Elephant Ocean

Our culture is fucked up. Profoundly and irrevocably so. For reasons I cannot fathom (perhaps my mind isn’t closed enough or my heart not small enough) our culture has an unnerving and a disturbing habit of blaming and shaming victims of violent crimes, particularly of rape. As a woman and a mother this is unsettling to me on so many levels.

We live in culture that teaches our daughters to not get raped rather than our sons to not rape. We live in a culture that teaches women to fear being alone at night, to not wear certain styles of clothing for fear of attracting a rapist, to not drink at a party or flirt with a man because it might invite him to rape us. Never mind the facts. Never mind that nearly half of rape victims are children. Never mind that the majority of rapists are acquainted…

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Elephant Ocean

They fear it. The misogynists and the patriarchists, at least most of them do. They are anti-woman and they fear the power of vagina because thoughts of it consume their brains, because they lack the personal fortitude of stronger, more open-minded people, to control their sexual thoughts and urges, they seek to own and control the vagina and, by extension, the women to whom said vaginas belong.  This is not because they do not want to enjoy sex, they just want to be the ones to decide when and where to have it and to ensure that the vagina, like a plot of land to which they have laid claim, remains theirs and theirs alone.

They cannot have liberated women running around, popping birth-control pills, daring to choose their own sexual partners and the number thereof, and  having the audacity to decide if/when they become wives and mothers. This would…

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Chick-fil-hAte: Religious Freedom Has Nothing To Do With It

By now we’ve all heard about Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s stance on gay rights and the subsequent outrage in response to that stance. For many of us the anti-gay beliefs espoused by Mr. Cathy and his company came as a bit of a surprise. Out of nowhere, or so it seemed, social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, were abuzz with posts and comments about Dan Cathy’s statements to The Baptist Press regarding the company’s support of  ”the biblical definition of the family unit.” For others, this news was far from out-of-the-blue. In March of last year, the LGBT rights group, Equal Matters published a report about the fast-food chain’s support of adamantly anti-gay groups, like Focus on the Family and Family Research Council, the latter of which is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In May and September of last year,  LGBT rights activists protested the opening  of Chick-fil-A restaurants in Chicago and Hollywood, respectively; and in February of this year, students at NYU petitioned the university to close its Chick-fil-A franchise.

While, on the surface, the official position of Chick-fil-A and Mr. Cathy regarding gay-rights is, in the opinions of many, antiquated and unethical; dig a little deeper and that position moves from out-dated and wrong, to down-right fucking crazy-scary. Dan Cathy doesn’t just believe in the concept of traditional marriage (whatever the hell that means), he believes that we, as a nation, are inviting the wrath of his God for having the audacity to offer equal protection under the law to all of our citizens regardless of their sexual orientation. Or, as he puts it, for our “prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is.” Dan Cathy isn’t one of those misguided but otherwise benign Christians who is simply of the personal opinion that marriage should be between one man and woman until death parts them…No. He is one of those sinister and twisted Christians, like Robertson and Falwell, who honestly believes that there is some vengeful, wrathful force in the universe that will destroy us all for daring to treat people who differ from us with respect and dignity. That’s some scary shit right there, folks. Scary shit.

Now, to take matters from the scary to the mindbogglingly terrifying (yes, I am this freaked the hell out by this next bit), Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A are not merely funding groups that oppose same-sex marriage, (oh if only it was that bad) the two are funding a group that appears to support the systematic murder of homosexuals. In 2010, Family Research Council (FRC) gave $25,000 to lobby Congress to vote against a resolution, dubbed  ”Res.1064Ugandan ResolutionPro-homosexual promotion” by FRC, that would denounce Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill. Now, it would be disingenuous to insist, without irrefutable evidence, that Dan Cathy or the rest of the company knew about the FRC’s efforts to influence Congress’ vote on the resolution; but given that FRC is on the SPLC’s list of hate groups and considering that stories about the FRC’s lobbying efforts have been on the internet since 2010, it seems unlikely that Dan Cathy was unaware of it.

Contrary to what some people, particularly supporters of Chick-fil-A, might think, the outrage being expressed does not merely pertain to Dan Cathy’s statement to The Baptist Press, nor is the boycott indicative of an anti-Christian plot to destroy religious freedom. Yes, for those of us who understand that sexual-orientation is neither a sin nor an abomination, the position of Chick-fil-A and its president is offensive; but our outrage actually goes deeper than that. A lot deeper. We’re not just angry that some religious, rich dude disagrees with same-sex marriage, we’re angry that he thinks the rest of us need to agree with him. Dan Cathy believes that same-sex relationships and our support of them are going to cause his God to destroy this nation. Dan Cathy believes that his religion should get to define marriage for us all. And Dan Cathy and his company have provided substantial financial support to organizations that not only aim to impose theocratic laws on us all, but that appear to support policies in foreign countries that would kill gays and lesbians.  This is why we’re outraged.

We’re not telling anyone to change their opinions, we’re telling them that under no uncertain terms do they have the right to use their personal beliefs to dictate how other consenting adults live their lives. Just as they want to be free to believe whatever’s floating around in their head, so too do those of us who have different beliefs or positions. If one expects one’s personal beliefs to be respected and protected then that person *must,* as a member of a democratic and secular society, extend that same respect and protection to everyone else.

I want to make something perfectly clear to the religious right, to Dan Cathy and his ilk, and I’m asking the rest of the reasonable people in America to do join me in saying it: We don’t want your world; it’s a sad, lonely, hateful place. Personally, I don’t give a flying-monkey’s ass what anyone believes or thinks. Have at it, it’s your life. I do, however, care when your ilk tries to tell me and those whom I love and respect how to live their lives. Then and only then do your beliefs become my problem. Your beliefs are your beliefs, nothing more and nothing less. Keep it that way.

(Originally written by Karen Lyn for Elephant Ocean on August 2, 2012. © Karen Lyn, 2011-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author(s) and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Lyn with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)

Is America the Freest Nation in the World? Hardly: A Few Statistics That Might Surprise You

 

While freedom is a concept that is, as any debate between conservatives and liberals reveals, subjective, there are several factors that must be present in order for freedom to be considered to exist. These factors include, but are not limited to political involvement of the people, freedom of the press, economic mobility/employment opportunities, human and civil rights (including but not limited to women’s rights and gay rights), access to quality education/food/water/housing/and health care, among a slew of other socio-political factors.

If we take these things into consideration and compare the US to other nations around the world then the answer to the question of whether or not the US is the freest nation in the world is an emphatic, “No. America is not the most free.”

Let us look at a few numbers for where the US ranks on such things as imprisonment, education, health care, freedom of the press, economic mobility/employment, and LGBT rights; all of which are, as far as I am concerned, essential factors in determining the extent to which freedom is present in any nation:

1) The US has the world’s highest incarceration rate per capita (no “The Newsroom” did not make this up). According to the Human Rights Watch 2011 report, the US has an incarceration rate of “752 inmates per 100,000 residents.” This, according to the ICPS, places America at #1 for the most imprisoned population.

2) The US’s track record for LGBT rights is terrible. While there is no official ranking as of yet, the US fairs worse than Mexico in the comparison of North American nations. This is as per the UN’s first ever study on international civil and human rights for LGBTs, which was released last year.

3) According to WHO, the US is currently ranked at 37th place for health care; we are 34th in the world for infant mortality, according the the UN’s 2011 report on Population Prospects.

4) The US received an overall ranking of 31st place for education in math, 17th in reading, and 23rd in science, according to OECD and the 2009 PISA exams. In college graduation levels, we rank 12th out of 36 countries studied. The outlook is pretty grim in many other areas as well.

5) For Freedom of the Press the US ranks at 27th place according to the 2011-2012 international study released byReporters Without Borders.

6) We’re trailing many nations in both employment and economic mobility. For example, our unemployment rate gives us an international ranking for employment is 44th out of 67 countries, as per a 2011 study published by Trading Economics. The CIA World Fact Book places the US at 103 out of 200 nations. The ability to climb the economic ladder is, despite our own perception, more difficult in the US than similar nations; according to the Economic Mobility Project, which compared several studies on mobility trends of the US and its European counterparts, “Americans are more likely than citizens of several other nations to be stuck in the same position economically as their parents.”

Upon looking at where the US ranks on the issues I discussed above, our nation is far from being the freest. Now, this is not to suggest that the US is the least free, as the data provided shows there are nations far worse off then the US. However, the belief held by many amongst us that the US is the freest nation in the world is, I am sorry to say, more mythology than reality. There are many nations that rank above us on every factor I have listed, and even those I have not. For example, on the level of democracy, which I am sure we would all list as being an essential factor in determining a nation’s level of freedom, the *most* free,  according to the Democracy Index, would be Norway.

In addition to examining the afore mentioned factors, I would also argue that looking at the overall happiness of national populations can provide some clue as to which nations are “freer” than the US, since  it is reasonable to assume that there is a correlation between the level of  ”freedom” and the overall happiness of a given nation’s population. If we look at the various studies that have measure national happiness,  we find that the US  fails to make into the top ten (seeherehereherehere, and here).

Do not take any of this to mean that I do not appreciate being an American or that I do not care about this country. Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Love is not, nor should it ever be blind to self-destructive behaviors that threaten the object of its affection. When one sees the object of one’s love falling into despair and self-destruction, love commands that action to save it be taken. In writing this I hope to save this nation, to encourage it to live up to the promises made by the founding generations, by informing my fellow citizens that we are failing ourselves.

(This was originally written for by Karen Lyn for Elephant Ocean, on July 29, 2012.  © Karen Lyn, 2011-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author(s) and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Lyn with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)

Natural Rights, Societal Rights, and The Social Contract

I was recently asked by someone on Facebook: “”What are your thoughts on natural rights unrelated to the concept of god?” (Sometimes I have some of the most interesting and thought provoking conversations on Facebook…sometimes)

My thoughts, as I responded, are thus:
Whether or not there is a god (after having majored in both History and Religious Studies in college I have come to conclude that the probability of there being such a being, given the utter lack of evidence and its lack of involvement in human affairs, is very low[read here to understand why]) is irrelevant to the concept of natural rights because people differ in their opinions as to its existence and how to best worship it. Therefore, when discussing natural rights it is always best to leave god/s out of the equation. Natural rights exist because life exists. It is really that simple. With that said, I consider there to be two types of rights: natural rights and societal rights.

Natural rights refer to those things that living beings require in order to be living: clean water, clean air, food that is safe and nutritious, land on which to live and grow said food, shelter, clothing to protect them from the elements, protection from exploitation and abuse, and access to medical care. These things are natural rights because without them people will die; be it from hunger or exposure or disease, they will die. Thus these rights are non-negotiable. People *need* them. Period. Beyond these rights we enter the realm of what I refer to as societal rights.

Societal rights are those things that exist within the context of a given society, they are “rights” in the sense that they are agreed upon liberties between members of said society and tend to change, typically in positive progression, as societies grow and change and become more advanced. These rights are things that, while not necessarily needed for one to survive, are needed for one to thrive. A thriving populous is essential for any society if that society wishes to remain strong and successful, and if it wants to progress and improve. These things include, but are not limited to: living wages for labor, the ability to vote for government, education, and access to certain modern conveniences (transportation, electricity). Societal rights, unlike natural rights, are negotiable because they are not static; they have varied across our history and they vary according to needs of the respective societies in which people live. This is why we have had and continue to have so many forms of governments; how groups of people choose to be governed changes as their concept of what they need in order to thrive changes.

How to best negotiate social rights without infringing upon natural ones has been a challenge for humanity from the moment we moved from egalitarian, nomadic tribes to stationary cities built on arbitrary hierarchy. The reconciliation of these two types of rights is the goal of the Social Contract. In an advanced society, such as the US, such a reconciliation is possible; however, we first need to be willing to protect and fulfill the natural rights of everyone in society before we can hope to reach an agreement on societal rights. As long as we are bickering about whether or not access to food and health care are rights then we cannot successfully progress as a society. Until we acknowledge and accept the innateness of natural rights so as to ensure the survival of our people we will be unable to negotiate the rights that will enable them to thrive.

([[Karen]] This post was originally written for ElephantOcean, my personal blog. I thought it was a fitting topic for our TBA blog, so I decided to repost it here. © Karen Lyn, 2011-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author(s) and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Lyn with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)

Vote Responsibly

Folks, it is now June, voting day is now FIVE months away. This election, like every election, is important. It is time that we all begin to start seriously considering for whom it is we are going to vote. Luckily, the era of the internet has made this task quite simple and there are now a plethora of sites that compile useful information about politicians to assist us in making well-informed choices.

I will not attempt to sway any of you toward any particular candidate; although, I am not above encouraging you all to take a left turn. 😉 I will, however, offer a bit of advice that I think is useful and deeply important; as you research the voting records and personal stances of the candidates, both incumbent and non, also look into from where and from whom their campaign contributions are coming. If we as a nation can learn anything from Scott Walker‘s governorship, and recent victory, is that politicians who receive financial support from big business, especially those with long histories of being anti-Union (Walmart and Home Depot, for example), are going to vote anti-Union and anti-workers rights because that is what their owners –ooops I mean donors– want them to do. And this is true for all politicians: if one has received significant support from Wall Street, they will then represent Wall Street; if from the oil industry, then they will represent the oil industry; if from the corporate food industry, like Monsanto or Conagra, they will represent the corporate food industry.

Therefore, research each candidate’s campaign finances, as this, along with their voting records, will tell you everything you need to know about where his/her loyalties will really lie once they are in office. Chances are that the candidate with the least amount of money raised, especially from corporations and banks with a track record of greed and corruption, is going to be more loyal we the people. Just remember, though, that while whomever it is you choose come November is up to you, your vote effects the whole; so choose wisely and whatever you do, VOTE.

Vote because it is your duty as a citizen, but vote responsibly. It is your duty to your fellow Americans to vote not for the person who raises the most money or flings the best insults, but for the person who, upon research on your part, is best suited for the job. Who cares if they have an R or a D along side their name, or neither? No one should really because what matters most is what donors appear under their names, as this is a tell tale sign of who a candidate will truly be representing. The more millionaires, billionaires, corporate CEOs, and Wall Street bankers you see, the more likely it is that, once in office, we the people will be forgotten as the newly elected politician bows to the whims of his or her corporate sponsors.

It is essential that we put an end to the corporate puppet show in DC, and our respective home states, by voting responsibly come November. It is important that we take the time to remember those in Congress who have done right by the people and carefully research those running to replace those in Congress who have failed us. If we all do this, if we stand together, we have a far better chance of succeeding in reclaiming the political power.

Below you will find links to websites and articles that are designed to assist voters in making informed and responsible decisions.

This site provides the personal stances and voting history of each candidate and present office holder:
http://ontheissues.org/default.htm

This link provides information on which corporations own whom:
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2010/09/congress-corporate-sponsors

This link provides the personal finances of some of Congresses top members (this speaks volumes as to where their loyalties have and will lay):
http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/

This link provides information on campaign contributions:
http://www.opensecrets.org/

And this link allows you to not only view the political stances of candidates and office-holders, it shows you the bills and the votes each Congressperson gave to said bills.
http://votesmart.org/

© Karen Lyn and Take Back America, 2011-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author(s) and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Lyn, author post authors as listed on this blog, and Take Back America with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.