The NRA and Patriotism

As Americans are again witness to the spectacle of the NRA moving back the line on what it will and won’t accept from Congress, while it simultaneously proposes solutions to all society’s ills that begin and end with “more guns”, is it time for us to question the loud claim of its members that it is a patriotic, freedom-loving organization?

The Constitution defines many separate rights and liberties for citizens. Over the two centuries plus of that document’s existence, we the people have tried to work out the nuts and bolts of these rights in practice, especially in determining the limitations of each when the exercise of one right conflicts with another.

We can’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater, libel or slander others, or shout down another under the guise of free speech. Freedom of religion does not extend to violations of civil law. The right to peaceably assemble can be subject to reasonable local fees and procedures meant to ensure public health and safety.

The NRA has taken its interpretation of one part, of one amendment, and treated that interpretation as unique, sacrosanct and untouchable among all the rights and provisions of the Constitution. If there is conflict, let’s say between First Amendment freedom of speech and the NRA’s interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, they will not hesitate to stomp down the former. This they have done to government workers at the ATF and the Centers for Disease Control, and to numerous citizens who have been viciously threatened for speaking out.

Imagine taking this same unlimited and unregulated attitude toward other provisions of the Constitution under the guise of “liberty” or “God-given right”. What would that look like in practice? Would our society be more free if citizens could shout down others who were trying to speak, leaving the public forum to those who could physically or financially shout the loudest? Imagine a society where individuals could sacrifice pets or children under the guise of freedom of religion. Absurd perhaps, but not out of keeping with the attitude that many gun-rights proponents hold toward the 2nd Amendment. Have reasonable limitations on the Constitution’s other rights and liberties been a “slippery slope” leading to the complete elimination of such rights, as the NRA and its members suggest would happen to the 2nd Amendment with reasonable regulations? Hardly.

Rather than weakening the Constitution, such limitations help strengthen it by both providing clear guidelines for exercising rights, and by creating an overall spirit and ideal for American society. All the individual Constitutional rights, it seems, have reasonable limitations to ensure the effectiveness of the whole. All, that is, except one.

The NRA insists on an infinite interpretation of the language of their one Amendment, refusing to even discuss such reasonable questions as: What do and do not constitute “arms” under the amendment? What is meant by “well regulated” and doesn’t this phrase itself legitimize some regulation and limitation?

Patriots? Or perhaps the opposite. By putting part of the 2nd Amendment above the rest of the Constitution, the NRA has revealed itself to be no patriotic friend of American Constitutional democracy, but rather the shrill proponent and enforcer of a singular edict, its own Bill of Right. Without respect for the dynamic interplay of all society’s rights and liberties, the NRA marginalizes the majority of our basic legal principles, and undermines the philosophy and sense of ideals envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

Deficits, Debt, and Depressions

Imagine that you or your family were going through hard times. Perhaps someone in the family is unemployed and looking for work. You have some limited resources that you want to put to best use. What do you do?

Do you put those funds into your mortgage, lowering your long-term debt, and perhaps reducing your loan term? Or do you invest in something that will help you find a job, perhaps take some classes, gain certification or skills, perhaps buy a new suit, hire a career coach, while at the same time looking to see where you can cut back on expenses?

Most likely you would do the second. Doing the first would reduce your debt, but would have no effect on your improving your current financial circumstances. The same is true for the national economy. Most legitimate economists recommend paying down debt in good times, and investing in and stimulating the economy in hard times.

And yet there are those who constantly push for reducing the debt at the expense of middle class programs and stimulus. Why? Just as in the example above, where the only one who will immediately benefit is the mortgage company, national debt reduction improves credit ratings and returns on financial instruments, generally benefitting the wealthy the most immediately at the expense of others. 

Focusing on the debt for the benefit of the 1% instead of the welfare of the other 99% is what plunged the US into the first Republican Great Depression. Let’s not make the same mistake again.

Who Truly Reports the News?

Many people scoff at the notion that political comedians such as John Stewart and Stephen Colbert represent the only truly accurate news sources. Is it possible, however, that there is truth to that notion?

Some of us can remember a time when there were editorials on broadcast news. Media was far more comfortable then with taking a stand on important societal and political issues. This could have been seen as the dominance of journalism over commercial or profit considerations in the broadcast news industry, or at least as a nod to journalistic tradition. But editorials slowly became less pointed, moving toward the bland and insipid, eventually disappearing altogether from the broadcast media landscape. Here was perhaps a sign of the triumph of commercialism over journalism, the first phase of the profit incentive and its focus on attracting and keeping viewership becoming media’s primary goal.

We have since moved on to what might be considered the second phase of mass media’s self-emasculation as a democracy-ensuring institution in the name of commercial expediency: a condition and an allegiance to what I call “forced, arbitrary balance.”

Equating it without justification to “accuracy” and “good journalism”, but in effect bowing to the commercial necessity of pandering to and not offending the greatest number of news consumers, the media now aims for what it considers “balance”. But that begs several questions.

Is balance the same as accuracy, or has media simply presumed as much? If they are not the same, is media balance closer to inaccuracy? And if balance results in inaccurate reportage, is this balanced reportage not only misleading, but distorting our democratic process?

To begin to answer these questions, first consider if there is a discernible truth in a political situation. Of two political positions being reported on, does one represent more honest democracy and honorable representation? If so, can that position be determined, and should it be reported as such? And what of the opposing side?

Imagine a tree falls in the forest. If this is a non-political event, it will be reported that a tree fell in the forest. If, however, falling trees have political implications, it will be covered from two opposing perspectives, with representative quotes from each side. After many column inches, megabytes, and air time devoted to the two positions, the news consumer will feel saturated with information, surely informed, yet somehow still unsure as to what actually happened. The news consumer throws up his or her hands and says, “Why can’t they all just get along,” not just in frustration, but also in ignorance. (This too will be reported as something akin to the suffering citizen just wanting compromise and civility in government, and not as a lack of being adequately informed.)

The truth is never in the exact middle, so by requiring that political reporting aim for that middle forced, arbitrary balance must always be a distortion of the news and a misinforming of the public. The public is lead to believe that the two sides are roughly equally valid, creating false equivalencies when there likely are none. The side closer to the truth, or integrity of position vis a vis representing the best interests of the American people, is frustrated by the lack of validation. The other side, seeing its actions and positions elevated to an equal level of acceptability, or at least plausibility, is enabled and emboldened to push for and assume increasingly dishonest and corrupt positions.

The feeling of not being informed has led many people to seek accuracy elsewhere. But the more weak-minded are easily led into mistaking clarity for accuracy. A world of clarity and apparent certainty can be very appealing, and far easier than taking personal responsibility for a deliberate consideration of reality. Fox News reports with clarity, but little accuracy. It’s ascendence could be considered a consequence of forced balance in legitimate media.

So what’s left? Does humor and political satire disqualify or alter the fundamental accuracy of the message? I think not. Some would pre-judge comedy as lightweight, casual, or insignificant as political commentary. Fortunately, we’ve had the legacies of Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl as powerful models of the legitimacy of political humor. Now we have the next stage, defined less by message humor and more by direct political commentary with an eye for illuminating the absurd and the hypocritical. The humor becomes part of the commentary, adding an additional layer to what is essentially news coverage. Balance becomes irrelevant when the goal is illumination. Through a combination of satire, farce, and often simply assembling politicians’ own words, accuracy, if not a type of truth, emerges far more valid than the deliberate equivocating of mainstream media.

New Amendment #8

All media which is licensed by any government agency to utilized a portion of broadcast spectrum or offered to the public via electronic means must provide equal and equivalent time or space for sufficient response to commercial content which is substantially of a political, life-style, industry-supportive, or societal nature, and not of a specific product-based quality.

Ten New Amendments to the Constitution #7

To preserve the integrity of the electoral system at all levels, be it involving candidates, amendments, issues, propositions or the like, all such elections will be financed by a public fund, contributions to which shall not be of a form or effect which would preclude otherwise qualified candidates or proponents of any of the above electoral categories from so running or proposing. No private funds or other equivalent resources may be utilized in such electoral categories. This shall not be considered a limitation on freedom of speech, but more accurately, a prohibition on the rationing of speech through undemocratic, wealth and influenced based means.

Ten New Amendments to the Constitution #6

#6. All the rights and liberties contained within this Constitution or so implied or interpreted in law shall apply equally to all citizens and legal residents of the United States, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, religion, lifestyle or gender, and all opportunities be made reasonably and equally available to all said citizens and legal residents, providing the practice of such rights and liberties does not substantially infringe on the welfare of the People or their free practice of same said rights and liberties.

Ten New Amendments to the Constitution #5

#5 All the rights and liberties contained within this Constitution or so implied or interpreted in law shall apply in and on all commercial and public places, settings, properties, holdings and situations within these United States of America, unless a compelling, substantial, and particular conflict with the exercise of a private property right can be actively demonstrated. 

Ten New Amendments to the Constitution #4

#4.    All items, products, services, commodities, or utilities offered for public consumption, including preparatory and subsequent activities and operations related to said products, services, commodities or utilities, shall be shown to be substantially safe for human and environmental health and welfare prior to commencement of such activities and offerings, within the current limits of analysis and reasonable knowledge, with any doubt resolved in favor of the People’s and environmental health and welfare. Responsibility for substantiating said safety of products and services shall rest with the producers and providers of said products and services, and not with the People, or any government level, division, or agency. 

Ten New Amendments to the Constitution #3

#3. The personal, familial, professional, financial, and commercial information of citizens and legal residents shall be secure and considered personal private property, and any conversion, sale, use, or distribution not specifically and positively authorized shall be prohibited. Waiver or restriction of this right is prohibited and shall not be a condition of commerce.