Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Christmas, Fiscal Cliff, Honduras, Zero Dark Thirty, Gun Violence Again

Photos got somehwat mixed up n posting. Some are from a Christmas Eve Mass at Communitas,my progressive Catholic storefront community, with a potluck held afterward. I’m shown with Sophia, a 12-year-old whose Haitian father was killed in an auto accident in Haiti before her birth. In January, she and her mother will travel there, where she will visit her father’s relatives and native country for the first time. On Christmas Day, roses were still blooming outside my house and next-door, showing that we hadn’t quite reached the freezing point yet. The other photos are from a Christmas dinner prepared by Jose Manuel, a former Cuban refugee rafter who lived in my house in 1996-7, including a Santeria shrine he has erected in his dining room. His photo of me, with his new camera, is much clearer than mine. On New Year’s Day, the roses were still out, bravely withstanding temperatures hovering around freezing.

Well, we went over the Fiscal Cliff and the world didn’t stop; the sun still rose in the east. And the matter was resolved quickly before the markets opened again on January 2. At first, it seemed that many Republican Congressmen really didn't care about the cliff, coming as they do from conservative districts where their priority is getting reelected, maintaining their high salaries and perks, and sticking to their Grover Norquist pledge, never mind the nation's wellbeing. But, in the end, they must have been persuaded by the Republican leadership that the party would be blamed by the American people and the world for an economic collapse if they stuck to their position. Also, they may have foreseen that their own constituents would be hurt if no deal was reached. While congressmen represent limited districts, their districts inevitably are linked to the nation and the world. Now there is a big fight ahead for the next two months on what actually to cut, a fight that promises to be bruising.

Excerpts below from reporter, Alberto Arce,

AP's Honduras correspondent navigates violent land

From Associated Press, December 30, 2012

In the daytime, I use trusted drivers like Jose to guide me through Tegucigalpa's chaotic streets, past its barbed-wire fences, mounds of garbage and packs of dogs. I keep the tinted windows up, the doors locked, and we don't stop at the lights, so we won't get carjacked.

I vary my routes. I try not to fall victim to the permanent sense of danger that hangs over the capital, where the conversation is invariably about whose relative was just killed, or what atrocity happened on the corner. Yet I constantly check the rear and side mirrors of Jose's car for approaching motorcycles. Honduras has the world's highest murder rate, and paid gunmen almost always travel by motorcycle to make a quick getaway through impossible traffic.

The violence is a stark contrast to the friendly feel of a land where many have a Caribbean attitude about life, happy and easygoing. Once you leave the cities, the landscape is amazing — wild, healthy, and savage, from the waterfalls of La Tigra National park, just half an hour from the capital, to the islands of the Caribbean and the world's second largest coral reef.

To see acting CIA director Michael Morell’s statement to employees on how the film "Zero Dark Thirty" differs from reality, check it out on He reminds employees that the film is a dramatization, not a documentary, and that it distorts and compresses the facts.

My heart goes out now to all the parents who lost children in the Sandy Hook School shooting. They are currently experiencing an outpouring of attention and support, but soon enough, it will all stop and they will be left alone with their grief. The Compassionate Friends, a support group of bereaved families, may be able to help them over the long haul. Why are toys pouring into Newtown? Surely not for the dead children, perhaps for the survivors, though toys hardly make up for the loss of siblings and friends. Of course, every day, people all over the US are killed by guns, either in homicides, suicides, or accidents. An internet effort to count these deaths nationally, at least accidents and homicides, is underway. Suicides, which may actually outnumber murders, are more difficult to count because they are often not reported. A few gun deaths arguably would have happened by other means—stabbings, poisonings, drug overdoses, affixations.

President Obama gave a powerful and heart-rending speech after the shooting. He is an eloquent and convincing speaker—maybe a modern Abraham Lincoln in terms of rhetoric? But, of course, the proof is in the pudding, not in the words, but what he had to say was still moving and important. The gun control issue is complicated and not easily solved. There has been a lot of emphasis on the shooter’s mental state and possible mental illness, but that focus alone will not solve the problem. We are talking about budget cuts, not increased spending for mental health treatment. And even if ideal treatment were available for every single person with mental illness, such treatment often does not work, or works only in part, or the individual refuses to participate. Certainly Adam Lanza’s family had access to the best mental health care. Keeping a lot of guns around him was not such a good idea, as it turns out. That would seem pretty obvious, but apparently his mother didn’t see it and paid with her life. All her guns were legally obtained and she apparently taught her son about how to use a gun safely.

Nor do the mentally ill pose the only danger. Somewhere I saw a statement that less than 4% of gun murders are done my mentally ill people. What about all those other guys (mostly guys, not gals) who are laid off from a job or fighting with their spouse? They may not be technically mentally ill, but may be seeking vengeance or may succumb to sudden impulses. Finally, there are anti-government, anarchist types, survivalists, and militant white supremacists in the mold of the Uni-bomber or Timothy McVeigh or those who have been making recent ominous blog posts complaining about “a black man in the White House” and needing to arm themselves for a possible uprising against the pernicious federal government, unwilling to accept the election outcome. And there are always gun suicides. Since the school shooting, there have been a number of other gun deaths, including four killed in Pa. Of course, publicity doesn’t help.

In 2009, there were at least 11,500 gun murders and 18,000 gun suicides in the US, fewer perhaps than in previous years, but too many and far more than those lost on 9/11. Without access to guns, or such ready access, some might have tried suicide or murder by other means, but other means result in death less than half the time. Countries with fewer guns, but with the same rates as the U.S. of mental illness, players of violent video games, and the showing of violent movies and TV shows, causes cited by the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, still have much lower homicide rates. Nor do we have the capacity as a nation in both personnel and money to place a trained armed guard in all 140,000 American schools, as LaPierre advocates. And what about mass shootings outside of schools? LaPierre’s remarks seem to have increased the backlash against the once-invincible NRA. Actually, in its early days, the NRA itself advocated gun control and promoted safety training for all gun owners. Even Israel has more restrictive gun laws than the US. We put extra controls in place after 9/11; what about doing something now to reduce gun violence?

Statistically, the intersection of either mentally ill, angry, careless, or impulsive people with the easy availability of firearms has meant many more gun deaths here compared with the rate in other developed countries. And high-powered weapons have resulted in multiple deaths. Yes, there was a mass murderer in Norway by a man using illegal weapons, presumably obtained from outside the country, but a single such incident in a century or maybe longer? And there was a man in China, just days before Sandy Hook, who, without access to a gun, attacked 22 in a school with a knife, but none died. Already, city police forces are accelerating gun buy-back programs. Why not go further? As suggested before on this blog, what about paying gun manufacturers not to make weapons, much as we have paid farmers not to grow crops? It could be a program for reducing gun production over time, giving firearms manufacturers time to convert to other enterprises. Guns for police, hunting, and military uses would still need to be made.

Inevitably, there will be more armed guards and metal detectors in schools, which I’d consider a lesser evil and less dangerous than arming teachers. But, of course, with education funds being cut, not every school would be able to do that and many won’t want to. Columbine High School had an armed security guard who shot at the killers, but missed. Most mass killings occur outside of schools anyway, as do most gun deaths. I cannot help thinking of Honduras, where everyone is armed and even ice cream parlors, cell phone shops, and drug stores have armed guards, and where the homicide rate is the highest in the world. Apparently, arms provide an incentive to shoot to kill, not a deterrent.

There is no 100% solution to any problem, only odds of success and failure. In medicine, surgery, chemotherapy, and antibiotics all have both benefits and risks, as do all other human endeavors, from marriage and parenthood to work and play. The prospects for any outcome are determined by statistics, simply dry numbers. So it is with gun rights and gun control. Sometimes having arms will prove protective, sometimes useless or lethal. What are the numbers for each?

An assault weapons ban, universal background checks, education in gun safety, expanded and improved mental health services and anger management programs, increased school security, and a reduction in violent films and videogames may all help reduce the carnage from gun violence, but will not totally eliminate gun murders, suicides, and accidents as long as guns exist. The task is to reduce their frequency, to reduce the odds. I believe having fewer guns in circulation would do that, as shown by the experience of other countries.

An individual’s right to bear arms needs to be tempered by the right of other individuals not to be killed. Individual rights are not unlimited, but subject to rules and limits. We may drive cars, but not over the speed limit or when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. We may have the right to a particular sexual expression or orientation, but not the right to impose that on another person without their consent, on a child, or to impregnate someone without taking responsibility for any offspring, nor are we allowed to deliberately infect someone with AIDS or another STD. Likewise, owning a gun implies responsibilities and limitations and there is a special problem with firearms exemplified by the Conn. shooter, in that he may not have been approved to own a gun himself, but his mother was a legal gun collector.

A reader who supports gun rights admits: I don't think the framers contemplated the invention and development of assault rifles, the introduction of the Glock, aka America's gun, or the diminution of individual responsibility on the part of so many citizens. Also worth noting is that 18th-century firearms were lethal only in the hands of experts or persons able to fire at very close range. Of course there were more experts back then, since it behooved men who wanted to feed their families to develop skill in the use of those slow-to-load, unreliable, inaccurate weapons. But the risk of a deranged kid swiping Dad's musket from the Battle of Yorktown and opening massacre-level fire on the village green was nil.

She further observes: It's truly shocking that the shooter's mother, who knew very well that her younger son had for years been seriously disturbed, kept all those guns in the house. OK, it was her hobby. Well get another one, lady. You like to drink craft beers? Go do that. You can tell the guys at the bar about the guns you used to have.

Of course, the Sandy Hook school shooting was not the end of gun violence for the year. There were the two fire fighters killed in upstate New York and several other less reported killings. And now it turns out, while the NRA’s LaPierre decries violent videogames, gun manufacturers are helping create and promote such games. Hypocrisy is rampant.

I had joined a lively discussion on LinkedIn entitled “Freedom in Cuba, the Middle East & Everywhere,” but after the Sandy Hook school shootings, it degenerated into a series of back-and-forth name-calling posts on gun control, with hundreds of messages being posted daily, most trashed by me without being read. Arguably, gun control does involve questions of freedom, the freedom to bear arms and also to express opinions about the subject, but the discussion was veering far afield from where it had begun. The man who had made the original post tried in vain to return to the main topic, but those engaging in the argument ignored him and continued badgering each other, just a microcosm of the bitter debate awaiting us on gun control at a national level.

No comments: