Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – December 28, 2012

It is understandable that the Newtown tragedy would cause this country to at least take another look at the issue of guns in American society. What is incomprehensible is arming teachers and principals as a rational response. Lost in the holiday news was the announcement of the departure of Lisa Jackson as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency – despoilers of the environment are already celebrating their “victory”. And finally, as this country lurches towards the fiscal cliff it is also starting to sound like a very bad movie plot.

More Guns and More Guns

The Newtown tragedy led many to believe that there might finally be a sane discussion about guns in American society. It seemed reasonable to think that after yet another unthinkable, unspeakable massacre that it was finally time to figure out a way protect us and our children from the absolute tsunami of firearms that has swept across this country.

It may be time to think again. In the state of Arizona there is a legislative proposal to arm teachers and principals in all public schools. In the state of Ohio a program has already begun to be implemented to provide firearms training to public school principals.

What could possibly go wrong with such insane initiatives?

The specter of high powered gun battles in school hallways is not hard to imagine. Blood soaked schoolyards in the aftermath of a mistake made by an armed principal who may have firearms training but not law enforcement or combat training.

If we follow the logic that the answer to the gun problem in this country is more guns we are going to be swimming in blood…..and drowning in our own tears.

Danger Signs at the EPA

This past week Lisa Jackson announced that she will resign as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. An excellent administrator and an extremely competent advocate for actually protecting the environment, Ms. Jackson has been subject to withering critical assaults from the right wing of the right wing, the Teapublicans and every industrial interest that could be more profitable with less environmental regulation.

It is understandable that after four years of daily attacks that Ms. Jackson may want to lead something like a normal life. But it should be clear that the attacks on Ms. Jackson will now be directed towards the next head of the EPA. And we should not forget that part of the Teapublican dogma included proposals to disband the EPA.

In the brave new Teaparty world there would be no need for an EPA since the American people can rely upon the tender mercies of the oil industry, the chemicals industry and, of course, the coal industry. The Koch brothers are happy that Lisa Jackson is leaving – their next target is the EPA itself.

Cliff Notes

As you are reading this the United States government is hours away from having this country careen off a fiscal cliff of its own making. The immediate impact – loss of unemployment insurance payments, elimination of tax deductions, reduction of vital public services – have all been recounted.

But we should be concerned about the long term impact of a representative government being wagged by the tail call the Tea Party as less than fifty Teapublicans in the House of Representatives seem to have the power to turn the United States into a 21st century version of a banana republic.

Unless and until Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate take a stand against these near-maniacal zealots going over the fiscal cliff will be only the beginning of the self-inflicted calamities that this country will endure.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

A Holiday Message for 2012

The end of every year is a time for reflection and hope. We remember the good and the bad and cannot forget the ugly. But we also find a way to dust off a polish our hopes while finding the time to create new ones for our children, our friends, our planet and ourselves. It should go without saying that every day gives us a reason to be thankful so it is no wonder that every year gives us many reasons to be thankful.

We can be thankful for the loved ones who are still with us as 2013 prepares to come knocking at our door. We are certainly thankful that the random tragedies that have struck so many around this world may have left someone about whom we care untouched.

And while we grieve the loss of friends and family we must remember that death, like birth, is part of the natural order of life and this Universe. And the silver lining on the cloud of our sadness must be the appreciation of the month, year, decade or lifetime that we were blessed to spend with someone special who has now transitioned.

We can be thankful that the future offers all of us an opportunity to be better and to do better. If tomorrow always offers the possibility of greatness, then next year clearly holds the key to wonders that we cannot even imagine this year.

If we are able to, we can be thankful that we can recall all of the unexpected pleasures that have been bestowed upon us during the past year. The smile of a child through the window of a passing bus that brightened a day that needs brightening is certainly a cause for giving thanks. The appreciative gaze of an elder upon witnessing an act of kindness should certainly give us pause and cause us to give thanks.

There is not a day that goes past without tragedy and sadness and the acid drip of despair that seems to threaten our very spirit. But that spirit has seemingly infinite resilience and a capacity to believe in dreams that have yet to be dreamt. And still we expect the light of a smile to come into our lives even when there is darkness all around. And for that we all must be very thankful.

During this holiday season the festive moments have always been tinged with the sadness of remembered tragedies – global, national and personal. Perhaps this year there is even more sadness because, while we have always sheltered sadness in a corner of our hearts, we now know of so much sadness seemingly everywhere, all time.

And it is for that reason that we should make a concerted effort to count our blessings, to treasure our blessings and to never forget our blessings. Waking up today is not a right but a gift. The health of your child, the remembered love of a parent – these are all gifts for which we must remember to be thankful or run the risk of having ingratitude collapse upon us.

The meals that we may eat, the shelter that we may enjoy, the capacity that we may have to help someone in need, the love that we receive and the love that we share – these are more than reasons to be thankful. These are commandments to be thankful.

Happy Holidays and all the best to you and your family and to all whom you love.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – December 21, 2012

Trying to peer through the clouds of gun smoke that is hovering over this country it is very easy to lose sight of the tragic and cruel treatment to which Susan Rice was subjected. Meanwhile House Speaker John Boehner has blundered badly with his horrible Plan B budget proposal. So badly that come 2013 he may no longer be House Speaker – but who would want to lead the Teapub yahoos in the House anyway? And finally, as the shattered bodies of the children slain in Newtown were being buried the NRA announces a proposal to put armed guards in all schools. How stupid. How cruel and insensitive. How soon can the NRA go to hell?

Revisiting Rice

It is understandable that the Newtown tragedy would dominate the national news for the past week. Nevertheless it must be noted that Senate Republicans led by John McCain with their efforts to mash and mangle the reputation of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice managed to force Dr. Rice out of consideration for the role of Secretary of State.

With trumped up claims that Ambassador Rice somehow engaged in the deception of the American people with respect to the Benghazi incident, John McCain and his fellow deceivers managed to muddy the waters surrounding her performance in office as well as her character. That John McCain could engage in such shameless and vindictive grandstanding should not be surprising, because he has proven himself to be a small man, not only in stature but in character.

After all, it was John McCain who, in the name of naked political expedience, chose Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate. In choosing such an inexperienced, unprepared and not particularly talented person to be next in line to be president showed that John McCain had complete and total disdain for this country and its citizens. For him to assail Dr. Rice’s competence or qualifications to be Secretary of State is hypocrisy of the highest order.

It is also useful to note that in his series of personal attacks against Ambassador Rice John McCain said that she is “not very bright”. Considering the fact that John McCain graduated at the absolute bottom of his class at the U.S. Naval Academy one would think that he might pause before impugning anyone’s intelligence.

But he showed once again exactly why he graduated at the bottom of his class.

What Comes After Plan B?

In his fiscal cliff duel with President Obama House Speaker John Boehner came up with what he believed to be a cunning maneuver. He proposed a “Plan B” which would only raise taxes on people earning more than $1 million. This plan would also eliminate unemployment assistance for millions of Americans as part of a number of other drastic draconian measures that would inflict pain on Americans who are already suffering.

One problem though. The Teapublican wing of the House refused to go along with the plan because it entailed raising taxes on millionaires. And so the plan didn’t even come to a vote. The Teapublicans are prepared to defend the tax plantation of millionaires and billionaires no matter how much pain is inflicted on the rest of us.

And John Boehner has got to be wondering how he is going to be reelected Speaker of the House in January when he can’t even get his members to support his Plan B. Quite soon John Boehner may be relegated to Plan X status, as in Ex-Speaker.

More Guns, More Blood

Exactly one week after the Newtown massacre and one week after an average of 34 Americans were killed daily by gun violence; the NRA announced their response to these tragedies. Incredibly and horribly, the NRA proposed to place armed guards in all schools throughout the country.

That any sane individual would think that the answer to 300 million guns in America is more guns is stunning. That any responsible organization would make such a bizarre proposal as children from the massacre are being buried is vile and reprehensible. The only thing worse is that in a spot poll over 40% of Americans seem to think that armed guards in schools is a proper response to the tsunami of gun violence that sweeps across this country like clockwork.

There has to be a special place in Hell for people who, in their blind romance with rifles, handguns and shotguns, want to see even more guns in schools. And the gun manufacturers who shield their love of profit by twisting the Second Amendment to the Constitution should be ashamed. But, of course, they are not. They never are.

What will be enough to change the gun-worship culture in this country? Clearly the horrific spectacle of Newtown is not enough. Clearly the daily death toll of gun deaths is not enough.

What will be enough?

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Be My Guest

Be My Guest Column by Dr. William Pollard

Reflections on Newtown

As I sat in church on Sunday, my mind wandered as it often does there, as church for me is a place that offers an opportunity for reflection both back and forward. This past Sunday was no different as I thought about the minister’s prayer of comfort and guidance in response to the shooting last week in a town in Connecticut, where it was not suppose to happen. My thoughts this past Sunday was about a student who attended Medgar Evers College.

Her name is not important. She was a mother who took her sick child to the hospital . While there, as her daughter was waiting to be seen by the doctor, she left the child with its father and stepped outside where she was senselessly shot to death. Her name is not important here, but to her daughter, her family and to her classmates and members of the Medgar Evers College family, she was a valued and loving human being.

This mom will be grieved by family, friends and the community which loved her. She will not be mourned by a governor, president or the world. She will only be mourned by the people close to her because she was a black woman who lived in a community where these things are suppose to happen!

I remain deeply disturbed by the continuing descriptions of the ‘horrific loss of life” in communities where these things are not suppose to happen. No child should be senselessly torn from its parents and family by acts of violence that have come to characterize to many of our urban communities. And no child should have to suffer the loss of a parent whose life has been snuffed out by an act of violence.

I am tired America, of grieving families, neighbors and communities who say that it is not supposed to happen here. It should not happen anywhere.

Dr. William Pollard is the President of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York

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Point of View Columns

Follow the Blood – Follow the Money

The horrific Newtown Massacre is all the more terrible because it is a regular part of the American news cycle. Every three to six months the national eye focuses on the blood and gore in Tucson or Aurora or Columbine or……Newtown. This country’s gun madness is maddening but to try to understand it follow the numbers written in blood and, of course, follow the money.

Some simple numbers need to be kept in mind when looking at the United States of Gun:
-Since the Columbine Massacre in 1999 there have been 181 multiple gun killings at schools
– Every day there is an average of 34 gun murders in the United States
-There are over 60,000 gun killings in the United States every year

Incredibly, with private gun carnage being at such a high rate, this country has the most lax private gun control laws in the world. As a result, in a country of approximately 330 million people there are over 300 million privately owned guns.

The numbers cited should be no surprise considering the fact that the national private armory is overflowing with weapons of individual mass destruction. And yet, there is more.

Because in addition to “personal” weaponry (hunting rifles, small caliber pistols, target weapons) being freely available, monstrous killing machines that belong only in the hands of the military and law enforcement are also freely available.

A company called Bushmaster makes the AR-15 .223 caliber rifle which was used in the Newtown Massacre to obliterate the lives of small children and their teachers. Coincidentally, this same weapon was used by the infamous D.C. sniper in 2002 to kill 10 people.

This weapon fires over 5 bullets per second its bullets can chip concrete and tear the head off an adult. With the hollow tip bullets used in Newtown, a shot from this weapon will cause instant death if the victim is hit just about anywhere. And when you finish reading this column you can go to a gun show in most states in this country and buy one.

The notion that the Second Amendment advocated massive personal arsenals is ludicrous and historically wrong. But in any event, the Constitution has been effective because it is flexible and in a time when incredibly destructive weapons are so freely available, reasonable controls on the possession of weapons only makes sense. To paraphrase President Obama, the death of thousands of innocent people every year should not be the price for exercising the right to own a gun.

In this country an individual requires a government permit to possess high explosives. One cannot possess a wide range of drugs and pharmaceutical products without government approvals. Yet it is possible to amass incredible destructive firepower without limit – all in the name of some skewed interpretation of the Second Amendment. And that’s how massacres are born.

And it is also important to follow the money. Bushmaster is owned by Cerberus Capital Management – http://www.cerberuscapital.com, a private equity firm based in New York and owned by one Steve Feinberg. Cerberus and Mr. Feinberg clearly have no problems profiting from an enterprise that actively advertises the murderous killing capacity of its products. One can assume that the blood of the innocents of Newtown is just seen as an unfortunate collateral aspect of this Cerberus portfolio company.

And Cerberus and Mr. Feinberg are not alone. Investors in Cerberus include prominent government and private pension funds, insurance companies, universities, charitable foundations as well and sovereign and family wealth funds. Clearly, if you follow the blood spilled at Newtown and from so many other venues it will lead to the money that will in turn lead to leading financial institutions and their investors.

In other words, the blood and the guilt of this national tragedy are spread far and wide. And it is this national conspiracy of gun mania and profit at any cost which explains the seeming impossible task of getting reasonable gun control laws in this country.

And one more thing – In Greek mythology Cerberus was the three headed dog that guarded the gates of Hell.

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Point of View Columns

Special Weekend Edition – December 14, 2012

IT’S STILL THE GUNS STUPID!

As you are reading this the final body count after a shooting rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut is being finalized. Because we are all so anesthetized and acclimated to gun carnage I will repeat: “As you are reading this the final body count after a shooting rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut is being finalized.

Like every parent with a pulse when I first heard the report of the shooting at a school my very first thought was of the life and safety of my child. Then, learning that my son was safe I tried to comprehend the news reports of the inevitable suicidal lone gunman shooting twenty small children with an assault rifle typically used by urban SWAT teams.

We have to wonder about what this country will look like in another decade without some dedicated strategy to control the amount and type of guns that are available in this country. It is unthinkable that a third grader cannot go to school safely without body armor – but Kevlar may be part of the 2022 school dress code at the rate we are going.

The gun-loving maniacs of the National Rifle Association have their canned response to this tragedy at the ready. That’s because in the NRA universe there is no need for gun control. The daily tragedy of bloodshed on American streets has nothing to do with the readily availability of lethal weapons. After every Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora and now Newtown, the NRA and the supporters of gun madness would have us believe that rational gun control would not have saved a single life.

But I wish that the NRA representatives would fly to Connecticut and explain to the bereaved mothers and the anguished fathers in Newtown that there is a constitutional right for private citizens to have .223 caliber assault rifles. And then they can do a national tour to Brooklyn and Chicago and Washington and Oakland and New Orleans and explain to the mourners of gunned down Americans why it makes sense to have even limited controls on gun ownership.

House Speaker John Boehner was quoted as saying that he “stands with the citizens of Newtown”, whatever that means. But it is a safe bet that neither he nor any of his Teapublican colleagues who moonlight as NRA lapdogs will do anything about gun control.

President Obama was quoted as saying that it is time for new strategies without a concern for politics. One can suspect that this is a call for gun control in Obamaese. But in these United States of the Gun, President Obama is going to have to be a lot clearer and a lot more vocal.

One wonders what is the body count in a single incident that will finally turn this country in the right direction when it comes to guns. In 1911 146 people (mostly young women) died in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. The enormity of that tragedy led to workplace safety laws that have saved millions of lives during the past century.

We know that 27 people died in Newtown. We know that 32 people were slaughtered at Virginia Tech. We know the numbers in Columbine and Aurora and in the streets of urban America. John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X., John Lennon and so many more iconic individuals have been swept away in gusts of gun smoke. Incredibly and sadly the numbers and the horror have not been enough to bring about any kind of reasonable restraint on guns.

And so we close the day and the week with the wails of sirens and the weeping of parents as fresh blood is washed away until the next massacre. And while it is horrible to say, it is true, there will be a next massacre and another and another until this country becomes sane on the subject of guns.

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Point of View Columns

Time to Get Ahead of the Game

With its latent racism, overt misogyny and rampant disdain for sharing and caring, there is not a lot of good to be said of the right wing of the right wing in this country. But, giving credit where credit is due, that sad and shrinking segment of the political discourse has always been strategic in its planning. So perhaps it is time for the progressive political cohorts to start thinking about 2016 right now. And that discussion must of necessity include Hillary Clinton.

With the fiscal cliff dominating the headlines and plans for President Obama’s second inauguration still on the drawing board, it feels premature to start thinking about the best way to win the 2016 presidential election. And it would be a mistake to give in to that feeling. While supporters of the president are still bathing in the afterglow of 11.6.12 the strategists of the right wing of the right wing are doing their level best to “take back America”….again.

It is important to keep in mind that the Republican ascendancy of the last quarter of the twentieth century was not the result of another political cyclical quirk. As early as 1960 self-identified conservatives planned (and some say plotted) to not only take over the presidency, but also to control the legislative and judicial branches of the federal government. Take a look around and you will see the strange fruits of their labor.

From 1980 to 2012, a period of 32 years, Democrats have held the White House for only twelve years. Of the fifty states 29 are led by Republican governors. The right wing of the right wing currently has a stranglehold on the United States House of Representatives and they are only a midterm election surge away from controlling the Senate.

The federal judiciary, with its lifetime appointments, has been seeded with conservative Republicans from District Courts right up to the Supreme Court. And in the Supreme Court RobertsScaliaAlitoThomas right wing cabal sits poised to turn the Constitution into a conservative bludgeon, thwarted at this point only by the fact that Barack Obama will almost certainly have one or two appointments to the Court during the next four years of his Administration.

And so it really isn’t too early to start thinking about the 2016 presidential election. And certainly those thoughts have to include the contemplation of a Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy. Certainly, in December of 2012, there isn’t another potential Democratic candidate who is even within the same solar system of winning potential. And there isn’t a Teapublican candidate on the horizon who wants any part of debating the person who will have the clear opportunity to become the first female President of the United States.

Some will point out that similar thoughts were expressed December of 2004 and then along came Barack Obama. But a supernatural candidacy like Barack Obama’s, comes along once in a generation. Perhaps Haley’s Comet will come early but in the absence of the supernatural real planning is probably a good idea.

Further, Hillary Clinton’s domestic and international star power has been polished to perfection during her tenure as Secretary of State. There are scores of Teapublican senators and members of Congress who are on record extolling her virtues and her competency. They will be hard pressed to walk back all of that praise during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Keep in mind that, although there would be obvious differences between the policies of the Obama Administration and the policies of an administration headed by President Hillary Clinton, on the whole the direction and philosophical vision would not be that different. And given the continued assault on civil rights, women’s rights, immigration reform and social services that will be pursued by the Teapublicans for the foreseeable future, sixteen years of continuous progressive Democratic presidencies seems like a pretty good idea.

It is still early, but not too early to start thinking about tomorrow. Indeed, now is the time.

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