Saturday, December 22, 2012

NRA Responds

The National Rifle Association finally reacted to the shootings at Sandy Hook elementary school. It said that we should put armed police officers at every school in the nation, because there is no other way to assure that children will be safe. Their proposal will be appealing to some people. Over the past several decades, politicians' response to crime has almost always been to call for more police officers. What the politicians don't talk about much is that when the funding runs out, we always end up cutting the number of police on the streets. Our country simply can't afford to have police everywhere. Nor do the politicians talk about just how little good it does to have more and more police. Usually, deploying more police in an area just means criminal activity moves down the block.

The NRA thinks that if there is trouble we shouldn't have to wait a minute or two for the police to arrive, and that we would be better off if there was an armed policeman not only on every street corner, but in every school. That is, they think we should live in a police state. Not many people agree, and certainly not a lot of NRA members, who are famously anti-government. Nor would it work to have only one police officer at each school. To really protect kids the way the NRA envisions protection, we would need police both inside and outside the schools, in every hallway, and at every possible point of entry. Like a prison. And when school is dismissed, we would need police to escort every child home.

The NRA can't think that their proposal makes sense. But it doesn't have to make sense. It just has to sound good to people who don't want to think about what the real solution to our gun violence problem is. The solution is to have far fewer guns in civilian hands. That solution works everywhere else in the world, and it would work here. We aren't really very different from people everywhere else in the world. We came from everywhere else in the world.

What the NRA really wants is not a reduction in violence. It wants more guns, regardless of what effect the guns have on our society. It is, after all, the trade association for the gun industry. Just as the oil, gas, nuclear, and coal industry lobbies push for more use of their products regardless of the harm they are doing to everyone's health and the environment, the NRA doesn't see its role as protector of the populace. It just wants its corporate members, who manufacture, import, and sell guns and related paraphernalia and services, to make a profit. There is no reason to take them seriously when they talk about gun safety.

But, like the energy lobby, the gun lobby has a loud voice because it has the money to advertise, contribute to political campaigns, and organize. There is a lot of money in selling guns, so it is well funded. There isn't any money in not selling guns, so the opposition to the NRA has hardly any money at all.

Corporate money has invaded not only our electoral politics, it has virtually taken over the public debate on a number of topics, including the issue of guns. Even though the American people, shocked by the recent shootings, want something to be done to reduce the violence, the NRA has the money to continue to shape the debate. Today's NRA press conference was just their opening gambit. They will persevere and seek the kinds of victories that they have won in the past and that have brought us to the point we are at now. The only thing that might make a difference this time and lead us to do something about the violence is the images we have in our heads of all the children lying dead in their classrooms. It would take an awful lot of money for the NRA to erase those images.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Seven-Year-Olds and Guns

Three days in a row, seven-year-olds have been in the news because of the guns around them. In one story, a seven-year-old boy shot his five-year-old brother while the brother was in the bathtub. Their mother had left two handguns lying around the house. In another story, a seven-year-old boy shot his eight-year-old sister. The gun he used belonged to his grandfather, with whom the children lived. Their grandfather kept the gun locked in a safe, but the seven-year-old managed to unlock the safe. In the most recent story, a seven-year-old boy was shot to death by his father while they were getting into their car. The father said he didn't realize the gun was loaded. All three shootings were called accidents.

Accidents, maybe. Preventable? Absolutely. If there hadn't been guns in the household, none of these kids would have been shot. For decades, hospitals, schools, television stations, and magazines have been advising new parents to baby-proof their homes by putting poisonous chemicals out of children's reach, covering electrical outlets, putting up gates to guard against falls down stairs, and implementing all sorts of other safety practices. I know. I got the warnings when my kids were little. I took them seriously. So did everyone I know. We got used to not being able to open kitchen cabinets without first releasing child-safety latches. There can hardly be a parent of a seven-year-old in this country who hasn't heard these warnings.

And yet, on three days this past week, seven-year-olds were involved in shootings in our country. Are people with guns really so stupid that they don't think they have to protect their children from this known hazard? Do people with guns think their guns are more important than the lives of their children?

It doesn't seem fair to blame all people who have guns for these tragic shootings. But it is fair to blame the millions of members of the National Rifle Association (NRA), because that group has consistently lobbied to keep the government from doing anything to make children safe from these kinds of accidents.

There is a government agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which has done a great deal to reduce childhood injuries and deaths caused by ingesting poisons, strangling on drapery cords, suffocating under crib bumpers, inhaling small toy parts, and numerous other potential hazards. But because of the NRA's efforts, the CPSC is prohibited by law from doing anything to keep kids from being accidentally shot.

There are lots of things the CPSC could do if it was permitted. It could mandate that guns not go off if they are dropped. Other countries have this regulation. The CPSC could mandate that guns have integral locks which would make it harder for kids to shoot them. The CPSC could impose standards for safes where guns are stored, to make it harder for kids to unlock them. But the CPSC has been totally banned from doing anything with regard to guns.

It is hard to imagine that the NRA and its millions of members are so heartless that they are willing to sacrifice children in the name of gun owners' rights. But for years their strategy has been to oppose any regulations on guns, no matter how reasonable the regulations are and no matter how catastrophic the result has been for the public, including children.

One day, this country will decide that protecting children is important enough that it will risk offending the NRA. Sadly, more five, seven, and eight-year-olds will probably be shot before that happens.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Church Shooting

Yesterday, while members of the congregation I attend in Illinois were discussing gun violence, a man walked into a church in Pennsylvania and shot his ex-wife, the church organist, in the head, killing her.

The shooting in Pennsylvania didn't influence my congregation's decision to take a stand against gun violence. It was happening as we talked. No one knew about it. But the possibility of a shooting like the one in Pennsylvania was on people's minds. We have all heard of other shootings in churches, schools, and other places where we would like to think we are safe.

What concerned the people I was among was not just that a shooting might take place in our own congregation, but also that shootings might take place somewhere else. No one even mentioned the possibility that we could protect ourselves by posting guards at the doors. No one talked about any measures we might take to protect ourselves as distinct from protecting everyone else everywhere else. The discussion, which was spirited, never veered from the question of what we should do to make the entire world safer.

How wonderfully different the discussion was from what we have grown accustomed to in our political world, where everything is presented as a choice between us and them. American jobs are extolled over jobs being shipped to China, Mexico, Bangladesh, or India, regardless of which country's people are more needy. American health care resources are being restricted to American citizens and denied to people who live in our country but who have not achieved citizenship, as if non-citizen residents didn't need to be healthy. American security is touted as more important than the security of any other nation. Every city and every state is competing to get companies to hire people within its borders rather than in nearby cities and states. Every locale wants people to shop, dine, and vacation there rather than somewhere else.

I'm not sure why the discussion at my congregation stayed on the level it did, but I am grateful for it. Maybe people are so tired of reading about so many shootings every day that they just want it all to stop. Maybe the teachings of concern for one's fellow humans that are found in my religion and in every other religion I am aware of were actually guiding people's thoughts.

Having just endured an election season where we were constantly told that everyone would be voting their own pocketbooks, it was wonderful to participate in a discussion in which no one argued that self-interest was any different from concern for the general welfare. How delightful to be reminded of the sweetness, when so often we are surrounded by bitters.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


I have been busy, so I haven't written in a while. Busy preparing for tomorrow, Monday, when the Stop Concealed Carry Coalition, which I helped put together, will hold its first press conference. We will announce our intention to make sure that Illinois, which is now the only state that does not allow people to carry concealed weapons, remains free from this danger. We chose Monday for our event, because on Tuesday the Illinois legislature goes back into session. We want our representatives to know that the NRA is not the only voice they should be listening to. They should also be listening to the people in Illinois, a majority of whom don't want concealed guns in our state.

That's the message. That's the plan. As everyone who has ever done this kind of thing knows, the press may or may not show up and even if they do, the newspapers and broadcast stations they work for may or may not run the story. Despite all the effort that we have put in, we may or may not succeed in getting our message out to the public. Something more urgent may get the attention of the reporters, or their editors may just not be interested in what we have to say. A lot of other people and organizations will be vying for their limited time and space.

As always, I am in awe of the people with whom I have been working on this effort. They are so capable, so energetic, so selfless, so dedicated. When something needs to be done, they know what to do and they do it.

As always, I am anxious. I tell myself that regardless of how much press we get, we have succeeded just by putting together a coalition and energizing people on the issue. We have gathered more than 6,600 signatures on a petition which we have delivered to legislators. We know that some legislators have noticed and have been responding. At the minimum, what we have done has accomplished more than if we had done nothing.

I have read books and attended workshops on how to organize and lobby on issues. I have tried to learn from others with whom I have worked. One of the most important lessons I have learned is that I am not really the best person to be doing this kind of thing. I have far too much self-doubt. I don't like to ask people to do things. I don't have enough patience. I am not good at attending to details. I don't put a high value on bureaucracy, even though I recognize its importance. I really like to just get things done.

The other thing I have learned is that I love doing this sort of thing, even though my stomach gets tied up in knots and I get overcome by worry. I love it even though our side often loses, and when we win the victories are usually modest.

Tomorrow I will stand with people who have worked longer and harder than I have on this issue. Some of them have lost family members to guns. Some of them have counseled survivors. I will be among people whose hearts have been torn and whose faith has been tested. It will be a privilege.

When tomorrow's event ends, someone will turn to me and ask, “What do we do next?” I don't really have a plan, just a goal. I want the shooting to stop. I want people to feel that they don't need to be ready to pull out a gun to defend themselves. I want people to live without fear that the person next to them on the street might be carrying a gun. I want people to trust one another. I want people to feel justifiably confident that their government will protect them as best it can and that they do not have to arm themselves. I want hope and faith to replace doubt and despair.

I know that there are many whose vision is the same as mine, and who can be counted on to do what they can. The holiday is over, but I am still giving thanks.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election Observations

Every election, people complain that money has too much influence on politics, and then they spend even more on the next election.

Every election, people say the electoral college should be abolished and we should have direct elections, and then no one does anything about it.

Every election, Republican and Democratic candidates claim to be independent of their parties, but they never run as independents.

Every election, voters complain that the filibuster and other Senate procedural rules stifle debate, and then they reelect Senators who continue to follow the same rules.

Every election, people tell the pollsters that they want change, and then they reelect nearly all the incumbents.

Every election, whichever party is in the minority in its state legislature or in the U.S. House of Representatives complains that the Speaker of the House has too much power to suppress legislation that is proposed by members of their minority, and then if they gain a majority, they elect a Speaker to wield as much power as possible to suppress legislation that is proposed by members of the other party, which is now in the minority.

Every election, TV commentators complain that the rules for televised debates are too restrictive, and every year they televise the same types of debates.

Every election, some politician gets caught on tape saying something offensive, and the next election politicians try harder to keep audio and video recorders out of their events and to catch their opponents on tape saying something offensive.

Every election, candidates spend months bragging about themselves, and if they win, they tell us how humble they are.

Every election, candidates promise to run positive and clean campaigns. Then they attack their opponents and complain that their opponents' retaliatory attacks are dirty politics.

Every election, candidates say they want to represent all their constituents but put most of their effort into getting members of targeted ethnic, sex, religious, and other demographic groups to support them.

Every election, in their victory speeches, winning candidates thank the volunteers who tirelessly walked door-to-door and made phone calls for them. These candidates never thank the smaller group of lobbyists, party bosses, and large donors who were essential to their campaigns. Those thank-yous are made off-camera.

Every election, losing candidates promise to continue to work in their communities on the issues that the people who supported them think are important. Do they?

Every election, news commentators spend more time predicting which candidates will win than talking about the issues. Then the commentators complain that the candidates aren't talking about the issues.

Every election, people who know nothing about how government runs say we should elect them because they know how business runs.

Every election, exhausted volunteers swear they will never work on another campaign. Every year, they are the first to get involved.

Every election, people ignore what the candidates are saying, then the day before the election they ask a friend who is involved in politics who they should vote for.

Every election, people who have never worked on a campaign show up at candidates' offices and ask for high-level jobs running the campaigns.

Every election, some candidates pledge to not accept money from special interests. Guess what they do?

Every election, the map of red and blue states looks a lot like a map showing which states were on which side in the Civil War.

Every election, voters who threatened to move to Canada forget to move.

Every election, we are told it is the most important election in our lifetimes.

Every election, nearly as many people don't vote as vote.

Every election, someone writes a list like this one.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Don't Throw Away Your Teeth

The 94-year-old woman was frustrated with her new dentures. They irritated her gums, despite repeated visits to the dentist who kept telling her to give it time and she would get used to them. She complained to her friend she wanted to just throw her dentures in the garbage and eat soft foods. He told her, “Don't throw away your teeth.” He said he had the same problem when he got new dentures, but reassured her that he did eventually get used to them.

Throughout our lives we trade advice and encouragement with friends. “Dump him, he's not right for you.” “Don't worry, you'll get a new job that's even better.” “It isn't a big deal, kids grow out of these things.” “I know you miss her after all these years, but time will make things easier.”

Coming from people we know and love, these simple platitudes help us get over the little bumps in the road and through the most profound losses. They are just words, but they make a huge difference.

Sometimes we need more than words, more than a hug, more than a gift basket. That is what Mitt Romney doesn't seem to understand. His gesture of packing canned food to ship to areas hit by hurricane Sandy, and his running mate Paul Ryan's photo op helping at a soup kitchen, were supposed to show their deep concern for people in need. Instead, they were powerful symbols showing how far from reality current Republican attitudes towards social responsibility are.

Damage from the hurricane will run into the billions of dollars. Millions of people need power, water, debris removal, rebuilding, transportation, medical care, and more. The effort will require many thousands of people and many billions of dollars over a period of months, and even with all that, people will suffer losses. The notion that a shipment of canned food or a serving of soup is all that is needed is astounding, and yet that is the essence of the Republican party's call to eliminate what they label as entitlement programs for what Romney called the 47 percent whom he said “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.” Today, the people who think they are victims and that government has a responsibility to care for them includes nearly 100% of the people in New York and surrounding areas.

Just as ridiculous is the Republican philosophy that people can get by without government assistance because private charity will get the job done. Last year, the American Red Cross spent $283 million helping victims of nearly 70,000 natural disasters in the US, including drought, tornadoes, and floods. The same type of disasters occur every year. There is no way the Red Cross or all other charities put together will be able to help nearly as many victims of hurricane Sandy as the government will help. And yet Romney and his party pretend that miracles will happen and the multitude will be fed with a few loaves.

If we abolish FEMA and eliminate government assistance as Romney suggests, we will be turning natural disasters into human catastrophes. If we continue to deny the influence of man-made climate change, as the Republican platform proposes, we will have more natural disasters with more severe consequences.

There are things we can do as individuals, other things we can do through philanthropic institutions, and still other things we can only do as a nation with the assistance of our government. Right now, the most important thing all of us can do to help the victims of hurricane Sandy and victims of disasters still to come is to not vote for Republicans.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Confessions of an Undecided Voter

Sometimes it's easy to decide who to vote for. Elaine Nekritz and Julie Morrison have my support. They are both good people with strong credentials and records, I generally agree with their views, and their opponents are both scary.

But like a lot of people, I am having trouble deciding which presidential candidate to vote for. Certainly I won't be voting for Romney. On too many issues, he appears to have no idea what he is talking about, and when he does articulate a clear policy, it is usually one that will hurt more people than it will help.

Although I tend to vote for Democrats, I am having trouble convincing myself to vote for Obama. Too often, he has turned his back on the principles he espoused and the constituencies that supported him when he was first running for office. I can't find any reason to think he will be any more courageous or effective in a second term than he was in his first.

Fortunately, Obama is making it easy for me to not support him by sending strong signals that he doesn't care whether or not I vote for him. He hasn't campaigned in Illinois where I live. He seems to assume, as do many analysts, that he will win this state without making any effort. Like any other candidate, if he doesn't think he needs me, I don't see any reason to argue with him.

There is a Green party candidate, Jill Stein, who may get my vote. I'd be shocked if she won Illinois or any other state, but maybe this is a good time to help third parties get a larger voice in our elections. Some of my Democratic friends will be upset with me if I don't back the entire ticket, but I know that a lot of them haven't been very happy with Obama either, even if they have been making apologies for him.

I can't really think of any reason not to vote Green, but still, I haven't decided for sure. The two-party system is ingrained in me. I recall Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, John Anderson, and George Wallace. Parts of some of their campaigns were good for the country. Parts were irrelevant. Some of their efforts may have helped elect people who we would have been better off not electing.

It would have been nice if the media had given Stein more coverage. She could have changed the dynamic of the debates, which were pretty boring. I don't really know why the media lets the Republicans and Democrats monopolize our political life, but I don't like it.

My most difficult choices will be in races where neither the Republican nor Democratic candidates are attractive but there are no third party alternatives. I don't like to leave a ballot blank, but neither do I like being forced to choose between people who are equally unlikely to move the country in the directions I think it needs to go, and I resent that some Democratic candidates seem to assume that they will get my vote no matter what they stand for and how offensive their campaigning is.

I have heard partisans disparage people who don't make up their minds until they get into the voting booths, implying that indecision is a result of not being informed or of not having strong opinions. In my case they are wrong. I'm pretty well informed politically, and my opinions are well developed. I just don't like some of the choices I am being given.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

It's Not the Economy, Stupid

Having just talked with people from all across America as I rode from Chicago to the West Coast on Amtrak, I am convinced that both the Romney and Obama campaigns are wrong in thinking that the most important issue on people's minds is the economy. People understand that the worldwide economy is changing. They don't expect any president to be able to single-handedly bring back the prosperity that our country enjoyed during most of the past sixty years. They don't believe either candidate's promises to create jobs. Yes, people are hurting financially. But they are not looking to the president to fix their situation by cutting taxes or instituting new programs.

What people want from candidates is honesty, and they don't feel like they are getting it from either the Republican or the Democrat. Unemployed fifty-five year olds know they aren't going to retrain for exciting new careers in green energy. They know that no matter how skilled they become as X-Ray technicians or welders, employers will hire younger workers. They don't want to spend a year or two taking courses at community colleges, and they sure don't want to be racking up student loans.

What people want is some security. They want to know that even if they don't find work, they will get medical care and they will get a social security check to help them get by. But instead of talking about the kinds of systemic changes that are needed in order to bring our country's health care system up to the same level as the rest of the developed world, politicians are talking about fixing the national deficit, which is something that very few people understand and which has little real relevance to most voters. Instead of showing the people how their government will make sure that they are able to meet their basic human needs, politicians in both parties are playing slight-of-hand tricks with numbers. The people are not fooled. They know the difference between reality and illusion.

It has been sixty five years since the U.S. fought a war that most people think we needed to fight, which means that nearly every person who will vote in the upcoming elections knows that we don't need to be wasting more than half of our national budget on our military. But with two billion dollars already having been spent on just this one election, no one is hearing a word about that. They are hearing about abortion and every other issue that the politicians think can be used to divide people from their neighbors.

The people are not as stupid as the politicians seem to believe they are. The people know the politicians are trying to frighten them. What the politicians don't seem to understand is that people are already terrified. People know that the American dominance of the world economy is gone, and they sense that it won't return for a very long time. They can accept that. They just want someone to talk honestly about what comes next. Romney and Obama don't want to talk about that.

From the Great Plains to the Rockies to the ocean, Americans are frightened, frustrated, and angry. They are not fools, but they feel that their politicians are treating them as if they were. It may be too late for either Romney or Obama to start talking straight with the American people. Any change of strategy or message would be viewed as a desperation move. So the campaigns will almost certainly keep talking around in circles, and the voters will almost certainly feel disgusted the day after the election.

The past two years of campaigning have been almost a complete waste of everyone's time. They have not been enlightening, and the candidates have not given the people what they want and need. The campaigns should not have been about the economy, they should have been about the people, and we're not stupid.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"Be Nice" Isn't Enough

Last evening, I was in an audience made up mostly of parents of high school students. We had come to hear the lecture that was presented earlier in the day to the entire student body. The presenter was the uncle of a girl who had been among thirteen people who were shot to death at Columbine High School in 1999. His message was simple: we should all be nice to one another.

The speaker didn't say a word about the gun culture in America, the issue of gun control, or how it was that the two killers at Columbine were able to get hold of the weapons and ammunition they used. He didn't mention that just a couple of months ago there was another shooting just down the road from the Columbine shooting which killed another twelve people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. He didn't mention that even after the Columbine shooting, Colorado law allows people to carry concealed weapons nearly everywhere, including on college campuses.

The speaker didn't talk about people committing suicide using guns, which happens much more often than mass shootings and kills far more people. He didn't say a word about mental illness, which contributes to a large number of shootings. He didn't talk about poverty, racism, or the gang shootings which arise out of urban ghettos. All he talked about was one shooting incident, and the only message he derived from it was that we should all be nice to one another.

It was a simple message. It would appeal to people who like the “Just Say No” approach to drug abuse, even though that approach has been proven to be ineffective. It would appeal to people who don't want to deal with the complexities of the gun-violence problem.

If everyone took the speaker's advice, some shootings might be avoided. But a lot more would still happen. People get depressed even if other people are nice to them. People who are taught that violence is a legitimate solution to problems use violence in response to the challenges they face, even if they see someone wearing a rubber bracelet that encourages them to have a nice day. People who have guns at hand use them when they are angry, frightened, confused, drunk, or just bored.

“Be Nice” may be a message that soothes suburban parents' anxiety, but it is largely irrelevant to the types of people who end up in the headlines because of who they shot. It's a nice message for kindergartners, but way too simple for high-school students and their parents. Unless we take a more meaningful look at what is causing the shootings which are daily occurrences across our country, we can expect the shootings to continue unabated.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Business Experience

When Dan Seals was running for Congress full-time, Republicans and some Democrats said he wasn't qualified because he was just trying to land a job. They said he didn't have enough business experience to serve in Congress.

When Bob Dold first ran for Congress, some Democrats gleefully turned the tables and attacked him for not having really managed his family business as he claimed. They pointed out that he was named president of his parents' pest control business just in time for the election, and that his resume showed that he was so busy working on various political staffs outside Illinois that he couldn't possibly have been the business executive that he pretended to be.

Two years later, when Ilya Sheyman ran for the Democratic nomination to run against Dold, he was attacked for being too young and not having enough business experience to know how to help the country get out of the recession. Republicans had fun joining some Democrats who were making these attacks.

Now, Bob Dold is saying that Brad Schneider doesn't really have the business experience that he claims to have. Dold and his backers say that Schneider's consulting company didn't show a profit for the past few years, and that his business credentials are therefore invalid.

The cycle is complete. A pattern has been established. Democrats and Republicans in the 10th District attack each other every election on exactly the same personal issue. Candidates are judged, among other things, on whether they are rich enough and have enough business experience. Neither Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Jesus Christ would do very well if judged by this standard. Very few people who unselfishly devote their lives to public service would.

Despite weekly exhortations from the pulpit that we should devote our lives not to the quest for wealth but to the pursuit of more significant goals, and despite sanctimonious pronouncements on MLK Day by politicians that we should judge one another by the contents of our characters, it is obvious that some politicians think the real criteria we should use to select our leaders is whether they have somehow accumulated a lot of money.

Americans used to tell each other that a person shouldn't be discouraged if they stumbled. The important thing was whether you got up, dusted yourself off, and tried again. But in the 10th District the ethos has changed. Now, it doesn't matter how determined you are. If you don't manage to make a lot of money in business, you are branded a failure in all aspects of life, and particularly unacceptable as a politician.

If government was a business, it might make sense to elect only business people to office. But government is supposed to be more than that. It is supposed to be the instrument of the will of all people. If success at business was due only to skill, it might make sense to elect only skilled business people. But success at business is due to a lot of things other than skill, including luck. If the only measure of success in business was money, we could decide who to vote for simply by looking at their bank accounts and investments. But for business people, success should also be measured by how they treat their customers, suppliers, employees, competitors, and the world.

Neither Democrats or Republicans will say that they prefer to live in a plutocracy, where the wealthy govern, rather than in a democracy, where the people rule themselves. But in the 10th District, it seems like plutocrats are what some people in both parties want.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Romney's Desperation

On the eve of the first presidential debate, with the polls showing Romney trailing and losing support, Republicans decided that their only hope of winning the election is to remind people that President Barack Obama is black and then hope for a racist reaction. They got Fox News to air a recording of Obama speaking in 2007 and to have the Fox commentators push the message that because Obama says he is concerned about the poor and minorities, he is bad for white people.

The video was nothing new. It was shown over and over by Fox during Obama's first presidential campaign. Obama responded to it, and the voters decided not to take the bait that Fox was dangling in front of them. America elected a black man.

One might think that Republicans would have something new to say this election because they can point to Obama's record as president and make their arguments. But apparently, having tried that and seen that it isn't working, Romney's supporters have decided to once again see if they can win the presidency by appealing to racists.

What does Romney have to say about this type of campaigning? So far he hasn't objected. He knows his campaign is in trouble, and he is willing to go along with whatever he is told might help. This does not prove that Romney is a racist. It just shows that he is willing to go along with the race-based strategy.

There shouldn't have been much doubt that this is how Romney would act. Way back when there were a dozen or so candidates in the Republican primaries, the insiders were always lined up on Romney's side. They weren't going to back someone who might show some independence and perhaps turn on them in the future on some issue or other. They wanted what they always want in a candidate – someone who will do what he is told.

The Republicans aren't the only ones who look for compliance above all else. That's what the Democrats were looking for, too, in 2008, which is why Obama spent his term as a senator doing little other than scratching backs. He knew that to get the Democrats to nominate him, the powerful and wealthy insiders of his party would have to be reassured that he would go along with their agenda. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that he responded to the fiscal crisis by bailing out powerful people and companies, that he hasn't prosecuted any of them for their crimes, and he hasn't done anything to reduce the concentration in the industries whose concentration helped cause the crisis. They are still too big to fail, and some of them have gotten bigger.

The most powerful dynamic in American politics, and probably all over the world, is personal relationships. The universal lubricant in politics is wealth. Powerful people use them both to perpetuate their positions. This happens not just at the presidential level, but all the way down to the local school boards and village governments. It happens in township political organizations. It happens on church and charity boards.

For the moment, Romney's rich and powerful backers are making a desperate effort to save his candidacy. But they aren't really worried. In a few weeks, regardless of which candidate wins, they will still have plenty of influence and power. And in a few weeks, the great majority of Americans will still feel shut out, which is why the racial campaigning failed against Obama in 2008 and why it will fail this time. People understand that the divide in America isn't Black against White – it is insiders and their money against everyone else. Sadly, neither major party has much to offer all the everyone elses.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Crowdsourcing Parkinson's Disease Research

My father had Parkinson's Disease. He suffered from the disease, from the drugs he was given to treat the disease, and from the fear that his symptoms would increase.

Researchers are working on a way to diagnose Parkinson's Disease by analyzing people's voice patterns. They claim that in clinical settings they can record a person's voice, and a computer can analyze the recording and correctly diagnose the disease in 99% of cases. They are able to do this because Parkinson's Disease affects a person's ability to breath and to control movement of the vocal cords. Now, the researchers are testing whether the test can be performed over a telephone, so that a person would not even have to visit a clinic in order to be tested. The patient could simply say “ah” and recite a few phrases into the phone to receive a diagnosis. Hopefully, patients would then be able to receive whatever medical treatment is available or becomes available in the future.

I recently phoned the researchers at 857-284-8035, said “ah” and recited a few phrases so that they could record my voice to help them develop their phone-in diagnostic technique. It took less than two minutes of my time. I wasn't asked anything other than my age, gender, and whether I have been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. The researchers need thousands of people, with and without Parkinson's, to run their computer diagnosis on. Maybe you'd like to help by making the call.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Poopy New Year

The house was clean. We were going to my cousins' for dinner, so I didn't need to shop or cook. I felt like doing something to prepare for Yom Kippur, so I washed and waxed the car. As I was buffing, a bird pooped onto the windshield just a few inches from my elbow.

My first thought was, “You couldn't wait till I was finished?” We all know that the natural order of things dictates that if you want it to rain, either wash your car, water your lawn, or leave your umbrella at home. Then I thought, “Maybe this is a sign of what to expect in the coming year.” Ominous. But then again, maybe it was just the final poop of the outgoing year. Or maybe it wasn't a sign at all. It's hard to tell when god is sending me messages.

Should I be thankful that the poop didn't land on my head? That I wasn't looking up? But then again, couldn't the bird have targeted my annoying neighbor? On the other hand, I am fortunate to have a car at all, so I shouldn't complain about such a minor mishap. On the other other hand, maybe I shouldn't be so attached to material things.

Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are supposed to reflect. What could we have done differently, or better? What should we do in the coming year?

Maybe the bird was a reminder not to take myself too seriously. Maybe the universe is saying, “You polish, I'll poop.” Maybe I am supposed to think about whether during the past year I treated someone the way the bird just treated me. Maybe this and maybe that. We never know for sure, do we? So we look for signs and omens. We talk to a god who may not be listening and may not even exist.

So many times during the past year I imagined there was a message for me in events that took place around me. Maybe I should slow down and enjoy life. Or maybe I should step up the pace, because time is running out. Is there a bird out there for each of us, waiting for the right moment?

Things could always be worse. Planes fall on people's houses. Trees fall on cars. People die. What's a little poop?

Have a year full of wonder and love.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Habeas Kirk

It used to be that when Mark Kirk didn't want to meet with his constituents he would have his aides make up stories about why he wasn't available. They would say he was in Washington, serving as a military reservist, or otherwise engaged. Some of the excuses might have been valid. Some of them turned out later to be misleading or totally false.

Kirk once spent an entire summer avoiding constituents who wanted to explain their views on a timely issue. They called his office repeatedly asking for an appointment and they visited his office five times. His aides kept refusing to let them meet with their representative. Another group ended up camping out in his office until they were arrested in the wee hours of the morning after the press had gone home. Kirk never met with them, either. He did, though, install a buzzer-activated lock on his office so that no constituent could ever again get into the waiting room of the office they were paying for with their tax dollars unless his staff buzzed them in.

It was infuriating to have an elected government official show such disdain for democracy. But at least everyone knew that it was Kirk himself who was responsible for the way his staff was treating the voters. Now, sadly, we don't know if Kirk is in charge or if his staff has simply usurped his office.

Since Kirk suffered a massive stroke which initially left him unable to walk, use his left arm, or speak, the people he was elected to represent have patiently waited to see if he would recover enough mental function to be able to return to his duties as a senator. He released a couple of highly-edited videos that showed him apparently making progress learning to talk again, but it has been impossible to tell from the videos whether Kirk understands the words he is saying or is simply parroting a phrase here and a sentence there as the camera is turned on and off.

Kirk's office refuses to let the press or his constituents meet with Kirk so that they could form an opinion on his mental abilities. They are making a great effort, however, to convince everyone that not only is Kirk still breathing, he is actually thinking. Maybe so. Maybe not.

Kirk's staff wants everyone to imagine that, although in the videos Kirk's expression never changes, he still exhibits a full range of human emotion, and that his emotions are appropriate to the situation he is dealing with. Maybe so. Maybe not. Strokes leave people with a wide range of permanent disabilities.

Today, Kirk's staff released another video of the Senator. For a full minute, Kirk doesn't appear on camera and is not heard from. All we get is a campaign-commercial style montage of newspaper headlines, pans across a flag, and out-of-context video clips of TV reporters, all sewn together with special effects and music. Finally, Kirk appears and speaks for less than thirty seconds, in three separate clips.

In the video, Kirk appears to refer to Illinois' debt being downgraded three weeks ago. It is not possible to know when the video was made. Before his stroke, Kirk was quick to talk with reporters in person or on the phone whenever something newsworthy happened. If Kirk was ready to go back to work, we would have seen this video weeks ago. The fact that it took this long to edit together something that makes him look competent doesn't tell us anything at all about what his real-time abilities are. It usually only takes a day or two for videos of talking oranges or babies to appear on You-Tube.

Most of the people who elected Kirk and those who voted against him probably hope that Kirk has as complete a recovery as possible. But we deserve better than to have his staff manipulate his image to make it appear that he is mentally capable. The fact that Kirk's staff receives their paychecks and exercise the powers of Kirk's office while Kirk remains away from his office gives everyone reason to be uneasy. The same people who used to hide Kirk from his constituents at his bidding are the same ones who are now hiding him, but we don't know if they are acting on his orders or on their own.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Time To End Charter Schools

From the outset, the union that represents Chicago Public School teachers has said that they are not striking for more pay. They are striking for something bigger. They are striking to insure the very existence of public schools.

Plenty of people have given up on public schools and are ready to switch to a system of private schools funded with public money, either in the form of charter schools or vouchered schools. Plenty of corporations are eager to get hold of all the money which is presently spent on public schools. In a lot of places, it is the biggest expenditure that local government makes.

Chicago has been closing public schools and has plans to close more. That isn't what the strike negotiators tell us they are talking about, but it is what is on everyone's minds. The so-called reforms that the mayor and school board are proposing are designed to transform public education into the charter school model. The school board is proposing that principals be allowed to hire and fire teachers, eliminating protections that teachers now have under their union contract. This is the way things are done in charter schools, because there are no unions in charter schools. It's one of the reasons there is more teacher turnover and teachers have less experience in charter schools than in public schools.

The theory behind giving principals discretion in hiring and firing is that principals in charter schools are acting as corporate executives who should be able to have the employees they want. What that theory misunderstands is that public schools are not run for the benefit of shareholders as charter schools are; they are run for the benefit of students and the public. Principals in public schools don't work for bonuses. If they are good, they get a paycheck and the satisfaction of knowing that they have played a role in educating children.

The corporate model assumes that principals are the most important people in schools. Most people who have sent kids to public schools in America recognize that classroom teachers have the most important and direct influence on children and how well they learn and develop, and that principals are merely part of the administrative overhead that is needed to keep things running. In all schools, principals have little to no meaningful interaction with students on a daily basis, other than perhaps greeting them at the door with a smile.

The investors who want to persuade the public to privatize public schools have been blaming teachers for the shortcomings in education, instead of looking at overcrowded classrooms, scarcity of books, materials, and supplies, the effect of poverty and family difficulties on students, and lots of other things that are the real reasons so many students in Chicago don't do better in school. These problems are the reason that charter schools don't do any better than public schools when they run schools in Chicago and other cities. Studies show that often, charter school students perform worse than public school students.

The people who invest in charter schools aren't really concerned about student performance. They are just there to make a buck. So when charter schools fail to live up to the promises they make, the investors close them down, leaving neighborhoods holding the bag and tossing teachers out of jobs. That is what the Chicago teachers' union is worried about. They don't want to end up on the street because some principal, eager to get a bonus, decides to distract the investors by scapegoating teachers. That is why the public should be supporting the teachers. Not just for the sake of the teachers, but for the sake of their students, and all the rest of us who want those students to get an education.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Obama Dumps Dems

Obama's speech did not contain a single reference to the Democratic Party or Democrats. His website doesn't mention that he is running on the Democratic ticket. His bio says he was elected to the Illinois Senate, then the U.S. Senate, and then the Presidency, but it never mentions which party he has been affiliated with. The convention that just concluded is not referred to by his campaign as the Democratic National Convention, but instead as just the 2012 Convention. None of the t-shirts, coffee cups, bumper stickers, or other trinkets that his campaign is selling indicate which party Obama is with. From his website, you can buy merchandise proclaiming Nurses for Obama, Environmentalists for Obama, Hispanics for Obama, Latinos for Obama, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for Obama, African Americans for Obama, and Babies for Obama, but there isn't a single Democrats for Obama item for sale.

It's pretty clear that Obama does not want to be identified as a Democrat. Presidential campaigns don't just accidentally forget to mention their party affiliation. The decision would have been made at the very highest level, by Obama himself.

People who have watched Obama over the years will not be surprised that he is running alone. When he ran for the U.S. Senate from Illinois, Obama positioned himself as a candidate who was beyond partisan politics. He paid very little attention to most of the other candidates who were running in the same election, putting all his effort into getting himself elected. He didn't want to be encumbered by the positions his party had taken in the past or by politicians whom he might not agree with on all issues. He didn't share the rock-star attention he was drawing to himself, and he didn't share the enormous amounts of money or volunteers he amassed.

Obama followed the same plan when he first ran for President. He was elected with the help of Democratic voters and the Democratic Party, even though he did almost nothing to help the party succeed. As a result, he had no coattails, and his election left him with a Congress that did not have the strong Democratic majority he needed. Once he was president, he turned his back on one Democratic constituency after another, angering his base.

Now, Obama is once again running on the Democratic ticket, but without any indication that he feels any obligation to his own party or even sees a value in having a Democratic Party. It would have been easy for Obama to urge at the convention that everyone work hard for the entire Democratic ticket. Presidents usually do that. But he didn't. He drew all the attention to himself. He told us what he had done during his first term, and what he was going to do during his second, as if he was the entire government and not just the head of one branch. Although he told us that the Republican message that “you are on your own” is an un-American message, that is precisely the message he was sending to nearly every Democrat who is running for Congress, Senate, governor, mayor, or sheriff, and to every Democratic party volunteer and voter. He is running for President, and the rest of us are on our own.

Obama does not seem to realize that without more Democrats in Congress, his agenda is doomed. The Republicans who opposed his policies will be no more interested in them after the election than they were before, and if there aren't more Democrats to support his policies, they will go nowhere.

Obama is a smart man, but in his zeal to promote himself he seems not to have understood what he told the nation in his big speech Thursday night, that we are all in this together. Unless he figures that out very soon and helps other Democrats get elected, he will have no more success in governing the nation during his second term than he did in his first.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Romney Remakes the Blues Brothers

Romney's acceptance speech at the Republican convention last evening reminded me of a scene that has been in so many movies. The audience is gathered, but when the lights dim, for some reason the starring act isn't ready to start the show. Maybe the star performer is caught in traffic, passed out from drinking too much, or just suffering from a bad case of nerves. Stalling for time, someone takes the stage and tells some jokes, or draws out the introduction until the crowd grows restless. In the movies, at the last minute, the performance begins and everything comes out OK.

Last night, Mitt Romney took the stage and tap danced through his entire speech. He kept telling us he had a plan, but he never told us what it was. He kept telling us he would do better than Obama has done, but he never told us how. For nearly an hour, he sounded as if he was waiting for someone to run up to the podium and hand him the notes he had forgotten to bring with him which spelled out what he was going to do if he was elected president.

As Romney concluded his speech, I half expected him to tell the audience in the convention center that he was going to take a little break and that they should order another round of drinks and come back for the second set when he would tell them what his plan was. But, of course, he didn't. He smiled and waved as the balloons dropped and the band played, apparently hoping that we wouldn't notice that he never told us what we wanted to know.

The pundits say that all Romney was trying to do was convince us he was a nice guy. He almost succeeded, as he told us stories about his wife, parents, and kids. But when he went on to attack Obama for not fixing the economy and told us that he wished that Obama had succeeded because he wanted America to succeed, Romney reminded me of the bully who trips a kid in school and then smirks at him, “Gee, sorry you fell down.” Romney's party announced at the beginning of Obama's term that their primary goal was to make sure Obama failed so that they could defeat him when he ran for reelection. If Romney had really wanted Obama to succeed, he should have scolded the delegates he was speaking to for sabotaging their country's economy just to gain a political advantage. Instead, he grinningly affirmed their strategy. Not a nice guy.

Romney promised to put ten million people back to work. He promised prosperity. He promised to reduce the deficit without raising taxes or cutting military spending. He promised and promised and promised. But he never even came close to giving us even the slightest idea of how he was going to accomplish any of these things.

Romney is telling us we should elect him because our country is failing and he knows how to fix it. I would hope that before banks loaned Mr. Romney millions of dollars to take over companies, they would have insisted that he show them a business plan for how he was going to make failing companies succeed. It seems to me that we have at least as much right to insist that Romney explain his plans to us before we trust him with our future.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Small Business Baloney

Throughout their convention, Republicans have been heaping adulation on small business owners. They have gotten teary-eyed talking about people who work seven days a week and late into the night, every night, to build restaurants, retail stores, and security firms. They have been telling us that small businesses need tax breaks so that they can create new jobs and that owning a small business is the American dream.

I am a small business owner. I own a corporation that employs exactly one person, me. That's not unusual these days. A lot of people who lost their jobs when people like Mitt Romney bought and destroyed their companies and derailed the entire U.S. economy have gone into business themselves, because they had no choice. Some people went into business for themselves because their employers were pushed out of existence when Costco (where Romney wants us to believe he shops) or Staples (which Romney boasts of having created) moved into their towns and crowded out smaller stores. Some lost their jobs because Romney sent the jobs overseas.

It's odd to hear the Republicans, whose convention is financed by the largest of the large corporations, tell us how important small businesses are. If small businesses are so important to Republicans, why do all of their economic policies so directly benefit companies that build nuclear power plants, warplanes, and oil pipelines? The small business people I know are free-lance editors, designers, and writers; solo practitioner lawyers, architects, and doctors; artists, tutors, shop owners, musicians, landscapers, and just about anything else a person could be if they have to support themselves. I have never met a small business owner who builds power plants.

I can't believe that the Republicans haven't noticed that far fewer independent retail stores even exist these days, unless you count franchises. But the Republicans' policies aren't designed to help the guy who runs a donut shop. They are designed to help people like Romney, whose company made a fortune on the Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin Robbins corporations. Republicans help corporate raiders like Bain Capital, which bought Domino's Pizza, Toys R Us, Burger King, and Burlington Coat Factory, not the thousands of little mom and pop shops that used to sell the same goods and services that the big corporations now do.

The reality is that Republican politicians, just like a lot of Democratic politicians, cater to the people and companies with the most money. That isn't the “small business owner,” who, perhaps with the help of a handful of documented or undocumented workers, cuts grass. It's the real estate development company which owns corporate office complexes in several states and contracts with the biggest corporate landscapers they can find.

For all the talk about who “built that,” there hasn't been much talk about the fact that Romney and his buddies built hardly any of the companies that brought him his fortune. He bought them after someone else built them. So if the Republicans think that I and my fellow small business owners are going to feel insulted by Obama pointing out that whatever success we have is due in part to having reliable electricity, clean water, good roads, public libraries, reliable fire protection, and a whole host of things that government provides, he is wrong. We know darned well that we are dependent upon not just our government, but upon our customers, suppliers, and if we have employees, the people who work for us. We know that luck has a lot to do with whether we succeed. Sure, we take pride in what we do, but we are not so arrogant as to think that we do it all ourselves.

In all of his years of buying, plundering, and bankrupting businesses, there isn't any indication that Mr. Romney had any interest in small businesses. I guess I should be grateful for that. It's hard enough running a business without having to worry that some jerk will come along and destroy everything you have done, just to fill his own pockets.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

New Boogie Man

For a number of years, Republicans blamed federal bureaucrats for airplane delays, slow mail delivery, and just about everything else that they didn't like. At their last convention, Republicans blamed trial lawyers for rising health care costs and high premiums for product liability and worker's compensation insurance, all of which were said to be ruining the business climate in the U.S. In our lifetimes, Republicans have also blamed pointy-headed intellectuals, liberals, gays, women who want equality, and other uppity people for destroying our country.

Last evening, the Republicans rolled out a new boogie-man: teachers' unions. They blamed teachers' unions for under-performing schools, high taxes, big government, and a few other things. I think they said teachers' unions are the reason beer goes flat and car seats get hot in the sun, but I could have imagined that. The Republicans love having a boogie-man to blame for their failures and to frighten their constituents.

Why blame teachers' unions? Teachers unions are just the voice of teachers. Wouldn't it make more sense to blame the teachers themselves? If Republicans think teachers are paid too much, get overly lavish retirement plans, or have too short a school year or work day, why don't they just come out and say that our nation's teachers are lazy and greedy? For that matter, why not blame the school boards who agree to pay the teachers and give them benefits? Why not blame the voters who elected the school board members?

The answer is pretty obvious. The whole purpose of creating a boogie man is to distract people from what is really causing their problems, not to focus attention where it belongs. If the Republican Party really wanted to do something about the national debt, they would have to make large cuts in military spending. And if the Republican Party were to look at what really needs to be changed in order to improve education, they would have to look at what caused it, which to a very large extent is racism.

Inner-city schools aren't inherently bad. But schools tend to suffer in neighborhoods that were abandoned by white people who moved to the suburbs, taking with them their money, influence, jobs, and tax revenue just so that they wouldn't have to live next door to minorities. Republicans aren't any more guilty of white flight than Democrats, so Republicans don't have any reason to avoid the historical truth. But today's Republicans are firmly committed to not spending any money to remedy inner-city school problems, so they blame the problems on the boogie-man, teachers' unions. It doesn't make any sense that teachers' unions would want schools and students to fail, but sense is not what guides Republicans.

There are also problems that were caused by racism in schools that aren't in inner cities. In some rural parts of the country, separate but certainly not equal schools were established and the inequality was never really erased after the courts ordered an end to segregation. Unequal schools were perpetuated by building private academies for whites and by building entire new suburbs which were segregated by income and practice, not by law. There are also problems in schools that were not primarily caused by racism, but the Republican party doesn't want to spend money to solve any of our country's problems, including the problems that schools have, so they need a boogie man.

What would happen if we got rid of teachers' unions? Teachers would be paid less, have to work in more crowded classes, and have no job security. As any Republican free-market capitalist economist will tell you, as pay and work conditions deteriorate, fewer people will be interested in becoming teachers, so the quality of the labor pool from which teachers are chosen will decline. Our nation's students will get lower quality education, so they will learn less. Our industries will have more trouble finding qualified workers, so they will import more workers from abroad and send more jobs overseas, which will lead to higher unemployment in America. All of this will hurt the American economy and the people who the Republicans are trying to convince to vote for them. The Republicans' attack on teachers' unions is really an attack on America. That's why they need a boogie-man.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Gun Logic Part 5 - You Can't Control Guns, So Don't

People who like guns say the U.S. shouldn't enact stronger gun control laws because the weak gun control laws that we have don't work. The basic premise, that gun control laws don't work, is questionable. Our experience with gun laws indicates just the opposite. In states where people aren't allowed to carry concealed weapons, hardly anyone does. In states that barely control guns at all, lots of people have guns, and lots of people get shot. When there was a ban on assault weapons, hardly any such weapons were in circulation. As soon as the ban was lifted, gun dealers reported that they sold large numbers of the weapons.

Obviously gun lovers know that gun control laws can work. If gun lovers really thought that gun control laws didn't work they wouldn't care if we passed all the laws we could think of, because they would still be able to get and carry all the weapons they wanted.

Gun lovers argue that gun control laws only keep law abiding citizens from getting guns. That wasn't the case with the assault weapon ban. It kept just about everyone from getting the guns. Sure, a few of the banned weapons slipped through the cracks. No law is perfectly enforced. But we haven't gotten rid of stop signs just because some drivers don't always stop at them. Instead, we try to educate people about the importance of obeying the law, and we step up enforcement when we see that there is a problem.

The gun lovers also oppose gun laws because they believe that every such law is simply a step towards totally banning all guns. Because of this opposition, laws that would prevent accidental shootings of children by requiring safe storage of guns have been blocked, laws that would reduce the number of impulsive shootings by requiring waiting periods for buying guns have been blocked, and laws that would prevent defective guns from unintentionally discharging have been blocked. In their zeal to stymie laws that would make guns more safe, gun lobbyists have put their own lives and their family's lives at risk.

From a political viewpoint, the gun lobby's strategy has been to force gun safety advocates to work for every advance, and then, when the public's furor over some shooting tragedy has died down, to try to repeal whatever gun control laws got passed and make the gun control side work for that same law all over again. It is the equivalent of forcing an enemy to keep fighting for control of a hill. It exhausts and discourages the opposition and results in a stalemate where neither side wins. In the context of the gun control debate, this war of attrition has resulted in maintenance of the status quo, which means almost no control over guns.

The argument that gun laws don't work is directly contrary not just to the concept that the government should strive to make laws that represent the will of the people and further their general welfare, it is a rejection of the whole idea of work. “If at first you don't succeed, try, try again” is replaced by “Give up, don't bother, what's the use?”

The most peculiar argument that the gun lovers make is that we don't need more gun laws, we just need to punish people who use guns to commit crimes. They assert that tough sentencing will discourage people from using guns to commit crimes. Isn't that pretty much admitting that gun control can work?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gun Logic Part 4 - White Men Don't Matter

Gun enthusiasts are happy to say they need guns to defend themselves, but they go out of their way not to acknowledge that more people use their guns to kill themselves than to kill anyone else. More than half of all gun deaths in the U.S. every year are caused by people deliberately killing themselves. Most of the rest are caused by people shooting other people for malicious purposes, and a small number of people are killed each year by accident. Almost no one is actually shot to death by police who are enforcing the law or by people defending themselves.

The curious racial overlay on this data is that almost all of the suicides are committed by white males. White guys shoot themselves to death far out of proportion to their numbers in the population. Neither white, black, or Hispanic women shoot themselves or anyone else in any significant numbers. Black males get shot in greater numbers than their proportion of the population, usually by other black males. Hispanic males do some shooting too – mostly at other Hispanic males.

When the pro-gun lobby tries to frighten people into buying guns, they focus on the homicide statistics, which disproportionately implicates and affects minorities. The pro-gun lobby doesn't even want to acknowledge gun suicides, so they ignore more than half of the gun death problem, and most of the white victims.

Though there are racial overtones in the gun-lobby's rhetoric, hiding the white victims does not seem like classical racism, until you consider that they are also hiding the white perpetrators. By looking only at the homicides and not the suicides, the gun lovers create an impression that gun violence is mostly a problem that is caused by minorities in our urban ghettos. If we look at all the gun deaths, we see that gun violence is mostly a white male phenomenon and is not confined to the urban poor.

The effect of this distortion is that most of the problem of gun violence does not get fixed. When we set out to eradicate polio and other diseases, we didn't just vaccinate minorities and leave the majority white population unprotected, we went after the disease wherever it was. When we endeavor to prevent and treat AIDS, we put our efforts into the population segments which are most at risk. Why are we being encouraged to pay no attention to the white people who are most of the people involved in gun violence both as perpetrators and victims?

Part of the answer is that the pro-gun lobby promotes the idea that people who get shot deserve to get shot because they are criminals. This supports the gun lovers' view that the people who do the shooting are good people, and that shooting bad people is a good thing to do. They don't want to admit that most of the people who get shot, and most of the people who are doing the shooting, are just depressed and could be helped rather than being killed. They don't want anyone to realize that the people who kill themselves are just like the majority of gun lovers – white guys. They certainly don't want to think about the fact that the person who a gun owner is most likely to kill is himself. “Buy a gun, join us, and shoot yourself,” would be a pretty peculiar recruiting slogan for the NRA.

It is pretty easy for the pro-gun lobby to perpetuate its charade. Although white guys have traditionally been the biggest political force in this country, they have usually organized against women and minorities. They haven't been pointing the finger of blame at themselves. But that is what they need to do. White guys need to ask themselves why they are killing themselves, and why the gun lobby is making it so easy for them.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Gun Logic Part 3 - Guns Kill People and Make People Safe

Of all the reasons gun lovers give for having guns, the argument that guns make them safe is the hardest to understand. Decades of research has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that people who have guns are more likely to be injured and killed by guns than people who don't. They are more likely to be shot accidentally, to shoot themselves in suicide attempts, to be shot by someone who is angry, and even to be shot by someone who is trying to attack them. On a larger scale, the more guns there are in a community, the more people who will be shot. Why, then, do gun lovers cling to the disproved notion that guns make them safe?

It is unlikely that gun owners are simply unaware of the studies that prove the dangers of guns. They may not have studied them, and they may reject them, but the arguments they make to rebut the truth show that they know the truth is out there and that other people acknowledge it.

Part of the explanation is that some gun lovers desperately want to feel safe and they are willing to believe that guns will provide them with the safety they seek. Once they accept gun ownership as a solution to such an essential need as safety, they let gun ownership become so important to them that they are willing to defend it regardless of how nonsensical their defense is. Gun ownership becomes a matter of faith for them which is not vulnerable to attacks that are based on what is real. It is like the magic feather that Dumbo the elephant thought helped him fly.

It might seem that, if gun ownership has become akin to a religion, its adherents would not feel the need to defend it against reality-based arguments. Religious adherents don't generally feel they need to prove the existence of a deity to non-believers. Faith, after all, is beyond objective proof. I think that gun lovers try to defend their love of guns because they don't want to admit to themselves or anyone else that they are trusting their fate to something as mundane as an inanimate piece of metal. They don't want to think of their guns as being their idols. They want to think that their belief that their guns will protect them is rational, not supernatural, spiritual, magical, or superstitious.

Some gun owners get more than a feeling of safety from their guns. Guns make them feel powerful, and even dangerous. With guns they don't have to feel intimidated; they can be intimidating. Guns change them from thinking of themselves as potential victims to potential heroes who might be able to protect not only themselves but also other vulnerable people. They can be the bully, not the wimp. If they have to sacrifice intellectual integrity for such an intoxicating transformation, they are willing to pay the price.

Many gun owners also get a new sense of identity when they become part of the gun community, and a feeling of belonging. Gun owners are very affirming of other gun owners, and people who demonstrate that they are pro-gun by renouncing the facts about the dangers of guns gain instant acceptance in gun-loving groups.

The reasons why gun lovers turn a blind eye to the facts is that they get what they want from guns, despite the facts. If they faced the fact that guns make them less safe rather than more safe, they would no longer have anything that would make them feel safe, they wouldn't be able to feel powerful, they wouldn't feel like they belonged. They would be back to feeling vulnerable to the uncertainties of life. Who wants that? Sure, they could develop more faith in their fellow human beings and in their god, but that takes some effort, and there is no well-funded, powerful, national lobby comparable to the NRA to assure them that everything will be OK if they embrace humanity and life. For gun owners, it's easier to just buy a gun and ignore the truth.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Gun Logic Part 2 - Wrong or Not, Guns are a Right

People in the U.S. who like guns are quick to say that they have a right to have guns. Sometimes they say that it is a God-given right, because some parts of the Christian Bible can be read to suggest that people have a right to defend themselves and their families. Of course, other parts of that Bible say that people should turn the other cheek if they are attacked, and the main thrust of modern Christianity favors peaceful resolution of conflicts. Gun lovers do not talk about the parts of the Christian bible that advise people to obey the civil authorities in civil matters. They also don't pay a lot of attention to resolutions favoring gun control that have been adopted by many mainstream Christian churches.

Gun lovers don't usually talk about whether non-Christians are granted rights to have guns by a Christian god, and they certainly don't seem concerned that someone who does not believe in a Christian god might argue that Christians don't have any rights to guns because there is no Christian god, or because some other god or understanding of god says there is no right to guns.

Sometimes gun lovers say that their right to have guns comes from nature, because humans are animals and self-preservation is instinctive. They ignore the larger picture – that social animals naturally protect the entire group, even if the individual must be sacrificed in the effort. They also pay no attention to the differences between humans (which have developed sophisticated technological ways of organizing and defending their complex societies) and other creatures which must rely on whatever tools their genes provide them.

Some gun lovers say that their right to have guns comes from the Second Amendment to the Constitution. After a couple hundred years during which the Supreme Court held a contrary view, the gun lovers finally have a Supreme Court that has said the amendment gives them a limited right to have guns, subject to regulation by the government. The gun lovers accept the part of the court's decision that they like, reject the part about regulation that they don't like, and vow that regardless of what the court says, they insist that there should be no limitation to their Second Amendment rights.

Whatever the gun lovers profess to be the source of their right to have guns, they don't acknowledge that the right could be taken or interpreted away. The Second Amendment could be repealed or a court in the future could disagree with the recent decisions and again hold that the right to bear arms only refers to a well regulated militia, which we don't have and have never had. Even if the Second Amendment remains intact, other parts of the Constitution could be construed as being in conflict with it, permitting severe limitations on private gun ownership.

Gun lovers who think their right to have guns has a divine origin forget that although the U.S. Constitution guarantees that right to freely practice one's religion, there have been plenty of unsuccessful religion-based challenges to laws. It is clear that the U.S. government, its courts included, has the power and the right to enforce its will on its people regardless of what some of those people believe their religion dictates. Everyone has to pay taxes, even people who think god tells them they don't have to.

What gun lovers really mean when they talk about their rights to have guns is that they want to have guns, despite all of the evidence that private ownership of guns has made people in the U.S. much less safe and free than places where there aren't so many guns. The gunners talk of rights, because they think that rights are superior to reason and reality. So long as they can convince people that they have a right to guns, it doesn't matter whether, for the sake of the entire country, they shouldn't be allowed to have them. Rights, to gun lovers, are just a way of getting what they want, regardless of the harm they do to others. The entire American experience has shown that no one has any right under God, nature, or the Constitution, to act in such a manner.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gun Logic Part 1 - All Government is Evil, God Bless America

One of the favorite themes of the pro-gun (pro-death) lobby is that Americans need guns so that they can rise up against the tyrannical federal government and overthrow it by force. In order for this to be a reasonable argument and not just an outdated vestige of our colonial past, the gunners feel they need to demonstrate that the government is always on the verge of becoming so intolerable that revolution could be necessary at any time.

Contrary to what the gun lovers say, there isn't a lot of evidence that the U.S. government is taking over every aspect of our lives and destroying our freedom. In fact, for more than thirty years it has been in the process of deregulating, privatizing, and disengaging from our lives. Polluters, monopolists, bank and investment fraudsters, and tax cheats are all much freer to commit their crimes without fear of prosecution than they were before Ronald Reagan announced that government was the problem, not the solution to our problems.

Lacking any real evidence that the government is taking over everything, the gun worshipers stitch together small government actions into a crazy quilt that they think reveals a pattern. Whether the government proposes to provide health care for people who don't have any or to tax rich people at rates they used to pay, the gunners see it as a first step towards taking away their guns. It's a mindset that was developed over the years by groups like the John Birch Society, which opposed fluoridation of water as a step towards communism, or other groups that opposed vaccinating children against deadly diseases, seeing it as an interference with individual liberty. To people who are infatuated with guns, whatever our government does is evil and it is their right and obligation to be ready to overthrow that government.

Except, of course, when the government does something they like. In those instances, the gun devotees are quick to praise the government and to castigate anyone who questions its actions and brand them as unpatriotic. Mostly the gun lobby likes the government to fight wars, because the fighting is done with guns and other weapons, validating their belief that guns and violence are good and necessary. Gun lovers support our military and police but almost no other part of our government. But when the law enforcement arm of our government goes after people who illegally keep or use guns, the gun lobby says the government agents have become tyrannical jack-booted thugs and must be resisted.

Although the pro-gun arguments seem illogical, they are consistent. No matter what the facts are, the gun fetishists find a way to construct a view of reality that affirms their fundamental belief that they should have guns. That is why they can simultaneously say that the U.S. government is great and that it is evil, and that they must be armed and ready to kill both agents of the government when the government gets in their way and people who oppose the government when the government is doing what they like. The thread tying their world view together is that they are the good people and have the right to kill anyone who they decide is bad. It all makes perfect sense, at least to people who have decided that guns should be an available answer no matter what the question is, and that their judgment is superior to the judgment of any other person or any government.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Teletubbie Leadership

After the Twin Towers were destroyed, President Bush told us that we should go shopping. It was seen by many as a grotesquely inappropriate response to a national tragedy. Now, President Obama may have outdone him. When talking from the hospital in Aurora, Colorado, where victims of a horrific shooting in a movie theater were being treated, Obama spent ten minutes saying nothing at all about the issue of gun violence. The only ten minutes of television that I can ever recall seeing that had so little content was the children's show Teletubbies, which was aimed at kids who are so young that they haven't learned to talk.

The entire nation was waiting to hear what Obama would say about the violence that plagues our nation. He said nothing. To make sure that everyone understood that Obama was not simply waiting for another moment to announce how he would lead the government's response to the violence, White House spokespeople stated that Obama did not intend to do anything to change the law. He plans to leave in place the loopholes in our gun laws. He will allow virtually anyone to arm themselves, as the Aurora shooter did, with high-capacity, high-powered, rapid-firing, military-style weapons, bullet-proof apparel, smoke grenades, pump-action shotguns, and pistols. He will make no effort to make things better.

It wasn't surprising to see that Obama once again failed to lead. Nor was anyone surprised that Mr. Romney didn't say anything other than that it was too bad that so many people got shot. What was surprising, though, was that the pro-gun chorus was so quick to promote their philosophy that guns are good. They didn't pause for a moment to reflect or mourn or just show respect for those who are grieving. Immediately, they were filling up the airwaves and the Internet with their usual praises for instruments of death and people who use them. The gun-control advocates were also quick to respond, so although little new was said on either side, at least the conversation was not one-sided this time.

What we just witnessed was a business-as-usual response from our President, his political opponent, and people who are active on both sides of the gun violence issue. As far as they are all concerned, this was just another shooting. They know that there will be more, and they seem to think that we pretty much accept that this is the way life is these days.

What we don't know yet, though, is the extent to which, instead of becoming numb, the majority of the American people are becoming increasingly upset with the violence. I suspect that is what is happening, because I can't believe that people are unaffected when they hear the stories of the innocents who were slaughtered.

Almost everyone in America knows what the inside of a movie theater looks like. We can imagine ourselves sitting in the dark when shooting breaks out. We know what it is like to wait for our children to come home from the movies, and the anxiety we feel if they are late and we have not heard from them. Even more than we were able to picture what it was like to be trapped inside the Twin Towers, we are able to visualize a suburban theater parking lot as hundreds of people come running out screaming, some bleeding.

We were all able to identify with the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech shootings, and other recent shootings. Although we did not come together with one voice after these tragedies to demand an end to the violence and the guns, neither were we unaffected.

The polls can't tell us how close we are coming to the day when we will insist on a safer world in which to live. We don't even know that ourselves. But I believe that each shooting brings us closer to that day, because it is too depressing to believe that we will just continue to accept the mayhem.

When soldiers die, we are always told that they did not die in vain, no matter how pointless their mission was. We have no such viewpoint about the victims of the Colorado shooting. They lived however they lived, and they did not attend a Batman movie in order to further any cause. How we react to their shooting does not reflect on them. It does, however, say a lot about us. I hope we do not follow Obama's and Romney's examples and fail to respond to these shootings in a way that will prevent future shootings, because if we do, we will have lived in vain.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Good People Shouldn't Have Guns

Everyone, even the NRA, says it wants to prevent more shootings like the one that just took place in Aurora, Colorado. But the NRA and its opponents have different views on how to prevent future violence. The NRA's proposals won't work, but neither will most of the proposals that are being championed by the other side.

The NRA's position is that the shooter had every right to have the guns that he used to slaughter twelve people and injure dozens more, but that he shouldn't have done it. They offer no suggestion on how to prevent future massacres, other than to say that offenders should be punished in order to deter other people from committing shooting crimes in the future. This proposal has proven to be totally ineffective.

Over the past decades we have vigorously prosecuted shooters and have repeatedly increased the sentences for their crimes, and yet the shootings go on. People who shoot up theaters don't care about the laws. The NRA also says that if more people carried guns, movie patrons would be able to protect themselves. Not only wasn't the Aurora shooter deterred by the possibility of armed defense, he anticipated it. He wore bullet proof clothing and tossed a smoke or teargas grenade into the crowd to blind anyone who might shoot back. He also carried multiple rapid-fire weapons. In preparation for the prospect that some of the movie patrons might shoot back, the shooter made himself more lethal.

The anti-gun lobby's major position is that we should screen people before permitting them to own guns, so that people who might shoot up a movie theater won't have guns. The problem is that no one has been able to figure out how to identify beforehand who might shoot up movie theaters, schools, workplaces, shopping centers, congressional meet-and-greets, or anywhere else. The rest of the anti-gun lobby's proposals, like trigger-locks, waiting periods, limits on the number of guns a person can purchase, and stamping identification on shell casings are totally irrelevant to most people who shoot up theaters.

The only way to prevent future catastrophes is to get rid of the guns. Very few other places in the world, maybe none, have as many privately held guns as the US has, and very few places, maybe none, have as much gun violence, other than in times of war. The recent shootings in Aurora have highlighted our problem, but every day people in the U.S. are shot to death – about 30,000 each year. The shootings take place in states where there are strict gun laws and in states like Colorado where there are almost no restrictions on guns. People can argue about what various studies of guns prove, but one fact that has been established beyond dispute is: more guns, more shootings. No guns, no shootings.

It will not be easy for us to get to the point where we no longer have to live in fear of people with guns, but we can do it. I suggest that good people start by getting rid of their own guns. I realize that both the pro-and anti-gun advocates have assumed that we need to do just the opposite – get the guns away from bad people. But until good people are willing to live without guns, they will not take the steps that will be needed to make sure bad people don't have them either.

Since everyone considers themselves to be a good person, if we can just get the good people to voluntarily live without guns, most of the problem will instantly be solved. The NRA thinks that its members are good people, so they should be the first to agree to give up their guns. But they won't, because they are afraid of bad people. Who do they think are the bad people? The NRA defines bad people as anyone who is caught and convicted of unlawfully shooting someone else, unless the NRA disagrees with the verdict, in which case they call the shooter a good person who was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. According to the NRA, until you are convicted, you are good. So, all we have to do is to get the guns away from people who aren't in jail. The people in jail already have had their guns taken away.

Actually, the NRA doesn't really believe what they say. They know that there are people who have not yet behaved badly but who might in the future. These are the ones the NRA's members want to defend themselves from. They are also the kinds of people who are members of the NRA. The NRA almost gets it right when they say that “guns don't kill people.” They forget that the rest of the phrase is, “people with guns kill people.”

It seems pretty obvious that the best way to protect everyone is to make sure that people don't have guns to use when they want to do bad things, and the only way to do that is to make sure that people never have guns. Of course, it will be hard, maybe impossible, to get rid of all guns. No law is perfectly enforced. But we have done a pretty good job of keeping people from owning and using tanks, cannons, grenades, missiles, and other weapons. We could certainly make it a lot harder for the sort of person who shoots up a movie theater to get the kind of firepower that will make him feel he can intimidate hundreds of people.

Gun lovers will insist that the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees them the right to have guns. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. The Supreme Court recently seems to be changing its mind on that and other questions. But so what? We don't need the guns, and we don't need the second amendment. We have repealed parts of the Constitution, and we can do it again. We haven't had a well regulated militia in at least a hundred and fifty years, we are long past the time when people with handguns would be able to defend themselves against the might of U.S. armed forces if the government became tyrannical, and white people no longer need guns to suppress slave rebellions or to murder Indians. Those are the reasons we got the second amendment, but times have changed, and we need to change, too, or we will doom ourselves to living in constant fear and inescapable violence.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Romney's Tax Returns

Mitt Romney says he won't let people see his tax returns because it would give the Obama campaign material to use against him. That's just another way of saying that if people knew how much money Romney made, how he made it, and how little he paid in taxes, they would vote against him.

If Romney wasn't refusing to show us his tax returns, I wouldn't be particularly interested in seeing them. But his refusal to let people have the information makes me curious about what could possibly be in them that he is afraid to show us. We already know that he is fabulously wealthy, that he made his money by buying companies, tearing them apart, pilfering their assets, drowning them in debt, sending jobs overseas, and then selling the companies, some of which ended up in ruins. We already know that he paid a smaller percentage of his income in taxes than almost any working person in the U.S. How much worse could his tax returns make him look? Did he claim fictitious children or a teddy bear as dependents? Did he use a phony Social Security number? Did he pay taxes on illegal drug deals?

What I'd really like to see, though, is the corporate records for Bain Capital. Romney told the Securities and Exchange Commission that he was the sole shareholder, president, and CEO of the company, so he can show us those records if he wants. It is his company to do with as he wants.

I'd like to see the memos, letters, emails, and minutes of meetings that discussed sending jobs overseas. I'd like to see the correspondence between him and his investors that advised them on how they could avoid paying taxes on the money they were making by investing in the deals that his company put together. I'd like to see what the corporate accountants were doing to shelter money from the IRS. These are all the sorts of things that routinely are discoverable in court cases . They often are very revealing and they can all be easily produced. Corporations produce these sorts of records every day when they are involved in litigation. If we had this information we could compare what Mr. Romney was actually doing and thinking with what he now tells us he was up to, and with what he is telling us he wants to do with the country.

The law requires that publicly traded corporations reveal a good deal of this sort of information so that investors can make informed decisions on whether to invest in a company. Mr. Romney's company was not publicly traded – he owned the whole thing. So he never had to let anyone know what he was doing, except that he should not have been deceiving his investors or breaking any laws. But he would have kept all these records, because you can't run a company as big as Mr. Romney's without keeping those records. The records are there, ready for us to look at.

Mr. Romney brags about his success at Bain Capital. He wants us to think that his work there prepared him to run our country, create jobs, and revive the economy. I can't think of any reason why he wouldn't want us to see the records. He should be proud of them, if they show that he really was a brilliant businessman and that his outrageous fortune was actually earned and not just a reward for taking advantage of working people. So far, Mr. Romney hasn't released those records. I wonder why.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bouncer Rahm

Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago, said in an interview on the CBS evening news that gang members shouldn't shoot children on the streets. He said they should take their disputes into the alleys. It was the kind of thing you might expect a bouncer to say as he threw unruly patrons out of a bar.

Rahm doesn't seem to realize that there are already plenty of shootings in Chicago's alleys, and in the parks, parking lots, and pretty much everywhere else – at least in certain neighborhoods. In those neighborhoods, people aren't just afraid to walk on the sidewalks at night. They are afraid during the day. They are afraid in their cars. They are afraid in stores. They are even afraid in their own homes, because the bullets come right through their windows.

Rahm doesn't seem to understand that what is going on isn't like a fistfight among drunks, where the only people who get hurt are the combatants. The shooting in Chicago is a danger to everyone, including children and adults who are innocently minding their own business.

If Rahm is suggesting that we would all be safe if the gangbangers would just take his advice and shoot each other in the alleys, he doesn't understand that gangbangers aren't just interested in just shooting each other. They are shooting to make everyone around them afraid. They want to control their turf and establish their reputations. They want the public to notice them.

What would make Rahm think that the people who are doing the shooting care what he wants? Is he going to get them jobs? Is he going to provide them with the same level of city services that people in his neighborhood get? Is he going to give them private school educations like he gives his own kids? He has been in office more than a year already. Are the gangbangers' lives better than before he came?

Rahm pointed out to the news interviewer that the shootings aren't happening all over the city – just in a few areas. The shooters know this. They live in those areas, where jobs are scarce, police protection is inadequate, schools are substandard, and there are so few stores that people have trouble buying groceries. Does Rahm fail to see the connection between the conditions in those neighborhoods and the violence?

Rahm may think that he sounds righteous and tough when he tells the gangbangers to move their shooting from the streets to the alleys, but I doubt many of the gangbangers were impressed or were even watching the evening news. Maybe Rahm could get them to pay attention if he would stand on a sidewalk on the south or west side, without his bodyguards, and tell the gangbangers to go away, like a real tough guy. But he hasn't done that, and he won't. Because it's dangerous out there on the streets, and he knows it.

Friday, July 6, 2012

God Particles

An acquaintance tried to tell me why I should care that scientists have verified the existence of Higgs Bosons. He explained that the discovery had nothing to do with bison, which didn't help his cause because I do care about bison. He tried to explain that the particles are important because they have something to do with something else, none of which made any sense to me, even after he repeated the analogy he had heard on the radio that the particles acted like gravel under a bicycle tire. His explanation left me convinced that he didn't understand the particles any more than I did.

What did finally convince me that I should care was when he told me that the discovery would enable physicists to move forward with their research and theorizing. I think that's great, but not because I expect physicists to use their knowledge for the good of mankind. They have a pretty mixed record on that. Nor do I expect physicists to use their knowledge in a way that will benefit me personally. We already have sticky notes and X-ray machines. I'm content. I don't need any more ingenious devices and I don't need to know more about how and when the universe was created. I'm just glad it was.

However, I was pleased to hear that the discovery would make physicists happy. Goodness knows we don't need more unhappy physicists. They can be just as disagreeable as disaffected economists or dissatisfied biologists.

Anything that makes life better for other people is probably a good thing all around, even if it doesn't improve my lot. So if teeny tiny particles make physicists want to sing and dance, let the party begin.

Whether we should pour billions of dollars into particle physics is a whole other question. Those dollars could also be spent on things that would have a pretty obvious benefit. We could feed, clothe, educate, and house people. That would make a big change in a lot of people's lives a lot quicker than anything the physicists are likely to be able to build out of particles that vanish as soon as they are detected.

Sure, someday the Higgs Boson discovery might be useful. You never know. If we weren't in the midst of such tough economic times, I wouldn't hesitate to pledge support for more giant magnets or whatever else would continue to make physicists happy. I might even get behind whatever new space vehicle NASA wants to build so they can keep playing Buck Rogers and Hans Solo. But for now, I think we ought to keep our focus on more down-to-earth projects.

Higgs Boson were hard to find because they are so small. Our problems are so big that it is tempting to ignore them. Fortunately, we don't need any fancy lab equipment to see what we need to see. All we need to do is open our eyes. Then we need to act.