Students marching for gun control

Students marching because they are upset about America’s gun policies have been belittled and even attacked, often with the statement “Marching won’t make any difference; staying in school will.” Indeed, they might not make a difference – yet.

That is what was said at the beginnings and middles of all the major social-change movements in our nation’s history – abolition of slavery, women’s rights, the right to organize in the workplace, civil rights, the Vietnam War, gay rights. All these movements took years to have effect, but then, because of the persistence and vigor of the protagonists, the effect was enormous, resulting in long-overdue profound shifts in the nation’s attitudes toward these issues.

These students are looking at this issue with fresh eyes, wondering why adults all around them have been unable to right an obvious wrong. Certainly, the passions of youth, still picking through their place in a world that has existed for millenia before them, will mellow with time. But they have lit a light that others will follow, and patience and persistence may result in another shift in the nation’s attitude toward this issue. Following Martin Luther King, who advocated patience and persistence with “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

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America’s Contemporary Sin

Slavery has often been called “America’s original sin” because the gridlock on the issue at the establishment of our nation did not address it and great suffering continued. I propose that the Second Amendment to the Constitution has become America’s contemporary sin because the gridlock on this issue does not allow us to properly address it and great suffering follows.

The Second Amendment is a single sentence. Lost in almost all arguments on both sides are the first two clauses regarding “A well regulated Militia” and “security of a free State”.

Second, the last clause uses the term “bear arms” without defining “arms”. Did the authors really intend to include any and all possible weaponry as arms to be protected? Modern military weaponry? Hand grenades? Smoke bombs? Suitcase nukes?

Third, the wording, with those weirdly placed commas, has always been troublesome. Just about everybody can recite the last clause: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Despite the insertion of a comma that just muddies the issue.

But who can remember for an hour what the first two clauses say: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,”? Being confusing when attached to the last clause, it makes it difficult to recall the wording.

A well formed sentence, being necessary to understand the issue, the right of the people to a new amendment, shall not be infringed.

Understandable? Maybe not. Let’s try:

Because the Second Amendment wording is far from clear, and confusing, and because the Supreme Court has not adequately interpreted it, the Congress shall review the wording and study what the people think should be the intent of such an amendment and propose either revoking it or amending it to read in such a manner that it is abundantly clear in its intent.

Seems reasonable to me. But I shudder to think what the current Congress would do with such a proposal. Between the lobbyists and the no-compromise positions of citizens on both sides, either an ungodly mess or complete stalemate would result.

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Dump the Johnson Amendment?

I don’t think so. For tax exempt nonprofit groups, this is the deal you made with the nation’s taxpayers: Taxpayers will pay a bit more in taxes so your group does not have to pay (tax exempt). And your group does not use its position to promote political candidates. This is not a free speech issue. You don’t pay me for my political views. If your tax exempt group is now allowed to promote candidates, it amounts to taxpayers like me paying for the promotion of your political views.

This is NOT preventing religious people from speaking from the pulpit or soliciting political donations. If they want to promote politicians, they do not get to make me pay for that. They can give up their tax exemption and then they can speak politically all they want.

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New Social Media

Troll armies.
ID theft.
Cyber warfare.
Fake news.
Fake phone calls.
Fake ads.
Legitimate ads but tons of them on TV, billboards, radio, everything on the internet, popping up, crawling over what we want to see.

Everywhere we go we’re in a sea of words, maybe 1/3 of them informational, the rest are flinging tons of outrageous stuff at us every time we want to check our email or chat with friends, trying to sell us something.

How about a new no-ads no-crap-heap-dodging social media:

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NYTimes: Native American Secrets Lie Buried in Huge Shell Mounds

Native American Secrets Lie Buried in Huge Shell Mounds

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“Republicans” Lie, Cheat, and Sabotage

The current pack of “Republicans” get most of what they want done by
lying, cheating, and sabotage. Walker and Trump are racking up about a
lie a day or more, with congressional “Republicans” nodding away. They
cheat with things like gerrymandering and voter ID laws. And when they
find they don’t have the power to repeal the ACA, they sabotage it by
holding up subsidy payments to insurance companies and relying on their
old standby – lies. I’m not talking about conservatives here; these guys
are not conservatives – not since the Tea Party and then Trump’s merry
band took over. They should have started their own party and stood up
alongside the Republicans and Democrats.

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Second Amendment Has Become an Excuse for Inaction on Gun Violence

Archaic confusing language. Rarely interpreted in context of “well regulated militia”. Says “arms”, not “guns”. Says right to “bear arms”, not “buy guns”. Guns are a product manufactured by profit-making companies. Not a fundamental human right, not like freedom of speech and religion and assembly, which people DO, not BUY. Don’t ban them, but treat guns like any other product with safety issues – regulate them. And get them out of the Constitution.

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Our Gradually Diminishing Planet

There won’t be a day when full reckoning of the damage we are doing to our planet will occur. This will, instead, happen very gradually, so after 30 years, perhaps 50 or 100 or 150, we will have accepted as normal:

  • The abandonment of our coastal cities and communities to the rising oceans.
  • The abandonment of equatorial and sub-tropic civilization because of intolerable heat.
  • The pollution of arctic and antarctic wildernesses in our unquestioning quest to dig out their resources to support our profligate lifestyle.
  • The deaths of fisheries, lobster fields, coral beds, even the largest creatures that ever lived – the whales, due to warming, poisoned oceans, plastic islands, and algae blooms extending thousands of miles from shorelines.
  • The deaths of rain forests and the vast multitudes of life that live in and on them.
  • And, with a fatalistic shrug of our collective shoulders, turning over our mighty river systems – the Missouri, the Mississippi, the Ohio, the Snake – to mighty sewage channels, where no one will live or build within 100 miles of the banks.

And so, because these changes occur gradually over time, we will not attempt to hold any person or any business or any self-blinded politician to blame. We will just learn to live with a planet diminished in its capacity to support our increasingly greedy civilization.

Unless, before all that happens, in nationalistic fervors we manage to create a nuclear war so devastating that we may as well stop thinking about any possibility of a decent planet to live on.

We share this planet with billions of creatures. If we destroy our planet, they go down with us. And humanity itself will be the greatest crime ever perpetrated.

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Government and the Commons

[From Feb 27, 2014comment on Walter E. Williams’ Facebook post:]

I respect libertarian views (and I agree with some of them), so I object when my views are characterized by many in this forum as “evil” and “socialism”. I think we can debate without using pejoratives.

My views incorporate the notion of the “commons” – that is, those resources that come from the earth and those that come from research and invention funded by the public. Nobody has the right to monopolize these resources. To guarantee that, the elected governments establish rules and regulations so that all the public enjoys the fruits of those resources and so that those resources are not diminished for the sake of profit or greed. The commons can be used by private enterprise, even to making a profit, but they cannot be allowed to exploit them without limits. I consider the mineral deposits, air, water, soil, highways, air traffic control, air waves, internet, and a host of others to be part of the commons, to be controlled by public, not private enterprise.

Can you imagine what privatizing these would do? Private industry would treat them as profit-making enterprises (and usually focus on the short term). There would be no “system” in the highways, airways, airwaves, internet, etc, because individual industries would be controlling them to their exclusive advantage as much as they could. This would be chaos. Governments don’t have to operate these, but they must control them. Many of these already are operated by private industry – roads, public buildings, etc, are constructed by private industries but controlled and paid for by the taxpayer.

These functions are useful to the general public, even though some individuals will not use some of them. And because governments control how they operate for the public good, all the public should pay for them. Usage fees are something else. Even public works (parks, forests, etc) have usage fees beyond the general funds used to build them. That’s why you should pay for air traffic control event though you don’t fly. That’s why I, with no kids, should pay for public education for other peoples’ kids. The founders’ Letter of Transmittal, when submitting the new Constitution to the Congress for a vote, recognized this:

Individuals entering into society must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest. The magnitude of the sacrifice must depend as well on situation and circumstance, as on the object to be obtained. It is at all times difficult to draw with precision the line between those rights which must be surrendered, and those which may be preserved; …

I would rather have elected governments coordinate, regulate, and pay for these functions than private industries because governments are not beholden to shareholders, profits, exorbitant executive salaries, etc, and they (ideally) have a long-term public-interest view.

As for “welfare”/”well-being”, “welfare” is used in the Constitution (“promote the general Welfare”), not the other term. Perhaps this does, as you say, refer to the welfare of the republic. But aren’t the people the republic? If the government is not promoting the welfare of the people, then the republic has no meaning. Liberals do not completely equate welfare with benefits, nor do most of them offload care for the needy to the government any more than do conservatives. Problems with welfare benefits programs for individuals, families, and businesses abound, and they must be solved. But turning all enterprise over to private hands will not solve this. I believe we as a society should provide opportunity and strive to eliminate the proclivity to keep some people downtrodden, without enriching the greedy and the lazy. Just where the lines are to be drawn here is difficult (as the founders recognized), so it must be debated in a venue of reason, not name-calling.

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The nation’s wealth and its needs

The nation’s wealth includes not just federal government revenues but also state and local government revenues and all wealth in private hands. It’s a matter of priorities. For the things we need, and for the other things we value greatly, we should be willing to pay and find ways to pay for them. To design a budget based solely on cutting expenses and debt is to ignore the other half of a real budget – revenue.

We have a stratospheric upper class that hoards half the wealth of our nation. You can’t “earn” billions of dollars; you can only accumulate them. Yet they have gamed the system so they feel justified in not only keeping their vast cache of money and things, but they also get the public blessing, in the form of tax avoidance and subsidies, to continually increase their hoard. All this, knowing but not acknowledging that they couldn’t have acquired their powerful positions without using the resources provided by the general public.

We have politicians who would turn over almost all government functions to unregulated private enterprise, knowing that the things we need to be done and the things we value greatly would always be subservient to the powers of greed and endless accumulation of personal wealth.

We have a capitalistic economic system that has served us well as long as its focus was on providing well-managed businesses with the capital they need to produce worthy products and services. But this system, and its markets, has been perverted by those who see it only as a casino that they game exclusively for personal profit.

This is not an indictment of wealthy people, many of whom recognize the source of their wealth and return portions of it to the public in the form of charity, services, etc. This is an indictment of those who apologize for the rich and do not demand that they share the abundance which was created by everyone.

So, can we afford the programs we need and want? It comes down to:

  • We will be paying for many of these programs in one form or another – federal government, state or local government, business, charity.
  • Will we choose efficient methods?
  • What are our priorities?
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