Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ways to end the culture of violence

When I was in elementary school, I had a radio series action hero. It was the do-gooding masked Lone Ranger bringing justice to a lawless Wild West.

The bad guys were defeated and he left his calling card: a silver bullet. Radio let me imagine what he looked like and picture the events in my mind. Yes, there were gunfights, but with six shooters, rifles, or a shotgun like my grandfather taught me to fire. Violence conveyed by radio did not show pain, agony of death, and blood. Comic books were the only visual pictures and cartooning kept the violence in the realm of fiction for young, impressionable minds.

What we see, hear, and read as children are large factors in shaping adult lives. Violent modern media glorifies the shooter and teaches young people that violence is the right way to gain power, resolve conflicts, or settle grievances, instead of negotiation and peaceful means. But America is no longer the Wild West.

Seeing violence on TV and movies is worth a thousand words. Being able to participate in violent video games is a whole new level. Especially troubling are video games that put the players' hands on the trigger of the same weapons used by our troops.

Violent media is also desensitizing. The remake of comic book heroes ... from Spiderman to Superman are masked or costumed do-gooders. But agony of death is shown in vivid color, and both heroes and villains are the perpetrators of insensitive violence, using weapons of nearly unlimited bullets, never having to pause to reload.

I stopped toting up body counts in these movies and convinced myself the carnage was only a movie. I noticed, though, that eventually the shock of bloodshed turned to numbness. While intended as entertainment, the U.S. military has used video games to desensitize soldiers to violence and reduce empathy toward their targets. Studies that show such games also desensitize civilians.

There are others with twisted minds who see villains as heroes. The bad guys become their inspiration and instructors. There is a reason the Aurora movie theater shooter was dressed as The Joker.

While rating systems give parents the knowledge to keep violent media away from impressionable 10-year-olds, there are parents who act as straw buyers and buy media rated for 17-year-olds-plus for their youngsters.

The problem with the National Rifle Association's position of having armed, trained guards in schools is that the organization treated it as a silver bullet. There are so many other factors at play: lack of mental health services, easy access to military style weapons, and violent modern media. The NRA gave only lip service to some , while ignoring the access issue.

What the NRA could do is to lead a campaign for parents to keep M rated video games out of the hands of those under 17 and to educate adults if they fear their child is potentially violent, to remove weapons from their homes. Both ready availability of weapons of war and violent video games appeared to have played roles in Sandy Hook. We adults, including NRA members, could also press government to fund mental health services.

Changing media culture is also not a silver bullet, but it can help. Government censorship is an anathema to our democratic society so the burden falls mostly on those who produce media. But media that does not police itself can be influenced by its audience, too. Adults themselves can take away their profits by not watching or spending money for uber violent films, games, and TV shows and by restricting what media their children are seeing and playing. We can personally take the pledge to boycott violent media. That is one message the entertainment industry will heed.

This is my column in the Sky Hi Daily News this week.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

re NRA on Face the Nation using Israel as an example for armed guards in schools? Seriously?

The President of the NRA was on Face the Nation today. He cited the example of Israel in order to make his case as to why putting armed guards in all our schools is a good idea.  Apparently, Israel did just that in their schools and succeeded at reducing attacks on students

Israel - seriously, Israel? The analogy is absurd if not downright laughable.

Israel is a country which, through its geography and history, is in a perpetual state of war against organized external enemies.  There are soldiers with machine guns on just about every corner. Children there grow up prepared at any time for mass mobilizations of citizen-soldiers to defend their country. To be there is to sense the immediate possibility of real violence at any time and any moment. And their kids feel it too. 

Is that the kind of country that we want America to be? Sadly, that is the kind of America many kids in our urban areas have today. But also in our suburbs, in our ex-urbs, in our country and mountain hamlets, and in every single one of our kindergarten and first grade classrooms?

Yeah?? You ok with that? Does that not bother you? Do you think that that is just  way things are and you had better "man up" and arm up or be at risk of being an irresponsible father, or mother, or school principal or teacher or class psychologist? And if you are ok with that, then I reckon you are in the vast minority of parents in our country. The majority have silently let you produce ever more violent movies and video games, let you flood the streets with killing machines that can fire 100 high impact bullets without the need of reloading, and let you de-fund public mental health care.

And who are our enemies? is the kid next door. The kid who has hidden mental health issues, who, like most kids, finds refuge in his room playing video games, and who has easy access to a smorgasbord of assault weapons and high-round clips of ammunition.  It is the college or grad student who has lost the abilty to discern between reality and nightmare, who has become a "loser", who desires to extract himself from obscurity and get known. It is the otherwise good son of a single mother who sees nothing but dead ends in his life and likes the easy trappings of dealing drugs and the "brotherhood" of gang life. 

And, here is the sad truth that we ignore because we all have been guilty in allowing the culture of violence and guns to fester in our society... it could be ANYONE.

Our enemy is not the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah or is ourselves and our unwillingness to change. It is special interest groups who work on behalf of gun makers to sell drums of ammo and cheap handguns, it is the entertainment industry who knows that high body counts equals high profits, and it is our healthcare system that has treated mental health like it treats the poor - only to be seen in emergency rooms. 

The NRA' s position,  that everything else except guns, is responsible for Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Portland, a street corner every night in Chicago, and for the daily funerals of six and seven-year olds and their teachers and administrators the last week has brought to a small, beautiful town thirty minutes from where I live, only exposes them as an unecessary side show from the necessary discussions we should be having about real societal change.

Their evoking of Israel as a good example of what our policies should look like can only lead us to ask - who stands to benefit from us, from our kids, fearing our neighbors and fellow Americans so much that we have to put citizen soldiers in all our classrooms and eventually on every street corner in the US?    If you think that our kids will benefit, go ask someone who grew up in a war zone how "secure", they felt.  My guess is that the majority of you won't need to ask. The answer is right in front of you.  On Face the Nation this past Sunday.
Posted and written by  Ted Muftic, a Muftic Forum contributor 

Friday, December 21, 2012

What sort of world is this when bullet proof glass makes a 10 year old feel safe?

I talked with my  10 year old grandson when  he called  to say thank you when our Christmas present was delivered by the mailman.  I asked him about Newtown.  He said his school is 10 miles away and  his class  spent about 15 minutes under their desks.  They have bullet proof glass in the entrance, he said. Their teacher did not tell them why they had to go under their desks, but they do practice it so it was not  so scary then. 
What sort of world is this when a 10 year old feels  he  could reassure himself and  me he was safe  by noting  there was bullet proof glass in their school’s entrance?

From his father on reading this blog:" He keeps telling me how safe his school is and then asks me if his school is safe. All I can do is say yes, of course and to reassure him that he will be fine.  The truth is, who the fudge knows these days, and I can’t tell you what a bitter disappointment ALL of our leaders have been on gun safety.  Now let’s see if Obama can move the ball finally – I am getting tired of weeping every time any one of the pictures of those poor kids in Newtown comes on the TV.  I don’t ever want to see that happen again and I sure as heck don’t want to live in a country that accepts such horror as common place.  NRA's response today defies any reasonable test of logic. Their answer is that more guns in schools will be better to protect our kids. Wouldn' t that imply that arming every man, woman and child in schools would be the best way to stop gun violence?  At a minimum that would be best for gun makers who stand to benefit from mass paranoia and fear mongering. Gotta know who your clients are..."

From my daughter, the elementary school teacher on the front lines every day: ". I could only look at my students and their parents in their eyes and reassure them that I love their children like my own. We are told at each of our safety trainings to not put ourselves in harms way... And I can only tell you that without hesitation, I would do whatever it takes to keep my students safe! My priorities each day are 1) keep my students safe 2) love them, and 3) teach them.  And to my nephew in Connecticut, I can only assure you that your teachers have the same priorities!  To all students, as much as it is no fun following rules or lining up quietly to transition to a specials' class or go out to recess... It is ultimately to keep you safe!  Teachers do not teach because of the pay (we all know that) - they teach because they love children!  "

From me on listening to the NRA proposal to put armed guards in every school:  On  prior blogs, I anticipated this and called it a "bandaid" because there is so much more to the problem, from weapons of war with non stop ammo clips readily available to a culture of violence that promotes using those weapons of war in video games, movie, TV and other media.    I  am not opposed to having armed guards at the entrance to schools (many schools already have police officers in their halls ),  but what about college campuses and move theaters and sports venues ? Estimates are a cost of billions... The governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper,  just proposed an $18.5 million program to improve access to mental health services and a statewide hotline. It will likely be approved since Democrats control both houses of the legislature and the governor's office.  Will anyone else  put their money where their mouths both governmental and private levels?  Given the Constitutional protection of first amendment rights, is there anything that can be done legislatively, or will it take a boycott of violent media to bring the entertainment industry to their senses,  if they do not take responsibility themselves?  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What could be done to stop the carnage of mass shootings

Was Sandy Hook the last straw? Will the public finally demand action be taken to stop the epidemic of mass shootings?

I can see members of my family who are NRA members and sympathizers rolling their eyes: “Here it comes. More gun control legislation. And there go Second amendment rights.” But I have also seen much public soul-searching about why our society has become so afflicted and some wondering if we cannot lock up those whom we think will commit violence.

The horror of the massacre of children and teachers in Newtown, Conn., had so many of us in tears last Friday. It hit too close to home. A daughter is an elementary school teacher in Jefferson County and the children she teaches will eventually attend Columbine High School, the Colorado icon for the mass shooting violence copy-catted around the world.

Our grandson attends elementary school less than an hour from Newtown and his school was locked down as the tragedy unfolded. Both our grandson's father and my daughter had the same reaction. They pointed fingers at the NRA because the powerful lobby group has opposed even limited measures fearing they would lead to the slippery slope to greater restriction of constitutional rights.

Per the U.S. Supreme Court, we do not need to abandon Second Amendment rights to take reasonable measures. However, the public's repulsion over the murders of young children committed with a semi-automatic weapon will indeed spark federal focus on controlling the type of ammunition, high capacity magazines, and/or access to assault weapons, including closing the gun show loophole. At least the carnage could be reduced by such measures since semi-automatics allow so many to be killed without skill in so short a time.

Can more be done by mental health professionals, society, and concerned family members to stop a troubled person from becoming a mass killer? The answer is a qualified yes. The number of potential incidents can be reduced, but not completely eliminated

During the weekend, I spoke with psychologist Dr. Judith Holland , specializing in trauma and disaster intervention, with Centus Counseling in Denver, a low-cost faith based mental health service . She said that even professionals have only 50-50 chance of predicting who would become violent. However, mental health professionals, police, and families can take action, put a patient in 72 hour hold for evaluation if the person appears to be a danger to himself or specifies a target of planned violence.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper interviewed on CNN Sunday, said he had already proposed more gun control, expanding the “hold,” more background checks, affordable access to mental health professionals, and setting up a 24 hour hotline.

Dr. Holland pointed to the high cost of mental health care and limited insurance coverage as one of the culprits. (Obamacare requires comprehensive mental health insurance coverage). Another barrier to seeking help is the lingering stigma of mental illness which leads to denial and keeping secrets. She believes in more education to change attitudes. Mental illness should be no more a stigma than say, diabetes.

Gov. Hickenlooper also cited the culture of violence fostered by video games and entertainment media featuring the use of semi automatic weapons. I agree. Violent superheroes are part of todays' culture. The entertainment industry must do more than just rate games and movies; it needs to take responsibility for their products. Dr. Holland believes it would be helpful if news reports do not refer to the shooter by his/her name in order to reduce copy cats seeking a legacy of their names in headlines.

Higher security measures and armed guards at theater and school entrances may sadly become more common, but those are only Band-Aids covering greater problems.

This also appeared as a column in today
Also visit for the translation to Spanish

Monday, December 17, 2012

Culture of violence can be curbed by adults boycotting violent media

When I was a first grader, and even until I was in fourth grade, I had a superhero.  He was the Lone Ranger.  It was not only that he had a wise Native American sidekick, or that he rode a beautiful white horse , but that in the days before TV, radio let me imagine what he looked like without the visualization of what happened.  In my later years, I realized what an influence he was in developing my own set of ethics.  He rode around Texas doing good; the only weapon he used was a six shooter  and his calling card was a silver bullet .  He planted two other lessons in my young brain:  1) individuals acting alone can also do powerfully good things; 2) the heroes are those who do not take credit for their good deeds . (“Who was that masked man” was another iconic phrase the emerged from radio series.)    This was the Wild West I loved.  A reader of my blog  from  Europe asked when the US would stop being the Wild West…but there are two sides of the wild west in a lawless community: the Lone Ranger and Jesse James  who killed to  commit crimes.  I understand there is another  superhero movie in the works: the hero is the Lone Ranger.  I hope the newest version does not lose sight of the original spirit of that old radio series and that the violence, what little of it there was, is not made into gory visuals.
In order to keep up with the  times of   “Now”, I have gone to recent movies featuring the remake of other heroes…from Spiderman to Superman,  who also were popular in the days of radio and comic books. They  too hide behind costumes that keep them anonymous,  but their methods of saving humanity are violent and bloody.  I have stopped  making conscious body counts  and convinced myself the carnage was fantasy and it was only a movie so  I could still sit back and enjoy the adrenaline rush the fast action brought.  The heroes, most of them, are still saving the damsel in distress or society from an ogre, but after a few minutes the shock of the  bloodshed so graphically displayed  turns to numbness. . 
I have peered over the shoulder of my grandson, an ace player of international standing of on line video  games. His are set in fantasy of medieval times  using weapons of that era.  But there are other games that arm the player with deadly modern weapons of war to kill.  My understanding is that the military uses games like these to desensitized troops, making it easier for them to take lives in combat.   We are conditioning our youths to do likewise and those who already have psychological problems can act them out.
We are seeing the fruits of our media. Controlling  this is indeed a problem  in our land of protection of the first amendment.  We can offer alternative programs such as those geared for the young on PBS and we can provide a parental guidance rating system, but it is  not enough.  The quandary becomes who can do more and who should do more.  Changing the media culture is not a silver bullet, but it can help. Availability of weapons and access to mental health are also parts  of the solution.  Government censorship is an anathema to our democratic society so the burden falls on those who produce modern media and their willingness to forgo the profits that violent films, video games and TV bring  them.  But the burden falls ultimately on adults  to take away their profits by not spending money on them for their own pleasure  and/or firmly monitoring and governing what media  their children are seeing and playing .

Saturday, December 15, 2012

My 18 year old grandson, Nikolaus Streicher, posted on his facebook some thoughts that many in this country are probably thinking as well the day after the Sandy Hook tragedy. 
"When will the general public learn that unless we change something this is going to continue to happen? What sort of country do we live in that 40% of all firearms legally sold do not even require a background check? It's interesting that owning a car( an almost equally lethal object) requires the government to have a profile of you, yet owning a gun(an object with the intent to be lethal) require
s no profile at all. For all of you second amendment whores I am not against the second amendment. I am against the lack of control on guns. It's quite simple, every person that has a gun should have a profile that is attached to the guns that they own. In order to obtain a profile that allows you to own guns you need to have an thorough psych evaluation and a thorough background check. The second amendment just states you have the right to bare arms, says nothing about regulation and control. So before you say how sorry you are and how much you're praying for them, please think about what you're actually going to do. Make that empathy, sympathy and what ever else you feel matter. Otherwise don't be surprised the next school shooting comes around.Write to your politicians, demand change.
Rant over- My sincere condolences to all the families involved and affected."
I am still putting together thoughts, but at this point I am a little too emotionally involved to think clearly or to endorse any political action.   Niki's facebook post is a thought provoking beginning.  His mother is an elementary school teacher in a Jefferson County School that feeds into  Columbine High School  area.  My grandson is in elementary school  an hour or so away from Newtown,Ct.  but not in the same district. Her school constantly drills for incidents like these and the protocol was developed after Columbine and by most schools around the nation.  I kept her informed by text and email during the day.  She was literally sick at her stomach , but after the students went home, the teachers met for both reflection, morale building, and hand holding.  The students were not told of  the events, but the school sent messages to all of the parents about  how to talk with them about the horrible events they were going to hear on TV and in conversations.  My daughter's parting words to her class at the end of the day , as well as the advice to parents, was "Terrible things happened today; we will keep you safe; you are loved by everyone around you".

Friday, December 14, 2012

Peggy Noonan' advice to the GOP; she got it right

Highly recommended: Peggy Noonan's column in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.  To the point: it is  not enough to use the word "middle class" over and over; there must be conservative policies that appeal to the middle class.  Neither Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan in recent speeches have done it.
She concluded
"Republicans are now in the habit of editing their views, and they've been in it for 10 years. The Bush White House suppressed dissent; talk radio stars functioned as enforcers; the angrier parts of the base, on the Internet, attempted to silence critical thinkers. Orthodoxy was everything, or orthodoxy as some defined it.
This isn't loyalty, it's lockstep. It has harmed the party's creativity, its ability to think, when now more than ever it has to. Enough"


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Uncertainty caused by the fiscal cliff is the real danger to economic recovery

While Pres. Obama and House Speaker John Boehner hammer out a plan that would yank us back from the fiscal cliff, public opinion has settled into two camps. 1) Let us not go over the cliff; the results will be dire if we do; 2) It is good to go over the cliff. The left thinks the GOP would be more likely to deal since they could tell supporters they were cutting taxes the cliff plan raised . The right believes the fiscal cliff will finally shrink government. However, an even greater negative impact on the economy is the specter of uncertainty. The sooner we put uncertainty out of its misery, the better it will be.

There is another reason to move quickly. Cuts in deductions and entitlements will be painful. The longer we drag out the negotiations, lobbyists will have more time to descend on Washington, making any agreement more difficult and lengthy.

If Obama and Boehner cannot come up with comprehensive agreements by Jan. 1, that will pass muster in both houses of Congress, they can at least agree on some short term measures as the first step. However, second steps cannot hang fire long, either. Most economists agree there is time in the month of January to finalize more comprehensive entitlement and tax reform before the impact of the fiscal cliff begins to drag down our economy.

Uncertainty, which the Republicans made into such an issue in the presidential campaign, indeed harms economic growth and evidence is growing that apprehension about the cliff is causing both consumer buying and investments to be put on hold.

Investors have as much as $1.6 trillion sitting on the sidelines waiting to prime our economic pump. What is holding them back is uncertainty. It is as if for the past year, the business community has been holding its breath and waiting for it to be safe to exhale. Both here and abroad, the most frequent tune I have heard from the business community is “just settle the matter so we know how we can plan. Let us know the rules and rates; we can work and plan around or with them.”

However, the GOP has become the champion of uncertainty. It has been dragging its feet on middle class tax cuts in their dedication to protecting the upper 2 percent brackets from a 4.5 percent tax increase on income over $250,000, demanding comprehensive tax reform first (impossible to accomplish before Jan 1), attempting to force the Obama administration to take the blame for cutting specific entitlements , and threatening to undo any agreement reached in in December or January later by opposition to raising the debt ceiling in February. We know what damage the last debt ceiling brouhaha did to US credit ratings. To avoid repetition, the debt ceiling must be included in any deal.

For those who think austerity, like the fiscal cliff's dire cuts in government services and military, are a good thing, just ask Europe how that approach worked for them. Europe's economies keep falling in and out of recession. The US has exceeded 2 percent growth. The Congressional Budget Office predicts going over the cliff would increase unemployment to 9.1 percent and both the International Monetary Fund and the CBO say going over the cliff would kill growth or even plunge us into recession.

For Democrats who think letting us jump off the cliff would be good politics, they are gambling the GOP will capitulate. If they lose the bet, it t will not be only the GOP who gets blamed if no deal is reached. A public in economic pain could lash back at both parties' incumbents in the 2014 election cycle. That prospect is why I think it is likely some sort of a compromise is likely to be reached.

Column published in the Sky Hi Daily News on line edition today 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Gifts were not why the GOP lost; attitudes, policies toward minorities and women were the culprits

While the GOP sorts out the reasons they lost in November, Democrats can only hope they come to the wrong conclusions, keeping the U.S. swinging blue for years to come. Here is some advice to Republicans:

The first step in the GOP's recovery is understanding that both their policies and the attitudes of their members need an extreme makeover. They need more than cosmetics, candidates who have Spanish surnames, a certain racial complexion, or a different gender. They need more than a better sales job. The GOP tried this election to make the case more conservative social policies and trickle down economics would be better for them, but other GOP attitudes and policies drowned out those messages.

Mitt Romney's post-election rationale for losing, that President Obama won by giving “gifts” to certain targeted groups, exemplified a wrongheaded attitude. Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal put his finger on it, calling Romney's “gift” remarks as “absolutely wrong ... If we want people to like us, we have to like them first. And you don't start to like people by insulting them and saying their votes were bought."

Romney's “gift” remark was revealing. In the spring, Romney made comments to the Florida fat cat contributors that 47 percent were not going to vote for him because they did not pay taxes and liked being dependent on government programs. Romney's blaming “gifts” has become the defining evidence that his comments were more than inelegant; they showed a basic misunderstanding of those he disdained.

What Romney did not understand was that lust for more gifts did not drive those groups so much as it was the fear a GOP victory would take away gains already made and a party would control Washington that supported policies that were unsympathetic to their needs and tolerated those who were hostile toward them.

Certainly, Hispanics feared they would lose any hope that Obama's commitment for a path to citizenship for their undocumented relatives would be fulfilled since the GOP was opposed to “amnesty” and certainly Hispanics welcomed a temporary dream act, but it was more than just a matter of immigration policy differences. Even Florida Puerto Ricans and Cubans (the first time in modern history) who already had citizenship rights voted for Obama over Romney.

Minorities also saw many GOP supporters expressing “nativist attitudes.” A poll conducted by Latino Decisions before the primaries found “forty-six percent of Latino voters said Republicans ‘don't care too much' about Hispanics, and another 27 percent said they are being hostile.”

Let's face it. The GOP these past four years has tolerated and supported candidates who “dog whistled” to Southern racist attitudes (“welfare queens, train their kids to be janitors”). They have been over the top in their vehement support of policies that are targeted against racial groups, the Arizona “show me your papers” law, restriction of poll access by making poll schedules inconvenient and proof of citizenship more difficult, and “self deportation” as the solution to the undocumented problem. Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) dared to take a moderate position on immigration and was ridiculed and drummed out of the primaries.

For women, the issue was loss of control over their health care that they already had. The GOP tolerated candidates who advocated government and physically intrusive policies, including radical definitions of when life begins that would ban forms of birth control, promising to overturn Roe v. Wade, raising the cost and access to care from mammograms to pills, requiring vaginal probes, and calling some rapes legitimate and others not. The accumulative effect was that for many women it looked like the GOP was hostile to them. The GOP had hoped futiley that women cared more about economic issues than having rights taken away, but the gender gap did not close.

Also published in the Sky Hi Daily News today.

John Boehner is off base on Simpson Bowles endorsement

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fiscal cliff: Simpson Bowles, fiscal cliff, tax reform may need a two step approach

I received an email today from a reader who felt strongly that the answer to the fiscal cliff was to adopt Simpson-Bowles proposals and do a massive tax reform….

I have already supported Simpson-Bowles  in my columns.  However, massive tax reform cannot be done in 11 days (when Congress recesses)..  If anything  is to happen before then,  we are looking at a 2 step approach...first, to avoid the fiscal cliff with something that has more than a short shelf life..or else  investors sitting on $1.6 trillion will be stuck in purgatory for the immediate future and the economy and job creation will suffer.  Second, to reform the tax system.  I like Romney's bucket limit on deductions because it will confuse and diffuse the special interest lobbyists. I can imagine the avalanche of special interest lobbyists that will descend on DC if deductions are removed deduction by deduction.  It appears that both Democrats and Republicans agree to keep hands off middle class mortgage deductions, though.   I am in favor of the tax rate increase on the top 2%,..per the recommendation of the Simpson Bowles (in its final form)... because it is politically popular and will keep some of the dire cuts on entitlements from happening.  However, as Steve Rattner points out today in the New York Times, neither the GOP proposal nor Obama's proposal reduced the deficit enough to bring it into an acceptable ratio with the GDP.  If so, tax reform needs to happen on top of either of the two proposals now on the table.