Friday, May 27, 2022

We Cannot Abide Another Robb Elementary

Since the mid-1800s my family has called Texas home.  For generations we have been ranchers, hunters, businesspeople, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends.  We remain so to this day, deeply rooted and far spread.  We are gun owners, responsibly and without judgement.  We are also human beings with a deep capacity for empathy and compassion, whether it be for our fellow Texans or any other for whom we care, or simply can relate.  As hunters and gunowners, we believe absolutely in responsible gun ownership, and I therefore hope that readers of this desperate plea will not seek to question my motives in penning it.  Though I am a gun owner, and certainly intend to remain so, I nevertheless deeply believe in the need for commonsense gun control and sensible reform.  To ignore the necessity of such a change is to be complicit in the deaths of all the future victims of these largely preventable instances of mass violence.  Perhaps “preventable” is the keyword here, as it seems that many believe they are not and that we must accept them as inevitable.  Let us examine the reality. 

First, the vast majority of mass shootings are carried out by gunmen who obtained their weapons legally.  To illustrate the point, according to the National Institute of Justice, as of February 2022, 77% of those who engaged in mass shootings used legally purchased firearms.  The fact of the matter is that most of us, normal and disturbed people alike, quite simply have no idea how to obtain a weapon illegally.  We have no gang affiliations nor black-market connections, so how on earth can we hope to obtain a firearm illegally?  There are ways, certainly, but those ways are unknown to most of us, and in the highly chaotic crisis period of a person’s life that typically precedes a mass shooting event, the perpetrator is not likely to have the time, nor the mental capacity, to devise those means on their own, at least not in the moment.  It follows, quite logically, that had these perpetrators been unable to obtain their firearms legally as they did, then they would not likely have been able to obtain them at all. 

Secondly, the perpetrators of mass violence, whether shootings or anything else, nearly always have very discoverable red flags.  According to The Violence Project, nearly 65% of mass shooters had a criminal record, 63% a history of violence, 36% a history of domestic abuse, and 16% a history of sexual offenses.  Based on this alone, NONE of these individuals should have been allowed to purchase or own firearms, however, through various legal loopholes (gun shows, private sales, online, etc.) they were allowed to purchase firearms freely, and legally.  The Violence Project’s lofty database also tells us that nearly 100% of these perpetrators had suffered some type of severe emotional trauma in their near or distant pasts, and almost 2/3 had a discoverable history of mental concerns.  Quite counterintuitively, however, mental health issues are barely even a part of the process in purchasing a firearm, other than the non-voluntary committal to a mental health institution.  Someone with severe and diagnosed psychosis, even with violent tendencies, as long as they are free, is as able to purchase a firearm as is someone of sound mind.  Changing this should be common sense. 

The last statistic I will throw in is that roughly 26% of mass shooters had served in some branch of the armed forces.  Of those, numerous had received dishonorable discharges.  While Federal law DOES prohibit the sale of firearms to those who have been dishonorably discharged, it has been shown that the armed forces often fail to transfer that data into the Federal database where it would then be flagged in a FBI background check.  This is how these perpetrators were able to purchase their weapons from legitimate retailers, who for their part followed all legal procedures in place in order to legally conduct the transaction.      

Finally, let us look at how the US differs in terms of gun violence, and gun ownership in general, with other developed nations (Note, some of these statistics date back to 2007 and 2012, respectively):

 

Country

Gun Ownership (per 100 people)

Gun Homicide Rate (per 1M people)

Gun legislation

(1 lax – 5 stringent)

USA

88.8

29.7

1

Canada

30.8

5.1

4

United Kingdom

6.2

0.7

5

Switzerland

45.7

7.7

3

Japan

0.6

0.1

5

 

It is plainly evident that there are two factors that lead to sharp declines in gun violence.  The first, and perhaps most obvious, is that less guns in total means less gun violence.  And the second, legislation, may well be the driver of the first.  A gun is a very dangerous thing, and the ownership of such a weapon should not be taken lightly.  It requires training and diligence to responsibly wield a firearm, yet in the US it is treated much the same way as buying an automobile.  There are countless examples of developed countries with rich cultures and histories of gun ownership that nevertheless implemented commonsense gun reform and now enjoy significantly lower instances of gun violence than we here in the United States.  After a mass shooting in Australia in 1996, for example, gun laws were tightened.  According to the New York Times, the rate of mass shootings in that country prior to 1996 was roughly 1 every 18 months.  After the legislative changes, that rate has plummeted to only 1 single event in all the time that as elapsed since then (that’s 1 in 312 months and counting)!

The point of all this is not to “take away guns” as folks on the far right have so irresponsibly espoused to their fervent bases, but to be more responsible about gun ownership in general.  As a Texan and a hunter, I am certified in hunter safety and I also have a license to carry (LTC).  To obtain these licenses/designations, I had to attend numerous classes covering both safety and law, pass two written exams, undergo an intense background check, and demonstrate knowledge, proficiency, and safety live on the firing range under the supervision of a licensed instructor.  These things should be the absolute bare minimum for ALL gun ownership.  If you have not completed them, then you cannot own a firearm, plain and simple.  Further, I would happily throw a psychiatric evaluation onto the pile of requirements as well, and would then be honored to comply with that aspect so that I could earn the right to continue owning and enjoying my own gun collection, and the shooting sports with which I grew up. 

In conclusion, we cannot abide another Robb Elementary School, as we have cowardly abided all the tragedies that have preceded it.  Uvalde is only 90 miles from my home town of San Antonio, and I have many friends that were either born there or who still call it home today.  As a native Texan, I love to hunt, shoot skeet, target shoot, and look forward to teaching my own family to do the same, but that doesn’t prevent me from understanding and accepting the necessity for reform and tighter gun control.  Growing up with guns gives me a unique insight into their awesome power, and extraordinary danger in the wrong hands, and should therefore arm me with the credibility to make this argument on behalf of decency and commonsense.  To politicize this recent tragedy and continue to do nothing makes all of us complicit in the next tragedy, and it most certainly will come.  Only a fool would think otherwise.  In service to the country, and also to my own conscience, I can not standby while our elected leaders continue to use the deaths of children as political fodder, while simultaneously bending to the gun lobby and an uninformed base.  This is NOT a political issue, it is a moral prerogative.  A failure to act renders us guilty, and your “thoughts and prayers” will surely fall on the ears of an offended God who has grown deaf to your hypocrisy. 

 

 

Mac Altgelt

May 26, 2022

 

 

 

Sources:

The Violence Project

National Institute of Justice

United Nations – Office on Drugs and Crime

The New York Times

Friday, September 18, 2020

4 More Years in Hell

Wow, what a 4 years.  It has been so volatile, that I’m obliged to write an opinion piece about it (the last I wrote followed the inauguration of 45, to give an idea as to the frequency of this).  It is an occurrence so rare that it begs the question: why now?

Well, it largely has to do with the hijacking and bastardizing of the Republican party.  A party to which I formerly belonged, once upon a grand ol’ time.  It started, of course, long before Trump with the Tea Party’s infiltration and proliferation within the GOP.  This brought the alt-right fanaticism of the fringe into mainstream politics for the first time, though it was perhaps not as evident then.  It is also at this point that I could no longer call myself a Republican.  The decision to turn my back on the party of my life up to that point has only been reinforced with the election and ongoing administration of Donald Trump, a man so profoundly underqualified for the job to which he has been elected, that all potential humor regarding the situation is blotted out by the terror his ineptitude inspires in intelligent people.

So, how did we get here, you ask?  Well, it’s pretty simple actually.

  1. The status quo felt threatened when oppressed peoples started demanding equal rights, incorrectly interpreting these demands as an infringement of their own rights.
  2. The status quo felt threatened by emerging technologies that they felt might harm their own interests, and by legislation that sought to protect the world from the problems associated with some of those same interests.       
  3. The status quo made a desperate bid to halt the momentum of change, perhaps not realizing that consolidating their allies might bring some folks out of the shadows that probably should have stayed there. 

So, how did it all go down?  Well, after electing a bunch of Tea Party whackos, we elected a ridiculous, wannabe despot who has disrespected and mistreated every pillar of American pride.  Nepotism and greed became the primary methods of his governance, placing almost laughable, and seemingly ironic, figures at the heads of some of our most valued institutions.  We have an EPA chief, for example, who was a vocal opponent of the very organization he now helms, and who remains an avid supporter of the coal industry.  His predecessor, Scott Pruitt, who had to resign in disgrace (as so many of Trump’s cronies ultimately do), has even since registered in Indiana as an energy lobbyist.  How do you reconcile that?  These men were placed in their position deliberately and undeniably to undermine their organization’s effectiveness.  Seven other members of Trump’s inner circle have been indicted on criminal charges (there were zero under Obama, by comparison).  How is this not a red flag? 

A lot of us wonder how we, as a country, have gone so far astray as to elect a celebrity to the Presidency of the United States.  A morally reprehensible, chronic-lying, failed businessman as the leader of the world’s largest economy and most powerful military.  The answer is simply that democracy does not work.  People are not intelligent enough to make decisions for themselves, as evidenced in people’s overwhelming and disheartening susceptibility to misinformation campaigns.  The great political philosopher of the 17th and 18th centuries, Giambattista Vico, who was to become a major inspiration to some of literature’s greatest minds (James Joyce, off the top of my head), argued that a monarchy, not a republic, was the most mature form of government, and one into which all republics are doomed to collapse eventually.  This phenomenon is evidenced amply throughout history, perhaps most notably with the usurpation of power from the Roman Senate by Julius Caesar, whose nephew Octavian would become Rome’s first official Emperor. 

Even Mark Twain recognized this unfortunate cycle:

“Every civilization carries the seeds of its own destruction, and the same cycle shows in them all. The Republic is born, flourishes, decays into plutocracy, and is captured by the shoemaker whom the mercenaries and millionaires make into a king. The people invent their oppressors, and the oppressors serve the function for which they are invented.”        

So, how do we stop it?  Voting, for one.  Unfortunately, as much as young people and minorities complain, and pinky-swear that they are going to vote…they don’t.  They never have, and they never will, despite their assertions to the contrary.  The evidence is clear, and it is what it is.  So maybe we just wait for the ruling class to die off?  They’re old after all.  Sorry, wrong again.  They will just be replaced by a new ruling class who will stand to lose just as much in the wake of any real change, and will therefore oppose it with all their power, and, unlike you, their vote.

So, why are people so susceptible to misinformation in the first place?  Simple, because everyone wants to be smart, though few actually are.  They want to appear as though they have “figured something out” that no one else has, and so they latch onto these insane conspiracy theories and vomit them back out onto social media to impress their equally idiotic and susceptible friends, who then turn around and do the same thing.  They know something that the rest of us don’t, you see?  An indication of their idiocy is inherent in their sharing of other people’s ideas rather than having anything original to say at all.  And, just for the record, here is a short, non-inclusive list of some things that are definitely NOT supported by any legitimate evidence and should therefore be treated as entirely false:

·       Pedophilia Ring - There is no pedophilia ring operated out of Comet Ping Pong by the world’s elite.  One idiot Trumpster already went in there with an assault rifle in search of a basement full of children that, of course, did not exist.  But you did succeed in hurting the reputation of an honest, hard-working, American business owner, and frighten a number of American families who were just out to enjoy some pizza and play games.

·       Masks don’t work - Masks are effective in preventing the spread of COVID.  This is demonstrated by countless studies across the world, including those from prestigious institutions like Stanford, Duke, UC and the CDC.  The list goes on and on.  By not wearing a mask, you are worsening the impact of the virus and preventing us all from going back to normal. 

·       Hydroxychloroquine - Hydroxychloroquine has not been shown to be effective in treating COVID.  It was promising at one point, but, when it failed to deliver, its Emergency Use Authorization was revoked, as it should have been.  So please stop hoarding it so that it remains available for those who actually need it. 

·       Vaccines cause Autism - Vaccines do NOT cause autism.  I can’t believe I even have to say this still.  There is not one single piece of peer-reviewed scientific evidence to justify that ridiculous claim.  There is, however, mountains of legitimate scientific evidence demonstrating their innumerable benefits.

·       Climate Change is fake - Human-driven climate change is not a hoax.  Again, peer-reviewed, scientific research is nearly unanimous here.  If you need further proof, just follow the money (this is America, after all).  Who needs climate change to be fake?  Industries that contribute to it obviously, like Oil & Gas.  It directly affects their bottom line and therefore anything they say on the subject should be taken with the highest degree of skepticism.  Insurance companies, on the other hand, are the ones that have to pay the bill will climate change-driven disasters strike.  Their bottom line depends solely on getting the facts right so that they can accurately forecast weather patterns and charge adequate premiums to cover claims and still turn a profit.  ALL legitimate insurance companies are readjusting their climate models to account for man-made climate change.  All of them.  Follow the money…. again and again, follow the money.  Who has the incentive to lie here????  Let greed be your beacon of truth.  It’s real, and it’s going to get worse.

Let’s stop there for the sake of time, though I could go on for days. 

So, why is Donald Trump’s general ineptitude so dangerous.  First, he has discredited the main stream media.  This is why a lot of you have now turned to alternative news sources that often report false claims.  This is one of the reasons misinformation campaigns are so effective, because people don’t trust legitimate news sources anymore.  Every Coup d’├ętat begins with the discrediting of the media, because the free press is one of the major checks against people in positions in power.  If you want to abuse your position, as Donald Trump has on countless occasions, then you need to first discredit those who might rat you out to the people whose interests you are supposed to be serving.  Mission achieved.  Secondly, he is embroiled in countless scandals, lies constantly, and commits illegal offences openly and with impunity.  There are numerous instances of blatant unconstitutionality within the Trump administration, whether it be using his office to promote his, or his family’s, private business interests, or using tax-payer dollars to fund government-sanctioned activities at his own commercial properties.  This stuff is illegal, guys, why don’t you care?  Why don’t you care that Russia meddled in the 2016 election and is trying to do so again in 2020?  Do you realize that you were the victim of Russian propaganda and misinformation, given that a Trump victory was their ultimate goal?  You who are so enlightened that you see through all the bullshit, like the pedophilia ring that Hillary Clinton helms!  Do you feel smart? 

Next, let’s talk about all you evangelical “Christians” (Note the quotation marks).  Being a person who has read the Bible from cover to cover (and I’m guessing you haven’t), I can say with confidence that Donald Trump is not a Christian.  Donald Trump’s religion is Donald Trump.  He is his own deity in his own monotheistic world.  He is not pro-life, as he dishonestly purports to you who are so yearning to believe, he is pro-Trump.  He is the epitome of atheistic materialism, and would make a fine antagonist in any of the Marquis de Sade’s grotesque novels.  He is libertine in every respect, devoid of any morality and willing to trample all of his supporters under foot if it were beneficial for him to do so.  He does not care about you; he only cares about himself.  His actions are as unchristian as it is possible to be, and yet here you all are with your Trump banners while her tears apart suffering families who are only trying to seek asylum in America from the horrors of their own countries.  Screw them, said Jesus!  That doesn’t sound right to me, but maybe you guys have a different Bible than the one I have?

Finally, let’s talk about who Donald Trump’s supporters really are.  They can be fairly conveniently filed into one of two broad categories, which is where we will stay with regard to this piece, though they could be then subcategorized into perpetuity.  The first category encompasses those sad unfortunates who actually believe in Trump.  They think he is a good leader and they believe what he says.  These poor souls simply lack the brain power necessary to see how foolish they are to be worshipping this golden calf, or should I say orange cow.  Anyone with a brain can see how this man’s statements are in constant contradiction, how his promises never come to fruition, and how his sentences overall seem to lack structure and even sense.  They turn a blind eye to all of this, because they’re dumb, let’s not sugar-coat it.  God bless their simple little hearts.  The next category, unfortunately, is far more dangerous and immoral.  These are folks who know exactly how bad Donald Trump is, but vote for him anyway because they know that he will be better for their personal interests.  These are people who have sold their souls to the devil.  The practitioners of that deadly sin of greed, so revered in the Church to which most of them claim to belong.  They are willing to watch the world burn as long as its from the window of their corner office high above the destruction below.  Take note evangelicals, these are those destined for hell.  Perhaps your simplicity of mind will be forgiven, but I can assure you that their deliberate transgressions against their fellow man will not. 

In conclusion, we’re all doomed.  Sorry for the dire picture.  Donald Trump will likely be reelected in 2020 because democracy is designed to fail us.  Even if he did lose, would he step down?  His supporters are zealots and fanatics, and their minds can’t be changed with reason.  Anything brought against Trump will be denied, and that denial will be supported by some conspiracy nonsense from the internet.  There is an endless font of justification on the internet that can be called to action in support of any evil, no matter how vile or obvious.  I’d tell you to vote, but you probably won’t.  And I can tell you that every Trump supporter is likely to be the first in line.

Get ready for 4 more years of hell.        


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Dystopian Donald



As the evening drew on this past November 8th, 2016 and it became increasingly apparent that Hillary Clinton’s victory over Donald Trump was anything but certain her supporters watched frozen, with clenched fists and bit their collective lips.  What had seemed almost impossible was slowly becoming an absurd reality.  In the hours to come their egos, their smugness and their absolute confidence in their own forthcoming victory was to receive a blow that would leave them panting and dumfounded, unable to grasp what exactly had just happened or how they could have been so wrong.  In the following days, however, life took on its normal form and, while certainly no one forgot what had happened, people were largely able to resume their normal routines.  But, finally inauguration day arrived and what so many had put out of their minds was now here, real and tangible.  People watched, white-faced and speechless, as power was handed over to a man that they considered to be a racist, a bigot and a misogynist who was thin-skinned, unstable and dishonest.  The reality of it all set in and people were terrified.  We (those who opposed Trump) are all now forced onto one of two paths: admit defeat and support our new President out of a blind patriotic duty or, resist and fight on out of what in my opinion is a legitimate patriotic duty.

In the first camp of people we have those who did not support the Donald but are willing to now that he is officially our President.  They concede that the people should support their President even if they had not supported them during their campaign.  I can certainly see why someone would adopt this course of action as we’ve all seen in the history books the devastation that can ensue under a divided America.  Is that the right course though?  Let’s take a look at the Donald’s first few days in office:
·         Executive Order #1 allowed Federal agencies freedom to not enforce key parts of the Affordable Care Act.  Basically this attempts to allow employers to dodge the ACA until it is ultimately repealed.  There is no proposed replacement to it either, just FYI, so those of you who purchased insurance from the exchange would be left high and dry.  Some estimates put American annual deaths at 43,000 per year in the wake of a full ACA repeal.  Hope you guys don’t get sick. 
·         Later that same day he made a proclamation that there is to be a “National Day of Patriotism”.  No argument here it just seems kind of pointless, distracting and redundant.  What do we have Memorial Day, Independence Day or Veterans’ Day for?  They’re all “Patriotism” days in my view. 
·         Further, Trump has made FHA Mortgage Insurance more expensive by ordering the HUD to end rate cuts which is a direct kick in the dick to his middle-class supporters.  Sorry guys, you made your bed now sleep in it. 
·         Next, he plans to begin work on exiting the TPP hampering America’s ability to trade internationally.  We’ll see how that goes over with our international partners.  His “America First” attitude probably won’t have us winning any popularity contests anytime soon.  But who needs allies and trading partners, right?
·         Also, he is reinstating Reagan-era, anti-abortion legislation that pulls Federal funding for any foreign non-profit that counsels women on family planning if it includes abortion or provides abortions themselves.  I guess it is the right of every crunchy, old white man to tell women what they can and can’t do with their bodies. 
·         Moreover (and I’m just about out of transitions at this point), he has ordered the USDA not to release any public-facing documents.  This means that the transparency that he screamed from mountain tops was lacking in Washington took a pretty significant hit as did the world’s ability to share positive research.  Another example of Trump’s many many contradictions.
·         Finally, and in my opinion this is the worst of all, it seems that any and all legislation attempting to protect the environment will be first to the chopping block.  He seeks to pull America from the Paris Climate Accord which means that China will withdraw as well and the entire agreement (already inadequate in its scope) will collapse undoing years of progress.  He seeks to undo an EPA regulation that puts more waterways under Federal control which will allow landowners to dump whatever they please without any reprisals.  He seeks to relax regulations with regard to coal mining in close proximity to water ways (because obviously that’s not important).  He seeks to remove caps on carbon emissions because I guess 98% of climate scientists are in the relatively shallow pockets of the sneaky environmentalists and global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.  Lastly, he has signed an order accelerating approval of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) which says loud and clear: “I am for all Amercans!  Except Native Americans.  Fuck Native Americans.”

What is difficult for me to comprehend is how people can so adamantly oppose environmentally friendly policies.  Every human accomplishment can be attributed to our stable climate.  At the end of the last ice age humanity had accomplished nothing and eked out a pathetic and brutal existence on a barren landscape.  It was the gift of our warm, stable climate that allowed us to thrive.  Without it we’re all fucked.  Also, fossil fuel reserves are finite.  It is not debatable that they WILL be depleted and we need to be prepared.  How this eludes people is beyond me.  Science is this unanimous on precious few things.  If you deny the reality of climate change at this point you are of the same stuff as the flat-Earthers and UFO conspiracy theorists.  You are basically a crazy person.  Ask yourself what motive 98% of the world’s climate scientists would have to perpetuate the myth of global warming?  It’s insanity for people with no scientific background to oppose those with the degrees to back it up.     

So, if you like all that stuff then good for you.  I happen to think it’s all terrible.  Moving along, other than what he is doing from a policy standpoint, let’s look at what else is going on in Trump-town.  First, a few days before taking office he refused to answer questions from a CNN reporter saying that they were “Fake news”.  CNN has been honorably reporting the news for 36 years and to call them fake because they weren’t nice to you makes you, at least in my eyes, the biggest pussy in the world.  But that’s not the scary part.  The scary part is what his refusal means.  It means that if you report the truth about Trump (which is almost always negative) then he will not speak to you, in essence silencing you.  These, my friends, are the fledgling beginnings of censorship and to be taken VERY seriously.  Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, his press secretary comes out in his very first appearance to the American public and tells a blatant lie about a totally menial issue!  It was so unnecessary that it makes it even worse.  As I’ve heard said earlier in Trump’s campaign, “It’d be funny if it wasn’t so scary.”  When called out on this obvious falsehood Trump’s advisor and former campaign manager refused to own it and claimed that the press secretary had presented “alternative facts”!  What the fuck is that supposed to mean?  What ALL this means is that we can expect the Trump administration to lie to us and to silence anyone who calls them out on it and that absolutely terrifies me.  It should terrify all of us!  It sounds more at home in Bradbury’s dystopian-set novel Fahrenheit 451 than in real-life America.   This is truly disturbing and it is mind-blowing that his supporters accept it and continue to defend him as he mocks them and all of us.  How can you think it is your duty as an American to support your President even when he jeopardizes everything that makes us great?  Everything we are supposed to cherish?  How can you after everything?  
   
Which brings us to the second camp of people.  These are folks who did not support Trump during his campaign and do not support him as President.  This happens to be where I place myself.  I referred earlier to the devastation that can occur when America is divided against itself but I’ll state further that a far more important lesson can be gleaned from that same section of your history text book.  That lesson is that standing against something evil is not easy nor is it a short road.  Whether one is fighting slavery or demagoguery one must always put themselves, not on the side most likely to win, but on the side of truth, kindness and reason.  The side of their own conscience.  One has a duty not to let politics or personal gain influence their position.  That person cannot bury their own heart under layers of false justification gained by absorbing only the information beneficial to their own situation and holding it up as fact while ignoring anything that opposes it.  It’s irresponsible, dangerous and the outcome is often cruel.  Unfortunately it’s easy to look the other way and pretend not to notice who you’re hurting.  Often times you’re hurting yourself without even realizing it.  We all have a responsibility to stand against a tyrant and Trump is most certainly that.  I’m proud of everyone that marched after the inauguration and I hope they will continue opposing him in any way they can.  I vow to do the same and I will see you guys on the battlefield!  God Bless America

#notmypresident