War with Syria?

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Do you hear the beating of the drums of war?

On August 21, 2013, an alleged chemical weapons attack left scores of innocent Syrian civilians dead with no visible wounds.

The video footage of the aftermath of this attack swept the media, leading many in the west to suggest they should intervene militarily.

But, let’s wait a second.

Have we learned nothing from the Iraq War? Where, ten years ago the U.S. public was fed misleading tales of WMD’s and terror links by its own government to bulk up support to invade the sovereign nation of Iraq. All of those reasons given now proven false, the American public should be wary of expanding our military might into a conflict that is far from simply being black and white.

The government of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad has outlasted protests that have turned violent and devolved into a civil war. While the Free Syrian Army, and other associated rebel groups, have received tacit support from U.S. war-lovers Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, the rebels have also been linked to groups affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Just which side does the U.S. and the west throw their support behind, if anyone? Supporting Assad would mean flushing democratic ideals and human rights down the toilet – not to mention President Obama going back on his “red line” of chemical weapons use being a reason to intervene – and aligning with the rebels could make for strange bedfellows as the U.S. is waging a “war on terror” on associated Islamic fighting groups.

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Who launched these Aug. 21 chemical attacks? Newly-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani comtemplated it was actually committed by the rebels, which runs counter to Obama’s “proof” that these attacks were perpetrated by the Syrian government.

While Iran and the U.S. continue to bang the war drum, Britain seems to have learned their lesson from Iraq, as the U.K. Parliament is demanding Prime Minister David Cameron await the results of a United Nations inspection into the Syrian attack, refusing to write Cameron his “blank check” he desired to interfere in this civil war.

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Far from black and white, these shades of grey flickering with memories of lives lost and broken in Iraq remain fresh in too many people’s minds and hearts than to jump into another choppy pool of Middle East conflict, guns blazing with our eyes closed.

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What Antoinette Tuff Can Teach Us About Mental Health

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Like much of America, I was captivated in hearing the 911 call emanating from Decatur, Georgia, placed by a school bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff to police dispatch as she talked down a potential catastrophic mass shooting at the elementary school she worked at. The armed intruder, Michael Hill, who apparently suffers from mental illness, was negotiated down from committing a murderous tragedy by a front office worker, armed with no hostage skills or police background, using only herself as a proverbial shield connecting with Hill on a human level and used her own personal story to coax the twenty-year old man out of opening fire on any victims.

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This was a deeply touching act of bravery at a very tenuous time, the courageousness Tuff showed while presumably at gunpoint, maintaining her calm and keeping her composure and thus cooling the heated situation, resulted in an almost miraculous outcome despite Hill‘s five-hundred rounds of ammo. Equipped with no less than her heart, Tuff soothed the agitated gunman and related her experiences in mental health, laying bare her own attempted suicide and son’s dealings with issues, in order to familiarize Hill with her and defuse an otherwise likely climactically fatal scenario.

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Tuff‘s heroic display cannot help but give society great examples as to how we can all confront our own unexpected obstacles and alter our common misperceptions of mental health. Lending a delicate touch to those afflicted with the disease of mental illness, treating those with tenderness and care (“I’m proud of you”), Tuff can teach us all lessons in how we can collectively confront the unfortunate victims of mental illness, with love and kindness as opposed to punishment and ostracism.

In facing down the ominous, dark barrel of a gun, assured death, Antoinette Tuff did not blink. Instead she glanced up at the gunman himself, in what could have been – and most certainly felt like – the final moments of her life, the fearful Tuff stood firm but rather than extending a fist or rousing anger at her would-be assassin, she extends a hand and grants peace upon the afflicted Hill, assuring him he will be alright and he didn’t hurt anyone.

She cared, Tuff proclaimed to Hill. In doing so, she therefore deescalated a violent shootout and spared countless lives.

When we face our greatest challenges, instead of rushing to judgment and clenching our meaty paws, before we blame another victim or remain complacent, Antoinette Tuff proved maybe the best way to rise to the occasion is to proceed with grace and openness, that connecting and finding common ground brings us closer than coercion drives up apart, and we can catch more flies with honey than we could ever dream using vinegar.

Could Student Loan Rate Hike Be The Spark to U.S. “Arab Spring” this Summer?

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With the United States Congress‘ failure to reach a deal to prevent subsidized student loan interest rates from doubling from 3.4% to 6.8%, I’ve heard this would cost the average borrower an additional grand over the average per the life of a typical loan.

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In 2010-2011, worldwide protests dubbed the “Arab Spring” swept the globe and ousted longtime rulers of Egypt and Tunisia, but this spring-fever would soon thaw when regimes in countries like Syria or Bahrain still go un-toppled and their people’s voices remain stifled and unheard.

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While the U.S. has seen a flare for protest, namely in the early-oughts with anti-war protests against the Iraq War, and the more contemporary examples of domestic mass-gathering has lacked a singular cohesive narrative or theme, whether the narrow-focused libertarian Tea Party or the more decentralized redistributive Occupy movement, Americans have not taken to the streets in equal number to match the teeming crowds of Tahrir Square in Cairo or in the streets of Rio De Janeiro over government spending on luxury stadiums. One could ask, why? Are Americans in the U.S. simply so content and satisfied that protest is not considered? Or are tactics and strategy in place to intimidate and suppress any attempt at gathering en masse?

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Certainly points have been made between provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act, NDAA, that look to curtail any form of protest in public space, and trading liberty for a so-called security. Or the parallels could also be drawn between the government response and the put down of protest in recent memory in Seattle in 1999 at the infamous WTO meetings, as well as the more recent police and FBI crackdowns on Occupy-related gatherings in New York City, California, and Chicago that give pause and second thought to peacefully assemble. Or even the most recent revelations of IRS intimidation over political identification. All of this, combined with the recent Edward Snowden leak regarding the NSA data mining on all American telecom and Internet activity, create an atmosphere for the people of the United States far heavier in its weariness to whistleblow or take to the street to protest a point.

What then, could cause the people to finally shake off this contentedness and demand a change? Will the Tea Party re-emerge and become a more formidable political force? Will Occupy retake the national dialogue over economic equality as worker’s wages continue to stagnant and depress as CEO’s take-home balloons? Will the current U.S. Congress‘ basic ineptitude be the triggering mechanism that finally causes the fault line to erupt to see an American Summer akin to an Arab Spring of people demanding acknowledgment and true representation not beholden to the highest bidder? While subsidized college loan interest rates doubling to a level still drooled over by a great many in finance may seem trivial, the question that underlies the rate hike is could this be the straw that breaks a complacent camel’s back and floods the streets with people seeking change in the U.S.? Or are contingencies already in place to suppress any attempt at this?

With the news that Brazil‘s massive protest over this summer has led to their demands being heard, as the Brazilian government has agreed to invest 100% of oil revenue into education and healthcare, could this be a reflective point for U.S. workers and students to see themselves and ask: Why not us?

DOMA Unconstitutional

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Today, June 26, 2013 is a landmark day for marriage equality, as the Supreme Court has ruled the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which stated that only opposite-sex marriages could be federally recognized, is unconstitutional.

The three main arguments that pro-marriage equality advocates would point to prior to today’s Supreme Court ruling to showcase the inequality of DOMA were: (1) portability of marriages only recognized in one state but not another, (2) the “second-tier status” this held gay couples at by not granting them equal rights under the law, and (3) the denial of the thousand-plus federal rights and tax benefits opposite-sex couples could enjoy.

So, where does today’s ruling leave us?

What this means is that in the 13 states (thanks to today’s Prop 8 decision, California can be added) that currently grant marriage equality to same-sex couples will be held in the same manner as opposite-sex marriages in the eyes of the federal government. It does not, however, mandate that states which currently do not grant equal protection and recognition to gay couples do so nor does it force any penalty upon them for not.

Has portability been nullified in the federal sense by acknowledging the dozen states that currently recognize same-sex marriage the same as their straight counterparts? Today’s decision does not make other states recognize same-sex marriages in their states. So, portability is still an issue in the 38 states that do not grant same-sex marriage equality currently.

The “second-tier status” is no longer a federal issue…in the dozen states that do legalize gay marriage, but remains a problem in states that do not. It may however be the first step in the process that does.

The federal tax filing denial should no longer remain an issue, as today’s ruling stated that this only grants federal benefits to states that now and will later recognize gay marriages in their state borders.

While today’s Court ruling remains monumental, there remains work to be done. It is another step in progress, along with the President himself “coming out” in favor of marriage equality and the repeal of another antiquated Clinton-era social relic, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, it is a great bound that may propel equality further and faster having done it. Portability and second-class citizen recognition remain marriage equality issues despite today’s verdict.

However, yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling striking down important sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a key component of the civil rights struggle, must also be acknowledged for the potential discrimination this has already begun, with Texas immediately throwing together a Voter I.D. Law, and could reveal, in addition to the many who died innocently and in protest for that this sullies.

Many are reminded today of the famous quote spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.

While today’s DOMA decision brings us a step forward in progress, we must also be wary of the VRA repeals and their like that stumble us two steps back.

Political Proxemics

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Turning on cable news can be a trying experiment in tolerating overblown out-spoken arguments from both sides. “Higher taxes!?”, cries the right. “Cut spending!?”, shouts the left. It is a centuries-old political contest. But one area there should be no contention when it comes to government aid and public spending should be when natural disasters strike.

Commonly referred to as “acts of God”, with more and more evidence pointing to man-made climate change, natural disasters like hurricanes, floods and tornadoes do not pick and choose whom they strike, nor do they fall along only politically ideological lines. Weather events can displace anyone and destroy all homes when they hit, regardless of the bumper sticker on the jalopy by the curb.

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Last fall, Hurricane Sandy was a watershed moment in both waking up the Northeast to the coming reality of a changing climate, but also in showing unity between Republicans and Democrats as Republican Governor Chris Christie and President Barack Obama joined forces to revitalize the area, and in doing so, giving a successful example of state and federal governments working in tandem.

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More recently, the tornadoes that struck Oklahoma with devastating fashion brought in its aftermath a spirit of political cooperation, as Republican representative of a district effected, Tom Cole, had nothing but praise and open arms for President Obama‘s overtures of assistance and condolence.

Are we seeing a new political reality in America? Or is this a new version of a open space theory, which stated people who live often in close quarters and/or urban areas where they see and feel the effects of government spending in things like garbage collection, street upkeep, sanitation, etc., are far more likely to be pro-government or in favor of spending, because they can see the effects of their taxes.

The opposite would also hold true then, that people who are separated from others, who do not see the benefit the spending of their taxes brings, and do not bear witness to any state initiative and maybe have to travel a distance to access the Internet, would be less in favor of government and anti-spending.

It’s a natural disaster that brings us all closer, even if it is through the comfort of our living room while watching the news, the walls that separated us are crumbling, we are connecting, and just because we aren’t neighbors doesn’t mean we can’t see the benefit of lending help and a hand.