Monday, January 25, 2010

Charity starts at home; so, apparently, does anger

If you are a Facebook user you probably saw this one floating about this past weekend:

"Shame on you America: the only country where we have homeless without shelter, children going to bed without eating, elderly going without needed meds, and mentally ill without treatment - yet we have a benefit for the people of Haiti on 12 TV stations. 99% of people won't have the guts to copy and repost this."

Sadly, I saw at least five people pass this along for others to read. Needless to say, I am troubled not so much by the sentiments, but the venomous hintings that the Haitian are undeserving of our aid. Oddly, I agree with some of the points the posting raised.

Most troubling to me were some of the ensuing comments by various readers. I read some comments that were downright hateful and racist--and angry. It shames me to think so many fellow citizens can be so hardened to the plight of those unfortunate.

I was so upset by the original post that I fashioned my own retort:

"Shame on some Americans for decrying we help a people (the Haitians) befallen by a horrible tragedy! And yeah, shame on us that we don't set enough time, money and energy aside to help our own. AND shame on us that we have more than 18 million people out of work, looking for jobs while our politicians and people devote not enough time and energy worrying whether all Americans are treated equally with health care, equal marriage laws and that we complain when someone talks about spending money for research to better our world's environment. Yeah, shame on us self-centered Americans who can see no further than our own wallets."

I was heartened to read more positive letters coming in afterwards. I'd like to think that the current economic conditions are the root cause of some of the hateful words I read, but I still ponder the source of all this anger and resentment.

I also wonder if Americans realize that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that Haiti--yes Haiti, one of the poorest nations on this Earth, offered financial aid to our disaster survivors in 2005. In the end, our nation did not accept the Haitian government's kind offer, but it is the thought that counts. In kind, how can anyone begrudge our people's act of kindness and generosity in light of this horrendous disaster that has, so far, claimed more than 150,000 lives?

In recent years while reading various blogs and comments on online news stories, I have come to a disturbing conclusion about a great number of our citizens.

We are an angry people.

Angry at just about everything, and everyone and maybe at life itself. But I ask why?

It doesn't take a genius to see this, especially after watching some of the town hall meetings last summer. It strikes me ironic the people who criticized our people for providing aid to the victims of Haiti are also saying we need to do more for our own people. To me, these are the same people who think our government is destroying our nation by sticking its nose into every avenue of our day-to-day lives.

Many of these same people who shouted down voices of dissent at the town hall meetings, it seems to me, are the by-product of Reagan doctrines who shut down medical facilities for the mentally challenged; shut down countless programs providing shelter and aid to the indigent. Those same people said these are best issues left to local government, not federal concerns.

Where were these people's concern back then? People took heart when they assumed their federal tax burden would be alleviated.

The problem, in my opinion, was their logic was misguided.

Sure, the federal government can cut its costs by cutting programs left and right. It can pass off these concerns to state and local governments. And yes, perhaps local entities can better address these issues. BUT there is a trade off. The feds can cut their costs by curtailing its services, but in reality they are passing along those same expenses to local governments.

In essence, one hand dropped its load while the other has taken on the additional weight. The costs remain the same, only the provider has changed.

We have become a nation used to its government entitlements, at least in part: Social Security, Food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, Home Start, pre-and post school programs, public schools, the interstate and state highway networks, local and federal police forces, and a myriad of other state and federal programs, all designed as a convenience or as a security net in time of need. The list is endless and the costs are vast. AND none of them are free.

These programs are based on moral tenets that we provide aid to those in need.

For those who ask why so many of our people not tended to properly, ask yourself this: Where were you last week when Massachusetts held its special election to fill the late late Ted Kennedy's seat? Why weren't you attending the town hall meetings asking our leaders why aren't they doing more to guarantee health care for ALL of our citizens, no matter what? Do you write your congressmen and women asking they support programs to better serve our people?

Worse still, I have--and I am sure you have too--heard people blame the victims for their plight. Just this past summer after our local CBS affiliate ran a story about the attempted break-in to my home one early August evening; after the story had aired, I read a number of online comments blaming me for the incident.

Point is, we are so busy being angry at God-knows-what, that we spend a great deal of time and energy looking for reasons to lay blame rather than solving the root cause of our problems. I am reminded of the old maxim that is takes but seven muscles to smile, and more than 20 to frown.

Michael Moore, controversial filmmaker, once raised the question (in his documentary Bowling for Columbine) "why are we so afraid?"

I put to each of us to the question, "Why are we so angry?"

Friday, January 15, 2010

They said what???

What do Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson and the staff of the University of Notre Dame's newspaper The Observer all have in common? No, this isn't a joke as I do not like to mention 'Notre Dame' in the same breath as these two men. All three have found themselves in a bit of hot water this week when they acted without thinking first.

First off, let me make no bones about it. I despise political and religious intolerance, and I have a very deep disdain for both Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh. I find them both to be pompous, hypocritical windbags.

Both are guilty of regularly inserting their foot in their mouth(s). And for Notre Dame, I expected better than what happened there earlier in the week.

In ranking of particular importance, I task both Limbaugh and Robertson, as I think they all too often speak without considering the implication of their words.

In case you missed it, Pat Robertson earlier this week practically said that the disaster in Haiti was invited upon its people after they had made a pact with the devil when they threw the French government out (many, many decades ago).

Now mind you, it's hard to take Pat Robertson's (I hate to even call him a reverend) rants seriously. He has, for years, made cryptic Biblical threats when he has seen actions for which he doesn't agree. I mean, don't you know, Hurricane Katrina visited New Orleans because of the actions of homosexuals residing there; likewise when he said meteors would flatten Orlando, Florida, for similar reasons. He even indicated that the acts of 9/11 were the results of this nation's collective sins (funny, Osama Bin Laden would agree with the right reverend over this issue).

Robertson has been making these ridiculous rants for decades and it must make for great ratings for his '700 Club' when he goes into one of these religious stupors, otherwise why would he do it? You don't really suppose God visits upon Robertson's altar to whisper in his ear about what he (or she) is displeased about this week, do you? And no one else?

C'mon. Religious leaders like Robertson truly test my patience. Seriously, I believe in God... it's just some of God's messed up religious leaders (dare I say kooks?) and institutions in which I have little or no faith.

Radio commentator (and unofficial) rank-in-faith leader of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh is off his rocker yet again. This week, in the aftermath, of the Haitian disaster said on his program that President Obama is using the disaster to hone and bolster his political image.

I was not aware that offering humanitarian aid was a political tool--I always, and maybe stupidly, thought it was the Christian and moral thing to do. Would Mr. Limbaugh prefer we stand by as thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people suffer and die by our inactions?

If by Limbaugh's definition that our President is acting out of political gain, then President George W. Bush was guilty of this as well when offering humanitarian aid when the tsunamis struck Indian Ocean countries in 2004... or when President Bush offered humanitarian aid when Katrina struck New Orleans... oh wait, we all know how well the Bush administration reacted to that disaster.

Maybe President Bush believed Pat Robertson's claims and decided NOLA wasn't worth the effort?

Both of these two men have refused to apologize for their comments. Robertson said he was quoted out of context--and to be fair, Robertson did offer prayers to the Haitian citizens.

Mr. Limbaugh says he stands behind his words. Both... both so-called righteous men are morons as far as I am concerned.

Do Republicans really need a leader, even if they won't admit that is what role Limbaugh plays, like this loud-mouthed hypocritical radio show host? Limbaugh would be quick to say that he is not a politician, but a commentator and an entertainer.

I would also offer that he is none of the above.

AND then there is The Observer. Normally, I have the utmost respect for the University of Notre Dame's daily newspaper. After working at the university for eight years, I feel I have some insights about the school.

To read of the following incident hurts me; I love Notre Dame. I always have. My son is a 1999 ND graduate, and for those who feel the school is far too conservative, I would offer that that is not necessarily the case and that the student body and its faculty have done great things in its long storied history.

But with the January 13, 2010, issue I must take a sad exception. The staff must have taken a collective leave of absence on Wednesday when they published a cartoon strip that asked the following.

"How do you turn a fruit into a vegetable?" The answer, according to the strip, was "a baseball bat!"

What??? This thinly veiled and patently unfunny comic was, unfortunately, referring to gays. I am simply shocked beyond words--AND for many reasons beyond the obvious.

I worked at Notre Dame Law School Library in 1998 when University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was beaten and tortured and left to die by two local criminals. University of Notre Dame students, like many other universities stood united in fellowship and voiced their opposition together against hate and bigotry. I stood with hundreds of ND students and faculty members at a candlelit vigil that was moving beyond words. Prayers were offered for Shepard's recovery, and sadly in this case those prayers went unanswered.

Shepard's death shook our students and many of us adults too--and citizens around the world. Many activists have tirelessly worked since to ensure that his death would not be in vain (made all the more obvious by the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009).

But the publication of this strip has unquestionably done much to undo the goodwill fostered on this campus.

Worse still--and much more troubling, the comic strip original Q & A was as follows. "How do you turn a fruit into a vegetable?" This time, the far more offensive punchline, answered by saying, "AIDS." Real funny, huh?

Have we not gotten beyond this sort of stupidity, this kind of bigotry? Obviously not.

This incident begs many questions, what were these young people, these bright, young journalists thinking? How could they have permitted such a pointed cartoon to go to press? What of the artist's character of this strip? Where was the newspaper's faculty adviser who permitted this comic strip to be included? And what does this say about the university itself?

Sadly, to some degree the Golden Dome is a bit tarnished in my eyes today.

BUT on the positive side of this episode, and to the newspaper's credit, the editor and staff ran a detailed apology in today's edition. Unlike the elder Robertson and Limbaugh, the staff of the Observer realized its error and quickly took measures to rectify their mistake. They did the right thing, but this staff certainly took a hit on the stage of journalistic moral integrity.

Lastly, will Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh follow suit? Don't hold your breath. Stupidity is alive and well on America's television and radio airwaves!

photo of the University of Notre Dame administration building is by the author.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year -- 2010

2009, thank God, is over.. history... fini, kaput... bye bye!