How Josh Dugger Proved Religious Extremism Doesn’t Work

Josh Duggar, currently at the center of sexual molestation claims.

Josh Duggar, currently at the center of sexual molestation claims.

The public outcry regarding the revelation that Josh Duggar, oldest son of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar of “19 Kids and Counting” fame, may have molested his younger sisters and other girls from his church more than a decade ago, has become deafening. While there is still some public support from the fans, TLC has for the time being yanked the show from its lineup. Fans of the show are crying discrimination against the Christian family, but the reality is it has nothing to do with discrimination. It has everything to do with context. It also has highlighted how dysfunctional some of the extreme religious factions can become.

Josh Duggar spent his days working at the Family Research Council, and was a vocal opponent to same sex marriage. Before November’s election, his mother, Michelle, made claims in robocalls sent to Arkansas voters that if the law passed that would allow transsexual or transgender people to use the public restroom of the sex to which they were transitioning, young girls might be exposed to pedophiles. Needless to say, the law did not pass. Now, most enlightened and educated individuals have long since accepted that same sex marriage is not the end of civilization as we know it, and transgendered folks are not sexually perverse. What even the enlightened and educated cannot accept, is someone molesting siblings, especially when they trust that person molesting them.

Hating those who are different, and advocating that those you hate are not entitled to the same rights and privileges you enjoy is why this matters in context. Josh Duggar and his family have made themselves famous by projecting a Christian and loving home environment where everyone looks out for each other, and the evils of the outside world are held at bay. They have warned of sexual perversion by those they don’t like and have sought to reduce the growing support for same sex marriage, because it’s condemned by their religious beliefs. Finding out that as many as five of his younger, vulnerable, and innocent sisters may have been molested by him shatters that illusion. To the ground. It also shines a very bright light on a key component that occurs in many abuse cases, and that’s isolationism.

The Duggar clan was wary of outside influences on its family. They eschewed television, even as they became famous because of it, and limited access to the outer world by the children. Under normal circumstances, a 14 or 15 year old boy might have his first girlfriend, and explore sexuality the way most teenagers have done. As parents, we always hope our children will wait to become sexually active, but know that may not happen. But while we hope their exploration waits until they are older, we never think their younger siblings may be at risk. Being home-schooled meant there were fewer others to notice changes or ask questions. It also meant there was likely little sex education going on, because the assumption was that they were removed from society enough it wouldn’t be a threat. They never considered the threat might come from within.

How this isolationism turns ugly is in light of disclosures that the parents of these molested girls knew what was happening. It wasn’t an isolated incident. Even after it was discovered, Josh continued to molest. Not only were there precious few others to ask if something was happening, there was no one else the girls could go to outside of the family or the church to try to figure out what was happening to them. How helpless they must have felt as this behavior continued.

Of equal concern, and evidence of the problems with extreme religious beliefs is the common thread of the subservience of women, and their relegation to a lesser status. These girls are used to help raise the constantly growing brood, that now includes grandchildren. They are cooks, and babysitters, and maids, and surrogate parents all too often. There are expectations of behavior, and looks, and familial control over them. As a result, what’s getting lost in the dialogue emanating from the Duggar camp in the midst of words used like “youthful indiscretion” or “he asked for and received forgiveness” and “it brought us closer to God” is that no one is talking about his victims. And make no mistake: The girls and sisters he abused over a multi-year period are the victims. Josh Duggar is the perpetrator. These girls were repeatedly violated, and no justice was ever meted out on their behalf.

As has been stated in numerous other news reports, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar claimed that Josh apologized for his acts, and was forgiven by those he molested. The problem with this is the onus is on the victim to make things right. Because extreme religious participants put the final authority of all human behaviors in God, by forgiving Josh his sisters were doing as God would want. Only He can mete out the justice called for. As far as the family is concerned, all is well because Josh was forgiven. But this just brings to light one more fundamental flaw with fringe religious groups.

Churches, like police departments, and universities, and the military, believe they can internally handle the problems that come up, no matter the severity. Make no mistake; Josh broke the law. Much of what he did fell under misdemeanor charges, but he also managed to participate in felonious behavior, too. There is a reason we have a court of law, and it’s so entities like the church cannot sweep away charges of wrongdoing. But that’s exactly what happened here. Even though he was a repeat offender, and had not only molested his own sisters but other girls in the church they attended, the elders agreed to handle it internally. The problem is it was never handled. He was sent out of town for manual labor, and hopefully to let the dust settle. Was he held accountable for his crimes? No. Were these just the youthful mistakes he claims they were? No. The first time was a mistake. The repetition indicates a pattern. It wasn’t a mistake. It was a calculated act he repeated numerous times.

Let’s not forget at its most base level what it was Josh Duggar did to those girls. He used places where they felt safe, and exploited that. He was in a position of trust, and authority with his younger sisters, and he abused that privilege. Taking places of comfort and safety and tarnishing them, as well as abusing his power, are the considerations that may haunt these girls in ways many of us may fail to recognize. They may have forgiven him, as their parents wanted done, but that doesn’t change how they feel. It doesn’t change what was done to them.

The entire Duggar family will feel the ramifications over this for a long time. And much of that stems from the fact that the molested girls were secondary to this whole mess. Because the men matter and the women are there to serve, the appearance is that it was more important to save Josh’s name than the well being of the girls he molested. And that’s just wrong. All along the way, there were ways to correct what happened. But when you isolate your children and only teach them what you want them to know; when you put the burden on the victim to make things right; when you treat half of your children as though they are inferior; and when you think you are only accountable to God, there will be problems. The Duggar Family is learning this the hard way.

Will they stop judging others as a result? Will their other daughters be given more autonomy over their own bodies and thoughts? Will this finally stop the perverse thrill of being on the outside looking in on this family? I can only hope the answer to those questions is a resounding “Yes!” as that may be the only way they save their public persona. Maybe the best thing for us, and them, is that they just fade quietly into the Arkansas sunset. We’ll see.

 

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Not Only is US No Longer Exceptional, Now We’re Barely Mediocre

waving-flagsFormer NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani was the featured speaker at a dinner held for GOP presidential hopeful, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. During this speech Rudy bemoaned the fact that Obama just doesn’t love America like he does, and presumably doesn’t get that our country is exceptional. In that speech he was both right and wrong. Obama DOESN’T love America the way Rudy and his other Republican cohorts do, and we should be thankful for that every day. But where he’s wrong is proclaiming we are exceptional as a nation. These days we are anything, but. On top of that, it’s been discouraging to learn how few Republicans, Scott Walker included, stepped up to condemn Rudy’s words.

Right now, Republican leadership at both the state and national levels are consumed with rolling back protections for civil liberties that actually took centuries at most, and decades at least, to obtain. Corporate interests are exploiting the working class and polluting our land, air, and water. Women’s reproductive rights are under attack in an unprecedented multi-state assault, as well as from the federal government. Rape victims are told most rape isn’t “legitimate” rape, and as long as it’s going to happen, it might as well be enjoyed. Violence against African- Americans by law enforcement is condoned. State and federal resources for those with economic  shortfalls are drying up. Congress has voted a 56th time to take away healthcare from millions of Americans. Teachers, unions, and the working poor are demeaned for their efforts. Republicans are appreciative of the cheap immigrant labor their constituents or corporate investors utilize and exploit, then blame them when those who voted are unhappy with the way things are going.

But, wait. There’s more. Republicans voted against veterans’ programs and benefits, and refuse to address aging infrastructure. Voting rights have been obstructed, denied, and otherwise limited to those who might not vote Republican. Public education funded in states with Republican governors has seen funding slashed. More and more Republican legislators, not knowing American history, are working overtime to make Christianity the basis of our laws in the face of a Constitution that requires we keep church and state separate. Our Congress, and now apparently, our US Supreme Court, have been sold out to the highest bidders, and we are now, by definition, an oligarchy. Anyone who is not white, wealthy, or Christian (the preference being the trinity of all three of those) is marginalized, demonized, and otherwise disenfranchised.  Need I say more? Does any of that seem exceptional to you?

We are nowhere near the top of the list for anything that matters. Test scores for students, maternal and infant health and mortality, wealth equality, mass transportation, and achieving what was once considered the American Dream all lag behind our international counterparts.  Every day brings more and more news of legislative acts that defy logic. Each day is a new revelation on the misery the Republican Party intends to inflict on the lower and middle classes, in the name of national economic stability. And the sad part is, these things are all self inflicted. More misery is scheduled to be on tap, thanks to the Republican Party.

When we refuse to help our own, we are not exceptional. Nor are we when we make living conditions worse for no reason other than we can. The reality is we could be exceptional. We have been before.  But it requires remembering how we got great. It requires remembering that when we work together toward a common cause we are stronger, we are better, we are exceptional.

Right now, the people with the power to help alleviate the pain too many in America feel, are the primary reason for the pain. That’s just wrong. We can’t believe hungry kids who don’t have access to quality education will grow up to be productive adults. We can’t claim removing healthcare coverage from millions of Americans will end with a better option for them. We can’t think allowing corporations to exploit the land and pollute our air and water will support the fragile communities that are desperate for money to save their towns. We can’t trust the stock market to protect the savings and retirements of working Americans. We can’t argue that spending the majority of our federal budget on the military will lead to anything other than war. We can’t pretend that restricting women’s reproductive healthcare options and the civil liberties of those of color will lead to a stronger and more united nation.

We can’t be exceptional when the vulnerable among us are not only ignored, but demeaned.  We can’t be exceptional when we cater to those who already have so much, at the expense of those who have so little. We aren’t exceptional when we interfere in the structure and leadership of foreign nations, and throw them into chaos. We aren’t exceptional when we continue to add to the misery and suffering of too many Americans, and hurt our nation in the process.

If those are the ways we are not exceptional these days, how do we get there? How do we redeem ourselves in the eyes of the world, and many in this country today? We start by focusing on what we CAN do. We CAN live up to the standards expressed by our Founding Fathers in creating a democracy where each legitimate citizen has a vote and that vote counts the same as any other vote. We can have a functioning republic where constituents have the control over who gets elected to represent them. We can embrace the differences between us and perceive those differences as another layer of power and strength through diversity. We can agree in this nation of hope and promise that no one should go hungry, or without a roof overhead, or clothes for the weather, or quality education for all of our children. At the risk of sounding cliched, children ARE our future, and we do a disservice to everyone in this country when our children aren’t fed or adequately educated. We can provide healthcare and mental health services so that basic medical needs are met. We CAN expect that those who have benefited so heavily through skewed tax laws, pro-corporate governmental actions, and exploiting their working base to start giving back, rather than continuing to take.

We must stop being a bully nation, to both other countries, and the people of this one. It’s imperative to our continued and future success that the pendulum begins its swing back to the other side. We’ve had more than 30 years of preference to the upper class and wealthy. The Trickle Down Economics that promised to make this country stronger and more productive have had the exact opposite effect.

In order for this country to be exceptional, we all have to benefit. We all get to benefit from the fruits of our labor and our adherence to the law. Those who are struggling deserve the safety net of resources and services to keep them from slipping farther and farther away from the American Dream. The people, the corporations, and the entities that have prospered as a result of our capitalist markets, pro-business stance, and fiscal leniency need to stop diverting money away from this country and pay their fair share of taxes. It’s the only way we claw our way back to the exceptional standard we are capable of as a nation. We CAN be exceptional. We just have to do it. Until the system works for all of us, and until we try valiantly to live up to our ideals as set forth by our Founding Fathers, we are not exceptional. And none of our shortcomings indicate there is much love for this country. Willfully mismanaging a nation does not prove love of country. It proves love of self and the self interested. We ARE better than that.

I’m thankful everyday that President Obama does not love America like Republicans claim they do. I’m equally appreciative that he doesn’t have a blind perspective of the status of our nation in the rest of the world. He knows we can do better. He knows we should BE better. He knows we’re capable of improvement, and of eventually doing the right thing, if we are exceptional. It’s time to show we can rise to the challenge.

 

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Which is Worse: Liar or Incompetent?

Welcome to Kansas, or more accurately, Now Leaving Kansas

Welcome to Kansas, or more accurately, Now Leaving Kansas

Kansas has long been an acknowledged red state, but even some Republican Kansans were surprised by the re-election of Sam Brownback as governor in November’s election given the condition of the state’s finances and budget. Now that he’s officially given his latest State of the State address in Topeka, many of us are trying to find out if he’s  the consummate liar, or so completely beyond his abilities that he truly cannot see what he’s done to the state.

Leading up to the election, he was claiming not only were his tax cuts working, but Kansas was leading the region in job creation. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Kansas is lagging significantly behind neighboring states, and is one of the top states that residents are leaving. He talks about shared Kansas values, but has no problem not sharing with the state’s most vulnerable, who are all doing worse under his watch.

His tax cuts are going to be implemented at a slower rate than originally expected, and his big concession to raising taxes is to raise sin taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. That should fill that billion dollar gap in the budget before we know it. The real problem is that it wasn’t just one decision by the governor that’s negatively impacting the state budget; it’s pretty much every decision he’s made.

Governor Brownback told everyone who would listen that Kansas’ new tax policies were going to be a shot of adrenaline to the heart of the Kansas economy. That didn’t quite happen. He claimed at the time of the 2014 election that the Kansas budget was fine, and his policies were being validated. One week after the election the news came that the state was looking at a billion dollar shortfall by the end of 2016. Governor Brownback stated he learned of the deficit when everyone else did.

Asked when he was first briefed that the state would have a shortfall this fiscal year, Brownback said it was not until the consensus revenue estimating group met Nov. 10, six days after he won re-election.

“I knew what the public knew,” Brownback said.

On the campaign trail, Brownback repeatedly dismissed concerns about the state’s finances raised by his opponents and economists.

“They’re just trying to paint a ‘Chicken Little sky is falling’ situation, which is not true. It’s a bunch of lies,” he said in October.

So Kansas has a budget deficit that most political pundits agreed was tied to his hemorrhaging tax cuts, and Brownback claims the pundits were wrong. Then he wins re-election and within a week confirms the bad news on revenues. The question HAS to be whether he’s such a consummate liar that he actually believes what he says, or he’s so far in over his head with what he’s trying to accomplish that he should not be in that position? Which is it, then? Liar or Incompetent?

I would argue there’s not a lot of value discerning which it is between the two. The problem is when other Republican leaders see the money being shaved from state budgets and think it’s a good plan to emulate. It’s not. Brownback’s refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act means that thousands of Kansans are still struggling with medical costs. It means that hospitals in the state are still losing money. He’s “borrowed” from the highway and state pension funds. That means the cold Kansas winters and hot summers will take their tolls on the roads, which won’t have the funding for repair or expansion. It means that those who worked in good faith for the state saw their contributions to their retirement funds reduced. He didn’t follow the court’s mandates on state funding to education, and we saw classroom size increase, teacher’s rights restricted, and some rural schools closed.

The New York Times reported that:

Kansas’ current constitutional crisis has its genesis in a series of cuts to school funding that began in 2009. The cuts were accelerated by a $1.1 billion tax break, which benefited mostly upper-income Kansans, proposed by Governor Brownback and enacted in 2012.

Overall, the Legislature slashed public education funding to 16.5 percent below the 2008 level, triggering significant program reductions in schools across the state. Class sizes have increased, teachers and staff members have been laid off, and essential services for at-risk students were eliminated, even as the state implemented higher academic standards for college and career readiness.

After decimating the state economy, failing to adequately fund education, cutting 1400 disabled Kansans off of services, implementing the corporate agenda of Kansas boys Charles and David Koch, and reducing the value of pregnant women to hosts who have no rights (including legal protections for doctors who withhold information if that info might encourage a pregnant woman to seek an abortion), it’s easy to proclaim his term as governor as a failure. But what if we liberals and moderates are looking at this through our lenses, and not seeing the forest for the trees?  What if this is a brilliant game plan by Brownback to get EXACTLY what he wants?

His solution to the education funding issue is to declare he wants to rewrite the school funding formula. Kansans should expect much higher funding for private Christian schools and charters and in all likelihood the elimination of public education as we know it. His concerns with Medicaid have led him to join a multi-state coalition of Republican governors who want control of not only Medicaid in their state (for low income folks), but Medicare as well (for the chronically disabled and seniors). It would be more difficult to receive services if his history with Medicaid is any indication. His desires for smaller government are easily met with budget deficits. Can’t fund governmental services and benefits if there is no money to run these agencies and departments. As far as abortion goes, it doesn’t get much more restrictive than withholding medical information from a pregnant woman that might endanger her life. That ties in nicely with Sam’s religious views.

It’s easy for a progressive liberal like myself to think the policies that Brownback has enacted are foolish and he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. I’m becoming more concerned all the time that he actually is a brilliant puppet master, pulling all the right strings to get the action that he wants. THAT is scary, beyond all description.

Whether Brownback is the ultimate Machiavellian political god, or just another misguided Republican remains to be seen. But given what he’s shown us in the first four years, we’d better be vigilante for these next four…or the exodus out of Kansas will be faster than we can imagine. There’s no good that will come of that. And if all that isn’t enough, his campaign is now under investigation for loans he received right before the election. Keep all eyes on Kansas. It could get bumpy before it levels out!

 

 

 

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What Happens in Paris Affects Us All

Evening in Paris, France

Evening in Paris, France

The recent attacks in Paris have been viewed as attacks on free speech. The attackers, who have al-Qaida backing, launched the deadly attack because of repeated use of the representation of Allah in a humorous form by the satirical publication, Charlie Hebdo. It was treated as a terrorist attack by French authorities, and perceived as a threat to free speech by those around the world. In reality, it was both. It was a terrorist attack, based on a religion’s interpretation of its directives, by a group of extremists of a writer’s satirical production. It was an attack on free speech, in a democratic nation, in a published format. We cannot condone the attacks on freedom in this country or the rest of the world, even at the risk of inciting further violence.

There are a lot of considerations about people that are not suitable for mocking. Ethnicity, sex, sexual preference, skin color, and age are all inappropriate targets for discriminating against another. You cannot change where you were born, or to whom, or the sex determined before your birth (although you change later in life now). But religion? Religion is a choice. Despite where you are born and to whichever religion your parents practiced, you have the choice as an adult whether you continue in that faith. It IS a choice. Whether you follow all teachings of that faith is a choice. The mistake is made when those of one faith believe those of a different faith cannot criticize that faith. That’s the dilemma where Islam is concerned.

For Muslims, you cannot make a representation of Allah, and you certainly cannot make fun of him. But there are millions of Muslims around the world who do not believe that killing is the appropriate response when someone outside the faith creates that representation. They prefer to ignore, and not access sources of that offense. They don’t act to kill the sources. That’s what differentiates them from the extremists. The extremists believe that everyone should be held accountable for the teachings of the Quran. That’s where the western rubber meets the eastern road. And it’s not a good meeting. The western democratic principles advocate free speech, even when it’s not popular. The eastern adherence and interpretation of their belief in Allah does not recognize, much less advocate free speech.

But the intrusion of religion into democracy isn’t a problem only for European non-Muslim majority nations. It’s a big problem in this country as well. Even though the majority of Americans claiming a religious affiliation claim Christianity, not all Americans are Christians, and not all Christians are extremists. It’s when the extremists of any nature: religious, political, nationalists, or sexuality, take over that problems occur. Right now, Congress has become a battleground for Republicans who either support corporate interests controlling the nation or those who believe the Bible trumps the United States Constitution, and Democrats who want to see equal protections for all folks regardless of financial status or religious affiliations.

One of the first acts of the newly inaugurated US Congress is an attempt to further erode a woman’s right to abortion. Early term abortions are safe medical events, but religion has horned into the discussion effectively removing it from a medical procedure to a moral issue. The belief that a right to life begins at conception is founded and grounded in biblical reasoning. God created life, therefore all life is sacred. Except the lives of those who are gay, or transgendered, or Muslim, or Hispanic, or African, or female, and then those lives are treated as expendable. Therein lies the problem with religion dictating public policy. It’s almost always slanted in favor of one group, and against others.

Freedom of speech is an evolved component of democracy, and generally has little prominence in organized religions. It requires tolerance and acceptance of the realization that not all of us think the same way. But not liking what someone has to say does not diminish their right to think it, or say it. The exceptions being hate speech or slander, although since Fox News successfully argued they are entertainment rather than news, they’ve put those types of speech on a super slippery slope, as well.

Satire, though, is not hate speech. The use of humor to make a point has a long history. As long as the point made is not a personal attack, which shouldn’t be condoned by anyone, satire is an expression of freedom of speech. It’s just a hard concept to embrace when your religion refuses to allow free thinking or expression.

It is a incredibly difficult job to reconcile tenets of democracy with some of the belief structures of some organized religions. An international community makes it even more difficult. But as dangerous as it seems, we cannot give in to demands that we not express our beliefs, whether others in the world agree or not. As long as the views expressed are legitimately those trying to bring awareness to things that matter, and not just attack the subject, tolerance is going to have to be learned.  We must support those who shine a light on the hypocrisy and the intolerance that envelopes too many people in the world.

“Je Suis Charlie” is a show of solidarity. It’s a reminder that often what affects one, affects many. Cartoonists and writers should not be slaughtered for the work they do. Jews shouldn’t be attacked in a deli. Standing up to the bullies that try to tell us what to say and how to think won’t be easy. But the alternatives will be worse. We need to stand strong in support of democracy and the right to be heard so those who are gone will not have died in vain. They will have died in the supreme battle of freedom over oppression; truth over silence. “Je SUIS Charlie.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Protestors Aren’t the Problem With Race Relations in the US

FergusonRace relations are tenuous in this country right now, and that’s putting it mildly. On the heels of the Grand Jury verdict which declined to prosecute the officer in the shooting death of unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, was the police shooting death of 12 year old Tamir Rice on a Cleveland playground, and another Grand Jury decision in Staten Island, NY that refused to hold officers accountable in the choking death of Eric Garner. Three black unarmed males were killed by police without having done anything requiring lethal force by law enforcement in response. And all of them, so far, have been absolved of accountability.

These events have had a negative affect on the psyche of Americans of color, in particular, and it has manifested itself in public protests. We are all in agreement that the violence of destructive rioting does nothing to advance the cause of curtailing the mounting aggression of the police across the nation. But if you don’t understand the frustration of living under the threat of police aggression and now knowing your children of color are fair game as shooting targets, you won’t get past the disgust of the rioting and the public expressions of frustration. And that’s what those who benefit from absolution of their violence count on. They count on distractions that take away the focus, and the sympathies, of those who have suffered unnecessarily.

The shooting and killing of unarmed Michael Brown was not an isolated example of use of excessive force by police in Ferguson. It simply represented the floodgate that opened once he had been killed, exposing the racism and pattern of repeated abuse by the system against African Americans living in the shadows of St. Louis. There was conflicting and changing testimony by witnesses, so Michael must have been guilty, since there was no video evidence. Tamir Rice was gunned down seconds after officers arrived at the playground where he was holding a bb gun. Video proves that. However, video was also used in the case of Eric Garner being choked to death even as he was telling officers he could not breathe, and yet those actions have been justified by the Grand Jury. It’s doubly offensive that there was video evidence of the actions of law enforcement in two of these examples, and yet the officers responsible were not held responsible.

In the case of Michael Brown and the light shined on the Ferguson Police Dept., there has been a long standing process of denying blacks their civil liberties, amongst a litany of complaints against the community powers. Blacks were denied housing options in white controlled areas, and strict zoning laws prevented construction of multi-family housing units such as apartment complexes in the city until well into the 1940s. When whites began to leave the city for the suburbs, blacks were enticed to move to nearby areas, such as Ferguson, where apartment buildings could be constructed. In 1980, as blacks moved in and whites moved out, it was a racial divide of 85% white and 14% black. By 2010, it had changed to 29% white and 69% black. The problem is, the ratio of representation on the city council and law enforcement did not keep pace with the changing demographics. While blacks became the majority, those making the laws for the city were white. Even though the blacks account for 2/3s of the population in Ferguson,  at times they are arrested at a rate of more than 8 times the rate of arrest for whites. That inequity turns out to have a really negative impact on community relations.

But it’s funding the municipality on the backs of struggling families that may be one of the most corrosive acts against the community fabric of cooperation. In a report provided by NPR, it was shared how arrest warrants and fees represented a disproportionate use of arrests for nonviolent offenses.

To understand some of the distrust of police that has fueled protests in Ferguson, Mo., consider this: In 2013, the municipal court in Ferguson — a city of 21,135 people — issued 32,975 arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses, mostly driving violations.

A new report released the week after 18-year old Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson helps explain why. ArchCity Defenders, a St. Louis-area public defender group, says in its report that more than half the courts in St. Louis County engage in the “illegal and harmful practices” of charging high court fines and fees on nonviolent offenses like traffic violations — and then arresting people when they don’t pay. The report singles out courts in three communities, including Ferguson.

When you have an environment of racial divide, police oppression, a 22% unemployment rate, and community unrest, the killing of an unarmed young black man is the match on the tinderbox of dissatisfaction. While I can never understand what motivates people to destroy property and engage in gang mentality violence when frustrated, I also cannot understand being profiled based on the color of my skin. I cannot understand the fear of a mother when her son, who is black, walks out the door, and there’s a real chance he’ll never walk back in again. There is no way to understand the blatant disrespect a grieving community felt when Michael’s body lay in the street for hours, and temporary memorials were driven over by police cars after they had allowed their dogs to urinate on those public expressions of sorrow. I also cannot understand my local government actively working to make my life more difficult. How much is enough? How much does a community have to endure before it boils over in anger and rage? How many unarmed young Americans have to die at the hands of the police before we are all righteously indignant?

In the case of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, blame is now being directed his way, for not having an orange tip on his bb gun. Never-mind the video showing the officer opening fire on him 2 seconds after exiting the vehicle. After the initial report of the shooting the damning of Tamir began when public comments about whether he should have been at a playground by himself began to swirl. Information has now come to light that the officer who shot Tamir was not qualified to be in the position he held. That’s of little comfort to his family who buried a 12 year old child. He was playing on a playground with a realistic looking bb gun, and was never given the chance to defend himself from the actions of the police officer. There was no outstanding report of a theft from a convenience store. There were no attempts to elude arrest. There were no attempts to confirm he was a kid playing. There were no extenuating circumstances leading authorities to think he had engaged in any criminal behavior. He was a black boy with what might have been a gun. Guilty.

Eric Garner was accused of selling individual cigarettes which is a misdemeanor offense. Once the officers moved in to physically restrain him, for reasons we do not know, a witness began filming the encounter. While it did little to convince the Grand Jury charges should have been brought against the officers who participated in his death, there have been charges filed against the person who made the video.  The injustice of that led New Yorkers to take to the streets in protests designed to snarl traffic and bring awareness to the excessive use of police force in communities of color.

None of these incidents by themselves would garner the public outrage we’re currently witnessing. But combined, they begin to reveal the pattern of racism and abuse that chip away at way at trust and respect between community and law enforcement.

Police procedures need to stop including lethal force when unnecessary. We need cameras on all law enforcement cars AND officers, and the videos obtained need to MATTER when determining whether charges should be filed. When police in other nations successfully subdue and overtake suspects without killing them, it is possible. We should explore what other countries do and make it work in this country, too. Anytime law enforcement kills someone who is unarmed, it should be investigated by federal authorities, taking away the partiality that comes from investigating your own.  There are opportunities to improve the system, even if they don’t occur in the manner many of us might have preferred. When officers are held accountable for their actions, as regular citizens are, trust begins to be earned again. Right now, interactions between African Americans and too many police officers are mired in massive distrust, and that serves no one. Recent justifications for the use of lethal force by the police do nothing to improve that distrust.

We may all have differing opinions about Michael Brown’s culpability in his own death, as the prosecutor laid out in the decision by the grand jury. But I think it’s a fair assumption to say that a stolen handful of cheap cigars does not warrant death in the street. Nor is playing on a playground or selling cigarettes. We should all be united in that mentality. In this country we are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Those who think we’re guilty until proven innocent have no place in law enforcement. We need to use the emotion, the disappointment, and the disgust in the system and turn them into something positive.

These families lost a loved one. Let’s not forget that. And a country has been divided by the bitterness those deaths, that have been without consequence to the law enforcement officers who caused them, have created in their wake. Conservatives and liberals, black and white, and rich and poor should all be concerned about the erosion of civil liberties.  At some point it’s going to touch all of us.  Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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A Memorial Tribute: A Tale of Two Fathers

**Originally posted elsewhere for Memorial Day  2102

A Memorial Tribute: A Tale of Two Fathers

 

As Memorial Day 2012 closes in, it’s natural for those of us who have had loved ones in the military to think about them and their contributions. It’s also a public time for expressions of appreciation for those who have served this country through defense of our land and our principles. For those who have never lived a military life, either as a member of the Armed Services or as a dependent, it may be hard to fully know all of the sacrifices made by military families. These families are the backbone of the military life, and make it possible for the men and women in uniform to do their duty in the professional manner that is expected.

I was born an Air Force dependent, and had the privilege of not one, but two fathers who served in the Air Force, each making their own individual marks. They were two men who could not have been more different personality wise, and each forged a unique and fulfilling career in the Air Force before finally dying four months apart from each other. I’ll use their first names to keep confusion down, and begin with my father, CMSGT Dannie Joe Green (Joe), and then my stepfather, SMSGT Duane Francis Eyman (Mike).

Joe was born in NE Missouri in 1938. After graduating from high school, he worked for the railroad for a couple of years before deciding to join the Air Force. He was the epitome of a career grizzled sergeant. He was demanding, and barked orders, and you did as he told you or else. He really took his job of taking boys, and turning them into efficient and productive men, very seriously.  Joe was a hard drinking, hard smoking, hard living kind of man, but he loved the military and all it represented.

His area of expertise was in Civil Engineering, where his men excelled at Rapid Runway Repair. RRR was a system of laying runways in areas where there were none, but needed to be to accommodate incoming planes. He put together teams that competed across the world in these competitions, winning when others thought the unruly team he brought with him wouldn’t last the day. He motivated with cases of beer, demands for 110% effort, and The Motivational Heritage Stick. It became legendary in Civil Engineering circles in the Air Force because it got results. In fact, it was such a piece of folklore within those circles that it was finally retired into the Air Force Civil Engineering Hall of Fame.

Having been told the history of The Motivational Heritage Stick by him, it amused me to know what celebration it received. Joe told me it came about one day when he had a new crop of young men arrive, cocky and to hear him tell it, a little hard of hearing. Someone had a boom box going, and to get their attention, he took the handle from an axe and took out the boom box. He said he had their undivided attention after that. He said he never had to use it that way again, but it attended all of their competitions, and they attributed their success to that stick. He had been retired from the Air Force for more than ten years when he got the call from a former commandeer that they wanted to place the stick in their Hall of Fame. The ceremony was strictly military, and Joe worried about fitting into a uniform after so many years out of it. It didn’t help that he was busting buttons off in pride.

He was a Vietnam Veteran, and spoke about how awful that war was, when as soldiers they couldn’t even trust the children who came around them. I think he never got over that part of it. When you’re in war you want to know who the enemy is and how they look. When they worried about women or children coming along and throwing grenades in at them it was a different kind of war than they expected. It might be part of the reason so many of them struggled when they returned home.  As a result of his two tours in Vietnam he received the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and many Distinguished Service medals.

When Joe retired from his last tour in Germany, he moved to North Carolina. He became very involved in the Elks Lodge, and one of his favorite endeavors was making sure the veterans in nursing homes were not forgotten at Christmas. It never ceased to amaze me that the tough guy who did not suffer fools lightly (we have that in common) could get so teary when talking about the young men he mentored, or the old men spending out their last sad days in nursing homes.

I was with him when he left this world and with him when we took him to Arlington for his last military function. To come out of the chapel and find the color guard, the band, and the fully dressed caisson with his casket, ready to accompany us as he was put to rest, was indescribable. As we made our way through the cemetery, I caught a structure out of the corner of my eye. It was the first time I saw the Air Force Memorial, and it seemed so fitting to view it for the first time when in the full throes of a military dressed funeral. He was buried in the same area where young men were coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m sure he would think it’s a good thing to be there with those young men, one last time.

My stepfather, Mike, was a character who reveled in not being military like while being in the military. He loved my mom and life unlike anything we’d seen before. Mike initially joined the Army when he was 14 years old. He had almost completed basic training when his mother learned of his whereabouts, and put an early end to his military career. He was released with an honorable discharge, thereby designating him as Kansas’ youngest veteran.

Mike was born in Topeka, Kansas in 1930. He told me once you’d been kicked out of the Army it was really hard to go back to high school. So he worked, bided his time, and on his 16th birthday, went in to enlist, but this time he used the name “Mike” since he’d already been discharged under his legal name. A brief 2 year tour of duty, and then he was honorably discharged again for a brief period. He was called to active duty before he turned 20 in 1950, and this time entered the Army Air Corp, which would become the US Air Force. He began training as a radio operator, and began a 28 year career that saw tremendous changes in telecommunications and the military in general.

We were stationed on Okinawa from 1966 -1972, which was during the height of the Vietnam War. It was a small island, but we had multiple military bases that represented the four branches of Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force, and many of the young men coming from and going to Vietnam went through one of those bases. As the radio operator on flights going to Hong Kong or Taipei he had the authority to grant seats as they were available, and reveled in his power. He bartered things like access to a better dentist for a seat on one of those flights, and took my mom to Hong Kong whenever possible. After he retired, they had to own the only farmhouse in Kansas filled and decorated with Rosewood furniture, jade and ivory pieces, and other treasures they picked up along their travels.

Mike loved people, and never met a stranger. He loved telling stories, and he had some really good ones. We had a couple of favorites. One was hearing about the King and Queen of Libya, and being part of the crew responsible for occasionally flying the Queen. The Queen and her entourage would enter the plane in traditional wear, and before takeoff would change into contemporary clothing. The King would not fly with them, and instead would take off in a fleet of Mercedes across the desert. Mike talked about the multiple cars heading out before them, leaving clouds of dust they could see from the sky.

One of his most fascinating adventures came as a result of being a radio operator, and using Morse Code for communications. A plane nicknamed the Lady Be Good was an American plane carrying nine men and bombs for the harbor in Naples during WWII. They never made it, and the plane remained missing for several years. After its identification, he was part of a team working at the crash site, and he talked about how the dry desert air had so perfectly preserved everything; including the crew members of the flight that were found. As a radio operator who used Morse Code, he was the one sending back the details of the discovery as they found things. Information provided through him resulted in a story about the plane and her crew in Life Magazine around 1960. Many years later Mike was interviewed for a news story about the experience, and he was pleased about his part in that piece of history.

He was always a bit of rebel regarding military life. He irritated his superiors by sewing a Mickey Mouse patch on his flight suit (a big no-no), and loved to sneak away during the day to bring my mom an éclair and a kiss, and a doughnut for our dog, Butch. His philosophy about happiness was if you weren’t happy it was your own damned fault. He certainly nailed that.

Because he joined the military so early in his life, he was young when he retired. My brother and I were in high school when he and my mom started college. He used the GI Bill, and graduated from the University of Kansas.

Mike was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma in May of 2008. Joe was diagnosed with lung cancer in June of the same year. Mike died at home on September 25, 2008, and Joe died at home on January 23, 2009. I had two fathers who loved me for almost 40 years, and they were both gone within four months of each other. For such differences between them, there were interesting comparisons. I asked for Joe’s CMSGT ring when he died, and I asked for Mike’s KU ring. For Joe his ring validated what he had accomplished through the military, and Mike’s ring represented the benefits of his commitment for 28 years in the military.

They were each boys of the Midwest who used the military to escape their circumstances. One of them lived life for the military, and one used the military to live life, but they both retired respected for their contributions. As Memorial Day 2012 rolls around, I’ll have two excellent reasons for pause to remember.

***Originally posted elsewhere for Memorial Day 2102***

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How the GOP Fuels Ebola Fears and Risks With Fights Against Government

Ebola arrives in Texas.

Ebola arrives in Texas.

The Ebola epidemic ravaging western Africa has made it to the shores of the US. The patient is located in a hospital in Texas, and full panic is setting in with the news. Is panic warranted? If it is, is it because the disease is so horrific or that we’ve been whipped into a frenzy with constant news about it by the media? Or, is it that on some level most Americans have little faith in their government’s ability to stem the epidemic before it’s fully unleashed in this country? It’s difficult to both criticize the federal government as an institution, and then turn around and demand its assistance. But one of the bad boys of the GOP is doing just that.

Rick Perry (R), is governor of the state of Texas. His state has a significantly high uninsured population due to his refusal to expand Medicaid, and is now host to the first known case of Ebola in this country. Even though he has attempted to run for president, he is condescending of the role of government and claimed he would close three major departments at the federal level if elected. His state has flirted with the idea of secession, and he’s acted as conductor on that crazy train. The problem is more than his party’s continual assault on the role of government. The problem is what happens when citizens are forced to rely on assistance due to unforeseen circumstances, and they’ve been told their government is not up to the challenge.

We are having a major crisis of faith these days regarding the institutions that have helped to define who we are as a nation. We’ve been let down by the Catholic Church that allowed pedophiles to abuse our children. We’ve been disappointed by our universities that allow our daughters to be sexually assaulted without recourse. We’ve been disillusioned by law enforcement officers who beat and kill unarmed young black men, and a justice system that is anything but just. We’ve been exploited by those in finance who gamble with the financial stability of our lives with zero accountability on their part. We learn people are less important than the military when it comes to fiscal obligations. We are continually frustrated with a political party that has nothing good to say about government, all the while fighting to be in control.

Now that we stand on the precipice of a full blown international epidemic, it’s the same government that isn’t up to the challenge that is expected to come to the rescue. Whether it’s Ebola, or hurricanes, or tornadoes, or terrorist attacks, we expect the federal government to protect and save us. And I would argue that protection is the primary function OF our government.

We want clean water, and clean air, and clean food, and consumer protections, and equal treatment under the law, and freedom from exploitation in the workplace, and protection from the violence of others. We’ve had to rely on government to make those things happen, because left to our own devices we are greedy. We are greedy and selfish, and we want all we can get. Without the oversight of government, those protections are non-existent. But what happens to the psyche of a nation when we are led to believe those protections are inadequate? How do we respond if we have no appropriate resources?

Right now Rick Perry is either the consummate Republican hypocrite as he demands President Obama act to secure borders and provide the necessary resources his state needs, or he is the ultimate sadist in manipulating the fears of those looking to him for leadership. He is one or the other. There is no in-between on this one.

There is a particular irony that Rick Perry is the governor on the front line of the Ebola crisis. He has been particularly vocal in his disdain for the feds, and his state was one of, if not the first to start seriously discussing secession from the union. You know…the union now led by the black guy? Yeah, they didn’t have any use for him or what he had to offer. But now that their state is ground zero for Ebola in the US, he wants federal help, and he wants it now.

But as he, and other members of his political party have continually maintained that government cannot serve the needs of its people, how can he expect those in Texas to have the confidence they need to believe their government can protect them? How do they know what to believe at this point? Who do they think they can trust in these matters?

When Republicans refuse to fund the programs that research impending diseases, and they denounce the benefits of government, they are leveling a double whammy on their constituents. Not only do we not know how to handle this epidemic effectively, but we have no known cures for treatment. Those are real and tangible outcomes to powering down government and its funding to research. But the people who should feel relief that their government will protect them now have doubts about the ability to do so. Success on any front is influenced by attitude and confidence. Americans are not confident right now. By any means.

We need political leaders who lead by example. Hypocrisy serves no one but the politician. Right now Gov. Perry is the epitome of hypocrisy when Texans need genuine honesty and action. He and his party need to understand they are doing people a disservice by claiming that there is neither the need, nor the ability of the federal government to act on our behalf in times of crisis. It’s time to restore confidence in all of our institutions. That’s what we do.

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How We Became America the Ugly

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Given the foundation of equality that this nation is built on, we’ve taken some significant steps backward regarding that equality over the past few years. Admittedly, our history of indentured servants, slaves, Irish not wanted, Chinese exploited, and people of … Continue reading

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Boehner Is Suing to Further the Notion Obama Is Not A Legitmate President

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On Wednesday, July 30, days before the August long recess in Congress was set to begin, the House, led by Speaker John Boehner, voted to sue President Obama. Their chief complaint is that he withheld implementation of a provision under … Continue reading

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Why the US Constitution Doesn’t Mean What People Think It Does

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The United States Supreme Court handed down its decision on whether corporations had to provide contraception access to its employees if that violated their beliefs based on their religious views. In a stunning rebuke of rights of privacy and making … Continue reading

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