“Reason is for rich people. We have madness.” ~ Marlon James, from A Brief History of Seven Killings

Students gather at White House to demonstrate against gun violence on National School Walkout day
Two for Tuesday: Society’s Death Toll from gun violence

Tuesday afternoon, overcast, warmer temperatures, 53 degrees.

Today’s poems are not easy or beautiful, but they are powerful. Consider, Langston Hughes wrote his poem in 1938, and the truly depressing aspect is that it is still applicable today. The second poem is from three years ago, and either poem could have been written during any period in our history—when lynchings were common, or when gun violence became a way of life for our society.

Listen, one of my biggest political anxieties is that this country still does nothing to rid itself of mass shootings. Don’t scream at me about the 2nd Amendment, okay? I’m not suggesting that the government come and take away your guns. But I am advocating that we need much stricter gun laws. Even the fascist NRA is for more control. It’s just too damned easy for someone to get a gun, modify a gun, purchase hundreds and hundreds of rounds, and then go out and kill people.

Students at Roosevelt High School take part in a protest against gun violence Wednesday, March 14, 2018, in Seattle

We are the only country in the world that has repeated mass shootings and still does nothing to ensure that such violence against society does not happen again. Since 1966, this country has had 161 mass shootings (defined as four or more people killed by a lone/two shooters); this number does not include gun violence, robberies, etc.). The Washington Post has a really good article that breaks down each shooting into detail.

I am not naive enough to believe that any individual who wants a gun can find a way, but I still contend that we can make that process harder. In my ideal world, there would be no guns available anywhere, but that will never happen. So I would settle for making access harder, especially to people who have no business gaining access to killing materials.

By the way, don’t bother leaving comments about killing people with hammers or knives or baseball bats or any other easily accessible implement. I really don’t care to hear it. And I’m absolutely not going to apologize for wishing that we did not have a continuing legacy of innocent people being killed—by cops, or troops, or drones, or individuals with malice in their hearts.

Sorry, not sorry. Here are today’s poems:


Kids Who Die

This is for the kids who die,
Black and white,
For kids will die certainly.
The old and rich will live on awhile,
As always,
Eating blood and gold,
Letting kids die.

Kids will die in the swamps of Mississippi
Organizing sharecroppers
Kids will die in the streets of Chicago
Organizing workers
Kids will die in the orange groves of California
Telling others to get together
Whites and Filipinos,
Negroes and Mexicans,
All kinds of kids will die
Who don’t believe in lies, and bribes, and contentment
And a lousy peace.

Of course, the wise and the learned
Who pen editorials in the papers,
And the gentlemen with Dr. in front of their names
White and black,
Who make surveys and write books
Will live on weaving words to smother the kids who die,
And the sleazy courts,
And the bribe-reaching police,
And the blood-loving generals,
And the money-loving preachers
Will all raise their hands against the kids who die,
Beating them with laws and clubs and bayonets and bullets
To frighten the people—
For the kids who die are like iron in the blood of the people—
And the old and rich don’t want the people
To taste the iron of the kids who die,
Don’t want the people to get wise to their own power,
To believe an Angelo Herndon, or even get together

Listen, kids who die—
Maybe, now, there will be no monument for you
Except in our hearts
Maybe your bodies’ll be lost in a swamp
Or a prison grave, or the potter’s field,
Or the rivers where you’re drowned like Leibknecht
But the day will come—
You are sure yourselves that it is coming—
When the marching feet of the masses
Will raise for you a living monument of love,
And joy, and laughter,
And black hands and white hands clasped as one,
And a song that reaches the sky—
The song of the life triumphant
Through the kids who die.

~ Langston Hughes


How We Could Have Lived or Died This Way

Not songs of loyalty alone are these,
But songs of insurrection also,
For I am the sworn poet of every dauntless rebel the world over.
—Walt Whitman

I see the dark-skinned bodies falling in the street as their ancestors fell
before the whip and steel, the last blood pooling, the last breath spitting.
I see the immigrant street vendor flashing his wallet to the cops,
shot so many times there are bullet holes in the soles of his feet.
I see the deaf woodcarver and his pocketknife, crossing the street
in front of a cop who yells, then fires. I see the drug raid, the wrong
door kicked in, the minister’s heart seizing up. I see the man hawking
a fistful of cigarettes, the cop’s chokehold that makes his wheezing
lungs stop wheezing forever. I am in the crowd, at the window,
kneeling beside the body left on the asphalt for hours, covered in a sheet.

I see the suicides: the conga player handcuffed for drumming on the subway,
hanged in the jail cell with his hands cuffed behind him; the suspect leaking
blood from his chest in the backseat of the squad card; the 300-pound boy
said to stampede bare-handed into the bullets drilling his forehead.

I see the coroner nodding, the words he types in his report burrowing
into the skin like more bullets. I see the government investigations stacking,
words buzzing on the page, then suffocated as bees suffocate in a jar. I see
the next Black man, fleeing as the fugitive slave once fled the slave-catcher,
shot in the back for a broken tail-light. I see the cop handcuff the corpse.

I see the rebels marching, hands upraised before the riot squads,
faces in bandannas against the tear gas, and I walk beside them unseen.
I see the poets, who will write the songs of insurrection generations unborn
will read or hear a century from now, words that make them wonder
how we could have lived or died this way, how the descendants of slaves
still fled and the descendants of slave-catchers still shot them, how we awoke
every morning without the blood of the dead sweating from every pore.

~ Martín Espada

(This poem and other related poems on gun violence found here on Academy of American Poets)

Music by Kaleo, “Way Down We Go”

“Truth is not determined by majority vote.” ~ Doug Gwyn

black-hole-by-nasa-dana-berry-skyworks-digital

Black Hole (picture by NASA/Dana Berry/SkyWorks Digital): Where Political-Speak Goes to Die

“I think politicians are so far out of step with what people really want.” ~ Paul Weller

“I think people are tired of politicians trying to poke each other in the eye.” U.S. Senator Mark Warner (and former governor of Virginia)

I read the news today, oh boy . . .

Apparently, Virginia’s Republican representatives in our state legislature (with the exception of two House Republicans) are taking a page out of the Governator’s book and are refusing to accept $125 million slated for expansion of unemployment benefits. This money was to come to the Commonwealth from President Obama’s stimulus plan.

Yep, just as the extremely beneficent and perceptive (decoded as self-serviing and clueless) Governor Sarah Palin is rejecting much-needed stimulus money in Alaska, the Republicans here in Virginia are turning their noses up at $125 million worth of hope for out-of-work Virginians.

I read all about this political fiasco in an e-mail from Stand Up For Virginia, in which I could sign a petition and/or leave a comment. I receive a lot of political e-mails, and when I agree strongly with something, I will sign petitions. If I had the money, I would make small contributions. But this particular e-mail knocked me for a loop.

Here is a sample of the information contained on the site:

black-hole-blowing-gas
Black Hole Spewing Gas: Politicians Pontificating

Nearly 300,000 Virginians are unemployed—with unemployment rates in places like Martinsville as high as 20.2 percent.

Yet on Wednesday, April 8, Virginia’s Republican-dominated House of Delegates followed the lead of gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell and rejected $125 million in federal unemployment funds for Virginia.

As news media reported GOP gubernatorial nominee Bob McDonnell “favored rejecting the jobless money  and  McDonnell opposes unemployment stimulus,” all but two House Republicans voted to reject expanding unemployment benefits for struggling Virginians.

The $125 million is money from the federal government paid for by Virginians’ tax dollars. These funds, which are part of President Obama’s stimulus plan, would have gone to displaced workers in Virginia and helped to stimulate our economy.

Despite the highest unemployment rates our state has seen in decades, the Republican-dominated House chose to play political games instead of protecting our future.

“When are we going to tell the Congress of the United States that they don’t set the public policy of Virginia on a state administered and a state run program like unemployment insurance,” said Republican Delegate William Fralin in remarks from the floor of the General Assembly (Available on YouTube).

In these tough economic times, rejecting $125 million will hurt both businesses and families in Virginia. As the state unemployment trust fund approaches insolvency, these funds could have delayed rate hikes for businesses. At the same time, the funds would have helped Virginians who have been laid off get the job retraining they need. http://www.standupforva.com/

“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”  ~ John Kenneth Galbraith

I will have to admit, I was completely blown away by the position that the Republican representatives took. I would have thought that accepting $125 million in taxpayer money for a state that has an unemployment rate of 20 percent in some areas woud be so obvious that considering rejection would be moot. Obviously, I was thinking with a completely different mindset from Virginia Republicans.

My mindset is based on facts. For one thing, there is no cost to Virginia for two years. The total cost to employers for unemployment tax would be approximately $4 per person, an increase of $1. Nevertheless, look at the following statistics which detail Virginia’s long-standing trend to support businesses over citizens (all facts taken from Stand Up for Virginia website):

291,000 Estimated number of unemployed people in Virginia
6.6 Percent Statewide unemployment rate in Virginia
20.2 Percent — Unemployment rate in Martinsville, the highest rate in the state 
$125,000,000 Amount of federal funds for unemployment that Republicans rejected
49th Where Virginia ranks among the fifty states in unemployment taxes paid by businesses
$4.58 Cost per worker per year to expand the unemployment program
$.01 Approximate cost per worker per day to expand the unemployment program
8,000 Number of people seeking part-time work and unemployed people training for work who would have been covered under the expanded benefits proposed by Governor Kaine

“Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence.  Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear.”  ~ William E. Gladstone, 1866

I am perplexed as to why Republicans in the Legislature fail to see the necessity of accepting this stimulus money, especially in light of Virginia’s unemployment figures.  But then again, I should not be surprised by the way that politicians neglect the needs of their constituents—if only to prove a point. To them, it’s all a big game.

Sure it’s all fun and games until someone falls and puts an eye out . . .

I cannot help but wonder if Virginia’s Republicans are living in some kind of bubble, one that does not allow penetration of  the reality of our state’s rapidly increasing socio-economic problems.

“What this country needs are more unemployed politicians.” ~ Edward Langley

black-holes-merging
Two Black Holes Merging: Politicians Speaking at Each Other

In an editorial, The Washington Post called out “Virginia’s let-’em-eat-cake Republicans,” saying that the GOP “would rather give lip service than genuine financial relief to the states unemployed.”

But let’s let the words of these political jackasses speak for themselves:

“[The federal government is] going to dangle this money in front of us to tempt us to change some sound policies that have worked so well for this commonwealth for so many years.(Del. Kathy Byron, R-Campbell County; also posted on YouTube).

Okee dokey, then. Virginia ranks at almost the bottom of the list for the unemployment taxes paid by businesses. Sound practices for business but not necessarily the unemployed.

Here’s another one that I like, just for the sheer lack of logic behind it: 

“I have a lot of people who are unemployed, and I feel we have made an effort to address that.” (Del. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson County), who has an unemployment rate of more than 10 percent in his district).

I understand perfectly, now. You have made an effort to address it, and I’m certain that all of the individuals who are making an effort to survive truly appreciate it.

But the best one has to be this:

“We are being used. Actually our constituents . . . who are now unemployed are being used by this administration to hold a gun to the head of this General Assembly with the assistance of the governor to force through a bad bill.” (Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, R-Fairfax, also a candidate for Attorney General).

Excuse me, Senator, but did you just have the audacity to say we are being used? So we should refuse this money because you want to prove a point to the Obama administration even though the unemployed of whom you speak actually feel that you and your fellow Republicans are the users?

“In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican.”  ~ H.L. Mencken 

Of course, I had to respond; although I’m certain that my response was much longer than what they had hoped to receive. Here are some highlights from my dissertation: 

We are regular, hard-working, law-abiding citizens just like anyone else. We do not use or deal illegal drugs, use 10 credit cards, or live in an especially large house. In fact, our house is an old brick rancher, built in the 50’s. We do not go out, throw extravagant parties, buy clothes, jewelry or cars. Of our two vehicles, one is completely inoperable at the moment because the repairs will cost about $400.

I’m not sure what the Republicans in the Commonwealth’s Legislature are thinking by refusing this much-needed funding for unemployment. We have families who are living in cars, people at grocery stores who are counting every penny and putting things back, and everywhere you turn, people have that hollowed-eyed look of desperation because they have lost their jobs, their homes, or fear that they may lose everything tomorrow.

I campaigned for the Democrats in the 08 election. In the next state election, I will do everything in my power to make sure that we can replace as many Republicans in the legislature as possible, even if it means traveling to small counties and knocking on doors.

This kind of political posturing is inane. Exactly how is this decision by the Republicans benefitting Virginians? How are those in need who have turned to their government for help supposed to feel? That we do not matter enough? That our concerns are paltry in comparison to making a point to President Obama’s administration? That only those who are financially secure should be able to survive in this economy?

I’ll tell you what I believe this posturing truly reflects: a complete and total disconnect with what the American public wants and needs, and in particular, a total disregard for the welfare of the constituents of Virginia.

Telling the Congress of the United States that “they don’t set the public policy of Virginia” is so ludicrous as to be deemed on par with Governor Palin’s refusal to accept all of her state’s stimulus money. Sarah Palin cares about Sarah Palin, and obviously, Republican Delegate William Friam, Bob McDonnel, and their Republican cohorts are as unqualified to lead and represent as the Governor of Alaska.

. . .  these people need to stop generalizing about people on unemployment and assistance. Most of those on unemployment want to work, provide for their families, improve their quality of life.

Do not assume that you are dealing with the dregs of society who will not challenge you. Do not make the mistake of believing that you are dealing with a populace that will blindly follow you into the abyss. Do not underestimate the power of grass roots movements in removing from office those who do not truly represent the people.

To close, I will use the words of the inimitable Albert Einstein: 

“All of us who are concerned for peace and triumph of reason and justice must be keenly aware how small an influence reason and honest good will exert upon events in the political field.”   

More later. Peace.

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