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Trump Failed First Test as World Leader

By Shirley L. Smith

For weeks, ardent supporters of President Donald Trump have been telling people who were alarmed by Trump’s fiery rhetoric on the campaign trail to “give him a chance,” but on his first full day as leader of the free world, Trump used his platform to disparage the media and quibble over the size of his inauguration crowd, rather than quell the concerns of demonstrators who came out in solidarity around the country and worldwide to protest his presidency and policies.

Trump failed to even acknowledge the swarms of women who led a peaceful protest on Saturday outside of the White House and across the nation to support women’s rights and human rights, and espouse America’s core values which they feel are in danger under a Trump presidency.  According to historians, the protest – which included men, children, civil rights icons and movie stars of all races – was unprecedented in its scope.  It is estimated that over a million people participated in the march.

“I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth,” Trump told CIA officials Saturday.  Even though Trump openly criticized the CIA on Twitter and on camera, he reassured them that he loved them.  This would have been a great moment had Trump not falsely blamed the media for inaccurately reporting statements that he made vilifying the CIA, and had he spent less time talking about himself and whining about the size of his inauguration turnout, which he insisted was underreported by the media despite clear photographs showing large gaps in the crowd.

Trump’s constant attacks on the media are disconcerting, because our democracy depends on a free press that reports on the actions of our government and holds public officials accountable so the public can make informed decisions.  This is what separates America from countries that are controlled by dictators whose citizens have no say in their government, and are penalized and even killed for speaking out against the government.

While reporters are fallible, the majority of reporters are people of integrity who work long hours to make sure their facts are accurate.  Oftentimes they work under stressful conditions for insufficient wages.  They do so, because they want to make a difference in society, and give a voice to people who are disenfranchised or marginalized.  This is why I became a journalist.

Sadly, Trump’s proclivity to alter the truth, belittle people who do not agree with him and talk about complex issues in simplistic terms, has been effective, especially for people whose main source of news is social media.  They may not watch an entire newscast or read an article from a credible news organization, but they listen to sound bites and read tweets of his outrageous statements and catchy phrases like, “Little Marco,” “Low Energy” Jeb and “Crooked Hillary.”

These repetitive slogans, which branded his opponents and casted them in a negative light, had a subliminal effect on some voters.  Trump is now working on branding  reporters as being part of the “dishonest media” and trying to force them into submission through ridicule. This is dangerous, because if Trump succeeds in further eroding the public’s confidence in the media, the fate of our democracy will be in jeopardy.

Like many Americans, I was hoping that after Trump became president, he would do some introspection and rise to the occasion by finally apologizing for his divisive rhetoric and giving a unifying speech at his inauguration, but he continues to inflame tensions, engage in petty banter, and dismiss the concerns and fears of Americans who did not vote for him, but who still count.

For example, when Trump talks about law and order, he praises the police for their service, which is appropriate, because many police officers are honorable men and women who risk their lives to keep us safe.  But, he fails to recognize the pain that people of color feel from watching numerous black men being unjustly gunned down in the streets by police officers who abuse their authority.

Trump does not seem to comprehend how his dismissive attitude and rhetoric have increased racial tensions or how the salacious remarks he made about grabbing women’s private parts, which were captured on an audio recording, deeply disturbed women.  Although these statements were made years ago and Trump apologized, he dismissed his statements as “locker room” talk, as if that made them acceptable.  This was a slap to every woman who has ever been sexually harassed or assaulted.

Many of us were told as children, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  However, this is a falsity.  Words do hurt, sometimes more than physical wounds, because wounds heal, but hurtful words can penetrate one’s soul and have a lasting impact.  Yet, Trump and his surrogates refuse to acknowledge how his sexist and offensive statements have sowed the seeds of discord in this country.

Trump’s behavior is a stark contrast to President Barack Obama, who often took the high road and managed to elevate the tenor of public discourse.

It is time for Trump, a self-proclaimed man of action, to LISTEN to the cries of his compatriots and bring people together.  This is what Americans expect of their president.  People need to know that their president cares about them, all of them.  Trump’s message obviously resonated with many Americans who also have valid concerns, but Trump’s “take no hostages” mentality that paved his road to the White House, left many scarred.

Though Trump won the election, he lost the respect of countless people. Hopefully, the massive protests will be a wakeup call.  In the words of former Vice President Joe Biden, “Grow up, Donald. Grow up.” Biden made this statement in a parting interview with PBS NewsHour. He added, “Time to be an adult. You’re president.  You’ve got to do something. Show us what you have.”

 

Hillary Clinton Makes History As First Presidential Nominee and She Earned It

By Shirley L. Smith

Hillary Clinton seems to have a new bounce in her step since becoming the first woman to be nominated as president of the United States.

 

Like many Americans, I waited with some trepidation for Hillary to give her acceptance speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. I was not sure she would be able to rise to the occasion after the rousing, impassioned speeches from President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and her husband former President Bill Clinton, but she pulled it off.  

 

Hillary took the baton that President Obama passed to her, and she enthusiastically ran with it like a true champion despite the scars of a long, rough journey.  She delivered a policy-rich speech that capped off a remarkable Democratic convention and made her, in my view, the winner of the first round of the presidential general election.

 

Despite a rocky start, the Democrats’ convention outmatched the Republicans in terms of substance, presentation, inclusiveness, political heavy weights, talent and intellectual discourse.  

 

The Democrats used the voices of real people to humanize important societal issues like mental illness, addiction, human trafficking, disability rights, the fears of American children whose parents immigrated to the U.S. illegally and other issues that are often marginalized in presidential elections.  It’s a technique long used by journalists to get people to care about an issue, because it is harder to dismiss a problem when you put a human face on it.

 

I mean who can forget the face of Anastasia Somoza, a disability rights advocate who was born with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia. Somoza said she first met Hillary when she was nine years old, and over the past 23 years Hillary has helped her gain access to higher education and the workforce. “She has invested in me. She believes in me. And in a country where 56 million Americans with disabilities so often feel invisible, Hillary Clinton sees me,” Somoza said.

 

It is also difficult to forget the anguished faces of the mothers and family members whose loved ones were killed by senseless acts of gun violence. Then there was the powerful image of the Muslim-American parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, a war hero who was killed in Iraq.  Khan’s father, Khizr, held up a copy of the U.S. Constitution while he reminded GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump that there are Americans of different ethnicities and faiths who have died for their country. “You have sacrificed nothing and no one,” he said to Trump with rage in his voice. “We cannot solve our problems by building walls and sowing division.”

 

These personal stories exuded themes of hope, love and forgiveness which is best exemplified by President Obama and Hillary, former rivals who came together for the good of the country.

 

In keeping with the theme of the convention, Hillary gave America a peek into the woman behind the astute politician that we all know, but many still view with skepticism.

 

The often-guarded Hillary told Americans about her beloved mother who worked as a house maid at the age of 14 after being abandoned by her parents.  Hillary said her mother was saved by the kindness of strangers and her first-grade teacher who shared her lunch with her when she noticed she had nothing to eat.  Years later, Hillary said, her mother taught her that, “No one gets through life alone. We have to look out for each other and lift each other up.”  This is the lesson that seems to have been the driving force behind Hillary’s life’s work.

 

Hillary also recounted a story about how her mother refused to let her hide from a neighborhood bully. Instead of coddling her, Hillary said her mother forced her to confront the bully, telling her, “There is no room for cowards in this house.”

 

Whether you are “with her” or not, there is no denying that Hillary Clinton is a fighter who has dedicated her life to public service, and the glimpses into her private life that we saw in Philadelphia reveal that she is not just motivated by personal ambition, but deep convictions which were shaped by the hardships of her mother. This is a stark contrast to Trump who admits that he has been motivated by greed all of his life.                                                                                                                                           I suspect that Hillary’s dogged determination to win and succeed, and never cower or show weakness like she did when she was confronted by that neighborhood bully, has contributed to the air of distrust and unlike-ability that haunts her, which has been compounded by years of attacks by the Republicans.  However, we are seeing a new Hillary in this election cycle, one that has learned that it’s okay to admit mistakes and to let her defenses down sometimes, and one that realizes, you don’t have to get in the mud to prevail. Like Michelle Obama said in her brilliant convention speech, when your opponents go low, you go high. 

Pope Francis, Ray of Hope, Challenges Church Rocked by Scandal and Others to do Better

By Shirley L. Smith

Pope Francis captivated millions of Americans during his historic trip to the United States, many of whom travelled long distances and waited for hours with babies in tow behind heavily guarded barricades just to get a glimpse of the pontiff.

Whether you are a Catholic or not, it was heartwarming to see so many people come together not for a rock concert or a football game, but to see and hear from a modern-day disciple of God.

For the cynics, the Pope’s trip to the United States was nothing more than part of a worldwide grandiose, concerted public relations campaign aimed at restoring the Catholic Church’s reputation and membership, both of which have suffered in recent years due to numerous cases of sexual abuse of children by priests and attempts by the church’s hierarchy to cover-up these atrocities.

While it is undeniable that Pope Francis is an excellent spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Church and that he has single-handedly managed to rekindle many parishioner’s faith in the church, one cannot also deny that the Pope’s message of mercy, grace, inclusiveness, tolerance and the preservation of the family transcends the Catholic Church.  His message is particularly poignant for Americans who live in a highly charged, often divisive political environment, and for a world plagued by senseless violence, poverty and desperate refugees trying to evade wars in their homeland.

Although I grew up in the Catholic Church, I severed ties with the church years ago, as I became increasingly disturbed by the ritualism and dogma of the church. However, I am a Christian with a deep and abiding faith, and despite my disagreement with many of the teachings of the Catholic Church, I am impressed with Pope Francis.

This is a man who has been given the huge responsibility to restore the dignity of an institution that has been ravaged by corruption and perversion. With this in mind and with the world watching, the soft-spoken but candid Pope Francis, who was initially criticized for not taking a firmer stance on the sexual abuse scandal, used his platform in Philadelphia to personally apologize to victims of sexual abuse and issue a stern warning to his flock that such ungodly conduct will no longer be shrouded in secrecy.

“I carry in my heart the stories, the suffering and the pain of the minors who were abused by priests.  I am overwhelmed by the shame that people who were in charge of caring for those young ones, raped them and caused them great damages. I regret this profoundly,” the Pope said, adding, “God weeps!”

The Pope also acknowledged the church’s cover-up of sex crimes. “The crimes and sins of sexual abuse to minors can’t be kept a secret anymore,” he said adamantly. “I commit to the zealous oversight of the church to protect minors, and I promise that everyone responsible will be held accountable.”

The Pope’s statement will undoubtedly have perpetrators of sexual abuse and their protectors, who may still be lurking behind the once shielded walls of the church, quivering in their robes.  Only time will tell whether Pope Francis is successful in getting the Catholic Church to finally put more emphasis on protecting the children in its congregation rather than protecting the reputation of its religious institution.

Too often well-meaning Christians get caught up in their religion and the dogma of their church, and lose sight of what is really important. Although they attend church regularly, they ignore the plight of those less fortunate than themselves; often too busy to even lend a hand to someone in need.

The Pope came to America, one of the most materialistic countries in the world, to challenge church leaders and churchgoers to step outside the walls of the church, forsake their selfish desires and reach out to the poor, sick, elderly, homeless, immigrants in search of a better life and other disenfranchised people. In so doing, he has brought back a sense of pride to Catholics who have been living under a cloud of shame, appealed to the conscience of politicians who are guided by their own self-interest and reminded those who profess to believe in God of the true essence of Christianity – love and compassion for their fellowmen.

It is unclear whether Pope Francis is inclined or even able to make substantial changes to the Catholic Church’s deep-rooted doctrine which, among other things, forbids contraception and the ordination of women.  Nonetheless, this Pope is a ray of hope, and he should be lauded for spreading a positive message of goodwill and love, and for leading by example.

I hope that those who are enamored with Pope Francis are mindful of the fact that he is just a messenger of the Gospel, a mere mortal who is fallible.  We should all take heed of the Pope’s message, but believers should put their faith in God and focus on developing a personal relationship with God, because only God can give us the redemption we seek. http://nyti.ms/1iVKEL9

Fear of Ebola Should Not Supersede Compassion

By Shirley L. Smith

When I was a graduate student at Columbia University in New York, I interviewed a woman who had full-blown AIDS at her home in Queens on a wintery day. She was one of the subjects of my thesis which focused on the impact of HIV and AIDS on families in New York City.  At that time, AIDS was decimating families in the city by killing off both parents and leaving behind thousands of orphaned children, many of whom were forced into an overwhelmed foster-care system or left with grandparents who were oftentimes ill-equipped to care for them.

I was stunned when the pale, frail-looking woman answered the door. She had a big blister on her nose and looked like she was on the brink of death. Here I was trying to educate people about HIV/AIDS and dispel the stigma of the disease, yet when I came face to face with a person infected with the deadly virus, I was scared.  I kept my gloves on throughout the interview, and I sat uncomfortably at the edge of a sofa.  I was so distracted by her ghastly appearance, her incessant coughing and the pile of discarded tissue on the coffee table that she used to wipe her runny nose that I could barely focus.

It was a disturbing encounter that left me feeling guilty for how I reacted to this broken woman who had been ostracized by many people. When I got back home, I called my boyfriend who immediately panicked and asked me if I had taken a shower, as if a shower could have protected me from contracting the virus.

Fear is a powerful, crippling emotion that can evoke irrational reactions. No matter how intelligent or evolved we think we are, we have all succumbed to this powerful emotion at one time or another and have made decisions clouded by fear rather than reason. A case in point is the rash decision by the governors of New York and New Jersey on Oct. 24 to impose a mandatory 21-day quarantine on all health care workers returning from West Africa who had contact with Ebola patients but did not have symptoms.  This blanket, haphazard policy – which has been adopted by several states – has prompted criticism from the White House and public outcry from Kaci Hickox, a nurse who was detained in New Jersey after returning from Sierra Leone where she worked with Doctors Without Borders to treat Ebola patients.

The 33-year-old nurse described her treatment as inhumane and recounted her ordeal in The Dallas Morning News. After an exhausting two-day journey from Sierra Leone, Hickox said she arrived at New Jersey’s airport on Oct. 24 and was escorted to a room where she was questioned by people in protective garb and left for three hours without any explanation and without food or water. Six hours later, she said she was transported to University Hospital in Newark and placed in a makeshift tent with a portable toilet but no shower or television.

Even though Hickox insisted she was not sick, and she tested negative for Ebola, she was isolated in the tent for three days before being released after threatening to sue. She was then forced to endure a 10-hour drive from Newark to her home in Fort Kent, Maine where she self-quarantined under duress until Oct. 30 when she defiantly went for a bike ride under the watchful eye of a state trooper. After a turbulent week, a judge in Maine ended the feud, ruling that quarantining Hickox was unnecessary, because she is currently not infectious. Medical experts say Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person who is sick. Once infected, most people develop symptoms within 21 days. The judge ordered Hickox to continue daily monitoring until she passes the 21-day incubation period.

This fiasco occurred under the leadership of unapologetic Republican governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Paul R. LePage of Maine, which is ironic because Republicans have been sounding the alarm for years about big government taking away Americans’ civil liberties.

While people are justifiably concerned about Ebola, fear of the virus in the United States is spreading faster than the virus itself, and this fear has been fueled by inflammatory rhetoric from several shameless, right-wing politicians. Meanwhile, there is a real Ebola epidemic raging in West Africa which many Americans turned a blind eye to until the insidious virus landed on U.S. soil.

According to the World Health Organization, as of Nov. 2, there have been 13,042 reported cases of Ebola, and of that number, 4,818 people have died. The majority of those infected, 13,015, are in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. That number is expected to increase exponentially if the global community does not ramp up efforts to eradicate the disease. In contrast, four people have been diagnosed with Ebola in the United States with one fatality.

By nature, human beings are more interested in things that directly affect them. However, history has taught us that indifference towards the suffering of others often leads to dire consequences. Compassion is the essence of our humanity.  It is what separates us from ominous individuals who thrive on the destruction of their fellowman for no other reason than pure avarice and an insatiable appetite for power.  It is having a genuine heart for people who are downtrodden, suffering or are in perilous situations, irrespective of their race, ethnicity or economic status; not turning your back on them when you are in a position to help.

Doctors and nurses like Hickox who courageously go into the battlefield and risk their lives to care for Ebola patients exemplify the true meaning of compassion. They should be treated like war heroes, not interrogated for hours without food and water, isolated in a tent and deprived of a shower like a common criminal.  Surely, as the most powerful, medically advanced nation in the world, we can do better.

Policymakers need to put partisan politics aside to quell fears, rise above their narcissistic tendencies and develop a well-thought out, humane policy to attack Ebola in the U.S. and at its root in Africa. That’s the only way to stop the virus from spreading. Like it or not, the fate of West Africans are intertwined with our own fate. Isolating them by closing our boarders as some have suggested will lead to chaos, because when you push desperate people into a corner, they usually come out fighting.

Verdict is in, but Still No Justice for Jordan

By Shirley L. Smith

The verdict in the Michael Dunn trial elicited mixed emotions and raised an interesting albeit not uncommon question: What is justice? And, for many in the African-American community especially, it reopened old wounds, and rekindled concerns about racial profiling and stereotypes. This case also renewed concerns about the ubiquitous presence of firearms in America and unjust laws that encourage deadly force based on irrational, stereotypical notions.

Dunn, 47, killed Jordan Davis, an unarmed, 17-year-old kid on Nov. 23, 2012 during a dispute outside of a convenience store over the loud rap music that was emanating from the SUV that Jordan and his three friends were in. Yesterday, Dunn was convicted of three counts of second-degree attempted murder for getting out of his car and firing 10 shots into the SUV. In essence, he was punished for trying to kill Jordan’s friends, but not for actually killing Jordan. The jury could not agree on the murder charge, as Dunn claimed that he unleashed a barrage of gun shots at the teens, because he felt threatened.

By all accounts, Dunn will spend at least 60 years in jail for these crimes, so some may say justice has been served; at least he did not get away scot-free like George Zimmerman who was acquitted after killing Trayvon Martin, another unarmed 17-year-old boy. In that case, Zimmerman claimed he pursued Martin, who was walking home from a neighborhood store, because he looked suspicious. This led to a scuffle which ended in Martin’s death.

The parallels in the two cases are inescapable. Dunn and Zimmerman are white and their victims were unarmed, teenage black boys who they claimed they killed in self-defense. The crimes took place in Florida which has a controversial self-defense statute known as Stand Your Ground. This law is more befitting for a Wild West movie starring a gun slinging Clint Eastwood than a civilized society in the 21st century, because it basically gives people who believe that their life is in danger a license to kill with impunity.

Although there was no evidence to prove that the teenagers were the aggressor in the attacks that led to their senseless deaths, their perpetrators insisted that they feared for their lives. And, of course, the teenagers did not live to refute these claims.

I have personally witnessed teenagers and grown folks driving around blasting their music as if they are deaf with no regard for anyone around them, and I have heard teenagers and adults alike verbally strike out in anger against someone who dared to tell them to turn their music down, so I can visualize the scene between Dunn and the teenagers. What I cannot fathom, however, is why Dunn felt that his only recourse was to open fire on a group of unarmed teenagers. Dunn, like Zimmerman, had the option of not only walking away, but driving away if he felt threatened. Instead, both of these men chose to pursue these boys like crazed vigilantes, then they had the temerity to claim self-defense after they killed them. They were not trapped or restrained in anyway, and there was no evidence to support Dunn’s allegation that Jordan or any of his friends had a shotgun or that Jordan physically attempted to attack him. While Dunn could not have predicted what would have transpired when he went to the store that day, his conscious decision to open fire on a group of unarmed teenagers makes him guilty of cold-blooded murder. Therefore, the fact that Dunn was not convicted of murdering Jordan is a difficult pill to swallow, and no one should be satisfied with this verdict.

Jordan and his parents deserve justice too. As a civilized society, we need to send a clear message that the type of vigilante behavior displayed by Zimmerman and Dunn is NOT acceptable, and laws that promote such behavior are NOT acceptable. Moreover, black boys need to know that we live in a society that values their lives; that they can walk the street without fear; and that it is NOT okay to shoot and kill someone, because you perceive them as a threat simply because they fit into your stereotypical view of how a “thug” looks, sounds or dresses. I am scared of cats, but I am not going to try to kill a cat simply because he crosses my path. I will just try to avoid the cat.

Today would have been Jordan’s 19th birthday, but instead of celebrating his life, his parents are mourning his untimely death. Despite their grief, Jordan’s parents, like the parents of Trayvon, have demonstrated enormous grace, faith and restraint, and a determination to create better legislation to try to spare other families the pain that they have had to endure. Even though Dunn was not held accountable for their son’s murder, rather than lashing out in anger at the injustice of it all, after the verdict, Jordan’s visibly distraught mother, Lucia McBath, said, “We will continue to wait for justice for Jordan.” And, in a magnanimous act of compassion, she said, she will pray for the man who killed her son, because he has to live the rest of his life in torment. Jordan’s father, Ron, added, “We have love in our hearts, and we want you all to love and have love in your hearts.” They were keenly aware, as were the parents of Trayvon, that their words had the power to incite people, who were incensed by the verdict, to take volatile action so they chose to quell emotions by promoting peace not violence. The humanity of these parents in the face of such inhumane and unjust circumstances should give us hope that love can indeed conquer hate.

Violent Movies and Video Games are Evil, Not Guns – Really?

By Shirley L. Smith

After watching the horrific news reports of the massacre in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six educators were brutally gunned down in an elementary school, many Americans were hoping that the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.) would join lawmakers in a long overdue, thoughtful conversation about stricter gun-control laws, but that turned out to be a pipe dream.

Instead of rising to the occasion and suggesting reasonable proposals that would lead to meaningful legislation to curtail the proliferation of guns in the United States, the most heavily armed civilian population in the world, the N.R.A. stuck to its guns, literally.

According to the National Institute of Justice, “most murders in the United States are committed with firearms, especially handguns.”  Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 11,078 people were killed by guns in 2010, and 19,392 people committed suicide using a gun. Guns are also responsible for thousands of injuries each year.  Yet, N.R.A. officials continue to insist that more gun restrictions will do nothing to reduce gun violence even in the face of evidence that stricter gun-control laws have been effective in quelling gun-related deaths in Britain and Australia.

N.R.A.’s Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told the media Friday that more guns are the answer to gun violence not less.  While extolling the value of guns, LaPierre blamed the recent carnage in Newtown, Conn., and other mass murders on a corrupt entertainment industry that promotes violent movies, video games and music videos; the news media which rewards killers with attention; the lack of an active national database of the mentally ill; and the failure of law enforcement to prosecute dangerous criminals and enforce laws.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre said.  Is this really the message we want to send the survivors of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and other impressionable children?

This kind of talk is befitting for an action movie or the Wild West era, but not for a modern, civilized society of law and order.  LaPierre’s comments are not only absurd, but irresponsible, because such rhetoric promotes a vigilante mentality, which will lead to more gun violence.

LaPierre said that the best way to protect children from gun violence is to put an armed police officer in every school in America.  I am all for reinforcing security at schools, but children are not just in jeopardy from gun violence in schools, and history has shown us that having armed guards at schools does not guarantee safety.  There were reportedly two armed officers at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, but that did not stop two students from killing 12 of their classmates and one teacher.  There were also armed police officers at the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 where a lone gunman killed 32 people.

The murderers in Connecticut, Colorado and Virginia had three things in common: they were all mentally disturbed young men; they used guns which they easily obtained to commit mass murders; and they all committed suicide.

Every day people are being shot in the streets of America, and many people are living in fear that they or their children could be gunned down in a movie theater, mall, church or even in their own backyard. Unfortunately, it took the haunting image of 20 helpless six-and-seven-year-old children being shot multiple times to shock the conscience of lawmakers to finally get serious about gun control.  I wonder what it will take for the N.R.A. to realize that guns are a problem.

LaPierre either has no concept of the magnitude of gun violence in America, or worse, he just does not care, because he undoubtedly lives in a safe neighborhood and protecting the N.R.A.’s right to bear any kind of arms is far more important than protecting innocent children and Americans from unscrupulous individuals who use guns to commit senseless acts of violence.

As President Barack Obama said at a memorial service in Newtown following the tragedy, “No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction.  Surely, we can do better than this.”

We may not be able to eliminate gun violence, but we certainly can make it harder for the “bad guys” to get guns so they can’t use them to mimic the violent images they see on-screen. We can start by banning military-style assault weapons that are designed to annihilate large numbers of people in a matter of minutes.  But, that alone will not curb gun violence; as I noted, most homicides are committed with handguns, which thanks to the Second Amendment will likely never be banned in the United States.

In addition to tougher gun laws, lawmakers also need to examine the impetus behind gun violence and develop strategies to address these issues. Right now everyone is fixated on the mentally ill. While I agree that there needs to be better access to mental health services for people struggling with mental illness, lawmakers also need to crackdown on gangs and illegal drug activity, two of the known culprits of gun violence.

A CDC study of gang violence in several large cities between 2003 and 2008 revealed that 92 to 96 percent of gang homicides involved firearms.

Individuals interested in buying a gun should have to undergo a background check and a mental health evaluation, provide proof that they have a safe for gun storage and submit references who can attest to their character.  Lawmakers should also ban the sale of guns and ammunition on the Internet, limit the number of guns a person can own, impose stiff penalties against those who fail to safeguard weapons and provide federal funds for gun buyback programs.

Poor Delusional Romney, He Still Doesn’t Get It

By Shirley L. Smith

Finally, the lingering question surrounding the 2012 presidential campaign about who the real Mitt Romney is has been definitively answered – for those of you who still had doubts – by another revealing recording which caught Romney giving unflattering, uncensored remarks to his top campaign fund-raisers and donors about women, young people and minorities.  This guy is really a slow learner.

When President Barack Obama won re-election on Nov. 6, Romney gave a gracious concession speech after the shock of losing wore off, and it seemed that Romney had taken the high road and accepted his defeat like a man.  But no, instead of going out with his dignity intact and doing some introspection like some of his Republican colleagues,  Romney has shown that he is a sore loser with deep-seated archaic and prejudicial views toward women and people of color.  This is really not surprising, considering that Romney embraced people throughout his campaign whose hateful rhetoric had undertones of racism and sexism.

Eight days after the election, the New York Times reported that Romney was caught on tape again showing disdain for Americans who support Obama and blaming his loss on what he called “extraordinary financial gifts from the government” that Obama gave to African-Americans, Hispanics, women and young people to win their votes.  What are these gifts you may ask? “Forgiveness of college loan interest,” “free contraceptives,” “amnesty for children of illegals,” and “free health care” –  all of which Romney evidently believes are not worthy policies.

Although Romney won 59 percent of the white vote, CNN polls show that Obama won 93 percent of the black vote, 71 percent of the Latino vote, 60 percent of the 18 to 29-year-old vote and 55 percent of the women vote.

According to the New York Times, Romney told his supporters on a conference call which was audiotaped, that, “Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008.”

Romney reportedly went on to say, “You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity — I mean, this is huge.” Romney added, “Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus.”

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show there is a disproportionately high rate of uninsured Hispanic Americans, but the majority of the uninsured are white Americans, who comprise 48 percent of the uninsured population. What Romney fails to comprehend is that many blacks and Hispanics are uninsured, because they either cannot afford health insurance or their employers do not offer health insurance.

Romney’s latest comments reveal that he was not just pandering to the right-wing sector of the Republican Party during the primary election by expressing severely conservative views to win the party’s nomination as some speculated, and he was not misunderstood as he professed when he callously dismissed 47 percent of American voters as freeloaders “who believe that they are victims.”

These recent comments show that Romney really does believe that 47 percent of Americans who were not fortunate enough to be born with a silver spoon in their mouth are leeches who believe that they are entitled to health care, food and housing from the government.

Romney just does not understand that there are many hard-working Americans who cannot afford to send their children to college on their own and that a lot of decent people end up on government assistance as a last resort, because they have been wiped out financially due to an unexpected crisis like the loss of a job or a serious illness; hence, the need for universal health care insurance.

I am sure that the people who lost their homes due to Hurricane Sandy are happy to have a government they can turn to for free health care, food and housing during their time of need.

One would think that a man who once served as a missionary and as a bishop in the Mormon church would have more compassion for the needy, but sadly Romney has proven that he is a deceptive, clueless rich guy who is indifferent to the needs of the poor, women, low and middle-income Americans, and minorities.

Even some of Romney’s ardent surrogates have disavowed his comments for they realize that continuing to espouse such offensive statements about minorities and women, will only continue to alienate women and the rapidly increasing minority population whose votes they will need in the future.

Rather than accept responsibility for his loss, try to learn from his campaign and use whatever political leverage he has left to help create a more inclusive, open-minded Republican Party, Romney is playing the blame game.  Romney is obviously still shell-shocked by the shellacking he took on election day, and he cannot accept that this black guy beat him not because of his race or any attempts to buy off people of color, but because of the content of his character.  The great civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be so proud to see his dream for America realized.

Romney needs to wake up and face the facts.  Obama ran a better campaign, and he has better policies that are rooted in the communal principle of governing; policies that are designed to provide equal opportunities to all Americans and improve the quality of their lives and communities.

As Kenny Rogers said in his song The Gambler, you gotta “know when to fold ’em” and “know when to walk away.” Walk away Mitt.

Obama Wins a Second Term; Truth is Better than Fiction

By Shirley L. Smith

Once upon a time, there was a boy name Barack Hussein Obama, who was fondly known as Barry.  Barack, the son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Africa, was raised by his mother and white grandparents in a faraway land after his parents separated when he was an infant.  He spent most of his formative years living with his grandparents in a small, two-bedroom apartment in Hawaii.

By all accounts, Barack was a somewhat misguided youth torn between two worlds, who wrestled with his identity and longed for his absent father.  But Barack had big dreams, and he soon learned that to achieve these dreams he would have to put aside foolish things and become a more serious, pensive and studious person.

Like Dorothy in the mythical story of the Wizard of Oz who found herself in a strange land and fought desperately to get back home to Kansas, Barack embarked on a journey that would take him into unfamiliar territory and he searched for a place where he would fit in, but Barack was not trying to go back to Kansas or Hawaii, his birthplace.  Barack was searching for a new home, a place where he could connect with his African-American roots and where he would be able to make a real difference.

Unlike Dorothy, Barack did not have a Scarecrow, a Tin Man and a Cowardly Lion as companions to guide him through his journey.  He did, however, have a highly-developed intellect, a big heart and tremendous courage, which helped him maneuver through the many twists and turns along the bumpy road.

Barack evolved into a serious student of history and human nature, graduated from one of the best schools in the kingdom and became a lawyer.  He finally settled in Chicago, where he met and married his princess, Michelle, and became a father to two beautiful children.  But this was not the end of Barack’s story.

Barack’s tenacity, fortitude and belief that he was destined for greater things led him to become a prolific author, professor, a state and U.S. senator, and ultimately the leader of the free world.  In 2008, against all the odds and in a country still grappling with deep-rooted racial tensions, Barack became the first African-American president of the United States and moved into his new home, one of the largest houses in the kingdom which was built by African-American slaves.

Tuesday night, after a heated contest, Barack made history again by being re-elected president, an affirmation that his vision for the country is shared by the majority of Americans.  Barack also showed the world once again that dreams can come true even in the most unlikely of circumstances and even for a little boy with mixed heritage from humble beginnings.  It is often said, it is not where you start that matters, but where you finish.

There were many who tried to derail Barack’s presidency and cast him as a wicked sorcerer who would doom the kingdom, but Barack stayed the course and kept a cool head.

Despite fierce opposition, Barack fought for the right of every American to have health insurance so people would not suffer or die needlessly from treatable conditions, he rescued America’s auto industry, stopped the deportation of children of undocumented immigrants, repealed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and protected a woman’s right to equal pay for equal work – initiatives that became key issues in this presidential campaign.

Barack also proved to be a formidable commander-in-chief by relentlessly pursuing and eliminating America’s most dreaded enemies, namely Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda operatives, and he provided steady, decisive leadership in times of crisis like his response to Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc on several states in the Northeast.

Barack’s remarkable victory is not only due to his many achievements during his first term, but to a well-organized campaign, his steadfast commitment to giving all Americans a fair chance to achieve the American dream and an inept opponent.

Mitt Romney put up a good fight, but had difficulty telling the truth, was inconsistent on his position on a myriad of critical issues, and he seemed to be having an identity crisis before our eyes, as he vacillated between being a self-described “severely conservative” Republican to a repackaged moderate conservative.  Oddly, Romney’s concession speech was arguably the best moment of his campaign.  It was dignified, gracious, and there was a sense of genuineness to his words that was sorely lacking throughout his campaign.

Of course Romney was no match for the Big Dog, Bill Clinton, who was unleashed in the final weeks of the race. Clinton’s rousing speeches and charisma helped push Barack over the finish line.  Boy, what a difference four years make.

Some thought that Barack’s decision to appoint Hillary Clinton as secretary of state after their contentious primary election in 2008 was a huge mistake.  However, this benevolent gesture proved to be a brilliant political move by the forward-thinking Barack.  Barack knew that bringing Hillary on board would heal the wounds of the campaign and unite the bitterly divided Democratic Party.  In return, Hillary, also an astute politician, would get to carve out a new legacy for herself.

Although it took awhile for Bill to come into the fold, he realized that the country’s future was more important than his wounded ego, and he seized the opportunity on the campaign trail to reinforce his own presidential legacy by reminding voters of the prosperity many Americans enjoyed under his administration, which is often overshadowed by his scandalous affair with a White House intern.  Bill also paved the way for a possible presidential bid by Hillary in 2016.

In the end, the partnership between the Obamas and the Clintons was an unbeatable force, and Bill turned out to be the Wizard that helped return Barack to the White House.  Ah, what a story.

Obama Proved Once Again that He is Not a “Wuss”

By Shirley L. Smith

Obama, a “wuss,” I think not.

The comeback kid President Barack Obama did it again. Obama came out strong in Monday night’s third presidential debate, flexing his foreign policy muscle and delivering a knock out punch to his Republican challenger Mitt Romney that put him one step closer to winning a second term as president of the United States, much to the chagrin of right-wingers like John Sununu who have been salivating over the thought of Obama’s demise.

Obama appeared calm, cool and collected at this final high-stakes match, while Romney who laid into Obama like an out-of-control bully in the second debate, appeared subdued and was actually sweating. So, who is the “wuss” now, John?

John Sununu, Romney’s national campaign co-chairman, has viciously attacked Obama’s character throughout the campaign, calling Obama a “wuss” and implying that he is un-American.  After Obama’s unremarkable performance at the first debate, Sununu even called the president “lazy,” “not bright” and “disengaged” – all this from a campaign that accuses Obama of engaging in personal attacks.

Romney’s advocates blame the Obama campaign for painting an unfair caricature of Romney as a ruthless, rich businessman who is more concerned about making a profit than the needs of low and middle-income Americans.  However, if people have a misperception of Romney, he has no one to blame but himself.

Romney has repeatedly made thoughtless remarks on the campaign trail, which indicate that he is not only out-of-touch with the plight of average Americans, but he lacks compassion for those less fortunate than him, most notably are the secretly videotaped comments he made at a private fundraiser when he said 47 percent of Americans are freeloaders who “see themselves as victims.”

Romney has also changed his positions on almost every key issue in this campaign from universal health care, immigration, taxes, abortion and gun control to Iran, Afghanistan and Syria — which beg the questions: What does Romney really believe in? and Who is the real Mitt Romney?

Unfortunately, the debates did little to answer these questions.  Romney a self-described “severely conservative” Republican, did a complete metamorphosis during the debates, portraying himself as a compassionate, moderate conservative.

Obama was obviously caught off-guard in the first debate by Romney’s sudden transformation, because he didn’t expect Romney to abandon and downplay positions that he had campaigned on for over a year.  However, Obama evened the score in the second debate, and on Monday, he came out swinging, refusing to let Romney pull the wool over Americans’ eyes.

Obama reminded voters of some of Romney’s extreme social positions which belie his new sales pitch as a champion of the middle-class, because these positions hurt women, low and middle-income Americans and senior citizens.  For example,   Romney pledges to overturn Obama’s Affordable Care Act which provides health insurance coverage to about 30 million uninsured Americans, prevents insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, helps senior citizens save money on medication, allows women to get free cancer screening, prevents insurance companies from cancelling coverage after a person gets sick and allows children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26.

Obama also reminded Americans of Romney’s desire to: turn Medicare into a voucher program; overturn Roe v. Wade which would inevitably lead to illegal, botched abortions; eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood which provides affordable preventative and primary health care services to low-income women; and deny some women access to contraceptives by opposing a federal mandate that requires employers, except religious institutions, to cover contraceptives in their insurance plans.  Romney also opposed Obama’s Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which expands the time women have to file lawsuits for pay discrimination.

In Monday’s debate, Obama successfully showed Americans that Romney’s foreign policy agenda is just as vague and “all over the map” as his domestic policy agenda, and he refused to let Romney define him as a weak leader.

Obama pointed out that he had kept his promises to eliminate Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks; end the war in Iraq; and refocus attention on the war in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda, the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.  Contrary to Romney’s assertions, Obama insisted that he had strengthened America’s relationship with Israel, cracked down on China for violating trade rules, doubled U.S. exports to China and imposed strict sanctions on Iran to prevent the development of a nuclear weapon, which have effectively crippled Iran’s economy.

Although Romney spent months criticizing Obama’s foreign policy initiatives and making what Obama termed “reckless” statements about important foreign policy issues, Romney toned down his rhetoric and agreed with virtually every initiative the president has taken to resolve conflicts abroad and strengthen America’s national security.

Two things have become increasingly clear in this presidential election – President Barack Obama, like him or not, is a man of convictions who is willing to stand by his convictions even if it cost him politically.  Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has proven time and time again that he is a man of contradictions who will say one thing behind closed doors to his supporters, but when challenged will sing whatever song he thinks his audience at the time wants to hear even if it means abandoning his own principles.

When Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he issued a ban on certain assault weapons, supported a woman’s right to choose and signed legislation providing health care coverage to all residents, noting that it would reduce emergency room costs and help people get better preventative care from a primary care physician.  However, Romney has done a complete about-face, not because he has evolved in his thinking, but for no other reason than his own selfish political gain.  This is not leadership.  As Obama said, being consistent is important especially when  it comes to foreign affairs, “you’ve got to be clear both to our allies and our enemies about where you stand and what you mean.”

Hidden Video Reveals Romney’s True Beliefs

By Shirley L. Smith

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.  GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney single-handedly drove his campaign off a cliff with his callous remarks at a fundraiser in which he insulted 47 percent of Americans, who he said supports President Barack Obama, by accusing them of being government freeloaders with victim mentalities who do not pay federal income taxes.

As if this wasn’t enough to make even a casual political observer cringe, Romney, who did not realize he was being videotaped, also revealed his naivety with regard to sensitive foreign affairs issues particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Romney called the pursuit for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians a hopeless endeavor.  “Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace”  and  “the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish,” he said.  This kind of pessimistic, careless talk from the potential leader of the free world is worrisome.  Only time will tell whether Romney will be able to recover from these self-inflicted wounds.

According to the Tax Policy Center, there were actually about 46 percent of Americans, 76 million people, who did not pay federal income taxes in 2011. The center’s data show that the majority of these people are not freeloaders who think the “government has a responsibility to care for them,” as Romney suggests, but low-income workers, working families with children, senior citizens who live on social security and who have already paid into the system, disabled people, middle-income people, military retirees and military personnel in combat zones, all of whom are exempt from paying federal taxes due to the tax code.  Some wealthy Americans also evaded paying federal income taxes due to tax loopholes, and unemployed people, many of whom would prefer to work, did not pay taxes.

By his own admission, Romney views these people, the rich excluded, as unscrupulous individuals who believe they are entitled to healthcare, food and housing from the government.   This sort of warp thinking can only come from someone who has lived a privileged life, a person who has never had to choose between paying the light bill or buying food or had to suffer with a treatable illness, because he could not afford to go to the doctor or buy the medication he needs.

Romney just does not get it.  It is not the fact that he is rich that turns people off, it is the fact that he is oblivious to the plight of average Americans, and he seemingly has no empathy for working-class Americans and those who are struggling.  Not everyone has parents that they can turn to for financial assistance or a nice inheritance to tap into or a cushy bank account and a stock portfolio.  So, when they lose a job or suffer from a serious illness, they find themselves in a precarious situation and oftentimes risk losing everything.

Romney appears to believe that if the government ignores these people, they will disappear and our economy will improve.  However, he fails to comprehend that their problems will eventually become everyone else’s problems and will not only lead to increased government spending, but a breakdown of the fabric of our society.

Without some sort of government assistance, many of these people may end up sleeping in the streets, flocking emergency rooms for basic health care, taking drugs as a coping mechanism or turning to a life of crime to survive.   This will increase America’s homeless problem and put an additional strain on the nation’s overburdened health care system, prison system and public safety agencies, and would have far reaching effects on our entire society including the destruction of families of which innocent children will be the biggest casualties.

Romney and the Republican Party continue to bash poor and middle-class Americans and talk about increasing their taxes while insisting that they need to cut taxes for the rich, who have already attained the American dream.  Yet, the Republicans have the temerity to accuse President Obama of running a campaign based on “class warfare.” Their rhetoric would be laughable, if it wasn’t so insidious.

Obama made it clear during the Democratic National Convention that he wants to give every American a fair shot at the American dream, but he said this can only be accomplished through equal opportunities and shared responsibilities, and that may mean giving the less fortunate a hand up, not a hand out. “We don’t want hand outs for people who refuse to help themselves,” Obama said.

“[Obama] believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you, you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed,” explained Michelle Obama in her eloquent convention speech.  She insisted that, “Barack knows what it means when a family struggles.”

Like it or not Mitt, we are our brother’s keeper.  As the insightful civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “All life is interrelated and all men are interdependent.” King recognized that “the agony of the poor diminishes the rich and that the salvation of the weak enriches the strong; and that we are inevitably our brother’s keeper.”

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