Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Symbol of surrender to the gun lobby

        A metaphor for a nation: Terrified students hustle across a school parking lot, their hands in the air.

It happened the other day at Umpqua Community College in Oregon: hands in the air. It happened at Columbine High School. It happened at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois and Central Arkansas.

It has happened at 142 schools – yes, 142 -- college, high school, elementary -- since so many children died not quite three years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary. That's about one shooting per week.

Hands in the air. The ones still escaping, the psychological victims of another gun atrocity, know not what to think, what to do, where to go – exactly like the country that would protect them.

This is the country that, as British wit John Oliver observes in wonderment, caught one shoe bomber and now requires every air traveler to shed shoes at check-in. But do anything about the gun carnage in its midst? No way. Just count bodies and pray.

We've had 986 mass shootings since Sandy Hook. Add the crime-of-passion shootings, the suicides, the drive-bys, the accidental deaths. What's the toll?

Well, let's put it this way: Just this year the gun carnage – 9,948 dead – is more than three 9/11s.

         Where is Dick Cheney when we need audacity and overreach? Where are the spare-no-expense resources? Where's Homeland Security?

This is the public safety issue of our time, and we are less proactive about protecting people from random shootings than we are about trans fats.

Arming more Americans? Arming teachers? It doesn't work. It can do just the opposite. More innocents can get killed.

This happens even when police intervene in the chaos of a mass shooting. In 2012, nine bystanders were wounded by counter-terrorism-trained New York police in an armed confrontation at the Empire State Building.

So what's the answer? Literally, it's to treat guns as the public safety matter they are, just like automobiles. The answer is to register firearms and license their owners. The answer is to prohibit or revoke permits for those unfit to operate a killing machine.

In the absence of something that wouldn't prevent gun ownership for the law-abiding but would change the reckless gun culture we've cultivated, we need to take action aimed at keeping guns out of the wrong hands.

Few Americans by now oppose the concept of background checks to prohibit gun ownership to criminals, the mentally ill, juveniles, non-citizens and more. But what happens when the background check system fails?

Democrats in the Senate have proposed a bill to close a loophole that made it possible for Dylann Roof to obtain a firearm before his shooting spree at a Charleston, S.C., church.

Called the "default to proceed" loophole, the ambiguity in the law means that if a gun dealer doesn't get back FBI background check authorization in 72 hours, the transaction can proceed anyway.

As with so much pertaining to guns in this country, the loophole exists because the whole of gun policy is sculpted for the convenience of gun owners and sellers, rather than any inclination to protect the public.

The problem confronted by the bill in question sounds like an obscure matter, but in 2012 alone, the loophole allowed 3,722 people who otherwise would have been ineligible – people with criminal records or mental health issues -- to buy their precious guns.

Back when all were filled with religion in the "war on terror," the principle was that we would do everything at our disposal to prevent further terrorist attacks.

What Dylann Roof did was a terrorist attack. What the shooter in Oregon did was a terrorist attack. For years it has been one terrorist attack after another.

We have to stop denying that we are arming home-grown terrorists. Let's put our hands down and put them to work. Let's change a culture that makes the fates of helpless people secondary to pieces of metal that propel pieces of metal through the air.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.  

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Do the math: ‘Thirders’ have taken over GOP

A lot of Republicans are hoping Donald Trump will go away, and here's why he won't: The Thirders aren't going away, either.

Understand, the Thirders aren't a lot of us -- just a third -- but being the life force of the Republican Party, they are enough to run it. That's a take-away from the announced retirement of Speaker John Boehner. He is conceding the House to the forces of GOP wackery.

We used to know the Thirders as Birthers, but we've come to see that they have, um, diversified.

         The term "Thirders" is my own. It came from polls that show a solid core of right-wingers resistant to any factual assault: polls consistently showing that one-third of Americans don't believe President Obama was born here, polls showing that about a third of Americans believe him to be a Muslim.

Anything they can believe about the man, the Thirders will rationalize. Did you hear about the poll showing that one-third of Louisiana Republicans blamed Obama for the poor federal response to Hurricane Katrina – three years before he became president? Did you hear that three years into implementation, a sizable portion of Republicans still believes "death panels" are built into the Affordable Care Act?

Did you hear that Obama will abolish the 22nd Amendment to make himself president for life? I hear this from Thirders who believe it. It would be a trick, considering what it takes to amend the Constitution, but Thirders know Obama is planning it.

It should be no surprise that Donald Trump, the Thirder with the most hair and most money, is leading in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

It should be no surprise that Ben Carson also is doing well among the Thirders, and Ted Cruz still thinks he can secure their heart

George Will is not a Thirder. He writes that, with his anti-immigrant appeals, Trump wishes to "turn America into a police state in order to facilitate ethnic cleansing." Yikes.

Charles Krauthammer is not a Thirder. He calls Carson's assertion that a Muslim should not be president not only contrary to the First Amendment but "morally outrageous."

          Article VI of the Constitution says: "…but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."  This matters not to Thirders.

All of this is to point out the mathematical truth that these candidates' popularity is based on the heartbeat of a fringe of America's fringe.

Let's do the Thirder math: If we assume, as polls show, that Republicans and those who lean that way are about 45 percent of voters, and if Trump and Carson are supported by roughly 20 percent of them apiece (new CNN poll), that means that they are supported by 9 percent apiece of all of us. If 11 percent of Republicans fall for Carly Fiorina's increasingly fact-challenged claims, that's about 5 percent of us. If Cruz is supported by 5 percent of Republicans, that represents 2.25 percent of us.

Is Marco Rubio a Thirder? He made quite a play the other day. He implied that women get abortions for a piece of the profit alleged to Planned Parenthood from the sale of fetal tissue. That claim — illegal profiteering — is one that rafts of investigations and investigators have failed to prove.

Let's say such irresponsible claims are a reason why Rubio now has 11 percent support among Republicans (having gained Thirder street cred). That's, once again, 5 percent of us.

Add the cumulative support of Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Rubio and Cruz, and you've got – what did I say? – just about one third of Americans, spectacularly resistant to anything approaching reality, and ready to vote that way.

Longtime newspaper editor John Young lives in Colorado. Email:jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Name game that stains the land

"Ahmed" is every bit as American as "Joe."

"Hussein" is every bit as American as "Shaughnessy" or "Flannery" or "McGill."

Need this be said? Now, of those bigots who consider Irish-Americans to be lesser forms of Americans: They are oafs and nincompoops.

Worse, they are un-American. Irish-haters hate America.

Oh, wait; you were expecting this commentary to be a defense of the Muslims among us? Actually, that is unnecessary. The preamble to the Declaration of Independence reads that all of us are created equal. Who needs a review?

           Donald Trump, for one. Sarah Palin, for two. Ben Carson, for three.

Trump doesn't owe Barack Obama an apology for smirking and shrugging when a supporter said the president is a Muslim and "not even an American."

No, Trump owes humanity an apology. So does Carson for saying a Muslim shouldn't be president.

Palin? What can be said for a hopeless case of intellect-lock? She felt that the world needed her to defend the actions of Irving, Texas, officials who handcuffed, arrested and suspended from school Ahmed Mohamed, the mild-mannered teen who brought a homemade clock to McArthur High.

          Palin said they acted "reasonably." No, taking such actions after determining the device was no bomb was not reasonable.

We know what this is about: It's not the boy's inventiveness; it's about his name.

Yeah, 14-year-old Ahmed is a threat, with his high grades, bright eyes and brighter ambitions to be an inventor.

A 2012 study by Partnership for the New American Economy found that more than 75 percent of patents at the major patent-awarding universities had at least one foreign-born inventor.

There's one problem with this rationalization as pertains to Ahmed, though: He is no foreigner. He is as American as you, as me, as any old Joe.

Ahmed's father, Elhassan, came here from Sudan three decades ago. He started a business. He raised a fine and smart family.

He is, however, a Muslim. That apparently is a problem.

So said the questioner whom Trump refused to correct when saying Obama is "not an American." The man followed up with, "How can we get rid of (Muslims)?"

It is stunning that a man who seeks to represent all American citizens as chief executive would not take a moment to denounce, or at least distance himself from, the horrible racism in those words.

But that's not been Trump's shtick, not from the moment he launched his campaign by broad-brushing undocumented people as murderers and rapists.

What makes Trump popular with a certain, increasingly solid, segment? It certainly isn't his policy positions. An Associated Press analysis calls them "glaringly undeveloped."

Let us trace back every original word attributed to candidate Trump at this point. Let's search for anything that hasn't appealed to rank ethno-centrism. You can't find much. Throw in sexism, and we've just about got Trump's general appeal covered.

It was odd that in the CNN debate some of the Republican candidates took shots at Chief Justice John Roberts. Odd because it was Roberts who, in voting with the majority to invalidate a key portion of the Voting Rights Act, implied that this nation is in a post-racial era.

A recent poll finds that 43 percent of Republicans believe Obama to be a Muslim. Unbelievable -- first that they would still think this to be true, second that it would matter at all if Obama were. What this says is that Justice Roberts is wrong.

Post-racial? You jest. Racism afflicts this nation just as it did when slave ships sailed, just as it does wherever people are hated because of things beyond their control – their names, for one.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.