If There is a “War on Whites” (and there is not), Whites are Winning

My knee-jerk response when I hear people like Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) claim that there is a “War on Whites” is to tell him to shut the fuck up.  But, on second thought, it might be best if he keeps running his mouth, as his comments illustrate a common belief among many in the privileged class, which is that their privileges are in danger.  And, that thought terrifies them.

This same belief can be seen in males who claim a “war on men,” or evangelicals railing against a “war on religion,” or homophobes scared of a “war on traditional marriage” or even one-percenters spouting about a “war on wealth.”  It’s all nonsense, and it all comes from the same place.  These are all classes of people who have gotten comfortable with their position and don’t want to see anything change the status quo.  It’s good to be a rich, straight, Christian, white male, and they will fight to make sure it stays that way.

Now, the disclaimer: I am a straight, white male.  And, while I am neither Christian or rich, I come from a churchgoing upper-middle class family, which is almost as good (at least in the minds of those claiming the world is suddenly turning against them).  I have seen and experienced the privilege that comes with being all of those things.  I have found employment fairly easily, and have not had to worry whether I’m being paid as much as others doing the same work.  I can walk down the street without being harassed for my gender or race.  I married my wife without fear of protest or condemnation to hell.  I have not been called a terrorist when I grow facial hair or because of who I choose to pray to (or if I choose to pray at all).  When people like Brooks think about “real Americans,” it is people who look a lot like me that they are talking about.  But, where Brooks sees entitlement, as if he has done something to earn the privilege he has received, I see injustice and hypocrisy.

Of course, Brooks does not admit to thinking that whites deserve the benefits they have received (or even that they have received any benefits at all).  On the contrary, Brooks says:

I’m one of those who does not believe in racism and I believe everyone should be treated equally as American citizens.

While I’m sure Brooks thought this was a very noble statement, it is actually both ignorant and dishonest.  Racism is real, whether Brooks believes in it or not, just like evolution or climate change.  What Brooks really means when he says that is, “I’m not a racist,” just like his comments that everyone should be treated equally.  But, that part is bullshit, too.  Brooks does not want everyone to be treated equally.  What he wants is for people to be treated the way he is used to them being treated.  That means privilege for whites and scraps for the rest.  He may say he wants a level playing field, but what he really wants is the current tilted field where whites are at the top and everyone else is at the bottom, looking up at them, and struggling to climb the hill.

Brooks continues his attempts to pretend that all Americans are the same:

“It doesn’t make any difference if you’re a white American, a black American, a Hispanic American, an Asian American or if you’re a woman or a man. Every single demographic group is hurt by falling wages and lost jobs,” he said.

But, Brooks forgets one very important point:  whites (and specifically white men) are hurt much less than anyone else.  But, to Brooks, if he gets a splinter in his finger, it is no different from a woman or minority getting her legs blown off.  All injury is the same in Brooks’ view.  And, Brooks is especially sneaky by making this claim as part of an argument against immigration, a position that is inherently based on maintaining white dominance, or as some call it, avoiding “ethnic replacement.”  But, as usual, someone else has made this point better than I can, in this case, Mychal Denzel Smith at the Nation:

It’s true, we’re all hurt by falling wages and lost jobs (except black Americans can’t even catch a break when there’s an increase in jobs). It’s also true, however, that that has nothing to do with immigration. But it’s Brooks’s assertion that a “racial issue” is an “emotional” rather than “thoughtful issue” I most take umbrage with.

It’s the type of language used to dismiss the real-world concerns of those of us who live on the oppressed side of racism in America. Our issues aren’t considered serious intellectual questions but emotional reactions that are to be dealt with personally. But any discussion of jobs and wages that doesn’t consider race (or gender) is intellectually dishonest. To pretend there are not groups of people who are disproportionately disadvantaged under our current economic model and that our ongoing legacy of racism and white supremacy are not contributing factors means you are not actually looking for solutions. You’re turning the same blind eye that has allowed the suffering in the first place.

There is no “War on Whites,” just like there is no war on religion, men, rich people, or straight people.  However, there is a fight for equality—real equality—and that is a fight that Brooks is scared to lose.  But, at least for now, he has nothing to fear.  If there really was a “War on Whites,” (and again, there most certainly is not), whites would be winning handily.  Don’t believe me?  Just look at the makeup of our government, or the Fortune 500, or our jails, or our neighborhoods.  White people are doing just fine.  What Brooks is doing is pandering to the fears of people who are scared to lose their place at the top of the heap, a place they have done nothing to earn.  But, paranoia is strong, and it can be a powerful motivator at election time, more powerful than reality.  It’s still bullshit.

 

 

Irresponsible Reporting Can Have Real-World Consequences (or, Bullshit, Birth Control is Great)

Women’s health is not something I write much about, since there are many writers who both know more and write more eloquently about it.  However, I felt compelled to write after reading something posted recently by Kathryn Doyle at Reuters and reposted by Fox News.  While I know better than to believe anything that Fox News broadcasts over the airwaves, their online presence has generally been at least a little less blatantly partisan and sensational.  But, there is no doubt that their choice (along with other right-wing sites, including The Blaze) to promote the story had little to do with news and was instead nothing more than propaganda, in step with their recent on-air efforts (on behalf of their GOP sympathizers) to demonize birth control.

The headline itself, “The Pill linked to breast cancer risk for young women,” is certainly attention-grabbing.  As a man, I honestly have not done a great deal of research on the full gamut of risks and side effects of birth control medication.  But, as a man who lost his mother to breast cancer, and as a man who knows women who take such medication for reasons other than their desire not to have children, my attention was certainly grabbed.  But, as a man with the most basic of reading comprehension skills, I have no choice but to call bullshit (though I do sincerely hope that Doyle herself did not write the headline that accompanied her article, since nothing she writes comes close to the conclusion reached in the headline).

The story begins with this bombshell:

A new statistical analysis finds that women under age 50 who were diagnosed with breast cancer were also more likely to have recently been on some versions of the Pill.

On its face, this is indeed shocking news.  However, the findings of this initial paragraph are then called into question by the remainder of the article.  In fact, the shocking revelation is immediately followed by this:

The increased cancer risk still translates to less than a one percent chance of developing breast cancer for most younger women, researchers emphasize, so the results should not outweigh the many benefits of taking oral contraceptives.

These results are not enough to change clinical practice or to discourage any women from taking birth control pills, said lead study author Elizabeth F. Beaber, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington.

So, despite a headline and lead paragraph that seek to scare women from taking birth control pills, Doyle quotes the woman who led the study saying that women should not be scared from taking their birth control pills.

Here are a few further excerpts, with a brief explanation for why they contradict the headline:

  • But birth control pills have evolved over the decades since their introduction and the hormone doses they contain have dropped steadily, so many studies are based on data for formulations that are no longer used, Beaber and her colleagues point out in the journal Cancer Research.

So, the article is making a claim based on data from dosages of medication that are no longer used.  This means no link has been found from current medication doses.

  • Overall, the risk was slightly higher for hormone-sensitive cancers than for other types of tumors, but that result was not statistically significant, meaning it could have been due to chance.

The data backing the alleged “link” was not actually statistically significant, and “could have been due to chance.”  At the very least, this should prompt further research before any claims of a link should be made.

  • Women in the cancer group had more family history of cancer than the comparison group, and may have differed in other ways that the authors could not account for.

Genetics play a large role in the occurrence of cancer (which is why my sisters get annual mammograms despite still being in their thirties), and this is only one of the ways in which the test groups “may have differed” that the authors “could not account for.”  This is less a scientific article than wild speculation.

  • More research is required to determine why and how different birth control options might affect breast cancer risk, Beaber said.

This one is obvious.  The woman leading the study says “more research is required.”  Yet, this does not stop Reuters from running the results with a sensationalistic headline.

  • Less than one percent of women will get breast cancer before age 40, according to the American Cancer Society, and even with a 50 percent relative increase that number would still be under one percent.

So, despite the fearmongering, even if the study did prove a link between birth control and cancer (which it does not), the number of woman diagnosed with breast cancer would still be less than one in a hundred.  How low is that?  Keep reading:

  • For this type of study, a 50 percent increase in risk is actually quite low and can generally be dismissed as bias or random chance, Dr. David A. Grimes told Reuters Health by phone.

So, any increase in breast cancer diagnosis (which, again, shows no link to use of birth control medication) can “be dismissed as bias or random chance.”  So, again, Reuters is admitting in their own story that there is no science to back their conclusion.

  • The new results are not important for women or doctors, Grimes said. Other, better studies have found no increase in breast cancer risk with birth control, which is essential for women’s health, he said.

The doctor Reuters chose to quote for their story literally says the results are “not important for women or doctors,” and that “other, better studies have found no increase in breast cancer risk,” and yet they ran their story with a headline stating that a link was found between birth control and breast cancer.  This is a violation of the ethics of journalism.  They make a claim directly refuted by their own story.  And then, just to rub salt in their own self-inflicted wound, their source says birth control “is essential for women’s health.”

  • The new study did not include interviews with women nor did it assess whether they actually took the pills, only if they had a prescription on file at the time, he pointed out.

This may be the most damning of all.  Here, Reuters reports that the women in the study may not have even taken the medication that would allegedly put them at greater risk for a breast cancer diagnosis.  As long as they are speculating, why was no study conducted over whether the paper on which their prescriptions were written might actually be the cause for this supposed increased risk?

  • The bottom line for women is that birth control pills are very safe, he said.

Exactly.

  • Beaber and her co-authors acknowledge that their results “should be interpreted cautiously” and further studies with a larger group of women are needed to confirm the findings.

Apparently, “cautiously” is not a word that Reuters, its editors, or headline writers are familiar with.

  • Oral contraception helps protects [sic] against pelvic inflammatory disease, lowers the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers and colorectal cancers and helps maintain bone density.

I love this part.  After an entire article debunking their own claim that birth control pills can increase the risk of breast cancer, Reuters admits that these pills can also lower the risk for other types of cancer, along with having other health benefits.  Beautiful.

This is not a story that has anything to do with me, except that it does.  What if a woman read the headline for this story and was compelled to stop taking her medication out of fear of a breast cancer diagnosis?  She would then subject herself to the pain and suffering related to her other legitimate health concerns, as well as the possibility of getting pregnant with a child.  And for what?  To keep herself from a cancer diagnosis that there is no scientific proof she would be at any greater risk of?

It is not surprising that Fox and The Blaze and other right-wing outlets ran with this story, as its headline fits perfectly into the narrative they are trying to craft.  But, the truth is, such propaganda is dangerous.  They want to keep women from taking birth control, period, regardless of the risks that would result.  This is another of their numerous attempts to mislead the public and keep women from making informed decisions about their own heath.  It is deceptive and unethical.  At the very least, Reuters should apologize.  They, unlike Fox or The Blaze, claim to be a non-partisan news source.  Even better, they should retract the story, or at least alter its headline.  But, the best solution would be to admit their mistake, admit that birth control is a vital part of women’s health care and encourage its use for any woman who chooses to take it, and to distance themselves from the right-wing propaganda machine seeking to demonize it.

Update:

I contacted the author of the piece, who confirmed that she did not write the headline for the story.  Her proposed headline was far more accurate and far more appropriate:

Abusers Should Not Have Guns, and Gun Owners Should Agree

As the gun debate continues, Congress finally held a hearing over the link between domestic violence and gun-related homicide.  Everyone, including gun owners, should naturally support efforts to protect abuse victims, but that sadly has not been the case.  Various proposals have been raised attempting to expand the regulations keeping domestic abusers from owning guns, but they have naturally met resistance from gun groups, including the NRA.

Current laws prohibit violent felons and certain people with restraining orders or misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from owning weapons, but these bans do not extend to other potentially violent people.  There are no laws in place to keep stalkers, those whose domestic violence convictions apply to attacks against people other than a spouse, or those whose restraining orders are merely temporary rather than permanent from owning all the weapons they please.  The proposals blocked by gun groups merely seek to broaden the bans to include these additional classes of potentially dangerous people.

Studies showing the increased risk for women when domestic violence and gun ownership are combined are numerous and terrifying.  Nearly half of women murdered by guns are killed by their intimate partner, and women are five times more likely to be killed by their partner when a gun is present in the house.  This threat even extends to mass shootings, as 57 percent of these kinds of sprees involve an incident of domestic violence.

The claim that keeping guns out of the hands of abusers is just an attempt to limit gun ownership simply does not hold water.  These are people who have already proven themselves to be dangerous.  Allowing them to own weapons that can be used to kill their partners (or former partners) is beyond irresponsible.

I have written before about how all gun owners are accountable for the actions of all other gun owners.  The case of domestic abusers having firearms is a perfect example of this.  As always, this type of legislation would do nothing to limit gun ownership for law-abiding citizens.  It would merely keep guns out of the hands of people with a history of violent or threatening behavior against their partner.  Responsible gun owners should want this as much as anyone else.  Surely they don’t condone this type of violence.  They should applaud any attempt to keep dangerous people from owning weapons, if not for their own safety, then for the safety of the 46 women a month who are shot and killed by their intimate partner.

Luckily, there are a few such gun owners who do support this potential legislation:

But not all gun-owners are siding with the NRA to fight these stricter gun controls. “I am a gun owner. I was shot and left for dead by my own gun,” says Christy Martin, a former championship boxer whose ex-husband was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison for attempting to murder her with a firearm. Martin flew to Washington, DC this week to attend Wednesday’s hearing, at the invitation of Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “I consider myself a physically fit, somewhat strong woman, mentally strong, emotionally strong, but it didn’t matter,” she says, noting that her ex-husband had a history of stalking behavior prior to the attack, and that she’d like to “close up some of those loopholes for stalkers.”

And closing those loopholes is exactly what the proposed legislation, including a bill from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), seeks to do.  And, it should not be only the victims of these horrible attacks who support it.  But, the NRA has called her proposal “a backdoor attempt to limit gun ownership,” and said it, “manipulates emotionally compelling issues such as ‘domestic violence’ and ‘stalking’ simply to cast as wide a net as possible for federal firearm prohibitions.”

Downplaying the terror of domestic violence and murder at the hands of an intimate partners as merely “emotionally compelling” is heartless.  These are people who live in fear and are killed by a person they loved and trusted.  They deserve our help and protection, and keeping their partners from owning a weapon that can be used against them is the very least we can do.

People are not “Collateral Damage”

Amid all the finger-pointing over exactly who is to blame for the atrocities currently taking place in the Gaza Strip, one very important point is being largely ignored: more than a thousand civilians, including many women and children, have been killed.

The response from both sides, as well as many people reporting on the war from here in America is the same, that these casualties are collateral damage and part of the unavoidable cost of war.  This is unacceptable and also blatantly false.  Every single death in war is avoidable.  War itself is avoidable and to treat it as some sort of inevitability is to disrespect the lives of those whose lives are lost, both those who choose to fight and those who do not.

An infographic from the Washington Post details the casualties.  As of July 29th, they count a total of 1,170 deaths.  Of those, only 61 were Israelis (7 civilians among them).  The remaining 1,109 people killed were Palestinians, including 127 women and 232 children.  It can be hard to determine who among the rest of the dead were actually involved in the fighting, as rebels rarely wear uniforms or identify themselves as combatants.  But, the Post counts only 179 armed militants among the Palestinian casualties.  Even adding the 115 dead who had an “unknown role” brings the total to 294, a number dwarfed by the total of 815 identified as civilians.  And, as the fighting continues, these numbers will continue to grow.

Both sides, of course, blame the other for the terrible loss of life.  Hamas claims the fighting is provoked by the Israeli occupation of Gaza and their ongoing blockade, leaving Palestinians often without food, water, or electricity, and in constant fear of attacks from the air and on the ground.  Israel blames the rockets launched from Palestine into Israel, claiming that the Hamas must be destroyed and that their invasion and constant bombing and shelling is the only way to truly eliminate the rebel threat.  While both sides can be assigned blame, fairly or not, the fact remains that none of the resulting deaths were necessary.

Hamas is accused of keeping its weapons in houses, schools, and other places where civilians are assembled.  This means that these civilians are being drawn into a fight they may want no part of.  It must be remembered that it is Hamas, not Palestine as a whole, that is doing the fighting in Gaza.  Putting civilian lives at risk is deplorable.  And, to use those deaths as propaganda, as some have accused, is even worse.

Yet, Israel is still choosing to bomb these weapons caches, knowing that each bomb dropped or shell fired is likely killing innocents as it destroys weapons whose threat is questionable at best.  But, no one is forcing Israel’s hand.  Israel, and those whose fingers are on the triggers, can simply choose not to fire, not to slaughter civilians, not to perpetuate a fight that does not need to be happening.  They blame Hamas, but their own hands are stained red with the blood of a thousand people who did not need to die.

The fight in Gaza is rooted in thousands of years of history.  Israel is a small country fighting to maintain its identity in a world that is hostile to it.  Its people have been bullied, but they have been made strong by the support (both financially and militarily) of the United States.  Now, they are the bullies, keeping the Palestinians in a virtual prison in Gaza as vengeance for the injustices they have faced over the years.  They are two sides who cannot agree, and so they fight.  They fight over geography, over religion, over years of oppression.  But, none of those things are really worth killing or dying for.  And, they certainly do not justify the killing of people who want no part of the fight, and seek only to live their lives peacefully in a place they call home.

But, there is a solution, and it is a solution so simple that it is easily overlooked.  Just stop fighting.  That’s it.  It really is as simple as that.  Don’t shoot any missiles or drop any bombs.  Don’t kill any soldiers or women or children.  Just stop.  Too many people have died, and too many more will follow.  It’s so simple, even a child could see it.  But, in Gaza, children do not think of history, or geography, or religion, or even peace treaties.  They only think of staying alive as the bombs continue to fall around them, fired by their parents and fueled by the ghosts of their ancestors.  And so, the fighting continues, even if it doesn’t have to.

(The original posting of this cartoon, via Tom Tomorrow and The Nation, can be found here.)

Let’s Kill the Death Penalty

In what has become too common a story of late, there was a botched execution this week.  In their eagerness to end a man’s life, and in the absence of the drugs historically used for executions (due to objections by the makers of those drugs that their product was being used to kill people), officials in Arizona used a mysterious and unproven cocktail of drugs to torture a man to death.  Of course, death penalty supporters, including Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, claim that Joseph Rudolph Wood did not suffer.  But, torture is the only word to describe an execution that consisted of a man gasping for air for nearly two hours before finally dying.

My intention is not to defend Wood.  He was convicted of shooting and killing a woman and her father in 1989.  There were no appeals claiming he was wrongly convicted.  The only attempts to prevent his execution came on the grounds that the drugs used and their source should be disclosed before the execution could take place.  This appeal was denied by the Supreme Court, allowing the execution to go forward as planned.

Of course, it did not go as planned.  Nor did two other executions this year where the drug Midazolam was used in place of drugs that are no longer available.  But, it was so important to the people of Arizona that Wood be killed that they were willing to use a drug that had twice before had disastrous results.  Of course, these results were not disastrous if the only intention is to kill someone.  In that case, all three uses were successful, eventually.  But, the use of the death penalty, legally anyway, hinges on it being carried out in a way that does not violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.  To many, these recent executions do not meet that standard.

But, some would argue that all executions, regardless of the method or duration, are cruel and unusual.  A statement from Amnesty International takes this position:

The prolonged execution of a prisoner in Arizona yesterday represents another wake-up call for authorities in the USA to abolish the death penalty, said Amnesty International.

“How many more times do officials need to be reminded of the myth of the ‘humane execution’ before they give up on their experiment with judicial killing?” asked Rob Freer, Amnesty International Researcher on the USA.

At least three executions have not gone according to plan in the USA this year alone.

Amnesty International does not believe that there is any such thing as a humane execution, or that the cruelty of the death penalty is confined to what goes on in the death chamber.

Holding someone under a threat of death – for years or even decades – can hardly be described as the conduct of a state adopting a progressive approach to criminal justice or human rights.

“However the state chooses to kill the prisoner – and whether the execution goes according to plan or not – does not change the fact that this is a punishment incompatible with fundamental human rights principles,” said Rob Freer.

The death penalty in the USA is riddled with arbitrariness, discrimination and error. In recent years, death penalty states in the USA have faced problems obtaining drugs for lethal injection and have resorted to questionable sources and secrecy in seeking to continue judicial killing by this method.

I agree wholeheartedly with Amnesty International’s position on capital punishment.  Carrying out executions in such a reckless manner is using people as experiment test subjects.  And, while these people are presumably bad people (or, at least people who have done very bad things), they are still human and deserving of a certain level of respect and humanity.  What does it say about us as a society that we condone this kind of treatment?

Capital punishment is not about justice.  There is no justice to be found in the taking of a human life, even if that person has himself taken the life of another.  Execution of murderers is about vengeance.  And, what is accomplished?  The victims of these crimes are not brought back.  The families of the victims are not made whole when a killer is put to death.  And, the state is not improved by executing one of its citizens.  In fact, the state, and those who act on its behalf, are now guilty of the very crime they are seeking to punish.  Ignoring this hypocrisy does not make it any more tolerable.

Even common sense would show its flaws.  It is far more expensive to execute someone than to simply sentence a convicted killer to life in prison.  People have been executed and later been proven to be innocent.  And, it doesn’t even accomplish its primary goal, as capital punishment has been shown to have zero effect as a crime deterrent.  But, executing people is not about that.  It is about blood lust.  Just like we can cheer when villages are destroyed in foreign countries, we can cheer when criminals are killed here at home.  But, is any death, even that of someone we have marked as evil, worth celebrating?  We should be mourning, if not for the criminal, then at least for our own lack of humanity.

As a country that claims to be a world leader in morality and compassion for its people, there is no way to justify the continued use of capital punishment.  And, to see it continue (and to see it even be celebrated–remember the crowds of people cheering the huge number of people who had been executed in Texas during the last presidential primary?) is sickening.  The death penalty is indefensible, both morally and legally.  Most of the rest of the world sees that:

To date, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. The USA is approaching its 1400th execution since resuming judicial killing under revised capital statutes in 1977.

We should be better than that.  And, we can be.  Abolishing the death penalty is a must.

Whatever the Problem, More Guns is not the Solution

Pro-gun folks are getting ambitious with their new proposals.  They used to merely oppose legislation that would hinder the ability of people to own as many guns as they want, regardless of their criminal history, mental health, or ability to handle their weapon safely.  Now they want to push legislation that would encourage or even require more people to own guns.

Take the recent commentary from NRA News Commentator Billy Johnson titled, “Everybody Gets a Gun.”  Though he conceded that his ideas “may be seen as ‘ridiculous’–even by ‘Second Amendment advocates,'” I don’t think this admission comes close to expressing just how ridiculous his proposal is.  It is flawed from beginning to end.  But, it is a telling indicator of where some of the more extreme pro-gun supporters hope to go with gun policy.

All emphasis in the following excerpts is mine.  Johnson begins:

As a country we have an education policy. Imagine if that policy was about limiting who has access to public education. I mean, let’s be honest, the danger in educating people to think is that they might actually start to think for themselves. Perhaps we should think seriously about who we give access to knowledge. They could use it to do a lot of damage.

As a country we have a far reaching public parks program. Imagine if that program was designed to limit who has access to those parks. You littered once in high school, sorry no park access for you.

As a country we have labor policies designed to ensure that people are given access to jobs regardless of gender, race, or creed. Imagine if that policy withheld certain types of jobs as only the purview of the government elite.

Here Johnson sets up his straw men, hoping that he can convince people who guns are actually comparable to any of these things.  But, let’s break them down, one at a time.

First, he compares the right to own a gun to the right to an education.  While it is true that only one of these things is mentioned in the Constitution, his argument actually defeats itself.  He claims that knowledge in the wrong hands can be a dangerous thing.  This is the very crux of the argument for gun control legislation.  None but the most extreme anti-gun advocates is seeking to outlaw guns completely.  Most are merely hoping for measures are put in place that limit who has access to them, ensuring that they do not end up in the wrong hands.  Even if Johnson is attempting to be sarcastic or ironic (and he may very well be, to be fair), he fails in this attempt.  Claiming that knowledge can be dangerous but ignoring that guns can be is idiotic.  Or, assuming he is being sarcastic, he is admitting that guns can be dangerous and we should “think seriously about who we give access to” them.  Either way, the argument fails.

Next, he says litterbugs should be kept out of public parks.  This is obviously a reference to legislation that keeps violent felons and those with violence-related restraining orders from owning weapons.  But, his analogy is offensive as it compares acts of violence with littering.  I think the victims and survivors of these acts would dispute the similarity to leaving trash on the ground in a public place.  Surely, even Johnson can see the difference.  And, if this is merely an attempt at humor, again, he has failed, as there is nothing at all funny about violence or trying to prevent it.

Then, Johnson compares gun owners to those affected by discrimination due to their “gender, race, or creed.”  And he tops off this failed comparison with the right-wing buzzwords “government elite,” hoping to appeal to the paranoia of many gun extremists.  One would assume that he is trying to make an analogy to the fear that the government will come take all the guns away from regular citizens, meaning only the government itself will be allowed to bear arms.  Again, this is playing into the extremist paranoia, and doing so through an apples-and-orange comparison between the right to discrimination-free employment and the right for unhindered gun ownership.

But, all of that is just the set-up.  Now, we get to the heart of Johnson’s proposal.  He continues:

The point is that as a country we often write policy to protect access to something; education, parks, jobs. But one for one of the most important protections, a constitutional right, we write policy designed to limit access. Among Second Amendment supporters it’s common to talk about U.S. gun policy. We worry that policies will encroach on our rights; we share our concerns about overreaching gun policy that fails to make any of us safer.

But we don’t spend nearly enough time asking what is the purpose of policy and what should the purpose of gun policy be? We don’t have a U.S. gun policy. We have a U.S. anti-gun policy. Our gun policies are designed around the assumption that we need to protect people from guns, that guns are bad or dangerous. But what would happen if we designed gun policy from the assumption that people need guns — that guns make people’s lives better. Let’s consider that for a minute.

Gun policy driven by people’s need for guns would seek to encourage people to keep and bear arms at all times. Maybe it would even reward those who do so. What if instead of gun free-zones we had gun-required zones?

It is a common tactic among pro-gun supporters (or “Second Amendment” supporters) to fall back on the Constitution.  Yes, the Constitution does have an amendment that refers to a right to bear arms.  But, there has been great debate over the ambiguously worded amendment and just what it actually does intend to protect.  The Amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  It was only with the recent Heller decision by the Supreme Court that this was found to refer to the right for all people to own guns of any kind without restriction.  But, even after that, the court has upheld numerous restrictions, as various states and cities have implemented legislation seeking to limit gun violence.  But, gun supporters have been bolstered by the Supreme Court ruling, to the point that they believe their right to keep and bear arms should supersede the Constitution’s promises to “establish Justice,” “insure domestic Tranquility,” or “promote the general Welfare.”  These far-less-ambiguous promises are exactly what Johnson mocks with his earlier dismissal of education, public parks, and jobs.  Surely, if limits can be placed on access to these, the same can be done for guns.  But, Johnson calls such restrictions an “overreach.”  He then claims that gun policy “fails to make any of us safer,” despite proof that states with more gun legislation in place have lower rates of gun violence, and vice versa.

Next, Johnson makes a blatantly false assumption and then uses it as the basis for the rest of his commentary.  He asks, “what would happen if we designed gun policy from the assumption that people need guns — that guns make people’s lives better?”  The answer is simple.  We would be making policy based on a false assumption.  We might as well make gun policy based on the assumption that guns can make people fly or grow to be ten feet tall.  All are equally ridiculous.

But, Johnson is undeterred, next suggesting that what we really need are “gun-required zones,” an apparent reference to the erroneous belief that criminals seek out gun-free zones for their killing sprees, though that argument has been debunked.  So, now we have false information leading to a proposal that is itself based on the false assumption that people have a “need for guns.”

Now, we come to the big finish.  Johnson concludes:

Gun policy driven by our need for guns would insist that we introduce young people to guns early and that we’d give them the skills to use firearms safely. Just like we teach them reading and writing, necessary skills. We would teach shooting and firearm competency. It wouldn’t matter if a child’s parents weren’t good at it. We’d find them a mentor. It wouldn’t matter if they didn’t want to learn. We would make it necessary to advance to the next grade.

Gun policy driven by the assumption we need guns would probably mean our government would subsidize it. I mean, perhaps we would have government ranges where you could shoot for free or a yearly allotment of free ammunition. Sound crazy? Think about it. Education, healthcare, food, retirement, we subsidize things we value. Gun policy, driven by our need for guns would protect equal access to guns, just like we protect equal access to voting, and due process, and free speech. Our Founding Fathers believed that we did need guns. That’s why they codified our access to guns into the Constitution. But the idea of a gun policy that does justice to their intentions sounds ridiculous. What does that say about us? Even as Second Amendment advocates we can’t fathom a world where we would treat guns as a need.

Johnson has gone off the rails, contradicting himself at every turn.  He now claims that young people should be educated to use weapons, just like they are taught “necessary skills,” after earlier stating that education can be dangerous (unless maybe he is joking again; it can be hard to tell).  Then, in his most disturbing statement of all, Johnson says, “It wouldn’t matter if they didn’t want to learn.  We would make it necessary…”  Without making too many assumptions about Johnson’s political beliefs, wouldn’t this be the very type of government tyranny that Second Amendment folks are so worried about?  Johnson then calls for government subsidies for guns since “we subsidize things we value,” like education, healthcare, food, and retirement.  Again, aren’t these examples of government tyranny?  While I am surprised that he admits that those are things we value, guns clearly do not fall into the same category–at least not unless you are still buying into the false assumption that guns are something “we need.”

He concludes by saying that even the pro-gun crowd “can’t fathom a world where we would treat guns as a need.”  But, clearly he can.  Not only can he fathom it, he can come up with a dubious justification for it.  And, while this may be merely a tongue-in-cheek thought exercise, this kind of thinking can have real-world consequences.

For example, look at the recent legislation in Kentucky that seeks to arm survivors of domestic violence.  This shows the danger of treating guns as a necessity rather than as something that can be used to do great harm.  Rather than taking steps to keep people with a history of violence from gaining access to a weapon, Kentucky has now placed the burden on the abused, encouraging them to arm themselves, even though having a gun in the house drastically increases the likelihood that a domestic violence attack will result in the victim being killed.

The idea that guns make people safer is dangerous, and the idea that guns are something that people “need” is even more so.  While guns may be protected by the Second Amendment, regulations on them are also protected.  And, these regulations are necessary.  The right to own a gun is no more sacred than the right not to own one, or the right to be free from the fear of having one be used against you.  But, the NRA keeps pushing.  And, though Johnson’s proposal is admittedly ridiculous, it justifies laws like the one in Kentucky, where the answer to a problem of violence is more guns.  And, more guns should never be the answer, no matter what the problem is.

 

Some People Who Shouldn’t be in Jail Might Get Out a Little Early

So, this is potentially pretty great news.  After voting to reduce prison sentences for certain drug offences earlier this year, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has voted unanimously to retroactively apply these changes to prisoners who have already been sentenced.  This means that more than 46,000 inmates could see their sentences cut by around 2 years each.

The decision is a small sign of progress for a system that has long imposed overly-long sentences on drug offenders, especially for those convicted on non-violent offenses or those who played a peripheral role in deals involving a large quantity of drugs.  But, it is not a complete fix, and honestly, it is not even close:

In fact, many federal judges have expressed vocal outrage over schemes that bind them to sentencing low-level defendants like kingpins. That fundamental scheme hasn’t been changed by today’s fix. Since the mid-1980s, these drug sentencing laws have placed an over-emphasis on quantities of drugs rather than a defendant’s role in the crime. That means that a person involved in an offense that involved 50 grams of methamphetamine could get 40 years in prison, regardless of whether they served as mastermind of the deal or a low-level courier of money.

The Sentencing Commission and the U.S. Justice Department would both like to see this scheme changed. But for that, they have to wait for an act of Congress, since even the Sentencing Guidelines are tied to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. “The real solution rests with Congress, and we continue to support efforts there to reduce mandatory minimum penalties, consistent with our recent report finding that mandatory minimum penalties are often too severe and sweep too broadly in the drug context, often capturing lower-level players,” Saris said in January.

Two bipartisan bills to reform these laws are still pending in both houses of Congress.

But, any amount of progress, however small, is still a good thing.  The first 8,000 inmates eligible for a review of their sentence will appear before a judge in November 2015.  If every eligible inmate is awarded the maximum sentence reduction, it would mean a total of 83,525 fewer years behind bars, and would translate to huge savings for a prison system already short on funds.  But, just as importantly, it would be a small bit of justice for people who were penalized far more than they should have been.

However, one obstacle remains:

Congress has the authority to block both amendments by Nov. 1 of this year.

It would not be surprising if hardliners in Congress (especially those in the pockets of private prison companies) decided to stand firmly in favor of draconian drug sentencing and attempt to block the amendments from taking effect.  Fortunately, this Congress has a history of sitting on their hands instead of taking action.  And this is one instance where their inaction could actually do some good.  It would be even better if they would act and pass the proposed reform bills, but that may be too much to hope for.

Of course, none of this would be an issue in the first place if the U.S. did not have such severe penalties for drug offenses on the books.  Nor would it be an issue if marijuana were legalized (or at least decriminalized) since most drug offences involve marijuana rather than “scarier” drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin.  Sadly, change comes slowly.  But, it appears that change is indeed coming.  And that is a good thing.