America the insane

It’s not easy for a mass murderer to get to the front of the news cycle nowadays. Just shooting a handful of innocent people isn’t enough. They have to do it in a really spectacular or public fashion. And then, like clockwork, the president comes out and sighs and shakes his head and tells us we choose to live (and die) like this and that we can do better. Then someone proposes something logical like stricter background checks or limits on magazine sizes or whatever and, invariably, those on the other side say…

“But that wouldn’t have stopped Sandy Hook / Colorado Springs / Charleston / Washington Navy Yards / San Bernardino / (pick your favorite from the ever-growing list).”

But that isn’t the damned point. As tragic and heartbreaking as these punctuation marks on the 2nd Amendment are, they aren’t the real tragedy. Since 2001, more than 400,000 Americans have lost their lives to gun violence. That comes in lots of flavors we rarely if ever hear about on TV. Random drive-bys, suicides, accidents, etc. The point of trying to pass what are really common sense checks on who can buy and own a gun is to try and make a dent in that massive pile of bodies, not necessarily stop the banner headline makers.

Today, twenty-four hours after 14 people were killed in San Bernardino, the Senate rejected a bill opposed by the NRA that would have expanded background checks and disallowed the mentally ill, felons, and those on the federal terror watch list from buying guns. How in the name of all that’s right in the world do you oppose that? Somehow, all but one Republican in the Senate (along with one Democrat) found a way.

That’s obscene. It’s repulsive. It’s nihilistic. It’s fucking un-American.

We used to be able to look at hard problems and find a way to fix them. We prided ourselves in doing the things nobody else could do. But that American resolve melts like butter in the face of this issue. The mighty NRA has weaponized the fear of Americans. Terrified them so much that they vote against anyone unwilling to tow the absolutist 2nd Amendment line. Not to defend the rights of Americans, but to defend the ability of gun manufacturers to sell their wares on the American market.

What in the hell will have to happen to change this? The killing of 20 little children didn’t do it. Dead cops and military members didn’t do it. The god-fearing shot down in their own church didn’t do it. What kind of horror will it take? How awful must things get before we do even the most simple and logical thing about firearms?

I have no honest idea. But whatever it is, we’ll deserve it for having done nothing before then.

Originally published on Medium.

Nothing will be done

I am, by nature, an optimistic person. I feel like intractable issues can be solved with enough information, education, and dedication by honest people who want to find solutions in the spirit of pragmatic compromise. I wholeheartedly believe in the promise of representative democracy. But I feel nothing but a nihilistic fatalism when it comes to the issue of gun violence in the United States.

Many of my friends in social media are calling for nothing less than the eradication of guns in our society. Several others refuse to acknowledge we even have a gun problem. Our problem is with violence and insanity, they assert, not firearms. 

Everything against nothing. There is no middle ground. 

Just five days ago, Hillary Clinton said, “We are smart enough, we are compassionate enough, to figure out how to balance the legitimate Second Amendment rights with preventative measures, and control measures, so that…we will not see more deaths.” I do believe we’re smart and I do believe we’re compassionate, but more than anything else we are distrustful of ourselves. And that distrust eats our intelligence and blots out our compassion so that nothing ever happens. 

The closest analog I can think of regarding an issue so divisive and seemingly immune to reasoned discussion was the discord over slavery in the 1850’s leading up to Abraham Lincoln’s election. Just the election of someone who felt slavery was wrong was enough to drive southern states from the Union. Even before he was inaugurated and before he could advocate any action at all, and in the face of his specific statements to the contrary of their fears, pro-slavery advocates assumed the very worst, gave up on democracy, and took the most drastic action.

Try having a conversation with someone on either extreme of the gun issue and see how far you’ll get. There is no common ground and those who might have it are either not willing to speak or are shouted down while trying to make their point. As I read my Civil War history, I see many parallels. 

I don’t think guns will lead to a civil war, but I also don’t think anything of real significance will be allowed to transpire. Not in this generation and probably not the next. All the greatness of our nation and all the grand ideals we supposedly represent are balanced by this poison in our soul. The guns themselves are not the poison. Our unwillingness or inability to talk and compromise and find a way forward is. It’s as though we are required to make this regular payment of innocent blood in exchange for being who we are. 

We will do nothing about gun violence until we can do something about our fundamental mistrust and unwillingness to empathize with those with whom we disagree. Our media and our politics conspire to ensure that will never happen. 

Nothing will be done. It will happen again and again. And I hate that I feel this way about it.

The immutable nature of liberty

Following the trends of recent years regarding the definition of “religious liberty,” the New York Times reports:

Within hours of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, an array of conservatives including the governors of Texas and Louisiana and religious groups called for stronger legal protections for those who want to avoid any involvement in same-sex marriage, like catering a gay wedding or providing school housing to gay couples, based on religious beliefs.

They demanded establishing clear religious exemptions from discrimination laws, tax penalties or other government regulations for individuals, businesses and religious-affiliated institutions wishing to avoid endorsing such marriages.

And as if on cue, this is already happening in places like Texas:

The state’s Attorney General is inviting, really encouraging, public officials to defy last week’s Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage for same sex couples across the United States. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is telling country clerks they may refuse to issue marriage licenses if they believe same sex marriages violate their religious beliefs.

I think the state needs a pretty good reason to make someone do something they either don’t agree with or simply don’t want to do. I’m inclined to let those with strong feelings about same-sex marriage live as they like, even if I completely disagree with them. The problem is, we continue to talk about LGBT people as though they’re doing something some of us don’t agree with as opposed to being a certain way. 

Federal anti-discrimination law covers five attributes: race, skin color, gender, ethnic origin, and physical disability. Note that none of these are things over which an individual has choice. One cannot choose to be younger or white or able to walk when physically unable to do so. In the same way, those who are emotionally satisfied in relationships with others of the same gender have not made a choice to be that way. At no point has any 8-year-old made the decision to be gay or bisexual. It just happens. Justice Kennedy called it an “immutable nature” in his majority opinion and, indeed, it is just that. 

If it’s wrong to discriminate against people due to things they have no control over, then it’s wrong to discriminate against those who need to be in same-sex marriages. If one’s religion teaches that these people are somehow evil or going against the wishes of a supreme being and less deserving of basic dignities, then we need to have the courage to stand up and say their religion (or, more likely, their interpretation of it) is wrong. As such, absolutely no exceptions should be allowed for those who choose to discriminate against those who only want to live the life they were born to live.

The First Amendment protects people of faith from being required to do anything that violates that faith in the act of practicing their faith. That means Hasidic rabbis are not required to marry those who aren’t Jewish and Catholic priests can require those seeking marriage in that church to follow the tenets of Catholicism. But being a county clerk isn’t the same thing at all. Providing a government service guaranteed by law is not “being a Christian.” The government, as the 14th Amendment assures, is required to apply its laws equally. No person acting as an agent of the government has the right to apply any factors to their work other than the civil law. Their religion-driven discomfort is not as important as another’s right to be married.

The issue is a little squishier when it comes to businesses. My company has chosen not to serve gambling or tobacco clients, but that’s different than saying a baker cannot serve a same-sex couple because of her reading of the Bible. The tobacco company has made a choice to sell the products they do but the same-sex couple is only living as they are wired to. They’re following the only path to happiness they have. Discriminating against them is exactly the same as discriminating against a couple because they’re from Pakistan. Again, one’s right to conduct business does not trump another’s liberty to simply be as they are and pursue their own flavor of happiness.

We need to call this “religious liberty” stuff exactly what it is: Bigotry. LGBT people need to be protected under the law from all forms of discrimination. Since Congress is defectively constipated, it’s doubtful we’ll see any action there. Perhaps these calls for “religious liberty” will lead to a Supreme Court ruling that once again works to make our union a little more perfect. The shield of “religious liberty” needs to be broken.

Calling an asshat an asshat

My buddy Ben Carson is back.

Ben Carson says he would rather talk about discrimination against Christians than discrimination against gays. … “Christians face a lot of discrimination,” he added. “I wish we could talk more about that.”

Being discriminated against is not the same as being judged and held accountable for bigoted asshattery, Ben. 

Seriously, I’m so damned tired of hearing “Christians” (and I’m putting that in quotes because, even though I’m not one, I do understand those getting the most media attention do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of all) whine over their butthurt for being called judgemental hateful assholes when they are, in fact, being judgemental hateful assholes. Bigots who selectively pick and choose convenient “deeply held religious beliefs” to shield their bigotry while ignoring other teachings of their faith that cover things like “live and let live” are still bigots and deserve the ire and derision of a modern and tolerant society. They should be shamed and called-out and they will either learn to shut up and keep their horrible thoughts to themselves (as we are taught when we’re little kids — if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all) or they’ll be shunned and marginalized and pushed out of polite conversations. 

Of course, the real issue with Carson’s whiny pity party is that Christians are not being discriminated against. Not in the United States because, you know, it’s illegal and all. But it’s perfectly legal now in North Carolina for Christians to discriminate against literally anyone else. Even Christians working for the state conducting the people’s business and performing services to which all citizens are entitled can refuse to perform them if they have “sincerely held religious objections.” Hey Ben, that’s discrimination. When you walk into a state office and are told NO, you can’t do a perfectly legal thing the people behind you in line can do because the person on the other side of the counter thinks their sky friend doesn’t like you and your homosexuality or biracialness or Muslimness or whatever, we call that discrimination. It’s the literal definition

The thing is, Ben, being an intolerant bigot of such a magnitude that you’d deny people access to public services because of who they are is, in fact, a choice. The kind of choice people in same-sex marriages don’t have in deciding who they need to be with to be happy, complete people. If someone — anyone, Christian or atheist or Republican or Green Party member — decides to be an asshat, it is the duty of others to call them that.

Ben, if you really believe, as you say, that the Constitution protects everyone’s equal rights and against discrimination, you should be first in line decrying the codification of religious intolerance in North Carolina. But you aren’t. You’re too busy pretending everyone hates you because you’re Christian. You’re too busy pretending to be a victim so you can stop talking about those who really are. That, my friend, makes you an asshat. 

Relative nightmare

Republican candidate for governor of Minnesota Jeff Johnson, in response to the decision of Preferred One to leave the state’s health insurance marketplace MNsure, said yesterday,

Six out of 10 people who’ve purchased insurance through MNsure will now have to go through the nightmare process of purchasing another plan all over again.

This is, to be clear, the same “nightmare process” all consumers of heath insurance have to go through at some point (like, when they change jobs or their employer changes plans). It’s the same “nightmare” my company asked our employees to endure several times over the years we’ve owned it as we faced double-digit date increases on top of double-digit rate increases, all in search of a lower cost solution. It’s the same “nightmare” that was allowed to live following the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Does it suck? Yes. It is especially unique? No. It’s a feature built-in to the American health care system.

real “nightmare” would be having a family member with a chronic illness and not being able to get insurance. Or getting into an accident or discovering cancer without having access to affordable, effective insurance. Both those issues are largely resolved under the ACA.

Sounds like Preferred One made a business bet and lost. Happens all the time. Good thing there’s a marketplace where those affected can go and get new insurance.

Tyrannical

AdamSerwer_2014-Aug-12

One of the arguments against stronger gun control laws groups like the National Rifle Association like to put out there is that we, as a population, need our firearms to protect ourselves from tyranny. Just like the Minutemen, presumably. 

A couple questions.

First, how are the events and the actions of the police in Ferguson not tyrannical? I’m no expert having never lived under tyranny, but I’m guessing it looks a lot like what’s above. Put those guys in red coats and imagine they’re in Boston Common and not suburban St. Louis (that the black dude’s black is actually historically accurate) and maybe you’ll think so, too.

Nice rideSecond, we as an untrained and unarmored population are going to defend themselves against the militarized SWAT teams of today? Let alone the National Guard or the regular Army? These guys are equipped for Mogadishu, not Main Street. 

Bonus questions: Where’s the NRA in all this? Where’s the concern for our liberties being crushed under the boot of ruthless authority? What happened to our First Amendment rights to assumable and speak? 

Final question. Where the fuck is the outrage? 

The thing that never happened and probably wouldn’t have mattered even if it did

Audio has been released of Bill Clinton telling a group of Australian politicians that he had a chance, while in office, to kill Osama Bin Laden — recorded September 10, 2001. Said the former president…

I nearly got him. And I could have killed him, but I would have to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children, and then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn’t do it.

The thing that never happened and probably wouldn’t have mattered even if it did