Checking In: Are We Doing Okay?

The last time I wrote, Barack Obama was President.

The last time I wrote, Hillary Clinton was going to be President.

The last time I wrote, things were normal.

Now things are anything but normal.

Last night, Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Comey found out on a television broadcast playing in the background while he was delivering remarks to a group of FBI officials. The White House said it was because of his handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails.

“Yeah, right,” was the collective response.

Last week, House Republicans passed a bill that would lead to an estimated 24 million Americans losing health insurance. People with preexisting conditions are no longer guaranteed coverage. The Republicans said it would be better in the long run.

“Are you sure?” we asked.

Last month, the President dropped the “Mother of All Bombs” in Afghanistan. It was necessary and it worked, they told us.

“Okay…” we raised an brow.

Last year, Donald Trump won the US Presidential Election.

“What the fuck?” was the phrase heard round the world.

The world is a different place than the last time I wrote, so I thought I’d check in. How are we all doing? Are you, like me, “considering” more than usual? Are we taking care of ourselves? Are we doing the most good that we can where we are?

Since the election, there have been a lot of discussions, at least in my sphere, of the need for more civil dialogue. We need to be able to talk to each other again. We need to be able to agree on facts and disagree on ideas. We need to consider other points of view and allow for the possibility that maybe, someone else could be right.

Let me know how you’re doing. Let me know what you’d like to consider, and maybe we can start some civil dialogue here again. I think it’s needed now more than ever.

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Considering Orlando

Ck3Ve0CVAAA8UZLA week ago today, I woke up, like the rest of the world, to the news of Orlando. I didn’t really feel surprised. I think we’ve stopped feeling surprise at these kinds of stories. They’re happening too often. What I did feel was sad and hopeless.

We’ve become resigned to the fact that nothing will actually change after this. This semi-regular horror is just the way of the world, it seems. Our new normal.

But why is it that 1 man can kill 49 people and injure more than 50 more others and we consider that normal? That it’s semi-regular? Why can’t we fix this? Why can’t we even talk about fixing it?

That is what Senator Chris Murphy spent 15 hours talking about on the floor of the Senate Wednesday night.

At the end of his filibuster, the Senate agreed to vote on some gun control bills, aimed to stop terrorists from purchasing guns.

President Obama explained why he thought a bill like this was necessary at a PBS Town Hall just few weeks ago:

“I just came from a meeting today in the Situation Room in which I got people who we know have been on ISIL Web sites, living here in the United States, U.S. citizens, and we’re allowed to put them on the no-fly list when it comes to airlines, but because of the National Rifle Association, I cannot prohibit those people from buying a gun. This is somebody who is a known ISIL sympathizer. And if he wants to walk in to a gun store or a gun show right now and buy as much — as many weapons and ammo as he can, nothing’s prohibiting him from doing that, even though the FBI knows who that person is.”

The bill in question is being referred to as “No Fly, No Buy,” meaning that if someone is on the No-Fly List they also shouldn’t be able to buy a gun. The NRA issued its own statement on this issue this week, stating:

“The NRA believes that terrorists should not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms, period. Anyone on a terror watchlist who tries to buy a gun should be thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the sale delayed while the investigation is ongoing. If an investigation uncovers evidence of terrorist activity or involvement, the government should be allowed to immediately go to court, block the sale, and arrest the terrorist. At the same time, due process protections should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watchlist to be removed.”

This bill was introduced a few months ago and the argument was about due process. Many Senators were concerned about how to protect the second amendment rights of citizens who may unfairly end up on the so-called “No Buy” list, but were not actually terrorists. That seems like a healthy conversation to have: how to protect the public good while safeguarding personal freedoms.

Except they didn’t have that argument, and the bill didn’t go anywhere.

This is why we haven’t made any progress curbing gun violence. We don’t reach solutions, we drop bills. We don’t have civil debates, we stop talking. We don’t discuss our options, we ignore problems.

Since 1996, the Center for Disease Control hasn’t even been able to research gun violence or anything that could lead to gun control. Technically, President Obama lifted the research ban in 2012, shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting, but fear of funding cuts from Congress meant the CDC still hasn’t conducted any gun violence research. The American Medical Association announced last Tuesday that they are calling gun violence a public health crisis and will be lobbying Congress to lift the ban on gun control research.

Tomorrow, the Senate will vote on four different bills concerning background checks on gun purchases. And while it feels like a victory that these bills are being debated, the overarching assumption is that they won’t pass, and will probably die in the Senate.

I don’t know when we’re going to decide that we’ve had enough. That people’s lives are important enough to at least try to curb gun violence, to pass a bill, to do something.

At least this time, we’re having a conversation. We’re having a debate. But it would be nice, for once, to have some action.

Considering Police Shootings

As I watch the news and read the stories of the protests happening around the country last night, I can’t help but feel desperate and sad. Our country is divided on many things, but right now, we are united in feeling concern about this one thing. When the labels of black and white, thug and cop, right and wrong are stripped away, it boils down to this:

A human killed another human.

It is complicated by race and class. It is complicated further by bureaucracy and power. It is complicated further by looting and riots.The protests, the media, and the arguing are all just trying to make sense of an unnatural act. The problem is it doesn’t make sense.

So while we argue about what may or may not have happened that day, and what should and should not have happened in the days after, don’t forget:

What happened was devastatingly sad. What followed was devastatingly sad. What happened last night was devastatingly sad. Someone died, and someone killed. It is against our nature to murder each other, and yet we do it every day. There is no right, only wrong. Our society failed both the victim and the shooter.

What does it say about our culture that such a thing can happen? What does it say about our nature that we are appalled by it? What does it say about our future?

The only wrong answer is nothing.

This should mean something. The national outcry should be heard and answered. This should say something about who we were, who we are now and who we are going to be.

I fear that in all the arguing, all the rioting, and all the media, only one thing will prevail: nothing. The noises will cancel each other out, we will go about our holidays, and one day, none of this will mean anything at all, and it will all just happen again. And then, too, it will only mean nothing.

Rioting and looting isn’t the answer, that is obvious. But how do we focus all this energy into something positive? How do we make it mean anything? How do we stop failing each other?

http://www.businessinsider.com/police-militarization-ferguson-2014-8

Picture source: businessinsider.com/police-militarization-ferguson-2014-8

Considering Arizona LGBT Bill

All over my news feed is discussion about Arizona’s LGBT legislation. This legislation would let business owners use religious beliefs to refuse serving an LGBT individual.

Supporters of this bill claim that refusing service is religious freedom. Critics say it is legalizing discrimination. What’s in the middle of religious freedom and discrimination?

My first question was regarding signs I often see outside of businesses that say “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” What makes Arizona’s legislation necessary if business owners can refuse service? The Federal Civil Rights Act does. Legalzoom.com explains that it “guarantees all people the right to ‘full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.'”

Basically, a business owner can refuse service for arbitrary reasons, but refusing service based on a customer’s identity is illegal. A flower shop owner or baker cannot simply refuse an order for a wedding based on the sexual orientation of the couple. Arizona’s bill, that passed the legislature and is waiting Gov. Jan Brewer’s signature or veto, would allow a business to use religion as a reason to refuse service.

Outside of Arizona, there is vocal opposition against the law. The tech company Apple, which was planning to build a sapphire glass plant in the state, urged Governor Jan Brewer to veto the bill claiming it could seriously damage the economy. American Airlines and Marriot hotels also came out in opposition of the bill. The Super Bowl, which is supposed to take place in Arizona next year, may be in jeopardy. Now, leaders of the national GOP are urging Gov. Brewer to veto.

I think my Senator, Orrin Hatch’s confused comment in a Politico argument about the GOP shows how confusing the issue is:

“This is one of the societal issues that has to be resolved. I do believe states should be able to decide things for themselves, I do believe that that’s the constitutional way of handling these matters. And the states that want to go a certain way have a right to do so.”

But, Hatch added: “I don’t think we should have discrimination anyway. On the other hand, I think there’s a legitimate question raised about whether businesses have to conform to certain moral standards they disagree with. I think it’s a real important pivotal issue, and I don’t know how to resolve it, honestly.”

The question is whether baking a cake for a homosexual couple’s wedding is making the owner “conform to a certain moral standard they disagree with.” Standing up for beliefs is often an important part of a person’s religious experience. I can understand how participating in that ceremony may make a religious person feel as though they are forced to support something they find morally objectionable.

I found it interesting that Marriot opposed the bill since JW Marriot, Jr., Chairman of the Board, is Mormon. Marriot’s religion does not support gay marriage, but his hotels are still open to gay people, as well as plenty of other people who practice a whole myriad of objectionable acts in the eyes of the LDS church.

For example, does allowing unmarried couples reserve rooms mean Marriot supports pre-marital sex?

There’s never been a reason to think that businesses can control their customers’ identities and behaviors. If you want to open a business, you open it up for everyone in the area and hope they come and spend their money.

There needs to be an understanding that just because you own a business that sometimes serves people who don’t believe the same things you do, does not mean you support every action of a customer’s. I think once that is understood, the discomfort and objection will disappear.

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Considering Sochi

Ahh the Olympics. Celebrating the human spirit and an artificial sense of world unity. For the next two weeks all eyes will be on Sochi as we enjoy the Olympics.

Friday night, Russia showed off its power and pride at the Opening Ceremonies. In the spotlight were ballroom dances,  fancy projectors, and gay propaganda laws. Let’s talk about the latter.

ABC news explained the law and its consequences. Basically, the goal is to restrict minors from seeing anything that would communicate that gay relationships are normal. This means gay rights protests and even gay public displays of affection are illegal.

The law itself was a way for not-always-popular Vladimir Putin to gain support with traditional, conservative Russians. A Wall Street Journal article detailing the law states, “In a recent survey by the state-run Vtsiom polling center, 88% of respondents said they agreed with the ban. A poll by the independent Levada Center in May found that 47% of Russians thought that gays should not enjoy the same rights as heterosexuals. ”

Russians themselves were in favor of the law when it passed last June. The rest of the world didn’t make much noise.

Enter the Olympics. The global community focuses on the huge country with its imprisoned rock stars and broken special effects. And for two weeks we care.

Google debuted a colorful Olympic logo Friday.

German President, Joachim Gauck, boycotted the games because of the law.

President Obama sent gay representatives for both the opening and closing ceremonies.

And Putin isn’t really concerned. Because he knows that just like in Beijing, and every other time the Olympics are in a controversial area, we will forget.

So on one hand, the Olympics are good for gay Russians because for two weeks we really care about them.

On the other hand the situation is good for Putin and the government because for only two weeks we really care about them.

For most of us, when the two weeks are over we will get back to our day-to-day lives. And if you’re like me and live in Utah, or any of the other 8 states in red on this map, you have similar anti-gay propaganda laws prohibiting the discussion of homosexuality in schools.

The bottom line is, what I consider about the Russian gay propaganda laws doesn’t really matter because Russia will only change if Russia wants to. And Russia doesn’t really have any pressure to change when a significant portion of the US has its own discriminatory laws.

So maybe in the future I will consider the validity of those laws, but right now I’m going to go root for some skaters whose names I will forget in a couple weeks.