Monthly Archives: December 2016

Run, Block, Pass, and Catch


Mark Twain famously observed: “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it-and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again — and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.”

If Democrats are to engineer a way back into being a relevant presence in state houses, Congress and the White House, they (we) must look at the election of 2016 and ask hard, tough and critical questions that lead to hard, tough and critical analysis of “what went wrong.”

It has become an almost by rote analysis-confession for Democrats to bemoan that160607070235-hillary-clinton-june-6-super-169 Hillary didn’t inspire voters, she isn’t trustworthy, she didn’t speak to white, working class Americans, and that she and the DNC led the charge to rig the process and by doing so disenfranchised the already disenfranchised voter.

But, if that is true; if that is the correct “what-we-must-change-and-do-differently-next-time” lesson….then how do we explain the fact that Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first female, major party, nominee, received more votes than any white male, running for president, in history? Including, of course, the man who went on to defeat her, who received 2.8 million fewer votes.

2.8 million votes are not insignificant. If our system wasn’t predicated on an Electoral College (it is, Trump won, and that is not being contested here…even though there is some chilling evidence of vote counting fraud…), Clinton would have been considered the winner, overwhelmingly, and we wouldn’t be talking about trust, her expediency, or her un-likeability.

584df1071800001d00e4212bWe would, instead, be talking about her 68% approval rating before she entered the race, about her unequaled experience and qualifications, and the glass ceiling that was broken.  And the pride of having elected the first woman to the highest office in the land.

So, which reality will determine our lesson? The one that justifies what we now must accept, or the one that is revealed by what actually happened?

If we choose the former, which is hard to resist because our national narrative likes to move quickly and does not like to alter its organic course with meddling “facts,” then we run the risk that we will wash, rinse, and repeat this political destiny.

If we choose the latter, however, then we have to dig even deeper into our political psyche, and ask: “How did we let this happen?  What is our systemic flaw?”

An argument is easy to make that for 18 of the past 26 years, a Democrat has been in the White House, and we could conclude that we aren’t losing.  And it doesn’t take more 958107-al-gorethan a simple Google search to discover that even Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 (by half of 1%).  So, if our conclusion is that Democrats aren’t resonating with voters, then we are clearly missing something.

The truth is that Democrats are resonating, they just aren’t winning. Not where they need to.

Democrats have lost, over the past 8 years, over 900 seats in state houses. In Washington, Republicans hold the majority in both Houses and now sit in the White House (or will at least occasionally visit from New York).  Am I contradicting myself by saying that Democrats are resonating, but losing?

I don’t think so.

What I see, first off, is an antiquated electoral system. The Electoral College was created to satisfy the smaller states at the Constitutional Convention so that each state would have the same number of electoral votes as they have representatives in Congress.  No state could, therefore, have less than 3. But, when the Constitution was written, America was 95% rural and today over 80% of the population is not.  Yet that near-complete reversal of our demographic has not produced any reform since the 12th Amendment in 1803.

Beyond that logical reform, which will not happen in 4 years, and perhaps not for another 20, I see a strategic malfunction that has failed to recognize contract%20with%20americax-largethese demographic shifts, and failed to employ a grassroots system to administer them.

When Bill Clinton became the Formidable Force of Washington, Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, formed a grassroots plan to funnel money and support into state races and they masterminded a populist platform that would never lose its base.  Essentially lifting the content from Ronald Reagan’s 1985 Inaugural Address, the Contract With America, encapsulated modern conservatism, and they’ve never wavered.  Once state power was established, gerrymandering would solidify a winning strategy.

So, the question I ask my fellow Dems is: “How did we let this happen?”

Did we put all of our eggs into the White House basket?

Yeah.

Have we failed to understand the importance of the matrix of governorships and state legislatures to carry the water of our message?

Yes.

Did we tack our sail to a gentle breeze and ignore the wave from a populist tsunami?

Yep.

I firmly believe that Democrats are the agents of change, but when we ignore the outcry for change, in order to favor the way things are, we capsize.

And we did.

My conclusion here will be much shorter than the windup.  As Democrats we tend to complicate things which may be much simpler than we think (they understand that on the “other side”).  The simple concept (although difficult to admit, let alone, administer) is to take that hard, tough and critical look and acknowledge that this didn’t happen out of nowhere; it has been happening for decades.

We need to take a page out of the Republican Playbook and organize and prioritize at the grassroots level.  That means to focus locally and then fan out, rather than our modern modus operandi which is to go big and work down.  Our message wasn’t the problem; we are the party of the people, of the working family, the middle class, labor, public education, and social justice – but we need to change our delivery so that voters recognize our message as their own.

Our party must embrace, promote and support primary elections and the choices they present, on every level, to allow for a healthy discourse and to draw our strongest candidates from the well of diversity.

We need to improve the lines of communication between central committees and state party leaders; to create system-shortcuts so that our rank and file are telling party officials what they are hearing, rather than the other way around.

Networks with our student organizations need to be prioritized and supported.

We took our eye off the ball because we saw ourselves already at thefootball-101 goal line and we dropped the pass.  Republicans intercepted the ball and are heading toward their goal.  They executed a better plan on the field.  We need to get back to basics on offense.  In football that’s to run, block, pass, and catch.

In politics….well, I think that just might be to run, block, pass and catch, as well.

It’s Not the Size of the Boat, it’s the Motion of the Ocean

We hear more and more debate about the size of federal government and what powers have been drained from the states in contrast. The argument from Republicans and Libertarians, in particular, is that the powers of the federal government have expanded beyond its constitutionally outlined parameters and that state governmental authority has been diminished.

Their argument is that we need to reverse this trend and restrict federal jurisdiction while enhancing state and local focus.

I am not going to argue with that statement.  I do believe that we have allowed for too lenient a definition of federal powers and have diminished the scope of localized governments. While making that statement, however, I am also adding that this trend has been a consequence of our history and our own human nature.

In order to better define (and control) government responsibilities, we need to look at the historical context and at the characteristics that have brought us here.

foundingfathersAt the beginning of our nation being an “American” was a vague concept and although there was clearly a spirit of nationalism, having defeated the British for our independence, it was less significant a proclamation to be an “American” citizen of the newly formed United States, than it was to be a “Virginian” or a “Pennsylvanian” for example.

Patriotism was more associated with the colonies of farmers who framed regions with state borders served by local, communal interests than centralized government.  In fact, it was inconceivable in our infancy that a strong, centralized government would ever be necessary beyond the formation of a national army to defend alongside the local and state militias.  This began to change when soldier-farmers returned home from the war for independence and many of them found their farms gone from unpaid taxes levied by the state to pay war debt.

Soon, citizen-revolts began within our still vulnerable country and the Constitution was written.  Our Founders realized that a central government must be strong enough to maintain a balance of power between states and could not function if it relied solely on the states for revenue.  Congress was, therefore, given the power to collect “taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.”

Then, only 30 years after the establishment of our sovereignty, came the War of 1812…

War has a way of shaping our understanding of ourselves and the United States declared war as a result of long simmering disputes with Great Britain, specifically the impressments of American soldiers by the British.  The War of 1812 established once and for all the independence of the United States, and saw the emergence of strong nationalism. The British burned Washington to the ground and alongside the rebuilding of our capital city grew our national pride. Now we were a nation, not fighting for our creation, but defending our sovereignty. The strength of the national army, unified patriotism, and common purpose among the citizens of every state became relevant.

It was the Civil War that cemented into our collective psyche the value of having a strong Union beyond the individual sovereignty of states.  Less than a century old, the United States faced its greatest crisis; a crisis that was spawned from the very concept of individual states rights.

The brutal, post-war reality of Americans having fought Americans, and the resolve to preserve the Union, began to erase state allegiances as our principle identity and we became Americans first.  We emerged with a concept of strong federal government.

The Civil War marked the greatest transition in American national identity and the ratification the 14th and 15th amendments that followed settled the basic question of citizenship.  Under these amendments, it was now clear that anyone born in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction was a citizen, regardless of ethnicity or social status (sadly, and inexcusably, Native Americans were not included); we now had a portrait of an “American.”

Academics have long questioned when, precisely, federal government started growing, but can cite that before WWI federal government spending consumed less than 5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.  While Roosevelt’s New Deal is often viewed as the beginning of Big Government, it was really only the continuation of what was a growing trend that started in earnest right after WWI.  The steadiest growth of government can be traced to the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Polls have almost always shown that women, as a group, vote differently than men, and a gender gap issue is that of smaller government and lower taxes versus the expansion or creation of government programs to improve society.

Women have been more supportive of Medicare, Social Security and educational expenditures.  Also, given the fact that a woman’s average income has been historically lower and less likely to vary over time, there is incentive to prefer more progressive taxes.

That is certainly not an indictment of women for increased spending, and it is not a sweeping generalization of women’s desires, or men’s for that matter; the intent is to show the inevitability of expansion in the natural evolution and realization of equality.

As our understanding of liberty and inclusion grows, so will the interests of Americans, and the safeguards we must provide.

There are several discussions that we should be having before this debate about the size of government and what expenditures can or cannot be cut.  We should be talking about production and the creation of jobs.  We should be asking corporate America why they are not re-investing with expansion commensurate to profits and cash reserves which are, for many, at all time highs.

We should be looking at welfare programs and adjusting them to critical but fair standards of compliance, but we should also be talking about the Americans that welfare and educational programs enabled to return to work.

And there is an important matter of a more philosophical nature for all of us to consider:  Government is what we made it. It exists in whatever size it exists because of what we have demanded from those we elected to protect our interests.

Government has evolved alongside the progression and realization of the ideals of freedom and representative democracy.  Yet it also must be managed and contained to operate efficiently with only growth that benefits our Republic.  When we consider what part of government is overreach and where it may be deficient, we must first look to it’s largest branch:  The 315 million people federal government represents.

Our part as citizens is to participate in the process that are part and parcel with maintaining this representative system.  That is the call to action.  The necessary conversations do not start in Washington but, rather, in our kitchens and at our neighbor’s barbeque.  Are we educating ourselves beyond our biases?  Are we offering the service that is demanded from us, individually, in order for a free society to survive?  Are we giving back?

When we examine ourselves, then, and only then, will we begin to find better leadership to control the reins of power that often corrupt and misguide our politics.

Let us be reminded of a great pledge offered over 50 years ago from a Democrat who embraced a tenet of a once Republican ideal:  Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

That was not a call from President Kennedy to diminish government, it was a call for participation in government, with compassion and personal responsibility, from those of us who are capable, so that better government can prevail for us all.

 

Some interesting reading: http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/us_20th_century_chart.html

All This Aggravation

aaa8012c655f26442e0cb2df4e579afeLife has a way with endless random collisions to occassionally produce a juxtaposition that is so uncanny it seems cosmically intended.  At the very least, it arrests our attention and we draw relevant conclusions from the coincidence.

While reading Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, and contemplating his List of Virtues, I found myself most interested in “Industry” and “Silence.”  Franklin urged that we “Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions” and that we “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”

In an instant I distilled his call for meaningful action into rock lyrics as I thought of the Elvis Presley song “A Little Less Conversation (a little more action, please).”  It occured to me that, in many ways, we don’t change that much; the same axioms apply today that inspired us over 200 years ago, we just alter the words a little.

This is where the Life/Collision/Cosmic-thing happened.  A few minutes later I got into my car, turned on the radio, and what do you suppose was playing?

“A little less conversation, a little more action, please…all this aggravation ain’t satisfactionin’ me…”

Thank you, King of Rock and Roll.  And that got me to thinking about another king…

240 years ago we paid taxes to King George withoutKing_George_III representation and that sparked a revolution; forging our sovereignty from the Foundry of Freedom.  Inspired men and women faced the proposition of maintaining the status quo or execution for treason; risking uncharted waters to create a new nation as their consolation.

This created some hostile discourse among our forebears.  I’m a junkie for American history and I am as seduced as anyone by the noble highlights of that history, but I always find myself surprised by familiar realities illustrated by those writing in their time.  The trials and tribulations of today’s political rhetoric often echo realities from the time of our founding.

Look at this passage from Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography:

51LkYniqFhL“In the conduct of my newspaper (Poor Richard’s Almanac) I carefully excluded all libeling and personal abuse, which is of late years become so disgraceful to our country.”

Say what?

Franklin wrote of the growing animosity and “false accusations” toward each other, government and “our best national allies.”  Macaroni_2_web It turns out our founding heroes weren’t just colonial-philosophers dressed in tights with ruffled shirts and powdered wigs, pontificating on the virtues of being learn-ed and penny-wise, they, too, argued in the town square with growing malice.

The difference between the discourse of 200 years ago and today seems to be defined only by modern myriad sources to voice the same “scurrilous reflections.”

Modern media (television, radio, print, the internet) has, without question, amped up the volume of our differences, and has turned information (and disinformation) that once took days, even months to spread, into milliseconds.  But, the hostility of the rhetoric is, perhaps, unchanged.

A glance into history can allow us to pause, take a breath, and dismiss a lot of the noise (and fake news) that assaults us.  We can be optimistic about the future if we hold ourselves, and our sources of information, accountible.  As Elvis pleaded in more recent history:  “All this aggravation ain’t satisfactionin’ me.”

What we can do together is have a little less conversation embedded with “falsea_little_less_conversation___by_doochum-d4rqkbv accusations” to divide us, and use a little more action to connect us with our common goals. Let’s put some music behind Franklin:  “Lose no time; be always employed in something useful…Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”

(Try curling your lip, and moving your hip, when you sing it)

 

The Needle and the Damage Done

Rick Perry is in the news again.  It is likely that President-elect Donald Trump will name the former Texas governor as his Secretary of Energy.  There is a peculiar irony here since it was Perry’s inability to remember the name of the Department of Energy in a televised debate that sank his own presidential bid.

It is also a peculiar irony that Trump would select Perry to head a department that Perry said he would eliminate if elected President, but this is the election of 2016can anything be a considered a surprising irony anymore?  After all, a billionaire has been elected President by people who fear the oligarchic takeover of their government.

This post is not an indictment of the latter contradiction, however, it is a personal indictment of the former Texas governor, himself.  I simply do not like this man’s politics and I do not like to see his Longhorn grin anywhere near our government.

Never mind that Texas topped the nation during his term in the number of citizens without health insurance and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality ranked the state’s care level the lowest in the nation.

Never mind his Good Old Boy “I didn’t name it ‘N—erhead’” arrogance concerning the name of his favorite hunting lodge, and never mind his appropriation of 25 million dollars from the pockets of Texas taxpayers to renovate his governor’s mansion, while at the same time cutting education funding and Medicaid benefits.

The biggest Texas-style reason I don’t like Rick Perry is that he is unmoved by reason and his unwillingness to think objectively about anything that contradicts cliché macho justice.  I’m talking about the fact that he let a man, who was likely innocent, die on Death Row.

For those of you who don’t know, a man named Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of murdering his three young children by arson at their home in Corsicana, Texas in 1991.  Local forensics concluded that it was arson based on flammable materials found and the pattern of the fire.  Prosecutors maintained that Willingham’s posters of Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin indicated that he fit the profile of a sociopath.  Willingham was executed in 2004.

An appeal investigation after his conviction, however, proved conclusively by veteran arson investigators and superior forensics that every single point of conclusion previously made was false; that the fire was consistent with an accidental ignition from faulty wiring and that the pattern of the fire did not indicate intentional ignition.

They also concluded that the flammable liquid was clearly from the outdoor grill on the front porch and even physical evidence on Willingham and testimony led to a determination of innocence.

When presented with the new forensic evidence, Governor Perry, who had the authority to stay the execution and to grant a new trial, refused, saying the jury has spoken and that even Willingham’s wife thinks he’s guilty.

His wife, for the record, had changed her previous position which praised Willingham as a loving, doting father who never could have done such a thing, to an accusation of guilt after they had a contentious argument during a visitation.

As Willingham was about to be strapped to the gurney to receive the lethal injection, he saw his wife in the gallery and said, “I hope you rot in Hell, bitch.”  Not exactly poetic, but if one is about to be executed for a crime they didn’t commit and a person who shares responsibility for that injustice is looking on…well, who among us can be sure that we’d be any more…kind?  (I may have said worse when my ex-wife took the furniture)

After the execution, Perry was confronted by press who asked why he didn’t consider the new, convincing, evidence that the previous trial had drawn incorrect conclusions.  Perry responded by saying, “Did you hear what he said to his wife before he died?  He yelled cuss words at his WIFE!  This was a BAD man!”

For Rick Perry, evidence that was more than just a suggestion of possible innocence, but was highly potent, was not enough to stay an execution, nor was it compelling enough to consider justice to possibly save a man’s life.  It was enough for Rick Perry that Willingham used foul language toward his wife to justify his death at the hands of the State.

That isn’t an anomaly in the life of Rick Perry; this stands as an example of how he considers justice and weighs decisions; shoot from the hip and maintain your tough guy status.  Can a person like that be responsible for anyone who falls into troubled circumstances?  How could this man have become governor of the great state of Texas?  How could anyone have even considered this man for the highest office in the land?  How can he now become the Secretary of Energy of the United States of America?

It’s worth noting that more than half of the Energy Department’s budget is devoted to managing national security through the military application of nuclear science and running our programs on nuclear nonproliferation and counterterrorism.  For the record, the two men who served as President Obama’s energy secretaries were physicists, one with a Nobel Prize.  Perry holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Texas A&M; a perfectly respectable degree, but conspicuously contrary to managing forms of energy, the different trophic levels in ecological systems, and nuclear platforms.

There is nothing new about this kind of irrational extremism, what is new is that it has emerged from the shadows of a truthful center and taken a populist revolution toward the brink of insanity.  But, we are the ones who will be responsible for our own death sentence if we allow a jury of extremists to control policy in Washington.

And as the body politic is strapped to a gurney and the needle enters our arm, Rick Perry will be standing smugly in the gallery while the light of liberty fades from our eyes…

…and then he’s off to “N—erhead” for a weekend of family fun!

A Christmas Story

The Prologue

I’m going to step into an area that could be dangerous.  Dangerous because I sincerely care about people’s feelings and because of my personal directive to forward equality in all dominions of thought and practice; dangerous because the topic is the most personal, yet debated and misunderstood of all socio-political realms.

The topic is Gender Identification.  The national debate has swirled as long as I can remember, and even though there have been victories that signal acceptance of people who do not identify with their birth gender, waves of backlash continue to ebb and flow.  With a new conservative sweep across America and a louder call for “religious liberty” that often leads to their persecution, I am concerned.

At the core of this discussion will always be the differences between men and women that trigger our identification.  Most scientific studies will show that our brains are essentially the same, even though books, essays, lectures, films and many other sources have long contended that they are biologically different.  Many sociologists, however, suggest that the differences are taught from birth when boys are assigned to how-to-make-a-tutu-trying-it-onblue and girls to pink, and that we (even unconsciously) program them to be different.

Little boys who may have tried on their sister’s tutu have been scorned (even if passively), and little girls who play in the mud are called “Tomboys.”  Even if that seems harmless, it is still a deliberate classification that is embedded in their psyche.img_0335

At the same time, the physiological differences cannot be denied as a woman’s womb may create life and a man is hardwired to his own steroid hormone.  Wouldn’t these differences also preclude different inclinations toward hunting and gathering; or aggression and nurturing?  We are different sizes and densities; couldn’t that influence us toward different sensibilities and sensitivities?

I know many gay men and women, people who identify as gender-fluid, and several people who are transgender.  Some have had surgery and some grapple with that determination.  I’ve known adults who lived straight lives for years then came out as gay, and I’ve known gay people who knew as soon as they could talk.  My point being that there are many gradations of sexuality and no single, linear, definition will un-complicate a society where these identifications are considered “different.”

But not one person I know who identifies differently within a society populated by a majority of heterosexuals, has done so for any reason other than to be true to themselves; to be who they really are.  For that reason alone the “difference” debate transforms into one of civil rights and I join those who will fight until all people can live freely within their right to be themselves.

The Story

When my eldest son, Chris, was only 3, his mother and I took him to a restaurant in LA that was owned by a friend that I’d known as a man for years.  Seth (as I will call him here), became Cynthia (as I’ll call her here).  I knew Seth as a classically handsome, sturdy, dark, curly-haired Italian man, and he owned a restaurant that I loved and frequented years earlier.  I had lost touch with Seth after moving away, but in 2003 I had returned to the area and was told that Seth is now Cynthia, and still had the restaurant.  I couldn’t wait to see her because we shared a lot in our past and I wanted to know that she was happy.

We went to the restaurant and I told our server that I was an old friend and if she was around, we’d love for her to come to the table.  Within minutes Cynthia emerged from her office and bee-lined to the table.  She wore a long, floral dress, her hair was long and curly, and her movement was decidedly feminine in what may be called a stereotypical, but nevertheless understood, foot ahead of foot, hip-swaying gait.  But her face, although now devoid of any hair, was the same person I knew as Seth.

Not a millisecond of hesitation stood between either one of us and we fell into the warmest embrace.  Clearly, things were “different” but we knew each other well.  She spoke first: “Gary!  Oh my God!  How are you? Is this your family?”

Her voice lilted in the same way as her new way of walking indicated her change, but it was also with tones that belonged to Seth.  In other words, Cynthia vacillated, whether intentionally or not, between shades of her present and former self.

I’m a marginally funny guy and I am committed to bridging the moments between awkwardness and reality, and I responded with:  “So…I see you’ve changed the menu, anything else different in your life?”

Her laugh was surprisingly deep and at that moment we both noticed my son, Chris, looking at her with a deeply puzzled look.  She knew, we all knew, what was on his mind, but before we could gather another thought, Chris blurted out:  “Are you a boy or a girl?”shocked-smiley-face

Thud.

I wanted to crawl under the table.  Chris’ mother immediately began to occupy him so that the subject could change- quickly– but, Cynthia smiled ear to ear.  In fact, her eyes lit up. I even felt a maternal warmth extending from her person reaching out to embrace the innocent little boy.  She whispered to me:  “What do I say?”

A wave of wisdom came over me and I said, “Say whatever you feel is right.  Your privacy is your business and you don’t have to say anything.  We just don’t lie to Chris.  He doesn’t get an answer to every question, but when we do answer him- it is always the truth.  The truth is that you are a woman.”

Cynthia looked at Chris and kneeled beside him.  She said, “I was born as a boy.   But, deep down inside I always knew that I was really a girl, and when I got older, I decided I wanted to live the rest of my life as I really am.  And now I’m a woman.”

Chris, with a gentle look on his face that20160513_064020 couldn’t contain even a wisp of judgment if he’d tried, looked at Cynthia, cocked his head, and asked:  “Do you still like trucks?”

The table, with Cynthia, erupted in the kind of laughter that defines the best moments in life because it affirms the spirit of love and compassion.  We left after our lunch, and Cynthia and I made a promise to stay in touch.  Sadly, the end of this story will break even the hardest heart, as Cynthia died on Christmas soon after our visit.  She died of infection resulting from her surgery.

But her presence remains strong in my life, my son’s, and I’m sure my ex-wife’s and many others.  Our encounter was a treasure trove of life; a person wanting to be free, the embrace of friendship, a child’s innocence yearning for understanding, and the purity of kindness when we do not judge.  And even though my personal conviction to stand up for the rights of all people was already resolute, Cynthia was the transitional moment in my life that enlightened me toward unconditional acceptance.

The Epilogue

This essay began as a discussion of gender identification and the political ramifications of a segment of our society that doesn’t accept such differences, but I knew all along that it was heading to this story.  It’s a Christmas Story.  It was meant as a celebration of someone who lived, and died, because they believed that being truthful to oneself is the beginning of all understanding.

It sits on this page to remind, or perhaps even to enlighten, those who haven’t understood nature’s contradictions, and that our greatest purpose in life is to love and support others on this journey while embracing our differences.
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Life and Death, Part II

There is another subject, beyond gun rights, that holds our attention, and politicians swivel around its substantive reality:  the Right to Choose versus Pro-Life.

I will begin this discussion by being clear:  NO one is pro-abortion.  No “Right to Choose” advocate is saying that continuiing an unwanted pregnancy should never be an option.  My personal opinion is that no abortion should be encouraged (except when a woman’s life is in jeopardy from the pregnancy).  But it is also my opinion that to continue or discontinue an unwanted pregnancy must be the choice of the woman with her personal counsel.  To say otherwise is to say that the equality and freedom of a woman is suspended when she unwantedly becomes pregnant, and that is not justifiable.

A government demand that a woman continues a pregnancy that she did not want, denies her freedom to pursue the life and goals she intended. In fact, it is ethically wrong for government to determine that outcome; there can be no more extreme invasion of privacy.

I’ve heard it said many times:  “If men got pregnant, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”  While that may be repeated so often that it has become cliché, it is likely true.  This issue is about the full realization of a woman’s right to determine her future and have dominion over her own body.

Yet, I must repeat:  Abortion is horrible.  There is nothing pleasant or uncomplicated about it and I understand the view of the Pro-Life movement, but their argument centers around birth and not life.  It is, in reality, a “Pro-Birth” movement and there is a profound contradiction behind wanting a child to be born, but then to fight, or downright deny, tax dollars that feed, house or educate every child.

We must weigh reality with rights and we cannot allow government to extend to limiting personal freedom simply because of the physiological nature of gender.

Delicate, personal, emotional issues.  Both gun control and pregnancy center on rights and the parameters of government.  There is no position from either side that will necessarily change, or even satisfy, the opposing argument, but, what can happen is that we reach an understanding of purpose, and we can curtail some of the angry rhetoric.

We don’t have to fan the hyperbole to the point where it is politically incorrect to even talk about them.

The Internet, the Whole Internet, and Nothing but the Internet

“Truth” means being in accord with fact or reality.  The opposite of truth is “falsehood” which can also appear as logical, factual, even ethical, but is, of course, a deception, thxj321cz0whether intentional or not.  As humans we depend upon truth, where it is assumed rather than being a subject of discussion; otherwise, how could we have science, laws and…journalism?

Years ago, futurists predicted that online information would create an aggregate transparency and accountability that would benefit truth in a democratic society.  Oops.  I wonder how many of them put money on 8-track tapes, too.

Instead, the internet exploded with 9/11 conspiracies and partisans who believed that Barack Obama was a foreign-born Muslim (remember the birther movement?- the one bankrolled by our new president in a maniacal adherence to lack of evidence), or that sharks1large-1George W Bush personally engineered a theft of the White House.  Photo-shopped pictures confirmed that Wall Street flooded with sharks in subways after Hurricane Sandy and were proof that Kim Jong-un was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.

Studies show that when we are confronted with diverse information choices, we do not act rationally, but are instead ignited by preconceptions.  Psychologists suggest that it is a human instinct to believe what comes easiest and then submerse ourselves in information that confirms our biases, while dismissing what does not.

The internet provides a nearly infinite menu of choices to find exactly what we want with like-minded social networks where rumors do not require evidence to sustain, only the fact that they are there.  And in that echo chamber it becomes a verified “truth” and appears as authentic research.

How sinister has this become?  A man was arrested yesterday after he walked into a pizza restaurant in Northwest Washington carrying an assault rifle and fired shots. The man told police he had come to the restaurant to “self-investigate” an election-related conspiracy theory involving Hillary Clinton that spread online during her campaign.  Fake news stories circulated claiming that then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief were running a child sex ring from the restaurant’s backrooms.

And how far does this insidious reality climb?  To the top.  Michael Flynn, the retiredap_16194463376113 general whom President-elect Trump has tapped as his advisor on national security, willfully shares stories about anti-Clinton conspiracy theories involving pedophilia and several other internet-based fiction. None of them have a grain of actual truth, but Flynn gladly continues to propagate false information from extreme-bias and that is troubling as an advisor to the president.  Deeply troubling.

The truth is important, and while none of us are omniscient and no source is infallible, there is, nevertheless, a discipline in a sincere search for it, and that discipline does not hammer-on-thumbexist “as” the internet.  The internet is only a tool, and like a hammer, it is only as effective as the carpenter who wields it.

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom”         – Thomas Jefferson.

Life and Death

Gun Control was a very difficult subject when I was running for office.  Not because I was afraid of the subject, I wasn’t, but because the forces that disagree with anything short of the proliferation of firearms would rise in obstinate (and loud) opposition.tea party anger1

Money gets thrown in to defeat you, and even a fearless candidate has to weigh the possible backlash and outcomes.  That, of course, is exactly what the gun lobby wants to happen and why movement toward sanity is still a non-reality.

I am no longer a candidate, and even if I throw my hat in the ring in the future (and this article gets trotted out), I am not going to shy away from this discussion.  Disagreements should not only be acceptable, but are healthy in a free society.  My principle is to be forthwith and transparent with my views, hoping to have conversations with genuine depth and not expedient political rhetoric containing all-too-common double-speak.

This article was in the news a few months ago: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/their-6-year-old-was-killed-with-a-neighbor%e2%80%99s-gun-a-court-just-decided-how-much-his-life-was-worth/ar-BBtsvAB?li=BBnb7Kz.

It would be hard to imagine a story any more relevant to explain gun control.  But, first let me be clear about my own stance:  I am not against gun ownership.  What “gun control” is about is not the elimination of guns, but logical standards of compliance so that events like this, that betray responsible ownership, become less likely.

There is an inherent flaw in the argument being put forth by those calling themselves defenders of the Second Amendment or “Constitutional purists.”  They claim that they are holding the values of the amendment sacrosanct and that there can be no room for 406753elastic interpretation; “the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

The NRA has stated:  “The NRA proudly supports the right of law abiding Americans to carry firearms in defense of themselves…”

That, in itself, is an elastic interpretation as it ignores the amendment’s prefatory clause:  “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state.”  That means, on the most elemental level, that Americans have the right to keep and bear arms in defense of their nation.  And in the context of the time, that meant from foreign invaders.  What it did not imply was personal defense from other Americans.

With parameters of interpretation existing on both sides of the gun control argument, it is incumbent upon us, therefore, to look at the risks presented in our present state of affairs.  The story linked above is sobering.  On average, in America, there are over 250 accidental shootings a year by children under the age of 18 due to careless storage of firearms.  Half of them are fatal.  The NRA can argue that with 300,000,000 privately owned firearms in America that is a low percentage, but to those victimized families that is little consolation.  Those tragedies were avoidable and that is where gun control can be defined.

And this is where I stand in the debate.  Guns are legal and they are also lethal.  Sure, anything can be lethal, even a container of aspirin, but no other instrument is created as a personal cannon to fire a lead projectile at the speed of sound.  Hatchets, automobiles and even butter knives, can be dangerous when used incorrectly, but they were created to serve our domestic necessities; a firearm is created specifically to obliterate, destroy, and kill when they are deployed.

That necessitates an understanding and respect that demands a higher level of responsibility.  If the father of the child who fired his rifle had been compelled to comply with certain standards, the other child could be alive today.

What standards?

Just like traffic laws, no rule, regulation or law, eliminates the negative results they were created to stop.  Traffic laws, however, remain in place even though some people violate them, and for the most part they restrict bad drivers and reduce traffic accidents. They are society’s demand that we hold ourselves accountable to a standard of skill to avoid mayhem and even death.  When we violate those laws, and are caught, our freedom to drive is suspended or revoked.

The father has been prosecuted and convicted, but that consequence will not bring back the victim of his careless mistake.  A control has to precede the potential for tragedy.  I would advocate for firearm aptitude certification.  That is not an encroachment of government as some gun owners will surely claim, rather it is an encroachment of common sense.  After a background check (that includes second party sales and gun shows), a potential gun owner takes an exam to indicate essential knowledge of deadly force before they can legally possess.

A hassle?  Maybe.  Logical?  Of course it is.  And it isn’t an offense of the 2nd Amendment; it is an admission that the 2nd Amendment must command our utmost respect.

Would taking an exam that included questions about safe storage have stopped this tragedy from happening?  Not necessarily.  Anyone can answer correctly without genuinely believing in what they answered.  But, maybe, knowing that unsafe practices are a violation of the certification they earned would have created a different outcome.

A couple of months ago I was driving in the country when I camestop_sign_on_a_country_road__michigan_by_kaitou_ace-d4hxpjp upon a stop sign and I stopped.  A full stop.  There wasn’t another car within a mile and no one would have ever known if I hadn’t stopped completely.  There was no reason to….except for the fact that it was a requirement of the license I earned to exercise my privilege to drive.

That was conscientious traffic control.  Just as gun control can be.