Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Another look at school size and the Parkland shooting

A year ago, after taking $30M from NRA, Trump signed order loosening Obama-era gun sale restrictions.
Broward County, FL -- School's back in session here today and it will be interesting to see if the student protests continue to gain strength and capture prime media space. National anti-gun school walkouts are being planned for March 14 and again on April 20th, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting.

One thing I've learned is that my original comparison of Marjory Stoneman Douglas with Columbine doesn't hold up across the board. It's true that both were large schools -- Columbine had about 2,000 students while Douglas has more than 3,000 -- and that large school size correlates with increased incidents of violence and often breeds the kind of anonymity that prevents intervention before a Parkland-type event can take place.

A closer look makes me think that school size wasn't the big problem at MSD. While the FBI may have botched handling the tips they received about shooter Nikolas Cruz, the school's teachers and administrators didn't. Despite the size of their school, they were in touch with students well enough to anticipate Cruz as a potential violent actor and intervened in his case as best they could. Interventions took place going back to his middle-school days. Cruz faced a long string of escalating disciplinary measures throughout his academic career for insubordination, profanity, disruption, fighting and assault. Those attempts ended with Cruz's expulsion from high.

Washington Post reports:
The real problems started at least as early as middle school and quickly intensified. There were the vocal outbursts, disturbing drawings of stick figures with guns, constant disciplinary issues. There were threatening statements written on his homework and scrap paper, including a reference to killing President Barack Obama, saying he should be “burned alive and eaten.”
His middle school and high school teachers referred him to individual and family counseling, the records show. They held parent conferences and called social workers. They sent him to in-school suspension, and they sent him off campus. For a time, they sent him to a school for emotionally disturbed youth. Finally, after he was disciplined for an assault at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, they asked for an assessment of the threat he posed to his school, and ultimately he was expelled, about a year before he returned with a gun.
Up until the time of the attack, teachers were actively engaged with Cruz and acted professionally. During the attack, many acted heroically and were instrumental in saving student lives. This included football coach Aaron Feis who gave up his own life while shielding students from the gunfire.

Even if the FBI had properly followed up on tips they received about Cruz, it's unclear what actions might have been taken. The point here is that nothing the 19-year-old Cruz did up until the time of the shooting, including his purchasing of an assault rifle at local gun store, was illegal. Keeping an automatic weapon out of his hands would have been the only way to prevent the massacre in Parkland.

Pres. Trump's attempt to blame the FBI and even the student victims themselves is indicative of his own sociopathy. It was Trump who one year ago, after accepting more than $30 million from the NRA, signed an order loosening gun sale restrictions.

In a vapid response to the mounting student protests both parties are offering up meaningless bills which, even if passed (doubtful) will do nothing to prevent more massacres of this type, let alone the daily deaths from gun violence in cities like Chicago. The GOP bill simply tweaks existing state rules on gun registration.


Sen. Diane Feinstein and the Dems want to raise the legal age for buying AR-15s from 18 to 21. Democrats once again seem willing to snuggle up close, but slightly to the left of Trump and the GOP.  Nothing they could do could breed more cynicism among the protesting students and potential young voters. It seems the Dems have once again come up with a recipe for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in 2018.


Monday, February 19, 2018

WEEKEND QUOTABLES


Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
“If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened and maintain telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association."  -- Student protest rally in Ft. Lauderdale
Flint Taylor, Hampton family attorney
“When I told him I needed a recess to come to Bill’s funeral, the judge sent his respects." -- Village Free Press
Maria Thorne, 5th-grade Florida teacher to Paul Ryan
 She then told [Ryan] she was a teacher and a resident of the area, to which he responded, “Nice.” That set Thorne off. “Nice? You’re here celebrating the death of 17 children,” she admonished.Ryan weakly replied that he “didn’t want to talk politics” — an odd statement to make at a political fundraiser. Thorne persisted in her critique, and was escorted out of the event as she chanted “no more guns!” -- Ryan caught raising campaign cash in Florida
Arlie Hochschild
...if the Democratic party is to pose a magnetically attractive alternative to Donald Trump, it must address the grievances, the life experiences, the sense of losing ground, of people like those I met and describe in my book, Strangers in Their Own Land. Millions of Trump voters saw the Democrats as beholden to corporate interests as the Republicans, and I believe they are right. -- Guardian

Thursday, February 15, 2018

From Littleton to Parkland, lots of hand wringing... [Updated]


I've been closely following the wave of school shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida since my days as a member of Pres. Clinton's Advisory Commission on Youth Violence, following the 1999 mass shootings at Columbine H.S. in Littleton, Colorado.

The Parkland shooting is reportedly, the 208th since Columbine. An ongoing Washington Post analysis has found that more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since then.

The similarities between Littleton and Parkland are striking. Both mass school shootings took place in large high schools. Columbine had 2,000 students. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, 3,000.

I'm in no way blaming the school size or the educators inside the buildings, many of whom acted heroically and saved many lives during the assaults. Just noting that large high schools have a high degree of anonymity. That is, students are rarely known well by adults in the building, unless they are super-high achievers or "trouble makers". The result is, on average, large high schools have nearly ten times the violent incidents as smaller ones.

Whether it was shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine or Nikolas Cruz at Parkland, their fellow students were more aware of their potentially dangerous environs and threats of violence within their schools than were school administrators. In both cases and in the many cases in between, school leaders may have missed opportunities to intervene before the fact.

Pres. Trump wasted no time in blaming the Douglas students themselves for the killings. Trump has been in bed with the NRA in opposing any and all gun legislation and it is unclear what if anything he or law enforcement officials would or could have done, even if fellow students and neighbors of Cruz would have reported him to officials or if the FBI had followed up on the many tips they are reported to have received. Everything Cruz did, up until the time of the shootings, was perfectly legal.

In this case, some Parkland school officials were aware of Cruz's violence issues. They even expelled him from Douglas after a fight he had with a fellow student. But this didn't raise any flags when Cruz walked into a local gun shop and bought an assault rifle. By law, it couldn't.

The shooters at both Columbine and Stoneman Douglas were reported to have contacts with neo-fascist or white supremacist groups. Klebold and Harris were white supremacists who carried out their horrific act intentionally on Hitler's birthday. Following the Parkland shootings, a local white supremacist group Republic of Florida (ROF) claimed to have ties to Cruz.

In both cases, the shooters had serious mental problems, mainly severe depression. Klebold and Harris were each heavily medicated and had suicidal tendencies.  After the Columbine massacre, a team of psychiatrists and psychologists determined they were psychopaths, in touch with reality but filled with hate and bent on mass devastation that would outdo even that caused by the Oklahoma City bomber(s).

In a society where guns and bomb weren't so readily available, the pair's names may have ended up on a list of patients receiving treatment for their mental problems, rather than on a list of mass murderers.

We don't know enough about Cruz's mental condition yet. He reportedly also suffered from depression. The point here is not about people suffering from mental illness. But rather, the conditions that enabled them to caused such horrific destruction.

In both cases, the shooters had easy access to guns (including semi-automatic weapons) despite their troubled histories. Thank gutless politicians, often the beneficiaries of huge donations from the NRA, who are afraid to pass reasonable gun control legislation, for that.

News of the Parkland shootings, which left 17 students dead, was met with prayers and lots of hand-ringing by Florida politicians like Sen. Rubio and Gov. Scott, each of whom received A+ ratings from the NRA. Rubio has received more than $3million in NRA campaign donations.


Gov. Scott signed 5 Pro-gun bills in 2014 making Nicolas Cruz fully able to purchase a gas mask, smoke grenade and an AK-47 with extra magazines. All while under the age of 21 and still in high school. He was too young to by beer but old enough to purchase an assault weapon.

In the rest of the world, there have been 18 school shootings in the last twenty years. In the U.S., there have been 18 school shootings since January 1--35 days.

Marco Rubio and Rick Scott—both of whom carry A+ ratings and endorsements from the N.R.A—leaned on similar, though less elegant talking points. 
 “I think it’s important to know all of [the facts] before you jump to conclusions that there’s some law we could have passed that could have prevented it,” Rubio said in an interview with Fox News in the shooting’s aftermath. He added that lawmakers “can always have that debate, but . . . you should know the facts of that incident before you run out and prescribe [legislation].” 
Over the course of his career, Rubio has received $3.3 million from the N.R.A. Scott has also bucked calls for gun control. After the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, the Florida governor infamously declared, “Let’s remember, the Second Amendment has been around for over 200 years. . . . That’s not what killed innocent people; evil killed innocent people.”


While they happened nearly two decades apart, the school shootings at Littleton and Parkland and the hundreds of others in between offer valuable lessons for creating safer schools for our children. Unfortunately, we still have a system where the NRA and other big corporate campaign donors rule congress. Until that changes radically, our children will continue to be at risk in their classrooms and on the streets.

Look for more "prayers and thoughts" coming from the politicians, but no action. Nothing from them, that is, unless Parkland turns out to be the straw that breaks the camel's back and mass protests forces some change.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

These racist pols just can't help themselves...


It was 2015, but seems like only yesterday when we were out in the streets demanding the firing of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and State's Atty. Anita Alvarez over the cover-up of the racist police murder of Laquan McDonald. Despite Rahm Emanuel's rallying the troops behind McCarthy, we managed to run him out of town. Then we backed current State's Atty. Kim Foxx who made quick work of Alvarez in the election.

Now McCarthy's back and with Trump's political support and money coming from the likes of Rudy Giuliani, he's making noises about running for mayor against his former pal Rahm in 2019.

Rahm backed McCarthy in the Laquan McDonald cover up. 
Problem is that when it comes down to it, he and most of these backwards, newborn pols can't seem to keep their racist mouths shut. Or maybe they're just not being prepped properly. Whether it's professional hate-tweeting Trump (Mexicans are "rapists and criminals"), or Billionaire IL guv candidate J.B. Pritzker, offering to cover then Gov. Rod Blagojevich's ass on the "African-American thing", they seem to all be wired for racist-blurt.

Pritzker put it best, after being caught on an FBI wiretap describing his preference for “a safe black … one that's not going to make any waves.” He apologized by saying, "I was not my best self".

Being his old best self  Monday, at a Northwest Side fundraiser, McCarthy had this to say about the growing mass black exodus from Chicago.
"You know which Blacks we are losing, we are losing the middle class taxpayers who can afford to get out from the South and the West Side. So who is being left behind? It's the trigger pullers."
Yes, "trigger-pullers is how the former top cop views all African-American families currently living on the south and west sides. Is it any wonder that during his administration we had a record quarter-million stop-and-searches within one 90-day period.

Yesterday on twitter, a fellow Rahm critic and Troy LaRaviere supporter, implored me, that even if McCarthy or Paul Vallas should make it to a run-off, we should vote for them against the hated Rahm. I tweeted back...




Monday, February 12, 2018

At last night's fundraiser for Marie Newman

Rep. Jan Schakowsky introduces Marie Newman at last night's fundraiser

I'll be honest. I don't like going to political campaign fundraisers for two reasons. One, they're usually boring. And two, I can't afford them. I usually escape by making some lame excuse (except when they are at our house and I can't leave) and offering to send a check to the campaign to make up for my absence.

But this past week I went to two that I really enjoyed. The first, for Chuy Garcia, our next congressman. It was held in the neighborhood at Webster's Wine Bar, so I had no excuse. The crowd was mainly a lively and diverse group of young activists and the wine/beer tickets that came with our donation helped ease the pain. I am an avid Chuy supporter and know that he will probably coast to victory in this congressional race, even without my puny financial help (he holds a huge lead in the polls over his nearest rival, Sol Flores)But as a cautious Chuy reminded me the other night, in politics, never take victory for granted (something I always told my ball players).

Last night I begrudgingly slogged through the remnants of Chicago's snowpocalypse to the home of  long-time friend, Marilyn Katz, to help support Marie Newman's campaign.

Marilyn is a talented Democratic Party fundraiser with a big, beautiful home and she's good at turning out supporters for progressive causes. When she calls, it's hard to say no. Plus she's a great cook and I hadn't eaten much all day.

If Newman defeats Lipinski, nazi GOP candidate Jones is next.
Marie Newman is running against Rep. Dan Lipinski in Illinois 3rd Congressional District Democratic primary. If a diseased chicken was running against Lipinski, I would donate a bucket of antibiotic-laced chicken feed to the campaign fund. Lipinski is the classic Chicago machine Democrat, the kind they used to call blue dogs, but now just call Democrats. He's anti-choice for women, anti-gay, and he voted against the Affordable Care Act.

Marie was introduced by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, one of the few good people in the current House. Marie's own rap was short, spirited and to the point. Lipinski keeps getting elected in a district that voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama and for Bernie Sanders. There's no reason for him to get re-elected unless progressives sit on their asses while the machine turns out it base.

Marie has solid progressive credentials besides being not-Lipinski. Plus, she also has a good chance to win. Recent polls show her leading the race by about 5 points.  CNN, Politico, The Hill, Huffington Post are touting the race as one of the most pivotal democratic primaries to watch in 2018.

If Marie can beat Lipinski in the primary, guess who her Republican opponent will be? None other than Arthur Jones, the open nazi running unopposed in the GOP primary. Marie will be well prepared for Jones, since on most issues he's the same as Lipinski.

I was so impressed with Marie, I'm inviting her to be a guest on Hitting Left, even though Brother Fred and I promised each other no more pols for a while. We'll make an exception in this case if she can fit it into her busy schedule running up to election day.

WEEKEND QUOTABLES: The search for truth


Dana Milbank on the death of a border patrol agent
Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it. -- Washington Post 
Porter’s ex-wife, Jennifer Willoughby
"Truth exists" whether Trump "accepts it or not". -- CNN
Tad O’Malley, conservative conspiracy theorist in the X-Files
“Truth is fluid and alterable.” -- The Verge
 Gary Younge
...before radical history can be embraced by the establishment it must be washed clean of whatever ideology made it effective. Radical change is most likely to come from below, be fiercely resisted by entrenched interests from above and achieved through confrontation. -- Guardian
On FOX Chicago, reporter Mike Flannery asks former Chicago top cop Garry McCarthy about the LaQuan McDonald shooting death and officer Jason Van Dyke's culpability. McCarthy, a Trump supporter and pal of neo-fascist Rudy Giuliani, is making noises about running for mayor.

Here's an excerpt of that interview. 
Mike Flannery: Many Chicagoans look at that (video of Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald) and they see a murder. Do you?
Garry McCarthy: Um. He's gonna have a hard time, Jason Van Dyke, explaining why he did what he did. That's the bottom line. He gets his due process just like anybody else. But it's gonna be really difficult to make a case. There are cases -
Flannery: Do you see a murder?
McCarthy: You know (long pause)
Flannery: Why are you reluctant to say that?

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

How many selves does Pritzker have?

"I was not my best self", claims Pritzker. 
The IL governor's race may be the most expensive in history. But while the two largely self-funded billionaires in the race may still win their respective primaries, they are both losing more credibility with every dollar they spend on their own campaigns

The week started with the announcement that an open nazi, Arthur Jones, was on the cusp of claiming the GOP nomination in the state's 3rd congressional district, and went downhill from there.

Incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner is now rapidly losing ground to alt-right neophyte candidate Jeanne Ives, whose current disgusting racist, transphobic, anti-abortion, and anti-immigrant ads are stirring the downstate Republican base in a way reminiscent of the 2016 Trump campaign.

The base feels betrayed by faux-Republican and Rahm Emanuel drinking-buddy Rauner, who signed a measure to expand taxpayer-subsidized abortions after promising he would veto the bill. Now Ives, echoing Trump, Bannon, and the fascist Jones,and backed by right-wing billionaire Dick Uihlein, is promising to deliver "the revolution" they've all been waiting for. Uihlein, a former Rauner donor, was the top donor to racist, child molester AL Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Rauner, taking his primary victory for granted, had been spending millions on ads directed not at Ives, but at Democrat billionaire and primary frontrunner J.B. Pritzker. The ads, using FBI wiretaps of Pritzker talking to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, have been effective in tearing away Pritzker's progressive cover.
Fred Klonsky toon. 
In the latest ad, you can hear Pritzker leveraging his status as a huge party campaign donor, to encourage Blago to choose "least-offensive" African-American candidate Jesse White to fill Barack Obama's open senate seat. 
“I’m sure you thought of this one, but Jesse White,” Pritzker tells then Gov. Rod Blagojevich. “Even though I know you guys aren’t like, you know, bosom buddies or anything, it covers you on the African-American thing.”
“Correct,” Blagojevich replies. “(White)’s totally, he’s totally, you know, uh, he’s Senate material in a way that Emil Jones isn’t, if I may say,' Pritzker says … 'But if you’re forced to put an African-American in the spot, which my guess is, you’re not forced to do anything, but my guess is a lot of pressure to do it, of all the African-Americans I can think that are sort of like qualified and vetted and people will say, ‘Oh, that’s, you know, that’s that’s a pretty good pick,’ the one that’s least offensive and maybe gets you the most because it gets you that secretary of state appointment is Jesse White,’ Pritzker tells Blagojevich.”
With his private racist comments laid bare, Pritzker is now in damage-control mode. In his defense, and flanked by a small coterie of African-American party loyalists and beneficiaries of Pritzker largesse, including Jesse White, City Treasurer Kurt Summers and Aldermen Pat Dowell, Michael Scott and Walter Burnett, Pritzker claims,
"On that call, I was not my best self."
Wrong response. It raises the question of how many "selfs" does  Pritzker have? The real one is usually the one that comes out when others aren't listening. (Or when you think no one's listening.)

The beneficiary of all this seems to be State Sen. Dan Biss who's become the main target of  Pritzker's own ads and who, despite them, has now cut into Pritzker's lead in the polls. Despite our past sharp differences, Biss has become my pick in the guv's race.

Says Biss:
“For too long our broken system has allowed the wealthy to have unfettered access to the decision-makers in our government,” Biss said in a statement. “That’s what breeds corruption. And when that access involves two wealthy white men making political calculations based on skin color, that’s what perpetuates a racist system.”
He's got that right. It's another example of what can happen when billionaires, used to buying politicians, become one themselves.  

Monday, February 5, 2018

WEEKEND QUOTABLES

Happy birthday, Rosa Parks

Actor and activist Cynthia Nixon 

“We have to be more than the anti-Trump party,” she said at the annual Human Rights Campaign Greater New York gala, where she was given the Visibility Award. “In 2018, we don't just need to elect more Democrats, we also need better Democrats.” -- Politico
Eagles tight end Zach Ertz
“If they had overturned that [touchdown], I don’t know what would have happened to the city of Philadelphia." -- MSN
Teaching Tolerance Project
"In the ways that we teach and learn about the history of American slavery," write the authors of a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), "the nation needs an intervention." -- Teaching Hard History: American Slavery 
 Kristiina Volmari, Finnish National Agency for Education 
“We let children be children for as long as possible...We want our teachers to focus on learning, not testing. We do not, at all, believe in ranking students and ranking schools." -- SBS News