“Routine” Tragedies Will Continue Until the Chain is Broken

We didn’t even wait until later into October to get our “mass shooting of the month” out of the way for the next 30 days or so. In Oregon this afternoon, a man walked onto the grounds of Umpqua Community College, entered the classrooms and, reportedly after querying his potential victims on their religious backgrounds, appears to have executed 10 people. The shooter would injure another seven people before police arrived on the scene and gunned him down.

We’ve become numb to it in the United States, these mass shootings where someone – whether for religious or racial reasons, whether they are mentally ill or completely sane – snuffs out the existences of those who are either at the beginning of what should be great lives (the Sandy Hook shootings), defending our nation (Chattanooga), joyously praising their God in a house of worship (Charleston), meeting with their Congressional district’s residents (Tucson) or just simply going to school, trying to learn something to advance themselves (Columbine).

First off, let’s define a “mass shooting.” The definition has come to be determined that which A) four or more people are victims, and B) don’t include gang killings or the death of multiple members of the same family. This criteria makes sense in that emotion (such as a familial situation) or an involuntary occurrence (killing two people at the same time by accident) wouldn’t fall into the equation. Using the criteria, this would include every one of the situations noted a couple of paragraphs previous and would also include the Aurora, CO, theater massacre, among several others. What wouldn’t make the “grade”? The recent point-blank execution of the journalists in Virginia, unless you want to count the shooter as Victim #4.

As to be expected, the respective representatives came out on both sides and began to toss their rhetoric. President Barack Obama summed up one end perhaps most concisely in saying, “Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine, the conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this. Our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America — next week, or a couple months from now.” Of course, after Obama made this statement, gun advocates screamed that he was “politicizing” the situation when it “wasn’t appropriate.”

The National Rifle Association, which is about as oriented to the safe usage of weapons as Volkswagen was in creating environmentally safe vehicles, will continue to wail about how it isn’t about the guns. “It’s about the people,” they’ll sniffle as they hug their little weapon close to their chest, petting it gently. “If they weren’t bad people/high on drugs/mentally ill (choose your excuse du jour), then they wouldn’t have done something like this…It wasn’t the gun’s fault, though (Pat…Pat).” And when their paid henchmen in Congress get up and repeat this line of bullshit, they should be forced to go look at the bodies of the dead as they lie on the grounds of a college or a school playground and then try to repeat their idiocy.

Strangely enough, the rest of the world doesn’t have this problem. Using the criteria set above regarding what constitutes a mass shooting, between 1966 and 2012 (this isn’t even counting the last couple of years of this fucked-up situation) there were 292 such incidences around the world. While they weren’t all in the United States, a sizeable chunk of them were. There were 90 such mass shootings in the U. S., meaning that although the U. S. makes up 5% of the world, we have 31% of the mass shootings. Finally, in the U. S. shootings, more than half of the cases involved a shooter with more than one gun; in the foreign cases, the gunman usually had one weapon. For the gun nuts in the crowd, here’s something to hang your hat on:  the average number of victims in U. S. shootings is 6.87 per incident; internationally, it is 8.8 victims.

In another study from the Harvard School of Public Health looking at mass shooting incidences between 2011 and 2014, mental illness is examined as the cause for the attacks. While the rates of mental illness remain level for the time period, the research shows that mass shootings tripled in frequency. The study also showed that, in the previous 30 years, mass shootings occurred about every 200 days; in the three years examined closely, that rate had dropped to 64 days.

So what can we learn from this data? The problem with mass shootings isn’t about who is committing the atrocities, it IS in the choice of what they are using to complete their twisted fantasies. Weapons – handguns, rifles, shotguns, etc. – are the reason that so many people are being killed when someone decides to commit these acts. We often hear from the gun lobby, “Well, if he had a knife and did the same thing, would you ban the knife?” The answer is probably not because, with only one knife, there’s the chance that the situation could be averted and/or not as extreme in its deaths. When someone has a rack of weapons and enough ammunition to fight their way out of a Syrian village, many people are going to die or be permanently scarred from the wounds they receive.

It’s time we actually did something about this situation. The fuckheads on the opposite side of the aisle – those that suck at the teat of the National Rifle Association and spout off about how their “Second Amendment rights” are under siege when there hasn’t been a federal gun law enacted in the United States since the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban that expired under President George Bush (Bush II, as I like to say) – will spout off about how “this isn’t the time” to talk about the plague of mass shootings in the United States. If this isn’t the time – and if it wasn’t appropriate the first 100 times this occurred in this country – then what the fuck time is a good one?

The NRA needs to get the hell out of the discussion or quit being obstructionist and admit that it is time that there are strong regulations put in place on all weapons in the United States. I consistently hear that the NRA grassroots isn’t represented by the hateful, rhetoric spewing Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the organization, and that those “sensible gun owners” actually wouldn’t mind having some regulatory laws regarding guns on the books. It is time that this segment of the NRA shows up and forces their elected leadership to listen to them instead of allowing for a radical minority (if it is so) of the NRA to dictate the course of action.

They should acquiesce to federal licensing of weapons to individuals (we have stronger licensing principals in place for driving a fucking car, mind you, than owning a piece of military hardware created to end lives) and for all gun owners to have liability insurance on their weapon if it is used in a criminal act (that way there is some compensation outlet for the victims, at the minimum). Finally, gun show sales should be halted and a 10-day “waiting period” should be instituted for ANY gun purchase, be it a semi-automatic pistol, a pump shotgun or a pellet gun.

It’s tough to give any anger to those who are the victims of such acts, but there are some things that can be done. First off, sometimes things will happen in the course of life (easy for me to wax philosophically over) that we cannot prevent. We can never understand why certain things, especially some of the vilest crimes committed by mankind, happen in our existence. All that can be done in some cases is investigate it thoroughly and use the information to try to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Furthermore, even if the above laws were ALL put into place, there would still be mass shootings – they probably just wouldn’t be as prevalent as they are today. Normally sane people would still be able to stockpile weapons, even those that have no application in hunting and are created especially for the act of warfare and killing other humans, and ammunition will still be plentiful. As such, someone might be able to talk a buddy into giving, selling and/or stealing from enough guns to inflict such pain.

Finally, mental illness is a viable reason for mass shootings so, when it comes to those challenges, the U. S. should revamp the system and adequately fund and support the system. As it is now, the U. S. as a whole does NOT put enough money into education on the subject, treatment of those afflicted with the differing mental illnesses nor provide enough to adequately assist these people upon their return to public life. Without attention being paid to this area, then all the laws instituted won’t have any effect.

If six-year old children, pregnant women, members of the Armed Forces, churchgoing people, high school and college students and, yes, even the everyday Average Joe being executed by the business end of a firearm through no fault of their own doesn’t spur you to action, then you cannot be a member of the human race. It is time we end this scourge of mass shootings in the United States or, at the minimum, rein them in tremendously and reduce the number of times that the nation sheds tears for those murdered viciously.

Let’s just hope that we’re not talking about this again in a couple of weeks…

Why Does Big Business Have a Bad Reputation?

No matter who you are or where you are in the world, you are going to have some interaction with big business in today’s world. Whether it is a trip to the local Target, a quick fast food lunch at McDonald’s or Burger King or, on the more serious end of the spectrum, a hospital or a pharmaceutical company, anyone in the world and U. S. citizens in particular are constantly in contact with the world of business. However, these companies don’t seem to grasp the concept of “customer satisfaction” but entirely get the concept of “maximizing profits.”

There are many that try to defend big business by saying “it’s just a few bad apples in the bunch” (an argument heard far too often on far too many subjects, to be honest), but historical evidence doesn’t support that connotation. Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle depicted the atrocities that occurred in the meatpacking industry in the early 20th century, including people losing body parts in food vats (or, in some cases, entire bodies), child labor, long working hours and inadequate wages (and Sinclair knew about these cases by experience; he worked in the Chicago meatpacking industry for several weeks researching the subject). A couple of decades later, John Steinbeck penned the story of the migrant farmer in his epic novel The Grapes of Wrath.

Throughout the last century, the mistreatment of those who worked in the coal mines of West Virginia, Kentucky and other Appalachian area by big business has become well known to the world, including coal companies cutting back on safeguards that might keep their employees alive. The rail industry, construction industries (how many men were killed just during the building of the Hoover Dam? Officially 96, in case you’re wondering) and other high risk jobs also have many incidences where those that employed the workers cut corners or unnecessarily risked their employees lives all to make a little extra money. Following the financial crash of 2008, only 15% of U. S. citizens trusted business leaders to make the proper choices – the ETHICAL choices – when faced with a decision, something that got worse during the British Petroleum oil spill in 2010 and the insistence by the then-President of the company, Tony Hayward, that he’d “like his life back.”

The actions over the past week aren’t exactly looking to improve on those numbers any further for big business. First up was the automaker Volkswagen, who was found last week of purposely sending out 11 million vehicles with a serious defect in their product. These vehicles, for the most part the diesels that Volkswagen is known for producing, had their emissions software tampered with to make it appear that the emissions weren’t violating U. S. regulations. VW attempted to call the tampering with the software “an irregularity” but it soon became apparent that it went much further.

Other countries such as Germany, France, Italy and South Korea – all big customers of Volkswagen’s product – are examining their own laws to see if there were any violations and the company itself is looking to stem the damage. Officials with the company have decided to put together a $7 billion war chest to help pay for damages to customers, potential fines to government authorities and other costs. There is still a huge question as to how Volkswagen will make this right, but their first step instead of fixing the issue was to pull all unsold diesels off the market.

Now, some would say this is an example of “free market” economics working (Volkswagen’s stock has fallen 41% in the past week), but that isn’t enough to cure the reputation of big business as being callous to its customers in putting the almighty dollar over its performance.

One of the most heartless acts that big business committed over the past week was done by Turing Pharmaceuticals. The company and its CEO, a former hedge fund manager by the name of Martin Shkreli (because he couldn’t go by the name of Richard Dick), in August bought the rights to a critical drug called daraprim, which is used by those with weakened immune systems (primarily infants and AIDS patients). Almost immediately, the company raised the price on the pill from $13 (still pretty pricey) to $750.

It isn’t uncommon for the pharmaceutical industry to pull bullshit like this. Many times a company will obtain the rights to a drug and, by putting a couple of useless changes into the chemical makeup of the product, be able to change its name and resell it, usually at a higher price. If the drug is a “one of a kind” product – meaning that there isn’t a generic equivalent – the price for the drug can be outrageous from the start. But this case, and in particular Shkreli’s response to criticism of his company’s actions, has shown how bad big business can be.

In 2012, Shkreli tweeted “Every time a drug goes generic, I grieve,” demonstrating that he didn’t care about helping society but only helping his bank account. He was on Twitter again on Monday attempting to diffuse the situation but only seemed to throw more gasoline on the fire. Shkreli disparaged those that disagreed with him, including fellow industry leaders, the media and other opponents by snottily responding to complaints on Twitter before heading to CNBC to further insult people.

If there’s any justice in the world, then there will be reaction against drug price gouging like this. Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has stated that she will be presenting a plan against this type of price inflation; currently, the GOP candidates do not have any response. But perhaps the only things that big business might understand are humongous fines and the long arm of the law.

Also over the past week, the former CEO of a Georgia peanut company was sentenced to 28 years in prison and two other high ranking executives received jail time for their part in causing an outbreak of salmonella that killed nine people. Stewart Parnell, the CEO of Peanut Company of America, could have received life in prison for his actions but only got the 28 year sentence. His brother Michael, a broker for the company, received a 20 year sentence and a quality control manager at the plant in Georgia, Mary Wilkerson, was sentenced to five years.

So what did these people do? The Food and Drug Administration, upon inspecting the plant where the tainted peanut products came from (the company sent peanut paste to several outlets for usage in different products), found rat feces in the warehouses, dirty equipment used to process the peanuts into paste and forged certifications that said products were untainted despite actual lab results that indicated differently. Perhaps most damning was an e-mail reporting to the elder Parnell that salmonella levels were high on a shipment. His reply to the e-mail? “Shit, just go ahead and ship it.”

Look, we know that the object of a business is to make money; hell, there isn’t another reason to be in business unless that is what you’re doing. Along with the ability to make money, you also have to have the interest of your employees and your customers first and foremost in your company’s mind. You have to provide a decent job and wage to your employees; perhaps more importantly, you have to provide a product to your customers that is safe for their consumption (we could talk about how weak the laws are regarding this in some areas of business, but that is an argument for another time). If a business cannot do these things, then they shouldn’t be in business.

Ethics seems to be the weakest area of knowledge for plenty of businesses and industry’s biggest players. Perhaps if customer sentiment following a company’s error or fines implemented by government officials had an effect, the companies would work from an ethical standpoint rather than one simply driven by greed. Unfortunately, this starts with the customers because, by the time the government acts on any incidences of misconduct in the business world, the companies have already made their millions (billions?) from the product they’ve foisted on the public and are more than willing to part with a bit of those profits to escape jail or some other punishment.