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As we walked into Manchester’s Veterans Park, where yesterday’s Black Lives Matter march would begin, the first person we saw up close was a white man carrying a large rifle.  He was approached right away by Matt Lawrence, one of the activists who had volunteered to be peacekeepers (or “ushers”) for the march.

Organizers of the march had asked people not to bring weapons, Matt calmly explained.  The rifle-bearing man said he was there to help the police with security.  He would be joined by others openly carrying weapons throughout the next two hours. 

As the Back Lives Matter crowd swelled to more than 200, the number of counter-demonstrators grew as well.  By the end, a group of men who were apparently members of a motorcycle club were attempting to goad activists into heated arguments about whether or not “all lives matter.” 

Several members of Manchester’s police department stood by, generally on the edges of the crowd. 

For the duration, a small group of peacekeepers, identified by their white arm-bands, kept an eye on the counter-demonstrators, often walking and chatting with them.  At other times they placed themselves between the two groups as way to provide a buffer, diffuse tensions, and discourage the anti-racism activists from engaging in the types of heated arguments that could have easily escalated into violent conflict that would put lives at risk and interfere with the march’s purpose.

Given the recent events in Dallas and provocative statements from the city’s police chief, this was not an idle concern. 

By the time we left at about 9 pm, most of the demonstrators and counter-demonstrators had already departed.  Two activists were still arguing in a generally calm manner with a young woman carrying a large rifle.  But by then it was clear that the march had successfully created an opportunity for people to express outrage against the pattern of police killings of Black people.  Participants, many of them young, felt the strength of people coming together in a call for change.  It was loud, spirited, and peaceful, which had been the organizers’ intent. 

A few observations:

First, it was constructive for the organizers to be clear that the march was intended to be peaceful and to post guidelines on Facebook:

-if confronted by a counter protestor or violent person, remain calm and peaceful and try to keep moving

-if someone comes at you with their fists, weapon, etc, step back and call for one of the ushers to take control of the situation until law enforcement arrives

The explicit guidelines made it easier for peacekeepers to do their jobs.

Second, peacekeepers demonstrated several techniques that proved to be effective. 

– Talk one-on-one with people who appear hostile.  Introduce yourself.  Try to make a human connection.  Keep them busy talking to you. 

– Remind activists that the purpose of the action is best served by refusing to take the bait from hostile counter-demonstrators looking for a fight. 

– Stay calm and help others do the same.

In a Facebook post after the march, Alex Fried reflected on peacekeeper training he had received several years ago.  “I’ve never had to use the skills I gained in that training until tonight,” he wrote.  “I went up to one of them and introduced myself. I kept my hands open and in front of me at all times. We shook hands and spent the march together. I talked with him about his life, his political opinions, his childhood growing up in NH, and his job working for a weapons manufacturer. As much as possible we kept the armed protesters separate from the march.”

I’ve seen plenty of counter-demonstrators over the years, but last night is the first time I’ve seen them show up with weapons.  If that’s a sign of things to come, let’s get more peacekeepers trained.  

 

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Business is Booming

Projections for slow growth in US government spending on military weapons are sending firms looking across the border for new markets. And our government is ready to help them peddle “aerospace and defense” products all over the globe.

It’s not just the federal government getting behind the global arms trade. What Dwight Eisenhower called the “military industrial complex” reaches into state economic development offices, at least in New Hampshire. That’s one of my takeaways from the second annual New Hampshire Aerospace and Defense Conference, which drew about 200 people to the Radisson in Manchester on June 1.

Perhaps I should not be surprised. After all, the state’s largest industrial employer is Jeff Rose_001 BAE, a British firm that was the Pentagon’s third largest contractor last year. And the state’s Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) is headed by Jeff Rose, who worked as director of public affairs for BAE Electronic Systems prior to entering state service and who served as one of the conference’s opening speakers.

Rose’s department, through the Division of Economic Development, hosted the conference in partnership with the NH Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a private group that happens to be housed at the DRED office on Pembroke Road in Concord.

Federal officials, both elected and appointed, were there, too. The keynote speaker was Kenneth Hyatt, Deputy Under Secretary for International Trade at the US Department of Commerce, who said he had recently attended a meeting of the Aerospace Industries Association, the biggest lobbying group for firms that sell missiles, bombers, and other weapons. They were talking about “flat or declining defense sales in the US,” he said, and that’s why “the US government needs to support exports.”

It’s a “competitive mandate that you’ve got to export,” Hyatt advised.

Kling’s comments were reinforced later in the day by Paul Kling, Deputy VP for Operations and Supplier Partnerships at BAE, who said, “Keep your eyes open to the world.”

New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation stands at the ready to help.

20160601_082304-1_resized “You have to gain access to new markets around the world,” Senator Jeanne Shaheen said via a video shown at the opening session. “Don’t hesitate to reach out to me,” she stressed.

“I will do everything I can to make sure New Hampshire’s aerospace and defense industry continues to be successful … in the global marketplace,” pledged Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster, also via video.

Senator Kelly Ayotte, who was there in person, said she was working on making it20160601_082559-1_resized “easier and more efficient” to sell products overseas, a top level demand of arms traders held back by government regulations that require them to jump through various hoops before their products can reach foreign markets.

“If there is anything you need from us, do not hesitate to reach out,” Congressman Frank Guinta offered.

“Opportunities for Aerospace and Defense Products, Technologies and Services in the International Marketplace” was the conference theme. The opportunities are abundant, explained Diane Janeway, who spent 30 years at Northrup Grumman and now works on market forecasts at Jane’s IHS. “Global defense spending will increase as perceived threats to stability grow in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East,” she projected.

According to Janeway, growth in Russia’s military spending will end due to fiscal realities, presumably drops in the price of petroleum. And China’s rapid growth in military spending will slow to single digits. But NATO spending is trending upward, she said, and overall, “the global aerospace and defense industry has a solid future.”

Granted, the industry is not all about armaments. But little distinction was made by conference speakers.

Camilo Gonzalez, Senior Regional Commercial Specialist with the US and Foreign Commercial Service in Bogota, Colombia, expressed hope for that country’s peace process, but reassured listeners that ongoing civil strife still requires “a lot of government spending in the defense sector.”

“There’s a lot of helicopters,” he said, pointing out that the billions of dollars in US aid to the Colombian government to fight the FARC insurgents was “a big plus for you guys.” Not only that, but “all these aircraft are being shot at on a daily basis, so there’s a lot of parts needed,” Gonzalez explained. War means market opportunities.

For BAE, Jeff Rose’s former employer, nearly 93% of its revenue came from the military sector in 2015.

That military sales might pose special risks seemed to be of little concern. In a session called “Global Markets: the Big Picture,” I asked Diane Janeway and Scott 20160601_074659_resized

Kennedy, an official with the US Department of Commerce, about a recent decision by the Obama administration to cut off sales of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia. “It’s the first concrete step the United States has taken to demonstrate its unease with the Saudi bombing campaign that human rights activists say has killed and injured hundreds of Yemeni civilians, many of them children,” Foreign Policy reported on May 27. The decision will have a significant impact on Textron, which has sold millions of dollars’ worth of cluster bombs to the Saudi government.

Do staff in Kennedy’s office at the International Trade Administration advise US businesses to watch the human records of countries where they are considering doing business? Nope. Human rights “is a State Department angle,” Kennedy responded.

Do forecasters need to understand the downside risks that revelations of human rights abuses might affect markets? Apparently not, based on Janeway’s answer. “That’s nice that the Obama Administration did that, but who are they going to get them from, somebody else? I understand if you don’t want people bombing Yemen but military balance is the name of the game.”

After all, she said, “Saudi is still one of our allies whether we like it or not.”

A lunchtime conversation with a manager of a Connecticut firm which services machine shops in the aerospace industry was revealing. He’d love to get contracts with firms that build components for the superconducting supercollider, he said. But he’ll take contracts working on components of cluster bombs or nuclear triggers if that’s where the business is.

And business is booming.

[The Concord Monitor published this on May 8, 2016.]

[In the original published version of this story, I confused two interactions that Erin Placey had with Senator Barack Obama in 2007.  This is the revised, corrected version.]

News that President Barack Obama is considering a trip to Hiroshima brought back memories of meeting him on his first trip to Concord, early in his presidential campaign. Given a heads-up that the Illinois Senator was headed for the Eagle Square Deli, colleagues and I went there in time to order lunch, find a table, and wait for his still small entourage.

Obama worked the room, escorted by Ann McLane Kuster, then a local attorney, now our Representative in Congress. When he reached our table I asked the Senator a critical question about “free trade” agreements, but that’s a story for another day.

As Kuster was trying to get him to the next table, Erin Placey, my 24-year old colleague, grabbed Obama’s hand for a shake. Once she had his attention, Erin said she wanted to know if Obama would pursue the abolition of nuclear weapons should he become president.

Obama responded quickly that he had dedicated considerable attention to halting nuclear proliferation, but Erin was not satisfied.

“Under Article 6 of the Non Proliferation Treaty,” she said in no uncertain terms, “we are obligated to work for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.”

The former law professor was a bit taken aback by Erin’s directness and the specificity of her statement.   He let on that he needed to look into it more deeply.

Look into it he did.

Six months after meeting Erin Placey in Concord, Barack Obama delivered a speech at DePaul University where he pledged, “Here’s what I’ll say as president: America seeks a world in which there are no nuclear weapons.”

Five days later, Erin Placey saw Obama again at an apple orchard campaign stop in Londonderry, New Hampshire.   By then, she had been to Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a delegate to the World Conference on Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. There, she met peace activists from all over the world, including several “Hibakusha,” as the survivors of the atomic blasts are known in Japan. The Hibakusha, dwindling in numbers as the years pass, are the moral leaders of a movement that demands nuclear weapons must never be used again and must be abolished.

For Erin, who grew up in southern Maine with family members employed at the local nuclear submarine base, the trip had a profound effect.

“Thank you so much for your comments at DePaul, and also for your comments about applying and adhering to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty,” she told Obama in Londonderry. She continued to say how moved she had been by meeting with Hibakusha and learning first-hand about “the horrible atrocities that they went through.”

After taking office as president, Obama still seemed to be paying attention and took his nuclear-free vision to the world stage. In a much-heralded speech in Prague, Obama told the world, “as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it. So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Despite a promising start, the president has not lived up to his stated commitment. He did complete negotiations and won ratification of the New START Treaty, which achieved modest reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons. He initiated a series of “nuclear security” summits aimed at lessening nuclear dangers. And against serious political odds he reached a deal with Iran that can prevent another country from joining the nuclear “club.”

But instead of continuing on the path toward “a world without nuclear weapons,” his administration is now backing a trillion dollar plan for an entirely new generation of nuclear warheads, along with new bombers, submarines, and missiles that could deliver them to targets across the globe. “When Obama stopped pushing his nuclear policies in 2011 (save for Iran), the nuclear-industrial complex took over,” Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund commented in a recent article.

Speaking recently at MIT, former Secretary of Defense William Perry said, “The danger of a nuclear catastrophe is higher today than at any time during the Cold War.”

“It may not be too late,” Cirincione says. “Before a new arms race begins in earnest, Obama could move to delay or cancel some of the new weapons, notably the new nuclear cruise missile and the new ICBM, as former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry urges. There is no shortage of other recommendations. But he will have to be bold, as bold has he was at the beginning of his presidency.”

And that brings us back to Erin Placey.

Erin still wants Obama to have an experience like the one she had in Hiroshima ten years ago. “Don’t just visit ground zero,” she wants to tell him. “Spend time with the people. Make time to meet publicly and privately with the A-bomb survivors, the Hibakusha. Allow your soul to be moved by their life-long unwavering commitment to ensuring that this level of human atrocity never happens again.”

“Allow your resolve to be strengthened by theirs and use your remaining time in office to get us back on the path toward a nuclear free world,” Erin advises.

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The movement of fast-food workers demanding wages of at least $15 an hour made a spirited visit to Concord, New Hampshire this afternoon.

About 35 workers and allies chanted and marched down Loudon Road from HazenP5050187 Drive to East Side Drive and back again on the other side.  The route took us past Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Wendy’s, and other establishments that currently depend on low-wage workers. 

The Granite State actually abolished its minimum wage in 2011, which means that the base pay for most workers is $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum.  The base pay for tipped workers is even less.  Attempts every year since then to restore the minimum wage and raise it have been unsuccessful, largely due to effective lobbying by trade associations of businesses that pay low wages.

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“You can’t survive on $7.25.  Live free or die!” was one of the chants.

Others included “Hey McDonalds, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.”  P5050127(The names of other businesses can be substituted.) 

The marchers went inside at KFC, where they chanted for several minutes before leaving voluntarily.  At McDonalds we were locked out.  Several members of the Concord Police Department met up with us at Burger King, where they explained the rules regarding trespass and disorderly conduct to labor organizers who no doubt were already familiar with the law.   

Today’s demonstration was organized by SEIU Local 1984, the Granite State

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Organizing Project, and the United Valley Interfaith Project. 

GSOP and UVIP have been holding monthly “Fight for $15” protests in Concord, Manchester, Nashua,P5050098 and West Lebanon, but typically with smaller groups and a less confrontational approach.  The monthly actions generally take place on the 15th of the month.   

For more information, contact

GSOP at 603-668-8250 or http://granitestateorganizing.org/

UVIP at 603-443-3682 or

http://www.unitedvalleyinterfaithproject.org

More photos:

 

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By Will Hopkins and Arnie Alpert

[Published in the NH Union Leader on April 7, 2016]

As US-Soviet relations heated to the boiling point during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Captain Vasili Arkhipov, second-in-command of a Soviet submarine, refused to authorize a nuclear missile launch when his ship was cut off from communications with Moscow and under fire from US depth charges. We have him to thank for avoidance of nuclear war.

Nuclear war was narrowly avoided again in 1980, when faulty US alarm systems signaled incoming Soviet missiles. The Pentagon later put the blame on a failed computer chip. In 1983, Soviet satellites mistook unusual sunlight glinting off clouds as incoming missile fire, and once more a cool-headed commander narrowly stopped nuclear exchange. In 1995, a Norwegian scientific rocket was mistaken for a US nuclear missile, and again Russian leaders were able to recognize a false alarm before it was too late.

We have been lucky, but at some point, if we don’t change course and if the US and Russia keep our missiles on high alert status, our luck is liable to run out.

Yet instead of pursuing negotiations with the Russians and other nuclear powers for worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons, or taking steps to de-alert our existing missiles, the US is planning a total overhaul of its nuclear weapons program, including new generations of nuclear warheads, bombers, land-based missiles, air-launched missiles and submarines.

The projected price tag? About $1 trillion over the next thirty years!

If the United States and Russia exchanged 1000 nuclear warheads (less than 1/12 of our combined arsenals), the resulting impact on the climate would render the planet uninhabitable. Even an exchange of 50 to 100 nuclear warheads would result in global famine capable of killing off one third of humanity.

From rising wealth inequality and poverty, to ISIS and Al Qaeda, and to our crumbling infrastructure, nuclear weapons do nothing to protect us from the real threats we face. Spending a trillion dollars for more or “better” ones makes us less safe and diverts precious funds from what we need. It also defies our obligations under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and creates tremendous obstacles to any efforts aimed at preventing new countries from acquiring their own weapons of mass destruction.

You pick: veterans’ health care, reducing the cost of higher education, repairing roads and bridges, assuring that no one is poisoned by our public water supplies, there are multiple better places to invest our public resources.

On April 18, Tax Day 2016, please join us in calling on our elected leadership to oppose the trillion dollar nuclear weapons plan, push for deep cuts and de-alerting of our nuclear stockpile, and for putting our tax dollars to work in ways that will make us more secure.

Will Hopkins is Executive Director of NH Peace Action and an Iraq War veteran. Arnie Alpert is Co-Director of the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Program.

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William Perry with Dr. Ira Helfand

The initial down payments toward the production of an entirely new generation of missiles, submarines and bombers designed to deliver a new generation of nuclear warheads are already in the federal budget. The ultimate pricetag would be in the vicinity of a trillion dollars if all the weapons on the Pentagon’s shopping list are produced. But it’s not too late to stop the nuclear assembly lines and get back to the business of nuclear abolition. That was the emphasis of a conference on “Reducing the Dangers of Nuclear War” held April 2 at MIT in Cambridge

“Once you start bending metal, it’s almost impossible to stop,” Joe Cirincione said at one of the workshops. Cirincione, a former staff member of the House Armed Services Committee who now heads the pro-disarmament Ploughshares Fund, said that means we have two to three years to stop the new weapons systems. “This is our moment,” he said.

The conference brought together an impressive array of activists and scholars, plus William Perry, the former Secretary of Defense who has joined the call for nuclear weapons abolition. “The danger of a nuclear catastrophe is higher today than at any time during the Cold War,” he warned. Perry is particularly alarmed by the proposal for a new cruise missile, the nuclear armed version of which would be indistinguishable from one carrying non-nuclear explosives until after it detonates. Eight thousand American and Russian nuclear weapons were dismantled while he was at the helm at the Pentagon, he said, but “we’re going backwards today.”

Given the stakes, “backwards” is an understatement. As Dr. Ira Helfand of Physicians for Social Responsibility reminded the conference attenders, detonation of a nuclear bomb over a major city would not only kill huge numbers of people in an instant, but by destroying hospitals and the doctors and nurses who work there, the ability to respond to burns and other injuries would be crippled. And as Alan Robock, a professor of environmental science from Rutgers stressed, detonation of a relatively small share of the world’s nuclear arsenal could throw so much smoke into the upper atmosphere that it could bring on a global cooling process so severe that food production would fall worldwide by 20 to 40% for a 5-year period.

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Mary Popeo of Global Zero with Joe Cirincione

“Only nuclear disarmament will prevent catastrophe,” he said.

It’s not just the number of nuclear weapons that poses a danger, it’s also their design. One of the features of the warheads now being pursued by the US nuclear weapons labs and the corporations that run them (on a for-profit basis) is increased accuracy. Aron Bernstein, an MIT emeritus professor of physics, said “when we make the missiles more accurate, we make them more likely to be perceived as a first strike weapon.” They might even be more likely to actually be intended for first strike or battlefield use, something which should not even be contemplated but which becomes an option for military strategists once they enter the arsenal.

Nuclear weapons have proven to be no use against terrorists or the regimes with which the USA has been in conflict in recent years. They certainly make no contribution to efforts to fight climate change, mass migration, growing inequality, and other dilemmas that ought to be top priorities. Whether “deterrence” even works is debatable. But nuclear weapons have proven useful to US leaders time and time again, said Joseph Gerson of the AFSC, who has documented the ways in which nuclear threats have backed up foreign policy objectives starting with their use in Japan 70 years ago. And they are certainly useful to the corporations that stand to get the contracts for new missiles, subs, and bombers.

That’s why the conference wasn’t just about spreading the alarm, it also spread news about a variety of ways to challenge the nuclear-industrial-complex. For a prime example, Cambridge’s Mayor Denise Simmons used the occasion to announce her city’s new policy of divesting city funds from corporations that build nuclear weapons. In this, her administration has the aid of a new web-based tool from MIT’s Future of Life Institute. The Responsible Investing Made Easy tool lists companies that produce nuclear weapons, cluster bombs, and landmines. It also gives grades to mutual funds which claim to be socially responsible. (Spoiler Alert: some of the funds have investments in other financial firms that invest in weapons makers.) The Netherlands-based Don’t Bank on the Bomb project has another set of useful lists.

Short of nuclear abolition there are steps, such as taking missiles off high alert status, which can reduce nuclear dangers. Ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and further nuclear reductions are important steps in the right direction. But for any of these steps to take place, the movement against nuclear weapons needs to grow. Stay in touch with AFSC and your local Peace Action chapter to get involved.

I wrote this one for AFSC’s “Acting in Faith” blog.

Next time you hear the National Rifle Association referred to as a “gun owners” group, ask yourself if the news would have a different impact if the NRA were called a “gun sellers” group.  Or next time you read a story in which the NRA is called a “gun rights” group or “second amendment defenders,” consider what the impact would be if it were labeled a “lobby for firearms manufacturers.”  The fact that makers and peddlers of firearms are big dollar supporters of the NRA ought to be part of the story.

According to the Violence Policy Center’s 2013 report, Blood Money II: How Gun Industry Dollars Fund the NRA, the NRA’s “Corporate Partners Program” generates between $19.3 million and $60.2 million a year for the organization.  Included in the figure, the report says, are eight gun industry ‘corporate partners’ who have donate a million dollars or more a year.

“The NRA’s so-called ‘corporate partners’ in the gun industry are the nation’s top-selling manufacturers of firearms and accessories. One of the companies that has donated a million dollars or more to the NRA is Remington Outdoor Company (formerly Freedom Group), manufacturer of the Bushmaster assault rifle used at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut,” according to VPC.

The big donors, in the million-dollar-plus category, are Midway USA, Beretta, Brownells, Freedom Group, Pierce Bullet Seal Target Systems, Springfield Armory, Smith & Wesson, and Strum Ruger.  Several firearm retailers (Cabella’s, Davidson’s, and Greg Martin Auctions) are in the $250,000 to $500,000 range.

“They are our voice” was how Smith & Wesson’s CEO, James Debney, put it in an NRA video. 

“In its early days, the National Rifle Association was a grassroots social club that prided itself on independence from corporate influence,” writes Walter Hickey in Business Insider.  Those days are gone.

“The bulk of the group’s money now comes in the form of contributions, grants, royalty income, and advertising, much of it originating from gun industry sources,” he writes, and adds, “The NRA also made $20.9 million — about 10 percent of its revenue — from selling advertising to industry companies marketing products in its many publications in 2010, according to the IRS Form 990.”

“Some companies donate portions of sales directly to the NRA,” Jarret Murphy reported several years ago on Alternet.  “Crimson Trace, which makes laser sights, donates 10 percent of each sale to the NRA. Taurus buys an NRA membership for everyone who buys one of their guns. Sturm Ruger gives $1 to the NRA for each gun sold, which amounts to millions. The NRA’s revenues are intrinsically linked to the success of the gun business.”

That the NRA’s own website is notably lacking in details about the organization’s finances and governance does make it hard to understand the powerful organization’s inner workings. CNN Money says the organization’s revenue grew to $350 million in the year after the Sandy Hook mass killings, with about half coming from the members.

The NRA still provides marksmanship training and sponsors educational programs, but its reputation is based on its political role, including more than $3 million a year in federal lobbying expenses and nearly $30 million in election-related projects during the last campaign cycle.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “the NRA’s influence is felt not only through campaign contributions, but through millions of dollars in off-the-books spending on issue ads.”   Its lobbying targets include members of Congress, but also the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

The Center for Public Integrity puts it this way:  “The power of the gun lobby is rooted in multiple factors, among them the pure passion and single-mindedness of many gun owners, the NRA’s demonstrated ability to motivate its most fervent members to swarm their elected representatives, and the lobby’s ability to get out the vote on election day. But there’s little doubt that money, the political power it represents, and the fear of that power and money, which the NRA deftly exploits, have a lot to do with the group’s ability to repeatedly control the national debate about guns.”

The NRA is perhaps the key place where the culture of fear and the money-drenched political system have their closest correlation.  Fear of crime, which often carries a racial tinge.  Fear of immigrants, likewise.  Fear of government officials taking or outlawing guns.  Stoke those fears, and too many Americans rush to the local or online arms market for more guns and send money to the NRA.  The manufacturers and peddlers of firearms add to the NRA’s cache of cash. The NRA uses its millions to stoke more fear and the cycle goes on.

And that’s what I’m afraid of.

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