Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: Democrat

Women

“That we have the vote means nothing. That we use it in the right way means everything.”  Lou Henry Hoover, First Lady of the United States 1929-1933

As we wind down to the end of a presidential campaign that feels as if it’s been going on since the early Bronze Age, the overarching story of this election can be summarized in one word – women.

It began with the nomination of a woman by one of the two major parties. It devolved into stories about the treatment of women by the nominee of the other major party. And it will be settled by the largest demographic within the voting public – women.

According to one recent poll, Hillary Clinton is leading among women by 33%. Eric Trump famously made the mistake of posting a map showing his father ahead nationally but omitting the fact that the map showed what the results would look like if only men voted. Here is that map:

if-only-men-voted

The map shows Mr. Trump winning the White House with an Electoral College tally of 350 versus 188 for Secretary Clinton. Unfortunately for Eric Trump, people noticed, and the response was savage. Here is the obverse map showing what the election results would look like if only women voted:

if only women voted.png

As you can see, Secretary Clinton would win the Electoral College with a staggering tally of 458 votes versus Mr. Trump’s meager 80 votes. And therein lies the story of this election. Women will decide the outcome. Here is Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site on the potential effect this disparity would have on the general election:

“To put those numbers in perspective, that’s saying Trump would defeat Clinton among men by a margin similar to Dwight D. Eisenhower’s landslide victory over Adlai Stevenson in 1952, while Clinton would defeat Trump among women by a margin similar to … actually, there’s no good comparison, since no candidate has won a presidential election by more than 26 percentage points since the popular vote became a widespread means of voting in 1824. To get to 33 points, you’d have to take the Eisenhower-Stevenson margin and add Lyndon B. Johnson’s 23-point win over Barry Goldwater in 1964 on top of it.”

And while you may not like everything (or anything) about Secretary Clinton, she has worked hard to earn women’s votes. One of her greatest surrogates has been another woman, First Lady Michelle Obama, who has been phenomenally effective on the campaign trail. On the other hand, Mr. Trump has stumbled his way toward the election by demeaning women (among many other groups) and been accused of sexual assault by eleven women. And one of his greatest surrogates has been Mayor Guiliani who has himself had a checkered past with women and who recently suggested that Mr. Trump would be better for the United States “than a woman.” Considering that women constitute the largest voting block in America, wouldn’t it be better for Republicans to embrace women than to shun them if they ever hope to win the White House again. Especially given the inevitable demographic changes altering the United States, all of which favor Democrats and which Republicans have ignored to this point at their peril. Sorry, but gerrymandering can only take you so far.

2016 will be known as the year that a woman shattered one of the greatest glass ceilings left in the world, the American presidency, but perhaps it should be better known as the year that women used their collective voices to change the course of an election and therefore history.

The Tide is Turning

Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.     -George Orwell

 

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Two days ago, the United States Senate, led by Republicans, shot down two sensible amendments designed to prevent terrorists from getting firearms. In their place, they submitted two meaningless NRA sponsored amendments which were also defeated. The votes for all four amendments were primarily along party lines. However, the tide is turning, and there is hope that eventually there will be consensus on a meaningful bill in the Senate.

Elections matter. Voting matters. The parties are not the same. There are always swells and troughs in election cycles leading to whether the Democrats or the Republicans are on top. And in spite of the fact that there has been a Democrat in the White House for almost eight years, it is the Democrats who seem to be riding a wave right now while the Republicans are being washed away as if by a rip tide. Perhaps it is because the person at the top of the Republican ticket is so divisive. Perhaps it is because the Tea Party has run its course, or perhaps it is because the country sees that the Democrats have the most rational response to gun violence. If greater than ninety percent of Americans agree that there should be background checks on all gun sales, it begs the question, just who are the Republicans representing? If the overwhelming majority of Americans do not believe that a person on the terror watch list should be able to purchase a firearm, to whom are the Republicans answering? The answer could be as simple as the gun lobby. The gun lobby has spent over $36 million to get politicians elected, and they want something for their investment. If this is true, then Republican constituents are without representation as their elected officials do the bidding of the gun lobby instead.

Both Senator Cornyn’s (R-TX) amendment and Senator Grassley’s (R-IA) amendment were seemingly written by the NRA and submitted under the senators’ names. They were designed to give the appearance of addressing the problem of gun violence and terrorists’ continued access to firearms, but their actual purpose was disingenuous and deceitful. And finally, the public is beginning to see the difference. The win the NRA chalked up on Monday as all four amendments failed was likely a Pyrrhic victory because by defeating the reasonable amendments offered by Senator Murphy (D-CT) and Senator Feinstein (D-CA) Republicans emerged as the party defending the rights of terrorists and ISIS. Finally, the Republicans obstructionist activities were on full display (and this only months before the next election). Republican senators were forced to go on record to vote against limiting terrorists’ access to firearms and voting against forcing gun sales at gun shows and over the Internet be subject to a federal background check. Their votes were on the record. And the progress made in this movement to prevent gun injuries and deaths in America, a country awash in guns and the carnage they dispense, is measurable. The Overton Window is shifting.

Following the murder of six educators and twenty schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012, a horror so visceral that all Americans thought it would result in a flurry of new gun laws, it took Congress four months to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. It failed because of Republicans. Now, as a result of a much better organized gun violence prevention movement and the support of Senator Murphy’s filibuster (along with the support of Senators Blumenthal (D-CT) and Booker (D-NJ) and 37 other senators) it took four days for a new piece of legislation to come to the floor for a vote. Members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, founded after Newtown,  generated 8,000 calls into Congress in the months leading up to the vote following the school shooting. Following the shooting at the nightclub in Orlando, Florida, they generated over 60,000 calls. And that is just one of the gun violence prevention organizations working to curb this epidemic. What started out as a Facebook page from a frustrated, angry housewife in Indiana has become a juggernaut in its own right with 3.5 million members and chapters in all 50 states. This fight has been taken to statehouses across the country and victory after victory is being notched because of it. The tide is turning, and history will be the judge as lives are saved.

So, the NRA and their paid for politicians will continue to obstruct meaningful measures to stem the slaughter, but common sense, compassion, and logic are on the side of the gun violence prevention movement. The NRA’s victory on Monday will be viewed as a hollow victory because change is coming and the NRA’s political influence is about to be washed away. Elections matter and your vote matters and I only hope that reason, logic, and compassion win the day in Washington before the nation is subjected to another mass shooting. These are the silver linings in Monday’s defeat, and they have emboldened those in the gun violence prevention movement to work ever harder to elect a Congress willing to do what is necessary to stop the bloodshed caused by gun violence in America. The tide is turning.

Mirror, Mirror

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The country is getting further and further away from any semblance of cooperation or debate. Neighbors and family members are pitted against one another like at no time since the Civil War. The generational differences experienced in the 1960’s seem cordial compared to the intransigence we see now. The era of the computer and the Internet, where information flows freely like at no other time in human evolution has left us in cognitive dissonance and mired in epistemic closure. We only listen to those radio programs that share our positions, we only watch the news from those carriers with the same political bend as us. We only discuss difficult topics with people we know we already agree with. We never engage in debate or discussion with those with whom we do not politically agree. The congress is in a perpetual state of obstructionism.

The “other side” is terminally wrong. We cannot engage them on any level other than to disparage them, dismiss them, and call them wrong on all manner of topics. In fact, we are disposed to dismiss a person who agrees with us on one topic if they disagree with us on another. Thus epistemic closure.

No topic exhibits this disconnect more than the fractious presidential campaign we have seen this year. Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Ted Cruz are the most polarizing candidates we have ever seen in modern politics. All three have negative ratings among likely voters higher than any candidate upon whom this measure has been taken in American political history. The “#StopTrump” movement, a branch of the established Republican Party, will do anything to deny this man from getting the nomination of their party, despite being the front-runner. Trump himself has the highest negatives of any candidate and has alienated enough demographic categories to guarantee him not winning in November should he be the nominee. Hillary Clinton has enough of a track record in the pubic’s eye to garner either very positive or very negative reactions in most of the population. There is very little middle ground left from which she can harvest votes. Ted Cruz finds himself in the unique position of being hated by all of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle and yet the man with the best shot of unseating Trump for the nomination causing those with whom he has little in common to back him in order to get to the second or third ballot of a contested convention in Cleveland later this summer.

The other two candidates, John Kasich and Bernie Sanders both suffer from a lack of recognition among the public to one degree or another. Kasich telling everyone that he is the only candidate to regularly beat Clinton in a straight up contest in November has less to do with his popularity and more to do with Clinton’s negatives. Kasich positions himself as a moderate candidate (and compared to the other two running he is), however, his record is that of anything but a moderate. Sanders does not claim to be a moderate and while his brand of Scandinavian socialism resonates with the youth of the country, there is no slice of the electorate less likely to actually vote than the young, condemning Sanders’ chances to fantasy.

There are real issues facing the country. Real issues that demand the focused attention of the wisest men and women this country has. And in another example of our cognitive dissonance, Congress continues to have an overall approval level of under 20% while most incumbents will win re-election. How can that be? It is, again, because we believe the person with whom we are most familiar and dismiss as out of touch the person with whom we are least familiar. The problem is always with the other guy. The left and the right stare at each other in distrust and disgust, not realizing that they are really looking in the mirror and the ugliness they see is their own.

We deserve better than this. The age of the Internet has given us an unending supply of data and little increase in usable information. We must do better. Listening helps. Mirrors help, too.

Where Has Common Sense Gone?

San Bernardino weapons

“The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men.”  George Eliot

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has indicated that he will push again for a vote on a bill that would prevent suspected terrorists on the no-fly list from purchasing guns and explosives. A similar bill failed in the senate last week. However, Schumer considers the chances of passage better this week now that the attack in San Bernardino has definitively been labeled terrorism.

Not surprisingly, the NRA has come out against the measure because it feels there are people on the terror watch list listed inaccurately. This brings me to the above George Eliot quote. Ms. Eliot is absolutely correct that we cannot wait for the perfect list in order to engage this legislation. There will never be a perfect list. As Senator Schumer said, when quoted in the New York Daily News (12/6/2015), “We should just make the list tighter and better. It’s never going to be perfect, and we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

But then the NRA has never seen a gun violence prevention bill it liked. And that is part of the problem. The NRA’s intransigence is quite literally killing people. To quote George Eliot again, “It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.” And until the NRA acknowledges that there are some people who should not have access to guns, the political landscape will scrape by without significant action. You would think we could all agree that terrorists should not have access to firearms in the United States. Instead, we have to listen to people like Wayne LaPierre, Alex Jones, and Ted Nugent. Of course, Eliot also said, “Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.”

In the vote last week, only one Republican voted for the measure. Every other Republican, including presidential hopefuls Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, voted against the measure, thereby continuing to allow those on the no-fly list to purchase guns and explosives. In fact, 2,000 people on the list have purchased weapons, legally, because of this loophole. If we cannot agree that terrorists should not have weapons, let’s not pretend you have the safety of our fellow Americans at heart, senators, or that you are tough on terrorism. Your voting record proves otherwise.

Tipping Point of Possessive Pronouns

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I read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point when it was first published in 2000. At the time, my children were 6. This past weekend, I attended a gallery opening for my daughter whose work from her summer studying in Tuscany was being displayed along with her peers.

At exactly 6:30 on September 19, 2014 I witnessed a seismic tipping point in my life. You see, at that point, the second sentence of the first paragraph ceased being exclusively true. No longer was she “my” daughter as much as I was “her” father. This shift in possessive pronouns is significant in that it, while it may not have closed out my paternal protectionism (that will ever dissolve), it forced me to acknowledge that my daughter is a fully functioning member of society, a woman upon whom the planet can lean for guidance, joy, art and direction. In short, just what the world needs.

The Romans warned us to “cave ab homine unius libri’ (beware the man of one book). Today we call this epistemic closure. We only talk to those who agree with us. We only read (if we read at all) that with which we already agree. The deafening din in America today of people talking over one another instead of to one another is both disheartening and a recipe for stagnation and anger. Congress is the best example of this. The last congress, the 113th, passed just 108 non-ceremonial laws due to infighting among Republicans and the Tea Party and among Republicans and Democrats. Essentially, the Republican/Tea Party mantra became one of “whatever the President wants, we’re against, consequences be damned.” And that included shutting down the government! We don’t debate one another anymore. We don’t discuss anything or seek common ground. “Compromise” seems to be a naughty word now. Every one is screaming and no one hears anything.

My son wants to grab the world by the throat and drag it gurgling and choking into a rational, logical future. I fear most of the world may need this approach. My daughter will need to lead the rest of the world into that same, better future with art and compassion. They will use different tools, but both will move the world toward the same beautiful, peaceful future. And then I will truly be “their” father, “their” friend, someone who has an autograph from way back when, an autograph in crayon with the “a” written backwards, where the foundation of their genius was still forming and I was a fortunate passenger. I am proud of “my” children. Proud to be “their” father. Excited for their future.

House (and Senate) Calls

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 The NRA is frothing at the mouth again, this time over the President’s nominee for Surgeon General. The reason? The President’s nominee, Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA and a member of Doctors for America, had the audacity to say in a January 9, 2013 letter to Vice President Biden that guns are a public health care issue. In response to the nomination, the NRA sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to reject his nominee.

“Who is this 37 year old foreigner and political hack King Obama has nominated? And why should we listen to a physician regarding firearms?”

I’m glad you asked.

First, this “foreigner” is a US citizen who was born in the UK and moved with his parents to Florida when he was three years old. He graduated as valedictorian from his high school in Miami. He then graduated magna cum laude (in 3 years) from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in Biochemical Sciences. He then received an MD from Yale School of Medicine and an MBA in Health Care Management from Yale School of Management, where he was a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow. He completed his residency in Internal Medicine in at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He is currently a physician at Brigham & Women’s and an instructor at Harvard University.

Now, as to your second question, firearms cause injury to human flesh. It is the emergency departments of local hospitals that see the carnage and devastation guns cause. It is the physician’s duty to save lives. A physician does not receive a dossier on the patient in front of them bleeding from a gunshot wound. They do not pause to determine the legality/justification of the gun’s discharge. They only see the damage. Following the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, 52 medical organizations joined forces to send letters to the leaderships of the United States Senate, the United States House of Representatives and directly to the President of the United States. The audacity, indeed.

Of course, it is not the 52 medical organizations calling for change or Dr. Murthy’s CV the NRA really has a problem with, although even the thought of any gun control leads the NRA to a version of reduction ad absurdum apparently leading to tyranny, confiscation, black helicopters, concentration camps and a socialistic New World Order. Rather, it is the position of the organization Dr. Murthy founded, Doctors for America, whose mission statement reads:

“Doctors for America is a national movement of physicians and medical students working together to improve the health of the nation and to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, high quality health care.”

And whose core values and culture are listed as:

    1. We are bold and fearless.
    2. We are creative and flexible.
    3. We value everyone.  Every voice matters.
    4. We cultivate strong relationships and a family spirit with partners and colleagues.
    5. We are accountable to one another in our individual and collective work.
    6. We are open and honest.
    7. We are passionate and determined.
    8. We grow and learn and help others do the same.
    9. We have fun and celebrate!
    10. 10. We ensure every action meets our highest standard: will it help create a healthier America for everyone?

End times, indeed. But it is the group’s position on gun violence prevention that has the NRA exorcised. Once again, facts be damned, Obama’s coming for our guns! And once again, our feckless Congress is caving to the NRA’s demands. Yesterday, in an editorial piece in the New York Times, the editorial board wrote that, “There are now reports that the White House and Senate Democratic leaders might delay a vote on the nomination until after the midterm elections or urge the nominee to withdraw.” Unconscionable.

In Common Sense, Thomas Paine, writing to General William Howe, wrote:

arguing with the dead

Shame on the NRA, but more shame on Congress, should they not vigorously defend this nominee. Gun violence is a public health crisis. To ignore it is an abdication of responsibility, against the wishes of Americans and placating the lowest common denominator of society.

Death and Taxes (or Here’s to the Egg Heads)

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“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” —Benjamin Franklin to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789.

Right now, on Verizon Wireless, you can get any of eight smartphones for FREE! Now, I’m no Steve Jobs, but a guy selling sand at the Great Pyramid of Khufu charges something, so how is it that a wireless phone company can afford to give away the phone? Of course, the answer is that it is the 2 year contract comprising of a line cost and data package that earns the company their money. As far as they guy selling sand in the desert, I can only suppose it is marketing, charm or preying on tourists that earns him his money.

This business model, the loss leader, is not unique to cell phones. Inkjet printers can be had for less than $50, but the ink they use can cost you well over $100. Under this business model, and without government oversight, one can imagine car manufacturers purchasing oil companies, giving away gas guzzling cars for free and making a fortune on fuel. In this scenario, the Hummer would have lived forever. In short, it is the consumables that garner the profit.

Can this model be used to impact gun violence in America? Absolutely, however, it is the government and not the manufacturers that must act in this scenario. To gun manufacturers, fear drives business. Just as you would never have a meeting with a home security firm representative who would tell you that your neighborhood and your home are impervious to crime, gun manufacturers breed paranoia.

If the goal is to curb gun violence, perhaps the method is to control the consumables, in this case ammunition. Rather than target large capacity magazines or clips, make the price of filling it cost prohibitive. We are all familiar with the bumper sticker mentality of the gun rights groups who love to chant, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Well, in fact, guns don’t kill people, bullets do. And taken a step further, empty guns can’t kill anyone (short of beating them with it like a club). Right now there are no limitations on ammunition purchases over the internet. In the aftermath of countless mass shootings or arrests prior to any carnage, we always hear that the individual had “X number of guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition.” Thousands!

In 1993, New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan noted that the country had a 200 year supply of guns but only a 4 year supply of ammunition. In the 20 years since then, the easily skirted assault weapons ban lapsed, the right wing has made “patriot” a de facto religion and over 300,000 people have been killed with a gun (CDC statistics: 156,077 killed from 1999-2010, so a conservative estimate of over 300,000). And this does not include the over 400,000 that killed themselves over the same 20 year period (CDC statistics: 208,406 firearm suicides from 1999-2010, so, again, a conservative estimate of over 400,000).

Senator Moynihan’s proposal, as reported in the New York Times, raised under the auspices of public health, was to raise the tax on ammunition from 11% to 50% on the wholesale price of handgun ammunition. In some cases, it would have raised the tax to 10,000%. Of course, some saw it as a revenue raising proposal rather than a public health issue. In typical NRA fashion, Wayne LaPierre criticized it by saying, “I seriously doubt anyone in America believes crime is going to go down because taxes are going to go up. It shows how egg headed this whole debate has become.”

Needless to say, Senator Moynihan’s proposal died like the 30,000 people killed by firearms every year. Perhaps it is time to revisit this proposal, but on a more systematic basis. Rather than an average of a 50% tax increase on ammunition, let’s tax it at 10,000%. Perhaps we should limit the amount of ammunition that can be purchased online. Perhaps it is time to consider gun violence a public health issue and not the sole issue of the tyranny fighting patriot. Perhaps we should study the number of guns sold in the country rather than keep it a mystery. Perhaps we should embrace logic and reason, fact and compassion, egg heads over mouth pieces. Perhaps.

Inertia

Bullet Flag

It has been one year since the awful events of December 14, 2012 occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. One year since a disturbed individual availed himself of the arsenal his mother had legally purchased and shattered families in the little New England town and horrified individuals throughout the country and the world. Reaction was swift (except for the NRA) and all signs pointed to a paradigm shift occurring in the long argued battle over gun rights in America.

However, it proved to be a difficult year, not just for the families forced to endure each holiday or family event without their loved one. Indeed, for these uncounted victims, while they did not lose their lives on that fateful day, they certainly lost the lives they had known and the futures for which they had planned and expected. Daily events, done thousands of times before, took on a new, mechanical air as they searched to redefine “normal.” It is for these people and the loved ones they have lost that many people joined the voices of those calling for change. As I searched for some way to understand the past year’s events, the term “inertia” kept clawing into my mind. And so, using the words of Sir Isaac Newton, I begin:

“Every body perseveres in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed thereon.” Axioms or Laws of Motion, Law I, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, page 12, Sir Isaac Newton, 5 July 1687

Prior to the multiple, brutal mass shootings of 2012, organizations such as the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence and its legislative arm the Legal Action Project have been fighting the ever increasingly extremist positions of the NRA in courts across the country securing minor victories against a tide of right wing battles which have resulted in concealed carry becoming legal in all 50 states, open carry laws spreading like spilled blood across the country and stand your ground laws allowing shoot first confrontations to become immune to punishment and rationale to the paranoid. In addition, the NRA has systematically enticed Congress to reduce funding for firearm violence research, rendered impotent the ATF and exempted gun manufacturers from all product liability responsibility; this seismic shift occurring despite the screams of those opposing the proliferation of guns and warning of their inevitable violent toll on society. However, to the general public, raised on and catered to by sound bites and instant gratification, these long-term societal changes went unnoticed.

To use Newton’s terminology, the body (society) persevered in a state of rest (miasmic banality) WHILE it was (quietly) compelled to change that state by forces (NRA) impressed thereon. In effect, while we were distracted by other crises being broadcast 24/7 on cable news, it took the events of 2012 for us to realize not only the playing field had changed, but that we were in the third quarter of a different sport. In doing so, lives were lost, families destroyed and history altered. Shame on us.

 “The alteration of motion is ever proportional to the motive force impressed; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impressed.”  Axioms or Laws of Motion, Law II, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, page 12, Sir Isaac Newton, 5 July 1687

Many people began to wake up following the midnight movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado on July 20th. Most did not. The momentum created by the murders culminated in prayer vigils, moments of silence and an increase in gun sales across the country, including in Aurora.

Unfortunately, it would take another, even more mind-twisting event to wake the majority of Americans.  Only 147 days later, another disturbed individual, armed with a weapon of war, laid bare America as a gun violence dystopia to a disbelieving world. Suddenly, there was an outrage that flashed longer than a prayer filled candlelight vigil, longer than a moment of silence. People from across the country looked directly at the entities responsible for allowing this type of future to unfold: the gun lobby and the elected officials that they owned. Ever aware of their behind the scenes effectiveness and ability to outlast the public, the gun lobby “pleaded” with America not to politicize the tragedy arguing that it was not the right time to discuss legislation when so many families were in immediate pain. Unbelievably, and counter to all rational thinking, the NRA responded by saying the cure for gun violence was more guns. More cancer is not the cure for cancer. Drilling more holes in the bottom of the boat is not the cure for a sinking vessel. Eating more steak is not the cure for heart disease. But according to the NRA, more guns will cure America of its gun violence. Across the country, the sound of gears, springs and cogs could be heard crashing out of the logical brains of rational people.

Over the following months, a groundswell of accidental activists began asking, aloud, what could be done to change our society, to create a future where our children were safe from the hail of bullets in a country awash in firearms. The well-oiled machine that is the gun lobby sent forth their legion of followers with canned arguments too short to fill a bumper sticker and too simplistic to defend. Here, Newton’s second law of motion became evident. The trajectory the gun lobby had set the country upon was being impressed upon with a motive force from the majority of Americans not beholden to a gun metal deity. The new activists credited those who had been fighting all along for their successes and acknowledge, in Newton’s own words that, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

“To every Action there is always opposed an equal Reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.” Axioms or Laws of Motion, Law III, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, page 13, Sir Isaac Newton, 5 July 1687

However, as predicted and anticipated by the gun lobby, America’s fickle attention wandered to other crises. Gun safety legislation, considered unassailable in December, sputtered and crashed when the gun lobby reminded Senate Republicans (and a few Democrats in red states) who owned them. And this is when the most amazing part of the story occurred. Those accidental activists demanding gun safety did not fold up their tents and go home. To the chagrin of the gun lobby, the activists absorbed the legislative loss, considered it a learning opportunity and realized that the change they saw as necessary and obvious would not be achieved immediately. It was a marathon, not a sprint. Again, to quote Newton, “Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.”

It was this event, the recognition of the gun safety activists that change would take time, which brings us to the question of whether we will remain in Newton’s third law of motion or see further movement because of his second. Will the opposing forces on the gun issue in America push against each other in a long-term stalemate, or will one side emit enough force to alter the trajectory of this issue?

Rather than demand change from the existing politicians locally and nationally, the activists have begun developing campaigns to elect a legislature more conducive to change. Rather than have a hissy-fit and demand a recall when a vote goes against their wishes, activists have embraced a longer term agenda of electing those who will act in the best interest of society and not the best interest of gun manufacturers. They have also sought to change our communities, not through legislation, but with the pressure of the pocketbook. Corporations are being pressured to provide safe shopping environments for their customers devoid of the testosterone-fueled paranoid shouldering their beloved bazooka.

Interestingly enough, the push back seen by the gun enthusiasts has been in the form of misogynistic berating of activists, the creation of “bleeding” gun targets in the image of the president and female gun safety activists and groups of gun-toting enthusiasts parading through towns and posing outside gun safety activist meetings. Is this the best approach the gun lobby can muster? Evidence suggests that these pedantic actions expose the gun lobby as the far right wing paranoids they are. Attacking ones opponent rather than their position will not win arguments. As Cicero said, “He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason.”

And so here we are, one year out from the horrors of December 14, 2012. Which of Newton’s laws of motion will prevail? Perhaps Newton himself predicted the outcome when he said, “I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies but not the madness of people.” May logic overcome vitriol and compassion trump paranoia.

Ideology

Ideology, like religion, demands one abandon critical reasoning and doubt. By another name, faith leads one to the comfortable conclusion that one’s position is unalterably correct, thus removing the prickly questioning normally associated with sentient thought. However, this relinquishment of critical analysis leads to ever more epistemic closure in a death spiral toward absolutism. In fact, absolutes invariably vanish the closer one gets to the issue. There is no “pure evil” just as there is no “pure good.” Humans comprise both ends and all intermediate places on the spectrum. To assume otherwise is to deny one’s own personality while subjecting others to an unnatural status. If the “devil is in the details,” then, by definition, any god is too far removed from the issue to offer alms.

Ideology, in its most rabid form, invariably leads to hatred, racism, subjugation or war. Consider the fundamentalists associated with White Pride or Black Power, xenophobia or nationalism, misogyny or homophobia. These “phobias” are, of course, mislabeled. They do not indicate a “fear of,” but rather a “hatred of” someone different than oneself. Simplistic by design, anyone with an opposing view is deemed ignorant or irrational and easily dismissed. Living in a black or white world (I mean this in terms of absolutism and not race) may be reassuring but it is most certainly delusional.

Current events supply two readily available examples of this: Ted Cruz’s 21-hour temper tantrum on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, and those exorcised individuals “defending” the Second Amendment over the past nine months since Newtown.

Senator Cruz’s marathon speech, performed for no discernible purpose but to garner personal attention, was presumably conducted in an effort to defund the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), although that possibility was only ever a Tea Party fantasy. Along party lines, the ACA was passed by both Houses of Congress in 2009 and signed by this Democratic president. Subsequent judicial challenges have validated the legality of the law. Whatever your thoughts are on our two party system, just like the odd sibling out in a family of three children, two against one will almost always prevail. Thus, for better or worse, a Republican controlled House will typically lose out to a Democratic controlled Senate and White House. This is not always the case, but in our ever increasingly polarized, and by extension, paralyzed Congress, petty party politics triumph where wisdom and governance is required. Ted Cruz personifies Tea Party doctrine and Washington grandstanding over negotiation and solutions.

In contrast to most gun control activists who feel obligated to include a blanket caveat of supporting the Second Amendment in every discussion, gun rights activists convey an ideology so absolute it crosses into militantism. Hatred and dogma preclude any discussion or negotiation. Their circular logic of I-need-my-gun-because-I’m-a-good-guy-and-the-guy-next-to-me-might-be-a-bad-guy (with no explanation of how we are to know he is a good guy other than faith) is the precursor to Hammurabi’s code, but in this case America is left with bullet riddled school children and paranoid gunslingers rather than someone simply losing an eye or a tooth.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, to learn that most gun rights activists are also members of the Tea Party. Nothing says “America” like an Austrian Glock and Chinese oolong.

Give The People What They Want

Give The People What They Want

I am many things.

Male

White

Short

Overweight

Middle aged

Married

College educated

New England raised

Living in Texas

A son

A husband

A father

An uncle

A nephew

A friend

An enemy

Blue-eyed

Left handed

Employed full-time

Middle class

Homeowner

Car owner

Non-smoker

Independent

I am all of these things and these are measurable demographics used by all manner of people and organizations in order to sell me things and, in politics, theoretically, represent me.

Having been raised in Rhode Island, I grew up thinking the majority of the country was just like me, white, Catholic, middle class. There were blacks and Jews in school with me, and while they were the minority, I did not treat them any differently, nor did they see me (I hope) as an oppressor. They were my friends and part of my world.

As I grew, I began to see the political landscape of Rhode Island as the basis for the fabric of America. At the same time, I joined the workforce and began to understand Churchill’s remark:

“Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.”

Rhode Island politics is dominated by trade unions. Democrats control the legislature and the state constitution essentially renders the Governor moot. As I began to bring home part-time, high school student paychecks with deductions to anagrams I did not understand, I began to think like a conservative (Republican). I worked for this money; don’t give it to somebody else. Business drives the economy. Without jobs there are no unions. Ayn Rand would have been very proud. But in retrospect, I think this reaction was more a rebellion against the Rhode Island Democrat mindset and less a political ethos. Taxes were too high, handouts too easy and I did not feel my hard work was being protected in the state house. I was a Conservative with no heart.

As with everybody, as we get older, the world gets smaller. College, just next door in neighboring Connecticut, opened my eyes to other religions. No longer was Catholicism the dominant religion. No longer did liberal tendencies dictate legislation. So, too, were these the days of Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economy. As a burgeoning economics major, this philosophy made sense and met with my understanding and expectation of things. However, as a college student trying to get loans and seeing my parents struggle to shoulder the weightiest financial burden for two college aged children with a third coming up through the ranks, coupled with the seemingly never ending string of corruption issues emanating from the Reagan administration, my conservative leanings were shaken. Was this a reaction to the financial situation I found myself in? Was it a reaction to the broadening of my understanding of the country and the world? Or was it simply another shift against the grain?

Careers, a marriage and parenthood quickly followed. Once again, I found myself trying to provide for my family and build a career in an economy growing under Clinton’s watch through economic structures established by his Republican predecessors. And once again, living in the Rhode Island Union, I saw the expansion of social programs as a long term detriment to the local economy, but those were heady times and we were all (relatively) happy living on the dotcom bubble. When that burst, and September 11, 2001 hit, Rhode Island was slow to respond to the economic crisis that ensued. Like the rest of the country, I was angry and wanted to strike back at somebody for the evil perpetrated on my neighbors (Boston, from where the flights originated and New York). Following the morally damaged presidency of Clinton, I fell into the political pit warned about by Bertrand Russell when I voted for W:

“Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man.”

I had ascribed FDR’s tenet, “I’m not the smartest fellow in the world, but I can sure pick smart colleagues” to W and assumed he would do the same. Unfortunately, I think Kurt Vonnegut put it best when he said:

“The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon.”

My wife’s diagnosis with an aggressive breast cancer in 2008 forced us to reevaluate our lives. Because family and her survival weighed so much more over career and home, we picked up stakes and moved to Texas to seek treatment at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

At first, this change of environment seemed to meet my expectations and stereotypes. Southerners were friendly and slower. Northerners were rude and always in a hurry. I ignored the conservative predispositions of Texas even though Texas-bred W took us to war in Iraq over bogus intelligence and OBL and the Taliban hid in the lawless Hindu Kush on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. And even though Rick Perry, W’s intellectual equal, continued to gut the education system and pilfer jobs from other states, it didn’t matter to me as long as my wife was receiving the best medical treatment. My once expanded understanding of the world didn’t matter to me when my family was suffering.

Then, on December 14th of 2012, while working on my laptop at the hospital while my wife was undergoing restaging tests, news broke of a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. I read with horror as first the casualty total rose and then it was reported that children were among the victims. That day, coupled with the local reaction in the following weeks caused a seismic shift in my perception and attitude. No longer was Texas the friendly, slow state with questionable education standards and a job-pilfering, slow-witted governor, now it showed itself to be a gun loving, religious zealot, paranoid, racist, American anachronism. Unfortunately, as time elapsed, I came to understand that this political/religious background was neither limited to Texas, nor the south. “Red” states throughout the country began to show their prejudices, paranoia, fear and hatred. The “Gun Control” debate had ripped the genteel mask of civility off of otherwise, (seemingly) generous people. I saw the people who attended the NRA’s Annual Paranoia Jamboree here in Houston. I argued with them. I argued with the dimwitted grandfather who brought his grandson to a gun control rally in Austin to argue for more gun rights. I was scheduled to debate a state senator, who had introduced a firearm protection act, on television, until he chickened out. I had become a liberal without a brain.

And then it hit me. The Kinks were right!

Why, I asked myself, was I always going against the grain? Why were my political positions always running counter to the culture in which I lived? How could I be represented by people so contrary to my positions? Lightbulb! Ted Cruz was elected by people who were pleased by what he claimed to represent. Louie Gohmert was elected by people who believe what he believes. Steve Stockman was elected by people as deranged as him. And so it is. Give the people what they want.

And so, the reason congress is in a perpetual state of paralysis is because America is in a perpetual state of paralysis. We seek to impose our ideal democratic notion on the rest of the world while ignoring fractures at home. Russian president Vladimir Putin wrote, warning America not to consider ourselves exceptional. George Bernard Shaw wrote,

“Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it….”

The fact I find most interesting is that Congress has a 19% approval rating, according to Gallup. If we elect representatives who represent our interests and convictions, why is our approval of the job they do so low? At heart, are we not happy with our own convictions? The devil is in the details and it is this process that divorces concept (patriotism and democracy) from reality (legislation and personal responsibility). We cannot give the people what they want because they are not prepared to work for that which they think they deserve.