Sunday, July 31, 2016

No One Gives A Damn What You Think!

For some reason, the one thing that I still haven’t let go of in the wake of my decision to stop “officially” covering the NBA is my Twitter account. I guess it’s because I enjoy being able to talk back to news makers. Maybe it’s because I still feel a little bit obligated to tweet out insider information I still get related to the game I covered for 17 years. Whatever the reason, there is a cost involved with using a medium that anybody with internet access can join.

Of course, with a US Presidential election drawing near, I have been following political news and commenting on same via Twitter and just about every other form of communication. I am an administrator on a Bernie Sanders Facebook group with more than 45K members and have been an avid supporter of his campaign. Now that he’s out, I’m trying my best to convince myself that Hillary Clinton will fight the good fight for the middle class and the progressive values Sanders champions. It was in response to one of my tweets on this subject that some guy responded with this:

“Aren’t you just a sports writer? No one gives a damn what you think!”

It’s not uncommon for some idiot to respond in this way. If I could count the number of times I’ve had a rude, non-thinking response to something I tweeted I’m sure it would be a high number. I either block the person, respond with some equally inelegant remark, or put them down in a manner that is too sophisticated for them to understand. I have two degrees in English and teach college literature . . .I can do that in my sleep. 

Every once in a while, however, one of them sticks with me, and this was one of those.

No matter what I do for a living, my opinion on a political race matters. It matters a great deal, in fact. You see, America is a democracy (at least in name), and in a democracy everyone’s opinion matters. Whether you’re a professional writer, a teacher, a corporate CEO, a garbage collector, a movie producer or the person who bags groceries at the grocery store down the street, YOUR OPINION MATTERS.

Not only does it matter, the very existence of a functioning democracy depends on you informing yourself about the critical issues facing this country, discussing them with as many people as you can find to discuss them with - and that includes on social media - and then voting for the person or issue that best represents your vision of America’s future.

My response to the guy who told me no one cares what I think was to simply fire back the first movie line that came to my mind:

“Congressman Pennybaker, on election day people give a damn about what I tell them to give a damn about. THAT’S why I have a job.”  - Annette Bening, The American President

Then I blocked the guy and moved on.

But an hour or so I found myself thinking about that and, you know, being a writer I sat down to write this.

A better movie line to respond with would have been this one, from the same amazing movie:

America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours." You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.

Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free. - Michael Douglas/President Andrew Shepherd

Right now our elected leaders mostly do the bidding of the super-rich corporations that find them in their ever more expensive campaigns. Some might go so far as to say what we have in America is not democracy so much as corporate fascism . . .I’ve even said it myself more than a few times. The only way to reclaim out democracy is for the people - ALL THE PEOPLE - to stop  devoting so much attention to entertainment and start paying attention to the real world. That means following politics, applying pressure to our representatives when they don’t do what we want them to do, and showing up at the fucking ballot box.

If you can’t do those basic things, then no, I don’t give a damn what you think.

As Michael Douglas said later in that outstanding speech, America has serious problems and we need serious people to solve them. Donald Trump is not a serious person. He is a reality TV hack and attention whore. His presidential campaign was a publicity stunt, and the fact that he went on to become the Republican nominee for president is a testament to just how far the American people have shoved their heads up their own asses.

My favorite candidate won’t be on the ballot come November. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) fought the good fight, but for reasons we won’t go into here he didn’t get the Democratic nomination. I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton, but she will damn well get my vote. She’s a serious person who is seriously qualified for the job.

No matter what your profession is, you’d better get to the ballot box in November and vote in the best interest of his country, yourself and your family. It’s your responsibility as one who benefits from the way of life our system of government affords you . . .and yes, the only way you have it as good as you have it is because of our system of government.

Whatever you do, don’t let anyone tell you your opinion doesn’t matter. Not only does it matter, it is essential to the future of this country.

I welcome your comments and opinions, even if I don’t agree with them on Twitter - @TheRocketGuy

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Wyatt Earp and America's Gun Issue

Legend has it that when Wyatt Earp took over as town marshall in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881 one of the first things he did was begin enforcing a city ordinance that carrying guns was not allowed within the city limits.

You see, Tombstone, one of the wildest Western towns in the (largely fictitious) American West, was so wild that decent people couldn’t show their faces in town. The gunslingers ruled the day, and that was something Earp simply couldn’t abide. He and his brothers took back the town and shot down the few dastardly villains - in particular Ike Clanton and Billy McLaury - who opposed them. 

When Earp began enforcing Tombstone’s ordinance about carrying firearms, no one cited the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, as we so often do today. Perhaps that was because they were aware that in United States v. Cruikshank (1876), the Supreme Court ruled that, "The right to bear arms is not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence" and limited the applicability of the Second Amendment to the federal government. When the Second Amendment states that “a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” it isn’t giving everyone free right to own and carry the weapon of their choice, it was referring to the militia system that existed in America at the time. 

In United States v. Miller (1939), the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government and the states could limit any weapon types not having a "reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.” So the language here is clear, and only the massive contributions from the gun manufacturing lobby have warped the original intent of the Second Amendment to mean what it seems to today, which is that anyone can carry a semi-automatic assault rifle if they so choose. That is so far from the intent of the law as to be unrecognizable as a derivative.

Warping ahead to modern America, states like Texas have taken things one step further, not only making it legal to own just about anything short of a nuclear bomb, but also to openly carry those weapons. The streets of Texas are now beginning to have the ambiance of Tombstone, Arizona before the Earps arrived to stop the insanity. The natural progression of the “open carry law” was the disgusting display in Dallas last week, where a peaceful march in protest of police shooting seemingly-innocent black men turned into an opportunity for a military veteran with a weapons cache to declare war on white policemen who were there to keep the peace. When the shooting finally stopped, five police officers lay dead, while seven others were wounded.

This event, taken alone, can be written off as the work of an extremist who can be hated and held up as a modern day Clanton or McLaury. He can be seen as an abomination and vilified for his horrific act.

But is that really fair? Does that take in the bigger picture? Let’s take a moment to look at some facts dispassionately and from a Zen perspective before we decide what to make of the latest “lone gunman” to make headlines in Dallas.

America, as a nation, has decided that guns are good. In fact, the more the better. Americans want to shoot for sport, they want to feel that they can defend their property, and they want to be sure they can legally carry the guns that criminals carry illegally. Americans want hunting rifles, hand guns and semi-automatic assault weapons.

As a direct result of the American obsession with guns - and the military conflicts (public and secret) that the American government carries out around the world - gun manufacturers represent one of the most powerful lobbies in government. As such, there is little chance that the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution will ever translate into laws preventing the abuse/perversion of said interpretation.

Due to the fact that just about anyone is liable to be carrying a gun around with them now, police officers are more on alert than ever, and some of those officers open fire on innocent civilians who do not appear to be any direct threat to them or the laws they are tasked with enforcing. 

In one recent incident, a police officer shot and killed a man who was in his car with his family. The officer asked the man to show his identification, and when the man reached for his ID the officer shot him because he thought the man might have been reaching for a gun.

In another recent incident, two officers confronted a man who was selling CDs in front of a convenience store. Video of the event shows the two officers essentially sitting on the man, who could not move, and then shooting him repeatedly because they thought he was reaching for a gun.

There are also many incidents each year in America where many innocent people are killed, such as in the Orlando, Florida night club shooting earlier this year, in which 49 people were murdered by a lone gunman.

A recent New York Times article breaks down an important statistic comparing gun crime in America to that of other industrial societies. Broken down into 24-hour periods and adjusting for population difference, the United States has more than five times the number of gun homicides as the next country on the list.

As a whole, America is not overly concerned about this situation. Yes, there are always the fringe protestors, but no one is putting real pressure on lawmakers to address this situation, nor is it likely that lawmakers could have much of an impact. After all, documentary after documentary has proven that existing laws are easily circumvented either covertly through the black market or openly at gun shows. Show a gun dealer the cash, you can probably take your pick of their stock without a background check or even a valid ID.

In all things, money rules the day. Money makes sure that the people who could most easily fix this problem keep turning blind eyes. Money makes sure that pseudo-news reports keep people afraid of the government coming for their guns, assuring that they keep buying more, assuring that the money is there for the gun lobbyists to make sure the government continues to roast in a disinterested glaze as they cash those checks.

In many ways American society has evolved tremendously since those gunslinging days of the wild, wild West. In this one way, however, de-evolution seems to be taking place, and this time there is no Wyatt Earp riding in to save the day.

The question is, how much longer will we tolerate this? We The People, not the government, not the police . . .US. 

Until we make gun violence the pariah on society that smoking became in the late 20th century, we are going to continue to have a hard time distinguishing between the evening news and the latest Quentin Tarantino film.


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