another mass shooting

Another week, another horrific mass shooting in America.

Another post I did not want to have occasion to write.

As some of you know, I live in the Binghamton, New York area, which was the scene of a 2009 mass shooting at the American Civic Association. Because of this, I know that these crimes can happen anywhere in our country. We lost the sense of “it can’t happen here” years ago.

Every time there is another mass shooting, much of the public response seems the same. “It’s a mental health issue, not a gun issue.” (Unless it is Muslim shooter, in which case it is a terrorism issue, not a gun issue.) “It’s disrespectful to talk about gun control when people are in mourning.” Corollary: we can talk about gun control later, except that we as a country are always in mourning/recovery from a mass shooting because they happen so frequently, so the “appropriate time” for the discussion never arrives. “The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.” “The guns were all legally purchased.” “This (insert gun control proposal here) would not have stopped (insert particular mass shooting here) from happening.”

Enough. Time for a reality check.

The issue is complicated. It needs and deserves thoughtful analysis and strategies to prevent future incidences. It needs and deserves consistent attention from the public and from public officials, because it is about the health, safety, and well-being of individuals and the country.

Yes, the mental health treatment system in the United States needs to be more robust, affordable, and compassionate. The shooter at the ACA was known to be mentally ill; his father begged the state of New York not to issue him a gun license, but the laws at the time allowed it. To its credit, New York made some legal changes to tighten qualifications for gun licenses and accessories like high-capacity magazines. New York has also made mental health treatment more accessible, as has the Affordable Care Act on the national level. Anyone who is serious about preventing mass shootings and other forms of violence needs to be serious about funding outreach and access to mental health services.

This leads to discussion of another characteristic that many mass shooters share, a history of domestic abuse. It lends even more weight to the current growth in public awareness of how widespread sexual harassment and assault are in our society. Abuse of all sorts is at its roots an abuse of power. Firearms in the hands of an abuser multiply the destructive force to the victim/s. Yet, too often, perpetrators of domestic or sexual violence are not prevented from owning firearms and are not adequately treated for their mental health problems.

The second amendment to the US Constitution is usually quoted only in part, only about the right to keep and bear arms not being infringed. If one reads the whole amendment and looks at the historical context, it is clear that the intent of the framers had to do with militias, not an absolute individual right. In July of 2016, I had a guest viewpoint on gun control published in the local paper; you can read it here. I think it can help to consider other military arms at this point. Do you think the second amendment gives individuals the right to own a rocket-propelled grenade launcher or a nuclear missile? Those are “arms,” as well. Should a military assault rifle be considered differently?

…which leads to my next point. We need to look at what kind of guns and accessories are available for sale to the general public. Fully automatic weapons are banned, so why is it legal to sell bump stocks that make semi-automatics behave like fully automatic weapons? Hunting for game is an old and time-honored tradition and most people use hunting rifles for this purpose. Even for the minority of hunters who use assault-type weapons, it seems that high-capacity magazines are not necessary. If you need thirty bullets to take down your prey, you are not skilled enough be hunting. I think that weapons designed for military use should not be in the hands of civilians and hope that Congress will again consider an assault weapons ban.

There should be public health research about guns and gun violence. Federal funding for this kind of research has been highly restricted due to the gun lobby’s leverage with members of Congress. Sadly, the presence of a gun in a household increases the risk that someone in the household will die or be injured with a gun. There are many heart-breaking instances of children inadvertently killing a sibling or friend after finding and playing with a gun in their home. Most people do not know that the majority of gun fatalities in the United States are suicides. Obviously, this ties into the mental health topic as well, but I don’t think that people who buy a gun for protection realize that owning a gun increases the chances that someone in the household will be injured or killed by a gun instead of protecting against that. People need all of these public health facts to inform their decisions and viewpoints.

Today – and every day – are appropriate ones to discuss and work on issues surrounding gun violence. There is never a day when someone is not mourning death or injury by guns, whether through mass shootings or other crimes, accident, or suicide. This is not an insoluble problem; nearly every other country has managed to cut gun deaths to low levels per capita.

The United States can do it, too.

Let’s begin today.

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discouraging news

Don’t worry. This isn’t about any particular or personal news. Just a general statement of what it is like for me and for many others in the United States these days.

Watching/reading/listening to news is very fraught and discouraging. Sometimes, such as when there is violence, the news is sad and discouraging in and of itself.

Just about any news story about national government is discouraging as the dysfunction that has been in evidence in recent years has only deepened. This is ironic because the Republicans control Congress and the presidency, which usually means that legislation would pass easily. However, there is so much dissension and confusion within the party and between the president and Congressional leaders that nothing of significance is getting through the process to become law.

In the not-too-distant past, the majority and minority party would cooperate and compromise to pass legislation with a goodly majority of bipartisan votes, but that has fallen by the wayside, leaving very discouraging gridlock in its wake.

One of the things that disturbs me most is how many people are publicly denying known and provable facts. For example, some say that Russia’s interference in the US elections didn’t take place and is just an excuse for Clinton’s loss, but Russia’s role in the DNC hack was publicly known and reported on months before the election. Further evidence of hacking by Russia has also been proven in attacks on various election systems in at least two dozen states. Additionally, we have seen Russia use the same tactics in other countries.

At least as troubling is the ugliness of attacks on individuals and groups of people. Obviously, this is not a new tactic either, but some people are emboldened by the president’s twitter attacks and by other high-profile leaders who namecall and stereotype or even engage in hate speech against racial, ethnic, religious, or gender groups. Public discourse gets diverted away from civil discussion of issues and is dragged into personal or group attacks.

In the midst of all this, we have the many disturbing stories of sexual harassment and assault being unearthed after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, showing how prevalent such stories are. Although the stories are horrifying and sad, the #MeToo movement feels empowering and hopeful to me. Maybe we have finally reached a critical juncture where everyone in the society realizes what sexual harassment and assault look, sound, and feel like so that we can actually put a stop to it.

This also reinforces for me my broader commitment to both feminism and social justice causes. When you see how many individuals’ lives are adversely affected by discrimination, abuse, lost opportunities, violence, health problems, etc., you can more readily see that we are not living up to our societal commitments to fairness, equality, and “the pursuit of happiness,” nor are we following the Constitutional call to “promote the general welfare.”  For me as a Catholic, social justice work is also part of upholding doctrine on the dignity of each person and of all types of work and workers  and on the call to care for all creation with special care being given to those most vulnerable.

The disturbing news of late shows how much work there is to be done.

I hope you will join me and the millions of others in these efforts.

Charlottesville

On Saturday, my son-in-law L headed back to the UK to comply with the terms of his visa which only allowed 90 days to be here for ABC’s birth and early weeks. We all miss him and have been adjusting to the household without him, while, of course, responding to the changing needs and sleep patterns of a two-month-old. That and helping out my parents are quite enough to occupy me, but I felt that I had to post about the current state of affairs in the US, which is adding stress, fear, and sadness to our lives.

Donald Trump is exposing our country to danger with his saber-rattling. I hope that Congress will make clear that war declarations are their province, not the president’s. There should be no first strike against North Korea, Venezuela, or any other country without action from Congress, as the US Constitution requires.

I have long believed that Donald Trump has neither the intellect nor the temperament nor the judgment to be an effective, just, and moral president. Sadly, his reactions to Charlottesville have only reinforced this. His press conference yesterday was wrong on the facts and unconscionably upheld the alt-right/neo-nazi/white supremacist lies about their own history, motivations, and current aspirations. (I do not intend to go over this in detail or to engage in comment exchanges about this, but check out the reporting from Vice to hear the alt-right views directly from their leaders.)

This is a time when all members of Congress should clearly denounce the president for his statements and redouble their efforts to uphold civil rights and religious freedom. (The footage of torch-bearing men chanting against Jews was especially chilling.) They should also offer support to the family and friends of Heather Heyer, to all those who were injured, and to Charlottesville, which is not forthcoming from the White House as we expect in times of tragedy.

Vice-president Pence and the Cabinet should convene to discuss invoking the 25th Amendment, which was added to the Constitution to defend against an unfit president.

I do want to remind people that this is not just about some Confederate statues. These statues were not erected in the 1860s to commemorate those who fought and died. They are not battlefield monuments or historic sites. Most were placed in the 1920s, when the Ku Klux Klan was so strong that it staged marches in Washington, DC, or during the 1950s-60s, at the height of the civil rights marches. They were put in public places in order to intimidate African-Americans and anyone who supported civil rights for all. No one is proposing that we forget about the Civil War, but we need to learn about the complexities of its causes and aftermath, an endeavor which is not served by a statue of a general on a horse at a courthouse or pubic square that was erected to scare people of color.

Violence and bigotry are unacceptable. Love trumps hate.

As Nelson Mandela wrote in Long Walk to Freedom,  “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

US Healthcare Update

Overnight, the Senate defeated the Affordable Care Act repeal bills. It wasn’t pretty, with 49 Senators willing to take health insurance away from millions of Americans, but 51 Senators stood up for us.

Now, we need Congressmembers from across the spectrum to engage with each other to craft legislation that improves and expands the Affordable Care Act so that everyone has access to affordable, quality health care. There are already some bill drafts that do that available as a starting point.

Let’s go.

Plan C? Seriously?

Last night, more Republican Senators made it clear that they would not vote to open debate on the latest version of the health care bill.

Within a couple of hours, Majority Leader McConnell announced that he would bring up a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but delay its taking effect for two years, during which time the Congress would need to pass a replacement plan for the president to sign.

This is a bad idea.

The last time the Congress tried something similar was during a budget impasse. They put in place a sequester program that capped budget allocations for both discretionary and defense spending. The theory was that both parties would want to cooperate so they could allocate more money for their budget priorities. The reality was that no agreement was reached and there were some years that Congress didn’t even pass its appropriations bills, but used a series of continuing resolutions to fund the various departments.

This does not give high confidence that Congress would pass a replacement bill before the deadline.

Insurance companies and health care facilities are upset because this would create so much uncertainty for them.

The general public is concerned because the repeal is expected to immediately raise premiums and reduce the number of people who can afford insurance.

There are senators across the political spectrum calling for a new process to begin, involving input from all senators, along with public health professionals and the public, to craft health care reforms that will increase the availability and affordability of health care.

I hope that Senator McConnell will choose to engage in this more cooperative process which is in line with the way the Senate has traditionally operated.

Open letter to Congressional Republicans

Dear Republican Members of Congress,

During the Independence Day recess, please reflect on the the Preamble to the Constitution.

How well do you think you are carrying out the tasks that “We the People” have set before you?

You are in Congress to represent all of us, from my newborn granddaughter to the 108-year-old neighbor of my parents.

You do not just represent other Republicans.

Or people who voted for you.

Or your party apparatus.

Or your political donors.

“…in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

Other than the common defense, these goals are mired in either inaction or regression.

Exhibit A is your attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act which would increase the number of uninsured, decrease coverage, raise premiums and deductibles dramatically for older adults, force small rural hospitals and hospitals and nursing homes that treat large numbers of lower income folks into bankruptcy, and squeeze spending on Medicaid which pays for health care for those living in poverty, people with disabling conditions, and long-term care for the elderly and ill.

It does not “promote the general Welfare.”

It is opposed by a large majority of “We the People of the United States” whom you are supposed to be representing.

Even worse, you are trying to pass it under budgetary rules, making spending cuts that will hurt millions of Americans in order to give a large tax break to the wealthiest taxpayers. And, by the way, precluding the possibility of a filibuster in the Senate.

You have also used a totally anomalous process to create this legislation, forgoing the usual months of committee hearings, expert testimony, public discussion, revision, and amendments. And you seem to have forgotten that the Affordable Care Act followed that regular order process and that the final bill included Republican amendments and met the threshold of sixty votes in the Senate.

Your excuse that you have to adjust to being a governing majority party is disturbing. You have been in the majority in Congress for years, but instead of crafting legislation that would serve the American people, pass in both the House and Senate, and be signed by the President, you chose partisanship over actual governing, eschewing the tradition of other Congresses where the majority party was not the party of the president.

You have proved in the last few months that you can’t even govern with a president from your own party, albeit a president, who, as a candidate, campaigned against much of the Congressional Washington agenda, and who, as president, sends mixed signals of his priorities and opinions.

We the People deserve better.

During your Independence Day recess, I call on you to reflect on your duty to the American people and return to Washington ready to serve all the people in a way that really does “promote the general Welfare.”

Sincerely yours,
Joanne Corey
July 4, 2017

Senate shenanigans

While we have been dealing with our own family health issues, I have also been keeping my eye on the sorry spectacle unfolding in Congress.

Last week, the Senate Republicans made public their version of a health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. It was drafted by a small group of the most conservative male red-state Republican Senators, without hearings, public debate, the input of health care experts, and contributions of the other 87 Senators, who are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

The bill would cut Medicaid over time, raise deductibles, decrease the comprehensive nature of insurance, increase premiums, make insurance unaffordable for millions of people, and give massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.  It faces major opposition from doctors, nurses, hospitals, insurers, public health organizations and advocates, and the general public.

Still, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans a vote on the bill this week. It seems that the main reason is to have the first major piece of legislation enacted in the new administration, not to actually improve medical care access or affordability for the American people.

One of the things that has been most annoying is the Republican members of Congress and some pundits and reporters who equate the current process on this healthcare bill to the process that produced the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act was passed after almost a year of public discussion, numerous Congressional committee hearings, expert testimony, amendments from both Democrats and Republicans, Congressional debate, floor votes, the creation of a bill to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions, and a final round of voting with met the 60 vote total in the Senate to avoid filibuster.

Contrast this with the current Republican bill, which was written behind closed doors by a small group of Republicans. There are no hearings, plans for only limited debate, and the invocation of budget bill rules which make it impossible to filibuster.

There are two Republican Senators who are opposing the bill because it will hurt their constituents and other Americans. Four other Senators oppose it as not conservative enough. After the Congressional Budget Office analysis came out yesterday, with projections of 22 million people losing coverage and costs skyrocketing especially for those with low incomes and those who are in their late fifties to mid-sixties. there is hope that Senator McConnell will pull the bill or, at least, slow down the process to allow for more debate and revision and to put the bill under regular order instead of trying to reform healthcare through the budget process.

Many of us are inundating our Senators with pleas to protect and improve our healthcare. We’ll see if they listen.