Saturday, June 23, 2018

Sentiment of the Day: R.I.P. AMERICA [Part 5 of 6]

There have been many presidents who were not as well-liked as other presidents, either during their term or afterward.  Names such as Richard Nixon, Herbert Hoover, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Warren G. Harding, and George W. Bush come to mind.  To be fair, the job of President is a difficult one, no matter who occupies the position, and there is no way to train for it.  When you are President, you have to realize and accept that you will never please everyone all the time; it comes with the territory.  Having, say, a steely resolve and clear intentions are certainly insufficient to guarantee likability and/or success in the position. 

There will always be those citizens who are strictly one political party or another all the way.  There are those who may vote primarily for one party, but have voted for candidates of a different party from time to time.  My parents were always siding with the Democrats, saying they were for the working man, even though, to my knowledge, they never voted.  (Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion.)

I fully understand the sentiment of voting being pointless because of such criticisms as politicians lie too much, they never keep all of their promises, and they mostly serve the wealthy, which includes themselves, not the common folk.  All of that is not just sour grapes.  The past presidential election showed two key elements: One, voting out of fear is still, sadly, alive and well in this country; and two, an unfriendly country (Russia) was able to meddle in a presidential election.  If we send people on missions, usually through the United Nations and other global watchdog groups, to observe whether or not various elections go smoothly, then we need to exercise that same intent within our own system.

Beware!  That meddling in 2016 does not mean it cannot happen during mid-term elections this November.

It is easy and, quite frankly, lazy to label all those who voted for Donald Trump.  Calling names might make the caller feel good, but it solves nothing.  Mr. Trump was savvy enough to play on the fears about immigrants (fear of "the other") and fears about jobs to win the election.  It is not a new tactic, and I have to admit to feeling disheartened thinking that his use of it will likely not be the last time it's used in an election or in trying get legislation passed. 

What I will offer here is to say that the 2016 presidential election must become proof, once and for all, that simply voting out of fear cannot be a viable motivation.  That is not to say fear is easy to ignore when voting, but it can no longer be your biggest reason for heading to the voting booth on Election Day.  And yet, that is part of the reason the election went the way that it did.  Simply put, when fear is a motivator in an election, the result and aftermath are not always pretty.

Think back to when you feared something -- and I mean fear of something life-affecting -- and ask yourself how clearly did you think in that moment?  Were all of your actions clearly thought out to their logical conclusion?  Not every major decision I've made in life was a smart one, even when fear wasn't involved, and any made while being fearful were not easily made or produced the best results.  No less must be true when it comes to voting in an election.

The 2016 presidential election is not the only example of voting out of fear and maybe, sad to say, this year's mid-terms will play out the same way for the same reason.  (I sincerely hope not.)  Let me offer this as food for thought:  Can you think of a candidate, any candidate, who did not mention jobs?  If you look back in history, will you find any candidate who did not mention jobs? 

Now take those questions and expand on them further:  Can you think of a candidate who campaigned on taking away jobs?  Yes, there have been some whose policies or promises might lessen jobs for certain sectors.  What I mean here is can you think of any candidate who just came right out and said If you lose your job, oh well or I will work to increase unemployment numbers?  Of course not.  They are not going to campaign on losing jobs.  What candidate would?  They certainly wouldn't get very far if they did.

My point is that jobs will always be a concern, even if mostly everyone had a job ... that is, a permanent, full-time, livable-wage job.  When a candidate is harping over and over again about jobs, maybe even about a certain kind of job or a certain sector of jobs, unless the reported unemployment numbers are like those during the Great Depression, those candidates are playing on your fears.

Similarly, when they talk about "the other", usually this is about immigrants but not solely them, unless there is proof that the vast number of them are (as Trump said in his speech announcing his presidential campaign) "bringing drugs [and] bringing crime [and are] rapists", then they are playing on your fears.  Have there been those who crossed the border illegally who brought drugs with them?  Sure, but far more drugs come into this country through means other than via illegal immigrants.  Have there been any who crossed over into the U.S. who committed crimes?  Sure, but out of the total number of crimes committed in this country, the number committed by those here illegally is a small percentage.  (The current administration, but not just the current administration, likes to conflate and cherry-pick numbers to make it sound worse than it is.)  Have there been any rapists who crossed into the U.S.?  I do not know for certain, but I would suspect that, with the fervor against immigrants in this country, if the number of rapists and rapes were significantly high, that information would have come out long before this blog posting.

All of that is not to say we should, as a nation, start approving crime ... of course not.  However, when you highlight something as being so terrible, when the numbers simply do not back you up, then you are using disproportionate highlighting to play on people's fears.  It is akin to far more terrorist attacks in this country being committed by citizens rather than by foreigners coming here for that sole purpose, but stating that the threat from outside our borders is greater.  For the voter, it should be a case of if you can't back up what you're saying, then I can't back you.

Instead, what we currently have, and this phrase popped up on many news programs last week, is a cult of personality for our political system.  Forget democracy, never mind a republic, it is a cult of personality.  The GOP (Grand Old Party, the nickname for the Republican Party) is gone and has been replaced with the POT (Party of Trump).  (It is not just R.I.P. America, it is also R.I.P. the Republican Party.)  

None of this is all one group of persons' fault.  It is not just the fault of the voters -- they are, after all, the ones casting votes -- and it is not just the fault of the politicians.  My point throughout all of today's post is we are indirectly responsible for what politicians who were voted in do while in office because we put them there, but we are directly responsible for what we do.  That includes when we go to the polls.  We must be wiser collectively when we vote.

In his first inaugural address, on March 4, 1933 -- it wasn't until his second inauguration that the date of inauguration was changed to January 20 -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, this country's thirty-second president, said these immortal words:

How true and how ominous those words are now after years of voting out of fear.  For what we can do, for the one part we play in a democracy, we must reject that as normative.



Friday, June 22, 2018

Sentiment of the Day: R.I.P. AMERICA [Part 4 of 6]

It is true that a President, one person, cannot do everything, since politics is a multi-geared machine.  One of the things that a president can do, though, is setting a tone ... setting the tone in Washington, D.C., setting the tone for politics in general, and setting the tone for the country, in terms of the mood of the country.  That is true for any president.

Looking at just a few of our past presidents, we can see that effect:
>  George Washington, this country's first president, leading this country through its very beginnings.
>  Abraham Lincoln, who led this country through its most divisive time in its first century, which included the American Civil War.
>  Theodore Roosevelt, whose bold words and personality emboldened this country at the turn of the twentieth century.
>  Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who led the country for more than two terms, through World War II and out of the Great Depression.
>  John F. Kennedy, who inspired Americans to dream big and to serve their country.

More recently, during the presidency of George W. Bush, this country saw a rise of divisiveness in terms of criticizing your country -- specifically, in terms of questioning presidential policies -- being deemed unpatriotic and anti-American.  Barack Obama's presidency, which some naively thought was the official end of racism in this country, saw a rise of racial problems in this country.

With the demeanor, words, and actions of our current president, Donald Trump, what has been the effect on this country broadly?  As has been noted by reporters and pundits alike, Trump "likes chaos around him".  He purportedly likes things going on around him to be frenetic.  That may work for him -- maybe he gets bored easily -- but the vast majority of the American public prefers calmness and steadiness.  If you are creating chaos and you have chaos around you, much of the American public find that unsettling.

His rhetoric has not only raised the level of fear and hatred for "the other" in this country, he has legitimized those feelings.  He has only minimally, very minimally, spoken out against white nationalists and neo-nazis in this country, mostly turning a blind eye, which sends a signal that he'll speak out against them only if he has too much pressure to do so ... hardly a firm condemnation. 

He has embraced the idea of nationalism, which encourages the feeling of arrogant supremacy ... supremacy over other countries, supremacy of one race over another, and supremacy of one ideology over another.  It also encourages blind faith or allegiance.  In fact, that kind of blind faith is typically part and parcel of nationalism.

He has brought the "us vs. them" mentality back to the forefront of our society (as if in all caps and bold font), including international alliances and treatment of immigrants, and has done nothing to end the "us vs. them" drawing of battle lines (as opposed to simply having different ways of accomplishing goals) in Washington.  He has brought all of this about under the guise of his campaign slogan "Make America Great Again".

One example is on social media.  I have seen, and maybe you have as well, people arguing on platforms like Facebook and Twitter and those arguments resulting in unfriending and unfollowing those people.  Is that on the rise?  I am not sure, but certainly it happens far more often that what is on my screen alone. 

Famous individuals are not immune to giving in to the mood of the country.  Recently, actor Peter Fonda posted about Barron Trump, the president's youngest child, on his Twitter account, writing:
        "We should rip Barron Trump from his mother's arms and put him in a cage with
        pedophiles and see if mother [will] stand up against the giant a--hole she is
        married to."

Yes, the feelings about what is happening at the border are strong, but does that justify those of us opposed to it stooping to such a low level to express it?  (Fonda removed the comment, calling it "highly inappropriate and vulgar", and saying he "went way too far".) 

And hate groups have been emboldened.  Yesterday, it was revealed that a man named Jason Kessler applied to the National Park Service for a permit for a rally in Washington, D.C.   If his name does not ring a bell, it should.  Jason Kessler is the same person who organized the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, late last summer, under the group name of Unite the Right.  (The same rally where 32-year-old Heather Heyer was run down and killed, and President Trump claimed there was "blame on both sides".)  This rally is to mark the first anniversary of that deadly Charlottesville rally, and would be in support of "white civil rights", whatever that is.  (No permit has been issued yet, but the application has been approved.) 

In short, while there have always been differences in this country and there always will be, President Trump's effect seems to be making America an angrier, a more divided, a more hateful, a less hospitable, and a less settled place.  What's so great about that?



Thursday, June 21, 2018

Sentiment of the Day: R.I.P. AMERICA [Part 3 of 6]

If you know even a little bit about politics or follow it regularly, you will know one of the biggest complaints people have about politicians (and you may have this complaint yourself) is that they lie a lot.  Leave it to other politicians, news reporters, and commentators to use such terms as "untrue", "deceptive", and "incorrectly characterizing", among others, but most people will say They lie so much! or They lie all the time!

The truth is, yes, they do lie.  Lies and politics have never been distant relatives.  (One of many reasons that voting turnouts are so low.)  One of the forms of this lying is "serving the American people".  Those in power are also American citizens, so they clearly fall under the banner of "the American people", but they try to make their use of that phrase appear to mean "all of you American people".  Do some of their actions truly fall under the banner of "serving all the American people"?  Of course they do.  You cannot say those in power do nothing for the masses when, in fact, they do.  However, a legitimate argument can be made in saying those in power do little for the masses or they do things against the masses.

Look at the "tax bill" passed and signed into law by Republicans last December, for just one example.  Talk about a handout and benefits package for the rich!  Now, in addition to the heat building up on the president as of late, who they nearly unanimously supported in 2016, there are dozens of them getting out of town, by not running for re-election.  (I guess they do not want to be associated with Trump if everything falls apart and now that they got their tax break in December, it's time to go.)  Clearly there are many more examples than this, but it seems more and more true as time goes on that "the American people" they are really serving are themselves.

This country's founders had the idea that those who serve via politics would do so and then, at the end of their term(s), go back to being a private citizen.  Many of them do, even if they get to enjoy the financial benefits of paid speaking gigs, book deals, etc., afterward.  One of the things our founders did not want was, for one example, the president to financially gain for the office while in office.  (The same is true for members of Congress as well.)  All U.S. presidents have divested themselves from any and all business ventures they were currently involved in, whether it was a business they became involved in their adult life or a family business that has been in existence for generations.  The idea is that you serve the people, not that office serves you.

That all ended with our current president.

He lied about what a blind trust is, feigning ignorance.  Letting his adult children, who were already involved in the business, run the business, is not a blind trust, and not a divestment of himself from the business.  His Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., which stands less than a mile from the White House, earned him a whopping forty million dollars last year.  That figure includes $350,000 in campaign funds (sixty percent of which came from the Republican National Committee for hosting various events there).  Much of that profit also came from foreign entities and dignitaries staying there when they are in Washington.

His children are doing quite well since he took office.  It was recently released that his daughter and son-in-law (and alleged advisers) Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner made around eighty million dollars last year.  Recently, Ivanka received some good news: seven new trademarks were awarded to her by China.  That means financial gain.  (After bad mouthing China for years, Trump then did an about-face after the trademarks were awarded and decided to help save China's failing telecommunications company ZTE, even calling the move a favor to China's autocratic president Xi Jinping.)

For this very consideration, the founders placed the Title of Nobility Clause (more commonly known as the Emoluments Clause) in the U.S. Constitution, found in Article I.  In addition to not allowing the president to receive any titles of nobility, office, or gifts for any foreign entities, to ensure no undue outside influence on the president, it also prohibits the president receiving that which its more common name is known, emoluments.  An emolument is defined as a salary, a fee, or a profit from any employment or held office.  Let us take that definition and insert it into the actual wording of the clause:
        "No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding
        any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the
        Congress, accept any Present, salary, fee, or profit, Office, or Title, of any kind
        whatsoever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State."
Clearly, the monies he is receiving from foreign entities (from enterprises mentioned above and many others), since he has never divested from his companies, is a violation of the Emoluments Clause.

If silence is consent, then Congress' relative overall silence about this must be its consent.

Even though it is not law, every president, beginning with Jimmy Carter, has released his past tax returns.  In modern history, Richard Nixon did it first; Gerald Ford released a financial summary; and then Jimmy Carter started the current string of presidents doing so.  Trump is the first president in roughly four decades to not release his tax returns.  Why not is a question with much speculation, but clearly, even with his excuse of his lawyers telling him not to do so while his returns are being audited (which he seems to characterize as a never-ending process), he does not want whatever they include to see the light of day.

If it was a case of not releasing them because they are so complicated and thus hard to understand, which I do not doubt they are, there are plenty of people who could "translate" them for the common citizen.  To me, that would not be a reasonable reason to keep from releasing them.  If other presidents before him released theirs, and I am sure theirs were complicated as well, he can also.  So, what exactly does he not want to get out?  What income and expenditures does he feel need to be kept secret?  Would they, perhaps, show he is not as financially well-off as he has claimed?  Again, he is not required legally to release them, but neither were his predecessors.

Since this is on the general topic of lying, Trump's list is a whopper.  From why immigrant kids are being separated from their parents at the border -- more on that further on in this post -- to North Korea agreeing to denuclearize, the list just keeps on growing.  Some of the lies he had told include:
>  The Pulse nightclub massacre two years ago would not have happened if someone there also had a gun.  (There was an armed guard on site the night of the shooting.)
>  There was mass voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election.  (No evidence supports that claim.)
>  He and the Republicans have signed the most amount of legislation.  (So far, they're last place, actually.)
>  The "tax bill" passed last December repealed Obamacare.  (It did no such thing.)
>  Former President Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped during the 2016 election.  (No, he did not.)
>  He never mocked a disabled reporter during his campaign.  (Oh, yes, he did.)
>  "Beautiful, clean coal"  (Self-explanatory)
>  Repeatedly saying he had "nothing to do with Russia".  (The 2013 Miss Universe pageant held in Moscow, and Donald Trump, Jr., ten years ago, saying, "We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia", for just two examples, disprove that claim.)
>  He received the most Electoral College votes since Ronald Reagan.  (George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama all had more than Trump.)

And that is far from an exhaustive list.  In fact, on May 31 of this year, on the 466th day of Trump's presidency, The Washington Post published a story that showed Trump had lied a whopping 3,001 times!  Today marks 517 days in office for this president, with another 944 days remaining.  How many more lies has he added since May 31?  How many more will he tell?

One of the lies added since May 31 is his ongoing string of lies regarding the current fiasco down in Texas with immigrants coming to the U.S.   Immigrants have been crossing our southern border for generations.  To be clear, yes, families were, indeed, separated for short periods of time, if necessary, during previous administrations.  However, there was never a policy in place where border officials were told to take children from their families and to keep the children here if the parents are deported back.  NEVER!  And yet, the president, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said time and time again that there was no such policy in place.

Then, the lie became it was being done because of a law, not a policy, which the Democrats put in place, and that Congress had to "negotiate"to end it.  Next (last Friday to be exact), the president's lie was that, even though an Executive Order was not necessary to end the separation of families -- it never is to end a policy -- he couldn't issue one, anyway.  Yesterday, he announced he would be signing an Executive Order after all.  In the midst of all this, Trump tweeted two days ago that the Democrats want immigrants to "infest our Country", while saying "anybody with a heart would feel strongly about it" when he signed the Executive Order yesterday.  He cannot have it both ways, so which one of the two was a lie?

In 2016, an article appeared on the website A Conscious Rethink titled '8 Ways Lying Is Poisonous to Relationships'.  Since there is a kind of relationship between a president and the citizens, I thought the bullet points in the article highlight how what Trump has been doing, and continues to do, is affecting the country.

>  Erodes Trust -- There is already enough mistrust about politicians.  His lies exacerbate the situation, at the peril of his own party and the country.
>  Lack of Respect -- Any lie shows a lack of respect for those being told the lie, and the president has shown an even greater lack of respect for the American people at large.
>  Creates an Expectation of The Next Lie -- Expecting the worst erodes hope.
>  Act of Selfishness -- What I want is more important than what you want ... or need.
>  Sets Up Others for Feeling Like a Fool -- Once realization of the lies sinks in, believers feel like fools for believing in them in the first place, which, in the long term, also erodes trust.
>  Self-Deception -- This is the necessity of the liar having to believe his own lies, unable to recognize his own disingenuous nature.
>  Imbalance -- Every lie is "tilting the scale" in favor of the liar, forgoing seeking a balance.
>  One Good Lie Deserves Another -- (Maybe your parents taught you this...)  Once you lie, you need to lie to cover up that lie, another lie to cover up those lies, and so on.

All of the above is happening in this country.



Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Sentiment of the Day: R.I.P. AMERICA [Part 2 of 6]

Immigration has been a hot button topic in this country (and around the world, for that matter) for decades.  Recently, there has been a lot of news coverage about what is happening along our southern border with immigrants coming here, many of them escaping horrible conditions and seeking asylum.

Let me add here first that we are a nation of laws.  Whenever you hear a politician say that, he or she is correct.  We are also a compassionate nation.  The question is do we become so compassionate that our laws do not matter?  Do we, then, send a signal to those coming here that our laws amount to nothing more than ink on paper?  I do not think so and I do not think we should send that kind of message.  Although, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has acerbated the situation in Texas by changing the entering of the U.S. between ports of entry from a misdemeanor, which it was for years, to a major offense.

However, the systematic separating of children from their families is not the right way to go about this.  It is flat-out wrong.  It is immoral, atrocious, a human rights violation ... and, quite frankly, unlawful.  This is allegedly being done according to law and the Democrats put the law into place.  Let me be clear: There is no such law in place.  This is a Trump administration policy being carried out.

Can you smile at these kids ... because they feel like animals in cages being looked at ...

This detention center and others ... and now, also a tent city for children roughly 800 miles away from the Brownsville center ... are happening on U.S. soil!

Not that this hasn't happened on U.S. soil before.  From the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century -- yes, the mid-twentieth century -- Native American children were taken from their families and sent to "boarding schools" in order to "assimilate" them into society.  This was not a mutually-agreed upon sharing of cultures.  This was not a case of immigrants coming here and learning the culture and willfully assimilating into it, like my father's parents did.  This was forced capture.  Richard Henry Pratt, a captain in the U.S. cavalry said the following about these boarding schools: "Kill the Indian in him and save the man."

The ripping of children from their families is not new in world history, either.  Look to more recent events with Native American children in South Dakota being thrown into foster care, the Stolen Generations (also known as Stolen Children) in Australia for the majority of the twentieth century, First Nations children in Canada also being sent to "boarding schools", and the Nazi concentration camps during World War II, to name a few, and you will see this kind of cruelty is not unheard of.  It was seen as the "right thing to do" at the time, while completely ignoring human rights and the importance of the family unit.  (What a disgraceful history we are sharing!)  We now look back at the these things with anger, horror, and sadness.  And yet, these detention centers and the separating of families are going on now on our soil!

If you think this policy of Trump administration, which was enacted a month-and-a-half ago, was concocted recently, think again.  This was under consideration from the beginning of the Trump presidency.  This video is from the first week of March 2017, roughly a month-and-a-half into the Trump presidency, and it shows General John Kelly (the current White House Chief of Staff) back when he was the Secretary of Homeland Security being interviewed by CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer:

The current Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, has said there is no policy of separating children from families, and they did not create such a policy.  This past Monday, she restated Trump's claim that this is happening by law.  Again, there is no such law in place.  This is a Trump administration policy being carried out.

The vast majority of Republican lawmakers are suspiciously silent on this.  Even the president going to meet with House Republicans to discuss this yesterday was a non-starter.  (The strongest expressions were a few boos from the back of the room where he was meeting with them and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus protesting after the meeting.)  It is an example of the idiom: Your silence is your consent.  They are showing either willful consent (100% agreement) or forced consent (had better do so). 

A couple of weeks ago, during one of the cable television political pundit shows, a graphic came up on the bottom of the screen that read: "Republicans Criticize Trump At Their Own Peril".  Many of those in the Republican party, if they criticize the president, and happen to be running for re-election, can be guaranteed the president will speak out against them, telling voters to vote for another Republican candidate in the primary instead.  Many times, they do lose, so the fear of Trump out there is huge.  (However, that fear shows they are more concerned with keeping their jobs, thus serving themselves, than serving the people who voted them in.)  This is forced compliance, and the consent given by their silence on this issue -- and even a recently-proposed bill to end the separating of children from their families which will likely go nowhere -- is the kind of thing our founders were getting away from, not what they wanted to duplicate.

President Trump has been quick to sign Executive Orders to address all sorts of issues, but on this issue, he claims a non-existent law is the reason for it happening in the first place, and that the Democrats refusing to negotiate with him is what is keeping this non-existent law in place.  In fact, an Executive Order is not even necessary to end the policy; a simple phone call would suffice.  The claim of the Democrats not negotiating is Trumpspeak for: if they do not vote in favor of the billions of dollars he wants to build "the wall", these detentions and separations will continue.  In other words, they have been reduced to nothing more than bargaining chips.  The victims of these human rights violations committed by our own government are being made to suffer for a dictator wannabe's ridiculous, fantastical, hate-and-fear-endorsed construction project.  (He must have plans to profit off the building of it.) 

The number of children separated from their parents stands right now at nearly 2,400.  While we have heard about the boys, roughly ages 10-17, there had been no press coverage, or information passed along, about any of the girls or any of the toddlers.  That is until last night, when the Associated Press broke the story about three "tender age shelters" where hundreds of babies and toddlers are being kept.  The shelters are located in the Texas towns of Brownsville (where Jacob Soboroff reported from in the MSNBC video above), Combes, and Raymondville.  Allow me to highlight one line from the Associated Press story:
        "Doctors and lawyers who have visited the shelters said the facilities were fine,
        clean and safe, but the kids -- who have no idea where their parents are -- were
        hysterical, crying and acting out."

Dr. Colleen Kraft, the current president of the American Society of Pediatrics, toured one of these shelters ... and she said there is even a No Contact policy for workers at these shelters in terms of offering any kind of comfort to these young children.  (Changing diapers, as I understand it, is the only contact they can give to these young ones.)

It was also reported on television last night that young children have been placed in front of officials who are in charge at these shelters, with these officials conducting business in front of them, as if they are old enough to fully understand everything going on.  Old enough to fully understand?  Really? 

To add insult to injury, many times, after the children are separated from their families, which results in their becoming legally unaccompanied minors, the adults are deported back to their country of origin without their children ... and there is no plan in place to reunite families!  This is kidnapping!

Add to all this yet another hot button topic in this country, religion, and it gets even worse.  U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recent comments, citing the Book of Romans in the New Testament to justify this practice, is disgraceful.  It is also a misuse and misrepresentation of the passage's meaning ... and the Trump administration is not the first governing/in-power body to do so (i.e. loyalists of King George III, slave owners here, Spanish Inquisition).  Jeff Sessions' theological cred is about as solid as the house built on sand in the Gospel of Matthew.

Some reports about how this all has been happening include babies being taken from their parents to be "given a bath" and then never returned to the parents, and even one report of a child being taken away from its mother while being breastfed.  Clearly, far too many of these politicians, when they see these children that are separated from their parents, do not see their own children in them.

Jacob Soboroff, who you saw reporting in the MSNBC video above, has been covering this situation extensively.  The video above was from his covering a detention center in Brownsville, Texas.  (He mentioned there were no cages there.)  Just a few days ago, he began reporting from the largest detention facility in the country, located in McAllen, Texas, in which about 1,500 children are being held.  He stated they were not allowed to bring cameras inside, but that the Department of Homeland Security did share pictures of inside the facility they had.

Actress Debra Messing, best known for her work on the comedy series 'Will & Grace', recently posted the picture below on social media.  It is a picture of a young child who has been detained ... with a number put on him, as if assigned to him (#47).  Jewish children detained in concentration camps in Nazi Germany were assigned numbers, which were tattooed on their forearms.  This is the same kind of thing!

And all of this is now in the shadow of the U.S. pulling out yesterday from the United Nations' Human Rights Council.

What the hell have we become?!



Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Sentiment of the Day: R.I.P. AMERICA [Part 1 of 6]

[Today marks the 6th anniversary of this blog.  As always, thanks to all of you for reading.  In honor of the occasion, I am beginning a six-part series titled 'R.I.P. America'.]

In a letter to John Adams dated September 12, 1821, Thomas Jefferson wrote the following, "The flames kindled on the 4th of July 1776, have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism; on the contrary, they will consume these engines and all who work them."  At the time, Jefferson was echoing John Adams' concerns about the spread of democracy, even citing events surrounding military revolutions in and around Spain and Portugal.

Jefferson might have felt that what they had started forty-five years prior was an example for the world to emulate if they wished.  He also must have felt it was a powerful force.  That was clearly in terms of democracy coming up against despotism, for surely anyone taking part in a democracy would either confront or simply not align with a despot.

However, that is exactly what we have now ... someone from a democracy embracing and trying to align with despots.

The President of United States, Donald Trump, recently returned from a summit in Singapore with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, who he referred to as "funny", "strong", and "smart".  He also described the North Korean dictator in nearly contradictory terms, at one point saying Kim "loves his people", and at another point (addressing Kim's human rights violations against his own people) saying Kim is "a tough guy".  When asked -- by a correspondent for the Republican Party's propaganda machine, Fox News, no less! -- about Kim being "a killer [who is] executing people", Trump's response was this:
        "Hey, when you take over a country, tough country, with tough people, and you take
        it over from your father, I don’t care who you are, what you are, how much of an
        advantage you have – if you can do that at 27 years old, that’s one in 10,000 could
        do that."

So, Trump's answer to that question was that Kim is one of 10,000 people who could take over a position from his father.  Huh?!  Additionally, by saying "tough people", Trump nearly justifies what Kim has done to his people, as if it is their fault!

The result of that summit in Singapore was that Trump once again displayed his favor for despots and Kim now has a kind of legitimacy on the world stage, and enormous legitimacy in his own country.  It was not a win-win situation, unless you say the winners are Kim Jong Un's and Trump's egos.

Trump's praise for, and turning a blind eye to, Russian president Vladimir Putin has been ongoing.  From saying nice things about the Russian leader and blocking sanctions against Russia put forth by the U.S. Congress, to remaining quiet on other issues, Trump's affinity for despots like Putin has been showing for some time.  Like Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin is known to be an iron-fist, murderous leader.  And yet, Trump has referred to Putin as "a strong leader", even giving him an 'A' for leadership.

At the third and final presidential debate in 2016, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton said that Vladimir Putin would "rather have a puppet as president", referring to Trump.  Turns out, she was right ... and how!

Chinese President Xi Jinping is also a human rights violator.  He has been converting China's politics into a one-party authoritarian system, had individuals critical of him captured (with their whereabouts, or even if they are alive, kept quiet), and even having Muslims in China placed in centers intended for "political re-education".  A Chinese human rights activist, Hu Jia, once said about Xi, "His ultimate goal is to preserve Communist Party rule and if someone strives for freedom, they will lose their freedom."  And yet, when Trump visited the Chinese leader last November, similar to Kim Jung Un, he made no mentions about the human rights violations at Xi's direction going on in the country, even calling the leader "a great gentleman" later.

In March of this year, China's parliament removed the two-term limit on its presidency, which would have required Xi to step down in 2023.  By removing the term limit requirements from the country's constitution, Xi became, in essence, ruler for life, similar to Chairman Mao.  When Trump heard about this, his response was, "Maybe we'll have to give that a shot some day."

Because president for life is so ... American?

Let us not forget about the Philippines and its president Rodrigo Duterte.  Mr. Duterte is another despot for whom human rights are irrelevant.  In 2009, the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, which Duterte is in the process of dissolving, reported on what it called the "systematic practice of extrajudicial killings" by a vigilante group called the Davao Death Squad (DDS).  Investigations have been made into a possible link between the DDS and the Duterte government.  Some of those killed were drug addicts, street children, and petty criminals. 

Duterte has been open about his support of these killings.  Several human rights organizations have recorded well over 1,000 deaths at the hands of various death squads in the city of Davao alone between 1998 and 2016, much of that time while Duterte was mayor of Davao.  Some witnesses have come forth and said they did the killings at the direct order of Duterte, sometimes even swearing loyalty to him.

A hostage crisis in 1989, during Duterte's time as mayor, in Davao ended with the deaths of all sixteen hostage-takers, all prison inmates, and five hostages.  The hostages, fifteen total, were Protestant missionaries.  One of the hostages killed was Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill.  During his 2016 presidential campaign, Duterte said the following:
        "I looked at [Jacqueline Hamill's] face, son of a bitch, she looks like a beautiful
        American actress.  Son of a bitch, what a waste.  What came to my mind was, 
        they raped her, they lined up.  Was I angry because she was raped?  Yes, that's 
        one thing.  But she was so beautiful, I think the mayor should have been first."
He later described the comment as a joke and even threatened cutting all diplomatic ties with Australia and the United States because their respective ambassadors to the Philippines had publicly condemned the comment.  Two weeks later, he said his then-potential presidency would be "bloody", in which he would grant "a thousand pardons a day" for any police officers and soldiers who were accused of violating human rights.  He even joked about pardoning himself.  This, from a man with whom Trump described as having a "great relationship".

Donald Trump admires thugs, brutal regime leaders, dictators, and despots -- even saying he wants Americans to stand up and listen to him like they do to Kim Jung Un in North Korea -- while insulting, dismissing, and sticking it to U.S. allies.

Makes you wonder what kind of president he really wants to be.

Our founders knew that electing someone like Trump was possible, so they put in place whatever they could, while trying to maintain a free society, in order to avoid it from happening.  And yet, here we are.  We have a president who aligns himself, not with democracy, but with despotism.

Our founders did put in place certain provisions with which we can deal with such circumstances as we have now.  One of them is impeachment, which requires: a) the House of Representatives has to bring forth and vote in favor, by simple majority vote, of at least one article of impeachment; b) the Senate holds a trial (with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court serving as presiding jurist, lawmakers from the House serving as prosecutors, lawyers for the President serving as his defense counsel, and the Senate members serving as jury); and c) at least a two-thirds vote in favor of impeachment, which results in the president being removed from office.  Another provision is the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1967, which requires the Vice President and at least thirteen members of the Cabinet to vote in favor of removal of the president, to immediately notify Congress of their vote in the affirmative, and then the Vice President would assume the position of President.  (This was used only twice before, in 2002 and 2007, when then-President George W. Bush underwent colonoscopy procedures, and the transfer of power was for only a few hours both times.)

Under current political conditions, neither of these provisions will be used.



Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Phrase of the Day: NOT LIKE IT USED TO BE

I have heard individuals complain about the world not being like it used to be.  Many times, it is a reaction to simply not wanting or accepting change of any kind.  With regard to many things, the status quo is safer, easier.  Sometimes change is for the better and sometimes it is for the worse, but change is, quite often, very hard to accept. 

Some observations and complaints are completely warranted.  I am fifty-six years old.  That is, in and of itself, not news, but it is germane to this topic.  (More on that later.)  While not limited to those who are in their sixties, seventies, and eighties, many of the not-like-it-used-to-be complaints that I have heard are from persons in those age ranges.  I can see why.  Part, again, is just a refusal to change, and part is having seen the world for so many decades giving them a wider perspective on life and the world. 

I find myself, at just fifty-six years of age, sharing in those complaints.

Some of these complaints can be regional observations (i.e. people in the northern United States tend to not be as nice as people in the southern United States) and some are about society in general.  One example (and this is an easy one) is music.  It seems that each generation as it gets older, flat-out dislikes or has some complaints about "music nowadays".  Count me in that group.  I can remember how I would really like a slew of songs each year.  (My musical tastes are pretty wide, so that list would be long.)  Nowadays -- there's that word -- I may like just a few songs each year and couldn't care less about the rest.  In short, in my opinion, music nowadays -- there's that phrase -- stinks.  People who really like today's music can disagree with me, and that's okay, but I am no longer a teen or in my twenties or my thirties anymore ... and maybe that's part of why I feel that way.

Okay, that's an easy one.  Now, let's get a little more serious.  As a society, we were nicer.  Now, when some folks read that, they think people like me think the world should be a real life 'Little House on the Prairie' or 'The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet', or some kind of Utopia, or a living Hallmark card.  I do not doubt that some who believe that way desire such a change, but mine is a general observation.  Were people nicer back in the "good ol' days"?  I think so, overall, even though there were bad people around then, too.  This is not to say that being nice has completely vanished from the norm -- there are always stories of good deeds and heartwarming stories out there -- but it certainly appears as though we are less hospitable to one another as a whole.

We cared about others' feelings more way back when than we do now.  It seems that the only feeling and emotion that receive any great measure of validity are hatred and anger.  We also cared about others' well-being more than we do now.  Yes, there are many, many individuals who do care about the well-being of others who are not in the caregiving professions, but we are not as interested in that as much as we used to be.  Even politics now has actions, speeches, and votes that reflect a false sense of caring ... actually, no sense of caring.  The "false sense" comes from empty words that are not always backed up by actions.   

America used to be a nation made up of individuals.  America is now a bunch of individuals who happen to live in a nation.  Individualism is not a bad thing, in and of itself, but it has now become the thing.  Sure, an individual received recognition for an achievement of some kind, good or bad (and that still goes on today) and we had national heroes generations ago, but there used to be this sense of a greater good, of something bigger than any one of us ... our country.  The neo-trinity of Me, Myself, and I has superseded that.  President John F. Kennedy's words from his inauguration speech -- "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." -- have been rendered irrelevant.  This nation's earliest motto "E pluribus unum" ("Out of many, one") is nothing more than something printed on U.S. coinage.

Knowledge has had a ridiculously topsy-turvy rollercoaster ride in terms of importance.  It used to be (and still is in many circles) something to which one would aspire.  We have made knowing this and knowing that so important, a kind of idolatry has taken shape, to the point where smarter has replaced more compassionate and more engaged.  We never used to do that.  Conversely, knowledge has also become a kind of odd, slippery slope, amoeba-like construct that merely serves as a convenience.  We were, as a nation, never afraid of knowing the facts.  Now, we live in a world of "alternative facts".

We used to have what we called national heroes.  Even if you did not follow or partake in an individual's field, they were still considered by many to be national heroes.  People like Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali and Wilma Rudolph, John F. Kennedy and George Washington, Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, Pearl S. Buck, and many of the U.S. astronauts, to name a few.  There are people today who are inspiring, to be sure, but those highlighted here were people who inspired us as a nation, showed us the heights to which we could reach, made us proud of our country, and made us somehow feel better about the state of things.  What do we have now for the most part?  No national heroes, that's for sure.  What we have now are a lot of famous people.  The biggest and saddest example of this are people who are famous for being famous.  Sure, some of them do things, like starting charities that accomplish good, and that's fine, but their initial fame was never earned; it was simply given.  They were fillers for programming time, nothing more.  Their fame is purely manufactured.

Do we have no national heroes because of manufactured fame taking over or do we have manufactured fame because we have no national heroes?

We have become dismissive of things like "What our nation's founders said/did/thought about..." and old inspirational sayings and phrases.  While not everything from back then can be applied exactly today, we do not give a damn about what our founders said, did, and thought.  That is seen as nothing more than the stuff of history classes and that's where it should stay.  Inspirational sayings and phrases still inspire, but they, too, have been relegated to just making oneself feel better.

The concept of "American exceptionalism" has been co-opted.  It used to be a sense of exceptionalism that was not entrenched in arrogance and one-upmanship.  It was more based on our accomplishing more and better than others, akin to the slogan atop the World War II poster of Rosie the Riveter, "We can do it!".  It was striving for, and achieving.  It was pride in our country, plain and simple.  We were something that other peoples looked up to,  Don't get me wrong, many still look up to the United States to this day, but we were not simply better than the next person or country, however that was measured.  We were inspiring, both to others and to ourselves.  America in the twenty-first century has replaced American exceptionalism with nationalism: all of you are bad and we are good ... all of you are dumb and we are smart ... all of you are lesser people and we are better.  (Sadly, a wave of nationalism is happening in many other parts of the world, too.)  Dominance, a la some great conqueror, has been the cancerous tumor to national achievement and creativity.

Along those same lines, let me mention fear.  We have dove head first into the sea of fear, as if we have fallen overboard, as if we cannot swim, as if we do not have a life preserver or any kind of lifeline.  A close second place to showing fear, aside from fear itself, of course, is anger.  We have been permeated to a great extent by being fearful, along with an accompanying anger, as though being fearful and angry are normal.  If being angry all the time is not sustainable or healthy for an individual, how can it be sustainable or healthy for a nation?  The truth is it cannot.  The resulting question, then, is how long can we sustain that and how extensive will the damage from it be?

A great purveyor of fear is politics.  Mention the word "politics" to the average American citizen, and you are bound to get a variety of responses, most of them negative.  The word "politics" is derived from the Greek word "polis", which means "city-state", the standard community structure in ancient Greece.  The actual thing we call politics came from the concept of "polis" and the writings of Greek philosopher Aristotle on the subject in the fourth century B.C.   There have always been both good and bad elements in the world of politics, but politics in this country is no longer the work related to, of, or for the country (or to the city-state, as it were).  It is now a means by which the wealthy, or at least the financially well-off, serve themselves more than those they are supposed to represent.  Is it a means from which some good can come?  Yes, and it does, from time to time.  More and more, however, it is self-serving, divisive, and both socially and institutionally destructive.  To those politicians on local, state, and national levels who really do good works, I apologize, but you are caught up in a system that is, at its best, a joke.

And they wonder why the number of eligible voters actually voting is so low in this country.  Well, they wonder that publicly.  Privately, considering their self-serving interests, including keeping their jobs, they may not be nearly as concerned, just as long as they get re-elected.

The late comedian George Carlin once observed (in a televised special more than twenty years ago) the following about people complaining about politicians:

        "This is the best we can do, folks.  This is the best we can offer.  This is what our
        system produces: garbage in, garbage out.
        "Because if it's really just the fault of these politicians, then where are all the other
        bright people of conscience?  Where are all the bright, honest, intelligent
        Americans ready to step in and save the nation and lead the way?  We don't have
        any people like that in this country."

Is he right?  Maybe.  I tend to think that one loses sight of their conscience with the acquisition of more and more money and power.  Are there some in politics who are, as I said, wealthy or financially well-off, who still have a conscience at the forefront of their minds?  Yes.  The problem is that there are far too few of them.  Clearly, having only those who are financially better off than most of us in power is ruining this country.  The words of the nineteenth century British historian Lord Acton come to mind here: "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

There are more things about which I could write, but let us look at the question that naturally arises: So, what do we do about all this?  The answer: stop doing this stuff.  Too simplistic?  Maybe it's too simplistic of an answer, but it is that simple ... IF you want it bad enough.  (That's the key.)  You stop this stuff by stopping this stuff.  Period.  If you do not stop, then it continues.  Still sounds too simplistic?  Maybe the societal "norm" of everything must be complicated, over-complicated, or just a total mess has an influence on you, too.  Ask yourself: If something is helpful, positive, curative, preventative, or maybe even empowering, would you stop it or continue it?  Then ask yourself if your answer is the same when talking about something being hurtful, negative, harmful, or discouraging.  Then apply those questions and your answers to the larger scale of an entire country.

I am only six years past a half-century of being alive.  That's a fraction of a fraction in terms of this country's history, a blip in terms of the history of all of humanity, and an even smaller blip in terms of the history of this planet, let alone the entire universe.  And yet, it's clear to me that things are not like they used to be ... and that is a damn shame.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Word of the Day: EVENTUALLY

In my last post, my 200th, I mentioned that I've written on the topic of gun violence here in America about a dozen-and-a-half times.  Sadly, I have another post today to add to that count.

On Friday, a school shooting took place at Santa Fe High School in Texas.  It resulted in ten persons killed -- nine students (one of them, an exchange student from Pakistan) and one teacher -- and another ten persons injured.  The shooter, a seventeen-year-old student at the school, is in custody.  His intention was to kill students and commit suicide. .Clearly, a troubled teen who took some of his father's guns with him to the school.

Texas senator Ted Cruz spoke powerfully against this horrific act at a press conference ... the same Ted Cruz who has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from the NRA and currently has an A+ rating from them.  Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick's response was that schools should have only one entrance/exit and arming teachers .... more guns in schools.

The level of hypocrisy and stupidity in their statements is astounding.

With the news of the deaths at Santa Fe High School, came some shocking news.  In a recent report in The Washington Post newspaper, was the following sobering statistic:
There are now more students killed at school shootings 
this year than people killed while serving in the military.

Let that sink in.  We tend to think that lots of deaths occur in military operations.  Indeed, they do, but there have been, this year, more deaths here ... on our soil ... at our schools ... than in the military?  (And this year is not even half over!)  Could a goal of the death-for-profit crowd be to turn America into a war-torn piece of real estate?  Is the next move to have people bombing more and more buildings.  Will the ruins in cities like Aleppo, Raqqa, and Mosul eventually become the new norm in this country?  If that sounds far-fetched, consider the level of mental illness in this country and how it's addressed along with the ease of finding out how to make a bomb, all with the undercurrent of lax laws and law enforcement, and tell me just how far-fetched it really is?

And there are plenty of people around who are ready, willing, and able to take advantage of that ongoing perfect storm.

The Washington Post shared these graphs.  The first is the number of deaths from school shootings compared to the number of deaths in the military (both in-combat and not in-combat).

Compare the above graph to this one, showing the same comparison, but for all of last year.

And this graph, which shows comparisons among the number of deaths from 2000-2018 and among the number of shooting incidents for the same time period.

Seventeen-year-old Santa Fe High School student Paige Curry was interviewed after the shooting.  When asked if everything happening seemed unreal, she replied,
"It's been happening everywhere.
I've always kind of felt that, eventually,
it was going to happen here, too."

Eventually ...

This is what our youth is now thinking because Paige Curry is certainly not the only student in this country thinking that.  When I was in high school, we only had fire drills.  We even hoped we stood outside long enough to take up as much time as possible so that whatever period we were in at that time would be over.  (The other kids who were on their lunch period, though, were not as happy.)  My high school (or even elementary school, for that matter) never had a fire, so even though it certainly could have happened, it just seemed to us less likely.  That cannot be said for today's students.  When worrying about a test, your grades, and if your boyfriend/girlfriend was breaking up with you are no longer to biggest worries a student can have, but being killed is, normality has been ruined.  This is being normalized by referring to it as "the new normal".

"The new normal" is not normal.  It is abnormal.  It will always be abnormal.  And it must stop.

David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland shooting three months ago and outspoken activist member of the #NeverAgain movement, is someone who does not mince words when it comes to gun violence in America.  He immediately posted on Twitter in response to the shooting:
Sad to say, he is right.

Another Parkland survivor and #NeverAgain activist Emma Gonzalez also offered her words of support:

We are on a fast spiral downward to a world where schools are war zones ... no, not like war zones, literal war zones.  We must stop that from happening.  We can accomplish that only if we keep at it.  If we do, our schools will go back to being solely places of learning and not the last place our youth inhabits before their far-too-early funerals ...

... hopefully.