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Monday, December 7, 2015

SAN BERNARDINO and the New Reality

The shooting in San Bernardino, California has produced more than unwarranted deaths and injuries.  It has also produced rather large doses of loathing, anger, hate and fear in addition to producing much sadness and even hopelessness.  A personal sense of that sadness led me to write a quick Letter-to-the Editor at the time of the shooting.  It perhaps gives some sense of my immediate thoughts and feelings.  I wrote:

             “On December 2nd, many watched unfolding news about the shootings at the regional Developmental Center in San Bernardino, CA.  I shed tears for the innocent county employees (and others) who were killed and wounded; for the children with developmental disabilities and their mentors who had to endure this attack.  I also shed tears for our country because violent attacks with guns and bombs on innocents are becoming a new normal that is wholly unacceptable.
The new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, called for a moment of silence and prayers from the public, a nicety that left me somewhat annoyed.  Why? Because silence and prayers are the only reactions we get from a Congress that fails to address: sales of assault weapons, over-sized ammunition clips, extension of background checks, regulation of gun sales at trade shows and auctions, and increased funding for mental health treatment.  The repetitive nature of these killings indicates an out-of-control circumstance, as ordinary citizens indicate in poll after poll.  While such incidents become commonplace and Congress does nothing, one can fairly conclude that their inaction is a form of ‘aiding and abetting’ the killers.  Tears, silence and prayers are just not enough to curb the violence.

That is where I started, but not necessarily where I will end up, although I do stand by my thought that congressional inaction is equivalent to complicity in these now regularly occurring incidents of mass shootings.  A silent Congress captured by the NRA is part of the problem; certainly not part of any solution.

What bothers me as much as an inept and silent Congress is the rhetoric that has been advanced, mainly by the leaders of the Republican Party; particularly their many presidential candidates (and I use that term lightly!).  Here are a few brief examples of their perverted propaganda (read my recent series of three Blogs to put their tactics in proper perspective):

  1. The issue is home-grown Islamic terrorism, not gun control. They claim that Democrats are using this incident to further their agenda of gun control. A remarkable claim considering that Republicans are using the incident to promote the 2nd amendment and to denounce the President for not calling the incident by their own label – extremist Islamic terrorism.  Calling the incident by a certain name does not address the real issue: what can we do to reduce both gun violence and the violent acts of all types of extremists?
  2. This is President Obama’s fault.  This is the answer for everything, according to radical Republicans.  While Republicans dither, decry and delude, they have failed to enact effective legislation dealing with actual causes of terrorism and ways to stop jihadist assassins from carrying out planned attacks against our citizens.  Instead, they chose to pass legislation (with the help of some Democrats) denying a safe haven for Syrian families fleeing oppression, repression and assassination in a country where a dictator attacks and kills his own people.  This might be called “minimalist discriminatory” legislation that fails to meet the necessity of preventing terrorism in our country while placing a whole group of people in jeopardy in their own countries.  Turns out, it was also an example of what contributes to, rather than detracts from, the terrorists’ ability to recruit based on just such fear-mongering and divisiveness.
President Obama has been made a scapegoat for every issue and supposed failure that can be dug up, blown up or made up.  Republicans use anything they can to denigrate his character and his presidency.  However, in contrast to our “do-nothing” Congress, the President has actually been pursuing a plan to destroy the jihadist Islamic extremists, just as he destroyed the leadership of Al Quada.  As he reminded the nation on television on Sunday, Dec. 6th, he has kept up a continuous successful pursuit of terrorist leaders with Special Ops forces.  Second, he has built a coalition of nations to battle these murderers.  Third, he has followed a policy of involving Islamic nations in securing their own destiny and has utilized U.S. and coalition military personnel to train their troops.  Fourth, he has used means such as bombing missions to destroy ISIL strongholds and leadership. 

Facing a new phase of less complicated attacks and homegrown terrorists who strike at seemingly modest targets, the President has called on Congress to:
·         make it law that someone on the no-fly list be automatically excluded from owning a gun;
·         make it harder for anyone to buy an assault weapon;
·         establish stronger screening requirements for refugees;
·         declare war on terrorists and take a vote to use our armed forces in united efforts to destroy ISIL (something he has requested more than once, but never been given). 

Will Congress act, or will they continue along the same path of what not to do, as expressed in the President’s speech to the nation?
1.      Don’t be drawn into a ground war that can be used by ISIL to draw recruits to them based on our invasion of Islamic countries
2.      Don’t turn on one another, particularly in terms of opposing peoples and religions.  For this is what ISIL wants – divisions serve as breeding grounds for recruiting new members.  Instead, enlist Islamists as allies and partners in the rejection of the beliefs and actions of these extremists.  Muslim Americans largely reject these extremists and do not recruit them through local mosques or places of business.  Muslim-Americans are part of us – they are athletic heroes, community leaders, members of our armed forces.  Do not demonize our Muslim brothers and sisters.
3.      Don’t forget that freedom is more powerful than fear.  Our values are what matter – do not throw them aside in order to combat fear and terrorist actions.

At this point, we are compelled to re-iterate some basic facts about our system of governing:  Congress must legislate in order to solve or resolve issues and problems that we face; the President carries out what Congress and he agree upon as law or regulation or national policy/program.  A fact too often forgotten is that even Executive Orders must conform to some authorization or intent in previous laws passed.  The Commander-in-Chief is not a dictator.

Second, when a majority Party in Congress promotes division, enmity and false accusation against a President, they are, in my opinion, bringing harm upon our citizens because of the neglect of their needs, their safety and their welfare.  Political assassination by innuendo, deceit, false accusations and propaganda are not the makings of a government that protects, enhances or effectively governs the lives of its people.

Third, the oath of office taken by every government official is not just an utterance or ritual symbolism.  It is more; it is the acceptance of a fiduciary responsibility

That responsibility is first of all, one of trust and becomes invalidated when no longer garnering the support of the public.  It is also indicative of something held in trust for someone else.  Political office-holders hold their office in trust for the public, not just for themselves.  Thus, the fiduciary “must avoid ‘self-dealing’ or ‘conflicts of interests’ in which the potential benefit to the fiduciary is in conflict with what is best for the person who trusts him/her/it…the best interests of the beneficiary must be primary.” (

And finally, there is the obligation one has to carry out one’s duty for which the oath was taken in the first place.  In other words, faithful performance of duty is part of taking an oath of office, and all subsequent actions and transactions should be seen from that perspective (a note of thanks here to my friend and fellow-progressive, Steve, for bringing this to my attention!).  If one can be shown to be shirking one’s fiduciary duty on behalf of the public, that individual should be subject to removal from office.  I submit to you that many in the Republican majority in Congress should be so removed.  

This Congress, with its Republican majority in both Houses, has been a disaster, and not just because of its inaction.  It has been a failure because that majority has chosen and planned out a course of obstruction, destruction, avoidance and discrimination.  Rather than choosing to cooperate, collaborate or compromise to produce meaningful legislation for the People, it has chosen the destructive path set forth mostly by the Radical Right-wing of that Party, and continues to do so even in the face of an approval rating from constituents that is abysmal – put at somewhere around 9-10%. 

Their committee hearings, their resolutions, their provocative pronouncements, their lack of action on important issues like jobs, infrastructure repair, public education, official appointments, climate change, immigration reform, gun violence reduction and many more – have engendered incompetence in some areas (inadequate funding for protection of foreign embassies and personnel, for example), impotence in others (public education), and highly incongruous results in a few (unasked-for-increases in military spending for outmoded weapons and supplies), and even destructive outcomes (wars in the Middle East and attacks upon domestic government programs that aid populace with special needs and challenges).  They have absolutely abandoned any fiduciary responsibility to constituents, acted on their own initiative and beliefs, and served the interests of their donors rather than the needs and concerns of their constituents.   

As I have said before:  this is not a political game we are playing; this is the welfare of a nation that is at stake.  Republicans are using destructive techniques to gain political support and power, but effective techniques for governing and benefiting our citizens have been abrogated.         

  1. Arm everyone so we can stop these terrorists  in their tracks. Ever hear of the “Wild West?”  Radical Republicans evidently think that “concealed carry” by more citizens will inevitably resolve these shooting incidents.  Joe Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa county, AZ, recently issued a public call to arms of the 250,000 people with concealed carry permits to be ready to defend and shoot at these terrorists!  Donald Trump says he will do “unthinkable things” to retaliate.  The re-incarnated presence of Senator Joe McCarthy, one Ted Cruz, spoke about concealed carry and his belief that the perpetrators would have been killed if more people were carrying guns in that crowd in San Bernardino.  This, in the face of statistics that clearly show that states with such laws are also the states with greater incidence of such shootings, domestic violence and other forms of killing by gun violence.  
  1. Retaliate by penalizing all Muslims and Immigrants.  ‘When you can’t think of anything constructive, by all means resort to being destructive’ seems to be a Republican motto. They seem to muse: “What better way to resolve the terrorist threats and actions than by rooting out all the “others” who exist in our country.”  Track all Muslim citizens (or at least those on temporary visas, those on no-fly lists and those who visit “suspect” countries for (possible) terrorist training, and those who attend mosques.  Return any who commit crimes to their countries.  And the newest technique:  rigorous examination of “fianc√© visas” to stop terrorists from entering on the pretext of marrying a US citizen.  (President Obama has accepted this idea as an accommodation to Republican thinking).
 Does it seem to you that there might just be other ways to address these issues?  Must we live in fear, and hatred, with suspicion as a constant companion?  Let us remind ourselves of some things that make us somewhat unique and maybe somewhat special.  
  • We are essentially a nation that welcomes immigrants and has been built in large measure by their hands and their many contributions.  Our ally, France, recognized this fact with the gift to our nation of the grand lady of the harbor, the Statue of Liberty.  The Statue of Liberty Inscription, “The New Colossus,” was a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 and then made into a bronze plaque placed inside the Statue of Liberty in 1903.  It begs to be quoted in its entirety because we rarely see or notice the context in which its famous phrasing is set.  May we never forget nor denigrate what is inscribed thereon: 
"Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!"
cries she with silent lips.
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Could the contrast be any clearer between the conquering giant standing astride conquered nations and peoples, and the welcoming arms and hands of the Mother of Exiles?  This nation has not only welcomed refugees and immigrants but appreciates the contributions they have made to our well-being, for many of us are first and second-generation descendants of immigrants, and we know and appreciate from experience and family life what they were able to accomplish.    

  • We are a nation that offers charity and hope, not belligerence and fear.  These values are of great importance, and must be protected and enhanced.
 Yes, we must address terrorism, whether it is foreign or homegrown, but we can afford to act with a considerable degree of informed debate and discussion, with restraint and prudence, and above all, with some dignity and worthy rationale.  We do not need to be impulsive, non-thinking and totally inept.  And we certainly cannot approach foreign policy with an attack-dog mind-set, or with a divisive rationale and an even more divided strategy and policy.  Our Founders perceived of, and intended, that Legislative and Executive branches would work together to maintain our freedoms, defend our shores and provide for the well-being of our People.  They feared the intentions of Parties, Factions and Interests, with good reason, and our present politically-, socially- and economically- motivated interests are not serving the best interests of this nation or of its People.

We must address gun violence as well.  It is time for Congress and the President to bring in expert opinions and ideas from the most informed and most experienced people we can find.  It is time to stop relying on the ideologies of ranting politicians and the self-aggrandizing statements of special interests who often seem to know so little of the real world.  It is time to stop listening to Wayne LaPierre (SCOTUS may have already stopped listening. reports: Against the wishes of conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court today rejected a challenge to a Chicago area ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines for ammunition, dealing a major blow to the NRA) and to listen instead to the CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.  It is time to stop listening to the likes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie.  They don’t display facts, study, experience or leadership.  What they offer are platitudes and inflamed rhetoric without factual foundation; ideas without effective implementation and fear without hope.  They give us nothing on which to base any hope that they could do an effective job of implementation and management of Executive Branch responsibilities.  Taking their word that they can or will do the job, solve problems, and manage difficulties is one huge mistake. 

Living in fear of terrorism and of certain groupings of people (like gays, terrorists, people of color or Syrians); choosing hatred, lost opportunities, hopelessness and authoritarian leadership is not a prescription for success, or even for a modicum of hopefulness.  We must, and we can, do better than that.  The survivors of Columbine and Sandy Hook and Boston - and all the other locations where people have survived tragic mass shootings and killing of innocents - have done better than that.  The overlooked, put-down, invisible minorities of our nation have done better than that.  The immigrants and refugees who came to our shore to start new lives have done better than that.  There are millions of ordinary people – both citizens and non-citizens – whose stories of survival and success, and most of all of caring and giving, are the stuff of which our nation is made.   Can we ask any less of our leaders and office-holders?  

We need to demand of our leaders the respect we all deserve as the builders of community and of freedom, hope and courage.  If they cannot live up to the standards we have set, let us send them packing.  We have no earthly reason to let haters, dividers, non-productive dilettantes and lazy loud-mouths run our country.  It is time to say:  NO MORE! 

 It’s past time to bring this nonsense to an end. Vote for the Democratic Nominee for President in 2016.  Vote for progressives in local, state and national elections.  Get involved RIGHT NOW in an activist organization or movement that is dedicated to the progressive values that begin with liberty and justice for all.  Words, prayers and votes are not enough this time.