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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"Fear, Itself" -- Yes, Effective Strategies Can Better Combat Terrorism

 It seems that every day Americans are confronted with the threat of terrorism. Some people deal with great anxiety and even post-traumatic disorder as horrible psychological effects of terror. The constant threat of terrorist attacks is real; however, the aim of terrorists is to disrupt society and cause widespread panic that cripples their enemies. Terrorists want the populace to fear their very existence.
Title 22 of the U.S. Code, Section 2656f(d) defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

We must learn how to better combat the terror and terrorism our enemies use to further their political and social goals. I strongly believe good knowledge is power, so allow me to share some information about the threats of terrorism.

In her Security Studies Program Seminar presentation (February 2008) “What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat,” Louise Richardson, Executive Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, stressed the importance of acquiring knowledge about terrorism.
Even though there is no single explanation for terrorism, terrorists have primary and secondary motives including the following:
    • Primary motives include the achievement of autonomy or secession by nationalist groups or the replacement of secular law with religious law by religious groups
      • Primary motives are generally not common across all groups
    • Secondary motives are common across all kinds of groups
      • The three R's
        • Revenge
          • Sometimes personal, more often revenge for community with which terrorist identifies
          • Terrorists see themselves as playing David to the state's Goliath; see state as the aggressor
        • Renown
          • Publicity is a central objective, but also glory for the individual and the cause
          • Committing a terrorist act can enhance social status for individual attackers, whereas for a terrorist leader it can lead to national and global renown
        • Reaction
          • Terrorist attacks demonstrate the existence of a resistance and its strength

Two important ideas Richardson discusses are the ability to have patience with reactions to terrorism and to keep proper perspectives. She claims being tough on terrorism is not the same as being effective, and, so many worry too much about being labeled “soft” on terrorism. Yet, Richardson contends the U.S. should focus on what is effective instead of what looks “tough.”

The philosophy questions the policy of declaring a “war” on terrorism because it is not effective to declare a war on a tactic. Indeed, terrorism is a tactic. Richardson believes the U.S. should readjust its goals to contain the threat from terrorism rather than making a war on it.
  • This policy on terrorism should be guided by 6 principles
    • Have a defensible and achievable goal (cannot eliminate terrorism, can contain it)
    • Live by your principles (the example of George Washington during the Revolutionary War and the treatment of POWs)
    • Know your enemy (intelligence assets are key)
    • Separate terrorists from their communities (since they are dependent on that support)
    • Engage others with you in this campaign (both international community and moderates in key countries)
    • Have patience and keep perspective (the U.S. is not more endangered now than during the Cold War)
Richardson thinks that governments that combine “carrots” and “sticks” (rewards and punishments) are most successful in dealing with terrorism. The discriminate use of force is the key to effectiveness, and conciliatory measures such as the the mobilization of moderates is essential to success.

It is sorely evident that fighting terror (and terrorism) is a matter of limiting risk, channeling risk, and containment. Ian Lesser, head of the German Marshall Fund, which strengthens transatlantic cooperation on regional and national challenges in the spirit of the Marshall Plan contends: “On one hand, citizens expect to be kept safe from terrorism by a functioning and capable state. But on the other, completely eradicating terrorism — just like with violent crime — is simply unrealistic.”

"The United States cannot conduct an effective long-term counterterrorism campaign against al Qaida or other terrorist groups without understanding how terrorist groups end," said Seth Jones, lead author of the RAND Corporation study (2008), a nonprofit research organization. "In most cases, military force isn't the best instrument."

The comprehensive study analyzed 648 terrorist groups that existed between 1968 and 2006 and found the most common way that terrorist groups end -- 43 percent -- was via a transition to the political process. However, the possibility of a political solution is more likely if the group has narrow goals, rather than a broad, sweeping agenda like al Qaida possesses.

The second most common way that terrorist groups end -- 40 percent -- was through police and intelligence services either apprehending or killing the key leaders of these groups. Policing is especially effective in dealing with terrorists because police have a permanent presence in cities that enables them to efficiently gather information, Jones said.

Military force was effective in only 7 percent of the cases examined; in most instances, military force is too blunt an instrument to be successful against terrorist groups, although it can be useful for quelling insurgencies in which the terrorist groups are large, well-armed and well-organized, according to researchers.

Among the other findings, the study notes:
  • Religious terrorist groups take longer to eliminate than other groups. Since 1968, approximately 62 percent of all terrorist groups have ended, while only 32 percent of religious terrorist groups have done so.
  • No religious terrorist group has achieved victory since 1968.
  • Size is an important predictor of a groups' fate. Large groups of more than 10,000 members have been victorious more than 25 percent of the time, while victory is rare when groups are smaller than 1,000 members.
  • There is no statistical correlation between the duration of a terrorist group and ideological motivation, economic conditions, regime type or the breadth of terrorist goals.
  • Terrorist groups that become involved in an insurgency do not end easily. Nearly 50 percent of the time they end with a negotiated settlement with the government, 25 percent of the time they achieved victory and 19 percent of the time, military groups defeated them.
  • Terrorist groups from upper-income countries are much more likely to be left-wing or nationalistic, and much less likely to be motivated by religion.
(Jones, Seth G. and Martin C. Libicki. “How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa'ida.” Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2008.)

In a new report (2016), Tactical Approach to Counter Terrorists in Cities (TACTICS), a project funded by the European Commission, aims to create a more effective counter-terrorism system to be used in urban areas across European countries. The project was commissioned in light of the increased threat of terrorism in European cities.

The TACTICS project team has developed a technology-ready concept that could support counter-terrorism operations across European countries.

As part of the project, RAND Europe developed five counter-terrorism policy recommendations based on the analysis:
  1. Deploy appropriate counter-terrorism technologies that enhance decision making, but pay attention to the evolving technology landscape.
  2. Establish partnerships with all levels of national government, law enforcement agencies, private sector security companies and local authorities, while also collaborating with international partners and allies.
  3. Where possible, engage with the public, the media and local communities when deploying new counter-terrorism technologies, such as surveillance systems.
  4. Carefully consider the extent to which data collection and data sharing during a counter-terrorism operation are proportionate, necessary and justified.
  5. Identify and address any potential privacy issues as early as possible before introducing new counter-terrorism technologies.
(Richard Warnes. “New Research Finds Counter-Terrorism TACTICS for European Cities. RAND. Effective Analysi: Effective Solutions. March 31, 2016.)

Over the past several years, the Obama administration has begun to formalize a so-called “disposition matrix” for suspected terrorists abroad: a continuously evolving database that spells out the intelligence on targets and various strategies, including contingencies, for handling them. Although the government has not spelled out the steps involved in deciding how to treat various terrorists, a look at U.S. actions in the past makes it possible to reverse-engineer a rough decision tree for certain types of suspects.

Use the interactive flow chart here:

"No Mistakes" -- God Created Adam and Eve and Intersex Individuals

Meet Emily Quinn, an intersex individual.

Emily says, "In layman's terms, I was brought up as a girl because that's my phenotype - aka how my body looks on the outside. The testes are internal. Breast development happens because my body converts some of my ridiculous levels of testosterone into estrogen. No other signs of puberty really happen."

Quinn continues: "I speak a lot to med schools and doctors, advocating for people like me. Just to correct you a little bit, the testes don't NEED to be removed unless there is an obvious reason, like a tumor. The risk of cancer is incredibly low. Also, I know in med school they use the word 'normal' pretty frequently, but that's actually really harmful and causes a lot of unnecessary surgeries, like the removal of the testes."

So often I encounter those who believe sexual identity is as simple as accepting the idea that humans are male or female based on the belief that God created just two sexes. They cite Genesis and scriptures speaking of the creation of the male and female forms – Adam and Eve. I respect their faith, yet I disagree about ideas of sexual identity.

Despite the denial of some people that intersex individuals exist, they should be willing to view research and expand their understanding of the reality of all sexual conditions. Like most things unknown, unusual sexual characteristics can generate fear and even loathing rooted in ignorance. The reluctance to broaden acceptance of human beings in any minority category is prejudice that prohibits the advancement of the common good.

Learning the truth is the first step to acceptance. I invite everyone to take time to seek unbiased accounts of intersex conditions. As a caring society, we must work together to ensure that people with intersex characteristics are not teased, harassed, or subjected to discrimination. To assure this happens, we must also learn how to talk about issues of sex and sexuality in an age-appropriate manner. Yes, I believe it is important to educate our youth about this subject. How else will they discover truth?

Research confirms that most individuals with intersex conditions are happy with the sex to which they have been assigned. We should never assume that gender-atypical behavior by an intersex person reflects an incorrect sex assignment. We can accomplish so much by being aware of our own caring attitudes toward sex and gender.

Most people with intersex conditions grow up to be heterosexual, but persons with some specific intersex conditions seem to have an increased likelihood of growing up to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual adults. Even so, most individuals with these specific conditions also grow up to be heterosexual. It behooves us to be especially understanding of the complexity of living as an intersex person.

Please, allow me to share some information from the American Psychological Association about this important topic. I hope that it helps people find that education not only increases comprehension but also stimulates an improved response.

What does intersex mean?

A variety of conditions that lead to atypical development of physical sex characteristics are collectively referred to as intersex conditions. These conditions can involve abnormalities of the external genitals, internal reproductive organs, sex chromosomes, or sex-related hormones. Some examples include:

• External genitals that cannot be easily classified as male or female

• Incomplete or unusual development of the internalreproductive organs

• Inconsistency between the external genitals and the internal reproductive organs

• Abnormalities of the sex chromosomes

• Abnormal development of the testes or ovaries

• Over- or underproduction of sex-related hormones

• Inability of the body to respond normally to sex-related hormones

How common are intersex conditions?

There is no simple answer to this question. Intersex conditions are not always accurately diagnosed, experts sometimes disagree on exactly what qualifies as an intersex condition, and government agencies do not collect statistics about intersex individuals. Some experts estimate that as many as 1 in every 1,500 babies is born with genitals that cannot easily be classified as male or female.

What are some examples of intersex conditions?

• Congenital adrenal hyperplasia, in which overproduction of hormones in the adrenal gland causes masculinization of the genitals in female infants

• 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, in which low levels of an enzyme, 5-alpha-reductase, cause incomplete masculinization of the genitals in male infants

• Partial androgen insensitivity, in which cells do not respond normally to testosterone and related hormones, causing incomplete masculinization of the genitals in male infants

• Penile agenesis, in which male infants are born without a penis

• Complete androgen insensitivity, in which cells do not respond at all to testosterone and related hormones, causing female-appearing genitals in infants with male chromosomes

• Klinefelter syndrome, in which male infants are born with an extra X (female) chromosome, which typically causes incomplete masculinization and other anomalies

• Turner syndrome, in which female infants are born with one, rather than two, X (female) chromosomes, causing developmental anomalies

• Vaginal agenesis, in which female infants are born without a vagina

Some intersex conditions cause babies to be born with genitals that cannot easily be classified as male or female (called ambiguous genitals). These intersex conditions are usually recognized at birth. The first four conditions listed above—congenital adrenal hyperplasia, 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, partial androgen insensitivity syndrome, and penile agenesis—are in this category.

Other intersex conditions, including the last four conditions listed above—complete androgen insensitivity, Klinefelter syndrome, Turner syndrome, and vaginal agenesis—usually do not result in ambiguous genitals and may not be recognized at birth. Babies born with these conditions are assigned to the sex consistent with their genitals, just like other babies. Their intersex conditions may only become apparent later in life, often around the time of puberty.

What happens when a baby’s genitals cannot be easily classified as male or female?

When a baby is born with ambiguous genitals, doctors perform examinations and laboratory tests to determine exactly what condition the baby has. Determining the type of intersex condition is important, because some intersex conditions that cause ambiguous genitals (for example, certain types of congenital adrenal hyperplasia).

A variety of factors go into this decision. Important goals in deciding sex assignment include preserving fertility where possible, ensuring good bowel and bladder function, preserving genital sensation, and maximizing the likelihood that the baby will be satisfied with his or her assigned sex later in life. Research has shown that individuals with some conditions are more likely to be satisfied in later life when assigned as males, while individuals with other conditions are more likely to be satisfied when assigned as females.

For still other conditions, individuals may be equally satisfied with assignment to either sex, or there may not be enough information to make confident recommendations. Doctors share this information with babies’ parents as part of the process of deciding the most appropriate sex to assign.

(“Answers to Your Questions About Individuals With Intersex Conditions. American Psychological Association. APA Task Force on Gender Identity, Gender Variance, and Intersex Conditions: Margaret Schneider, PhD, University of Toronto; Walter O. Bockting, PhD, University of Minnesota; Randall D. Ehrbar, PsyD, New Leaf Services for Our Community, San Francisco, CA; Anne A. Lawrence, MD, PhD, Private Practice, Seattle, WA; Katherine Louise Rachlin, PhD, Private Practice, New York, NY; Kenneth J. Zucker, PhD, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Produced by the APA Office of Public and member communications. 2016)

Variants of sexual development, sexual orientation and gender identity are natural. Intersex individuals are not consigned to be members of freak shows. They are simply human beings who fall outside many people's accepted parameters of normal.

Even though intersex or ambiguous sexual phenotypes are not a common topic for discussion at school or in most other places, for that matter, an aura of embarrassment or shame that prohibits any mention of sexual pathology is not conducive to defeating the ignorance of the acceptance of broader sexual identities. We must help protect the human rights of intersex individuals – especially when they are too young to express their own wishes concerning their identities. God bless us all.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Supreme Court Defends Illegal Stops -- Denies Fourth Amendment Rights


Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The purpose of the 4th Amendment is to protect people from being abused by a powerful government.  There are strict rules that government agents must follow to search you and seize evidence. This means that law enforcement agents need probable cause and a warrant in most cases, to search your person or belongings.

If there is no probable cause and you are searched illegally, any evidence collected from the search will be excluded from evidence at trial. This has come to be called the Exclusionary Rule.

Over the years, the courts have interpreted the 4th Amendment, along with other Amendments such as the 9th, to protect privacy in many situations.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. 

The Ninth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects all of the rights of the people that are not mentioned specifically elsewhere in the Constitution. It was a part of the original Bill of Rights drafted in 1787 and ratified in 1791. The rights protected are referred to as “unenumerated” rights, and include those inferred by other legal rights, as well as natural, fundamental, and background ones.

The 9th amendment is used to protect the citizenry from any expansion of governmental power because of the limited nature of the Bill of Rights. Because every right of the people of the United States could not possibly be mentioned in the Constitution, the Ninth Amendment was added to supplement those already mentioned. The amendment protects many rights implied in a universal civil code, and those that are linked to other rights already declared. It protects these personal liberties from state and federal infringement.

Supreme Court Today – Regarding Search and Seizure

Evidence obtained through illegal stops and searches can in some cases be used against the defendant in court, ruled the majority of the US Supreme Court in June, 2016.

The ruling came in the case of Utah vs. Strieff. In December 2006, narcotics detective Douglas Fackrell was observing a house after an anonymous tip suggested the house was being used for "narcotic activity." He decided to question the next person he saw leave the house, who happened to be Edward Strieff.

Officer Fackrell detained Mr. Strieff while he radioed in to check for outstanding warrants; after learning Strieff had a warrant against him for a minor traffic offense, Fackrell searched Strieff and found a small amount of methamphetamine.

The drug conviction was thrown out by the Utah Supreme Court, on the grounds that it resulted from an unconstitutional stop: Fackrell had no reason to suspect Strieff of illegal activity, so the search would only be legal if Strieff had admitted to a crime or consented to a search after the initial stop, the Utah court ruled.

But the nation's highest court reinstated the conviction on Monday, as the five-justice majority determined that "while Officer Fackrell's decision to initiate the stop was mistaken, his conduct thereafter was lawful.”

Writing for the conservative majority, which included the typically liberal Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Justice Clarence Thomas said the discovery of Strieff's warrant made the subsequent search legal.
The Supreme Court's three other liberal justices dissented in two separate opinions, written by Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

(Gretel Kauffman. “Did the Supreme Court just expand police searches?”  
The Christian Science Monitor. June 21, 2016.)

In a scathing dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined in part by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, concluded by writing:

By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral (suggesting a jail or prison) state, just waiting to be cataloged.

We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.”

While Mr. Strieff is white, Justice Sotomayor said, “it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny.” The central, disturbing message of Monday’s ruling, she added, is that whether you are white or black, “your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights,” and in that way, “unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives.”

There are more than 7.8 million outstanding arrest warrants in the United States, according to state and federal databases, Sotomayor noted. The majority of these warrants are for minor offenses, such as unpaid traffic tickets.

Justice Elena Kagan also wrote a dissent of her own, and was also joined by Justice Ginsburg. She wrote that the majority’s decision:

[C]reates unfortunate incentives for the police— indeed, practically invites them to do what Fackrell did here. Consider an officer who, like Fackrell, wishes to stop someone for investigative reasons, but does not have what a court would view as reasonable suspicion. If the officer believes that any evidence he discovers will be inadmissible, he is likely to think the unlawful stop not worth making—precisely the deterrence the exclusionary rule is meant to achieve. But when he is told of today’s decision? Now the officer knows that the stop may well yield admissible evidence: So long as the target is one of the many millions of people in this country with an outstanding arrest warrant, anything the officer finds in a search is fair game for use in a criminal prosecution. The officer’s incentive to violate the Constitution thus increases: From here on, he sees potential advantage in stopping individuals without reasonable suspicion—exactly the temptation the exclusionary rule is supposed to remove. Because the majority thus places Fourth Amendment protections at risk, I respectfully dissent.”

(Joshua Waimberg. “The Supreme Court’s Utah v. Strieff decision and the FourthAmendment.” Constitution Daily. June 22, 2016.)

"You're basically encouraging police to stop whomever they want for the purpose of: 'I want to see if you have any open warrants. And once I find that you have an open warrant for not paying a parking ticket, now I can look into your pockets,'”said University of Maryland law professor Doug Colbert to The Baltimore Sun.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Feeding the Beast of Violence: How the NRA Affects Our Public Health


Among developed nations, the United States is head and shoulders above all others in respect to violence. This is in large part due to the easy access many Americans have to firearms. Gun violence scars a nation priding itself on freedom, liberty, and justice. The government faces the ugly truth that bullets from firearms account for an average of more than one mass shooting a day in America. (4+ victims including shooter, 2015).

Most Republicans are opposed to gun control measures in general. They claim such legislation would limit gun rights, saying owning all types of weapons is protected by the Constitution's Second Amendment. They insist the right to a militia is a freedom that must never be infringed upon.

In the wake of the Orlando club massacre, the Republican-controlled US Senate rejected several measures aimed at reducing gun violence. Even a hot-button issue like gun violence appears unable to make politicians cross the aisle and compromise to save American lives. The NRA and the gun lobby control politicians who care more for re-election than for preventing innocent deaths.

Besides, gun proponents claim there is no way to stop gun violence. That assumption presumes nothing more can be done to stop violence other than the proliferation of “good guys” with guns – especially concealed weapons -- stopping “bad guys” with guns – often with legally purchased assault firearms.

Gun violence in the United States is not a constitutionally derived inevitability.

Gun violence happens because our elected officials have made a series of deliberate policy judgments that guns should be easy to buy, sell, and carry by nearly anyone, anywhere, any time.

Data from Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that states with more guns tend to have far more gun deaths. And it's not just one study."Within the United States, a wide array of empirical evidence indicates that more guns in a community leads to more homicide," David Hemenway, the Harvard Injury Control Research Center's director, wrote in Private Guns, Public Health.

(David Hemenway, Private Guns, Public Health. 2006.)

Looking Into a Public Health Approach on Gun Violence

Optimism can defeat the self-defeating proposition that “there is no way to stop gun violence.” I find it very beneficial to examine the ideas of Dr. David Hemenway, who is Professor of Health Policy at the Harvard School of Public Health and Director of the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center. Allow me to share some information with you …

In his highly regarded research, Hemenway develops the public health approach as a pragmatic, science-based effort to reduce injuries and deaths from gun violence. The goal is not to assign blame but, rather, to find solutions, with an emphasis on prevention.

Hemenway compares controlling gun violence with past efforts on improving highway safety – away from improved driving and toward improved design of vehicles and roadways. For gun violence, the analogy is to focus less on the shooters and more on access to guns and their design. The author acknowledges that if shooters are determined, resourceful people with clear and sustained deadly intent, then regulating guns would likely have little effect on the number of homicides and suicides. In other words, they would find a way.

But in the real world, as Hemenway spells out, a large portion of serious intentional violence would be less deadly if guns were less readily available or less user-friendly. Furthermore, although gun "accidents" make up only a small fraction of the total gun injuries, they are common enough that the Consumer Product Safety Commission would surely give them high priority if it were not barred from doing so by federal law.

Hemenway also addresses another feature separates firearms from vehicles: the possibility of "virtuous use." The belief in the importance of giving civilians a means of self-defense has long been used as an argument for preserving the right to keep handguns in the home.

In recent decades, that philosophy has fueled a successful effort to ease state restrictions on carrying concealed weapons in public. This campaign has made great use of the work of criminologist Gary Kleck, who concluded from his analysis of survey data that there are millions of virtuous self-defense uses of guns each year.

Hemenway has done more than any other scholar in rebutting that absurd claim. When it comes time to assess the evidence on the effectiveness of particular interventions to reduce gun violence, Hemenway is restrained. He notes, "Unfortunately, there exist few convincing evaluations of past firearms laws."

In reviewing the evidence on what works and what might work, he tends to believe that studies support the feasibility of reducing accidents and suicides more than they do the likelihood of cutting down on gun assaults.

Hemenway summons a public health core principle: that good data are the precondition for progress. He and his center get much of the credit for designing a practical system that is now in the pilot stage in a number of states, with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The public health approach rests on the optimistic belief that good science will engender good policy and practice.

(Philip J. Cook, Ph.D. “Private Guns, Public Health” Reviewed in N Engl J Med. 
September 16, 2004)

Using survey data on rates of household gun ownership, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health examined the association between gun availability and homicide across states, 2001-2003. It found that states with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide. This relationship held for both genders and all age groups, after accounting for rates of aggravated assault, robbery, unemployment, urbanization, alcohol consumption, and resource deprivation (e.g., poverty). There was no association between gun prevalence and non-firearm homicide.

(Matthew Miller; Deborah Azrael; and David Hemenway. “State-level homicide victimization rates in the U.S. in relation to survey measures of household firearm ownership, 2001-2003.” Social Science and Medicine. 2007; 64:656-64.)

In the United States although most people support policies that reduce access to guns, once these policies are proposed, they're spun by politicians and groups like the NRA that falsely claim any attempts to control access to deadly weapons are threats to taking all guns away from law-abiding citizens.

The lie persists and festers. So nothing gets done, and preventable deaths keep occurring. Innocents seeking their own peaceful, inalienable rights continue to be filled with lead from assault weapons in the hands of those who should have been prevented from purchasing them. And, the endless cycle of those convinced that only a gun stops a gun spins around and around in a violent circle.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Liberty Valance, Gun Violence, and Solutions To Problems


I'm sure most of us, at least old geezers like me, have seen the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Just in case you haven't seen the western drama, here is a brief synopsis:

The film follows Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart), a young lawyer who has followed Horace Greely’s advice to go west with the goal of using the law to bring order to the wild frontier. After arriving in the fictional town of Shinbone, Stoddard is confronted by the reality that the legal system has no place in the west.

The local ‘good guy’ Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) tells a just-robbed Stoddard that he needs a gun in order to survive. When Stoddard resists, Doniphon continues by derisively saying that “I know those law books mean a lot to you, but not out here. Out here a man settles his own problems.”

Undeterred, Stoddard sets up a school to teach literacy to local residents and starts a campaign for statehood. While some in the community support his cause, it is not until Stoddard is credited with the shooting of local villain Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) that he earns widespread support and, most importantly, legitimacy.

What about the message of gun violence in the film? In a historical sense and in the context of the American frontier, the theme reinforces the idea that engaging in violence is a prerequisite to citizenship and a path to success in the United States. Of course, the film exhorts the justice of owning and using a gun as a means of finding justice and respect. After all, the setting of the movie was the Wild West.

Of course, no longer do we have a Wild West nor do we have a lawless frontier, yet many today support the need to own guns and to use violent actions against any perceived threats to their existence. Citizens who support the gun lobby argue that “only a gun can stop a person with a gun.” And, of course, terrorist actions, violent crime, and senseless mass shootings have convinced a large segment of society that they need to conceal and carry a weapon for safety.

Historian Sean Graham comments about gun violence ...

“That violence has been seen as a redemptive force is dangerous because the message that emerges is that when a person is at their low point, violence can be the source of rejuvenation. Ransom Stoddard was at his lowest point when he picked up a gun – he then became a successful Senator. The American Union was at a breaking point when war began – it then became the bastion of freedom and liberty. Americans were scared and left in tears on that fall Tuesday in 2001 – they could again feel safe that Sunday night in 2011. Each time the recovery was triggered by violence. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

For 99.99% of the population, this will not lead them to pick up a gun when they reach a low point. But the danger comes from the 0.01% that see this and think that they can use violence as a viable solution to their problems. The common thread between the perpetrators of mass shootings – with the variable of mental illness – is that they tend to be withdrawn from their communities and generally have experienced some sort of hardship immediately preceding their crimes. They have been taught – even implicitly – through the nation’s history and dominate mythology that when you’re down, violence can be your way out. That is what makes it a remarkably dangerous narrative. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

Clearly within this environment people should not have easy access to guns nor should the media fixate on those responsible for committing these crimes to the point where they achieve a level of notoriety. Trying to identify a singular motive for taking a gun to a school, mall, or movie theater is a folly – the issue is too complex for that. But when thinking about ways to prevent these tragedies, it is instructive to look to the past to see how the national mythology can inform our attempts to understand the incomprehensible. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

(Sean Graham. “Gun Violence in the United States: The Frontier Mentality.” January 09, 2013.)

Freedom, strength, frontier survival, mythology, guns – all enter the American consciousness with great emotion. Without a doubt, history shows us the critical links between guns and democracy. Still, Graham points out that people find that violence in a primitive nation is not presented as “an unfortunate reality of nationhood and national defense, but rather as an expression of American strength and sovereignty.” The frontiersman’s identity came from his ability to assert his dominance on his surroundings, and “violence was not forced on the frontiersman, but rather sought out as a means to redeem himself and declare his authority.”

Thus, today the authoritarian view persists. This is what Graham means with his statement “History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes.” Violence is not “a way out” of problems in a civilized nation, yet we have been conditioned to believe that the gun is the solution to our threats. In the frontier, a person's need to dominate with armed authority could often be justified. But in modern society this philosophy has led to a trigger mentality.

We can never eliminate “bad guys” with guns and the violence they perpetrate. Granted, firearms in hands of well-meaning people offer advantages in certain deadly situations. I would never deny that just as I would never deny the rights of gun owners to hunt or to target practice. However, the idea of establishing strength and sovereignty by “rhyming” the practices of frontier America most certainly will lead to a new frontier of increasing armed violence and aggression. We see the signs of an armed danger with repeated acts of gun violence every day.

In the United States, the death rate from gun homicides is about 31 per million people — the equivalent of 27 people shot dead every day of the year. The homicides include losses from mass shootings, like Sunday’s Orlando attack, or the San Bernadino, California shooting last December. And of course, they also include the country’s vastly more common single-victim killings.

Gun homicides are a common cause of death in the United States, killing about as many people as car crashes (not counting van, truck, motorcycle or bus accidents). Some cases command our attention more than others, of course. Counting mass shootings that make headlines and the thousands of Americans murdered one or a few at a time, gunshot homicides totaled 8,124 in 2014, according to the F.B.I.

This level of violence makes the United States an extreme outlier (point of difference) when measured against the experience of other advanced countries.

Yes, Dr. Graham: History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. I fear the lines of repetition pose a threat to our existence.

Monday, June 13, 2016

NRA -- Their History of Gun Control and Their Newer Ignorance of Gun Violence

The United States of America – a place where gun violence rages. The U.S. firearm homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 countries that are our peers in wealth and population. All good citizens must agree that something needs to be done to prevent this from happening every day – 31 Americans are murdered with guns and 151 are treated for a gun assault in an emergency room. 

(Richardson, Erin G., and David Hemenway, “Homicide, Suicide, and Unintentional Firearm Fatality: Comparing the United States With Other High-Income Countries, 2003,” Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection, and Critical Care. June 2010)
What if I would tell you that even the Founding Fathers instituted gun laws so intrusive that the NRA would not endorse them today? Well, not only did the founding generation deny gun ownership to many people like slaves and free blacks, but they also denied guns to law-abiding white men who refused to swear loyalty to the Revolution.

Adam Winkler, professor of constitutional law at the UCLA School of Law, says, “Historically, the leadership of the NRA was more open-minded about gun control than someone familiar with the modern NRA might imagine. The Second Amendment was not nearly as central to the NRA’s identity for most of the organization’s history.”

Winkler explains ...

“For those men who were allowed to own guns, the Founders had their own version of the 'individual mandate': they required the purchase of guns. A 1792 federal law mandated every eligible man to purchase a military-style gun and ammunition for his service in the citizen militia. Such men had to report for frequent musters—where their guns would be inspected and, yes, registered on public rolls.

(Adam Winkler. “The Secret History of Guns.” The Atlantic. September 2011.) 

In his book Gunfight: The Battle Over The Right To Bear Arms In America, Winkler says history shows that the NRA was more open-minded about gun control than someone familiar with the modern NRA might imagine.

For most of the 20th century, the NRA helped to write most of the federal laws restricting gun use. Journalist Steven Rosenfeld, author of Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting, says in the 1920s and 1930s, the NRA’s leaders helped write and lobby for the first federal gun control laws – the very kinds of laws that the modern NRA labels as “the height of tryanny.”

(Steven Rosenfeld. “The Surprising Unknown History of the NRA.” AlterNet Report.
January 13, 2013.)

State gun control laws were once the norm. Within a generation of the country’s founding, many states passed laws banning any citizen from carrying a concealed gun. A new president in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt, made fighting crime and gun control part of his "New Deal." The NRA helped him draft the first federal gun controls: 1934’s National Firearms Act and 1938’s Gun Control Act.

The NRA President at the time, Karl T. Frederick, a 1920 Olympic gold-medal winner for marksmanship who became a lawyer, praised the new state gun controls in Congress. “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons,” he testified before the 1938 law was passed. “I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”

The legal doctrine of gun rights balanced by gun controls held for nearly a half-century.

Rosenfeld recalls one of the most tragic crimes of gun violence in the history of our nation and the NRA response ...

“In November 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President John F. Kennedy with an Italian military surplus rifle that Owsald bought from a mail-order ad in the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine. In congressional hearings that soon followed, NRA Executive Vice-President Frankin Orth supported a ban in mail-order sales, saying, 'We do think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.'”

“But no new federal gun control laws came until 1968. The assassinations of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy were the tipping point, coming after several summers of race-related riots in American cities. The nation’s white political elite feared that violence was too prevalent and there were too many people—especially urban Black nationalists—with access to guns. In May 1967, two dozen Black Panther Party members walked into the California Statehouse carrying rifles to protest a gun-control bill, prompting then-Gov. Ronald Reagan to comment, 'There’s no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.'

“The Gun Control Act of 1968 reauthorized and deepened the FDR-era gun control laws. It added a minimum age for gun buyers, required guns have serial numbers and expanded people barred from owning guns from felons to include the mentally ill and drug addicts. Only federally licensed dealers and collectors could ship guns over state lines. People buying certain kinds of bullets had to show I.D. But the most stringent proposals—a national registry of all guns (which some states had in colonial times) and mandatory licenses for all gun carriers—were not in it. The NRA blocked these measures. Orth told America Riflemen magazine that while part of the law 'appears unduly restrictive, the measure as a whole appears to be one that the sportsmen of America can live with.'”

(Steven Rosenfeld. “The Surprising Unknown History of the NRA.” AlterNet Report.
January 13, 2013.)

But in the mid-1960s, the Black Panthers were better-known than the NRA for expressing that view of the Second Amendment. Rosenfeld says, “White libertarians started to assert that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to guns—like the Black Panthers. But, of course, they were seeking to keep America’s white gun owners fully armed.”

But then …

In 1971, ATF raided a lifetime NRA member’s house who was suspected of having a large illegal arms cache and shot and killed him. This helped ignite a split to widen inside the NRA. Gun dealers thought they were being harassed. Rural states felt they were being unduly punished for urban America’s problems.

As a result ...

In 1975, the NRA created a new lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, under Harlon B. Carter, a tough-minded former chief of the U.S. Border Patrol who shared the libertarian goal of expanding gun owners’ rights. Burdick writes that “by 1976, the political rhetoric had gained momentum and the bicentennial year brought out a new NRA campaign, ‘designed to enroll defenders of the right to keep and bear arms’ in numbers equal to ‘the ranks of the patriots who fought in the American Revolution.’”

And so on and so on.

The gun violence increases and so does the debate over the Second Amendment and what needs to be done to insure proper gun ownership while taking firearms from criminals intent on using them.
I suggest reading an article called“The Right To Bear Arms” by Warren E. Burger, Chief Justice of the United States (1969-86) which appeared in Parade Magazine, January 14, 1990. Here is part of the Chief Justice's article:

“In the two centuries since then -- with two world wars and some lesser ones -- it has become clear, sadly, that we have no choice but to maintain a standing national army while still maintaining a "militia" by way of the National Guard, which can be swiftly integrated into the national defense forces.

“Americans also have a right to defend their homes, and we need not challenge that. Nor does anyone seriously question that the Constitution protects the right of hunters to own and keep sporting guns for hunting game any more than anyone would challenge the right to own and keep fishing rods and other equipment for fishing -- or to own automobiles. To 'keep and bear arms' for hunting today is essentially a recreational activity and not an imperative of survival, as it was 200 years ago; 'Saturday night specials' and machine guns are not recreational weapons and surely are as much in need of regulation as motor vehicles.

“Americans should ask themselves a few questions. The Constitution does not mention automobiles or motorboats, but the right to keep and own an automobile is beyond question; equally beyond question is the power of the state to regulate the purchase or the transfer of such a vehicle and the right to license the vehicle and the driver with reasonable standards. In some places, even a bicycle must be registered, as must some household dogs.

“If we are to stop this mindless homicidal carnage, is it unreasonable:
  1. to provide that, to acquire a firearm, an application be made reciting age, residence, employment and any prior criminal convictions?
  2. to required that this application lie on the table for 10 days (absent a showing for urgent need) before the license would be issued?
  3. that the transfer of a firearm be made essentially as with that of a motor vehicle?
  4. to have a "ballistic fingerprint" of the firearm made by the manufacturer and filed with the license record so that, if a bullet is found in a victim's body, law enforcement might be helped in finding the culprit?
“These are the kind of questions the American people must answer if we are to preserve the 'domestic tranquillity' promised in the Constitution.”

(Click here to read the entire article:


I hear the argument that “nothing will stop criminals from obtaining and using guns in their deadly activities, so no gun control will work.” The main point of this argument is that criminals do not follow laws; therefore, laws restricting gun ownership and types of guns would only hurt those who follow them.
  • This implies that areas with more restrictive gun laws should have more crime given that an armed populace deters criminals.
  • This notion is connected with the idea of “gun-free” zones and that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
True, there is no way to defeat the reality of the argument that “criminals don’t obey laws.” But, clearly, some criminals obey some laws some of the time; this is the nature of incentive explicit in law enforcement. With proper gun control either potential criminals are deterred from crime, or existing criminals are deterred from crime. Society must recognize that change can improve present deplorable conditions.

Gun proponents view “criminals don't obey laws” as an acceptable argument in political debate.
That is a nonsensical paradox. The paradox is as follows:
  1. Law-abiding citizens obey the law
  2. Criminals are lawbreakers, and thus do not obey the law
  3. Laws impose restrictions on the behavior of only those that follow them
  4. Laws, therefore, only hurt law-abiding citizens

    Could not every law be refuted with the lawbreaker’s paradox? For example, laws against rape, murder, and theft are rarely followed by rapists, murderers, and thieves, but the fact that such people exist in society is the reason behind such regulations in the first place.
To think that the minor inconvenience of gun reforms such as background checks, waiting periods, and assault weapon bans is more burdensome than the death of thousands of innocent civilians each year (which such reforms seek to redress) reflects a miscalibrated sense of what matters in the world.

After all, when gun advocates say that they are being "hurt" by gun control, let’s be clear what the actual implication of this statement is: my right to not be bothered in the least by regulation outweighs the right to life for thousands of innocents who die in the absence of said regulation.

Not only can such gun reforms reduce the number of homicides, but there is very little controversy about the tremendous effect they would have at reducing suicides. So, the belief that laws aimed at saving lives 'hurt law-abiding citizens' is completely incompatible with any sane definition of right and wrong.

( )

Even with tighter control of guns, will gun crimes and gun violence continue? Of course they will.

Yet, how does a nation that has developed a violent gun mentality refuse to open a meaningful dialogue on this carnage? Those with a Second Amendment “no inch given” philosophy fueled by the NRA that denies all new, proposed gun reform stifle efforts to change the climate of violence in America. Responsibilities go hand in hand with freedoms. What used to be a very responsible group has changed its open-minded understandings to closed-minded fatalism.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Accepting Responsibility -- Look At Yourself, Not At Others

Young sons and daughters, the day will come when you realize that you -- not Mom, Dad, peer groups, friends, or any other direct influences -- are responsible for your life. That is not to say that other people haven't helped mold your character and helped build your persona. Of course, they have had a tremendous influence upon you. Still, the forming of your character lies in your own hands.

This momentous realization that you are in charge of yourself is an awakening that defines the rest of your life. Some people gain this consciousness after a tragedy such as the loss of a friend or a relative. Others have the cognition after suffering a crushing defeat and finding themselves vulnerable for the first time. Still others simply slip into the awareness as they pass through phases of maturation.

 "Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards 
in order to win the game." 


Most disturbing, some people face responsibility and choose to renounce reality. They remain convinced others, not themselves, control their hearts and minds. In their false trust of fate, these individuals refuse personal obligations. Upon dealing with the inevitable pitfalls of living, they are often heard explaining, "Well, things just happen over which I have no control." Instead of learning from misfortunes and mistakes, they enslave themselves by rejecting the contract of autonomy. In fact, many would rather blame others for their poor conditions, and they choose to remain irresponsible for the rest of their lives.

It is impossible to find yourself without openly accepting the receipt of answerability. Otherwise, your life stagnates with immaturity, and it eventually enters a state of rigor. Declining obligations while believing others control your life further enslaves you to an existence where opportunity never knocks. Society expects you to accept and to control your own experiences with increasing skill; otherwise, other people understand you lack critical integrity. It is, indeed, ironic that life’s greatest opportunities are often hidden in adversity.

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”

--Eleanor Roosevelt

Within your sane control, each of you has the ability (or in some cases, sadly "had" the ability) to make not only career choices but also to make critical life decisions. For instance, you have the ability to decide whether to risk, to conform, to take drugs, to drink, to smoke, or to better yourself and your world. In order to maximize the fruits of your lives, you must dedicate yourselves to lifelong education, to civility, and to love. You only damage yourself when you cut yourself off from knowledge.

Knowledge is critical to living with integrity. Without proper exposure to knowledge, you lack the skills needed to seek and to find your own truth. Wisdom gives you the ability to make positive choices based on what you believe, and not on what others believe. As you take the helm of your own life, you steer your destiny. As William Ernest Henley says in his famous poem "Invictus," you become "master of your fate and captain of your soul."

When you fully realize the charge of being the master of your own individuality -- being totally responsible for your own actions and thoughts -- then, you become a 100% responsible, free human being. With that freedom, you can gain wisdom and skills to deal with increasingly difficult decisions and situations you face, and simultaneously you will maximize your self-image. As a result, your potential for growth becomes unlimited. Being aware of your responsibilities is as important, if not more important, than being aware of your rights because necessary actions spring from your readiness to be responsible.

 "Freedom is a package deal -- with it comes responsibilities 
and consequences." 


Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game. Voltaire
Read more at:
Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game. Voltaire
Read more at: