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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Where Does All the Outrage Go?

No person needs a semi-automatic gun.  Bar minors from possessing assault weapons.  No guns should be sold without background checks.  Guns should not be sold at gun shows.  Explosives should not be available to anyone without a commercial license for their use.  High-capacity ammunition magazines (more than 10-rounds) are not needed by ordinary citizens.   Make it a crime to distribute bomb-making information for criminal purposes.  Gun permits should be as difficult to obtain as are driver licenses; a user’s test should be involved.  These are all reasonable restrictions on the unadulterated freedoms that the NRA supports.  What the NRA advocates is anarchy, not freedom. 

The second amendment is not an excuse to be irrational and nonsensical.  Every right given to the people has attached to it, as a matter of common sense, some sort of restriction that exists in the end to protect those rights.  If rights have no restrictions accompanying them, there is the possibility of anarchy destroying the very rights that are available.  Thus, one cannot falsely yell “fire” in a crowded theater, for that act of speech  contains within it, not only the seeds of destruction of the right to free speech, but of life itself which is the ultimate right and responsibility of us all.  We cannot allow a right to free speech to override the right to life.  Dare we say it?  The right to own a gun is not as important as the protection and enhancement of life -- all life, not just life in the womb.

Little discussed, and perhaps little known, is the fact that Americans have regulated guns since our nation’s earliest days. According to an article in the Washington Post, even the founding fathers had strict laws that today’s National Rifle Association would never accept. James Madison, the author of the Second Amendment, and his generation restricted the possession of guns by political dissenters and racial minorities.  Through militia laws they also required people to appear at musters where their guns would be inspected by government officials and registered on public rolls.  To the founders, the Second Amendment was not a libertarian license for anyone to have any gun, anywhere he wanted. Instead, the founders balanced gun rights with the regulation they thought necessary for the public welfare.

So here we are again: at a tragic point in the life of our country, with the unrestricted sale of guns and explosives as a big part of that tragedy.  Columbine is not far away from Aurora, either in miles, or in tragedy.  Gabby Giffords and the persons who were killed in that incident come to mind; so does the Murrah Federal building incident and Timothy McVeigh.  Or, how about Virginia Tech or the much earlier Texas University shootings from the clock tower on that campus.  We could go on and on listing senseless tragedies that have occurred in this country, including assassinations and attempted assassinations, but that would be never-ending. 

We will hear outrage again that our country does not control its guns and explosives in any meaningful way.  We will hear again that we need more effective gun control.  We will hear people in pain.  We will hear of the waste that has been perpetrated by a mindless criminal-type.  We will hear complaints about the Mental Health system and the inability of law enforcement to track and share certain behaviors of people like the accused killer in Aurora.  The call for reforms will last about as long as it takes for the electioneering to heat up again. 

Then we will return inevitably to the same old situation that we have sheepishly accepted for years and years with absolutely no controls put forth, no restrictions, no common sense changes made by rational people.  The politicians who cow-tow to the NRA will look toward their own skins and court the support of the NRA and their cronies.  The Mental Health system will continue pretty much as it is.  The outrage will fade.  The public appearance of grief and mourning will stop and politicians will return to their meaningless agendas, meant to keep them in office for one more term, or to enhance their appeal to large lobbying or finance or manufacturing firms that will eventually hire them.

Where does all the outrage go?   We know it persists somewhere; mostly in groups that keep the drum-beat of gun-control going, like the Brady Campaign.  But, where does citizen outrage go?  Does it get buried?  Does it get subjugated to other concerns?  Does it get lost in daily life?  Does it get pulverized by NRA pro-gun publicity and lobbying?  Of course, all these things occur in the natural realm of living. 

Is there any way to keep the outrage alive?  Probably not in any facile way.  But, there is always the route that our democracy has built-in.  We must vote out-of-office the cowards who will not stand against the NRA, the pro-gun representatives who unquestionably support the NRA, and the fuzzy thinkers who take no stand one way or the other.  We cannot change things if we don’t change the legislators who block any progress on this issue.

And, that brings us around to a larger problem: where is the outrage when our elected representatives, and candidates for office, perpetrate foolish, potentially harmful, and  egregious policies and programs upon our children, our poor, our elderly and persons with disabilities, upon blue collar workers, upon women; but at the same time, put great energy into protecting the low tax rates, unfair subsidies, tax loopholes, and special tax breaks for the richest 1% and our biggest corporations.

Where is the outrage:

--when legislators want to repeal Health Care reforms that will be of great help to many citizens of all ages, but have no plans to keep or to improve any of the most popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act?

--when Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, and the Republican Right present a Plan to do away with Medicare as we know it, and to substitute an inadequate voucher plan that will leave many parents as well as grandmothers and grandfathers in dire straits trying to afford the private plans that are available to them?

--when Big Oil continues to receive a 6 billion dollar subsidy from the federal government when it is already taking in numerous billions in profits?

--when Mitt Romney pays just 16% of his income in taxes while teachers and police officers, and other very middle class people, must pay between 20-25% of their income in federal income taxes?

--when 30+ states pass legislation to restrict voting (rather than broadening the franchise) which affects vulnerable populations (minorities, the elderly, persons with disabilities, the poor, students) who have more difficulty complying with the requirements of picture Ids with official expiration dates, etc.

--when once a person earns $110,100, they no longer have to pay Social Security taxes, meaning that once again, our representatives are ignoring or avoiding the obvious path to social security solvency:  raising the income that is eligible for FICA tax; instead they continue to protect the rich from having to share meaningfully in social security payments

--when the Supreme Court can vote 5-4 to allow corporations to be considered as individual persons so that they (the Conservative Justices) could apply free speech rights to their political contributions so that elections could be seriously affected and skewed by the rich.  In addition, the reporting of 3rd party contributions was declared to be unnecessary, so that the names of donors through third party sources (Super PACs) did not have to reveal their identities or the amounts they contributed.

--when Senate Republicans use a procedure that was meant only for occasional use -- the filibuster -- 97 times this session to block critical legislation like jobs and infrastructure repair legislation, and disclosure of donors to Super PACs, and many more critical bills, such as sending money to states to hire teachers and emergency first responders.
This procedure forces a cloture vote (to stop debate) of 60 votes, a vote total that is not supported by the Constitution, and which is allowed only under the provision for Congress to set its own rules.  Where is the outrage against a Congress that destroys the very method -- majority vote -- by which legislation should be passed or defeated?  A headline in the Washington Post emphasizes the increase in filibuster use: “The filibuster has gone from affecting 8 percent of big bills in the 1950s to 70 percent in the 2000s.”
--when TV, radio and print ads distort and defame, and lie about another candidate, policy or program, or piece of legislation.  Is falsehood what we believe will advance our civilization or enhance our form of government?  What happened to the old admonitions of parents and elders that lying is destructive to ourselves and others?  Where is the outrage when ads or claims are proven to be false or very misleading, and they go on and on, repeated over and over until they are accepted as factual -- “Obamacare will destroy our health care system” is one of those false statements that comes in many forms.  If the net result is the ultimate repeal of that legislation, millions upon millions of people will be adversely affected.  Where is the outrage over false advertising or resume enhancement or covering-up of harmful effects such as in the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries?  Have we become inured to lying, cheating, stealing and scamming? 

Perhaps I need to stop here and let you, dear reader, ponder your own examples of outrageous items that seem to have been buried or ignored. 

For my part, I simply re-direct your thoughts to the latest gun tragedy that will, for a time, provoke sympathy, fear, uneasiness, focus on family, and moral and personal outrage that such a thing could happen in our society, as it should.  I share just such feelings and sentiments for those harmed by this outrageous tragedy.  As a father and grandfather, I pray for those caught in this terrible event.

But, our outrage will fade even though such things continue to happen.  In fact, many such things are happening -- to a greater or lesser degree (think of unprovoked war as in Iraq. or abuse of young children, or the diminution of public education or even the outrageous methods of selling automobiles to unaware consumers). 

Where does the outrage go?  It goes into the cubbyhole in which we store matters with which we cannot, or will not, deal.  It goes into the portion of life called “daily routine” by which we tend to lose sight of other matters.  It falls by the wayside of indifference through which many people avoid the un-pleasantries of life.  They say “I don’t care” by which, too often, they mean “I can’t care” or “it’s too painful to bear” or “I don’t want to give my time, energy or money to anything but my own little world.” 

Outrage fades under the inevitable onslaught of the demands of our lives, in spite of the fact that our lives, that we so often circumscribe and protect, could be enhanced by outrage that demands the best, rather than the least, of our leaders, our government agencies, our industries, our institutions, and even of ourselves. 

Outrage is not a negative force.  It is a driving force toward re-creation, reform and re-vitalization.  Is that perhaps why we let it fade: do we, in the end, fear its effects?  Are we intimidated by the relentless pursuit of change for the better and the best?  On the other hand, there are many who have devoted their lives to the betterment of this society, even making the ultimate sacrifice of their lives (Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind).  So why, with such examples to guide us, do we let outrage fade and fail to produce needed reforms?  I don’t know for sure…do you?