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Better gun control will make little difference
if actual mental health care needs aren’t met


AR-15 rifleWe can’t go on this way in America, with people meeting their congresswoman in a parking lot, attending a Sikh temple, seeing a movie in a theater, shopping at a mall, or young people in a college or elementary school classroom being gunned down by homicidal maniacs.

We Americans send our best, brightest and bravest to dangerous places around the world to keep us safe, spending hundreds of billions a year on national security — more than all other advanced industrial nations combined. We spend billions more on law enforcement at all levels of government.

What good is all that risk, sacrifice and expense if we — innocent men, women and even children — are so clearly vulnerable to individuals in our society who are so mentally ill or emotionally damaged they can become mass murderers at any time?

Now, in the aftermath of a horrific massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, there is serious talk among congressional Democrats of banning semiautomatic weapons like the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle Adam Lanza, 20, used to murder his mother at her home, then 20 children and six adults at the school. President Obama has spoken twice in three days of seeking tighter gun control and addressing mental health problems.

Both measures are long overdue and absolutely necessary — especially meeting mental health care needs. For the fact is, no amount of gun control will prevent these tragedies if people like Jared Loughner and Adam Lanza aren’t identified as needing help, and given the help they need, before they go completely haywire and start killing.

Sure, guns are these killers’ weapons of choice. But someone with Lanza’s reported intelligence can easily commit mass murder with a few bottles, rags, some gasoline and matches.

This inescapable conclusion about meeting mental health care needs isn’t something public officials want to deal with. That’s especially so now, given the state of our economy and current obsession with debt reduction. We’ve cheapskated mental health care needs for a long time. Short-term, lick-and-a-promise outpatient mental health care is hard to come by and afford for most Americans. Longterm, definitive outpatient care is beyond the reach of most. That goes double where full-time and perhaps longterm hospitalization is required.

Providing necessary mental health services to all in need of it is an expensive undertaking. But even if officials were suddenly prepared to fund adequate care and taxpayers were willing to pay the tab, it would take years to make this happen.

A study of national needs vs. resources, if done, will show we don’t begin to have enough mental health care professionals, clinics and hospitals.

As a result, America’s jails and prisons are obliged to take up the slack. A huge percentage of the incarcerated are where they are due to substance abuse and crimes committed under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. But behind that fact lies a rarely discussed reality: many of them become drug users and alcoholics because of serious unaddressed or inadequately treated mental and emotional problems.

America entered World War II with a woefully inadequate military. In four short years America had the strongest, best-trained and equipped military the world had ever seen. And our enemies, Germany and Japan, lay vanquished and in ruins. That happened because of total commitment to meeting a mortal threat.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy called for an all-out effort to put a man on the moon. Again, our full commitment made that happen, in 1969.

Now, we need an all-out commitment to make America safe from an enemy within. Yes, we need more and better control of guns. But most of all we need to identify those with serious mental and emotional illnesses and deficits, and see to it they get the care they need, whatever it takes. For some, that will mean expensive longterm care as outpatients or in hospitals.

If we refuse to make this commitment and pay its cost we will have ourselves to blame as the number and severity of mass killings grows. There is no quick, cheap, easy way out.

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No-fault-murder laws like Florida’s
almost exclusively a red state thing

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin, who was 17 at the time he was killed last month.

We learned today that 21 states have so-called stand-your-ground laws like the Florida one that sent on his merry way the killer of an unarmed 17-year-old black youth — no muss, no fuss, no bother and still armed with his gun.

All self-appointed neighborhood watch vigilante George Zimmerman had to do to get away with murder was say he felt threatened, and the oh-so-accommodating cops of Sanford, Fla., were satisfied that Trayvon Martin, armed as he was with Skittles from a nearby 7-11, was the guilty party.

Being dead on the ground, young Martin couldn’t even make it his word against Zimmerman’s. How very neat and tidy.

In the aftermath, Martin’s body was checked for drugs and alcohol. Zimmerman underwent no such tests.

Here, from the USA Today story, is the attitude of a Florida legislator who sponsored the 2005 stand-your-ground law that was heartily endorsed and signed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush.

“Every time you have an adverse incident, immediately the anti-gun faction will say this law is the problem,” (Rep. Dennis) Baxley said, adding that violent crime in Florida has dropped since its implementation. “As public policy, it is fulfilling its purpose and working well. The perpetrators know everyone has the right to defend themselves. … I think that has been a strong deterrent.”

Critics of the law cite a dramatic increase in the number of “justifiable homicides” in Florida, rising from 43 in 2005 to 105 in 2009, the last year for which complete statistics are available.

What Baxley and others who back his license-to-kill law should have to reckon with is that not all gun-toting citizens are pure of heart and law-abiding.

“You want to know how you can kill somebody legally in Florida?” says Arthur Hayhoe, executive director of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “Make sure you have no witnesses, hunt the person down and then say you feared for your life.”

Hayhoe says he has about a dozen cases on his desk now similar to Trayvon’s case. He says in those cases, gunmen say they were defending themselves and have not been charged, leaving grieving relatives to wonder why the shooters have not been charged.

Exactly.

As federal authorities undertake the investigation Sanford’s no-account police should’ve begun weeks ago when they were called to the scene, Sanford’s City Council has given the town’s police chief a vote of no confidence. On MSNBC’s The Last Word tonight, Sanford’s city manager said he’s weighing dismissal of the chief.

Better late than never.

The 21 states with stand-your-ground laws are: Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, W. Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho, Utah, Arizona and Alaska.

Pardon our partisanship, but we can’t help but notice the striking correlation of these no-fault-murder states to the nation’s roster of red states.

If stand-your-ground laws can’t be overturned in the courts, an effort should be launched in Congress to enact a constitutional amendment banning them. The United States has a horrendous track record of nut cases using their easily obtained guns to deal death to innocent people, facilitated by the Second Amendment fanaticism of a militant minority. That’s bad enough, but giving the mean of spirit, the paranoid and bigoted, bullies, jealous spouses and so on, carte blanche to set someone up, kill the targeted person and then walk away, is simply intolerable.

As for Zimmerman, who was heard on the 9-11 call recording the day he killed his prey, saying, “F—–g c–ns,” we’re curious.

We wonder if it has occurred to Zimmerman that if those black people he has such a problem with were as criminally inclined as he thinks they are, he would surely be as stone-cold dead by now as the unarmed teenage boy he murdered.

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We heard you the first time, Bachus

“In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”

—Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala.,
House Financial Services Committee chairman,
as quoted in a Birmingham News story,
Dec. 9, 2010.

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Bachus was cited in Sunday’s “60 Minutes” segment on Congress and insider trading, pointing out how members can easily profit from stock trades using information not available to the public. The report indicated a specific instance in which Bachus had done just that in 2007, making a $30,000 killing as the U.S. economy was imploding.

The Birmingham News story added that Bachus “later clarified his comment to say regulators should set the parameters in which banks operate but not micromanage them.”

Actions speak louder than back-and-fill words. Call it a moment of blunt honesty or a Freudian slip, but based on his fund-raising and record in Congress, Bachus’ original statement rings true.

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From OpenSecrets.org:

3 top Bachus backers, 1992 - 2010

Contributor Total Individuals PAC's
JPMorgan Chase & Co $119,000 $24,000 $95,000
National Assn of Realtors $92,210 $12,710 $79,500
Bank of America $90,500 $2,500 $88,000

Top 5 Industries backing Bachus, 1992 - 2010

Industry Total Indivs PAC's
Commercial banks $1,183,413 $250,965 $932,448
Real estate $987,336 $506,784 $480,552
Insurance $927,950 $99,750 $828,200
Securities/investment $799,543 $243,743 $555,800
Finance/credit co.'s $489,496 $87,438 $402,058

Now, can there be any doubt Bachus meant what he said, exactly the way he said it the first time? And, can there be any doubt about why he feels government should be there to serve the banks?

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A great nation is a terrible thing to waste

inverted flagProfound changes in the U.S. economy that began during the 1970’s should’ve triggered public-policy responses to mitigate their bad side effects, keeping the middle class strong and growing in part by increasing public-sector investment, maintaining the country’s manufacturing base and backstopping organized labor.

Instead, public policy accelerated, intensified and entrenched the bad side effects, with the predictable result that our manufacturing base is gutted, organized labor is a shadow of its former self, and our shrinking middle class is hurting in ways unknown since the Great Depression.

We can account for how the world’s largest, strongest, most dynamic economy was brought low, and how the democracy with the most productive, stable and affluent society ended up deep in debt, with high unemployment, no job security, a tattered social safety net and gridlocked government, in five words: ignorance, bigotry, ideology, inattention and selfishness.

Ignorance: Most Americans think they know more about our country — its geography, Constitution, history, government, society and economy — than they actually do. A few decades back, a reporter went out on the streets of midtown Manhattan and read the First Amendment to a random sampling of passers-by. He asked them if that should be the law in our country. A shockingly high percentage said no.

For an equally revealing exercise at home or at work, hand out sheets of paper and challenge your friends, family or co-workers to name the 50 states. Then, ask them to explain in a simple paragraph the main differences between U.S. senators and representatives. If those in your group are all or mostly college educated, see if even one can accurately define capitalism, democratic socialism, state socialism and communism. Finally, ask for a simple paragraph explaining how banks create money.

Good luck. And remember, in our system, the people decide who to trust with the levers of governmental power. The people decide who will make public policy affecting our society, and our national and economic security. Thus, it’s reasonable to expect that the less voters know, the more likely they are to let themselves be flim-flammed into electing ignorant, incompetent, dishonest, ideologically warped and/or crackpot-crazy public officials.

Bigotry: If you’ve ever used a shoehorn to ease a foot into a stiff new shoe, you can appreciate how useful people steeped in prejudice are to low-road politicians. A congressional district or state with a high percentage of racially biased people can be used to slide an unscrupulous and/or incompetent politician into a House of Representatives or Senate seat, or other high office, in much the same way. This explains the long, lucrative political careers of people like South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond and North Carolina’s Jesse Helms.

That these two examples are Southerners figures, because unfortunately, from Virginia to East Texas and including all or large parts of border states of the old Confederacy, a relatively high percentage of white residents are more or less prejudiced against people of different races and backgrounds. We want to be clear, however, that not all white Southerners are racists, and that those who are vary greatly in how far they’ll go in acting on prejudice. We also want to be clear that, unfortunately, bigots can be found in every part of the country.

Our reason for explaining the above is to make an unassailable point. That is, white Southern voters are overwhelmingly Republicans for reasons other than just a regionwide desire to shrink and weaken the federal government and limit federal taxation. Social, economic and political traditions, all of them intertwined with racial prejudice, are key factors in the relationship. Simmering resentment and elements of spite are no less so.

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Insidious gay threat splitting right-wing ranks

battleAs most Americans move peacefully toward acceptance that gays and lesbians are first-class human beings and thus fully deserving of the same rights and considerations as the rest of us, conservatives seem on course to go down fighting over the issue — including with each other.

The emergence of the GOProud, a right-wing group of conservatives that support gay rights, is spurring a civil war between conservative bigwigs. This summer, WorldNetDaily publisher and proud “birther king” Joseph Farah and right-wing ranter Ann Coulter launched into a hyperbolic squabble after Coulter agreed to keynote GOProud’s inaugural “Homocon” conference. Fearful of GOProud’s impending “coup” of the conservative movement, Farah even called for extra security at his WND conference panel “is GOProud conservative?” because, as his loyal followers noted, GOProud could bring its “radical gay” supporters to help in its “infiltration of the conservative movement.”

Infiltration of the conservative movement? We can hear the angrily shouted retort now:

“Hell no you won’t!”

Yes sir, the best antidote for an outbreak of mutual understanding, fairmindedness and good will is some good old-fashioned bigotry. And who better to serve that up than the experts?

The possible presence of gay people sparked the far-right American Principles Project to instigate a growing boycott of CPAC in November. Yesterday, WND announced that the Family Research Council and the Concerned Women for America are now the most high-profile conservative groups to join the boycott

Make way, because it’s only a matter of time before those perennial purveyors of gay-bashing idiocy, the Rev.(?) Pat Robertson and Phyllis Schlafly, weigh in. Praise the Lord and pass the plate.

Keep those contributions coming in, people. It takes money to fight this subversive evil.

The whole sorry spectacle leaves us wondering: Why would a gay or lesbian want anything to do with the “conservative movement” or Republicans?

Schlafly still demagoging after all these years,
this time about child protective services

brass screwAs surely as wonders never cease, a conservative scold from the days of Moral Majority on the march raises some apparently valid concerns about child protective services agencies.

Of course, being an ultraconservative hard case from way back, Phyllis Schlafly turns what could be a helpful issue-raising opportunity into a big-government-bashing exercise, starting with predictable demagoguery.

When the liberals and the feminists, including Hillary Clinton, began saying the “village” should raise the child, most people recognized village as a metaphor for government. We’re now seeing how intrusive Big Government Nannyism really is.

For openers, “most people” weren’t right-wing Republicans intent on finding evil intentions in every word Bill or Hillary Clinton uttered.

The relatively few liberals and feminists given to saying “It takes a village to raise a child” only did so after Clinton used that line in a speech. It’s neither an American liberal nor an American feminist concept, but rather originates in an African folk saying.

Not content to implicitly misinform about the saying’s origin, Schlafly, in typical conservative fashion, completely twists its meaning to suit her ideological purpose.

Clinton neither said nor implied that a village, much less big government, “should raise a child.” That is an obvious and outrageous distortion – except maybe to government-hating right wingers conditioned to take talking points as truth, actual facts be damned.

Schlafly’s demagoguery is intended to raise the specter of meddlesome, all-powerful government coming between parents and children. That would be laughable, except that, 1, she’s serious; and 2, some gullible people are primed and ready to believe every word of her dishonest nonsense.

The point of the African saying is that children should be raised in a safe, wholesome, nurturing environment. That would be an environment where no one adopts the attitude, “Not my kid, not my problem.”

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'Hour of Power' megachurch shorts out

Crystal Cathedral, established in conservative Orange County, Calif., in the 1950’s by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, filed for bankruptcy today, unable to cope with its more than $43 million in debts.

Home of the “Hour of Power” broadcasts and boasting a congregation of 10,000, the church is now led by Schuller’s daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman.

The story on this development is revealing.

Kristina Oliver, whose Hemet-based company provided live animals for the church’s “Glory of Christmas” manger scene, said she doubts she will recover in full the $57,000 she is owed.

“The church never made any kind of advancement that they wanted to pay their debt, that they were willing to try to make it happen and every time we tried they told us, ‘You can’t tell us how to run our business,'” Oliver said.

Before going farther, let’s be clear that Senior Pastor Coleman and her flock have a perfect right to worship and to celebrate Christ’s birth in any way they deem fitting.

That said, we’re left wondering how many animals Crystal Cathedral requires for a manger scene. It would seem the church could do that and re-enact Noah filling his ark with two of everything for the kind of money it owes Oliver.

Even considering that this church serves a large congregation, we wonder how ministering to the faithful, holding worship services, counseling and even, we will guess, fairly generous charitable work, add up to a staggering $43 million in debts it can’t pay.

In the Christian Bible, Matthew 6:6, christians are told, “But thou when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee.” — Douay-Rheims Bible

Quite a contrast, that, with a place of worship being in a huge, onstentatious landmark building, with Christmas pageants that include a live menagerie and with syndicated TV shows.

We can’t help but think that somewhere along the line this church became less about what Matthew prescribed and more about what vendor Oliver quoted: “our business.”

WWJS?

What's clear: U.S. has one pastor too many

bomb, lit fuseToday’s big news, perversely, is that a crackpot cleric says he won’t burn Korans Saturday because a central Florida imam assured him a cultural center and mosque won’t be built near the 9-11 site in New York City.

Note that the story on this makes clear the assurance could not be independently confirmed, and MSNBC just reported Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in New York denies there is an agreement to relocate.

Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Fla., reportedly claims he has witnesses to the promise from Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida.

Jones also says he doesn’t support anyone else burning Islam’s holy book now, and will go to New York to meet with Rauf and discuss moving the planned Park 51/Cordoba cultural center and mosque. Musri says he will accompany Jones.

While today’s alleged developments might or might not defuse an ugly and completely uncalled for outrage against 1.5 billion believers in one of the world’s major religions, they’re sure to keep the publicity pot boiling.

Maybe that’s the point.

The planned interfaith, open-to-the-public, Cordoba House center that couldn’t be seen from the former World Trade Center site and could be helpful in creating greater understanding and harmony between people of different beliefs, should be located where Rauf has property and long-held plans to build it. Neither he nor any cleric should be bullied or blackmailed the way Jones has tried to do those things to him.

Let’s be clear: People can go to the WTC site, gather there and mark the 9-11 anniversary never seeing the Cordoba House building. To see it, they’d have to walk out of their way, halfway around a block. There are tall, solid buildings between the two locations. So the planned center offers no affront or insult, beyond the idea of it being near the WTC site.

“Near” is a very relative, subjective term. Once any person or group is forced to forfeit religious, personal and property rights based on “near,” that term will be extended not just to blocks, but to miles, maybe to whole cities, counties and states away.

Furthermore, prejudice against all followers of a religious faith for the acts of a relative few adherents isn’t our way. If it was, there would be hell to pay for Americans of many faiths. Tragically, histories of the world’s great religions are marred by acts of ignorance, brutality and barbarism.

What does “too near” mean? How long ago is too long to generate anger and bitterness today? Were the religious wars that wracked Europe of the Middle Ages too far back? How about Northern Ireland’s protracted time of the Troubles? How about the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre?

Jones is reportedly the target of vocal disapproval and displeasure from the president, attorney general, secretary of state, commander of coalition forces in the Mideast and the mayor of Gainesville. Even a religious con man of Jones’ repugnant kind should have enough savvy to realize he’s on a path as likely to lead to big trouble, including for him, as to fame, fortune and clout.

'News judgment' shouldn't be an oxymoron, however . . .

reader birdHere we are with two no-win wars in the Mideast, an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. economy screwed up like it hasn’t been screwed up in 80 years, and this nonsense is up there with the day’s top news stories.

President Obama didn’t want this weekend’s getaway to Florida’s Gulf Coast to be a repeat of past beach trips, where the media spent days commenting on his toned physique.

. . . “I’m not going to let you guys take a picture of me with my shirt off,” (Obama) told CNN’s Ed Henry on Saturday. For this trip, the Obama administration wanted media attention focused on the region’s recovery from the disastrous BP oil spill, not on his pec-profile.

What little news value there was in presenting photos of the president shirtless in 2008 was realized then. Now, it’s not just old news, it’s non-news of the “What in hell is this doing here?” kind.

Entertaining diversions can be valuable in difficult times. Judging by most movie house fare of the 1930’s, filled with Ginger Rogers-Fred Astaire musicals, Three Stooges and Marx Brothers zaniness, and so on, one would think that Depression-scarred decade had been the best of times.

But the president’s physique, however well toned, hardly fills the welcome-diversion bill. Photos of that kind appeal only to idle curiosity.

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Court strikes down Proposition 8, affirming marriage rights of all

justice scalesA federal district court judge ruled today California’s Proposition 8 denying gay and lesbian citizens the basic human right of marrying the person of their choice is unconstitutional.

In his ruling, Judge Vaughn Walker cited equal protection and due process clauses, ordering the state to cease enforcement of Proposition 8 provisions.

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

The case against California’s repressive citizens’ initiative was made by two of the country’s top-tier attorneys, progressive David Boies and conservative Ted Olson. Interviewed by Rachel Maddow, Olson emphasized the issue is not a Republican-vs.-Democrat or liberal-vs.-conservative one, but about honoring a basic human right.

Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hailed the decision as affirming the rights everyone deserves.

Unfortunately, this decision doesn’t end the struggle for California gays and lesbians, or others across the country. Walker’s decision will be appealed, and those behind the effort to strike down Proposition 8 are said to be looking forward to making their case to the Supreme Court.

All Americans who believe in our Constitution and its recognition of the inherent rights we all have as human beings should welcome Walker’s decision.

Despotism doesn’t just come about because power-hungry dictators seize power and exert total control. Despotism can just as well come about within a democracy through the efforts of a majority, or even a minority, that succeeds in manipulating political and legal means to unjustly trample the rights of others.

The lesson of America is that a land where all fully realize their right to pursue life, liberty and happiness began as more of an ideal than a reality. Over more than two centuries, in fits and starts, successive generations have advanced toward that worthy goal.

Today’s ruling marks another significant step along an uneven but essential journey if this great nation is to fulfill the destiny its founders envisioned and its people deserve.