The Two Way Street

Politics for a New Generation


Responding With More than Prayers

To all those who believe that now isn’t the time to talk about gun control: You’re right.

Twenty years ago today, Wayne Lo, an eighteen year old student at Simon’s Rock College of Bard, the school I currently attend, killed a student and a teacher in an early incident of today’s unfortunately classic school shooting model. He bought his gun legally, despite showing signs of racial bias and homophobia, as well as mental illness. And then, he killed Ñacuñán Sáez and Galen Gibson, wounding Teresa Beavers, Thomas McElderry, Joshua A. Faber, and Matthew Lee David. That was the time to talk about gun control.

Since then, there have been exactly 100 school shootings in the US. Not all of them were massive, not all were aimless, but none would have occurred if the shooter was prevented from getting a gun. Today is the latest of these incidents, and unless we experience major overhaul and quickly, won’t be the last.

So, despite those who have told me that today is not the day to discuss gun control, I will, because I refuse to let another 20 years and 100 shootings pass by like these.

Ask Gregory Gibson, father of the Galen Gibson shot and killed here at Simon’s Rock if it’s time to start looking for solutions. I’m putting out a call for answers to anyone who has one: how can we stop the killing? I have a few of my own:

First, I’ll adress the larger problems behind school shootings, one of which is this: It is cheaper and more socially acceptable to buy a gun and ammunition than it is to get a bottle of anti-depressants and a therapy session.

To see a licensed therapist for 45 minutes to an hour, it costs about $100. Seeing a psychiatrist can cost anywhere from $120 for depression and more “manageable” disorders to $250 for schizophrenia, psychosis, and other diseases. Zoloft costs $14 and up for a month’s supply, Cymbalta costs at least $35, and Lithium, a medication for Bipolar disorder costs about $27 per month, not including the required blood testing (at first every week, then every month). Neuroleptics like Abilify cost $373 to $508 for a 30-day supply.

You can find an assault rifle for under $300, and a handgun for under $100. 9mm bullets cost as little as 21¢ apiece, and .22mm bullets cost about 3¢.

As for the stigma: in the 2009 Republican National Committee election debate, all candidates claimed to own at least one gun, including Katon Dawson, who claimed to own “too many to count.”

Compare this to a study by the University of North Texas in which over 40% of respondents claimed that “anyone with a history of mental illness should be excluded from public office.”

According to a CNN survey after the Aurora shootings, 40% of guns are sold unlicensed. The survey also said that there are at least 310 million non-military guns in the United States. It wouldn’t take much for just one gun to reach the hands of someone with intention to kill large sums of people. According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a multiple-victim shooting happens every 5.9 days in the US.

In Connecticut, it is legal to carry a concealed firearm. All three guns used in the shooting (2 handguns and a semi-automatic rifle) were legally purchased by the suspect’s mother. Connecticut considered a bill to outlaw high capacity magazines: ammunition feeding devices that store over 10 bullets, however, it failed.

I’m not asking to outlaw guns entirely. But mutually assured deterrence doesn’t often work when the perpetrator is as removed from reality as the shooters in incidents like those in Aurora, Tucson, and Virginia Tech. Many mass shooters kill themselves.

I’m asking for a ban on concealed weapons. If someone wants to carry a gun, they should carry it out in the open. If they truly want to “deter crime” rather than shoot criminals, gun carriers should show potential criminals that they are carrying a gun instead of hiding it to pull out when attacked.

Secondly, high capacity magazines need to go. To my knowledge of hunting, if an animal isn’t hit, it is scared off after the first shot. There is no way that hunters need 30 rounds to kill a deer. Perhaps they may be more convenient, but sometimes a sacrifice is necessary to prevent violence, and this is certainly one that would make sense.

Besides that, we NEED to reduce the stigma on mental illness. My first thought when I heard the news was to hope that the shooter wasn’t a person of color, so that racists wouldn’t have another person off which to base their stereotypes. Then, I thought of the “crazy” factor.

About a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with major depression. For me, this wasn’t news, but it was nonetheless difficult to deal with the stigma. Instead of telling teachers I was going to therapy, I’d say I had “a doctor’s appointment”, and I was careful not to tell anyone about the Prozac I took in the nurse’s office at 8AM each morning. I was afraid that people would treat me differently, or would use this as yet another reason to avoid me.

All these things are hard to handle, and I’m someone with complete awareness of the stigma and it’s repercussions on society. Part of this is because I remember a time during my freshman year of high school in which the scariest thing I could do was share my thoughts. I was too afraid to tell anyone that I couldn’t stop thinking about self-harm and suicide. I was too afraid to say anything about the chemical dispair in my mind. If I spoke, I would be labelled a “crazy”, I would loose my independence, I couldn’t go to college, and the list goes on. This is what the stigma does.

We can start to relieve it by coming out of the mental illness closet, by standing up and telling the world about our struggles and experiences. According to the CDC, one in four adults has a mental illness, and so if half of us were to start talking about it, we could convince our neighbors, friends, and families that mental illness doesn’t turn a person into an invalid.

If we can start by getting rid of the stigma for depression, then we’ll start to see more people in need of help seeking it. Often times, depression is commiserate with diseases like Schizophrenia.

Yes, the shooter in today’s tragedy, as well as the past 100 have likely been severely ill. But if they were encouraged to treatment, this may never have happened.

My struggles and thoughts were inwardly focused. I wanted to hurt and/or kill myself, not someone else. But, if I didn’t seek treatment, chances are I would have succeeded in suicide. The same goes for those with an outward focus.

As I mentioned earlier, therapy and psycho-pharmaceuticals are expensive, and most basic insurance plans don’t cover them. Under the Affordable Care Act, access to mental health care under Medicaid is being expanded.

If we increase government funding for free and sliding-scale mental health clinics, then hopefully more people can afford to get the care they need.

Still, this is not a complete solution for the crisis. Anyone else have ideas?


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Changing Elections, Changing Myself

This is me and my friend Kyle at the local campaign headquarters.

Within the walls of a dingy county Democratic headquarters, about 30 people sat talking on their cell phones. Fortunately, these were not the usual “Really? No she didn’t!!” conversations. Instead, we sat with lists of names and phone numbers in front of us, with an occasional age beside it. I looked down at the sheet I was sharing with my friend Kyle, scanning for a new Virginia voter to call. I read the number and carefully dialed it into my phone, then scanned the information. Linda* was 80-years old. I thought of my grandmother, a hardcore republican as the phone rang.

“Hello?” I hear the raspy voice of an elderly woman answer. This was the first time someone had actually picked up.

“Hi,” I said anxiously. “Is this Linda?”

When I confirmed that I had actually reached a human instead of getting stuck in yet another answering machine, or “voice jail” as my family calls it, I stumbled through the script. “My name is Julia I’m a volunteer leader with the grassroots campaign to reelect President Obama,” I read from the slip of paper, then threw in an awkward “How are you?”

After the curt small talk of two strangers, I asked her election plans. When she told me she was undecided, I figured that I had a chance to actually change something. “If I may, I’d like to explain to you why I support Obama, and why I’m putting in the time to volunteer tonight.”

We spoke for nearly ten minutes about Citizens United, and the financial situation of the elderly. I told her about my Grandma, a 70-something bus driver who cares for her 50-year-old son with down syndrome. Grandma has sleep apnea, false teeth, hip and knee replacements, and drags herself around the house to care for her middle-aged child and clean, all between a work schedule that requires her to get up at 5AM.

Even though Grandma didn’t know it, Obama’s policies had really helped her. She believed the forwarded emails that Obamacare was euthanasia, that the president was a secret Muslim, and even that he wasn’t born in the United States. However, she uses Medicare and Medicaid to get by, tax breaks for those with limited incomes, and a union that negotiates her pay as a public employee. And after several incidents in which her son Bobby injured himself while home alone, she even uses a government-supported daycare program for the mentally disabled.

I told Linda all this, but I didn’t have to: she could relate. She described her withering savings, and the fear that she might outlive the account. At 80 already, the notion of her returning to work seemed ridiculous, and yet, it seemed possible. Though the conventional wisdom is that people in tough economic situations vote out the incumbent, Linda decided not to join that trend. She felt that Romney would put CEOs before carpenters, bankers before bakers, and large dollar donors before the votes of the public. And, in a post-citizens’ united world, I think Linda was right.

And so, before getting off the phone, Linda pledged her vote to Obama, and I felt satisfied, knowing I had changed one mind. But more importantly, I was reminded that politics doesn’t have to be an issue of young versus old, black versus white versus Hispanic versus all the other little groups demographers ignore.  Though we probably disagreed about religion, gay rights, and the hot-button issues that politicize, that we could come together to help those in our society who needed it. Like my grandmother.

While we often attribute Obama’s presidency to young voters, we are unfortunately pretty unreliable making it to the polls. The most consistent age demographic to cast their ballot is the elderly, not the youth. And the younger generation has a duty to care for the elderly. I’m not one to sat that every person over a certain age has automatically earned a special “Wise Elder” status, but as my friend Ema depicted in a sculpture, we’re all afraid of being old, and losing the ability to care for ourselves. I go help my Grandma as often as I can, ignoring her comments about my hair, sexual orientation, and political identification. I just smile and vacuum her carpet, clean out her cabinets, wash her sinks.

I believe that Obama really is there for the elderly, and we should be too. We need to care for the older people in our lives, and insist that they be treated with basic respect and dignity. I love my Grandma, and Linda reminded me of how much help she needs, and how much she gets from a president she doesn’t support. Only in America…

*Name changed for privacy

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A Letter To My Own Saint Nick

Dear Dad,

This christmas present isn’t a tie, or new socks, or a cotton hawaiian shirt. I’m sure Mom will get you those. No mix CDs, mediocre artwork, or strange foods that I totalled the kitchen making. I wish I could get you some shiny new plaything, but those are more than a babysitter’s salary will afford, and besides, you get those for yourself (how are you enjoying your new iPhone 4s?). Instead, this is a gift that, I hope, you’ll appreciate more, a gift only I can give: my gratitude.

So this is a letter to the jolly, white-bearded man with a round belly in my life. You make the magic of Christmas happen, with the theatrical way in which you give presents. You taught me how to build a warm fire (all santas know something about fireplaces), and be it the Daily Show or a comic clipped from the New Yorker, you’ve introduced me to the funniest things in my life.

You’ve taught me to appreciate music, fine cinema (sometimes), and good television production. You shuttle me back and fourth from WMAR on the weekends, and you’re the only family member with whom I can discuss the standby cue for the pre-taped on-set interview and the annoyance of typos in lower third chyrons. You do more than the job of a Dad, not only telling me, “good job, sweetie,” but also describing how I can better my performance by making my writing more conversational, reading the prompter more carefully, and for God’s sake– ironing my shirt. Where as my friends’ dads cheer them on at lacrosse tournaments, I can feel you cheering for me as I write, record, and tape my package, as I work my way towards being a better writer, producer, and on-camera talent. And I know you’ll keep cheering, when I get my first real job in the business, when I move station to station, and every new thing I do. I can see you getting up to watch me on the five AM news, and staying up to see me at eleven PM. You’re my biggest, and most loyal fan.

And when times get tough, when I need you to be there for me, to watch over me, to take care of me, you’re there too. I don’t always have to be the flawless television personality with you. You’re there to pull me out of danger, to save me from everything, be it a bad teacher or a bad neighborhood. You give great hugs too.

I don’t have anything nice to give you, just this letter, telling you things I should have been telling you all along. Thanks for being there, Dad, the magical, invincible, special man you are, my Saint Nick. Santa Claus doesn’t live on the north pole, he lives right here, in Baltimore. On this, my sixteenth Christmas, I’ve figured out that Santa doesn’t come down chimneys, or have a sleigh drawn by eight reindeer and rudolph, but instead, his reindeer is a fat gray cat named Jasper, and he doesn’t have to come down the chimney– he lives with us, among us, Dad. Thanks for everything you do for me.



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Ding Dong the Witch is Dead?

Osama Bin Ladin has been killed, say senior white house officials

Waiting for Obama to speak on Bin Ladin's death

When the twin towers fell, I was only in 1st grade. The photos that evoke tears in so many Americans, in all honesty, never registered to me emotionally; I look at them the same way a modern Christian looks at a cross (an image meant to create shock and horror, since it was a form of execution), I know what it’s supposed to symbolize, and yet I have no emotional reaction them. I remember my mom trying to explain the even to me, mentioning words like “Taliban” and “Terrorism”, none of which meant a thing to me at the time, as we pulled out of the circular drive of my elementary school. It was all a blur of strong parents wiping away tears and omnipotent teachers breaking down in front of their classes, who hadn’t a clue what was going on. Some of the older kids were informed of what had happened, but maybe they thought it would scare us too much, or maybe they figured we’d never really get it (which we didn’t), so they left it to our parents, all of whom picked us up early after school to tell us what had happened.

Obama's address to the nation streaming live on

When I first heard the news of Bin Ladin’s death, I was overjoyed. A news junkie enjoying a quiet evening, I received a breaking news tweet saying that obama had called an emergency press conference to announce something related to foreign policy, I opened up my laptop and began searching for live streaming footage from the White House. Upon seeing on CBS News’s website that Bin Ladin had been killed, I immediately called my family, and began to rejoice, as would be expected. I’ve been waiting for this day more than half of my life, and to see it finally come is an experience beyond words. From the “War is Not the Answer” signs that popped up in yards and on bumper stickers, to the capture of Saddam Hussein (and the talk of why Bin Ladin still hadn’t been found), up until today’s events, I’ve been waiting for this moment to come. But as a lot of people, myself included, are forgetting, is that this evil man was a person, that his wasn’t the only life lost, including that of a woman used as a human shield. There is no victory without collateral damage.

Anyone else see the iconic tea party "Don't tread on me" flag in the crowd?

I can’t help but wonder that the death of a human, no matter how terrible he was, can elicit such massive celebrations. I wonder if this is how supporters of Al Qaeda reacted to the news of the 9/11 attacks. When we forget the humanity in us, the humanity in each other, we see things like the horrors of September 11th. It’s natural for one to take some sort of comfort in the death of an enemy, but as we’ve seen over the past 10 years, the hatred of a particular, extremist group of Muslims has often grown and been distorted into a categorical hatred of all Muslims within the United States, outlining the hunger for an us-versus-them (or U.S.-versus -them) mentality among low-education Americans. We also forget that suicide bombers were once ordinary people: the easiest way to get an education is some Middle-Eastern and Southwest-Asian countries is though extremist organizations looking for recruits. In our War on Terror, both sides have lost track of our humanity, and the humanity of our opponents. Forget about Osama Bin Ladin, Terrorism, and Radical Islam: forgetting the significance of a life is what caused 9/11.

Check back in for more updates on the Bin Ladin story; results; repercussions; predictions.


The News isn’t New Enough: Why Pop Culture Beats Politics

Did you know that the protests and revolutions extend beyond just Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia into Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen, and other middle-eastern countries? Did you know that the Koch brothers, the main patrons of the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party movement were indicted for polluting the water supply near one of their paper mills in early march? Did you even know who the Koch brothers were? No? You’re not alone.

You probably do, however, remember the huge fuss over Charlie Sheen’s alcoholism and drug addictions over the past month or so, up until he finally lost his job. Sheen’s plight was the top story on every news source from the tabloids to the LA Times to late-night comedy. All the while, Libyan rebels were fighting a violent revolution, being killed off by the thousands by their off-the-hinge dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, establishing their own democratic, oligarchical government in their stronghold, Benghazi, which is so far along, it even sent an envoy to Europe. I pride myself on being well-informed, I watch the nightly news, read the blog circuit, and even get breaking news updates sent to my phone, but I didn’t even know that the rebel government was already organized until, in a barren waiting room with nothing but a few magazines on a table, I was forced to pick up a copy of Time Magazine (which also had a Charlie Sheen editorial in the back, no less).

Why is it that we’re missing world news stories, politics, and economics, but are inundated by celebrity gossip? Why is it that in the July of 2009, CNN dropped its coverage of the revolution in Iran for a 24-hour cycle of “OMG! MICHAEL JACKSON IS DEAD!” Why is celebrity Lindsey Lohan more compelling than Senator Lindsey Graham? Paris Hilton more than Parisian labor strikes? Natalie Portman more than the security of our nation’s ports? In current American culture, entertainment is valued over information. We live in the time of twilight and sitcoms, when the content is irrelevant compared to the emotion it evokes. We live in a time when third graders sing along to Ke$ha songs about sex and underage drinking on the radio, without even registering the meaning of the words. In this culture, Entertainment Tonight and Cosmopolitan may seem more appealing than 60 Minutes and The New York Times. But in a world and an era as interconnected and fast-paced as ours being well informed about the top stories from more places than just Hollywood is more important than ever.

What’s happening in Brazil today may be happening in New York City Tomorrow, and seemingly dry and uninteresting bills being debated on the Senate floor may soon affect your way of life, from the amount you pay for groceries to the security of the nation. While to an ordinary citizen the types of stories covered by Brian Williams, Katie Couric, and Diane Sawyer may seem irrelevant, everything going on in the world affects you somehow. Unrest in the middle east drives makes it more costly to fill up your car’s tank, Debt crises in Europe may bring down the cost of your next business trip, and the outsourcing of jobs to India and China may mean that the products you use every day aren’t as carefully inspected for safety.

While we live in an entertainment-driven society, we also live in a global society, and that means that everything that happens in the world matters. Finding a way to get the news that preempts the filter and distortion of waiting for it to trickle through the “grape vine” is crucial, maybe, I daresay, more crucial than hearing about the latest celebrity gossip. The world revolves around the sun, despite what the larger-than-life figures and bright lights of Hollywood may leas you to believe.