck ‘em. That’s exactly what he wants.

What matters to King is that if he doesn’t get the subsidy then he doesn’t have to buy insurance at all because at his income level, $648 per month would cost him so much he would then qualify for an exemption to the Individual Mandate. He’s actually willing to stick it to six million people just so he doesn’t have buy healthcare.

And it’s worse than that, because without those six million people, the ACA goes into a death spiral.

Of course, if you’re paying attention, you realize that any minute now, David King will be eligible for Medicare.

Also, I may have forgotten to mention, King is a Vietnam Veteran, and he could get free healthcare through the VA and be exempt from having to buy healthcare insurance out of pocket at all. This entire fight is a scam – what? You thought a limo driver could fund a legal fight all the way to the Supreme Court on his own, did you? You’re so darned cute. King is nothing but a conservative stalking horse who wants to screw six million people out of medical coverage while he himself gets taken care of under a federal healthcare program.

That’s the kind of selfish self-centered scumbag Republicans championed.

Just to stick it to Obama.

Only one little problem.

You see, the majority of the states which refused to cooperate with the ACA were, naturally, red states. And the vast majority of the six million who will lose coverage? Lower middle-class white conservatives in Southern states.

According to The new Urban study:

“…the biggest regional loser from the court case would be the South. More than 60 percent of people who would lose their individual health insurance live there. Among different income groups, the largest reductions would come for those earning between 200 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level—or between about $40,000 and $80,000 for a family of three. Forty-seven percent of the people who would lose insurance have full-time jobs, and 34 percent have part-time jobs. Sixty-one percent are white. Forty-seven percent have attended at least some college. Ninety-two percent would probably describe their health as better than fair.”

In other words, the people who will get screwed the most if Republicans win King vs Burwell are … Republicans.

In an election year.

Brilliant. Just … brilliant.

The thing is, the Republican majority Congress could easily fix the situation with a single amendment, a single line of text, but hardline conservatives won’t let them do it.  They’d rather 6.4 million people lose healthcare at the end of this month, most of them conservatives in the battleground states of Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin, right before the primary debates begin.

And now you know why Reince Priebus is popping anti-depressants like Tic Tacs.

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell will be thoroughly screwed if they win King vs Burwell, they’ll go down with the party boat. They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t and they’ve got nobody to blame but themselves. If subsidies are thrown out by the court, they will either have to craft a fix to Obamacare, something that is absolutely anathema to majority of hardline conservatives, or they will have to take responsibility for millions of their most devout constituents losing healthcare coverage.

Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institute says,

“It does create a political problem for the GOP because there could be millions of people who got health insurance as a result of ObamaCare who lose it. There’s a chance Republicans will get more of the blame because they’re in control of the House and Senate. Unless they can produce legislation, the blame will rest in their corner.”

And don’t think these disingenuous hypocritical sons of bitches don’t know it either.

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson who is facing a tough reelection in the swing state of Wisconsin wants to extend subsidies until August 2017. Thirty-one Republican senators have co-sponsored the measure, including Mitch McConnell.

Johnson says,

“My bill is a transition piece of legislation that will allow the American people a voice in what our health care system will look like beyond the 2016 election. It acknowledges political realities by preventing turmoil and disruptions should the Supreme Court rule subsidies cannot be paid through federal exchanges.”

Transition.

Transition piece of legislation.

Right.

Remember how they called Obama’s “If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan” the lie of the year? Well that fib has nothing on Ron Johnson. Because while Obama believed what he was saying, Johnson is lying directly to your face and he knows it. What Johnson isn’t telling you is that his bill has some very dire consequences. It’s nothing but a bribe, a payoff, to republican voters.

Johnson’s bill is not designed to let you keep your healthcare, it’s designed to let you keep your healthcare just long enough to get Johnson and his cronies reelected. 

Once he’s safely returned to office, the bill phases out federal subsidies and replaces them with … nothing. Fuck you.

If Johnson’s bill passes, more than six million people will lose their healthcare as soon as the election is over.

But it’s worse than that.

Johnson’s bill would not only get rid of federal tax credits in states with federally run exchanges, it would also eliminate them in states that set up their own exchanges, drastically increasing the number of Americans without healthcare insurance.  More, Johnson’s bill would eventually eliminate the Individual Mandate, removing the ACA’s foundation, drastically driving up costs and decreasing accessibility for those who still have healthcare.

The number of people in the United States without healthcare is currently at historic lows, but if those who couldn’t afford insurance without the subsidies go back to being uninsured the number of people without coverage would almost immediately increase to record highs.

Meanwhile, Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse proposed his own similar idea, legislation that would restructure subsidies … and then gradually eliminate them over the next year and a half.

That’s right, do the math on both of these proposals and you see exactly what republicans are up to: They intend to bribe conservative voters long enough to win reelection and then screw those very same people once they are safely back in office.

Johnson, Sasse, Republicans are not even keeping it a secret, they have just exactly that much contempt for their own dimwitted fanatical base.

That said, it’s unlikely Boehner or McConnell will allow either bill to reach a vote – their hardline masters won’t allow anything that gives even the vaguest appearance of refunding Obamacare, election or no election. They’d rather lose the White House and Congress than allow that.

Republicans in fact have five plans, none of which are anywhere near ready for prime time and neither John Boehner nor Mitch McConnell have made any effort to rally their respective houses behind any one plan – with less than two weeks remaining before the hammer falls. McConnell claims to have something up in his sleeve, but he’s provided no details and there’s been no discussion or debate in the Senate.

The simple truth of the matter is that Republicans have managed to hoist themselves on their own petard. 

They somehow managed to put themselves in a position where they are mortally terrified of winning in front of the supreme court.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Predictably, the only thing Republicans can agree on in the face of this looming GOP disaster is that it’s somehow all Obama’s fault.

Don Stewart, Mitch McConnell’s spokesman, attacked Obama for having no contingency plan in case the court rules for King,

“Unlike the Obama administration, which has no plan, Republicans are working to protect families from the consequences of ObamaCare.”

Right.

Protect families by leaving them uninsured and uncovered. Brilliant. Just … brilliant.

You know, America for better or for worse is country of the people, by the people and for the people. And if millions of the most hardcore conservatives lose access to medical care because the intractable sons of bitches they themselves elected to run this country would rather screw us all instead of doing their jobs, well, you know there’s a certain degree of poetic justice there. 

And if those same hardcore conservatives have to get screwed, have to go sick, have to watch their kids go without access to medical care, in order to finally wake up to the damage their selfish shitty ideology has done to this country, to the world, well, there’s a certain poetic justice in that too.

And if, like Reince Priebus fears, this really is the end of the once great party of Lincoln, I will shed not one goddamned tear.

Good bye and good riddance.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Criminal Enterprise

Dean Keaton: McManus. What the fuck is going on?
McManus: The strangest thing...
 

Polysemy.

From the Greek for “many senses.”

That’s what linguists call it when the same word or phrase can be used in more than one sense.

A single word might have a number of senses. Take English writer and theologian G. K. Chesterton’s description in his classic 1909 Orthodoxy, “The word good has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man."

Note the italics.

A entire phrase can also be a polyseme. Take this one: The sole survivor of a horrific slaughter, who may not be what he seems, describes a conspiracy of bizarre events orchestrated by a mythical mastermind which begins when a group of criminals meet at a seemingly random police lineup.

You saw it right away, didn’t you?

Of course that’s the 1995 Kevin Spacey movie The Usual Suspects.

Give it eighteen months, and very likely that exact phrase can be used to accurately describe the 2016 US presidential election season…

Oh what?

Is this your first day? How did you not see that one coming?

There's no way they'd line up five felons in the same room, no way!
- Dean Keaton, The Usual Suspects, 1995

And it is the usual suspects, isn’t it?

The same old shady characters, partners in crime, all after the big score. And in the end? Well, you’ll have to see the movie, but let’s just say it doesn’t end well.

This week Lindsey Graham announced his candidacy for president, bringing the officially declared (filed with the Federal Election Commission) field of Republicans to nine – or ten, or a hundred, depending on how you define the polyseme “ridiculous” and whether or not Graham understands he’s running for the President of the United States and not the Confederacy.

Now, in all honesty, I think Graham’s candidacy adds a certain … symmetry to the election. 

That’s right, symmetry. See, on the Democrat side, we’ve got a career politician who’s the spouse of a former president, so it makes sense for the Republicans to nominate their own career politician who is married to … what? What now? It’s too soon for a John McCain/Lindsey Graham gay marriage joke?

Okay. Fine. I’ll stop.

But, really, come on, Lindsey Graham? Lindsey. Graham?

Because what? The Republicans didn’t already have enough fanatical narrow-eyed warmongering Christian Jihadists who hate government, science, and gay people? Is that right?

I'm telling you this guy is protected from up on high by the Prince of Darkness.
- Jeff Rabin

Lindsey Graham, this guy is the rest of the GOP lineup, combined and distilled.

Let’s see there’s Ben Carson who thinks sexual orientation is something you learn in a prison shower and dead veterans are God weighing in on the Affordable Healthcare Act.  Carson’s primary utility is that Republicans can hold him up and say, See? We’re not racists. But the same people who’ve been calling Barack Obama “nigger” for the last six years, well, see, they’re never going to let Ben Carson marry their daughters. Ever.

We’ve got Ted “The Chosen One” Cruz, who hates the US Government to a degree that makes any random Iranian Ayatollah’s rhetoric sound like a round of Kumbaya at a hippy love-in.  Cruz prides himself on being a loose cannon or in Tea Party vernacular “going rogue.” As such Cruz’s most noteworthy accomplishment is that he’s elevated paranoia from mental illness to a comic book superpower and managed to convince both Republicans and Democrats that he’s a rampaging elephant. And while watching a blood maddened pachyderm trumpeting wildly and trampling the villagers can be amusing under the right conditions, a guy who can’t even get along with the people on his own team ain’t never going to be President.

A man can convince anyone he's somebody else, but never himself.
- Verbal Kint

Carly Fiorina, the Republican business “expert” who nearly destroyed one of largest and most respected companies in the world and now wants to try the same thing on an international scale. With nuclear weapons.

Mike “Jesus Take the Wheel” Huckabee, who in a staggering abuse of the word “irony” believes if Christians are not allowed to criminalize any belief or act they disagree with, then they themselves are somehow being thrown to the lions. Huckabee, he jokes that he wants to be transgendered so he can “shower with the girls.” Because that’s why people are transgendered, you know, so they can sneak a peek in the locker room. This guy, he seems like a nice respectable fellow, charming and a little daffy, the kindly uncle, but in Stephen King novels all those mysteriously missing women? They’re chained up in Father Huckabee’s basement dungeon.

 He's here! I know he's here! That's him! I'm telling you that's him! You hear me? I'm telling you it's Keyser Soze!
- Marquez

George Pataki whose only real claim to fame is that his name sort of sounds like the Mirror Universe version of George Takei. Pataki is this season’s Jon Huntsman, an old fashioned Republican who has almost nothing in common with the modern GOP. Like Huntsman before him, Pataki has the potential to appeal to moderates on both sides of aisle and he could actually win the general election and the White House.  And like Huntsman, George Pataki will be the first one out, he’ll never make it to the primaries.

Rand Paul, this guy right here is why you’ll never see a libertarian president.  This week he’s managed to piss off every single Republican in Congress and nearly every Democrat. Republicans literally ended up with Barack Obama, squared off against Paul. Think about that for a minute, won’t you? Stand with Rand is his campaign slogan, but he won’t stand with his own party, what makes you think he’s going to stand with you when the chips are down? He’s got the feral cat vote sewn up, but there’s not a chance in hell he’s going to get the Republican nomination. Frankly the GOP has more in common with Hillary Clinton than they do with Rand Paul.

One cannot be betrayed if one has no people.
- Kobayashi

Marco Rubio, seriously, why is this guy in the race?

And then, well, then there’s Rick Santorum. You know, I had a snarky bit all worked up for Rick Santorum, then I realized I couldn’t do any better than Charlie Pierce:  “He remains the perfect blend of smug sanctimony and greasy smarm. He's the only guy who can talk to you about God and make you think he's talking about the guy from HR. Rick Santorum remains a colossal dick.”

Fenster: Man, I had a finger up my asshole tonight.
Hockney: Is it Friday already?

And of course, there’s always Donald Trump leading the lunatic fringe – and when you’re on the fringe of this crowd, well, that’s saying something. Trump’s a showman, a carnival barker, the flimflam man who’s more interested in fleecing the marks than he is in being President – not that he’d turn down the job, but to him it’s all a big joke and he’s yucking it up as only Donald Trump can.

Keaton: I'm a businessman now.
Cop: Yeah? What's that, the restaurant business? No. From now on, you're in the gettin'-fucked-by-us business.

Of the as yet undeclared Republican Governors, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Chris Christie…

(You’re waiting for the “big fat guy, I mean, like, orca fat” quote, aren’t you? This is a classy blog, folks, I’m not gonna do it)

… and John Kasich,  Jeb Bush is the only serious contender.

Jeb Bush, his very name is a polyseme.

Bush is the devil you think you know. His primary strength is that he’s not any of the other Republican candidates. He loves puppies and babies and war, he hates abortion and Muslims and gay marriage. He’s got all the right connections and he even speaks Spanish so he can order the help around himself.  And best of all, at least for political writers like me, he’s got the patented Bush double-take gimmick down pat as he so aptly demonstrated last week by first declaring he would have invaded Iraq, then he wouldn’t have invaded Iraq, then he appointed his brother who did invade Iraq using the logic of “Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know” as his foreign policy advisor.

If I had to put money on it, I’d say Bush will be the 2016 GOP nominee.

If only because he’s not Lindsey Graham.

You know how this ends, right?

Of course you do

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist. And like that ... he’s gone.