Regarding Sandy Hook…

Man, this last day has been a vacillation between being heartbroken and enraged.  I keep thinking about those families in Newtown, Connecticut, this being the silly season and all.  I think about how many of those murdered children had gifts at home waiting for them.   I think about the parents anticipating the looks on the children’s faces Christmas morning.  I think about all the plans that were made to travel and visit family.

I think of how utterly trivial all this holiday consumer crap is in comparison to losing a child. Hell, pretty much everything else in life is trivial.  Those parents would have stepped right in front of those bullets for their kids without a second’s hesitation.

Then I think about the person who killed those innocent kids and I can’t find words to describe him, or words I would utter publicly to describe what I feel about him.  I won’t say his name, though.  Ever.  And that’s that.

What else can I say about an event so tragic, I keep forgeting that 6 innocent adults were killed as well?

The other reason I’m so worked up is because I’m so tired, as many of us are, of seeing these tragedies result in no effort whatsoever to prevent, or at least reduce the risk, of another tragedy.  The next bloodbath comes, and I wonder how many more of them will it take before we realize that we bear the responsibility of preventing this?  I mean we can’t keep our kindergarteners safe.

So in my furor, I took to the twitter-verse looking for a fight with every lobotomized ideologue dumb enough to defend gun rights.  I was surprised and encouraged to see that a lot of like-minded people were doing the same.

The mainstream media was doing the same as well (well, some of it).  To my more encouraged surprise, no one on my side of the argument appeared to be biting on the typical right wing talking points and fallacies (now is not the time; it’s an attack on the 2nd Amendment, etc.).  People were pissed.  The situation was too grave.  And when the sane people pushed, the loons quickly found that the ice beneath their feat was not only thin but cracking.

Maybe America is finally ready to to do something about gun control.

That’s not fair, a majority of us have been ready for years.  But maybe now there are enough of us, sufficiently motivated, to spur the politicians to act.  I wrote every representative I have, Democrat and Republican.

Because our current system is not just untenable, it’s illogical, immoral, and unjust. It’s easily demonstrable.  Instead of scoffing at the gun nuts clamoring for even more firearms, play those scenarios out.  What would really happen if you were working or out running some random errand, and all of sudden shots start firing?  You pull out your gun and you see someone with their gun out firing shots.  Are they the shooter?  Is that just another well-armed citizen like you?  What if they turn their gun on you?  Do you shoot first?  Do you hesitate and put yourself at risk?  It’s goofy.  The fact is the status quo is failing, miserably and absolutely.  We cannot continue to let the defenders of that status quo control–or better, stifle–the conversation.

The first step is to not fall for the rhetoric, which is working so far (though it’s only the 1st day).  The second is to maintain a sense of context.  This specific case may not have been preventable with simple gun control laws, but that doesn’t mean at least some of the 10,000 gun deaths we have every year in this country weren’t preventable.  Gun control is about the epidemic not the one event.

There are sensible measure we can take right away that the overwhelming majority of Americans agree with, such as closing loopholes and doing background checks on everyone looking to buy a gun.  Even a majority of NRA members support that.  Then there are things we need to investigate and discuss further; like ways to better identify potentially dangerous people who shouldn’t have access to guns.  Additionally, we should consider that peripheral issues such as improved mental healthcare might do considerable good.

We live in an “ocean of guns”  in the U.S (89 guns for every 100 people, highest in the world).  It’s too easy for just anyone to get a gun legally.  The NRA is hellbent on putting as many guns into as many hands as possible, while simultaneously giving us greater legislative freedom to use them against one another.  They are behind crazy laws like  stand your ground, which has led to a substantially increased number of penalty-free murders by moving the goalpost on what’s considered self-defense.  They pushed for legislation allowing people on the Terror Watch-list to purchase guns and for loopholes that have created an environment where 40% of  firearms are purchased without any background check (mostly over the interwebs).  And they oppose, with bookoo lobbying dollars, basic, common sense gun control laws that even the NRA membership supports.

This is because the NRA is really just a lobbying organization for the gun manufacturers.  That’s who gives the NRA most of its funding.  The NRA works for arms dealers who sell guns to our military and to the people our military fights.  Those arms manufacturers have sold–directly–some of the very guns that have killed our troops.  So they’re not morally above creating an environment where everyone feels they have to have a gun.

You’ll hear the gun nuts arguing for this like it’s a good thing.  We should’ve armed teachers (the same ones they think are overpaid by the way) After that it’s waitresses, I suppose…then cashiers, office managers, doctors, and finally the clergy.  They won’t be happy until they see every pastor and priest standing before their congregation wearing a Kevlar vest.

We also need to study the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, what the Founding Fathers wrote and said about it ( here’s a hint; they meant militia literally), and what the subsequent court decisions have interpreted the Amendment to mean.  Because that’s the actual process of determining Constitutionality.  We do this for the 1st Amendment, which is why you can’t yell “fire!” in a crowded theater or accuse someone of rape without proof.  The 2nd Amendment is a fundamental right but we need to have an understanding of what that right is and what it’s meant to be.

Finally, we’ve got to have the resolve to see this through.  Once the sting of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary wears off, it will be easy to fall back into old habits until the next tragedy rekindles the outrage.  At that point, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.  And a lot of bloody hands to wash clean.

Free. Thought.

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Stopping The Insanity

Maria Santos Gorrostieta

I should begin by noting that I have never, ever taken an illicit drug in my life. Nor do I plan to.

I’ve been reading about the death of Maria Santos Gorrostieta, the 26 year-old former mayor of Tiquicheo, Mexico (smack dab in the middle of cartel country).  I remembered hearing about her taking over as mayor a few years ago.  She was only 21 years old at the time and a staunch opponent of the cartels.  I worried for

Gorrostieta was assailed and abducted on Novermber 17th as she was driving through town with her daughter.   Three days later, her burned and mutilated body was found in a field by farm workers.  It’s tragic.  There’s no debating that these cartels are motherfuckers; as evil as evil gets in this world.

It made reading about how she told her abductors she’d go willingly if they let her daughter go as heartbreaking as it was moving.

Gorrostieta showing the injuries she sustained in an assassination attempt in 2011.

Granted, Gorrostieta wasn’t your average cookie.  I mean, the cartels’ power is based entirely on butchery (and the constant threat of it).  Their severity and vindictiveness are all they have in lieu of legitimacy.  Their imperative is slaughter; to torture and kill any would-be heroes that dare to stand up to them.  Their survival depends on it.  In that light, along with  some of her statements and actions, it’s fair to say Mrs. Gorrostieta had a bit of a martyr complex. She played a role in creating a sort of inevitability to her death and likely would have done the same for another cause if the drug war didn’t exist.  So even though standing up to the cartels seems kinda suicidal to me, I don’t know that there is a better word than courage to describe it.

But no matter how premeditated or deliberate her heroism might have been, she is inarguably one of the good guys–a bonafide hero.

https://i0.wp.com/wac.450f.edgecastcdn.net/80450F/nj1015.com/files/2012/05/BILLBOARD.jpgThe problem here–the only problem here–the cause of her death and many, many more is this stupid, violent, exploitative, wasteful, obtuse, impossible, unwinnable, unjustifiable, mind-numbingly counter-productive War on Drugs.  It boils my blood.  50, 000 people have been killed by the cartels in the last 6 years alone.   The last 6 years.   At the cost of $15 billion per year–roughly  $500 per second, millions of people have been  jailed for drug-related crimes, losing their lives and their futures–the very same activities our last 3 presidents engaged in.  They were just lucky enough to not get caught.   Thousands of people are killed in street violence over territories and transportation.  Dozens of countries are have had their economies and citizenries decimated fighting murderous cartels.

All of this just to prevent people from getting high.  (Sure, there’s a downside to illegal drugs; there’s a downside to legal drugs, whether it’s alcohol, over-the-counter, or prescription.)

And drugs remain as easy to buy as candy bars.

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It’s goofy.  And comically inconsistent. We don’t see anything so wrong with getting drunk.  We allow people the right to give themselves cancer from smoking cigarettes, and diabetes from eating junk food. But for some reason getting high is an intolerable evil.

It doesn’t make sense.

There are myriad secondary factors:  Private military contractors like Blackwater (er…the Academi, or whatever they’re calling themselves these days to cover up the shame of slaughtering innocent people), profit enormously from “advising” Latin American countries on how to fight America’s War on Drugs. Private prisons lobby state legislatures with barrels of cash for stricter drug enforcement laws to boost their bottom line.  The cost of recovery and treatment places additionall burden on our already overburdened healthcare system.

These things  are awful and true, but they’re resultant rather than causative of the war on drugs.  They go away when the war on drugs goes away.

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“Advisors.”

For whatever reasons, we’ve decided that getting high is somehow immoral or unholy and the peripheral crimes associated with drugs are an unforgivable  blight on our society.  It’s pure nonsense; outmoded and outdated thinking based on the very faulty assumption that the drug war is  WORTH all this death.  ALL this pain.  ALL this cost.

We have never revisited this conclusion.

For a modernized country, America is notoriously susceptible to group-think and ideology.  We follow our political affiliations the same way we follow our sports teams; thick or thin, good or bad.  Even against our own best interests.  We’re loathe to let go of our beliefs, regardless of the evidence.

Case in point: the absolute epitome of failure known as America’s War on Drugs.

Can anything s lead us to question the validity of this war?  Is there a death toll that’s too high?  Enough sacrificial Maria Santos Gorrostietas to spur us to action?  A number prisons built and filled to bursting that would make us take note?  Or will we keep accepting our current, blood-drenched policies no matter the cost?  What will it take before we begin asking ourselves if it’s worth it?

Because it’s not worth it.  Not even close.  It’s all unimaginable cost with no reward whatsoever for the simple fact that after everything is said and done, illegal drugs are readily available for whoever wants them.

At their worst, drugs can be pretty bad–some much worse than alcohol and tobacco.  But even then, drugs are but a mild annoyance in comparison to the hell-spawned inferno of this war of insanity.

The argument against the war on drugs can be won, decisively, if only we’d pull our heads out of the sands of convention and make the case (it’s a policy for crooks and idiots) and challenge those defending it.  It only requires the will to do so.

Maria Gorrostieta showed me that.

Free. Thought.

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The Education Fix

I come from a family of educators.  My mother, aunt, both uncles, and my grandmother have all been teachers in some fashion.   My youngest brother is currently studying to become an educator.

Being familiar with education, my family has never been supportive of the testing craze currently dominating our education system.  It stresses a limited range of skills and specific types of learning.  And in the end, all we’re really doing is teaching our students how to take a test.

Education is the way by which Americans will compete in the increasingly global economy.  It is also how we can understand the world in which we live, our place in history, and our responsibility to it.  Unfortunately, we are falling further and further behind in this regard.

I really don’t understand why education isn’t a higher priority–actually, I do.  It’s this austerity bullshit our politicians are trying to force down our throats.  They want to gut education to justify tax breaks for billionaires. 

I honestly believe the Republican party–and to a lesser extent the democratic party–has a long term goal of creating a 3rd world economy here in the United States, with a super-rich, elite ruling class, and a docile, ignorant, working class majority that has limited opportunities outside of whatever jobs the elites make available at whatever wages they deem acceptable.

They want no mandatory health care programs, no collective bargaining rights for workers, no Social Security, no Medicare, no minimum wage, no child labor laws, no government regulation of business, and enough education for workers to perform skilled tasks, but not enough to think critically.  They want a flock corralled by religion, conditioned to endure hardship, and never question authority.

The best, most effective way for us to recapture control of our future is with a broad, robust education system; one designed to maximize the potential in each and every student–not meet standardized testing requirements.

If history has taught us anything, it’s that powerful nations crumble from within long before they are conquered from the outside.  Approaching education with the same attitude we have about our military–that we will be the best no matter what it takes–would take us a lot farther toward ensuring our security than we could in building another squadron of fighter jets or ballistic missile platform.

We have an outdated, industrial-age education system that promotes discipline, routine, and rote memory.  Yet we have an information-and-technology-based economy that stresses initiative, critical thinking, and problem solving.  We need a system that to develops the ability to manage, evaluate, and understand information–especially with the myriad ways information comes to us.  But more than that, we need a system that fully develops whatever abilities a student may possess.

In this we are failing ourselves and future generations.  But it doesn’t have to be this way:

So do not buy into the Republican voucher program talking point–the voucher will not be enough to send your kid to a good school.  Do not support politicians who want to cut education funding, including college grants.   Then let’s call for an education revolution.  Tear it all down like the Romans did Carthage, “leave not one stone upon another.” Get away from the testing mania.  Begin rebuilding with evidence-based (i.e., proven teaching method) pilot programs that integrate technology and stress active learning (as opposed to passive learning in which students sit and listen to a teacher lecture) to find the most effective teaching methods.  Dramatically increase teacher pay, especially for grades K-5.  Make it a more prestigious position to attract even better candidates.   Then we’ll be ready to start building a 21st century education system.

Our future literally and critically depends on it.

P.S. thanks to my mom for help with refining the technical jargon and conceptual whodjamawhatsit.  You can visit her blog here.

The Ugly Head of Citizens United Rears Up

Remember during the 2010 State Of The Union Address when Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito shook his head in dissent when Barack Obama commented on how the Citizen’s United decision would greatly affect elections (Or when Alito and the other conservative Justices didn’t attend the 2011 State of the Union Address)?

I wonder what Alito thinks now.

The Young Turks break down the impact of the Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission in the form of a phenomenon newly prevalent in this election: the billionaire sugar-daddy.

I believe that this is the number one problem we face in our country today.  Sure, there are more severe issues surrounding war and poverty, life and death stuff.  There’s corruption and greed, too.

But in the end, it all flows back to Citizen’s United, wherein the activist Supreme Court decided that money represents free speech.

The Citizen's United Decision is reverting us back to the political boss system.

Thus, corporations and special interest groups pumping billions of dollars into elections with minimal identification standards and no standards for honesty or truth-telling, is simply an expression of free speech.

“What’s that you say?  The electorate has been so turned around by all this heavily funded misinformation and outright lying that they don’t know which way is up?  Whoops!  Pure happenstance–hey, is that Glee playing on the t.v.?  That looks like a hoot!”

Never mind that China–or any foreign government or group–could theoretically be footing the bill.  Those interests would simply be exercising their freedom of speech.  Here.  In America’s political system.

Citizen’s United is the reason why we have privatized prisons and crappy public schools and stagnant wages and and humorous financial reform law and even more (or less) humorous health care reform and record breaking corporate profits and record-breaking executive bonuses and draconian online piracy bills and all the other situations that occur when financing elections adds to the profit margin.

We all have a voice, some voices are louder or farther reaching, but essentially, it’s an equivalent right.  When we talk about dollars, it’s not equal.  And that’s the point of capitalism.  If it was all equal it would be communism.  So by definition, the Citizen’s United decision gives those that have lots of money even more rights than the rest of us.  Supreme Court activism at its worst.

You know what?  I could care less what Alito thinks.  I could care less what any politician thinks.  It is imperative that we get money out of politics.  The future of our nation depends on it.

(Constitution correction image from: http://www.laprogressive.com/citizens-united-corporate-power/.  Citizen’s united logo from: http://www.opensecrets.org/news/reports/citizens_united.php.  Pledge Allegiance Cartoon from: http://thepoliticalcarnival.net/2011/12/30/citizens-united-loses-in-montana-supreme-court-upholds-state-ban-on-corporate-spending/.)

The Great Private Prison Scam

Another of the innumerable reasons to get money out of politics.

You would think that in the debate over the pros and cons of privatizing things like Social Security, healthcare, and the education system, examples like this would get brought up for consideration.  Of course, both sides are bought out so there is no debate.  The money ALWAYS wins.

Finally, A Loophole For Rapists!

Virginia State Senate Motto

As we all know, one of the biggest challenges we face as a society is coming up with a socially, and more importantly, legally acceptable excuse for raping a woman.

American juries consistently find the ever popular excuses she was asking for it or she wanted it irreconcilable in lieu of subsequent events, despite a woman’s dress, reputation, or behavior at the time. (Damn libs.)

Furthermore, the excuse that she don’t listen–while often true–is inexplicably regarded as insufficient cause for engaging in the forced penetration of an unwilling female.

In a perfect world, the truly free rapist would not have to resort to such harsh tactics as threats, intimidation, brutal violence, and murder.  Issues surrounding uppity women and male inadequacy could be resolved in a simple display of physical dominance.  Without shaming, without public mockery.  No more fleeing prosecution or fending off advances from amorous cellmates for exercising your God-given right to express your sexual superiority.  (I mean, can 20,000 years of human history be wrong?)

Well, fret no longer.

The ambitious and enlightened senators of the Virginia legislature have shown us the way.  In January, the Virginia State Senate passed a law requiring women seeking an abortion to undergo a mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasound.  In other words, before she can get a abortion–which is her legal right–she must be penetrated–with or without her consent–by an ultrasound wand in a procedure that serves no medical purpose whatsoever.  The legislators’ justification?  The women have it coming.  According to a Virginia legislator forced to speak on condition of anonimity, women seeking abortions, “consented to being penetrated when they got pregnant.”

Virginia State Legislature's Punishment for Harlotry

There’s the rub.  (And the Marquis De Sade himself couldn’t have said it any better.)

Rape can at least partially be defined as penetration without consent.  If consent is negated by previously engaging in sexual intercourse, every non-virgin woman is fair game!  (Sure, the strict Constitutionalists may demand impregnation as a stipulation, but Rick Santorum has some innovative ideas on precisely when life begins that should provide lots of wiggle room.  Besides, in the first trimester you can’t really tell.)

So, three cheers for the Virginia legislature.  *Sniff!* They’re all growns up and doing the rapists proud.

Now, throw that ski-mask and that duct tape in your backpack and get out there!

Happy hunting.

(Transvaginal ultrasound image from: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/medical/IM04391.  Misogyny image from: http://www.noethics.net/News/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1594:2010-oscar-nominees-for-best-performance-as-a-judicial-misogynist-&catid=186:academy-award-winners&Itemid=103.  Unified bitch theory image from: http://www.gandalf23.com/?m=200709&paged=2.)

Republicans Hate Women

Incendiary assertion?

Here’s the proof:

How on earth do you justify this? Fundamentalism is second only to corporatism in threatening the progress of America.  (Man, I feel a rant coming on…)

The REAL Healthcare Debate In A Nutshell

I’m just going to come right out and say it:  We need to socialize our health care system in the United States.

Call it single-payer, call it a public option, call it a Medicare buy-in, call it whatever you want, just socialize it so we can move on.  (Yes, I hear the political heads exploding.) 

I understand.  I’ve used the dreaded S-word.  Fortunately, I just finished a blog about the dogmatic shroud surrounding socialism and I believe you’ll find it less scary (and less un-American) than you think.

We already know detractors will slather the idea in terrifying imagery.   They’ll try to make it seem like you’ll have to go to some kind of DMV for your chemotherapy.  This is the United States of America.  I have no doubt that if we make it a priority to have the most effective and efficient socialized healthcare system the world has ever seen we could get it done.  We did it with our socialized military.  You can’t argue with success.

I look at it like this: human life is more important than profit.  If it is impossible to treat every sick person and still make money then the private sector should not be tasked with providing care.

The naysayers will nevertheless complain about all of the medical advancements our private healthcare system has made.  They tend to leave out the fact that the majority of those advancements were actually made with public, taxpayer-funded grants, and many of those to public, taxpayer-funded universities.

They’ll lament that we’re turning into France or some other socialist state.  (I’d counter that with the story of my French expatriate friend Annie who had her first child in France.  The child was premature and there was a complication with the birth.  Annie was hospitalized for three days.  Her daughter for a week.  There was no bill.)  The fact is, medical costs are one of the main factors behind most bankruptcy filings in  America.  According to a 2007 study by The American Journal of Medicine, getting sick was a factor in 62% of personal bankruptcies.  Even worse, 75% of all those filing for personal bankruptcy actually had some kind of medical insurance.  If it looks like failure and smells like failure…

The critics will say it’s unconstitutional and that the Founding Fathers never intended for us to have universal healthcare.  I would begin by doubting their clairvoyance, then follow up with the argument that in the days of the Founding Fathers a doctor engaged in practices like applying leeches, bloodletting, and having the patient hold boiled stones.  Modern medicine can be the difference between life, death, and the quality of both.  It has become a foundational element of the human experience.  The Founding Fathers could no more predict its advent than they could the internet.

Constitutionally, I consider a socialized healthcare system both a promotion of the general welfare and a Fifth Amendment right.  Anyone who denies a person access to healthcare is denying them their Right to Life without due process.  It is a somewhat broad interpretation, but it doesn’t go against the spirit of the Constitution any more than it does to interpret the inclusion of an Air Force into our military.  Who knew there would be airplanes?

If that’s not enough for the bellyachers, then I say let’s convene a Constitutional convention and decide–once and for all–whether or not there should be a Constitutionally protected right to see a doctor.  If almost 3/4 of the population at least want a social health care option–and according to multiple polls they do–our representative government should have a clear mandate.  At the very least, all sides will have a chance to be heard.  A Constitutional amendment could have the added bonus of disincentivizing the rampant profiteering that drives up medical costs (America has the highest prescription drug prices in the world).

So I say again, socialize healthcare.  Do it and be done with the entire argument. In a nutshell.

(Exploding head image from  http://unrealitymag.com/index.php/2010/02/24/videos-of-heads-exploding-in-movies/  Founding Fathers image from: http://www.foundersofamerica.com/Founders_of_America_Posters.htm  Bankruptcy image from: http://katzlawflorida.com/bankruptcy-law/  Doctors support public option image from: http://crooksandliars.com/john-amato/us-doctors-support-public-option)