Writing on Shooting: Over Five Years Later, What Has Changed?

(photo: An Nguyen Photography via Flickr)

(photo: An Nguyen Photography via Flickr)

It has been over five-and-a-half years since a mass shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, caused me to write:

. . . the terrible truth is that we only pay attention when our domestic murders come in multiples.

Gun violence is more than an everyday occurrence in this country, it is an hourly one. Correction: it is a quarter-hourly one. There are, roughly, 12,000 gun murders a year in the United States (if you are looking for contrasts, contrast that with the average 350 gun murders that occur annually in Canada, Great Britain, and Australia combined). If you watch the local TV news in the US, then you likely bear some sort of witness to numerous individual gun murders every week.

But it is only when six or twelve or twenty-two or thirty-three are shot that most of us even look up, take pause, or stop to think at all about what guns do.

And what guns do is kill people.

I’m sure there is somebody out there right now that is raising a finger in protest. Wait, there’s sport. . . competition shooting. . . hunting! And to that person I say: Knock it off! AK-47’s and their clones are not prized by biathletes, 9 mm semi-automatics are not hunting weapons, and you don’t need an extended clip to bring down a sixteen-point buck. You can make your arguments about self-defense and Second Amendment rights (though most of them would be wrong), but you cannot argue that it is either a right or a necessity to own the kinds of weapons that felled those at Columbine, or West Nickel Mines, or the unfortunate students and faculty at Virginia Tech.

And now we can add Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut to that list–a list that had already grown much, much longer since 2007.

I wrote several posts around the time of the VaTech shootings–and several others about sadly similar events over the years–and went back to read them while thinking I would scrawl something today about the massacre in Connecticut. But you know what? I’m not sure I see the point of a new story–not when almost every single word I wrote back then is just as applicable now.

Sure, some of the names have changed. We have a different president; one who arguably struck the right emotional tone as he joined the country in mourning the senseless deaths of 20 young children. But a little while before Barack Obama spoke to the nation, his press secretary, Jay Carney, took to the White House briefing room to say that today was not the day to address the role that gun laws could play in preventing more mass shootings.

So, if you have the time, take a look at part of what was said some 17 domestic gun massacres ago:

Then, maybe ask, who do we have in elected government, or in a visible place in our country or our communities, who will rise up and say to Mr. Carney, or to the press corps, or to the president, “How about now? Can we talk about it now?”

I’ll leave you with the questions I asked back in 2007–and have asked so many times since–in an attempt to actually move this discussion beyond pearl-clutching and platitudes:

To those that love their guns. . .

Please don’t resort to screaming about how I want to take away your guns. . . I don’t. Just tell me why you oppose:

Gun registration,
Better background checks,
Additional licensing procedures for concealed weapons,
Mandatory waiting periods,
Restrictions on assault-style weapons, Saturday night specials, and extended clips,
Mandatory safety training and periodic recertification,
Closing so-called gun-show loopholes,
Legal liability for gun manufacturers commensurate with other consumer product liability,
And limits on the number of guns and rounds of ammo you can purchase at any given time and over the course of a year.

If you can address those points, we can have a discussion. . . or you can just scream that I want to take away your gun again if that makes you feel better.

And one more thought–something I tweeted earlier. Today, before the news of the Connecticut shooting broke, I heard a story about a man who went on a violent rampage at a school in China. He was armed with a knife. The result: 22 wounded; 0 dead.

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Take Five for Dave Brubeck

Innovative Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck has died, one day shy of his 92nd birthday.

Though the melody of Take Five, arguably his most famous recording (featured above), is credited to his quartet’s saxophonist, Paul Desmond, it is Brubeck’s love of uncommon time signatures that lays the foundation for one of the most iconic musical works of the 20th Century.

But Brubeck wasn’t just a crusader for rhythm. During his service in World War II, Brubeck was spotted playing a Red Cross show and ordered to form a band. Brubeck chose a racially integrated lineup, a rarity for military acts. During the 1950s and ’60s, Brubeck is reported to have canceled appearances at venues that balked at the mixed racial makeup of his quartet.

Brubeck was also said to have been upset when he was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1954 (only the second Jazz musician so honored), believing that the selection was influenced by race.

Though he disbanded the quartet in 1967, Brubeck continued to compose and perform into his 90s. He was the recipient of numerous accolades and awards, including a Kennedy Center honor and a Grammy for lifetime achievement.

George McGovern, The First Candidate I Ever Worked For, Dead at 90

George McGovern, the South Dakota Democrat who ran for president in 1972 as a staunch opponent of the Vietnam War and a strong advocate of economic equality, died early Sunday in Sioux Falls. He was 90.

In the fall of 1972, I was only 10, but even as a 5th-grader, I was moved by McGovern’s anti-war, pro-social-justice message. I had a “Come Home America” pin that I would wear everyday to school, and after school, I would go to the local campaign office to stuff envelopes and lick stamps.

At the crack of dawn on Election Day, I went with my father to hand out flyers to arriving workers at Litton Industries. I remember the flyers explained that you were allowed time off at the beginning or end of work to vote, and then, inside, made the pitch to working Americans with the headline “How in the Hell Can You Vote for Nixon?”

History, of course, shows that many found a way. There are a lot of books and essays on all the reasons why, and though there is much to be learned from McGovern’s struggles in ’72, this is not the time to despair over that loss, but to recall with warmth and amazement that a candidate like George McGovern was once the presidential nominee of a major national party.

The speech I have included here–McGovern’s acceptance speech at the 1972 Democratic National Convention–was considered by those that saw it as one of the greatest of the Senator’s career, and perhaps one of the greatest by any modern presidential candidate.

I say “by those that saw it” because so few did. Conventions then were not the carefully scripted infomercials they are today. Incessant wrangling by old-guard Democrats and McGovern’s main challenger for the nomination, Hubert H. Humphrey, slowed the floor vote for McGovern’s running mate and delayed this acceptance speech till the wee hours of the morning. To this day, it amazes me that convention organizers let this happen.

You may not have been awake back then–hell, you may not have even been alive–but do the Senator from South Dakota the honor listening to him today. Then imagine, maybe even dare to hope, that someday you might hear a national candidate speak like this again.

I lost my “Come Home America” button at school at some point on election day. I remember how much that upset me and my mother, but of course, by the end of the evening, there was something that upset us all so much more. Maybe George McGovern was not a great campaigner, and neither was he a wholly perfect politician (as I grew older, there were certainly issues where he and I would have had to disagree), but I cannot think of a presidential candidate who has moved me as much since.

Senator McGovern, you will be missed.

Update: My mother just sent this along:

McGovern & me 1972

House Postpones Witch Hunt While Nuclear Industry Awaits Results of Latest Power Play

The Salem Nuclear Power Plant is in New Jersey, not Salem, MA, but you get the idea. (photo: peretzp)

In case you were wondering what it was all about–“it” being the dealings of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission actually making the popular news for a few months–the House Committee on Energy and Commerce indefinitely postponed its Thursday hearing on the “politicization of the [NRC] and the actions and influence of Chairman Jaczko.” Gregory Jaczko, of course, announced his resignation on May 21, and President Obama nominated Allison Macfarlane as his replacement three days later.

Though stressing that his committee would keep an eye on the NRC, “including a full review of the inspector general’s pending report” on the “breakdown in collegiality at the commission,” Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) did not schedule a new hearing.

And there is no apparent update from Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and, until about the third week of last month, one of the loudest and most persistent critics of workplace morale at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Before Jaczko’s resignation, Issa, too, was promising more hearings. Instead, Issa has turned again to attacking loan guarantees for renewable energy projects (and so, attempting. . . again. . . to make Solyndra an issue in the presidential election)–which also serves his masters (as in, largest campaign contributors) in the nuclear industry just fine, thank you.

Meanwhile, things are suddenly moving on the Senate side. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has given a more public blessing to the suspected private deal discussed here during the weeks leading up to Jaczko’s move. Because Dr. Macfarlane is considered an opponent of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, Senator Reid has agreed to put aside his vocal objections to a second term for NRC commissioner Kristine Svinicki and advance both nominations toward confirmation as a pair. (Stopping Yucca, of course, has been one of Reid’s top priorities throughout his political career.) California Democrat Barbara Boxer, whose Environment and Public Works Committee will conduct the hearings on the NRC nominees, has sidestepped her own strong objections to Svinicki, and now says both the current and potential nuclear regulators should be considered before the end of the month.

So, there you have it–matters supposedly related to oversight of the nuclear industry and the safety of the American people have quite visibly taken a back seat to influence peddling and classic beltway horse-trading. In an era where even cynical deals are rarely struck, some might hail this move to quickly restock the NRC as something resembling bipartisan compromise (as if that were an end in itself). But success is not measured by the number of commissioners collecting government paychecks, it is seen in the actions of regulators who actually regulate.

In the wake of the ongoing Fukushima crisis, and in the presence of countless problems at a multitude of aging American nuclear plants, there is, indeed, much regulating to be done. But when one member of the NRC is forced out for vainly advocating the most minor of safety improvements, while another commissioner is rewarded with reappointment for consistently supporting the nuclear industry, the chances of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulating much of anything seem slim. It effectively defines “regulatory capture,” and practically guarantees that, no matter how fair or interpersonally gifted Dr. Macfarlane might be, the NRC will do little to police nuclear power.

As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the regulatory system is broken. Scientists, citizens, and lawmakers cannot “assume we have a can opener” and pretend a process exists to make commercial nuclear power clean and safe. The NRC may–may–have been created to provide oversight, but, in reality, it works instead to provide cover. Without an honest and active regulatory body, there is no credible argument for a “nuclear renaissance“–there is only the promise of another nuclear disaster.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan Admits Cities Coordinated Crackdown on Occupy Movement

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan (photo: Ella Baker Center)

Embattled Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, speaking in an interview with the BBC (excerpted on The Takeaway radio program–audio of Quan starts at the 5:30 mark), casually mentioned that she was on a conference call with leaders of 18 US cities shortly before a wave of raids broke up Occupy Wall Street encampments across the country. “I was recently on a conference call with 18 cities across the country who had the same situation. . . .”

Mayor Quan then rambles about how she “spoke with protestors in my city” who professed an interest in “separating from anarchists,” implying that her police action was helping this somehow.

Interestingly, Quan then essentially advocates that occupiers move to private spaces, and specifically cites Zuccotti Park as an example:

In New York City, it’s interesting that the Wall Street movement is actually on a private park, so they’re not, again, in the public domain, and they’re not infringing on the public’s right to use a public park.

Many witnesses to the wave of government crackdowns on numerous #occupy encampments have been wondering aloud if the rapid succession was more than a coincidence; Jean Quan’s casual remark seems to clearly imply that it was.

Might it also be more than a coincidence that this succession of police raids started after President Obama left the US for an extended tour of the Pacific Rim?

The Party Line – June 24, 2011: The Play’s the Thing

I spent Thursday evening at New York City’s Town Hall—which is a theater, complete with stage, and not a government building—attending the multi-media launch of “Rebuild the Dream,” an attempt to shape a movement around a push for economic justice and against the corporatist forces that have so skewed the political debate in recent decades.

Yes, decades. While the keynote speech by Van Jones was likely referencing the very obvious injustices of the last decade or so, one of the graphs projected behind him on stage showed that the disparity between worker productivity and wages (the former increasing sharply while the latter barely edged above flat-lining) started in about 1980.

That 1980 was the year Ronald Reagan ran successfully for president is not a coincidence.

It has long been my contention that the 1980 election, and the Reagan presidency that followed, forever changed America’s perception of itself. Prior to that time, Americans saw their country as a land of plenty. There were pitched political battles to be sure, but they were over how to distribute that plenty, how to husband the bounty that was the USA’s fortunate combination of vast natural resources and forward-thinking spirit of innovation. That is not to discount the great disparities that existed, but, at least since World War II, those disparities were not the product of national privation.

All that changed with Reagan. Suddenly, our resources were scarce, the American pie was finite, and if one didn’t hustle to get a slice, someone else would get it first. Making it in America became a competitive sport. Those that made a point of questioning the theory of evolution championed social Darwinism as the natural order.

Beginning with Reagan, too, America started looking backward. When a Reagan campaign ad declared it was “morning in America,” it was not looking forward to a new day, better than the previous one. Instead, the “morning” was one of nostalgia for a mythic place where life appeared simpler and race and gender roles seemed more clearly defined and enforced. For Ronald Reagan and his ilk, America’s best days were found in the past.

In other words, Reagan was a pessimist, and all those who have followed in his footsteps, claimed his mantle, or praised his presidency—Republicans and Democrats—are also selling America short.

Enter the seemingly unflappable optimist, Van Jones. Jones indeed put up a picture of a pie (apple), and noted that it wasn’t the whole pie that was shrinking, just your slice. America wasn’t broke, Jones said, it had just been robbed. And, over the next hour, Jones did a nice job detailing some of the myths—“lies,” he rightfully called them—that have promulgated the pessimism and stood in the way of economic justice.

But after that hour, after the explication of the current situation, beyond Van Jones’s own infectious spirit, what did we have?

And there’s the rub, for it was an evening long on diagnosis, but short on prescription. Yes, all were told that ideas were to be submitted to a website on July 5, and that house meetings to discuss those ideas would follow, but the evening left me with more questions than answers. What is the goal, in concrete terms, of this movement? What kind of action(s) will it use? What are the targets of those actions? Is this a play at the federal level, or will it focus on state politics? Or local governments?

I suppose Jones and his coalition would tell me that is up to me. . . to me, you, all of us who participate in something bottom-up and grass-roots—but I would hope that someone on the inside has a little more of plan than that.

One need only pick up on the name not spoken—not once that I can recall in the entire event—that of President Barack Obama, to begin to grasp the problems any attempt at a broad coalition will run into at the federal level. Jones made two oblique references, first saying that in 2008 we voted for “Peace and prosperity, not war and austerity”—a nice turn of phrase (and a true one) that left me thinking about who embodied those ideals. And, second, Obama’s momentary “green jobs czar” stated that the movement to rebuild the American dream was “not about an individual person” because we had learned what that got us.

Pointed in its way, I suppose, but still far from a direct attack, and I fear that times are bad enough—as the event tried hard to make clear—that a direct attack is most certainly what is needed. I am not talking about a primary challenge for Obama, or a national third party up-and-running by 2012, but a direct acknowledgment that Obama and the Democrats need the support of the people this nascent movement hopes to empower. For without that recognition, without that willingness to use the power “Rebuild the Dream” hopes to acquire and shape, then there is nowhere for the movement to move. There is no play—not state or federal—and as another fond of the stage once said, “The play’s the thing.”

The Party Line – May 13, 2011: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Three countries–one gets 29 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, one gets 26 percent from nuclear, and one gets 20 percent. Guess which one is winning the future. . . or, more to point, guess which one is not.

(Also, I dive into the always contentious “stell cem” debate.)

[As always, to view video in a separate window, click “YouTube” on the title bar or follow this link.]

(A version of this post previously appeared on Firedoglake.)