Cop Shootings Prove The Need For Gun Control.

One of the claims made by the NRA (National Rifle Assh*les) when pushing for expansion of open carry laws is that guns are safe in the hands of individuals who have been properly trained in the use of firearms. Well, either that is false or most of our gun-wielding cops have been poorly trained. In just the past few weeks, cops have gunned down the unarmed, the mentally ill, a TV cameraman and a toy gun-toting shopper at Wal-Mart.

If cops can be so careless and clueless, it’s no wonder there are so many gun deaths each year caused by armed civilians.

If we can’t weed out dangerous cops in the hiring process, what chance do we have of keeping the criminally insane from buying and carrying guns without universal background checks? And, if the problem is caused by police expectations that everyone they confront (even in a routine traffic stop) is armed, then it’s clear that we have too many guns on the streets for our own safety. The obvious solution is to end the sale of handguns and conduct a nationwide buyback program as Australia has successfully done. While we’re at it, we should also ban military-style weaponry such as semi-automatic assault rifles and 50 calibre sniper rifles. There is no conceivable need for these weapons in the hands of civilians. Even if you’re paranoid enough to think a tyrannical government is coming to enslave you, these guns won’t help. The government has bigger and more lethal weaponry as already proven by the police in Ferguson, Missouri.

Only when we reduce the number of firearms on the streets can we expect police to rely on batons and tasers before turning to lethal force as a last resort.

As for the NRA claim that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” keep in mind that the firing range instructor killed when a 9-year-old girl lost control of an Uzi set on full automatic was killed by the gun. Not by the girl. So, too, are most of the more than 3,000 kids killed by guns each year.

There is no arguable reason for this nonsense to continue. We’ve already established that the Second Amendment has limits. We have drawn the line at allowing citizens to obtain fully-automatic firearms, bombs and nuclear weapons. We can re-draw the line to ban semi-automatics and to prevent the carrying of firearms unless there is a legal, demonstrable need.

That is, unless you actually enjoy watching reports of the daily gun battles on our streets and mass shootings in our schools.

More Questions About Ferguson.

Why did the Ferguson police force have only three African-American officers out of a force of 53 when the population of Ferguson is more than 67 percent black?

What did Officer Darren Wilson take away from his training at the disgraced Jennings Police Department that was disbanded over racial tensions? Did he bring that training to Ferguson? Knowing Wilson’s past, did the Ferguson Police Chief do anything to re-train Wilson?

Why was Officer Wilson’s first choice the weapon of last resort? In addition to his gun, he was carrying a Taser and a police baton. Either of those should have been sufficient to subdue an unarmed teenager.

Eyewitnesses say that during a scuffle at the driver’s door, a shot was fired with the officer’s gun and Brown ran away. Why, then, did Officer Wilson continue to fire at an unarmed teen? The eyewitness accounts that Brown stopped, put up his hands and turned around seems to be verified by a newly-obtained audio recording that indicates Wilson fired six shots in quick succession followed by a pause and another four shots.

Ferguson police explain that Michael Brown tried to take Officer Wilson’s gun while Wilson was in the car. If the gun was on Wilson’s right side, Brown would not have been able to reach it through the driver’s window unless Wilson was already holding the weapon in his hand. If so, why would he have his gun drawn for two unarmed teenagers who were walking in the street in broad daylight?

Ferguson police also say that after the first shots were fired, Brown charged Officer Wilson. Are we to believe that an unarmed young man, having just survived a fusillade of shots, turned to charge at the armed officer? That defies any reasonable understanding of self-preservation.

Was Michael Brown’s body left in the street uncovered for four hours after the shooting as a warning to the neighborhood? Only brutal dictators use such public display of bodies to send a warning to the public.

Why on earth would a police department confront a peaceful rally with armored vehicles, rooftop snipers, military assault rifles, flash bang grenades and tear gas? Were they trying to provoke a violent response? According to most reports, the looting and violence only began after the officers struck first.

Did Michael Brown really commit a “strongarm robbery” at the convenience store? There are reports that he actually paid for the cigars.

Why did Ferguson police not release an official report until many days after the shooting? And why did that report not include any details of the circumstances of the shooting? Was this done to prevent the possiblity of Officer Wilson making contradictory statements in court?

In my opinion, the Ferguson police department has a lot of explaining to do.

Bullies In Blue.

Or black, or khaki, or camoflauge or whatever police officers are wearing these days.

The events in Ferguson and St. Louis are by no means unique. But they have called attention to a long-festering problem in the US. I recognize that there are many honorable and well-intentioned police officers. Unfortunately, their good work is being overwhelmed by a growing mob of violent bullies behind badges.

I first became aware of police violence in the 1950’s when I saw police brutality against peaceful civil rights marches. In the 1960’s I saw police brutally beat anti-Vietnam War prostestors. In the 1980’s, I saw the results of an off-duty police officer ruthlessly beating an unarmed college student. (The officer’s penalty was to be assigned as public relations officer for the department.) I became involved in an incident when police handcuffed and held an African-American employee for walking while black. I heard dozens of black friends describe repeated abuse by police officers. I witnessed six city cops mace and brutally beat a black man who was already cuffed and lying face down in the snow and slush. I served on a jury for an assault trial in which the police brought charges against a black man without investigating the case. I read reports of six cops fatally shooting a frail, mentally ill woman brandishing a kitchen knife.

I thought all of this was bad, until I witnessed the cell phone video of the police shooting in St. Louis. The victim was most certainly mentally ill. The knife he was carrying was small. He could easily have been stopped and disarmed with a baton or a taser. (I’ve managed to defend myself against a knife-wielding attacker with no weapons and no Kevlar vest.) Yet two officers, both larger than the victim, pumped at least 7 rounds into the victim. The other responding officers arrived on scene with very bad attitudes and unnecessarily bullied the witnesses.

Unfortunately, this event is far from unusual. In just the past few weeks, we’ve learned of the killing of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson; of an unarmed man in Los Angeles; of a mentally ill 50-year old woman in Phoenix who was holding a claw hammer. We’ve seen a California cop brutally beat an unarmed black woman on the side of a freeway. We’ve seen a NYC cop strangle an unarmed black man to death. We’ve seen Missouri police forces surround a community with military vehicles and assault rifles pointed at unarmed protesters. And we’ve seen a police officer randomly pointing an assault weapon at demonstrators and yelling “I’m going to f***ing kill you.”

This is not policing. It’s sanctioned bullying and worse…almost certainly the result of NRA-sponsored laws which have made guns more readily available and police more nervous; of the government program that provides military weapons to police forces that have no need for them; of our national infatuation with big boy toys and weaponry; of police training that encourages the use of lethal force when threatened; of police consultants who promote confrontation; of rampant racism and the oppression of black and brown people; of political fear-mongering that makes citizens afraid of their neighbors and encourages them to excuse police brutality as long as it makes them feel safe; of prosecutors who are afraid of the political consequences for filing charges against cops; and of a disengaged populace who are afraid to speak up against police brutality.

It’s time for this to end.

Racism And The Militarization Of Police.

The current upheaval in Ferguson, Missouri has finally drawn attention to two long-standing problems with law enforcement in the US. Police have been disproportionately arresting and shooting African-American males for decades. Imagine if a member of a predominately black police force shot an unarmed white teenager in a majority white city. How do you think white people would respond? How do you think it would be reported by the media, especially Fox News Channel?

How do you think our white majority would react if a black police officer choked a non-violent unarmed white man to death? How do you think white people would respond to seeing video of a black police officer viciously beating a defenseless white woman alongside the freeway?

The harrassment and mistreatment of African-Americans by white police officers in Ferguson is all too reminiscent of the civil rights movement I witnessed in the Fifties and Sixties. The only real difference is that fire hoses and dogs have been replaced by tear gas, tanks and armored personnel carriers. .38 revolvers have been replaced by 9mm semi-automatics and .223 AR-15s. As one Marine stated, the military’s rules of engagement in policing a real war zone are more restrictive than what he saw in Ferguson.

With every death of an unarmed black man, our media eventually cite statistics of “Black on Black” crime suggesting that violence is uniquely inherent to African-American culture. However, they cite no “White on Whie” crime statistics when troubled young white men who are armed to the teeth empty their extended clips of ammunition into the bodies of school kids or theater-goers.

Ferguson demonstrates that it is long past time that we have a serious discussion about race relations, poverty and policing in the United States. (If that fact was not obvious enough, polls show that public opinion of the situation in Ferguson is split along racial lines.) It’s time for the police to put away their “big boy toys” and return to community policing based on the motto of “to serve and protect.” It’s time they represent the communities they serve. It’s time they are measured by the crimes they prevent as well as the arrests they make. It’s time they show that they are a force to run to instead of a force to run from.

Regardless of the events that led to the nonsensical shooting of an unarmed black teenager, the Ferguson Police Chief should be held accountable for making matters worse. He has clearly demonstrated that he neither represents his community nor understands its citizens. He should not only be fired by the citizens of Ferguson. He should replace Mayberry’s Barney Fife as the poster boy for inept policing.

UPDATE: It is being reported that the convenience store where Michael Brown supposedly stole cigars is saying that he actually paid for them. If proven to be true, the Ferguson Police Chief needs to be charged with character assassination and obstruction of justice.

Democrats Should Listen To Nader.

For some time, I’ve written about the Democratic Party’s appalling ineptitude with regard to branding and messaging. The party seems utterly incapable of communicating a clear, concise and cogent message.

Most voters can recite the Republican brand – “Less government. Lower taxes.” But what does the Democratic Party stand for? What is its brand? Ask a hundred Democrats and you’ll get a hundred different answers. Ask a hundred independent voters and you’ll likely hear them parrot back some version of the Teapublican talking points – “Democrats are tax and spend liberals who are weak on foreign policy.”

In other words, Teapublicans have been more successful in branding Democrats than the Democrats themselves.

What accounts for such failure? In an article for the Huffington Post, Ralph Nader hit the nail on the head by suggesting that the party’s corporate consultants are part of the problem. Nader writes about a recent mass mailing from Nancy Pelosi, “The Pelosi mailing, uninspiring and defensive, is another product of the party’s political consultants who have failed them again and again in winnable House and Senate races against the worst Republican Party record in history.” Nader continued, “These consultants, as former Clinton special assistant Bill Curry notes, make more money from their corporate clients than from political retainers. Slick, arrogant and ever-reassuring, these firms are riddled with conflicts of interests and could just as well be Trojan horses.”

While Teapublican candidates want to destroy the government and any form of corporate regulation, Democratic candidates represent the working public…the vast majority of Americans. Yet, with few exceptions, the party has failed to tap into the smoldering, populist anger in the country. They’ve allowed the Tea Party to do that. Even though we have a Democratic president and a Democrat-controlled Senate, much of the debate in Washington has been controlled by a group of anti-government, anti-education, anti-science nitwits like Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz, Louie Gohmert, Steve King, and Rand Paul.

These are people who want to take America back to the days of the Robber Barons and indentured servants. They are little more than an American version of the Taliban. But they’ve tapped into the anger generated by the collapse of our economy caused by large financial institutions. And because Democrats failed to articulate their political views and the actual causes of the crash, Teapublicans were able to redirect the blame to the victims of the crash…the people who lost their homes due to unregulated lending; the people who lost their jobs and needed to rely on unemployment insurance; the people who could no longer feed their children and needed to rely on food stamps; the so-called “moocher” class.

They blamed the victims. And the Democratic Party was so inept they let Teapublicans get away with it.

Even though Ralph Nader has been instrumental in passing legislation Democrats now claim as their own – the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Consumer Credit Disclosure Law, the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, the Freedom of Information Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Mine Health and Safety Act, the National Automobile and Highway Traffic Safety Act and much, much more – Democrats now vilify Nader on the mistaken belief that he cost Al Gore the presidency in 2000. He didn’t. (The result actually had more to do with fraudulent absentee ballots, voter suppression in Florida counties and a partisan Supreme Court.)

No one has fought harder for American consumers and workers than Ralph Nader. Democrats would be wise to listen to him now instead of their overpaid, underperforming corporate consultants.

WWJT – (What Would Jesus Think)?

During a recent sermon, Pastor John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in Texas decried our federal safety net programs by saying, “To those of you who are sick, to those of you who are elderly, to those of you who are disabled, we gladly support you. To the healthy who can work but won’t work, get your nasty self off the couch and go get a job! America has rewarded laziness and we’ve called it welfare.” (Hagee doesn’t have sympathy for the unemployed, single parents who can’t find jobs that pay more than the cost of daycare, and many others who are unable to support themselves and their families.)

Taking a Bible verse out of context, Hagee continued, “The Bible says, ‘The man who does not work, should not eat.’ I know liberals hate that verse, but read it and weep! It’s God’s position.” In other words, all devout “Christians” should allow people who rely on our social safety nets to starve.

Similarly, ”Christian” radio host Rick Wiles said, “Now this Ebola epidemic can become a global pandemic and that’s another name for plague. It may be the great attitude adjustment that I believe is coming…Ebola could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography and abortion.”

And you thought only Muslim extremists preached hate?

Worse, these are only two of the hate-mongers who spew from many of our nation’s pulpits on any given Sunday. Is it any wonder that young people are rejecting religion? In truth, people like Hagee and Wiles do not represent Christianity. They don’t even represent humanity. Yet they have developed substantial followings and they’ve been provided a forum from which to spout their hatred. We even help pay for their inflated salaries, their investments, their sanctuaries and their airtime by making all of their profits and properties tax-exempt.

So, tell me, who are the real freeloaders? The poor, the downtrodden and the unemployed? Or the charlatans of modern religion? What would Jesus think?

UPDATE: After publishing this article, I learned of more examples of “Christian” hatemongers. American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer is outraged by US humanitarian aid to the Yazidi minority under fire from ISIS in Iraq, calling the Yazidis “devil worshipers.” And megachurch pastor, Mark Driscoll, has admitted to making crude comments about feminism, homosexuality and “sensitive emasculated” men.

Maybe it’s time the Southern Poverty Law Center listed such organizations as hate groups.

Drill, Baby, Drill? No, Baby, No!

In order to fuel our energy habit, there are now more than 1.8 million oil wells worldwide. We know that 36 percent – 648,000 – of them will leak. In addition, we know that all of the oil and gas pipelines that crisscross our country will leak. Yes, all of them! And they’ll leak, not just once, but on multiple occasions. Imagine the combined impact to our environment. Imagine the oil fouling our aquifers, streams, rivers, lakes and oceans. Imagine the carbon being released into our atmosphere.

Yet almost all of this oil and gas production is an unnecessary risk. We already know of many non-polluting, renewable forms of energy – wind, solar, hydroelectric, fuel made from algae, and fuel from grasses. Indeed, scientists tell us that we can fuel our entire planet, including our automobiles and trucks, with wind energy alone.

We don’t even need oil and gas to make the plastics that have become the basis of modern manufactured goods. A scientist recently proved that plastic can be made efficiently and economically from carbon sucked from the atmosphere – a process that will both meet our manufacturing needs and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change. Even a 16-year-old science student in Istanbul has proven that plastic can be made from something we throw away every day – banana peels.

So, then, someone please tell me…exactly why do we continue to pollute our planet? Why are we risking the future of our planet by continuing to belch greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? Why are we going ever deeper into our oceans in search of oil? Why are we risking the pristine beauty of the Arctic and the few unspoiled places left on Earth? Why are we mining high polluting tar sands that will give us little more energy than is required to refine them? Why are we even considering allowing a foreign-based company to build a dangerous pipeline across the nation’s largest aquifer? Why are we endangering our fresh water supplies by pumping pollutants into the ground in order to fracture rock formations and cause them to release oil? An even better question is why do we continue to subsidize Big Oil companies enabling them to make spectacular profits while paying remarkably little in taxes?

Of course, the answer to all of these questions is greed. The oil and gas companies and their associated industries exercise great power in Washington and the oil-producing states. They generate billions in profits. As a result, they can afford to hire powerful lobbyists. They can spend millions in misleading advertising campaigns. And, since the Supreme Court decision on behalf of Citizens United, they can contribute millions to political campaigns.

It’s time for the public to demand better; time for more transparency in government; time to stop the subsidies to Big Oil and increase subsidies for sustainable energy; time to pass legislation to overturn Citizens United.

The next time you hear someone say, “Drill, baby, drill” or “Frack, baby, frack,” tell them to go suck on an exhaust pipe. Tell them to get out of the way of the future…because it’s clear that our planet has no future with oil.

Be Afraid Of The Children. Be Very Afraid!

A study by Darren Schreiber of the University of Exeter found that the brains of Democrats and Republicans are wired differently. The key characteristic that distinguished Republican brains is in the way they process risk, reward and fear. They are more likely to exhibit fear of any perceived threat…even of change.

You can see this in the way Teapublicans approach politics by creating scapegoats. Now that we’re approaching the mid-term congressional elections, Teapublican candidates have created yet another straw dog in order to fire up their base. In 2006, it was gay marriage, which was going to “destroy America” and make all other marriages irrelevant. In 2008, it was fear of Black Panthers, Muslims and sharia law. In 2010, it was “Obamacare death panels” and illegal immigrants who were “taking our jobs” and “living off welfare.” In 2012, it was the fear of voter fraud, welfare recipients, food stamps, Obamacare and Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi.

This year, we’re supposed to fear a bunch of Central American refugee children who are attempting to escape the poverty and violence of their native countries. Ooooooo!

Yes, Teapublican candidates have turned these desperate waifs into frightening boogeymen for the election season. “They are disease-ridden invaders who will overwhelm our schools and infect our own children with hepatitis, tuberculosis, and dozens of other diseases,” they say. Some suggest that the children could be bringing ebola virus into the US. Some compare them to an invasion of Muslim extremists determined to destroy America. And, even more frightening, some Teapublicans claim that Obama has orchestrated this “invasion” in order to ensure that there will be more Democratic voters in the future.

With each election, leading up to the primaries, Teapublicans are fearful that a political opponent will outflank them to their right. As a result, they push more extreme views and generate more fear to fend off their opponents. Then, leading up to the general election, they run negative attack ads financed by billionaires to portray Democrats as tax and spend liberals who are weak on foreign policy and soft on immigration. They tell voters that Democrats are going to waste their money on “entitlements” for “welfare queens;” that Democrats will use your taxes to pay for abortions of white kids; that Democrats are socialists, communists, fascists and worse; that Democrats are going to take away your guns. So be afraid…very afraid.

Of course, all of this is amplified by Fox Noise Channel and the 92 percent of talk radio devoted to conservative fear and hate. The only question is will it work this time? There are far more Democrats and independents than Teapublicans. They can’t win on their own. So you can put an end to their fear-mongering. All you have to do is vote.

What Good Are Geneva Conventions If We Refuse To Enforce Them?

By signing the Geneva Convention on torture, the US agreed that it would never resort to torturing prisoners, and that it would prosecute or extradite anyone who did. So why has the Obama administration refused to press charges of war crimes against George W. Bush, Richard “The Dick” Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, et al?

The Senate Intelligence Committee has now documented torture during the Bush administration and President Obama has confirmed the findings. If that’s not enough evidence to generate indictments, Bush officials have confessed to their crimes in their published memoirs and on television. Not only have they admitted knowledge of “extraordinary renditions,” aka torture. They have bragged about their “extreme interrogation techniques” and stated that they would not hesitate to use them again.

In other words, they are self-confessed war criminals.

So why hasn’t the Obama administration pressed charges according to the Geneva Conventions? Why have they not extradited the perpetrators to countries that will? Aren’t we supposed to be a nation of laws? Don’t we brag about our commitment to human rights? Don’t we accuse and prosecute the officials of other nations for war crimes?

If we can’t live up to our own rhetoric and promises; if we can’t abide by the treaties we sign, what good are they?

Where Will This Nonsense End?

This week, the United States House of Representatives voted along party lines to sue the President of the United States for the first time in history. The basis for the lawsuit? Teapublicans claim that President Obama overstepped his legal authority by extending the deadline for the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate for another year – yes, that Affordable Care Act – the one congressional Teapublicans have voted to repeal more than 50 times. Never mind that every Chief Executive before President Obama has made such decisions. They were not Kenyan-born, black Muslims who were overwhelmingly elected with the help of African-Americans and Latinos.

In fact, President Obama has signed fewer executive orders than any president since World War II. He has signed 183 to George W. Bush’s 291 and Reagan’s 381.

But in order to truly understand the reason for the lawsuit, we must look at how we got here. In 1974, Democrats called for impeachment of President Richard Nixon over the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex. Despite the fact that, by ordering the break-in and the ensuing cover-up, Nixon had committed “high crimes and misdemeanors,” Republicans were spoiling for payback. They spent $70 million of taxpayers’ money on a witch hunt in order to find cause for impeaching President Clinton, ultimately impeaching Clinton for lying about an extra-marital affair – a “crime” likely committed by more than half of the presidents that served before him.

The impeachment backfired, making Clinton more popular than ever and further enraging Republicans. Then, when the George W. Bush administration tanked our economy, Republicans were determined to make the newly-elected Obama look worse. It’s as if they were saying, “Sure, our party made a mess of the country, but we’re going to block any attempt to fix it. We’re going to pin this mess on you.”

Even before Obama’s inauguration, Republican leaders announced that they intended to do everything within their power to make his presidency fail and to make him a one-term president. In attempting to do so, Republicans set a new standard for obstruction through filibusters, a refusal to put forward names for nomination to fill court vacancies, and investigations of manufactured “scandals.” Even worse was the deceit of pretending to work with Democrats to craft the Affordable Care Act (a Republican idea) by adding a variety of amendments in committee, then refusing to vote for it. In his second term, matters have only grown worse, with the 113th Congress doing even less than Harry Truman’s “Do Nothing” Congress and many Teapublicans calling for Obama’s impeachment.

All of this begs the question, what next?

I believe that the next time a Republican is elected president, Democrats will have little choice but to return the favor in kind. Indeed, they will have to raise the stakes. They will have to filibuster every bill and appointment. They will have to sue the president and threaten impeachment. Anything less would be seen as weak and cowardly. It won’t be easy. After all, how can you top the 113th Congress for obstruction?

Unless things change, we may as well just close Congress and declare a permanent recess.