Will President Obama finally take on the gun lobby?

”We’ll see what happens. Obama still has to do something other than speak”, writes Amy Davidsons today on her blog ”Close Read” in The New Yorker.  Exactly!

ObamainNewtownBut President Obama’s speech last night to the grieving citizens of Newtown, Connecticut, was not like his speeches in Tucson, Arizona; Aurora, Colorado; or Fort Hood, Texas — scenes of previous mass killings during his first term as president – it went further, maybe even a lot further. And it had a different tone, more impatient, sadder, but also more full of resolve, and — more political.

We can’t tolerate this any more. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change,”  he said and promised something he had not previously promised during his four years in the White House:

 ”In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”

These sentences have resulted in the new hope that Obama, for the first time — finally, is ready to take on America’s culture of weapons and the country’s laws on weapons, or lack of laws. Can the tragedy in Newtown become the ”the tipping point?” We don’t know, but the pressures on the president to do something and fight for what he seems to believe in — to fight the “good fight” — even if that fight does not produce a victory against the gun lobby and its many supporters in Congress, have increased rapidly and markedly since Newtown.

What he can propose is well illustrated on the Washington Post’s “Wonkblog.” But the fight won’t be easy, regardless of strategy and proposals. There are no simple solutions, because the fight concerns a key issue for the American society. It’s about the “god Gun,”  as the historian Garry Wills writes on the New York Review of Books’ blog, which:

  • Has the power to destroy the reasoning process.
  • Has the power to turn all our politicians as a class into invertebrate and mute attendants at the shrine.
  • Has the power to distort our constitutional thinking. It says that the right to “bear arms,” a military term, gives anyone, anywhere in our country, the power to mow down civilians with military weapons. Even the Supreme Court has been cowed, reversing its own long history of recognizing that the Second Amendment applied to militias. Now the court feels bound to guarantee that any every madman can indulge his “religion” of slaughter.

Enough, Mr. President!

Yes, our hearts are broken, as President Obama said the other day about the senseless mass murder of 28 people in Newtown, Connecticut.

The sentiments of his emotional statement were surely shared by many, many, across the nation. But, for many, including me, his words were not enough. We wanted to hear something more  — indignation, anger, impatience, in addition to the sorrow, over what America’s gun culture is doing to this country, that too many people have died for no reason at all, and that something must be done about it – finally, now!

But we did not hear this from the President, who gave no indication that he is now prepared to break his four-year-long silence on guns and gun control — during his entire first term. His one sentence that “we are going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” was far too general and vague for many, like New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, maybe the nation’s leading gun control proponent:

“We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership. Not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today.”

David Remnick, The New Yorker’s editor:

“Obama told the nation that he reacted to the shootings in Newtown “as a parent,” and that is understandable, but what we need most is for him to act as a President, liberated at last from the constraints of elections and their dirty compromises—a President who dares to change the national debate and the legislative agenda on guns.“

In the days since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the voices of “enough” are heard more and more. Mass shootings and mass killings are now part of everyday life in America. The magazine Mother Jones reports that there have been 62 such mass murders in the last 30 years. We know them: Columbine, Oak Creek, Aurora, Tucson, Blacksburg, and now Newtown. This year, alone, almost one hundred people have died in this madness.

Still, little has happened. Not even the near death of Congress woman Gabby Giffords resulted in any political action. On the contrary, it easier than ever to buy a gun, including assault weapons, as the ban between 1994 and 2004 on those weapons was lifted in 2004. And you can now carry concealed weapons in schools and bars, on trains and in the National Parks.

Could the 28 deaths in Newtown, Connecticut be a tipping point? It remains to be seen, if Sandy Hook can “break the usual cycle of universal shock fading into political reality,” reported  the AP.

Sadly, more and more people see the battle for increased gun control as unwinnable. The gun lobby seems just too strong, and the American people do not seem support more gun control. According to Gallup, fewer Americans now favor stricter gun laws, from 78 percent in 1990, to 44 percent in 2010.

Still, the deaths at Sandy Hook of 20 school children between six and seven years old seem to have struck a chord among Americans. And how could it not? So if not now, when? Enough.

New York Times on @Sweden

Here is a front page article in today’s New York Times about my old home country and about @Sweden — “Swedes’ Twitter Voice: Anyone, Saying (Blush) Almost Anything.”

Funny place, Sweden, the paper seems to think. Check it out!

OK, it was a scare…but come on!

Ok, it was a scare. Earth quakes, I know from my days in California and the Balkans, are not pleasant.

But nothing really happened here in Washington yesterday. Oh, the Washington Monument was slightly damaged and is closed until further notice, and bricks fell from some buildings, but there was really no major damage and, above all, no one died, not even in tiny Mineral, Virginia, at the epicenter of the earthquake.

Still, there was panic. Washington and its inhabitants were simply not prepared for something like this. But there is no excuse, writes Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney today.

“As the nation’s capital, with the memory still strong of the Sept. 11 attacks, we ought to be the world champions of emergency preparedness.”

Couldn’t agree more. And couldn’t agree more about the massive, almost ridiculous, media coverage that the quake produced — all afternoon and all evening – as Daily Beast media critic Howard Kurtz writes. Suddenly, there were no longer any rebels in Libya — “Goodbye, rebels. Hello, pandemonium.”

I had to switch over to Al Jazeera to find out what was happening in Tripoli, the day’s truly big story.

Europe wonders and worries about America

President Obama’s and Speaker Boehner’s television speeches last night were not what we generally had expected or hoped for. There was no news and their speeches did not in any way contribute to a solution of the debt ceiling and budget crisis.

They did not leave us with even a glimmer of hope that the politicians in Washington can, and will, resolve this issue before the country defaults next Tuesday.

Already before last night, the wonderment and worry abroad about where America is heading was noticeable. “Washington is drowning America” is a recent headline on a Financial Times column by Clive Crook. He writes that when he came to America six years ago he had no patience for the view that the country was entering the twilight years, but now he is having second thoughts.

For those of you who know some Scandinavian, I would like to refer you to my old paper, the Stockholm daily Dagens Nyheter, whose recent headline to its main editorial about the debt ceiling crisis was “Fools’ paradise,” and in which “Republican fanatics” get the main blame. And in the Danish daily Politiken, one can read the Republicans, now run by the “almost anarchistic” Tea Party-movement, have “lost their senses.”

It is likely that after last night’s speeches the wonderment and worry will increase. It’s imp0ortant to point out that these are not radical voices but middle-of-the-road European newspapers commenting on the state of our union, and for everyone who cares about America’s reputation abroad, this is sad, and worrisome.

A future without the New York Times?

I went to the movies and saw “Page One: Inside the New York Times,” which premiered here in Washington yesterday.

For a former newspaperman, I must say it doesn’t get any better than this.

Andrew Rossi’s excellent documentary about the state of journalism — newspapers, the Internet, television — told through the New York Times, and, in particular, through its quirky media columnist David Carr, is , of course, a must see for everyone interested in the welfare of America today.

Never nostalgic, it is a sad movie for all of us who love newspapers. The state of journalism and its uncertain future includes the scenario where even a newspaper like the New York Times does not survive. Imagine…what has the world come to?

The joy of public radio through Georgia

Just like President Eisenhower’s proposal in the 50’s to build the interstate freeway system crisscrossing the country revolutionized car travel for all Americans, the start, in 1970, of commercial-free, public radio — National Public Radio (NPR) – has revolutionized how Americans listened to radio.

The radio is an invaluable companion, particularly in the car, as I noticed recently during my trip in the South. But that was not always so.

I remember the time when it was little else but commercials, music, new commercials, and with the occasional news report. There is still of lot of radio like that and, in addition, there are now two types of stations that have grown rapidly in influence in recent times: religious stations and conservative talk shows with Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Glenn Beck and others.

Rush is the biggest. He is on 600 stations around the country and strong in the South — he can be heard on 22 stations only in Georgia. I tried and tried to listen to him in the car, between noon and 3 pm every day, not the least to try to understand his enormous popularity, but in the end his demagogic ramblings became too much.

Thankfully, I managed everywhere, even where it is often difficult to get hold of a good newspaper or even a good cup of coffee, to find a public radio station, often near a college or university. And with that came all the wonderful programs, “Morning Edition”; “All Things Considered”, “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” from Philadelphia, and “A Prairie Home Companion” with Garrison Keillor from St. Paul, Minnesota. Or news from the BBC, “Market Place” from Los Angeles with economic news, “Car Talk” with everything about cars, and lots of classical music.

There are now 920 public radio stations in America with almost 27 million listeners every week. NPR has become America’s second largest radio network and an invaluable element in the American political, cultural and social debate. I find it difficult today to imagine, like probably millions of Americans, an America without NPR, shielded from serious information and debate, shut out from the big world out there.

Many on the right hate NPR, calling it leftist and elitist, and in budget cutting times, it is often a target, although the savings would be miniscule. So far, those attempts have failed and I am happy for that in my car through Georgia.