Friday, February 23, 2018

Why CNN Got It Wrong

Wednesday night CNN had a townhall meeting, of sorts, with survivor victims of the Parkland, Fl school shooting and lawmakers and NRA representative Dana Loesch.  It was a microcosm of every debate on gun issues.  I will not go into that too deeply but many people operate on this issue from ignorance.  When that happens what we talk past each other, we hear what we want to hear and the rhetoric gets ugly. The students of  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are trying to tell us something, through tears, angry, and pain.  CNN did them a disservice.  We can't as well. 

The gun debate is not new and has always been complicated.  Gun ownership helped build the country and almost destroyed it. Guns are truly American,  We live in a country with the right to own guns. The Supreme Court, in DC vs. Heller identified the right as an individual one when used for legal purposes including self-defense. This clarified the wording of  the role of  "well-regulated militia" in the second amendment saying one did not have to be part of one to have the right.  However, that same decision however said it is Constitutional to put restrictions on where and what kind of gun one can own.  Quoting the late Justice Anton Scalia writing for the majority:  “like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited." It is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” For instance, Scalia said concealment laws were permitted at the time of the Constitution’s ratification and should be permitted today. 

So in the United States today the right of gun ownership can be mitigated by laws as long as owning a weapon for legal purposes is not eliminated.  That is simple. Calls for full bans on all weapons are not helpful and would require getting rid of the 2nd amendment, some in the crowd at CNN seemed to applaud. But here is the thing, the 2nd amendment was never about hunting, nor really personal protection from criminal elements.  No one in the 1780s would have thought to even consider those questionable.  What it was about was the states having the ability to fend off a tyrannical central Federal government who were overreaching.  The Civil War, in part, was predicted by the founders and because there has always been a tension of when are we 50 states and when are we one nation.  The 2nd was designed to help the states beat back an unlawful attack on Americans' freedom. Banning all guns is a failed idea and should not be entertained and it fails to add to the conversation.

But also what doesn't help is those that argue any restriction on access to fire arms is a total ban or worse that someone is coming to their homes and taking there guns.  To hear recent NRA messaging
you would think that there is a ready force in the government coming to take away all the guns and lock up people who believe in gun rights.  They say we hate freedom.  This is a failed conversation too and frankly insane. 

Then why not outlaw specific firearms to keep that people less armed?  The idea of banning assault weapons as they are called seems reasonable to many.  We can ignore the extremes and work on that.  But  the fact that defining an assault weapon has proven difficult because the gun manufacturers know that there is a market to exploit and so change a bit of the weapon to work around any law.  Besides, the reason is there is a market.  There are plenty of Americans who not only want a gun for personal protection or hunting, which most people feel is fine, but because it is actually fun to fire skeet shoot, fire at a range and feel the power of a gun.  That is why first-person shooter games are also popular.  And in this country we have that right.

So the solution to this are difficult and can not be done with the posturing of politicians, town halls driven by anger and certainly not the crazy rhetoric of the far right and a President who blurts out thoughtless nonsense without thinking through the implications of the idea. Guns are part of our culture and while I am all for helping with a cultural change, that can not be done by laws and will fail if tried. 

Let me be perfectly clear.  The NRA does not have the interest of Americans' right at heart, nor do they care about gun owners and safety.  They are lobbyists for the gun manufacturers. They have become the loudest voice for the biggest gun makers in this country.  They have for decades spoken with a radical agenda and attacked the FBI and other law enforcement (before it was done by mainstream Republicans).  In fact George H.W. Bush ended his relationship with the NRA over them calling the FBI Jack-booted thugs in the 90s.  They do not speak for a majority of the gun owners nor mainstream America.  But they are out front because they have power in Washington due to their deep deep pockets.  We watched their national spokesperson snarl at kids who were trying to get their point across on the CNN program.  She also lied about the NRA's position on various efforts to limit guns getting into the hands of the wrong people. And then the next day she claimed she claimed the mainstream media loves school shootings to because it is good for ratings.  That is some high level chutzpah for someone who has used gun issues to make her career. 

Guns are an emotional issue and when there is too much emotion there is room for ignorance to fill in the gaps.  There are facts that need to be used when making decisions on guns and school and general community safety.  There is a debate here, it isn't easy.  So let's be clear about moving forward, the debate has to be from a position of knowledge and history.

So let's keep in mind:
1.  The President doesn't think things through, his ideas are nonsense and should simply be ignored.  Let's stop debating what he says.  The man will not follow through and will change his mind if the right person gets in his ear.   

2.  The NRA speaks not for gun rights but gun makers.  They are not part of the solution.

3.  If your argument is that the 2nd amendment was written when muskets were state of the art that is not relevant to the discussion.   It is like suggesting the 1st doesn't relate to the internet.  It is a non-starter.  Yes guns are more deadly but we can both keep the 2nd intact and restrict guns in many ways.  Let's work on that.

4.  It is dangerous to argue to ban all private gun ownership.  Not only will that not be good giving the government too much power over the people, but it will also end any good conversations.

5.  If you question is "why do you need a gun like that?" you aren't asking the right question.

The real question is where can be build roadblocks to keep guns out of the hands of people who want to do harm or don't have the capacity to fully understand what they are doing:

1.  Comprehensive and fully funded background check system that includes people being treated for severe mental illness.  I know there is a privacy concern here but we give up privacy all the time for purchases.  This can be worked out over time.

2.  Waiting periods for weapons like AR-15s.  I am not a gun maven, but a semi-automatic weapon or any based on a military weapon designed to be used offensively should require a waiting period. 

3.  Training for weapons.  The purchase of a weapon should require a training course of some kind.  I don't think that is unreasonable.  A weapon can create damage in the public sphere I think we have a responsibility to make sure the owner at least knows where the the rounds will go.

4.  Severe penalties if your weapon is used in the commission of a crime.  Meaning you have to be responsible for it.  If stolen report immediately. 

5.  Add-ons to guns that make them shoot like automatic weapons (bump stocks etc.) should be banned and buy back programs should be put in place.  If caught with one after two years of the ban in place there should be prison time. 

Those are all ways we can slow down the violence that we have been visited by but it won't stop it. 
What Parkland taught us was that we have a blind spot when it comes to certain people and weapons.  Laws could have stopped the killer in Florida, if he had to be 21 to buy an AR-15 he wouldn't have it, if there was a way to take away his guns when he threatened a school shooting that could have helped, if the state and federal authorities had taken him seriously they could have intervened.  But that didn't happen because I truly believe we don't see the very people who are threats as threats. So often we hear reports of problems that people saw and in this case reported.  Yet nothing was done.  We have to take this all seriously.  I wonder, if after recent San Bernadino and the Pulse nightclub how the FBI, local law enforcement and the family he lived with would have reacted if his name was Ahmed.

I want laws to make it harder for some people to get access to any weapons, I want to outlaw devises that convert semi-automatic weapons, and there are probably some weapons that don't belong in the hands of private citizens.  I want to live in a country where the freedoms that made us great are mitigated by the thoughtfulness that makes us continue to be so.  I want the nonsense to stop, the shouting, the posturing and the downright disgusting nature of the rhetoric to stop.  We are sick as a culture not because we have guns but because we refuse to speak openly and honestly about them.  Because we are polarized and too many so-called leaders cannot be trusted.  The children are screaming at us because that is all they think we can hear.  Let's prove them wrong and listen, because under the tears, the anger and pain they do have a still small voice that is powerful.  It is time to focus and just freaking listen.  

Sunday, February 18, 2018

We Continue to Live in a Post-Truth World.

So the move Black Panther opened on Friday.  A superhero movie centered on an African prince who is to lead a hidden kingdom on the African continent.  I haven't seen the movie and cannot comment on the content, but I have seen that it has been a movie that has inspired a sense of pride among African Americans in the media.  So of course there is a segment of our culture who feels this is a problem. To respond to this there has been a deluge of fake Twitter posts showing pictures of white people with physical injuries saying they were jumped as showings of the film.  This was completely untrue and easy to prove wrong.  Twitter has had to ban users who have been doing this.  But the story isn't going away and that is the problem. Once it is out there people will believe it and won't do the research.  It demonizes the black community suggesting that white people shouldn't go see this film.  It also will push down the box office numbers in some communities, though it still was a record weekend.  But facts don't matter anymore do they?

CNN has gone out of their way to get the mythical both sides of any information they report on in what has become in the last 30 years or so news analysis.  Virtually every day there is someone on their air that lies to the hosts.  Sometimes called out but mostly there is a nuanced push back that doesn't seem to want to offend.  Just a few minutes ago I switched over to CNN to hear about a rumor that Rick Gates, Paul Manafort's second and the head of the Trump inauguration team, has plead guilty.  Two people were arguing about gun laws in the wake of the Florida shooting.  Once again false talking points were unchallenged on the air.  But that has been going on since last Wednesday with this story.  For example, the call for armed guards in schools.  The school in Florida has an armed guard.  The shooting went to fast to have him engage.  Shooting stories bring out the lies consistently.  Most of the people who have opinions about guns do it from an emotional place.  (except members of Congress who are on the NRA payroll).  So even news stories are riddled with false statements.  I get that a little but I wish the news media would do a deep story about the facts of these events.  After the shock and awe, after the crazy number of reporters are sent to stick microphones in the face of grieving families, after the political class stops using victims as political football, I would like to see a documentary done on what is true and not true about these shootings.

There are journalists who are doing deep work on the Russian involvement of our elections. NBC's:  Left Field: After Truth which looks at a known Russian troll farm Facebook ad to organize anti-refugee rally in Twin Falls Idaho.  This has created a growing anti-refugee feeling and people are being attacked in the town.  In fact it is one of the ground zeroes for fake news.  Like the Bowling Green massacre lie from the White House, it has ginned up people to repeat nonsense about Muslims in our country.  What is amazing is the number of people who, despite the facts, continue to believe things that a proven to not be true.  But the more we push back with facts more people with have to believe.  Facts are important and the fact that we have documentary shows called After Truth and a White House that believes in alternative facts it will not be easy.

But there are those who don't want facts to interfere with their world view.  When Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor was nominated for the court an old speech in which she suggested a "a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."  Speaking about how certain perspectives will color a judges decision.  As they always have.  It was a speech about Latina jurists.  In context the statement made the point that a diversity of perspectives give the court a better understanding of issues that may involve people of color or women.  When discussing it on Fox News one commentator when asked about the context said something to the effect that context isn't important.  Context helps define truth.  But to this right wing noise maker truth was unimportant. 

Now is par of the course for pundits but should it be for members of Congress they should be held to a higher standard, by themselves as well as us. However my hope that this could be true is just not realized.   Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY), a conservative upstate Republican, went on CNN “Newsroom” on Saturday, attempting to defend President Donald Trump in light of the recent indictments of Russians for their illegal meddling in the 2016 election.  While she twice, at least, said that the indictment put an end to the idea of collusion of the Trump campaign with Russian troll farms (it doesn't) she had to be asked if she thought the 37 page indictment seems to be a conclusion of the efforts of the special council.  Tenney had to admit that she hadn't read the indictment released on Friday.  Seriously, the indictment was online before I got home on Friday.  She is back in her district and not in session, she was going on national television to speak about this and she didn't read it.  Not because she didn't have time it is because she didn't care about the facts.  When pushed a little about the role of Russians in the election she said they helped both sides.  (They didn't and the indictment is clear about that).  How is it that a member of Congress can get away with that.

The answer is simple.  We are living in a Post-truth world.  Facts don't matter.  If it violates our worldview it can't be true.  Be it about what is happening at movie theaters, restrictions on guns, Russian involvement in our election or virtually anything these days there is no trusted referee to help us.  Where have you gone Walter Cronkite, a nation turns its confused eyes to you?  Who is your heir and will we believe her?

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Jamie Morton is Up For Parole Again

So the letter came today.  Every two years it comes at the end of January or beginning of February.  It tells me that Linda's murderer will once again have a chance to be freed from prison.  It once again asks me to draft a statement for the board.  It once again brings up the debate between wanting that man to die in prison and my values of living in a culture where rehabilitation and second chances are important.  It seems that in the long run I know nothing changes the past, I like my present, and when I look back over the 30 years since Linda's murder I have struggled, hurt people, and acted the fool in part from carrying the anger and pain of that afternoon in the summer of '87,  However with each year I have healed.  Maybe I can even drive down James Street in Syracuse next time I am there.  But I still am uncertain about the fact that Jamie Morton be freed.  So here is what I plan to send the parole board.  Not that different from previous letters but maybe with a little more edge.  Call me out if you feel you need to, frankly I am not sure if I am totally comfortable with my own thoughts:

Dear Parole Board,

I am writing this letter as a victim impact statement to be considered at the upcoming parole hearing of Jamie Morton, Inmate number 88C0405. On August 31, 1987 he murdered Linda Akers, my fiancĂ©, in my apartment in Syracuse.  It seems that I have done this every 2 years for a while now so I wonder if this is really a necessary action, however I feel I give voice to Linda and that is important for me. 

Mr. Morton violently beat and stabbed Linda for no reason except to vent his anger at a world he felt was unfair.  But more than stealing Linda and my future, he took a light out of the world.  Linda’s work with young children, especially during her time at the Bishop Foery Foundation, was focused on reaching vulnerable and at-risk children.   She wanted to make a difference in the world, especially for those who were often unseen or ignored by society as a whole.  She never got the chance to make her mark. 

I have never felt that someone who could so senselessly take a life should be released and enjoy the freedom he stole from Linda and for many years myself.  Now, more than 30 years after her death, I think I have found a way to heal almost fully.  However, when I am brought back to that time period either by a visit with my college friends or a trip through Central New York, I once again feel the wound as if it were fresh. How can someone who caused such ripples of pain be able to fully make up for it even in 3 decades?   

Yet I am also someone who believes in both justice and rehabilitation.  If Mr. Morton has served his time honorably and without incidents of violence or dangerous behavior, and if he will add to the world’s good as opposed to evil, should he not be released?  Each time I have received your letter I find myself in debate with myself about what I would like to see (Morton die in prison) from an emotional level and the values I fought for and that Linda shared that justice and rehabilitation should be part of our society.  Giving people a second chance is important to me.  I just can’t help but think of his behavior at trial, his lack of real remorse and of course the simple fact that his reaction to being angry was to kill the innocent person nearest him.    

You have more information than I do.  You know his record in prison.  You know if he has found a way to purge the anger that fed him.  You may even know if he still has murder in his heart.  But if you can’t be sure that the man you sent to prison is not coming out with all the same problems then how can you feel comfortable allowing him back into society? 

I know that you are supposed to take a “future focused” approach to deciding parole. But I don’t think you should forget the crime itself and not just the action of plunging a knife into another human, but what ending Linda’s life meant to the world.   I hope you see that Mr. Morton took the life of a woman who was dedicating that life to young children, many vulnerable at-risk children in your community.  I hope that you will see the crime was against a single person but has caused a great deal more pain for many, many others.

So in the end, once again, you have to decide whether Morton should be free, living the community where Linda was no longer allowed to bring her light.  Your job is difficult, I know I don’t have a vote, but again, if you don’t feel 100% confident he will add to the community don’t set him free, I wouldn’t. 

Thank you for taking my words into consideration while you deliberate. 


George Kelley 

Why Hate Crimes Laws Are the Right Thing To Do

Indiana is one of a handful of states without a hate crimes (or bias crimes) law.  For many legislative cycles a bill was killed by the Re...