Quote of the Day: Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou — ‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’

I watched the Netflix documentary recently, featuring stories from Michelle Obama’s tour to promote her book Becoming.  Both times I’ve read the book, I cried.  Of course, I cried watching the documentary, as well.  I believe her intention for writing the book was meant to be inspirational…to motivate people (especially young people) to be the owners and writers of their stories…that we should each captain our own ship when navigating life’s journey…and that we should help others when their voyages have gone awry, or whose ships may be taking on water, and sinking.  So why cry when reading a book, or watching a documentary, that features so much good?

Over and over both the book and in the documentary, Mrs. Obama emphasizes to young people to stop thinking of themselves as statistics, they are not invisible.  We don’t build friendships over our statistics, we build them through recounting our past, sharing knowledge, finding commonalities, uttering anecdotes, sharing laugher, and confessing our pain.  Communities are formed in a similar way.  In truth, Becoming makes me nostalgic for a time when I believed America was on its way to becoming better.  The turmoil of the 9/11 attacks, then entering into a war none of us wanted/believed in, and the start of the recession, had brought the spirt of the country to a low point.  Bush’s 2nd term was ending, and we were all eager for the country to find its way back to the light.  Even through the ugliness of the 2008 election, I distinctly remember how Obama continued to inspire the kind of hope that we needed, that made us proud to say we were Americans again.

His presidency sent a clear message to (what I like to call) the good ol’ boy regime, that the tides were finally turning.  During the film, Michelle made mention of what a proud moment it was for the black community, but with that comes the immense pressure of being the “first black anything”.  Admittedly, I have no idea what this must feel like, but I do appreciate the weight these words carry.  While the black community felt pride in this historical moment, I know so many of us in the white community were equally overjoyed. America’s past is stained with racism and oppression.  While oppression happens all across the world, which seems to be a uniquely human affliction, it isn’t something that many of us want to talk about.  It’s certainly not something that evokes a sense of patriotic nobility, but it is something we should acknowledge and make reparations for, if we ever hope to become a more equitable nation.

Throughout his campaign and years in the White House, this aspiration for true equality – regardless of the color of their race, creed, or color – seemed to finally be burgeoning forward, after years of laying groundwork by all of those who have fought for freedom.  Yet, this legacy of racism runs deep like the roots of a Banyan tree, with “white privilege” deeply engrained into our society, beginning with the constitution, on down to segregated schools and neighborhoods, to most notably the criminal ‘justice’ system, and we have learned those roots are hard to cut out. Immediately after Obama took office, the pervasive ugliness of this unworthy endowment, reared its nasty head on TV, in newspapers, and every day communities, exposing our collective naivety of hope, dashing the idea that real change had finally arrived.   Many in the white community were just waking up to suffering experienced by our black and brown brothers and sisters over centuries, signaling it was time we dig deeper into the past, to learn what we are rarely taught in school.

Although many of us in white society are not racist, there is no doubt we have wholly benefited from the systemic biases built into our culture.  Just because slavery was abolished, does not mean that we haven’t allowed the architecture of slavery to create the framework of current day society.  Maybe “white guilt” has accelerated this denial, or political partisanship prevented us from seeing those who have been left behind, relegated to statistics.  Speaking for myself, I can’t remember a time growing up when I ever felt fully aware of how I benefited from systemic racism.  It wasn’t until I was old enough to vote, that I began to see the disparity.  For many of us, I think it took Obama’s presidency to pull the veil from our eyes to truly see even the simplest of inequities.  Why else would we allow a white man to a tan suit in the White House, and think nothing of it, but contrive a false scandal when a black does the same?

If you didn’t see this brazen hypocrisy before/during his presidency, you most certainly have to acknowledge it exists now.  Physics states that when the pendulum swings hard in one direction, it comes back in the opposite way with equal force, but eventually the amplitude of their swing declines until it eventually rests somewhere in the middle.  The current administration represents that recoil effect of having our first black president,  and he will by no means be the last. Whether the white people in “power” want to believe it not, evolution does happen, and throughout history we have seen the narrative change. This is the common theme amongst the fall of the British Empire, the Ottomans, the Han Dynasty, or the Roman Empire: oppressing people leads to depressed economies, imbalances in trade, the overthrow of governments, and greater turmoil.  Economies work well when you have a healthy, educated labor force, people are extended their freedoms, and there are high levels of research and development.

That is not the state of our country today.  Pandemic aside, income inequality comes at a high price, not just for the poor, but the wealthy alike….just ask the people who lived through the Great Depression.  Yet, nearly 100 years later, we have forgotten those lessons as well…too much infighting has severely weakened us as a nation.  We are now incapable of learning from one another, in order to strengthen our economy, and fortify our nation against all enemies (foreign and domestic)…there are rats living in the White House, my friends.   The separatists of the south wanted to keep people enslaved, long after it was proven to put them at a disadvantage for long-term economic prosperity.  They lost the Civil War because of their inability to modernize, to allow people to walk free.  More than 150 years later, our system is still reinventing “new” ways to keep people marginalized, but history rings true time and time again…oppression shreds an empire.

When a black woman dies by the hands of the police, for nothing more than pretextual traffic stop, while a white woman can freely run stop lights and only get a minor scolding, that is oppression.  When a black man is strangled by the authorities for selling cigarettes on a street corner, while a white man is calmly arrested after murdering 9 black parishioners in cold blood, that is oppression.  When a white person can leave their home to go for a run, or sit in a park, or have a BBQ without fear of having the police called because you were “laughing too loudly”, or having your body chained and drug behind a pick up truck, or hunted down and shot dead, that is oppression.  While these stories are not the ones we want to tell, they are the ones that must be told, until the narrative changes.

If we do not learn from our past, if we do not get to know the “other”, we allow the empires to keep us fearful, relegating us to nothing  more than a statistic…history will repeat itself and we will fail.  We see it happening already from the dysfunctional response to the pandemic, to the dismantling of an organized government, our economy has experienced a greater negative impact than those societies with highly functioning governments.  Those who believe in investing in education and science, in investing in their people, and development, have not experienced as traumatic economic fallout as Americans. Education has been called the great equalizer, so if we are to change the narrative, we must not be afraid to share our stories.  We must not be afraid to listen to the stories of people who may not look like us, or think like us, or pray like us.  For if we put those fears aside, we will learn that we all have more in common than what we were raised to think, or the current administration would have us believe.

Michelle ends her documentary by reminding us of this…no matter what Tangerine Toddler (my description, not hers) says, no matter what some in the “news” media reports about, there are a lot of good people out there.  She has met them along the way – from her time campaigning for her husband, to the her time in the East Wing, and all along her recent book tour, there are so many people who want to do right by one another.  It is time that for our stories to be heard.



The Next Decade

© 2016 Astoria, OR by Laura Riggs

“One of the hardest things in life to learn is which bridges to cross and which bridges to burn.” —Oprah Winfrey or David Russell (take your pick)

Along with many others, at the start of the new year, I have spent some time taking stock of my life over this past decade.  Thinking both of the moments that changed the course of my life, as well as those that passed by virtually unnoticed.  The past decade was chock-full of change and set-backs.  Looking back, losing Jack near the end of 2009 seems to have been foreshadowing of the challenges the next decade would have in store.  There were certainly some really bright and beautiful experiences that materialized throughout, but currently in the midst of a stressful point in my life, with my depression swirling, I tend to lean into the darkness and forget all of those bright occasions.  

Nonetheless, when one is reassessing their life path, I find one of my favorite quotes from Alice in Wonderland of help, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”  Another way of looking at it: if you are to decide where you are going, you must first clearly understand where you are.  After Jack passed away, I began the last decade enduring being laid off from my “dream” job, ending one of the worst relationships I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of, regrettably selling my adorable little condo in Denver, and moving to Florida to live with my mother (I love my mom deeply, so that part definitely did not suck!).  The following year I traveled, intending to not only heal from the previous year’s trauma, but various childhood traumas as well.  

Nearly ten years after the fact, the tell-all book is still in the works, but life keeps getting in the way of me finishing the damn thing.  While the previous statement makes it sound like I resent the book, I really don’t.  On the rare days I can carve out time to work on it, I am immensely grateful for the good fortune to dig through artifacts, delve into my journals, and reminisce on taking the journey of a lifetime.  Not only did my quest lead me to some amazing places in the world, but it afforded me safe passage to process my suffering and grief.  I’d be remise if I didn’t point out that it is in those moments I’m able to remind myself how proud I am that I was able to claw my way from the depths of depression, which means I can do it again.  

After that year of traveling, I planned to return to Denver and reconnect with life, but the universe presented me with a conundrum.  Christmas of 2011, I attended an “orphan” Christmas dinner at a friend’s house, where I met a wonderful man.  We had an immediate connection, but if I were to investigate further, this meant staying in Florida longer than intended, nor was I apt to trust my choices in men. My track record had proven to be terrible thus far, so I was a little skeptical that this relationship could turn out any better than previous encounters.  Call it “wisdom”, “fate”, or the prodding of my mother, I opted to stay in Florida, and S and I just celebrated 8 years of partnership.

About six months after we began dating, I finally found meaningful employment, when my mom and I were in a serious car accident.  We were rear-ended by a UPS semi tractor-trailer.  It was S’ birthday, so we had gone to the grocery store to pick up some items in preparation.  Driving home, the car ahead of us began driving erratically while trying to merge onto a major bridge.  Thankfully, the UPS driver saw this and began to slow his vehicle down just as the driver in front of us suddenly slammed on their brakes, so my mom did the same.  We didn’t hit the car in front of us, but the semi rear-ended my mother’s vehicle and the car in front of us sped off.  My mom was virtually unharmed, but the truck was now in the back seat and I ended up with severe whiplash and a concussion.  Luckily, the UPS driver wasn’t going full speed, or we’d both be dead.  My job was understanding to my rehabilitation process, but I had to withdraw from the college classes I was attending in order to take time to heal.

For two years, things were a bit of a jumbled mess.  My brain was foggy, I couldn’t practice yoga, nor was I able to go running.  Most of my physical activity was limited to strength building exercise with no impact.  Without cardio to “burn out” an overactive mind, I dropped into another state of depression (although far less intense than previous).  Somehow, I found enough drive to fight for the expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance in our city, extending equal protections to the LGBTQ community for housing and employment.  At the same time, the national debate was raging over Prop 8 out of California, so a small group of us capitalized on the opportunity to win the hearts and minds of people at the local level.  Side note: before I moved to the South, I had heard/used all of the stereotypes about the South, but I guess I was hopeful that (like most stereotypes) they were wrong.  Not so.

The truth is that much of time has seemingly stood still in the South – racism, misogyny and homophobia run rampant.  The stain of slavery and the legacy of reconstruction and the Jim Crow era plagues public policy, while continuing to contaminate the DNA of everyone whose families have lived in this country pre- and post- Civil War.  Each city council meeting that allowed for open comments from the community, weighing in on whether expanded protections were needed, required counseling.  No matter how mentally prepared you are, or how strong your boundaries may be, listening to hate-filled rants from other human beings, centering solely on the fact that someone else was born/lives differently from themselves, will dishearten the most resilient of souls.  When the HRO expansion finally did pass three years later, I decided I was not cut out for advocacy work on a long-term basis.  Now, I just donate to causes that do the pain-staking work to further our country forward.

In the meantime, S and I moved to Portland, OR, after I was recruited for an incredible job opportunity.  Most of my career, I had worked at small to mid-sized ad agencies, so when I got the offer to work at an in-house agency for a large company, I eagerly accepted.  It was a chance to enhance my experience, in a place that when we visited the year before, so we decided why not? (plus, it was a break to get the f**k out of the South), The job was demanding, the cost of living is high, it rains 8-9 months out of the year, and S couldn’t find meaningful employment, that’s why not.  The food, wine and public transit were exceptional, and I learned so much more than I would have staying at small-sized firms, but we struggled financially for two years and our relationship strained as a result.

After my mom and stepdad were transferred back to Florida, we also floated the idea of returning, but neither of us was overly delighted about the possibility of living in the South again.  “It’s easy there, though”, S said, “you will get to see your Mom more often, and they have a perfectly good airport.”  And so, we put our stuff into a moving truck and drove the 3,500+ miles back to the opposite corner of the country where he would then be laid off twice in one year, and I was hired at one of the most toxic agencies I have ever worked for…I’d go so far as to say it was worse than my experience at Core Power Yoga (at least with CPY, I had the chance to meet all of my fabulous students), but then I found a job at a different agency in town which is now exponentially worse (I’ll get to that one in a minute).

In the three years I worked for Toxic Agency, I was back and forth to Atlanta more times than is necessary in an era of Viber, Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Slack, and the list goes on, to not only keep their largest client, but help win the business when said client decided to consolidate the work from 14 agencies to a few. And how did said agency show their appreciation for helping to save everyone’s jobs?  Nothing, of course. There was no bonus,  no raise, no promotion, no hiring additional staff to aide in said work, just an insincere thank you note from  a CEO who could barely muster the courage to speak to me approximately 10 times over three years.

It seems as though I’ve gone from picking bad boyfriends, to picking bad employers, but I am not sure I can shoulder all of the blame.  This country’s business sector functions on the Peter-principle.  Those of us with an extreme amount of competence, who should be leading, are often the ones overlooked because the incompetent yet overtly narcissistic ones are threatened by our brilliance.  While it this isn’t true of all of the companies, it’s damn well true at most.  And us competent ones are real fucking tired of shouldering the one-percent’s ineptness, but I’m not going to get into politics today.

Instead of the acknowledgement that was earned, my company promoted people with zero ability or skill to culminate a strategic thought in their brain, people who would rather gossip about their teammates all day, because they were the CEO’s “favorite” after all, whereas I [annoyingly] wanted to ask clients questions to help us better understand their business which would aide in formulating said strategy to achieve their goals (oh, the shock and horror!).  Furthermore, I speak and understand “digital” better than any of those on their leadership team, so I was considered an “enemy of the state”, a threat to the status quo.

If this comes across as feeling overly entitled, let’s just leave it at this: my first day on the job culminated in me finding quite a stash of pornographic photos that my predecessor had buried in a client folder on the computer they gave me.  When I reported it to aforesaid CEO, his response was “Oh, well that’s why I didn’t have his emails forwarded to you.”  That speaks volumes towards the amount of Peter they have applied to the principle vision for their agency – it also explains why they needed so much assistance with rebuilding trust with both their clients, and the market in general, when I accepted their job offer.

The only positive was that I had the flexibility to fly back to home to visit my new, most adorable niece from time-to-time, and to care for my Dad when he had back surgery, while working remotely.  On my most recent visit home, I was grateful for the chance to have a completely honest, vulnerable conversation with him.  He shared the hurt and trauma he still carries forward from childhood, and I encouraged him that it might be time to unpack all that baggage for his own peace of mind (my family likes to talk loudly, so his wife thought we were fighting and left to hide at the neighbors, but I wasn’t emotionally attached to his suffering/drama, and was just able to stay present for him to process… I was real proud of myself for that.)

After three years of exceptional work, when I finally got a raise, it was more than insulting.  While I may not often know my worth when it comes to personal relationships, or believing I deserve small indulgences; I damn well know my worth when it comes to business.  So when a new opportunity to move from media to marketing came up a few months ago, I gladly accepted.  And here I was again day one, entering into yet another bait-and-switch scenario.  Immediately following my orientation, I learned the new company was switching my supervisor, changing the client/product I would be working with/on, and moving the office from a beautiful shared campus (think mini-Google) to now house their staff out of a former State Farm call center with office furniture from the 80s (and yes, everything is fucking mauve). Yes…it was official….I just went from one burning house to another.

Not only is this “agency” unclear in the vision for the company, the client is just downright nasty.  This marketing firm is led by people who have not one day’s worth of marketing experience.  The ONLY bright light is that many of people I work are lovely, more than capable individuals.  They get beat down every day by lack of clarity, process, goals, or transparency from their leadership, but they still try to do right by their clients.  None of us has a clear job description, and the agency re-orgs annually, but we support one another as best we can — those of us who haven’t bailed ship yet, that is.  It’s an unnecessary battle to fight every day, and every day I come home depleted, lacking any energy for self-care, joy or creativity.  (Even for those with a strong constitution and solid boundaries, it’s difficult to stay afloat when you’re battling lying, narcissistic bitch-ass clients, who keep trying to poke holes in the hull, all day…seriously, y’all.)

In the absence of balance, I’ve been trying to resist the desire to meet up with my old friends- regret, sadness, anger, loathing…the very notion of entering into a conversation with any one of them seems illicit.  Still, they continue to call in hopes that I’ll invite them to dinner.   And then tonight, while standing in the shower, I realized again (because it usually takes us/me more than once to really learn a lesson) that avoiding the inevitable rarely moves us forward in life.  I’ve been avoiding the fact that I really don’t like my chosen career any longer, and I owe it to myself to get the fuck over this fear of failure, or fear of lack, or whatever fear it is, and just start over.

Nearly ten years ago, I went back to school with the intention of getting a degree in Psychology.  While it was necessary to pause my education, there was no reason to walk away from it altogether (other than the fact that most college educations are a waste of time and money – they are overpriced and do not teach a damn thing about the real world, or real business, but that’s a conversation for another time, as well).  It’s time to give my brain something else to think about, other than the constant reactionary state that media/advertising requires these days.  I need to let go of the idea that I need to fix the shit that is broken – especially when it is shit that I don’t own, nor did I break.  I need to return to the idea that maybe this new career path won’t work out, I’ve failed before, I will fail again, and I have risen from the ashes to rebuild a good life for myself (and for S, too).

It’s high time that I burn one bridge to the ground, in the hopes that I can build a better one that leads me back towards my sweetness of mind…one that brings me home.

News Flash: Gun Reform does not equal Prohibition

Since its inception, the Constitution has been modified 27 times. The document was written to provide the original framework for a government in which all states felt they were given an equal voice with respect to laws established by a national congress. During its ratification process, the states also demanded amendments to the Constitution that protected the individual liberties of white men. The government was established to represent the voices of the people, the people being only reflective of those who wrote the document – many of whom were slave owners – rather than of the entire population the government represented. In 1791, the first 10 amendments, our ‘Bill of Rights’, were ratified. The additional 17 modifications made over the years, vary from adding greater protection of individual rights, to prohibiting (then again allowing) the sale of alcohol, to prohibiting the ownership of another human being as property, to establishing that it would be the Vice President who will assume command should the President die during their term in office.

Over time, each amendment has gone through intense scrutiny and changes to its legal application have been made, as warranted by changes in societal culture and viewpoints. The Supreme Court has heard over 210 cases involving the First Amendment in just the 20th century alone, ruling on a multitude of provisions and exceptions to the amendment that have defined acceptable speech, even if that speech is offensive or hurtful, versus unacceptable speech, such as defamation of character or inciting violence. Rightfully so, words that incite violence, or personally attack an individual (fighting words), are not protected under the First Amendment. If you don’t believe this, try yelling “fire” in a crowded theater and see what happens. Since the early 1800s, further changes to the amendment include the view on what is obscene. Words or pictures that were once considered unacceptable, therefore restricted by the government, are now more widely accepted by society. Thus, earlier bans became obsolete, and had to be legally removed.

We have grown as a nation, beyond the idea that slavery was ever an acceptable practice, thanks to the passage of the 13th Amendment. In its original context, however, this amendment was inefficient in its protection for any person from a ‘minority’ group to be treated fairly by an employer, school or landlord. It took the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1871, 1875, 1957, 1960, 1964, and, 1968 to legally secure the same rights for all ethnic groups that white men have always enjoyed. Today, that battle for equal rights continues with the introduction of the “Employment Non-Discrimination Act”, proposed in each Congress since 1994, for equal protections for the LGBT community. Although courts have recently ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, there is still no codified law that expressly does so for the entirety of the LGBTQ community. To date, the ENDA is still awaiting passage into law by Congress.

The Constitution did not originally offer women equal rights protections either, so Amendment 19 was written to secure our right to vote in 1920. From there, it has been an uphill battle for women to be treated fairly in the workplace. Even though the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, women still do not earn equal pay for equal work today. Starting in 1936, we won the first battle for reproductive justice, when it was no longer considered obscene to send information about birth control through the mail. Roe v. Wade was a landmark Supreme Court case that gave women the right to choose whether or not to early-terminate a pregnancy for personal or medical reasons. This court decision has actually saved more lives than those who oppose our right to choose would like to admit.

The overarching theme is that none of the aforementioned rights were accounted for in the original framework of the Constitution and history has shown that our Constitution was not authored with the intention that the document should be forever set in stone. It is a living record to be modified, with laws reflective of the needs of society at present time. Presently, we need to discuss changes to the Second Amendment, based on the needs of our society today.

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.

Of course, this is going to be piss off a rather large group of people who worship their “super amendment” rights above all others. Gun Control: these two words cause many Second Amendment proponents to enter into a diatribe about government infringement upon their rights, or their need to prevent tyranny from the state, or restricting guns won’t prevent gun violence, or, or, or…..the list goes on and on, ad nauseam. On one hand, the government is obliged to uphold an individual’s rights. On the other, they are obliged to prevent crime (and protect the Republic). After all, a portion of our tax revenue goes towards law enforcement and crime prevention, nationally, state-wide and locally. Not to mention, a substantial portion of tax revenue goes towards our well regulated militia, at the state and federal level.

c35380ff95fe01d9650f8dc92621a0c7In 2001, a Federal Court of Appeals, in United States v Emerson, recognized “the people” had an “individual has a right to keep and bear arms (whether or not they are part of the state/federal militia)”. Then, in 2002, a different Federal Court of Appeals ruled, in the case of Silveira v Lockyer, that “the people” only “have the right to bear arms in the service of the state.” The issue came to Supreme Court in 2008, in the case of the District of Columbia vs. Heller, affirming that while “individuals had the right to possess a firearm for the purpose of self-defense in their home”, this did not grant individuals the right to an indiscriminate amount of weapons. Further, the court ruled, this was only applicable to rights granted at the federal level, and States still had the right to enact legislation that restricted gun ownership at the state level. It wasn’t until 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of McDonald vs. City of Chicago, that the Second Amendment applied to State and Local governments as well, but didn’t necessarily say that legislation still couldn’t restrict upon the types of guns citizens were allowed to possess or carry. If the government can’t even agree that we, as individuals, have the right to own any gun, how is it that so many Americans believe that, somehow, this amendment is the most sacred of all of our individual rights? And if the government has a duty to provide law enforcement, what could they have done to also prevent the heinous crimes committed in Parkland Florida, Santa Barbara, Newtown Elementary, Virginia Tech, or any of the other 270+ school shootings since Columbine?

As a writer, I deeply revere the First Amendment. Contrary to other countries, I do not have to live in fear of torture or execution for communicating what I think or how I feel (so long as it isn’t a flagrant fabrication of the truth or downright hateful). As a woman, I am equally grateful for the 19th Amendment, because I deserve the same rights as any man (including the right to earn equal pay for equal work). As a human being, I understand that these rights come with the agreement to be responsible with and accountable for each right while exercising them, and that these rights come with the burden of fighting for those who do not share access to equal protections under the law.

Naturally, it pisses me off when my rights are modified, or restricted, because some asshole(s) can’t act responsibly. I think we can all agree that it only takes one idiot to ruin it for the rest of the village. Sadly, when it comes to guns, there are have been a lot of idiots who have ruined a lot of villages, yet we still can’t seem to agree on how to rectify the problem. Due to this complacency, this conundrum has now become even more endemic.  Mother Jones compiled the statistics of the 97 mass shootings that have occurred over the last 35 years and one thing is clear – mass shootings are on the rise.

Image Credit: Dallas Morning News

There is a real problem with the ethical foundation of our country when children are being murdered in droves, yet gun owners somehow try to make us all believe that guns are not a problem. If the belief that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” rings true, then explain how 69% of all US homicides in 2014 were committed with a firearm, instead of a knife or a rock or a roadside bomb? I have tried to reason that someone’s right to own a gun is just as important to my right to free speech, but I also understand that we we need to create some semblance of responsible gun ownership – just as we have for what constitutes responsible speech. The need for self-defense against a home invader is important, yet Constitutional experts believe that the Founding Fathers centered the Second Amendment with the intention of arming the States against the potential threat of Federal tyranny, not individual citizens. Gun owners who continually use the excuse that they have the right to defend themselves against the government, however, probably need to check in for a moment with reality.

US citizens own roughly 270 million guns while the government, military, and law enforcement officials only posses around 4-Million. The difference is staggering, and also quite misleading. To offset the imbalance, the government stockpiles a healthy artillery of nuclear weapons, combat drones, heat-seeking missiles, F-22s, tanks, helicopters, more aircraft carriers than any other country on the planet, and on and on. Anyone who wants to wage war on their own government, and shows up with a few AR-15s, can probably kiss their sweet ass goodbye. Let’s stop spreading misinformation about the AR-15, by calling it a “sporting rifle”, while we are it. In the 1950s, the “ArmaLite Rifle-15” was designed solely for military use. During the 1960s, the Air Force dubbed this same weapon as the M-16, but when the patent expired in 1989, manufacturers began producing ta civilian grade version for mass market. The primary difference between the M-16 automatic rifle, and the civilian grade AR-15, is simply that it is semi-automatic (unless you found the loophole license, that is). Today, the AR-15 is still employed by militaries around the world and it is called the AR-15 (nor was it ever intended for civilian purposes).

Gun technology has become incredibly advanced since the late 1700s, and the “right to keep and bear arms” no longer bears the same relevance as it did during the time that the Bill of Rights were written.  It’s also clear that the general populous is severely “out-gunned”, so maybe we can give up the dream that some “good guy with a gun” is going to heroically defend the rest of us against Big Brother, should the Apocalypse come calling.  For the benefit of public health and safely, we should stop arguing over banning guns and focus on preventing further massacres from occurring, which requires regulation.  While the NRA would have you believe gun regulation means the government wants to revoke the Second Amendment, it intends to provide a framework of accountability for citizens to own and carry guns in a manner that does not infringe upon anyone else’s right to their life, liberty or pursuit of happiness.

Admittedly, I do not believe in owning guns, nor am I an advocate for violence of any kind, as a means to resolve conflict.  But, I am also capable of understanding that there are exceptions to every rule.  However, I am tired of watching grieving parents lay their babies to rest when, we as a society, could have done more to resolve the issue.  I am also tired of seeing schools torn down and/or rebuilt because too many children have been marred for lifetime-upon-lifetime after some sociopath with a gun ripped their innocence away from them.  It is absurd that all citizens should all be expected to carry the financial burden that this senseless violence places on society (you can add the cost of never-ending wars to this rant, by the way).  It’s high time that gun owners collectively take accountability for their rights and bear the sole burden of those costs.  As Stephen King once said, “If you want to play, you gotta pay.” 

Former General Stanley McChrystal, who led the war in Afghanistan for 10 years, came out in support of the assault weapons ban in 2013. To his point, “the number of people in America killed by firearms is extraordinary compared to other nations and…we need to look at everything we can do to safeguard our people.”  Many law enforcement officials agree that getting heavy artillery off the streets would make their jobs less dangerous, but these groups have been demonized by gun rights activists in the process.  Considering that the gun rights faction has outspent gun control activists by a factor of 15:1, over the past decade or so, I would say that Washington is not likely to impose meaningful regulations on gun ownership. Nor will they be taking away anyone’s rights (or guns), any time soon.  After all, we know it is money, not morals, that rules The Hill.  Unless the gun control lobby is able to locate another $28-million dollars in political contributions this year, I would like to request that the gun rights groups stop broadcasting mass hysteria and negative images into our collective psyche. 

After all, it isn’t an individual’s rights that the NRA has in mind as they wage their war against well-regulated gun ownership.  In truth, guns are a hefty business in the United States.  The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) annual report highlights the economic impact that the legal US firearms and ammunition industry estimates for 2018.  

During the 1990’s, the industry was in decline, but 9/11 changed all of that.  The 2008 recession further propelled the industry forward, and according to the Washington Post, the Obama administration was the best thing to happen to gun industry thus far.  According to industry analysts, the NRA funded PR campaign successfully increased people’s fear that Obama “would take their guns away”; enough to send industry sales skyrocketing by 169% over the course of his administration.  What the NRA and the NSSF didn’t want their members to know, however, was that regardless of his public statements, according to his track record, Obama had no interest in “taking people’s guns away.”  

While Obama has always supported the Second Amendment, he also supported the reinstatement of the 1994 assault weapons ban (which expired under Bush in 2004) because, contrary to what the NRA would have you believe, it is indeed possible for these two ideologies to co-exist.  To be clear, gun reformists have never suggested the removal of handguns, rifles, or shotguns from law abiding citizens…..let’s repeat…..No one wants to take your guns. Gun reformists have requested a ban on all new sales of military grade weapons to the average citizen, and better oversight for the current system as a whole.  Despite all this fear and paranoia the NRA has so effectively instilled into much of the American public, the government has not actually been able to pass a single, meaningful piece of gun control legislation since 1999.   

Their membership fails to understand that the NRA is not their friend, nor their advocate. It’s a company, all be it a non-profit one (which for the life me I can’t figure out why they are able to retain such status when they are a political lobby), which employs mass marketing to communicate the value of their ‘product’ in order to benefit the organization.  They have no intent on serving the public’s highest purpose – what company does?  Marketing 101 teaches “know your audience” and the NRA knows their audience makes decisions based on fear, and they play into those fears generously.  When fear is involved, all logic, morality, love, and tolerance go right out the window.  So, it is does no good for a gun control activist to continually approach the issue from an ethical or logic-based standpoint, but rather from an economic one.  

As with any other public health issue, gun violence costs tax payers money.  Between premature deaths, lost wages and unexpected hospital visits, Johns Hopkins University estimated the annual cost of gun violence was hovering close $50 billion in 2017.  This equates to the almost the exact same amount that the NSSF estimated the firearms industry generates in economic impact the same year – something the NSSF leaves out of their report.  When you also factor in the cost for restoration, long-term care, decreased quality of life, victims services (i.e. counseling, retribution, etc.), and court & prison costs, the net total economic impact is more in the range of a $120 billion annual loss. At least half of which is paid for by US Taxpayers.  In a 2013 firearm-related violence study, conducted by the Institute of Medicine, the panel concurs that while many Americans legally use firearms for a variety of activities, fatal and nonfatal firearm violence poses a serious threat to public safety and welfare.

Back in early 1960s, the death toll from motor vehicle accidents had reached unprecedented levels.  The National Safety Council had reported that, out of the 93,803 total deaths in 1960, 41% of them were attributed to motor vehicle accidents.  Understandably, there was public outcry for the government to address the issue.  After much contemplation and debate, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act was passed in 1966, to establish new standards for highway, traffic and motor vehicle safety.  This act created what is now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Over the years, the NHTSA has worked with federal, state and local authorities to create standards and policies that have helped to decrease motor vehicle deaths and increase overall driver safety.

In addition to requirements for vehicles to improve operational safety, the NHTSA implemented better road planning to address ways to prevent accidents, along with driver testing and licensing, periodic vehicle inspections, and increased traffic laws to regulate speed, etc.  In addition, the NHTSA has addressed improving driver behavior through a series of public education campaigns on the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol, driving and texting, the importance of the use of seat belts and child restraints, special precautions for young drivers, and pedestrian and bicyclist safety.  As a result of the adoption and implementation of each of these policies, the country began to see a decrease in the rate of motor vehicle deaths by 1974.  With the exception of a few minor jumps in the early 1990s, this rate has continued to decline almost every year since, proving the program’s success and overall value for the greater good.

Naturally, these programs come with a huge price tag to the general public, which is why we pay such a hefty tax on our fuel.  Initially implemented in the early 1930s for the Highway Trust Fund, the tax has proved to be effective for generating the annual funding the NHTSA needs for these various programs.  In 2007, it was documented that 60% of the Fuel Tax on Gasoline goes to Highway Construction and Maintenance, the other 40% goes to programs earmarked by Congress (some of which aren’t even related to highway safety, but that’s a conversation we should save for another time).  Total US revenue generated from the Fuel Tax in 2017, for example, totaled over $43 Billion.

Additionally, the US Automotive Sector generates another $205 billion annually in federal and state tax revenue through sales tax, income tax, vehicle registration and licensing fees.  In most states, this accounts for 14-20% of their overall annual tax revenue.  The economic impact of the automotive industry is staggering.  The Auto Alliance reports that in 2013, revenues from car sales totaled $730 billion, while the manufacture and sales of parts, repairs and service, account for another $223 billion in economic activity. Thus, automobiles drive more than $953 billion into the economy each year.  In total, 7.25 million people are employed directly and indirectly, in the US, as a result of the manufacture, sale and repair of automobiles, earning a collective $500 billion in compensation, making automotive and transportation policy central to the economic vitality of virtually every state.

Currently, the CDC estimates the economic cost to society for motor vehicle deaths, injuries, loss from work, etc. is approximately $63 billion.  Compare that to the annual tax revenue generated by automotive sector, not taking into account the economic impact of the auto industry, and we are at a net profit of $142 billion.  When you compare the statistics, the death and injury rate for fire arms is almost equal to that of automobiles, and gun ownership is almost equal to that of automobiles.  While the cost incurred by society for gun violence is only slightly less than motor vehicle injuries and deaths, the economic impact of the automobile industry is far greater than that of the firearms industry.  In addition, automobiles are designed for a utilitarian purpose; it’s the improper handling of the vehicle that causes harm or injury.  Guns were, without a doubt, designed solely to inflict death or injury.  So, why is the firearms industry not pulling their weight, to offset the net financial loss?  As with vehicle owners, why don’t we require gun owners to be licensed and taxed annually to own their guns?  When automobile manufacturers invested in lobbying against any rules or regulations over the industry, the argument of public health and safety was applied to the automobile industry, in order to bypass political pressure.  The NRA had studied this, so they successfully pressured Congress to strip the CDC of all ability to research gun violence has a public health issue in the mid-1990s.

A similar case can be made for the successful implementation of the Tobacco Tax, which helped generate funds for a public health awareness campaign.  Together with increased cost, and education about the dangers of smoking, the government has been able to work with public health agencies to decrease the number of smokers in this country, as well as the instances of health related issues and deaths caused by the use of tobacco.  Research has also shown that the nominal tax increases on tobacco have resulted in increased state tax revenue over the long term.  Instead of focusing policy solely on “gun control”, liberals and democrats need to apply taxation methods towards this public safety issue in an effort to decrease the compounding financial and emotional burdens that gun violence places on society. 

On February 13, 2013, The Journal of the American Medical Association released a similar theory as to how to Curb Gun Violence, by highlighting how to apply the success from many different public health and safety campaigns to the current public safety issue of gun violence in America.  With taxation, licensing fees, practical safety training, competency exams, and mandatory insurance coverage on firearms, not only could we generate revenue to fund better mental health programs, but we could provide for public education campaigns about the importance of firearm safety, and keeping children safe from guns in the home.  Additional funding could be allocated towards improving the system for background checks and training in the use of non-violent communication as a means to resolve conflict.  And yes, buy back programs create financial incentive to relinquish weapons that aren’t fit for civilian use.

People don’t want their rights infringed upon, but the Founding Fathers understood that right to bear to arms also requires oversight.  They clearly wrote the need for regulation into the beginning of the amendment.  As Bill Maher recently said, “it’s an amendment, not a commandment.” As all other developed countries have done, there are real solutions to address the disturbing increase in mass shootings nationwide, and make our communities safer.  The Congress of today is ineffective, our next best chance is to vote for new candidates, who are not in bed with the NRA and who understand that two ideologies can coexist: protecting the rights of our citizens and regulation for increased public health and safety. I think today’s children would agree, we no longer have the time nor the patience to wait.   

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Thought for the Day: May the Lord Give them Peace

I haven’t sleep well this week.  I kept waking up in the night, thinking about the Edwards family.  That poor family.  Not just their family, but all Black families.  Saturday night, they lost their son to senseless gun violence.  They lost him to police violence.  They lost him because he was being a teenager while black.  Although I am not a religious person, the only thing that keeps running through my mind is the passage 6:24-6:26 from the New King James Version of the Bible:

“The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Anything that white people say, to somehow try to justify this murder, says more about their callous exercise of privilege than it does about black people, or how they live their lives.  Those who say things like, “he should have complied with the officer,” need to STFU because they are now part of the problem.  Providing any sort of just cause for killing a child just makes you sound like a complete asshole.

As a white woman, I am well aware of my privilege.  There are many examples of this in my daily life, but I’ll use driving to illustrate.  Driving while white means I have the luxury of deciding if I want to risk a ticket to run a red light, because I’m running late for work.  My black friends do not have this same latitude.  Their reality is such that if they were to be so bold as to do the same, they could end up dead…not from getting hit by another vehicle crossing the intersection, but from being shot by the responding police officer, who magically decides that they are somehow a “threat” and must be disposed of immediately.

As a white teenager, I remember attending many a parties thrown while friends’ parents were out of town.  And yes, there was underaged drinking, and other illicit activities, because we raided the parents’ liquor cabinet – duh.  As a white teenager, we were inspired by movies in which these types of parties were idolized, romanticized, and glorified as a rite of passage.  At times, the police were called due to noise complaints, and we scurried, just as Jordan Edwards, his brother, and two other boys decided to do on Saturday night.  When things are getting crazy, it’s time to go home – I have no doubt that was the first thing they were all thinking.

Never, in all of the times that police raided a party or a rave, that I attended, did I ever believe that an officer would shoot at me, or my friends, for running to our car and driving off.  Never, in all of those times when we did run to our car, did we ever heed the warning of that police officer to stop and stay where we were.  As a white person, I am afforded the ability to know and exercise my rights without the fear of being shot and killed by those who pledge to protect and serve.   If you aren’t being detained, certainly if you are unarmed, you are not legally bound to comply, so stop with the bullshit excuses that the police are justified to shoot at will, simply because they told someone to stop and stay where they are.  Of course, our legal system doesn’t seem to hold these officers, their superiors, or their departments accountable either.  The systemic abuse of the system by those who are responsible for public safety is the sole reason why these egomaniacal shit gibbons continue to get away with murder.

I am tired of the excuses.  There is no excuse for murdering a child, I don’t care what color they are, I don’t care where they came from, I don’t care how good or bad they have been.  Killing a child is an inexcusable act.  If there are truly “more good cops than there are bad cops”, why do the “good ones” continue to harbor those who tarnish the supposed nobility of the badge?  Recently, a man called authorities when he suspected that his own daughter was planning a mass shooting at her high school.  He knew that countless people would be at risk, if he didn’t say something, so he turned in his own flesh and blood.  “Good cops” need to turn in their own.  By allowing this shit to continue by their unscrupulous counterparts, they are culpable in the continued erosion of trust we have in our justice system.  Those who don’t speak up, who don’t seek out ways to be better ambassadors in their communities, are just as wicked as those who kill young, unarmed men in cold blood.

How many times are we going to allow officers who commit murder/manslaughter to get away with zero punishment?  I don’t care if there’s a certain expectation that comes with the job, or whatever excuse is provided that they are legally allowed to defend themselves.  What about the times when they aren’t actually defending themselves, when they allow their biases to get in the way of acting in a professional manner?  Firing him is not enough, this officer needs to spend a considerable amount of time in prison. What message are we sending as a society when we will send someone to jail for 30 years for possession of marijuana, but we can’t hold a police officer accountable when they royally fuck up?

I realize that they signed up for a dangerous job, but being a law enforcement officer doesn’t even make the top 10 for the most dangerous jobs in the US.  Taxi drivers are more likely to be murdered on the job than police officers and you don’t see them going around killing unarmed riders.  When the military kills unarmed civilians, there is an inquiry and there is hell to pay.  So, enough already.  Police officers are not above the law, and they swore an oath to protect and serve – this includes everyone.

And honestly, white people, can you really say for sure you won’t be next?  History has shown that when governments militarize forces with inside their countries, those forces are used against their own citizens.  Black and brown citizens of this country have know this for decades….centuries, in fact.    Continuing to live in this state of denial, to defend the oppressor, and try and justify the unnecessary killing of black people, is ripping our nation apart.  We cannot continue to allow the militarization of our police departments to continue.   The only way to truly fix the problem, is to first identify the problem.  As white people, we must acknowledge that there is a huge disparity in how we are treated, vs our black and brown brothers and sisters.  Then, we must use our privilege to demand better of our leaders, of our protectors, and of ourselves.


Social Media isn’t Social at all

In case you may not have noticed, Facebook is the #1 Social Networking site in the world. According to their own number s, they now tout 1.8-Billion people now have a Facebook account, nearly a quarter of the world’s population.  The US users makes up 10% of that total, or 180-Million, which is just over half our population.  That number isn’t expected to change much over the next several years – most of the growth in the social space will occur on other/new networks.  It seems as though Facebook may have reached critical mass and some are now predicting that there has been blowback from the amount of political postings which could negatively impact any future growth.

social [soh-shuh l] adjective
1. pertaining to, devoted to, or characterized by friendly companionship or relations
2. seeking or enjoying the companionship of others; friendlygregarious.
3. of, pertaining to, connected with, or suited to polite or fashionable society
4. living or disposed to live in companionship with others or in community, rather than in isolation
5. of or relating to human society, especially as a body divided into classes according to status
6. of or relating to the life, welfare, and relations of human beings in community

Disgusted with the animosity and outcome of the election, I am one of those people who deactivated their Facebook accounts in November.  It’s not the first time I’ve done this, mind you, but in the past few months I haven’t felt like I was “missing something” like I had in the past.  In fact, I recently re-activated my account with nearly instantaneous regret.  Looking through the vitriolic nature of the posts in my news feed, the continual spread of dipshit stories and fake news, and liberal outrage over micro-aggressions while missing the bigger picture issues, affirmed that I truly hadn’t missed anything.  Maybe it has to do with age…but I think it has more to do with how ANTI-social the network has become over the past few years.

It’s deeply troubling that more people will share their most intimate thoughts, feelings and photos with near strangers, but can’t carry on a meaningful conversation with their significant other.  So much so, that the network has amassed data on the age, gender, income, employment, interests, travel habits, behaviors, likes, dislikes, food preferences, workout routines, and anything else you can imagine.  In the wrong hands, this data could be used by governments for more nefarious reasons and many users have begun to realize that they are allowing their privacy to be willingly violated with one click of a button.  The EU sees this level of tracking as a clear breach of their Safe Harbor laws, as to do I, but the rest of the US hasn’t caught on yet.  More than that, I no longer want to participate in the denigration of society by dividing ourselves into these “all-or-nothing” viewpoints and classes, according to our status updates.

From a 2014 Op-Ed on Media Post:

10 Times Social Media Made The World Worse In 2014

1. ISIS Recruitment. Social media plays a “huge role” in recruiting aspiring jihadists from Europe to fight in Syria, according to Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union’s counterterrorism coordinator. ISIS, giving the Nazis a run for their money as “worst group of people/ideology ever,” also likes to distribute horrifying images of its atrocities via social media.

2. Facebook experimented on people to make them depressedThe study, titled “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks,” tinkered with the emotional content of news feeds for 689,003 Facebook users to see if moods can spread via social connections. Turns out they can — thanks Facebook! Oh, also, OKCupid deliberately set people up on bad dates.

3. Robin Williams’ daughter, Zelda Dae Williams, quit social media after an outpouring of abuse following her father’s suicide. Gross.

4. Social media fuels negative body image issues in women, according to multiple studiesOne researcher observed: “The biggest thing that stands out is social media. In the 2014 survey, a huge number of women — 64 percent — report that looking at pictures on sites like Facebook and Instagram makes them feel bad about their body.”

5. Social media also makes new mothers feel insecure, according to a survey of 1,100 women by BabyCenter. 60% of moms surveyed said they feel pressure to appear well-to-do on social media, as well as feeling envy and embarrassment because of their own situation compared with others; one in four millennial moms said she feels “significant” pressure to look well-off on social media. Another survey by Current Lifestyle Marketing and Impulse Research also found that many mothers feel social media creates unrealistic expectations and puts pressure on them to craft an idealized image of their lives.

6. The Fire Challenge. Read it and weep. ‘Nuff said.

7. Speaking of kids setting fire to themselves, parents believe the risks associated with social media outweigh its benefits for children. That’s according to a survey of UK and U.S. parents with children ages 6-17 who use the Internet, conducted for the UK’s Family Online Safety Institute. Overall 43% of parents surveyed said they though the negative impacts of social media outweighed the positive impacts, compared to 26% who believe the positive impacts were greater.

8. That massive leak of celebrity nude photos. Gross.

9. Social media undermines trust and makes us unhappy. A study titled “Online Networks and Subjective Well-Being” focused on measures of “social trust,” referring to the individual’s tendency to assume — or not assume — that strangers, as proxies for society in general, are benign and trustworthy, in the sense that they will “observe the rules of the game” in basic social interactions. According to the authors: “Internet-mediated interaction often violates well-established face-to-face social norms for the polite expression of opposing views. In online discussions with unknown others, individuals more easily indulge in aggressive and disrespectful behaviors… In online interactions, dealing with strangers who advance opposite views in an aggressive and insulting way seems to be a widespread practice, whatever the topic of discussion is.”

10. Social media use contributes to divorceA study, titled “Social network sites, marriage well-being, and divorce: Survey and state-level evidence from the United States” and published in Computers in Human Behavior, found that Facebook use is a “positive, significant predictor of divorce rate and spousal troubles,” according to researchers at Boston University and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile’s School of Communications. Specifically: “Results show that using SNS is negatively correlated with marriage quality and happiness, and positively correlated with experiencing a troubled relationship and thinking about divorce.”

This anxiety producing experience with Instagram is more veiled.  It’s owned by Facebook, so it has all of the same drawbacks of traceability and self-loathing.  Since the platform only allows users to post pictures and short videos, it’s easy to get caught up scrolling through the imagery and feel like you are connecting to the outside world.  Many users, however, quickly find themselves caught comparison game, they lose track of their self-esteem and no longer find they are relating to those around them.  Fortunately, I haven’t had that experience, mine has been more pleasant, but I do find that I’ve become engrossed in scrolling through pretty pictures of places and food, only to realize that 45-minutes has gone by without me hardly noticing.  That, my dears, was by design.  Most social platforms employ the psychology of gambling when coding their sites.  There is a reason that little notification button has a red bubble with numbers on it.

Once the platform for broadcasting news alerts and updates quickly, thanks to our new Cheeto-in-Chief, and King of Online Bullies, Twitter has thrown the idea of a polite and fashionable society into the garbage can.  Fortunately, the number of users is dwindling, as more and more people tire of its ability to amplify hate speech in a matter of seconds, but the death of the platform can’t come fast enough.  It is the platform for reporting on what is happening on the ground, in live time, in the moment, frequently used by law enforcement to track protestors and quell free speech.  Since it is conversational in nature, it is also the platform for gossip and unsubstantiated claims, causing frequent meltdowns over the smallest of slights, further isolating us from ourselves.

Sadly, the number of social networking sites continues to grow, as does the amount of time we spend on them.  In 2012, eMarketer estimated that most US adults spent an average of 4-minutes a day on social media.  Just five years later, that amount of time has grown to close to an hour.  Every day, we choose to spend 50-minutes fighting, coveting, longing, and freely acting like guinea pigs, while giving away our privacy so that these companies can resell our data to advertisers, to earn themselves billions in revenue….BILLIONS.  In 2017 alone, Facebook’s ad revenueis estimated at $16.5-Billion,  This does not take into account Instagram, or any of the other dozens of social networks profiting from the same practice.  This is your time, your privacy, and your sweetness of mind, but you will not be compensated for what you willingly gave away.

Instead, think about what would you do with an extra 50-minutes a day?  If you could shut off the “social” network, how would you relate to your life again?  For me, I have revived my account to get updates from a women’s group and writer’s group that I am part of, along with the occasional update on how friends of mine are, and what their children are up to.  I suppose these are the reasons that we all glommed onto the idea of social networks to begin with.  Now that more of my news feed is filled primarily with negative and often times violent language, I think it’s time to disconnect the “social” network and reconnect with my fellow humans, most likely this time for good.