Hello, goodbye . . . and some predictions

DSCN1587I noticed something this morning. My dogs are oblivious to the calendar. The could not care less that it is Wednesday, or even the first day of a new year. They were ready to tackle the new day with the exact level of enthusiasm and ambition they display on any other day.

Dogs, unlike most people, live in the moment. They do not reflect on the past nor do they worry about what the future may bring. They have no regrets and apparently make no predictions.

Dogs are always more than ready to eat, play and love. I think that was the name of a movie starring Julia Roberts.

I have long since abandoned the idea of making New Year’s resolutions. I live by the motto that “expectations are pre-meditated resentments.”

Two years ago, I publicly pledged on these pages to do a better job in how I conduct political debates with friends, acquaintances and strangers:  I will listen more than I speak. I will ask those who disagree with me how they came to their conclusions; and I will push myself to consider and reflect upon the contrary arguments I encounter along the way.

That resolution seemed to go the way of so many other resolutions, but it still seems more important than quitting smoking, losing weight or better organizing my sock drawer. Thus, I offer the same resolution this year.

In many ways, 2013 was a good year, and I have much to be thankful for. But, there were also some challenges. I lost a good friend to suicide. My wife and I both racked up some huge medical bills and the future seems uncertain. But the future is always uncertain. That’s why it is the future. It is unknown, full of possibility and ripe with potential.

Dogs don’t make predictions. Dogs avoid resentment. Dogs have low expectations. Dogs ignore the calendar and live completely in the present.

We are not dogs, however. We are humans and strive to control our lives, our futures. We enjoy making predictions because it helps quell the anxiety of what is ahead: the unknown.

A few days ago, I asked some friends to submit their best predictions for 2014. Here they are:

The future’s so bright?

Governor LePage: winner or loser in 2014?

Governor LePage: winner or loser in 2014?

Bad News for the GOP: It would be hard to know that my friend John Lovell is a die-hard Democrat if he never opened his mouth or approached his keyboard. John and I spar frequently, and I have immense respect for his intellect, wit and compassion. But I was not at all surprised by his predictions, which included Republicans losing several Congressional seats. He predicted Sen. Collins will lose her bid for another term and that Gov. Paul LePage will lose his re-election bid, describing him as  “the worst governor in Maine history.”

Bad News for Democrats: Matthew Angotti of Saco has a different perspective: “Obamacare woes will continue, and partially, as a result, Republicans will keep the US House, take the US Senate and even take one Maine Legislative body. Further, LePage will be reelected as Governor with 41 percent of the vote. Also, Seattle wins the Super Bowl.

Karen Moore, a Biddeford native who now lives in Colorado, is one of my favorite political foes. She is feisty, stubborn and thoughtful. She is an enigma to me, and I doubt she has any idea how much I love debating political and public policy issues with her. Karen offered a hodgepodge of predictions, saying former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez will be found guilty of murder during his trial this year.

Karen also predicted that George Zimmerman will kill again; and that Paul LePage will lose the Blaine House to Democrat Mike Michaud, who will then become Maine’s first gay governor. She also predicted that Republicans will lose their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and that Democrats will maintain control of the U.S. Senate; and says that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in favor of gay marriage in 2014.

Beyond politics, Karen predicted two “hurricane super storms” next fall – one of which, will hit Rhode Island, Mass and Maine. Sadly, she also predicted another mass shooting incident that will involve “50+ children” and  will be committed by “a card-carrying NRA member who passed background checks and was formerly “responsible”.

Zimmerman will kill again?

Zimmerman will kill again?

She also predicted that there “will be a huge pipeline disaster on US soil,” and that John Boehner will resign in disgrace. On a final note, Karen predicts that a former U.S. president (unnamed) “will pass away and there will controversy at the State funeral – such as Putin won’t be invited but the North Korean or Iranian dude will attend.”

Let’s pause here to pop a couple antidepressants or partake in some recreational drugs. Whew.

On a much lighter note, my friend Ernie Corrigan, a former reporter and political advisor to Tip O’Neil, predicted that Sarah Palin will travel to Maine to advise Gov. Paul LePage on “how to stop saying every crazy thing that comes into his head.” Coincidentally, he says,  Columbia Pictures announces the release of Dumb and Dumber III.

Corrigan also predicted that “Republican leaders will announce they are going to continue to try to scuttle ObamaCare with legislation they say will provide affordable health care insurance for all. They are calling it The Affordable Care Act and it is instantly embraced by Republicans as the cure for ObamaCare.”
Corrigan also predicted a major shift in federal domestic policy, when Congress “announces that it wants to spend $100 billion on mental health, saying it will reach out to people who appear to be talking to themselves while walking down the street.”  Verizon, Corrigan predicts, will immediately file a class action suit in federal court, claiming the government is targeting their customers.
Racial tensions will continue in 2014, according to Corrigan’s predictions: Democrats, he says. will announce they are going into federal court and charging Republicans with a persistent pattern of federal election violations aimed at keeping African-Americans from voting.  “During simultaneous press conferences, only African-Americans attend the Republican press conference and only white Americans attend the Democratic press conference.”
 Corrigan also places a high degree of confidence in U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Corrigan predicts that Kerry will engineer a peace accord in the Middle East with agreement from Israel, Syria, Iran and Iraq and the PLO. Soviet leader Putin attacks the accord as an attempt to destabilize the region, he adds.

Palin: Coming to Maine in 2014?

Palin: Coming to Maine in 2014?

Corrigan also says the U.S.  jobless rate will drop below 6 percent for the first time in 15 years, and that Leonardo DiCaprio will win Best Actor for his performance in The Wolf of Wall Street.  Wall Street CEOs, according to Corrigan, will say the award confirms the strong work ethic of traders on Wall Street, despite the  film’s depictions of excessive patterns of group sex, infidelity, massive drug abuse and a persistent pattern of stock fraud and greed.”

Keeping it local, State Senator David Dutremble (D-Biddeford) predicts that Rep. Paulette Beaudoin, facing term limits, will challenge him in the June 2014 Democratic primary. Reason for this prediction?  “She has openly asked me to swap seats so she can have one term as Senator and I could take her Rep seat,” Dutremble said. “She previously said she didn’t originally run to play games and step down just so someone else could just have the seat, but now she has publicly endorsed another person for her  seat, leading me to believe she will challenge my seat. I have no proof, just a prediction.”
Former colleague and award-winning columnist John Swinconeck kept his tongue firmly in cheek with his predictions for 2014:
“Early one morning in 2014, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will wake up on a bed of Hefty bags outside a Portland night club wearing a torn, black cocktail dress,” Swinconeck opined. “Hung around her neck like a pendant will be the severed ear of “Fox and Friends” co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck. She’ll have no memory of what transpired the night before, she only knows that she is filled with a sense of peace she has not felt for years. That day, Sebelius sneaks aboard a freighter bound for Cairo. As the vessel sails from Casco Bay, Sebelius will offer a prayer of thanksgiving to the god of second chances, grateful that the voices in her head have finally ceased. Back in Washington, the tumult over the Affordable Care Act will continue.”
My friend Harvey Ardman, an accomplished writer and journalist, predicted that “Eliot Cutler will withdraw from the Governor’s race  two months (or more) before the election and [Mike] Michaud will collect most of his votes, winning handily over LePage.”
Jesse Ventura: Maine's next governor?

Jesse Ventura: Maine’s next governor?

See if you can guess the political leanings of my friend Sally Melcher McKeagney: Jesse Ventura moves to Maine in January 2014. He is drafted to run for governor. Ventura  wins in November. Governor LePage is very angry about the loss, so angry , he tries to blow up the PPH building. Though the explosions are little more than smoke and soft pops, LePage is forced to flee  to Jamaica.  He applies for refugee status.  Jamaica doesn’t really want him. They  offer to extradite him–they say they will even pay us to take him back. But the State of Maine cites his residency status–which is not Maine–and tells Jamaica “You’re on your own!”  Jesse Ventura turns out to be just as interesting as Paul LePage, and Democrats wonder how they can get Ventura to Jamaica.”

My friend Bob Meyers predicts that the Times Record newspaper in Brunswick will cease publication as a daily in 2014 and go to 2 or possibly 3 issues per week.
My friend Bob Mentzinger, editor of the Times Record, also predicted that George Zimmerman will kill again.  Mentzinger thinks LePage will be re-elected because Independent Eliot Cutler will remain in the race too long, waiting for a repeat of the 2010 surge.  On a final note, Mentzinger predicts the Carolina Panthers will win the Super Bowl, it will snow through April; and that the Dow will hit 18,000.
So there you go! Let the games begin and bring on 2014! Be careful out there, and remember: it’s never a bad idea to hold hands and keep your expectations in check.

A whiter shade of pale

gun-k92I found it in the most unlikely of places. It was written by the most unlikely of authors. It intrigued me, and its aftermath terrified me.

It was a column headlined: “Let’s talk limits,” a well-written and balanced piece about the hype and rhetoric that surrounds our nation’s gun control debate.

It was published in Guns & Ammo, which describes itself as “the world’s most widely read firearms magazine.”

It was written by Dick Metcalf, a staunch Second Amendment supporter, who had the temerity to opine that reasonable gun regulations do not necessarily constitute an infringement on civil liberties.

“Way too many gun owners still seem to believe that any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms is an infringement,” Metcalf wrote in the December issue

“The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be.”

Gun advocates went ballistic. They felt betrayed by one of their own.

Jim Bequette, the magazine’s editor immediately apologized to readers for his goal of generating “a healthy exchange of ideas on gun rights.”

But that did not calm the storm. Metcalf was fired, and Bequette resigned his post a month earlier than he planned.

Apparently, too many of those who so staunchly support the Second Amendment have little use for the First Amendment.

If gun advocates feel as is if they are being discounted by the so-called mainstream media as “unreasonable,” perhaps they should try listening to other points of view and refrain from shooting any messenger with a set of talking points that don’t align perfectly with their own script, especially when that message comes from one of their own.

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An open letter to my fellow Republicans

Dear Congressional Republicans,

It is well past time for me to speak up and to make my own attempt to wake you from your delusional slumber.

Like you, I did not vote for President Obama in 2008, nor in 2012.

Like you, I have serious concerns and reservations about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Like you, I have concerns about our nation’s debt and federal spending that seems out of control.

Yes, I know that not a single member of our party voted in favor of ACA. Yes, I know that the law was passed with all sorts of political maneuvering and manipulation that left our party on the wrong side of the door, standing in the cold.

But none of that matters much today, does it?

Yes, before I proceed any further, please allow me to disclose that I am one of those despicable RINOs you hate so much. You know, a Republican In Name Only.

Why do you call me a RINO? Maybe it’s because I am unafraid of science. Maybe it’s because I believe ALL people are created equal and have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of their gender, race or sexual orientation. Maybe because I believe our country is stronger when we provide a basic safety net to the most vulnerable among us. Maybe it’s because I own guns, but I just can’t figure out how so many of my brethren seem to ignore the very first words in the Second Amendment. You know, the words “Well-regulated.”

But enough about me, let’s talk about you.

I am proud of you for fighting the good fight. You have made more than 40 attempts to overturn the ACA. You lost every one of them, but your spirit and principles persisted. The fight was taken to the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice (a Bush-appointee) ruled against us. This all happened in compliance with the Constitution.

Bottom line? They won. We lost. Period.

Earlier this week, the person I love and cherish more than any other was lying on a hospital gurney and experiencing incredible pain. She was hooked to all manner of tubes and wires, she had been bleeding through the night. The doctors scrambled to figure out what was wrong.

Right then, right there, I did not care about anything else. I did not ask about the cost of her treatment. I was not afraid of bankruptcy or losing my home or my job. I cared about one thing, and one thing only: I wanted my wife healed.

My wife has MS. A few days before landing at the hospital, her doctor ordered her to stay home from work. She is a government employee. You know, one of those blood-sucking, lazy, incompetent freeloaders who is straining our local, state and federal budgets. Her work is rather meaningless. She investigates and helps prosecute people who seem to enjoy raping three-year-old girls or burning the arms and legs of 11-year-old boys.

She is an advocate and defender of these innocent children. She has been doing this work for the better part of two decades.

Now back to the hospital.

Yes, we have health insurance. But can you imagine what would happen to us if we did not? Even with health insurance, the incident is taking a toll on my family’s finances: deductibles, co-pays, prescriptions, outpatient appointments for follow-up. Gas and transportation costs to and from those appointments.

I work in the private sector. My productivity plummeted more than 90 percent last week.

The good news for the economy? There were no homemade dinners for me and my two boys. Sure, it was our choice, but we ate a lot of fast food or dined out at inexpensive restaurants: Rapid Rays, Pizza Hut and the Happy Dragon.

There were better uses for those dollars: savings, college funds, retirement, but we did not care. We were too distracted.

What were you doing during this time? You had your heels dug in, bloviating about principle and how damaging the ACA would be to our national economy.

Yes, I know the Democrats were calling you “murderers, thieves, terrorists” and so on . . ., but let them be silly children and petulant. Yes, I know that the president was doing everything possible to make the GOP look bad. So what? Put on your big boy pants and let’s take the White House in 2016.

I do not give a rat’s ass about who is to blame for the shutdown. I am looking for leaders. I care about who is going to return our country to a fully functioning status. That’s who I am going to vote for.

We have many fights ahead, but we lost the fight on the ACA. And frankly, it’s our fault.

Why? Well, think about your own wives, husbands, children or grandparents. Now imagine what it feels like when your insurance company says it will no longer pay because your loved one is too sick. You faithfully paid your premiums, but the insurance industry does everything in its power to limit your benefits.

Can anyone look me in the eyes and say rescission clauses and pre-existing condition clauses makes sense. Why did you let the Democrats outflank you on this?

Yes, maybe the ACA will be a complete disaster. But let the American people decide. If the ACA is really as bad as you proclaim, and if you stand back and accept your loss during a good and noble fight, then I assure you it will be 40 or 50 years before a member of the Democratic Party can get elected as a dog catcher.

I guarantee no one will blame the GOP if the ACA becomes a miserable failure.

The Republican Party is better than this. It’s time to show America leadership. This could be our finest hour, an hour of dignity, grace and conviction.

But we will not help anyone see our point of view more clearly by giving them a black eye. Let the Democratic Party sink or swim on the merits of legislation that our party never supported. I only suspect that the ACA is not quite as flawed as some of you believe.

I want to see our party survive to fight another day, to become strong enough to modify and improve the ACA by including more free-market principles, such as allowing consumers to purchase health insurance across state lines (There’s a Constitutional argument that could win).

I give you all an A+ for theatrics, but you have failed miserably in leadership.

 

 

 

 

I think I’m turning Japanese

Two stories I found on the pages of the Portland Press Herald today:

  • [Maine's] Riverview Psychiatric Center faces the loss of an estimated $20 million in federal funding because the federal government has decided that the hospital in Augusta has not solved staffing and governance problems.” Full story
  • The mother of a Connecticut woman who was shot to death by police after trying to breach a barrier at the White House said her daughter was suffering from post-partum depression. Mother: Daughter in Capitol chase was depressed

Considering the earth shattering news that Republicans are opposing Democrats, it’s understandably tough to remember things that happened a couple of weeks ago, like the Navy Yard shooting where Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist, used a shotgun to begin a massacre that left 12 people dead.

A few weeks before, Alexis called police in Rhode Island, telling them that he was getting messages from his microwave, according to the Associated Press.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” wrote Henry David Thoreau.

But just look what happens when those desperate folks stop being quiet.

It’s easy and sexy to argue about the Affordable Care Act, gun control . . . my guy versus your guy.

But the silence becomes deafening if we dare mention other topics that (not surprisingly) have a direct and immediate impact on all the other stuff we love to debate.

Fewer than 24 hours after the incident in which a depressed woman was shot (justifiably) by Capitol police, that story has already become buried under the weight of Congressional bickering.

And the Aaron Alexis story did not fit into any of the convenient arguments for or against gun control. Don’t expect any tearful Congressional testimony there.

I return you now to the sport of pointing fingers and assigning blame. Enjoy.

It’s all been done

We are weary of these stories.

We are frustrated, exhausted, confused, angry and overwhelmed.

The outrage, speculation, ranting and debates were not nearly as strong this time. The evidence is on Twitter, Facebook and CNN. So many of us are tired of arguing about it, Many of us are worn down. Ready and longing for the next distraction so we can go back to ignoring it.

Some things didn’t change, however.

Once again, there was the consistent pointing of fingers at the usual suspects: Guns, violent music, video games and mental illness.

Think about that and these indisputable facts:

1.) The vast and overwhelming majority of people who enjoy rap music or play video games do not become violent criminals.

2.) The vast and overwhelming majority of people who own guns do not use them in the commission of a crime.

3.) The vast and overwhelming majority of people with a mental illness do not go on shooting rampages or commit other violent crimes.

But these are the most common denominators in the growing escalation of senseless massacres, so it’s easy to understand why we focus on these convenient subjects.

It seems harder, however, to face the cold, hard reality that this problem will require a lot more than a knee-jerk reaction and a single-issue focus.

My friends on both sides of the political aisle better wake up.

To the NRA and folks who prefer the right side of the political aisle, you talk a good game about mental illness, when are you going to acknowledge that system of service is broken and essentially unavailable to those on the lower end of the economic spectrum? Is it a priority yet? Or do we need more six-year olds slaughtered in their classrooms, more veterans and federal employees shot where they work? Are we ready to fund those programs? They are expensive.

Can you concede that better background checks are just common sense?

To my friends on the left, how much are you willing to compromise on the individual liberties of the mentally ill and their ability to purchase firearms? What lines of accountability will you hold to your Hollywood friends? Can we require mentally ill people to take their medications? How far down that slippery slope are you willing to slide?

Even while we debate the expansion of Medicare in Maine or the pros and cons of the Affordable Health Care Act, mental illness treatment is the last rung on the priority ladder. In fact, Governor King, Governor Baldacci and Governor LePage have all allowed cuts to mental health spending. Chew on that common denominator for a bit.

Just a few weeks before he waged his own war at the Washington Navy Yard,  Aaron Alexis complained to Rhode Island police “that people were talking to him through the walls and ceilings of his hotel rooms and sending microwave vibrations into his body to prevent him from sleeping,” according to the Associated Press.

In politics they say you should never let a crisis go to waste.

Funny, we keep wasting these crisis opportunities over and over again.

P.S. If you are still stupid enough to blather on about arming teachers to keep students safe, especially following two deadly massacres at U.S. military installations, be prepared for me to vomit on your shirt.

Bury my heart

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana
 
407838_583866058296151_931822225_nA Facebook friend reminded me that it was 122 years ago today, on December 28,1890, that more than 300, unarmed  native Americans were slaughtered in South Dakota by U.S. Forces. The dead included women and children, and this travesty is recanted in horrific detail through the pages of  Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.
 
Colonel James Forsyth was later charged with The Killing of Innocents, but was exonerated and promoted. 22 of the soldiers that day were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Do you remember being taught that lesson in public school? Probably not. It’s a piece of American history we like to forget.
 
 “I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes young. I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. My people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream… the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.” -Black Elk (1863-1950); Oglala Holy man.
 
The Lakota and other tribes were labeled as terrorists in Washington, DC, long before we created the Patriot Act to keep ourselves “safe” from terrorists.
 
As we once again debate how to keep American citizens safe, many people dismiss the quaint notion of government tyranny. Tyranny happens in other places, not here…not now…they say.
 
Generally, these believers in government authority and the government’s sole discretion in keeping us safe are white folk who rarely consider the downsides of an unbalanced distribution of force and power. These believers in government sanctity forget about the rather recent atrocities in Dafur, Serbia, Libya or Nazi Germany.
 
I spent the summer of 1987 working on the Cheyenne River Reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Back then, I thought  wanted to be a priest.
 
I was 23 and full of my self as most 23-year-old men are. I strived to be sensitive, to be politically correct. The wise Lakota who surrounded me would gently smile when I used the words, “Native American.”
 
kidsOne night, while assigned to sit with a critically ill man (DeSmit Holy Bear) in the reservation hospital, I sensed his nephew needed someone to talk to, someone to work through his grief. John and I were about the same age. He appeared to be struggling with the pending loss of his beloved uncle.
 
I tried my best to be empathetic, compassionate. I desperately wanted him to know that I was enlightened and not a typical white man; someone who could listen and console him without judgment or prejudice. “I have no idea how hard it must be to be a Native American,” I offered. “To see your entire culture decimated, to face daily discrimination and humiliation.”
 
He slowly turned to me and paused before replying. In a low voice and with clear eyes, he said: “Give me a fucking break. We are Indians, and don’t you ever forget it. If you think you can assuage the sins of your past with a couple of words, you are even dumber than I previously thought.”
 
He stepped outside to have a cigarette. His uncle died two days later, and I will never forget that conversation.
 
So here are two pictures. One is from 122 years ago; the other is from 1987.
 
Take a good look, and you tell me… have we learned anything from history?

Time out

mourningWe are all, it seems, struggling to come to terms with what happened yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut.

As the awful news began to unfold, I urged friends and family members to pause and refrain from using this tragedy to further support political/policy agendas. I was unable, –am still unable — to comprehend what happened. It seems impossible to shoulder the weight of this horrific tragedy.

“Today is not the day to have these conversations,” I wrote on my Facebook page yesterday. “Today is a day to grieve and to support one another.”

Those words strike me as empty, hollow. . .meaningless. Over the last 24 hours, our nation has experienced a range of emotions: rage, grief, shock, fear and despair.

So, how do we move forward? How do we reconcile those feelings, the raw emotions that carry us into another day?

Understandably, many of us are searching for answers, for meaning. We have different opinions, and I submit that those opinions are all vital, all necessary for the larger conversation that we can no longer ignore.

The response to my Facebook post was generally respectful. Some people, however, chided me..saying yesterday, the day before, last year was the time for that conversation. I agree with those well-intentioned Facebook friends of mine. I only wonder if they will now join me in that conversation.

Four days after the Tuscon shootings, I penned an op-ed that was published in the Portland Press Herald. I got lots of supportive feedback and some nice comments for my willingness to speak publicly about my own mental health issues and how those issues affect each and every one of us, but we all moved on to more important things . . . like arguing about Rick Santorum, Wal-Mart and Honey Boo-boo.

On July 23, I wrote another blog post about the peril of ignoring mental health issues and focusing on gun control in response to the movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado. But we quickly moved on . . .

As I struggle to find light in this time of darkness, there is only one small measure of comfort: for the first time, I am seeing and hearing numerous people address mental health as one of the core issues for that conversation. More people, it seems, are ready to have “that” conversation.

But it is not the only issue we must be willing to confront. I consider myself an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment, but today I am left with questions for which there seem to be no easy or convenient answers. I loathe knee-jerk reactions, but I am willing to reconsider all of my opinions so that I can join that larger conversation in a meaningful and productive way.

Ironically. as we all began dealing with the tragic fallout from yesterday’s rampage, another new story from half way across the globe was unfolding.

Questions about China’s inadequate mental health system are increasing in the wake of multiple incidents of school children being attacked and killed by knife-wielding, mentally ill people. Over the last few years, numerous school children have been killed and scores more injured by knife-wielding mad men.

That is not an argument against gun control. That is an argument that shows gun control is not the entire solution.

News commentator Bob Costas didn’t hesitate to offer his opinion about gun control less than 24 hours after an NFL player shot and killed his girlfriend before shooting himself in front of his coach. Just one week later, another NFL player was killed because he was riding in a car with a drunken teammate. It’s no surprise that there was no call for tighter alcohol controls.

Railing for gun control may help us feel a bit safer; but if we don’t have that conversation across a larger context then we can expect more of the same . . . senseless violence that shocks and angers, but then slowly fades away into distant memory.

On a final point. How do we ensure better background checks to prevent mentally ill people from purchasing or obtaining firearms?

Should someone like me, someone who struggles with depression and has been hospitalized sacrifice our privacy and have our health care records disclosed? Should family members of mentally ill people lose or sacrifice some of their rights under the Constitution?

I do not know the answers to those questions. But I do know, there is no way to guarantee safety. We live in a dangerous world, and if we are willing to sacrifice liberty for security (and considering the Patriot Act, Department of Homeland Security, and long shoeless TSA lines, we are) we may end up with something we never bargained for.

The world beyond your front door

Predictably, in the days following a massacre in an Aurora, Colo. movie theater, there has once again been a rallying cry for tighter gun control laws.

Sadly, this knee-jerk reaction fails to address the much larger issue: No sane person would willingly open fire on an unarmed group of civilians. It’s not about guns. It’s about our appetite for violence and our reluctance to address mental health issues.

But that is a more complex issue, and it is much harder to contemplate a solution for a problem that extends well beyond our nation’s borders, including a July 2011 massacre in Oslo, Norway or last month’s shooting spree in Toronto, Canada, where gun control laws are about as tight as they can be.

Not far from Aurora, lies the smaller town of Littleton, Colo., where two students opened fire on their classmates and teachers at the Columbine High School in 1999.

In response, the U.S. Secret Service, in conjunction with the National Education Association, undertook a study of school violence and published their report three years later, in 2002

The Secret Service Report concluded that schools were taking false hope in physical security, when they should be paying more attention to the pre-attack behaviors of students.

But behavior is a tricky subject matter, and not nearly as sexy or convenient for sound bites as AK-47s or Glocks.

No matter, we still happily and blindly toss around words such as “sicko,” “whack-job” and “nut case” to describe the people who commit these horrific, unimaginable criminal acts.

As someone who struggles daily with a mental illness, I am reminded again why I penned an op-ed that was published in the Portland Press Herald only a few days after the Jan. 2011 shootings in Tucson.

If you haven’t read it, take a gander…and let’s finally have that conversation.

http://www.pressherald.com/opinion/where-was-mental-health-crisis-care-before-tucson-tragedy-happened__2011-01-11.html

Janie’s Got A Gun

It was 12 years ago last week when two students at Columbine High School used a variety of weapons, including homemade propane bombs, a shotgun, a semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm handgun in a massacre that left 12 of their classmates and one teacher dead before both shooters committed suicide.

In the days before the attack, the two students prepared several bombs and modified their weapons. These two students were in violation of several federal laws, including the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act of 1968, even days before the shooting began.

The incident shook our nation, and once again the national debate over gun control consumed media outlets all over the world.

In response, the U.S. Secret Service, in conjunction with the National Education Association, undertook a study of school violence and published their report three years later, in 2002

The Secret Service Report concluded that schools were taking false hope in physical security, when they should be paying more attention to the pre-attack behaviors of students.

There’s a reason all of this sounds familiar.

Nearly eight years to the day of the Columbine tragedy, a distraught student at Virginia Tech shot and killed 32 fellow students and injured scores of others on April 16, 2007. He also committed suicide.

There was more political fallout. Other nations criticized a U.S. culture that is seemingly enthralled with guns and violence. More gun control laws were introduced and passed. It should also be noted that the university had a campus firearms ban before that massacre happened.

Sadly, I could go on and on with more examples of gun violence and the ways in which those horrific events are exploited by politicians and pundits from both sides of the gun control debate.

But what’s the point?

The point, my friends, is not about the guns. It’s about people and human behavior.

I am treading into this topic as a response to a friend’s Facebook post in which she was commenting on an editorial from the Lewiston Sun Journal regarding a bill before the Maine Legislature that would allow lawmakers to carry handguns.

“In the wake not only of Tucson, but also the shooting at NY City Hall (’03 – one Councilman shot another dead) and various examples of ‘going postal,’ this seems . . . wise?”

I have immense respect for the woman who wrote the above posting on her Facebook wall. She is extraordinarily smart and equally passionate. If I’m going to debate her, I need to bring my A game, and even then the odds are stacked against me.

But it was just two words from her pithy post that jarred me: “going postal,” just another catchy euphemism that grants us permission to brush off and dismiss a much darker topic: The cost of mental illness and our society’s unwillingness to acknowledge the ramifications of a grossly insufficient treatment system.

The genesis of the term “going postal” can be traced back to the early 1980s, when a spree of shootings by U.S. Postal workers became a macabre trend.

The term is now comic relief, as best evidenced by frequent double entendres on the Seinfield show, in which “Newman, the postal worker” was often teased for his bizarre behavior and frequent angry outbursts.

We laugh.

Some say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Keep laughing, if you can.

I am a big believer in the Second Amendment. I tell my friends that the Second Amendment ensures the continuation of the much more beloved First Amendment.

But I must admit that I am sometimes conflicted. After all, our society understands and accepts limitations on freedom of speech and expression. It is a violation of federal law to say, “I am going to kill the president.” It is also against the law to scream “Fire” in a crowded theater.

Former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously quipped “ I know it when I see it,” as he struggled to define what is and what is not pornography.

Reasonable people can agree to be reasonable, right?

Sure, but what about the unreasonable people? That is a different subject altogether.

The bottom line is this: Guns represent power.

You never see news footage of refugees slinging rifles over their shoulders as they are forced to leave their homeland because of a tyrannical government, do you?

Alan Keyes, a conservative African American and a perennial presidential candidate, once quipped, “This nation would have never had a slavery problem if the people of Africa were armed.”

Any half-rate student of history can rattle off a litany of government abuses, which all began with the collection of the public’s firearms.

Guns are part of our American culture and psyche. One of my core beliefs is that power should be equally distributed and held by the people.

Thoreau seemingly agreed with my stance, when he wrote, the government that governs least governs best. Of course, he wrote Civil Disobedience in 1849, so it’s hard to know where he would come down on the post Columbine gun control debate.

I own three guns (a .22 rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a 20-gauge shotgun). Ironically, I don’t allow firearms in my home. My guns are stored in a gun-safe at my father-in-law’s home, some 15 miles away. They are used for hunting.

There are two reasons for not having firearms in my home.

1.) I have teenage sons who are often alone at home while Laura and I are working; and

2.) I have a responsibility to acknowledge and manage my own mental illness.

I feel safer without firearms in my home, but I am also troubled by any further encroachments on my Second Amendment rights. It doesn’t mean I think everyone should own an Uzi. Then again, reasonable people can agree to be reasonable.

But what are we going to do about the unreasonable people?

Laugh, or introduce legislation requiring background checks on the sale of propane tanks?

Roland, the headless gunner

As we inch closer to the 2004 elections, we all seem to be getting either more stupid or lazy. Maybe both.

While we listen to the presidential candidates debate how they spent their summer vacations during the Vietnam War, a number of key issues seem to have fallen by the wayside. At the same time, the media and the American electorate could seem to care less.

Take, for example, a front-page story in the Sept. 10 Portland Press Herald regarding Bushmaster, Inc., a Windham-based gun manufacturer. According to the story by David Hench, the company has agreed to exhaust its insurance benefits in order to console the victims of the Washington D.C. snipers.

How can we read a story like this and not be outraged? Yet again, the liberal mentality is taking the path of least resistance and faulting the gun manufacturer as a way to appease concern about acts of senseless violence.

Somehow, we believe that getting rid of the guns will reduce crime. It’s akin to believing that Prohibition would save American families, reduce crime and prevent rampant alcoholism. Gun control appears to be the easiest, safest and least costly approach to solving an otherwise complex problem.

And when that doesn’t work, blame the corporations. Riddle me this: What consolation is $550,000 going to bring to anyone who lost a family member?

Although the folks at Bushmaster apparently believe they are not at fault for the snipers’ use of the company’s weapons, the lawyers believe that settling will be a lot less expensive than a trial. And so it goes once again; a company that reportedly employs 100 people will be held responsible for the idiotic lunacy of two nutcases.

I don’t know about you. But I’m not going to sleep any better tonight.

This, dear readers, is just another example of our society’s constant push to assign blame rather than hold individuals accountable for their own actions. Under this logic, Mary Jo Kopechne’s family should sue General Motors, not the Kennedy family for their daughter’s tragic death In Oldsmobile Delta 88 under the Chappaquiddick Bridge.

People kill people, not guns or cars.

And for all my liberal buddies out there, my favorite bumper-sticker is still: “Ted Kennedy’s car has killed more people than my handgun.”

Handgun legislation did nothing to prevent the violent death of Nicole Brown or Ronald Goldman, either. Gun registration laws also did nothing to prevent a South Portland man from being beaten to death with a baseball bat four years ago.

I always find it ironic when my liberal colleagues blather on about the First Amendment but then speak with such disdain about the next item in the Bill of Rights as if it were nothing more than protection for duck hunters.

Our nation’s forefathers knew all too well what could happen to an unarmed citizenry. Despite the constant lessons of history, (from Kosovo to Cuba and from Pre-WWII Germany to South Africa) liberals still believe that “regular citizens” have no need for owning weapons.

But when was the last time you saw a refugee crossing the border of his former homeland, carrying a rifle across his shoulder? It doesn’t happen. What would have happened if the Africans could have shot back at their American oppressors?

I don’t own a gun now, but I did. And to think that the government believes it should have a list of anyone who owns a handgun should be chilling enough. But even if getting rid of the all guns gives you the soft and fuzzies, should we really hold the manufacturers responsible for the actions of criminals? I think not.

A while back, a man in California killed several pedestrians when he drove into a crowded public market. Where’s the consolation for those families? Where are the lawyers, drooling over the chance to sue Ford? It’s just that we hate guns — unless, of course, we find ourselves on the wrong end of a violent crime. When that happens, having a gun would be mighty handy.

My kids know that they will always be held accountable for their actions. And only by teaching them about discipline and personal responsibility can they ever hope to be truly free men in a world that is increasingly looking for someone else to blame.