Views Versus News. Facts Versus Truths.

When a Facebook friend recently shared a news story, a woman responded by saying “Gosh, I wish I was smart enough to find news I want to read but obviously you don’t think anyone else is smart enough to find the news they want to see and make their own decisions.” She inadvertently hit upon the very thing that divides us: What we define as news.

Far too many Americans seek the news they want – news that conforms with their long-held beliefs. They dismiss any news that conflicts with those beliefs. And, far too often, they confuse news reporting with political punditry. This is at the very heart of our national problem.

Before the end of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, Americans had a shared version of news. For those of you too young to remember, the Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was – in the Commission’s view – honest, equitable, and balanced.

When the Fairness Doctrine was ended, we suddenly saw an onslaught of radio programs and TV networks that presented opinion as legitimate news. And those very same people boosted their ratings by telling their viewers and listeners that the “Mainstream Media” are lying – that only they present the real story.

That is, in fact, what most of them present: A story.

As a trained journalist (I have a journalism degree and, early in my career, I worked as a news reporter), such people offend me. I know that real journalists spend many hours sitting through tedious meetings, poring over financial records, combing through documents, uncovering secrets and often risking their lives in war zones and dictatorships to report the truth. They are not intentionally biased. Indeed, their work is usually reviewed and scrutinized by a team of editors who are tasked with ensuring that the reports are substantiated. Even when, as humans, they inevitably make mistakes, they are held accountable. They not only offer retractions. They can be sued for defamation or libel.

The mainstream news media depend on these people.

Many political pundits and commentators, on the other hand, sit behind desks offering opinions and bias while pushing a variety of conspiracy theories not based on truth or reality. They are seldom held accountable. They are concerned about one thing and one thing only: Their ratings. The higher their ratings (or readership, or clicks) the more money they are paid.

Too often, that same goal drives politicians and their political parties. They believe that, by creating anger, resentment or fear, they can generate more support, more donations and more votes. In order to do that, they often make statements loosely based on facts. Some rely on no facts at all.

One of the all-time great journalists, Walter Cronkite, once said, “My job is not to tell you the news you want to know. My job is to tell you the news you need to know.” He also said, “Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine.

If we are ever to unite as a nation, we must inform ourselves with the truth. Not just facts and opinions that support our point of view. We must make an effort to inform ourselves. We must consume news and information from journalists – real journalists. We must look at both sides of a story. We must seek the truth, wherever it leads us. And we must vote for politicians and officials who honor that truth.

Where Is Our Compassion?

This past week, the Bully-In-Chief further divided Americans by ordering Homeland Security to wrench children from the arms of refugees seeking asylum. That such behavior is in violation of international laws and the US Constitution is less important than the fact it is in violation of the norms of human kindness and moral behavior.

It is stunning to me that the administration’s actions are considered controversial. Yet some people I know, some of whom I grew up with – people I know to be loving, caring individuals – support traumatizing children in order to deter immigration. I can only assume they don’t understand what led to the refugees seeking asylum and our nation’s role in helping to create their misery.

So, here’s a primer in the geopolitics of US immigration.

First, nearly half of the undocumented immigrants in our country did not cross our borders illegally. They came to the US on visas and overstayed their visas. No wall would have blocked them.

Second, most of the immigrants crossing our southern border are from three Central American nations – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – not, as Trump suggests, Mexico. To understand why, you need to look back to the 1800s when three US corporations controlled the land, transportation, and banana production in these countries. They also controlled their governments, installing puppets to ensure control of cheap labor.

Such arrangements were good for the corporations and the US. Not so good for the people of these so-called Banana Republics.

US political meddling continued through the 1980s when the Reagan administration offered arms and training to the Central American governments in order to put down rebellion. The Reagan support included the sale of arms to Iran in order to surreptitiously obtain funds to support government death squads (see Iran-Contra scandal). That led to a wave of refugees into the US. In Los Angeles, the Salvadoran refugees were bullied by gangs leading some Salvadorans to create the MS-13 gang. When MS-13 gang members were inevitably arrested and imprisoned, they became more violent. And, when we eventually released and deported them, we effectively exported their violence.

It is the violence created by MS-13 gang members in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, that has displaced Central Americans – mostly women and children – forcing them to seek asylum in the US.

Third, US policies have created crushing poverty in Central America. Corn production was an important part of their economies. But, after the implementation of CAFTA, US grain companies dumped large quantities of corn into Central America at prices that made it impossible for small, Central American farmers to compete. That inevitably forced them into bankruptcy and into the cities looking for jobs. The resulting poverty has been crushing.

Fourth, when the refugees arrived at our ports of entry to apply for asylum, they were forced to wait in long lines for days all the while trying to tend to their children. Some, having grown impatient, crossed the border elsewhere and turned themselves in to authorities. These are the people who were detained and had their children – some only a few months old – ripped from their arms.

They are not criminals, murders and rapists. They are not MS-13 gang members. They are desperate people – mothers, fathers and children. They are not just seeking a better life. They have left behind what little they had and came here hoping to survive. And, if we send them back, they are very likely to die.

Such treatment is not Republican, Democrat, American or Christian. It’s not even human.

For Many, This Administration Will Be Fatal.

Much has been written about the Trump effect – Trump’s impact on civility, ethics and morality. Certainly, the impact has been serious. It has led to rifts among friends and families. It has led to more conflicts based on race and religion. And it has led to a diminished respect for our democratic institutions, including traditional news media, the FBI, the CIA and our judicial system.

In addition, Trump’s disregard for the truth, his extramarital affairs with porn stars and the numerous credible accusations of sexual assault victims have set a horrific example for children.

But the administration is having a much more onerous impact on our nation and, indeed, the entire world.

For example, the Trump administration recently ousted the head of global health security and cut the agency’s budget the same week it was announced that there is a new Ebola outbreak in Africa. As a result, it is now unclear who in the administration will be charged with reacting to an international pandemic. But that’s only a potential disaster in the making. Millions of lives have already been put at risk by The Donald and his troupe of ideological and unqualified sycophants. By pandering to racists and neo-Nazis, Trump unleashed a flurry of attacks on minorities.

Trump’s decision to block refugees, deport undocumented immigrants, and undermine DACA represents a mass murder in slow motion. Within 3 weeks of his deportation, a high school dreamer from Iowa who was brought to the US at age 3 died as a result of gang violence in Mexico – likely due to misidentification. (He and a friend were in the wrong place at the wrong time.) And that young man is but a single example of the administration’s turning a cold shoulder to women and children seeking refuge in the US from violence – violence often caused by US policies! Further, it has been revealed that the administration is ripping families apart and taking children as young as 18 months away from mothers and fathers who are seeking refuge. The impact on those young lives will be devastating and lasting.

In Puerto Rico, the Trump administration made the Bush-era response to Hurricane Katrina look like a model of efficiency. According to a recent Harvard study, more than 4,600 Puerto Ricans have died as a result of Trump ineptitude. That’s more than twice as many Americans who died as a result of Hurricane Katrina!

The piece-by-piece dismantling of the Affordable Care Act will result in millions losing access to health care and thousands of preventable deaths. The administration has threatened to cut CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) which now provides health care funding for 9 million children and pregnant women. Similarly, it has plans to make deep cuts in Medicaid which provides health care to disabled, elderly and poor Americans. And the Medicare program for seniors is also in the administration’s crosshairs.

Not satisfied with those draconian cuts, Trump and the GOP have plans to cut benefits to Social Security recipients. And they have plans to cut $150 billion from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) which could leave millions hungry.

To be clear, all of these cuts are planned to help pay for the administration’s tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

In addition, there will be thousands of deaths caused by the continued indifference of Trump and the GOP toward gun violence. Already this year there have been more than 100 mass shootings in the US and hundreds of deaths. And the year is only half over.

And when you consider the consequences of Trump’s foreign policies, things look even more bleak!

By moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, the administration ignited a powder keg in Gaza and the Middle East. Ensuing protests along the Palestinian/Israeli border resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians, including children and aid workers. And, by announcing its withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, the administration has released Iran to restart its efforts to create nuclear weapons and has encouraged Iran to increase its support of terrorist groups in the Middle East.

If the agreement with North Korea fails, as it is likely to, Trump will almost certainly return to his game of brinksmanship with a nuclear nation (brinksmanship and bullying are the only forms of negotiation Trump knows). A potential war on the Korean peninsula would result in millions of deaths of Koreans and Americans. It could also cause China and Russia to enter into war with the US.

Trump’s refusal to condemn Russian meddling in the elections of western countries, including the US, and his burgeoning trade war with allies weakens NATO and long-time alliances, destabilizes the West, and makes it easier for Putin to invade countries beyond the Ukraine.

Finally, there is the devastating impact of the administration on the environment. By pursuing oil drilling in sensitive areas preserved for wildlife and by failing to protect endangered species, the administration threatens the entire ecosystem. And by withdrawing US support for the Paris climate agreement, the US is now the only nation in the world that is not part of the agreement to curb carbon emissions. If the world’s climate scientists are correct – and, so far, their estimates of destruction have proven to be conservative – Trump’s decision puts millions of future lives at risk.

So, instead of snickering at the latest revelations of Trump’s philandering; instead of being outraged at his insensitive and immature statements on Twitter; instead of decrying the coarseness of his language and his repugnant treatment of the press; consider the real damage his administration is doing. And VOTE!

The Great American Con.

The news media – the ones Trump so viciously attacks – continue to treat his administration as any other. They devote hours of airtime and barrels of printer’s ink in an attempt to decipher the actions of the Trump administration. But the sad truth is that Trump is not a typical president. He gained the office with the help of Russia and Vladimir Putin while failing to garner a majority of the popular vote. And, since taking office, his actions have defied presidential norms.

What the media fail to recognize or acknowledge is that Trump is nothing more than a con man. A man who, as defined by the dictionary, “Cheats or tricks someone by gaining their trust and persuading them to believe something that is not true.”

The definition fits Trump to a T.

And like any con man, he has chosen his marks. Those consist of evangelical “Christians” who are willing to overlook his many moral and ethical shortcomings as long as he opposes abortion and continues to make judicial appointments who are willing to take away a woman’s right to control her own body.

His other marks consist of angry, disillusioned white people who oppose immigration and who hope the image of financial success portrayed by Trump’s many properties will somehow rub off on them. In addition, he has pandered to a collection of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other deplorables who have been attracted to Trump by his verbal attacks on immigrants and refugees from Mexico, Central America and what Trump describes as “shithole” countries.

And, like any con man, having selected his marks, Trump has bombarded them with promises to return the US to the days when whites were the clear majority, when most immigrants came from Europe, when white male industrialists were in firm control, when businesses could extract natural resources and pollute with impunity, and when you didn’t have to worry about being impolite. Indeed, those promises are all summed up by his slogan “Make America Great Again.”

When he fails to deliver on his promises or when one of his scams is exposed, he either assigns blame to others (usually President Obama, Hillary Clinton or other Democrats) or merely claims success while burying his failures in an avalanche of lies.

Then, with everyone focused on reports of his scandalous behavior or the corruption of his appointees, he claims the prize he is really after: Money. He retreats almost weekly to his own resorts forcing taxpayers to pay for the accommodations of his security detail and those of other government officials. He asks his personal attorney to sell government access to corporations and foreign interests. He asks his cabinet to overturn regulations for the benefit of his own company and those of his friends. He leverages his position and those of his children to pave the way for trademarks, licenses and developments in other countries. And he continues to build his brand for the future.

It’s all a complex game of three card Monte run by a man with all of the sophistication and class of a carnival barker. And it’s long past time for the mainstream media to expose that man for what he really is before he costs us something far more valuable than money: Our democracy.

Beyond Tribalism.

Today, most Americans are members of a political tribe – Trump’s tribe, the Republican tribe, the Conservative tribe, the Libertarian tribe, the Democratic tribe, the Liberal tribe, the Evangelical tribe. But no matter which of the labels we prefer, we should find many issues upon which we can all agree.

On the most important issues, we should all be members of the same tribe – the American tribe.

So, for the time being, let’s set aside the questions of possible conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign and whatever Hillary Clinton was accused of doing or not doing. We should all be concerned that all of our intelligence-gathering agencies agree that Russia – one of our greatest rivals – interfered with our elections. If we, as Americans, are to have confidence in our elected leaders, we need to know that they were fairly elected.

In addition, there should be plenty of other areas of agreement among ordinary Americans. For example, we should all be worried that many of our longest-standing institutions – the press, FBI, CIA, justice system, educational system, science, even the truth – are under attack. Moreover, it should be abundantly clear that there is also an all-out attack on America’s working class.

Ideology aside, we should all be horrified that corporations and the very rich received 83 percent of the benefits from the most recent tax cuts – cuts resulting in deficits that will add multiple trillions to our national debt. We should all be concerned that the president ignores the Constitution’s emoluments clause by spending nearly every weekend at one of his resorts in order to charge taxpayers millions for the rooms needed for Secret Service, as well as government and foreign officials.

We should all be outraged over reports that the president’s longtime lawyer – his “fixer” – paid hundreds of thousands to buy the silence of women with whom he had affairs. And we should be even more troubled by reports that the same “fixer” was apparently selling access to the White House and accepting millions from a Russian oligarch.

We should be skeptical of Betsy Devos’s push to privatize education, thereby taking money away from public schools in order to finance parochial and private schools for the well-heeled. We should recoil at the dozens of reports detailing Scott Pruitt’s corruption and his rollback of environmental protections, thereby threatening clean air and water.

We should be angered by Steven Mnuchin’s use of government planes for his honeymoon and other private trips. We should be equally alarmed at Ryan Zinke’s taxpayer-funded vacations, his unjustified cuts to national monuments and his sweetheart deals for campaign donors who have placed bids for drilling rights on public lands. We should be universally sickened by Ben Carson’s plan to triple the cost of rent for poor Americans (many of them seniors) who live in public housing while others in government scheme to cut funding for food assistance, Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP and Social Security.

It cannot be stated often enough or strongly enough: This is not normal!

Michelle Wolf’s Jokes Were Less Offensive Than Trump’s Lies.

Wolf’s comedic attacks on administration officials at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner were seen by many as offensive. But, in reality, she merely called attention to the actions of occupants of the Trump clown car. And the truth sometimes hurts. Moreover, in the case of Michelle Wolf’s jokes, it can be damn funny!

And you have to ask yourself: What harm did her performance really do? After the outrage of the Trumpanzees, Fox News hosts, and right-wing radio hosts fades. There will be no serious consequences. No one, except maybe Wolf, will be hurt.

On the other hand, many of the actions of those she attacked will have grave, long-term consequences. The president’s incessant attacks on the press have already caused a portion of Americans to question factual reporting and to accept the diatribes of partisan propagandists, instead. The administration’s constant lies have obscured the truth. The administration’s attacks on government institutions, such as the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and the justice system, will make it easier to supplant democracy with fascism. And the administration’s refusal to denounce the white nationalists that support it has exacerbated racial discord in America.

Further, the administration has fostered corruption. It has ignored science, demeaned education, attacked the poor, and taken actions that will hasten the destruction of our planet. And Trump, himself, has verbally attacked women, the disabled, a Gold Star family, a war hero, his political opponents and many, many others.

So, before you attack the so-called tasteless jokes of a comedian, consider the task she was given: To find humor in the devastating actions and statements of the administration officials in attendance. I’d say she did her job a whole lot better than those officials have!

Revisiting The Second Amendment And Gun Violence.

“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.”

I draw your attention to the full text of the amendment since the first 12 words are seldom mentioned. In fact, in the NRA headquarters, only the last half of the text is emblazoned on the wall. But, if you believe in the wisdom of the authors of our Constitution, you cannot parse the words to suit your own purposes. You must accept the document in its entirety.

We once had a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States who believed so. In a 1991 PBS interview, he stated, “The Gun Lobby’s interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is one of the greatest pieces of fraud – I repeat the word fraud – on the American people by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime. The real purpose of the 2nd Amendment was to ensure that state armies – the militia – would be maintained for the defense of the state. The very language of the 2nd Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.”

The point is that the amendment was written to ensure for the defense of the US against foreign governments at a time when our nation had no standing army, no Navy, no Air Force, no Marine Corps, no Coast Guard. Instead, the nation’s defense relied upon state militias comprised of volunteers…what have, in effect, become our state governed National Guard units.

Now that we have the world’s most effective military, the 2nd Amendment is no longer necessary. Since our government is “of the people, by the people and for the people,” the military serves us. There is no longer a need for citizens to bear arms as part of a well-regulated militia. What about the potential for government tyranny? The current administration aside, that is a remote possibility. And even if the government decided to impose martial law on the land, no disorganized band of civilians armed with an arsenal of AR-15s and AK-47s will prevail against a well-trained government army with tanks, artillery, fighter jets and nuclear weapons.

That said, let’s talk about our gun problem and what can be done to reduce gun violence, including mass shootings.

There are an average of 297 shootings each day in the US – more than 108,000 per year! Those shootings result in 11,000 murders per year and an uncounted number of wounded – many with lifelong debilitating injuries. There are 20,000 suicides from guns each year, resulting in an annual total of 33,000 deaths from guns.

More than 2,600 hundred children are killed by guns each year.

The US averages more than one mass shooting per day (as defined by 4 or more victims per shooting). Since the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there have been 1,500 mass shootings resulting in more than 1,700 people killed and more than 6,000 wounded (not counting those who were likely shot and killed today).

If you’re human; if you live in America, those statistics should frighten you! But before you run out and purchase a gun for self-defense, consider this: Guns are not defensive weapons. They are offensive weapons. In a gun fight, the first person to pull their gun usually wins. So, if someone points a gun at you, your own gun will do you little good. In fact, if you have a gun in your house, you’re 80 percent more likely to use it on yourself than any criminal.

To further debunk the “good guy with a gun myth,” consider the FBI analysis of 160 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013, excluding shootings related to gang or drug violence. Those incidents resulted in 1,043 casualties – 486 killed, 557 wounded. The FBI found that 1 in 5 were stopped by a potential victim at the scene and most of those were unarmed! Only 5 were stopped by “good guys with guns.” And, in 21 of 45 incidents that required law enforcement to engage the shooter, 9 officers were killed and 28 were wounded, despite their training and their body armor!

Do you still think arming teachers is the answer to school shootings?

Every independent study shows a clear connection between gun violence and the number of guns. Nevertheless, Americans now own more than 300 million guns. Despite the fact that the number of individuals who own guns is actually declining, the number of gun sales is increasing dramatically. That’s because 6 million Americans – mostly white men -now own 10 or more guns. There are studies that show many of those people have psychological problems. And there are additional studies that show a clear connection between gun violence and domestic violence or violence against animals.

The only apparent answer to our epidemic of gun violence is to treat it as we do other epidemics – with intervention, outreach, and education. We should institute universal background checks and a database of gun ownership. To make the ATF’s job easier, we should institute a waiting period for anyone wanting to purchase a gun. We should ban both open and conceal carry – going back to the policies before the lobbying of the NRA. We should ban all semi-automatics. Not just military-style weapons. That’s because most semi-automatics can be just as deadly. And bolt-action, pump-action and lever-action are perfectly acceptable for most hunters. We should limit magazines to 9 rounds. We should limit the quantities of ammunition sold. And we should take weapons away from violent felons, domestic abusers, animal abusers and the mentally ill who are diagnosed with violent tendencies – toward others or themselves.

It’s time to ignore the NRA and the GOP. It’s time to change!

Imaginary Political Purity Of Independents.

In response to a recent post about the cruelty of the GOP’s plan to cut food stamps, a Facebook friend dismissed my opinion as propaganda and smugly commented, “I’m so glad I’m an independent and don’t get caught up with all this left wing right wing bullshit.” Like many voters who are registered as independents, he obviously feels superior to those of us who have chosen to take sides in our nation’s political discourse.

But, as holocaust survivor and political activist Elie Wiesel once said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

For me, the cruel plans of our current administration have brought us to one such moment.

Moreover, I would point out that those who claim superiority by refusing to takes sides are cloaking themselves with a false sense of political purity. Though refusing to participate in our two-party system is certainly one’s right, those who refuse to register as a member of a political party are seldom truly independent and very few are moderate. Most consistently lean toward one party’s candidates, have their own political agendas or simply refuse to participate in our electoral process. For example, in Arizona, a large percentage of so-called independents are libertarians who dislike the federal government. And some are part of the Sovereign Citizen movement which refuses to acknowledge any government.

I can attest to that from my own experience.

For most of my life, I was an independent who was fiscally conservative and socially liberal. I had chosen not to take sides because neither party fully represented my views. Moreover, I disdained the business of party politics…the precinct meetings, the caucuses, the state meetings, the platform discussions, the primary battles, the get-out-the-vote efforts. Finally, in 2006, I changed my registration when I realized that I could never again vote for a candidate that represented a political party that led us into a war on false pretenses. A party committed to robbing from the poor to give to the rich. A party that discriminates against minorities, obstructs opposition voters and despises the very government it wants to lead. A party I now consider morally and ethically bankrupt – the GOP.

It was only after I registered as a Democrat that I realized that, far from staking out a position of purity and superiority, being an independent is really a cop-out. As an independent, I was not fully participating in our democracy. By merely voting in the general elections, often griping about the poor quality of candidates put forward by the two parties, and by occasionally voicing my opinion in the media, I was in essence, letting others control our political process, and by default, our government.

The flaw of being independent should have been made abundantly clear during the 2016 election cycle. Sen. Bernie Sanders may have enjoyed the most widespread support of all the presidential candidates. He was supported by many Democrats (myself included) and a great many independents. Yet he overwhelming lost the Democratic primaries. Why? He was a Democrat only for the sake of his presidential run. Though he has always caucused with Democrats in the Senate, he is an independent. That meant that he had not established a great deal of support within the party he hoped to represent. On the other hand, Clinton was a long-time Democrat who had cultivated close relationships with leaders at every level of the party. More important, the independents who supported Sanders could not vote for him in many of the state primaries without first registering as a Democrat. Then, when Sanders lost, many of the independents refused to vote or voted for minority party candidates.

As a result, we have a person in the Oval Office who is the very opposite of Sanders. One who is dismantling almost everything Sen. Sanders has supported during his entire tenure in office!

Now, you may want to fault the system for that. But you should also look in the mirror. The system is the system. And it’s all but impossible to change the system from the outside. You have to be part of it. You have to get your hands dirty to change it. You have to build coalitions. You have to rally others to your cause. You have to make phone calls. You have to connect on social media. You have to walk the neighborhoods and knock on doors.

If you think that’s asking too much, consider the students of Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. By reaching out, even as they are hurting; by speaking out through their tears; by refusing to take no for an answer; by organizing, they have accomplished in a few days what many of us adults have failed to do in a lifetime. If they are willing to stay the course as they promise, they can not only reduce gun violence. They can change the world.

False Patriotism.

A few years ago, a local chapter of the VFW asked me to judge a group of essays written by middle schoolers on the subject of patriotism. As a writer and former teacher, I was honored to do so. But, after reading them, I realized that none of the students knew the real meaning of patriotism. To all of them, patriotism revolved around the military, military hardware, the flag and the national anthem. Not the Constitution. Not the ideals established by the Founders. Not the American dream. Not exercising our right – our responsibility – to vote. Not affording equal rights to our fellow Americans – all of our fellow Americans.

Of course, the students were only parroting what they had been taught by their teachers and parents.

Like many Americans, they did not understand that, though admirable, military service is only one way to show patriotism toward their country. They did not understand that displaying a flag, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and placing a hand over their heart for the national anthem are only a show of patriotism – mere symbols. (It’s good to remember that the flag was not adopted until more than a year after the beginning of the Revolution, that our nation did not have a standing army until 1789 – 12 years after the United States became a country, and that the Star-Spangled Banner did not become the national anthem until 1931 – more than 150 years after the shots were fired on Bunker Hill!)

The students did not understand that, in certain circumstances, it can be an act of patriotism to refuse military service; to stand up to government leaders by refusing to fight in an ill-conceived and illegal war. Were the soldiers who refused to follow orders and reported the war crimes at My Lai not more patriotic than those who murdered innocent men, women and children? Was not Daniel Ellsberg, who exposed the lies of the Vietnam War, more patriotic than the politicians and generals who expanded the war based on false information? Were the Americans who protested and demonstrated against our pre-emptive invasion of Iraq not more patriotic than the administration who led us into it on false pretenses?

Of course they were!

If the kids’ definition of patriotism has become the accepted version, it’s not difficult to understand why our nation is perpetually at war. It’s not difficult to understand why our military budget dwarfs those of other nations. And if we honor the flag and the anthem without embracing the ideals they represent, is it any wonder so many Americans are willing to deny equal rights to those who look different; to those who love someone of the same sex; to those of a different faith, or those of no faith?

If we become outraged at football players who refuse to stand for the national anthem as a means of protest in order to draw attention to injustice while we praise the flag-waving bullies who threaten them, we have failed to grasp the Founders’ vision for our democracy. One in which it is as patriotic to call attention to our nation’s failings as it is to celebrate its successes. Indeed, it may well be more patriotic!

So what is patriotism?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “love for or devotion to one’s country.” It’s fitting that the definition is so expansive. After all, there are many ways to love. And that definition is especially fitting for Americans, since the vision of our nation’s Founding Fathers was equally expansive. It’s why the Constitution they created has served us so well for so many years.

The Reality Of Gun Violence In America.

As a long-time self-defense instructor, I taught students that the first rule of self-defense is situational awareness. I encouraged them to be aware of the world around them. In the US, that means being aware of guns.

So here’s the uncomfortable reality: Guns are everywhere in our country. One can assume that anyone you meet is potentially armed. There are guns concealed in waistbands, guns concealed in shoulder holsters, guns concealed in purses and guns concealed in cars. But most gun owners (and I used to be among them) never use their guns for anything other than hunting or target shooting. However, there are a few people who are compelled to harm others. It may be that they have been bullied and pushed to a point where they seek revenge. It may be that they have been filled with hate by some of our vile propagandists and political ideologues. Most are mentally unstable. But few are truly mentally ill.

With more than 33,000 gun deaths in the US each year, it’s clear that we don’t just have a gun problem. We have a political problem.

For example, the vast majority of gun deaths in this country are the result of white men…many of them with a history of domestic abuse. Yet we do little to track home-grown terrorists and domestic abusers still have ready access to guns. A substantial majority of gun owners in the US are right-wing conservatives – people who fear our government. They have been convinced that they need military-style weapons to defend freedom. Many of the most fervent gun owners are white supremacists who believe “the others” are coming for them.

Following the script provided by the NRA, GOP politicians say that guns are not the problem, the real problem is mental illness. But those same politicians have cut the funding for mental health programs and mental health institutions. Indeed, one of the current Congress’s first acts was to pass a law repealing a measure that made it easier to prohibit the sale of firearms to people deemed “mentally defective.”

The NRA and the GOP say, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Yet, according to an FBI report which analyzed 160 mass shooting events between 2000 and 2013, only 1 in 5 active shooting incidents were stopped by a potential victim at the scene, and most of those were stopped by someone who was unarmed! Only 3 percent were stopped by “good guys with guns.” Further, the Violence Policy Center found that, over a 5-year period, guns were used by civilians to stop fewer than 1 percent of crimes.

In fact, those who carry concealed guns are highly unlikely to use their weapons to defend themselves or anyone else. They are far more likely to have their guns stolen or to have the guns used against themselves.

After each mass shooting, GOP politicians offer “thoughts and prayers” and say, “Now is not the time to talk about guns.” Then they do nothing. For example, after the Las Vegas mass murder, Congress proposed a ban on “bump stocks” to prevent gun owners from giving a semi-automatic rifle the capability of a machine gun. But the GOP blocked the bill in the Senate. And, in the days before the school shooting in Parkland, the GOP was pushing a universal gun bill that would negate state gun laws and allow owners to legally carry guns – even banned guns – across state lines.

NRA-backed politicians say that strict firearm legislation doesn’t work. Yet a study by Boston’s Children’s Hospital found that states with the most firearm legislation had a 42 percent lower overall firearm-associated mortality rate than states with the least legislation. In fact, after Connecticut passed the nation’s strictest gun laws in 1994, gun killings dropped by 40 percent!

The NRA says it stands between us and tyranny. Yet, allegedly, much of the millions it contributed to GOP candidates in the 2016 election was laundered for Russian oligarchs. How does helping a foreign enemy meddle in our elections protect our democracy?

The NRA says that, if guns weren’t available, the killers would find another weapon of choice, perhaps knives. But guns, especially military-style guns and semi-automatic pistols, allow murderers to kill more people in less time. How many people do you think would have died in the Parkland school, if the killer was armed with a knife or a six-shot revolver? How many of those who attended the Las Vegas concert would have been killed with a knife, a shotgun or a large caliber, bolt-action hunting rifle?

The fact is, firepower matters. And, in countries that have fewer guns, there are fewer gun deaths!

With 33,000 gun deaths in the US each year and at least 25 mass shootings already this year, it’s not hyperbole to say that the NRA leaders and the gun manufacturers they represent are accomplices to murder. So, too, are the politicians who receive large sums of money from the NRA.

Here’s another sad reality of gun violence: After each mass shooting, the sales of guns – particularly assault weapons – go up. A reality that only encourages NRA-backed politicians to continue to block common sense gun legislation.