Altering Perspectives: Life, Death, Military, Mental Illness and Kaepernick 

By Pete Rearden

I’ve had some…interesting experiences in the past 43 years. I’ve had some real high points, made some friends who are probably better than I deserve, and managed to live through it all so far. I’ve also had some incredibly low points, be it from costly misadventures, poor personal decisions, or poorly advised career moves. When I was just beginning my path through adulthood I started on a real low point. Within eleven months, eleven months to the day if we are going to be precise, I had buried both my younger brothers. The white sheep of the flock, Marc, was the passenger in a car destroyed by a freight train. My partner in crime, my fellow black sheep, my best friend, Paul, stepped between me and a crackhead mugger’s knife. He bled out in my arms on his second grade teacher’s doorstep.

My brother Marc and I loved each other, but we weren’t friends. Youth doesn’t always lend itself well to understanding. His death hurt deeply, but in comparison to later events, it wasn’t a deeply scarring trauma.

Paul’s murder made Marc’s death a veritable emotional cake walk. Seeing the blood pouring from his neck, seeing him fighting for air that wouldn’t come, watching his eyes glaze as the ambulance arrived…that broke, no, that trapped a part of me on a suburban street corner where it will always be October 13, 1995.

In 1996, the burst of blinding rage, the hyper-vigilance, the nightmares, and the long sleepless vigils were given a name: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD.

It has shaped who I am, both in terms of what President Abraham Lincoln called the “lighter angels” of my being, as well as the darkest demons. Over the years I’ve learned to ride the horse rather than simply clutching the reins. Sometimes you lose your grip on those reins though.

As the years went by, I lost more friends to the grave too early. I saw death up close. Sometimes it was at a car wreck, sometimes in a medivac chopper flying in and out of firefights, sometimes in hospitals, sometimes on street corners after the world had turn to all heat and noise and smoke and screams.

Each death made me a better rider of the pale horse I’d saddled that night in October all those years ago, but it also made that pale horse a little stronger as well.

I can’t see a needless death of a mother’s son on a quiet street, a child struggling to breathe through an oxygen mask as their body shakes from the chlorine they’ve breathed, or any other number of tragedies so frequently on display in the news without the parts of me that were trapped forever in the darkest moments of my past screaming out.

It makes me mean, it makes me cruel, it makes me vicious; not physically, but a sharp tongue can cut deeper than the sharpest blade.

I’m lucky. I don’t drink myself to sleep. I’m not strung out on pills. I don’t have traumatic brain injury as well as PTSD. I’ve learned to know my demons and how to keep the harnessed for the most part.

There are men and women who’ve served us who aren’t so fortunate.

Rather than talking about Colin Kaepernick, why not start a conversation about our veterans, as they are the ones the flag worshippers are claiming to be defending the honor and dignity of.

49ers-chargers-football
Colin Kaepernick takes a knee during National Anthem. Photo  by Chris Carlson/AP

This is what angers me. When it is convenient for them, many of those on the right – and make no mistake, this is a behavior peculiar to the more conservative voices in our nation – will fetishize our veterans. Sadly it is never convenient to fetishize and adulate when a veteran can’t find a job, when the part of a veteran trapped on a battlefield half a world and half a decade away drinks him to death, when a veteran sleeps on the streets cold and alone, or when a veteran sees his own death at his own hand as a blessing.

This disingenuous and hollow hero worship is sickening. Claiming that a man refusing to worship what at times has been little more than an American swastika as you turn a blind eye to the veteran slowly dying on the street is beyond hypocritical. It is the act of a callous and callow opportunist. To those who know intimately what these men and women deal with in the privacy of their own minds, it is a disrespect to our veterans far greater than refusing to worship a symbol.

Why don’t we turn the conversation away from how Colin Kaepernick is a bad person for respectfully protesting injustice, and turn the conversation to how we are all, regardless of race or creed, the agents of a great injustice.

Why don’t we see and talk about the injustice Kaepernick, and an increasing number of athletes are protesting with far more dignity than a person waving a trite sign on a corner, with an eye on the marginalized people who these athletes are protesting for.

To use the service of others as a political tool is a dishonor to their service. Why don’t we leave our soldiers and veterans out of this fight. They’ve fought enough.

pete Pete Rearden is a photographer, photojournalist, and opinionated commenter on America. Photo by Steve Watkins.

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Swagger!

SOTU

By Atiba Madyun

Did you see the President get “jiggy” with Republicans last night?  If you missed it, you missed a speech blended in off the cuff entertainment, as the President highlighted his Administration’s agenda.

Republicans sat when the President said the “The State of the Union is strong” instead of standing with the Democratic minority as is the customary tradition.  At one point, Republicans sat silent as the President looked in their direction saying with a smile and a wink, “this is good news people.”

When he said “I have no more campaigns to run,” Republicans clapped. He responded on cue and off script, “I know because I won them both.” (Click to view).   Democrats erupted with cheering so loud, it seemed they were in the majority.

Calm and loose as quarterback Russell Wilson leading his team last Sunday to a late game winning touchdown, Obama with swagger and confidence laid out an agenda for “middle class economics.”

He jabbed at Republicans on the minimum wage debate “to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.”

The President talked about tax relief for the middle class, jobs for veterans, affordable child care for working parents, equal pay for women, paid sick leave and two years of free college tuition to those who work get good grades and work hard.

His swagger gave the impression that he is not a lame duck and will not go silently into the night.  He ended his speech with a unifying message “My fellow Americans, we too are a strong, tight-knit family. We, too, have made it through some hard times. Fifteen years into this new century, we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and begun again the work of remaking America.”

The President assured us that he is working to turn the page and complete the job he started six years ago.  We can sit on the sideline and wait two years for another President to take office. Or we can come together, regardless of political party and work with the President and pressure Congress on both sides to work together.  Which will you be?

View the President’s #SOTU speech here.

Read the President’s #SOTU speech here.

Atiba Madyun is President of The Madyun Group (TMG) a Public Affairs firm based in Washington, DC.

“THE FACTS” on Obama Presidency

2009

  • STIMULUS –  Passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to spur economic growth.  Since its passage, the private sector for 23 consecutive months has produced more jobs than it has lost.
  • AUTO INDUSTRY – $62 billion in federal dollars along with $13.4 billion loan during Bush administration kept auto industry from collapse. Since, the industry has added more than 100,000 jobs.
  • TORTURE POLICIES – Ended policy that allowed detainees in U.S. custody to undergo “enhanced” interrogation techniques considered inhumane under the Geneva Conventions.
  • PAY EQUALITY – Signed Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009.  Gives women paid less than men for the same work, the right to sue their employers after they find out about the discrimination, even if the discrimination happened years ago.
  • NATIONAL SERVICE – Signed Serve America Act, authorizing tripling the size of AmeriCorps. Program grew 13 percent to 85,000 members across the country by 2012.
  • WILDERNESS AND WATERSHED PROTECTION – Signed Omnibus Public Lands Management Act (2009), designating  more than 2 million acres as wilderness, created thousands of miles of recreational and historic trails, and protected more than 1,000 miles of rivers.
  • FDA TOBACCO REGULATION – Signed Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Law mandates tobacco manufacturers disclose ingredients, obtain FDA approval for new tobacco products, and expand the size and prominence of cigarette warning labels.  Bans the sale of misleading labeled “light” cigarette brands and tobacco sponsorship of entertainment events.
  • CREDIT CARD REFORM – The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act, prohibits credit card companies from raising rates without advance notification.  Mandates a grace period on interest rate increases, and strictly limits overdraft and other fees.
  • HATE CRIMES – Signed Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expands existing hate crime protections to include crimes based on a victim’s sexual orientation, gender, or disability, in addition to race, color, religion, or national origin.
  • FEDERAL AGENCIES AND GREEN LEADERS – Signed executive order that requires all federal agencies to plan to soften their environmental impacts by 2020.
  • RENEWABLE TECHNOLOGY – In 2009 stimulus, invested $90 billion in research on smart grids, energy efficiency, electric cars, renewable electricity generation, cleaner coal, and biofuels.
  • MINORITY FARMERS – Claims Resolution Act provided $4.6 billion in funding for legal settlement with Black and Native American farmers who the government cheated out of loans and natural resource royalties in years past.
  • CARBON DIOXIDE –EPA declared carbon dioxide a pollutant, allowing the agency to regulate its production.
  • HEALTH COVERAGE FOR CHILDREN – 2009 Children’s Health Insurance Authorization Act allows the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover health care for 4 million more children, paid for by a tax increase on tobacco products.
  • STEM CELL – Eliminated the Bush-era restrictions on embryonic stem cell research which shows promise in treating spinal injuries, among many other areas.
  • U.S. SUPREME COURT – Nominated and obtained confirmation for Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and third woman to serve, in 2009.
  • INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL CRISIS – Secured from G-20 nations $500 million for the IMF to provide lines of credit and support to emerging market countries keeping the world’s economy out of recession in 2009 and 2010.
  • BANKS – Treasury Department plan to bring private capital into the country’s largest banks via “stress tests” approved along with a public-private fund that bought banks “toxic” assets, allowing them to avoid collapse and get back on their feet at zero cost to the government.
  • RECOVERY.GOV – Web site by independent board of inspectors general looking for fraud and abuse in stimulus spending, provides public with detailed information on every contract funded by $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

2010

  • HEALTH CARE AND EDUCATION RECONCILIATION ACT OF 2010 – Affordable Care Act is passed insuring that an additional 30 million Americans will have health insurance by 2014. 
  • WALL STREET REFORM – Mandates large banks provide “living wills” to avoid chaotic bankruptcies, limits banks ability to trade customers’ money, and created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to eliminate abusive lending products and companies.
  • STUDENT LOAN PROGRAM/PELL GRANT SPENDING – The 2010 health care bill also included provisions to end the practice of banks providing college loans. This will save $67 billion over ten years.  Students now get federal student loans directly from federal government.  $36 billion of savings goes to expand Pell Grants to low-income students. The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 strengthened the Pell Grant program and provided investment in community colleges, historically black colleges and minority serving institutions and makes it easier for students to pay back college debt.
  • VETERANS – Increased 2010 Veteran Affairs budget 16% and 2011 10% for soldiers with serious physical/mental challenges returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Signed new GI bill providing $78 billion in tuition assistance and multiple tax credits to businesses who hire veterans. 
  • IRAN – Signed Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act punishing firms/individuals aiding Iran’s petroleum sector. With major Western powers imposed sanctions on Iran’s banks.  Pushed Japan, South Korea, and China to shift their oil purchases from Iran.
  • FAIR SENTENCING ACT – Signed legislation that reduces sentencing disparity between crack versus powder cocaine possession from 100 to1 to 18 to1.
  • TRIMMED AND REORIENTED MISSILE DEFENSE – Cut the Reagan “Star Wars” missile defense budget, saving $1.4 billion in 2010, and canceled plans to station antiballistic missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic in favor of sea-based defense plan focused on Iran and North Korea.
  • SCHOOL NUTRITION – With Michelle Obama, signed Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010 mandating $4.5 billion spending boost and higher nutritional and health standards for school lunches. New rules double the amount of fruits and vegetables and require only whole grains in food served to students.
  • U.S. SUPREME COURT – Nominated and obtained confirmation for Elena Kagan, the fourth woman to serve, in 2010.
  • START TREATY – Signed with Russia (2010) and won ratification in Congress (2011) of treaty limiting each nation to 1,550 strategic warheads (down from 2,200) and 700 launchers (down from more than 1,400), and reestablished and strengthened a monitoring and transparency program that lapsed in 2009, through which each country can monitor the other.
  • GULF OIL SPILL – Though lacking statutory power to compel British Petroleum (BP) to act, used moral authority of the office to convince BP to a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • RACE TO THE TOP – $4.35 billion in stimulus funds used to create competitive grants to encourage and reward states for education reform.
  •  NEXT-GENERATION SCHOOL TESTS – Devoted $330 million in stimulus money to pay consortia of states and universities to create competing versions of new K-12 student performance tests based on latest psychometric research. New tests could transform the learning environment in vast majority of public school classrooms beginning in 2014.

2011

  • OSAMA BIN LADEN – Special forces killed the 9/11 architect and head of Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden.
  • IRAQI WAR – U.S. military forces removed from Iraq.
  • HOSNI MUBARAK – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s thirty-year rule ended on February 11, 2011
  • MOAMMAR GADHAFI – March 2011, US joined a coalition of European and Arab government’s military action to defend Libyan civilians from Gaddafi regime and forty-two-year rule.  No American lives were lost.
  • FUEL STANDARDS – Released 2011 fuel efficiency standards that nearly doubles the fuel economy of cars and trucks by 2025.
  • ASIA “PIVOT” – In 2011, shifted American military/diplomatic priorities and focus from the Middle East and Europe to the Asian-Pacific region. Executed strategy of positively engaging China while reasserting U.S. leadership in the region by increasing American military presence and crafting new commercial, diplomatic, and military alliances with neighboring countries made uncomfortable by recent Chinese behavior.
  • MINI STIMULI – To assist families hurt by the recession and spur economic growth extended to December 23, 2011 unemployment insurance and cut payroll taxes.
  • FOOD SAFETY – In 2011, signed FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.  Increased FDA’s budget by $1.4 billion and expanded its regulatory responsibilities to increase number of food inspections, issue direct food recalls, and review food safety practices of countries importing products into America.
  • BAD FOR-PROFIT COLLEGES – To fight predatory practices of for-profit colleges, the Department of Education issued “gainful employment” regulations in 2011.  This cut off commercially focused schools from federal student aid funding if more than 35 percent of former students aren’t paying off their loans and/or if the average former student spends more than 12 percent of his or her total earnings servicing student loans.
  • BROADBAND COVERAGE – Obtained in 2011 Federal Communications Commission approval for a shift of $8 billion in subsidies from landlines to broadband Internet for lower-income rural families.
  • DIRTY POWER PLANTS – New EPA restrictions on mercury and toxic pollution, issued in December 2011 will likely close sixty-eight to 231 of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
  • POST-9/11 MILITARY BUILDDOWN – With bipartisan support in summer 2011 reduced projected defense spending by $450 billion.  Proposed new DoD budget to shrink ground forces from 570,000 to 490,000 over the next ten years while increasing programs in intelligence gathering and cyber warfare.
  • SPACE SHUTTLE AND MOON MISSION – The expensive ($1 billion per launch) shuttle program made its final launch on July 8, 2011.  Cut funding for problem-plagued Constellation program to build moon base.  Supported private-sector low-earth orbit ventures, research on new rocket technologies for long-distance manned flight missions, and unmanned space exploration, including the largest interplanetary rover ever launched, which will investigate Mars’s potential to support life. 
  • NO SCANDAL – As of November 2011, served longer than any president in decades without a scandal, as measured by the appearance of the word “scandal” (or lack thereof) on the front page of the Washington Post.
  • “DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL”: REPEALED – For the first time, gays/lesbians serve openly in the military.

2012

  • AMERICA’S IMAGE – Favorable opinion toward the United States rose in ten of fifteen countries by an average of 26 percent in poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project.
  • AFGHANISTAN – U.S. forces are expected to complete combat mission by the end of 2013.
  • AFFORDABLE CARE ACT – Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote upholds the constitutionality of the ACA.