P-R-I-O-R-I-T-I-E-S

[The software on this site is so unreliable and unwieldy, that from now on, I’m only going to provide links to my posts elsewhere]:

http://open.salon.com/blog/liberaldose/2012/09/01/p-r-i-o-r-i-t-i-e-s

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Call To Arms

Aside

Bullet Points

Which is the more natural response, following the Aurora, Colorado massacre?  Sadness or anger?

I’m moved to ponder video games, and, unsurprisingly, the National Rifle Association.

Among the more recent, popular and notorious games [sic], in which “players” can imagine themselves soldiers – or, less admirably, simply gun-happy libertines – are Call Of Duty, Manhunt, Grand Theft Auto, Brothers In Arms and Sniper Elite.  All feature graphic, gory mayhem.  Sniper Elite gives “players” an X-ray, ultra-realistic view of what each round does to the human body it strikes.

Many hard-headed realists and professed patriots hide behind hair-splitting arguments about whether a particular game, or games in general, actually “cause” an otherwise-“normal” person to go berserk.  That response to the issue is, in a word, cowardly (as well as wilfully blind to our pervasive culture of violence – a culture in which entertainment of all kinds has gratuitous violence as its raison d’être).  (Yeah, that’s French, guys; deal with it.)  How many “right to life” devotees ever speak out about that?  Hell, our nation is so educationally bankrupt that the people wanting proof of a games/movies/violence link have no idea what a double-blind peer-reviewed study is, much less having ever read one.  Such is the anti-“intellectual” path this nation is on.

The culture numbs us to the realities of violence, and thus makes it ever more inevitable.  The first change needed is not in our laws (although a sane reading of the 2nd Amendment would be a good start); it is in our culture – a much slower, epic undertaking.

By the way, lest anyone who assumes that I’m a soft, squeamish liberal also assumes that I think all violence in entertainment is gratuitous, I will point out that the explicit violence in Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan or Das Boot (masterpieces all) typifies non-gratuitous violence.  That violence is inseparable from the stories – stories which have as their moral the real horror of war, that last resort of a civilized nation (a moral familiar to rank and file soldiers as well as Joint Chiefs).

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There probably never will be proof that any particular game’s childish and cowardly faux-violence, or the childish and cowardly faux-violence of  games in general, can “cause” real violence.

That’s beside the point.

Many in the audience at Aurora’s Dark Knight midnight screening thought the guy, the tear gas canister and even the gun were “part of the show”.  Well, of course they did.

I’ve never held a firearm, much less fired one . . . but I think I would probably enjoy it, if I tried it (depending on the type of weapon and the context).  I enjoy games of skill, and I’d almost certainly enjoy the sense of power that a firearm can lend to even the most lowly of humans (even Sarah Palin).

But that’s beside the point.

The Second Amendment reads, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”  It is bad enough that Scalia, Alito et al choose to gloss over the word militia, in their intellectually dishonest and jurisprudence-lacking zeal to find in the Amendment the right of an individual to own assault weapons (without any screening, registration or waiting period).  Worse, they seem ignorant of the common sense meaning of the word regulated.

They apparently don’t even see the word well.  And these are self-proclaimed champions of the Founders’ “original intent”.

But even that is beside the point; or, at any rate, not the point that is most important right now.

Second Look

Responsible, informed gun-control advocates aren’t trying to “take away” anyone’s gun.  They merely want to make it harder to get automatic weapons and assault rifles than it is to buy wallpaper or Netflix.  The NRA says gun laws don’t lower crime.  Well, I don’t know if that’s true.  I don’t know the name of the professional statistician on the NRA’s staff, or whether that person used ANOVA, or linear correlation and regression, in his analysis of crime figures.  Perhaps the NRA can tell us.  I also don’t know if, in that rigorous analysis, a particular mass-shooting counts as one “crime” (or if, instead, each fatality, or each casualty, counts as a crime).  In any case, although such atrocities are relatively few in number (thus doing little, in and of themselves, to boost the statistical incidence of “crime”), nevertheless they are different in both quantity (of victims) and in their nature, from other crimes.  As is  their impact. They erode all Americans’ indisputable right to the Pursuit of Happiness, in those venues where the prospect of dying horribly should be nothing more than an immature gamer’s fantasy – but which, sadly, is now yet another real prospect to contemplate.

As we now know, one of the latest victims had escaped the shootings at the Toronto mall just last month.

Given that new reality, which renders a U.S. megaplex (or high school) little different from an Israeli marketplace or airport, is there now any reason to distinguish the lovers of NRA-blessed automatic weapons from political terrorists, in practical terms?

This isn’t about anyone’s “deserving” to die.  It’s about an oblivious culture, in which it had never previously occurred to the victims of 911, or their families, that, after millions chose to turn a blind eye to what their government was doing in the Middle East (policies with no more noble purpose than to protect the flow of cheap oil, by which to power vehicles that, 40 years after the first Earth Day, still managed no better than 35 mpg), something like the World Trade Center attack, while not “deserved”, was nevertheless inevitable.  The worst agony for those victims’ families might have been their utter lack of psychic preparation for even the possibility of such an event.  (That must have been the undkindest cut of all.)  No longer are quite so many of us oblivious to the possible repercussions of our nation’s foreign policy.

On a more personal level (over which everyone has a greater measure of control), parents have for too long turned a blind eye to the after-school obsessions of their children – and hence lived oblivious to the possibility, and the increasing likelihood, that such things as the Aurora shootings can, and likely will, happen . . . and can easily happen to them and theirs.

In the long term, any one of us can be the victims of the joystick-trained kill-‘em-all mentality.  Ask not for whom the [digital head-bursting sound effect] tolls, it tolls for thee.

If we ask whether the Aurora shooter owned, knew about or played any of these games, apologists will say it’s irrelevant.  Ask me, and I’ll say I don’t know . . . but I’d bet the life of Ronald Rosenberg, Wayne LaPierre, Chris W. Cox, Don Mattrick or Jason Kingsley that he did.*

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*Ronald Rosenberg: (see below)

  Wayne LaPierre: NRA President

  Chris W. Cox: NRA lobbyist

  Don Mattrick: President, Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment division        (including Xbox 360)

  Jason Kingsley: CEO, Rebellion Developments (creators of Sniper Elite)

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The NRA has vigorously opposed laws such as the Disclose Act of 2012, which would require identification of the specific individuals who donate to independent-expenditure organizations whose purpose is to affect the outcome of national elections.  Their lapdogs, the GOP, have blocked the latest bill.  These ignorant cowards spuriously argue that there is a blanket, constitutional right to secret assembly and association.  While the right to associate is undisputed and fundamental, even the Citizens United Supreme Court majority, in keeping with existing precedent, has left intact Congress’ power to require disclosure of donors in this context (notwithstanding the fact that the conservative Citizens United majority put its seal of approval on unlimited campaign spending by outside groups and corporations.)

Ronald Rosenberg (title unknown) is the only person whose name I could find on the website of the Cherry Creek Gun Club in Aurora, Colorado.  (Only NRA members are admitted to the CCGC.)  Nowhere in the site’s Contacts link, or club announcements, does any other member or officer’s name appear.  The next closest thing to a name was the frequent signing of items by “Administrator”.

One sees precious few names on the national NRA website (although, at the end of my search, I found that blog posts are signed).  A search for local NRA chapters yields, for the most part, only links to NRA-approved activities, but not clubs themselves (or specific people to contact, in order to join a local branch).

I rather doubt that the members of colonial militias kept their ownership of firearms a secret – or that it ever occurred to them to argue that secrecy was a fundamental right they had risked their lives for.

Well, for now, I say let’s not worry about identifying all gun purchasers, or NRA members.  Let’s instead start with something that can do some real good, and that the most ardent gun-toter can approve of:  Disclosure of all who buy Call Of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt and Sniper Elite (and the parents of all who buy them, and the parents who buy them).  I say let’s make it as easy as possible to hook up these thrill addicts, these armchair Rambos, with quick and effective access to the real thing – via  prompt meetings with their local Army, Navy, Marine Corps, National Guard or law enforcement recruiters.   I say let them find out, pronto, what it feels like to experience the harrowing nature of actual combat or law enforcement, putting their asses on the line, and their patriotism into action, instead of just blasting away at pixillated avatars that can’t defend themselves.

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Let’s make it as easy as possible for our brave men and women in the armed forces and our police forces, the people who know that guns are not toys, to find, invite and embrace their potential fellow comrades-in-arms, those underachievers with the overdeveloped, extraordinary (but hitherto-wasted), hand-eye coordination.

Let’s go all out, America.  Let’s ante up for a Manhattan Project of large-scale fantasy-reality coordination.

-Jeff “I’m no coward” Glick, Madison, WI

Text and composites © 2012, JDGee, JD

Ruining Government Like A Business

Comparing Rotten Apples to Oranges

Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, and that affront named Donald Trump all trumpet the supposed virtue of “running government more like a business”.

What would running the federal government be like, under Bain Capital alumnus Mitt Romney?  Would we, say, take over the government of Ireland, or Greece . . . ultimately, one would hope, turning those enterprises around, and into, once again, going concerns?  Would the “investors” walk away with huge profits and bonuses, regardless of whether those nations sink or swim?  (Facetious as this Swiftian metaphor is, it is not so far removed from what we’ve done in Iraq – although, clearly, it isn’t the U.S. government, or we the people, who have profited by our adventure there; it is only a select few private firms, and their select few officers and shareholders. . . and their political patrons.)

As I’ve written elsewhere, demanding that  government  be run like either a business or a household is a silly and dangerous conceit.  Government is a very different thing, with a very different purpose, from either business or households (although comparison of a household to a business is an apt enough comparison; both have to achieve some degree of “profit” in order to survive.)  Businesses sell things.  Whether goods or services, they sell things.  Government does not.  It provides services, essential services of all kinds, and is not tasked with making a profit.  That is not a proper yardstick by which to measure the success of any government.  (And, to the extent that the federal government “loses money”, as reflected by the national debt and deficits, should we not look to the GOP’s own hand in that?  It was Reagan and George W. Bush who abetted and encouraged massive Pentagon spending and foreign adventures, arms buildups justified by an exaggerated Soviet capability, a needless war in Iraq premised on lies, and a stubborn insistence on lowering the taxes needed to fund all of the above.)

But let us, for a moment, accept the Right’s government-as-business metaphor, for the sake of argument.  Is it an honest proposition that the Right puts forth?  Do their spokesmen hold themselves to the same rigorous standards by which they supposedly measure business (in this tough, dog-eat-dog, “men-and-dinosaurs-lived-together-5000-years-ago” socially Darwinian world which, ironically, these flat-earth types imagine that we live in)?  Would their pet concept survive the same rigorous gauntlet that contestants must survive on “The Apprentice”?  Is it really a “free” market – of either ideas or things – that their policies have engendered, or will engender if further adopted?

In a word, no.

Scott Walker, Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney are price fixers.  They are colluders.  They would, if honestly judged by legitimate and accepted rules in place, be found guilty of antitrust violations, pure and simple.  They want to run government like a business, but intend to put a bullet into its head at the starting line.  Government is encouraged to “compete”, and to better serve its “customers”, but cannot actually do so – because the game is rigged.

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The Right hopes to stand linked, arm in arm, from coast to coast, emboldened by their first flush of victory in Wisconsin, their hoped-for first domino in the war against the “special interests” (unions).  They stand ready to defend the poor, abused Goliath known as Business from the nasty little Davids bedeviling it.  This defense, however, will not be carried out (and has not been carried out) on the “level playing field” so often touted.

This is not to say that they want to cripple government in all respects, or in all of its capacities. True, their ongoing program of “getting government out of the way”, would weaken and eliminate what they vaguely refer to as “too much regulation”.  But theirs is not merely the passive, minimal government-shrinking aspiration they would have us believe it is.  It’s a peculiar hybrid that is also an activist, government-abetted program of looking the other way while common sense, rational, fact-based protections of all kinds – financial, public health, environmental – are either eliminated or simply left unenforced.  It is a program intended to be an expansion of the characteristic GOP fixation:  Aiding and abetting ideology-driven preferences of all kinds, such as banks over consumers, oil and coal over solar and wind, religion over science and, most fundamentally (because it is the sine qua non in this agenda), private over public.  It would be accomplished with the help of a Supreme Court stacked, for years to come, with predisposed ideologues.

It would be accomplished by using government to foster the anti-science, anti-intellectual worldview that is one of the hallmarks of fascism – actual fascism, as contrasted with the merely trite, semantic label overused by the merely peeved, to describe anything allegedly tyrannical, or otherwise not to their liking.

It would be a government-accomplished, government-abetted restructuring of tax policies that will starve public programs on the one hand, and grant windfalls to the Right’s private sector darlings, on the other.  It would be government aiding and abetting the commercialization of all public life, promoting a few narrow private interests to the detriment of the common good.

It would – if we don’t, once and for all, stand up and say “No!”, as Eisenhower urged us to do – maintain, with government care and feeding, the military-industrial complex that profited hugely from the Vietnam war and the invasion of Iraq.

And what of the demonization of the government worker? Studies comparing public and private sector compensation yield a mixed bag of conclusions.  Part of the challenge is the fact that many public jobs don’t have exact counterparts in the private sector.  It is also admittedly true that, although many public salaries are less on average than private, benefit packages often make up the difference, and then some.  However, what the bare numbers don’t account for is the burden placed on public workers in a punishing fiscal and political climate.  Fewer teachers, forced to deal with ever-larger classes, are fighting a battle they are doomed to lose, both statistically and emotionally.  Moreover, many public school districts must serve the most challenging student populations (with behavioral and learning disabilities) that their private school – and charter school – counterparts do not.

If these government haters/exploiters truly wanted to run government like a business, they wouldn’t artificially rig the game; they wouldn’t make it a self-fulfilling prophecy that government will fail when stacked up against their idealized (and subsidized) private sector counterparts.  Lowering teachers’ pay, and laying them off (at the very same time that we fall ever further behind the rest of the industrialized world in science and math achievement), is not the way to allow true market forces to determine winners and losers, successes and failures.  Just as no business could attract the best and brightest, vis-à-vis its competitors, if it were forced to hold salaries artificially low, neither can government, in such a climate, attract the best and brightest in a head to head competition with the private sector.  (To add callous insult to considerable injury, the Right then blames public schools and their overfed teachers for still-further declines in student performance, and punishes them still more, rhetorically and fiscally.  It is a vicious circle devised by the congenitally vicious.)

In Wisconsin, the very agency tasked with serving the state’s unemployment-wracked workforce, and groaning under a caseload of ever more complaints of Minimum Wage and overtime law violations, is doing  its job with many  vacancies that the  Legislature  and governor have no intention of filling.  The task is corrosive to the physical health and morale of those “coddled” public employees assigned to it. The work is neither glamorous nor lucrative.

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The hard-nosed-realist, tough-minded GOP crowd, which labels modest attempts at fiscal parity as “class warfare”, has shamelessly stoked public resentment  against the supposedly-overpaid government worker.  Instead of committing themselves to improving every American’s quality of life and work, they perpetuate the proverbial, and all too real, Race To The Bottom.  While public unions may be a bit too self-congratulatory in purporting to care about all working people, the inescapable conclusion about the Right is that their efforts have degraded the lives of all working people.  Arbitrarily and punitively lowering the wages of public employees will have, and does have, the effect of suppressing wages across the board.

And the Right wants to give us more of the same.

Artificially setting caps on government salaries, and arbitrarily cutting them in the unfounded belief that they are already “too high”, are not things a responsible CEO would do, and are not things that an honest, informed politician or economist would do.

They are things that a saboteur would do.

Text and composites © 2012, JDGee, JD