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“When Silence Is Just Not Loud Enough”: Moments Of Silence In The House Have Become An Abomination

Our president was speaking to us in his grave yet hopeful voice, a timbre and tone he has had much practice in using. Far too much practice.

He uses it when there has been a mass shooting in America. And by some counts, this was his 14th time.

“We have to make it harder for people who want to kill Americans to get their hands on weapons of war,” our president is saying.

We have been working on that one for a while. But it is really not a matter of human lives lost, people lying in pools of blood or corpses shredded by gunfire.

Solving that problem would be relatively easy. The real problem is political — which is why no gun legislation with a serious chance of passing stands before Congress.

The body counts, the gore, the all-too-vivid last moments captured on a hand-held camera mean nothing compared with the politics of gun ownership.

It remains very easy to buy a semi-automatic rifle almost anywhere in America. Only seven states ban them.

So the killing continues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013 guns were used in 11,208 deaths by homicide. That’s a lot. That’s nearly 31 per day.

Why so many? “Crazy” is a popular choice. Do you have to be crazy to shoot and kill 49 people in a nightclub? How about 20 small children in an elementary school? Or 12 people at a Batman movie?

Were all the shooters crazy? Could be. But foreign countries have crazy people, too, and many countries’ murder rates are much lower than ours.

Again, why? One reason is that in America, we allow individuals to own weapons of mass destruction — semi-automatic firearms with large magazines.

And though Congress banned them for 10 years — 1994 to 2004 — it has refused to reinstate the ban even though mass killings continue.

In America, a gun is not just a gun. It is a fetish, a totem, an icon. It has an appeal that defies mere logic.

Charles Bronson — and I swear I am not making up the name — is the former commissioner of agriculture and consumer services for the state of Florida. He used to be in charge of gun permits. Today he is still against more stringent gun laws, such as the ones that would ban semi-automatic AR-15 military-style rifles.

“People use AR-15s to hunt deer, to hunt hogs, to hunt all kinds of game,” Bronson told a reporter, and he said it would be a shame to change the gun laws “because of one person’s lawlessness.”

I am trying to see his point of view: One person kills 49 people and wounds 53 others, and that is nothing compared with the pleasure of executing a hog.

All these arguments are familiar. Everything about mass shootings is achingly familiar — the moments of silence, the lighting of candles, the wearing of ribbons, the hourlong news specials, the flags at half-staff, the president coming down to the briefing room and then the full-scale speech like the one President Barack Obama will make Thursday in Orlando.

“These mass shootings are happening so often now that lamenting them afterwards is becoming a national ritual,” Conan O’Brien said Monday.

O’Brien is a late-night comic. He is also an observer of life in these United States. It is sometimes hard to observe that life and still remain a comic, and I admire him for trying.

“I have really tried very hard over the years not to bore you with what I think,” he said, his voice growing angrier as he spoke. “However, I am a father of two. I like to believe I have a shred of common sense, and I simply do not understand why anybody in this country is allowed to purchase and own a semi-automatic assault rifle. … These are weapons of war, and they have no place in civilian life. …

“I do not know the answer, but I wanted to take just a moment here tonight to agree with the rapidly growing sentiment in America that it’s time to grow up and figure this out.”

Time to grow up. A fine idea. And I really wish the sentiment behind it were “rapidly growing.” Because not everybody in America will get a chance to grow up. Some of those children we send each morning to the “safety” of their schools will never make it back home alive. (According to Everytown for Gun Safety, “since 2013, there have been at least 188 school shootings in America — an average of nearly one a week.”)

On Capitol Hill on Monday, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan called for a ritual moment of silence in the House chamber to commemorate those killed in Orlando.

Connecticut Democrat Jim Himes stood up and walked off the floor instead. Previously, he had tweeted:

“I will not attend one more ‘Moment of Silence’ on the Floor. Our silence does not honor the victims, it mocks them.”

“The Moments of Silence in the House have become an abomination. God will ask you, ‘How did you keep my children safe’? Silence.”

“If God is an angry God, prepare to know a hell well beyond that lived day to day by the families of the butchered. I will not be silent.”

And I, for one, hope he keeps talking, tweeting, speaking out and walking out.

 

By: Roger Simon, The National Memo, June 15, 2016

June 17, 2016 Posted by | Congress, Gun Control, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Progressive Perspective”: Congress Should Approve The President’s Request To Punish The Use Of Chemical Weapons

I began my work in politics and the Progressive Movement working for civil rights and the end of the Viet Nam War in the 1960’s. And I worked hard to end one of the greatest foreign policy outrages of my lifetime – the War in Iraq.

I believe that U.S. military and covert actions to support the status quo in Central and South America, Africa and Asia were utterly indefensible.

But I also believe that there are times when the use of military force is not only justified – but required.

Bashar al Assad cannot be allowed to use chemical weapons to kill 1,400 people – over 400 children – in the plain site of the entire world – with impunity. It’s that simple.

Since the end of World War I – almost a century ago – there has been a worldwide consensus that human society will not allow combatants in conflicts to use chemical or biological weapons. After World War II, nuclear weapons were added to the list.

These true weapons of mass destruction present a danger far beyond their effects on the immediate combatants – or even the innocent bystanders – of a particular conflict. If the world allows and thereby legitimates their use, it will unleash forces that could endanger huge swaths of human society – and even the existence of humanity itself.

While chemical weapons cannot do damage as extensive as nuclear or radiological weapons – they have the potential of killing and maiming tens of thousands of our fellow human beings within hours or minutes. And their horrific effects have been graphically demonstrated in real time on the television screens of the world documenting Assad’s attacks on innocent civilians.

Sometime in the last century, human society entered a gauntlet. As we pass through that gauntlet, a race is on to determine whether our values and political structures evolve fast enough to keep up with the geometric increases in our technology? If they do, technology could propel human beings into an awesome and unprecedented period of freedom, possibility and fulfillment. If not, we could destroy ourselves and turn into an evolutionary dead end – like our cousins the Neanderthals.

To survive that gauntlet, it is critically important that we do everything in our power to absolutely ban the use of weapons of mass destruction – and to make those who violate that ban into worldwide pariahs. We must make their use unthinkable.

In political and historic narratives – some moments take on an iconic, symbolic importance. Assad’s use of chemical weapons is now one of them. Will the world stand idly by while we watch – up close and personal – as a government uses chemical weapons with impunity? Or will someone take action to require that the perpetrators of this crime be made to pay a price?

Most people in the world wish that someone had stepped up to stop the horrific genocide in Rwanda. Most now believe President Clinton and NATO did the right thing to prevent ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

History will judge us harshly, if we stand by idly, and legitimate the use of chemical weapons – and weapons of mass destruction in general – by allowing their use in the view of the full world to go unpunished.

And let’s be clear. We’re not debating who has the right to possess these weapons – or to possess nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction here — a major topic of political debate in the world for the last decade. We are talking about their actual use.

If we agree that we cannot allow that actual use to occur with utter impunity, then the only question remaining is – who will act to impose a serious sanction?

Unfortunately the United Nations has not yet evolved into an institution that has the ability to escape gridlock if one of the world’s major powers stands in the way. It will not act. Russia and China will prevent it.

So as a practical matter, if the United States does not lead some sort of international action to do so, it will not happen.

Of course the legacy of the War in Iraq casts a giant shadow on this showdown over chemical weapons in Syria. Its legacy casts doubt on the accuracy of American intelligence, and causes everyday Americans to be very reluctant to support any use of force in the world.

But this is not Iraq. The President is not asking for authorization to go to war – or to become engaged in the Syrian Civil War. He is not proposing – as Bush proposed in Iraq – an American military invasion. He is not proposing a campaign of “regime change” or “nation building.” America’s decision will surely have implications for the Syrian Civil War, but this decision is not even mainly about the Syrian Civil War. It is mainly about the use of chemical weapons.

The President is proposing that the Congress authorize him to take action in this very narrow circumstance. He is proposing that the world community demonstrate that if someone uses chemical weapons, there will be a substantial cost to that action – that we do not allow such an act to occur with impunity. Because if the world sits by, the message will be crystal clear: that the use of chemical weapons has once again become an acceptable means of armed conflict. That would be a tragedy – and would endanger the future of all of the world’s children – who could one day find themselves writhing in pain and gasping for breath like the Syrian children we all watched on television.

Condemnation and “moral outrage” against the use of chemical weapons do not constitute a sanction. They are, in fact, no sanction at all. We would never allow the perpetrator of a rape or murder in the United States to be subjected to “moral outrage” and sent home to contemplate his deed. How much less can we allow that to the be case when a government has murdered 1,400 of its own people using weapons that have been universally condemned by the entire international community for almost 100 years. That defies common sense.

I would argue that the control – and ultimate elimination of weapons of mass destruction – chemical, biological and nuclear – is one of the most critical priorities for Progressives like myself, and for our entire society. To secure the future of our species, we must eliminate them – not only from the hands of tyrants like Assad, or unreliable nation states, or non-state actors – but from all of the world’s arsenals, including our own.

We have begun to make progress down that long and difficult road with the end of the Cold War, the chemical weapons treaty, nuclear weapons treaties – and most importantly, the developing worldwide consensus that their use is unthinkable.

The world cannot afford an iconic use of chemical weapons to go unpunished. And the United States of America alone in the world has the ability to lead an appropriate international response.

By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post, September 1, 2013

September 2, 2013 Posted by | Syria | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Iraq War, Ten Years Later”: The Next Time Our Government Wants To Rush Us Into A War, Dissenters Need To Be Listened To

Ten years ago, as President George W. Bush took the final, fateful steps to launch the United States’ invasion of Iraq, Christopher Cerf and I were pulling all-nighters, feverishly putting the final touches on our anthology The Iraq War Reader. Having done a previous well-received anthology on the Gulf War, the campaign led by Bush Senior to push Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait back in 1991, we felt we had no choice but to offer a sequel. After all, we joked to ourselves, if Junior thought he had to “finish the job,” we did too.

Both of our books were designed to be comprehensive, readable guides to the history, documents and opinions that swirled around these events. We took care to provide a fair and balanced mix of points of view, to let readers make up their own minds about what they thought about the wisdom and justice of these wars.

But truth be told, both Chris and I were deeply skeptical of the proponents of war, having seen with our own research how often government and military officials lie. And so we made sure to include in our second book plenty of evidence from the first Gulf War of how we had been lied to about things as small as the supposed efficacy of the Patriot Missile (it mostly failed to shoot down Scuds) to the monstrous and false claim that Saddam’s troops had ripped babies out of Kuwaiti hospital incubators.

But 10 years ago, it was not a good time to be a war skeptic in America. It rarely is. The vast majority of “smart” and “serious” people had convinced themselves that in the face of Saddam Hussein’s alleged stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction, the prudent thing to do was to go to war to remove him from power.

Skeptics who tried to argue that it was better to let UN weapons inspectors continue monitoring his efforts while maintaining sanctions that hemmed in his regime were deemed foolish and naïve. Regional experts who warned of the danger that a post-Saddam Iraq would collapse into civil war, that Iran would be strengthened, or that any American occupation would be costly and futile, were dismissed as worrying about hypotheticals. Those were seen as abstractions compared to the “reality” that Iraq was on the verge of getting a nuclear bomb, presumably against us.

Later that spring, as we sent the book to all its contributors, I took some consolation as I inscribed each copy with words to the effect of: “To a full and vibrant debate. Let’s see in 10 years who was right.”

Looking back now, it’s easy to see who was wrong about the need to invade Iraq. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Judith Miller, Kenneth Pollack, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, George Will, Ann Coulter, Peggy Noonan, Andrew Sullivan, William Safire, Fouad Ajami, Charles Krauthammer, Richard Gephardt, Tom DeLay, George Tenet, John McCain and of course Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush: You were all wrong about this.

Not only that, you were all wrong about the war’s likely aftermath. There were no “kites and boomboxes” greeting American troops in Baghdad and Basra, as Ajami predicted. Just sectarian riots and suicide bombers. (This disastrous prediction hasn’t stopped CNN from continuing to rely on Ajami as a regular expert commentator.)

A few prominent pundits, like Christopher Hitchens and Thomas Friedman, at least admitted that while they favored going to war, they recognized the aftermath would be complicated and that it would not be a success if it didn’t produce a “liberated Iraq” (Friedman) that would be “better and safer” for Iraqis and Kurds (Hitchens). These hopes, obviously, were also wishful thinking. Bur remember, in the topsy-turvy times of 10 years ago, men of action were deemed prudent, while counsels of caution were considered crackpots.

A few Democratic centrists, like Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi, fell for the false intel about Iraq’s weapons programs, unfortunately helping to legitimize Bush’s casus belli. But at least they argued against pre-emptive and unilateral war, sought to buy time for more inspections and sanctions, and insisted that an occupation of Iraq would be terribly costly.

Who got Iraq right in our book? The honor role, in order of their appearance in our pages, includes Noam Chomsky, Ron Paul, Patrick Buchanan, Arianna Huffington, Robert Byrd, John Mearshimer, Stephen Walt, John le Carre, Edward Said, Terry Jones, Jonathan Schell, James Fallows, Mohamed El Baradei (the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency), and the governments of Russia, France and Germany (who tried to block Bush’s rush to war in the Security Council).

Sadly, too many of the people who got Iraq wrong have never really admitted their mistakes and are still treated as respected voices of opinion. When you read them or see them on TV, there ought to be an asterisk next to their names reading: “Caution — Wrong about the Iraq War.” And too few of the war’s skeptics have been rewarded for being right.

But hopefully, the next time our government tries to rush us into a war, the dissenters will be treated with more respect, and the proponents with less. Many lives will depend on it.

 

By: Micah Sifry, The National Memo, March 15, 2013

March 17, 2013 Posted by | Iraq War | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Culture Of Violence”: The National Rifle Association Is The Problem

As a political consultant and Senate staffer, I have worked for a lot of office holders and candidates who were strong advocates of hunting and the Second Amendment.

For many years, I worked a lot in the West and in rural districts. I cut my share of ads with candidates out in the prairies or the mountains with their guns and dogs. I have also done ads for the Humane Society of the United States that excoriated practices such as bear-baiting, canned hunts, and trophy hunting, as well as ads on animal cruelty.

The defense of hunters was always used by the National Rifle Association as a cornerstone of their programs. They pushed gun safety and the proper care and use of guns; they conducted camps and taught people how to shoot.

But as their power and finances grew, a lot changed. More and more, we were urged to get guns to “protect ourselves” or to become a collector. Guns for guns’ sake. The technology got more and more sophisticated. Weapons could shoot more rapid-fire bullets and the bullets became more lethal. Cop killer bullets, some were called.

The NRA raised more and more money to attack politicians who argued for reasonable checks at gun shows or opposed carrying concealed weapons into schools or churches or community centers. You were either with them all the way or against them—no middle ground.

For the NRA, it became about expansion of gun sales and ammunition sales. Why were 300 million guns not enough? Why do we need assault rifles that can penetrate body armor? Why do we need to lift the restrictions on where guns can be carried?

Follow the money.

Last year, according to the Washington Post, gun sales topped $12 billion. The gun manufacturers collected nearly a billion in profit. There were nearly 6 million guns bought last year. Six million.

This is absurd.

This isn’t about hunting. This isn’t even about protection. This is about money.

The NRA answers to the gun manufacturers, the ammunition makers, but rarely to their members.

I don’t think we will see much at Friday’s NRA press conference: words about kids and families, some minor bromides thrown out. But they are the problem.

I have had it with groups like the NRA who must take a large share of the blame for the culture of violence that engulfs our country. More and better weapons are leading to larger and more devastating slaughters, more murders on our streets, more domestic arguments that turn deadly. Yes, guns kill people. More and more frequently we see their devastation. More and more we see lives and communities ruined. It is time to tell the money-men behind these weapons of mass destruction that enough is enough. It is time we became a civilized nation. It is time to take on the NRA and the gun manufacturers. And, maybe, just maybe, it is time for them to admit the truth and do something about it.

 

By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, December 19, 2012

December 20, 2012 Posted by | Public Safety | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Lingering Bitterness”: The McCain-Graham Blisteringly Stupid And Painfully Dishonest Arguments

As a top official in the Bush/Cheney administration, Condoleezza Rice said wildly untrue things about Iraq to the American people. Soon after, she received bipartisan support to become Secretary of State.

As a top official in the Obama/Biden administration, Susan Rice said entirely credible things about Benghazi based on the collective judgment of the intelligence community. Soon after, Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham launched a smear campaign against Rice to prevent her from becoming Secretary of State.

Zeke Miller highlights the disconnect from Graham…

[I]n 2005, Graham was fiercely protective of Rice as she faced confirmation to take over the State Department, chaffing at terms used by Democratic lawmakers to describe her testimony. “The words like ‘misleading’ and ‘disingenuous,’ I think, were very unfair,” Graham said on Fox News.

Asked if then-Sen. Mark Dayton’s use of the word “liar” was justified, Graham pounced. “Yes, that’s even more unfair. Because it was all in terms of weapons of mass destruction and misleading us about the war and what was in Iraq. Well, every intelligence agency in the world was misled. And to connect those two to say that she’s a liar is very unfair, over the line.”

…and from McCain.

“So I wonder why we are starting this new Congress with a protracted debate about a foregone conclusion,” he said [in 2005], adding that Rice is qualified for the job. “I can only conclude that we are doing this for no other reason than because of lingering bitterness over the outcome of the election.”

When Condoleezza Rice lied about WMD, McCain said she had unquestionable “integrity.” When Susan Rice told the truth about Benghazi, McCain said she’s guilty of “not being very bright.” The former received McCain’s support; the latter received McCain’s contempt.

It’s troublesome when partisan hacks launch smear campaigns against public officials who don’t deserve it, but it’s especially offensive when partisan hacks launch lazy smear campaigns based on blisteringly stupid, painfully dishonest arguments.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 14, 2012

November 15, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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