Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

This week’s New Yorker has a fascinating article by Jill Lepore about guns in America that I think everyone should read: Battleground America: One nation, under the gun. It’s long, but well worth reading. Here’s just a tiny excerpt:

The United States is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. (The second highest is Yemen, where the rate is nevertheless only half that of the U.S.) No civilian population is more powerfully armed. Most Americans do not, however, own guns, because three-quarters of people with guns own two or more. According to the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of gun ownership has declined steadily in the past few decades. In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households in the United States; in 2010, one in three. In 1980, nearly one in three Americans owned a gun; in 2010, that figure had dropped to one in five.

Men are far more likely to own guns than women are, but the rate of gun ownership among men fell from one in two in 1980 to one in three in 2010, while, in that same stretch of time, the rate among women remained one in ten. What may have held that rate steady in an age of decline was the aggressive marketing of handguns to women for self-defense, which is how a great many guns are marketed. Gun ownership is higher among whites than among blacks, higher in the country than in the city, and higher among older people than among younger people. One reason that gun ownership is declining, nationwide, might be that high-school shooting clubs and rifle ranges at summer camps are no longer common.

Although rates of gun ownership, like rates of violent crime, are falling, the power of the gun lobby is not. Since 1980, forty-four states have passed some form of law that allows gun owners to carry concealed weapons outside their homes for personal protection. (Five additional states had these laws before 1980. Illinois is the sole holdout.) A federal ban on the possession, transfer, or manufacture of semiautomatic assault weapons, passed in 1994, was allowed to expire in 2004. In 2005, Florida passed the Stand Your Ground law, an extension of the so-called castle doctrine, exonerating from prosecution citizens who use deadly force when confronted by an assailant, even if they could have retreated safely; Stand Your Ground laws expand that protection outside the home to any place that an individual “has a right to be.” Twenty-four states have passed similar laws.

I hadn’t realized that George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin just one day before the school shootings at Chardon High School near Cleveland, Ohio. Isn’t it amazing that we heard all about that shooting right away and it was old news by the time the corporate media began reporting on Trayvon’s death?

Tuesday was the fifth anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre, and it seems America has changed very little, probably largely because of NRA lobbying as well as ALEC’s “model legislation” writing services.

Of course no one could help hearing about the crude and tasteless behavior on display at the NRA convention last weekend. Executive VP Wayne LaPierre even had the gall to complain about media coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting. At HuffPo, Dean Obeidallah asks why.

Did Mr. LaPierre offer any sympathy to Trayvon Martin’s family? No.

Instead, he chose to denounce the media for their coverage of the case, alleging that the media’s: “… dishonesty, duplicity, and moral irresponsibility is directly contributing to the collapse of American freedom in our country.”

What makes Mr. La Pierre’s comments especially callous is that they were made at the annual NRA convention which was being held this weekend in St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis has the unenviable distinction of being the city with the second highest rate in the country for youth being killed by guns. Indeed, the gunshot murder rate for 10 to 19 years old in St. Louis is more than three times the average for larger cities according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yesterday the LA Times published photos of American troops in Afghanistan posing with body parts of dead suicide bombers.

Two photos of incidents from a 2010 deployment were published Wednesday by the Los Angeles Times. In one, the hand of a corpse is propped on the shoulder of a paratrooper. In another, the disembodied legs of a suicide bomber are displayed by grinning soldiers and Afghan police.

These are the “hero” troops that we are constantly told we have to support and be grateful to. Have these young people been warped by America’s immoral wars? Or are they products of America’s vicious gun culture? I don’t know the answer, just asking.

American officials weren’t happy with the LA Times for publishing the photos and tried to stop them from doing it. Although the Obama administration and military leaders fell over themselves condemning the actions of these troops,

At the same time, Pentagon and White House officials expressed disappointment that the photos had been made public. The Pentagon had asked The Times not to publish the photos, citing fears that they would trigger a backlash against U.S. forces.

Speaking to reporters during a meeting of NATO allies in Brussels, Panetta said:

“This is war. And I know that war is ugly and violent. And I know that young people sometimes caught up in the moment make some very foolish decisions. I am not excusing that behavior. But neither do I want these images to bring further injury to our people or to our relationship with the Afghan people.”

Tough shit. Haven’t we seen enough war crimes by now? This war and the war in Iraq are just plain evil. Get these kids out of Afghanistan, and let’s hope we can prevent a majority of them from acting out violently or joining the growing number of military suicides when they get back home.

Mother Jones reports that ALEC is begging right wing bloggers to rescue them from mean old Common Cause, Color of Change, and other liberal groups who have been convincing ALEC’s donors to withdraw their support.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, the once-obscure organization that pairs corporations with state lawmakers to draft pro-business and often anti-union legislation for the state level, is in damage control mode. Corporate members such as McDonald’s, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Mars, Inc. have cut ties with ALEC after taking heat from a coalition of progressive groups angry over ALEC’s “discriminatory” voter ID bills and controversial “Stand Your Ground” self-defense legislation that figures into the Trayvon Martin shooting in central Florida.

To push back, ALEC has turned to the conservative blogosphere for help. As PR Watch reported, Caitlyn Korb, ALEC’s director of external relations, told attendees at a Heritage Foundation “Bloggers Briefing” on Tuesday that the campaign against ALEC was “part of a wider effort to shut all of us down.” She asked the bloggers for “any and all institutional support” in ALEC’s fight against progressive groups, especially when it came to social media. “We’re getting absolutely killed in social media venues—Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest,” she said. “Any and all new media support you guys can provide would be so helpful, not just to us but to average people who don’t know much about this fight but are seeing us really get heavily attacked with very little opposition.”

Korb educated the bloggers with a handout listing ALEC’s positions on a range of issues. PR Watch, one of ALEC’s loudest critics, described the handout as “riddled with errors.”

Check out the list at the above link.

Joshua Holland has an excellent piece at Alternet: Freedom from a Dead-End Life: True Liberty Means Defeating the Right-Wing’s Nightmare Vision for America.

Last week, Mitt Romney summed up the Right’s rhetorical fluff as well as anyone when he told the National Rifle Association that “freedom is the victim of unbounded government appetite.” It was an unremarkable comment, so accustomed are we to hearing the Right – a movement that historically opposed women’s sufferage and black civil rights and still seeks to quash workers’ right to organize and gay and lesbian Americans’ right to marry– claim to be defenders of our liberties….

Dig a little deeper, and it becomes clear that “freedom” for the Right offers most of us anything but. It’s the freedom for companies to screw their workers, pollute, and otherwise operate free of any meaningful regulations to protect the public interest. It’s about the wealthiest among us being free from the burden of paying a fair share of the taxes that help finance a smoothly functioning society.

The flip side is that programs that assure working Americans a decent existence are painted as a form of tyranny approaching fascism. The reality is that they impinge only on our God-given right to live without a secure social safety net. It’s the freedom to go bankrupt if you can’t afford to treat an illness; the liberty to spend your golden years eating cat food if you couldn’t sock away enough for a decent retirement.

It’s another long read, but well worth the time.

At FDL, Kevin Gosztola writes about yesterday’s unanimous SCOTUS that multinational corporations can’t be sued for torturing and/or killing people.

The US Supreme Court unanimously decided that foreign political organizations and multinational corporations cannot be sued for the torture or extrajudicial killing of persons abroad under an anti-torture law passed in 1992. The law only gives people the right to sue “an individual,” “who acted under the authority of a foreign nation,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

The decision came in a lawsuit filed by the family of a US citizen, Azzam Rahim, who was tortured and killed in the Palestinian Territory by Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) intelligence officers. It was Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who President Barack Obama appointed to the Supreme Court, that spoke for the decision. She explained the text of the Torture Victims Protection Act of 1991 “convinces us that Congress did not extend liability to organizations, sovereign or not. There are no doubt valid arguments for such an extension. But Congress has seen fit to proceed in more modest steps in the Act, and it is not the province of this branch to do otherwise.”

Apparently, corporations are only “people” for purposes of corrupting electoral politics, but when they commit crimes they are no longer considered “individuals.” Gosztola also calls attention to the fact that Chief Justice Roberts actually laughed at the arguments of the Rahim family’s attorney Jeffrey Fisher.

Mr. Fisher did what he could with what the justices seemed to think was an exceptionally weak hand.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. summarized Mr. Fisher’s position: “You are saying, ‘Well, we want a term that is going to include individual persons and organizations but not state organizations.’ And the only term that fits perfectly is ‘individual.’ ”

“Exactly,” Mr. Fisher said. “That’s our argument.”

Chief Justice Roberts was incredulous. “Really?” he asked, to laughter in the courtroom, which the chief justice joined.

Finally, Dakinikat sent me this from The New York Times: Vatican orders crackdown on American nuns

The Vatican has launched a crackdown on the umbrella group that represents most of America’s 55,000 Catholic nuns, saying that the group was not speaking out strongly enough against gay marriage, abortion and women’s ordination.

Rome also chided the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) for sponsoring conferences that featured “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Those are my recommendations for today. What are you reading and blogging about?