The Two Way Street

Politics for a New Generation


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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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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.

 


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Walker Going Too Far? Wisconsin-Based Blogger Thinks So

[[Angry response of Wisconsinite blogger to union-killing bill. Reblogged from http://www.progressiveteaparty.net ]]

The expansion of Big Government Republicans. I had called my state representative’s office in Madison to ask about the current situation in Madison with regard to reports of bully behavior on the part of GOP in government. I was told that Walker was placing lackeys in positions that were to be non-partisan and who would be answerable to him. Governor Walker is centralizing his grip on governmental power. Now – if there is ever an argument against “big government,” it cannot be made by Walker and Wisconsin Republicans.

Taking away our voice and vote. There is also a brutal policy set against the staffer of the 14 senators that have fled the state. I had called my state senator, Chris Larson (one of the 14 that fled) and know the voice of his staffer. I called his office in Madison the other day and got a woman who sounded like a Southern accent and monotone voice. What the Senate Republicans have been trying to do is punish (Republicans are great at “punish and revenge” policies) with threats of firings and forcing them to work for Republicans where they have to report their every move to Republican staffers (see HuffPost link). We did not vote for a Repug in this district (and probably never will after this!) and at least someone who is associated with Senator Larson should be there for us to voice concerns. This follows on the heels of our state representative, along with some 25 others, being denied her vote in the Assembly.

The Wisconsin Republicans have stolen our voice!

Emperor Walker defies constitutions, laws and courts. Our dictator-governor has also been defying court orders to open the Capitol to the people of Wisconsin. The capitol building is to remain open to the people, as required in the Wisconsin Constitution (link). Yet, Democratic representatives are being denied the ability to met with their constituents and have to meet with them outside, while GOP members are given full access to the building that others are not. Place this denial of equal access to our state buildings along side of the unprecedented (and unconstitutional) attempts to “arrest” the 14 absent senators, or at least forced them to come back to Madison. The notion that the Wisconsin Senate can have other “arrested” without the commission of a criminal act is absolutely un-American, as well as without legal foundations. Also unconstitutional is the notion of fining the absent senators $100 a day for absence. If the Republican Senators did this – they will be in more hot water than the fabrications against our 14 Senate heroes (see link – link ).

“The thought of using law enforcement officers to exercise force in order to achieve a political objective is insanely wrong and Wisconsin sorely needs reasonable solutions and not potentially dangerous political theatrics” (WI Professional Police Association).

This idea is not only “insanely wrong,” but the political use of police and security forces is routinely condemned by the US in foreign policy. NO democratic society based in freedom and personal liberty uses police for political dirtywork. The State Patrol is shaping up to be a type of Praetorian Guard for Emperor Walker. This is stuff right out of autocracies and the Soviet Union, especially, where one (as is happening in Wisconsin) has to be a good comrade to get a job, keep a job and get along in the society. The reality is that it has been a long-time goal of Republicans to have one-party rule in America, (also 2006 federal report) as Mubarak did in Egypt, and where all political competition is stiffed, oppressed, and in jail or in hiding.

Believe it or not, there are a number of Americans cheering on Walker and Wisconsin Republicans as they start to govern this state as an autocratic dictatorship. Shame on them!


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We Live in a Beautiful World?

“It’s kind of ironic, you know. Each person on this earth, each government, each city, each country, thinks that they are the greatest. That their world is a beautiful one. That everything that needs to be done, needs to be done by others, because there’s nothing more they can do. That all the problems of the world are caused by others. Well, if you want, you can keep on passing the water balloon of blame onto others. But eventually, someone’s going to get downright pissed off, and just hurl it at your face. And then, you’re the one standing there dripping, while the others will just be smirking at your expression.”

Click here to read the full article on my friend Ritu’s blog


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451º Fahrenheit- The Temperature at Which Al Qaida Gets an Influx of Formerly Moderate Recruits

To Morgan Friedman on Facebook:

The first amendment states “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, the press, the right of the people peaceably to assemble, or petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Therefore, the same amendment that protects the rash and dangerous actions of a pastor from a small Florida church also protects the religion of islam. I have a challenge for you: before you burn that Koran, read it. Don’t allow yourself to be misinformed by others, read it and decide for yourself. If you don’t like what’s inside it, feel free to burn it, just please don’t video-tape it, for the safety of our troops abroad. I’m a devout christian who has taken it upon herself to read the holy books of all the major religions. One is only a true christian until he/she has examined his or her faith and others and chosen to come back to christianity based on the divine truth discovered on the journey. during my reading of the Koran, I realized just how horribly bastardized the islam practiced by Al Qaida, Hamas, the Taliban, and other extremist books really is. The Koran, while not in fact the divine word you or I recognize, preaches peace, love and TOLERANCE OF OTHER RELIGIONS. Al Qaida takes advantage of illiterate, under-educated muslims, blames the west for their under-education/poverty, and turns almost the entire religion on its head, using quotes that are taken grossly out of context. Not only that, but the Koran contains the entire christian bible inside its pages, though, often in arabic, not latin or vernaculars. Finally, Jesus preached turning the other cheek and loving thy neighbor and thy enemy. though we, on a national scale, certainly cannot sit back while extremists ransack our nation, we need to extend love and salvation to the muslims, especially the innocent children who have done nothing wrong but be born by a family with misguided ideals. Islam was originally, and in mainstream practice, still is, a religion of peace and love. Don’t believe me? Read it for yourself.

An elaboration on the “rash and dangerous actions of the pastor of a small Florida church”:

Think of it this way: you are what you worship. Islam in its true form and its many bastardizations aside, muslims worship from the Koran. Therefore, when you set fire to a Koran, you set fire anti-american sentiments in ordinarily moderate muslims. Mohammad created the idea of the jihad, the term now used interchangeably with “act of terror”, to refer to a struggle taking place to defend the religion of islam. Extremists perverted this term, as well as the rest of the religion, to fit their political agenda, attacking the west. The short version if this political story is that Bin Ladin was trained by the CIA in the 1980s to fight in the Mujahadeen against Russia. He was originally from Saudi Arabia. But, after the war, he returned to Saudi Arabia, to find (quite justly, in fact) that the Sauds were not good rulers of his country, and persisted in trying to overthrow them. The US is dependent on Saudi oil, so, we backed up Saudi Arabia when they decided to exile him. Over a decade and much hardship later, Bin Laden is (if he’s still alive) infatuated with getting revenge on the united states and the west. He uses twisted evidence to back up to his “jihadis” that Islam has been attacked. Which brings us, after a long and tangental journey, back to the burning of Korans: if a group of americans are to burn the Koran, they are directly attacking Islam, not just the fringe idiots, which, by the way, exist in nearly every religion. If this happens, moderates will have real justification for Jihad, and, Al Qaida will have a sudden, enormous influx of recruits. Would you not react with anger and hatred to someone who burnt a Bible or a Torah? Attacking a political movement is fine. Attacking a movement within a religion is also fine. But If you attack a religion itself, (especially with such deep roots in your own), you will inspire a strong, hateful reaction, ending in death, destruction, and despair, and leaving no chance for peace, love, tolerance, or redemption. And isn’t that what all of our religions are about in the first place?