Point of View Columns

The Sad Story of Cleveland

The recent bench verdict acquitting Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo of all charges in the shooting deaths of unarmed Malissa Williams and unarmed Timothy Russell – both black Americans – is another stain on the pages of American history and the pretense of equal justice under the law in these United States. And while we collectively stagger in disbelief, we apprehensively await the result of the six month investigation into the shooting of the unarmed twelve year old Tamir Rice – a black American –  by police officer Timothy Loehmann. What is going on in Cleveland? What is going on in America?

The sad story of Cleveland has no real beginning as it is clear that police brutality and racist law enforcement have been such a part of life in that city that it was necessary for the United States Department of Justice to intervene and establish court-enforced protocols on the police department. Given that Cleveland is far from alone among American cities in featuring police brutality and racist law enforcement, one can only imagine how bad it must be in Cleveland for the United States government to come in to protect the basic human rights and civil rights of the black citizens in that city.

Actually, we do not have to wonder, we just have to look at the recent tragic cases in that city to get an idea of what life must be like for a black citizen in Cleveland, Ohio. In the matter of police officer Michael Brelo, he was accused of firing 49 shots into a car in which unarmed and black Malissa Williams and unarmed and black Timothy Russell were sitting. That would be 49 shots out of a total of over 130 shots fired by the Cleveland police.

Officer Brelo at some point stood on the hood of the Williams-Russell car and fired fifteen shots into the windshield. Ms. Williams and Mr. Russell were each shot twenty times. It bears repeating that neither of them was armed. It is also important note that this spasm of police violence began when the Williams-Russell car seems to have backfired while passing a police station. This resulted in a bizarre action-movie drenched car chase.

We begin to understand how this horror could have metastasized into a double murder by cop when we learn that Ms. Williams and Mr. Russell were mentally ill, homeless and drug addicts. Indeed, when the gun smoke cleared a crack pipe was found in the death car.

It would appear that if you are a black, mentally ill, homeless, unarmed drug addict with a malfunctioning car in the city of Cleveland, you could be committing a capital offense if you drive erratically. And in committing that capital offense, you could be subject to immediate execution without a trial.

It is also painfully clear that if you are twelve years old and black and are carrying a toy pellet gun, you can be subject to immediate extermination without question or pause or cause. That is the basic fact pattern in the sad death of Tamir Rice, a black pre-teen fooling around with a pellet gun who was shot dead by Cleveland Police Officer Loehmann who not only did not read Tamir his rights, he did not even give him the opportunity to put down the toy weapon.

It has now taken the Cleveland criminal justice apparatus a half a year to determine whether or not a crime might have been committed in the street slaughter of Tamir Rice. It took Officer Loehmann two seconds to decide that Tamir Rice had to die. Yet it is taking over a half a year to determine if there might be a possibility that shooting a black twelve year old boy with a toy is a crime.

The sad subtext to these tales from the Cleveland crypt is that Officer Loehmann and Officer Brelo are white. We know from the recent indictments in Baltimore that black police officers also engage in racist police practices. And we also know that as far as the victims and their families are concerned, their grief knows no color. And the victims are just as dead.

The Cleveland story is a sad story. The Cleveland story is part of the greater American sad story.

Point of View Columns

Lies, Lies, All Lies!

Historians will refer to the 2012 Teapublican presidential primaries as “The Era of the Clown Car”. Given that over twenty aspirants for the Teapublican nomination have already declared, are about to declare or who are running without declaring, the 2016 Teapublican primaries may be re-titled “The Era of the Clown Bus”. But make no mistake, among this gaggle of serious contenders along with the jesters and pretenders who are just along for the ride, there is a common theme – lies are better than the truth.

Consider for example, the continuous denial of climate change on this planet and the connection between this looming ecological disaster and the contribution of Americans to this debacle as consumers and producers. Exactly not one of the men (and one woman) who wishes to be the next President of the United States will confirm their understanding of this well proven fact.

Instead, we hear sound bites that seem to be written for them by the media flacks and hacks at Exxon and Koch Industries. With the temperature of the planet rising, with both polar ice caps melting and with thousands of plant and animal species facing extinction as a result, it would seem that denying this reality would be foolish. Yet we have the Teapublicans saying in effect, “don’t believe your lying eyes”.

Even worse, the Teapublican 2016 game plan seems to call for resorting to revisionist history. The real history of American engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan is never going to be kind to the Bush-Cheney cabal that lied to the American people and then employed a botched non-strategy that has served to destabilize an entire region and endanger the world for years to come.

Rather than face facts, or even evade these realities, the Teapublican passengers on the Clown Bus are falling all over themselves to find new and unique and creative ways to blame the Obama Administration. Somehow, we are supposed to believe that the rise of ISIS and the serial explosions of violence and destruction in Libya and Syria and Yemen and Afghanistan and Iraq are the fault of President Obama even though any sober analysis of the historical facts show that the wanton and thoughtless “regime change” in Iraq and the intellectually challenged non-strategy of the U.S. in Afghanistan are the clear starting points for the conflagrations that plague that region now.

But, on the Teapublican Clown Bus, there is no reason to let facts get in the way. And while it is politically cool to blame the incumbent, we must worry that if the passengers on the Clown Bus keep drinking this neocon Kool-Aid there may come a time when “boots on the ground” starts sounding like a good idea and it will be our sons and daughters wearing those endangered boots.

And there’s more. The latest national economic statistics indicate that there has been an unprecedented five years of economic growth in this country –the unemployment rate in this country when Barack Obama was inaugurated as President of the United States was 7.6% and before the country’s economic death spiral reached bottom the jobless rate was 9.5%. The current unemployment rate is 5.4%, the stock indices are at their highest points ever and corporate profits are in dream land.

Yet the passengers on the Teapublican Clown Bus would have us believe that “things have never been worse” and that the economy of this country is weak. One would think the Teapublicans would be a bit thriftier with their predictions and observations after erroneously predicting the demise of the republic with the passage of the Affordable Care Act and after calling in from illogical outer space that the decline and fall of America would occur should President Obama be re-elected.

But there is no room for truth, logic or, it would appear common sense, in the luggage compartment of the Teapublican Clown Bus. Indeed, the passengers seem ready to take the American people on a Ride to Nowhere.

Point of View Columns

The Sky is Falling………..Really!

On the evening of May 12, 2015 an Amtrak train derailed just outside of Philadelphia. What we know is that 8 people died. What we know is that over 200 people were injured. What we know is that it is the deadliest train crash in this country in 7 years. And what we know is that another tragedy will happen. It is only a matter of time.

What we also know is that this country has a $3.6 trillion infrastructure deficit. That means that the United States needs to spend almost $4 trillion before 2020 just to repair and maintain the current decrepit and crumbling infrastructure of the so-called greatest nation on Earth. This multi-trillion dollar figure does not include a single new bridge, new highway, new airport or new railroad system. What we are talking about is the most expensive patch and repair job in history.

It is a damn shame that of the 83,000 dams in this country, almost 10,000 of them are considered to be high risk. Over 50% of the dams in this country are over 50 years of age and it is only a matter of time before some monstrous dam disaster inundates a huge swath of this country killing countless Americans and costing countless billions of dollars.

And while we are on the subject, there are over 300,000 miles of federal highways and major roads in this country. According to the Federal Highway Administration 45 percent, or 135,000 miles of these roads that carry families, schoolchildren, explosives and the food that is on your table are considered to be not in good condition. And more than 71,000 of this country’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient and 78,000 bridges are rated as functionally obsolete. These are roads and bridges that carry the families, schoolchildren, explosives and the food that is on your table. It is more than logical to assume that when it comes to the next tragedy, it is only a matter of time.

And as anyone with a car knows, poor road conditions are expensive, costing American drivers $67 billion per year – an average of $335 per motorist. And the Associated General Contractors of America estimate that the construction industry loses $23 billion annually due to delays caused by traffic congestion.

The problem with these statistics is that they tend to anesthetize the public instead of rousing people to action. There are so many signs of the decay and deterioration of the American infrastructure that all one has to do is visit an American airport, ride on an American railroad or be aware of the fact that some of the water pipes in its greatest city – New York – are made of wood and were built by the Dutch centuries ago. Yet the statistics and the actual personal witness of decay have not been enough to move this country in the logical direction of rebuilding its infrastructure before a cascade of tragedies and disasters leave us all in endless rubble and wholesale carnage.

It is a fact of history that this country has not been invaded by a foreign power since the War of 1812. With the exception of a few harmless Japanese balloon bombs in World War II and 9/11 of course, the United States has been remarkably untouched by the wars of the world. And ironically, it is this fact of history that has resulted in this country having critical infrastructure components that are many times more than a century old.

Every major country in Europe suffered widespread devastation during World War II. Japan, China and Korea were subject to bombings that left the major cities of those countries in ruins. As a result, just about every aspect of these countries had to be rebuilt – airports, shipping terminals, factories, power plants, dams, railroads, bridges, highways and housing – all had to be replaced. And they were replaced with 20th century technology making it easier for transitions into the 21st century.

Yet, as this incredible infrastructure disparity oozes into plain view, infrastructure repair and replacement is simply not in the current political discussion. Social issues, trade agreements and foreign policy are of incredible importance. But so is this country’s infrastructure.

The Teapublicans see infrastructure expenditures as just another item to be sacrificed on their No-Tax altar. Democrats fear the “tax and spend” label so much that many times they stand mute as this country literally collapses before our very eyes.

And so we mourn the loss of life in Philadelphia with the very clear knowledge that this will not be the last time that lives will be lost due to the damaged and decrepit American infrastructure. It is only a matter of time.

Point of View Columns

Playing with Fire

Last week, someone named Pamela Geller was directly responsible for organizing a “Draw Muhammad” cartoon contest in Garland, Texas. As was her clear intention, the contest provoked a furious reaction from the national and international Muslim community. Two gunmen actually showed up planning to kill the attendees and participants and the two gunmen were shot and killed. And Pamela Geller’s perversion of the concept of freedom of speech was certainly a contributing factor to these two deaths.

Indeed, Ms. Geller’s actions were so blatantly and transparently provocative that one must wonder if her true goal, her secret hope, was that the gunmen would actually kill some of the attendees and participants in Garland thereby proving her “point” that followers of Islam are less worthy than believers in other religions. There is no question that horrific and despicable conduct has taken place by individuals and groups who claim to be Muslims. That truth does not permit Ms. Geller, or anyone else, to conclude that Islam is evil or that all Muslims are worthy of contempt and disrespect.

The story of humanity tells us that many great crimes have been carried out in the name of one religion or another. The Bible tells us how the Israelites slew countless Philistines. In India Muslims have slaughtered Hindus and Hindus have slaughtered Muslims. And the history of Christianity is literally written in blood flowing from the Crusades to the Inquisition to countless pogroms and genocidal horrors in Europe, Africa, North America, South America and Asia.

Yet, most sane and rational people do not choose to condemn Catholicism because of all the Muslims that were killed during the Crusades. We still respect Judaism and Protestantism despite the crimes committed in their name. Why Ms. Geller has gone on this weird and contemptible decades-long tirade against Islam is a question that only she may be able to answer during her sad and lonely and infrequent moments of self-reflection.

What must also be pointed out is that freedom of speech as a concept is not unlimited and without restraint. Not should one not falsely yell “Fire” in a theater, defaming someone or threatening a crime can result in real legal consequences.

But putting aside strictly legal considerations, there are also basic standards of conduct between humans that include respect and the notion that insulting, shaming or intentionally offending another person is not useful behavior and typically is not conduct that is honored or condoned. Acceptable behavior does not usually include behavior that is intended to provoke and outrage.

Which brings us to the raging controversy regarding as to whether cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad should be protected as free speech. If the question is answered in a vacuum, it would probably be answered in the affirmative.

But we do not live in a vacuum. We live on the Planet Earth with three billion other people and if one knows that these cartoons enrage some followers of Islam to the point of committing murder and mayhem, then what is the point? I am not clear that drawing and publishing cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad that are known to provoke and outrage large numbers of people is worth men, women and children dying.

To repeatedly draw and publish these cartoons seems to be unnecessarily provocative and unworthy of any artist. And, of course, people like Pamela Geller will cover themselves with the fig leaf of freedom speech which does little to hide her naked aggression and hate.

And this is what happens when any freedom, including freedom of speech is abused in the extreme – people die, people suffer and then people hate some more.