Right’s hysteria prevents good gun debate

Adam Levin

As you may have noticed, guns are in the news. Vice President Joe Biden has taken the lead on addressing issues of gun control and is currently spearheading efforts towards producing legislation that would ban assault weapons, strengthen background checks and limit access to weapons with large, extended magazines. This issue is one we could debate all day, and the United States has no doubt been doing so in the wake of the Newtown shooting. What is really disturbing about this most recent gun control debate, however, is not the issue itself, but the rhetoric surrounding it. The toxic language used in the gun control discussion impedes, rather than furthers, intelligent policymaking.

The most recent and relevant example of this was nutcase Alex Jones’ appearance on “Piers Morgan Tonight”.  He circulated a petition to get Morgan, an Englishman, deported from the country because Morgan supports stronger gun control. The petition received over 100,000 signatures.  He justified his actions to Morgan, saying, “Mao said political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.  He killed about 80 million people, because he’s the only guy that had the guns.”

This rant is characteristic of right-wing partisan arguments on the subject.  They often say, ‘it’s not about controlling guns. It’s about self-control.’  This is usually followed by hazy connections to Hitler, Stalin, Mao and other figures in the American mythos that are used as symbols of the suppression of personal liberty.

These people, the Right claims, took the guns away, and since President Obama wants to do so, he is no different. First, let’s acknowledge that Obama is not a bloodthirsty dictator.  Just because you disagree with his policies does not mean he is the epitome of evil.  Or, frankly put:  Obama has passed progressive, statist legislation.  Mao Zedong killed around 80 million people; not terribly similar.

Alex Jones’ comparison flies in his face once you think about it.  Even if Jones’ logic was solid, there was no right to bear arms in China, even before Mao took over.  Do rabid gun enthusiasts like Jones really think that pre-communist Chinese citizens had the right to own (or even the means to access) firearms?  The facts show that they did not.

To be fair, Alex Jones is the craziest of the crazy, and does not represent levelheaded conservatives.  In fact, the real tragedy of this gun control shouting match is the silencing of the moderate Right.  Classical conservative voices like George Will, Alan Simpson and David Brooks have been drowned out by the extreme brand of conservatism promoted by pundits like Jones and Glenn Beck. This is a tragedy because it undermines the fact that it is very healthy for a democracy to have a centrist, conservative party.  It often serves to keep politics moderate and reasonable.  When these kinds of conservatives give way to radical, paranoid Tea Party-types, politics resembles a zoo more than a debate.

The real way we ward off tyranny is not by joining a militia and practicing our aim, awaiting some fictitious government takeover.  Instead, Americans should participate more in civil society by voting, debating and advocating for good government. Doing so, we strengthen our republican institutions, keeping the nation democratic.

So therefore, let’s actually talk about guns, not about control.  Let’s debate the issue substantively, with statistics and logical propositions, rather than yelling about dead Communists most of us know little about.

 

How come it’s just water bottles?

Laura Merrell

On my first day back on campus, I went to Pop’s to get lunch, which mostly consisted of waiting in an unending line and complaining about said long line. When it was finally my turn, imagine my surprise when I asked for a bottle of water, and I was told I could not have one. At first, I was very confused, but then saw the sign explaining that bottled water would not be sold on campus anymore, except in the residence hall vending machines. Far be it for me to argue that we need to have bottled water on campus. I know that bottled water is wasteful, bad for the environment and easy to do away with. However, why stop at water?

Pop’s, Old Main Café and the C-Store still offer tons of drinks in plastic bottles such as juice, Powerade and Vitamin Water. Why take away the healthy drink available in plastic bottles (water), and leave sugary, unhealthy drinks such as Coca Cola, which has 240 calories or Minute Maid Apple Juice that has 140 calories? I am unaware at this point whether water is just the beginning and there is already a plan underway to remove the remaining bottled drinks on campus. Otherwise, as a campus, we are only partially saving the environment at the cost of our health.

I propose a simple solution for making the loss of bottled water easier on students: introduce a water bottle checkout system at Old Main and the C-Store, similar to the coffee mug system already in place. With this plan, students can easily make the switch from plastic to something more sustainable without spending any money. Also, if the student body cannot do without their sugary drink fix, we should at least switch to glass bottles or install soda machines at Pop’s and Old Main like the ones in Mom’s and both dining halls. The College of Wooster has made an important shift in thinking consciously about being green with the water bottle change, but let’s not stop there. If we can do away with water, we can remove the soda, juice and sports drinks as well.

I greatly applaud the College’s efforts toward a greener, sustainable campus, but I wonder why we do not get rid of the bottled drinks in our vending machines? Perhaps the College has a contract with Coca Cola that is impossible to get out of for a few years, but hopefully the issue of bottled beverages in our vending machines will be addressed in the next couple of years. The important aspect of this water bottle change is that it becomes part of a series of continuing sustainable changes on campus, instead of a one-time deal. I look forward to seeing what the campus will do next, since we already have timed lights, solar panels on the Scot Center roof and now no more plastic water bottles. Our campus can only get better as long as we continue to look for areas to change or improve.

Premature Obamalation

Dan Grantham

On the event of the second, and I emphasize second, inauguration of President Barack Obama, I find myself scratching my head at the American Left, a group among whose ranks I proudly number myself.  The Left has allowed itself to use the occasion to place Mr. Obama in the lofty heights of the political mythos of our country. From Beyonce’s incredible rendition of the Star Spangled Banner (no, you go sing it live) to “OMG what is Michelle Obama wearing,” it disturbs me that the man who claimed he could change everything has now been placed alongside Reagan, Roosevelt and Lincoln.

While I don’t think Mr. Obama will be added to the face of Mt. Rushmore, to place him on a symbolic throne while he is still in office exemplifies the American Left doing exactly that which they criticized the Right for, insofar as reverence to the Constitution is concerned. In addition, it suggests that the Left is unwilling to own up to the President’s greatest failures.

What do I mean? First off, as suggested by Gawker’s “Unemployment Stories vol. 23,” the unemployment rate, now at 7.8 percent has not improved, and is in fact the same as it was on the day four years ago when Mr. Obama entered office. So much for the fourth anniversary of the day from which everything was supposed to change.

As a soon-to-be-graduated college senior with a degree in a field which others assure me is as useless as it is trivial, the specter of unemployment, student loan default and general lack of fulfillment haunts me from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. And while I am the first to admit that I am as pessimistic about myself as Beyonce’s radiant hair is long, I will also begrudgingly admit that this pessimism has been egged on by Mr. Obama’s record on reducing unemployment. While I find solace and hope in my intelligence, abilities as a writer and faith in my work ethic, I no longer find such hope in the man whose election was built on the hope of putting America and its economy right again.

Second, and as an intoxicated post-graduate student I met in New York pronounced, the United States is a country of symbols. While the United States is a stand alone on the cheese plate of the world’s nation-states, Mr. Obama’s election to me represented, at first, a serious and profound departure from our backwards reliance on these symbols. Past presidents, the Constitution, apple pie and the white privilege to say “why don’t they just learn English” were put on the back burner when we, as a nation, elected someone who did not look the part, did not have white privilege nor a name that would suggest that he would one day rise to our highest political office. While it is at times refreshing to see that the American political mythos has expanded itself far enough to include the likes of a black man, doing so misplaces why we elected Obama in the first place. We needed change. But more importantly, his premature inclusion in these ranks suggests that the Left believes race is no longer an issue in the land of the free, that is, if you are not black, Hispanic, gay, poor, etc.

Still, I remain proud to say that I was, like millions of other Americans, fortunate to cast my vote for our president. Mr. Obama continues to be a brave new leader in the terrifying new world that is the service-based economy. He stands in opposition to the ever more real fears that upward mobility has become a thing of the past, that your name signifies your lot, that class is rigid.

But he also cannot be judged as a savior just yet. Doing so endangers our ability to hold our elected officials accountable, and while my feelings for Obama have soured from wide-eyed political love to a tempered but persistent political crush, I write this partially because I do not want to completely succumb to this symbol making. Unlike the Affordable Care Act, increasing taxes, advocating gun control and making it easier for all people to safely and fairly become United States citizens, political symbol-making undermines our ability to uphold a strong democracy. So let’s pump the brakes and wait four more years before we canonize the president.

Press unfairly criticized

President Obama expressed his support for the assault weapons ban, a motion led by Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), on Dec. 18. The following day, Obama supported his statements with a press conference in which he promised to address gun control in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy. It was then that he charged Vice President Joe Biden with developing “concrete proposals no later than January.”

In the past, President Obama has frequently been accused of weak gun control policies. He responded to that criticism in his press conference by noting the need to focus more on the economic crisis and the security of the nation in his previous term. Now that re-election is no longer a concern, the U.S. economy is making significant steps toward recovery, and that the President can now focus on domestic security issues, Obama has now moved gun control to the front of the national agenda.

At the time, the tragedy of the Newtown massacre was still fresh in many Americans’ minds, but the White House Press Corps had another topic they wanted to discuss. When the floor opened for dialogue, rather than asking about potential gun legislation, the first reporter, who was soon followed by two others who echoed his question, asked about the fiscal cliff and its approaching deadline. These questions were addressed before those in attendance were directed back to the subject at hand, gun control.

Since the conference, the White House Press Corps has drawn backlash from commentators and pundits nationwide. The criticisms of these groups and individuals, while understandably addressing concerns about Newtown, were too quick to criticize and denounce wantonly the addressing of other topics of interest. They seemed to have forgotten the importance of acknowledging the fast approaching deadline for addressing the issue.

Though these questioned appeared to be rather callous given the tragedy, the reporters’ decision to purposely maneuver around the issue of gun control may have been due to the White House’s reluctance to make definite statements concerning which measures were being taken to address the fiscal cliff. Journalists are not required to ask questions that are germane to the president’s topic of discussion. They are, however, charged with seeking out answers regarding the most important news on behalf of the people. At the time, that news involved the fiscal cliff, and in hindsight, many would agree that it is was a far drier topic than the fiery debate that often surrounds gun control.

The unjust death of Aaron Swartz

When Aaron Swartz was 14, he helped author RSS 1.0., an internet program essential to the operation of many contemporary websites. He would later go on to help with the Creative Commons copyright license. His website Infogami, which would later be used to support the web.py framework and Open Library sites, merged with Reddit in 2006, making him an equal partner in the company. He became heavily involved with the campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act. He posted the complete bibliographic dataset of the Library of Congress to the Open Library, making it readily available. He was committed to a free Internet, and to the sharing of ideas and information through it. Two weeks ago, at the age of 26, he hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment.

From late 2010 to early 2011, Swartz downloaded around four million articles from JSTOR. For this, he was arrested by federal law enforcement and was eventually charged with wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and recklessly damaging a protected computer. His case would test the power of the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was meant to augment the government’s ability to prosecute hackers who accessed computers for illicit reasons, such as theft or disruption.

If convicted, he faced up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine. His lawyers told the prosecutors how he was a suicide risk and had a history of depression, but still prosecutors continued in the pursuit of making an example out of Swartz for the Internet community. Instead, prosecutors gave the Open Access movement a martyr.

The rationale of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz (someone continually noted as possessing political aspirations and a desire to make a name for herself) was that “stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars.” Ortiz’s comments illustrate the federal government’s lack of understanding when persecuting Swartz. Yes, he did take 4 million JSTOR articles, though he had legal access to JSTOR through MIT, and arresting him for downloading too many articles, ostensibly by Swartz’s philosophy, was not unlike arresting someone for checking out too many library books. He was not a bank robber who used his computer skills to take money, though I do not doubt that he certainly could have if he wanted, but was instead an activist who used his prodigious talents to attempt to right what he perceived as wrong.

And even if his intention was to share those 4 million articles over P2P sites, which was most likely the objective, it was out of a desire to share knowledge and technology. To Swartz and others who subscribe to the same ideas, the Internet is a tool that connects people like nothing that has ever existed before, and the conglomeration of information that sites like JSTOR represent is a crime because sites such as these are not open sources of information. Swartz did something similar when he downloaded around twenty percent of the Public Access to Court Electronic Records database of U.S. federal court documents, which at the time was available for eight cents a page, and then promptly sent them out for public distribution. He felt that information was such a valuable commodity that it should be available to any who so desired it. It was an idealistic notion; one that I support wholeheartedly.

At our fingertips, we possess nearly all of the intellectual work that humanity has to offer, and it is being digitized and sequestered away, in the hands of publishers that charge for something that many feel should be free. Some have accused Swartz and those who share his sentiments as being misguided, feeling that demanding that information be free could hamper the quality of it, and that it fails to reward those responsible for the articles. But yet, JSTOR charges exorbitant amounts for some of their articles, from $12 to a preposterous $34 for an article on the Black Act of 1723. Often, the price for all of the articles that comprise a journal issue well exceeds the cost of the issue itself.

Information is power. And to Swartz, this power belongs in the hands of the people as a whole, not simply those in the realm of academia. Anyone who has the desire and the drive to learn should be able to. Thus, it was a fitting tribute that when news of his death reached the Internet, supporters responded with #pdftribute, with scholars posting links to their works as a memorial.

Swartz’s case is also troubling for it is yet another example of the mental health mishandled. He had gone public with his history of depression, which played a part in his leaving of Wired after Reddit was acquired by its parent company in late 2006. His attorneys made a point of explaining to the prosecution that he was a risk, and that their relentless and unflinching pursuit of him would only serve to harm him. They wished to make an example out of this phenomenal talent, and instead they only served to extinguish it.

On the lighter side… 1/25/13

Presidential inaugurations are usually considered to be stiff and subdued affairs, though this year’s featured a series of moments that lightened the mood, be it intentional or accidental. Sasha and Malia Obama used the inauguration as a chance to steal the show, with photos catching the first daughters dancing and taking photos of themselves on their iPhones, as well as photo bombing a picture of President Obama and First Lady Michelle.

Speaking of photo bombing, President Clinton and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) seemed to be embroiled in a contest for the best photocreep of the evening, with Schumer sneaking in on a shot of the President being sworn in, while Clinton peaked around during Kelly Clarkson’s song. Schumer, of course, also responded during Beyonce’s performance.

The First Lady also caused a few stories herself when she reportedly rolled her eyes during a conversation between the President and Speaker of the House John Boehner (D-OH) at the post-inauguration luncheon. With no audio of the conversation and no comments on the matter, it remains unseen what the conversation was about. And on the subject of her new bangs, President Obama said “To address the most significant event of the weekend, I love her bangs. She looks good. She always looks good.”

 

Northeast Ohio sees rise in house sales in 2012

A 13.4 percent rise in home sales in Northeast Ohio in 2012, bringing the market to the highest level it has been in at least four years, which mimicked the rise in the national housing market. Sales and prices have not returned to their pre-recession levels and will probably never return to what they were during the height of the real estate bubble. Across the state as a whole, sales were up 12.7 percent. 2012, therefore serves as evidence of the market finally reaching rock bottom and beginning to recover after years of dragging down the economy.

Source: Cleveland.com

New Mexico shooting leaves five dead, 15-year-old arrested

Five people, three of them children, were found shot at a home outside Albuquerque, New Mexico on Sunday. Each victim was shot multiple times, and one of the weapons used was an assault rifle. A 15-year-old boy, who may be a family member of the unidentified victims, was arrested and charged with two counts of murder and three counts of child abuse resulting in death. While the victim names have been unreleased, the home belongs to Greg and Sarah Griego. Greg Griego is a chaplain for the Albuquerque Fire Department and was involved in several prison ministries. There has been no indication of motive so far.

Source: CNN.com

 

Syrian rebels focus on Northern airbase downfall; see it as the start of the end

 

In what rebels are calling the final battle, lightly armed fighters have begun attacking a helicopter base 15 minutes away from the Syrian border with Turkey. It is the last government-controlled territory between Turkey and the Syrian city, Aleppo. Many feel that once the base has been captured, the North will be liberated. The siege on the airbase illustrates a major shift in just one year, with rebels have gone from being hunted in their homes to now attacking one of the largest bases in the country. The rebels have suffered losses in the siege, with two top commanders in the Northern Storm Brigade wounded.

Source: CNN.com