Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pro-Indian 1932 Western "End of the Trail" Screens in Hillcrest This Saturday!

As part of its continuing exploration of Native American rights and the continuing oppression and virtual genocide against Native people in the United States, Activist San Diego is showing a rare and unusual film from 1932 this Saturday, January 26, 7 p.m., at the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest, in the Uptown District mall on Vermont Street north of University between Panera and Aladdin Restaurants.

The film is “End of the Trail,” a 1932 Columbia Western that was the first U.S. film to depict the Indian Wars of the 1870’s from a pro-Native perspective. Strikingly similar in plot and theme to the 1980 Academy Award winner “Dances with Wolves,” “End of the Trail” tells the story of U.S. cavalry captain Tim Travers (Tim McCoy), who is unjustly thrown out of the U.S. Army for allegedly providing guns to the Arapahoe Indians. Then an attack by Travers’ former fellow officers results in the “collateral damage” death of Travers’ son. With nowhere else to go, Travers joins the Arapahoes and becomes part of their war council.

At a time when virtually all Westerns depicted Native people as mindless savages, “End of the Trail” — despite at least one wince-inducing line — shows them sympathetically and condemns the U.S. government’s systematic breaking of all treaties with the tribes. Tim McCoy’s unusual background helps explain why he made this film. In the 1920’s he was part of an oral history project that interviewed Native survivors of the battle of the Little Big Horn, thereby taking down the only firsthand accounts we have of it. The film’s script by Stuart Anthony anticipates the pro-Native readings of the Indian Wars by 1960’s and 1970’s historians like Native writers Dee Brown and Vine DeLoria, Jr. and whites like Howard Zinn.

The screening is free of charge, but donations to Activist San Diego’s community radio project, KNSJ 89.1 FM — an FCC-licensed broadcast station in East County scheduled to go on the air in April 2013, and an affiliated Internet radio site now operational at www.knsj.org — will be requested.

For more information about this event, please contact Mark Gabrish Conlan at (619) 688-1886.

For more information about the film: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022856/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

For a review of the film by Mark Gabrish Conlan: http://moviemagg.blogspot.com/search?q=End+of+the+Trail

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

KNSJ Community Radio in San Diego Fundraising for a Broadcast Antenna

“People’s Ball” Fundraiser this Saturday, January 19, 7 p.m. at World Beat Center

SAN DIEGO--KNSJ Radio and Activist San Diego are hosting The People’s Ball, a gala and night of dancing with musical performances and surprise guests, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 at the World Beat Center at 2100 Park Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92101.  This gala is to raise funds to bring a new and needed radio voice to San Diego—KNSJ 89.1 FM out of Descanso, a truly independent community radio station of the people, by the people and for the people in San Diego county’s border region.

KNSJ radio is already streaming original local community programs online at www.knsj.org from contributors such as San Diego’s East County Magazine, the San Diego Troubadour, Ricardo Beas, David Rovics, Philip Raquel, Zenger’s Newsmagazine, and band Liquid Blue. A list of KNSJ’s current shows can be found here.

What now stands between having this unique non-commercial community-based radio station of, by and for the people on the airwaves, and losing the FCC license altogether, is $20,000 and 5 months.   

The $20,000 will purchase an $11,000 specially manufactured antenna, $4,000 for installation of the antenna, and $6,000 for the purchase of additional equipment for the KNSJ Radio studio.  A full list of the financial break down can be seen on the KNSJ Radio Indiegogo fundraising campaign page at www.indiegogo.com/knsjradio.

“It was a 1 year application process,” KSNJ Radio founder Martin Eder explained.  “Then the FCC gave us 3 years to get on-air.  We are down to the last five months, so its do or die time.”

Tickets for the People’s Ball can purchased online at www.knsj.org

About KNSJ Radio:

KNSJ Radio, YOUR Network for Social Justice, is an independent, non-commercial community radio station in the San Diego County and border region area.  KNSJ is a radio station of the people, by the people and for the people, and as an independent media outlet will give a voice to hundreds of thousands of people currently unheard.  KNSJ Radio is a project of Activist San Diego, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. 

KNSJ’s vision is to train and empower organizations and community members to produce their own news, culture and media, believing that a vibrant democracy depends on information, communications, and mobilization of, by, and for the people in our local and global society. 

A Sweet Treat for Valentine’s Day

Bach Collegium San Diego presents “When Cupid Strikes!” Program of Love-Inspired Songs with Wine & Chocolate Reception

He loves me… He loves me not!

Performances on February 8 & 9, 2013

“If I ever miss another [Bach Collegium SD concert] it will because I am out of town or dead.” -- David Gregson, OperaWest.com

Cupid will strike lovers of early music when Bach Collegium San Diego (BCSD), the city’s only early music performance ensemble, presents a special Valentine’s Day program focusing on music whose themes bring to mind tales of love gained, love lost, and tears shed.

Performances are Friday, February 8, 7:30pm at the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park, the group’s newest venue; and Saturday, February 9, 7:30pm at the Performing Arts Center in Rancho Santa Fe.

“The great Baroque composers Handel, Bach, Purcell, and Monteverdi all left great music focusing on the theme of love in its many complexities. From Purcell’s ‘If music be the food of love… sing on, sing on!’ that pronounces the virtues of love, to Bach’s secular canatata ‘Amore Traditore,’ in which a lover finds love a traitorous thing and hopes cupid’s arrows will miss him. But most importantly… chocolate! It seems natural to present a program on the subject of love, followed by a reception with chocolate,” said music director Ruben Valenzuela.

When Cupid Strikes!
Program:

Cantata: Amore Traditore BWV 203, J.S. Bach 

Incidental Music from The Fairy-Queen, Henry Purcell

If love’s a sweet passion (from The Fairy-Queen), Henry Purcell

Lamento della Ninfa (Amore, dicea), Claudio Monteverdi 

Love in her eyes sits playing (from Acis & Galatea), G.F. Handel 

As when the dove laments (from Acis & Galatea), G.F. Handel

Pur ti miro (from L’Incoronazione di Poppea), Claudio Monteverdi

If music be the food of love (3rd version), Henry Purcell

Chaconne in Three Parts upon a ground bass, Henry Purcell

DETAILS AND TICKETS
Individual Concerts
Tickets to individual concerts are $25 or $40. Senior/Student Discount: $20
Rush tickets may be purchased at the door for $10 if any seats are still available (student ID required).

PRE-CONCERT DISCUSSIONS
A pre-concert discussion begins 45 minutes before each concert. The discussion features selected performers and audience members, providing an opportunity to discuss the various topics related to the forthcoming concert.  

For more information and to purchase tickets please visit the BCSD website.

THE 2012-13 SEASON
Vivat! Music for an EnglIsh Coronation
Marking the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II
September 28 & 29, 2012

Hodie! Christus Natus Est
A sequence of choral music for Advent and Christmas, sung by candlelight
December 14 & 15, 2012

When Cupid Strikes!
Friday, February 8, 2013: San Diego History Center, Casa de Balboa, Balboa Park, 7:30pm
Saturday, February 9, 2013: Rancho Santa Fe Performing Arts Center, 7.30pm

Handel: Messiah 
An oratorio
Friday, March 15, 2013: St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, La Jolla, 7:30pm
Saturday, March 16, 2013: Rancho Santa Fe Performing Arts Center, 5pm
Sunday, March 17, 2013: First Presbyterian Church, 320 Date Street, San Diego, 5pm

A Venetian Vespers
First Vespers of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin (ca. 1640s)
Friday, May 17, 2013: St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, La Jolla, 7:30pm
Saturday, May 18, 2013: San Diego History Center, Casa de Balboa, Balboa Park, 7:30pm

All dates, times, venues, and artists may be subject to change.

ABOUT BCSD
Now celebrating its Tenth Anniversary Season, Bach Collegium San Diego was founded in 2003 by Ruben Valenzuela with the purpose of enriching San Diego’s music community with historically informed performances of the Renaissance, Baroque, and in particular the vocal works of J.S. Bach. Its members bring longstanding experience from such ensembles as the Academy of Ancient Music (UK), American Bach Soloists, Festival Ensemble Stuttgart, and the Philharmonia Chorale. During its first nine seasons, the ensemble has earned an impressive reputation, captivating diverse audiences with its unique style and highly expressive and provocative approach to the Renaissance and Baroque repertoire and beyond. The ensemble regularly participates in an international tour to Mexico City with performances at the Festival Internacional del Organo Barroco. BCSD has brought many historically informed first performances to San Diego for the first time. Such works include Handel’s Theodora and Messiah, Bach’s St. John Passion and B minor Mass, and Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers. BCSD was the only North American performance ensemble invited to participate in Bolivia’s national Baroque Music Festival in 2012.

For detailed bios and a list of ensemble performers please visit the website.

Ruben Valenzuela, Music Director
Pierre Joubert, Associate Director

P.O. BOX 33754
San Diego CA 92163 USA
619-341-1726

Bach Collegium San Diego Inc. is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter and visit our channel on YouTube.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Republicans Win the “Fiscal Cliff” Debate

By Mark Gabrish Conlanfor East County Magazine, www.eastcountymagazine.org
 
The first part of the “fiscal cliff” debate is over — and the Republicans won. That’s not the impression you’ll get from the corporate media, either the “objective” mainstream or the Right-wing media party of talk radio and Fox News. The mainstream media are reporting the swift passage of a bill through both houses of Congress continuing the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans making $400,000 per year ($450,000 per couple) as a triumph for President Obama and at least a partial fulfillment of his pledge in both Presidential campaigns for a (slight) tax increase on the wealthiest Americans. (Ironically, the $400,000 at which the restored tax rates kick in also happens to be the salary of the President.) But the bill is actually a slap-dash scheme thrown together at the last minute to keep taxes from returning to Clinton-era levels for all Americans — and it leaves the Republicans with yet another opportunity to hold the American economy hostage and demand draconian cuts to what’s left of the social safety net when Congress next has to raise the U.S. debt ceiling in two months.
What’s more, the deal does nothing to end the Republicans’ ideological hegemony over Washington in general and tax and budget policy in particular. Ever since the Republicans of 1935 fought tooth and nail against Franklin Roosevelt’s proposal for Social Security, the very idea of a “social safety net” has been anathema to them. They came to a grudging acceptance of some social welfare spending in the 1950’s, when Dwight Eisenhower was President, the highest income tax rate was a whopping 90 percent, the percentage of Americans belonging to labor unions was at its all-time high and America was still an industrial powerhouse with a booming economy. But the 1960’s marked the end of progressive Republicanism and the beginning of the “Southern strategy,” which Richard Nixon and Strom Thurmond put together in 1968 to neutralize the third-party Presidential candidacy of George Wallace and which created the combination of lassiez-faire economic Right-wingers and social conservatives neurotically obsessed with other people’s sex lives that has run the Republican party ever since.
Did you vote for President Obama in 2012 expecting that he’d be a fighter to maintain Social Security and Medicare, and he’d raise taxes on the 1 percent to pay for it? No such luck. It seems that when Americans vote for Republicans, they get Republican policies — and when they vote for Democrats, they still get Republican policies. Obama came into the “fiscal cliff” negotiations with the na├»ve belief that the very fact of his re-election — the spectacular failure of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s pledge to make him a one-term President — would cause the opposition to deal with him fairly and honestly. Obama hoped for a “grand bargain” in which he and Congressional Democrats would agree to eviscerate Social Security by making people wait longer to collect it (to 67 instead of 65) and slashing cost-of-living increases in benefits by tying them to the so-called “chained CPI,” a bit of legerdemain that willfully ignores the reality of inflation on the fixed incomes of senior citizens.
But to the Republicans in Congress — especially the “Tea Party” fanatics who want to see just about every government program outside of defense and law enforcement either cut to the bone, outsourced to the private sector or eliminated altogether — Obama’s willingness to turn his back on the people who elected him twice wasn’t good enough. So what we ended up with was a bill that gives Obama a partial victory on taxes — and sets up yet another confrontation over the economy in March, when the country’s current debt ceiling expires and Republicans gain yet more leverage to force the deep cuts in so-called “entitlement” spending — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — that are the real point of their policy. They also won some immediate victories, like getting rid of the “holiday” that lowered working America’s Social Security payroll taxes without restoring the working-class tax credit the “holiday” replaced.
That means that every American making $113,700 or less in wages — which is 98 percent of us ­— will see an immediate tax increase. For a family making $80,000 per year, that will up the government’s bite on their salary by $1,600 — while couples earning $450,000 or more will save up to $9,200 per year. What’s more, the Republicans got their wish to keep the estate tax at 35 percent for inherited fortunes of $10 million or less (it goes up to 40 percent after that), instead of restoring the 45 percent rate on $7 million or more that existed before 2009. Since people who make — or have — that kind of money generally have excellent estate planners who take advantage of all existing loopholes, the effective estate tax on large fortunes is only 16.7 percent. According to the Tax Policy Center of Washington, D.C., over one-half of all U.S. estate taxes are paid, not by the 1 percent, but by the 0.1 percent — so cutting the estate tax is basically an enormous giveaway of public money to them.
The “fiscal cliff” deal is being sold as the first installment in a series of steps to reduce the federal budget deficit. That’s an odd thing to say about a bill that will increase the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years. Thanks to the Republicans’ ability to set the threshold for tax-rate restoration at $400,000 instead of $250,000, the new tax bill will increase federal revenues by only $625 billion per year — nearly $1 trillion less than Obama was hoping for. The new bill also merely delays the dreaded “sequester,” the steep budget cuts in both domestic and military spending that were put into place to take effect automatically, unless Congress acts to reverse them, the last time Obama and the Congressional Republicans played chicken over the debt ceiling. And by slashing the amount of tax money available for deficit reduction, it gives the Republicans more leverage to demand spending cuts the next time the debt-ceiling debate happens.
What’s even more infuriating about the Republicans’ ideological triumph is how many issues are off the table. Nobody in Washington is talking about returning to the 90 percent top income tax rate under Eisenhower, the 70 percent of Kennedy and Johnson, or even the 50 percent top tax rate under that notorious Bolshevik, Ronald Reagan. The whole obsession with deficit reduction in an economy that is barely growing and is essentially on an IV drip will virtually ensure that the U.S. will meet the fate of the poorer countries in the European Union — Greece, Italy, Spain — in which “austerity” programs have essentially ended economic growth and investment. The people of those countries are caught in a vicious spiral, in which cutbacks in government spending reduce economic demand, which reduces the ability of consumers to spend, which reduces investment in production, which shrinks the economy and creates the pretext for even more austere “austerity” policies.
This is the future the Republicans envision for the U.S. Sometimes it seems that whenever the American people have the temerity to elect a Democrat to anything, especially the Presidency, the Republicans are out to impose collective punishment on us by making it difficult for the Democratic President to govern and impossible for him to do the things he promised the people who voted for him. The Republicans — especially the hard-core libertarians in the “tea party” — see government’s only legitimate responsibilities as national defense, law enforcement and a judicial system to rule on contractual conflicts between corporations. They specifically reject any government role in helping people without jobs or health care, or otherwise in need. They not only reject any attempt by government to reduce economic inequality, they believe that great inequalities in wealth and income are the sign of a healthy society that is allowing its superior individuals to reap the full benefit of their superiority — no matter how much this hurts anyone else.
This is the philosophy behind the American Right’s second-favorite book (after the Bible), Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. It’s the philosophy Mitt Romney was expressing last May when he told a roomful of his super-rich buddies in Boca Raton, Florida that “there are 47 percent who are with [Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.” It’s what Romney repeated the day after the election when he had a conference call to his donors and told them, ““The Obama campaign was following the old playbook of giving a lot of stuff to groups that they hoped they could get to vote for them and be motivated to go out to the polls, specifically the African American community, the Hispanic community and young people. In each case they were very generous in what they gave to those groups.”

It’s what Right-wing propagandist Bill O’Reilly was talking about the night of the election, when he casually and contemptuously dismissed Obama’s victory as the work of “50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things and who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it and he ran on it. And whereby 20 years ago President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney. The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that this economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff.”

Never mind that in an economy that is becoming increasingly unequal, there are plenty of rational reasons for people to believe that the system is stacked against them. According to the Congressional Budget Office, from 1979 to 2007 the share of income of the top 20 percent of Americans rose from 50 percent to nearly 60 percent, while every other group’s share fell. And though the 2008 recession touched the brake pedal in America’s long drive towards greater inequality, UC Berkeley economist Emmanuel Sainz said that in 2009 and 2010 the income of the average American family rose 2.3 percent — but the incomes of the 1 percent rose 11.6 percent, giving their class 93 percent of all increased income since the recession technically ended.

Unfortunately, the losers in this game of economic grab-and-snatch don’t have a voice in American politics. The Republican Party has become something that wasn’t supposed to be able to exist in America — an ideologically coherent, methodically disciplined major party pushing an extremist agenda in the corridors of power. The Democratic Party has edged farther and farther to the Right, so much so that former conservative author and activist Bruce Bartlett has called Obama “an Eisenhower conservative,” and last March Walter Ellis of the Daily Telegraph in Britain (http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/walterellis/100142115/there-is-no-proper-left-in-american-politics-even-obama-is-more-right-wing-than-cameron/) rated Obama more conservative than Britain’s Conservative Party prime minister, David Cameron.
Meanwhile, the American Left — the mass movement that turned people out onto the streets in the 1890’s, the 1930’s and the 1960’s to demand a more equal society that protected its workers, senior citizens, women, people of color and environment — is essentially dead. Oh, it shows occasional galvanic twitches — like the anti-globalization protests in Seattle in 1999 and the Occupy movement in 2011 — but mostly it’s a rotting corpse, slain partly by three rounds of intense, vicious and violent government repression and partly by its own idiocy. What’s left of the American Left has forgotten how to talk to working people; it’s become an ever more abstruse intellectual debating society, running itself by rules of “participatory democracy” and “horizontal decision-making” that in practice render it unable to do much of anything at all.
When the Bourbons — the hereditary ruling family of France who had been overthrown in the 1789 Revolution — were restored to power after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, they ruled as they always had: maintaining a lavish lifestyle and a ruinously expensive military establishment, throwing anyone who hinted at dissent into the Bastille, and charging the rest of France stiff taxes to pay for it all. Charles Talleyrand, the master opportunist who had served the Bourbons, the Revolutionaries, Napoleon and the Bourbons again, said, “They have learned nothing, and they have forgotten nothing.” A lot of political commentators trotted out that quote in the first two weeks after Obama’s re-election, assuming that the demographic shifts in the U.S. electorate — particularly increasing participation by young people and people of color — spelled long-term trouble for the Republican Party.

But the Republicans remain in control of the ideological agenda in Washington. As Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik recently wrote (http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-hiltzik-20121230,0,966732.column), “The disagreement in Washington is no longer whether to cut, but where and by how much.” With the Democrats playing the game of Right-wing catch-up they’ve been committed to since Ronald Reagan first won the Presidency in 1980, and the absence of a truly mass Left to counteract the power of political money and push the political system in a more progressive direction, the U.S. economy will become more and more unequal, its labor movement will continue to shrink and finally disappear altogether, the social safety net will become a distant memory, and the whole idea of government as a countervailing force to corporate money and power will be flushed down America’s memory hole.

After Newtown: The NRA’s Vision

by Mark Gabrish Conlanfor East County Magazine, www.eastcountymagazine.org
On December 14, a young sniper brought a civilian version of a military assault rifle into a grade school in Newtown, Connecticut and mowed down 27 people, 20 of them schoolchildren. It was at least the fifth major mass shooting in the U.S. this year, and like the heroine of the musical Cabaret, advocates of sane gun policies briefly came out of the woodwork and dared hope, “Maybe this time … ” Maybe the horror that most of the victims were children would provoke a reinstatement of the 1994-2004 federal ban on private ownership of assault weapons and a retreat from the madness that has given the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its even more radical spinoff group, Gun Owners of America, virtual veto power over U.S. firearms policy.

Instead, the NRA came out swinging and, in a bizarre press conference on December 21 — just one week after the Newtown massacre — unveiled their solution. Not fewer guns, more guns. Wayne LaPierre, whose official title with the NRA is executive vice-president but who has been the public face of the organization for decades — in 1995 he sent out a fundraising letter denouncing federal agents as “jack-booted government thugs” and causing former President George H. W. Bush to resign his lifetime NRA membership — started his presentation with an attack on “gun-free school zones” which, he said, “tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”
After a few snipes at Hollywood and the video game industry — LaPierre singled out movies like American Psycho and Natural Born Killers and games like Bullet Storm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Combat, Splatterhouse and Kindergarten Killers — he expressed his and his organization’s philosophy succinctly in 18 words: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” He said that we trust people with guns to go to war for our country, protect our President and come to our aid when we become victims or witnesses to crimes, so why don’t we “put armed security in every school”?
LaPierre called on Congress to fund at least one armed police officer for every school in the country, and also said, “Right now, today, every school in the United States should plan meetings with parents, school administrators, teachers, local authorities, and draw upon every resource that’s out there and available to erect a cordon of protection around our kids right now.” And he offered the services of his organization, which he called “America’s pre-eminent trainer of law enforcement and security personnel for the past 50 years” (huh? I thought police had their own training academies!) — to “bring all its knowledge, all its dedication and all its resources to develop a model national schools shield emergency response program for every single school in America that wants it.”
And LaPierre brought out former Congressmember Asa Hutchinson (R-Arkansas) as his appointee to head what Hutchinson called an NRA “team of security experts to assist our schools, parents, and our communities.” Then the event ended without giving reporters any chance to ask questions.
From the description National Journal reporter Fawn Johnson, who covered it, published at http://www.nationaljournal.com/nra-offers-free-advice-on-arming-schools-20121221, it seems as if the NRA was determined to make their own media event a showcase for their claimed expertise in security. “Reporters were required to show I.D. twice before checking in to a crowded ballroom in a downtown Washington, D.C. hotel, where they had already pre-registered, while sniffer dogs roamed between their legs,” Johnson wrote. Despite the precautions, LaPierre’s presentation was disrupted by anti-gun protesters at least twice, but he dismissed them as easily as one swats a fly.
The NRA’s response to the Newtown shooting — and the other, similar incidents (at least four this year in the U.S. alone) in which armed-to-the-teeth mass murderers have mowed down innocent civilians — may seem bizarre at first. But it’s only a nightmare intensification of what has become basic wisdom to much of the American Right: the world is a dog-eat-dog place, and if you want to survive in it you not only have to make your own way in the economy without government help, you also have to take responsibility for protecting yourself and not count on the government to be able to do that for you either.
LaPierre’s press conference shows a yin-and-yang attitude towards law enforcement. Sometimes he praised their expertise (while saying the NRA helped them develop it) and boasted of the millions of police officers who either belong to the NRA or have taken its classes. Sometimes he talked about “millions of qualified and active retired police, active Reserve and retired military, security professionals, certified firefighters, security professionals, rescue personnel” as the kinds of people the NRA could recruit for their volunteer school security teams. Sometimes he made fun of people who trust police, soldiers and Secret Service agents to have guns but don’t want other people to get them. And sometimes he seemed to be saying that we can’t rely totally on official law enforcement to protect our schoolchildren, that we have to do it ourselves, and the only reason anyone could have for opposing his proposal is they’re “so consumed by fear and hatred of the NRA and American gun owners.”
The content of LaPierre’s remarks, as well as their combative tone, underscored how committed he and his organization are to a Wild West vision of society in which everyone is armed to the teeth, and our main line of defense against a crazy person with a lot of guns is a whole bunch of presumably non-crazy people with their own guns, ready to take out the next Jared Loughner or Adam Lanza before he can kill anyone else. One would think that the head of an organization that boasts of its commitment to safety and other aspects of firearms training would understand what just about every police officer I’ve seen interviewed, and every one I’ve talked to personally, has said: that the worst thing that can happen in a shooting situation is a lot of civilians with guns. At best, they’ll get in the way; at worst, they’ll just up the body count. Even if they’re the kinds of people LaPierre was talking about — folks who once served with the military or the police and therefore had firearms training at one point — it’s likely that their skills have deteriorated with age and lack of practice.
The NRA has basically won the debate on gun control in the U.S. As David Frum noted after the July massacre in Aurora, Colorado (http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/23/opinion/frum-guns/), U.S. support for a ban on private ownership of handguns, “weapons whose only function is to kill people at close range,” dropped from 60 percent in 1959 to less than 25 percent today. The NRA’s independent political campaigns helped turn over control of Congress to the Republicans in 1994 and kept Al Gore out of the White House in 2000 by costing him his home state of Tennessee. Since then, gun control as a political issue has become so toxic that in the hours after Newtown all President Obama dared to say was that we needed “meaningful action,” without any hint that that meaningful action might have anything to do with reducing the number of guns or making it more difficult for Americans to arm themselves.
In addition to controlling the political debate on guns, the NRA has also propagandized for an almost paranoid view of society that has encouraged people to buy guns. It’s why, as George Skelton reported in the December 17 Los Angeles Times (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-cap-guns-20121217,0,2779922.column), the California Department of Justice received a record 601,000 requests for background checks on gun buyers in 2011 and expects the number to top 800,000 for 2012 — while the number of requests for hunting licenses in the state has dropped from 543,000 in 1981 to 282,000 in 2011. “The broad support for healthy recreational gun ownership that my generation grew up with has faded,” Skelton concluded. “It has been replaced with a narrower gun worship based on a fear of other humans.”
And, as Atlantic contributor Jordan Weissmann noted December 18 (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/12/whom-does-the-nra-really-speak-for/266373/), the NRA has sound commercial as well as ideological reasons to push that point of view. Weissmann analyzed the NRA’s tax returns and found that in 2010 the group grossed $228 million. Membership dues and fees brought in $106 million of that, and another $18 million came from charges for their education programs. Much of the rest, Weissmann said, came directly from gun manufacturers, $20.9 million to buy ads in the NRA’s magazines and up to $38.9 million in direct contributions through an outreach program called “Ring of Freedom” the NRA started in 2005.
Though not all the donors to “Ring of Freedom” are gun companies or people who own or work for them, Weissmann said, they “include 22 different gun makers, including famous names like Smith & Wesson, Beretta USA, SIGARMS, and Sturm, Ruger & Co. that also manufacture so-called assault weapons. … These connections have fueled the theory among some gun-control advocates that the NRA is just another corporate front. That might theoretically explain why the group has opposed politically popular measures such as requiring background checks at gun shows and banning sales to people on the terrorist watch list, proposals that even its own members have been found to support. For gun makers, the fewer rules, the better.” Weissmann quoted former NRA operative and consultant Richard Feldman as saying that the NRA was stoking the fires of its members’ anti-government paranoia to keep them donating and enable the group to pay LaPierre nearly $1 million a year.
Years ago, after the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colorado, I wrote that events so horrible give people on all sides of the ideological spectrum a chance to vent by blaming them on their pet peeves. We’ve seen this pattern after Newtown as well. Gun advocates and opponents have gone back and forth on the issue. Arguments that Newtown proves that the assault weapons ban should be re-instituted are met with counter-arguments that the ban was in place when Columbine happened and. Arguments that mass shootings of this type are a uniquely American phenomenon are met with reminders that they’ve also taken place in countries like Norway, with tough anti-gun laws and a more cooperative, less competitive popular spirit. Pro-gun commentators pointed to a similar incident in a school in China in which the assailant, unable to get hold of guns under Chinese law, used knives — and supporters of gun restrictions countered that at least the victims in China, wounded and traumatized though they may be, are still alive.
Even the attacks on violent movies and video games for having supposedly contributed to the prevalence of mass shootings in the U.S. have a kind of chicken-and-egg quality about them. Do such entertainments inspire people to commit ghastly crimes, or do we find them entertaining because we’ve already been taught a warped view of our history as a nation that emphasizes the gun and its power to kill? A few days after Newtown I finally saw the film The Dark Knight Rises on DVD. It’s a powerful movie that will forever be tainted by its association with the Aurora shooting, in which a young man obsessed with the Batman mythos opened fire during a midnight screening. Writer-director Christopher Nolan created a film in which the residents of a major city are pushed and pulled by people with weapons, some called “good” and some “evil,” and he staged the violence in ways that emphasized both its cruelty and its beauty. Ironically, the film’s ending sent the message that for our security we need to rely on the institutions of a democratic society and the duly constituted law enforcement authorities, not on rich vigilantes on either side of the moral divide.
Do entertainments like The Dark Knight Rises or the two LaPierre mentioned, Natural Born Killers (which was actually a spoof of the way serial killers get exploited by the media) and American Psycho, actually cause massacres like the ones at Columbine, Aurora and Newtown? Or is there an already existing strain in this country’s cultural psychology that produces both the handful of real-life killers and the millions who buy tickets to such films and find them entertaining? We’re a country that has seen its history largely in terms of the gun: “clearing” the frontier by massacring the indigenous population, “defending our homes,” building a cult around the military that has led us to spend more on “national defense” than the rest of the world’s nations combined. In a way, the NRA’s response to Newtown — that to protect ourselves we need more armed people, not fewer — fits all too well with a disturbing but long-established part of our national psyche.