Young black men in Chicago: Out of work, out of school, and out of luck

 David Elam, 25, was among those testifying at a recent hearing hosted by the Chicago Urban League about youth unemployment. Elam credited a summer job program with getting him out of a gang. He's now a youth organizer with a group called Fathers Who Care.


David Elam, 25, was among those testifying at a recent hearing hosted by the Chicago Urban League about youth unemployment. Elam credited a summer job program with getting him out of a gang. He’s now a youth organizer with a group called Fathers Who Care.

Chicago isn’t a safe or profitable place for young men of color, especially on the West and South sides. That in itself is nothing new. But a new report on black youth unemployment, coupled with recent sky-high shooting and murder rates, doesn’t leave young black men with many options. Nearly half of all black males in Chicago between the ages of 20 and 24 are neither working nor getting an education.

The statistics also were dismal for the city’s black teenagers. The jobless rate for black 16- to 19-year-olds was 88 percent. Rates for these demographic groups are higher than state or national rates, or than rates in other large cities such as Los Angeles and New York. And all of Chicago’s highest unemployment rates for black teens and young adults were on the West and South sides, just as they are for older adults.

These facts and figures are from a report titled Lost: The Crisis of Jobless and Out of School Teens and Young Adults in Chicago, Illinois, and the U.S. It’s from the Great Cities Institute, an initiative at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs. Its mission is to link academic resources with partners to address urban issues by providing research, policy analysis, and program development. The report was produced for the city’s Alternative School Network in conjunction with the Chicago Urban League.

The jobless numbers provide only half the story. The Chicago Tribune is among those that keep track of the city’s shootings and murders. Its online tally, updated a few times per week, shows daily, monthly, and annual totals of shootings and shooting deaths. So far in 2016, Chicago has had nearly 300 shooting victims and more than 50 homicides (there were nearly 3,000 shooting victims in 2015).

Now compare that map to a map from the Chicago Department of Family & Support Services that shows unemployment rates in neighborhoods throughout the city. Notice the overlap. The areas with the highest number of shootings are the city’s poorest and most segregated areas and the neighborhoods with the highest unemployment rates.

It doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots. Young black men with few options are getting shot in high numbers—and that’s in the middle of the winter. Usually these kinds of totals are more common in the summer, when hot weather drives people outside.

You can blame the high incidence in shootings on easy gun trafficking from other states (true) or the “Ferguson effect” (not true). Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel went so far as to blame the uptick in shootings on an anti-police backlash, saying Chicago police officers have pulled back on enforcing the law—in essence, that that they were forced into a fetal position.

You can talk about illegal drugs, failed schools, malnutrition, substandard housing, and a host of other issues. There’s truth in all of those factors. But the biggest culprit is lack of economic opportunity.

Chicago is no different from many other urban areas that have experienced job flight from the inner city. You used to see large factories throughout the city that employed hundreds of workers. Now, those same workplaces are shuttered or torn down. And not much has been left in their place.

unemployment chart

During my commuting days, I always rode the CTA Green Line along the West Side. The worst sight was the old Brach’s candy factory, which closed its doors in 2001 after 76 years of making StarBrite Mints and Milk Maid Caramels, leaving 1,100 people out of work. The company moved most of its candy manufacturing to Europe.

For years, the old factory sat empty, a broken shell of a once-thriving company. Worse, the 12-story building was awash with gang signs and symbols. It was finally torn down.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger is head of St. Sabina Church in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the South Side, near Englewood, the neighborhood on which filmmaker Spike Lee based Chi-Raq. Father Pfleger is a longtime social activist who has spent years speaking out against gun violence. The unemployment rate near St. Sabina is close to 25 percent.

Father Pfleger often shares weekend shooting statistics on his Facebook page, along with commentary. And whatever opinion you have of Father Pfleger, he gets it.

While we fight against corrupt police we must also fight against those who are part of this self-inflicted Genocide that is causing our neighborhoods to live in Fear. Yes, we must demand Jobs, Education, Economic Opportunity, Options and end this Easy Access to Guns, and yes we must Tell the Thousands of Churches that will gather today to pray that Faith without Works is still Dead.

Our family has a friend on the South Side who grew up in the Robert Taylor Homes, the now-demolished high-rise public housing project of 28 buildings that ran along the Dan Ryan Expressway. He and his family have lived in several South Side neighborhoods, yet the only jobs available to him are far away. Currently he has a 2.5-hour commute to a job in a northern suburb. He has to ride a bus, two elevated trains, and another bus to get to work.

But he says it’s worth it. He and his wife, who also works, are scraping together every penny they can (and no doubt creating student loan debt for their son) to send their boy to college—he’s now in his junior year. “He had to go away to school,” our friend told us. “Two of his friends have already been killed.”

He’s traveled to job interviews with even longer commutes, all with complicated multiple modes of public transportation. All of this is because of the lack of employment opportunity in his own neighborhood. “All we’ve got are mostly liquor stores and funeral parlors,” he’s told us.

“Want to curb violence? Give black men a job,” argues Dahleen Glanton in a column in the Chicago Tribune. “If young black men went to work every day, they wouldn’t be out in the streets killing each other,” she writes, citing figures from the Great Cities Institute report.

It means that only about 1 in 2 black men will be able to lift himself or his children out of poverty. It means that nearly half of all black men in Chicago could be on the path to a life without a future, a journey that will likely land them in the Cook County Jail or the Cook County morgue. It means that the fate of African-American men is being cemented into a permanent underclass, a legacy they will likely pass on to their children, their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren.

And we wonder why Chicago has an escalating problem of violence? …

A young man without a job gets to hang out on the corner day and night, whether the temperature is below zero or near 100. He gets to dodge bullets every time he takes a step outside. He gets to hold the hand of a brother or a friend since grade school as that buddy takes his dying breath.

A young man with a job gets to hold his head high when he walks down the street. When his children are afraid, he can look them in the eye and tell them that everything is going to be OK. And a man with a job gets to believe in the American Dream — that if he works hard, he will eventually earn the success he deserves.

You’re wrong if you think the majority of black men would walk away from a chance at that.

In its conclusion, the Great Cities Institute report describes “permanent scars” that lead to conditions that are both a consequence and a precipitating factor in youth unemployment.

This report clearly highlights that youth employment rates are tied to conditions in neighborhoods and cannot be seen as distinct from what is happening in the neighborhoods themselves. The devastation of unemployment, in turn, wreaks havoc on the neighborhood.

Chicago is a great city. But how can it truly be great, when this “tale of two cities” provides such stark comparison in the employment opportunities among young people?

Here’s an economic opportunity that will be happening soon. The Barack Obama Presidential Center is slated to be built on the South Side. There are two locations under consideration. One is Jackson Park, south of the Museum of Science and Industry, a park that is well-used for summertime picnics, basketball games, and many programs in the fieldhouse and other facilities. The other is Washington Park, near the DuSable Museum of African American History, a park with fewer amenities which is in a neighborhood that probably could use more development help than the Jackson Park site. Plus, it’s right near the Green Line elevated train route, making it easy for people to get to work at the Obama library or any of the businesses that are bound to grow around the new site.

I sincerely hope that the Obamas and those responsible for making the site selection will make neighborhood economic development a key factor in their final choice.

This originally ran on Daily Kos on Feb. 7, 2016.

Who still likes Donald Trump? Not GOP officeholders

Trump would like Republican voters to believe he's still their best hope. But he could be making a YUUUUGE mistake.

Trump would like Republican voters to believe he’s still their best hope. But he could be making a YUUUUGE mistake.

The fallout from the GOP results of the Iowa caucuses is still being felt. With one second-place finish under his belt, real estate mogul Donald Trump predictably claimed that the media were not being “fair” to him. He says he “really won,” and he’s threatening to sue Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the Iowa GOP winner, for “cheating.”

Trump is still claiming momentum in the Republican presidential race. National and other state polls continue to show him ahead, although some have narrowed. How things change after actual votes have been cast.

When Trump looked like an unstoppable force, there were multiple reports of GOP leaders reluctantly willing to fall in line should Trump become the nominee. The reasons for this were twofold: Republican leaders heartily dislike Cruz and feel that he would be even worse at the top of the ticket than Trump. GOP leaders also didn’t want to be left behind if Trump wins it all.

“Has the time come to accept Trump as the likely GOP nominee?” asked former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele in an MSNBC story. Trump’s “durability atop preference polls has pushed some donors, strategists, and party elders to grudgingly accept the prospect of his winning the nomination,” said an AP story. “We’d better stop hoping for something else and accept the possibility that he’s our nominee and be prepared to rally around him if that’s the case,” said Fred Malek, a top Republican presidential fundraiser.

With Trump’s “loser” showing in Iowa, what are Republican leaders supposed to think now? Do they stick with the earlier “inevitable” Trump candidacy, or do they move to third-place winner Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, now considered the strongest “establishment” candidate and the new media darling? Might some GOP leaders still see the Donald as a Trump card?

Here’s the dilemma: Republicans running lower down on the ballot don’t want to be Trumped.

According to a story from Reuters, many Republicans attending the annual GOP retreat in January—even though not all of them were willing to be quoted—weren’t enthusiastic about running on the same ticket as the would-be narcissist-in-chief.

Trump would not help Republicans if he topped the ticket, despite his appeal to Americans fed up with politicians, said Representative Justin Amash, a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement who has endorsed Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul for president.

“He does appeal to the anger,” Amash said of Trump, the outspoken real estate mogul who is front-runner to be the party’s presidential nominee.

But he said Trump’s “policy prescriptions will take us in the wrong direction, and it won’t be long before many of those people are angry at him and angry at Republicans again.”

The reaction from Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam about a Trump candidacy was “Heaven help us,” according to the Reuters story. But Roskam quickly added, “I’m not going to comment on the presidential candidates at this point.”

Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who is backing Rubio, went so far as to say that it was important to have a presidential nominee who will not “embarrass” the rest of the party’s candidates, the Reuters story said.

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole said Republicans’ fate will be linked closely to the Republican nominee, whoever it is, and that Trump would be a “wild card.”

“I don’t know what he (Trump) will do. I can see a situation where he could be a great asset, because I do think he will bring some people out (to vote) who have not been brought before.”

New York Rep. Peter King agreed that Trump is “more of a gamble” at the top of the ticket. “The conventional wisdom is that he would hurt more than he would help,” King told Reuters. “But on the other hand, he is tapping into something (among voters) out there.”

The list of Trump endorsements from Republican current and former elected officials is thinner than the orange hair on his head. There are a few low-level GOP officials. He’s got former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and her rambling word-salad support doesn’t seem to have helped. Also in Trump’s corner is South Carolina Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, whose boss, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, alluded to Trump’s deficiencies with her reference to “the angriest voices” during her GOP response to the State of the Union address. Now there’s former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown—he’s used to coming in second, so he’ll fit right in.

Other than that, Trump has ZERO endorsements from current lawmakers, according to a story from the Maddow Blog. Zero as in none, zilch, zip, nada.

For the first time in the modern era, a Republican front-runner, leading in each of the first three nominating contests, is heading into Iowa with a grand total of zero endorsements from governors and/or members of the House and Senate. Literally, none.

Trump isn’t alone in his lack of support. Cruz has the backing of 18 Republicans in the U.S. House, including such luminaries as Rep. Steve “Cantaloupe Calves” King of Iowa and Rep. Louie “Terrorist Border Babies” Gohmert of Texas, but none in the Senate (hey, they work with him and know what an insufferable jerk he is).

As a matter of fact, official GOP endorsements have been few and far between in this election cycle, according to the Maddow Blog story, although more are now swinging Rubio’s way — he’s gotten two more senators and two more representatives since that story was published.

It’s worth noting that one of the under-appreciated oddities of the 2016 cycle is the degree to which the Endorsement Game has been stagnant for months. For all the chatter about the role of the GOP “establishment” in the process, there are 54 Republicans in the U.S. Senate and only 13 [now 15] of them have thrown their official support behind a presidential candidate. The rest, apparently, are in wait-and-see mode.
Similarly, there are 31 sitting Republican governors, and only four of them have endorsed in this race. That’s not a typo: 27 out of 31 current GOP governors have chosen to stay on the sidelines.

The one exception might be Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who strongly backs Trump’s immigration plan of the “Mexican-funded” wall and could be ready to support Trump.

Most early GOP endorsers jumped on the Jeb! Bush bandwagon or that of Rubio, who now leads the endorsement game and picked up the support of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum when he dropped out of the presidential race. But the former Florida governor’s campaign is faltering.

“If endorsements mattered, Jeb Bush would be in first place,” said Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks, according to a story in the Washington Times. “The only endorsement we are seeking is that of the American people.”

Palin, McMaster, and Brown may not count in the tally of what FiveThirtyEight calls the “Endorsement Primary,” but at least Trump has more GOP endorsements than one former GOP front-runner. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson doesn’t have any GOP official endorsements at all.

And don’t forget the all-important Duck Dynasty beard primary. The Duck patriarch, Phil Robertson, is backing Cruz, while his son, Willie Robertson, is quacking for Trump.

if Trump does capture the nomination, I suspect everyone in the GOP will join the effort. Remember the saying: “Democrats fall in love; Republicans fall in line.” But that doesn’t mean they’re going to like it.

 

Sanders vs. Clinton: Idealist vs. pragmatist? Or revolution vs. establishment?

 After too few debates, Iowa voters get first crack at making a choice. Who will come out on top? (Getty Images)


After too few debates, Iowa voters get first crack at making a choice. Who will come out on top?

Finally–it’s the Iowa caucuses. Then at least we won’t have to evaluate which polls are right in Iowa.

You’ve got the CNN/ORC Poll that shows Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with a comfortable lead of eight points. Or the Loras College Poll that shows former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in front by 29 (!) points (yeah, like anyone’s going to believe that). Or the Emerson College Poll that puts Clinton up by nine or the ARG Poll that puts Sanders up by three or the Fox News Poll that puts Clinton up by six or the Quinnipiac Poll that put Sanders up by four or the NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist Poll that puts Clinton up by three. And all (okay, except Loras) describe a tight race.

FiveThirtyEight, using its “polls-plus” model, gives Clinton an 80 percent chance of winning the Iowa caucuses. Its “polls only” prediction puts Clinton five points ahead of Sanders. The results of the final poll from Selzer & Co. from Bloomberg Politics and The Des Moines Register, which is considered the gold standard of Iowa polling (FiveThirtyEight calls Ann Selzer “The Best Pollster In Politics“), gave Clinton a three-point edge over Sanders. Its previous poll gave Clinton a two-point advantage, but it also showed a seven-point slippage for Clinton from earlier polls. Still, she got the Register endorsement—whatever that’s worth. It didn’t help her in 2008.

Aw, screw it—we’re all sick of polls. So instead of biting and fighting between Bernie-bots and Hillary-ites, let’s look at some of the standard lines that have developed among pundits both inside and outside the Beltway. As a bonus, there are some insights on how the race is playing around the world.

There seem to be two main schools of thought: It’s Bernie Sanders the idealist, who could never pass his pie-in-the-sky ideas, vs. Hillary Clinton the pragmatist, whose vast experience shows she knows how to get things done. Or it’s Bernie Sanders inspiring young voters and leading a growing revolution of voters angry at the status quo vs. Hillary Clinton, the epitome of the establishment, whom voters won’t support in the current political environment. Which narrative you believe likely depends on which candidate you favor, whether you’re feeling the Bern or saying “Hill, yes.” (And sorry, we’re just going to ignore former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. He needs to reach a 15 percent threshold at Iowa caucuses for his support to count, which is unlikely, and he didn’t even make the primary ballot in Ohio. He’s a non-factor.)

So here’s a sampling of analysis from both viewpoints—with some overlap.

After the January 17 Democratic debate and the January 25 CNN Town Hall, many headlines and stories touched on the themes of idealism and pragmatism—at least when Sanders and Clinton weren’t being referred to as “the insurgent” and “the establishment.”

“It was idealism vs. pragmatism Sunday night at the Democratic debate in Charleston, South Carolina,” the talking heads agreed on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “Clinton vs. Sanders: Will Democrats choose evolution—or revolution?” asked Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. “For Democrats, a revolutionary vs. a pragmatist,” said a CNN story. “Do Democrats want the revolution Sanders pledges or the experienced continuity Clinton promises?” asked the Los Angeles Times.

“Realist Clinton makes better case than revolutionary Sanders,” wrote Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet.

With no disrespect to Bernie Sanders and his “revolution,” Hillary Clinton made a strong case on Monday that you can be a political realist and fight against inequality of all types. …

But when it came to demonstrating fluency in foreign and domestic issues—without saying a nasty word about Sanders—Clinton dominated the space of being ready to govern and deal with a gridlocked Congress.

There was a different conclusion from 350.org founder (and Sanders backer) Bill McKibben. “Bernie Sanders keeps refusing to run the way that the pundits think he should—that’s what makes this primary so interesting and perhaps a turning point in American politics,” he wrote in an opinion piece on Huffington Post.

The Beltway polls don’t quite get how much America has changed—how unequal and desperate it’s become. … Which is probably why actual people are also less worried about the other half of the “serious people” test imposed by pundits.

Let’s look at how the media evaluate the two candidates’ approaches to health care. This analysis, by Paul Waldman of the Plum Line blog and The American Prospect, is from the Washington Post.

Clinton’s theory of change is practical, realistic, and born of hard experience. But it’s also not particularly inspiring. It takes opposition from Republicans as a given and seeks to avoid direct confrontation with certain powerful interests. It’s essentially the same theory Obama operated on in 2009, when his administration set about to co-opt the insurance and pharmaceutical industries instead of fighting them. And it worked—after half a century of Democratic failure on health care, they passed sweeping reform.

Sanders’s theory of change starts from the unspoken presumption that the ACA was in its own way a failure, because it didn’t change the system enough—there are still people left out, and though costs have been reined in, we still spend far more than countries with single-payer systems, and always will as long as we have a system based in private insurance. The problem with Sanders’s theory, however, is that it’s vague on getting from where we are to where he wants to go. He talks about the need to “stand up” to special interests and create a “revolution,” but standing up isn’t a plan.

Sanders is making no bones about being the revolutionary candidate, as he repeated in the CNN Town Hall. “I think we are touching a nerve with the American people who understand that establishment politics is just not good enough,” Sanders said. “We need bold changes; we need a political revolution.”

Likewise, there can be no argument that Clinton represents the establishment. She has an enormous advantage in the number of superdelegates, having received endorsements across the board from governors, senators, and House members, although they can always change their allegiance. Sanders has a handful.

In a piece on Huffington Post, Sam Stein says many Democrats in power seem to share Clinton’s pragmatic view.

With just days to go before Iowans caucus, the Democratic primary has morphed from a debate over progressive agendas into an argument over how to get those agendas into law. Sanders says his formula is simple: He won’t just win the presidency, he will shepherd in a “wave” of Democrats who will provide him momentum to change the country. …

But as he wins over voters with talks of a “revolution,” the senator is leaving a group behind. Many Democrats in Congress and in the administration aren’t persuaded by the Bernie Sanders theory of change.

In the Guardian, Jill Abramson discusses why Millennials are flocking to Sanders, because Clinton is generating an “acute ennui” and that “shattering the ‘hardest glass ceiling’ doesn’t seem so revolutionary any more.” It’s all of the arguments rolled into one.

“Hillary, can you excite us?” asks Osaremen Okolo, a 21-year-old African-American who supports Clinton but “misses feeling fired up” as she was for Barack Obama and as some of her friends feel about Sanders.

“Young people like Bernie because he sounds like a revolutionary,” she says. But Okolo prefers Clinton’s experience and positions on issues like equal pay for equal work and criminal justice reform. “Hillary sounds pragmatic, which can come across as stuffy to young people. Her experience can almost count against her.” She adds: “Sanders seems bold, even if none of his ideas can happen.”

Salon.com, in a piece by political writer Simon Maloy, put the two even further apart, with the headline “It’s Hillary’s ruthless pragmatism vs. Bernie’s unmoored idealism.” So it’s not just pragmatism and idealism, now it’s “ruthless” and “unmoored.” In the end, the argument goes, it doesn’t really matter.

Of course, it’s entirely likely that this tension between Hillary’s pragmatism and Bernie’s idealism is moot. Should either of them win the presidency, they’re more than likely going to come into office with Republicans controlling at least one house of Congress, and the lesson of the past half decade is that Republicans won’t allow any action on Obamacare that isn’t destructive to the law. Assuming there’s no “political revolution” and assuming the GOP remains stalwart in its opposition, the more likely role of a Democratic president will be to fight tooth and nail just to maintain the health care status quo in the face of Republican sabotage.

There’s likely truth to the charge that Republicans are playing troll by pushing Sanders and hitting Clinton because they perceive him as easier to beat, although that may come back to bite them in the end. An opinion piece by Republican strategist and CNN contributor Alex Castellanos says Clinton has the “sadim” touch, the opposite of the Midas touch, and that everything she touches turns to lead. According to a report on Rachel Maddow’s blog, a seemingly anti-Sanders ad is actually touting Sanders’ proposals that are bound to appeal to liberal voters, such as “Sanders’ support for tuition-free college, single-payer health care, and higher taxes on the ‘super-rich.’ ”

And Republicans must be salivating at Sanders’ line in the CNN Town Hall in which he stated, “Yes, we will raise taxes.” If that gets played in a Republican attack ad, it will exclude Sanders’ follow-up that the tax increase would be offset by dropping private health insurance premiums.

It reminded me of Walter Mondale giving his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1984 when he delivered the news that he planned to raise taxes if elected, since Ronald Reagan’s big 1981 tax cuts ballooned the deficit. “They won’t say that; I just did,” Mondale told the convention crowd, likely prompting many Democrats to do a face-palm and groan, “We just lost the election.” Reagan won in a landslide—and then raised taxes again, 11 times in all during his presidency, according to former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming in an NPR report.

How is this race playing overseas? Both the GOP and Democratic races are not being ignored, especially because of the Trump factor. MPs in the UK House of Commons might think Donald Trump is a “wazzock,” but countries in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East are paying attention to the Democratic side, too. Even the People’s Daily in China has stories about the U.S. presidential race. This is just a sample, as many articles and columns were behind paywalls, not available in translated form, or using U.S. stories from AP or Reuters.

(I couldn’t resist clicking on The Billionaire and The Bellboy: Donald Trump becomes star of erotic gay novel at Hong Kong hotel from a story in the South China Morning Post. It reads: “My loins trembled as the scent of toupee adhesive and spray tan swept through my nasal cavity. I wanted nothing more than to turn around and see the golden god behind these scents, but I couldn’t move.” It compares Trump’s wrinkled face to “a beautiful overflowing flesh toilet” and describes his derrière as a “mouth-watering stack of pancakes.” But we digress.)

Let’s look at the progressive Irish Times in a piece by the paper’s Washington correspondent.

Clinton is struggling to hold together “the Obama coalition”—young voters, white liberals and African-Americans—that swept him to power. Sanders is beating Clinton two-to-one among young voters drawn to his purist liberal manifesto of economic equality and change against the establishment and a corrupt campaign finance system.

So now we have Clinton struggling and Sanders with a “purist liberal manifesto.” Loaded words much? Let’s see: Who else had a manifesto… Right. Karl Marx.

Here’s another viewpoint from a British journalist and longtime political commentator, Rupert Cornwell, writing for the Independent.

It was dreadful but just about bearable last time, losing to a young guy who caught the zeitgeist and spoke like an angel. But losing to a septuagenarian self-avowed socialist, who resembles an Old Testament prophet in need of a new tie—and in America of all places? If there is a God up there, please, please not.

Such must be the thoughts of Hillary Clinton this weekend, as she contemplates the presidential race. …

I still go with the conventional wisdom that Hillary will win. Once the race moves beyond Iowa and New Hampshire to bigger states, her strengths among minorities and women should come through. She has an overwhelming edge in endorsements and among the so-called “superdelegates” who will be attending the Philadelphia convention in July.

But it won’t be quick. “Nobody ever stops running for president, they just run out of money,” a former Democratic senator noted the other day. “And Bernie has enough money for a long time.”

The center-right French newspaper Le Figaro summed up the CNN Town Hall: “Sanders denies being radical, Hillary plays experience” (so sue me; it’s a Google translation.) On Sanders: Le Figaro warns of “the primary of the Southern states, where Sanders’ ideas could be considered too left.” On Clinton: “Hillary Clinton did well on stage, but it is clearly on the defensive.”

The liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz evaluated the two campaigns on (as you might expect) their policies toward Israel. This story seems to side with Clinton the experienced pragmatist, with the subhead, “In comparison with Clinton, who has many advisers, her Democratic rival Sanders has no foreign policy operation to speak of.”

The top Democrats may be running neck and neck in the early primary states, but when it comes to assembling a stable of advisers on the Middle East, Hillary Clinton is way ahead of her chief rival, Bernie Sanders.

The former secretary of state boasts a host of dedicated aides, consultants, and confidants advising her on foreign policy issues, and an impressive gallery of former top administration officials offering their views. Sanders, whose lack of interest in world affairs has been apparent throughout the campaign, has so far refrained from setting up any foreign policy team and has no close advisers working with him on the issue. …

The [Sanders] campaign’s top adviser, Tad Devine, is in charge of policy issues in general, including those relating to foreign policy and the Middle East. But Jewish and pro-Israel groups said they have had little contact with him or the campaign.

And from Al Jazeera America, still online:

Sanders reiterated a challenge to the status quo that has been one of the hallmarks of his career. Criticizing a campaign finance system that helps elect a government sensitive to the concerns of the rich donor class, he seemed to say that an incrementalist approach is not enough. “If we are serious about rebuilding the American middle class, if we are serious about providing paid family and medical leave to all of our people, if we are serious about ending the disgrace of having so many of our children live in poverty, the real way to do it is to have millions of Americans finally stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough,’ for people to get engaged in the political process, to finally demand that Washington represent all of us, not just a handful of very wealthy people,” he said. …

Grilled on her experience with issues of income inequality and her lack of traction with younger voters, she gave what seemed the longest answers of the night, the performance often drifting from stump speech to memoir. “You know look, I’ve been around a long time. People have thrown all kinds of things at me. And, you know, I can’t keep up with it. I just keep going forward,” she said. “They fall by the wayside. They come up with these outlandish things. They make these charges. I just keep going forward, because there’s nothing to it. They throw all this stuff at me, and I’m still standing.” …

For while the frequency of the Republican debates has caused the ratings to dip a bit over the months, the GOP events consistently outdraw the Democratic debates by millions of viewers. And if you are a fan of Sanders, O’Malley or Clinton or the Democrats’ platform this election cycle, you likely think this—and the DNC’s hide-and-seek debate strategy—is the first loss of 2016.

So there you have it. The whole world is watching. Iowans will trudge their way to schools, churches, community centers, and public libraries to cast caucus votes by literally voting with their feet and moving to different parts of a room—no secret ballots there—to show which candidate they back. And those votes aren’t even really official, as no elected Iowa delegates are bound by caucus votes. Huffington Post gives a thorough and entertaining description of the nuts and bolts of the caucus process.

Let’s just hope there’s not a snowstorm on Monday, as is predicted in Iowa for Tuesday. If that happens, we’ll be forced to endure countless stories about “Was the weather a factor in Iowa, and which candidate did it help—or hurt?” It’s IOWA, people. Folks who live there are used to driving in winter snow.

I will vote in my Illinois primary on March 15. Come November 8, I will gladly mark my electronic ballot with an “X” in front of the Democratic candidate’s name. I hope we all pledge to do the same.

Consider what might happen if we don’t.

This originally ran on Daily Kos on Jan. 31, 2016.

If Donald Trump can’t handle Megyn Kelly, how will he deal with ISIS?

The would-be narcissist-in-chief has struck again. And the vapid media have shown all too well how willing they are to play into his hands.

Real estate mogul and professional blowhard Donald Trump is throwing a hissy fit, saying he won’t attend the next scheduled Republican debate on Fox News just because he thinks one of the moderators hasn’t been “fair” to him. The GOP front-runner is once again displaying his thin skin. And for some reason, it’s national news. What should be national news is what a lightweight Trump is.

Actually, I take that back. That shouldn’t be national news, since there’s nothing new about it.

Several of the militia goons at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge were arrested, with one killed and one injured, in a face-off with law enforcement, and I tried in vain to find information on several cable channels, but all I could find were talking heads spewing how Trump wasn’t going to be at the debate. Did it help him or hurt him? Did it show strength?

I wanted to learn something about an actual news story about issues that much of the country cares about, especially people living in the West. Instead, it was Trump, Trump, and more Trump. Once again, he trumped real news — and the media all played along. He couldn’t risk being out of the spotlight, even for a day.

There was a lot of coverage of the CNN Town Hall with the three Democratic candidates — a Town Hall that, whoever your preferred candidate is, was filled with substance — and Trump knew he had to draw the attention back to himself.

I’m no fan of the fake news channel or Megyn Kelly. But Kelly asked Trump some tough questions at the first debate, so he’s decided to take his debate football and go home. Although Kelly often played the designated blonde on Fox & Friends, she also has a law degree and has an established following for her evening program.

But her tough questions were too much for the Trumpster. He (and his Trump Twitter-ites) attacked her on social media and on the air, even suggesting that it must have been her period and she was out of sorts. He’s called her a lightweight and much worse. What his supporters said on social media isn’t worth repeating.

So as the next debate approached, and Kelly was scheduled as one of the three moderators, Trump threatened to boycott. Fox News chief Roger Ailes didn’t back down.

“Megyn Kelly is an excellent journalist, and the entire network stands behind her,” Ailes said in a statement. “She will absolutely be on the debate stage on Thursday night.” (I wouldn’t agree with his assessment, but at least Ailes is standing by his people.)

Earlier, Trump had complained that Kelly didn’t treat him “fairly.” He put out a poll on Twitter for his Trumpeters to vote on whether he should participate. Fox had an epic comeback:

“We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president — a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings.”

The presidency of the United States is the hardest job in the world. Witness the graying and aging of each U.S. president over four or eight years. The president faces endless tasks of running the government, answering the public, battling his critics, and, above all, keeping the country safe.

The president doesn’t get to choose which issues to face — and which to ignore. There’s no backing down from terrorist threats, hostile foreign leaders, or hostile leaders in Congress. The president has to face huge (excuse me, YUUUUUGE) challenges about economic downturns, income inequality, climate change, unemployment, health care, immigration, voting rights, gun violence … you get the picture. You don’t get to hold a Twitter poll about ISIS or al Qaeda.

It’s a 24/7 job, not a television reality show.

Back in 2011, Kelly asked Trump, “Do you really think you’re a better moderator than I am?”

Trump answered, “No, I could never beat you. That wouldn’t even be close. That would be no contest. You have done a great job, by the way, and I mean it.”

Personally, I hope Fox displays an empty podium just so Kelly can ask a few questions and say, “Oh, that’s right. Mr. Trump decided he didn’t want to attend.” And that the other GOP contenders do the same. Why they haven’t opened up this line of attack is something I don’t understand.

 

 

The environmental consequences of cheap oil

 Lower-priced gas might help consumers' pocketbooks, but consider the ecological repercussions as buyers opt for bigger cars.


Lower-priced gas might help consumers’ pocketbooks, but consider the ecological repercussions as buyers opt for bigger cars.

The economic effects of plunging oil prices is a bad news/good news story. The bad news is that world stocks are taking a beating, especially those of energy companies, with crude oil selling for less than $30 a barrel. The good news is that gas is cheaper at the pump: The national average for a gallon of gas in the U.S. is below $2 a gallon for the first time since 2009, and USA Today quoted Wall Street analysts predicting gas heading toward $1 a gallon. People can afford to fill up the tank and hit the road.

But be careful what you wish for. Cheaper oil has environmental ramifications, too. It means fewer fuel-efficient vehicles on the road and less plastic recycling, as it’s less expensive to make products such as shopping bags from new plastic than it is to re-use recycled plastic.

After a long period of slow sales, sport utility vehicles and other gas hogs are selling big again. According to a story on TheDetroitBureau.com, vehicle sales are shifting from passenger cars to pickups, vans, and utility vehicles.  “We see a lot of growth. SUVs were 30 percent of the industry last year but could go to 40 percent” before the end of the decade, said the website, which covers the automotive industry and bills itself as “the voice of the automotive world.”

“With fuel prices as they are, consumers are voting for SUVs,” Ford Motor Company Executive Vice President Joseph R. Hinrichs said during an interview at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Hinrichs, with his title of “president of the Americas,” is in charge of all auto development and sales in North and South America. In fact, Ford is planning on introducing four new SUVs to its line over the next few years.

And Ford’s not the only one. “Key competitors, from General Motors to Volkswagen and Kia, are getting ready to expand their own SUV and CUV [crossover utility vehicle] lines to meet market expectations,” says the DetroitBureau story. “They’re encouraged to bring on more SUV models not only by strong sales in the U.S., but by growing sales in overseas markets, including both Europe and China.”

Haven’t we been here before? Didn’t SUV sales boom in the 1990s (and heavily contribute to global warming), only to droop during times of higher gas prices and economic recessions?

It’s auto show season nationwide. The biggie, the North American International Auto Show, has just wrapped up its two-week run in Detroit. Nearly 50 other big shows are scheduled coast to coast throughout the year, with 21 major ones planned by the end of February.

Given that SUVs and other big vehicles are so much less fuel efficient than their smaller counterparts, the automakers’ incentive to expand the SUV lines remains what it always has been—financial. “On average, utes command a higher price—and deliver stronger margins—than the more traditional passenger car models motorists might otherwise choose,” the DetroitBureau story says. Why sell a Ford Fusion for $22,000 when you can sell a Ford Expedition for $45,000? Why sell a Cadillac ATS Coupe for $38,000 when you can sell a Cadillac Escalade for $75,000?

To be sure, both big and small vehicles are more fuel efficient than they used to be, as President Obama reminded people when he visited Detroit and its auto show. The Obama administration set standards to double the fuel economy of passenger vehicles by 2025 and established the first-ever fuel economy standards for medium and heavy-duty trucks. The new standards are expected “to lower CO2 emissions by approximately 1 billion metric tons, cut fuel costs by about $170 billion, and reduce oil consumption by up to 1.8 billion barrels over the lifetime of the vehicles sold under the program,” according to figures from the National Traffic Safety Highway Administration. “These reductions are nearly equal to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy use by all U.S. residences in one year.”

The goal is to manufacture cars that get an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Even the 2016 goals were ambitious: The average fuel economy for cars had to improve from 27.5 mpg, where it has been since 1990, to 35.5 mpg by 2016. When the 2016 standards were announced, a report in Car and Driver described them this way: “A mandate of 35.5 mpg by 2016 is like fighting obesity by outlawing large clothing.”

Did the auto industry deliver? Not quite yet, but it’s getting there. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute issues monthly sales-weighted Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) performance numbers, and the latest figures show a definite upward trend in fuel efficiency, from 25.5 mpg in 2007 to 31.0 mpg at the end of 2015.

But that’s an average, meaning that small cars are doing the heavy lifting in the fuel efficiency department. A non-hybrid Ford Fusion gets a combined city-highway average of 26 mpg; a Ford Expedition gets 17 mpg. (A hybrid Ford Fusion gets 44 mpg.) A four-cylinder Cadillac ATS Coupe gets 26 combined mpg; a Cadillac Escalade, 17 mpg.

DetroitBureau.com offers some words of warning:

The surge in SUV sales isn’t entirely a positive development for the industry. It does raise challenges for an industry struggling to adapt to tougher emissions and fuel economy regulations. That could force makers to either hold down sales artificially or adopt more expensive powertrain technologies, such as plug-in hybrid and pure battery-electric systems, insiders warn.One of the risks is that these technologies won’t deliver the sort of driving dynamics and features buyers expect in a utility vehicle. Meanwhile, the higher costs of those technologies could turn off potential customers, dragging down sales.

So kudos to the U.S. auto industry for bouncing back from near oblivion, with U.S. auto sales at an all-time high of 17.4 million in 2015. Kudos to American autoworkers for being back at work—there are 640,000 more people working in the industry today than there were in 2009. Kudos to the Obama administration for rescuing the auto industry with an economic bailout (sorry, GOP, the $79.7 billion in loans have been repaid) and for upping fuel economy standards. Let’s just remember the environmental cost.

The auto show in Detroit also is a big economic boon for the city—several hundred thousand people come to the Motor City to see the latest models, spending money at Detroit’s restaurants, hotels, and other businesses. “Last year, more than 808,775 people attended the show over the nine days that it’s open to the public, the most in 12 years,” reported the Detroit Free Press. Attendance at this year’s show portends to be even bigger.

Meanwhile, what of sales of more fuel-efficient cars, including hybrids and electric vehicles? A mid-2015 report from the Detroit News reported that sales were tumbling. “Despite hefty discounts, low gas prices and aging EV [electronic vehicle] models are helping to drag down sales of fuel-sipping, plug-in electric hybrids and full-electric cars. They are also being hurt by a consumer shift away from cars toward crossover and sport utility vehicles.”

According to 2015 sales figures from Automotive News, sales of regular (meaning smaller) cars dipped 2.3 percent from 2014 figures. Sales of pickups, SUVs and vans were up by 7.7 percent. And sales of crossover vehicles, built on a car platform but with SUV features, jumped by 18 percent.

It’s not just an American phenomenon. An editorial in the Guardian reports on British car-buying habits.

Cheap oil encourages waste; worse, it discourages investment in a more efficient “energy infrastructure.” Renewables, as well as upgrades to clean up fossil fuel power stations, yield less return. Drivers feel less pressed to trade in their SUV for a G-Wiz [a small micro-electric car], and car manufacturers are less inclined to concentrate R&D on fuel economy.

Here’s another downside to cheap oil—the effect on recycling plastic bags. Let’s (hopefully!) assume many of you carry reusable bags on trips to the grocery store or local farmers’ markets. But it’s inevitable to end up with plastic bags from many retailers, even though some municipalities are trying to ban them or at least cut down on their use.

So unless you use plastic bags to pick up after your dog, you bundle them up and drop them off at a local grocery with a large container that accepts bags for recycling. Problem solved, right?

Except that those bags don’t always end up being recycled. About half of them end up in landfills, according to a representative of Sims Recycling Solutions, a global leader in recycling electronics as well as plastic bags. It’s cheaper for plastics companies to simply make new bags than to use recycled material.

During a recent interview with NPR, Tom Outerbridge, who runs a Sims Recycling plant in Brooklyn, New York, said the ever-lower price of oil was making it harder and harder for recyclers to find buyers for plastic bags. This is from an interview with Stacey Vanek Smith from NPR’s Planet Money team:

SMITH: It costs about as much to clean and sort a plastic bag as it does a detergent bottle, but you get way less plastic from the bag.

OUTERBRIDGE: This is really the bottom of the barrel in terms of the plastics market. The value of it is relatively low, which means we can’t afford to put a lot of time and money into trying to recycle it.

SMITH: And so then what happens to the plastic bags if you can’t sell them?

OUTERBRIDGE: We will certainly—you can get to the point where these are going to the landfill.

There are upsides to cheap oil, which discourages investment in more expensive and often dirtier methods of fossil fuel extraction. Many companies, such as BP, are cutting operations in deep-water oil drilling. Shale oil producers also are hurting, according to Reuters. “Across oil fields from Texas to North Dakota, fears are growing that crude’s plunge below $30 a barrel is more than just another market milestone and marks a countdown to an endgame for many shale producers that so far have braved the 18-month downturn.”

And growth in renewable energy is still skyrocketing, as wind and solar power are used more for electricity than for transportation. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that renewable energy as a whole will grow by 9.5 percent in 2016. That growth should continue, as Congress passed an extension and modification of federal tax credits for new wind and solar generators through 2019 and beyond. “Wind capacity, which starts from a significantly larger installed capacity base than solar, grew by 13 percent in 2015, and it is forecast to increase by 14 percent in 2016,” the EIA says.

In what could be an ironic twist, the Guardian editorial saw a roundabout environmental benefit to cheap oil, one that needs to be undertaken by world leaders. “Bargain-basement energy should also be the spur for far-sighted politicians to act on carbon pricing and other regulations and taxes that can’t be done when prices are high. In Paris last month, world leaders wrote post-dated cheques to the planet. Cheap oil is the opportunity to make a down payment.”

Originally ran on Daily Kos, Jan. 24, 2015.

Donald Trump is a wazzock and other British insults

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In response to an online petition from nearly 600,000 Britons to ban a certain loud-mouthed U.S. presidential candidate from their shores, the British House of Commons held a “debate” on the subject of keeping out Donald Trump.

Of course, it wasn’t a real debate, because only the British Home Secretary, not Parliament, has the actual power to ban an individual from entering the U.K. But after Trump suggested that he would ban Muslims from entering the United States, many of the good people of Great Britain decided it might be best to ban him.

Members of Parliament held a three-hour debate in Westminster Hall to discuss the petition. The ultimate conclusion was not to ban the American real estate mogul, but the MPs didn’t hold back on their insults. The following are some of the more colorful — and decidedly British — terms used in the debate as reported by the Washington Post.

“If Trump were to pop into one of the many ‘excellent’ pubs in her constituency, the Conservative member Victoria Atkins said he would likely be called a ‘wazzock’ — British slang for an annoying person. (The Guardian explains that ‘wazzock’ is a mild insult that can be ‘used on telly without frightening your gran.’ ”

“Demagogue, idiot, fool, and buffoon” were terms used to describe Trump throughout the three-hour session, which was replayed on C-SPAN on U.S. television.

“I have tried to find different, perhaps more parliamentary adjectives to describe him but none was clear enough. He is an idiot,” said Gavin Newlands, a Scottish National Party politician.

Another Scottish National Party politician weighed in. Anne McLaughlin noted that Trump is “the son of a Scottish immigrant. And I apologize for that.”

Some members were afraid Trump would just benefit from the attention. Marcus Fysh, a Conservative politician, said banning Trump would be counterproductive and that Trump was “the orange prince of American self-publicity.”

Naz Shah, a Muslim MP from Bradford in northern England, has a constituency with many Muslims and offered a hand of friendship. “Instead of banning Trump,” the Post story said, “Shah proposed that the real estate mogul pay her a visit. The member of the opposition Labour Party promised she would show him around ‘the curry capital of Britain,’ take him to a local mosque, and try to disabuse him of any misconceptions about life in the U.K.”

Good luck on that one, MP Shah.

“No one spoke to defend Trump — and everyone took turns condemning him,” the Post story said. “But for many, the logic came down to this: Trump may strike them as despicable, but it would be playing into his hands, and could even help his U.S. prospects, to bar him from the country. The better option, they suggested, was to prove to him that he had it all wrong.” Instead, as one MP said, they decided to meet him with the “classic British response of ridicule.”

You can watch the debate here.

America’s long, sad history of school shootings

 Emergency personnel assist survivors of the nation's first mass shooting of schoolchildren.


Emergency personnel assist survivors of the nation’s first mass shooting of schoolchildren.

When we think of school killings, we usually think of recent events, like the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children (mostly first- and second-graders) and six adults. Or the 1999 shootings in Littleton, Colo., where students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold terrorized their classmates and teachers at Columbine High School, killing 13 and wounding 20. The many killings on or near college campuses, from the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 that killed 32 and wounded 17, to the attack near the University of California at Santa Barbara in 2014 that killed six and injured 14, to the shootings at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., in 2015 that killed nine and hurt nine more. The list goes on and on.

The sad fact is that the United States, awash with guns throughout its existence, has a troubled history of school killings—by far more than any other country. The motivations behind modern shootings can be murky, and the lack of action on how to stop them remains frustrating.

The vast majority of shooters (although not all) were white and male. Most acted alone, and by the second half of the 20th century, these shooters carried at least two weapons. About half of the shooters were students. Many incidents early in the country’s history involved one or two victims, often settling a personal grievance. Modern shootings, especially after weaponry grew more sophisticated, were more likely to claim multiple lives, although the mass shootings described as “rampage” shootings still remain rare. A mass shooting is defined as one in which four or more people are killed.

According to research conducted by the Academy for Critical Incident Analysis at John Jay College of Criminal Justice about school shootings and reported in a blog called The Media Transformation, 85 percent of shooters had a history of being bullied. It’s also possible that many perpetrators had some form of mental illness. The motives for some killers may never be known, as more than 70 percent of the shooters kill themselves shortly afterward.

Jan. 17 was the 27th anniversary of the Cleveland Elementary School massacre in Stockton, Calif., which was the first mass shooting of schoolchildren in U.S. history. It became the impetus for important state and federal legislation to curb gun violence, plus a presidential executive order against assault weapons. Five children were killed, and 29 children and one teacher were injured. All of the fatally shot victims and most of the wounded were Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants. All but one of those killed were offspring of Cambodian refugees who had survived the Khmer Rouge. Some 71 percent of the school’s population was made up of war refugees. And the shooter had a special hatred of Asians, whom he believed were taking American jobs.

Patrick Edward Purdy had a troubled childhood that included drug and alcohol addiction, stints in foster care, and homelessness. He also had a long criminal record: He spent time in prison for armed robbery, illegal weapons sales, and several drug crimes. While in prison, he apparently became a devotee of white supremacy. During one of his many arrests, he was carrying a book about the Aryan Nation and told the county sheriff that it was “his duty to help the suppressed and overthrow the oppressor.”

On the morning of Jan. 17, 1989, Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton received a phone call with an anonymous death threat. At about noon, Purdy drove to the school and parked his van, which was filled with fireworks, behind the school. He then set it on fire with a Molotov cocktail.

The children were playing outside during their lunch break. Purdy started shooting randomly into the playground from behind a portable building. In three minutes, Purdy fired 106 rounds from an AK-47, killing the five children and wounding the others. He then shot himself in the head with a pistol.

Purdy wore a flak jacket that bore the words “PLO,” “Libya,” and “death to the Great Satin” [sic]. Purdy also had carved the words “freedom,” “victory,” “Earthman,” and “Hezbollah” on his rifle. After the shooting, his co-workers said he had a special hatred for Asians, claiming that they had taken jobs from “native-born Americans.”

Purdy had attended Cleveland Elementary School 16 years earlier.

The five children who lost their lives at Cleveland Elementary School on January 17, 1989, were Oeun Lim, Ram Chum,

The victims of the Stockton playground shooting.

The victims of the Stockton playground shooting.

Rathanan Or, Thuy Tran, and Sokhim An. They ranged from 6 to 9 years old.

The horrific shooting became national news. “Why could Purdy, an alcoholic who had been arrested for such offenses as selling weapons and attempted robbery, walk into a gun shop in Sandy, Oregon, and leave with an AK-47 under his arm?” Time magazine asked at the time, according to Cleveland School Remembers, a private organization run by survivors of the shooting that now works against gun violence. Although Purdy had a criminal record, he hadn’t been convicted of a crime that prevented him from buying a gun. Nor had he been diagnosed as mentally ill.

The Stockton shooting became the incentive to pass a state ban on assault weapons in 1989 in California and a federal ban on assault weapons in 1994. It also motivated President George H.W. Bush to sign an executive order in July 1989 banning the importation of foreign-made semi-automatic assault rifles in an effort to limit their availability in U.S. markets.

Imagine that! An executive order banning assault rifles by a Republican president! The guy was obviously a dictator.

That 1994 assault weapons ban was in effect for 10 years but expired in 2004 when Congress failed to extend it. A 2004 Justice Department study found that “the use of assault weapons in crime declined by more than two-thirds by about nine years after 1994 Assault Weapons Ban took effect,” although the study said the full results were mixed.

We all know what happened after that—assault weapons sales skyrocketed. The AR-15, the weapon used at Sandy Hook, has been described by The New York Times as “the most wanted gun in America.” In some cases, demand for assault weapons has outpaced production.

There’s no way to reach an accurate account of school shootings over the history of the country. Wikipedia, using multiple sources of historical newspaper reports and research studies, estimates that there have been more than 370 school shootings in the United States during its history. Its list excludes incidents during wars or police actions, and murder-suicides by rejected suitors or estranged spouses. Most of the shootings resulted in at least one death or injury.Screen-Shot-2012-12-16-at-10.09.57-AM1

Other compilations give different totals. The Academy for Critical Incident Analysis at John Jay College of Criminal Justice reports 294 attempted or actual school killings with at least two victims over 250 years in the U.S. and 37 other countries.

Those researchers also compiled figures of recent mass school shootings in 36 countries and found that the U.S., with 10 percent of the combined population of the other countries, had nearly as many killings as the rest of the countries combined. In a nation of 319 million people with an estimated 300 million guns, it’s not surprising that the U.S. far surpassed every other country with its number of school shootings.

The first mass U.S. school shooting was at a college campus on August 1, 1966, when a sniper in a bell tower at the University of Texas at Austin killed 16 people and wounded 32 others in a 96-minute shooting spree. The shooter was Charles Whitman, an engineering student at the University of Texas and a former Marine who had won sharpshooting medals. Whitman fired randomly at targets from the 28th-floor observation deck of the bell tower. He was armed with two rifles, a sawed-off shotgun, a pistol, a revolver, and 700 rounds of ammunition in a footlocker. Whitman, who had a history of mental health issues but was also bitter about his Marine service after he was court-martialed for gambling, was finally shot and killed by an Austin police officer. Many historians suggest that the random killing from high above on a university campus in what was essentially the country’s first mass shooting in a public area ended Americans’ feelings of safety in public places.

Since the Sandy Hook shooting, sources have quibbled over the exact number of school shootings and what actually defines such an incident. Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group dedicated to “understanding and reducing gun violence in America,” keeps track of school shooting numbers and puts the current total at 160 school shootings since 2013, or an average of one per week. On the low end is the Washington Post, which argues that some of those cases, such as suicides or accidents, shouldn’t be included, and puts the figure much lower — 35 cases similar to Sandy Hook (as if that’s not 35 cases too many of dead children or teens).

There have been school killings in other countries, too. For instance, in 2011, a 23-year-old former student returned to his elementary school in Rio de Janeiro and started firing, killing 12 children and seriously wounding more than a dozen others, before shooting himself in the head—the worst school shooting Brazil has ever experienced. Also not included in the totals are terrorist attacks or attacks during war that took place at a school, or in which children were killed. But nothing matches the pace set by shooters in the U.S.

While there are statistics, a cursory search doesn’t turn up much research into the causes of school shootings per se. Those who favor gun rights and those seeking legislation against gun violence have both been accused of cherry-picking facts to suit their causes.

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One thorough study is by Katherine Newman, a nationally recognized sociologist who has taught at Columbia, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Princeton universities and is now provost of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She has written books on school violence and led a research team in a two-year study of rampage school shootings.

That study was published as Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings in 2004 (more about the book here). She explained her study in layman’s terms in a CNN opinion piece published shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting, first noting that “small towns like Newtown are where 60 percent of rampage school shootings in the United States occur.”

We spent several months in Kentucky and Arkansas, in two towns that had been the scenes of shootings in the late 1990s. We interviewed the shooters’ neighbors, friends, instructors, coaches, and Sunday school teachers. We talked to people who had observed the shooters in jail cells right after the shootings, and years later in prison. We combed the records of every shooting of this kind in the U.S. from the 1970s onward, looking for patterns. And while each tragedy has its own anatomy, a picture emerged that makes sociological sense and probably has some bearing on the Newtown case.

Rampage shootings are never spontaneous. They are planned, often for months in advance. We don’t know yet whether the Newtown shooter, Adam Lanza, gave any warnings, but in the episodes we studied, shooters commonly told their peers — often in a veiled and ambiguous fashion — what they had in mind.

One reason shooters tip their hands is that they are trying to solve a problem. Though they are often intelligent, high-performing boys, their peers tend to see them as unattractive losers, weak and unmanly. In a school culture that values sports prowess over academic accomplishment, they face rejection. The shooters are rarely loners, but tend instead to be failed joiners, and their daily social experience is full of friction. Since they are almost always mentally or emotionally ill, those rejections — so common in adolescence — take on greater importance and become a fixation. Rebuffed after trying to join friendship groups, they look for ways to gain attention, to reverse their damaged identities.

The shooting is the last act in a long drama: a search for acceptance and recognition. The earlier acts fail miserably. But once a shooter starts to talk about killing people, ostracism can turn to inclusion.

Newman says gun safety laws or “anything that thwarts the efforts … to get their hands on guns will make it harder to perpetrate a massacre and will deter the ambivalent.” She adds, however, that gun safety laws are not enough, that “a determined person will find a way … That is why gun control is a necessary but not sufficient step.”

Although we will not be able to stop all of these tragedies, we can cut down on their number by ensuring that adults make themselves available to kids in completely confidential settings, reassuring them of their privacy when they take that risky step to come forward. … In the end, though, there will be troubled boys, and some of them will become killers. To the extent that we can capture the warning signals they send out to their peers, we can do our best to stop them in their tracks, even if we do not always succeed.

In his last year in office, President Obama has decided to take some limited executive actions against gun violence. Specifically, he is ordering universal background checks in gun sales, including those at gun shows; he is seeking increased funding for mental health care, and making sure the background check system includes information about mental health care; and he is ordering the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research about gun safety technology.

These actions should be no-brainers. Many of these proposals have been endorsed in past years by members of both parties and the National Rifle Association, and are backed by a two-thirds of Americans, including a majority of Republicans and gun owners, according to a CNN survey taken after Obama announced his actions. But the false Republican and NRA meme now continues to be nothing but “Obama will take your guns,” just as it has been throughout his two terms.

Obama has called the Sandy Hook shooting “the worst day of my presidency.” The Sunday after the shooting, before speaking to a group in Newtown, he spent time with the families of the victims, comforting parents and playing with siblings too young to understand. The President’s Devotional: The Daily Readings That Inspired President Obama, by Joshua DuBois, gives an account of those meetings. DuBois accompanied Obama to Newtown in his role as White House spiritual adviser.

… The president took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget.

Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son. … Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away — many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all — the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

And then the entire scene would repeat — for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss. After each classroom, we would go back into those fluorescent hallways and walk through the names of the coming families, and then the president would dive back in, like a soldier returning to a tour of duty in a worthy but wearing war. We spent what felt like a lifetime in those classrooms, and every single person received the same tender treatment. The same hugs. The same looks, directly in their eyes …

Most of us will never understand how deep within himself Obama had to reach to comfort those grieving families. It’s no wonder that speaking of those killings causes him to tear up. On a televised CNN town hall meeting days after announcing his executive actions, Obama shared that the meetings in Newtown were the only time he had ever seen Secret Service agents cry.

Only a heartless bastard would dare to question whether Obama’s reaction was real. And speaking of heartless bastards, the crew at Fox News reached a new low (as if that were possible) when some suggested that his tears weren’t real, or that he must have had a raw onion at the podium to produce tears.

Wrote New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff: “President Obama shed tears on Tuesday as he called for new gun safety measures, and some critics perceived weakness or wimpishness. Really? On the contrary, we should all be in tears.”

Originally posted to DailyKos on Jan. 17, 2016.

Diplomacy wins again in battle vs. guns: Iran edition

U.S. Secretary of StateJohn Kerry with his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Three international examples about Iran show us the power of words over weapons.

Two U.S. Navy boats in the Persian Gulf drifted into Iranian waters near Iran’s Farsi Island after sailors made what U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter called “navigational errors.” One of the boats was having engine trouble, making it unable to leave when the boats were approached by Iranian boats. The 10 sailors on board were picked up by the Iranians and shown on camera. The GOP went apoplectic, claiming that the Iranian action showed how “weak” President Obama is.

Of course, the fact that relations between the two countries have thawed because of the Iran nuclear deal made it easier for Secretary of State John Kerry to call Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and work out the details of a release. The sailors were out in less than a day, and the boats — intact — were headed back to a Naval base in San Diego.

The sailors’ release didn’t stop presidential hopefuls at the Republican presidential debate a day after the release from criticizing Obama for letting the incident happen, even though the U.S. sailors’ mistake was what caused them to drift into Iranian waters. Republicans reiterated demands that the U.S. abandon the Iranian nuclear pact.

The candidates looked pretty foolish demanding the sailors’ release after the fact. Of course, that’s what happens when you only “get your news from Fox & Friends,” as former Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush claimed at the debate.

There was more good news with the release of five Americans being held by Iran. In a prisoner swap, four prisoners, including Washington Post reporter Jason Razaian, were released in exchange for seven Iranians being held by the U.S. on sanctions charges. A fifth U.S. prisoner also was released.

The prisoner exchange was arranged after 14 months of secret diplomatic talks between the two countries. Those talks started during the long negotiations about the Iran nuclear deal. Many Republicans tried to demand that the U.S. prisoners be released before agreement on any nuclear pact. It’s a good thing that those in charge didn’t listen to them.

That’s what diplomacy is for, especially when talks are being held in secret. Threats of force, such as those coming from presidential hopefuls and Republican members of Congress, only make the situation worse. While Republicans were bashing the administration for inaction, Obama and his team were quietly making progress.

After all of the hard work from all of the parties working on the Iran nuclear deal, both the U.S. and Iran know incidents like these are best handled diplomatically. “Higher up in the halls of power, there were signs that both Tehran and Washington wanted to tamp down the situation,” according to an analysis by NBC News. “That was partly to avoid an international incident, all-out war, and protect a deal with benefits for both sides.

“The Obama administration considers the nuclear deal a significant accomplishment and doesn’t want anything to undermine it,” the analysis continues. “The Iranian government, meanwhile, wants to make sure it gets the billions of dollars in sanctions relief from a finalized nuclear deal.”

Neither of these positive outcomes would have been possible without the Iran nuclear agreement. “This prisoner release personifies the persistence and wisdom of the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts,” writes Reza Marashi, research director of the National Iranian American Council, in a piece at Huffington Post. “It simply could not have happened without dialogue between the U.S. and Iran.”

Now we have the ultimate diplomatic success. Iran and the countries involved in the nuclear pact have announced that the pact is certified and Iran has met the conditions of dismantling its nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency has released its report assessing Iran’s compliance with an agreement with foreign powers, including the United States and the European Union. “Doing so would herald ‘Implementation Day,’ the formal name for the start of the next phase in the agreement called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” according to a CNN story. “The new ‘Day’ will mean the first wave of economic relief for Iran.” And it’s now the real deal. Obama signed an executive order lifting sanctions against Iran.

Americans need to ask themselves: Which side do you want representing you? Those willing to negotiate multiple deals that further the cause of peace with diplomacy, or those quick to jump on the war wagon?

 

Oregon militia aren’t funny anymore. Time for authorities to step it up

Ammon Bundy poses for the cameras to tear down a barbed-wire fence separating federal and private land.

Ammon Bundy poses for the cameras to tear down a barbed wire fence separating federal and private land.

With their latest actions, Ammon Bundy and his gang of armed yahoos have jumped the shark from being objects of derision with their requests for snacks, tampons, and French vanilla creamer to being even more dangerous vandals and thugs.

Now in the second week of their occupation of a federal building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon, Bundy and his ill-prepared crew are using government equipment to destroy government property. They used a federally owned excavator to tear down as much as 80 feet of barbed wire fencing, supposedly to let cattle from private lands graze on public lands — for free. They’ve been driving government vehicles, using kitchens and beds in the Malheur buildings, rifling through government files, and probably accessing government computers with employee ID badges that were left at the site (they’ve denied this, but they have little credibility left).

It’s time that local authorities, the FBI, and the Justice Dept. stopped looking at them as “Y’all Qaeda” and started treating them for what really are — a right-wing, armed, and dangerous occupying force that is openly mocking the authorities’ failure to act. After all, Cliven Bundy, father of three Bundy brothers at Malheur and the deadbeat Nevada rancher who refused to pay $1 million in grazing fees, got away with it with no repercussions. Why should his sons think anything will happen to them?

The publicity-hungry Bundys have given tours of their living quarters at Malheur and held numerous news conferences throughout the standoff. In their latest, they described to reporters how they were looking through government documents to “expose” how the government has discriminated against local ranchers who use federal land for cattle grazing, according to a report from the Chicago Tribune. The Bundy Bunch claim that they are finding evidence that will “exonerate” Steven and Dwight Hammond, two area ranchers convicted of arson currently serving a five-year sentence for burning 139 acres of federal land.

The Bundys are conveniently not mentioning the fact that the Hammonds were convicted by a jury of their peers, not the federal government. What would happen to other groups who blatantly and illegally went through government records? Would they be left alone — or would they be in jail right now?

Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward, who has tried to reach a peaceful settlement with the Bundy Bunch, has been holding regular community meetings with local residents to answer questions and to try to find some resolution without bloodshed. But that may be less likely at this point.

At the meeting the same day as the latest Bundy action, Ward described how “members of the armed group have been harassing law enforcement officers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees as they go about their business in the community,” according to the Tribune story. Ward said that “officers and employees have reported being followed to their homes and observed while inside and that self-identified ‘militia members’ have tried to engage them in debates about their status as federal employees.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which usually runs the Malheur site, said the latest Bundy Bunch action “undermines hard-earned conservation impacts achieved in the area,” according to the Tribune story.

“Removing fences, damaging any Refuge property, or unauthorized use of equipment would be additional unlawful actions by the illegal occupiers,” Fish and Wildlife said in a statement. “Any movement of cattle onto the Refuge or other activities that are not specifically authorized by USFWS constitutes trespassing.”

According to many media reports, including this one in the Guardian, the little local support the Bundy Bunch had is waning.

“Local ranchers — some who have said they support Bundy’s message but disapprove of his methods of protest — criticized the militia for cutting the fence on Monday afternoon. ‘There are better ways to go about it then what he’s doing,’ Travis Williams, a 46-year-old Harney County rancher, told the Guardian. ‘It’s destroying public property. … I’m a law-abiding citizen. I pay my grazing fees.’ ”

No one wants the standoff in Oregon to escalate into a bloody shooting match, and federal officials are no doubt frustrated and wary of taking on a group of a dozen or so heavily armed men. But Sheriff Ward seems to be fed up. Federal officials should be, too.

“There’s an hour glass,” Ward told the community meeting, “and it’s running out.”

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Best way to handle Oregon Y’all Qaeda “militia”? Laugh — and starve ’em out

A still from a "suicide" video by Jon Ritzheimer, who is part of the Bundy bunch.

A still from a “suicide” video by Jon Ritzheimer, who is part of the Bundy bunch.

First, let’s get something straight — heavily armed publicity hounds taking over a deserted government building to fight government “tyranny” and threatening to kill “government agents” aren’t patriots. They’re traitors to their country. That said, the yahoos that took over a closed wildlife refuge center near Burns, Ore., are providing more comic relief than $arah Palin announcing that she might run for senator from Alaska. Let’s call them the Bundy bunch.

To recap: Two men from a ranching family in southeastern Oregon were convicted of arson for setting two fires in 2001 and 2006 that burned 139 acres of federal land. The defendants, Dwight Hammond Jr., 73, and his 46-year-old son, Steven Hammond, claimed that they had received permission to start the fires, but prosecutors argued that the Hammonds were just trying to cover up an illegal deer hunt. The jury didn’t buy the Hammonds’ story. They were convicted and sentenced to short prison sentences, which they served. But an anti-terrorism law passed in the 1990s after the Oklahoma City bombing requires a minimum five-year sentence for such a crime, and a judge ruled that they had to serve the full five years.

Enter the “professional militia” class, led by offspring of Cliven Bundy, the infamous Nevada rancher who became such a right-wing cause célèbre until he opened his racist mouth on national TV. The Bundy sons and some of their heavily armed compatriots attended what aimed to be a peaceful protest about the Hammonds’ new sentences.

The Oregon neighbors started to get nervous. “I am scared to death,” one woman told local media, unsure of the “militia’s” intent.

Sure enough, the Bundys and their ilk took matters into their heavily armed hands and invaded the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in rural Oregon, which was closed for the weekend. Local schools decided to shut down all week, as officials are concerned about student safety in the face of so much weaponry. Local police and sheriff’s officials are laying low for now, working with the FBI to attempt to find a peaceful end to the occupation.

The Bundy bunch are being mocked severely (and deservedly so) on social media for their unwanted actions.

“They might call themselves defenders of ‘the people,’ ” says an article on Mashable. “But to most of Twitter, they’re ‘Y’all Qaeda,’ ‘Vanilla ISIS,’ ‘Yee Hawdists,’ ‘Yokel Haram,’ ‘Talibundy’ and ‘Meal Team Six’ — all plays on real-life jihadist terminology.”

One “militia” member went so far as to make his own (pitiful) “suicide” video, telling his family that he couldn’t spend the holidays with them and that he was ready to die for his “cause.” Jon Ritzheimer, who has led several anti-Islam rallies, tearfully told his family, “I love you, and no matter what happens … just know I stood for something, don’t let it be in vain.” One tweet suggested that perhaps this “militiaman” would be met by “76 cousins” upon his death. It goes without saying that if these heavily armed protesters were anything but white (i.e., black or Muslim), it’s doubtful they would still be alive.

The Hammonds, by the way, announced that they intended to serve the rest of their sentence. “Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond family,” the Hammonds’ attorney, W. Alan Schroeder, wrote to Harney County Sheriff David Ward, according to a story on CNN.

“I don’t like the militia’s methods,” local resident Monica McCannon told TV station KTVZ, according to the CNN story. “They had their rally. Now it’s time for them to go home. People are afraid of them.”

“You people are clowns!” yelled a former Bundy supporter, Jorge Calzadilla, at the Bundy bunch occupiers, according to a story on Huffington Post. “They’re dressing up, being all stealthy, what kind of signal does that send? People see that and think these guys are whackos.”

The Bundys claim that their actions are justified by a curious interpretation of Mormonism. Yet the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement against the occupation. LDS church leaders said they “strongly condemn the armed seizure of the facility and are deeply troubled by the reports that those who have seized the facility suggest that they are doing so based on scriptural principles,” according to the statement.

Even the Oath Keepers, a loosely organized anti-government militia group, spoke out against the Bundy bunch occupation. A video by Oath Keeper President and founder Stewart Rhodes, criticized the action, saying it was done by a bunch of out-of-state “potheads.” An Oath Keeper spokesman later said what Rhodes really said was “hot heads.”

The Bundy bunch remain vague about their demands and are playing coy about the number of occupiers. Ammon Bundy originally claimed there were 150, but reporters who have seen the group say it’s closer to a handful. They are now demanding that President Obama commute the Hammonds’ five-year sentences. Oh, and could people please send them snacks? They’re apparently running low on food.

The standoff remains, as the Bundy bunch have vowed to occupy the building for “years, if necessary.”

Here are some actions government officials could take, if possible: Cut off electricity and water to the occupied building. Jam Wi-Fi, so the occupiers can’t get their message out. Block the roads, so no other supporters (if there are any) can join them or bring them supplies. National media should NOT be acting like a Bundy bunch mouthpiece.

And by all means, keep mocking them.

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