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Political spark that ignited firestorm across dry, divided land

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Evan Osnos writes of his book, Wildland: The Making of America’s Fury:

This book is the story of a crucible, a period bounded by two assaults on the country’s sense of itself: the attack on New York and Washington, on September 11, 2001, and the attack on the U.S. Capitol, on January 6, 2021.

The Harvard Gazette has an excerpt from the book:

On a hillside three hours north of San Francisco, a rancher waded through a meadow that rustled with golden grass. His name was Glenn Kile, and he lived in a sliver of the American West so blessed by nature that indigenous people called it Ba-lo Kai — the “verdant valley.” But on this day, the terrain was merciless. The temperature was 103 degrees, and it had been in the triple digits for days. All of the hottest summers in California history had arrived in the past 20 years, and the fields of the verdant valley had acquired the bone-dry smell and snap of straw.

A hundred feet from his house, the rancher stopped at the sight of a small hole in the gray-black soil at his feet. It was the mouth of an underground wasps’ nest. He lifted a steel hammer and pounded a rusty iron stake into the hole to seal it. But the clash of metal on metal spat out a spark, and the spark struck the field, and the field began to burn.

In half an hour, the inferno was 20 acres wide and racing toward a horizon of dried-out forests and scattered homes, a terrain that firefighters call “wildland” — a realm of nearly perfect tinder that is less a place than a condition. The rancher’s spark ignited the largest wildland fire in the history of California, a record that would soon be broken and then broken again. They named it the Mendocino Complex Fire, and it raged for a month — a jet engine of wind and flame, consuming an area more than twice the size of New York City, a landmark in the annals of a warming world. When, at last, the inferno was extinguished, the state of California ruled that Kile was not liable for the catastrophe. He had lit the spark, but the roots of the disaster ran deeper. The fire was the culmination of forces that had been gathering for decades.

That story reminded me of an old line about politics, from a book by the Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong. “A single spark,” Mao wrote, “can start a prairie fire.” Mao knew little of America, but he knew brutal truths about politics. Living in Washington in the years of Donald Trump, I often thought about that image of a landscape primed to burn. Sometimes it felt like metaphor, and sometimes it felt like fact. But eventually I came to understand it as something else — a parable for a time in American history when the land and the people seemed to be mirroring the rage of the other.

I left the United States a little over a year after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The country was preparing to go to war in Iraq, and I reported from Baghdad, Cairo, and elsewhere in the Middle East. A few years later, I settled in Beijing, where I met Sarabeth Berman, from Massachusetts, who had gone abroad as a young producer of theater and dance. We married and eventually prepared to go home. If we stayed abroad too long, Sarabeth said, we would find it hard to go back at all.

In 2013 we made plans to move to Washington. Coming home always holds the promise of a new way of seeing. In the 1940s, after covering the war in Europe, author John Gunther returned to America. At times he felt like “the man from Mars,” he wrote in “Inside U.S.A.,” published in 1947. In Gunther’s case, some features of his home unnerved him; the segregation of the South “out-ghettoes anything I ever saw in a European ghetto, even in Warsaw,” he wrote. But other encounters thrilled him. On his travels across the country, he took to asking people, “What do you believe in most?” He was told: work, children, Thomas Jefferson, God, the golden rule, the Pythagorean theorem, a high tariff, a low tariff, better agricultural prices, happiness, good roads, and Santa Claus. But the most frequent response was, as he put it, “the people, if you give them an even break.”

Sarabeth and I landed at Dulles International Airport on July 7, 2013. At passport control, I picked up a brochure with the title “Welcome to the United States.” It was published by the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, and it had a cover photo of the Washington Monument and cherry trees in bloom. The brochure began, “We are glad that you decided to travel to the United States to visit, study, work, or stay.”

I started keeping track of changes that had taken place during my years away, including some tiny details. Walking by the window of Brooks Brothers, the suit-maker, I noticed that it was selling suits with flag pins preattached to the lapel. A corporate spokesman told me that it was intended to advertise suits made in America. The company had adopted the practice in 2007, when Republicans were lambasting then-President Barack Obama for not wearing a flag pin.

Other changes felt so vast it was difficult to grasp their full dimensions. In 2013, the United States passed a threshold in the long evolution of immigration and diversity: For the first time in American history, the number of nonwhite newborns surpassed the number of white newborns. Initially, the gap was barely perceptible, no more than a thousand out of more than 3.8 million babies born that year. But it began to grow. As the son of a refugee, I considered it an exhilarating milestone, a mark of renewal, but I could see that many other Americans did not.

In the case of some changes, I was most startled by how thoroughly people had adapted to them. I was waiting for an Amtrak train one morning when a video screen in the station’s boarding area started playing a public-service announcement. If someone started firing at us, the voice-over explained, we should “take flight” or “take cover.” On the screen, an actor with white hair and a blue blazer huddled behind a pillar. As a last resort, it said, take action: “Yell, and look for surrounding objects, including your belongings, to throw and use as improvised weapons.”

Mass shootings were happening, on average, every nine weeks — nearly three times as often as a decade earlier. Barely six months had passed since the most heart-wrenching: a 20-year-old in Newtown, Connecticut, had killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But in American politics, that event had already faded. Politicians had offered “thoughts and prayers,” but an effort to pass new gun-control measures had failed in Congress. When I glanced around the waiting area, people were absorbed in other things. I felt like Gunther’s man from Mars.

The country had responded in very different fashion to the trauma of September 11, 2001. When Al Qaeda destroyed the towers of the World Trade Center, the historian Tony Judt wrote: “From my window in lower Manhattan, I watched the 21st century begin.” Twelve years later, the event had acquired a unique symbolic power. In the years since, Americans had been attacked more than twice as many times by far-right terrorists as they had by Islamic terrorists, yet when researchers in 2016 asked people to estimate the share of Muslims in the country, Americans, on average, estimated one in six. The real number was one in a 100.

I began to notice how far fear was reaching into our political life. Before going abroad, I had lived in Clarksburg, West Virginia, a small Appalachian city where I worked at the local paper, The Exponent Telegram. The day after September 11, the editors had published a humble declaration of commitment to a story Americans tell ourselves: “Far be it for a small-town daily newspaper to suggest what the government’s reaction should be,” they wrote, but one thing must be clear: “We are a free society, which prides itself on its diversity, its exchange of ideas and its willingness to tolerate dissent”; the attacks must “strengthen our ideals rather than shatter them.” That month, after someone desecrated a mosque in the West Virginia city of Princeton — the vandals drew the picture of a lynching and the name “Jamaal”— neighbors rallied in the mosque’s defense, and the response became a point of local pride.

But by 2008, a poll showed that one-fifth of the public in West Virginia believed that Obama was a Muslim, and hate crimes, which had subsided after 2001, were climbing, according to the FBI. In 2013, someone vandalized the mosque again, but the local reaction was quieter that time. Churches condemned the assault, but the sheriff said the incident did not meet the threshold of a hate crime. Muslims who had lived in West Virginia for generations described a growing sense of isolation. (Four years later, during a Republican Party rally in the West Virginia Capitol, someone hung a poster of the burning World Trade Center and a photo of Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, one of the first Muslim women in Congress. The caption read, “I am the proof you have forgotten.”)

Those fissures in American life were part of a larger fracturing. The United States had the largest economy in the world, with median incomes higher than they had ever been, but the living standards for millions of people had stagnated or declined. Twenty-seven states were so short of cash to fix potholes that they were returning some of their paved roads to dirt. At the same time, three men — Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos — had more wealth than the entire bottom half of the U.S. population combined. Every hour, Bezos earned $149,353 — which was more than the typical American worker earned in three years.

When scientists reported the startling fact that life expectancy was declining, it sounded like a national problem. But it was not. In West Virginia’s McDowell County, male life expectancy had sunk to 64 — a level on a par with Iraq. In neighboring Virginia, men in Fairfax County could expect to live 18 years longer. The chasms between American lives had become so vast that the vanishing common ground could no longer carry the weight of American institutions, a prospect that the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned against when he told a friend, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

America wasn’t just losing a story of itself; it was losing a habit of mind, a . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2021 at 10:05 am

Lessons Learned from Two Gun-Violence Epidemics

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Daniel Webster writes at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health:

came to Johns Hopkins in 1987 to get my doctorate and focus on public policies that enhance public health and safety. Initially, I focused on reducing motor vehicle deaths, but gun violence was engulfing U.S. cities in the late 1980s, including Baltimore. In neighborhoods near our campus, young lives were being lost to gunfire. The sharp upward trajectory looked like that of an uncontrolled infectious disease. Encouraged by my adviser, Stephen Teret, I decided to focus my career on preventing gun violence.

The current surge in homicides reminds me of when I entered the field. Just as in the 1986–1994 epidemic of gun violence, Black Americans living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty and disinvestment have been the hardest hit. Social factors, including structural racism, contributed to both epidemics, but so have the proliferation of firearms, weaknesses in gun laws, and problems enforcing gun laws.

There are some positive differences in our response to the current epidemic of gun violence compared to the prior one. Previously, the response was dominated by more arrests, more incarceration, and increased investment in law enforcement. This time, policymakers are funding public health approaches. Community violence prevention programs have become integral to local strategies. Reducing violence and abuses by police and policies to promote racial equity have become high priorities.

But as new solutions have emerged, so have new challenges. Firearms constructed with kits purchased online and DIY videos are a new pipeline for firearms. Social media amplifies conflicts that are often settled with gunfire. Egregious acts of police violence have curtailed effective partnerships between law enforcement and community groups.

I’ve studied community violence interruption programs in Baltimore since 2007 and have had the privilege of being friends with some of the programs’ brave workers like Dante Barksdale. He was an effective violence interrupter for Safe Streets Baltimore in the McElderry Park neighborhood and later worked for Baltimore City recruiting and mentoring violence interrupters.

Dante was murdered earlier this year. Like many others in Baltimore, I was devastated by his loss. I learned much from Dante and others in Safe Streets. They taught me about the deep deprivation and trauma that is common among those involved in gun violence. They also acknowledged that their ability to prevent shootings depends somewhat on law enforcement being a credible deterrent to gun violence. Sadly, that’s been lacking in Baltimore and many other cities.

While some in public health have called for abolition or dramatic defunding of police, I think public health professionals should partner with police to develop new models for community safety that minimize harms from the criminal justice system. Our goal should be to push law enforcement to focus more on eliminating racial disparities, reducing serious violence, and being accountable to community members. Our police should be trauma-informed and able to engage collaboratively with multiple sectors.

To stem the current surge in gun violence, we need smarter policies to reduce gun availability in risky contexts. The Center I lead has helped strengthen laws to keep firearms from individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders and advance the adoption by 17 states and the District of Columbia of extreme risk protection order laws. Our research provides evidence that strong background check requirements that include handgun purchaser licensing can reduce the diversion of guns for criminal use, firearm-related homicides and suicides, mass shootings, and law enforcement officers being shot. We know that states with these policies have rates of civilians being fatally shot by law enforcement that are about a quarter as high as those of states that lack them. Our national surveys show that three-quarters of Americans support these policies and a similar proportion of gun owners in states with purchaser licensing support the laws.

We also are rigorously studying laws governing . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Many civilian deaths by firearms could be prevented by sensible modifications to gun policies.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2021 at 12:19 pm

Heather Cox Richardson on the slow-moving coup being carried out now in the US

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Richardson writes in her column tonight:

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post today ran op-eds from Republicans or former Republicans urging members of their party who still value democracy to vote Democratic until the authoritarian faction that has taken over their party is bled out of it.

In the New York Times, Miles Taylor and Christine Todd Whitman wrote, “We are Republicans. There’s only one way to save our party from pro-Trump extremists.” Taylor served in the Department of Homeland Security and was the author of the 2018 New York Times piece by “Anonymous” criticizing former president Trump. Whitman was governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001, after which she headed the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush.

Taylor and Whitman note that “rational Republicans” had hoped after Trump’s defeat that they might take back the party, but it is clear now, they write, that they are losing the party’s “civil war.” But while they originally hoped to form a new party, they now agree that the only way to stop Trumpism “is for us to form an alliance with Democrats to defend American institutions, defeat far-right candidates, and elect honorable representatives next year—including a strong contingent of moderate Democrats.” To defend democracy, they write, “concerned conservatives must join forces with Democrats on the most essential near-term imperative: blocking Republican leaders from regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives” and the Senate.

They call for Republicans to put country over party and back moderate Democrats, while also asking Democrats to concede that “there are certain races where progressives simply cannot win and acknowledg[e] that it makes more sense to throw their lot in with a center-right candidate who can take out a more radical conservative.”

At the Washington Post, Max Boot takes an even stronger stand: “I’m no Democrat—but I’m voting exclusively for Democrats to save our democracy.” Boot is a Russian-American specialist in foreign affairs who identifies as a conservative but no longer supports the Republican Party. He writes: “I’m a single-issue voter. My issue is the fate of democracy in the United States. Simply put, I have no faith that we will remain a democracy if Republicans win power. Thus, although I’m not a Democrat, I will continue to vote exclusively for Democrats—as I have done in every election since 2016—until the GOP ceases to pose an existential threat to our freedom.”

Boot singles out the dueling reports from the Senate Judiciary Committee about the nine ways in which Trump tried to pressure then–acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen to back his claims of election fraud. The Democrats on the committee established these efforts with an evidence-based report, only to have the Republicans on the committee, led by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), respond that the president was simply trying to promote confidence in the election results and that since he did not ultimately replace Rosen with another lawyer who promised to use the Justice Department to challenge the election—after the other leaders of the Justice Department threatened to resign in a mass protest—he did not actually abuse his office.

Boot writes, “It is mind-boggling that a defeated president won’t accept the election outcome…. What is even more alarming is that more than 60 percent of Republicans agree with his preposterous assertion that the election was stolen and want him to remain as the party’s leader.”

Taylor, Whitman, and Boot are hardly the first to be calling out the anti-democratic consolidation of the Republican Party. Yesterday, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, managed Trump’s first impeachment trial, and sits on the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, gave an interview to CBS’s Face the Nation in which he called the Republican Party “an autocratic cult around Donald Trump” that is “not interested in governing” or “maintaining the solvency of the country.”

But what makes today’s op-eds stand out is that they are from former Republicans, that they are calling not for a separate party but for Republicans to shift their votes to the Democrats, and that their identification of the Republicans as an existential threat to our democracy is being published in major newspapers.

Mainstream television and newspapers have been slow to identify the radicalization of the Republican Party as a threat to democracy. The Eastman memo, uncovered by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa at the end of September in their new book Peril, flew largely under the radar screen, explained away as more of Trump being Trump even as it laid out, in writing, the steps to overturn the 2020 election and even as we knew that the former president tried to put that plan into place. A study by Media Matters showed that ABC, NBC, and CBS all chose not even to mention the memo; they reach more than 20 million Americans.

On Saturday, a monologue by comedian Bill Maher about the Eastman memo titled “Slow Moving Coup” laid out in 8 minutes how Trump tried to steal the 2020 election and how, when officials resisted him, he set out to solidify his power for 2024. Maher woke people up to the ongoing crisis in our democracy.

Maher’s monologue, along with the draft Senate Judiciary Committee report, which sets out in detail the efforts the former president made to bend the Department of Justice to his will, seems to have driven home to members of the press the fact that they cannot present today’s news as business as usual, especially after their presentation of the debt ceiling crisis as a political horse race when one side was trying to save the country and the other to destroy it. In the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday, journalist Will Bunch wrote: “The future of American democracy depends, frankly, on whether journalists stop burying their head in ‘the work’ of balanced-but-misleading reporting and admit that, yes, actually, we are at war.”

Bunch pointed out that on Friday, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 October 2021 at 9:32 pm

Gun Policies that Save Lives

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Brennen Jensen writes at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health about some sensible and practical gun policies to minimize the dangers guns pose to the public. In my view the government is obligated to protect the public by (for example) driver licensing, vehicle inspections, checking the quality and purity and cleanliness of drinking water, air, food, and drugs, and so on. Protecting the public from the harms guns have caused is much the same.
With more than 390 million guns in civilian hands, the U.S. has more firearms than people. This daunting fact can make the problem of gun violence seem unsolvable. But research led by the Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy has identified laws that are already making a difference—primarily by keeping guns from people who shouldn’t have them.

EXTREME RISK PROTECTION ORDERS 

When individuals are behaving dangerously and make credible threats to harm themselves or others, judicial authorizations called ERPOs allow law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from these individuals—and prohibit them from purchasing guns. “These are people who are in crisis and truly at risk of committing violence, either self-directed or directed at others,” says Shannon Frattaroli, PhD ’99, MPH ’94, a professor in Health Policy and Management. “These orders provide a tool for intervening to temporarily remove guns from the mix.” In all states with such laws—currently 19 plus the District of Columbia—law enforcement can petition courts for these orders. In some states, family members, intimate partners, clinicians, and school administrators may do so as well. “Compared with other gun violence prevention policies, these are relatively uncontroversial,” Frattaroli says. “There’s been tremendous interest in them from lawmakers.” While more research is needed, studies from Connecticut and Indiana, which have had these laws for over 15 years, estimate that one life was saved for every 10–20 gun removal actions.

COMPREHENSIVE BACKGROUND CHECKS AND PURCHASER LICENSING LAWS 

These approaches are used to prevent gun purchases by individuals with past criminal activity, outstanding warrants, or mental health or substance abuse issues. Federally mandated background checks at the point of sale ensure that the purchaser isn’t on a national database of those prohibited from gun ownership. (The law does not apply to private gun sales.) Licensing laws require purchasers submit applications in person to local or state law enforcement. The process involves background checks, waiting periods, and sometimes fingerprinting. “If you want to buy a gun this afternoon, you can’t do it without this license,” says Alexander McCourt, PhD ’19, JD, MPH, an assistant scientist in HPM. Connecticut has required background checks and licensing since 1995. The combined laws reduced firearm homicides by an estimated 27.8% and firearm suicides by 23.2%–40.5%, according to a 2020 study McCourt co-authored. The study, which examined four states, shows that background checks alone are not effective in reducing firearm homicides or suicides. “It seems to work best to have both in place as a way of making sure that everything’s valid and to double-check the system,” McCourt says.

REMOVING GUNS FROM PEOPLE WITH DOMESTIC VIOLENCE RESTRAINING ORDERS 

Research shows that a woman is five times more likely to be killed in a domestic violence situation if a gun is present. Federal law prohibits people under DVROs issued after a court hearing from possessing firearms. (Some states strengthen this prohibition to include ex parte restraining orders, those issued by a judge in emergency situations.) The federal law defines domestic partners as people who are or were married or living together, or those who have a child together. Some states also include couples who are dating—an important addition, notes April Zeoli, PhD ’07, MPH, an associate professor at the Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice. “Dating partners make up about half of the people who commit intimate partner homicide,” she says. Another area where these laws need tightening: While those newly placed under restraining orders are flagged in background check databases, Zeoli says some courts don’t order the relinquishment or removal of existing firearms—a step that could save lives. “My research suggests that in states where the law requires or allows judges to order gun relinquishment, intimate partner homicide decreases an estimated 12%,” Zeoli says.

DATA-DRIVEN LAW ENFORCEMENT RESPONSE 

Police have long focused on getting illegal guns off the streets, especially in violence-prone areas. In Baltimore and beyond, police often rely on stop-and-frisk practices to detain and search individuals suspected of carrying guns—a “general tactic often too broadly applied,” says Center director Daniel Webster, ScD ’91, MPH, a Bloomberg Professor of American Health in Health Policy and Management. A 2020 report by Center researchers suggests a more data-driven and accountable strategy. Webster envisions specialized . . .
Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2021 at 1:40 pm

The Constitutional Crisis Has Arrived

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Robert Kagan has a lengthy piece in the Washington Post that’s well worth reading — and that link is gift article that skips the paywall. His essay begins:

“Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation.”  — James Madison

The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial. But about these things there should be no doubt:

First, Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for president in 2024. The hope and expectation that he would fade in visibility and influence have been delusional. He enjoys mammoth leads in the polls; he is building a massive campaign war chest; and at this moment the Democratic ticket looks vulnerable. Barring health problems, he is running.

Second, Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary. Trump’s charges of fraud in the 2020 election are now primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go his way. Some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022, just as Larry Elder tried meekly to do in the California recall contest.

Meanwhile, the amateurish “stop the steal” efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020. Those recalcitrant Republican state officials who effectively saved the country from calamity by refusing to falsely declare fraud or to “find” more votes for Trump are being systematically removed or hounded from office. Republican legislatures are giving themselves greater control over the election certification process. As of this spring, Republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the purview of the governor, secretary of state or other executive-branch officers to the legislature. An Arizona bill flatly states that the legislature may “revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election” by a simple majority vote. Some state legislatures seek to impose criminal penalties on local election officials alleged to have committed “technical infractions,” including obstructing the view of poll watchers.

The stage is thus being set for chaos. Imagine weeks of competing mass protests across multiple states as lawmakers from both parties claim victory and charge the other with unconstitutional efforts to take power. Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests? Deploying federal power in the states would be decried as tyranny. Biden would find himself where other presidents have been — where Andrew Jackson was during the nullification crisis, or where Abraham Lincoln was after the South seceded — navigating without rules or precedents, making his own judgments about what constitutional powers he does and doesn’t have.

Today’s arguments over the filibuster will seem quaint in three years if the American political system enters a crisis for which the Constitution offers no remedy.

Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it. As has so often been the case in other countries where fascist leaders arise, their would-be opponents are paralyzed in confusion and amazement at this charismatic authoritarian. They have followed the standard model of appeasement, which always begins with underestimation. The political and intellectual establishments in both parties have been underestimating Trump since he emerged on the scene in 2015. They underestimated the extent of his popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the Republican Party; and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power. The fact that he failed to overturn the 2020 election has reassured many that the American system remains secure, though it easily could have gone the other way — if Biden had not been safely ahead in all four states where the vote was close; if Trump had been more competent and more in control of the decision-makers in his administration, Congress and the states. As it was, Trump came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year. All that prevented it was a handful of state officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general and a vice president to obey orders they deemed inappropriate.

These were not the checks and balances the Framers had in mind when they designed the Constitution, of course, but Trump has exposed the inadequacy of those protections. The Founders did not foresee the Trump phenomenon, in part because they did not foresee national parties. They anticipated the threat of a demagogue, but not of a national cult of personality. They assumed that the new republic’s vast expanse and the historic divisions among the 13 fiercely independent states would pose insuperable barriers to national movements based on party or personality. “Petty” demagogues might sway their own states, where they were known and had influence, but not the whole nation with its diverse populations and divergent interests.

Such checks and balances as the Framers put in place, therefore, depended on . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 2:12 pm

Why Americans Die So Much

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Derek Thompson writes in the Atlantic:

America has a death problem.

No, I’m not just talking about the past year and a half, during which COVID-19 deaths per capita in the United States outpaced those in similarly rich countries, such as Canada, Japan, and France. And I’m not just talking about the past decade, during which drug overdoses skyrocketed in the U.S., creating a social epidemic of what are often called “deaths of despair.”

I’m talking about the past 30 years. Before the 1990s, average life expectancy in the U.S. was not much different than it was in Germany, the United Kingdom, or France. But since the 1990s, American life spans started falling significantly behind those in similarly wealthy European countries.

According to a new working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Americans now die earlier than their European counterparts, no matter what age you’re looking at. Compared with Europeans, American babies are more likely to die before they turn 5, American teens are more likely to die before they turn 20, and American adults are more likely to die before they turn 65. At every age, living in the United States carries a higher risk of mortality. This is America’s unsung death penalty, and it adds up. Average life expectancy surged above 80 years old in just about every Western European country in the 2010s, including Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, the U.K., Denmark, and Switzerland. In the U.S., by contrast, the average life span has never exceeded 79—and now it’s just taken a historic tumble.

Why is the U.S. so much worse than other developed countries at performing the most basic function of civilization: keeping people alive?

“Europe has better life outcomes than the United States across the board, for white and Black people, in high-poverty areas and low-poverty areas,” Hannes Schwandt, a Northwestern University professor who co-wrote the paper, told me. “It’s important that we collect this data, so that people can ask the right questions, but the data alone does not tell us what the cause of this longevity gap is.”

Finding a straightforward explanation is hard, because there are so many differences between life in the U.S. and Europe. Americans are more likely to kill one another with guns, in large part because Americans have more guns than residents of other countries do. Americans die more from car accidents, not because our fatality rate per mile driven is unusually high but because we simply drive so much more than people in other countries. Americans also have higher rates of death from infectious disease and pregnancy complications. But what has that got to do with guns, or commuting?

By collecting data on American life spans by ethnicity and by income at the county level—and by comparing them with those of European countries, locality by locality—Schwandt and the other researchers made three important findings.

First, Europe’s mortality rates are shockingly similar between rich and poor communities. Residents of the poorest parts of France live about as long as people in the rich areas around Paris do. “Health improvements among infants, children, and youth have been disseminated within European countries in a way that includes even the poorest areas,” the paper’s authors write.

But in the U.S., which has the highest poverty and inequality of just about any country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, where you live is much more likely to determine when you’ll die. Infants in the U.S. are considerably more likely to die in the poorest counties than in the richest counties, and this is true for both Black and white babies. Black teenagers in the poorest U.S. areas are roughly twice as likely to die before they turn 20, compared with those in the richest U.S. counties. In Europe, by contrast, the mortality rate for teenagers in the richest and poorest areas is exactly the same—12 deaths per 100,000. In America, the problem is not just that poverty is higher; it’s that the effect of poverty on longevity is greater too.

Second, even rich Europeans are outliving rich Americans. “There is an American view that egalitarian societies have more equality, but it’s all one big mediocre middle, whereas the best outcomes in the U.S. are the best outcomes in the world,” Schwandt said. But this just doesn’t seem to be the case for longevity. White Americans living in the richest 5 percent of counties still die earlier than Europeans in similarly low-poverty areas; life spans for Black Americans were shorter still. (The study did not examine other American racial groups.) “It says something negative about the overall health system of the United States that even after we grouped counties by poverty and looked at the richest 10th percentile, and even the richest fifth percentile, we still saw this longevity gap between Americans and Europeans,” he added. In fact, Europeans in extremely impoverished areas seem to live longer than Black or white Americans in the richest 10 percent of counties.

Third,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, including this interesting factoid:

Air pollution has declined more than 70 percent since the 1970s, according to the EPA, and most of that decline happened during the 30-year period of this mortality research.

Related, via a post this morning by Kevin Drum:

Drum notes:

The US death rate from COVID-19 is no longer skyrocketing, but it’s still going up. Our mortality rate is 150% above Britain and more than 1000% higher than Germany.

I imagine the primary causes are widespread refusal (especially in Red states) to wear masks, to avoid crowds, and to be vaccinated, all obvious steps that significantly reduce the likelihood of infection and thus reduce the likelihood of death.

Note this headline in the NY Times this morning: “The U.S. is falling to the lowest vaccination rates of the world’s wealthiest democracies.” From that article:

. . . Canada leads the G7 countries in vaccination rates, with almost three-quarters of its population at least partially vaccinated as of Thursday, according to Our World in Data. France, Italy and Britain follow, with percentages between 70 and 73. Germany’s rate is just ahead of Japan’s, at around 65 percent.

The U.S. vaccination curve has leveled dramatically since an initial surge in the first half of this year, when the vaccine first became widely available. In a push to vaccinate the roughly 80 million Americans who are eligible for shots but have not gotten them, President Biden on Thursday mandated that two-thirds of American workers, including health care workers and the vast majority of federal employees, be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2021 at 1:11 pm

The effort to overthrow US democracy

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Heather Cox Richardson from last night:

Four years ago today, racists, antisemites, white nationalists, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis, and other alt-right groups met in Charlottesville, Virginia, to “Unite the Right.” The man who organized the rally, Jason Kessler, claimed he wanted to bring people together to protest the removal of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a local park. But the rioters turned immediately to chants that had been used by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s: “you will not replace us,” “Jews will not replace us,” and “blood and soil.” They gave Nazi salutes and carried Nazi insignia, and many brought battle gear and went looking for fights. By the end of August 12, they had killed counterprotester Heather Heyer and had injured 19 others. After the governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency, the rioters went home.

The Unite the Right rally drew a clear political line in America. Then-president Donald Trump refused to condemn the rioters, telling a reporter that there were “very fine people, on both sides.”

In contrast, former vice president Joe Biden watched the events at Charlottesville and concluded that the soul of the nation was at stake. He decided to run for president and to defeat the man he believed threatened our democracy. Biden was especially concerned with Trump’s praise for the “very fine people” aligned with the rioters. “With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it,” Biden said, “and in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”

Four years later, it is much easier to see the larger context of the Charlottesville riot. The political threat of those gangs who tried to unite in Charlottesville in 2017 recalls how fascism came to America in the 1930s: not as an elite ideology, but as a unification of street brawlers to undermine the nation’s democratic government.

In 2018, historian Joseph Fronczak explored the arrival of fascism in the U.S. In an article in the leading journal of the historical profession, the Journal of American History, Fronczak explained how men interested in overturning Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency in 1934 admired and then imitated the violent right-wing gangs that helped overturn European governments and install right-wing dictators.

The United States had always had radical street mobs, from anti-Catholic gangs in the 1830s to Ku Klux Klan chapters in the 1860s to anti-union thugs in the 1880s. In the 1930s, though, those eager to get rid of FDR brought those street fighters together as a political force to overthrow the federal government.

While they failed to do so in an attempted 1934 coup, Fronczak explains, street fighters learned about the contours of fascism once their power as a violent street force was established. He argues that in the U.S., fascism grew out of political violence, not the other way around. Mobs whose members dressed in similar shirts, waved similar flags, and made similar salutes pieced together racist, antisemitic, and nationalistic ideas and became the popular arm of right-wing leaders. In America, the hallmark of budding fascism was populist street violence, rather than an elite philosophy of government.

The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville had the hallmarks of such a populist movement. Leaders brought together different gangs, dressed similarly and carrying the emblem of tiki torches, to organize and attack the government. Rather than rejecting the rioters, then-President Trump encouraged them.

From that point on, Trump seemed eager to ride a wave of violent populism into authoritarianism. He stoked populist anger over state shutdowns during coronavirus, telling supporters to “LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” His encouragement fed the attacks on the Michigan state house in 2020. And then, after he repeatedly told his supporters the 2020 presidential election had been stolen, violent gangs attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, in an attempt to overturn the government and install him as president for another term.

While that attempted coup was unsuccessful, the empowerment of violent gangs as central political actors is stronger than ever. Since January 6, angry mobs have driven election officials out of office in fear for their safety. In increasingly angry protests, they have threatened school board members over transgender rights and over teaching Critical Race Theory, a legal theory from the 1970s that is not, in fact, in the general K–12 curriculum.

Now, as the coronavirus rages again, they are showing exactly how this process works as they threaten local officials who are following the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to require masks. Although a Morning Consult poll shows that 69% of Americans want a return to mask mandates, vocal mobs who oppose masking are dominating public spaces and forcing officials to give in to their demands.

In Franklin, Tennessee, yesterday, antimask mobs threatened doctors and nurses asking the local school board to reinstate a mask mandate in the schools. “We will find you,” they shouted at a man leaving the meeting. “We know who you are.”

Her column includes notes and comments, and those are worth reading. For example:

Elizabeth B. Scupham          1 hr ago

I read from Jeff Sharlet yesterday: ” A little while ago I drove slowly across the country visiting rightwing churches & individuals. What I found confirms a change I’ve been observing for the last 5 yrs: It’s really, truly, not issue-driven. What the Rightwing base wants, fundamentally, is a fight. Which, of course, is a core principle of fascism, albeit in its rapidly mutating, inchoate American form: A longing for redemption through violence, identity through the destruction of your foes.

The January 6 beating and attempted murder of Officer Michael Fanone makes that clear. As Officer Fanone has noted, he was down on the ground, incapacitated–and yet the mob kept beating him and calling for his death. He was, he notes, not an “impediment” to their stated goal of gaining entry to the Capitol to “stop the steal”; and yet instead of pursuing that goal, they kept beating him. Some of this is mob frenzy; but I’ve encountered the same sensibility among people sitting calmly in church lobbies: A desire to destroy one’s enemies as an end in itself.

So Trying to finesse policy differences or even “cultural” differences (read: white supremacy self-aware or not) isn’t noble, or pragmatic; it *misses the point.* The point, of much of the Right now, is conflict for its own sake, a belief that fighting will make them whole, or “great” again.”

And as a reminder of the particular Americans who want violence in their politics:

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2021 at 7:30 am

“You Say You Want A Revolution …”: The Right Embraces Authoritarianism

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Michael A. Cohen writes in Truth and Consequences:

At the Bulwark, Charlies Sykes has a smart piece looking at the growing embrace of dictatorship on the far right.

He cites a recent article in American Greatness, an online publication that styles itself as the intellectual home of Trumpism, titled The Salazar Option, which celebrates the reign of Portugal’s fascist dictator António de Oliveira Salazar.

The crux of the argument made by Christopher Roach, an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness, is that the right can no longer acquiesce to liberal indoctrination. “The forces of the aggressive, secular Left are not going to let any of us retreat into our own enclaves,” says Roach. “They will hunt down every last private clubpizza shop, and bakery out of mere spite. They will steal your kids and destroy your life.”

“Passive resistance” is a fool’s errand, says Roach, as he argues that history teaches that “the only thing that worked” in resisting “revolutionary leftist power …was the acquisition of real power.” Hence the reverence for Salazar, whose regime Roach describes as “undoubtedly authoritarian” … but “far less intrusive and far less damaging to society than the alternative.”

According to Roach, the brutality that defined the 1926 coup in Portugal, led by Estado Novo that overthrew a left-wing government, is a feature, not a bug. “Estado Novo and its supporters did not treat its enemies with kid gloves,” says Roach. “They were not limited by self-defeating notions of ‘principle.’ Hostile and revolutionary elements—whether domestic Communists, fascist syndicalists, internal political factions, or international high finance—were treated as equal potential dangers.”

For months now, political observers have noted the conservative movement’s increasingly authoritarian bent, so I suppose it’s not surprising that a publication devoted to promoting Donald Trump would unabashedly embrace such a message. But after reading a number of posts at American Greatness, I was struck by something even more disturbing — the increasingly existential, even eliminationist rhetoric emanating from the far right. Liberalism is presented not as an ordinary political or cultural movement. Instead, it is a clear and present threat to America’s future and the American people. To read American Greatness is to believe that America is in the last throes of liberal indoctrination, and the time is now to confront it with force, if necessary.

“First They Came For Our Putters … and I Said Nothing”

American Greatness is rife with references to “cultural catastrophe” and the “ongoing leftist cultural indoctrination of America’s future.” The usual conservative bugaboos are trotted out, such as “the explosion of violent crimes in American cities,” “disease-bearing illegal aliens,” “and the takeover of the military and education by the intersectional Left.” A former congressman from Arkansas, Thaddeus McCotter, laments the impact of the left’s “climate cult” on children because, and I’m not making this up, there is now a New York-based miniature golf course focused on the theme of climate change. “‘Fun’ is subordinate to and subsumed beneath politics and power,” writes McCotter. “Only if one has been ‘informed’—i.e., indoctrinated and submissive—will the Left let you have fun.”

Once piece compares vaccine mandates to the Shirley Jackson short story, “The Lottery,” in which a child is chosen by lottery to be stoned to death as a human sacrifice. This idea of vaccine and mask mandates being an attempt at societal control and an example of the left’s burgeoning tyranny is a recurrent theme on American Greatness.

John Conlin, who bills himself as an “expert on organizational design and change,” compares the calls from Democratic leaders for vaccine mandate to that of genocidal leaders:

Listen carefully to the Biden Administration, the Squad, and all the rest. They are tyrants in the making and if they had the power and ability, they would surely use it. From the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, to Stalin, to Mao, to Islamist supremacists, to Venezuela and Cuba and many others, the road to tyranny—and the end of individual freedom—started with “I’ll just make them . . .”

Conlin implores his readers to “Vote and live like your very freedoms—and the lives of all you love—hang in the balance. They do.” Comparing the president and his congressional supporters to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge might also lead one to conclude that voting is the least you should do to forestall this outcome.

Roger Kimball, the editor and publisher of The New Criterion, decries the “tyrannous spirit” that is driving “lockdowns, the mask mandates, and the smug, hectoring, politically correct demands for proof of vaccination.” He says, “the weaponization of public health diktats … is simply the latest manifestation of the profoundly anti-democratic spirit” and “at some point, there will be a revolt.”

According to Kimball,

“The longer the arbitrary insanity persists, the more violent the reaction will be. The question is whether we are at or are approaching the point of crisis. Will the voters stand for another lockdown as we approach the 2022 election? Lockdowns markedly increased the opportunities for voter fraud; 2020 showed that. That is precisely why the swamp is prepping us for another go. Let’s see if we stand by grumbling impotently or if, finally, we actually do something. I am not holding my breath.”

So we’re clear, Kimball is bemoaning the fact that there likely won’t be an armed revolt in response to public health measures around COVID-19.

The Evils of Wokeism

But it’s not just vaccinations that have the writers at American Greatness so upset. Bruce Abramson, who is “a director of the American Center for Education and Knowledge, and author of the forthcoming book, The New Civil War: Exposing Elites, Fighting Utopian Leftism, and Restoring America,” has penned an attack on what he calls the ideology of “Wokeism.” He calls it “a new world religion engaged in a stealth conquest of America, the West, and the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Abramson’s criticism of wokeism is not your usual attack on socially conscious liberals. Instead, what roused him to write his jeremiad against Wokeism is a recent poll that shows a rejection of religious affiliation by a quarter of all Americans (he dubs these Americans “nones”)

“At a societal level, religion provides the basis for morality, law, and community,” says Abramson. “Without some external anchor for basic concepts of good and evil, all morality becomes situational—rendering the rule of law untenable. In short, if a quarter of America can find true fulfillment as nones, American society is dangerously unstable (italics added).”

If you detect a strong Handmaid’s Tale vibe in this language, you’re not alone.

“It’s Just a Flesh Wound”

Conrad Black, who is a prominent Canadian news publisher and author of a reasonably well-reviewed one-volume biography of Franklin Roosevelt, focuses on the “real doubt about the integrity of voting and the fairness of the vote-counting system in key parts of six swing states” and claims 2020 “wasn’t a demonstrably fair election.”

This is standard right-wing misinformation, but it is Black’s defense of the January 6 insurrectionists that stands out. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. These people are dangerous.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2021 at 2:37 pm

How Bad is American Life? Americans Don’t Even Have Friends Anymore

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Umair Haque has a somewhat gloomy piece in Medium, which includes the chart above. He writes:

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2021 at 11:58 am

Is it worthwhile to do research on the leading causes of death in the US? What about doing research on No. 12 on the list?

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Nidhi Subbaraman writes in Nature:

Maeve Wallace has studied maternal health in the United States for more than a decade, and a grim statistic haunts her. Five years ago, she published a study showing that being pregnant or recently having had a baby nearly doubles a woman’s risk of being killed1. More than half of the homicides she tracked, using data from 37 states, were perpetrated with a gun.

In March 2020, she saw something she hadn’t seen before: a funding opportunity from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study deaths and injuries from gun violence. She had mentioned firearms in her studies before. But knowing that the topic is politically fraught, she often tucked related terms and findings deep within her papers and proposals. This time, she says, she felt emboldened to focus on guns specifically, and to ask whether policies that restrict firearms for people convicted of domestic violence would reduce the death rate for new and expecting mothers. Male partners are the killers in nearly half of homicides involving women in the United States. “This call for proposals really motivated me to ask the research questions that I may not have otherwise asked,” says Wallace, an epidemiologist at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Wallace’s group is one of several dozen funded by a new pool of federal money for gun-violence research in the United States, which has more firearm-related deaths than any other wealthy nation. Although other countries fund research on guns, it is often in the context of trafficking and armed conflict. US federal funding of gun-violence research has not reflected the death toll, researchers say.

The new money comes after more than two decades of what has essentially been a freeze on funding for the topic. And that’s left a massive knowledge gap, says Asheley Van Ness, director of criminal justice at Arnold Ventures in New York City, a philanthropic organization that pledged US$20 million to gun research in 2018, in part because of the paltry federal funding. “For decades we just have under-researched basic questions on gun violence,” she says.

Spurred by advocacy that followed some high-profile school shootings, Congress has now authorized $25 million for each of the past two years to go to the NIH and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the study of gun violence as a public-health issue. In April, President Joe Biden suggested doubling that figure.

Although researchers were initially slow to answer the funding call, studies such as Wallace’s are starting to look at how gun policies affect homicide rates. Others will investigate strategies to reduce suicides, which typically account for nearly two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States. And a handful of state health departments around the country are getting funding to collect better statistics on gun-related injuries.

The opening of the tap for federal dollars is considered an important advance, but those who have been watching the field for years say it will take more money and consistent investment to attract a committed cohort of researchers and fill in the data gaps. “That’s like turning a ship,” says David Studdert, who studies health law at Stanford Law School in California.

Meanwhile, gun violence in the United States shows no signs of slowing: 2020 emerged as the deadliest year in two decades, and the first few months of 2021 look even worse.

Control clause

Federal funds for firearms research have been heavily restricted ever since the 1996 Dickey Amendment, a clause added to that year’s annual spending bill that barred the CDC from funding any effort that advocates or promotes gun control.

Although the amendment did not explicitly ban research on firearms, the CDC saw its budget cut by $2.6 million in the year it passed — the same amount the agency was spending on the topic. CDC administrators saw the move as a message to steer clear, says Andrew Morral, a behavioural scientist at the Rand Corporation in Washington DC and director of the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research, a consortium of foundations that fund firearms research.

The amendment remained in subsequent spending bills, and researchers who continued to work on gun violence say that their work received more scrutiny. “Any research we would put forward would create just a waterfall of backlash,” says Charles Branas, an epidemiologist at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City. The gun lobby would argue that the work was biased, Branas says. Lawmakers would start asking questions. “That’s not something a cancer researcher has to contend with,” he says. “I think it scared off a lot of potential young scientists.”

The result has been an anaemic level of funding for research on one of the top 20 causes of mortality in the United States. One 2017 estimate2 says that gun-violence research is funded at about $63 per life lost, making it the second-most-neglected major cause of death, after falls (see ‘Dollars by death rate’). Private foundations have tried to fill the gap, but the levels are still low. The longest-running private funder, the Joyce Foundation in Chicago, Illinois, has invested $32 million since 1993; its annual funding has surpassed $2 million only once.

Things began to change after 2012 when a gunman shot and killed 20 children and 6 staff, before killing himself, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Amid a raging political fight over gun control, then-president Barack Obama called on federal agencies to fund research on the topic, triggering a call for proposals at the NIH (but not at the CDC, where funding is more tightly controlled by congressional appropriations).

Sandy Hook set the stage for federal funding to open up, says Nina Vinik, a former programme director and now a consultant at the Joyce Foundation. Among the numerous efforts to push for gun policy, “advocates saw that the case for federal funding for research was just an easy one for people to understand and get behind”, she says.

Funding figures bear this out. According to data provided by the NIH, between 1996 and 2015 the agency spent just under $2 million per year on average on research related to firearms. A new analysis by Nature estimates that the average more than tripled to just over $6 million per year over the next four years (see ‘Gun-research funding in the United States’).

Then, in February 2018, a shooter in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 people at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and injured 17 others before police arrested him. A national firestorm erupted over gun-control policies alongside renewed advocacy for research funding. The next month, lawmakers added language to the annual budget legislation that clarified the conundrum posed by the Dickey Amendment, stating that “the CDC has the authority to conduct research on the causes of gun violence”. Lawmakers eventually authorized dedicated funding in December 2019, giving $12.5 million each to the CDC and the NIH specifically for gun-violence research. Congress approved a second round of funding for the 2021 fiscal year in December, and President Biden in his budget request for 2022 asked for $50 million to go to the agencies.

Immediate impact

In March 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic looming, the NIH put out a call for projects seeking to study public-health questions related to gun violence.

Wallace at Tulane was one of nine researchers funded through the mechanism. She says that her research on gun laws could have direct relevance to policy. Gathering evidence that rules in some states reduce deaths for pregnant people could persuade other states to enact similar measures. That would be huge, Wallace says, because it “identifies a policy that states can pass now and have an immediate impact”.

Lisa Wexler, a community-based participatory researcher at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, also answered the NIH’s funding call. She was looking for ways to involve families in her work to prevent suicides in rural Alaska. During the 1990s and 2000s, Wexler worked there as a mental-health counsellor and a community organizer, and saw the crisis faced by Alaska Native youth. Alaska’s Indigenous people are twice as likely to die by suicide as are non-native residents of the state, and it is the leading cause of death for Alaska Native men under the age of 24.

She and her collaborators at the Maniilaq Association, an Alaska Native non-profit organization in Kotzebue that provides health services to Northwest Alaska residents, are laying the groundwork to test a new approach to gun safety. At health clinics, they will give people a brief talk about the need to safely store firearms at home, and offer them a lockable ammunition box or the option to have someone install a gun cabinet. “Making the environment safer is incredibly important, and it’s sort of an overlooked part of what we need to be doing for suicide prevention specifically in this country,” says Wexler. Past studies have shown that limiting access to lethal means correlates with a decline in suicide rates3,4. Wexler’s programme, by involving all residents, acknowledges the Alaska Native values of community support and belonging — as well as the ubiquity and necessity of gun ownership in the region.

“Hunting and fishing and gathering and living close to the land and animals and sea is still very deeply ingrained in the region here,” says Arlo Davis, Family Safety Net coordinator at the Maniilaq Association, who works with Wexler. “Our challenge is how do we do this research without shaming anybody — because most households have guns.”

Any shift in suicide trends will take some years to see, Wexler says, but she hopes such an approach will be one way to reduce the death toll.

Across the country in Philadelphia, implementation scientist Rinad Beidas at the University of Pennsylvania is testing whether routine paediatric visits can be an effective time to talk with new parents about gun safety. Like Wexler, Beidas hopes to prevent suicides — the risk of death by suicide is higher when guns are easily accessible in a home. Her NIH-funded project will have paediatricians counselling parents about ways to limit gun access — for instance, by keeping firearms unloaded and locked away in their homes — alongside the conventional checklist of child-safety measures, including car seats and smoke alarms. Study volunteers will also receive locks for their guns from the programme. “Just like we made cars safer with seatbelts, we want to make homes safer around safe firearm storage,” she says.

All told, the NIH disbursed about $8.5 million to nine new proposals in 2020, short of the $12.5 million authorized by Congress. The agency attributes the shortfall to the timing with the pandemic: “We did not receive as …

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

21 July 2021 at 5:11 pm

Watching the Watchmen: The Michigan Group Who Planned to Kidnap the Governor

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Ken Bensinger and Jessica Garrison report in Buzzfeed:

The Michigan kidnapping case is a major test for the Biden administration’s commitment to fighting domestic terrorism — and a crucible for the fierce ideological divisions pulling the country apart.

In the inky darkness of a late summer night last September, three cars filled with armed men began circling Birch Lake in northern Michigan, looking for ways to approach Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s three-bedroom vacation cottage, subdue her — using a stun gun if necessary — and drag her away.

One vehicle stopped to check out a boat launch while a second searched in vain for the right house in the thick woods ringing the lake. The third car ran countersurveillance, using night vision goggles to look out for cops and handheld radios to communicate with the others.

Earlier, they had scoped out a bridge over the Elk River, just a few miles away, scrambling down under the span to figure out where plastic explosives would need to be placed to blow it sky-high. That would slow police response, giving the men time to escape with the governor — who had infuriated them by imposing COVID lockdowns, among other outrages — and either take her to Lake Michigan, where they could abandon her on a boat, or whisk her to Wisconsin, where she would be tried as a “tyrant.”

“Everybody down with what’s going on?” an Iraq War veteran in the group demanded to know when they ended their recon mission, well past midnight, at a campsite where they were all staying.

“If you’re not down with the thought of kidnapping,” someone else replied, “don’t sit here.”

The men planned for all kinds of obstacles, but there was one they didn’t anticipate: The FBI had been listening in all along.

For six months, the Iraq War vet had been wearing a wire, gathering hundreds of hours of recordings. He wasn’t the only one. A biker who had traveled from Wisconsin to join the group was another informant. The man who’d advised them on where to put the explosives — and offered to get them as much as the task would require — was an undercover FBI agent. So was a man in one of the other cars who said little and went by the name Mark.

Just over three weeks later, federal and state agents swooped in and arrested more than a dozen men accused of participating in what a federal prosecutor called a “deeply disturbing” criminal conspiracy hatched over months in secret meetings, on encrypted chats, and in paramilitary-style training exercises. Seven of the men who had driven to Birch Lake that night would end up in jail.

The case made international headlines, with the Justice Department touting it as an example of law enforcement agencies “working together to make sure violent extremists never succeed with their plans.” Prosecutors alleged that kidnapping the governor was just the first step in what some on the right call “the Big Boog,” a long-awaited civil war that would overthrow the government and return the United States to some supposed Revolutionary War–era ideal.

The defendants, for their part, see it very differently. They say they were set up.


.
The audacious plot
 to kidnap a sitting governor — seen by many as a precursor to the Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol by hundreds of Trump-supporting protesters — has become one of the most important domestic terrorism investigations in a generation.

The prosecution has already emerged as a critical test for how the Biden administration approaches the growing threat of homegrown anti-government groups. More than that, though, the case epitomizes the ideological divisions that have riven the country over the past several years. To some, the FBI’s infiltration of the innermost circle of armed anti-government groups is a model for how to successfully forestall dangerous acts of domestic terrorism. But for others, it’s an example of precisely the kind of outrageous government overreach that radicalizes people in the first place, and, increasingly, a flashpoint for deep state conspiracy theories.

The government has documented at least 12 confidential informants who assisted the sprawling investigation. The trove of evidence they helped gather provides an unprecedented view into American extremism, laying out in often stunning detail the ways that anti-government groups network with each other and, in some cases, discuss violent actions.

An examination of the case by BuzzFeed News also reveals that some of those informants, acting under the direction of the FBI, played a far larger role than has previously been reported. Working in secret, they did more than just passively observe and report on the actions of the suspects. Instead, they had a hand in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception. The extent of their involvement raises questions as to whether there would have even been a conspiracy without them.

A longtime government informant from Wisconsin, for example, helped organize a series of meetings around the country where many of the alleged plotters first met one another and the earliest notions of a plan took root, some of those people say. The Wisconsin informant even paid for some hotel rooms and food as an incentive to get people to come.

The Iraq War vet, for his part, became so deeply enmeshed in a Michigan militant group that he rose to become its second-in-command, encouraging members to collaborate with other potential suspects and paying for their transportation to meetings. He prodded the alleged mastermind of the kidnapping plot to advance his plan, then baited the trap that led to the arrest.

This account is based on an analysis of court filings, transcripts, exhibits, audio recordings, and other documents, as well as interviews with more than two dozen people with direct knowledge of the case, including several who were present at meetings and training sessions where prosecutors say the plot was hatched. All but one of the 14 original defendants have pleaded not guilty, and they vigorously deny that they were involved in a conspiracy to kidnap anyone. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

21 July 2021 at 12:58 pm

Daft robbers

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Paul Brown writes in Narratively (and you can listen to the piece at the link):

The American gangsters entered the British bank at three minutes to closing time on a Friday afternoon. Three men — two brothers and an accomplice — arrived outside, wearing black masks and gloves, horn-rimmed glasses, and narrow-brimmed trilby hats pulled low over their foreheads. They were armed with two revolvers and an automatic pistol. It was 2:57 p.m. on June 2, 1933, and the bank was the Cattle Market branch of Lloyds Bank in the soot-black industrial city of Newcastle upon Tyne in North East England. Outside, at the Friday meat market, butchers and wholesalers closed up their stalls and rinsed blood from their cleavers. Inside, at the end of a busy week, bank clerks tallied up receipts and attended to the last straggle of customers, including apron-wearing market workers and a 15-year-old girl. The masked men pushed through the bank’s double doors and raised their guns: “Everybody stand still and put up your hands.”

The brothers were Joe and Tommy Duffy, a pair of self-proclaimed American gangsters. They described themselves as hardened villains who had run with America’s most notorious criminals and served time in the country’s toughest prisons. They claimed reputations as violent enforcers and armed robbers — and had the broken noses and gunshot wounds to prove it. Now they were bringing the bullet-spraying American bank robbery to sleepy England, where armed robberies were virtually unknown. But their gangster credentials were about to be severely tested. They had chosen the wrong bank, in the wrong city, at the wrong time, and there would be terrible consequences.

Chapter One
Mail-Order Gangsters

The Duffy brothers were American gangsters who had been born to Irish parents in Edinburgh, Scotland, two of a family of nine sons. Joe immigrated in 1923, ending up in Detroit, and Tommy followed across the Atlantic a few months later. Joe was then 20 years old and Tommy — the more rambunctious of the pair — was 18. Joe was looking for work as an auto mechanic but couldn’t seem to find any. Tommy described himself as a “regular little roughneck.” He was a fearsome brawler and hoped to become a professional boxer in the United States. When that didn’t work out, the brothers tried a series of jobs: restaurant dishwashing, skyscraper construction, railroad work. They may also have tried to become farmers. But, according to an anonymous associate who spoke to London’s The People newspaper in 1933, “They soon quit that for the rackets.”

This was the era of the gangster, the bootlegger, the racketeer. Prohibition and a thirst for illicit alcohol were allowing organized crime groups to flourish. Al Capone was waging war on the streets of Chicago. Arnold Rothstein was building a criminal empire in New York. Prominent gangsters, pictured on the covers of newspapers in chalk-striped suits and fedoras, became nationally infamous. The hit movie Underworld, starring George Bancroft as gang boss Bull Weed, was the first of a series of gangster pictures that helped turn their protagonists into glamorous antiheroes.

By their own account, it was the ease of obtaining guns that led the Duffys to become gangsters. They saw an ad in a magazine, sent off $18.73 and received two revolvers in the mail. The brothers became holdup artists, targeting stores and payroll trucks. They also ran shipments of booze over the border from Canada for bootlegging gangs and became linked to some of the biggest names in American crime.

The Duffys ran with Capone’s mob in Chicago and with Rothstein’s accomplice Jack “Legs” Diamond in New York. Tommy claimed Capone offered him a job after spotting him during a boxing match. According to their “ex-gangster” associate, the Duffy brothers always carried guns and were “absolutely callous and cold-blooded.” They also looked the part. “Both the Duffys dressed immaculately,” said the associate. “They wore silk monogrammed shirts and paid as much as £2 for ties and £10 for shoes.” (Equivalent to about $177 and $885 in 2021.)

By the summer of 1926, the brothers were living in New York in a furnished room on the second floor of a red-brick rowhouse on West 11th Street. In early 1927, they held up Nathan Wolf’s drugstore on Eighth Avenue and walked out with $60 in cash. A week later, they robbed the Beck-Hazzard shoe store, also on Eighth Avenue, and took $25. These were relatively small takes, but the brothers would later claim to have committed several more high-profile armed robberies, including at least one bank robbery.

Certainly, their activities brought them to the attention of law enforcement. New York Police Commissioner Joseph A. Warren listed the Duffy Brothers on a lengthy wanted list of holdup gangs, alongside the likes of the Laughing Gang, the Harlem Terrors (also known as the Sucker Gang), and the Headache and Aspirin Gang. Commissioner Warren promised to rid the city of this scourge.

One evening in March 1927, the brothers were  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 July 2021 at 1:00 pm

A good question (on a T-shirt)

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Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2021 at 9:17 am

A short history of a wrong direction the US embraced

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Heather Cox Richardson reviews some of the decisions and directions that brought the US to its current situation:

America today is caught in a plague of gun violence.

It wasn’t always this way. Americans used to own guns without engaging in daily massacres. Indeed, it always jumps out at me that the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, when members of one Chicago gang set up and killed seven members of a rival gang, was so shocking it led to legislation that prohibits automatic weapons in the U.S.

Eighty-nine years later, though, in 2018, another Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 children and wounded 17 others. In response, then-President Donald Trump called for arming teachers, and the Republican-dominated Florida legislature rejected a bill that would have limited some high-capacity guns.

Our acceptance of violence today stands in striking contrast to Americans’ horror at the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Today’s promotion of a certain kind of gun ownership has roots in the politics of the country since the Supreme Court handed down the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision, which declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. Since Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted a government that actively shaped the economy, businessmen who hated government regulation tried to rally opposition to get rid of that government. But Americans of the post-World War II years actually liked regulation of the runaway capitalism they blamed for the Great Depression.

The Brown v. Board decision changed the equation. It enabled those who opposed business regulation to reach back to a racist trope from the nation’s Reconstruction years after the Civil War. They argued that the active government after World War II was not simply regulating business. More important, they said, it was using tax dollars levied on hardworking white men to promote civil rights for undeserving Black people. The troops President Dwight Eisenhower sent to Little Rock Central High School in 1957, for example, didn’t come cheap. Civil Rights, then, promoted by the newly active federal government, were virtually socialism.

This argument had sharp teeth in the 1950s, as Americans recoiled from the growing influence of the U.S.S.R., but it came originally from the Reconstruction era. Then, white supremacist southerners who were determined to stop the federal government from enforcing Black rights argued that they were upset about Black participation in society not because of race—although of course they were—but rather because poor Black voters were electing lawmakers who were using white people’s tax dollars to lay roads, for example, or build schools.

In contrast to this apparent socialism, southern Democrats after the Civil War lionized the American cowboy, whom they mythologized as a white man (in fact, a third of the cowboys were men of color) who wanted nothing of the government but to be left alone (in reality, the cattle industry depended on the government). Out there on the western plains, the mythological cowboy worked hard for a day’s pay for moving cattle to a railhead, all the while fighting off Indigenous Americans, Mexicans, and rustlers who were trying to stop him.

That same mythological cowboy appeared in the 1950s to stand against what those opposed to business regulation and civil rights saw as the creeping socialism of their era. By 1959, there were 26 Westerns on TV, and in March 1959, eight of one week’s top shows were Westerns. They showed hardworking cowboys protecting their land from evildoers. The cowboys didn’t need help from their government; they made their own law with a gun.

In 1958, Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona rocketed to prominence after he accused the president from his own party, Dwight Eisenhower, of embracing “the siren song of socialism.” Goldwater had come from a wealthy background after his family cashed in on the boom of federal money flowing to Arizona dam construction, but he presented himself to the media as a cowboy, telling stories of how his family had come to Arizona when “[t]here was no federal welfare system, no federally mandated employment insurance, no federal agency to monitor the purity of the air, the food we ate, or the water we drank,” and that “[e]verything that was done, we did it ourselves.” Goldwater opposed the Brown v. Board decision and Eisenhower’s decision to use troops to desegregate Little Rock Central High School.

Increasingly, those determined to destroy the postwar government emphasized the hardworking individual under siege by a large, grasping government that redistributed wealth to the undeserving, usually people of color. A big fan of Goldwater, Ronald Reagan famously developed a cowboy image even as he repeatedly warned of the “welfare queen” who lived large on government benefits she stole.

As late as 1968, the National Rifle Association supported some forms of gun control, but that changed in the 1980s as the organization affiliated itself with Reagan’s Republican Party. In 1981, an assassin attempted to kill the president and succeeded in badly wounding him, as well as injuring the president’s press secretary, James Brady, and two others. Despite pressure to limit gun ownership, in 1986, under pressure from the NRA, the Republican Congress did the opposite: it passed the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act, which erased many of the earlier controls on gun ownership, making it easier to buy, sell, and transport guns across state lines.

In 1987, Congress began to consider the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, otherwise known as the Brady Bill, to require background checks before gun purchases and to prevent certain transfer of guns across state lines. As soon as the measure was proposed, the NRA shifted into high gear to prevent its passage. The bill did not pass until 1993, under President Bill Clinton’s administration. The NRA set out to challenge the law in the courts.

While the challenges wound their way upward, the idea of individuals standing against a dangerous government became central to the Republican Party. . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing. It’s good to be reminded that choices have long-lasting impact.

Written by Leisureguy

20 April 2021 at 10:23 am

Curbing gun violence in the United States

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In a post yesterday, I set out the reasons that suicide should, like homicide, be viewed as part of the serious gun violence problem the US has. What can be done to implement ways of combating gun violence? Colleen Walsh describes in the Harvard Gazette some steps that could be taken.

In the wake of several deadly mass shootings, President Biden announced a list of executive orders last Thursday aimed at reducing gun-related violence, and called for Congress to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Biden’s orders included better regulation of “ghost guns” — homemade weapons that lack traceable serial numbers — and stabilizing braces that transform pistols into more lethal, short-barreled rifles. They also called for increased support for violence-intervention programs, and model “red flag” legislation to make it easier to get guns away from people who pose a danger to themselves or others.

Stopping gun violence will take myriad approaches, including a range of public health efforts, according to David Hemenway, professor of health policy at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and author of the 2006 book “Private Guns, Public Health.” Hemenway, who is working on a new book about firearms and public health while the Elizabeth S. and Richard M. Cashin Fellow at Harvard Radcliffe Institute, spoke with the Gazette about what needs to be done to curb gun violence in the U.S.

Q&A with David Hemenway

GAZETTE: What was your impression of Biden’s executive orders around gun control?

HEMENWAY: Biden’s overall plan seems excellent—a response that is more than just more law enforcement — and these executive actions are good first steps to reduce the terrible problem of firearm violence in the U.S. There are various specific actions taken, such as beginning to address the issues of ghost guns (which aren’t subject to background checks), and they are all important. He could do more, but there are so many important things he can’t do by himself with executive orders. Overall, I think it’s a nice first step, but he needs Congress to work with him to do many of the most important things.

GAZETTE: What are some of those things?

HEMENWAY: Universal background checks need to be passed by Congress, but even more important than that would be universal gun-licensing laws (which implies universal background checks) and handgun registration. Just as everyone who drives a motor vehicle needs to have a license and vehicle registration, the same should be true for anyone who owns a firearm. Only a few U.S. states have gun licensing, but as far as I can tell, virtually every other developed country has some form of gun licensing, and their levels of gun violence are all far lower than ours. Licensing and registration helps keep guns out of the wrong hands.

There are so many other actions the federal government could take to help further reduce firearm violence. For example, the federal government could model what good training for gun owners should look like. In our work at the School of Public Health, we sent people out to take dozens of basic gun training classes throughout the Northeast. Some of the trainings were excellent, but some were horrible. Only half of the trainers discussed how you should store your guns appropriately, while a few said if you have kids you can just hide your guns. Almost no one discussed the role of guns in suicide, the curiosity of children, methods of de-escalating conflict, alternative methods of self-defense, or the type of continual training one needs to effectively use a gun in self-defense. The federal government could play an important role in helping to create and model rules around training.

We also need better gun-safety standards. Many children (and some adults) don’t know that when you take out the magazine from a semi-automatic pistol, the gun is still loaded, not realizing that there is a bullet left in the chamber and that if you pull the trigger you could kill somebody. This is the most common way that children are killed unintentionally with guns in this country. Even better than teaching every child or even having guns that make it apparent when they can still be fired, semi-automatic pistols can be made so the gun won’t fire when the magazine has been removed. We should also have childproof guns. Many 2- to 4-year-olds kill themselves when they find a loaded firearm. We made childproof aspirin bottles because children would find aspirin bottles and die from ingesting the aspirin, but we still make it too easy for toddlers to find guns and kill themselves.

I also think we need strict liability laws for gun owners. One of the reasons accidental pool drownings decreased in many parts of the world is because people who don’t properly fence and protect their pools became liable in the case of accidental injury, especially to children who gained access to the pool and drowned. The same should be true for something as dangerous as a gun. If you own TNT, or anything which is extremely dangerous, you have to be safe and responsible with it. Right now, that’s not the case for many guns, which are too commonly stored insecurely. Roughly 350,000 guns are stolen each year and end up in the wrong hands.

GAZETTE: Picking up on the issue of liability, Biden said during his press conference if he could do one thing it would be to eliminate immunity for gun manufacturers.

HEMENWAY: That’s certainly important. The reason the law was passed during the Bush administration was to protect the gun manufacturers and distributors who saw what had happened in the tobacco arena, and they didn’t want it to happen to them, so they got Republicans to pass a law giving them incredible immunity compared to other products. So yes, that would be a useful thing.

GAZETTE: Why do you think there is so little appetite in America, even after so many mass shootings, for any additional controls on the sale and use of guns?

HEMENWAY: I think it’s a combination of misinformation and the culture wars. I looked at Google news this morning, and the headline about the Biden initiatives was from Fox News: “Sen. Hawley: Biden ultimately seeks civilian gun confiscation while permitting rioters and crime.”

GAZETTE: What do you think of Biden’s pick to head the ATF, David Chipman?

HEMENWAY: I know David. I think he’s great. He’s very smart, very personable, hard-working, and quite experienced. He was an ATF agent for years ­— he’s certainly well-qualified. It would be good if he could strengthen the ATF’s oversight of gun dealers. The agency has been hamstrung through the years, and there seem to still be too many bad-apple gun dealers who make it too easy for the wrong people to gain access to firearms.

GAZETTE: Biden’s plan also calls for a new report on gun trafficking to be conducted by the Justice Department. In your mind, why is that data so important?

HEMENWAY: Reports are good, but perhaps even more important would be

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2021 at 12:07 pm

Suicide and impulse

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Suicide can be a considered choice — for example, an elderly person in the grasp of a painful and incurable terminal illness might decide to end his life early rather than suffer — or it can be a passing impulse — for example, a person with clinical depression who encounters a temporary setback and impulsively makes a suicide attempt.

In the US the most common suicide method is with a firearm. Consider this chart (source):

If a person has a suicidal impulse and has easy access to a firearm (not unusual in the US), the firearm is likely to be used in an attempt at suicide, and the outcome is almost always fatal. Indeed, in looking at gun deaths in the US, suicide outnumbers homicide (source):

In discussing deaths due to gun violence, some object to including suicides in the total because (they believe) “if a person’s going to commit suicide, they’ll find a way to do it, with or without a gun.” That belief is false for as impulsive suicide, and impulsive suicide is much more common than considered suicide.

If a person experiencing a suicidal impulse picks a method that requires several steps and involves time and effort, the impulse is likely to dissipate before the attempt is made, and if the method is not instantly fatal so that recovery is possible (as in taking an overdose of medicine), the person may possibly be saved and not reattempt suicide.

Years ago I read an account by a man who, walking across the Golden Gate bridge and feeling depressed about his current situation (as I recall, he had just lost his job), decided to kill himself by jumping off the bridge. He was, as he later wrote, fully committed, but he wanted to face the city lights when he jumped, and he was on the side of the bridge away from the city, so that he would be facing only darkness.

He could not cross immediately to the other side because of traffic and traffic barriers, so he decided to walk to the end of the bridge, cross there, and return to jump, facing the city. By the time he reached the end of the bridge, however, the impulse had dissipated, and he simply continued on his way home (which is why we know the story). The impulse never returned.

The Harvard School of Public Health has an article that speaks to this:

Nine out of ten people who attempt suicide and survive will not go on to die by suicide at a later date. This has been well-established in the suicidology literature. A literature review (Owens 2002) summarized 90 studies that have followed over time people who have made suicide attempts that resulted in medical care. Approximately 7% (range: 5-11%) of attempters eventually died by suicide, approximately 23% reattempted nonfatally, and 70% had no further attempts.

Even studies that focused on medically serious attempts–such as people who jumped in front of a train (O’Donnell 1994)–and studies that followed attempters for many decades found similarly low suicide completion rates. At least one study, published after the 90-study review, found a slightly higher completion rate. This was a 37-year follow-up of self-poisoners in Finland that found an eventual completion rate of 13% (Suominen 2004).

This relatively good long-term survival rate is consistent with the observation that suicidal crises are often short-lived, even if there may be underylying, more chronic risk factors present that give rise to these crises.

The relationship between suicide attempts and completions is a complex one.

  • Most people who die by suicide in the U.S. did not make a previous attempt. Prevention efforts that focus only on those who attempt suicide will miss the majority of completers. An international review of psychological autopsy studies found that approximately 40% of those dying by suicide had previously attempted (Cavanagh 2003). The proportion was lower (25-33%) among studies of youth suicide in the U.S. (Brent 1993, Shaffer 1996). A history of previous attempts is lower among those dying by firearm suicide and higher among those dying by overdose (NVISS data).
  • Most people who attempt suicide will not go on to complete suicide. [Though if a gun is used, the suicide attempt almost always results in death. – LG]
  • Still, history of suicide attempt is one of the strongest risk factors for suicide. 5% to 11% of hospital-treated attempters do go on to complete suicide, a far higher proportion than among the general public where annual suicide rates are about 1 in 10,000.

Footnotes and sources are found at the link. The big problem with guns is that a suicide attempt using a gun is almost always successful.

This came to mind this morning as I read a New Yorker article by D.T. Max, which includes this passage:

Suicide is often a response to extreme personal struggles, but the immediate catalyst can be little more than a bad grade on a test or a weekend when a student’s friends have gone out of town. A widely cited 1978 study of some five hundred people who were stopped from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge suggests how impulsive the urge to kill oneself can be: only about five per cent of the subjects later died by suicide [that is, 95% did not later commit suicide – LG]. (Studies such as this helped lead to the now ubiquitous signs on bridges with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number: 1-800-273-8255.)

In the past two decades, the suicide rate in the United States has risen by some thirty-five per cent, and the problem is especially acute among the young. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by 2018 suicide had become the second most common cause of death among Americans between the ages of ten and twenty-four, exceeded only by accidental death. Experts describe as precipitating factors everything from mounting economic pressures to the broadcasting of distress on social media. At the University of Pennsylvania, more than a dozen students have died by suicide since 2013, and in late 2019 the director of the school’s mental-health services jumped from the seventeenth floor of a building. A 2018 study by researchers affiliated with Harvard University found that one in five American college students had had suicidal thoughts the previous year. Will Newman, a professor of forensic psychiatry at Saint Louis University, told me, “The percentage of freshmen seeking mental-health services is on a steady incline, and universities have to quickly adjust to keep up.” Meanwhile, the covid-19 pandemic has deepened the isolation of many Americans. More than ten per cent of respondents to a C.D.C. survey last June said that in the previous month they had seriously considered killing themselves.

Written by Leisureguy

12 April 2021 at 3:08 pm

Puddles: Tears, butterflies, and the shootings in Atlanta

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Sabrina Imbler writes in Sierra, the magazine of the Sierra Club:

This past week, I have been trying to figure out if a puddle is a body of water.

According to Wikipedia, a body of water is defined as a significant accumulation of water, such as an ocean, a sea, or a lake. When geographers map out bodies of water, they include oceans and lakes, perhaps even ponds, but not puddles. A puddle is defined by a small accumulation of water on a surface. I have to wonder, is “small” significant? What about “very small”? How much water must you hold to be considered a body of water?

As a mixed Asian American person, I have spent a lifetime trying to understand how small something like an experience can be and still be considered significant. How small I can be and still be significant.

I have been thinking about puddles because they are the only bodies of water I see nowadays. In Brooklyn, where I live, puddles accumulate by sidewalks and surround intersections, meaning you have to look down to know where to step. Sometimes, after rainfall but before the murk and trash sets in, you can see a glimmer of yourself, or how you are seen.

Last spring, amid a first wave of lockdowns—after my mom sent me an email cautioning me, an Asian asthmatic, not to cough in public—a man spit at me, maybe. I wasn’t sure. He was standing on a corner and I had just walked past him on the otherwise empty street. His spit landed on my shoe, and I faltered for a second but kept walking. When I looked back, I saw him watching me. When he didn’t say anything, I figured I was assuming too much, that I had been the one to intrude in his pre-planned spitting, that it was ingloriously vain of me to assume that he meant to spit on me. A few blocks away, surrounded by brownstones and shuttered shops—no storefront glass in sight—I looked at myself in a puddle as if this could answer my question. I saw a face mask and a beanie and then the only part of my face that was exposed: my eyes. I returned from my destination—a Japanese restaurant converted into a grocery store—and passed by a mailbox with a directive in Sharpie: Go back to China! As I walked home, I wondered, was this significant?

I have been thinking about puddles this past week because I have been crying, in fits and bursts, leaking enough tears and mucus that I could form a very small, probably insignificant, puddle. I did not cry when I learned about the shooting at the spas in Atlanta—where a white man shot eight people, six of whom were Asian women—but I cried later that night, while I was brushing my teeth. I am not a woman, but I am reminded constantly by strangers that I am seen as a woman, objectified as an Asian woman. I thought about the images I’d seen in past months of Asian elders shovedassaulted, and slashed, many of whom lived in towns near where my own grandparents live. My grandpa, a 98-year-old man who wears flat caps and speaks mostly in Mandarin these days, walks around his neighborhood for an hour each day. I wondered, should I ask him to stop?

I do not mean to equate my Asian American experience with the experience of the women killed in Atlanta. Asian massage workers face violence, racism, and sexism every day, Elene Lam, the executive director of Butterfly, a support network for Asian and migrant sex workers in Toronto, told The Cut. Their work is stigmatized, precarious, criminalized, and overpoliced, regardless of whether they are sex workers. They may lack legal protections or be excluded from other jobs due to their immigration status or language barriers. “Those women were assumed to be sex workers & therefore not worthy of safety,” tweeted the writer and social worker Kai Cheng Thom in a thread about the shootings. I felt frustrated at the futility of my tears; they were not helping the victims or the families left to grieve the losses of their daughters, mothers, grandmothers.

When I was in high school, I learned that puddles, bereft of flow, could become vectors of disease. Standing water is dangerous because it is a breeding ground for mosquitoes that spread diseases such as malaria and dengue. I did not learn until much later that when Chinese women began immigrating to California in the 19th century, white health professionals and legislators cast these women as a threat to American morality and a contagion to public health. The president of the American Medical Association warned of a (completely fictitious) sexually transmitted disease that was only carried by Chinese women, Mari Uyehara writes in The Nation. In 1875, the US passed the Page Act, which effectively banned Chinese women from immigrating.

Puddles may not be significant to geographers, but they are significant to wildlife, particularly butterflies. Adult butterflies can only consume liquids, which they imbibe through their spiraling proboscises. They subsist almost entirely on a diet of leaves and nectar, foods rich in sugar but devoid of sodium. Butterflies must seek out sodium elsewhere in liquid form. So they resort to what’s known as puddling, seeking out minerals in water and damp substrates. Shallow puddles are safer havens for such small creatures than the surging currents of rivers or depths of a pond. Butterflies in Sulawesi, . . .

Continue reading. The conclusion is powerful.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2021 at 11:35 am

Elite panic

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I have observed, as perhaps you have as well, that wealth seems to make people fearful, and as wealth increases more and more stringent forms of security are embraced. Rebecca Solnit has an interesting Facebook post on this pathology. She writes:

The marauding hordes of the underclass is a topic of constant fantasy among elites, so much so two of the sociologists I cited in A Paradise Built in Hell labeled this delusion “elite panic.” It often justifies what you could call marauding hordes of the overclass — suppressing the people they assume are bestial but also at some level they acknowledge are legitimately resentful of social inequality, which they [the overclass] are willing to use violence to perpetuate.

In a way the premise of white supremacy is “your imaginary violence is the justification for my real violence,” and here’s Graham trotting that out as “the violence I imagine could happen in extreme situations is my justification for pushing instruments of extreme violence into everyday life.”

Those sociologists also demonstrate that most people are altruistic, generous, resourceful, and helpful in disasters. Note the alignment of racist fantasies here — gangs, cops, white people with weapons of war. But what that violence from elites and authorities is really used for is to maintain the status quo, and there’s a way mass shootings do so, as attacks on women, immigrants, people of color, perceived enemies to be punished by people who have allocated the right to punish unto death.

From the book Disasters: A Sociological Approach, sociologist Kathleen Tierney, who directs the University of Colorado’s Natural Hazards Center, gave a riveting talk at the University of California, Berkeley, for the centennial of the 1906 earthquake. In the talk she stated, “Elites fear disruption of the social order, challenges to their legitimacy.” She reversed the image of a panicking public and a heroic minority to describe what she called “elite panic.” She itemized its ingredients as “fear of social disorder; fear of poor, minorities and immigrants; obsession with looting and property crime; willingness to resort to deadly force; and actions taken on the basis of rumor.”

In other words, it is the few who behave badly and the many who rise to the occasion. And those few behave badly not because of facts but of beliefs: they believe the rest of us are about to panic or become a mob or upend property relations, and in their fear they act out to prevent something that may have only existed in their imaginations. Thus the myth of malevolent disaster behavior becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. Elsewhere she adds, “The media emphasis on lawlessness and the need for strict social control both reflects and reinforces political discourse calling for a greater role for the military in disaster management. Such policy positions are indicators of the strength of militarism as an ideology in the United States.”

From their decades of meticulous research, most of the disaster sociologists have delineated a worldview in which civil society triumphs and existing institutions often fail during disaster. They quietly endorse much of what anarchists like Kropotkin have long claimed, though they do so from a studiously neutral position buttressed by quantities of statistics and carefully avoid prescriptions and conclusions about the larger social order. And yet, they are clear enough that in disaster we need an open society based on trust in which people are free to exercise their capacities for improvisation, altruism, and solidarity. In fact, we need it all the time, only most urgently in disaster.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2021 at 10:57 am

Trump Complains Government Is ‘Persecuting’ Capitol Rioters

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The situation in the US is actively getting more dangerous because Donald Trump is leading and fomenting an already-violent insurrection against the government — against the administration, really, to force someone — Congress, Georgia Governor, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pence… anyone — to provide an election “count” sufficient to put Trump back in the White House. And he’s not going to shut up until he is in the White House. He’ll butt into every situation he can. As we’ve seen, he has zero sense of shame and zero decorum.

Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

One of the most dangerous, long-lasting changes effected by Donald Trump is the rightward extension of the Republican coalition. A wide array of far-right militias and cults was either created or inspired to join the Republican Party by Trump’s racist, paranoid, and authoritarian rhetoric. Now those groups are the subject of regular apologias in party-aligned media.

The new reality was driven home in Trump’s interview with Laura Ingraham Thursday night. At one point, the Fox News host, whose “interview” was more like an exchange of talking points, brought up a new report that the Homeland Security Department will be giving more attention to right-wing domestic extremism. “The idea is to identify people who may, through their social-media behavior, be prone to influence by toxic messaging spread by foreign governments, terrorists, and domestic extremists,” Ingraham noted. “Mr. President, their DHS is going after people who may be your supporters.”

It is worth pausing for a moment to record that Ingraham’s reaction to a description of people “prone to influence by toxic messaging spread by foreign governments, terrorists, and domestic extremists” is hey, they’re talking about us!

Trump, taking the cue, denounced federal authorities for charging his supporters with crimes. “They go after that, I guess you’d call them leaning toward the right … those people, they’re arresting them by the dozens,” he complained.

Ingraham did not follow up by asking who was being arrested by the dozens. But Trump’s answer became clear a few questions later. Ingraham prompted him with a safe question about the security fencing around the Capitol, a precaution even Democrats have deemed excessive long after the insurrection ended.

Rather than simply denounce the fencing, Trump launched into . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 March 2021 at 2:14 pm

That right to bear arms — what does it mean, exactly, to “bear arms”?

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Heather Cox Richardson discusses some history regarding guns in the US:

Ten more people in Boulder, Colorado, died yesterday, shot by a man with a gun, just days after we lost 8 others in Atlanta, Georgia, shot by a man with a gun.

In 2017, after the murder of 58 people in Las Vegas, political personality Bill O’Reilly said that such mass casualties were “the price of freedom.”

But his is a very recent interpretation of guns and their meaning in America.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution is one simple sentence: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” There’s not a lot to go on about what the Framers meant, although in their day, to “bear arms” meant to be part of an organized militia.

As the Tennessee Supreme Court wrote in 1840, “A man in the pursuit of deer, elk, and buffaloes might carry his rifle every day for forty years, and yet it would never be said of him that he had borne arms; much less could it be said that a private citizen bears arms because he has a dirk or pistol concealed under his clothes, or a spear in a cane.”

The path to today’s insistence that the Second Amendment gives individuals a broad right to own guns comes from two places.

One is the establishment of the National Rifle Association in New York in 1871, in part to improve the marksmanship skills of American citizens who might be called on to fight in another war, and in part to promote in America the British sport of elite shooting, complete with hefty cash prizes in newly organized tournaments. Just a decade after the Civil War, veterans jumped at the chance to hone their former skills. Rifle clubs sprang up across the nation.

By the 1920s, rifle shooting was a popular American sport. “Riflemen” competed in the Olympics, in colleges and in local, state and national tournaments organized by the NRA. Being a good marksman was a source of pride, mentioned in public biographies, like being a good golfer. In 1925, when the secretary of the NRA apparently took money from ammunitions and arms manufacturers, the organization tossed him out and sued him.

NRA officers insisted on the right of citizens to own rifles and handguns, but worked hard to distinguish between law-abiding citizens who should have access to guns for hunting and target shooting and protection, and criminals and mentally ill people, who should not. In 1931, amid fears of bootlegger gangs, the NRA backed federal legislation to limit concealed weapons, prevent possession by criminals, the mentally ill and children, to require all dealers to be licensed, and to require background checks before delivery. It backed the 1934 National Firearms Act, and parts of the 1968 Gun Control Act, designed to stop what seemed to be America’s hurtle toward violence in that turbulent decade.

But in the mid-1970s, a faction in the NRA forced the organization away from sports and toward opposing “gun control.” It formed a political action committee (PAC) in 1975, and two years later elected an organization president who abandoned sporting culture and focused instead on “gun rights.”

This was the second thing that led us to where we are today: leaders of the NRA embraced the politics of Movement Conservatism, the political movement that rose to combat the business regulations and social welfare programs that both Democrats and Republicans embraced after World War Two. Movement Conservatives embraced the myth of the American cowboy as a white man standing against the “socialism” of the federal government as it sought to level the economic playing field between Black Americans and their white neighbors. Leaders like Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater personified the American cowboy, with his cowboy hat and opposition to government regulation, while television Westerns showed good guys putting down bad guys without the interference of the government.

In 1972, the Republican platform had called for gun control to restrict the sale of “cheap handguns,” but in 1975, as he geared up to challenge President Gerald R. Ford for the 1976 presidential nomination, Movement Conservative hero Ronald Reagan took a stand against gun control. In 1980, the Republican platform opposed the federal registration of firearms, and the NRA endorsed a presidential candidate—Reagan– for the first time.

When President Reagan took office, a new American era, dominated by Movement Conservatives, began. And the power of the NRA over American politics grew.

In 1981, a gunman trying to kill Reagan shot and paralyzed his press secretary, James Brady, and wounded Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy and police officer Thomas Delahanty. After the shooting, Representative Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced legislation that became known as the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, or the Brady Bill, to require background checks before gun purchases. Reagan, who was a member of the NRA, endorsed the bill, but the NRA spent millions of dollars to defeat it.

After the Brady Bill passed in 1993, the NRA paid for lawsuits in nine states to strike it down. Although until 1959, every single legal article on the Second Amendment concluded that it was not intended to guarantee individuals the right to own a gun, in the 1970s, legal scholars funded by the NRA had begun to argue that the Second Amendment did exactly that.

In 1997, when the Brady Bill cases came before the Supreme Court as Printz v. United States, the Supreme Court declared parts of the measure unconstitutional.

Now a player in national politics, the NRA was awash in money from gun and ammunition manufacturers. By 2000, it was one of the three most powerful lobbies in Washington. It spent more than $40 million on the 2008 election. In that year, the landmark Supreme Court decision of District of Columbia v. Heller struck down gun regulations and declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms.

Increasingly, NRA money . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2021 at 11:05 am

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