Monday, April 18, 2016

Clinton’s Conflict of Interest: The Proof Is Not the Point

Another special guest post by H. Flannery


In the recent Democratic debate on April 14th in New York, CNN reporter Dana Bash posed this question to Senator Bernie Sanders:

“Senator Sanders, you have consistently criticized Secretary Clinton for accepting money from Wall Street. Can you name one decision that she made as senator that shows that [s]he favored banks because of the money she received?” 

After Sanders’ response, in which he talked about how the giant banks still aren’t broken up after the crash of 2007 even though they are actually larger and even more heavily invested in derivatives now than they were then, Hillary Clinton said, “Well, you can tell, Dana, he cannot come up with any example, because there is no example.”


This argument has come up time and time again during the past few months of the Democratic campaign, in which Clinton asserts that if you can’t prove conclusively that the gigantic contributions made by corporations to her campaign have influenced her past actions, then they must not have had any corrupting influence on her.

And something has been bothering me about the ineffective responses that Sanders and his supporters have been providing to answer that assertion.

Corruption is a sneaky animal. When your eyes are open to it, it is easy to see. But it is notoriously hard to prove, either logically or legally. Finding a direct, causal link between gifts of money and the actions of the recipients of that money is very difficult. When attorneys want to charge corporate officials for bribery, for example, they often have to resort to charging them for violating accounting laws by improperly labeling transactions for the money received, since they can’t prove where the money came from or went to, or whether it was used to influence a decision.

This difficulty was experienced by federal prosecutors, for example, when they tried unsuccessfully to prosecute former President Bill Clinton for bribery after he pardoned commodities trader Marc Rich on the president’s last day in office in 2001. Rich had been indicted on 65 criminal counts, including tax evasion, wire fraud, and racketeering. Clinton pardoned him not long after his wife, Denise Rich, had given a million dollars to the Democratic Party—including $100,000 for Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign and $450,000 for the Clinton presidential library. But, as the Wall Street Journal reported at the time:

“In the case of Mr. Clinton's pardon of fugitive tax-evader Marc Rich, prosecutors already have proof of a “quo” (the pardon) and a “quid” (huge contributions to the Clinton presidential library by ex-wife Denise Rich). Their challenge is proving the elusive “pro”—that the pardon was given in exchange for those contributions, or other things of value.”

And when it comes to political campaigns, the fact that it is difficult to provide direct proof of corruption is precisely why enormous campaign contributions are so dangerous. They create an inherent conflict of interest, whether or not the politician immediately acts to do something their donors ask for. And they should be limited precisely because they are so insidious, and because their effects are not necessarily identifiable in terms of a direct quid pro quo.

No one knows this better than John Paul Stevens, the Supreme Court justice who wrote the dissenting opinion in the now infamous Citizens United decision. In his opinion, he wrote (the bolding is mine):

“On numerous occasions we have recognized Congress’ legitimate interest in preventing the money that is spent on elections from exerting an ‘undue influence on an officeholder’s judgment’ and from creating ‘the appearance of such influence’, beyond the sphere of quid pro quo relationships... 
“Corruption can take many forms. Bribery may be the paradigm case. But the difference between selling a vote and selling access is a matter of degree, not kind. And selling access is not qualitatively different from giving special preference to those who spent money on one’s behalf. Corruption operates along a spectrum, and the majority’s apparent belief that quid pro quo arrangements can be neatly demarcated from other improper influences does not accord with the theory or reality of politics. It certainly does not accord with the record Congress developed in passing BCRA, a record that stands as a remarkable testament to the energy and ingenuity with which corporations, unions, lobbyists, and politicians may go about scratching each other’s backs—and which amply supported Congress’ determination to target a limited set of especially destructive practices.”

Glenn Greenwald recently wrote an article for The Intercept in which he came closer to explaining this than anyone I have seen or heard recently. In his article, “To Protect Hillary Clinton, Democrats Wage War on Their Own Core Citizens United Argument,” Greenwald talks about how Democrats had formerly been arguing against the Citizens United decision because they understood that the presence of large sums of special interest money in campaigns inherently created the potential for malfeasance:

“The crux of the Citizens United ruling was that a legal ban on independent corporate campaign expenditures constituted a limit on political speech without sufficient justification, and thus violated the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee. A primary argument of the Obama Justice Department and Democrats generally in order to uphold that campaign finance law was that corporate expenditures are so corrupting of the political process that limits are justified even if they infringe free speech.”

Now, he says, Clinton’s campaign is arguing the opposite: that campaign contributions do not inherently corrupt the process, and that even if you receive large contributions from special interests, there is no reason to think that your actions will be affected by those gifts. This is the opposite of what the Obama campaign and much of the Democratic base have been accepting as understood since the court’s decision in 2010.

But the more important point here is that the Clinton campaign’s “prove it!” argument is deliberately trying to derail our natural suspicion of the corrupting influence of big money. They are trying to make us forget that the most dangerous aspects of corruption are its insidiousness and its subtlety; that in politics there is not necessarily a direct, identifiable link between money and action; that, as Justice Stevens said, corruption operates along a spectrum—from small advantages such as greater access, to large advantages such as helping to write legislation.

The reason that we are justifiably suspicious about large sums of money influencing the actions of politicians is not always because we can point to a specific action taken (or not taken) by a politician directly because of contributions made to them by outside interests. It is because the very act of accepting large sums of money from outside interests creates a conflict of interest that is inherently corrupting. And the outside interests certainly hope that their gifts do affect politicians’ behavior; that is, after all, why they are giving the money in the first place.

Transcript of the debate:
http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/14/politics/transcript-democratic-debate-hillary-clinton-bernie-sanders/

Difficulty of proving corruption in public officials: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_prosecution_of_public_corruption_in_the_United_States

WSJ article about Marc Rich:
http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB983494389378921301

Justice Stevens’ dissenting opinion:
https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/pdf/08-205P.ZX

Greenwald’s article:
https://theintercept.com/2016/04/14/to-protect-clinton-democrats-wage-war-on-their-own-core-citizens-united-argument/

Friday, April 8, 2016

Which Presidential Candidate Is Most Like Jesus?

I’m not a religious type of guy, but when I was out running today, I started thinking about some religious people I know and some of the comments they’ve made about the different candidates for president in this election. I know that for some of them, in some way I may not understand, their religion may be a major factor in who they will vote for or have voted for. One big reason why I don’t understand is because the candidates they like, either by their acts or by what they say, seem to not display the characteristics that one would normally consider to be exemplary of a person of faith. But I guess the people I know are willing to overlook this situation because those candidates say they’re religious or mention god periodically whenever they speak publicly.

Well I don’t think it’s a good idea to vote for a candidate just because they say they’re religious; I think the candidate should actually personify the ideals of your religion. For Christian religions, which we would be made to believe represent a large portion of the United States, the standard that is held above all others, the standard by which one can really judge a person, would be Jesus, right? As I’ve heard people, and seen T-shirts, say, “What would Jesus do?” The implication is that if you are in a situation and act in the same way Jesus would, then you are AOK.

So I thought to myself, “Well, which candidate is most like Jesus?” The answer seemed pretty clear to me. Let me give you a few hints:
1. He wants to kick usurers out of the temple.
2. He wants sick people—all sick people—to have access to healing.
3. He preaches acceptance of all types of people and welcomes them to his movement.
4. He’s rebelling against an unpopular, some say oppressive, establishment.
5. The Pope likes him.
6. He’s Jewish.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Arizona Democratic Primary Debacle

A letter to President Barrack Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch:

The recent failed election process for the Democratic Primary in Arizona suggests the possibility of either massive computer or user error or deliberate sabotage of voter databases. I am writing to request a federal investigation be conducted immediately into the extent and causes of the errors in the voter databases and that corrective action be taken as soon as any preliminary results have been produced. I would also recommend prosecution of anyone found responsible for database sabotage.

Aside from the issues with the voter databases, there can be no question that the state of Arizona, and specifically Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, is deliberately limiting the ability for even registered, confirmed voters to vote. As I'm sure you've heard at this point, as noted in The Nation, "election officials in Phoenix’s Maricopa County...reduced the number of polling places by 70 percent from 2012 to 2016, from 200 to just 60—one polling place per every 21,000 voters." This resulted in voting lines that were so long that the sheer waiting time prevented numerous people from being able to vote, and for those who actually were able to wait, numerous others found that their voting registration had been erroneously changed or misrecorded such that they could not even officially vote and at best could only file a "provisional ballot" that wouldn't be counted in the election results.

The long lines may have disproportionately affected certain groups, such as lower income workers, who could not afford to risk losing their jobs or being docked their pay for being away from work for four or more hours, or students, who could not afford to miss classes or exams. On the other hand, the impact would likely have been less on retired persons or higher wage earners with more leeway in their work schedules, but even they likely had their limits, and many of them may not have been able to vote in the end. Any disproportionate effect could have changed the results of the election, depending on whose constituency was actually able to vote.

Along with any investigation, and perhaps much more importantly, I would request that the results of the Arizona Democratic Primary be declared invalid and that a new primary with federal observers present at polling places be scheduled to occur before the Democratic National Convention convenes in late July.

The issue of voting malfeasance in Arizona is an incredibly serious one that strikes at the very core of our democratic way of life, and it demands immediate attention.

Thank you very much for considering my request.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Arguing the Case for Bernie Sanders Over Hillary Clinton: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bern

Whatever the issues, and whatever the candidates’ actual or seeming positions on them, what it comes down to for me is their focus. When I look at Bernie Sanders, I see one of the most honest politicians we’ve known in decades and a person who deeply cares for people, to the point of making sacrifices for them. He is focused on the needs of the people. When I look at Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, I see someone who often doesn’t seem to care about people, even to the point of sacrificing the interests of the people for the sake of earning more money or ensuring her political future. She is focused on saying what she needs to say to get elected.

As a person who plans to vote for Bernie Sanders, I have found it concerning that people are not really getting the full story about Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, mainly because standard media outlets seem to be focusing for the most part on repeating what Hillary says, without question.

A Campaign of Conflicts

The conventional wisdom is that there's only one democratic candidate for president who is electable and would be effective in office. The problem is, the conventional wisdom is set by the establishment, and in this case, the establishment is Hillary Clinton herself. Whatever she says is treated as fact by those with similar vested interests, otherwise known as conflicts of interest.

For example, several Democratic Party pundits who have been making appearances as guest commentators on network news shows work for companies that are employed by the Hillary Clinton campaign or by PACs that back Hillary Clinton. That might not be a problem, except that they don’t disclose the fact that they are employed by the current Clinton campaign. Instead, they are treated as independent observers, with no or very peripheral mention that they may have been associated with Hillary at some time. This is a classic conflict of interest, when you purport to provide unbiased observations although you’ve actually been paid by the person who you are talking positively about.

Although Hillary herself probably didn’t tell these people exactly what to say, there is an obvious risk of bias, these people are being quoted by the media, and those quotes are being picked up and repeated by the public without knowing the full story. You can find more information on this situation in Lee Fang’s article in The Intercept (https://theintercept.com/2016/02/25/tv-pundits-praise-hillary-clinton-on-air-fail-to-disclose-financial-ties-to-her-campaign/).

This is the same sort of issue that arises around Bernie’s supposed “smear campaign,” as Hillary describes it, regarding the potential for bias in her political statements, decisions, and policies. As Bernie very fairly points out, Hillary has received large amounts of money from various companies, industries, and other special interests, most significantly the finance industry—the top industry donor for her in this campaign. Based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics (https://www.opensecrets.org/pres16/indus.php?cycle=2016&id=N00000019&type=f), as of February 22, 2016, Hillary’s campaign has received more than $18.7 million from the securities and investment industry during this presidential campaign. That amounts to nearly 10% of all the campaign funding she’s received (about $188 million, https://www.opensecrets.org/pres16/).

In the eyes of the law and business ethics, when you are receiving money from an outside interest—regardless of how saintlike you may make yourself out to be—there is a substantial risk that you will make, or have made, decisions in your own interest (that is, your bank account) and/or that of your benefactor, rather than in the interest of your employer—in this case the American people. It is not a “smear,” as Hillary calls it, but the usual assumption in this kind of situation. It’s also one aspect of the law in which the person is, essentially, considered guilty until proven innocent. That is, if you can’t actively show that you consistently make decisions in the public’s interest even when someone else is essentially paying you to make decisions to the contrary, then the courts have to assume the worst.

In stark contrast, Bernie’s largest supporters are in the retirement, education, and health professionals “industries” (https://www.opensecrets.org/pres16/indus.php?cycle=2016&id=N00000528&type=f), and I don’t know if one could “smear” him too heavily for looking out for the interests of retired people, teachers, and doctors and nurses.

Remember the Environment?

In all the hubbub, the media, and many voters, have lost sight of the issue of the environment, an issue important enough that it could render pretty much all other issues irrelevant.

Hearkening back to the CBS democratic debate on Tuesday, October 13, 2015, is one way to bring this issue back to the forefront. According to the New York Times transcript (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/14/us/politics/democratic-debate-transcript.html?_r=1), when asked “What is the greatest national security threat to the United States,” Bernie Sanders was the one who replied:
The scientific community is telling us that if we do not address the global crisis of climate change, transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy, the planet that we’re going to be leaving our kids and our grandchildren may well not be habitable. That is a major crisis.
I’m not saying that Chafee’s (remember him?), O’Malley’s, and Clinton’s responses about the Middle East, Iran, and nuclear weapons were inappropriate, but the fact that Bernie chose one of his first debate appearances to focus on the environment suggests that maybe he considers the environment a priority.

Looking at their overall voting records and statements they’ve made, Bernie and Hillary come out looking fairly similar on the issue of the environment. But, again, looking a little deeper and considering the possibility of there being conflicts of interest in Hillary’s decisions can cast doubt on an otherwise seemingly strong record regarding the environment.

An exposé by Mariah Blake in Mother Jones (http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/09/hillary-clinton-fracking-shale-state-department-chevron#disqus_thread) reveals that during her term as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton “worked closely with energy companies to spread fracking around the globe,” even including sending “a cable to US diplomats, asking them to collect information on the potential for fracking in their host countries.”

The other day, I received an e-mail from the Bernie Sanders campaign stating his position against fracking and mentioning that Hillary is still actively associated with pro-fracking firms. Looking a little deeper, Brad Johnson’s Daily Kos article (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/2/26/1491970/-Bernie-Sanders-Hillary-Clinton-Supports-Fracking-I-Do-Not) reveals that Hillary is still encouraging the expansion of natural gas extraction, while Bernie is busy working on initiatives against it, such as the Keep It in the Ground Bill (http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/11/04/introducing-keep-it-ground-bill-sanders-goes-big-climate).

Flip-Flopping

People make jokes about it—http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/hillary-expected-to-adopt-all-of-sanderss-positions-by-noon—but one of the many stark contrasts between Hillary and Bernie is that Bernie has been consistent in his message, focus, progressive policies, and commitment to social justice for decades. Hillary, on the other hand, has tended to adjust her message for whatever audience she happened to be talking to, or whatever she thinks people want to hear, or whatever she finds out is winning votes away from her and for Bernie, or, one could conjecture, the corporate special interests that pour money into her campaigns or pay for her speaking engagements.

Just during the course of this campaign, Hillary has flip-flopped on several issues, but she has done so in the longer term as well. Usually the difference has boiled down to this: how she voted/acted when she was a senator or secretary of state, and the position she claims now that she’s running for president. Researchers for the “Hillary or Bernie Quiz” (http://www.bernievshillary.org/#/home) have found that, among other examples, Hillary has switched sides on the TPP, the Keystone Pipeline, drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the deceptively named “No Child Left Behind” Act, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and same sex marriage. So far, the biggest inconsistency I’ve noted in Bernie’s position is that, in response to one of the debate questions about gun control, he said “we’re going to have to look into that” instead of stating his previous position.

The Bottom Line

As I said at the beginning, whatever the issues, and whatever the candidates’ actual or seeming positions on them, what it comes down to for me is their focus. Bernie Sanders is focused on the needs of the people. Hillary Clinton is focused on saying what she needs to say to get elected.

Given this disparity, I would be reluctant to vote for Hillary Clinton but confident in voting for Bernie Sanders. I’m confident that when it comes time for any decision to be made as president, Bernie Sanders will always have the best interests of the people of America—not the corporations of America...or the Cayman Islands—in mind, regardless of his level of experience with the particular topic. I’m also confident that he will choose the right advisors to advise him in making important decisions when it comes to things like military action, since he’s not the hawk that Hillary is.

Extra Links List

This post focuses on just a few select issues, but there’s a lot more good information out there, including on the most recent guest post in this blog. To learn more, please check out some of the following links.

Summaries of Bernie’s Strengths vs. Hillary
http://simpleserial.blogspot.com/2016/02/cataloging-bern-reasoned-and-also.html
http://senatorpatjehlen.cmail20.com/t/ViewEmail/r/B81B1E1E49DFBA782540EF23F30FEDED/006C6EEF495CCB742540EF23F30FEDED

Foreign Policy
http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/02/bernie-sanders-foreign-poicy-213619
https://theintercept.com/2016/02/12/henry-kissingers-war-crimes-are-central-to-the-divide-between-hillary-clinton-and-bernie-sanders/

Electability Against Republicans
http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/general_election_trump_vs_sanders-5565.html
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/poll-against-bernie-sanders-donald-trump-would-get-schlonged-20151223
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/h-a-goodman/bernie-sanders-destroys-donald-trump-by-13-points-6-more-than-clinton-_b_8936840.html
http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/poll-sanders-outperforms-clinton-matchup-against-trump-n498076

Working Across the Aisle
https://www.quora.com/Who-would-be-most-able-to-work-with-Republicans-Bernie-Sanders-or-Hillary-Clinton https://www.reddit.com/r/SandersForPresident/comments/32guj6/how_would_sanders_reach_across_the_aisle_if_he/

The Environment
https://newrepublic.com/article/124381/2016-presidential-candidates-view-climate-change
http://www.thomhartmann.com/users/telliottmbamsc/blog/2015/04/one-women-climate-killer-how-hillary-clintons-state-department-sol

Race
https://berniesanders.com/issues/racial-justice/

Chelsea Clinton’s Connection to Corruption and the Finance Industry
http://www.snopes.com/politics/clintons/mezvinsky.asp

A Reminder of Just How Much Money We Throw Away on Military Spending
https://www.nationalpriorities.org/campaigns/military-spending-united-states/

Monday, February 15, 2016

Cataloging the Bern: Reasoned and Also Unabashedly Pro-Sanders Web Links

A special guest post by H. Flannery

I am a left-wing American. I am liberal on social issues and progressive on economic issues. I believe that if we can move our country more in the direction of a social democracy like Canada or Britain, that would be a good thing.

I also used to pride myself on being a strictly rational, pragmatic voter. Wearing my political science BA like a badge, I was painfully intellectual about my electoral decisions. I held my nose over and over again to vote for candidates I didn't believe in all that much because I thought it was the smartest, most practical decision at the time.

But after my Senator, Paul Wellstone, died in 2002, leaving a huge gaping hole in the fiery liberal national legislator category, I knew that I had to start voting with my heart. I was sick of my realpolitik behavior resulting in leaders who cared more about their own careers than about the people they were representing, who got us deeper and deeper into unending wars, and who paid lip service to, but did next to nothing about, inequality, human rights, and environmental destruction.

The best candidate, though, of course, is still one I can vote for with both my heart and my head at the same time. I believe that Bernie Sanders is that kind of candidate.

I have strong opinions about the 2016 presidential race. I have difficulty articulating them in person and feel I can do so more effectively in writing. But I also have found that pretty much everything I want to say...someone else has already said, and often better than I would have. I've read reams of well-written and/or well-argued articles about various aspects of Bernie Sanders' career and platform, Hillary Clinton's career and platform, and the Democratic nominees' race in general.

So many articles, in fact, that when I wanted to find one in particular, it was almost impossible to remember where it was and who wrote it. So, in the hopes that it speeds others' information-gathering and the dissemination of crucial pre-primary voting opinion pieces, I have cataloged several of my favorites here by topic.

Effectiveness and That Oft-Discussed but Ill-Defined Ability to "Reach Across the Aisle"


One of Clinton's most powerful tactics in the run-up to the primaries has been to make voters (and the mainstream media) question whether or not Bernie would be "effective" if he was elected. The presumption is that since he is so radical, the Republicans would block him at every turn, and he would get nothing done.

First, with all the talk about revolution and effectiveness and whatnot, what gets lost in the shuffle is the fact that Bernie Sanders has been in elected office since 1981, and has been in the U.S. Congress for the past 26 years. During that time he has worked effectively with both Democrats and Republicans to get bills passed. Sanders not only knows how to make fiery speeches, but he also knows perfectly well how to play the political negotiation game. As journalist Zaid Jilani said in an article on AlterNet:

The problem with this narrative is that it is completely false. Not only has Sanders gotten a lot more things done than Clinton did in her own short legislative career, he's actually one of the most effective members of Congress, passing bills, both big and small, that have reshaped American policy on key issues like poverty, the environment and health care.


Second, a Republican Congress will be just as obstructionist against Clinton, if not more so. They have already proven this in the past with other moderate Democrats, such as her husband and Obama, and against Clinton herself when they sunk her health care plan. The idea that Congressional Republicans will suddenly want to compromise with Hillary Clinton—someone they have been spewing particularly nasty vitriol about for decades—is a little hard to believe. As Bill Curry, a former adviser to Bill Clinton, said in a recent piece in Salon:

The core of Clinton's realpolitik brief pertains not to electability but to governance. Her point is that Sanders is naïve. She says none of his proposals can get though a Republican Congress. She strongly implies that he'd roll back Obamacare, a charge that is false, cynical and so nonsensical she'll have to stop making it soon. She says she has a plan to get to universal health care—she doesn't—and that she'll do it by working "in partnership" with the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

Who's being naïve here? A Republican Congress won't pass any of her ideas either. The only way to get real change is to elect Democrats to Congress and have a grass-roots movement strong enough to keep the heat on them. Nor will insurers cough up a dime of profit without a fight. Vowing to spare us a "contentious debate" over single-payer care she ignores the admonition of Frederick Douglass; "Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will."


Third, following up on the last point Curry made, we will never get progressive goals achieved if we continue to start negotiating from the middle. For the past thirty years, since Ronald Reagan was president, the Republicans have pursued a unified, consistent, overt strategy in which they introduce increasingly outrageously right-wing bills, and do not compromise until they get them passed. They are not in the least embarrassed to even go so far as to shut down the government if they need to.

Moderate Democrats have reacted to this strategy by surrendering: moving to the center and often the center-right in an attempt to get anything passed. We must stop playing this game. And I believe that Sanders is far more likely to be able to pull the debate back towards the left—both because of where he will start and where he will be willing to fight to end up. As Ben Jealous, the former director of the NAACP, said on Democracy Now:

There are some things that she’ll be able to get done—simply because she’ll capitulate. But the reality is that nobody says that the Republicans can’t—that their idealists can’t get things done. And game recognizes game. We need our idealists there, so that when they compromise, it’s an actual compromise. 


To some extent, however, all of these arguments are irrelevant. Because even if Clinton turned out to be the most effective president of all time—meaning that she was able to get everything she wanted unaltered through a Republican House and Senate—I do not believe that she would bring up, much less fight passionately and resolutely for, the issues I care about the most and believe are the most necessary for the health of our nation and our world. Her record does not support it, and I believe that her massive fees from corporations and campaign contributions from corporate lobbyists would severely inhibit it. A few examples follow below.

Foreign Policy: Diplomacy and War


Another major Clinton hit on Sanders has been that he doesn't have much foreign policy experience. It is true that he hasn't seemed as well prepared to talk about it in the debates. But there is a strong argument to be made that Sanders actually has quite a bit of foreign policy experience from his work on the national stage in the House and Senate over the past 26 years.

And even if a President Sanders came into office with less foreign policy experience than some candidates, it doesn't mean that he wouldn't be able to pursue a fair, strong, smart foreign policy—one that I believe would be far more accountable and pragmatic, and far less warlike, than what we have seen in the past three administrations.

Lawrence Korb, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reagan, wrote a great article about this topic for Politico. In it, he points out how (a) other presidents had even less experience when they were elected (like Obama); (b) other presidents have been pretty vague on their foreign policy plans when they were running (like Eisenhower); and (c) other presidents with not that much foreign policy experience have nevertheless become very effective in that department by gathering an experienced and diverse group of advisers around them (like Obama and [Bill] Clinton). As Korb says,

In my dealings with him, and in analyzing his record in Congress over the past 25 years, I have found that Sanders has taken balanced, realistic positions on many of the most critical foreign policy issues facing the country. In the mold of realists like Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Presidents Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush, Sanders voted against the invasion of Iraq in 2002, while wisely supporting the war against Afghanistan in 2001 and the intervention in the Balkans in 1990s. And Sanders certainly isn't a foreign policy lightweight: In fact, given his long tenure in the House and Senate, he has more foreign policy experience than Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama did when they were running for office the first time.


As far as Clinton goes…it is important to remember that it is not just experience that makes a good leader. It is also judgment.

During her tenure as Senator and then as Secretary of State, Clinton demonstrated that she is a committed, consistent hawk—in spite of the fact that her militarism almost always created more problems than it solved, and led to diminishing respect of the United States by our allies. In country after country, she pushed for CIA and/or military intervention over diplomatic solutions, even when her own past experience should have shown her that this approach was likely to lead to even greater instability.

Conn Hallinan wrote an article on CommonDreams.org that lists, by nation, the human and diplomatic costs of the various wars Clinton pushed for and/or managed as Secretary of State. In it, Hallinan talks about Hard Choices, Clinton's autobiography of that time:

Hard Choices covers her years as secretary of state and seemingly unconsciously tracks a litany of American foreign policy disasters: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Georgia, Ukraine, and the "Asia pivot" that's dangerously increased tensions with China.

At the heart of Hard Choices is the ideology of "American exceptionalism," which for Clinton means the right of the U.S. to intervene in other countries at will. As historian Jackson Lears, in the London Review of Books, puts it, Clinton's memoir "tries to construct a coherent rationale for an interventionist foreign policy and to justify it with reference to her own decisions as Secretary of State. The rationale is rickety: the evidence unconvincing."

…The one act on her part for which she shows any regret is her vote to invade Iraq. But even here she quickly moves on, never really examining how it is that the U.S. had the right to invade and overthrow a sovereign government. For Clinton, Iraq was only a "mistake" because it came out badly.


Jeffrey Sachs, an economic adviser to the UN Secretary General, wrote a recent article for the Huffington Post that goes into the consequences of some of her foreign policy "initiatives" in even more detail:

Perhaps the crowning disaster of this long list of disasters has been Hillary's relentless promotion of CIA-led regime change in Syria. Once again Hillary bought into the CIA propaganda that regime change to remove Bashir al-Assad would be quick, costless, and surely successful. In August 2011, Hillary led the US into disaster with her declaration [that] Assad must "get out of the way," backed by secret CIA operations.

Five years later, no place on the planet is more ravaged by unending war, and no place poses a great[er] threat to US security. More than 10 million Syrians are displaced, and the refugees are drowning in the Mediterranean or undermining the political stability of Greece, Turkey, and the European Union. Into the chaos created by the secret CIA-Saudi operations to overthrow Assad, ISIS has filled the vacuum, and has used Syria as the base for worldwide terrorist attacks.


To me, there was no better confirmation of how far apart she and I are on foreign policy than when she was recently praised by Henry Kissinger for her foreign policy expertise. Dan Froomkin of The Intercept recently wrote about what Kissinger's support for Clinton reveals about the Democratic hawk/dove divide:

Clinton and Sanders stand on opposite sides of that divide. One represents the hawkish Washington foreign policy establishment, which reveres and in some cases actually works for Kissinger. The other represents the marginalized non-interventionists, who can't possibly forgive someone with the blood of millions of brown people on his hands.


Economic Inequality, Campaign Finance Reform, and Wall Street


If you've heard one or two or five of Sanders' stump speeches, you know by now that economic issues are right smack in his wheelhouse. He cares deeply about the negative effects of economic inequality on our country and has spent his entire political life trying to beat back the forces that would increase that inequality to the point of oligarchy.

Sanders believes that the presence of corporate money in politics corrupts elected officials, and that it results in laws that protect the most wealthy while leaving increasing numbers of people of color, working-class people, youth, the elderly, the disabled, and a whole host of other less powerful demographic groups deeper in debt. Throughout his entire career, he has been passionate, vocal, and, yes, effective in fighting for policies that would reverse this.

And, as he loves to explain, he has refused all big-money contributions from corporations and special interests, raising money from individual human beings with an average contribution of $27.

Clinton, on the other hand, has received massive campaign contributions from PACs, super PACs, and corporate lobbyists. All campaign contribution data is publicly available, and you can research it in detail at OpenSecrets.org; it is very interesting to see the amounts and types of donations behind not only Sanders and Clinton, but all the candidates running for president this year. Clinton's campaign has so far received the most money from commercial banks, hedge funds and private equity firms, HMOs, and pharmaceutical companies of any candidate for president in 2016 (including any of the Republicans).


To me, as to Sanders, this is cause for concern. When you receive enormous campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies, you might just be a bit tempted to temper your health care plan to include higher prescription costs. When you receive enormous campaign contributions from Wall Street banks, you might just be a bit tempted to be lax in regulating them, and to be more lenient on their executives personally when they commit crimes. And when you receive enormous campaign contributions from fossil fuel industries, you might just be a bit tempted to weaken your environmental agency's regulatory ability and to temper your energy policy to emphasize coal and natural gas rather than solar and wind.

That is the purpose of lobbying. That is why corporations pay the money.

Clinton has said in the debates that her policies are in no way influenced by her corporate contributions. She says that she confronted Wall Street banks about the activities that led to the housing crisis and the Great Recession of 2007-2009, that she told them to "cut it out," that she will prevent them from doing something like that again, and that she is the only one who knows how to do so. But as Jeff Gerth writes in Politico, that is something of a disingenuous characterization of what she actually told the bankers (he links to a video of her speech to them in his article). And as far as her follow-up legislation to curb Wall Street's behavior goes, Gerth says:

During 2007 and 2008, when the housing market collapsed and while she was also running for president, the Democrats controlled the Senate. Of the 140 bills Clinton introduced during that period, five were related to housing finance or foreclosures, according to congressional records, including one aimed at making it easier for homeowners facing foreclosure to get their loans modified. Only one of the five secured any co-sponsors—New York Sen. Charles Schumer signed onto a bill that would have helped veterans refinance their mortgages.

…No Senate committee took action on any of the bills, and they died without further discussion.


Clinton also somehow managed to miss all of the votes on Dodd-Frank (the one major bill that was passed to regulate Wall Street after the crash), except for the last ceremonial vote to support it after it had already passed.

It is also worth asking, if what she says is true, why then is she not pushing for any of the executives at any of the banks involved to be personally held to account in any way?

Sanders has also raised the issue of how Clinton has enriched not only her campaign but herself personally through hefty corporate speaking fees. Since she left the government in 2013, she has earned $21 million from private lectures given to corporations. Eight of these lectures were given to major Wall Street banks, including UBS, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, and Goldman Sachs, all of which have been documented by CNN:


She has responded that raising this issue is a "smear," that Sanders is insinuating that her positions have been compromised by these payments, and that she has not changed one vote because of her cozy relationship to Wall Street. Leaving aside the fact that she probably did change at least one vote because of it…


…she never addresses the issue that this practice is, indeed, an enormous conflict of interest. Accepting millions of dollars from an industry makes you, at best, more aware of their concerns, more willing to sit down with them and to hear them out, and more likely to want to avoid conflict with them than you might be with their opponents. At worst, it can lead to you altering your behavior to avoid jeopardizing potential future streams of money.

On a related note, it can also be interesting (and telling) to realize the relative financial situations of the candidates themselves. Marc Priester wrote a great investigative piece on this for Inequality.org, in which he says:

This public concern over Clinton's relationship with the financial industry speaks to more than the issue of campaign contributions. Average Americans are worrying today about the power and influence wealthy Americans, especially wealthy white males, have over the political class. Our political leaders themselves too often appear to be part of this same white male economic elite.

The 2016 presidential candidates may be more diverse by race, gender, and class than candidates in the past. But that's not saying much. According to Forbes, six of the remaining 10 major contenders have fortunes worth at least $20 million. … Outside of Sanders and Senator Rubio, every candidate in the top tier has a personal fortune worth at least $3 million.


Black Lives Matter & Issues of Race


Sanders has been oddly ineffective in the debates in articulating his long-standing support for civil rights and his lifelong history of passing legislation that disproportionately benefits people of color. Going back to the 1960s, Sanders has been on the right side of the fight for racial justice, participating in protest marches and serving as chairman of his university's chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), as Tim Murphy writes in Mother Jones:


Sanders' problem may be that he seems to be impatient with policy that specifically addresses issues of race, rather than addressing issues affecting the working poor in general. Sanders' approach is what Ta-Nehisi Coates describes as "universalist." That is, in Sanders' view, overt racism has led to a more subtle institutional racism in which our economic system is rigged against people of color, who therefore disproportionately suffer the results of that unequal system, so if we reduce inequality in general, we don't need to address racial inequality with specific legislation.

Although this may, in fact, be logically true, it doesn't resonate with many Black listeners, who are asking for more explicit awareness of racial issues (not just economic ones) in his talking points. Coates addressed this frustration in an interview on Democracy Now in which he said that he is voting for Sanders, and believes he is the best candidate, in spite of Sanders' opposition to reparations:

One can be very, very critical of Senator Sanders on this specific issue. One can say Senator Sanders should have more explicit antiracist policy within his racial justice platform, not just more general stuff, and still cast a vote for Senator Sanders and still feel that Senator Sanders is the best option that we have in the race.


In contrast, Clinton has gotten comparatively little criticism and a great deal of support from the Black community. What is baffling about this is that the Clintons' legacy is actually quite disappointing when it comes to what it did for Black Americans—from criminal justice reform to welfare reform to education reform. As Michelle Alexander wrote in an article in The Nation:

To make matters worse, the federal safety net for poor families was torn to shreds by the Clinton administration in its effort to "end welfare as we know it." In his 1996 State of the Union address, given during his re-election campaign, Clinton declared that "the era of big government is over" and immediately sought to prove it by dismantling the federal welfare system known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). The welfare-reform legislation that he signed—which Hillary Clinton ardently supported then and characterized as a success as recently as 2008—replaced the federal safety net with a block grant to the states, imposed a five-year lifetime limit on welfare assistance, added work requirements, barred undocumented immigrants from licensed professions, and slashed overall public welfare funding by $54 billion (some was later restored).

…To be fair, the Clintons now feel bad about how their politics and policies have worked out for black people. Bill says that he "overshot the mark" with his crime policies; and Hillary has put forth a plan to ban racial profiling, eliminate the sentencing disparities between crack and cocaine, and abolish private prisons, among other measures.

But what about a larger agenda that would not just reverse some of the policies adopted during the Clinton era, but would rebuild the communities decimated by them? If you listen closely here, you'll notice that Hillary Clinton is still singing the same old tune in a slightly different key. She is arguing that we ought not be seduced by Bernie's rhetoric because we must be "pragmatic," "face political realities," and not get tempted to believe that we can fight for economic justice and win. When politicians start telling you that it is "unrealistic" to support candidates who want to build a movement for greater equality, fair wages, universal healthcare, and an end to corporate control of our political system, it's probably best to leave the room.


Women's Issues


I have a hard time imagining what could be more offensive to women than the way Clinton and her supporters have been trying to get women to vote for her. It is as if she expects women to vote for her just because she is a woman, not because she is the best candidate for the job. It is amazing to me that Clinton, Madeline Albright, and Gloria Steinem, of all people, would imply that women are not smart enough about politics to figure out for themselves where their best interests really lie. As Sarah Lazare explained for AlterNet:

Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State, introduced Clinton in New Hampshire on Saturday by declaring, "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other!"

…Meanwhile, speaking with HBO's "Real Time" host Bill Maher on Friday, feminist icon Gloria Steinem claimed that young women are backing presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in order to meet guys. Women get "more activist as they grow older," she said. "And when you're younger, you think: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.'" Steinem later apologized for the comment on her Facebook page, writing that she "misspoke."


Nonetheless, the statement rightfully provoked rebuke, including from some who grew up respecting Steinem. "The good news is that more and more of us are ready to change the whole system, and fewer and fewer are willing to believe that imperial feminism is the best we can do," declared Philadelphia-based writer Sarah Grey.


What troubles me about Clinton's feminism is that it appears to be a feminism of the elite. It is a feminism that focuses on important issues, yes—like abortion rights and breaking through the glass ceiling—but issues that tend to be the top concerns of white upper- and middle-class women. Clinton either pays lip service to or virtually ignores issues that are of great concern to working class women and women of color, such as achieving pay equity, raising the minimum wage, lowering health care costs, and reducing college debt. (All of which are issues that Sanders has fought for robustly.)

Journalist Liza Featherstone articulated all of this in her article in The Nation and in a follow-up appearance on Democracy Now. She talked about how Clinton was on the board of Walmart for years and still will not comment about how that company's practices during her time on the board were later the target of the largest sex discrimination suit in history. Featherstone's reporting also reveals other ways in which Clinton's record is not the most supportive of working-class women:

As first lady of Arkansas, [Clinton] led the efforts by her husband's administration to weaken teachers' unions and scapegoat teachers—most of them women, large numbers of them black—for problems in the education system, implementing performance measures and firings that set a punitive tone for education reform nationwide. Rather than trying to walk this back, Clinton recently said that as president, she would close any public school "that wasn't doing a better than average job." … And lest you think Clinton's financial hawkishness is reserved for K–12, she also opposes free college tuition, though the United States is the only country where students—57 percent of them women—are saddled with decades of debt as the price of attaining higher education. Defending this position, Clinton recently said that it was important for people seeking a college degree to have "skin in this game."

It would be hard to imagine a bigger blow to the material well-being of poor women in America than President Bill Clinton's move in 1996 to "end welfare as we know it" by signing the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. As first lady, Hillary wasn't a mere spectator to this; within the White House, she advocated harsher policies like ending traditional welfare, even as others in the administration, like Labor Secretary Robert Reich, proposed alternatives. Clinton defended her preferred policies by demonizing mothers struggling to get by as "deadbeats" who were "sitting around the house doing nothing." ... Asked recently to comment on this legacy, Hillary declined. And while the last Clinton administration claimed that it would offset welfare reductions with pressure to raise wages (the majority of low-wage workers in this country are women), and while a growing movement is demanding a $15 minimum wage, Clinton has made it clear that $12 is just fine with her.


Electability in the General Election


"Non-electability" is another one of those seemingly powerful issues that Clinton has hit Sanders with again and again. But the numbers don't necessarily back it up. In the majority of mainstream media polls, Sanders has, in general, a better chance against the leading Republican contenders.




I Support Bernie Sanders, and I'm Not Stupid or Unrealistic


And, finally, after all the debating is over…

I believe that it is important to vote with information and intelligence. I also believe that it is important to vote with idealism, with passion, and with your heart. I will be doing both on Super Tuesday.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Third Gun Control Article: My Personal Take

In my previous two articles, most of my discussion focused on statistics, policies, and laws, and at times I may have taken a sort of devil's advocate position to fully explore those aspects of the gun control issue. In this, the final part of the series, my focus will be on my own personal experiences related to guns. Through examining my own personal gun microcosm, I'll lead into what I've decided would be the most reasonable way to handle the regulation of gun ownership and use in the United States, in a way that would satisfy at least my own sensibilities.

Not surprisingly, my first experiences as a kid with anything resembling a gun probably alternated between madly squirting people with a squirt gun and my own fantasy gun battles I staged using my cap guns. I loved westerns, especially the TV show Wild Wild West, so I had to always be in possession of at least one cap gun, preferably the type with the paper rolls of caps. In fact, one of the earliest extant photos of me shows me wearing my cowboy hat, sporting a two-holster gun belt, and brandishing a toy gun with a mesmerized look on my face. I'm about a year and a half old in that photo.

When I got a little older, I joined the neighborhood boys in a game that we called simply "Guns." The game involved splitting into teams and then fanning out throughout the neighborhood or the forest, or wherever we happened to be, and attacking each other by shooting with cap guns, water guns, smoke bombs, firecrackers, etc. Here and there, there may have been a BB or two, or one of those guns that shot the little yellow rubber pellets. The supposed goal was to capture the other team members and win, but most of us were just happy to be shooting things, blowing things up, and running around, not really caring about who won.

Part of the Tradition

From TV and my neighborhood activities, I was very positively disposed toward guns. No one in my immediate or extended family hunted at the time, and I wasn't aware of any of them having any guns from the past or for any sort of protection, but I did know a lot of kids whose families were hunters by tradition. I'd say at least a quarter of the kids I knew had family members who were active hunters at the time, and several of the kids hunted, too.

In Vermont it was a very normal thing to hunt, for family members to hunt together, and for older family members to introduce their kids to hunting. The tradition was so established that there was even a special camp in the winter every year, which several of my friends attended sometime between the ages of 8 and 15 or so, that was solely for children to learn gun safety, broader hunting safety, and I'm not sure what else, but probably reasonable hunting-related things. I'm pretty sure the camp was run by the Fish and Game Department, and this was kind, gentle Vermont, so I only heard good things about it. The goal was to produce safe, considerate hunters rather than rapacious killers.

One of my many friends named Chris, hopefully that's anonymous enough, had been brought up in a hunting family, so by the time he hit his teens, he already owned a few hunting rifles—I think they were a 30-30, a 30-ought-6, and a 22, to be specific—and was a good shot and a knowledgeable hunter. I was actually there when he received the 30-30 as a present (or was it the 30-ought-6?), and his father took us to the field out back to demonstrate it to us by shooting a milk jug filled with blue water on the other side of the field.

I wasn't super interested in hunting, though I loved nature, but I thought guns were just dandy, so I was happy when Chris asked me if I'd like to go shoot some cans and bottles, using his 22, in the shooting range he'd set up in the woods off to the side of the field. As expected, it was really fun, and I turned out to be a pretty good shot, so I maintained my enthusiasm. At later opportunities, I embraced the chance to shoot BB guns and sling shots, as well, and I always wished I had a BB gun, but I never had the desire to own a "real gun"—I'm not sure why exactly. Probably because I was already a hippie and didn't know it.

Once we entered our teens and had other priorities, guns and hunting weren't quite so interesting anymore, and it ended up being years before I had any further direct contact with guns. However, in the meantime, I did get to know some hunters a little better, and the ones I met came from very different backgrounds.

Running the Gamut

As a late teenager and in my early 20s, I worked for the Vermont Highway Department during the summer. As a result, I was driven and drove myself all over the state, to some of the most obscure, rural places you can find there. My coworkers were mostly native Vermonters of many generations, blue collar, and lower middle class (as was my family, although we lived in a "city"). Since family and local connections were pretty strong in those days, in our travels we would stop by and visit folks in those obscure places, and it was then that I got to see some of the more hidden rural poverty in Vermont. That tied in with hunting because some of these people were poor enough that it was really important for them to be able to get their allotted one or two deer a year just so they could put some meat on the table. And often all the males in the family would hunt to improve the odds that they'd be able to feed the family.

At the same time, I got to know a back-to-the-lander who had voluntarily adopted a low-impact lifestyle that sometimes included hunting. He didn't have to hunt to survive, in a way, but to maintain that lifestyle it was helpful for him to do so. That said, at times he struggled with it—and discussed his struggle—from the standpoint of not wanting to take the life of another living creature. But ultimately he decided that if done respectfully and from a standpoint of stewardship and sustainability, he could continue to hunt.

So, in keeping with my earlier experiences, I remained positively disposed toward hunting and agreed that guns were perfectly fine tools for that activity.

A few years later, I came home to visit my mother, and stuck on the refrigerator was a photo of a beautiful coyote…lying dead in the back of a pickup truck. I was shocked. It turned out that her boyfriend at the time had gone coyote hunting and had shot that beautiful animal himself, and he was very proud of his accomplishment. At the time, I was still relatively "pro-hunting," but I had—and have—little tolerance for killing for sport or for whatever other reason when you're not even going to eat the animal whose life you've taken away.

Not long afterward, on that visit or another one, I came home to find a pistol lying on the staircase to the second floor of my mother's condo. It was there in full view, just four feet from an often-unlocked clear glass door to the outside, where anyone could A) see it, and B) step in and grab it. At the time, I wasn't even thinking of those two elements, though. What had my attention was the realization of how ridiculously powerful that tiny thing—a 9 mm pistol not much bigger than my wallet—could be. I was a bit stunned. Something that small could be used to kill 10 people, with the wrong person holding it. How could such a thing be made and then sold to people? What could justify that?

I wasn't happy with either of those gun-related experiences, and, perhaps needless to say, I was happy when my mother moved on to someone else.

Beyond Feeding Your Family

Based on my life, I'm used to thinking of guns as something you use for hunting an animal you intend to eat. Sure, as a kid I accepted their use in the lawless days of the Wild West, and in wars for the past few hundred years, to "hunt" people, as well, but these days I'm certain that the people involved in those things would've been far better off if they hadn't had guns, and didn't have them now in current wars. I would rather that police officers, too, didn't have to use guns—I was always enamored of how British police didn't carry guns—and I bet you that in some ways police here would be better off without them, as well. However, I realize that it can be important for the person doing the policing to—if possible—have more physical power/firepower than the people they're trying to control.

Once you've covered those four uses, I guess the next use that would come up would be "self-defense." A certain vocal minority of people talk about having the right to protect their family and their property. Others claim that allowing the public to own concealed weapons acts as a deterrent for would-be criminals. And still others claim they have the right to keep arms in case the government no longer serves the public needs, and then they'll be equipped to overthrow the government—yeah, right. More problematically, some people live in very dangerous areas where it's not safe to be out on the street at night, even if you have no choice.

When I think about the self-defense use, I have to admit I feel the least comfortable about this type of reasoning for people to be able to own guns. My discomfort is not that I feel their reasons are totally unjustified, however. It's natural to want to protect yourself, the ones you love, and things you've earned and built. What disturbs me is the knowledge that this kind of ownership is what has lead, and is continuing to lead, perhaps in an accelerating way, to the general proliferation of guns.

A lot of things are going on in that area. First of all, the more guns that are made, the more guns that will be available for killing people. It's a simple fact. Second, and connected to the first, the more guns that "law-abiding" citizens own, the more guns criminals are going to own after stealing them from the law-abiding citizens. Third, the more guns that are around, the more likely situations are going to escalate into people being shot and killed, when the same situation before this proliferation might have led to far less serious consequences or even no consequences at all.

We Want Your Guns

The argument of being able to protect "you and yours" rests on your being with them and all of your guns at the time someone becomes a menace. The simple fact is, though, most criminals aren't that stupid or that menacing. The majority of criminals don't really care about you or your family and probably don't want to hurt you at all; they just want your stuff. And if they want your stuff, they'll watch for when you're away from your house, they'll break in, and they'll steal it. If you have a handgun you carry with you and a bunch of more powerful weapons that you keep in the house, well, you now had a bunch of more powerful weapons.

It's quite common for criminals to break into houses specifically because they're looking for guns. They're a priority because it's very easy to sell them, they're easier to carry than TV sets, and you can get a good amount of money for them. Not to mention you also can use them to increase your criminal capabilities. After a successful gun theft, the criminals will have more of your powerful weapons than you will.

Actually, one of the times that my back-to-the-land friend stopped hunting for a while was when someone broke into his house and stole all of his guns. All it took was a few minutes, and a law-abiding person with guns no longer had any guns, and a criminal had several.

So many guns are stolen that there must be piles of them in some places, car trunks full of them. I've heard—and perhaps this is old news—that so many criminals in England have guns now that the police have had to resort to carrying them, too. I wouldn't doubt a goodly number of those criminals' guns came from the houses of "law-abiding" American gun owners and got shipped to England under the radar.

And let's say someone does break into your house while you're there. You come out with a gun and start shooting. If that criminal is still alive and has a gun, too, he or she is going to shoot back. Are you going to assume there's no chance a stray bullet might hit you, your spouse, your kid, your dog? You might just scare off the criminal, but if you don't, you're putting your own life and the lives of others at risk by having that gun in your hand. That goes for when you're out in public, too, where the danger of someone getting hit by a stray bullet might be even greater.

It's risks like these that have convinced me that the best thing for all of us is to reduce the number of guns available, the types of guns available, and the number of people allowed to carry guns to the lowest amount possible.

Laying Down the Law

If I were to make a set of laws that would give me peace of mind, here's what they would look like. And all of these would be retroactive—nationwide—with no grandfather clauses allowed.

  1. Ban the sale of guns for personal protection.
  2. All owners with a license to carry a gun for any reason other than hunting would be required to turn in their guns and would be reimbursed at a "used" price, but only if they could demonstrate that they acquired them legitimately.
  3. Ban the manufacture and sale of semi-automatic, automatic, and similar guns and large capacity magazines.
  4. Dismantle and recycle or repurpose for police use all guns recovered from criminals and criminal ventures.
  5. Require one-time licensing and periodic eyesight and sanity checks—at no or very low cost—for those who wish to own a gun. Background and medical record checks for all.
  6. Require registration for all guns. With every gun registration, include two copies of a transfer of title for when the gun might be sold to another person who has gotten a gun license. One copy would go to the new owner, and the other would be mailed by the old owner to the registrar with the new owner's information. The new owner would have to register the gun within a week of the registrar's receiving the form or would be visited by the police to either relinquish the gun or register it with them along with paying a penalty fee.
  7. Continue to allow the sale of guns for hunting. Hunting rifles would be allowed, along with a limited number and type of handguns. (Some hunters carry a handgun for certain situations; for example, when they are able to shoot a deer with their rifle but find that it is still alive and suffering when they get to it.)
  8. Require a greater amount of hunter safety training before anyone can get a license to purchase a hunting rifle and hunt with it. Hunters will no longer be exempt from gun licensing.
  9. Require proof of living in or visiting an area that allows hunting, having the intention to hunt or a history of hunting, and having a license to hunt before being allowed to purchase any gun.
  10. Require all guns to be kept securely locked when not in use.
  11. Require practice or learning of hunting skills by children to be actively supervised by a licensed adult gun owner at all times.
  12. Except when removed from a locked area or mount using heavy tools or other unpreventable destructive means, all gun owners will be at least partially legally and financially liable for any accident or crime that occurs using a weapon that they own.
  13. All guns must be stored unloaded and away from the cartridges used in them.
  14. If accidents or crimes that occur using licensed gun owners' guns stay at a very low level, then these storage laws should suffice. If not, police will begin random unannounced checks of owners' gun storage areas and will fine owners or confiscate the guns if they're not stored securely or are stored loaded.
  15. Allow restricted use of non-hunting guns, including legacy outlawed guns, for recreation at specially licensed gun ranges that maintain possession of all weapons with strict security. These would be open to use by anyone 18 or older, or minors when accompanied by a parent, after a brief mechanical/safety training session. All firing sessions would be observed/supervised by trained employees.
  16. Biathletes would be allowed to purchase the sport's specially designed rifles and use them for competitions after meeting licensing/background requirements similar to what hunters need to meet.

It would take time, but applying such strict measures would gradually pull more and more guns off the street, without enough new ones being made or sold to replace them. Eventually, far fewer criminals would have guns, the police would have plenty of guns, accidental shootings would decrease, hunters would be safer and more effective, and the people of this country would be much safer. A lot of people might not be thrilled with my proposal, but I think in the long run it would be quite effective.

So concludes this trilogy of articles. Stay tuned for more on this topic and others as the situation develops…or, more likely, fizzles.