Rothman At-Large

Gun Control Could Save GOP Politicians’ Lives Too

June 14, 2017

After the neo-Nazi Richard Spencer got punched in the face, many of my fellow progressives laughed.

Wrong. Our tolerance of political violence should be zero. I join millions of Democrats and Republicans alike in wishing for the speedy and full recoveries of Rep. Steve Scalese and other victims of the baseball-field shooting here in Alexandria. Thanks to our brave local police as well as the Capitol Hill Police for limiting the mayhem.

My multi-ethnic hometown is normally peaceful and harmonious. A Confederate statue, unmovable due to an old law still imposed on us by our GOP-dominated State Legislature, stands undefaced in the middle of Washington Street. 

For that matter, Spencer runs his racist think tank out of an Alexandria townhouse and hasn’t been shot at yet even if a gym has expelled him. Good. Let bullets rip apart no one of any ideology.

But as deplorable as the baseball-field shooting was—officials should have prosecuted the suspect to the max, had he lived--I’ll avoid “Don’t blame the victim” rhetoric. Granted, House Majority Whip Scalese is father to two children, and I hope he lives to 108. But do blame Scalese and like-minded politicians as a group--along with some extreme leftists--for helping to make violence and hate crimes more common. This is not “political exploitation.” It is simply the truth.

Scalese is a steadfast supporter of Donald Trump, who has described the congressman as “a true friend.” Trump set the tone for the 2017 Presidential campaign. When a heckler interrupted him at a rally, the then-candidate said: “I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They'd be carried out on a stretcher, folks." 

Of Hillary Clinton, Trump said: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks…although the Second Amendment people—maybe there is, I don’t know.” 

The New York Times cut to the chase. “Oblique as it was, Mr. Trump’s remark quickly elicited a wave of condemnation from Democrats, gun control advocates and others, who accused him of suggesting violence against Mrs. Clinton or liberal jurists. Bernice A. King, daughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., called Mr. Trump’s words ‘distasteful, disturbing, dangerous.’”

Extra-stringent, truly comprehensive gun control at the federal level may or may not have prevented the baseball-field shooting Wednesday. Still, a national ban on working assault weapons in the hands of civilians would have at least partly stymied violence-prone “Second Amendment people” of all ideologies. Smartgunlaws.org says: “A review of mass shootings between January 2009 and January 2013 by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that incidents where assault weapons or large capacity ammunition magazines were used resulted in 135% more people shot and 57% more killed, compared to other mass shootings.” 

Across the river from me, D.C. law prohibits assault weapons. No such luck in most of Illinois, the shooter’s home state, or in Virginia--adults here can own them. 

Meanwhile some past polls have shown that most Americans are at odds with the National Rifle Association on the assault weapon issue. A federal ban on these killers existed once, flawed but still useful. No more, thanks to the NRA and gun makers with fat wallets. Steve Scalese himself received at least $5,000 from the NRA in the 2016 election cycle. 

Will Republican ideologues like Scalese listen? I doubt it, and, alas, that is at their own peril. As the Alexandria tragedy may show, right-wing crazies aren't the only nuts with assault rifles. If I were a GOP congress member, I'd be scared. Same for Democrats, too. A deranged Republican may seek revenge or target a political foe for other reasons. The shooting of former Rep. Gabby Giffords reminded us of the risks in both directions.

In this case, the alleged shooter, James T. Hodgkinson, was apparently a former Bernie Sanders volunteer said to be “living out of a gym bag” at age 66. He is dead. We don’t know what he was thinking. But we can speculate and remember all angry people for whom Republican healthcare would be a death sentence, whether or not this was true for Hodgkinson. Laws, yes, can kill. To slightly tweak a campaign line that Trump used in an entirely different context, some may think: “What do I have to lose?” Steve Scalese has fought hard for Republicans’ misleadingly ballyooed healthcare legislation, aka “wealthcare” via tax cuts for the rich.

Again, no one should be shot or even punched. No justification! Realistically, however, if smug Republican don’t learn and if they keep enraging so many people, they are multiplying the chances of death at the hands of their victims. Forget the fruits of gerrymandering and voter suppression and corrupt campaign laws. May the Republicans instead think survival. The risks will only grow as gun-toting Trumpists finally grasp the extent of their betrayal.

I hope Congress sets aside more money for security precautions. But in the end the best way to reduce threats to Republican members’ lives, whether they admit it or not, will be a mix of gun control and compassion toward the millions whom GOP lawmakers are now dead set on shafting in various ways--to free up billions in tax cuts for wealthy campaign donors. What’s more, among many other messages, an impeachment of Trump would be a powerful statement against violence in campaign rhetoric even if his bloody language weren’t an official reason. Don’t be fooled by a reality show star’s ability to act “Presidential” at times. And no false equivalents, please. Democrats have had their lapses, but not from within the Oval Office

Let Republican and Democrats play baseball together and otherwise socialize and become much, much friendlier at the personal level. But let this not this interfere with the removal from office of Donald “Carry them out on a stretcher” Trump. The shooter must have been a sick man inside. But so is a fomenter of violence like President Trump, and bipartisan amnesia about his past words and deeds will ill-serve us.


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A Fake Newser in King Donald’s Court

May 1, 2017

Late last night I fell asleep reading the Failing New York Times on my iPad here in Alexandria, Virginia. 

To my surprise, though a time warp and other inexplicable phenomena, I awoke in a spare bedroom in the former Trump White House. I say “former” for a reason. The time was the mid-2020s. And the White House, as I would soon discover, was instead a 100-story palace with TRUMP signs all over the facade.

My iPad was gone. King Donald never had liked the lefties in Silicon Valley or the independent press. Instead of an iPad, I could now read from a paper copy of Breitbart, the official publication of the United States. 

No more fake news, just government-certified truth. No one ever pestered the King about his tax returns---it no longer mattered. L’Etat, c’est moi.

Reading between the lines of Breitbart, I got an inkling of what had happened. The Trumps and friends had trashed our creaky old Constitution some years ago. What a barrier to getting things done! Who needed checks and balances? Forget about jeremiads from the Founding Fathers. America instead needed a robust, manly monarchy. Donald Trump had once called himself the King of Debt; now he was simply King.

Under King Donald, Queen Ivanka and Prince Jared, every American baby was born owing many thousands of dollars in advance payments to the King’s family and his billionaire courtiers.

Coal mine-based theme parks, however, provided gainful employment for millions of the King’s commoners. They loved to ride the pit railways into the dim, dusty tunnels and dig up real coal. With diversions like that, they could die contentedly in their 50s without health insurance, knowing they had still lived full lives in their time on earth and under it.

King Donald grew to love coal so much that he ordered the beheading of all commoners caught using solar or wind power. Exceptions were made for the nobility. They could get away with mere waterboarding.

Determined not to pamper Washington any longer, King Donald had torn down most of the office buildings and non-Trump-related monuments to make room for towering casinos for the minority of Americans bored with shoveling coal.

It didn’t matter if they couldn’t afford to gamble. King Donald’s people just added to their existing debts.

Even in this paradise, some courtiers still worried---about, for example, climate change. Having drained the swamp, did King Donald really want Washington flooded anew?

But then the wise King truly solved the climate challenge, signing a royal proclamation to replace the White Office of Science and Technology Policy with the White House Office of Magic and Mysticism, run by a distant relative, Merlin Trump. With one majestic, all-encompassing spell, Merlin ended the problem. 

For good measure, he instantly willed into existence an anti-Mexican Wall without adding a penny to the national debt.

Illegal aliens no longer threatened us. The King replaced them all with leggy, legal aliens brought in from Eastern Europe to serve in the royal brothel. 

Even African-Americans born in the United States were stripped of citizenship and deported---becoming simply Africans, not Americans---whether or not the King’s friends caught them burning American flags.

Isn’t the Kingdom of Trump terrific? 

Now that history has vindicated King Donald, as irrefutably shown in the documentaries of Steve Bannon, I’m recanting all my past lies and heresies. 

As usual, we clueless Fake Newsers screwed up the facts. Our beloved King did not want to return to the 1950s or even the 1920s to make us great again. Wrong! Off by 800 or 900 years. 

Image source: The picture of Merlin is from The Nuremberg Chronicle, one of the earliest printed books. Still, I don’t see why we should bother with this or any other kind of history or culture. You feel bored, just dig coal or check out the newest Ivanka-branded casino.

 


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On Ivana and Libraries

April 25, 2017

Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump’s daughter, drew angry howls from librarians across the U.S., and understandably so. 

She’d blithely tweeted: “This #NationalLibraryWeek, we honor our libraries and librarians for opening our eyes to the world of knowledge, learning and reading!”

Wow. As it happens, Ivanka’s father wants to kill the Institute of  Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which helps fund America’s libraries. The 73-employee agency’s current $230 million budget is less than two years of the President’s travel-related expenses, if his jet-setting keeps up the clip recorded 10 weeks into his term. From classes for the blind to ebooks, IMLS money has helped U.S. libraries in a highly cost-effective way.

In Washington, a librarian named Elisa Babel reminds me that an IMLS-run program has helped pay for the Digital Commons area of the Martin Luther King Library.  Patrons can get hands-on experience with the latest tech, including 3-D printers. What’s more, among other benefits, IMLS has sent literacy money to D.C. 

Chances are close to zero that either Donald or Ivanka Trump will read this pro-IMLS plea. But who knows? If nothing else, a certain ex-wife of his just might take an interest—Ivana Marie Trump, née Ivana Zelníčková (now a naturalized U.S. citizen). 

She grew up in the former Czechoslovakia, in what is now the Czech Republic, aka Czechia. The Czech Republic has ten times more libraries for its population than the U.S. does. 

That figure is for public libraries. One exists for every 1,971 citizens, according to a survey from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And remember, that does not include school libraries. What’s more, Slovakia, the other part of the former Czechoslovakia, is itself no slouch in the library department. “I grew up reading lots of books from public and school libraries,” a Slovakian follower of my TeleRead ebook news site told me. “In childhood I had some 7 well stocked libraries within easy walking distance … and was borrowing from each one.”

So what does this mean for the literacy rates in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, even if the number of libraries is not the only promoter of literacy? As of 2003, the rate stood at 99 percent in the Republic, according to the CIA World Factbook, and in Slovakia it was at least 99.6 percent. In all fairness, the Factbook lists the U.S. rate at 99 percent. But then, the definition of “literacy” can be tricky. 

“According to a study conducted in late April by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy,” the Huffington Post reported a few years ago, “32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read. That’s 14 percent of the population. 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read”—not the best of news for those of us worried about crime and unemployment figures.

Some library foes might still argue that with a far more diverse population in the U.S. than in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, those comparisons are not appropriate. On the contrary! This is all the more reason for federal, state and local governments and private donors to support America’s libraries. Talk about a force for assimilation and equality, as well as a smarter workforce!

As gung ho as I am about the creation of a national library endowment—see articles in WaPo and the Christian Science Monitor—I recognize the need for library money from a variety of sources. The immediate priority of library supporters should be the preservation of IMLS and related agencies and programs. No argument there! At the same time, we should still fight for public libraries’ long-term survival. An endowment would at least mitigate possible future damage from Ivanka’s father and like-minded politicians at all levels of government. For now, the good news is that Congress as usual is free to ignore budget recommendations from the White House. It certainly should in this case.

(A longer vision of the above is at TeleRead.org.)


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