Sunday, February 21, 2016

The World is Complicated

So tonight I was privileged to attend a special event tonight, honoring a local man who has dedicated his life to living his Sikh faith in all aspects of his life.  KP Singh is a local celebrity, artist, architect and civic voice.  The core of who he is and what he was being honored for was his dedication true multi-faith action and respect.  KP Singh received the interfaith ambassador award from the Center for Interfaith Cooperation and it was well deserved.  For almost 50 years he has been working to bring people of many faith communities together to make Indianapolis a more welcoming inclusive community.  Almost 300 people shared prayers, speeches, a meal and Bollywood dancing to honor not only this one man but the ideals that bring people of all faiths together.  

Then I came home and read this:

 Craziness continues. Really sad.
A Muslim woman wearing hijab last Sunday is pursued by a honking truck after dropping her children off at Sunday School. At the traffic light the truck pulls up to her and keeps honking trying to get her attention. When she looks over he exposes her genitals to her. She looks away but he pursues her honking until he realizes she is trying to jot down his license plate.
Muslim woman wearing hijab stops at a traffic light. A police officer pulls up next to her. Indicates that she should roll down her window. She does assuming she was doing something wrong. He spits at her and yells obscenities and then drives away.
Two different women but both incidents in Plainfield, Indiana. Both women afraid to report to law enforcement for fear of being under scrutiny.

This is disgusting and such the opposite of what we were all celebrating tonight.  This is the attitude and dare I say evil we are fighting against when we come together to share our faiths with others.  We live in culture today that appears to be rewarding brash and crass language that will demonize an entire faith for the actions of a few who distort the faith for their own desires.  The fact that a police officer felt it was fine to accost a citizen using the power of his badge.  I hope they find the officer and I hope they fire him for this action against all being a police officer stands for.  

So to inoculate the world against the ignorant bigotry that is vomited at political rallies and draws this sickening behavior out of people I would like to challenge anyone reading this to do a few things.  Some of which we were charged by KP Singh to do at the dinner.
1.  Spend time with someone of a different faith.  Not to talk about your faith and theirs but to just be together.  Everyone knows someone  who worships differently.  Go and just hang out and you will be surprised what you will learn.
2.  Learn about others.  Too often what we know about people of other faiths are cartoonish or stereotypical.  Actually learn.  Talk to people, read, or simply go experience any of the many multi-faith programs that occur virtually everywhere.  You might have to search for them but google is your friend. 
3. Challenge the loud, bigoted voices that find a forum all the time.  Challenge those who propagate misinformation about people's difference, based on faith, race, culture or national origin, or simply how someone lives their life by choice or by birth.  Diversity should not be easily shouted down in the public square.  We own that space.  Let it not be polluted by hate as we wouldn't allow a local river to be a dumping ground.  

We all have a stake in this.  Let's step up and make our country a place where we never have to read about a police officer spitting at someone because of who they are.  It is not a place we can be proud of.  

Friday, February 12, 2016

We Have Seen this Movie Before

On May 13, 1939, the German transatlantic liner St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany, for Havana, Cuba. On the voyage were 937 passengers. Almost all were Jews fleeing from the Third Reich. The story of the St. Louis has been told and retold, but it appears that the world needs to see this movie again.  The people aboard the ship were seeking a new life in the Americas and they saw Cuba as a place they could find safety until the United States or other countries would take them in.  But there were problems.  Cuba, like most of the world, was recovering from the Great Depression.  The politics of Cuba at the time, with corrupt government officials and right wing leadership called for the stopping of Jewish refugees from Europe.  It led to the passengers being blocked from entry into Cuba before they even set sail, though those passengers didn't know the political infighting on the ground.  Most of the passengers were denied departure in Cuba and sought refuge in the U.S. which was also denied.  Blatant anti-immigration and anti-semitic voices won out.  Then President Roosevelt did not have the will to fight a Congress that had recently failed to open the U.S. to Jewish children fleeing the Nazis.  The story ends with both hope and tragedy.  While the U.S. and Cuba denied those people a chance at life, Britain, France, and the Netherlands opened their doors.  However, because so many were in the path of Nazi expansion moving through WW II 254 people lost their lives in death camps because of the failure of the land of the free because of hatred and fear.  

Since that time many countries have sought to treat refugees better.  Our country has grown stronger because we have had policies that brought in refugees who live and thrive among us.  However recently a new tragedy has been on-going and thus call for us to live up to the values we profess as a culture and a nation.  Syria, as well as other parts of the Middle East, are in turmoil due in part to Western Intervention in the area.  Syria is suffering a war that includes the murderous ISIS that use Islam as a weapon to justify horrors unable to fully comprehend without seeing them, and the standing government of Bashar al-Assad who in response to calls for reforms brutally attacked his own people.  It is estimated that 11% of the population of Syria at the start of the crisis in 2011 has been killed or seriously wounded.  That is 2.5 million people.  Another 7 million are internally displaced, forced to leave their homes but have no way out of the country.  About 4 million have fled, mostly to neighboring countries where they are living in camps and trying to reach western countries and find a new life.  Their lives are in the balance and they will do anything to flee the horrors of home.  The numbers are staggering and what is scary is that we aren't truly sure how accurate they are as they change every day.  Now that Russia has entered the war and bombing without the concern for civilian populations that the Untied States has had they are creating more refugees as those internally displaced are not finding safety at all.  Hope has come in the form of a cease fire that is being negotiated and looks promising but in the end there is still an extraordinary crisis that needs to be addressed.  

But here in the U.S., far from the fighting and the dying, the voices are less than clear.  The Obama administration has pledged to take in some 10,000 refugees over the course of a few years, but because this is an election cycle and because some people thrive in fear there are many who have argued that one refugee is one too many.  Republican governors (including my own here in Indiana) have made the ludicrous statements about banning Syrian refugees at the state line.  Presidential candidates have called for the banning of all Muslims from entering the United States and carpet bombing Syria.  News outlets highlight violence in France and San Bernardino as the result of refugees when, in fact, most if not all involved  were not refugees at all.  While there is an argument of concern that radical thinkers and terrorists could come into the country through the refugee process it is highly unlikely and a seriously dumb way to do it.  What we do know is that people who are in fear and see the West as being unconcerned are ripe for terrorist organizations to exploit.  A drowning man will grab the point of sword and in Syria thousands upon thousands of people are drowning and ISIS will offer that sword.  

What can we do?  Well let us remember the St Louis for starters.  If that happened today, knowing what you know about the Shoah (Holocaust) would you have done anything to help those people seeking asylum in Cuba and the United States?  If so then join me.  Contact your elected officials and tell them we as a nation have a moral responsibly to save those that need our help.  Find out who in your community is helping to resettle refugees, start with churches and Catholic Charities and organizations like Exodus in Indiana or look for other organizations here.  Read reports from reporters on the ground.  Challenge those spreading fear and lies.  Hold your elected officials accountable and find a way to send money to feed and clothe our fellow human beings caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place and the results are that picture we all saw of a young boy face down on a beach.  We can't let that become the new normal. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

I Feel the Bern, but I am Cool with Clinton

I have been a fan of Senator Bernie Sanders since the 1990s when he serve in the House of Representatives. He has always been what he appears to be today.  Running as a democratic socialist is something that is a powerful statement in today's world, dominated by big money donors to government officials and of course the growing neo-con creep that has got us into unnecessary wars.  Bernie has always been a hero to me, but sometimes we don't need a hero if that hero will have his Kryptonite stop him dead in his tracks.

Bernie's ideas are what they always have been.  A straight up European socialist concept that I find I have agreed with much of my voting life.  He brings the idealism in his 70s that I had in college.  But that is part of why I am not so taken with him.  You see idealism in the Executive branch will not work if you don't have fellow thinkers in House or Senate.  And he doesn't.  Bernie will bring to the table wonderful concepts that will go no where.  As the nominee of the party he will alienate many of the Democrats who live in the seam between the two parties who might jump to vote for a solid Republican who may be for lower taxes and less governmental control over certain aspects of the economy.  And that would be a disaster for not only our party, but for the country moving forward.

I know people will cite polls showing Bernie having a better chance of beating any of the GOP candidates than Hillary will, but those polls are meaningless.  That is because there hasn't been a real effort to attack and illuminate Senator Sander's record to a majority of the country.  You see the early primaries are what they are, and the campaigns tend to try to focus on what the people of Iowa and New Hampshire want to hear.  Also both Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton have been fairly amicable until recently.  Now as we see the attacks on each other, we will see their numbers shift between the two of them, but with the Republican candidates.  Answering a poll question in February is very different than standing in the voting booth in November.

That is not to say there are not issues with Sec. Clinton.  She carries so much baggage from her life in the public eye that she needs a valet.  But in the end, both parties see her some to work with.  I know that sounds dumb but we must remember most political discourse is theater.  It is like pro-wrestling in the early up to about the year 2000, everyone wants to believe that the interviews are really what they think until you see the people who just called each other names are drinking in a bar.  There are members of congress who truly have animosity toward Sec. Clinton (and Senators Cruz and Sanders no doubt), but for the most part most members of Congress in both houses are patriots who put country over party and will work together.  But Senator Sanders, I believe, is too radical for many in the GOP and not a few in Democratic party to travel down the same road.

Think of this, when the Affordable Care Act was being negotiated, one aspect that I thought was an important and needed part was a public option.  Government administered insurance for the poor. Since a government program would have fewer costs it would be cheaper than mandated private insurance, it could also negotiate better pricing and reach more people.  It still wouldn't be Medicaid for all, but it would give some people a viable and controllable option for insurance.  It was Democrats who killed that.  Imagine what those same Democrats will do with Free Tuition and 12 Weeks of paid family leave.  These are great ideas but are not realistic.  My vote is going to go to the person that best matches my values AND can enact legislation to make them happen.  I don't think we can have 4 more years of a Congress whose main theme is to stop the President.

I am sorry I feel this way.  I truly like Senator Sanders and he has always really been a hero of mine. He has created a movement that has young people thinking about our country differently and perhaps this election will be a turning point for the nation to focus on changing the fundamental structure of how we do business moving forward.  Perhaps in my lifetime we will have universal health care, free college, real family leave, and be less militaristic. But we are not at a place for that radical a change.  I don't see it happening when old guard is still in power.

I hope that the energy he has created will galvanize those young people to vote more in local, district and state elections.  I hope they will show up for rallies when a Democrat who shares Bernie's vision wants to be their mayor, their district attorney or Congressman.  I hope that they will push to create a more vigorous debate about Citizen United and LGBT rights.  I hope that there will be a ground swell of support for a party of the people and not the corporations.  But until then voting for Bernie Sanders for President will not change the world and I fear will elect a Republican to the White House.  That I could not stand.  

I Don't Wear My Kippah at WalMart

Several years ago I was sitting in a cafe with someone who suggested I take off my kippah.  The neighborhood we were in was a predominantly...