Second Amendment Trumps All Other Constitutional Rights…Again

I want to preface this post by admitting that the attempt to articulate a deep, impotent sadness over the country’s bizarre and dangerous permissiveness of mass casualty gun violence will pale in comparison to the genius of Esquire’s Charles Pierce. Both of these pieces are worth a full read, but the titles alone suggest the feelings of many exhausted warriors in the battle to secure a right to life above the right to unload magazine clips on one’s fellow Americans:

Nothing Really Changed on That Ballfield Yesterday

When White People Realize American Politics Are Violent

In the former post, Pierce writes:

“If Sandy Hook wasn’t enough, Simpson Field is not likely to be, either. Until there’s no profit in hatred, until civility proves to be a ratings juggernaut, nothing will change. Until the instruments of mass killing are regulated as stringently as we regulate automobiles, nothing will change. Until we have as serious a conversation about the actual misuse of the Second Amendment as we are currently having about the alleged misuse of the First, nothing will change.”

In the second musing, Pierce says of Thursday night’s Congressional Baseball Game telecast on C-SPAN:

“The broadcast crew, from a Washington radio station, kept up the patter and there was a lot of talk about unity and civility, because that was the order of the day. And I continued to wonder where it was that all these people grew up.”

I have a close friend, Beth, who introduced me to the concept of losing one’s bones several years ago. You know that condition when a situation is so frustrating and hopeless, there’s just nowhere to put your feelings? So metaphorically, and oftentimes physically, the body cannot remain upright and hold its shape. The skeleton and soul collapse in on themselves, landing a person in a fetal crouch – without the reassuring comfort.

Many of us have lost our bones this week, simultaneously grappling with cognitive-dissonance inducing gratefulness that we still have cartilage left to shed. 51 year-old House Majority Whip Steve Scalise will survive his injuries with luck and quality medical care (a luxury available to members of Congress that Republican policy puts out of most Americans’ reach), but Wayne Chan ‘s life is over.

Who is Wayne Chan, you ask? A 56 year-old man murdered in a mass casualty event on the same day that Scalise was shot on an Alexandria, Virginia ballfield. Chan was an employee of a UPS facility in San Francisco, killed along with 50 year-old Bensen Louie and Michael Lefiti, 46. The names of these men deserve as much press as Scalise, not the least because none of them publicly carried water for the National Rifle Association. Earlier this week, New York Daily News writers Meera Jagannathan and Leonard Greene observed:

“In May 2015, he introduced the Firearms Interstate Commerce Reform Act, legislation that aimed to modify the criminal code to relax restrictions on cross-state gun sales — or, as he put it, eliminate ‘archaic red tape burdening gun owners who legally purchase firearms across the nation…’

‘The NRA thanks Rep. Scalise for his leadership in this important effort,’ the gun group said in a statement.”

Whenever the NRA expresses gratitude to loyal ambassadors of Second Amendment regulatory annihilation, you can be sure dead people will follow. All in the name of freedom (profits). In 2016, gun sales broke an 18-year record, with 28 million firearms purchased. That number does not encompass weapons acquired through theft or other illegal means. Although the list of verboten procurement methods grows ever smaller owning to the NRA’s wildly successful lobbying efforts.

It may be tempting to indulge the fantasy of chastened Republican (and Democrats) lawmakers currently in the pocket of Wayne LaPierre, undergoing a spiritual awakening in light of Scalise’s critical condition. But as another close friend of mine likes to advise with regard to magical thinking, “Wish in one hand, shit in the other. See which one gets full first.”

The false narrative doggedly peddled by LaPierre and his ilk remains unchanged in the wake of this week’s events – the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy packing equal or greater heat. Evidence to the contrary be damned. Alabama Congressmen Mo Brooks, just hours removed from nearly meeting his Maker in Alexandria, said this to CNN:

“It’s never easy to take when you see people around you getting shot and you don’t have a weapon yourself so you are not in a position where you can help defend.”

There it is. The usual cynicism, impervious to reality. The answer is ALWAYS more guns.

Heading into Pirates Series, Cubs Need to Re-Embrace Targeted Fun

“Are the Cubs in danger of returning to the inglorious old power hitting show pony days? With more than half of the season left to play, it’s too soon to draw hard conclusions. It’s clear however that a shakeup is needed. How about that Anthony Rizzo with the leadoff production? A step in the right direction, and I don’t mean just the first baseman’s ability to generate early momentum for the Cubs. It’s also the fun and the confidence – two spiritual elements sorely lacking as the team struggles. Check out what he told MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat after Wednesday’s game:

‘I’m statistically the greatest leadoff hitter of all time…I’d like to retire there and talk smack to everyone who tries to do it. You just go with it, it’s fun. To go back to back there [in the first], the dugout is really loose. Statistically, by the books, to lead off the game, I’m the best ever is, right now.’

Right on Tony. We are the World Series Champs! We have earned the swagger and deserve to have fun with it. To hell with over caution. We need to re-embrace the target and let other teams fire, rather than shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

Be Better Than Fear

My last two posts were pretty bleak. I admit it. I don’t believe the world is ending just yet, but there are definitely signs of doom for democratic ideals.

The fear and loathing can’t be divorced from the current President, his administration and the mockery that is being made of fair governance. Basic human decency should be an occupational requirement. But it’s not.

Although actual progress on any part of the Trump agenda has been mercifully slow, change is very much in the air, dredging up fear on both sides of the aisle. It’s just being channeled and processed differently. On the left we’re seeing authoritarian activities we believed were ancient history once again in vogue – and we’re resisting. On the right…I honestly don’t know what we’re seeing. But the Party of No is gunning for women’s health, civil rights and immigration.

At the center of both reactions lies fear. For some conservatives, it’s fear of what America’s changing demographics look like, particularly in post-9/11 America. On the liberal left, there’s panic that we’ll never make it three and a half more years of Trump.

Fear drives ignorant, shortsighted behavior, such as a school teacher handing out a “Most Likely to be a Terrorist” certificate to a seventh grader (as a “joke”). In what universe is branding someone at the most turbulent stage of their life as a terrorist, funny? Or even remotely appropriate? It’s harassment, an attack on a child’s mental state, creating a hostile environment for the entire community. We can’t have the people entrusted with our kids damaging their mental health and creating a bullying culture from the top down.

That same fear of the “other” contributed to North Carolina’s racist voting district gerrymandering efforts. These moves placed large groups of African-Americans into the same few districts, concentrating their votes. In effect, gerrymanderers split representatives 10:3 in favor of traditional, white republican representation in areas where black voters skew democratic. This approach was struck down by the Supreme Court with the uncharacteristic support of Justice Clarence Thomas, rarely to be found on the “liberal” side of a case.

SCOTUS’ ruling in the North Carolina case is one of the few moments of clarity and bipartisan unity we’ve seen in recent months, an indication that black votes, voices and lives matter. There is hope to be found in the system of checks and balances, no matter how delayed.

There’s also reasons for optimism as courts across the country slap down Trump’s proposed travel ban time and time again. In fact, just this last weekend Following another terrorist attack in London, Prime Minister Theresa May called for action to restrict “the safe spaces it needs to breed.” Trump’s travel ban and May’s preference for a police state are responses of fear, because they do not understand the bigger picture.

The proposed ban exists to discriminate against six majority Islamic countries as a show of nationalism (not to be confused with patriotism). Somehow Trumpsters and their supporters fail to realize reducing all Muslims to terrorists is like conflating all Christians with the Westboro Baptist Church.

May, while having a legitimate cause for concern (this is the third attack on British soil within three months), is reacting to radical elements of Islam. She’s looking to penetrate so-called self-segregated communities and be “less delicate of their sensitivities.” It’s panic that targets civilians.

When we hear the word “terrorism,” it’s disturbing  to observe the automatic jump of many to Islam. We need to remember that terrorism isn’t a religion; it’s a tactic. A tactic founded upon bullying, sadism and sociopathic tendencies to control people through threats, intimidation and violent action.

Terrorism does not exist “over there.” Look no further than America and Breitbart’s hate-filled agenda, the constant stream of cultural ignorance (yes, those are different links) thrown at those who look or believe outside of hetero, Caucasian, Christian paradigms. Consider Betsy Devos’ anarchist, hands-off approach to education. Every day on the job, she’s developing a hostile experience for future generations.

There is a lot of negativity to weight us down at present, but we also need to look beyond our own fear. By doing so, we’ll learn how to advance together. By way of example, there’s the One Love Manchester concert benefiting victims of the second U.K. attack. There’s also the aforementioned Supreme Court ruling against gerrymandering, and the unprecedented number of women running for public office. There’s human decency and intelligence visible everywhere – if you know where to look. 

Allowing paralysis or backward movement under the weight of fear does no one any good. The ability to look forward is what will distinguish leaders matching the global, human challenges of these times.

Cubs Seek to Bounce Back from Rough 2017 Memorial Day Weekend

“Anything to take the edge off the reality that the 2016 World Series Champions are a .500 team. Last week was a trying one for the Cubbies and members of Wrigleyville Nation. A road sweep by the Los Angeles Dodgers and a disastrous Monday start to the San Diego series. I believe All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo bespoke the surprise and frustration of many fans in a post-game interview exchange transcribed by Comcast Sports Network (CSN):

‘Rizzo couldn’t believe it – ‘Did we walk 10 times?’ – when a reporter mentioned another part of the box score. ‘That’s a formula that usually shoots out more than two runs.’

Indeed, Tony. Indeed. Rizzo continued his extended foray into understatement by concluding, ‘It’s not all peachy right now…We got urgency. We’re grinding. We got a lot of guys that grind and will continue to – no matter what. We’ll keep playing hard…that’s really all you can do.

Nothing seems to be working the way it should for the Cubs. The starting pitching rotation has struggled to bring down a combined 4.58 ERA. After high hopes and much praise for the unconventional genius of the move, Kyle Schwarber has done nothing in the leadoff hitting position, and has been haphazard at best in the field. Addison Russell remains a defensive phenom – with a bat as cold as ice.

And take our bullpen – please.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

Trump’s Away, But Congress Still Plays with America’s Future

When President Trump boarded a plane last week Friday for his first foreign mission (as with any discussion regarding the Trump administration, “mission” is a loose placeholder word for whatever it actually is this group executes), I breathed a sigh of relief. I’m certain there were others of the same mind. Moments of national embarrassment were bound to occur. Perhaps Trump would exhibit behavior more reckless for the safety of our union, inveterate loose cannon such as POTUS is. But it was kind of nice to have the house to ourselves for a moment. To take a deep breath and if not process all that’s happened since January 20 (who has that much time and money for therapy?), at least grab our collective bearings.

Because Trump just can’t help himself, the restorative breath did not last long. Some of the tour’s early coverage exposed the President’s oddly low brow, yet stubbornly persnickety, eating habits. Per Newsweek via Raw Story, “President Donald Trump eats like a 6-foot-plus, 240-pound petulant child—if that irritable youngster had the ability to push a button and make a lackey fetch a Coke.”

Other reports centered on Trump’s attention span and stamina challenges. And just what, in the what, in the WHAT was happening with that orb business in Saudi Arabia? It was the two-dimensional plot kickoff to an Austin Powers movie.

But while some of our attention drifted overseas in tandem with Trump’s reality show farce of a presidency, there’s still plenty going on stateside. Enough to remind a majority of voters that 45 is an ongoing danger to sanity and integrity wherever he roams, yes. At the same time he’s merely a product of the political culture from which he spawned. It took the Republican Party and its “base” four decades to bring us this week’s cynical two-ring mendacity circus. And President Trump was far away from the Big Top.

Let’s start with the proffered budget plan. Unveiled this week by Tea Party darling Mick Mulvaney, it doesn’t contain much to further candidate Trump’s populist agenda. Esquire’s Charles Pierce found it both wanting and sadly predictable:

“Make no mistake. This is not a ‘Trump budget.’ This is a Republican budget, a movement conservative budget, a product of the tinpot economic theory and the misbegotten Randian view of human nature towards which every serious Republican has pledged troth since the days of Reagan, a government-sanctioned fulfillment of all the wishes that Paul Ryan wished over the keg during the college experience that our contributions to Social Security helped buy him.”

Not only does the plan, as it were, savage funding for the arts, sciences, Medicaid and numerous human services – certainly nerve-wracking enough. But the actual numbers are an irrational output of magical thinking. Peter R. Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget during President Barack Obama’s first term, was quoted by the New York Times in response to a review of Mulvaney’s document. Words were not minced.

“It is not hard to write down a series of number on a paper and say: ‘Tada! I balanced the budget!’…That is a much different process than having a credible plan for how that could be achieved. And they have not done that.”

Americans are being served the same warmed-over, inequality-propelling trickle-down economics. A decades-old can of Spam we’re supposed to accept as fresh and nourishing. We watched this approach balloon our deficit in the 1980s and early 21st Century. Yet all the scolds and hawks of the Obama era seemed to have vanished. Funny, that.

This ideological pattern has little to do with Trump. He is merely a distracting, erratic vessel. It’s ok if he costs the Republican Party a generation of voters as long as Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan achieve upward redistribution of wealth and maintain a Republican SCOTUS majority. There’s no long-term thinking for these guys. Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em. We little folks are just so many generic cigarettes.

The other freak show in Washington this week is the House Intelligence Committee. I have to admit, I’m not even sure what the GOP is doing here. This investigation is not helping further American interests. It’s also not doing much for Trump and the Republican Party. A disgraced Devin Nunes skulking around the White House in March. And just yesterday, former CIA Director John Brennan pantsed Trey Gowdy. A lot of time and money wasted on a forgone conclusion that embarrasses everyone involved.

Donald Trump returns to the White House this coming Saturday. There’s hope for a somewhat slow news weekend as the man-child recovers from jet lag and a public rebuff from Melania. Enjoy another few moments before Hurricane 45 unleashes anew. But never take your eyes off Congress. There’s not much novelty there. Just more of the same bad policy and American Dream erosion.

F is for Feminism

Let’s get a a couple of facts out of the way:

1). I’m a feminist.

2). If you respect any of the women in your life, you should be one too.

Feminism, as defined by Merriam Webster is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” or “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” For the sake of this conversation, let’s use both variations as working content, rather than the ludicrous urban dictionary definition. I’m currently reading Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist and one of the core takeaways is that as long as you adhere to the basics of equality, feminism is flexible. No matter how you react a word however, the truth is there’s a lot less respect for women around the world than there should be in 2017, and a lot of this inequality flies right under our noses.

In a previous post, I mentioned that pregnancy is considered a pre-existing condition in the recent Congressionally-approved repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). However after she read my post, my mother pointed out I was playing softball. Her point: under some pre-Obamacare insurance plans, not just pregnancy, but RAPE could be classified as a pre-existing condition in some states.  If ACA is fully repealed, non-consensual sex could still be categorized as such, depending on providers and channels of coverage.

This health care onslaught against women comes at a time when we have definitions like Urban Dictionary’s crawling around the Internet (even as a “joke,” it’s highly offensive and disturbing). And there are many who treat the label “feminist” like a curse word, avoiding it altogether. What’s wrong with being an acknowledged pursuer of equal rights?

Answer: Nothing.

The “problem” is that asserting modern equality of any kind (see: Black Lives Matter) upsets the status quo and is viewed as a threat by the reproducers of ideology. Humans are capable of great change, but are too often resistant and intellectually lazy about the associated effort. But here’s the reality: women are treated unfairly. In the workplace, in interpersonal interactions, and by too many governments.

Most of you reading this are probably well aware of the gender climate. Apologies – the last thing anyone wants is another lecture from a white man. I know I’m writing from a position of privilege on complex set of issues that don’t subjugate me.  All the more reason to speak,  to push for an end to these injustices. My life has been enriched by strong women who overcame obstacles they shouldn’t have had to. As a society, we’re standing on yet another precipice of choice between advancement and regression. If I’m in a position to support and advocate, I will and I must.

The examples of regression are numerous.  Headlines display a barrage of egregious physical and political violations. Last week a ten year-old who was raped in India was granted (oh thank you justice system) permission to abort her abusive rapist’s child. This same district horrified the world in the case of a brutal gang rape, where the driver blamed the victim for “being out too late” and not what he considered a “decent girl.”

We don’t have to leave American shores to find other disgraceful examples of sexual violence that debase a women’s person-hood. Baylor University football players are accused of drugging and raping female students as a demented bonding ritual. This kind of depravity treats half a population like a commodity; a viewpoint enforced by governing bodies who attack women’s access to healthcare. Iowa just swapped out Medicaid money for state funds, which limits those funds’ usage at centers that provide essential care if they also offer abortions. Life and death decisions for women are founded on the opinions of those who can’t possibly empathize – mainly rich, white men. 

It’s almost a mistake to label the aforementioned examples “regressions.” The word ignores the history and constancy of gender inequality. Nothing here is new, but somehow it feels freshly discouraging.

Until a few months ago, a path to gender progress in American was visible. Hillary Clinton was primed to be the first female President of the United States of America. Despite constant hectoring (see this satiric compendium of everything she’s been called) voters seemed to be With Her. Instead, “Grab’em by the pussy” Donald Trump won the election, leading to the Women’s Marches as a direct response. For many the civil unrest offered hope that we haven’t lost our sanity altogether, that as a democratic nation we’ll resist all forms of tyranny. 

Maybe I’m guilty of romanticizing that moment, believing the day’s momentum would propel women forward. Easy access to healthcare, freedom from toxic slut-shaming, working side-by-side with men without the spectre of sexual harassment. But progress doesn’t move in bursts. Unfortunately it comes in fits and starts. Knowing this, let’s keep standing and protesting.

Objects in the Mirror

Lily Mojekwu (Luopu Workolo), Daniel Kyri (Shedrick Yarkpai) and Breon Arzell (Zaza Workolo)

In art, truth — the search for it, the lack of it and the emotional pain these activities impose — is a universal concern. What is human life if not the constant pursuit of trustworthy community and informational reliability? The struggle provides endless creative inspiration. Yet somehow, in 2017 America, “Objects in the Mirror,” the work of Chicago native Charles Smith, arrives on the Goodman Theatre stage that much more urgently.

As I write these words, our country is struggling through a nascent Constitutional crisis that has its roots in the mysterious relationship between the Trump administration and Vladimir Putin’s Russia. It could be months, even years before facts are laid bare and outcomes are decided. And while this catastrophe plays itself out on the world stage, works of art such as “Objects” remind us of an inescapable, universal truth. The reckoning always arrives. Always.

Playwright Charles Smith met a young, hungry actor in Adelaide, Australia in 2009. As press materials detail, Smith’s friendship with Shedrick Yarkpai grew, ultimately resulting in this story of the actor’s “valiant 10+ year (1995-2007) journey from war-torn Liberia through a number of refugee camps in Guinea and Cote D’Ivoire, before his final relocation” to the Land Down Under.

As played by Chicago actor Daniel Kyri, Shedrick is a conflicted survivor: loyal, earnest and brokenhearted over separation from his mother Luopu (the phenomenal Lily Mojekwu). He is determined to build a life of which he can be proud, despite years of human horror and Dark Side temptation.

Though it’s impossible to be certain of playwright Smith’s process, it’s hard to overlook the parallels between Liberia’s brutal warlord Charles Taylor and the current President of the United States. The foot soldiers and water carriers of both regimes are desperate and disillusioned. In Shedrick’s retelling of his personal and national history, any community and security is sometimes preferable to frightened, isolated starvation. The Trump administration has steered clear of indiscriminate murder to be sure, but it’s not hard to feel the country slipping down an increasingly deep and morally corrupt surface.

It’s a testament to Yarkpai’s story, Smith’s writing and Goodman Theatre resident director Chuck Smith (no relation) that “Objects” can feel so universal and personal, even as the action takes place “over there.” It also helps that every cast member is exquisitely talented and well chosen. In addition to powerful work from Kyri and the remarkable Mojekwu, Allen Gilmore as Uncle John Workolo is a revelation.

Workolo is the relentless center holding his tortured family together. His personal motto, repeated more than once during the play’s two-hour, 15-minute runtime, is that his kin and he survive or fall as one. He channels his considerable energies and focus into the noble pursuit of his family’s survival. He also seeks a life of which he can be proud — one in which a relationship with the truth is dictated by circumstances of the moment. Uncle John thinks on his feet, but his decisions are not always kind. Gilmore wrings every bit of emotionally-relatable nuance out of the material.

Ryan Kitley also turns in a good performance as Rob Mosher, an Australian lawyer who takes a personal interest in young Shedrick. The beauty of Kitley’s turn, the delicate artistry in fact of the entire cast, lies in uncertainty.

It’s possible to believe every player in Shedrick’s story means well without any confidence that anyone is telling the truth. Shedrick himself, while certainly sympathetic, demonstrates unreliability as a narrator. Does he make up drug experiences as a test of Mosher’s loyalty, as he tells Uncle John, or is his father figure the one being tried?

“Objects in the Mirror” is a gripping piece about the physical, metaphorical and spiritual challenges involved in living authentically. It deserves a wide audience.

“Objects in the Mirror” runs through June 4 at Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 312-443-3800 or visit the Goodman Theatre website.