Debating current affairs
Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Killed for singing... what are we coming to?

In our weird world, it's guns for mums and slaughter for a love-song band

In the 1970s, turning on the radio at most hours of the day or night exposed you to the risk of being assailed by the honeyed, all-American tones of Garner Ted Armstrong, a religious huckster whose show The World Tomorrow earned him a wide if short-lived international following.

(Armstrong's career trajectory resembled that of many of God's snake oil salesmen. Following a power struggle and amidst allegations of gambling and adultery, he was cast out by the cult's founder who happened to be his father.)

Armstrong had a folksy way of introducing his ruminations on the theme of how things were going to hell in a handcart: "Friends, I was raking leaves in the yard the other day and I found myself thinking 'what in the world are we coming to?"'

If he was still with us, Armstrong would be spoilt for choice in terms of baffling developments and bad omens.

This week for instance Zimbabwe's Finance Minister told journalists that some of them had healthier bank balances than the state. You know things are dicey when journalists are better off than the government, but how bad is bad? Well, Zimbabwe has $260 in the bank.

$260 doesn't go far these days. You could fly to Wellington to attend - as opposed to watch - the Sevens, but then you'd have to find the air fare home. (A suggestion: show up at Gareth Morgan's place with 52 dead cats.)

It seems Zimbabwe is skint because receipts for its diamonds are going into the pockets of President Robert Mugabe and his cronies, rather than the national coffers. A watchdog agency estimates the Zimbabwean kleptocrats have stolen $2.4 billion worth of diamonds, calling it "perhaps the biggest single plunder of diamonds the world has seen since Cecil Rhodes".

Mugabe, 88, has been in power for 32 years. The good news is that if a new draft constitution is adopted, he'll have to call it quits after two more five-year terms.

At least Zimbabwe's got something in the kitty. France, the country many would nominate as the most civilised on the planet, is now "totally bankrupt" according to its employment minister.

Under the heading "US gun debate no longer anchored in reality: if it wasn't so tragic, it would be funny," the Daily Telegraph chronicled what passes for serious debate at the Senate judiciary committee hearing on gun control.

The tragicomedy's star was lawyer Gayle Trotter who argued that banning assault weapons would severely disadvantage "vulnerable women facing three, four, five violent attackers with her children screaming in the background."

How so? Well, "the peace of mind that she has knowing she has a scary-looking gun gives her more courage."

Trotter provided no evidence to support this contention, nor did she speculate on Mrs Rambo's peace of mind if the violent attackers were also packing scary-looking heat. But at least she stopped short of calling for all screaming children to be issued with assault weapons.

While championing the cause of mothers who find themselves having to repel home invasions by gangs of criminal scum, Trotter is rather less concerned about the rather more common problem of domestic violence.

She adamantly opposes the Violence Against Women Act, designed to aid women who suffer domestic violence, on the grounds that it would "embolden false accusers who would take much-needed resources like shelters and legal aid".

A few centimetres from this story was another by the same correspondent headed "Barack Obama in line of fire as sceptics target his shooting claims." What's this, I wondered, has Obama been rumbled massaging statistics to bolster the case for tighter gun laws?

It turns out some people don't believe him when he says he does a bit of clay pigeon shooting because, well, it's the first they've heard of it. Luckily we can rely on the Telegraph not to trivialise this matter of life and death.

Meanwhile in news just in, a 16-year-old member of a high school band that performed at several Obama inauguration events has been shot dead. She and some friends were in a park taking shelter from the rain when a man started shooting at them. Police don't believe he specifically targeted the victim.

Despite America's plague of gun-related violence, neighbouring Mexico takes the cake for sheer grisliness.

This week's macabre footnote to the folly known as the War on Drugs was the kidnapping and execution of 14 members of the folk band Kombo Kolombia. Apparently it's not uncommon for musicians who perform songs glorifying a particular drug lord's exploits to be killed by henchmen of rival drug lords, but KK specialised in love songs.

What in the world are we coming to when people can be exterminated like stray cats for singing love songs?

- NZ Herald

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