Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page


In History, Politics, Social commentary on July 31, 2012 at 8:30 am

A new book sheds unprecedented light on President Barack Obama’s “secret wars and surprising use of American power.”

It’s Confront and Conceal, by David E. Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times.

Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power

Divided into five sections, it dramatically covers the following subjects:

Part 1:  Afghanistan and Pakistan – How Obama has sought to disengage from the former while readying plans to occupy the latter should its growing nuclear arsenal pose a threat to America.

Part 2: Iran – To prevent the Iranians from building nuclear weapons, Obama authorized a malevolent virus to be inserted into that nation’s computer system.

Part 3: Drones and Cyber – American drone attacks have wiped out much of Al Qaeda’s leadership–but increasingly strained U.S. relations with Pakistan.  And while America has launched cyber attacks on Iran, it remains vulnerable to similar attacks–especially by China.

Part 4: Arab Spring – America was totally surprised by the popular revolts sweeping the Arab world.  And Obama had to balance  showing support for the revolutionaries against jeopardizing America’s longtime Arab–and dictatorial–allies.

Part 5: China and North Korea – With the United States financially strained to meet its worldwide military commitments, Obama had to use a combination of persuasion and containment against both these potential adversaries.

Concentrating on America’s foreign policy in the age of Obama, the book says nothing about the 2012 Presidential race.  Yet, in its section on the Arab Spring, there is an unintended warning to Mitt Romney and his right-wing followers.

Sanger analyzes why the vast majority of Egyptians felt no solidarity with Hosni Mubarak, the general/dictator who ruled Egypt since October, 1981.  He came to power after fundamentalists assassinated President Anwar Sadat during a military review.

Mubarack often warned Washington that only he could prevent Egypt from being dominated by fundamentalist, anti-American groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

But, writes Sanger, he achieved the very opposite:

“By leaving his citizens without a social safety net, by failing to invest in the country’s crumbling infastructure…he paved the way for the Brotherhood’s success….

“In a land where the state delivers so little, even the smallest [medical] clinic” as provided by the Brotherhood “will win respect and loyalty.

“So when it came time to vote, most Egyptians decided to cast their ballots for candidates they knew could provide something–Islamist or not, it almost didn’t matter….”

One such Brotherhood supporter, who grew up in the poor, agricultural region of Beni Suef, was quoted as saying:

“The Muslim Brotherhood came into my village, and brought lorries of fruits and vegetables,” selling them at discounted prices.  “They supported medical clinics”–and thus won the hearts of the people they served.

Fast forward to Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican Presidential nominee, and his vision for America.

As Romney sees it, questions about Wall Street scandals and income inequality are driven only by “envy.”

On January 11–after winning the New Hampshire primary–Romney appeared on NBC’s “The Today Show.”  Host Matt Lauer noted that many Americans were concerned “about the distribution of wealth and power in this country.”

“I think it’s about envy,” replied Romney, whose own fortune has been conservatively estimated at $250 million.  “I think it’s about class warfare.

“I think when you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent… you’ve opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of ‘one nation under God.'”

Romney added that it wasn’t necessary to have a public debate about the inequality of wealth distribution in this country.

“I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like,” Romney said. “But the president has made this part of his campaign rally.

“Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it’ll fail.”

Romney did not mention that, in 2007, the richest 1% of the American populace–of which he is a member–owned 34.6% of the country’s total wealth, and the next 19% owned 50.5%.

Thus, the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country’s wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%.

Romney claimed that Obama’s focus on this issue was just “part of his campaign rally.”

Clearly, now-ousted rulers like Mubarak and Muammar Quaddaffi believed “it’s fine to talk about these things” like vast differences in wealth “in quiet rooms.”  That is, so long as they and their 1% rich supporters were doing the talking.

But over time their remoteness from the vast majority of their impoverished fellow citizens sealed their doom.  When enough people broke into open revolt, even the military decided to change sides.

Mubarack was forced to resign, and Quaddaffi–after waging war against his own people–was captured and murdered.

If Romney’s vision of “everything for the 1%” is allowed to prevail, he and his ultra-privileged supporters may truly learn the lessons of class warfare. 


In History, Politics on July 30, 2012 at 8:56 am

The ghost of Richard Nixon wants to be President again.

And it is about to be nominated–again–by the Republican party.

For those who didn’t live through 1968, or those who’ve forgotten what it was like, here’s a brief summary:

  • America was mired in Vietnam, with more than 500,000 troops fighting or dying to prop up a corrupt regime.
  • Antiwar demonstrations shut down college campuses throughout the nation.
  • Civil rights activist Martin Luther King and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.
  • Nationwide racial riots broke out in the wake of King’s murder–including in Washington, D.C.
  • The Democratic Convention was marred by a brutal crackdown by Chicago police on antiwar protesters.

And offering himself as the country’s savior: Richard M. Nixon, the Republican nominee for President.

But he was careful to limit his appearances to carefully-screened “test audiences”–making it look, in his TV ads, as though he was facing up to tough questions.

And continuing his longstanding feud against the press, Nixon shut out reporters from the inner workings of his campaign.

Above all, Nixon promised a solution to Vietnam.  He repeatedly claimed that he had “a plan” to end the war “with peace and honor.”  At times he would touch his suit pocket–as though he had a copy of The Plan right there.

But, he added, he couldn’t share that plan until after he became President.  After all, the North Vietnamese would be listening in with the American people.

So the nation–by the narrowest of margins–elected Nixon.  And four more years of bitter, senseless war followed.

So here it is 2012, and Nixon’s spirit is once again running for President.

Like Nixon, Mitt Romney:

  • Has given interviews only in controlled settings–in his case, almost entirely to right-wing Fox News Network.
  • Has promised to “restore American greatness”–but has refused to say publicly which government programs he would cut.
  • Has refused to say which tax laws he would change–despite the fact that, as a multimillionaire with offshore tax havens, he stands to gain by such changes.
  • Has refused to fully answer reporters’ questions about his financial background–such as refusing to release more than two years’ tax returns.

Romney’s penchant for secrecy was most recently demonstrated during his visit to Israel.  He barred reporters from a fundraiser at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel and refused to say why.

Romney’s traveling press secretary Rick Gorka, asked to comment, simply said, “Closed press, closed press, closed press,” as he walked down the aisle of the candidate’s campaign plane during the flight from London to Tel Aviv.

It’s hard to imagine a more blatant example of arrogant disrespect for freedom of the press–and the right of Americans to learn the truth about their would-be leaders.  Unless you cite Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.

And it offers a dramatic–and useful–insight into the arrogance and secrecy Americans can expect from Romney should he become President.

Planning to raise campaign money while in Israel, Romney was willing to tell his wealthy American supporters abroad what he would not tell voters at home.

Among these is Sheldon Adelson, an international casino magnate, who’s donated millions to a group–Restore Our Future–backing Romney.

By preying on the gambling habits of millions, he has amassed a fortune estimated by Forbes at $24.9 billion.  This makes Adelson the eighth richest person in the United States.

Donors at the fundraising event–which was expected to raise more than $1 million–were asked to contribute $50,000 or to raise $100,000.

In fact, Romney has been far more candid with his private donors about what he intends to do as President than he has in his public appearances.

At a fundraiser this spring in Florida, he outlined how he might cut government and which deductions he might eliminate as part of his tax plan.  The event was overheard by reporters standing on a public sidewalk.

This harkens back to the administration of George W. Bush–when Vice President Dick Cheney invited oil company lobbyists to rewrite “environmental protection” regulations.

Naturally, the workings of Cheney’s “energy task force” were classified as secret from both the press and public.

In April, 2010, an explosion on a BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico sent millions of gallons of oil pouring into the Pacific ocean.  It was only then that Americans began to learn the true costs of allowing greed-fueled corporations to “protect” the fragile environment.

Similarly, Romney expects Americans to wholeheartedly trust him to create jobs for millions–while his own experience has been in creating only millions of dollars for himself and other wealthy investors.

Meanwhile, he clearly refuses to trust Americans generally with his plans for “restoring American greatness.”

There is a time-tested recipe for determining when a public figure has forfeited trust: It’s when he refuses to answer hard, specific questions.

There can be times–such as in war–when a public official is justified in telling less than the whole truth.

But, short of such an extreme occasion, the rule stands: Don’t trust anyone who won’t give candid answers to candid questions.


In Bureaucracy, Law, Politics, Social commentary on July 27, 2012 at 8:45 am

The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one – no matter where he lives or what he does – can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.

–Robert F. Kennedy, April 4, 1968

Senator Robert F. Kennedy announcing the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

What should the surviving victims of the Aurora massacre do to seek redress?

And how can the relatives and friends of those who didn’t survive seek justice for those they loved?

Two things:

First, don’t count on politicians to support a ban on assault weapons.

Politicians–with rare exceptions–have only two goals:

  1. Get elected to office, and
  2. Stay in office.

And too many of them fear the economic and voting clout of the NRA to risk its wrath.

Consider Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.

Both rushed to offer condolences to the surviving victims of the Aurora massacre.  And both have steadfastly refused to even discuss gun control–let alone support a ban on the type of assault weapons used by James Holmes.

On July 22–only two days after the Century 16 Theater slaughter–U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said: “The fact of the matter is there are 30-round magazines that are just common all over the place.

“You simply can’t keep these weapons out of the hands of sick, demented individuals who want to do harm.  And when you try and do it, you restrict our freedom.”

That presumably includes the freedom of would-be mass murderers to carry out their fantasies.

Second, those who survived the massacre–and the relatives and friends of those who didn’t–should file wrongful death, class-action lawsuits against the NRA.

There is sound, legal precedent for this.

  • For decades, the American tobacco industry peddled death and disability to millions and reaped billions of dollars in profits.
  • The industry vigorously claimed there was no evidence that smoking caused cancer, heart disease, emphysema or any other ailment.

  • Tobacco companies spent billions on slick advertising campaigns to win new smokers and attack medical warnings about the dangers of smoking.
  • Tobacco companies spent millions to elect compliant politicians and block anti-smoking legislation.
  • From 1954 to 1994, over 800 private lawsuits were filed against tobacco companies in state courts. But only two plaintiffs prevailed, and both of those decisions were reversed on appeal.
  • In 1994, amidst great pessimism, Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore filed a lawsuit against the tobacco industry.  But other states soon followed, ultimately growing to 46.
  • Their goal: To seek monetary, equitable and injunctive relief under various consumer-protection and anti-trust laws.
  • The theory underlying these lawsuits was: Cigarettes produced by the tobacco industry created health problems among the population, which badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.
  • In 1998, the states settled their Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco industry for recovery of their tobacco-related, health-care costs.  In return, they exempted the companies from private lawsuits for tobacco-related injuries.
  • The companies agreed to curtail or cease certain marketing practices.  They also agreed to pay, forever, annual payments to the states to compensate some of the medical costs for patients with smoking-related illnesses.

The parallels with the NRA are obvious:

  • For decades, the NRA has peddled deadly weapons to millions, reaped billions of dollars in profits and refused to admit the carnage those weapons have produced: “Guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.”  With guns.

  • The NRA has bitterly fought background checks on gun-buyers, in effect granting even criminals and the mentally ill the right to own arsenals of death-dealing weaponry.
  • The NRA has spent millions on slick advertising campaigns to win new members and frighten them into buying guns.

  • The NRA has spent millions on political contributions to block gun-control legislation.
  • The NRA has spent millions attacking political candidates and elected officials who warned about the dangers of unrestricted access to assault and/or concealed weapons.

  • The NRA has spent millions pushing “Stand Your Ground” laws in more than half the states, which potentially give every citizen a “license to kill.”
  • The NRA receives millions of dollars from online sales of ammunition, high-capacity ammunition magazines, and other accessories through its point-of-sale Round-Up Program–thus directly profiting by selling a product that kills about 30,288 people a year.

  • Firearms made indiscriminately available through NRA lobbying have filled hospitals–such as those in Aurora–with casualties, and have thus badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.

It will take a series of highly expensive and well-publicized lawsuits to significantly weaken the NRA, financially and politically.

The first ones will have to be brought by the surviving victims of gun violence–and by the friends and families of those who did not survive it.  Only they will have the courage and motivation to take such a risk.

As with the cases first brought against tobacco companies, there will be losses.  And the NRA will rejoice with each one.

But, in time, state Attorneys General will see the clear parallels between lawsuits filed against those who peddle death by cigarette and those who peddle death by armor-piercing bullet.

And then the NRA–like the tobacco industry–will face an adversary wealthy enough to stand up for the rights of the gun industry’s own victims.

Only then will those politicians supporting reasonable gun controls dare to stand up for the victims of such needless tragedies as the one in Aurora, Colorado.


In Bureaucracy, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 26, 2012 at 9:45 am

Among the major accomplishments of the National Rifle Association:

  • In July, 2005, George Zimmerman was arrested for shoving a police officer during an underage drinking raid. The charges were dropped after he completed an alcohol education program. That same summer, his ex-fiancée filed a restraining order against him, alleging that Zimmerman hit her.
  • Yet he was allowed to carry a loaded, hidden handgun as a Florida resident–under the 2005 “Stand Your Ground” law the NRA had rammed through the legislature.
  • Under that law: A Concealed Carry Permit is revoked only if a gun owner is convicted of a felony.  It is not suspended if he’s being investigated for a felony.  It is suspended only if he is actually charged.

George Zimmerman

  • On February 26, 2012, Zimmerman shot unarmed, 17-year-oldTrvon Martin, who was wearing a “hoodie.”  In March, the NRA issued its own version of a “hoodie”–the Concealed Carry Hooded Sweatshirt, designed to hide firearms.  Selling on the NRA’s website for $60 to $65, it is advertised thusly:
  • “Inside the sweatshirt you’ll find left and right concealment pockets.  The included Velcro®-backed holster and double mag pouch can be repositioned inside the pockets for optimum draw.  Ideal for carrying your favorite compact to mid-size pistol, the NRA Concealed Carry Hooded Sweatshirt gives you an extra tactical edge, because its unstructured, casual design appears incapable of concealing a heavy firearm – but it does so with ease!”
  • Anyone—including convicted criminals—can buy these “hide-a-gun” sweatshirts, putting both the public and law enforcers at deadly risk.
  • The NRA often claims that law-abiding citizens defend themselves with guns millions of times every year. But the FBI has determined that, of the approximately 11,000 gun homicides every year, fewer than 300 are justifiable self-defense killings.
  • The NRA supports loopholes that allow criminals to buy guns without background checks, or allow terrorists to buy all the AK-47s they desire.
  • The NRA’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, says the NRA is “all in” to defeat Barack Obama.  Yet the President has meekly signed legislation allowing guns to be brought into national parks and onto trains.  Since becoming Chief Executive, he has made no effort to curb gun violence.
  • High-capacity magazines were prohibited under the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban.  It expired in 2004. The NRA–aided by the Bush administration and Republicans generally–easily overcame efforts to renew the ban.
  • Political scientist Robert Spitzer, author of the book The Politics of Gun Control, notes that since the passage of the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and the assault weapons ban in 1994, state and national laws have been drifting toward more open gun access:
  • “In 1988, there were about 18 states that had state laws that made it pretty easy for civilians to carry concealed hand guns around in society. By 2011, that number is up to 39 or 40 states having liberalized laws, depending on how you count it, and the NRA has worked very diligently at the state level to win political victories there, and they’ve really been quite successful.”
  • On January 8, 2011, Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head while meeting with constituents outside a,Tucson, Arizona, grocery store.  Also killed was Arizona’s chief U.S. District judge, John Roll, who had just stopped by to see his friend Giffords after celebrating Mass.  The total number of victims: 6 dead, 13 wounded.
  • “The NRA’s response to the Tucson shootings has been to say as little as possible and to keep its head down,” says Spitzer.  “And their approach even more has been to say as little as possible and to simply issue a statement of condolence to the families of those who were injured or killed and to wait for the political storm to pass over and then to pick up politics as usual.”
  • In the spring of 2012, the House Oversight Committee prepared to vote on whether to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for allegedly refusing to provide documents related to “Fast and Furious.”  This was an undercover operation launched by the Bush administration to track firearms being sold to Mexican drug cartels.  The NRA notified Congressional members that how they voted would reflect how the NRA rated them in “candidate evaluations” for the November elections.  This amounted to blatant extortion, since the NRA has long accused Holder of having an “anti-gun” agenda.

Summing up the current state of gun politics in America, the April 21, 2012 edition of The Economist noted:

“The debate about guns is no longer over whether assault rifles ought to be banned, but over whether guns should be allowed in bars, churches and colleges.”

That is precisely the aim of the NRA–an America where anyplace, anytime, can be turned into the O.K. Corral.

So what should the surviving victims of the Aurora massacre do to seek redress?  And how can the relatives and friends of those who didn’t survive seek justice for those they loved?


In Bureaucracy, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 25, 2012 at 8:48 am

On September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists snuffed out the lives of 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

The World Trade Center – September 11, 2001

But within less than a month, American warplanes began carpet-bombing Afghanistan, whose rogue Islamic “government” refused to surrender Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the attacks.

By December, the power of the Taliban was broken–and bin Laden was driven into hiding in Pakistan.

For more than ten years, the United States–through its global military and espionage networks–has relentlessly hunted down most of those responsible for that September carnage.

On May 1, 2011, U.S. Navy SEALS invaded bin Laden’s fortified mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan–and shot him dead.


Now, consider these statistics of death, supplied by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence:

Every day–365 days a year

  • 270 people in America, 47 of them children and teens, are shot in murders, assaults, suicides, accidents and police intervention;
  • 87 people die from gun violence, 33 of them murdered;
  • 8 children and teens die from gun violence;
  • 183 people are shot, but survive their gun injuries;
  • 38 children and teens are shot, but survive their gun injuries.

And what does all of this add up to?

  • In one year, almost 100,000 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides, accidents, or by police intervention.
  • Over a million Americans have been killed with guns since 1968, when Dr.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.
  • U.S. homicide rates are 6.9 times higher than rates in 22 other populous high-income countries combined, despite similar non-lethal crime and violence rates.  The firearm homicide rate in the U.S. is 19.5 times higher.
  • Gun violence impacts society in numerous ways: medical costs; costs of the criminal justice system; security precautions; and reductions in quality of life owing to fear of gun violence.
  • An estimated 41% of gun-related homicides would not occur under the same circumstances had no guns been present.

(This average annual estimated composite picture of gun violence is based on death certificates and estimates from emergency room admissions.)

And who, more than anyone (including the actual killers themselves) has made all this carnage possible?

The National Rifle Association, of course.

But unlike the leadership of Al Qaeda, that of the NRA is not simply known, but celebrated.  Its director, Wayne LaPierre, is courted as a rock star by Democrats and Republicans seeking NRA endorsements–and campaign contributions.

Wayne La Pierre

He frequently appears as an honored guest at testimonial dinners and political conventions.

The largest of the 13 national pro-gun groups, the NRA has nearly 4 million members, who focus most of their time lobbying Congress for unlimited “gun rights.”

The NRA claims that its mission is to “protect” the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

NRA members conveniently ignore the first half of that sentence: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State….”

For the NRA, the Second Amendment is the Constitution, and the rest of the document is a mere appendage.

At the time Congress ratified the Constitution in 1788, the United States was not a world power.

A mere 26 years later, the British seized and burned Washington, D.C., after repeatedly defeating American armies.  On the frontier, settlers had to defend themselves against hostile Indians and marauding bandits.

Only after World War II did the country maintain a powerful standing army during peacetime.

But World War II ended 66 years ago, and today the United States is a far different country than it was in 1788:

  • It boasts a nuclear arsenal that can turn any country into thermonuclear ash–anytime an American President decides to do so.
  • It boasts an Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps that can target any enemy, anywhere in the world.
  • Its Special Forces–Green Berets, Delta Force and Navy SEALS–are rightly feared by international terrorists.
  • American Intelligence has have come a long way since 9/11. The FBI’s top priority is to prevent another such terrorist attack, not simply investigate it afterward.
  • And waging war on criminals generally are about 836,787 full-time sworn local/state/Federal law enforcement officers.
  • If a criminal flees or conducts business across state lines, powerful Federal law enforcement agencies–such as the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration–can put him out of business.

But apparently the NRA hasn’t gotten the word.

  • The NRA has steadfastly defended the right to own Teflon-coated “cop killer” bullets,” whose only purpose is to penetrate bullet-resistant vests worn by law enforcement officers.

  • The NRA and its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, is responsible for the “stand-your-ground” ordinances now in effect in more than half the states. These allow for the use of deadly force in self-defence, without any obligation to attempt to retreat first.
  • The NRA rushed to the defense of accused murderer George Zimmerman, the self-appointed “community watchman” who  ignored police orders to stop following 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and ended up shooting him.
  • Police did not initially charge Zimmerman because of Florida’s “Stand-Your-Ground” law, which the NRA had rammed through the legislature.


In Bureaucracy, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 24, 2012 at 9:06 am

Here we go again.

  • Midnight vigils for the victims of yet another spree-killer.

  • Makeshift memorials of flowers, candles and teddy bears.
  • Grief counselors for students at elementary, junior high and high schools.
  • And, of course, the inevitable question: “Why?”

We’ve seen it all before–too many times before:

  • After the San Ysidro McDonald’s shootings, 1984: 21 dead, 19 wounded.
  • After the 101 California Street shootings in San Francisco, 1993: 9 dead, 6 injured.
  • After the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado, 1999: 15 dead, 21 wounded.
  • After the Virginia Tech shootings, 2007: 32 dead, 23 wounded.
  • After the Tucson shootings, 2011: 6 dead, 13 wounded.

And now after the massacre at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado: 12 dead, 58 wounded.

People who wanted nothing more than to see a movie they were eagerly anticipating: The latest addition to the “Batman” franchise: The Dark Knight Rises.

Snuggled into their seats, some eating popcorn or candy, others sipping sodas. None of them expecting that the violence on the screen would suddenly consume them in real-life.

It was a scene of which nightmares are made:

  • A sudden eruption of smoke and fire as a tear-gas canister explodes.
  • A lone gunman–-brandishing a Smith & Wesson AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a 12-gauge Remington Model 870 shotgun, and a G23 .40 caliber Smith & Wesson Glock pistol.
  • First he blasts the ceiling with a shotgun, and then opens fire on the audience, stopping only to reload his weapon. He begins aiming at the back of the room, and then targets people who are scrambling to escape in the aisles. Some bullets penetrate the wall of the cinema and injure people in an adjoining theater, where the same film is being screened.
  • Adding to the nightmarish quality of the scene: The appearance of the gunman–dressed all in black: a ballistic helment, vestand leggings; a throat protector; a groin protector; a gas mask; and black tactical gloves.

As terrible as the massacre was, it could have been worse.  Police arrived in about two minutes and arrested the shooter, James Holmes, in the parking lot of the Century 16 Theater he had just ravaged.

Still, the statistics are terrible enough:

  • Twelve people–several of them heroes who died shielding others with their bodies–will never return to those who loved them.
  • Of the 58 wounded, an unknown number will almost certainly be physically scarred for life.
  • Some may never walk. Or see. Or use their arms or hands.
  • Certainly almost all those who were in that theater–-even those who escaped without a scratch-–will be emotionally tormented for months or years to come. Some may never      escape those moments of murderous insanity.

It’s possible that Holmes, 24, an honors graduate of the University of California Riverside, became that most lethal specimen: The genius who slides into madness.

Holmes moved to the University of  Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora in May, 2011, to pursue a PhD in neuroscience. He had always excelled in his studies, but earlier this year, his grades took a sharp decline. In June, he told the college that he was going to drop out.

Meanwhile, he was amassing an arsenal of weapons and ammunition. He bought two Glock pistols, a semi-automatic rifle and a shotgun over the last two months from local gun stores and 6,000 rounds of ammunition via the Internet–-all purchased legally under state law.

In early July, Holmes ordered the paramilitary bulletproof clothing and gas mask that he intended to wear on his rampage.

Finally, he dyed his hair a shocking red-orange and rigged his university apartment with trip-wires and homemade booby-traps. When he was arrested, he told police: “I am the Joker.”

Commentators have asked why Holmes chose to snuff out the lives and dreams of so many people.

But a better question is: “How did he do it?”

We may never finally know why he did it. But how makes it clear that he could not have done it without access to the awesome firepower he was legally able to purchase.

  • The AR-15 semi-automatic rifle is designed for easy reloading. “Even without the grand-sized mag[azine]s, many people who are practiced can reload in 1½ to 2 seconds,” said Steven Howard, a Michigan attorney and security and firearms expert.
  • The AR-15 is a weapon of war. Its only purpose is to kill large numbers of people–quickly. Its 100-round drum magazine allowed Holmes to fire 50 to 60 rounds within one minute.
  • The Glock pistol uses a 15-round clip. When it’s done the shooter simply ejects the empty clip and slams in another one, and he’s ready for more killing.

And who has made all of this mayhem not only possible but politically invincible?

Who ultimately bears responsibility not only for those murdered and maimed on July 20 at an Aurora theater but for the almost 100,000 people who are killed or wounded every year from gun violence?

Your friends at the National Rifle Association.


In History, Politics, Social commentary on July 23, 2012 at 9:16 am

Rush Limbaugh is the sort of man who can see The Adventures of Robin Hood–and root for the Sheriff of Nottingham.

For Limbaugh, the rich can never be too well-protected.  Especially when they’re running for President.

Limbaugh believes that the latest “Batman” movie is out to slander poor Mitt Romney.  And he’s using The Rush Limbaugh Show to valiantly defend him.

Limbaugh’s program airs on over 400 radio stations and is the highest-rated talk-radio program in the United States.

Combining the poison tongue of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels….

Joseph Goebbels

….with the poundage of Luftwaffe Commander Hermann Goering….

Hermann Goering

….Herr Limbaugh says about the character “Bane” in The Dark Knight Rises:

Rush Limbaugh

The villain in the Dark Knight Rises is named Bane.  B-A-N-E. What is the name of the venture capital firm that Romney ran, and around which there’s now this make-believe controversy? Bain.

“The movie has been in the works for a long time, the release date’s been known, summer 2012 for a long time. Do you think that it is accidental, that the name of the really vicious, fire-breathing, four-eyed, whatever-it-is villain in this movie is named Bane?

“It’s going to have a lot of people. This movie, the audience is going to be huge, lot of people are going to see the movie….

“And it’s a lot of brain-dead  people, entertainment, the pop culture crowd. And they’re going to hear ‘Bane’  in the movie, and they are going to associate Bain.

“And thought is that when they start paying attention to the campaign later in the year, and Obama and the Democrats keep talking about Bain, not Bain Capital, but Bain, Romney and Bain, that these people will think back to the Batman movie –‘Oh yeah, I know who that is.'”

Apparently they will know more than Limbaugh does.

“Bane” is a comics super-villain fighting a comics super-hero: “Batman.”

“Bain Capitol” is a real-life “vulture capitalism” villain which profits by destroying American jobs.

“Bane” first appeared in the comics–in Batman: Vengeance of Bane #1 (January, 1993).  His creators were Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan and Doug Moench.

If what Limbaugh says is true, all these men rank as not only among history’s greatest cartoonists but its greatest psychics.

Imagine: In January, 1993, they were able to look into the future and predict that:

  • By the summer of 2012, a multimillionaire named Mitt Romney would become the Republican nominee for President.
  • Romney would have made most of his fotrune as the CEO of Bain Capitol. a Boston-based asset management and financial services company.
  • Barack Obama, a former black Senator from Illinois, would meanwhile be occupying the White House.
  • Desperate to give Obama another four years as President, Warner Brothers Studios would rush “The Dark Knight Rises” into production, to be out in time for summer, 2012.
  • The moviemakers wouldn’t be thinking of huge box-office returns for a typical summer blockbuster.
  • They would, instead, be hoping to brainwash millions of unsuspecting, pure-minded Republican voters into voting against “Bane” and for Obama.

Of course, this is not the first time Limbaugh has rushed to aid the helpless rich.

On May 15, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin renounced his U.S. citizenship.  Born in Brazil, the 30-year-old Saverin became a U.S. citizen in 1998 but has lived in Singapore since 2009.

Giving up his citizenship allowed him to avoid a 15% capital gains tax when Facebook launched its IPO on May 18.  Singapore does not have a capital gains tax.

With Saverin being attacked for his unpatriotic behavior, Limbaugh leaped to his defense:

“So if it’s a more favorable tax haven that you can find elsewhere and you go there,” asked Limbaugh, “why is it automatically that you are unpatriotic? Why is it automatically that you are a coward, that you are not paying your fair share? It’s this whole class envy thing rearing its head again.”

For Limbaugh, the villain isn’t a billionaire who turns his back on the country that gave him the opportunity to become one. No, the villain lies in those who believe that even wealthy businessmen should behave like patriots–instead of parasites.

“But [Barack Obama is] out there demonizing successful people every day, targeting successful people every day, running a presidential campaign based on class warfare, trying to get the 99% of the country who are not in the top 1% to hate the 1%, to literally despise ‘em.”

On November 1, 2011, Forbes magazine reported that, in 2007, the richest 1% of the American population owned 34.6% of the country’s total wealth, and the next 19% owned 50.5%.

Thus, the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country’s wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%.

According to Limbaugh’s philosophy, the bottom 80% of the population owning 15% of the country’s wealth should pay homage to the top 20% of Americans who own 85% of the country’s wealth.

In short, they should “know their place” and not expect their moneyed “betters” to pay their fair share of taxes.


In History, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on July 13, 2012 at 9:42 am

“One man with courage,” said frontier general Andrew Jackson, “makes a majority.”

Yet it’s amazing how many “heroes” come out of the woodwork once the danger is safely past.

Joseph Stalin dominated the Soviet Union from 1928 to 1953.  He held absolute power twice as long as Adolf Hitler–whose Third Reich lasted only 12 years.

Above all, he was responsible for the deaths of at least 20,000,000 men, women and children:

  • At the hands of the executioners of the NKVD (later named the KGB).
  • In exile–usually in Siberia–in Soviet penal camps.
  • Of man-made starvation brought on by Stalin’s forced “collective-farm” policies.

Then, the unthinkable happened–Stalin finally died on March 5, 1953.

Almost three years later–on February 25, 1956–Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, shocked the 20th Party Congress of the Soviet Union with a bombshell announcement: Stalin–the “Wise Leader and Teacher”–had been a murderous despot.

Among his crimes:

  • He had created a regime based on “suspicion, fear and terror.”
  • His massive purges of the officer corps had almost destroyed the Red Army–thus inviting Hitler’s 1941 invasion, which killed at least 20 million Soviet citizens.
  • He had allied himself with Hitler in 1939 and ignored repeated warnings of the coming Nazi invasion.

Naturally, Khrushchev didn’t advertise the role he had played as one of Stalin’s most trusted and brutal henchmen.

Over the ensuing years, many of the statues and portraits of Stalin that had dotted the Soviet Union like smallpox scars were quietly taken down.  The city of Stalingrad–which Stalin had renamed from its original name of Tsaritsyn–became Volgograd.

Then, in 1961, Stalin’s corpse was removed from its prominent spot in the Lenin mausoleum and reburied in a place for lesser heroes of the Russian Revolution.

The young poet, Yevgeney Yevtushenko, noted the occasion in his famous poem, “The Heirs of Stalin.”  Its gist: Stalin the tyrant was dead, but his followers still walked the earth–and lusted for a return to power.

Something similar happened in the United States around the same time.

From 1950 to 1954, Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy terrorized the nation, hurling unfounded accusations and leaving ruined careers in his wake.

Among those civilians and government officials he slandered as Communists were:

  • President Harry S. Truman
  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • Broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow
  • Secretary of State George C. Marshall
  • Columnist Drew Pearson

Finally, in 1954, McCarthy overreached himself and accused the U.S. Army of being a hotbed of Communist traitors.  Joseph Welch, counsel for the Army, destroyed McCarthy’s credability in a now-famous exchange.

Later that year, the Senate censured McCarthy, and he rapidly declined in power and health.

Senatorial colleagues who had once courted his support now avoided him; they left the Senate when he rose to speak.  Reporters who had once fawned on him for his latest sensational slander now ignored him.

Eisenhower–who had sought McCarthy’s support during his 1952 race for President–joked that “McCarthyism” was now “McCarthywasm.”

Fast-forward to July 12, 2012–and the release of former FBI Director Louie Freeh’s report on serial pedophile Jerry Sandusky.  As the assistant football coach at Penn State University (PSU), he had used the football facilities to sexually attack numerous young boys.

But Sandusky was regarded as more than a second-banana.  He received Assistant Coach of the Year awards in 1986 and 1999, and authored several books about his coaching experiences.

In 1977, Sandusky founded The Second Mile, a non-profit charity serving underprivileged, at-risk youth.

“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” Freeh stated.

College football is a $2.6 billion-a-year business. And Penn State is one of its premiere brands, with revenue of $70 million in 2010.

PSU’s seven-month internal investigation, headed by Freeh, revealed:

  • Joe Paterno, head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions, was aware of a 1998 criminal investigation of Sandusky.
  • So was president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz.
  • In 2001, then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary reported to Paterno that he’d seen Sandusky attacking a boy in the shower.
  • Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz then conspired to cover up for Sandusky.
  • The rapes of these boys occurred in the Lasch Building–where Paterno had his office.
  • A janitor who had witnessed a rape in 2000 said he had feared losing his job if he told anyone about it. “It would be like going against the President of the United States,” Freeh said at a press conference.

In 2011, Sandusky was arrested and charged with sexually abusing young boys over a 15-year period.  On June 22, 2012, he was convicted on 45 of the 48 charges.  He will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

On the day the Freeh report was released, Nike–a longtime sponsor for Penn State–announced that it would remove Paterno’s name from the child care center at its world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.


In Bureaucracy, Law, Politics, Social commentary on July 11, 2012 at 9:12 am

Sometimes it’s hard to choose which villain to hate the most.

Take the case of Loretta Robinson, a South Carolina mother who lost her son, Justin Walker, in June, 2011, to a drunk driver.

For Robinson, tragedy was followed by outrage–which came in four stages.

First, the tragedy: Justin Walker, her oldest son, died when his car was struck by another vehicle on White Horse Road in Greenville, South Carolina.

Then, the outrage–Stage 1: The driver of the killer-car turned out to be drunk.

Outrage, Stage 2: The driver of the killer-car also turned out to be an illegal alien named Anna Gonzalez.

Outrage, Stage 3:  Gonzalez had been living in the United States for 12 years–but had never bothered to get a driver’s license.  She had been stopped for license violations in 2011, prior to the accident.  But she was never detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Outrage, Stage 4:  Loretta Robinson found herself billed for the various charges associated with the accident, including a $50 charge to clean her son’s blood off the road.

On June 19, 2012, Gonzalez pleaded guilty to drunk driving and driving without a license, and causing the fatal accident.  She was stenced to 17 years in prison.

But, for Robinson, the verdict could not possibly compensate for her injuries.

  • For several months, she had to pay for storage of her son’s wrecked car in case of a trial.
  • She had to pay to have the vehicle towed.
  • She was issued a bill to cover the cost of cleaning up her son’s blood from the road.  She said that was the bill that hurt the most–paying $50 to have the street  washed.
  • She has had a hard time working because of the emotional effects of the accident.  Bills keep arriving when she cannot pay them.

The South Carolina State Office of Victims Assistance offers a combined total of up to $15,000 for medical, funeral, counseling and wage compensation for the families of victims of crime.   Robinson received some money from this agency, but it did not cover the costs of cleanup or storage.

“We have to be able, as a country, to figure out a way [to deal] with people here who are illegal and commit crimes,” Robinson said.

Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen.

In June, President Barack Obama directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to halt deportations for up to 800,000 illegal aliens who entered the country as children.  The decision halts any deportation proceedings for two years and allows aliens the opportunity to apply for a work permit.

So it’s hard to know which is the greater villain:

  • Federal authorities who, through collusion or incompetence, allowed an illegal alien to not simply remain in the country for 12 years but to drive without a license virtually that entire time; or
  • Local authorities who callously demanded thousands of dollars from a grieving mother, without regard to her emotional or financial state.

The Federal guidelines on dealing with illegal aliens–as issued by the Department of Homeland Security–will likely remain in place at least until the November Presidential election.

It’s been widely charged that Obama offered what amounts to a limited amnesty to woo the Hispanic vote.  This promises to be a close election, and the President isn’t taking any chances.

The reaction of the local authorities portends a startling new development: Not simply blaming the victim but financially penalizing him.

In Colorado, the jobless are now being forced to pay the government.

The state accidentally overpaid $128 million in unemployment benefits in 2011.  That included more than $98 million from state coffers, with the rest coming from the federal government’s extended-benefits plan, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

And now it is billing the jobless to get that money back.

Nor is this problem limited to Colorado.  In 2011, states across the country accidentally overpaid $5.1 billion in unemployment payments.

The overpayments result primarily from clerical errors and not fraud, said government officials quoted in the Denver Post.

In 2011, Colorado recovered $73 million in unemployment benefits that it had accidentally overpaid.

“If we deliberately lie about our information, they are quick to prosecute,” said Amelia Kelii of Parker.  “But if they make a mistake, we still have to pay for their mistake.”   She owes the state more than $1,000, which she says she cannot pay.

In May, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin renounced his U.S. citizenship.  He did so to avoid a 15% tax on capital gains when Facebook launched its IPO.  Singapore–where he had lived since 2009–does not have a capital gains tax.

Millions of desperate Americans like Loretta Robinson and Amelia Kelii survive–literally–from one check (unemployment or not) to the next.

For them, the demands of politicians like Mitt Romney to abolish taxes on the wealthy seem not only irrelevant, but a sick joke.


In History, Politics on July 10, 2012 at 8:15 am

Treason seems to be in the air whenever Republicans–or their allies–gather.

Two recent examples should suffice to illustrate.

Treason example #1:

Like many members of the far Right, rocker Ted Nugent feels totally sideswiped by the June 28 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold “Obamacare.”  And he’s especially angry at Chief Justice John G. Roberts, who cast the deciding vote.

On July 5, he decided to say publicly what many other fascistic Americans no doubt believe.  He chose as his forum the right-wing Washington Times, which is owned by the Unification Church’s leader, Sun Myung Moon.

Without mincing words, Nugent accused Roberts of treason–and then said that perhaps treason wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

First, the accusation:

“The bottom line is that Chief Justice Roberts’ traitor vote will ensure more monumental spending and wasted taxes and put almost 15% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) under one of the world’s most bureaucratic, ineffective, incompetent and grossly expensive systems ever devised by man: our out-of-control federal government.”

Now, the suggestion:

“Because our legislative, judicial and executive branches of government hold the 10th Amendment in contempt, I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War. Our Founding Fathers’ concept of limited government is dead.”

This is not a case of idle rhetoric–and should not be seen as such.

The American Civil War raged from 1861 to 1865   The resulting carnage destroyed as many as 620,000 lives.  More Americans died in that war than have been killed in all the major wars fought by the United States since.

Casualties at Gettysburg

When it ended, America was reinvented as a new, unified nation–and one where slavery was now banned by the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Equally important, the Federal Government had now set a precedent for using overwhelming military power to force states to remain in the Union.  The doctrine of secession seemed forever dead.

And Americans overwhelmingly agreed, from 1865 on, that the Union was sacred and unbreakable.  But that changed in 2009, with the  inauguration of Barack Obama–the country’s first black President.

Then, suddenly, secession–treason–became fashionable again, not only among many Southerners but even among so-called “mainstream” Republicans.

Confederate flag

During 2009, “state sovereignty resolutions” or “10th Amendment Resolutions” were introduced in the legislatures of 37 states; in seven states the resolutions passed–Alaska, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Tennessee.

During 2010, resolutions were introduced or reintroduced into the legislatures of 21 states–passing in seven: Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, Utah and Wyoming.

“Sovereignty” means supreme, independent authority over a territory–authority heretofore accepted as residing with the federal government.

Despite this, the Supreme Court has explicitly stated that the states cannot nullify federal law. In Cooper v. Aaron (1958), the Court ruled that federal law prevails over state law through the operation of the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.

Federal law, warned the Justices, “can neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive or judicial officers nor nullified indirectly by them through evasive schemes….”

But fanatical right-wingers like Ted Nugent believe otherwise.  For them, “it would have been best had the South won the Civil War.”

Of course, a Confederate victory would have meant the preservation–and extension–of slavery.  Millions of Americans–men, women and children–would have been held in chains into perpetuity.

The arrogant planter class of the South–which comprised at most 10% of the overall population–would have continued to dominate black slaves and poor whites.

Such men would have felt only contempt for those outside their rarified class.  A Confederate administration would have never proposed universal medical care to all Americans.

Which would suit people like Ted Nugent just fine.

When contemplating such truths, it’s well to remember another:

Nugent is supporting Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee.  And Romney–who has been silent on so muany other issues–stands equally silent on Nugent’s support for treason.

Treason example #2:

The right-wing Tea Party movement has repeatedly and vigorously denied that it is racist.  But the Las Cruces Tea Party in New Mexico celebrated July 4 by flying a Confederate flag on a float that took first place at the Independence Day parade.

The “Stars and Bars” is not only a symbol of the South’s support for slavery.  It is a symbol of treason–of four years when tens of thousands of Southerners waged war against their own legally-elected government.

Of course, the Las Cruces Tea Party saw it differently:

“The theme of the parade was the history of the State of New Mexico,” the group said. “There was a lot of history that defined our state prior to 1912. We showed how we fought for our statehood and the sacrifices we made along the way, along with our triumphs.”

The United States may yet see another “Sherman’s March” to silence its modern-day “treason chorus.”

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