The Aftermath of Hate & Terror

On Sunday morning I walked into work and immediately saw the news: 49 dead; 53 wounded at a mass shooting in Orlando that is being called a domestic terrorist attack. I felt numb and was shocked. For hours, I have sat here wondering what there is to even say.

Some words by Robert F. Kennedy came to mind from a speech he gave the night after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. “It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one – no matter where he lives or what he does – can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.” (Full text of RFK’s speech)

Politics will, in the end, find its way into this horrible atrocity. Both sides will back into their proverbial corners and begin spouting their typical talking points. The left will start talking about more gun control and hate crimes. The right will focus on Americans needing easier access to guns to protect themselves and radical Islam. Neither of these are actual solutions and only work to prohibit further discussion. As we have seen many other times, we talk today but do nothing tomorrow.

“Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition they desire.” Robert F. Kennedy~

In truth there is no easy solution. I wish I had one to make the pain and suffering go away. But as we move forward, we must allow common sense into the discussion. Our regular talking points have been worn out and have become a burden on making any progress.

In the US we have the constitutional right to bear arms. Common sense says that there must be a solution to gun violence that will uphold our right yet not arm the entire public. I don’t really want to be a part of a society where everyone must be armed all the time in order to protect themselves.

“We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.” Robert F. Kennedy~

Our emotions are running high. They range from disbelief to sadness to anger. And though it is normal and appropriate for these feelings we must not give in to them. If we allow ourselves to follow that path of darkness then we will become no better than the gunman as anger can only lead to more hatred and to more violence.

Today, I choose to be open in my political discourse on guns and our Second Amendment right. I acknowledge that there is not a single solution or an easy one. And I choose to see the light and the good in my fellow man. It was Anne Frank that wrote,”[I]n spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

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The Politics of Syrian Refugees

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

The above appears on the Statue of Liberty and is part of a larger poem by Emma Lazarus. With its location near Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty became the symbol for new immigrants and refugees entering the United States in search of a better life. Even though the massive immigration center no longer processes new people into the country, the statue still retains its symbol for those that are yearning to be free. Yet it would appear that the quote above doesn’t apply to the 21st century… at least to some.

Syria has been bogged down in a civil war since the Arab Spring. In the past couple of years, a new terrorist group (ISIS) has emerged as a major threat both to the stability of Syria and neighboring Iraq and to the western world. It has become a confusing mix of who is fighting who. (The following video tries to simplify the ongoing war in Syria. https://www.facebook.com/ezraklein/videos/10153737513773410/)

On November 13, Islamic extremists went on a rampage throughout Paris killing 129 people. It turns out that one of those responsible is a Syrian refugee that got into France with thousands of other refugees that have been entering Europe as the war in Syria has escalated. This was one out of thousands yet there is no way to determine if there are more. It was always a concern that ISIS would try to slip agents into Europe and the US through the mass migration of Syrian refugees. It would appear that at least one did and possibly others, but it may not warrant the mass hysteria that seems to be coming from this horrible event.

The rest of the attackers that night, though still Muslim extremists, were European nationalists. As Republican governors, members of Congress, and even candidates for President have started foaming at the mouth about not accepting any Syrian refugees now, they say absolutely nothing about allowing Europeans into the country. These are the same Republicans that say one can’t blame all law-abiding gun owners any time there is a mass shooting. Yet somehow they are going to accuse all Syrian refugees because of one terrorist that came in with all the others.

Governors throughout the US have been declaring that they will not accept Syrian refugees within their state. This is more political posturing than reality. The Refugee Act of 1980, which was an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act, created explicit procedures on how to deal with refugees entering the US by creating a uniform resettlement and absorption policy. Basically this makes it a federal matter, not a state. So all of these governors have no real say. Once someone has been approved and is allowed to enter the US, they are free to move about the country and settle wherever they would like just the same as anyone else.

Republicans in the House of Representatives, under new House Speaker Paul Ryan, are preparing legislation to halt Syrian refugees. It’s unclear as to whether such a bill would pass the Senate where Democrats can still filibuster. And it’s more likely to get a veto from President Obama if it were to reach his desk. Republicans need to tread more carefully and watch their words and their tone though. According to an article on POLITICO, faith-based groups as well as Evangelical Christians are largely in favor of the Syrian refugees.

The words of President Franklin Roosevelt come to mind. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fear and hate aren’t the answers. True, we can’t tell which of the refugees are good and which might be members of ISIS or another extremist group. But we can’t even say that about our own citizens. We have to remember that 99% of those that are coming to this country are in search of safety and a better life… something that was ripped away from them in their home country.

In early 2015, several Bosnian refugees that had settled in St. Louis in the 1990s were arrested for sending money and military supplies to terrorist groups overseas. Did this mean that all the Bosnian refugees that entered our country were terrorists and should be deported? Of course not. Just a few bad apples in a community that has been a valuable asset to the city as a whole.

According to the American Immigration Council, the United States took in approximately 70,000 refugees in 2014 (the same as 2013). Almost half have came from the Near East/South Asia which includes Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, and Afghanistan. The cap for the number of refugees is set at 70,000 for 2015 as well.

Our nation has always been a melting pot of different people. It makes our culture quite unique as we have found a way to blend it all together. There have been times when immigrants and refugees haven’t been given a fair chance… the Irish, Catholics, Italians, Eastern Europeans, etc. In the end, the fear that was largely rampant was proven mostly unfounded. The vast majority melted into our society. The new Syrian refugees will be no different than those that have come before.

Sure we all want to feel safe and protected. The majority of those refugees want the same thing. Is it possible that a member of ISIS could slip in? Sure. But they could always slip in another way, too, or influence an American citizen. We know the latter has happened already. We can’t blame all Syrians any more than we can blame all Americans. It is a risk we take, but it is part of our values as well. And we can’t lose sight of those. We must rise above hate and fear to see the bigger picture… the humanitarian aspect.

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.

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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.

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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.

Affirmative Action in Modern Society

Recently in the case Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, the United States Supreme Court, by a 6-2 vote, upheld a Michigan ban on Affirmative Action.  The ban stated that universities didn’t have to consider race as a requirement for enrollment.  Michigan isn’t alone with a ban either as states like California, Washington, Oklahoma, New Hampshire among others have done so, as well.

In June 2013, the New York Times ran an article which graphed how minorities have fared in states with affirmative action bans.  The graphs only look at a couple major universities within a few states, but they can manage to tell quite a bit.  Whether with or without a ban, the overall percentage of minorities as freshmen increase and decrease… sometimes, more wildly than others.  But it also shows that percentage of that state’s total minority population and how it differs from the percentage of minority freshman.

California

The charts specifically point out UC Berkeley and UCLA.  The graphs show that 49% of the state’s college-aged residents are Hispanic though only 11% and 17% of freshman are Hispanic at those two schools respectfully.  That is a big gap.  The chart does show that both universities are lower in their percentages after the ban on affirmative action that before, but both were in decline before there was a ban. (as of 2011)

Florida

In Florida, 27% of the state’s college-aged residents are Hispanic.  When it comes to Florida State and the University of Florida, both universities showed that 18% of their freshman were Hispanic.  Not as wide of a gap as California.  And in Florida, the percentage of freshman has increased right along with the state’s college-aged residents in this category.  Sadly, it is the African-American community that has seen a decline at Florida State and a mix of up-and-down years at the University of Florida. (as of 2011)

It’s mostly in Washington state where both Hispanics and African-Americans have seen an increase in the percentage of freshman, with a little variation over some of the years.  So the graphics have the ability to make the cases for or against affirmative action bans in the same manner.  There were increases and decreases before bans were in place as there were afterwards.  And though the charts do show the percentage of a state’s college-aged residents, it fails to identify how many have completed their secondary education in order to advance to college.

According to the Tuscon Sentinel, the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University have all seen steady increases in the percentage of minority undergraduates since 2010 when voters approved of an affirmative action ban.  We cannot assume that the other universities/colleges show the same numbers, and it doesn’t break down the minority numbers and their relation to the total percentage of the population.

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All of the numbers that I have discussed this far have left off something very important… the students that leave those states to attend a university in another state and the students from other states that go to those particular universities.  How is that shown in the numbers that have been discussed?  And should they be used to help show if a university is measuring up in minority enrollment to the state’s total minority population?

Hypothetical

So to bring this concept into some form of scope, let me bring up a hypothetical situation.  Let’s say that a white man and an African-American man both apply to the same university with the exact same credentials (i.e. same GPA, same SAT scores, etc.), and only one can be admitted.  Should the African-American be chosen over the white guy simply based on his race and nothing else?  If that is the case, aren’t we using the same form of discrimination on the white man that we are attempting to exterminate on minorities with Affirmative Action?

Let’s make a slight change.  I will keep the African-American man but change the other to a Hispanic woman.  Does she now qualify over him because she is two minorities (woman and Hispanic)?  Does it come down to how many minority groups a person can be a part of?

In this country, not all secondary education is created equal.  There are good schools and bad ones.  So grades and GPA may not alone indicate which prospective student is more qualified  than another.  A student with a 3.4 GPA and comes from a good school may be more qualified than a student coming from a bad school with a 3.5.

When discussing Affirmative Action, especially when it comes to our universities, it goes beyond any simple talking points that politicians or even the media would have us believe.  It is a very complex issue that is intertwined with our nation’s past.  It was derived from necessity.  But as we move forward from those times, what type of role does it play if any at all?  One must look to the entire picture in order to get an idea of this and not just the rhetoric.

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