Mass Shooters and Obstructed Problem Solvers

Besides causing us to constantly grieve the killing of innocent Americans when our nation is not even involved in an internal war, these horrific shootings by our own home-grown terrorists are frustrating us (almost) beyond the point of sanity. I will not go through the list of incidents but it is out there on the web and it is terrifying and a development we never foresaw. Americans are problem solvers. We see a problem and we work on it in our educated brains. We subscribe to the belief that once we identify a problem there are solutions to that problem and we can apply them like a band-aid. But in the case of mass shootings we are being blocked from solving  problems that must be resolved in order to allow for America’s continued survival as a nation that bears any resemblance to the America we so love to revere.

We know that strict adherence to the Second Amendment of our Constitution has been ’weaponized’ by some Americans such as militia members, white supremacists, and racists to the point where we are prevented from keeping almost anyone from owning a weapon, even a weapon of war, and openly carrying it everywhere they go. We have seen after each shooter episode that swearing allegiance to a strict interpretation of the Second Amendment does not allow problem solvers to look at the gun ownership laws and set some reasonable limits on gun ownership. What might a reasonable limit be – violent mental disorder has been suggested and the NRA doubled down and declared that the mentally ill should not be denied gun ownership. Even blind Americans cannot be denied the right to own a gun, a stance that might isolate blind people even more than their disability often does. Should people who broadcast hate speech be denied guns? We suspect that much death and mayhem might be prevented if that could happen.

Riot police protect members of the Ku Klux Klan from counter-protesters as they arrive to rally in opposition to city proposals to remove or make changes to Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. July 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RC1DBF890610

Our mental health system is broken and has been since we began to issue scripts for psychotropic drugs and remove psychological support systems for people with some fairly serious mental disorders. Stubborn symptoms of depression, schizophrenia, paranoia can make it very difficult for some people to enjoy a consistently productive lifestyle. But the meds they are prescribed have unpleasant side effects that change peoples’ personalities so drastically that they no longer feel a connection to their own identity and they stop taking these meds to get ‘themselves’ back. Once they go off their meds and have no access to a support system they may be susceptible to the hate speech they hear around them, it may make them fearful and paranoid or angry; they may not have the impulse control that will stop them from buying a gun and taking action. Since we understand the limitations of the meds to control hereditary brain conditions we need to replace some of the human support systems for children, parents, and adults who have to live their lives as their brains try to mislead them.

We also have an understanding of what Langston Hughes identified as “The Dream Deferred”. Robbing a group of people (in this case black and brown people) of opportunities which they can see others all around them benefitting from sets up an inequality that makes people outside the neglected group disrespect them and see them as being of less value. But this is a self-fulfilling prophecy and is in no way an actual sign that any ability deficit exists. Giving both segregated Americans of African Descent and poor white Americans all kinds of opportunities to succeed would lift the spirits of the entire nation and rob hate of its favorite food – stigmatizing a group as inferior.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (L) gives a thumbs up sign as he walks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

It is the NRA, Conservatives, and the right wing takeover of our government that prevents us from implementing the solutions that our problem solving skills have generated and, although some things can be done at the local and state levels, some avenues have been totally blocked. We need to keep in mind what Mr. Hughes, American poet said would happen if a dream (or a solution to a problem) keeps being deferred. IT EXPLODES!, he says. His prediction has been realized and is being realized in America every day. As long as we hold the future back through hate and division it will continue. Perhaps the election will give us the way to stop the obstruction but this in no way looks like a lock. It may eventually require mass demonstrations if we are even capable of persisting in such a strategy. Frustration, helplessness, anger, and grief is a toxic recipe, not any kind of solution, and it will only poison American culture. This evil concoction could never take the place of a recipe whose ingredients are action and hope.

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Trump, Putin and Us

Trump, Putin and Us

What a week! We can now see the connections between Trump, the GOP, the NRA, and religious fundamentalists and Putin in Russia that have been building for decades. And yet we still find a Trump/GOP base in America that cannot be swayed.

“As the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller closes in tighter and tighter on Trump’s inner circle and Trump himself, tending to his base is the key to Trump staying in office. A recent Washington Post poll showed that close to 50 percent of Republicans believe that Trump won the popular vote in 2016. He didn’t; Hillary Clinton received nearly 3 million more votes than Trump. Nearly 70 percent of Republicans believe Trump’s lie that millions of illegal immigrants voted in 2016, and nearly 75 percent believe that voter fraud occurs “somewhat or very often.” It doesn’t; numerous studies have found voter fraud to be close to nonexistent.

But it’s this statistic that’s most shocking in the Post poll of Republicans. “52 percent said that they would support postponing the 2020 election, and 56 percent said they would do so if both Trump and Republicans in Congress proposed this,” according to the Post.”

In case you didn’t read that quote, it said, in a Washington Post survey 52% of Republicans polled would support postponing the 2020 election.

We also learned of the close connection between Maria Butina, a Russian operative, and the NRA.

And we learned that Russians attended the National Prayer Breakfast, a Conservative fundamentalist religious function.

If America and Russia become besties, and if Trump is able to postpone the 2020 election, what can we expect America to be like. Hard to tell. This morning in the New York Times there was an article by a man who knew Sakharov, a Russian physicist and dissident who spent long periods imprisoned and in a Russian gulag. He warns us that life without freedom is a double life. You steal private moments of freedom at your risk and in public you comply to whatever the government asks. Within the article is a reprint of Sakharov’s essay, distributed in Russia as a secret document passed from hand to hand.

“Sakharov’s decency made him a moral compass orienting not just the East, but also the West. He insisted that international relations should be contingent on a country’s domestic behavior — and that such a seemingly idealistic stance was ultimately pragmatic. “A country that does not respect the rights of its own people will not respect the rights of its neighbors,” he often explained…

Mr. Trump has taken America’s human-rights-free foreign policy to absurd new heights. His assertion that North Koreans support Kim Jong-un with “great fervor” undermined America’s moral standing, sabotaged North Korean dissidents and legitimized an evil dictator. His shocking refusal to confront President Vladimir Putin of Russia over his country’s blatant interference in the 2016 United States presidential election highlights his unwillingness to protect Americans’ democratic rights, let alone Russians’ human rights.”

Trump’s Base

But I don’t think this is what is on the minds of Trump’s base. Their interests are perhaps more varied and more parochial. Some are passionate about killing Roe v Wade. Some are simply nostalgic for what they consider better times for the middle class in America and they insist on having that back. Some are concerned that America will no longer be a white and Christian nation, and they will allow children to be placed in cages if that will make their wishes reality. Some are protecting an almost frontier vision of America, with absolute rights guaranteed by local law enforcement and by the federal government, think Duck Dynasty and the passionate defense of guns in America.

But what Trump supporters will get in the end probably will be quite different from what they are asking. They may get an end to Roe v Wade but they will also lose good health coverage, especially for those with preexisting conditions, which will be practically everyone. They may be able to stop all immigration and thereby end illegal immigration and they may no longer see their benefits spent on “those people” but they may also lose their own benefits. Medicare and Social Security use money from the budget that Trump and the GOP would like to earmark for other things, or steal. Without Medicare and Social Security seniors will die and they will die earlier and in greater numbers than is natural. If Trump and the GOP see seniors as burdens because they are no longer able to labor physically and perhaps, even mentally, then a man with so little compassion would be happy to let go of unproductive members of American society with barely a twitch of emotion. Poor people have already been written off. Trump says there are no more poor people in America.

I think we can easily predict the demise of the social safety net. No poor, then no food stamps, no welfare, no Medicaid. We the people are the ones that will be cut out of America’s budget.

Who will do the work the immigrants have been doing, America’s dishes, weeding, planting and picking. Who will clean America’s public restrooms and serve as teacher’s aides in our schools? Who will complete American renos and put in American floors? Trump’s base could very well find itself doing all of these jobs or living in a nation where the niceties are no longer observed and filth and hunger and disease are what we inherit. We will have a government that keeps passing the dollars up the chain and we will be paid lower wages and have fewer ways out of the poverty that doesn’t exist.

We are the people who did not know how to turn a nickel into a million dollars, or who did not have a daddy who gave us a million dollar stake. We are the people who never learned to be ruthless in business but only ruthless to each other.

Who will our friends be? Well, Putin, and President Xi and Kim Jong Un and Duterte and Erdogan. We will have a whole new cohort of meanness and no one to appeal to for aid and assistant. Perhaps we will start picking off American drug dealers and drug users like Duterte.

The Rich, the 1%

What will the wealthy be doing? I saw an article about that this week also. They will be looking for guards they can trust to protect them in their walled estates. Sound familiar. It should, it is feudalism without knights, only paranoia.

In a world that promises to be crowded with 9 billion people, how expendable will most of us be? Trump’s little cult is helping him and others separate the wealthy from the poor in whole other dimensions besides our bank accounts and our possessions. Trump’s base may be dooming themselves and us to obsolescence. Unless we show genius or the willingness to perform menial tasks, how will we be necessary to people who do not value the rights of ordinary people. Why should they share the wealth with us? I doubt that they intend to.

Whenever you get into this realm of extrapolating the future from the present you lose any real basis in fact and you lose your credibility. The future could unfold in many different ways. However I do not see a role for Donald Trump in the future of America. Now that we have him in the oval office though there does not seem to be a way to rid ourselves of him that is consistent with our morality. And that is a dilemma because we are dealing with someone without morality, only some kind of code of personal loyalty. We know he is a bad President, possibly a traitorous President but we have given power to the Conservative literal interpretation of our Constitution and we therefore have no way, within the rules of our system, to unseat him. We are waiting for absolute proof  which we may never have. This is a man who knows how to cover his tracks and see his troops indicted for his own deniability.

Our squeamishness may land us in Trump/Putin land. We can practice when Putin comes to oversee our election in November. I bet he will be here for Trump’s military parade. Donald will be so proud, except for the lack of the tanks. How will it feel? Like a betrayal of every little thing we treasured about the USA.

I am, as always, sitting in the cheap seats.




Killing Children: Guns, the NRA, and Schools


How does anyone ever get past the things these young people have seen? Young people fight wars and see killing but these children were not in a war. Their day began as a regular school day and became a nightmare. These images and emotions will stay with them all their lives. This terror will affect each person differently as they leave school to pursue their adult lives. Will all their outcomes be positive? Probably not. But the anger and the activism will help. I think acting from strength, the fight instinct rather than the flight instinct, will ensure healthier futures for these kids. They even may end up doing our democracy some good. And our democracy could really use some good right about now.

I cannot think about these kids and their losses without tears threatening. They are my heroes. They even went to speak with our strange and untrustworthy President, which I don’t know if could have done. They spoke with clarity and sorrow, appealing to our leader to end the stonewalling, the bullying, the political extortion of the NRA.

The NRA leaders at CPAC, on the day after the children spoke with the leader, had the audacity to strut around on the stage and say what the NRA always says, an homage to guns; their lies about the meaning of the second amendment, their exaggerated whining about imaged threats to take away their guns. Republicans cheered and agreed – chanted “lock her up” to please the man who listened to those traumatized children the day before and still needs to be petted. Would they raise such a fuss if people threatened to take away their children, which is basically what happened at Stoneman Douglas HS in Parkland.?

“Let’s arm teachers,” they say. That’s their solution. I was a teacher, an assistant professor. One day a man walked in off the street and raped me. I still didn’t wish I had a gun. What would have happened if I shot him? Would a gun have stopped him from doing what he did? Would I have been able to get to the gun since he was choking me? He was a man on the sexual predator list. My school hired a security guard after that (no gun) but he was such a pleasant man I’m not sure he would have stopped this man, who looked like one of our students. If I shot him would I have gone to jail for murder? Would I have gotten off for self-defense? I already had to go through so much – looking through the books at the police station to ID him, going to court to testify against him, going back into my classroom. If my students had been there I might have felt differently about having a gun. Teachers would do almost anything to protect their students. But with no training I would never have thought of such a thing in the 1980’s.

Suppose a teacher-with-a-gun shot an innocent student by accident. Would they be charged with a crime? Experts say that even professionals with lots of target training do not always shoot accurately. How would a teacher live with that? Would their community turn against them. Teachers are sort of like doctors who believe “first do no harm”. It is too much to make human beings take the blame for something that would not happen if a certain inanimate object did not ever find its way into a school.

For a while I taught tweens and teens (7th,8th, 9th graders) who had been suspended for taking weapons to school. What I learned is that these children took weapons to school to protect themselves from students who threatened them almost every day. A weapon could be something like a can of food in a sock. But these children left school each day to go to a neighborhood where guns were common and people were shot for standing on the wrong street corner. These children certainly didn’t need a teacher with a gun in their school.

I would not care if every gun disappeared off the face of the earth but that’s not going to happen. I understand why our forefathers made owning a gun a right. They came from settled European nations to a wild, forested and unknown land. Many had been persecuted in their native lands and they had just fought a war in this new land because they saw that the British King intended to treat them like subjects, in spite of the distance and the ocean that now lay between them. Settlers needed guns for many reasons.

Since our forefathers made sure that Americans would have the right to own guns (although those were very different times with more compelling reasons to own guns) no one, and I mean no one, wants to take that right away. But when people get defiant, when defiance overturns adult reason, and to prove a right that no one questions, people insist that they will own as many guns as they want, even guns that are weapons, and they will carry them with them everywhere – then things have gone too far, have been taken to extremes. And when you need a deranged man with no discernible humanity ( a human slot machine, a money bot) to guard the gun gate, those of us who have retained our sanity against all odds don’t know what to do – we are stunned. He manages to turn us away from a rational grownup discussion of how we can keep our guns without killing our children.

Of course this man everyone seems to fear has many allies. Maybe Conservatives have signed another pledge, like the we-will-not-raise-taxes pledge. Maybe no pledge is necessary because money is a powerful force and can be used to extort a kind of loyalty. Do we really want to pit idealistic and innocent children against this cynical verbal fascist. The NRA should get rid of Wayne La Pierre and find a leader who doesn’t foam at the mouth at a hint that there might be a discussion involving guns. I am about to thank Rick Scott, Governor of Florida, a thing I did not believe would ever be necessary. Rick Scott is talking about raising the age for gun ownership to 21 and improving background checks and more. Will he carry through? It sounds like he will. What will Wayne La Pierre do? Will he have a big fat scary conniption fit? Probably. Will Rick Scott lose his A+ rating (I can’t believe that the NRA gives grades to our politicians)? Will he lose the next election? What will that then say about the residents of Florida?

To the young people of Parkland I say that you are touching hearts all over America. It is lucky that you are old enough to speak for yourselves because no one pays attention to the grieving parents. If the 5 years olds at Newtown had been able to use their words as effectively as you have perhaps that would have done the trick. I doubt it. Bots who worship money and power have hearts of stone. Maybe next time we will get a President who will govern for the people, rather than himself and his cronies.