Another article of faith

Pence rejected a suggestion by CNN host Jake Tapper that lax gun safety laws in his own state, Indiana, may be stoking violence in Chicago. A study by The Trace gun tracking project of firearms recovered in Chicago from 2010 to 2014 found that most out-of-state guns originated in Indiana, which neighbors Illinois to the east.

“Firearms within the hands of law-abiding citizens” increase public safety, Pence said.

— from The Guardian

It’s been said that we should not waste our breath arguing with idiots. So I’ll save mine for later.

Accountability

The New York Times editorial board avers that the National Rifle Association, America’s largest gun lobby, is complicit in this country’s mass murders, of which there are more than one a day. They write:

“America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms,” one spokesman for Al Qaeda said in a 2011 recruitment video. “So what are you waiting for?”

Few places on earth make it easier than the United States for a terrorist to buy assault weapons to mow down scores of people in a matter of minutes. The horrific massacre in Orlando last weekend is only the latest example. And all this is made vastly easier by a gun lobby that has blocked sensible safety measures at every turn, and by members of Congress who seem to pledge greater allegiance to the firearms industry than to their own constituencies. There is a word for their role in this form of terrorism: complicity.

Elsewhere in the paper we learn that the more horrific a shooting event and the more people killed, the more guns bought by America’s crazy, a very large, intractable percentage of the population. And no new laws to stop the insanity.

It didn’t happen after a congresswoman was shot in the head at an official event. It didn’t happen after 20 children were gunned down in their elementary school classrooms. It didn’t happen after terrorists fired on a holiday party at an agency that provided services for people with disabilities in Southern California.

Now, after the worst mass shooting in American history, major new gun control legislation is still not likely to pass in Congress.

I have nothing to say.

Awful ruling a killer

The U.S. Supreme Court, against its own precedents and common sense, decided that the Second Amendment provides an individual right to own and use firearms, regardless of outcomes. The case was District of Columbia v. Heller. Writing for The Nation magazine, Dorothy Samuels declares the decision utterly wrong in nearly every respect, and, in particular, by rejecting the qualifying clause at the beginning of the amendment.

To grasp the audacity of what Scalia & Co. pulled off, turn to the Second Amendment’s text: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” To find in that wording an individual right to possess a firearm untethered to any militia purpose, the majority performed an epic feat of jurisprudential magic: It made the pesky initial clause about the necessity of a “well regulated Militia” disappear. Poof! Gone. Scalia treated the clause as merely “prefatory” and having no real operative effect—a view at odds with history, the fundamental rules of constitutional interpretation, and the settled legal consensus for many decades.

“The Second Amendment was a response to concerns raised during the ratification of the Constitution that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several states,” then-Justice John Paul Stevens correctly noted in his minority opinion, joined by Justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer. “Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature’s authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms.”

We should all appreciate that who accedes to the White House makes all the difference this November. Recall that Mr. Marmalade intoned that he would nominate another Scalia. Talk about blood on the hands.

Weep for America

Tragedies abound, here in the good old USA. Judging by the concerted inaction among those parading as our representatives to stop the mayhem and bloodshed, we can look forward to more of the same, if not worse.

Indeed, on nearly every issue that matters, from health care and employment security to skewed priorities favoring military spending over basic services like education and guaranteed pensions, America’s elected officials consign us to an ugly, nasty, and brutish existence. Except, of course, for the billionaires, who have fashioned a legislative-economic-and-political system that redounds to their benefit, while the Rest of Us practice a crude, spiteful form of social Darwinism. The many must fend for themselves against increasingly miserable odds.

Much of this was brought into sharp, albeit somewhat ironic relief in the newest film by Michael Moore, Where to Invade Next. I commend the movie to you, but here is the quick takeaway: most European countries have those basic services as a matter of right and culture. The promise of our Constitution’s Preamble is being fulfilled elsewhere. Meanwhile, we Americans have been beaten down, denied necessities, and been forced to worship at the altar of unbridled capitalist greed.

I mentioned culture. The many people interviewed by Moore across Europe embraced their countries’ general welfare policies as common-sense givens, integral to the widespread notion that decent society demands people care for one another. Let’s take a quick look.

Moore spoke with several Italians who benefit from extended vacations, holidays, and generous family-leave programs. Italians, both business owners and their employees, believe that happy, well-rested workers make for improved productivity and company balance sheets. Despite receiving upwards of two months or more of paid time off, Italian productivity is just a shade lower than America’s, said Moore.

In Portugal, drug possession and use has been decriminalized completely. As a consequence, usage has plummeted, in part because the Portuguese spend resources on curing addictions. America’s wars on drugs, in contrast, targeting mostly African-Americans, has stocked our nation’s burgeoning prison system. Moore suggests that America reintroduced slavery via its draconian drug policies. And it was no accident.

Moore took us to a public school in France. The cafeteria, to be exact. There a full-time chef plans and produces three-star meals for children, who sit at round tables to which food is delivered by servers. No greasy pizzas. No cans of soda pop. Nothing that is found in the typical American child’s lunch. All healthy stuff, with plenty of vegetables and fruit, eaten over a leisurely hour or so.

In Slovenia Moore found American students earning degrees from that countries’ universities. And get this, at no cost to themselves. Education is completely free, and there is no such thing as student debt. The benefit is afforded to anyone from anywhere, and a hundred or more classes are taught in English.

Workers comprise half the corporate boards of German companies. Moore visited the Farber pencil company. He interviewed workers and managers alike. They reported that the employee involvement in decisions at all levels yielded a better-functioning workplace. Moreover, employees earned a living wage, supplemented by free health care, of course.

What about education? Moore flew north to Finland. I’ve written often about Finnish lessons. (Just search for the term on this site.) Finland completely reformed its education system, which bans private charter schools, by the way. That system is now the envy of the world. Shocking to Americans bombarded by Race to the Top, and No Child Left Behind, not to mention the excessive impositions of Bill Gates, et al.—Finnish children spend the least amount of time in the classroom of all OECD children. They do no homework, and there are no standardized tests.

Iceland was the first nation to elect a woman to its highest political office. That was in 1980, five years after a nationwide strike by women. Today, political bodies and company boards must have at least 40 percent of their membership female, though no gender can exceed 60 percent. During the 2008 global economic crisis, those Icelandic banks led by men all failed. The one dominated by women survived. Also, and worth noting, the male bankers are now spending time in a remote prison. No prominent U.S. banker was ever prosecuted. One woman CEO interviewed by Moore said that she could never live in America, because America is all about the individual and getting more of everything. There is no sense of caring for others, demanded of a decent society. Amen.

I admit to shedding a tear for what could be here in America. We could have all the services and cultural amenities enjoyed by our European counterparts. Indeed, as Moore emphasized at the end of his film, most of the ideas that have become reality in Europe had their origins in the U.S., including the abolition of the death penalty (Michigan in 1846). The Finnish education transformation is based on the teachings of John Dewey, an American philosopher and educator. The Equal Rights Amendment predated Iceland’s woman’s movement, though its ratification failed by three of the 50 states.

Alas, we’re confronted by a growing fascist spectacle and a citizen-less democracy. You, too, should weep for America.

 

If this doesn’t depress you…

…then you’re beyond hope.

I’m alluding to this piece in The Guardian, a graphic that illustrates America’s penchant for mass shootings. This is, after all, an “only-in-America” stat. Here is the paper’s accompanying text:

Sunday’s attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida was the deadliest mass shooting in American history – but there were five other mass shootings in the US during that weekend alone.

“We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world,” Barack Obama said after the San Bernardino attack in December 2015.

Data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive via the crowd-sourced website ShootingTracker.com reveals a shocking human toll: there is a mass shooting – defined as four or more people shot in one incident, not including the shooter – on five out of every six days, on average.

Wild, wild West…

…an expression used by New Orleans Saints head football coach, Sean Payton, to describe the current state of his city. He was reacting to the senseless killing of Will Smith, a defensive end for the team, who was involved in a minor car accident that quickly resulted in his being shot to death by the other party.

“I’ve heard people argue that everybody needs a gun,” Payton said in an interview with USA Today. “That’s madness. I know there are many kids who grow up in a hunting environment. I get that. But there are places, like England, where even the cops don’t have guns.”

But madness is what America is all about, it seems. We should add that Louisiana under Republican “leadership” has become a veritable cesspool in terms of nearly every socioeconomic metric.

Gunning for philosophy

I generally become speechless, if not also apoplectic, when confronted with the gun mongers and their rhetoric. But this is America, so my tongue is often tied. Case in point: Texas.

The benighted legislators of the Lone Star state passed a law that allows for students and faculty to carry “concealed” guns on college campuses. It becomes effective this August 1. Now, I find it impossible to see the logic of commingling guns with schools. It’s like trying to discover an intelligent office holder in Texas. Oxymorons, while rare in civilized society, are evidently abundant in entire states, especially in the South, where all of the species’ worst aspects inhere.

A graduate student in philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, the state capital, tried to be reasonable in the face of the new law. She penned an objection in her initial reaction. Today, she writes for the New York Times on the subject.

In general, we do not feel apprehension about the presence of strong people in spaces reserved for intellectual debate (although we might in other contexts — a boxing ring, say, or a darkened alley), but we do feel apprehension about the presence of a gun. This is because the gun is not there to contribute to the debate. It exists primarily as a tool for killing and maiming. Its presence tacitly relates the threat of physical harm.

As for debate, the University of Houston promulgated some pedagogical guidelines:

“be careful in discussing sensitive topics; to drop certain topics from curriculum; [to] not ‘go there’ if you sense anger…”.

Conservatives loathe critical thinking and liberal minds in general (liberal in the very literal sense). They have therefore sought to exclude or limit topics to which they object. In the South state boards of education work hard to purge curricula of facts, choosing instead to promote a kinder, gentler approach to slavery, lynchings, and the whole concept of the Confederacy. Further, the reactionary mind rejects “political correctness,” believing that men should dominate women, whites should rule, and people of color should live elsewhere.

One consequence of the campus carry law is to stifle intellectual debate. The bible may be safe. But beware the evolutionists and philosophers.