If you have to explain the punch line, it wasn’t a very good joke – or so I’ve been told. Perhaps someone should explain this to Donald Trump and the minions seeking to defend/explain his various statements to the public via the media after any of his recent speeches. His official spokespeople must be either extremely well-paid or among the most masochistic political operatives in recent memory. Watching elected officials tiptoe around the controversies without withdrawing their endorsements is one thing. His spokespeople actually seem to thrive on such rhetorical gymnastics.
President Obama created ISIS, with Secretary Clinton at his side. Given several chances to retract or amend such a statement, Trump doubled down, only to say a couple of days later he was being sarcastic, joking to make a point. But not really being THAT sarcastic. He seems totally incapable of admitting to saying something wrong – only that he is being misinterpreted. His Second Amendment followers statement regarding Hillary Clinton is another case in point. Watching follow-up interviews on any of the networks or news shows has become so predictable as to become a waste of time. About the only time I can remember Trump coming off as sarcastic was when he recently gave what was supposedly a heartfelt apology for saying things that may have caused others pain. He regretted doing so, but neglected to give any specifics about what he had said to warrant the regret, or at whom the wayward comments had been directed.
One of Trump’s most recent forays into political Cloud Cuckoo Land involved a statement he made when he claimed to be addressing African-Americans before a rally crowd of overwhelmingly white Americans in Michigan. He claimed that in four years (presumably seeking re-election) he would receive 95% of the African-American vote. He’s presently polling in the low single digits among members of that group – with good reason. He doesn’t even have 95% support of any group, except maybe his immediate family.
So far, the Trump road show since the end of the primary season has been a series of lowlights. He recently replaced his top campaign advisors for the second time, while spokespeople insisted nothing was amiss with the campaign. He has maintained a rather steady stream of comments which have resulted in increased numbers of down-ballot Republican candidates scurrying to dissociate themselves from him while simultaneously trying to appear to be loyal Republicans. Occasionally, he will speak to point on policy topics (such as taxes, the economy and trade) coherently – reading from a teleprompter, which he abhors when others do likewise.
His economic policy statements have seemed to somewhat mimic standard GOP trickle-down theory which has been tried and untrue for decades now. He advocates a tax cut package which would give maximum cuts to the richest Americans and an end to the Estate Tax – both of which would increase economic inequality in the US even more than the latest recession did, while simultaneously blowing up the deficit to unprecedented levels. His remarks on immigration and trade have remained fairly constant over time, but been slightly modified to take some of the sting out of his initial pronouncements on the subjects. He still gains support by feeding xenophobic, racist and religious hatred – which has earned him little support among any groups other than white blue collar males. Plus some fellow billionaires.
Though specifics on most of his policy positions are scarce, they do generally speak to the fears and angers of his primary base of voters. What he isn’t telling them is that, although he’s talking about bringing jobs back to America, he’s not exactly promising they will be good-paying jobs. He’d like to undo the damage being done by the Clinton ad showing he has Trump goods manufactured in Bangladesh and China by having them produced here – by workers making far less than they were making before their jobs were shipped overseas. Lowering labor standards here is preferable to raising them abroad, at least from his limited corporate capitalist perspective.
Trade policy is one area where Trump speaks to more American voters than any other these days. Both parties passed platforms that included rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Amazingly, Clinton seems willing to concede ground to her opponent on this subject. It could conceivably become a much larger campaign issue before the election is held, but so far little is being made of it by either nominee.
Remember, TPP has been a goal of President Obama for years. He fought hard to achieve fast-track trade authority to negotiate the deal, leave time for quickly debating it in Congress prior to a strict up-or-down vote on ratification without the ability to amend it in any way. Well, it was finalized and signed months ago, but nary a word has been heard since about debating or voting on it in Congress. American public opinion – in both parties – is strongly against ratifying the treaty. Bringing it up for a vote before the election could make it one of the key election issues, with chances of ratification lying in the slim-to-none range. Thus, there is talk of postponing any vote to come in the lame duck Congressional session after the election but before the new Congress (and President) take office.
The problem with this scenario for Clinton is that she was late to come aboard with her opposition to the treaty, having been Secretary of State during much of the negotiations. Although she did recently announce opposition to the pact, she would neither have a vote in ratification nor have to sign it if passed while President Obama still held office. Many Democrats (largely, but not exclusively, Bernie Sanders supporters) are pressuring her to take a public stance against the lame duck scenario in order to back the party platform against a tactic clearly designed to subvert public preference via yet another loophole. So far, she has gotten away without doing so.
Another potential chink in the Clinton armor concerns the potential conflict of interest involving the Clinton Global Initiative. Apparently, someone all of a sudden came up with the notion that there may be some sort of inherent conflict of interest involved when it came to foreign governments making donations to a charity founded and run by influential high ranking US government officials – say, the President. Why this never occurred to anyone when Hillary was Secretary of State boggles the mind. Whether anything untoward ever happened in the world caused by such an event is, to a great degree, irrelevant. Appearances are important. The fact that the charity recently announced that it would not take such contributions should she be elected in November sort of points that out. Why the GOP chose to beat Benghazi and emails senseless all these years when this situation existed is beyond me.
There may be no more to the CGI situation than there was to the email or Benghazi faux scandals, or the recent right wing conspiracy claiming she is deathly ill (yes, Donald Trump played that one up when he said she was physically unable to deal with the threat of ISIS). But whether the potential conflict of interest results in the sort of damage the GOP unsuccessfully sought with their previous costly and interminable investigations remains in doubt. Clinton has certainly withstood far more intensive scrutiny than Trump, the keeper of secret tax returns and numerous pending court proceedings.
I certainly hope the debates more closely resemble the Democratic ones than the GOP farces. Including more than Clinton and Trump might be more educational, as whether Trump can even debate remains in doubt. Might also include some actual policies instead of just personal insults. Libertarian and Green Party perspectives may add depth to discussions of domestic and foreign policy issues that simply wouldn’t exist with just Trump and Clinton in the mix. I’ll grant you, Trump accomplished some feats few thought possible this year. Not only did he wrest the coveted GOP Presidential nomination from a huge field of pretenders, but who would’ve thought anybody could be made to feel any sympathy for Ted Cruz? Do we need a President who prides himself on his ability and willingness to antagonize anyone who opposes or disagrees with him – especially with nuclear weapons on the table?
Less than three months remain until the election. Living in PA, one of the designated key battleground states, that means untold hours of the best and worst pro and anti Clinton and Trump ads. Hopefully, more people will ultimately see through the haze than won’t. Turnout is essential. Voting in the down-ballot races is important, regardless of who is elected President. We need a functional Congress and 50 functional state legislatures to move forward and end gridlock. Getting candidates at all levels of government to discuss fundamental issues and stop the inane mudslinging would help. Hopefully, this will be the worst Presidential campaign in any of our memories. Certainly, the system could use some improvement. The GOP autopsy needs to be more than just another exercise in futility next year.
Some think Trump is throwing the election on purpose. Whether he is or not, he certainly has done nothing to encourage most Americans to vote for him. Many seem to think that Clinton’s greatest selling point is that she is not Trump. She hasn’t campaigned that way, but the message has gotten thoroughly muddled by the 24-hour Trump news cycle. This election should be about US not Donald Trump. He claims that he and he alone can fix America. More likely, he and he alone would be as successful in fixing America as he was in fixing his bankrupt companies and failed marriages. Neither of these immensely wealthy people is one of us. We must decide if either is capable of serving us well, then hold the victor accountable for what happens next. We need to move forward – either with their help or despite their intransigence.
Suggested Further Readings:
For those who missed the Green Party Town Hall on CNN on Wednesday…
Dandelion Salad America today news on Aug 17, 2016 CNN hosts Green Party town hall on Wednesday night with the Green Party’s nominee Jill Stein and presumptive running mate Ajamu Baraka.
News from the convention of the Green Party – one of the political parties not often covered by mainstream media or Cable News. – RJC
Dandelion Salad Jill Stein FULL SPEECH At the Green Party Convention TYT Politics on Aug 6, 2016 Dr. Jill Stein’s full acceptance speech from the Green Party Convention in Houston, Texas on A…
New technology invites new ways to commit election fraud. May the buyer – and voters- beware. – RJC
This column by Bruce Scheier raises a very good point about the November elections (boldface mine):
Even more important, we need to secure our election systems before autumn. If Putin’s government has already used a cyberattack to attempt to help Trump win, there’s no reason to believe he won’t do it again — especially now that Trump is inviting the “help.”
Over the years, more and more states have moved to electronic voting machines and have flirted with Internet voting. These systems are insecure and vulnerable to attack.
But while computer security experts like me have sounded the alarm for many years, states have largely ignored the threat, and the machine manufacturers have thrown up enough obfuscating babble that election officials are largely mollified.
We no longer have time for that. We must ignore the machine manufacturers’ spurious claims of security, create tiger teams to test the machines’ and…
View original post 583 more words
The Republican National Convention has come and gone (thankfully). Donald Trump is now the official Republican nominee for the position of next President of the USA, his trusted running mate, soon to be former Governor Mike Pence of Indiana by his side. The rough and tumble days of the primary campaign behind him, Trump promises to bring his mudslinging talents to unprecedented heights against his main general election contender, Hillary Clinton (pending, of course, her nearly certain nomination at the upcoming Democratic National Convention).
Aside from his acerbic manner and penchant for flinging biting insults at anyone and everything that he perceives as standing between himself and his current goals, Trump has earned his Party’s nomination by gathering a following among disenchanted voters ignored too long by GOP establishment politicians. Stoking populist sentiments by vilifying members of just about every interest group other than white males, Trump has been promising crackdowns on such perceived problems as illegal immigration and faulty international trade deals which have helped to wreck our economy for many working men and women, and which will continue to make matters worse in the future unless we hire him on to “Make America Great Again” as our next President.
Trump’s solutions to various problems he seeks to rectify have been spectacular in scope (building a border wall to keep out illegal immigrants from Mexico – financed, of course, by Mexico and banning Moslem immigrants in order to deal with terrorist threats, to name two) while being extremely light on details. His main rhetorical tool in dealing successfully with an abnormally large field of Republican opponents has been to largely ignore substantive issues while concentrating on his perceptions of their personal shortcomings as individual human beings. Schoolyard taunts seemed to be his specialty, especially when on the stump or in a televised debate. When his opponents tried to strike back at him in kind, he got even more vicious in his attacks against them and their loved-ones. During and after the convention, he has shown no inclination to change either his strategy or his tactics in campaigning against Clinton for the November general election
Whereas the Democratic campaign did contain debate and proposals on substantive issues and means of actually achieving stated goals, Trump seems content to continue with his grandiose rhetoric, labeling “Crooked Hillary” and slamming her as untrustworthy due to numerous pseudo-scandals and investigations of her conduct during her tenure as Secretary of State, before and since. Any mention of allegations made against Trump and/or his business dealings has thus far been met with outrage (against a “Mexican” judge ruling against him in a lawsuit dealing with Trump University fraud allegations, for instance, or the Media when it called him on claims he was donating and raising millions for veterans’ charities).
Perhaps the biggest problem Trump faces overall is his steadfast refusal to account for his own personal finances. Whereas Clinton has provided decades worth of her income tax returns for public scrutiny, Trump gives a categorical response stating that he cannot do so pending IRS audits. He also consistently refuses to discuss accusations of impropriety related to the conduct of business dealings within the vaunted Trump corporate empire. The last business mogul to gain the GOP presidential nod, Mitt Romney in 2012, was also shy about releasing his detailed tax returns, but was prodded into eventually doing so at the urging of, among others, Donald Trump himself.
Trump helped create the Birther conspiracy theory that questioned the very legitimacy of Barack Obama becoming president in the first place. He harangues opponents of all sorts with lacking all the intangible qualities he alone possesses and which uniquely qualify him for the office of President of the United States. They lack “leadership”, “convictions”, the ability to discern when foreign leaders are trying to hoodwink us into unfair deals – be they diplomatic or business-related in nature. Only he can provide us with the leadership and know-how to get the trade deals necessary to fix our economy and provide us with the millions of good jobs lost abroad due to being ripped off by unfair foreign competition. Only he can defeat ISIS and other purveyors of Radical Islamic Terror” with his fierce combativeness and willingness to bomb them back to the stone age while preventing them from infiltrating refugee groups to attack us at home.
Trump hits all the right buttons to earn him support among many understandably frustrated people who find themselves downtrodden after decades of subjugation in an economic and political system that has done more and more to increase economic and social inequality rather than making life better for all. He does so in a manner that blames the wrong people for causing their difficulties – dividing working people on the basis of race, country of origin, religion or some other characteristic and distracting them from the fact that these people are also being exploited to the benefit of the wealthy, the corporations, and the political elites, often to a greater extent than they are themselves. Thus, white supremacist groups, such as the KKK, have tended to gravitate towards Trump and his entourage.
Trump needs to be prevented from continuing to steer the debate in directions he feels comfortable in. He is no better than Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton or anybody else when it comes to personal accountability to the American people when it comes to his personal and corporate financial conduct. A con man and fraud must explain himself, not be permitted to ignore these issues because he’s in the midst of court proceedings or IRS investigation. Clinton certainly has withstood her share of public scrutiny dealing with Benghazi, her email communications, etc. We need to know how these people function under pressure, as well as how they conduct themselves in their face-to-face interactions with other people. We also need to hold them responsible for their personal honesty. Fact-checking Trump’s claims has been a growth industry in the media. It’s also a waste of time when he can’t speak more than a sentence or two without spewing forth some sort of falsehood.
We don’t need a President adept at inventing creatively insulting nicknames for other powerful people or potential rivals. We don’t need a hotheaded chicken hawk willing to threaten international war and the bloodshed of thousands or millions of people in the exercise of military adventurism to “fix” our economy. Trump’s companies have gone bankrupt without negatively impacting his personal pocketbook. How and why has this occurred? Will the same happen if we put him in charge of the government and our military might? Knowing that building his border wall with voluntary contributions from the Mexican government is about as likely as him financing his own presidential campaign, how is he going to make that happen? What good will it do to build it?
His claims to want to punish corporations for moving jobs and operations abroad in order to bring them home to the US again rings hollow when it comes to the fact that many of his own products are manufactured outside of the United States. As for his tax returns, no doubt he does fear the impression of the American public on seeing the information contained in them. He certainly makes seems to be hiding something important when he continues to do so even after his stated objections have been proven moot. Other candidates have public tax information while undergoing audits. He brags about being rich, so proving it won’t hurt him among likely voters – or will it? What further questions would releasing the information raise?
The coming election season should hold some excitement. I hope the nonsensical mudslinging and inane name-calling will not drown out discussion of issues that really directly impact our everyday lives. Concrete policy proposals along with the means by which to economically and effectively implement them are not only desirable but necessary for voters to make educated decisions on how to vote in November. This sort of discussion occurred to a certain degree in the Democratic primary process, though not to the extent necessary. It was almost non-existent in the GOP nominating procedure from the moment Donald Trump announced he was running through the official nominating convention last week.
We need a President and a Congress which will function as intended in the Constitution. We need people there who excel at decision-making that results in actions that improve the lives and livelihoods of the people as a whole, not people who thrive on media manipulation and misrepresentation in order to deflect hopes and dampen expectations for most, cause misery and death for many (both here and abroad) and foster hatred and aggression against “others” rather than peace and prosperity for all. It’s up to us to ask the appropriate questions and up to the candidates to show they deserve the job by answering them respectfully, honestly and fully. Don’t tell me it’s none of my business how you live your life and treat others if you expect me to hire you for this particular job.
Further Suggested Readings:
Who does the Democratic Party really represent these days?
Admittedly, that’s a ‘dog bites man’ headline, but this juxtaposition is pretty amazing, even by the witless standards of your typical Democratic political operative (boldface mine):
Politico reports that Bernie Sanders was booed by House Democrats in a private meeting today on Capitol Hill. Apparently they were irked with Sanders for withholding his endorsement of Clinton, and reacted badly after he said this: “The goal isn’t to win elections. The goal is to transform America.” One Dem even accused Sanders of “squandering” his movement.
But if Sanders is squandering his movement, it is odd that he continues to rack up meaningful victories in the battle to transform the Democratic agenda, if not the country.
Today Hillary Clinton announced that she was moving dramatically in the direction of one of the most important pillars of Bernie’s agenda. She substantially expanded her proposal for improving access to a college education…
View original post 610 more words
Recent events in this country have seen an escalation in gun violence both by and directed towards police. Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, MN, both black men, were shot dead by police officers under circumstances which were not only questionable at best, but were widely broadcast as a result of Facebook and cell phone video technology. In the wake of these shootings, nationwide protests included one at which an individual (not one of the protesters) shot several Dallas police officers, killing five and endangering many others.
These incidents are similar in nature to other killings in recent years dealing with African American males and police which have merited national coverage and discussion pertaining to both police procedures (as well as accountability) and gun control legislation. There are, however, some details which add significant wrinkles missing from previous discussions.
After previous renditions of police officers fatally shooting unarmed young black men, some police forces began equipping some of their officers with body cameras to document events as they were happening. That was the case in Baton Rouge, where the cops involved in Sterling shooting were equipped with such cameras, but they fell off and recorded nothing of the incident. Obviously, non-operational cameras do not add to the accountability of the officers involved. A nearby individual with a cell phone and a convenience store security camera were able to record much of the action, however. Sterling was carrying a weapon, legally, but there was no evidence he attempted to use it. The gun was removed from his pocket after he was shot.
Philando Castile was likewise legally armed – and had obtained a concealed carry permit for his weapon.. He told officers of this fact and was apparently in the process of reaching for the pertinent documentation when he was shot inside his vehicle, which also contained a young child and his fiance. His fiance was streaming the incident live on Facebook. So far, no charges have been placed against the officers involved, but investigations have been launched and they have been suspended from duty.
Since these shootings took place, many peaceful demonstrations have taken place in various cities throughout the country involving the Black Lives Matter movement and other organizations calling for action to reduce the occurrence of such incidents and to increase accountability of the police officers involved in shootings and other inappropriate usage of force in the line of duty. The Dallas mass shooting incident targeted police officers involved in monitoring such a peaceful demonstration in that city. Initial reports speculated that multiple snipers were involved, but that was corrected when the lone gunman was killed and no other suspects discovered.
The rhetoric surrounding all of this activity is bound to ratchet up in the days ahead. It always does, usually culminating in much ado accomplishing little if anything in the way of practical solutions to lessen the tensions or reduce the impact of future incidents of this nature. The only people fairly certain to profit from all of this activity are the gun manufacturers, those groups (most notably the NRA) which lobby Congress and state legislatures on their behalf, and certain politicians who will see their campaign coffers filled to the brim with donations seeking their votes to prevent any meaningful legislation passing to harm the perceived profit margins for these merchants of death.
Every time any incident like this takes place, or a mass shooting with multiple deaths occurs in a public place, raucous cries arise to do something to control who has guns and who is prevented from having them, how to better weed out cops who abuse their authority, how to better protect those who serve and protect us as police officers from the dangers which have come to increasingly plague them in the course of their service. None of the usual arguments for minimizing restrictions on gun possession seem to hold much water under normal circumstances. That is even less true in dealing with these incidents.
Gun advocates who oppose any and all movement by legislative bodies to further restrict sale or possession of firearms in order to end or severely curtail this seemingly endless stream of gun violence and death always say publicly that MORE guns are needed, not fewer. Each individual should be allowed to purchase and bear arms to protect themselves and their loved ones from the bad guys with guns. Schools, churches, shopping centers, movie theaters – you name it. You need good guys with guns around to stick up for the innocents when the bullets start flying.
Worked out well for Sterling and Castile, did it not? They took the steps necessary to defend themselves, but in doing so, left themselves open to becoming victims of the very people we hired to keep us all safe from crime. The defense that will be used should any legal charges be brought against the cops responsible for their deaths will undoubtedly involve their fear for their own lives at the hands of the people they shot. Many will say the attack and murder of the police in Dallas points out the validity of such arguments. They will undoubtedly also use the Dallas attack on police doing their job as an excuse (or, if you choose to be more diplomatic, justification) for further militarizing of our police forces.
Fighting fire with fire usually is counterproductive. We have more guns than people in this country. So many people owning guns makes most of us less safe, not more safe. Militarizing the police raises, not lowers, the tensions that caused the protests in the first place, without really doing anything to prevent a single person acting alone from doing exactly what was done by the perpetrator in Dallas.
Other countries do not have nearly the number of mass murders as we do. Some do not even normally arm their police with guns. Nor do they have nearly the extent of violent death at the hands of police officers. Ditto for the obviously disproportionate racial identity of the perpetrators vis-a-vis the victims of such violence. The facts speak for themselves. Groups like Black Lives Matter don’t spring up out of irrational paranoia over imaginary injustice. The deaths in LA and MN do not exist in a vacuum – they were preceded by many other similar instances, some of which were even clearer examples of the perpetuation of injustice. Peaceful protest calling for more of a response on the part of government to reign in that injustice is not only appropriate, but encouraged by the existence of the First Amendment. Damping down the ability to express their outrage to protect the rights of any deranged, violence prone, mentally disturbed and/or religious zealot – terrorist or not – to own an arsenal capable of creating the mayhem visited on Littleton, Sandy Hook, Orlando…(you get my drift) is not only Unconstitutional, it’s morally reprehensible. My right not to be shot by you – intentionally or not – outweighs your perceived need to be able to do so.
Every recent instance of a mass shooting like Orlando or Dallas has resulted in cries for gun control which prompt more people than ever before to go out and buy guns and ammunition in anticipation of a crackdown on gun ownership that never even comes close to happening. Thus, the manufacturers make even more blood money, the leadership of the NRA (which obviously doesn’t even represent the opinions of the majority of its members, let alone the general public) gets to strut its stuff making or breaking political careers, and the cycle continues. Conditions calm down for a bit, but no lasting change is effected. The same has been true of the institutionalized racism present in the criminal justice system and the activities of too many of our police forces.
We need to start making our state, local and national governments more accountable for their action or (as is more often the case) inaction in the face of these very real problems facing our society. Obviously, action is called for. Innocent people being needlessly murdered so that a small portion of us can satiate their greed has gotten way out hand. A political system that fails to address such widespread and growing issues needs to be called to task. Clamp down by making gun purchases, ownership and possession more difficult. Not everyone is willing and/or able to responsibly own a gun. Nobody’s right to bear arms should overrule others’ fundamental human rights. Restricting the types of weapons and ammunition legally available is also appropriate. A nuclear weapon is not needed to swat flies nor is a military assault weapon needed to hunt deer or scare off intruders.
The technical revolution that we’ve been experiencing in recent years also makes it more difficult to cover-up abuses of power and criminal conduct on the part of those who are supposed to be protecting us from such behavior by others. The correct response to this is for law enforcement officials to root out legally and morally reprehensible behavior on the part of their members, not seek to excuse it or brush it under the rug. Social media, cell phones and surveillance cameras are good ways to catch criminals in the act. If we are using them for that purpose, keeping police activity of a questionable nature out of public view is unacceptable. Making private citizens criminals by making filming cops illegal would not be a good way to enhance police/community relations. They must be as accountable for their actions as the rest of us.
Decreasing the damage that a lone gunman can do, along with decreasing the overwhelming prevalence of firearms in this country, can significantly lessen the anxiety of people in general and increase safety for the public at large as well as police officers. Bemoaning our fate and just mourning the dead gets us nowhere. Doing so only serves to bide the time until the next unspeakable act of horror is committed. Confront the purveyors of the violence we seek to reduce or eliminate. Pass laws that will make everyone safer, not merely more dangerous, as individuals and collectively.
Suggested Further Readings:
The continuing frustration of the American public and Congressional Democrats at the inability, or rather the unwillingness of the GOP Congress to do anything about fixing some of our most serious societal ills reached new heights recently on several fronts. The two most recent areas where our elected representatives earned a big fat “F” on their reports card deal with the issues of gun control in the wake of the latest mass shooting tragedy, which took place in Orlando, Florida and the issue of immigration reform, which included a decision (or lack thereof) of the Supreme Court.
The Senate, prompted by an unusual filibuster, wherein Senators actually spent the entire time actually talking, rather than just threatening to, did manage to vote on four motions dealing with proposed gun regulations which could have made some progress in making legally obtaining guns much more difficult for people deemed by most of us to be undesirable as owners or wielders of the same. Unfortunately, as could have been easily predicted, they all failed to garner support from the necessary 60 senators for actual passage under Senate rules. They did, however, at least vote on the issue, leaving a record for voters to use in deciding whether to retain or replace their senators when next they stand for election.
The House had a little more dramatic activity on the issue of gun control, with Democrats demonstrating to try to at least hold votes on legislation in that chamber, whose rules do not permit filibustering. Not only did Speaker Ryan not agree to bring any legislation to the floor of the House to debate and vote on, he deigned in his imperial wisdom to turn off the cameras C-SPAN uses to cover the floor so they couldn’t televise the controversy. Only breaking the House Rules by using a social media app on a cell phone allowed for coverage of the event in real time. No doubt, they’ll try to ban cell phones from the House next. So much for transparency in deliberations at the People’s House.
To rub salt in the open wounds of Americans seeking some sort of action by their government to stem this endless tide of preventable slaughter of innocents, Ryan allowed his fellow Republican NRA minions to skulk off on their merry way for their July 4th recess without so much as casting a vote one way or the other for the record. Thus, unlike their compatriots in the Senate, House members (all of whom must stand for re-election in November) can effectively hide their views from their constituents. Such a lack of moral courage has become a hallmark of GOP Congressional leadership. They seem content to cover the tracks of their members and allow them to avoid directly taking controversial stands while protecting the interests of their contributing lobbyists over those of their real constituents. Why do the members of the House get a pass here? Do we elect people to represent us in Congress by dealing with issues like this through debate and passage of laws and acting to serve our best interests by voting accordingly, or to avoid taking anything resembling a controversial stand anytime during an election year?
It’s possible to find out who takes campaign donations from the NRA and other gun lobby entities, as well as who benefits from ads financed by their money donated to Super-PACs. But there is really no substitute to knowing absolutely how someone voted on a specific issue when it came to passage or failure of an actual bill. We have that with the Senate (where only a third face voters in any election cycle anyway), but not the House. These are the same folks who repeatedly refuse to deal with budgetary issues (their main Constitutional duty), until they are faced with a default on the debt or imminent government shutdown.
The Senate, while showing marginally more courage on the gun control issues than the House by virtue of at least taking votes, fails miserably in an area where the House holds no sway – confirming nominees to the Supreme Court. President Obama nominated a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia months ago as part of his job. Republican Senators from Mitch McConnell on down have refused to schedule Justice Committee confirmation hearings or an up or down vote on the nominee, saying the next President must be the one to nominate the next Justice next year. No such rule is enumerated in the Constitution. The Senate is just arbitrarily refusing to do its job – plain and simple. The fact that the evenly ideologically divided Court means that 4-4 ties are likely to be the case in many important decisions made until a replacement Justice is confirmed makes no difference to them. Such was the case recently in a case concerning Executive Orders the President made regarding undocumented immigrants, millions of whom face deportation as the result of a tie in the Supreme Court. The lower court ruling that the Executive Order was unconstitutional stays in effect.
The tie putting millions of immigrants in legal jeopardy is bad enough in and of itself. However, the Executive Orders may not have been deemed necessary at all if Congress had not been derelict in its duty to pass Immigration Reform, which both parties have known has been needed for years now. A couple of years ago, the Senate actually passed Immigration Reform legislation which the President probably would have signed, but the GOP-dominated House, under the leadership of Speaker John Boehner, refused to even consider, let alone vote on.
Losing two consecutive Presidential elections has not deterred the GOP from hindering any legislative progress on any matter of significance since they took control of the House after the 2010 midterm elections. They have increased their majority in the House and gained a majority in the Senate in 2014. Obstruction is too kind a word to describe what their behavior has meant and continues to make in the lives of millions of people in this country. How many thousands of lives will be lost to gun violence before something is done at the Federal level to control who can purchase and possess which firearms? How many millions of people will be negatively affected by decisions an inadequately staffed Supreme Court cannot make?
This Congress has even exceeded its immediate predecessor in forging a legacy of incompetence and refusing to carry out its Constitutional duties – to the extent of causing harm, sometimes irreparable, to the lives and livelihoods of many millions of people whose interests they have been elected to serve. They appear to be daring us to do something about their behavior. They’ve been getting away with this crap for years, and become even more emboldened every time they get away with it. We pay their salaries. We elect them to office. Refusing to part with any of their pre-determined lengthy recesses to make sure they do what we hire them to do is unacceptable. I didn’t elect my Representative and Senators so they can take time off to raise campaign money and run for re-election to represent the NRA, ALEC, or any other lobbying group willing to fill their coffers at the risk to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of the constituents they are elected to represent.
A vast majority of even NRA members think people on terror watch lists, people who we won’t even let ride in an airplane, should not be permitted to purchase or own guns. Most also feel that background checks should be required for all purchases. Many millions of people need to have their immigration status and path forward articulated in new immigration statutes. Budgets need to be made, nominations confirmed, authorizations for the use of military force approved. In short, work needs to be done to earn vacations. Not that every member of Congress is as inept or intent on foot-dragging as their leadership seems to be, but the body as a whole needs to function at a much higher level than it has been.
Congress will apparently not change on its own. Unless we radically change its composition this November, either Trump will be able to run roughshod over it or Clinton will have a built-in excuse to achieve nothing requiring Congressional approval for four years. They’ve thumbed their noses at President Obama and their own constituents for far too long. They’ve managed to get the two least-liked major party Presidential nominees in history apparently set to square off in an issue-free presidential election this fall. Perhaps they think we’ll forget all about them. The gun issue will die down until the next school or church or bar or factory gets attacked by a lone gunman, at which time their NRA and gun manufacturing buddies can make another killing at the cash registers in preparation of a scared populace arming itself to the teeth in anticipation of a new round of gun-regulation and confiscation that never happens.
What we need to do is demand more from our elected officials at every level. They need to be answerable and accountable to us. We elect them and pay their salaries. They are not born to office nor appointed to it for life (with the possible exception of judges). We deserve to know more about how they conduct themselves on the job and how they vote (or obstruct voting) on the issues which affect our lives. Secret hearings on budgets (secret budgets, for that matter), secret hearings held about classified information (way too much is classified than needs be for national security purposes) need to be the exception rather than the rule. Transparency in government is essential to a well-informed populace.
Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell need to stop depending on arcane rules and meaningless calendars to avoid getting stuff done, excuse inaction or defer controversial decisions until such a time as it won’t hurt their chances of job retention or is made absolutely essential in order to avert an impending catastrophe. Do what your bosses (namely, We the People) want you to do. Act, don’t obfuscate. Make your decisions public and in a timely manner. We, as voters, or even as just plain human beings, deserve to be heard by and to hear from you. Don’t expect to be voted back in if you refuse to vote or vote the wrong way on important issues. Blaming inaction on party leadership won’t work anymore. Increase the pressure from the bottom up, and eventually, the Ryans, McConnells and others now standing in the way will either have to give way or be pushed aside in favor of those who will.
Suggested Further Readings:
In recent years GOP political domination of legislative bodies – at both Congress and State government levels – has led to budget crunches and crises at institutions of great import to our society as a whole. Cutting tax rates for the wealthiest among us, as well as for large corporations has resulted in both revenue shortfalls and massive spending cuts in efforts to balance budgets to offset those revenue shortfalls. The effects on one vital social institution – public education – is threatening to destroy that institution entirely and increase both economic inequality and inequality of opportunity on a massive scale. The move to cut spending on public education cannot be allowed to progress to the point where K-12 education becomes as tied to family finances as Higher Education has become.
Education has long been touted in this country as a means of achieving upward economic and social mobility. Providing quality education for all, regardless of the economic and social standing of one’s parents, has been seen as an equalizer when it comes to providing the opportunity to gain employment in jobs that provide career paths which will provide financial stability for young people starting out or older workers transitioning to new career opportunities as they develop or old ones become obsolete. Since schools have traditionally been run at the local level and funding has been largely local as well, state assistance became necessary to level the playing field between localities where wealthier people reside and those whose families were less economically fortunate, due to circumstances beyond the control of the children/students themselves. Seems only fair.
My parents’ generation did a fairly good job of providing this opportunity up to the point of High School graduation. College education and beyond have been markedly different in this regard, though state and land grant colleges and universities, as well as community colleges have received state and federal money to provide financial aid for students of modest means to further their education beyond high school. Embarrassingly, my generation as a whole seems to not share the willingness shown by previous generations to ensure good education for all our children.
More and more, the cost of post-secondary education has been shifted from government (and hence, all taxpayers) to the students themselves and/or their families. In the past, much of the cost of tuition, room and board, and other living expenses was covered in the form of financial aid comprised largely of state and federal grants, work study, and as a last resort, low interest government backed student loans. Gradually, as costs rose, the share of financial aid taking these forms has dropped and that of student loans has risen dramatically. While state and federal funds, in the forms of grants, scholarships and work/study programs have have been reduced drastically, total costs have increased. Students earning degrees who would have graduated with little or no personal debt a generation ago are now facing tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt to repay over the course of many years.
Enter the realm of public primary and secondary education. While our economic system has increasingly come to glorify for-profit private enterprise conducted with a minimum of government oversight and regulation over publicly-funded and regulated operations, pressure has increased to run educational institutions in the same manner as corporations – where the goal is to benefit shareholders at the expense of the general public or those employed by them. The same has long been the case with our health care system, which has totally come off the rails to the point where it has become twisted in knots trying to maximize profits while still pretending its main goal is a healthy populace.
Teachers’ Unions, like most public sector unions, have come under increasing attack in what seems to be an ever-increasing percentage of states. Teachers are seen as the main enemy of cost control in education these days. Worker rights for teachers are coming under attack in many forms. In my state, PA, many districts have teachers who have been working without a contract for more than a year. Striking is a limited option, as, by law, the teachers cannot strike for longer than the days could be made up to allow for the school year to end by a fixed date with a required number of school days held. Pressure is there to cut budgets by taking it out of teacher salaries, or by increasing teacher contributions for health care or other benefits (another salary cut, in effect). If that is not enough to balance the books, teacher or support staff layoffs come into play – increasing class size and/or curtailing programs or ending them entirely.
Raising more revenue, either by way of the property tax (which many localities have as their only way of raising revenues for this purpose) or state aid, is often seen by the politicians (including school boards) as unthinkable. With state legislatures drastically cutting their funding for public schools, the local school districts are getting hammered financially from all directions. Every state is different on this score, but the ones that seems to place the least priority on public education are those run by Republican legislatures and/or governors. PA has cut state funding of public schools as well as higher education for years now. Even when Ed Rendell served as governor prior to the Tea Party revolution in 2010, he was signing budgets making these sorts of cuts. The situation got worse when the Republicans took over both branches in 2010, and hasn’t really improved with the removal of Republican Governor Tom Corbett in 2014, as the legislature is still GOP-controlled. The governor has vetoed budgets, but that has caused problems of a different nature, as local school districts have resorted to borrowing money to maintain services – costing them even more in interest owed on the loans.
The PA economy should be booming, given the fracking natural gas boom of recent years, but the Corbett administration bent over backwards to under-tax the companies that came in to extract the gas. Small amounts have been paid to somewhat alleviate the strain being added to infrastructure, but not nearly enough to even pay for the environmental damage being done by the fracking, let alone helping us out of the current budget crisis. A higher priority placed on achieving quality education for PA’s school children would be money better spent than continuing to coddle big business not paying their fair share of taxes. Other states have it even worse than we do. Kansas comes to mind, where the governor and legislature have drastically cut taxes on the wealthy and taken much of it from education, to the point where their Supreme Court has even deemed the budget to be unconstitutional in that it inadequately funds the schools.
Education is not only a benefit to the people receiving it. It benefits society as a whole in terms of productivity and resourcefulness of workers once they have earned their diplomas/degrees/certificates. Business and industry, as well as the wealthy among us, all benefit from having a well-educated citizenry. Education should be a right, not a privilege to be earned by spending one’s own money to fatten the bank accounts of freeloading businesses – especially if those businesses are for-profit so-called educational institutions or banks shelling out loans to students and/or their parents to attend them. The movement for privatized higher education is far more advanced than is that for primary and secondary education, but that is where much of the impetus for privatization of education resides now.
Charter schools, often for-profit, employing non-union teachers, are competing in some areas with public schools for taxpayer dollars. In some areas, public schools are being forced to consolidate or are closing so that scarce resources can be used to fund these private schools. They can squeeze out profits at the expense of their employees as well as the students and their families, without raising taxes on property or incomes. Inequality of opportunity in education is exacerbated, which means further increases in economic inequality in the future.
Just as our health care system, driven as it is by greed and private profit, favors those at the top of the economic pyramid at the expense of the rest of us, our educational system is increasingly doing the exact same thing. Neither health care nor education should be based on the ability of a human being to pay money for it. Private wealth should not automatically mean that one person gets a better education than someone else, nor should it determine by itself the course of medical treatment one receives. We need to stop this movement to privatize for personal aggrandizement the goods and services which we all deserve equally by means of our mere existence as members of the human race. Get business out of both health care and education to make a fairer and more just society.
Further Suggested Readings:
The recent mass gun murders perpetrated in a Orlando Florida are starting to look like just another in a long series of tragedies which continue to plague this country due to a lack of political courage on the part of those elected to protect us from such horrendous acts. Platitudes are spewed bemoaning such occurrences, often expressing sympathy for the families of the victims and promising swift action to rectify the situation legislatively.
All too often, the messages of sympathy are voiced loudest by those politicians who have done the most in the past to ensure that absolutely nothing is done in Congress to stop future events of this nature from occurring. Fear of retribution from the NRA, the gun manufacturers and the rest of the lobbying groups for the merchants of death is used as an excuse to do nothing but hem and haw about preserving “Second Amendment Rights” over the rights of innocent men, women and children to live and breathe.
True, many states and even the Federal Government have, in the past, passed laws designed to make obtaining weapons more difficult for those deemed to be too great a risk to be permitted to possess them. Certain types of weapons, ammunition and magazines have also faced regulation to varying degrees over the course of time. Machine guns and other fully automatic weapons have been outlawed for civilian use for decades, with nary a cry of foul emanating from the Second Amendment crowd. Military assault type weapons, such as those most prominently used in Orlando, Sandy Hook and other recent mass murder episodes were also banned for a period, before the ban was permitted to expire by Congress during the George W. Bush Administration.
We’ve been through this pain too many times in the recent past to allow the situation to continue as is any longer. Australia and most other countries have responded to similar crises swiftly, effectively and without undue restrictions being placed on individual civil liberties. Members of Congress, church goers, school children have all been needlessly murdered in this country because guns are so plentiful and easily acquired in this country that just about anybody who wants to obtain one, legally or not, can get one if they want to badly enough. Even making simple background checks universal has been nixed by Congress. Gun manufacturers have been made immune from liability in cases of lawsuits on behalf of victims harmed by their products. Even research on effects of guns as a public health risk and study of their impact on our daily lives has been forbidden from receiving government funding.
State legislatures, not content to make it easy for people to obtain this weaponry, have decided it is absolutely essential that people be allowed to carry them (sometimes with legal permits) concealed in just about anyplace they want to have them – including schools, college campuses, grocery stores, churches and just about any kind of public establishment imaginable. It has gotten to the point where, if you don’t want guns someplace, you need to prominently post notice of that fact and may require people to go through extensive screening and metal detectors to make sure nobody is sneaking one in. Obvious places where this is true are airports, where this has been true for many years. Since the 9/11 terror attacks, screening there has become much more thorough. More recently, school buildings and other places have become far more foreboding places to enter, often having armed guards and metal detectors to pass through.
Making the bearing of firearms the rule rather than the exception in most public places is ludicrous. Law enforcement aside, having guns present in almost any place frequented by large numbers of people is an invitation to disaster, accidental or intentional. The movement in some states to allow open carry of firearms by just about anybody accomplishes little more than inviting intimidating behavior on the part of most of those who do it. Allowing anybody other than law enforcement personnel into a bar and mixing gun possession with alcohol is sheer lunacy. If you don’t want people to drive drunk, why let them have guns ready at hand while drinking?
After the Sandy Hook massacre where so many young children and school employees were killed, bills were brought before Congress to do a couple of things. First, an attempt was made to eliminate loopholes that allowed certain people to be able to sell guns without conducting background checks on those purchasing them. This was ignominiously defeated in Congress, despite the fact that it was a compromise bill with support from both Republicans and Democrats. A similar move was made to ban people on no-fly terrorist watch lists from being able to purchase guns. Sounds simple – if you don’t want to allow someone on an airplane, you don’t want them buying a gun, either, right? Same result. Vote failed.
The NRA has seemed in recent years to be steadfast in its opposition to just about ANY new restriction to gun ownership or usage. They fear monger members into believing that any law or regulation that makes purchase or ownership of any sort of firearm is the first step towards confiscation of every weapon owned by any person for any purpose whatsoever. Even Donald Trump is proclaiming loudly in stump speeches that Hillary Clinton will repeal the Second Amendment if elected President. People have been saying the same thing about President Obama repeatedly during his time in office. There are more guns in this country than at any time in our history. Where do they get these claims? There are restrictions placed on the exercise of each and every one of the right enumerated in the Bill of Rights. None are absolute.
Reinstating the assault weapons ban and instituting truly universal background checks for the purchase of firearms are a bare minimum start for effectively regulating guns to better suit the needs of responsible gun users and minimizing the recurrence of such tragic events as Sandy Hook (and the numerous other school shooting incidents), Orlando, Virginia Tech, the South Carolina church shooting. just to name a few. Nobody needs an assault rifle with 30 round clips of armor-piercing ammunition to hunt for Bambi’s relatives or defend their property and loved ones from home invasion or trespass by others with criminal intent.
The distraction in the Orlando case, as was the case in the recent San Bernardino shooting incident, is that the perpetrator was an Islamic Militant Extremist and it was a terrorist attack. These are ALL terrorist attacks, in my view. The Orlando incident will be excused as a battle in the war with ISIS. The attacks on the theater in Aurora, Colorado, Gabby Giffords, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs have all been blamed on mental illness (which Congress also has no intention of addressing). They are all terrorist acts – ask any survivor if they were terrorized. That’s not main issue here. This case bears more in common with the others mentioned above (which had nothing to do with international terrorism) than it does to the 9/11 attacks or some of the recent coordinated attacks in Europe. This has more to do with guns than race, religion, sexual preference or ethnic background, as some in the news are trying to use as distractions in discussing the issue.
Whether the attack is caused by religious hatred, rabid intolerance, mental illness, homophobia, xenophobia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or just plain evil does not take away from the fact that the results are far more disastrous than would be the case if the perpetrators had either been prevented from obtaining a gun altogether, or if the weapons, ammunition and magazines had been less sophisticated and allowed them to be stopped without creating so many casualties. The link to ISIS in Orlando is tenuous at best. The case for armed homophobia is better. This was a case of domestic, not foreign, terrorism.
Senate Democrats this past week filibustered for some fifteen hours and appear to have attained assurance that some bills will be brought to a vote in the near future addressing proposed gun regulation. Capitulating to NRA/Gun Lobby intimidation needs to stop. Common sense reform to at least partially alleviate the number and extent of such incidents is needed now. Before the November election, our Congress needs to stand up and be counted. Votes for and against the NRA need to be closely watched, for it THAT, not ISIS, is the terror organization most directly responsible for the severity of the problem.
I’ll take the lives of the Sandy Hook elementary students, Pulse patrons, Planned Parenthood workers and patients, movie goers and other similarly slaughtered innocent people over the demagoguery of Wayne LaPierre, Ted Nugent and the other vocal and silent adherents to the extremist interpretation of the Second Amendment any day. Keep track of how your Representative and Senators vote on these issues. The way to keep the good ones is to vote out the ones either financed by or cowed into submission by the NRA and the other participants in the gun lobby into voting against the better interests of their constituents and the country as a whole.
Suggestions For Further Reading: