Election 2016: The Progressive Wilderness Ahead


Artist’s rendition of the progressive wilderness ahead.

Barring some unlikely scenarios, the GOP will effectively be in control of all branches of government for at least the next two years. Progressive citizens can protest this all we want, but even if we were completely unified (which we are not) our representatives are numerically incapable of blocking Trump or the Congress from passing regressive legislation or appointees that will hurt many communities we care about.

How those opposed to the GOP agenda respond in the coming weeks, months, and two years before the next Congressional election is critical. In 2018 there is a chance to challenge the GOP control of Congress. Not only is this important as it is the most potent and feasible way to change the balance of power in the federal government, but it will have a great impact on the re-drawing of districts after the census of 2020. If the GOP retains control in 2018 in Congress, they could re-district the nation in ways favorable to GOP candidates, helping to shore up their chances in future elections.

While I am encouraged by the responses to some of Trump’s actions that have happened already, I am thinking more broadly and more-long term about how progressives can flip the balance of power. I am also thinking about what progressives can work towards rather than always being reacting to the GOP’s actions. Over the next two years (and beyond) I want to commit my finite energy and resources to the most effective and promising ways to oppose the regressive GOP legislation, so I have been thinking about this a lot. In this long, multi-page post (use the numbers at the bottom to change pages) I wanted to share my thoughts at length as I’m sure others are in the same boat.

Looking forward I see a few broad options available to progressives, some of which are more viable than others, and none of them are really good or easy.

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Election 2016: No, the Green Party Did Not Cost the Democrats the Election


Numerous articles have circulated  accusing the Green Party and Jill Stein for costing Clinton the election. These have not just been fringe ramblings of disgruntled relatives and friends on Facebook, but published stories in respected media outlets. This has spawned many memes and accusations labeling Stein as everything from the “Ralph Nader of 2016” to a puppet for Putin who doomed us to President Trump and the consequences of that presidency. The problem is these accusations are false and even a rudimentary examination of available data reveals that.

This Accusation Is Based on a Faulty Assumption

First, this entire argument is founded on the assumption Green Party votes are owed to the candidate from another party. We are being blamed for failing to vote for the candidate from another political party. It is not the Green Party’s responsibility to elect the candidate from another party, it is our responsibility to campaign for our candidates. It is our fault Stein did not win. It is not our fault Clinton did not win. The Democratic party does not have ownership of my vote and I did not wrongfully give that vote to someone else.

If the Democratic Party (or the Green Party, or any party for that matter) wants more votes, they need to organize and engage with voters and convince them that their party has the voter’s interests at heart. They need to communicate how the party’s proposals for the future and past track record deserve to be voted for. 

Some argue that the Green Party voters should have recognized the dire stakes in this election, and registered and voted as Democrats, despite their reservations about Clinton and the Democratic Party, because the Democrats align with them on so many issues and Trump posed such a threat to those values.

However, Democrats were not convincing enough in their outreach to Green Party voters to win us over. They were equally unable to convince the millions of Americans who did not vote or other Independents who were up for grabs. This is all not the fault of the Green Party as it is not the Green Party’s job to convince people to vote for another party’s candidate or to be more amenable to arguments to defect from their party.

Publicly Available Data Contradicts This Accusation

Second, all of these accusations are contradicted by even a basic assessment of publicly available data. The total number of Green votes in swing states Clinton lost to Trump were only larger than Trump’s margin of victory in Wisconsin and Michigan. Even if Greens had supported Clinton and Clinton had won in these states, Clinton still would have lost the electoral college 258 to 280. Earlier assessments that votes for Stein were larger than Trump’s margin of victory in Pennsylvania were incorrect. That means that even if every Green voter, in every state where Green Party members could vote for Stein, had suddenly flipped their registration and voted for Clinton, Clinton still would have lost to Trump.

Additionally, many Green Party voters indicated that they would have stayed home, voted for Johnson, or even voted for Trump if Stein was not on the ballot. Therefore, it cannot be safely assumed that Green voters would have unanimously flocked to Clinton if Stein had never ran. Additionally, one cannot clearly argue that the mere existence of an alternative progressive party significantly decreases the Democrats chance for winning as many Green Voters would never vote for Democratic candidates even if the Green Party didn’t exist. 

Even if one insists on assuming that all Green voters would go to Democrats and all Libertarian voters would vote Republican if the other parties had stayed out the race completely, Trump’s margin of victory in the relevant states would have actually increased.

Stein’s Criticism of Clinton Likely Had No Impact on Support for Clinton

Third, sometimes the argument is made that Stein’s criticism of Clinton had a chilling effect on Democratic voters, either convincing them to be less vocal in their support for Clinton, to refuse to vote, or even to switch parties. I could not find data pertinent to the theory that Stein’s message swayed Democratic voters, but I find it highly unlikely this had any major impact on the election give what information is available to us. 

The Green Party earned less than 1% of the national votes, and it does not appear the Green Party has any significant influence over the American voters (and that is our fault). How could we be simultaneously influential enough with American voters to cost Clinton the election, but not influential enough to even be on the ballot in 50 states?

Additionally, Stein received a minute fraction of media exposure this entire election cycle. The media was encouraged to by HRC’s campaign and had financial interests in covering Trump’s controversial statements and it gave him, and to a lesser extent Clinton, the lion’s share of all coverage.  This means the message of Stein and the Green Party received little exposure, including any parts of our message that were critical of Clinton and the Democrats. The high point of coverage related to Stein happened when she achieved 3.9% of television mentions in comparison to other presidential candidates. For most of the election she received far less coverage than that. This spike was also during the recount effort Stein led, after the election had taken place. So even if Stein’s message was convincing enough to Democrats to get them to not vote for Clinton, one wonders how they even heard this message?

Democrats who insist on this argument then should ask why this message was convincing to enough Democrats to impact the election given such a small amount of exposure. What problems with Clinton did Stein highlight were so compelling that it soured support for Clinton, and do they persist in the Democratic Party and its candidates? Are they alleging Stein lied about Clinton’s record and many Democrats were gullible enough to fall for a message they barely heard mentioned?

This argument that Stein’s message lowered Democratic voter turnout is a speculative argument to make and a speculative argument to counter so perhaps future data might prove this claim correct, but I think this is highly improbable due to the many other factors in this election and what has already been considered.

Democrats Need to Stop Blaming External Factors and Accept Responsibility

The Green Party did not win, so we did not stop the Proto-facism of Trump or the Neo-liberalism of Clinton, and that is on us, but the Green Party did not cost the Democrats this election.These journalistic pieces leveling accusations at Stein are a vehicle for Democrats to avoid taking responsibility for their loss, not journalism a meant to inform the public or further important political conversation. Any jabs or memes at the Green Party carrying the same accusation are equally without truth and simply an attempt to escape responsibility. As a member of the Green Party I refuse to be the fall-guy for the problems in the Democratic party, a party that I have absolutely nothing to do with.

For anyone serious about the Democratic Party’s future prospects, blaming the Green Party for Clinton’s loss is counter-productive. Democrats need to stop flailing around seeking to blame external factors for their failing party and engage in some serious introspection and self-criticism (as Green Party members need to do in regards to our own inability to win). The Green Party did not cost the Democrats this election this year, or the 70 Congressional seats, 910 State legislative seats and 11 Governors they have lost since Obama took office. The Democratic Party cannot keep dodging responsibility for the consequences of their actions and in-actions with voters and turn around their losing streak. It is one or the other.

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Election 2016: What the Green Party Can Learn From 2016



Part of my admitted political laziness in the past has been failing to vote for a presidential candidate.  However, this year I registered with the Green Party and voted for Jill Stein. Now because I live in a state that is profoundly loyal to the Democratic party, I knew my vote had absolutely no chance of changing the outcome. I could have voted for Trump, myself, Stein or written in Sanders and the result would have been the same: Hillary Clinton would get my state’s electoral college support. This in turn was and is rather meaningless because I do not live in a swing state and my electoral college votes are a foregone conclusion, safely counted for the Democrats years in advance. While much of my remaining posts in this series will criticize Democrats and Republicans, I must own the fact that my vote for the Green Party did not even come close to challenging either the Proto-Fascism of Trump or the Neoliberal Imperialism of Clinton; I knew this, and voted for the Green Party anyway. 

The Green Party’s continued lack of relevance in 2016 should be instructive for my party and I think there is a lot we can learn from the results of this election (and past elections). We need to consider what changes we need to make in the future or we will remain irrelevant in 2018, 2020 and beyond.

The Party That Cannot Win The Presidency

In the last several years the Democrats have lost countless political races, surrendering an alarming amount of political territory and power to the Republicans. Clinton’s loss to the least favorable candidate in history was just the tip of the iceberg to a streak of losses across the nation in the last eight years. However, if Democrats are the party that cannot hold onto what they won, the Green Party is a party that cannot win. 

I love Stein for many reasons, but Stein did not win the election. Stein did not even come close to winning but the second least favorable candidate in history, Clinton, won the popular vote but lost the electoral college. While votes for the Green Party’s Presidential candidate have been steadily increasing since 2004, the 2016 turnout was nowhere near 2000’s results.

The context of this election was one of historic, perhaps unique, opportunity for the Green Party. After years of war and economic stagnation and misery the public was ripe for an anti-establishment candidate. Millions of people that shared most or all of our values were open to voting for someone that wasn’t a Democratic insider and were even pushed away from the Democratic party by revelations about its corruption. We should have won over many that ultimately voted for Trump and Clinton, especially the 20% of voters that thought neither candidate was trustworthy and the  39% of voters that wanted change more than anything. The Libertarian party out-performed us on all fronts as well, and saw historic highs in their voting turnout. Given this outcome we must ask ourselves why they did not consider the Green Party an option and this underscores the need for us to own and consider our abysmal number of votes.

The Party That Cannot Win Local Elections

Our fate in state and local elections is not different.Considering our congressional campaigns, our candidates also get less than 1% of the vote, and have earned about the same on a routine basisAs of October 2016 we only had 86 office holder and still have no candidates who have won a federal election.

When it came time to support my party I was ready to vote for Green Party members down the ballot, but to my dismay there was no Green candidate for my area. We had conceded the vote to the Democrats with no challenger.

The one local candidate I found that was running in my general area was nothing to get excited about. I’m sure they are a great person that values many of the same things I do, but they appeared anemic, disconnected and unconcerned with the dire situation around us. Perhaps this is because they appeared to be a wealthy white liberal living in a wealthy white area and they were clearly going to be okay regardless of who won the election. Even if this was case, that doesn’t prevent someone from acknowledging and communicating the dire stakes in the current political climate. The candidate did not do this effectively in my estimation and I was left with the impression that they did not really have any fire in their belly and may not have even been that interested in running or winning or serving.

These Dots Are Connected 

Our inability to win the Presidency is tied to our inability to win State and Local elections. We have not built sufficient political power at the lower levels of government.  Because we have not built political power from the bottom up we have produced no evidence that we can consistently win difficult campaigns, let alone push through legislation we support and govern effectively. While I think the Democratic party is deplorable (and I’ll explore that more in a later post) it cannot be denied that just about any progressive legislation or reform that made it into law was pushed by Democrats in power, not a Green in power. Green’s are not even close to having tangible political power with the exception of a handful of towns where the Green Party has the majority in the local city council. So why would anyone trust the Presidency to the Green Party without this? Even if Stein had won due to some fluke in 2016 she would have no Congressional support to get anything done.

The popularity of Sanders demonstrated that left-leaning citizens are willing to back a candidate that is not within the strict boundaries of their party, or even a long-time member. However, it appears clear they want to back someone who can win and someone who can deliver, and someone with experience with elected office. Operating as an Independent Sanders has won numerous campaigns and has passed legislation over many years, something we have not done. It should be no surprise that many who supported Sanders turned to Clinton and not Stein as their backup, regardless of what they thought of Clinton.

The Basic Roadmap for the Green Party

Considering the results of the 2016 election, and our past efforts, I think the way forward for the Green Party is relatively easy to see if we are willing to change tactics and accept the simple fact that the current strategy is not working.

First, we should stop running these pointless presidential campaigns until we have built power at the State and Local level. I understand the reasons we have run these campaigns (as essentially a PR vehicle for our Party, and to get the magical 5% of the national vote to be on the ballot in all states) but by running these presidential campaigns we are trying to build power from the top down, not the bottom up, which is contradictory to our grassroots identity. It is also not working. We have not seen the Green Party significantly grow in exposure or numbers since running these campaigns.

Second, we should focus all our money and effort in Democratic and liberal states with many political seats or those with weak Democratic candidates. These are states where we are most likely to find a voter base aligned with our values that we can win over to Green Party candidates.  We need to recruit members to run against every Democratic candidate in these states and at the city and state levels of government.We also need to run candidates who want to win, who are committed to our values, and who can work effectively in government.

Third, while Democrats are our main opponents in State and Local elections (as we are vying for the same voter base), after winning elections we need to actually work closely with Democrats. This will be a hard tightrope to walk but even if the Green Party eventually wins a number of Congressional seats we will need to work with Democrats (and even Republicans) to support effective legislation and prove we can govern. In many ways we need to turn the Congress into a more parliamentary system where we form a coalition with Democrats and support each other on issues where we are in agreement even as we maintain our differences and continue to compete in Congressional and Local elections.

Fourth, after, and only after, winning and growing State and Local power and years of proving our ability to govern, should we return to the Presidential race.

This Will Be Simple But Not Easy

While this may be a relatively straightforward overall strategy it will be incredibly difficult to pull off.  Even with excellent candidates many of these races will be difficult and will require a lot of organizing, excellent messaging, and an excellent campaign strategy.  All of this must be executed without corporate money as we face opponents who are flush with cash from the various industries bank-rolling them. While it will not be a walk in the park, I honestly don’t see any way forward for the Green Party without adopting an overall strategy similar to this. If we want to stay irrelevant we can stay the same, but if we are serious about building a viable Third Party option we need to do something different.

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Election 2016: Accepting Personal Responsibility

This is the first of a series of posts I will be writing about the election season we just endured and my thoughts about the political situation we find ourselves in. These posts are meant for everyone. People of all generations, all walks of life, all identities, and all political leaning will agree with some of what I write and disagree with other parts. I hope I communicate my thoughts well to everyone and that they serve to spark beneficial dialogue with and introspection within those that read them.

If there is an over-arching theme to these posts, it is perhaps best summarized in the words of Joseph de Maistre, a French political thinker, who once wrote, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”


Election 2016: Accepting Responsibility

While some celebrate the election of Trump and the continued GOP control of Congress, many, such as myself, are disheartened by the results of the election. We fear the GOP agenda, empowered by their election gains, will pose a risk to our rights, our social status within society, our healthcare, our economic futures, and even our very lives. It has been said that we can be part of the solution, part of the problem, or part of the scenery and, politically speaking, too many U.S. citizens have chosen to be part of the scenery and in doing so have become part of the problem. I am one of them. Before I write anything about anyone else, any other citizen or any other political party, I must acknowledge my personal responsibility in contributing to situation I now fear will harm many people. My political inaction, my disengagement with politics and my political laziness contributed to our present circumstances. Before I continue to any analysis of the 2016 election or our present political circumstances, I need to start there.

Refusing to Vote

In the past I have failed to exercise a basic responsibility in a democratic country: voting to elect our national leaders. I vote in local elections and on specific local issues but before 2016 I had never voted in federal elections.  I have had my reasons for choosing not to do this, but that means that I consented to the status quo which I view as terrible.

In 2016 I choose to vote in the national elections but I didn’t even do that well. I failed to register as a Democrat in time to vote in support of Bernie Sanders, the candidate I favored during the primary election season. This was the point at which my vote would have actually counted and had the most practical impact…and I did not get around to it. My first attempt to register with the Green Party was lost by the state of Massachusetts and because I did not double-check my registration I found out I was unable to vote in local elections when I attempted to. My second attempt to register with the Green Party was successful and I voted for Jill Stein in the general election. While this vote in a deeply Democratic Blue state was pointless beyond attempting to help the Green Party claim 5% of national votes, I at the very least showed up.

Voting But Disengaging from Politics

However, I fear that even if I had voted for one of the two-party candidates in a swing state, the most powerful single citizen vote in our present political situation, this is not enough. I do not think voting as the end of political engagement but more one aspect of it, or even the bare minimum in our country. Even if one views voting as pointless and refuses to do so, there are still many other forms of political engagement.

I fear many people, including myself, are politically active only during the election season and nominally engaged at that. We vote for the candidate most like us and perhaps convince others to vote, and then disengage from the political process for the next 3-4 years. If we win, we trust our candidates to follow through on their campaign promises and govern effectively, often ignoring clear situations where they do not. If we lose, we blame everything on the actions of the other political party, often ignoring clear situations where the other party has a valid point or our own party’s failings put them into power.

Political engagement is far more than voting I believe one should stay politically engaged. We should maintain public pressure on our leaders to follow through on promises, remain true to their values, compromise when necessary and generally keep them in check. However, this requires staying informed, learning about ways to exert political pressure effectively, and putting in effort to the political process. It also includes being able and willing to criticize the leaders we identify with, identifying, calling out, and working to correct valid problems with their leadership.  We must do this even as they face unwarranted criticism from their political opponents. Personally, I have generally failed to stay politically engaged beyond voting.

Am I Part of the Solution, Part of the Problem, or Part of the Scenery?

Overall,  when I ask how I have attempted to influence on our political system I draw a huge blank with few exceptions. I am forced to accept that I am not the Civil Rights activists but those who stayed at home during the marches. I realize I am not the ones who fought for women’s right to vote, but those that stayed in the background and wanted to see how things would play out. I realize I am not the Anti-War Activists of Vietnam, but the Silent Majority who was counted as for the war because of their silence. I have never communicated my desires or concerns to my representatives in local or federal government in any way shape or form, beyond perhaps signing a few petitions online that were safely ignored.

There May Be Many Reasons To Be Politically Disengaged But There Are No Excuses For Being Politically Disengaged

There are many demands on our lives. There are educations to finish, bills to pay, children to raise, careers and business ventures to pursue. There are relationships invest in and personal changes we want to make. All of these require some of our finite time, resources and effort. It is tempting to stay disengaged and simply hope that the status quo gets better or at least is maintained, despite all evidence to the contrary.

There are also many valid reasons to feel politically dis-empowered in what is left of the democratic process here in the U.S. Our votes seem inconsequential based on where we live. Corporations and special interests have hired an army of lawyers and lobbyists to bend our political leaders to their will, armed with financial resources none of us will ever see in our entire life. While the two-parties may be different on wedge-issues, there are many more cases in which their agenda and governance are indistinguishable and equally problematic.

However, the words of Pericles are just as true today as they were in his:“Just because you do not interest in politics, does not mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”

Politics shapes our shared social experiences from the mundane to the incredibly important. Politics determines how fast we are legally allowed to drive on roads and if minority groups are protected or oppressed by our laws. Politics determines where we will resettle and incorporate refugees or create more by invading a foreign country. When we disengage from politics we give up whatever say we have in the direction of our nation and our own futures as we are part of it. 

While we may feel dis-empowered I have come to believe that everyone has as much political influence as they are willing to create and we are limited more by our lack of strategic effort than the actual structures we face. I have been too disengaged to shape the politics that have shaped our course as a nation. That course ultimately led us to Trump, and while I lament our arrival here, I cannot do anything until I accept personal responsibility for my inaction and act differently in the future.

I know I am guilty of this, and I invite my readers to consider how involved or disengaged you really are in our political process as I continue to write about this election and our present political situation as a nation..

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Obama’s Executive Action on Guns – Follow Up: What can be done to address issues with guns?

As I said in my previous post, I would like for the mass shootings in the U.S.A. to stop, and I would like for the overall decline in firearms violence in the U.S. to continue, if not accelerate. I would also like to see accidental deaths by firearms, suicide by firearms and other similar problems be addressed by our society. While I am a firearm owner, and I do not want to see civilian firearm ownership banned, I think *one part* of our society’s answer to these challenges can come in the form of sensible gun-legislation.

In my previous post I went through Obama’s Executive Actions on gun in detail and found that it was a mixed bag. The NRA and GOP would have you believe that Obama is coming for your guns to impose martial law, fanning the flames of hysteria to drive record gun sales. The Democrats and gun-control advocates would have you believe these actions will help end gun violence or at the very least be a first step towards it, when in fact some of these actions are vague, insufficient or will do nothing (in my estimation) to address issues with guns.

So what can be done to address issues with guns and what type of sensible gun legislation can be part of our response to issues with firearms?  I will address this question by breaking down the issues with gun into four basic categories: accidental death and injury, suicide, and gun crime.

1. Accidental Death and Injury: Every year there are tragic incidents involving firearms where individuals injury or kill themselves or others with firearms being handled improperly. There are at least two ways we can reduce this issue.

  • Increased firearm handling and storage knowledge for gun-owners: Many of these issues are rooted in people improperly handling firearms.  Gun owners need to take their decision to own a firearm very seriously. I fear we live in a culture where access to firearms goes far beyond those who come from communities and families with that encourage responsible gun culture. The individual must take firearms seriously and ensure sure they and everyone who could possibly access their gun, understands the fundamentals of firearms safety. I say this as someone who had access to firearms before anyone every sat me down and taught me the basics of gun safety. I could have easily injured myself and/or others. Perhaps legislation like California’s requirement that you demonstrate your familiarity with safe firearms handling before purchasing a handgun and similar legislation can be developed in other states.
  • Gun Safety Technology: We need to fund gun safety research. Specifically we need to develop technology that prevents anyone but the authorized user from firing the gun. Obama is pushing for this with DoD, DoJ, and DHS mandates. This has been developed in the past but widespread implementation was blocked by a combination of NRA lobbying efforts and fears about these safety features failing and keeping authorized users from using them in critical situations.  While I do not think we should mandate these safety features on all firearms I agree with Obama that we need to push past both of these barriers and at least make these safety features an option on the market.

2. Suicide: Roughly 2/3 of the firearms related deaths in the United States are from suicides. People struggling with suicidal ideation who have access to firearms are at great risk. Most suicide attempts involving firearms are successful and the decision and result are instant so a person cannot be talked down from it or rescued from it in many circumstances. There are a few things we can do to help reduce the number of suicides by firearms and suicides in general.

  • Increased Mental Health Awareness: Mental health issues, including depression, still carry a stigma. People refrain from talking about it, or refrain from seeking help, because of this issue. Suicide is especially stigmatized as it involves death and the choice to end ones own life which are especially difficult to talk about for a variety of reasons. Legislatively I think we can continue to fund effective outreach programs, especially in hard to reach communities, to help people better understand depression and suicidal ideation. The more people who understand depression and suicidal ideation, the more people who can recognize it in themselves, in their loved ones, and seek or encourage their loved ones to seek, professional help.
  • Legal Ways for Family/Friends to disarm individuals dealing with suicidal ideation: While people may take their own life in many was the specific danger access to firearms presents to those struggling with suicidal ideation can be better addressed. I think that California’s new law where family can go to a judge and seek to temporarily remove a person’s firearms from them to allow for psychological evaluation is a good thing that I hope to see replicated in other states. In a related way, legislation that keeps firearms out the hands of domestic abusers should be in every state as some of the firearms related suicide are actually murder-suicides. (Sidenote: In 2012 I was going through another battle with depression and was the closest I had ever come to committing suicide.  Knowing the specific dangers access to firearms represents, and realizing that I had begun to think about using my rifle to kill myself, I called my parents and had them take my gun and give it to a family member for safe keeping so I would not have access to it.  While I was clear-headed enough to recognize this issue, and certainly part of me still wanted to live not everyone who owns a firearm and is struggling with suicidal ideation will be at this place.  Giving the family a legal mechanism to disarm their loved ones will save lives.)
  • Universal Healthcare: Some people who are struggling with depression are not being treated because they lack access to mental health treatment.  Some people become suicidal because of physical health issues that could have been avoided or more effectively treated if they had regular access to medical care.  Universal healthcare is a solution to both of these issues and it needs to happen in the United States.

3. Crime: We lose roughly 10,000 people a year to homicides involving firearms.  While it should be noted that this is 0.0000314% of our national population, firearms related crimes are in decline, and murder rates are at a historic low, it would still be good to see firearms related crime continue to decrease. So what can be done?

  • Fight Gun Crime By Fighting Poverty And the Wealthy Elite: I am a rather firm believer that a lot of the crime, including gun-crime, in the United States is driven by poverty. There certainly will always be people who choose to do evil, and choose to do evil with firearms, and I do not believe poverty *causes* crime, but for many crime becomes a more viable or compulsory option as their practical options are limited by poverty and related issues. We need to work towards ending the intentional under-resourcing of specific areas and communities and fight back against the stranglehold wealthy individuals, interests, and groups have over our nation and the flow of its resources and prosperity.  Legislation, political action, union organizing and community organizing that can effectively reduce poverty and inequality will have the side benefit of reducing crime and firearms related crime. One major action we could take is close tax loopholes and subsidies for many major corporations and then redistribute that money to the poorest and most crime ridden communities in the U.S. If we invested the money every U.S. based corporation hides in offshore accounts, keeps in tax havens abroad, or dodges through loopholes (created into law by politicians they effectively own) we’d have a lot less poverty in the U.S. or at least would be able to reduce its impact on people.
  • End the Drug War: One particular problem driving up gun violence here (and in other countries) is the Drug War. Prohibiting specific substances creates an illegal economy that supplies a demand which doesn’t disappear when we make specific substances illegal. Many poor marginalized communities see a vicious cycle where “tough on crime laws” mark an individual for life and they have no other choice but to stay involved in this illegal economy they may only have ventured into out of economic necessity or environmental circumstance. Ending the Drug War, clearing all non-violent drug related convictions from people’s records, releasing all inmates currently detained on non-violent drug charges, reinstating the right of felons to vote, shifting towards a mental health perspective of addiction instead of criminalizing it (as Portugal has) and investing in our communities (in ways as mentioned above) will certainly work towards reducing gang violence which accounts for roughly 2,000 homicides a year and often involves firearms and drugs.

These are some of the basic steps and legislative actions we can work towards to help reduce accidental death and injury, suicides and crime involving firearms.  An astute reader would note that only a few of these suggestions involve legislation specific to guns. This is not an oversight on my part.

From the outset I hope I have made it clear that sensible gun-legislation can and should be one part of, but not the totality, of our efforts to reduce issues related to firearms. While the presence or use of firearms in all of these issues requires us to think of sensible gun-legislation as part of the problem, the connection these issues have to larger issues (such as mental health, poverty, crime, etc.) invite us to look beyond making new gun legislation as the only conceivable method to address these issues. So while we need to have more candid and sensible conversations about gun-legislation, that is free from self-serving misrepresented stats, the gross influence of lobbyists, and the emotional reactions fanned by politicians, we also need to have similar sensible conversations about a great many other things impacting our society.

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Obama’s Executive Action on Guns: A review by a gun-owner for sensible firearms legislation.


I would like for the mass shootings in the U.S.A. to stop, and I would like for the overall decline in firearms violence in the U.S. to continue, if not accelerate. I would also like to see accidental deaths by firearms, suicide by firearms and other similar problems be addressed by our society. While I am a firearm owner, and I do not want to see civilian firearm ownership banned, I think *one part* of our society’s answer to these challenges can come in the form of sensible gun-legislation.

But what do I mean by sensible gun-legislation? Currently I think three types of gun legislation:

  • Sensible gun legislation that is law: These are laws that strike the right balance between wanting to curb social problems with firearms (crime, suicide, accidental death, etc.) while respecting the Second Amendment. They force gun culture in the U.S. to be more responsible and I think that’s great. Example: In California you have to show that you know how to properly handle and store a handgun before you purchase it. 
  • Sensible gun legislation that isn’t law: There is sensible gun legislation that is not law. This often the result of NRA/Firearms manufacturers lobbying efforts, the fear of our government become repressive, or politicians pandering to the Right. Example: Why isn’t the above California law Federal/national?
  • Non-sense gun legislation that is law: There are gun laws that make no sense. Often they are the product of public outcry over especially heinous crimes involving firearms, that has been whipped up by media focus and political haymaking. This style of legislation makes us feel like we are “doing something” about firearms violence when we are not. They just inconvenience firearms owners or infringe upon the Second Amendment without justification. Example: In California it is illegal to own a traditionally set up AR-15 rifle. However, a Ruger Mini-14 ranch rifle, which almost identical in function and form but not cosmetically an “assault rifle” is legal. This makes no sense.  Additionally rifles, of any type, are rarely used in crimes. In 2011, only 3.7% of firearms homicides were committed with any sort of long rifle. While firearms crimes in California have fallen, and some attribute this to the tough legislation passed in California, I would suggest this is more just following national trends. 

What Obama is Proposing:

In response to a number of mass shooting and due to the lack of Congressional actions, Obama has announced a series of Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence and Make our Communities Safe. I want to summarize what I believe Obama is actually proposing and evaluate what is being proposed.

  1. Background Checks: Obama is requiring any “firearms dealer” regardless of if they conduct sales primarily at a store, a gun show or online to obtain an FFL license. This license would require them to perform background checks for all sales. Dealing in firearms and not having this license carries a jail sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine.While this would theoretically be used to punish people who are operating as firearms dealers without an FFL (and that’s fine by me) the language is worrying and the law redundant.

    In regards to the wording there is no set limit or clear guidelines in regards to who deemed to be “operating as a firearm dealer” provided by the government. It is even stated that people who have made one sale or even one or two guns have been charged in this manner.  To me this ends private firearms sales. Who in their right mind would sell a gun from their collection to a friend or to another person if they could later be charged with acting as a dealer without an FFL? I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad or good thing, I’m just saying this actions has a larger impact than what is technically stated.

    Furthermore legal online gun sales already have to be shipped to a licensed FFL dealer who runs the background check and then you can pick it up for them.  So what loophole is this actually closing?

    Additionally, while the background check system that FFLs are required to use has stopped ~2 millions firearms purchases to people who should not have them, according to the ATF a number of licensed FFL dealers are being used by firearms traffickers or in collusion with them. These firearms end up in the hands of criminals even though the backgrounds checks passed. What would stop new dealers from registering and doing the exact same thing? At least the process would put them under more scrutiny but the problem still remains.Finally, the actions includes putting a stop to a process where citizens apply to legally obtain NFA items by forming a trust or corporation. NFA items cover specific firearms (such as fully-automatic firearms, short barreled rifles, and short-barreled shotguns) and firearm-related items (such as suppressors). Normally you have to apply for them and get the signature of a Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) in your area and pay a tax stamp.  To avoid some of this hassles some have formed trusts or corporations to work around this or expedite the process.  This action closes that option but it is also notable that the ATF has removed the CLEO signature requirement which was a major impediment to many people and the reason this alternative path was used.  Additionally it should be noted registered NFA items are essentially *never* used in crime. Since 1934 there have been two crimes involving legally owned NFA weapons.  Overall this directive closes an alternative path to NFA ownership that is no longer needed and does not really impact firearms crime, suicide, or accidental discharge.

  2. Streamlining and reinforcing existing systems: A number of the Executive Actions included steps at streamlining and reinforcing current existing systems and laws.First, upgrades will be made to the background check system and an additional 230 FBI agents will be hired to add staffing for it to increase the speed of the background check system and make it available 24/7. Currently a firearms dealer can legally sell an individual a firearm if the background check does not come back in three days so technically an individual who shouldn’t have a firearm could purchase one if the system was too slow. It is unclear how many such purchases this streamlined system may prevent and how many of these purchase lead to firearms related issues.Additionally 200 ATF agents will be hired “to help enforce our gun laws.” This would bring the total number of employees to ~5,000 and the total number of agents to ~2,700. Part of this new added manpower will be used to track illegal online gun sales, including those occurring in the “dark net.”  While I’m not exactly sure how much impact additional agents will have on firearms issues I am glad the ATF is expanding to the “dark net.” This is an area where I think a lot of illegal guns sales could potentially happen in the future.Finally $4 million will be used to enhance the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network. This will centralize a lot of the processing of ballistic evidence from crimes so that a firearm used in previous crimes in different criminal jurisdictions can be connected.
  3. Domestic Violence:  The Attorney General has called for the renewing of domestic violence outreach efforts. Now domestic violence is a factor in firearms crimes, but this point is so vague I cannot even evaluate it. What programs are being renewed? Are the programs that are being renewed working? Who has access to these programs? The only clear part that I would agree with on principle is removing firearms from domestic violence offenders, a law we already have in California when and where a restraining order is in effect, but again, this is only encouraged and I’m not sure what other states have similar laws already on the books.
  4. Mental Health: The third point of Obama’s Executive Actions is centered on mental health, and this point is perhaps the most problematic to me.Before addressing the specific aims, I just have to say the inclusion of mental health in gun control laws appears to imply that the mentally ill are inherently violent and prone to gun violence. This is problematic and reinforces the stigma surrounding mental illness. Almost the exact opposite is actually true: the mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it, a fact the White House even confusing admits to in its own press release. That being said, there are three moves these actions attempt to take.
    First, “The Administration is proposing a new $500 million investment to increase access to mental health care.” While any additional allocation of funds to mental health care in the U.S. is welcome, a one time investment of $500 million (nationally) falls far short of what is actually needed.  Mental health issues are expensive to treat in the current predatory and capitalistic healthcare system we have in the U.S. According to the APA mental health issues, “were one of the five most costly conditions in the United States in 2006 with expenditures at $57.5 billion.”  While a lot of suicides by firearms are the result of depression, it is unclear what other firearms issues these funds are designed to prevent.Second, the Social Security Administration will forward information on, “75,000 people each year who have a documented mental health issue, receive disability benefits, and are unable to manage those benefits because of their mental impairment, or who have been found by a state or federal court to be legally incompetent” to the appropriate authorities that will prevent them for owning firearms. While I agree there are people who should not own firearms, including those who due to mental impairment cannot be responsible gun owners, this is already a law and has been since 1968. This action means that more people will be reported to the background check system than previously, which is overall a good thing, but I cannot think this will have a significant impact on firearm issues.Third, the Administration is seeking to remove barriers created by HIPAA that would prevent mental health professionals from reporting relevant mental health issues to the appropriate authorities. While I agree with this on principle, and it appears the Administration struck a good balance between privacy and public safety on this issue, I again do not see this making a large impact. That’s just my suspicion and I would like to see how many firearms issues would have been prevented if a personal dealing with mental illness, that was in treatment, could have been reported before they legally purchased a firearm and committed their crime or committed suicide.
  5. Gun Safety Technology: The President is directing the DoD, the DoJ, and the DHS to spearhead the research into and adoption of gun-safe technology, “that would reduce the frequency of accidental discharge or unauthorized use of firearms, and improve the tracing of lost or stolen guns.” There are numerous problems this directive is attempting to address and issues I have with this directive.First, there is the issue of accidental discharge. If there was a way to keep guns from going off accidentally I would love to see that developed and implemented. This increases gun safety by hopefully eliminating or significantly reducing death and injury caused by accidental discharge.  That being said no gun will ever be 100% safe so shooter training and proper firearms ownership, storage, and handling can never be stressed enough.Second, there is the issue of stolen guns.  Some firearm crimes involve stolen firearms. If a stolen iPhone can be tracked, why not a stolen firearm?  While tagging every firearm with a unique trackable signature of some type so Law Enforcement could locate a stolen firearm once it is reported as stolen, makes perfect sense it also raise concerns. Giving the Government the ability to know exactly where every firearm is in the United States is a great power and one that could be abused.Third, if there was a way to make sure only an authorized user could use a specific firearm that would be great for law enforcement. Law enforcement officers are occasionally killed with their own firearm, and if their firearm would only work in their hand, this would solve that issue.  The same technology could be used by civilians who are concerned about being disarmed or those with small children.


Overall I feel like these Executive Actions are a mixed bag but generally leave me underwhelmed.  There are actions that enhance or reinforce existing sensible gun legislation (such as background checks), but there are also non-sense gun legislation that I fear will do little to “Reduce Gun Violence and Make Our Communities Safe” and simply inconvenience or needlessly restrict law abiding citizens (such as closing the NFA “loophole” and investing a token amount into mental health access).

However, it does not appear to me that any of these new actions would have prevented any of the recent mass shootings so I do not expect them to prevent similar ones from happening in the future. Nor do I see anything that I would think would markedly hasten the general decline in firearms violence that already exists.

While I’m not a member or supporter of the NRA it is telling that this assessment was essentially shared by the NRA, for whom one spokesperson quipped, “This is it? This is what they’ve been hyping for how long now? This is the proposal they’ve spent seven years putting together? They’re not really doing anything,” adding that at first glance the proposals appeared to be, “surprisingly thin.”

In my next post I’ll write more about other concrete steps we might take or additional sensible gun-legislation that we could think about to address the issues related to private firearms ownership.

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Don’t Call White Supremacy a Mental Illness

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[Sidenote: This is my first blog post in a very long time.  Sometime after #Ferguson I just stopped writing. I was at a loss for words on the many pressing topics facing the world. To be honest I began to seriously question if we can even make the world a better place at this point, so was it really worth writing about issues that aren’t going to change? For a small number of reasons I’ve started writing again.]

Immediately after the terrorist attack in Charleston, before the shooter was even in custody, people were quick to suggest that shooter was either mentally ill, motivated by white supremacy, or some combination of the two. As the dust settled it became rather abundantly clear that the killer was motivated by white supremacist ideology.

Some joked, as I have in the past, that white supremacy could or should be classified as a mental illness. The inference is that someone must be crazy to believe in white supremacy. While I couldn’t help but smirk at the suggestion, recently I have come to believe that we should not suggest white supremacy could or should be seen as a mental illness as it combines the two concepts and this is very problematic. I say this for two main reasons.

First, combining white supremacy with mental illness, especially in the context of hate crimes and terrorist attacks, adds to the stigma surrounding mental illness.

White supremacy motivates and sustains all kinds of violence,s injustice and evil in the world. Some of these injustices, like the prison industrial complex, enjoy widespread acceptance.  Some of these injustices, such as the terrorist attack in Charleston, are widely condemned. Either way it is a source and force of evil in the world, and one that still operates today.

When we associate mental illness with white supremacy, and some of the more glaring crimes and atrocities it motivates, we encourage the mistaken belief that people dealing with mental illnesses are a crime just waiting to happen. The mentally ill in general become seen as one breakdown away from lashing out, perhaps lethally. This adds to one of the main challenges facing mental health today: the stigma surrounding it.

People are generally very ill informed about mental health and where ignorance exists, assumptions, myth and fears grow like weeds. This all fuels a stigma around mental health issues that adds to the difficulty of addressing them. Because of this stigma people struggling with mental health issues fear seeking professional help because they do not want to be labeled or seen as “crazy.” Because of this stigma people who are dealing with mental health issues in their family do not seek help or knowledge because they wrongfully feel shame or fear community scrutiny and judgment.

While it is true that in some mass shootings and other crimes mental illness has proven to be a factor or even the primary factor in the situation, overall those struggling with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators of crime.

A friend of mine, Kevin Kurian, a PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology, pointed this out recently with some sources for those that are curious:

As you watch the news, please consider the following…
Fact: “Specifically, 3%, 4% and 10% of crimes were related directly to symptoms of depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, respectively.” (Peterson et al., 2014)
Fact: You are almost 3 times more likely to be a victim of a crime if you have schizophrenia. (Khalifeh et al., 2015).

Second, just as importantly, conflating white supremacy with mental illness helps us (by this I mean primarily, but not exclusively, white people) evade our shared responsibility to deal with white supremacy in 2015.

The existence of mental illness is a fact of life. What I mean by this is that as far back as we can look into recorded history it appears humans have experienced and struggled with what we would now identify as mental illness. Likewise, as far as we may look into the foreseeable future, it appears mental illness will impact some people despite our increased understanding of them and our development of treatments for some mental illnesses. We can say with confidence, “Some members of our society do and will experience mental illness” just as surely as we can say “Some members of our society do and will experience physical illness.” While we may mitigate the negative impact of some mental illnesses, effectively treat others, or possibly even cure some, mental illness is not going away.

When we suggest white supremacy is a mental illness, jokingly or not, we put white supremacy in that same category. This is a subtle but deeply problematic shift. When white supremacy is understood in the same way as mental illness is understood, it is seen as a fact of life that we have little influence over. The unjust systems, atrocities and evils white supremacy continues to sustain become seen as an unfortunate but unavoidable tragedies. The mass-murder that took the life of nine Black people in a church is understood to be a tragic event, not unlike death caused by a forest fire, or an outbreak of a lethal illness.


Consequently, this shift enables people to evade responsibility for challenging white supremacy. When white supremacy is seen as a fact of life, we cannot really end it, only perhaps mitigate the worst of its consequences. Therefore we ultimately bear little or no responsibility for its ongoing carnage and certainly no responsibility in stopping it. For who can be held responsible for ending something that cannot be ended?

The reality is white supremacy is not an unchangeable fact of life like mental illness. There was a time in history, not to long ago, that white supremacy did not exist. The concept of “white people” did not even exist a few centuries back. The beliefs that make up white supremacy and institutions built around white supremacy were made by humans and can be unmade by humans if we want to really grapple with it.

The mass murder in Charleston was not a tragedy caused a mental illness we could have done little to nothing about.  The mass murder in Charleston was an ideologically motivated terrorist attack that was inspired by a lot of white supremacist narratives that enjoy mainstream support. Understanding this situation rightly is certainly a lot more uncomfortable, and certainly implicates a lot more people than one lone gunman, perhaps even ourselves, but understanding it rightly is necessary if we really want to make any progress when it comes to addressing white supremacy as it exists today.

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