Monday, June 11, 2018

A Time for Turning - WA Ballot Initiative 1631

A Time for Turning, WA Ballot Initiative 1631
By Rev. Carol Jensen and Ron Young

            In the popular contemporary Christian hymn, Canticle of the Turning, the refrain ends with the hopeful words, “the world is about to turn.”  The famous Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, tells us, “the power of turning never reveals itself outside of crisis.” A near total (97%) consensus among scientists tells us that we face a profound crisis today over dangers from global warning, primarily caused by human activity and specifically by over use of fossil fuels. A Gallup Poll in 2017 tells us that 84% of Americans worry “a lot” or “some” about global warming, while only 16% worry “not at all.” A poll this Spring reveals that most registered voters believe the United States should reduce polluting greenhouse gas emissions, while only 4% of voters believe the U.S. should not reduce its emissions.
Washington state is playing a unique, leading role in the nationwide response to the problem of pollution and scientifically verifiable dangers of global warming. The Trump administration seems to ignore or deny the problems, pulling out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and prompting the EPA to gut long-standing health and environmental protections, and cancel new positive regulations to reduce CO2 emissions. This is the context in which signing, circulating and urging others to sign WA Ballot Initiative 1631 is important, urgent, and the right thing to do.
 Initiative 1631 is already endorsed by more than 100 Washington state organizations, including faith communities, businesses, labor unions, environmental and clean energy advocates, health professionals, Washington tribal nations, and communities of color advocates. This may well be the broadest support of any initiative in Washington state history. We all do our part to keep Washington clean, but right now the largest polluters can pollute for free while we all pay the costs. I-1631 would put a fee ($15 per ton) on the state’s largest polluters, including the oil industry and utilities that have not switched to clean energy, and would invest in protecting our air and water, clean energy infrastructure, and in new jobs across the state.
In addition to incredibly broad-based support for the initiative, another unique feature of this proposal of a fee (different than a tax) is the requirement that the revenue collected from I-1631 cannot simply be used by the state government as general funds but will be allocated by a broad-based, publicly accountable board, made up of experts and trusted community leaders. As examples, I-1631 will invest in developing job generating clean energy alternatives, including wind, solar and other renewable resources, transportation alternatives, better home and building energy efficiency, and it will provide support to communities hardest hit by pollution because the neighborhood you live in shouldn’t determine if your air is clean and your water is safe to drink.
It’s almost impossible any more, no matter who you voted for in 2016, to ignore the threats of pollution and global warming. Even with Trump appointees heading all the national intelligence agencies, the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community recently warned,

“The impact of the long-term trends toward a warmer climate, more air pollution, bio-diversity loss, and water scarcity are likely to fuel economic and social discontent, and possibly upheaval…The last few years have been the warmest on record. Extreme weather events in a warmer world have the potential for greater impacts and can compound with other drivers to raise the risk of humanitarian disasters, conflict, water and food shortages, population migration, labor shortfalls, price shocks, and power outages.”
            Our state has a legacy of protecting the home we all share. We know if we don’t act now, the threats from pollution and global warming will only get worse and cause more harm to our communities and risks for our children’s future. I-1631 is a practical first step in our state to ensure clean air and clean water and represents a significant contribution in the larger campaign to reduce the threat of global warming.
Faith communities are supporting Initiative 1631 based on deep concern about the disproportionate impact of pollution and climate change on communities of color and on already impoverished people, as well as a fundamental commitment to care for creation, a responsibility entrusted to us by our Creator. It will take faithful, intelligent, persistent citizen efforts and action over many years on many levels – local, state, national, and international – to creatively meet the challenges of global warming. In the next weeks and months, the most important contribution we can make here in Washington State is to get Initiative 1631 on the Ballot and approved by Washington voters in November.

Rev. Carol Jensen is Co-Chair of the statewide Faith Action Network.
Ron Young is an activist and author. Ron’s memoir, Crossing Boundaries
in the Americas, Vietnam and the Middle East was published in 2014.
Carol and Ron are married and live in Everett.
Ron can be contacted at
(This Commentary appeared in The Everett Herald on Sunday, June 10, 2018.)

Friday, June 1, 2018

Veterans Group Says "NO" to Emmy for PBS Vietnam War Documentary

You all know that I offered critical commentaries on each of the ten episodes of the PBS Vietnam War Documentary. Given all the Documentary's distortions and shortcomings, I agree with Veterans for Peace that it does not deserve and should not be awarded an Emmy. I hope, if you agree, you will share this with others.

Thursday, May 31, 2018
Veterans’ Group Says “No” to Emmy for PBS Vietnam War Series

“In this war-torn world, what is desperately needed – but what Burns and Novick fail to convey – is an honest rendering of that war to help the American people avoid yet more catastrophic wars.”
A national veterans’ organization is weighing in on this year’s Emmy awards with a full-page ad in Variety, saying Ken Burns and Lynne Novick’s “Vietnam War” series does not deserve a “Best Documentary” award.
Veterans For Peace (VFP), headquartered in St. Louis, with 175 chapters in the U.S. and six overseas, will run the Variety ad prior to the awards on September 17, to generate discussion about the series and the lasting impact it will have if “crowned with an Emmy.”

The ad says that because “The Emmy Award is a powerful recognition of truth in art,” Emmy judges are asked to consider whether, “In this war-torn world, what is desperately needed – but what Burns and Novick fail to convey – is an honest rendering of that war to help the American people avoid yet more catastrophic wars.”

The ad (attached) identifies what it considers the fundamental flaw of the PBS series: Burns and Novick “assert at the beginning that the war ‘was begun in good faith by decent people, out of fateful misunderstandings.’”  Questioned about this in a New York Times interview, Burns admitted that might have been “too generous to our leaders,” but he stuck by it.

VFP’s ad quickly responds to that “generous” remark, saying, “Even a cursory reading of the Pentagon Papers disclosed by Daniel Ellsberg,” (inexplicably missing from this history) “demonstrates the falseness of this claim of American innocence.”  The painful truth, according to the ad, is that the United States “rained incredible violence on the Vietnamese people merely to replace France as the dominant power in Southeast Asia.”
Another shortcoming in last fall’s series was it paid far too little attention to the millions of civilian deaths the U.S. caused in Southeast Asia, skips over the millions of people still suffering from the effects of Agent Orange and ignores some 700,000 tons of unexploded ordnance still lurking in the fields of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, still killing and injuring today.
Acknowledging that Burns and Novick were “justifiably critical of American presidents and military leaders” the veterans say the filmmakers, “mainly focus on the harm to U.S. soldiers” and “reinvigorate Cold War myths that the Vietnamese anti-colonial struggle was merely an extension of Soviet and Chinese communist expansion.”

Another shortcoming in last fall’s series was it paid far too little attention to the millions of civilian deaths the U.S. caused in Southeast Asia, skips over the millions of people still suffering from the effects of Agent Orange and ignores some 700,000 tons of unexploded ordnance still lurking in the fields of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, still killing and injuring today.

Many VFP members have first-hand knowledge of the broad anti-war movement, some as participants in the active-duty G.I. resistance where they conducted peaceful protests, sabotage and outright mutiny, and some in the civilian peace movement after their military service.  Nowhere in 18 hours of programming does the G.I. resistance movement merit mention and “instead of honoring the civilian peace movement for its accomplishments, activists are generally belittled as self-interested and self-indulgent, with stress on its supposed deep antagonism toward American soldiers,” the ad protests. 

VFP concludes its ad, just above an iconic photograph of protesting G.I.s holding a banner emblazoned with, “We won’t fight another rich man’s war,” by saying that if the Burns/Novick series is “crowned with an Emmy, this defective history of the Vietnam era will become required viewing for generations of young Americans—a seductive, but false, interpretation of events.”

Monday, April 30, 2018

U.S. Missile Attacks on Syria Hurt American Children More Than the Assad Regime

In response to recent missile attacks, Syrian President Bashar Assad seems as defiant and determined as ever to pursue war to preserve his regime in power. Most analysts agree that given Russian and Iranian backing and the reality that most deaths and destruction have been caused by conventional weapons, attacks on the regime’s chemical war capacity will have little effect on, and may even further complicate, the already very complex dynamics of the conflict.
What is even more clear, as President Eisenhower wisely warned us, every missile fired robs children who are homeless or hungry and not fed.  At a cost of $1 million for each missile, the attacks have added millions to the more than $4 trillion spent so far on wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. This is a staggeringly large spending which could have been allocated to reducing spiraling inequality and eliminating poverty. It is morally outrageous and socially disastrous that the United States has the second highest overall poverty rate among rich countries and a significantly higher child poverty rate than 30 other industrialized nations, including Poland and Mexico. The poverty rate among children of color in the U.S. is three times the rate among white children.
To make a convincing case for a radical revision in national priorities requires addressing why avoiding war in favor of diplomacy and why spending at much higher levels to eliminate poverty make sense and are interdependent policies. Taking-up the poverty issue first, many conservatives argue that the U.S has spent a lot on safety net programs to reduce poverty, but they haven’t worked. That’s not true. Studies, including recently one by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, show that while benefits of an expanding economy and tightening labor market have gone disproportionately to the wealthy, government assistance programs, including Food Stamps, Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit have made significant contributions to lowering the child poverty rate. The lesson learned about eliminating poverty is that, in addition to advocating for workers’ rights, a much higher minimum wage, strict enforcement of federal housing anti-discrimination laws, increased spending on education, and some version of a guaranteed minimum income, safety net programs that are proven to work need to be substantially expanded.
That won’t happen without challenging the war economy and the grossly distorted Federal Budget from which more than half of discretionary spending goes to the military. And that won’t happen without challenging our conceited, corporate and fear-driven foreign policy, often marked more by ignorance and arrogance than by wisdom and sound strategy. Since the end of World War II, starting with Vietnam, our foreign policy has gotten us into wars, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria that we later regret and that we could have and should have avoided. All these wars had the goal of regime change. Whether that goal was achieved or not, in addition to resulting in huge numbers of dead and wounded, and millions of refugees, the wars generated violent instability and often led to strengthening the very political forces they were supposed to defeat. An essential lesson from these wars, as President Trump may be learning, is that it’s much easier to get into a war than to get out of a war.
Beside the horrific human toll, in terms of economic costs, over a fifteen-year period from 2001 to 2016, the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are estimated to have cost more than $300 billion per year. That is more than the combined total amount allocated in any of these years for the federal departments of education, energy, labor, interior, and transportation. The need for a radical revision of our national priorities is clearer and more urgent than ever.
One important sign of hope is the emerging new version of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Renewal. The Campaign is challenging the interconnected evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and the threat of ecological devastation. The Campaign is calling on participants to commit to a Covenant of Nonviolence. Recently, training sessions in nonviolence have been held in 46 cities in 30 states, including Olympia, Seattle and Spokane here in Washington State. During forty days in May and June, mass nonviolent actions are planned in state capitals in every region of the country to launch a multi-year-campaign, uniting people across communities, issues, and geography.
Much more than commemorating the campaign led by Martin Luther King in 1968, this Poor People’s Campaign is carrying King’s vision forward with new determination, energy, and urgency. In his last Sunday sermon at the Washington National Cathedral, just days before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King prophetically warned, “America is going to hell if we don’t use her vast resources to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life.”
April 2018

Ron Young is an activist, author who lives in Everett WA. He marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, Chicago and Washington, DC, and coordinated the March on Washington for Peace in Vietnam November 13-15, 1969.  Ron’s memoir, Crossing Boundaries in the Americas, Vietnam and the Middle East, was published in 2014. Ron can be contacted by e-mail at

Friday, March 30, 2018

Remembering M.L. King and the Kerner Commission Fifty Years Later

In March 1968, President Johnson, who had successfully launched important voting rights and anti-poverty initiatives, under pressure from the military, decided to send additional troops to join the more than half a million already in Vietnam to fight and eventually lose a war that cost the U.S. $100 billion. That same month, the bi-partisan Kerner Commission, appointed by Johnson in 1967 in response to riots in dozens of American cities, concluded that a massive national investment, estimated at $80 to $100 billion in employment, education, welfare and housing was essential to prevent our Nation from becoming “two societies, one black and one white – separate and unequal.” The Commission briefly considered recommending reducing and reallocating resources from the war in Vietnam but decided that would be too controversial.
Fearing the political costs of losing the war in Vietnam and facing deepening racial division and white backlash at home, Johnson ignored the Kerner Commission Report and, in a televised address to the nation on March 31, announced he would not seek a second term as President.  Five days later, on April 4, Martin Luther King, who praised the Kerner Report, was assassinated in Memphis where he had come to support the struggle of striking sanitation workers.
A year earlier, in his famous Riverside Church sermon, “A Time to Break Silence,” on April 4, 1967, King carefully, yet controversially, explained why he opposed the Vietnam War, including how the U.S. supported France keeping Vietnam as a colony. He spoke about the triple threats of racism, poverty and militarism. Reflecting his view that the war threatened Johnson’s Great Society initiatives, King declared, “There was hope for the poor – both black and white – through the poverty program, then came the build-up in Vietnam.”
Had he lived, there is little doubt that King would have opposed the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not only based on his principled commitment to nonviolence and against war, but because, like the Vietnam War, these wars robbed our nation of essential human and economic resources, estimated so far at more than $4 trillion - resources as desperately needed today as they were fifty years ago to address problems of poverty, racism, and growing inequality.
On the anniversary of the Kerner Commission Report, several articles appeared reporting on some progress over fifty years but also cataloguing conditions that have remained the same or gotten worse. Among the most revealing and troubling indicators is, while the overall percentage of Americans living in poverty has remained about the same since 1968, the percentage of American children living in poverty and the percentage of people living in “deep poverty” (on incomes less than half the poverty level have both increased. Shockingly, the United States has one of the highest rates of child poverty of any developed country. While percentages of Black and Hispanic children in poverty are higher than for whites, one-third of all American children living in poverty are white.
 Fred Harris, sole surviving member of the Kerner Commission, and Alan Curtis, President and CEO of the Eisenhower Foundation, have edited a new book, Healing Our Divided Society, an updated review of the challenges our country faces and what can be done. The book includes two dozen articles by prominent economists, educators, journalists, sociologists and others, with recommendations for major national investments in economic development, employment, education, healthcare, housing and neighborhood investment. It also includes critical articles addressing crime prevention and criminal justice policy, and the need for effective messaging to engage the media, something the Kerner Commission failed to do fifty years ago. Clearly, given the current context, substantial investments are also needed to address the national opioid crisis and the challenge of global warming, and to rebuild the country’s infrastructure. This Eisenhower Foundation book is even more convincing and useful because it includes several evidence-based essays documenting what federal programs actually have worked, what ones haven’t, and why.
Where this book and most of the articles updating the Kerner Report fail is in not addressing our country’s exceptionally high level of military spending (roughly half of the Federal government’s discretionary spending) and factors in U.S. foreign policy that, since the end of World War II, have gotten our country into wars we later regret. Currently, U.S. military spending is higher than that of the next eight countries combined. Ironically, the Eisenhower Foundation book totally ignores President Eisenhower’s wise moral insight that, Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” President Trump and his new National Security Advisor John Bolton, who seems eager to get us into more wars, want to increase military spending and decrease spending on social needs.                      
            There is no use pretending: if we are serious about healing our divided society, as Martin Luther King prophetically declared, we need a revolution in our cultural values and a radical shift in our national priorities, away from violence and militarism to nonviolence and effective policies and programs to meet people’s real needs for living wage employment, housing, healthcare, and education. Recent mass marches led by women and young people, combined with voter registration campaigns, offer hope that our country can make the right critical choices

Thursday, March 1, 2018

“Just Kids” or Conscience of a Nation

“Just Kids” or Conscience of a Nation

Student survivors of the violent assault at the Parkland Florida High School that took seventeen lives are sad, frustrated, and angry. They took their protest for stricter gun control to the State Capital in Tallahassee and they’re inspiring popular protests by tens of thousands of youth and others across the country. The students are demanding universal background checks, banning assault weapons, like the AR-15, and raising the age for purchasing a gun to 21, all measures with substantial majority public support. They’re calling for a national protest on Saturday, March 24 and they’re warning politicians, many of whom face elections this year, not to cave-in to the NRA.

Many observers of the protests predict that youthful energies and enthusiasm will fade, and the protests will die down. After all, these are “just kids.” Some more critical conservative responses have alleged that the youth are being manipulated by adult anti-gun organizations. A particularly vicious response launched by an extreme rightwing radio talk show host and given a thumbs-up “like” from Donald Trump, Jr. accused one of the student protest leaders of being a “crisis actor” trained and played like a puppet by his former FBI agent dad.

What many commentators are failing to acknowledge is how many times, in how many countries over the past century, the world witnessed students and youth serving as the conscience of their nation and as the vanguard for major social change. It’s worth recalling a few of the many examples to appreciate the potential power of youth acting together based on their hopes for a better future, and on their bold belief and daring determination that they can help achieve it.

Watching the Olympics recently, I was reminded of how in 1960 in South Korea, facing brutal police violence, it was student protests that inspired broader mass popular protests which finally forced President Syngman Rhee, a corrupt, repressive dictator, to flee the country. Tapping into this same positive political, cultural vein, South Korea’s current President, Moon Jae-In, was elected on the back of waves of students protesting corruption. Moon believes in negotiating with the North and offers some hope that the two Koreas will find a way other than war to resolve their conflicts.

In South Africa, students and youth played a major role over four decades in the struggle to end Apartheid. While everyone knows the name of Nelson Mandela, many people may not remember how in 1976 high school students in Soweto organized a protest for a better educational system for blacks. Police responded with tear gas and bullets, killing 600 people. A year later, Steve Biko, one of the organizers of the Soweto protest, was arrested and died in police custody from severe brain damage, likely a result of police beatings. The Soweto story and continued action by students inspired worldwide anti-Apartheid protests. Nelson Mandela often is credited with inspiring the anti-Apartheid movement; and it is a fact when he was released in 1990, after spending 54 years in prison, Mandela led the movement and was elected South Africa’s first black president. It is equally true that the popular movement from below, especially the movement of South African students and youth, was responsible for inspiring and supporting Mandela..

The Arab Spring in 2010-11, sparked by the self-immolation of a young street vendor in Tunisia, was a wave of pro-democracy protests and uprisings against poverty, corruption, and repression in the Middle East and North Africa. In Egypt the uprising began on January 25, 2011 when diverse youth groups issued online calls via social media urging public protest against increasing police repression and brutality. The uprising consisted of demonstrations, marches, occupations of plazas, non-violent resistance, acts of civil disobedience and strikes. While tragically the Egyptian military eventually reimposed violent repressive rule, in the interim the Eygptian uprising forced the dictator Hosni Mubarak to resign and caused new free and fair elections to be held. A little-known story about the uprising is how The Montgomery Story comic book, originally published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1957, making the case for nonviolence, was translated into Arabic and thousands of copies distributed among Egyptian youth.

Reference to the Montgomery bus boycott reminds us of the major role played by students and youth in the American Civil Rights Movement and the Peace Movement to end the War in Vietnam. In Birmingham in 1963-64, both before and after the church bombing that killed four young girls attending Sunday School, thousands of black children and youth braved mass jailings and attacks from powerful fire hoses and police dogs. The dramatic events of the “Children’s Crusade” in Birmingham provided the context and impetus for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In March 1965, hundreds of black Selma high school students were joined by black and white college students from across the country, and Christian and Jewish clergy to march with Martin Luther King, Jr. for voting rights. Events in Selma, including the arrest of hundreds, beatings and killings of several young and older activists, and the successful Selma to Montgomery March led directly to President Johnson’s successful push for the Voting Rights Act and to his speech in which, taking a line from the movement’s anthem, the President famously declared, “And we shall overcome!”

Tragically, Johnson's commitments to civil rights, the War on Poverty and other socially beneficial programs were deeply undermined by decisions he made, despite not seeing any way of winning, to escalate the U.S. war in Vietnam.

As American doubts and debates about Vietnam heated-up, young people played a major role in building opposition to the war. The first large anti-war march on the nation’s capital was organized in April 1965 by Students for a Democratic Society, many of whose young leaders were already activist organizers in the Civil Right Movement. A few months later, inspired by Vietnamese Buddhist monks and student peace protests in Saigon, several young Americans publicly burned their Draft Cards, and a young Catholic seminarian, Roger LaPorte, immolated himself in front of the United Nations. Resistance to serving in the U.S. War in Vietnam grew, both as resistance to the draft and within the military in the form of soldiers seeking Conscientious Objector status, refusing to fight, going AWOL, or deserting, with some men escaping to Canada or Sweden. By Fall 1967, thousands of young men, many of them students who gave-up their privileged Student Deferments, turned in or burned their Draft Cards in large public protests as part of the “We Won’t Go” movement. In November 1969 500,000 people, most of them young, participated in the March on Washington for Peace in Vietnam. Another 250,000 participated in a parallel march in San Francisco. Thousands of high school and college students volunteered in nationwide summer door-to-door educational and organizing campaigns that eventually led Congress to stop funding the war.

Given the sad history of how little changed after mass murders at Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, at churches in Charlotte North Carolina and Sutherland Springs Texas, and at the music concert in Las Vegas, it would be a mistake to think making change this time will be easy or certain. It would be an even bigger mistake, however, to underestimate the potential power of activist young survivors of the Parkland Florida massacre tapping into and helping to mobilize substantial majority sentiment in support of stricter gun control. The Florida students’ demands - requiring universal background checks, banning assault weapons, and raising the age for purchasing a gun to 21 - are achievable.

I think people are fed-up with the NRA’s stranglehold blocking sensible gun control. Recent responses by many companies distancing themselves from the NRA, including the announcement by Dick’s Sporting Goods that they no longer will sell military assault-style weapons, are encouraging. People should demand that Bass Pro Shops and its subsidiary, Cabela’s, do the same. Joining our voices with the calls from the Florida student survivors, we can achieve change this time. Elections are coming later this year. We all should pledge not to vote for any candidate who won’t support stricter gun control.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

How Many Deaths Will It Take ‘Til Politicians Support Stricter Gun Control?

How Many Deaths Will It Take ‘Til  Politicians Support Stricter Gun Control?

In the wake of many mass murders in our country, including the latest in Florida that took the lives of 17 people and the apparent planned assault by a student here in Everett Washington prevented by a caring, courageous grandmother, finally, public opinion among both Democrats and Republicans, including NRA members and national police organizations, has shifted to where majorities support expansion of background checks and restrictions on purchase of assault weapons. The question is whether politicians will pay attention to people’s views and support sensible stricter laws or, as most politicians have done up until now, march in lock step to lobbying by the NRA.

The NRA wasn’t always a big-moneyed lobby and wasn’t always against restrictions on guns. Growing-up in New Jersey as a teenager in the 1950s, I joined the NRA and remember its major emphases were on teaching good marksmanship and gun safety. In the1930s, responding to the deadly use of machine guns by gangsters, the NRA supported restrictions adopted in the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act. Following the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Bobby Kennedy in 1968, the NRA worked with the White House and Congress to support extending and tightening gun control legislation.

It was during the 1970s, and dramatically in 1980 with its endorsement of Ronald Reagan for President, that the NRA reversed direction. Now, the NRA lobbies against any gun control measures and gives politicians grades which, combined with providing or withholding crucial campaign funds can determine if a candidate is elected or not. The conflict between growing majority popular support for some more controls and the NRA’s rigid opposition to any gun restrictions is dramatic and should be disturbing to all Americans who want to prevent violence and who believe in democracy.

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and NRA Public Communications director Dana Loesch rightly criticize Hollywood’s sick addiction to violence. While Hollywood provides culturally destructive inspiration for violence, by promoting massive gun sales and resisting even modest gun control measures, the NRA consistently contributes to more people possessing more and more weapons. Americans own more guns per capita than residents of any other country.

A few facts from reliable recent polls reveal how popular views have changed and how out-of-step the NRA is in relation to majority opinion among Americans. According to Gallup polls, just eight years ago the percent of Americans who believed laws controlling firearms should remain as they are was nearly equal to the percent who believed the laws should be made stricter. Today, almost twice as many Americans (60% to 33%) believe gun control laws should be stricter.

Polls in 2016-2017 by CBS, CNN, Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and Washington University in Missouri show that between 84% and 94% of American voters (Democrats and Republicans) support requiring background checks on all gun buyers. A Pew Research Center poll reveals that 79% of Republicans or Republican-leaning gun owners who are members of the NRA would support measures “preventing the mentally-ill from purchasing guns” and 72% support “barring gun purchases by people on no-fly or watch lists.” I assume similar or even greater numbers of NRA members would support keeping guns out of the hands of persons with serious criminal records.

A Pew poll in spring 2017 showed that majorities of both Democrats and Republicans supported banning assault-style weapons. While 80% of Democrats supported such a ban, sadly so far, while a majority, only 54% of Republicans supported a ban.

Appreciating how studies show that some stricter gun control laws can help protect police as well as the public, the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, which includes nine national law enforcement organizations, supports expanding required background checks. And seven of the nine national organizations, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCC), also support a “ban on new semi-automatic assault weapons.”

The NRA opposes all of these sensible restrictions on guns, and will work with big money to defeat candidates for office who support them

In the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, people should demand that every candidate for city, state or federal office declare support publicly for expanding background checks on all potential gun buyers and for banning purchase of assault weapons. Allowing the NRA to block these majority-supported sensible stricter gun control measures not only represents a threat to the lives of more innocent people, but also represents a threat to democracy.

Monday, January 22, 2018

“Friends” Like These Imperil Israel’s Survival

          President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his tweet that “we’ve taken Jerusalem off the table” clearly had more to do with keeping a promise to his billionaire donor Sheldon Adelson and to his and Vice President Pence’s evangelical Christian fundamentalist friends than it did with the Administration’s claim to be seeking a great peace agreement for Israelis and Palestinians. Trump’s moves on Jerusalem, taken together with his allies’ apparent support for the Israeli rightwing version of a “one-state solution” could doom chances for peace with the Palestinians and imperil Israel’s survival.
In the region, predictably, Israel’s Likud-led rightwing government welcomed Trump’s announcement, while Israeli supporters seeking peace with the Palestinians, including many senior retired Israeli military and security officials, opposed it. Trump’s move greatly angered Palestinian Muslims and Christians, as well as Saudi and other Arab leaders, on whom the Administration seems to be depending for support of its peace effort. 
At home, Trump’s politically motivated alliance with Adelson and Christian fundamentalists on moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem disregarded the views of most mainstream American Protestants, Roman Catholics, and the clear majority of American Jews. According to an American Jewish Committee poll earlier this year, only 16% of American Jews favored making this move immediately.  Both the pro-Israel/pro-peace national organization JStreet and the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish religious denomination, raised concerns about the wisdom and timing of Trump’s move.
            What appears to matter more than peace to the President is that Sheldon Adelson gave $25 million to his campaign for the Presidency and another $5 million to his inaugural events. It’s an open secret Adelson was feeling frustrated that, after almost a year in office, Trump had not yet fulfilled his promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It’s also widely known that, while Adelson sometimes is described as a “strong supporter of Israel,” his political leanings and loyalties in Israel are almost exclusively with the Likud and other rightwing Israeli factions that oppose a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Adelson has consistently been a loud supporter and source of funds for expanding Jewish settlements and for holding on to the Territories.
Even historically hawkish Israeli prime ministers have recognized that expanding settlements deeper into the West Bank and maintaining Israeli military control over all or large portions of the Occupied Territories would very likely make peace impossible. Both Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert broke away from Likud over their views of how keeping control of Gaza and the West Bank threatened the survival of Israel. Sharon withdrew Israeli forces from inside Gaza in 2005. In 2007, then Prime Minister Olmert publicly declared,If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished." Based on his view of the threat to Israel’s survival, in 2008, after multiple rounds of secret talks, Prime Minister Olmert offered a draft two-state peace agreement and Palestinian President Abbas came very close to accepting it.  Abbas declined to sign the draft because at the time Olmert was drowning in scandal, facing legal prosecution, and was about to resign from office. Reflecting progress, he and Olmert had made, President Abbas urged President Trump to restart negotiations based on that draft agreement. 
            If President Trump is serious about wanting to accomplish a great peace deal for Israelis and for Palestinians, and for important U.S. national security interests, it makes no sense at all for his Administration to align with Sheldon Adelson or with the fundamentalist, evangelical Christian leaders assembled as White House advisors. These leaders, who don’t speak for all evangelicals, arrogantly ignore the urgent pleas of Palestinian Christians; they support Israel largely based on arguable “end-times” theology, according to which Israel finally doesn’t survive; and they tend to understand “prophesy” in ways that promise the same eventual fate for Jews who don’t convert to Christianity as Christian anti-Semites have predicted over the centuries. In this view, Jews who don’t convert to Christianity go to Hell.
            What would make sense is that President Trump present a Framework for a two-state peace agreement to Israel and the Palestinians along the lines of that proposed by Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer (See Kurtzer, Parameters: Model Framework for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations) and, in coordination with the Quartet (U.S., E.U., Russia and the U.N. Secretary General), present the Framework to the U.N. Security Council for endorsement. That’s a plan of action for peace that I believe would evoke active, strong support from leaders and constituents of major American Jewish, Christian and Muslim national religious organizations, and majority public support among American Jews and Christian Evangelicals, especially among millennials whose views have changed, reflecting concern for Palestinians as well as for Israelis.
January 2018
Ron Young is Consultant with heads of twenty-five Jewish, Christian and Muslim national religious organizations that compose the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East (NILI). This commentary represents Ron’s personal views, not the views of NILI. Ron’s memoir, Crossing Boundaries in the Americas, Vietnam and the Middle East, was published in 2014. Ron lives in Everett, WA and can be contacted by e-mail at