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Again! Gun Violence in America (Updated, Again)

I wrote this in March 2018 for the Urban News.

(I’m reposting this article after the mass shootings in El Paso, Tx and Dayton, Oh. I think that I’m more depressed after these shootings than the others listed below.  As Neil deGrasse Tyson pointed out in a country of over 300 million, we lose Americans every day. He was roundly criticized for his callousness. These people, in El Paso and Dayton, died needlessly, senselessly. In trauma, we call them preventable deaths. I just feel that our country can’t fix problems any more.

Another massing shooting in Texas. This time it is in Odessa.)

Earlier this month, 17 Americans at a Florida high school were shot and killed. Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school became infamous. Yet, as you take in the immense sadness of this shooting, please understand that school shootings are becoming commonplace. In one 24-hour period in January, there was a school shooting in Italy, Texas (one injury), another in Gentilly, Louisiana (no injuries from gunfire), and the following day another one in Benton, Kentucky (killed 2 and injured 18).

Never again … and again and again

Do you remember the never again event that took place at Sandy Hook elementary school in which 20 schoolchildren between the ages of 6 and 7 were killed, along with six adults? Remember? This was the event that was going to change our gun policy. We had a president who was deeply moved by the incident. We had parents pushing for legislation. We had a mentally ill gunman who used an AR-15-type semiautomatic military weapon (Bushmaster XM–15).

Remember the sadness and the grief? This was a textbook case for gun control. We could easily pass legislation that would stop this type of carnage from ever happening again. Polls showed that 91% of all Americans wanted stronger laws. Ban assault weapons. Pass legislation that mentally ill Americans cannot own guns. And, after pushback from the National Rifle Association, Congress did nothing.

Before Sandy Hook there was Virginia Tech in 2007. Again, this was our never again event. This was another deranged gunman with a tenuous hold on reality. Using two guns and a well-thought-out plan, this gunman walked through campus starting at the West Ambler Johnston Hall dorm. He returned to his dorm room, cleaned out his computer. Changed his clothes, then proceeded to the Norris Hall where his shooting spree continued. This time, 32 people were killed and 17 others were wounded. We had deep national sadness. We had an empathetic president. Congress passed a law to strengthen the national criminal background check system. That was it.

35,000 every year

Please understand that our debate has been stagnant for more than 20 years. Yet, as we throw clichés at each other, Americans are dying. Approximately, 35,000 Americans die from gun violence every year. The entire population of Americus, GA, gone in one year. Another year, Lewiston, Maine. Or Newport, Tennessee. Plainview, TX. Laurinburg. Seneca Falls. Dodge City. An entire city’s worth of people wiped out, every single year.

The majority of the gun violence is from suicides—20,000 to 25,000 a year. Approximately 10,000 to 15,000 more Americans die every year from homicides—that is, people getting killed by somebody else using a gun. These statistics are vastly improved from the late 1980s and early ’90s when gun violence ruled the nightly news. Yet, all of these deaths are preventable.

We must not get distracted and get pulled into the mental health debate. We need more money because we don’t have enough mental health facilities throughout the United States. We need more psychiatrists and more psychologists and more mental health workers. Yet, all of this is not going to prevent some mentally disturbed person from doing unspeakable things, because a mentally ill person can still go to a gun show and buy a gun. Believe me, it happens, and it is going to happen again. We don’t live in the movies. This is not Minority Report, the 2002 movie starring Tom Cruise. We do not have the ability to accurately predict a particular person’s future behavior.

The Second Amendment

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

This is the only amendment that is written oddly. The wording is weird. What is a well-regulated militia? Are we talking about the Army? Are we talking about the National Guard? For over 200 years constitutional scholars have interpreted the Second Amendment to mean that some Americans can have some guns. It is only recently that the Second Amendment has been interpreted by some conservative scholars to mean any American can have just about any gun.

The idea of amending the Constitution is nostalgic but unrealistic. With Right and Left being so polarized, it’s near impossible to get the majority of Americans to agree on anything. There is simply no way in the climate that we have today that we can all agree on a change to the Second Amendment. So this idea is dead. What is clear, outside of the Second Amendment, is that no constitutional right is absolute. The best example is that you cannot yell fire in a crowded theater if there’s no fire. This is in spite of the fact that we have the right of free speech.

Ignore Stupidness

Currently, there’s lots of craziness being discussed in the media. Please ignore it. Our president, along with lots of others, has suggested that all we need to do to fix violence at schools is to have teachers armed with guns. This is an idea supported by The National Rifle Association, which wants to put guns in the hands of every American. (Approximately half of the NRA’s funding comes from gun manufacturers, through grants, advertising in NRA publications, and even one manufacturer paying the NRA a royalty each of one type of its guns bought by a member.)

Yet we know this is a bad idea. We know that humans, even well-trained humans, can freeze at the moment of truth. We have seen it in sports. We know it happens in war, and many other life-and-death situations, including civilian life.

We know that in the downtown Dallas shooting, several police officers who had opportunities did not shoot at the perpetrator. They froze. The media is currently focused on a security guard who didn’t run into the Parkland school building when the shots were being fired. I don’t blame that security guard, and I will not vilify him. (According to some reports, he was following his department protocol in a situation where details were uncertain.)

We also know that just because you don’t freeze does not mean that you have the steely eyes of Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry. As you recall, in the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting a “good guy with a gun” emptied his clip and did not hit the perpetrator once. There was the famous University of Texas shooting in 1966 in which two off-duty police officers stormed the tower where the shooter had barricaded himself. One of these police officers emptied his revolver at relatively close range and hit nothing. We must not forget the Fort Hood shooting in which an Army major, a psychiatrist no less, killed 13 people and injured 30 more. On an Army base. Where nearly everyone has a gun!!

I think we can all agree that arming teachers is a bad idea.

Focus on Solutions

Please understand that some politicians are completely focused on doing as little as possible. Therefore, they will propose something that sounds good but will have little impact on the gun violence in the United States. Here are my thoughts:

  • No automatic or semi-automatic weapons should be sold to the public in the United States. (The tricky part will be confiscating the ones in circulation. This must be done.)
  • There should be no armor-piercing bullets sold to civilians.
  • No person diagnosed with a mental illness should own a gun. We can argue over the definition of mental illness later.
  • You are responsible for your gun. If someone takes your gun and kills someone you are responsible.
  • Americans convicted of domestic abuse lose their right to own a gun, forever.
  • Concealed handguns should be restricted to law enforcement.
  • Finally, we begin to embrace smart technology. A gun that will only fire if it recognizes you could help prevent a lot of these suicides.

The carnage must stop. We must pressure our state and federal representatives to pass legislation that will reduce the number of guns.

By |2019-09-01T00:25:13-04:00August 5th, 2019|Domestic Issues, Mass Shooting, Trump administration|Comments Off on Again! Gun Violence in America (Updated, Again)

So Much 2 Say

I wrote this for the Urban News in March 2019.

An outstanding a cappella group, Take 6, once had a tune called “So Much 2 Say.” The tune lasted only one minute. It was fast, it was up-tempo. The harmony and their back-and-forth between each other was almost breathtaking. Now, in 2019, the news is coming at us at a blistering pace almost like the song. There is no time for us to digest what just happened before something else pops up. I will try to distill the important news of the month for you in this column.

Clinton’s emails

I know that this is a bizarre way to start, but bear with me. I just finished a fascinating book by Andrew McCabe, former interim director of the FBI, called The Threat, in which he describes how he became involved in the Hillary Clinton email case. I remember the media frenzy that surrounded Hillary Clinton’s emails at the time. Do you?

Remember that the email “case” came out of the Benghazi investigation. Yes, Benghazi. Republicans asked the FBI to look into Secretary of State Clinton’s emails because the State Department had no cache of emails for Hillary Clinton. This is because Hillary Clinton decided she was going to use a private email server. Although she has admitted that this was a mistake, I am not sure it was. Hillary Clinton knew that every single one of her emails sent from a government account could be retrieved by Republicans. This means that every single word, every period, every phrase could be inspected. Please remember, we are not talking about a rational review of what she did or said: Hillary knew that was not possible. She knew that a jaundiced, partisan eye would overlook everything she did (and she was right!). (Additionally, the State Department’s email server was hacked during her tenure; but her private home-based server never was: it was more secure than the State Department’s!)

At any rate, the House asked the FBI to look at Hillary Clinton’s emails. Through a very laborious process, the FBI retrieved all her emails from all the computers and servers she used. The overall number was approximately 60,000 emails. The FBI then sorted all 60,000 into private emails and work emails.

It appears from my reading that the FBI and Hillary Clinton’s team agreed on which emails were work emails and which were personal. The 30,000 work emails were sent on to the State Department; the other 30,000 were given back to Hillary Clinton, and they were destroyed. These are the 30,000 emails that Trump and others have been screaming about for years now. Guys, this is nuts!! No American citizen should have to undergo this kind of scrutiny. No one. Ever.

North Korea

Donald Trump, at the last minute and in a hurried, unprepared fashion, decided to hold another summit with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Un. The first question that a thoughtful American should ask is, Why would the American president want to meet with a North Korean dictator? Well, the possible answer would be to denuclearize North Korea. In theory, we, the American people, would give North Korea something—investment, lifting of sanctions, a formal peace treaty—and we would get disarmament of North Korea in return. This would be normal diplomacy.

But “normal” does not apply to Donald Trump. Normally, the State Department would hold preliminary meetings with their counterparts in North Korea. Groundwork would be laid. First, by lower-level specialists in economics, military issues, and human rights; then higher-level deputies; finally, the secretary or minister level. Only after all the parameters of the deal were put in place and agreed to would the president get involved.

In Donald Trump’s administration, normality is a thing of the past. Like a bull in a china shop he decided to trudge forward. In spite of the pomp and circumstance, the smiling for the cameras, and the warm handshake, we, the American people, got nothing. Donald Trump left the summit with nothing. He looked like Charlie Brown who just had Lucy’s football pulled away at the last minute. Again. Rats! This was nothing more than a colossal diversion and waste of taxpayer money. And to top it off, after he came home, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed to give Kim a gift his country—and China—had only dreamed of: the decision not to resume joint military exercises that have kept South Korea safe from North Korean aggression for 60 years. (It appears that North Korea is rebuilding that key missile facility that torn down several months as a gesture of good faith. Will someone let the grown ups back in the room?)

The Main Event

It is really hard to take in all that Michael Cohen said in three days of testimony before Congress. First of all, we know that Michael Cohen is a liar. We also know that his back is against the wall: he is going to jail. So, in order to shorten his prison sentence, it would behoove him to cooperate with authorities and the tell the truth in front of Congress. I will focus on three areas of his testimony—Trump Tower Moscow, WikiLeaks, and Stormy Daniels.

First, Michael Cohen admitted that he lied to Congress about the timing of his talks with Moscow regarding a Trump Tower Moscow. From my standpoint, Donald Trump has always looked like a man who was constantly after money. He was looking at making several hundred million dollars if he was able to pull off Trump Tower Moscow. Therefore, it is no surprise to me that he continued to try to work the deal while he was running for president. He never really thought he was going to win the White House. Therefore, why not try and make an extra hundred million or so. The thing about this line of questioning that is surprising is that Donald Trump blatantly lied to the American people on multiple occasions about his dealings with Moscow. Not that it’s really a surprise. We all know that Trump lies.

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By |2019-07-27T16:12:09-04:00July 27th, 2019|Domestic Issues, Party Politics|Comments Off on So Much 2 Say

Despicable Trump

I wrote this for the Urban News in February 2019.

The Shutdown

Donald Trump, our president, shut down the government for five weeks in order to distract us from multiple ongoing investigations.

The shutdown made no sense on a number of different levels. Republicans held both houses of Congress for the last two years. Yet Donald Trump did not make a big deal out of not getting his funding for his “big, beautiful” Mexican wall. He did not take his best chance of getting funding by pressuring Paul Ryan, then the Speaker of the House. Yet now that Democrats control the House, he wants funding for a wall that most Democrats—and for that matter, most Americans—do not support.

So he invited the new Democratic leadership—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer—to the Oval Office and threatened them with a shutdown if they didn’t give him his wall. Unfortunately for Trump, 58% of Americans oppose building the wall. So the Democrats refused to cave to his threats, and after 35 days, President Trump backed down and allowed the government to reopen, without wall funding. To hold 800,000 government employees hostage over a diversion is despicable.

So why did he do it?

Trump’s inauguration committee raked in more than a hundred million dollars but spent only a fraction of the total. Investigators are trying to figure out where the money went.

Trump’s over-the-top opulent hotels have been packed full of diplomats and private money- and power-brokers from all over the world ever since he was elected. This seems to be an obvious conflict with the emoluments clause in the Constitution, which prohibits the president from profiting from his high office. This is being investigated by federal attorneys, and House Democrats have also promised to investigate this as well.

Trump’s son and son-in-law and his campaign leadership are being investigated for colluding with the Russians to get him elected. His former and present cabinet secretaries are being called before the House for investigative oversight hearings. And Donald Trump’s biggest worry was what convicted felon Michael Cohen has said to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team—and what he will say to investigators.

Michael Cohen was Donald Trump’s inside man, his personal lawyer, his fixer—his consigliere. Nancy Pelosi’s House is going to question him. Maybe it was time to distract the public with a shutdown.

Roger Stone

Roger Stone is the political insider’s insider. He has worked behind-the-scenes for years in the bowels of the Republican machine. I had never heard of him before a couple of months ago—though he was one of Richard Nixon’s fixers and “dirty-tricksters” in the 1970s. In fact, he and Nixon’s other henchman, Paul Manafort, formed a lobbying and political consulting firm called Black, Manafort, & Stone in the late 1970s to do dirty tricks for other Republicans—beginning with Ronald Reagan’s campaign in 1980.

The reason that Roger Stone is more interesting than almost all of the other characters indicted by Robert Mueller is because Stone sent out tweets that oddly foreshadowed what was to come. His tweet, “It will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel” (Podesta was Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman) would have meant nothing—if WikiLeaks had not released John Podesta’s emails just days later.

How did Stone have that knowledge? Where did his information come from? Was it just a lucky guess, as he told the Senate Intelligence Committee?

It appears from the indictment that Roger Stone tried to contact WikiLeaks. It also appears that a high-ranking official in the Trump campaign was in contact with Roger Stone and asked Stone to reach out to the Russians. This appears to be the collusion that we have long suspected.

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By |2019-07-27T16:23:28-04:00July 27th, 2019|Domestic Issues, Elections, Party Politics|Comments Off on Despicable Trump