Nel's New Day

January 31, 2013

Gun Deaths – The Culture of Violence, Part 1

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The NRA would deprive you of the first and third, by redefining the second.”—Douglas Anthony Cooper

Nine days after she led her classmates in the King College Prep School Marching Band for the inauguration parade, Hadiya Pendleton was gunned down a few blocks from her school. Last year, gun-related murders in Chicago were 58 percent higher than the number of U.S. soldiers shot and killed in Afghanistan.

Three days earlier, seven people were killed and six wounded because of gun violence in Chicago. One of them was 34-year-old Ronnie Chambers whose mother had already lost her other three children to shootings.

Two days ago in Midland City (AL) Jimmy Lee Dykes, a 65, killed a school bus driver, and kidnapped a six-year-old boy.  Witnesses reported that Dykes boarded the school bus filled with grade school children when it stopped at one of its regular drop-off points and brandished a gun, telling the bus driver, “I need two kids between the ages of 6 and 8.” The bus driver replied, “I can’t do that” and attempted to get away. That’s when Dykes shot and killed him.  The shooter then holed up in a bunker keeping law officers at bay. Three days later, he is still holding the boy in the bunker. Negotiators are trying to communicate with Dykes through a 4-inch-wide ventilation pipe. 

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), strong supporter of budget cuts to decrease funds for more police officers on the streets, said he wants high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic weapons because budget cuts mean inadequate police forces.  This is the same senator who told Fox News that “Hillary Clinton got away with murder” when he talked about the four deaths in Benghazi.

The Missouri state senate is considering a law requiring all first-graders to take a gun safety training course. This is in a state that has no sexual education requirement to help students protect themselves from STIs or unintended pregnancies.

Fontana Unified School District superintendent authorized the purchase of 14 high-caliber rifles at $1,000 each to be stored on campuses around the district for use in attacks like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary. Two years ago the district closed its counseling program; the purchase of guns does not address students’ mental issues.

The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police collaborated with New Hampshire gun makers Sig Sauer and Sturm, Ruger & Company in a fundraising program. They will auction off a Ruger SR-556C assault rifle and 30 other guns, one each day of the month, to the highest bidder.

In St. Paul, Kirill Bartashevitch, 51, pointed his recently-purchased assault rifle at his teenage daughter and wife because his daughter got two B’s in school instead of straight A’s. He also threw his wife to the floor. He told the police that it wasn’t a problem because the gun wasn’t loaded and he had checked the chamber earlier.

These tragedies are only a few of the daily occurrences in the United States. Yesterday, the U.S. Senate held a hearing in an introduction to legislating gun laws. At the same time as the hearing, a man shot three people in a north-central Phoenix (AZ) office complex after the shooter did not do well in a civil mediation meeting. One of them has died, another is expected to die, and the man who did the shooting was found dead of a self-inflicted gun shot.

The Senate hearing got off to a violent start when NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and his bodyguards walked off the elevator in the Dirksen Senate Office Building yesterday. Finding TV cameras waiting for them, one of the men “bumped and body-checked journalists out of the way so they couldn’t film LaPierre or question him as he walked,” according to columnist Dana Milbank. After a journalist was pushed against a wall, congressional officials told the NRA officials that congressional procedures prevented manhandling.

Two years ago, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in the head while addressing her constituents in a Tucson Safeway parking lot. Six other people were killed by the shooter who had a semi-automatic weapon with a high-capacity magazine. Yesterday she read the following statement at a Senate hearing on gun violence. Everyone should hear her statement.

“Thank for inviting me here today. This an important conversation for our children, for our community, for Democrats and Republicans. Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”

At the hearing, James Johnson, Baltimore County chief of police and chair of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, said “the best way to stop a bad guy from getting a gun in the first place is a good background check.” But LaPierre said the NRA opposes closing the gun show loophole, claiming that background checks are pointless, as are other gun laws, because criminals and the mentally ill don’t abide by them. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) responded, “Mr. LaPierre, that’s the point. The criminals won’t go to purchase the guns because there will be a background check.”

Although–thanks to Congress–there is no formal process for tabulating the number of gun deaths in the U.S., an informal count shows that at least 1478 people have died because of guns in the United States since the tragic event at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown (CT).

August 21, 2012

Journalists Claim Family Research Council Not Hate Group

Last week, 28-year-old Floyd Lee Corkins II shot the security guard at the Family Research Council’s (FRC) headquarters in Washington, D.C. Because he was restrained, he couldn’t shoot anyone else with his 9mm handgun. This seems to be the first shooting within the past few years on conservative groups; the others, sometimes wholesale slaughter, have been directed at liberals or minorities such as the Sikhs or just seemingly in general, as the one in the Colorado movie theater.

Terrified about labeling shootings as hate crimes and doing something about people having the right to purchase guns without any permits, the right-wingers have said that these shootings of liberals have had nothing to do with political philosophy, that it is just one crazy person killing others without any political reason. Now we have a liberal shooting someone connected with conservatives. Is it still just one crazy person without any political perspective? Not when the conservatives are the target.

Tony Perkins, FRC leader, said that critics gave Corkins “a license to shoot an unarmed man.” He also wants the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) declared a hate group. Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, said, “It was left on right violence. It is soon to be the new norm.” These people represent those who have previously claimed that conservatives calling on violence has nothing to do with all the people being killed in the name of conservatism.

Other people, fighting the possibility that the growing number of killings related to politics and prejudice might help even a tiny bit of gun control, waffled about whether it’s possible that people use personal ideology to kill others.  is one of those who tries to look as if he is sitting on the fence. After explaining that the shooting at FRC had nothing to do with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the SPLC labeling FRC as a “hate group,” he continues by explaining that the liberal organizations are “reckless” in doing this.

Then Milbank tries to explain how FRC are really good guys, just disagreeing with the HRC and the SPLC, that it isn’t like groups like the Aryan Nations, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Westboro Baptist Church. To prove his point, he uses the most benign quote possible.

Milbank overlooks the fact that officials in the FRC have claimed  that pedophilia is “a homosexual problem” and that homosexuality should be criminalized. One FRC official said that he wanted to “export homosexuals from the United States” and advocated the criminalizing of homosexuality. A 1999 FRC pamphlet reads: “One of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the prophets of a new sexual order.” Their philosophy hasn’t changed. Perkins himself has said that “the research is overwhelming that homosexuality poses a danger to children” despite the fact that research concludes the opposite.

Another hate group that doesn’t seem to bother Milbank is the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) which has committed fraud in its attempts to stop marriage equality. Now NOM has said that the attack “is the clearest sign we’ve seen that labeling pro-marrige groups as ‘hateful’ must end.” Spokespeople for NOM have compared homosexuality to bestiality and child abuse (Rev. William Owens) and compared gay rights groups to Nazis whose actions recall “the times of Hitler” (Bishop Harry Jackson).

Anyone who believes that the FRC doesn’t promote hate when it spews bile about the dangers of LGBT people should consider the number of violent acts against those classified as “homosexual”—the murder of one lesbian and near-killing of another in Texas, the mutilation of the lesbian in Nebraska, and on and on. The FBI reported almost 14 hate crimes against lesbians and gays every day—every day—in 2009. Because many LGBT people do not report hate crimes or police refuse to accept crimes as being in this category, there are surely far more than this number.

Through their vicious diatribes, hate groups promote bullying of children and LGBT youth suicide. Here are some frightening statistics about LGBTQ youth: 65.4 percent experienced sexual harassment; 68.6 percent felt unsafe in high school; 83.2 percent suffered verbal harassment; 40.1 percent reported physical harassment; and 18.8 percent reported being assaulted. LGBT youth are 2-3 times more like to consider suicide than non-LGBTQ youth. They also have a much higher percentage of homelessness than other young people. These LGBTQ youth suffer from hate, usually promoted by hate groups claiming to be Christian.

The SPLC’s decision to classify FRC as a hate group uses the group’s record of purveying stereotypes, prejudice, and junk science as a justification to deny LGBT people equal rights and criminalize their conduct. Hate may be permitted under the First Amendment but so is declaring another organization a hate group. If these organizations claimed that people of color are inherently prone to committing certain crimes and called for laws restricting their behavior, they would certainly be called a hate group. The same holds true for saying these things about LGBT people.

Maybe the lesson will come home to these hate groups. If they consider ideas can cause violence against them, they might consider that their ideology can result in violence against the people they oppose.

And journalists who think that the FRC is just a nice, mainstream Christian group should dig a little deeper into the facts. It’s not hard to find.

April 25, 2012

Romney: ‘Vote for Me; I’m Great’

“I have a very different vision for America, and of our future. It is an America driven by freedom, where free people, pursuing happiness in their own unique ways, create free enterprises that employ more and more Americans. Because there are so many enterprises that are succeeding, the competition for hard-working, educated and skilled employees is intense, and so wages and salaries rise.

“I see an America with a growing middle class, with rising standards of living. I see children even more successful than their parents – some successful even beyond their wildest dreams – and others congratulating them for their achievement, not attacking them for it.

“This America is fundamentally fair. We will stop the unfairness of urban children being denied access to the good schools of their choice; we will stop the unfairness of politicians giving taxpayer money to their friends’ businesses; we will stop the unfairness of requiring union workers to contribute to politicians not of their choosing; we will stop the unfairness of government workers getting better pay and benefits than the taxpayers they serve; and we will stop the unfairness of one generation passing larger and larger debts on to the next.

“In the America I see, character and choices matter.  And education, hard work, and living within our means are valued and rewarded.  And poverty will be defeated, not with a government check, but with respect and achievement that is taught by parents, learned in school, and practiced in the workplace.”

Nobody can disagree with the importance of fairness, rising salaries, growing middle class, small business, education and hard work, etc. In fact, President Obama has been talking about these for years. These are the values that Mitt Romney espoused last night in his kickoff speech as presidential nominee for the GOP. Not enough delegates yet, but everyone else is dropping like flies except Ron Paul. Romney’s basic problem with his speech is no explanation of how he would accomplish these laudatory goals.

Romney’s speech could be summed up in one statement: “Vote for me: I know America is a great country.”

In discussing Romney’s speech, Ezra Klein described the three parts of an effective political speech: extolling values; defining policy goals; and providing specific ideas or proposals or programs that achieve these goals. Romney did two out of three but nothing about how he plans to raise salaries etc.  Keeping general keeps from alienating much of his audience. Between supporting the Ryan budget and discriminating against immigrants, Romney has a big problem.

Republicans do seem to be falling in line behind Romney. Despite an earlier statement from one Congressman that Congress is not there to be Romney’s cheerleaders, both House and Senate conservatives are already changing their positions on key issues. Romney supports the Violence against Women Act, so Republicans senators say they will vote for the bill, letting Republican representatives in the House fight about the controversial language expanding special visas to illegal immigrants seeking protection from abuse, a provision specifically naming same-sex partners as eligible for domestic violence programs, and another empowering American-Indian tribal authorities to prosecute abuses alleged to have happened on their reservations.

Once in lockstep opposition to keeping the interest rate below 4 percent for college loans, Republicans are now vigorously supporting the extension of the current interest rate for federal student loans for one more year on top of the past five years. (Republicans are big on short-term fixes!) The catch is that while Democrats plan to pay for the supposed $6 billion cost by ending tax subsidies for oil and gas companies, Republicans hope to take the funding from the health care “slush fund”—House Speaker John Boehner’s words. As usual, the Republicans prefer to give money to wealthy corporations rather than using it to fight obesity and tobacco use as well as respond to public health threats and outbreaks.

Thus Romney shows support for women through VAWA and students through the federal loan program. He has a harder time with immigration reform even with Republican support in an attempt at an the “Etch a Sketch” reversal. Republicans have their own 180-degree turns: in February Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) criticized Romney’s “self-deportation” approach, that life be made so miserable for Latino immigrants that they leave this country. Now McCain emphatically claims that Romney never made that statement, despite videos of Romney using this term, even in his debates last year.

Also in the debates, Romney referred to Arizona’s discriminatory law SB1070 mandating profiling people as a “model” for the nation. In a current poll, 14 percent of the Latinos support Romney whereas 70 percent support President Obama, a separation that might grow when the reason behind SB1070 becomes better publicized. Co-authors Kris Kobach, past Romney adviser, worried about foreign terrorists, while Michael Hethmon feared that immigrants would overburden the environment.

According to Hethmon, immigration is “on track to change the demographic makeup of the entire country. You know, what they call ‘minority-majority.’ ” Hethmon said, “How many countries have gone through a transition like that–peacefully, carefully? It’s theoretically possible, but we don’t have any examples.” So the purpose of SB1070 as a “model” is to keep the country from making a “transition” away from a majority of Anglos?

Women, immigrants, massive cuts to the country’s safety net—these are parts of the baggage that Romney will carry during his campaign against President Obama. As Dana Milbank wrote, “Aficionados of the Etch a Sketch will recall a certain flaw in the toy: If you use it often, some of the lines drawn no longer disappear when you shake the device, instead leaving an indelible trace of where you have been.” The lines are not disappearing for Mitt Romney’s outrageously far-right statements no matter what platitudes he spouts in speeches.

Correction: The North Carolina election for the anti-marriage equality amendment is on May 8.

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