Accountability: Who’s in Charge?

It’s been a rough time for Texas as the state starts to recover from Hurricane Harvey. But while we’ve been (rightly) focused there, the rest of the world continues to turn – in ways comforting and threatening.

Recent news has been dominated by by a lack of accountability, locally and internationally.

I’m looking at you, North Korea, with your hydrogen bomb. Tests being conducted register on the Richter scale (at magnitudes of 6.3 and 4.1), and are also missile-compatible and mass-production ready. The United States responded with a flyover that an obviously irked Vladimir Putin described as a “rash act,” while his officials deal with a U.S. investigation of one of its three diplomatic locations.

These events put three hot-heads – Kim Jong-un, President Trump and Putin – with nuclear capabilities further at odds. And there are plenty of lingering, unresolved issues that continue to chafe; specifically the hacking of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election by Russia.

Looking closer and more inward, the lack of accountability trend continues with the recent treatment of nurse Alex Wubbels by Officer Jeff Payne, and a video of another cop, Greg Abbott “reassuring” a motorist that cops “only kill black people.” Two more members of law enforcement who clearly forgot that a mission to “To protect and serve” applies to EVERYONE. 

What are the repercussions for these officers? The lack of action by both departments is not encouraging. Payne is on full administrative leave, which means that pay AND benefits are still intact, despite clear documentation of unwarranted hostility. Similarly, Abbott found a loophole that allows him to retire. Retirement means benefits remain, circumventing the firing process.

Contrary to Trump’s (need I say uneducated and misguided?) opinion, police brutality of physical, cultural and social forms is unacceptable. Under normal circumstances, that message would come from the top. Instead we get a pardon of trash human Joe Arpaio, under the cover of Hurricane Harvey news coverage.

The lack of accountability and acceptable response to developments that threaten our civilization is dire. There’s advanced politics behind world powers going unchecked, but also it seems, behind community dysfunction.  The spotlight has been on brutal and unethical police actions for years, but where is the transparency? Where is the justice?

We need answers from someone besides Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump, who clearly favor a more lawless form of law and order – especially for people of color.

Next week, I’ll briefly follow up on these stories, and touch on Trump’s ending of DACA. I’ll also look at the recuperation progress in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the incoming Hurricane Irma.

United States of Emergency: Beyond Charlottesville

This past weekend offered a horrifying example of growing boldness empowering the hateful in America. The rally to “Unite the Right” under the alt-right banner culminated in the death of a counter protester run down by a white supremacist. Two local policeman helping to subdue the unrest were also killed in a helicopter incident.

The rally’s stated purpose was to protest the removal of a General Robert. E Lee Confederacy statue. The protest was organized by card-carrying bigot Richard Spencer, among others. Spencer played a key role in coining the term “alt-right” and has done much work to mainstream the divisive, radical ideology.

Ensuing discussions around who’s to blame for last weekend’s tragedy are moot and counter-productive. Ownership is clear. Richard Spencer, David Duke and their neo-Nazi thugs, including James Fields (the second-degree murder charge facing piece of garbage who mowed Heather Heyer) are directly responsible for the mayhem. Their words and actions incited hatred and violence that led to Saturday’s events. As political tensions blow up like powder kegs on issues such as Russia’s totalitarian actions, and the loose cannon of North Korea, it’s time for our country’s leaders to take strong, immutable positions against hate speech and violence.

To to white supremacists/nationalists/Neo-nazis trying to “take the country back,” a word of caution: nationalism is NOT patriotism. Members of “Unite to Right” are focused, not dissimilarly from their “spiritual” leader, President Trump, on entitled demanding and punishment, lacking any positive agenda to create a better, more productive America for anyone (including themselves).

There’s a severe disconnect between Spencer’s band of terrorists, who claim to feel disenfranchised, and the basic principles of inclusion. Gaining access and acceptance does not need to come at the expense of other groups. Equality and inclusion are not limited resources. The xenophobia I examined last week is boiling over, courtesy of a President that refuses to condemn the hate-filled intolerance of his core constituents. In fact, last weekend’s verbal response from The Donald adopted a “many sides” position that managed to affirm the white supremacists while casting vague blame on counter protesters. This is sickening.

You know Trump failed at bringing the country together beyond expectation when other conservatives trip over themselves to call out and condemn acts of domestic terrorism for what they are. The list includes Cory Gardner, Marco Rubio, Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Jeff Flake, and Tim Scott. Only open, vocal condemnation of white supremacists and their supporters will tell the Neo-Nazis they are not welcome here. The rhetoric of Republican leaders outside the White House is promising.

We need more than words, however. We need action. While freedom of speech is a foundational right, the border stop at inciting violent hate. Our leaders must condemn hatred and adopt all measures to protect diversity. Useless statements that allow white nationalists to misinterpret their advantage and gain momentum are the enemy.

If it’s time to “Make America Great Again,” we can’t equivocate. The alt-right is just plain wrong – and dangerous. 

America is in a state of emergency. We cannot doubt it. It’s 2017 and Nazis are terrorizing our country. Our collective response will make history – because either we stood together to expel hate, or because we failed our Constitutional commitment to each other.

America: You Must be This Tall to Ride?

Recently, we saw the introduction of some truly terrifying measures from the current White House administration. They include a bill that would halve the annual number of immigrants allowed into the United States. We’re also seeing Affirmative Action challenges in higher education: indicators of increasingly vocal levels of xenophobia. And over the weekend, the private sector joined the “fun” with a published manifesto from a Google employee advocating for less diversity, based upon debunked notions of gender inequality.

All of this points to an undeniable and disturbing trend. The administration – and more than a small number of (male) business leaders – want to directly control who has the ability to succeed. They’re also challenging what it means to be an American. Authoritarianism and “othering” were behind proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act, which were recently rejected. Similar shades of over-reach have been witnessed in continued attacks on women’s health. The fear and subjugation of the “other” is also found in an onslaught against trans civilians and individuals in the armed forces.

The rules for “who belongs” in America, set by predominantly white men is beyond unacceptable. While CNN’s Jim Acosta could have made his point without throwing shade at other country’s English-speaking capabilities, his larger argument was solid. By limiting who can enter, and further reducing the definition of free citizenry, we stray from the empowering words of “The New Colossus” engraved at the base of Lady Liberty.

Fortunately, while blinding, dominant, white male ideology is working to limit the diversity that actually makes America great, individual movements are mobilizing to combat the ignorance.

For our trans brothers and sisters, Bandcamp hosted a fundraiser this past weekend to benefit the Transgender Law Center. This comes on the heels of Lambda Legal preparing recourse should the tweet storm come to actual military disenfranchisement. Perhaps even more significantly, even if we’d prefer to raise attention another way, the Kardashian Clan’s outrage toward Caitlyn Jenner’s “Make America Great Again” cap is creating conversation on social media.

As far as immigration, the statistics prove that increasing or reducing the number of entrants to the country has little to no impact on jobs available to U.S. citizens. In fact in industries staffed with majority immigrant labor, the economy is bolstered rather than injured. This verifiable truth highlights the hypocrisy and cynicism of the Trump administration.

If we’ve reached a place where we’ll stop efforts at educational equity, accept immigrants on a points system, restrict basic healthcare, and deny rights based on selfish and irrational interpretations of gender, it’s time to tear down the Statue and mail her back to France in boxes.

Nobody likes packing. Let’s leave the Lady, and American diversity, standing stronger, rather than torn apart in pieces.

America’s Red Herrings

Do you know the term “red herring?”

Dictionary.com defines it as “something intended to divert attention from the real problem or matter at hand; a misleading clue.”  The concept, removed from argument context, should be familiar; we’ve been exposed to it every news cycle since the 2016 election process began, though examples can be found throughout history.

But back to 2016 and our present. It was an efficient distraction to say “look at her emails.” It may now be worth it to the President to sacrifice a son to media frenzy in order to make darker moves behind the scenes. The red herring has to receive notice, it must be given attention to be effective.

That process is made easier with reduced access to information. The media and public are ready to pounce on any morsel delivered by POTUS via Twitter, even when the tweets don’t make any sense. That’s what happens when he controls the message. From the ranks of dubiously moral Mad Men character Don Draper: “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” That’s exactly what we’re witnessing. The conversation keeps changing. “Alternative facts”  have ascended. The term is part of popular vernacular and explains why Kellyanne Conway still has a job despite never saying anything relevant.

This shift is worrying, but dig a little deeper below the surface distraction. The big, bold red herring headlines aren’t always what’s important to the American people, the stuff of daily life. What does impact us? The little things hiding behind Don Jr. ‘s turn at e-mail scandal, or what’s been swept under the rug of America’s consciousness:

These examples brings me back to the point: the surface craziness of Team Trump serves as distraction from the larger agenda. It’s the flash that hides the impact, allowing the Trump administration to dominate news cycles with loud, hollow clamor. Meanwhile, the shady bits are happening outside the average citizen’s social media or news feed. It’s not just POTUS engaging in this charade. Congress is complicit as well,  as with 2016’s non-appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. In 2017, it’s secretive discussions on healthcare reform that are meant to strong-arm support while introducing massive, decimating reforms under a arbitrary deadline.

This kind of flimflam is completely unacceptable, particularly from men and women elected to  lead America through an increasingly complicated 21st Century. This is not the America we were promised, and local elections are beginning to show impact from concerned citizens awake to the con. Long declared party loyalties are disintegrating – with good reason.

As easy as it is to place blame on a distant and cynical Washington D.C. for the easy circulation of red herring news, we are equally culpable.  We must overcome all-too pervasive apathy toward staying informed and engaged. We don’t have the luxury of avoiding tough challenges that can depress the mood. The health of our nation is like work, oxygen, love – we need it.

Staying informed is a responsibility bestowed upon us by privilege-turned-rights of the First Amendment. Cutting through the din is unpleasant, but sticking your fingers in your ears is much more dangerous.

 

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.