Two quotes of many from abroad on racist remarks

As an Independent and former Republican voter, I applaud the courage of Republican legislators who have pushed back on the US president’s dog whistle racist comments. It takes courage to call your leader on the carpet for his remarks. But, I find of interest the many condemnations from abroad who are calling out the president’s remarks. Here are two: *

“Trump’s racism is sickening. Any European politician who fails to condemn this has questions to answer & should be ashamed of themselves.” – Guy Verhofstadt, Belgian politician and member of the European Parliament.

“The President of the United States telling elected politicians — or any other Americans for that matter — to ‘go back’ to other countries is not OK, and diplomatic politeness should not stop us saying so, loudly and clearly.” – Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland

The dog whistle reference is important as the president refuses to apologize and says his remarks are not racist. This is old school racism where someone can use code words that have racist intent. But, don’t take my word for it, Michael Cohen, the president’s long time attorney and fixer said the following under oath. “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con artist and he is a cheat.” And, if that were not enough, Trump settled two court cases where he admitted to discriminatory rental practices against African-Americans. Unfortunately, the president has a history of racist comments and practices.

Our leaders must honor our ideals and condemn these racist remarks. Each of us carries that responsibility as well. But, we need our leaders to be our better angels, not our worst. When we are being critical of actions, we need to focus on actions, not traits. One can be critical of actions by Israel without being anti-Semitic, just as people can be critical of actions by America without being anti-American.

* Note: I want to give Jill Dennison a shout out as the source of the two quotes.

 

 

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Why companies fund politicians

Sometimes it helps to state the obvious. Companies and wealthy donors are not contributing to politicians without expectations. They want a return on their investment. They want politicians to help their businesses and increase their wealth.

Last Friday, the show “Whistleblower,” highlighted a procurement person in the Department of Defense who testified to Congress about a very egregious dereliction of sourcing of contracts. She noted how a major military contract was awarded to a subsidiary of Haliburton without a competitive bid during the Iraqi invasion. If you recall your history, former Vice President Dick Cheney was CEO of Haliburton before the election. This contract eventually tallied $61 billion in fees. By crying foul, she was eventually fired. Yet, this earnest and ethical public servant helped improve the procurement process and was awarded a settlement for being mistreated.

Yet, this is not an isolated incidence. Corporate welfare is alive and well. You need look no further than the environmental deregulation under this administration. But, Democrata should not be too smug, as corporate welfare is an equal opportunity offender. Politicians need funding to run a campaign, so they ingratiate themselves to people who are looking for a payback with their donations.

The cures to this dilemma should not be as hard, but funders do not want the paradigm to change. Until other citizens demand change, it won’t happen. Let me repeat a few thoughts which are not original.

– shorten election cycles – less money will be needed and fewer commercials will result.

– have term limits – twelve years for a Senator and Congressperson is plenty; two terms for a President is enough.

– debates should be structured around issues, without an audience and following debate protocols; if you speak over an opponent, you lose time.

– legislate to remedy three awful Supreme Court rulings – Citizens United, McCutcheon and the gerrymandering decision of last week.

– Eliminate commercials not sanctioned by the candidate – they are usually hateful and stretching the truth.

– Read and watch reputable news sources; if they publish or broadcast when they make mistakes is an indicator – also opinion talk show hosts are giving you biased opinion disguised as news.

– the country desperately needs a moderate party – all of these issues have created more polarized parties who are collaborating less, not more.

– Finally, especially with this president, but it goes with all politicians, take what they say or write with a grain of salt. The current White House incumbent is far more untruthful than other elected politicians now or in the past.

We the people are the only ones who can stop this. Demand the truth. Demand action. Identify your supported concerns with legislators and ask them what they plan to do about it. Be diplomatically relentless. And, remember this final point – members of Congress spend at least 1/3 of their time soliciting money. Their job is governing, not fundraising.

 

 

An American hero – Bryan Stevenson

Who is Bryan Stevenson you may be asking yourself? Per Wikipedia:

“Bryan A. Stevenson is an American lawyer, social justice activist, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and a clinical professor at New York University School of Law. Based in Montgomery, Alabama, Stevenson has challenged bias against the poor and minorities in the criminal justice system, especially children. He has helped achieve United States Supreme Court decisions that prohibit sentencing children under 18 to death or to life imprisonment without parole.”

He is an American hero who has helped free over numerous death-row prisoners who were wrongly convicted. Some of these people should not have ever come to trial. They were guilty by being Black. The DAs did not bother with ballistics tests, even when later challenged. The juries, judge and prosecutors were almost always white.

Stevenson got a new trial which freed one man who had been on death row for 30 years. Earlier attempts years before failed because a line of DAs would not take the time do a ballistic test. The man has still not received an apology for giving up 30 years of his life for a wrongful conviction.

Per the HBO documentary “True Justice:”

“Stevenson has argued five cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including one that resulted in a ban on mandatory sentences of life without parole for children 17 and under. He and the EJI have won reversals, relief or release from prison for more than 135 wrongly condemned death-row inmates.” 

He has now helped establish a Civil Rights museum in Montgomery, AL. Part of this museum includes several shelves of jars of soil gleaned from beneath trees where Black men were lynched. And, there are two monuments for every county in America where lynching occurred. The second monument is for the county to take back to remind us of what evil intent can do. He is strident in his view that the death penalty following a pre-determined trial outcome is a legal way to lynch someone, so he feels it is imperative to link this to the lynchings.

In the HBO documentary, Stevenson noted how we do a terrible job in our country of admitting and learning from our mistakes. Germany has many places where plaques note the atrocitues of Nazism. Here, we try to whitewash history, including the “genocide” of Native Americans, a term which is rarely used, but is apt.

We need more heroes like Stevenson. He is very earnest and speaks with a thoughtful and quiet voice. It is refreshing to see such a man where substance matters over perception.

 

Civil rights up close

My wife and I visited the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, NC yesterday. Why Greensboro? It is built on the location of the first African-American sit-ins at the “whites only” Woolworth’s restaurant counter. The counter and chairs remain as they looked back in 1960 when they were sat in by the Greensboro Four: David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr., and Joseph McNeil.

The museum is excellent, but very sobering that such treatment could occur in a land that was supposedly free. And, as our Congress debates the rationale for reparations for slavery, what should be included in the debate is people suppressed, tortured, and/or killed during the Jim Crow period. Seeing and hearing the story of Emmett Till or the Birmingham church bombing which killed four young girls is breathtakingly sad and maddening.

I have written before about the horrific lynchings which often accompanied degradation of the poor soul’s body before and after his death. Death by hanging is a slow death and horrible things were done to the victim to make them feel worse as they died. What kind of evil can make men do that? Black men were lynched for looking at a white woman too long or at all. The great Billie Holiday captured the sadness in her song “Strange Fruit,” referencing strange fruit swinging in the trees.

The Jim Crow period rivals the horror of slavery for a key reason – these were acts committed on supposedly free people. But, their freedom was “contained” in a box of voter and economic suppression. So, Jim Crow was an orchestrated modus operandi to keep Black folks down. Whites who tried to help were also ostracized. And, what is also disturbing, too many ministers found bible verses and preached differentiation and segregation.

We must loudly condemn actions and words today by hate groups who say another group’s rights are subservient to theirs. Nazism, Apartheid, slavery and Jim Crow are part of the same demonization and hateful fabric. It is not supposed to work that way in our country. Our elected leaders are supposed to be our better angels. When they fail to lead in a manner closer to our ideals, we need to tell them so. Or, find better leaders.

The Lavender Scare

My wife and I watched an informative documentary on PBS last night called “The Lavender Scare.” This show documents a lengthy period of US government sanctioned discrimination against homosexuals that lasted from the early 1950s to mid 1990s.

The scare evolved directly from the efforts of Senator Joseph McCarthy who led the “red scare” as he carried out communist witch hunts. He turned his eye toward homosexuals saying (without data) those who worked in the government were susceptible to communist blackmailers. Yet, unlike his communist witch hunt publicly dying due to his “lack of decency,” as the Secretary of the Army said, the Lavender Scare gained footing.

To my chagrin, I learned former General Dwight Eisenhower campaigned for President on this issue and signed an executive order in 1953 to identify and expel homosexuals from government positions. This saddens me because of the obvious discrimination, but also because the former General said earlier the UK team led by Alan Turing that broke the Nazi Enigma code saved 750,000 lives and shortened WWII by two years. Turing had to hide that he was gay, so Ike’s executive order in 1953 would have kicked Turing out of employment had he been his boss in WWII – what would have happened if Turing would not have been around to impact the war?

The fact this government sanctioned discrimination lasted until it was ceased by President Bill Clinton is a shame, as well. Multiple tens of thousands of excellent public servants were kicked out of jobs they loved and did well. And, many could not get good employment in the private sector due to their FBI file. One of those was an astronomer named Dr. Frank Kameny.

Yet, Kameny did not sit still. He became an advocate for gay rights pushing a ball uphill. He wrote letters to Congress members, some of which were caustically responded to giving variations of the same harsh response. He organized protests and would help those who lost jobs. And, he was able to save some jobs, one who spoke five languages and was later decorated for service to the NSA. Kameny was awarded the “Medal of Freedom” by President Barack Obama for being the grandfather of the gay advocacy movement.

Sadly, there is a movement today led by some exclusionary religious leaders to condemn gays and foment their discrimination. My thinking is this is a backlash to the US Supreme Court approving same-sex marriage a few years ago. But, it goes deeper than that with a president who has laid the groundwork for divisiveness to occur with impunity. He did not invent divisiveness, but is not preventing it either.

Let me be frank. We are land of freedoms and civil rights. Unless someone is harming you, you have “no standing” to deny the rights of others. I personally am offended by bigotry in the pulpit as I see this a a grievous dereliction of duty. Yet, that person has a right to say what he wants – provided he is not inciting violence or hate crimes. If the latter is true, then that is not a protected right.

Please watch this informative documentary. And, let’s do our best to avoid going back to this dark period. There was one gay postal worker who was to be expelled in the 1950s, but his boss stood up for him saying I know this, it does not bother me and he does a good job. The gay employee kept his job. We need more of that in our country and less of the hate speech.

This is my home

Sadly and unsuprisingly, we are mourning yet another mass shooting in America, this time in Virginia Beach. A minister and police officer uttered the above heartfelt lament about the twelve lost lives, “this is my home.”

My hearts and prayers are for our legislators to recognize that our country has a problem. I pray that they recognize too many Americans are dying. I pray that they recognize that no action is not stopping the senseless violence. I pray they recognize doing something won’t stop all shootings, but could stop some.

There are multiple factors, so a solution must be holistic. And, if these politicians will take their hands out of the NRA’s pockets long enough, they could see Americans want changes to gun governance.

Yes, it is a mental health issue, Yes, it is a crime issue. Yes, it is an entertainment violence issue. Yes, it is a lack of civility issue. But, it is most certainly a gun issue.

So, for the umpteenth time:

– Background checks on all transactions, even personal ones will save some lives.

– Longer waiting periods on all transactions will help reduce suicides and mental health related homicides.

– Licenses should come with training requirements for acquisition and renewal.

– Bullets should be codified to help wit crime-solving as requested by police.

– All new guns should have owner finger-printed triggering (reduce suicides and accudentsj shooting).

– Medical doctors and psychologists should have liberty to ask any patient if they own a gun.

– Gun related deaths must be tracked by the CDC – you cannot fix what you do not measure, but that may have been the reason the NRA has fought this for years.

– And, it should be systemstically easier for a judge to be petitioned and to temporarily suspend gun ownership as mental health testing is done.

Notice I did not take anyone’s gun away unless he cannot pass a background check or a judge suspends his right, But, I personally believe no American needs an assault style or converted weapon.

Many Americans are tired of the politicians telling us why they will not act or do something. I am tired of their stale BS that I can write for them as I have heard it far too many times. Americans are dying and their loved ones really do not care if you hurt the NRA’s feelings. Our constitutional right to live free supercedes the right to own a gun, which has been expanded beyond what the Second Amendment actualjy says.

The NRA used to be about gun safety. They must regain that mission statement. Will these actions stop gun deaths – no? But, if we can stop some it would be worth it.

In memoriam

My father passed away in 2006. He was a veteran of the Korean Conflict. For some reason it was not worthy of being deemed a war, but still many people died.

My father was a sailor on board an aircraft carrier during the Conflict. He did not talk much about the fighting, but I do remember two things he shared – the limited 25 second showers and the Blue Nose Society.

The former was divided up as five seconds of water. Stop. Lather up. Stop, Then, rinse off with the final twenty seconds. The latter is a card given to the sailors for morale purposes when the ship crossed the Arctic Circle. It was the Navy’s way of saying, it’s cold, so here is a card.

War or conflict is difficult. People are in harm’s way and too many do not survive or are impacted physically and/ or mentally. Often, harm comes to people for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think of this when I read articles on D-Day. Death was random.

Today, I read of a sailor who let men off on shore at Normandy. As soon as he let the gate down, the bullets riddled in and soldiers were killed before they got out of the boat. The movie “Saving Private Ryan” captures the randomness of those who gave up their lives on that beach.

Yet, to honor these men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice, we need for our leaders to do everything in their power to avoid conflict. They need to do everything in their power to staff and supply our people. And, they need to have a clear goal for success. The soldiers and sailors deserve that.

Let’s think good thoughts for our friends and relatives who fought and died on our behalf. And, let’s say an extra prayer for those in harm’s way today.