Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Month: April, 2013

David and Goliath

David and Goliath

Say what you want about the NRA (and I’ve said a lot), but their strength is in their organization. They are big and bad because they are organized. With a historically Pavlovian and rabid clutch that froths at the mouth and considers victory to be anything President Obama loses, they are armed to the teeth, stand ready to denigrate any opposing position and contribute readily to the NRA coffers. Meet Goliath.

The other side consists of a patchwork of dedicated and passionate activists from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence to Moms Demand Action to Americans for Responsible Solutions to Preventing Newtown and including a myriad of locally organized groups focusing on federal, state and local issues relating to gun violence. Meet David.

The chasm that exists between these sides cannot be bridged by debate. One side deems compromise as a “slippery slope” toward an infringement of “God given” rights (as if the Constitution and its amendments were somehow belched from a burning bush onto stone tablets) while the other continually feels the need to genuflect to an unalterable second amendment while ignoring that the solution required is a national one and not provincial, and constantly engaged in a meaningless argument with the opposition that ultimately leads nowhere but to further division.

The NRA will never negotiate nor compromise on anything when they have the high ground (to use a military analogy, if not a moral one). Nor does it have to. Goliath will never bend when David is only armed with a river rock. The solution lies in the organization, assimilation and merging of the various gun control groups into a well-funded, well-oiled machine with a reach capable of touching the highest offices in America and a grassroots organization fervently motivated to affect change.

There has been precious little discussion of this happening however and that does not bode well for the movement. Inroads need to be taken to merge the organizations and their coffers into one cohesive giant with a war chest ready for battle. The nation’s gun addiction needs a national solution. Too many times have we heard that Illinois has strong gun laws but there is daily carnage in Chicago. The same argument goes for Washington, D.C. and now for Massachusetts with people questioning how the Boston Marathon bombers got their guns. Only when these groups speak with one voice and carry a large enough boulder to damage Goliath will he pay attention. Only when the message is crystallized and the messenger big enough will Congress blink.

This is not an insurmountable challenge. In fact, while the patchy gun control groups realize their strength in numbers (90% of Americans want stronger background checks) but weakness in fragmentation, the NRA is suffering a previously unheard of fragmentation within its ranks. High profile members are publicizing their departures from the group. Members are speaking out that the NRA does not speak for them. There is a disconnect between the leadership and the rank and file. So too, other groups are commanding attention, such as Gun Owners of America and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (based in, of all places, Newtown, Connecticut).

In effect, momentum can be achieved on two fronts. First David will get stronger by the coalescence of the various gun control groups while Goliath will weaken through the fragmentation of its membership and the membership’s uneasy acceptance of its leadership.  These two tectonic shifts may result in Congress “showing some guts” to address gun violence in America. We know how the story ends. But, only when Goliath feels threatened by an equal will it negotiate. Only then will America realize that we do not have to accept daily gun deaths in deference to those preparing for some fantasy, tyrannical government overthrow. Only then will David raise the first amendment to equal footing with the second. Only then will logic and compassion replace paranoia and paralysis. Only then.

Soft Targets

The events in Boston today are still raw, the embers are still burning, the wounds are still being dressed and the limbs are still being amputated.

When did living in America become a balancing act between freedom and paranoia? When did we decide that churches, schools, movie theaters, grocery store parking lots and marathons should no longer be considered integral parts of our daily life but “soft targets?”

Politicians on both sides of the aisle will call for prayers now. The gun lobby will ignore compassion and state that if only a “good guy with a gun had been there” blah blah blah, and nothing will change. We will wring our hands and shake our heads, call for justice and ignore the facts, demand vengeance and persecute the innocent in misplaced bloodlust, run to Wal-Mart to purchase our assault weapons and hunker down in our bunker waiting for the end of times.

And then our fickle little minds will forget and move on to the next crisis where we will wind up our public outrage for a new group of victims.

What happened to compassion and empathy? Are they so anathema to the personal success and safety in America that we are doomed to suffer for our arrogance? When did celebrity and instant gratification replace intelligence and hard work?

I am heartsick to learn that the final mile of the Boston Marathon was dedicated to the families of Newtown affected by the evil events at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. Sickened to learn that there may have been another device under the very VIP viewing section in which they were seated.

I refuse to live in a society where we gauge our potential activities by some weighted average based on their “soft target” quotient.  I should not have to sit in a movie theater with an eye on the best route of egress, or view the pole obstructing my view as “cover”, or worry if I need to use the restroom whether my children will be attacked while I’m gone. I should not have to worry at a sporting event that I am in a large group and therefore a great target for mass casualties. I should not have to worry that when some student who did not prepare for an exam in college calls in a bomb threat and when my children congregate with a large group of students waiting for the “all clear” that they represent a soft target.

America used to be the land of the free, now we are the land of the paranoid, where 300 million guns exist to “protect” us from our own government and fertilizer is no longer used exclusively to feed the world, but to detonate and kill, where politicians disgorge vitriol and fabrications in order to make the evening news and Congress enjoys a 13% approval rating. We blame the President, Congress, the education system, parents, the environment, the weather, any other country and everyone else with certainty, but we never look in the mirror. The golden rule has been bastardized to be “Do unto others before they do unto you.” We harden ourselves and avoid soft targets. Can’t we do better? Don’t we want better? Shouldn’t we demand better? We continue to burn holes in the calendar. Am I whistling alone in the hurricane?

Texas George (or Administering Medicine to the Dead)

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Speaker John Woods, whose girlfriend was murdered at the Virginia Tech massacre listens to John MacLean perform his incredibly moving tribute to the children of Sandy Hook Elementary called Six. Photo credit: Austin Dowling

To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture. Enjoy, sir, your insensibility of feeling and reflecting. It is the prerogative of animals. And no man will envy you these honors, in which a savage only can be your rival and a bear your master.       

Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, March 21, 1778

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

                                                Joseph Heller, Catch-22, Chapter 3, 1961

The gun “debate” in the United States pits two sides against one another which could not be more different had they hailed from different edges of the ever expanding universe.  One side uses rationality, compassion and fact, believing that life is paramount and government’s supreme priority is the defense of its citizens. The other side uses paranoia, fear and hyperbole, gets exorcised at the words “tyranny,” “Obama,” and “confiscation,” and is armed to the teeth to defend themselves against the very republic which they claim to love. Logic would tell you that the fight is not fair. Logic would suggest that reason and compassion would reign over hysteria and fear. Logic would be wrong.

This country finds itself at a moral crossroad at a time when it also intersects with a political movement bent on a systemic abdication of empathy in favor of some financial utopia; an Ayn Randian egoism on steroids. Let us assume that the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party was formed with the intention of restoring the federal government’s financial ledger. Let’s also ignore that the ledger wasn’t upended in the first place by Republicans plunging us into two wars based on specious arguments and bloodlust following 9/11. Place into that caustic mixture a society where the internet has led to more granularization of beliefs and less debate and compassion, a youth with the responsibility memory of a fruit fly and the belief that there is a cosmic “reset” button on life, a proliferation of 300,000,000 guns with no oversight because of a lobbying group with rabid members who salivate at the concepts of “tyranny” or “confiscation” and cannot hide their racial/political hatred for our sitting president and would burn the country down to see him fail and you have a toxic environment where compassion and logic are trounced by hysteria and hyperbole.

Nowhere is this confluence of concepts more evident than in Texas, a state being torn from the safety of republican clutches and turning purple before our eyes. While the cities are democratic strongholds, the rural areas are staunchly red.  Unfortunately for Republicans, the urbanization of the country, combined with the influx of citizens relocating from democratic northern states and the burgeoning immigrant population arriving from the south clash in a cultural maelstrom which will result in a blue Texas. Once that happens (and assuming California and New York remain blue), there is no mathematical formula that wins Republicans the White House. The only question is when Texas turns blue, not if.

In the gun debate the lines are equally color coded. Red states love their guns. Blue states don’t.  Which leaves Texas in the unenviable position of being the stage from which we all get to watch Republicans pander to the NRA and their rabid, and predominantly white constituency, who ignore the impending tsunami in hopes of returning to the “glory” days of the wild west where guns were plenty and white men ruled the world. Everywhere there can be seen the angry clamoring for this return to Mitt Romney’s 1950’s America. “Secede” bumper stickers jockey for placement on pickup trucks already adorned with Browning logos, Keep Christ in Christmas clings, and that little imp peeing on the words “Gun Control” next to a picture of a cannon and the Greek words Molon Labe (Come and Take It).

Lawmakers, both on the local, state and national level from Texas enrobe themselves in the American flag in order to conceal the Texas flag they truly wear, as if one is not part of the other. They are increasingly suspicious of the United States Constitution and make legislative overtures ignorant of the Supremacy Clause in feel-good measures enabled to allow Texas to enjoy the fruits of the US Constitution a la carte while simultaneously ignoring the burden borne equally by the 50 states to uphold the union.

Beyond the Ted Nugent’s and Alex Jonses’ of the Loon Star State, it is also home to other less colorful, but potentially more damaging (and entertaining, were it not people’s lives hanging in the balance) due to their lawmaking potential. These include:

  • Governor Rick Perry whose solution to gun violence following the sickening murder of 20 first graders in Newtown Connecticut was to pray and who is wooing gun manufacturers to relocate to good-ole-boy Texas.
  • Attorney General Greg Abbott who has advertised in New York newspapers for New Yorkers upset at the impending sensible gun legislation to relocate to good-ole-boy Texas where EVERYBODY has at least one gun and “gun control is when you use both hands.”
  • US Rep Steve Stockman who invited twisted has-been rocker Ted Nugent to the State of the Union speech in violation of all common decency and decorum in front of the families of Newtown in attendance, and who is also pursuing the “persecuted” gun manufacturers to relocate to good-ole-boy Texas. As a member of the House, he has pledged to prevent any gun legislation from being voted on. A true patriot.
  • State Rep. Steve Toth, (a minister) and Tea Party sycophant who in the weeks following Newtown held a “Gun Appreciation Day” on the steps of the state capital in Austin and has introduced his version of cafeteria style US Constitution adherence legislation called the “Firearm Protection Act” prohibiting local law enforcement from implementing federal gun laws. He appreciates guns and protects firearms. Did I mention he’s a minister? To bastardize the murdered John Lennon’s quip “Guns are bigger than Jesus.” Welcome to the Church of Glock. This is also the same “representative of the people” who cancelled his appearance on a local PBS television show when he found out he had to debate me, a “far left wing radical!” You see, he wants to represent the people, just not talk with them.
  • US Senator Ted Cruz, another Tea Party twit who joined Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee (and 11 other senators) in a ridiculous filibuster designed to prevent any gun legislation from being voted on by the senate. He claims he will do whatever is necessary to defend the Second Amendment, which is Tin Foil Hat language for “I’m going to do everything I can to prevent the “libtards” from starting down the path toward registration and confiscation.” Again, they defend the gun and every nutjob’s right to them with callous disregard to the carnage caused by these “good, honest, law abiding Americans.”

Here is a breakdown of the campaign funding various Texas legislators have received from the NRA since 1990:

Legislator

District

Party

Amount

NRA Grade

Ted Cruz

Junior

Republican

$      9,900

A+

John Cornyn

Senior

Republican

$    17,850

A

Louie Gohmert

1

Republican

$    11,450

A

Ted Poe

2

Republican

$      9,500

A+

Sam Johnson

3

Republican

$    23,450

A

Ralph Hall

4

Republican

$    25,450

A

Jeb Hensarling

5

Republican

$    20,900

A

Joe Barton

6

Republican

$    47,948

A

John Culberson

7

Republican

$    22,550

A

Kevin Brady

8

Republican

$    17,500

A

Al Green

9

Democrat

$             –

F

Michael McCaul

10

Republican

$    19,500

A

K. Michael Conaway

11

Republican

$    11,000

A

Kay Granger

12

Republican

$    13,950

A

Mac Thornberry

13

Republican

$    27,450

A

Randy Weber

14

Republican

$             –

A

Ruben Hinojosa

15

Democrat

$             –

D

Beto O’Rourke

16

Democrat

$             –

N/A

Bill Flores

17

Republican

$      7,000

A

Sheila Jackson Lee

18

Democrat

$             –

F

Randy Neugebauer

19

Republican

$    16,950

A

Joaquin Castro

20

Democrat

$             –

C

Lamar Smith

21

Republican

$    30,750

A+

Pete Olson

22

Republican

$    12,450

A

Pete Gallego

23

Democrat

$      1,000

A-

Kenny Marchant

24

Republican

$    10,750

A

Roger Williams

25

Republican

$      2,000

AQ

Michael Burgess

26

Republican

$    13,150

A

Blake Farenthold

27

Republican

$      4,500

A

Henry Cuellar

28

Democrat

$    18,350

A-

Gene Green

29

Democrat

$    12,950

A-

Eddie Johnson

30

Democrat

$             –

F

John Carter

31

Republican

$    22,450

A+

Pete Sessions

32

Republican

$    64,000

A+

Marc Veasey

33

Democrat

$             –

B

Filemon Vela

34

Democrat

$      1,000

AQ

Lloyd Doggett

35

Democrat

$             –

F

Steve Stockman

36

Republican

$      1,000

A

The total here is almost $500,000, and this counts only the contributions made to those currently holding office. It does not count the amounts contributed to unsuccessful candidates or those who previously held office. It does make me wonder why the NRA would spend so much money in a state so gun hungry as Texas.

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Former Virginia Tech student and EMT Kathy Staats who responded to the shooting there on April 16, 2007. Photo credit: Austin Dowling

Which brings me to Texas George. You see, there was a Gun Sense rally sponsored by Moms Demand Action at the Texas capital in Austin last weekend. Hundreds of people attended to listen to the reasoned and compassionate speeches of victims, family member, first responders and legislators. While one young woman, a volunteer EMT at Virginia Tech who responded to the mass shooting on the morning of April 16, 2007, relayed to us her attempts to secure an oxygen mask to a student whose jaw had been blown off by a bullet and who later died, a local genius who called himself Texas George walked up to the front of the crowd holding a sign with the nonsensical message “Stop Gun Ban.” As other people in the crowd tried to get in front of him to block his asinine, attention seeking stunt, I noticed the sickest part of this display. While he held the nonsensical sign in his right hand, he held the hand of his no more than 6 year old grandson in his left. Two thoughts rang through my head. First, how insensitive and callous to bring your grandson to such an event where his grandfather was being berated and shouted down (by me in addition to others), but that his grandson was roughly the same age as the 20 children blown apart in Newtown, Connecticut. And while that juxtaposition played around inside my head, the most poignant image of that day would have to wait for me to see it the following day.

Texas George

Texas George and his inane sign. There are 300,000,000 guns in America. What gun ban?

The image below shows my child standing behind a woman holding a sign denouncing the murder of 8 children a day in America.  My initial (and eternal) pride in seeing my son stand up for something he believes in and which saves lives gave way to the sick feeling that slammed into my stomach when I linked the message about children to the sight of my child. Something I will never forget and something Texas George, Ted Cruz, Steve Stockman, Steve Toth, Rick Perry, Greg Abbott and any other defender of our “God given” right to blow away any of His creatures will never understand. Joseph Heller’s protagonist would question everybody’s sanity in this drama. Logical discourse with these people is like administering medicine to the victims of Newtown.

My son, Cameron (left) and his friend Austin listen to speeches while a woman holds a poignant sign.

My son, Cameron (left) and his friend Austin listen to speeches while a woman holds a poignant sign.