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Archive for January, 2011

"The 'minute-men' of the revolution." Lithograph by Currier & Ives, circa 1876. Public domain.Tea partiers, Republicans, Jurist, and others rail against legislative actions that in their mind are unconstitutional.  This is particularly true with issues over federal gun control.  Many of these advocates say leave it up to the individual states; some even support 1776 law when there were no controls.  They ignore that times have significantly changed.  Today there are fifty states, not including the District of Columbia, which has a greater population than the state of Vermont.  This alone might make one wonder if the Constitution is relevant as originally written.

To make determinations on constitutional issues, Americans need clearly to understand the framers were affluent eighteenth century white men representing thirteen colonies.  Their purpose in forming a new government Constitution had nothing to do with a belief that human beings are born free with equal dignity and rights.  It was rather to make certain that folks like themselves enjoyed life, liberty, and there was no interference in their pursuit of happiness.  The Constitution did not apply to the indigent, Native Americans, women, nor did it embrace the abolishment of slavery.

There are those who argue that the framers were 1776 wise men with a crystal ball who wrote the Constitution so presciently that its words would be applicable for all time and suitable to address any social development, contingency, circumstance or happenstance, or anything else that may come down the pike.  Those who make such a contention are ignorant of the fact that predicting the future depends on accumulative knowledge at the time of making a prediction.  If that premise is true, it’s hard to argue that in 1776, the founders had the equivalent knowledge of today, and so that argument is fallible.

Now, keeping these things in mind, gun enthusiasts believe that the interpretation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1791, should be as the framers wrote and originally intended it to be.  This means strict construction, which requires a judge to base a decision only on the text if it is plain and clear and as intended at the time of its writing.  It is important to note that plain meaning does not apply and a construction is necessary if the language is ambiguous or contains a literalness not intended.

However, the Second Amendment is not ambiguous!  The Second Amendment makes a simple statement: Colonist of the thirteen colonies must have the right to bear arms if they are going to join a militia mustered on short notice for the security of the colonies.  The phrase “security of a free State” clearly did not mean individual States.  That reference would have been made in the plural as States and the reference would have been made to colonies not state, if that’s what they intended it to mean.  Gun ownership advocates find an ambiguity that’s not there.

Furthermore, if today the Second Amendment, sustained under the dictate of original intent, it would mean that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” would be limited to flintlock muskets and pistols.

Americans throw around the word freedom that they concomitantly associate with their rights.  This association is further associated with their ability to profligate.  However, Americans have no more of a right to own a gun than to own a car.  In 1776 as now, money gives one that right, not the U.S. Constitution.

In our lives our purpose for being here is to evolve, gaining greater knowledge, advancing, growing, and constantly moving forward for the survival, benefit and advancement of our country, society, and all life.  Gun advocates, and those on the other side of the congressional divide, desire to keep us in the year 1776 with strict construction of the Constitution.  America cannot let that happen if we are going to progress.  Americans need to demand that constitutional adjudication should be on the concept that our Constitution is a living document, yet one that retains its essence — its fundamental properties — but not limiting our ability and responsibility to evolve.

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When I was eighteen, every young man faced conscription.  Friends were either faced with the draft, were intending to enlist, or were in the Armed Forces — other than not being physical capable, or if you could acquire conscientious objector status, or if you had the means to flee the country, you would otherwise serve.  For those who have not served or experience life during the zeitgeist of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, they don’t have a full understanding of the realities of military service, much less war.
Today, a majority of younger Americans have never served in the Armed Forces.  They have imbibed their understanding of military service and war from motion pictures, video war games, and/or otherwise formed by how the mainstream news media handles the reporting of our current wars.  Unlike those wars of the mid-twentieth century, inadequate war footage and incompetent media war reporting, as well as restrictions placed on publishing the images of our current wars, have sanitized the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in such a way that most Americans are ignorant of the true horror of those wars, or what face those veterans if and when they return home.

Most combat veterans cannot talk about their experiences.  Not even to their families or best friends.  They will only share their experiences with other veterans.  They instinctively know that others just would not understand the adrenalin-driven rushes, exultation, rage, and dreadful fear that are at times simultaneously felt in combat, the frequent killing and mayhem of their 24/7 existence, and the overwhelming feeling that you have made it through that last firefight when the guy next to you did not.  They instinctively know that others will not give them the time to explain: it’s not something capable of imparting in a sound bite.  It’s a lack of understanding evident in the egregious treatment by hecklers of Vietnam War veterans when they returned home.  While many of them received an educational or other deferment, those hecklers didn’t have a clue of what it meant to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States in Vietnam.  They didn’t seem to understand that many of those returning veterans did not have the wherewithal to receive a deferment, that they were facing up to 5 years imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine if they evaded or refused mandatory conscription.

That’s why it’s important for veterans who have oratory and/or writing skills, who are willing to take the risk, to communicate their experiences.  Men like Ron Kovic, Vietnam War veteran, co-writer of the film and author of the autobiography “Born on the Fourth of July,”  who on December 12, 2010 made an appeal, “Raise Your Voices, Protest, Stop These Wars,” a request directed at veterans to join the anti-war struggle and to support the work of March Forward! That’s why it makes Ron Kovic’s recent piece for TruthDig.com, “In the Presence of My Enemy: A Reflection on War and Forgiveness,” important to read, especially for those who have never served or experienced life when the horrors of war were a part of life and in your face every single day.

Sources:

Frankie Donlon, Freedom of Photography needed to cover wars, PointParkGlobe.com

 

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“Leave the speaking for those who have ‘Voices of Patience and Wisdom’ to say something meaningful” … so says, Jeff Jacoby, conservative columnist for the Boston Globe.

He was writing of President Obama’s address at Tucson’s memorial in honor of Arizona’s shooting victims, and of John Greene’s remarks concerning the loss of his 9-year-old daughter, Christina.

I agree the President’s speech was heartfelt and eloquent.  The President said, let’s not “use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other”; certainly, we should not!  Who could possibly disagree with Jeff Jacoby, “Not even the president, however, could match the goodness, dignity, and large-heartedness of John Greene.”  Christina’s dad, even in his anguish, where many would have the inclination to blame someone or something, refused “to pin his daughter’s murder on the ‘climate of hate’ and ‘vitriolic rhetoric’ so many others were eager to indict.”  Paul Krugman writing in the New York Times, contradictorily, “It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled.  But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.”

At first thought, Jeff Jacoby might seem to make sense, yet disappointingly, he does not recognize that beneath his words lies the real meaning: he and those who agree with him want to keep things as they are.  That way of thinking simply ignores the facts that America does have a problem of providing adequate mental healthcare for the mentally ill; that America does have a problem with decency, not only in political discourse but on our airways and in everyday American life; that America does have a problem with violence, and with proliferation and lethality of guns.  Although, as our President said, “none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack” or have “any certainty what might have stopped these shots from being fired,”  nevertheless, these facts do have everything to do with America’s “national climate,” that collectively, in one way or another, contributes to these tragedies and to so much of America’s violence.

John Green and others have said, “We don’t need any more restrictions on our society”; new laws and limitations cannot prevent every horror.  Many endorse John Greene’s belief that if we want to live “in a country like the United States, where we are more free than anywhere else, we are subject to things like this happening.”

Certainly, Americans need to emulate the goodness and compassion of the John Greene’s of this world, but it must be without ignorance or naiveté.  For where is America’s reasoning in the mantra, “Freedom comes with a price”?  Don’t they understand the human price of bloodletting in war means in essence giving up all of one’s freedom forever?  Don’t they understand that they accept it in order to protect America from terrorism, tyranny, and violence?  Doesn’t it beg the question, shouldn’t the price of freedom include giving up some freedom in order to protect Americans from the terrorism of an assassin and bloodletting right here at home.

So beyond the rhetoric of national sorrow we experience with every new American tragedy, particularly with mass violence as exemplified in Arizona, will America accept the reality of America’s moral weaknesses and take meaningful action against those weaknesses?  Or, will America excuse and dismiss those weaknesses, as they apparently have in Arizona, “as the mere act of a deranged young man, and go on as before”?

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I would think that grey-haired Americans recall the assassination of JFK more than they have a recollection of his inauguration.  As one of those ‘grey-haired’, I certainly do. But coincidently, I remember JFK’s inauguration as a time of significant personal change.  For a year prior to his inauguration, I was a musician on the road in the Deep South.  I was appalled at the treatment of black and brown Americans in the south of 1960.  It changed my perception of Martin Luther King developed while a student and musician, living and working in Boston.  During that year, I acquired a great admiration for Dr. King and his work, which brought about a sea change in attitude concerning racism, law enforcement, and government in my life.

Fifty-years ago, following Saturday’s New Year’s Eve engagement, I made a resolution not to return to the road.  I was 23 years old, and could not envision continuing a life on the road.  So, on Saturday, January 7, 1961, I took a bus from Norfolk, Virginia, connecting in Boston to a Plymouth-Brockton bus that brought me back home to Bryantville, a village in Pembroke, Massachusetts.

I found secondary employment as a bartender at Boston’s Harvard Club where I had been employed while a student at Berklee College of Music.

On my previous employment at the club, then in my early 20’s, I had served one Kennedy brother or another.  I remember the first time Ted Kennedy placed an order at my bar: a scotch and water with just enough scotch “to color the water.”  All the brothers would greet me with that familiar Kennedy smile.

At these events, Ted Kennedy was unremarkable amongst his peers; one would never suspect he would be our next Senator from Massachusetts, filling the seat of his brother John F. Kennedy, our next President of the United States.

Because of that personal connection, I developed a fondness for the Kennedys, and curiosity with their life’s vicissitudes, tribulations, triumphs and failings.

I was working that Friday at the Harvard Club when Jack Kennedy delivered his Inaugural Address.  It seemed everywhere club members had an ear to the radio.

I felt then, as I do now, that JFK, even though by a narrow margin, was elected because of America’s obsession with idols, movie stars, and the rich and famous, of which JFK was marked by wealth, a politically respected name, war heroics, personal attractiveness, his youth, a good-looking wife, and attractive children.

Because of my road experience, I was sensitive to King’s civil rights movement.  When Kennedy articulated the phrase, “… ask what you can do for your country,” my thoughts focused on King’s struggle for civil rights.  I said to myself, “well, Jack, civil rights legislation is what you can do for your country.”

Despite Kennedy’s rhetoric, my perception is that President Kennedy did not have the political will to embrace the Civil Rights that Martin Luther King sought. I don’t believe it would ever have been accomplished under his leadership.

This year, the memory of the sixties is particularly poignant.  The attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the murders of six and critical wounds to twelve others, brings revulsion and shudder to this ‘grey-haired’.  Like many others who had just come of age in the 60’s, the Vietnam war, anarchy, and assassination are the events marking that era and are indelibly engraved in our memory.  These events, the tragedy in Arizona, and the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, manifest disillusionment with America.

JFK was at heart a politician and warrior.  With those attributes, my instincts are that he would not attempt to do what would be beneficial for Americans. He would not have reached beyond politics, “allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions,” as Dr. King put it.

I certainly don’t think three years is enough time to reasonably assess a presidency.  Nevertheless, in hindsight, I wonder today if JFK was, or ever could have been, a successful President.

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If the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had not occurred, and he was alive today, would he be speaking out against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?  Would he still be preaching to love one’s enemies, even if they are terrorist — al Qaeda, the Taliban?  Would he give the same speech today, Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence, as he delivered it at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967?  Would he still be calling the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”?

Times have changed since the zeitgeist of Vietnam.  Today, it’s a different war in a different place and fought under different circumstances.  Nonetheless, this speech has such great depth that speaks to the contemporary issues and attitudes that are as incandescently clear today as they were then.

And, so, the answer to these questions is an unequivocal yes.  And, he would rise up against some of today’s other pressing issues.

Dr. King, with his aptitude for oratory, and skill at organizing and employing nonviolent action, would be providing the leadership so conspicuously absent in America today.  He not only would continue to lead the struggle against the “War on Poverty,” the poor and those who do not have the where-with-all to care for themselves and their families; the struggle of challenging the unwarranted influences of the military-industrial-academic complex; and, the struggle and enormous challenge of achieving world peace.  However, he also would be riled at America’s incivility; our propensity for violence manifested in war, entertainment and gaming; America’s unreasonable and deplorable hate of Muslims; so-called enhanced interrogation techniques used on terrorist, inadequate gun regulation; the unprecedented disparity between the rich, the middle class, and the poor, and so much more that is now bringing down America.

Dr. King would have been so proud to see a significant part of his vision come to fruition (albeit somewhat shaky) and that America finally was able to overcome a great racial weakness and elect its first black president.  He would be proud that our president received the Nobel Peace Prize.  However, in part, that jubilation would have turned into profound disappointment.

Dr. King would be disappointed in President Obama’s failure to heed his words and failure to embrace his moral vision.  Specifically, he would be riling against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  He would speak out against Obama’s failure to provide the leadership necessary to end these wars.  He would criticize President Obama for not being an intractable force in a mission for world peace.  After all, he has the bully pulpit, nationally and internationally, to accomplish great things that are beyond politics.  Dr. King said, “I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.”

What would have been Dr. King’s expectation did not come to be, inasmuch as Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize turned out to be disillusionment.  Regarding his Nobel, Dr. King said, “I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission — a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for ‘the brotherhood of man.’  This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present, I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment.

“This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions.  We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls ‘enemy,’ for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”

The time is long overdue when Americans should not be silent regarding war.  We should not be silent when we hear the war drums beating in relation to our difficulties with Iran or North Korea.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. certainly would not be silent.  He would dust off that old speech on Vietnam and update it, but essentially the profundity of that speech would be unaltered.

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On the last day of November, Jared Lee Loughner, a 22-year-old who apparently has psychological problems, walked into a Tucson Sportsman’s Warehouse, and in passing a federal instant background check purchased a Glock 19 semiautomatic handgun.

On Sunday, January 9, 2011, following his arrest as a suspect in a Saturday morning shooting rampage at a political event being held outside of a Tucson Safeway store, Loughner was charged of using that Glock in an attempted assassination of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the murders of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, U.S. District Judge John Roll, Gabriel Zimmerman, Dorothy Morris, Dorwin Stoddard, and Phyllis Schneck, as well as the attempted murder of thirteen others.

It didn’t take very long for politicians, the news media and their pundits, to tie this atrocity to overheated political discourse, the hateful, fear-mongering vitriolic and militaristic language of many on the right, but the same charge could be made of those of any political persuasion.  Of course, there are those who deny that there is a problem, or claim that Loughner’s actions were not politically motivated, or why is everyone getting bent out of shape over this when Loughner was simply a deranged individual.  Each making their assertions with an assertiveness as if their view was the only reasonably possible view.

The fact is that incivility, cruel and hateful language, in not only politics but also inculcated in American society, as well as our obsession with guns and violence defines America.  The evidence is in the entertainment and programming that garners the most ratings, the violent games Americans participate in, the radio and television talk shows who spew hateful, inflammatory language and falsehoods that America salivates over, and our insatiable love of war.  If one was to take a moment to consider it, I am certain they could come up with much more evidence, some of that evidence as close as in one’s own family.

Although, we may never know with certainty that this Arizona bloodbath was politically connected, inadequate gun legislation is clearly front and center in this tragedy.

On the Monday following the shooting, Arizona’s one-day handgun sales jumped 60 percent over last year.  Although gun sales increased countrywide, Arizona had the second-largest increase of any state in the country, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data.

Arizona is a state where gun laws are among the most lenient.  A law enacted last year allows gun owners to conceal and carry without a permit.  Except for businesses, some restaurants are permitted to conceal and carry weapons, and guns are allowed in the state Capitol and public buildings.  The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives shows that “Arizona is an exporter of guns that are seized in crimes.”

Moreover, since it’s not difficult to purchase any gun in Arizona, or in any of the southern-border states, it’s difficult to stop gunrunners from acquiring guns and taking them across the border.  Acquisition of guns from United States gun dealers are tied directly to Mexico’s drug violence.

The shooting rampage in Arizona is a manifestation of America’s obvious gun control problem, and that with a seemingly lack of respect and compassion for others is an indication of a serious moral decline in our society.

Unfortunately, in a free and open society, cruel vitriol, gun ownership, and mentally impaired or even dangerously deranged citizens’ constitutional protections are not limited.  But, the fact is that we cannot be completely free.  Universally, we are not free to scream “fire” in a crowded theater – it has been ruled extremely and imminently dangerous — and neither should Americans be free to voice threats of violence, defame anyone, or own a gun without controls on its use, for these actions too are imminently dangerous.  And, after all, what legitimate purpose would anyone outside of the military have for ownership of a Glock 19?

Sources:

Steve Almond, Surely Some Revelation Is at Hand, The Rumpus

Jared Lee Loughner, Wikipedia

Amy Goodman, A Tale of Two Sheriffs, TruthDig.com

Drew Armstrong and Justin Blum, Arizona Shooting Suspect Wrote `Die Bitch’ on Giffords Letter, Police Say, Bloomberg News

Michael Riley, Glock Pistol Sales Jump in Aftermath of Arizona Shootings Amid Ban Concern, Bloomberg News

James V. Grimaldi and Fredrick Kunkle, Gun used in Tucson was purchased legally; Arizona laws among most lax in nation, The Washington Post

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ statement on the U.S. Supreme Court D.C. Gun ban decision, Giffords.House.gov

James Grimaldi, The Hidden Life of Guns, The Washington Post

Eugene Robinson, Gun Crazy, TruthDig.com

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In light of the narcissistically high opinion we have of ourselves, it is incongruous, but also immoral, that America can always find the money to fund innovative ways to destroy lives and to kill human beings but cannot find the moral imperative or the money to solve America’s problems at home.

Despite a growing deficit and debt; high unemployment, underemployed American workers, and scant employment; increasing homelessness, poverty, and hunger impacting more and more lives; inferior schools, high education costs and a failing system of education; deteriorating economic conditions; an aging and rotting infrastructure; failure to solve our energy problem; exploding health care cost and the threat by republicans to repeal recent healthcare legislation; and threats to reduce or even abandon social security, the American taxpayer continues willingly and unabatedly to fund its war machine.

For example:

It’s been reliably reported that America’s annual military expenditure exceeds $1 trillion; the United States is spending $120 to $160 billion a year on the Afghan war; in 2011, we will spend $11.6 billion on training and equipment for the Afghan military and police force, and we will continue to spend on Afghan’s security forces to the tune of around $6.2 billion a year through 2015.  Furthermore, these expenses are just a drop in the bucket in consideration of the added expense of maintaining a military presence in Iraq, and military and civilian subcontracting in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

On 1/11/2011, President Obama signed a $725 billion National Defense Authorization Act into law.  The bill includes funding of $73 million to train and equip Yemeni fighters.  And it includes funding of $205 million to develop the “Iron Dome,” a short-range rocket and missile defense system for Israel.

Among the innovations, America has come up with is a new weapon: Prompt Global Strike.  It is “a new class of weapon capable of reaching any corner of the earth from the United States in under an hour and with such accuracy and force that would greatly diminish America’s reliance on its nuclear arsenal,”  meaning it is designed to kill and destroy with the same “localized destructive power of a nuclear warhead.”  The Obama Administration has asked Congress for about $250 million for research and design of this new weapon, “one that uses some of the most advanced technology in the military today as well as some not yet even invented.”  A version of the system is targeted for deployment by 2014 or 2015.  Its cost are unknown, however John McCain said that the system would be “essential and critical, but also costly.”

It is reported that America’s Afghanistan forces has a new futuristic rifle that fires radio-controlled ‘smart’ bullets.  The XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System with a range of roughly 2,300 feet, fires bullets that can be programmed to receive a radio signal from the weapons gunsight that measures the precise distance to the target so that when fired will explode one meter past the target with the force of a hand grenade.  They will cost up to $35,000 each with each smart round costing $25.  The Army plans to buy 12,500 of the XM25 rifles this year: That’s $435 million dollars, not including the radio-controlled ‘smart’ bullets.

If one were to trace and calculate every military and nonmilitary expense, of which this article or any article could never cover in its entirety, to the cost of a burgeoning National Security operation, the price tag would be unfathomable.

Since this is financed with borrowed money, just where are these folks — the tea party, republicans and others — who are concerned with unfunded spending and deficit spending.  Why aren’t they speaking out as they did when they were so concerned with finding funding for unemployment extensions or funding healthcare for Americans here at home.

Sources:

Tom Engelhardt, The Urge to Surge: Washington’s 30-Year High, TomDispatch.com

Stephanie Chen, The new hungry: College-educated, middle-class cope with food insecurity, CNN

Daily mail reporter, No hiding place from new U.S. Army rifles that use radio-controlled smart bullets, Daily Mail OnLine

Joshua Rhett Miller, U.S. Army Unveils ‘Revolutionary’ XM25 Rifle in Afghanistan, Fox News

Josh Gerstein, Obama signs defense bill that could cripple his Guantanamo policy, Politico.com

David Sanger and Thom Shanker, U.S. Faces Choice on New Weapons for Fast Strikes, The New York Times

Dana Priest and William Arkin, Top Secret America, The Washington Post

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