Category Archives: Editorial

Utah has gay marriage! (For a day or two?)

Congratulations to all the gay couples who married last night in Utah, only hours after the federal ruling holding Utah’s ban unconstitutional. The State Attorney General’s Office has already filed an appeal and requested a stay. We’ll see what U.S. District judge Robert J. Shelby does. But no matter what his decision on the stay turns out to be, or the eventual Tenth Circuit ruling, his ruling in Kitchen is fair and rationale, and the right thing to do. It’s one more vote for the de-institutionalization of hate. And as a society, we can never go wrong with the de-institutionalization of hate.

Written by Waine Riches

The NSA and Spying on Americans

I don’t get it. I mean the sudden fuss about the NSA spying on everyone living here in the good old U.S. of A. Everyone’s running around like a chicken with its head cut off. But this is not a sudden and blindingly new revelation. People in the know have been shouting about the U.S. government spying on its own citizens for almost a decade now. And this includes the specifics of the NSA fiasco. Even yours truly wrote a piece back in 2008.

So why all the fuss at this particular moment. Don’t get me wrong. I’m pretty excited to see the ACLU spring to action, sue over the constitutionality of the whole thing. But lets say five or ten years from now the U.S. Supreme Court rules the entire NSA system of super computers located in Utah for the collection of our comunications needs to be shut down. That doesn’t mean no one will be collecting our keystrokes, emails, and phone conversations.

What the media has failed to report on is that everything in the world is now connected together. When you pick up the phone in Salt Lake and call your mother in Provo, a distance of about 45 miles, that call doesn’t simply go on a copper wire between Salt Lake and Provo. It flows through junctions that may or may not even be in the United States. Foreign countries have as much access to our communications as our own government does. And foreign countries don’t bother about such niceties as the U.S. Constitution. They are actively gathering every keystroke we type and word we speak. By shutting down the NSA, we don’t stop a single thing from happening. If the U.S. government wants to know what you said to dear old mom in your last phone call, all they have to do is ask Israel, or England.

The people who need to be sued are the people in control of the satelites, phone cables, fiber optics. Until the actual mechanics of how the world communicates are changed, adding well thought out protections against spying, the U.S. Supreme Court can shout it’s dictates from the highest mountain. All that will happen is the electronics they use will send their pronouncement to Iran and China, where they will be added to the other six billion or so conversations being collected at the same instant.

The problem is in the hardware. I mean, yes, lets change the notion that a government spying on its own people is somehow in our own best interest and therefore OK. It’s neither in our interest, nor OK. But to really fix this problem, we need to go after some serious modifications to the entire electronic communications system, worldwide.

Written by Waine Riches

Election 2012: The Tipping Point

Congratulations to President Obama on his re-election to a second term. His first term was difficult, in part because it’s taken four years for him to really learn the job, and in part because from day one the Republicans proclaimed that they hoped he failed and they were going to do everything in their power to see that he did. That’s no way to govern.

Obama had a lot to overcome. And though he hasn’t done a perfect job at being President (but then, which president has), I for one think he deserves four more years.

But this election hasn’t been about the things that Obama and Romney fought over. It hasn’t been about the economy or health care or any of the other issues the Republicans and Democrats poured over six billion dollars into and attacked each other on day in and day out for these past months. Actually, these past four years.

This election has been about two things. First, the change in the electorate from a nation where white people call all the shots, to one where people of color can combine their vote and elect a candidate of their liking. Both parties should take this to heart and truly do some introspection about how to become inclusive in their policies. The Republicans policies on immigration, and their belief that they are somehow superior to the rest of the people in the United States (Romnie’s 47% comment comes to mind as only one of a large number of indicators of this mentality) have cost them dearly.

Second, this election is also about America needing to find it’s place on the new world stage in light of that stage changing to a global economy, the emergence of China (and other countries), and little by little the United States no longer being the single driving force behind much of the world’s policymaking.

That doesn’t mean we need to cede leadership on innovation, civil liberties, or the torch of freedom and happiness that’s burning for all the world to see. But it does mean that there is little likelihood that we will become an industrial nation once again as both sides alluded to, with our factories offering high paying jobs.

If our economy is to stay strong, and remain one of the most competitive on Earth, we must find a way to rebuild the middle class while having our consumer goods primarily manufactured some place else. For me this is the number one issue for Obama’s second term.

It’s also the issue among all the economic policy positioning of the Republicans that they have the hardest time grasping. Our future success as a nation is not about making the 1% of the already super wealthy even more privileged so they’ll locate their factories here and hire more people. That’s not going to happen. But strength does comes from the middle class. And we can have a new strong middle class. It will probably need to be a well educated one, that produces ideas and designs, instead of assembling consumer goods. But we can find a path to get there.

To help create a strong middle class, every decision made by every executive branch and legislative body from here forward should be preceded by the question: How does what we are doing strengthen the middle class?

Which is to say that our elected officials have a big job ahead of them. Now that the election is over, I would hope they find a way to put their differences aside, and govern. Something that has been sorely lacking these past four years.

Waine Riches

Debate Two October 16, 2012

Now that was a fun debate. I’m talking about the presidential debate on October 16, 2012.

Oh, and thank you for showing up Mr. President. I sort of missed you at the last one. Where were you?

This is proving to be a great presidential campaign for both sides. Romney is a bit more experienced on the campaign trail. After all, he’s been running for president for eight years straight. Even so, this debate goes to Obama.

Come on now you Republicans. Everyone agreed you won the first one. Be honest enough to admit it when you lose one.

OK, maybe Obama didn’t win by much. And maybe the Romney camp doesn’t feel a need to concede. But I’d give this one to Obama. You see, he had such a long way to come after his first debacle. Clearly the moment belongs to him.

And by my count, that’s one win each. Which means I’m even more excited for the third debate than I was the second. And I was pretty excited for the second.

Waine

2012 Presidential Debate

Like 67.2 million other Americans, I watched the first presidential debate between Obama and Romney on October 3rd. I’ve seen a lot of spin since, but clearly Romney was the more appealing character on my TV screen. Obama seemed to be having an off day.

Actually, Obama’s performance stunk.

But does a well practiced performance by Romney mean we should vote for him.

My first concern about Romney is that he said everything the middle class needed to hear. This normally wouldn’t be bad, but he’s said exactly the opposite in each speech he’s given right up to this debate.

So instead of taking him at his word, which at best is a moving target, I need a little better understanding of what he might actually do as president. Which brings me to a notion that has long served me well: The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior.

There are several parts of Romney’s life that I believe would be instructive. He was raised Mormon, his daddy was rich, a businessman, and Governor, who had aspirations for the White House himself. When I watch Romney’s demeanor and speech on TV, he reminds me of many of the Mormon bishops and stake presidents I’ve personally known in my life. His wife also speaks in fluent Mormon. They are both used to being at the very top of their own world in terms of wealth and importance.

But lest the reader misinterpret me, being Mormon is neither good nor bad. Talking about it, though, does help me to understand Romney. He is extremely active in the church. He donates millions of dollars a year in tithing. He’s been a bishop and a stake president. This lets me know that there are tendencies in his belief system in general, as well as somewhat predictable patterns to the actual things he does every day of his life.

While Mormons have made many missteps along the way, they eventually almost always figure things out and take the high road. Part of their belief system is that we are all here on Earth to be tested. Only the worthy will make it to the Celestial Kingdom, which is the highest of the three Kingdoms in the afterlife they believe in. This translates into an extreme desire to do what is right.

Of course, there may be a definitional problem in knowing exactly what is right. But my experience is, even if it takes years, and on occasion a century or more, eventually Mormons do get it right. For example, though they were dragged there kicking and screaming, they eventually allowed black men to enter the priesthood. I don’t think the day is far off when they will back away from their current stance against homosexuals, and instead fully embrace them as equals.

With regards to Romney getting it right (after first sounding like a complete ass), I was particularly impressed that a day after the debate he issued a statement saying he was flat out mistaken for calling 47% of Americans victims who live only to feed at the public trough. It wasn’t an easy road for him. He had stuck with his original statement for a week or more. But he did it. He admitted his error. Changed his position. Finally did the right thing. Like I said, it’s not unexpected that he would struggle with what he’s done, but eventually get it right.

So part of me thinks that Romney’s performance at the first debate may be indications that he is finally reaching the right decisions, jettisoning a lot of the extreme rhetoric which was only useful in the nomination fight, something he had to say to the extreme right that provides so much of his base, but now is a huge detriment to him actually being elected. It’s kind of like a snake sheds skin, he’s now come out a completely changed man.

Or maybe not so changed. He was governor of Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states in the nation. And he was Republican. His opponents in the presidential primary race have saturated the airwaves with old news clips of Romney looking more liberal than the vast majority of Democrats today. And he holds up his own health care legislation in Massachusetts as a monumental success and model to be followed.

Past behavior being the best predictor of future behavior, perhaps we should have easily predicted his positions in the first presidential debate. Regulations are necessary he told us. I won’t touch Social Security or Medicare. In fact, Obama is a bum for removing $916 billion from Medicare. I’ll restore it. On and on he went, seeming to say in so many words he was the old liberal who led the state of Massachusetts to have, among his other wild successes, the best health care in the nation and the best education system in the nation.

No one could have watched Romney’s performance and missed his sharp grasp of business concepts and macro economics. But he comes with some pretty definite pre-conceived notions of how to lower unemployment, how to bring our economy back, and reduce the national debt. I wasn’t all that convinced that he was concerned about the middle class being the driving force behind a resurgent economy. He’s more of a trickle down Reaganomics kind of guy. Once again, his past behavior may be dictating his thought process. He comes from money, an extremely wealthy and powerful family. And his one significant business experience would indicate that he truly believes personal wealth is the most important goal, and what you do to gather that wealth to you is not all that significant from a moral outlook.

If Mitt Romney is remembered in the business world for one thing above all others, it will be his style of hostile leveraged buyouts that produced for both him and Bain Capital many hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars.

Romney is smart. He will succeed wildly at anything he does. Which is why he was so successful at raiding American companies, dismantling them, selling off their parts, and leaving with hundreds of millions of dollars, free and clear. I’ve been reading up on these raids. Here’s how they appear to have worked:

First, he sees a company that has money to be taken out, usually because its assets are worth more than its value. Or to say this another way, the sum of the target’s parts, the various companies, factories, and divisions, is worth more than the current market value for the whole, so long as things are reorganized a bit.

Next, he takes a few tens of millions of Bain Capital’s money, say thirty-million, uses that to secure a loan from a large bank to buy controlling interest in the company. That way, he can call the shots. Unfortunately, management sometimes objects to a hostile takeover. The mistake of other corporate raiders is they go to war with management. Not Romney. He would provide the existing management team many millions of dollars in compensation, and in essence, buy their loyalty.

Once he was in charge, he would begin the hard work of dismantling the company. Bain charged an enormous consultation fee, tens of millions of dollars, maybe more, for this. Why? Because it’s hard work. People have to be fired. Factories closed, or moved to more profitable locations. Assets sold. Subdivisions sold. Till what’s left is only the most profitable parts.

Then Bain would secure a loan as the largest shareholder (through, the now willing and eager management, I presume), for the remaining company to buy Bain’s shares. Often hundreds of millions of dollars would be the final purchase and loan amounts.

The result: Bain walks away with the hundreds of millions of dollars, completely debt free.

But what about all of the debt they just borrowed?

The company they raided is saddled with the debt. For some of those companies, the debt was too great, they ended in bankruptcy. For others, they took years and years of hard work, but they struggled through the hardship, managed to stay alive.

To me, Romney’s days at Bain are instructive in many different ways. Romney is clearly smart. He knows how business operates and can make huge sums of money without either the need to actually produce consumer goods or provide any kind of services. What he did fits its descriptive name, he raided viable companies, took huge profits, and left them to fend for themselves however they could. Whenever I think of this, I see a pirate ship roaring up to a merchant vessel, cannons blazing. The pirates swing on long ropes, sabers in mouth, land, slaughter all able seamen, leave with the cargo and women, not really caring if the ship burns and sinks, or somehow makes port with the few surviving but badly wounded aboard.

But more than just smart, Romney has no compunction about what he did. He’s proud of it. In his mind the world is a place where the fittest survive. And by creating the ultimate free enterprise system, competition can thrive. Weak companies don’t deserve to exist. If they can’t outsmart him, they should provide him with a nice pot of gold for his troubles.

How deeply he ignores moral issues in his business behavior is clear in his denial that he was CEO and sole owner of Bain Capital at a time when Bain was shipping US jobs to China. Now that he’s running for president he denies this. But in SEC reports filed for those years he clearly stated he was CEO and sole owner. If I were advising him, I would tell him to stick with what he reported on the SEC papers. Because if what he reported to the SEC is not true, he’s probably committed a felony.

The important thing to note, however, is he has no problem changing the story whenever it suits his needs. Thinking about this sets off all sorts of alarms, buzzers, and bells in my head. We don’t need what could be the result of a president engaging in such behavior, another Nixon type Watergate coverup, or a Bush-Cheney administration outing our CIA operative because her husband exposed the truth about the legitimacy of attacking Iraq.

But that’s Romney the businessman.

Romney the public servant is quite another story. He saved the Winter Olympics in Utah. He really did. Our noble leaders here in Salt Lake City had bribed their way into the games, but when that all came out on the five O’clock news, someone had to step in, fix the mess. Romney was the right man in the right place. The Olympics were a huge success. He also donates millions of dollars a year to worthy causes. He’s a kind caring husband and father. He personally helps the poor and down trodden, both through his church activities, and otherwise.

So my question is: Will the real Willard Mitt Romney stand up?

The world will not end if either Obama or Romney is elected. They are two of the most intelligent men to ever campaign against one another. Obama came into office unseasoned. He relied heavily on advisers who, from time to time, have lead him down the wrong path. Such as whoever told him to not get into it with Romney during the debate. Obama had so much ammunition, especially with Romney reinventing himself at every turn, that this could have been much closer debate. But that aside, Obama is a problem solver. He doesn’t have an extreme ideological agenda. And he’s done an excellent job against some pretty great odds.

Romney would make an excellent president. But there’s danger that he’ll play to his extreme right wing base because he thinks he needs to do this in order to have a second term. And his sympathies may naturally sit much more with the extreme wealthy than they do with the middle class and poor. The Mitt Romney who was Governor of Massachusetts I could vote for in a heartbeat. The Mitt Romney doing leveraged corporate takeovers I’d never be comfortable with. The Mitt Romney playing to the extreme right to secure the Republican nomination, I believe would cause more harm to this country than George W. Bush ever did. Romney is a far bigger concern because he’s many times smarter and much more capable of actually accomplishing whatever he sets out to do, whether that be beneficial for America, or extremely detrimental.

Having said that, I see that my brother has given Romney a thumbs up. I’m presuming he means the Romney who happened by for the first presidential debate. I too find part of that Romney intriguing.

I also believe that Obama has earned a second term.

Which is all to say, I can’t wait for the next debate.

Written by Waine Riches

Merry Christmas to the NRA

I woke Christmas morning feeling the spirit of the season, opened the home page where I get my news, saw that there had been two shootings, one in Utah, one in California. The California shooting was especially troubling, a soldier injured in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan was shot at his homecoming party. That seemed a bit much. Christmas is, after all, about peace and love.

Curious, I typed “Man Shot” into Google. I found 23 people shot between Christmas Eve morning and Christmas morning. Of those, eight died. These figures are obviously not an accurate count. There are over 31,000 deaths each year from firearms. Another 70,000 people are injured. That’s a total of 274 shootings a day in the US, with 85 deaths.

Still curious about the relationship between guns and Christmas in the US, I typed in “Gun Sales Christmas 2011.” The first two stories I read had gun sales up between 25% and 35% this year. Which is, I guess, a great big Merry Christmas for the National Rifle Association. This will add considerably to the well over 270,000,000 guns already owned in the US prior to this Christmas season. That’s more than 90 guns for every 100 men, women and children in the US.

It’s kind of sad, though. I mean, if only those 23 people I personally read about would have opened their presents sooner, maybe they’d have received their very own fully automatic self defense firearm from some thoughtful relative or friend. And hopefully it would have had one of those very long, extra large, banana clips. If so, they would have been able to shoot first, kill the bad guys before the bad guys shot them. I, for one, would feel a lot more secure, peaceful and loving on Christ’s birth day, the most peaceful and loving day of the year, knowing that thousands more guns are in the hands of thousands more people in the United States, the single nation with already more guns than any other on the face of the globe. For a peaceful loving Christmas, we can’t have too many guns.

Merry Christmas. R.I.P. God rest ye merry gentlemen (and women).

1. Man Shot in McDonald’s, Kansas City.
2. Man shot in South Toledo.
3. Man Shot and killed in Asheville, outside bar.
4. Man shot during robbery by two men of Henrico WaWa gas station.
5. Man and Woman shot at home in West Charlotte.
6. Man shot and killed in Washington Park, Il
7. Man shot several times, died, Cherry Hill, Baltimore
8. Man shot to death, Beaver Falls, PA
9. Man shot by wife, Spring Hill.
10. Man Shot playing basketball, Springwood Park, Kent Washington
11. Three Men one woman shot Syracuse NY. Man dies.
12. Man shot in home invasion, Omaha.
13. Man shot at party, Crownsville, Md.
14. Man shot and killed, Garfield Park, Chicago.
15. Man shot and killed during gas station robbery, Chicago.
16. Man shot in North Austin standing by his car.
17. Man Shot at home in Severn, Baltimore.
18. Man Shot and killed in East Oakland.
19. Man Shot in Ogden, Utah.

Written by Waine Riches

P.S. The worst Christmas day shooting may well have been in Grapevine Texas. Six family members opened presents. A Seventh, dressed as Santa arrived. Gunfire errupted. There were two guns. In the end, all seven died.

Huntsman Gingrich Debate (December 12, 2011)

I may be the only one blogger in America who has anything kind to say about the Huntsman-Gingrich debate in New Hampshire. I actually liked it.

I’ve been watching presidential debates since Kennedy-Nixon went at it in 1960. . .

OK, I was only six at the time of the Kennedy-Nixon debate. So maybe I didn’t pay close attention. But my point is, I’ve watched a lot of these over the years.

The Huntsman-Gingrich debate may not have been a go-for-the-jugular kind of event, which seems to be the biggest complaint by the mass media and other bloggers. But it’s the first debate I remember watching where at the end I understood the thoughts and positions of the participants at a level deeper than a sound bite. At the end of the debates between Obama and McCain I had no idea what either candidate thought. This was especially troubling in the area of health care. The Obama-McCain debates were true to form with every other at the presidential level, candidates and want-to-be candidates tend to expend more effort in giving non-answers than they do actually saying what their position is and why they hold that position.

But there was no lack of knowing what position Huntsman and Gingrich take on the topics they talked about. And there was enough detail to understand a little of the thought process that is behind their positions.

The rest of the bloggers and media can have their sound bites, their hide-the-ball-photo-ops which pass as debates. I’ll take this more indepth discussion any day, even if there was no serious debating done. Maybe they could rename the affair, call it a Candidate Forum, or some such academic sounding moniker. But whatever it was, at least when all was said and done I had some small inkling about their positions on the topics they addressed. I didn’t see much in the way of either candidate trying to hide-the-ball. They were open, honest, and passionate on the topics. As a voter I appreciate that.

Waine Riches December 13 2011

Happy Utah and Suicides

In the news, Utah is the happiest state, with the highest rate of suicide contemplation in the United States (1 in 15 Utahns contemplate suicide) and the ninth highest rate of actual suicides. Randolph Schmid writing for the AP surmises it’s because Utahns who aren’t happy look at those who are, become so emotionally distraught that they kill themselves. Peg McEntee at the Salt Lake Tribune has a different theory. She writes that people with serious mental health problems are the ones killing themselves. Neither of them question the underlying premise of Utah as the happiest state.

We in Utah have a tendency to tell the world that life here is perfect, and any anomalies that happen are the result of those “other people.” The us versus them mentality is the single strongest thread running through our collective society. You’re either Mormon, or you’re not. And it’s not us Mormons who are killing ourselves, we’re the happy ones. It’s those others, they see how happy we are, become depressed, kill themselves. And if somehow that’s not true, then it’s the people with serious mental health problems.

The most recent study on suicide contemplation released by the CDC should give us pause about this premise. It excludes homeless persons, people in the military, and people hospitalized because of psychiatric problems. In other words, it’s the mainstream normal folks who are contemplating suicide. And not surprising, many of them women homemakers.

Utah has one of the worst prescription drug abuse problems in the world, one of the highest suicide rates, an out of control domestic and child abuse rate, alarming incidences of sexual abuse of children, most of them occurring in the home. These somewhat less than happy characteristics don’t readily fit with our self-reports as the happiest people in the nation. The first thing we need to do to solve a problem, is to admit there is a problem.

I have personally known people who attempted suicide, some of whom succeeded. They cover the spectrum of humans. This is not a case of “those other people.” They were not people with severe mental health problems. They were not people who were jealous of the Mormons and their extreme bliss. They were just regular people, most of them LDS faithful, who saw death as a legitimate way to solve a problem.

Teenagers have a hard time of it anywhere. Sometimes they get mixed up in things they can’t handle, drugs, romance, sex. If we truly want to reduce teen suicides, teach sex education, contraception, and interpersonal relationship skills from a very early age. Emphasizing the arts has also been shown to help troubled kids. Arm children with knowledge. The teen suicides I’m familiar with have been far too often the result of pregnancies, early sexual activity, divorce, feeling all alone and on the outside of everyone else. They have also been predominantly among the Mormon faithful. What causes the worst turmoil for many of these children is the fear of being “found out” when they engage in activity not approved in the community, and then when they are found out, the ostracism that follows. A few have struggled with the underlying doctrine of the church. Pregnant, alone, cast out, they have no chance of making it into the Celestial Kingdom. So why bother going on. It’s all too painful anyway.

Another fairly large group of suicides is in the gay community. I understand that Utah has one of the largest percentages of gays among any population. People in Utah think of homosexuality as something that Non-Mormons choose to do. But by and large the gays I know are Mormon, at least until they’re excommunicated. And by and large the suicides I’m familiar with were among Mormons and excommunicated Mormons. There have been suicides among non-Mormons to be sure. But this is not a problem of “those other people.” If we want to reduce suicides among our family, friends, children and citizens who happen to be gay, whether Mormon or Gentile, change the us versus them mentality. Allow gays to be full-fledged members of our society, to marry, to raise children.

Domestic disputes are a large category of people I know involved in suicide. It occurs in families where incest happens. It occurs in families where adultery happens. It occurs in families were abuse and divorce happens. And far too often, it happens in families where one of the adults is a homemaker. And among the people I know committing suicide in a family setting, the person committing suicide has all too often decided to take other family members with them.

Suicide also occurs far too often when things go wrong at work, at times when someone is terminated. I see the same results among people losing their professional licenses, who can no longer practice in their chosen field.

Financial setbacks also lead to suicide.

These are not predominantly the mentally ill taking their lives. These are our neighbors, co-workers, family, friends. Nor is this a phenomenon of “those other people” who are inordinately distraught because they have not bought into the Mormon religion. Suicide, attempts at suicide, and planning a suicide all cut across boundaries in Utah. To start down the road toward finding a solution, we need to recognize that there is a problem. In my experience, Mormon faithful are as likely as non-Mormons to think of suicide as a solution to a problem. Moral judgments and aspersions made by either Mormon or non-Mormon, one against the other, don’t help and can in fact be a significant factor in creating the problem.

I’ve yet to meet the hordes of people who are in absolute bliss because they live in Utah. I for one question the reports of Utah being the happiest place to live, especially when I find out the reports are based on self-evaluations. To say Utah is the number one happiest place to live is to focus on a strong case of societal cognitive dissonance, and ignore reality.

Written by Waine Riches

P.S. I highly recommend “Happy Valley,” a documentary on drug abuse in Utah.

Sarah Palin’s “Taking Responsibility”

I watched Sarah Palin’s video today chastising those who have pointed out that putting crosshairs over a map of the district of a Democratic candidate might result in some deranged individual shooting that Democratic candidate.

This isn’t the first time that someone has been concerned that rhetoric being used by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party might lead to an unstable person committing a violent act. Last March Gifford herself warned that there could be consequences from Palin’s placing crosshairs on a map over Gifford’s district. A year before that, CBS ran an article entitled Could Tea Party Rhetoric Lead to Another Oklahoma City? (April 12, 2010, the fifteenth aniversaty of Timmothy McVeigh Bombing the Federal Building in Oklahoma City), and warned of the possibility. MSNBC aired a documentary called “The McVeigh Tapes” on the following monday which both looked at McVeigh’s motivation and raised the question that something like that could happen again as the result of violent rhetoric.

There were some photos of Sarah Palin that came up when I typed her name in Google. One shows her in a very patriotic bikini, holding an assault rifle.

CBS took a survey yesterday, found out that the majority of people they polled don’t make a connection between the rhetoric and the Arizona shooting. How could they? To my knowledge the gunman has yet to tell anyone why he did it.

The question the pollsters should have asked is whether or not a well known national politician could incite someone to action by what they say. If Sarah Palin posts a map with crosshairs on candidates she wants to see defeated, or adopts the mantra “Don’t retreat, instead – RELOAD!” or if Jesse Kelly, the Tea Party candidate opposing Gifford, holds political rallies where people are encouraged to shoot fully automatic M16s, or if several other popular Tea Party candidates express to the public that if they can’t repeal “Obamacare” there’s always the “Second Amendment Remedy” or “Second Amendment Solution,” it just might be likely that a far larger number of Americans would see the potential connection.

To say that there is no possible connection belies the idea behind using such rhetoric. If it wasn’t a potent force for modifying people’s behavior, changing their thinking, putting them in fear of one candidate and in favor of another, no one would use it.

In her video Sarah Palin makes sure we know that Jared Loughner is responsible for his own actions. He and he alone, the deranged and evil person that he is, must take full responsibility.

As I listened to her, the single overriding thought that kept coming to my own mind was:

“What about Sarah Palin taking responsibility for her actions?”

The video was well done. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve seen her speak where she used coherent words and sentences. Her argument was carefully thought out, and appeared well rehearsed. She almost sounded Presidential. Except for the part about blaming the insane for their actions and not being willing to take responsibility for her own.

The Arizona shooting is bad news for Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement all around. Two days after the shooting a newer Tea Party candidate was being interviewed, one just now announcing that she will contest a congressional seat in 2012. To listen to that candidate, you would think Sarah Palin’s speech writers had taken their ideas from her. She made it absolutely clear that the rhetoric wasn’t to blame, and that the shooter was insane. But unlike Sarah, she went as far as saying that Loughner should have been locked up in a mental institution to prevent the tragedy from happening in the first place. She actually used the words “mental institution.”

I happen to agree with that candidate that preventative health care paid for by the governement is a good idea.

Except, given her actual position on health care, it didn’t appear to be a very well thought out response. One of the most significant unifying cries for the Tea Party has been that the government should not be in the business of providing health care. But then, what is a mental institution if not the quintessential government health care system. The patients, most of them without the ability to purchase health care, are mandated to be there, committed against their will. The care is paid for with tax dollars. The treatment is carefully controlled. There are even government laws about what types of treatment are allowed and which ones are not.

The position of at least that Tea Party candidate appears to be, don’t blame us when we tell people to exercise their “Second Amendment Remedies.” And, a single payer health care system is socialism, and evil, unless I can point to it as a necessary remedy to prevent deranged people who might have a tendency to use their “Second Amendment Remedies.”

Immediately after that video, there was one with the Republican ex-Congressman who had held Gifford’s house seat just before her. He’s since retired from politics. What did he have to say? The rhetoric should be toned down. Unlike Sarah Palin and the Tea Party candidates, he made the potential connection between the shooting and the rhetoric. When asked if the US should look at our gun laws, the ex-Congressman pointed out that 11,000 people were killed in Mexico last year with guns, and Mexico has some of the toughest gun laws in the world. Once again this was probably a poor choice of examples. Ninety-nine percent of the guns used to kill those 11,000 people came from the US. Not only can a mentally unstable person walk in to a retail store and purchase a gun and expanded clip here in the US without any problem, we’re arming the drug cartels in Mexico. And for what? To make a profit.

For me, the sheriff of Pima County is still the one in a position to have actually encountered the connection day in and day out at his job. Immediately after the shooting he called for a toning down of the rhetoric. If there has been one credible person in this entire debate, it’s him.

And in support of his observations, I did find it interesting that Anthony Miller, a GOP district chairman, resigned the day Gifford was shot, citing verbal abuse and internet postings by the Tea Party. Anthony is black and said he feared for himself and his family, stating “I don’t want to take a bullet for anyone.”

My own opinion is that we should not be passing laws that prohibit what a political candidate might say. I hold the First Amendment far too dear for that.

But if a candidate or political party uses hate filled rhetoric, and paints pictures of violence through words, such as Sarah Palin’s “Don’t retreat, instead – RELOAD!” or maps with crosshairs, or rallies with everyone firing military assault rifles, or encourages “Second Amendment Remedies” on the internet, then that candidate or political party should take responsibility for the outcome.

I’ve been around long enough to remember violence at the hands of people expressing their “Second Amendment Remedies.” Among them, the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy, and the shooting of Ronald Reagan.

In fact, of the 44 Presidents we’ve had in the United States, assassination attempts have been made with guns on ten either during their campaigns or while they were sitting presidents:

(1) Abraham Lincoln, killed
(2) James Garfield, killed
(3) William McKinley, killed
(4) John F. Kennedy, Killed
(5) Andrew Jackson, uninjured
(6) Harry S. Truman, uninjured
(7) Gerald Ford – two attempts, uninjured
(8) Ronald Reagan, wounded
(9) Theodore Roosevelt, wounded
(10) Franklin Delano Roosevelt, uninjured.

Ideology expressed in terms of violence also took the life of Martin Luther King Jr., murdered and wounded 618 innocent people in Oklahoma City in 1995, and, though not homegrown, murdered three thousand innocent civilians on 9/11.

There is no need for our politicians to stoop to that level, to use hate filled violent rhetoric in our national discourse. Ideas can be adequately expressed without it.

The failing of Sarah Palin and the other Tea Party candidates is that they seem unwilling to take responsibility, admit that they’ve said things that maybe they shouldn’t have, learn from their mistakes, alter their argument, and move on. They seek to place the blame on those so mentally deficient that they are unlikely to be capable of responsible actions, those who because of their mental illness may very well mistake violent rhetoric as permission to carry out acts of violence.

Written by Waine Riches

The Firing of Juan Williams

NPR recently fired Juan Williams for saying he gets nervous when riding on a plane with obviously Muslim passengers, meaning those dressed in Muslim traditional clothing.

This reminds me of CNN’s firing of Octavia Nasr back in July. She was their senior editor for Middle East news. They fired her for saying nice things about a dead Muslim cleric. The U.S. had branded the guy a terrorist.

In both cases the media outlets said the comments didn’t live up to their editorial standards.

I find myself equally bothered by both firings. There’s nothing in Juan Williams public background that I know of which would indicate he’s a bigot. In fact, all of the evidence I’m aware of runs to the contrary. Nor did Octavia Nasr appear to be a supporter of Muslim terrorists.

Both cases seem much like Shirley Sherrod being fired for admitting she had a hard time at one point in her job working with white folks. Her point was that she eventually figured out that it isn’t about white or black. She was there to help poor people, no matter their color. A little introspection is always a good thing in my book. And sharing how you got over your own deep seated prejudices is admirable.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I prefer that people be honest.

I also prefer a full open debate. We need to hear all sides in order to be able to form the best opinions and come to the best solutions when trying to resolve hard issues.

If Octavia Nasr believes a dead Muslim cleric is worthy of a few kind words, I’d like to hear why.

Certainly Juan Williams’ comments have a genuine basis in fact. Muslim terrorists are making some pretty serious attempts at blowing up passenger planes. And while it’s doubtful that they are going to show up in full Muslim attire the day they blow up the plane, if there’s an association between the way someone dresses and Juan’s legitimate fears, I want to hear about it.

In fact, I would think the Muslim community would be better served hearing about it than having Juan walk around with his fears all locked up inside, or only sharing them with other people of like mind behind closed doors.

Whether it’s politically correct to state it out loud or not, Muslims have an image problem. In fact, the good citizens of France are so terrified by the possibility of Muslim clothing concealing terrorists, not to mention the inequality between men and women which they perceive such clothing symbolizes, that they have recently passed a law against women covering their faces in public.

Nor are we immune from banning the wearing of clothing by terrorists here in the States. Schools routinely prohibit clothing worn by gangs.

And I wonder if Juan would have been terminated from his job if his comment were: “I get nervous when I see Christians in white robes and hoods.” How is his being nervous seeing the traditional clothing of Muslim terrorists any different than him being nervous seeing the traditional clothing worn by the Christian Ku Klux Klan?

Both kinds of nervous seem fairly rational.

While I don’t personally fear for my physical safety when I see women in traditional Muslim clothing, the horror stories of women having their genitals mutilated as girls, then being forced to wear head to foot tents once they grow up, and if they don’t, they’re tortured and murdered, makes me nervous, makes me think that it would be okay if no one were to wear that type of dress. And the fact that a good part of the Muslim Middle East believes that the rest of the world should be forced at gun point to be just like them, which to me means being compelled to adopt their dress standards, bothers me just as much.

It’s the same type of nervousness I feel around polygamist women here in the States wearing, what I presume is to them, traditional pioneer dresses. If the media accounts are to be believed, many women come to polygamy as 13 year old girls forced into so called “marriages” where they are literally raped by much older men and imprisoned in an oppressive lifestyle. The pioneer clothing they end up wearing screams of inequality. Of mistreatment.

And inequality and mistreatment always makes me nervous.

I am not a fan of Bill O’Reilly. I find little truth in the diatribes I’ve seen on his show. He seems more about stirring up fear, hate and anger than genuinely resolving tough issues.

And I don’t know what to think about Juan Williams being on O’Reilly’s show defending O’Reilly for the blatantly bigoted statements that he made on “The View”.

But I’m deeply bothered by NPR’s firing of Juan.

Silencing good people for what they say has a chill on full and open debate.

In my opinion, it always leads to disastrous results.

Written by Waine Riches