Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Seeking the Silver Lining

In an effort to assuage some of the angst being felt by those on the left, I thought it timely to find the hidden silver lining as regards to our president elect, and the overall perceptions of those Americans who feel America is on the wrong track, or who are eager to get their country back, or are looking forward to seeing America become great again.

While there will always be negative media, especially with the rise of social media in which bad news spreads like an infectious disease, there will certainly be a reduction of negative stories from the family of Fox News broadcasts, once President Obama leaves office.  My hope is that many of those negative sounding stories will be replaced by neutral or upbeat accounts of what is happening.  For instance,

Unemployment spiked dramatically beginning in 2009 once the recession began to take hold of the economy, peaking at a bit over 10% during Obama's first term.  Since then, unemployment has steadily declined to around 5% as of this past month, but if one were to watch Fox business hosted by Lou Dobbs, the rate of unemployment was less emphasized as compared to those who have left the job market, or those who were under employed.  Perhaps starting on January 20th, and assuming unemployment remains low, Dobbs may remind his viewers that unemployment is at historical lows, and he may even throw in a commentary or two about there being tens of thousands of job openings, perhaps as a way of indicating that anyone not working isn't trying hard enough.

The stock market was also negatively effected by the recession.  On January 9th, 2009 the market closed at its bottom mark of 7063.  By November of this year, the market was over 18000, an increase of over 150%.  Yet, it seemed that this incredible turnaround was always buffered by a belief that either it could have been better, or that activity on Wall Street did not reflect everyday people who were still suffering.  Hopefully in about 51 days, stock market reports and analysis may emphasize the record setting aspect of the current market, and the fact that all those everyday Americans have more money in their 401K and IRA accounts.

Immigration was probably one of the hottest topics for those who chose Trump over Clinton.
Trump was seen as tough on illegals immigration (I will build a wall) while Clinton supported policies like the DREAM act.  It is hard to get a handle on actual numbers of deportations, as there are those on the left who bemoan the Obama record on deportations as being too draconian, while there are those on the right who claim his policies allows criminals to penetrate our border.   Assuming the truth is somewhere in between, and the clear fact that increased immigration, illegal or legal, is generally tied to job availability which is linked to economic growth, it should be easy for the bias in stories about immigration to begin shifting by mid January to detail just how many people are being caught trying to cross the border illegally, who are detained at the border, and who are deported if they commit a crime on US soil.  While these activities are happening now, more news stories about them will assure Americans that our borders are being better secured, even if the actual numbers of deportations don't actually change all that much.  And, even if there is token work on a wall, people will see something tangible being done and feel more at ease.

The anti-government rhetoric by Trump also played well in the heartland of America.  But now, Trump will be the government.  I expect that more uplifting stories about how the United States Government helps the average working American will be aired.  All the tax money that was previously characterized as wasted, will now be shown to be spent on Veterans Affairs, infrastructure, a strong military, support for police and fire departments, aid to seniors and children.  Again, it won't matter if the amounts spent are the same, or even a bit less, because reports of all the good being done with our tax dollars are so sparse now, that an increase in those articles will reaffirm Americans' belief that the government is working for them.  Also, evidence of a stronger border presence will cause Americans to view those departments involved as part of the solution as opposed to asleep at the wheel.

Finally, there may even be a respite on the attacks against the elite who have ruined America once the new cabinet and all the thousands of support staff are appointed.  They will be good people, the best people, even if they boast Ivy League degrees or have years of Wall Street experience.  The emphasis will be on competence over diversity, even though these are not mutually exclusive traits.  The attacks that our government is run by political hacks, and big donor relatives will be replaced by an emphasis on work ethic and accomplishments, even when those appointees are, in fact, big donors.

In short, our new president makes up for his lack of detailed knowledge of the world, with an extremely developed understanding of the effects of negative psychology when in attack mode, and positive psychology when in support mode.  As do those on the Fox executive board.  America, will, in fact, be great again, the moment Donald J Trump takes office, because he and Fox News will tell us so.  And, while that may seem like an illusion, feeling better about one's self, one's country goes a long way to making one's self, or one's country better.  For so many reasons that seem negative, a Trump presidency with the support of the best propaganda machine in America, may be good for our overall psyche.  Perhaps all we needed was someone to tell us we are great and everything will fall into place!

As always, I stay positive, and hopeful.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Confronting the Trump in all of us

It has been a week since America awoke to the news that Donald Trump was elected the next president of the United States.  In that time, reactions from both Trump supporters and those who did not vote for him, have dominated the headlines.  

First, while I would prefer that those protesting Americans accept the fact that their choice did not win, I acknowledge their right to express their opinion in public demonstrations, just as, should Hillary Clinton had won, we would have allowed the Trump faithful to demonstrate on behalf of their candidate.  It should come as no surprise that so many people are angry and upset, as both candidates had high ratings of unfavorability during the entire campaign.  Someone had to win, someone had to lose, and half of the electorate was bound to be disappointed at the outcome.  To me, it is encouraging that so many people are expressing their concern, even though it comes in the wake of a reduced turnout at the polls as compared to 2008 and 2012, and might smack of closing the barn door after the horse has left for those of us who voted, for we all know that a certain percentage of the demonstrators didn't bother to cast a ballot last Tuesday.   But that would also have been true, regardless of the result.

I do however, object to the perception among the left that since Clinton won the popular vote, the second time in 16 years that a GOP candidate lost the popular vote but won the electoral count, we should consider abandoning the concept of the electoral college.  Or, that we should encourage some of the electors in that college, to vote contrary to the public's will, and choose Clinton over Trump.

As I said in a previous post, it is important to maintain the integrity of our institutions, despite our great disappointment at the recent election results.  If we allow the losing side to change the rules whenever it suits them, then the stability of our democratic system will be eroded.  The electoral college is not a perfect system, but it is the system designed by the founders to prevent a regional candidate from accruing such a huge majority of popular votes in a minority of states that victory in the overall election may be attained despite losing the popular vote in 30 or 35 states.  So yes, Clinton won the popular vote but she only won 21 states (if you include DC), which means that Trump won 30.  As I had suggested in a previous post, had Clinton won just 3 more states, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, she would have won the electoral college vote 278-260. 

Would the left be so quick to want a change had Clinton won those three states, 24 in total, but lost the popular vote?  Would the right now be clamoring for that change instead, if, in winning 27 states they had won the popular vote but not the electoral college?  (By the way, in the 2000 presidential election when Bush bested Gore, Bush won 30 states despite losing the popular vote.  Had Gore won Florida, he would have won the election with just 21 states including DC, as opposed to 29 for Bush).

Second, my respect for President Obama has increased dramatically by his handling of the transfer of power to a man who actively questioned his nation of birth and religion for many years.  What an incredible show of restraint, and respect for our nation and its laws!   Not to mention his plea for Americans to honor the results, results that may virtually wipe out his legacy and all that he did to advance the causes of those who elected him, twice.  Could you have been so polite, so willing to put the nation ahead of your personal disappointment?  Has anyone ever in our political history?  It would be a great boon to unity if Fox News would relate this information to its audience.  Perhaps just that one nod to civility would help move the needle a bit towards understanding that it is OK for political and philosophical disagreements to exist, in fact preferable in a democracy, but not OK to demonize those on the other side and to promote the belief that there is only one right opinion.  We must respect those on the other side if we wish to convince them of our perspective.     

But the real point of this post was to discuss prejudice, and its insidious effect on our great country.

Clearly, racial bias, and xenophobia were factors in this election.  NOT THE DECIDING FACTOR HOWEVER.  Let me make that point clear, again.  Trump won the election because he won over middle America, hard working men and women who feel that the American dream has been stolen from them, and Trump promised them he would fix that problem.  Had the Democrats and Clinton learned that lesson from the success of Bernie Sanders primary challenge, we might have had a different result, but they assumed that Trump's negatives would win the day.  One might even say that they assumed that it was OK to discount middle America's angst, believing that Trump's forays into belittling virtually anyone not a white male, would force the voters to choose her as the lesser of two evils.  

And this is why we need to address our own Trumpness, so to speak.  We all exhibit bias, demean those we think we are better than.  Using terms like redneck and white trash to describe some Trump supporters is no different than those who would call our First Lady an ape in heels, or who stereotype all illegal immigrants as rapists and criminals.  

Be honest, if you found yourself walking at night in an unfamiliar area and saw 4 or 5 young men approaching, would your first instinct to cross the street?  Hold tight your purse?  Is it more or less the same if the young men have dark skin?  

If a business person, do you look more closely at the resume, or the tattoos or piercings the applicant may have?  

If you are in a public situation where you need to sit within a crowd, do you seek a seat next to someone more like yourself in race, gender or age? 

Prejudice is deep rooted, often the results of generations of biased thinking.  A child who listens at the lap of a white supremacist grandfather and father as they recount tales of suppressing the negro, will more easily develop a deep hatred of that race, just as a black child who hears tales from their family of the white slave owner who abused their ancestors and separated their families.   

This is where I may disagree with some Trump supporters, but, to me, the answer to reducing and someday eliminating prejudice is familiarity with those different from us.  Contact with them.  More diversity, not less.

Imagine the surprise and change of perspective when an older person visits their lifelong friend, and finds that friend's grand daughter helping around the house, a grand daughter with a tattoo on her forearm and a pierced nose.  Perhaps the thought that young people have different ways of expressing themselves but are still just young people making their way through the world might remind them of the fads of their youth and how they were looked at askance by their elders.

Imagine the surprise and change of perspective when a gay marriage opponent finds herself stranded along the road, waiting for AAA, when she is helped by a friendly lesbian couple who change her tire and share their hot beverage to warm her.   Perhaps the thought that those young woman were not unlike her when she was young, hoping to find love and happiness.

Imagine the surprise and change of perspective when a left leaning progressive comes home to find his young child playing with the new kid in school who just moved from there from Mississippi, and when he takes the child home is invited in for a cold glass of lemonade.  Perhaps the thought that these new neighbors are probably as scared and unsure as he would be should he move to a new town, and how much a helping hand would mean as opposed to a stereotyped judgement.

We are a divided nation.  One might even say that some of that divisiveness still echoes from the Civil War.  But we are also known by the inscription on the Statue of Liberty which says 

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"     

It is why so many people risk life and limb to travel from Central America and Mexico to live and work here.  Why the newest wave of immigrants from the war torn countries of the Middle East have streamed into Europe and wish asylum in America as well.

Like those who sent opinion letters to their papers decrying the influx of the Irish, Italian, Polish and other European nations during the early 20th century, we find ourselves, children of those same immigrants, fearful that our country is changing, and that our culture will be altered by these new immigrants.  It is natural to feel that, and so understandable that so many people responded to Trump's call for restrictions, were ready to blame our problems on these newcomers.  And yes, perhaps some are over the top racists, but most are everyday Americans who want to provide shelter and security for their families and the opportunity for the same in the future.

Let's acknowledge our prejudices.  Confront our fears but in an inclusive way, with the knowledge that the problems will not be solved unless we involve everyone on both sides of the debate.   And let's understand that if we see unappealing traits in President elect Trump, we can best address those faults by turning that gaze within and rooting out those same traits in ourselves. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Congratulations to Donald Trump

Congratulations to the next president of the United States, Donald Trump.  His unconventional campaign, his reluctance to ignore the advice of seasoned political advisers, his speeches in which the normal filter for political correctness, and perhaps even basic politeness and civility, and virtually every part of his overall strategy, all of which he orchestrated on his own terms, proved successful.  I have tried not to read too much analysis, summary and postmortem articles about the results, so if you have already read this next comment, I apologize for repeating it, but, as Frank Sinatra so beautifully sang, Trump can now proclaim that "I did it my way".

I tuned in to the election results around 9:30 last night.  At that point, Trump had already been declared the winner in numerous states across the south and middle parts of the country and was leading in the electoral college.  Despite this, the commentators on the PBS channel I was watching, still spoke of Hillary Clinton's path to electoral victory.  Slowly, as the night progressed and the races in the pivotal rust belt states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin began moving towards Trump, preceded by his declared victories in Florida and North Carolina, it was easy to sense that the mood of the moderators was shifting.  Surprise, shock, disbelief, while not overly obvious, certainly began to seep into their words and expressions.  Despite the temporary lead that Clinton gained around 11:00 when polls closed on the west coast and she was declared the winner in California and Washington, it wasn't long before the numbers in those states detailed above began to turn towards Trump.  Between midnight and 1:00 AM, there was a clear path for Trump to win, while Clinton had to sweep the remaining states that had not been called, a prospect not likely.  In the meantime, the belief that the Senate may turn to the DEMS, was squashed as key races were won by incumbent GOP candidates.   I don't remember what time it was precisely, but by 2:00 AM, a Trump victory was inevitable, the Clinton campaign announced to her supporters that they should go home from the hotel where they had gathered to celebrate the election of the first woman president, and the commentators began discussing how the polls could have been so wrong.

I stayed awake for Trump's victory speech.  It was well done.  He thanked his family and supporters, acknowledged the concession phone call from Hillary Clinton, thanked her a hard fought campaign and her decades of service in government, and spoke very clearly of reaching out to all Americans, those who voted for him as well as those who did not, so as to unify our great country.  He was gracious in his acceptance of the victory, the nature of the historical nature of his election, and perhaps even the gravity of what he had accomplished, and what the American people now expected him to do to prove to them that they made the right choice.

So, as will be analyzed to death for the next few months, why did Trump win?  And, more importantly, how did the GOP, a party as fractured as there ever was, not only secure the White House, but maintained its historic advantage in the House and hold on to its majority in the Senate?

I wonder if the polls, perhaps biased as Trump and his supporters have claimed, actually helped Trump and hurt Clinton.  While his remained energized, able to rally around the thought that they weren't being represented properly by the elite media, hers may have become complacent in the thought that she was going to win, that she couldn't possible lose to Trump.  The numbers I heard during the evening's coverage suggested that both candidates won the demographics they were expected to win, but not necessarily by margins expected.  In the end, and perhaps, despite winning the popular vote (she is currently ahead as of this writing), Clinton did not connect with the Obama coalition that propelled him to the presidency in 2008.

What surprises me the most, was not that white male voters chose Trump overwhelmingly, or that Clinton won virtually all minority and women demographics, but that, as of this post, neither garnered as many votes as Romney did in losing the 2012 election.  Based on the intensity of this election, I was hoping that we might surpass the turnout of the past two presidential elections, but instead we will fall far short of the 130 million and 125 million votes cast in the 2008 and 2012 elections respectively.  We may just surpass a 50% turnout rate, a far cry from the 58+% in 2008.  In essence, Trump will be our next president having been chosen by half of those voting who are themselves, half of those eligible to vote, who are themselves about 68% of the population.  In other words, the roughly 60 million people who voted for Trump represent the views of 17% of our country's 350 million people population.  This is not to belittle his accomplishment, the same would have been true if Clinton had won.  It seems more an indictment of our electorate, and its reluctance to participate in such an important election and the overall complacency of the voting public.  Not since 1968 has even 60% of eligible voters made their way to the polls although we have at least surpassed our all recent history all time low of 49% in the 1996 election.  

If not enough people participating may have led to Clinton's loss, perhaps the presence of the protest vote for the Green and Libertarian candidates also contributed.  While one may argue that some of the Libertarian vote may have been cast by disaffected Republicans, it seems more likely that, since Trump represented the change or protest vote so dramatically, a larger portion of the Libertarian vote, as well as the vast majority of the Green party vote were Democrats who did not connect with Clinton.  Looking at the breakdown of votes for Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, the math suggest that these protest votes, had they gone to Clinton, would have shifted 46 electoral college votes to her resulting in a 274 to 244 win, that is how close the popular vote was in those 3 states.

As I mentioned in a few previous posts, there may also have been some gender bias at work.  At one point, I heard that male African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, while supporting Clinton in the majority, did not do so as significantly as they did for Obama.  Perhaps there were enough males of those backgrounds that were able to more easily overlook Trump's shortcomings, perhaps chalking them up to a locker room mentality or the boys will be boys excuse, simply because they were uncomfortable with being led by a woman.

It will take me a while to wrap my head around the phrase President Donald Trump.  But I hope that in the name of unity and for the good of America, those of us who did not vote for him will be able to give him the benefit of the doubt.  His demeanor last night was certainly more presidential than I have seen in the past.  And there are a number of areas of agreement that can be addressed right away before our differences are explored.  I hope his supporters can also put aside our differences, forget about the vengeful talk of continued criminal investigations into the Clintons, and work together to rebuild our infrastructure, address the physical and mental needs of our veterans, encourage corporations to honor America as opposed to their profit margin, and reduce or remove the vast amounts of money that have been allowed to influence our election process.  

In the meantime, I stay, as always, hopeful that humanity in general, and Americans in particular, will continue to evolve spiritually, continue to strive for goodness, to treat others as they wish to be treated, and to forgive rather than to seek vengeance.   

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Protecting Our Governmental Institutions

I have mentioned in past posts that I watch Bill Maher's HBO show, Real Time.  Often he has mentioned his desire to get President Obama on the show, and last week he announced that he had finally achieved that goal, although the appearance was taped, not live.  Along with as large an audience in eight years, I tuned in for the show last might.

To be honest, I found the interview to be just OK.  I think that part of the appeal of Maher's show is that it is live, and it seemed that something was missing in his performance.  Perhaps his constraint was due to his respect for the President.  I expect that next year. Maher will be able to book Obama on his panel and it will be more entertaining.

I mention this only as a segue into what I thought a very interesting conversation on Real Time after the Obama interview.  David Frum, a frequent panel member on Maher's HBO show, generally represents the opposing viewpoint to the show's tone and perspective.  He is an ex speech writer for the Bush Administration, and is typically portrayed as a neoconservative.  While Maher has had him on the show many times in the past, it should come as no surprise that he booked him on the last show before the election as Frum has publicly stated that he voted for Hillary Clinton.  If you are interested in Frum's writings, he is a senior editor at The Atlantic, and is an often published op ed writer.  In some ways, one might say that he is in the minority in terms of oft read op ed writers, in that he is rational, logical, and civil in his discussions and his work.  His continued popularity encourages me to think that there is still a place for reasoned debate among those with whom you may disagree, without the obvious bias and vitriol that marks so many media outlets that pretend to be news organizations.

Anyway, Frum's problem with today's political discourse, a problem that he lays squarely on the extreme elements of both parties, is the attacks on the institutions of government.  His essay called the Seven Broken Guardrails of Democracy is a must read if you are interested in some insight on why the American electorate in general, and the Republican party specifically, have accepted the rhetoric of Donald Trump.  

Frum's perspective points to the popularity of both Trump and Bernie Sanders as proof that both parties are at fault in the breakdown of the base protections that preserve our democracy.  Each plays on the fear of Big Government, the insider culture that rewards big donors while marginalizing the needs of the american working class, and the belief that "they are all crooks".  The problem is that the failures of those we elect to govern us are not the fault of the institutions of democracy, but the fault of we, the electorate who continue to be bamboozled by politicians who promise us that we can eat our cake and have it too, and the party establishments, both DEM and GOP, who have long ago passed from country first, in support of policies and laws that help the most, to party first, in support of candidates who share their political affiliation regardless of whether their ideas or plans for governing are good for the country.

Frum quotes statistics that demonstrate that the electorate has often chosen one party for the executive branch, another for the legislative.  Yes, some of that is due to the extreme gerrymandering that exists in the drawing of legislative districts, but it also points to an understanding that it may not be wise for one party to control all three branches of government, that such control can only lead to abuse.  It is why our founders created such a wonderful governmental structure, why so many other countries exhibit such unstable governments, and why, believe it or not, a strong government is one of the cornerstones to prosperity.  But strong in the maintenance of the structure, not strong by having an autocrat or dictator in charge.  Hillary Clinton clearly understands the importance of the branches of government working together to create compromise policies that improve the lives of most people. There is no such thing as a perfect law, a perfect trade agreement, a perfect treaty, where perfect means your side achieved all its goals and the other got shafted.  (Of course, one could site most of the treaties between the US Government and the Indian nations as perfect, unless you were an American Indian).

Donald Trump is clearly running for king of America, and a large percentage of his supporters are making the gigantic mistake of thinking that once he is king, he will pervert our democracy and change everything to favor them.  The left, progressive influence will be ignored, perhaps even put in jail, and all will be right with the world again.  And, I guess as a white male, I should be happy since Trump's vision of "great again" hearkens back to a time when minorities, women, those with different religious, social or cultural beliefs, were kept in their rightful place.  Sadly, as is always the case with absolute power, the country will suffer and those who readily voted for a candidate who has no respect for American democracy (has he said the word rigged a hundred times yet?), no respect for the rights of others who disagree with him, no respect for anyone or anything that doesn't lend itself to praise for Donald Trump, might be surprised when their needs, livable wages, health care insurance, property rights protections that conflict with a business concern, rights for their daughters and granddaughters to make choices about their bodies, are brushed aside with the same ease that they cheer when Trump talks about banning Muslims.

A divided government by its nature leads to conflict.  But the conflict should be about the best way to achieve prosperity, safety, and opportunity.   And, since both sides truly believe their perspective to be the correct path, since both sides include patriots, then the debates should focus on actual proposals, and actual accomplishments.  As Frum rightly points out, Trump has presented very little in the way of concrete plans, using trite phrases like "trust me".   Since the Affordable Care Act is so unpopular among the GOP, despite that fact that many of them now have health care insurance, and/or obtain their health insurance through Medicare and Medicaid, programs that the GOP often target as Big Government intervention in our lives, Trump declares he will repeal it.  When asked what he will replace it with, he says, "something terrific", and the cheers resound.  Will that terrific plan allow young adults to stay on their parent's insurance?  Continue to provide health exchanges for those who cannot get insurance from their employers?  Maintain the ban on rejecting people with pre-existing conditions from being automatically rejected?  Continue the no lifetime cap on insurance payments for the really sick among us?

The truly amazing thing, the sheer brilliance of Donald Trump is that he has convinced millions of people that everyone in Washington is an elite snob who only cares about diverting tax payer and big donor money into their own pockets, and that the government itself, those who run our military, sit on the Supreme Court, meet in Congress to consider and pass laws, enforce the regulations that protect our water and air from pollution, discuss ways to improve education, all of them, know less about what they do than he does.  The fact that he was born rich, has lived the life of those with a golden spoon, uses his failures as a businessman to avoid paying taxes, and exhibits very little knowledge or interest in understanding the complexities of our government and democracy somehow makes him more attractive, not less.

As Frum points out, the guardrails that protect our institutions have been broken through. Unfortunately, too many Americans are cheering that breakdown, unaware of how important those protections are, unaware that their reluctance to appreciate and understand how government works will lead to a government run by someone who does not have the capacity to make it work for them.      


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A local Murder

Last weekend, a young man was murdered in a park in my small town.  The park has a baseball field where the local high school and churches play their league games.  It has a small pool for infants and toddlers, a playground with about 6 or 8 pieces of play equipment, and a tennis court with 4 playing areas, and a basketball court with 4 hoops.  Besides the play areas, the a pathway in the park accesses directly to the walking paths that connect one end of town with the other.  Currently, I walk my dog there; in the past I frequently took my children there to play on the swings.  Obviously, my town is experiencing some shock and disbelief concerning this tragic event.

The details of the killing, as are known to me today, involve 3 teenage boys plotting to rob a drug dealer.  They stole two guns from the home of one of the boys, and set up a drug buy at the park where they attempted to rob the victim at gunpoint.  At first, the young man drove away from the boys, but then he emerged from his car to confront them.  At this point, one of the boys fired at the victim, striking him in the chest which proved to be a fatal wound.

Before starting this post, I read the local newspaper account so as to present the facts as they are known.  I also checked the comments which had been posted after the news story to get a feel for my community's reaction.  Unfortunately, there weren't many comments, only 4.

The first one described the boys as scum and wished them a long life in prison.

The second thought them heroes for killing a drug dealer, wanted to name them honorary policemen, and hoped they would be freed using a self defense plea and so be able to kill other drug dealers.

The third comment asked for sympathy for all parties with a version of the quote "there but for the grace of God go thee".  The fourth comment agreed with the third by praising her empathy.

Additionally, I had a brief conversation with an acquaintance, who told me that had the victim been his grandchild, he would make sure that the case never went to trial, presumably meaning that he would kill the boy as revenge.

So, where do we go from here.

The motives of the boys is not fully known.  Were they interested in the money only, figuring a drug dealer wouldn't contact the police if robbed, or did they believe they were acting as some sort of vigilantes, ridding their community of a drug dealer?  The boys are 15 and 16 years old, so I tend to think their motivations were mostly material, but I certainly do not know for sure but there is also the question of how they knew who to call for the drugs, i.e were they in the habit of buying drugs, which may have inspired their plot.

As a 16 year old, it is possible that he could have known where his parents stored their guns, and even the key if they were locked up safely, but I imagine that there are many people in my community who feel that the parents may be partially at fault.  My sentiments on the ease in which guns can be acquired are no secret, but I also acknowledge that a significant percentage of gun owners are responsible.  If it turns out that this is untrue in this case, I imagine that the community will continue to be in turmoil through both the murder trial (if there is not a plea bargain) and the inevitable civil trial that will follow.  Perhaps the parents did lock their guns, and bullets in separate places but failed to maintain the secret location of the key.  Perhaps the boy had handled the guns in the past so they thought it safe to be less vigilant because he could be trusted.  As the details have been related so far, the boy whose parents owned the guns was not one of the shooters but, allegedly fled the scene before the shooting took place.  

And, of course, the victim who was certainly a victim in that he did not deserve to die just because he was selling drugs, was not completely a victim, as he was involved in an illegal activity.  Plus, the current story surrounding the details of the murder paint him as a possible aggressor, although we will never know his side of the story since he is dead.  I would hope that the details as presented by the boys in custody can be confirmed by an independent witness, and not taken as gospel.  Had the victim been arrested before on drug charges?  Or was this a relatively new way for him to make some money?  For those who might say, what does it matter, one strike or three, do you apply the same standards to your self, your spouse, your presidential candidate?  

Turning to the comments, small sample as it is, I can't help but relate it to virtually all the important topics under debate today, in that each extreme response is represented.  While a middle ground is also noted, and even confirmed, I don't think I would be going out on a limb when I suggest that it will be the two extreme responses that will be repeated more often, agreed to or defended depending on the perspective of the voices being heard.  Those are the responses that make for good TV and radio and internet postings, whereas the calls for sympathy, reasoning, and a more full understanding of the facts and the people involved will most likely be ignored.  I imagine, and have heard a few people state it, that the preliminary hearing for the boys will be very tense, very charged, and very covered by those who only see a story without seeing the people or the community involved in that story.

America, and Americans, may represent one of the greatest paradoxes of mankind's history.  We are generous to a fault, donating billions of dollars to everything from kids in far away countries to abused animals to the victims of natural and man made disasters.  Yet we continue to send convicted citizens to death row, talk of torturing both our enemies and their families, use unmanned drones to kill the guilty and innocent alike via bombs from above, and seek revenge whenever we feel slighted.

The truly sad thing about this murder, is that the details will be lost in the controversy that surrounds and permeates our national discussions about crime, drugs, gun control, violence.  We may never know why those boys thought that a few hundred dollars from a drug dealer was worth his life or why their victim turned his back on legitimate work to sell drugs or why the parents of the young man in jail thought a gun would protect them, and from whom they sought protection.  
I saw the end of the movie Starman yesterday.  We are described as an interesting species by the alien visitor in that we are at our best under the worst of conditions.  Yet, incidents like this murder, and the knee jerk, extreme responses that it evokes, makes me wonder.  Despite the tag line of the GOP presidential nominee, America is great, right now.  We have the resources, both intellectual and monetary, that, were they properly focused, could solve most of our problems, if the goal was to actually solve them, and not be able to take credit for the solutions so as to enhance one's bank account or further one's political career.  But, like the alcoholic or drug addict, the first step is admitting a problem which can never happen as long as it is easier and more lucrative to blame "others".