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Back in the late 1990s, the Harvard School of Public Health undertook an exhaustive study of Americans' attitudes toward guns. Given our reputation as a trigger-hungry nation, the findings were surprising--and worth revisiting in light of the horrific tragedy at Virginia Tech.
"Americans feel less safe rather than more safe as more people in their community begin to carry guns," the paper, published in 2001, stated. "By margins of at least nine to one, Americans do not believe that 'regular' citizens should be allowed to bring their guns into restaurants, college campuses, sports stadiums, bars, hospitals, or government buildings." [Via Down With Tyranny.]
The study shows a striking disconnect between the policies promoted by the NRA (and passed by politicians) and the views of the public. After Columbine, for example, "bills were introduced to bolster background checks, force the inclusion of trigger locks with gun sales, and close legal loopholes that allowed firearms to be bought from gun shows without full background checks," according to the Washington Post. "But the NRA helped scuttle those measures."
Upon his re-election as Mayor of New York City, Mike Bloomberg said his top priority was curbing gun violence. "Our most urgent challenge is ending the threat of guns and the violence they do," he said at his second inaugural address. He subsequently formed an organization of 180 mayors, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, to expose the true costs of gun violence in America and to combat the political stranglehold of the NRA.
The gun lobby, as expected, has irately pushed back. Two gun stores in Virginia, accused by the mayor of lax enforcement policies, on Thursday plan to hold a "Bloomberg Gun GiveAway." Spend over $100 at either Bob Moates Gun Shop or Old Dominion Guns and Tackle and you could win a free handgun or rifle, value $900. The stores have no plans to cancel the raffle in the wake of the horrific massacre at Virginia Tech.
Thanks to the Republican Congress, law enforcement officials can't even get a full picture of which guns are used during crimes in their communities. The assault weapons ban of 1994 was not renewed upon expiring in 2004. It's been ten years since any gun control law has been approved by Congress.
Mortar attacks on the Green Zone, the American controlled and massively fortified citadel in the heart of Baghdad, were already on the rise when, late last week, a suicide bomber managed to penetrate the Parliament building inside the Zone and kill at least one legislator, while wounding others, in its cafeteria. Some parliamentary representatives were soon declaring the still unfolding American "surge" plan in the capital a dismal failure.
"'Someone can walk into our parliament building with bombs. What security do we have?' said Saleh al-Mutlaq, who heads the Sunni National Dialogue Front in the Iraqi parliament.
"'The plan is 100% a failure. It's a complete flop,' said Khalaf al-Ilyan, one of the three leaders of the Iraqi Accordance Front, which holds 44 seats in parliament. 'The explosion means that instability and lack of security has reached the Green Zone.'"
Comeuppance is making a comeback. The CBS talk jock Don Imus got his. The World Bank President, Paul Wolfowitz's seems to be in the works. The odds are that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' will get his sooner rather than later. Karl Rove could be next .
We could all talk for hours about Imus (and who hasn't?) What's more interesting than the man's foul-mouth, is the process by which his brand went south. It wasn't corporate conscience that broke the Imus brand. It was people-power -- first at the National Association of Black Journalists -- and then as expressed by Al SharptonNational Action Network and (according to newspaper accounts,) by African American staff people at MSNBC and CBS who met with management and talked. Corporations pulled their advertising because Imus lost legitimacy -- not the other way around.
Scales can tip. That's exactly what's happening to Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank. I was just in Washington DC where employees of the bank were were preparing to protest publicly for their boss to be given the boot. For "Wolfie" the Bank's annual meeting will be a very uncomfortable place.
There will be plenty of "rapid responses" to the gun rampage on the Virginia Tech campus, which has claimed the lives of as many as 31 students -- making it the deadliest school shotting incident in the history of the United States.
Do not doubt that the National Rifle Association is preparing its "this-had-nothing-to-do-with-guns" press release. The group has no compunctions about living up to its reputation for being beyond shame -- or education -- when it comes to peddling its spin on days when it would be better to simply remain silent. But the NRA will not be alone in responding in a self-serving manner. Many groups on all sides of issues related to guns and violence in America will be busy making their points, just as many in the media will look for one dimensional "explanations" for what the university's president, Charles Steger, has correctly described as "a tragedy... of monumental proportions."
"The university is shocked and indeed horrified," explained Steger, after it became clear that what had happened on his campus Monday was worse than the carnage at Columbine High School in 1999 or at the University of Texas in 1966.
Today the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in a case which could decide whether home health aides are entitled to federal minimum wage, and the protection of federal overtime laws. The lead plaintiff, Evelyn Coke, a Jamaican immigrant who raised five children as a single mother, and is now 73 years old and reportedly quite infirm herself (with diabetes and kidney problems), is represented by lawyers working with Service Employees International Union(SEIU). She's challenging a 1975 Labor Department rule which exempts the home health aide industry from the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Evelyn Coke's case is significant because it could profoundly affect the lives of workers in this industry, a fast-growing one as our population ages. Most home health care workers are women. They toil for sub-Wal-Mart hourly wages (the average is $8.05 per hour), in addition to being deprived of the rights most other workers enjoy.
But Long Island Care at Home vs. Coke is also important because improved rights and wages can lead to better-quality care, and could help address a critical shortage of such workers (there's already a a shortage, and it is projected to get much worse in the coming years).
Some people are outraged that Wal-Mart spied on a New York Times reporter. But the company's behavior to workers overseas is much worse.
Wal-Mart is pulling out of the Chong Won factory, the plant in the Phillipines I wrote about last month. "Cutting and running" may be an easy way for a company to look as if it's taking a stand against supplier misconduct, but it doesn't help the workers.
Chong Won workers don't want to lose their jobs; they are fighting to be able to organize a union, without fear of violence and intimidation. Wal-Mart is doing the wrong thing, and shouldn't get away with it.
[This is part 3 of "Six Crises in Search of an Author: How the Bush Administration Destabilized the Arc of Instability": part 1 was "Bush's Absurdist Imperialism"; part 2, "Chaos in the Greater Middle East."]
At any moment, somewhere in the now-Bush-administration destabilized "arc of instability," with its six crisis areas, a seventh crisis could indeed rise, demand attention, and refuse to be ejected from the premises. There are many possible candidates. Here are just a few:
Al-Qaeda, an organization dispersed but never fully dismantled by the Bush administration, has now, according to Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times, rebuilt itself in the Pakistani borderlands with new training camps, new base areas, and a new generation of leaders in their thirties, all still evidently serving under Osama bin Laden. (In the future, Mazzetti suggests even younger leaders are likely to come from the hardened veterans of campaigns in Bush's Iraq). Al-Qaeda is a wild card throughout the region.