Kaddish- for the mourners

vigilOn Monday of this week, I attended a vigil for the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting. 150-200 people attended on a cold fall day and crowded into a small gathering place on a busy street corner in Duluth. There were chants and songs and prayers along with speeches from local community leaders. I spoke as a person whose sister was murdered by bullets. Our Mayor spoke and my minister as well as a local elder from the NAACP. Many from the local Jewish community were there as well and expressed such sadness and mourning for the anti-Semitic attack on their brothers and sisters of faith.

It has been 26 years since my sister was shot. Sometimes it feels like just yesterday. The memories come and go as does the pain and the grief. I don’t cry much any more when speaking. But when the leader of the Synagogue asked us to sing and pray Kaddish for the dead and told us to think of our own losses, I cried. That moment was so emotional and powerful and almost haunting.

The vigil was testament to the solidarity we all feel when attacks come against one group of people because of anti-Semitism or racism or anti-GLBTQ or anti-abortion, or anti-Christianity or just because.

Following on the heels of the pipe bomb threats to high profile Democrats it felt like something was terribly wrong.

And predictably, the President said these words after the mass shooting at the synagogue:

When asked if the shooting indicated a need to revisit gun laws, Trump replied that the shooting “has little to do with it” and that an armed guard might have been able to stop the gunman “immediately.”
Asked if he was advocating for armed guards inside of places of worship, Trump replied, “no, it’s certainly an option.”

These are corporate gun lobby words that mean nothing. Rarely has someone who is armed stopped a mass shooting. In this case, the synagogue often did have armed guards as has become necessary for many synagogues in the current atmosphere in our country. But that is different than arming worshipers. If we have to go to our places of worship with guns,  then we have lost our freedom to worship in peace and tranquility.

I did speak with the person at our church in charge of building issues. He told me that we do have an evacuation plan just in case but we haven’t paid a lot of attention to it. I think it’s time to talk about this but it won’t involve weapons.

Something is terribly wrong. There is no way of avoiding the obvious. Hatred and fear of the “other” is increasing in intensity and promoted by hate groups and some of our very own leaders. The President is at the top of the heap of this fear. At the moment, in a ploy to drive his base to the polls, he has dangerously and cynically decided to issue an unconstitutional order to deny citizenship based on birth rites. The country awaits the fall-out from this ludicrous idea.

On top of that the President said on national TV that he intends to deploy 10,000-15,000 troops to our border to stop the “invasion”, as he has pronounced it, from the south. Thousands of refugees are peacefully walking towards the Mexican border from Honduras where they are afraid to live in their own country.

The Honduran migrants headed northward as part of a massive caravan are fleeing for different reasons — rank poverty, gang threats and a globalized economy that left them behind. They’re so desperate, they told me, they’re willing to gamble on a dangerous trip.

It is families with children and people of all ages and yet, the President claims these poor people are gang members and criminals and maybe a few Middle Easterners thrown in for good measure to frighten us all to death.

I am daily horrified and disgusted by this anger and fear. It should not be this way. I may be naive but I really do believe that we are better than this. Any common sense about this kind of rhetoric has flown away into thin air. We need it back.

Can we get our nation back? Can we have a calm and peaceful national conversation about any of this? As the election grows closer, the rhetoric grows more and more coarse. The ghouls of Halloween are with us every day now.

We should be praying and singing Kaddish for our country. My friend, Rabbi Michael Adam Latz, has written this piece for City Pages:

Our kids know anti-Semitism is real and it concerns them. They see it through the lens of understanding police brutality against unarmed African American men, the attacks on trans people and Muslims and Native People and Latinx and migrants and those with disabilities. They recognize that none of us are free until all of us are free.

They know in their bones that the attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh was absolutely an attack on the Jewish people—and was the same attack on the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin and the AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Our children know that unless and until we address bigotry and racism and hatred for all, none of us will be safe. (…) We—all of us—need one another. We are facing mighty waves of bigotry and violence, intolerance and cynicism. The way we will make it to shore—the way we will survive and thrive and build a community worthy of our children’s dreams—is to hold on to one another and swim to the shore, together.

We need each other and we also need a leader who can bring us together in these moments of violence and upheaval. We don’t have that leader. Who will do this? Who will fix this? When will it stop?

When will they ever learn?

When I spoke on Monday I read the words of former President Barack Obama which got to the core of the matter:

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 2.05.04 PM

Amen.

A country at unrest

Modern medicine concept: Anxiety on Yellow Brickwall .I have not written for a while due to campaigning for candidates who actually care about saving lives by supporting gun violence prevention efforts. It’s refreshing to know they are out there representing the majority of Americans who agree with common sense.

Today was a day of what appears to be homegrown terrorism that we have not seen for a while in our country. I remember when the DC Snipers terrorized Washington D.C. and the surrounding area. Just a few guns and people were afraid to leave their homes. It was a frightening time. We have had many home grown terrorist attacks in this country using mostly firearms.:

A recent government report shows that from Sept. 12, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2016, there were 85 deadly attacks in the United States by violent extremists.

Most of the attacks were carried out by far-right violent extremists. But more people died during attacks connected with Islamic jihadist extremists.  (…)

Of those 225 deaths:

• 106 individuals were killed by far-right violent extremists in 62 separate incidents;

• 119 individuals were killed by radical Islamist violent extremists in 23 separate incidents;

• The number of people killed in a given year ranged from one to 49. (…)

GAO noted that 41 percent of the deaths caused by a radical Islamist during the reviewed period happened in one incident: the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. In June 2016, Omar Mateen, born in the United States to Afghan parents, killed 49 people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

But today it was pipe bombs sent to the offices or homes of Democrats. Something is terribly wrong with this no matter who was targeted. Republicans are arguing that Congressman Steve Scalise was targeted by a left-wing nut job was just as bad as what happened today.

It’s true. That was a devastating attack on an innocent lawmaker just enjoying a baseball practice with his colleagues. But what good does it do to bring up this comparison? What it feels like to me is that the Republicans are just not willing to deal with the “elephant in the room”.

But now that President Trump has been in office for the better part of two years, we have seen out of control rhetoric coming straight from the mouth of the guy at the top. The President is supposed to be a role model and there to soothe Americans in crises and tamp down dangerous rhetoric. But Trump has no compunctions about intimidating and fomenting fear and potential violence against the media and his “political enemies”.  The examples just keep adding up.

Who is going to speak out against this? Who in the Republican party will call out the dangerous rhetoric coming out of the mouth of their own leader?

The angry mob is the latest insult issued by the President,  trying to make those of us in pussy hats the “bad guys”.  This is purely to get his base riled up and riled up they are. The other day he extolled the virtues of the Montana Congressman who body-slammed a reporter.

The crowd laughed.

For Trump, that was A-O-K.  I can give many other examples but his attacks against the press- ( focusing on CNN)  all except state TV ( oh- er FOX news) is what authoritarian rulers do. Where are we?

CNN President Jeff Zucker responded:

CNN’s President Jeff Zucker blamed President Trump and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for the series of bomb threats that surfaced on Wednesday.

“There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media,” Mr. Zucker said in a statement.

“The President, and especially the White House Press Secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that,” he continued.

And as it turns out, Trump’s daughter-in-law signed her name to a campaign email attacking CNN even after the pipe bombs were discovered:

“Here’s what CNN said. What do you say?” the email states. “I have some breaking news for CNN… That is the real America that exists outside of the liberal bubble.”

“It’s time for us to give the media another wake-up call from the American people,” the email continues. “The President needs you to take the Media Accountability Survey to do your part in fighting back against the fake news’ attacks and bias against hardworking Americans.”

The email asks for responses to the survey by 11:59 p.m.

One of the questions is: “Do you trust the mainstream media to put the interests of Americans first?” with the options Yes, No, No Opinion and Other.

While such emails are generally scheduled ahead of time, the campaign would have had the option of canceling in light of Wednesday morning’s events.

I ask you- who is the enemy of the people?

Is there no decency in Trump world?

The press attacks have been drawn into sharp focus when, a Washington Post U. S. resident who was a Saudi citizen, was brutally murdered in istanbul allegedly and most likely by the Saudis at the top. Is it any coincidence that Trump is a good friend to these folks or that his son-in-law has fostered the relationship?

It’s very hard to avoid the obvious here. When the bully-in-chief spouts and encourages violence at his “rallies”, what should we expect? And worse yet, just tonight at a rally in Milwaukee the crowd was getting warmed up by yelling “Lock Her Up” in reference to one of the recipients of the pipe bombs. 

The election is over. President Obama is not the President anymore. Trump is not running against Hillary Clinton any more. CNN is a respected world-wide media company but Trump hates them because they tell the truth about him.

These are scary times. Americans are armed to the hilt and ready to go in case of insurrections. But who will start this? Not the women with pussy hats.

There is a rise in right wing violence in our country. Consider what happened in Charlottesville last year. Isn’t it more than a coincidence that the President actually called himself a Nationalist a few days ago? :

The response to this development from Trump and his apparatchiks has been to spread fantasies about mass immigration of violent, criminal brown people; to demonize Muslims; to cook up nightmares about an exploding crime rate that’s concentrated in cities with large black populations. All these dark forces are contrasted with Real America, the Silent Majority who want to Make It Great Again. During the election, Trump shared disgusting propaganda that radically inflated the prevalence of black-on-white crime. This week, Trump has even combined some of these greatest hits, unleashing the insane lie that there are “unknown Middle Easterners” embedded in a caravan of Central American immigrants and refugees headed for the U.S. southern border.

This rhetoric, we are continually reminded, is effective

These are dangerous times. I now am convinced that Trump could walk out onto 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and his supporters wouldn’t care. 

Please remember that the NRA spent more money to get Trump elected than in previous Presidential elections- $30 million. They understood that this guy would support their dangerous agenda.

Do remember that the NRA’s spokesperson Wayne LaPierre has said that “the guys with the guns make the rules” and on NRA TV, Dana Loesch has issued statements of hate and violence against liberals and the media. This is not your grandfather’s NRA. This is an extremist group.

Do you remember when Alex Jones ( friend of President Trump) made up conspiracy theories claiming that Sandy Hook and all mass shootings didn’t happen but the victims were actors? I do. The families do.

This is more than despicable. It is so disgusting there are hardly words and it adds to the hate and dangerous rhetoric exhibited by some who have loud voices in the media who should be hiding in a basement somewhere. But they have been given voice by the current party in charge because it keeps the base all revved up and ready to vote.

It is just a matter of time before someone is killed because of a political atmosphere filled with hate, paranoia, fear and made-up stories about mobs and caravans ( paid for by Democrats) and people who opposed Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court.. 

The country is full of anxiety created by a chaotic President whose M.O. is yelling, blaming, crowing about himself, lying and cheating. Let’s hope the perpetrator of the terror threats is found soon and held responsible. Then we will know what this is all about. With 2 weeks to the election, it is vitally important that this person is caught.

We are better than this.

3 school shootings in 2 days? Speak out.

Speak Out Indicates Be Heard And AnnouncementYes, it’s true. There have been 3 school shootings in the last 2 days that have gone largely ignored. Why? Good question. What’s the answer? Preventing them in the first place. Most school shooters, if children or teens, get their guns from home. Others are due to adults who have an issue with anger, vengeance or whatever else can be explained as to reasons why people take their guns out in public and decide to shoot innocent people.

Of course this wouldn’t be happening if there were fewer guns around in our country and less access to the ones we have. But this is America where guns flow freely and children and adults die or are wounded in large numbers every day.

This is not normal or inevitable. It is, however, preventable.

It’s actually past time to speak out about gun violence and how to prevent it but it’s never too late to save lives. Gun violence is a public health epidemic that is ignored. People are dying and shootings continue apace.

Today in Kentucky, a shooter shot kids at a school. This CNN article tells us the facts so far as they are known:

Seven people were taken to hospitals, some by helicopter, said Darlene Lynn of Marshall County Emergency Management.
The shooter is in custody, she said.

More information about the Kentucky school shooting has been released. Now 2 are dead and 17 are injured. This is now an official mass shooting- way too common in America. This was preventable as they all are.

Sigh.

Yesterday a 16 year old boy wielding a gun he should not have had in the first place, opened fire and one girl was taken to the hospital after being shot in a Texas school:

The suspect was a student who left the Italy High building immediately after firing several shots with a .380-caliber handgun in the cafeteria, officials say. Usually 45 to 55 students are in the cafeteria at that time. (…)

“This could have been avoidable,” she said. “There were so many signs.”

Shook said she first went to school officials after the boy allegedly made a “hit list” in eighth grade and her name was on it. Then last year, the boy got angry during a class and threw a pair of scissors at her friend and later threw a computer against a wall, she said.

“I ran out of the classroom screaming, telling everyone to hide because I was scared,” Shook said.

Where is common sense?  Given that there were warning signs that the shooter had anger issues, why in the world did he have a gun? Every gun in the hands of a child must first pass through the hands of an adult. Guns need to be safely stored and locked, unloaded, if they are in the home with children and teens. More information will come out about how this boy got a gun. The most important thing is that adults are responsible for kids getting guns. And if there are warning signs, clearly kids like this should not have access to a gun.

Kids know something as one girl reported. She knew this boy was potentially dangerous to himself or others. See something, say something. These kinds of shooting are avoidable as was quoted in the article.

The Brady Campaign has a program called Speak-Up that is a toll free number for kids to call if they suspect that a school shooting could happen.

Sigh.

And the 3rd school shooting? Oh- just a drive by in New Orleans outside of a school causing a slight injury:

Police said someone in a dark pickup truck drove by The NET Charter High School, in the 6600 block of Franklin Avenue, and fired while a group of students were in front of the school, in the parking lot. The shooting took place about 1:30 p.m., principal Elizabeth Ostberg said.

One boy was injured: While police initially said the 14-year-old had a graze wound from a bullet, NOPD later said that the boy’s injury to his elbow was not consistent with a gunshot graze and was actually an abrasion.

From the story, it sounds like other students had some connection to guns as well. We are talking about young teens. Clearly they should not guns. It’s lunacy really.

Gun Violence Archive tells us that so far this year, 191 children and teens 17 or under have been killed or injured by bullets. It’s only January 23rd.

Since I included a link provided by CNN, I want to talk about another gun story that has flown under the radar in the news affecting the news agency. An angry man threatened to shoot CNN employees in Michigan, being angry about the accusations of #fakenews against the media group coming from none other than our President:

Griesemer allegedly called CNN 22 times on Jan. 9 and 10, railing against African-Americans, Jews and CNN from the same phone number that was used in September to communicate threats against an Islamic center in Ann Arbor, according to an FBI affidavit.

The affidavit said that Griesemer, whose age was not listed, admitted to local police that he made the call to the mosque and that he was “angry at the time of the call.”

Four of the 22 calls to CNN included explicit threats, according to the FBI. In one of the calls, the caller said: “Fake news. I’m coming to gun you all down.” In another call, he said, “I’m coming for you, CNN. I’m smarter than you. More powerful than you. I have more guns than you. More manpower. Your cast is about to get gunned down in a matter of hours.”

This one could have resulted in death and injury to innocent people. Words mean something. Attacks against the media made by a President who has a vendetta against what he has decided is #fakenews is very dangerous. When this kind of rhetoric comes right from the top, it is not surprising that an unhinged person with guns will decided to take action.

This is lunacy. Words matter. Having access to guns matter when one is too angry to think through consequences.

This is why we should be passing Extreme Risk Protection Order bills so that if a family member is concerned that someone with guns could be a danger to themselves or others, guns can be temporarily removed to avoid a tragedy to protect innocent people from harm.

We can do this America. Demand solutions and answers. We can save lives if we decide we are going to stand up and make our voices heard.

It’s exhausting

heavyloadI don't know about you but I have been left mentally exhausted by the political events of this past week. My mind has been scattered and I can't seem to concentrate on much aside from the Trump reality show playing out every day. It's like a soap opera. One must tune in to see the next episode and watch the drama unfold. We have a "drama queen" as  a President. He loves the spotlight and the attention and he demands loyalty and idiotic  support of an agenda that in the mind of many of us is becoming more and more frightening as he digs in and circles the fire. Just now, our very own President lied again about what happened when Obama was President- guns would be taken away. I think he meant Clinton but anyway- he lied and said your guns would be gone.

And two days ago, a new Communications Director at the White House (Anthony Scaramucci) who is actually not yet able to be paid for his new job because he has to sell off his multi-million dollar business, let loose with a tirade of ugliness and profanity that sent a chill into the political air. And, by the way, Scaramucci is actually firing people even though he is not officially on the job. You just can't make this stuff up.

It's exhausting to listen to all of those lies and offensive rhetoric.

So relief is the feeling of today. Also some celebrating that when people organize and get involved and demand change or resist terrible votes on terrible bills, democracy wins.

It's a heavy lift to make sure Americans have access and get affordable health care. It's an exhausting process. But it needs to happen.

It's a heavy lift to get measures to prevent and reduce gun violence in place as well.

As always, many Americans have died from gunshot injuries during this week of health care debate and other debacles- most of them avoidable. In fact at 90 a day, about 630 Americans have died from gunshot injuries since last Friday. That's exhausting.

What appears to be a domestic murder/suicide in Winona, Minnesota led to the death of two young people.  Guns are dangerous. When a gun is available things like this happen on a regular basis. There is no sense to it but it's the American gun culture gone wrong.

Also in Minnesota this week, another small child got access to a loaded gun and shot and injured another child. This is avoidable and senseless. A mother was arrested because every gun in the hands of a child must first pass through the hands of an adult. From the article:

A 21-year-old woman was arrested in St. Paul’s Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood Tuesday evening after a child apparently found a gun in her purse and shot a 4-year-old girl in the leg.

The girl was taken to Regions Hospital with a nonlife threatening gunshot wound to her left leg, said Sgt. Mike Ernster, a police spokesman.

No guns in purses. Period. This is not the first time as we remember the awful incident where a young Idaho child found his mother's gun in her purse and shot and killed her. 

It's exhausting.

Speaking of access to guns by young children and the health care system, here is a new campaign from States United to prevent gun violence in partnership with the Brady Campaign's ASK campaign. Check it out.

Yes, there is a lot of blood. Bullets kill. They do a lot of damage once entering a human body. That is why they are so much more deadly than other weapons. What happens when a bullet goes through the skin and muscle is usually only seen by health care providers, law enforcement, and coroners. It's not pretty. Perhaps if more people became aware of the actual damage to human organs from the bullets they shoot out of their guns intentionally or unintentionally, they would stop thinking  of guns as just tools. They are tools of destruction and death. There really is no way around that.

So a Kentucky  photographer decided to record the damage done by bullets to make it graphic and use it as art. For art imitates life and in the case of shootings, it's powerful stuff. The photographer got more interested in the actual victims of shootings as he proceeded with his project and started memorializing victims in an interesting way through graphs. From The Trace article:

“Murder statistics can become abstract,” he said. “This is a way to remember the victims. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, gun violence was massive, but then it returned to ‘normal’ levels, and it seems like we don’t think about it anymore.” With HAIL, he hopes to make the consequences of gun fire are harder to forget.

It is impossible to forget the consequences if you have lost a loved one to gun violence. Survivors of gun injuries never forget the impact of a bullet and the damage done leaving many of them forever disabled. Rep. Gabby Giffords is just one high profile walking example of the destruction of bullets. James Brady, now dead from the decades long effects of his gunshot injuries after being shot by a man who tried to assassinate President Reagan is another. They are the walking wounded, or in many cases, they can't walk any more.

Bullets do a lot of damage. The results of shootings cause grief, pain, devastation and costs to Americans. Victims and survivors undergo medical services for their injuries and recovery and often forever. Mental health services help family members with how to live on after a heinous shooting. Court costs are also costs to tax payers.

Health care, gun violence, economic, political, elections, non-profits, and many other issues and problems come together and are in need of solutions. Unlike the health care bill debacle brought to us by a President, Senators and Representatives who had only their own win and ideology behind their bills, there are common sense solutions. But like the health care debacle, it has become so political and divisive that solutions seem to be far off.

It doesn't have to be this way. If we are all about doing what's best for all of us to keep us healthy, safe, having enough money to feed and clothe our families, educating our children and young adults, providing jobs with living wages, taking care of our environment to preserve it for our children and grandchildren, then we will do the right thing.

Everyone wants to be safe from gun violence. We are not all safe. Everyone needs and wants good affordable health care. The ACA was a start but needs fixing, not repealing and replacing. Everyone wants a good job that has benefits and can provide for their families. Everyone wants their kids to be well educated. Everyone wants to retire gracefully and with dignity.

This is a time to reflect on where we have gone awry on so many issues and concerns. We are lurching towards a country that is not a democracy. We are living with a man at the helm who cares more about his own ego and image than he does about the people he represents. The ugliness, the language, the accusations, the verbal attacks, the tone deafness when speaking to a group of young boys, the angry tweeting, the attacks against the GLBTQ community, the attacks on minorities and immigrants, the taking apart of regular order, the destruction of the office of the Presidency, the violent and threatening rhetoric, the ignorance, the lying, the lack of attention to our national security, the lack of resolve to stop a foreign country from interfering with our elections, the blaming of others for one's own faults and shortcomings, the lack of accountability and more are becoming more frightening.

We need to take our country back. We need to stop the violence. We need to stop the threats and the vulgar public language. We need to feel safe in our own communities. We need to hold our leaders accountable for their mistakes and their ignorance.

It's exhausting to wake up to chaos every day. If that is the plan, it's working. If not, it's unacceptable and should stop before we go off the cliff.

It doesn't have to be this way. We don't need to be exhausted every day.

We can do something positive. For example, in Minnesota law enforcement is working with gun sellers and gun owners to make sure guns are safely stored against stealing. This seminar reinforced Minnesota's stringent storage laws for licensed dealers. There should be the same for home gun owners but so far, there is not. There could be.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek opened the seminar with remarks that charted a link between a recent uptick in violent crime and firearms hitting the streets from thefts or straw purchases, in which a stand-in buys a firearm for someone who’s been banned from making such a purchase.

“I’m asking you, I’m pleading with you,” Stanek told the firearms dealers, “when you go home at night, lock up those firearms.”

Usset expressed skepticism that large sellers would have the time every evening to lock away each of their long guns.

But he said he’s been securing his handguns before going home each evening since burglary 22 years ago.

“Because when they break in that’s what they’re after,” he said.

If it means saving lives, is it too much to ask to lock up ALL guns? Seems like a good idea to me.

Gun violence is also exhausting to the families, the victims and the survivors. Working to end gun violence is also exhausting. But there are courageous people who continue the fight no matter what because they don't want a lost life to lead to despair. Instead, they are working towards hope and a solution to our nation's public health epidemic.

Watch this story told by one of the survivors of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. 

Angel's need for health care is great after he was shot and injured. Without health care, how do the victims get the care they need? Why would we deny them coverage? They are victims of senseless shootings and a gun culture gone wrong. America has more mass shootings and everyday shootings than any other democratized country not at war. We also have among the worst guaranteed affordable health care of almost all of those democratized countries.

Health care is a right. Being safe from gun violence is a right.

It's exhausting but, nevertheless, we will persist.