President Obama

Is It Too Soon?

On Wednesday, December 2, 2015, America suffered yet another mass shooting. This one took place in San Bernardino at the Inland Regional Center. Caring for more than 31,000 persons with disabilities, it is the largest such center in the State of California. At this writing, 14 people are dead and 21 injured.

Once again the people of the United States reacted with shock, anger, bewilderment and disbelief. Although it is questionable that disbelief should be among those reactions. After all, this has become almost commonplace with more mass shootings occurring in the United States than in any other country. The reasons are many and cannot be blamed merely on the possession of guns. The fact that this occurred in California, the state with perhaps the most stringent gun legislation, indicates the complexity of the problem.

And yet, as President Obama has stressed frequently, we cannot continue to abide this kind of senseless violence. Finding a solution means stitching together many pieces of the puzzle, but clearly one of them must be sensible gun legislation. California’s neighboring states do not have the same laws, making it easy to bring guns across the border. Further complicating the issue is that the guns used in this shooting were legally purchased in Southern California. We need some kind of national legislation.

In the wake of yet another of these rampages, several legislators have called for just such legislation aimed at preventing future attacks. But on Thursday morning, state assemblyman Marc Steinorth on a radio interview stated that he was offended that anyone would be talking about gun laws when they should be responding to needs of the victims and their families.

My response to the assemblyman is that offense cuts both ways. I am offended, righteously so, that Steinorth would seek to manipulate this tragedy by attempting to divert and control the public discourse from a conversation long ignored by many politicians. His comment suggested, or at least implied, that caring for victims precludes talking about what created these victims in the first place. The illogic escapes me. Perhaps he is uncomfortable confronting his own complicity in the easy access people have to guns in this nation. Doubtful. Like too many politicians, he is in the pocket of the National Rifle Association and seduced by an illusion of second amendment rights.

Steinorth, like every other politician, knows that the further removed we become from tragedies like the one in San Bernardino, the less willing we are to discuss the causes. The result is, we don’t. And so the gun lobby cements its irrational hold on state and federal legislatures.

I have looked back over the statements made by NRA representatives each time one of these shootings takes place. These men are masters at deflection and deceit. One might expect that if the NRA were committed to legitimately lofty ideals, they would defend the possession of rifles for hunting and possibly even target practice. Every thoughtful person knows that there is no legitimate reason for the possession of assault weapons, other than to kill as many people as possible or to fire the testosterone of insecure and usually aging men. As for handguns, their only purpose is to kill—period.

Perhaps the real tragedy is that the number of people killed in mass shootings make up a very small percent of the total killed by guns every year in the United States. Mass shootings merely focus our attention for too brief a time.

The United States has always been a country in the pursuit of peace, but it has never been a country at peace. The proliferation of weapons, in particular handguns and assault rifles, fully guarantees it never will be.

If now is not the time to talk about gun legislation, when is? Some politicians would have us believe the answer is never. Instead, they suggest that the problem always resides in the individual. At this point, the motives for Wednesday’s killings are yet to be determined. Were Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik terrorists? Was this a workplace dispute? Or perhaps a little of both? Was the Inland Center the original target or mere an expedient one? We will know more in the days and weeks ahead. Still, there is one thing that this shooting has in common with all the others: no one can deny that dozens of people would be alive today were it not for the guns.

It is not by accident that the Declaration of Independence lists “life” as the first of the unalienable rights endowed on all people by their creator. If we want to be a peaceful society, if we want to secure that right to life for everyone, it is not too soon to engage the nation in a long overdue discussion about what kind of laws will make these tragedies less likely to be repeated. “Steinorth, are you listening?”
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The Quandary of Strange Bedfellows

Although launching cruise missiles into Syria will not likely lead to all-out war, President Obama has correctly decided to seek Congressional approval before undertaking such action. There is, however, a caveat. And we should not confuse the issues.

Seeking the approval of Congress is in keeping with the War Powers Resolution of 1973—legislation specifically designed to keep military intervention in check. It was precipitated by the actions of President Nixon during the Vietnam War. Although Congress overrode Nixon’s veto of the legislation, thus making it law, there are legitimate questions as to the constitutionality of the Resolution. Nonetheless, that is not really the issue.

Secretary of State, John Kerry, used forceful but accurate language to condemn the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against its own civilians. That same language would be justifiable regardless of who the victims were. But…

Truth and trust are preciously rare commodities these days. Thanks to President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and the failures of the intelligence community regarding Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, many people are demanding more evidence before accepting the judgment against Syrian President Assad.

Also, and more to the point, the people of the United States are tired of war. And it does not matter whether we have a Democratic or Republican president. The people want to have a voice when it comes to military action abroad.

One might be tempted to argue that the people’s will is articulated by its representatives in Congress. However, at least in the House of Representatives, that is no longer the case. The present House simply does not represent the majority of the people. By every statistical analysis, it represents an ever-shrinking and extreme minority, the result of ideological gerrymandering. And yet, there’s no place else to turn.

Like many others, I trust, or at least want to trust, President Obama. I do not trust the House of Representatives, and I am ambivalent about the Senate. But I am also realistic enough to recognize that we have not yet emerged from the moral bankruptcy of the Bush Administration.

If the allegations against Assad’s government are true, the international community must respond. This is not merely a question of how history will judge us, nor can it be reduced to a measure of our war-weariness. If the world is to escape the ever-tightening grip of violence and death, there must be limits to how we resolve conflicts. To paraphrase President Obama, there are lines no one can cross. But how to respond? Thus, the truism about politics and religion.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (boldprogressives.org) is a prime example. This organization has fought against the House of Representatives’ attempts to dismantle the U.S. Government and its cold disregard for the common good. On more than one occasion it has sounded the alarm about the Tea Party’s stranglehold on the Republican Party, and it has documented the House’ failure to represent the majority of Americans. Today it has stated its support of President Obama’s decision to consult Congress over a response to Syria. It has, however, let the bedfellow syndrome cloud its language. PCCC’s Sunday email reads:


“Yesterday, the president made the right decision by asking the people's representatives in Congress to vote on whether our nation uses military action in Syria.”

Regardless of how one views the War Powers Resolution; regardless of one’s attitude toward war in general; regardless of one’s fatigue after more than a decade at war, Obama’s decision may, indeed, be the right one. The American people should at least have a voice in this and future military actions. But let us not conclude that the present House is the “people’s representatives”. It is not.

I applaud President Obama’s decision to consult Congress. But make no mistake. For anyone interested in “truth, justice and the American way,” getting in bed with the current House of Representatives is not good politics.

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Miscarriage of Justice? The Zimmerman Verdict

The old saying comparing opinions to the human anatomy is true. Everybody does have one. And when verdicts are handed down, as in the George Zimmerman case, the opinions fly. These trials create mirror-like reactions. Had the judgement been reversed so would have been the responses. There would still be an outcry.

One need only look at the O. J. Simpson trial to recall a miscarriage of justice. In the Zimmerman case, the jurors are being denounced as racist because he killed a young black man. In the Simpson trial, they were accused of pandering because Simpson, himself, is a black man.

We might do well to step back from the actual trials and verdicts and look at the broader picture. If any truth is to emerge from this case, it is tragically simple: The justice system in modern America is broken. At least the jury element. At least in Florida. And yet…

This goes way beyond Florida. It just seems that Florida has a perverse desire for headlines, which seems odd given its specific racist history. Mind you, I am not trying to say that George Zimmerman should have been found guilty of murder. The prosecution overreached in its initial charges, necessitating the late addition of a manslaughter charge. That prosecutorial decision had to have influenced the jury and raised doubts. Maybe the prosecutors were not so sure of their case and were just grasping at straws.

Nor am I saying that George Zimmerman is innocent. Certainly his intent and motives are questionable, if not despicable. He was told by a 911 operator to cease his pursuit and let the proper authorities handle the situation. But Zimmerman lives in a fantasy world and has long been an incident waiting to happen.

Nor am I passing judgment on Trayvon Martin. He may have been innocent enough, initially. He may have defended himself too vigorously after being accosted. He may have done nothing wrong whatsoever. We certainly know he was unarmed.

What I am saying, is that Florida is the latest--and perhaps worst--example of a justice system incapable of justice. One that is still mired in prejudice, because we, the people, are still mired in prejudice. We pretend that we have put the divisions of the past behind us. After all, we have a black president. But that reality has not buried racism nor healed the racial divide. In fact, at the risk of veering off topic, much of the opposition that President Obama faces in Congress is rooted in racism. There is honest difference of opinion on some policies, but he would not be facing the same obstruction and ad hominem attacks if he were white.

An honest evaluation of the Zimmerman trial must conclude that if Trayvon Martin had been white, Zimmerman would never have followed him in the first place, nor engaged him in a physical confrontation. Consequently, he would not have shot him and there would have been no trial.

The truth is, much of white America is threatened by black men--whether they be 17 our 52, slight or muscular, educated or not. The great paradox of this mentality is that it is delusional, yet very real.

Whether or not Zimmerman was innocent or guilty is almost beside the point. The inequity in the justice system can be demonstrated by looking at another, less publicized Florida trial that concluded two months ago, in May.

Marissa Alexander, a black woman, picked up a gun and fired two warning shots to ward off an abusive husband. She did not fire
at him. She had no intent to kill. He was not wounded. Marissa was clearly in physical, possibly life-threatening, danger. Not only was she arrested and brought to trial, she was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

George Zimmerman provoked his altercation. At least initially, he had no reason to fear, other than what arises from his own racial prejudice. There was no evidence that he was ever in life-threatening danger, even during the scuffle. Yet, after killing Trayvon Martin, he was released by the police and eventually acquitted by a jury.

One often hears whites accuse black people of always claiming racism when things go wrong. That is too easy and simplistic. If blacks in America were accustomed to an equal share of justice, they would never have celebrated the Simpson verdict. If blacks in America were treated as equal persons, there would not have been a Zimmerman trial. If blacks in America were valued and treated like whites, Marissa Alexander would be free today.

I suppose we can continue to delude ourselves. But until we move beyond the ignorance that fuels the racism of people like Zimmerman, we will probably have to suffer more such trials, and justice will remain merely an illusion.
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Obama and Satan

It seems that every time a ray of hope dares to break the distant horizon, storm clouds sweep along and darken the landscape. Case in point: Just as every thoughtful person began to believe that not one more wasteful word of nonsense would escape the lips and empty mind of Glenn Beck, along comes the History Channel.

The History Channel? That bulwark of cable networks that proffers programs ranging from ancient civilizations to modern scientific advances? The network that investigates mysteries from Stonehenge to the Great Pyramid? That treks along the Great Wall of China and ascends the mountains of Machu Pichu? The very same. The History Channel.

A casual reader might think that I have abandoned myself to hyperbole. But no. The History Channel has broadcast a program entitled “The Bible”. Sounds innocuous enough. Except that Glenn Beck, among other ignoramuses, claims that the Moroccan actor who plays the role of the devil, Mohamen Mehdi Ouazzani, looks like President Barack Obama.

Where to begin? Let’s start with the fact that both the History Channel, as well as the program’s producer, calls the claim absurd. There is no resemblance, intended or otherwise. Still, there is a problem. And it does begin with the History Channel.

A program entitled “The Bible” can be elegantly produced, well cast and exceptionally directed. But it has no place on the History Channel. Even if only by implication, one is led to believe that the Bible is history. At the risk of alienating ill-informed and uneducated believers, the Bible is
not history. It is a book of faith, filled with truth and many inspiring stories. But it is not history.

A second problem occurs with the program’s script. As good as it may be, in terms of filmmaking, it neglects the reality that the devil—even within the Bible itself—is mere mythology. This may be difficult to grasp. Evil is very real and its effects are experienced daily by millions of people. Take violence, for example. We are a world of, and at, war. But the concept of a Satan is merely an oratorical tool to explain the existence of evil.

Thirdly, it is unfortunate that a dark-skinned actor, particularly one from North Africa, would agree to play the role of the mythical Satan. That decision perpetuates the stereotypes of good and evil as white and black. Further, it fuels a regrettably ignorant prejudice against Muslims, and Africans in general.

Having said all this, I realize that intelligent people will give no weight to Glenn Beck’s ramblings. I even have to admit an embarrassment at giving him more attention than he deserves. Beck refuses even to acknowledge President Obama by name, choosing instead “that guy”. And certainly, there is no way that my reflections can seep inside his ever-shrinking brain. He has already made a commitment to serve up stupidity on a regular basis. He cannot be taken seriously.

My concern is with those people who simply do not know better, and whose ignorance may not be their own fault. To them I say, read the Bible, watch the movie. Just remember. It is not history.
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The Jester and the Fool. The Buffoon and the Idiot. Entertainers all?

It was quite common in medieval times for kings to employ a court jester to entertain at royal events. Although occasionally dressing as any servant, it was more usual for a jester to don an outlandish costume, one that suited the various actions of juggling, song and dance. Beyond the world of the court, jesters—sometimes referred to as fools—found their way into theatre, most notably the works of Shakespeare.

In both court and theatre, the jester or fool had a secondary role beyond mere entertainment. They were often artful and witty satirists, deftly ridiculing both king and guest. As noted in the writings of Shakespeare, the jester was a skillful actor whose cleverness was an inherent quality and a pre-requisite to success. In his play
Twelfth Night, he describes the jester Feste as “wise enough to play the fool.” In real life, a story is told of George Buchanan, jester to James the VI of Scotland, who tricked the king (briefly) into abdicating the throne to the jester, himself!

Danny Kaye, arguably one of the most gifted entertainers of all time, gave a convincing performance in the 1956 film
“The Court Jester”. In this movie, he joins with freedom fighters to expose the illegitimate king and cast off the shackles of tyranny. In the process he rescues and restore the rightful heir to the throne. Indeed, there was a social, entertaining, political, and literary role for court jesters and fools.

By contrast, buffoons and idiots are bereft of any social grace or value. In general, they do not possess any inherent qualities or wisdom. Not that they cannot also be entertaining. The difference is an oft-quoted distinction not to be forgotten: The jester or fool is someone we laugh
with, the buffoon or idiot is someone we laugh at. The jester knows he is a fool and does not take his antics seriously. The buffoon, usually unaware that he is an idiot, takes himself very seriously, assuming delusional importance.

A casual observer of modern America would suggest that the jester has returned. In entertainment, one need only look to television and the news media. They continually foist the absurdities of Donald Trump on an unsuspecting public. But is Trump a jester?

A careful observer would recognize not the resurgence of a jester, but the ubiquitous presence of a buffoon. Perhaps Trump intended to perform the role of jester or fool. Personally, I think that is too kind. A more accurate assessment is that Donald Trump is a buffoon who has clearly crossed the line. He has become merely an idiot.

Trump’s “birther” nonsense reached new heights when he made his offer to donate $5 million dollars to charity if President Obama would turn over his academic records and passport applications. Of course, it was not the campaign “game changer” that Trump promised. It was merely another example of his insatiable desire for attention. He proved this in his reaction to last night’s election tweeting that the election was “a total sham and a travesty”, that “the electoral college is a disaster for democracy” (even though Barak Obama won the majority of the popular vote, also!), and finally claiming, “We are not a democracy”.

Jester, fool, buffoon or idiot, there is something quite serious at play here. Trump will never achieve the self-importance that drives him to absurdity, both in thought and action. As the clever quip states, Trump “is a legend in his own mind.” Outside that mind, he gets a lot of attention. Therefore, it seems appropriate to question the media.

Is there any merit or justification to the attention Trump receives from television radio and print? If he contributed anything of value to American society, even if it were only being a jester, the answer would be yes. But he does not. The American media are simply playing into the hands of a self-indulgent buffoon. The fact that he is also a megalomaniac, makes all this attention dangerous. But there may be hope.

Trump’s real estate investments are ubiquitous, his buildings eponymously named. When Hurricane Sandy hit shore in Atlantic City, she seemed to take dead aim at Trump Plaza. It was quite a sight. The lights that usually spell out Trump’s name were like the lights in his head. They were out. Darkened. Nobody home. Perhaps the various media outlets could take a cue from Hurricane Sandy.

Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously, stripping the fun from life and politics. Maybe America would be well served by some incarnation of the court jester, a person wise enough to play the fool and entertain. One thing is certain, however. We do not need a buffoon. We do not need “Donald Trump, American Idiot”!
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What's Wrong with the Catholic Bishops, Part II

What’s Wrong with the Catholic Bishops?
Part 2


In my last blog, I challenged a statement by the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty. I suggested that the document disguises a clear bias in favor of Republican political candidates. Nonetheless, the statement cleverly avoids transgressing IRS regulations that prohibit religious organizations from engaging in partisan politics. The rules are the result of granting tax exempt status to religious organizations. In the process, these same regulations should safeguard the free exercise of religion for everyone. That would seem to include not politically coercing congregations during worship services.

Sadly, some individual bishops, don’t seem to understand. Case in point, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, Illinois. On April 14, 2012, he preached a homily that was an extreme affront both to the Gospel and to the Constitution.

Jenky does not seem to appreciate the Constitution or the world of debate. Does he truly see himself as so self-important that he (as well as the Bishops’ conference) is always right about everything? That only bishops have the answers to all of life’s questions? He must have failed the course on logic in the seminary, for he appears ignorant of the basic principle of thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis. The building blocks of compromise and consensus. But his diseased logic is minor compared to the symptom.

He castigated politicians who disagree with the Bishops’ position on health care reform. He then proceeded to compare President Obama to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. He certainly is entitled to approve or disapprove of any politician. He is even obligated to explain Catholic values (as he understands them), and how they apply to policies under consideration by various government agencies and elected officials. After all, freedom of religion does not equate with the elimination of religion. Politics and religion should not be adversaries in the lives of the citizenry.

However, Bishop Jenky is not entitled to abuse the role of preaching the Word of God by using it for partisan politics. He has no right to belittle and demean the President or any other individual politician. He betrays his own corruption by attempting to tell his congregation that they must oppose one candidate and vote for another.

Contraception is at the heart of Jenky’s tirade. Theologically, the Catholic Church is on dicey ground when it comes to this subject. Already, more than 80% of Catholics practice some form of artificial contraception in their sexual activity. Putting that aside, Jenky’s actions are not really about faith or theology.

It seems to me that he is simply drunk with the perception of his own power. His preaching makes a mockery of religion and a caricature of himself.

I do not wish the people of Peoria to suffer because of the vicious rhetoric of a misguided bishop. But perhaps the only way to rein in such hateful speech is for the IRS to investigate and ultimately strip the Diocese of its tax exempt status.

In the meantime, let’s hope that Jenky’s routine only plays in Peoria.

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