Monthly Archives: January 2011

The NRA’s Stranglehold

The NRA has always been known as a powerful force in American politics. With nearly 4 million members, the National Rifle Association has been ranked as the most influential lobbyist group. Of course, it doesn’t help that America is one of the most gun-happy nations on Earth.

The most basic precept of the NRA’s policy is “the promotion of firearm ownership rights as well as marksmanship, firearm safety, and the protection of hunting and self-defense in the United States,” according to the Wikipedia article detailing the group (yes, I regard Wikipedia as a mostly valid source). According to many members and proponents of the NRA, their purpose is to protect Americans’ “second amendment rights,” which in their minds means the ownership of firearms.

Now, this is America, and people have the right to express their views and ideas in a civilized manner. Members of the NRA have just as much right to endorse gun ownership as members of Planned Parenthood have to endorse proper use of birth control (cue blatant plug for Planned Parenthood). But time and time again, the arguments and ideas of the NRA have been called into question, and we’re beginning to find that other aspects of this group are being called into question as well.

Many proponents of “gun freedom” (a term I just BS‘d into existence) argue that studies have repeatedly shown that gun ownership improves the safety of communities. And, to a certain extent, they’re right. Many studies do seem to indicate that gun ownership reduces violent crime. But in an article recently published in the New York Times, I read of the political machinations piloted by the NRA in an effort to stymie research that might make guns seem, you know, dangerous.

I’d encourage you to read said article, as it will do a lot more than I can to show you what I’m talking about (damn professional journalists). But the gist of it is this: The NRA is using legislative strong-arming to deny funding to the National Center for Injury Control and Prevention, a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC). Now, the NCICP was previously responsible for researching the potential hazards of having a firearm in the home, and thus funded research on the subject. Yet somehow, the NRA managed to dig its gunpowder-coated claws into the $2.6 million reserve of money used to do this research, claiming that this kind of research is too partisan (not that the NRA is partisan or anything like that).

The NRA even managed to squeeze this phrasing into an appropriations bill for the CDC: “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” (The funds referred to are the $2.6 million, which were restored to the CDC, but specifically designated for traumatic brain injury research.

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, unless the NRA has a gun to your head too, you can probably see that the organization that put this “non-partisan” measure into effect via lobbying is about as partisan as one can possibly imagine! In my thinking, it’s a heinous crime that a lobbying group can hold so much sway over legitimate research about gun control. Now, I myself am an advocate of gun control, but regardless of one’s opinion on this matter, one can hardly justify this kind of manipulation of safety research. Whether or not guns in the home have the potential to increase the danger level of the household, research must be done on both sides of the debate.

And really, if the NRA is so sure that guns are the safest thing since the butter knife, then they shouldn’t be getting so worked up about this kind of research. Because after all, who ever heard of a gun killing anybody?

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Egypt in the Army’s Hands

Further developments in Egypt! As you may have heard, the Army has been deployed in many parts of Egypt, effectively replacing the police.

The problem with this, from Mubarak’s perspective at least, is that the people love the Army.

While it wouldn’t quite be accurate to say that the Egyptian Army’s machine guns fire jelly beans and butterflies (actually, jelly beans would really do some damage at those speeds), the Army has thus far allowed protestors free (peaceful) reign of the streets, preventing only violent action and the destruction of government property. The people on the street certainly aren’t feeling pressured or threatened by this new military presence either. In fact, many civilians have been seen cheerfully chatting with soldiers as others hold up signs and shout “Down with Mubarak, down with the regime!”

The sentiment on the ground seems to be that the Army is taking the job of peacekeeping very literally, taking no aggressive action against civilians. Ironically, the heavily armed and armored military presence here is both more reserved and more welcome in Cairo than the notoriously violent police ever were.

The Army here has pulled coups in the past, and it wouldn’t be particularly surprising to me if the very troops Mubarak called on to maintain order were the same ones to take him out of the office he used to issue that command. Many people (this author included) think that the ultimate decision about Egypt’s political future is in the hands of the Egyptian Army. Nearly 500,000 troops strong, and led by generals of uncertain motives en rie Mubarak, the armed forces here will be the tipping point in the next few days and weeks. I’ll be keeping an eye on things over there!

PS! I’m posting a poll (which I’m guessing will get no responses cuz I don’t have readership yet) about whether Mubarak will remain in power! What do you think?

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And You Thought America was Uptight!

Before I get started discussing this, I’d like to say that I know this is old news, so please refrain from telling me to pick up the paper. That said, this news is still sadly relevant! In fact, it’s come to the forefront again very recently. So hear me out.

Homosexuality and homosexual practice has always been a point of contention in Africa, especially in recent years. The general sentiment in many African countries (most notably Uganda) is that homosexuality is not just wrong, as many Americans feel, but an outright abomination and crime. In October 2010, the magazine pictured here (not the Rolling Stone you’re thinking of) released the names and addresses of 100 “Top Homos” in Uganda under an injunction to “Hang Them.” One of the people named in the article (and pictured on the cover) was David Kato, a gay rights activist in Uganda who was beaten to death with a hammer just 3 days ago in his home.

It’s been proposed (and perhaps not wrongly so) that the flames of anti-gay sentiment in Uganda were stoked in large part by a number of evangelical Christians that have helped “encourage” the evangelical Christian community in Uganda to view homosexuality as an aberration, an unnatural way of life, and of course, a sin. In the thinking of such blameless souls as Rick Warren, homosexuality is against the grain of normality, and is thus not something that need be considered a human right. To slather icing on the cake, a number of American evangelical leaders have popularized the idea that homosexuality is the immediate precursor to the dissolution of the African family. In the words of the minister of ethics and integrity, James Nsaba Buturo, “Homosexuals can forget about human rights.” Classy guy, eh?

Ya know, this sounds pretty similar to what the Evangelical movement is seeking to achieve on American soil. Fundamentalist Christians have for years been striving to exorcise homosexuality from the US, but this isn’t a fight reserved just for America. No no, the “gay agenda” must be rooted out across the globe, according to folks like Scott Lively.

And Uganda seems to take this as a sacred and blood-soaked duty. The president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, drafted a bill that threatens to drastically expand the penalties that can be imposed on gays in Uganda, up to and including capital punishment. Besides that, the bill, if passed, would call for homosexual Ugandans who have fled the country to be deported for punishment. But wait, it gets better! Museveni made the decision to bring this bill about after being converted to Christianity by American evangelicals. Regardless of who actually drafted the bill, none of these “good Christians” have voiced strong opposition to the bill, at most discouraging Parliament from such drastic measures. Similarly, none will say that Museveni’s insanity toward gays was at all inspired by them.

Yet more proof of the destructive capabilities mustered by members of the American evangelical movement. All we can do now is hope and pray that this bill never passes.

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Filed under Human Rights, Religion & Reason

Chaos in the Middle East

For those of you who have been reading the news lately, things have gotten a little crazy over in the Middle East as of late. Starting in December of last year, Tunisia had a little uprising, one that ended badly for then-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a vaguely creepy-looking head of a corrupt authoritarian government. Ben Ali had been funneling money to his extended family and spending huge quantities on his and their pleasures as the rest of the country foundered (similar to what Louis XVI pulled back in the French Revolution).

This uprising (and overthrowing) in Tunisia was fairly alarming to other Arab leaders, as many of them led similar autocratic governments. And lo and behold, Egypt is foundering in political turmoil and civil unrest. The protests have spread not only to Egypt, but to Jordan and Yemen as well. Throw in the collapse of the Lebanese government, and you have a pretty big explosion waiting to happen.

Now, the way I see it, there’s two ways to look at this. The first might be a bit stupidly optimistic (and I consider myself something of a master of stupid optimism), but here goes. The governments in many of these countries are notorious for their authoritarian rule. The country on everyone’s mind right now is Egypt, so I’ll focus on them for a bit. The president of Egypt, a guy by the name of Hosni Mubarak, has been in power in Egypt for 30 years. Even if the Egyptian people had the option to elect someone else, 30 years is an egregious amount of time for one person to remain in power without the option of ousting said leader. So you could look at these protests in that way: An eruption of anti-autocratic sentiment, when the oppressed people rise up against the oppressors and break their chains.

Like I said, that’s the stupidly optimistic view. The other, more realistic view is of course more complicated. Egypt has always acted as one of America’s staunchest allies in the Middle East, a region full of pies that America has dug its fingers into. While one can hardly say that Mubarak’s police state is humane or “American,” we risk losing a firm foothold in that part of the world. There’s a lot of uncertainty in these protests. People want Mubarak out, but it would seem there’s not much of a plan for a replacement (though I’m sure many people will present themselves as candidates). Chances are that if the government were to be replaced (and Mubarak with it), America would stand to lose a lot. But who knows? Maybe it’s about time we do.

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