Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Category: Orwell

The Tide is Turning

Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.     -George Orwell

 

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Two days ago, the United States Senate, led by Republicans, shot down two sensible amendments designed to prevent terrorists from getting firearms. In their place, they submitted two meaningless NRA sponsored amendments which were also defeated. The votes for all four amendments were primarily along party lines. However, the tide is turning, and there is hope that eventually there will be consensus on a meaningful bill in the Senate.

Elections matter. Voting matters. The parties are not the same. There are always swells and troughs in election cycles leading to whether the Democrats or the Republicans are on top. And in spite of the fact that there has been a Democrat in the White House for almost eight years, it is the Democrats who seem to be riding a wave right now while the Republicans are being washed away as if by a rip tide. Perhaps it is because the person at the top of the Republican ticket is so divisive. Perhaps it is because the Tea Party has run its course, or perhaps it is because the country sees that the Democrats have the most rational response to gun violence. If greater than ninety percent of Americans agree that there should be background checks on all gun sales, it begs the question, just who are the Republicans representing? If the overwhelming majority of Americans do not believe that a person on the terror watch list should be able to purchase a firearm, to whom are the Republicans answering? The answer could be as simple as the gun lobby. The gun lobby has spent over $36 million to get politicians elected, and they want something for their investment. If this is true, then Republican constituents are without representation as their elected officials do the bidding of the gun lobby instead.

Both Senator Cornyn’s (R-TX) amendment and Senator Grassley’s (R-IA) amendment were seemingly written by the NRA and submitted under the senators’ names. They were designed to give the appearance of addressing the problem of gun violence and terrorists’ continued access to firearms, but their actual purpose was disingenuous and deceitful. And finally, the public is beginning to see the difference. The win the NRA chalked up on Monday as all four amendments failed was likely a Pyrrhic victory because by defeating the reasonable amendments offered by Senator Murphy (D-CT) and Senator Feinstein (D-CA) Republicans emerged as the party defending the rights of terrorists and ISIS. Finally, the Republicans obstructionist activities were on full display (and this only months before the next election). Republican senators were forced to go on record to vote against limiting terrorists’ access to firearms and voting against forcing gun sales at gun shows and over the Internet be subject to a federal background check. Their votes were on the record. And the progress made in this movement to prevent gun injuries and deaths in America, a country awash in guns and the carnage they dispense, is measurable. The Overton Window is shifting.

Following the murder of six educators and twenty schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012, a horror so visceral that all Americans thought it would result in a flurry of new gun laws, it took Congress four months to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. It failed because of Republicans. Now, as a result of a much better organized gun violence prevention movement and the support of Senator Murphy’s filibuster (along with the support of Senators Blumenthal (D-CT) and Booker (D-NJ) and 37 other senators) it took four days for a new piece of legislation to come to the floor for a vote. Members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, founded after Newtown,  generated 8,000 calls into Congress in the months leading up to the vote following the school shooting. Following the shooting at the nightclub in Orlando, Florida, they generated over 60,000 calls. And that is just one of the gun violence prevention organizations working to curb this epidemic. What started out as a Facebook page from a frustrated, angry housewife in Indiana has become a juggernaut in its own right with 3.5 million members and chapters in all 50 states. This fight has been taken to statehouses across the country and victory after victory is being notched because of it. The tide is turning, and history will be the judge as lives are saved.

So, the NRA and their paid for politicians will continue to obstruct meaningful measures to stem the slaughter, but common sense, compassion, and logic are on the side of the gun violence prevention movement. The NRA’s victory on Monday will be viewed as a hollow victory because change is coming and the NRA’s political influence is about to be washed away. Elections matter and your vote matters and I only hope that reason, logic, and compassion win the day in Washington before the nation is subjected to another mass shooting. These are the silver linings in Monday’s defeat, and they have emboldened those in the gun violence prevention movement to work ever harder to elect a Congress willing to do what is necessary to stop the bloodshed caused by gun violence in America. The tide is turning.

Religious Freedumb

Orwell warningHaving been born in Rhode Island, perhaps I am biased against those whom I about to write. Rhode Island was founded as a colony in 1636, as Providence Plantations, by Roger Williams, a theologian, separatist, abolitionist, proponent of religious freedom and strong believer in “a hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.”

This past week, Indiana governor, Mike Pence, signed SB 101, a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Despite its innocuous sounding name, it has nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with discrimination. According to Jane Henegar, executive director of the ACLU of Indiana, “The timing of this legislation is important to understanding its intent: The bill was introduced as a backlash reaction to achieving marriage equality for same-sex couples in Indiana.”

The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, while it applied to all religions, was actually targeted to Native Americans who were felt to be unfairly burdened by government projects on their land. Essentially, this Act was designed to extend the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion to Native Americans following erosion of its use in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The bill was introduced by then-Congressman Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and passed unanimously by the House and by a 97-3 vote in the Senate before being signed by President Clinton. Ah, those were the days of bipartisanship.

Since that time, nineteen states have passed their own version of the RFRA, first because a federal lawsuit struck down part of the act in 1997, forcing states to augment the federal legislation but recently as a way for Christian fundamentalists to sandbag against the tide of same-sex marriage laws sweeping the country (as in Indiana). Eight states currently have such legislation working its way through the legislative process (AR, GA, HI, MI, MT, NC, NV, and TX). And this legislation does not count the seven states who have introduced legislation outright banning same-sex marriage (AL, AR, MO, NC, OK, SC, and TX).

Eight states have passed legislation banning sharia law. In fact, 34 states have considered such legislation in the past 5 years even though such laws have been found to be unconstitutional and there has never been any indication that any such laws have been considered anywhere at any time by any state. It is simply more fear-mongering and discrimination couched as religious freedom.

What happened to lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi (the rule of worship is the rule of belief is the rule of life)? Perhaps we should spend a little less time with orthodoxy and a little more time with orthopraxy.

Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Orwell would be proud. “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.” Perhaps with the appropriate branding, sponsorship, and uniforms we could add Pogrom is Sport. Hunger Games, anyone?

Intolerant

Orwell warning

At fifty years of age, having now buried my father and father-in-law due to lung cancer, and caring every day for my wife as she suffers the effects of breast cancer, and having just learned of the cancer diagnosis of another friend, I find my tolerance for what I call “manufactured drama,” those ultimately insignificant (or moderately annoying at most) parts of life rapidly subsiding.

I find it hard to believe that there are those among us who have not been touched by cancer’s reach or violence’s wound or any of the other catastrophic events we usually associate with prioritizing life’s other goals and worries in a hurry, but I am told they exist and society seems to function as if it were so. In fact, society not only seems to function as if it were this way, but it seems that these escapees dictate the course of public discourse, politics, religion, entertainment, sport, in short, lead society as a whole. How can this be?

We live in a society where, while 90% of climatologists not only agree that global warming is real, but that humans are a significant cause of the rising temperatures, and yet a United States Senator can stand in the well of the Senate with a snowball in February and claim that as proof that global warming is a hoax. When the House of Representatives can pass legislation prohibiting those same expert climatologists from presenting testimony in favor of House members standing on their soapbox, clutching their bible denying global warming, evolution, homosexuality, a woman’s right to her own body, and any other matter they choose with a 14% approval rating but with a 95% reelection rate.

We live in a society where we are addicted to fossil fuels and any attempt to move away from them is met with skepticism and outright contempt. Wind energy is deemed too inefficient, solar energy is deemed too expensive. Hydrogen fuel cell technology doesn’t exist to the point of viability yet. Hydroelectric energy, nuclear energy? Old and dangerous. And who deems it so? The ossified and incentivized. The only source of energy we are told we can readily “enjoy” is coal and oil. Just run that Keystone pipeline down from Canada to the Gulf. There will be thousands of new jobs. Well, temporary jobs. Thirty-five to 50 permanent jobs, but we’ll forget that part. Don’t read the fine print, America. In fact, don’t read anything at all. As usual. Ah, but there’s “clean” burning coal now! And “clean” burning diesel engines! Problem solved, go back to watching the Kardashians, America. Who will The Bachelor pick? Where did Honey Boo Boo go?

And that is the problem. We allow ourselves to be manipulated, misdirected. It is the obfuscation, the sleight of hand that lulls us into concern for our favorite sports team or the comings and goings of the latest person famous for being famous that allows us to ignore those larger issues. We watch a never ending series of awards shows on television. To the point where if we watch the Oscars and the Emmys, we will see the Oscars beat out the Grammys at the Emmys for Best Variety show. When does the celebrity sit and watch the awards show for best gardener? Why do we allow this? Because we’ve allowed the unaffected to dictate the agenda. We have allowed the simpleminded to lead the vacant; we have allowed those with one agenda item to lead all of us down their primrose path and away from what matters because it is easier for us, faster for us, cheaper for us, and allows us not to have to do that hardest of all things – think. Shame on us.

The NFL satiates the American male’s need for machismo. It is why pickup trucks are the number one selling vehicle in America. It satisfies the easy, fast, cheap manhood we have abdicated. We embrace half of the Second Amendment, hug our guns instead of our children, grow beards instead of tomatoes, ignore what concussions do to our children and heroes, turn a blind eye to a billion dollar, tax-exempt industry which ignores domestic abuse, turn an even blinder eye to the athletes cast aside who do not hit the NFL lottery and are left broken, broke and uneducated, and we call it sport.

We preach tolerance in our churches but forget those teachings as soon as we pass through the doors. Our politicians stand up at rallies clamoring for religious freedom in an effort to quash other’s religious inroads because what they really intend is Christian freedom, Christian law. In fact, the “tolerance” being taught, the politician’s speech, the political correctness of the 1990’s has been bastardized now into code. Political correctness is now nothing but code words. We don’t say black. We say thug. Both sides somehow claim to be fighting against a “war on women.” One side is correct. How did this come to be? Because we allowed it. Because it is easier for us to let someone else to think for us. Because we don’t read. Orwell would be horrified to know how right he was.

And so, I am left intolerant of those I should educate or pity. Intolerant of the dead eyes in the expressionless people of Wal-Mart. Intolerant of the manipulative politicians beating war drums for Eisenhower’s feared military industrial complex who must continue to churn out “product,” needed or not because Wall Street demands dividends even if enemy combatants do not yet exist. Intolerant of gun fanatics clutching their arsenals, crying over nonexistent government tyranny and confiscation and patriotically accepting the 30,000 we bury every year in the name of “freedom.” Intolerant of the ignorant who remain so in an age when information is so readily available. I am intolerant of those exorcized by the minutia because they are incapable of handling (or wholly unaware of) the important.

And yet, I cannot. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “It’s an universal law– intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.” My parents raised me to think. Education is my religion. I will try to remain humble because I know I am not alone. I will try to always learn. I will always continue reading. As those of us in the gun violence prevention movement, with whom I am so honored to surround myself so frequently say, I choose love. Intolerance is too heavy a burden. But so, too, is silence. I love my wife, my children, and my world too much.