Someone Please Explain This to Me!

November 30, 2017

The State of Alabama. Please explain the support for Roy Moore, in particular. I see television interviews of individuals and of press conferences where Alabamans routinely invoke religious principles and concepts to justify their support for an “alleged” pedophile.

I understand those who simply deny the reality of the claims of the victims. It’s not uncommon for a man of his stature and reputation as a religious man (however contrived or manufactured a reputation) to get the benefit of the doubt. After all, people denied that for decades that many Catholic priests and bishops systematically sexually abused children. It’s hard to accept a person you have trusted for years is a monster. It’s scary to people that they failed to see the signs of a pedophile, and it’s easier to deny the claims of an individual(s), especially if they are made long after the fact. However, Moore has already admitted to dating underaged girls in the past.

I can understand people who see Moore as a champion of their “religious rights”. After all, he was twice removed from office for refusing to honor the Constitution and legal Court orders related to matters of his religious beliefs. He is a man who openly admits that his “religious” beliefs are more important than the law and the Constitution. To those people, their religion is a convenient cover for their bigotry (e.g. is there any doubt that Moore would be gone already if Moore had sexually assaulted boys?), and from the days of Reconstruction the Constitution has been ignored in Alabama until forced to comply. The fact that Moore was removed as a judge by a Federal Court makes him all the more electable in Alabama.

What I can’t understand is how people who define themselves as “Conservative” or “Christian” or “Evangelical Conservatives” can believe the evidence that Moore is a sexual predator of children and reward him with their vote because he will promote their political agenda. I thought the whole thing about Evangelicals is that spiritual principles are more important than anything else, even politics. I have heard some say that “God forgives every sinner”, but I understand enough to know that forgiveness is the end-result of confession (admitting you sinned) and repentance (changing behavior). Moore has done neither.

The religious support for Moore is especially galling to those who have actually read Scriptures and understand that Jesus was especially protective of children. What would electing Moore do to those hidden and future child victims of sexual abuse if a pedophile is allowed to attack his victims and be rewarded with public trust? Granted, some of his supporters step right up to the threshold of saying that in Alabama its OK to date children (e.g. the State Representative that justified the behavior by saying that Moore always asked for parental permission), but Moore did not ask for permission. Can a pedophile actually be banned from shopping malls in Alabama but still be elected Senator?

The reality is that Moore is likely to win, primarily because in Alabama religion and politics are fused. Moore has set himself up to represent those “good vs. evil” people and many churches appear to consider a pedophile to be more representative of their religious beliefs than any Democrat.  That kind of hatred is hard to overcome.

The Quiet Takeover

November 29, 2017

While the country is devolving into political tribalism, encouraged by the Trump Administration and his GOP allies and abetted by a profit driven media, there is another profound change being executed by Trump that may have even more devastating consequences to your liberty and welfare. The noise of Russia, Moore and Twitter has diverted attention from and enabled a quiet but devastating take-over of the last remaining Branch of Government protecting the common welfare – the Judiciary.

The Federalist Society (a group cynically named, and just as woefully devoted to the worst kind of judicial activism) has been put in charge of nominating virtually all white men as Federal Judges who are qualified only by their devotion to ideology and not the Constitution. For the first time in history, a half-dozen nominees for Federal Court positions have been assessed as “unqualified” by the National Bar Association. This is the same Bar Association that assessed Bork, Thomas and Gorsuch as “qualified”. In other words, the Bar Association gradings have been ideologically neutral. Their only criteria are the record and writings of nominees. Why such a dismal evaluation of Trump nominees? The list of nominees includes men who have never even tried a case in Court, at least one nominee who lied under oath, another who not only has never seen the inside of a courtroom, lied under oath but also failed to disclose he is married to the Trump appointee nominating the people for judgeships!

There are other aspects of commonality among the Trump nominees beside the fact that they are virtually all white males, and have poor reputations in the legal community. They are all members of the Federalist Society, a group devoted to judicial activism in favor of corporations and government interests. All men being nominated have openly advocated the reversal of voting rights, civil rights, access to the courts for individuals and ignoring legal precedent. They are being approved at a record rate with the corporate shills in Congress sometimes interviewing and approving several nominees in the same meeting. Consider the fact that the same Congress violated the Constitution and stole a Supreme Court seat and refused to approve any Obama nominees in the last year of his term, and you can see the silent takeover coming to fruit.

The Courts have always been the last resort of justice for the individual oppressed by the powerful. It is the one place that we all, as individuals, could count on a change of justice. That last refuge may be disappearing with little notice or resistance. The Citizen’s United ruling codified the takeover of the Executive and Legislative Branches by a few families and corporations. The result has been a government unwilling or unable to act in the common good, putting Party over Country and very soon – a tax code that will guarantee that a permanent class of Plutarch will remain in control.


November 28, 2017

As I was considering the state of politics and society today I remembered a movie made in 1970 titled “Tribes.” It was about a Marine Corps drill instructor who was disgusted by a draftee who was a “hippie.” The movie explored how difficult it was for people who were so socialized into a closed group that they couldn’t tolerate those who weren’t part of the same “tribe.” Ultimately, the drill instructor came to accept the recruit as a human being and worthy of his beloved Corps. Well, that’s Hollywood. We are experiencing the much more immediate reality of Tribalism. If only our reality could end as satisfying as the movie…

We despair at times about the tribalism of the Middle East which has resisted every attempt to reconcile Jews and Muslims, Shi’a and Sunni, etc., etc. etc. Generations of blood feuds that have translated into a modern world of international conflagration. In our country of immigrants and the rule of law, we have largely escaped the curse of tribalism so prevalent in the world. Of course, every new wave of immigrants was met with resistance, but ultimately our country accepted every ethnic, cultural and racial wave. There has always been a bit of tribalism in our history, but our foundation of the Constitution and the rule of law reigned in the more critical effects. The Constitution guaranteed individual rights and the reality of Blacks, Catholics, etc. living next door – with their children going to school and playing with ours – mitigated the hatred and led to acceptance. When we have civil relationships with people of other religions, races and cultures because the law would not allow anything less, it neutralized the stereotypes and hostility. Until now, I’m afraid.

The election of Trump marked a time when tribalism rose to the level where facts and reality are less important than emotions and loyalty to identity. The resentments, fears and tribalism of many white people became more important than relationships, or reality. Whether the resentments are the result of years of Liberal judgment is irrelevant now. The resentments have spilled over into an acceptance of behaviors that would never have been tolerated before by otherwise decent people. It has translated into an acceptance of the possibility of treason by the Trump Campaign, even acceptance of a pedophile as an alternative to electing a member of the other “tribe”.

Citizens United created a government that has become corrupted by money. The Legislative and Executive Branches of government are, arguably, now a function of a few rich families and corporations and not the common good. The continuing acceptance of Trump – no matter what he says or does – has also hardened the attitudes of the other side and created a vacuum of dispassionate reason. It’s hard to accept the real possibility that our society is becoming as impossibly divided as the Middle East. While the Executive and Legislative Branches of Government are largely controlled by the same monied interests and therefore unwilling (if not unable) to put County over Party, there is hope that the Judiciary will save us from a corrupt Trump Administration, it may not be able to save a United States.

Sexual Harassment is Not Politics

November 27, 2017

Roy Moore may be the drop that burst the dam, but the long sad history of men using power to sexualize and objectify women reaches back millennia. Recently the news about Al Franken broke, signaled by the same man (Roger Stone) using the same language (“time in the barrel”) used to announce the Wikileaks release of hacked e-mails from the Clinton Campaign. There is a political side to this issue, but this is a far more import issue than the election of a Senator (or President for that matter). The fact is that women have been abused subtly and not so subtly in our society and it’s long past the time to end it. The boy’s club should be closed.  It is not enough to reject physical sexual assault of women and tolerate verbal assault, or economic and social assault. But how to change?

Men are getting pretty nervous about now. Welcome to the experience of women. What is harassment and what is not? Is inviting a women coworker out for drinks after work harassment or a good will gesture? When is a joke a joke and when is it an assault? What is OK or not OK? Here are some suggestions guys…

If you want to share a joke, an invitation, or conversation with a woman in the workplace (or anywhere else), how about asking yourself if you would be good with someone doing that to your own daughter? How about treating women respectfully with clear boundaries until the woman knows you well enough to understand your motive? How about questioning your own motives first? How about asking women for permission and respecting their answer?

Of course, it will be hard on men for a while, and why not? It wasn’t men who precipitated this social change – it took the courage of women speaking out. Even now, victims of abuse from men are attacked and risk attempts to smear, shame and bully them into silence. Guess what? It doesn’t work anymore. We men have to change, and if we don’t know how to change then let the women around you define what that change looks like. Wow! You mean let women have some control? Yes, that’s right.

Even now, we can only begin to see the outlines of the path to change. Liberal men do it. Conservative men do it. It is a problem that transcends politics, but political ideology seems to be a defining aspect of responses. Al Franken immediately admitted the truth and apologized for behavior over a decade earlier and before he became a Senator. Trump and Moore attack their victims. Kind of ironic, if not sad, that the Party of Family Values is now becoming the Party of pedophiles. Whether it’s fair or not to be paying the price for behavior done decades ago, there is a moral difference between admitting your behavior was wrong and denying it and attacking the woman involved.

Some well-intentioned men, confused and fearful of their own past behavior being exposed, resent being put in the position where they may be “inconvenienced” by having to question their behavior toward women. Change is never easy, and for men in this society change is long overdue. We can start by rejecting the attempts to victimize women who speak out.

Jesus, Mary and Moore

November 19, 2017

The allegations that the Republican nominee for Senate from Alabama is a pedophile (and his tacit admission that he “generally” did not date underaged girls) was disturbing enough, but what has ensued since is even more terrifying. “Conservatives”“ have justified and defended the pedophilia with official GOP office holders in Alabama saying on the record that “it’s not like he forcibly raped them” or “14-year-old girls don’t always make the best decisions.”

Evangelicals have supported Moore by stating that even if the allegations were true, it would still be better to vote for him than a Democrat. The topper though had to be the comment of Jim Zeigler, the Alabama state auditor, who dismissed the pedophilia by stating that Mary was not much older when Joseph and her became parents to Jesus. It was an amazing revelation of the acceptance of men raping underaged girls, and even more terrifying when you consider the public reactions to his vile comment among Evangelical Alabamans.

Evangelicals consider the virgin birth of Jesus to be a foundation of their faith. For someone to use the birth of Jesus as justification for a 30-year-old to have sex with a 14-year old-girl is blasphemous by any true “Christian” standard. Yet Evangelical leaders in Alabama and around the country at best have remained silent in regards to the comment, and continue to support Moore. One survey suggested that 29% of evangelical Christians in Alabama are MORE likely to support Moore since Moore virtually admitted his pedophilia and justified it by saying he always asked for the permission of the parent before dating teenage girls. The same “religious” man who advocates putting “Christian faith” ahead of Constitutional rights, and also happens to be a pedophile, is their hero.

The support of Conservative Alabamans of Moore puts the lie to their claim to represent the “Moral Majority” or “family values”. It also puts the lie to the spiritual character of the Conservative Evangelical movement in politics. As though supporting Trump (who has gleefully admitted to adultery, advocated sexual assault on star-struck women, and routinely mouths misogynistic comments against women), didn’t put the lie to their self-proclaimed moral authority, the support of men who defile their own faith and put their own underaged daughters at risk should be fatal to any moral claims. But it won’t.

Maybe Christian Evangelicals can more accurately reflect their beliefs by modifying their creed to “Jesus, Mary and Moore” instead of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  True Christian faith is founded on beliefs and actions that reflect the love of Christ for every person, but in particular for the most vulnerable. If there is any politics in Christianity it should reflect the same preferences Christ expressed: for the poor and for children. Whomever Alabama elects to the Senate, the campaign has done a service to reveal the wolves in sheep’s clothing in the Evangelical Movement, and the immoral (if not sick) underbelly of Conservative Alabamans.

Myth 3: Enforcing Existing Laws Would Eliminate the Problem of Gun Violence

November 18, 2017

Existing laws on the purchase of guns will not eliminate gun violence. The Las Vegas shooter purchased his arsenal legally. The devices he used to transform his weapons to automatic were legal. It is legal to purchase assault weapons. The NRA has argued for decades that not enforcing existing laws is the real problem, then lobbied to defund enforcement of the laws. For example, the funding to establish a database on people with convictions for violent crimes has never been adequate. The loophole to allow purchases of guns at gun shows without a background check still exists. Second- and third-hand sales of privately owned weapons without any background check (or even documentation) still exists. In other words, the argument of the NRA on enforcing existing laws is cynical.

The reality is that the country is flooded with guns of every type, making it virtually impossible to enforce existing laws on gun ownership. There is another less visible force at play in this regard. Since the end of WWII the “industrial-military complex” has controlled a significant share of our economy. The so-called “masters of war” have flooded the world and the country with weapons because there is a profit to be made. Since the Viet Nam War, waging war has become a permanent, structural element driving our economy. Non-ending wars have been the result and until we disentangle our economy from war, easy access to guns will remain an essential part of our lives. This is one reason why the defense budget for the development and purchase of new weapons always increases. Congress even funds purchases of weapon systems that our own military doesn’t need or want.

There is no economic incentive to restrict gun ownership, and that may be the fundamental reason why we are incapable of stopping mass shootings, or any form of gun violence. In this sense, the argument that violence is the basic problem does resonate. For us to accept the fact that making violent deaths easier and more efficient is necessary for our economic prosperity is reflecting a form of violent character that is both lethal and immoral. Building weapons is more important to our society than building roads, and that is a moral sickness of our national character. It is the reason why we are more likely to allow children to bear arms in schools before we outlaw weapons in schools. The NRA simply is a tool that the real masters use to justify their existence, and normalize the madness.

Myth 2: The Founders’ Intent Was Unrestricted Right to Bear Arms

November 17, 2017

Many gun advocates argue that the founders of our country recognized that the right to bear arms was intended to protect individuals from the government. This idea is nowhere to be found in the Federalist Papers or other contemporary documents. The wording of the Second Amendment was no less carefully constructed than any other right delineated. “A well regulated militia…” means a regulated militia.

Let’s set aside the idea that a militia is a group of people (not individuals) organized for defense, and that this definition may, or may not, be interpreted to mean that individuals have the right to bear arms. It’s arguable, but that argument was settled legally by the Supreme Court a few years ago when Conservative activists on the court read between the lines of the Constitution and invented the right of individual gun ownership. The idea is that the right to bear arms is restricted as are all other rights, such as speech, such that the exercise of the right does not cause harm to the collective rights of others (e.g. not allowing speech such as yelling “fire” in a crowded theater).

The context of the Second Amendment being articulated in the Constitution is important. At the time, we were less a country than a collection of states. The country was wilderness with dangerous animals, Native Americans resisting the theft of their lands, and a continuing threat from imperialist countries such as Great Britain and Spain. We had no national army. Forming and regulating local militias was a concept for the collective defense. It is doubtful that the Founders intended for individuals to possess weapons of mass destruction, and even the most ardent gun rights advocates concede that some restrictions should apply. The purpose of militia in the Constitutional debates was for states to be able to protect themselves from attack by a foreign power. For example, the National Guard is the intended form of a well-regulated militia.

Some gun advocates argue that we need weapons to protect us from the “government.” Let’s think about that for a moment. What they are saying is that we need weapons to protect us from law enforcement, which is why they also say we need to have weapons and ammunition that can penetrate protective armor and kill police. Of course, they never admit that fact, even though law enforcement agencies all over the country know this to be true (the NRA types allude to the specter of the men in “black helicopters” as if they really did exist). Is that acceptable to society?

They argue to protect us from the “Government” we need weapons to match the firepower of government. Since our government applies a strategy of deterrence by maintaining say, ICBMs, are they advocating individual rights to have a similar nuclear deterrence? It’s a silly notion and they have no response to that argument. How reasonable is the fear of government agents going door to door confiscating our guns? They do argue that the government (Democrats) are coming to get our guns and ammo, and every attempt to legislate gun control measures is considered the beginning of that process. They were openly suggesting that this was Obama’s agenda during the 2008 election. If the government is coming for our guns then they will get them, no matter what weapons you have. No one reasonably believes that individuals should possess thermonuclear weapons.

Having guns for self-defense, hunting or even collecting is a concept even most gun control advocates accept. It’s when those guns involve military assault weapons and ammunition that the issue gets as absurd as it is dangerous. The only purpose of an assault rifles and ammunition is to kill as many people as quickly as possible on a battlefield. Which Founding Father articulated that intent when debating the Constitution? None. Restrictions on the right to bear arms are clearly Constitutional, the only issue is balancing a concern for preserving the right with common sense. The problem is less rhetorical than emotional.

Myth 1: Gun Control Laws Do Not Work

November 16, 2017

The reality is that gun control laws do work to significantly reduce mass shootings, accidental shootings and suicides. (In my world reality is defined by demonstrable reproducible facts.) Australia is probably the most recent source of data on the issue. Canada, Great Britain and other industrialized countries have had long histories of severely restricting gun ownership, and their rates of gun-related murders were a fraction of those in the U.S.

Relaxing gun ownership laws in countries like Great Britain and Scandinavian countries has led to an increase of gun-related murders and (in the case of Norway) the first documented mass shootings in their history. On the other hand, Australia is an example of a country where gun ownership was widely accepted. After a couple of mass murders, Australia implemented strict gun control laws. The result has been the virtual elimination of mass murders in Australia, whereas in the U.S. we average 1 mass shooting a day.

Total restriction of guns logically would have to reduce gun-related violence. Gun violence apologists argue that if we took away guns from law abiding citizens then only bad guys would have guns. They forget about law enforcement, but there is a point to be taken from that argument. Criminals will ty to get access to guns and use them. However, the vast majority of criminals who use guns in the commission of a crime such as robbery rarely fire their weapon, and most people who are violently murdered are not killed by robbery, they are killed by someone they know, usually a family member (the only significant exception to this tendency is gang related violence, with criminal gangs murdering each other).

People who use guns in the commission of murder, probably would use another weapon if access to guns were not so easy. Most murders are “crimes of passion” and access to a gun just makes their action easier and more likely fatal. In fact, this notion is also applicable to suicides where the act is more often impulsive. It has been proven that access to guns increases suicide rates. Without easy access to a gun, suicide rates, accidental fatalities, and murder rates go down. Your odds of surviving a knife attack, or physical attack are much greater. The likelihood of a mass murder (defined by law enforcement as three or more deaths from a single incident) are nominal.

The problem is not just a problem of violence, or of a violent culture in America. Other industrialized Western countries have roughly the same rates of violence, and the incidence of attempted murder would be about the same. Our society is not much more violent than other countries. The number of violent attacks, even attempted murder, are about the same in most industrialized Western countries, yet the murder rate in the U.S. is far above any other country. It is not so much a problem of violence as it is of easy access to lethal weapons. Arming more people has the effect of increasing the murder rate, not preventing it. It is small consolation to those murdered in that church that someone stopped the shooter after they were all dead. Is there any doubt that if the murderer walked into that church armed with a knife, then less people would have been killed?

Granted, the idea of implementing Australian type gun control laws here is unreasonable. It is unreasonable because the culture of guns is woven into the fabric of our country, and the right to bear arms is a Constitutional right. How necessary is that right to bear arms in 2017 compared to 1778, and what did the Founding Fathers intend by codifying this right into the Constitution? What restrictions, if any, did they intend to allow on this right?  Let’s talk about that in the next blog…

Thoughts and Prayers: Reality and Myths

November 15, 2017

The depressing news of yet another mass shooting in Texas (the 301st mass shooting this year alone), produced the usual reactions from both sides of the issue. On one side is a desperate plea from law enforcement, activists and ordinary citizens to do something, anything, to control the proliferation and use of guns. From the other side are activists who argue that guns don’t kill people, evil people kill people and we need more guns to protect the good guys. In this case, a “good guy” with a gun was able to stop the “bad guy” with a gun — after the carnage, which some consider a validation of their argument. That argument… in fact every argument against gun control defies facts and logic, but it hardly matters because it does not overcome the pro-gun lobby money and appeals to emotion that prevents Congress from doing anything.

Especially galling was the response of our current leadership. Paul Ryan told us that prayers really do work, oblivious to how stupid that sounds when referring to a mass murder in a church during prayer service. Trump argued that this was a mental health issue, not a gun issue, which apart from the obvious irony of him mentioning mental illness, is also just as ludicrous. Others argue that if current laws were enforced then the murderer wouldn’t have had guns. Every nation has mental health problems in nearly equal measure, but only one has a problem with regular mass murders using guns.

In other words, the same stuff from the same people, with a slight pretense of empathy.

What is needed is moral leadership in Congress. The gun culture in America is too ingrained to change significantly, and any effort to stop mass murders, children accidently killing themselves or others and lowering the suicide rate through gun control laws may seem to be doomed. Maybe if more people knew facts they would be less swayed by fear. Too many Americans who own guns are sub-cortical when the issue of gun control is discussed. They hear “reasonable, common sense measures to reduce gun violence” as a threat by government to confiscate all guns. Fear is the underlying cancer behind most of our cultural and political ills, and guns are seen by those who own them as a solution for the fear of those others who own guns. It’s insane. Most people know it’s insane, but there is a lot of money to made through fear. Right now, the fear of being a victim of a mass shooting will prompt the typical flurry of discussion in the media, and the predictable response to every mass shooting is an uptake of gun purchases.

Knowledge is a salve for fear, so I plan on taking the next week to blog on facts and logic on the issue, in the hope that anyone reading the blog will be equipped and motivated to do something to stop this maddening cycle of slaughter, outrage and inaction. Here are the most common myths:

  • Gun Control Laws Do Not Work
  • The Right to Bear Arms Was Not to Be Restricted
  • Enforcing Existing Laws Would Solve the Problem of Mass Murders with Guns

What Terror?

November 7, 2017

The terror attack in New York City was a terrible tragedy for the people killed and their families. It was not the first terrorist attack during the reign of the Twitter twit, nor will it likely be the last. The response to the attack by people of NYC were illustrative and revelatory. Contrast the response to a terror attack in NYC by President Bush and Trump. Bush united Americans in the struggle against the enemy and defended Muslim Americans. When Bush said a united America would be calling on Terrorists, Al Qaeda fled for the caves in Tora Bora. Say what you could about Bush allowing the neo-cons to hijack his triumph with the war in Iraq, but he displayed real leadership in the moments after 9/11. Trump identified immigrants and Democrats as the enemy, further dividing Americans and terrorists were probably encouraged that their attack would further weaken America by dividing it.

As shameful as Trump’s response was to the attack, the response of New Yorkers was a revelation worth dwelling on. They carried on with Halloween festivities as if nothing happened. Or even better, they carried on in defiance of what happened. It was America at its best, even as Trump displayed himself as America at its worst. Terrorism works only when people and governments are terrorized and respond out of fear. When the people of France suffered devastating attacks this past year their response was similar – they took to the streets in open defiance of fear. In NYC there were no Tiki torch marches on Mosques, or expressions of division and distrust. There were families trick-or-treating and more than a few extra adults taking to the streets to display defiance (not fear). That is the social solution to terrorism. If only we could find the political leadership to reflect the better angels of the American character.