Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Follies of Burning the American Flag to Protest the American Government

You are disenchanted. You are tired of a government whose police beat and shoot people in the street at the slightest provocation. You are tired of a government that taxes the Middle Class to the breaking point. You are tired of a government that allows itself to be bought by corporations and billionaires. So what do you do? How do you show your anger? What symbolizes the government? What governmental emblem or symbol you can take out your frustrations on? Well, the American flag of course. It makes perfect sense. It is the symbol of the government that has maltreated you. Sound thinking, right? There is a problem with this. Not everyone sees the American flag as symbolizing just the government.

You see many people see the American flag as not being the flag of the government of the United States of America, but as being a symbol of the people of the United States. So when you burn it you are not just attacking the government, but attacking the American people as a whole. That makes you a traitor in many people's eyes. It goes further than that. Many see the American flag as symbolizing a certain set of ideas espoused during the American Revolutionary War. They link it to ideas as justice, freedom, human rights, and such documents as the Declaration of Independence and the United States of America Constitution. It is in the original Pledge of Allegiance:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
 It does not say "I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the Government of the United States of America..." but "to the Flag of the United States of America" i.e. all of us that are American citizens, to all of us that are a part of this country. Further, it says "with liberty and justice  for all." So there in the very pledge it says the flag represents the people and stands for certain ideas. If the government no longer represents the people, or no longer represents the ideas that this country was founded on, then the government's flag is no longer the American flag. The American flag, I feel represents the American people, human rights, freedom, and justice.

So next time you decide to destroy a symbol of a government you see as repressing you, do not choose the American flag. Instead, loudly proclaim that the American flag does not represent tyrants, bigots, or oppressors. State that it is your symbol, and you plan to take it back from those whose ideas conflict with those the American flag represents. Find another symbol of the government to take your frustrations out on. Burn politicians in effigy, but I beg you do not desecrate the our flag, the flag of the American people.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Marriage Equality, Oaths to Uphold the Constitution, and Public Officials

I have been seeing a lot on the gay marriage issue or the marriage equality issue (whatever phrase you prefer). Most are speaking from a viewpoint of a) "Christian" values or b) gender equality. I plan to address neither. What I plan to address is the fact public officials made oaths to perform their duties.

Every public official in Missouri takes an oath to "support the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Missouri, and demean himself faithfully in office." This can be seen under Chapter 51 of the Missouri Revised Statutes. And like it or not The Supreme Court of the United States of America has deemed according to the Constitution that people of the same gender can marry each other. It does not matter what you or I think. All that matters is what the Supreme Court thinks the Constitution says. When county clerks refuse to issue marriage licenses to people of the same gender or county judges refuse to perform weddings they are not supporting the Constitution. Indeed, they are acting against it. As such they are breaking their oaths, and perhaps should be forced from office because of that.

The issue I find really scary is that such public officials are refusing to do their duties which under their oaths they must perform based on their own personal beliefs. This is very dangerous ground. If we allow public officials to violate their oaths based on religious beliefs then we open doors for all kinds of mischief. What happens If I am elected County Clerk, and decide I won't issue marriage licenses to Jews or Mormons because they do not believe as I do? What if I decide laws not allowing people of different races to marry from 100 years ago were right and just and refuse to issue any marriage license to any couple not of the same race? I would be booted out without a moment's notice, and for good cause. Like it or not the issue with people of the same gender marrying each other is no different. The Supreme Court has said they can marry. So every public official, at least in Missouri must abide by that fact and perform their duties thanks to the oath they gave. If they cannot do that due to their personal religious beliefs they should have never taken an oath to support the Constitution. Myself, I could care less who marries who. The only marriage I was ever concerned with was the one I was in.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Some Thoughts on Slavery, Racism, and the American Civil War

The American Civil War is a very complex issue especially for states like Missouri where sympathies were very much divided. Here in my part of Missouri (which is called LIttle Dixie by the way) many wealthy slave holders were Union men. Meanwhile, many that did not even own slaves fought for the Confederacy. The Confederate Bushwhacker "Bloody Bill" Anderson who grew up in my hometown never owned slaves, nor did his father, or his father's father. Meanwhile, wealthy slave holders like Benjamin Lewis of Glasgow, Missouri were Union men. He was beaten nearly to death by Anderson for that very reason. This was very, very common during the war. Wealthy slave holders often were pro-Union while those that owned no slaves served the Confederacy. This was largely due to the propaganda of the time. Wealthy slave holders in states like Missouri were under the impressionism they could keep their slaves after the war. Meanwhile, many felt the war was being fought for states rights, and that the Union Army were nothing more than Northern invaders. The North had similar issues. People there were often under the impression the war was being fought to "preserve the Union." It never occurred to many on both sides that the issue at heart was slavery. Even the issue of slavery is not as simple as it seems. For example, I often recommend people read the slave narrative "The New Man: Twenty-Nine Years a Slave, Twenty-Nine Years a Free Man" by Henry Clay Bruce. The picture of slavery its author paints is neither consistent with the Antebellum white literature, nor that of today, or even the Northern literature following the war. It paints a picture of good and bad inconsistent with white American literature of any era. It is in stark contrast with the Southern Antebellum literature about the "happy slave" and the Abolitionist literature about the cruelty of slavery. The issue for folks like Mr. Bruce pure and simple was freedom. Still, even with the simple idea of freedom being the main concern, post-war society was very complex. For example. what is surprising about what is talked about in this narrative is the author himself is guilty of prejudice against darker skinned African Americans, as well as what he calls "poor white trash." Mr. Bruce is sometimes more sympathetic to former slaver holders than he is his fellow African Americans and whites living in poverty. As much as racism was an issue in the South, classism was as well. I know this complex situation concerning slavery and race issues firsthand. My Great Grandfather Towles' three slaves begged not to leave him. The fear of being on their own with no money, and having to seek jobs terrified them. My great grandfather was sympathetic, but being a Middle Class farmer and carpenter he could not afford to pay them. He had fed and clothed them from goods produced on his farm, not profits from his business. And unlike the image of the racist former slave holder, he taught his children, "Never mistreat the colored people." This flies in the face of the PC view of the cruel slave master quick with the whip. My Great Grandfather Canote and one of his brothers fought for the Union. And while Southerners intermingled with freemen following the war. Two of my Great Uncles on my mothers side fought for the Confederacy. You even had Southern sympathizers drafted into the Union army. While the war may have been fought over slavery, the personal views of many then were often contradictory in the State of Missouri, or not what we would expect. One fact remains, the Southern States seceded over slavery. There was no other reason. Even the argument they seceded over states' rights holds no water as the "right" they were wanting to preserve was to own slaves. What bothers me most in all this though is the North seems ignorant of its own racism and prejudice. When desegregation of schools is brought up, it is always Little Rock that is mentioned first. They ignore the riots in Boston in the '70s over "busing" that were racially motivated. In fact the issue of desegregation in what is sometimes called the "most racist city in America" is almost never mentioned. The Boston desegregation race issues have been in my opinion swept under the rug. People also ignore the fact that the draft riots in New York City during the Civil War were in part racially motivated. During the riots blacks were attacked in the streets mostly by Irish immigrants upset that wealthy men could buy their way out of the draft. Even the treatment of the Irish and other immigrants in the North is a lesson in the prejudice of Northern Anglo-Americans. Lynchings were not unheard of in states like Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In some areas of the North African Americans were restricted to living in only certain neighborhoods. Racism to many only exists in the South though. However, it can be seen in the North as well. Meanwhile, there were areas in the South like mine where the KKK was driven out with guns and baseball bats. Yet it still flourishes in Northern States like Indiana where one sees the Confederate Battle Flag much more often. I will concede that racism was more prevalent in the South esp. in places like Mississippi and Georgia, but the North is not without its own sins in that area. The issues of the American Civil War, slavery, racism, general prejudice, even classism are in many ways as complex now as they have ever been. And I think instead of focusing on one part of the country we need to look at all of it. I often have to wonder if all this hoopla in the media over the Confederate Battle Flag is smoke and mirrors to take our minds over the treatment of blacks by the police in places like New York City and Chicago. One thing is clear though, things must change.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Advocating Social Programs Does Not A Socialist Make

A political discussion today made me think about how folks associate social programs with socialism. The truth is the United States of America has been a bit socialist in a technical sense since the beginning. The government has always taken care of and owned the public roads, the military, public buildings such as courthouses and capitol buildings, public schools, owned and maintained land.

Republican President Abraham Lincoln said, "The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves in their separate and individual capacities."

This is the basis for social programs. People cannot individually maintain the roads or have a military. Several European countries like the United Kingdom take this a step further. They feel people individually cannot take care of the poor and ensure all have decent medical care. These are social programs, not socialism in the strictest sense. Socialism as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is "a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies."

At no time have many of those accused of being socialist in the United States of America today advocated that the government take control of the major industries other than the medical industry, And to be honest the medical industry should not in my opinion be an profit driven one. Everyone in my opinion should have a right to descent, affordable medical care. It is clear our current ways of ensuring the good health of the people of the United States is a failure. People cannot afford to buy drugs, go to the doctor, get adequate treatment. It is clear that the people cannot run a medical industry "well." It is therefore something, going by Lincoln's quote something the government should "do for a community of people." It along with maintaining the roads and the military would be the closest we come to socialism. Few I think we advocate we eliminate the military and maintenance of public roads on the grounds they are socialist.

 However, much of what folks refer to as socialism in the USA is not. Social Security can be thought of as a social program as can welfare, and many other services provided by the government as they do not impinge on any major industries, or did not at the time of their creation. Even where a major industry arose to take the place of social programs like Social Security it is clear in my opinion the government does it better. One can hardly go a week without reading about lost corporate pensions due to bankruptcy, embezzlement, or other financial disaster. While many politicians argue that Social Security is broke, it is not. Politicians have borrowed from it to pay for other things and were that debt repaid, the system would be totally solvent. My whole point is that a socialist program is one that takes over what a major industry handles, and can do well. A social program is one that either a major industry does not handle, or cannot do well. We do not expect private corporations to supply us with soldiers, road maintenance crews, or rent buildings to the government for courthouses and state houses. Those things are handled by the government for the public good. Much of what is being called socialist, other than "socialized medicine" are indeed social programs.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

How Things Do Not Change: The Antebellum South and Present Day America

With the recent shooting in Charleston that was racially motivated, and the hatred for the fact that the Confederate flag still flies over the North Carolina state house I have seen a hatred of the South arise. A lot of folks feel that while only 1% of Southerners owned slaves in the Antebellum South, that the other 99% could have done something about it. They feel the 99% were guilty of complacency. They therefore feel that the Old South is something to be hated and reviled and that everything the South produced was somehow connected to slavery. The sad fact is the 99% that did not own slaves probably could not do anything to stop slavery, other than do things that we today are not willing to do. Those against slavery or who simply tolerated it simply did not have the money or political power to ban slavery, or felt they did not. In addition, they were encouraged by those in power and those in control of the media to think slavery was a necessary evil.

Think of it in today's terms and you will see what I mean. The Waltons, a member of today's 1% pay their workers such low wages that many of the workers have to go on welfare. Does that mean, that I, a member of today's 99% am to blame for that? No, as I am powerless to change it. Were I to run for office on a platform of raising wages I would lose no matter how popular my position may be simply because I do not have the wealth or political influence to do so. And while racism may have been common in the Antebellum South, hatred of the poor is pervasive in our society today. Why? Because the folks of the Antebellum South were told the slaves were subhuman, lazy, and without white masters would accomplish little. Similarly we are told today that the poor are lazy and always looking for a handout, content to live on the government dole.  Hating the poor is the racism of our age. Does the fact that many in the 99% hate the poor that I as a part of the 99% do also? No, I do not, I advocate for the poor. I am no different than the Southern Abolitionists of the pre-Civil War South who made a lot of noise, but could not change the system without outside help. The Antebellum South bore a striking resemblance to the United States of today. The politicians and businessmen guilty of keeping a system hurtful to the people were kept in power because the folk were told to hate a certain class of people, and that the system in place was a necessary evil which is what is happening to the people of the United States today. Those that do believe the poor are lazy and willing to stay on welfare have been manipulated to believe so by those in power and who control the media. In addition, like the Antebellum Southerns concerning slavery, we are told that low wages are a necessary evil, that wages must be kept low to keep prices of goods low.

How then are we to hate all things connected to the Old South when we as a people are guilty of the same sort of transgressions? If we are to do so, should we not also hate everything of our culture since we are guilty of the same type of transgressions? Further, hating the Old South and present day Southerners s is in and of its self a form of prejudice. To class a whole group of people, in this case the 99% that did not own slaves of the pre-Civil War South in a period when things were much different, who were unable to change the status quo is no different than creating a stereotype of Jews, Blacks, and other minorities. You are creating a stereotype of Southerners as ALL being a group of racists. It is in its own way a sort of bigotry. The fact is the 99% who did not own slaves in the Antebellum South were powerless to change the situation, were told the system was beneficial, while others like Sarah Moore Grimk√©, Moncure Conway, Jasper Collins, and their followers were even Abolitionists. There were reasons Southerners tolerated slavery, just as there were reasons many in the North of the time tolerated the Industrialists and their below the living wage. We do the same thing with allowing the Waltons and Koch brothers to do what they do. We are guilty of sins not much different than those of Antebellum Southern society.

To attempt a change in any society requires wealth and political power, and may mean putting our own livelihood at stake. It is true most Antebellum Southerners were probably racists, but so were many, many in the North. Many in both the North and South still are. Racism is by no means merely a Southern thing. There are good reasons Boston is sometimes called the most racist city. It is true they allowed the institution of slavery to exist. But is this no different than the myriad things that we allow to exist that benefit only a few, and hurt many. I mean we live in a nation that has gone through three wars just to make war profiteers wealthier, that keeps wages low so we do not have to pay ten cents more an item at the checkout line, who think a class of people are lazy. So who are we to judge the 99% of people that did not own slaves of the Antebellum South?

We allow a hurtful system to remain in power just as the 99% of the Antebellum South did. We keep voting into power men that support a system that hurts many, We still do business with businessmen that want to maintain the status quo. We like the pre-Civil War 99% are led to believe a group of people are lazy, We are guilty of the same sort of complacency they were. In closing, it is okay to hate the Confederacy, it is okay to hate slavery, but it is not okay to hate the South and all things Southern because of those things. There are many things the South produced worth preserving that had nothing to do with slavery such as the Virginia Declaration of Rights which the Bill of Rights were based in part on. There are the writings of the Southern Abolitionists such as Sarah Moore Grimké, Moncure Conway, and Jasper Collins. Not to mention Southern cuisine. If we are to discard everything connected to Southern culture simply because we feel the 99% were complacent then we are hypocrites of a great degree. They allowed a system to stay in place that was wrong just as we do.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Sometimes a Shooter is Just Insane.

With the recent shooting that took place in the historic Emanuel AME Church the issues of race and guns have come up again. Each time a mass shooting comes up, there is a discussion on pertinent topics such as these as there should be. And each time someone speaks up to try to further their own agenda. No one is denying that Dylann Roof acted out of sheer bigotry, that racial hatred was his motivation.That is clear. And no one that I know of is blaming it on mental illness, and I have read dozens of news articles and op ed pieces. The issues that everyone brings up seem centered on is racism, and the ease with which guns can be obtained. For once, the media seems to be focusing on the things it should.

Yet, you have people like Arthur Chu (in his piece It’s not about mental illness: The big lie that always follows mass shootings by white males) who seem to think the issue of mental illness will come up to whitewash what Roof did. In his piece Chu maintains that these mass shooters have some agenda, and that mental illness is not to blame. And the ironic thing is that despite the title of his piece which would make one think the mental illness "excuse" is only used of white shooters, he brings up Seung-Hui Cho, the South Korean who shot up Virginia Tech and is probably the textbook case for mental illness and mass shootings. To Chu the real reason for such shootings is either “toxic masculinity,” “white supremacy,” “misogyny” or “racism.” Hmmm, so this is why most mass shootings seem to consist of members of different races and both genders?

Further, Chu seems to think that blaming the mental illness of a shooter is somehow doing the mentally ill a disservice. He feels if we blame mental illnesses that the mentally ill will be forced to seek treatment, to take medications, face being institutionalized, and be further stigmatized. At this point, before I go further, let me say here I have Bipolar II. I therefore have a mental illness. I take medication to control my illness. I have been stable many, many years, but there was a time when i was out of control. And I can tell you blaming what shooters like Seung-Hui Cho or  James Eagan Holmes on mental illness is doing no disservice to those that have a mental illness. While it may add to the stigma of having a mental illness, it more importantly raises the question of just how those with mental illnesses are treated here in America?

Those with mental illnesses are largely expected to function as if they did not have a mental illness in America. That is they are expected to take medication that makes them "normal," to hold down jobs, and go about as if things were hunky-dory, If they do not seek treatment for their illness they are somehow to blame. Chu in his piece does not address this. Instead he whines about how unfair blaming mental illnesses for mass shootings is, and maintaining that using the mentally ill "excuse" is somehow covering up social problems like racism or gun control. What Chu does not realize is that not taking care of those with mental illnesses is a social problem.

Were I today suddenly be unable to afford my medication and had a mental breakdown as a result of not taking it I would no doubt wind up in a hospital. And like most people with mental illnesses I would be released as soon as the hospital thought me stable. I would then again have another breakdown because I still could not afford my medication, and the cycle would go on and on until I died on the streets, killed myself, or killed somebody else. Why? Because America's medical industry is made to make a profit. It often costs much, much less to manufacture a psychotropic medication than what is generally charged at the pharmacy. This is because many older medications like Risperidal and Lamictal have long ago recouped what it cost to do the research to get them approved  by the FDA. The generic versions are not even sold by the companies that did the research and therefore have no research costs to get back. Yet such practices are acceptable because it is more important in America for a pharmaceutical company to make a profit than for your average lower middle class person without insurance is to be healthy.

This is not true in most European countries. Because of socialized medicine exorbitant prices are not passed on to the consumer. Those with mental illnesses get the treatment they need. They are not just left to suffer like they are in America simply because they cannot afford treatment. You know what is also not true in most all European countries? The statement that Europe has more mass shootings than we do in the USA. The USA has had more mass shootings in the past three years than all the European Union during the same time. And I seriously doubt this is due to gun control. If there has been one thing that has been proven in places like Chicago is that shooters will get guns whether guns are heavily regulated or not. That makes how the mentally ill are treated the other primary reason Europe and much of the civilized world do not have mass shootings very often.

What Mister Chu is missing is that some of  the mentally ill not getting treatment may be leading to some mass shootings. True, in this latest mass shooting that is probably not the case. Roof acted out of sheer racial hatred, and many mass killers do. There are many reasons for mass shootings ranging from racism, political agendas, to religious leanings, but in the cases of Seung-hui Cho, James Holmes, and Adam Lanza untreated mental illnesses may have been to blame.  We cannot rule out that possibility simply because it is convenient or because it may rob some folks of their rights. True, what Chu says in his piece about the possibility of the mentally ill being forced into treatment may become a possibility. But I can tell you had I been forced into treatment when I was younger I would have been very happy with the stability that was the result. If we ignore the role mental illnesses play in some mass killings we will be setting ourselves up for more. And that makes those that are mentally ill not getting treatment a societal problem, and not just a private one.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Rachel Dolezal: The Pretty White Blonde Girl

Look carefully at that face, What do you see? If you are like many you see a pretty, happy, blonde girl. Imagine the kind of privileges she must have enjoyed. Do you think she ever suffered any prejudice, bigotry, or social injustice? When she was pulled over by the cops for a minor traffic violation do you think she was harassed, questioned, or detained? I suspect she enjoyed privileges that even I as a white American male with a few Native American ancestors did not enjoy. 

Now imagine that she had the gall to suggest she suffered persecution, prejudice, bigotry, and social injustice as a black woman. This is Rachel Dolezal as a child, the woman who posed as a black woman for nine years and she is President of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. And while she may indeed suffered bigotry in the time she pretended and passed herself off as an African American or someone of mixed descent, she grew up with a background of privilege. And it must be pointed out, that at any time she could have escaped any abuse she suffered pretending to be a black woman by simply reverting to being white, and that is something people of color cannot do. 

That is all that may be considered in her case. There should be no questions as to whether one can choose to be another race. No consideration can be made as to whether such a thing as #wrongskin or #transracial exist. She should not be able to rest on what she has done to bring minority issues to light. All that should be considered in my opinion is that she came from a background of privilege. How then can she ever think she could identify with black women or ever imagine what a black person has gone through from birth? I know I cannot. I would not even want to pretend to. 

She was a very pretty, blonde, white girl, and no doubt benefited from that fact in a way that no dark skinned woman ever has, perhaps never will. Boys probably saw her as a desirable mate. She could no doubt go out without worrying about being assaulted by the police for a minor transgression. She probably never had racial slurs yelled at her from across the street. This is the Rachel Dolezal people need to see, the pretty, blonde, white girl. A girl with privileges that not even many other white people had. She even had the privilege of choosing to be black, of changing her race, a privilege no black person will ever have due to the color of their skin.