Fellow Travelers

Friday, March 30, 2018

Fewer Dead Kids

Mass shootings grab our attention and reflect horrifying tragedies. They provoke a reaction. Parents empathize with the parents of those killed. The reaction drives a desire to do anything different, to find a way to keep kids and young adults from dying before their time. People search for any solution, and often are won over by those that sound good.

Everyone wants fewer dead kids.

The understandable desire to want to do something, anything, can easily be redirected into measures that are even more dangerous and would do even more harm than the situation the measures are superficially intended to alleviate. This is true of any new measure or legislation, not just those related to gun violence. Legislation intended to protect sex workers and end human trafficking is putting them at greater risk of rape and murder. The creation of the interstate system ripped up neighborhoods and worsened inner city poverty. Three strikes laws lead to life sentences for minor and often nonviolent offenders.

And then there's the current push for new laws and measures with the goal of fewer dead kids.

The Guardian published an article called "Our manifesto to fix America's gun laws" which says it is written by the Parkland students. A number of ideas are proposed in it, some are okay, like banning bump stocks. Some, like a total ban on semiautomatic firearms, are political nonstarters with their own range of unintended consequences. Others are outright dangerous.

Perhaps chief among those, they say they want to change privacy laws to allow mental healthcare providers to communicate with law enforcement. This entire segment should trigger warning alarms:
“As seen in the tragedy at our school, poor communication between mental healthcare providers and law enforcement may have contributed to a disturbed person with murderous tendencies and intentions entering a school and gunning down 17 people in cold blood. 
We must improve this channel of communication. To do so, privacy laws should be amended. That will allow us to prevent people who are a danger to themselves or to others from purchasing firearms. That could help prevent tragedies such as the Parkland massacre.”
So, destroy patient privacy, or else you don’t want to prevent children from being massacred. Give the police, who do not have a good track record of dealing with the mentally ill, broad access to the health records of the mentally ill. Amend privacy laws to increase law enforcement access to medical records. This should be appalling to anyone familiar with patient privacy. As an example of the unintended consequences of this, law enforcement could check past form 4473s against current medical records showing tox screens or medical marijuana cards and use this to go after gun owners who use medical marijuana.

However, the manifesto ignores this, and buys into the right wing methods popularized by Donald Trump, of stigmatizing the mentally ill as expressly and uniquely violent. This is something that will worsen their targeting for violence and discrimination, especially with patient privacy laws “amended”.

The overwhelming majority of firearms deaths are suicides. Suicide also kills more kids 15-19 than homicides. Homicides as well as firearms deaths have been consistently falling in this age range for years. However, suicides are on the rise. Accoding to CDC data for 2015, homicide by firearms was the cause of death for 190 kids aged 5-14. Suicide was the cause of death for 413 kids in the same age range, including 140 suicides by firearms. Most suicide deaths in that age range were hanging/suffocation. This increased stigma and harsh treatment of the neuro-atypical could very well cause more suicides.

The manifesto also says more school resource officers need to be hired. This is dangerous. Police have killed five times more people this year than have died in mass shootings. The proposals do nothing about that, and instead just increase police interaction with young adults. This has been shown to have measurable negative effects on PoC students. Quoting an article by a Juvenile Court Judge:
After interviewing SROs and girls of color, the researchers found that despite the evidence of disproportionate discipline, there is little training provided to SROs to help them understand how to relate to girls of color. Educators often place SROs in a disciplinary role rather than involving them when the need arises around delinquent conduct. SROs lack the cultural competence, trauma-informed skills, gender-responsive approaches, and knowledge of community-based resources needed to help improve school climate for girls of color. 
Through my work as a judge for a juvenile court in Clayton County, Ga., I have seen that this inappropriate use of law enforcement in schools does not improve safety, but actually compromises students' futures. My county's school system began using SROs in 1995, and our referrals to the court increased 1,200 percent by 2003. By collecting data on school arrests, we discovered that our African-American students—male and female—were 12 times more likely to be arrested than our white students. 
In addition, our school district's graduation rate dropped and juvenile crime rates spiked. Research suggests that arresting students for minor offenses significantly increases the likelihood that they will drop out of school. School is one of the strongest buffers against delinquency, and when kids are pushed out, they do not always spend their time wisely.
Kai Koerber, a 17-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, returned to school after the shooting to see his slain classmates’ empty desks turned into memorials — and a campus swarming with police officers. To him, extra cops around doesn’t mean more people to protect him; it means more chances to become a victim of police brutality. 
Kai worries that police will racially profile students and treat them as “potential criminals,” particularly students of color. 
“It’s bad enough we have to return with clear backpacks,” he said. “Should we also return with our hands up?”
There are no people of color quoted or whose pictures are shown in the Guardian’s reprinting of the Eagle Eye manifesto.

Increasing the stigma and mistreatment experienced by the mentally ill, especially young adults, putting them under a microscope, militarizing their schools, filling them with armed police, ending patient privacy, ending student privacy, treating the mentally ill like they’re all budding violent mass shooters, increasing PoC interactions with school resource officers who put them on the school-to-prison pipeline, these will increase suicide rates as well as incarceration rates.

These are measures which will disproportionately impact minority children.

These are measures which will disproportionately impact children struggling with mental health problems.

These are dangerous and counterproductive measures.

These are measures which will lead to more dead children, not less.

So, what should we do? What are some workable ideas that can lead to less dead kids?

First, end the drug war and focus on treatment and prevention. The war on drugs is the leading driver of homicides and also of our opiod overdose epidemic and also of our bloated prison population. If this seems too big and too hard, consider that there are 300 to 500 million privately owned guns in the US, nobody knows for sure, and yet people seem to think that regulating or even outright banning these will be easier than ending the drug war. Look at the European countries that are consistently held up as examples of places with drastically lower gun deaths. The “drug war” as we know it in the US, and the prison system as we know it in the US, simply does not exist there. Give this article a read. The numbers are staggering, and the beneficial effects of ending the drug war are also staggering. Liberals are willing to call out the NRA and firearms industry for their political involvement, are they as willing to call out the prison industry and pharmaceutical industry?

Second, demilitarize the police and drastically increase oversight of them. This goes hand in hand with ending the drug war. Police have killed five times as many people in 2018 as have been killed in mass shootings. Police shootings disproportionately impact the black community, as police are far more ready to kill black men than anyone elseA big part of this is the black brute myth where police view even unarmed black men as demons with superhuman strength and speed. So, even banning all civilian owned firearms wouldn't protect unarmed black men, as the police literally think they're magic. Additionally the police, including school resource officers, are predisposed to view black children as criminals and treat them accordingly, feeding into a cycle of violence.

Third, increase mental health funding. This is essential to help fight the suicide epidemic And while we’re at it, increase access to all levels of health care. Infant mortality is far too high in the US, particularly among disadvantaged communities. Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate. Heart disease killed 633,842 people in 2015, including 649 children aged birth to 14 and 997 young adults aged 15-24. By comparison, in the same time frame and across all ages, and across accident, suicide, and homicide, 35,486 people died from some form of gun violence. Cancer killed 1,272 children aged birth to 14 in 2015. If we can find cues for some of these diseases, if we can improve treatments, we can save far more lives than any act of gun legislation.

The extensive financial resources that would have to be put into any of the measures recommended in the Parkland manifesto could, if put into other areas, result in a far greater net benefit.

It would mean fewer dead kids.

The question that anti gun liberals need to ask is, what's their motivation? What is the goal?

Is it to score political points against conservatives? To have a victory against the NRA? To restrict sales and use of an object they don't like?

What matters more? Political victories, or the lives of children, the lives of minorities, and of those with mental illness?

Is the goal fewer dead kids?

Finally, our military actions overseas is something many might consider separate from the issue of gun violence in America, but that I think is intertwined with our problems of toxic masculinity and devalued human life. We should slash military funding and dramatically scale back military operations. End the “War on Terror”.

The life of a child is no less valuable for having been born outside of the United States. US military operations have had an incredibly destructive impact on the lives of children in the Middle East.

In 2013, a Pakistani boy named Zubair who was born in 2000 came to the US to speak to Congress. He talked about how he is scared now when the sky is blue, because that’s when the drones come. He and his younger sister were wounded in a drone strike which killed their grandmother as she worked in her garden.

In 2012 a 14 year old boy was killed in another drone strike which struck a group of miners and woodcutters who had gathered for dinner. The drone lingered in the area, and launched a second strike on emergency services and rescuers. This was a “signature strike” where gatherings of military aged males are considered terrorist meetings, even if they’re just workers having a family meal or a family wedding party. These attacks kill kids too, and lead to the mental health issues of anxiety, depression, and PTSD  from their experiences.

It isn’t just Obama’s drone strikes, which were largely ignored or justified clumsily by liberals. In January 2017, an 8 year old American girl was killed in a raid in Yemen approved by Trump. She was shot in the neck and struggled for two hours before dying. That should be hard to read. This is US foreign policy.

“Young women in Fallujah,” they wrote, “. . . are terrified of having children because of the increasing number of babies born grotesquely deformed, with no heads, two heads, a single eye in their foreheads, scaly bodies or missing limbs. In addition, young children in Fallujah are now experiencing hideous cancers and leukemias.”
We should be as horrified by this as we are by the school shootings which are occurring in the US at a decreasing rate. 

We should be as willing to protest and stand up to the military industry as we are to stand up to the NRA. 

We should March for Their Lives too.

After all, the goal is fewer dead kids.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Whites are the majority in nearly all large police departments nationwide

Recently I had somebody tell me “most of the thin blue line in many cities are primarily minorities”.

Which sounded wrong. But hey, maybe it’s right. Figured I’d look into it.
I found a website called Governing.com which tracks a lot of government statistics, including those for racial representation in police departments. Their data was pulled from the 2013 Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics survey. Then I found a list of the 30 largest cities in the US. I went through the LEMAS data and looked at minority representation on the police forces of these 30 largest cities in the US, particularly relative to the minority population.

What I found did not particularly surprise me.

New York City Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 47.8%
Total Minority Population Share: 67.2%
Percentage-Point Difference: -19.3 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 33% of the city population and 52% of the police force. All minorities are under-represented on the police force compared to their population.

Los Angeles Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 64.6%
Total Minority Population Share: 71.5%
Percentage-Point Difference: -6.9 (compared to national average of -24.5)
One of the few where whites are a minority on the police force, but still over-represented. Largest minority on the police force is Hispanics, who make up 43% of the LAPD but 49% of the LA population.

Chicago Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 47.9%
Total Minority Population Share: 68.0%
Percentage-Point Difference: -20.1 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 32% of the city population and 52% of the police force. All minorities are under-represented on the police force compared to their population.

Houston Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 54.9%
Total Minority Population Share: 74.2%
Percentage-Point Difference: -19.3 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 26% of the city population and 45% of the police force. Hispanics sharply under-represented. However, Houston is a rare city where Asian police share and Black police share perfectly match their population share.

Philadelphia Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 43.2%
Total Minority Population Share: 63.6%
Percentage-Point Difference: -20.5 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 36% of the city population and 57% of the police force. All minorities are under-represented on the police force compared to their population.

Phoenix Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 23.4%
Total Minority Population Share: 54.1%
Percentage-Point Difference: -30.6 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites significantly over-represented, making up 46% of the city population and 77% of the police force. All minorities are under-represented on the police force compared to their population.

San Antonio Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 57.7%
Total Minority Population Share: 73.4%
Percentage-Point Difference: -15.8 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 26% of the city population and 42% of the police force. All minorities are under-represented on the police force compared to their population. However, despite being under-represented, Hispanics on the police force are a majority (51.5% where they are 63% of the popluation)

San Diego Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 34.3%
Total Minority Population Share: 56.8%
Percentage-Point Difference: -22.4 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 43% of the city population and 66% of the police force. Blacks are accurately represented relative to their population, Hispanics and Asians are sharply under-represented.

Dallas Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 46.2%
Total Minority Population Share: 70.6%
Percentage-Point Difference: -24.4 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 29% of the city population and 54% of the police force. Blacks are accurately represented relative to their population, Hispanics and Asians are under-represented.

San Jose Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 43.7%
Total Minority Population Share: 72.3%
Percentage-Point Difference: -28.6 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 28% of the city population and 56% of the police force. Blacks are slightly over-represented relative to their population, Hispanics are under-represented. Asians are significantly under-represented, constituting 37% of the population and only 3% of the police force.

Austin Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 30.8%
Total Minority Population Share: 50.8%
Percentage-Point Difference: -19.9 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 49% of the city population and 70% of the police force. Blacks are slightly over-represented relative to their population (by 1 percentage point), Hispanics and Asians are under-represented.

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office
Total Minority Police Share: 24.0%
Total Minority Population Share: 45.7%
Percentage-Point Difference: -21.7 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 54% of the city population and 76% of the police force. All minorities are under-represented on the police force compared to their population.

San Francisco Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 47.6%
Total Minority Population Share: 58.4%
Percentage-Point Difference: -10.8 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 42% of the city population and 52% of the police force. Hispanics are evenly represented. Blacks are fairly significantly over-represented, constituting 9% of the police department but 5.5% of the population, this is very rare. Asians are sharply under-represented.

Indianapolis Metro Police
Total Minority Police Share: 15.8%
Total Minority Population Share: 42.5%
Percentage-Point Difference: -26.7 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites significantly over-represented, making up 57% of the city population and 84% of the police force. All minorities are under-represented on the police force compared to their population.

Columbus Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 13.6%
Total Minority Population Share: 41.6%
Percentage-Point Difference: -27.9 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites significantly over-represented, making up 58% of the city population and 86% of the police force. All minorities are under-represented on the police force compared to their population. Predictably CPD has had a history of racial misconduct and violence, as well as internal harassment and discrimination against Black police officers.

Fort Worth Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 30.8%
Total Minority Population Share: 59.2%
Percentage-Point Difference: -28.3 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites significantly over-represented, making up 41% of the city population and 69% of the police force. All minorities are under-represented on the police force compared to their population.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 22.8%
Total Minority Population Share: 55.8%
Percentage-Point Difference: -33.0 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites significantly over-represented, making up 44% of the city population and 77% of the police force. All minorities are under-represented on the police force compared to their population.

Seattle Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 24.7%
Total Minority Population Share: 34.0%
Percentage-Point Difference: -9.3 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 66% of the city population and 75% of the police force. Blacks are slightly over-represented relative to their population (by 1 percentage point), Hispanics and Asians are under-represented.

Denver Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 32.9%
Total Minority Population Share: 47.1%
Percentage-Point Difference: -14.1 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 53% of the city population and 67% of the police force. Blacks are accurately represented relative to their population, Hispanics and Asians are under-represented.

El Paso Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 81.1%
Total Minority Population Share: 85.1%
Percentage-Point Difference: -4.1 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites are narrowly over-represented, making up 15% of the city population and 19% of the police force. Minorities are narrowly under-represented, with Hispanics making 80% of the population and 77% of the police, and Blacks making 3.1% of the population but 2.9% of the police, however these margins are incredibly narrow. Overall it’s probably the most balanced of any major metropolitan police department in the country. Also one of the few where minorities are a majority of the force.

Detroit Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 66.9%
Total Minority Population Share: 91.6%
Percentage-Point Difference: -24.6 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 8.5% of the city population and 33% of the police force. Blacks are under-represented (81% of population) but are a majority (63%) of the police force. Hispanics and Asians are under-represented.

Washington Metropolitan Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 68.4%
Total Minority Population Share: 64.5%
Percentage-Point Difference: 3.8 (compared to national average of -24.5)
The only city  in the 30 largest cities in the US where whites are under-represented relative to their population, 32% of the police force compared to 36% of the population. Blacks are over-represented and a majority of the police force, 59% to 49%. Hispanics and Asians are under-represented. Given the prevalence of federal law enforcement in DC, its possible that whites in DC interested in law enforcement tend to go that route instead.

Boston Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 34.5%
Total Minority Population Share: 53.8%
Percentage-Point Difference: -19.4 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 46% of the city population and 66% of the police force. Blacks are slightly over-represented relative to their population (by 1.5 percentage point), Hispanics and Asians are under-represented.

Memphis Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 51.9%
Total Minority Population Share: 73.0%
Percentage-Point Difference: -21.1 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 27% of the city population and 48% of the police force. Blacks are under-represented (63% of population) but are a slim majority (51%) of the police force. Hispanics and Asians are under-represented.

Nashville Metro Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 15.1%
Total Minority Population Share: 43.9%
Percentage-Point Difference: -28.9 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites significantly over-represented, making up 56% of the city population and 85% of the police force. All minorities are under-represented on the police force compared to their population.

Portland Police Bureau
Total Minority Police Share: 14.6%
Total Minority Population Share: 28.0%
Percentage-Point Difference: -13.4 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 72% of the city population and 85% of the police force. All minorities are under-represented on the police force compared to their population.

Oklahoma City Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 14.5%
Total Minority Population Share: 44.2%
Percentage-Point Difference: -29.7 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites significantly over-represented, making up 56% of the city population and 86% of the police force. All minorities are under-represented on the police force compared to their population.

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 19.1%
Total Minority Population Share: 54.7%
Percentage-Point Difference: -35.6 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites significantly over-represented, making up 45% of the city population and 81% of the police force. All minorities are under-represented on the police force compared to their population.

Baltimore Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 49.3%
Total Minority Population Share: 71.9%
Percentage-Point Difference: -22.6 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 28% of the city population and 51% of the police force. Blacks and Asians are under-represented on the police force compared to their population. This is a rare city where Hispanics are over-represented relative to their population, 7% police compared to 4.5% of the population.

Louisville Metro Police Department
Total Minority Police Share: 15.2%
Total Minority Population Share: 32.3%
Percentage-Point Difference: -17.1 (compared to national average of -24.5)
Whites over-represented, making up 68% of the city population and 85% of the police force. All minorities are under-represented on the police force compared to their population.

Cities where all minorities combined are a majority of the police force: Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, Detroit, Washington DC, and Memphis.

Cities where whites are a minority of the population but a majority of the police force: NYC, Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Austin, San Francisco, Fort Worth, Charlotte, Boston, Las Vegas, and Baltimore.

Of course, all cops are bastards anyway. Regardless of race, through their actions as police they support capitalism and the racist police state while protecting the wealthy ruling class.

But the additional concern I have is that when you have a police force that doesn't reflect the community it polices, skin color becomes a uniform (thanks Vonnegut) and the white police see themselves as an occupying paramilitary force in an area that is more like a foreign country than their own homeland. And when you look at things from a military perspective you see your fellow citizens as the enemy.

The widespread infiltration of US police forces by white supremacists over the last few decades, and really as long as there have been US police forces, just makes this worse. This also leads "Thin blue line" police supporters to gravitate towards racist positions, and even worse it can push minority officers towards self hating internalized racism that expresses itself in their community interactions because they see their allies as uniformed whites and their day to day enemies as the PoC communities they police.

It is not a sustainable situation and only highlights the need to disarm and disband all police in the US.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The US needs easy and streamlined citizenship for all

“But they broke the law!”
This plaintive cry is heard across the country, seen on message boards and facebook pages, vomited out over talk radio. It pushes a mindset that any sort of tyrannical government action against undocumented immigrants is justifiable. Any sort of violence, indignity, or moral outrage is acceptable, simply because “they’re here illegally”. It makes them an unperson, and history shows what countries do with people they consider unpersons. Slavery. Confinement. Deportation. Mass murder.

So, these ostensible “illegal immigrants” are here because “they broke the law”. What does that mean? Why does it matter? Let’s look briefly at the history of immigration law in America. Spoiler alert: It’s all racist. All of it. Here’s a timeline.

The very first naturalization law in the US limited citizenship to free white males. Nobody else could become a naturalized citizen. That was the law. 

In 1830, the Indian Removal Act was passed by Congress, legalized the forced displacement of all Native Americans to west of the Mississippi. That was the law. 

After the war with Mexico, when the US forcibly annexed large sections of Mexican land, they gave Mexicans living there the “option” to become citizens if they stay. But they only have rights to the land they owned if they could prove in US courts with US lawyers that they have those rights. That was the law. 

In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law, which among other things allowed a black person to be enslaved simply on the testimony of a single white person that the black was already a slave, with no method for challenging this in court. That was the law. 

Many Northern States and cities refused to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law, becoming sanctuary cities for escaping slaves. Slave State outrage at this defiance of the law was one of the reasons expressly and explicitly given for their secession and the subsequent American Civil War:
The faithless conduct of our adversaries is not confined to such acts as might aggrandize themselves or their section of the Union. They are content if they can only injure us. The Constitution declares that persons charged with crimes in one State and fleeing to another shall be delivered up on the demand of the executive authority of the State from which they may flee, to be tried in the jurisdiction where the crime was committed. It would appear difficult to employ language freer from ambiguity, yet for above twenty years the non-slave-holding States generally have wholly refused to deliver up to us persons charged with crimes affecting slave property. Our confederates, with punic faith, shield and give sanctuary to all criminals who seek to deprive us of this property or who use it to destroy us. This clause of the Constitution has no other sanction than their good faith; that is withheld from us; we are remediless in the Union; out of it we are remitted to the laws of nations.
After all, turning in "stolen property", escaped slaves, was the law.

Even after the Civil War when it became legal for African-Americans to become naturalized citizens, naturalization was still expressly forbidden for Asian immigrants. That was the law. 

During this time, the immigration and naturalization process for European whites was simple. Get on a boat to America. Get off the boat. You’re a legal immigrant. You could not be a white illegal immigrant. That was the law. That’s how my family came here, in the 1680s, the 1740s, the 1830s. We just got off a boat. For years there were no laws limiting the immigration of white Europeans. 

1882 is when the first immigration law is passed. It was the “Chinese Exclusion Act”, which prohibited Chinese immigration for 10 years. It was renewed, and remained law until 1943. No Chinese. That was the law. 

The Immigration Act of 1917 established an “Asian Barred Zone” which expanded the prohibitions on Asian immigration to effectively encompass all Asians from southern and eastern Asia. Japan was excluded, as were the US territories in Guam and the Philippines. Included was everyone from Turkey to India to Thailand to Vietnam to Indonesia and more. They could not be legal immigrants. That was the law.

The Immigration Act of 1924 targeted eastern and central Europeans, placing strict quotas on immigration, in a reflection of the Eugenics-heavy legislative mindset at the time. These restrictions would over the next twenty years serve to keep European Jews fleeing the Holocaust locked out of the US. For example, the MS St. Louis was blocked from even docking at a US Port, and all of its 900 Jewish refugees were prohibited from entering the US, resulting in 254 of them dying in the Holocaust. That was the law. 

In 1935 the Filipino Repatriation Act offered free transportation to Filipinos who would
return to the Philippines, and it restricted future immigration to the U.S. The Philippines were a US territory, won in the Spanish-American War, but the US didn’t want too many of those foreign Filipinos settling in the US. So a law was passed.

It wasn’t until the 50s and 60s that the old expressly racist immigration laws were repealed, and new more inclusive immigration laws put into place. But we have so much further to go. Let’s talk about the present and the future.

What Baby Boomers’ Retirement Means For the U.S. Economy
All else equal, fewer workers means less economic growth. One way to measure this is a figure known as the “dependency ratio,” or the number of people outside of working age (under 18 or over 64) per 100 adults between age 18 and 64.2 The higher the ratio, the worse the news: If more of the population is young or old that leaves fewer working-age people to support them and contribute to the economy.
Immigrants boost America’s birth rate
POLITICS and sheer hatred aside, there is no shortage of blind spots in the rationale behind America’s mounting restrictions on immigration. Immigrants are a boon to America in many ways. For one, they do plenty of jobs that native-born Americans shun—including what most parents would agree is the ultimate labour of love: having babies. 
For decades America’s birth rate has been stuck below the level at which a given generation replaces itself. This means that without a steady influx of young migrants down the line there will be fewer working-age people supporting a greater number of retirees. But according to analysis published earlier this week by the Pew Research Centre in Washington, DC, things would have been worse if it weren’t for immigrants. They make up 13% of the population but nearly a quarter of births in 2015 were to immigrant women.
The US has a demographic balloon. Record numbers of boomers are retiring, while new births have dropped off sharply. We need people. We need people to support those retiring, we need them as a base of workers and as a tax base. Even if we were to somehow abolish capitalism and the state we’d still need younger people to support the larger numbers of older people.

We need immigrants. We need immigrants who are working above board so they can’t be abused and exploited by their employers. We need immigrants who can have stable jobs and stable homes without living in fear of ICE thugs tearing them out and throwing them into jail in the middle of the night. We don’t have a meaningful social safety net now. We don’t have public health care. We don’t have a basic income. Immigrants really *can’t* “mooch” off the US. They can and they do contribute to society, extensively.

The Obama Administration, for all its faults, put a lot of work into pointing out the advantages of streamliming a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the US. These arguments transition to a streamlined process for all immigrants.
As highlighted in the report, a range of economic research has shown that immigrants living and working in the United States without authorization are earning far less than their potential, paying much less in taxes, and contributing significantly less to the U.S. economy than they would if they were given the opportunity to gain legal status and earn U.S. citizenship. According to outside estimates, providing earned citizenship for these workers would increase their wages and, over 10 years, boost U.S. GDP by $1.4 trillion, increase total income for all Americans by $791 billion, generate $184 billion in additional state and federal tax revenue from currently undocumented immigrants, and add about 2 million jobs to the U.S. economy.
So, immigration laws have been historically racist. Trump is actively working to make them more racist. Their current enforcement is absolutely racist. But we need immigrants, badly. What we need to do is streamline the immigration and naturalization process dramatically.

Citizenship should be no more complicated than going to the courthouse, paying for a filing fee and background check, no more than $200, and after the background check goes through, they’re citizens. Just that simple.

If you’re worried about violent gangs like MS 13 or Mexican cartels taking advantage of this, end the drug war and stop destabilizing Central and South American governments. Easy fix.

The benefits of this would be huge:

And, of course:

The rights guaranteed by US citizenship should be natural and inalienable human rights anyway.

These are rights that we have championed all over the globe, whose praises the US has sung, authentically or not, hypocritically or not, since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

It’s time to stand up to racism and to exploitation, and to embrace the idea of streamlined citizenship. Let’s make the United States as easy for the world to emigrate into as it was for centuries of Europeans.

And it’d finally put to rest the angry screams of “THEY’RE JUST ENFORCING THE LAW” and “ILLEGALS BROKE THE LAW”.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

No, We Can't All Just Get Along With The Rise Of Genuine Textbook Fascism In America

A friend on Facebook who has the misfortune of having Trump supporters as friends asked them why they support Trump. What followed was a stream of Fox News propaganda and alt-right conspiracy theories, lunatic memes propagated through the American political zeitgeist like Kaposi's Sarcoma‎ through the body of an HIV victim. I won't punish anyone by repeating them all, but this one stuck out as particularly bad, and terrifying.
Obama had BLM in the WH. They are a terrorist group, and will be labeled as such soon. Cop killers in the WH sucks & so does the potus!
After 15 years of the War on Terror, what do we do with terrorists? We jail them indefinitely sometimes. More often, we kill them. Classifying someone as a terrorist means you take out their vehicle or wedding party or house with a Hellfire launched from Nellis, or you light them up with an Apache, or Marines take them out. We kill terrorists.

Black Lives Matter is a political movement, one I consider myself part of, that believes the police are far too ready to use and misuse deadly force, and that they do not have enough legal accountability for this, and that people are too ready to excuse them when people, predominantly African-Americans, die as a result.

For example, in florida this week a black behavorial therapist was shot by a cop while the therapist tried to calm an autistic patient in his care. When the black man, who thankfully survived, asked the cop why he was shot, the cop said "I don't know."

Let that soak in, because it's terrifying. It'd be even more terrifying if I was a black man, but as I possess empathy and common decency I can at least try to imagine how terrifying it would be to be in that position. What's more, that black man had been lying down on the ground with his hands in the air explaining to the police what was happening and that the autistic man had a toy truck. There is nothing more he could have done to comply and be non-threatening, but he couldn't change his skin color.

So, that's why Black Lives Matter exists. But to that Trump supporter, we're a terrorist movement. And in the US we kill terrorists.

After everything went to fucky fuck hell, the friend who'd asked the question initially made another post bemoaning the lack of unity and civility in American politics.
How can we expect our leaders to work across the aisle when we can't do the sane with our friends and neighbors? I asked a question to Trump supporters today and was shocked at how rapidly it turned partisan. What I found, in my opinion, is we share many of the same concerns. For me the only major difference is immigration. I do believe we need to put aside our preconceived notions of what a conservative and liberal are and speak to each other with a more open mind and try understand why others hold the beliefs they have.
The white woman who'd called BLM terrorists replied to this blaming us, and also quite inaccurately calling me a Clinton supporter, saying
Your Hillary friends started the insults & mud slinging. You asked your Trump friends for their opinion and we're getting good feedback until the Hillary supporters started attacking. Just saying. Go figure.
My own response to his post is reproduced below in its entirety:

I have no interest in a conversation with people who think Black Lives Matter activists, and I count myself among BLM supporters, are a terrorist movement.

Trying to "reach across the aisle" and sing kumbaya is a great thing but when you do that with the wrong people, people who hate you, people who want you dead, you're just putting your back in easy reach for them.

Americans need to wake up to the fact that we don't have gentlemanly political disagreements here any more than the competing political parties in the Weimar Republic had. We have open racist sexist fascism. Literal fucking fascism, and it wants us dead. 

Falling prey to the fallacy of the golden mean in this environment means you wind up half dead. Fascists who take power, people who think that annoying pesky protesters can be dismissed and summarily eradicated as terrorists, don't throw you halfway out of a helicopter just because you're a nice guy centrist. You either march in lock step or they will fucking kill you. 

The American South is littered with graves, marked and unmarked, of people during the civil rights movement who thought just being a good person was good enough until they ran into a deputy sheriff or sheriff allied with the KKK. 

I'm not a Hillary supporter (although it is easy for small minds capable only of binary thought to sort all "enemies" into one group), I'm not a liberal, I am an anti-fascist. That doesn't lead to me supporting friendly fascists like Clinton any more than it leads to me supporting unfriendly lowest common denominator fascists like Trump. 

It's easy to understand why other people have the ideas they have. The economy is shit in the US thanks to capitalist exploitation. As during the Depression era Weimar Republic, in the absence of class consciousness people who are poor or middle class, who have enough to be afraid of losing it, can be easily manipulated by a charismatic rabble rouser into hating different races and ethnic groups. Until we find a way to increase class consciousness racism will still be the default go to for the explanation of how shitting poor peoples lives are.

It's easy to understand why Mussolini rose to power, or why Franco's fascists in Spain rose to power, or why Pinochet came to power in Chile and started chucking intellectuals out of helicopters. It's easy to understand the motivations for people who enable tyrants. Hitler wrote extensively about what he was doing and how he was doing it while he was doing it, and there are no great secrets there. That we understand them doesn't make them any less imminently dangerous. I can understand sarin gas or botulinum or a scorpion but it doesn't make them any less deadly.

I'm distinguishing genuine racist fascists from all Trump supporters. There's a lot of overlap in the venn diagram, but there may be some people who support Trump who aren't fascists and who can be talked to and reasoned with. However, it would be extremely difficult because the one single overarching common element I see between every single statement I've ever seen made by Trump supporters is uniformly they are profoundly misinformed. They have a view of the world that demonstrably doesn't match up to reality. 

And what's worse is that when you point it out, they don't care. You can point out extensively sourced rebuttals of what they hold as articles of faith, and it just washes over them. You can't have a discussion or gentleman's agreement with that either. It isn't a philosophical difference or different values prioritized, it's a belief that 2+2 = 9/11Benghazi.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The "Hillary Clinton Victory Fund"

A Win For Hillary Clinton's Methods Is A Loss For Participatory Democracy

From the 18th century to the 20th century Tammany Hall was one of the most powerful political organizations in New York City. It was also one of the most corrupt. Among its more notorious leaders was old Boss Tweed in the late 19th century;

William Magear Tweed (April 3, 1823 – April 12, 1878) – often erroneously referred to as William Marcy Tweed (see below),[1] and widely known as "Boss" Tweed – was an American politician most notable for being the "boss" of Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party political machine that played a major role in the politics of 19th century New York City and State. At the height of his influence, Tweed was the third-largest landowner in New York City, a director of the Erie Railroad, the Tenth National Bank, and the New-York Printing Company, as well as proprietor of the Metropolitan Hotel.[2] 
Tweed was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1852 and the New York County Board of Supervisors in 1858, the year he became the head of the Tammany Hall political machine. He was also elected to the New York State Senate in 1867, but Tweed's greatest influence came from being an appointed member of a number of boards and commissions, his control over political patronage in New York City through Tammany, and his ability to ensure the loyalty of voters through jobs he could create and dispense on city-related projects.
According to Tweed biographer Kenneth D. Ackerman:
It's hard not to admire the skill behind Tweed's system ... The Tweed ring at its height was an engineering marvel, strong and solid, strategically deployed to control key power points: the courts, the legislature, the treasury and the ballot box. Its frauds had a grandeur of scale and an elegance of structure: money-laundering, profit sharing and organization.[3]
Tweed was convicted for stealing an amount estimated by an aldermen's committee in 1877 at between $25 million and $45 million from New York City taxpayers through political corruption, although later estimates ranged as high as $200 million.[4] Unable to make bail, he escaped from jail once, but was returned to custody. He died in the Ludlow Street Jail.

Boss Tweed's ghost is alive and well in the Democratic Party today. Establishment political figures are backing Hillary Clinton for money and favors.

There's a reason we suddenly have so many establishment Democrat politicians backing Hillary. They want the big donor money she brings them for their own campaigns. To go into greater detail, let's read about the Hillary Clinton Victory Fund.

Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, has set up a joint fundraising committee with the DNC and the new rules are likely to provide her with an advantage.
The new rules have already opened up opportunities for influence-buying “by Washington lobbyists with six-figure contributions to the Hillary Victory Fund,” said Wertheimer, suggesting that lobbyists could also face “political extortion” from those raising the money.

The move to create the “Victory Funds” – in which the money raised would be divided between the state parties and the Clinton campaign – comes as efforts to form a joint fund-raising agreement with the Democratic National Committee have repeatedly hit snags over concerns in the Clinton campaign about the current party leadership’s controlling the money in any shared account. The national committee, which is intended to remain neutral, has been accused by Mrs. Clinton’s rivals for the nomination of taking actions that could benefit Mrs. Clinton, such as restricting the number of debates.

According to a Wednesday night FEC filing, the states set up agreements with the "Hillary Victory Fund," ensuring that each state party "collects contributions, pays fundraising expenses and disburses net proceeds for ... the authorized committee of a federal candidate." Many key primary states and battleground states signed the agreements, such as Florida, Ohio, Nevada, South Carolina and New Hampshire. 
In addition to the 33 state agreements, the Hillary Victory fund also has set up joint fundraising agreements with Hillary for America and the Democratic National Committee. By doing so, Clinton's fundraising dollars can aid Democrats in each of the participating states and allow donors who give to the state parties to aid her campaign, thus linking the success of other Democrats to her own dollars and vice versa.

The Clinton campaign’s super joint fundraising committee is out of the ordinary for two reasons. First, presidential candidates do not normally enter into fundraising agreements with their party’s committees until after they actually win the nomination. Second, Clinton’s fundraising committee is the first since the Supreme Court’s 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC decision eliminated aggregate contribution limits and Congress increased party contribution limits in the 2014 omnibus budget bill.

A great example of the corruption we're seeing in this new fundraising reality is the chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, Andrea McGuire. She has been a dedicated Clinton campaign operative since 2007, even going so far as to have a HRC2016 license plate:
One of the first Iowans to buy "Hard Choices" was Dr. Andrea McGuire, who was co-chairwoman of Clinton's 2008 campaign in Iowa. "I want to see what she has to say about what she did as secretary of state and how she's become the great leader she is," she said. 
It wasn't a leap to suspect McGuire would add the book to her collection. The license plate on her Buick Enclave says "HRC 2016."
"It was a Christmas gift from my kids," said McGuire, who lives in Des Moines. "They said what would their mom like best and what she would like is for Hillary to be president."

Sanders aides asked to sit down with the state party to review the paperwork from the precinct chairs, Batrice said.
"We just want to work with the party and get the questions that are unanswered answered," she said.
McGuire, in an interview with the Register, said no.

But it's not like there was any sign of top-down incompetence and disorganization in the Iowa caucus, except for later in that article:
Democratic voters reported long lines, too few volunteers, a lack of leadership and confusing signage. In some cases, people waited for an hour in one line, only to learn their precinct was in a different area of the same building. The proceedings were to begin at 7 p.m. but started late in many cases. 
The scene at precinct No. 42, the one with the final missing votes, was "chaos" Monday night, said Jill Joseph, a rank-and-file Democratic voter who backed Sanders in the caucuses.
None of the 400-plus Democrats wanted to be in charge of the caucus, so a man who had shown up just to vote reluctantly stepped forward. As Joseph was leaving with the untrained caucus chairman, who is one of her neighbors, "I looked at him and said, 'Who called in the results of our caucus?' And we didn't know."

Expect to see this repeated in other primaries and caucuses, as a political system bought by the Clintons and coerced into a symbiotic relationship where the local and state level Democratic political leaders cannot survive without the Clintons makes perfectly clear that the voices of the little people are not desired or heeded. 

The reason so many state and local level politicians have come out supporting Hillary Clinton's presidency, the reason she has so many more superdelegates this time than in 2008, is because of matching funding through the Hillary Clinton Victory Fund. They raise funds for Hillary, and they get a cut of those funds. Here's how it works:
  1. Donations to the "Hillary Clinton Victory Fund" are spread out among campaigns in the participating states. 
  2. Politician campaigns for Clinton and calls on people to donate.
  3. Donors donate to the "Hillary Clinton Victory Fund"
  4. Donations are shared between Hillary Clinton and the politician who was campaigning for her.

It's all documented. And that donation-sharing goes not just for small time internet donors but for big campaign fundraisers.

If this is successful in 2016, we won't see an end to it.

Superdelegates have been a big topic of opinion pieces recently, same as they were in 2008. They're going to be irrelevant soon. The Democratic Party can do away with them in order to create the illusion of reform.

Even though many places have gone into the history of delegates and superdelegates recently, I'll do another brief overview. The 1968 Democratic National Convention was an utter disaster for Democrats. Party leaders selected a candidate over the complaints of the base, there were protests and riots, and ultimately the election was handed to Richard Nixon. In the aftermath, the McGovern-Frazer Commission recommended reforms to the process that ensured state level party leaders couldn't simply select their own delegates, and everyone in the party would have a say in the process. This was, for a time, the end of the “smoke filled back room” and these reforms were implemented by the 1972 election.

As a result, George McGovern was selected in 1972 as the Democratic candidate, and Jimmy Carter in 1976. These selections were seen as too extreme by party leaders, and the political insiders wanted a greater say in the process so that going forward they could spike any candidate unacceptable to the Democrat political establishment. From this, the superdelegates were born.

Now that the Clintons, and their successors in 2020, 2024, 2028, and onward, can simply purchase all levels of state leadership, there's no need for them to worry about superdelegates. It'll be a pretty simple process:

  1. The establishment's chosen candidate, based on whoever's “turn” it is, sets up a Victory Fund that links funding between their primary campaign and the re-election campaigns of all incumbents, as well as the campaigns of anyone chosen by party leadership to challenge a Republican
  2. With the full might of the national, state, and local Democratic Party leveled against any potential challengers, the challenge becomes clearly futile (especially if Clinton's plan works in 2016) and every primary is a coronation.
  3. Campaign contributors, including business interests, are able to simply buy not only the candidate they want but the support of the entire state level party. The candidates who get through the process will all be corrupt, as it will be impossible for an honest politician to survive politically.
  4. Scare tactics will be used to coerce the voting base into voting for whoever is presented, no matter how bad they are, because they aren't on the opposing team.

Understand that I'm not talking about a presidential primary process made meaningless. I'm talking about every primary process made meaningless. And if this works for the Democrats, the Republicans are going to pick it up too. It will not be stopped or overturned by anyone who gets through this political process. Anybody who thinks that Hillary Clinton will appoint Supreme Court Justices, that will overturn the decisions which made the Hillary Clinton Victory Fund and Hillary Clinton's subsequent election possible, is unbelievably naive or an outright idiot.

If this becomes successful in the primary, the only way to fight it is vote against Clinton in the general. Vote for whoever else is closest to your politics. I'm 92% aligned with Jill Stein, 55% with Gary Johnson, so I'll be voting for Jill Stein if the Democrats are successful in shutting out Bernie Sanders. Voters must boycott any candidate selected using these methods, until the parties using those methods stop or are destroyed.

The alternative is a government nakedly owned by the wealthy where as voters we have no say in the process whatsoever. That means that whatever social, economic, or foreign policies you may like would be absolutely irrelevant, government would instead work exclusively for their financial backers. Participatory democracy where a voter's vote actually matters in any meaningful way would cease to exist. To be sure, we don't have much of that now, but what's there would be gone. 

Replaced by the Establishment Candidate Victory Fund.

And in an echo of Tammany Hall, we'll see a return to the days of patronage and unchecked cronyism. Government will exist purely as a mechanism to transition money from the taxpayers to the wealthy. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, the middle class gets fucked, and we finish our headlong rush into a new "Gilded Age".

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

PSA - either Australia has mass shootings or we don't have one a day

I see plenty of memes on Facebook that we've had a "mass shooting a day". This number originated as intentional propaganda by an anti-gun subreddit, and has been repeated by the Washington Post, the Guardian, and the New York Times.

But by the Mother Jones definition we've had 4. Their editor did an op-ed for the New York Times where he explains:

At Mother Jones, where I work as an editor, we have compiled an in-depth, open-source database covering more than three decades of public mass shootings. By our measure, there have been four “mass shootings” this year, including the one in San Bernardino, and at least 73 such attacks since 1982.

 He then describes the different methods of counting used:

For at least the past decade, the F.B.I. regarded a mass shooting as a single attack in which four or more victims were killed. (In 2013, a mandate from President Obama for further study of the problem lowered that threshold to three victims killed.) When we began compiling our database in 2012, we used that criteria of four or more killed in public attacks, but excluded mass murders that stemmed from robbery, gang violence or domestic abuse in private homes. Our goal with this relatively narrow set of parameters was to better understand the seemingly indiscriminate attacks that have increased in recent years, whether in movie theaters, elementary schools or office parks.

The statistics now being highlighted in the news come primarily from shootingtracker.com, a website built by members of a Reddit forum supporting gun control called GunsAreCool. That site aggregates news stories about shooting incidents — of any kind — in which four or more people are reported to have been either injured or killed.

He explains the danger in using the wider definition:

There is value in collecting those stories as a blunt measure of gun violence involving multiple victims. But as those numbers gain traction in the news media, they distort our understanding. According to our research at Mother Jones — subsequently corroborated by the F.B.I. — the more narrowly defined mass shootings have grown more frequent, and overwhelmingly involve legally obtained firearms. Experts in the emerging field of threat assessment believe that this is a unique phenomenon that must be understood on its own.

I also see plenty of memes on Facebook saying that since Australia passed "reasonable gun control", meaning they more or less banned civilian gun ownership in most circumstances, they haven't had a mass shooting.

For example, the New York Times, same people who repeat Reddit when saying we have a mass shooting a day, claimed that Australia ended mass killings. In fact, in order to have Australia meet that criteria, the New York Times doesn't use the "GunsAreCool" definition of a mass shooting and instead creates their own:

The oft-cited statistic in Australia is a simple one: There have been no mass killings — defined by experts there as a gunman killing five or more people besides himself — since the nation significantly tightened its gun control laws almost 20 years ago.

 Well shit, that's a tighter threshold than the FBI or Mother Jones used. By that standard we would have had much less "mass killings" in the US than even those claimed by Mother Jones, and thousands less than claimed by... the New York Times.

In Australia following the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, Australia passed strict restrictions on civilian gun ownership. Australia's former Prime Minister has said:

"We will find any means we can to further restrict them because I hate guns. I don't think people should have guns unless they're police or in the military or in the security industry. There is no earthly reason for people to have weapons. Ordinary citizens should not have weapons. We do not want the American disease brought into Australia."

When you see people supporting the Australian method, this is what they're saying. Ordinary citizens should not be arms, and guns will be restricted by any means necessary because the people pushing for gun laws hate guns. If your position is that we should have some new laws but still have citizen "weapon" ownership, realize that when you join with people pushing for Australian gun control and looking at Australia as a model.

If you're a gun owner trying to find a middle ground, realize you're working with people who hate that you as a civilian are able to own any firearm and every new law they get passed is towards the ultimate goal of ending that.

 I digress.

Following those restrictions was the Monash University shooting in 2002.

The Monash University shooting refers to a school shooting in which a student shot his classmates and teacher, killing two and injuring five.

By the GunsAreCool standard, a mass shooting. 7 people were shot.

In 2011 there was the Hectorville Siege.

It began after a 39-year-old resident of the suburb, later identified as Donato Anthony Corbo, entered his neighbours' property and shot four people, killing three and severly wounding one. An eight-hour stand-off with police followed, during which time he shot and wounded two officers.

By the GunsAreCool standard, a mass shooting. 6 people were shot.

In 2014, the Hunt Family murders.

Murder-suicide shooting spree by Geoff Hunt who killed his wife and three children before turning the gun on himself

Five fatalities, four family members and a suicide by the killer; a mass shooting by GunsAreCool **and** FBI standards. But not by the much tighter New York Times standard intended to make Australia look perfect, which would exclude the perpetrator.
Under the new federal definition which was ordered by Obama and lowers the number required for the FBI to declare something a mass killing from four to three, Australia has another. The 2014 Wedderburn shooting:

A shooting murder of a neighbour family (Greg Holmes, 48, his mother Mary Lockhart, 75, and her husband Peter Lockhart, 78) by Ian Francis Jamieson, 63.

On top of these four mass shootings, there have also been 171 deaths in mass arson attacks, there was a mass stabbing that killed 8, and a mass blunt instrument killing that killed 5. This shows that mass murderers will find other methods.

There's a graph by GunPolicy.org an anti-gun site, showing the rate of firearms deaths in Australia falling over time.

If that data line looks familiar, there's a reason. Here's the rate of homicide gun deaths for the US for roughly the same time.

In both countries, murders have been consistently falling, at roughly the same rate and over the same period of time. Since we have drastically different gun laws, maybe the gun laws aren't the factor.

Regardless, here's my main point. If anti-gun activists want to use their wildly inflated "a mass shooting a day!" bogus statistic, they cannot then claim that Australia hasn't had any mass shootings since they passed "reasonable gun control".
And these definitions are important, as discussed by USA Today:

Yet marking the death toll of mass killings in America is anything but simple. It's hampered by the FBI's voluntary reporting system that gets it right a little more than half the time, and by advocacy groups who may count only incidents that support their cause, ignoring killings that don't involve a gun or did not get heavy media coverage.

Concentrating on just one type of mass killing — or only on those that get a lot of attention — may be worse than just using the FBI data, because it can skew public understanding and lead to ineffective policies, says Grant Duwe, a senior researcher with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, who has written a book on mass killings based on a data set he built covering the 1900s.

USA Today also mentions that the FBI is releasing the raw data for easier review but there's a caution against misuse:

Even with better data, special interest groups or unscrupulous academics can manipulate the numbers, just as with any other data set.

"If you have a cherry-picked list of cases, it's basically garbage in, garbage out," Duwe said. "And it does have important implications to additional research we do in terms of public policy."

Careful and scrupulous review of the data by USA Today provided interesting results:

USA TODAY's data debunks common beliefs. For example, it shows that the number of mass killings has not increased in recent years; most occur among family members; and handguns, not assault weapons, are most commonly used.

Honesty and academic rigor is important. It's especially important if your goal is to enact effective public policy and to negotiate in good faith with both sides of a political issue. But they are much less important if your goal is to simply repeat phony statistics that make you feel good and that you and your friends think illustrate the bloody handed evil and greed of the "gun lobby". This can feel satisfying in the short run, it may drive Likes and Shares and Pageviews, but it doesn't do anything about violence and makes genuinely effective policy changes much harder to attain.

There's a reason why people with an agenda, and the New York Times is leading the charge on that, want to use a different definition of mass shooting for Australia than they use for the US. It's important to make it look like new gun laws work. So Australia must have a perfect record. These people with an agenda are selling a promise of safety and security. "If we enact Australia's gun laws it will end mass killings in America." But nothing is certain. And the reason they use a different number for the US is so that they can inflate the severity. Four mass shootings a year would be bad enough. But it doesn't generate enough of an unreasoning panic, so they have to change the definitions to make it look like there's a Newton or Columbine every day.

The lesson of Australia is that you don't end gun violence or mass killings just by passing a law. There's not a magic legal wand you can wave to end violence. And if somebody is offering you one, they're lying to you. Be very careful before you repeat anything they say.

Monday, October 12, 2015

It's not NRA lobbying blocking new anti-gun laws - it's grassroots voters and gun owners

Recently Obama again attacked the NRA for no new laws being passed in the wake of shootings where the shooters had no previous red flags and had passed background checks and had used handguns. It's the NRA's fault that these tragedies couldn't be exploited to expand background checks to isolated private sales and an "assault weapons ban" on semiautomatic sporting rifles.

What this ignores is that the NRA doesn't have that much money. What it has is the support of a very large section of the voters. Many gun owners aren't members of the NRA. I'm not. Many more members got their membership because it's packaged free with most new gun sales. But we're voters who care about much the same things that the NRA cares about.

We're also not lying about poll numbers. There was a poll that claimed 90% of Americans "support background checks", so how was it possible that the Manchin-Toomey bill could have failed? Well, 90% of Americans do support some background checks. Probably most background checks. I have no problem with a background check for buying a gun from a dealer or from an FFL. But it's impossible to have what are called "universal background checks", the expansion of background checks to private intrastate transfers, without a gun registry. As I've pointed out before. And that's why Manchin-Toomey failed. Gun owners knew about this problem with the bill, and called their Senators and their Representatives. That's also why support for "background checks" fell so rapidly.

But Obama and other politicians keep pushing the "90%" line, again and again and again. Obama said after Manchin-Toomey failed that "The American people are trying to figure out -- how can something that has 90 percent support not happen?" It's an easy question to answer. He's wrong. The poll is wrong. There wasn't 90% support for the bill.

This is backed up by what one of the bill's supporters said after the bill failed, "When 90 percent of the people want something, and the senator votes against them, the next election, we're going to take care of those senators, because they're not representing the people."

And yet, those Senators weren't replaced. The vote was in 2013. In the 2014 elections, the Republicans held all of their Senate seats and gained 9 Democrat seats to regain control of the Senate for the first time since the Bush Administration. Clearly 90% of the country had spoken. Those Senators weren't "taken care of", because they were representing the voters.

Politicians, pundits, talk show hosts, comedians, and rank and file democrats attack "The NRA", claiming that its lobbying and money prevents Congress from "making progress" on banning guns. But as a lobby, the NRA is a fricking joke in terms of DC money.

Getting past the obvious dripping bias of the OpenSecrets description, the numbers speak for themselves.

Top Contributors, 2013-2014
Contributor Amount
National Rifle Assn  $952,252
Safari Club International  $694,640
Gun Owners of America  $270,157
National Assn for Gun Rights  $175,650
National Shooting Sports Foundation  $169,250
Ohio Gun Collectors Assn  $35,500
Dallas Safari Club  $9,250

About $2.3 million. Compare that to the Environment sector, where the top contributor alone put in $4.3 million in the same time frame. Look at the Communications sector, Comcast lobbyists alone have put in $3.93 million. In fact, at $2.259 million, lobbying from *Microsoft alone* comes close to equaling *the entirety of lobbying done by the NRA*. In the energy sector, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association put in as much as the entire firearms lobbying sector.

Gun industry's *monetary* influence on politics is negligible. But the truth, and the thing that drives anti-gunners into a furious and impotent rage, is the fact that it's individual voters by the millions who drive gun policy. It's phone calls and emails and letters to politicians, it's election time volunteering and voting. And gun owners do it better than gun opponents. And they hate us for it. Read this angry anti-gun voter piece from Mother Jones, where they complain that they can't even win after using Bloomberg money to buy elections.

Money alone does not equal political power. Supporters of the background check bill and new gun control laws have lots of money. Bloomberg alone has spent tens of millions of dollars through Mayors Against Illegal Guns and his self-funded super-PAC, Independence USA, to counter the influence of the gun lobby. He ousted NRA-backed congressional candidates in the 2012 elections and again this year in Illinois, where he spent more than $2 million to defeat Debbie Halvorson, a Democrat who'd previously received an A rating from the NRA, in the special primary to replace disgraced ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Bloomberg declared that his money was a warning sign for pro-gun lawmakers: Shill for the NRA and I'll drop big money to bounce you out of office. That threat wasn't enough to persuade a handful of Democratic senators from red states and Republican senators who were once thought of as possible votes for gun safety measures.
Shilling against gun ownership is fine. SuperPACs are fine. Using big money to throw elections is fine, so long as you further the political goals of the anti-gun movement*.

The double standard for anyone concerned about money in politics is stunning and repulsive.

They also found that their own lobbying group couldn't get it done.

Obama's political machine could not overcome the NRA's might. A database of tens of millions of voters and the best political technology on the planet do not equal political power. The background check fight was the first real test for Organizing for Action, the advocacy group spawned from of the president's massively successful reelection campaign. Former Obama aides created OFA to mobilize Obama supporters during legislative fights like this one, hoping to use all the names, data, and other finely honed technologies during the 2012 campaign to create the outside pressure needed to push contentious pieces of legislation across the finish line.  
OFA executive director Jon Carson wrote that more than 22,000 people called the Senate on Wednesday demanding passage of Manchin-Toomey. But there were no reports of crippled phone lines or a massive surge of public interest similar to what was seen during the legislative debates over health care reform or financial reform. OFA devoted time and money organizing its members, but it wasn't enough.
Note the author's crowing over the database of "tens of millions of voters" as a positive, and how that database only translated to 22,000 calls in support of more gun control laws. This is key because of later in the article when they go after the NRA:

Here is what political power looks like: It's the combination of money, intensity, and influence when it matters most. The NRA boasts all of the above. LaPierre and his NRA colleagues around the country know how to whip their members—4.5 million of them by the NRA's count—into a frenzy. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 1 in 5 gun owners had called, written, or emailed a public official; only 1 in 10 people without a gun in the household had done the same. In the same poll, 1 in 5 gun owners said they'd given money to a group involved in the gun control debate; just 4 percent of people without a gun in the home previously gave money.

It's bad that the NRA boasts 4.5 million members because the author disagrees with them. It's good that OFA has a database of tens of millions of members because the author agrees with them. But there are an estimated 80-100 million gun owners in the United States. That means "1 in 5 gun owners" translates to roughly 16 to 20 million voters. That's 4 times the number of members of the NRA.

To the anti-gun movement* it's good that a billionaire throws elections that further their goals, and it's bad that millions of voters donate to politicians in opposition to that one billionaire. The thing that so frustrates the luminaries of the anti-gun movement* is the simple and unavoidable fact that their new laws fail because of democracy. There are no new laws because the democratic process is working, because millions of voters speaking out to their elected officials and donating to their political causes does indeed have more swing than few lobbying groups and wealthy individuals.

Obama wants to paint these millions of voters as being uniformly irrational conspiracy theorists. Which, by the way, is a fucking fantastic way to win people over.

“There is a very passionate group of gun owners who see a conspiracy around any new legislation and have an absolute belief that the Second Amendment means nothing would in any way constrain them from having whatever weapon on the market and modest additional steps are the camel’s nose under the tent to take away their guns,” 
The Second Amendment has already been extensively restricted. Gun ownership now is to the furthest limit of what the Supreme Court has ruled constitutional. And gun owners aren't stupid, we can look at Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, New York, Illinois, and California, and see that these news laws are always the camel's nose. In the same interview Obama praises the anti-gun laws of Australia, which are incredibly restrictive and which have not caused their murder rate to drop significantly.

There is no pressing need for these laws, and the proposed new laws wouldn't have done anything about the recent mass shootings where background checks have been passed, and handguns used instead of "assault rifles". Which means that obviously they wouldn't stop mass shootings, and so the camel's nose would keep going under that tent and result in more laws being passed, and more, and more. As has happened in those previously mentioned fiercely anti-gun states. Anti-gun activists know this, just as surely as gun owners know this. Gun owners aren't** conspiracy wackos, we just aren't idiots either. Ask anyone pushing new gun laws, whether they're a random liberal on the internet, or a politician, or a comedian, anyone who says "nobody is coming for your guns!", if there is a gun law they would oppose. Ask them if there is a single point past which they would say "That's enough new gun laws, I oppose any further laws."

I have. And the answer is always the same. They want gun ownership to end.

Gun owners aren't idiots. We also aren't all conservatives, we aren't all straight, we aren't all white, we aren't all men. We're not easily put into the boxes that they try to put us into. And this, too, infuriates the anti-gun movement. The backlash against Colion Noir, an African-American gun owner, when he became a paid commentator for the NRA was virulent and patronizing. He can't like gun ownership for its own sake, he must be a "shill". Everyone getting paid to post anti-gun articles, they aren't shills, they're just honestly expressing their opinions.

This is why there's no movement on new anti-gun laws. We don't like having our opinions invalidated, we don't like being insulted, we don't like having lies endlessly passed off as truth, and we don't like when a big money SuperPAC with a handful of wealthy donors tries to force their preferred laws to pass. And it's only in the field of gun ownership that the left accepts these things from authoritarian politicians.

This needs to stop, because as the Republican Party self destructs, this is the only thing that could cause the Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, not just in 2016 but in 2018 and possibly even 2020. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, even Bernie Sanders are attacking firearms ownership. Democrats have, or had, a significant advantage in the electoral college. Few things could shake that advantage, but this is one of them. It's not because gun owners are "single issue" voters, but because many of us don't support being lied to and lied about. If you have Hillary Clinton running on an anti-gun platform (she should talk to her husband about how the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban cost the Democrats control of the House) against a Republican, she loses Ohio, Florida, Virginia, probably Pennsylvania, and almost certainly the Presidency.

Anti-gun publication Mother Jones describes the failures and fallout of when the Democrats forced the 1994 AWB through Congress:
As Obama assumes this tough mission, he can look back to the 1994 episode for guidance on how to win the politics and how to avoid screwing up the policy. Clinton savvily enlisted the law enforcement community and made good use of his Cabinet. Obama could emulate both moves. (He has instructed members of his Cabinet to help craft recommendations for Biden's task force.) Yet to make sure his efforts yield real-world results, the president will have to be mindful of policy particulars and not repeat the errors of 1994. "If you're going to be effective, you have to have a broad-based ban on weapons and on ammo," the former Justice Department official says.
One conclusion that can be drawn from the 1994 battle was that the weak ban that emerged might not have been worth the cost. And there was a stiff cost. When Congress passed the assault weapons ban, the NRA vowed vengeance. Months later, the Republicans, backed by the still-outraged NRA, romped the Democrats in the midterm election, gaining 54 seats and control of the House for the first time in 40 years. Clinton, for one, believed that voting for the the assault weapons ban had cost about 20 House Democrats their seats—meaning that the measure had caused a political backlash that led to a GOP the majority in the House. If Obama and others confront the NRA, they had better expect—and prepare for—a battle that will reach a crescendo on November 4, 2014.
Obama, unconcerned with leaving a winning legacy, has said that the Democrats should go ahead and become single issue voters and lose a few elections in order to fight gun ownership.
“You have to make sure that anybody who you are voting for is on the right side of this issue. And if they’re not, even if they’re great on other stuff, for a couple of election cycles you’ve got to vote against them, and let them know precisely why you’re voting against them. And you just have to, for a while, be a single-issue voter because that’s what is happening on the other side."
Imagine the backlash if you or I said the same thing about any other issue, like the Obama Administration's wiretapping, or its drone airstrikes against civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. He's willing to let the Republicans win, in spite of things like gay rights and reproductive rights, if gun ownership is fought.

The question is, will left wing gun owners and voters tolerate this? Will the voters let the Democratic Party leaders take the party down with them in their pursuit for more authoritarian anti-gun laws?

*Can't even say the "anti-gun left", because I am certainly much further left than former Republican mayor Michael Bloomberg.
** well not all of us, not even a majority of us, but that minority is really really loud and it's politically expedient to lump the rest of us in with them