Showing posts with label Terrorism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Terrorism. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Flag Day Despoiled



I was going to write a piece about Flag Day with photos.

Now, the depressing news about the shooting at a baseball practice field of Republican members of the congressional baseball team leads to other thoughts.  Thankfully no one was killed other than the gunman.  Good riddance to him. And thankfully the brave Capitol Police were there to take him down.

But will this be a time that we pull together long after the incident?  Or will it just pull us further apart?

I’ve heard comments such as Representative Mo Brooks’  “It’s not easy to take when you see people around you being shot and you don’t have a weapon yourself.”  According to initial reports the deranged gunman had a military assault style weapon.  One can understand the helplessness and the impotence felt by Rep. Brooks.  It is an outrage that we cannot even enjoy our national pastime without feeling threatened this way.  And it is an outrage that political divisiveness should lead to any kind of violence.

But unless we all pull together the subsequent dialogue can go two divergent ways.  One could lead us down the path of greater authoritarianism and the call for arming more citizens (although a greater police presence is going to be necessary when many of our Representatives are in public venues).  The other path could call for the long-needed ban of military grade weapons.  Are we all supposed to be armed  with AR-15s on our baseball fields?  I’m no Pollyanna and know that such a ban would have little impact on what happens in the near future.  I’m thinking long term.  This is not about challenging the 2nd Amendment, and it is not about Republican vs. Democrat.  It’s about common sense banning military weapons, doing comprehensive background checks, expanding our treatment of mental illness, and developing better early warning signs of mentally disturbed people from social networks and prior arrests.

I worry about how this horrible incident will move the country in the future.  Will we come together, E pluribus unum, or be driven apart, politicizing this horror?  I look to the flag and wonder and hope.



Tuesday, December 8, 2015

It Can’t Happen Here?



Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America tell tales that seem impossible, demagogues being elected President of the United States and the violent consequences, minorities being persecuted, hunted, fanaticism and mass hatreds abounding.   It’s an old formula – stir fear among the populace and then promise to protect them.  Donald Trump showed his cards last night and got his South Carolina audience worked up into almost an evangelistic state.  His message is simple: Muslims in America are dangerous and he’ll protect us, classic demagoguery – “a person who appeals to the emotions and prejudices of people in order to advance his own political ends.”

Trump has stirred a dangerous pot, just what ISIS wants.  If one was a conspiracist, perhaps it could be said that he is merely a Trojan horse for Ted Cruz, who independently stated:  “We will utterly destroy ISIS. We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.”  If Trump drops out, Cruz will inherit the far right fringe of the Republican Party.  Was that the “plan” all along? Does Cruz know that carpet bombing usually implies leveling an area, civilians and all?  It sounds more like revenge than a strategy, something to make his followers “feel good.”

Unfortunately, the horror in San Bernardino has fed into all of this, “legitimizing” such dangerous rhetoric and escalating it to personal attacks on President Obama (who now has low polling numbers about keeping America “safe,” the exact inverse of what those numbers were after bin Laden was nailed) - and subsequent accusations that any call for stronger gun control laws is merely politicizing the San Bernardino tragedy.

But such calls have gone on for years with fierce Republican and NRA opposition.  I do not naively believe that better gun control laws and enforcement would magically eliminate such tragedies, especially in the short term.  But I do believe that the Second Amendment, which was written in the days of musket rifles and flintlock pistols, needs serious updating.

At that time, we needed an armed militia and also the founding fathers believed that an armed citizenry would be deterrent to the rise of a despotic government.  The world has changed since then, weapons of war unimaginable to our forefathers, and, now, mostly in the hands of the military and law enforcement.  To make some of the same weapons legitimately available to the citizenry no longer serves the purpose of protecting us from a despotic government as the military will always have superior weaponry (is an AK-15 adequate protection against a tank?). The proliferation of automatic weapons just further endangers us all, giving us a false sense of security by just having one in our closet. 

No, this is a country of laws and checks and balances and we have to depend on our tried-and-true institutions as well as the much maligned (by Trump in particular) fourth estate to keep our government transparent and trustworthy. If some fringe element threatens us in our homes and public places, we need better intelligence to prevent it and rapid response law enforcement to protect us.

Fully automatic weapons (ones that operate as a machine gun) need to be banned, and guns should be registered just like a car, an equally dangerous thing.  That means getting a license, passing a rigorous background check and license renewals (a gun owner having to report if it is sold, just like a car).  Guns for self defense, hunting and target practicing are understandable but how can one argue that an automatic weapon is needed?  Certainly not for hunting (where is the sport in that?).  Do we really want our neighbors to be totting an automatic weapon citing Florida’s ambiguous “stand your ground” law as a justification? 

Will that keep guns out of the hands of the “bad guys” as the Republicans like to call them?  No, but it’s a start and of course the devil is in the details of how such gun control is administered.  Senseless to get further into it here – I’m merely expounding an opinion.

Getting back to the demagoguery of Trump’s speech reminded me of a piece I wrote during the last Presidential primaries.  I concluded it with a description of the movie A Face in the Crowd and it seems to be even more apropos to this Republican primary, so I’ll repeat what I said then….

A bit of serendipity led me to watch the 1957 classic A Face in the Crowd on Turner Classic Movies. Directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg, it depicts Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith), a drifter who is found in a jail by Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal), who she enlists to sing and talk on a local Arkansas radio station, he ultimately rising to the pinnacle of media demagoguery.  He is nicknamed "Lonesome" Rhodes by Marcia, and she goes on the journey with him from obscurity to fame to fall. 

The relevancy of this film, made more than fifty years ago, to today is striking.  Lonesome is drawn into the political arena, and is brought in to help transform the film's Senator Worthington Fuller into a Presidential candidate.  Lonesome instinctively and sardonically understands the manipulative power of language and media. 

When he first meets the Senator, he advises him to abandon his stiff personality and give himself over to Lonesome's control:  "...Your problem is getting the voters to listen to you. Getting them to like you enough to listen to you. We've got to face it, politics have entered a new stage, television. Instead of long-winded debates, the people want slogans. 'Time for a change' 'The mess in Washington' 'More bang for a buck'. Punch-lines and glamour....We've got to find  a  million buyers for the product 'Worthington Fuller'....Respect? Did you ever hear of anyone buying any product beer, hair rinse, tissue, because they respect it? You've got to be loved, man. Loved....Senator, I'm a professional. I look at the image on that screen same as at a performer on my show. And I have to say...you'll never get over to my audience not to the millions of people who welcome me into their living rooms each week. And if I wouldn't buy him, do you realize what that means? If I wouldn't buy him, the people of this country aren't ready to buy him for that big job on Pennsylvania Avenue....I'm an influence, a wielder of opinion...a force. A force."

To Marcia he says :"This whole country's just like my flock of sheep!....Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers - everybody that's got to jump when somebody else blows the whistle. They don't know it yet, but they're all gonna be 'Fighters for Fuller'. They're mine! I own 'em! They think like I do. Only they're even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for 'em. Marcia, you just wait and see. I'm gonna be the power behind the president - and you'll be the power behind me."

An actor on Rhodes' show asks him about Senator Fuller: "You really sell that stiff as a man among men?" Lonesome Rhodes replies: "Those morons out there? Shucks, I could take chicken fertilizer and sell it to them as caviar. I could make them eat dog food and think it was steak. Sure, I got 'em like this... You know what the public's like? A cage of Guinea Pigs. Good Night you stupid idiots. Good Night, you miserable slobs. They're a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they'll flap their flippers."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dawning



We’re going off to Seattle and Alaska so for a while this space will be quiet.  I hope to have some interesting tales and photographs upon our return.

I write this with a great sense of sadness as thirteen years ago we watched the smoke drift from the north to the south when the World Trade Towers were attacked and fell, a day in our lives we will never forget. Although we were some fifty miles away, it was a clear, crisp autumn-like morning sky and we could see it clearly from our boat in Norwalk, CT.  Such senselessness, the loss of life of so many innocent men and women, and yet the monstrous hatred that spawned those attacks continues.  We can only hope that the administration’s plans as laid out by President Obama last night will contain and perhaps destroy ISIS.  It is obviously a war without end.

My older son, Chris, wrote a poem about 9/11 that very day.  It’s a first-hand emotional account of the horror and the hope.

I’ve posted these before, but they’re lost among the hundreds of entries of this blog, so I’ve collected a few of my sunrise photographs, and repost them here, in remembrance.








Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Obama and ISIS



Apparently, unlike some Americans I support President Obama’s careful and deliberate assessment of what to do with the extremist terrorist group, ISIS.  We’ve heard the knee-jerk criticism of Obama, an understandable emotional reaction to the sickening images of beheadings of journalists on the internet.  Why is he on the golf course instead of in Washington devising a devastating and decisive response?!!!!  (As if planning and policy comes to a standstill as Obama slices a tee shot.  And as if we have an immediate strategy for dealing with all permutations of such groups.  And as if we can do anything to make this group simply disappear.)

When President Obama takes to the TV tomorrow we’ll hear more specifics about dealing with ISIS, and there is a good summary of what to expect on ABC’s blog.

It’s pretty clear that this is not a “boots on the ground” war, but one similar to what we’ve waged against Al Qaeda.  ISIS is even better organized and funded. It is unlikely we can “defeat them” in the military sense of the word.  They are like a form of the black plague which at best can be forced into remission but is easily activated.  It is an especially dangerous group as they know how to court social media and they are positioning themselves as the long sought after Islamic caliphate.  We’re talking about trying to contend with about 1,000 years of history and religious fervor in that case.

No you don’t march on them; you surgically and systematically degrade their capabilities (as has already been said by Obama).  And of course we must develop collaboration with European and Arab states for containing ISIS, and especially how it is being financed.  Judging by their sophisticated weaponry, more like an army than a fragmented terrorist group, some factions of the oil rich Middle East states would seem to be involved.  Is this a middle-eastern incarnation of the protection racket? Intelligence is needed to identify and choke off those funds.  

Indeed, those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it.  As Adam Gopnik recently wrote in his article in The New Yorker, “Does It Help to Know History?ISIS is a horrible group doing horrible things, and there are many factors behind its rise. But they came to be a threat and a power less because of all we didn’t do than because of certain things we did do—foremost among them that massive, forward intervention, the Iraq War. (The historical question to which ISIS is the answer is: What could possibly be worse than Saddam Hussein?)

Monday, January 20, 2014

"Existential Illegitimacy"



We recently returned from a week cruise in the Caribbean, something I'll write about once I have some photos assembled, but on our way home from the cruise terminal parking lot, between Ft. Lauderdale and our home, a message was flashing on I95 about a traffic alert.  I checked Google Maps, and there didn't seem to be any delays but a few minutes later, on an overpass, there was a terribly disorganized "protest" with few protesters in attendance (I guess the authorities thought this would tie up traffic), holding signs for the motorists passing underneath, reading "Obama is a Muslim").  How sad, I thought, wasn't this yesterday's "news" or are these zombies conditioned by the Tea Party media, condemned to be the walking dead for their propaganda?

But it is something deeper, sadder than that, and especially on this Martin Luther King Day it is propitious to be reminded of the racially charged roots of such "protests" (and the "existential illegitimacy" of Obama's presidency).  In this regard, Sunday's New York Times carried an especially insightful article by Greg Grandin, a professor of history at New York University, Obama, Melville and the Tea Party.  Melville, you ask?  Ironically, one of the books on my "reread" pile is Benito Cereno, a short novella that I had mostly forgotten (as I had read it in college ages ago) and Grandin makes the association between Melville's classic and Obama's ongoing problem as a black in a Christian white man's world: "Benito Cereno" is based on a true historical incident, which I started researching around the time Mr. Obama announced his first bid for the presidency. Since then, I’ve been struck by the persistence of fears, which began even before his election, that Mr. Obama isn’t what he seems: that instead of being a faithful public servant he is carrying out a leftist plot hatched decades ago to destroy America; or if not that, then he is a secret Muslim intent on supplanting the Constitution with Islamic law; or a Kenyan-born anti-colonialist out to avenge his native Africa.

No other American president has had to face, before even taking office, an opposition convinced of not just his political but his existential illegitimacy. In order to succeed as a politician, Mr. Obama had to cultivate what many have described as an almost preternatural dominion over his inner self. He had to become a “blank screen,” as Mr. Obama himself has put it, on which others could project their ideals..... Yet this intense self-control seems to be what drives the president’s more feverish detractors into a frenzy; they fill that screen with hatreds drawn deep from America’s historical subconscious.

Indeed.  One of my blog articles, written in May 2008 as the presidential elections were gearing up, was an "Open Letter" to the then Senator Obama, in which I said Today is not too far removed from then. [The "then" I was referring to was the 1970s] Our economic difficulties of mounting national debt and a declining dollar, a decaying infrastructure, and the lack of better healthcare for our sick and better education for our young can be traced to a needless war, and to being hostage, once again, to oil producing nations. Racial and religious divisiveness still erodes the fabric of our society. The view of America abroad has undermined our ability to effectively deal with terrorism and to address global environmental issues. Politics again slithers along a slippery Machiavellian slope.

Since then, I've had my problems with Obama's presidential style, his academic standoffishness (perhaps Governor Christie could have given him a few pointers in good old fashioned strong-arm politics). But, looking back, even with the brinksmanship of Tea Party politics he's had to contend with, there has been progress. The economy is one, unemployment still too high, but slowly declining.  And soon after Obama was elected, the Dow dropped a few hundred points and the conservative press was immediately crying, SEE! For months, it was all Obama's fault (although he had nothing to do with it) and now, years later, with everyone's 401Ks flush with gains from a rising market, and real estate making a recovery, not a peep about his being responsible (which I would only attribute indirectly anyhow).  And even now that Osama bin Laden has been killed and al Qaeda in disarray (although, admittedly, not entirely eliminated -- almost an impossibility due to its decentralized organizational structure), little credit is given to Obama, but only just imagine that if bin Laden was still at large, you'd never hear the end of it from the Tea Party.  And Obama supporting the efforts of NSA surveillance to minimize terrorist threats -- how many conservatives would have jumped on board that train until they discovered Obama was at the wheel?  Meanwhile, hydraulic fracturing has made us more energy independent, something Obama has supported in spite of certain aspects being under assault from environmental organizations. 

Obama's signature piece of legislation has been the Affordable Care Act, and the conservative press was delighted at the very poorly planned launch via the government web site.  But as a cynic about many aspects of government, I can only attribute that to the "a camel is a horse designed by a committee" syndrome, not to mention the inherent complexity of the entire program.  But it is a start.  For a wonderful tongue-in-cheek "news report" on the program, read The Onion's Nation Recalls Simpler Time When Health Care System Was Broken Beyond Repair

Are things perfect, or as far along as we would like?  No.  In the absence of sound fiscal policy from a dysfunctional Congress, the Federal Reserve has had to use monetary policy to stabilize the economy -- even to bring us from the brink of a depression (although deflationary clouds still gather).  We've substituted soaring public debt for private debt and a banking system gone wild (remember the days of unregulated CMOs?). And another Sword of Damocles hanging over the nation is its inability to balance the legitimate spirit of the Second Amendment -- the right to bear arms -- and the demands of the NRA. (I say "legitimate spirit" as the weaponry when the Second Amendment was drafted was nothing like today's.)

There have been twenty mass shootings since Obama became president and he is helpless to do anything about it without the complete cooperation of Congress.  After the shooting in Newton, Connecticut, only a few miles from where we lived for twenty plus years, there was a ground swell (verbal only) in Congress to do something to control the sale of certain automatic weapons, but by the time the NRA got finished with their lobbying campaign, that effort was AK47ed to death.  Explain that failure to the parents of the children slaughtered.

So if Obama's presidency is finally judged as mediocre at best, read Benito Cereno to understand the historic etiology of his predicament.  As Grandin says, it represents a new kind of racism, based not on theological or philosophical doctrine but rather on the emotional need to measure one’s absolute freedom in inverse relation to another's absolute slavishness. This was a racism that was born in chattel slavery but didn’t die with chattel slavery, instead evolving into today’s cult of individual supremacy, which, try as it might, can’t seem to shake off its white supremacist roots.