Friday, October 2, 2015

There Is a Difference

Paper Planes - M.I.A.


President Barack Obama spoke from the podium of the James Brady Press Briefing room on Thursday, October 1, 2015, in the wake of the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, where at least 10 people were killed and seven others injured:

There’s been another mass shooting in America — this time, in a community college in Oregon.

That means there are more American families — moms, dads, children — whose lives have been changed forever. That means there’s another community stunned with grief, and communities across the country forced to relieve their own anguish, and parents across the country who are scared because they know it might have been their families or their children.

I’ve been to Roseburg, Oregon. There are really good people there. I want to thank all the first responders whose bravery likely saved some lives today. Federal law enforcement has been on the scene in a supporting role, and we’ve offered to stay and help as much as Roseburg needs, for as long as they need.

In the coming days, we’ll learn about the victims — young men and women who were studying and learning and working hard, their eyes set on the future, their dreams on what they could make of their lives. And America will wrap everyone who’s grieving with our prayers and our love.
But as I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America — next week, or a couple of months from now.

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

Earlier this year, I answered a question in an interview by saying, “The United States of America is the one advanced nation on Earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense gun-safety laws — even in the face of repeated mass killings.” And later that day, there was a mass shooting at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana. That day! Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this.

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

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

Does anybody really believe that? There are scores of responsible gun owners in this country –they know that’s not true. We know because of the polling that says the majority of Americans understand we should be changing these laws — including the majority of responsible, law-abiding gun owners.

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

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

And, of course, what’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue. Well, this is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic. I would ask news organizations — because I won’t put these facts forward — have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports. This won’t be information coming from me; it will be coming from you. We spend over a trillion dollars, and pass countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so. And yet, we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?

This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America. We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction. When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work to make mines safer. When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer. When roads are unsafe, we fix them to reduce auto fatalities. We have seatbelt laws because we know it saves lives. So the notion that gun violence is somehow different, that our freedom and our Constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon, when there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country who could hunt and protect their families and do everything they do under such regulations doesn’t make sense.

So, tonight, as those of us who are lucky enough to hug our kids a little closer are thinking about the families who aren’t so fortunate, I’d ask the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these laws, and to save lives, and to let young people grow up. And that will require a change of politics on this issue. And it will require that the American people, individually, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican or an independent, when you decide to vote for somebody, are making a determination as to whether this cause of continuing death for innocent people should be a relevant factor in your decision. If you think this is a problem, then you should expect your elected officials to reflect your views.

And I would particularly ask America’s gun owners — who are using those guns properly, safely, to hunt, for sport, for protecting their families — to think about whether your views are properly being represented by the organization that suggests it’s speaking for you.

And each time this happens I’m going to bring this up. Each time this happens I am going to say that we can actually do something about it, but we’re going to have to change our laws. And this is not something I can do by myself. I’ve got to have a Congress and I’ve got to have state legislatures and governors who are willing to work with me on this.

I hope and pray that I don’t have to come out again during my tenure as President to offer my condolences to families in these circumstances. But based on my experience as President, I can’t guarantee that. And that’s terrible to say. And it can change.

May God bless the memories of those who were killed today. May He bring comfort to their families, and courage to the injured as they fight their way back. And may He give us the strength to come together and find the courage to change.

Thank you.


  Transcript courtesy TIME.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Look At Me

Baby, Baby - Amy Grant

A Persuasive Pope

Photo courtesy U.S. News & World Report

Let us say no to an economy of exclusion and inequality,
where money rules rather than service.
That economy kills.
That economy excludes.
That economy destroys Mother Earth.

~ Pope Francis

Regular “What’s the Diehl?” readers might remember that I grew up Catholic but have come to think there is no such thing as God, at least not in the Bearded-Man-Who-Floats-on-Clouds-and-Awards-Touchdowns-and-Grammys kind of way.

In my own life and in the lives of countless others – in Syria, Gaza, Japan, Sandy Hook and everywhere else where there is pain, injustice and violence – I’ve found it implausible that some higher power exists, that someone or something greater than ourselves is spinning the wheel and calling the shots.

We all know that it’s hard to believe in God when little girls are raped by their protectors, politicians rob from the poor to give to the rich and the good die young while the bad live forever (I’m talking to you, Dick Cheney). We know all the terrible things that have happened in the name of religion – from the Crusades to 9/11 – and have heard all about the systemic abuse, oppression of women and many other reasons why it makes more sense to believe in Elvis than the King of Kings.

Having said all this – and having embraced atheism as tightly as my children used to embrace the idea of the Tooth Fairy – I must admit that the current leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, is the most Jesus-like pontiff I’ve ever seen. Watching how he acted and hearing what he said during his historic visit to the United States, I realized that I was actually proud to have been an altar boy four decades ago.

Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires on December 17, 1936, he became the Pope in March of 2013 and chose Francis as his papal name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. (Growing up, St. Francis was my favorite saint. Google him.)

Yes, the man is strongly pro-life – he once suggested that gynecologists invoke the conscience clause and refuse to perform abortions if asked – and he opposes the ordination of women. Yes, he opposes same-sex marriage. But he said he believes gays should be treated with respect and love, supported the restoration of U.S. relations with Cuba and opposes capital punishment and life imprisonment. Additionally, he thinks we need to address global warming and has condemned class warfare and economic injustice.

Is this pope cool or what?

I watched his historic address to Congress this morning and found myself moved to tears and brought to my feet more than once by what this charming, gentle 78-year-old Argentinian had to say.

Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind.

Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.

We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces.

For the text of the speech, click here. For the video, click here.

I don’t intend to rejoin a parish and start quoting scripture. I still think praying is silly and one can be good and moral without owning a Bible or a crucifix. But I dig Pope Francis and am less ashamed of having been Catholic than I used to be. I hope he continues to inspire and invigorate and charm and challenge. As I said in a Facebook status, the guy is rocking the Jesus thing and I really, really like him. I know I’m not alone.

Sources: U.S. News & World Report, U. S. Speaker of the House John Boehner.