On Promises …

What is a promise and how important is it?  I rarely make promises … never, unless I am reasonably certain that, barring any unforeseen catastrophic event, I will be able to keep that promise.  Because I live by this standard, my family & friends know that a promise from me has value, is not an empty promise.  A promise, to me, is a symbol of my honour, of my word.  To break a promise is a breach of trust, and trust is important to me.  I find that trust is one of those things that has a very tenuous thread, and once broken, is never fully restored.

With that said, however, promises ought to be right and just.  If I promise Miss Goose that from now on, every meal will consist only of sweet treats, it is a foolish promise, I am a fool for making it, and she is the bigger fool for believing it.  It would be a promise to harm her, as it were, to make her less healthy.  It is what I think of as a negative promise, one that does harm … in other words, a threat.

On the campaign trail from June 2015 to present, Donald Trump made a number of promises to his Kool-Aid-drinking minions.  He promised to build a wall to keep out immigrants on the southern U.S.-Mexican border.  He promised immigration reform and to keep out Muslims.  He promised to undo basically everything that President Obama had done – good, bad or neutral.  He promised to undo the non-existent “war on coal” and bring back jobs in the coal mining industry.  Let’s take a closer look at a couple of Trump’s more egregious promises, or threats, as it were, see where they stand and assess whether they have helped or harmed the nation.

One of the first ones that comes to my mind is his ‘promise’ to repeal ACA, commonly referred to as ‘Obamacare’.  I’d just like to point out that little word ‘care’ in there.  Well, Trump was unsuccessful, thanks to Senators John McCain, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins.  However, he has chinked away at ACA by way of executive order, to the point that by the end of this year, there will be several million people without insurance, without access to affordable health care — people who were covered before Trump took office.  The latest assault on ACA came just two days ago, when Trump ordered the halting of billions of dollars of payments designed to help insurers meet the Affordable Care Act requirement that they provide coverage regardless of whether a person is healthy or sick.

Insurers say this move will result in higher premiums for millions of people.  For most of those millions of people, higher premiums mean they will have no choice but to drop their insurance.  It will also lead to insurance companies refusing customers who have pre-existing conditions, else setting the premiums out of reach to such individuals.  Why?  Because Donald Trump made a promise to his base.  Now, never mind that his base will be negatively affected by his keeping of this particular promise as much as any of us.  Frankly, sorry folks, I don’t want to sound cruel, but I will choke on my coffee as I laugh uproariously when I hear the first republican whine and wheedle about not being able to afford her medicine, or having to pay $300 just to see her primary care physician!  ‘Welcome to my world’, I will say!

Let’s talk taxes, shall we?

Trump made a number of tax-related promise/threats.  The first was that he would cut corporate income taxes from 35% to 15%.  Well, he failed in that promise and was only able to cut them down to 21% … do I hear an “awwwwww”?  Another part of his illustrious tax plan was to allow Americans to deduct child care and elder care from their taxes.  Well, folks, sorry to tell you but that one went by the wayside.  Along the same lines, he promised to create tax-free dependent care savings accounts for young and elderly dependents.  Nope, not even on the docket.  Oh … here’s one … he promised to provide matching contributions for low-income families to the dependent care savings accounts!  Nope, not a snowball’s chance in hell.  But what about the one where he promised to incentivize employers to provide on-site child-care services?  Sorry, sucker!  But hey!  Those big corporations got their 14% tax cut, and you know that since they have such big hearts and good intentions, all of that lovely money will ‘trickle down’ to us little folk, right? evil laughBriefly, a few of his other “promises”.  He promised to …

  • Enact new ethics reforms to reduce the corrupting influence of special interests. Um … ethics schmethics.  He has, among his administration, some of the most corrupt individuals in the history of the U.S.  Think Scott Pruitt.  Jared Kushner.  Ivanka Trump. Trump himself.  And the list goes on … and on …
  • Make two- and four-year college more affordable. Trump’s budget contains deep cuts in aid for low-income and first-generation college students. The budget would eliminate the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, a 50-year-old program, for a savings of $732 million, which goes to more than a million poor college kids each year. The budget would also reduce Federal Work Study “significantly” though no dollar figure was given. The tax bill that Trump signed raised taxes on four-year universities. How is any of this making college more affordable???
  • Establish tariffs to discourage companies from laying off their workers in order to relocate in other countries and ship their products back to the U.S. tax-free. Well, he established tariffs alright, but the results are the exact opposite of what he promised.  Companies are already beginning to lay off workers, and considering moving operations overseas – think Harley Davidson for starters.

For a more complete list, check out the Trump Promise Tracker in The Washington Post  .  Although it isn’t quite up to date (April 2018) it is the best I’ve found so far.

In short, Trump made some 60+ ‘promises’ to the people of this nation. A handful would have been to the benefit of the people, but those he did not even attempt to keep.  The rest were threats.  The threat to take away healthcare from those of us who are not wealthy.  The threat to decrease corporate taxes, thereby decreasing the nation’s revenue, increasing both debt and deficit, and leaving the rest of us without much needed services that can no longer be funded.  The threat to put “America First”, which has isolated us from our allies, put us in danger of a trade war, and proven to the world that we cannot be trusted to keep our word (Paris Accord, Iran nuclear deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership, etc.).

Promises should be kept.  Unless they are the wrong thing, made for all the wrong reasons, but then they are not promises, they are threats.  Trust is earned.  Loyalty is earned.  Need I say more?

Stop Calling the Cops!!!

There seems to be a disturbing trend these days, whereby people with pale skin, on seeing a person with darker skin anywhere in their vicinity, think it is best to call for the police.  The first time or two, I overlooked it, thinking these were isolated incidents.  But this growing trend has now resulted in police being called on an Oregon State Representative because she was doing what politicians do right before an election – going door to door talking to people, trying to rustle up votes.  People, people, people … what in the Sam Hell are you so afraid of???  My goodness … if my skin is darker than yours … so WHAT???

It first came to my notice back in April, when a Starbucks employee called police on two African-American men waiting for their friend to join them for lunch.  Then later the same month, a white woman called police on a few black people who, she said, were using a charcoal grill in an area where it was banned.  Police arrived and left shortly thereafter, leaving the people to their grill-out.  And after that, things seemed to snowball.

Darren Martin worked in the Obama administration, and on leaving the White House last year, decided to move to New York.  Watch him tell what happened to him when he moved into his new apartment …

On May 5, African-American real estate investor Michael Hayes was inspecting a house he’s interested in buying in a Memphis neighborhood. He was pulling a board off the boarded-up home’s front when a woman next door came outside. Mr. Hayes waved to her. The woman, who is white, asked him what he was doing. He pointed to the sign he had placed in the front yard and explained his reason for being there, that he wanted to get inside the house to take pictures. She called the police, who arrived, talked to Hayes for a moment and then cautioned the woman to leave him alone.

Also in May, three black teens were shopping at a Nordstrom department store when a store employee called police and said they were shoplifting.  They were not, and the president of the company later apologized in person to all three teens.

At Yale University, where we might have expected to find a more enlightened population, a white student called police on a black grad student who had fallen asleep in the common room of the dorm that both students live in.

In St. Louis, a black man tried to buy a money order at a local grocery store to pay his rent.  The clerk insisted the man pay with cash, rather than a credit or debit card, so the man called his girlfriend, she brought the cash, and the clerk still refused to sell them a money order for reasons unknown.

Also in St. Louis just this past Monday, a black man was in a Walgreen’s to purchase diabetic supplies when the clerk called the police and accused the man of shoplifting.  He was searched and nothing was found.

At an Alabama Hobby Lobby, an employee called police on a black man returning an item.  He had the receipt and the item, the clerk asked him to wait while she called corporate offices to see if the item was returnable, but instead she called police.  The officer arrived, took the man’s driver’s license, ran a background check, then told him to collect his refund and get off the premises before he arrested him for trespassing. Reginald Fields Last month, 12-year-old Reginald Fields, an enterprising young black man, started a business cutting grass in his neighborhood.  The neighbors of one of his customers, however, called police to report that he had accidentally cut a part of their lawn.  Seriously???  They couldn’t have just walked over and pointed out where their lawn began … they called the cops???  Yeah, they called the cops.  The upside of this story is that Reginald’s business has soared since the incident.  Go Reginald!!!  👍 👍🏿Sebby-StrempelWe’ve all seen the picture of this woman, Stephanie Sebby-Stremple, who was captured on video harassing a group of black teens at a swimming pool, and even hit one of the boys three times.  The teens were respectful, and left offering no resistance, saying “yes ma’am” as they quietly exited the area, though the woman continued screaming, “Get out! Get out now! There are three numbers I can dial: 9-1-1. Get out. Little punks.”Janelle BynumAnd then there is the story I led with.  Janelle Bynum is a democrat, an Oregon State Representative who is running for her second term of office.  Tuesday afternoon she decided to spend a couple of hours going door-to-door, talking to people – voters, citizens, constituents – seeing what their needs are sharing her ideas … the sort of things that politicians do.  Bynum had nearly finished her rounds when a Clackamas county deputy pulled up next to her. The deputy explained to Bynum that they’d received a report that someone was spending a long time in the neighborhood and appeared to be taking notes about the houses on her phone.

Are so many people in this nation truly so backward that seeing a person with skin darker than theirs strikes fear in their hearts?  I don’t care what skin colour my mail carrier has, as long as I get my mail on time.  I don’t care what skin colour my gas/electric meter-reader has, so long as he writes down the numbers accurately.  I don’t care what colour the guys who mow my grass are as long as they don’t trample my flowers.  And I damn sure don’t care what colour skin my elected officials have, if only they would do their damn jobs!

If anybody has a problem with the colour of another person’s skin, if dark skin strikes fear into their heart, then I strongly suggest they seek immediate psychological counseling, for they are the one with a problem.  These incidents sicken me and make me so ashamed of my fellow countrymen.  But more importantly, they are becoming the norm and the danger is that eventually we don’t raise an eyebrow when we hear of such racist incidents.  This needs to stop … we are all on this planet together, all of the same race:  the human race.

This video, The Perils of Living While Black, is well worth the 2:36 to watch … Sorry, but it was not embed-able.

Thoughts On This ‘Independence Day’

fireworks-promo-articleLarge.gifToday is the Fourth of July … typically a fun holiday involving grill-outs, get-togethers with friends, and at the end of the day, a fireworks display.  I remember many a Fourth spent with our old friends Kim & Jerry, cooking out on their patio, then going to a local park where every year there was an awesome fireworks display.  It was a much-anticipated day.  This year, I actually forgot that it was the fourth until yesterday when I was talking on the phone with my friend Herb, and he reminded me.  Whoopee.

The point of the holiday is to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence back in 1776, some 242 years ago.  It would be another eleven years before the U.S. Constitution was born, but still, it was the beginning of the process that eventually led to the nation we now know as the United States of America, the USA.

Frankly, while I still have admiration for those who have gone before and helped shape this nation, those who worked tirelessly to make it a good place to live by abolishing slavery, working toward civil rights and equal rights for women, those who have engaged in humanitarian ventures to help the people … the ordinary people … of this nation thrive, I have very little pride in this country today.  I really do not feel like celebrating the hypocrisy that this nation has become.

We are currently in the midst of such great upheaval, such chaos, that I no longer even feel that it is a single nation, but rather a bunch of people living on the same continent, but being engaged in a constant battle with prize being … nothing.  The things that once made me proud to live in this country are being eroded day-by-day.  Police killing unarmed blacks simply because they can get away with it.  White supremacists, neo-Nazis and other hate groups marching, holding rallies, all because they are arrogantly convinced that somehow pale skin is a virtue.  Conspiracy theories running rampant. People at either end of the political spectrum engaging in juvenile name-calling, threats and taunts, rather than trying to work together to solve the nation’s ills.  And nearly 3,000 innocent children, torn from the arms of their parents and being held hostage by our own government, innocent pawns in a high-stakes game of politics. Where this nation began as a nation of immigrants, we now vilify immigrants.

The people we voted for, we elected to represent us and our values, sit in their fancy air-conditioned offices and scoff at our needs, our desires.  “Vote for me and I’ll promise you everything you ask for,” they say in the lead-up to November, but then after they are elected, it’s “Ha ha, sucker!  Don’t call me … I’ll call you!”  They do not even hear or see our cries for equality, for truth, for justice, for help.

The history of this nation has sometimes been noble, often not.  We killed the Native Americans in droves and ran them off their land for our own greed.  We held on to the notion that African-Americans were not wholly to be considered human beings, but rather slaves, for far too many years and even today, some hold onto that belief.  We interned citizens of Japanese ancestry for no other reason than unwarranted fear during World War II.  We murdered more than a quarter-of-a-million people by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan in 1945.  The list of our less-than-glorious moments in history is long.

And today, we are engaged in actively and knowingly destroying the earth for no other reason than to put more money in the pockets of rich corporate barons.  We are devaluing our poor people, robbing them of health care and even food & shelter.  We are condoning the blatant discrimination of people whose skin is not pale or who do not believe in the “Christian values” that are determined by a small group of men called ‘televangelists’ who are getting rich off people who can ill-afford to support their luxury lifestyles.  We are supporting corrupt politicians who are milking us for their own personal gain.  We are intentionally scaling back our education system so that only the wealthy will be well-educated enough to hold political offices in the future.

There are many things to love about this nation, but today I have trouble remembering what they are.  I love the wonderful forests, rivers, lakes and coastal areas, but those are being destroyed by greed, by oil pipelines, drilling and mining operations that put more money in the pockets of the wealthy.  It feels like everything that was once good is being destroyed, and I find it difficult to feel any joy in celebrating the birth of a nation that is now eating its own.  A nation that places more value on a dollar than on a life.

Many will not like this post, will not like my harsh words, and I understand that.  Frankly, I don’t like them either, but they are honest words.  Honesty … one of the values, along with integrity and compassion, that we have thrown in the trash as we race to become a nation of rich white people.  It is a vision that sickens me and one that I want no part of.

Keep safe and enjoy your holiday, friends.  Love ‘n hugs to you all!

A Woman’s Right …

It is likely that the fight over the next Supreme Court nominee will boil down to a single issue:  abortion.  Some claim that the entire 2016 election was largely about the issue of abortion and a lead-up to this moment. Now mind you, the abortion issue as per the historic 1973 Roe v Wade decision, is far from being the only human rights issue that is endangered by the threat of yet another ultra-conservative ideologist on the Court.  Same-sex marriage, LGBT rights, freedom from religious mandates, immigration, and many other issues stand to be endangered.  I will deal with each of those in the coming week or two, but the initial fight will likely center around Roe and abortion.  As usual, I have a few thoughts on the matter …

The issue of abortion is … or at least ought to be … a personal one.  Roe v Wade was not about abortion as much as about the right of a woman to have a say about what happens to her body and in a broader sense, her life.  Now here’s the thing … if you are a religious person and believe that life begins at the exact moment of conception, believe that a fetus is a sacred being, that is certainly your right.  Nobody is trying to challenge your beliefs, nobody is trying to take away your rights, and nobody is ever going to force you to have an abortion!  Your right to give birth to as many children as you wish is safe.  BUT … the rest of us have rights also, and while we are carefully not trampling on yours, we ask that you not trample on ours.  Live and let live.  Women do not choose abortion lightly … it is an agonizing decision for each woman, and one that she will live with for her entire life.  Don’t make it harder for her with your holier-than-thou protests and denigrating remarks.  Just sit down and shut up.

Why do women choose to have an abortion?  In most cases it is because they are not able to take care of a child at this point in their lives.  The reasons may be immaturity, i.e. the high school girl who was careless and found herself pregnant while still a child herself.  Financial reasons are a major factor … consider the single-mother who already has 2-3 children and is struggling to keep a roof overhead and food on the table.  In some cases the mother’s health may be in danger.  The bottom line is that none of us are in that one woman’s shoes or can know what factors are driving her decision, and it is not our place to take the decision out of her hands, forcing her to possibly endure a lifetime of hardship.

One of the things that puzzles and annoys me most about this argument is that the anti-abortionists claim to feel a responsibility to the ‘life’ of a fetus, to give it an ‘opportunity’ to live, but then once a child is born, they wash their hands of it.  It is for this reason that you will not see me calling them “pro-lifers” as they call themselves, for they only advocate for a life for nine months, after which … “oh well”. Almost every person who is against abortion is also against their tax dollars going to help support that child, to ensuring it has medical care, a home, and food to eat.  They sniff loudly, turn their noses toward the sky and claim that the mother is simply too lazy and deserves no help.  It is rather akin to adopting a puppy to keep it from being killed, and then allowing it to die from neglect and malnutrition in your garage!  I have known people who did exactly that!

Those who would take away a woman’s right to choose are fond of saying that there is the choice to put the baby up for adoption.  Obviously none of these people have gone through the adoption process at any stage in their lives.  It is a long, arduous and often painful process, not to mention expensive.  Because of the cost, it generally turns out that children are not adopted by those who most want a child, who would be the best parents, but rather by those who have the single qualification of wealth.  I do note that there are exceptions.  Children placed for adoption often end up in the foster care system that, while the intent is noble, the actual implementation is a nightmare rather than a success story. Look up the statistics of children in the foster care system who are abused or neglected.

Then there is the consideration that the world is already over-populated and it is simply unconscionable to bring into it another child that has an uncertain future.  The world’s population is growing by 1.1% per year, or approximately an additional 83 million people annually. From 2017 to 2050, it is expected that half of the world’s population growth will be concentrated in just nine countries: India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, Ethiopia, the United Republic of Tanzania, the United States of America, Uganda and Indonesia (ordered by their expected contribution to total growth).

“Because of the abundance of our nation’s resources, we have long been careless about our level of consumption, but it is the precipitous rise in the U.S. population over the last four decades that has resulted in our outstripping of our national resources. We are living beyond our means and are doing so increasingly as our population expands. This is a serious problem with major implications for future generations.”Fairus

Still feel good about protecting that potential, as yet un-formed, unborn fetus?

At one point during Trump’s 2016 campaign, he claimed that women should be ‘punished’ for having an abortion.  Let me tell you something … women ARE punished for having abortions … they punish themselves every day for the rest of their lives!  We do not need the courts and law enforcement to add insult to injury, and we do not need the religious right to shame them.

If your religion teaches you that it is wrong to have an abortion, then fine, don’t have one.  But understand that not everybody ascribes to your religion. Understand that ours is a secular government and that our laws are not driven by the Bible, the Quran, the Vedas, the Torah or any other religious text.  Jews and Muslims do not eat pork, but they do not try to keep the rest of the nation from eating pork, nor do they lobby the government for laws to make pork illegal!  Realize, anti-abortionists, that your beliefs are not the only legitimate beliefs.

Groups on either side of the abortion debate are poised to spend big bucks … tens of millions of dollars … in advertising their position in the upcoming debate over the confirmation of a nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.   It is, without a doubt, the most watched issue of the day.  It is a sad state of affairs, if you ask me, that the law of the land will be determined for the next several decades based on a single religious group’s stance on a woman’s right to control her own body.  It shouldn’t even BE an issue!  It is not your right to choose for another.  It is not the right of the U.S. Supreme Court to tell me what I must do with my body.  We all need to understand that we do not live in a perfect world and that sometimes people make mistakes, but that they should not be forced by a group of nine men and women to have their lives ruined because of a single mistake.

I call on the U.S. Senate to block any Trump nominee for the vacant seat on the Supreme Court.  Every woman in this country stands to lose if they do not.  Every member of the LGBT community stands to lose.  Every Jew, Muslim, Hindi, atheist or agnostic stands to lose.  We the People stand to lose.

What Exactly IS Freedom?

Been a lot of talk about that thing called ‘freedom’ lately.  Started me thinking about some things.  What is freedom, anyway?  Freedom from what?  Freedom to do what?  Am I free?  Are you?  Are any of us?  And what is the trade-off for freedom, for there is a trade-off, a price to pay for everything, y’know.

I did a bit of thinking about it … and one thing I can say for certain is that we don’t all see freedom in the same way.  There are those, some are friends of mine even, who think freedom means you get to have a gun … any ol’ gun you want, carry it wherever you go … and use it however you want.  To them that is freedom, but wait … if they have that gun, and they can use it when and how they want … suddenly I don’t feel quite so free as I did a minute ago.  And … if my kid gets shot and killed at school by some student whose daddy has an arsenal and he snuck one out to take revenge on those kids he thinks don’t like him … then the people who think owning guns makes them free just tell me, “we send our thoughts and prayers”.  But … what good is that???  I don’t want your thoughts and prayers … they don’t bring my child back!  And then they say, “well, that is just the cost of being free”.  If that’s the cost of being free, maybe it’s time somebody did a cost-benefit analysis.

And then there’s that freedom of speech.  Now, I’m happy that I can write my opinions on this blog, and some may not like them, but I haven’t gone to jail yet, so I think that is my freedom of speech.  And I appreciate it, believe me I do, for I have a sharp tongue and if criticism and words could send you to jail, I’d surely be wearing an orange jumpsuit right now!  But … I never have and never will tell people they ought to go out and kill somebody else.  I never have urged my friends and readers to physically hurt another human being.  It seems to me that there’s a difference between calling Donald Trump or Paul Ryan a fool, and asking people to go out and hurt one another.  I keep hearing that the human race has become so advanced … but frankly, folks, I don’t see it.

On March 23rd 1775, Patrick Henry in a speech to the Second Virginia Convention is reported to have said, “Give me liberty, or give me death”.  The liberty that he was seeking was freedom from oppression, freedom from being ruled by a monarch 4,000 miles away, paying taxes to that monarchy, without having a say in the rules that bound the colonies that would become the United States of America.  Freedom from oppression, and freedom to self-govern.

Freedoms are either from something or to something.  The second amendment to the Constitution of the United States calls for the freedom to ‘bear firearms’.  But, in its present-day incarnation it has been interpreted as the freedom to kill.  The freedom to own an assault weapon that was never … NEVER … intended to be placed in untrained civilian hands.  And by so interpreting that ‘freedom to …”, the freedom from having to fear for one’s life in a school, church or shopping center has been trampled.  When you, Mr. Christian Republican, bought your AR-15, as was your perceived right, you robbed me of my freedom to be safe next time I go out in the same place you go.

In the same vein, when a person uses his freedom of speech to call for my death, as one of my readers did a while back, then that person is robbing me of my freedom to feel safe in my own home.  When a person like Milo Yiannopoulos says, “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight,” and just three days later five people are gunned down in a newspaper office … whose freedom took away whose?

We do not all define freedom in the same way, and until we do, one man’s freedom will be another man’s prison.  The Constitution, as well as other documents such as court rulings have attempted to bring about a uniform definition for ‘freedom’, but there seems to be a disconnect.  The man who has a few billion dollars in offshore accounts believes that he has the freedom to use those monies as he sees fit.  Fair enough, if the money legitimately belongs to him and was not earned off the sweat of others who were under-compensated for their labours.  BUT … how many who have billions actually earned them without trampling the freedoms of others?  Very, very few, I think.  Any?  I don’t know … perhaps Bill Gates?

As many have commented on this blog in the past, and as I myself have said, “your freedom ends at the tip of my nose”.  You like loud music?  Fine, but understand that not all of us enjoy the same music you do and don’t force it on us.  I smoke.  I have the freedom to do so, but I do not have the freedom to blow my smoke in your face, or even to smoke in a public venue where you might be.  If I can accept that I do not have a right to smoke in public, why can you not accept that you do not have the right to carry a gun in public?  Really, which is more potentially lethal?

In this world, in real life, freedom can never be complete, can never be 100%, for if it were, it would be depriving others of their freedoms.  That is a fact of life.  You can be free from a dictatorship, but you can never be completely free from rules, from laws.  Today, as we live under a ‘man’ who claims to make America “great” again, we are finding that for some, the freedoms are being expanded, but for the majority of us this has meant giving up other freedoms.  There comes a point when we must prioritize:  a right to live vs a right to carry a gun in public?  A right to have medical care for a chronic condition vs a right to pay less in taxes?  A right to breathe clean air vs a right to make a profit from mining coal?

Freedom is not an absolute.  It does not come without a cost.  Freedom for all requires compromise.  Think about it.

I Think …

I quite often say that we seem not to learn from the lessons of history.  Oh sure, we remember for a while – a generation or two – but then the memories dim as the people who lived through that history die off and there is nobody to tell the stories with passion, with first-hand experience.  The immediacy fades and we return to the old ways or settle into new ones. One example is Hitler and the Holocaust.  My grandparents and parents well remembered those lessons, for they lived through them.  I have, perhaps a slightly dimmed sense of it, for I was not yet born, but still a heightened awareness from a childhood spent hearing the stories from one set of grandparents, my mother, and my father who fought in WWII.  And I passed many of those stories to my own children and granddaughter, but by this time they are 3rd and 4th hand stories and are losing some of their authenticity.  Another generation and the stories likely will not be told at all.

Surely there are history books from which we can learn, but again, with few exceptions, written words on a page often fail to bring the story to life, fail to inspire or excite.  And so, we may know the facts, while at the same time forgetting the lessons.  Arrogantly, we believe that those things could never happen in today’s world, never to our generation. Two comments I read yesterday gave rise to this post and an attempt, probably feeble, to find something in the past on which to judge the political and social turmoil the U.S. is experiencing today and find solutions to keep us all from killing one another.

The first comment was by USFMAN, commenting on my post Be Better:

“You cannot outshout a demagogue like Trump so look for similar situations from history that might offer solutions. Gandhi’s idea of mass passive resistance and Martin Luther King’s Freedom Riders come to mind.”

The second was by our friend Roger (Woebegone but Hopeful) commenting on Keith’s post That Jesus Saying:

“The danger lies in the separation of the nation into quarrelling tribes who never listen to each other. This is not good. Does no one look back to the histories of the 1840s to 1860s? Does it take another ‘Bloody Kansas’ for folk to sit up and think, ‘there is something wrong here’”

Interestingly, Roger lives in the UK, Wales to be specific, and yet most often has a better grasp of the history of this nation than we who have lived here all our lives.  And he, as well as many other friends from across the pond, see our situation with clearer eyes than we do.  Perhaps there is something to be said of that expression “can’t see the forest for the trees”?

Anyway, these comments started me thinking.  A very brief bit of historical context for those who may not remember the details.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 gave the territories of Kansas and Nebraska the right to choose, by popular vote, whether to become a slave state or a free state.  Slavery being the most contentious issue of the day, tensions ran high, to say the least, and a lot of dirty politics ensued.  So dirty, in fact, that when a congressional committee investigated a year or so later, they found that 1,729 fraudulent votes had been cast as compared to 1,114 legitimate ones!  Needless to say, violence ensued:  a hotel and two newspaper offices were burned, homes and stores ransacked, and murder & mayhem became the order of the day.

Long story short, a divisive political issue nearly destroyed a society, causing death and destruction.  Now granted,  that was in the days of the ‘Olde West’, and we are more … civilized today.  Or are we?  We have white police officers killing unarmed blacks.  We have white supremacist groups creating chaos on city streets and university campuses.  We have people refusing to serve other people in their place of business because of politics.  We have a ‘president’ who incites violence, encouraging people to hurt others.  Are we more civilized that Kansans in the mid-nineteenth century?  Don’t be too sure.  It would seem that we really haven’t come very far at all.

Which brings me to USFMAN’s comments …

How many times in the last year or two have I said that I wish we had another Martin Luther King?  Too many.  Martin Luther King was only one of the Civil Rights leaders some 50-60 years ago who worked tirelessly to bring about change, but what was unique about him was two things:  his charisma that gave him the ability to lead, and his philosophy of non-violence.  Martin, you may remember, had a dream.  He knew what he wanted to accomplish.  As I read the text of his speech for probably the 100th time, I realize that Martin Luther King’s dream in 1963 was not much different than our own dream today.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

We have many burning issues today, concerning relationships with our allies, health care, education,  poverty, immigration, guns, environment, abortion, and more.  Most of these issues were  not born under the regime of Trump, but he has fanned the flames of discord and disharmony in every single event. But at the crux of most of it is bigotry, intolerance and discrimination of one group or another.  Discrimination against not only African-Americans, but Muslims, Latinos, LGBT people, non-Christians, the poor and even women.  Rather than being able to say we overcame the discrimination that Martin Luther King was fighting, we have expanded it to include other groups – almost anyone who is not white, Christian, and preferably male.

Now that I have offered my rambling thoughts, you probably wonder where I am going with this, if I have a point.  I do.  It seems to me that, in the absence of a Gandhi or Martin Luther King in our midst to lead the way in peaceful protest, then we must each become those leaders, using our voices to promote ideas of equality, to insist our voices be heard, and to do so without violence.  Colin Kaepernick was one such leader last year.  MLK would have been proud of Mr. Kaepernick, for never was there a more peaceful way of protesting, yet he made his point.  This is the way to win equality … the only way, I think.

Fact-Based Policy

Most of us see Trump’s manufactured immigration ‘crisis’ for what it is … a loud and bombastic effort to instill fear in the populace. While it is true that we have some problems in the way we handle immigration, it is by no means the crisis that Trump would have us believe, with criminals and rapists coming in taking jobs and threatening our very lives. Fellow-blogger Erik Hare over at Barataria has put together an excellent fact-based post that I hope you will take a few minutes to read and check out some of his links. Thank you, Erik, for this excellent telling of ‘the real story’!

Barataria - The work of Erik Hare

There isn’t any actual crisis in immigration. If that sentence surprises or infuriates, you’re probably paying far too much attention to the news. The situation which has the entire nation worked into a frenzy was entirely made up for political purposes.

It’s not exactly clear why, either. While Trump aid and Politischertacitischerführer Steven Miller thinks that opposing immigration is a huge winner for Trump, surveys show that Americans strongly favor immigration. It’s as if the nation knows in its guts that we are at or near full employment and there is indeed a net labor shortage. This furor might fire up the base and make sure they show up in November, but that is still a long way away

Nevermind all that. We have a crisis on our hands because for one dumb reason or another Trumplandia thought it would suit them. Let’s look at facts and see…

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The Last Best Hope — Gone?

The Supreme Court of the United States, sometimes referred to as SCOTUS, is one of the three branches of the federal government and is intended to be the most independent.  The legislative branch, Congress, makes the laws.  The executive branch, the president, enforces the laws.  The judicial branch, the Courts, determine the constitutionality of the laws.  The judicial branch was always intended to be almost completely independent of the politics that so heavily influence the other two branches.  Thus, judges “… shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.” They cannot be fired, except for bad “behaviour” and their pay cannot be reduced by either Congress or the president.  They are not elected; thus they owe no allegiance to any political party nor any individual.  In theory, anyway, they vote according to their conscience and their independent interpretation of the Constitution.

Today, I must question the independence of the Supreme Court.  As the current term winds down, a number of key decisions have been handed down in recent days, and the important ones, the ones we needed to be watching, have given at least the appearance that the Court has lost its independence and is falling into line with Donald Trump’s ‘policies’, such as they are.  Congress was in Trump’s and his donor’s pockets since the day the session of the 115th Congress began, and we can only hope to change those dynamics in the November mid-terms, but if the Court has fallen prey to him also, there can be no hope for a ‘fix’ in the foreseeable future, since the Justices are lifetime appointments.

Very briefly, here are some of the rulings I find very troublesome:

Trump v Hawaii

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld President Trump’s travel ban by a 5-4 vote.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the ban was “squarely within the scope of Presidential authority under the INA,” referring to the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The court said that Donald Trump’s obvious hostility toward Muslims, as expressed in numerous tweets and speeches, could not be considered.  In a nutshell, Roberts said in his 92-page opinion, that Trump has the broad authority to do what he deems necessary in the interests of “national security”.  My response is the obvious:  99.9% of people coming here from those nations are immigrants seeking the safe haven that is promised on the Statue of Liberty and pose no threat to national security.  This ruling simply gave the nod to Trump’s ethnic and religious biases.  If you’re interested, you can read the full opinion here.

Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission

In the case of the baker, Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a wedding cake for the wedding of a same sex couple, the court ruled in favour of Mr. Phillips, but not necessarily because the court felt he had the right to withhold his services in a discriminatory manner.  The ruling came  because the court believed the Civil Rights Commission had failed to treat Mr. Phillips with ‘fairness and impartiality’. The court did agree that the baker’s refusal to serve his customers was an act of discrimination that violated Colorado state law.  In a nutshell, the decision was a cop-out, leaving the door open for more cases of this nature.

Janus v AFSCME

The Court ruled Wednesday that government workers who choose not to join a union cannot be charged for the cost of collective bargaining.

This ruling, while on the surface may seem to be sensible, greatly reduces the strength of public employee unions in collective bargaining.  Since a 1977 ruling, even non-union employees have been required to pay partial union dues because, any gains as a result of collective bargaining benefit all, even those who chose not to join the union.  Now, where is the incentive to join the union, when non-union employees will share the benefits without having to pay the cost?  The full opinion, all 83 pages, can be found here.

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment forbids “racial gerrymandering,” that is, intentionally assigning citizens to a district on the basis of race without sufficient justification.  There were four gerrymandering cases before the court this month:

Abbott v Perez

The court ruled that the state of Texas does not have to redraw their district maps.

Gill v Whitford

The court ruled that the state of Wisconsin does not have to redraw their district maps, though they remanded the case back to the lower courts for further review.

Benisek v. Lamone

The court ruled that the state of Maryland does not have to redraw their district maps.

North Carolina v Rucho

The court declined to rule on the gerrymandering case and remanded the case back to the lower courts.

Make no mistake … the failure of the court to defy the gerrymandered district maps and order redrawn maps is a nod to racism and a deterrent to a fair election in November and beyond.  Racism is alive and well in this nation, folks.

These are the major cases that the Supreme Court ruled on this month, most in just the last few days.  Every single one was ruled in favour of conservative ideology, and most were a 5-4 ruling along partisan lines.  And now this …

Justice Anthony Kennedy to retire from Supreme Court

Although Kennedy is known as a conservative thinker, he is the most moderate on the bench.  His vote has been a tie-breaker in many high-profile cases, including Obergefell v Hodges, making same-sex marriage legal throughout the land.  His has been the swing vote in cases involving civil rights, human rights and social issues.  Kennedy voted to reaffirm the core holding of Roe v. Wade in 1992. I wrote a post about Kennedy and his potential retirement in July 2017, where I expressed grave concerns about his rumoured retirement, as well as the fact that Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Steven Breyer, both liberal-leaning justices, were both well past the normal age of retirement. Anthony-KennedyThis news stuns me, though I should not be surprised … am not surprised.  But the bottom line here is that now Trump has another Supreme Court vacancy that he will fill with … another who will vote as Trump wishes.  We have now, it would seem, lost the independence of the judicial branch in my opinion.  What more can Mr. Trump find to destroy, I wonder?

United We Stand … Divided We Fall

Donald Trump, it would appear, has decided to disavow the very Constitution that he swore to uphold a short 17 months ago.  He has decided to take the law into his own hands and do what he wants to do, deporting immigrants without either trial or appearance before a judge.  This is a direct violation of the Fifth Amendment that states, in part, “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”  Is Donald Trump above the law?  He obviously thinks he is.

“I don’t want judges. I want border security. I don’t want to try people. I don’t want people coming in. Do you know, if a person comes in and puts one foot on our ground, it’s essentially, ‘Welcome to America, welcome to our country’? You never get them out, because they take their name, they bring the name down, they file it, then they let the person go. They say, ‘Show back up to court in one year from now.’”

Meanwhile, back at the ranch …

Senator Elizabeth Warren visited a detention center where she had been told that separated migrant families were being reunited, but there was no evidence of that happening.  She spoke to nine immigrant mothers, none of whom even know where their children are, and only one of whom has been allowed to speak to her child.

Stepping up onto my soapbox …

Donald Trump does not own this nation and does not make law.  Laws are made by Congress, the legislative branch of the government.  There is a Constitution that provides the framework for laws and every member of Congress, as well as the president, has sworn to uphold that Constitution.  To those who still support Donald Trump, I say this:

I understand that you were caught up in the frenzy of the campaign two years ago, and I understand how you bought into his fear-mongering rhetoric. I hold none of that against you.  But you have now had 17 months of lies, of failure, on which to judge him, and surely you must find that he is lacking in every area.  If you approve of his tax cuts, so be it … you will wake one day and realize that you have less money in your possession than you had a year ago, and you will be in the same boat as all of us, so get over it.  If you approve of his reversal of environmental protections that were intended to try to stop the destruction of the air we breathe and the water we drink, that is on you, also, and I hope you enjoy the 100-degree temperatures with 90% humidity next week.  But you cannot possibly approve of the man you elected subverting the rule of law, destroying families, and sending some people to an almost-certain death simply because it is what he wants.

The two most shameful, anti-humanitarian, and embarrassing things this nation had done in the past, aside from slavery, were the internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, and turning away thousands of Jewish refugees during the same war.  There is nothing we can do but hang our heads in shame, for we cannot bring back the lost years or the lives we cost those people.  What Donald Trump is doing today is worse than the Japanese internment camps, and every bit as bad as turning away the Jewish refugees.  Have we, in fact, learned not one damned thing from history?  Are we as shallow, narrow-minded and greedy as our ancestors?

How, today, can one single woman who has children of her own support a ‘man’, and yes I do use that term loosely, who would separate 3,000 children from their parents simply because it is what he wants?  Republican, Democrat, Christian, Atheist, White, Black, Male, Female, Straight, Gay … it matters not.  We are all, before religion, before gender, before race, before party affiliation … we are human beings.  We care about one another, regardless of where we come from, what religion or lack thereof, what our politics.  Or at least I thought we did, but today I have to wonder.  Animals in the wild treat each other better than the people of this nation are treating their fellow humans.

Somehow we must find a way to stop this madness before it is too late.  If Donald Trump is allowed to take the law into his own hands, to disavow the Constitution, to deport asylum seekers without due process of law, then we will have slammed the door on the Constitution, on democracy, and on all rights and freedoms we once thought we had.  Our fate is intermingled with that of those migrants being detained at the southern border.  If they lose, then so do we.

This is a nation of immigrants.  You, me, every single person reading these words is here because somewhere in the past our ancestors were welcomed to this country, were given an opportunity to live in a land where our opinions mattered, our voices were heard.  Donald Trump’s grandparents were allowed to come here from Germany.  Mine from Spain and Wales and Germany.  And together our ancestors helped make this nation what it was until 17 months ago when a madman entered the White House.

We the People can only do so much, but we must all be on board.  Yes, even those of you who voted for Trump must wake up and realize that he is not what you believed him to be.  United we stand, divided we fall.  Those are the words of founding father John Dickinson in his pre-Revolutionary War song “The Liberty Song”, first published in the Boston Gazette in July 1768. In the song Dickinson wrote: “Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all! By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!”  Truer words have never been spoken, and they are as relevant today as they were in 1768.

Stepping down off my soapbox now … G’day my friends.