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Friday, March 22, 2013

March 19: Why Jeremiah Still Weeps

The snow has yet to melt off the graves of the twenty children who were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT and Congress has forgotten about them entirely. As I write this (March 19), Spring has not yet started and Senate Democratic leadership has given up bringing to the Senate floor legislation that would ban assault weapons and the high capacity magazines used to kill 20 children and 6 teachers. As I write this, it is also ten years ago to the day that the invasion of Iraq began. Somehow, in a truly sickening way, the symmetry is startling.

Whether it was ten years ago when Democrats gave in so easily to President Bush's mad dash towards preemptive war, or the current Democratic cave-in to the power of the NRA and their absolute refusal to value life above gun manufacturing profits, Democratic leadership seems to be permanently impotent.

I knew that no matter how horrible the massacre in Newtown was, that the shock and outrage we all felt would not last through the holidays into the Spring. We are just not wired for long periods of attention.

I must admit though, I did have some hope upon seeing President Obama's State of the Union speech where he ended it calling - no, shaming - members of Congress by demanding that the people of Newtown deserved a vote on preventing gun violence. He called Congress out stating rightfully that the people of Aurora, the people of Tucson, the people of Oak Creek, WI, and the people of Chicago all deserve a vote. Heck, he could have named practically every city and town in the United States as gun violence has become so pervasive and we have grown so accustomed to it. I can still remember his speech. I can almost hear his voice as he called for Congressional action. I had a small glimmer of hope then, that perhaps this might be enough to rip the Republican and Democratic umbilical cord tied to the NRA.

I should have known better. The problem with this issue isn't Republican entrenchment, as it is with so many other issues. The problem is Democratic backbone - or a lack thereof. Senate Democrats are refusing to bring the assault weapons ban and the ban on high capacity magazines to the floor for a vote. Newtown, Tucson, Aurora, Oak Creek, Chicago, everywhere, you don't get a vote. You do not get a vote despite the fact that a ban on assault weapons is favored by 57% of the US public, and despite the fact that a ban on high capacity magazines is favored by close to 70%. How foolish I was to believe that if the American people wanted something they would get it. Not here, not with this Congress and not with the Senate Democratic leadership who seem incapable of leading.

115 days from the shooting in Newtown and we have lost the outrage and the determination to "do something to end gun violence" that we kept hearing elected "leaders" ramble on about.

Ten years since we invaded Iraq.

There is something so horribly poetic that we give up on ending gun violence the same day that, ten years ago, we gave up on common sense alternatives to unnecessary warfare. Ten years ago we had a President and Vice-President with an insane certainty in their own righteousness. Today we have an insane lobby group with enormous money and a paranoid fear of the repeal of the 2nd Amendment; something I will bet my legs will not happen in my lifetime or in ten lifetimes to come. Insanity reigned ten years ago and insanity reigns today. Any political opposition offering reason and peace as viable alternatives, both then and now, is out to lunch.

Why is our society so violent and so resistant to rational thinking such as searching for weapons of mass destruction before we initiate full-scale warfare? Why are we so focused on preserving the right to shoot hundreds of bullets in literally seconds - something that actually is not a right guaranteed by any reasonable reading of the Constitution - at the expense of lives of our children? And why are we so paralyzed and resistant to reasonable action such as banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines, or actually demanding that the rationale for preemptive war be proven before we kill hundreds of thousands of people? Maybe smarter people can answer these questions. I cannot.

I am not surprised that there are some who want access to military-style weapons because they, who happen to mostly be white middle-aged men, believe that there will be a government takeover, which happens to be led by a Black man.

I am not surprised that there are some who want to invade other countries and mask those efforts with lies and deceit and who are pushing us still towards another unnecessary war with Iran.

I am not even surprised that the Democratic leadership caved ten years ago and today and pose little threat to the forces which drove us to war then and which drive us towards ever-increasing gun violence today.

I am not surprised that the rest of us have grown used to unrestrained violence and those who profit from it and a lack of leadership standing up to it.

I am not surprised that the response of people of faith to all of this has been at best muffled outrage or at worst, acquiescence.

I just am not surprised anymore.

And this is why Jeremiah still weeps. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

We are a Nation of Flaws

One of the primary talking points the White House constantly puts out in regards to their plans to reform the broken immigration system is that "we are a nation of laws." In fact, it is often the first thing President Obama says when he talks about the needs for immigration reform. When saying this, the President is intending to say we must hold those who are in the United States without documentation accountable for their legal status. "We are a nation of laws" means to reinforce that society is essentially orderly and fair.

We are a nation of laws. Yet, as we have seen in recent weeks, the rhetoric of being a nation of laws and the reality can often be far apart. Even the most liberal among political leaders still frame the immigration discussion as being primarily about securing the border and insist that any pathway to citizenship be rigorous and difficult for undocumented immigrants, thereby somehow ensuring the slogan that we are indeed a nation of laws is more reality than just rhetoric. However, somehow this great respect for legality does not easily translate top other areas. For instance, the belief that "we are a nation of laws" does not seem to apply to those arbitrarily deemed an enemy of the state as there is no legal process in place for those the President chooses to put on a kill list, even for those who have U.S. citizenship. Why doesn't the President, if he dare discuss the drone  attacks at all, use the slogan, "we are a nation of laws" for that? Yet, though we have kill lists, including some American citizens, that are not worthy of due process protections, why do we tell undocumented immigrants and the poor that we are a nation of laws and that they should be held accountable for their "illegal" behavior?

We are a nation of laws. Why was this not said by the President or the many members of Congress, especially those with close ties to lobby firms who represent giant financial institutions, when the financial meltdown occurred in 2008. Hedge fund managers, predatory lenders, and financial institutions all got away with bank robbery - literally. Some of these huge corporations accepted bailouts and rewarded CEO's while millions of people lost their jobs and their life savings. What's more, not only were people in positions of power and influence not held responsible, many have attained new positions of power and influence. However, we will be insistent that any pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants - many of whom do back-breaking low-paid work in horrible conditions with no protections and no high-priced firms lobbying on their behalf - includes enormous fines and back taxes (to help make up for the oil corporations which pay nothing in some cases), and then wait years, maybe even decades before they are able to complete that pathway. But still, we insist that we are a nation of laws.

Yes, we are a nation of laws. Yet, we knowingly committed torture and besides a few low-level guards at Abu Ghraib, no one was tried or even brought up on charges of war crimes for devising a policy of torture and then implementing it and carefully concealing it from Congress and the public. People like John Yoo, David Addington, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush were responsible for torturing perhaps dozens of people, perhaps more. We do not know for sure. Has this elite group of people, far above prosecution it seems, been held responsible for the war crimes they clearly have committed since we are a nation of laws? Absolutely not. They have written books and been on book tours and made handsome royalties. Or they even dare to teach in law schools for heaven's sake! Yet, we must make sure that any undocumented immigrants who so much as get drunk in public not be allowed to have access to any pathway to citizenship. Yes indeed, we are a nation of laws.

And it is funny how and why these laws are made. I read the other day that Representative Stephen Fincher, a Republican from my home state of Tennessee has introduced a bill that would mandate drug testing for everyone who receives any form of welfare. Funny how we didn't drug test all of the Bank CEO's who got hundreds of millions of dollars in government bailouts. We don't drug test the lobbyists who live on Capitol Hill and persuade Congress to continue to pour billions of dollars into the defense industry so that we can build weapons we have no need for. No one in Congress would even dare mention that. But yet, we want to make sure that people who get hundreds of dollars - barely enough to exist or get by - do not use drugs. We must make sure we help only the very few "deserving poor," a distinction that is solely a modern creation. There is no biblical basis for distinguishing the deserving from the non-deserving poor at all. Yep, we sure are a nation of laws.

You know, as I was writing this and saying this over and over - we are a nation of laws, it started coming out differently. We are a nation of laws slowly became, "we are a nation of flaws." Perhaps that is what President Obama and all the rest of the politicians who mindlessly spew out such nonsense really mean after all. We are a nation of flaws. We are a nation where we punish people who are poor for, well, being poor. And we subtly excuse those who are wealthy and connected because some people, like the corporations they control (or that control them) are deemed "too big to fail."

We are a nation of flaws. We have two systems of justice: one for the powerful and affluent and one for everyone else. The old adage, it is better to be guilty and rich than innocent and poor is not old and not an adage. It is a timeless truth that remains as real today as it was in the days of Scripture.

God continually rebuked the wealthy and the powerful for withholding justice from the poor and the vulnerable because God knew we are a people of flaws. Biblical justice, on the other hand, was achieved through legally restoring those wrongfully accused and inclusively creating the opportunity for equal justice for the marginalized. Rather than a means of harsh punishment, God intended justice to be a source of healing to all of society (Exodus 23:6-8; Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17 and 16:19-20). The prophets Amos and Isaiah specifically point out that in utilizing the judicial system as a means to secure power only for the affluent and to maintain the poor and marginalized as a perpetual underclass the powerful are in direct opposition to God’s basic intentions for justice (Isaiah 1:21-23; 5:20-23; Amos 2:6-8; 5:7, 10-13).

Yes, we are indeed a nation of flaws. We could be a nation of laws, but we must first address the flaws and that can only start when we recognize that our system of justice favors the rich over the poor, the powerful over the vulnerable. We must insist our elected leaders stop the rhetoric - that we are a nation of laws - and state the truth - we are a nation of flaws. But we can be a nation of laws, a nation where there is no partiality, where all people are treated equally and given a fair chance to succeed. And one place where it can start is by reforming our immigration system and focusing on reunifying families and providing a pathway to citizenship with minimal obstacles. Just saying we are a nation of laws does not mean that justice and equality are real. We have to change things and work to make them real, otherwise we will remain a nation of flaws.