Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Effective action needed to stop school shootings

Another mass shooting at a Parkland, FL school leaves 17 dead and many injured. A 19 year-old male, a former student of the school with a penchant for trouble, according to comments from people who knew him, and photos of guns and bombs on his cell phone, has confessed to the massacre.

The reactions to this horror are predictable; we’ve seen them before. Rage, disgust, and sadness, of course, but other things, as well.

The media, Democrat politicians and other leftists are all too eager to regurgitate their automatic call for gun control. And this time there is a new, but still predictable, reaction: The left blames this crime on … wait for it … President Donald Trump. After all, what perceived negative thing that has occurred since January 20, 2017 isn’t Trump’s fault, in the minds of these folks?

But, returning to reality, this is not a time for knee-jerks and band wagoneers. These auto-reactions have not provided solutions before, and won’t this time, either. We need better ideas; ideas that will work.

Some factors to consider:

* This school is a “gun-free” zone. Under both Federal and Florida State Law, no parent, teacher, or faculty member could have legally returned fire at this attacker. There was an official school security officer present, but he was not armed, and could only help out by getting between the gunman and his intended targets, and paid the ultimate price for his bravery.

* Authorities, including the FBI, blew this one, not responding to ample warnings about the shooter.

* The anti-gun organization Everytown for Gun Safety in pushing its narrative falsified the number of school shootings in 2018, saying Parkland was the 18th. One of them was in a school parking lot in the middle of the night, and another involved a suicide in the parking lot of a school that closed months before. It does not lessen the severity of this problem to accurately report the number of times it has actually occurred. Just five – still too many – of Everytown’s 18 counted school shootings happened during school hours and resulted in any physical injury. The Washington Post, to its credit, published the accurate information.

* Guns do not kill anyone by themselves; they require human intervention. People could live in rooms filled with guns and ammo and no one would be injured or die except for an accident unless a person had an impulse to hurt or kill someone.

* Persons who willingly kill innocent people either have a mental problem or a morality problem. In a country inhabited by 320 million or so people, if only 1 percent of them have serious mental problems, that means 3,200,000 people walk the streets of our towns and cities, and inhabit rural areas, some waiting on an impulse that will unleash their violence.

Some of the things people suggest as helpful elements have strong positives. “If you see something, say something” sounds like a good practice. And it is, if it is used conscientiously to alert authorities to potentially dangerous individuals. But this can be misused and cause people who do not deserve it to have this on their record for a long time.

Addressing mental illness, which often is cited as a factor in mass killings, and drug addiction ought to be high on the list of actions to be taken.

Schools can install entrance controls operated by school personnel that allow entry only after satisfactory identification has been provided. They can put armed professionals on school campuses, or train and allow school personnel to carry weapons on the job.

The AR-15 is a weapon commonly used in mass shootings, and the 19 year-old Parkland shooter legally acquired one, despite his troubled record of behavior. The Second Amendment is not absolute; some restrictions can be made to keep these weapons out of the hands of people with a criminal past, mental illness or other serious problems.

Much of society’s problems would not have developed, or would be far less frequent and less problematic, had Americans had the good sense to maintain the traditional, positive culture of the 1950s and before, when such violence was virtually unheard of. The collapse of the nuclear family with a mature and responsible father and mother in the home monitoring what their children do and training them in good living practices, morality, and personal responsibility, may be the most significant factor.

You don’t have to be a devoted Jew or Christian to recognize that the Ten Commandments generally provide a good road map for living a good life, and that the lifestyle suggested in the Bible and other religious texts are good guides for a stable society.

We can take steps to begin restoring the traditional American concepts lost over the last half-century, and we should. Among things we should do are: Identify and treat mentally ill and other troubled people; insist on individual responsibility; stop enabling people who are capable of supporting themselves to live off the government; encourage two-parent families; encourage striving for excellence by rewarding it, rather than rewarding mere participation; don’t allow foolish behavior just to protect someone’s feelings. Start being America again.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Duty, honor, country? Government employee misbehavior on the rise

Over the last couple of years we have seen the Internal Revenue Service target conservative organizations seeking 501(c)(3) status, and heap time delays and over-the-top demands for information on them to delay or deny granting that status. We have seen the Department of Education sneakily change Common Core from guidelines to policy.

These things make one wonder whether those working in the American government understand the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and that they are obligated to obey them and honorably serve the American people.

The answer seems to be, “yes,” as long as it suits their purposes.

The current furor over getting permission for the government to spy on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign appears to be a continuation of these questionable, and possibly illegal, activities.

A CNN host has come forth to defend this activity, citing “very real fears” of “something very suspicious” in the campaign. And he justified the surveillance activities with the question, “don’t you want to know” if something illegal was going on?

Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” told Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy in an interview earlier this month that there was a willingness to collude with the Russians that needed to be investigated. He apparently believes that this perceived willingness justified taking away the Fourth Amendment protections against “unreasonable searches and seizures” from some 100 people who were associated with Donald Trump in some way or another, according to the House Intelligence Committee.

Since taking away one citizen’s privacy is a serious matter, and taking privacy from a hundred is substantially more so, there must be a procedure the government must first go through to protect citizens’ rights. And there is. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requires a court ruling to permit such invasions of privacy.

How does this procedure work? Well, here is Connecticut Democrat Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s description, via Politico: “On any given day in Washington, 11 judges — all designated by Chief Justice John Roberts, without congressional advice or consent — convene to hear surveillance applications from the United States government. Behind closed doors and without checks or scrutiny, they balance the threats of espionage and terrorism with Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable searches and seizures.”

And what is the record of performance by the FISA court in protecting Fourth Amendment rights? Blumenthal notes, “the odds are stacked strongly in favor of the federal government. Last year alone, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court … heard nearly 1,800 such applications from the U.S. government; not a single request was denied. In its entire 33-year history, the FISA court has rejected just 11 of 34,000 requests.”

For the non-mathematicians out there, the approval rate of applications to the FISA court is astounding. Only .00032 percent of the applications are not approved.

But then again, these are one-sided proceedings, with only government accusations and evidence allowed. It’s just like hearings before a grand jury, about which it has been famously said that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. It’s like when your favorite sports team wins a game against … no one.

Obviously, it is critically important that the government be allowed to pursue legitimate potential espionage and terrorism threats, but it is equally important to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of American citizens.

It may be the case that the government has always acted appropriately. Or, maybe it has fudged its case before the court successfully, on occasion. But the accusation of collusion by the Trump campaign and the resulting court ruling clearly raises serious questions about this process.

The FBI’s “evidence” provided to the FISA court in support of permission to spy on 100 associates of Donald Trump contains the now-infamous and fraudulent Trump dossier. It is a document compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele and political opposition research group Fusion GPS on behalf of, and partially funded by, the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign through a third party.

The FISA warrant application failed to disclose to the court exactly who had financed the dossier – a Trump political opponent – information that should have been included in the application.

Defenders of the action against these 100 individuals claim that the dossier was not a primary piece of evidence in the application. Okay, fine. Then, given its scurrilous and fraudulent background, and the at-best questionable behavior of some of the FBI’s upper management, why was it included in the application at all?

Wouldn’t it be helpful – in recognition of the popular concept of the day: transparency – to have access to the FISA application, so that the American people can see what the FISA court saw?

“Created in the wake of Watergate-era revelations about executive-branch spying on domestic dissidents, the FISA court today operates in the shadows without public oversight,” and “the executive branch almost never loses,” Blumenthal wrote.

He believes this broken system must be repaired, and is working on legislation to fix it. It “deprives the entire system of trust and credibility in the eyes of the American people,” he wrote.

Whether Surveillancegate can be reversed and confidence in the system restored only time will tell. But we must try.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The softening of America is becoming a rampant social ill

America has many problems these days, and some of them are very serious. Among those on the long list are: a serious drug problem, international anxieties, the strong division between the political left and right, and our once stable, but now collapsing cultural environment.

Another troubling thing that doesn’t reach the crisis level of some of the aforementioned is that some individuals take themselves way too seriously, and believe that their personal opinion deserves national attention or perhaps even demands some immediate action. This is the height of self-absorption, egomania, and it is a rampant social ill.

This malady expresses itself in different ways, such as through people whose name is well known within a certain limited area of life – like actors, media personalities, entertainers, athletes – who have allowed themselves to believe their own PR, and think that because they have a group of adoring fans that appreciate their pretty face, latest hit song or film, recent great athletic accomplishment, late night TV show, or whatever, that they are endowed with ultimate wisdom about everything, and are therefore required to share it with the world.

In another scenario, some think so highly of their opinion and beliefs that they isolate themselves from things they don’t agree with, refusing to face opposing ideas and, frequently, dodging reality itself. They insist on being able to avoid contact with things that cause discomfort – a long and confounding list of things – anything that interferes with merrily going on their way through an imaginary world that must submit to their every wish.

For example, if an historic person or event traumatizes some people, like a statue or a memorial to someone or some thing, they then protest to have it removed, disregarding the broader historical value of the offensive thing that is far more important than their feelings of pique.

Sometimes, when faced with someone holding a different opinion they cannot abide, instead of discussing their differences like mature adults, they resort to vilification, hurling slurs and epithets, and name-calling.

Once upon a time the process of growing up in America took a course that did not include this pathology, or even imagine there could be such a thing. When one reached adulthood, the learning process had guided her or him to maturity through good parenting and informal education in the home or formal education in school or, ideally, a combination of the two.

Our system of education begins at a young age and progresses through high school, each successive level presenting material suited to the developing mind. After that, some go out into the world, while others head for vocational/technical training or head for college. College is where more intense subject learning takes place, but it also develops the thinking process and aids in learning to live in the real world where all is not always pleasant or agreeable, and at one time a college education could be counted on to do this.

Obviously, some families and some educational institutions have failed to maintain the tradition of guidance that is necessary to assist young people in maturing properly. The “everybody gets a trophy,” the “no person should ever feel uncomfortable” foolishness and other similar things have had a deleterious effect. This is not about real bullying and other serious problems, but things have deteriorated into a condition where personal offenses that once were laughed off or quickly forgotten now cause major trauma to young people, and some who are not so young.

Some colleges have lost their luster as mind-expanding influences, and instead of aiding the maturing process they have become bastions of protecting the hypersensitive, where instructors are required to issue trigger warnings prior to discussing “troubling” material, and where free speech can only be indulged in and enjoyed in special “free speech zones.”

Where once the idea of free speech was eagerly defended, we now find conservative speakers banned from campuses because their mere presence sends students scurrying for their safe spaces or into sometimes-violent protests, and where liberal/socialist faculty band together to attack their conservative colleagues for disagreeing with the “proper” thinking (political correctness) at the same time they are transferring their ideology onto their students along with subject matter, or perhaps in place of it.

Many of them push an agenda in proper thinking instead of aiding the development of the process of critical thinking, turning students into delicate little creatures who are frightened by the very idea that some people do not agree with them, or become angry in response. The art of civil and intelligent debate has been banned from some of the country’s once-fine institutions where free speech was celebrated. Is an education at one of these wayward institutions actually worth the tens of thousands it costs?

Perhaps the softening of the American mind does not rise to the urgency of the deadly drug problem or the potential for a nuclear attack by some foreign maniac or despot. But if not gotten under control pretty soon, we face the very strong likelihood of living in a country run by these folks, who are incapable of dealing maturely with complex and unfriendly circumstances that life throws at us.