Friday, January 31, 2014

Blessed are the peacemakers such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning

This week I was reading Matthew 5:1-12, a part of the passage of scripture commonly referred to as “the Sermon on the Mount.” At the beginning of the passage, Jesus lists several groups of people he finds to be worthy of praise and admiration.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, Blessed are those who mourn, Blessed are the meek, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Blessed are the merciful, Blessed are the pure in heart, Blessed are the peacemakers. That’s right, blessed are the peacemakers.
''Peace' sign' photo (c) 2009, daveynin - license:, to our 21st century ears, we hear that phrase and think of beauty pageant contestants wishing for “world peace” or hippies holding up two fingers in a peace sign. But, those living in 1st century Galilee would have immediately found his remarks to be divergent from the societal and political expectations of the world around them. Those living in 1st century Galilee inhabited a country dominated by the foreign oppressor Rome, which thrived by being unmerciful, brutally violent, and exploitive of conquered people groups.   Blessed are the meek? Hardly, in the Roman Empire, those who are gentle get squashed! Blessed are the pure in heart? Please! In the Roman Empire, everyone in power is corrupt! Blessed are the peacemakers? The Roman Empire was built by war and violence! In context, Jesus’ words are far more controversial.
With this in mind, I happened to see the news report of Edward Snowden being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.  Now, this is the same Edward Snowden who, working for the National Security Agency (NSA), leaked information about the US Government spying on its own citizens. For such actions, Snowden has had to flee the country, and most likely—flee for his life. He has been labeled a traitor, conspirator, spy and so forth.  Despite the seemingly obvious lack of Constitutional support for such actions by the government and repeated lies from Director of Intelligence James Clapper that the government was not spying on its own people—Snowden has still been charged with espionage for bringing to light the unlawful actions of the United States Government even though his actions have spurred action by the Obama administration regarding changes to NSA actions and policies.
'Bradley Manning: ' on earth could I, a junior analyst, possibly believe..' exposing both the system & it's weakness' photo (c) 2013, Tjebbe van Tijen - license:’m also reminded of another high profile leaker, that of Chelsea Manning (as a Trans-ally, I shall refer to Manning by the names and pronouns appropriate to the gender she wishes to express herself as).  While serving as an Army Intelligence officer in Iraq—and self-identifying as Bradley—Manning sent classified information to WikiLeaks regarding video felt by Manning to expose war crimes and other unethical actions by the US Military such as the use of torture and the killing of civilians.  Manning has asserted that conscience led her to expose the documents and videos, adding that “I want people to see the truth.” Manning also asks, “If you had free reign over classified networks… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?”  Oddly enough, Manning was accused of endangering American lives—forget that President Bush (and sadly Obama) forced thousands of our troops into an unnecessary and very likely illegitimate war. In the end like Snowden, Manning has been convicted of espionage for actions that were morally driven.
As I reflect on these two people in light of the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew, I can’t help but think that our society despises peacemakers. After all, war is incredibly profitable for those in power—for politicians and CEOs. The so-called “war machine” consists of politicians promoting fear-mongering and imperialism which thereby leads to trillions of dollars spent on weapons of war, where massive earnings end up in the pockets of CEOs and the 1%, who in turn financially support those politicians who stir the pot. Yes, saber rattling is incredibly profitable—every bomb dropped and bullet shot (or threat of such) demands more be manufactured.  Isn’t it so shockingly ironic that President Bush can claim to be a huge supporter of the troops when his decisions ultimately led to the death and suffering of thousands of lives!?
I support the troops by not wanting to send them to war and risk life and limb. I support policies and politicians which seek to rein in our war machine which does nothing but perpetuate death and destruction for the purposes of massive profits.  I support whistleblowers such Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning who call out the immoral behavior of our government. I firmly believe Snowden and Manning fit Jesus’ description of those called “peacemakers,” and lest we forget, “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”

Monday, January 20, 2014

Lay off Richard Sherman

Surely by now you’ve seen the video of Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks and his epic post game “rant.”  Immediately following a dramatic Sherman deflected-interception in the end zone to seal the victory and a trip to the Super Bowl for the Seahawks, Sherman was interviewed by Fox Sports reporter Erin Andrews.  It will be remembered as the best—or worst postgame interview of all time.  Watching the interview live, my initial response to the interview was to burst out laughing. Being that postgame interviews tend to consist of "Uh, I thank baby Jesus and cliché and cliché… Disney World!" as my friend @jalinton pointed out, I was certainly surprised and caught off guard by his response. 

The Seahawks and 49ers are fierce rivals and both excellent teams, so when San Francisco got the ball back with just a few minutes on the clock and started marching down the field, I had the feeling the game was going to end either by a last second touchdown or by Seattle’s defense making a huge play (perhaps a turnover) to end the game. Sure enough, a ball tipped up by Sherman and intercepted by linebacker Malcolm Smith on a throw to the end zone with only seconds on the clock, clinched the victory.  The players were pumped and the Seattle fans were going crazy—then seemingly everyone was shocked when Sherman spoke in the interview with the same passion and emotion with which he plays.

'Richard Sherman' photo (c) 2013, Mark Samia - license: for Sherman’s comments themselves, they’re hardly controversial.  When asked by Andrews about the play, Sherman responded by saying, “Well, I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get," Sherman shouted when asked by Andrews about the decisive play. "Don’t you ever talk about me.”  When asked who he was talking about, he responded that “Crabtree," he responded. "Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or I’ll shut it for you real quick. LOB!"

Here’s what you need to know.  Sherman’s statement about being the best—it’s true.  He was voted to the NFL All-Pro team, the best of the best. Further, Michael Crabtree, true to Sherman’s words, isn’t  a top 20 NFL wide receiver. Hall of Fame wide-out Chris Carter doesn’t have him in his top-10 for 2013, nor does he crack Yahoo Sports list of top-20 fantasy wide receivers.  Crabtree’s response on Twitter doesn’t hold water either; when a cornerback does his job so well the receiver he’s covering isn’t open, the QB isn’t going to throw the ball his way and therefore he won’t have any stats to show.

Trolls on Twitter and Facebook are reacting as if Sherman is some sort of thug.  While his reaction caught me off-guard, I can respect his passion and I understand it was in the moment. What bothers me is the entire backlash against Sherman (who has responded to his critics in well-written article—he  regularly writes for Sports Illustrated ), is the way his character and ‘class’ has been questioned.  Sherman has been labeled a “thug” and a “bad role model” because he said something passionate in the heat of the moment. 

All this backlash demonstrates the underlying racism still prevalent in America (fittingly, this event occurred on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend).  White America will accept anyone as long as they fit the mold of what white America expects.  Basically, you don’t have to be white—you just have to act white.  White America is cool with you, regardless of your skin-color, so long as you live in suburbia with the white picket fence and wear your khakis and golf polo-shirt. Break those norms and you’re in for a heap of trouble. 

'Angry Jim Harbaugh in High Resolution' photo (c) 2013, Adam Rifkin - license: all this ranting and raving about Richard Sherman, we’re forgetting the ridiculous sideline antics of Sherman’s old college coach at Stanford—now 49er’s leader— and white guy, Jim Harbaugh, who was constantly on camera yesterday for his endless hand-waving, jumping up and down, and exasperated looks he gave to the officials (conveniently, ESPN has a list of Harbaugh’s top 10 fits). Oh, and should you still have a problem with Sherman’s exuberant confidence, remember the quarterback who threw the pass, Colin Kaepernick, has a touchdown celebration in which he mimics kissing his own biceps.  So lay off white America.

This is important—just  because someone doesn’t act like you would act or behave like you would behave doesn’t mean they’re wrong or a bad person—it just means their different.  And this shaming for Richard Sherman for not “behaving appropriately” (behaving as white America expects one to) is basically closet racism.  This MLK day, I’m reminded that America still has so far to go before people are judged by the content of their character (however they choose to express it), not by the color of their skin, or whether they adhere to the cultural expectations of white America. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Good riddance Magpul: thanks for caring more about ideology than people

'IMG_9557.jpg' photo (c) 2011, Joe Cereghino - license:
In case you missed the news, Magpul Industries, a leading firearms accessories maker, is moving its operations out of the state of Colorado, making good on a promise (threat) posed soon after the enactment of gun control legislation by a democratically controlled state legislature this past winter. According to the Washington Post, the move will cost the state $85 Billion in economic activity and around 400 jobs. 

Magpul was among many gun manufacturers and gun groups upset after the Colorado state legislature passed four controversial gun laws. The four bills mandated universal background checks, limited magazine capacity to 15 rounds, required gun buyers to pay for their background checks, and banned concealed-carry permit holders from bringing guns into buildings on public college campuses.  While pro-gun control groups praised the passing of these bills, pro-gun groups have fought back, ousting two democratic state senators via recall votes and essentially forcing another to resign.

It was the Aurora Theater shooting, in July of 2012 that reignited the gun-control debate in Colorado, another mass shooting in Colorado some 13 years after Columbine.  A shooter entered a crowded movie theater and killed 12 people while injuring another 70.  Despite the tragedy, Governor Hickenlooper did not feel the time was right to begin a conversation on gun laws in the state. It was the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary later that year which pushed Hickenlooper to action, kick-starting a legislative effort within Colorado.

To say that democratic efforts to enact gun legislation were “radical” and “unpopular” would be irresponsible and untrue.  Polls of all kinds show overwhelming support for universal background checks, with the numbers usually around 90% in support.  A POLITICO poll of veterans also showed 61% were in favor of limiting magazine capacity.  And in the world of “out of control” government spending and “personal responsibility,” is it really so horrible that we ask gun owners to pay for their own background checks? In case you’re wondering, Colorado also appropriated more than $20 million for mental health hotlines and local crisis centers.

So in reality, the gun control enacted by the Colorado legislature was hardly “radical” and instead shaped by tragedy and suffering—not gun hating liberals. But, in all honesty, I could really care less about the gun control aspect of this story. This is all about Magpul trying to hold a state and its legislature hostage. It’s about big business trying to run the government (which already happens—this time a government actually stood up for itself).  Magpul is nothing more than an immature bully who wants to shove people around yet can’t stand getting pushed back.

Think about this, MagPul cares more about its ideology than the 400 people who will likely lose their job, their  families, and their  communities. Magpul cares only about itself. This is the way of big business in this country, willing to do whatever to make money and increase shareholder profit, at the expense of employee, community, or consumer. Sure, Magpul will create some jobs in Wyoming—that is until Magpul finds greener pastures to feed its money hungry shareholders. This is the truth in big business. They only care about the money.

'New York - 'GREED STREET or Wall Street...U decide?' Colorful tags below' photo (c) 2008, David Ohmer - license:
The Mecca of the Religion of Greed
In America, cities and states are competing with each other to be more “attractive” and “business friendly,” in other words, they are lowering taxes and removing regulations, creating a “race to the bottom” where whichever metropolis will charge them the least taxes wins.  And guess who gets stuck footing the bill for the entire infrastructure needed to allow that business to exist? Yep, us, the tax payer! Businesses are essentially pawning off the costs of running their business onto their own employees, all so rich, greedy corporate pigs can make more money! Oh, and if that doesn’t upset you enough, our democratically elected officials are tripping over themselves to make this sort of thing easier for businesses.

Big business is completely screwing the American people! We’re paying for their roads, their protection, and their infrastructure via our tax dollars. Their promises of jobs are shallow in comparison to the financial, environment, and social tolls they put on our communities.   It’s time we hold business accountable to act in a responsible manner to their employees and communities—rather than simply choosing what is best for their CEO’s and shareholders. And better yet, it’s time we hold our elected officials accountable to serve us the people rather than being pawns of big business.
So, to Governor Hickenlooper and the Colorado State legislature, thanks for not caving in to the demands of Magpul—they are the ones choosing to do what is best for themselves, choosing to serve an ideology rather than their people. And to Magpul, good riddance, don’t let the door hit you on the way out!