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What happens after a mass shooting in America? Another mass shooting

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

Ten people, including a police officer, were killed in yet another mass shooting at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, last Monday, less than a week after the Atlanta massacre. Ten people, ordinary folks, young and old, getting their prescriptions filled or grocery shopping, just everyday tasks, ending in gruesome death.

The weapon used by the suspect in the shooting, 21-year old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, was a Ruger AR-556 assault rifle. He was arrested wearing no shirt and shoes, and was shot in his leg at the time of arrest. Police have not as yet offered a motive, but Alissa’s brother said that he was suffering from mental illness.

Alissa, a long-time resident of a Denver suburb, has been charged with 10 counts of murder. He was ordered by court to be held without bail pending a mental evaluation.

President Biden was devastated by the shooting, which he described was not a bipartisan problem, but an American problem. He expressed his deep sympathy for the families of the Boulder shootings, and assured them that sensible gun control laws will be enforced in the near future. A boilerplate statement made in the past by every president after a mass shooting. Followed, of course, by thoughts and prayers, but no other action.

The mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado was preceded by a mass murder in Atlanta, Georgia two weeks ago. Eight people were murdered in three separate attacks in Atlanta-area spas. The killer was a 21-year-old white man, Robert A. Long, his weapon of choice was an AR-15 assault rifle.

Among the dead in Atlanta were six Asian women, raising obvious suspicions of a hate crime. However, despite evidence staring them in the face, Cherokee County police officials stated that “it was too early to determine whether he’ll be charged with a hate crime”. They said that Long, who has confessed to the crimes, was a “sex addict who patronized these establishments”, and was “motivated by a sexual addiction at odds with his religious beliefs”. They also said, and I kid you not, that he was “having a bad day”.

Just a poor white, religiously confused kid who likes sex and was probably suffering from a hangover.

Both the Boulder and Atlanta shooters, Alissa and Long, are alleged to be mentally sick, and purchased assault rifles within a week before the shootings. Long purchased his weapon on the very same day of the shooting, Alissa six days before.

Three of the main demands of proponents of gun reform, reiterated by President Biden last Tuesday – a ban on assault rifles, universal background checks and a waiting period after purchase – would probably have prevented both shootings, had these reforms been in force. Reforms which have the support of over 80% of the American population.

President Biden and Vice President Harris visited Atlanta in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Their messages to the families of the victims and to everyone in the nation mourning yet another senseless mass shooting were full of compassion, empathy and hope. The same aforementioned thoughts and prayers.

The American Constitution, drafted in the late 18th century, was designed to protect the rights of white men who had lost the privilege of owning slaves to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. The time to amend this famous though somewhat obsolete document, redefined to reflect and safeguard the rights of all Americans, is past due. In an earlier essay, I pinpointed some of the more obvious flaws in the US Constitution: the antiquated Electoral College, the dangerously long 11-week transition period of the Lame Duck presidency, and the imbalance of representation in Congress. But I left out its most dangerously and fraudulently misinterpreted section – the Second Amendment.

The Second Amendment states: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”.

The arms then under reference were muskets, not the military-style killing machines in vogue today. The Amendment was ratified in December 1791, to ensure that a well-regulated militia was necessary as “armed citizens will keep the government honest”, that a federal government will not attempt to take control over an individual state as long as its people were armed. An era when the 13 original states (colonies) sought to maintain their individual rights and freedoms.

Chief Justice Warren Burger said in a 1991 interview that the Second Amendment “has been has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public”. He said that the “right to bear arms belongs to the states”, and not to individual citizens. The Second Amendment guarantees a state’s right to be armed with a well-regulated militia like, for example, today’s National Guard.

Burger attacked the National Rifle Association (NRA) for fostering the opposite view, that the Amendment guaranteed an individual citizen’s right to bear arms, to enable its members – the defense contractors and the gun manufacturers – to carry on a massive fraud on the American public and government.

An armed citizenry will prove no match against well-regulated state and federal forces in the event of a rebellion, as was conclusively proved on January 6, when armed thugs of the radical right, hardly a well-regulated militia, attempted to overturn a democratic election by force.

Mass murder is fast becoming the solution to any racial, political or psychological problem, a national sport sponsored by the NRA, the Republican Party and “Originalists” – a breed of constitutionalists who believe in the words of the American Constitution in their original and literal form, with no consideration to the fact that the nation’s environmental, racial, political, economic and social circumstances have changed beyond recognition since the late 18th century.

President Bill Clinton did enforce a 10-year ban on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines in 1994, after a spate of mass shootings in California and Texas, between 1991 and 1993 left 65 dead and 58 wounded. Mass shootings fell by 43% between 1994 and 2004, when the sunset provision of the ban expired in 2004.

Republican President George Bush refused to renew the ban in 2004, complying with the instructions of the controllers and paymasters of the Republican Party, the all-powerful NRA. Mass shootings surged by 239% after the ban was lifted, culminating in the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting at Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, when a 20-year old white man armed with a military-style assault rifle shot and killed 26, including six teachers and 20 children of six and seven years.

President Obama’s efforts to impose reasonable gun control measures after the Newtown shooting, reforms the Democratic Party had been calling for since the ban on assault rifles was lifted by Bush, were blocked by the majority Republican Senate, on instructions of the NRA.

The current pro-gun lobby arguments are that guns are required for one of America’s favorite “sports”, the hunting and killing of defenseless animals for fun, not for sustenance; and for self-defense, especially for those living in rural areas. Military-style weapons are not the answer to either of these endeavors.

These killing machines have become “the symbol, the embodiment of core American values – freedom, might, self-reliance”. A love affair that claims more than 35,000 lives every year. And highlights the insecurities and shortcomings (pun intended) of some Americans.

The NRA has purchased members of Congress, mostly Republican lawmakers, to vote against any action designed to limit the sale of all types of arms and ammunition. To anyone.

As the sadly accurate joke goes, the only thing easier to buy in America than a gun is a Republican Senator!

The constitutional misinterpretation by these “Originalists” of the terms of Second Amendment, the Separation of Church and State and other outdated clauses is responsible for the greatest threats facing America today – the trifecta of the plagues of organized religion, domestic terrorism (aka white racism) and gun violence. Continuing and escalating dangers that make the Covid 19 virus look like a mild attack of the common cold.

Like universal health care and free education, America, the self-confessed richest and most powerful country in the world, also lacks gun control regulations enforced in every other developed country. Laws which have succeeded in those countries keeping gun violence to a fraction of shootings per capita compared to the numbers in the USA.

Australian firearm policies had remained unchanged for decades, until a spate of mass murders in the 1990s culminated when a gunman opened fire at the Port Arthur National Site in Tasmania, killing 35 people in 1996. Australia’s conservative Prime Minster, John Howard, immediately delivered nationwide, bipartisan gun law reform. By January 1997, all eight state and territory governments had completed a mandatory buyback or confiscation of over 650,000 (in a population at the time of 18 million) specified firearms. In the 15 years prior to these reforms, Australia had endured 14 mass shootings in which a total of 126 people died. In the 20 years that have followed, there have been no mass shootings recorded.

New Zealand provided an even more compelling reason for gun reform. A white supremacist killed 51 and wounded 40 Muslims at prayer in two Christchurch mosques in 2019. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern immediately announced a total ban of all semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles. The new laws went into effect on April 11, 2019, a record 26 days after the shooting. Prime Minister Ardern said, “Our history changed forever, now our laws will too”. There have been no mass shootings in New Zealand since the new legislation has been in force.

Both Australia and New Zealand have strong gun lobbies, which were outflanked and outwitted by both popular demand and strong, compassionate leadership.

Such drastic regulations will be impossible to enforce in the United States. A nation that forms 4% (326,474,000) of the world’s population, but has 40% (393,347,000) of civilian firearms. An average of 1.2 guns in the hands of every man, woman and child.

President Biden held his first press conference since his inauguration on Thursday, March 25. With a calm demeanor, he said that he was working on the main crises he faced on taking office, the pandemic and the economy. He said he was ahead of his aim of achieving 200 million Americans to be vaccinated before his 100 days are up, which will revive the economy and get the kids back in school by the Fall. His next priority will be his multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure bill.

The other matters awaiting urgent action, including gun control after the two recent shootings in Colorado and Georgia; immigration reform and the humanitarian crisis at the Southern border; the elimination of the filibuster, which President Obama described as a relic of the Jim Crow apartheid era, the abuse of which serves only to block progressive legislation by the minority Republicans; will be dealt with by Congress while he was concentrating on his main priorities of the pandemic, the economy and infrastructure.

It was disappointing that Biden did not see the necessity for immediate action on gun reform, which he had earlier indicated would be one of his top priorities. After the Boulder shooting, he said that he would enforce basic reforms, notably universal background checks, a reasonable waiting period after purchase and a total ban of military-style assault rifles, if not by legislation, then by Executive Order. Legislation which has once again been pushed to the back burner.

Could a nation which saw the slaughter of 20 precious little children in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, and still failed to enforce gun control, be moved to remedial action by any mass shooting at all? Almost certainly, deplorably not. The NRA and the bought and paid for politicians of the Republican Party will not permit the enforcement of even basic reforms, not anytime soon. Gun reform will continue to stagnate as a fervent but forlorn hope.

There will be messages of heartfelt grief and eternal love, with beautiful wreaths of flowers placed at the killing scene in memory of those murdered. An outpouring of national thoughts and prayers, an avalanche of hearts going out to the families of the victims.

And little else, till the next shooting.



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Foreign policy dilemmas increase for the big and small

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‘No responsible American President can remain silent when basic human rights are violated.’ This pronouncement by US President Joe Biden should be interpreted as meaning that the supporting of human rights everywhere will be a fundamental focus of US foreign policy. Accordingly, not only the cause of the Armenians of old but the situation of the Muslim Uyghurs of China will be principal concerns for the Biden administration.

However, the challenge before the US would be take this policy stance to its logical conclusion. For example, the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was one of the most heinous crimes to be committed by a state in recent times but what does the Biden administration intend to do by way of ensuring that the criminals and collaborators of the crime are brought to justice? In other words, how tough will the US get with the Saudi rulers?

Likewise, what course of action would the US take to alleviate the alleged repression being meted out to the Uyghurs of China? How does it intend to take the Chinese state to task? Equally importantly, what will the US do to make light the lot of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny? These are among the most urgent posers facing the US in the global human rights context.

Worse dilemmas await the US in Africa. Reports indicate that that the IS and the Taliban have begun to infiltrate West Africa in a major way, since they have been compelled to vacate the Middle East, specially Syria and Iraq. West African countries, such as, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Mauritania are already facing the IS/Taliban blight. The latter or their proxies are in the process heaping horrendous suffering on the civilian populations concerned. How is the US intending to alleviate the cruelties being visited on these population groups. Their rights are of the first importance. If the US intends to project itself as a defender of rights everywhere, what policy program does it have in store for Africa in this connection?

It does not follow from the foregoing that issues of a kindred kind would not be confronting the US in other continents. For example, not all is well in Asia in the rights context. With the possible exception of India, very serious problems relating to democratic development bedevil most Asian states, including, of course, Sri Lanka. The task before any country laying claims to democratic credentials is to further the rights of its citizens while ensuring that they are recipients of equitable growth. As a foremost champion of fundamental rights globally, it would be up to the US to help foster democratic development in the countries concerned. And it would need to do so with an even hand. It cannot be selective in this undertaking of the first importance.

The US would also from now on need to think long and deep before involving itself militarily in a conflict-ridden Southern country. Right now it is up against a policy dilemma in Afghanistan. It is in the process of pulling out of the country after 20 years but it is leaving behind a country with veritably no future. It is leaving Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban once again and the commentator is right in saying that the US did not achieve much by way of bringing relief to the Afghan people.

However, the Biden administration has done somewhat well in other areas of state concern by launching a $1.9 trillion national economic and social resuscitation program, which, if effectively implemented could help the US people in a major way. The administration is also living up to the people’s hopes by getting under way an anti-Covid-19 vaccination program for senior US citizens. These ventures smack of social democracy to a degree.

The smaller countries of South Asia in particular ought to be facing their fair share of foreign policy quandaries in the wake of some of these developments. India, the number one power of the region, is in the throes of a major health crisis deriving from the pandemic but it is expected to rebound economically in an exceptional way and dominate the regional economic landscape sooner rather than later.

For example, the ADB predicts India will recover from an 8% contraction in fiscal 2020 and grow by 11% and 7% this year and next year. South Asia is expected to experience a 9.5% overall economic expansion this year but it is India that will be the chief contributor to this growth. A major factor in India’s economic fortunes will be the US’ stimulus package that will make available to India a major export market.

For the smaller states of South Asia, such as Sri Lanka, the above situation poses major foreign policy implications. While conducting cordial and fruitful relations with China is of major importance for them, they would need to ensure that their relations with India remain unruffled. This is on account of their dependence on India in a number of areas of national importance. Since India is the predominant economic power in the region, these smaller states would do well to ensure that their economic links with India continue without interruption. In fact, they may need to upgrade their economic ties with India, considering the huge economic presence of the latter. A pragmatic foreign policy is called for since our biggest neighbour’s presence just cannot be ignored.

The Sri Lankan state has reiterated its commitment to an ‘independent foreign policy’ and this is the way to go but Sri Lanka would be committing a major policy mistake by tying itself to China too closely in the military field. This would send ‘the wrong signal’ to India which is likely to be highly sensitive to the goings-on in its neighbourhood which, for it, have major security implications. A pragmatic course is best.

In terms of pragmatism, the Maldives are forging ahead, may be, in a more exceptional manner than her neighbours. Recently, she forged closer security cooperation with the US and for the Maldives this was the right way to go because the move served her national interest. And for any state, the national interest ought to be of supreme importance.

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A Sri Lankan centre for infective disease control and prevention

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The need of the hour:

BY Dr B. J. C. Perera

MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)

Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

On 01st July 1946, the Communicable Disease Center (CDC) of the United States of America opened its doors and occupied one floor of a small building in Atlanta, Georgia. Its primary mission was simple, yet highly challenging. It was to prevent malaria from spreading across the nation. Armed with a budget of only 10 million US dollars, and fewer than 400 employees, the agency’s early tasks included obtaining enough trucks, sprayers, and shovels necessary to wage war on mosquitoes.

It later advanced, slightly changed its name, and transformed itself into the much-acclaimed and reputed Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It became a unique agency with an exceptional mission. They work 24/7 to protect the safety, health and security of America from threats there and around the world. Highest standards of science are maintained in this institution. CDC is the nation’s leading science-based, data-driven, service organization that protects the public’s health. For more than 70 years, they have put science into action to help children stay healthy so they can grow and learn, to help families, businesses, and communities fight disease and stay strong and to protect the health of the general public. Their are a bold promise to the nation, and even the world. With this strategic framework, CDC commits to save American lives by securing global health and America’s preparedness, eliminating disease, and ending epidemics. In a landmark move, the CDC even established a Central Asia regional office at the U.S. Consulate in Kazakhstan in 1995 and have been involved in public health initiatives in that region.

More recently, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), was established. It is an agency of the European Union, aimed at strengthening Europe’s defences against infectious diseases. The core functions cover a wide spectrum of activities such as surveillance, epidemic intelligence, response, scientific advice, microbiology, preparedness, public health training, international relations, health communication, and the scientific journal Eurosurveillance.

Still later on, the African CDC (ACDC) was born. It strengthens the capacity and capability of Africa’s public health institutions, as well as partnerships, to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks, based on data-driven interventions and programmes.

All these organisations are autonomous, independent, and are confidently dedicated to hold science to be sacred. They play a major role in advocacy and work in a committed advisory capacity. With the cataclysmic effects of the current coronavirus pandemic COVID-19, the contributions made by these institutions are priceless. What is quite important is that they are able to provide specific recommendations based on the latest scientific information available for countries and nations in their regions, even taking into account the many considerations that are explicit and even unique to their regions. All these organisations have been provided with optimal facilities and human resources. The real value of their contribution is related to just one phenomenon: AUTONOMY.

Well…, isn’t it the time for us to start a Sri Lankan Centre for Infective Disease Control and Prevention (SLCIDC)? It should be formulated as an agency constantly striving, day in and day out, to safeguard the health of the public. Science and unbending commitment to evaluation of research on a given topic should be their operating mantra. It would work as a completely apolitical organisation and what we can recommend is that it would be directly under the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, unswervingly reporting to and accountable to the President. It would consist of medical doctors, scientists and researchers but no politicians of any sort, no non-medical or non-scientist persons, no hangers on and no business persons. All appointments to the SLCIDC will be made by the President of the country, perhaps in consultation with medical professional organisations.

The prime duty of the SLCIDC would be to assess the on-going situation of any infective issue that has any effect on the health of the public. The organisation will undertake in-depth examination and assessment of a given situation caused by an infective organism. They need to have all relevant data from within the country as well as from outside the country. There will not be any vacillation of the opinions expressed by them and their considered views should not be coloured by any consideration apart from science and research done locally and worldwide. Their considered opinion would be conveyed directly to the President of the country. They are free to issue statements to keep the public informed about the results of their deliberations.

We believe that it would be a step in the right direction; perhaps even a giant step for our nation, not only during the current coronavirus pandemic but also on any major problems of an infective nature that might occur in the future.

 

This writer wishes to acknowledge a colleague, a Consultant Physician, who first mooted this idea during a friendly conversation.

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Kudurai Madiri Pona

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The big jumbo has come from the French land and as the French themselves say it is ‘annus mirabillis’ the miracle year, finally, and finally the wait is over. The world will now see the Big- Bus that we all waited for so long to see. As the years roll by, none would talk of delays regarding the delays on delivery dates and how late the bird flew in. These would be like words written on a blackboard, erased forever. But the aeroplane will grace the sky and, perhaps rewrite all the records of commercial aviation when the mega-miracle A380 dominates the international air-routes.

Singapore Airlines went into the record books as the launch customer. Some of my old friends from SIA would fly the A380. Perhaps, Luke would, too, and this story is about him. Luke of yesteryear and how he first flew as a cadet and how young Luke and I went romping the skies in our own special way, writing a few new lines in the flight training manual.

Luke was from Johor Baru, in Malaysia. His roots were in South India where years ago his grandfather had done a Robinson Crusoe and ended up in the Malayan Peninsula. Luke was named after one of the four Gospel scribes. Luke really isn’t his name. It is a pseudonym, I use just to give him some anonymity. Not much protection, but one is to three are playable odds. Like in Rumple stiltskin the manikin, you are welcome to guess the name.

We first flew to Seoul. He, straight out of flying College, and yours truly, as old as the hills, driving the ‘Jumbo’ classic, the lovable 747. The first thing I noticed about him was his socks, black and white diamond shapes, a mini version of the flags they swing at Grand Prix finals – if Luke swung his feet, a Ferrari would pass underneath. That we sorted out the first day itself. In Seoul,he went shopping and the next day he was Zorro, waist to toe, black as a crow.

His flying credentials were all there, somewhat mixed up between what they teach in modern flying schools and how to apply the ‘ivory tower’ jargon to cope with the big 747. As for raw handling of the aeroplane, all his skills were intact, only they were in bits and pieces and spread in places like an Irida Pola (Sunday Fair). They had to be streamlined, the wet market needed to be modified to a ‘Seven-Eleven’ – that was my job.

The next round we went flying to Europe, his first run to the unknown, like Gagarin in his Sputnik, young Luke flew to Rome. The flying was same as before, a bit mixed up amidst the hundreds of aero dynamical paraphernalia that spelled out from the encyclopaedic collection of books that he had to study.

That’s when I decided to change the tide.

‘Luke my friend,” I said to him in a fatherly fashion.

‘You and I are from similar fields, you from Kerala and me from Sri Lanka. These Min Drag Curves and VFEs and WAT limits and VLEs are too much for us. Just remember when you pull the stick back, the houses will become smaller and when you push the stick down, the houses will become bigger, that’s climbing and descending this monster,” I explained the simple theory of flight.

“As for landing my friend, Kudurai Madiri Pona, just ride it like a horse.”

That was it. We flew, over Europe and he flew like a Trojan, bravely battling the weather and the overcrowded skies. Every time he came in to land it was pure and simple Kudurai Madiri Pona and the big jumbo responded and touched down on the concrete as smooth as a honeymoon lover.

On the way back, we flew via Colombo, that’s my home ground. I requested the radar controller to give Luke a very short ‘four-mile’ final. They know me well here and the controller said “No problem, Captain.”

I was depicting what we did in the Old Hong Kong Airport or what we do in the Canarsi Approach in New York; both, most demanding. A ‘four-mile’ final is a challenge for anyone. I was throwing him in at the deep end and I had no doubt Luke could manage. He came in tight and right, like Hopalong Cassidy and rode the horse straight and beautiful to do a perfect landing. Gone was the Kampong kid and his ‘Irida Pola’ flying, this was Takashimaya and Robinsons rolled into one, everything was in place, nice and shining and professional to the tee.

That was our little story, Luke the ‘jockey’ and me. Sometimes in the field of training, the script needs a little changing. New acts to be introduced to suit the stage. That is the essence of teaching, different hurdles for different horses. It wasn’t for Luke to learn what I knew, more so, it was for me to know who he was and what he could cope with. That part was difficult to find in the flying training manual, and so was Kudurai Madiri Pona.

The world has gotten older and young Luke now wears four stripes and flies in command of Boeing Triple Sevens, fly-by-wire and multiple computers. I met him a few times, flew as his passenger, too, with great pride. “Captain Luke is in command,” the stewardess announced, and silently and gratefully I said, ‘Amen’.

I saw him walking down the aisle, looking for me. Same old Luke in his flat and uncombed Julius Ceaser hairstyle. He came to my seat and grinned and shook my hand and lightly lifted his trouser leg and said,

“Captain, the socks are black and it is still Kudurai Madiri Pona.

I am sure Luke will fly in command of the gigantic A380 one day. That’s a certainty. It would be the zenith for any pilot. Luke is ready, that I know. He is competent, polished and professional and will wear socks as black as midnight. It’s nice that he remembers his beginnings. That’s what flying is all about, that’s what life is all about.

Kudurai Madiri Pona

– ride it like a horse. Some flying lesson.

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