Profiles in cowardice

cowardiceIt all started when President Trump was elected- actually during the 2016 campaign. It seemed that some of our own leaders had no courage in challenging a man who was obviously and clearly not fit to lead our country. Is it too late for us to correct our terrible mistake after just one year? We will see who has courage and who does not.

The past week has brought us to a new low in American democracy. Our beliefs are being challenged. Our moral courage is being challenged by a man who is unfit to lead us.

I want to talk about how lies and misinformation are leading us to a dangerous and unsafe place.

It turns out that science is actually important to the well being of the world. So is research based evidence about just about everything. In my neck of the woods, the flu epidemic is ramping up and people are getting sick. Unfortunately influenza can cause death. It has and it does. In 1918 it took the lives of millions of people around the world. Warnings are being issued that we would not be prepared for such an epidemic now if it occurred. Are we not a country and a world that sent people to the moon, built a space station, has made huge advances in cures for diseases and in technology and other such forward moving ideas?

I found this article about the influenza season and in general about what it might take to keep us safer from a possible pandemic. Note this from the article:

Washington, at the moment, is not particularly interested in science. Research budgets have been slashed, and more cuts are coming. The government spent only $75 million last year on flu vaccine research. The White House is not interested in developing a universal vaccine, the best solution if an animal flu virus infects humans and then goes viral.

Many are worried. Michael Osterholm, professor and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, and Mark Olshaker, a documentary filmmaker who with Osterholm wrote “Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs,” recently sounded a full-throated alarm in the New York Times.

“We are not prepared,” they said. “Our current vaccines are based on 1940s research. Deploying them against a severe global pandemic would be equivalent to trying to stop an advancing battle tank with a single rifle.”

Sigh.

We live in a modern world and country where our very own President and his minions have dumbed down vital government agencies by appointing those who know nothing about the departments they lead. Worse yet, they want to destroy the very departments they lead. (See Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others).

Cutting funding to departments is a trick of those who hate the government. That is the case today. Anti-science sentiment could kill us- and it does.

I am currently reading Dan Brown’s latest book, Origin. One of the main characters reveals some evidence to the world that would shake up the religious leaders and espouse supposed science over religion.

It’s a fascinating read and makes one have to think about what is possible ( or impossible) based on real science and research. Edmond Kirsch, the main protagonist,  revealed his research (posthumously) and his supposed evidence that the world as we know it would end in 50 years.

It’s science based on one person’s tenuous research. It challenges what we know and what we don’t know. But in the end, facts win out. It’s fictional, thank goodness.

So where am I going with this?  Simple. What we need is common sense which is sadly and tragically lacking in the current state of an administration bent on using its’ own #fakenews to attack what they believe is #fakenews. We have a President who lies with every word he says. We have a cover-up by otherwise supposedly intelligent leaders who are supposed to protect us by acting with integrity if something goes awry.

Instead, they are making us less safe by aiding and abetting an administration that will surely implode over its’ own insanity and constant lying and offensive behavior.

Research is important. Facts are important. Science is important. Facts matter.

Since the beginning of this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, 436 Americans have died from gun homicides or “accidents” including 72 children and teens shot and killed or injured. Those are facts. Denying those facts are the corporate gun lobby and some conspiracy theorists, supported by an unstable “genius” sitting in the White House, paid for in part by the corporate gun lobby.

That same corporate gun lobby is making sure that the ATF is underfunded and understaffed so that it can’t do a proper job of monitoring gun stores, gun sales and gun shows in order to make sure there are not bad apple gun dealers selling guns to those who can’t own them. That same corporate gun lobby has made sure that the Centers for Disease Control does not get funding for research about gun violence.

As I have written about previously, there are conspiracy theorists ( one Alex Jones, friend of our President) who claim that mass shootings have not actually happened. And to make matters worse, the NRA foments fear and paranoia in order to encourage loosening gun laws, keep their own power and influence and make sure profits are good for the gun industry. According to the above linked article:

“We’re seeing the rise of a new NRA,” says Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor whose latest book, Gunfight, chronicles the battle over gun rights. “It’s long been committed to a die-hard approach to gun policy; they focused like a laser beam on Second Amendment issues. Now it’s focused on immigration, race, health care. We’re seeing the NRA become an extreme right-wing media outlet, not just a protector of guns.”

Immigration and race are the President’s new focus for his lunatic tweeting now causing a big stir all over the country ( except from the Republicans in Congress and leadership).

Denying real facts and underfunding agencies who are in place because one of governments’ most important work is to protect us from harm of any sort. It should be alarming to us all ( but isn’t to far too many) that this is the way we are going– backwards instead of foreword. It’s downright frightening.

This week has unmasked and revealed the truths that the majority of Americans have known since before our current President was elected. He is not interested in protecting us. He is actually interested in himself. With his unwitting or perhaps cynical lack of the truth and information, he is taking us to a place from which I hope we can dig out.

Lying about everything is taking us backwards and dumbing down the office of the most powerful person in the world. The circling of the wagons in order to win elections is an act of cowardice and cynicism that we haven’t seen ever in America. The list of offenses and behavior by our President is endless but here are just a few:

Attacks on immigrants of color;  outright lying about the outcomes of “tax reform”;  FISA kerfuffle; loosening gun laws and refusing to pass gun policy that is vital to public health and safety; health care debacle; attacking the intelligence and security community; nominating totally unqualified judicial nominees for political gain; attacks on current federal judges for ruling against him; firing the FBI director out of fear of the Russia probe; calling opponents demeaning names; depleting important departments that need to be staffed and funded; proposing off-shore oil drilling ( except in the state that hosts the “winter White House”; outright racism; firing scientists in agencies that rely on scientific research; bating a lunatic North Korean leader; unfounded attacks on the media; proclaiming that his “button” is bigger than the other guy’s “button”; lying about President Obama’s citizenship; claiming that White Supremacists were nice people during Charlottesville racist protests; blaming President Obama as reason for canceling London trip; fomenting about Hillary Clinton more than a year after the 2017 election; obsessing about “collusion” and potentially refusing to meet with the Special Prosecutor; denying that Russian influence in our election may have led to a flawed election and then doing nothing about it to protect the integrity of our democracy.

In a meeting with a few leaders working on a compromise on immigration and DACA, our President demeaned and attacked citizens of Africa and Haiti by using the word “shitholes” to describe where they live and said that he didn’t want Haitians here. Did he remember that today is the 8th anniversary of the earthquake there that killed 300,000 people and left others to leave for a better place to live?

What I have heard today about the President’s words are the following adjectives:

abhorrent….despicable…disgusting…vile…offensive…undignified…unPresidential…repugnant…appalling…outrageous…vulgar…racist…paranoid…lying…profane…deplorable…(Speaker Paul Ryan used the weak word- unhelpful)…lunatic…ridiculous…and many more.

Where are the voices of common sense? Where are the Republicans? They are making apologies for an unhinged President whose tweets are making us less safe and calling attention to his lack of decorum, curiosity, morality, intellectual reasoning, filters, social skills, and understanding of consequences to name just a few.

And the worst of all of this is that he is getting away with it, thanks to the acts of cowardice exhibited by those in his own party, cowering in front of the Emperor who is actually wearing clothes that they can’t see.

Yes, he is an unusual President. That is the least of our worries.

And because this is a blog about the issue of gun violence I will end with just one more of the many incidents that point to the reason we need to educate the public about how easy it is for kids and teens to access guns they should not have and use them either on intentionally or not to harm others.

In St. Paul, Minnesota, some teens were riding around in a car when one of them was shot. They lied about what happened but they didn’t get away with it. The bullet was shot from the back seat of the car by one of the teens who injured another.

Teens should not have access to guns. But they do because we have failed our own children about how risky gun ownership can be. Every gun in the hands of a child must first pass through the hands of an adult. We are failing to keep our children safe from senseless injury and death.

This is not normal or inevitable. This is insanity itself. Because we are ignoring science, research and common sense, innocent Americans are dying and being wounded by bullets every day in numbers that are epidemic. Ignore it at our peril.

We must insist on research and science if we care about our children and grandchildren. The fact that some are preventing us from understanding and knowing the truth is an American tragedy.

We can hide but we can’t escape the consequences of purposeful and cynical lying and obsequious behavior by our very own elected leaders. This must change for the future of our country. We are now dangerously close to living in a country described in the novel 1984

Intolerance of “others” and hatred and racism has caused enough trouble in America. The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps track of hate groups and the numbers are not reassuring given the current atmosphere. Unfortunately for us, our own President is fomenting this and more to others who feel the same way. The most frightening thing about this is that many in his base are the gun rights extremists who may just act out their own fear and paranoia if it’s continuation by our nation’s leader and the gun extremists amongst us is allowed.

Guns and hate never go together. Guns and anger never go together. Guns and intolerance of others never go together. Guns and fear and paranoia never go together.

Stand up and show some courage Republicans. Where are you? You are a profile in cowardice.

We are better than this.

UPDATE:

Because this editorial in the Star Tribune is so relevant to what I wrote, I am including it in my post:

Trump’s latest “hate-filled things” have already reverberated internationally. In just a few examples, a spokesperson for the African Union told the Associated Press, “Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice.” Botswana’s government called Trump’s comments “reprehensible and racist.” And South Africa’s opposition leader added that “the hatred of Obama’s roots now extends to an entire continent.”

The slight against Africans comes at a time when China, America’s chief geopolitical rival, is making great inroads by investing in — and respecting — numerous nations on the continent. Trump’s comments only make the job harder for America’s already beleaguered diplomats.

How much longer can our democracy withstand the leadership of a man unfit to be in the office of leader of the free world?

On-line gun sales

Live Chat on Orange Keyboard Button.

A new market place has opened up for gun sales since the Brady law took effect in 1994. Like everything else, guns can be purchased on-line. Unlike anything else, no other item for sale on-line rises to the definition of a deadly weapon. I buy a lot of things on-line and I like that convenience. I don’t think any other item I buy on-line requires a background check because a sweater, a pair of shoes, a camera or a rug do not kill people. Guns do.

Armslist.com sells guns on line. I checked out what was available today in Minnesota. Many handguns, hunting rifles and also AR-15s are there for people who choose to purchase guns this way. Some sellers do say they will only ship to an FFL and one must have a Minnesota permit to purchase or carry. That’s good news. But many are sold by private sellers with no background check required. When these kinds of gun sales became available , those in the gun violence prevention movement raised concerns about this new market place for guns. Many gun rights extremists claimed that guns could not be bought on line with no background check. What they thought, or said, was that all guns sold on-line went through sites like Gander Mountain, for example, which has strict policies about shipping the purchased guns to a federally licensed firearms dealer for pick-up. There a background check would be required.

Were these folks in denial, lying or didn’t they realize that sites like Armslist.com allowed private sellers to post their wares and sell with no background checks just as they do at gun shows?  Someone I know once spoke with a reporter from the Star Tribune who said that some of the gun folks told him we were lying when we said this was possible. She directed him to Armslist.com and while on the phone call and asked him to click on Minnesota and then take a look at what was available. He admitted that we were right and the gun folks were wrong.

Radcliffe Haughton bought his gun from Armslist.com with no background check. He was a prohibited purchaser. Soon after the purchase, his estranged wife and 2 other people were dead after he shot them all in a fit of rage over a separation. Several others were injured. From the article:

Haughton was able to buy a gun despite a Milwaukee County judge issuing a restraining order against him just three days before the shooting. The restraining order barred him under federal law from owning a firearm or buying one from a gun dealer.

Haughton sidestepped the federal law by purchasing the gun privately.

Private sellers are not required to run background checks and do not have to follow a 48-hour waiting period, required at the time of the shooting for gun dealers in Wisconsin. The waiting period was intended, in part, as a cooling-off period in domestic violence cases. That waiting period was eliminated in a bill passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker over summer.

The lawsuit says Armslist, and its owners, were liable because they created the marketplace that could facilitate such a transaction.

Facebook allows private groups to buy and sell guns to each other. No background checks are required. The transactions are made, as they are on Armslist.com when the seller and buyer choose a place to make the transaction and the cash is exchanged for the gun(s).

It was just a matter of time before people started getting caught trafficking in guns bought and sold on-line. This Minnesota man is one of them.  From the article:

“Feldman’s actions in this case put firearms in the hands of criminals in the Twin Cities and jeopardized public safety,” said James Modzelewski, special agent in charge of the St. Paul field division for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “[The] ATF is committed to working with local police and prosecutors to identify illegal sources of firearms, and hold them accountable. If we’re going to impact gun violence in our communities, we all need to work together to prevent criminals from getting guns.” (…)

The ATF found evidence linking Feldman’s sales to several handguns used in serious crimes.

The indictment said Feldman regularly bought firearms — mostly handguns — from licensed out-of-state sellers using an online auction site, had the weapons transferred to a Burnsville gun shop where he received them, and then quickly advertised them for sale on another website that facilitates gun sales without criminal background checks.

The allegations span two years, with Feldman’s last sale (of more than 50) coming in January at a shopping mall parking lot to an undercover officer used by the ATF.

His indictment came soon after Obama announced that the U.S. Department of Justice would toughen federal gun control efforts, including a warning that “a person can be [considered to be] engaged in the business of dealing in firearms” even if they conduct transactions only at gun shows or online. Those doing so, Obama said, must be licensed, just like dealers who run their businesses out of a traditional storefront.

Feldman advertised on Armslist.com to sell guns he had earlier bought from licensed dealers online. He first had the firearms transferred to L.E. Gun Sales in Burnsville, where he would receive them after completing required paperwork and submitting to a background check.

So much for the “law abiding” gun owner. He was able to purchase the guns legally, going through a background check himself but then turned around and sold them with no background checks. He was acting as a gun dealer and not requiring background checks. This is why we need background checks on all gun sales. These kinds of transactions help provide crime guns. And we need to enforce these laws, already on the books.

Why do some people believe that it’s OK to sell guns with no background checks? How do they know who is on the other end of the transaction? They don’t. It could be an ex-felon who can’t have guns. It could be a domestic abuser or someone who had been adjudicated mentally ill at some point. It could be a fugitive or a terrorist ( who can buy guns legally in the U.S. and we can’t stop them from doing so, thanks to our lax gun laws.)

This just makes no common sense. The corporate gun lobby continues to resist measures to require background checks on all gun sales. Why? They claim that these kinds of sales will lead to gun registration and confiscation even though the very same background checks that have been in place for over 20 years now have not done this.

The gun lobby is wrong of course. But some of our leaders seem to believe them and the minority of gun rights activists in league with the gun lobby cry wolf any time proposed bills come up.

The times are changing however as more Americans are now educated as to the fact that some gun sales do go without background checks. In fact, about 40% do. So the analogy that seems to work best is to think about going through the TSA checkpoints when traveling by plane. And then think about 40% of people who can just walk through without having their bags checked or going through the metal detector. And this analogy becomes even more scary considering how many guns are found in carry-on bags by the TSA.

So the long and short of it is- in order to protect the public from at least some of the daily shootings, the very least we can do is to require background checks on all gun sales and do what the majority of Americans have agreed is the right thing to do. Why not treat every sale the same? Just like all on-line sales of books, cosmetics, clothing, toys, etc. are treated the same for all, sales of guns should be uniform. No one can buy Sudafed without asking the pharmacist- there are no exceptions.  Many states require controlling the substance contained in Sudafed:

Pharmacy is one of the most highly regulated professions.3 Pharmacists are the gatekeepers of dangerous drugs. As such we are in a position to control access to one of the most dangerous of the drugs of abuse. We are at the end of the protected, closed loop of drug distribution. When it comes to protecting society from the illegal traffic in harmful drugs, we can make a difference. In so doing, pharmacists not only follow the law but fulfill our duty to protect society.

Hmmmm. This is a strong statement. Why doesn’t it apply to gun dealers- even private sellers?

Sales of tobacco products require an ID if a young person appears to be below the age of 18 and sellers can be fined for selling to a minor. Selling alcohol to a minor can result in severe fines as well as jail time. We all know that drugs are illegally bought and sold all over the world and that that is a huge problem in our country. The penalties are stiff if someone is caught and we have put a lot of resources into the efforts to stop drug trafficking but it is still happening.  It’s not easy to stop illegal activity like this but the fact that we are putting up no obstacles to dealing with the sales of guns to people who shouldn’t have them is ludicrous and dangerous.

There are exceptions for selling guns to those who can’t legally own them. It’s called legal private sales with no background checks. Gun dealers are required to be licensed but are not monitored as they should be, by design of the corporate gun lobby.

We are talking about allowing deadly weapons to fall into the hands of people who can’t buy them legally from licensed dealers.

This is the opposite of protecting Americans from public health and safety problems.

As Congress finally comes back from its’ longest break ever, lots of important things will be on their plates but little will happen because it’s an election year and they are afraid of their own shadows. We won’t expect much. But we will be watching to see how Congress will avoid dealing with a public health and safety crisis of gun violence not seen in any other country.

Congress needs to act. Ask them to act. If they don’t ask them why not? And keep the pressure on. We can’t let them ignore the fact that over 30,000 Americans die each year from gunshot injuries. Too many families are devastated daily by the carnage. It’s time for that to change.

#Enough.