A few thoughts from the 1st Homeland Security Director

Former Pennsylvania Republican Governor Tom Ridge was asked by President George W. Bush to be the first Director of Homeland Security. Witnessing the president’s sending in unrequested and unmarked federal agents to Portland and Chicago, Ridge had some comments worth noting.

Here a few exceprts from an editorial analysis called “Trump’s Portland crackdown is controversial. The man spearheading it might be doing so illegally” by Aaron Blake of The Washington Post. The editorial can be accessed below.

“In Portland, Washington and other U.S. cities shaken by protests in recent months, the Trump administration has leaned on the considerable authority and assets of the Department of Homeland Security — an agency formed to prevent another Sept. 11, 2001, attack — to spearhead the federal response.

Images of militarized Border Patrol agents clubbing protesters and stuffing them into unmarked vehicles have alarmed civil liberties advocates and administration critics, and the displays of government power echo tactics long associated with authoritarian rule.
Legal analysts say that while the department has broad authority to enforce federal laws, officers’ actions — especially in Portland, Ore. — seemed to be pushing the boundaries and pulling DHS into a domestic policing role.

Tom Ridge, who served as the first Homeland Security secretary under George W. Bush, said Tuesday that DHS ‘was not established to be the president’s personal militia,’ and added, ‘It would be a cold day in hell before I would consent to a unilateral, uninvited intervention into one of my cities.’ Former DHS official Paul Rosenzweig called the operation, which has come to be known as Operation Legend, ‘lawful but awful.’

On PBS Newshour the other night, Ridge was interviewed. He noted several key points – he worked in “partnership” with the cities and states to solve problems after they were “invited in to help.” He also noted what happened in Portland was a “reality show” exercise to garner votes. That action will not solve anything, as it was not designed to.

On Fox News, Judge Andrew Napolitano noted in Portland, actions of federal agents are unlawful, unconstitutional and harmful. To unpack this, he noted the federal agents are permitted to protect federal assets and travel to and from the asset. They are not permitted to do what local police does and arrest people without probable cause or warrant. And, they cannot wear clothing that does not identify who are they are and what they represent. A person being accosted has to know who is so doing.

Getting back to the issue at hand, civil protest is more than fine in our country. Yet, people who have taken a violent approach to protest are diluting their message and, are feeding into a narrative that allows a corrupt president to break the law and squelch them. Let me say this clearly – both the violent protestors and the president are in the wrong. Civil protest does not make the news like the violent ones, so the violent ones are overreported and the civil ones are underreported.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/07/22/trumps-actions-portland-are-controversial-man-spearheading-them-might-be-doing-so-illegally/

Bad apples will spoil the bunch

The Catholic Church had a centuries old problem it failed to address that police departments and unions should heed. After complaints became more public, the Catholic Church was forced to more drastically deal with pedophile priests. Failing to address these bad apples painted the whole church and its entire priesthood in a bad light. Now, the significant majority of priests were not pedophiles, but the bad apples tainted the whole bunch.

While the majority of police officers are good people doing a hard job, it would be incorrect to say there are no bad apples among their ranks. Even the best of the police will make errors of judgement when fear enters the equation (note this observation comes from a police chief). But, there are a number of police officers who have unhealthy racist bents or are prone to undue force. They are bad apples.

As with the priests, the failure of police department and union leadership to police their own paints all police in an unfair bad light. Holding police officers accountable is critical in regaining trust. Those good cops who make errors in judgement due to fear must be helped to be better through acknowledgement, training, and more training. And, punishment may be necessary.

Yet, the bad apples must be dealt with. Too many racists and violent prone police officers have been identified through numerous complaints, yet they go on largely unscathed. Some have even risen in the union ranks due to an unhealthy zeal to protect rogue cops, including themselves.

While this last point may alarm some, NPR reported the head of one Police Federation has had thirty official complaints and has created an old boy’s network. This same union leader made insensitive racial remarks about George Floyd and spoke of exonerating the four officers, not mentioning the kneeling on Floyd’s neck. It should be noted fourteen officers in this federation have broken ranks from this position and have condemned the officers for wrongdoing toward Floyd.

The bad apples must be acknowledged and dealt with. The failure to do so, emulates the embarassing and criminal oversights perpetuated by the Catholic Church. And, that is not good. On the flip side, I am proud of the police officers of all colors who have joined the civil protests.

Four conservative quotes worth noting

Three Republicans and one long time Republican who left the party have made very sober statements, with the last one being more of a stance. Let’s begin with General James Mattis, who served as Secretary of Defense under Donald Trump and resigned in December, 2018, with many Republicans pleading with him not to go. Note, former Chief of Staff, General John Kelly reinforced that Mattis was not asked to leave as mentioned in rebuttal by the president.

In an op-ed in The Atlantic, Mattis wrote “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”

Next, we have the words of Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee who reinforces Mattis’ comments in an article in The Hill.

“I thought General Mattis’s words were true and honest and necessary and overdue… When I saw Gen. Mattis’s comments yesterday I felt like perhaps we’re getting to the point where we can be more honest with the concerns we might hold internally and have the courage of our convictions and speak up,” she told The Washington Post’s Paul Kane, who pooled the remarks and sent them to other Senate reporters. Asked if she could vote for Trump in the 2020 election, Murkowski admitted, “I am struggling with it. I have struggled with it for a long time.”

Next, from an editorial by venerable conservative columnist George Will, reported in a CNN article called “One of America’s most prominent conservative columnists wants Republicans to lose in 2020,” Will’s comments are very indicting, as well as colorful. Here are two select comments written by Will who left the Republican party.

“In life’s unforgiving arithmetic, we are the sum of our choices. Congressional Republicans have made theirs for more than 1,200 days. We cannot know all the measures necessary to restore the nation’s domestic health and international standing, but we know the first step: Senate Republicans must be routed, as condign punishment for their Vichyite collaboration, leaving the Republican remnant to wonder: Was it sensible to sacrifice dignity, such as it ever was, and to shed principles, if convictions so easily jettisoned could be dignified as principles, for … what?…

The measures necessary for restoration of national equilibrium are many and will be protracted far beyond his (Trump’s) removal. One such measure must be the removal of those in Congress who, unlike the sycophantic mediocrities who cosset him in the White House, will not disappear “magically,” as Eric Trump said the coronavirus would. Voters must dispatch his congressional enablers, especially the senators who still gambol around his (Trump’s) ankles with a canine hunger for petting.”

Finally, Senator Charles Grassley, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has officially raised concern over the president’s firing of a couple of Inspectors Generals releasing a statement.

“Though the Constitution gives the president the authority to manage executive branch personnel, Congress has made it clear that should the president find reason to remove an inspector general, there ought to be a good reason for it. The White House’s response failed to address this requirement, which Congress clearly stated in statute and accompanying reports.”

Grassley announced he is blocking Trump’s nominations of Christopher Miller to head the National Counterterrorism Center and Marshall Billingslea to be the State Department’s undersecretary for arms control and international security, pending explanations by Trump for the firing of a number of Inspectors General. He said he will not allow consideration of Miller’s nomination to proceed until the White House provides answers on Trump’s firing in April of intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson. In addition, he said Billingslea’s nomination cannot proceed until Trump explains why he terminated State Department inspector general Steve Linick last month.

Political courage is too rare these days. I applaud these folks for speaking out. As an independent and former Republican voter, I am in agreement with their comments. I have been especially concerned by the firing of Inspectors Generals. If we were a publicly traded company, firing the auditors (or Inspectors General) would be flagged by the independent Audit Committee of the Board of Directors. It matters not who is in the White House. This should be a concern to all of us and I am grateful Grassley is raising the issue.

Please do not dismiss these four conservative voices as lone wolves. Groups like Republican Voters against Trump, Republicans for the Rule of Law and The Lincoln Project have all organized to advocate the defeat of the president and/ or hold him accountable. These are all Republican groups, not Democrats or Independents. The question to ponder is why would they do that? This is not fake news nor is it from people who some supporters would dismiss as Trump haters. These are sober voices who are saying what is needed to be said.

I can’t breathe – a rallying cry

“I can’t breathe” is an appropriate rallying cry since this is the second time in the past few years where an African-American man has been choked by a police officer as he forwarned them “I can’t breathe.” George Floyd said the same words as Eric Garner did before he was choked to death in 2014 by police.

A black EMT named Breonna Taylor is killed in her own home when the police barges in during a raid in the middle of the night and finding nothing for her death. A black jogger named Ahmaud Arbery is chased down and killed by white vigilantes. And, Christian Cooper, fortunately is alive, but a white woman called the police on him saying a black man is threatening to kill her because she did not like him asking her to leash her dog in the park, where the signs clearly ask you to do so.

A few years ago a black twelve year old boy named Tamir Rice is gunned down by a police officer within two seconds for holding a toy gun, while a 65 year old white man is talked out of his rifle after one hour of conversation. Why the different procedures with a real gun versus a toy gun? With a man versus a little boy?

Floyd, Arbery, Taylor, and Cooper are the names that made national headlines, but sadly they are not alone. They join the ranks of names like Rice, Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin and others. There are too many black men and women being killed, in general, but at the hands of law enforcement or vigilantes. Martin was killed by a vigilante watch dog who was told by police dispatchers to NOT follow the suspect. He did and Martin is dead. And, there are too many black people being jailed for the same crimes relative to whites and too many go to jail because of building, unpaid court fees. This is the new Jim Crow.

As a white man, I can go pretty much anywhere in America. I do not have to be dressed to the nines. But, a black man in his Sunday best does not have the same privilege. Further, when stopped by the police, he (or she) must be extra careful thinking if he (or she) is not, it may be the last thing he (or she) does on this earth. Think about that.

“I can’t breathe.” We must be better than this. I am proud of someone like Daryl Davis, a black man who has talked over 200 KKK members out of their robes. He did it by talking with them, asking questions and listening. Then, he asked a few more questions. Ironically, as I wrote this I was watching a movie about the true story on school integration in Durham, NC called “Best of Enemies,” which highlighted the unusual friendship that developed by a black woman named Ann Atwater and a white man named C.E. Ellis, who happened to lead the local KKK chapter. She gave the eulogy at his funeral thirty-five years later.

We must tell our politicians we cannot breathe, en masse. And, it must include whites calling out this injustice as well – when leaders fail to do so, citizens must be the loud voice. I call on people to write, call and visit their legislators. We must have them speak out against hate speech. We must have them demand police to police poor actions by their members and remedy bad behavior through training or prosecution. The police union must act like the pilot’s union and pursue to the nth degree why someone was killed, as the pilots do investigating a plane crash. I know the police have a hard and dangerous job, but it will be made easier if they earn the public’s trust and recruit and screen, investigate, learn, prosecute when needed and train their officers to handle these tough situations.

That is what this old white man thinks. I am not alone, as per the link to an article by the Mind of Brosephus. America, let’s get with it.

https://mindofbrosephus.wordpress.com/2020/05/28/a-change-will-come/

A revisit to words of Martin Luther King on violence

This is a reprise of an earlier post. It still resonates, especially after the recent shooting of Ahmaud Arbery.

Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very things it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, it merely increases the hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

These aspirational words ring true even today. A historian made a comment on the news the other day, saying the only thing man has been very good at since the beginning is killing people. Too many people have died when leaders say I want what you have or you are different from us or you worship the wrong way. On this latter point, one of the keys to our founding father’s separation of church and state in the US constitution and bill of rights was a comment made by Thomas Jefferson who noted that Europe had been awash in blood due to religious zeal and he did not want religious zeal doing the same in our country. This runs counter to self-proclaimed constitutionalists who want a national or state religion and don’t realize they are advocating against the constitution.

My blogging friend and missionary George Dowdell has written a thought-provoking post about “No More Us and Them.” A link to his post is below.* When religious leaders exclude, they create this kind of divide. Yet, when religious leaders are inclusive, religion is at its finest. Just witness the actions of the people’s Pope Francis to see what one leader can do. We should follow his lead. We must do our best to be bridge builders. We must do our best to condemn intolerant thinking and action. We must do our best to not condone violence. We must do our best to control the proliferation of violent tools to people who should not have them and govern all owners of them well, as these tools are designed to kill. We must do our best to work toward civil discourse when disagreements occur. And, we must not tolerate treating women as second class citizens or even assets, which is even further demeaning.

I recognize we all cannot be like Atticus Finch (see Emily J’s post on “The Perfect Book: To Kill a Mockingbird” with the link below **) and wipe the spit away borne from someone looking for a fight, but he shows us what real courage looks like. It takes more courage not to fight back when it would have been so easy to do so. I recognize we cannot all be like Gandhi whose example was studied, admired and copied by Martin Luther King showing that civil disobedience is far more powerful than violence. I recognize we call cannot be like Mother Teresa who just went around helping people and praying with them not caring how they worshiped. And, I realize we cannot all be like Jesus who uttered the words we should all live by and can be found in other religious texts – treat others like you want to be treated.

We must treat others like we want in return. We must elevate women in a world to equal footing with men. We must challenge our historical texts which were written by imperfect men to diminish women. We must be the ones who lift others up. We must teach our children those Jesus words. If we don’t then we will continue to be our own worst enemy and do what we are good at – violence and killing.

* http://georgedowdell.org/2014/06/10/no-more-us-and-them/
** http://thebookshelfofemilyj.com/2014/06/09/the-perfect-book-to-kill-a-mockingbird/

A few why moments the past decade

Since I speak often that we need to ask more why questions, as well as a few more what, how, and when questions, permit me to ask a few why questions about the past decade.

Why would Prince Andrew think it was a good idea for him to visit a known pedophile’s house and be photographed with teen girls he is accused of having sex with?

Why do people still not find it a national security concern when a US president bends over backwards to support various Russian narratives and running shadow diplomacy?

Why do mass shootings continue at such a rampant rate in the US and no tangible action is taken to address these and everyday shootings?

Why do the kids (such as Greta Thunberg, Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, eg) understand our climate change and gun problems better than many adults?

Why are two of the heroes of the decade female – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who led to new gun laws in one week after mass shooting and the 16 year old climate activist, Thunberg?

Why have people allowed the media to be labeled around the world as enemies of the people by so-called leaders not known for truth – Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Xi, Johnson, Erdogan, et al?

Why are we not actively condemning hate groups for domestic terrorism – this is not right?

Why is the current White House trying to solve our growing poverty problem by kicking people off their healthcare and food stamps, and defanging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau designed to punish predatory lending?

Why is there not a bigger outcry for screwing over our Kurdish allies who fought our enemies?

Why is the Hong Kong story being covered far more than China’s abduction and brainwashing of Muslim and other religious groups within concentration camps?

There are so many more why questions than I have space. Please add a few of yours.

The torch passes to us

Our friend Jill wrote an excellent post (see link below) called “Why do we need bigotry?” In the comments, she and I discussed the passing of Holocaust survivors, at a time when white nationalism is on the rise along with hate crimes.

The torch passes to new generations to speak the hard truths about history:

– the Nazi movement purposefully captured Jews, intellectuals, gypsies, homosexuals and expunged multiple millions of human beings calling them less than human. This is genocide.

– the American settlers committed genocide, as well, on Native Americans first claiming rights to land and killing the Native Americans when they rose up in protest.

– Slavery has never been right dating back to the bible. It matters not who is being enslaved. It is wrong. Watching the movie “Harriet” about Harriet Tubman, the cumulative asset value of the slaves could exceed the value of the land, which is why people wanted to maintain this sinful way of life.

– Then, there are the enslavements and genocides around the world and over history. Sometimes the enslavement is tying low wage jobs to people at risk. This is economic slavery. This occurs today in the US and other countries and is not restricted to the Jim Crow period. Whether it is sex trafficking or suppressed migrant workers, it is wrong.

– Finally, we had the Lavendar Scare in the US, where homosexuals were fired from government jobs, even if they were highly proficient and experienced. This is after Brit Alan Turing helped shorten WWII, but had to hide that he was gay. He was arrested and humiliated before he died after being outed after the war.

Bigotry is not right. It is also unwise. If people are treated as possessions or suppressed then their intellectual capital cannot be allowed to flourish. Countries that suppress women and girls are competing in a world with half of their talent.

Let me leave you with the key line from Oscar Hammerstein in “South Pacific.” “You have to be carefully taught, by the time you are seven or eight. You have to be carefully taught to hate the people your parents hate.” Bigotry is not DNA driven. It is taught.

Why Do We Need Bigotry?

Yet another road rage shooting

On today’s local midday news, we learned of yet another road rage shooting. Call me crazy, but a human life is much more valuable than an argument over right of way or a simple mistake in judgement while driving. So, the other person screwed up and you took his or her life?

Help me understand this? One thing I do know, if a gun was not present, that other driver would still be alive. And, the shooter would not be headed to jail. Lives are changed when a gun is present.

A man who killed the husband of a woman who parked in a disabled person parking spot was convicted of manslaughter and is in jail. He was right that the woman should not have parked there. But, by starting an argument, her bigger husband, who emerged from the store, took offense and pushed him to the ground. The man on the ground shot him. Should a person die over a lapse in judgment? The one thing I do know is if a gun was not present, the shooter may not have been so emboldened and certainly would not have killed someone.

The Second amendment advocate is only partly right and mostly wrong when he argues “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Actually, without the gun, arguments may not be started or would end up in a fist fight. So, the more accurate quote is “People with access to a gun, kill people.”

More often than not, the person getting killed is the shooter. By far, the majority of gun deaths are suicide. We spend too much time focusing on mass shootings, when the far more common gun death happens everyday.

Background checks on all purchases with as accurate a data base that can be compiled are key. Elongated waiting periods are key. Red flag laws are key. Just these three measures, may reduce suicides. Initial and recurring training on safety will help with accidental shootings.

Nothing has been done since the last mass shooting. Now is not the time is a stalling technique and it works. So, I argue now is the time and the focus should be on the daily shootings.

After his death, a second amendment supporter, leaves a message on gun violence

The following posthumous editorial appeared in The Charlotte Observer on August 6, 2019. It speaks for itself.

“Larry Swenberg died of ALS this spring, a few months before gunmen killed 29 people in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Swenberg, a retired doctor of veterinary medicine in Durham, was a gun owner and avid hunter, but he was horrified at mass shootings inflicted by assault-style weapons. His wife, Gwen, sent us this op-ed from her husband last week, before Dayton and El Paso. One of his last wishes, she said, was to leave a message for his fellow Second Amendment supporters — and all of us.:

I am a 73 year-old retired doctor of veterinary medicine and a political independent who is neither a politician nor a Washington insider, but a citizen pleading to stop the carnage of assault weapons. I am a former hunter, recreational shooter, current gun owner, supporter of the Second Amendment, but never an NRA contributor.
In my plea for sanity, I prioritize assault weapons because of their availability and their ability to produce mass carnage. In the wake of a mass shooting in New Zealand committed with an assault weapon, it took five days for the country to ban the weapon. Our country’s ban expired in 2004, and the gun lobby and the NRA has spent millions to buy its continued extinction.

If your goal is to kill the greatest number in the shortest time, this is the weapon of choice. Many cry foul here, saying it is the shooter, not the weapon that is the problem. If you honestly prioritize human life over personal desire, then you must acknowledge the risk of assault weapons in the wrong hands as responsible for oft repeated slaughter of the innocent.

The NRA’s seven-million-dollar senator, Richard Burr of North Carolina, blithely maintains a ban would infringe on Second Amendment personal freedom. Are speed limits a similar infringement? This attitude reflects a disconnect which is mind numbing. This character flaw is common among politicians and America’s gun-owning public. People who fail to see blood on their hands for their inaction do so because guilt for their acts of omission is simply not a quality of their character.

The High Court has affirmed the congressional right to regulate firearms. Therefore the belief that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own an assault rifle is wrong. If politicians past and present had any integrity and not just self-interest, poor judgment or a lack of conscience, we would not have the cumulative carnage of assault weapons we presently have. Had Congress recognized its sin of omission and sought penance through action, we would not have the empty solace of our collective thoughts and prayers.

Think about this when you sit in a church pew, go to work, or enjoy hobbies: we all have the blood of omission on our hands, despite those who live in denial. So long as assault weapons are available publicly, the pathologically demented will use them to massacre the most numbers in the shortest time.

An author whose name I don’t recall wrote a person’s god is that to which ultimate allegiance is given – money, fame, power, etc. if you prioritize the petty position of a firearms over public safety, then your god is a gun no matter how many hours you sit in a church or bow to Mecca. You then are a first order hypocrite and must simply own this fact. It is a tragedy some people feel a felony must be committed to protect the public’s safety.

An assault weapons ban will not solve America’s gun violence but it would stop mass carnage in minimal time. Demand nothing less of Congress and the White House.”

 

 

An American hero – Bryan Stevenson

Who is Bryan Stevenson you may be asking yourself? Per Wikipedia:

“Bryan A. Stevenson is an American lawyer, social justice activist, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and a clinical professor at New York University School of Law. Based in Montgomery, Alabama, Stevenson has challenged bias against the poor and minorities in the criminal justice system, especially children. He has helped achieve United States Supreme Court decisions that prohibit sentencing children under 18 to death or to life imprisonment without parole.”

He is an American hero who has helped free over numerous death-row prisoners who were wrongly convicted. Some of these people should not have ever come to trial. They were guilty by being Black. The DAs did not bother with ballistics tests, even when later challenged. The juries, judge and prosecutors were almost always white.

Stevenson got a new trial which freed one man who had been on death row for 30 years. Earlier attempts years before failed because a line of DAs would not take the time do a ballistic test. The man has still not received an apology for giving up 30 years of his life for a wrongful conviction.

Per the HBO documentary “True Justice:”

“Stevenson has argued five cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including one that resulted in a ban on mandatory sentences of life without parole for children 17 and under. He and the EJI have won reversals, relief or release from prison for more than 135 wrongly condemned death-row inmates.” 

He has now helped establish a Civil Rights museum in Montgomery, AL. Part of this museum includes several shelves of jars of soil gleaned from beneath trees where Black men were lynched. And, there are two monuments for every county in America where lynching occurred. The second monument is for the county to take back to remind us of what evil intent can do. He is strident in his view that the death penalty following a pre-determined trial outcome is a legal way to lynch someone, so he feels it is imperative to link this to the lynchings.

In the HBO documentary, Stevenson noted how we do a terrible job in our country of admitting and learning from our mistakes. Germany has many places where plaques note the atrocitues of Nazism. Here, we try to whitewash history, including the “genocide” of Native Americans, a term which is rarely used, but is apt.

We need more heroes like Stevenson. He is very earnest and speaks with a thoughtful and quiet voice. It is refreshing to see such a man where substance matters over perception.