A Blanket Apology to Everyone on Earth

This post is for all of you who read my blog outside of the U.S. I am an American. I can’t speak for all Americans. No one can. Or at least no one should. But I can certainly speak for myself.

It breaks my heart that my country as a whole is being judged by the rest of the world based on what they see in the news. Most of us are not like the insane people who grab the headlines these days. Many of us are as appalled by what we read as you are. I don’t know if that will be a source of comfort or of increased anxiety for you, but there you have it: for many of us, that feeling of disgust does not stop outside our borders.

So let me tell you a little about who I am, so you can see that not all of us fit that stereotype that has been created by Washington D.C., our nation’s capitol, where you can’t sling a dead cat without hitting someone who is morally bankrupt, unforgivably selfish, and rotting from the inside by the sheer weight of his or her greed. Such blatant abuse of power is unconscionable.

First of all, I am horrified at my government’s total disdain for the environment. We are one of the most environmentally selfish nations on earth, and the least likely to do anything to turn this global warming situation around before it destroys us all. I’m so sorry for that. I wish I felt like I could do something about it. I mean, I vote. I speak out. I do the best I can to reduce my carbon footprint. But I feel like I’m not making an impact, and I know this negatively impacts you as well.

I also happen to think that my country’s stance on guns is absurd and dangerous. We have more mass shootings than anywhere else, and we can’t even agree that the average citizen has no legitimate need for semi-automatic weapons. It makes no sense.

And this damned border wall that Trump is so in love with? I don’t want it. No one I know really wants it. All this political maneuvering is an embarrassment. Honestly, how do these people even look themselves in the mirror?

I don’t think immigrants are a threat. In fact, I’m a second generation American myself. This country would be lost without immigrants. I’m not so greedy that I’m not willing to share the wealth. I actually like you unless you give me some personal reason to feel otherwise. I don’t believe in kidnapping your children at the border. I think the day we stop granting asylum to people in danger is the day when we lose the most vital part of what makes us decent human beings. Jesus wouldn’t turn you away, so how can a country that considers itself mainly Christian do so? I don’t understand this attitude of xenophobia. It makes me sick.

I am also profoundly sorry that we don’t step in to help nearly as often as we butt in to serve our own best interests. We have no right to do this. Clearly, we struggle to get ourselves right, so it’s the height of arrogance to think we can fix anyone else.

And we imprison people to a much higher degree than any other country. I can’t blame you if you think twice about visiting us. I’d be afraid to, if I were you. But I genuinely believe that we need you to come visit. We need our horizons expanded. It’s hard to think of someone as an enemy once we’ve broken bread with that person. Please, come break bread with us.

I guess I do sit squarely in one stereotype. I tend to forget the world doesn’t revolve around us. Perhaps you could care less about what my country says or does. Perhaps you have more important things on your mind than my pompous country. That’s a legitimate response, too, and I can hardly blame you for it.

I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry about all the destruction we cause. I just wanted you to know that somewhere here, in this unbelievable circus of a country, sits a woman in a bridge tower who is every bit as outraged as many of you are. And I know for a fact that I’m not alone. So, please forgive us, individually, even if you cannot bring yourselves to forgive us collectively.

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What I Thought America Meant

When I was little, I was taught that I lived in the greatest country in the entire world. I thought we set the best example, and that based on that example, other countries would aspire to be better, and someday the whole world would be just as wonderful as we were.

Everyone would be free. There would be no war. Every individual would have equal opportunities. The world would be one big safe, happy, teddy bear of a place. I was so proud. I felt so lucky to be an American.

To me, America meant generosity, compassion, justice, safety, equality, freedom, dedication, love, and integrity.

If you had told me back then that I’d become increasingly ashamed over time, I’d have been pretty darned disappointed. Disgusted is the word, actually. And even horrified every once in a while. (Simply because I can’t work up the energy to maintain horror for long periods.)

How must the rest of the planet view us when we say things like domestic and gang violence are no longer valid reasons for asylum? What happened to “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”?

And when did we become okay with children being yanked away from their parents? Do we think those traumatized children will grow up admiring us for that? Do we think those children deserve punishment? Guilt by association?

We were supposed to be the poster child for human rights. Are we? When our president shakes hands with Kim Jong-Un, the worst human rights abuser currently alive, and says he’ll “probably have a very good relationship” with him, it doesn’t do much for that image.

I also thought we’d be the saviors of the world. But we are one of its worst polluters, biggest consumers, and we live in a culture of selfishness and waste. We can’t even hold on to our national parks, which is an embarrassment, because we were the first country to even conceive of them. The planet cries out for us to take climate change seriously, even as some of them are sinking into the sea, and instead of setting an example, we back out of the Paris Accord.

Apparently we value the profits of gun manufacturers more than the lives of our children. We allow the very worst of our law enforcement officers to become murderers without any real consequences. We step over our homeless veterans in the streets. And we don’t seem to think anyone has a right to health care.

We elected a man who brags about grabbing pussies, thinks that white supremacy is acceptable, and uses Twitter to lie without remorse. We take great strides to make it difficult to vote, but that’s probably a waste of energy when no one can seem to be bothered to do so anyway. We spend more time keeping up with the Kardashians than we do with the real current events that actually impact our day to day lives.

We have become fat and bloated by our laziness and greed. We flaunt our hate. We exaggerate our fear. We demonize education and journalism. We are not who we said we would be.

I once told a cousin that America is an experiment. You’d think I had peed in his Post Toasties. How dare I say that?

Well, Cuz, do you still think we are solid as a rock, unchanging, and will last forever? Do you really think that this thing we have become has staying power, above all other regimes that have come and gone throughout history? Are we a shining example of the best of humanity? Have we reached some bright pinnacle? Should everyone want to be just like us?

I wish I could be that little girl again, with the star spangled banner eyes. I wish I was full of optimism and hope for this country’s future. I wish I still thought I was one of the good guys.

But I have to ask: Are we becoming our best selves? Because if we can’t do better than this, if we don’t want to do better than this, then there’s really no hope. And that scares me.

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Sanctuary Cities

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about sanctuary cities. He happens to fall on the opposite end of the political bell curve, so debates with him can be interesting. And yet we never get hostile with each other, and still manage to be respectful. Why is that such a dying art?

Anyway, he thinks Seattle, and all other cities that declare themselves to be sanctuaries, are stupid, because they’re potentially depriving themselves of a lot of federal funding, and that will put a lot more pressure on the local taxpayers and reduce services to residents.

I, on the other hand, suggested that perhaps it is Trump who is the stupid one. (Yeah, I know. Hard to believe.) If he withdraws funding, he is further ostracizing the people who live in these sanctuary cities, who won’t simply fall into line because of his bullying tactics. He’ll also be harming certain economies, and that will have a negative impact on the overall economy. Bad business. His travel ban has already cost our tourism industry more than 7 billion dollars. That’s billion, with a b. So I shudder to think what a sanctuary city ban would do. How is this making America great again?

And although many of us seem to conveniently forget this, the United States of America was founded on the basic principle that it is a nation that will provide sanctuary. The precedent was set long, long ago. Freedom of religion. Freedom of the press. Give us your tired, your poor…

Yeah, I know that those concepts seem to be under attack these days, but it’s holding out this fantasy that makes me most proud. Even as our rights are eroded, I like to cling to the belief that somewhere within our beleaguered national soul, we still have the potential for being a bastion of freedom. Why on earth would someone attack cities for doing the very thing that makes us a country?

It boggles the mind.

Sanctuary-Cities

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How Lucky are We?

Can you imagine living in a country where you are in constant fear of having your door kicked in? How about living in a place where your neighbors can and will threaten your life and no one will protect you? Coming from my place of white privilege, I can’t even conceive of an existence in which I do not feel safe. It never would occur to me to worry that I couldn’t keep my family intact.

How lucky we are to live in America, right? Well, some of us, at least. Because I’ve been talking about America. Trump’s America.

Even as you read this, many of your neighbors do not feel safe. You are much, much more likely to be raided by ICE or incarcerated in this country than you are to be harmed by a terrorist. That’s even if you are someone who has been contributing to the economy for decades and have harmed no one in your entire life.

As noted in this story from Public Radio International, there has been a sharp rise in immigrants fleeing across the border from the United States to Canada in recent months. Winter months. These people are willing to risk frostbite to get away from us. From us. You can see pictures of some of these people in this article from The Guardian.

We are no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I am so ashamed.

The only thing I know to do is add my tiny little voice to the many others who are saying, “This is not who we are.”

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A Message to the World

Hello. I’m an American. Never in my life did I imagine that I would say this, but I am ashamed of the state of my country. I am embarrassed at the face we are currently showing to the world. This is not who we are.

Never again will I look at another country and assume that all its people agree with its government. Because I don’t. Never again will I think of the resident of another country as possessing a stereotypical characteristic based on that person’s place of birth. Because clearly, I no longer fit in here.

In recent months I’ve been seeing a great deal of ugliness. I’ve seen Americans spewing hate. I’ve seen selfishness and greed and intolerance. I’ve seen ignorance deified and intelligence vilified. I’ve seen science discounted and fantasy encouraged. I’ve seen violence. I’ve seen misogyny. I’ve seen fraud. I see more and more lies every day.

I am so sorry that things have gotten this way. I didn’t vote for Trump. I wouldn’t have approved any of his cabinet members or his choices for the Supreme Court. There is not a single thing that this man has done that I agree with. Not one.

I’m particularly mortified that his immigration policies are making so many people live in fear. This is not acceptable to me. I am a second generation American, and the vast majority of the people who live here are descended from immigrants. We have absolutely no right to do what we are currently doing.

We also have no right to treat the Native Americans the way that we do. If anyone should have moral currency with regard to how we treat the land here, it should be them. They should not be beaten down for wanting water that is safe to drink. Shame on us.

We, of all people, should not have the right to negatively impact women’s health at home or abroad. We should also appreciate the good work that other members of the United Nations do every single day. We should be good stewards of our environment, because what we do affects the entire planet.

I just want you to know that many Americans still believe in human rights, freedom, justice, the environment, freedom of speech, science, peace, and respect for all people who do good in this world. I want you to know that those of us who feel this way will not remain silent. We will speak out for the values that we all strive to maintain. Our voices might get drowned out by those in power, but please don’t stop listening for us. We are here.

Because what you’re seeing now is not who we are.

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Schooled by Jon Stewart

I will always wonder if this election wouldn’t have gone differently if Jon Stewart hadn’t retired prior to the campaign. To me, he is the epitome of a well-spoken and reasonable human being. Unfortunately the people who needed to listen to him the most were the very ones who never watched his show. More and more we are a culture that preaches to its own choir.

Would I classify him as liberal? Heck, yeah. But he’s not afraid to smack sense into even those of us on the left. That’s what I admire about him the most. He has integrity.

For example, I just watched this 6 minute interview of him on CBS This Morning and it really made me take a hard look at myself. If you have the time, I encourage you to watch it. But for those of you who don’t, I will share with you one of the many wise things that he says.

“There is now this idea that anyone who voted for him [Trump] has to be defined by the worst of his rhetoric. There are guys in my neighborhood that I love, that I respect, that I think have incredible qualities, who are not afraid of Mexicans and not afraid of Muslims and not afraid of Blacks. They’re afraid of their insurance premiums. In the Liberal community you hate this idea of creating people as a monolith. Don’t look at Muslims as a monolith. They are unique individuals. It would be ignorance. But everybody who voted for Trump is a monolith, is a racist. That hypocrisy is also real in our country. And so this is the fight that we wage against ourselves and each other, because America’s not natural. Natural is tribal. We’re fighting against thousands of years of human behavior and history to create something that no one’s ever… that’s what’s exceptional about America, and that’s what… like, this ain’t easy.”

Okay, I have to confess, Jon Stewart just bitch-slapped me but good. Because I have to admit it: I was demonizing all Trump supporters for demonizing… well… everyone else. As if my lumping them all into one steaming pile was better than their doing the very same thing to others.

Another thing Jon Stewart pointed out was that we’re still the same country we were last month. Whether that’s good or bad is up to each one of us, I suppose. But I really do have to work on my attitude. I think we all do, all across the spectrum. I’m going to try a lot harder to appreciate the shades of grey. I suspect there are a heck of a lot more than 50 of them in this country. Isn’t that, after all, the whole point of it?

I will say, though, that I still can’t relate to someone caring about their insurance premiums more than the safety and rights of others, but hey, that’s just me. Oh, there I go again. This is going to take practice.

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I’d have voted for him.

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Cop Avoidance

Back in the early 80’s I was studying abroad in Guanajuato, Mexico. It was one of the high points in my life. I learned so much about myself and the wider world. It had a profound effect on how I see this planet and its many inhabitants.

I felt very safe in that welcoming community. It’s a college town, bustling with students and culture, and everyone made me feel at home. I made several friends that I’m still in contact with to this very day. The only times I didn’t feel safe were those times when I should have felt safest of all—when the cops were out.

I can’t speak to what the atmosphere is like now. I haven’t been there in decades. But I can say that when I lived there, when people saw someone in uniform, they tended to quietly disappear down side streets. The area would become eerily quiet, the air full of tension.

You couldn’t blame them. These men often looked intoxicated, and they sported automatic weapons much of the time. There was an air of lawlessness about these law enforcement officers, and the balance of power was quite obviously skewed in their favor. You didn’t want to piss them off.

One time I went dancing in a club there and a cop shot a boy out front. Shot him dead. Just like that. I never knew the full story. I never saw any protests. I just knew there was one less student in Guanajuato that night.

This rattled me because, rightly or wrongly, I had grown up in white America. I was taught that cops were your friends. “Officer Friendly” came to my school. He told us that if we ever got lost, we should seek out the nearest policeman and everything would be okay. So being afraid of police never crossed my mind until I went to Mexico.

I hadn’t thought about this in years, but just the other day I realized I’m starting to feel this way in this country. Between the random shootings and the way the pipeline protesters are being treated, it doesn’t feel safe to be around law enforcement anymore. And Trump wants to escalate that to an alarming degree.

I don’t want to live in a world where I have to hide from public servants. I don’t want the balance of power to go past that tipping point, but it’s getting awfully close. Just saying.

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Pipeline protester being arrested. Sufficient use of force?

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Trump is the New Hitler

I have a German last name, and because of that I have always taken the events that led up to, and occurred during, World War II very seriously. Growing up, I was fascinated by the Diaries of Anne Frank and all things related to concentration camps. I was proud of the fact that my father helped to liberate one during the war.

I could never understand what would cause a nation to be sucked in by an insane man who spewed nothing but hate. I could never imagine being so afraid of an entire group of people that I would leave even its women and children out in the cold. I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could justify depriving a whole religious group of its human rights.

I still don’t understand it. I never will. But now I can see how it happens. The other day, Donald Trump said, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

First of all, the screening system that allows immigrants into the US is extremely rigorous. If you think people just wander over the border willy nilly, think again. Better yet, Google it. If the system had been this stringent when my grandparents came to this country, they’d very likely have been turned back at Ellis Island, and I wouldn’t exist.

Normally, I wouldn’t take anything Donald Trump said very seriously. In my personal opinion, he’s a racist nut job with a bad comb over. But what was terrifying about this current bit of insanity of his was that when he said it, the crowd cheered. They cheered just as the Germans did when Hitler spouted his racist insanity during the Nuremberg Rally. Do you understand what I’m saying? They cheered.

In Germany, at the time, the economy was in a shambles. People were afraid. They wanted someone to blame. So a charismatic man with a bad hairdo came along and exploited their fear and turned it into hate and as a result over 60 million people died in a war that should never have taken place.

By the way, it wasn’t until much later in life that I discovered, thanks to the Elie Weisel Foundation, that none of my relatives had joined the Nazi Party. My family comes from the Alsace-Lorraine region in what is now France. Although this region has been dragged back and forth between France and Germany throughout history, during most of the last century, and this one so far, it’s part of France. What a huge weight off my shoulders!

But can I truly set down that weight? Now history seems to be repeating itself. Trump doesn’t scare me nearly as much as those cheering people in the crowd. Those people, those fellow Americans, do not seem to have learned from the deadly mistakes of history. Those people vote. I don’t want to see what happens if their hatred wins.

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[Image credit: Youtube.com]

Wisdom about Refugees

As hard as this is to believe, sometimes Facebook is the source of great wisdom. Today I saw this post, from a woman named Lorelle Saxena. It was so beautifully written and brilliantly explained that I had to share it with all of you. I attempted to contact Lorelle to get permission to post it here, but had no luck. I hope the fact that it has already been shared 24,000 times on Facebook will mean that she won’t mind if I share it one more time.

I’m done with polite, apolitical vaguebooking right now. There are so many smugly hateful messages on my Facebook feed, and I’m not going to get into it with each and every one of you, but here is the bottom line:

There is no reason, not one single reason, why I deserve shelter, food, stability, safety, health, or your regard any more than any given Syrian refugee. Not one reason. My home, my education, my business; the way I look, the way I talk; the fact that I come home to a safe, whole, healthy family every day–every one of those things is a privilege that I fell into by the random circumstance of being born in this country to parents who valued academic achievement. I, or you, could have just as easily been born in Syria, or Burkina Faso, or Afghanistan. Do you really think that you’re a different kind of human being than the refugees? Do you think your privilege is earned?

I know: you’ve worked hard for what you have. I have, too. But have we worked harder than the refugees worked for the lives that were destroyed? Do we love our children more than they do; would we grieve harder if a civil war took them away from us? And how long do you believe it would take for a bomb to destroy everything safe about your life?

Compared to most people in the world, you and I are rich with privilege, much of it just because we were lucky enough to be born in a country fat with it. I woke up early this morning and made organic, whole-grain muffins for my son, then dressed him in warm clothes, put sunscreen on his little face, strapped and buckled him into his bike seat and rode along peaceful streets to deliver him at his warm, nurturing preschool. There were so many levels on which I was able to protect him. Every breath of this morning was a privilege. Meanwhile millions of children who months ago had bedrooms and dinner tables and doctors and schools are sleeping directly on the ground, their parents unable to secure shelter or food for them, much less healthcare or education.

And no, that is not your fault. But that’s not the same as it not being our responsibility. We have everything we need and then so much on top of that, and we can choose to exemplify to our own children one of two courses of action: we can open our clutched fists and share with our fellow humans all the abundance that exists here–or we can hoard it, greedy and bloated and fearful.

These are families like yours. Thinking they might have connections to terrorist factions is as rational as thinking you might be a terrorist because Timothy McVeigh was American. Half of the refugees are children. What is it in you that can close your eyes to other human beings, especially human beings that are small and hungry and cold?

I’m not asking you to give half of everything you have to help them, or to turn your backyard into a tent city, or to donate to causes that support efforts to protect these very vulnerable people. I’m asking you not to hate them because they need something you have. I’m asking you to recognize that the fear being built around the refugees is less about American security and more about American greed. I’m asking you to be a human being that understands every human being has basic needs and that the lucky among us can afford to share our luck to ease suffering. I’m asking you to stop thinking, posting, politicizing around the idea that we just can’t help before we’ve taken care of our own.

Because there is no such thing as “our own.” Every human is our own. Every hungry child, grieving mother, frightened husband, weary grandmother is our own. Nobody gets to pretend our world is a different world from the world that creates civil wars and bombs and hunger. We are all toeing this same precarious, shifting tightrope of a life. Anyone can fall at any time. All there is to catch us is each other.

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[Image credit: aljazeera.com]

Secret Revealed: Everyone in the US Owns Land!

Real Estate is without a doubt the best investment one can make. People fight wars over land. The song “This Land is Your Land” makes all of us proud. And it should. Just by virtue of being a US citizen, each and every one of us owns 84 million acres of land. Yup. That’s million with an M. We’re rich! Most people don’t even realize that.

And check this out: you don’t even have to mow a single blade of grass on all this land that you own. You don’t have to pull a single weed. The National Park Service takes care of all the upkeep for you. All you have to do is go and admire and respect it.

Long before any other country on the planet set aside land for its citizens, our national parks system was created. As a matter of fact, the 100th anniversary of the system will be rolling around pretty soon. According to their website, the National Park Service was created by an act signed by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916, and our first park, Yellowstone, was established by an act signed by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. So this land was your land before you were even born!

Even more exciting is that this land is broken up into 408 different pieces and is scattered throughout the 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Chances are, you can visit some of your land without venturing very far from the place where you live. How cool is that?

And no two places are alike. The website also mentions that they include national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and even the White House. That’s a pretty impressive portfolio you have there, American! Don’t take it for granted!

Recently I had the distinct pleasure of spending 5 days in Yellowstone National Park, and it was magical. I’ll be writing several blog entries about it, but for now I will share pictures I took of some of your land, just for you. I wish they did it justice.

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