Crime and Justice: For What It’s Worth

Three days of tragedy.

A tragic week in America.

There’s something happening here;
What it is ain’t exactly clear.
There’s a man with a gun over there,
Telling me I got to beware…

 

 

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn.
Nobody’s right, if everybody’s wrong.
Young people speaking their minds,
Getting so much resistance from behind

…..

Paranoia strikes deep.
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you’re always afraid.
You step out of line, the man come,
and take you away…
(from the Buffalo Springfield song, “For What It’s Worth”, ©1966.)

     TLDR ADVISORY: This article far exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers. My apologies ahead of time, but please read on…

     Fifty years ago, Stephen Stills penned these lyrics in response to the “Sunset Strip Riots” of the summer of ’66. During the Vietnam era, the song was adopted and interpreted as an anti-war anthem. Fifty years later, these lyrics remain just as pertinent to the atmosphere in America as when “For What It’s Worth” was first released. During the past three days, our nation has borne witness to tragedy upon tragedy, as a direct result of both the lingering, systemic biases within law enforcement, and the public’s festering fear and anger over the outward examples of these biases.

     On Tuesday, July 5th, 2016, Baton Rouge resident Alton Sterling’s life was cut short by two police officers, who were responding to a phone-in complaint of a person threatening others with a firearm outside of a local convenience store. While we don’t exactly know what led up to it, we do know, from cellphone video that was taken of the incident, that one of the responding officers fired six shots into Sterling, at near point-blank range while both officers had Sterling pinned to the ground. The cellphone video of the incident went viral on the internet shortly afterwards, resulting in both national outrage, and the local authorities calling on the DOJ to launch an investigation. The owner of the convenience store, Abdullah Muflahi, has stated that Sterling was “not the one causing trouble” during the events that led up to the incident.

     Alton Sterling was a black man, the two responding officers are white.

     The very next day, near Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, two officers of the St. Anthony Police Department pulled over a vehicle belonging to 32-year-old Philando Castile, reportedly for a broken tail light. Also in the vehicle at the time of the stop, were Philando’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and Diamond’s four-year-old daughter. During the stop, one of the officers, Jeronimo Yanez, asked Castile for his license and registration. The officer was informed by Castile that Castile was carrying a firearm, and that he was licensed to do so. At that point, reportedly while Castile was putting his hands back up from reaching for his wallet, in an effort to comply with the officer’s orders, the officer drew his service weapon, and fired four shots into the vehicle in rapid succession, striking Philando Castile in the arm and torso. Castile’s girlfriend then began live-streaming the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook. At the time of the shooting, Reynolds’ daughter was in the back seat of the vehicle. Castile subsequently died as a result of the shooting. The governor of Minnesota has also called upon the DOJ to investigate.

     Philando Castile was black, the officer who took his life…was white.

      Then, all hell broke loose, and the world once again seemed that it was going off of the rails. On the evening of Thursday the 7th, in downtown Dallas, Texas, as a peaceful local protest against the prior two days’ killings was winding down, gunfire erupted from an elevated sniper’s nest, as 25-year-old Army Reservist Micah Xavier Johnson of Mesquite, Texas, aimed his weapon at police officers, shooting 10 from the Dallas PD, and two Dallas Area Rapid Transit officers, all of whom were present at the protest to ensure public safety. Also struck, were two civilians. As a result, four of the Dallas PD officers, and one of the DART officers, succumbed to their wounds and lost their lives. It was the deadliest attack for law enforcement since the tragic events of September 11th, 2001.

      During the ensuing standoff with the assailant, Johnson stated to law enforcement negotiators that “the end” was coming, that he was upset about the shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, and that his aim was to kill white people, and specifically white police officers. He also stated that there were numerous explosive devices in the area. One suspicious package was indeed discovered, and Johnson was subsequently killed during the detonation of that package.

     In the aftermath of this week’s violence, a great many people are struggling to wrap their heads around what has taken place. My fine, young readers, that includes me. Just yesterday, after reading about the killing of Philando Castile, I was musing to a good friend that there seems to be a systematic “something” that’s happening in this country, and that it’s being fueled by racial divisiveness and preconceptions. On further examination, I tend to think that what ails us as a nation runs far deeper than just racial biases within the system. In fact, just a few days ago, I made the following observation on my Facebook wall;

“Is it just me, or does it seem to anyone else that, unless you’re super-rich or super-notable, we live in a country where we’re increasingly being discouraged from asking that favorite question of scientists and young children, “why?”, about the things that REALLY matter, like why we still have a problem with racial prejudice, or why our government never listens to or submits to its citizenry?

I’m sorry, but from where I’m sitting, it looks suspiciously like we’re being beaten down by a system that’s been rigged against us, a system designed to keep us, for the most part, pacified.

It’s times like these that trouble me the most.”

     I think that it’s safe to say that I’m far from being the only person who feels like we live in a country where the average Joe has little to no say in how their government is run, and lives with a fair amount of trepidation of that same government. From fears over what would happen if we’re pulled over by a police officer having a particularly bad day, to being audited by the IRS, to whatever governmental mechanism that might go haywire in our particular direction, the people live in fear of the government. John Basil Barnhill stated in 1914, that:

“Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty.”

     What has occurred over the past three days, is indeed tyranny.

     My friend and I also discussed the state of the nation, and whether the penchant of certain people for displaying an upside-down flag on their profiles, a sign of a nation in distress, was appropriate. She (my friend) stated that she didn’t believe that our nation was in distress…this was before the events in Dallas. When I spoke with her again after the events in Dallas, I got the distinct impression that maybe her assessment of the situation had changed somewhat.

     My fine, young readers, we are indeed a nation in distress. This distress has claimed at least eight lives in the past three days; five officers in Dallas, Texas, an angry U.S. Army Reservist, a black man in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and another in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  This distress will, unfortunately, claim many more lives until it is alleviated. While I’m sure that there are many opinions on how this distress might find its remedy, one thing is sure; this nation is doomed to perish without that remedy, because as our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” 

“…because evils being once recognized, are half way on towards their remedy.”
(Elizabeth Gaskell, circa 1849.)

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American Rhetoric: Some Thoughts on the Democratic Sit-In for Gun Legislation

House Dems Sit-In

House Democrats announce their “occupation” of the floor.

TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers, including Congressman Mark Walker, and the Republican leadership. My apologies…NAH!

     Today, I can say that I am proud to be a Democrat, because yesterday, I witnessed my party’s leaders make history. Starting at around 11:00 A.M. EDST, several House Democrats, led by the civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis, staged an unprecedented “sit-in”, effectively taking over control of the House floor. This sit-in was precipitated by the recent tragedy in Orlando, at the Pulse nightclub, where a lone gunman killed 49 members of the LGBT(QI) community, before being killed by responding officers.

     In the wake of this mass shooting, which has been referred to in the media as the “worst mass shooting in U.S. history”, as with previous tragedies such as Sandy Hook and Aurora, national discourse on firearms legislation and control has risen to fever pitch; however nothing of significance ever seems to get accomplished. It was this angst that prompted members of the House Democratic Caucus to take the extraordinary step of staging yesterday’s “sit-in.”

     John Lewis is no stranger to things like sit-ins. The 76-year-old Troy, Alabama native was an integral part of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, having been one of the 13 original “Freedom Riders”, and leading the march across the Edmund Pettis bridge in Selma in 1965. If anyone in congress was up to the task of putting together something like this, it was John Lewis. According to Lewis, the sit-in was not made known to the leadership. (I’ll comment a bit more on Lewis a bit later down the page!)

     At approximately 11:00 A.M., John Lewis was recognized by the chair, took the floor of the house, and issued the following statement:

     Thus started what would eventually become a 25-hour-long protest by House Democrats, over the Republican majority’s reluctance to allow a vote on two pieces of legislation; a “No Fly, No Buy” bill, which would prevent people on the government’s “No Fly” list from purchasing firearms, and a bill to close loopholes in the background check process where it pertains to online and gun show purchases. Both of the bills that Democrats were seeking a vote on, incidentally, are bipartisan authored bills. With their intent to force the Republican majority to allow a floor vote on these bills, or be held over with no holiday break, Democrats employed the rallying cry of, “No Bill, No Break!” The Republican chair was forced to adjourn the House once the Democrats took the floor.

     One of the more significant hurdles that the Democrats had to overcome, was the absence of media coverage of the sit-in protest. This was due to the House Majority’s control of the cameras and microphones in the House chamber. The Republican leadership had these shut off when the chair adjourned the House, much to the chagrin of the Democrats. No worries, though! As it turns out, there’s an app for that! Enter “Periscope”, and social media feeds from Congressmen Eric Swalwell (D-CA 15th), Scott Peters (D-CA 52nd), and Beto O’Rourke (D-TX 16th). Because of this, C-SPAN was able to broadcast the sit-in in its entirety, albeit with the occasional video glitch due to the nature of streaming video from a smartphone.

Jim Costa

My congressman, Jim Costa (D-CA 16) speaks.

     During the day-long sit-in, several Democrats took to the podium at the front of the House chamber, rallying their fellow Dems and outlining the many reasons for both the sit-in, and the need for tighter laws on firearms purchases, with the pictures and names of the many victims of gun violence in America as both their backdrop, and constant source of motivation, along with signs reading, “Disarm Hate.”

     The Republicans, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, eventually used a parliamentary procedure to call an early recess, then left for the July 4th break in the wee hours of the morning, without even an acknowledgment of the issue. In fact, Speaker Ryan referred to the Democratic sit-in as merely a “publicity stunt.” This left the Democrats basically on their own in D.C.

     John Lewis and the House Democrats ended their sit-in at around noon on Thursday, the 23rd of June, with Congressman Lewis stating that their “struggle” was far from over, vowing to return from the holiday break and once again take up the issue. Lewis was the last one to speak. What began with Congressman Lewis, ended with Congressman Lewis, that courageous and noble gentleman from Georgia’s 5th congressional district.

     I find myself left with both a strong sense of pride in my party, and an equally strong sense of disgust at the statements and behavior of House Republicans. At various times during the Democrats’ occupation of the House floor, Republicans alternately heckled, laughed at, and yelled at the Democrats on the floor. During all of this, however, my party’s representatives maintained an overall sense of decorum and restraint. They did us proud, getting into what Congressman Lewis referred to as, “good trouble.”

     One of the more ironic things that came up during the protest, was when Southern Baptist preacher-come-Congressman Mark Walker (R-NC 6th) attempted to engage in a bit of “whitesplaining”, tweeting that;

Calling this a sit-in is a disgrace to Woolworth’s. They sat-in for rights. Dems are “sitting-in” to strip them away.

     I think that it’s a pretty “twunt” move, presuming to tell a civil rights icon about the civil rights movement, especially when the significantly younger Walker wasn’t even born until May of 1969, almost ten whole years after the Woolworth’s lunch counter protest.

     Once again, I am a proud Democrat. I’m proud of my party, proud of my congressional rep, and proud of my President. I also have my own opinions on things like the “No Fly” list, disallowing people on that list from purchasing weapons, and closing loopholes. Instead of going into that here, I’ll pen individual articles on each one, links to be found here soon! (Suffice it to say that this particular piece has indeed migrated towards the “TLDR” end of the spectrum!)

     #SickAndTiredofBeingSickAndTired #NoFlyNoBuy #CloseTheLoopholes #DisarmHate

Cybersattva SPECIAL: A Matter of Faith, Hair and Education

l. - Vanessa VanDyke. Photo courtesy of Jezebel Magazine online. r. - An example of 1980's hairstyles.

l. – Vanessa VanDyke. Photo courtesy of Jezebel Magazine online. r. – An example of 1980’s hairstyles.

     The 1980’s was the decade of “big hair.” Young girls and women were in a constant competition, it seemed, to see who could come up with the biggest, best hairstyles. Various products, including hairsprays and mousses, were used in this signature 80’s endeavor. My wife, beginning in 1984, attended school at First Assembly Christian School. She recalled to me just this morning, that there were a few girls who attended there, with hair styles that were typical of the era. My wife doesn’t recall that this was ever an issue with the school administration.

     I tell you this, my fine young readers, to lead in to the following developing news item, coming out of Orlando, Florida. On Monday, a story surfaced in the news regarding young Vanessa VanDyke, a 12-year-old student at Faith Christian Academy, a private Christian school in Orlando. It seems that young Vanessa has been the target of some ridicule from other students, regarding of all things, the natural hairstyle she wears. Concerns over the teasing were brought to the school’s administrators, who then informed Vanessa, according to the family, that she needed to either straighten and tone down her hair style, or face expulsion. When questioned on Monday evening by the media, school staff at FCA Orlando would not answer any questions regarding the matter. (1) (2) (3)

     Now, the fact that Vanessa is African-American, coupled with the school being a religious organisation, has made for some very interesting conversation on the subject since this story broke. The piece has been picked up by not only the local stations, but also national news outlets including CNN, the Huffington Post, Jezebel Online and the International Business Times. Once there, it made the jump into the global awareness, via sites such as Australia’s “News.com.au.” As a result, the school’s Facebook page began to be inundated with comments from concerned people from all over the world, the overwhelming majority of which were highly critical of the school’s actions. Late Tuesday evening, the administrators of the FCA Orlando page commenced a campaign of “page scrubbing,” and have since removed most of the comments from their page threads.

     Enter The Cybersattva. Following last night’s “sanitation” efforts by FCA Orlando page admins, I sent an email blast to several of the school and church’s pastors and administrators, questioning their actions in light of their status as a faith-based institution. This morning, I received a reply from none other than the senior pastor of the church, one Carl Stephens. The following is a screen capture of the actual email exchange, from Outlook:

email_exchange

     Additionally, school administrators informed WKMG-CBS on Tuesday, that they are “…not asking her to put products in her hair or cut her hair. We’re asking her to style her hair within the guidelines according to the school handbook.”

Faith Christian Academy Handbook (2012-2013)

Faith Christian Academy Handbook (2012-2013)

     (After giving this a second glance, there are two “linchpin” questions that need asked; “Okay, how exactly is she supposed to “style her hair within the guidelines according to the school handbook,” and if that involves shortening or straightening it, how is she supposed to accomplish this without cutting it or using chemical products!?” Quick FCA, claim ignorance!)

     In other words, pastor Stephens now asserts that the media did not get its story straight, and that Miss VanDyke was never in danger of being expelled. (The media is always the easiest one to scapegoat in situations like these, it seems.) Pastor Stephens did note in his reply, that Vanessa is an outstanding student, has “excelled and hopefully will continue to do so.” Having viewed the video footage of Vanessa’s interview on WKMG-CBS, however, something about pastor Stephens’ reply just doesn’t ring true. It wasn’t the media that asserted that Vanessa was facing expulsion over her hair style, it was Vanessa and her family, stating that they were informed of this by the staff of Faith Christian Academy of Orlando.

     Damage control is a tricky piece of business. Every word, every assertion and every insinuation gets parsed, examined and interpreted. In this case, it has become apparent that the “powers-that-be” at Faith Christian Academy are all but tripping over themselves in their efforts to re-spin this in their favor. Of course, they have no desire to either outright, or by nuance, call Vanessa or her mother liars, nor do they wish to admit any wrongdoing themselves. Their story keeps changing, though. On Tuesday, they attempted to clarify their request for Vanessa to change her hairstyle, placing it against the framework of their school handbook, while at the same time making no mention of the consequences that Vanessa would face for not complying with the request. Today, they deny that Vanessa was ever threatened with expulsion to begin with.

     At this point in the tale of “hair and all that is holy,” I have to give pastor Stephens et al. some credit for at least trying to learn how to pedal a bicycle in reverse. It’s not enough, though. In my own, not-so-humble opinion, the school needs to just come clean. They need to admit that they told the VanDyke’s what they did, and that by doing so, they sided with those who were picking on Vanessa in the first place. They need to admit that this unfortunate series of missteps sent the wrong message, and that they will (honestly and sincerely!) do their level best to change the way in which they address these situations, so that this will never happen again within the halls of Faith Christian Academy.

UPDATE – 02 December 2013: THE SCHOOL HAS RELENTED! Apparently, the “powers-that-be” at Faith Christian Academy have come to their senses, welcomed Vanessa back from the Thanksgiving break with open arms, and will not be requiring her to cut or straighten her lovely locks! Vive le coiffure!

The Chaser: Who Put The Di** in Dixon?

     Well folks, Christmas is a little less than two months away now. Time for wearing red and green, putting the tree up, spending time with friends and family. It’s a time for ornaments, egg nog, exchanging presents and bringing good cheer. To that end, some of the more “twisted” among us will even be digging out the Red Peters and Rodney Carrington “Twisted Christmas” tunes. Before we let Rodney ask, “Who Put The Di** on The Snowman” however, some of us, including the folks at Gawker (1) and the Huffington Post, (2) find ourselves wondering; who exactly put the di** in Dixon, Illinois?

     It seems that the Christian Science Society in Dixon, Illinois, has commissioned the building of a new meeting hall at the corner of West 2nd Street and Highland Avenue. The building, a new addition to the neighborhood, is almost complete. From the ground, it appears to be a rather nicely designed building; modern and airy in appearance, with plenty of windows to allow light to flood the interiors;

Christian Science Society, Dixon, IL new building front.

Christian Science Society, Dixon, IL new building front.

     Now, before I go any farther, one should notice the second line of the motto in the picture, and keep that in mind when considering the following view…on a south-north map orientation…of the same building…from space:

Viewed from Google Earth. Imagery date 09/10/2013

Viewed from Google Earth. Imagery date 09/10/2013

     Um, I’m not sure if the folks in the Christian Science Society of Dixon knew that their brand new edifice looked, shall we say, phallic from the “God’s eye view,” but hopefully, they do now. I don’t know, maybe the construction company got -stiffed- on the job, so they decided to have a little fun with the blueprints. Qui sait?

Domestic Politics: Shutdown, Showdown and Who Pays The Price (With Videos!)

A Washingtonian Stand-off.

A Washingtonian Stand-off.

TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers, including Speaker Boehner and Congressman Cantor.

     Ah, Sunday. It’s a day filled with things like church, football, household chores and relaxation. There is however, an undercurrent of anxiety that has punctuated the last few Sundays on the calendar, at least for some. As we transit into week three of the government shutdown, its effects and implications are beginning to be noticed by more and more Americans. The political landscape has become further divided, and tempers are running a bit higher among both participants on Capitol Hill and those watching from the sidelines.

     As the increasing toll of the impasse in our nation’s capital becomes more apparent, one is led to wonder; just who is to blame for this quagmire? What factors contributed to this situation, and how did we get here? Who and what are being affected by the shutdown? My fine, young readers, please allow me to present a few facts and figures that may help answer these questions, starting with…

What Led Up To The Shutdown – A Tale of Two Houses

Charlie Rangel (D-NY)

Charlie Rangel (D-NY)

     On September 17th, 2009, Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) introduced a bill on the floor of the then-Democrat-controlled House, initially entitled, “Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act of 2009.” This bill (the initial HR 3590 (PDF)) was considered by the Ways and Means committee, and subsequently passed the House by a 416-0 vote. (1) In other words, this bill contained language so “warm and fuzzy,” that even Tea Party-affiliated Republican representatives could get behind it! So the bill proceeded, like all bills usually do, to the Senate. The Senate, in turn, gutted Rangel’s existing bill, and filled the container with the rough language that would eventually become PPACA. This new bill, rechristened as the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” (PDF) was voted on and passed by a slim majority in the Democrat-controlled Senate on December 24th, 2009, and this “Christmas present” was sent back to the House. (2)

     I think it would be fair to say that at this point in the tale, the House Republicans were feeling a bit dyspeptic over what they considered a “bamboozling.” Who can forget the dramatic diatribe of Ohio representative John Boehner, during the final hours of the House’s consideration of HR 3590;

     Regardless, the bill was passed by the House on March 21st, 2010, by a narrow 219-212 vote, mostly along party lines. (3) (It should be noted that 34 House Democrats also voted against the passage of PPACA at the time.) It was during this time, that the seeds of the current shutdown were first planted in the political soils of the capital.

     In the fall of 2010, several Democrats lost seats in the House to Republicans, and as a result, John Boehner, the distinguished gentleman from Ohio, was minted as the 61st Speaker of a now-Republican-controlled House of Representatives, on January 5th, 2011. The balance of power…had shifted. Since then, GOP pols have stated, sometimes openly, that they would do whatever they could to kill this “bane of their existence,” this monster, nicknamed “Obama-Care,” up to and including, if necessary, forcing a government shutdown.

Eric Cantor (R-VA)

Eric Cantor (R-VA)

     Flash forward to the fall of 2013. The GOP-controlled house now found itself in “planning mode” for two upcoming events; the end of FY-2013, and the start of open enrollment in the new health care exchanges of PPACA, both of which would be happening at the same time, October 1st. At some point, perhaps even as far back as January of 2011, a plan was hatched by the GOP leadership, to force the hand of the President and Democrats to make concessions that would either defund or delay the implementation of PPACA, by means of the threat of shutting down the government. (4)

     On September 20th of this year, House Republicans began their offensive in earnest, by inserting language into House Joint Resolution 59, the “Continuing Appropriations Resolution,” that would rob PPACA of all federal funding;

SEC. 137. (a) IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding any
22 other provision of law, no Federal funds shall be made
23 available to carry out any provisions of the Patient Protec
24 tion and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111–148) or
25 title I and subtitle B of title II of the Health Care and
1 Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (Public Law 111–
2 152), or of the amendments made by either such Act.

     Having “engrossed and passed” this altered version of the continuing resolution, the House sent it back to the Senate, and so began a series of back-and-forth volleys between the two houses of congress; the Senate rejecting the House changes and sending a “clean CR” back to the House, and the House inserting the language to defund or cripple PPACA, and sending it back to the Senate. Round and round they went, right up to the midnight, September 30th deadline for passing the CR. With one final, evening push of the altered bill, (5) and its subsequent tabling by the Senate, (6) the “Partial Government Shutdown of 2013” was fait accompli.

     Now, there’s a catch to this story, my fine young readers! In the early morning (01:10 A.M.) hours of October 1st, another House Resolution, HR 368, was passed by the House. (7) It contained the following language:

SEC. 2. Any motion pursuant to clause 4 of rule XXII
relating to House Joint Resolution 59 may be offered only by
the Majority Leader or his designee.

     What this basically means, is that only Eric Cantor (R-VA) or whoever he picks as his designee, can put forth a motion that would adopt a clean version of the CR, and end the shutdown. In the following video clip, House Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) draws attention to this change in established House rules, as they apply to HJ Res 59:

Government Functions Grind To A Halt – The Rising Toll

     During the past two weeks, the news reports have been replete with stories of national parks being closed, memorials being barricaded, offices being shuttered and thousands of federal employees being furloughed, but that’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The government shutdown is also having a “trickle-down” effect on other industries and recreational activities, such as:

  • Private Security companies – Cannot run federal background checks on prospective employees, due to the closure of those offices.
  • Local lakes – Hensley Lake in the Central California foothills, which is NOT a national park, but run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has been closed. Other state lakes have also met this fate during the current shutdown.
  • Deadliest Catch – Captain Keith Colburn testified before the Senate on Friday, regarding the shutdown’s impact on fisheries in the Pacific Northwest;

     This week will see the second deadline in this drama; on Thursday, our government will “hit the debt ceiling,” meaning that unless a deal is reached on the passage of any bill that would continue to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling, we will automatically default on our debts, which will impact the economies of other nations worldwide. Applying their own typical spin, China’s Xinhua news published an op/ed this morning, commenting on this situation while calling for a more “de-Americanized” world. (8)

     Ladies and Gentlemen, I will leave it to you to decide who bears the ultimate blame for the mess we’re in, and to opine on how we might extricate ourselves from it.

__________________________________________________

For another interesting view of this ongoing imbroglio, please see the following article by the fine folks at Liberal America:

Republican Shutdown 101: The Definitive Guide,” by Liberal America writer Amanda Fleming.

Truth, Stranger Than Fiction: Arab States Deploying New Weapon To Combat Homosexuality

Somewhere, over the rainbow...

Somewhere, over the rainbow…

     Just when we thought that the antics of nations couldn’t get any more amusing than the continuing “dramarama” of “Iran-diana Kim and The Quest For Nukes,” along comes something that makes us cry out, “Seriously!?”

     According to several news sources, including the U.K. Daily Mail (1) and Israel’s Arutz Sheva (2), the small Arab nation of Kuwait has announced plans to research development of the world’s first medical “gaydar,” in a misguided, if somewhat comical attempt to prevent LGBT expatriates from entering the country. (You’ve got to hand it to Iran and north Korea in light of this, at least they’re equal opportunity haters; nuclear weapons deny life and liberties indiscriminately!)

     During a recent interview with Arabic newspaper Al Rai, Director of Public Health for Kuwait’s health ministry, Yousuf Mindkar, stated that a central committee would be set up to discuss the proposed “gay testing,” when it (the ministry) meets in November. In addition, Mindkar suggested that the testing could be introduced in all other Gulf Cooperation Countries, which include:

  • Bahrain
  • Qatar
  • Oman
  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Arab Emirates

     So in other words, Kuwait is not only seeking the proverbial “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” it is also proposing to share the spoils with the rest of the GCC class. Of the nations listed above, all of them have laws against homosexual behavior, with Saudi Arabia meting out the harshest penalty (death) for homosexuals.

     With strains of Bob Hope’s “Thanks For The Memories” droning on in the background, this Desert Storm veteran is suddenly compelled to reflect back on the year 1991. It was during 1991, that a U.S.-led coalition entered Kuwait, and drove Sadaam Hussein’s invading forces out, thereby reinstating Kuwait’s and the Kuwaitis’ freedom from Iraqi oppression. Now, twenty-two years later, what have they done to honor that debt? Have they developed a cure for AIDS? A cure for Cancer? How about Alzheimers? Nope, they want to develop medical “gaydar,” and restrict / deny the freedoms of an entire group of people. Gee Kuwait, thanks for the memories.

Life and Living: The Pain Left Behind…

Malinda Gayle "Mindy" McCready - (1975 - 2013)

Malinda Gayle “Mindy” McCready –
(1975 – 2013)

“Through early morning fog, I see
visions of the things to be
The pains that are withheld for me,
I realize and I can see…”
(“Suicide Is Painless”, by Johnny Mandel and Michael Altman, from the 1970 movie, “M*A*S*H”.)

     After reading this evening’s news, I felt I had to write something. I simply couldn’t allow these events to remain in the “complete waste” bucket. Earlier today, 37-year-old country music artist Mindy McCready, after a years-long battle with manic depression and substance abuse, took her own life. She leaves behind two children, the youngest one a mere ten months young. One of the most tragic aspects of this story, is that this child just lost his father last month, in the exact same place and in the exact same way.

     Trying hard. See, I don’t want this piece to be just another one of the plethora of commentaries that have already been written on the subject of suicide, because it seems that, though we writers and opiners do our best to comment on it and dissuade people from going down that road, people still take their own lives. The depression, stress and / or hopelessness overwhelms whatever positive aspects mark out a person’s life, and they succumb to the darkness of their despair.

     My fine, young readers, I will now share something with you that I have as of yet, left unshared here. I have indeed contemplated “ending it all”, on a few occasions. I know I’m not alone in this, because I’ve done the research and read the studies on how many people who state that they have contemplated suicide. I know that depression can become a “force to be reckoned with”, and that situations can take on a gargantuan and insurmountable appearance. Yes folks, I have “been there, thought about that.”

     Needless to say, I’m still here. Not only am I still here, I’m glad of the fact! (If I wasn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this!) I yet draw breath, and will do so for the foreseeable future, because I love and am loved. I’m a family man, and have been since the late eighties. Had I decided to follow through with those hasty, yet intense thoughts while in the grips of depression, what would have become of my family? How would they cope with my premature departure? Short answer…not well.

     What does taking one’s own life accomplish? For the dearly departed, it might indeed be a guaranteed end to perceived problems. What do the dead care for the concerns of the living? (I know that sounds pretty callous, but please let me digress just a bit…) Once a person is gone, so are the problems that are, or were bringing them such pain and despair, right? Wrong. More often than not, those problems just get foisted off onto those left behind to clean up the mess while mourning us at the same time, and it also creates a host of new difficulties as well. In addition, I can’t help but think of the many suicide attempts that have less-than-successful results, (as if death could realistically be considered a “success”!) leaving the person severely disabled and creating additional hardships for those entrusted with their long-term care needs.

     Within the last few years, suicide rates among American service members have taken a drastic and unfortunate upswing. In the midst of this increase, the commanding general of Fort Bliss, MG Dana Pittard, opined in January of 2012 that suicide was “an absolutely selfish act.” General Pittard later came under fire for his opinions, and was pressured to retract his statements. (1) I however, am not as bound by the influence and opinions of certain congressmen, (yes Congressman Thomas Rooney, I’m referring to you!) so I’ll carry on where Dana left off. Yes, suicide is an act which is ultimately selfish by its nature. Those of us that have walked up to the edge of that cliff and peered over the edge into the abyss will readily admit that fact, if we’re to be entirely honest with ourselves and with others! What does a person think about when they’re sitting there, with the proposed “McGuffin” of their dramatic plot in their grasp? Where are their thoughts centered? I’m here to tell you that the majority of personal identifiers in that monologue are either “me”, “my”, “mine” or “I”.

     Here’s the thing, ladies and gentlemen. There are those of us out here, that have made it our lot in life and our mission, to listen. We understand that no one person is meant to be an island unto themselves. No matter how alone a person feels, they’re not truly alone. Given that there are over 300 million people in this country alone, the chances are that there’s at least a hundred other people if not more, that have the same general concerns as you do. Out of that hundred, at least ten of those would take the time to listen. (At least I would hope so, and that’s yet another key idea; to find, have and hold onto hope, for dear life!)

     If you’re reading this while finding yourself in that most dire of situations, the first thing I’ll tell you is don’t do it. It might seem like the “easy solution”, but in reality it’s anything but. While it might seem hard, start making a list of the reasons to stick around. Things you want to do, places you want to see, people you might like to meet someday. No, don’t say that it will never happen, because you can’t tell the future. (If you could, you’d be doing three shows a night in Las Vegas, and making a fortune!) No one knows for certain just what the future may hold, and that desperate situation you’re in right now may be, or may give way to opportunities that you hadn’t even considered. There’s always that chance. Yes, there’s always a chance.

Faith and Religion: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished…

They say a picture is worth 1k words; that means I'm giving you abut 58% here! :-)

They say a picture is worth 1k words; that means I’m giving you about 58% here! 🙂

     As an ever-increasing number of Christendom’s faithful begin to wonder just why it is, that an ever-increasing number of people are falling away from Christendom, yet another prime example has reared its horrid head. In St. Louis, Missouri, a faith-based snide comment has been penned, a receipt has been posted online, a waitress has been fired and a pastor has been outted…and the furor grows.

     A number of my fine, young readers know exactly to what and to whom I am referring. For those that don’t, her name is Pastor Alois Bell, of the Truth In The Word Deliverance Ministries, of Saint Louis. As the story goes, Pastor Bell was part of a large party dining at a local Applebee’s restaurant, with each person in the party paying a portion of the bill. When presented with her copy of the bill, Pastor Bell was evidently “overcome with a spirit”, and expressed this state of being in writing, on the receipt, with the following words;

“I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?” (1)

     Because there were a lot of people in the group, the receipt included an automatic gratuity (an “autograt”) of 18%, or as applied to Pastor Bell’s portion of this particular meal, $6.29. The gratuity amount was scratched out, and the additional gratuity line filled in with a nicely written “0”. It was even signed “Pastor Alois Bell”. Evidently, another server was somehow able to capture a copy of this receipt, and it was subsequently posted online. In the ensuing efforts to verify the veracity of the story and the progression of the posting into “viral” status, the pastor was informed of the receipt’s posting. She in turn, has contacted Applebee’s, which has resulted in the dismissal of the server. At the same time, the pastor has stated to various media outlets that she “used bad judgement”, but did in fact leave a tip on the table. (2) (Uh huh, as comedian Bill Cosby said in his 1963 “Noah” routine, “riiiight!”)

     Ladies and gentlemen, servers traditionally do not make that much in wages, and in today’s depressed economy, don’t take away that much in tips either. They do their best to eke out a meager existence in this “land of plenty”, often working two or three jobs in total just to make the ends meet and keep the bill collectors at bay. They are quite honesty, some of what the Bible refers to as “the least of these.” (Oh yes, my fine young readers, the Cybersattva is ’bout to pontificate up in this hizzy, because the “pastor” has it coming!) In Matthew 25:34 through 46, it states that; (3)

(34) “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
(35) For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
(36) Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
(37) Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
(38) When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
(39) Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
(40) And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
(41) Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
(42) For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
(43) I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
(44) Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
(45) Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
(46) And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

     I’m sure that pastor Bell knows what it’s like to be among the “down and outters”, at least she purports to. According to the ministry’s website, Alois Bell “..gave her life to Christ in 1997 while she was pregnant and homeless with her youngest son. She was living in a Catholic homeless (sic, shelter).” (4) One would think that, having come from this type of “hard-up” situation, getting a hand up and now being better off, a pastor would pass on what she has been blessed with; that she would “pay it forward”. Nope, not in this instance.

     Pastor Bell was further quoted in the Blaze article that I cited above, as having stated that “…although her comment may have been in poor taste, she and her ministry do good work in the community and “would never want to tarnish the light of Christianity.”” (“Tarnish the light of Christianity”? Hmm, I’d say that someone definitely has their hand on the dimmer knob!) If I’m not mistaken, the Bible also counsels against being boastful about your works and worship.

     It would therefore appear, at least on the face of things, that the “ten percent” that Pastor Alois Bell is giving her God (and Christendom) should be counted in grief, because she has definitely proffered at least eighteen percent of that upon her (now former / dismissed) Applebee’s server(s). For shame.

AUTHOR’S UPDATE:

     It does bear mentioning here, that the waitress did overstep her bounds in causing the receipt to be photographed, which then led to its subsequent posting by yet another waitress from what I gather. The fact remains however, that but for this pastor’s pithiness and actions, coupled with the fact that she is a pastor, this entire imbroglio would never have occurred. Cause and effect is a pain.

     As of today, 01 February, the ministry’s website has apparently been hacked. Pastor Bell’s bio has been removed, therefore the link for that citation in the article (source item 4) no longer displays the proper content.

More on this viral news item:

1) “Applebee’s fires waitress who posted receipt from pastor complaining about auto-tip” // Yahoo News

2) “Waitress Who Posted No-Tip Receipt From “Pastor” Customer Fired From Job” // The Consumerist

3) “Pastor Apologizes For Snide Remark On Meal Receipt” // The Smoking Gun

The Homefront: Justice, Off For The Holidays?

Sins of the father? (Pictured, l. to r.) Spencer and Kyle Scarber.

Sins of the father? (Pictured, l. to r.) Spencer and Kyle Scarber.

ARTICLE UPDATED / BREAKING NEWS – SEE BOTTOM.

     I know that I was supposed to regale you all with a solid, well researched article regarding the topic of Bibliolatry, and rest assured that the article is still in the works. I’m taking a small break however, to cover something that’s happening in the local area, albeit from a blogger’s Op/Ed perspective. I’m referring to the case of Spencer Scarber, convicted rapist and current fugitive from justice. This is a story that has been brewing for the past few weeks, and involves several aspects of local (Fresno) law enforcement…but I digress…

     On July 30th of last year, (2011) authorities arrested 19-year-old Spencer Scarber, son of assistant Fresno-area CHP chief Kyle Scarber, on charges of rape by force, kidnap to commit rape, sexual penetration with force, assault with a deadly weapon and burglary, one day after an initial report was filed with the Fresno County sheriff’s department. (1) He was subsequently released on bond (2) and earlier this year, his case went to trial. On the day that Spencer Scarber was to testify in his own defense, after prosecutors had finished presenting their arguments and evidence, his father (Kyle) reported him missing to authorities. According to investigators, Kyle Scarber stated that the last time he had seen his son was at around 1:30 A.M. on the morning of Wednesday, the 12th of December, and discovered him missing at or after 5:00 A.M. In addition, Scarber pointed out apparent blood stains on the surface of the family’s driveway to the responding investigators, and stated that Spencer’s crutches (don’t ask me,) were also discovered there. The elder Mr. Scarber even posted missing person flyers around the neighborhood. (3)

     Since December 12th, prosecutors have stated that Spencer Scarber’s disappearance was in fact, staged. According to sources, a photo was taken of a vehicle belonging to Gail Scarber, the defendant’s mother, crossing the border at the San Ysidro port of entry into Mexico, at approximately 3:24 A.M., on the same morning that Kyle Scarber reported Spencer missing. (Keep in mind here, my fine young readers, that it takes at least seven hours to drive from Squaw Valley to San Ysidro.) Eighty minutes later, at about 4:45 A.M., Gail Scarber, along with Spencer Scarber’s sister, used their passports to reenter the United States at San Ysidro, on foot. (4) (5)

     Subsequently, a search warrant was served at the Scarber household in Squaw Valley, and evidence was gathered. No arrests were made at that time however, and now Kyle Scarber is rumored by news sources to be planning a trip into Mexico himself. (6)

     [SOAPBOX IS SO ON!] Does anyone besides myself think there is something extremely “hinky” about this whole thing? Even my nine-year-old daughter can put two and two together, so why can’t the powers-that-be? Investigators have determined that Kyle Scarber filed a false report, so why hasn’t he been charged? Why is Kyle Scarber still getting paid by the taxpayers of California for vacation time? Why is Kyle Scarber now being allowed to leave the country? They’ve figured out that the Scarbers helped Spencer avoid prosecution and flee the country, so why aren’t Gail and Kyle Scarber cooling their heels in the local lockup, for aiding and abetting a fugitive from justice? Speaking of justice, what about Spencer Scarber’s victim? When does she get to see justice done?

     Is it because Kyle Scarber is a CHP officer? Is it because of some inherent, unseen GOBN (“Good Ol’ Boys Network”) existing between the CHP, the Fresno County DA’s office and the sheriff’s? Or, is this just part of something bigger? (I’ve also been thinking about all of the drug cartel activity across the border, and can’t help but think there may be a connection to this mess.) Whatever is going on, it appears on the surface at least, that justice has taken the holiday season off, and that the prosecutors in Fresno have lost their ever-loving minds.

UPDATE – February 16th, 2013: The slowly rotating wheels of justice have finally run over the Scarbers. Spencer Scarber was arrested in the Acapulco area in Mexico, and has been extradited back to California to receive his due punishment! In addition, Spencer’s sister Crystal, and parents Kyle and Gail Scarber have also been arrested by Fresno County sheriff’s deputies, for the aforementioned aiding and abetting. Finally, Spencer Scarber’s victim will have justice. (7) (8)

UPDATE – February 18th, 2013: This will be the final edit on this article, and I’ll leave you all in the capable hands of ABC Channel 30 Action News for further updates. Kyle Scarber made bail as of yesterday, and is walking free for now. (9)

CHASER SPECIAL: Tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut

President Obama addresses the nation following the tragic events in Newtown, CT. on 12/14/2012.

President Obama addresses the nation following the tragic events in Newtown, CT. on 12/14/2012.

     This morning has been a blur. As I’m sure most of you know, there has been a tragedy of immense proportions in the town of Newtown, Connecticut. This morning, a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School, and took the lives of six adults, as well as 20 young children. Even as I type this simple blog entry, the investigation into this tragic shooting continues.

     The one word on everyone’s lips, the singular though in everyone’s minds right now, is “why?” Why would someone walk into a school…any school, and just start killing innocent children? Honestly friends, I have no clue. I don’t think anyone can come up with a definitive answer that explains something this unthinkable, this…unbelievable.

     My thoughts harken back to September 11th of 2001, and the days that followed. Just like then, each one of us will end up dealing with this tragedy, and all of its implications, in our own personal ways. Parents will hug their children a little tighter today, schools across the country will begin examining their safety procedures, flags will be lowered to half-mast, and we will grieve. Yes, we will grieve.

     I can’t help but think of the 26 families in Newtown, whose Christmas will never be celebrated. My tears run like waterfalls for the 20 children, whose presents, wrapped in beautiful paper and placed lovingly under the tree, will now remain forever unopened. My heart aches for the families and friends of the victims of this…I don’t quite know just what to call it, even though there are probably a myriad of descriptive words out there.

     I’m sure that in the coming days and weeks, there will be a lot of introspection, questions, politicking and debate stemming from this…but today is not for that. Today, we mourn…together.