Sunday, August 12, 2012

Issue #75 August 12, 2012- Troubled Times In America

What This Is…
Issue #75- August 12, 2012
In this issue: Troubling Times, Upcoming Elections and Issue Updates

A Troubled America…
No human being is perfect.  If we can accept this as a fact, then it stands to reason that nothing created or developed by humans will be perfect either.  We find ourselves forced to confront this reality every day in many different situations and activities.  Things break, people are hurt or injured and injustice is done, and we are left to struggle with the aftermath.  In some cases the consequences are relatively minor or an inconvenience.  However, mixed in with the daily failures brought on by our humanness are the tragedies that leave us devastated and questioning ourselves and our society.

The past few weeks have seen two incidents of gun violence that have left almost a score dead and around 100 people injured.  We can't forget that the toll also must include the psychological damage done to those on the scene as well as the damage done to our society's sense of safety and justice.  We mourn as a nation and express heartfelt sympathy and concern for those who have been directly injured in these attacks.  We find ourselves asking, "Why did this happen?" and   "How can we stop it from happening again?"

A vast majority of the events that affect our personal lives have impacts that don't reach many people outside our immediate intimate circles.  While we are all tied together as members of a larger community, these small events are a drop in a lake of shared experiences.  Events like the ones in Aurora Colorado and Oak Creek Wisconsin are boulders that send waves across all levels of our society.  We feel the effects as individuals, but also face the consequences as a collective whole. 

Because these events have such far reaching impacts we face the difficulty of mixing the personal emotions that are felt with a societal response.  Each of us will respond in different ways for different reasons.  There are those who are directly affected by the events and they are forced to deal with their emotions in a highly publicized atmosphere. 

At the same time we, as a collective whole, need to recognize that these events didn't occur in a vacuum and weren't isolated or unique.  They are part of a larger problem that exists in modern America, where violence is a significant issue that directly affects too many of our citizens.  While we never want to politicize any tragedy, the recent events do force us to deal with the unpleasant direction that we are headed in. 

In order to try and prevent future tragedies we must honestly look at the state of our nation and of our society.  The outpouring of grief and messages of support for the individuals and groups affected by these two shootings are overt symbols of our national need to sympathize with the victims and their loved ones.  However, simply sending our thoughts and prayers only goes so far as we try to address what is wrong here.  While they are all that we can offer those suffering from these recent events, they are empty words unless we, as a nation, begin to really look for ways to change our ways of violence and hate. 

One of the most obvious topics of debate after any incident involving gun violence is the issue of gun control and laws that regulate the sale and possession of firearms.  I am not a gun owner, but I recognize the rights of others to own guns.  At the same time it seems like this is an issue that has left the realm of rational debate and become one of emotional entrenching where neither side can actually hear the other.  Any debate over regulation of firearms is met with a torrent of rhetoric that repeats arguments made countless times before. 

I would simply ask a few questions, do we regard all of our Constitutional rights as equal, or are some more important than others?  In other words, do 2nd Amendment rights occupy equal footing with our right to live lives free of gun violence?  Is there a way to regulate guns so that the most destructive weapons stay out of public places?  Are we safer as a society if we are heavily armed?  I know what I think, but we need to have a real public policy debate that isn't dominated by threats      

We also don't see the "other" as real and this affects how we see them.  People who are different from us in any way, large or small, have a separateness that makes it difficult for us to fully appreciate their experiences.  At its most extreme this can dehumanize others and devalue them.  We may not even be consciously aware of this separation of our personal values and experiences from those of others in our society. 

This creates a situation where we mention the fraction of deaths in a cataclysmic event that are American citizens or in the way that we cover news stories that involve the "other" citizens.  At the same time we are experiencing the horror of the two shootings, another news story where 14 human beings died in a single accident got very little press. 

Another aspect of this devaluing of others is found in most stories about the Oak Creek shooting.  Many reports talk about the fact that there has been a rise in the number of incidents where members of the Sikh community have been targeted because they have been confused with Muslims.  These stories ignore the fact that no person should be a target for any form of abuse because of their religious beliefs.  This level of harassment and violence has no place in American society, or in any other civilized community.  We fear and abuse what we don't understand or accept.    

This devaluing of life because of a persons membership in a specific group runs against everything that our founding documents value.  For some reason, a segment of our nation's population has decided to interpret these documents from the standpoint that they only apply to certain groups (based on a variety of characteristics like gender, race, ethnicity, etc.).  Any individual, or group that operates outside these set boundaries is vulnerable to being excluded from the freedoms and protections that our founders held so dear.

It would be one thing if the efforts to impose a specific set of values was limited in scope and isolated to private individuals lives.  However, we live in a society where individuals are interdependent and rely on one another for a variety of needs and wants.  Our founders recognized the dangers of imposing values on a nation as a whole.  In fact the original colonies contained a haphazard and widely divergent set of religious, political and philosophical beliefs.  The idea that there was a unified sense of religious purpose and belief in our founding documents and among our founding leaders is dangerously false.  Contained in our Constitution and other documents are protections from the creation of a national set of religious values, and these protections are vital to our survival as a nation.   

It is exceptionally troubling that we are seeing more and more efforts being made to rewrite the history of our nation to fit the need to institutionalize a single set of religious, political and philosophical values.    

So, where does this leave us in our struggle to cope with the recent tragedies while attempting to protect and strengthen our society as we move into an uncertain future?  It appears to me that we need to come to grips with the idea that our nation is made up of many different groups, with sometimes conflicting beliefs.  At the same time it is important to recognize that all of these differing viewpoints share some common values and rely on the stability of our government for protection and support.  Without a strong and stable America, many of our debates and disputes will become inconsequential. 

We can't afford to continue on our path towards political extremism.  A path that leads to a divided nation where no compromise of discussion is possible and groups are separated into competing and hostile camps.  This route leads to self-destructive policies and a nation that isn't viable over the long haul.  That some of our political leaders are doing this in the name of patriotism is disturbing.  The message is that anyone who is outside of "mainstream America" is less than American and a threat to our way of life.

The farther we move away from a moderate, open-minded debate, the more entrenched people become in their mindsets.  We lose our ability to discuss issues and resolve our differences and instead our discourse degenerates into hostile attacks.  We no longer negotiate and reach "fair and balanced" resolutions and instead find ourselves mired in a perpetual power struggle that benefits the very few at the expense of the majority of citizens.        

The result is the dual tragedy of the horrific loss of life in these attacks and the loss of the true "American Dream" of a diverse society using established political means to resolve difficult issues.  The result of the debate being a truly fair and just society with equal opportunity for all to enjoy their "natural rights" of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".   

Political Upheaval?…
Wisconsinites are tired of the political battles that have besieged our state for over a year.  However, we are engaged in an important struggle that deserves our full attention.  We are truly a divided state with enough conservative presence to have the GOP nominee for Vice President call Wisconsin home, while still being the unofficial birthplace of the Occupy movement. 

There are many races across the state that are of vital importance in the struggle between conservatism and progressivism.  All of the hard-fought gains of the past year are at risk again during the primaries in August and the November general election.  I encourage each citizen to be informed about the races in their area and to really research their candidates before casting a ballot.  We can't afford to simply vote based on the letter after a candidates name without really knowing what they stand for.  

I'm also including something about the senate race in the 12th District.  This is the race for the seat vacated by Jim Holperin and is an important one if we are to maintain our control of the state senate. 

The citizens of Wisconsin need to realize that this scandal isn't just "business as usual" or normal political activity. 

Issue Updates…

Conservatives are trying to portray themselves as champions of the middle and working classes.  Yet, they don't seem to demonstrate any respect for the needs of the working people of America.  The rhetoric is there, but the actions and policies that the GOP advances are damaging to the lives of most citizens.

There is also a real discrepancy between the words that conservative politicians use and their lack of respect for those who labor in blue collar jobs.  While the obvious disdain for educators and public workers is easy to spot, there is an even greater contempt among conservative lawmakers for workers who are in the trades, hourly workers or who do any manual labor.  The recent "reforms" passed here in Wisconsin virtually guarantee that these workers will be harmed the most of any public sector workers.

I can't say it often enough, education isn't just about financial costs or benefits.  To reduce our schools to lines on a ledger is to miss the entire reason we educate our young people and ourselves. 

Unfortunately, educating yourself about voting means not just learning about the candidates, but also includes learning how to navigate a maze of new rules.  It may even mean voting in a new place for a new candidate, even though you haven't changed your address. 

The real shame of all this confusion about voting is that it is really not about protecting anyone's right to vote or making our electoral process honest and fair.  All of the changes are simply because one group wants to maintain power.  At the same time the GOP is calling for an end to the "overregulation" of business, eliminating restrictions on firearms and otherwise making our lives "easier", they complicate one of our most important duties as citizens.  They hope the result will be wins for Republican candidates, even at the expense of truly open elections.    

In addition to being aware of what companies get our money it is also important to make sure that we recognize the efforts of Native Americans and other groups to promote their cultures arts and crafts.   

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