Roe v. Wade: Don’t Mourn, Organize

Amidst all the hand-wringing over Roe v. Wade, here’s the thing: we had 50 years to pass legislation at the state and federal levels to protect the right to abortion and we didn’t. Hard fail.

Instead, the right wing organized and passed laws in the majority of states restricting or outright banning abortion.

If we were that well organized, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

Progressives, and Democrats in particular, love moral superiority and self-righteousness. They think showing the right wing for the hateful and oppressive devils they are is enough. They’re wrong. You have to organize and make things happen.  (I am not a Democrat BTW. The Democratic party is hostile to socialism, and I’m a socialist, so…)

You don’t have to organize everybody. You don’t have to have a majority. The right wing is not a majority in the US. They got their people elected to key positions in the executive and legislative branches, who got their people appointed to judgeships. This is how governmental power is done in America.

It’s not just government either. Union organizing helps immensely. It strengthens the working class, and trains many of us to learn to exercise power. It is also a great education in how ugly capitalist business and politics are.

Grass roots organizing is of the utmost importance. LGBTQ groups, climate/environmental groups, racial justice groups, etc., all help to mobilize people for real, effective action.

So, do we start the hard work of organization, or do we wail and gnash our teeth over the end of Roe v. Wade? It remains to be seen.

Police Reform Is Just A Band-Aid

An article in the April 15, 2022 New York Times describes how various cities are trying to staunch the flow of police murders of people of color by restricting the practice of traffic stops for minor violations and technicalities.

The most recent horrendous example is that of Patrick Lyoya, an emigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who was shot in the back of the head after being stopped because his license plate didin’t match the vehicle. The officer could argue that Lyoya grabbed his Taser, but that only makes us ask why a simple traffic stop turned into a situation where the officer took his Taser out of its holster in the first place.

Over and over, officers escalate minor encounters into deadly ones. Why is this?

First, we agree that the practice of allowing officers to perform these nuisance stops is likely to result in more violations of citizen’s civil rights, including executions. There is evidence to believe that policies aimed at decreasing these harassments would promote public safety.

But that doesn’t get close to the root of the problem.

Another, more substantial issue is that of police training. They are taught, whether by doctrine or example, that they can issue commands, demand instant compliance, and use physical force if the citizen doesn’t comply. This may be true in the case of an arrest for an actual crime, but not in these more casual encounters.

But that is still superficial.

Another question is, why does joining law enforcement appeal so much to bullies with fragile egos, who must use pain and abuse to make themselves feel better? Some might argue that most cops are good people and that these bullies are the exception. There is no evidence to support this. Using the maxim that for every reported case of police brutality, there are many others that go unreported, one has to conclude that these abusive officers are not that small a minority, and may for all we know be in the majority.

But if these bullies were screened out before hiring, it still wouldn’t solve the problem. We still have to ask, why are blacks, Hispanics, and other people of color assaulted by the police in dramatically higher numbers than whites? If it was just due to policies, training, and character flaws, we’d expect the brutality to be applied across the board. It is not. It is built into the system, and has been since the first enslaved African arrived in America 400 years ago.

Police reform is just putting band-aids on racism that is baked into our institutions.

2020 Election: No Turmoil So Far

In predicting the possibility of widespread civil unrest surrounding the Presidential election, I recognized that it was not a sure thing. In fact, I expressed the hope that my concerns would turn out to be mistaken.  I wanted to be wrong.

So far, so good. While there are sporadic accounts of armed militias showing up at polling places, there has been no real effort at voter intimidation. And it has been almost eerily calm as the slow counting of votes has proceeded.

It may be that having to drag the count out over days and weeks has contributed to a tamping-down of what could have been explosive emotions among the partisans of either side. The pent-up excitement leading into Election Day kind of fizzled in the numbing, drawn-out process.

This gives me hope that we may be able to move forward without rioting, supply chain disruption, or whatever form an angry outburst might have taken.

In a Shrodinger’s cat scenario, prior to Election Day, it could have swung either way. I was certain that the count would be close, and it was. I was not certain which way it would go. Either Trump or Biden could have eked out a win. And the partisans of either side might have refused to accept the results.

Now we see that Biden has enough of a lead, both in the popular vote and in the Electoral College, to succeed to the Presidency. That settles the possibility that the leftward side of the populace would erupt.

There is one possibility that would still be volcanic. There is a slim chance that “faithless electors” would not vote in accordance with the people’s mandate in their individual states and swing the Electoral College vote in Trump’s favor. This is what mathematicians call a “less-than-zero” possibility.

It’s like the outside chance that any one of us might be hit by lightning today. No one can say that it absolutely couldn’t happen, but the probability is so vanishingly small that we just don’t factor it into our daily plans. The flip side of this is that someone, somewhere on the planet today, will in fact be struck by lightning. For that person, the consequences are so abhorrent that it is no comfort to know that it was unlikely to happen.

So in the unlikely event that enough electors switch their vote – an event which gets more unlikely with each additional elector won by Biden – a massive protest with unpredictable consequences would be a near certainty.

On the other side, there is still some concern that the far right will act erratically and trigger some sort of tumult. Trump is doing a lot to advance the notion that his loss must be due to some kind of fraud or rigging. Millions of people buy into that view. It would only take a small percentage of them hitting the streets and causing violence to have far-reaching, negative consequences.

The more time goes by, the less likely this seems. People may be getting used to the idea that their side lost. Still, there are those who firmly believe that a Biden presidency will lead to a “socialist dystopia” or something of that sort. People can do the strangest things when they believe that all is lost.

So, while I see the likelihood of this getting less every day, I believe it is too soon to discount the chance that there may be serious trouble ahead. I still hope I’m wrong.

Preparing For Unrest After The Election (Update)

With the news of President Trump’s infection by the coronavirus, 2020 gets up-ended just that much more.

His condition remains to be seen, despite the obligatory and predictable remarks from the White House that his symptoms are “mild.” Of course they say that. It means nothing. We’ll just have to wait.

What effect this has on the republic also remains to be seen. Certainly it affects his campaign, although at this point there are not a lot of undecideds left to woo. Still, with a race as close as this one, a point either way could make a difference. Will the sympathy vote lift his chances? Will this new evidence that his cavalier approach to the pandemic hurt his support?

Either way, it adds to the commotion that is already roiling the American public. The pandemic, issues of racial justice and white supremacy, a bitterly contentious election, a President who likes nothing more than throwing fuel on the fire, and now this new uncertainty. People are reacting badly already, and this won’t help.

In my previous post, I discussed the potential for unrest, and the necessity for planning. Here’s a link to that post; please go read it.

Bonnie and I have prepared for about a month. Food. Water. (Besides our reverse osmosis unit, I also have a backpacking filter and a few hundred purification tablets.) Medicine — sometime in late October we’ll lay in a 3 month supply of our prescriptions. Cash money, in case banks are closed for any period of time and merchants aren’t accepting plastic. Not a lot, but some. Some people I know are buying silver as well. This might be a good idea and it might be overkill. I’m just mentioning it. Everyone has to make their own risk assessment and I’m not judging anyone else’s calculations.

Reliable people are suggesting that there could be disruptions to the power grid. Well, we live in hurricane country where these things are a fact of life, so we’ve already got battery back-up (big ones, not AAs, although we’ve got those too) and solar panels. We just bought a 40 liter portable refrigerator. Reviews show that it takes very little power. It can be run from the grid, from solar, and has a battery that will last about a day. We’ll use it camping, too, sometime in the indistinct future, so not overkill.

Of course, the usual people are talking about guns. The situations in which that might be needed are pretty far down on my risk assessment. I don’t recommend them for most people for 2 reasons. First, if you haven’t already had training and taken time to practice, it’s too late. Just having a gun is not a magic wand to wave around. You have to know how and when to use them, not just why. If you haven’t already lived around a lot of violence, you need training from someone who knows, and this isn’t going to happen in the next few weeks. You would probably be more dangerous than safe if you buy a firearm on an impulse. The second reason is, too many people are already thinking about violence. We don’t need to stoke that boiler. We need to calm it down.

We need to calm it way down and that’s no joke. Being prepared allows you to face the future with some degree of equanimity, instead of doubt and panic. It’s not about seeing monsters under your bed.

Help your family and friends to get ready. The window is closing soon but there is still time. Any preparation is better than none. Help with physical arrangements, such as food storage, and also help the people in your circle to chill. We will get through this a lot better if we know we will get through this. People react to the uncertainty that’s all around us in different ways. Help them process any concerns they have in a reasonable way. Speculation is not helpful; prudence is.

Preparing for Unrest After the Election

This is a trial balloon. Trump himself said, just yesterday, that he would “negotiate” for a 3rd term if he wins in November.

We are in uncharted territory. Armed protestors at anti-mask rallies. Peaceful protestors shot by a right-wing vigilante in Wisconsin. Conservative protestor shot by a left-winger in Oregon. It doesn’t take a wingnut to see that whichever side wins the election in November, the other side may erupt.

Here’s one analysis:

I’m not being alarmist and I’m not talking about constructing underground bunkers here. But we ought to give this all some thought, and the time is now, not later.

For instance, the food chain could be disrupted again, as it was at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown this spring. We don’t need to stockpile enough rations to last a year, but having 2-4 weeks’ worth of staples tucked away — things you will eat anyway — seems like a prudent thing to do.

What about water? What if there are power shortages? These seem less likely to me — it might be a reflexive thought from living in hurricane country. But in the event of mass unrest, it’s hard to predict what basic necessities might be disrupted.

I’m just asking all my friends to do a sober evaluation of their vulnerabilities and plan accordingly.

On a related topic, there are a number of organizations who are planning for non-violent resistance in the event of a stolen election. Here’s one:

If 50% Unemployment in the Black Community Doesn’t Make You A Socialist, What Will?

50% unemployment in the black community. With existing inequities of income and wealth, it will take generations for African American families to get back to where they were a year ago. Even assuming that there is going to be some kind of “normal” to get back to.

We need systemic change of all kinds. The focus is on racism in policing these days. This cannot be emphasized enough. With people of color being stopped, harassed, beaten, shot, arrested, and imprisoned at horrific rates, there is no more pressing issue on the agenda for change.

But things don’t happen in a vacuum. Racism and poverty go hand-in-hand. Black people are kept in poverty because systemic racism offers them fewer choices, when they are already 400 years in arrears. Keeping white people in poverty sets up a dynamic in which whites think they are in competition with blacks for jobs and services. This stokes the racial conflict and prevents both races from working together. The same thing is true of our Hispanic population.

In capitalism, poverty is necessary. It’s not an unfortunate consequence, it’s part of the design. Marx called it “the reserve army of the unemployed.” Employers can count on having a large number of people who will work for substandard wages because it’s the only job they can get. This puts more money in their pocket.

So racial injustice and economic injustice are two sides of the same coin. We can’t fix one without fixing the other. The pandemic has made this abundantly clear. When so many people have lost their jobs, what are they do do? If you were barely making it before, you are sinking fast now, and nothing is being done to prevent it. Billions to bail out corporations. $1200 for you and me.

Once you understand that the capitalist system is working as designed, even though it doesn’t work for most of society, you have a choice. You are either a socialist, or you don’t care about other people and “I’ve got mine” is your guiding principle. Which will it be?

Burr Attacks Ross in NC: It’s No Dog Whistle

I’ve been watching the campaign ads for the Senate and Governor’s races here in North Carolina. Set aside the fact that, in keeping with the general tenor of things, they are pretty ugly. There is an important  difference. 

On the whole, the Republicans have nothing but attack ads. More dishonest than usual, too. They have no ads at all putting forth their platform. They don’t say what they’ll do. They don’t say what they won’t do. They just say how awful their opponents are, and in the worst possible way. . 

For instance, Burr shows a picture of Ross, the evil ACLU lawyer who supposedly opposed the creation of the sex offender registry –  which has a smidgen of truth, she did work for the ACLU – a picture of Ross, as I was saying, with a shadowy black man’s face in the background. 

Black man, sex offender. Shades of Emmett Till. 

Talk about bringing out the worst in people for political gain. The term “dog whistle” has become current to describe a kind of racist talk that is not explicit – you don’t exactly hear it, like you can’t hear a dog whistle – but it sends a message anyway. Furtive. Even deniable. But effective. The point is made. 

Well, this goes past dog whistles. This  is a bull  horn. 

All the more reason to get out the vote in a couple of weeks,  or right now if you want to be an early voter. We have a chance to turn these racist, misogynistic throwbacks out of office. The Democrats won’t be perfect, but they won’t be this bad. And they will create a climate in which further progressive change is possible, instead of just fighting against the latest outrage all the time. 

Help get others to the polls. Get on the phone banks and call your neighbors, or go door to door. And for God’s sake, vote.

Time for the NRA to Step Up

Another mass shooting happens in Orlando and all the predictable responses emerge like 17 year cicadas. “Ban assault weapons.” “If someone had been armed, they could have stopped it.”

Some of these responses are worthwhile and some are nonsense. I’m not going to rehash them. There will be plenty of people doing that over the next few days or weeks, with the usual results: not much.

Let’s try something new. Let’s ask the NRA to step up.

I don’t mean the leadership. That won’t happen. Take executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre: in office for 25 years, earning around $970,000 per year as of the 2010 IRS filing. He just might have a vested interest in appealing to the crowd that pays his salary, rather than approaching this situation with compassion and common sense. Fear-mongering is very good business.

So when I say “the NRA,” I mean the millions of regular members. Lots of them sport the bumper sticker that says “I am the NRA.” That’s right, you are. You’re the ones we need the most right now, not LaPierre or board members such as Motor City Madman Ted Nugent.

I have a suggestion for you, the members of the NRA.

But first, let me establish some credibility here. I am a gun owner, somewhere between the person who owns one gun for personal protection and a real collector. I’d rather not publicly advertise how many I own, but it’s more than a few. Handguns, rifles, shotguns. I handload ammo for about ten different calibers. I’ve worked part-time as a range safety officer and salesperson at my local range. I like to hunt. It’s nothing for me to put 1,000 rounds down-range in an average month (I keep stats.) I have a concealed carry license. I’ve shot an elephant gun (not at an elephant, I was helping a custom builder sight it in at the range.) My favorite pistol is the Browning Hi-Power. My favorite revolver is the .44 Special. My favorite shotgun is a 16 gauge L.C. Smith side-by-side (belonged to my great-grandfather.) And I own an AR-15, because it’s very accurate, ammunition is readily and inexpensively available, and I never tire of the recoil as I do with some larger calibers.

I’ve been a member of the NRA for many, many years.

So here are my suggestions for you, the NRA rank and file:

1. Stop listening to that blowhard, LaPierre. We should have gotten rid of him after the “jackbooted thugs” comment back in 1995. He’s making huge money, preying on your fears. Who knows if he even believes half of that nonsense, so long as it keeps the money – your money – rolling in.
(Maybe the good, kind, level-headed members of the NRA board, and there are many, could find someone else for the job. This is the only suggestion I have for the leadership.)

2. We already have background checks for all sales through an FFL (federally licensed firearms dealer, for the non-gunnies in the crowd.) Why not background checks for all sales? Go to an FFL, pay a small fee, he or she runs a check, it’s done. I sure don’t want to risk selling a firearm to a criminal or someone with a disqualifying mental condition, do you? Here in NC, and I believe we’re not the only ones, if you have a concealed carry license, you don’t have to have a background check because you’ve already jumped through all the hoops. Good enough.

3. We have to take training to get a concealed carry license. It’s a great idea. I learned a lot. Why not have training for any firearms owner? It would make that argument about the meaning of “well-regulated militia” carry a lot more weight, wouldn’t it?

4. If, as we know, guns can be the only means for the small, the frail, or the sickly to protect themselves, that very capacity is what makes them so deadly in the hands of these murderers. It’s not enough to point out how many millions of us don’t use them for crime. It doesn’t erase the slaughter caused by those who do. We have to accept this ghastly truth. While we know that the Clinton-era assault weapons ban had no measurable impact, we could re-visit the idea. Maybe handle it like silencers: pay a one-time fee, get a letter from your local sheriff. Again, it’s not that different from what we did to get a concealed carry license, so why make a fuss about it?

5. Something needs to be done about the mental health part of this issue. Gun owners always like to pint out how often these mass shootings are due to mental health issues, and often they are. It’s way not enough to just point it out. In fact, it’s rank hypocrisy to say it’s a mental health problem and do nothing about the problem. I am a licensed mental health professional. I diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders. I know for a fact that our mental health system is so broken that it’s not a system at all. Very few of our states have anything that comes close to meeting the need. The much-ballyhooed lobbying power of the NRA (that’s you and me, remember, not the leadership) could make a powerful difference in ensuring that mental illness doesn’t go untreated.

6. Speaking of mental health, something needs to be done about the place on the form we fill out when purchasing a weapon (the 4473) that asks whether we have a disqualifying mental condition. How easy would it be to lie? Nothing easier. So we need a national registry. There are some requirements for that: it needs to be as complete as possible, it needs to protect confidential health information, and it needs safeguards to prevent unwarranted inclusion on the list. Those are all achievable, and I have ideas about how it could be done. This isn’t the place to go into details. My point in all of this is to say that if the genuinely good people of the NRA want to be taken seriously by our neighbors, we need to be asking for these things as strongly as we resist encroachment on our Second Amendment rights.

7. Finally, stop with all the rumor-mongering already. For instance, so many of you started stockpiling everything even remotely firearms-related when Barack Obama was elected President, prices skyrocketed on guns, most ammunition became scarce or unavailable (including the lowly .22LR), and even primers were almost impossible to find. And yet over 7 years have gone by, and Obama hadn’t taken a single gun from any of us. If you don’t feel foolish by now, you must be living in fantasy land.

None of these suggestions involve registration, confiscation, or banning a specific class of arms. They take what we’re already doing to the next step, that’s all.

I know, from years of being around fellow “gun nuts,” that the overwhelming majority of us are good, decent people. Educated. Hard-working. Reliable neighbors. Community-minded. Fun-loving. Kind to children, animals, and the down-and-out. The average scared-of-guns sort of person doesn’t know that we live right next door because they feel perfectly safe around us.

Words can no longer convey the desolation I feel over the innocent people being lost to this violence. I’d like to say more, but I just don’t know how.

If we don’t come up with ways to try to reduce these heart-wrenching tragedies like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and the Pulse shooting, eventually people who don’t know the first thing about us or our guns will do it for us. It’s not enough to express our grief over the senseless loss and chant “More guns, less crime.” I’ve said that myself. Now, I’ve had to stop and look for better solutions, because it rings more and more hollow with every drop of blood. Sooner or later, sooner rather than later, that blood will be on our hands if we keep on selfishly doing nothing.