Point of View Columns

Special Weekend Edition – December 14, 2012

IT’S STILL THE GUNS STUPID!

As you are reading this the final body count after a shooting rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut is being finalized. Because we are all so anesthetized and acclimated to gun carnage I will repeat: “As you are reading this the final body count after a shooting rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut is being finalized.

Like every parent with a pulse when I first heard the report of the shooting at a school my very first thought was of the life and safety of my child. Then, learning that my son was safe I tried to comprehend the news reports of the inevitable suicidal lone gunman shooting twenty small children with an assault rifle typically used by urban SWAT teams.

We have to wonder about what this country will look like in another decade without some dedicated strategy to control the amount and type of guns that are available in this country. It is unthinkable that a third grader cannot go to school safely without body armor – but Kevlar may be part of the 2022 school dress code at the rate we are going.

The gun-loving maniacs of the National Rifle Association have their canned response to this tragedy at the ready. That’s because in the NRA universe there is no need for gun control. The daily tragedy of bloodshed on American streets has nothing to do with the readily availability of lethal weapons. After every Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora and now Newtown, the NRA and the supporters of gun madness would have us believe that rational gun control would not have saved a single life.

But I wish that the NRA representatives would fly to Connecticut and explain to the bereaved mothers and the anguished fathers in Newtown that there is a constitutional right for private citizens to have .223 caliber assault rifles. And then they can do a national tour to Brooklyn and Chicago and Washington and Oakland and New Orleans and explain to the mourners of gunned down Americans why it makes sense to have even limited controls on gun ownership.

House Speaker John Boehner was quoted as saying that he “stands with the citizens of Newtown”, whatever that means. But it is a safe bet that neither he nor any of his Teapublican colleagues who moonlight as NRA lapdogs will do anything about gun control.

President Obama was quoted as saying that it is time for new strategies without a concern for politics. One can suspect that this is a call for gun control in Obamaese. But in these United States of the Gun, President Obama is going to have to be a lot clearer and a lot more vocal.

One wonders what is the body count in a single incident that will finally turn this country in the right direction when it comes to guns. In 1911 146 people (mostly young women) died in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. The enormity of that tragedy led to workplace safety laws that have saved millions of lives during the past century.

We know that 27 people died in Newtown. We know that 32 people were slaughtered at Virginia Tech. We know the numbers in Columbine and Aurora and in the streets of urban America. John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X., John Lennon and so many more iconic individuals have been swept away in gusts of gun smoke. Incredibly and sadly the numbers and the horror have not been enough to bring about any kind of reasonable restraint on guns.

And so we close the day and the week with the wails of sirens and the weeping of parents as fresh blood is washed away until the next massacre. And while it is horrible to say, it is true, there will be a next massacre and another and another until this country becomes sane on the subject of guns.

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Point of View Columns

Guns and Drugs – Stuck on Stupid

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, getting the same result, and always expecting a different result. It could also be a useful definition for stupidity. And, it could also be a useful description of American policy towards guns and drugs over the past forty years. Despite steadfast adherence to failed strategies the United States has stayed mired on the wrong road. Stuck on stupid, as it were.

During the past forty years the United States has had the dubious distinction of having the highest death-by-gun rate per capita of any country in the world. Americans die of gun-related homicides and accidents at horrific rates, punctuated by random catastrophes like Aurora or Virginia Tech or Tucson or Columbine. The primary cause of death of young black men is homicide committed by young black men, typically murdered by a gun.

The United States also is a world leader in the illegal use of drugs. Whether the drug of choice is marijuana, cocaine, oxytocin or methamphetamines, Americans ingest drugs at rates that can only be described as amazing. And despite the expenditure of billions of dollars during the past forty years, drug use and drug abuse continues virtually unabated. And the collateral consequence of the drug trade has been the appearance of mammoth criminal enterprises that control entire neighborhoods in American cities and sometimes entire countries that supply the eternal desire for the eternal high.

The United States has assumed world class status by virtue of it being a focal point for innovation and original thought. This is why it is all the more surprising that, when it comes to guns and drugs, America stays stuck on stupid, trying the same failed policies over and over and expecting that somehow, someway, the results will be different someday.

Despite the daily gun carnage that takes place in the United States, the exceedingly vocal minority gun absolutists, led by the National Rifle Association, have totally hijacked any opportunity for debate and sane discussion on the issue on the control of guns. That anyone could seriously connect possession of armor piercing bullets or assault rifles to some contrived constitutional right is bizarre enough. That such a wrongheaded and societally suicidal mindset could set the narrative for gun control is nothing short of appalling.

There seems to be no death toll high enough, no massacre grotesque enough that will empower and enable common sense in the national dialogue when it comes to guns. Presidents have been slain, heroes have been slaughtered, children have been routinely sacrificed at the point of a gun and still, there is no change in the national dialogue. One wonders what ghastly catastrophe would finally get this country to stop being stuck on stupid when it comes to guns.

And all the while, despite a pitifully ineffective multibillion dollar “war” on drugs during the past forty years, drug usage has not been significantly decreased. But this “war” has eviscerated black and Latino communities across this country through the incarceration of young men for decades for charges that have little or nothing to do with drug trafficking or drug manufacture. The illegal status of these drugs has spawned a prison industrial complex that is highly profitable. The illegal status of these drugs has also given rise to local, national and international drug cartels that trade their commodities on a global level in the multibillion dollar stratosphere.

For those who think that a “war” on drugs is somehow better than legalizing drugs, I recommend “Last Call” by Daniel Okrent. Dr. Okrent chronicles the disastrous failure of Prohibition and points out that it was Prohibition that gave rise to the major national criminal syndicates which plague this country to this very day. Why anyone would think that this “war” on drugs would fare any better than the “war” on alcohol is baffling – the expression “wishful thinking” comes to mind. And so does “stuck on stupid”.

Billions of dollars and millions of lives are being wasted by the structurally damaged American strategies regarding guns and drugs. It is plain to see that there is not enough of a law enforcement presence when it comes to guns. It is also quite clear that the absolute criminalization of the use of drugs has only produced failure with toxic impact on entire communities, and in some cases entire countries.

I do not know how long this country can stay stuck on stupid when it comes to guns and drugs. But it is clear that, until and unless there is change, the reign of misery connected to guns and drugs in America will not end.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – April 20, 2012

Contemporary commentary can sometimes be a sad litany of lurching steps that are taken in the direction of injustice, sometimes in the name of justice. In New York City, a “Stop and Frisk” procedure by the NYPD has resulted in hundreds of thousands of black and Latino young men being stopped and frisked without probable cause. The official reaction is that the declining crime rate justifies turning New York City into a police state. Meanwhile last year there were 5000 gun shows in the United States! That comes to about 13.69 gun shows per day. The NRA doesn’t think that’s enough. And finally, the Teapublicans in the United States Congress want to cut food assistance to needy Americans by redefining need instead of addressing the need. Where are the compassionate conservatives when you need them?

Stop Stop and Frisk

For several years the New York City police department has carried out a “Stop and Frisk” policy whereby individuals can be stopped and frisked on the streets of New York without probable cause. Last year over 600,000 people were stopped. Over 80% of these individuals were black and Latino young men and it seems that the only “probable cause” was that they were black and Latino young men.

New York City officials including the mayor and police commissioner cite the decline in the city’s crime rate as justifying this step that comes perilously close to the slippery slope of the police state. Given that only 10% of the over 600,000 “stops” resulted in probable cause for arrest that claim is tenuous at best. There was also no snow in New York City this past winter and there may be a time that “Stop and Frisk” is credited for this meteorological phenomenon.

Unfortunately, the cynical final spiral of the policy underlying “Stop and Frisk” is that if everyone was arrested, the crime rate would disappear. Constitutional rights cannot just be an inconvenient obstacle to law enforcement. Constitutional rights are part of the laws that are supposed to be enforced.

Gunmageddon

The National Rifle Association had its annual convention in St. Louis last week. In celebrating the cult of guns, the NRA has shown itself willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands of men, women and children on an altar built with assault weapons, armor piercing bullets and a skewed interpretation of the second amendment to the United States Constitution that never contemplated the carnage that has been carried out in its name.

The NRA is proud to tell you that there are over 5000 gun shows in the United States every year. That comes to 13.69 guns shows per day in this country, every day. And it is at these gun shows that whatever limits and controls on the sale of weapons go up in gun smoke. Any fool meditating on committing felonies can stroll into any one of those 13.69 gun shows and purchase enough weaponry to replicate Virginia Tech, Columbine or any of the other countless massacres that ring up the NRA body count scoreboard.

While most Americans favor some kind of control on the sale and use of guns, the United States Congress has shown no interest in even minimal control of assault weapons and the NRA body count scoreboard total continues to rise.

Don’t Let Them Eat Cake

The Teapublicans in the House of Representatives have now come up with a proposal to cut federal expenditures for food stamps over the next five years. This proposal is not based upon some dramatic improvement in the American economy.

Instead, it is based upon the truly mean spirited notion that Americans are simply too dependent on the largesse offered by the federal government.

Incredibly, these self-satisfied and overwhelmingly comfortable gaggles of Babbits cannot even contemplate the idea that the men, women and children who rely upon food stamps are not dining at groaning banquet tables. Social responsibility entails providing for that portion of citizens who need help caring for themselves. Clearly compassion does not translate into the very special language spoken by the denizens of the G.O.Tea Party.

Have a great weekend

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