Category Archives: Americana

USA, version 2016

It’s a strange, new world. I may be older, but surely that doesn’t explain why I fail to understand what is going on in our national politics today. Perhaps it is my fault, for I am not white, or poor, or poorly educated. Is that a fault?

In simple terms, I see our politics imploding a little bit more each passing day. Here we are in 2016, when things are looking so much better for the US, as compared to anywhere else in the world. Yet all around us hatred and bigotry are blooming in the national discourse, on a scale unseen perhaps since the unrest of the 1960s. But that civil unrest was about issues greater than the those who protested on the streets – war in a far-away country, political freedom and civil rights for African Americans, self-determination for young people and women’s rights over their own bodies. Today it is about the destruction of everything that has made this country into the world’s most powerful nation.

In truth, today America is greater, more powerful, more diverse and more accepting of different sexual orientations, than ever before in its history. Today is a brighter day in America than it was in the 1960s, the last time a dangerous, populist demagogue was able to hijack the entire political process of the nation. I speak of course of Senator Barry Goldwater.

Today the entire political scenario has taken on a surreal tint. Center stage is a man, a blustering bully, best known prior to this for his reality TV show where he ‘fired’ people. He is an unashamed bigot, a racist, an ugly sexist and above all a narcissist of epic proportions. Yet this is the man who has captured the imagination of the poor, poorly educated, white folks, who have smoldered for years in an imagined siege mentality.

We have in Donald Trump,a man with the best education his daddy could buy, but he still speaks in the language of an elementary school yard bully. He is a shameful rich-kid draft dodger. He is a man without any ideas who has galvanized a marginalized segment of the population, who have for decades voted against their own interests. He is a man who has reached down and roused the most bestial instincts in people. Yet this is the man who the poor and the poorly educated imagine speaks for them. It is a bewildering display of a mass delusion.

And who is to blame for this sad but terrifying situation? I lay the blame squarely on the GOP and to a lesser extent on the US media.

For at least two decades now, the Republicans have railed and decried the imagined weakening of America. They have repeatedly called on their party faithful to denounce and denigrate Government as an institution. They have called for their followers to fight against the liberal bias of the Supreme Court decisions on such issues as women’s health rights, gay marriage etc. They have forced government shutdowns as a vanity project for powerful leaders. They have spent the last 7 and a half years trying to swallow the bitter pill of a black man in the White House, by proudly proclaiming themselves the ‘party of no’.

I ask the GOP establishment, did you not think there would be consequences to all of this? Here is your biggest consequence, and his name is Donald Trump. This is the future and it’s not pretty. Now they are in disarray, wringing their hands and scratching their collective head, wondering what strategy to employ to stop him from winning the party’s nomination. I am afraid you may be too late.

A long line of leaders must take responsibility for creating this Frankenstein’s Monster, all the way from Newt Gingrich and the hubris of his unstoppable ambition, to  Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and yes, even Ted Cruz himself. Remember the old saying, ‘as you sow, so shall you reap’. Well as a party you chose to sow the wind for decades, now you reap the whirlwind.

Why do I blame the media for the rise of Trump? For over a year now we have had blanket coverage of every outrageous statement that spews from that man’s mouth. Just the fact that it is played round the clock has given the man so much free publicity, he has probably spent less in campaign ad buying than any candidate in recent memory. The media is first and foremost lazy, undisciplined, and condescending to boot. They started off the primary season covering Trump almost exclusively, because it was just so fanned easy. This worked to the disadvantage of every other candidate. They, the media, precipitously thought his outrageous speech amusing and it made for easy headlines and ratings. They have highlighted the ugly antics of the one candidate without a policy platform (unless you consider “I’ll build a wall, it’ll be yuge (sic)”, to be a platform). They have gleefully reported and re-reported ad nauseum, every ugly word spoken about the size of body parts and women menstruating as if it were discourse of the highest order. When they do have him on-air, which is constantly, no journalist insists that he clarify any of the weird, false statements that he makes. This is not how an unbiased media works.

So yes, the media have helped create this ‘yuge’ mistake, who is the presumptive nominee of the Grand Old Party. No amount of hand wringing or fiery speeches by the likes of Mitt Romney can change that now.

This, brothers and sisters, is the strange new world we live in now.

 

 

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Grace in Charleston

Tomorrow, President Obama will deliver the eulogy at the funeral of South Carolina State Senator, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the storied Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was one of nine people mown down so cruelly last week, as they attended bible study.  I know the President will speak eloquently tomorrow, as he always does, and bring a nation that is grieving already, to tears once more. But today, two other victims of that senseless act of hate, were laid to rest, in a city shaken awake by the abiding hatred, evidence of  the gaping wound in this nation’s psyche that has never been healed.

The services held today were moving testaments to the good and generous lives that Ethel Lance and Sharonda Coleman-Singleton led. Ordinary lives, lived with peace and love, horrifically cut short by the action of a hate-filled racist. Ethel Lance, 70, was a mother, a grandmother and a great grandmother. As her family paid loving tribute to her memory,  a church filled with hundreds of mourners, black and white, wept. As did those of us who watched or heard it unfold.

I was coasting downhill, whistling cheerfully, as the NPR reporter spoke about the victory of the Affordable Health Care Act in the Supreme Court today. Abruptly, the next piece of news came on. Wade Goodwyn was reporting on the funeral of Ethel Lance in Charleston, South Carolina. The gospel music ebbed and flowed in beautiful melodies. Then, we heard the voice of one of Ms. Lance’s grandsons, Brandon Risher. “She was a victim of hate, she can be a symbol for love. That’s what she was in life”, he said, maintaining great composure. The music transported even the most stoic heart to a place where hatred could not find a seat. In an unusually moving newscast, Wade Goodwyn concluded by saying, ” the vile racist hatred that took Ethel Lance’s life was exorcized this afternoon, by wave after wave of music and prayer, until all that was left was sadness and love”. I pulled my car onto the shoulder and wept.

It is the remarkably merciful sentiments expressed by the famiies of the slain that will resonate for a long time. Even at the arraignment hearing for Dyllan Roof, just days after the massacre, parents and children and siblings of his victims, spoke with a rare degree of mercy. In a courtroom presided over by a judge known for his fairly racist pronouncements, the family members of the victims pronounced forgiveness for the gunman. By then, his racist ideology had been revealed in his rambling, vitriolic, hate-filled manifesto.

The only unmerciful voices were those on the far right, especially the denizens of Fox News, who talked till they were blue in the face, to recast the massacre as an ‘attack on Christianity’. Bill O’Reilly got apoplectic arguing that there was no racism in America. As the days passed and the calls to remove that symbol of deep oppression, the Confederate flag that flies over the South Carolina Capitol building, gathered momentum, we heard more unmerciful statements from the right. Ann Coulter called Nikki Haley, the Republican Governor of South Carolina, an ‘immigrant who doesn’t understand our history’.  Nikki Haley is South Carolina born, her parents emigrated from India before her birth. Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, both Republicans,  got brickbats from the far right, for daring to call for the removal of that oppressive symbol of race hatred.

Meanwhile, there were positive signs too. Alabama quietly removed the offending article from its own state house. Even Walmart, the shopping mecca of southern rednecks, announced it would stop selling confederate flag merchandise. But the subject of gun control never made it to the front pages, as the controversy over the flag raged.

Until that time comes, when America will finally confront the unresolved and the unhealed, the wounds inflicted by more than a century of oppression and the abrupt withdrawal of the right to own people as chattel on one side and complete subjugation on the other, all discussion is moot. One side claims that enough reparations have been done, citing affirmative action as America’s gesture towards making amends. However, as we all know the elephant in the room remains. Until then, we can only rely on the grace and mercy shown by ordinary, decent people whose loved ones were torn from them so unmercifully.

To conclude, I quote the immortal Bard.

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

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Georgia On My Mind

As Ray Charles croons in his beautiful, emotional paean to his home state, Georgia has been on my mind. And not for any good reason. Georgia, it seems, is fighting mightily to win the dubious accolade of the ‘worst state in the union’. The state General Assembly is in session. The state capitol in Atlanta has been buzzing with several rather disturbing new bills on the slate. If three of them pass, we will indeed be the worst state in the United States of America.

If things go according to the majority party’s plan, and there’s no reason to doubt it will, we will have what has been dubbed ‘the worst gun legislation in the country’ by Americans for Responsible Solutions. This organization, you may remember, was founded by Gabrielle Giffords, the US Congresswoman who was shot in the head at point blank range. Ms. Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, started the organization after her slow and painful recovery, from what was an act of such ferocious, bestial brutality, it should have ended her life.

The Georgia ‘Safe Carry Protection Act (House Bill 875) will allow Georgians to carry concealed guns practically everywhere – in schools, college campuses, bars, churches, government buildings and airports. Feel safer already, don’t you? I shudder to think of an unbalanced parent/teacher/lunch lady walking around the corridors of my child’s school, packing heat. Bars, what perfectly sensible places to carry a loaded gun! Don’t see any fallout there do you Senators? Someone explain to me what a devout churchgoer imagines he needs to protect against in a place of worship. Is God carrying a gun perhaps? The whole idea of guns anywhere and everywhere is monstrous and preposterous. The same bill, if turned into law, will expand Georgia’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ statute. This means you can protect yourself with deadly force if you feel threatened with physical harm, anytime, anywhere. This law in Florida, took young Trayvon Martin’s life and allowed his killer to walk free. It will also remove fingerprinting requirements for gun license renewals and disallow the state to maintain a gun ownership database. Way to make it easier for police forces across the state, dear legislators.

Not being satisfied with threatening our security by allowing guns anywhere and everywhere, Georgia legislators are busy on another bill which will punish Georgia’s children and consign them to the dustbins of university admissions offices. Senate Bill 167 wants to dismiss the Common Core Standard that Georgia adheres to, that keeps Georgia students on par with the rest of the country. This one action will isolate Georgia students from the rest of the country while negating the gains made by Georgia school systems over the last eight years. Or, as one headline put it “Georgia Senate throws students under bus. House gets ready to run them over again”. It forbids the state school systems from adopting any practice that even smacks of national standards. They see the Common Core Standard as a federal intrusion into states’ rights. Never mind that it was the governors of several states that came up with the idea several years ago to standardize education across the country, so that students from some states, like Georgia in particular, did not suffer too much in the college admission race. Maureen Downey writes in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “imagine telling Georgia doctors they couldn’t use any cancer treatments developed by medical teams or labs outside the state. Patients would riot in the streets. So should parents over this piece of legislation.”

And so we come to the third piece of potential legislation that makes us seem cruel. This legislation is also the one that will raise the least resistance from most citizens. House Bill 772 wants to enact law that would make it necessary to pass a self-paid drug test to qualify for the food stamp program. There is no direct correlation between the two. It is not as if a person who receives food stamps can exchange them to get drugs. Then why make it a correlation? Let junkies die of starvation in their squalid holes, seems to be the unspoken thought behind it. While the country has spent millions on the drug war, border interdictions and mandatory jail sentences, little has been done in a sustained, organized way to handle the drug problem at the real source, the addict himself. Why tack on mandatory drug testing to food stamps, a program to help the poorest among us? And to make the applicant pay for the drug himself/herself. That is punishing the poor indeed. Fortunately,the sheer unconstitutionality of this bill seems to doom it from the get go.

What if all these bills go into effect as laws? Georgia would the worse for it. One would expect Georgia to be marching into the future as a technology paradise. Some of these move seem to be drawing Georgia back toward its secessionist past.

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Post Racial America

What drives a man to kill? What might does a man feel when he holds a gun in his hand and points it at another human being? In recent weeks I’ve been reading about all the horrible killings going on around us, all of them a pointless waste of life. The US soldier who went berserk with his automatic in Afghanistan, the French killer who went on a rampage taking 3 innocent children among his seven victims, the self appointed neighbourhood watch volunteer who gunned down a 17 year old in cold blood. Guns and the NRA have a lot to answer for. But that is not quite the point here. The point is the visceral hatred that men hold in their hearts that makes them pick up that gun and point it at a helpless other. How hard must a man’s heart be if he can point a gun at a young innocent and blow him away, as if his life meant nothing at all? And all because of the victim’s otherness.

The case of the killing of young Trayvon Martin echoes most deeply with me because of the proximity. It happened in Sanford, Florida a mere few hours away from where I live. The talking heads on TV have been hard at it in the past few weeks laying blame everywhere they can. The blame can only lie with the man who pulled the trigger. And yet he walks free, keeping his weapons with him. George Zimmerman, who with one sharp bullet to the chest, cut off 17 year Trayvon Martin’s life is a free man, claiming self defense under a controversial Florida law. It begs the question how a civilised society can condone this.

We are now inured to violence, desensitised by the 24/7  internet news sites and always – on TV news channels. And yet, this has roused a dormant ire among the young, helped by social networking sites. Many Miami area high schools have held formal protests on school grounds. The groundswell of support for the family and the calls for Zimmerman’s arrest have spilled over from cyberspace into the real world of our cities, flowing in all directions. Florida finds itself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The questions need to be asked. Fox News would have us believe that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson would like to make political hay of this. But that is not the important point. The point is that a young man was killed for being black in a tony neighbourhood. This is our Post-Racial America. And a killer walks free.

Geraldo Rivera mouths off on Fox about hoodies and gangsta looks bringing on this killing. Quite right Geraldo. Blame the victim. The boy had his hood up to shield from the rain. It seems to worry Rivera and his ilk not a jot that a man can walk around a respectable neighbourhood carrying a concealed weapon. It seems to give them no sleepless nights to think a white man (yes the police confirm that he is white) can look at a black youth in his gated community in 2012 America and assume he is a thief/mugger/rapist or all of the above. Above all, he assumes the young black man has no right to be where he is, on the streets inside a gated community. And so, a young man who went out for Skittles and an iced tea lies cold and dead, while the man who mistook him for a suspicious character and had access to a concealed weapon cut him down on the streets. Yet he walks free.

George Zimmerman is free because Florida passsed a law in 2005 that states that if you have a right to be where you are, you can walk free if you kill a man in self defense.  A Maimi Herald investigation a while ago said that ‘justifiable homicide’ cases have tripled since the 2005 law went into effect.  And that is Zimmerman’s story, self defense. The police obviously bought Zimmerman’s story, perhaps it was easiest to do that.  The dead don’t speak. Poor Trayvon  Martin will never tell his side of the story. There are many doubts cast on the story. There are witness accounts and Martin’s girlfriend’s account of what she heard on the open phone line. Most damning of all is the actual 911 call Zimmerman himself made, on which he is clearly advised by the police to desist from following the ‘suspicious character’ or tangle with him. He is clearly heard uttering a disgusting racial slur as he continues to follow the young victim and shoot him dead. And yet, because of the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, Zimmerman walks free.

What is shocking is that the police neither gave Zimmerman a breathalyzer test nor a drug test when they took his statement. He had just killed a man! That would seem like the minimum requirement. They took Trayvon Martin’s body away from the crime scene as a John Doe, though his cellphone was on his body and his identity could so easily have been verified. Surely the question must be asked…is every young black man (yes in a hoodie, Geraldo) to be viewed as a potential gangster/thief/murderer/mugger/rapist? Why, why, why were the Sanford police so lax in their handling of this case?

It all comes down to this. To George Zimmerman the young black boy was the ‘other’, he was where he didn’t belong. Trayvon Martin was actually a guest in one of the homes in the gated estate. He was out to buy himself a snack. And he died because he was the ‘other’ in that neighbourhood.  Trayvon Martin is dead. And George Zimmerman walks free.  Nothing else matters.  Welcome to post racial America.

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