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

Pirates on the Potomac

The 9/11 terrorist attacks will be recalled this weekend, along with the death and pain and sacrifice that will forever be associated with that day. It is, therefore, more than a little ironic that after a decade of battling against terror we find the terrorists are safely encamped on Capitol Hill.

Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda cohorts had declared war on the United States long before the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The 9/11 attacks were their most spectacular achievement, but the attacks were only part of a larger plan – to humble, cripple and ultimately destroy the United States. Their tools of destruction were exceedingly crude given their lofty goals – some hijacked planes, smuggled bombs and random assassinations.

In their most hate-infused dreams bin Laden and Al Qaeda could never have dreamed of wreaking the havoc that is now the calling card of the G.O.Tea Party. In early August Osama bin Laden must have been chortling from his watery grave at the bottom of the Indian Ocean as he watched the likes of Cantor, Bachmann, Palin, Paul and Boehner threaten to collapse the entire economy of the United States during the budget ceiling battle – endangering the global economy in the bargain.

Terrorists are known for taking hostages because they assume that their adversaries actually care for the hostages while they do not. The result of this lopsided equation is that terrorists refuse to negotiate while their adversaries work for a solution, all the time whittling away at their own position. Sound familiar?

During the entire debt ceiling “debate”, the G.O.Tea Party zealots refused to negotiate any aspect of their no-new-taxes mantra, arguing that the only budget balancing strategy that they would accept entailed cutting budgetary allocations that support the rapidly fraying social safety net in this country.

Although the debt ceiling has been raised 87 times since World War II, the Teapublicans used this fairly ordinary budget device as a dagger to be held to throat to the United States, threatening to sever the financial arteries that allow this economy to function.

That the ensuing damage to the American economy would be “on Obama’s watch” was all the justification that they needed for such irresponsible conduct. And President Obama, the reasonable adversary, did indeed negotiate with the terrorists that wore suits and ties and pearl necklaces, because he clearly cares for this country more than the G.O.Tea Party will ever do, their sanctimonious and self-serving pronouncements notwithstanding.

Having paraded a menagerie of madness before the world stage, it is no wonder that Standard & Poor’s lowered the credit rating of the United States for the first time in over 80 years. And it is no surprise that, having run through the financial china shop and created pure havoc, the G.O.Tea Party then trumpets the credit rating debacle as the fault of Obama for failing to show leadership. As noted before, the Teapublican story line is like that of the arsonist who blames the fire on the fireman.

Not satisfied with the heartless savaging of the economy and the brutalizing of the American budget, the G.O.Tea Party found new hostages at the end of the month of August. As a result of Hurricane Irene millions of Americans on the East Coast of the United States were seriously affected by storms, wind and floodwaters. Having worked in a community after a devastating flood I can attest to the misery, frustration and helplessness of the victims.

And these victims were perfect hostages for Congressman Eric Cantor who, sinking to a new low even for the G.O.Tea Party, announced that additional funding for the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) would only be approved by the House of Representatives if further budget cuts were instituted immediately.

Clearly Representative Cantor and his cohorts see misery as an opportunity and pain as a platform for their godforsaken agenda.

It is very clear that the spirit of heartlessness and selfishness which inspires the leadership of one of this country’s major parties is akin to the spirit of the pirates of another era and the terrorists of this era. Of course the pirates of long ago made no pretense of their mission – to get as much treasure as possible by being willing to kill or destroy anyone or anything that might be in their way.

Modern terrorists claim to be motivated by an ideal which can justify the most hideous of acts carried out in its name. The G.O.Tea Party terrorists lay claim to the high moral ground of reducing a governmental system that has produced a higher quality of life greater than that of any nation in the history of the planet. These same terrorists also have targeted the hope that sustains Americans who have not achieved that quality of life as yet.

As zealots, the Teapublicans have no hesitation or shame in targeting the weak, the sick, the poor, and the elderly — the defenseless in this society. In their immoral construct, the victims of a hurricane are perfect hostages to advance their goals. In their ultimate vision government will not take care of those who cannot take care of themselves and will not help those who want to help themselves.

These G.O.Terrorists are building a monument to pain and heartlessness, unless they are stopped.

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In Defense of Barack Obama

During the past week, President Obama has been excoriated for negotiating a tax bill compromise with Congressional Republicans. Progressives and liberals have rhetorically flayed him for consorting dancing with the devil.

And what is the mortal sin that President Obama has committed? Agreeing to a continued tax reduction that is not limited by income – therefore millionaires and billionaires, as is their custom, will devour the lion’s share of benefits intended by this tax reduction.

This negotiated compromise also continues unemployment benefits for millions of Americans who have been out of work for far too long and it will also include a payroll tax deduction that benefits just about everyone with a job.

Candidate Obama promised to eliminate the “Bush tax cuts for the wealthy”. President Obama is aware that the results of the 2010 election were not so much a “refudiation” (apologies to Sarah Palin) of his policies as a reflection of American frustration with the economy.
The tax bill compromise is, in many ways, an incognito $900 billion stimulus package. If this second near-trillion dollar stimulus actually begins to revive the moribund American economy the words “hope” and “change” will no longer be banned.

And President Obama is also aware of something else: the average goldfish has a memory of 3-5 seconds. The memory of the American electorate is somewhat less.

If the economy does revive, the American people will start to retreat from the precipice of personal desperation where too many of us now reside. At that point no one will remember the tax bill compromise.

Let us remember that in less than two years the Obama Administration has fundamentally transformed the manner in which health care will be delivered in this country. As a result, the United States will finally be competitive with the rest of the industrialized world in this very critical area. It is critical not only with respect to the health of American citizens, but also with respect to the health of the American economy.

We also need to remember that the Obama Administration has instituted the first fundamental reforms of the financial services industry in over fifty years. This, of course, is the industry in which dysfunction and deceit served as the handmaidens to the disaster that has befallen this economy for the past three years. This reform has the potential to be nothing short of historic.

We also need to remember that it is due to the efforts of President Obama that the international prestige and influence of the United States has been positively transformed. While the problems of this planet seem to be intractablethe truth is that the United States is now seen more as a partner than an overlord, the World Cup and Olympic votes notwithstanding.

These accomplishments and so many more need to be remembered and recounted in order that the success of the Obama Administration can continue, and so that its errors and miscalculations can be revised without rancor.

The alternatives offered by Palin and Romney and Boehner and McCain and Pawlenty are worse than unpalatable, but the steady, corrosive, microcritiques of Barack Obama could make those alternatives a reality.

President Obama has clearly decided to pivot and comply with aspects of the Republican agenda in order to achieve the success of his presidency and its policies. When Bill Clinton did it in 1994 he was proclaimed a political genius for the ages. President Obama is using that playbook with slightly different terminology and there are too many who wish to brand him as a traitor to the cause.

Politics is rarely simple or simplistic despite the best efforts of some to reduce the facts and issues to the lowest common denominator. But it is true that winning is defining and losing can be death for the causes and issues that are important.

President Obama is intent on winning. Losing is not an option in these days and times. We will remember healthcare, financial reform, an improved environment and enhanced educational opportunities for our children.

If the “compromise” revives the economy, not even a bowlful of goldfish will remember.

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