Sunday, July 24, 2016

Empty Promises From Amateurs

A few weeks back, the NBA Champion Cavaliers made Cleveland the center of excellence for athletic professionalism. After this past week, Cleveland has also now become the center of political amateurism.

The last meaningful political convention that decided anything of substance was in 1976 between incumbent President Gerald Ford and challenger Ronald Reagan. Today, the sole purpose of such national political conventions is showmanship: crown the winner of the primary elections, and enthuse party members to go forth and do battle for their candidates in the future. It is all done with the American people looking in at the drama and festivities. It is the best campaign opportunity you get to speak directly to the American people, to define who you are, and to show your vision and capability.

Instead, this year, given all of the chaos, disruptions, divisiveness, missteps, and desperately false explanations (Really? Hillary Clinton was responsible for Malania’s plagiarism?), we saw a convention plagued by errors –consistent with and reflective of the Trump campaign itself. A  convention designed and executed by a tight family circle of campaign novices. If one cannot successfully manage his/her coronation to expectations, an event over which you have almost total decision-making authority, why should we think that person can possibly lead a country of 300M diverse people over which s/he has minimal authority?

Donald Trump selling himself as the “Law and Order candidate” is a reach-back to Richard Nixon’s and George Wallace’s campaigns in 1968. His rallying cry of “America First” was a reach-back to the pre-World War II isolationist movement. Neither of those ideas worked out very well then, and to speak of them today doesn’t bode well for “new, forward thinking.” Yes we have some problems in our country today, problems that need to be solved. But “Make America Great Again” does not sit well with one who believes America has been, and still is, pretty damn Great already, even if imperfect. If we are ever able to get re-focused again, and stop being distracted  by one-shot fly-by-night would-be leaders trying to sell us the Brooklyn Bridge on the cheap, we can return to the vision and ability to fix that which ails us that we are so admired for throughout the world. And we can fix it without the need for pointing fingers. Donald Trump may be “the Voice” speaking for an extremely angry public, but he does not speak for me with his dark vision of where America is now, and where he would lead it in the future. I learned long ago that anyone who feels they have to yell at me that loud to try to make their point is usually trying to cover over the shallowness of the substance of their argument.

In the end, the phrase “Only I can fix it” is a perfect epitaph of what is wrong with Donald Trump and his pseudo-campaign – a campaign built not on the substance of ideas but on a continual ridicule of the reputations of his opponents and assault on their character. It is the arrogance of a single individual claiming to have all of the answers while saying “Just trust me,” even though he lacks any experience whatsoever in public service or international relations to ground his thinking or demonstrate his ability. That lacking is combined with the highly erroneous view that the Presidency of the United States is just another CEO position in yet another family-run business. It ain’t. The kindergarteners are running the school; the amateurs are running the campaign. All at a time when the need for competence and experience are more important than ever. That competence and experience were not on display in Cleveland.

One wonders just how far afield our fears, anger, and blaming of others are going to take us before our fundamental sanity, traditional self-confidence, and famous “can do” working-together capability set back in. Before we realize – the would-be emperor has no clothes.

©   2016   Randy Bell     

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Senator's Silence

TO: Senator Richard Burr, United States Senate, Washington, DC

“We the People of the United States, in Order to … establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence … do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Silence. That is all to be heard from our Congress. Orlando has barely passed into a hazy memory. Yet over a week’s time, we watched clear video of two African-American men shot to death in Louisiana and Minnesota. Shot by police officers apparently inadequately trained and hyper panicky to properly pursue their jobs. Followed by an African-American sniper killing five Dallas policemen motivated by distorted revenge. Five cops in a city recognized for its demonstrated success in reforming policing. That more were not killed in Dallas – police officers and civilians – is due to the judgment and practices of those good cops who ran towards the gunman in order to protect others. Three bad cops in Louisiana and Minnesota measured against the dedication of thousands of good cops displaying courage every day. While an uncourageous Congress sits silent.

This is my 35th monthly letter to you about gun violence in America. The 35th letter since you and every one of your Senate Republican colleagues voted against expanded background checks – or any change whatsoever in gun legislation or responsible ownership – in the wake of Sandy Hook. Even though 90% of the American people wanted – and still want – action, you chose instead to serve the single organization that inserts six-figure “donations” to your campaign.   Even if those previous 34 letters have not changed your mind or course of (non-)action on this issue, they have served to remind both of us of your failure to act then, and your failure of leadership now.

In spite of your statements of supposed concern about the issue of gun violence in America, I continue to see no legislation being proposed by you. I have seen no instance of you utilizing your chairmanship of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence to provide leadership to your Party and our country on this issue. No visible efforts being made by your Republican Party. If you choose to reject the President’s proposals on this issue, or Democratic politicians’ proposals, or proposals from the ad hoc bi-partisan group chaired by Republican Senator Susan Collins from Maine, that can be your choice. But just saying “no” to everything, while not offering up any of your own better solutions, is not an acceptable choice. That is a copout. Coping out is not what you were elected, and are paid handsomely, to do.

Once again turning tragedy into politics, your Party’s expected presidential candidate recently announced that he is now the “law and order candidate.” He reached all the way back to 1968 to adopt Richard Nixon’s and George Wallace’s campaign mantle. As it turned out, “Law and Order” did not solve anything in 1968. Nixon wound up a step away from impeachment for breaking the law himself, and Wallace was gunned down into permanent disability by yet another man with a gun. Bumper stickers do not solve problems, because you cannot have Law without Justice, and you cannot have Order without people feeling Safe in all forms.

Yes, I hear the same tiring slogans. The handwringing that “nothing can be done.” They say, “guns don’t kill people, people do.” No, people kill people with guns; guns are not inanimate objects when in people’s hands. “The 2nd Amendment guarantees my right to own a gun.” Yes, A gun, but not Any gun. That right is preceded by “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state …”; we have such a militia in every state. That wording also explicitly allows us to REGULATE those guns.

We live in different times now. In 1790, a single-shot musket took perhaps 30 seconds to reload one bullet, hardly the same as an automatic weapon today that needs only a fraction of a second to “reload” and spread its destruction far and wide. As has been said often, the only purpose for an automated assault weapon is to kill people. Many people. Quickly. That is important if you are a soldier. Not so when out hunting a defenseless deer. Dumping even more guns into the populace (as some propose) for “self defense” – like some modern-day version of Dodge City – is certainly no answer. I have no interest in having to wonder every day whether each of my granddaughters will make it home safely only if her teachers have a firearm strapped to their hip.

In the midst of this turmoil, your Congressional colleagues sit silent. This time it was House members who voted to do nothing. The only action that was taken? In the midst of a public suffering and crisis, Congress voted to adjourn and go home for seven weeks, apparently exhausted from their many long days of doing nothing. Maybe that was for the best. Just shut it down, and blatantly confirm what the public already knows: that Congress is completely unable, uninterested, and unworthy in fulfilling its duty to protect and improve the lives of the citizenry. So it is time for you and your colleagues to just get out of the way. Either quit the job or be voted out. Step aside for new people – un-beholden to the gun industry – who have ideas and the energy to help find real solutions.

A package of multiple ideas is needed because that is what it will take to make a difference on this issue. Ideas that look at all aspects of this pervasive violence: the source of the violence; the tools of the violence; the perpetrators of the violence; the punishments for the violence; the glorification of the violence that encourages other perpetrators. Those who think “sending prayers” is enough of a response insult those fathers, mothers, siblings, spouses, and children who have suffered such great losses. They deserve better than you seem to have the capacity to give.

If you have nothing to offer, get out of the chair. I will vote NO to your reelection bid in November. Hopefully many others will do likewise. Three more letters still to go.

“Man who says it cannot be done should not interrupt man doing it.”     (Chinese proverb)

Sincerely, Randy Bell

© 2016   Randy Bell