My Take on the Gun Debate

It’s been ten days since a presumably deranged man shot and killed 58 people and wounded nearly 500  more in Las Vegas. I’ve waited what I consider to be a respectful period of time before taking up the topic. It’s now time to start talking about what we can do about the astronomical number of gun deaths in this country.

The first thing that needs to be done is to gather information about gun violence and deaths. Back in the 90s, a law was specifically passed that forbade the CDC from studying or gathering data on gun injuries or deaths. That’s just plain crazy making. How can any kind of policy be devised without data? The law needs to be repealed, and data needs to be collected. We need to stop the knee-jerk responses every time the gun debate comes to the fore and actually base the discussion on real data.

Next, we need to take a good hard look at the second amendment. Up until very recently, there was no individual right to carry interpreted into the second amendment. It wasn’t until a small group of extremists began making the case that it even became a thought. Now, after decades of grooming, there are jurists who have now suddenly found an individual right to carry in there.

So, fine. Let’s just agree for the sake of argument that the second amendment really does include a right for an individual to carry. None of the Bill of Rights is absolute. One cannot use the freedom of speech as a cover to incite violence or to yell ‘fire’ in a theater. One cannot use the freedom of religion to practice human sacrifice. A judge can sign a warrant for a person’s dwelling to be searched. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point.

There is no reason to believe that the second amendment is sacrosanct. Some limitations can be expected. The question is what kinds of limitations make sense without violating the spirit of the amendment. I think we can use some of the limitations found within the other amendments as a guide. Here are some I propose:

  1. Limit the ability of violent people to legally buy guns.
    The way things stand know, most states forbid people who have committed felonies from owning or handling guns. It’s a crude way of preventing criminals from having guns. Here’s the problem with that: The vast majority of violent crimes are prosecuted or pleaded down to misdemeanors. Meanwhile, there are tens of thousands of perfectly non-violent people who have a felony on their records. From a public safety standpoint, limiting access to guns for non-violent people makes little sense.

    What makes more sense is to restrict access for anybody convicted of a violent offense, whether a misdemeanor or a felony. The conviction part is necessary, because due process is necessary before a person’s rights can be stripped.

  2. Restrict access for severely mentally ill people who are reasonably likely to be violent.
    What this does not mean is that anybody who suffers from or has suffered from a mental illness would be banned from owning guns. Most people with What it does mean is that there would be due process by which a person could be put on a list that could be checked in a background check. Somebody with simple depression wouldn’t be blocked, but somebody with psychotic depression could be. There would also be a process to get off the list if a mental illness is resolved.
  3. Require gun safety training for anybody who owns a gun.
    Nobody should be able to use a lethal weapon without training on how to handle and store it safely. This doesn’t have to be an impediment to access. The NRA has a number of gun safety courses. I think it would be a good idea to teach gun safety in schools again. [Yes, believe it or not, some schools used to teach gun safety.] Most victims of accidental shootings are young.
  4. Defang the NRA.
    The single largest impediment to common sense gun reform in this country has been the extremist leadership of the NRA. It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when they represented the views of all gun owners. Now, they represent the views of a small minority who care nothing about people. They only care about enriching the gun industry. The NRA needs to be taken back. How do do that? Every sane gun owner needs to join the NRA and then vote. Vote to get rid of the nut jobs running it and install a leadership that represents sane, gun-owning Americans again.
  5. Require people who want to own semi-automatic weapons to serve either as police officers or to serve a stint in one of the branches of the military.
    There is no better training for handling weapons as lethal as semi-automatics than the US military or police forces. Given that semi-automatic weapons serve just one useful purpose, people who want to use them should earn that responsibility. If you’re bad-ass enough to shoot off a semi-automatic weapon, you’re bad-ass enough to serve as one of America’s finest. I think serving in such a capacity would teach the appropriate level of respect. They aren’t toys. They are killing machines and should be respected as such.

These are my thoughts on the subject. Please feel free to share your own.

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Putting Corporations Back in their Correct Place

So, here’s the first set of policy proposals coming out of the Technocratic Party. It has to do with the correct placement of business and corporations in American society. The United States should be a nation of people. It is government of the people, by the people, for the people. But, it no longer is. Instead, everything the government does seems to be done for the benefit of companies to the detriment of the people.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the early part of the 20th century that granted personhood to corporations and companies was done with good intentions–allowing people to sue them for malfeasance–but caused a lot of unintended consequences. Corporations now have freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Speech has been equated with money. So, now corporations can legally buy politicians by contributing money, I mean speech, with virtually no limits.

I think what we sorely need is a constitutional amendment that either removes personhood from corporations or severely limits the constitutional rights to which they are entitled. If personhood is removed from them, the amendment needs to crafted in such a way that allows for some sort of consequence for corporate bad behavior.

One possibility would be to go back to the chartering system where corporations must be chartered in the state in which they operate. The state would have the ability  to fine or revoke the charter of any badly-behaved company. And, since corporations would no longer be able to purchase politicians, there would be less likelihood that they could buy their way out of the situation.

I’m certainly not an expert on corporate law, but I welcome a vigorous and thorough discussion on the subject. After all, the Technocratic Party is all about developing the best practices and most sound policy without regard to ideology. Out of the box thinking is to be encouraged.

Ideas, people?

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The Technocratic Party: A New Political Movement

When last I posted to this blog, I was tired of the stupidity in Washington. I literally had no idea how bad it could get. We the American people have elected a vulgar reality star as president. I’ve seen a lot of demonization of his followers by people on the left. But, I’ve tried to avoid that. Although the man himself is despicable, and it is easy to question the morality–or even the sanity–of those who would support him, I think there is a lot more to this phenomenon. I have a lot of supporters of his in my own family. I know these are good people. So, how did they end up voting for a narcissistic sociopath?

My observation is that his followers seem to fall into one of three camps:

  1. The first is the one that people on the Left tend to lump all his followers with–openly bigoted white supremacists and/or misogynists. These people have hung around the fringes of both parties (not just the Republican party). They are disaffected people who prefer to blame “the other” whoever that may be this decade for their problems.
  2. The second camp has the people who actually believed all the promises Trump made on the campaign trail. Some were naive. Others were merely idealistic, hoping that somebody who seemed to be a wildly successful businessman could bring some common sense back into Washington politics.
  3. The third camp contains those who are angry. They are angry at the previous president. They are angry at the Congress. They are angry in general. They see the cost of living increasing, but their wages haven’t increased. They’ve been listening for decades while their politicians promise things will get better if only their party gets into power. They tried it for eight years with George W Bush and another eight years with Barack Obama. With no evidence of change coming, they voted to send a message to Washington–a message that has not been understood by either party.

I didn’t vote for Trump, but I’m firmly in that third class of people. I think most of America are right there with me. Politicians of both parties are bought and paid for by corporate and wealthy interests. They are increasingly stripping away our freedoms and the protections that were put into place in the 20th century, protections that helped to create and maintain the middle class. We are rapidly sliding back into the Gilded Age where the richest 10% of Americans reaped all the benefits of the work of the other 90%.

So, what is to be done? The solution is easy. Get out and vote. Vote the losers out of Washington. Voter suppression is a thing, but with participation rates in elections south of 40%, it wouldn’t be hard for a committed electorate to turn in a real change.

But, who to vote for? Now, that is a conundrum. The GOP is dedicated to shrinking the federal government down as small as possible and then drowning it in a bathtub. That’s no way to run a government. The Democrats aren’t much better. They pay lip service to protecting minority rights, but they are sold out to the corporations as much as the GOP is and will ensure that no meaningful reform happens, all while throwing money at problems without any meaningful thought into how to best use that money.

There are the third parties. Many of them offer enticing policy proposals, but there are significant problems with each of them. The Libertarian party is socially liberal but would deregulate us back into feudalism. The Green party has some great ideas on environmentalism, but the candidate that they keep running for president is almost completely whackadoodle.

What we need is a new party–one that plans policies based on evidence and not ideology. Instead of sticking to principles whether they work or not, politicians of this party will pursue policies that have been proven effective. They will not continue to pursue policies that aren’t working. Instead, they will work on fixing them rather than mindlessly following an ideological drumbeat.

Is this the party that America wants? I don’t know.

Is this the party American needs? Absolutely.

We need to get science and common sense back in charge. It’s time to take America back from the corporations and the oligarchs and get back to taking care of our interests.

Who’s with me?

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Sick of Washington Right Now

I am so frickin’ sick of our supposed leaders in Washington right now. First, you have the Republicans who have been acting like tantrumming toddlers ever since they lost the 2008 election, choosing to destroy the country’s economy rather than show anything resembling leadership. Bloody hell. Get over it. If you want to win another election, do something new–like showing you care about the country more than your personal agendas.

And, Democrats. I’m not any happier with you. Bunch of spineless idiots who couldn’t work together if you were held at gunpoint. Right now I think the country would be better off if an asteroid struck a joint session of congress and we could start over. I’m not voting for an incumbent of either party until you guys and gals can get your act together and start leading the country.

Dammitall already.

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An Open Letter to George Zimmerman

I’m sure you’ve received all kinds of mail and commentary, some of it supportive, and much of it–not. I doubt you’re interested in yet another person sticking their nose into it and giving you their opinion on the whole mess you’ve gotten yourself in. Too bad. It’s my blog and I want to sound off on this particular topic.

Only you will ever know exactly what happened that night. I’ve got to wonder if you even know the truth anymore, what with the requirement that you defend your actions that night. Tell a lie often enough, and you will come to believe it’s true.

Here’s what I think happened based off of what I’ve heard publicized and my own reading of human nature. I think you were out watching the neighborhood, trying to keep it safe from thugs who had been perpetrating crimes. It’s a noble effort, one I applaud. As citizens we should be looking out for one another, and I would find it comforting to have a neighborhood watch in my neighborhood.

The thing is–when you are protecting a neighborhood, it is important to protect everyone in that neighborhood, even when you don’t know that they belong. Law enforcement spends a lot of time training so that they can tell the difference in a split second between a threatening person and somebody who is not a threat. They are also trained exhaustively in the ways to best handle somebody they are not sure about the threat a person poses.

Even with all that extensive training, they occasionally make mistakes. When those mistakes happen, the result is often horrifying for the officer who made the mistake, the person about whom they made the mistake, and the community in which it happens. And, this with extensive training–training that you do not have.

What made you think that you were qualified to follow and confront somebody you were convinced was a threat to the neighborhood? So, no. I don’t believe your account that you were accosted by Trayvon Martin with no provocation of any kind. What I envision is a young man who was as scared of you as you were of him.

He’s walking home through the dark and a creepy, middle-aged man is watching him and starts to follow him. I can believe your account that he jumped out at you and even punched you in the nose. But, did he do that with a similar motivation to yours? Was he trying to protect the neighborhood from a potential predator, too?

We’ll never know, because he’s dead–by your hand.

Yeah, I know you’re life has gone to hell in a handbasket since that night. I know your life has been forever altered by that act. It seems like everyone is against you right now. But, it’s hard for me to feel sorry for you because as much as your life sucks right now, you’re still alive. He is not alive. Any potential he had has been squashed. He will never see the light of another day, and it is your fault.

No, I don’t consider you to be a murderer. I believe you honestly feared for your life when you shot him. But, it never had to happen. If you had just stayed home; if you had just listened to that dispatcher when she told you not to follow the guy; if you had left your weapon in the truck instead of carrying it, you would both be alive right now. One bonehead with a gun, and two lives are ruined–one permanently and the other until everyone forgets–which in America will be any time now.

You still have a future. Use it more wisely than you did the first half of your life.

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Syria–If We Shouldn’t Fight, then What?

I pretty much covered why we should not go to war in Syria in the previous two posts I made about Syria. But, lack of military action doesn’t mean no action at all. There’s still plenty that could be done in Syria. So, let’s start with the question I posed in the previous post–WWJD?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus points out a model we could follow:

“Matthew 5:3-10, 14-15
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

What that means to me in the context of Syria is that there are a lot of blessed people in Syria waiting for somebody to bring the blessing to them. Christians all too often tend to focus on the next life and don’t view the beatitudes as a here and now thing. They forget that Jesus was a huge advocate of bringing the kindgom of heaven here to earth. In fact, waiting for the next life for the kingdom of heaven is downright sinful. Don’t believe me? Have a look at Matthew 25:31-46. People who don’t actively work to bring the kingdom of heaven to the here and now won’t be considered to be a part of it in the next life.

Let me quote just a small part of that last passage which makes it crystal clear what we should be doing in Syria.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

We need to be doing everything possible to help the victims in Syria. We need to be feeding those who are being made hungry. We need to clothe and shelter the ones who are now refugees. Those who have been injured (both psychologically and physically) need help.

So, instead spending a couple billion on military might, we should be working with Syria’s neighbors to make those things happen. And, if we send in the military, it should be to protect the refugees from any who would victimize them further.

Too expensive you say? Is it as expensive as the last two wars in the middle east have been? Will it cost as much in American blood and tears as those wars? I doubt it. And, not only that, American will again be able to claim the moral high ground. It’s a place we haven’t been in a long while, and it sure would be nice to reclaim some of the honor we have so carelessly squandered the past 10-15 years. And, finally America would have the chance to bring a small portion of the kingdom of heaven to a region of the world that has existed in a state of hell for far too long.

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To Fight or Not to Fight in Syria–WWJD?

Previously I talked about the question of Syria using a historical perspective, but I didn’t like the conclusion with which history left me. Truth be told, I really want to do something in Syria because what’s going on there is simply horrific. I admit it. I’m one of those liberals who can’t stand to see anybody suffer and who thinks that Americans have some sort of obligation to the world since we’re the last remaining superpower (for now). Yeah, I get the argument that we can’t afford to fix every international squabble. How do we prioritize what we should and shouldn’t do?

I guess this is where I turn to religion for an answer. Many (including me) who would like to do some kind of military action in Syria hold to a Christian worldview. I don’t know enough to speak with authority on what any of the other major religions would have to say, so I’ll stick with what I know–what would Jesus do?

Jesus never talked about war, so the best anybody can do is extrapolate. Some, such as the Mennonites, have taken his teachings to be complete passivism. Others adhere to a just war teaching (first espoused by St. Augustine), meaning that war is allowed if there is a just reason for it. I’m certainly not smarter than any of those guys, so I will have to go from what Jesus’ teachings mean to me personally.

First and foremost, Jesus hated for anybody to be exploited or abused by those in authority. So, he would be appalled to the point of tears at what is going on in Syria. I’m sure he would be decrying it in the strongest terms through every avenue he had available. He’d be on social media posting about it; he’d be preaching it from every pulpit available to him. It wouldn’t matter who he offended, and I expect he would have plenty of words for almost all sides of the debate.

Russia and Iran would catch his wrath for supporting a regime that tortures and kills its own people. The rebels would hear about their own abuses of the weak and powerless. But, his strongest criticism would fall on the shoulders of the Christians. It is a little-known fact that Syria’s Christian community have been very strong supporters of the Assad regime. In a part of the world where Christians are often persecuted by those in power, the Assad regime have offered a fair bit of protection. So, if he were to fall, their lives and livelihoods would be in grave danger. Thus, they support him in spite of his murderous policies. While we might try to excuse them, I think he’d point a finger right at them.

Then, there are the Christians in our country, many of who are the calling the loudest for war with Syria. Jesus would be all over them for thinking in terms of punishing the regime of Bashar al Assad without considering the long-term consequences for the very people they are supposedly calling for this war to defend. Christianity in the US these days seems to be all about rules and punishment and not about offering relief for the oppressed.

For a war to be just, one side must be disproportionately abusing the other. [That’s an easy one to check off. Bashar al Assad has killed somewhere around 100K of his own people.]

Military intervention should only be considered to save lives. In other words, we must end up killing less people than would be killed if we did nothing. Remember, Jesus is not a respector of persons. He does not value a guilty life any less than an innocent. So, if the war would end up with more lives lost than if we didn’t intervene, we must stay out of it. [This one’s a little harder to call, because we don’t know what would happen if we were to remove Assad from power. How many lives would ultimately be lost in the sectarian fighting that is sure to follow such an act?]

The war must be carried out by a competent authority. Now, I know the US likes to think it is a competent authority, but that isn’t necessarily the case. If it were a case of one country fighting another, we might be, but it isn’t. Instead, it is us wanting to take on a regime in a country and attempt to leave just about everyone else untouched. That is a matter for the UN. So, not only must we conduct a war in a way that follows our constitution (i.e., the president in consultation with Congress), we must also follow international law. That means that any justice we wish to exact must also pass muster with the UN.

Wait, you say. Jesus would consult the UN? You betcha. He taught that we were to render due deference to the authorities that were placed over us–just not to act like them.

Now, I sense that many will get their backs up over this. When did the US start taking orders from the UN? Well, when we start military actions in countries that are members of the UN, we are obligated by our word–the promises we made when the UN was founded. The whole idea behind the UN was that countries would cooperate and work things out, leaving the waging of war to the very last option, which brings me to the next criterion for a just war.

It has the be the option of last resort. Jesus would never be the one to swing a fist if there were another option available. Think about it. He never raised his hand in anger, except in one incident–where the moneychangers had completely corrupted the temple with their swindling and cheating ways. They were in cahoots with the temple leaders, so Jesus had no option but to drive them out himself. So, that is what he did. But, even then, he used no more force than was necessary. He might have bruised a few backsides, but only to get them to leave.

So, where does that leave us with Syria? Evil dude in power and not about to just walk away. Evil dude is killing off his people at an alarming rate. Looks like the intention is good. But, what are the odds we can cleanly remove or neutralize Assad while preventing harm to more than Assad would harm? In addition, is war the only option left? No, not really.

Russia seized upon a statement made by Secretary of State Kerry and negotiated a deal where Assad will surrender his chemical weapons to the international community. I’ve seen all the people screaming about how the Russians snookered us and made us look dumb. Who cares? We were marching in a way that looked like we were irrevocably moving towards war. Now, there are other options on the table. Instead of worrying about our wounded pride, we should be grateful that we are provided an opportunity to make things better without resorting to violence.

What would Jesus say to all the good Christian men and women who are nattering on about wounded national pride and how we can’t afford to look weak? I think he would point out to him that he looked pretty darned weak in the face of Pilate. Many people seem to think that Pilate was reluctant to execute Jesus because his wife warned him about the dream. Nonsense. He had determined that Jesus was some random nut job who had no intention to lead an armed revolt, not a man worth executing. Was Jesus concerned about how he appeared to others? Not in the least. He was all about helping the downtrodden and oppressed, not scoring style points.

It’s pretty clear to me that attacking Syria is not a just war and that Jesus simply wouldn’t do it. But, Jesus also wouldn’t lie down and do nothing. And, he wouldn’t just use words as I described at the beginning of my essay. He did a lot of talk, but he also walked the walk. What would he do then? I’ll talk about that in my third and final installment.

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