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Friday, June 16, 2017

Verdict in Philando Castile slaying presents more heartache, cynicism and anger

Mid-week, America approved a $100 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia, home to most of the 9/11 hijackers who visited the worst terrorist horror on our country in its history. During his recent state visit there, the current president assured Arabian leaders that the United States would no longer seek to impose our values on them, trifle matters like improving human rights records.

Instead, the new policy would focus on making deals and boosting “partnership.”

By Friday, this administration rescinded moves by President Obama to help normalize relations with Cuba. Citing “infringement on freedoms,” the current president attacked both Obama’s leadership and that of Cuba, and asserted that American values would reign again. 

Because America values human life and human rights. Except when black people enter the picture.

Philando Castile's life mattered.
Courtesy: Facebook

You see, later the same day, a Minnesota jury acquitted Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez, the man who shot and killed Philando Castile in his own car last August. He was killed right beside his girlfriend as his 4-year-old daughter watched from the backseat, terrified.

Yanez wasn’t even being tried on murder charges; he faced manslaughter and endangering innocents.

He was cleared of it all.

By now, the shock and anger shouldn’t arise, right? Castile was only a black man, and our history shows black humanity remains a point of question, particularly when there’s an interaction with law enforcement. And it’s certainly difficult to see any justice arising in this verdict.

Licensed with a concealed carry permit, Castile had the temerity to tell Yanez that and he had a gun. Because not to tell the officer would, you know, be irresponsible. It’d cause him to risk posing an undisclosed threat and possible grounds to get shot.

So of course, Castile was shot anyway. While  trying to put up his hands. Demonstrating he posed no threat.

Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, had the presence of mind to jump onto Facebook to live stream what unfolded after he was shot. All the while, she worked to comfort their daughter, who watched a man armed by the state shoot into their car and kill her father for no apparent reason. She wanted to document an atrocity she saw happening.

Meanwhile, Yanez seemed to take his time in calling for help. Castile, the elementary school food service worker beloved by children, co-workers and family alike, bled out.

If you were waiting for the ever-boisterous NRA to file an amicus brief or even denounce this killing, you’re clearly still waiting – as are some of its members. The Minnesota jury didn’t focus on Castile’s standing under the Second Amendment, either.

Instead, jurors chose to fixate on the fact that Castile had smoked marijuana that night, the rationale Yanez gave for declaring his actions justified. The fact that white people with guns approach  police AND return home unharmed mattered not here.

Yanez wasn’t too moved by Castile’s humanity in the moment, nor the lifelong scars he’d inflict on Reynolds or her pre-school daughter. But in court, he was moved to tears as he described the incident, and made sure to demonstrate the sentiment so often cited by police officers questioned for killing black people – fearing for his life.

Because whenever a police officer in this country encounters a black person – male or female – there seems to be instantaneous fear, and quite often, acquittals, no matter the circumstances or even video caught by body cams or bystanders. 

Because juries empathize with them, that these officers feared for their lives.

There’s seldom such empathy for those who are terrorized by experiencing or hearing about such events, time and again. That’s despite the fact that America proclaims itself completely and totally vested in preserving human rights. 

Americans shake their heads when they read stories about destruction-bent suicide jihadists who want to inflict pain on others. So many fail to imagine a rage that would drive someone to such a desperate and despicable act.

Living as a black person in America could give you a glimpse into that level of despair. Guess that’s why our sense of patriotism often feels tenuous, especially when any passion we have for our nation of birth seems unrequited, at best. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Terror unfolds in Virginia, upon Congress

The pop of a gun is an all-too-frequent sound in America's cities, of all sizes, especially when the weather warms. But lawmakers and their staff had no expectation that such a sound would ring in their ears not too long after daybreak on a baseball diamond in a tony part of Alexandria, Va.

But such a horror did visit upon U.S. representatives, senators and staffers, largely Republicans -- some of them longtime proponents of gun ownership under almost any circumstance. Democratic colleagues, also practicing on another field for the annual charity baseball showdown, grasped each other in prayer after getting the word.

Congress shut down for the day.

Today, people in the heart of power experienced the trauma that many children and young people witness and too often experience: an unexplained madman with a powerful weapon bent on delivering destruction and shattering any sense of security.

No matter their politics or bluster, public or private, the victims today did not deserve this experience. Their families did not deserve the uncertainty, the sheer terror and teeming tears after receiving news that gunfire erupted and their loved ones may not make it home. Their zip codes, income level or acquaintances should not make them, or anyone, targets.

Yet, so many unwittingly fall into such crosshairs. Now more members of the U.S. Congress intimately understand that, ferociously.

James T. Hodgkinson, an apparently embittered 66-year-old Illinois man, chose to take up residence in Alexandria, seemingly to use his guns to make an example of lawmakers he deemed as having sold out his American Dream for the highest bidder.

Hodgkinson was not a person of color. He was not Muslim. He was not an immigrant. He was not young. He was not any of the things Americans have been whipped to fear and hate in recent years.

Instead, he was economically hurting and desperate. He was a Bernie Sanders for President supporter, thinking his radial change would be the only thing that would save the nation. And what Hodgkinson saw happening under the current administration incensed and scared him. Enough so he traveled to Virginia, lived out of a gym bag for months, plotted revenge and chose to die in the process of exacting it.

His actions are not unlike the narratives we hear about suicidal jihadists. It would be equally crazy to simply dismiss this most recent incident as a mere aberration. It's time to look more deeply.
Fellow lawmakers say a prayer for the fallen in Alexandria, Va.

We could all stand to abandon left-wing/right-wing castigation for actual conversation with others of opposing views. There is no honor among those who have jumped on social media to praise today's action as some sort of worthy comeuppance. There should be no delight in seeing this perpetrator as "evidence" against a set of beliefs. What should be unquestioned is that a searing tragedy occurred, and stands to reoccur without putting serious thought into what created the conditions for such a violent outburst.

Perhaps our lawmakers will hold onto that more closely moving forward, as they deliberate legislation and policies that impact our lives. Rather than assuming "us-vs.-them" stances, settling for win-at-all-costs gamesmanship, pray they will reflect on and remember their feelings at this moment.

U.S. Capitol Police Officers David Bailey and Crystal Griner took bullets as they battled Hodgkinson on that baseball field, likely saving countless others.

Mike Mika, a Tyson Foods lobbyist, suffered extraordinary bullet wounds to his chest and lungs.

Zach Barth, who staffs U.S. Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas), was struck.

U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise remained in critical condition Wednesday afternoon.

The nation is appalled by this latest public expression of violence, though we've been here too many times, as witnesses and survivors from almost every corner of the country can attest.

Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords knows this pain, as does her husband, Capt. Mark Kelly.

So do the members of Mothers in Charge, an organization of bereaved parents who lost children to gun violence.

And do the parents of Sandy Hook, Conn., who continue to grieve their babies, nearly five years after a murderer stormed in and slaughtered 6- and 7-year-olds and their teachers.

Across this nation, there are a scores of families of every shape, make and color who have been impacted by gun violence, who are still hurting, still working through the trauma.

Maybe today will begin a new era of compassion for them, for the circumstances that led to their pain. Maybe then, we can actually move toward real healing. As one nation, under God. .

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sweet irony, presented by Wal-Mart and the U.S. Congress

Wal-Mart recently unveiled both a solution and a problem wrapped in one neatly bio-engineered package: the Sweet Spark cantaloupe. This latest produce entry symbolizes so much of what is perilous for those without means or say in this nation today.
Even by the company’s admission, historically, winter cantaloupe in its U.S. stores tastes terrible. Perhaps it never struck anyone that may be because it's winter cantaloupe. Cantaloupes here are summer fruit, as nature intended it. Generally speaking, anything grown outside its designated season will taste terrible. Wal-Mart had other ideas.

As the world’s largest retailer – and sizable grocery chain, too – it has proudly produced a franken-fruit that is up to 40 percent sweeter than its previous cantaloupe varieties. Even Amazon Fresh hasn’t stretched that far, yet.

While U.S. society is promoting greater consumption of fruits and vegetables to help ward off ailments such as type 2 diabetes, Wal-Mart introduces a “natural” product that may help spike such diagnoses. Normal cantaloupe already outpaces other melons in sugar content; with this new confection, the unwitting could face some serious issues. Fruit as a gateway drug.

Maybe that’s a built-in incentive. Wal-Mart may yet catapult past Walgreens and CVS to finally become the nation’s biggest pharmacy chain, too.  After all, diabetes drug and treatment sales are soaring.

A disproportionate share of those with the disease are working class people struggling to make it. Coincidentally, so is Wal-Mart’s clientele. Funny how that works out.

But those shoppers  likely will be joined by a new ones soon, courtesy of a GOP-dominated Congress that continues to look at how to trample the protections of the Affordable Care Act. Particularly troubling is their tinkering with provisions that may force people with pre-existing conditions to pay even more for healthcare. While the current U.S. president is trying to duck the atrocity produced by the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate is speeding ahead with the American Health Care Act.  That’s even as many senators, Republicans included, don’t know what’s in the bill or how much it will cost. New legislation regulating costs for pre-existing conditions and more could pass before the summer recess.

Conservatives contend the hoo-ha about pre-existing conditions is overblown, that only a “fraction of a fraction” of the population will be impacted. The Kaiser Family Foundation tallies say it’s more like 1 in 4 Americans who bear that designation, as defined in the pre-ACA/Obamacare days. But let’s not quibble over mere numbers or lives.

With jacked up insurance rates on the horizon, people with acne or arthritis, fibromyalgia or female body parts, or any of a host of other “pre-existing conditions” soon may be swapping runs to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s for those to Wal-Mart.

And since their health status already would have wrecked their insurance rates, picking up some type 2 diabetes-encouraging fruit while browsing beneath that big yellow smiley face could just add to the joy. 

Would you like that in paper or plastic, ma’am?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Trump climate rejection condemns America, poor, to post-apocalyptic future

The slavish submission to Luddite-like actions of the current occupant of the White House are more than disconcerting as we head toward a certain global isolation, now having shunned the Paris Climate Accord.

He’s been blathering and blurting about “Making America Great Again,” that he’s standing by his voters and means well by this country, in an “I did-it-for-the-kids” fashion.

By “kids,” in this instance, we’d be referring to those still clinging to the faltering notion that coal-based industries will come roaring back thanks to the current American president basically screaming “Screw you!” to leaders throughout the world, from CEOs to European presidents and prime ministers to environmental advocates to American governors and mayors.  

Those “kids” would be Trump voters desperate in the notion that no one cares about their concerns as a fading worker fighting to retain a place and dignity amid an industry that suffered massive disruption, faces certain change and is rapidly winding down. Their concerns are legitimate and deserve real answers, not faux policy, particularly in light of the fact that natural gas, more so than liberal-loved windmills, is on deck to replace coal permanently.

Shirking a comprehensive and elegant solution such as meaningful job retraining, where innovative pilots like shifting miners to computer coders are proving successful, this POTUS opts for antics. We get proclamations about job loss across sectors and he dragged out his decision for days, though nearly everyone knew this would be his big play, despite the cajoling and convincing campaign of movers and shakers worldwide. Perhaps another ratings ploy.

It’s even more disheartening that this man who claims to so love his family has no compunction about sentencing his grandchildren – hell, his own young son, Barron – to a world of diminished health, increased disease and amplified human misery. That’s what you get when you have rising sea waters, pollution-choked skies and disappearing ocean life. We’re already witnessing increasing climate refugees as nation-states are slowly being consumed by water. American ones are following, as are cities facing mounting costs to combat the tides that cometh. New Orleans? Miami? New York? Anyone?

With all the conspiracy chatter in the air, it’d be easy to lump this move into another instance of alleged collusion by this president with Russian leaders and their anti-environmentalism stances. After all, Russia loves big pipelines with all the power and dollars they deliver. But even the Kremlin got aboard the Progress Train from Paris. Not our current POTUS, though.

The man who screams about America’s leadership in the world chose to turn tail and join the ranks of such visionary thinkers as Syria and Nicaragua – the only other two nations that snubbed the accords. Even kooky and calamitous Kim Jung-Un signed up North Korea for the landmark global pact for humanity.

Accord signatories recognize “the need for an effective and progressive response to the urgent threat of climate change on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge.”

President Obama was one of those signatories. Therein lies the ultimate cherry on top of Trump’s latest disruptive drama.

His constant gasps for greatness seem to always circle back to a White House whiteboard edict: reverse anything Obama was for. It’s sadly predictable, reflexive and compulsory, apparently. Reason be damned.

God help us all.