america

United States Defaults On Debt To Its Veterans

If a nation cannot afford to tend to the physical and psychological wounds suffered by its soldiers in war, then that nation simply cannot afford to go to war.

Such is the current situation in the United States. And it is beyond shameful. The amount of money we commit to spending on new weapons systems is measured in the trillions. Yet somehow, Congress cannot manage to fully fund appropriate medical and psychological treatment for wounded veterans. What exactly do the politicians mean when they proudly proclaim that they “Support Our Troops”?

I’ve started the following petition on the White House website. If it gets 100,000 signatures in the next few weeks, the White House will officially respond. And maybe that will be a start. Nothing else seems to be working – in this country that talks a good game about the price our veterans have paid for our “liberty and freedom”. It is time for the government to shoulder its share of the burden. You don’t have to support war, but we must acknowledge the horrific cost of our wars and help those who bear that cost. It is a debt we owe them. And we have been defaulting on that debt.

Please click on the link below and sign the petition. And if you are not an American, I hope you’ll repost this link on WordPress and other social media for your American friends to see. Thanks all.

http://wh.gov/i0c1C

The Moral of the Story

A blogger friend of mine reblogged this piece, and I am compelled to do likewise. I have felt like a dragon spewing fire all day by blog, tweet and post. I am angry, and I am angriest at those who aren’t angry at all. But anger only gets us so far. And we pay a terrible price for it in the long run.

So I share this excellent piece by TheLuddbrarian, “The Moral of the Story”. It is so thoughtful and intelligent… and those are the two qualities most glaringly absent in the midst of racist hatred. Thoughtfulness. Intelligence.

The notion of “mutual aid” being the foundation for the evolution of human society and advancement is so simple, it is instantly recognized as truth. Yet in these troubled times, we seem so far removed from mutual anything — let alone any sense of obligation to each other as human beings.

I will be honest: I am not hopeful. At least not for the foreseeable future. Perhaps our species will find its way back to cooperation, obligation and mutual assistance. If that is to happen, it will be thanks to countless conversations that must begin now, like waves lapping at the shore. And to that end, I share this. Because my flamethrower is tapped out for now.

LibrarianShipwreck

When surveying the news of recent days, weeks and months it can be a rather troublesome exercise to ask the question: what is the moral of this story? Granted, not every story has a moral—the news is not a fable, after all—and sometimes the lesson to be gleaned is not a particularly uplifting one. Indeed, it may be a lesson that we had been certain we had learned so long ago as to make the retelling seem anachronistic. And yet, even if we are seeing the headlines courtesy of the latest technological innovations the content of those headlines is a reminder that we are not as far removed from yesterday as some would like to think.

From Ferguson to Cleveland to New York City – it is proving to be a brutally cold winter. On Tuesday, December 2, Americans were encouraged to participate in the festive showing of conviviality known…

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The new rules for black people in America

The new rules for black people in America:

#ICANTBREATHE

Photo credit: Scott Lynch / Gothamist

Photo credit: Scott Lynch / Gothamist

I AM (NOT) MIKE BROWN

A man at a protest holds a sign expressing his solidarity – and commonality – with Mike Brown.

“I AM MIKE BROWN”

Mike Brown is dead.

Mike Brown was shot to death.

Mike Brown was 18 years old. Black. Unarmed.

Mike Brown was gunned down in the middle of the street, in the middle of the day.

By a cop.

In Ferguson, Missouri.

In the United States of America.

Ferguson, Missouri is a suburb of St Louis. Its population is 70% black.

Its mayor is white. School board is white. City council is white (except for one black member). And the Ferguson Police Department is 94% white, with only 3 black police officers.

Mike Brown was shot six times by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Four times in the arm, twice in the head.

His crime was jaywalking.

Later it was suggested by the Ferguson Police Dept that he may have stolen a handful of cigars from a convenience store.

Because, unlike jaywalking, that is a crime punishable by death in a hail of bullets from a cop’s gun in the middle of a residential neighborhood?

Eyewitnesses have reported that Mike Brown had his hands in the air in the universal sign of surrender. And then he was murdered. 

Photo credit Scott Olson / Getty Images

Photo credit Scott Olson / Getty Images

“Hands Up. Don’t Shoot.” has become a rallying cry for the protesters in Ferguson, all over the country and around the world.

Darren Wilson and the Ferguson Police Dept left Mike Brown’s body lying in the street, uncovered, for four hours. The body of a dog that had been run over by a car would have been treated with more respect than this. How can this be?

mikebrown.deadinstreet

Ten days after killing unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown, and Darren Wilson still has not been arrested. He has not been detained. He has not been questioned. He has not been charged with a crime. The people of Ferguson are incensed. They are marching in their streets. They are venting their anger. They are exercising their Constitutional rights to assemble and petition their government. They are demanding the same justice that anyone has a right to expect in this country. But they are not getting any measure of justice. They have been met with an absurdly overblown paramilitary response including armored vehicles, automatic weapons trained on them, and tear gas canisters fired at them. 

The US military’s rules of engagement in Iraq did not allow soldiers to point their weapons at civilians.

Automatic weapons are leveled at American civilians in Ferguson, Missouri.

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

The United States is a signatory to treaties that ban the use of tear gas in warfare.

Tear gas is being used against American civilians in Ferguson, Missouri.

Photo credit: Eric Thayer / New York Times

Photo credit Eric Thayer / New York Times

Substitute your own racial or ethnic group in place of [a black man] in the following sentence:

In the United States of America, a black man is shot to death by a cop every 28 hours.

What would you do?

I am Mike Brown.

But I am not Mike Brown.

I am a 52-year-old white man who has never experienced one moment of fear that I would be shot to death by a cop. I have lived in New York City, Boston, Washington DC, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles. I have visited Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, St Louis, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver, Baltimore… and many other cities, towns, suburbs and rural areas in this country. I have walked through downtown areas in the middle of the night. I have marched in the streets in protests.

But I have never – not for one minute of my life – known the fear of being targeted by a cop. I have never worried about being shot to death for jaywalking as 18-year-old Mike Brown was. I have never worried about being put in a choke hold by a group of NYC police for the crime of selling cigarettes on a street corner. While other cops stood by. While paramedics did not come to my aid. As 43-year-old Eric Garner was. I have never worried about being shot to death in a Walmart for picking up a BB gun from a BB gun display, as 22-year-old John Crawford was in Beavercreek, Ohio. I have never worried about being shot in the back while I was lying on the ground during an “investigative stop” as 25-year-old Ezell Ford was in Los Angeles. I have never worried about being shot to death by a vigilante as I walked home to my grandmother’s house as 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was. I have never worried about being shot to death at a gas station for playing loud music as 17-year-old Jordan Davis was.

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

So no, I am not Mike Brown. I am not Eric Garner or John Crawford. I am not Ezell Ford or Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis.

I am not a black man in America.

But I am an American. As were all of these men. Why can I walk through my neighborhood, in my city, in my country without fear of being shot to death by the police? Why can’t black men do the same? Why can’t black women in America say goodbye to their husbands, their sons, their grandsons – without wondering if they’ll ever see them again?

Why are black men (and all people of color) treated so outrageously unfairly by our law enforcement and justice systems? 

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police. – read more at AmericanProgress.org

And what are we – you and I – going to do about it?

Join a protest. Raise your voice. And vote

Why vote? 

Because the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri have a voter turnout of about 12%. That is how a 70% black town gets an almost 100% white leadership. In other words, that is how people get a government that does not represent their best interests. It may not be the government they deserve, but it is the government they gave themselves.

The government of the United States of America does not currently represent the best interests of the people of this country. There is an election in ten weeks. Every member of Congress is up for re-election. Many state and local elected officials, too. So vote. Whatever your race, your creed, your color, your orientation, your issue. Vote. It is your only power. And if you don’t use it, you will find yourself powerless. Like the people of Ferguson. And then it might be too late. As it is for Mike Brown.

Voting cannot end racism in this country. But voting can remove racists from elected positions in government at every level. And no, I make no distinction between racists and those who implement racist policies. Because there is no distinction to be made there.

If you are not registered to vote, or if you’re not sure,
click here >>> REGISTER TO VOTE NOW. AND THEN VOTE.

And if you have two minutes, watch this powerful statement from Jesse Williams on CNN

“I am Mike Brown” photo credit: Monica Almeida/New York Times

Continuing coverage by New York Times

Continuing coverage at Vox.com

Remember

I was born 17 years after the end of the Second World War. By the time I was cracking open history textbooks, WWII had already taken its place as one of the defining events in American history, alongside the Revolution and the Civil War. The war was portrayed as a great military victory of the Allies over the Axis – but also as a great moral victory of good triumphing over evil. Young Americans were taught that our country had done a great good thing by joining the war in Europe and by defending ourselves after the attack on Pearl Harbor. There was not much nuance used in descriptions of the Germans or the Japanese. We beat the Nazis and the Japs, and in the process America saved the world.

LANC panorama

I was enormously proud of my country. How could you not be proud watching newsreel footage of American soldiers liberating Jews from the camps? We had sacrificed much as a nation and many of our soldiers had died in battle. We were the good guys. And when I was 7, I watched American astronauts plant the flag on the moon. That served to confirm that I lived in the best country on earth.

trees on hill

Hindsight is 20/20. I learned long ago that the world is far more complex than a cartoonish battle between Good and Evil. In war, the victors get to write the history books. But I was right to be proud of my country when I was a kid. I am still proud of this country, for many reasons. But not for its propensity toward war. Since our founding (in war) 238 years ago, the United States of America has enjoyed only a handful of years when we did not have troops deployed in battle somewhere in the world. This detailed timeline of American military operations is startling in its documentation of our near-continuous involvement in warfare. And not all of our conflicts have been as noble as the Revolution or WWII. Not all wars are just; some are just war.

rows.jacaranda.ctrfoc1

Though I came to know the complex history of our involvement in Vietnam, and to understand the central role of domestic politics in America’s international adventures… I only have one memory of my experience of that war as a young child in the 60s: the body counts on the nightly newscast. “Today in Vietnam, 236 American troops were killed… 177 Americans troops were killed… 341 American troops were killed… 232 American troops were killed…” and so on, every night. It is said that Walter Cronkite started these body counts on his nightly news broadcast as a way to put pressure on the government to end the war. It also may have had the effect of dehumanizing the horrendous costs of war, reducing people to numbers.

groundlevel1

In any event, my experience of war has been as a distant bystander. I realize how fortunate that makes me. No one in my family has fought in war or died in battle. That is true of most Americans. In a nation of more than 300 million people, less than 1% of us have been directly involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And while we all felt attacked on September 11, that was an act of terror. Terrorism is not war, which is why war is never going to be the answer to terrorism. But that’s another post for another day.

one tree

Today is Memorial Day, the day America remembers her war dead. It is also the unofficial start of summer, a three-day weekend marked mostly by barbecues and get-togethers of family and friends. There have always been parades, though not so much anymore. Maybe mostly in small-town America. I went to a barbecue last night, and that was fun. But earlier in the day, I did something I’ve never done before. I visited a military cemetery.

westwoodbeyond

Where Wilshire Blvd crosses the 405 freeway is one of the busiest intersections – and one of the quietest corners – in Southern California. That’s where you’ll find the Los Angeles National Cemetery, sandwiched between the freeway and the UCLA campus in Westwood. And that’s where I found myself yesterday afternoon, almost by accident. A shortcut earlier in the week had taken me down Veteran Avenue, which – I discovered – is the eastern border of the cemetery between Sunset and Wilshire. So, yesterday after I left the pool at the Westwood Rec Center, I found the entrance to the cemetery and drove in.

sea of markers

Why? Well, I know that some might find this disappointing, but I wanted to take some photographs. As I drove down Veteran last week, I couldn’t help but notice what beautiful parkland held this cemetery. Gentle hills, magnificent old trees undisturbed by development – and the mesmerizing patterns of crisp white markers on green lawns, stretching in every direction as far as I could see. 100+ acres of peace and quiet in the middle of this sprawling, frenetic city.

marching uphill

As an atheist, I do not experience cemeteries as places of supernatural significance. But of course, I understand this is hallowed ground to many, and why. For me, a place like this has enormous historical importance, and can teach so much to future generations. The endless repetition of small white, identical grave markers becomes a symbolic representation of a nation’s loss and sacrifice.

small flag and marker.focalpoint1

But all one has to do is focus on any single marker for it to become very personal. There’s not much room on these stones. The story each one tells is limited to a name, date of birth, date of death, theatre of war. It’s enough, though, to conjure a sense of a single human being… among thousands buried here… among millions who have died in war… among billions who have ever lived. I saw markers on the graves of men who had died in Iraq and in Afghanistan, in Vietnam and Korea, in WWII’s battles in Europe and the Pacific, and going back all the way to “the Great War” (WWI) and the Spanish American War – which is abbreviated “Sp.Am. War” on the markers. That’s an immense sweep of our history, all in the tiny portion of the cemetery that I walked through yesterday. Wars of great moral purpose. Wars of proxy between ‘superpowers’. And wars waged by criminals who have brought immense dishonor on America.

infinity.bw

Whether a soldier or sailor died defending America’s honor, or in the service of cowardly politicians’ egos, it is easy to believe, in the midst of thousands of white markers, that those Americans who died in our wars were fighting for the country they loved – the same one we love. And for that, they deserve to be honored and remembered. Not only in military cemeteries, and not only on national holidays. But all the time. If more of us remembered the sacrifices required by past wars, it might make future wars less easy to begin. Because the only thing harder than dying in war should be starting the next one. True patriots understand that.

flag waving.crop

The End (so far)

Catastrophic Ignorance

When asked a question we cannot answer, Americans find ourselves utterly incapable of giving the obvious and most accurate response: I don’t know. What is it about those three little words that we find so offensive or embarrassing or threatening? I don’t know. (There – see how easy that is?)

American pop culture has embraced the stupid. Half of what the media beams at us is unwatchable drivel. We call that “the news”. The other half of it somehow got mislabled “reality”. Typical specimen: Kardashians. Reality? Barbie dolls have truer physiques and more stimulating conversations. The third half (only 21% of you will catch 2013-07-23-cosmosthat) is a new show on Fox called ‘Cosmos’ featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson as a high priest of science in a reboot of Carl Sagan’s series from the 1980s. Call Rupert Murdoch all kinds of names, but the man is brilliant. The ‘entertainment’ side of his NewsCorp presents 14 billion years of astrophysical history from the Big Bang to quantum physics and multiverses… while his ‘news’ division serves up ‘journalists’ lamenting how the new movie ‘Noah’ gets it all wrong about how God destroyed the 6,000-year-old Earth with a flood and all of the tens of millions of species we have in the world today, including our own, hopped on a big wooden boat and survived the holy tsunami. (You do realize that I’m not making any of this up, right?) Yessirree, old Rupert gets us coming and going, like a midway carnival barker.

“We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.” – Carl Sagan

“Oh… how depressing…” – the Cosmos

Remember Jay Leno’s meant-to-be-amusing little segments called “Jaywalking”? Jay would take a camera crew and wander through beautiful downtown Burbank, randomly asking questions of people on the street. Questions so cunningly simple and with such glaringly obvious answers that you’d expect EVERYONE to get it right. But you would be wrong. The comic tragic genius of “Jaywalking” was how few people could answer the questions. And the real gold was mined in the guesses – when some dignity could have been salvaged with a sotto voce “I don’t know.”

Jay Leno: Who is the vice president of the United States?
Typical answers: blank stare…. Oh, wait… I know this… don’t tell me… Is it Hillary Clinton? … Michelle Obama? …That old guy. With the thing? …Is this a trick question?

Jay Leno: Who is the Speaker of the House of Reprentatives?
Only answer ever given: blank stare

Jay Leno: How many states make up the United States?
Typical answer: every number that isn’t 50.

Jay Leno: What two countries share a physical border with the United States?
Typical answer: Alaska and Hawaii? …Canada and Mexico – no! wait! Canada isn’t a country, is it? …England.

And so on. I never understood why Jay Leno thought any of this was funny. Why his giant head didn’t explode. Why he didn’t use the mic to bludgeon to death the vapid, gum-snapping ignorami. Or why any of it should ever have been aired. Unless he was trying to expose the glaring failures of this country’s education system. Hmmm. I could be wrong, but I am not aware of any Leno schools or Leno scholarships to help future “Jaywalkers” to be better informed. As I say, I could be wrong about that. I don’t know.

If you’re wondering what ignited this rant, I don’t blame you. But I do know. It was this story in today’s Washington Post. The link is below, and I hope you’ll read it. But here’s the gist of it. More than 2,000 Americans were asked, as part of a wider poll on foreign affairs, to pinpoint the nation of Ukraine on a world map with only the outlines of political borders. Here’s the result. Red dots hit the bull’s eye or got relatively close to Ukraine. Blue dots indicate a rather casual relationship with geography. Alarmingly casual.

Ukraine_Full

 

This map speaks for itself. One in six respondents put their dot in or near Ukraine. This sort of ignorance may or may not worry you much, if at all. But it’s the next bit that should strike fear in the hearts of “Ukrainians” who live in Canada, China, Argentina, South Africa, Iceland, India, Australia, Brazil, Alaska, Arkansas or Colorado:

Those who were most wrong about the location of Ukraine were also the most likely to advocate U.S. military action there. Said differently: The less Americans know about [any place or country], then the more supportive they are of making war there. That sort of ignorance is extraordinarily dangerous, and potentially catastrophic. I hope that from now on, when pollsters ask Americans whether they support a war in X, Y or Z, they follow up by asking those folks to find X, Y or Z on a map. Maybe teach them how to use the unused maps app in their smartphones? Maybe throw in a geography lesson here and there along with the abstinence and creationism classes? I don’t know.

You can click on the map above to embiggen it. Here’s the link to the WashPo article:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/04/07/the-less-americans-know-about-ukraines-location-the-more-they-want-u-s-to-intervene/

 


The End (so far)

[036] Mrs Betty Bowers

Oh? You haven’t met? Then it is my pleasure to introduce you to Mrs Betty Bowers, America’s Best Christian!

betty+jesusBetty is the real deal. As she says, she and Jesus are so close, “He uses my birthday when playing the lottery!” And, as befits America’s Best Christian, she is a multimedia kind of gal.

Mrs Betty Bowers has her own website:
http://www.bettybowers.com/

…and her own Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mrs-Betty-Bowers-Americas-Best-Christian/312383761871

…and – my favorite – her own YouTube channel!

Here’s Betty’s recent Skype call with Vladimir Putin to discuss the Winter Olympics in Sochi and his handling of the homosexual issue. “Oh, Dictator. Please! Have you watched figure skating? Even when the Greeks wrestled naked, it never got that gay!”

 

And, since it’s an Election year, be sure to watch this SuperPAC ad for the GOP by Mrs Betty Bowers, America’s Best Christian! You can be sure it was approved by Jesus.

Now don’t forget to follow her on Twitter @BettyBowers

BettyBowers.tweet

Mrs Betty Bowers, America’s Best Christian makes me happy.
If she doesn’t make you happy, then you’re going to Hell, sister!
Day 036 #100happydays