Archive for January, 2011

The Myth of CHL Training

Concealed carry on campus is a hot issue in Texas this legislative session.

One of the major points used by the right in the debate surrounding concealed carry on campus is that Texas concealed handgun license (CHL) holders are trained and therefore able to respond in the event of a shooter on campus.

There are two serious problems with this point, both dealbreakers in my opinion.

First, the nature of Texas CHL training does not qualify one to handle a crazed shooter. (Disclosure: I have not taken a Texas CHL training class, though I intend to do so in the near future.) Texas CHL training does cover personal safety, safe use of a pistol, gun care and maintenance, the law, and marksmanship. It also includes a range test; I do concede that CHL holders can likely hit what they are aiming at under range conditions.

However, an active shooter event on campus is not exactly range conditions. All kinds of emotions, physical reactions, and group dynamics come into play. In Tucson, a citizen with a gun almost shot the wrong guy before helping to subdue Jared Loughner. I believe that the Texas CHL training is inadequate for handling an active shooter situation; we need qualified law enforcement. Peace officers, who bear the responsibility of campus security and of responding to an active shooter situation, undergo weeks of initial training and must renew their training throughout their careers. A 10-hour CHL class just doesn’t cut it.

Second, the training required to get a Texas CHL can be avoided completely by applying for and receiving an out-of-state CHL. Texas has a ridiculous number of reciprocal and unilateral agreements recognizing other states’ concealed handgun licenses (40 other states, in fact). Some of these states have CHL licenses available to Texas citizens that are, quite frankly, a joke.

For example, a Virginia non-resident CHL can be obtained by watching a video and taking a 20-question test online (along with $100, a picture, and some forms). A Washington State CHL is yours for $55 and a two-page form. Both will let you legally pack heat in Texas without taking the 10-hour Texas CHL training course. And if the requirements for either of those two don’t suit you, there are 38 other possibilities to consider.

The idea that CHL holders are necessarily trained to handle a crisis is part of the mythology of the hero gunslinger who saves the day with his or her pistol. Unfortunately, it just ain’t so.

Defriended by Randy

I remember meeting Rep. Neugebauer at a social event and facebook friending him while we chatted. It was a neat experience, and I thought, “Good for you for knowing how to use facebook,” even though we disagree politically. Rep. Neugebauer’s facebook page has been a venue for lively discussion. Since that time it seems that his (or his staff’s) tolerance for dissent on his facebook page has diminished.

Now if you disagree with him too often you get booted from his page. This is what happened to my friend Brian a few days ago:

Reading the postings on the Congressman’s FB page is an exercise in the fringe of a movement that champions a person who would shout “babykiller” on the floor of Congress. Extremists of all types can post on his page with impunity as they reveal the conspiracies of high attitude chemical spraying that is poisoning us (I always thought those were simply condensation that formed behind jet planes), how illegal immigrants are having terrorist babies on US soil, and endless variations on how our President is not a US citizen.

However, when one posts comments that run against this tide of fanaticism you will find yourself removed from being able to post to his page. Mention concerns about the availability of large capacity gun clips or the lack of funding for mental health services and you trip the wire and are denied further comment. If you then send an email asking why your access has been restricted expect a long delay from his office getting back to you (I’m still waiting).

I used to post on Rep. Neugebauer’s facebook page pretty regularly (in fact I posted “I hope that wasn’t you that yelled Baby Killer” the night he yelled Baby Killer), and I know what Brian means about the fanatics who post there with impunity. By comparison, I am grateful for the right-wing readers I have here.

So, to borrow a campaign slogan from Rep. Neugebauer: “I’m mad too, Randy.” Quit allowing your supporters on facebook to abuse other posters with obscenity and personal threats while you ban people who are being civil.

Links Today, Liveblog Tomorrow

I am inviting all my readers — fans of President Obama or otherwise — to join me at the LubbockOnline version of my blog tomorrow night for the State of the Union Address. I will be liveblogging it as I have done in the past, and it’s been really fun for everyone involved. This is one of those “the more, the merrier” situations as we all exchange commentary while the event happens. I will also stick around for Paul Ryan’s rebuttal afterward and the wind-down chatter after that. I hope you’ll join me.

In the meantime, I want to share some links (I get a ton of political links in a given day: email, facebook, twitter, the radio show, chatting with friends, etc) to tie us over until tomorrow night’s liveblogging. — My friend Charlie Dunn has been doing some serious research into the goings-on surrounding Lubbock’s utilities and the sources of our power in 2019 and beyond. There are hefty questions for our elected officials to answer about a private investment company’s involvement and a possible conflict of interest. Check out the summary, supporting documents, and links.

The Texas budget in the Senate is looking just as dire as it is in the House. Here’s a statement issued by State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), via Capitol Annex:

“Overall, the Senate base budget contains the same bad news as the House base budget, with similarly drastic cuts to schools and healthcare. These cuts may save the state government some money but at the cost of slowing Texas’ recovery from the global recession. The good news is that this is only the start of the budget making process. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I am going to work as hard as I can to persuade my fellow lawmakers that we should use the rainy day fund and new sources of revenue to ensure that we continue to invest in Texans and in the Texas economy.”

You Have Flunked Humanity — another example of GOP officeholders failing the empathy test (thanks, Scott!).

The stack of laws broken by George W. Bush while in office keeps growing, but nothing will likely be done about it (via NY Times — thanks, Justin!).

One of the toughest aspects of being a Texas Democrat is that we are continually being written off by the national Party. (In fact, David Plouffe mentioned his one regret in the 2008 Obama campaign was not fighting harder in Texas!) On Sunday, there was a DailyKos diary to that effect pointed out to me by regular reader VoodooBen that illustrates this situation in all its frustrating glory. Regular reader BlackSheep01 gets in exactly what I wanted to say in the comments, incidentally. Kudos!

That oughta do for now. I hope to see you all Tuesday night as we liveblog the SOTU!

The Dreaded Stairs

This fun little video of a piano key staircase in a Stockholm train station is making the rounds, and I think that, oddly enough, it is a pretty good representation of modern liberalism.

What we have here in miniature is a problem: not enough people are taking the stairs. Right away I want to point out that the modern conservative would throw his hands up and decline to address the problem. After all, it’s a matter of “personal responsibility,” isn’t it? People will take the stairs if they want to, end of story.

The modern liberal, on the other hand, will propose that, with new ideas and new infrastructure, we can create/induce/encourage a measurable and significant shift in people’s default behavior. (I want to emphasize once again on this blog that it’s in the public interest to be concerned about what people’s default behaviors are.) Clearly, this concept worked in the stairs example, and it works in large-scale projects as well.

Of recent real-world note, Portugal’s new liberal approach to their drug problem seems to be working too.

Oh, beware of another conservative canard here: the unfounded charge of utopianism. When liberals try to make a better world, we are accused of trying to make a perfect world. There’s a huge difference. Nothing can be perfected, but everything can be improved. Improvement is a reasonable goal; perfection is fringe lunacy.

Moving on. The fact that money was spent — even reasonable amounts — will outrage the modern conservative as well. “It’s not the role of [institution] to pay for [some good thing].” How many times have we heard that line? The staircase example was a corporate project, but could have been a public works project and would have been just as successful, with the only difference being that conservatives would be up in arms over the negligible amount of “their tax dollars” going to waste. When the inevitable spending cut discussion gets underway in Washington, I hope Congress cuts proportionally more from the black hole of the military-industrial complex than they do from the barely-funded NEA.

Finally, the setting of the stairs video is one that the modern conservative cannot stand. No, I don’t mean Sweden. I am talking about urbanism, public transit, and just plain old public spaces with crowds of STRANGERS in them. And these strangers might interact with one another! All of these are anathema to modern conservatism.

Look at Lubbock, the city that conservatism built. Unless you’re on the Tech campus, you’re probably not going to run into crowds of people you don’t know. The most socializing-with-strangers that a typical Lubbockite gets involves staring at the faces of the drivers in the opposite left-turn lane. Lubbock life looks like home-work-church, along with a few shops and restaurants — all in cars, all over unwalkable distances. That is the antisocial legacy we continue to build for ourselves in Lubbock, by no coincidence the 2nd most conservative area in the country.

Broadly speaking, liberalism is the philosophy you tend to get when you live with, interact with, and learn how to get along with lots of people you didn’t know before. You can’t help but brush up against core liberal values like empathy and social justice in a big, walkable city. Likewise, conservative cities tend to be cities of distance and isolation and keeping-to-your-clan.

Well, that was a lot of blabber to extract from a 2min video. What do you think?

Tune in next week, where I’ll explain the difference between Birchers and Randians using only funny cat videos!

The State of the Texas Left

In Texas, liberals and progressives are in the worst situation (legislatively speaking) that we have seen in some time. The $27 billion budget crisis is the perfect cover for conservatives to reduce or eliminate programs they have always wanted to reduce or eliminate. Look at the first “shock and awe” budget draft released. HB1 represents a totally unbalanced approach to budgeting. It’s all cuts with no attempts to raise revenue. There are huge bites into public education, kindergarten through college. Several community colleges, including two in West Texas, are slated to be closed. Mental health care is facing a 40% cut. Services for elderly and children are also at risk. Why not, at the very least, tap into the rainy day fund to prevent some of these enormous cuts in public services?

Also, look for right-wing pet projects to receive legislative priority (or even “emergency status” granted by the Governor to expedite them even ahead of the budget). The unconstitutional voter suppression bill could be taken up by the Lege as early as Monday. Laws based on the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the right may also see the light of day before the state budget does. Already the SBOE is discussing more ways to replace public school science education with Bible stories. Check out the Young Conservatives of Texas legislative agenda (but get ready to hurl) for more right-wing pet projects that will be pushed this session. (The short version of that YCT document? “God wants you to bring a gun to school.”)

However, I have already seen some of my legislative heroes in Texas have success. State Sen. Kirk Watson successfully introduced a senate rule that requires 48 hours of public examination of the conference committee on the budget before it is enacted. Also, Democratic State House members are standing up to the mega-austerity of the first proposed budget. Check out remarks from Garnet Coleman, Mike Villareal, and Donna Howard for the correct way to respond to HB1.

Lastly though, I want to mention the environmental mess that Texas is becoming, thanks to GOP enabling. Andrews County is on track to become the next Yucca Mountain, taking nuclear waste from 38 states and dropping it near-or-on the Ogallala aquifer. All the right hands have been greased, it seems. Texas coal plants are killing nearby plant life with no consequences to the plant operators. Fracking is still a big fracking mess in Texas. Thank goodness the EPA is becoming involved now in doing the job that the do-nothing TCEQ should have been doing.

Texas progressives: we have our work cut out for us this next six months. Time to step up our game.

Time for Civility

In light of the discussions happening all over the USA this week, I decided to seek out an expert on civil, effective communication. I was fortunate enough to run across Meryl Runion, a recognized expert on collaborative communication and personal growth from Colorado. She is the author of seven books that have sold over 350,000 copies worldwide: Power Phrases, Perfect Phrases for Leadership Development, Perfect Phrases for Managers and Supervisors, How to Restore Sanity to Our Political Conversations, and others. It’s that last title that caught my interest.

Meryl was kind enough to answer my questions about our current political climate via email. I have to admit, I learned something from her responses (including some of my own regrettable predilections). I hope y’all find it interesting too.

Here we go!

In a nutshell, how can we citizens change the tone of our political discourse to be more civil?

I don’t see toning ourselves down as the best goal. It’s important that we honor our passion and deeply held beliefs. Our passion fuels us and if properly conveyed, inspires others. I sometimes think public radio sounds so toned down as to sound dehuman. Some commentators talk about heinous things in the same voice as they relay the weather. The alternative to that isn’t screaming - it’s being genuine - speaking from the heart. So I say be who we are - express our passion, emotion, enthusiasm. If we believe what we’re saying and are excited about it, we don’t have to attack what someone else is saying. We can learn about what makes them tick, and ask how they see things as they do. We can invite them to be genuine with us and also be savvy enough to ask questions and respond authentically when we feel attacked or manipulated.

On our local newspaper’s website, I am paired with a conservative blogger. On talk radio, I am paired with a conservative host. What rules of engagement should I offer my counterpart pundits to promote civility in print and over the airwaves?

You’re set up for conflict from the start. It’s quite a bit like the show Crossfire that Jon Stewart took to task. It was structured as political theater positioning one side against another. The labels you start with put you both in boxes. Listeners think they know everything about you because you represent one side of the duality.

People read my book and don’t know what side of the political isle I’m on. Well, I don’t know either. I don’t fit under either label. Labels stop thought. I define myself by a completely different set of criteria. I actually think most of us would if we really thought about it.

Then there’s the rules of engagement term you used. Actually I do have communication guidelines in the book. But I wouldn’t call them rules of engagement, because that sends you out of the gate with a mindset of war. This isn’t a war and it isn’t a sporting match. I suggest you try a show without using any military or competitive sports jargon. I also suggest you make a point of finding and acknowledging one thing the other says in each interaction that influenced you.

I’m also wary of the word pundit. It implies someone who has all the answers - or thinks they do. Dialog is an exchange of ideas - not talking AT people. No one has all the answers, and speaking from a pedestal closes conversation down.

What are some of the most common logical fallacies you see being used in politics today?

Absolute thinking is the biggest. You’re with us or you’re not. If you’re not a republican you are a democrat. Politician X or Pundit Y caused the shooting and should be tried, or they have no responsibility for introspection to see if they should change their style a bit. Okay, (I’m using irony here) - we absolutely must get past our absolute thinking and communication.

But really, Kenny, I want to keep the focus on what underlies the logical fallacies. That’s setting a goal to win, rather than to communicate and collaborate. And it’s helpful to know how that game is played so we won’t get caught in the web. We do well to address faulty logic when people use it. (Notice I didn’t say confront.) But also keep the focus on changing the game. You might say, “I know you to be an intelligent person, and that remark doesn’t follow a line of clear logic. I’m sure you have good reasons for seeing things as you do, and I’d like to hear them.”

How do we avoid conversation-destroying tactics?

By learning conversation-enhancing skills. And by developing a better relationship with our reptilian brains (I call them brainlets) so we can respond rather than react and speak to connect and influence rather than crush and destroy.

Really, these skills are worth learning! If we can stay connected and effective when someone makes an inflammatory political comment, it will serve us at work and at home. Politics puts our emotional maturity to the test.

Our Congressman Randy Neugebauer made the infamous “baby killer” remark on the floor of the House at the time of the health care bill vote. In his recent reelection campaign, he used that outburst as a fundraiser and to score points with his base. How can we hope to restore civility in our political discourse when incivility seems to be a campaign booster?

Terms like that CAN be the sincere expression of what someone feels - and they can be manipulative levers to rile up a fight or fight response. Some people sincerely believe that’s an accurate description. Others use terms like that to stir mindless passion and stop discussion.

If someone believes that term is the best way to describe abortionists, they would be sincere in using it. However, if they are sincere in wanting to influence the practice, they would need to be aware that the term polarizes the discussion and is likely to be tuned out by many considering abortion. So the question would be - what would be a more effective way to talk about it if your goal is sincerely to be a “baby-saver.”

Of course if the goal is to boost a campaign, the term works well. That’s why I focus my efforts on people who have nothing to gain by inflaming and dividing us. Get the sincere to speak more effectively and it will plant seed toward changing the culture.

On a personal note, I want to thank you for your book and what it is trying to accomplish.

Thank you for that comment. I’m sure you know that there are many people who don’t applaud this kind of effort. I do believe the number who do are greater, and they are the ones who can hear - not just that we need to do this, but how to do it. I speak and write not as a pundit myself but as someone who has some skills and wants to be a part of the shift that is taking place by helping to empower the voices that will help make this happen. I hope you and your readers will learn from me and I will learn from you and from them ways to make collaborative political dialog a reality - not just in pockets here and there, but in the mainstream.

So what do you say, readers? Are we up to the challenge of collaborative political dialog?

I guess we’ll find out in the comments below.

Meryl Runion on YouTube

How to Restore Sanity to Our Political Conversations (ISBN 978-1-935758-06-8) is published by WordStream Publishing, 2010, and is available for order from your local bookstore or online.

Shooting Tragedy in Arizona

I thought we could use a place to discuss the tragic shooting that happened earlier today in Arizona.

I think today’s shooting is a product of our political climate. Yes, the shooter is a crazy person first and foremost. But, at the same time, the irresponsible rhetoric used by the right in this country provides a framework for nuts like this to rationalize horrible things like firing an automatic weapon into a crowd.

If a political movement’s first instinct after a tragedy like this is to scrub their websites, then that movement has a problem.

I’ve been out and about all day, so I appreciate any news and investigative links anyone has in the comments below.

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