Saturday, June 25, 2022

Where’s the Good Guy with a Gun?

Where’s the Good Guy with a Gun?

by Ted Miller

(originally posted in Tumbleweird July 2022)

 

At Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a gunman walked into the school and killed 19 children and two adults with an AR-15 style weapon while nearly two dozen armed police officers waited over an hour before engaging the shooter. (May 24, 2020)

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

At Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a white gunman was welcomed to a bible study before taking out his weapons and killing nine Black churchgoers. (June 17, 2015)

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

At a music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, a gunman opened fire from his 32nd floor hotel room, killing 60 people and wounding many more. (October 1, 2017)

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

At Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a gunman killed six adults and twenty children between six and seven years old. (December 14, 2012)

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

At the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 others before police killed him after a three-hour standoff. (June 11, 2016)

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a gunman killed fourteen students and three staff members, and injured 17 others. (February 14, 2018)

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

Every month, seventy women are shot and killed by an intimate partner.

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun? 

 

Every year, 22,000 people die by suicide with a gun.

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

Last year, 45,026 people died from gun violence.

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

So far this year, there have been 270 mass shootings in just 167 days.

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

The good guy with a gun failed to stop any of these bad guys before someone was killed.

 

One week after those twenty school children were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary, Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association at the time, repeated a long held American myth that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

 

The reality is that it is exceedingly rare for an armed so-called ‘good guy’ to prevent an active shooter from killing or injuring someone. To the contrary, an armed civilian creates more chaos and often results in more death and injury, sometimes to himself and sometimes with his own weapon. 

 

So how can a good guy with a gun make a difference?

 

More guns with fewer restrictions will never reduce the pandemic of gun violence. Eliminating or severely restricting civilian gun ownership would be neither practical nor constitutional. Few Americans want to repeal the Second Amendment. But the vast majority do want limits on guns that will reduce the appalling number of gun violence victims. And that includes a majority of gun owners. 

 

Research reported by 97Percent, a bipartisan group of gun owners and non-gun owners working to reduce gun violence, shows that among gun owners:

·      87% support background checks for concealed carry permits

·      81% support red flag laws

·      79% support prohibiting a person from having a gun who is the subject of a current temporary restraining order for domestic violence

·      79% support prohibiting a person convicted of serious crimes as a juvenile from having a gun for 10 years

·      75% support universal background checks

 

Other commonsense gun laws that have been proposed include: increasing the minimum age for gun ownership, enacting enforceable gun storage laws, limiting ammunition purchases and magazine sizes, requiring training and licensing for gun owners, and banning assault weapons. But these proposals have less public support, and many are considered ‘non-starters’ for gun owners. So, we should start with demanding laws that do have broad support among all Americans.

 

Good guys with guns can speak up. Good guys with guns can lobby their legislatures for the laws that they support, laws that can reduce the rate of gun violence. Good guys with guns can support organizations like 97Percent and Gun Owners for Responsible Ownership.

 

As horrific as mass shootings are, they are a small percentage of the 45,000 gun deaths every year. Laws that limit access to weapons that may be used by individuals with a history of domestic violence or by those contemplating suicide can help reduce the overall rate of gun violence.

 

Statistics show that it is extremely unlikely that a good guy with a gun can prevent imminent gun violence with his weapon. But a good guy with a gun can make a difference by demanding our political leaders enact laws that will reduce gun violence in America. We can prevent thousands of needless deaths and injuries every year.

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun? He’s doing all he can to support change in our culture and our laws to reduce gun violence.

 

Be the good guy with a gun. Demand change.

 

Sources:  

everytown.org

97percent.us

marchforourlives.com

gunviolencearchive.org

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Ignorance isn’t bliss

Ignorance isn’t bliss

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird May 2022)

 

There’s an old Twilight Zone episode in which a man is suddenly able to hear other people’s thoughts. In “Penny for Your Thoughts,” Hector B. Poole is at first confused, but then uses his new ability to try to prevent crimes he thinks his coworkers are planning, blackmail his boss for a new position, and end up with the girl of his dreams. In a typical Twilight Zone twist, what seems like a great advantage has unintended consequences. 

 

I don’t think I would really want to know what other people are thinking. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone reading my innermost thoughts. Although I believe strongly in the importance of honesty and integrity, some things are better left unsaid. My mother taught me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. And there is an old saying that one should never discuss politics or religion in polite company.

 

When I was serving on active duty in the Navy, we were strongly encouraged to vote (for me, it was always through an absentee ballot) but discouraged from discussing politics. In fact, political activity for anyone serving in the military is severely limited. Consequently, my perspective was that we didn’t have to talk about politics. A good citizen researched the candidates and the issues on their own and voted according to what they felt was best for their community and the nation. 

 

Our democracy depends upon participation by the people. And I always believed that through the ballot box, our system would, in the end, result in a better world. I felt that political differences were just varying takes on how to achieve what was best for the country and its citizens — that collectively, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the electorate would help bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice.

 

Like those of us in the military, elected officials all take an oath to support and defend the Constitution. To me, political speech was all about hearing competing ideas to find a balance of when the government should regulate something and when government should get out of the way. But I was a bit na├»ve in my belief that the system of checks and balances would always protect our form of government. 

 

There have always been those who use the government for their own personal gain. Corporations and the wealthy have worked for decades to dismantle the programs put in place after the Great Depression that regulated business, provided a social safety net, and built the infrastructure that improved the lives of the average American. Since the early 1950s, there has been a concerted effort to convince people that, as Ronald Reagan put it, “government is not a solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

 

In the 1990s, Rush Limbaugh and Rupert Murdoch’s media companies demonized mainstream news as leftist, socialist, and anti-American. And those sustained efforts to undermine the trust in media have been effective. Attacks on objective truth have become so common that in many respects, we are a nation divided into alternate realities of alternative facts. 

 

Politicians — far-right Republicans in particular — have become so effective at disinformation and bending the truth that, despite the lack of any credible evidence, a majority of Republicans still believe the Big Lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. The concerted effort to overturn the election that led to the insurrection on January 6, 2021, and the attempts since then to hide the truth of what happened, are a direct attack on our constitutional form of government. 

 

The echo chamber of social media has shown me that the veneer of polite conversation which avoids talk of politics and religion masked the depth and extent of our political divide. Although it is certainly more complex than just Republicans versus Democrats, the growing belief of so many that the other side is the enemy means that we can no longer work together for the common good. It is no wonder that Congress is so dysfunctional, and that any significant legislation is nearly impossible to achieve.

 

The pledge of allegiance describes our nation as indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. But the battle for truth and power shows that we are not as indivisible as we think. The rise of authoritarianism, the push for a single party autocracy, the attack on fair elections, and restrictions on the right to vote are all direct threats to our democratic republic.

 

So, what can be done to counter this threat? I recognize the dangers of demagoguery and disinformation, but I still believe in the power of free speech and open debate. Our First Amendment protections can be used to restore objective truth. We can fight disinformation with fact checks, use tools to evaluate media bias, and call out hateful and divisive rhetoric when we see it.

 

But the power of confirmation bias, echo chamber media, and click-bait algorithms will continue to push us apart. The monetization of social media has created some of the wealthiest companies in America by driving a social wedge through America. Perhaps the power of social media could also be used to counter the spread of disinformation.

 

A coordinated effort of both private sector and government actions to disincentivize the spread of conspiracy theories and disinformation could turn around this trend. Some work has already been done to de-platform the worst offenders that spread lies and promote anti-government violence. Disinformation can be flagged. Action can be taken against disinformation similar to the way we hold companies accountable for lying about the products they sell. Sources of disinformation can be identified and foreign influence through social media can be regulated. And all of this can be done without compromising our freedoms under the first amendment.

 

Some of my friends have abandoned social media because of the toxic environment it can become. I respect that. I have tried to limit my own use of social media. But I appreciate that I can also see what others are thinking and posting, and I can see first-hand how divisive the comments can become. 

 

I don’t have to read minds to understand how people are thinking and I can see the effects of the polarizing rhetoric on our nation.

 

I don’t want to suppress the speech of those who see the world differently. I want to listen to those who may have a better idea of the role government should play in our lives. 

 

I want to live in a world where our political speech and debate are based on facts and objective truth. 

 

Is that still possible?

Monday, February 28, 2022

Collateral Killing

Collateral Killing

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird March 2022)

 

When is it acceptable to kill innocent people during a law enforcement action? What crimes are so egregious that the price of enforcement is the death of someone not even involved in the crime?

 

Imagine this: You are in bed asleep, your significant other at your side. You are suddenly jolted awake by what sounds like someone breaking down your front door, lots of indecipherable yelling, and the sound of several men in plain clothes screaming as they forcibly enter your home. You grab your gun, which you keep near you just in case something like this happens. You see shadows and weapons pointed at you and your significant other. Fearing for your life, you fire a warning shot. A rain of bullets erupts. Your significant other falls to your side and dies in your arms.

 

In the midst of your grief and confusion, a man claiming to be a police officer violently grabs you, handcuffs you, and drags you outside.

 

Later, you will be accused of resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer, and blamed for the death of your significant other.

 

Neither you nor your significant other was the person the police were looking for.

 

And all of this was completely legal. 

 

The scenario I just described was what Kenneth Walker experienced on the morning of March 13, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. His girlfriend, who died in his arms, was Breonna Taylor, an EMT and Emergency Room technician. 

 

The police were executing what is known as a no-knock warrant in search of evidence related to a drug crime Taylor and Walker were not connected to. 

 

Breonna Taylor was killed in a search for evidence of a crime for which neither she nor her boyfriend was a suspect.

 

No-knock warrants are inherently dangerous for both the police and the occupants of the residence being raided. They are designed to create confusion and chaos. And in that confusion and chaos, innocent people too often get hurt.

 

No physical evidence is worth risking someone’s life to obtain. 

 

On February 2, 2022 in Minneapolis, Amir Locke was asleep on the couch when police officers executed a no-knock entry. In the confusion and chaos, Locke jumped up with his legally owned gun in his hand. 

 

Seven seconds after entering the apartment, Amir Locke was shot dead by police. Seven seconds. Not enough time to even say his name or understand what was happening. The officer that killed him made a snap decision and opened fire without asking questions.

 

Again, Locke was not the target of the raid. The police were looking for Locke’s cousin in connection with a recent homicide. The cousin was not present with Locke.

 

Was the killing of Amir Locke justified because his cousin was suspected of murder? Was his killing justified because he had a legally owned gun in his hand? Possessing a legally owned weapon in your own home is not a capital offense. Defending yourself from an intruder is often lauded in our country, but not if the intrusion is an unexpected violent entry by the police.

 

How could Amir Locke or Kenneth Walker have possibly known what was happening?

 

It’s past time to reassess police tactics that put both the police and innocent civilians at risk. In these two cases, and in hundreds of others around the country, intentionally creating a dangerous situation to serve a warrant was not worth the risk. These were not hostage situations, or cases where a violent individual was threatening to harm themselves or others.

 

There are other ways to execute a warrant, to find evidence, or to locate a suspect. 

 

St. Paul, sister city to Minneapolis, hasn’t executed a no-knock warrant since 2016. The mayor of Minneapolis promised to reform the practice after the Breonna Taylor case and the murder of George Floyd by police. But that promise didn’t save Amir Locke.

 

Four states have banned the practice of no-knock warrants:  Florida, Oregon, Connecticut, and Virginia. (Peter Nickeas, CNN, “There's a growing consensus in law enforcement over no-knock warrants: The risks outweigh the rewards,” February 12, 2022.) Other states have severely limited the practice to very narrow circumstances.

 

Too many people are killed at the hands of police, and many of them are not involved in a crime. Even one innocent life taken is unacceptable. 

 

Data compiled by the Washington Post shows that police in the United States kill 1000 people every year. And, like Breonna Taylor and Amir Locke, those killed are disproportionately Black or Hispanic. (Washington Post, “Fatal Force” database, as of February 9, 2022.) Too many are innocent people.

 

The relationship between the police and the communities they serve needs to improve. There are ways to enforce the law and support the justice system with less risk and fewer collateral deaths. 

 

We must demand police reforms that will reduce or eliminate collateral killings. 

 

Let’s start by banning no-knock warrants.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

How Can We Eliminate Poverty?

How Can We Eliminate Poverty?

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird February 2022)

 

Have you ever responded to a charity request to support something you believed in? How about a personal request to help someone in need? Have you donated to a homeless shelter, a local food bank, or one of those Facebook requests to help pay for unexpected medical bills? 

 

I think most of us have a natural desire to help others. According to the National Philanthropic Trust (nptrust.org), individual Americans gave over $470 billion to charitable organizations in 2020. All that charitable giving may help, but it isn’t helping enough. 

 

Almost 12 million children in the United States — one in six — live in poverty, more than most other developed nations. As I wrote in my January 2020 column, philanthropy is a terrible way to fight poverty. In spite of America’s generous giving, philanthropy does not do enough to feed the hungry, heal the sick, or house the homeless. Twelve percent of Americans live below the poverty line, and 18.5 million of them are in deep poverty with a household income of less than half the poverty threshold (census.gov). Thirty million people still lack health insurance. One in eight Americans are food insecure. Half a million are homeless.

 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. What if together we could do something to end poverty in America? Something more effective and efficient than responding to a charity request or a Facebook post with a few dollars?

 

Last year, the American Rescue Plan Act enhanced and expanded the child tax credit program, providing monthly payments to families with children. The program reduced child poverty by more than 40%. According to studies summarized by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, low-income families overwhelmingly used that money to pay for food, utilities, housing, school supplies, and medicine. In all, 36 million families received benefits from the expanded child tax credit program.

 

Those payments expired in December, putting millions of children back below the poverty line. The tax credit payments would have been continued in the Build Back Better legislation passed by the House, but that bill has so far failed to pass in the Senate. The help that so many families desperately needed suddenly stopped.

 

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, has received most of the blame for objecting to the child tax credits. Parroting conservative talking points of the last 40 years, Senator Manchin is concerned that the poor will use that money on drugs or non-essential luxuries and that the payments will make them not want to work. Ronald Reagan’s ‘welfare queen’ tropes come to mind. This perspective blames the poor for being poor while ignoring the systems that prevent the poor from pulling themselves out of poverty by their own bootstraps. 

 

But putting all the blame for this failure on Senator Manchin is misplaced. He is only one of one hundred senators. None of the fifty Republican senators support continuing the expanded child tax credit, much less any other social programs to help Americans in need.  

 

Every year, Congress debates whether the poor are deserving of the help they receive. Months of arguing and negotiating leads to watered down bills that fail to get at the root cause of the problem. As a society, we seem to be afraid that somehow our tax dollars are going to be given to someone who doesn’t deserve them. Why don’t we have that same hesitancy when it comes to charity? Do you make sure that everyone who shows up to your local food bank has a job before you donate or volunteer? Before you decide to give, do you require that your local homeless shelter turn away drug addicts and the unemployed?

 

This idea that the poor have to earn the help they receive hurts all of us. Children who grow up in poverty, who suffer from inadequate nutrition, who don’t get an education, are impacted for life. Eliminating this suffering is not only the right thing to do; it will also improve our society and our economy. Reducing poverty is an investment in our future.

 

The expanded child tax credits cost about $100 billion per year. It has been estimated that we could eliminate poverty in America with less than $200 billion per year. 

 

Last month Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act with overwhelming bipartisan support. This so-called ‘must pass’ legislation passed in the House 316–113 and in the Senate 88–11, authorizing $768 billion dollars for fiscal year 2022, $24 billion more than the president requested. There was very little debate on whether this amount of spending was truly necessary. No argument about whether the billions given to huge defense contractors for weapons systems was a good investment. No discussion about how to pay for those systems. 

 

I’m not saying we don’t need a military or that defense spending is unnecessary. But where is the debate on balancing the needs for defense with the needs for taking care of our citizens? Why is it that we can find the money to build new weapons systems that we don’t need, but we can’t afford to lift children out of poverty?

 

We’ve somehow been convinced that the government is the problem, not the solution. And so, our government — those whom we elect to make these decisions about priorities and who deserves help — continue to vote in the interests of corporations and the wealthy while telling the rest of us to help ourselves. 

 

We can do better.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Taking the Law into Our Own Hands

Taking the Law into Our Own Hands

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird January 2021)

 

On November 1, 2021, the Spokane Police Department published a statement that a murder suspect had been arrested after the decomposing body of a 19-year-old man had been found in the trunk of a car.

 

News reports gave a strong implication that the murder was somehow justified, but I wanted to read the original police post. Here are some excerpts:

 

On 10-22-21 SPD patrol officers responded to [a report of] an abandoned vehicle with a foul odor emanating from it. … SPD officers verified human remains were contained within the vehicle.

 

The victim was identified as a 19-year-old male, and on 10-29-21, 60-year-old John Eisenman was arrested for 1stdegree murder. 

 

In October 2020 Eisenman learned his juvenile daughter was allegedly sold to a sex-trafficking organization in the Seattle area. Eisenman obtained information his daughter’s boyfriend (the deceased) may have been the one responsible for her sale. 

 

In November 2020, Eisenman [learned where the victim would be and] abducted the victim, tying him up and placing him in the trunk of a vehicle. Eisenman subsequently assaulted the victim by hitting him in the head with a cinder block and then stabbed him repeatedly, causing his death. Eisenman drove the vehicle to a remote area … and abandoned the car with the body still inside. The vehicle … was moved in October 2021 … with the body still in the trunk. Individuals … rummaging through the car … made the gruesome discovery. 

 

This story is disturbing on so many levels. I can only imagine how I would feel if I thought my daughter had been abducted and trafficked. The vast majority of the several thousand comments on that SPD post praised the dad and called him a hero. There were calls to set up a GoFundMe to pay legal fees, which quickly raised over $20,000. “He did a public service,” said one. “Justifiable homicide,” said another. Many ‘volunteered’ to serve on his jury, anxious to acquit. 

 

But there was no evidence that the victim was actually guilty of what the father suspected.

 

One commenter tried to bring reason into the conversation. Acknowledging the father’s rage, the commenter then said, “But it’s not his responsibility to take it upon himself to kill someone that hasn’t been accused of a crime much less arrested and charged. Vigilantism isn’t what a civil society is built upon.”

 

There were hundreds of angry replies to that comment, many reiterating that the father was a hero and that they would have done the same thing. But I noticed many of the comments also reflected a deep distrust of our justice system. “We no longer live in a civil society,” said one. “We live in the ruins of one. If you don't secure justice, no one will.”

 

The idea behind these comments was that the woke liberals, ineffective District Attorneys, corrupt judges, and incompetent police would never hold the 19-year-old boyfriend accountable for what the father accused him of committing. So, obviously, the boy deserved to be hunted down and murdered. 

 

The United States has a long history of vigilantism. Before there were organized police departments, private citizens and legally deputized posses made citizen arrests. Slave patrols and lynch mobs upheld white supremacy, capturing and lynching Black people for so much as a whisper of an offense against a white person. Today, so called ‘stand your ground’ laws support the idea of vigilantism, giving private citizens — with no training on rules regarding the use of deadly force — legal authority to shoot first and ask questions later.

 

Popular culture celebrates vigilantism. Superheroes like Batman, serial killers like Dexter, and characters like Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver) are considered heroes with the idea that the system won’t hold the bad guys accountable, and that extra-judiciary means are required to get justice. 

 

Our justice system is indeed flawed. Guilty people do sometimes get away with murder, but innocent people are also convicted of crimes they didn’t commit, sentenced to years in prison, and in some cases executed before they can prove their innocence. The system isn’t perfect, but at least it has checks and balances to try to get it right. 

 

William Blackstone, an English jurist in the 18th century, said: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” This idea of innocence until proven guilty is at the foundation of our legal system. The Constitution, particularly the fourth and fifth amendments, give us the rights that uphold this principle.

 

A vigilante mob mentality undermines those rights and every principle of justice we have. 

 

As I was preparing this column, I looked to see if there had been any follow-up to the Spokane arrest of the man who murdered his daughter’s boyfriend. I was curious whether any evidence of the boyfriend’s alleged sex trafficking had been found.

 

The Spokesman Review reported that “investigators say they have no ‘independent and verifiable facts’ that a 20-year-old man found dead in a car trunk in October had sex trafficked his girlfriend as her father, the confessed killer, has claimed. Furthermore, police allege John Eisenman, 60, told investigators he was high on methamphetamine when he killed Andrew Sorensen last year.” *

 

Andrew Sorensen, a young man just out of high school, was murdered by a vigilante for a crime that hadn’t even been committed. And yet thousands of people across the country were ready to give his murderer a medal, pay for his legal fees, and acquit him of any crime. Because they are so cynical about our judicial system, they are ready to throw away 250 years of legal precedent designed to prevent uninformed citizens from wrongfully killing an innocent man. 

 

This breakdown in the faith in our legal and judicial system is frightening. We are headed to anarchy and vigilante mobs ‘taking the law into their own hands’ — using violence and violating the constitutional rights of fellow citizens to enact their own misguided vision of ‘justice’. We’ve seen it recently in Kenosha, WIBrunswick, GAthe U.S. Capitol Building; and right here in the Tri-Cities.

 

When a society no longer trusts that the law will be upheld, the laws no longer have any meaning. 

 

I don’t want to live in a lawless society. Do you?

 

* The Spokesman Review, Dec. 2, 2021, “Police: No Evidence that man killed by girlfriend’s father was in involved in sex trafficking; suspect high on meth.”

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Can We Save Our Democracy?

Can We Save Our Democracy?

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird November 2021)

 

On a hot July afternoon in 1975, a month after I graduated from high school, I stood at attention on the yellow bricks of Tecumseh Court at the United States Naval Academy, raised my right hand, and promised to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I have administered the same oath countless times over the years at enlistment and commissioning ceremonies as other men and women who, like me, made a promise to their fellow citizens to keep this great nation alive.

We didn’t swear our loyalty to a person or to a party, but to an idea. The idea that the powers of government belong to the governed. As Abraham Lincoln put it, a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The Constitution is predicated on the belief expressed in the Declaration of Independence that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

We should all have the same rights and the same opportunities, and all be equal under the law. And as a democratic republic, we all have a voice in our government through the ballot. 

Throughout the history of this country, the will of the people has been paramount. And the leadership of our country has had a long tradition of a peaceful transition of power in recognition of that democratic principle. Following a contentious and heated election in 1800, John Adams quietly left Washington, D.C. as his political rival Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated. Recognizing the importance of country over party, of loyalty to the Constitution and respect for elections over personal ambition, every loser of the presidential election since then has conceded and peacefully turned over the presidency to his successor. 

Until now.

Donald J. Trump lost the election in 2020. He lost the popular vote by over 7 million votes. He lost the electoral college vote, the process the Constitution specifies for electing a president, 306 to 232 (source: fec.gov). Not a single court challenge has changed this result. And yet, a year later, Trump still refuses to concede. 

Republicans at all levels of government avoid admitting that Trump lost. Through distraction and obfuscation, they allow the Big Lie to continue, undermining confidence in our elections and then using that lack of confidence as a basis for disenfranchising voters. And it is working. Nineteen Republican-led states have passed laws restricting the right to vote this year. 

After the Civil War, following the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment which ensured that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” Southern Democrats worked to prevent Black Americans from voting through a variety of voter suppression laws and threats of violence. It would take almost a century — and the constant efforts of the civil rights movement in the 1960s — before the Voting Rights Act would restore the right to vote. 

But guaranteeing that right didn’t last. In the 1980s, Republicans began a so-called fight for ‘voter integrity’ using a pretext of unsubstantiated voter fraud to restrict voting rights. By 2013, with many of the provisions of the VRA already weakened through hyper-partisan gerrymandering and other state voter suppression efforts, the Shelby v. Holder Supreme Court decision gutted much of what remained of the Voting Rights Act. 

Today, the 33 new laws to restrict voting rights will make it even more difficult for every citizen to equally exercise their right to vote. These laws not only limit who can vote, they make it more difficult for citizens to cast their ballots. Moreover, many of these laws shift the authority to run elections from local election officials to state-level political entities that could overturn election results they don’t like. The cumulative effect of these laws is to ensure that the party in power remains in power.

That puts the United States at risk of becoming a single-party government. And a single-party government that no longer has to answer to the people will no longer be a democracy.

In his 1796 Farewell Address as President of the United States, George Washington warned that allegiance to political parties at the expense of the nation as a cohesive unit were a significant threat and that “the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”

It is not hyperbole to say that we are at risk of losing our government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The state of politics today is so divisive that extremists are arming themselves for civil war against their neighbors. Ideologies that were once considered fringe anti-government sentiment are now mainstream talking points on right wing media. We have a significant faction of the Republican Party that will do anything to remain in power, even if that means abandoning the principles upon which this country was founded.

We need a two-party system to provide the checks and balances necessary to reflect the will of all the people. We need an election system in which every citizen can exercise their right to vote easily, safely, and with confidence that their vote will be counted and that the election results will be accurate, regardless of their party affiliation. 

The Fifteenth Amendment gave Congress the authority to ensure the right of every citizen to vote. The so-called voter integrity laws in Republican-led states are a threat to that right. Congress has an obligation to protect that right.

The For the People Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the Freedom to Vote Act currently before Congress would limit state laws that disenfranchise American citizens. A failure to pass voting rights legislation will allow a minority party in power to hold onto that power, regardless of the will of the people.

And when the will of the people is no longer reflected in the results of our elections, the power of the people guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States will no longer exist. 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Mutually Assured Destruction

 Mutually Assured Destruction

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird October 2021)

 

We moved to Okinawa, Japan, when I was eleven years old. It was my second time living in Japan, my father having been previously stationed near Yokohama when I was just starting grade school. I have many fond memories of my time in Japan. I remember friendships with Japanese families, exploring the jungles and the beaches as a child, and even learning enough Japanese to be conversant and get around the island on my own. 

It was during the height of the Viet Nam war. We were also in the middle of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. War was a part of our everyday lives. I remember playground jokes about A-bombs and H-bombs, duck and cover drills, and military jets and bombers flying daily on their way to Viet Nam. As a child, war was an abstract concept of heroes and enemies. We were the good guys fighting against those who wanted to destroy our country, taking the fight to the enemy to protect us from the evil of communism. I was lucky to be an American. 

Shortly after my twelfth birthday, a fully loaded B-52 bomber scheduled for a bombing mission over Viet Nam crashed at the end of the runway on Kadena Air Force Base as it aborted takeoff. The explosion of its 30,000 lb. bomb load rocked the island, left a huge crater, and damaged homes and structures for miles. I remember seeing that crater every time we drove past the runway. It was very close to the fence line between the base and the local community and clearly visible from the road on the civilian side. 

We didn’t know it then, but an ammunition depot with chemical, conventional, and nuclear weapons was less than a mile away. Imagine the devastation and loss of innocent lives that would have been caused if the B-52 had become airborne and crashed into that depot. 

After my father’s tour of duty in Okinawa, we moved to Morocco for a couple years and then to Homestead, Florida where I finished high school. As the son of an enlisted military man, I was eligible for a presidential nomination and appointment to a service academy — a way to pay for my college education. I attended the US Naval Academy, graduated, and received my commission as a naval officer. Having done well academically, I was selected for the nuclear power program, and after a year and a half of additional training, I joined the crew of my first submarine. As a fast attack, our mission was to protect battle groups from enemy submarines and to conduct other missions in support of national security. 

For my next submarine assignment, I was the chief engineer of one of the early fleet ballistic missile submarines. Our mission throughout the Cold War and continuing today was euphemistically called strategic deterrence. More realistically, though, it is the concept of deterrence through mutually assured destruction. Our job was to prevent nuclear war by hiding in the vast ocean, ready to launch our nuclear weapons within minutes after receiving an authenticated order from the president. We trained and practiced following the secret, encoded protocol to verify that the order to launch was valid. We practiced entering the targets into the missile’s computers. We practiced maneuvering the submarine to the correct depth and position for launch. And we ran drills on how to respond if something went wrong. As the third in command, I had a significant role in ensuring we were always ready to carry out our mission.

And I knew that if the order ever came, it would mean that our mission had failed. That somewhere, our nuclear arms deterrence had turned in to nuclear war. That Armageddon had arrived. That the science fiction fantasy of a post-apocalyptic world had become a reality. 

And I know that I would have carried out the order and done what I was trained to do: unleash a nuclear nightmare, ending the lives of millions of innocent people. If such an order came, it would certainly mean that millions of Americans had been targeted and our own families likely killed. I would have played my role in mutually assured destruction.

But I also believed that that day would never come. I believed that the checks and balances in government would prevent the unthinkable. That strategic deterrence would be successful because the alternative was so horrible. That in both the United States and the Soviet Union, our governments would never actually start a nuclear war. So far, strategic deterrence had worked. I also knew there was no guarantee that it always would.

When I left active duty to start a civilian career, my experience in nuclear power gave me the background needed for the environmental cleanup work here at the Hanford Site in Southeast Washington. Before moving here, I rarely thought about the Manhattan Project or where the material for the nuclear weapons I deployed had come from. After that tour on a ballistic missile submarine, I didn’t think much about the possibility of nuclear war. It was abstract and unlikely.

But art has a way of reframing how we think about things.

Most of my Hanford work has been just a few miles from the B Reactor, the first large scale nuclear reactor. Built in 1944, B Reactor produced the plutonium that was used for the bomb dropped over Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. As a significant part of American history, B Reactor is now a part of the National Park Service, Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

As a part of the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers, in 2016 I participated in the first concert held inside the B Reactor facility. As we prepared for this significant event, two of my good friends, Artistic Director Justin Raffa and composer Reginald Unterseher, carefully selected the music to reflect on the technology and legacy of this historic place. Human beings using the alchemy of science and engineering to produce the plutonium for an atomic weapon that would forever change the course of human history. We wanted to tell the story and stimulate reflection, not pass judgment.

The concert included songs about time, technology, life near Hanford, and the legacy of radioactive contamination. It also included a song by Seattle composer Karen P. Thomas with lyrics from a poem called “Over the City” by Molly McGee. While living in Japan, McGee had visited both Nagasaki and Hiroshima. In poetic metaphor, she recalled the horror of the bombings, our tendency to forget the horrors and atrocities of war, and the importance of remembering. “Over the City” concludes with a refrain in Japanese:

wasurenai koto ga        the act of not forgetting 
ikiba no nai shi no        the dead without homes
yuki tokoro to naru       can become shelter

Although we had been rehearsing the music for many weeks, I was not prepared for one of the most profound experiences of my life.

Seventy-one years after the bombings that killed over 200,000 Japanese civilians, standing in front of the face of the B Reactor, singing in Japanese about the importance of not forgetting, about the homeless dead, I wept. Five years later, I still weep when I think about that experience.

Military strategists and historians debate whether using atomic weapons to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved lives. Clearly, the war ended sooner than it otherwise would have. But we must not forget the cost. Whether we blame the Japanese government for starting the war or the U.S. decision to use nuclear weapons, those innocent Japanese civilians did not deserve to die. We must never forget that.

War is ugly, cruel, and violent. Thinking of war as noble or heroic in the abstract belies the realities of lives lost and families destroyed. War should always be the last option — never the first.

It is much too easy for the United States to go to war. The wars in Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan cost trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives. Since World War II, we have avoided the use of nuclear weapons, but there is no guarantee they won’t be used in the next war. 

Current estimates say there are 15,000 nuclear warheads in the arsenals of the nine countries known to hold nuclear weapons. The United States and Russia hold the vast majority. We each have enough weaponry to destroy the world many times over.

And yet we continue to fund the war machine. How much more effective would it be if we used those resources to address the conditions that lead to war? What if instead of so readily taking the fight to our enemies, we helped them become our allies, our friends? What if we worked together with our allies to promote human rights, eliminate human suffering, and promote peace?

I know there is no simple solution. I recognize that we need a military to ensure the common defense of our nation. I understand that there are those who would attack and destroy the United States if they could. But I think we go to war too quickly and end war too slowly.

I want to live in a world of peace. I want us to eliminate the threat of nuclear war. And I want us to work together to find alternatives to violence so we never have to execute our capacity for mutually assured destruction.