Be mindful of your news media sources

We are a nation divided. We must find one another again. We must engage in dialogue rather than talking past one another. We must be mindful of our news media sources of information.

While we mourn over horrible tragedies like the police shootings, the too common Black deaths occurring at the hands of police or the mass shooting or terrorist tragedies, we tend to look for simple answers and culprits to blame. We have grown too accustomed to moments of silence and are reluctant to have needed dialogue around underlying reasons and possible solutions.

Our childish political polarization stands in the way of that dialogue and it truly must come to an end. We must task our leaders to stop their zero-sum antics of “I win/ you lose” and start leading. And, as citizens, it is incumbent on us to be truly informed with uncomfortable data.

Right now, we tend to get our information from biased sources that tell us what we want to hear. Or, we may get it from shallow or conflicted sources that gloss over a news story and miss key points or may not cover a story at all as it is not entertaining.

We live in a country of opportunity, but not all get a fair shot at that opportunity. Our problems are complex, especially around gun deaths. The causes include poverty, lack of education, crime filling the void of opportunity, lack of mental health access, entertainment violence, inherent bigotry, and gun access, e.g. Our biases predispose us to a gut level reaction, when we should guard against that.

At the heart of the matter, violence is not the answer and should not be condoned. Violence against those here to protect us is even more abhorrent. But, we should not lose sight that violence against our Black and Brown citizens is occurring with too much frequency.

Let’s start talking and listening to one another. And, let’s be truly informed from reputable news sources and not from our own echo chamber. Otherwise, we will miss the point.

 

 

 

The AR-15: the weapon of choice for mass murderers

According to a report on PBS Newshour this week, the weapon used by the Orlando shooter is the AR-15. Apparently, it is the weapon of choice of mass murderers and was even used in the Sandy Hook school shooting. See the link below to the news report.

This weapon is designed to kill efficiently and brutally. It fires 30 rounds of ammo at a time, in bursts of three. Its bullets are powered by hardware that flops around in its target to increase the size of the wound. The doctors in Orlando said they normally don’t see this many or this large of wounds in their victims.

The 49 victims on early Sunday morning were killed with multiple wounds from this military style weapon. The only difference is the military weapon can fire all 30 bullets in one stream, instead of bursts of three. But, the killer need not worry about this limitation, as he can easily reload a cartridge.

Now, let’s go back in time to the Sandy Hook shooting. Picture the mostly young kids who were killed that day. This military style weapon was used to do lethal damage to their little fragile bodies. I do not mean to insult the memories of the deceased with these comments, but want parents and non-parents to visualize the brutality of this weapon and those like it.

With this in mind, please ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why should any American need to have a weapon that kills so many with so much efficiency and brutality?
  • Why have we placed people of interest on a no-fly list, yet think it is alright for them to purchase this weapon? Why have legislators in power not allowed a vote on this bill?
  • Why have we not extended background checks on all weapon purchases? This is not a fishing license. It is a weapon to kill.
  • Why have we not elongated waiting periods since 2/3 of gun deaths are suicide?
  • Why would we not want all guns to have fingerprint triggers to prevent a child from murdering his sibling, parent, grandparent, etc. by accidentally discovering a weapon?

Since the assault rifle ban expired in 2005, more than half of mass shootings in America have occurred. With over 1,000 hate groups in America plus other lone wolf radicals, unless we make some of the above changes, mass shootings will continue to occur in our country irrespective of tough talk by politicians on Islamic Radicals. It should be noted the Sandy Hook, Aurora, and Charleston killers were not Muslims, nor was the Indiana man arrested who was on his way to a Gay Pride event in California this past week, with several assault weapons in his vehicle and intent to wreak havoc.

We all must be diligent to watch out for folks, but we could make it easier with some of these changes. We should not hand the killer his weapon without doing some checking.

Please join me in reaching out for change with our elected officials. There is a movement by several Senators to bring some of these issues to a vote.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/its-the-weapon-of-choice-for-u-s-mass-murderers-the-ar-15/

Terrorists are the least of our concerns for violence

Since we are in the middle of a Presidential race, those out of power tend to use the politics of fear to terrify people that they are best suited to handle things. In my long voting history, I also have seen fear used when your story is not as good to tell. This is especially true with our economy doing pretty well, the stock market more than doubled and unemployment down to 5%.

We are told that our country is not doing enough to fight terrorists. And, we need to be hyper vigilant that terrorists will attack again in America like they did in California five months ago or in Paris, Belgium or Africa. The fear is based on some merit, which is why this election model works. Dial the fear up as much as possible. Forget the words of FDR who said “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”

Yet, what the continuing, day after day news stories show us, the much greater fear in America is gun deaths from Americans. We now have more guns than people in America. Think about that for a second. Just this past week, horrible gun deaths occurred in Ohio and Georgia. More law enforcement people were killed and people were shot at a prom in Wisconsin.

But, those are the event stories. Something bad happened en masse, so it is reported as it should be. The greater gun death problem is what happens everyday. Pick up any paper, any day of the week and count the gun death stories. Or, make yourself very sad and Google “toddler kills parent” or “six-year-old shoots four-year-old” and count the stories.

Or, think for a minute about what does not get reported, the greater tragedy in America with gun deaths – suicide. Over 2/3 of our gun deaths in America are suicide. A home that has access to weapon is far greater likely to house a suicide than one without. We have some states who are enabling students at college to have weapons on campus, where the rate of depression is higher than in general society, as a hoped for nirvana is not found on campus or kids feel they have disappointed their parents by failing. All it takes is one impulsive act and it is over.

The President has said failing to gain any common sense action from Congress on guns is his greatest frustration. I share that frustration, but I blame Congress who is too influenced by the NRA’s money to do what Americans have told them to do in surveys – background checks on all sales and elongated waiting periods. The “fog a mirror” gun sales at shows has got to stop. When a fourteen year old boy cannot buy cigarettes, porn or beer, but can walk out with weapon, that is a shame (this was a done as a demonstration project).

Guns do not kill people. People with access to guns kill people. But it is not just guns, so that argument is sound. It is the lack of civil discourse. Having access to a gun in bar is an unhealthy mix with alcohol and testosterone. It is the we/ they culture we have in news, politics, religion, entertainment and sports – we must divide us into factions. We cannot argue civilly, we have to do it angrily and a loved one, friend or acquaintance is dead because someone had access to a weapon.

It is the increased poverty which leads to crime filling the void. It is the increased amount of drug usage which begets crime. It is entertainment violence which desensitizes us to gun death. In the case of suicide and some mass shootings, it is not getting treatment for depression or other mental illness, although I want to avoid the perception that if you have a mental illness you must be a danger to others. And, it is due to the increased number of domestic terrorists groups who are hate groups.

We need the parents in legislatures to push the others to act. Those who don’t say “doing something won’t solve the problem.” But, it is obvious doing nothing at all won’t either. And, that is what our Congress is known for. Doing nothing at all.

 

 

Please cease the endless Benghazi hearings (and work on something important)


Dear Representative or Senator,

Like many Americans of all political stripes, this independent voter requests that you ask Congressional leaders to cease the endless Benghazi hearings. Eight is enough, as the old TV show says. You are wasting taxpayer money and time on something that has been put to bed many times over.

Representative Trey Gowdy was made to look very foolish last fall and your first Speaker of the House candidate Kevin McCarthy’s words betrayed the motivation behind the hearings. To be frank, I do not like my tax dollars paying for political campaigns.

If you must continue, please ask Rep. Gowdy to reinvite Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Michael Mullen back in to go over the report that put Benghazi to bed in December, 2012. These report authors were not called to testify for over nine months by Rep. Darrel Issa, who led the first waves of hearings, which I have found puzzling, but not surprising.

With this new found time, Congress can improve upon the executive actions that the President made on background checks which were long overdue. The President should be applauded for this first step. Congress has punted on this issue, siding more with the NRA rather than Americans who overwhelmingly support better background checks, including 79% of Republican voters per a Pew Polling survey. Plus, 40% of all gun sales in America do not have a background check conducted – that is almost half.

I have long grown weary of the stale argument of X action would not have stopped Y mass shooting. One thing is for certain, not doing anything at all has shown to be ineffective. And, the greater number of gun deaths are what occur everyday in America, including 60% of them which are suicide.

Please ask your colleagues to stop trying to keep their job and to do their job. Campaigning does not constitute doing the job. Productive discussions around better gun control measures do.

Many thanks for your time and service.

Mental Health is one reason, but that means…

After the most recent mass shooting tragedy at Umpqua Community College, the new defense that it is not a gun problem, but is a mental health problem, have arisen. This is not an either/ or debate, as both are problems, but it is even more than that. But, let’s keep it simple and focus on mental health side for now, as there are some very telling things that need to be addressed.

Of course, someone killing people like this is indicative that there is likely a mental health issue. Even if the killer was aligned with a domestic terrorist group, wanted to commit a hate crime, or tried to start a race war as was the motivation in Charleston, SC, there is a sociopathic problem where the killer believes he is justified to do this.

Yet, as tragic as these types of mass shootings are in the US, the most prevalent reason for gun death is clearly a mental health concern and that is suicide. Suicides account for two-thirds of all gun deaths and are the leading cause of death in nine of the top ten states for gun deaths. Also, homes with a gun have a much greater propensity toward suicide than homes without a gun. All it takes is one impulsive act and it is over.

So, yes improving access to mental health is important. Denying access or restricting access to guns for those who have mental health issues is also a concern. Yet, that means you should not advocate actions to the contrary. What do I mean by this?

The folks who are shouting the loudest that this is not a gun issue, but is a mental health issue, have taken steps to block the path to addressing the mental health aspects, sometimes overtly advocating a policy change to make it easier to kill with a gun. The easiest example is the NRA, through the conservative group ALEC, has been supportive of state legislation that will make it a crime if a doctor asks a patient if he or she owns a gun. These laws are being considered in several conservative led states and have passed in a few.

So, think about this. The NRA, who says gun deaths are a mental health issue, advocates that a doctor cannot ask a presumably depressed patient if he or she has a gun at home. Maybe this doctor is already prescribing Lexapro, Risperdal or Seroquel, but the NRA and ALEC want to say it is a criminal act that the doctor inquires whether the patient has access to a weapon. Again, two-thirds of gun deaths in the US are suicide. I think it is well within the domain of the doctor to ask these questions.

But, it goes further. The retiring US Speaker of the House struck language earlier this year to some funding of looking at health care data in the US. He felt it was not appropriate to track gun death data as that was not germane to health issues. Please reread this statement as it takes a second to sink in. A conservative leader, whose party is heavily influenced by the NRA who says gun deaths are a mental health issue, does not want to spend our money to track reasons for gun deaths.

Finally, access to mental health care is key to this process. How are you going to do it? A behavioral psychologist, I used to work with, who helps employers design mental health wellness programs cites the following two statistics. 1 out of 5 people will have some level of depression during their lifetime. She also says that you can pick up any large employer’s health claim data and 1 out of 10 plan participants would be on depression medication. So, the need for access to mental health care is critical. The beauty is the Affordable Care Act provides more people with access.

Yet, the people who say gun deaths are more of a mental health issue also want to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If this is done, what would they propose to make sure access to mental health care exists? The ACA is successful in getting uninsured people access to health care, including mental health care. My recommendation is if this is what they believe, then they should do what most Americans want and continue the ACA and improve it.

We obviously need better gun governance. Two keys are detailed background checks on all sales and elongated waiting periods. Per various surveys, there is a clear majority of Americans who want these, even conservative voters. The waiting period may help save a life, as if someone is depressive, the wait may allow the impulse to wane. Yet, both of these steps along with some others, could help make a difference in gun deaths.

Yet, mental health is a concern. But, that means we should not restrict doctors from having conversations with their patients about guns, especially if they are treating a patient for depression. That means we should track gun death data and use it to make informed decisions. And, that means we should promote the access to mental health care through the Affordable Care Act. To do otherwise on any of these three issues, is highly hypocritical. Saying mental health is a concern and then doing the opposite is antagonistic to solving the problem. It has to be more than words.

 

An Independent Voter’s Debate Questions

With presidential campaign season upon us, the debates of the many candidates have started. Yet, we need to make sure we are asking the right questions of the candidates. If the first debate is an indication of what is to come, we are not talking about the issues all Americans want and need to hear about. It would be nice if we followed the British model where the debates are segregated into topics like I have done below.

Economy

  • With the economy doing pretty well (stock market doubled since the recession, net new jobs created since January, 2009 at 8 million per the Bureau of Labor Statistics and unemployment down to 5.3%), how will you build on that success?
  • Since not every one has benefitted under the growing economy, what measures would you take to make sure that people in the lower middle class and in poverty can find opportunity?
  • With the Affordable Care Act, while imperfect and complex, working pretty well by a number of measures and sources, what improvements would you make to it? If you would replace it, what would you do instead and how would you manage the transition for the many who might lose care?

Infrastructure

  • With Congress continuing to kick the can down the road to invest in our aging infrastructure, would you make building and repairing roads, bridges, railway bridges and track, ports, and electric grid a priority?
  • Would you agree with the statement that investing in our infrastructure is a good investment in jobs for Americans?

Eco-energy

  • With climate change starting to impact us more and more due to our influence on the environment, what measures would you take to assure we migrate to more environmentally friendly renewable energy sources building upon the President’s plan to work with states on that mission?
  • With the jobs in renewable energy growing at double digits per annum, what measures would you take to help states invest in retraining of fossil-fuel industry employees and possibly provide temporary pay measures to help in the transition?
  • With water becoming a more dear resource in our country and planet, what measures would you take to help assure its protection and supply?

Global Affairs

  • With global poverty, mal-treatment of women and corruption such huge issues, what is America’s role in helping people and making sure resources get to the folks intended?
  • With the Middle East such a conundrum with disparate groups fighting with and against our allies and support, what would you do differently to define success, assure that it is attainable and define a timeline to get there?
  • With Putin trying to expand Russian influence with inappropriate tactics, what would your position be in dealing with him and supporting our allies?
  • With China’s economic slow down and its appetite for claiming territory in the China Sea, what do you propose America do to support its allies in the region, as well as garner more trade?

Social and economic injustice

  • In addition to the question above, some areas are more down-trodden than others – inner cities, rural towns and areas. What do you propose to provide hope and opportunity to these places?
  • With the “Blacks Lives Matter” campaign which is in reaction to Black men being gun downed by law enforcement officers and domestic terrorists, what do you propose to do to help assure we value those men and communities?
  • With America’s fall in the global rankings of socio-economic mobility, where to whom you were born matters more than your own merit in your success, what else would you propose we do to afford opportunity?

Balance between security and liberty

  • Since 9/11, times have changed in America and planet. The pendulum fulcrum has swung more to security and away from individual liberties. In your view, what is the appropriate balance?
  • Would you support heightened governance over drones, spying, and the NSA than exists today to assure protection, but let us remain true to our quest for individual liberty?

Gun control

  • With America having more gun and child gun deaths than the next twenty-two wealthiest nations combined, what do you propose we do about that?
  • With suicide accounting for two-thirds of our gun deaths in America, what else would you propose we do to limit access to weapons?
  • With Americans supporting background checks on all transactions and extended waiting periods, would you support legislation that would accomplish these things, even though the NRA is a powerful lobby?

I have a few more questions, but these would glean answers from candidates rather than mere words from a campaign slogan. It is easy to say you don’t agree with something, but the key question is what would you do? Also, we need to know how something will be achieved, not just what it is. At the last election Mitt Romney said he would get the unemployment rate down to 6% by 2016. Well, it is 5.3% and still in 2015, so I would expect an “atta-boy” from him to President Obama.

Please take note on issues that I did not mention, as we have heard enough about them. Planned Parenthood is actually a good organization and helps reduce the number of abortions, reduce unwanted pregnancies, and reduce poverty. We should fund it more than it is funded today, not less. Religious Freedom exists today, but it is and should be usurped by individual freedoms if one person’s religion allows unfair discrimination against another in a public transaction. That is the beauty of our constitution and Bill of Rights.

Feel free to react to these questions and offer your own. I would love to hear from you.

Time to stop trying to keep your job and start doing your job

Whether it is a national or state legislative position, the money needed to get elected is obscene. It also has corrupted the ability for politicians to focus on doing their job, as they spend far too much time trying to keep their jobs. And, in politics, that means doing what your funders beckon more so than what makes sense to do or what your constituents want you to do. The only time politicians will come close to doing the right thing is when something bad has happened or they are shamed or threatened by industry.

In the case of gun deaths, we apparently cannot have enough bad things happen to get Congress or the various state general assemblies to act like adults and parents. They are so scared of the NRA (and their ability to bring fervent folks out to vote when more reasonable sit home), they will not do obvious things that would move us down the right path. Not only are they scared of the NRA, they court the NRA asking what is on its wish list that will facilitate the greater sale of guns in America. What many fail to realize, is the NRA does not represent most gun owners who responsibly own weapons and would like to see common sense gun laws implemented.

Per a Pew survey, 81% of Americans want background checks on all purchases of weapons. This same survey also notes that elongated waiting periods would also be desirable by more than not. These numbers jive with a survey conducted by Elon University two years ago. Note, neither of these changes would infringe upon the perceived  sacrosanct right for someone to own two dozen AK47s. What these surveys are saying is gun ownership is OK, but let’s make sure we know where the guns are, who owns them and maybe who should not.

Critics will say that won’t stop the gun violence. Well, neither will doing nothing. There are responsible gun owners who have joined with others to support common sense gun laws. I recognize this is more than a gun issue. We need to treat people with more civility in disagreement, we need to be mindful of the role poverty and crime play in gun deaths, we need to understand that some mental illnesses should preclude the right to own a gun due to the number of suicides that occur each year (more on that below) and we cannot underestimate the role training plays, so kids cannot get access to weapons.

The greater tragedies in America are not the mass shootings. The greater tragedies are what happen everyday. Pick up any newspaper in any city on any day and count the number of gun death or shooting stories. Google “six-year-old shoots four-year-old” and count the stories. But, even those do not do justice to the greater tragedies that happen everyday. You see the number one reason for gun deaths in America is suicide with two-thirds of the approximate 33,000 annual gun deaths due to this reason.

In North Carolina, we wanted to make it a crime for a doctor to ask if a patient has a gun. Let’s say this doctor is prescribing medicine for depression. And, someone thought it was a good idea to make it against the law to ask if he or she owns a gun. In our state, we made it easier for guns to be on playgrounds, in bars and on college campuses. Go in any college counseling building and see the line of people being helped. The propensity for depression is higher on college campuses than in general society, since kids expect it to be nirvana and it is not. Folks, all it takes is one impulsive act and your child is dead.

And, to illustrate further the NRA’s reach, the House just passed a law to not fund gun death studies. Our Speaker of the House noted guns are not a disease and need not be studied. With 22,000 deaths per year by suicide, I would call that the final act of someone who has some depressive tendencies, which is a disease. I find this decision absolutely appalling and prima facie evidence of the undue influence of the NRA. God forbid we study why Americans are needlessly dying.

To be brutally frank, we can still support the Second Amendment rights without being foolish. And, we need not pass laws that are dubious the day they are announced. Responsible gun owners agree with non-gun owners on this issue as evidenced by the survey data and advocacy group participation. So, legislators please do your job and worry less about keeping your job. As very little useful legislation comes from focusing on the latter motivation.