WHAT IF WE COULD STOP IT?

About a month ago, we marked the first anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  In a little less than two months, it will be the anniversary of the shooting at Santa Fe High School near Houston, Texas.  Next month, it will be twenty years since fifteen students were killed at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado – the one that started it this tragic trend.  Last December marked six years since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  The children murdered there would be entering their teens … if they’d been allowed to live and grow.  The victims at Columbine would be in their mid-thirties, building their families … developing their careers … had they not been killed by their schoolmates.

The day after the anniversary of events in Parkland, a mass shooting at a workplace in Aurora, Illinois demonstrated these things don’t just happen in schools.  Mass shootings happen in workplaces, too.  Aurora is also the name of the city in Colorado where a mass shooting took place back in 2012 at a movie theater.  Entertainment venues became risky places, too, as the shooting at the outdoor concert 18 months ago amply demonstrated.

Even places of worship aren’t safe from this violence.  There was the shooting at the Sikh Temple at Oak Creek, Wisconsin in 2012 … Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015 … First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas in 2017 … Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania less than six months ago.

Now our plague of gun violence has spread abroad with the shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

When will it ever stop? Can it be stopped?

I’m tired of hearing it can’t be stopped; there’s nothing we can do.  Like many others, I really thought Sandy Hook would have been the turning point, the one that would finally push us, as a people, to do something about the scourge of gun violence that plagues our country.  I still remember that I was driving home from a quick shopping errand when I heard the news that December morning.  I almost came to a complete stop in my shock and horror at the account of little kids, not much past the toddler years … and their lives already ended … because someone had access to a weapon that was purposefully designed to kill lots of people in little time and the ammunition to do it.  Surely this tragedy (the most recent at that time) would finally move the tide of public opinion and determination to do something …that this time(!) something would be done.

I wasn’t alone.  I remember hearing the emotional struggle in President Obama’s voice when he had to address the nation, as presidents are called upon to do in such times.  Years later, I heard the stories of his visits with the families of the children and teachers who were killed … and how he kept a picture drawn by one the slain children in his personal office for the rest of his presidency.  He was determined that something be done, that there be no more of these events, that he never have to make another address to the nation in the aftermath of a school shooting.

Advocacy groups recognized the energy and worked hard to harness it, to rally people to press their elected officials for legislation that would make a difference … to allow the Centers for Disease Control to actually study incidents of gun violence so we might learn more about patterns and factors that lead to these events … so we can design effective solutions.  Clear distinctions were made between guns used for hunting and guns designed for killing people.  Limits on high capacity magazines were proposed.  Vice President Joe Biden clarified how this limit would not impact hunters at all: “If you can’t hit the deer in nine shots or less, you’re not a hunter – you’re a disgrace.”

So much energy, so much determination, so much grief and horror, so much momentum … and yet, as we all know by now, nothing changed.  After waiting a week or so, “out of respect”, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre convened a press conference and announced a doubling down on gun promotion rather than any sort of cooperation with sensible policy proposals to enhance gun safety.  He argued that we should have more guns … make it easier for people to have their guns on them at all times … arm the teachers so they can really defend their students … “a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun” – that’s the surest way to keep everyone safe, he said. I remember screaming at him through my kitchen radio that morning, shortly before Christmas, as he ended his “respectful period of silence” to make a public statement.

It was a fallacy then … it still is.  (Not that this stops such madness from being offered as “the solution” yet again in the aftermath of these most recent tragedies.)  I’ve yet to see a school design where the principal’s office affords clear sight of the school entrance or even the office entrance.  The shooter is always going to draw first, guaranteeing the “good guy with the gun” is going to be a few seconds behind … and likely to be killed in the act of getting the gun ready to shoot the shooter.  After last year’s two school shootings, the push to arm teachers that was suggested in the aftermath of Sandy Hook has markedly increased.  But even if teachers were prepared and willing to use guns to defend their students (and most of them are not emotionally wired or mentally prepared to kill another human being), the teacher would have to get the classroom gun from its secured location.  And yes, a gun in the classroom must be secured.  A little over a year ago, a third grader somehow managed to get his fingers into the school resource officer’s holster and pull the trigger on the gun inside.  The gun fired – but, luckily in this case, no one was hurt.  These nonsensical proposals for arming teachers, or at least strategic staff members, defy all logic and any common sense.  Such nonsense will not work, and political energy spent refuting this stupidity would be put to better use in other directions.

Turning schools into fortresses is not an answer, either.  That, too, is offered as an alternative in a sort of “Well, if you can’t have guns in the hands of the good people inside the school, then we have to find more ways to keep the bad guy with a gun from getting inside.”  Let’s have more secure doors, less glass, more locks … perimeter fences and guards … metal detectors like at the airport … in other words, let’s make our schools more like prisons.  Do we really have to lock up our children to keep them safe because guns must be free from regulation and readily available to anyone who wants one?  Is that the actual, baseline choice we are facing?  And if it is, do we really want to choose guns over our beloved children?

That might not be the choice we would consciously, deliberatively make.  However, the complete lack of any action that would make these tragic mass murders less likely demonstrates loudly and clearly that we do, in fact and in deed, choose guns over children every single time we have the opportunity.  Now we are a year past the high school shooting in Parkland, almost a year past the one near Houston, twenty bloody years since Columbine.  Much as we, as a nation, did after every single one that preceded these, we swore this time – this time! – things would be different.  But what’s changed?  We could choose to do things differently – that is possible.  But time and time again, we do not.

This is who we are as Americans in the USA today. I am not at all okay with this.  Are you?

It can be different.  We can make different choices.  We can reshape our cultural world.  This can be done.  I’ve seen it happen…

When I was growing up, we had several ashtrays around the house.  Neither of my parents were smokers by the time I entered their lives.  My dad did randomly smoke a pipe in the evening for a while … and then he’d stop for months, years … and then take it up again … he did this a couple of times.  But mostly the ashtrays were there for a friend or two and a couple of my uncles.  These occasional guests smoked, and when they were in our home, the expectation was that their smoking would be accommodated.

It wasn’t just in others’ homes; it was everywhere.  Smokers lit up in offices and workplaces, in stores and restaurants.  If a smoker felt the need to smoke, then he or she would light up there and then.  Working as a cashier in fast food and retail in the mid-1980s, I had customers smoke while I was assisting them, blow smoke toward my face … hold their lit cigarettes over my head.  But I couldn’t say anything.  It was their right to smoke and good social etiquette expected me to say nothing.

But things started to change.  It was gradual at first.  Public spaces started to create smoking areas separate (to some extent) from non-smoking areas.  The tobacco companies launched a “good manners” campaign, advising their customers to ask, “Do you mind if I smoke?” before lighting up around others and, if the answer was “Yes, I do mind,” then the smoker should refrain.  Similar advertising encouraged non-smokers to speak up and ask smokers not to smoke in their presence.  Good manners flipped.  Smokers started stepping out of the non-smoker’s house when they needed to smoke.  Gradually smoking was banned in most indoor places.

The result is that my children have grown up in a different world.  They have never seen an ashtray in our house because no one who lives here needs one.  They probably can’t remember me or their dad telling the host “non-smoking” when asking for a table in a restaurant.  They’ve never seen anyone walking through a store with a cigarette or smoking in public places.  In their world, smokers go outside to smoke – that’s just how it is.  They can’t imagine the way things used to be … before I reached the age they are now.

We could make a change like that again – if we choose to.  It’s not like we don’t know what needs to be done…

First, it IS the guns.  The authors of our constitution lived in a time when the best rifle in the hands of an expert was capable of firing maybe two shots in a minute.  They could not imagine our modern weapons capable of firing 45 rounds in a single minute. There is no way to project what they might have thought of such a world as we now live in … how our realities might have re-shaped their thinking about the Second Amendment … if they had known.  But they did not know, and we cannot treat their words as though they were written for our times and our current culture.

Our peer nations do not have this problem.  There are things we can learn from them … mandatory training, testing, licensing, registration.  We do all this with cars; we could do this with guns – if we chose to do so.  Closing the loopholes that allow gun sales to bypass background checks is a start.  But we should strengthen the background check … put it on the same level as what we require for people who will work with children or other vulnerable populations.  Those aren’t done in an instant; it takes a week or two.  If we can make day-care providers do this, we can require the same of gun owners.

Yes, people can kill people with all kinds of things.  But semi-automatic firearms with high capacity magazines make it much too easy.  Let’s make it harder, not easier.  Restricting access to certain types of firearms and, especially, high capacity ammunition magazines makes a lot more sense than the current insanity that we’ve been tolerating for far too long.

I’m not so naïve as to believe stronger regulations and laws alone will fix everything.  This problem has multiple facets and requires solutions from several angles.  The stories we tell ourselves fuel the appetite for destruction and death.  We have to change the stories we tell about retribution, violence, and what’s right.

For starters, we need to fully face the realities of the present situation.  Sure, we can feel the sorrow and emotional pain when we see parents crying and screaming at the deaths of their children.  We can laud the courage of those who risked everything to save others, the first responders who helped the wounded to survive.  We can celebrate the resiliency of those recovering, the determination of the student-survivors as they not only returned to their violated schools but became national advocates for changes in gun policies.  These are pieces of the story – and important ones at that.

But there is an important piece missing in our tellings of the tragedies of these episodes: the carnage.  Yes, it would be gruesome to the point of nausea … yes, it will be horrifying to the point of nightmares, but we must see our reality.  We have to see the bodies, our young children, lying in pools of their own blood with the damage the bullets did as they ripped their paths through human flesh.  Images like this are what it took to get us out of Vietnam.  Images like these are what turned the tide of the Civil Rights struggle.  Nothing less than full reality is going to force us to get real about gun violence in our culture.

We have to see the reality because we’ve been fed too much of the fantasy.  It’s not just the first-person shooter video games.  It’s all the stories we tell about the necessity of violence.  Wrong-doers must be made to pay for what they’ve done – in pain and blood, and even death.  If the authorities invested with this responsibility can’t – or won’t – enforce the punishment, then the wronged one has the unassailable right to vengeance.  How often does this pattern play out in the stories we tell (and sell) … on screens big and small … how we shape the narratives in reporting current events … how we fashion the stories of our own lives.  Someone does you wrong?  Don’t just get mad; get even – or better.

We, who are people of Christian faith, have to rethink how we our most sacred story.  For too long now, theologians and preachers have taught a hyped-up version of Anselm’s satisfaction theory of the atonement to the people … and the people have concluded that this is the only true and correct understanding of what Jesus’ death and resurrection was all about.  The satisfaction theory is summed up in the slogan “Jesus paid a debt he didn’t owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.”  In itself, that is an accurate summation of the satisfaction theory, very much rooted in Anselm’s experience in the feudalistic society of his time.  But this theory has been amped up, melded with the penal substitution theory, and made to be about satisfying God’s righteous anger at the horrors of human sin.  God’s anger is amplified to such proportions that it must be vented somehow … which leads to emphasis of the physical horror of the crucifixion to show how Jesus absorbed the violence of God’s wrath on human flesh.  The story is about God getting even and taking vengeance – just as we think we should do when wronged.  This is making God into our image.  It’s wrong and we have to stop it … we have to stop it for the sake of our children … we have to stop it to be faithful to the gospel.

It’s Lent … we’re headed toward Holy Week and the annual remembrance of Jesus’ death.  We can tell our most sacred story differently.  We can talk about the tragedy of sin … and that this is what sin does: it kills things … kills people … killed Jesus.  We can talk about the love that took it all in, to transform us, so that we might love in the same self-giving way, changing the world by love.  We can talk about the language of covenants … how God made a covenant with Abram by passing between the carcasses of slaughtered animals to vow “may this be done to me if I break my covenant with you” … and so Jesus, in his dying,  paid the price to break that covenant and break it open – not just a few people, but for all people.

If we want the culture to change its narrative, we have to change ours.  If we want the violence to stop, we have to stop telling stories that praise the violent retribution and start telling stories of reconciliation and mutuality. If we want a better world in which our children can live and thrive, we have to call it into being with both words and actions.  Good thoughts and prayers for safety will not do it.  We have to act out our thoughts; we have to live out our prayers.  That means we have to change our language, change our policies.  The lives of our children – and maybe our lives, too – depend on it.

#MeToo v. #NotAllMen & the Case of Judge Kavanaugh

Now that all the shouting is over, can we take a pause and take a collective breath?

Can we reflect on what just happened and talk about it?

I think Dr. Christine Blassey Ford told more of the truth than Judge Brent Kavanaugh.

I also hope none of us is the same person s/he was at age 17 … or 18 … or 20; we should be growing and maturing beyond the stage when immaturity tends to be at its zenith.

I also find that absolutes in rhetoric are getting all of us nowhere.  We need to drop the “all right” or “all wrong” mutually exclusive either/or arguments and consider elements of scale and context.

Dr. Ford’s description of what happened was completely credible in terms of what she remembered and what she did not.  Her professional knowledge of how trauma and memory work added further insight; however, the testimony itself illustrated the theoretical concepts well enough.  Of course she remembers the events much more clearly that Judge Kavanaugh does.  It was traumatic for her; she feared, not only for her safety, but for her life at times.  For him, it was quite likely just another alcohol-fueled party; it all fades into one big blur he’d (probably) like to forget as much as he can.

Of course Dr. Ford didn’t tell anyone.  How could she?  She’d only be bringing trouble on herself.  She’d lost all her “good girl” protection in this situation; she wouldn’t be able to claim attempted rape … or even rape, if that had happened.  Only good girls could be raped; if you weren’t a “good girl,” then you were probably asking for it in some way … to some degree … and maybe (if you were bad enough), you even deserved it.

That’s how the thinking went, at any rate, at that time.  Rape was committed by someone the woman did not know, who assaulted her in some random chance encounter in which she was doing nothing to indicate sexual interest or to put herself at any risk.  To be a victim, she had to have been a “good girl” before the rape happened.  A good girl did not wear anything that could be sexually suggestive.  As a teenager, a good girl did not attend parties where adult supervision was completely absent.  She did not drink alcohol if she were under age.  If she was of age, she would not have more than one alcoholic drink at the event.  She did not stay at parties or events where over-consumption of alcohol was happening or being encouraged to happen.  If she could not get herself out of a risky situation, she always had a quarter for a pay-phone so she could call for a ride.

As Dr. Ford described events at the party, it was clear she had failed every requirement for being a good girl in that situation.  She was wearing a swimsuit – which by its very nature is sexually suggestive, whether two-piece, one piece, or even a racer style for competitions.  A good girl does not wear sexually suggestive clothing.  She was at a party where there was no adult supervision and alcohol was being consumed.  A good girl would exit such a scene immediately.  Not only did she stay, she had a beer.  A good girl would not drink a beer at age 15 … at least not in a situation like that, where no family members and no adult supervision were present.

If she told anyone – her parents, the adults at the house, the police, anyone – what happened, she would have heard: “What did you think would happen?  Why did you stay?  It was a house, wasn’t it? Were the phones not working?  Why didn’t you call for a ride home immediately?  Why didn’t you get over to the country club and use the pay phone there, where it was safe?  Didn’t you have your quarter?  You’re so lucky that’s all that happened; you could have really been hurt.”

All of this may sound strange to modern ears – not just the bits about pay-phones and the quarters that were necessary to place a call from them.  All of us women of a certain age were routinely warned about parties like the one 15-year old Christine Blassey attended.  We were told “bad things” could happen at events like this.  If we somehow found ourselves in such a situation, we needed to get ourselves out of there as soon as possible.  If we needed a ride, call – have a quarter to use a pay phone, if that was the only safe or available option.  To remain in that situation was to invite “bad things” to happen.  “Bad things” were understood to refer to sexual activity that was, at a minimum, unintended and definitely unwanted.

Such things were known to happen in situations like that high school party Dr. Ford described.  If things like this happened (and we know they did – this was not some 80s-era urban legend), then it also means some people had to be doing them … not that anyone would admit to it – not then … and certainly not now.

The teenaged Brent Kavanaugh certainly fits the general description of the kinds of guys who might do the “bad things” that happened at parties “like that.”  Despite his claims otherwise, in the hodgepodge of drinking ages at that time, no state had 17 as the legal age.  He wasn’t of legal age to drink anywhere.  However, he was a school athlete … and then (just like now) underage consumption could have eligibility consequences as well as legal ones.  But, it has also long been and still is the case that, for certain considerations, like athletic ability, player’s position, how well the team had been doing … family social standing … household net worth (and the influence that comes with it) … for various reasons, exceptions could be made; behavior could be overlooked.  That Judge Kavanaugh chose to invoke his various privileges (class, gender, race) as a defense against Dr. Ford’s accusations is telling.

But rather than get all spun up over what might have happened … why it should (or should not) still matter 30 years later, let’s put things in context.  Young Christine Blassey had been told a set of stories, given a general narrative to shape her conduct – what it means to be a good girl.  Young Brent Kavanaugh had also been told a set of stories.  But the narrative he was told was somewhat different.  He was good-looking.  He was an athlete.  He and his family were fairly well off economically.  Therefore, because of all this, he was desirable to the young women around him.  And he just as he was entitled to their desire, he was also entitled to the fulfillment of his desires.  Oh, he might have to “help” a good girl get past her inhibitions, but that would be okay because she really wanted to be with him … to make him happy … to have him like her … to give him the sex he wanted.  It was okay to push a little if he needed to get what he wanted.  He deserved it.

In this current #MeToo moment, this probably sounds like something from the dark ages.  But such were the stories of those days.  On TV, the ultimate romantic couple of the soap opera world was General Hospital’s Laura and Luke.  Their relationship was regarded the height of romance; their wedding was a record-setting event in terms of viewership.  But their relationship started when he raped her in his nightclub.  Writers tried to soften it a bit with later flashbacks, but the undercurrent remained for those who saw that initial encounter.

Date rape was played for laughs, most notably as a sub-plot in the highly popular and successful coming-of-age movie Sixteen Candles.  Rather than protest what happed, the victim (the most popular girl in the school) assures the guy it was better than okay … and she likes him, even though he is a geeky/nerdy type … and if she hadn’t been set up like that, she would have never discovered this … so it’s all okay.

Like I said earlier, these were the stories we were told that shaped the narrative for how ordered our lives, made our choices, decided our actions, and understood the behavior of others.  At that time, as a society, we were still puzzling over the concept of marital rape.  (How could it be rape?  Wasn’t the marriage ceremony itself consent to sexual activity?)  Date rape was a very murky concept.  Could a man be blamed if a woman led him on to some degree, gave mixed signals? (And how would we know she hadn’t?)  These views and the stories shaped by them have since received well-deserved critiques and have been appropriately discarded or altered.

But that’s how it is now – it’s not how it was then.  And when Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh were giving their testimony, they were talking about how things were then.  We need to remember that.

No doubt teenaged Brent Kavanaugh, like many of his similarly situated peers, was something of a jerk.  With understandable reluctance, he did acknowledge consuming quite a bit of beer in his youth.  Based on the notations from his yearbook and some other details that have come to light, he was likely a regular on the party scene and generally drank to excess.  Alcohol lowers inhibitions … which has caused a number of people of all ages to be far more sexually forward, and even aggressive, than they are while sober.  He’d hardly be unique in this regard.  And if we take as a given that, as Dr. Ford, recalled, he had been drinking heavily prior to their encounter at the part, then there’s a very good likelihood he would not fully remember the events of that day.  It also sounds like this was not a singular event.  There were other similar occasions in which the young Kavanaugh, while under the influence of alcohol, behaved in various ways that can be categorized as sexually inappropriate.  All of these things he’s been accused of probably did happen.

However, what does it matter now?  That is the key question and the answer is: not much.  What he probably did then doesn’t matter so much now because it is also clear from the record that he has not done anything like this since his college years.  With his various positions, Brent Kavanaugh has been subject to multiple FBI background investigations.  If he were still in the habit of behaving inappropriately, his career never would have advanced this far.  Someone would have said something somewhere along the line.

Why did he stop?  Well, most likely, because he grew up – just like most people do.  He is not the same person today as he was in high school and even into college.  It happens (most of the time, at least).  I would have preferred to have heard his story of how that happened … Did something make him decide to quit the party scene, cut back on the drinking?  Did he decide that just wasn’t the sort of person he wanted to be, the way he wanted to be seen by others?  Did he just outgrow it, as many of his peers did, without any clear prompt or impetus?  I, for one, would have preferred the story of how he left off being a party boy and became a mature responsible adult to the highly defensive assertion of privilege that he actually offered at the hearing.

But such honesty and transparency are not safe right now.  That’s the downside of our #MeToo moment.  Any and all transgression of sexual boundaries by any man is treated as the moral equivalent of rape.  That’s not only unhelpful; it’s inappropriate.  If we are going to have a genuine public conversation about sexuality and boundaries and responsibility, we can’t treat everything as all the same in every form.  We have to be able to say what is, what happened, and why so that we can find our way to a better, more respectful, less sexist future.

As #MeToo started trending on social media as women reported the various forms of sexual degradation, harassment, and assault they had experienced, men were feeling they all were being held guilty of the worst of these offenses … and some of them actually wanted to be allies with women in addressing these concerns … and so #NotAllMen developed.

Here’s my take: #NotAllMen is not accurate.  While it is true that not all men have committed the worst of the transgressions against women’s boundaries, by the time he’s 25 years old, every man has crossed some sexual boundary with some woman at some time.  The transgressions may be minor: looking a little too long in the wrong place … pressing his interest in her (or in sex with her) a little past the point at which it became clear she did not share his interest … deliberate physical contact passed off as accidental … catcalling and wolf-whistling at women passing by … briefly following a woman because he likes the way she looks.  Some are truly problematic … following a woman around a store or mall or public place (even if she doesn’t notice) … grabbing women who are out by themselves (“just because”) … other stalker behaviors … and pornography which treats women as objects for male sexual gratification rather than as human beings.  Some are clearly criminal: various levels of sexual assault, including rape.  All of these are problems.  All of these are transgressions of women’s boundaries and personhood. Just about every man has done at least one of these on at least one occasion.  But to treat them all as rapists isn’t helpful.  Only rape is rape.  Lesser violations certainly are not equivalent to rape, but they shouldn’t be overlooked or dismissed either.

#MeToo caught fire because all women have a story or experience of harassment to share.  Not all our stories are the same, but they all count … they just don’t all count in the same way.  Likewise, not all men are the same in their violations of women’s boundaries – and it is wrong to treat them all as though they were. If we demand that, for any man to have a role in public life, he must never have engaged in any transgressions of any woman’s sexual boundaries, then no men would be allowed.  Some may be okay with that (“Serves them right.”  “It’s about time.”  “Let them be out of power for a few centuries and see how they like it.” “Turnabout is fair play.” Etc.).  I’m not okay with that; I don’t think it’s helpful.

Melodramatic “pearl clutching” is equally useless. (“I’m so afraid for the men … my husband/my son … any woman could accuse him of something he didn’t do and completely destroy his career.”)  However, if we’re bound and determined to exile any man who’s ever done anything a woman finds offensive, then it isn’t safe for men to acknowledge what they’ve done.  Like I said, I would have preferred Brent Kavanaugh to acknowledge what he did (or even that although he did remember the specifics, concede it was quite possible he had done this) and then explain how he became a better, different person.  But it isn’t safe for him to do so.  One need only look to the multiple examples of men being drummed out of public life for acknowledging (or being unable to convincingly deny) any form of sexual transgressions against women.  The fate of Senator Al Franken might be the closest comparison.

Such absolutist positions are not helpful.  We have to be able to talk – and to hear each other.  To have the conversation, we need to make it safe for women to tell their stories – and we need it make it safe for men to take responsibility for their actions … and to change … and to grow and become better people.  Dr. Christine Blassey Ford and all women need to be able to tell their stories and have them heard and considered.  Brent Kavanaugh and all men need to be able to acknowledge what they have done, take responsibility for their actions, and demonstrate change.

This is the only way things are really going to get better… the only way we’re be able to put an end to these experiences for most people in our society … the only way it stops.  At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all really want?

SATURDAY 6-PACK: July 14, 2018

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful

 

I’ve been on vacation … and then the usual catch-up when back at work.  Wow, has there been a lot happening!  There’s so much to pick from, but this is what I came up with

The Supreme Court pick … First, there was much speculation that turned out to be all wrong.  Then the prime-time, made for “reality” TV tastes (I’m sure …. which is why I avoided it) reveal.  After that, the real games begin.  Here are two pieces that caught my eye with some intriguing points for consideration of the latest nominee:

http://www.startribune.com/u-s-supreme-court-nomination-brett-kavanaugh-is-uncommonly-partisan-research-shows/487825491/

http://www.startribune.com/oh-come-on-no-one-s-a-strict-originalist/487912351/

 

Then there’s the trade war and what it might mean … Monday mornings on NPR, one of the regular hosts, David Greene this time, and Jonah Goldberg, Senior Editor at the National Review, discuss recent events, trends, and perspectives.  This time the major point is one of the very few areas where the current occupant has been consistent for decades: protectionist trade policies.  But this may not go the way he wants or expects it to …

https://www.npr.org/2018/07/09/627190257/there-are-worries-a-trade-war-could-cost-gop-its-majority-in-congress

 

Then it was on the the NATO summit.  First up, a tutorial about the history of NATO and a quick fact-check (necessary because the current occupant and verifiable facts are not well-acquatined):

https://www.npr.org/2018/07/14/629058526/a-short-history-of-nato

https://www.npr.org/2018/07/11/628137185/fact-check-trumps-claims-on-nato-spending

 

Just as the current occupant blustered and pouted his way through the G-7 summit a few weeks ago en route to his rendezvous with the leader of North Korea, his performance at he NATO summit was more of same.  This is an opinion piece, but the source has immense experience with NATO and a good working knowledge base.

https://www.npr.org/2018/07/13/628789350/opinion-the-problem-with-trumps-wrecking-ball-approach-to-nato

 

A local attorney wrote this piece for the Star Tribune a few weeks ago, when the most recent immigrant crisis was the focus of the news, those heart-wrenching accounts of children being ripped from their parents … and the galling attempts by the architects of those policies to justify them.  The specter of Hitler and his Nazis has been invoked so many times in the past decades it’s become a sort of boy-who-cried-wolf situation.  Would we consider things enough to recognize it if it were happening now, to us?  Is it, really?  I don’t know, but it’s something to think about …

http://www.startribune.com/good-germans-good-americans-where-are-we-headed/486320971/

 

Who are we now? Who … what do we aspire to be?  How much has been lost?  Can we rebuilt what has been torn apart?  I don’t know  … but Leonard Pitts offers much to chew on and ponder:

https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article213879189.html

 

 

SANCTUARY … REFUGEES AND IMMIGRATION

One of the joys of parenthood is introducing your children (as they reach appropriate ages) to significant pieces of culture from before their time (significant, at least, in the eyes of the parents).  A few summers back, my husband and I seized on the window of opportunity (our children being still at home but young adults soon to be off on their own) to introduce them to something that roughly coincided with their births – the best Star Trek series ever: Deep Space Nine.  When the series concluded in 1999, they were both too young to have watched it.

There’s always a risk when you do this that the storylines and production values (not to mention special effects technology) will prove to have not stood up well over time.  In retrospect, there was little chance of that happening with this particular series.  Many of the stories, as science fiction does at its best, offer commentary on issues that remain contemporary … perhaps because, well, human nature being what it is.  As my husband and I watched them again (and our kids watched for the first time), I was struck by a number of episodes that seemed as contemporary now as they did then … which is probably what made those particular stories (and the series as a whole) so memorable.

One episode that stood out when we watched it with the kids a couple years ago – and seemed perhaps even more relevant when I caught part of it a few weeks ago as hubby was amusing himself with the nightly “All Trek” broadcast on you-might-know where – was titled “Sanctuary.”

This episode came around the mid-point of the second season of the series.  To understand the story in the episode requires a little knowledge of the series itself.  Deep Space Nine, as the name might suggest, was set aboard a space station that the Federation of Planets (the heroes of the Star Trek stories) was now staffing after the occupation of the nearby planet, Bajor, by the Cardassian Empire.  The station is also close to a stable wormhole, a short-cut conduit between quadrants of the galaxy.   In this particular episode, a badly damaged space craft has come through the wormhole from another quadrant and is allowed to dock at the station.  The first people to emerge from the ship are strangers to everyone on the station.  Eventually we learn these people are called the Skrreeas, but initially even the fabulous universal translator cannot recognize their speech patterns and language.  But even without language, the female, who seems to be the leader of these new arrivals, and Major Kira Nerys, a Bajoran officer who is the second in command of the station, form a connection.  Eventually, the universal translator puzzles out the new language and communication is possible … and the story of the new arrivals comes into view.

They are refugees from a planet in the Gamma Quadrant.  First, their world was dominated by an occupying force, much as the Cardassians did to Bajor.  But then something even worse happened as another imperial force, referred to as the Dominion (which will eventually become quite significant in the storyline of the entire series) came and devastated the planet, rendering it uninhabitable for the Skrreeans.  The leader, Haneek, who was first to come aboard the station is seeking a new home for her entire people, some three million of them.

What Haneek does not so readily disclose to her hosts is that she has been following a prophecy once given to her people.  She has led them through “the Eye of the Universe” (the wormhole) in order to find Kentanna, “the planet of sorrows,” which is to be their new home. Gradually, she comes to recognize that the nearby planet Bajor is the Kentanna of the prophecy.  At about that point, the Station Commander, Benjamin Sisko, informs her that the Federation has identified a suitable new home world for the people.  She tells him that she has already found the new home world for her people: “Your planet,” she tells Kira; her people will settle on Bajor.

This request, or expectation, touches off an understandable debate among the leaders of Bajor.  Their population is already facing a famine because of the struggling recovery from the devastation of the Cardassian occupation.  The leaders don’t see how they could possibly support an influx of millions more people – and refugees at that, newcomers who are bringing very little with them, who have few resources of their own they can use.

Haneek counters that she has identified a currently uninhabited expanse of land on the planet.  She and her people can settle there; no one would be displaced.  But, the Bajoran leaders tell her, that area is uninhabited because it is uninhabitable; it suffered extreme devastation during the occupation by the Cardassians.  However, Haneek has her own counter revelation: she and her people are farmers.  All they need is land and they can support themselves.  This does not sway the Bajoran leaders; the land is devastated – nothing can be grown there.

In the end, the Bajoran leaders refuse to let the Skrreeans refugees settle on their world … and Haneek reluctantly accepts relocation to the planet the Federation is recommending.  It is only hinted and implied, but not clearly confirmed, (the writers were far too clever to be heavy-handed on this point) that these refugees are an answer to Bajor’s needs; in a rather literal sense, each could answer the other’s prayers.  The Skrreeans need a new home.  Bajor needs food.  It might be that these refugees know farming techniques that could restore the now-barren land to production and grow enough food to feed themselves and to ease Bajor’s famine. But the leaders of Bajor were too fearful to take that chance.

It’s more than just the “We are farmers” countermove by Haneek that hints at this.  Like the Skrreeans and their trust in a prophecy, the Bajorans are also a spiritually-minded people.  The wormhole that the refugees call “the Eye of the Universe” is referred to as “the Celestial Temple” by the Bajorans, who know that it is actually inhabited and sustained by extra-dimensional beings whom the Bajorans reverence as  “the Prophets.”  It does not seem to occur to the Bajoran leaders that perhaps their revered prophets have drawn these refugees to and through the wormhole to be of assistance to the Bajorans in their needs.  Perhaps that’s because, for some reason, the leaders did not include the Kai, their spiritual leader, in these discussions. (However, one of the Vedeks, a lower level of religious leader like a priest, is involved in the discussions with the Skrreeans.)  What the Bajorans stubbornly insisted on seeing as a burden that they absolutely did not need might actually have been a gift in the guise of a beggar’s request.  But they rejected the gift and will likely suffer more in the long-run for it as the famine persists.

How are immigrants viewed among our people in our country, one of many on this particular planet?  Unlike the fictional Skrreeans from a hypothetical Gamma Quadrant, elsewhere in the universe … inaccessible except through some special portal, the immigrants we are facing come from other countries on this planet, the same planet we are on.  There is a history between peoples; there have been interactions before and there will be interactions in the future.  Past actions by our nation have impacts on others on this planet.  Although we may speak different languages, the various languages are not unknown or unknowable.  Translation is readily available.  If we choose to do so, we can readily understand.

So, what do we understand in this?  Who are the immigrants coming here?  Why do they come?  What do they seek?

There seems to be little conflict over immigrants from other first world nations, reasonably prosperous countries who apply for an obtain one of the openings extended to residents of these types of nations, who come on the H1B Visas by which employers can support someone from another country to come.  These people are clearly capable, self-supporting, motivated, law-abiding and share in our common values.  We tend to see them as much like us; they will fit right In with the rest of us and be fine additions to the American population.

Most of the public concern is directed toward those who come from poorer countries, who seem to lack resources (wealth, education, potential to contribute value to our society).  Because of the generally lower level of education than is common in wealthier countries, these immigrants tend not to be able to speak English.  (In wealthier, more educated countries, English is one of the foreign languages commonly learned by school students.)  Often, their skin tends toward darker hues than is common for most Europeans or what is considered normal among a declining majority of Americans.  Immigrants and refugees (and there is a difference) often come with little more than the clothes they are a wearing and whatever they can carry with them.

Are they gifts – or are they burdens … coming with too many needs, too few resources, too many limitations and potential liabilities … a drain on our society in multiple ways?   Why are they coming anyway?  More importantly, what was the role of our nation in creating the very circumstances they are so desperate to escape?

First, there is the specific case of refugees.  All refugees are immigrants, but not all immigrants can be considered refugees.  Asylum-seekers are not refugees.  A displaced people group is qualified for consideration as refugees but the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.  Their plight is clear.  They have been displaced from their homeland, generally by some act of violence such as a war; they cannot return to the place they left and expect to survive.  Once that determination is made, preparations begin to relocate the refugee populations.  Representatives from the commissioner’s office work with families on their applications.  Applicants are interviewed individually; if the individually stories of the family unit do not match, all the family members will have their applications rejected.  There are basic health screenings and wellness checks.  The whole process takes well over a year.  Once approved, the refugees are sorted into groups and assigned to the receiving country.  They will spend a few months in preparation for their new locations, but they often do not know exactly where they will be relocated to until a couple of days before their flights.

When the US receives refugees, they are eligible for public benefits immediately.  (No other immigrants are eligible for these.)  However, they can only have those benefits such as food stamps and cash assistance for a limited period of time.  Once that time passes, the refugees are expected to be self-supporting.  Volunteers from refugee sponsorship groups often assist the new arrivals in managing the transition, settling into their new homes, finding work, etc.

Given our participation in recent conflicts in the Middle East, do we not have some responsibility for the refugees these conflicts have created?  This may be especially true in Syria.  There is no doubt the current ruler, Bashar Assad, has committed numerous atrocities against some of his own people.  The country would be better served if he were removed.  However, there are no clear replacements who would be reliable in doing good, not harm.  Furthermore, to take on Assad directly is to invite open military conflict with Russia, something no one wants (and with good reason).  Therefore, since we cannot resolve the conflict, do we have some role – responsibility, even – in doing what is possible to mitigate the very real suffering?

Asylum seekers come as individuals, rather than groups.  They are facing direct risk of violence or persecution in their homelands that is directed at them personally.  The threats may be due to a person’s political activities or affiliation, identity, life situation … any number of things.  By both international and US law, anyone may present her or himself at the border and request asylum.  This is a legal form of migration.

Many of the immigrants currently in the national spotlight on our southern border are seeking asylum.  They are fleeing violence in their homelands … sometimes from husbands, but mostly from gangs – gangs that may be menacing the whole family or just the sons.  The threats are real.  The governments are ineffective.  People would never risk the arduous journey from their homes in Central America through Mexico (where the risk is slightly reduced and the government is slightly more effective) if the homeland weren’t still more dangerous.  Parents would never send their children unaccompanied on “the beast” (the roof of a train many immigrants ride through Mexico to the US border) unless that was safer than keeping them at home.

We know why they come, but what responsibility do we have to receive them?  More, perhaps, than we want to acknowledge.  The hyper-violent gang, MS-13, has received much mention these days – usually in the context that it’s coming here from there courtesy of illegal immigrants.  That’s not actually the case.  The gang was born here among El Salvadoran immigrants in the 1980s who were into drugs (marijuana, mostly) and death metal music.  As part of the War on Drugs, they were sent to prison where they learned US gang culture, especially violence … which interacted with the satanic lyrics of death metal music in horrifying ways.  When these immigrants were released from prison and subsequently deported, they took what they learned here home with them.  Our culture played a significant role in creating the gang; do we owe it to the victims to help mitigate that damage?

While the argument that the governments in those countries should be protecting their citizens, acting to stop the gangs and end the violence is valid, the reality is the governments are corrupt and ineffective.  That, too, is a result of US policies.  Fearing the “domino effect,” that communism might spread in Central America and migrate north to our border, the US took sides with military aid, CIA operations, and the School of the Americas all supported countermeasures to be directed against communist insurgents.  “Communist” became a flexible term directed at anyone challenging the status quo.  A number of dictators and leaders were trained by or supported through these programs.  Having crippled governance by the will of the people and supported corrupt leaders, do we not have some responsibility for the current suffering of the immigrants requesting asylum here from the mess we cultivated there?

And then there are the “dreamers,” children who were brought across the border by their parents, most when they were quite young.  These children have grown up in this country, attended school alongside US-born children, participated in US culture for much of their lives.  Often, it’s only when they are seeking to do normal things for US teens – get a driver’s license, go to college, etc. – that they learn they lack the necessary documents, that they were actually not US citizens as they had thought themselves to be.  Their plight is not unlike that of Tom Hanks’ character in the movie The Terminal … no way forward and no way back.  They don’t have legal status in the US – and they likely lack similar documentation for re-entry to their countries of origin, countries that would be as unfamiliar to them as to any of their US-born peers.

They are here.  They identify as American.  Their peers who grew up here with them see them as belonging to their communities.  But for the accident of their births in another country, they are otherwise Americans.  What is the right thing to do?  Leave them in perpetual limbo?  Deport them to a country they do not know, that has not been home for significant parts of their lives (assuming the other country can be persuaded to take them back without documentation)?  Or do we acknowledge what is at present, let go of how they came to be here, and give the Dreamers a way to move forward as Americans?  There are no perfect answers to this particular dilemma.  However, which option is most true to how we imagine our nation to be?

Some years ago, I came across a suggestion to pray for our country over the weeks between Flag Day (June 14th) and Independence Day (July 4th).  During this time, I regularly use prayers that were written in late 1960s and published in 1970.  Among the petitions are these words:

We pray You would make this nation a haven for refugees, for the persecuted and the displaced.  We pray You would urge [people] in our nation to pursue always the search for human freedoms.  We pray You to stimulate the leaders of this nation to regulate our government that it will offer the hope of freedom for all who swear allegiance to it.  We pray you to forgive our sins of pride, bigotry, lawlessness, indifference, and license. … Forgive us our waste of natural and human resources, for the neglect of our own rights and the rights of others.

Is this who we are called to be?  Is this who we, as Americans, still desire to be?  Or has the time has come to send the Statue of Liberty back to France and donate the plaque from its base, with the words of Emma Lazarus’s poem, to Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany?  Just who are we going to be?

And here is one more layer, where the connection to the Deep Space Nine episode is particularly pertinent: we need more people.  Throughout its entire existence and into the foreseeable future, the Baby Boom has been the rat in the demographic snake.  Things expand to accommodate them at each phase … and the contract in the wake.  (I’m a Baby Buster, a member of Gen X – I’ve seen it firsthand by being part of a demographic disappointment my entire life.)  The retirement wave of boomers is reaching its peak.  Forecasts for Medicare as well as for Social Security are dire, in large part because the number of working adults per retiree is about to drop precariously.  We need more working adults – and we need them soon (like yesteryear, if it were possible)!

We can’t go back in time and have more children in the Gen X and subsequent generations.  We can’t magically conjure up workers right now.  However, if we welcomed the immigrants (however they find their ways to us) and gave them paths to citizenship and helped them hone their skills to become productive workers and full participants in our economy, then we might cooperate to address each other’s needs.  It would at least be better than whatever it is we’re doing right now.

SATURDAY 6-PACK: June 23, 2018

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful

 

Wow!  That was some week.  Before taking on THE issue of the week that was, there are some other things that may have been lost in the roar that really shouldn’t be overlooked.

 

First: the Inspector General’s review of the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails from her tenure as Secretary of State.  The verdict seems to have been far less than what the Republicans who initiated it were hoping for.  As The Hill summarizes things:

Regardless, that brings us to the accusers. They face more consequences, in terms of hurt credibility. Republicans were crying foul that the FBI was helping Clinton, but Comey’s actions appear to have favored Trump. That’s what the IG report suggests. But Republicans are still whining. They want retribution for the FBI ultimately helping Trump. Huh?!

Read the whole piece here:

http://thehill.com/opinion/white-house/392714-after-inspector-general-report-republicans-must-reform-themselves

 

Second: the escalating trade war.  Here’s a two-fer, one from The Hill (again and the title says it all) and the other from Marketplace, about trade policies (or lack thereof) and real impacts to Americans:

http://thehill.com/opinion/finance/392654-trump-trade-policy-ungrounded-in-economics-oblivious-to-history

https://www.marketplace.org/2018/06/22/economy/your-new-tariff-questions-answered

 

Third: Neal Conan (former host of Talk of the Nation) now has a series of broadcasts titled Truth, Politics, and Power.  This episode looks at the purpose and art of presidential speech-making with two experienced practitioners of the craft (one from Reagan’s tenure and the other from Clinton’s) along with a look at Obama’s use of the “bully pulpit.”  (Bonus — there’s an explanation of how TR meant that in a good way.)  The last segment contrasts the methods of the former occupants with the habits of the current occupant of the Oval Office.  Note what is said of the role of “conservative media” in recent developments and then consider the illustration in the second piece of how the failure of the echo chamber to buttress the current occupant’s rhetoric factored in the developments of the past week:

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2018/06/20/the_presidents_bully_pulpit

https://www.npr.org/2018/06/21/622137992/conservative-media-failed-to-redefine-debate-on-trump-s-immigration-policy

 

Fourth: The children of immigration.  First, Scott Simon on why the cries of children should — and do! — move us.  Then Leonard Pitts takes us beyond this moment to the larger picture of how much damage the current policies are doing throughout our country.  Read and weep …

https://www.npr.org/2018/06/23/622712944/childrens-cries-brought-down-walls-of-indifference

http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article213480684.html

 

Fifth: The “system” (if it can truly be called that) is broken.  To figure out real solutions, we have to understand what the actual problems are.  Here’s a good start:

https://www.npr.org/2018/06/23/622795409/a-former-immigration-judge-on-the-current-situation

 

Sixth: Something to think about on the whole subject of immigration … and a call to most of us for a lot more humility:

http://www.startribune.com/living-in-minnesota-our-land-their-land-our-history-their-history/486324061/

 

SATURDAY 6-PACK: June 16,2018

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful

 

There is something of theme this week: divisions

Anyone else find it amazing that a sense of common ground, shared reality keeps getting harder to find?  People who get their news from FOX are skeptical of reports from other sources like NPR or long respected papers like the New York Times or the Washington Post.  NPR listeners question the veracity of what FOX reports.  The Republican Party was once considered the “country club” party, but now it’s the “country” (meaning rural) party … and the Democratic Party, once viewed as the party of the common people, is now seen as the party of and exclusively for the elites (meaning urbanites, city-folk).  How did this come about? And what might be done to bridge the divide?  This piece points to what just might the real source of all this polarization (hint: It’s the economy – or at least the personal one) … but it also suggests bridging the gap may be even harder than it already seems:

https://www.vox.com/2018/5/24/17368308/income-inequality-poverty-in-america

 

 

There’s been a lot discussion this week about the separation of children from parents by Immigration and Customs Enforcement … why this is being done … what the law requires … what options could be considered.  These two pieces sum up the reasoning (or lack thereof – YMMV) to regard all border crossings (even by those seeking asylum) as criminal, rather than civil, violations and how criminal incarceration of adults means the children cannot stay with them.  But it is very damaging.  Is this really the best approach?

https://www.npr.org/2018/06/15/620230362/a-texas-prosecutor-on-immigrant-family-separations

https://www.npr.org/2018/06/15/620254326/doctors-warn-about-dangers-of-child-separations

 

 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions introduced the Bible into his arguments for his current course of action regarding people from other countries crossing our southern border, apparently as pushback against a number of Christians and faith-based organizations publicly condemning his policies.  Sarah Huckabee Sanders was also quizzed on this subject by a number of reporters (including one from Playboy magazine).  Any marginal Bible scholar can tell you it’s possible to proof-text just about anything if you do it right.  The deeper question is what kind of God do we seek … want … have?  Leonard Pitts, as usual, cuts right to the chase:

http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article213298284.html

 

 

The current occupant of the Oval Office is trying to blame the Democrats for the policies (ie: if they would agree to fully fund the construction of his desired border wall, then he might reconsider the current practice), essentially using children as hostages in a power struggle that has nothing to do with them but is doing tremendous (possible irreparable) harm to them in the process.  (And whatever happened to the promise that not one cent of US money would be spent on this wall project?)  Here’s what is trying to pass for justification of this patently unjust policy:

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/trump-cites-as-a-negotiating-tool-his-policy-of-separating-immigrant-children-from-their-parents/ar-AAyI1lK?li=BBnb7Kz&ocid=iehp

 

 

They know the risks when then come.  They know what’s likely to happen.  If the policy doesn’t drive opponents to acquiesce and fund the wall, it should at least scare would-be refugees from coming here.  Or so the arguments go.  They know; why do they still come?  Because they judge the risks they face traveling to the border and in crossing the border to be less than the risks at home.  And as for the risks at home, well … we have a hand in those, too.  Our culture of gang violence gave rise to MS-13 … and then we deported it to Central America.  Since we helped create this mess, do we not have a part to play in dealing with the damage?

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/2/26/16955936/ms-13-trump-immigrants-crime

 

 

And finally on the subject of divisions, much has been made of the meeting between the current occupant of the Oval Office and North Korea’s “dear leader” … who apparently endeared himself to the occupant.  The meeting has been appropriately described as heavy on optics and light on substance … so much so that the signed agreement is reminiscent of cotton candy – the paper thing it comes on is the most substantial part.  However, the current occupant’s appreciation for dictators is far more disturbing than the agreement is assuring:

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/%e2%80%98dictator-envy%e2%80%99-trump%e2%80%99s-praise-of-kim-jong-un-widens-his-embrace-of-totalitarian-leaders/ar-AAyIko1?li=BBnbcA1&ocid=iehp

 

SUNDAY 6-PACK: June 9, 2018

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful

It’s been a few weeks (over a month, really).  I did start getting a list ready last weekend, but it never made it to posting.  Hence, there are a couple of two-fers this time out.  And this was supposed to go up last night, but Coco was too engrossing.  If you haven’t seen it (and I highly recommend you do), it’s all about family and community and how individuals fit into these complex relationships.  If there’s a theme to this week, it’s about taking big topics/problems/issues down to the personal level … starting with the economy.

First up – The G7 met this weekend. Globalization and trade policies involve all kinds of complex interrelationships.  What counts as an American-made product?  Anything made here, even if components of that final product came from elsewhere?  What counts as an American job?  Do Americans working at facilities here in the US count, even if the company that owns and operates the facility is based outside of the US?  These questions, and the two stories from this week below, demonstrate why trade policy is complicated and co-operation with other nations on the world stage is essential.  What if what you’ve been told (sold) as being “good for you” turns out not to be?  (Note: even those supportive of the tariffs acknowledge they will not be able to bear the negative consequences for more than a brief time)

http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/smallbusiness/this-ohio-factory-thought-it-could-bring-us-jobs-back-from-china-then-trump-got-involved/ar-AAykkkA?li=BBnb7Kz&ocid=iehp

https://www.npr.org/2018/06/08/617200482/trumps-tariffs-worry-a-small-steel-city-in-pennsylvania

 

Secondly, the common mantra is that we should trust these policies on tariffs, tax cuts, etc. to get us where we need to be … just give it time.  But how much time can we afford to wait?  There was news this week about Social Security and Medicare going through money faster than expected.  (This news was reported in multiple forms by multiple sources, but it’s the first story in the first link, the Marketplace Morning Report from Wednesday.) We’ve known for some time now this day was coming and none of the suggested changes that could help have been made.  It might be getting too late to solve it; that’s the second link below.  And yet, there were statements from the various administration officials not to worry because economic growth from tax cuts and tariffs will fix all this.  But if that’s really the case, how come things are worse — not better — after almost a decade of economic improvement and growth?  Bottom line: the younger Boomers and all other generations after that point should not be planning for the current standard model of retirement … and places building their business plans around that ideal might want to rethink things.

https://www.marketplace.org/shows/marketplace-morning-report/06062018-us-edition

http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/retirement/preparing-for-poverty-america-will-face-a-retirement-funding-crisis/ar-AAyoCwW?li=BBnbfcL&ocid=iehp

 

Third, to further complicate the issue, the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a series this week on the burden borne by family care givers, often uncompensated … which costs in plenty of ways … and would cost our health care system a lot more if it were compensated appropriately (like $470 Billion more).  And then where would we be?  This is part of why people are struggling to save for their own retirements and other future needs — and why Medicare is running out of money faster than expected (health care needs at end of life or for chronic conditions).  While compensation might help the finances of the family members doing the care, it will make costs even higher for Medicare recipients.

http://www.startribune.com/invisible-workforce-of-caregivers-is-wearing-out/483250981/

 

A lot of attention was on a certain Supreme Court ruling this week concerning free speech and business owners…

[Digression: if someone runs a business attractive to couples planning their weddings and that someone doesn’t want to become involved in a same-gender wedding, that person should collect the names of the couple, date, time, etc. up-front and then “check the calendar” to see if the schedule permits; then come back and tell the couple that the date is booked and the request cannot be accommodated. That’s strictly business; there’s no real business need to say anything more.  Turn away enough couples and word will spread far enough that only an equally selective clientele will find its way to the door.]

… A far more potentially pernicious case involving business owners and free speech rights started brewing a couple weeks ago – the decision by NFL owners regarding players’ presence and posture during the pre-game patriotic ceremony (sponsored by the US military), which includes a display of the American flag that is actually in violation of the uniform flag code.  If you don’t think this issue is all that important, consider these points:

https://www.vox.com/2018/5/25/17386298/nfl-national-anthem-protests-rule

 

Let’s remember why the players are kneeling – to call attention to the reality that our nation is failing to fully live up to the ideals embodied in symbols like the flag and the pledge and the anthem.  (And as a practicing Christian and pastor, I really want to know when and how kneeling became disrespectful, since we kneel a number of times in church.)  Add this episode to the ever-growing list of lack of accountability when police officers act as judges, juries, and executioners of black men who were, at worst, guilty only of misdemeanor offenses that never involve the death penalty:

http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article212537889.html

 

Finally, a long form piece from The Atlantic (which will take an hour or so to read) exploring the “the 9.9%” … who, although they lack the financial leverage of the 0.1% to buy politicians, elections, or set policy, nevertheless cooperate with policies and help build the walls that ensure wealth and privilege accrue to them and theirs only, while loudly and proudly proclaiming it’s all about personal merits … as though anyone and everyone could earn a place … if only he (or she) would try hard enough.  This has generated some push-back by those who want to focus only on the 1% or just the 0.1%.  But household wealth covers a wide spectrum; there aren’t sharp breaks between one layer of income ranges and another … and there is still some wiggle room over the course of a person’s life.  But the blend of analysis, observation, and family history in this is worth consideration.  Read it and weep – or get angry.  Anger is a sign that something needs to change; this will give you ideas about what needs changing.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/06/the-birth-of-a-new-american-aristocracy/559130/

 

 

 

SUNDAY 6-Pack: April 29, 2018

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful

 

Okay, I’m a day late.  Things got busy at work yesterday and then we went out to see friends.  But I did start a list this week.  So here we go …

First up, a two-fer from Marketplace on what is/isn’t happening in the economy due to tax cuts and globalization.  Note where most of the corporate savings from tax cuts are going (hint: only a third of companies are raising wages — and that’s mostly because it’s harder to attract employees, not tax cuts).  The second piece tackles popular narratives about globalism; in this one, note what is causing (and will continue to)  cause more job loss than globalization.

https://www.marketplace.org/2018/04/23/business/forecast-sunny-business

https://www.marketplace.org/2018/04/24/world/is-globalism-failed-policy

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Not only are some popular narratives about taxes and globalism inaccurate, these narratives also miss the mark in accounting for the Current Occupant being in the Oval Office.  University of Pennsylvania political science professor Diana Mutz explains it wasn’t a sense of being left out/behind or a hope for better that moved the Current Occupant’s base; it’s fear.  The transcript is just a small part; the whole interview is on audio:

https://www.marketplace.org/2018/04/27/life/trump-voters-economic-anxiety

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This one is actually from a few weeks ago … April 18th, in the middle of what turned out to be a very busy news week. The radio program 1A does a news roundup each Friday; however, seeing what had already happened and what was likely in the next few days, there was a mid-week roundup that day.  There are some interesting insights on several stories early that week that have remained in the news since.  However, it was the comment about Fox News as “state media” that caught my ear.  This comes around the 12 to 13 minute mark and is in the context of Sean Hannity, perhaps the biggest host Fox News has right now, and his connections to the current White House.  But it’s something to give more thought to in light of this past Thursday’s high profile caller to the morning Fox & Friends program…

https://the1a.org/shows/2018-04-18/the-wednesday-news-roundup

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I almost included Jonah Goldberg’s NPR Morning Edition interview on his new book, Suicide of the West, because his insights into tribalism seem enlightening.  There are glimmers in the interview, but there’s also a lot that’s off-putting (and didn’t need to be) that makes it hard to see those glimmers.  So instead of Goldberg, I opted for a report on how those who should be feeling that they’re “starting to win again” don’t feel that way … that they feel marginalized and defeated.  As a counterpoint, there’s a piece of Leonard Pitts, responding to an accusation from his senator, Marco Rubio, that he’s rejecting a significant segment of America.  Pitts’ ultimate question is the most profound in all of this: I am not unmindful of the troubling implications of writing off Trump supporters. When we can no longer talk to each other, what’s left? How can we be a country?

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On the subject of divisions and what separates us, generational divides haven’t been on the forefront much in recent times.  First, Generation X, my generation, was labeled as slackers. (Perhaps we only seemed less industrious or productive simply because we were fewer in number than the Boomers before us.)  Now the slacker label is being applied to the Millennials.  But could it be that the Boomers are just looking for someone else to take the blame?  This interview with Bruce Gibney, author of A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America, offers a different perspective on the generations — and a serious call for people from the younger generations to get into public office.
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Fake news … false narratives … who to trust/not to trust … who’s to blame for all the problems… what will help?  Some simple steps that might help from one of the founders of that groundbreaking crowd-sourced project known as Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales:

WHAT’S IT LOOK LIKE? Clark … King … Death … Life … Easter

Four weeks ago, as of last Thursday, I was headed off on a reluctant return errand to a store I generally visit only once a month because it is a fair drive from home.  I misremembered whether it was north or south that I wouldn’t be able to go directly from the eastbound freeway.  As a result, I ended up taking a much longer and (worse!) time consuming way than that drive already takes.

I’m trying not to fret and stress over such moments by turning my attention to the questions: Why am I in this place right now?  What am I supposed to be seeing?  Is there something to be learned here?

There’s something happening here

What it is ain’t exactly clear…

That day, as it turned out, the question wasn’t so much about what I needed to see as it was what I needed to hear.  Had I gone the fastest route, I might have arrived at my destination not long after The Takeaway radio program comes on the air here.  And it was the first story of that show that (apparently) I needed to hear.

That March 22nd episode started out with a report on the killing of 22-year old Stephon Clark in the backyard of his grandparents’ home in Sacramento, CA.  When I first heard the name, I thought Todd Zwillich had said “Jamar Clark,” a young man killed by police in Minneapolis several years ago.  But I quickly realized that, while the story shared some similarities with the Clark shooting here, this was yet another case of a young, unarmed black man who was killed by police.  This was the first I heard of Stephon Clark; it wouldn’t be the last.

There’s a man with a gun over there

Telling me I got to beware…

The story included the recently released bodycam recording of the incident.  It was staggering – especially the gunshots.  Had I not been on the longer route, I might have missed it … and that’s what I’m sure I needed to hear that day.  A few days later, the recording of Alton Sterling’s fatal encounter with the Baton Rouge, LA police was released … and at first, the two conflated in my mind.  The killing of Sterling happened a couple of years ago, around the same time Philando Castile was killed in Saint Paul, MN … along a stretch of road that I used to drive on a daily basis.  In the glare of this local story, the similar story from Baton Rouge was hardly noticed.

These stories – and too many more just like them – form a common pattern in which an unarmed black man is perceived as a threat in some way by a police officer (or several officers) … so the quick-thinking officer of the law makes the decision that deadly force must be used to mitigate the threat.  I’ll delve much more into in another couple weeks.  [It’s a post that’s been waiting in the wings for a local county prosecutor to decide whether or not to being charges in another similar, and yet different, local situation.  That happened shortly before the Stephon Clark story came to national attention.]  I want to stay with the unfolding of this Clark story for now…

The funeral for Stephon Clark took place one week later, on Maundy Thursday … and the results from a private autopsy the family had commissioned were made public.  Eight of the twenty rounds fired by the officers hit Clark, almost all of them entering his body from the back side.  But none of the shots were instantly fatal.  While the officers continued to assess Clark’s level of threat from a distance, he died.  Instead of rendering aid, they continued to act with suspicion and fear.

Maundy Thursday, in the Christian liturgical calendar, marks the first of the triduum, the sacred three days of commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, meaning commandment – pointing to Jesus’ command to his disciples at their last meal together, a call to “love one another as I have loved you.”  The service might include foot washing, a remembrance of how Jesus himself washed his disciples’ feet in an act of loving service that they were to emulate.  Services most definitely include communion, the sacramental and ritual meal instituted at that last supper together, which the disciples were also instructed to do “in remembrance of me.”  The events of Jesus’ life recounted on Maundy Thursday include his prayers in Gethsemane … and that his followers would be one … and then the betrayal by one of his followers, his arrest, and the start of the series of trials that would lead to his execution by the authorities the following day.

These were the stories being told inside churches as marches and demonstrations protesting the killing of Stephon Clark were taking place in the streets outside them.  Such demonstrations continued throughout the weekend … on Friday, as Christians commemorated the death of Jesus and Jews began the Passover celebration of deliverance from slavery … and on Saturday, as a few churches here and there keep vigil, waiting for the promise of resurrection … on Sunday, Easter, when even non-churchgoers might stop by to keep Easter with Mom or Grandma and maybe hear some hopeful news that death might not be the end of everything after all.

Beyond the Christian calendar, the demonstrations in Sacramento continued (almost two weeks from when I first heard) to April 4, 2018 … the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, TN … another black man who was perceived as a threat by some number of people at the time … a fact which may have been lost with the hagiography of the decades since.

Most famously, King was the key leader in the Civil Rights struggle of the early 1960s that (eventually) led to the end of Jim Crow laws, assurance of voting rights, and other protections in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  That, however, was not the end of King’s public life and leadership.  He had become a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War.  A number of those who had agreed that the Civil Rights Act was a good thing then turned away from him when he opposed the war; they considered him un-American … and quite possibly a communist.  King was also preparing for a “poor peoples’ campaign,” to call attention to the needs of the impoverished of all races and all areas of America.

That’s what took him to Memphis … a request to support striking sanitation workers.  The strike began when two black workers were accidentally killed as they took refuge from a storm in the back of a garbage truck.  Black workers went on strike to protest low wages and unsafe working conditions.  They carried signs stating: “I Am A Man.”  And they were men – but they weren’t seen or treated as such.

And here it is now, more than four weeks since I first heard the horrifying sound of those twenty rounds being fired at Stephon Clark.  At just 22 years of age, he was still young … but he was over 18 – and that makes him a man.  But to the police officers, he wasn’t a man; he was something else.  What that something was, only they can say for certain.  However, it is certain they did not regard him as a man, someone just like any one of them.

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound

Everybody look what’s going down

This keeps happening and nothing changes.  Since I heard about the killing of Stephon Clark in Sacramento, half the country away, in Detroit, MI a 14-year old (14-year old!) was shot when he knocked on a door to ask directions.  And then there were the incidents over a weeks ago at Starbucks – the big news story of two black men at a shop in Philadelphia who were arrested when staff called the police because they had not yet bought anything.  (It turned out they were there to meet with a business associate.)  In a lesser story from the west coast, reports surfaced of a Starbucks employee in Torrance, CA not only refusing to allow a black man to use the bathroom, but also calling the police.  Same themes … different variations … they all start to blend together after a while.  And if it’s this bothersome to keep hearing these things over and over, what’s it like to live them out?

We talk about King and his legacy as if getting the Civil Rights Act passed was all that was needed to make everything right and fair and equal.  But it isn’t.  Systemic racism always seems to find a way.  Housing discrimination still happens.  Get the Voting Rights Act passed and discrimination in employment banned … but then the strategic changes in policies during the Nixon Administration accomplished the goal of targeting the Black community without seeming to specifically target anyone.  (Michelle Alexander describes this in The New Jim Crow.)  In much the same way, the push for Voter ID registration in many states purports to be aimed at preventing alleged voter fraud by impersonation, which is something that rarely happens; however, these laws do create barriers for people with low incomes (who, oftentimes, are also persons of color or culture) from voting.

The litany of examples of the lack of real progress goes on. In the weeks since the shooting of Stephon Clark, a 50-year follow-up to the Kerner Report was released.  The original report came from a commission initiated by President Lyndon Johnson, but then he tried to quash the report because it didn’t praise his actions enough.  Fifty years later, the follow-up report shows little has changed.  The economic disparities aren’t much different now than they were 50 years ago.  Most glaring, Black men born into middle class families are quite likely to do less well economically than their parents.  If that doesn’t make sense, then consider the parallel resume studies in which the exact same resume is submitted, one with a name like James and another with a name like Jamal.  James gets a call for an interview; Jamal’s resume goes to the trash.

Recent studies are also showing maternal deaths among Black women are dramatically higher than they are for white women.  (Here’s one such example.)  The exact reasons for this aren’t clear, but the outcomes are stark enough.  Preliminary findings show that there are presumptions made by medical professionals about Black women that lead to a dismissal of their physical concerns. (Here’s a talk about that.)

And all of this is coming forward in the midst of the Easter season, the celebration of the resurrection.  What does resurrection look like for the family of Stephon Clark?  What does resurrection mean for the other families who have suffered similar losses?  What does resurrection mean for the marginalized, maligned, and neglected?  What does new life out of dead ends look like in these situations? And what does it mean for those of us who profess to walk in the light of the Risen Christ?

Resurrection means new life is possible, even from dead ends.  Resurrection is about a new way of life, right here – right now.  It’s not just a promise of eternal life in peace and joy in the presence of God after our bodies have died.  Resurrection is not about some heavenly existence far removed in time and space from life in this world right now.  Resurrection is about life right here, right now.  Resurrection is about God and what God is doing.  Resurrection is proof that death and destruction and sin and evil do not have the last, final word.  God has that last, ultimate word and that word is life – life of the Reign and Realm of God, what God has always intended for the world.  That resurrection life starts right here, right now as people touched by the resurrection stop living by the old ways, which lead to destruction and death, and start living new ways, the ways of the Reign and Realm of God.

People marked by the Resurrection of Christ live differently.  That means me, and if that means you as well, then we are going to have to learn how to do things differently.  The privileged people are going to have to do the heavy lift of tearing down the very systems and structures which grant them their privileges … because those being marginalized, overlooked, excluded, oppressed by these systems will never be able to dismantle them.

Where to start?  First, acknowledge privilege exists.  The idea that we all start out essentially equal and what becomes of us, where we end up is determined solely by our own efforts is a story that isn’t true for everybody else.  Only the privileged can say that; everybody else knows that they’re behind from the start.  (They can see the backs of those in front of them.)  Stop finding fault with the victims of this system of privilege; drop the “they need to …” and the “yeah, but they should …” and the “if only they would realize …”  Just stop it.  Stop trying to talk it away; the silence creates space for listening.

And listen.  Listen to the stories, the experiences, the accounts of others who have had a different path.  You do not know them.  You do not know what their lives are like.  You cannot narrate their experiences for them.  Be open to what others have to say.  Don’t close your ears and eyes and heart, saying “I’m tired of hearing about this.”  As Jon Stewart once said, if you’re tired of hearing about it, imagine what it’s like to have to live with it.

As it happened, this past Thursday, I went out to the same destination as at the start of this post.  I took a different, better route this time … but still, I was later than I’d intended to be.  Because of the timing, I was able to hear a regular mid-day broadcast feature on MPR called “Counter Stories”.  If you need some other experiences to listen to, you can start with these.

To really listen and understand what you’re hearing, you’re going to have to check you biases.  (Here’s a couple places to do just that: Understanding Prejudice and Project Implicit.)  We all have them; it’s part of being human.  But part of being human is also that we have higher level abilities, such as self-awareness.  Learning to recognize your own internal biases helps you be aware that they are present and working on you … so you can think past them, rather than just letting the biases automatically guide your responses and behaviors.  Once you see them, you can choose differently.

And living differently is what resurrection life is all about.  It’s about living here and now in ways that align with the Reign and Realm of God … so others can see and be drawn to this new way of life … and others … and more … and then, in time, with more people involved, life in this world starts to look a bit more like the Reign and Realm of God.

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound?

Everybody look what’s going down…

Lyrics are from “For What It’s Worth” by Stephen Sills                          (c) Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

SATURDAY 6-PACK: April 21, 2018

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful

 

The dominant stories in the week concerned James Comey’s press tour to promote his book … a storyline that culminated in the release of the memos he wrote after encounters with the Current Occupant of the Oval Office … none of which reveal much of anything that wasn’t known beforehand.  The Current Occupant kept an atypical low profile, aside from the usual early morning insult tweeting … not injecting himself into the Starbucks incident or Barbara Bush’s  funeral … content to go golfing with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe … and make a big reveal that current CIA Director Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong-un in North Korea weeks before being named as the next Secretary of State.  (Confirmation of that – as well as for his intended replacement at the CIA – is still very much up in the air.)

 

Here are smaller things … and better thoughts from the week that was.  Starbucks started it so, let’s start there.  I’m well aware that for a lot of people, Starbucks is THE coffee shop (maybe because you can have your coffee shop anywhere you happen to be), but I’ll take a non-standardized neighborhood coffee shop over any Starbucks any day … even before last weekend’s bad optics from Philly.  The arrest happened back on the 12th; by the weekend, the customer video had gone viral and it was a national story.  This week’s two-fer consists of the two columns Leonard Pitts wrote in the aftermath – one before the CEO of Starbucks announced the May 29th day for training and then one reflecting on that announcement:

http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article209183114.html

http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article209467289.html

 

Still on the subject of misadventures at Starbucks, here’s an amazing and amusing account of a real-life adventure in privilege.  Not sure white privilege actually exists?  Roll your eyes and bite your tongue whenever the concept is mentioned?  This might just change your perspective …

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whowechoosetobe/2018/04/white-privilege-is-getting-freebies-for-loitering-at-starbucks/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Progressive+Christian&utm_content=43

 

The brief press release came out on Sunday that Barbara Bush was in failing health, so news of her death Tuesday morning came as no surprise.  It has been said of her that she was as authentic as her signature pearls were fake.  As is true for all of us, such authenticity has both its praiseworthy and lamentable qualities.  She definitely had a number of gaffes, poorly phrased statements, and glib comments that should have been given more thought before said aloud.  But there was also much to appreciate and respect in this remarkable woman.  Here’s a three-fer in honor of a first lady and the two presidents related to her — notable for the little observations, like she didn’t “do metaphor” or her willingness to make direct apologies or the rug under everyone’s feet during an interview:

https://www.twincities.com/2018/04/20/tom-rosshirt-thank-you-mrs-bush/

https://www.npr.org/2018/04/18/603476064/legacy-barbara-bushs-approach-to-policy-and-politics

https://www.npr.org/2018/04/18/603475998/former-first-lady-barbara-bush-dies-at-92

 

Lulu Miller, co-founder of the podcast Invisbilia, is coming to Saint Paul on May 4th.  To raise awareness of the program, Minnesota Public Radio aired several episodes of Invisibilia.  This is the one that was aired on Wednesday — a deep dive into the power of predictive factors and the application to one person’s life.  If you like this one, additional episodes aired on Thursday and Friday …

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2018/04/18/invisibilia_the_pattern_problem

 

By now, everyone has heard about the Southwest Airlines flight with the blown engine and the incredible poise of pioneering aviator Tammie Jo Shults.  If you’ve read the articles, heard the reports, but haven’t heard her on the radio with Air Traffic Control, this story has audio clips.  The calmness she displays is breathtaking…

https://www.npr.org/2018/04/19/603861914/what-happened-on-that-southwest-flight

 

Story Corps can always be counted on to deliver a conversation to brighten a day.  This Friday was no exception.  A gentle and realistic reminder of the enduring nature of love and that there is always hope for a better future:

https://www.npr.org/2018/04/20/603903666/we-came-a-long-way-after-prison-a-new-chance-for-a-dad-and-his-daughter