Friday, May 31, 2013

Paul, always Paul

“Unless you love someone, nothing else makes sense.” — E.E. Cummings

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my husband, my lover, my friend, my partner, my playmate, my soulmate, my life.

Paul has always loved E.E. Cummings' poetry, so here's something in honor of Paul's birthday — today, May 31.

“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” E.E. Cummings

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Gail and Michele and me

“President Bachmann will allow you to buy any light bulb you want." Michele Bachmann

I'VE BEEN a fan of New York Times columnist Gail Collins for as long as we've been taking the Times. If you've followed her in the paper at all, you know that it was almost miraculous how she managed to weave a reference to Mitt Romney strapping the family dog in a dog carrier to the top of the family car for a 12-hour vacation road trip — into every single column about the 2012 presidential campaign.

Gail takes a farewell shot or two at Michele Bachmann in her May 29, 2013 column, but before I share it with you, I'll reprise two of my own tidbits of MB gossip I wrote about a few months back.

March 13, 2013

"I was running around the East Village putting up posters for the last TCJO concert and popped into a makeup salon. Being beautified were a drag queen for a performance later that night and a club DJ. This was not your Merle Norman sort of a place. 

I was unaware that such an emporium existed in Des Moines and curious about the range of clientele they see. Color me surprised to learn that Michele Bachmann has had her makeup done there on several occasions prior to appearances in Des Moines

Considering that only two of the five of us present were straight and given her ultra-conservative and outspoken view that marriage is only for heteros, it seemed counterintuitive that she would patronize this shop. She was a perfectly pleasant customer, they said, but my take on it is this: apparently gay people are equal to making her look good, but not equal to being married.

On an unrelated, but still revealing note, a friend was in town for a visit a couple of months back, and we took him to Alba for dinner — or rather he took us, which was nice of him. His daughter, of whom he is justifiably proud, works at a major national news network, and she says that Michele Bachmann calls her five days a week to offer herself as a fill-in interview in case someone scheduled bails. Wow, that's one self-promoting mama."

I'm intrigued as to whether or not she'll stop calling now. And now for Gail's take on Michele's exit.

Michele, Here’s the Bell
Published: May 29, 2013

If Michele Bachmann leaves Congress, does that mean the end of the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act? That was pretty much my favorite Michele Bachmann piece of legislation.

“President Bachmann will allow you to buy any light bulb you want,” she had vowed during her campaign for the 2012 Republican nomination. Nobody got into the issue of repressive lighting efficiency standards in quite the same way.

That presidential race was pretty much the peak of Bachmann’s career. Remember her high point, when she swept to victory in the Iowa straw poll? Which was followed by the low point of coming in sixth in the actual Iowa caucuses. And calls for the abolition of future straw polls.

Now it’s all over, apparently. On Wednesday, while touring Russia and unavailable for comment, Bachmann released a video announcing that she would not run for re-election in 2014.

“I will continue to work vehemently and robustly to fight back against what most in the other party want to do, to transform our country into becoming. Which would be a nation that our founders would hardly even recognize today,” Bachmann told the nation. As only she could.

Her announcement had a strange, perky quality that drew instant comparisons to airline safety videos. Although it went on for more than eight minutes, Bachmann was vague about several critical points, such as why she was quitting. She was far more specific about what was not propelling her out. Definitely not the fact that the guy who nearly beat her last time around has announced that he is running again. And totally for sure not reports that the F.B.I. is investigating her campaign finances.

“My future is full, it is limitless, and my passions for America will remain,” she said over cheery background music. She could very easily have been telling us that in case of loss of cabin pressure, we should put on our own oxygen mask before aiding other passengers.

So farewell to Michele Bachmann, a politician who had a great faith in average folks — readily quoting their opinions to the nation as if the information had just emerged from the labs of M.I.T. A woman at a debate complained that a vaccine against H.P.V. caused mental retardation, and Bachmann instantly announced the news on network TV. Ditto with the inside scoop from a Japanese man who assured her that in his home country, people who criticize the government aren’t allowed to get health care.

In honor of her departure, Michele-watchers around the country rolled out their favorite Bachmann quotes. Mine was her contention that the theory of evolution was disputed by “hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes.”

We may not see her like again. Or, if one shows up, we may decide not to pay attention.

A long-running adieu (she’s not really going away until the end of 2014) to a woman who worships the founding fathers — who, she once informed a Republican crowd, started off the Revolution with a shot “heard round the world” in New Hampshire. Patriots like Washington, Jefferson and Madison, who would never have wanted to live in an America where there were census forms or high-protein cafeteria meals. (“Where in the #Constitution does it say the fed. government should regulate potatoes in school lunches?” she Twittered.)

The most interesting question about Bachmann is how she and Sarah Palin came to be the two most high-profile women in the Tea Party. Neither one has ever had a real political organization. Palin didn’t like being governor enough to finish the term. Bachmann has been a terrible legislator. Women in Congress tend to be good at working with others. Michele Bachmann is good at talking on her cellphone during meetings.

They certainly have intense personalities. But you have to wonder if the secret is that, by political standards, they both look extremely hot. And if it’s their appearance that made them such stars, is that for the benefit of the Tea Party men or the Tea Party women? Ronnee Schreiber, a professor at San Diego State University, who studies gender and politics, says the women in the grass-roots Tea Party she’s interviewed kept focusing on how the pair “looked so feminine and dressed so ladylike.”

Whatever Bachmann’s secret, it isn’t really working anymore. Her career jumped the shark when she and a few colleagues demanded that one of Hillary Clinton’s top aides be investigated as a possible Muslim extremist trying to infiltrate the government. The aide, Huma Abedin, is married to former Congressman Anthony Weiner, and I think I speak for the entire country when I say the poor woman has enough problems to deal with in the real world.

Meanwhile, the Tea Party caucus Bachmann founded in the House has lost its traction. In the Senate, right-wing newcomers like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have captured the limelight from the congresswoman from Minnesota who once won the Iowa straw poll.

And sponsored the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act. Can’t forget about that.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cashing in

My good friends, after a great deal of thought and deliberation, I have decided next year I will not seek a fifth Congressional term. Michele Bachmann

WHO ELSE besides me is doing the happy dance now that Michele Bachmann won't be running for Congress again?! She says it has nothing to do with the ongoing FBI investigations (plural) into her failed presidential campaign's finances. I'm guessing it has at least something to do with it, but it probably has more to do with:

A) She barely won her last election

B) If she ran and lost, she'd lose some of her bankability. Why not quit now and head straight to Fox "News" or a conservative Super PAC or 501c4 where she can make s-o-o-o-o-o-o much more money (according to NBC Nightly News she raised more money for her last Congressional race than anyone has ever raised running for a House seat) and never have to worry about ever being investigated for anything? Ca-ching, Ca-ching. She could work for those swell guys, the Koch Brothers!

Either that, or her husband finally came out as gay.

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Will the real Brian Ross please stand up

"Thank you for reposting my story, but a minor correction. I'm Brian Ross who publishes and writes for, blogs for the Huffington Post, the Daily KOZ, AllAboutJazz,, not the Brian Ross who is the ABC news reporter." — Brian Ross

I TOTALLY GOOFED in crediting a repost of a post. I was right in attributing it to Brian Ross. It was indeed written by Brian Ross, but not the Brian Ross from ABC News

You can see from the above excerpt from his email to me, he was most gracious about it, citing the need for a "minor correction." I, on the other hand, described it in my note back to him as "a gigantic, honking, Godzilla of a mistake" on my part.

I think he gets that a lot; he has a Facebook page called "the other Brian Ross." Still, I should have worked harder at finding him. I did try, Googling quite assiduously, actually, but I kept only getting the ABC Brian. I finally thought, "Okay, that's who wrote this." Since the Huffington Post is an aggregator of news stories, it didn't seem that unusual to have something from ABC in there. What I should have done is search within HuffPo for a list of contributing bloggers.

How interesting that TOBR (the other Brian Ross) writes for jazz websites. We've been exchanging some emails about jazz. I think I'll send him some Des Moines Big Band CDs as an apology.

Below is the article TOBR wrote that I misattributed back in April.

Confessions of a Gun Death Hunter
Brian Ross   |   April 23, 2013   


Every morning the dead greet me before the caffeine gives me a chance to focus their reality. I post their stories to a Facebook wall. Why? I was about as numb as most of you are.

Then I woke up.

I have a big problem with violence against children. Bigger than many, I suppose. Sandy Hook was a bit too much for me. I looked for someone to make sense of it all. Early on, Slate put out a "Gun Death Tally" in response. Advertised as "Every gun death since Sandy Hook."

There were problems.

The design bothered me. Little paper-doll symbology of each victim dot the page. Click on each of these bits of anonymity, and you could see "Unknown" generally and the link to the story of the death.
Busy as they are, they often don't update those stories. Who were these people really? What happened that they ended up dead?

As a journalist, everyone always dreads the "crime beat" or the "police beat" because it's the dog with fleas of journalism, where the rookies go to cut their teeth or get so frustrated they quit. In a practical sense, it's understandable. The beat is very late hours, particularly on weekends. Not very spouse or family-friendly for reporters.

No matter where you live, you see bits and pieces of these deaths. They're the background noise of your daily news, that occasionally grabs our attention between the home finance story and the weather when the story is about someone who looks or lives like you, or it involves children, where we can all be universally outraged, or random mass murder in a public place, which scares us all.

The other problem with the Slate wall was that it only told a small fraction of the story. For every person killed I was finding five, ten, or twenty who were wounded by gun violence. Aren't they victims too? Slate did not respond to my observation.

Beyond that, turning real human beings, and the violent tragedies that end their lives into FBI stats or paper dolls on a webpage is something that is done to sanitize all this killing, to dismiss the graphic death and violence around us. Most papers won't even report the reality that suicides are the largest number of gun deaths annually. 

If they do, it is only in the most sanitized fashion to avoid upsetting the family or the neighbors. The truth is that it upsets us because it could just as easily be us, and it's also hard to absorb a lot of community tragedy on a local, personal level, let alone a national level.

When I created a Gun Victims Wall, I wanted people to see the individual stories, to know about the guy who drunkenly shot off his finger trying to shoot off his wedding ring after an argument. The six year old who killed his seven year old sister with an unsecured weapon. The 18 year old who walked into a bar, was refused service, then came back and shot the place up, killing one and injuring many more.

We have had a lot of problem getting people to look at the page. Even gun violence supporters are squeamish about dealing with the messy lives of real people. We have thousands of people who look at the page, but only a few that "like it." I guess it's hard to "like" something like that.

As I got to know (the victims), I wanted readers to know them as real people who had these shootings and killings alter or end the course of their lives, something else happened: I finally started seeing the "big picture" that the NRA and the gun manufacturers don't want you to see.

It's like staring at that art with the psychedelic box long enough that you can see the Mona Lisa in the image. The ugly secret of gun violence, the thing that the gun-makers don't want you to know, is how incredibly SOCIAL gun deaths are, for the most part.

We don't keep stats, so my observations are anecdotal, but the vast majority of gun deaths are various domestic disputes: Arguments over everything from the way a steak is cooked to an auto accident to men who get women pregnant and think that a bullet solves their maternity problems — desperate people whose home or lives are underwater, or who suffer from untreated depression who take their own lives, and those of their families. People who can't kill themselves who know that cops will if they draw a weapon on them. Petty jealousies, love triangles, feelings of being disrespected by friends, co-workers, loved ones or strangers that erupt in homicidal violence. 

Alcohol and drugs and firearms are always a deadly mix. Untreated depression, rage, and mental illness are also trees in the bloody forest that appears when you digest the whole stories on the micro level, then step back and look at the bigger picture.

Yes, there are the stories of the NRA narrative, people saving their lives and others with their guns. We look for them every day, and invite the many pro-gun supporters to find us real news stories — not gun-lobby aggregations of stories weeks or years old — to post their finds as well. They are, though few and far between.

We post them, because the soundness of any argument in a debate means that one must be able to present both sides and still be morally and factually correct.

You dispel the NRA myth that gun death is largely an urban "minority" thing. There are just as many, if not more killings, woundings and maimings in the 'burbs and the countryside. Guns are equal opportunity killers, too. Just as many middle class and rich white people end up in body bags as those who are poor and minority. Really look beyond the label and most "gang-related" violence is over very petty squabbles about turf, women, and powerless people seeking respect.

The truth is that you are more likely to die by a gun if you possess one. The likelihood that you will take your own life, or the lives of your family, friends or neighbors in a moment of extreme stress, heavy substance use, chemical depression, or a combination of circumstances are much, much higher. The likelihood you will accidentally kill someone, either by negligence with your weapon, or by shooting a bystander while trying to extricate yourself from danger, go up exponentially.

That's the dirty secret that the people who sell you the instrumentation of quick, easy death at the end of a bottle, or a jealous rage, don't want you to know.

Gun violence is personal, real, and very avoidable. Give the police the tools to deal with domestic violence and guns, depression and guns, and alcohol/drug abuse and guns, and 85% of the deaths out there now just go away.

What we do to officers, whom we do not empower, and force to kill people whose deaths were avoidable, is an inexcusable occupational post-traumatic stress that often leads to further violence, depression, death or suicide.

Maybe it is time that someone as concerned about gun violence as you are, that you have read all of this, needs to look at those trees to see that forest, and get your elected officials to finally do the same.

Universal background checks are a drop in the bucket. A bandaid on an artery wound. Which you can see if you really LOOK at what's going on out there.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The big guy — and the BIG guy

“The adults are taking care of business, so don’t get scared.” — Governor Chris Christie, at a press briefing in October 2012 as Hurricane Sandy approached the Jersey Shore

THERE WAS a revealing little tidbit hiding in tonight's NBC Nightly News coverage of President Obama's and Governor Chris Christie's visit to the Jersey Shore today . .  the geographical feature, not the TV show. 

They were there to reopen the Shore after all the cleanup and restoration work that's gone on since it was devastated by Hurricane Sandy in October of 2012. 

The president and the governor had previously toured the shore together right after the hurricane, and at the time Governor Christie, a Republican, thanked the president profusely for coming and for his offer to bring to bear all Federal resources at his disposal to help New JerseyIn response many Republicans became positively livid about the governor getting cozy with the that evil Democrat president. Seriously, you would have thought Christie had committed double homicide.

In tonight's report on this latest visit of theirs, Brian Williams revisited the past just a little. Here's what his lead-in to the story was word for word:

"Now to the New Jersey shore and the return today of two political rivals who happen to get along. You may recall after Hurricane Sandy thrashed the shore, Governor Chris Christie was thrashed by some of his fellow Republicans for showing kindness to President Obama who was, after all, leading the recovery charge with Federal aid."

Paul and I both did a head-shake-double-take. Kindness?? 

I said, "What's with the kindness thing?! Governor Christie was merely gracious and appreciative which is what he should have been. Obama is the frickin' president, for crying out loud. He was there being kind to them!"

Paul said, "Yeah, all Christie did was manage not to be an asshole, and that's supposed to be some big 'kindness' on his part."

Sad that when a Republican isn't a dick to the president, that's kindness. Pretty low standards, if you ask me.

Hurricane Sandy as it washes away the Jersey Shore in October, 2012.

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Oh no Obama

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. — Barack Obama

IF ONLY, BarackIn my last post I wrote about the fun I've had linking up, virtually, with liberal, skeptic activists via Facebook. Coincidentally, this morning my phone took to chiming repeatedly. Paul picked it up and noticed a bunch of Friend alerts. 

He looked at who they were from and said, "Wow, you sure have a bunch of interesting friends." 

I do. I've definitely made some like-minded buddies. 

One might assume that since they're liberal, skeptic activists, they would be big Obama fans. And that's where you would be wrong. 

I'm pretty sure every one of them is glad Obama beat Romney — color me very glad and most of them as well — but as far as being high on Obama, not so much. They're skeptical of everyone in power. 

I campaigned for Obama both election cycles and remain convinced he was better than the alternative. But good? On some things, yes; on other things — as the famous southernism goes, "No. Hell no. And double hell no."

Those who excoriate President Obama for his very existence (guilty of being black while president) wear me out: for example all the feathers flying because his detailed Marine held an umbrella for him. 

I was incredulous. Really? Really? This is a thing? Someone explained that the "outrage" was because Marines (males, but not females) are prohibited from using umbrellas while in uniform. They are. However (wait for it) — the Marines detailed to the president are in place to assist him in whatever way he requires. That's their proscribed job. 

But umbrella or no umbrella, "outrage?" Save outrage about what members of the Marine Corps and the other branches do for something that matters — like the estimated 26,000 sexual assaults that take place each year in the military.

Or this. 

President Obama has nominated a billionaire Penny Pritzker, who has a well-documented history of tax evasion, to be the next Secretary of Commerce. Here's a US News and World Report article that Paul found that should provide a much more substantial basis for outrage.

Penny Pritzker’s Tax Problem


Penny Pritzker’s Tax Problem

Obama's nominee to be the next head of the Commerce Department, Penny Pritzker, faced her Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday. Surprisingly, the members of the Senate Commerce Committee did not grill her on an area that seems ideal for criticism: her family's storied history of tax dodging.

If confirmed, Pritzker would be one of the wealthiest cabinet secretaries ever. Her personal net worth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, stands north of $1.5 billion.

Her family owes its fortune to the Hyatt hotel chain and a host of other business ventures (including Superior Bank, which had a serious subprime problem and collapsed in 2001). And that massive fortune was paired with a massive effort to avoid taxes.

According to the New York Times, "Pritzker's family is renowned for finding ways to avoid paying taxes on its wealth. The Pritzkers were pioneers in using tax loopholes to shelter their holdings from the Internal Revenue Service." Citizens for Tax Justice lays out how part of the grand scheme works:

One of the primary ways the Pritzker family uses offshore trusts to avoid taxes is by having income from their businesses funneled into offshore trusts. Those trusts then pay debt service to a bank, owned by the family trust, that loans that money right back to the business. The upshot is that all the taxable profits disappear and the family wealth accumulates unabated.

The group added, "While Pritzker's personal involvement with her family's most infamous tax avoidance legacy is unclear, it is clear that she has actively used tax avoidance strategies in her own professional and private life," including helping Hyatt avoid taxes on property it owns.

If the Pritzkers' tax avoidance schemes sound a lot like those employed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney – which President Obama rightfully pilloried during the 2012 presidential campaign – that's because they are. Pritzker also raised some eyebrows for receiving $54 million in "consulting fees" from a trust her family owns, which likely helped her avoid taxes, and for understating her income by $80 million on her latest financial disclosure forms.

None of this means that Pritzker would necessarily do a bad job as Commerce Secretary – having employed tax havens is not a reflection on her work ethic or management skills. And she certainly bears no responsibility for the broken U.S. tax code. But nominating her does raise the question of how seriously Obama takes the sort of tax reforms he has called for since before he moved into the Oval Office.

Tax dodging by the rich and corporations costs every other American taxpayer $1,026 per year in higher taxes or reduced benefits and services. The nation has bills due regardless of whether the rich pay their fair share, so every dollar hidden by the wealthy in an offshore tax haven has to be made up somewhere else.  This is a serious public policy problem – not just in the U.S., but in developed economies around the world. Obama even released a plan that the administration estimated would raise $8.7 billion over 10 years by cracking down on tax avoidance by wealthy individuals (that has gone nowhere).

Pritzker certainly has other knocks against her, including Hyatt's horrid treatment of its workers. But the biggest issue is that she epitomizes a problem Obama says needs to be fixed, yet he's elevating her into his Cabinet with nary a word about it.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

The L-word

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. John Kenneth Galbraith 

I'VE WRITTEN a couple of times about my uneasy relationship with Facebook. I started out totally adverse to it. I didn't understand it; I didn't want to understand it.

But then someone I treasured was killed, and I wanted to be able to read everything being said about her life, so I signed up.

I started to sort-of-a-little-bit get into Facebook for awhile, but after a few months I became aware of how utterly disingenuous some people can be in using the forum as a means for being at once both self-important and exclusionary. 

I decided to delete all my ties to it. There were a few in my virtual rolodex, however, who were regular posters of links to informative articles, and I was loathe to stop learning from them, so I didn't delete the account altogether. 

Since the account still existed, I could still be 'invited', and when a young family member, who I could never refuse anything to or from, sent a friend request, there I was participating again.

But an interesting thing happened on the way to the forum — literally. Out of curiosity, I began reading comments posted by friends of friends, and I discovered to my amazement that there's a whole world of liberal, activist, non-theist, sceptic, animal lovers out there I can be friends with. Woo hoo. Thanks all y'all for helping me find both my niche and my voice.
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Friday, May 17, 2013

Oh, the insanity

"I hate handguns. Handguns are used to shoot people and as long as they are around, people will shoot each other. That's a simple fact." Daniel Craig, British actor

I KNOW, I KNOW. I keep blogging about the ubiquitousness and terror of guns, gun deaths, gun violence. Guns, guns, guns. 

I'd like to write about shoes, or Mother's Day or cats. But here I am. 

In slight variation of the line, "Oh, the humanity," famously uttered by radio reporter and announcer Herb Morrison while witnessing the Hindenburg disaster,  I feel like shouting, "Oh, the insanity," about all the wounding and dying and grief and fear guns breed.

Below is an op-ed contribution to the New York Times written by Jonathan Schuppe. He writes from a far more authoritative and experienced place than I ever could.

Gunshots on Warm Spring Evenings
Published: May 16, 2013 

NEWARK — A FEW Saturdays ago, at the early evening hour when children linger outside to wring the last fun they can from the day, a series of gunshots split the air near the corner of Chadwick and Avon Avenues. Everyone scattered. After the cops arrived and taped off the intersection and determined that no one at the scene had been hit, the street slowly stirred back to life.

The kids re-emerged. So did their parents. Little girls did circles on pink bicycles in the driveway of a Newark Housing Authority town house complex. Someone turned up the radio of a parked car. With the cops commandeering the street, Chadwick and Avon was suddenly, temporarily, one of the safest spots in town.

I happened to pull up with my wife and daughter just as the police had reopened the street to traffic. We were there to see Thaiquan Scott, 36, whose five children included some of the girls in the driveway. I’d spent a long time following Thaiquan and writing about him as he struggled to make a better life for his family, to protect his kids from the streets he once ran as a low-level drug dealer. He looked grim.

“What happened?” I asked.

“You know what happened,” Thaiquan replied.

I stared at him. “Eight shots,” he said. “Maybe 10.”

Thaiquan saw me look at his daughters. “What can I do?” he said. “I got to let them play. They don’t go far.”

My heart ached for him. I’ve spent many years reporting on Newark, and I consider myself pretty well acquainted with the havoc that gun violence wreaks on a community. But it’s not just about blood and mayhem. The effects include a gradual acclimatization to violence that makes it seem O.K. to let your kids play 100 yards from the spot where someone just squeezed off a few rounds. It twists your perspective. Alters your perception of danger.

Nearly a decade ago, when I first became a crime reporter in Newark, I didn’t know much about gun violence or what caused it, let alone the debate over bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. I’d never touched a gun, never known anyone who had been shot. I was clueless and grossly unprepared for what lay ahead of me.

I set out with the naïve goal of writing about every shooting in the city and was immediately overwhelmed. There was more than one a day, on average, and the best I could do in most cases was write a “brief” — a couple of paragraphs, including the barest of details from the police, and maybe a quote from a witness or loved one — and move on.

Within weeks, I was exhausted and despairing. I questioned why I was bothering to do it at all. When I returned home each night, I wondered if the victims or their families would pick up the next day’s paper looking for information, and how they’d react when they found so little.

One thing that particularly surprised me was how relatively few people died of their wounds. My first year on the beat, more than 80 percent of all shooting victims lived. That turned out to be a fairly typical rate for Newark and the rest of the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 84,149 people died in shootings in the United States from 2004 to 2010. During that time, another 350,157 people were injured in shootings but survived.

I’ve met a lot of those broken people. In a place like Newark, even after a historic drop in the crime rate, they weren’t hard to find. I interviewed a teenage girl with a slug lodged near her heart and a 7-year-old boy hit in the leg while he played on his porch. I know a hot-dog vendor who was shot in the gut by robbers and a grandmother struck by an errant bullet leaving church. One of my dearest friends is a man who got involved in a love triangle and paid for it with a gunshot that paralyzed him from the belly down.

I’ve talked to kids who have seen someone get shot; many of them are afraid to go outside, while others act as if it doesn’t bother them at all. I’ve met their neighbors, who live in a constant state of fear and mistrust. I’ve spent many hours with their suffering parents, people like Thaiquan, who desperately want their children to ride bikes on a warm spring Saturday evening without having to think about ducking and running.

Those stories don’t attract anywhere near the attention that murders receive. But I often think about them when there’s a mass shooting somewhere like Newtown, Conn., or Aurora, Colo., or Oak Creek, Wis., towns previously relatively untouched by gun violence. These unspeakable bursts of evil shred lives, families and communities, and the nation rightfully fixates on their grief and healing.

But for every one of those victimized towns, there are dozens of American cities where, every year, many more people are shot than in any single gun rampage. In those places — Newark, or New Orleans, where around 20 people were wounded last weekend when a gunman opened fire on a Mother’s Day parade — there is no definable healing process, because the violence never really stops. The number of dead, and the much larger number of those who return home with grievous injuries, grows every year. So does a deeper emotional trauma borne by their dispossessed communities.

It’s become so ingrained in the life of certain neighborhoods that even its victims, those who are most at risk, have little choice but to learn to live with it.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My personal gun story

"Live your life from your heart. Share from your heart. And your story will touch and heal people’s souls." Melody Beattie, American author 

RECENTLY someone asked a Facebook friend why he's "anti-gun." Here's what he had to say:

"When I was about thirteen, on a bright, sun-filled day, I was walking a girl home who lived in my neighborhood and who I had a crush on. As we turned the corner near her house, we saw police cars with flashing lights. She ran all the way home, leaving me behind. I found out later that her mother had committed suicide with a gun. 

All of a sudden she moved with her father and grandmother — to where I never found out — and I never saw her again. I hope she got through it, graduated high school and college, fell in love, got married, had a family of her own and was happy. But I will never forget her, and that's why I am against guns and all of the violence and death they bring."

The timing of both question and answer coincided with something that had been rolling around in my head for weeks. For at least that long I'd been thinking that it would be a good thing if those of us who feel strongly about the need for more restrictive and accountable gun laws were to tell our personal stories of how we came to feel as we do. 

Here's mine. It's not one moment or one thing, but a fabric woven over many years.

The first thread.
My grandpa, who raised me, was an antique gun collector, and as far back as I can remember there were always old, old guns in the house. Also as far back as I can remember, there was an ancient brown card table upstairs with a hole the size somewhere between a nickel and a quarter. This old table was generally only dusted off and brought down at holidays when an overflowing household made extra place settings necessary at meals. Grandma always covered it with a seasonally appropriate tablecloth. 

I don't know if at some point I asked about the hole or if it was one of those family stories I was steeped in from such a young age that I can't remember how I came to know; the hole was the result of a gun accident in our house. 

My Uncle Merrill was in some way connected. I don't remember now if he accidentally discharged the gun or if he was narrowly missed by the bullet from someone else's hand, but whatever the exact circumstances, it was made abundantly clear that a bad and dangerous thing had happened.

Whether or not that was the basis of Grandpa's rule, from as early as I can remember, having or playing with toy guns was forbidden. I wasn't allowed to so much as point a finger or a stick as an imaginary gun. Grandpa was a tenderhearted, sentimental man who rarely put his foot down, but he was adamant about guns: no real, toy or imaginary ones were to be pointed at anyone ever.

The second.
After my grandma died, I moved back to Iowa to be with Grandpa. Fortunately I was able to transfer from the job I had in Montana, Wyoming and Alaska to here, but I discovered that even in the confines of Iowa, it entailed more traveling than I was willing to undertake. There was no point moving home to be with Grandpa if I wasn't going to actually be home with Grandpa, so I took the state real estate and insurance exams within a couple of weeks of each other, and surprisingly passed them both. Of the two, I chose to be an insurance agent.

The product I sold was group disability and life, and that's how I met John. John owned a small auto body shop on Second Avenue and was also a high school classmate's cousin. Although John didn't have enough employees to qualify for a group plan, I was still in and out of his shop several times because his workers repaired my car. 

The most prominent fixtures in his office were the professional photos of his family that were all around. He had a beautiful wife and three of the most cherubic little girls you could ever imagine. All three of his girls were close in age and were amazingly adorable in their little matching dresses.

About a year later I read in the paper that John killed himself. All I could think about was those three sweet little girls and of course his wife. How could he leave them? If a gun hadn't been handy at that particular moment of despair, maybe he wouldn't have ended his life and forever changed theirs.

The third.
I never really knew my mother's side of the family very well because she died when I was so young. She was one of eight children, and Uncle EddyI believe, was in the middle of the pack closest in age to my mom. 

I'm sure that I must have been around Uncle Eddy at some time very early on, but I have no memory of him whatsoever. This much I knew about him though: he married a gracious, lovely woman — I met her once when I was an adult, they raised two accomplished daughters and he had a really good job working for NASA in Houston

I was in my mid-thirties when I received a call informing me that Uncle Eddy had killed himself. As it is with so many men, it was a gun. 

There's a broad streak of depression and maybe something more that runs through that side of the family — a group of extremely intelligent people who make successes of themselves, but struggle with maintaining a grip on mental health and reality. Uncle Eddy had retired from his important job, fell into a deep depression and turned a gun on himself.

The fourth:
A little more than twenty years ago I had just started Brainstorm Marketing. One weekend a few months after I had hung out my shingle there was an incident that took place in a night spot around the corner from my building. Two twenty-something men got into it, took their conflict outside, but because one of them was a young and newly-minted police officer and had a gun on him and alcohol in him, instead of bad language and a punch or two being thrown, the other man ended up shot dead on the sidewalk in front of my building. The greenhorn, by the way, received no punishment for the killing even though he did not shoot in the line of duty and had been drinking.

I read about what happened in the paper and heard about it on the news, but I was unprepared for how deeply affected I was the following Monday by the sight of a big, florescent orange X with a circle around it spray painted on the sidewalk. I couldn't get it out of my head, and still haven't, that someone's son or brother had his life ended exactly there on the sidewalk I traverse every day. I still see the day-glow orange paint in my mind's eye.

The fifth.
If you're read this blog a time or two, it's evident that I adore my husband. Before Paul moved back to Iowa, he lived in Austin, Texas. It wasn't a great place to find work as a trombone player, but he had enough skill on the bass guitar to find work in bar bands, and as a result he got to hear and hang with people who became pretty famous. (That's another story for another day.)

Being an itinerate bass player wasn't about to pay the bills though, so to put food on the table, he literally put food on the table; he managed a pizza restaurant.

Twice Paul was held up at work by a robber with a gun pointed directly in his face. I can only imagine how utterly terrifying that must have been! Family members seem to only vaguely recall that this happened . . . twice! But I remain horrified at how easily there might not have been a Paul for me to meet and marry. 

The sixth.
I have a friend who is the embodiment of being on top of things — scheduled, organized, things on her to-do list checked off. But we all carry tragedies, and after I got to know her better, she told me about a chapter in her life that would only be on a list of things you never, ever, ever want to have happen to you.

She'd been dating a man who she came to realize over time had worsening mental health issues. Their relationship had devolved to the point that is was no longer romantic, but she has a soft heart and was genuinely concerned for his wellbeing, so she remained an important person in his life. 

She was getting more and more worried about his erratic behavior, so asked his parents to secure any guns he might have access to. They did, but nevertheless he got hold of one, and there he was in her house in an extremely agitated state with a gun in his hands. 

They wrestled with the gun, until Mary Jane, the dog she had rescued, rescued her. MJ had never offered to bite before, but she knew something was very, very wrong and started growling and barking and jumped up on the gun-wielder's chest, snapping and trying to bite. It was enough intervention to end the struggle, but not the tragedy. He sat down on the bed and blew his brains out in front of my friend.

The seventh.
I belong to the Rotary Club of Des Moines, the oldest Rotary club west of the Mississippi, and we have more than a few octogenarian members. One of them, a sweet man named Randall, accompanied us on the piano at the start of each meeting as we sang the national anthem, God Bless America or some other appropriate song. He had a merry twinkle in his eye, and I never saw him without a smile. 

Paul and I had tickets to hear a nationally-known jazz pianist, but when Paul discovered he had a conflict, I thought about asking Randall to go with me. But I didn't. I was afraid I didn't know him well enough to ask on such short notice. A couple of weeks later, Randall was as usual at the piano, and only one intervening day later, he killed himself. A gun . . . again.

In full disclosure.
If these events form the warp of my views, my own nature is the weft, so to be utterly transparent, I confess that since I was a very small child, I've recoiled at killing anything. If there's a moth trapped in our enclosed porch or a fly in the kitchen, I catch them and put them outside. I think it's the result of having struggled enough myself to want to remain alive, that I just don't have the heart to extinguish someone else's regardless of how insignificant the rest of the world might deem its worth. 

But here's the thing.
if you take away Uncle Eddy's death by his own hand — I'm hoping that not many have a suicide-prone extended family — and even remove my particular sensitivity to death, I don't think my story is that much different than yours . . . or most anyone's.

As a small example, more than 200 of the people who know my friend whose dog saved her, also knew Randall, so here's a group of people with at least two gun deaths in their circle of friends, and that's just glazing over the surface of one small segment of their lives. 

The problem is that we don't talk about all the people we've lost to guns. It's time we do.
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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Jeffrey Krusinski

“Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused.” —  Freda Adler, American author and educator

I"M GUESSING that most of you have heard or read about the sexual battery charge against Jeffrey Krusinski from Arlington, Virginia. The frequency of such behavior would make this case, unfortunately, unremarkable except for one thing: he was the chief of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention Branch.

Here's a column about the pandemic of rape in the US military written by Maureen Dowd that appeared in the New York Times May 7.

America’s Military Injustice
Published: May 7, 2013

Along with a boosted Buick LeSabre, another incident listed on a crime report Sunday in Arlington County, Va., was a creepy attack by a man on a woman.

“On May 5 at 12:35 a.m., a drunken male subject approached a female victim in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks,” the report read. “The victim fought the suspect off as he attempted to touch her again and alerted police. Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, of Arlington, Va., was arrested and charged with sexual battery.”

Krusinksi’s mug shot, showing scarlet scratches on his face, is a portrait in misery.

Jeffrey Krusinski's mug shot.

He knew his arrest on charges of groping a stranger would send the capital reeling and his career at the nearby Pentagon spiraling. The Air Force lieutenant colonel charged with sexual battery was the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs for the Air Force. (He had just finished his sexual assault victim training.)

There was a fox-in-the-henhouse echo of Clarence Thomas, who Anita Hill said sexually harassed her when he was the nation’s top enforcer of laws against workplace sexual harassment.

Senator Jay Rockefeller issued a white-hot statement, calling Krusinski’s arrest “further evidence that the military isn’t taking the issue of sexual assault seriously,” and “a stain on the military” that “should shake us to our core.”

President Obama was also lacerating on the subject of the Krusinski arrest and the cases of two Air Force lieutenant generals who set aside sexual assault convictions after jury trials.

He said training and awareness programs masking indifference will no longer stand: “If we find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged — period.”

It has been a bad week for the hidebound defenders of a hopelessly antiquated military justice system that views prosecution decisions in all cases, including rape and sexual assault, as the private preserve of commanders rather than lawyers.

“They are dying a thousand deaths,” said Eugene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School. CAAFlog, the leading military justice blog, called it “the death knell” for the current system, at least for sexual assault cases.

During the Thomas-Hill hearings, many powerful men here — even ones defending Hill publicly — privately assumed that she was somehow complicit in encouraging Thomas’s vulgar behavior. Feminists ranted “they just don’t get it” so often that it became a grating cliché.

Yet, 22 years later, during another Senate hearing on Tuesday where the topic of sexual transgression flared, it became clear that, as the California Congresswoman Jackie Speier told me afterward, “people in authority just don’t get it.”

Gen. Mark Welsh, the chief of staff for the Air Force, shocked the women on the Senate Armed Services Committee when he testified that part of the problem in combatting “The Invisible War,” as the Oscar-nominated documentary feature on the epidemic of rape in the military was titled, is that young women who enter the military have been raised in a society with a “hook-up mentality.”

“We have got to change the culture once they arrive,” the general said.

Hook-ups may be stupid, but they are consensual.

“To dismiss violent rapes as part of the hook-up culture shows a complete lack of understanding,” a fiery Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York told me. “We’re not talking about a date gone badly. We’re talking about criminal behavior by predators who often stalk their victims in advance.”

The hook-up comparison was especially jarring in light of the release of a stunning Pentagon study estimating that 26,000 men and women in the military were sexually assaulted in the 2012 fiscal year, a 37 percent increase from the same period the year before. Only a small number of incidents — 3,374 — were reported, showing that victims are still afraid of payback or perverted justice. And a mere 238 assailants were convicted.

Thanks to Bev Richardson and the Platzner Post for this editorial cartoon. reported that troops at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina were issued a brochure advising potential victims of sexual assault that it may be more “advisable to submit than resist.”

It was the sort of rare confluence of events that can actually lead to change here, especially because it’s a nonpartisan issue and because the Senate looks very different than it did during the Thomas-Hill hearings. Three of the six Senate Armed Services subcommittees are now led by women.

Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, a former prosecutor who is one of seven women (five of them lawyers) on the Armed Services Committee, has held up the nomination of Lt. Gen. Susan Helms to be vice commander of the Air Force’s Space Command until she investigates why Helms overturned a conviction in a sexual assault case.

“You don’t get to decide who’s telling the truth and supplant the judgment of the jury you handpicked if you weren’t in the courtroom observing the witnesses,” Senator McCaskill said. “You’ve got to put systems in place where you catch these cowards committing crimes and you put them in prison.”

The military brass cosseting predators are on notice. The women of Congress are on the case.

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

A small, bright spot

"When you have a 5- or 6-year-old who is gunned down and doesn’t come home to you at the end of the day, that doesn’t make them a celebrity. That makes them a victim.”  — Valerie Longhurst, Delaware House Majority Leader

YESTERDAY Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed a bill making background checks mandatory for almost all firearms sales, and other gun laws are being considered. Here's the May 8 article written by Doug Denison from Delaware Online. I'm grateful there are some parts of the country exercising common sense. Maybe we should all move to Delaware.

Markell signs gun bill
Written by Doug Denison
The News Journal

DOVER — Several pieces of gun-control legislation advanced in the General Assembly on Wednesday, including one bill that sparked a tense exchange in a House committee between a Democratic lawmaker and the leader of a conservative group opposing the measure.

Gov. Jack Markell also enacted legislation requiring background checks on most private guns sales. The law, which takes effect July 1, is the first piece in a package of Democrat-sponsored gun bills introduced earlier this year to clear the Legislature.

During a House Administration Committee hearing on a related measure to tighten rules on the reporting of lost and stolen firearms, Theresa Garcia, executive director of the 9-12 Delaware Patriots, took umbrage at the testimony of Mark Barden, whose son was killed during the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Garcia called Barden and a group of Sandy Hook parents who came to Delaware this week to lobby in favor of the gun bills “celebrities.”

“I feel it is a shame that Sandy Hook victims, their families, are being exploited,” she said. “You’ve been parading out-of-state victims and minor celebrities, and they’re saying these gun laws are going to stop what happened to them and I don’t see it.”

Other national gun-control advocates also have visited Delaware in recent weeks, including Mark Kelly, husband of former congresswoman and mass-shooting victim Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.

Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, who was chairing the hearing, condemned Garcia’s remarks.

“The people that came down here are here not because they want to be. If they would have their choice, they would not want to be in the spotlight. When you have a 5- or 6-year-old who is gunned down and doesn’t come home to you at the end of the day, that doesn’t make them a celebrity. That makes them a victim,” said Longhurst, D-Bear.

“It’s a tragedy, and for anybody to consider that they are celebrities and we are capitalizing, it’s very disgraceful,” she added.

The bill would require a firearm owner to report the loss or theft of the weapon within seven days of discovering it missing. Failure to do so would result in a fine for a first and second offenses, and jail time for a third.

The measure cleared the House committee on a party-line vote and is likely to be on the House agenda next week. It passed the Senate last week.

Three pieces of gun legislation that have bipartisan support also were released by House committees Wednesday.

Two of the bills would raise penalties for existing gun crimes.

The first, sponsored by Rep. John L. Mitchell Jr., D-Elsmere, would institute a one-year minimum mandatory jail sentence for the crime of unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon.

The second bill from Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, raises minimum mandatory jail sentences for convicted felons found in possession of a deadly weapon.

Mitchell said the bills would prevent criminals from plea-bargaining away low-level gun charges.

“We need to get these people off the streets and in jail where they belong,” he said.

The Delaware Public Defender’s office opposes the bills.

“It is a concern where we create yet another minimum mandatory penalty and we take the discretion away from the judges,” said Lisa Minutola, chief of legal services. “It shifts the balance of power and I really think it’s a concern for our system.”

The third piece of gun legislation would broaden the ability of law enforcement officers and courts to order the seizure of guns from individuals deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

It would require mental health professionals to report to police those patients who could pose a danger. Law enforcement would investigate the claim and provide findings to prosecutors, who would petition a judge for an order to seize a person’s firearm.

Individuals whose guns are confiscated could get them back if they could prove they are not dangerous.

The National Rifle Association is in favor of the bill, as long as a forthcoming amendment offered by the bill’s Democratic sponsors raises the legal standard of proof necessary to declare a person dangerous.

“It’s probably the best bill anyplace in the country the NRA has seen to deal with mental health issues,” said lobbyist Richard Armitage. “This is one place here that the NRA agrees that, for people with mental illness, there should be a restriction to the Second Amendment.”
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