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“Watching The Second Amendment In Action”: Setting Gun Violence Apart From Other Public Health Risks

Like many of you, no doubt, I watched the studio-produced live video of two local television journalists being murdered in Virginia yesterday pretty soon after it happened. I might have also looked at the vastly more graphic killer-generated cellphone video of the event, but chose not to. Most media outlets soon stopped posting or linking to either video before long. At TNR, Jeet Heer explains why: there was no doubt who the perp was, and thus no real reason to distribute the video.

But also at TNR, Brian Beutler thinks otherwise:

The line between informing the public and macabre gratuitousness is murky, and staying on the right side of it requires great discretion and judgment. But rather than cleanse newscasts and websites of the on-air killing, producers and editors should make it easily available to their viewers and readers, because our society unfortunately needs vivid reminders of the awesome, life-stopping power of firearms.

In an abstract sense, everyone knows guns are deadly, in the same way everyone knows cigarettes are deadly. But our political culture—the conservative faction of it, at least—sanitizes the way guns end life in a way that sets gun violence apart from other public health risks….

When a bullet pierces human flesh, that body becomes extremely ill right away, no less than when a body flies through a windshield or experiences a severe electric shock. But where government actively regulates cars and construction sites—indeed is applauded for doing so—it simultaneously takes steps to abstract guns from the harm they cause, and silence public officials who refuse to play along. Last year, dozens of senators opposed President Barack Obama’s Surgeon General nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy, on the grounds that he described gun violence as a public health issue and, in his private capacity, had supported efforts to further regulate firearms.

Murthy was eventually confirmed, but barely, and only because Democrats had disarmed the filibuster as a means of blocking executive branch nominees.

What Beutler doesn’t mention here is that he was a gunshot victim not long ago; his was the body that became “extremely ill right away,” and he might well have died. He wrote about the incident at Salon back in 2013, mainly to rebut the idea that gun violence justified racial profiling. But his descriptions of the shock he went into and his gradual horrifying realization after surgery of the damage wrought by three bullets was unforgettable.

So this is one person who has experienced the downside of the Second Amendment rights that make America a uniquely gun-toting country and wants the rest of us to get at least a small glimpse of it as well, instead of treating the shooting of human beings with guns as an abstraction or glorifying it as the essence of liberty.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 27, 2015

August 28, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Deaths, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trump And White Supremacists”: They Don’t Don Sheets And Pointy Hoods Or Burn Crosses At Their Gatherings, But It’s The Same Crowd

“Trump, on a gut level, kind of senses that this is about demographics, ultimately. We’re moving into a new America.” He said, “I don’t think Trump is a white nationalist,” but he did believe that Trump reflected “an unconscious vision that white people have – that their grandchildren might be a hated minority in their own country. I think that scares us. They probably aren’t able to articulate it. I think it’s there. I think that, to a great degree, explains the Trump phenomenon.”

That comes from a fascinating article by Evan Osnos titled: The Fearful and the Frustrated. The particular quote is from someone named Richard Spencer. Here’s how Osnos introduces him:

Richard Spencer is a self-described “identitarian” who lives in Whitefish, Montana, and promotes “white racial consciousness.” At thirty-six, Spencer is trim and preppy, with degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago. He is the president and director of the National Policy Institute, a think tank, co-founded by William Regnery, a member of the conservative publishing family, that is “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of European people in the United States and around the world.” The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Spencer “a suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old.

Apparently Osnos was doing some reporting on extremist white-rights groups when the whole Trump phenomenon hit. As such, he had a front-row seat to how this dark corner in our country reacted. The upshot of it all is…they love it.

Ever since the Tea Party’s peak, in 2010, and its fade, citizens on the American far right – Patriot militias, border vigilantes, white supremacists – have searched for a standard-bearer, and now they’d found him.

Spencer has gotten a higher profile lately due to the fact that he seems to be the go-to guy on understanding the recent popularity of the hashtag #cuckservative. Here’s Dave Weigel explaining:

Late last week, a neologism was born. Twitter was the incubator. “Cuckservative,” a portmanteau of “conservative” and “cuckold” (i.e. a man whose wife has cheated on him) burned up Twitter as fans of Donald Trump’s politicking warred with the movement conservatives who opposed it…

What is “cuckservatism?”

I’ll defer to Richard Spencer, president of the white nationalist National Policy Institute.

“#Cuckservative” is a full-scale revolt, by Identitarians and what I’ve called the ‘alt Right,’ against the Republican Party and conservative movement,” Spencer explained in an e-mail. “The ‘cuck’ slur is vulgar, yes, but then piercingly accurate. It is the cuckold who, whether knowingly or unknowingly, loses control of his future. This is an apt psychological portrait of white ‘conservatives,’ whose only identity is comprised of vague, abstract ‘values,’ and who are participating in the displacement of European Americans — their own children…

According to Spencer, “Trump is a major part of the ‘cuckservative’ phenomenon — but not because he himself is an Identitarian or traditionalist. His campaign is, in many ways, a backward-looking movement: ‘Let’s make America great again!’ Why Trump is attractive to Identitarians and the alt Right is: a) he is a tougher, superior man than ‘conservatives’ (which isn’t saying much), and b) he seems to grasp the demographic displacement of European-Americans on a visceral level. We see some hope there.”

Consider yourself on notice. People like Richard Spencer “see some hope” in the likes of Donald Trump. These guys can come up with new names for themselves (i.e., “Identitarians” or “alt Right”) and perhaps they don’t don sheets and pointy hoods or burn crosses at their gatherings. But make no mistake, it’s the same crowd.

P.S. Daniel Marans and Kim Bellware have a run-down on Trump’s white supremacists fan club.

 

By: Nancy LeTournea, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 27, 2015

August 28, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Right Wing Extremisim, White Supremacists | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Real Muslim American Threat? It’s Against Us”: We’ve Reached An Ugly Place In America With Anti-Muslim Sentiment

There’s a growing threat in America involving Muslims. The FBI has even recently issued a warning to alert local law enforcement about it. But our politicians and media continue to ignore it.

The threat I’m speaking of is not “radical Islam,” as the right loves to call it. Rather I’m talking about the threat of “radical Americans” who are plotting to kill Muslim Americans and to stoke the flames of hate versus Muslims in hopes that others will be inspired to do just that.

Now some may be asking “What threat against Muslim Americans?” I can fully understand that reaction, given how little our media cover plots to kill Muslims. It appears to many in the media, Muslim lives simply don’t matter.

So let me bring you up to speed on what is going in the world of “radical Americans.” Just last Friday, Glendon Scott Crawford was convicted in federal court of trying to develop a “weapon of mass destruction” to kill Muslims in his upstate New York community near Saratoga Springs. Scott, an industrial mechanic at General Electric, was constructing a “death X-ray machine” to kill Muslims because he viewed them as the “enemies of Israel,” per the indictment.

Just so it’s clear, no one has claimed that Crawford was mentally ill. He was simply a man who so despised Muslims that he wanted to use his electrical skills to kill them with radiation. He had even successfully tested, with FBI undercover agents, the remote trigger for the device. Thankfully, he will be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Do I even have to say how much media coverage we would’ve seen if a Muslim in America had been arrested plotting to use a weapon of mass destruction against Christians?

But Crawford is far from alone. A few months ago I wrote about Robert Doggart, a Tennessee Christian minister who had planned to travel to upstate New York with other men to wage, in essence, a holy war against Muslims. His plot included using assault rifles, explosives, and even a machete to cut the Muslims “to shreds.”

Doggart had also communicated with sympathetic members of militias in other Southern states. Doggart, who was arrested by the FBI days before he was planning to head to New York for reconnaissance, has been charged with solicitation to commit a civil rights violation and is facing up to 10 years in prison.

And it gets worse from there. In fact, the threat against Muslim Americans by radical Americans has escalated to the point that the FBI recently issued an alert titled “Militia Extremists Expand Target Sets To Include Muslims.” (PDF) This FBI warning notes that based on the evidence collected, it has “high confidence” that “domestic extremists” are planning violence against Muslim Americans.

The concern has reached the point to where the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) put out a press release just last week warning Muslims Americans to be especially vigilant. As CAIR noted, FBI sources indicated that militia groups have been conducting surveillance of Muslims in “diverse locations including Alaska, Arizona, Indiana, Montana, New York, North and South Carolina, Utah, and Texas.

Astoundingly, we have even seen others—all white men in the South—trying to stoke more hate against Muslims by literally fabricating terror plots and claiming it was the work of Muslims. In July, Brett Downing, a National Guard member in Georgia, claimed that he found a note on his car windshield that read: “Dear American soldier, death to you coward women child killer and all the American military. Mohammad will show no mercy on you attacks will come full force death is to come to you.

As would be expected, this letter caused people in the community to become fearful of Muslims. However, it turned out that Downing wrote the letter himself and has now been charged with filing a false report.

And just a week ago, Jason Paul Smith, a West Virginia man, was arrested for claiming he was going to blow up the Statue of Liberty. However, when Smith called in the bomb threat, he identified himself as an ISIS terrorist named “Abdul Yasin.” (Smith is not Muslim.)

Yet these two are nothing when compared to Michael Sibley, a Georgia man and self-described “patriot” who planted a bomb in a park near his house a few months ago. In the backpack with the bomb, Sibley placed a Quran and other items he thought a Muslim would carry in the hopes of convincing the authorities that a Muslim had carried out the plot. Why? Well, he believes that “no one was paying attention to what was going on the world.

We have alarmingly reached an ugly place in America with anti-Muslim sentiment. And while Donald Trump has not targeted Muslims with his rhetoric (at least not yet), his fear mongering will no doubt embolden others to spew hate versus various minority groups, including Muslims. And worse, this type of divisive language can inspire violence as we saw last week in Boston when two men attacked a Latino homeless man. After the assault, one of the attackers told the police: “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported.

Interestingly one of the two Boston attackers had also been convicted of a hate crime for assaulting a Muslim man shortly after 9/11. Thus again proving that bigots tend to hate more than just one minority group.

I would predict we will see even more plots to kill Muslims in America or at least attempts to gin up the hate toward the Muslim community. This, of course, makes ISIS ecstatic because the terror group would use any attacks on American Muslims as proof that the West hates Islam and that Muslims should join them.

I wish I could be more optimistic, but I’m a realist. My only hope is that our media starts covering these terror plots to make it clear that the threat of “radical Americans” is very real.

 

By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, August 27, 2015

August 28, 2015 Posted by | American Muslims, Domestic Terrorism, Militia Extremists | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Gun Control Is Political”: So Is Refusing To Address The Politics Of Gun Violence

After the 24-year-old television reporter Alison Parker and her 27-year-old cameraman Adam Ward were killed while on camera from a lake outside of Roanoke, Virginia on Wednesday morning, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, somewhat predictably tweeted that “[w]e must act to stop gun violence, and we cannot wait any longer” and Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe called for new gun control measures in the form of background checks .

The conservative response to Democrats’ anodyne reactions is even more predictable: it’s wrong, they say, to “politicize” individual acts of firearm violence. But gun violence in the United States has everything to do with politics – and we should be talking more, not less, about the impact of America’s failed gun policies on victims and their families and communities.

It is true – as apologists for the status quo will be sure to point out – that it is impossible to know whether today’s murder specifically could have been prevented by a more stringent gun control regime, let alone by one characterized exclusively by background checks. But on a more systematic level, the result of our lack of substantive, internationally comparable gun control is entirely clear: the US is not only an international outlier in its lack of gun control, it is also a massive outlier in terms of firearm violence. The ease of access to firearms clearly causes large numbers of unnecessary deaths by homicide, suicide, and accident.

Thus, the staggering human toll of gun violence in the US is not just a random coincidence; it is the result of political choices.

Which policies could reduce the huge number of mass killings in the US are not a mystery: after 35 people were killed in Tasmania in 1996, Australia’s conservative government enacted sweeping gun control measures. The result was that both homicides and suicides by gun were immediately and sharply reduced, and there have been no mass killings in the country since. Conversely, there have been 885 mass killings in the United States since December 2012, when a gunman killed 20 elementary school students at the Newtown Elementary School in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

Identifying the policy changes that could reduce American firearm slaughter is easy, of course – and figuring out a politically viable way of getting these policies enacted is another matter. Even if the 2008 Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v Heller declaring an individual right to bear arms in the 2nd Amendment were to be overruled by the same court, the political obstacles in the path of meaningful gun control are formidable. Isolated state and local measures aren’t meaningless, but there are distinct limits to how much they can accomplish. Tough federal gun control measures could make a big difference, but passing any such measure through both the House and a Senate that massively over-represents small, rural states with a disproportionate number of gun-owners would be impossible for the foreseeable future.

The lack of congressional reaction to the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 is instructive on that point. Even very modest, overwhelmingly popular gun control measures, involving background checks and controls on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, failed to pass a Democratic Senate and, even if they had, they would have had no chance of passing the House of Representatives. Australian-style gun control is not coming to the US anytime soon, especially with support for gun rights only growing.

But gun control isn’t the only way to address gun violence, and Parker and Ward are not even its typical victims. Even had Parker and Ward’s killer not turned his gun on himself, there would have been an intensive investigation into their deaths, and the sure-to-have-been apprehended killer would have faced some measure of justice.

Consider, though, the situation 280 miles northeast of Roanoke in Baltimore, Maryland. The horrifying death of Freddie Gray in police custody has highlighted the violence committed by police against Baltimore’s African-American citizens, but what the police have failed to do for the community is also important to understanding how gun violence typically plays out in America. So far in 2015, more people have been killed in Baltimore (population 620,000) than in New York City (population 8.4 million). The more than 200 murder victims in Baltimore receive much less attention from either the investigating authorities or the media, and the vast majority of those victims are poor and African-American. Indeed, the horrifying spike in homicides has been met with a weak response by the police: the clearance rate for murders is less than 40%.

A lack of federal gun control is certainly a large part of the problem of the toll of gun violence. But other policies and social conditions – most obviously high levels of economic and racial inequality – also play a major role, and both are also the result of political choices.

As the journalist Jill Leovy explains in her new book Ghettoside, poor African-American communities in many American urban areas are simultaneously over- and under-policed: they are on the one hand subject to routine harassment, detention, and imprisonment for minor offenses but, when it comes to serious violent offenses committed against poor African-Americans, the reaction by the state and the media is too often apathetic or ineffectual. Most victims of gun violence will never make international news, and their deaths will almost never result in calls for more gun control – let alone the kind of gun control that would reduce the number of guns in the hands of Americans, which is the only tried-and-true method for reducing gun violence.

The American epidemic of gun violence has not been “politicized” by those who seek to alleviate it. It is and always has been an inherently a political question, as is what we’re going to do about it. The answer, at least for now, seems to be “nothing”. But it doesn’t always have to be.

 

By: Scott Lemieux, The Guardian, August 26, 2015

August 28, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Deaths, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Battle For Voting Rights Continues”: A Non-Problem Invoked To Create A Massive New Problem Of Obstructing Legitimate Votes

Many find politics frustrating because problems that seemed to be solved in one generation crop up again years or decades later. The good thing about democracy is that there are no permanent defeats. The hard part is that some victories have to be won over and over.

And so it is with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a monument to what can be achieved when grass-roots activism is harnessed to presidential and legislative leadership. Ending discrimination at the ballot box was a way of underwriting the achievements of the Civil Rights Act passed a year earlier by granting African Americans new and real power to which they had always been constitutionally entitled.

“The results were almost unimaginable in 1965,” writes Ari Berman in “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” his timely book published this month. “In subsequent decades, the number of black registered voters in the South increased from 31 percent to 73 percent; the number of black elected officials increased from fewer than 500 to 10,500 nationwide; the number of black members of Congress increased from five to 44.”

And, yes, an African American was elected president of the United States in 2008 and reelected in 2012. He was powered by the ballots of Americans of color who would not let anything turn them around from their polling places.

President Obama’s victory has been routinely cited by those who were already insisting that the Voting Rights Act was outdated. They turned out to have a powerful ally in Chief Justice John Roberts, whose record on the issue Berman analyzes closely. If the United States could elect a black president, wasn’t that a sign that there was no longer a need for a strong Voting Rights Act?

Berman quotes Ed Blum, a tireless activist in the effort to weaken the Voting Rights Act. Before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Blum referred to Birmingham, Ala.’s, legendary commissioner of public safety as a figure of the past: “‘Bull Connor is dead.’ And so is every Jim Crow-era segregationist intent on keeping blacks from the polls.”

In fact, Obama’s election called forth a far more sophisticated approach to restricting voting. Republicans closely examined how Obama’s political organization had turned out large numbers of young African Americans who had not voted before. Their participation was facilitated by early voting, and particularly Sunday voting.

So legislatures in many states where Republicans had full political control went to work to make it harder for African Americans, Latinos and young people to vote. Of course, that is not what they said they were doing. They invented a scarecrow, “voter fraud,” to justify voter ID laws. These laws disadvantage inner-city residents and favor suburbanites who get driver’s licenses as a matter of routine. They also used all kinds of excuses to roll back early voting.

“No matter how much evidence emerged to the contrary, the voter-fraud myth would never die,” Berman writes. Indeed. The fraud specter is so useful to those who want to restrict voting that the facts don’t trouble them. As a result, a non-problem is invoked to create a massive new problem of obstructing legitimate votes.

This month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that Texas’s voter ID law “has a discriminatory effect” and amounted to a poll tax. But it also sent the case back to a lower-court judge asking her to meet a high standard of showing that the law was passed with an explicitly discriminatory intent. You can bet that the Texas voting case or another in North Carolina, or both, will make their way to a Supreme Court that has already gutted the Voting Rights Act once in a 2013 decision written by Roberts.

Will he do it again? And will voters in 2016 realize just how important a president’s power to name future Supreme Court justices is to the very right they will be exercising on Election Day?

It would have been lovely if Berman’s book could simply have celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Instead, it is even more useful as a guide to what still needs to be done. He tells the story of the charismatic leader of the North Carolina NAACP, the Rev. William Barber II, who led the state’s innovative Moral Monday protests.

“What do we do when they try to take away voting rights?” Barber asked at a rally.

The crowd responded: “We fight, we fight, we fight.”

There is no alternative.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 19, 2015

August 28, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Democracy, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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