It’s time to disarm the gun debate

The Free Press WV

The “gun debate” is the national schism that seemingly cannot be bridged. Those on one side see the loosely regulated presence of 300 million firearms in this country as a threat to everyone’s safety and gasp in ongoing disbelief when the gun lobby smirks that the solution to every mass killing is . . . more guns for the good guys. Arm the teachers!

The obvious conclusion is that the NRA is the incredibly effective public relations arm of the gun industry. It spends hundreds of millions of dollars purchasing politicians in sufficient quantity to keep America free of gun laws, in defiance of the will of the majority of Americans.

But on the other side of this seething paradox are the gun owners, many of whom see gun regulation, among other things, as a bureaucratic limitation on their right to live in safety. David French put it with stark clarity in a recent essay in the National Review:

“. . .  the individual decision to purchase and carry a gun isn’t rooted in some sort of strange gun fetish or Wild West swagger but rather in the fundamental desire (and right) to protect your loved ones from harm. If arguments for gun control don’t grapple with this reality, then they’re destined to fail.”

Gun control proponents, which he refers to, inaccurately, as the Left, “keeps losing on guns,” he goes on. “It simply can’t persuade a rational, reasonable adult who’s experienced a threat that they’re safer without effective means of self-defense. Indeed, the effort to make this case is so often rooted in condescension or ignorance that it’s deeply alienating.”

I disagree with much of what French had to say in his essay — there was no indication, for instance, that he was willing to concede the least need for firearms regulation (good guys need semiautomatics to defend themselves against bad guys with semiautomatics), or the least possibility that personal safety can be achieved by other means — but I see his basic point: If you don’t feel safe unless you’re armed, those who apparently want to limit your safety are the enemy.

There’s also another way to put it. A movement focused on what is essentially nothing more than a bureaucratic fix is probably dead in the water. Gun control may be necessary, but what kind of passion can it generate?

But of course there is passion around this issue — the passion of parents who have lost their children to gun violence, the passion of teenagers who are standing up for their own safety, crying “Enough is enough!” That passion has generated a corporate if not a political response, with businesses severing their ties with the NRA and both the Walmart’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods chains upping the minimum age to purchase guns at their stores to 21. Dick’s will also stop selling assault-style weapons, which Walmart’s had stopped doing three years ago.

Uh, OK. Great. These are small steps in a long struggle. But something is missing here. The Republican pols are hanging tough, refusing to give an inch on gun-control legislation, and the guns-protect-life crowd, backed by lots of money, are pushing back with diabolical legislative ideas such as requiring that teachers be armed. Even if ideas this insane have no chance of becoming law (or do they?), they succeed at changing the focus of the debate: It’s not laws that keeps us safe, it’s guns that keep us safe. If you don’t like it, move to Australia.
And the schism festers.

And nothing is changing. Another mass murder will hit the headlines one of these days, more likely sooner rather than later. Miniscule legislative changes are unlikely to deal in any way with the ability of would-be killers to obtain the firepower they crave. And of course the country’s gargantuan military budget and multiplying international quagmires will just keep growing and growing, dominating the nation’s spending and hastening our social collapse.

Something’s gotta give. The national stalemate on guns will not end with one side’s victory and the other side’s defeat. It will only be resolved when the paradox of the divide is itself resolved, or transcended.
I return to David French and “the fundamental desire (and right) to protect your loved ones from harm” that he writes about. This is no different from the passionate cries for safety and protection emerging from the students at Stoneman Douglas High School and every other school across the country. Their protection is not a matter of metal detectors or lockdown drills — or miniscule legal fixes. They are crying that violence is not a game, to be wielded recklessly to create temporary safety.

Both sides are crying out for empowerment — not temporary, not bureaucratically controlled, but basic, fundamental, profound. Both sides are crying: Our lives are sacred!
Indeed, all lives are sacred. No one should be dehumanized. I believe the only resolution to the “gun debate” is an agreement that we set about creating a social order with that belief at its foundation.

We will still face danger, but the time has come to realize, and collectively acknowledge, that facing danger nonviolently — with courage and presence of mind, but unarmed — is not only possible but highly effective.

I have written about this in the past, and have used my column as a forum for people’s stories about unarmed empowerment. I believe it is time to do so again. How have you faced and averted a dangerous situation by standing up to it unarmed? Such stories need to be told, again and again and again. Each one is unique. Each one can interrupt the national obsession with violence . . . and violent solutions that always come back to haunt us.

Robert Koehler, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

Ignorance and greed: Trump’s war on the environment

The Free Press WV

“There is a cooling, and there’s a heating. I mean, look, it used to not be climate change, it used to be global warming. That wasn’t working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place.”
–Donald Trump, interview with Piers Morgan, January 28, 2018

The Rollback
Under Donald Trump, the environment has been the hardest hit of any sector of society, carried out by executive actions, the overturning of Obama-era regulations, and the enactment of new rules via cabinet review. This assault is occurring just as NASA reports that we’ve just had another near-record year of global warming. It’s insanity, and a classic example of willful ignorance. Trump, EPA director Scott Pruitt, and other officials simply choose not to inform themselves lest their position on climate change, which is based entirely on self-interest, be undermined.  Since these people only know what Fox News and the fossil fuel industry tell them, they probably are unfazed about portents such as the three-year drought that has brought Cape Town, South Africa, to “Day Zero” when the water pipes will be shut off and water strictly rationed.

Behind the rules changes lies a telling fact: Trump does not have a science adviser—a director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House.  But since he has no interest in science, he evidently sees no reason to learn from or defer to anyone who does. The president’s science adviser typically advises on everything from outbreaks of disease to global warming and nuclear weapons.  By leaving empty a position all previous presidents have filled, Trump is sending a message that he is not merely a climate-change denier but also a science denier.  Only one person sits in the OSTP office: a Silicon Valley financier.

As has been widely reported, the resignations, retirements, and constraints placed upon government scientists crimp the executive branch’s preparedness for what is to come.  As just one example, geologists in the interior department are being systematically constrained from presenting their research at major conferences.  Many more such reports make it apparent that blocking scientists from engaging with colleagues around the country and the world is not, as the EPA and interior department leaderships would have it, motivated by the need to save money. Not when those leaders have no problem spending lavishly on their own travel and office furniture.

The Latest Damage Report
It is almost beyond belief that at the very moment national and international action to combat climate change is most urgent, the Trump administration is not just backing away but actively contributing to the problem. Take oceans, for example:

We’re familiar with rising sea waters, but now there is a new finding: the volume of the oceans is expanding as glaciers and ice sheets melt. The extra load on oceans is pushing the bed down.  What this means is that assessments of sea rise need to take account of both rising at the top and rising at the bottom.

Climate change, along with dumping of fertilizer and waste, are depriving oceans of oxygen, creating a deepening crisis for the creatures that dwell in them. As an analysis in Science reports, “Ocean dead zones with zero oxygen have quadrupled in size since 1950, . . . while the number of very low oxygen sites near coasts have multiplied tenfold [in all, from 50 to 500 dead zones]. Most sea creatures cannot survive in these zones and current trends would lead to mass extinction in the long run, risking dire consequences for the hundreds of millions of people who depend on the sea.”

Denise Breitburg at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in the US, who led the analysis, said: “Under the current trajectory that is where we would be headed. But the consequences to humans of staying on that trajectory are so dire that it is hard to imagine we would go quite that far down that path.”

Such problems are irrelevant to the oil and gas industries. The Trump administration announced in January 2018 that virtually all offshore waters protected from drilling by an Obama executive order—about 100 million acres on both coasts, including 77 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico—would be opened to exploitation. “A new plan for energy dominance,” the interior secretary chortled.

The department’s secret strategic plan, leaked to The Nation, calls for speeding up approval of drilling applications and permits. “Burdensome” offshore drilling safety regulations that were imposed following the Deepwater Horizon disaster are being eliminated. The document makes no mention of climate change or renewable energy.  Science is virtually out of the picture. The interior department has killed a half-million dollar study that was underway to make drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico safer.  It has also eliminated the Oil Spill Compensation Fund, a half-billion dollar insurance program for victims of oil spills.

Some regulatory rollbacks that profit industry are barely reported but have enormous consequences for environmental and human health. In defiance of scientific conclusions, the EPA is removing restrictions on a particular type of neonicotinoids, a powerful class of insecticides, that would harm the already badly depleted bee population. The move would specifically benefit Syngenta, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of agricultural chemicals.  In a similar move, the EPA has loosened regulations on storage of toxic coal ash waste.  The waste is from coal-fired plants that generate electricity.

The new regulations allow companies to essentially make their own rules—it’s called “flexibility”—rather than give priority to the public health consequences.

Mel Gurtov, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops

The Free Press WV

“Every day in communities across the United States, children and adolescents spend the majority of their waking hours in schools that have increasingly come to resemble places of detention more than places of learning. From metal detectors to drug tests, from increased policing to all-seeing electronic surveillance, the public schools of the twenty-first century reflect a society that has become fixated on crime, security and violence.”—Investigative journalist Annette Fuentes

Just what we don’t need: more gun-toting, taser-wielding cops in government-run schools that bear an uncomfortable resemblance to prisons.

Microcosms of the police state, America’s public schools already contain almost every aspect of the militarized, intolerant, senseless, overcriminalized, legalistic, surveillance-riddled, totalitarian landscape that plagues those of us on the “outside.”

Now the Trump Administration wants to double down on these totalitarian echo chambers.

The Justice Department, headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has announced that it will provide funding for schools that want to hire more resource officers. The White House has also hinted that it may repeal “Rethink School Discipline” policies, heralding a return to zero tolerance policies that treat children like suspects and criminals, especially within the public schools.

As for President Trump, he wants to “harden” the schools.

What exactly does hardening the schools entail?

More strident zero tolerance policies, greater numbers of school cops, and all the trappings of a prison complex (unsurmountable fences, entrapment areas, no windows or trees, etc.).

Just when you thought this administration couldn’t get any more tone-deaf about civil liberties, they prove once again that they have absolutely no regard for the Constitution (especially the Fourth Amendment), no concept of limited government, and no concern for the growing need to protect “we the people” against an overreaching, overbearing police state.

America’s schools today are already about as authoritarian as they come.

From the moment a child enters one of the nation’s 98,000 public schools to the moment he or she graduates, they will be exposed to a steady diet of:

  • draconian zero tolerance policies that criminalize childish behavior,
  • overreaching anti-bullying statutes that criminalize speech,
  • school resource officers (police) tasked with disciplining and/or arresting so-called “disorderly” students,
  • standardized testing that emphasizes rote answers over critical thinking,
  • politically correct mindsets that teach young people to censor themselves and those around them,
  • and extensive biometric and surveillance systems that, coupled with the rest, acclimate young people to a world in which they have no freedom of thought, speech or movement.

Young people in America are now first in line to be searched, surveilled, spied on, threatened, tied up, locked down, treated like criminals for non-criminal behavior, tasered and in some cases shot.

Roped into the government’s profit-driven campaign to keep the nation “safe” from drugs, weapons and terrorism, many schools have transformed themselves into quasi-prisons, complete with surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs, strip searches and active shooter drills.

It used to be that if you talked back to a teacher, or played a prank on a classmate, or just failed to do your homework, you might find yourself in detention or doing an extra writing assignment after school.

That is no longer the case.

Nowadays, students are not only punished for minor transgressions such as playing cops and robbers on the playground, bringing LEGOs to school, or having a food fight, but the punishments have become far more severe, shifting from detention and visits to the principal’s office into misdemeanor tickets, juvenile court, handcuffs, tasers and even prison terms.

Students have been suspended under school zero tolerance policies for bringing to school “look alike substances” such as oregano, breath mints, birth control pills and powdered sugar.

Look-alike weapons (toy guns—even Lego-sized ones, hand-drawn pictures of guns, pencils twirled in a “threatening” manner, imaginary bows and arrows, even fingers positioned like guns) can also land a student in hot water.

Even good deeds do not go unpunished.

One 13-year-old was given detention for exposing the school to “liability” by sharing his lunch with a hungry friend. A third grader was suspended for shaving her head in sympathy for a friend who had lost her hair to chemotherapy. And then there was the high school senior who was suspended for saying “bless you” after a fellow classmate sneezed.

In South Carolina, where it’s against the law to disturb a school, more than a thousand students a year—some as young as 7 years old—“face criminal charges for not following directions, loitering, cursing, or the vague allegation of acting ‘obnoxiously.’ If charged as adults, they can be held in jail for up to 90 days.”

These outrageous incidents are exactly what you’ll see more of if the Trump Administration gets its way.

Increasing the number of cops in the schools only adds to the problem.

Indeed, the growing presence of police in the nation’s schools is resulting in greater police “involvement in routine discipline matters that principals and parents used to address without involvement from law enforcement officers.”

Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, these school resource officers (SRO) have become de facto wardens in elementary, middle and high schools, doling out their own brand of justice to the so-called “criminals” in their midst with the help of tasers, pepper spray, batons and brute force.

The horror stories are legion.

One SRO is accused of punching a 13-year-old student in the face for cutting the cafeteria line.

That same cop put another student in a chokehold a week later, allegedly knocking the student unconscious and causing a brain injury.

In Pennsylvania, a student was tased after ignoring an order to put his cell phone away.

When 13-year-old Kevens Jean Baptiste failed to follow a school bus driver’s direction to keep the bus windows closed (Kevens, who suffers from asthma, opened the window after a fellow student sprayed perfume, causing him to cough and wheeze), he was handcuffed by police, removed from the bus, and while still handcuffed, had his legs swept out from under him by an officer, causing him to crash to the ground.

Young Alex Stone didn’t even make it past the first week of school before he became a victim of the police state. Directed by his teacher to do a creative writing assignment involving a series of fictional Facebook statuses, Stone wrote, “I killed my neighbor’s pet dinosaur. I bought the gun to take care of the business.” Despite the fact that dinosaurs are extinct, the status fabricated, and the South Carolina student was merely following orders, his teacher reported him to school administrators, who in turn called the police.

What followed is par for the course in schools today: students were locked down in their classrooms while armed police searched the 16-year-old’s locker and bookbag, handcuffed him, charged him with disorderly conduct disturbing the school, arrested him, detained him, and then he was suspended from school.

Not even the younger, elementary school-aged kids are being spared these “hardening” tactics.

On any given day when school is in session, kids who “act up” in class are pinned facedown on the floor, locked in dark closets, tied up with straps, bungee cords and duct tape, handcuffed, leg shackled, tasered or otherwise restrained, immobilized or placed in solitary confinement in order to bring them under “control.”

In almost every case, these undeniably harsh methods are used to punish kids—some as young as 4 and 5 years old—for simply failing to follow directions or throwing tantrums. Very rarely do the kids pose any credible danger to themselves or others. Unbelievably, these tactics are all legal, at least when employed by school officials or school resource officers in the nation’s public schools.

This is what happens when you introduce police and police tactics into the schools.

Paradoxically, by the time you add in the lockdowns and active shooter drills, instead of making the schools safer, school officials have succeeded in creating an environment in which children are so traumatized that they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares, anxiety, mistrust of adults in authority, as well as feelings of anger, depression, humiliation, despair and delusion.

For example, a middle school in Washington State went on lockdown after a student brought a toy gun to class. A Boston high school went into lockdown for four hours after a bullet was discovered in a classroom. A North Carolina elementary school locked down and called in police after a fifth grader reported seeing an unfamiliar man in the school (it turned out to be a parent).

Police officers at a Florida middle school carried out an active shooter drill in an effort to educate students about how to respond in the event of an actual shooting crisis. Two armed officers, guns loaded and drawn, burst into classrooms, terrorizing the students and placing the school into lockdown mode.

If these exercises are intended to instill fear and compliance into young people, they’re working.

As journalist Dahlia Lithwick points out: “I don’t recall any serious national public dialogue about lockdown protocols or how they became the norm. It seems simply to have begun, modeling itself on the lockdowns that occur during prison riots, and then spread until school lockdowns and lockdown drills are as common for our children as fire drills, and as routine as duck-and-cover drills were in the 1950s.”

The toll such incidents take on adults can be life-altering, but when such police brutality is perpetrated on young people, the end result is nothing less than complete indoctrination into becoming compliant citizens of a totalitarian state.

Schools acting like prisons.

School officials acting like wardens.

Students treated like inmates and punished like hardened criminals.

This is the end product of all those so-called school “safety” policies, which run the gamut from zero tolerance policies that punish all infractions harshly to surveillance cameras, metal detectors, random searches, drug-sniffing dogs, school-wide lockdowns, active-shooter drills and militarized police officers.

There can be no avoiding the hands-on lessons being taught in the schools about the role of police in our lives, ranging from active shooter drills and school-wide lockdowns to incidents in which children engaging in typically childlike behavior are suspended (for shooting an imaginary “arrow” at a fellow classmate), handcuffed (for being disruptive at school), arrested (for throwing water balloons as part of a school prank), and even tasered (for not obeying instructions).

Instead of raising up a generation of freedom fighters—which one would hope would be the objective of the schools—government officials seem determined to churn out newly minted citizens of the American police state who are being taught the hard way what it means to comply, fear and march in lockstep with the government’s dictates.

So what’s the answer, not only for the here-and-now—the children growing up in these quasi-prisons—but for the future of this country?

How do you convince a child who has been routinely handcuffed, shackled, tied down, locked up, and immobilized by government officials—all before he reaches the age of adulthood—that he has any rights at all, let alone the right to challenge wrongdoing, resist oppression and defend himself against injustice?

Most of all, how do you persuade a fellow American that the government works for him when for most of his young life, he has been incarcerated in an institution that teaches young people to be obedient and compliant citizens who don’t talk back, don’t question and don’t challenge authority?

Peter Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston College, believes that school is a prison that is damaging our kids, and it’s hard to disagree, especially with the numbers of police officers being assigned to schools on the rise.

Students, in turn, are not only finding themselves subjected to police tactics such as handcuffs, leg shackles, tasers and excessive force for “acting up” but are also being ticketed, fined and sent to court for behavior perceived as defiant, disruptive or disorderly such as spraying perfume and writing on a desk.

Clearly, the pathology that characterizes the American police state has passed down to the schools.

Now in addition to the government and its agents viewing the citizenry as suspects to be probed, poked, pinched, tasered, searched, seized, stripped and generally manhandled, all with the general blessing of the courts, our children in the public schools are also fair game for school resource officers who taser teenagers and handcuff kindergartners, school officials who have criminalized childhood behavior, school lockdowns and terror drills that teach your children to fear and comply, and a police state mindset that has transformed the schools into quasi-prisons.

Don’t even get me started on the “school-to-prison pipeline,” the phenomenon in which children who are suspended or expelled from school have a greater likelihood of ending up in jail. One study found that “being suspended or expelled made a student nearly three times more likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system within the next year.”

By the time the average young person in America finishes their public school education, nearly one out of every three of them will have been arrested. Nearly 40 percent of those young people who are arrested will serve time in a private prison, where the emphasis is on making profits for large megacorporations above all else.

Indeed, this profit-driven system of incarceration has also given rise to a growth in juvenile prisons and financial incentives for jailing young people. In this way, young people have become easy targets for the private prison industry, which profits from criminalizing childish behavior and jailing young people.

None of these tactics are making our communities or our schools any safer.

Without a doubt, change is needed, but that will mean taking on the teachers’ unions, the school unions, the educators’ associations, and the police unions, not to mention the politicians dependent on their votes and all of the corporations that profit mightily from an industrial school complex.

As we’ve seen with other issues, any significant reforms will have to start locally and trickle upwards.

For starters, parents need to be vocal, visible and organized and demand that school officials 1) adopt a policy of positive reinforcement in dealing with behavior issues; 2) minimize the presence in the schools of police officers and cease involving them in student discipline; and 3) insist that all behavioral issues be addressed first and foremost with a child’s parents, before any other disciplinary tactics are attempted.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, if you want a nation of criminals, treat the citizenry like criminals.

If you want young people who grow up seeing themselves as prisoners, run the schools like prisons.

If, on the other hand, you want to raise up a generation of freedom fighters, who will actually operate with justice, fairness, accountability and equality towards each other and their government, then run the schools like freedom forums.

Remove the metal detectors and surveillance cameras, re-assign the cops elsewhere, and start treating our nation’s young people like citizens of a republic and not inmates in a police state.

~~  John W. Whitehead ~~

The Rule of the Rich and the Last Hurrah. An Essay of the Man from the North

The Free Press WV

Rich people rule, make no mistake. They have ruled for centuries, and the toll of their reign has been high. At their feet can be laid the bodies of every child starved in a world with surplus food; every person who freezes to death in the streets while there are six empty houses for every homeless person; every death from lack of affordable healthcare; and the incalculable casualties of the world’s wars – which have all had the wealthy at the helm.

Colonization’s genocides, slavery’s murders, and the living death of mass incarceration can all be added to the oligarchy’s tally.
Most damning, we can now add the looming threat of mass extinction to the track record of the rich – for they are the ones who obscured climate science, who promoted denialism to protect fossil fuel profits, and who still obstruct the necessary transition to sustainable practices. Make no mistake: the rule of the rich has been a deadly epoch for humanity.

We cannot compare the effect of the rule of a whole populace empowered by democracy. In this country, the wealthy hijacked the idea of democracy starting in 1787 when the Constitution excluded everyone but propertied white males. There are few examples of full-constituency, class-balanced democracy throughout human history. In no case can the scale of destruction be compared to what the rule of the rich has done.

We owe them no allegiance. They have shown their reign to be dangerous, deadly, and destructive. We owe it to ourselves, our communities, humanity and the Earth to utterly resist their continued rule. We must reject their propaganda. We must recognize it on billboards and movie screens. We must learn to see how it masquerades in education and spouts from the mouths of politicians. Every sector of our lives currently serves to prop up the rule of the rich, their ideologies and worldviews. Effective resistance begins by silencing our cheers and breaking our silence when the next dose of propaganda is being spoon-fed to the nation.

It is not a matter of “good” billionaires vs. “bad” billionaires. Like benevolent dictators, the system itself is rotten to the core. It will never represent the needs of the people. There are no safeguards against tyrants. Those who cheer on their favorite gladiator of a billionaire are deluding themselves about the nature of power and wealth. Billionaires can turn the sharp swords-edge of their power against you. Their economic empires will subjugate you for profit. It is foolish to applaud philanthropy without examining the sources of the fortune.
Do not let the rain of money blind you. Beneath the glamour lies a complex equation that nets a savings for your favorite wealthy darling of a donor, privatizing the use of money while robbing it from any hope of democratic application that taxation might have offered. Those fortunes showered on charities and foundation grants have been skimmed from wages, market manipulation, high-priced products, and often government—taxpayer—subsidies.

There are no “good” plutocrats, not when you look closely. You can have democracy or you can have the rule of the rich. You cannot have both. On their side, the rich offer a hedonistic last hurrah, an orgy of plundering and partying for a brief firework-explosion of a moment before the unending eternity of extinction. On our side, we lift the glimmer of hope, the tendril-seed chance of life.

You choose.

The Man from the North is a fictional writer in Rivera Sun’s novel, The Dandelion Insurrection. The novel takes place in the near future, in “a time that looms around the corner of today,” when a rising police state controlled by the corporate-political elite have plunged the nation into the grip of a hidden dictatorship. In spite of severe surveillance and repression, the Man from the North’s banned articles circulate through the land, reporting on resistance and fomenting nonviolent revolution. This article is one of a series written by The Man from the North, which are not included in the novel, but can be read here. Author/Activist Rivera Sun, is an author and nonviolent strategy trainer.

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