Saturday, May 31, 2014

Honeybees and a Tale of Two Companies: Mann Lake vs. Monsanto

 Honey bees, crucial in the pollination of many U.S. food crops, continue to die off at an alarming rate.  Total losses of managed honey bee colonies was 23.2 percent nationwide for the 2013-2014 winter, according to the annual report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the "Bee Informed Partnership," a group of honeybee industry participants.

The death rate for the most recent winter, October 2013 through April 2014, follows a 30.5 percent loss reported for the winter of 2012-2013, and a 21.9 percent loss in 2011-2012.  At this rate, bee populations have been dying at a rate the U.S. government says is economically unsustainable. Honey bees pollinate plants that produce about a quarter of the food consumed by Americans, including apples, almonds, watermelons and beans, according to government reports.
Scientists, consumer groups and bee keepers say the devastating rate of bee deaths is due at least in part to the growing use of pesticides sold by agrichemical companies to boost yields of staple crops such as corn.  On May 9 the Harvard School of Public Health released a study that found that two widely used neonicotinoids — a class of insecticide — appear to have significantly harmed honey bee colonies over their winter dormant period. 

"With the damning evidence mounting, pesticide companies can no longer spin their way out of this crisis," said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer who specializes in food issues. 

The guilty parties? Monsanto Co (whose executives have close ties with both the Obama Administration and with Bill and Hillary Clinton) and DuPont,  both of whom are responsible for producing the majority of the defoliant Agent Orange which affected generations of Americans during the post-Vietnam war years.   

Last year, organic farmers were outraged to discover that the Illinois Department of Agriculture had actually seized and destroyed healthy bee colonies belonging to a scientist who spent 15 years developing a strain that was resistant to the toxic effect of Monsanto’s chemical Roundup.

Meanwhile, the entire European Union has enacted an outright ban on the use of neonicotinoids on crops, home lawns, and gardens

But in the small town of Hackensack, Minnesota, a small company named Mann Lake Limited   stands as David against Goliath.

The company was started by Betty and Jack Thomas, who were hobby beekeepers 30 years ago. But as bees and supplies grew scarce, they took matters into their own hands.  

“Let’s start a little bee keeping supply business as a cottage industry out at the lake,” Jack said.

It wasn’t long before business boomed. They now employ 350 people, making their business larger than the town in which they are located. Those 350 employees make everything from the hives to the food bees eat in the off season. They supply beekeepers large and small, from Minnesota to the Middle East, and have recently opened a new facility in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

“When you are a hobby beekeeper you start out with the equipment which we make,” Jack said. “Now you need bees to put in that equipment.”  And so, millions of bees arrive at Mann Lake Limited in early May, after a 30-hour nonstop run from California, where the new bees are bred. They come in 2,000 wooden crates, stacked onto pallets.  Each box holds a queen, and 15,000 worker bees.

Nationwide, the problems that both commercial and hobby beekeepers have is keeping their bees alive and away from the pesticides that appear to be annihilating them. 

“Always in the back of the mind is: What else can we do?” Jack said. “Where can we expand? What new products can we come up with?”

It’s all to give bees a fighting chance. 

Betty and Jack, like some other socially responsible businesses such as Juan Valdez Coffee and New Belgium Brewing,  have since turned their business over to their employees through an employee stock ownership plan.  In essence, their business’ “worker bees” are also now the owners “the colony,” and all share a vision to prevent a catastrophic collapse of the nation’s food supply.

One can only hope that as in the biblical story, David defeats the mighty Goliath.


Monday, May 19, 2014

NBA: Legal Route is to Toss Clippers as an NBA Team

From the just-released Summary of Termination Charges (last paragraph says it all):


Friday, April 18, 2014

Fed Logic: Let Stranded Marine Mammals Die (Because you might hurt them if you help them)

It is a tale of twisted logic that only a government bureaucracy could create.

Each year, particularly in the spring, marine mammals find themselves stranded on sand bars and beaches along America’s coasts. Seals, dolphins, small whales and other critters somehow make a wrong turn and find themselves beached and unable to return to the water. Many of these strandings occur on shifting tidal sand bars and barrier beaches, particularly in places like Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, the north shore of Massachusetts, and Fire Island and Montauk in New York. Without human assistance, many die.

At the same time, in order to protect sea mammals from harassment, the federal government prohibits anyone from coming within 150 feet of a sea mammal, unless they are part of a recognized rescue partner organization. Trained, certified volunteer responders may not operate without an oversight organization over them on location; this is a provision of the 1992 Marine Protection Act, which set up the “Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program,” administered by NOAA.

On Wednesday, NOAA admitted one flaw in this arrangement: there is only one such "certified" partner organization in the region qualified to respond to mammal strandings: the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and they only respond to calls on Cape Cod.

It has no such partner organizations anywhere else in New England. A panicked request to the Towns of New England was issued by NOAA this week to try and find some partners.

So, under Government logic:

If an animal is stranded, you may not help.

Only NOAA-certified volunteers working under a parent organization can assist the distressed animal.

There are no such organizations in most of the northeast.

So, if a whale or seal is stranded, it must be left to die. Because, like, if you just go and assist it, you might hurt it.


This is a prime example of what I call “The Cult of License,” or the tendency for Americans (or at least their government) to believe that regular people can’t do anything without Government Certification.

In a national disaster, you’re not supposed to help a neighbor, but just listen to government orders (helping your neighbor evacuate is called “Self-dispatching” in FEMA terminology.) You’re not supposed to braid your neighbor’s daughter’s hair without a cosmetology license. You’re not supposed to home educate your children without a teaching license. You’re not supposed to sell homemade cupcakes without a commercial kitchen license. On and on and on…

Last year, on Fire Island, I came across a newborn fawn separated from its mother by a cyclone fence. And yes, I worked to reunite the two, and came within inches of the fawn to direct its steps home.

And, I got news fer ya… if I see a stranded mammal, as a human being, I will help it.

So arrest me already.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Marois and the PQ: Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory in Québec

I freely admit to being a Francophile. In junior high school, when many of my friends were taking Spanish as their “foreign” language (a decision that makes a lot of sense in New York), I enrolled in French, and continued taking it through high school. Two years ago I took an intensive conversation-immersion class at the college where I teach in January, just to brush up on my skills, skills that come in handy on my annual March vacation in Québec. And in fact, in five days, I will once again be travelling to Montréal, proudly sporting a fleur-de-lis tattoo on my left shoulder, diving into mounds of Poutine and eating myself silly at a Sugar Shack.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I am following the upcoming Provincial elections in Québec with some fascination and interest. Just two years ago, on this blog, I chronicled (and predicted) the rise to power of Pauline Marois and le Parti Québécois, with their vision of an independent Québec (Separatists Poised for Québec Election) And I must admit, whether we are discussing Scotland, Kurdistan, or the Tuaregs of Mali, I sympathize with people-groups seeking their right to self-determination. As the largest and most significant French-speaking and French-cultured people in the entire western hemisphere, Québec sovereignty is something I can support – at least theoretically.

But, with the elections only 16 days away (April 7), it appears that Marois and the PQ will suffer a deserved defeat.
If it is possible to go overboard on a principle, the PQ has found a way to do it.

In their efforts to preserve what is unique about Québec, the Province has won concessions from the rest of Canada on a variety of issues, most notably immigration. Canada scores and rates potential immigrants based on a number of factors, including job skills, education, etc. Québec won a concession that permits that province to give “extra points” to would-be immigrants for whom French is their mother tongue.

One unforeseen consequence of this (being that there are so few places where French is spoken as the primary language) is that Québec has seen an increase in immigrants from places like Algeria, Morocco, and Lebanon, all places where French colonialism’s tentacles established French as the national language.

But, from at least one perspective, that creates an entirely new set of “Un-Québec” problems: these immigrants and students are Muslim. Some were burkas or other religious head gear. And if there is any way to bring out an ugly xenophobia or a parochial mindset, it is to drop immigrant Muslims into the midst of a French culture that already sees itself as “under siege” by a dominant English-speaking Canada.

And so, Marois unveiled the party’s “Charter of Values,” which purports to codify in law the values that identify Québec’s uniqueness. Within that Charter are provisions that make it illegal to wear conspicuous religious symbols (Jewish yarmulkes, Muslim burkas, and Sikh headgear) in government offices or as government employees. In Québec, that means not only the huge government sector, but schools and hospitals as well. In a well-publicized (and ridiculous) exercise in linguistic zealotry, the province’s Language Police went after a Montréal restaurant for printing the word “pasta” on a menu (“pasta” is Italian, and not French, and therefore a violation of new requirements mandating business be conducted in French.) Other PQ candidates have pushed the sovereignty issue way too hard, forcing Marois to concede that the borders would remain open, promising continued use of Canadian currency, and insisting that a Québecker would continue to sit on the governing board of the Bank of Canada, none of which are credible promises that an independent Québec could guarantee.

To be fair, the majority of Francophones support the Charter of Values. However, minorities, Anglophones, civil libertarians, and younger people have begun to roll their eyes at the intolerance coming from the PQ. Protests have sprung up, especially in Montréal. On Tuesday, The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne released a public statement saying Quebec sovereignty would create "very real concerns" for the First Nations community. “If Quebec ultimately chooses to separate, I would advise our Council and community to hold our own vote in order to determine whether we would stay within the borders of Quebec or separate ourselves,” said Chief Mike Kanentakeron Mitchell.

Having defeated all other parties just two years ago, the PQ appears to be heading for crushing defeat in just two weeks. The most recent polls are in significant agreement:

45 per cent of likely voters currently intend to vote for the opposition Liberal Party, compared to just 32 per cent for Pauline Marois’ PQ. A third party, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) was in third place with 13 per cent, though it is likely that the Liberals and the CAQ would form a coalition together to keep the PQ out of power altogether.

Some of the strongest opposition to the PQ is coming from Montréal, long a cosmopolitan crossroads in Québec, and the center of a student uprising against tuition hikes that help defeat the Liberal Party two years ago and catapult the PQ to power (Montréal Students, Labor, Citizens ). It would appear that the PQ has lost this group of voters. In fact, within moments after completing this post, the following news item came across my feed:

"...Some 75.7% of voters in the riding of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, in downtown Montreal is French. However, since last Monday, more than half of the people who have to get the right to vote for the first time are English or allophones. This is a demographic phenomenon observed in several districts of the metropolis, and a concern at the highest levels for electoral authorities..." (Original: Quelque 75,7 % de l’électorat de la circonscription de Sainte-Marie–Saint-Jacques, au centre-ville de Montréal, est francophone. Pourtant, depuis lundi dernier, plus de la moitié des personnes qui se présentent pour obtenir le droit de voter pour la première fois sont anglophones ou allophones. Un phénomène démographique observé dans plusieurs circonscriptions de la métropole, et qui inquiète au plus haut point les autorités électorales. - Le Devoir: libre de penser)

It will be an interesting visit this year. I expect to be welcoming Liberal Party Leader Philippe Couillard as the next Premier in Québec.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Pearson PLC and the Mis-Education of America's Youth

Sounding like the grumpy old man I have become, I often shake my head and complain about the lack of basic knowledge among young people today when it comes to government, history, geography, literature, and civics. Ask a college-aged student about the branches of government and Constitutional provisions, and one gets blank stares or impassioned (though incorrect)pronouncements more often than accurate answers. I know I have not been alone in throwing my hands up and asking, “what are they teaching these kids?!” (And I’m a teacher!)

Well this week I found at least one of the answers – and it lies in the textbooks and textbook companies being chosen.

Pearson PLC is one of the largest textbook manufacturers in the United States, with sales in 70 countries. Like most large text publishers, they seek multi-million dollar monopoly contracts to supply books for all public schools throughout a state via state education departments. But they have also wrapped their tentacles around more than just printing books, as they have now become the predominant publisher of testing systems as well (in spite of a 2012 discovery in New York State that at least 30 of their answers on such student tests were incorrect.)

Last year, I was hired by Pearson on a temporary contract to grade qualifying exams submitted by new teachers. These were individuals who were seeking to become certified public school teachers, and they took essay tests relating to their chosen subject area. As a college business teacher, I was selected to help grade aspiring high school business teacher exams.
We were told to grade essays on a 1-4 scale. If a candidate at least "grasped some of the issues", we were instructed to grade that essay a 3 out of 4 - a passing grade. It was a group effort, whereby scores were agreed upon by consensus, and I was constantly critiqued for scoring essays too low. I was also overruled.

The most frustrating part is that we were told specifically that we could not reduce our scoring for spelling, grammar, or organization.

Yes, that’s right. America’s next generation of teachers: spelling, grammar, and organization are unimportant for the purposes of obtaining teacher certification. Perhaps that's part of the problem...

But now I've run across this textbook gem, currently making the rounds on Facebook… I'd like to say it's a hoax, but, I am sad to say, it’s been verified.

The American Nation, a Pearson textbook (ISBN 0131817159), is a mandated textbook used throughout New York State. On page 237, the text discusses the Constitutional Rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Rather than allowing the Constitution’s words to speak for themselves, and rather than drawing on legal principles, the text explains the Second Amendment this way:

“Each state has the right to maintain a militia, an armed force for its own protection. Today, the militia is the National Guard. The national government and the states can and do regulate the private ownership and use of firearms.”

That’s not fact: that's pure political sentiment. As a matter of Constitutional Law, it is a complete failure.

In striking down the Firearms Control Regulations Act as unconstitutional, the U.S. Court of Appeals held as follows:

“[The Second Amendment] protects an individual right to keep and bear arms…the [right] was premised on the private use of arms for activities such as hunting and self-defense, the latter being understood as resistance to either private lawlessness or the depredations of a tyrannical government (or a threat from abroad)."

They also noted that though the right to bear arms also helped preserve the citizen militia, "the activities [the Amendment] protects are not limited to militia service, nor is an individual's enjoyment of the right contingent upon his or her continued or intermittent enrollment in the militia." The court determined that handguns are "Arms" and concluded that thus they may not be banned by the District of Columbia.

On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court (District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008)), the Court affirmed the decision, holding that text and history of the Second Amendment demonstrate that it connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms, not a right restricted to national guards or formal militias.

Pearson’s textbook is absolutely, legally, and ethically, incorrect. And if you wonder why today’s young people don’t understand their government, country, or history, here is a prime example why.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

One Quarter Million Views as of Today....

On June 15, 2005, I began this blog with a post expressing my annoyance at Congressional investigations into "performance enhancing substances" in Major League Baseball. The combination of breast-beating self-righteousness along with an obvious complete lack of understanding regarding anything they were talking about was making me crazy. 9 years later, I am no less disgusted with self-righteous politicians passing new regulations about things they know nothing about in an endless quest for power and control. And scrolling through these 409 posts has been like a 'walk down Memory Lane."

Back in 2005, I didn't even know that the NSA existed. Back in 2005, gay marriage was not legal anywhere in the US. Who would have thought that in the 9 years this blog has been in existence that such a tidal change would have occurred in the quest for marriage equality? What a long, unbelievable ride it's been...and it's all been chronicled right here.

As of today, according to Google Analytics, this page has now been visited 250,000 times - one quarter million readers from every continent, including translations into multiple languages.

Wow. Thank you to all of you who have enabled this blog - merely one's man's hobby, an effort to chronicle world and national events - to grow and survive this long.

Thom .

Monday, February 17, 2014

Illiterate Graduates? Blame Politicians, not Teachers

I have written many blog posts about the functional and cultural illiteracy of young people. We all have stories of entire classes of college freshmen unable to write essays, calculate a percent change, identify nations on a map, or distinguish between U.S. Constitutional clauses and mere political slogans.  I have often stated that something is terribly wrong with our educational system…but this article will be different.

This is not about criticizing students, or, for that matter, their teachers.

It is an indictment of politicians who hold teachers and schools “accountable” for these problems, while themselves being a significant contributing cause to the problem.

As the President of a teacher’s union at a local community college, I have watched in amazement as the politicians and bureaucrats have fought us tooth and nail each time we have sought to improve teaching and learning. If you are one who has assumed that the blame for students’ poor performance can be laid at the feet of their teachers…please reconsider. What follows are just two of the head-shaking realities.

Currently, adjunct college teachers around Massachusetts are voting on a new contract. This new contract includes an incredible “win” for labor that we fought long and hard for – a requirement that Management actually evaluate new Adjunct Faculty before they receive reappointment rights.

Yes, you read that correctly: we, the teachers in the union, have been asking for new teachers to receive timely, helpful, substantive evaluations from school administrators soon after being hired to help them become better teachers.

Management has fought us on this. For Years.  

Finally, they agreed to this in our new proposed contract…as long as there were no repercussions if they failed to get around to it.

Yes, folks, this is the reality of teaching in 2014.

In a separate process, the state’s Board of Higher Education is implementing a brand new approach to math course delivery throughout our colleges.  

The Boston politicians, taking their cues from Washington, are concerned that it is taking students too long to graduate from college (ignoring the fact that many students are also working due to a financial crisis none of them created.)  Another reason for this is the need for many students to take what are called “developmental" math courses (in days past these were called “remedial” math courses.)  Many students arrive at the college doors with a high school diploma…and critically poor math skills.

In our school there are three levels of sequential math courses that our instructors use simply to get many of these students *ready* to take their first college-level math. That’s three semesters of developmental math – which, of course, means that students will not be able to simply walk in and walk out of college like a revolving door.

One would think that our politicians would be concerned with this, and would allocate teaching and support dollars to our K-12 system to beef up math instruction.

But no.  Instead, they are attempting to find a way to get these students in and out of college without being tripped up by such annoying subjects as math.

We have been asked to consider removing math requirements from courses and programs.  We are being asked to consider allowing students to take developmental math at the same time they are taking the very courses they need those math skills for. As a business and economics teacher, I can not imagine having to instruct students in basic financial statements, stock fluctuations, and economic analysis while they are still attempting to master the concepts of decimals and the order of operations - but apparently, that makes sense to Boston politicians.

We have been asked to reconsider whether math is really even necessary in many of our programs.  At one community college in the state, the administration has been moving forward to allow students to receive college credit for remedial courses whose subject matter is essentially at a high school level – another effort to simply process students through the institution in a timely fashion without actually expecting them to have accomplished college-level work.

This de-construction of math curricula is a precursor, I fear, to the next step in this process: a re-examination of the English curriculum, which is another subject where there are significant developmental needs among our students.

When all is said and done, the politicians will no doubt claim victory: they will point to increased graduation rates, and more timely completion of degrees. 

The losers will be our students, who will continue to lack basic skills; our teachers, who will be blamed for turning out illiterate graduates; and our society, which will continue to be frustrated over poor employee performance even after our politicians have declared ‘victory.’


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Political Parties and Polarization....

In the last week, interesting polls have been published suggesting that a higher proportion of Democrats than ever before believe in the evolution of the human species…while fewer Republicans than ever believe so.

In this morning’s Washington Post, this divergence in the political parties was stated thusly: 

…Political polarization has ushered in a new era in state government, where single-party control of the levers of power has produced competing Americas. One is grounded in principles of lean and limited government and on traditional values; the other is built on a belief in the essential role of government and on tenets of cultural liberalism.
These opposing visions have been a staple of national elections, and in a divided Washington, this polarization has resulted in gridlock and dysfunction. But today, three-quarters of the states — more than at any time in recent memory — are controlled by either Republicans or Democrats. Elected officials in these states are moving unencumbered to enact their party’s agenda…”

During the 1950s – 1970s, it was often hard to draw a hard and fast line between the Republicans and the Democrats.  Northeast “Yankees” like Jacob Javits (A Republican with Liberal Party support from New York) and Edward Brooke (an African-American Republican Senator from Massachusetts) voted with Democrats as often as with Republicans…and southern and western Democrats would make most modern-day Republicans proud.  The lines between the parties was fuzzy, even through the Reagan-Clinton era, as Clinton embraced a “New Democrat” image and Buffalo NY Republican Congressman Jack Kemp argued for paying more attention to urban decay.

Today, it seems that all pretense of ‘variety’ within the parties is gone.

If you’re a Republican, one is expected to embrace an entire litany of positions on abortion, health care, gay rights, the deficit, taxation, capital gains, employment policies, and firearms rights.  If you’re a Democrat, it’s expected that you will walk in lockstep agreement in the opposite direction on all those issues.  The result is a Congress and an electorate that is gridlocked.

But let me suggest that partisanship is not the underlying problem here.

I always wished that the political parties were a little more focused on what they actually stood for; I guess I’ve got my wish now. Like European politics (and most democracies in the world), the parties appear to have developed more specific, identifiable ‘personalities.’
But unlike Europe and Canada and most democracies – the voters’ choices have been institutionally limited to the two major parties.
And that makes it very difficult of you are a person who can not be pigeon-holed into a narrow philosophy.  And that may actually be the majority of American voters.

What does a voter do who believes in stronger gun control, but wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act?  Or, conversely, what does a voter do who supports easy firearm ownership, but also embraces a national health care system? Or who wants to see lower taxes, but less militarism?

In Europe and elsewhere, the answer is a little easier: you choose a party that more closely reflects your values. Canadians may choose from up to 15 parties: New Democrats, Progressive Conservatives, Liberals, Parti Quebecois, Liberals, and Greens; In the UK, one chooses from Conservatives, Unionists, Liberals, Labour, the Scottish Nationalist Party, Greens, Alliance, Sinn Fein, and Independence; Germans choose between Free Democrats, Social Democrats, Christian Social Union, Christian Democratic Union, the Left, and six minor parties that have won seats in state governments.

Standing on an ideological platform is fine; what is not fine is offering voters a choice of only two such platforms, forcing voters to hold their noses and vote for a candidate that stands for many positions with which they disagree. The gerrymandering of districts makes many votes simply an academic exercise anyway; and the ‘winner-take-all notion of congressional districts further thwarts the actual will of 49% of the voters in any district - or across a state.

When Republican and Democrats are able to prevent competition from getting on the ballot; draw district lines that insure their re-election; and need only win 51% of the vote in order to ram through an ideological platform in 100% agreement with their party…the system is broken.

Perhaps Europe and Canada offer a better alternative: proportional representation and multiple parties from which to choose.

Monday, December 30, 2013

RePost: A Gay Liberal Opposes Gun Control (and other infringements on the Bill of Rights)

By most standards, I’m liberal: I’m gay (and support GLBT equality), and support progressive taxation, breaking up the Mega-banks, alternative energy, a social safety net, legalized cannabis and compassionate immigration laws. I’m the president of my local teacher’s union, believe in mandatory profit-sharing, and a national health insurance plan. Most of my friends – both “Facebook” friends and flesh-and-blood friends generally agree with my positions.

But when it comes to the Second Amendment – well, I am going to stand apart from the crowd.  I do not support the current efforts to curtail firearm ownership.  And I hope my otherwise liberal friends will at least give me the benefit of reading why I am not on the bandwagon.

1) This nation should NEVER adopt legislation as a response to a crisis.  Our track record in every area is awful, because we let emotion and politics and a blind desire to “do something!” drive the program…and we often make big, big mistakes.

After Pearl Harbor was bombed, the nation demanded that government do ‘something’ in the name of security.  

 That ‘something’ was one of the most shameful chapters in American history, as our government rounded up 110,000 Japanese-Americans, sent them to concentration camps, and confiscated their property. President Franklin D Roosevelt did this through an Executive Order, which allowed local military commanders to designate "military areas" as "exclusion zones," from which "any or all persons may be excluded." This power was used to declare that all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the entire Pacific coast, including all of California and much of Oregon, Washington and Arizona. It took until 1988 for a formal Presidential Proclamation apologizing, blaming the actions on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

And yet, we did it.  And it was clearly unconstitutional.  But we did it in response to a perceived crisis.

Fast Forward to 9/11…and we did the same thing.  The Patriot Act, NDAA, the right of Government to spy on library and bank accounts without search warrants, actual public hearings seeking to deny Muslims the right to open up mosques, the suspension of habeus corpus, the indefinite detention of Americans without charge or trial, and the ongoing tragedy of Guantanamo Bay show that we are still all too willing to engage in overtly unconstitutional acts when we respond to a perceived crisis.  Every time you remove your shoes to get on a plane, and every time a TSA agent strip searches someone’s grandmother, you continue to see these effects.

We even do it in legal areas unrelated to security:  In 1993, the Supreme Court of Hawaii ruled that a government must show a compelling state interest to prohibit gay marriage; the emotional howling of conservatives – who feared that conservative states would have to accept same-sex marriage – led to an emotional passage of DOMA, the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act,” which has been ruled unconstitutional in no fewer than nine federal courts, including both the first and second Circuit Courts of Appeal, and the U S Supreme Court.

Whenever we say, “We must act now!,” and act based on emotion, we do a historically terrible job of complying with our own Constitution.

I have read a number of very strong opinions lately, and am struck by how little people actually know about firearms. Raised on a generation of Matrix and shoot-em-up movies, much of the public believes that semi-automatic rifles simply let loose with a burst of bullets. Very few seems to understand that a semi-automatic does no such thing – it’s one trigger pull, one bullet – but in the heat of emotion, facts don’t seem to matter.

2) Making something illegal – or harder to obtain – does not make it go away. Rather, it drives the good or service underground where it is controlled by criminal elements – the very thing we do not want to do.

Once again, we can look at actual, objective history: 

We outlawed alcohol, and it didn’t go away.  Instead, it went underground, and its distribution was controlled by crime families.  Violence increased significantly as these families battled for territory.  The same is true of today’s Drug cartels.  We outlawed gambling, only to see it driven underground. As expected, the openness of offshore internet gambling accounts has actually increased the visibility of the ‘service,’ and reduced criminal violence. Until 1965, birth control was illegal in Connecticut, and until 1972, abortion was illegal in the majority of US states.  Do you think that no one in Connecticut used birth control, and no one obtained abortions?  Rather, both were relegated to unsafe, shady operations that resulted in tracking difficulty and more crime.  And finally, thirteen states enforced laws outlawing sodomy…do we really believe that gay men lived celibate lives until The Supreme Court overturned these laws in 2003 (Lawrence vs. Texas)?

Outlawing human activity, goods, or services has *never* eliminated the market for those goods and services.  It has only served to drive them underground, off the radar, and into the hands of criminal and shadowy elements.  

Is that what you want for firearms?

In the wake of Newtown, I wish people would be honest and admit that the guns used at the Newtown massacre WERE STOLEN.  They were ILLEGALLY OBTAINED.  No amount of registration, background check, or prohibition stops this activity.  There is an irrational disconnect between most of the proposals being floated and what actually happened at Newtown.

3) Please, in the name of all that is Honest, I am asking all of our politicians to cease parroting the mantra that goes, “Oh, I fully support the 2nd Amendment, but we need restrictions/controls/limitations…blah blah blah”

Let me lay some Constitutional Law on you folks: the Second Amendment is NOT about hunting or sports.  It’s about personal protection – and that includes protection against the police power of the State.  You don’t have to like it or agree with it, but that is our legal history.

Some have recently developed some twisted interpretations, suggesting that the Second Amendment is too obsolete, or only applies to rural hunting situations, or is only meant for state militias (not average citizens).

Enter District of Columbia vs. Heller, the landmark 2008 Supreme Court case, which held,

“The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”

Not militia use – any individual.

Not hunting and sport - Personal Defense.

In so doing, the Court invalidated a hand-gun ban and a trigger-lock requirement.
 The Second Amendment was drafted and adopted in order to allow every-day citizens to protect themselves against government tyranny.  It is a defense against both criminal elements and the police state - a defense denied to Jews in the Warsaw ghetto and, tragically, to Matthew Shepherd, the iconic gay youth who was beaten and tied to a Wyoming fence a decade ago.   
On an all-too-frequent basis, we read of gay men beaten with tire irons and baseball bats and left as bleeding pulps in the streets of our urban centers.  In 2004, the FBI reported that 1,482 gays were violently assaulted – some killed, some permanently disfigured and crippled.

This gay man will not be at the mercy of criminals, nor will he wait for the police to arrive.

Do I wish each of these guys carried a pistol?  Damn Straight. But cities – notably New York City and Chicago – make it near impossible for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves or carry, even if they are walking through high-crime areas late at night.

When seconds count, knowing that the police can be 5 minutes away offers no solace.

4) Constitutional Rights are not ‘contingent’ upon licensing, approval, background checks, or government permission.  You have a Right to speak, without the government deciding you are stable.  You have a right to form and engage in a religion, even if the government doesn't like it.  You have a right against self-incrimination, even if you are the most vile criminal.  You have a right to be compensated if your property is taken by eminent domain, without a public vote on whether we like you or not.  And you have a Constitutional Right to defend yourself with firearms, without government ‘permission.’ 

People are clamoring for ‘background checks.’

Can someone tell me what you are looking for in this background check? Mental stability? Criminal records?  How about a credit check? 

Do I think that convicted felons should be able to carry firearms?

Yes, I do.

[WHAT?! OK, Thom, you went too far here….!]

Hear me out:  1 in 6 black men in this country has been jailed. It is a societal embarrassment that our so-called “War on Drugs” has decimated the minority community and made ‘criminals’ out of people who never hurt anyone.  In some states, young men are branded ‘sexual offenders’ for ‘crimes’ as innocuous as peeing in public when drunk. People involved in one-time violent crimes, who have paid their debt to society and have reestablished themselves in their community wear a Scarlet A on their chest for the rest of their lives.

Should we disqualify anyone with a criminal record? 

Better be careful: it may not be long before we all have some ‘stain’ on our background, either because of an innocuous crime, or a credit rating that says we are a ‘danger,’ or songs downloaded from the internet, or because we had the audacity to support a group on a Facebook post that the government has branded a “terrorist” organization.

The clamoring for "background checks' is not being accompanied by an explanation of what we are actually looking for - and what is fair. 

After all, it is the government against which the Second Amendment is meant to protect me that would be performing the background checks. 

I will not give up any of my Constitutional Rights without a fight to the end.  That includes:

Speech (whether you agree or not, and whether you find it ‘hateful’ or not.)

Assembly and Protest (whether I have a ‘permit’ or not, even when the cops come armed with tazers and pepper spray.)

Religion (whether its ‘mainstream’ or not.)

Press (Whether I have a ‘press pass’ or not. I will use my phone as a camera to film police activity. It is my RIGHT.)

Right to Remain Silent (even when a cop pulls me over and asks me where I’ve been. I do NOT have to answer.)

And yes, the Right to Bear Arms….even when the State or the public prefer to render me defenseless.