Bernie Sanders & The Lack Of Media Support: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Love Donald Trump


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Bernie Sanders & The Lack Of Media Support: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Love Donald Trump

Linda Tirado is Long Overdue on Overtime


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It feels so odd, so rare and so right when someone calls it like it is. Linda Tirado, who recently rose to fame (and climbed out of poverty as a result) after Penguin convinced her to write her book HAND TO MOUTH: LIVING IN BOOTSTRAP AMERICA, speaks her mind and thoughts on Bill Maher’s REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER and again in the web-only follow-up OVERTIME.

818Nt-CU4eLNo matter what you might feel about Maher, Tirado is probably the most straightforward spokesperson for the disenfranchised in this country. Mostly because she knows of what she speaks from a lifetime of experience. Intelligent, articulate and unafraid, Tirado calls it as it is, something I am unaccustomed to seeing as the large percentage of people who make it onto TV talk shows or the news usually seem to be weighted down by an alternate agenda that completely whitewashes –or at least diminishes– the impact of their statements and arguments.

Tirado’s agenda seems pretty clear and it feels like a swim in a cool pond on a boiling hot day. I actually felt myself breathing easier just listening to her; to have someone articulate these thoughts and feelings in such a straightforward, no-nonsense manner. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been yearning for a voice that matches my own. And the choices out there usually run from cautious to misguided.

I’m also becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Bernie Sanders, who is also quite outspoken here on Maher’s show.

I don’t know if this country has strayed so far from the path that healing and repairing the damage is too late or not, but these two give me hope. I know, hope is a dangerous thing to have since it was the tagline of Obama’s campaign and he turned out to be, well, a Republican in Democrats clothing. But just to hear these things voiced from a place of seeming sincerity, awareness AND understanding… It’s a great potential start.

Now let’s hope some corporate heavyweights with personal agendas and the money to back them don’t come in and usurp it all and turn it into some liberal version of the Tea Party, hence suppressing those rare voices of sincerity.

Linda Tirado is Long Overdue on Overtime

The Gun Crisis In America: Misunderstanding “Freedom”


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Human beings are a tribal people. We have always separated into groups within groups, both physically and psychologically. In the big picture, we are part of a galaxy, which is part of a universe, of which the Earth is one of the planets within that universe. On that planet are many forms of life. One of which is the human being. But it’s difficult to gain a true sense of identity as an individual when you are one of over seven billion people. So as a species, we break up into smaller and smaller groups: continents, nations, countries, states, regions, counties, neighborhoods, communities, schools, work, political leanings, religious affiliations, circles of friends… It’s easier and quite natural to feel “special” as part of a group that represents something we have in common, choices we’ve made, what we want out of life,. The people who “get” us and who we “get.”

As part of a group known as “Americans,” it is — like in many if not all other countries — near impossible to feel “connected” to all individuals comprising that group, even when we may feel a sense of “national” pride. So we continue to break into smaller factions as we whittle down our similarities and differences. And more than I wish, those smaller groups do battle with one another. Either over an inability to allow for other schools of thought and belief systems, over a need to feel superior or “important,” or over injustice, whether real or perceived.

In America, one of these many smaller groups, but large enough to be of considerable consequence to our daily lives, has chosen to define their freedom in a manner that works directly against many of the other values this group espouses. Why is this? Well, partly it’s an aspect of behavior of that larger group mentioned above, human beings. But it also belongs to a group that has a more difficult time comprehending the results and consequences of their actions. There are people out there, perhaps even a majority, whose internal, emotional needs outweigh logic, science, facts, reality, truth and common sense. I suppose most groups say this about opposing groups, but I think in some cases, it may well be true. Certainly one human trait is destructiveness. Destruction not only of others, but of ourselves.

I have had many conversations with many people on both sides of the gun-control debate/argument. As guns are not an important part of my life, it would be easy for me to dismiss their importance altogether. But I will not. Guns are important to the people who appreciate them and therefore have value. However –and there really IS a “however”– guns are — though not exclusively — widely used by human beings to kill other human beings. One group killing another group. One individual killing another individual. One individual killing a group. Let’s face it, guns were created for the purpose of killing, be it man or beast, despite the fact that they can also be used for other purposes: target practice or sport, for example. And, like cars, there are many different makes and models of guns. There are different levels of performance and quality and, for a gun owner, collecting guns can be exciting. Make no mistake, the creation of different guns is an art form and collectors are collecting creations they admire. Guns and the various levels of talent associated with using them, can say something about who you are, a form of self-expression. ALL of these things are valid and important and I would not want to see that devalued.

And…

While I am certain that for the average person, pulling a trigger and shooting another human being is most probably a very difficult and painful experience, one that many simply could not follow through with, it is far easier by comparison to shoot someone than engage in hand-to-hand combat and drive a knife into your “enemy.” It is certainly less personal. You don’t have to touch them, smell them, go near them, or even be seen by them. And let’s face it, for some people, killing another human being is simply far less difficult than we’d like it to be. And guns make it easier. Of course we all know inanimate objects do not often kill people (unless you’re REALLY standing in the wrong place at the wrong time), but guns are a very strong means with which to kill. And by the very nature of many guns, killing in larger numbers is made easier and more “practical” via gun use than knives. The other part of the equation is that knives have a place in our day-to-day lives. Food preparation, eating, whittling, cutting rope, etc.

Cars can and have been used as weapons. As have planes. But they, too, have other, more practical purposes. Purposes they were created for. None of these things were created for killing. Guns were created to be weapons. Like I said above, they don’t “need” to be used as weapons, but that is their primary purpose.

Lately there has been a “movement” by many American gun-owners to publicly display their love, admiration and commitment to their guns by taking them out into public places. Malls, shopping centers, restaurants… In a culture that is in the midst of seeing an overwhelming rise in not only gun deaths but in mass shootings, strapping a gun or guns to your back and strutting your stuff in public is less an act of enacting your rights and more an act of terrorism. The average American citizen is not comfortable with the public presence of guns. Unlike some other countries where this is the norm, America is no longer that place and hasn’t been for a very long time. In this day and age, anyone carrying a gun in public who isn’t a police officer is seen as a potential threat (and even some police officers are seen as potential threats).

Those who enjoy “enacting their legal right” to carry unconcealed weapons with them into places where doing so will very likely induce fear, anxiety, and unease, where there are children present, where people expect to go with some sense that they are not endangering their lives by doing so, is an act of terrorizing. You don’t have to point that gun in order to induce fear, agitation, alarm. The potential for something to go horribly wrong rises exponentially in such an instance. Anyone who does not understand this concept and acts out in such a way as to cause distrust and worry for one’s wellbeing, is already someone that the average person would consider worthy of concern.

I know that many of the people behaving in this manner do so with the notion that it actually makes a place more safe, not less. Someone is there to protect you if need be. Unfortunately, most people do not feel safer in a world where weapons like guns are that easily accessible. Oftentimes, if not MOST times, these public gun-toters do so under the guise of enacting their “freedom” under the 2nd Amendment.

That greatly misunderstood word: Freedom.

It sounds an awful lot like other countries and schools of thought that many Americans would deem, well, unAmerican. We live in a country of laws and we do so for a reason. They are not there to limit, but to protect, to create a life and a community wherein we can feel safe and secure, at least as much as is possible. And those laws are constantly changing with the times and the needs of the people, as we evolve, individually and as a nation. Using the excuse that it has always been so so it should continue being so is not a concept this country was founded on. Laws are changed all the time. Our nation was designed to do this. It is what, theoretically, allows it to function and continue on into the future, to grow. For instance, it is no longer illegal to sell and consume alcohol, slavery is now illegal, interracial marriage is now legal, gay marriage is in the midst of becoming legal country-wide, murder is illegal…

The 2nd Amendment, its creation and purpose, may not only no longer be relevant to modern-day America, it may be holding us back or, worse, sending us backwards. Australia’s staunchly conservative Prime Minister John Howard (11 March 1996 to 3 December 2007), a gun advocate, close friend of George W. Bush and a vocal supporter of the war in Iraq, wrote about America’s obsession with the 2nd Amendment:

“The Second Amendment, crafted in the immediate post-revolutionary years, is more than 200 years old and was designed to protect the right of local communities to raise and maintain militia for use against external threats (including the newly formed national government!). It bears no relationship at all to the circumstances of everyday life in America today. Yet there is a near religious fervour about protecting the right of Americans to have their guns — and plenty of them.”

After a series of gun massacres culminating in a shooter in the town of Port Arthur, Tasmania, who went on a rampage and killed 35 people in what is considered the worst episode of this kind of slaughter in Australian history, Howard instituted a comprehensive set of gun-control laws, much to the vocal opposition of many of his right-wing counterparts. The result? According to Time Magazine:

The results have been tangible: A widely cited 2010 study in the American Journal of Law & Economics showed that gun-related homicides in Australia dropped 59% between 1995 and 2006. The firearm-suicide rate dropped 65%. There has been no mass shooting in Australia since the Port Arthur attack.

I have heard many argue that the problem is not actually guns, but mental illness. It’s absolutely true that mental illness is a problem in this country. Since the Reagan era, help and resources for the mentally ill and their families has been horrifyingly limited. I know too many families with children who are mentally ill and potentially dangerous in the same ways many of our mass shooters turned out to be, who cannot get the proper help for their children UNTIL their children act out in such a blatant way as to get themselves committed for treatment and evaluation. They must PROVE through ACTION that they are a danger to themselves or others. For most, as we have seen with so many mass shootings and suicides, this can already be too late. At the same time, there must be a great level of protection for all people so that they cannot be “committed” simply because their family thinks they should be. There must be a strong and detailed process for this. And that process should not be decided on by Legislators, but mental health professionals from lawyers who specialize in mental health to the doctors who treat patients suffering with mental illness.

But that’s just a start.

Gun-control laws also need to be in place so that anyone who has been committed or arrested for actions that may be attributed to mental illness cannot acquire a gun without going through a very serious evaluation by the above-mentioned professionals. This, like those who have been incarcerated for violent crimes, should be red flags against gun-ownership. In order for things to change, in order for this country to become a safer place, both sides of the argument need be addressed. Suggesting one without the other is only going to prolong results and that means more deaths. The gun-culture in America still needs to change.

There was a time in U.S. history when the mentally ill didn’t simply reach for a gun to enact their dysfunctions. No, that is learned behavior. And distinguishing the mentally ill from the mentally stable is sometimes a very large grey area and, in some cases, quite subjective. If you can’t “cure” mental illness today, then other actions must be taken. And those actions are within our grasp.

As for the notion of guns and freedom, there are already many countries in the world where anyone can obtain, carry and use a gun with no laws barring them from doing so. Equating carrying a gun around in public with freedom is, well, not unfamiliar…

The following is a comment made by a recent Syrian national who had been living in Britain (which has tough gun-control laws) who recently left the U.K. to return to Syria to join the ISIS call for Jihad:

“I don’t miss a thing, you know? I felt like I was in prison in that country. And I am here, I feel free, you know? I can drive, I don’t need a license, I don’t need insurance, I don’t need this and that just to watch TV. You don’t need a TV license. All of these things — you know, you feel like you’re in prison, you’re being punished… Here, it’s freedom. Totally freedom. I can walk around with a Kalashnikov if I want to, with an RPG if I want to.” –Abu Sumayyah, Idlib, Syria.

Freedom.

The following images are American men and women enacting their “freedom” in well-attended, family-oreinted, public places.

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Luckily for many of us, the “freedom-displaying antics” of those pictured above and others like them has resulted in guns actually being banned from places they previously had not been. This should — at the very least — suggest that the actions of these folks and their intended results are not really in sync with reality or practicality. Might I suggest a reevaluation?

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If freedom for you means the right to carry high-powered weapons around without restriction, without having to pass a test or even knowing how to use your weapon, do you also think the government should not demand that you have a driver’s license and insurance to drive a car? Do those notions feel too restrictive for you? Are they tantamount to being in prison? Do you feel they unfairly limit your freedom? If so, then there are countries that already function without restriction or regulation for such things. I’m not saying “leave America.” I’m saying “Be careful what you ask, wish and fight for.”

The countries that mirror the freedoms described above are universally considered dangerous places to live. And for good reason. Many of their citizens often live in fear. And despite the fact that many of the groups and individuals carrying guns do so for their own protection and/or to stand up to a corrupt government, the consequences are always, without fail, bloody, lawless, terrifying and supremely damaging to the entire nation and its inhabitants.

These are very unstable countries with shockingly high murder rates. If every gun owner were a responsible, self-reflective, empathetic, sympathetic human being, maybe this course of action would work. But the human race does not function as such. That particular group is made up of so many smaller opposing groups, as mentioned above, that dependance on guns as a means of protection and a realistic solution to a nationwide problem is simply not realistic. It is pure fantasy, the proof for which is there for the taking in countries and scenarios being acted out across our globe. Syria and Iraq today, for example. Fear and instability are what these countries have in common.

On the other side of the coin, many countries that have strong and responsible gun-control laws have among the lowest murder rates on the planet. And mass killings are almost unheard of; they are a bizarre anomaly and not the rising daily event it has become in our nation. These results can be witnessed in countries like the above-mentioned Australia, which has a large gun-culture (and, like America, was a country “tamed” via gun-violence), but has seen massive reductions in homicides and mass killings since enacting strict gun-laws. But there are reports and findings that suggest simply enacting gun laws alone is not enough. The data changes from country to country and here in the U.S. from state to state. The culture itself needs to change. This happens through gun-regulation laws that directly link responsibility with gun-ownership. It means a higher awareness in conjunction with direct educational practices on the potential negative repercussions of gun use and abuse. It means teaching history. Accurately. It means looking to other nations and their laws and practices as examples of what works and what does not, and who we would like to hold up as an example, and who we would not. In this arena, America is NOT currently leading the way. Far from it.

Here’s a chart outlining countries with the largest firearms ownership per person around the world. America, of course, is on top:

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The following chart shows the homicide by firearm rate per 100,000 people in those same countries. Again, America leads.

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So what is it that America is and isn’t doing that led to such staggering numbers? If these were the statistics on ANY other crises in our country, be it bridges collapsing or buildings imploding or deadly gas leaks in schools or terrorist attacks, there would be a universal uprising by all citizens to be protected. We simply could not ignore or excuse the numbers. So what is it about our gun-culture that allows so many people to push it aside, blame it on something else, or simply demand “more proof?”

Then there’s suicide, the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S. According to the Harvard School of Public Health:

“In 2010, 38,364 people killed themselves. In more than half of these cases, they used firearms. Indeed, more people in this country kill themselves with guns than with all other intentional means combined, including hanging, poisoning or overdose, jumping, or cutting.

“Though guns are not the most common method by which people attempt suicide, they are the most lethal. About 85 percent of suicide attempts with a firearm end in death. (Drug overdose, the most widely used method in suicide attempts, is fatal in less than 3 percent of cases.) Moreover, guns are an irreversible solution to what is often a passing crisis. Suicidal individuals who take pills or inhale car exhaust or use razors have time to reconsider their actions or summon help. With a firearm, once the trigger is pulled, there’s no turning back.”

Currently, the Islamic State of Iraq & Syria (ISIS) is comprised of men, women and children who feel that their government has systematically alienated and abused them, subjected them to lesser freedoms and treated them as second-class citizens. They are fighting for their rights. So why is it that ISIS is also synonymous with murder, terrorism, fear, insanity, irresponsibility and deemed an untrustworthy and unstable group? How about the following:

Here, a boy crouches, machine gun in hand, moments before the two blindfolded men seen below were shot. (Image source: ISIS video via MEMRI). The shooting of ISIS “opponents,” their hands tied behind their backs as they are shot in the back of the head by masked “executioners” has become an official mark of the group.

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Here, another boy waves the black flag of ISIS in celebration and solidarity (Image source: ISIS video via MEMRI).

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The dead bodies of the executed men were paraded through the town in front of children who had come to watch the “festive public execution,” as it was promoted. This happened in the main square of Manbij outside Syria’s largest city of Aleppo. The executioners then hanged the bodies crucifixion-style in the town’s main square as a warning to others. This is NOT an unusual or singular experience in this region. It has become part of the culture. Guns, violence, executions (outside of any law, I might add) and random acts of terror, humiliation and outright murder is commonplace. The examples of gun culture and its effect on both human beings and the many varied groups they belong to is well-documented and all of recorded history since the invention of the gun bears out the same results.

So why are there so many people in America who believe that, somehow, we can make the same choices and observe a different outcome? Why do they believe the desire by many for gun-control laws stems from the media “taking advantage” of tragedies like the Newtown, CT. elementary school shooting to further a “political agenda?” I would guess, in part, that some people are more interested in getting what they want and attaching themselves to any belief system that bears out their desires than in actually taking a breath, trying to understand the far-reaching effects of particular schools of thought and actions, and making the hard decision to do what is best for the safety of innocent human lives, our fellow citizens, our neighbors, and agree that the freedom for any human being, any American citizen, to easily obtain and use a weapon as potentially deadly as a gun, and most especially semi-automatic weapons, oftentimes with the purchase of high capacity magazines, is NOT what is going to make America more safe.

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Take a look at the recent standoff at the Bundy Ranch. Hundreds of armed men and women gathered to defend a man, Cliven Bundy, who had broken the law by not paying grazing fees on his property for over 20 years.

The basic history of the land fees goes like this: In 1933, Edward T. Taylor, a Representative from Colorado, reintroduced a bill which became known as the Taylor Grazing Act (TGA). It was intended to regulate grazing on public lands to improve rangeland conditions. This service later became the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which managed about 167 million acres of publicly-owned rangeland. As a result, farmers with cattle grazing on these federal rangelands are required to pay a fee.

Bundy claimed that he inherited “pre-emptive grazing rights” on public domain land since some of his maternal grandmother’s ancestors had kept cattle there. Bundy took his case to court and lost since there is no such thing as “pre-emptive grazing rights.” The court ruled that Bundy needed to pay the same fees as thousands of other ranchers throughout the U.S. Bundy and his family had actually been paying the grazing fees until 1993, after which, due to refusal-of-payment, Bundy’s grazing permit was cancelled. In court, Bundy failed to prove that he had special rights to grazing privileges that others did not. So, not getting what he wanted, Bundy decided he no longer acknowledged that the United States owned this land and therefore the laws were not valid and, as a result, he would not recognize or honor them.

BundyStandoffRight-Wing organizations and media outlets from Fox News’ Sean Hannity to the Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity made Bundy a celebrity and egged on protestors to show up and stop the “tyranny” and “intimidation” of the Federal government. The circus that followed saw a well-armed group protecting Bundy’s “rights” and “freedoms” via threats of violence. Even Bundy himself acknowledged that he was not interested in a peaceful resolution. “You gonna be a peacemaker,” said Bundy, “you’re gonna be on the BLM’s side.” 

A protester aims his weapon from a bridge next to the Bureau of Land Management's base camp where seized cattle, that belonged to rancher Cliven Bundy, are being held at near Bunkerville

These men and women took an actively armed stance to defend a man who simply did not believe he needed to follow the same laws as others and, when he lost that battle in court, decided that they would defend Bundy’s personal lawless vision through threat of gun violence. Was this a last resort? No. Were there more legal channels to go through? Yes. Does this example of defying the law through violence work toward a safer country? No. It continues a culture of violence as a means to an end.

It wasn’t until Bundy revealed some of his other beliefs, such as his comments about black people in America, that some, though far from all, of his media supporters backed off. “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” stated Bundy. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.” Less freedom than slavery? Really? Is this who we are meant to follow? Is this the incarnation of the future of America we’re meant to take up arms and fight for? The ones the media agitates us to support? You want to talk about dangerous media manipulation? Here it is. Don’t believe the media is helping fuel fear and misinformation as well as a call for violent resolution that leads to misguided and potentially bloody standoffs? Check out Fox News’ “Judge” Jeanine Pirro’s Opening Statement on “diseased” immigrant children and about Iraq and ISIS and how we need to bomb them. And then bomb them again. All in the name of “Justice.”

Getting back to that grey area between mentally ill and mentally stable, I would suggest that Jeanine Pirro’s mental stability is seriously in question. Is she who we want calling the shots? Is she who we want to listen to and follow? What percentage of the American public does she represent? To me, she is an extremist as dangerous as any terrorist organization spreading propaganda and calling for violence.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against taking action. I’m not suggesting we simply trust the government and not speak up to support our beliefs and to protect our freedoms. No, our country was created to allow for protests and free speech and for change to be made possible. But not through armed-response. Once again, that misguided course of action is something that is currently being showcased across the globe and throughout the Middle-East, and the results are universally catastrophic.

There is a dangerously fine line between the mentality and media propaganda that allowed the Bundy ranch fiasco to come into existence and the “festive execution” of Syrians detailed above. Both saw themselves and presented themselves to others as individuals fighting for “Freedom.”

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And both promoted a “festive” and celebratory gathering. With children. And guns.

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Waving flags in celebration and solidarity. Remind you of anything?

Protesters gather at the Bureau of Land Management's base camp near Bunkerville, Nevada

Now understand, I have a deep distrust of the U.S. government. Particularly in this day and age when corruption and lies have become trophies for many in public office so long as they don’t get caught. America is a country of bullies. We like to see and present ourselves as saviors and those defending justice, but more often than not, self-interest is at the heart of our actions as a nation. And that example trickles down from the top and into the hearts and minds of potentially every citizen. It becomes our defining culture. It has proven to be the enormously ugly side of Capitalism and highlights many of the very real weaknesses inherent to all human beings and, more often than not, it backfires and we end up paying the price for our own lack of insight and our inability to take a step back and see exactly who and what we have become.

Take the deadly lawlessness under the guise of responsible American Business of Blackwater, which had a $1 billion contract to protect American diplomats in Iraq, and was later termed “an environment full of liability and negligence” by the State Department’s chief investigator. Despite the State Department’s initial evaluation, Blackwater became so powerful that, after Blackwater employees fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007 and a State Department investigation was initiated, they managed to force the inquiry to a quick close after Blackwater’s top manager threatened “that he could kill the government’s chief investigator and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq.” The result? American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators, who were asked to leave the country because “they disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor.” 

Violence and bullying over law and morality. This is an American-made beast. It is a part of who we are and what we breed.

But these weaknesses are no excuse to not strive for growth, to not attempt to leave a world for the generations to follow that is a bit better than the one we lived ourselves. Publicly arming ourselves and educating that Might is Right is in no way, shape or form, going to move us forward. Only back.

There is a big difference between being responsible and honoring and respecting the lives of fellow Americans, fellow human beings, regardless of similarities or differences, by enacting laws that limit gun ownership, the types of guns available, the ability to obtain high-powered semi-automatic, high-capacity magazine wielding weapons, and having the “freedom” to do what one pleases and desires regardless of the danger to others, not to mention the stability of the country itself.

Guns are not going away. Know that. Embrace that. But creating and enacting laws that prevent mass shootings and high public death-rates, is not the enemy, nor is it imprisonment or taking away freedoms. It is being responsible and facing the truth of the dangers of a society with a strong gun presence and easy access to them.

The only reason these laws are being fought against is because there are powerful lobby groups (the NRA being one of the strongest) who stand behind those for whom the sale of guns is a colossal money-making endeavor. And for those people, those companies and organizations, bringing in that level of money is so far-reaching, so deeply embedded, that human lives, American lives, are not a higher priority. So they prey on those who love guns, who understand guns, and who are ready to fight, even spill blood, in an ironic attempt to defend that right, that “freedom.” No matter what the cost.

These people are not our enemy. They, too, are our fellow Americans. And they are systematically being compromised via fear-tactics and misinformation by those who have made it an art with a sense of pride and identity to manipulate others into fighting against their own well-being by preying on their needs, their desires, their history with and their love for that which has become a part of their identities, their guns.

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No one wants to strip you of your identity or that which you love. They only want to create laws that make our country a safer place, a more civilized, humane place to live. It’s one of the very things that separates us from so many other countries and makes us potentially “special.” It is one of the ways this particular group, Americans, can lead by example through our willingness to be self-reflective, to make difficult but necessary choices, to consider the safety and well-being of our fellow Americans, our fellow human beings, to be important above all other things.

Anything less will result in a country that does not resemble the America our forefathers envisioned. Nor that of any honest human being desiring to move forward by learning from the mistakes of the past, as well as the mistakes of the present.

The Gun Crisis In America: Misunderstanding “Freedom”

DARK KNIGHT RISES Viewers Mistake Conservative Cinema For Liberal Agenda


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Spoiler Alert!

The most amazing thing to me is that people saw THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and accused it of being Liberal Propaganda because the “villain’s” name was Bane. Did they watch the film?!!! THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is the single biggest, most overt piece of Republican propaganda to come out of Hollywood in decades. The villain’s name is spelled BANE, not because it’s a thinly disguised mask for Bain, but because the villain is a plague, a pestilence, a burden. “The Bane of my existence.”

I was also surprised by how many people hated this film. I thought it was the best of the trilogy, richest in character and far more socially, politically and morally complex than any movie of its kind in generations. I found it vastly entertaining and immensely disappointing in its severely Right-wing leanings.

dark-knight-rises1Nolan claims there is no political thought or agenda to the film. Say it enough times and maybe people will believe you. This film has politics oozing out of every pore and crevice.  And unlike the lazy schmucks a la Rush Limbaugh who accuse the film of being Liberal Propaganda simply because they don’t have the patience or brain-capacity to follow the actual plot of the film itself, anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention will realize that the whole Batman series has been a big promoter of conservative thinking. Remember that illegal surveillance system Batman builds and uses despite Morgan Freeman’s objections? The one he “needed” to use to get the job done? For the good of the people, the masses? Even though it was morally and legally wrong? Patriot Act, anyone?

Well, now Nolan’s “villain” seems to have more in common with Occupy Wall Streeters than he has with Bain Capital. Or the Tea Party. Joke’s on us. His “revolution” against the rich fails. Though he frightens the poor and huddled masses into doing his bidding and sentencing the rich to death, he is ultimately leading his “followers” to their own demise. He’s “using” them. He and his followers “demonize” the rich when, in fact, the film suggests by the end that the rich are the ones best equipped to save us, to protect us. He attacks Wall Street, for Christ’s sake! And in doing so, Bane cruelly drains the rich of their bank accounts and leaves them penniless. But when one character suggests they can afford it, another reminds us that it hurts everyone in the long run. And the rich aren’t really helpless are they? No. Through sheer will and belief, they rise up against their attackers, with pride, with dignity, heads held high, so they can go and live “good” lives, “clean” lives, honorable, straight, American lives.

Bain Capital is known for putting people out of work. Buying companies, increasing their debt, paying out handsomely to Bain itself while closing most of those businesses and displacing workers. Bane, in the film, offers those out-of-work, lower-class citizens a place to gather, to thrive, to work. Very little Bain about it. Meanwhile, Batman has developed a new source of energy that he is afraid to share. Much like the argument that we shouldn’t be sharing nuclear resources with Iran. “In the hands of the wrong person…” That person turns out to be Miranda (along with Bane), who gets control over the new energy source under false pretenses (wants to develop safe energy), THEN turns it into a bomb. That makes her a terrorist. And liberals have been accused by conservatives of being too lenient on potential terrorists. The argument with Iran is that they are building the means with which to build a bomb under the guise of wanting to create safe energy for their country. Sound familiar? Many conservatives, both here and abroad, think we should stop them now and not wait until it’s too late. Obama is the one who is accused of letting them “get too close” to having a nuclear bomb. Add to all this the fact that it is a Russian helping them complete their task.

Then there’s Commissioner Gordon who is accused of being a “war-time” commissioner. Because there’s no longer a “visible war” going on, he is considered outdated by his superiors who want to replace him. It turns out, of course, that Gordon is right and the city –the world– is attacked and his war-time thinking is now much needed. Always has been. But the public at large had been lured into a false sense of security. This is VERY much in sync with accusations that the Obama Administration is being too lenient, is not doing enough to prevent terrorism, wanting to cut the military budget, close Guantanamo, etc.

Catwoman. She ultimately joins forces with Batman, doesn’t she? And Batman’s comments about “no guns, no killing?” Catwoman gets the final word on that when she saves his sorry ass with a gun and some killing (of Bane, misunderstood leader of the OWS movement who is more motivated by misplaced anger, hatred and repression –slavery?– than by any real care for the people) and then lets us know that she’ll be keeping her guns and not buying into Batman’s gentler philosophy. Nice try, Caped Crusader.

great-marion-cotillard-was-talia-al-ghul-1And remember, Bane’s demise is his bleeding heart for that poor little girl he saved from poverty and repression, who grew up to be rich and powerful out of spite, and who uses her new power to finish her father’s work. Eerily familiar to accusations of Obama wanting to take on his father’s “anti-colonialism crusade.” Remember, she’s the one who pretends to be our friend, –so smart, so articulate– then, quite literally, STABS us in the back!

And it’s Bane who insists imprisoned criminals are actually repressed individuals who should be freed. Again, a conservative interpretation of a common liberal agenda to end the death penalty, close Guantanamo, and be more “lenient” on criminals they don’t see as hazardous to the public at large (but who are, in fact, represented as an angry mob of killers and thieves who bring lawlessness to the streets).

All this said, there is enough acknowledgement of the flaws in today’s Republican Party and some of the choices that have been made. It’s not ALL black and white. There are some very interesting grey areas and that’s part of what makes the film so damned fascinating and conversation-worthy. Conversation-worthy! THAT must be why no one likes the film! Hell, who wants to be challenged to think? Thought-provoking as I found it and as entertained as I was, I also feel a bit dirty as the film clearly lands with a vision that far more strongly favors a conservative course of action. For example, the film acknowledges that people are out of work. But it suggests that their desperation and anger has led them to follow the wrong path. When Bruce Wayne is left penniless but still gets to keep his mansion, it’s his “enemy'” that comments when the rich suffer they don’t “really” suffer. But it’s Bruce Wayne who we sympathize with. If he loses his home, the Bat Cave, he cannot help us. We don’t want to see him lose any more than he already has. The film does a good job in acknowledging other viewpoints, courses of reason, it understands where the anger comes from, why people are disillusioned, but it suggests that the conclusions of those people –their chosen course of action– is ultimately wrong, misguided, and dangerous.

To call this film Liberal Propaganda is to have not actually watched the film at all. However, THOSE accusations against the film exist and persist. And as a result,  THE DARK KNIGHT RISES elicits an undesired and –I’m willing to bet– unexpected effect in that it unintentionally points out the ridiculousness and stupidity, the sheer lack of intelligent thought that goes into the accusations made by most of the Conservative Party’s loudest voices.

They don’t even recognize an ally when they see one.

 

DARK KNIGHT RISES Viewers Mistake Conservative Cinema For Liberal Agenda

Hollywood And The Golden Arches Of Mediocrity


As a writer and filmmaker, I have, for as long as I can remember, felt strongly about storytelling. I was also lucky enough to have grown into adulthood during the second golden age of cinema (the 1970’s). Therefore, my most cherished form of storytelling has been through movies. It is the medium that most speaks to me, the language I most thoroughly embrace that best articulates, for me, what it means to be human. So it seems I take the current state of cinema far more seriously than do certain others for whom films are a mere distraction or, at best, a simple pleasure.

Which leads my desire to draw your attention to an interesting article by Mark Harris in GQ magazine. It’s called THE DAY THE MOVIES DIED and it’s about Hollywood today and the state of films and filmmaking. I think Mark makes some terrific points and observations and they are in keeping with my feelings about the industry and the art form. That said, I think there are areas that are even more complex than Mr. Harris spells them out to be. Though he does an excellent job of offering some very appealing conversation starters. I would also state, as a criticism, that I wish Mr. Harris had offered up some more detailed information regarding his sources as they would have added even more credibility to his stories and insights (e.g. his stated industry reaction to INCEPTION). But all in all, it’s an article worth reading and it paints a picture that, in my opinion, has more truth to it than not. Which saddens me.

I would also turn attention to a book by Columbia professor Tim Wu titled THE MASTER SWITCH: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. Here, too, you will find answers to why we are where we are, why the film industry is what it is, and where we might be heading. The book will also place those questions, answers and concepts onto a much larger stage. It’ll certainly equip you to handle just about any conversation on the subject that might arise and then some.

Here is David Siegfried’s Booklist review of MASTER SWITCH:

A veteran of Silicon Valley and professor at Columbia University, Wu is an author and policy advocate best known for coining the term net neutrality. Although the Internet has created a world of openness and access unprecedented in human history, Wu is quick to point out that the early phases of telephony, film, and radio offered similar opportunities for the hobbyist, inventor, and creative individual, only to be centralized and controlled by corporate interests, monopolized, broken into smaller entities, and then reconsolidated. Wu calls this the Cycle, and nowhere is it more exemplary than in the telecommunications industry. The question Wu raises is whether the Internet is different, or whether we are merely in the early open phase of a technology that is to be usurped and controlled by profiteering interests. Central in the power struggle is the difference between the way Apple Computer and Google treat content, with Apple attempting to control the user experience with slick products while Google endeavors to democratize content, giving the user choice and openness. This is an essential look at the directions that personal computing could be headed depending on which policies and worldviews come to dominate control over the Internet.

Bear with me now as I take you down a seemingly random path that, I assure you, will lead back to the overriding themes at hand. I once knew a man for whom the idea of eating food was nothing more than a means of attaining nourishment and proteins. So much so that after a workout, he would take a beautiful prime cut of beef and toss it headlong into a microwave. The fate of that particular portion of cow was to become a grey, rubbery slab of flavorless meat, with not so much as a sprinkle of pepper or salt to provide some modicum of dignity to the poor deceased beast.

As one who genuinely loves and appreciates a great meal, watching this nightly parade of food abomination was distressing to me, to say the least. So, if you’re like me and you truly love a great meal, imagine what your food world would look like if most available meals were manufactured by McDonalds. Sure, the occasional restaurant might pop up here and there offering something lovingly concocted by a real chef, someone with a deep love of food and food preparation, but that establishment wouldn’t last long enough to build up much of a customer base. No, I’m afraid most of your dining options would be, well, off the McD’s menu. Now, by comparison, an occasional meal at the Olive Garden would suddenly seem downright luxurious, downright masterful in both its preparation and combination of flavors. Olive Garden might even become the Holy Grail of good cooking in the hearts and minds of many. But in truth, we’d be salivating over a plate of supreme mediocrity. To me, Hollywood is the McDonald’s of filmmaking. And occasionally something comes out of the system (usually as a result of a big favor owed) that wows people. And that, my friends, is a meal at the Olive Garden. If you were a chef, you would not want to ply your craft at either McD’s or “The Garden.” They are not designed for you to do what it is you love. And the people who would most appreciate your work, your passion, your gift, would not frequent these places looking for what you have to offer. Anyone who knew what a good Italian meal was –or a good burger, for that matter– would mourn the loss of something exquisite, something great. They would shake their heads in collective misery at the loss of such an elegant art, the loss of that cherished human capacity to create and recognize something that embodies both complex and simple flavors, something which excites the taste buds and satisfies in such a gloriously primal way.

And so we return to my feelings about the current American film industry.

The state of Hollywood today is not good for films, filmmakers or audiences. And it hasn’t been for a long time. We’ve been in a steady decline for many years. And that’s more than just sour grapes or being a curmudgeon. Film is an art, a language, a beautiful and complex animal that mirrors the human condition. But Hollywood today is far from being a place to nourish such desires or, worse, to even dream of them. Perhaps with the way technology has changed, there will be no need for Hollywood anymore. Or maybe there will be a resurgence of filmmakers who truly love film and want to push the boundaries of the medium once again. To explore, to grow, to seek, to touch. But for every one of those, there are still thousands of others whose final destination is Hollywood. And that will yield nothing but mediocrity at its best. I wish it were otherwise. But in a town inundated with accountants and frat boys at the helm, we must look elsewhere for the fruits of the medium. But all of this is in keeping sync with the state of the union, not just the state of Hollywood. The Tea-Party, hard-core conservatism, rabid anti-intellectualism, money over people. It’s why Netflix is becoming the new Blockbuster and corporate interests override human/customer interest or loyalty. It’s why universal health care is demonized and Workers Unions the enemy. All of these things are reflected in one another. Reagan fueled the fire and it’s been snowballing ever since. Not just in politics or the economy, but in every corner of our collective consciousness. Our own Capitalist sensibilities have turned around and bitten us square in the ass and we’re only now starting to comprehend that those are our own teeth embedded there.

Nothing reflects the moods and tone of a nation better than its art. Our priorities as a nation and our ability to fight to accept as little as possible has been a deepening, festering wound. We will either heal it or die from it. I’m rooting for the former myself. But in the meantime, one of the repercussions is that our artists must look elsewhere to create their art, while businessmen and women parade around as filmmakers. And as caring politicians. All of whom would very much like you to try that bold new Angus Burger at McDonalds. Really, you’ll love it.

Hollywood And The Golden Arches Of Mediocrity

Kyl & Bunning: Truth Hurts


I’ve been writing a lot lately about a certain mentality sweeping the country (or, more appropriately, coming into light), where facts and logic no longer count. For example, the internet is a great place to find a group of people who believe what you want to believe. So no matter how many facts are thrown your way contradicting that belief you so dearly want to hold onto, there are enough people out there fighting desperately to maintain that same belief that you can actually find a comfortable little home for yourself all nice and cuddled up with your new friends while completely disregarding facts and/or reality. I see the Tea Partiers and Sarah Palin followers doing this daily.

And in the past few days, we’ve watched Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona fight vigorously for his belief system, even in the face of facts showing that his statements are, plainly and simply, wrong. And the result? Well, it’s always the same. Innocent people get hurt.

Kyl insists:

“[unemployment insurance] doesn’t create new jobs. In fact, if anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work… because people are being paid even though they’re not working.

I’m sure most of them would like work and probably have tried to seek it, but you can’t argue that it’s a job enhancer. If anything, as I said, it’s a disincentive. And the same thing with the COBRA extension and the other extensions here.”

In response, Sen. Max Baucus responded:

“The Senator from Arizona argues that unemployment insurance is a disincentive to jobs. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t know anybody who’s out of work and is receiving some unemployment insurance believes that that payment is sufficient not to find a job. The payments are so much lower than any salary or wage would be, it’s just ridiculous. I might add, there are five unemployed Americans today for every job opening in the economy. People are looking for work. They’re not unemployed because of choice.”

According to the Huffington Post:

[Baucus] added that Kyl’s economic argument was flawed, as well. Unemployment benefits do create jobs because the recipients cycle the money through the economy. He cited a Congressional Budget Office analysis that said the Gross Domestic Product grew $1.90 for every dollar the federal government paid out.

Baucus, ever the bipartisan, gave Kyl a chance to take his accusation back.

“I don’t know if the senator really meant this, but he certainly strongly implied, in fact, I took him to mean that unemployment insurance is a disincentive for people to look for work,” said Baucus.

Kyl’s response:

“My colleague quoted me correctly — almost correctly. I said, it’s not a job creator. If anything, it could be argued that it is a disincentive for work, because people are being paid even though they’re not working. I certainly did not say, and would never imply, that the reason people don’t have jobs is because they’re not looking for them. Now, it is true that a lot of Americans have gotten so tired of looking for jobs or — or believe that they’re not gong to find them, that they have stopped looking. What I said is true and if my colleague could find a source that says it’s not true, then please show me. But providing unemployment benefits does not create jobs.”

And there it is: “if my colleague could find a source that says it’s not true, then please show me. But providing unemployment benefits does not create jobs.”

This statement right on the heels of Baucus having just pointed him toward the CBO analysis.

Even when confronted with economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s comments:

“It puts money into people’s pockets and they spend almost all of it. That creates jobs.”

Kyl still remained firm on his stance regardless of the facts that spoke to the contrary. Yes, I agree with Kyl that there are some out there who may not be looking for jobs because they are receiving unemployment. That will ALWAYS happen in ANY system that offers help. There will always be a number of people who take advantage of the system. For whatever reason, good or not. But that is not the bulk of the people. It would be a miniscule percentage. And in the midst of this recession, with all the suffering and desperation going on in this country as a result, this man keeps this much needed money out of the hands of individuals and families who desperately need it. All because he insists on holding on to a belief that has been factually disproved.

Meanwhile, Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning continues his filibuster blocking the Senate from passing a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for the jobless. Even Bunning’s homestate paper slammed him:

As long as Republicans were in charge, Sen. Jim Bunning was OK with trading a surplus for a deficit. He voted to put two wars, tax cuts and a Medicare drug benefit on the nation’s credit card.

Now that Republicans are no longer in charge, Bunning is drawing the line on deficit spending. He’s doing it in a way that shows callous contempt for the more than one in 10 working Kentuckians whose jobs disappeared in the economic meltdown.

We’ve become accustomed to bizarre, egocentric behavior from Bunning. So it wasn’t all that surprising when he single-handedly blocked an unemployment benefits extension for a million people, including 119,230 in Kentucky, whose benefits run out this year. About 14,000 Kentuckians will exhaust their benefits in two weeks without the extension.

Bunning’s filibuster also denies newly laid-off workers help paying for health insurance. It halts road and bridge projects around the country by furloughing 2,000 federal transportation employees, stops reimbursements to state highway programs and cuts Medicare payments to doctors.

To those who know him, it’s not surprising that Bunning answered a Democratic colleague’s complaint with a crude profanity. Or that he joked about missing a basketball game while pushing some unemployed Kentuckians into homelessness or bankruptcy.

What is surprising is that Trey Grayson and Rand Paul, the leading Republicans to succeed Bunning, jumped on his one-man band wagon.

Bunning’s articulate and now-infamous response to the facts and pleas presented to him?

“Tough shit.”

Meanwhile, according to the Huff Post:

The National Flood Insurance Program expired Sunday night after Congress failed to pass a temporary extension of the program that is vital to protecting homes in the New Orleans area.

The lapse puts home sales at risk and could leave homeowners whose policies were scheduled to renew March 1 in jeopardy in the unlikely event that Monday’s rains turned out to be heavy enough to cause flooding.

So it seems facts and truth no longer have any meaning in today’s world for men like Bunning and Kyl. No matter the consequences. They believe what they want to believe. And they are representative of a growing mindset shared by a segment of Americans.

True or false?

Kyl & Bunning: Truth Hurts

Barb Davis White Has Gay Bowel Disease. Of The Mouth


Tea Party activist and Republican candidate for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, embarrassed both her district and herself when she spoke up during a legislative committee meeting in Minnesota on same-sex marriage.

“Rosa Parks did not move to the front of the bus to support sodomy.”

Wow. Someone needs to inform Ms. White that there are heterosexuals who also engage in sodomy. Yes, Ms. White, even married ones.

White went on to add insult to injury by proclaiming:

“Studies also show that the average homosexual has hundreds of sexual partners in his lifetime… and I repeat hundreds. I’m here today to tell you that homosexuality and lesbian behavior is unhealthy.”

She then went on to “explain” how gays and lesbians have higher rates of STDs than anyone else in the world, and also suffer from “gay bowel disease,” which, in reality, does not exists. There is no such thing. But reality never seems to play a big part in this ongoing argument being made by religious figures and tea baggers.

Law professor Teresa Stanton Collett who is running as a Rebublican for the 4th Congressional District added:

“Make no mistake: Marriage, as a civil institution, as a legal institution, is grounded not merely in religion but also in the biological reality that sex makes children and children need a mom and a dad. And should we choose to redefine that legally we will put the religious and moral beliefs of all Minnesotans at issue.”

I’m always amazed at this statement which is repeated ad nauseam by these small-minded individuals. It pretty much disregards marriage for anyone who does not want to have children or, god-forbid, can’t. It also suggests that heterosexual parents who lose their partner are doomed to have some pretty fucked-up kids–justified social outcasts, if you will–as a result of being a single parent. It also assumes that all Americans see marriage as a religious union. And not just any religious union, but a union under Ms. White and Ms Collett’s religion! People like this seem clueless that their misguided judgement of others causes more pain and suffering and is far more “unhealthy” then anything same-sex marriages could ever possibly be accused of being.

Here’s more of Ms. White’s concerns:

“There is no difference between a black person and a white person other than their skin color when there’s a tremendous difference between a man and a woman. Allowing a black woman and a white man to marry does not change the definition of marriage. However, allowing two men or two women to marry would fundamentally change that definition.”

White, who is a black woman, would not have been allowed to marry a white man just 50 years ago. Because it was considered unhealthy. Abnormal. And, maybe worst of all, against God. Shame on you Ms. White. Rosa Parks is most assuredly turning in her grave.

Barb Davis White Has Gay Bowel Disease. Of The Mouth