Thursday, March 01, 2018

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for A Better Tomorrow - March 1 Edition

Politics, Society (Foreign Policy)

"From an anthropological perspective, Western politics has, it may be argued, become more tribal. Tribes are distinguished from other human groups by their relatively clear social boundaries, often defined by kinship and demarcated territory. It’s clear that our political groups are increasingly based on single aspects of common identity with unambiguous boundaries, such as race and educational status.

Equally undeniable, however, is that most commentators vastly misunderstand the nature of tribes. The mistaken view of tribes as primitive, violent, and insular is already having pernicious effects on our response to this new era of politics. Tribalism, contrary to popular belief, is not atavistic. But American political rhetoric, by suggesting otherwise, has become essentially fatalistic; it suggests that tribalism marks a reversion to some natural and ancestral mode of thinking and, thus, even if tribes can be temporarily transcended, their pull remains inexorable.

If we hope to live productively in this new political era, it helps to understand what tribes actually are — and how, rather than simply being the cause of our political problems, tribalism can also contribute to the solution."

Education, Arts Programs (Slate)

"Despite the gradual erosion of the arts and physical education in America’s public schools, the students of Stoneman Douglas have been the beneficiaries of the kind of 1950s-style public education that has all but vanished in America and that is being dismantled with great deliberation as funding for things like the arts, civics, and enrichment are zeroed out. In no small part because the school is more affluent than its counterparts across the country(fewer than 23 percent of its students received free or reduced-price lunches in 2015–16, compared to about 64 percent across Broward County Public Schools) these kids have managed to score the kind of extracurricular education we’ve been eviscerating for decades in the United States. These kids aren’t prodigiously gifted. They’ve just had the gift of the kind of education we no longer value.

Part of the reason the Stoneman Douglas students have become stars in recent weeks is in no small part due to the fact that they are in a school system that boasts, for example, of a “system-wide debate program that teaches extemporaneous speaking from an early age.” Every middle and high school in the district has a forensics and public-speaking program. Coincidentally, some of the students at Stoneman Douglas had been preparing for debates on the issue of gun control this year, which explains in part why they could speak to the issues from day one."

Work (Yes! Magazine)

"We all spend a large part of our lives at our jobs. Yet how many of us are bored or frustrated at work, whether unhappy with our company’s goals, stressed from overwork, or dealing with toxic coworkers? Don’t we deserve better than that?

The new book How to Be Happy at Work makes the case that, yes, we do, and happiness at work should be our ultimate goal. Written by Annie McKee—an international business advisor and senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education—the book provides ideas for how to turn your job into a source of happiness no matter where you find yourself working.

According to McKee, part of our collective problem is that too many of us fall in the trap of believing that “work is work” and isn’t supposed to be a source of happiness, or that work goals will suffer if we focus on what makes us happy. But research suggests the opposite: Happier employees are more productive, benefitting their companies as much as themselves."

Corporations, Political Spending (Brennan Center for Justice)

"The administration has been a veritable font of bad news as executives hostile to reasonable rules have taken the helm from the Department of Education to the Environmental Protection Agency. But there’s a little good news coming from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Provided Congress allows, it will determine the winner in the long-running battle over whether publicly traded companies should reveal their currently hidden political contributions, known as “dark money.”

Stockholders have long been agitating that the companies they own improve the transparency of their political spending. This is often done through shareholder resolutions, which are a bit like ballot questions, to require companies disclose their spending on campaigns and lobbying. In part as a result of these efforts, more than half of the S&P 500 have agreed to be open about their political activities. They now share information that would otherwise be opaque and untraceable, including money flowing through dark money trade associations and so-called social welfare organizations, such as Crossroads GPS, the conservative group founded by George W. Bush operative Karl Rove.

But the trend toward transparency is still being met with resistance. Goldman Sachs wrote to the SEC in December to block its shareholders from voting on a lobbying disclosure proposal in part because the amount of money at issue “relates to operations that account for less than five percent of the Company’s assets.” The shareholders withdrew their proposal."

Elections (New York Times)

"The 2018 midterm elections, featuring hundreds of congressional, state and local primaries, will culminate with the Nov. 6 general election to decide whether Democrats can gain control of Congress or if Republicans will keep their hold on the legislative branch."

Monday, February 26, 2018

America's gun problem: Can it be solved?

Student protests—teenagers demanding their right to attend school without the fear of being gunned down by some lunatic with an assault rifle—have been ongoing since the February 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people died and 14 others were injured. It’s been riveting and inspiring watching these passionate, young people stand up to pro-gun legislators, rabid Second Amendment-rights groups, and the NRA, saying, “Enough is enough.”

While I have no use for guns, nor do I own one, nor can I ever imagine purchasing one (but, I never say never), I believe people have the right to own guns for self-protection and rifles for hunting. However, military-grade weapons and automatic or semi-automatic weapons should only be available to the military, maybe the police; certainly, not civilians.

Parkland's was the eighteenth school shooting of 2018, though the number is up for debate depending on how a school shooting is counted and defined. It's not only school shootings that should concern us, but also the number of gun deaths—homicides, suicides, accidents—and injuries that happen across America every day. Something must be done. 

We have a problem no other developed country has: 30,000 gun-related deaths per year. None come close. We have a massive number of guns in this country, largely concentrated in a small portion of the population.

Here are some stats:
  • 30% of the US population owns guns;
  • 3% of the US population owns 50% of those guns;
  • The US has 10 x the gun-related deaths of other advanced countries;
  • Gun deaths in the US are 40 x greater than in Great Britain but we don’t have 40 x the mental health issues;
  • US states with the highest rates of gun ownership, generally have higher rates of gun deaths;
  • US states with the lowest rates of gun ownership, generally have lower rates of gun deaths.

Below, Fareed Zakaria talks about the massive number of guns in our country. It's a brief segment worth watching.

The proclamation (repeated on the right) that there is nothing we can do to stop these incidents is bull. I get it, some people don’t want to jump through hoops to purchase guns. However, we should always make it more difficult for bad guys to obtain a gun. And yes, that may inconvenience good guys a little bit. So what?

If I hear one more person refer to gun violence in Chicago as proof that strict gun laws are useless, my head will explode. Here’s a little geography lesson. What state is located just east of Illinois? Right, Indiana, which has some of the weakest gun laws in the country. No matter how strict gun laws may be in one state, there will be gun-related problems if it is in close proximity to one with weak gun laws.  

There are also too many accidental shooting deaths, especially involving children. I don’t have kids, but if I did, and one of their friends got a hold of a gun because that child’s parents were careless about securing it and they injured or killed my child, those parents would regret the day they ever heard my name. Adults need to be held responsible for these tragedies, even if it’s their own kid who ends up being the victim. Until adults are held more accountable, these tragic situations will continue, and these are totally avoidable situations. Imagine being a child who killed someone else.

And while people with mental health issues should not have access to guns, they are more likely to be victims of violence than those instigating it. We should not only prevent them from possessing guns but also those with a history of violence, domestic violence included.

Lastly, we should never turn our schools into prisons. Who wants to go to school with armed guards and metal detectors? Teachers should not be armed. Many school systems can’t afford supplies for their classrooms (teachers oftentimes pay for these items themselves), but we’ll pay to arm and train them? Teachers should not be expected to take on that responsibility. That’s not their job. They certainly do not get paid enough to do it. The NRA loves the idea though: more guns equal more money for the gun industry.

So what can be done? Here are a few ideas:
  • Close the gun show loophole. Friends and family members purchasing guns from each other must also go through background checks and licensing.
  • Enact two-week waiting periods. This is a precautionary measure, especially if someone is suicidal or bent on murdering someone who has upset them. A cooling down period is reasonable.
  • Educate citizens to recognize the signs of violence or unusual behavior in loved ones, friends, and neighbors. If something seems off, report it. This can be tricky, and one must be careful not to abuse the reporting process, but most of us know when someone close to us is struggling or their behavior has changed. Ensure our healthcare system is capable of treating those suffering a mental illness, anxiety, anger, and depression.
  • Ban assault weapons, bump stocks, and high-capacity magazines. No civilian purchases of semi-automatic, automatic, or military-grade weapons are permitted.
  • Allow doctors to report gun-related injuries and the CDC to compile data about these incidents so we have a clearer picture of what is happening around gun injuries and deaths. The agency was effectively barred from studying gun violence as a public-health issue in 1996 by a statutory provision known as the Dickey amendment. (Click on: Why Can’t the U.S Treat Gun Violence as a Public-Health Problem? below for more information.)
  • Place terrorists’ names on a no-buy list. They are no-fly lists. 
  • Organize a buy-back program. The number of guns in this country needs to be reduced. More guns equal more gun violence. That’s a fact.

These kids protesting out in the streets are the leaders we need in this fight. Their lives have been turned upside down. They watched their classmates be gunned down and some died. It’s their young lives being extinguished. It’s their future; they want to live it and grow old. 

Marches are planned in D.C. and around the country on March 24. I’ll be marching in New York City that day. These young people are right: Enough is enough.

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