Sunday, May 30, 2010

misuse of patriotism

This is Memorial Day weekend, a time where we remember and honor the sacrifices of those who served our nation in war and often gave their lives to defend our freedom or the freedom of our allies. It is a time of much flag-waving and feeling proud of our country standing for freedom in the midst of a world that is too often enslaved and enslaving. But not all demonstrations ring true.

Recently our President has been accused as dissing the veterans by not speaking at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day....he is speaking at the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Cemetery near Chicago, his long time home. Somehow the standard for patriotic display on this day has been determined to be speaking at Arlington and nowhere else will do, and no one but the President is good enough (though the Vice President is speaking there in his place).

As many have countered, many times in recent history American Presidents have decided to speak somewhere other than Arlington on Memorial Day. Reagan did that twice, Bush Sr did it all four years of his presidency, and even Bush Jr did it twice (2001 and 2002) . Coincidentally, the only President who spoke at Arlington on every Memorial Day during his presidency (8 times) was President Clinton, who nevertheless was consistently attacked as unfriendly to the military. Such is the hypocrisy of the "flag-wrappers"

But there is another problem with this attack, beyond the historical record. Why do we treat one cemetery as more special than the others? If we truly honor all the veterans ,why is the President speaking at one more important than any other? I do not mean to diminish Arlington. It is a beautiful place and a fitting resting place for veterans. Looking across the sea of gravestones is a solemn occasion (0ne that I have been fortunate to do a few times) and it gives one pause to ponder the reality of war and it's consequences. Visiting the gravesite of President Kennedy and re-reading the words of his inaugural address always brings tears to my eyes.

And it's personal. My uncle is buried at Arlington. He was serving in the military training pilots to fly during World War II when he died in a plane crash. He gave his life for his country, though he never saw combat. I have visited his grave, left roses there, and grieved for the uncle I never got to meet.

But I have also visited, and left roses , on another grave site on the other side of the country, for someone else who faithfully served his country. That was my paternal grandfather. He participated in the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War I. He did see combat and yet survived the war and later retired from the military in the late 1950's. He passed away in 1964 and was buried in Washington National Cemetery just south of Portland Oregon, later joined by my grandmother three years later.

Both of these served their country in the military faithfully and with honor. Both are worthy of remembrance, not just because they are my family, but because they were patriots who answered their nation's call to serve, despite the risk. Both have family who remember them. Why should we differentiate between them just because one was buried at Arlington and the other wasn't?

But that is what people are doing when they attack the President for not speaking at Arlington this weekend and having the "gall" to speak at some "lesser" resting place. Shame on them! This is fax patriotism, using it for political gain. Please remember all who died, no matter where they are buried, no matter the manner or time of their death. They deserve it!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

checking your attitudes

okay, time to finish up immigration-related posts for now. The other thing about the issue that sometimes torque me are the attitudes that people display. It is one thing to debate issues and have disagreements. I do not demand that everyone agree with me and I will not push someone to change their views - I try merely to inform them of problems I see with their reasoning and facts - (and following faith tenets) and argue passionately for my views. If we were all of one mind on everything it would one heck of a boring world.

But I have seen a lot of angry, attacking language in the debate that goes beyond disagreement and healthy debate. It reflects hate and prejudice by its very presence much like smoke indicates fire. It is fueled by the anonymity of comment sections after articles - and displayed more honestly on radio and TV by those who should know better. It is hard to miss and disappointing to see.

My appeal to you is to carefully think about what you are going to say or write before you utter it. Once it is out there you cannot retract it, only modify. Think about how you would feel if someone said the same thing about you. Words have consequences and a singer/songwriter(David Meece) made an updated version of a popular childhood ditty when he wrote and sang "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can break my heart"

And remember, under our system of government no one gets bonus points for how far back they can trace their ancestry,nor brownie points for what they have done with it. All are equal in the eyes of the law - and of God , who the founders stated our rights flowed from. Sometimes we too have problems with feeling entitled. America should not be a social club, for only the privileged to enjoy. It should be a refuge for the weary....re-read the words of the plaque on the State of Liberty.

The statue of Liberty is set as a welcome to the world. Come and experience the freedom and opportunity that America offers. If you have felt beaten up, world, come here and find relief. Let's not lose that , okay?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

citizenship

In the debate over immigration, just as in the debate over the "war on terror" we hear citizenship being touted as the deciding factor in how people are treated. Citizens get one level of treatment, non-citizens get treated at another, lower level. On the surface it appears logical...there is something special about citizenship. And that is correct. However, as with most generalizations and superficial statements, if you scratch below the surface you may be surprised at what you find.

Citizenship is conferred in this country in two ways. Many people immigrate to the US,spend time here learning the language,culture and law, and after a period of time are able to apply for naturalization. By way of a citizenship test, background checks, and swearing an oath, they can become naturalized citizens, which gives them all the privileges of citizenship. The only restriction is they cannot be President.

Most people become citizens the other way, by birth. They don't have to pass any test, swear any oath, learn anything (except for advancement in school and work).And they can even become President, if they so desire. They become citizens based on the fortunate situation of their parents (or at least their mother residing here when they were born. It makes no difference how long their ancestry goes back, just that they were born in the US. That is the way I became a citizen.

The privileges of citizenship that are outlined in the Constitution are sparse. Voting is one, regardless of race, sex, or age(18 or above). Another is serving in government. You have to be a citizen to become a Representative, Senator,or President. And that is about it. There are other references to citizen, but these are the big issues.

When you look at rights delineated in the Constitution you find the words "people" or "persons". When talking about freedom of speech,religion, press, trial by jury, protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, etc, the prohibition against infringement by law enforcement is to individuals, not just citizens. The right of habeus corpus, contained in the body of the Constitution (before amendments) is for all, not just citizens. So there is no difference in the area of rights between citizens and non-citizens.

Why is this so? Partly it is because those rights are seen as part of the "certain unalienable rights" that Jefferson declares are "all men...are endowed by their Creator" with. Partly it is because of the moral foundation of those rights - they are right and fair and just, not privileges for the few or "acceptable". But aside from the moral and philosophical, there is a legal reason. The rights are listed as a limitation on power, to protect people, and it is operable for all who reside in this country,not just citizens. It is a limit we have set on our government. And it is a reminder that rights are a right of being human, and as Jefferson also declared governments are set up to secure (protect) those rights, not grant them.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

immigration,part two - rule of law

After glossing over indefinite detention, "enhanced interrogation" (torture), and warrantless wiretapping, can those on the conservative wing seriously ever even say the phrase "rule of law", much less argue for it? They have so pushed for a situational ethics thinking (ends justify the means) - which is another thing true believers would never endorse - that any support for strict adherence to legal guidelines comes across as highly hypocritical at best.

The rule of law is our guideline in this game called life. It is the set of boundaries that ensure (or encourage at least) civil conduct and make a peaceful life possible. Just as in any contest the rules are not there to bludgeon any competitor and cause them to constantly look over their shoulder for fear of stepping out of line. It is there to reinforce what they normally should have, a good sense of right and wrong - morals and manners - and to deal with serious violations of those so that all can benefit.

You have seen basketball games, for instance, where the referees are calling every petty infraction of the rule book, and fans are chanting "let them play". The referees are not the game, they are there to provide the framework and guidelines to help the players play a safe, orderly game. In the same way, in this game called life, laws are not life, they are the boundaries set to insure that all people get the chance to play freely. They must be administered wisely to ensure that people don't worry about either being taken advantage of by unruly players, nor about being hammered by the rule enforcers.

The problem is two-fold. One , we target selectively those who we think have stepped out of line, while expecting ourselves to "get a break" when we step over the line -as illustrated by the "war on terror" advocates and their cavalier attitude towards those accused or suspected of terrorism. And, two, we confuse the spirit and letter of the law. We forget what the purpose of the law is and harp on strict enforcement (for others, of course) of rules.

We are like the Pharisees as seen in the New Testament who targeted Jesus as a "bad person" because he healed on the Sabbath. They forgot that , as he said, "Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath". There was a rule about not working on the Sabbath Day, but it was meant to benefit, by providing a day of rest, not provide a target for the "morals police".

Another thing about strict adherence to letter, as opposed to spirit, of the law. Law is there to provide a safe and sane society. If we handle things well those truly committed to actions detrimental to the general public (like violent criminals who care nothing for life) are restrained while the rest of us live our lives in peace with little attention from law enforcement aside from the occasional corrective warnings (like being stopped and advised of a headlight being out, for instance). When the law becomes the focus instead of life ,and strict enforcement of every rule is made, then we enter a caged existence.

So it is with immigration. So many people come here, legally and illegally, to get a better life, more opportunity under a fair system. They want to work hard, for the most part. And, as has been the case over the course of our country's history, they will add to the richness of life in America, by challenging our status quo -culturally, culinarily, linguistically,etc. If we are wise we will welcome them in and learn. A society that is static is only dying, slowly. A truly healthy society has growing pains and we should not shy away from those.

So when you next hear someone say "but they broke the law" you might ask them if they have every driven over the speed limit. If they admit that they have, ask them "why aren't you in jail? You have broken the law as well" ....we often gloss over our own errors while highlighting others - but need to remember ...a humble mind is a healthy mind :)