Monday, September 12, 2016

Things We Lost On Tuesday

“America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country.  Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”

                                                                                    President George W. Bush        9.17.2001

Fifteen years. 

A lot can happen and change in fifteen years.

It’s been fifteen years since two planes ripped through the Twin Towers in New York, another slammed into the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. In a single day the face of our nation changed in ways that went beyond the gaping hole in the Manhattan skyline where the Twin Towers once stood.

Yesterday we again mourned what was lost - social media pages were filled with images and memes commemorating a day in American history that still gives everyone pause.  Ask anybody about the date and they will tell you where they were and what it means to them, and then share their experience - as if what happened is somehow about them and not about the people we lost in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.

In the days and weeks that followed the events on 9/11, Americans came together in shock and pain, and found comfort in our spirit and collective unity.  We mourned with dignity and decency – joined in pain, hurt, loss, and patriotism while determined to be as one….”indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  For the first time since grade school, Americans actually understood what those words meant.   We shared a common bond that transcended the inconsequential differences in skin color, language, where we worshipped, and who we chose to love. Political ideology became less important; working together for common goals was all that mattered. We put aside differences and focused on unifying our country and strengthening our ideals. The carefully measured words of our leaders mattered as we embraced ourselves and our values after the attack.

President Bush spoke of Islam and said, “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam.  That’s not what Islam is about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.   When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace. And that’s made brothers and sisters out of every race –out of every race.”

But fifteen years is a long time.

Words like the ones President Bush offered fade and disappear in fifteen years.

The America we live in now is one that is more fragmented than at any time in recent years.  Torn apart by differences in skin color and sexual orientation. Distrustful of other religions. Fearful of immigrants seeking a better life than the one left behind in war torn and oppressed countries. Instead of celebrating the election of an African-American to its highest office, we became a nation that questioned whether the president was actually a Christian or even an American.  We filled our political stage with candidates adept at name-calling and hate-mongering.  The Republican Party that openly embraces fear and loathing, is led by a presidential nominee, Donald Trump, who claims that he saw footage of thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the attack on 9/11, even though that never happened. The same nominee who wants to build a wall on our southern border and with few specifics on how to do it, force all immigrants to go through an "extreme vetting" that would attempt to establish whether applicants' beliefs match US values on gay rights, gender equality and religious freedoms. One of the tenets this nation was founded on (a republic – not a democracy-  in case anyone missed that in high school civics class) is freedom for all. We are a land of opportunity and a land that opens its doors to all who need freedom from persecution – there are no qualifiers about that. No gray areas.

As a nation, that’s not what we’re about. Except in the past fifteen years, that’s what we’ve become. So much for values and principles…..

We can’t agree on solutions to any of  the problems that face our country.  We haven’t fixed our schools. Too many families struggle with poverty, finding meaningful work, and putting food on the table. Inner cities are a mess and our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling.  We’re spending too much time hollering about Colin Kaepernick and not enough time talking about the issues he is protesting – as if there are only two sides to the debate and choosing one eliminates open discussion of the problems and possible solutions.

The America I value is the one where we start to look beyond our differences and work together. The one where the former President said, “This is a great country.  It’s a great country because we share the same values of respect and dignity and human worth.”

It’s sadly ironic that the people who scream loudest that “we will never forget” are in many ways the same ones who want to “take back our country.”  The ones who have forgotten the ties that brought us all together and the promises we made to work together to make this a better nation after the attacks.  To regain our values. To stand as one with respect and dignity for each other.  The same voices that want to take back our country seem loudest from the people who have divided more than they have unified in the past fifteen years.

What we lost on 9/11 goes deeper than the friends, relatives, neighbors, and strangers in the Towers, four planes, Pennsylvania field, and Pentagon. We lost the vision of what America should be.

Fifteen years.  A lot can change in fifteen years.  America could have been have been better than what we are now.

We need to be better.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Higher Ground

So once again it’s that time when I look at the calendar and realize  weeks/months/years have passed since I last vented and railed against the world…. For first timers, this is my periodic rant against injustice … think of it as a documented soul cleansing. 

I believe that reading, writing, and literacy are the foundations to success, and that not enough of us read.  Really read.  You need to read more. If you get all your news from one source – whether it is Fox News or the New York Times or the National Enquirer, you are hopelessly uninformed.   Read newspapers and magazines and learn to form well-rounded opinions based on facts – not thirty second sound bites picked up from Fox or NPR.  Because one source cannot possibly give you that complete and well-rounded basis to form an educated opinion anybody wants to hear or discuss.

I believe there is not enough accountability and personal responsibility in the world today. 

And that there is a lack of reasonable, intelligent political debate and conversation.  I’m not sure when everything changed and compromise went out the window, but it’s hard to have faith in either political party or the direction our country is going when they are unable to work towards common goals. Maybe part of the problem is that people are not reading enough to form educated opinions required of politicians.

If you support a candidate who is a bigot – especially one who is a misogynistic racist preaching hate under the banner of “making America great again”, than most likely you are a bigot too.  We need leaders who unite- not divide.  I cannot support any candidate who is consumed with hate and neither should you.  We are better than that.  America is better than that.  We don’t need to take back America because it’s still here – moving forward, evolving, and changing.  If you believe we need to take back America, you need to explain where exactly it’s gone and what those words “take back America” really mean.  Immigrants aren’t the enemy – we are a nation of immigrants.  

The Founding Fathers knew this when they wrote the Constitution and it is one of the cornerstones of who we are as a nation (check out the words inscribed on that cool green statue the French gave us – the one that sits in the middle of New York Harbor and welcomes “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”).  The Constitution protects all persons from governmental deprivation of life, liberty and property without due process.  And if you want to argue that the Founding Fathers could not have foreseen terrorists hiding as immigrants so that changes everything, then you can’t argue that your 2nd Amendment rights are protected by the Constitution because a “well-regulated militia” trumps the intent those same Founding Fathers had when they wrote that passage. You can’t have it both ways. 

And by the way, stop being scared of American Muslims. The guy who is pissed off because the Starbucks barista got his double mocha cappuccino wrong or the road-rage fueled driver who cut you off on the way to work are more of a threat than any American Muslim.   American Christians are not under attack either. Nobody is persecuting Christians and nobody is trying to take away your Bible (83% of Americans identify themselves as Christian –tough persecuting any group with that kind of majority).  Stop whining that Christians are being persecuted because it makes you sound stupid. And uninformed.

If you want to connect religious fanaticism to terrorists, start with Christians.  White Christian males kill people will alarming frequency in this country – more than Muslims and Jews do.  That is a fact. You can read more right here

Speaking of facts... there actually is a difference between facts, opinions and propaganda. People need to learn the difference.

Another fact: Domestic Violence is a national health crisis. It affects people across all races, religions, and income levels in ways that are seen and unseen.  If you don’t understand that, you need to read more about it.  It’s a scary topic and although many of your friends would rather not see posts about it on Facebook because pictures of kitten are safer and less threatening, you need to put it in their faces and make them deal with it.  No problems are ever solved by ignoring them.

Same with sexual violence. If you’re a parent, start by teaching your sons not to rape. And to respect women.

And speaking of Facebook, stop sharing Facebook memes that tell me to share/like a Jesus post or else Jesus won’t bless me or answer my prayers or start my car on a cold winter morning.   That’s not how prayer works. God and Jesus don’t log onto Facebook or Twitter or Instagram to check the prayer registry.  Maybe while you’re reading, you can add the Bible to your reading list.

And stop trotting out Bible passages to support inane arguments- especially when you take them out of context.  Because in the same book of the Bible that right-wing religious conservatives use to support bullshit anti-gay agendas is a passage about stoning to death unruly children.  If you believe in Jesus and have spent more than fifteen minutes in church or Sunday school, you should know that he would have embraced gays, the poor, etc.  

Gay people aren’t the enemy and neither are transsexuals, no matter how you want to interpret the Bible.  

Guns kill people. That’s what they are designed to do. But it is possible to maintain 2nd Amendment rights with reasonable gun control laws – background checks, banning semi-automatic weapons, etc- if we are willing to not only use some common sense, but stand up to the NRA and do what’s right for everyone. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (which includes safety in my house, my neighborhood, and the places I shop) is not superceded by someone elses right to own a semi-automatic.

That’s all for now. 

Thank you for taking the time to stop by.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Dropping And Screaming

“….We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. To actively do nothing is a decision as well.”
                                                                                  President Barack Obama

This was going to be about former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner and his six month slap-on-the-wrist sentence in a county jail for brutally raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. In case you missed it, his crime, and the sentence imposed by a California judge, have become a flashpoint for a widespread discussion about rape culture in the US. More importantly, this post was going to be about the strength and courage of Turner's victim and the blunt, powerful letter she wrote – a letter that sparked compassion for her and outrage at a criminal justice system and society that continues to perpetuate violence against women.  

But then we woke up Sunday to the news about the shooting at Pulse.

A guy named Omar Mateen walked into a gay nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning and opened fire, killing 49 people and injuring 53 others in the worst terror shooting in U.S. history before being killed by a SWAT team.  Another mass shooting.  Another mass shooting where the killer used an assault weapon. Like Newtown, Connecticut. San Bernardino. Aurora, Colorado. The same kind of gun prohibited under the 1994 federal assault weapons ban that was allowed to expire in 2004, following ferocious lobbying by the National Rifle Association.

The reality of life in this country is that none of us are safe any longer.  Not at school.  Not at a nightclub or a multiplex.  Not walking on the street. Not in houses of worship or in the comfort of our own homes. Doesn’t matter if we are straight or gay. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Agnostic. Black, white, or brown.  Hate creates its own targets. Each year 12,000 people lose their lives to gun violence – over 30 people every day.  Although the right to bear arms is protected by the Second Amendment and has been upheld by the Supreme Court, our Founding Fathers never could have imagined the need for assault weapons when they carved out the Bill of Rights – certainly not a semiautomatic AR-15 that can fire a large number of rounds in a very short amount of time, about as fast as a shooter can aim and pull the trigger.

We can argue and debate the practicality and semantics of the Second Amendment, but there is no reason for anyone outside of the military or law enforcement to own a gun like the AR-15 which was used in Orlando.

Absolutely no reason.

And there is no reason why we as a nation don't stand up to the National Rifle Association and their friends in Congress and ban assault weapons and semi-automatic weapons. Not just bar them from future sales, but outlaw them completely among citizens.  You want gun control - start there.

A few years ago –after the shootings in the Aurora Colorado multiplex, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said that we shouldn’t rush to judgment.  That we needed to wait and mourn and reflect. Let more time pass. But if now is not the time to push for stronger gun laws, especially those that outlaw assault weapons, when exactly is the right time? Nothing happened after Columbine. Or the shootings at Virginia Tech. Or Fort Hood. Or Sandy Hook Elementary. Christie had a chance to make a difference but he is the same governor who vetoed a 50-caliber rifle ban, a reduction in magazine capacity from fifteen to ten, and statewide ID’s for gun owners. And did anybody complain that we rushed to judgment after 9/11 when lawmakers acted quickly with new legislation and took actions that eroded privacy, eliminated due process in some cases, allowed racial profiling (or looked the other way), and took intrusive steps that limited our freedoms?  I cannot walk through airport security without taking off my shoes, emptying coins, keys, and cell phones from my pockets, and partially disrobing to my boxer shorts, but I can buy a semi-automatic weapon and all the ammo I need without more than a cursory background check.

Because somebody's half-assed interpretation of the Constitution says I can have one...and because the gun lobby and the NRA-loving Congress say it's okay?  Because the blood-sucking scum that is the NRA's leadership will have you believe that every citizen should be armed to defend ourselves at the first sign of trouble - pulling out Glocks and  Smith and Wessons and blasting bad guys like Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral.  Because that same Congress and the NRA continue telling the same tired lie we hear every time there is another mass shooting - the one that says reasonable people, whether they are gun owners or not, who want to see some kind of sanity and common sense gun regulations are somehow taking a stand against liberty.

For the 16th time in less than eight years, the president addressed the nation on the issue of mass murder of its citizens by gunfire:  And once again the usual "our thoughts and prayers are with the families" statements and tweets poured out from public figures immediately after the shooting - two politicians who have been outspoken opponents of gun reform in recent years, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Florida Governor Rick Scott were quick to respond to the tragedy on social media.

Rick Scott:
My prayers are with the victims' families & all those affected by the shooting in Orlando.  We will devote every resource available to assist

  Donald Trump:
Horrific incident in FL. Praying for all the victims & their families. When will this stop? When will we get tough, smart & vigilant?

Ironically, the National Rifle Association, which opposes any gun reform and is a bigger threat to national security than ISIS ever was, endorsed Trump for president on May 20.  The group also endorsed Scott for governor in both 2010 and 2014.  The NRA had nothing to say about the shooting.  Couldn't even work up the compassion to offer their own thoughts and prayers. The victims of the Orlando massacre and their families deserve everyone's prayers, but it's time for elected officials to take responsibility for the votes they cast, the actions they take, and the views of the organizations that fund them.  Especially when those votes, views, and actions allow people to legally purchase weapons that cause as much carnage as the Orlando massacre.  It's time to do more than pray for victims and their families - we need to do more than mourn and reflect and wait.  We need to take concrete steps towards making gun control happen, and the first steps starts with banning semi-automatic weapons and assault weapons.

If the politicians in Washington won't take action - if they won't stop reaching into the NRA's pockets and start voting for the best interests of this country and ALL its citizens - then it's time to vote them out and elect leaders who will.  We have been following the NRA's blueprint for years and gun violence - especially mass shootings - has increased and members of Congress seem fine with actively doing nothing, no matter how many people die.