Our Recurring Problem with Guns

Our Recurring Problem with Guns

                        Robert A. Levine 4-21-21

How can America solve its problem with guns? Our nation has more deaths and serious injuries due to guns than any other nation in the world. In fact, we probably have more gun deaths than all the other nations in the world combined. Recently, we have seen mass killings by guns on at least a weekly basis. Yet we can’t seem to get a handle on the gun dilemma and cut down on gun deaths. Perhaps that’s because we have more guns in civilian hands than any other country, greater than our population itself. Estimates are that there are about 400 million guns in America.

The obvious way to cut down on deaths due to guns is to cut down on the number of guns in civilian hands. However, even the thought of that action enrages gun owners who point to the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution as the basis of their right to have guns. While the 2nd Amendment is open to interpretation, we will not address that here. There are other ways to approach this problem that the majority of Americans seem to agree on.

Enhanced background checks are first and foremost and there are no valid reasons why these should be thorough and intrusive. Any criminal history, domestic abuse, suicide attempts and so forth should prevent a person from owning a gun. Civilian gun ownership should be approved for one of two reasons- for hunting, or protection in the home or on a dangerous job. This means that automatic or semi-automatic weapons should be banned. These are weapons of war and there is no reason they should be owned by civilians. Gun buyers should also be at least 21 before being allowed to buy guns.

For ten years, 1994-2004, assault weapons were federally banned, supported by Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter among others. Enhanced gun clips should also be banned, forcing people to reload after firing a number of shots. The majority of our population favors all the measures mentioned above. Though some states have passed restrictions on gun ownership, nearby states may have no limitations and buyers travel to these open states to buy guns. Or they get them at gun shows or over the Internet which are not tightly monitored.

Though the measures above are all common sense, the NRA has been opposed to any restrictions and the GOP in Congress and the Senate is afraid of the NRA. They should no longer be as the NRA is a bankrupt organization with little remaining power. Now is the time to get a bipartisan gun law passed in Congress to cut down on civilian gun deaths.

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Entitled

Entitled

            Robert A. Levine  4/12/21

By dint of money, celebrity or power, many individuals in America consider themselves entitled and able to have their way in everything they want. They see ordinary people as pawns to be used to further their own comfort and interests. That everyone is not created equal is apparent to even casual observers. Aside from sexual and racial variance, some people are tall, some short, some fat, some thin, some muscular, some weak, some smart, and some of average intelligence. We are all products of our genes, shaped to a large degree by our environment as children, but also happenings later in life. The genetic makeup and childhood experiences of people differ markedly, producing adults who are diverse in looks, cognitive function, athletic ability, and so forth. However, in a democracy these differences should be of no significance in how individuals are treated by one another or by the state. Everyone should expect consideration and respect from other men and women, no matter how different they may be.

Unfortunately, not only in America but in every society there are individuals who believe themselves privileged and above other people in status, thinking they are entitled to special treatment from the rest of us. As noted, wealth, power and celebrity are the major factors that make some men and women perceive themselves as entitled. Though in a democracy these feelings should be constrained, those who consider themselves special are often unwilling to surrender the attitudes and conduct that mark them as privileged. These may be manifest by minor aberrations from behavioral norms, or by more imperious conduct that reinforces their assumptions they are privileged.

One may ask whether relatively trivial actions by entitled people are connected to, or predictive of, more serious offenses, as privilege is often manifest by minor deviation from social norms. If they park in no parking or handicapped spaces or cut in line to bypass traffic, or fail to pick up their dog’s droppings, do these indicate that they see themselves as above the law? Are those who consider themselves privileged more likely to commit transgressions in business or social interactions that are unethical or illegal, thinking that they will not be caught or punished? Though a controlled study of these actions would be impossible to perform, common sense and observation of different personalities and behavior would make one believe the answer is yes, as they suggest the possibility of sociopathy. However, it is true that some acts revealing indifference to the sensitivities of others do not necessarily signal entitlement, but may merely represent rudeness and bad manners. None-the-less, the hallmarks of entitlement are lack of consideration and caring for others, along with the attitude that one is better than other people. Rules and regulations can be ignored when necessary to enhance an entitled person’s life.

‘Entitlement’ is defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary as- the feeling that you have the right to do or have what you want, without having to work for it or deserve it, just because of who you are. The word privileged is used in a similar manner to entitled. In our society, a person who feels entitled is one who considers him or herself special or superior to others, and whose conduct is indicative of that belief in various ways. Because of that individual’s bearing, attitude, and actions, most people are aware of his or her assumption that he or she is privileged and deserves to receive appropriate attention and treatment from others. The opposite of an entitled person would be one who is humble, unpretentious, deferential, kind and considerate.

Until people accept the idea of equal status, opportunity and equality under the law, we will not have a democracy. That does not mean all people are equal.

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A Coterie of Unhappy Billionaires

A Coterie of Unhappy Billionaires

                        Robert A. Levine

Even billionaires must realize that America’s infrastructure is decrepit and resembles that of a third world country more than that of a modern state. For a nation whose main mode of transportation is the automobile and that moves goods mainly by truck, one would think that the federal and state governments would keep our roads and bridges in tip-top shape. But the opposite is true. Civil engineers in the last few years have given the nation’s infrastructure a failing grade between C- and D.

Roads and bridges were supposed to be maintained by funding derived from gas taxes and tolls. However, it’s been 27 years since the gas tax was last raised. It remains at 18.4 cents for a gallon of gas and 23.4 cents for a gallon of diesel. Yet in the last quarter century, the number of automobiles using our roads and bridges has increased significantly and more and heavier trucks are being used to transport goods but destroy the roads. State gasoline taxes vary from state to state but have not been high enough to keep the roads and bridges in fine condition. Gasoline taxes are basically user fees which would seem to be a fair way to maintain the roads and bridges. But many drivers are working class or middle class people who would be hurt by raising their road taxes.

And there are numerous other elements of infrastructure that need to be upgraded or installed aside from roads and bridges. We probably have the worst railroad system of any developed country in the world. While China, Europe and Japan have high speed, sleek trains that can go at over 200 miles per hour, American passenger trains creep along at speeds below 100 miles per hour. It’s no wonder that more Americans do not travel by train. But it’s not only the train that has to generate speed, the train tracks must be able to handle trains traveling at high speeds. In many areas, new tracks have to be installed to utilize modern trains.

There are also many of our airports and airport terminals that appear as if they were lifted from a third world nation. While some of the terminals are decent, others are in dire need of repair and rebuilding. And our ports need reconstructing, both to handle goods in container ships and people going on cruises or traveling by boat. Broadband access also has to be provided to rural areas and poor sections of major cities. If poor people don’t have access to the Internet for communication and education, they are severely handicapped in their efforts to advance to higher levels.

So how are we going to pay for all of these requirements to improve the nation’s infrastructure to compete with other modern nations? Should we employ user fees on everything and force poor and middle class people to pay for what is needed. Or should we just raise their taxes, Given the overwhelming inequality in America, corporations and the wealthiest among us should bear the cost of these improvements. Remember that federal and state governments are partially responsible for the success of our corporations and the wealth that the affluent have accumulated. The infrastructure that we have, allowing products to get to consumers was built by the government. Education was provided to train skilled workers.

Thus, the burden of paying for infrastructure improvements and new elements should be borne by corporations and the super-wealthy. Billionaires may not be happy but they should be taxed adequately so that no further debt is accumulated to pay for infrastructure. Remember that it was only four years ago that Trump provided1-2 billion dollars in unnecessary tax cuts primarily to American billionaires.

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Voter Suppression- Who Wins

Voter Suppression- Who Wins

            Robert A. Levine

If the Republicans cannot win fairly, they will do anything to suppress groups of voters who tend to support the Democrats. This is short term thinking for down the road, the minority groups whose votes they are trying to eliminate will be in the majority and will vote regularly for the Democrats. At the moment, many minority voters are mixing their votes and some are backing Republicans. This is not the time to alienate minorities and drive them to the Democratic Party which voter suppression will do.

Currently, in state legislatures across the land that are controlled by Republicans, hundreds of laws are being introduced to suppress voting by minority groups that provide support for Democrats more than Republicans. But this support of Democrats was starting to change in the 2020 elections where Latino men and women and Black men gave significant percentages of their votes to Republicans. Suppressing the votes of these groups by making it increasingly difficult for them to vote is not going to endear the GOP in the minds of these voters and in the long run will probably dissuade Democratic voters from switching.

In addition to blatant gerrymandering expected after the census results are released, Republican state legislatures are shortening the time devoted to early voting, eliminating absentee and mail-in voting without a good excuse and proof of a problem, demanding accurate IDs when voting in person and limiting what can be used, cutting down on the boxes where absentee votes can be dropped off, comparing signatures very carefully on IDs versus forms that allowing voting, shortening the hours on voting day, cutting down on the number of places to vote, situating voting stations in white neighborhoods that are difficult for minorities to reach, preventing people from collecting the ballots of older or disabled individuals (ballot harvesting) because it is difficult for these voters to hand in their ballots. Any measures that will cut down on minority voting will be considered by GOP controlled legislatures.

While it is likely these moves may decrease minority voting temporarily, there are groups that have formed that will transport these voters to the places where they can vote. They are also being helped to fill out the necessary forms. Voters have long memories and as minorities attain majority status, they will remember how the Republicans used underhanded methods to lessen the importance of their votes or made it difficult for them to vote at all. In the long run, the GOP will pay for their actions.

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Trumpism Without Trump

Trumpism Without Trump

            Robert A. Levine

There is no question that Democrats would like to see Trump completely sidelined and out of the political limelight. However, there are plenty of Republicans who feel the same way though they are afraid to express their feelings. For one thing, Trump is draining money from the Republican Party and Republican candidates and directing it to himself. And the money he receives from his base is used mainly for Trump’s personal expenses rather than for political purposes. Those who are sending him the money have no clue how it is being utilized.

Many of Trump’s acolytes who would like to see him gone want to try and replace him as the Big Kahuna in the Party, getting the support and money from his adoring base. These are people like Ted Cruz, Ron DeSantis and Josh Hawley who see themselves as potential presidential candidates in 2024 and want to get Trump out of the way. As he long as he presents himself as a possible presidential candidates in 2024, no other Republican can make a move.

Trump is also giving his imprimatur to House and Senate candidates in 2022 to try and control the party completely. He is at odds with Mitch McConnell who is probably the second most powerful Kahuna in the GOP. To say that they cannot stand each other would be an understatement. So Mitch would certainly like to see Trump gone.

Aside from Trump stepping aside voluntarily, he faces criminal charges in Georgia and New York State and it is possible that he could wind up in prison. He has broken campaign finance laws and tax laws and has a number of potential witnesses willing to testify against him.

Trump also has a number of family members who want to enter politics with the Trump name. These include Lara Trump, Eric’s wife, Don Jr. and Ivanka, all willing to carry the Trump name forward.

Whether or not Trump himself runs in 2024 depends on his mood, unless the legal system puts him away. But even not running, he can hold that out as a possibility to keep money flowing in, support from his base and the role he loves as king-maker.

Come to think of it Trumpism without Trump may not be such a good thing, with younger politicians keeping his standard flying. Of course, that standard is Trump over all, a man who knows it all, and will do anything to aid Trump. Trumpism in any form is bad for America.

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Creating a Third Party of the Center

Creating A Third Party of the Center

Robert A. Levine

            “It must be realized that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more uncertain of success, or more dangerous to manage than the establishment of a new order of government; for he who introduces it makes enemies of all those who derived advantage from the old order.”

            Niccolo Machiavelli- The Prince [i]

            The time has come for a seismic shake-up of America’s political system. The nation’s current political parties are corrupt and self-serving, tethered to lobbyists, special interests and their own partisan bases, and unable to govern productively. To bring about change, a permanent third party of the center is necessary to recalibrate the political equation and start the country on the road to reform. This party must not be dependent on PAC financing but derive direct funding from its supporters. The Republican Party is already splitting three ways, with supporters of Trump, true conservatives and moderates. Trumpists have even considered forming their own third party. The Democrats are split between leftists and moderates.                       

The idea of a permanent third party for America is not new, the reasons that argue for its creation having existed for many decades. Indeed, there have been a number of unsuccessful attempts at gestation, resulting in stillbirths or early demises in infancy. Currently, disillusionment with the government and dismay about the ability of the established political parties to fix matters remain at a high level. Unless the nation is able to accomplish a meaningful revision in the way it is governed, the United States is destined to decline. To effect the required metamorphosis, a permanent third party is needed that values moderation, pragmatism and compromise.

Though revolutionary changes in political systems and mass social movements are usually initiated by the left or the right, this revolution should arise from the center, a protest against America’s two entrenched parties. John Avlon in his book Independent Nation remarked- “Centrism frees voters from the false dichotomies that dominate American politics by offering them a third choice between the rigid extremes of the left and right, a commonsense path that acknowledges the inevitability of change while never straying far from fundamental American values or founding principles… Centrism is the most effective means for achieving the classic mission of politics: the peaceful reconciliation of competing interests. Extremists and ideological purists on either side of the political aisle condemn compromise. But inflexibility either creates deadlock or dooms a cause to irrelevance.” 

A Pew Poll in May of 2019 had 38 percent of Americans identifying as politically independent. An NBC News poll in 2013 had 51 percent of Americans considering themselves as moderates, independents or centrists. Most surveys have the percentage of independents between these two numbers. But voters are accustomed to voting for either Democrats or Republicans and starting a new centrist party that is competitive will not be easy. With the current parties holding a duopoly of power, state and federal laws place barriers in the path of any upstart that might challenge their control. And aside from the legal obstacles, there are also emotional impediments that must be overcome in America’s citizenry to allow a new third party to gain traction. But a new permanent third party of the center can be viable, with the opportunity to realize its goals and win both local and national elections. There are new tools and transformative technologies available for an interloper to level the playing field with the two established behemoths, even though their deep pockets are constantly being refilled by the lobbyists and special interests.

The main asset this new entity will have in its favor is the dissatisfaction of Americans with the political climate. There is a vast body of citizens in America who do not participate in the political process or vote in elections because they feel their votes are inconsequential. Some of these men and women can form the base of a new party, along with independents and centrist Republicans and Democrats who hold their noses when they go to the polls, casting ballots because they feel it is their obligation as citizens. These people might flock to the banner of a political organization that pledged to run incorruptible candidates and would try to end the ideological bickering that has precluded action on so much necessary legislation. To be successful in this insurrection, the new party must persuade Americans that it is a real alternative to Republicans and Democrats, will have staying power and will not fold after one election cycle. It must be able to convince average citizens that it is worthwhile for them to cast their ballots for an untested political upstart that has a vision for a new way of governing. And if it is able to gain credibility among the electorate, it will make centrist politicians who are on the fence more willing to commit themselves to this intriguing new player.

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New People, New Parties, New Infrastructure

New People, New Parties, New Infrastructure

                        Robert A. Levine

America is in crisis and undergoing a steep de­cline. Covid has taken the lives of half a million people and battered the economy. Budget deficits and national debt are climbing. The nation’s infrastructure is old and crumbling while much of Europe and Asia enjoy modern highways and bridges, bullet trains connecting their main cities, gleaming new airports, and broadband connections to all sectors of their population. If America is to compete in this world and maintain its position at the top, its citizens will have to acknowl­edge the need for sacrifice and pain, will have to accept higher taxes on the wealthy and more spending on infrastructure. Americans will have to study harder and work longer, knowing that their struggles will allow democracy to flourish and that their chil­dren and grandchildren will reap the rewards. 

In past times, Americans were willing to sacrifice for the good of the nation and the generations that would follow. Sacrifice is again needed. But we need something more. The two-party system has not been working as the parties collude to maintain their hold on power, reinforcing the need for a permanent third party. This could come from the right but is needed from the center with the extreme left and extremists on the right kept at bay. The moderate Democrats and centrist Republicans should join together to give citizens a better option when they cast their ballots.

In America’s formative years, professional politicians were not involved in the creation of its defining documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, nor responsible for governing. These duties were managed admirably by public-spirited citizens: farmers, lawyers, and businessmen, physicians), who wanted to participate in the noble experiment of democracy. Perhaps what America needs now are fewer career politicians and more ordinary citizens like our Founding Fathers to become en­gaged in the processes of government and democracy. When lobbyists and special interests subvert this rela­tionship and the people’s desires are ignored, the system is failing. New parties and new participants are needed.

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What Does Trump Truly Believe

What Does Trump Believe?

                        Robert A. Levine, M.D.

The question that needed to be answered which the impeachment proceedings did not do, was whether Trump truly believed that he won the election, notwithstanding all the evidence to the contrary. If he actually believed this fantasy he should not have been impeached on the basis of his being mentally incompetent. A person shown to be crazy cannot stand trial of any sort, given his or her lack of understanding.

On the other hand, if Trump realized that he lost the election and was claiming otherwise to arouse his base, generate support and financial resources, then he was indeed a candidate for impeachment, having used the bully pulpit of the presidency to spread this outrageous lie that inspired treasonous actions. And Trump himself was guilty of treason along with the people who stormed the capital on his behalf.

In either case, Trump is unfit to run for office again. Either he is crazy or guilty of treason in claiming that he won the presidential election. Both of these states should keep him from any position of responsibility in the government or otherwise. Unfortunately, as mentioned, the impeachment hearing did not provide an answer as to Trump’s state of mind in claiming that he won the election.

The Democrats and Republicans assumed that Trump was mentally competent and aware that he lost the election. But how do we know this for certain. Before Trump’s impeachment, he should have had a thorough examination by a panel of psychiatrists to determine whether he truly believed he won the election or that he is claiming that he won for his own political ends.

The determination of his mental state is of utmost importance and his impeachment trial should have been delayed until a psychiatric evaluation was complete. Given its importance, a panel of top psychiatrists should be involved in the mental evaluation of Trump rather than a single psychiatrist.

Of course it is possible that Trump could deceive even a multitude of psychiatrists for certain reasons, either acting consciously or unconsciously. However, would Trump want his supporters to consider him insane or a traitor?

It is somewhat surprising that the House impeachment managers did not address this dilemma and ask for a psychiatric evaluation prior to starting the impeachment proceedings. It is quite possible that Trump would have refused psychiatric consultation, insisting that he was fully mentally competent. If that is the case, then it would appear that he knows that he lost the election and was trying to overturn the results by fomenting an insurrection. In other words, he would have to be considered a traitor.

There may be reasons in Trump’s mind on both sides of the equation to either claim that he was the winner or express the realization that he lost.  The nation deserves to know Trump’s state of mind on the issue of whether he won or lost the presidential election. Prior to any further criminal or civil proceedings regarding Trump’s incitement of the capitol insurrection, Trump should have a psychiatric evaluation to assess whether or not he is mentally competent.

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Does Trump Have God on His Side?

Does Trump Have God on His Side?

        Robert A. Levine

The Evangelicals love him. The conspiracy theorists believe he was sent by God to fight the devil. He has appointed conservatives at all levels of the federal judiciary.  Notwithstanding his occasional lies and sexual missteps, he must be a messenger from God. Does it matter that he never attends church and does not read the Bible? Does it matter that he is sexually promiscuous and has cheated on his wives multiple times? Does it matter that he doesn't care about the poor and in fact only cares about himself and his immediate family? Does it matter that he incited an insurrection against the legal government of the United States. He is Trump and that should be justification enough for everything he does.


The Deep Chasm in American Politics

The Deep Chasm in American Politics

                        Robert A. Levine

The current political divide in America is greater than at any time since the Civil War. In the presidential election of November 2020, Joe Biden received over 81 million votes with Trump accumulating over 74 million. Since the election however, Trump has insisted that he won by a landslide and that Biden stole the election from him. There were over sixty court rulings that declared Trump’s claims invalid, including two unanimously by the Supreme Court where he had appointed three of the nine members.

Trump also went to various state legislatures where the state’s citizens had favored Biden, trying to get the legislatures to overturn the results. No success anywhere. Trump begged and threatened Georgia’s attorney general to find eleven thousand plus votes for him so that he would win Georgia. But the Attorney General Brad Raffensperger insisted that the vote count was correct and could not be changed.

Bill Barr, the Federal Attorney General before he resigned, told Trump as well that the results of the election were right and could not be overturned. When Barr resigned, the acting Attorney General at the Department of Justice also refused to honor Trump’s requests to disqualify enough of Biden’s votes to make Trump the winner. And Vice President Pence declared to Trump that he could not change the vote totals when they were confirmed at the Capitol.

Yet with all the officials who told Trump that he lost the election, both Republicans and Democrats, he would not accept the outcome, insisting that the election was stolen. This led Trump to call his supporters to Washington and to have them march on the Capitol to prevent the voting totals from being confirmed. Tens of thousands of his base including militant white supremacists followed Trump’s instructions. They trashed the Capitol building in an insurrection, searching for members of Congress and Senators who they could kill because they would not make Trump president and looking to hang Mike Pence.

Perhaps it is not surprising that Trump’s most intense acolytes would come to Washington and follow his orders to break into the Capitol and hunt down his opponents. What is surprising is that Trump received 74 million votes in the election and even after he lost, most of his supporters believed that the election was stolen from him. The vast majority of these are not rational citizens, but members of a tribal cult, willing to accept anything that Trump says or does.

Not only are Trump supporters divided from the Democrats, but they are angry at establishment Republicans who they feel did not fight vigorously enough for Trump to remain president. And they want to primary the House members who voted with the Democrats to impeach Trump. These Trump acolytes are uninformed about the true results of the election and are willing to follow Trump wherever he leads, even if it means the end of democracy and the beginning of fascism in America. How do you change the minds of cultists who are uninformed and accept and obey their leader wherever he takes them? Unfortunately, democracy and freedom means nothing to them. They do not understand what Trump is offering.

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