Archive for May, 2022

Breaking the deadlock on guns – posted 5/29/2022

May 29, 2022 2 comments

It is hard not to feel hopeless and cynical in the face of mass shootings like Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas. The national failure to act is long-standing and could not be more apparent. Beyond sending prayers, all legislation has been sclerotically deadlocked in Congress. Republicans, captive to the gun lobby, stonewall. Democrats lack the votes to move forward any gun control legislation.

If we step back though, it should be clear that these mass shootings are not inevitable. They are largely preventable. It is not a given that the United States should have a gun homicide rate 25 times higher than peer advanced countries. The problem is too easy access to too many guns.

There are estimated to be over 400 million guns in the U.S.. Constitutional protection for gun ownership does not preclude reasonable regulation of guns. No constitutional right is absolute. While the Supreme Court appears poised to loosen gun restrictions in a New York case, that does not mean that all gun control reforms will not pass constitutional muster.

In spite of the current political balance of forces and the likelihood the filibuster can stop reform now, there is a strong and popular gun control agenda which could be winning but it requires a long-term perspective. It will take some years to achieve to get the votes. Such an agenda could, over time, significantly reduce mass shootings.

The organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, has an agenda of reforms: background checks on all gun sales, red flag laws, prohibiting people with dangerous histories from having guns, banning assault weapons, and barring high capacity magazines and bump stock devices.

Background checks are currently required for all gun sales by licensed gun dealers but not for unlicensed sellers. Unlicensed sellers could be doing business at gun sales or online. If you have a felony conviction or a domestic violence restraining order or some other reason to evade a licensed seller, no universal background check fast tracks lethal access. Why in the world should this be allowed?

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, one in three mass shooters have been legally prohibited from possessing firearms at the time of their shooting. We should not be making it so easy for mass shooters.

Red flag laws allow relatives or law enforcement to temporarily remove a person’s access to guns when there are warning signs that the person is in crisis and they might harm themselves, family members or others. Such laws require a due process hearing before a judge.

Nineteen states already have such laws. Everytown for Gun Safety says that in 56% of mass shootings, the shooter exhibited dangerous warning signs before the shooting. In 2020, Governor Chris Sununu vetoed a red flag bill that passed the N.H. Legislature. Do we really want people who are threatening others or themselves to have access to lethal weapons? That is crazy.

One thread that has been inadequately explored by the media is the relationship between mass shooting and hatred of women. In so many mass shootings, misogyny motivates violence and guns have had a major presence just as they have in everyday domestic violence. Guns are typically the weapon of choice.

Guns seem to provide abusers a sense of empowerment they are lacking in their life. Earlier in my life, when I represented domestic violence victims in court, I was struck by how abusers used their guns to threaten, intimidate and control their victims. More than half of mass shootings are domestic violence-related.

Preventing people with dangerous histories from having guns should be a no-brainer. If you are a convicted felon, a domestic violence abuser under a restraining order, a convicted stalker or someone suffering from severe mental illness, guns are not for you. Under these circumstances, the law should mandate forfeiture of lethal weapons and gun rights.

Now there is a creepy online subculture of incels, misogyny and male supremacy. Mass shootings are almost exclusively committed by men. We should be studying how and why male rage is playing.a role in these shootings. The mass murder committed by an incel in Isla Vista, California in 2014 is a blueprint and reflects an ideological viewpoint.

Quite a few of these mass shootings connect up to a violent ideology of the far right. The shooters are often performing for an online audience of male supremacist and white supremacist haters. It is generally a mistake to see these shooters as lone wolves. I suggest, as in Buffalo, their motivation is revealing and provides clues for those investigating why these shootings are happening.

Mass shooters typically now use assault weapons which are really military weapons. They fire far more bullets much faster than manual-action hunting rifles. When assault weapons are used in a mass shooting six times as many people are shot. Each round from an assault weapon also inflicts greater damage to the human body than a round from a typical handgun.

High capacity magazines and devices like bump stocks also have no legitimate civilian use. They are about killing more people faster. Bump stocks are used to convert rifles into machine guns. The 2017 Las Vegas shooter who used AR-type rifles with bump stocks shot over a thousand rounds in a matter of minutes. He killed 59 and injured over 500 others.

As with assault rifles, high capacity magazines (defined as ammunition feeding devices capable of holding more than 10 rounds) lead to many more shot quickly without needing to pause to reload. Mass shooting incidents where the firearm was equipped with a high-capacity magazine resulted in nearly five times as many people shot and twice as many fatalities.

It is highly likely those opposed to any gun control will talk about the slippery slope and how gun control would interfere with self-defense. It should be clear that such arguments are false on their face. Many gun control reforms do not interfere with law-abiding gun owners’ rights.

There are no miracle cures for America’s mass shootings but that does not mean that nothing can be done. It is going to take political will and a long-term strategy committed to reducing the incidence of mass shootings. Mass shootings are a horrible indictment of America and they should be considered unacceptable for any civilized society.

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The Buffalo shooter and the poison of white supremacy – posted 5/22/2022

May 22, 2022 1 comment

Among the extremely upsetting aspects of the Buffalo domestic terror shooting is the news that a great many Americans accept some version of the great replacement theory, the ideology espoused by the Buffalo shooter. That theory holds that elites are attempting to destroy the white race through systematic replacement by non-white groups.

In a new poll, the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found one in three Americans believe in some variant of replacement theory. The theory had been fringe. The poll appears to indicate it is much more widely accepted by the American public.

The great replacement theory is often framed as anti-immigrant because they are the supposed replacers but in the case of Buffalo, the shooter blamed black people.The shooter argued genetics, white superiority and black inferiority. Somehow, he convinced himself that the threat to white people was so dire it justified mass murder.

Fear of whites becoming a minority in America along with fixation on white birthrates and white fertility consumed him. He maintained there is a genetic basis for the racial IQ gap. He also argued there is a genetic basis for higher rates of crime committed by black people.

His belief system led him to drive three hours to a largely black zip code he did not know and shoot complete strangers. He killed ten people and wounded three.

In his writing, the shooter also argued that blacks were not intelligent enough to engineer the replacement of whites. He blamed the Jews as the masterminds behind replacement. He said Jews control academia, the media and industry. He connected Jews to child abuse and pedophilia. Finally, he argued that Jews were behind both the NAACP and Black Lives Matter.

I do wonder, given the rural area where the shooter lived, if he had ever had any kind of personal contact with a black person or a Jewish person in his life. He became a fascist through internet browsing. He said he was bored during the pandemic. His goal was to kill as many black people as possible.

There is no great mystery in how replacement theory became popularized. It used to be circulating very narrowly among white nationalists, Klansmen and neo-Nazis. Then cable TV, especially FOX and Tucker Carlson picked it up, sanitized it and mainstreamed it. Carlson doesn’t talk about Jewish cabals but the message is essentially the same. Instead of a Klansman in a robe, you have a very respectable-looking preppy wearing a suit.

The replacement theory is now talking points for all kinds of Republican candidates.

The New York Times investigation of Carlson identified more than 400 episodes of Carlson’s show where he pushed core principles of great replacement theory. Carlson reframed the issue as voter replacement. He has argued that President Biden weaponized immigration as a political tool to strengthen Democrats and weaken the power of white people.

There is little question that white nationalists love Tucker Carlson. Carlson remains extremely popular. His show remains the most watched cable news show for American adults between 25-54. In his book Rising out of Hatred, Eli Saslow showed how white nationalists consider Carlson one of their own because of his ability to carry their message into the public space like no one else.

It is a mistake to conflate the Buffalo shooter’s actions with mental illness. The shooter was meticulous in his planning and execution. As with the other white supremacist mass shooters in New Zealand, Pittsburgh and El Paso, a warped ideology drove him.

CNN reported the shooter had studied previous hate attacks and shootings. He had visited the Tops supermarket in early March and then again the day before the shooting. He had considered attacking a church or elementary school but chose a supermarket because of the number of people that go to grocery stores.

He looked to Google’s “popular time” graph for the Tops supermarket to figure the best time for his attack. He planned the attack for the time the store would be busiest so he could shoot the most people.

Rather than mental illness, I would locate the Buffalo shooting inside the context of American history. The great replacement theory is not new. Since the very beginning of America, there has been a struggle between the forces committed to the preservation of white power and those fighting for multi-racial democracy.

The Buffalo shooter is part of a deep-seated tradition of racism and white supremacy that goes back to the earliest days of the republic. The founding generation created a white republic. Democratic ideals were compromised by accommodation with slavery.

The three-fifths clause of the U.S. Constitution declared that for purposes of representation in Congress enslaved blacks would be counted as three-fifths of the number of white inhabitants of that state. The three-fifths clause remained in effect until passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.

Ironically, the best argument for great replacement can be made by Native Americans. The country was founded on genocide and extermination of indigenous people. White people have been the replacers of Native Americans.

Along the way in American history, those committed to preservation of white supremacy have a formidable track record, using law and violence. I think of Dred Scott and the Supreme Court saying “Black people have no rights which the white man was bound to respect”. After Reconstruction, there was Jim Crow and the lynching of over 4000 African Americans.

The twentieth century featured the battle against racial segregation. Many white people persistently attempted to maintain white power. For example, Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo wrote a book in 1947 titled Take your choice: separation or mongrelization. An influential racist, Bilbo was a senator from 1935 to 1947. He claimed he was not prejudiced but he argued that he would rather see his race blotted out with an atomic bomb than destroyed by interbreeding and intermarriage.

I submit that the recurrence of mass murders committed by white supremacists is best addressed through anti-racist education in schools. Young people need to understand the harmfulness of white supremacy. Opposing critical race theory and education about racism is moving in a completely wrong direction. We need anti-racist education to counter the online white supremacists who target and prey on young people.

The Buffalo shooter’s half-baked ideas need to be confronted and refuted. There is no white genocide or imminent collapse of white people. Nor is there any replacement. Change is a constant but the Buffalo shooter’s ideas were a product of ideological delusion. Demographic change is not “an invasion”.

President Biden was right when he called white supremacy “a poison”. Experience shows that the “grooming” we should be most concerned about is the online grooming of young people into hateful white supremacists.The Buffalo shooting was a modern-day lynching. It is way past time for the horrifying practice of lynchings to end.

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The problem with Democrats – posted 5/14/2022

May 15, 2022 1 comment

The Democrats are facing a scary mid-term election. Parties in power typically lose ground in the mid-terms. Add high gas prices and inflation to the mix, issues where voters often blame office-holders, and Democratic odds plummet.

As a big tent party, perspectives vary dramatically about how Democrats should respond to a possible electoral debacle. Party centrists like President Biden and former President Obama seem to think there is primarily a communication problem. Democrats have failed to make their case to the public. As Obama has said, “we got a story to tell, just got to tell it”.

Both President Biden and Obama would tout the virtues of the American Rescue Plan and the Administration’s COVID-19 response. While these accomplishments are real and did confer benefits to many Americans, as a political strategy, this is a guaranteed loser.

Polls show that 74 percent of Americans think America is “on the wrong track”. Biden’s approval rating has fallen sharply, especially among young people. Are Democrats really going to run on the idea that Americans need to appreciate how good their lives are? Reporter John Nichols of the Nation Magazine shows how this would be a replay of 1994 and 2010. Centrist Democrats tried essentially the same play with losing results.

Let me lay out the progressive response for how Democrats should forge ahead. To be the party of the people, not their corporate donors, the Democrats need a course correction. They need to stand for some tangible progressive goals and they need some additional accomplishments to point to that could mobilize their base.

The Democratic leadership is profoundly out of touch with its own party base. Unlike the Republicans who embrace the outrage of their base no matter how crazy, Democratic leaders are generally terrified of their base. You often hear it said that Democrats bring a knife to a gun fight. Sometimes it seems like Democrats don’t know how to fight.

Since Roe v Wade stands on the brink of being overturned, I will cite the example of abortion rights. Americans, and particularly American women, are facing an epic disaster: the loss of constitutional rights that have been guaranteed for fifty years. It is hard to overstate the magnitude of the loss.

While Republicans prioritized restricting and eliminating abortion, Democrats have long sidelined abortion rights. Many Democratic leaders have been afraid to even say the word “abortion”. Joe Biden himself did not say the word until 200 days into his presidency.

The Roe news demonstrates the poverty of the Democratic response. Even though Roe has been under serious attack for at least 40 years, Democrats failed to codify the law or take steps to prepare for the current horrendous outcome. Whether it was the Hyde Amendment or state restrictions on abortion, Democrats have often conciliated the anti-abortion forces. For many years they have been afraid to make abortion an issue they stood behind.

Even now, Democratic Party leadership including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn are supporting Texas anti-abortion Congressman Henry Cuellar in a primary battle against abortion rights advocate and civil rights attorney Jessica Cisneros. The FBI recently raided Cuellar’s home and campaign office.

This is how Democratic leaders fight for abortion rights when Roe is going down the drain? They support an anti-abortion politician being investigated for corruption over a highly competent and competitive pro-choice candidate. The Democratic leadership is committing political malpractice. It looks like party leaders stand for nothing except their own power.

There is a complete lack of vision on the Democratic side. In contrast, the Republicans engineered a long-term campaign to destroy all abortion rights in the U.S.. They will likely try to extend bans beyond the states where abortion becomes outlawed. Whether it is access to medication abortion, the right to travel to states where abortion is legal for care or the criminalization of those having abortions and their medical providers, legal challenges are certain.

A wider constellation of rights than just abortion rights stand gravely endangered. The same reasoning employed by Justice Alito could be used to overturn marriage equality, LBGTQ rights and contraceptive rights.

Although highly unpopular, the anti-abortion forces stand on the brink of success. Their movement-building has obviously been very effective. They are in the process of gutting reproductive rights for millions.

Democrats can learn from the anti-abortion movement. Democrats need to flip the script and build an abortion rights movement that has its own moral fervor. The anti-abortion movement had lost Roe v Wade by a 7-2 Supreme Court margin. It took 50 years of organizing but the movement shows how an outsider political movement can strengthen the insider political battle and change the composition of the Court.

The Democratic brand is damaged goods because it has failed to deliver. Even holding the White House and both Houses of Congress, Democratic accomplishments are so disappointing. The high hopes of Build Back Better have been dashed. Biden could not use the bully pulpit to corral Manchin or Sinema. In spite of looming climate catastrophe, the Democrats did not succeed in passing even the climate provisions of Build Back Better. Nor could they protect voting rights.

To regain the political initiative, Democrats need to stand up for working people, not the professional-managerial elite. So many Americans are struggling with low wages, debt, homelessness and too-expensive housing and lack of health care. The gap between the ultra-rich and everyone else has become immense.

I believe the best course for Democrats is to stand for goals that represent change like Medicare for all, $15 minimum wage, cancellation of significant student loan debt, support for union organizing, immediate action on climate, unequivocal support for abortion rights and protection of voting rights. Democrats must oppose the disgusting hate and xenophobia from the other side.

To win, Democrats will need a big turnout from their core constituencies including working people, women, minorities and young people. Even without Congress, Biden could do some things which would mobilize his base.

Biden could use executive authority to forgive the first $50,000 in federal student loan debt for every borrower with federal student loans. He could find more ways to support union organizing which he seems inclined to do. He could crack down on Wall Street and monopolies. He could expand the refugee cap for immigrants. He could grant clemency to Native American leader, Leonard Peltier.

Democrats need to give their voters reasons to turn out. The absolute debasement of the Republican Party does not guarantee Democratic turnout. Democrats need to junk their unearned self-righteousness. The reversal of Roe is a warning shot and much worse could come down.

Democrats will never match Republicans in amoral ruthlessness but you have to admire the Republican level of fight and never backing off. Too often Democrats appear scared of their own shadows as has been the case with abortion rights.

The swimmer, Diana Nyad once said, “A champion is someone who never gives up”. The Democrats could use some of that spirit. The stakes could not be much higher.

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Stupidity in the service of fascism – posted 5/7/2022

May 7, 2022 3 comments

Our politics keep getting more backwards and stupid. I will give my examples but these are just a small sampling on what could be a much longer list.

  • The Florida Department of Education is banning dozens of math books because they contain questions and exercises based on critical race theory. This is a head scratcher. Hello, but math and critical race theory do not exactly go together. They are like apples and oranges. Next thing you know, Florida will be banning math books for mention of Bigfoot.
  • Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has been saying women who have abortions were manipulated into it by Satan. Greene says Satan promised women they would be married if they did his bidding, abortion-wise. She has also said the Catholic Church is run by Satan. Say what you will about Greene but she does have a hotline to Satan. Beelzebub is apparently whispering in her ear.
  • During confirmation hearings, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) falsely accused new Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson of giving child pornographers unusually lenient sentences and soft treatment. Republicans pushed the nonsensical narrative that anyone who supported her confirmation was sympathetic to pedophilia. It is telling they felt compelled to adhere to a Q’Anon story line.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, described his anti-gay “Don’t say gay” law as “the Anti-Grooming Bill”. She tweeted that if you are against the bill “you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children”. The obsession with grooming is also pure Q’Anon conspiracy theory. What’s next: accusing Democrats of practicing witch craft?
  • CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, is holding its upcoming conference in Hungary, a country that has undermined democracy, curbed free media and dispensed with judicial independence. The keynote speaker of the CPAC Conference will be Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a long-time supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin. CPAC is enamored with Orban’s attacks on LGBTQ rights as well as his immigration hardline. This is a kind of anti-democratic handwriting on the wall, showing a fawning admiration for authoritarianism.
  • Reported by Hugo Lowell of the Guardian, the Justice Department has alleged that Stewart Rhodes, leader of the Oath Keepers militia, was trying to reach former President Trump on January 6 to allow his group to forcibly stop the transfer of power to Joe Biden. The call to a Trump confidant who remains unidentified occurred after the Capitol was stormed. With others from the Oath Keepers leadership, Rhodes made the call on speaker phone and implored the person to get Trump’s authorization. Rhodes had quick reaction forces with guns and ammunition near the capitol. The Trump confidant who Rhodes contacted refused his request to speak with Trump. Rhodes is charged with seditious conspiracy because of his role on January 6.

I am sure there are those who will object to the characterization of these examples as backwards or stupid. As pointed out by Steven Nadler, stupidity is not the same as ignorance or incompetence or folly. Nadler writes:

“Stupidity is a kind of intellectual stubbornness. A stupid person has access to all the information necessary to make an appropriate judgment, to come up with a set of reasonable and justified beliefs and yet fails to do so.”

The examples I cited might appear to be random and disconnected but I would suggest they reflect a process of intellectual and political degeneration. Unfounded accusations of grooming or pedophilia are vicious name-calling. This is not your grandfather’s Republican Party. We have been witnessing the transformation of a formerly conservative party into a fascist cult.

Americans generally do not pay that much attention to politics and, by and large, they are failing to see the fascist threat. Republicans aren’t just accepting another different set of ideas. Their thinking is clouded by disinformation, conspiracy theories, hate and fear. They want to go back to a magic time (“Make America Great Again”) that never existed. Alexander Hemon writes:

“Fascism’s central idea, appearing in a small repertoire of familiar guises, is that there are classes of human beings who deserve diminishment and destruction because they’re for some reason (genetic, cultural, whatever) inherently inferior to “us’.”

Fascists think the inferior group contaminates the nation or the white race. They see the supposedly inferior group as destroying our culture.

This is exactly the approach the Trump cult is taking to immigrants. This goes back at least to Trump’s June 2015 ride down the golden escalator when he tagged Mexicans as “bringing drugs” and as “rapists”. He wanted “a total and complete shutdown on Muslims entering the U.S.”. Trump called Latinos “animals” and “invaders”.

Trump’s message has been simple: we must take action or perish as a nation. Fascism is less a set of beliefs than a set of actions to fight. It is not just about owning the libs. It is about hurting people you hate. A sense of grievance and scoring-settling permeates MAGA. Chauncey de Vega put it this way:

“Fascism is an anti-human philosophy. It channels death. It is “masculine” in the most crude, negative, regressive, destructive and dangerous sense of that word. It embraces, encourages and endorses violence and views compromise, intellect and reason as “feminine” weakness.”

I found it revealing that according to former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Trump wanted to deploy the military in Washington D.C. to shoot those demonstrating and protesting the murder of George Floyd. While not all Republicans are members of the Trump cult, they are now the dominant faction.

The mass media has minimized and tried to normalize the Republican Party’s new incarnation. It would be a grievous mistake if Democrats underestimate the Trump cult. They won once already. They consistently push a disproven Big Lie and they organized a coup to topple democracy. They lost but got over 74 million votes in 2020.

This threat is deadly serious. It is Democrats versus fascists now. As with abortion rights, if given the chance, fascists will roll back the clock on a wide range of human rights. All who care about democracy must realize this is no joke.

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