Tag Archives: America

Gunning For Change: Gun Safety in America

Whatever one’s feelings about the 2nd amendment, individuals’ gun rights should not supersede the health and safety of the American people.

I was in middle school when the massacre at Columbine happened. Everyone was devastated and appalled – those kids were only a little bit older than we were! What if it had been us? Our school officials took that reaction to its next logical step and started preparing us for such an eventuality with “lockdown” drills. We turned off the lights, closed the shades, and hid – scrunching along the wall that bordered the classroom door to avoid scrutiny from the door’s window. We were told not to let anyone in, regardless of who they were or how much they begged and pleaded. Anybody could be a potential shooter or hostage. The exercise was equal parts terrifying and surreal.

That was 17 years ago and what scares me more than the possibility of my own demise is how commonplace such carnage has become in our country. The actions that shocked us in their gruesomeness have now become almost banal in their regularity. Reports on the number of mass shootings vary depending on sources’ definitions and available information, but tend to agree that that number has increased in recent years. The American Journal for Public Health (AJPH) published a report on the matter:

By most estimates, there were fewer than 200 mass shootings reported in the United States often defined as crimes in which four or more people are shot in an event, or related series of events between 1982 and 2012. [27, 28] Recent reports suggest that 160 of these events occurred after the year 2000 [29] and that mass shootings rose particularly in 2013 and 2014. [28]

As frightening as such occurrences are, people killed in mass shootings make up less than half of 1 percent of the people shot to death in the United States. Gun violence, including suicide, kills some 30,000 Americans every year. According to Snopes, toddlers actually kill more people (accidentally) than potential or suspected Islamic terrorists within the US. And yet, the frenzy of fear surrounding the latter group has fueled infinitely more federal and state action.

Vivek Murthy, served as the 19th and 21st Surgeon General of the United States under President Obama and President Biden. was clear in his opinion that guns have become a public health issue. In fact, many cite the NRA’s lobbying efforts against him as the reason his nomination took over a year to receive approval. It makes sense, though, that he would be concerned about something that has such a profound effect on the safety of the American people.

“Guns are a consumer product. We’ve taken a public health approach to reducing product-related injury for every other product, from automobiles, to toys, to airplanes. Every product is regulated from a health and safety perspective with the goal of reducing accident and injury. The only exception is guns,” said Kristen Rand, legislative director at the Violence Policy Center.

 Comic relief: SNL’s take on the safety of consumer products.

 

Certain politicians enjoy passing this off as a mental health issue, reasoning that it’s not the guns, but the crazy people holding them that we have to control. It’s not actually that simple – most people who have mental illnesses pose no harm to themselves or others.

… surprisingly little population-level evidence supports the notion that individuals diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit gun crimes. According to Appelbaum, [25] less than 3% to 5% of US crimes involve people with mental illness, and the percentages of crimes that involve guns are lower than the national average for persons not diagnosed with mental illness. Databases that track gun homicides, such as the National Center for Health Statistics, similarly show that fewer than 5% of the 120 000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness. 26 (AJPH)

Believe it or not, you don’t actually have to be “crazy” to want to hurt someone (or act on that thought). Not only that, but the same politicians who use the mentally ill as scapegoats refuse to pass legislation that would actually benefit their wellbeing. Yes, we do need reform on how we treat people with mental illness, but that’s not the question at hand.

The real issue here is that we need to get serious about reforming our gun control laws. This isn’t even a radical idea – the vast majority of Americans agree that at the least, we need more background checks and enforcement of existing regulation.

Chris Rock has famously said that we would be better served regulating bullets (pricing them at $5,000 each) than guns. Maybe he’s right. In any case, we need to start looking into creative and common sense ways to fix this problem.

Trump Bans Journalists; Will They Respond with Blackout?

The *President’s Problematic Censorship Needs Appropriate Reaction

Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Iran, Equatorial Guinea, Uzbekistan and…the US?

Those first six countries are listed by the Committee to Protect Journalists as the countries that are the worst offenders when it comes to censoring journalists.

Will the US join the list?

It’s not as crazy as it might seem. If current practice is any indication, a Trump presidency might well put the US on that shameful list.

You see, Trump has already banned an enormous number of news organizations from attending his events.  Seasoned journalists say they have never witnessed anything like it before in this country.  Occasionally, a journalist will get bounced from a presidential candidate’s airplane or bus, but this is on a scale that’s unprecedented.  The current list of banned media organizations (which, by the way, continues to grow) includes the Washington Post, Politico, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Gawker, Foreign Policy, Fusion, Univision, Mother Jones, the New Hampshire Union Leader, the Des Moines Register and the Daily Beast.

And journalists cannot even find out why or what criteria are used to justify their banishment. According to this story, it would seem that a journalist gets banned when Trump reads something written about him or his campaign with which he disagrees and then throws what can only be described as a hissy fit.  This hissy fit is apparently key; after the throwing of the fit, Trump’s so-called campaign press secretary, Hope Hicks, playing the role of enforcer, makes sure whoever wrote the piece is banned.

Imagine now that this sort of behavior is carried into a Trump White House although, in this CNN story, Trump denies that he’d continue the ban if elected.

The Washington Post, one of the Trump-banned media organizations, has suggested that all of the press corps stop playing Trump’s game and join in a blackout on Trump coverage. WaPo opinion writer Dana Millbank gets more specific:

“I don’t mean an outright ban of Trump coverage. That would be shirking our civic responsibility. But I suggest an end to the uncritical, free publicity that propelled him to the GOP nomination in the first place:

  • No more live, wall-to-wall coverage of Trump’s rallies and events; this sort of “coverage,” particularly by cable news outlets, has been a huge in-kind contribution to Trump.
  • No more Trump call-ins to TV shows; this enables him to plant falsehoods with little risk of follow-up.
  • Rigorous use of real-time fact-checking, pointing out Trump’s falsehoods in the stories in which they’re reported. That’s not injecting opinion — it’s stating fact.”

Sounds like a good idea to us.

“A democracy ceases to be a democracy if its citizens do not participate in its governance. To participate intelligently, they must know what their government has done, is doing and plans to do in their name. Whenever any hindrance, no matter what its name, is placed in the way of this information, a democracy is weakened, and its future endangered. This is the meaning of freedom of press. It is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”

Walter Cronkite; Broadcast journalist 

Fear of Ebola or Fear of Telling the Truth?

The biggest word in the news right now is Ebola.  Of course, the right wing has taken despicable advantage of this epidemic to try to strike fear into the hearts of Americans by saying, over and over, that the US is in jeopardy.  However, as someone recently said on twitter, “More Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died of Ebola.”  While Ebola is a definite concern, since we should always be concerned when any other nation’s people suffer and the world’s health is in jeopardy, it’s clearly not an epidemic that will have an enormous impact here in the US.

Conservative forces have been successful, once again, in playing a game of three card monte with us; they are showing us the hand that isn’t doing the trick, distracting us from what’s really going on.  And, what’s really going on?  Aside from the obvious attempt to paint the current administration as incompetent and uncaring, they are masking their own major failure to protect our health; they have held up, for more than a year, the appointment of a Surgeon General. (And yes, the Surgeon General’s office does more than print those warnings on the side of cigarette packs.) There’s an acting Surgeon General who is not actually confirmed, so he has no power.

Oh, you say you didn’t know that?  You are not alone.  This fact has been well buried.  As reported in Politico, the nominee – Dr. Vivek Murthy – has had his confirmation held up by Republicans and conservative red-state Democrats because of his outspoken views on gun violence and public health.  It was apparently this tweet that sent right wing forces over the edge:

 

 

So it turns out that the real “fear” here is that the new US Surgeon General will openly make the case that rampant gun violence constitutes a major public health threat and that, in turn, will unleash the NRA’s public relations machine which, in turn, will try to defeat any Republican or Democrat who votes to approve Murthy’s nomination.

Unfortunately, fear does tend to work.  So, while spineless elected officials try to hold up the appointment of the Nation’s leading doctor for fear of not be re-elected, Americans are being told to fear a disease that is not killing them.

A confirmed Surgeon General would not only help focus American attention and resources on the real threats to American health – including gun violence – but would obviate the need for a so-called Ebola czar and create real US leadership on the issue.

Demand that Congress confirm Dr. Murthy now. NOW.  As a matter of fact, if you go here, you can sign a Credo petition that asks for the Senate to do just that.

Is Consumerism Gobbling Up Thanksgiving?

It’s that time of year again, when folks try to figure out where they’ll go for Thanksgiving, who’ll make the turkey, and what football games will be watched.

No matter what you think about Thanksgiving or its origins (and, by the way, there are lots of “myths” about how Thanksgiving began, and Martin Kelly who writes for the American History section of About.com, does a good job of running down the history of the holiday), it’s a holiday to gather with family and friends, at least try to be thankful, eat lots of food and get a day off from work.

This year, however, our consumer culture seems to have gotten way out of hand with the announcement by many retailers that they will open on Thanksgiving Day with the promise of “super holiday sales,” and “just giving consumers what they want” with employees who are “excited” about working on Thanksgiving.  Really? Forget Black Friday;  we now have Black Thursday.

Not only does opening on Thanksgiving potentially change the meaning of the day from one of camaraderie and celebration to pure consumerism, but it also means that many people will have to work on one of the few days of the year when commerce – at least retail – comes to a blessed halt.

Of course, the true reason why some retailers want to open on Thanksgiving can be found in the numbers – the financial numbers, that is.

According to Rick Newman who writes for Yahoo’s financial blog, the Exchange, the numbers don’t lie:

In staying open over the Thanksgiving holiday, retailers are just giving customers what they want.

Yeah, right.

As the inevitable holiday shopping creep spreads to Thanksgiving Day, stores that plan to open on the holiday, including Kmart (SHLD), Walmart (WMT), Target (TGT) and Best Buy (BBY), say they’re merely responding to consumers who would be shopping online if they didn’t have the option to hit the stores. That’s part of it, no doubt, but an examination of retailers’ financial numbers reveals another reason: Many of them are underperforming, and desperate for every dollar of sales. And virtually all those stores will be open on Thanksgiving.

Newman shows us this chart that breaks down revenue growth and sales from some of the major retailers.  Pay special attention to the last column:

 

Retailers in green have seen profit and earnings grow; those in yellow have stayed level, and the ones in orange have seen a decrease.

But, as you can imagine, this particular manifestation of consumerism, at least for a large portion of Americans, has broken the proverbial camel’s back and they are, literally, not buying it.

The folks at the ThinkProgress, a political blog that is an outgrowth of the progressive think tank the Center for American Progress, has this to say:

Many companies that are opening on Thanksgiving have explained that employees are “excited” to work holiday shifts and to earn some extra pay. However, that’s rarely the full story. At Kmart, managers are reportedly denying requests for time off for Thanksgiving shifts that being at 6 a.m., even though the company claims this isn’t company policy.

 Meanwhile, part-time retail workers struggle with too few shifts on wages that pay well below a living wage, forcing them to work the holiday because they are already underpaid.

Even if they did have a choice, one in four workers do not receive any paid vacation time because the U.S. is alone in not mandating paid sick days, vacation, or holidays.

Here’s the rest of that story.

And Americans are, in fact, pushing back and pressuring retailers to close. One example, reported on Thursday by Think Progress:

 This year, hundreds of malls will open for holiday shopping on Thanksgiving Day, the new norm in American retail. The owner of those malls, Simon Property Group, is facing consumer backlash for encouraging stores to deny workers their holidays and feeding a 26-hour shopping frenzy.

 Employees at Simon malls across the country are fighting the holiday encroachment, too. Eight petitions on Change.org ask Simon stores to change their hours on Thanksgiving Day. Amber Baumgart, a worker at a Wisconsin Simon mall, began the largest one. Now signed by more than 21,000 people, Baumgart’s petition argues the six employees at her small store have no choice but to work 12 hour shifts that day.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll be signing Amber Baumgart’s petition.  Enough is enough.