Friday, December 21, 2012

Do All Our Guns Make Us Any Safer?

Updated with addendum following NRA exec's press conference and appearance on "Meet the Press" on Dec. 23rd.
When I wrote my first column about gun violence in the wake of the fatal Columbine shootings, I knew it wouldn’t be the last. Similar incident happened before and were likely to happen again. I’ve written seven since then. Here’s number eight.
By now, I thought, Congress would at least have set stricter federal standards to reduce the chance of it recurring. Sensible, necessary laws are passed to insure public safety with speed limits, penalties to reduce drug and alcohol abuse, in addition to requiring licenses, registrations and, in most states, insurance for motor vehicles. But when it comes to guns, the attitude is far too restrained.
In and around the annual commemorations to the victims of 9/11, the inevitable question is, “Do we feel safer?” That query relates to potential terrorist attacks. However, after last week’s slaughter of 20 first graders and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, that question is also pertinent to our glut of guns. Americans own an estimated 300,000,000 of them.
Are we any safer? When people are massacred in small town schools and movie theaters, is there any safe haven from potential tragedy?
The U.S. may be the freest country on Earth, but, due to many citizens’ obsession with firearms, it also is the most violent. Gun deaths and gun-related violence in the U.S. are at epidemic levels. An estimated 34 Americans are murdered with guns every day. The Centers for Disease Control reported that in 2011 guns resulted in the deaths of 31,347 Americans. After 11 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, combat deaths for U.S. troops are 6,653.
Newtown. Oak Creek. Aurora. Tucson. Fort Hood. Virginia Tech. Columbine. Those are not battlefields, but rather places of senseless carnage.
More people die in shootings than in drunk driving accidents. Tougher laws have reduced the latter number over the last 30 years, thanks to the grass roots commitment of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). Perhaps tougher laws and other restrictions will reduce gun deaths.
Many elected representatives are indebted to the National Rifle Association’s campaign donations and veiled threats to unseat them if they opposed the gun lobby, so sensible restrictions are ignored and slaughter by guns happens again and again and again. The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, with each victim shot multiple times, may have changed that.
The influential gun lobby has spent years building a pool of pro-gun lawmakers, an extensive grassroots network and a political money arm that has made gun control legislation nearly untouchable. It’s time for the NRA to concede on tougher, stricter laws to help reduce the excess of violence that seems to exacerbate with each incident.
After 9/11, controversial laws limiting our civil liberties and increased travel security were enacted and accepted to enhance public safety. Yet, the NRA persistently opposes regulations that would likely boost public safety if there was a ban on weapons only meant to kill and maim.
In the aftermath of mass shootings, gun control is routinely debated and some politicians offer knee-jerk pleas for gun control. But, as the sadness and the echo of the gunfire fades, so does the call for action.
Maybe this time there’s hope.
The crucial part of President Obama’s speech Sunday night in Newton was when he said, “These tragedies must end, and to end them, we must change…No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can’t be an excuse for inaction.”
The president was virtually silent on the gun debate after the Aurora, CO incident last summer. He skirted the issue in the midst of the presidential campaign, not wanting to alienate those who supported that controversial issue.
The hell with the NRA! The time to stop another national debate on gun control is at hand. No speeches, no debate. We need an earnest, bipartisan Congressional effort to curb the madness. I used the word “curb” because, sadly, it will never stop, even with new laws. They can start with a categorical ban on semi-automatic weapons. We have to do our utmost to reduce the number of unnecessary deaths from these hand-held weapons of mass destruction.
Ban assault weapons. Ban high-capacity magazine clips. Limit the sale of bullets. Require thorough background checks for every gun transaction, especially at gun shows and for private sales. Mandate a 72-hour waiting period to complete all gun sales.
There is neither a single basis for gun murders nor a single solution. But, one of the most obvious is passage of the Fix Gun Checks Act, a bill languishing in Congress that is supported by police organizations and 700 mayors across the country, from urban centers to rural towns, like Newton, CT. It would ensure that the record of every person already prohibited from possessing a gun is in the background check database and that a background check is conducted on every gun sale.
The NRA, its members and supporters can no longer hide behind their self-serving interpretation of the Second Amendment. While it gives the right to bear arms to a “well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state,” even reading between the lines, it doesn’t vaguely suggest that citizens have the unfettered right to possess a weapon.
Due to our lax attitude to guns, the 26 people massacred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School were deprived of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That alone should be enough to motivate Congress to act and endorse meaningful gun laws or, to put it more politically correct, common sense gun safety legislation.
If not now, when? How many more have to die?
As long as these senseless tragedies continue to happen, I’ll continue to condemn our nation’s inability to do something about stricter weapons regulation — until they take my keyboard from my cold dead hands.

Addendum
After the NRA Executive Vice President came down from his sniper’s nest, or wherever he calls home, to hold a press conference on December 21 and appearance on “Meet the Press” this past Sunday, I added the following remarks.
At the press conference a week after the Sandy Hook massacre, he refused to take questions from the press, but Wayne LaPierre gave new meaning to NRA - NO RATIONAL ANSWERS!
His response to the senseless slaughter in Newton, CT was MORE guns and armed guards in every school.
Brilliant. What’s next, bullet-proof vests for kids?
In noting that we protect our money, our airports, our communities etc., with armed personnel, he reinforced the Second Amendment’s reference to “well-regulated militia”; not the NRA’s interpretation for gun ownership for every citizen!
He also criticized the media and blamed the news media and entertainment industry for exposing children to an excess of violence, yet clearly overlooked the First Amendment right to free expression. However, his organization relentlessly cites the Second Amendment as justification for unrestricted gun ownership.
While there was a window of opportunity for the NRA to make a concession or two for some common sense solutions, such as supporting background checks at gun shows and a ban of semi-automatic assault weapons, instead, LaPierre stuck to his guns, then shot itself in the foot, when it called for armed guards in every school in America.
It’s time for conscientious gun owners, the group’s members and Congress to denounce LaPierre and the NRA as it blithely refuses to recognize that the nation’s gun culture has led to an unacceptable slaughter of innocents.
Two days after he spoke to the media, LaPierre had a touchy interview with David Gregory on “Meet the Press.” The two debated over LaPierre’s call for armed guards in every school and other gun control issues.
LaPierre stood by his passionate argument against new gun laws and his contentious recommendation to have armed guards America’s schools. He also added, “If it’s crazy to call for putting police in our schools…to protect our children, then call me crazy! ...It’s the one thing that would keep people safe, and the NRA is going to try to do that.”
Meanwhile, on “Face the Nation,” NRA president, David Keene, told host Bob Schieffer, the National Rifle Association "will continue to oppose a ban on semiautomatic weapons.”
I only took a few psychology classes in college, but if Wayne LaPierre believes a school guard with a handgun has a chance in hell to take down a well-armed intruder before he kills or wounds others, then he is crazy or just another sicko obsessed with guns!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Beleaguered Israel Once Again Forced To Strike Back (November 24, 2012)

They didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Israel or any other Middle East nation this week, but I’m pretty sure citizens of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Gaza strip, anticipating the next wave of attacks, were thankful a truce was initiated last Wednesday to end the latest episode of bloodshed and bombs between Hamas and Israel.
I’m sure those people were also on the minds of many Americans as they sat down and sated themselves on our annual day of feasting.
No one can predict how long the cease-fire will last this time because Israel has been involved in one showdown or another, whether it’s labeled a war, battle, conflict or skirmish, since it became a nation. Despite lulls sprinkled in every few years, cynics know it won’t be too long before another flare-up is at hand in the world’s most unstable region.
Though it has been plagued by Arab bullies for 64 years, Israeli has defied, deterred and defeated its enemies time after time.
More than 1,500 rockets were reportedly fired at Israel — forcing millions of Israelis to take cover in bomb shelters. The Hamas strategy appeared to challenge Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to invade the Gaza Strip, but the truce was brokered before that plan was implemented.
In spite of the regrettable deaths on both sides, some questioned why there were many more Palestinian casualties than Israeli. Reports claimed that only a handful of Israelis died, while more than 100 Gaza Strip residents were killed.
Why the huge difference in the number of casualties?
Israel, accustomed to such incidents, evacuated civilians from potentially dangerous areas, but the Palestinians apparently located their rocket firing positions and other likely targets in populated areas. Little action was taken to protect its civilian population. It’s almost as if the extremists intentionally left civilians in harm’s way and sacrificed them to help gain international sympathy.
As I’ve written before, I nourish a sense of pride and utmost respect for Israel, so the recent retaliations to Hamas rocket attacks were justifiable. With a truce in place, let’s hope earnest negotiations will prolong the end of death and destruction.
Nevertheless, Israel didn’t start this fight, Hamas did. So, unless you’re a devoted pacifist, it’s logical to understand that Israel is once again committed to do what any nation must do to defend itself, by any means necessary.
A sovereign nation since 1948, Israel’s roots in the region stretch back millennia and the Jewish state, as much as any other nation in the region, deserves the right (affirmed in the Old Testament) to exist.
For now, for the sake of civilians on both sides of the conflict, let’s hope this fragile cease-fire holds as both sides try, once again, to negotiate a fragile peace.
Under the terms of the latest cease-fire, Israel agreed not to launch any ground attacks or continue to target strikes in Gaza. The Egyptian government has been accorded a special role in maintaining the cease-fire, but that will mean little unless it halts the flood of arms coming into Gaza from Iran via Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Israel received a similar guarantee from Hamas three years ago, after the last cease-fire, but the rockets multiplied and with longer ranges.
Iranian missiles, capable of reaching Jerusalem, reportedly made up the bulk of Hamas’s arsenal. Some Middle East experts believe this was a preview of a potential future armed confrontation with Iran and that also allowed Israel to test its new antimissile systems to counter them.
Israel absolutely realizes that, until Palestinian people are given their own state, they will never have peace. Israel often draws criticism, particularly from those who would rather see nothing less than the Jewish nation wiped off the face of the Earth, but when a country — bordered by hostile neighbors — faces potential annihilation every day, it’s necessary to do whatever it can to continue to exist.
Israeli leaders and its citizens certainly wish they didn’t have to exist under the constant threat of obliteration. But they have no choice. When faced with fanatical suicide bombers, who have no qualms about killing innocent people, and the fear of randomly being bombarded by Hamas rockets that leave paths of death and destruction, Israel is forced to mount any defense necessary to thwart attacks from its numerous enemies.
Time and again Israel has always been willing to negotiate with its enemies, but uneasy diplomacy rarely ends in guarantees of the Jewish state’s permanent peaceful existence. Until the arbiters of peacemaking parleys assure Israel that its co-existence will be acknowledged and accepted, any temporary truces, cease-fires or alternative solutions will remain as fragile as they are uncertain.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Looney Losers Launch Sour Grapes Secession Campaign

I truly intended to steer clear of politics for this column. However, when I read about the secession effort set in motion this week in states that, by and large, voted for Mitt Romney, then quickly spread in a few days, it induced me to stick my two cents into the fray as our nation becomes more sharply divided.
Even Bart Simpson poked fun at Karl Rove (©Fox)
Have you heard about this post-Obama re-election foolishness? It’s even more outrageous than the lame excuses offered by embittered losers Mitt Romney, who said Obama gave gifts to liberal constituencies, and Paul Ryan, who said the urban vote hurt them. It’s even crazier than when Karl Rove went ballistic on election night and stubbornly refused to accept the Ohio voting results on the Fox News Channel.
The secession movement started in Texas the reddest state and, as of November 15, approximately 100,000 Lone Star residents had reportedly signed petitions requesting the peaceful withdrawal of their state from the union. Small numbers of citizens from every other state, including New York, quickly joined the movement and signed similar petitions asking to secede. Residents of a few states without a petition cheerfully signed one from another state.
They may do everything big in Texas, but this secession movement is hardly one of ‘em. One hundred thousand is a drop in the bucket compared to the 26 million people in the nation’s second most populous state.
There’s no chance these sour grapers will succeed in seceding, but if by some fluke Texas did, does that mean the Battle of the Alamo gets annulled? Can Mexico request a mulligan and get back the territory it lost in the 1836 conflict?
At least the state’s right-leaning Governor Rick Perry, who vied for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination and lightheartedly called for his state to break away from the U.S. three years ago, opposes the secession movement. His press secretary told a reporter the governor rejects the current Internet campaign and “believes in the greatness of our Union and nothing should be done to change it.”
Not willing to leave well enough alone, she then criticized “Washington’s tax and spend, one-size-fits-all mind set” and praised Perry’s economic policies.
Referring to themselves as the Texas Nationalist Movement, their petition reads: “Given that the state of Texas maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world, it is practically feasible for Texas to withdraw from the union, and to do so would protect its citizens’ standard of living and re-secure their rights and liberties in accordance with the original ideas and beliefs of our founding fathers which are no longer being reflected by the federal government.”
Petitions from other states refer to the Declaration of Independence to support their demand for independence: “…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and institute new Government.”
While most of the petitions come from states that supported Mitt Romney in the recent election, a few swing states and even some blue states, like New York and New Jersey, are also represented.
Within 24 hours of the Texas action, the secession issue mushroomed into a nationwide trend. Disappointed over the results of the recent presidential election, citizens from all 50 states, who are pessimistic about a second Obama term, feel that their state would be better off separated from the federal government. According to dailycaller.com, by the morning of Wednesday, November 14, an estimated 675,000 had signed petitions. However, only seven states have amassed more than 25,000 signatures each.
The losers, and those who voted for them in the nation’s 53 previous presidential elections, in all probability, weren’t too content with the outcomes either. Yet except for one, which led to a Civil War and more than 750,000 dead and wounded Americans, the country survived and we managed to move on.
To offset the secession nuts, there’s an equally silly drive calling for President Obama to sign an executive order to strip the citizenship of and deport anyone who signed a petition to secede from the U.S.
That proposal makes sense for those who don’t like the way the government treats them. Maybe they should just get the hell out.
You don’t want to be part of the union, then go, you inconsequential sore losers!
Hasta la vista, baby!
Isn’t the nation polarized enough without a few jerks with apologies to other jerks for lumping them in with these bozos escalating our differences?
Get over it! If cry-baby secessionists don’t like the way things are or where the nation may or may not be headed, they should just leave. And I hope the proverbial Golden Door hits them in the ass on the way out. Incidentally, I know a few thousand people who’ll help ‘em pack, then be there for the grand departure as they sail, drive, fly or walk away.
Perhaps it’s time to revive the inhospitable phrase overused by those who disagreed with 1960’s Vietnam War protesters America, love it or leave it!
The election’s over. After 236 years, Democracy and majority rule still work. (Maybe not so much in Congress where 20 percent more than a majority is necessary to end a filibuster.) When all the votes are counted, a democracy, such as ours, relies on the willingness of its people to unconditionally, though not necessarily wholeheartedly, accept decisions when they lose. There’s no option in the U.S. Constitution for secession when a democratic decision is objectionable. 
What’s their problem? Stop whining and suck on your sour grapes. Act like adults, not six year olds having tantrums.
You’ll get another chance in four years. Meanwhile, shut up and deal with it.
I only hope that more rational minds prevail and rebuke these secession factions. Anyway, what would they call their new republic? USPOP – the United States of Pissed Off People. Or, simply, the Disunited States.
Maybe it’s time to revive the words Rodney King uttered following the “not guilty” verdict for the four LAPD officers acquitted of beating him that sparked several days of riots in 1992: “Can’t we all just get along?”
Don’t forget, a sore loser makes winning that much more enjoyable!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Voting and Gloating Are Over – Where Do We Go From Here? (November 10, 2012)

The presidential campaign stretched out for 18 months, yet it seemed longer — a lot longer.
At least we won’t be bombarded with those fact-skewing, negative attack ads — until local campaigns emerge less than a year from now.
I’m also fed up with constant robocalls. Why is it that political calls are exempt from “Do Not Call” lists? And don’t give me that free speech explanation. That’s just a flimsy excuse when self-serving representatives fashion expedient legislation to exempt themselves, yet blocks solicitations from private businesses.
One thing this election demonstrated was that the nation’s melting population is more diverse than ever — and must be given attention. While the Democratic Party got an overwhelming majority of the minority vote, it’s going to have to work hard to secure that base and not just count on it for years to come. On the other hand, though the Republican Party is far from being washed up, as long as the GOP adheres to its horse-and-buggy manifesto, it’s likely to remain losers for years to come.
Are reasonable Republican leaders so blind they don’t see the multiracial population makeover growing or will they just continue to validate their defunct 20th century mentality?
Ever since integration spearheaded the civil rights era, the GOP has nourished a hard core base of white southerners. However, as the country’s population gradually transformed, Republicans overlooked the emerging minority, while centrist Democrats embraced America’s constantly melting pot.
Hard core conservatives, who exert significant pressure on Republicans, may not be partial to or recognize the nation’s changing cultural and ethnic mixture. But, if the GOP hopes to thrive and survive, it can no longer neglect minorities that now make up more than half the population and whose numbers are only going to climb in the future. Unless Republican Party leaders stop being manipulated by extremist factions, like the Tea Party and rigid neo-cons, and reexamines its right-leaning ideas, it could remain the underdog for years to come.
Conservatives and some Republicans must stop crowing, “We have to take our country back.” Who exactly do they want to take it back from? Actually, when you evaluate that line, it’s nothing but veiled racism. It simply means taking it back from minorities that have swelled into a majority coalition.
There’s a joke that goes something like: surrounded by Indians the Lone Ranger says, “This doesn't look good, Tonto. We’re in trouble.” To which his Native American sidekick replies, “What do you mean ‘we,’ white man?”
Nowadays, ‘we’ isn’t a majority of Caucasian Americans, it’s more closely associated with the Constitutional, “We, the people.” People who are white, black, brown and yellow. People who observe diverse religious affiliations  or none at all. People who are heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, transgendered and even asexual.
We is the unconditional characterization of the melting pot that has made our nation more unique than any other.
Republicans have to decide whether or not they’re going to distance themselves from the far right fringe, led by Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, several Fox commentators, Donald Trump, etc. They disgrace the party and deters moderate fence-sitters.
It would be unconstitutional, though certainly applauded by some, to silence extremists’ right to utter whatever the hell they want, but respectable members of the GOP should not fear a backlash or appear reluctant to berate them when they make outrageous, nasty comments. Silence, however, is an implicit stamp of approval.
Besides the consequences of Republican platform issues, the stakes are high for Barack Obama over the next four years. Despite his lame duck status, he must turn this country around or the legacy of the first black president in U.S. history will be worse than that of David Dinkins, New York City’s first black mayor.
The president supports an extension for the bulk of the Bush tax cuts, but wants to end them for households with annual incomes over $250,000. In addition, under Obama’s plan the top federal income tax rate would rise from 35 percent to 39.6 percent.
What is now commonly referred to as the “fiscal cliff” is a blend of spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to take effect next year, if Congress does not act. Spending cuts roughly total $1 trillion over the next decade, including $500 billion from defense. Tax increases include the expiration of the payroll tax holiday and of the Bush-era income tax cuts.
Democrats, naturally, maintain that Obama’s reelection was an endorsement of that approach. However, if a deal cannot be reached to ensure that wealthy Americans pay their fair share or Democrats can’t negotiate entitlement program reforms to achieve economic growth — that Republicans favor — before December 31st, no victory will stop the economy from reaching the fiscal precipice.
It remains to be seen if Republicans and Democrats will reach a deal. But, the longer bipartisanship is deferred, the worse it will be not only for the nation, but for those politicians too pig-headed to recognize the problems and priorities staring them in the face. Congressional elections are two years away and if cooperation eludes another legislative session, voters may decide to make some changes when they vote next time.
Most importantly, the federal government must be an active and constructive partner in promoting prosperity, opportunity and American greatness. Consequently, for the good of the nation, our political leaders must formulate a joint strategy to outline a practical course that will put an end to the current impasse that is sapping America’s inner strength and distorting our national motto – E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

America Needs Barack Obama (November 3, 2012)

Photo courtesy of Harrison Funk
For habitual readers of this column, it should come as no revelation as to who my preference is in Tuesday’s presidential election.
Over the last three or four months, there’s nothing former Governor Mitt Romney or Rep. Paul Ryan did to convince me to change my mind. (I’d still rather be blue than red.) As a matter of fact, most of what they or their obstructionist Republican colleagues uttered only solidified my incentive for President Barack Obama to serve another four years.
Barack Obama is the only choice, if we hope to move forward and not revert to stale Republican policies that generated the chaos  overseas and nationwide — that we’re in today.
Forget about who was better in the debates. Look at the records and the strategies of each candidate and it’s obvious that we need this president to serve four more years to continue to reverse the economic turmoil and overseas quagmires left behind after eight years of George W. Bush.
I can hear the groaning and chortling that Obama has had time to straighten things out. Admittedly, he has only scratched the surface, but things are better. After all, when you’re left a mess as consuming as the one Bush did, it demands a long-drawn-out effort to sweep it away  not under a rug.
The president came into office confronted by two wars that were sacrificing precious manpower and draining an excess of revenues. Barack Obama didn’t pursue the mastermind of the 2001 terrorist attacks on Day One, but he eventually got Osama bin Laden, fulfilling the guarantee that Bush never attempted in the seven years he had the opportunity. That photo-op image etched in our minds when President Bush boasted that the mission was accomplished was nothing but a sham triumph. To make matters worse, long after that premature declaration, thousands of soldiers fought, died or were wounded  physically and mentally.
While Obama has been criticized for his policy towards Israel, he is committed to defending our strongest ally in a perpetually turbulent region. However, he should not impulsively make a strategic commitment until defending the Jewish nation is the only alternative. Our recent past is proof that for the U.S. to recklessly become engaged in another Mideast conflict would be very costly, in terms of manpower and money.
Despite the debate over Obama’s stand on Israel, on Friday, the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, endorsed the president (http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/obama-is-good-for-israel-1.473888). This is the closing sentence of its endorsement: “…if any (voters) are vacillating over whether Obama has been a good president for Israel, the answer is yes.”
Here at home, one of the major accomplishments of the Obama Administration is the Affordable Care Act, more commonly referred to as Obamacare. But, in its infancy it has already provided health care for millions who otherwise couldn’t afford it.
The president reversed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” to allow homosexuals and lesbians to openly serve their nation.
Despite the snail’s pace, the president has been moderately successful in stabilizing the nation’s ailing economy.  According to the U.S. Commerce Department, the nation’s growth over the last year was estimated at 2.3 percent. Not great, but improved and persistent. Anyone who was na├»ve enough to imagine things would drastically turn around by now should take off their rose-colored glasses and realize how severe the problems were that Obama has had to correct.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, pledges tax cuts and federal spending reductions, which, even someone without an MBA knows would impair the deficit.  He refuses to offer details for his “5 Point Plan,” though we can presume it will, in the minimum, bolster the military budget; cut education, health-care and social programs, plus decimate Social Security and Medicare. And, it is all too obvious that Romney tax cuts would more than likely benefit the wealthiest, not the Americans who need it the most.
Besides, with partisanship still a major roadblock for achieving the goals needed to strengthen the economy and other matters, Republicans are likely to make a second Obama term, just as challenging.
While most Americans oppose companies shipping domestic jobs overseas, the GOP refused to support rational legislation to penalize businesses that do so. Though some modifications were implemented, Republicans thwarted harsher Wall Street reforms. Attempts at immigration and environmental reforms were blocked by Congressional Republicans.
Those are just a few of the changes sought by the president, but were rejected by his opponents, who, nevertheless, doggedly blame him for the lack of improvement.
Let the conservative opposition, which vocally expressed its longing for Obama to fail from the day he took office, promote the Republican ticket, but we can ill afford a Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan administration. It would retreat to policies that favor big business, the wealthy and the military-industrial complex. We’ve had enough of that!
Though Barack Obama’s record is flawed, there are adequate grounds to re-elect him. While the president deferred or avoided such important issues as gun control and the closing of Guantanamo Bay, he, nonetheless, deserves another term over his yo-yoing challenger.
On the other hand, as politicians tend to do, Romney promises “big change,” but it’s too risky to take a chance on such an imprecise strategy. He consistently changes positions on issues to whatever is most expedient for the audience he is addressing at that moment.
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney was the ultimate Republican moderate in a very blue state, but once he entered presidential politics, he shifted to the right. At times during the 2012 campaign that shift was a hard right, to satisfy neo-conservatives, particularly Tea Party extremists. If he chose to stand by his true belief system, the gap in the polls would perhaps have shifted in his favor.
For those of us who experienced the wrath of Superstorm Sandy, it would be prudent to recall Romney’s stance and sudden change of heart in the wake of the enormous disaster.
In a GOP primary debate last June, while talking about disaster relief, Mitt Romney said, “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government (i.e. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”
However, last Wednesday, after Hurricane Sandy devastated several states along the East coast, the Romney campaign flip flopped when it released a statement: “”I believe that FEMA plays a key role in working with states and localities to prepare for and respond to natural disasters. As president, I will ensure FEMA has the funding it needs to fulfill its mission… (Emphasis is mine).”
Suddenly, he conveniently reversed his position without a mention of the private sector. And we all know that for a private sector business, profit is the main motive, while those most in need usually get little or no compassion and consideration.
By Ian Bishop and Thomas M. Defrank / NY DAILY NEWS
Some voters may not be too enthusiastic, even disappointed, feeling President Obama has not lived up to the some expectations he promised four years ago. For them, it may come down to the lesser of two evils on Election Day, much like it often does in local, state and federal elections.
The president deserves another four years to continue righting the course for the ship of state. Mitt Romney’s case lacks compassion and follows the Republican Party’s conventional platform, which are neither in the best interests of the country nor the majority of voters.
It would not be practical to abandon Barack Obama, who not only understands the urgency of what America needs, but who presents more encouraging evidence and concern than his opponent.
At this critical juncture in our history, Barack Obama is not only the president America deserves, but the president America needs.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Compared to Life's Real Fears, Halloween Ain't So Scary

The season of ghosts, ghouls, goblins and gremlins is days away, just around a dark corner. Feel scared yet? Have the hairs on your neck and arms started to tingle?
Despite its triviality, Halloween was a refreshing antidote seven weeks after 9/11 and, again in 2002, when it was welcomed as a brief respite and diversion from lingering fears, unease and anxieties. Compared to the terrorist attacks, and the Beltway sniper shootings the following year, Halloween is neither daunting nor haunting.
Nevertheless, potentially harmful Halloween hijinks that were common several generations ago  like tossing raw eggs and water balloons, striking someone with a crushed chalk-filled sock, TPing or spraying shaving cream   are, by and large, just obnoxious vandalism compared to what our national psyche went through after the 2001 attacks.
Real life, we realized, is so much more terrifying.                                                                
Other than the candy I hand out to the trickle of trick-or-treaters who turn up at my door every year, and the rare, obligatory company bash I attended when I worked in the corporate world, I haven’t participated in Halloween since my youth.
The anticipation of Halloween fades as we get older. More than any other festivity, Halloween is best suited for childhood. After a certain age — say ten, for argument’s sake — there’s really not much to look forward to unless you crave a few hours of traipsing through your neighborhood for the sole purpose of collecting goodies and engaging in a little harmless mischief. (I’d add bobbing for apples, but today’s youth might find that activity unappealing, unless it could be executed on some hi-tech, hand-held gadget.)
The ones most likely to get pleasure from Halloween are chocoholics seeking to gratify a sweet tooth, candy purveyors and dentists giddy with visions of patrons with mouths blemished by cavities.
Halloween, like Valentine’s Day, Easter and Christmas, has evolved into an excess of crass commercialization. American households spend an estimated $2 billion a year on candy in anticipation of Halloween and a few billion more — or less — is shelled out for costumes, decorations and pumpkins waiting to be carved into jack-o-lanterns.
And it’s not just children who dress up to mimic the latest rage, idol or classic character. Millions of adults, who ache to briefly return to their carefree youth, wanna have fun, too, so they purchase, rent or design elaborate costumes, many of which are flamboyantly flaunted annually at the gala Greenwich Village Halloween parade.
Hollywood, not a community to pass up a financial prospect, seeks its share of the seasonal cash flow by releasing the latest “spooktacular” productions as Halloween approaches that, in theory, are supposed to attract — and scare — fans of that ilk.
In the days and weeks leading up to October 31st, one channel or another cleverly programs a line up for the autumn festival with a harvest of movies that are magnets for horror fans. These “scare-a-thons” or “fright-fests” typically feature such creepy classics as “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “The Mummy” and “The Wolfman,” as well as more modern, B-grade gore-fest goodies, like “Night of the Living Dead, “The Nightmare on Elm Street” series, “The Hills Have Eyes” and the string of grisly “Saw” flicks. And Halloween wouldn’t be Halloween without the eponymous slasher series, including two remakes that have frightened horror aficionados since 1978.
Despite Halloween’s fundamental irrelevance, pockets of contemporary religious fundamentalists (mostly Christian, but some Jews and Muslims, too) can be counted on to condemn Halloween as a pagan tradition that glorifies Satan and revives legends from the Dark Ages, such as the consumption of blood, infant sacrifices and orgies, with little, if any, historical basis.
Such criticism is especially scary!
Though All Hallows Eve has unorthodox roots, those who partake in contemporary celebrations, pranks or fashion jack-o-lanterns, simply do it for amusement, not some sinister observance! After all, witches, warlocks and devil worshippers are free to engage in their evil magical powers anytime, not just on Halloween.
The history of Halloween trick-or-treating, according to the 2003 book, “Death Makes A Holiday,” surfaced during the Depression when homeowners surrendered to roaming youth gangs to nip potential vandalism in the bud.
What should be a relatively straightforward occasion, has, nevertheless, become overrun with concerns. In my youth, my brother, my friends and I went unaccompanied from building to building and house to house and collected assorted candies, and  unwelcome, albeit more nutritional, apples. But, today, parents have must be vigilant and cautious, and, more than ever, are likely to escort trick-or-treating youngsters. They also heed perennial warnings and keep an eye out for tainted treats inserted with sharp objects by some sicko or, the most worrisome alert, sexual predators.
Told ya real life is scary!
To a much lesser degree than a decade ago, fear still impacts our lives. Yet, regardless of how eerie imaginary bogeymen, zombies and hobgoblins, or costumes and adornments that materialize around Halloween may seem, compared to legitimate deadly threats — biological and nuclear terrorism, potential viral pandemics, homegrown radicals, rampaging maniacs and foreign fanatics— everyday life is far more terrifying.
Real life notwithstanding, enjoy the frights and delights of Halloween. Happy haunting!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Obscure Victim of Twisted Justice Left His Mark (October 20, 2012)

A 68-year-old man died of a heart attack a few weeks ago in a New Jersey nursing home, not far from where he lived until his late teens when he moved to Brooklyn. Though his life was undistinguished, his death prompted a New York Times obituary and op-ed, and 125 Google articles negligible by today’s standards when compared to the glut of trivia on the rich and famous, yet more than merited for such an unexceptional life.
Few people probably ever heard of George Whitmore, but, due to a progression of regrettable circumstances, he almost certainly never realized the affect he had on the nation’s justice system or New York State’s death penalty law.
Whitmore was a grade-school dropout, whose life was disrupted when he was victimized by malicious detectives and an imperfect judicial system. It was justice run amok long before the New York City Police Department’s questionable and racially-motivated Stop & Frisk policy became the subject of debate. Even so, Whitmore was part of a pattern of veiled racism that existed and, in some ways, still does in the dark corners of law enforcement and the halls of the American legal system.
More than 40 years ago, Whitmore was stopped, interrogated and mistreated by Brooklyn detectives by using exceptionally questionably measures to coerce a suspect, too weak to resist, and eventually got him to sign 61 pages of false confessions. To make matters worse much worse he then got screwed, several times over, and snarled in a web of injustice by the system and the courts.

In April 1964, George Whitmore was 19 when police officers picked him up on a Brownsville street and took him to the 73rd Precinct for questioning, despite a distinct discrepancy from a purse snatching victim’s initial description, under the pretext, he later said, to help police solve a crime. Nevertheless, without a lineup, the woman identified Whitmore, who was shorter and thinner than the suspect she described, and said he was the one who tried to rape her. It was never disclosed whether or not that latest accusation was suggested by police.
After nearly a day of interrogation and mistreatment without sleep, Whitmore not only confessed to attempted rape, but also to the murder of a Brooklyn woman five months earlier, and the “Career Girl murders” in Manhattan that occurred the previous August. The killing of the two women, one of whom was from a moneyed family, had been the focus of the New York media and a public disturbed by the city’s rampant crime rate, for several weeks after it happened.
When Whitmore was indicted for the Brooklyn crimes, his court-appointed attorney told the judge that his client denied the confessions, maintained his innocence and claimed they were made after he was beaten by detectives during questioning. He was also indicted in Manhattan, even while a narcotics addict with a record of sexual assault and burglary was being questioned by police for the “Career Girl Murders.”
Before Whitmore’s Manhattan trial, his high-profile pro bono (no fee) attorney discovered that a piece of evidence that linked him to the murders was flawed. Even when the other suspect was indicted for the murders, the charges against Whitmore were not dropped, but District Attorney Frank Hogan recommended releasing him because “mistakes were made.” Since Whitmore still faced sentencing for one of the Brooklyn crimes and a trial for the other, his release was delayed.
Though the charges in the Manhattan case were finally dropped after the second man was eventually tried and convicted for the Manhattan crimes, Whitmore’s forced confessions, despite overwhelming inconclusive evidence, from the two Brooklyn crimes remained in effect.
For nine years, under the advice of his lawyers, Whitmore refused to take a plea deal, he endured a series of trials, retrials, overturned convictions and appeals. He was in and out of prison for almost three years, until his exoneration in 1973 when all charges against him dismissed almost a decade after his arrest.
Whitmore’s case was cited as an example of police coercion when the Supreme Court issued its landmark 1966 ruling that established safeguards for suspects. By a 5 to 4 vote, the court ruled that when a defendant is taken into custody and accused of a crime, he must be advised of his constitutional rights, commonly referred to as the Miranda warnings. Any statements made prior to the notification may be ruled invalid unless they meet criteria that the police and the prosecutors must prove.
With glaringly invalid evidence in the Manhattan murder case, investigators very nearly put Whitmore on death row for a crime he did not commit. No formal charges were ever brought against the detectives who coerced Whitmore, and under cross examination, they repeatedly denied using any improper tactics. Yet, they never rationally explained how they were able to get Whitmore to supply a 61-page confession to a double murder he never committed.
Based primarily on the maze of mistakes in the Whitmore ordeal, in 1965 the New York State Legislature voted to abolish the death penalty, except for the killing of law enforcement personnel. New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed the legislation into law shortly thereafter.
George Whitmore’s arrest and exploitation launched his life on a downward spiral, which led to a period of alcoholism after his exoneration. Though it derailed his life, that detour briefly turned him into a noteworthy, albeit unwilling, martyr whose troubles subsequently set a standard for the treatment of criminal suspects.
But for a police stop on a street in Brownsville, it is likely that George Whitmore would have gone through life an anonymous person. However, that incident turned his young life into, I daresay, a Kafkaesque series of mistreatment and injustice by callous police and careless prosecutors courts more intent on cracking a high-profile case than meticulously examining evidence to protect an individual’s rights. As a result, George Whitmore got more interest and unjustifiable notoriety than an innocent person deserves.
Nevertheless, his passing is a conspicuous reminder of the injustices that take place when neglectful law enforcement officers, motivated by distorted sense of justice, harbor preconceived notions and use racial profiling to make arrests.
The impact of the Whitmore case has resonated over the decades. On the surface some may interpret it as shoddy police, but, at its core, this case is an indictment of the challenge that continues to blight American justice.
Just proves, once again, that, beyond a doubt, justice, at times, is blind.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Slice of Life That’s Become Divisive (October 13, 2012)

As soon as the New York City Department of Health (DOH) approved a regulation this week to require parents to sign a written consent that warns them of the potential dangers from part of an ultra-Orthodox circumcision, several rabbis and Jewish groups asked a Federal court to prevent its enforcement, claiming the ruling is an unconstitutional breach of freedom of religion.
The focus of the dispute is a specific act performed during the procedure. After the mohel, who conducts the circumcision or bris, removes the foreskin from the penis of an eight-day-old Jewish baby boy, he carries out the ultra-Orthodox tradition of metzitzah b’peh  by cleansing the wound by sucking blood from the cut.
In most modern circumcisions, the mohel uses gauze or a tiny sterile pipe to remove blood during the bris.
Not being well informed about Orthodox rituals, I never heard of that explicit act and was somewhat shocked to learn about it. When I get a paper cut, I often suck the wound, but I’d never ask someone else to do it.
Three Jewish groups, including the International Bris Association (now I’m sure there’s a lobby for anything and everything!) argued that the ancient ritual has been performed successfully for thousands of years. (Clearly, it is impossible to determine the number of post-operative circumcision problems or successes before accurate medical records were kept.)
The first circumcision, according to the Bible, was when God told Abraham to circumcise himself. Years later, as it is written in Genesis 21:4, He commanded Abraham to circumcise his son Isaac.
A spokesman for the plaintiffs said that he believed the courts will put a stop to “this overzealous government overreach and keep them out of our religion.”
Incidentally, Jewish law doesn’t require or recognize an official degree or certification for a mohel and the federal government doesn’t have the authority to qualify them. However, New York and some other states license mohels, so they can practice in hospitals.
In an August 12 New York Times article, the president of a group of conservative rabbis supported the Health Department’s ruling and noted that not only was “direct suction” not part of Jewish law, but that it “was inconsistent with the tradition of preeminent concern with human life and health.”
According to public health officials, the city decided to more or less regulate circumcisions because, from 2000 to 2011, there were 11 incidents, including two who died, where babies became infected with herpes following the oral procedure. Last spring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concurred and opposed it, noting that the saliva in oral contact increases the risk of spreading deadly germs to the newborn’s penis, especially oral herpes.
Mind you, though post-bris infections are uncommon, the city viewed the 11 serious enough to restrict circumcisions. Nevertheless, following deliberations and consultations with medical experts and Jewish leaders, in lieu of a complete prohibition, which would definitely have resulted in a chorus of disapproval other than in the Orthodox Jewish community, it settled on the parental consent option that warns them of the risks?
While the Orthodox regard the regulation as insensitive to their tradition, there are those who perceive it as another Michael Bloomberg directive that interferes with personal choice. In any case, the mayor is not altering an ancient custom or dictating how the operation should be practiced.
NYC Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, defended the ruling, contending, “The city’s highest obligation is to protect its children. The written consent is lawful, appropriate and necessary.”
Regardless, signing a consent form does not trample anyone’s religious freedom.
By the way, circumcision has been the subject of recent debate in Europe, as well as cross country in San Francisco, where opponents reportedly published stereotypical, anti-Semitic materials to advocate their point of view.
Opponents insist circumcision is an unnecessary operation to remove a healthy body part and often refer to it as “genital mutilation.” That reference is excessive and more commonly associated with female circumcision, a much more serious matter that is principally performed, by some cultures worldwide, for non-medical reasons, mainly to curb a female’s sexual arousal. (But that’s another topic, perhaps for another column.)
Circumcision became an issue in Cologne, Germany last summer when a court outlawed it, citing the procedure caused irreparable damage to a child’s body. That ruling was the result of the procedure performed on a Muslim boy. As direct Biblical descendants of Abraham, like Jews, circumcision is also a religious ritual for Muslims.
I find it ironic that Jews and Muslims, perpetual foes in the Middle East long before Israel became a nation, have common ground in this biblical custom that is banned in at least one German city. Regardless of its current status, that nation spawned Adolph Hitler and Jews will always associate it with the Holocaust and a breeding ground of anti-Semitism.
I hope the courts uphold the city’s regulation and responsible parents understand it does not violate tradition or ban the bris. Circumcisions may still take place; the consent form merely acknowledges that parents, despite their deep-seated commitment to a religious custom, understand that their newborn’s health should have greater consequence than adhering to a 5,000-year-old ritual.