Friday, July 11, 2014

Political Discourse and a Big Shovel

So I was reading an old issue of Time magazine. I had just finished yet another article about scandals involving lobbyists who take money from one group and funnel it to politicians (keeping a nice chunk for themselves, of course) all in the name of making the lobbyists rich. I began reading one of the featured articles on Abraham Lincoln. I was immediately struck by something that Doris Kearns Goodwin pointed out.

It seems that Abe had no problem appointing people to his cabinet who disagreed with him. Actually seemed to relish the thought. He apparently also had no problem with the following phrases:

1. I'm sorry.
2. I was wrong/mistaken.
3. Thank you.

Whaddaya know about that? Compare this to modern politics:

1. I'm sorry. Only uttered when the polls indicate that this is the politically expedient course of action. Otherwise it's an admission of error, which is a sign of weakness, which means that someone like Karl Rove (who once appeared in an episode of "American Dad" in his true guise as the Angel of Death) is free to perform whatever hatchet job is necessary upon the person issuing the apology, rendering him or her politically sterile for the next 3,000 years.

2. I was wrong/mistaken. This has been replaced with a "blame the rest of the world" approach; basically this means taking the position that I was NOT wrong, I was as correct as I could be given the facts at my disposal, which were flawed, and anyway who's to say I wasn't right after all once the correct information came to light, and you can't prove anything and I never said that to begin with, and even if I did it wasn't under oath, and I was speaking metaphorically, and after all the question wasn't framed correctly, and in the final analysis can anybody really say that have a true understanding of what reality IS anyway?

3. Thank you. This is actually used quite frequently, but is usually costs the recipient at least $5,000 a plate.

So I'm proposing that this midterm election people actually take notice. Don't pay attention to the frantic screeching from the religious right about whatever pet issue they decide to glom onto for this election cycle. Dismiss without prejudice the bleatings about how safe fracking is, and if your water catches fire you should just consider it to be a free source of heat. Ignore all the breast beating rhetoric about how someone's opponent was caught in a cheap motel with a Batman Halloween mask, a pair of barbecue tongs and an underage gorilla.

Instead, focus on things of actual import to the future health and well-being of the United States and her citizens. Things like:

The right of women to make their own birth control decisions.
The Hobby Lobby decision and its aftermath has made it pretty clear where conservatives stand. First they said corporations are people, and could therefore make donations to political campaigns, and that any limitation on these donations was an infringement of the First Amendment rights of the corporation. Then they said that corporations, being people and all, have a First Amendment right to practice their religious beliefs, and that anything that causes them to run counter to those beliefs -- let's say, oh, I don't know, providing health insurance with a contraceptive plan to women -- is unconstitutional, but only in the cases where the contraceptive is an abortifacient. This was followed almost immediately by a directive to the lower courts that hey, we were only kidding, we actually mean all contraceptives, and now you have to rehear all of those cases.

The latest development is that the Supreme Court is citing this bizarre religious butterfly effect, where if a corporation has to fill out a form that allows the insurance company to provide contraceptive care to women, this means they are implicitly condoning the use of contraceptives, which, as was pointed out before, violates the First Amendment rights of the corporation.

I suppose that, in the next go-round, the Supreme Court will hold that any company that makes pens that the officers of a corporation use to sign the form to allow insurance companies to be reimbursed by the government for providing contraceptive care outside of the health plan offered by the corporation will be exempt as well, because this will violate THAT corporation's freedom of religious expression.

The right to not get shot in the face while shopping.
So the gun nuts have staged "peaceful demonstrations" at Chipotle and Target. These peaceful demonstrations consisted of a bunch of people walking into a place of business, armed to the teeth, and wondering why the hell everyone was so nervous all of a sudden. It got to the point that the following press release was sent out:
From San Angelo Live, San Angelo, TX, 4/25/2014: "Saturday, April 26, The Tom Green County Chapter of the Open Carry Texas Organization will be participating in an event in San Angelo so as to inform the public about the Open Carry Law in the State of Texas. The San Angelo Police Department is well aware of the event and would like the citizens of San Angelo to know that this is a peaceful demonstration and that there is no need to be alarmed." (emphasis added)
Okay, a general rule of thumb is, if you are staging a demonstration, and the friggin' police department has to warn the population that you are not going to kill them, then you're doing it wrong.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Texas, a man shoots and kills his ex-sister-in-law and her entire family (save for one survivor). Sadly, this is no longer viewed as something out of the ordinary. The NRA hasn't weighed in on this one yet, and if they have the same amount of common sense as a bag of gravel, they won't.

The right to earn a living wage.
The far right has gotten their bloomers in a bunch again, this time over the minimum wage. Apparently, if you work a full time job and still are below the poverty line, then it's your own damned fault for not being born wealthy in the first place.

Originally, if I'm not mistaken, the minimum wage was intended to be a floor from which people could spring upward, and a way to guarantee that anyone who wanted to work would be able to support themselves. The problem is that, thanks to various ideological and political conditions in both of the major parties over the past seven decades or so when it was first enacted, it has never really lived up to that promise.

Currently, the federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 an hour. If you work full time, 40 hours a week, and you take no time off at all (or get paid time off and holi-- I'm sorry, I couldn't finish that sentence with a straight face), you will have an annual income of $15,080 before taxes. The poverty line for a single adult in the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia is $11,670 (Alaska and Hawaii are handled separately, presumably because of their remoteness from the rest of the country).

So far, so good. Comparatively speaking, anyway. It's not great, but it should be enough to get by. In some places. Provided you live somewhere you can actually afford that's close to enough to where you work that you can either walk or take public transportation. So this pretty much rules out everywhere except Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Now let's say this single adult has a baby but the father goes AWOL. She's now a single mother, supporting both herself and the screaming poop factory on this crappy $7.25 an hour. However, just by virtue of procreating, the poverty line has moved above her income, to $15,730 a year.

Now, conservatives would point out that maybe she shouldn't have had the kid in the first place. And maintaining that the child was unintended, and they should be glad the mother didn't choose an abortion, and maybe if they hadn't stuck their big honkers in and made it so freakin' difficult for women to get birth control covered under their insurance, she wouldn't be in this position, is completely lost on them. Now, according to right wing wisdom (which is, in and of itself, an oxymoron), she is one of the "takers" and deserves to be degraded, belittled, and humiliated at every turn for daring to suckle off the generous government teat.

*************

The point of all this is this: there's a midterm election in a few months, and it's time people stopped being so goddam lazy and just pushing the button next to the name they've heard of before, or that has a "D" or an "R" (depending on your affiliation) next to it, or just not voting at all.

729 out of every 730 days, you have absolutely no say in what happens in Congress. However, there's one day every two years during which members of Congress live in fear ... of you. They have pollsters, political scientists, lobbyists, get-out-the-vote organizations, armies of volunteers, millions of dollars to spend on TV, radio, and internet advertising ... but, no matter how hard they try, they cannot absolutely, with 100% certainty, predict the what you will do.

This year the conventional wisdom is that the Republicans are going to keep the House of Representatives, possibly gaining even more of a majority, and that the Democrats have a less than 50% chance of retaining the majority in the Senate. You think things are bad now? Just wait until you have both houses of Congress dominated by these right-wing assholes. You will see legislation placing further restrictions on a woman's right to choose, providing even bigger breaks for the 1% ... in short, you're gonna be screwed over even worse than you already are.

I say we teach these jokers a lesson they won't soon forget. Vote liberal. The more liberal, the better. If you can find a Wiccan running for Congress, or a gay polygamist Muslim, or even (but this might be a stretch) a true progressive, then vote for them.

And, to everyone in Kentucky, will you please vote for Alison Lundergan Grimes for Senate, and get ol' Turkey Neck outta there? That guy is really pissing me off. I gotta lie down.

Enough, Already. Just ... Enough.


On July 9, 2014, Ron Lee Haskell shot and killed four of his ex-wife’s sister’s five children, along with their parents. A fifth child, their fifteen year old daughter, was critically wounded, shot in the head, but was able to ID the shooter to the police and warn them that Haskell was on his way to kill her grandparents.
Ron Lee Haskell

This is so many kinds of fucked up I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s start with this fifteen year old girl.

Imagine that your aunt was married to this guy, see, and the relationship ended, and your parents went to Colorado to pick her up and bring her back to Texas where she would, presumably, be safe from an abusive spouse. Your uncle then shows up at the house a year later, several months after the divorce has been finalized, ties you and your siblings up and has you lie face down on the floor, then does the same to your parents when they get home. He then calmly, methodically, shoots each of you in the back of the head. They are all dead, but you, somehow, have managed to survive. He leaves, you call the police and tell them that he is on his way to kill your grandparents. You are then taken to the hospital, where you are listed in critical condition with a bullet wound to the head.

Okay, so Cassidy Stay is pretty much your textbook definition of a hero. The media are going to LOVE her. She saved the lives of her grandparents, for chrissake, after her uncle shot her in the head and killed her entire family. It’s a pretty safe bet that, once she gets out of the hospital (and likely before then) she will be inundated with interview requests, invitations to appear on morning talk shows, daytime talk shows, Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, 60 Minutes, Letterman, Fallon, Conan ...

Here’s hoping that whatever adults this poor girl has left in her life are smart enough to put her needs ahead of “the public’s right to know what happened”, or whatever nonsense producers might throw at her. Yes, there is a journalistic imperative to get as much information as possible, and to disseminate it, but the modern media have become so cutthroat and bleeding edge, and the need to beat your competitor to the story, even if it is only by a few seconds, has become so ingrained, that compassion and perspective often get lost in the shuffle.

Look, I want know what happened as much as the next person. However, my desire to know is outweighed by my hope that this girl gets the help she will need to deal with seeing her entire family slaughtered in front of her eyes.

Which brings me around to my favorite topic of late: guns.

I know there are people out there who may read this who are gun rights supporters. I’m well aware that the vast majority of gun rights supporters are rational, reasonable people who would never even consider something as brutal as the crime that took place in Houston yesterday.

However, it is a common thread among the gun rights crowd that gun control will not work, because criminals will get guns anyway, and if you take the guns away from the good guys then there’s going to be a massive slaughter and life will look like a Tarentino movie.

I disagree, and I started doing some research to find data to support my position. After all, I am a liberal, and I don’t like guns, and I fail to see the rational need to have a weapon capable of absolutely vaporizing a duck and trying to claim it’s for hunting, and I DEFINITELY don’t see a reason to bring something like that to Chipotle, especially if you’re a fat guy wearing basketball shorts.


That's just wrong.
What I found instead was far more disturbing.

Apparently, people have less to fear from a bad guy with a gun than they do themselves. According to the Centers for Disease Control, from 1999 to 2010 (the last year for which there are openly published data) the majority of firearms-related deaths came from suicides. Of the 364,483 gun deaths in this country during that time, 140,875 (a shade over 57%) of them were the result of suicides. And apparently 2010 was the worst year, with over 61% of the total firearms-related deaths being self-inflicted[1].

In contrast, there were 140,875 homicides committed with a firearms during that time, or 38.65% of all gun deaths.

Think about this for a second, and see if you spot the irony. Gun rights advocates are very vocal about the need for guns to protect themselves against the “bad guys with guns”, and it turns out that the bad guys with guns are, more often than not ... drum roll, please ... themselves.

Conversely, a favorite argument of the left is that we need stricter gun regulations to prevents deaths by accidental discharge. However, the statistics show that this is actually not that big a problem. For the same period (1999 to 2010), there were 8,339 deaths labeled as “Unintentional” by the CDC, or 2.29% of all gun deaths -- and 0.000236% of the population as a whole.

I do not intend to discount these deaths in any way. They are tragic, and could have easily been avoided if it wasn’t for the NRA and their ilk. However, it would be a mistake to use accidental death as a rallying cry, because gun rights advocates and other members of the far right will simply trivialize the number, as evidenced by this passage from usconservatives.about.com:

"According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), gang homicides accounted for roughly 8,900 of 11,100 gun murders in both 2010 and 2011. That means that there were just 2,200 non gang-related firearm murders in both years in a country of over 300 million people and 250 million guns."

Where to begin.

What the right THINKS all the fuss is about ...
First, I don’t know if this 8,900 number is correct. I was unable to find anything in the CDC data set I was looking at that broke out the data according to whether the death was gang-related or not. However, an absence of data is not the same as confirmation, so I’m going to have to let that one go and take it at face value.
... and what it's actually about.
However, in the context of the larger issue, whether or not it’s gang-related is kind of irrelevant. They are still people, and they are still getting killed. Yes, gang activity contributes to the flow of illegal firearms. Yes, if gangs were brought under control, there would fewer incidents of gun violence. I get all that. The conservative viewpoint is that we need to beef up enforcement against the gangs. Lock ‘em up, and that will serve as a deterrent. However, seeing as that has worked so well, and as much as I am tempted to go off on a tangent about this, that will have to be reserved for a future rant. Moving right along ...

The thing that struck me about the conservative editorial mentioned above is that the author managed to whittle the number of homicides that, I don’t know, really matter, or something, down to 2,200 ... and then completely failed to mention anything substantive about this statistic, preferring instead to complain about how gun laws were incorrectly targeted.

I suppose it makes sense for gun nuts to complain about someone else’s aim.

Anyway, getting back to the conservative point that we don’t need more gun regulations, we need to get rid of the gangs. First off, it’s not an either/or proposition. They are two completely separate issues, that need to be tackled individually.

Second, and more importantly, there is the issue of people like Ron Lee Haskell being able to get pretty much whatever he wanted that would increase his killing power. He had already run afoul of the law and had a restraining order against him, and there was a history of domestic violence, so how in the hell did he get a gun to begin with? I mean, one look at this guy’s record would be all it took for a gun seller to be able to say, “Y’know, I wouldn't trust this guy with a burnt out match”.
Assuming, of course, that anyone bothered to look in the first place. After all, if he had purchased the gun in Colorado before July 1, 2013, there would not have even been a cursory background check. In Colorado (where Haskell had been living with his wife and four children prior to the split and moving to California), a state law requiring a background check at the gun purchaser's expense did not take effect until July 1, 2013; prior to that, I think you could get an AR15 out of a vending machine[2].

Thirdly, a favorite tactic of the gun rights people is to dismiss any proposed gun control legislation, no matter how minor or reasonable, by proving that it will not be absolutely, perfectly, 100% effective in all situations. This ain’t exactly setting the bar very high, considering that there has been no legislation in the history of the world that has been effective in 100% of the cases. A perfect example is the case of a gun manufacturer that created an electronic trigger lock that would only allow the gun to be fired if it was within a few inches of a special watch to which it was digitally paired.

Well.

The uproar that resulted from this was astounding. A gun dealer in Maryland started offering these things for sale, and within hours was receiving death threats from gun nuts who were claiming that this violated their Second Amendment rights. It got so bad, he was forced to pull them from his shelves out of fear for his safety.

I got into a debate with a guy on this one recently, and he actually tried to make the case that a digital trigger lock like this was a bad idea because, if the hand with the watch got blown off and the watch was damaged or destroyed as a result, you wouldn't be able to fire the gun with the other hand. To which I replied, a) what the fuck are you doing in a situation where your hand is going to be blown off in the first place, and 2) if that does happen, you've got more important things to do with your free hand, like applying a goddam tourniquet so you don't bleed to death.

This is the level of discourse I have come to expect from the gun rights crowd.
Anyway, once you look at the actual numbers, and you see that of the average of 30,374 gun deaths per year, 29,107, or 95.83%, are intentionally inflicted -- either on another person, or on one’s self[3]. This screams for some kind of regulation, if for nothing else to prevent the majority of gun deaths from suicide.

Look, it’s low-hanging fruit. It’s not like you have to worry about drive-by suicides ... they don’t work that way. Suicide is rarely an impulsive act, and by removing access to firearms we will possibly save thousands of lives that would otherwise be lost to depression or overwhelming circumstances. Granted, if people genuinely want to kill themselves, they’ll find a way to do it. That doesn't mean we make it easier for them.

So it all comes back to gun rights advocates refusing to compromise, even a little. A digital trigger lock that is automatically deactivated by wearing a watch is too restrictive of Second Amendment rights, apparently, and in order to ensure that everybody can take part in the crossfire we just have to accept some murdered children as the cost of doing business, I guess. I gotta lie down.
*********************************************************
The entire chart is show below, as is a link to the CDC website ... for independent verification, and so on.


Suicide
Homicide
Accidental
Legal Intervention
Undetermined

Year
Number
% of deaths
% of pop.
Number
% of deaths
% of pop.
Number
% of deaths
% of pop.
Number
% of deaths
% of pop.
Number
% of deaths
% of pop.
All intents
% of population
Population
1999
16,599
57.49%
0.005949%
10,828
37.50%
0.003880%
824
2.85%
0.000295%
299
1.04%
0.000107%
324
1.12%
0.000116%
28,874
0.0103%
279,040,168
2000
16,586
57.87%
0.005894%
10,801
37.68%
0.003838%
776
2.71%
0.000276%
270
0.94%
0.000096%
230
0.80%
0.000082%
28,663
0.0102%
281,421,906
2001
16,869
57.04%
0.005920%
11,348
38.37%
0.003982%
802
2.71%
0.000281%
323
1.09%
0.000113%
231
0.78%
0.000081%
29,573
0.0104%
284,968,955
2002
17,108
56.57%
0.005948%
11,829
39.11%
0.004113%
762
2.52%
0.000265%
300
0.99%
0.000104%
243
0.80%
0.000084%
30,242
0.0105%
287,625,193
2003
16,907
56.10%
0.005828%
11,920
39.55%
0.004109%
730
2.42%
0.000252%
347
1.15%
0.000120%
232
0.77%
0.000080%
30,136
0.0104%
290,107,933
2004
16,750
56.65%
0.005721%
11,624
39.31%
0.003970%
649
2.19%
0.000222%
311
1.05%
0.000106%
235
0.79%
0.000080%
29,569
0.0101%
292,805,298
2005
17,002
55.39%
0.005753%
12,352
40.24%
0.004180%
789
2.57%
0.000267%
330
1.08%
0.000112%
221
0.72%
0.000075%
30,694
0.0104%
295,516,599
2006
16,883
54.64%
0.005658%
12,791
41.40%
0.004287%
642
2.08%
0.000215%
360
1.17%
0.000121%
220
0.71%
0.000074%
30,896
0.0104%
298,379,912
2007
17,352
55.57%
0.005760%
12,632
40.46%
0.004193%
613
1.96%
0.000203%
351
1.12%
0.000117%
276
0.88%
0.000092%
31,224
0.0104%
301,231,207
2008
18,223
57.68%
0.005993%
12,179
38.55%
0.004005%
592
1.87%
0.000195%
326
1.03%
0.000107%
273
0.86%
0.000090%
31,593
0.0104%
304,093,966
2009
18,735
59.77%
0.006107%
11,493
36.66%
0.003746%
554
1.77%
0.000181%
333
1.06%
0.000109%
232
0.74%
0.000076%
31,347
0.0102%
306,771,529
2010
19,392
61.23%
0.006281%
11,078
34.98%
0.003588%
606
1.91%
0.000196%
344
1.09%
0.000111%
252
0.80%
0.000082%
31,672
0.0103%
308,745,538
Total
208,406
57.18%
0.005903%
140,875
38.65%
0.003990%
8,339
2.29%
0.000236%
3,894
1.07%
0.000110%
2,969
0.81%
0.000084%
364,483
0.0103%
3,530,708,204
Average
17,367
57.18%
0.005903%
11,740
38.65%
0.003990%
695
2.29%
0.000236%
325
1.07%
0.000110%
247
0.81%
0.000084%
30,374
0.0103%
294,225,684

*******************************************************************
Notes, Addenda and Assorted Stuff

[1]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2010 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released 2012. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2010, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html on Jul 11, 2014 8:53:53 AM.
The following ICD-10 Codes were used to filter the CDC data set:
  • U01.4 (Terrorism involving firearms)
  • W32 (Handgun discharge)
  • W33 (Rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge)
  • W34 (Discharge from other and unspecified firearms)
  • X72 (Intentional self-harm by handgun discharge)
  • X73 (Intentional self-harm by rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge)
  • X74 (Intentional self-harm by other and unspecified firearm discharge)
  • X93 (Assault by handgun discharge)
  • X94 (Assault by rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge)
  • X95 (Assault by other and unspecified firearm discharge)
  • Y22 (Handgun discharge, undetermined intent)
  • Y23 (Rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge, undetermined intent)
  • Y24 (Other and unspecified firearm discharge, undetermined intent)
  • Y35.0 (Legal intervention involving firearm discharge)
Population figures for 2010 are April 1 Census counts. The population figures for years 2001 - 2009, other than the infant age groups, are bridged-race estimates of the July 1 resident population, from the revised intercensal county-level 2000 - 2009 series released by NCHS on October 26, 2012. Population figures for 2000 are April 1 Census counts. Population figures for 1999 are from the 1990-1999 intercensal series of July 1 estimates. Note: Rates and population figures for years 2001 - 2009 differ slightly from previously published reports, due to use of the population estimates which were available at the time of release.
Don't worry, all the data for the chart is there. However, I'm still new at this Blogger thing, so formatting the table ... well, it didn't work out as well as I had hoped, and quite frankly I got tired of messing with it. Return to story
[2]Just in case some right-winger gets his or her panties in a twist and accuses me of spreading misinformation, I will state categorically that, to the best of my knowledge, you could never buy an AR15 out of a vending machine in Colorado. However, you could get one free from Pep Boys if you bought a complete set of tires with the road hazard warranty. Return to story

[3]This does not count gun deaths resulting from law enforcement activity ... this is actually a minute percentage, just a hair over 1%, of all gun deaths per year. It also does not include gun deaths that are classified as “Undetermined” ... again, a tiny amount, 0.81% a year. Return to story

A Path Forward

The Democratic primaries are heating up, and I am already seeing purity tests of various stripes filtering across the intertubes. Bernie ...