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Trying to Reach New Demographics, the NRA Is Outmatched

Mike Weisser   |   December 28, 2015    2:46 PM ET

You may recall that before he was appointed Attorney General, Eric Holder gave an interview in which he said that the way to deal with gun violence was to tell kids that guns "weren't cool." That statement unleashed a storm of acrimony from the NRA and its various noisemaking minions, all of whom were committed to a strategy that promoted guns to millennials and other non-traditional gun-owning demographics on the basis that they were, in fact, cool.

Probably the most outrageous attempt to sell this 'guns-are-cool' nonsense has been the video antics of an African-American lawyer who calls himself Colion Noir, who prances around the NRA video channel coming up with all kinds of hip and cool reasons why we should all own and carry guns. The folks who write his scripts have come up with some kind of concocted blather about using guns for self-defense, but what's really going on here is an effort by the NRA to capture the hearts and minds of younger minority folks, most of whom don't appear to be all that interested in owning guns.

Of course the truth is that Colion Noir and the NRA in general have about as much to do with defining "cool" as the veritable man in the moon. Most NRA members are older, White men who listen to country music and live in Southern states and smaller, Midwestern towns. They represent a demographic that's about as far away from anything hip and cool as could ever be imagined; getting this audience to respond to an inner-city, jive-talking Black dude would be tantamount to bringing back the Miles Davis Quintet or Ahmad Jamal to play the weekly barn dance at Grand Old Opry in Tennessee.

Which is why I sat up and really took notice when a group of NBA players announced they were joining with Mike Bloomberg's Everytown to run ads on messages about gun violence that first appeared during a series of marquee games that will air on Christmas Day. The ads feature NBA players like the Warriors' Stephen Curry and the Clippers' Chris Paul, along with testimonies from survivors of shootings and relatives of folks killed by guns.

I knew something was up when I noticed Spike Lee becoming very visible on the gun violence issue, particularly when he and Al Sharpton announced a gun violence initiative following the premiere of Spike's new movie, Chi-Raq, which is all about gun violence on Chicago's South Side. At that press conference, Spike and the Reverend Al pledged to hold a series of summit meeting in various cities, but you can't begin to compare the impact of such meetings to the power and force of the NBA ads that are running on national tv.

These ads represent a level of interest and concern that could be (pardon my pun) a real game-changer when it comes to the national discussion about guns. Because the people featured on these ads aren't paid to get up and lament the loss of our 'freedoms,' they don't represent pitchmen for the manufacturers who want to sell guns, and they certainly aren't some amateur-hour video huckster who wants you to think he's a real, hip dude because his skin color happens to be something other than white.

I never thought that gun violence was about race, or poverty, or inner-city life or anything of that sort. I always thought that gun violence was about one thing and one thing only: guns. And the remarkable thing about this television campaign is that every person in these ads talks about guns and what guns have done to their lives and to the lives of people they love and used to love.

I was in a high-end burger bar Christmas afternoon when one of these ads played on the widescreen that was tuned to the NBA. This restaurant tends to be a noisy place, but it quieted down when Carmelo Anthony said what he had to say. Way down.

Santa Claus Shot and Killed in Home Invasion

Warren J. Blumenfeld   |   December 27, 2015   12:17 AM ET

Breaking News: Santa Claus, of unknown age, was shot and killed by home owner, Jack Koff, 41, for allegedly breaking into and entering his residence at 007 Patriarchy Lane without authorization. The deceased was found wearing a bright red cap and full-body microfiber suit with white piping around the collar, sleeves, and pant legs. He also sported a full white beard and bushy eyebrows.

Though no weapon was found at the scene, tossed near the bullet-riddled body was a large canvas bag filled with brightly colored wrapped packages. Police department evidence officials later discovered that the boxes were filled with children's toys.

According to police Lieutenant Justin Tyme, "We have clear indication that Mr. Claus penetrated the home by shimmying down the chimney. We believe this because his clothing contained large amounts of ash and grime."

Responding to reporters' questions on the porch of his home, Koff stated that around 3:00 a.m. on the morning of December 25, while he and his wife and three lovely children were asleep on the second floor of their residence, he was startled out of a deep sleep by the apparent sounds of a pack of animals walking across the roof. Fearing a home invasion, Koff took his AK-47 rifle from his bedroom closet and walked slowly and silently down the stairs. As he reached the living room, he saw the image of an intruder exiting the fireplace.

"I took aim and fired a number of rounds into the guy," said Koff. "I have three young kids, and I'm not going to let some pansy pervert come into my home."

The town coroner, Helen A. Basket, determined that Clause died instantly with numerous bullet wounds to the head and upper back with one puncturing his heart. At a press conference held later in the day, Police Chief Reed Mylipps indicated that while the incident is still under investigation, at this point his department does not intend to press charges against Mr. Koff since it appears to be a case of justifiable homicide.

Claus leaves behind a wife, nine flying reindeer -- one with a bright red nose -- and a gaggle of elves. The coroner's office shipped the body back to his home at the North Pole where Ms. Claus will bury him on New Year's Day in a private ceremony.

This is the second incidence of the shooting deaths of home invaders on Patriarchy Lane in just the last three days. On Tuesday, home owner Lance Boyle killed M&M Red and M&M Green as they filled bowls around his house with what appeared to be sweet chocolate centers -- some which included peanuts -- surrounded by hard candy shells. Boyle splattered Red and Green's little bodies on the walls and ceiling of his living and dining rooms leaving nothing for the coroner to autopsy.

Addressing the public during a nationally televised speech today, Wayne La Schmuck, spokesperson for the Nationalist Rifle Association, asserted:

"The justifiable shootings of Claus, and M&M Red and Green prove our point when we rightfully argue that 'The only thing that blows away a bad dude with or without a gun is a good dude with a gun'!"

La Schmuck urged the relatively few home and apartment dwellers who have not already purchased at least one hand gun, one hunting rifle, and one semi-automatic firearm to run to the gun stores and buy them soon. He reminded parents that weapons not only save lives, but firearms also provide great ways to bond with their children.

"There's nothing greater than pulverizing paper and clay targets on the shooting range with your kids on the weekends," he said. "This is real quality time."

The United States ranks number 1 of 178 countries researched in 2014 for the highest rate of firearms with 112.6 per 100 residents, with Serbia coming in a distant second at 69.7, Yemen third at 54.8, and Switzerland forth at 45.7. On "Black Friday" after Thanksgiving 2015, requests for firearms background checks reached historic proportions with over 185 thousand on this single day.

According to La Schmuck, "Keep up the great work America!"

The Real Attack on the Spirit of Christmas

  |   December 25, 2015    7:58 AM ET

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Dana Liebelson   |   December 23, 2015    1:40 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- The Georgia lawmaker behind a controversial new bill to ban people going through divorce proceedings in the state from buying guns has responded to pushback by adding language to more narrowly target people with a history of domestic abuse. 

The original measure would have made it a misdemeanor for anyone involved in a divorce proceeding to purchase a gun, unless he or she had permission from the judge overseeing the case. The bill wouldn't affect the possession of any guns the couple may have owned previously.

State Sen. Michael Rhett (D-Marietta), who introduced the bill earlier this month, told The Huffington Post on Wednesday that because of "some pushback and the need for bipartisan support," he has decided to include language adding that a person going through a divorce proceeding would be banned from purchasing a gun if a protective order is taken out against him or her, or if there is a history of domestic violence. He did not immediately respond to a request for more details. 

Felons, people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors and people subject to permanent domestic violence protective orders are not allowed under federal law to buy or own guns.

However, a state needs equivalent legislation on the books in order to adequately enforce those restrictions, and Georgia does not explicitly ban people who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or who are subject to a protective order from owning or buying firearms.

That makes implementation of the federal restrictions dicey, said Allison Smith, the director of public policy at the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence. While she appreciates "the spirit of the bill," Smith said it's far more important that Georgia first passes state laws to match federal restrictions on domestic abusers' gun ownership.  

"We know that the combination of domestic violence and firearms is very deadly. However, we respect the rights of law-abiding citizens to own firearms," she said. "The bill that is being proposed, really, is a little off the mark in that it doesn't hit at the route of the problem of domestic violence offenders having firearms."

Between 2003 and 2012, 283 women were shot to death by an intimate partner in Georgia, according to FBI data reviewed by the Center for American Progress and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In 2011 alone, more than half of homicides related to domestic violence in the state were committed with a gun, the report found.  

Rhett said he considers the bill a first step in opening up a conversation about domestic violence. He said he was inspired to file the bill because of local prosecutor April Ross, who became paralyzed from the chest down after her estranged husband shot her last April.

"You can't eliminate every bad scenario," Ross told Atlanta news station WSB-TV last week. "But you can certainly reduce the number of opportunities someone has to hurt someone when they're leaving a relationship.”

The proposal is unlikely to get far in Georgia's conservative legislature. The state's governor last year signed legislation that allows people with concealed carry permits to bring their guns in parks, bars, cabarets, school zones and airport shops.

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA, said Rhett's original measure seemed "clearly unconstitutional," both under the Second Amendment and Georgia's constitution.

"Divorce is surely a tumultuous process, deeply distressing for many, and leading to violence for a few," he said. "But that can't be a reason to deny all divorcing people a constitutional right."  

Jerry Henry, executive director of pro-gun group Georgia Carry, raised the point that the original bill could have prevented a potential victim from obtaining a gun for self-defense. 

Rhett said his bill is intended to focus on an aggressor and not a potential victim. 

Ross told WSB-TV that she supports the bill, but is open to a compromise.

"It's not just about, 'he can't get a gun, he doesn't have the right to get a gun,'" she said. "What I’m saying is put in that extra step that may have saved someone else's life."

Steven Hoffer   |   December 23, 2015    8:40 AM ET

MIAMI (AP) — Police say a South Florida man was demonstrating the proper way to clean a gun during a video call with a relative when he accidentally shot himself in the chest and died.

Miami-Dade detective Marjorie Eloi said in a news release that the accidental shooting happened around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Police say 43-year-old Josmel Herrera shot himself once. He was taken to Kendall Regional Trauma Center where he was declared dead.

Eloi said police responded to the home after receiving several calls about a shot being fired. The news release didn't say whether anyone else was inside the home at the time of the shooting.

No further details were released. Police say the investigation is ongoing.

Also on HuffPost:


Adam Goldberg   |   December 22, 2015   11:50 AM ET

Read More: guns, gun violence

Selections from exceptional journalism we read this year.

Whitney Snyder   |   December 20, 2015   11:26 AM ET

Oceguera, a fourth generation Nevadan who grew up on the Walker River Indian Reservation, is an unlikely “enemy number one” for the NRA.

Stop Hiding Behind the Second Amendment

Samantha Paige Rosen   |   December 19, 2015    6:00 PM ET

The Second Amendment does not protect an individual's right to own a firearm. This narrative was developed by the National Rifle Association in the late 1970s, out of fear that further gun control laws would eliminate private ownership of firearms altogether.

For 200 years following the ratification of the Second Amendment, federal judges understood that the Second Amendment safeguarded the right to keep and bear arms when serving in a state militia. This view was widely held until the 1980s when pro-gun organizations began claiming that federal regulation of the individual use of firearms violated Americans' Second Amendment rights.

Initially, the National Rifle Association dealt more with sport than politics. "I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns," said Former NRA President Karl Frederick in 1934. "I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses."

In response to increasing crime, a 1968 federal law prohibited interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers, dealers, and importers. The NRA became scared that more restrictions would ultimately result in government seizure of all personal guns. That's when, in 1977, the group reorganized to launch an aggressive anti-gun control movement based on a fabricated understanding of the Second Amendment. Those who invoke the Second Amendment as an absolute reason why the United States can't act like Great Britain, Australia, Japan and other countries to reduce staggering gun violence don't understand the amendment at all.

When the thirteen colonies broke away from tyrannical Great Britain to form the United States of America, the concern that this new government would become corrupt was very real. The ultimate check on a tyrannical government, the Framers of the Constitution believed, was an armed population.

The Second Amendment reads, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed." Since militias are made up of citizens bearing arms, gun proponents argue that the right to keep and bear arms naturally extends to each citizen, who may use a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.

For the first time in history, this perspective was supported in the 2008 Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller. A civilian, the Court ruled, has a constitutional right to keep a handgun in his or her home for purposes of self-defense.

Nowhere in the text, however, is it stated that an individual right to keep and bear arms is preserved. More overtly, the text refers to the collection of people who would make up a militia if the federal government were to abuse its power.

For Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the Second Amendment defends only the right to possess and carry a firearm in connection with military activities. Individuals do not have the right to keep and bear arms or to use weapons outside the context of service in a well-regulated militia.

"Different language surely would have been used to protect nonmilitary use and possession of weapons from regulation if such an intent had played any role in the drafting of the Amendment," Stevens wrote in the dissenting opinion to the case.

What's more, the Framers' primary motivation, he clarified, was not to reinforce the already common-law right of self-defense. A common-law right is established either by previous legal cases or by custom. Thus, defendants in criminal proceedings in each state already have the right to self-defense.

When Stevens joined the Supreme Court in 1975, there was no doubt among the Court of the Second Amendment's connotation being military, rather than personal. "Emotional claims that the right to possess deadly weapons is so important that it is protected by the federal Constitution distort intelligent debate about the wisdom of particular aspects of proposed legislation designed to minimize the slaughter caused by the prevalence of guns in private hands," he observed.

Five years after his retirement in 1986, former Chief Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger, a conservative, explained that "The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires." The notion that the Second Amendment preserves an individual right to own a gun, he added, is "one of the greatest pieces of fraud... on the American public by special interest groups that I've ever seen in my lifetime."
If the Second Amendment doesn't protect an individual right to own a gun, we don't need to repeal or amend it in order to establish major gun control laws. We must remember that this tale is the NRA's doing, not the Founders of the Constitution, and that it is rooted in fear. This fear is why the NRA staunchly opposes even minor firearms regulations today. We can and should move forward in enacting exactly what the pro-gun lobby is afraid of. We can't hide behind the Second Amendment anymore.

The Gun at the Gate and the Children Beyond

Eunice Roque   |   December 18, 2015    4:48 PM ET

If you go through life minimally aware of the survival-based reality of billions of people around the world, a sunny morning walk around your single-family neighborhood, with clear views of the beautiful Hudson highlands, ought to make you feel pretty lucky, if not altogether privileged.

I recently had added reason to feel grateful. I was just emerging from a case of the flu and a week on the couch, exasperating over our Trump-driven news-cycle and trolling political discourse--while some 200 countries rolled-up their sleeves on climate change, and Canada welcomed the first of 25,000 Syrian refugees. I deflected my civic fervor for an hour, and welcomed the balm of record-warm December sunlight.

The serenity of my suburban promenade was first disrupted by an irate dog on a wildly long leash. "Friend of yours?" I asked the passing mail person, as I jumped off the sidewalk for safety sake. He chuckled. My attention turned to my neighbors' disparate tastes in holiday lore, complete with "Keep Christ in Christmas" signs, the Grinch who stole "it" and an inflatable Santa on a Chopper.

Feeling chipper and assured of my recovery, I began rounding a corner lot featuring a white house with red shutters and bright blue Adirondack chairs. "Red, white and blue," I noted, vaguely. A baby swing, colorful beach toys and a small soccer goal-net sprinkled the yard with playfulness. I smiled and imagined a lively household of young children, full of curiosity and innocence. Childhood memories were just waddling in when my eyes landed on a sign pinned to the property's gate. It read, "Nothing here worth dying for," and it was illustrated by a gun-bearing hand, pointing straight at you.

The concrete sidewalk turned spongy under my feet, and a chill sped down my back, in spite of the layers and the weather. This was my neighborhood? My mind played out a scene of young children running about that yard, then over to the adults in the home, as they hung that sign at their gate: "What does it say, Mommy?" "Why is there a gun in that picture, Daddy?" "Is that your gun, Daddy?"

I collected myself and walked home, fast, the shortest way I knew.

But I couldn't put down the questions for hours to come... How does a parent explain that sign--that message--to a young child without robbing him/her of child-like trust and innocence? How have the families on the block explained it to their children? A middle-class American family living in a secluded suburban neighborhood feels the need to post a menacing, fulminating sign on the gate to their children's playground and home. What sign--what messages--are we to expect from families with children born into such opposite realities as war-zones, ongoing displacement, subsistence economies, hunger, food insecurity and poverty (right here, in the land of plenty), neighborhoods marred by gang and drug violence, chronic unemployment...? Was I making too much of this sign? Was there any room for doubt in the message's intent?

All the day's beauty and balm couldn't seem to quiet these disturbing considerations.

Several hours later, dusk approaching, I joined an outdoor holiday event in our town. There were free cookies and hot-chocolate, live music, dancing and sing-alongs--Rudolph and This Little Light of Mine. Bright white lights hung from tall pines and chocolate-smeared kids from the shoulders of parents. Friends and strangers greeted and smiled at each other. Santa sported a real beard and made self-deprecating jokes. Night fell and a Christmas tree and Menorah--made out of bicycle wheels and parts by a local sculptor--were brightly lit.
A Rabbi spoke of the Menorah's points of light as reminders of the light we each bring to the world, with our different ways of life and being. "What is important to you, and what is important to the guy to your left and the woman to your right, it's just as important."

The program came to an end, but children lingered around and inside the Christmas tree, now spinning the bicycle wheels, now standing still and dazzled by the light. I hoped with all my heart that the children from the house with the gun-wielding sign were there too, somehow. That they too could feel safe and dazzled, outside their gate, surrounded by strangers, under the night sky. Many lights, many colors, bearing many different beliefs and aspirations.

I rested my thoughts and walked home at peace with my town.

Dana Liebelson   |   December 18, 2015    2:27 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Last year, a trainee officer shot and killed a handcuffed inmate in a Nevada prison, then blamed another inmate for the death. Since 2012, Nevada Department of Corrections employees have fired more than 123 live rounds. But we don't know how many of those shots injured inmates, because Nevada refuses to tell us.

For this week's Highline story, I detailed injuries that inmates claim to have suffered as a result of Nevada's policy of allowing officers to bounce 7 1/2-birdshot off the ground to break up serious fights. One inmate, an alleged bystander, was permanently blinded. Another sent his attorney a bag of dozens of birdshot pellets he dug out of his skin. On April 21, an officer at Ely State Prison shot at inmates who were ganging up on one inmate. Five inmates not involved in the fight whatsoever were hit by birdshot, one in the eye. His family has worried he, too, is going blind.

In August, I filed a public records request asking Nevada to provide me the number of inmates injured by a gun fired by a NDOC employee between 2010 and 2015, as well as the reports showing what happened. The state refused, in part on the basis that "critical incident data is confidential and cannot be released." But under the law, "when the requested record is not explicitly made confidential by a statute" -- which is the case here -- "the government bears the burden of showing that its interest in nondisclosure clearly outweighs the public's interest in access." (A Nevada spokesperson did not provide comment for this story.)

Do taxpayers have a right to know if a taxpayer-funded entity is taking action that leads to injury of inmates in their care? I think so. Taxpayers are also responsible for costs if these inmates win lawsuits. Additionally, even if this information is confidential, the Nevada Public Records Act says that the government cannot deny an entire record if they are able to redact confidential information -- for example, medical details. (A Nevada spokesperson also declined to comment on how many inmates have lost their sight as a result of birdshot, citing medical privacy laws.)

But that's not the only information that Nevada has not provided. Under NDOC policy, use of force or the aftermath is supposed to be videotaped. One inmate who witnessed the death of that handcuffed inmate, Carlos Perez, told me, "the pictures and video will shock you with the amount of blood." In October, I filed requests for video and photographic evidence for three alleged shootings that are a matter of public record -- because the inmates have filed lawsuits -- and which I do not have reason to believe are still under investigation. Because they are already the subject of public legal proceedings, there is no inmate privacy interest at stake to be claimed by the government. Nevada acknowledged my request, but I haven't gotten a response since.

Nevada also refused to tell me whether any disciplinary action was taken against the three officers sued by Perez's family over his death, saying that "employee disciplinary records are specifically exempt for disclosure."

Prison reporting is always going to be challenging. Earlier this year, I ran into multiple roadblocks during the months we spent reporting on the experiences of youthful inmates held in the adult prison system in Michigan. Although I was permitted to interview inmates, I was forbidden to bring a camera or recorder, and the state attorney general’s office issued (and later withdrew) two subpoenas for my handwritten notes. Michigan also asked me for more than $76,000 so it could fulfill my routine reporting requests, because information is organized in ways that make it difficult to search.

Some states have security exemptions that prevent journalists from disclosing the inner workings of prisons. Officials can claim that releasing the details of their force policies would allow inmates to exploit them for criminal gain, for example. But secrecy also can breed mistakes or misconduct, and if force is being used, there needs to be a level of transparency. It's been over a year since Perez was shot, and the attorney general is still investigating. NDOC told me that no records can be released about that case while the investigation is underway. Perez's own family said they didn't find out he was shot until they went to the funeral home.

Nevada has asked independent corrections experts to examine its force practices, including the use of birdshot. Those experts found problems -- including that birdshot has injured three staff members -- and urged Nevada to phase out its use entirely. The NDOC refused. The Nevada Department of Corrections wants the public to believe it knows how to handle guns in its facilities, and that the practice is necessary to protect the safety of inmates and staff.

But they won't release the records to prove it.

Mental Illness: A Smoking Gun

Dr. Peggy Drexler   |   December 18, 2015   12:49 PM ET

As of this week, nearly 950 people have been shot dead by police in 2015, according to data maintained by the Washington Post. Throughout the year, the conversation surrounding a number of these police shootings has centered on race, and justifiably so: Unarmed black men are seven times more likely than whites to die by police gunfire; 32 of the aforementioned 950 victims were black and unarmed. Just yesterday, Justice Department officials met with Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel to talk about their official investigation of the Chicago Police Department following the October 2014 fatal shooting of black teen

Laquan McDonald by white Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. Van Dyke has since been indicted on six counts of murder, but wasn't charged until more than a year after the shooting.

And yet race isn't the only factor stacking the odds in cases of police shootings. A new study released last week by the Virginia-based nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center reported that people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by police than people without. In fact, people with severe mental illness account for one in four of all fatal police encounters. One reason for this is that those suffering from mental disorders are more likely to come in contact with authority figures: Although less than four percent of the general population suffers from severe mental illness, they generate 10 percent of all calls for police services and they take up at least 20 percent of spots in American prisons -- where, it should be noted, they are often unable to get the care they need.

Another reason may be that police officers often lack the training to approach the mentally unstable, according to a report published earlier this year by the Washington Post. This lack of training, of course, makes little sense, given the significant size, and possible threat, of that very population -- of an estimated eight million Americans living with severe mental illness, half, according to the TAC report, are untreated.

There are a number of (somewhat obvious) solutions to this. Better, more directed training for officers in approaching those who may be mentally ill would be one. Another would be to work towards reducing the number of those possible encounters. Since the 1950s, the number of psychiatric beds in the U.S. has declined by about 90 percent; community health center funding has also been slashed across the board. And yet it seems to make sense: Treat the untreated, and fatalities will decrease.

Of course, there's reason to believe that mental illness may impact both sides of this equation. Amid the many recent, and increasingly violent, protests over police-involved shootings -- including ambushes and killings of officers with no identifiable motive other than the fact that they were in uniform -- law enforcement officials across the country have reported feeling heightened levels of anxiety. After two of his officers were killed in their car by shooters who'd made threats against police on social media, NYPD commissioner William Bratton said, "Let's face it, there's been, not just in New York but throughout the country, a very strong anti-police, anti-criminal-justice-system, ant-societal set of initiatives underway." In a recent Chicago University Law School forum, FBI Director James Comey called the combination of higher officer anxiety and increased crime "The Ferguson Effect," after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

There have not yet been conclusive studies looking at whether heightened officer anxiety has directly led to an uptick in police-related shootings, but the connection seems an easy one to make. For some officers in conflict situations, increased anxiety could lead to increased hesitation. For others, it could lead to increased reaction. As a mental disorder, anxiety is dominating, and can overpower thoughts and actions, and across America, its presence is only increasing. This can be critical on both sides of the firearm, not to mention an important reminder that mental illness is blind to both class and race.

Warren's Week in Twitter Polls

Warren Holstein   |   December 18, 2015   10:22 AM ET

Week of 12/14/15 to 12/20/15


Twitter polls have become all the rage and I am continuing to take full advantage of them each week by boldly engaging the public on current events and some of the greater dilemmas of our time.

Here are the results of my latest week of polling:

Preserving Your Sanity 2015-12-18-1450447016-9192456-TrumpSupporters.jpg


War Pigs 2015-12-18-1450447297-2716992-CNNdebate.jpg


Cold as a Motherf*cker 2015-12-18-1450447562-7535560-MferFire.jpg


Suffer the Children 2015-12-18-1450447692-9609142-SandyHook.jpg


The Nerd Awakens 2015-12-18-1450451982-8877890-StarWars.jpg

Read More of Warren's Writing at

Not My Faith

Rev. Bryant Oskvig   |   December 17, 2015    5:56 PM ET

Because I work with an Imam at Georgetown University and have a number of personal relationships with Muslims, I am asked every time an act associated with Islamic extremism occurs, "Why don't the Muslims condemn the violence?" And every time I have to tell them, "They do -- you just don't always hear about it."

Now we have Christian extremists such as Jerry Falwell, Jr. encouraging us to carry weapons at all times to protect ourselves from Muslims. So the question has to be asked, "Why don't Christians condemn this sort of talk?"

The Christian faith is presented as a faith of peace. Jesus, ostensibly the primary test for the faith, suggested that the peacemakers were blessed (people not the firearm) and that the faithful were to pray for their enemies. Not only that, but this same Jesus recommended offering the other cheek if struck by another.

On this basis, Christians claim to be a people of peace, as those who seek to love their neighbors as themselves (an example for which Jesus uses a story about persons of two different faiths). So is carrying a firearm for the purpose of harming another human being or mischaracterizing an entire faith community coherent with this conception of the Christian faith?

Absolutely not.

So, where are the Christian people of faith who are standing up and saying, "That is not my faith -- that is not my religion!"

The Muslim community lives in fear because of the violent rhetoric for which their community is the target, and Christian people should stand together and decry the language that perverts their faith to something almost unrecognizable. Can we refuse to attend, support and authenticate these false witnesses of the Christian faith? Or, do we remain under the condemnation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail of a moderate community who, "more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows"?

For the record, people claiming to be Christian who talk of arming themselves against Muslims or misrepresent an entire faith based on political terrorists, do not speak for my Christian faith or for me. These individuals have also perverted a faith -- a faith to which I am committed. They are not followers of Jesus.

Christian people who seek peace live differently. As Georgetown University's chaplains recently wrote to its community of students from various religious traditions, "Your friendship with one another -- your studying together, playing together, serving together, and praying together -- is the best antidote to both violent extremism and vitriolic rhetoric that seeks only to scare and divide. Such interreligious understanding is the way to lasting peace in our world."

That is the peace Christians seek.

According the Future Its Due

David Katz, M.D.   |   December 17, 2015    4:46 PM ET

'Tis, as the saying goes, the season. As I write this, if not necessarily as you read it, 'tis the season of rhetorical flourish, soaring aspirations. Even if often wrapped in crass commercialism, or delivered in the lyrics of a particularly corny carol, the sentiments are real, the yearning -- perennial and fervent. We feel it always, I believe -- but only allow ourselves to express it so freely in this annual interregnum.

Yes, we want a world of peace and harmony. Damn it, we do! Yet, how elusive it is. And of course, the enemy to what we would so ardently celebrate, so eagerly bequeath to our children is... us. Who else?

As we revisit again this year the jarring contrast between what we desire and what we devise, images of Paris beckon. Paris, where terrorists so recently sprayed bullets and cast their fetid shadow over the City of Light. Paris, where only weeks later, a world of nations gathered to defend our common treasure from shortsighted profiteering and address climate change at last. The Paris Accord, though doubtless bedeviled by operational details, and perhaps somewhat too late, and almost surely too little, is historic just the same. And, whatever its deficiencies, so much better than discord.

How right, too, that Paris should symbolize the triumph of accord in the aftermath of mayhem born of discord, however murky and inscrutable its particular origins. In French, "I agree" is "d'accord," and the expression figures frequently in the flow of that mellifluous language.

Accord, then, is today's theme. There, and only there, resides the answer to these seasonal hopes. Only in unity is the strength to shrug off the discordant status quo that bides its time while we are busy buying presents.

The Paris Climate Accord shows the capacity of nations to agree on our common interest in the fate of the planet. Closer to home, we had a recent and vivid, if much humbler demonstration of the capacity of nutrition experts to agree on common interest in the fare on our plates.

The Oldways Common Ground conference was remarkable for the diverging implications of its product, and its process. The product, as in Paris, showed the possibility of accord at the outer limits of hope and expectation alike. The process showed how readily discord prevails when given the least quarter.

I have reflected on this recently, more than once. At times, of course, we truly disagree. We may disagree on what should be done, or even more likely, how. There is room for real disagreement. We can, as the saying goes, agree to disagree.

But we often fail even to agree to disagree, and disagree about disagreeing instead. And much of that deeper discord is the stuff of smoke and fog, shadow and misapprehension.

In the case of diet, all experts I've met around the world eat much more like one another than any eats like the typical member of their native population. Yet these same experts populate journals and airwaves alike with seemingly mutually exclusive claims. How can practice be so confluent, the related preaching so cacophonous?

For one thing, our answers follow our questions, and our questions are all too often the thin edge of a divisive wedge. In the case of guns, they pose as choices between rights and controls. In the case of climate they pose as choices between the environment and the economy. In the case of diet, they masquerade as choices between this claimant to the best diet laurels, and that.

The ramifications of our tendency to ask divisive questions in the first place are massively amplified in cyberspace, where anonymity and a boundless expanse serve to stoke our primal xenophobia, even as they embolden our stridor. Echo chambers prevail, empathy erodes, and extremes of opinion obscure the common ground.

But then there is this timely, seasonal reminder that we want that common ground. In the mists of Christmas future, we see our children playing together on it.

We see them healthy as well, of course. So it is genuinely meaningful and comforting to know that a who's who in lifestyle medicine around the world agree on how to make that most likely for their own children. It is meaningful and comforting as well that the communal recipe addresses the critical needs of our overtaxed planet.

There is massive environmental benefit in lifestyle as medicine. Water consumption to produce beef calories is in general an order of magnitude greater than that required to produce corresponding plant-food calories. Water consumption to produce soda pop, the drinking of which redounds only to the benefit of the sellers, is nothing less than astounding. In Marion Nestle's new book, Soda Politics, we learn that some 500 liters of water are consumed to produce one liter of Coke or Pepsi. We might all imagine dumping 499 bottles of water down a drain as the prelude to drinking one bottle of soda, and wince accordingly.

There is, in fact, a massive global accord about the fundamentals of healthy eating. Fortuitously, those same fundamentals are as germane to the fate of the planet, from aquifers to biodiversity, as they are to the fate of our families. The argument for a less processed, more plant-based diet is solid, and sound; rooted in science and sense; time-tested, and real-world relevant. The very formula that prevails for chronic disease reduction pertains to the preservation of planetary treasure. Beneath the veil of apparent din and discord, there isn't just accord; there is concordant accords across disciplines, and domains.

Using what we know about lifestyle as medicine, we can add years to lives, and life to years. We can, as well, contribute something substantive to the stabilization of climate, the sustainability of our food systems, and the defense of natural resources -- one thoughtfully provisioned plate at a time.

We are invited, then, to do all we can to ensure accord is on the menu. All that is required is the strength unique to unity. All that is needed is the declaration of common cause, on the solid substrate of common ground.

Alas, such things are easier said than done. But 'tis the season that invites us to indulge in our most hopeful reflections, and perhaps to recall that the best way to predict the future -- is to create it.



Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center; Griffin Hospital
President, American College of Lifestyle Medicine

Founder, The True Health Initiative

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