Friday, February 28, 2014

The Week Of The Gub Continues In This Blog

Violence against African American adolescents goes far beyond the shootings in Florida and Arizona. Hell, it is open season for gun-totin' whites. In "Take The Money And Run" (1969), Woody Allen — as erstwhile bank robber Virgil Starkwell — hands a stick-up note to a teller and ends up in a huge argument as to whether his note specifies that he is carrying a gun or a gub. Not only is Virgil inept as a bank robber, but he writes illegibly as well. Nonetheless, there is crisis in the land and juries are loath to sentence white killers of black youth to first-degree murder. If this is the (fair & balanced) backlash of white privilege, so be it.

[x The Nation]
Freelance Stop-and-Shoot
By Gary Younge

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There is a moment in the film "12 Years a Slave" when Solomon Northup understands the depth of the trouble he is in. Lying shackled in a pen after having been drugged, kidnapped and sold to slave traders, he wakes up to protest to his captors that he is a free man. They demand to see his free papers. Just a few days earlier, he had thought carrying such papers unnecessary, even in a slave state. “I thought at the time, I must confess, that the papers were scarcely worth the cost of obtaining them,” he wrote in his memoir. “The apprehension of danger to my personal safety never having suggested itself to me in the remotest manner.” Only after he finds himself without them does he discover their—and therefore his—true worth. For in the absence of that proof, his value as a human being plummets to zero, and he is destined to live as chattel for more than a decade, until he can prove otherwise.

More than 150 years later, the status of free black men—and women in a different way, but to a parallel extent—is still precarious. Their very existence remains a threat, and in the absence of free papers authenticating the validity of their presence in a given place and time, their lives are virtually worthless.

This was illustrated most recently with the trial of Michael Dunn in Jacksonville, Florida. Dunn killed Jordan Davis, 17, when he shot at a car full of unarmed black youths because he thought they were playing rap (or, as he termed it, “thug music”) too loud and wouldn’t turn it down. None of the kids were armed, but Dunn claims he felt threatened anyway. Then he went to his hotel with his fiancée, had a rum and Coke, and ordered a pizza. Dunn was convicted on three counts of attempted murder regarding the youths who survived, but the jury was deadlocked over the killing of Davis, saying it could not agree on whether Dunn had acted in self-defense.

But Dunn’s actions were no one-off. The examples of similar high-profile cases are endless and enraging.

In Barboursville, West Virginia, in January, Rodney Black shot Garrick Hopkins and his brother Carl (both of whom were African-American) dead after he saw them inspecting a shed on land they’d just bought next door. Black thought they were trespassing on his property, so he shot first and then called 911. In Philadelphia a few weeks earlier, Darrin Manning, 16, had to have surgery on his testicle after being stopped and searched by police on his way to a basketball game. In Dearborn Heights, Michigan, on November 2, Renisha McBride, 19, was shot dead after knocking on a door seeking help after a car accident. Near Charlotte, North Carolina, in September, Jonathan Ferrell knocked on a stranger’s door, also seeking help following a car crash. The homeowner reported an attempted burglary to the police, who came and promptly shot Ferrell dead. The fate of the assailants in these cases currently lies with the courts—but few African-Americans have any illusion that this is where justice resides. George Zimmerman felt threatened by a boy almost half his age. When Trayvon Martin couldn’t produce papers proving that he wasn’t a “punk,” Zimmerman felt justified in killing him. The judicial system backed him up.

The verdicts matter. Zimmerman’s acquittal lent legal imprimatur to the understanding that it is open season on young black men; Dunn’s mistrial on the key charge of murder did nothing to discredit that. But these tales go beyond the legal arena: they reflect a violent, racist culture in which the black body, particularly when it is young and male, is considered fair game. One can list only so many isolated incidents before it becomes impossible to deny a pattern.

When it comes to “stand your ground” laws, it appears there is no ground that free black men are entitled to that cannot be violated by a skittish, trigger-happy white male. Add this freelance stop-and-shoot to the official stop-and-frisk, and you have a large portion of the nation living in a state of terror rooted in policy, practice and culture. It is depressingly emblematic of how little black people feel their lives are valued that Darrin Manning’s mother said, after his police encounter, “I’m just grateful that they didn’t just kill him.”

According to a 2013 report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a black person is killed by police, security guards or vigilantes every twenty-eight hours. Add to that the fact that one in ten young black men is behind bars and one in two has been arrested, and America starts to look more and more like a huge penal colony, even as the challenge to the black community shifts from the discriminatory to the existential.

This is not just a problem for black people any more than the NSA’s intrusions are just a problem for Muslims. In a world where some need papers to prove their freedom, nobody is truly free. “As citizens, we must prevent wrong-doing,” argued Hannah Arendt. “Because the world in which we all live, wrong-doer, wrong-sufferer, and spectator, is at stake.”

In an interview I conducted with Angela Davis several years ago, she said, “Freedom is much more than just the abolition of slavery…. We are still confronted by the failure of the affirmative side of abolition all these years later.” Does that not leave black politics entrenched in a paradigm set almost 150 years ago, I asked her? “The problem is that we [as a country] haven’t moved on,” she said. “Certainly, it’s important to recognize the victories that have been won. Racism is not exactly the same now as it was then. But there were issues that were never addressed and now present themselves in different manifestations today. You only move on if you resolve these issues.”

Black people have been enslaved in America far longer than they have been free. Historically, even their nominal full rights of citizenship are very recent. Tragically, it is taking a significant proportion of the white population—and the state—a long time to catch up with this reality. Ω

[Gary Younge, the Alfred Knobler Journalism Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the New York correspondent for the Guardian and the author of The Speech: The Story Behind Dr Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream (2013). Young also has written Who Are We—And Should it Matter in the 21st Century? (2011), Stranger in a Strange Land: Travels in the Disunited States (2006), and >No Place Like Home: A Black Briton's Journey Through the Deep South (2002). Younge received a BA from Heriot-Watt University (Scotland) and an MA from City University (London).]

Copyright © 2014 The Nation

Creative Commons LicenseSapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Modest Proposal For "Stand Your Ground" Defenses

Here it is: Floridians George Zimmerman, Curtis Reeves, Michael Dunn, and Arizonan Cyle Wayne Quadlin are gun-loving, gun-toting scum and all are guilty of first-degree murder. Instead of putting all 4 of these subhuman mongrels to death with a lethal injection, let 'em face a Utah-style firing squad sans blindfolds. Let the last thing they see be a muzzle-flash of the rifle that ends their miserable lives. Then, put the executions on national television and — after a lawsuit for damages — let the National Rifle Association pick up the tab for all of the shows. That is what these "Stand Your Ground" scum deserve — nothing less. And so the gun-show blog goes on. If this is (fair & balanced) disgust with guns and their lovers, so be it.

[x Slate]
“Stand Your Ground” Nation
By Dahlia Lithwick

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Ever since George Zimmerman gunned down Trayvon Martin in his Sanford, FL, gated community, it’s become an article of faith that the rash of lethal shootings in public places—from the Florida moviegoer who was killed after a texting and popcorn-throwing incident to Jordan Davis, shot in his car at a Jacksonville, FL, gas station to last week’s lethal shooting in an Arizona Walmart—is attributable to the “stand your ground” laws enacted over the past decade in 26 states across the country. Aggressive human interaction, post-Trayvon, now follows a painfully familiar pattern: An altercation occurs. Someone says he feared for his life. An unarmed victim (often young, black, and male) is shot and killed. The headlines either explicitly or implicitly invoke “stand your ground.”

Last week, Kriston Charles Belinte Chee, an unarmed man, got into a fight with Cyle Wayne Quadlin at a Walmart in suburban Arizona. Quadlin opened fire midargument and killed Chee. Officers decided not to charge Quadlin because, they concluded, the killing was in self-defense. According to the police spokesman, “Mr. Quadlin was losing the fight and indicated he ‘was in fear for his life.’” Just a week earlier, a jury in Jacksonville, FL, found Michael Dunn guilty on four counts of attempted murder but did not convict him on the most serious charge of first-degree murder, in the death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Dunn shot and killed Davis, also unarmed, because the music coming from his car was too loud. Dunn claimed he saw something like a gun in the vehicle, and that was apparently enough for some members of the jury to conclude that Dunn hadn’t committed first-degree murder.

Given all this, it’s not unreasonable to argue that, in America, you can be shot and killed, without consequences for the shooter, for playing loud music, wearing a hoodie, or shopping at a Walmart. The question is whether the wave of “stand your ground” legislation is to blame.

Let’s first define terms: “Stand your ground” laws are different from the Castle Doctrine, which has its roots in centuries-old British common law and allows you to use force to protect yourself in your home. “Stand your ground” essentially provides that you can bring your castle wherever you go. The rule allows you to shoot first, not just in your home, but anyplace you have a right to be and is a much newer, and more controversial, proposition. (The first “stand your ground” law was enacted in Florida in 2005.) Historically, United States self-defense laws have followed British common law by imposing a duty to retreat, requiring those in a dangerous situation to try to withdraw (if they could do so safely) before resorting to killing. (Under the Castle Doctrine there is no duty to retreat because you’re already home, in your safe haven.) “Stand your ground” by design cancels out the duty to retreat and, in sum, allows you to shoot first if you feel your life is in danger, just like you can do at home. The relevant language in Florida’s self-defense statute provides just that: “A person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if: He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself."

Legal purists on both sides of the gun debate argue that neither Zimmerman nor Dunn even invoked the “stand your ground” defense in their cases. In their view, the doctrine has been unfairly blamed. Dan Abrams argues that “neither defendant invoked the controversial aspects of Florida's law. In fact, both defendants argued basic self defense law that would have been similar in just about every state in the nation.” David Kopel similarly points out that “the assertion that Stand Your Ground may have been a reason why the [Dunn] jury hung on the first degree murder charge is totally implausible. The three convictions for second-degree murder show that the jury had determined there was no self-defense; ergo, jury confusion about self-defense was not the reason why the jury deadlocked on first-degree murder.”

But Nicole Flatow at ThinkProgress contends that “stand your ground” had everything to do with both cases. As she writes, “Dunn’s lawyer Cory Strolla cited Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in his closing argument: ‘His honor will further tell you that if Michael Dunn was in a public place where he had a legal right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.’” Moreover, in both the Zimmerman and Dunn trials, the provision was included in the jury instructions. (Some say that this is immaterial because jurors are often read instructions that do not apply to the case before them. But do jurors know that?)

It’s clear that at least some of the jurors in both cases took the principle of “stand your ground” into account to some degree during deliberations. We now know that at least one juror, and possibly two, in Dunn’s trial took to heart the specific instruction that Dunn “had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.” Whether or not jurors in Florida are technically instructed to apply the “stand your ground” component of self-defense law, it’s increasingly clear that they are, at minimum, confused about it (understandably) and may even be starting to apply it reflexively. Yes, Dunn's attorney argued traditional self-defense. But, as former assistant U.S. attorney David Weinstein told the Associated Press, “I think people will say that because some of the language from the stand your ground statute gets embedded into the jury instructions, that stand your ground has an effect.”

I might go further. I might say that whether or not specific jurisdictions define self-defense to include a duty to retreat, and whether or not specific juries are charged to apply it, America is quickly becoming one big “stand your ground” state, as a matter of culture if not the letter of the law.

The fact that “stand your ground” defenses have been staggeringly successful in Florida in recent years (one study shows it’s been invoked more than 200 times since being enacted in 2005 and used successfully in 70 percent of the cases) suggests that it’s been embedded into more than just jury instructions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a Tampa Bay Times study from 2012 shows that “as ‘stand your ground’ claims have increased, so too has the number of Floridians with guns. Concealed weapons permits now stand at 1.1 million, three times as many as in 2005 when the law was passed.” Put bluntly: As Floridians sense that other Floridians plan to shoot first, they buy more guns. Think about it: The National Rifle Association that has pushed so hard for “stand your ground” laws in recent years is the same National Rifle Association that has put so many guns, and such lethal guns, in so many hands—concealed carry, open carry, wave-it-around-and-call-it-free-speech carry. The gun lobby has single-handedly made certain that the very definition of what one might reasonably expect from an altercation at a Walmart, a movie theater, or a gas station has changed. By seeking to arm everyone in America, the NRA has in fact changed our reasonable expectation of how fights will end, into a self-fulfilling prophecy about how fights will end. It should surprise you not at all to learn that of the 10 states with the most lenient gun laws in America, seven support “stand your ground.” In those jurisdictions shooting first isn’t merely “reasonable.” It borders on sensible.

And it’s not just cultural expectations that are shifting. We’re also shifting what we ask of our jurors. Under “stand your ground,” we are asking jurors to impose a subjective test about whether the shooter was experiencing a profound moment of existential panic. We are asking them whether—in a country seemingly full of people who are both armed and terrified that everyone else is armed—shooting first makes sense. By redirecting jurors to contemplate whether people who are armed and ready to kill are thinking reasonably about others they believe to be armed and ready to kill, we have created a framework in which one’s subjective fears about the world are all that matters. Or as the father of one victim explained to the Washington Post, “Somehow, we've reached the point where the shooter's word is the law.”

Every time we hear about a Zimmerman, a Dunn, or a Cyle Wayne Quadlin, we get a little bit closer to believing that we need to become a Zimmerman, a Dunn, or a Cyle Wayne Quadlin merely to protect ourselves. And then it gets a little bit easier for us to relate to, and to believe, the next Zimmerman, Dunn, or Cyle Wayne Quadlin. It’s a perfect loop of logic. We define the reasonableness of a lethal response by the growing number of lethal responders. “Stand your ground” laws, or at least the public conception of what they do, are changing the way the rest of us think about self-protection. This is, of course, exactly the world the NRA dreams of constructing: Everyone armed and paranoid that everyone else is armed. But the old canard that an armed society is a polite society is pretty much bunk. Ours is not a polite society; we are rude and hotheaded and terrified. Now we have guns to help us sort it all out.

And this is not just in Florida. We are quickly becoming a nation that would rather shoot than stand down, or at least one that thinks everyone has the right to. We are a nation of jurors who carefully consider the emotional state of a killer who had no obligation to even investigate the emotional state of the person he believed was attempting to kill him. We are a nation whose courts and legislatures have enshrined the American values of individualism, property rights, and mistrust of the state while eroding our duty to retreat.

After Trayvon Martin was killed, for a long time it was fashionable to say, “I am Trayvon Martin,” in solidarity with him and his family. But a far more worrisome possibility has begun to creep into our culture. With each successful “stand your ground” claim, explicit or implicit, we are all in peril of becoming more frightened, more violent, and more apt to shoot first and justify it later. The only thing more terrifying than the prospect of becoming a nation of Trayvon Martins is the possibility that we are unconsciously morphing into a nation of George Zimmermans. Ω

[Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate. She left her native Ottawa and studied at Yale University (BA, English) and then on to law school at Stanford University (JD). She joined Slate as a freelancer in 1999 and has written for The New Republic, The American Prospect, ELLE, The Ottawa Citizen, and The Washington Post.]

Copyright © 2014 The Slate Group

Creative Commons LicenseSapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Hold Your Noses... Here Comes Ted Nugent!

Just in time for Gun Week in this blog, the Attorney General of Texas — the putative Dumbo candidate for Governor — has adopted Ted Nugent as his "blood brother" and campaign celebrity companion. General (as he is termed in Texas) Abbott proclaims his admiration for a self-professed molester of adolescent girls (during? and) after the rock concerts. This raises an interesting conundrum: would General Abbott leave his 17-year-old daughter alone in a room with his "blood brother"? Even more amazing is the fact that Nugent has served on the Board of Directors of the National Rifle Association since 1995. Just this AM, this blogger received another appeal for a donation from State Senator Wendy Davis — the putative Donkey candidate for Governor — and the target of the message was the Abbott-Nugent partnership. If this is a (fair & balanced) picture of political E-V-I-L, so be it.

[x Esquire]
Why The Hell Are We Listening To Ted Nugent?
By Peter Gerstenzang

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Have you heard any remarks about the U.S. president from Sammy Hagar lately? Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon? Eddie Money? How about Kansas? Have you noticed any of them taking time out of their touring schedules of state fairs and rib festivals to speak unkindly about our commander-in-chief? I didn't think so. I use these well-meaning saps as examples for a reason. They were all gigantic in 1978. Playing to stadiums full of beered-up stooges who yelled, "Take off your top" to anything remotely female. And they're all as vital and relevant now as songs about CB radios and Disco Ducks. But one of the kings of these stadium roofie fests who sadly is still relevant is Ted Effing Nugent. He was huge 35 years ago, too. Even at his peak (the year of Elvis Costello and Blondie), many of us still thought he stunk like a loincloth that hadn't been washed since the Paleolithic Age. Yet somehow, this sexist, lyrically challenged musician has grabbed the ear of the press. He recently referred to our president as a "subhuman mongrel." He probably says kinder things about the animals he slaughters. But what all the outrage about Ted Nugent's comments in the past couple days misses is that Nugent never deserved our attention. Why does he have it now of all times?

I don't know what's scarier. That a washed-up troglodyte is using the language of the KKK about President Obama and it's become news. Or that Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general, running for governor, is happily bracketing himself with Nugent, letting him campaign for him and referring to this Fred Flintstone as "My blood brother" and "A fighter for freedom in this country."

Aside from the fact that Abbott seems to have learned his political lingo from 100 viewings of "Red Dawn," The Nuge's words are particularly hurtful and ugly, coming, as they do, at this time in history. We've just had a jury in Florida not convict a trigger-happy racist Michael Dunn on a murder charge. Fellow bigot George Zimmerman was even luckier. He killed an unarmed Trayvon Martin and was set free. So even as the country appears to be loosening up about gay marriage and marijuana, a certain segment of it seems to want to make up for this open-mindedness by declaring open season on African-Americans. Nugent's remarks would be ugly as sin about anyone of color. But the president of the United States? It's pathetic enough that would-be politicians are using washed-up rockers to campaign for them. But what some of us are really lamenting here is the end of civil discourse. Sad, right? Abbott, clearly, has not distanced himself from Nugent's remarks. And I think it will come back to bite him on the ass. But those words of this reeking rocker simply cannot go unchallenged.

Nugent is a well-documented perv and fake patriot and has managed to do something stomach-churningly evil in almost every decade. In the '60s, this gat-lovin', elk-killing flag waver, by his own account, managed to take enough drugs to cover his legs with so much shit that he got out of going to Vietnam. In the '70s, aside from the fact that he pounded the unremarkable "Cat Scratch Fever" into the ground, he made a stadium sport of having sex with underage girls. As the Dallas Morning News reminded us on February 17, "Nugent admitted having affairs with several underage girls." "I was addicted to girls. It was hopeless," he said.

Even waxworks classic rock stations don't play Nugent's work. So, like many a failed entertainer before him, the only option left was to try and drum up some attention in another arena: politics. What can we do about this hateful attention seeker? You can certainly protest his appearances. You can write him a letter and tell him if he's a real American, he'll stop making hateful remarks about the president. And that if he must speak, he should leave out words like "mongrel" when he spews his essentially unintelligible jive. When he said in 2012, "If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year," he got a visit from the Secret Service. How he walked out of that one, I'll never know. Something tells me, these days, that if Trayvon Martin had said such a thing about a white politician, he'd have been lynched.

Finally, we and (hopefully) other reasonably moral, relatively unbiased Americans can do something very simple. Just ignore the bastard. Like Octomom or Joe the Plumber, this is just a freak show. Outrageous stuff that gets the public's attention for a while but soon becomes a flaming bore. A bit like dropping your pants in public. Although in Ted's case it's a bit more complicated. If he hasn't changed his since the '60s, his look and stench may be a little harder to ignore. Ω

[Peter Gerstenzang is both a freelance writer and editor. In addition to Esquire, his work has also appeared in The New York Times, SPIN, The Village Voice and many others. Gerstenzang received a BA (English) and an MFA (Creative Writing) from Columbia University.]

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Creative Commons LicenseSapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Don't Take Your Guns To -Town- This Blog

At the risk of turning this blog into a gun show, yesterday's Tom Tomorrow 'toon is followed by a Lockean analysis of gun rights (and nuts). Philosophy prof Firmin DeBrabander offers a critique of the Natural Law appeal of the gun-crowd: the Divine Right to shoot an unarmed person and kill that person. Think Quentin Trantino's hit man in "Pulp Fiction" (Samuel L. Jackson, not Laurence Fishburne) who recites a passage from the Old Testament before pulling the trigger on his victim. If this is a (fair & balanced) consideration of the number of bullets that can balance on the head of a pin, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Locke and Load: The Fatal Error Of The "Stand Your Ground" Philosophy
By Firmin DeBrabander

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The anger and protest first sparked by the killing of Trayvon Martin, and the subsequent acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, was stoked again last week with the verdict in the trial of Michael Dunn.

In 2012, Dunn opened fire into a car full of black teenagers in a convenience store parking lot after they refused to turn down the volume of the “thug music” coming from their S.U.V. One of the teenagers, 17-year-old Jordan Davis, was struck several times and died. During the trial, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was invoked in Dunn’s defense. Dunn was found guilty on attempted murder charges, but not on a first-degree murder charge for killing Davis. The jury was unable to decide whether Dunn protected himself against Davis or murdered him. Once again, Stand your Ground was at the center of a murder case mired in racial discord.

Florida’s Stand your Ground statute says that a person may use force, “including deadly force if [he] reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself …” It is a logical extension of the increasingly expansive gun legislation in many parts of the country. Ohio recently approved its own version of the law, and others are poised to join in. Still, controversies surrounding the law continue to pile up.

Last month in Tampa, Curtis Reeves, a retired police officer, shot another man during an argument at a movie theater. Chad Oulson had irritated Reeves by texting as the movie began (it was learned afterward that he was texting the babysitter at home with his sick child). The two men argued; Oulson stood to face Reeves and threw popcorn at him. Reeves then pulled his handgun from his pocket and killed Oulson. Reeves’s lawyer, Stephen Romine, announced his intention to invoke Stand Your Ground in his client’s defense.

The letter of the law, Romine argued, is concerned only with whether “Reeves thought Chad Oulson would hurt him.” A report in The Times noted that Mr. Dunn was subject to similar protections: “[U]nder the law, Mr. Dunn needed only to have been convinced that he saw a shotgun, whether or not one was present.”

I believe that Stand Your Ground has already done damage to civil society by encouraging gun owners to carry their weapons in public, and reach for them quickly, instinctively. It promises to escalate minor altercations into deadly conflicts. And the law will surely motivate others to be armed, too, if only to protect themselves from trigger-happy citizens like Reeves or Dunn. Stand Your Ground propels us into the worst kind of armed society.

But certainly not all agree. Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, has offered this defense of the law, urging us to sympathize with those who would “stand their ground”: “Have you ever been threatened? I mean you talk to crime victims in the country… it’s the most terrifying moment of their life. They really are in a state of overwhelming reactive panic. Instinctively, they’ll do anything at that point to save themselves.” Such a threat is a highly personal affair — we can’t hope to understand or appreciate the terror, and how people measure it. Don’t judge them, LaPierre says. To judge them calmly after the fact and say, well, he could have run away, or defused the situation, that is too abstract, aloof, pompous, even insulting. It smacks of the elitism typical of gun critics, LaPierre argues. “This duty to retreat may sound fine at an Ivy League cocktail party,” he complains, “it doesn’t work very well in the real world of crime victims.”


In a certain light, the statute is a great victory for the sovereignty of the individual, empowering each person to be his own judge and executive of the law in the heat of the moment. Such a view is often supported by way of reference to “natural rights,” divine (biblical) authority, and even in some cases, philosophical theory. Among the most important intellectual allies referenced in the American defense of self-defense is John Locke, the Enlightenment thinker who profoundly influenced America’s founding fathers and our present notion of liberal society.

Last year, not long after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, the National Review columnist David French drew significant attention when he wrote, “gun control represents not merely a limitation on a constitutional right, but a limitation on a God-given right of man that has existed throughout the history of civil society.” French’s argument is heavy on biblical references, but in conclusion turns to Locke, in what others have cited as a shortsighted misreading of his work.

But is there something in Locke to support French’s view? At first glance, Locke may suggest even stronger gun rights support when he speaks of man as the “executioner of the Law of Nature,” which means to say we have an innate grasp of morality (the Law of Nature) and drive to carry it out. We are inspired to repay offenses with like or equivalent punishment; we have an intuitive grasp of “just reparations.” Thus far, Locke seems a likely sponsor of Stand Your Ground: it sanctions our acting on our innate moral drive, to see justice done — to right offenses and defend ourselves.

Because of our instinct to see justice done, and our grasp of what justice entails, our state of nature is not a Hobbesian “war of each on each.” And yet, Locke says we must depart nature where each is empowered to execute the Law of Nature because “it’s unreasonable for Men to be Judges in their own cases” since “self-love will make men partial to themselves and their friends” and “Ill Nature, Passion, Revenge will carry them too far in punishing others.”

Our innate drive for justice may well lead us astray — and be foiled. When we fail to grasp all the facts of a situation, such as the real intentions of a perceived attacker (or the state of his “weapon” — popcorn, for example), this may lead us to react with excessive and unjust force. In such cases, I need what Locke calls a Common Judge who might inform me better. An independent, objective Common Judge, to whom I shall defer, is one mark of civil society. Without recourse to a Common Judge, violent reprisals spawn violent reprisals in turn, which are each seemingly just, and a cycle of violence — a state of war — is born. Civil society, and its institution of a Common Judge who takes over executing the law of nature, relieves us of the “Inconveniences of the State of Nature,” Locke argues — which can be dire indeed.

Proponents and defenders of Stand Your Ground effectively wish to return us to a State of Nature and its attendant “Inconveniences” — and dangers. LaPierre urges individuals to presume the worst about supposed assailants — damn the consequences. As Locke has it, however, civil society is characterized by a departure from such presumption. When individuals feel such strong passions — anger, fear, hatred — and are liable to act irrationally and regrettably, that is precisely when they must be prevented, as far as possible, from wielding definitive force. And they must be thus prevented in order to honor and promote the instinct for justice surging through us. This is the critical role that civil society plays; for Locke, it perfects nature.

Gun rights advocates argue that we must arm more people, and empower them to wield their guns confidently and boldly if we would achieve greater law and order. They have it wrong. More guns, and more emboldened gun owners, lead to more travesties of justice, more chaos, vendettas, a state of war, Locke would say. Ironically, this also defeats the other cause célèbre of the gun rights movement: autonomy. For gun rights advocates, the gun is the premier mark of individual sovereignty. I believe this is what makes the gun rights movement especially intoxicating for millions of Americans, and resistant to reform and regulation. However, autonomy is doomed in a Stand Your Ground world. It makes no sense to speak of autonomy, freedom, or self-determination in a state of war. As Locke knew too well, the sovereignty of the individual is intolerably tenuous where all are sovereign. Of course, this suits the N.R.A. just fine, and the industry whose interests it represents. Ω

[Firmin DeBrabander, an associate professor of philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, is the author of Spinoza and the Stoics and a forthcoming book critiquing the gun rights movement. DeBrabander received a B.A.(Philosophy, magna cum laude) from Boston College, an M.A. (Philosophy) from the University of Louvain (Belgium), and a Ph.D. (Philosophy) from Emory University.]

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Creative Commons LicenseSapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2014 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Monday, February 24, 2014

Disgrace Of A Nation

First, it was George Zimmerman and more recently, Michael Dunn. Zimmerman was acquitted of manslaughter and murder charges by a Florida jury in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Dunn also was tried by a Florida jury and was found guilty of attempted second-degree murder, but the jury deadlocked on the murder charge in the shooting death of Jordan Davis. Both Martin and Davis were unarmed at the time of their deaths. Florida, along with 21 other states, is home to a "Stand Your Ground" law that gives individuals the right to use deadly force to defend themselves without any requirement to evade or retreat from a dangerous situation. These laws were based, or inspired by, a model law crafted and disseminated by ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council). Since the trial of George Zimmerman, ALEC has quietly moved away from the "Stand Your Ground" issue. If this is (fair & balanced) proof that if you can't stand the heat on the firing range, stay away from the targets.

PS: RIP, Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis — both victims of senseless gun-violence.

[x This Modern World]
The Gun
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political weblog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. Earlier this year, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning.]

Copyright © 2014 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Creative Commons LicenseSapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2014 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is... Inequality Itself!

Damn the One Percent and full speed ahead. Thomas Frank offers a call to arms against the rise of Plutocracy. The monied interests were given a second lease on life after the SCOTUS redefined corporations as "persons." The 2010 decision in Citizens United v. The Federal Elections Commission reinforced the precedent that coporations were persons under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Elections in this country are awash in the cash of Dumbos with big bucks. If this is the (fair & balanced) rise of plutarchy, so be it.

[x Salon]
Paul Krugman Won’t Save Us
By Thomas Frank

Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing

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When President Obama declared in December that gross inequality is the “defining challenge of our time,” he was right, and resoundingly so. As is his habit, however, he quickly backed away from the idea at the urging of pollsters and various Democratic grandees.

I can understand the Democrats’ fears about venturing into this territory. It feels like a throwback to an incomprehensible time — to a form of liberalism that few of them understand anymore. Unfortunately, they really have no choice. Watching first the way the bankers steered us into disaster in 2008 and then the way they harvested the fruits of our labored recovery — these spectacles have forced the nation to rediscover social class, and as we dig deeper into the subject we are appalled to learn what has been going on for the last three decades.

I was born in a comfortable middle-class America of the postwar years, the “affluent society” you hear about sometimes, and the shattering of that social order has been the story of my entire adult life. “Inequality” is an inadequate word for the Big Smashup, but we need some term to describe all the things that have gone to make the lives of the rich so superlative and the lives of people who work so shitty and so precarious. It is visible in the ever-rising cost of healthcare and college, in the deindustrialization of the Midwest and the ballooning of Wall Street, in the power of lobbying, in the dot-com bubble, in the housing bubble, in the commodities bubble. It was made possible by the signal political events of our time: the collapse of the New Deal coalition; the decline of labor; the infernal populism of the New Right; the fall of antitrust and the triumph of deregulation; the rise of Ronald Reagan, and after him Newt Gingrich, and after him George W. Bush, and after him the Tea Party, all of them bringing their pet tax cuts with them to Washington.

The word is a polite one, but “inequality” is what we say when we mean to describe the ruined downtown of your city, or your constant fear that the next round of layoffs will include you, or the impeccable air conditioning of your boss’s McMansion, or the way you had to declare bankruptcy when your child got sick. It is a pleasant-sounding euphemism for the Appalachification of our world. “The defining challenge of our time”?: Oh, yes.

* * *

Actually, let me offer a correction to Obama’s formula. What really defines our time is the simultaneous soaring of inequality and the maddening inability of most progressives (there are exceptions, of course) to talk about it in a way that might actually inspire anyone to get off their ass. Start with the word itself: Like “neoliberalism,” another favorite lefty term for many of these same developments, “inequality” is confusing. It is euphemistic and aloof. It gets easily muddled with other, similar-sounding issues like marriage equality, gender equality and equal housing opportunity. Its tone is also needlessly clinical, giving the whole debate a technical and bloodless air.

Still, to read around on the subject is to get the feeling that certain liberals like it that way. “Needlessly clinical” is exactly their style. The subject, for them, must be positively cloaked in wonkery. They don’t talk much about “class,” like some troublemaker from the ’30s; they talk about “inequality,” which is a delicate and intricate signifier. Oh, it is extremely complex. It requires so many charts.

To our ancestors, though, this same issue was the most basic matter of them all. What we call “inequality” they called “the social question”; the phrase denoted nothing less than the eternal conflict of rich and poor. Let us recall how they used to address the subject. Here is a famous passage from the Omaha Platform of the Populist Party, written in 1892:

The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of those, in turn, despise the republic and endanger liberty. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes—tramps and millionaires.

Twenty years and countless industrial battles after that, Congress asked a panel of representatives from labor and management (it also included one economist) to look into the overwhelming feeling of discontent then abroad in the land; in one of their 1916 reports members of the Commission on Industrial Relations declared that the No. 1 cause of American “unrest” was the “unjust distribution of wealth and income.” Here is how they described the attitudes then prevailing:

The conviction that the wealth of the country and the income which is produced through the toil of the workers is distributed without regard to any standard of justice is as widespread as it is deep-seated. It is found among all classes of workers and takes every form from the dumb resentment of the day laborer, who, at the end of a week’s back-breaking toil finds that he has less than enough to feed his family while others who have done nothing live in ease, to the elaborate philosophy of the “soap-box orator,” who can quote statistics unendingly to demonstrate his contentions. At bottom, though, there is the one fundamental, controlling idea that income should be received for service and for service only, whereas, in fact, it bears no such relation, and he who serves least, or not at all, may receive most.

OK, that’s from a government document. But still it sings. And here is the socialist newspaper editor Oscar Ameringer, describing the attitudes of his Oklahoma neighbors to a congressional committee in 1932:

There is a feeling among the masses generally that something is radically wrong. They are despairing of political action. They say the only thing you do in Washington is to take money from the pockets of the poor and put it into the pockets of the rich. They say that this Government is a conspiracy against the common people to enrich the already rich. I hear such remarks every day.

In our own time, we haven’t heard a lot of that kind of language since the days when protesters were still occupying Zuccotti Park. Since then, the “conversation” that Occupy Wall Street so famously “changed” has pretty much been monopolized by the usual parties, by which I do not mean day laborers or angry farmers or Oklahoma ranchers.

Who is called upon to speak on the subject today? Why, academics, of course. “Inequality” is a matter for experts, a field for the playful jousting of rival economists, backed up by helpful professors of political science, and with maybe an occasional sociologist permitted into the games now and then.

In other words, the same bien pensant crew who spoke on the last hot money-related subject of the day, whether it was trade barriers or exchange rates or whatever.

For example, consider the New York Times’ series on the subject, “The Great Divide,” which has run now for a little over a year, and where about 80 percent of the articles have been written by academics, more than half of these economists — probably because the “moderator” for the series is Nobel Prized economist Joseph Stiglitz. Or the comprehensive documentary about the subject, “Inequality for All,” which features former Labor Secretary Robert Reich lecturing in an auditorium filled with college students. Larry Summers, the celebrated deregulator, has stepped into the battle as well, sharing “his passion for reducing inequality” with his new colleagues at the Center for American Progress. The discovery of inequality has also compelled our leadership class to establish things like the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, which boasts a steering committee made up of six economists plus one Democratic foundation/policy type. It describes itself as:

a new research and grantmaking organization founded to accelerate cutting-edge analysis into whether and how structural changes in the U.S. economy, particularly related to economic inequality, affect growth. Core to our mission is helping to build a stronger bridge between academics and policymakers so that new research is relevant, accessible, and informative to the policymaking process.

But to look at its website, it’s just another platform for the trademark blog styling of the well-known economist Brad DeLong.

The one thing that just about everyone knows about inequality is that it’s a complex, highly technical problem, with many confusing causes and expressions. “Inequality is a complicated, complicated thing,” as a puzzled writer declared in the Atlantic a few weeks ago. “What exactly is income inequality?” wondered NPR’s Audie Cornish in January. “Ask six economists and you’re likely to get six different answers.” (That it’s economists you’re supposed to ask was simply taken for granted.)

I admit that the issue is complicated in its details, but it’s also — in its basic, brutal thrust — something dead simple: Inequality happened because our leaders set out to make it happen. On the first page of Kevin Phillips’ 1990 (!) bestseller on the subject, The Politics of Rich and Poor, he stated this obvious truth. “The 1980s were the triumph of upper America,” he wrote.

But while money, greed and luxury had become the stuff of popular culture, hardly anyone asked why such great wealth had concentrated at the top, and whether this was a result of public policy. Despite the armies of homeless sleeping on grates, political leaders—even those who professed to care about the homeless—had little to say about the Republican party’s historical role, which has been not simply to revitalize U.S. capitalism but to tilt power, policy, wealth and income toward the richest portions of the population. (emphasis added)

The rich got so goddamn rich, in other words, because the signature policies of the Great Right Turn were designed to make them rich. And, as the world knows, these policies weren’t limited to Republicans; Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama—plus, of course, their resident economists and cabinet members—all more or less endorsed the basic tenets of the free-market faith. They are all implicated.

So inequality, now that we’re having a “conversation” about it, must of course turn out to be massively complicated, something no one could possibly have seen coming — sort of like the 2008 financial crisis, come to think of it. Furthermore, it must be seen as another technical problem, a matter for the experts to solve, like the budget deficit or entitlement spending.

* * *

Then again, why do I quibble? Most of the experts I refer to here aren’t actually wrong. I have quoted them myself on occasion; I have shown PowerPoint slides of Piketty-Saez graphs to audiences of unbelieving college students. Many of the essays in the Times’ “Great Divide” series have been admirable, as will surely be much of the “cutting-edge analysis” scheduled to be produced by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. What difference does it make if it’s a Nobel laureate who tells us what’s happened to the middle class or the leader of a local union somewhere?

My suspicion is that it makes an enormous difference. “Inequality” is not some minor technical glitch for the experts to solve; this is the Big One. This is the very substance of American populism; this is what has brought together movements of average people throughout our history. Offering instruction on the subject in a classroom at Berkeley may be enlightening for the kids in attendance but it is fundamentally the wrong way to take on the problem, almost as misguided as it would be if we turned the matter over to the 1 percent themselves and got a bunch of billionaires together at Davos to offer pointers on how to stop them from beating us over and over again in the game of life. (Oops — that actually happened.)

“Inequality” is the most basic issue of them all, the very reason for liberalism’s existence. It is about who we are and how we live. Virtually every other liberal cause pales by comparison. This is the World War II of political subjects, and if we are going to win it must be a people’s war, not a Combat of the Thirty between the plumèd knights of the Beltway. We owe the economists thanks for making the situation plain, but now matters must of necessity pass into other hands. If the destruction of the middle class is ever to be addressed and solved, the impetus must come from below, not from above. This is a job we have to do ourselves. Ω

[Thomas Frank receintly joined Salon as a politics and culture columnist. His many books include What's The Matter With Kansas (2004), One Market Under God (2010), and Pity the Billionaire (2012). He is the founding editor of The Baffler magazine. A Kansas native, Frank attended the University of Kansas for his freshman year and then transferred to the University of Virginia and received a BA there. He followed this with graduate study at the University of Chicago and received a PhD; his dissertation was published as The Conquest of Cool (1997).]

Copyright  2014 Salon Media Group

Creative Commons LicenseSapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2014 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves