Syria: What Should Be Done?

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We are at a critical juncture in the crisis in Syria. Recent reports say Assad used chemical weapons again. The Trump administration is drafting plans for a military attack. I am numbered among those who are opposed to a military response to Assad. It is incumbent upon oppositionists to say what should be done to bring an end to the crisis. Here are my suggestions:

I. Do not seek regime change. America has a terrible track record with this strategy.
II. Refrain from thinking of chemical attacks as red lines. Over 100,000 Syrian have died and most of this carnage is the result of bullets and artillery strikes.
III. I concur with Phyllis Bennis when she wrote that the US should “engage with Russia to urge the UN to take the lead in restarting international negotiations for a political solution.”
IV. Follow Lama Fakih’s, researcher at Human Rights Watch, suggestion and demand that “the Syrian government give the United Nations chemical weapons inspection team – currently in Damascus – immediate access to the sites of the reported chemical attacks.” In fact, an inspection team is traveling to Syria this week. The Syrian government should give inspectors unfettered access to weapons depots and other relevant areas. Inspectors should also be allowed to investigate the source of the recent chemical attacks to see if they were launched by Assad.
V. Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro provide a number of good suggestions in the Washington Post. I will quote them directly:

A. The United States could begin by cutting off all contracts to purchase military supplies from Rosoboronexport, the state-owned Russian arms dealer that has provided many of the weapons behind Assad’s atrocities and from whom the United States has purchased weapons to supply Afghan forces.
B. Military force is not guaranteed to work, nor is it the United States’ only option in Syria. Alternatives include broader economic sanctions to disrupt the supply chain on which the Syrian government relies to carry out its attacks on civilians
C. [F]reezing the assets of Syrian government officials and relevant officials around the world

VI. Deliver humanitarian aid to those in affected areas.
VII. Lastly, and probably most important, the international community should demand the full implementation of the 2012 UN Geneva Plan. This plan is a detailed roadmap to peace and stability in the region. Measures include the creation of transitional government, the creation of a new constitutional order, and a cease-fire. The plan is not some theoretical piece drafted by a policy wonk in a university. The following parties met on June 20, 2012, and hammered out the plan:

A. Secretaries-General of the United Nations and the League of Arab States
B. The Foreign Minister of China
C. The Foreign Minister of France
D. The Foreign Minister of Russia, yes Russia
E. The Foreign Minister of United Kingdom
F. The Foreign Minister of United States
G. The Foreign Minister of Turkey
H. The Foreign Minister of Iraq (Chair of the Summit of the League of Arab States)
I. The Foreign Minister of Kuwait (Chair of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the League of Arab States)
J. The Foreign Minister of Qatar (Chair of the Arab Follow-up Committee on Syria of the League of Arab States)
K. The European Union High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy

We should implement these measures as a potent alternative to military intervention.


Fire and Investigate Scott Pruitt

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Quite frankly, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt should be fired and ordered to repay taxpayers for his lavish spending habits.

There is no shortage of deplorable acts committed by Pruitt. I almost never quote from the left-leaning, fact-checking outlet Media Matters for America, but they are one of the few organizations that succinctly lists Pruitt’s ethics violations and scandals. Let’s itemize Pruitt’s corruption:

1. Pruitt lied to senators about his use of a private email account. An investigation by Oklahoma City Fox affiliate KOKH revealed that Pruitt lied during his Senate confirmation hearing when he said he did not use a private email account to conduct official business while he was attorney general of Oklahoma, a finding later confirmed by the office of the attorney general. The Oklahoma Bar Association subsequently opened an investigation into the matter, which could lead to Pruitt being disbarred in the state of Oklahoma.
2. Pruitt gave a Superfund job to a failed banker whose bank had given loans to Pruitt
3. Pruitt spent almost $25,000 on a private soundproof booth.
4. Pruitt spent $58,000 on charter and military flights.
5. Pruitt made a costly trip to Morocco to promote natural gas.
6. Pruitt spent $90,000 on first-class flights and other travel in a single week.
7. Almost half of EPA political appointees have strong industry ties. An analysis conducted by The Associated Press found that “nearly half of the political appointees hired at the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump have strong industry ties. Of 59 EPA hires tracked by the AP over the last year, about a third worked as registered lobbyists or lawyers for chemical manufacturers, fossil fuel producers and other corporate clients that raise the very type of revolving-door conflicts of interests that Trump promised voters he would eliminate. Most of those officials have signed ethics agreements saying they would not participate in actions involving their former clients while working at the EPA. At least three have gotten waivers allowing them to do just that.”
8. Pruitt appointed the vice president of a polluting company to the EPA’s environmental justice advisory council. On March 7, Pruitt announced the addition of eight new members to the agency’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, one of whom was Michael Tilchin, a vice president of CH2M Hill, a big engineering firm. The New Republic reported that since February 2017, CH2M Hill’s work at the Hanford Site, a decommissioned nuclear weapons production facility in Washington state, “has sparked at least three accidental releases of plutonium dust, which emits alpha radiation—’the worst kind of radiation to get inside your body,’ according to KING-TV, the Seattle-based news station that’s been investigating the incidents.” Dozens of workers at the site have tested positive for internal plutonium contamination in the wake of the releases
9. EPA signs research agreement with firm tied to GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson.
10. Pruitt paid below-market rent for a condo co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist. For the first half of 2017, Pruitt lived at a prime Capitol Hill address in a condo co-owned by Vicki Hart, wife of energy lobbyist Steven Hart. ABC News reported that, instead of contracting with a real estate broker, Pruitt worked directly with Steven Hart to arrange the $50-a-night rental agreement, with rent having to be paid only for the nights Pruitt stayed in the unit. ABC also reported that Pruitt’s daughter used a second room in the condo from May to August, in apparent violation of the lease agreement. The EPA reimbursed the condo association $2,460 after Pruitt’s security team kicked in the door, mistakenly believing his safety was in jeopardy. While Pruitt was living in the condo, and paying well below market rate, the EPA gave its approval for expansion of the Alberta Clipper oil pipeline, directly benefiting Enbridge Inc., a client of Hart’s lobbying firm, according to The New York Times. The Harts have been making political contributions to Pruitt since 2010, The Daily Beast reported.
11. Taxpayers paid for Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail during his personal trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl. Pruitt’s security team accompanied him on trips home to Oklahoma as well as on a family vacation to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl, according to a letter that Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sent to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General and shared with CNN.
12. The White House told Pruitt he could not give two of his closest aides a pay raise, but he used a loophole to do it anyway. In March, Pruitt sought permission from the White House’s Presidential Personnel Office for substantial pay increases for two of his closest aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp. The White House said no. Pruitt then exploited a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to increase Greenwalt’s salary from $107,435 to $164,200 and Hupp’s salary from $86,460 to $114,590.
13. Pruitt abused a little-known loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to hire loyalists and ex-lobbyists. In 1977, Congress passed an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act allowing the EPA to hire expert personnel without Senate or White House approval. The section was added to ensure the agency could hire the staff it needed to protect public health, but Pruitt broke from tradition and used the provision to “bring in former lobbyists along with young spokesmen and schedulers,” according to The Washington Post. Pruitt’s controversial hires included loyalists from his home state of Oklahoma, former industry lobbyists such as Nancy Beck, and James Hewitt, the son of radio host and MSNBC personality Hugh Hewitt — one of Pruitt’s most ardent public defenders. The Post reported that “ethics experts say hiring lobbyists through the provision breaks with some of Trump’s ethics rules.”

One more for good measure: Pruitt removed an agent who was in charge of his security detail because he did not heed Pruitt’s request to use sirens during non-emergency travel.

Where is the Republican outrage? Has fiscal conservatism vanished?

The swap wasn’t drained, it’s now a large sewage dump.

Oil and Water: Conservatives and Martin Luther King Jr.

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Wednesday, April 4th, marked the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Conservatives often try to act as if they align with King’s political ideas. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, produced a report declaring King’s conservative credentials. Chuck Colson emphatically states that King is “a great conservative, not a liberal firebrand.”  Is Martin Luther King Jr. the conservative shining light sitting on a hill?

Socialist Proclivities  

Conservative Ben Shapiro calls socialism “immoral, evil, unfair, and discriminatory.” Shapiro also believes that socialism is “disgusting” and violates three of the ten commandments. Dennis Prager believes socialism makes people selfish.

King wrote this passage in a letter to Coretta Scott in 1952:

By the way (to turn to something more intellectual) I have just completed Bellamy’s Looking Backward. It was both stimulating and fascinating. There can be no doubt about it. Bellamy had the insight of a social prophet as well as the fact-finding mind of the social scientist. I welcomed the book because much of its content is in line with my basic ideas. I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic. And yet I am not so opposed to capitalism that I have failed to see its relative merits. It started out with a noble and high motive, viz, to block the trade monopolies of nobles, but like most human system it fail victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has outlived its usefulness. It has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. So I think Bellamy is right in seeing the gradual decline of capitalism.

How would King be treated today by conservatives for his socialist leanings? Wouldn’t conservatives dismiss King’s claims about the usefulness of capitalism as fanciful and deluded?

Universal Healthcare

On December 17, 1964 King gave a speech in New York in which he said:

This was, for most of us, our first trip to Scandinavia, and we looked forward to making many new friends. We felt we had much to learn from Scandinavia’s democratic socialist tradition and from the manner in which they had overcome many of the social and economic problems that still plagued far more powerful and affluent nations. In both Norway and Sweden, whose economies are literally dwarfed by the size of our affluence and the extent of our technology, they have no unemployment and no slums. Their men, women, and children have long enjoyed free medical care and quality education. This contrast to the limited, halting steps taken by our rich nation deeply troubled me.

Do conservatives want to look to the “Scandinavia’s democratic socialist tradition” for lessons on how to “overcome many of the social and economic problems that still plagued far more powerful and affluent nations?”

Distribution of Wealth

What about the statements he gave in 1966 at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that “there must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism. Call it what you may, call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.”

Should we follow King’s advice to seek “better distribution of wealth” by becoming a democratic socialist nation?

Sins of America

Will conservatives march under the banner of ideas King gave on April 4, 1967, at the Riverside Church:

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years, especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

Do conservatives agree that America is the “greatest purveyor violence in the world?”

These statements look more like a list of anathamized political positions than the embodiment of conservative’s ideals. Conservatives don’t have much of a friend in Martin Luther King Jr. King would be treated worse than Brack Obama if he was around today.

Should Gina Haspel be Head of the CIA?

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Here is my list of questions senators should ask Gina Haspel at her confirmation hearing:

1.Did you order the destruction of CIA interrogation videos in 2005? If so, why did you issue that order? What was the content of the tapes that were destroyed?
2. Would you allow waterboarding as the head of the CIA? Do you think you have unilateral authority to engage in waterboarding?
3. Does the use of enhanced interrogation tactics work? If so, what evidence do you have to support your conclusion? When have we received actionable intelligence from enhanced interrogation tactics?
4. How does enhanced interrogation tactics affect US relations with other countries?
5. What safeguards are in place to prevent abuse of these tactics? Should more safeguards be put in place?
6. What criteria should be used to determine who, and how detainees are selected for enhanced interrogation tactics? Broadly explain the conditions under which someone should be detained.
7. Should Guantanamo Bay remain open?
8. Does the use of torture or enhanced interrogation methods serve as recruitment tools for terrorists?
9. Do you believe Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election?
10. What is your perception of the Iran Nuclear Deal? Do you think the Iran Nuclear Deal is a threat to national security?
11. If you disagree with the Iran Nuclear Deal, what should replace it?
12. What steps should the CIA take to prevent other countries from interfering with our elections?
13. Do you support signature strikes?
14. Explain your philosophy on balancing between obtaining intelligence and respecting the civil rights of American citizens?
15. How much of a threat do immigrants pose to the US? What is the CIA’s role in this matter?
16. Should the CIA perform surveillance of all international calls? If not, how should we determine which calls will be monitored?
17. Should the CIA’s surveillance authority be expanded? If so, in what ways should the CIA’s power be expanded? Why?
18. Where should the CIA focus more of its attention?
19. What changes should we expect to see when you become head of the CIA?
20. What role should the head of the CIA play in influencing the president’s decisions?
21. The US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence wrote a 6,700-page review of an investigation into six years of detention and enhanced interrogation techniques. (A summary of the report can be found here.) Do you support the declassification of this document? If not, why?
22. Should enhanced interrogation be used as a last resort? When does one reach a point of last resort?

The Republican Omnibus Bill

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The bill to fund the federal government was rushed through the House and Senate.  Surprisingly, President Trump signed the bill. Do Republicans know what’s in the bill? How can Republicans and avid Trump supporters agree to the following measures:

1. (PBS) Abortion: The bill continues current policies. Planned Parenthood would remain eligible for federal grants, and Trump’s expansion of the Mexico City policy, which blocks U.S. funding for international organizations that discuss or perform abortions, would continue.
2. (Politico) Low-income housing: In exchange for the grain glitch fix, Democrats won provisions expanding a tax subsidy for affordable housing — designed to shore up the low-income housing tax credit in the wake of the GOP tax law.
3. (PBS) Sanctuary cities: The omnibus does not defund so-called “sanctuary cities,” something conservatives had hoped to see.
4. (CNN) Low-Income Housing: An expansion of the low-income housing tax credit
5. (Quartz) The Borderwall:  Though Trump got funding for the wall, most of it will go towards erecting new barriers in places where old ones already exist, while the rest of the money has to be spent on the kind of fencing that the Department of Homeland Security has used in the past, not the concrete prototypes Trump commissioned.
6. (CNN) Gun Research: On page 23, the instructions say, “While appropriations language prohibits the CDC and other agencies from using appropriated funding to advocate or promote gun control, the Secretary of Health and Human Services has stated the CDC has the authority to conduct research on the causes of gun violence.”

It doesn’t sound like much, and there is no money specifically budgeted for the research, but some experts say that even baby steps matter in this area.

The “injury prevention and control” section of the bill describing funds for the Department of Health and Human Services states that nearly $650 million should fund programs in this area, more than double the current level of funding. However, more than $475.5 million of that should be dedicated to evidence-based opioid drug overdose prevention programs, it stipulates, and some will have to be spent researching traumatic brain injury, domestic violence and other programs.
7. (New York Times) The National Debt: That additional spending comes at the expense of adding even further to the national debt, which has topped $21 trillion. The growing debt has seemed of minimal concern on Capitol Hill in recent months, where Republicans passed a sweeping tax overhaul late last year that will also result in piling up more debt.

How can a pro-life, fiscal conservative support this bill, the people who voted for it, or the president who signed it?

All Ye Republicans Abandon Ship, For Now

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Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes penned a thoughtful article in The Atlantic. They propose:

We’re suggesting that in today’s situation, people should vote a straight Democratic ticket even if they are not partisan, and despite their policy views. They should vote against Republicans in a spirit that is, if you will, prepartisan and prepolitical. Their attitude should be: The rule of law is a threshold value in American politics, and a party that endangers this value disqualifies itself, period.

Rauch and Wittes are asking Americans to boycott the Republican party because the party is an organized threat to the rule of law. The authors make this appeal not for partisan reasons, but for the preservation of a stable and properly functioning democracy.

One reason for the author’s appeal is because the Republicans have failed to inhibit Trump from committing what they see are two “unforgivable sins”: eroding the independence of the justice system and promoting an international adversary, Russia, to interfere with the American electoral process.

In my view, both actions are dangerous and should elicit swift and decisive opposition by the Republican party. So far, Republican politicians continue to bow to Trump’s every command even when they go against their core values. The GOP just passed a fiscal bill that will add $1.4 trillion to the national deficit. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, unveiled a budget proposal that would add $7 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years.

Read the article. I think it will give you much food for thought.

House Republican Investigative Failure

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Congressional Republicans conducted a biased and half-baked attempt at an investigation of Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election. A draft of their findings should be available soon.

House Democrats released a status report on the Russian investigation and it shows numerous gaps in the Republican investigation. I want to itemize some of these missing elements in order to demonstrate the depth of deficiency in the Republican’s investigation. Republicans failed to investigate the following areas:

Key Lines of Inquiry (pgs. 4-7)

1. Hacking and dissemination of campaign emails.
2. Campaign knowledge of email hack.
3. Russia’s intermediaries.
4. Elections security
5. Social media campaign
6. Financial leverage
7. Money-laundering and foreign payments
8. Post-election effects and Obstruction of Justice

Key Witnesses the Majority Refused to Interview (pgs. 8-13)

1. Reince Priebus
2. Stephen Miller
3. Kathleen (KT) McFarland
4. Sean Spicer
5. Kellyanne Conway
6. Tera Dahl
7. Daniel Scavino Jr.
8. Joseph “Keith” Kellogg Jr.
9. Joseph E. Schmitz
10. Sam Nunberg
11. George Nader
12. Marshall Billingslea
13. Dimitri Simes
14. Cleta Mitchell
15. Paul Erickson
16. Maria Butina
17. Johnny Yenason
18. Sergei Millian
19. Natalia Veselnitskaya
20. Roman Beniaminov
21. Bijan Kian
22. Simona Mangiante
23. John Szobocsan
24. Allen Garten
25. Alan Weisselberg
26. Mark Corallo
27. Deutsche Bank
28. Trump Campaign Digital Operation: The Committee ought to interview all relevant persons involved or associated with the Trump campaign’s digital operation to determine whether the campaign coordinated in any way with Russia in its digital program.
29. Cambridge Analytica
30. Darren Blanton
31. Jon Iadonisi
32. Aaron Nevins
33. National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS): The Department of Homeland Security reported on September 22, 2016 that it had notified 21 states affected by the Russian hack of elections systems during the 2016 election. The Committee should engage the NASS and interview relevant individuals from their Executive Board and/or Elections Committee to understand how each state was affected by the 2016 attack, and to better understand how they are preparing for elections in 2018 and beyond.
34. CrowdStrike: The Committee needs to speak with two CrowdStrike employees who provided direct support to the DNC and interfaced with the FBI. These additional witnesses may be able to provide first-hand, technical insight into CrowdStrike’s forensic examination of the DNC’s servers and activity by Russian hackers.

This is only a small sample of the gaps in the Republican investigation. House Republicans performed disgracefully in this matter.

Religion and Politics Evangelical Style

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Evangelical James Dobson once said:

As it turns out, character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world! Nevertheless, our people continue to say that the President is doing a good job even if they don’t respect him personally. Those two positions are fundamentally incompatible.

Franklin Graham once said if he “will lie to or mislead his wife, those with whom he is most intimate, what will prevent him from doing the same to the American public?”

Both comments were made in response to Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs. Graham and Dobson’s comments seem reasonable enough, so how can religious leaders support Donald Trump?

FOX News political analyst Juan Williams gets it right here:

Let’s not forget that according to exit polls, 80 percent of white, born-again evangelical Christians supported Trump in the last election. Hillary Clinton only received 16 percent support. Voters from this demographic cast 26 percent of all votes for president in 2016.

For a group that regularly preaches about the “sanctity of marriage” and inveighs against the evils of divorce, it was a major political puzzle to me when evangelicals first backed the thrice-married, adulterous Trump over Hillary Clinton.

…And now the puzzling behavior of evangelicals is pushed to the limit by their support for Trump despite the slimy facts of the Stormy Daniels story.

Imagine for one moment if President Obama’s personal lawyer had paid six figures in hush money to a porn star.

The same evangelicals would have condemned him as not being Christian and possibly believing in Muslim law that allows multiple wives. They would have said he was a bad example to the nation’s youth.

Imagine if Obama had endorsed a candidate despite credible allegations that he sexually molested young girls.

Well, there is no denying that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R), who faced just such allegations, got Trump’s full endorsement.

Again, evangelicals continued to support Trump.

Hypocrisy that deep can’t be excused by Trump’s convenient switch from supporting abortion rights to opposing abortion.

What we are seeing is a hollow core in evangelical faith as practiced by its leaders.
Tony Perkins, head of a Christian conservative evangelical group, The Family Research Council, said recently that his supporters give Trump a “mulligan” on sex with the porn star.

Evangelical leader Franklin Graham, the son of the nation’s most famous evangelical preacher, Billy Graham, also defended Trump.

“That was a long time ago,” Graham told CNN’s Don Lemon in dismissing the porn star story. “I’m more interested in who a person is today. I believe he’s a changed person.”

Graham saves his fiery condemnations for what he calls the “godless progressive agenda of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.”

Robert Jeffress, a leading Trump supporter among evangelicals and senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas, told The New York Times earlier this month he “can’t look into the president’s heart.”

Jeffress said he doesn’t “care” if Trump is a religious phony but only that Trump has “embraced and enacted” policies favored by Jeffress and other evangelicals.

Please do not misunderstand me, I am not endorsing Hillary Clinton. She is her own species of disaster. I included this quote because it accurately drives home my point. What kind of hypocrisy is this?

Williams continues:

…When it comes to Trump, the nation’s political, social and historical norms do not matter anymore. Now the acid of the Trump presidency is eating away at the integrity of leading evangelists and their supporters.

God help us.

How can these prominent evangelicals continue to serve as moral authorities? Does this mean a person like Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner can an endorsement from American evangelicals?

Ron Jeremy is a pornstar who has made at least 2,000 pornographic films. Jeremy now faces multiple allegations of sexual misconduct including “indecent exposure, nonconsensual digital penetration and rape.” Perhaps he should reject gay marriage and abortion, repeat Republican economic slogans and run for president. I don’t see why he wouldn’t receive unwavering praise and support from evangelical leaders.

So, Ron Jeremy or Hugh Hefner for president anyone?

Mass Shootings, Violent Video Games, and the facts about Guns (Part 6)

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Wounded Masculinity

A much-neglected topic in the gun debate is wounded masculinity. We need to devote an entire blog post to this issue in order to drive home its significance.

Researchers Tristan Bridges PhD and Tara Leigh Tober PhD wrote:

Research shows that when an identity someone cares about is called into question, they are likely to react by over-demonstrating qualities associated with that identity. As this relates to gender, some sociologists call this “masculinity threat.” And while mass shootings are not common, research suggests that mass shooters experience masculinity threats from their peers and, sometimes, simply from an inability to live up to societal expectations associated with masculinity (like holding down a steady job, being able to obtain sexual access to women’s bodies, etc.) – some certainly more toxic than others.

The research on this topic is primarily experimental. Men who are brought into labs and have their masculinity experimentally “threatened” react in patterned ways: they are more supportive of violence, less likely to identify sexual coercion, more likely to support statements about the inherent superiority of males, and more.

This research provides important evidence of what men perceive as masculine in the first place (resources they rely on in a crisis) and a new kind evidence regarding the relationship between masculinity and violence. The research does not suggest that men are somehow inherently more violent than women. Rather, it suggests that men are likely to turn to violence when they perceive themselves to be otherwise unable to stake a claim to a masculine gender identity.

I didn’t know masculinity factored so much in mass shootings.

Bridges and Tober’s conclusion is supported by another paper written by John L. Oliffe et al. titled, “Men, Masculinities, and Murder-Suicide.” Oliffe et al. offer the following recommendation to curb this factor:

In the context of gender, guns have been linked to masculine identities ranging from law enforcement officers to gangsters—and such “good guy”–“bad guy” binaries continue to feature whereby the central character(s) (villains and heroes) are men using guns (Combe & Boyle, 2013). One central challenge here is to distance, and ideally dislocate masculinity from the reactive and fatal use of guns by modeling and affirming alternatives to wielding power and asserting dominance with such aggression and tragedy.

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Mental Illness and Violence

I want to return to a point made in part 4 of this series because it points to mental illness as a factor in mass shootings. It is important to bring absolute clarity this issue. We covered research on people with serious mental illness in part 3. That post was limited to people with severe mental disorders who engage in mass shootings. Here, we will expand our study to mental illness and violence in general.

Interlocutors in this debate fail to make crucial distinctions and this failure is distorting political discourse on all levels. The MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment study is one of the most rigorous studies on mental illness and violence. A distinction was made between those who had both a substance abuse disorder and a psychiatric disorder (a “dual diagnosis”) and people with a psychiatric disorder alone. Here is how Harvard University’s Mental Health Letter puts it:

The study found that 31% of people who had both a substance abuse disorder and a psychiatric disorder (a “dual diagnosis”) committed at least one act of violence in a year, compared with 18% of people with a psychiatric disorder alone. This confirmed other research that substance abuse is a key contributor to violent behavior. But when the investigators probed further, comparing rates of violence in one area in Pittsburgh in order to control for environmental factors as well as substance use, they found no significant difference in the rates of violence among people with mental illness and other people living in the same neighborhood. In other words, after controlling for substance use, rates of violence reported in the study may reflect factors common to a particular neighborhood rather than the symptoms of a psychiatric disorder.

To put it bluntly, people with mental illness are not committing most of the crimes. A few more studies should be sufficient to clear the air.

Jeffrey Swanson is a medical sociologist and professor of psychiatry at Duke University. The New Yorker:

When Swanson first analyzed the ostensible connection between violence and mental illness, looking at more than ten thousand individuals (both mentally ill and healthy) during the course of one year, he found that serious mental illness alone was a risk factor for violence—from minor incidents, like shoving, to armed assault—in only four percent of cases. That is, if you took all of the incidents of violence reported among the people in the survey, mental illness alone could explain only four percent of the incidents. When Swanson broke the samples down by demographics, he found that the occurrence of violence was more closely associated with whether someone was male, poor, and abusing either alcohol or drugs—and that those three factors alone could predict violent behavior with or without any sign of mental illness. If someone fit all three of those categories, the likelihood of them committing a violent act was high, even if they weren’t also mentally ill. If someone fit none, then mental illness was highly unlikely to be predictive of violence. “That study debunked two myths,” Swanson said. “One: people with mental illness are all dangerous. Well, the vast majority are not. And the other myth: that there’s no connection at all. There is one. It’s quite small, but it’s not completely nonexistent.”

Mental Illness is a small factor in predicting violence. We would expect mental health professionals to be able to pick out people who are more prone to commit violent acts if mental illness was a major fact, but this is not the case:

Psychiatrists also have a very hard time predicting which of their patients will go on to commit a violent act. In one study, the University of Pittsburgh psychiatrist Charles Lidz and his colleagues had doctors at a psychiatric emergency department evaluate admitted patients and predict whether or not they would commit violence against others. They found that, over the next six months, fifty-three percent of those patients who doctors predicted would commit a violent act actually did. Thirty-six percent of the patients thought not to be violent in fact went on to commit a violent act. For female patients, the prediction rates were no better than chance. A 2012 meta-analysis of data from close to twenty-five thousand participants, from thirteen countries, led by the Oxford University psychiatrist Seena Fazel, found that the nine assessment tools most commonly used to predict violence—from actuarial ones like the Psychopathy Checklist to clinical judgment tools like the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth—had only “low to moderate” predictive value.

Let’s stop turning people with mental illnesses into the enemy and muster the moral fortitude and political will to implement effective legislative measures like the ones listed in part 5 of this blog series.

Mass Shootings, Violent Video Games, and the facts about Guns (Part 5)

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Effective Measures

A multipronged approach is necessary to reduce mass shootings. The following measures should be taken to reduce mass shootings:

I. Adoption of a community-based interrupters program as proposed by epidemiologist Gary Slutkin: You can see this program in action here.

II. Adopt effective federal gun laws:

A. Barring sales to all violent criminals
B. High-capacity magazine ban
C. Universal checks for gun buyers
D. Universal checks for ammo buyers
E. Bar sales to people deemed dangerous by mental health providers
F. Bar sales to convicted stalkers
G. Make all serious domestic violence offenders surrender firearms
H. The Sandy Hook Promise Group Recommends: Research – funding for research to identify evidence-based policy and non-policy programs that help stop individuals who may want to hurt themselves or be violent toward others
I. Implement Permit-to-Purchase Handgun Law

The efficacy of measures A-F is attested to in an article in a New York Times article titled, “How to Reduce Mass Shooting Deaths? Experts Rank Gun Laws.” Research shows “that in certain nations the simultaneous implementation of laws targeting multiple firearms restrictions is associated with reductions in firearm deaths” so, we recommend a simultaneous multipronged approached.

III. Containment of Media Contagion: Jennifer B. Johnston is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Western New Mexico University and she finds “that a cross-cutting trait among many profiles of mass shooters is desire for fame.” Her paper, “Mass Shootings and the Media Contagion Effect,” recommends these measures:

A. Do not name the killers once they are dead or are captured
B. “Another recommendation to the media is to refrain from sharing photos, writings, “manifestos,” personal likes and dislikes, family, work, and school history, or weapon preference of mass shooters with the public, especially given that many would-be killers identify in themselves similarities with the troubles of past killers, are inspired by their “bravery” and fame, are fascinated with the weapons and planning they did, and may even feel a competitive desire to surpass fatality counts of their homicidal idols.”
C. Spend the same amount of time sharing the victim’s “names, likenesses, personal writings or histories, families, etc., as they now spend on killers.”
D. Media should spend more time talking about the heroic efforts of bystanders and first responders

There is an additional proposal that is far from the mainstream debate that is worthy of discussion. Thom Hartmann argues that we should regulate guns the way we regulate cars. He says three aspects of car regulation is relevant to gun regulation:

1. Establish ownership. In order to be able to manage all the cars coming onto the roads, both as valuable pieces of theft-worthy hardware and to track liability issues, all cars were required to have a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which was stamped onto the car during manufacture and followed it until the day it was destroyed or decommissioned. Similarly, the owner of that car and its VIN had to present himself to state authorities and sign a title of ownership, which had to be recorded with the state whenever title was transferred to a new owner.
2. Prove competence. By the years around 1915 there had been so many fatalities and serious injuries attributable to cars that the states decided they only wanted people driving on public roads who actually knew how to handle a car properly. This meant defining rules for the road, having people learn those rules, and testing them – both in writing and practically in person – to show they truly could drive safely. When people passed the tests, they were given a license to drive.
3. Require liability insurance. Because virtually all car accidents were just that – accidents – most people who “caused” accidents were at both financial and legal risk. Many were fine, upstanding citizens (in fact, because cars were expensive, most car owners fell into this broad category). And they wanted some defense against the chance of making a mistake and ending up in jail or broke because of lawsuits or the liability costs of caring for people they’d injured. What came out of this was the development of automobile liability insurance, and the establishment of a requirement for it to be carried by all owners/drivers. While most states adopted this requirement substantially later than 1915, it’s now established as a fundamental part of the three steps necessary to drive a car.

This line of thought is fleshed out further by Hartmann:

1. Registration and title – as a requirement rather than an option – would establish a clear chain of custody and responsibility, so when people behave irresponsibly with their guns they can be held to account.
2. Having a shooter’s license be conditional on passing both a written and a shooting-range test would demonstrate competence and also insert a trained person into the process who could spot “off-kilter” people like the Parkland shooter. Taking a cue from most other countries, we could also require people to prove a need or sporting/safety use for a weapon.
3. Today, if a car had run down mass-shooting victims, their families would be getting millions from Geico, et al. Because a gun killed them, they get nothing. This is bizarre in the extreme; we all end up paying the costs of gun violence.

I’m interested to receive feedback from readers about these measures.

We will pick up the other factors in our next post.