Yesterday, a man in Virginia murdered two people on live television. The news media exploded into a predictable shouting match about gun control, mental health, toxic masculinity, and the “politicization of tragedies.” There was also a new twist this time around, a debate about whether it was appropriate to share or broadcast the horrifying video of the killings. And then the killer uploaded his own video of the shooting.
At this point, a voice asserted itself in my conscience. It has become the voice of my own doubts about America’s gun culture. It was Irish-accented and belonged to a friend of my father’s. “But what about the guns?” he asked, looking at me gravely. “You must know.”
Almost any American who travels abroad and talks about politics hears something like that. Often in the first 10 minutes of meeting someone. In the rest of the world, it’s all they have to say: “What about the guns?”
I’m a conservative. I have friends who have guns. I’m convinced by some of the arguments for an armed citizenry. I told that Irish voice that his own country was freed from British rule by guns. That the number of privately owned Irish guns was of paramount concern to British ministers in the 1910s and 1920s, and that this was good evidence that an armed citizenry is a defense against tyranny.
I pointed out that because so much of America is rural, citizens need means to defend themselves and their property when the armed authorities are far away from them. I noted that America would face insurmountable obstacles in trying to confiscate guns, as so many Americans believe they are a necessary defensive measure against violence. I also observed that the same belief was held just a few hours up the road from him, in Northern Ireland, and that’s why Great Britain has considerably relaxed gun laws there compared to the rest of the country.
With the easy confidence of an American-Irish nationalist, I told him that the reason the Falls Road neighborhood wasn’t burned down again was three letters long: IRA. They had guns.
That was enough to not only impress my interlocutor, but to also silence him on the subject. But my conscience has been talking at me ever since. And on days like yesterday, it is screaming: What about the guns? I have no answers, but I have some doubts about our gun culture that American conservatives should consider:
An armed citizenry is not the same thing as an armed consumer public
In America we have background checks to prevent certain criminals from owning guns. It’s a system that presumes good citizenship on the part of everyone who has not been convicted of a crime. But not having a criminal record is a very different thing from being a responsible citizen. The only test most people have to pass to gain access to weapons of exceptional lethal power is this: Do you have enough cash or credit?
That’s not enough. Classical republican theory restricts arms ownership to those it deems responsible enough to uphold public order. Our system of guns as a consumer good, and our democratic presumption of good citizenship, puts guns into unsteady and untrained hands.
Making sure a person is qualified to own a gun is something responsible societies do. Many families, gun clubs, and organizations like the NRA do the work of training responsible, conscientious gun owners. It’s plausible that some kind of mandatory socialization in gun clubs for potential gun owners would be a good first step at preventing gun violence. It’s more plausible than simply wishing for more ‘good guys with guns’ at every possible location for a tragedy. As things stand, this constructive, social gun culture does not encompass the totality of gun owners; gun shops certainly don’t inquire about your sociability and training.
I know what conservatives are thinking: “So you think the government has the power to disqualify citizens from gun ownership?” The government will prove terrible at this task, and it defeats the purpose of an armed citizenry. And to be sure, I don’t want a government that can put a gun owner in prison for having the wrong politics. And of course, this power of restricting guns — like restricting the franchise to “responsible, invested citizens” — echoes a historical tie between gun control and racist efforts to confine blacks to a lower status. And yet, we still ought to consider stronger guarantees of responsible gun ownership. Perhaps tests that aim at qualifying the character of a gun owner, rather than searching only for a criminal disqualification.
Increased firepower among citizens is leading to an arms race with the state
There are plenty of horror stories about cops getting geeked-up in discarded military gear to deliver a warrant or make a drug arrest. They kick in a door, throw a flash-bang into a crib, or shoot to death an innocent unlucky enough to be holding a television remote that looks like a weapon. The militarization of the police has many causes, including our drug policies and federally subsidized military-grade equipment. But it is also the case that cops in America expect to go into gunfights, and naturally they want the bigger gun. Countries without as wide access to guns don’t have such heavily armed or fearful police.
American may be more violent precisely because we have guns
We’re often told that Americans are just more violent than other people, and that’s why we have so many guns. And I agree, to a point. But the truth might be the other way around, and conservatives should make generous allowances for the pre-rational or the anti-rational in our politics. Our tools and our physical surroundings shape our self-conception and our intentions. A beautiful church sanctuary reminds us of the transcendent and sends a hush over us. A well-appointed room may cause us to stand straighter. And training with a hand gun, an object designed to kill other human beings, causes us to imagine situations in which we might kill another human being.
Doing this constantly makes us more likely to “see” a situation in which we could take lethal action. It may cause us to perceive more danger in the world than actually exists. Mentally unsound people are obviously much more likely to lose themselves in this kind of self-induced paranoia, but a stable person should be aware of that pull on their subconscious intentions as well.
It is this intuition about human nature that makes me recoil instinctively from certain guns, often marketed as “tactical,” which are designed to look sinister and appeal to young men who spent a lot of time in their adolescence playing Counter-Strike.
Firearm-related deaths are one of the only truly “exceptional” things about America, and that’s embarrassing
There are lots of places on Earth where you can make a prosperous living. There are lots of modern commercial nations. In history there have been empires that bungled through the Middle East like we do. And there are lots of countries that are torn by disorder and violence that are caused by an absence of state authority. America is really the only nation that is orderly with an almost unchallengeable state, and yet has a gun-death rate similar to much poorer Latin American nations experiencing low-grade civil wars and disorder.
Yes, many of our firearm-related deaths are suicides. But our firearm-related homicide rate is noticeably higher than every comparable industrialized nation. And furthermore, there seems to be a strong correlation between reduced access to firearms and a reduced rate of suicide.
None of these lines of thought has carried me all the way over to Mike Bloomberg’s side. Gun crime, like all crime, has been receding for most of my life. I recognize that most of the proposals made by gun-control groups in the aftermath of a tragedy would have done little to prevent the tragedy in the first place. I admire most of the gun-owners I know, many of whom have politics that are on the left or are outright radical. I have thought of purchasing weapons and training with them myself and I would regret the loss of my ability to do so. The concept of an “armed citizenry” makes sense to me, from my reading of history. And I think responsible citizens have a right to defend themselves against each other, even with guns. The results of preventing them from obtaining firearms lawfully can also be deadly and unjust.
But overall, the results in this part of the American experiment are not encouraging. If the Virginia killer did not have easy access to guns, if his scheme for murdering his former colleagues had to be accomplished with knives, hammers, or a home-made explosive device, the truth is that those murders would have been much less likely to occur. Conservatives who generally support the idea of an armed citizenry should let that thought sink in.
By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, August 27, 2015
When Donald Trump kicked off his Republican presidential campaign, he was officially a candidate, but he wasn’t a real candidate, at least not in every sense of the word. The New York developer had a skeleton staff, little support in the polls, no field offices, no organization in early nominating states, no endorsements, and no national campaign infrastructure.
As of mid-June, Trump was effectively a candidate in name only. He had an escalator, some animosity towards immigrants, and little else. By some accounts, the GOP contender had to pay people to show up at his campaign kick-off.
It didn’t matter. The former reality-show host quickly found a following, which grew at an unexpected rate. Media attention soon followed. Trump didn’t spend much time on the campaign trail – he’s largely forgone the usual candidate-like activities – but he’s nevertheless dominating, at least for now.
All of which raises the question: if Trump can rocket to the front of the Republican pack without the backing of a real national campaign, what happens when the GOP candidate starts trying?
We’re about to find out. Iowa’s Sam Clovis, a prominent Republican activist and media figure in Iowa, had served for months as the state chairman of Rick Perry’s presidential campaign, until this week, when Clovis gave up on the former Texas governor and joined Team Trump.
Rachel noted on the show last night that Clovis isn’t the only one, and the Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore took a look this morning at the operation Clovis is going to help lead – featuring activists one might not expect to see backing Trump.
[Trump’s] national campaign chairman, Corey Lewandowski, made his bones with the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity outfit (and its predecessor group, Citizens for a Sound Economy). Along with Clovis, Trump yesterday announced another eye-catching hire for his South Carolina campaign: Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from The Citadel, and an unsuccessful challenger to Lindsey Graham last year.
They join Matt Ciepielowski, Trump’s New Hampshire director, “another AFP alumnus who spent the 2012 cycle with Youth for Ron Paul.”
Kilgore’s point is that these aides weren’t obvious choices for Team Trump, and though they may have been wooed by “Trump’s nose-thumbing at the Republican Establishment,” they should also probably prepare themselves for the possibility that their candidate will “get bored with politics and bow out before things get serious.”
In a year like this, anything’s possible. But I’m also struck by a related thought: those are actual campaign officials, taking on actual campaign responsibilities.
It’s a bizarre dynamic on its face – usually a candidate builds a team, starts campaigning, and climbs in the polls, in that order. With Trump, he climbed in the polls, started campaigning, and then built a team.
What I’ll be eager to see is whether this helps or hurts his aspirations. The moment Trump makes the transition from “outlandish personality” to “legitimate Republican contender,” do his followers lose interest? Does Trump?
If the candidate reached the top in part by being non-traditional, does the magic disappear when a proper campaign organization takes shape?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 26, 2015
Peter Georgescu has a message he wants America’s corporate and political elites to hear: “I’m scared,” he said in a recent New York Times opinion piece.
He adds that Paul Tudor Jones is scared, too, as is Ken Langone. And they are trying to get the Powers That Be to pay attention to their urgent concerns. But wait — these three are Powers That Be. Georgescu is former head of Young & Rubicam, one of the world’s largest PR and advertising firms; Jones is a quadruple-billionaire and hedge fund operator; and Langone is a founder of Home Depot.
What is scaring the pants off these powerful peers of the corporate plutocracy? Inequality. Yes, amazingly, these actual occupiers of Wall Street say they share Occupy Wall Street’s critical analysis of America’s widening chasm between the rich and the rest of us. “We are creating a caste system from which it’s almost impossible to escape,” Georgescu wrote, not only trapping the poor, but also “those on the higher end of the middle class.” He issued a clarion call for his corporate peers to reverse the dangerous and ever-widening gulf of income inequality in our country by increasing the paychecks of America’s workaday majority. “We business leaders know what to do. But do we have the will to do it? Are we willing to control the excessive greed so prevalent in our culture today and divert resources to better education and the creation of more opportunity?”
Right on, Peter! However, their concern is not driven by moral outrage at the injustice of it all, but by self-interest: “We are concerned where income inequality will lead,” he said. Specifically, he warned that one of two horrors awaits the elites if they stick to the present path: social unrest (conjuring up images of the guillotine) or (horror of horrors) “oppressive taxes” on the super rich.
Motivation aside, Georgescu does comprehend the remedy that our society must have: “Invest in the actual value creators — the employees,” he writes. “Start compensating fairly (with) a wage that enables employees to share amply in productivity increases and creative innovations.” They have talked with other corporate chieftains and found “almost unanimous agreement” on the need to compensate employees better.
Great! So they’ll just do it, right? Uh… no. But he says he knows just the thing that’ll jar the CEOs into action: “Government can provide tax incentives to business to pay more to employees.” That’s his big idea. Yes, corporate wage-hike subsidies. He actually wants us taxpayers to give money to bloated, uber-rich corporations so they can pay a dab more to their employees!
As Lily Tomlin said, “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.”
First of all, Georgescu proposes this tax giveaway to the corporate elite could “exist for three to five years and then be evaluated for effectiveness.” Much like the Bush tax cuts that helped drive the economic divide, once the corporate chieftains get a taste for a government handout, they will send their lawyers and lobbyists to Washington to schmooze congresscritters into making the tax subsidy permanent.
Secondly, paying to get “good behavior” would reward bad behavior, completely absolving those very CEOs and wealthy shareholders of their guilt in creating today’s gross inequality. After all, they are the ones who have pushed relentlessly for 30 years to disempower labor unions, downsize and privatize the workforce, send jobs offshore, defund education and social programs, and otherwise dismantle the framework that once sustained America’s healthy middle class. These guys put the “sin” in cynical.
If we want to fix income inequality, Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, has a solution. In response to Gerogescu’s offer of charity to corporations, Hanley wrote: “Strengthen labor laws, and we can have democracy and equality again.”
By: Jim Hightower, Featured Post, The National Memo, August 26, 2015
“A Compelling Statement Of Belief In Things Not Seen”: Jimmy Carter’s Image Of Faith Truest To What Faith Should Be
To want what I have, to take what I’m given with grace… for this, I pray.” — From “For My Wedding,” by Don Henley
America is a nation of faith. So it is often said.
In faith, a baker refuses to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. In faith, a minister prays for the president to die. In faith, terrorists plant bombs at the finish line of a marathon. In faith, mosques are vandalized, shot at and burned. In faith, a televangelist asks his followers to buy him a $65 million private jet.
And no one is even surprised anymore.In America, what we call faith is often loud, often exclusionary, sometimes violent, and too frequently enamored of shiny, expensive things. In faith, ill-tempered people mob the shopping malls every year at Christmas to have fistfights and gunfights over hot toys and high-end electronics.
You did not hear much about faith last week when Jimmy Carter held a press conference to reveal that he has four spots of cancer on his brain. The 39th president made only a few references to it in the nearly 40 minutes he spoke, and they were all in response to reporters’ questions. Yet, you would be hard pressed to find a more compelling statement of belief in things not seen. Unsentimental, poised, and lit from within by an amazing grace, Carter discussed the fight now looming ahead of him, the radiation treatments he will undergo, the need to finally cut back on his whirlwind schedule.
He smiled often. “I’m perfectly at ease with whatever comes,” he said, in such a way that you believed him without question. And it was impossible to feel sorry for him.
Partially, that’s because we all die and if — still only an if — cancer is what takes James Earl Carter Jr. away, well, there are worse things than to go having reached 90 years of age, having been president of the United States, having been married to the love of your life for almost seven decades, having sired a large and sprawling family, and having done significant work toward the eradication of disease and the spreading of democracy in the developing world.
But here’s the other reason it was impossible to feel sorry for him. Feeling sorry would have felt like an insult, a denial of the virtues he showed and the faith he didn’t need to speak because it was just… there.
For all its loudness, all its exclusion, violence, and ubiquity, the faith that is modeled in the public square is often not particularly affecting. It is hard to imagine someone looking on it from outside and musing to herself, “I’d like to have some of that.” What Carter showed the world, though, was different. Who would not want to be able to face the unknown with such perfect equanimity?
Carter presented an image of faith we don’t see nearly as often as we should. Which is sad, because it is also the image truest to what faith is supposed to be — not a magic lamp you rub in hopes of a private jet, not a license for our worse impulses, but, rather, an act of surrender to a force greater than self, a way of being centered enough to tell whatever bleak thing comes your way, “So be it.” Even fearsome death itself: “So be it.”
The heat and hubris of human life are such that that state is difficult to conceive, much less to reach. Our lives are defined by wanting and by lack — more money, new car, new love — and by the ceaseless hustle to fill empty spaces within. Media and advertising conspire to make you feel ever incomplete. So it is hard to feel whole within yourself, at peace with what is, whatever that turns out to be.
But who, gazing upon the former president, can doubt the result is worth the effort?
In faith, terrorists kill the innocent. In faith, televangelists swindle the gullible. In faith, so many of us hate, exclude, hurt, curse, and destroy. And in faith, last week, Jimmy Carter told the world he has cancer in his brain.
And smiled as he spoke.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, August 26, 2015
At the expense of pedantry, here’s how a serious newspaper covers an important story: “Tom Brady hearing transcript details judge’s comments to NFL, NFLPA,” reads the Boston Globe headline.
Datelined New York, the August 21 article states that Judge Richard M. Berman “put immense pressure on the NFL.” It quotes him telling the league its punishment of the Patriots quarterback in “Deflategate” constitutes a “quantum leap” from the evidence.
The byline establishes that Globe reporters were there in the courtroom. Indeed, the online version contains a link to the full hearing transcript.
(As an aside, this column’s readers can’t say nobody warned them about the shaky evidence and shoddy reasoning behind this overblown affair.)
Now then: Let’s move to the apparently far less significant question of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s fabled email account. I say that because a recent New York Times account of a different federal judge’s statement supposedly about that account bears few indicators of real journalism.
Indeed, if one were of a low and suspicious nature regarding the Times’ historically inept Washington bureau, one might suspect yet another example of the “Clinton Rules” — that is, a shaky allegation unsupported by facts.
Like a recent wildly inaccurate Times article on the same topic, the story carried Michael Schmidt’s byline. The headline of Schmidt’s original July 23 piece was “Criminal Inquiry Sought In Clinton’s Use of Email.”
Except, oops, there was no criminal investigation, nor was Hillary Clinton directly involved in what amounted to an argument between the CIA and State Department over retroactively classifying information — to wit, how many Clinton emails the State Department planned to release needed to be withheld from public scrutiny under today’s circumstances.
After being forced to retract virtually the entire article in a piecemeal process its own public editor, Margaret Sullivan, characterized as “to put it mildly, a mess,” Times editors pinned the blame on anonymous sources they wouldn’t identify. They vowed to be more cautious.
“Losing the story to another news outlet would have been a far, far better outcome,” Sullivan wrote “than publishing an unfair story and damaging the Times’ reputation for accuracy.”
Soon afterward, the public editor said she agreed with a reader who argued that the newspaper needed to make “a promise to readers going forward that Hillary is not going to be treated unfairly as she so often is by the media.”
Fast forward to another Schmidt opus that moved on the wire at 3:36 AM on the night of August 21. I read it in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette under the headline: “Judge: Clinton Didn’t Heed Email Policies.”
Datelined “Washington,” the story claimed that U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan “said of Hillary Clinton’s email use that ‘we wouldn’t be here today if the employee had followed government policy,’ according to two people who attended the hearing.”
Two anonymous sources, that is.
The article quoted Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, a right-wing group suing the State Department for access to Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s private emails, chastising Hillary. It didn’t stipulate how the former Secretary, not a party to the lawsuit, came to be mentioned. Schmidt added that Judge Sullivan was appointed by President Bill Clinton — although a glance at Wikipedia shows that he was initially a Reagan protégé later promoted by George H.W. Bush.
It’s not supposed to matter.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the hard copy New York Times later that morning. Schmidt’s story underwent significant editorial changes. Two anonymous sources were replaced by no sources. “A federal judge on Thursday said,” the story began. The Judicial Watch guy disappeared. Judge Sullivan was no longer a Clinton appointee.
More significantly, the “Washington” dateline was replaced by no dateline.
Basically, the Times told us the judge said something, but contrary to Journalism 101, didn’t say how they knew it or why he said it. Pretending that a reporter attended the hearing when he didn’t, however, would be far worse. Hence, I suspect, the disappearing dateline.
We’re to take it on faith.
Sorry, no sale. As Huckleberry Finn said, “I been there before.”
Actually, “the employee” would be an odd way for a federal judge to refer to the Secretary of State — a cabinet appointee and fourth in line for the presidency — not to mention that everybody from The Wall Street Journal, to Newsweek, CNN and, yes, The New York Times have reported that Clinton’s private email setup was consistent with State Department rules.
So I’m thinking former Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) got it right on Fox News Sunday. “Judge Sullivan’s extraneous remark was about something completely different,” she said “and it was about something going on with somebody else, an employee.”
So it looks like another big hurry, another big screwup.
If the presidential race is as important as the Super Bowl, maybe the Times should show us the transcript.
By: Gene Lyons, Featured Post, The National Memo, August 26, 2015