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.)

American Rhetoric: No Fly, No Buy…Bye Bye For Now

No Fly No Buy

No Fly, No Buy

TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers…but it’s still a good read!

(At the outset of the House Democrats’ recent sit-in protest on the House floor over firearms reform, I was all for the concept of “No Fly, No Buy.” Then, however, I began to do my own digging. The more I researched, the more I discovered that this might not be such a good thing. What follows here are my personal observations regarding this piece of legislation.)

     There exist within the darkest back halls and deepest data repositories of the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ “Terrorist Screening Center”, secret lists that are not made available or accessible to the American public. These “watch lists” and “no-fly” lists cannot be readily viewed, and getting off of one is highly problematic at best. These are the lists at the heart of the Democratic push for “No Fly, No Buy.” Simply put, if you’re on the “no-fly” list, then the House Dems feel that you should not be able to legally purchase a firearm in this country.

     There’s only one…well, there are a lot of problems with this. First and foremost, many hundreds of people who are otherwise law abiding citizens, have found themselves on these lists. It’s not hard to make the list. In fact, until 2005, the TSA had been using people’s credit scores as a determining factor for placing people on the list! In other words, if your credit was in the toilet for some reason before 2005 / 2006, you might very well find yourself on the “no-fly” list.

     Oh, but that’s not the only way that you might end up being denied air travel! The Huffington Post’s Nick Wing outlined several additional ways that people have ended up on the list in a July, 2014 piece.(1)

      So, let’s just say for the sake of argument, that you’re an all-around good guy, who, like myself, has been pretty critical of the Transportation Security Administration, and its long, dismal record of mistreatment of air passengers. So, like I have, you post some highly incendiary things on social media about those jokers, including comments aimed specifically at John Pistole, the former TSA Administrator. Something to the effect of him being a mentally-deficient twat waffle, who deserves to languish forever in one of his own endless airport security lines. This could land you on the list, folks!

     Now that you’re on the list, let’s also say that the House Democrats have their way, and their “No Fly, No Buy” becomes law. Now, not only can you not take that Southwest Airlines round-trip flight to visit grandma Hazel in Duluth, now you can’t exercise your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms either, should you so choose, all because you got righteously pissed off at the ridiculousness that is the TSA at one time or another!

     On its face, “No Fly, No Buy” seems like a good idea. If someone’s been deemed too dangerous to get on board an airplane in this country, then they’re definitely too dangerous to be allowed to buy a gun, right? Isn’t this a “no-brainer”? Not necessarily, if the list that we’re basing all of this on is flawed, which it is! Even the decidedly liberal American Civil Liberties Union, knows that these “watch lists” are a major Mongolian fuster-cluck.(2)

     In my own, not-so-humble opinion, (when have I ever been humble in the course of opining here!?) we need to first, fix the “No-Fly” list situation, because it is a fu**ered up situation. Hence the Republican gripe about, “trading second and fourteenth amendment rights for secret lists.” So…

     Open it up. No more Orwellian, “secret list” bovine scatology.

     I’m sure that the federal government can get a few MIT graduates to create a secure website, that citizens can log on to, like they log in to their online banking. (Hell, they’re messing with Quantum Computing, I’m sure they can write some HTML!) There, they can check the list to see if their name is on it. If it is, the website should also have a link to both an online form and a printable PDF form, for redress and removal of their name from the list. The arbitration process should take no more than 30 days. One month, for the government to either make its case for depriving you of both your Second Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights, or get your name off of the list, and let you go along your merry way as a free American citizen, with all rights and privileges thereof.

     Listen. I get what my congressman, along with the other Democrats in the House of Representatives, are trying to do. They’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. People are dying every single day from gun violence in this country, more than in any other developed country in the western world. We have a dismal (yes, that’s the second time I’ve used that adjective, so sue me!) record of gun violence and deaths, compared to the rest of our peer nations. We need to do something, however I’m not at all confident that “No Fly, No Buy” is the answer, especially when the list itself is screwed to such a high degree. I suspect that to the Republicans, and maybe even some of the more enlightened Democrats, it appeared as if House Dems were, as my wife just phrased it, “trying to make the shit smell good before shoveling it.”

      The overarching idea behind the sit-in, though, is that Paul (Lucifer) Ryan and the House Republicans weren’t even allowing debate on this issue, which is not conducive to solving these problems, and is simply a nipple-headed, right-wing elitist thing to do.

     Allow the debate.

     Allow the vote.

     Sure, the bill is going to go down in flaming death on the House floor, but at least we’re having the debate. At least we’re sussing out the problems, and trying to come up with productive solutions…and that, as one congressman said during yesterday’s sit-in, “..is a good Goddamned start!”

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

(Jim) Crowing – An Open Letter To Al Melvin and The Arizona State Government

LISTEN UP, ARIZONA.

LISTEN UP, ARIZONA.

     Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a bone to pick with you. It concerns a bill that has passed the Arizona state legislature, and now sits on Governor Jan Brewer’s desk, awaiting either her affirming “Jane Hancock,” or her veto. You know which bill I’m referring to; SB 1062. It has been referred to in the media as the “Arizona Anti-Gay Bill.”

     Just this morning, I watched a short clip of an interview between CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and state senator Al Melvin. Mr. Melvin, I have a question for you: why could you not answer a simple question regarding discrimination? As Mr. Cooper noted, you have declared your intent to run in that state’s next gubernatorial race, and as he noted, you were unable (or unwilling!) to answer a single question with regards to possible discrimination issues involving people in your state.

     Mr. Melvin, SB 1062 has absolutely nothing to do with religious freedom, and you know it. It pertains to commerce. Commerce, as you are (hopefully) well aware, is a matter of profit and loss. Religious practice, on the other hand, is a matter of espousing and expressing faith in a particular ideology and / or deity. As most church establishments are 501(c)(3) non profit endeavors, there seems to be a marked difference between them, and say, a bakery or florist shop. Apparently, you are confused as to the divisions and restrictions of each type of establishment, and where the two should and shouldn’t be intertwined.

     Mr. Melvin, how exactly does one such as yourself get to be a state senator, with such decidedly bigoted values and views? Navy War College? Were you good at that? Perhaps you should go back to that, because you’re a dismal failure as a representative of the populous. I have little doubt that there are thousands of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual constituents in your state, that are looking at you and shaking their collective heads.

     Let’s leave my apparent angst for Al Melvin to the side for a second, and address this ill-conceived piece of legislation. SB 1067 is problematic in a number of ways. For one, it would require business owners to make a declarative statement with regards to their religious proclivities against serving members of the LGBT community. This harkens back to the days of Jim Crow laws, where businesses would display signs that read, “No Coloreds Allowed,” or “Whites Only.” I’m assuming that any declaration must be posted, as a business license must, in a conspicuous place. I foresee this as being akin to a “scarlet letter,” and here’s why. Let’s say I am a consumer, and I walk in to a store with one of these signs posted near the register. As a supporter of the LGBT community, I am not even going to bother looking for the merchandise that I’m seeking, not in this store. I see the label, I acknowledge it for the bigotry that it is, and I turn and leave. The business loses revenue.

     In addition, the bill is unconstitutional. It is nothing short of state-sanctioned discrimination against an entire group of people, based solely on their sexual preference. Should Governor Brewer sign this piece of legislation into law, it will assuredly result in millions of dollars being spent by the state to defend it against rightful challenges to its constitutionality. In other words, Arizona; this one’s gonna cost ya!

     Speaking of costing ya, I hear that none other than the denizens of One Infinite Loop, Apple, Incorporated, have expressed concern over the bill, and its possible impact on any decision to abandon its Sapphire Glass plant in Mesa. Jan! Hey, Jan? Are you hearing this? Tim Cook and Apple will likely hit your state right in the wallet, should you dare affix your signature to this!

     I guess it all comes down to one question, folks; what’s in your wallet!? At any rate, it’s like the latest memes say. We’ve already had this discussion, and you cannot discriminate against a particular demographic who wish to sit at the lunch counter.

Domestic Politics, Faith and Religion: Is Militant Christianity Placing Christ in The Crosshairs?

christ_chrosshairs     Once again, it’s Sunday, and a fitting day for another “Dies Solis” post with regards to topics concerning religion and faith. In addition, it has been two days since the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, and I find myself troubled at what I’m seeing in places like Facebook, WordPress, Twitter and even on the news. Please allow me to elaborate, my fine young readers…

     On Friday, an article came across my newsfeed on Facebook, pertaining to the statements of one Everest Wilhelmsen, administrator of the group “Christian American Patriots Militia.” It seems that the head of this group, consisting of over 1,400 members, posted a status update on his Facebook account, (which has since been removed,) advocating for the assassination of our current president, Barack Obama. The following is a screen shot of that post:

Clear and Present Danger - 18 USC § 871 – Threats against President and successors to the Presidency

Clear and Present Danger – 18 USC § 871 – Threats against President and successors to the Presidency

     In addition, in the days surrounding the 50th anniversary of the tragic events at Dealey Plaza, there have been at least two other incidences of threats to the president which have also made headlines. (1) (2) I find myself aghast at the sheer audacity of these and others, who would blatantly flout the law in the process of their IRL and online shenanigans.

Palin takes aim.

Palin takes aim.

     Even more so, however, I stand dismayed at evangelical Christendom’s seeming acquiescence to this type of message. Speaking specifically with regard to the Wilhelmsen / CAPM post, I fail to see how Christendom’s embrace of such notables as the gun-toting, former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, the torture-endorsing, former 2012 GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, or anyone like them, can be doing the mission or the message of Christ and Christianity any favors. I don’t see anyone from that camp taking a definitive stand against Wilhelmsen et al., or their brand of evangelistic hatred and vitriol. On the contrary, all of this seems to indeed be placing the revered “Son of Man,” the faith’s savior, right in the crosshairs of the very same guns that these people hold nearer and dearer. In short, these things are killing Biblical Christianity.

     When I was a child, I was told that the “mission directives” that Christ handed to the disciples, consisted of things like rendering love, even to those who you would consider your enemy, and spreading the Gospel message. Contrary to the appending of the word, “Christian” on Mr. Wilhelmsen’s group title, it appears that he hasn’t exactly taken the time to examine and digest what that word is actually supposed to entail. Oh, but Everest Wilhelmsen’s vitriol isn’t limited to just Facebook; I’m ashamed to say that he also hosts a weblog on the very same venue as my own, WordPress. (Mr. Wilhelmsen’s blog features a decidedly “Germany-centric” amount of imagery and content.)

     What gives Mr. Wilhelmsen, or anyone else, the right to threaten the very life of Barack Obama, the man? This is a man with a wife and two growing daughters, who love him dearly. What, may I ask, if anything at all, is “Christian” about wanting to see him killed? It is high time that the church leadership in America, and the rest of the world, takes a more active stance against rhetoric and threats of this kind. Pastors need to stop “politicking” from the pulpit. Christians need to start distancing themselves from those like Palin, Bachmann, Cruz and others, who only reinforce these hateful ends.

     Fifty years ago, Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed president Kennedy. Now, militant Christians are calling for the same thing for president Obama. Around 2000 years ago, Christ was crucified by his people. Now, 2k years later, it’s happening all over again.

Domestic Politics: Not All Is As It Appears To Be – Expanding on Glenn Mollette

U.S. House chamber. Inset: Glenn Mollette.

U.S. House chamber. Inset: Glenn Mollette.

     Glenn Mollette is a syndicated columnist. That sounds like a simple, six-word statement, doesn’t it? For the most part, it is. Glenn Mollette is syndicated, his opinion and editorial pieces appearing in newspapers and websites across the nation. At this point though, maybe I should explain why I’m talking about Mr. Mollette, and how that pertains to the title of this article.

     Glenn’s column was picked up a while ago by Big Valley News, a small, local news site in Madera, California. I pop over to BVN on occasion, to get a different take on the goings on in my hometown, than what the mainstream news stations can provide. Jack Porter, the man who runs BVN, is quite an “odd duck,” however his perspectives on things are, at times, far more intuitive than I think even he realises. But, I digress…

     Today’s editorial, written by Mr. Mollette, is entitled, “What Do Republicans and Democrats Look Like?” It’s a short piece, less than 500 words, most of which describe Glenn’s parents; his Republican father and his Democrat mother, both honest, hard-working Christian folks. Mollette reflects on his parents’ jobs, their activities around the home and their later years. He goes on to muse about how lovely it would be, if people from both parties could live in such harmony and the state of affairs in today’s America. He ends the piece with a quotation from Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided Speech.”

     Glenn Mollette is a Theologian. Yes, that’s right. Dr. Mollette is also the President of Newburgh Theological Seminary and College of The Bible, in Newburgh, Indiana. Now, I’m not at all certain of what Mr. Mollette’s personal belief set involves exactly, but regardless, I tend to get edgy whenever religion and politics start becoming intertwined within the same setting. Granted, theologians and politicians share a lot in common; one politics for their faith, the other for their political party. Both often tend to do so more for their own aggrandisement than the common good, I’m afraid!

     Ah, if only it t’were that simple. Imagine the “warm fuzzies” those looking on might get, seeing Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, sitting around the campfire, agreeing on every piece of legislation and singing, “Kumbaya.” Yeah. Never…gonna…happen. (At this point, my fine young readers might be asking, “Why not, J.P.?”) Well, some of it has to do with that aggrandisement thing I mentioned in the last paragraph. Aside from that, those elected to represent us, do so for a diverse population with often differing views on the issues. Glenn Mollette knows this to be true. (If he doesn’t, if he’s that willfully ignorant of the political process and climate in this country, I dare say that he shouldn’t be commenting on it.)

     No, the political landscape in this country is just as divided over issues as the church is. Like denominations within Christendom, we have different political parties, with different worldviews and opinions on things like how the money gets got, what it gets spent on and how much. (Perhaps the realm of politics is a bit less dysfunctional than that of the church, though; there seem to be far less political parties than religious denominations!) In addition, where the church starts getting involved in the business of the state, the “dramarama” will ensue.  The bleed over is inevitable, and happens all too often, as evinced by the Catholic church’s meddling in health care issues, and the Mormon church’s meddling in the debate over Marriage Equality.

     So, is there any way to solve this problem? Is there any possibility that Glenn Mollette’s utopian dream of a Kumbaya-singing, 100% efficient government will come to pass? (I heave a heavy sigh.) Not with the current form of government that we have, I fear. In short, the answer to Glenn Mollette’s simple question…is simply not that simple.

Life and Living: Remembering And Honoring Our Veterans’ Sacrifices – Musing On a Poppy

WWI_flanders_banner_600pxw

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

poppy_field_300pxw

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

     These words were penned in the spring of 1915, by Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, after burying his friend and fellow soldier, Alexis Helmer. The century that has passed since these words were penned has witnessed another world war, while also being punctuated by several regional conflicts between nations. Here in the U.S., we have borne the pain of not one, but two attacks on our own soil. We have been embroiled in overseas conflicts, including a few which were not at all viewed favorably by those back here at home. Through both peacetime and war, however, there have been brave men and women who have sacrificed much, including their very lives, to ensure the freedom of others.

     Veteran’s Day. It can’t be mere coincidence that this day falls within the same month as Thanksgiving, and I would hope that the implications of this arrangement of days aren’t lost on my fellow life travelers. I for one, am thankful for the many sacrifices that our men and women in uniform make, on a daily basis. In contrast to the days of WWI, our military is now a completely voluntary endeavor. This means that the sacrifices start when a man or woman makes the conscious decision to sign their name on the dotted line, raise their right hand, and swear an oath to “support and defend.” Since September 11th, 2001, men and women have done this while our nation has been on a wartime footing, knowing full well what the ramifications are, which makes the sacrifice that much more meaningful.

     A cursory Google search of the words “Veteran’s Day,” will return page results that make mention of various discounts, sales and freebies that our brave soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines can avail themselves of, which is all well and good as long as we don’t lose sight of the true purpose of the day…which brings me back to Lieutenant Colonel McCrae and his rondeau, “In Flanders Fields.”

“Earn this.”
(Captain Miller’s last words to Private Ryan, from “Saving Private Ryan,” ©1998 Dreamworks / Paramount.)

     As not only a veteran myself, but also as a civilian whose freedoms are currently being watched over by those in uniform, I honestly feel that the question we should all be asking ourselves, is this: “How can I “take up the quarrel with the foe”? How can I “hold the torch high and keep the faith”?” How do we honor their sacrifices, not only on this day, but every day that follows?

     If we’re truly thankful and appreciative in our hearts for the many sacrifices made by our veterans, the question becomes easier to answer. It can start with something as simple as (sincerely) thanking a veteran for their service, but it cannot stop there. We need to press our government to take better care of our veterans, especially our disabled and wounded veterans, than they have done so far. We need to encourage our elected officials to seek peaceful solutions to geopolitical differences. We need to act more favorably and magnanimously toward our fellow life travelers…and ourselves. In short, we need to strive to make the world a place where war is what it should have always been, the last resort of last resorts.

Crime and Justice: Conundrums in Columbia – SC Interim Police Chief Forgets First Amendment

Interim Columbia PD Chief Ruben Santiago. Photo Credit - The State

Interim Columbia PD Chief Ruben Santiago. Photo Credit – The State

     I remember Columbia. I was stationed at Fort Jackson in 2000, and had a few opportunities to drive around that fine city. The mall was huge, the weather was nice, and the people I met were gracious. All in all, my impression of the “Palmetto State” capital was a good one. That being said, these fine people don’t deserve to have to suffer someone like their current Interim Police Chief, Ruben Santiago. Issues are swirling around Santiago and the department, like moths around a street light on a sultry South Carolina night.

     Back in July of this year, a recently-dismissed CPD captain openly accused chief Santiago of corruption, in an alleged scheme to frame Senior Assistant City Manager Alison Baker, Santiago’s supervisor at City Hall, on drug and weapons charges. (1) According to South Carolina news website “The State,” City Manager Teresa Wilson has dismissed the former captain’s allegations as false, questioning their timeliness. Flash forward four months, and enter Brandon Whitmer.

     On Friday, the Columbia PD posted news of a sizable marijuana seizure and subsequent arrest on its Facebook page. (2) Among the comments in response to this “semi-official” press release, one Brandon Whitmer posted the following comment:

whitmer_comment_400pxw

     In response to Mr. Whitmer, Interim Chief Santiago posted back:

Santiago_comment01_400pxw

     According to news sources, (3) (4) the chief’s comment was deleted shortly thereafter, by department spokesperson Jennifer Timmons, who administers the department’s Facebook page along with Santiago. Oh, but the chief couldn’t leave it at that;

Santiago_comment02_400pxw

     In the ensuing “fit hitting the shan,” Timmons stated that she had in fact, deleted Santiago’s first comment, because she “…thought it was best to do that until I got a better understanding of what he was trying to say and to set the record straight.” Indeed, Santiago’s second post was made after he and Timmons had spoken on the phone. Santiago further stated to media that the comments were posted late at night, while he was watching television and accessing Facebook on his computer.

[SOAPBOX=ON]

     I can’t even begin to tell you, my fine young readers, the myriad of problems that I have with this one…but I’ll do my level best to try. First, I have a problem with anyone in a position of authority, who would use their position to even suggest that they would seek to oppress (“We will work on finding you.”) the citizenry simply due to their views on something. Second, and this is in my own, not-so-humble opinion, Interim Chief Santiago is a blithering idiot. Just because someone advocates for the legalisation of marijuana, does not mean that they also imbibe, contrary to his “putting everyone on notice.” Evidently, this guy has no idea what the meaning of “reasonable suspicion” actually entails. Who put this flake in charge? (For the record, I’ve supported the legalisation of marijuana, ever since Proposition 215 came along in the mid-90’s. I personally feel that it should be completely de-criminalised, taxed and regulated, using the profits to help balance the stupid budget. Do I smoke pot? No. I drink alcohol once in a blue moon and I smoke cigarettes, 1/2 pack-a-day habit, but no. I don’t use marijuana. It’s not a personal choice that’s right for me at this time in my life. Oh, and I have no wants, warrants, misdemeanors, felonies, tickets or accidents. My record is whiter than the driven snow.)

     This whole business of Timmons having to follow Santiago and his verbal incontinence around the Facebook page with her finger on the “delete” button, reminds me of a half-blind person chasing a pet (pick your pedigree) around with a pooper scoop. Maybe we should set this entire episode to music, something fitting, like the theme to “Benny Hill.”

     I have another problem with this, in that Santiago used his position with the department and the department’s presence on Facebook to do this…from home while off-duty. It would have been one thing if he had done this on his own time, on his own page. No, this was an act within the scope of his place as a community leader / servant, and he needs to be held accountable for it. The department’s Facebook page is a community outreach portal, and any post that Santiago makes is tantamount to an official statement. Interim Chief Santiago has pulled out the proverbial shovel, and dug himself a very big hole.

     One thing is for sure, and that’s that Teresa Wilson and the folks up at City Hall have a problem, one which they need to divest themselves of with all due haste.

Faith and Religion: Does Catholicism Plus Health Care, Equal Government Shutdown?

Accomplices to the crime? Insets: l - Cardinal Sean O'Malley, r - ArchBishop William Lori.

Accomplices to the crime? Insets: l – Cardinal Sean O’Malley, r – Archbishop William Lori.

     Fade in, Uncle Sam is lying on the ground, partially incapacitated. He’s been shot multiple times, by John Boehner, Eric Cantor and the GOP House leadership. While Cantor stands in the road and attempts to block the ambulance’s arrival, (1) the “CSI” of public examination and opinion is looking over the crime scene, trying to piece together what exactly has happened. As it turns out, one of the bullets can be traced…back to the Catholic Church! (This is the point where Horatio Caine dons his sunglasses, and utters a one-liner about the crime not being exactly…holy.)

     It’s an intriguing story, lacking only the beginning strains of The Who’s “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” to complete the scene. The story is based on actual events, with origins tracing back well beyond the passage of PPACA in 2010. Given enough time and page space, I could regale you with a long treatise on the church’s history of government entanglements, however I’d like to keep your attention, while not taking up too much of your time, my fine young readers! So, we’ll just get right into the substance of the story, starting with 2010 and PPACA. (2)

     Although the specific text regarding the coverage of contraceptives, known as the “Contraceptive Mandate,” cannot be found within the 906 pages of Public Law 111-148, section 2713 does contain a general mandate for insurers to cover, with no cost-sharing requirements, the following items:

‘‘(1) evidence-based items or services that have in effect a rating of ‘A’ or ‘B’ in the current recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force;
(2) immunizations that have in effect a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with respect to the individual involved; and
(3) with respect to infants, children, and adolescents, evidence-informed preventive care and screenings provided for in the comprehensive guidelines supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration.
(4) with respect to women, such additional preventive care and screenings not described in paragraph (1) as provided for in comprehensive guidelines supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration for purposes of this paragraph.”

     Pursuant to item (4) in the list above, in January of last year, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a ruling requiring insurers to “…cover these [recommended contraceptive] services without cost sharing for women across the country” beginning on August 1st, 2012. The ruling made an exception for what it referred to as, “Nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan,” granting them an additional year to comply with the new law. (3) As a result of this ruling, the Catholic church commenced an offensive against what it considered an “attack on freedom of religion.” (4)

     The opposition from the Catholic church hasn’t waned in the past year and a half. With the help of certain members of congress, two bills (one in the House,(5) the other in the Senate(6)) have been introduced, in an attempt to attach a “Conscience Clause” to the new health care law. Both bills are currently stalled in committee, with little to no prognosis for passage.

     It is at this point in our sordid tale, that the “bullet” comes in to the picture. On September 26th, a letter was sent to Congress by two committee chairmen from the Conference of Catholic Bishops. Within the text of this letter, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley and Archbishop William Lori, urged congress to commit to the following course of action:

“We have already urged you to enact the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940/S. 1204). As Congress considers a Continuing Resolution and debt ceiling bill in the days to come, we reaffirm the vital importance of incorporating the policy of this bill into such “must-pass” legislation.(7)

At odds.

At odds.

     Indeed, two days later the House Republican majority inserted language to these ends, into the tail-end of section 131 of House Joint Resolution 59,(8) and sent it back across the hall to the Senate, which rejected it and sent it back, during the to-and-fro volleying leading up to the current “Partial Government Shutdown of 2013.”

     So, did the Catholic church cause the current government shutdown? No, but they did “supply the shooters with additional ammunition, knowing what that ammunition would be used for,” and that makes them complicit. (Right about now, some would love to see Calleigh Duquesne (ah, Emily Procter!) walking into the offices of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, and placing O’Malley and Lori in cuffs, I suspect!) Will the victim survive? We’re sure to find out within the next few days, as we bump up against Thursday’s debt limit deadline. Until then, I guess we’ll just have to…stay tuned! (Cue the Roger Daltrey scream…)

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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.

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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.