Thursday, October 01, 2015

Gun Massacre in Oregon, Anger at the Podium in Washington

President Obama responded to the massacre by firearms in Oregon with obvious anger, but as usual it only clarified what he had to say.

"There’s been another mass shooting in America -- this time, in a community college in Oregon. That means there are more American families -- moms, dads, children -- whose lives have been changed forever. That means there’s another community stunned with grief, and communities across the country forced to relieve their own anguish, and parents across the country who are scared because they know it might have been their families or their children...

But as I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America -- next week, or a couple of months from now.

We don't yet know why this individual did what he did. And it's fair to say that anybody who does this has a sickness in their minds, regardless of what they think their motivations may be. But we are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses or want to do harm to other people. We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months...

The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We've become numb to this.

We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston. It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.

And what’s become routine, of course, is the response of those who oppose any kind of common-sense gun legislation. Right now, I can imagine the press releases being cranked out: We need more guns, they’ll argue. Fewer gun safety laws.

Does anybody really believe that?.... There is a gun for roughly every man, woman, and child in America. So how can you, with a straight face, make the argument that more guns will make us safer? We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don't work, or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens and criminals will still get their guns is not borne out by the evidence.

We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings. Friends of ours, allies of ours -- Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours. So we know there are ways to prevent it.

And, of course, what’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue. Well, this is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.

 I would ask news organizations -- because I won't put these facts forward -- have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports. This won't be information coming from me; it will be coming from you. We spend over a trillion dollars, and pass countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so. And yet, we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?"

This time President Obama did not try to appeal to current officeholders to see the light or be reasonable, because after all this slaughter, it is clear they never will be.  Instead he suggested to American voters:

"I’d ask the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these laws, and to save lives, and to let young people grow up. And that will require a change of politics on this issue. And it will require that the American people, individually, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican or an independent, when you decide to vote for somebody, are making a determination as to whether this cause of continuing death for innocent people should be a relevant factor in your decision. If you think this is a problem, then you should expect your elected officials to reflect your views."

This latest mass shooting happened a few hundred miles from here, in a community much like this one.  A campus shooting here could kill and maim students I know, faculty I've known a long time, or my partner, or me.  California gun laws are pretty good, but the state line to Oregon is close by.

When I was in college, during the Vietnam War and the high draft calls, I lost one kind of innocence when I realized that there were people in power, and people with money, who would sacrifice my life and many lives in their pursuit of more power and more money.

This is even clearer in the case of gun violence and gun laws.  It isn't about rights.  It isn't about suspicion of government power, though that is a real fear that's being cynically exploited, along with other cynically fed fears. It's about political power and it's about money.  And these people will sacrifice me or you, or your children and grandchildren, and the possibility of including their own in that sacrifice, for power and money.

For more on the prevalence of guns in this country, there's this.

Update 10/2: Profiles of the slaughtered.  It appears to have been a writing class, and one of the slaughtered was a writer and teacher about my age.  President Obama's response to Jeb Bush excusing the slaughter as "stuff happens."  In his statement quoted above, President Obama made reference to the UK and Australia.  Here's an article on what these countries did to virtually end gun slaughter.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pope of Hope

Pope Francis has ended his eventful week in the United States, and evaluations have begun.  He spoke at the White House, to a joint session of Congress, to the United Nations,  to congregations in New York and elsewhere, to a conference in Philadelphia, (where he was introduced by Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" and spoke at the podium used by Lincoln for his Gettysburg Address) among many other activities.

In ways superficial and profound, Pope Francis came to this American moment as the anti-Trump, as the antidote to the Trumpery that seems to dominate the dialogue.  In a broader historical context, he is this generation's John XXIII, a brother to President Obama the way Pope John was to JFK.  He is the pleasant surprise, adding new moral support (in both senses of moral), another hero of hope.

For me he is the first Pope I can believe in since John XXIII.  His encyclical takes historical place beside Pope John's Pacem in Terris for importance to the time as well as affirming and updating a moral tradition.  But he is also different.  He chose a name never used by another Pope, the name of a saint with a very high profile, a unique and universally known "brand."  Francis of Assisi is the saint of the poor, of Nature, of simplicity and contemplation.  Let there be a Fiat.

  Pope John's encyclical was bold and modest.  Pope Francis' is more scholarly and wide-ranging.  But even though it quotes a long list of his predecessors, the first Pope it names is Pope John.

Though I'm no longer a Catholic, I'm very aware of the pendulum swing represented by his singling out Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton in his speech to Congress.  Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker.  Merton: fearless intellectual, ecumenical, a contemplative who was practically a Buddhist with close ties to D.T. Suzuki, who brought Zen to America.

In his encyclical and his public statements here, Pope Francis' moral positions are firm, but he is politically astute; both sophisticated and straightforward.  By now his asserting that the Earth itself has moral standing is both revolutionary and supported by years of writing and advocacy by others.  But it's especially important because, hey, he's the Pope.

In Washington he made very direct and devastating points in a very soft voice and manner. Some of his statements seem radical because of how warped our political dialogue has become, how extreme the Republicans have become.  His views on immigration are the views of the Kennedys, but today they are radical.  But some of his statements remain as radical as they used to be.  Saying that we don't have peace because of people who make their money from war was considered sacrilegious in the 1960s, and still is.  Although instead of receiving censure, the Pope's call for the end of the arms trade simply was ignored.

His positions are not mine on everything, and the high profile canonization of the symbol of the shameful Mission period and its subjugation of the Native Americans in California was melancholy at best.  But overall Pope Francis is proving to be a real force for hope.

 He is correct that prior Popes have championed the poor and oppressed in their speeches and writings, but he is advocating much more actively, specifically and astutely.  But the greatest hope is in his elevation of the climate crisis as the transcendent moral issue of our moment (and he is unique in championing the poor who are most endangered by it.)  His visit to the U.S. and to the UN this September was no coincidence.  It is part of a global push, the marshaling of moral as well as political authority, to get the necessary international treaty done in December. In this he is exactly on the same page as President Obama.  Their rhetoric of urgency is almost identical.

But someone else should not be forgotten.  The words of Pope Francis reminded me of another spiritual and moral leader, the Dalai Lama, who has been speaking on these principles and issues for many years.  The insane hatred and paranoia of the Chinese when China is so politically and economically important to the West has somewhat marginalized the Dalai Lama in recent years.  So it was hardly noticed that he was soon to visit the U.S. and doubtless add his voice to supporting a climate crisis agreement--or that because of illness and exhaustion, that trip has been cancelled.