Before President Obama’s State of the Union address this evening, please take a moment to watch this short video on one of the country’s most urgent issues: gun violence.
Before President Obama’s State of the Union address this evening, please take a moment to watch this short video on one of the country’s most urgent issues: gun violence.
The new year is nearly upon us—what to expect is anyone’s guess, but what we should strive for is increasingly clear. Broadly, we need more equality, greater justice and a more peaceful, sustainable world. Here is an excellent outline of some of the specifics, courtesy of Senator Bernie Sanders from neighboring Vermont.
I want to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very happy new year. I also want to express my gratitude to you for the political support that you have given to me, and for all of your efforts in trying to move our country and the world in the direction of peace, justice and environmental sanity.
As we survey our country at the end of 2013 I don’t have to tell you that the problems facing us are monumental, that the Congress is dysfunctional and that more and more people (especially the young) are, understandably, giving up on the political process. The people are hurting. They look to Washington for help. Nothing is happening.
Clearly, if we are going to save the middle class and protect our planet, we need to change the political dynamics of the nation. We can no longer allow the billionaires and their think tanks or the corporate media to set the agenda. We need to educate, organize and mobilize the working families of our country to stand up for their rights. We need to make government work for all the people, not just the 1 percent.
Before we talk about 2014, let me ask you a favor. Do you know of friends, family or co-workers who might be interested in receiving our email newsletters and updates? If you do, please forward this email and encourage them to sign-up for occasional updates. They can sign-up for our emails by clicking here.
When Congress reconvenes for the 2014 session, here are a few of the issues that I will be focusing on.
WEALTH AND INCOME INEQUALITY: A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much while so many have so little. It is simply not acceptable that the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of the financial wealth of the nation, while the bottom 60 percent owns all of 2.3 percent. We need to establish a progressive tax system which asks the wealthy to start paying their fair share of taxes, and which ends the outrageous loopholes that enable one out of four corporations to pay nothing in federal income taxes.
JOBS: We need to make significant investments in our crumbling infrastructure, in energy efficiency and sustainable energy, in early childhood education and in affordable housing. When we do that, we not only improve the quality of life in our country and combat global warming, we also create millions of decent paying new jobs.
WAGES: We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We should pass the legislation which will soon be on the Senate floor which increases the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, but we must raise that minimum wage even higher in the coming years. We also need to expand our efforts at worker-ownership. Employees will not be sending their jobs to China or Vietnam when they own the places in which they work.
RETIREMENT SECURITY: At a time when only one in five workers in the private sector has a defined benefit pension plan; half of Americans have less than $10,000 in savings; and two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for more than half of their income we must expand Social Security and make sure that every American can retire with dignity.
WALL STREET: During the financial crisis, huge Wall Street banks received more than $700 billion in financial aid from the Treasury Department and more than $16 trillion from the Federal Reserve because they were “too big to fail.” Yet today, the largest banks in this country are much bigger than they were before taxpayers bailed them out. It is time to break up these behemoths before they cause another global economic collapse.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM: We are not living in a real democracy when large corporations and a handful of billionaire families can spend unlimited sums of money to elect or defeat candidates. We must expand our efforts to overturn the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision and move this country to public funding of elections.
SOCIAL JUSTICE: While we have made progress in recent years in expanding the rights of minorities, women and gays, these advances are under constant attack from the right wing. If the United States is to become the non-discriminatory society we want it to be, we must fight to protect the rights of all Americans.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: Frankly, the National Security Agency (NSA) and some of the other intelligence agencies are out of control. We cannot talk about America as a “free country” when the government is collecting information on virtually every phone call we make, when they are intercepting our emails and monitoring the websites we visit. Clearly, we need to protect this country from terrorism, but we must do it in a way that does not undermine our constitutional rights.
WAR AND PEACE: With a large deficit and an enormous amount of unmet needs, it is absurd that the United States continues to spend almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. The U.S. must be a leader in the world in nuclear disarmament and efforts toward peace, not in the sale of weapons of destruction.
Let me conclude by once again wishing you a happy and healthy new year — and by asking you to share this email with friends, family and co-workers. They can sign-up for our occasional emails by clicking here.
This is a tough and historical moment in American history. Despair is not an option. Let us stand together as brothers and sisters and fight for the America our people deserve.
Thank you for your continued support.
Senator Bernie Sanders
To the Senator’s worthy agenda, I would only add this:
GUN VIOLENCE: It’s time we treated gun violence as the public health menace it is. That means real legislative reform and much tougher regulation. This is one of the most, if not the most, politically difficult fights that rational Americans face today, but it is increasingly urgent.
Here’s to a better world in 2014. Happy New Year, everyone.
As I wrote earlier today, it has been one year since the atrocity at Newtown. Since then, some 1,000 people have lost their lives to guns in America every month. It’s time for New York State to stop participating in this insanity.
That’s why BlueInGreene created a petition to The New York State House, The New York State Senate, and Governor Andrew Cuomo, which says:
“Divest New York State’s pension funding from companies that invest in or profit from the gun industry.”
Please click here to sign the petition.
In the immediate aftermath of the Newtown murders, one year ago today, it seemed as if the horror of the crime finally broke through Americans’ collective rationalizations regarding gun violence. But only for a moment.
Some states, including New York, passed laws intended to curtail the violence. Insane protests sprang up at once, as the right frothed and spewed over the trampling of their God-given freedoms. Many more states passed laws relaxing gun controls.
A number of well-meaning groups were formed to address the “problem” (such an inadequate word, in the context) of gun violence in America. Mayors Against Illegal Guns, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s finest legacy, is the best known. That group recently partnered with another group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America to produce the message shown below. It is the centerpiece of the groups’ plans to “gather at over 50 events in more than 35 states to honor the victims of the tragedy in Newtown.”
As for the residents of Newtown itself, they’ve told the media to stay away. Joe Nocera, writing in today’s New York Times, highlights some of the reasons why.
In the 12 months since Newtown, anywhere from 11,484 to 33,373 people have died from guns in America, depending on who’s counting.
It’s hard to be optimistic.
It’s not often that I or other progressives can find common ground with our conservative Congressman Chris Gibson. I feel he and other “gun rights” supporters have distorted the Second Amendment beyond recognition, for one thing. But on the Fourth Amendment, Congressman Gibson has it exactly right, and he deserves a salute for that.
Gibson has been vocal in criticizing the almost daily revelations of U.S. government spying on its own citizens, generally focused on the National Security Agency. He and 19 other members of Congress recently sent a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller and NSA Director General Keith Alexander, essentially asking them to explain what the hell is going on. The letter has not received a response.
Congressman Gibson is co-sponsoring legislation which would limit the ability of the federal government to collect information on Americans who are not under investigation. The proposed law, known as the LIBERT-E Act, would also require opinions from the FISA courts to be made public. This would be an important step forward. Kudos to Chris Gibson for standing up for our Fourth Amendment rights.
A quick postscript on Edward Snowden: patriotism works both ways. If, as Congressman Gibson believes, the U.S. government is subverting the Fourth Amendment with its NSA spying programs and if that is in fact a dangerous and wrong thing to do, it then follows that the person who revealed the NSA’s nefarious activity has done a good thing. I’d like to see our Congressman voice his support for Mr. Snowden, as Senator Rand Paul has done. Most of the GOP takes this response instead.
A matter-of-fact article in the right-leaning Daily Mail (“Gun rights organizer calls for civil disobedience“) highlighted a number of pernicious trends that keep upstate New York, including Greene, backward, poor and unhealthy. The most insidious of these was not the pro-gun rally organizer, Billy Martin, who seems to be a caricature of the ill-informed and easily manipulated gun lover. No, the worst of it was the presence and miguided encouragement of “nice guy” state legislator Pete Lopez.
Lopez: leading his constituents backward.
Martin railed against apathy, saying that gun owners represented such large numbers that, if everyone would just wake up and get on board, “We sweep the day, uncontested”. This is, of course, a self-serving delusion: gun ownership has been declining for years. As Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy notes:
Gun ownership has dramatically dropped over the last 20 years, so now it’s about selling a larger number of more expensive weapons to a smaller number of customers. The N.R.A., doing the bidding of the industry, ratchets up paranoia about government so that those people will go out and buy more guns.
No, Martin’s not the problem, obnoxious though he may be. He is simply a type, a loud and fanatical, self-appointed spokesman for a dwindling minority. Lopez is the problem. He is supposed to represent the best interests, health and well-being of his constituents, and he is failing miserably in that regard when he joins with local upstate zealots in claiming that “the challenge will be, we’re gonna have to strike down every piece of that damn bill [the NY SAFE Act] to kill it … and in the future we’ve got to prevent that stuff from coming forward.” Lopez went on to claim that fighting against gun control will “determine the fate of America”.
What Lopez should be focusing on is the health of the people he represents—their health is not likely to be improved by making it easier for guns to metastasize throughout upstate NY even more widely. Indeed, the counties that are calling for the repeal of NY SAFE are among the sickest—literally—in the state. Greene ranks 55th in health care outcomes, out of the state’s 62 counties. That’s down from 52nd place the year before. (Columbia held steady in 45th place.)
The upstate economy could stand some serious attention, too. It seems to be growing steadily sicker along with its inhabitants. Instead, Lopez chooses to spin fictitious scenarios about basic human rights under seige by sinister government forces.
Finally, what passes for honest reportage in this benighted district could use some more media pushback as well. Where is the commentary from our perceptive local bloggers? Carole? Sam? We need you to step up on all of these very serious issues.
Both Martin and Lopez trashed newly elected State Senator Cecelia Tkaczyk and suggested she needed to be removed. (How, exactly? By “ballots or bullets,” as the gun fanatics like to say?) Tkaczyk is one of the brightest spots in recent upstate politics, and represents real hope for change. She deserves your support. Lopez does not.
Come on, people. If you want a better, healthier upstate New York, then come forward and speak out. Don’t let ignorance and fanaticism control the conversation.
Update, April 9: No other subject generates such heated response. Some of it is rational, most of it is not. Venom abounds. And gun lovers from around the country feel free to join in—with any other issue, the response is generally local.
From this point on, I will approve comments selectively. I am not going to take the time to respond to each one. It becomes tiresome responding to the same formulaic arguments, over and over again. Suffice it to say that America has a very serious problem, and it has as much to do with gun lovers as it does with guns.
One of the most intolerable aspects of the “pro-gun” argument, for rational Americans, is the heavy reliance such proponents place on the Second Amendment. The NRA and others cite the Second Amendment as graven in stone, permitting no possible deviance from its absolute law. This is nonsense.
The amendment is an antique, and it has been twisted by right-wing courts into a travesty of present-day relevance. The amendment did not have the intent of guaranteeing citizens the right to possess and use super-charged, military-grade weapons that can kill dozens in a few minutes. The constant citing by “gun rights advocates” of the Second Amendment as something approaching the Word of God is therefore absurd, as the illustration below makes clear.
Assault weapons were never intended. Image source: the New York Times, Christopher Sergio, photographs by JRB/Fotolia, zim101/Fotolia and Anatoly Vartanov/Fotolia.
There is a very strong argument to make for rewriting the amendment, to accord with common sense and strike some semblance of a balance between gun owners’ “rights” and public safety. There is also a strong argument for abolishing the amendment altogether, something I would personally favor. I do recognize that this is very unlikely to happen, however.
But rewriting the Second Amendment does seem possible, perhaps after several more senseless atrocities have occurred. If you have an open mind, read why such a revision could convey benefits to people on both sides of the gun debate in this article.
Harry Reid recently dropped an assault weapons ban from proposed Senate gun control legislation, to widespread disgust and consternation.
“It doesn’t even have 40 votes,” he explained. Left unsaid was Reid’s inability or disinclination to reform Senate voting procedures, so 60 votes would not be needed to pass important legislation. Also left unmentioned was Reid’s NRA backing and his general lack of leadership on this critical issue. With his droning, reedy voice and increasingly frail appearance, Reid seems more than ever to epitomize weak, ineffectual leadership.
Harry Reid: a pathetic failure to lead.
A wide array of people and groups, including President Obama, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns and the families of the slaughtered Newtown children, are urging a vote on an assault weapons ban anyway. As the president noted, “These ideas shouldn’t be controversial—they’re common sense. They’re supported by a majority of the American people.”
A vote on assault weapons would have the further advantage of forcing senators into actually coming out against new gun controls, a political risk and a potential public relations disaster that may eventually harm some of them. One can only hope.
A friend of mine recently wondered whether, if the general public could view a photo of the carnage in Newtown—small children literally blown apart by a military-grade weapon—it would make any difference in the gun control “debate”. I’d like to think it would, but I remain skeptical. Cowardice and doublespeak are likely to remain the order of the day in the U.S. Senate, which will struggle to pass any gun control legislation at all.
Perhaps the most infuriating thing about America’s gun nuts is their constant clamor for respect and their so-called “rights”. This culminates in the right-wing glorification and distortion of the Second Amendment, far beyond its original scope. And it creates a whole slew of specious arguments, many funded by the NRA, which aim to undergird what is ultimately an indefensible position.
Much of the reaction to my last post revolved around the fact that my pro gun-control position was seen as a minority viewpoint. Following that logic, many of my correspondents took it a step further and suggested I move somewhere more congenial. I will grant that gun control is not currently popular in Greene County. But the NY SAFE Act is not a Greene County creation, it is state law. And in the state at large, rational gun control is strongly favored by a solid majority of people (70-30, by most estimates). NY SAFE is not going anywhere.
Upstate gun-rights activists: rude, rustic and out of place.
Another gun-lover argument that’s not going anywhere: weaponized “patriots” who arm themselves to uphold civil rights, and defend against a totalitarian government. (The NRA calls itself, with a straight face, America’s oldest civil rights organization.) First of all, the focus is wrong: if you’re concerned about misuse of government power, now or in the future, your recourse should be political involvement, not assault weapons. Do you think your AR-15 can stand up to a drone? Secondly, the old canard that the government is “coming to take your guns” is growing very tiresome, simply because it is repeated so ignorantly and so often. No one is taking your guns, unless you misuse them.
It is actually these upstate conspiracy theorists who are in the minority in New York State. And their minority position will only become more conspicuous as the country haltingly moves toward social and political progress in the 21st century. The fact is, gun “rights” adherents are rude, rustic and increasingly out of place.
Take the recent rally for “gun rights” in Albany as an example. I drove past the rally site at the State Capitol the morning of February 28, as the protesters were beginning to assemble. On the left side of State Street, by the park, an ordinary-looking guy in camo smirked as he leaned on his rifle like a cane. (Adult men in civilian camouflage always strike me as kids playing at war. They look ridiculous.) Across the street, some fat guy bent over into a rusted-out car (to grab more guns?), his butt crack on prominent display. For the rest of the morning, up until 2 PM or so, the crowd (far less than the 5,000 cited in the press; it was more like 2,000, tops) milled in and around the park, chanting slogans like “We will not comply!” They were a sad, bedraggled lot, overwhelmingly male and all dressed up in hunting gear and baseball caps, who walked in pairs and groups of three or four to stand apart from the businesspeople and government workers who normally occupy this space.
It was their moment, and I think they enjoyed it. But these rural New Yorkers are not going to succeed in foisting their backward beliefs on the people of this state. If they can’t, or won’t, conform to the new law, then I suggest they move someplace more congenial. Someplace where rural life predominates and anti-government conspiracy theories abound. Someplace like Idaho.