An American Perspective to Global Terrorism

(The following is an op-ed.)

Working in the media, I once again get to watch the aftermath of a terrorist attack in a European city. This time it is Brussels.

It should be noted that there was barely a mention in American media of the terrorist attacks in Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey; Maiduguri, Nigeria; Mastaba, Yemen; or Grand-Bassam in Côte d’Ivoire.

Flag-Pins-Belgium-TurkeyThere was no changing of Facebook statuses for the other places or a public outcry of grief. While we publicly announce that we stand with Brussels, we stay silent of standing with the people in these other places that have suffered in the exact same way and from the exact same militant religious extremists.

It all comes down to how we Americans view the world, and how the media reinforces those stereotypes.

During a presidential election year, a terrorist attack takes even more precedent. Opponents instantly claim that the current administration isn’t doing enough to prevent such horrific acts, and it is the same old talking points that seem to be resurrected.

We can blame immigrants and refugees but then we are just scapegoating. Most are escaping from a hellish nightmare that we can’t even begin to imagine in this country. Yes, nothing is 100% fool-proof and some could possibly slip through that shouldn’t but that doesn’t make it right to blame all of them.

And ask yourself this question: Do you know how a refugee comes to the US? They don’t get to pick where they go and very few even leave the refugee camps. For coming to the US, this infographic gives you the steps that it takes. It is a rather lengthy process.

As some would like done, constant government surveillance of Muslim-American communities, including their mosques, would be a violation of the Constitution. I find it interesting that after a mass shooting, these same candidates will start screaming about protecting the Second Amendment, but are willing to violate any and every amendment (with the exception of the Second) when it comes to a terrorist attack.

I’m actually more concerned about mass shootings than terrorism. Both are essentially the same thing. They can be unexpected, violent, and have a great deal of casualties.

And then there is our military. Our military force does not need to be made great again as some might say that it does in order to fight global terrorism. We have the the world’s largest, most technologically advanced military. It would take the next seven countries to equal what we spend on our military. To stand and proclaim that our military needs to be made great again is an insult to the brave men and women that don the uniform and serve throughout the world.

There are no easy answers to fighting terrorism. There is no soundbite from a political candidate that will instantly give us the solution that we seek. We have to see things from a global perspective instead of the narrow-minded American-way. We must get past generalizations and stereotypes of other places, people, and cultures.

I’ve been to Europe a few times over the past decade. I love visiting. And despite the attacks in Paris and Brussels (and anywhere else), I will return. It can be fun to immerse yourself in something different and to get a new perspective.

Working in the media industry can be difficult in times like these. But then I think back to those trips… to those great places and wonderful people. And no terrorist can take that away from me.

Advertisements

Are the Causes of the French Revolution Present in the US Today?

There once was a time when the wealthy upper class and the Catholic Church didn’t pay anything to the government in terms of taxes and had special socioeconomic privileges. It would fall upon the largest class of citizens, the peasantry to pay taxes and keep the coffers of the country full.

I’m talking about pre-revolutionary France but the description of that society would almost tend to describe the way U.S. society is currently.

Franco American flags

Taxes and the Wealthy

The wealthy of today are generally considered the one percent. Though they do pay taxes, many people still consider the system to be unfair.

Though the wealthy pay more in taxes than the average citizen in terms of dollar amount, it is the overall percentage of their income that is significantly lower. They use offshore bank accounts and tricks written into the tax codes specifically for them to pay a lower percentage and to even avoid paying federal taxes on some of their income.

Billionaire Warren Buffett brought this topic into the political spotlight in 2012 when he announced that it was unfair that he paid a lower percentage in taxes than his personal secretary.

There have been calls for an overhaul of the tax code, but Congress has been in no hurry to act. The IRS though has begun to crack down on those who have foreign bank accounts and are not filing appropriate tax returns on the money that is contained within them.

Religious Exemption

According to University of Tampa professor Ryan Cragun, the U.S. government loses approximately $71 billion a year with religious exemptions. Cragun looked to his own home state of Florida as an example:

  • The state loses approximately $26.2 billion in property taxes every year;
  • Capital gains exemptions were estimated at $41 million;
  • And the clergy can claim up to $1.2 billion in tax exemptions through the parsonsage allowance

Though we can trace back the religious exemption, it hasn’t always been accepted.  James Madison, for instance, opposed tax exemptions for religious institutions.

Religious tax exemptions are seen as a privilege and not a right as they are granted by the government because of the positive contribution religious institutions are presumed to make to society.

A 1954 law bans political campaigning by tax-exempt groups which does include religious organizations. It should come as no surprise that there are several religious organizations that defy this law, including the Church of Latter Day Saints’ work to pass Proposition 8 in California. However, none of these organizations have lost their tax-exempt status.

The Third Estate

This is the bulk of society, yet it is the part of society that often feels as though it is left out and not heard. Even in pre-revolutionary France, the nobles (the wealthy) and the Church would often vote as a bloc to overrule the Third Estate (the commoners) though they had the largest delegation. What was then called the Third Estate can now be termed the working class.

Today, the working class doesn’t feel as though its elected leaders are working for their best interest or hearing their concerns.  It is often felt that the working class bears the tax burden of the country.

In the 2014 legislative session in Missouri, lawmakers approved a reduction in the state income tax, but are now asking residents to approve a sales tax to fund transportation/infrastructure projects. Both actions are largely seen as a benefit to the wealthy while placing a heavier burden on the working class and the poor.

The taxes part gets a bit complicated and murky, but Politico does it’s best to explain it in better detail.  On top of paying income taxes, the working class must also pay payroll taxes which are used to fund Social Security and Medicare.

Global Empire

In 1789, there were two main powers: Britain and France. At the end of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), both England and France were broke. To solve the problem, Britain attempted to levy taxes on its American colonies which led to the American Revolution.

Even with the coffers dry, France still entered the American Revolution on the side of the colonies.  It wasn’t because the French monarchy believed in the liberty the American colonists were fighting for but rather to humiliate Britain.  French forces were spread throughout the world to protect their overseas empire as our forces are spread out in a similar fashion to intervene wherever it is needed to protect American interests.

Our military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned in his farewell address in 1961 is still growing and becoming even more powerful and costs our nation a lot of money to maintain.  According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the US spent 19% ($643 billion) of its budget on defense in 2013.

46320411_PH01886

Our American Society

There were a lot of factors that led up to the start of the French Revolution… more than what I’ve gone into here.  But an underlying theme does still present itself.  The bulk of the population, the working class, is feeling as though it’s paying more than its fair share and being asked to bear more and more of the burden while the wealthy get off and religious institutions are exempt.

But is there a possibility of the US erupting into a French-styled revolution?  Despite the vast similarities that have been described, our societies are very different.  We do not live under a monarch.  The President is elected every four years and can only serve 2-terms, and we do have a representative body of our government that we elect.  Though we feel as though our voices are largely ignored, we do have ways to fight for change within the process… something that the people of France didn’t have.

But we must remember those causes for they should not be ignored.  When the vast majority of people feel as though they are being taken advantage of, they will institute change.  First they will try through the democratic processes that we are accustomed to, but if that doesn’t work, I wouldn’t put it past any society to rise up against their oppressors.  Afterall, we, as Americans, have already done it once before.

The Battle of Small Town America and the Minimum Wage

The following is an Op-Ed.

This might be considered a more conservative piece from me.  Last week the city of Seattle passed legislation that raised the minimum wage in that city to $15 an hour.  As this is an election year, and one in which Democrats are expected to lose seats in both chambers, this has become a hot button topic with both parties resorting to their partisan talking points to motive their base of voters.

For those that have been protesting for the past several months, the increase in the minimum wage by the city of Seattle was a major step.  Though I do think that minimum wage should be higher than it is currently, I think Seattle may have gone a bit overboard and placed it too high even though it was set at what the protesters have been wanting.

LineGraph

Courtesy of ABC News/Fusion

A Facebook friend recently had discussion about this, and he made some valid points in his argument that are often overlooked with all the partisan rhetoric. Though we tend to place the focus for this debate on fast food workers, it also comes down to those “mom and pop” stores as well.

Big chain stores like fast food places and stores like Target can usually absorb the increase with a slight bump.  But it’s the “mom and pop” stores —  those little neighborhood places — that will bare the brunt of such an increase.  It is places such as these that have to work to make a profit and afford the few workers that they do hire.  With such an increase, most of them won’t be able to keep their staff which could result them going out of business since they are not able to deliver the same customer service as before.

BLS_Minimum_Wage_Age-thumb-557x391-113440

Courtesy of The Atlantic

According the the above chart, as of 2011 the bulk of minimum wage earners are 16-34.  This encompasses high school and college students and those just after college.

Now I should point out that during college I had a minimum wage job, and I had a different minimum wage job for a couple of years after graduating… which was in 2002.  I did not want either of these jobs to be my career as I had just completed 4-years of college, but it was a way to make money and gain some valuable work experience.  I continued to search for a career job during that time.  And like now, 2002 wasn’t the best time to be looking for work.

So what if I would have had to stay at that minimum wage longer than I did?  I knew that I could work my way up and get a promotion which would have included more money.  I would have taken the matter into my own hands rather than expect the government to do something about it.

If someone doesn’t like that they earn just minimum wage and have to work several jobs, then why not apply for jobs that pay more? Why not work to get promoted at the place you already work… maybe a manager or something similar?  We all have access to a “free” public education through high school.  We always have the choice of going to college (or back to college) or even to a technical school which would provide us access to jobs that pay better.  This is not the cheapest route to take, and that part of the topic is for another discussion.

There still needs to be an incentive for someone to better themselves.  If I’m making $15 an hour at McDonald’s or Target, what is the incentive for me to go to college and get a degree when I could just start work and save those thousands of dollars?

Some might argue that it would force universities to lower tuition to try and lure prospective students.  But in reality, the exact opposite would happen in that the universities would start raising tuition even more as enrollments declined in much the same way that airlines keep raising prices to make more money (and cover expenses) though they knock more people out of being able to afford it altogether.

Also last week, the government released numbers stating that the number of jobs had returned to pre-recession levels.  My reaction to this was whether the jobs that have been created are of the same caliber as the ones that were lost.  Have we replaced good-paying jobs with minimum wage jobs?  Are we adding more wood to the fire to make this issue even bigger or are we creating the types of jobs people can make careers from?

My overall point is quite simple: take charge of your own life rather than letting the government do it for you. If you don’t like making minimum wage then take steps to work your way out of it.  It may take some time, and it may not be the route you want to take, but it can be done.  And yes, let’s raise the minimum wage slightly to an acceptable level that won’t force small businesses out of business.  Remember, it is suppose to be the ‘minimum’ wage… the base, so to speak… and not necessarily a career wage.

The Life and Legacy of Nelson Mandela

A little over an hour ago, the news was released to the world that former South African President Nelson Madela had died at the age of 95.  In recent years, his health had been declining but that still does not diminish the impact of his passing.

Mandela was born in July 1918.  While living in Johannesburg later, he became involved in anti-colonial politics.  In 1948, the government began implementing the policy of apartheid, which he would be a voice against.  Although he was a man on non-violence, he co-founded the militant organization Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961.  He would be arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison.  An international coalition managed to get him released in 1990 while civil strife was escalating throughout the country over apartheid policies.  He led negotiations with then-South African President F.W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish multiracial elections in 1994 to which he won the presidency.  He would serve as President of South Africa from 1994-1999, when we would step aside.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Toward the end of apartheid, he managed to be a unifying figure to a nation that was in desperate need.  Civil strife and violence were escalating.  South Africa was on the verge of becoming like any other African nation… ripped apart by constant civil war and revenge against enemies.  Mandela called for peace and worked with the current government to bring about the free elections.  Even once he had won the presidency, he sought about not violence or revenge, but working together to build South Africa up and to make it a world player.  To have it be a shining light of democracy on a continent that knows darkness.

It was through the leadership of Mandela that South Africa stabilized.  At a time when the nation could have gone one of two ways, he helped steer it the right way… a way to help end the divisions and hatred.  He unified South Africans and made them see each other as countrymen and as neighbors.

Even after stepping down as president, he continued to speak out for peace at home, throughout the continent of Africa, and in the rest of the world.  He showed us all what could be accomplished if we started working together.  He worked to fight poverty and HIV/AIDS through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

In the United States, we revere the father of our country, George Washington.  Though he led a war against a monarchical government, he still stepped aside when the task was complete.  At a time when the new nation was about to split apart at the seems, it was Washington who stepped in to bring us back together as a people.  And yet, when the time came, he voluntarily stepped aside and gave up power again.  He worked to keep us out of war and to unite us a people and a nation.  We see this type of person in the character of Nelson Mandela… characteristics in a national leader that come around once in a lifetime.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves ‘who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve this world.”

Though Mandela belonged to the people of South Africa, he was shared with the rest of the world.  The  life and legacy of Nelson Mandela will reach far beyond the borders of that nation as it will encompass all nations.  He has shown that we should not seek violence, revenge, or war.  We must step up and do better.  Through peace, we can achieve so much more and raise up humanity.

Mandela showed the rest of the world that Africa was not a lost cause.  It could be a global player under the right leadership.  Given a chance, the people there could step up and be a loud voice for change.  With his passing, the people of Africa (as well as all national leaders) should take note of the example that he set, and to set about doing what is right.

Today, the people of South Africa mourn the loss of the father of their modern nation.  Those of us around the world join with them in their time of mourning for we have all lost a great and just man.  But though we are saddened by his loss, we keep his legacy alive.  We must endure, as a people, to continue the message that he spoke… that he believed.  He set us up and pointed the way.  Now we must take the torch and carry it forward.

To the people of South Africa, I say thank you for sharing him with the rest of us.  He was an inspirational man… and one that we may never see again.

Nelson-MandelaNELSON MANDELA
1918-2013

%d bloggers like this: