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Tendrils Of Power

Not too long ago I finished a book by Naomi Alderman titled The Power. It’s a story about a world where women posses the power of electricity and how that changes gender roles and politics around the world. The opening chapters describes the fractal appearance, of lightning discharges, tree root systems and the like. That book got me to thinking about the nature of power and influence and its bearing on American life.

In America, just as its always been in the world those with power are the ones that controls what happens. People with power are loathe to give up the privilege and influence that comes with power. In this country nothing symbolizes power more than money. Those with money influences politicians, messaging (through the media), and the criminal justice system. Businesses with enough cash can donate to the coffers of those running for office thereby insuring their mutual beneficial interests. The owners of media conglomerates can perpetuate stereotypes of any kind and those depictions often become the truth in the minds of many viewers. If you’re rich and commit a crime you are far less likely to be jailed than if you are poor and commit a crime.

With so few people controlling so much of the wealth in this nation it can be disheartening to the average person that wants to make change. Decisions like Citizens United seem to nullify the voices of individuals while amplifying the voices of corporations. Elected officials doing their job badly get elected over and over while clearly criminal presidents go un impeached. While it may seem hopeless it’s important to know that it is not hopeless and we are absolutely not without power. We arguably have the most powerful role in American society and that is the role of citizen.

The power of the citizen is embedded in our US Constitution. Those elected to lead us derive their power from the citizen so ultimately it is the citizen that is the ultimate authority. The power we have though sometimes doesn’t seem as obvious as compared to those with money and influence. It’s a power that is often subtle, and slow moving but ultimately it is the strongest there is I liken it to a blades of grass or a plant root system. Sure a lawn mover is used to cut grass but left unchecked grass can destroy the foundations of houses and cities. In much the same way our power can cause drastic changes in a society but I believe it takes four principles to exercise that power: Belief, Knowledge, Action, and Engagement.

Belief. In politics as in life belief in your success can be summed up in this poem:

The Man Who Thinks He can

by Walter D. Wintle

If you think you are beaten, you are;

If you think you dare not, you don’t.

If you’d like to win, but think you can’t

It’s almost a cinch that you won’t

If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost,

For out in the world we find

Success begins with a fellow’s will;

It’s all in the state of mind.

If you think you’re outclassed, you are.

You’ve got to think high to rise.

You’ve got to be sure of yourself before

You can ever win a prize.

Life’s battles don’t always go

To the stronger or faster man;

But sooner or later the man who wins

Is the one who thinks he can.

Essential to affecting change is the belief that it is actually possible. If you are already convinced that an endeavor is impossible then you are more than likely going to be right. We have to be willing to take the leap of faith first and then wait for the evidence.

Knowledge : No one is uplifted or made better by being ignorant. There is a reason why the slaves were prohibited from reading. We must educate ourselves on issues and policies and how they influence our lives. We most certainly have to understand how to distinguish between credible and non credible sources of information. In this internet connected world we live in being ignorant( or just stupid) is a choice. We can’t be lazy in this. We have to do the hard work of learning about anything we don’t understand so that we may make better decisions about who we elect to lead us.

Action: All the knowledge and the belief in the world does no good if we don’t put it into action. To that end we must register to vote. We must get others to vote and then actually vote on Election Day. We must volunteer time and money to causes and candidates that reflect our values and concerns. If we’ve found someone we believe in then why not canvass for them or work for their campaign. What ever it is you do, standing on the sidelines and hoping for better is not going to cut it. Every major change we’ve had in this nation is because ordinary people stood up and demanded it. We must do the same.

Engagement. Everyone’s view of how things should be is shaped by their experiences. We are a nation of many points of view but among reasonable people there is room for compromise. The only way to do this is to engage with people that may not share our views. Engagement gives you perspective and a broader understanding. Understanding, patience and tolerance is sorely needed in our national discourse.

Most of us are not rich, famous or elected officials. Most of us are citizens and as such we ultimately are responsible for the direction this nation goes. We can no longer afford to be apathetic bystanders. Now more than ever is the time to work together and make this nation and world a better place for all of us.

Fake News Or A Fake President?

[Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.]-The First Amendment of the U.S Constitution.

[I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.]- The Oath of Office for President of the United States.

I don’t like “president” Donald Trump. I think he’s a lying, cruel and stupid man that has no business being president. I also think he’s a dangerous man. Dangerous on a geopolitical level and on a domestic level, threatening our American institutions and way of life. In the above paragraphs I copied the First Amendment of the U.S Constitution and the Oath of Office of President to show how Trump’s behavior doesn’t line up with either. Besides the demonstrated lying and incompetencies the “president” seems to be increasing his attacks on the free press.

We have a system of checks and balances in America. They involve the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government. There is also a fourth pillar that acts as a check on all three and is a direct service to the citizens and that is a free press. A free press is absolutely essential to a free society because ultimately elected individuals get their authority from the consent of the governed. The free press provides the necessary information to citizens so that they can hold their governments accountable. An uneducated and ill informed populace does not have the capacity to ensure a free society. No one and nothing benefits from not knowing and the press’s business is information.

When the President of the United States attacks the press by calling them fake news it’s not just meaningless words. It’s an outright attempt to delegitimize an important component of our democracy. Trumps attempts to undermine the press precisely mimics what a lot of authoritarian regimes around the world do. The “president” took an Oath to uphold and defend the Constitution and by attacking the press he is directly attacking the constitution itself and the American population. The effect is no different than if it were a foreign entity attempting the same thing. So in essence we don’t have a president that puts America first, what he have is a fake president engaging in domestic sabotage.

Fortunately there are solutions. Register and vote. Get others registered and make sure they vote. Write and call your elected officials and demand they do the right thing. Run for office and push back on all the lies this administration engages in. I believe our institutions are strong enough to withstand a Donald Trump but it’s going to take the collective effort of people of goodwill to ensure it survives. Everyone and every voice is needed. We have to be the agent of change that we seek.

Artificial Divides

I identify as a liberal democrat. I believe that government has a role and an obligation to ensure that citizens have their most basic needs met. I support social programs for the poor, healthcare, and a free education for all. I also believe in a fair and just criminal justice system that doesn’t prey on the poor and works to return citizens to a proper place in society after their debts are paid.

Given these beliefs some would characterize me as a “bleeding heart liberal.” The suggestion being that I somehow have no respect for instituted authority and don’t value certain norms of society. Listening to news outlets like Fox would have you believe that I hate the police, the military and the American flag. Or maybe I’m looking for a chance to uproot our Democratic capitalist way of life and replace it with socialism. The hell with working for a living and lets get to work on all those government handouts. Food stamps and welfare for all…come on man. None of that stuff is true.

I suspect that people rarely fall into super rigid categories and exist on a range of beliefs and ideals. Some people are a bit more conservative, generally favoring a hands off approach to governance while others like myself support a more active approach. I didn’t support to Iraq war but was all for the Afghanistan invasion. I believe that criminals should be punished but it’s not right for police to murder innocent people. People on hard times should get help but at the same time we must encourage able bodied people to support themselves. I am absolutely able to be liberal on some things and conservative on others and I don’t believe that makes me unique or special in any way. I think most people in our nation is like that. Politicians use artificial divides like that to get and hold power. And we reward them by voting for them. We as a voting populace have to start voting the truth of our lives and not the propaganda they would have us believe.

I seem to remember a time where those elected to lead us were able to disagree on policy but still find common ground. They were able to compromise and work out legislation where not everyone got everything they wanted but everybody got something. This is the way the founders intended it. This is precisely why we have a bicameral Congress, we are supposed to disagree and fight but in the end you end up with laws that don’t widely swing the nation too far to the left or the right. Compromise I believe is built into the very fabric of our legislative process. All that, in my opinion, changed when Barack Obama was sworn in as President back in 2009. We went from being a nation able to compromise to one being sabotage by a Republican Party of no. This only intensified with the election of Mr Trump.

In Georgia there is a gubernatorial contest in November between Ms Stacey Abrams and Mr Brian Kemp. Ms Abrams has a demonstrated history of working across the aisle and finding common ground with people. Mr Kemp has openly embraced all the ignorance and hatred of the president. I think the choice is clear, we must once again elect common sense, sensible and INTELLIGENT leaders like Ms Stacey Abrams to office. We have to put an end to people willing to embrace misogyny and racism in the pursuit of power. On November 6th please elect Stacey Abrams as Governor of Georgia. Then we can begin to make an America that lives up to it’s ideals.

It’s All Important.

Today in Georgia there was a runoff election between Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Brian Kemp. Mr Kemp won and will face Stacey Abrams for the governorship in November. In Georgia as in many other states we have open primaries. Anyone can vote in any party’s primary(democrat or republican) but if there is a runoff you can only vote for the party’s ballot you chose in the primary. The majority of the news coverage leading up to today’s runoff was about Kemp Vs Cagle.

Now it is obvious why this election is important. The sitting President has endorsed Mr Kemp and Stacey Abrams has a chance to become Georgia’s first African American Governor. With all the focus on the gubernatorial candidates, I mistakenly though that today was just a republican runoff and that I didn’t need to bother. When my girlfriend, reminded me to vote to today I had to go looking online and sure enough there were. runoffs for the democrats too.

The two positions for my area was for Judge and for State School superintendent. These are two very important positions and yet they were virtually ignored by major news outlets. I think that is a problem. I read the paper every morning and I specifically look for political news. I saw nothing. We have a problem with civic engagement in this nation. We have to have the major outlets do a better job of presenting candidates to the public. Major and minor ones. Often times the local elections have a bigger impact on someone’s life than a president or a governor would.

People are busy living their lives so they don’t have all day to do political research. The free press has to distill this information and present it so that we can have an informed and engaged electorate. Or we have to do it ourselves.

Guerrilla Tribal Warfare

When I was a college freshman at the University of New Orleans back in the early 90’s, I was a member of the African American Student Union. It was a student organization that promoted civic involvement in the community. I liked it, I was very idealistic and believed in order to create change you simply had to argue ideas to the populace. I though that the foundation of politics was based on coming up with solutions and giving reasoned arguments why a solution, policy or law should be adopted. I believed that through my late teens, and 20s, but that changed when Barack Obama was elected president.

I self identify as a liberal democrat. I generally believe that government should have a more active role in promoting social and economic justice. I’m also a believer of certain conservative ideas like self accountability and a strong military. I’m aware enough to know that I have certain biases based on my life experiences and that others may have different and equally valid views of the world. So if a Republican ran for office and I liked the ideas they were promoting then I had no problem crossing party lines. I naively thought that most people felt that way. When Barack Obama was elected I started to see that a lot a people cared more about their tribe than they do about what is objectively and verifiably true. I saw the former President tout some of the same ideas held by republicans but because it came from him they couldn’t support it. It occurred to me then that people are actually tribal by default and not by exception. A white middle aged country redneck and a ghetto urban black teen could come together for about 4 hours on a Sunday and support the same football team. They could be as close as brothers during the game and go right back to hating each other afterwards.

I witnessed the republicans lie, stonewall and employ some of the most underhanded and disrespectful tactics I have ever seen during the Obama presidency. They lied about his birth, his wife and said no to everything he supported. At the same time the president tried to remain above the fray and act with integrity. Even though I believe that ultimately the President had a two successful terms, the republicans were rewarded for their despicable behavior. They prevented a Supreme Court nominee of Obama’s and got a narcissistic mental midget elected president. They now sit with power and are changing the very fabric of American life.

I believe that people should never compromise their ideals but at the same time you can’t influence and change anything without power. Power comes with money and winning. Generally speaking democrats play nice and republicans play mean and dirty. I think it’s time we got down in the gutter and fight the way they do. We’ve got to call them on their bullshit and be wiling to say what we actually believe in instead of what we think is palatable. Let’s dig up dirt on these guys and smear their names. Make innuendo’s about them just like they do to us. It is as if we are fighting a traditional trench war while those guys are fighting guerrilla style. We can’t win that way and if we keep losing election after election then the institutions we hold dear are going to crumble. I personally am sick and tired of stupid, heartless people running this country. We have to get back in power and make this a descent nation again. Unfortunately, making America descent again may require some underhanded and dirty tricks. And you know what? I’m okay with that.

The Promised Land.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” This is the quote that is engraved on Liberty Enlightening the World( Statue of Liberty). This is a sentiment that is not supported by President Trump at all.

In the past couple of weeks we’ve heard a lot about kids being separated from their parents while crossing the border. We also heard way too much about the First Lady’s Stupid choice of a jacket while visiting detention centers. Then to top it off the President used an executive order to incompletely fixed a problem that he himself created in the first damn place. You can’t make this shit up.

As far as I’m concerned I’d be happy if the U.S had open borders. I find it ironic and hypocritical that a nation founded by immigrants, nourished by the blood of indigenous people, and built by slavery would have the gall to keep anyone out. The president likes to talk about the bad hombres coming in from Mexico but he has yet to address the white men shooting up schools and movie theatres right here in the good ole USA. If someone is trying to leave a bad situation and start anew here in America then I think we have an obligation to let them. This is God’s world and I feel that we have a sacred duty to help our unfortunate brothers and sisters. Most of us are citizens because of decisions that were made before we were born. Obviously we are not going to just open the borders to just anyone who wants to come. What we can do however is vote for people that aren’t so xenophobic and racist. And that process can start with the Midterms coming up this November. Get involved and make a change.

Guns,Baseball And Apple Pie

Here in these United States there are a lot of guns floating around. According to a Pew Research study there are somewhere between 270 million to 310 million . The U S population is about 325 million people so that means there are enough guns to arm every man ,woman and child in America. Any discussion of gun ownership and Second Amendment rights provokes strong feelings and sends people into their entrenched ideological camps. The national dialogue around guns is a toxic subject

I hate guns. I grew into my hatred of guns slowly over decades. My  concept of guns originated on TV and in films. The Lone Ranger used a gun and left behind silver bullets as souvenirs. Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd shot at Bugs Bunny every Saturday morning. One of the more defining traits of Superman was that he was bullet proof. This type of entertainment was seen as good clean fun. As I got older my  experiences grew and became more sophisticated. Guns became something I heard about on the news, and I personally began to know victims of gun violence. I remember one time in particular when my mother was robbed at gun point on our front porch after getting home from work one night. I also remember a time as a teenager when I was in a heated argument with a family member that was struggling with drug addiction. The family member, with tears in his eyes said, “if I had a gun I would blow your motherfucking brains out.” I believed him. Today this family member is clean and sober and we are as close as two people can be. There is nothing but genuine love between us but what if things were different and there was a gun available? I could’ve been killed and the course of his life would have been changed forever.

After college I enlisted in the United States Army and became a Medical Specialist(Combat Medic).My first duty station was Ft Drum, NY and I was  deployed to Somalia for Operation Restore Hope.  I was involved in the treatment of  civilian and military mass casualty patients. I saw first hand, on multiple occasions the  damage guns can do to the human body. After returning from Somalia I remember when  a fellow soldier and friend of mine was shot in the neck, paralyzed and later died following an altercation at a nightclub. Gun violence has destroyed the lives of a lot of good people I know.

After the Army I began working as Cardiovascular Technologist in Atlanta. It was around that time when I began to notice the prevalence of school shootings. Columbine was the first big one that got my attention and then others followed.This is just one link detailing some of the deadliest school shootings since Columbine. https://www.axios.com/by-the-numbers-the-10-deadliest-school-shootings-since-columbine-91efddc3-adcd-4991-bd5c-59938db7bc2f.html. Coverage of these tragic events often entailed a cycle of outrage, thoughts and prayers and legislative inaction. Between the influence of the NRA and the ridiculous “slippery slope” arguments  of conservatives a serious conversation on guns seems impossible.

Guns are tools that can be used for good or evil. What makes them different from most tools is their capacity for harm. I feel that guns should be heavily regulated. It has been shown that gun owners are more likely to harm themselves than any potential attackers. It has also been documented that somewhere around 50 percent of suicides are carried out by guns. Guns emboldens people to behave more aggressively than they would without one.

It is sad the president and republicans oppose ANY gun legislation whatsoever. No one on the left has ever proposed overturning the Second Amendment(never mind the fact it would take a lot of buy in for that to happen).There are some common sense laws that should be established and enforced regarding guns. First of all there is absolutely no reason for ordinary civilians to have access to automatic weapons of war. There should be an assault weapons ban. People can’t and shouldn’t have working tanks, bazookas or nuclear bombs for obvious reasons. Automatic guns capable of killing hundreds of people in seconds should be no exception. Secondly, mentally unstable people and criminals shouldn’t have access to guns. We should have universal background checks for everyone wishing to buy a gun with a mandatory waiting period. That background check should happen whether you are buying at a gun show or online, background check standards should be the same across the board. If you pass a background check and you give or sell a gun to someone that shouldn’t have one then you should be held liable for whatever crimes they commit with it.  Finally you shouldn’t be able to own a weapon until you’re at least 21 years old(of course you can use one in the execution of official military service).

I believe these proposals are reasonable but of course we are not living in reasonable times. With the current president and a Republican Party willing to turn a blind eye to his unethical, immoral and illegal behavior common sense gun legislation is unlikely. It will remain unlikely until there becomes a political price to pay for kowtowing to the NRA and being indifferent to the pain and suffering of gun violence. The best way to bring about change is to register to vote, show up and vote those do nothing people out of office. If we don’t then gun violence and school shootings will become as synonymous with America as baseball and Apple pie.