See No Evil

Since the Sandy Hook tragedy, I have heard many references to “evil.”

I am in Arizona as I write this, and Governor Jan Brewer, who has signed some of the most ridiculously lax gun legislation in the country—anyone can carry a concealed weapon without so much as a background check or training—said:

There are evil, evil people in our country, unfortunately, and in the world. And I don’t know how we get our arms around it.

In his remarks during Sunday’s prayer vigil, President Obama said,

As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown.  In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other, and you’ve cared for one another, and you’ve loved one another.  This is how Newtown will be remembered.  And with time, and God’s grace, that love will see you through.

When one uses evil in this context, in the context of “indescribable violence,” it is ultimately meant to describe some kind of unseen diabolical force, a force that can be contrasted to an unseen good force: “love” operating under “God’s grace.” I understand the term evil used this way. It’s how people talk about what they perceive as incomprehensible acts by fellow human beings against other fellow human beings. It is sort of shorthand for our ignorance of why bad things happen, especially why bad things happen to six- and seven-year old kids in a school classroom.

But look at this picture:

article_lanza1_1215

Is this the picture of evil?

That, of course, is the picture of mass-murderer Adam Lanza. The boy in that picture, some eight or nine years after it was taken, would kill his mother, twenty little kids and six adults trying to protect them, then ultimately himself. Look at that picture and tell me where the evil is.

Adam Lanza was not evil then, nor was he evil when he mercilessly gunned down helpless children. He was a seriously disturbed human being who lived in a culture that has yet to figure out how to handle seriously disturbed human beings, nor how to keep them away from dangerous weapons, some of which shouldn’t even be available to people who are not disturbed.

We can talk about common sense gun regulations, as we should, but let’s don’t pretend that we can seriously address the problem, a problem that Adam Lanza has so bloodily forced us to face, without addressing the social problems related to mental illness, and the problem of helping those who care for people with mental illnesses on a daily basis, whether it be family or institutions.

Listen to Aaron E. Carroll, who is an associate professor of pediatrics at Indiana University’s School of Medicine and the director of its Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research:

We should be careful not to blame the mentally ill for all crimes. But we should also be prepared to accept that we might be able to prevent some tragedies if we did a better job of caring for them.

I’ve seen mental health illness in children, and our system is ill-equipped to handle it. I’ve seen families struggle with it. One of my greatest frustrations with clinical practice is that there are far too many times when I lack the tools necessary to care for children who need help. It’s relatively easy to cure an infection or an acute physical ailment. It’s so much harder to take a mental health issue. There are rarely pills that will do the job. Even when they are, they almost never work perfectly to eradicate the problem.

I strongly urge you to read Dr. Carroll’s entire article. It will tell you more about how to start to better deal with the Adam Lanzas than perhaps anything you will read in one short piece. You’ll learn things like this:

If a child is actively suicidal or homicidal, an emergency room can spring into action and admit him or her for inpatient care. But that’s often all inpatient care will do. Once a child is no longer actively threatening harm to himself or others, he or she will be released. That’s what the hospital system does. It cares for the acute problem, leaving the long term, and often much harder, work to a system ill-equipped to handle it. 

And, most startling for me, I learned this:

One of the things I do as a pediatrician is “anticipatory guidance.” We ask questions about issues that have not yet occurred but might occur in the future. A lot of anticipatory guidance focuses on injury prevention. We might ask about bike helmets, or swimming, or fire alarms in the house. I even ask about guns in the home.

I don’t ask this question because I’m eager to lecture patients or parents on the morality of owning guns, or the rights of individuals under the Second Amendment. I’m asking because I’m trying to prevent injury or death. The No. 3 killer of children age 10-14 is suicide; the fourth is homicide. The No. 2 killer of children age 15-19 is homicide; No. 3 is suicide.

I have been trained to ask parents if they have a gun in the home. If they do, I ask how it’s stored. I strongly recommend that they keep it unloaded, locked up, and that they store the bullets separately. I do this because guns are part of almost 85% of homicides and more than 45% of suicides in kids 5 to 19 years old. This doesn’t even account for injuries not resulting in death.

Yet recent laws have attempted to stop pediatricians from doing even this.

If you follow the “recent laws” link above, you will find an article written by a primary care physician, who explained that during his medical interviews with patients he often asks them personal questions, some involving alcohol and drugs and sex, as well as a question that the gun lobby in his state found offensive:

In June, Gov. Rick Scott signed a law barring Florida doctors from routinely asking patients if they own a gun. The law also authorizes patients to report doctors for “unnecessarily harassing” them about gun ownership and makes it illegal to routinely document firearm ownership information in a patient’s medical record. Other state legislatures have considered similar proposals, but Florida is the first to enact such a law.

Now you can begin to see what damage the gun lobby in America is doing to the country, besides ensuring that millions of dangerous weapons are rather easily available to anyone who wants one. If we can’t even tolerate physicians asking their patients relevant questions about a potentially dangerous situation, especially one involving children, then we are a long, long way from solving the social problem of mass killings by sick people.

And calling those sick people or their acts “evil” will not help us progress toward any practical solution. And as much as I am tempted to label as evil the National Rifle Association and other groups of gun zealots, I know that doing so will accomplish nothing in terms of defeating them in the political arena.  

We, those of us who believe that the NRA and other related organizations represent an eighteenth-century philosophy that is unacceptable here in the twenty-first, must stop letting them rule the day and have their way.  We can’t call ourselves an advanced civilization when we still use Iron Age terms like “evil” to describe behavior that we have dramatically failed to address.

 

Afraid: The GOP War On Voting

I heard a conservative say on Sunday how “admirable” it was for folks to be willing to stand in line for six or seven hours to vote in Florida.

This morning I heard someone on the IQ-crippling morning show on Fox say essentially the same thing. How “dedicated” must those voters be.

All of us with a brain not poisoned by Fox “News” understand that what is going on in Florida and Ohio and elsewhere, in terms of how Republicans have intentionally made it more difficult for people, mostly Democratic people, to vote, would be a famous Fox-fueled scandal if it were reversed.

If Democrats were deliberately limiting or suppressing the voting opportunities of, say, white evangelicals, Fox hosts and guests—including Mitt Romney—would not be disingenuously fawning over those “dedicated” conservative Christians and their willingness to commit half a day—or night—to exercising their right to vote.

No, every minute of Fox broadcast time would be spent on how unpatriotic Democrats are to treat the voting process so shabbily, so self-servingly. “Our brave troops fought and died for that right!” they would sanctimoniously shout. They would demand the Justice Department put a stop to it. Hell, they would beseech GOP Jesus to send down a holy bolt of lightning to fry the oppressors.

The Joplin Globe, on Sunday, editorialized about voting, and offered quotes from famous Americans, including this one from John Kennedy:

A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

In an editorial about the importance of voting, the Joplin Globe had nothing to say about how “afraid” Republicans are of letting “people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market.” Nothing to say.

♦ Nothing to say about Republicans in Ohio, particularly the secretary of state, who has done everything he can to make it more difficult to vote than it was four years ago, including his latest move, which may even be illegal, to give local election officials the power to invalidate ballots. (There will be a court fight on Monday, if nothing is resolved.)

♦ Nothing to say about onerous voter ID laws, which, as a Pennsylvania Republican stupidly but fortunately admitted, were designed to deliver the election to the Republican presidential candidate.

♦ Nothing to say about right-wing groups like True the Vote—founded just after Mr. Obama took office—whose real goal is to intimidate or delegitimize minority and young voters. Read this article by The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer and cringe at the inquisition-like tactics being used by Republicans—lily white Republicans—against people of color who have voted all their adult lives. (Local inquisitors like Republican honcho John Putnam are using True the Vote tactics here in Southwest Missouri, for God’s sake, a place where Democrats usually poll about 35%.)

♦ Nothing to say about what has been happening in Florida, the lines, the chaos and confusion, the suppression. Republicans there deliberately cut back early voting days, including the Sunday before election day, typically a strong day of voting by African-American voters. And the former Republican governor of that state, Charlie Christ, criticized the current Republican governor for refusing to extend early voting hours, as folks waited a ridiculously long time to vote:

The only thing that makes any sense as to why this is happening and being done is voter suppression. That’s unconscionable. I think it’s just the wrong thing to do. And the right thing to do would be to sign an executive order to make sure this doesn’t happen and you expand the hours.

As one voter there, who waited in line for almost two hours, said:

This is America, not a third-world country.

She forgot, I guess, that since 2010, Florida has been living under Tea Party governance, third-world or otherwise.

All of the disgusting Republican tactics are ostensibly designed to address voter fraud, a problem that doesn’t exist in the form that things like voter ID laws and registration inquisitions would help fix. The New Yorker article quoted a public-policy professor at Rutgers, who said,

It makes no sense for individual voters to impersonate someone. It’s like committing a felony at the police station, with virtually no chance of affecting the election outcome.

Thus, it makes no legal sense that Republicans would spend so much time and effort to attack a problem that is not a problem, but it does make political sense. Again, as John Kennedy would certainly say today, if he were around to witness what Fox “News” and the Joplin Globe and even much of the national press refuse to witness, is that Republicans, who have embraced extremism wholesale, truly are “afraid” to allow people to “judge the truth and falsehood in an open market.

Because when it comes down to it, the conservative spirit, which animates Republican politics today, is and always has been afraid of We the People.

 

Purging Their Way To The White’s House

Whatever one thinks of their strategy to invent a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist, one has to acknowledge that Republicans these days have balls the size of Rush Limbaugh’s slandering mouth.

Today’s right-wingers just don’t give a damn what the mainstream press—or the Justice Department—says about them or their people-purging, anti-voter strategy. By God, they have an election to win!

From HuffPo:

Florida will defy a federal warning to stop purging people the state suspects aren’t U.S. citizens from voter registration rolls.

The whole idea in Florida, as in other states where Republicans enjoy legislative dominance, is, by hook or by crook, to purge enough voters—obviously overwhelmingly Democratic voters—to give Romney an electoral edge so as to ensure Obama’s defeat this November and make the White’s House white again.

Here are just two examples of the egregiousness in Florida:

In Broward County, a 91-year-old World War II veteran was forced to provide proof of his citizenship in order to remain on the voter rolls. And in Seminole County, an election official tweeted a picture of himself with one man who received a warning letter. In the picture, the two men stood side by side, holding the suspect voter’s U.S. passport.

Now, as I said, Republicans have been doing this stuff all over the country, but given how important Florida is to the outcome of November’s presidential election, Republicans in that state have perhaps been the most creative and tenacious in supressing Democratic votes.

Besides the purging of legitimate voters, another of those creative attempts recently ran into problems:

(CBS News) A Federal District judge in Florida placed a preliminary injunction on new Florida voter registration requirements on third-party organizations, calling parts of the law “onerous.”

The judge in that case labeled as “risky business” anyone who might undertake to register voters under Florida’s new rules. The risk partly involves “substantial penalties for noncompliance,” for not meeting a ridiculous 48 hour deadline for submitting any and all voter applications collected. The judge said,

If the goal is to discourage voter-registration drives and thus also to make it harder for new voters to register, the 48-hour deadline may succeed.

Of course, that is precisely the goal of the legislators who concocted this scheme and the governor who signed it into law.

The new act also requires those who merely solicit folks to register to vote—not actually collecting any applications—to identify themselves to the state. As the judge said,

Soliciting an application is core First Amendment speech.

In other words, in order to exercise your core First Amendment rights in Florida, you have to first register with the state an tell ‘em who you are! Awesome!

Republicans obviously want as few people going to the polls as possible, particularly the kind of people who have pigmentation that might suggest Democratic Party sympathies. The GOP has decided that suppressing the opposition’s voters is better than trying to win those voters over by proposing policies that might attract them.

Thankfully, there are a few courts left that are willing to see this suppression for what it is. And as for the matter of arbitrarily purging people from the voter rolls, hopefully the Justice Department will not stand for Florida ignoring its warning.

Who could have guessed that after all the time that has passed since we got our act together over voting rights, that we would be fighting folks who want to turn back the clock.

But this contemporary GOP is a turn-back-the-clock party, from the economy to health care reform to environmental protection to education to women’s rights to voting rights, the Republican Party sees our future in the failed ways of the past.

The War On The Poor

Every liberal in America who is mad at President Obama should have watched Bill O’Reilly’s show on Wednesday.  Not only was his opening “Talking Points” segment a shallow, misleading, disgusting look at welfare in America, it was a sad example of how Fox “News” is the prime mastermind of the so-called class war that it accuses Democrats of waging.

The segment began with a lie:

As just about everybody knows, America is broke.

The government owes more than 14 trillion dollars. So, spending has to be cut, possibly including some welfare payments to the poor.

In 2002 the poverty rate in America was about 12%. In 2009 it was about 14%, up two points despite—despite—more than $4 trillion in welfare spending over that period.

O’Reilly then shows this graph:

That’s the redistribution of income,” O’Reilly says, helpfully.

He then says something remarkably strange, even for him:

Welfare spending is 15%—15%—of the entire federal budget. But that is deceiving because Medicare and Social Security account for 33% of all spending. If you take those mandated expenses out of the equation, then welfare payments account for 22% of the total budget and that’s a big number.

Why would O’Reilly exclude Social Security and Medicare from “the equation”? Obviously to make the welfare number look worse, which he thinks makes his class war offensive more devastating.

But the class warfare was just heating up. He then quoted a Republican Rasmussen poll that purported to show that Americans think there are “too many people” on welfare:

And a graphic that raised, of course, the “illegal immigrant” issue:

Noting that most of those “illegals” were children, he then said,

The democratic party in general does not want to cut government assistance programs to the poor or even to illegal aliens. The basic philosophy of President Obama’s party is to redistribute income, as we said, to those who do not have very much regardless of their status.

A fair system would hold those receiving government assistance accountable. That is, if they turn things around in their lives, they would have to pay back a portion of what they received.  And they would actively have to look for work, if they don’t, the benefits cease.

President Clinton signed the Welfare Reform Act in 1996, and that slowed the “entitlement industry” down a bit, but over the past few years it has picked up steam again. The feds must—must—impose discipline here and in every other federal spending situation.

No mention of why the “entitlement industry“—notice how he conflated welfare with Social Security and Medicaid?—might have grown or “picked up steam” “over the past few years.”  No mention, that is, of the Bush years and the Great Recession he bequeathed to America as one of his parting gifts, which caused many Americans to scramble for help from their government.

Now, match that horrific and sickeningly graceless O’Reilly segment with what is going on in Florida.  The governor, Rick Scott, a multi-million dollar Medicare cheat, signed a law that required welfare recipients—who receive a stunningly low $134 in average monthly benefits—to  undergo annual drug tests—which cost $30 each— (we had the same thing proposed in Missouri) in order to collect benefits. (Some claim that Scott benefits from the forced drug testing.)

Scott argued that ,”studies show that people that [sic] are on welfare are higher users of drugs than people not on welfare.” But the preliminary data from the new drug testing contradicts that claim.  From Tampa Bay Online:

 TALLAHASSEE – Since the state began testing welfare applicants for drugs in July, about 2 percent have tested positive, preliminary data shows.

Two percent.  The problem is that, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the number of “illicit drug” users in the entire population of the state of Florida happens to be around 8%.  Whoops.

The ACLU, which is threatening a lawsuit, says that the measly “apparent” savings associated with the program— the benefit cuts for those who test positive minus the cost of drug testing—has yet to be determined because administrative costs have not yet been calculated.

Derek Newton, a spokesman for the ACLU in Florida, said this:

This is just punishing people for being poor, which is one of our main points. We’re not testing the population at-large that receives government money; we’re not testing people on scholarships, or state contractors. So why these people? It’s obvious– because they’re poor.

Yes, it is obvious, but only to those who have eyes that are willing to see.  But Bill O’Reilly, Governor Scott, Fox “News,” and the entire conservative movement’s leadership are blind to the truth—no, actually they are trying to blind others to the truth.

As a final example: On Tuesday morning I watched Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom,” which follows the incomparably dumb Fox and Friends.  “America’s Newsroom” is supposed to be straight news on the Republican News Network.  If you believe that, I have a FEMA trailer to sell ya.

In any case, the guest host, Gregg Jarrett, said near the beginning of a segment on Warren Buffett’s recent argument that the super rich weren’t taxed enough that, “I did a little digging and here’s what I came up with…”  In other words, the news host was about to take on Warren Buffett.

What he came up with were a series of graphics, two of which were quite deceptive:

As you can see, Mr. Jarrett tried to make the point that the very wealthy were paying more than their fair share of taxes and, as he told his sycophantic guest, Stephen Moore, “more Americans are paying nothing [his emphasis].”  The problem was that his chart didn’t let viewers know that he was only talking about federal income taxes. A very different picture develops when all taxes are included.

Thus, we know that Jarrett’s overall claim is grossly false, as Citizens for Tax Justice pointed out and I wrote about a couple of weeks ago:

As the chart demonstrates, the total tax burden—which includes not just income taxes—but payroll taxes and gas taxes and sales taxes and so on, is only slightly progressive, in terms of the tax burden as a percentage of income. 

The truth is that the rich earn most of the income and thus pay a majority of the taxes in America.  But it’s simply not the case, as Mr. Jarrett tried to claim, that “more Americans are paying nothing.”

So, yes, we have a class war in America.  Conservatives started it just after the New Deal was born, and finally succeeded in taking real ground in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan, and have steadily taken a greater share of the country’s wealth ever since.

And now, after gaining so much ground, after decimating the middle class, they are hungry for more and have declared war on the poor.

Dueling Globe Columnists

Okay.  So, a contributing writer to the Joplin Globe editorial board, Anson Burlingame, got pissed about a piece written by a guest columnist, Elliott Denniston, so he shot back with a column of his own:

Elliott Denniston really crossed the line in negative “campaigning” in his guest column (Globe, Oct. 3) and must be rebutted, strongly. I vigorously challenge his shallow research and obvious partisan conclusions in trying to paint all Republican candidates nationally with only the colors of the few.

Denniston’s apparent sin was daring to point out that some of the candidates running as Republicans this fall were, well, let’s just say, extremists of one sort or another.

Here is a summary of what Denniston noted:

Christine O’Donnell: Believes that there are mice with fully functioning human brains.  Believes that witchcraft is a sin but once dabbled in masturbation.  No, wait. I got that wrong. She believes masturbation is a sin and once dabbled in witchcraft.  Whew!  And finally, O’Donnell owes back taxes and “has lived off her campaign contributions for many years and has no other apparent income.”

Although Burlingame challenged Denniston’s “shallow research,” the things he said about O’Donnell have the virtue of being factual. So, let’s move on:

Abortion: “Five Republicans nominated for the Senate want the government to ensure that women who are raped are required to have their rapists’ babies,” Denniston wrote.  He then went on:

Yes, Sharron Angle of Nevada, Jim [sic] Miller of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ken Buck of Colorado, and O’Donnell, although they hate government intrusion into our lives, believe that the federal government should force women to give birth to babies forced on them by rapists or created through incest.

Although Burlingame challenged Denniston’s “shallow research,” the things he said about these five Republicans and their extremist views on abortion have the virtue of being factual. So, let’s move on:

Sharron Angle: “Implied that armed insurrection against the federal government might be a plausible course of action if the government does not change course,” what she called “Second Amendment remedies.”  Denniston also wrote that Angle once spoke against fluoride as “a Communist plot to undermine Western democracy,” and he said, “Ms. Angle also believes that autism is a phony condition that people use to get extra health benefits.”

Although Burlingame challenged Denniston’s “shallow research,” the things he said about Sharron Angle have the virtue of being factual. So, let’s move on:

Social Security: Denniston says there are Republicans running who want to “eliminate” Social Security “as it now stands and replace it with a system of privatized funds.” He names them: Mike Lee, Sharron Angle, Joe Miller, and he lists Ken Buck as an opponent of any federal involvement in health care and retirement and Marco Rubio as an advocate for raising the retirement age to 70 and who wants “to cut benefits to younger workers.”

Although Burlingame challenged Denniston’s “shallow research,” the things he said about some Republicans relative to Social Security have the virtue of being factual. So, let’s move on:

Various: Denniston offers that Mike Lee of Utah “wishes to eliminate the income tax“;

that Joe Miller of Alaska “believes that unemployment benefits are unconstitutional“;

that Rand Paul of Kentucky “would scrap the Americans with Disabilities Act and believes that the Civil Rights Act went too far in requiring restaurant owners to admit black Americans“;

that Rick Scott of Florida ran “a health care company that systematically defrauded the government on Medicare charges, earning the company the largest Medicare fine in history — $1.7 billion“;

that Carl Paladino distributed “racist jokes and very explicit pornographic photographs to a large group of supporters; one of these was a photo-shopped image of Barack and Michelle Obama as a pimp and a prostitute.” (Apparently, Denniston wrote his column before Paladino threatened to “take out” a New York Post journalist.)

Although Burlingame challenged Denniston’s “shallow research,” the things he said about the Republicans above have the virtue of being factual. So, let’s finish up:

You see, it really wasn’t the “shallow research” that spiked Anson’s piss meter.  It was Denniston’s “obvious partisan conclusions,” and his “trying to paint all Republican candidates nationally with only the colors of the few.”  As if the editorial page isn’t a place for partisanship and advocacy; as if Republicans aren’t themselves trying to nationalize the election and tie every Democratic candidate to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama.

But I will say Anson has a point about one thing:

If you want to understand, in principle, where many Republicans are “coming from” or “headed,” go read and think carefully about the Pledge to America.  There is more than enough in that broad, even sweeping, statement of principles to scare any Democrat.

Yes, it’s true.  The really, really scary thing about Republicans and their non-specific Pledge, is that it represents a sycophantic salute to the Tea Party and that movement’s extremist generalities about government.

And I think Denniston was just using a few Tea Party extremists, who happen to be Republican candidates for high office, to point that out.

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