Thursday, January 31, 2013

How do we stop gun violence?

In the last few days I have received many emails and letters concerning my blog about the ideas the Dallas policemen gave for curbing gun violence. I expect some more responses to come in soon. But to date, there seems to be a real split about the first item suggested, which was the Capital Offense being assigned federally to anyone who uses a gun in the commission of a crime.  I would say right now it is a 60-40 split pro.

But I found something most interesting when doing a brief and very un-scientific analysis of the numbers. While the majority of those opposed to the death penalty for the use of a gun in a crime came from the left and those against Capital Punishment to begin with, a major concern has also come from very conservative gun owners.  I am not sure what the reason behind this is other than some have quoted the 8th Amendment as being their rationale. (For those of you who have not looked at the Constitution since junior civics class in high school, the 8th Amendment is about the limits on Cruel and Unusual punishment for a crime.)

The argument they make is that to take a life for merely carrying a gun into a hold up or to point it at an officer during a domestic violence case, is a bit harsh. Too harsh for their sensitivities to take. Yet, most of these people would howl to the moon if you even threatened to remove their weapons from them. Can they have it both ways? Is there a happy medium ground?

There are some who feel that the cruel and unusual punishment does not apply here, because we have a right to protect ourselves as a whole from those who would destroy the fabric which stretches so precariously thin across our society. Some feel gun violence is terrorism. Others feel that Capital Punishment is within itself a deterrent to escalating gun violence. But those opposed believe that it might infringe on more civil liberties. 

I find this hard to swallow.  I look at an elementary school with twenty dead kids and I can’t help but think that the shooter should be put down. And yesterday the news from Chicago that the young girl who sang at the presidential Inauguration was gunned down. My heart brakes. Just as it did while I watched former Congresswoman Gifford testify on gun control yesterday.

It all raises the questions of how much will American be willing to take before they rise up and outlaw guns?  I hope that is not the case.  I know many feel that my tirades of recent sound as if I do not support the 2nd Amendment. Not true, While I do believe we have misconstrued it over the years and currently do not recognize its historical perspective, I believe it does guarantee the right of American citizens to have guns.(The Amendment does not specify what type of guns, now how much ammunition, but the right to bare arms is quite clear in its language.)

So we have a crossroads. What does it take to keep our guns and yet protect our society?

Background checks don’t seem to work. Gun shows and individuals get around the law everyday. So if we take the NRA’s stance that guns don’t kill people, people do…and we change it ever so slightly to read… guns don’t kill people, people with guns do…then we might in deed have an answer.

If you walk into a pharmacy and hold a gun to the pharmacist’s head to get him to give you oxycodone or your drug of choice, you are in fact saying, ‘I will kill you unless you do what I say.”  Same is true if you hold a gun on a bank teller or a convenience store clerk or on your own spouse in a moment of rage. That is the act of terror the gun brings to a crime. It is the act of shifting the balance of power in the situation. That, in my mind is attempted and premeditated murder. Whether you pull a trigger or not, your intentions were to use that force to leverage your way in a crime.

I say that deserves Capital Punishment.


Because if we apply this standard to every crime where a gun is used, soon people will be fearing for their lives when using a gun for a criminal act. Mr. Tough guy who waves a gun around to increase his manhood during a crime and threatens to ‘put a cap into someone who gets into his way’, is on the road to being toast. No questions asked. Society will rid itself of him and his violence. Permanently. And his passing will be a symbol to others not to follow in his footsteps. With this process, violent acts of crime with a gun can be reduced in huge numbers, if not eliminated all together. (It will also help us clean out the gene pool of those whose nature is to inflict violence on neighbors.)

This process probably would not solve the acts of a crazy person who is mentally deranged and driven to mass killings. We need more help on this.  But the vast majority of deaths, which come in ones and twos and are the result of crimes of the moment, shootings on the street corners and in the alleys of our urban jungles will come to an end. Want to hold up a liquor store? Better think twice about carrying a gun in with you. The goodnight juice is waiting on you.

But again, not everyone agrees with me…or with this radical idea. I don’t expect you to. But I would like to hear from you about your ideas on this.

How do we stop gun violence?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The myth comes full circle

I have recently been interviewed by several different media sources about my new novel The Myth Makers (2012 Venture Galleries). Thanks to a great PR campaign, several media outlets around the country are finding it a fascinating story. 

But yesterday during a phone interview with Andy Tolbert, a freelance writer from Oregon, I had the shock of a lifetime. His father was the man who actually invented the carburetor that got the real myth off the ground. At least according to Andy.

They lived in Bakersfield, California and in his garage, his father created a special carburetor that allowed their 1965 Chevy Impala to get over 40 miles per gallon. Today, 40 MPH doesn’t sound like much, considering we now have cars getting well above that range. But in the late 60’s that was a huge leap; especially considering the heavy chunks of iron that gasoline engines were pushing up and down our highways.

I asked Andy what happened to the car. The myth was that his father sold it to either a car manufacturer or the government and then he disappeared along with the car.

“He drove it for two years then the motor burned up. Dad junked the car and moved on to another invention. Radio controlled garage door openers, if I remember correctly, only some guy already had a patent for them.  As far as I know, the car was crushed and re-smelted into pig iron and used to build sewer pipe of something. And Dad lived to be 79 when he died of cancer in our home in Oregon.”  Andy’s mother had passed away a few years earlier. No mysterious plot. No murder. No shadowy figures hanging around the neighborhood.

Did anyone ever show interest in the car’s amazing feats?

“Nope. Not according to Dad. Not to buy, anyway. He showed it to a couple of automotive engineers who predicted the demise of the engine. (Running too lean was their theory.  It proved out true.) But for a while he had the ‘next big thing.’ Several times people from Detroit would visit and look at the car and at the invention but would go away shaking their heads. Most thought Dad was a crackpot. He was not an engineer, but rather a tinkerer and a maintenance man for a small manufacturing company. He had access to a complete metal and mechanical shop, and that is where he fashioned parts for his 'miracle' carburetor. 

"He wasn’t the only one working on this theory. There was a man in Michigan who came to see us, as well as a Canadian who had invented a similar device. They all shared notes. And they came to the same conclusion — their inventions were going nowhere. The world wasn’t ready for them because gasoline was still so cheap. And before the world had a chance to get ready for them,the inventions proved to have a huge inbred design fault.” Andy paused. “Your book is a lot more fun.  A lot more involved, with a lot more intrigue. Dad’s invention was just a set of wires and metal tubing and a mesh screen. His wasn’t interesting enough to be a book, at least not a thriller like what you wrote.”

It was strange. I had forgotten who was interviewing whom. I questioned him about his dad’s car and engine for several minutes. Andy’s story was interesting. I wish I had tripped over it before writing The Myth Makers. Not sure I could have worked in the murder twist. But at least I now know for sure where the myth came from originally. Like my book, it started in a dirt-floor garage out in the desert.

So the next time you are in a gas line and someone says, “You know there was this guy who invented something to go on an engine of a car that increases is fuel mileage…”  Remember my book. And remember Andy Tolbert’s father. Aren’t myth’s fun?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A cop's gun control plan.

I had lunch the other day with three of Dallas’ finest. We all were doing our morning stop over at Joe’s, a great East Dallas hang out and institution of the highest order when it comes to scrambled eggs, pancakes and coffee.

Being of keen interest in the gun violence issue of the day, I asked the three policemen what they would like to see done with the gun control issue. Recently I have been called every name under the sky for wanting to bring the argument about gun proliferation under control in America. Our friends in other industrial nations who have limited the access to guns have a hugely lower crime rate per capita than we do. These officers knew those numbers and two of them quoted them several times during the conversation. So what can we do and still maintain some sense of reverence to Tom Jefferson’s (who I am slowly coming to see as a dandy and an idiot, as well as very bad grammarian) hallowed 2nd Amendment?

For the first time, I finally heard an idea that makes clear and concise sense in placing the matter to rest. It has five parts.

First:  Any crime committed on a U.S. citizen with a gun should be a Federal capital offense. Mandatory death penalty regardless if the gun was fired or not. (You put a gun against the head of a person and demand money and you are going to get the good-bye juice.) Notice they said Federal. Why? I asked. “because we can’t trust the states to carry out the mandate we want. Use a gun, give up your life. Pretty simple.” Now, how many wish to go on a shooting spree and hold up the local 7-11?  Can we see a show of hands? (The officers reminded me that most gun-related homicides do not happen in mass killings but rather one and two offs. And a huge number happen during domestic violence. And many of those aimed at officers trying to quell the violence.)

Two: (I actually thought of this one earlier but was ridiculed by people who said it was a bad idea. Well, according to these law enforcement officers, it must have had merit.) Register and title all guns and license all gun owners. You may have as many guns as you wish and they can be of any kind you wish (except for automatic weapons or those outlawed already by federal and state decrees.) If you give a gun to a friend, title must be transferred. (Just like a car.) If you buy a gun, it must have a title. If you go to a gun show and purchase a gun, get the title. And if you have your gun stolen and you do not report it as missing, you are criminally negligent and if it is used in a crime you are an accomplice to that crime. How many hand guns and assault weapons would you like, sir?  You still have your 2nd Amendment right to own and to use firearms at your heart’s content. But you better damn well make sure they are locked up and safe. And, heaven forbid they are stolen, you must report it immediately. Fair enough.

Three:  Limit to seven rounds an ammunition clip can carry at a time.  (I asked them about the number seven and they all agreed that it seemed like a good working number. One officer suggested six, to match the traditional six shooter depository of bullets, but over all they were comfortable with this limit.)

Four: Increase Federal spending for the mentally ill. (Someone tell Rick Perry this is actually a good thing.  He is slow on the uptake of these things.) Most mass shooting occur when someone off their rocker gets a gun. Let’s get them help before it gets to that point.

Five:  Create Federally and State licensed gun houses (warehouses would be a better term) where people can store their weapons for sporting use and have access to them for target practice, hunting and competition. This, for those who can either not afford an adequate safe or have the room in their apartment or home, to lock up the guns.  If you wanted to travel across country to go elk hunting these gun houses could act as licensed transportation agents for your guns. (By the way, you steal a gun from a licensed gun warehouse…capital offense.  You get the juice.)

Now the officers say they know this will not stop all the gun violence, and it certainly will not stop it all at once. But it will slow down the people rushing to buy as many weapons as they can get their hands on. They now have skin in the game. (Literally.) Almost all gun owners who are members of the NRA and other organizations such as that are law-abiding, respectful citizens. They would approve of such laws. It insures their 2nd Amendment rights. It does not limit in any way their baring arms. And it makes the act of using a gun in a crime so severe that people will begin to think twice and even three times before pulling iron out to gain an advantage.

One officer even suggested that since the 2nd Amendment was about the creation and maintaining of a militia, that all gun owners register and take part in semi-annual military training for the country. “Maybe we could put them on the borders for two weeks at a time.”  Not sure if I go along with that idea, but at least these three officers came up with a plan that would begin to limit gun violence and give those who commit crimes with a gun the ultimate penalty. And in the process, they have not touched the 2nd Amendment. This is far more productive than the clowns at the NRA office have offered.

Under this plan, your guns are safe in your hands. But you’d better make sure they are safe from other hands, if these guys get their way.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Another gun violence solution

The following was copied from CNN and distributed here as further dialog in the search for solutions to the escalating gun violence in America. Your ideas and comments are welcome. I would like to thank CNN for the use of the article.

Editor's note: Richard Davis served as the assistant Treasury secretary for enforcement and operations during the Carter administration. He currently practices law in New York.

(CNN) -- President Obama has decided to move ahead with a variety of gun control measures, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein has proposed a new assault weapons ban. While Washington debates new proposals on gun control, attention also needs to focus on obstacles to effective enforcement of existing gun laws, including the ban imposed by Congress on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives creating a federal database of firearms transactions.
A discussion of the origin of that ban, which was initially enacted in response to a proposal made when I served as the assistant Treasury secretary overseeing the bureau, is useful to a better understanding of the dynamics of the debate over specific gun control proposals. Sadly, both then and now, logic often loses out.

Early in 1978, the proposal we developed was relatively simple: Manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers would file reports of sales of firearms with the bureau, but to avoid the argument that the bureau was impermissibly creating a national registry of gun owners, retailers would not be required to list the name of the retail purchaser.

The rationale for creating a centralized firearms transaction database was twofold. First, it would speed up the ability to trace guns found at crime scenes, since even with the less sophisticated technology then available, such traces would still be able to be done virtually instantaneously.

Second, and even more significant, it would allow the bureau to analyze the flow of firearms to identify potential diversions to the illegal gun market. For example, if a hundred handguns a week were going to one dealer in a small town in Virginia, that would suggest the possibility that guns were being sold illegally by that dealer to individuals smuggling them to New York or other states. By allowing this kind of analysis, the bureau could target investigative resources on dealers mostly likely to be violating the law.

Proceeding with what can only be described as youthful naiveté, the day the proposed regulations were published, I convened a briefing for interested parties, including the NRA and other anti-gun control groups. After all, none of these proposals would in any way alter the rules relating to gun ownership.

The hope was that understanding the limited nature of the proposal would mute their opposition. I was very wrong. We had to withdraw the proposals, and Congress punitively reduced the bureau's budget and ultimately banned it from creating such firearms transaction databases.

The opposition to the proposed regulations was intense, with opponents writing hundreds of thousands of often angry letters, both to Treasury and to members of Congress. Little of the opposition, however, focused on the actual proposals themselves.

One common thread to the opposition was the "slippery slope argument," which argued that the regulation would create a centralized list of all gun owners' names -- which it would not have done -- or would lead to the creation of such a list, which would then enable the government to seize everyone's weapons and put us on a path to dictatorship.
After all, it was argued, this is what the Nazis had done.

Another often-used argument was that what we were proposing would not stop all criminals from securing or using firearms, and therefore it was not something worth doing.

Arguments like these prevent an honest discussion of any proposal to address the problem of gun violence in America. The assumption that any regulation of firearms sets us on the path to confiscation of weapons is not only ludicrous on its face, it ignores all political reality. And, if the test for any proposal is whether it totally solves the problem being addressed, then no action would be taken addressing so many of society's important issues.

Why require the use of seat belts if wearing a seat belt does not always save a life in an accident? Why prohibit people from carrying guns onto planes if it doesn't eliminate all risk of hijacking? Why prohibit providing assistance to terrorists if it doesn't stop all terrorist acts? Why require tests for the issuance of driver's licenses if it doesn't stop all accidents?
We require these regulations because they address problems that need to be addressed and because if these regulations can save some lives, they are steps worth taking. So it should be with the gun debate.

No proposal, or set of proposals, will ever stop all gun crime. But the 1978 proposals could have stopped some illegal sales of guns by renegade dealers. And things like forced waiting periods for gun purchases, requiring background checks for firearms buyers at gun shows and a ban on assault weapons would certainly save some lives.

Maybe it is thousands of lives over time; maybe it is hundreds. But isn't every life saved worth it? Would it not have been worth it if even some of the lives lost at Sandy Hook could have been saved because the shooter did not have an assault weapon?

Gun control is not the total answer to the problem of mass shootings, but it plainly needs to be part of any meaningful response. Let's hope that this time the debate on gun control will be a more sensible one.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Roe v Wade or taking care of the chidlren

There is a lot of static in the news these days about Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s decision to try and eliminate all income taxes in his state. Way to go Governor. What are you going to replace them with?  Oh. Nothing. This is a tea party no tax movement. I see.  Well, that changes the light on your reform ever so much.

You see, Kansas has been one of the leading states (and Brownboack at the helm has led the charge) to be abortion-free. They have made it harder in Kansas than most of the other 50 states for a woman to receive a medical abortion: roadblocks and interference all along the way. In the state’s rush to cut spending and to pare down government size and waste, Aid to Dependent Children has all but been eliminated. Crossed off the state’s budget. No can do. Education isn’t far behind . Medicare and Medicaid have been turned over to private insurance, as if dependent children could get insurance to begin with.

So here we have a state and a governor who pound their chests on TV swearing allegiance to God and Jesus for saving the lives of unborn fetuses, and then turning their backs on the children when the pop out of the womb.  Can you say hypocrisy?  I can. And moderate voters in Kansas are starting to rumble a bit about this, too.

No, I am no big fan of income tax.  I think it is regressive and wrong.  I am also no absolutist fan of Roe v Wade. I think there are times when a doctor and her patient should be able to rely on safe, medical abortions for certain instances especially in the first trimester. But absolute general abortion on demand, I am not sure about – just as I am not absolutely against all capital convictions resulting in the death penalty.  There are time we need to fire up old sparky, but far less times than we do. (Don’t write me letters saying we don’t use old Sparky anymore…it is a metaphor.) And that is part and parcel of this whole absolutists argument. All or none.

Brownback wants to lead the charge to make Kansas government (all government for that matter) the smallest it can be. Okay, fair enough. Got no argument here, but where do you cut?  Do you cut on the most defenseless members of our society? Do you cut on the young, the elderly and the ill? Do you raise revenues for highways, police and fire and industrial sites, while gutting education and food for needy children programs? Brownback thinks so.

And do you outlaw abortions while turning your back on the born? It is one thing to protect the unborn, but the new born and young children are just as much at risk and just as innocent. And a state that proudly parades around proclaiming the leader in stopping abortions and then turns its collective back on the children in that state are nothing but political cowards and hypocrites.

My own state, Texas, isn’t far behind. So if you live in the Lone Star State don’t get too smug as you point the fingers at the jayhawkers. We’ve all got a long way to go to recover our balance as a society. Absolutism is the mantra of the far right. It is starting to appear in everything they stand for and exercise their power to correct.  It is well the biggest part of our problem in Austin, Topeka and especially in Washington, D.C. Absolutism it will force us into a form of America Sharia law if we are not careful.

Want to live under an Islamic-type judicial and legal system?  No. Neither do I; yet, the direction we are taking — the directions states like Kansas, Texas and others are taking— is leading us exactly to our own version of such a place.

If you are going to outlaw abortions completely, Kansas and Texas and other states — then have the decency and strength of will and fortitude to take care of the children born into your state who need your assistance.

You can’t have it both ways.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

More static from the NRA

Yesterday the NRA responded to President Obama’s call for tighter regulation on firearms. They called it a breech to the Constitution’s absolutisms in granting freedom to gun owners.

But historically, they are wrong.

We have limited the types of speech that have absolute freedom in our land. For example you can’t yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. You can’t slam someone’s character publicly without facing possible recourse. Freedom of religion, too has limits set by a society aimed at securing itself and its citizens from unwanted plagues. For example, your religion may not have human sacrifice. Until recently you couldn’t have multiple wives (but that seems to be changing in certain areas of the land yet again.) We have limited one man one vote to those who do not have felony convictions. Even the freedom of the press is limited in ways that have been spelled out by the courts over the last two hundred years; both to protect the press and to insure that it doesn’t run roughshod, unchecked, over citizens of the Republic.

In short, we have filtered the Constitution to help it reflect the times in which we live and the problems created by absolutism. However, that being said, the NRA feels differently about the second amendment. Here absolutism is a must. All guns, all ammunition must be protected. Not limited in any way, shape or form. To do so is heresy and un-American.

Now you may wrap yourself in an American flag and proclaim your patriotic duty and show us your NRA card, but the truth of the matter is that over 70% of Americans now believe some legislation is needed to control the proliferation of high powered guns and large magazine that feed those guns. 70%.  Can you image a Presidential candidate getting 70%. That’s a mandate for change.

Guns aren’t protecting us. They are encouraging a crime spree of shootings and killings that is growing each year. This, masked under headlines which say that crime is down. But dig into those articles and you will see that purse snatching and bank robberies may be down, home robberies and con jobs may be ebbing, too, but murder and gun violence is growing. True the FBI covers it up with articles about more deaths from hammers and implements around the home than guns, but imagine the lack of killing in a place like Sandy Hook or Aurora with a hammer instead of a semi-automatic rifle. How many deaths would occur at Columbine or Virginia Tech with a hammer rather than guns?

It is true that guns don’t kill people. They just make it a lot easier to kill people and more of them.

The police chiefs and mayors of the twelve largest American cities have asked for help in this epidemic. Law enforcement in most places have requested aid. (True, some right-wing county sheriffs trying to make headlines have pledged not to support any law coming out of Washington that suppresses the Second Amendment in any way. These guys are crackpots and should be driven from office by level-headed people who understand that gun registration and limits are not a restriction to law-abiding citizens.)

We have had to title cars and license their usage. And a stolen car unreported is a legal responsibility of its owner. Guns should be the same. If your guns are stolen or lost and you don’t report it to authorities, you should be an accomplice to the crimes they commit later on.

Guns should be no different than cars. We limit the type of cars that can drive on our streets. (Just try and license a Formula One race car…) why should we not have limits on the type guns and the amounts of ammunition they carry in order to help bring the violence down? The answer from the NRA is no. Period. No. absolutism at its most perverse.

We refuse anything that will help make America a safer place for our children to live. How about that for an absolute definition of the NRA.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Speech

In case you were not in front of a TV yesterday, here is the text of President Obama’s inaugural speech. I offer it as a public service.

Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens: 

Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional - what makes us American - is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 

Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. (Applause.) The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed. 

And for more than two hundred years, we have. 

Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together. 

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers. 

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play. 

Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune. 

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.

But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people. (Applause.) 

This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. (Applause.) An economic recovery has begun. (Applause.) America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it - so long as we seize it together. (Applause.) 

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. (Applause.) We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own. (Applause.) 

We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, reach higher. But while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American. That is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed.
We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. (Applause.) For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. 

We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us. (Applause.) They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great. (Applause.) 

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. (Applause.) Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms. 

The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure - our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. (Applause.) Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage. (Applause.) Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war; who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends - and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.

We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully –- not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear. (Applause.)

America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe. And we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice –- not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice. 

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth. (Applause.) 

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. (Applause.) Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law –- (applause) - for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. (Applause.) Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. (Applause.) Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity - (applause) - until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. (Applause.) Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm. 

That is our generation’s task - to make these words, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time. (Applause.) 

For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. (Applause.) We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction. And we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service. But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty or an immigrant realizes her dream. My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride. 

They are the words of citizens and they represent our greatest hope. You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time - not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals. (Applause.) 

Let us, each of us, now embrace with solemn duty and awesome joy what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom. 

Thank you. God bless you, and may He forever bless these United States of America. (Applause.)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

How to buy a government

It has just come to my attention that in the last Dallas City Council election there was a North Dallas candidate that raised and spent over $1 million for a losing campaign.

That’s right one mil.  For a city elected seat that pays around $35,000 a year. A million dollars!

This should wake up Dallas voters…all voters for that matter… that we need serious campaign finance laws in this country. We need term limits. We need spending caps. We need transparent accountability for fund raising.

When a candidate for a city district (number 1 in this case) can spend a million bucks and lose, one has to wonder where the money is coming from and what special interest groups are trying to buy influence.  And if it happens in a lowly city council seat, you can bet on the state and national levels it is rampant with problems. And problems translate into corruption.

Much of the money that candidates raise on a local level goes to highly-paid consultants who steer votes and cash to the campaign.  But what do those consultants do in off-years?  In Dallas a certain gentlemen was trying to get a business opened in a tony section of Mid Town near Hotel Zaza, and was having trouble with the planning and zoning commission. He was informed that to get his project considered, he needed to hire a consulting firm to walk it through the labyrinth at city hall.  Guess who the consultants are. Same folks that walk candidates through general elections.  Cost to the guy was going to be between $35,000 and $60,000.  Where is the Dallas Observer and Jim Schutze when we need them?  It’s funny, you never read about this stuff in the Dallas Morning News. Why?  Because the Belos have been in the middle of this mess for years.

This is an outrage.  A citizen of the city cannot address the planning council without the aid of a paid (and lets be honest here ‘overpaid’) consultant.  It is political and bureaucratic blackmail. Government in America is the people, for the people and by the people. No consultants needed.

Corruption is rampant in Dallas. At city hall.  At the county courthouse. At the DISD building. Everywhere.  It is time citizens of this city rise up and say enough is enough.  And let’s not stop with Big D.  The good ole USA needs a housecleaning as well. This is the direction the Tea Party should have taken, rather than being high jacked by Palin and the Koch brothers in becoming an anti-Obama mouthpiece.

Term limits and campaign finance reform are musts that have to be put in place to check the advance of special interest groups over the common man. How can you expect to compete with the likes of the NRA, AMA, The Chamber of Commerce, the Banker’s Association, Wall Street and the American Bar Association? You can’t. Your voice gets drowned out.

And it gets drowned out in your own city by developers, and builders and special interests who want to build more “image” bridges and turn money away from our neighborhood parks, our schools and our streets. They want more high rises and less greenbelts. They don’t want to make payments into school funding with their high-density apartment and condo projects. And they all want tax abatements for their projects. Give me, give me, give me, but they don’t want to pay for a thing.
And they have bought the politicians who keep giving them these bennies all the time. Over and over and over again.

If it costs a million dollars to run for city council, then our form of government is lost. Democracy is nothing but a commercial entity bought and paid for by the highest bidder. 

Good luck living in that environment.

The religous right is wrong.

Another Islamic up rising in Africa? Anyone surprised?

So what is driving the Islamic Fundamentalist Movement to become so radical? It was a question voiced at dinner the other night. I certainly didn’t have the answer, but a gentleman at the table did respond in a way I found most interesting. “It is the  same thing that causes the right-wing Christian Fundamentalist to behave the way in which they are in our country. They all fear repression. They all fear they are losing their values to secularism.”

It is an interesting notion. That the Islamic and Christian fundamentalists are really not that different from each other. They are driven by the same fuel and guided by the same principles. One acts out because of the Quran and the other because of the New Testament. But their end goal is the same. Religious domination over secular beliefs.

To each of these groups, humanistic values are sinful. In their eyes, God can’t stand man to become dominate in the equation of spiritual survival. When and if he does, church and masque become secondary to community. And when the spiritual institution become secondary, their political power erodes and their position in the state becomes diminished.

Science is to blame. Teachers in schools are to blame. Lack of public prayer and outward signs of devotion to a religious cause are to blame. Liberalism is to blame. News media is to blame. Hollywood is to blame. Everything under the sun that is not nailed down to their very narrow worldviews is to blame. That gives them a very wide target to which to strike out and attack. “If you are not like me, you are evil.” That is the mantra.

To be sure, the zealots who flew jetliners into buildings on 911 are perhaps more demented than the Speaker of the House in Kansas who wanted to pray for President Obama’s death, but the aside from the acts themselves, the values behind those acts are exactly the same: ‘Destroy the infidels who do not believe as we do.’

With this extreme intolerance toward others and other philosophies, the fundamentalist can attack almost anything as being ungodly and wrong. I know Christian fundamentalists who are on both sides of the gun fight in America right now. They both call on God’s name to either take the guns away or to give us more guns. Not sure how God is going to reconcile this.  These two sides are screaming at the top of their lungs that sin is the reason we are losing children in our schools to bullets. Their rationale, is that if we had prayer in schools, this would never have happened. It doesn’t take one long (or far) to travel to the point where the Jihadist of the Islamic Militaristic movement would say the same type of things. Islamic Spring has spoken and want to enact Sharia Law to make sure the rule of law is the rule of the holy scriptures. (Not unlike, say, mandating the Ten Commandments in every courtroom –parallel? Or suggesting that our country was born of Christian principles. It was not.)

Not saying prayers before high school football games is going to drive America into hell, if you believe the fundamentalists. The Islamic radicals would say the same thing, only their prayers go to a different deity. So the impasse becomes what is a liberal, free-thinking society to do with the backward values these sects wish to impose upon us. And what happens when these two camps run head-long into one another? Remember the Crusades? Are we headed there again?

Both the Christian right and the Islamic right feel as if they are persecuted. Both feel threatened. Both feel that they must strike out and defend what little spiritual ground they have left. Both feel that it is their sworn duty to their gods and lords to convert every last one of us to march in the way in which they walk. And that is where the real rub comes.

A lot of us don’t wish to wallow in the spiritual babble of the right— either Christian or Islamic. Or Jewish of Buddhist or Hindi or Mormon or any other religion, for that matter. We wish to be left alone and not bothered by the deeply devoted and deeply disturbed. We are quite happy in our existence without the need for an organized religion to tell us how to live and when to pray and what to pray and to whom to pray. Our founding fathers even set it up so that religion was not to be a part of the governance of our land: They set it forth plainly in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution: "... No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

As Kerry Michael Berger wrote on CNN’s web site, “Our nation's motto was E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one), which is far more representative of our secular nation than "In God We Trust". It is only as a result of paranoia about Communism during the Cold War that invoking the name of God became more popular, and it is being used by Fundamentalists today to chip away at the Secular Foundations of our country and turn us into another intolerant religious tyranny.”

Radicals on both sides of these two fundamentalists camps would disagreed with this premise. Both would declare it blasphemy. But let us not forget that both can be shaved, redressed and transplanted into each other groups. That is how similar their philosophies for control are. (The gods they worship my be different, but the political ideology is exactly the same.) And in America, that is a scary notion. Our country was founded by a bunch of deists who didn’t want to live under the rule of thumb of the King of England (The titular head of the church) and be told how to worship.  So the freedom of religion is also understood to be the freedom FROM religion in the United States.

Too bad it is not that way around the world.

But remember, the very thing that causes the conflicts in the Middle East with the Islamic Militants, is exactly the same thing that is transpiring on the far right fringe of America’s Christian Evangelical movement. And both camps are being fueled by hatred…not love.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Man on the Grassy Knoll. Still shooting holes in the Warren Commission Report

In case you missed the Venture Galleries interview, I have made it available in full for you here. Starting next week, the serialized edition of The Man on the Grassy Knoll will be available at Venture Galleries on a daily basis.  It is free, so I encourage you to read it and enjoy. If you’d like a hard copy o the book visit LULU Press.

The editors at Venture Galleries recently sat down with author John Crawley to discus the 50th Anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination in Dallas, Texas. Crawley is the author of the book The Man on the Grassy Knoll (2009 Lulu Press).  Crawley has produced, to date, 11 novels; the last four have been published by Venture Galleries in association with Lulu Press. John’s latest, The Myth Makers, was reviewed here last November.

VG:                  How is the City of Dallas going to observe the 50th anniversary of JFK’s shooting? Will there be speeches and parades and such, or will it be a more somber memorial?

Crawley:        By not mentioning that he was shot in Dallas at all.

VG:                  Not sure I understand.

Crawley:        Dallas, as a city, is so afraid for its “brand” that it doesn’t want to remind people that Kennedy was shot on Elm Street here in our downtown. Even though it is part of American history, that would mean the city was back in the news as the site of a horrendous murder. Not that people don’t associate the assassination with Dallas anyway. — and not like it isn’t going to be talked about in all forms of media on a daily basis as the event’s date nears. It’s like saying, ‘oh the Alamo…I forgot it is in downtown San Antonio’. I mean sooner or later, Dallas is going to have to grow up and quit hiding behind its own shadow. Hey, Reagan was shot in Washington, but they don’t hide it. Lincoln, too. But Dallas has such an inferiority complex for some reason that they just can’t handle the truth. Plus the mayor is a PR/Ad guy who wants everything whitewashed. So we have a 50th Anniversary scheduled…but 50th what?

VG:                  I understand you are commemorating the event with the possible release of a film based on your book.

Crawley:        It wasn’t planned to be commemorative, it just so happened that the timing on the development of the film is happening at the same time the 50th Anniversary is going on. Makes for good marketing. But it truly is serendipitous.

VG:                  Have you seen more interest in The Man on the Grassy Knoll this year because of the anniversary?

Crawley:        Yes.  People like you want to interview me now, when four years ago when it came out I couldn’t buy press time.  Now you guys are having to line up to talk with me.  But I understand that.  It is a news event.  There is air time that must be filled and pages of print that must have ink spread upon them. And my story is just one of many that will help fill those gaps.

VG:                  Does it make you uneasy to feel as if you are taking advantage of a sad day in history…

Crawley:        I can stop you before you finish. No. Did Spielberg think twice about the Lincoln movie just because Lincoln was gunned down in Ford’s Theater?  No way. Did Ken Burns pause in the making of the Civil War documentary because thousands lost their lives during that terrible conflict?  No. They are historical events and we talk about them all the time. Same is true with Kennedy’s assassination. My book alone came out of a conversation I had with a Dallas police officer on duty that day, who said that there had been suspicious activity along the rail lines atop the grassy knoll. Officers had been assigned to check it out.  The guys that did, were not Dallas police. He figured they were Secret Service agents, but the Secret Service said they weren’t involved in the surveillance of the overpass at the Grassy Knoll. So you see, we’ve got us a bit of a conspiracy hole to dig into. That’s how this stuff works. So I took that and developed a character named Raul Salazar and for years worked and reworked his story to get him onto the Grassy Knoll the day of the shooting.

VG:                  You worked on this book over two decades, is that right?

Crawley:        Twenty-six years to be exact. I started in in 1983 and finally published the book in 2009. I wrote six complete drafts of the book and tore each of them up.

VG:                  Why?

Crawley:        They were dull and boring. You see, I had done all this research into the assassination. I had reams of documents and testimony; I had read and reread the Warren Commission Report. I had dates, times facts and figures. And I tried to squeeze them all into each manuscript I worked on. And every time I did, it got worse and worse. I finally threw them all away and placed the project on a “permanent” hold. It sounded and felt way too academic. (I said that the other day at a talk at the University of Texas at Austin and suddenly said to my self, “I probably shouldn’t have used that phrase.” But the professor all got a good laugh out of it and they understood what I was saying. One professor even confessed he hated reading his own papers based on his research because they were always so stiff and boring. So, I guess I wasn’t the only one suffering from too much crap piled inside the lines.)

                        But the truth was that the writing wasn’t very good. So the story percolated in my brain for almost two decades, then as I approached another book I was working on, a thought struck me to tell Raul’ story in transcript format — an interview— and by so doing, I would eliminate the need for such detail. A real person wouldn’t go into the kind of mind-numbing detail during an interview. He would simply tell his story. And it worked. It worked like gangbusters.

VG:                  So the transcript idea wasn’t around on the first drafts?

Crawley:        Oh no. Not by a long shot. The earlier renditions were third person narratives that read like the Old Testament. This fact begat this fact, which begat this date and this action. Horrible. Kurt Vonnegut used to say you have to write a million words before you become a true writer. Well, the early drafts of The Man on the Grassy Knoll certainly helped get me down the road to that quota in a hurry.

VG:                  Six complete drafts?

Crawley:        At least six. There may have been a seventh. God, think of the trees I destroyed. Those were back in the days we actually typed on paper.

VG:                  How did you develop the story of Raul?

Crawley:        To begin with, I have never bought the conclusions of the Warren Commission Report.  I believe the Warren Commission did exactly what they set out to do. Reassure a nervous country that we were okay. That our institutions were safe from foreigners or worse, from internal forces wanting to control the destiny of the greatest country on Earth. And if they could sell the idea that one man, crazy as he was, had acted alone, then all would be safe and cozy again. To that end, I believe they did their job. It’s just that as many people, including yours truly, doubted them as believed them.

            I mean just study the “magic” bullet alone, and you will see that their science is specious. It goes into the President, exits him, goes through the seat into Governor Connelly and back out and onto the floorboard and is as pristine as a new shell — really?  And this while executing two acute angle turns in its trajectory.

            And what about the way in which Kennedy’s head explodes with the impact of the shot as seen on various films of the event that day. Not from the School Book Depository Building. Nope. The car had moved to far west down elm street. For the head to explode the way in which it did, the shot must have come from the north or northwest. The Grassy Knoll or the edge of the overpass along the railroad line that leads into Union Station. Simply observations. Yet they made a shell game of the facts constantly moving information around and changing testimony of witnesses who tried to clear up their testimony when they read what the commission reported they had said. Take events, quotes and facts out of context. Even changing the history of events that happened at Parkland Hospital. Even the idea that the parade route had been suddenly changed to swing the motorcade down Elm Street. Why?  Why go under the Texas School Book Depository Building and along side the Grassy Knoll? Did someone know there would be shooters waiting on Kennedy?

            The Warren Commission Report wasn’t suppose to prove who killed Kennedy. It was supposed to assure a nation that they were safe from outside attacks or from sabotage within. It was, at best, a whitewash of the facts.

            So, armed with this skepticism, I set out to build a case for what might have happened. Fictional, to be sure, but based on facts and on times and on probability, not just possibility.  I had everything I needed except a suspect, so I invented him in the form of Raul Salazar.

VG:      Have you ever been challenged on your approach to how the day unfolded and how your facts are played out in your story?

Crawley:        Not once. And I have had some very knowledgeable assassination history buffs pour over my novel. Not one has said, wait this couldn’t have happened because of yadda yadda.  Not one. Now that’s not to say what I have done is written history— non-fiction history. It is not, nor was it meant to be. It is a novel. Pure and simple. But its goal was to get us all to look and see how our foreign policy is conducted. How we recruit those who do our nefarious bidding for us, how we train them and deploy them and how sometimes they return to bite us back.

            Was there a Raul Salazar? I have no idea. But, deep in my heart of hearts, I know this: Oswald did not act alone. Someone else was there that day.  Maybe more than one other. Maybe there was a Raul Salazar. Maybe he was from Mexico and trained by the CIA and maybe he did infiltrate the Castro regime. I do not know.

            I do know this. Oswald did not shoot the President of the United States alone. No way. No how. He wasn’t fast enough to make the three shots from where they came.

            But I also think we will never know what happened that day. Not the whole truth, anyway. So my novel is but one attempt to get people to open their minds and think of what could have happened. How it could have happened and why it did happen.  And like I said, its real mission is to show how we attract those who do our dark ops work for us.

VG:      Have you gotten any push-back from authorities in Dallas about the promotion of your book or the film during this time period?

Crawley:        Not as of yet. But it is still early. I warned the director that he might find getting city permits to film in certain areas quite difficult, since the city wants to sanitize history of the event. But so far there has been no conspiracy to stop us or to slow us down.

VG:      Why, of all the assassinations and assassination attempts, does the Kennedy one hold so many conspiracy theories and have so many shadows around it?

Crawley:        Good question. I believe first because of the cover-up in the Warren Commission. Secondly, there were just a lot of unanswered questions about the circumstances at Dealey Plaza that day. There had been a huge “hate” campaign aimed at Kennedy, not unlike the kind we have recently seen toward President Obama, perhaps even more overt. Ads ran in the Dallas Morning News calling the President a “Traitor.” In huge bold letters TRAITOR! That extreme versus the huge popularity of the young charismatic President made the event such a major historic event. People were captured by the moment. Captured in the moment and many found (and still find) it hard to believe that one strange, crazy sole took it upon himself to bring down a sitting American President they way he did. Others have shot at Presidents. But usually they are calculating and get close in a handshake or in a receiving line or in the darkened theater. But to get a job in a building where months later a parade with the President was going to sweep beneath and to pluck out a high-powered rifle and shoot through the trees at a moving target, is a tad bit hard to swallow. Not acting alone. Not having been placed there carefully.
            When it comes to this assassination, I will always be a skeptic of the “official report.” Sorry. That just me.  And I suppose they way I tried working it out of my system was by writing this book; only in so doing, I cemented in my head and heart the belief that we were lied to about the shooting.

VG:      The Man On The Grassy Knoll isn’t a long book…

Crawley:        I timed the book as I read it aloud. It felt like the right length for an interview with a man who was short of breath and short on time to live. Plus, any longer and I am afraid I would have started getting back into that bad trap of adding dates, and times and places and names and all kinds of stuff that the interview would never have had in it and that the book did not need. If it got longer, it would have gotten boring again.

VG:      Even the format of the book adds to its real feeling.

Crawley:        On purpose. The whole package is to make you buy into the fact that Raul is a real character talking to you through a tape machine. I have had friends of my  kids, in college— not that familiar with the events of the those days like you and I are— read the book and then come to me and ask how come they had never read this in their history books. I had to remind them— IT IS A NOVEL!  It is not reality. It is only meant to simulate reality. That’s how convincing it can be.

VG:      Where did you get the idea to write it this way?

Crawley:        From working on a screenplay of another book and trying to compress time, I needed to interview witnesses of a crime and my interviews with them allowed me to short cut a screenplays length from the long passages of a novel.  And also it came from Margaret Atwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale.  I needed to get the reader into a place that allowed them to think reality was what they were reading. History, if you will. Suspend belief for a moment and enter the myth from the direction I wanted them to. To change their perceptions.

VG:      And that it does so very well.

Crawley:        Thank you.

VG:      One final question. Will you write further on this matter?

Crawley:        Not on my own. I might add a pen to someone else’s work or an opinion. But my job with the assassination is finished.  I have said my piece. And I must confess, I am pleased with how it came out– all except one glaring mistake in the book I missed in editing.

VG:      And that is?

Crawley:        Buy the book and see if you can find it. Very few have.

The Man on the Grassy Knoll will be available starting next week at Venture Galleries as a serial novel. This is the second John Crawley book published in a series— his first was Dream Chaser, soon to be available at Amazon and other fine e-retailers.