Warren Blumenfeld's Blog

Social Justice, Intersections in Forms of Social Oppression, Bullying Prevention

Youth Filling the Barrel to Tipping Point in Movement for Firearms Safety

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“The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and our parents to call BS. Companies trying to make caricatures of the teenagers these days, saying that all we are self-involved and trend-obsessed and they hush us into submission when our message doesn’t reach the ears of the nation, we are prepared to call BS.”

Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida excited the crowd at a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale just four days after a gunman plowed down students and faculty with an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle killing 17 and injuring another 15 precious souls.

Through her voice, her passion, her outrage, and her deep commitment, Emma poured hot cleansing waters to the tipping point into a barrel representing a movement that has long been filling in our country to wash away the deeply entrenched stain of gun violence.

It is a movement declaring that people are worth far more than corporate profits and political payoffs. It is a movement demanding that common sense measures be taken to finally begin to end the scourge that is gun violence in the United States of America. It is a movement proclaiming clearly and forcefully that condolences and prayers are simply not enough, and most importantly, that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

Emma continued: “Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS. They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS.”

The United States stands at the cusp of great social change, led by strong and articulate young people who are cutting through the BS of longtime and largescale entrenchment holding in place a system catering to the rich and the well positioned.

Black Lives Matter, and professional athletes sparked by the courageous actions of NFL star Colin Kaepernick, are challenging institutional racism; women are pouring out into the streets and onto the ballots to break the log jam blocking their entry into the ranks of key policy makers; the Me Too and Time’s Up Movements are standing up by demanding an end to sexual harassment and gender inequality.

Disability Rights activists are sitting in and acting up to ensure quality health care for all and the security of benefits for all who require them to maintain a high quality of life; LGBTQ people and their allies continue to push for full equality and the freedom to enter public facilities most closely aligning people’s gender identities; labor activists are demanding a realignment of the nation’s economic priorities overwhelmingly and increasingly separating the haves from the rest of us.

And amidst it all, the youth, their radiant young faces catching the rays of the sun, marching side-by-side, hand-in-hand, their middle school, high school, and college groups, banners waving exaltedly in this storm of humanity, announcing their entry, their solidarity, their feisty outrage, and yes, their pride, chanting as if hit by an all-consuming revelation during this Trumpian era of retrenchment, shouting, “We’re Not Going Back, We’re NOT Going Back, WE’RE NOT GOING BACK!”

And indeed, they will not go back into those dank places of fear and denial that stifles the spirit and ruins so many lives. Oh, they will physically return to their schools and their homes. They will continue to study and play sports, to watch movies, listen to their iPods, text on their mobile phones, and write about their days on social media. Some will most likely continue to serve as community organizers, and some will go on to become parents, educators, and political leaders once their school days are behind.

The place they will go to, though, is nowhere that can be seen. It is a place of consciousness that teaches those who have entered that everyone is diminished when any one of us is demeaned; that gun violence as well as all the forms of oppression have no place in a just society.

From the adults in attendance at the Gun Control Rally in Fort Lauderdale beginning as a whisper and gaining to a mighty roar of support saying to the young people: “We are so glad you are here,” came voices from the crowd. “We wish we could have stood up to the politicians, and gun lobbies and manufacturers when we were in school,” cried others too numerous to count. “Thank you so much for your courage!”

Yes, it takes courage to speak out and counter the violence, the scapegoating, the fear of change, the ignorance, and yes, the hatred surrounding our lives. Fortunately, young people are developing positive identities at earlier ages than ever before. Activists of all ages are gaining selective electoral, legislative, and judicial victories.

Emma said: “They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call BS.”

Young people have been integral in the development and success of social movements from the very beginning, and today, they are shaking up norms and traditions as have the young of the past. They are transforming and revolutionizing the society and its institutions by challenging overall power inequities, categorizations, and hierarchies, they are making links to the various forms of oppression, and they are forming coalitions with other marginalized groups.

Researcher Catherine Corrigall-Brown, in her study of youth participation in social movements, found that activism is directly related with higher levels of self-esteem and self-efficacy, and also associated with verification and crystallization of identity development.

Young people are dreaming their dreams, sharing their ideas and visions, and organizing to ensure a world free from all the deadly forms of oppression, and along their journey, they are inventing new ways of relating and being in the world. Their stories, experiences, and activism have great potential to bring us to a future where all people will live freely, unencumbered by constraining fears of being shot on their way to school, to work, or to the store.

Pat Parker’s poem “Legacy” puts movement history into perspective:

“…Each generation improves the world for the next.

My grandparents willed me strength.

My parents willed me pride.

I will to you rage.

I give you a world incomplete,

a world where women still are property and chattel

where color still shuts doors

where sexual choice still threatens,

but I give you a legacy of doers

of people who take risks

to chisel the crack wider….”

We owe our gratitude to the young people throughout the decades who have taken the chisel and expanded that crack ever wider!

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

February 19th, 2018 at 11:03 am

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A Day in the Life of a Narcissist on the Twittersphere

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It began like any typical day for the community in and around Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida: parents said good bye as students left for school, faculty and students met for classes, administrators and staff were on hand to maintain operations working to meet the diverse needs of all involved.

But soon before the end of the school day, a disgruntled and apparently deranged former student entered the high school with an AR-15 military-style weapon, which he legally purchased, and randomly fired at anyone in his field of vision. When he had completed his evil task, 17 innocent precious lives had been extinguished with another 15 injured, some critically.

Though the duty of Consoler-In-Chief is not inscribed into the job description of the President of the United States, in times of national and local tragedies, our past Presidents have been thrust into the role with differing degrees of effectiveness.

Following the dastardly attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke to the nation with a firm and confident resolve promising the country that his administration would take appropriate steps to right the wrongs perpetrated upon us, and by so doing, assured a frightened and enraged nation that the government was working in the people’s best interests.

President George W. Bush brought a devastated nation together as he stood with first responders on heaps of rubble that only several hours earlier had been the mighty World Trade Center Towers after numerous vicious strikes along the east coast on September 11, 2001.

Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama presented just the right tone of compassion and empathy following the increasing number of high-visibility mass shooting episodes plaguing our nation.

The ordinarily cool “no drama Obama” wiped away a tear and exposed his frustration over the easy accessibility of high-powered rifles following the devasting murder of 20 precious babies and their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. And he led all assembled in singing “Amazing Grace” in memory of the nine lives snuffed out by an avowed white supremacist at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015.

The best one can say about Donald Trump in stepping into this role, however, is that he seems completely incapable of getting out of his own way, and he lacks the compassion, empathy, and sense of proper decorum to offer aid and comfort in times of tragedy and grief.

One day following the murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Trump appeared on camera reading prepared remarks, which he unlikely personally wrote. Lacking emotion of any sort, his comments rang false.

For one who has demonstrated no faith in any power outside himself, he talked about “praying for the victims and their families.” As the most divisive president in modern history, it was almost laughable when he uttered: “We are all joined together as one American family, and your suffering is our burden also.”

He continued that there are people “who will do anything at all” to keep young people safe, but he, apparently, did not position himself among those willing to “do anything at all” since he advised young people to rely on teachers, family, police and faith leaders. And as someone who possesses the authority to help resolve the scourge of gun violence in the U.S., he never once mentioned the root of the problem: guns, since he and his Republican co-conspirators are beholden to the National Rifle Association and its blood money.

Trump then made a brief excursion from his luxury resort at Mar-a-Lago to the Florida hospital serving the needs of remaining injured survivors of the tragic shooting. He stayed long enough for a few photo ops, and departed for his resort, where he engaged in a joyous disco party. While at the hospital, I half-expected him to toss wrappers of tissues to the injured, so they could wipe away tears for themselves and their lost companions, as he had insensitively thrown rolls of paper towels to the victims of the Puerto Rican devastation after last fall’s hurricane.

That night, however, in an apparent cheese-burger-intoxicated stupor, this Sociopath-In-Chief once again made other people’s pain and tragedy about himself. He posted in a Tweet:

“Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!”

11:08 PM – Feb 17, 2018

If that were not base (in all senses of the word) enough, he followed with a Tweet connecting violence in Florida with the contentious issue of immigration reform:

“Just like they don’t want to solve the DACA problem, why didn’t the Democrats pass gun control legislation when they had both the House & Senate during the Obama Administration. Because they didn’t want to, and now they just talk!”

6:45 PM – Feb 17, 2018

These utterances fall lower than Trump’s typical narcissistic egotistic insensitivity all the way to the lowest depths of unfitness to serve in the most powerful position in the world. Along with so many other instances, this again proves that Donald Trump has little to no ability to care about or for others, and even less about the overarching interests of this country. He does not care whether foreign nations commit cyberwar upon our democratic institutions. He does not care about the work and commitment of members of his own justice department.

Trump seems to forget that he reignited the issue of DACA by decertifying the program. And while Donald seemingly cannot chew gum and walk at the same time, he does not understand that literally tens-of-thousands of people work at the FBI, and that they are capable of investigating the misdeeds of the Russian government while looking into domestic terrorism.

Did the FBI fail in its examination of the shooter in Parkland, Florida before his deadly rampage? Most certainly! Could it have done better? Most certainly! Must they be held accountable? Yes!

Is the FBI to blame for the epidemic of gun-related violence in schools and in the larger society? Absolutely not! That charged lays on the steps of our legislative houses, firearms manufacturers, sellers, and political lobbyists such as the National Rifle Association.

Throughout the day following Trump visit at the hospital, he Tweeted numerous times about the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian hacking, and on each occasion he either again declared his total innocence, or proclaimed his exhortation, even before final conclusions have been reached by prosecutors.

Virtually the only message of hope and healing to come from the Trump family was a Tweet by the First Lady, Melania on her official FLOTUS account:

“I encourage everyone to test the power of kindness on #RandomActsofKindnessDay. It’s an opportunity to teach our children the importance of taking care of one another.”

11:42 AM – Feb 17, 2018

Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

February 18th, 2018 at 1:25 pm

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Gun Silencers Mute Actual Causes of Gun Violence: Hypermasculinity & Easy Legal Access

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Following each high-visible episode of gun violence in the United States, politicians and other community and national leaders spout their often-repeated worn-out platitudes and false claims regarding the actual causes of this lethal epidemic plaguing the country. Their words all-to-often result in the silencing of the root causes of the problem.

“Sending my best wishes and prayers.”

Of course, people of goodwill and compassion express this sentiment to people and communities suffering trauma and grief. This can help to begin the often-long healing process at a time of unfathomable tragedy by providing essential solace to survivors. It also gives those of us who feel powerlessness during these occasions at least a limited sense of standing with others. This expression, though, falls far short of a solution, which morphs into mere platitude when those in positions of power fail to work toward real solutions.

“This is not the time to talk about politics.”

After virtually every firearms-related slaughter, a common pattern has emerged: when advocates rightly raise issues of safety regulations, politicians retreat to their deflective tactic of reciting that “now is not the time.” Moments pass leading to the next political issue (for example, healthcare or storm disaster relief) pushing gun violence out of the headlines as action is not taken, then the next high-visibility gun massacre blares out, politicians again claim “now is not the time,” and the cycle repeats ad infinitum.

“It’s about better securing our schools.”

When politicians make proposals for reducing gun violence, especially in our schools, they suggest such methods as installing metal detectors, self-locking building entrances, constant and updated emergency drills for the entire school population, and training for staff, teachers, and administrators. Increasingly, policy makers advocate for adding to the number of armed security monitors, and even arming teachers and administrators as “first-line” defenders.

This latter tactic follows National Rifle Association Executive VP Wayne LaPierre’s argument that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” In fact, the NRA produces stickers and hats inscribed with the motto: “Guns Save Lives.” But is this true? Several studies show the opposite.

The lead researcher, Charles Branas, in a University of Pennsylvania study concluded that by arming people as a defensive measure:

“There was an expectation that we should surely find a protective value. [But having a gun] on average was found not to be protective in assaults….Although successful defensive gun uses can and do occur, the findings of this study do not support the perception that such successes are likely.”

In another research study, Harvard School of Public Health’s, David Hemenway, found that contrary to many claims, the chances of violence increased in homes with a gun. Branas, in his study, concurred:

“[T]here is no credible evidence of a deterrent effect of firearms or that a gun in the home reduces the likelihood or severity of injury during an altercation or break-in.”

What proponents of this simplistic and disastrous gun-on-gun philosophy fail to realize in their obsession (yes obsession) with the so-called “freedom” to bear arms is that it is not only “criminals who kill people.” Having augmented numbers of armed school personnel increases the risk for accidental injury and death while offering no guarantees of stopping acts of violence. Fighting fire with fire results in hotter and quicker-moving blazes.

“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”

Actually, people with guns kill people more often and at significantly higher rates than people who don’t have guns. Let’s take a comparative example.

Before and up to 1996, Australia had relatively high rates of murder, but an incident at Port Arthur, Tasmania, April 28, 1996, was the proverbial straw that broke the poor camel’s back. On that date, a man opened fire on a group of tourists killing 35 and wounding another 23. The massacre was the worst mass murder in Australia’s history.

Taking decisive action, newly-elected conservative Prime Minister, John Howard, negotiated a bipartisan deal between the national, state, and local governments in enacting comprehensive gun safety measures, which included a massive buyback of more than 600,000 semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, and laws prohibiting private firearms sales, mandatory registration by owners of all weapons, and the requirement that all potential buyers of guns at the time of purchase give a “genuine reason” other than general or overarching self-defense without documentation of necessity.

By 1996, polls showed overwhelming public support of approximately 90% for the new measures. And though firearms-related injuries and death have not totally come to an end, according to the Washington Post, homicides by firearms fell by 59% between 1995 and 2006 with no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides, and a 65% reduction in gun-related suicides.

Other studies found significant drops in robberies involving firearms, and contrary to fears by some, no increase in the overall number of home invasions. In the decade preceding the Port Arthur massacre, Australia recorded 11 mass shootings. No mass shooting have occurred since the measures went into effect.

“It’s a mental health issue.”

When politicians assert a cause of gun violence, they invariably lay blame on people with mental illness. For example, NRA’s Wayne LaPierre accused “delusional killers” for the violence, and he called for a “national registry” of all persons diagnosed with mental illness. While this is certainly the case in some specific instances, the clear majority of people with this diagnosis do not manifest violence, and specifically, they are not the primary perpetrators of firearms-related injury and death to others.

Politicians are merely scapegoating an entire group of people rather than acknowledging the real causes. And while these same politicians call for increased support systems for people with mental health issues, this Republican-dominated Congress has acted to reduce supports.

On the issue of keeping guns out of the hands of people with emotional and mental health problems, in December 2016, the Obama administration released policy guidelines mandating that people receiving Social Security payments for severe mental illnesses and those found incapable of managing their finances undergo FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Checks if they request to purchase a weapon.

Congress, however, overturned the policy, mostly on party lines. President Trump signed the measure into law one month after taking office even though following every mass shooting, he refers to these instances as a “mental health problem” as he did again after 17 students and their teachers were recently killed in Parkland, Florida.

In fact, however, reports show clearly that mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent less than 1% of all yearly gun-related homicides. In addition, Columbia University’s Paul Applebaum and Duke’s Jeffrey Swanson found that “only 3-5% of violent acts are attributable to serious mental illness, and most do not involve guns.”

Hypermasculinity Combined with Widescale Availability of Firearms

In the over 50,000 shooting incidents in the United States in 2015, including approximately 372 categorized as “mass shootings” of four or more victims, men, mostly white men, committed the overwhelming majority. And murder is primarily a male act in 90% of the cases when the gender of the perpetrator is known. In mass shootings, 98%+ are enacted my males.

But regulations on firearms challenge the promises of a patriarchal system based on notions of hyper-masculinity with the elements taken to the extreme of control, domination over others and the environment, competitiveness, autonomy, rugged individualism, strength, toughness, forcefulness, and decisiveness, and, of course, never having to ask for help or assistance. Concepts of cooperation and community responsibility are pushed to the sidelines or often discarded. This connected to the easy legal access to firearms presents a recipe for disaster playing itself out so many times in the United States that is has become routine.

Why do politicians and many residents of the U.S. continue to deny, deflect, diffuse, dispose, and dispense with raising issues revolving around the massive and virtually unrestricted availability of firearms, some reaching military-grade capability, as the prime reason for the epidemic of gun violence in the United States? While the answer is detailed, I present a quick and appropriate glance at the problem:

National Rifle Association Campaign Donations

John McCain (R, AZ) – $7.74 million

Richard Burr (R, NC) – $6.99 million

Roy Blunt (R, MO) – $4.55 million

Thom Tillis (R, NC) – $4.42 million

Cory Gardner (R, CO) – $3.88 million

Marco Rubio (R, FL) — $3.30

Joni Ernst (R, IA) — 3,124,273

Rob Portman (R, OH) — $3,061,941

Todd Young (R, IN) — $2.9

Bill Cassidy (R, lA) — $2.86

French Hill (R, AR) – $1.09 million

Ken Buck (R, CO) – $800,544

David Young (R, IA) – $707,662

Mike Simpson, (R, ID) – $385,731

Greg Gianforte (R, MT) – $344,630

Donald Trump (R) — $21,000,000

And these are just some of the largest recipients of this blood money.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

February 16th, 2018 at 11:33 pm

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Firearms Regulation Is a Moral Imperative

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As I sit here sad and enraged while writing yet another editorial on the scourge of gun violence plaguing the United States mere hours after the horrific slaughter by a gunman who snuffed out the lives and futures of 17 people and injured another 15, some seriously, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I think once again that “it does not have to be this way!”

The shooter, though, a young man of 19 legally purchased an AR15 semi-automatic rifle that another eight million residents of the U.S. also own, though he is not yet old enough to legally buy a can of beer. These types of rifles are made and used to assault people and not to assault Bambi.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gun-related deaths have reached epidemic proportions in our country by snuffing out the lives of well over 30,000 people (with 1/3 homicides and the remainder suicides and accidents) and wounding many more annually. Everytown found that on average, 96 people are killed by guns every day, and with every person killed by a gun, two more are injured. Seven children and teens are killed on average daily. Many of the guns used in these killings reach military level weapons power, guns which currently remain legal to purchase.

Today in the United States, there are approximately 101 firearms per 100 people. Our country ranks high when compared with 22 other wealthy industrialized nations in per capita gun-related deaths with 3.85 per 100,000 residents, compared, for example, with the United Kingdom at 0.07, Japan at 0.04, Germany at 0.12, Indonesia at 0.10, and Oman at 0.06.

A study by The American Journal of Medicine found that though the U.S. has half the population of the other 22 nations combined, it accounted for 82% of all gun deaths and  90% of all women killed by firearms. Also, 91% of youth under 14 who died by gun violence and 92% of young people between ages 15 and 24 killed by guns were in the United States.

Long-time gun safety advocates and those newly on board have been calling for, pleading for lawmakers across the country to pass common-sense regulations on the manufacture, purchase, and ownership of firearms. In numerous instances, local, state, and national legislators have heeded the call by acting, but, paradoxically and callously, by making it easier for people to get their hands on these dangerous weapons of mass destruction.

Since the Newtown, Connecticut massacre on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, approximately 24 states have extended people’s right to carry guns into public spaces such as bars, houses of worship, college campuses, and some businesses, and even into airports up to the TSA checkpoints. Some states, like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s Wisconsin, eliminated the 48-hour waiting period to buy a handgun. In Texas, students who are at least 21 may now carry guns anywhere on a university campus except for sports stadiums. And in Ohio, people have the right to carry firearms into daycare centers.

In December 2016, the Obama administration, released policy guidelines mandating that people receiving Social Security payments for severe mental illnesses and those found incapable of managing their finances undergo FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Checks if they request to purchase a weapon.

Congress, however, overturned the policy, mostly on party lines. President Trump signed the measure into law one month after taking office even though following every mass shooting, he refers to these instances as a “mental health problem” as he did again after 17 students and their teachers were killed in Parkland, Florida.

After the horrific mass slaughter of outdoor country music concert goers by a gunman aiming a high powered rifle from a window in the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, gun rights advocates, and even many congressional legislators, believed they could, at last, shepherd through the legislative process in both chambers a basic regulation making it illegal to sell or use the so-called “bump stock” used by the shooter to increase the speed of some semi-automatic rifles.

A vote has still to be called in the Congress. For this reason, approximately 15 states have begun considering bump stock restrictions of their own, and the state of New Jersey and my home state of Massachusetts have enacted such laws. Prior to the Las Vegas shooting, New York and California had already imposed these restrictions.

At this point, Speaker Ryan refuses even to call for the creation and convening of a Select Committee on Gun Violence suggested by Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to “study and report back common sense legislation” to halt injuries and murders in this epidemic of mass shootings.

Recently Trump has proposed cutting millions of dollars, amounting to 16%, from the National Criminal Records History Improvement Program and the NICS Act Record Improvement Program, which give states federal grants to improve reporting to the national background-check database.

So as the number of injuries and murders increase in mass and individual incidents of gun violence, while an estimated 90% of those polled want stepped-up background checks for all gun purchases, and while the highest percentage of U.S. residents ever recorded in a Quinnipiac survey in 2017 of 60 to 36% want stricter gun laws (including 79 to 19% for mandatory waiting periods for all gun purchases, 64 to 32% for bans on assault weapons, 58 to 38% on stricter regulations on ammunition sales, and 64 to 34% on banning high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds), legislators in many states and on the national level are actually loosening regulations by making it easier to accumulate massive weapons arsenals in the hands of private residents.

Possibly when we as a collective nation begin to love young people more than we love guns, when we as a collective nation begin to love all our people more than we love guns and more than we love supporting gun manufactures and sellers who love money, that’s when we might pass gun safety laws!

The shooting in this Parkland, Florida High School is the 18th school shooting between January 1 and February 14, 2018, at least the 273rd school shooting overall, and the 1,607th mass shooting since the Sandy Hook school massacre.

Comprehensive common-sense regulations for firearms safety is not simply and only a political issue. It is a moral imperative! And let’s not forget that the founders included the phrase “well regulated” in the Second Amendment.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

February 15th, 2018 at 3:44 pm

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Life Strapped into the Trumpian Rollercoaster

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Imagine a land that has existed since the beginning of time. At some point, a mysterious gateway opens leading to a parallel universe oddly distinct from the one it veered from and left behind.

No, this is not the fictional scenario depicted in the new Starz series, “Counterpart,” starring academy winner J. K. Simmons. Rather, this alternate dimension, with its terrifying rollercoaster trajectory, comes from the distorted imagination of Donald J. Trump, the reality TV celebrity, into which a microscopic minority of the overall electorate has thrust us.

We now are strapped into this topsy-turvy cable ride where all perceptions are out of sync, where previous conventions have been thoughtlessly discarded, where truth is now false and common decencies are not so common any longer, and where the term “unprecedented” no longer holds any meaning.

Along the route of this carnival ride, Trump has hung posters with his large orange head blaring that Mexicans are criminals, drug dealers, and rapists; Muslims are out to kill us and take over the world; women are play things and their pussies are for grabbing, especially if one is famous; spousal abusers and men who go after teenage girls are good people to be supported, as are some white supremacists and neo-Nazis; black athletes are sons of bitches; all Haitians have AIDS while Nigerians all live in huts, and Puerto Ricans are lazy and ungrateful; and the continent of Africa is composed of shithole countries.

In this Trump-contrived reality show, conservative Christian Evangelicals give the leader “Mulligans” for actions they give excommunications and exorcisms in that other previous dimension not-so-distantly passed. Trump abandoned and divorced wives for younger women. (Mulligan, Mulligan!) Trump endorsed an accused child predator. (Mulligan!) Trump defends accused violent attackers of women. (Multiple Mulligans!) Racist Antisemites are fine people too. (Mullllllllligan!)

No separation of powers between the Trumpian-dominated Congress and the very very very White House function to limit the effects of the deep potholes of crumbling infrastructure on our current path. No conflicts of interest can exist between this president’s business ventures and his duties as chief executive. In fact, the once cherished Constitution of that other place in time sits on a cold shelf in a dank dark closet gathering dust.

The nation’s intelligence agencies are now completely incompetent and unnecessary, while Russia stands as our most trusted and closest ally. Trump has no need to take daily intelligence briefings, or, in fact, any intelligence briefings at all. Reading, preparing, or any type of learning whatsoever are no longer necessary in conducting the important work of the most powerful person in this alternate world.

White men charged with abuse and violence of women deserve “due process” before we jump to judgment, but we must “lock Hilary up.” We must give the death penalty to the young black and Latino 14- and 15-year-old males of “The Central Park 5” who were later unequivocally exonerated for the crime to which they stood accused and to whom the President thinks require no apology.

The country’s service members and the Memorial Wall stationed at CIA headquarters function as mere props in the Commander in Chief’s propaganda arsenal. And distortions, misstatements, deceit, and blatant lies are the new truths. White House press briefings serve as the means by which the Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, twists and spins herself into a pretzel right before us to explain this surrealist planet we now inhabit.

For someone who promised to hire only “the best and brightest” people in his administration, criteria and standards for what constitutes “the best and brightest” can only be appreciated and comprehended by this Employer in Chief.

But as all rollercoasters are at risk for cable snap lunging its riders forcibly to the hard pavement to certain injury and potential death, likewise all who have been taken on this Trumpian ride stand and fall at ever increasing risk of perpetual erosion and decay to the body politic. That is, though, unless and until we continue in our attempts to decouple our ride cars and head toward some semblance of stability by demonstrating and by entering the voting booths whenever and wherever given the chance.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

February 13th, 2018 at 11:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Republicans Equate Democrats to Rats by Misnaming Their Party

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“There’s no great mystery about the motives behind this deliberate misnaming. ‘Democrat Party’ is a slur, or intended to be—a handy way to express contempt. Aesthetic judgments are subjective, of course, but ‘Democrat Party’ is jarring verging on ugly. It fairly screams ‘rat’.”

Hendrik Hertzberg in The New Yorker

A major tenet of liberation is the freedom to define oneself!

The founders of the Democratic Party and current leaders of the Democratic Party define it as the “Democratic Party.” Republicans taking it upon themselves to re(mis)name the Party as the “Democrat Party” violate this major tenet of liberation by attempting to deny the Party the freedom to define itself in their endeavor to coopt, manipulate, and ultimately, to delegitimize the Democratic Party.

Republicans using “Democrat Party” as an epithet goes back decades. For example, The New York Times wrote on August 17, 1984:

“The term ‘Democrat Party’ has been used in recent years by some right-wing Republicans on the ground that the term used by Democrats implies that they are the only true adherents of democracy.”

On the other hand, Democrats virtually never argue that “Republican” in the Republican Party implies that they are the only true adherents of a republican form of government.

The British newspaper, The Economist, stated it more simply,

“The real reason ‘Democrat Party’ is wrong is not because it’s ungrammatical, but because it’s incorrect in another way—the party is simply not named the Democrat Party, but the Democratic Party. Calling it anything else is discourteous.”

In this regard, the infinitive form of the verb “to colonize” can be described as the process of appropriating a place or domain to establish political and economic control. During the practice, the dominant nation or group attempts to colonize not only other peoples’ domains (territorial colonization or imperialism), but also their minds, their customs, their language, in fact, their very way of life.

In countries with a historical legacy of colonization, and even in those without this history, members of dominant groups have accumulated unearned privileges not accorded to others. Though the official terms “colonization,” “colonizer,” and “colonized” may have changed somewhat, nowhere in the world have we experienced a truly post-colonial society. The colonization remains, though at times possibly in less visible forms.

Humans in general are one of those rare animal species with the capacity to understand and transmit language with precision and detail. Language is among the many ways we communicate with one another and convey ideas, thoughts, and emotions of all kinds. Through language, people come to understand their culture, begin to develop a sense of who they are, and come to know what is expected of them in terms of their social and cultural roles.

While an acorn will inevitably become an oak tree, humans require language and culture to realize their full potential. Charles Horton Cooley talks about the “looking glass self,” whereby other people are the mirrors through which we see ourselves.

We cannot underestimate the power of language in determining how we make sense of the world and of ourselves. I am a Democrat (well, actually a Democratic Socialist), and one who believes in democracy as a member of the Democratic Party. For Republicans to misname the Party as a slur is akin to Vladimir Putin referring to our country as the “Disunited States of America,” a psychiatrist defining me as “heterosexual,” or a conservative Christian announcing that Jesus died for my sins.

On every occasion when Republicans misname our Party, we must set the clear and immovable boundary that we will not allow their attempts to colonize and coopt, for to permit them to continue is to surrender our agency, subjectivity, and sense of collective self.

Until the Republicans call it the “Democratic Party” rather than the “Democrat Party,” I wonder how they might respond if we all referred to their political affiliation as the “Republic Party.” Or, what about changing “The Heritage Foundation” to “The Inherited Wealth Foundation”?

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press); and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

February 10th, 2018 at 1:25 pm

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Links between the “Lavender Scare” with the Current “Trans Scare”

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Progress revolves like a coil stretch out, advancing up and forward, then circling down and back, though not as far as when it began, until it starts its upward forward motion once again.

Like all civil service employees working during the Eisenhower administration, Madeleine Tress – a 24-year-old business economist at the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C. – was required to pass a security investigation as a condition for employment. At her position for only a few months, on that April day in 1958, Madeline was led into a room by two male examiners who began the “interview’” by asking her a few mundane questions regarding her name, where she lived, and her date of birth.

“Miss Tress,” one of the men then retorted, “the Commission has information that you are an admitted homosexual. What comment do you wish to make regarding this matter?”

Shocked, Madeleine froze and refused to answer the question. The men disclosed that they had reliable information that she had been seen frequenting a gay bar, the Redskins Lounge, and they named several of her lesbian and gay male friends. One of the male examiners then sneered,

“How do you like having sex with women? You’ve never had it good until you’ve had it from a man.” Tormented into silence, following the interrogation, she refused to sign a document admitting her alleged “crime.” The next day, Madeleine Tress handed in her official resignation.

By the late 1950s, literally thousands of women and men working in Washington, DC experienced similar inquisitorial grillings conducted under the guise of “national security.”

There are moments in history when conditions come together to signal a seismic shift in the social and political landscape. Three critical moments sparked an era of fear, suspicion, and repression leading to the interrogation of Madeleine Tress.

The first occurred during the Truman administration in June 1947 when the US Senate Appropriations Committee warned Secretary of State Marshall that a concerted effort was being carried out for the alleged purpose of protecting Communist personnel in high government positions. This subversive project was said to have involved the employment of supposed admitted homosexuals in extremely classified positions who were presumed to have been security risks.

In their attempts to counter these alleged security lapses, the Committee attached the McCarran rider to an appropriations bill giving the Secretary of State authority to dismiss any employee at his “absolute discretion” to promote public security.

A second critical moment occurred three years later, in February 1950, when a relatively young and brash U.S. Republican Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, provocatively claimed in a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia that 205 “card-carrying Communists” worked for the U.S. State Department.

In part as a response to McCarthy’s allegations, the third moment emerged when Deputy Undersecretary of State, John Peurifoy, testified at a Senate appropriations committee meeting on February 28, 1950 denying, on one hand, that his Department hired Communists, but, on the other hand, disclosing that several persons had been fired for being “security risks,” including 91 homosexuals.

These disclosures set off a firestorm. Within one month, Republicans in the Congress ordered investigations looking into the extent of the “homosexual problem” and the “infiltration of sexual perverts” in government.

It is important to note that the Soviet government itself criminalized homosexuality under Joseph Stalin and blamed homosexuality on the West as a product of “bourgeois decadence.” The U.S. countered by blaming homosexuality on a Soviet Communist international “godless conspiracy.”

The so-called “Red Scare” was said to have been saturated with lavender: the color associated with homosexuality at the time. Some U.S. government officials connected the Comintern (an international Communist organization) with what they termed the “Homintern,” which they saw as an international homosexual conspiracy linked with Communists.

Although gay and lesbian U.S. citizens were never blackmailed into divulging classified state information and connections between homosexuality and “security risk” were groundless, mere allegations of homosexuality triggered congressional hearings and Presidential Executive Orders (for example, Eisenhower’s Order 10450, which extended and enlarged the Harry Truman loyalty/security program to exclude explicitly those who engage in “sexual perversion” from obtaining government jobs), as well as executive agency security briefings.

A determination of the exact numbers of women and men harmed by the anti-homosexual inquisition cannot be known since detailed records were not kept and many individuals simply resigned before they were interrogated. Approximately 5,000 federal agency employees, however, lost their jobs on suspicions of homosexuality during the 1950s through early 1960s.

Closer to our own times, the current administration has redacted the terms “Communists” and “Communism” and replaced these with “Muslims” and “Islamist Extremists,” while morphing “sexual perverts” and “homosexuals” into “predatory men in dresses” and “transgender advocates.”

Trump has incessantly blasted Islam as the number one threat to our nation, thus exposing U.S. Muslims to increased calls for travel bans from majority-Muslim countries, and the creation of a “national registry” and surveillance to track their movements. In his nearobsessive calls for “law and order,” he has invited a return to draconian (and possibly unconstitutional) measures of torture and surveillance.

In a memo sent from his Department of “Justice” to U.S. attorneys, department heads, and federal agencies, Trump’s Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, reversed an Obama-era policy that protected trans employees from discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Session made clear that his department would no longer interpret gender protections in Title VII to include gender identity and expression.

Since Trump’s inauguration, he abolished an Obama-era executive order permitting transgender students to use school facilities most closely aligning with their gender identities, and the White House website has removed reference to LGBT issues and policies from the previous administration.

Against conclusive evidence by Department of Defense regulations released June 30, 2016 under Defense Secretary Ash Carter permitting trans people to join and openly serve their country, and a Rand Study fully debunking Trump’s assertion of some sort of burdensome “tremendous medical costs” expended on trans service members, the President, nonetheless directed the military to exclude trans people from military ranks.

Trump’s latest assault on the trans community comes in the form of a yet another likely rollback of protections initiated by his immediate predecessor. The Obama administration issued a policy directive manual enumerating the rights and responsibilities of transgender people in prison related to several areas including housing, strip searches, and medical care. The directive advised respect and protection of transgender inmates and, on a case-by-case basis, the possibility of residence in prisons matching their gender identities.

It should be crystal clear to everyone that both during the “Lavender Scare” and today during the Trump administrations “Trans Share,” the motives in declaring war on entire categories of people has nothing to do with concerns over improving military readiness, or security considerations, or ending discrimination in schools and in the workplace, or improving prison conditions.

It has nothing to do with the well-being of the nation, or in keeping down health care costs. It has nothing to do with some alleged and unspecific “disruption,” and it certainly has nothing to do with “religious freedom.”

It amounts to, though, demagogues engaging in the psychology of scapegoating by representing the “others” as manipulative and often violent predators out to circumvent and destroy the nation. By so doing, they play on people’s fears and prejudices for their own political, social, and economic gains, resulting in the loss of civil and human rights, harassment, violence, and at times, death of the “others.”

In that sense, Truman, Eisenhower, and now Trump have sent us down and backward upon the coil of progress.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

February 9th, 2018 at 11:19 pm

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A Patriot Sees Things As They Are and Tries To Make Them Better

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A veteran physical education teacher of 20 years faces charges of assaulting a student for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at Angevine Middle School in Colorado. Students have the expressed right of standing or sitting for the Pledge. School officials have since placed her on administrative leave pending an investigation.

This incident comes in the context of the swirling controversy, flamed by Donald Trump to a “white”-hot intensity, over Colin Kaepernick and the movement he spawned in taking a knee during the National Anthem at NFL games to highlight the deplorable treatment of people of color in our nation, and specifically, the deadly police actions taken against unarmed black and brown men.

The 50 stars and 13 strips on our flag of red, white, and blue represent a collective image of the United States of America. In this regard, Merriam Webster defines “patriotism” as: “a love for or devotion to one’s country,” and “nationalism” as: “loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups. ”

While the United States symbolizes a beautiful nation founded on a noble concept, a vibrant idea, and a vital and enduring vision, as a country, it remains still a work in process progressing toward but not yet attaining and not yet reaching that concept, that idea, and that vision.

Possibly what separates the patriot from the nationalist is that the patriot understands and witnesses the divide and the gap between the reality and the promise of their country and its people. The nationalist, though, is often not aware that a gap even exists between the potential and the reality.

A true patriot is a person who, indeed, loves their country (though not necessarily viewing it as “exceptional”), but also one who sees the way things are, and one who attempts to make change for the better. A patriot also views other countries with respect and admiration, as valued members of an interconnected and interdependent world community.

By refusing to stand, place one’s hand over one’s heart, remove hats and other apparel from the head (an inherently Christian tradition going against the covering of the head in many other religious communities), and pledge one’s allegiance or sing the words and tune of the Star-Spangled Banner, people are raising important questions concerning what it means to be patriotic and an active participant in our democratic process.

During the Vietnam War era, those of us who challenged the war were met with signs and bumper stickers demanding: “America, love it or leave it.” Our response to this was “American, change it or lose it.”

Yes, a Patriot sees things the way they are and tries to make them better.

At my first university serving then as a visiting assistant professor, new faculty members were asked to sign an “Amended Oath of Allegiance,” one that, we were told, professors throughout the state were required to sign. The Oath read as follows:

“I do hereby pledge and declare that I will support the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the State of New York, and I will faithfully discharge the duties of the position of Visiting Assistant Professor according to the best of my ability.”

I’ve seen people having to sign loyalty oaths during the infamous McCarthy period of the post-World War II era. I’ve seen artists having to sign loyalty oaths imposed by Jesse Helms, former Senator of North Carolina, to be eligible for grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. On moral and ethical grounds, I refused to sign the Oath of Allegiance as did several of my colleagues.

My paternal grandfather was profiled for having a Jewish-sounding name during the 1920s, ’30s, and ‘40s in the anti-Semitic environment of Los Angeles. He was prevented from landing a job until he Anglicized his name changing it from Abraham Blumenfeld to Eddy Fields.

Those of us who challenge our government’s and our nation’s industries’ actions are monitored. I’m sure by now that my FBI file is quite extensive: anti-war activist during the Vietnam War era, active member of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), an organizing member of the Gay Liberation Front of San José, California and Washington, DC; member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), and Queer Nation in Boston; arrested for sitting in at the South Vietnam embassy in DC hoping to stop a war, and then at John Hancock Insurance Company headquarters in Boston and again at Astra Pharmaceuticals in Westborough, Massachusetts hoping for compassionate use drug therapy distribution for people with compromised immune systems.

Yes, a Patriot sees things the way they are and tries to make them better.

Congress established The House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1938 to investigate and eliminate alleged “Communists” and “Communist supporters” from the country. The Committee first went after the Hollywood film industry, and specifically those who would eventually be called “The Hollywood 10”: a group of prominent screen writers, producers, and directors, most of whom were Jewish. They were continually hounded by the FBI, ordered to “name names,” and threatened with imprisonment.

The “10” refused to cooperate with investigators on charges that they were attempting to overthrow the United States government, and the Committee jailed them for contempt of Congress. History would show that the Committee’s actions were based solely on false rumors and fear mongering. However, the persecutions ruined distinguished careers and destroyed families.

In February 1950, a relatively young and brash U.S. Republican Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, provocatively claimed in a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia that 205 “card-carrying Communists” worked for the U.S. State Department. In part as a response to McCarthy’s allegations, Deputy Undersecretary of State, John Peurifoy, testified at a Senate appropriations committee meeting on February 28, 1950 that several persons had been fired for being “security risks,” including 91 homosexuals.

These disclosures set off a firestorm. Within one month, Republicans in Congress ordered investigations looking into the extent of the “homosexual problem” and the “infiltration of sexual perverts” in government.

For the past 40 years, I have chosen neither to pledge allegiance to any flag or to stand and sing any national anthem, for to do so for me amounts to nothing more than hollow gestures. And for people with insufficient background knowledge of our history, our multiple cultures, our people, and our relationships to other countries of the world, what are they pledging allegiance to?

Let us never forget that this nation, this E Pluribus Unum (“from many, one”) came the diversity from the entire world: the traditions, the languages, the cultures, the religions, the belief systems, the totality of the human experience, which must be acknowledged, supported, cherished, valued, and nurtured.

But what ever happened to that grand U.S. vision of a wall separating religion and government, more commonly known as a “separation of Church and state,” even though primarily Christian houses of worship take “church” as their titled designation? “Under God” certainly has much more than a religious tinge.

“Indivisible”…yes, possibly in the sense of a commitment to make this “a more perfect union,” but with this experiment we call “The United States of America,” the process, our democratic process, is bound to be messy, with divisions and fractures inevitable, but hopefully with mechanisms and systems continually expanding that encourage diversity of thought and identity while maintaining the process of perennial change and progress.

Though defined in many ways depending on the individual, I see “liberty” as individuals’ inherent right to define, to identity, to name themselves, to develop and maintain their sense of agency and subjectivity without others defining or controlling them. Rather than fearing or attempting to discourage critically thinking, we must, instead, fire, in George Orwell’s terms in his classic 1984, the “thought police.” And when we say “justice for all,” we must be certain this is exactly what we mean.

A Patriot, yes indeed, sees things the way they are and tries to make them better.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

February 4th, 2018 at 11:35 pm

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Donald Trump and Paul Ryan: Who Is the Other’s Stooge?

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Political pundits – former and current Republicans such as Joe Scarborough, Nicole Wallace, Bill Kristol, and Michael Steele, for example – have been calling for Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, to grow a spine and show some moral courage by standing up to Donald Trump in what they see as Trump’s assault on the institutions holding together our democracy. These Republican pundits and current operatives have expressed serious disappointment in what they perceive as Ryan’s immense potential for reasoned, intelligent, and courageous leadership, which he has surrendered in serving as Trump’s willful stooge.

The framers of our elegant Constitution feared a monarchy like those in Britain and other European countries. Therefore, they set out to establish a form of government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” with a clear separation of powers balanced between the co-equal executive, legislative, and judicial branches, in which no one branch would disrupt that delicate and precise balance.

What these framers may not have fully anticipated, though, was the reality of two or all three branches growing together into one all-consuming uber organism conspiring to dismantle the very institutions responsible for maintaining and perpetuating the republic.

They may not have imagined an inept and erratic executive with the virtual backing of the majority of the legislature calling into question the autonomy and judgment of judges based on their ethnicity, attacking the judiciary when it hands down rulings opposing executive actions, and packing the bench with appointees confirmed by the Senate willing to do its bidding.

They may not have imagined two or all three branches marching in lockstep to undermine the rule of law in its concerted effort to dismantle the Department of Justice and its national security and intelligence agencies and place them under the total control of the executive, while also reducing the authority and functioning of other major departments.

Though the free press serves as our virtual fourth branch working to keep the official three honest and transparent, the executive with his legislative comrades continually assault and threaten the First Amendment’s “free speech” clause by going after the media, while chief political strategist Shawn Hannity of Fox News, the official state media outlet, blares phony conspiracy theories perpetrated to sway public opinion further to the far right of the spectrum to advance the policies of Czar Donald the Tremendous.

And Paul Ryan, one of Trump’s primary puppet masters, pulls the “neoliberal” strings to turn Trump to fully face a market-driven approach to economic and social policy, including such views as reducing the size of the national government and granting more control to state and local governments; severely reducing or ending governmental regulations over the private sector; privatizing governmental services, industries, and institutions including education, health care, and social welfare; permanently incorporating across-the-board non-progressive marginal federal and state tax rates; and possibly most importantly, ensuring market driven and unfettered “free market” economics.

One need simply look at Trump and Ryan’s (“Tryan”) attempts to eliminate the Affordable Care Act; to severely curtail environmental regulations on industry and, for example, the Dodd-Frank legislation passed to reduce the chances in the banking sector of repeating the disastrous policies leading to the last economic recession; to push for the privatization of social institutions such as education with the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of the Department of Education; to pass the draconian so-called “tax reform” law and a national budget that places billions more dollars into the pockets of the rich and super rich, while imposing increasingly greater hardships on the remainder of our people by taking away many of the safety nets and programs needed by deserving U.S.-Americans and countries in the form of aid, slashing agency budgets and staffing, and placing greater emphasis on militarism than on diplomacy.

Ryan spoke in 2012 that: “Right now about 60% of the American people get more benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes. So we’re going to a majority of takers versus makers in America and that will be tough to come back from that. They’ll be dependent on the government for their livelihoods [rather] than themselves.”

Paul Ryan blamed men “in the inner city” on their “real culture problem” for their higher rates of unemployment during his appearance March 12, 2014 on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” program:

“We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

Social conservatives and Libertarians like Ryan would rather blame poverty within our communities and low achievement in our schools on the “cultures” of those suffering from larger social inequities. This “cultural deficit model” detracts and undermines us from interrogating and truly addressing the enormous structural inequities pervasive throughout our society, which these “Libertarians” would have us multiply if we were to follow their lead.

Ryan, who demanded “personal family time” as a major condition for taking over the House Speakership, consistently opposes legislation that would extend paid family leave benefits for new parents. For example, in 2009, he voted against the proposed Federal Employees Paid Parental Act.

The next red meat on Ryan’s chopping block includes the government programs of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Paul Ryan will finally fulfill his life-long “Libertarian” pipe dream of dismantling any remaining remnants of The New Deal and The Great Society within the so-called “deep state.”

The group calling itself Nuns on the Bus, a project of NETWORK Education Program, which was founded in 1971 by Catholic sisters, advocates for social justice issues, registers voters, and lobbies legislators on Capitol Hill. Nuns on the Bus conducted several tours: the first traveling between Iowa through the Midwest, and terminating in Washington, D.C. in summer 2012 to protest the Republican budget plan devised by Paul Ryan.

The National Women’s Law Center responded to Ryan’s 2015 national budget proposal by asserting, in part:

“The budget for Fiscal Year 2015 introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), like his Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 and 2013 budgets, proposes deep funding cuts that would devastate programs especially important to women and their families: Medicaid, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, child care, education, SNAP, and much more….The overwhelming majority of the cuts proposed in the Ryan budget – $3.3 trillion – comes from programs for individuals and families with low or moderate incomes, meaning women and children bear the brunt of the cuts. At the same time, the budget proposes trillions of dollars in new tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and large corporations and decreases

employment by an estimated 1.1 million jobs in FY 2015 alone.”

The Republican political pundits and operatives who are hoping that Paul Ryan will grow a spine and stand up to Donald Trump fail to understand that the reverse holds true: Donald Trump is actually the stooge of Paul Ryan and of all the other so-called “libertarians” and “social conservatives” who live by the mantra attributed to Thomas Jefferson that “Government is best which governs least.”

Unfortunately, Jefferson likely never imagined the extremes to which many of them, including Ryan, would take it by attempting to affect their corollary as “Government is best which governs not at all.”

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

February 3rd, 2018 at 4:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Poland’s Historical Revisionism Law Threatens the Promise of “Never Again”

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The Polish Senate recently passed a controversial bill that is reverberating internationally. The bill will, by all indications, become the law of the land. It states, in part, that “whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich … shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years,” with the exception that a person “is not committing a crime if he or she commits such an act as part of artistic or scientific activities.”

What I find more surprising than the act itself is the blatant and unapologetic magnitude of this officially authorized perpetration of historical revisionism, something usually undertaken in a somewhat less official manner.

While mislabeling “Polish Concentration Camps” needs urgent correction as “Nazi or German Concentration Camps,” and though history records numerous instances of Polish Christians standing up against Nazi tyranny by entering the ranks of resistance movements and by sheltering Jews from certain murder, many others fully conspired with the Nazi invaders in their lands.

What happens in Poland circulates around and through my consciousness and my soul like blood circulates around and through my body. So when I watched and read accounts of Polish residents marching on their 99th annual Independence Day last year throughout the streets of Warsaw on November 11 with upwards of 60,000 people shouting chants and carrying Nazi and white supremacist paraphernalia, where some marchers called for a “white Europe” and an “Islamic Holocaust,” of course I was deeply concerned, but not particularly surprised.

The Foreign Minister from Poland’s rightwing so-called “Law and Justice Party” said  following the march that the day had been “a great celebration of Poles, differing in their views, but united around the common values of freedom and loyalty to an independent homeland.”

To be perfectly clear, the rising tide of fascism demonstrated in Poland represents a larger movement gaining hold throughout Europe and the United States. We have long since passed the point where it is merely hyperbole to compare the rise and control of the Nazis in the 1920s and 1930s to the rise and possible take-over of fascism throughout Western democracies and in some other countries around the world.

In both Nazi Germany and today, strong leaders whipped up dehumanizing stereotypes of groups they “othered,” resulting in the scapegoating of already-marginalized groups of people to blame for causing past problems and posing clear and present dangers to the state.

One day, when I was very young child in New York City, I sat upon my maternal grandfather Simon (Shimon) Mahler’s knee. Looking down urgently but with deep affection, he said to me through his distinctive Polish accent, “Varn, you are named after my father, your great-grandfather, Wolf Mahler. I lived in Krosno, Poland with my father, Wolf, and my mother, Bascha Trencher Mahler, and 13 brothers and sisters, and aunts, uncles, and cousins.”

Simon talked about our mishpocheh (family) with pride, but as he told me this, he revealed an obvious sadness on his face. I asked him if our family still lived in Poland, and he responded that his father and most of the remainder of his family were no longer alive. When I asked him how they had died, he told me that they had all been killed by people called Nazis except his mother, Bascha, who died of a heart attack in 1934. I questioned him why the Nazis killed our family, and he responded, “Because they were Jews.” Those words have reverberated in my mind, haunting me ever since.

In Europe, by the late 19th century CE, Judaism had come to be defined by the scientific community as a distinct “racial” type, with essential immutable biological characteristics — a trend that increased markedly into the early 20th century CE. Once seen as largely a religious, ethnic, or political group, Jews were increasingly socially constructed as members of a “mixed race” (a so-called “mongrel” or “bastard race”), a people who had crossed racial barriers by interbreeding with black Africans during the Jewish Diaspora.

If Jews were evil as thought by many, this evilness was genetic and could not be purged or cured. Jews converting to Christianity as once believed by some Christian leaders, therefore, could no longer be a solution to “the Jewish question.”

In European society, according to social theorist and author Sander Gilman (in Thandeka), Jews were thought of as the “white Negroes”: “In the eyes of the non-Jew who defined them in Western [European] society the Jews became the blacks.” Thandeka adds that “the male Jew and the male African were conceived of as equivalent threats to the white race.”

I truly value and honor the good Polish Christians who have taken on the important task of resurrecting, maintaining, and promoting Jewish culture in present-day Poland. I know many of these good people personally: those who are working at historical museums and in the schools throughout Poland who are researching and teaching about the rich Jewish-Polish culture to new generations.

Among the righteous during World War II, for example, were Krosno farmers, Jakub and Zofia Gargasz, who practiced the Seventh Day Adventist faith. They risked their own lives to shelter from Nazi troops and to nurse back to health a Jewish woman, Henia Katz, and her daughter. A neighbor, though, betrayed them, and Jakub, Zofia, Henia, and her daughter were arrested and sentenced to death on 26 April 1944. At the trial, Zofia affirmed that she and her husband took this courageous action motivated by their religious faith.

Hans Frank, the governor of the occupied Central Polish government decided to commute the death sentences to incarceration in a concentration camp. Jakub and Zofia survived the concentration camp, which was liberated by the Allies. Henia and her daughter did not survive.

Alexander Białywłos (“White Hair” in Polish) was born in Krosno, Poland on June 4, 1923. He was a member of a rather large Jewish family including his maternal grandparents, Chaim and Mala Platner, many uncles and aunts, cousins, and siblings: sister Mania, and brothers Solomon and Heniek. His parents, Mendel Białywłos and Leah Platner Białywłos owned and operated a glass glazing business out of their store located across the street from their residence.

Alexander had a good and full life for his first 16 years, until that fateful day of September 1, 1939 when Nazi German troops invaded Poland. Since Krosno was located not far from German-controlled Czechoslovakia, and it contained an airbase and rich oil deposits and drilling capacities, Nazi troops bombed and invaded Krosno soon after crossing the Polish border. Like many of the approximately 2700 Jewish residents, his family fled east, but finding no place to hide, many, including his family, returned home.

By 1942, Nazi troops had killed most of the Jews in the area, including members of my family. Near Krosno, Alexander’s mother, Leah, and sister, Mania, were taken and shot to death. His older brother, Solomon, was murdered in the nearby town of Jaslo. His eleven-year-old brother, Heniek, the Nazis transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and gassed. Except for a small number of remaining Jews whom the troops crammed into a small ghetto in Krosno, most others were transferred to Belzec and Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration campus where only a very small handful survived.

Having technical and mechanical skills in glass making and repair, Alexander and his father, Mendel, were sent to the nearby airbase where they worked repairing airplanes until December 1943, when the Nazis cleared out the ghettos and sent all remaining Jewish residents to Krakow-Plaszow concentration camp just south of the town. On May 7, 1944, German soldiers forced prisoners into a “Naked Parade” for selection either to be sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, or for only a few, to be shipped to work details somewhere under Nazi occupation.

Alexander’s father, Mendel, was selected for Auschwitz-Birkenau. In his book, Alexander wrote:

“‘Be a mensch,’ were the last words that my father said to me before he was led to the death train and disappeared forever. We were standing on the Appelplatz assembly place in the Concentration Camp Krakow-Plaszow one early morning in mid-May 1944. Moments later, in complete clarity about his fate, he would be led off to the box cars of the train that was to take him, and others selected by the Nazi doctor, to Auschwitz. There he would be murdered in the gas chambers.   “I tried to give him the only thing I had — a small piece of bread I carried with me — as an expression of hope for his survival, even in Auschwitz. He said, ‘You keep it. I will not need it anymore. I do not care to live. I have lost everything, and if I live another ten years, I will eat another ton of potatoes.’ He pushed the bread back to me. It was the last time I saw him.”

Though he can only speculate how it happened, Alexander somehow turned up as #270 on a list of about 1,100 Jews transported to the factory of Oskar Schindler (what became known as “Schindler’s List”). Beginning in October 1944, Alexander and hundreds of other Jews worked at Schindler’s factory in Bruennlitz, which is today part of the Czech Republic. He often remembers Emilie Schindler, Oskar’s generous and compassionate wife, giving the workers extra food to keep their bodies and their spirits alive.

Rescue came on May 8, 1945 when the Russian army freed him and the others at the factory. Alexander immediately returned to Krosno in order to discover whether any family members had survived, only to find that only he, his Uncle Sam Białywłos, and his cousin Joseph Fruman had lived through the horrors.

Once back in Krosno, Alexander walked to the house owned by his parents where he grew up, but Polish people soon confiscated it after Nazis evicted Alexander and his family. Talking then with the current residents, one angrily quipped to Alexander: “Oh, we thought you would be dead by now and the Nazis had made you into soap.” He knew that Krosno was no longer his home.

“The story of my own cousin, Malka Fruhman, is perhaps typical of the fearful treachery of those days, when it seemed that qualities like trust ceased to have meaning. A [non-Jewish] friend promised to hide Malka, but this ‘friend’ instead turned Malka over to the Gestapo, who shot her without compunction. Many years later, Malka’s brother told me that Malka’s boyfriend, a man named Trenczer, located the traitorous friend in Krosno after the war, and avenged my cousin’s death.”

As I read these words, chills stung my entire body because I knew that I am most certainly related to this “Trenczer.” My Great-Grandmother’s name was Bascha Trenczer Mahler. I informed Alexander about this, and he asked me to tell him what I know about the Trenczer’s of Krosno. He did not realize that Bascher, whom he knew, was a Trenczer.

I asked Alexander to tell me more about this story. Evidently, Malka’s boyfriend, our Trenczer relative, was in the Polish army and fled east following the Nazi invasion. After the war, he investigated Malka’s death, and he found the women who betrayed Malka. He walked up to her and shot a bullet into her head instantly killing her. As someone who opposes the death penalty, I surprised myself when I felt a sense of righteous relief upon hearing how he “avenged [Alexander’s] cousin’s death.”

I recently looked up the word “holocaust” in the dictionary. Among the listings was the definition: “genocidal slaughter.” As I read this, the same nagging questions came to me as they did that first day Simon told me about the murder of our family, questions concerning the very nature of human aggression, our ability for compassion, and, to those generations following World War II, our capacity to prevent similar tragedies in the future. 

Tzadik in Hebrew means one who follows a path of righteousness, one who practices the Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam of transforming, healing, and repairing the world so that it becomes a better, more just, and more perfect place.

Throughout my life, I have known only a few Tzadikkim, Jews and non-Jews alike, individuals who act in the world on a daily basis in ways that uphold the highest ethical standards while refusing to compromise their integrity, their humanity, and their compassion, even when facing difficult, often tragic circumstances. These individuals respond in the world thinking not for the acknowledgment or recognition they may receive, but they respond because it is just.

While we must never forget the righteous among the Polish people, we must not downplay or bury the evils perpetrated by other Polish citizen or forgive the so-called “bystanders’ who understood full well what was happening and colluded in their silence.

Jews have for centuries contributed much to Polish culture and society. Jews were an integral part of what it meant to be Polish. Unfortunately, from a height of over 3 million before the Holocaust, only an estimated 10-20 thousand Jews still live in Poland today.

Poland now finds itself at a crossroads of sorts, where long-standing official policies, church teachings, and personal belief systems conspire in the exclusion of Jews, while a still relatively small but growing segment of the population genuinely desires to welcome Jews back into the cultural, political, and social life of the country. The road the Polish nation decides to travel today will have implications for many generations to come.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press); co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press); co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge); and co-editor of Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

February 1st, 2018 at 3:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized