font-family: 'Arizonia', cursive; Michael Stichauf - "As I understand it now...'til it changes": December 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

My Christmas Tribute to My Mother

Every year at this time, everyone’s thoughts turn to the people we love. We buy gifts and cards, letting them know just how much we appreciate them. I was thinking that this year I would write something a little more special for the most important person in my life, my Mother.
Mom...enjoying a moment.
My Mother with her Granddaughter & Great Granddaughter 

Whether you believe that God created Mothers or whether you feel that Man is a product of evolution, Mothers are incredible individuals! Mothers know what their children are thinking and feeling before their children have to tell them. They are a shoulder to cry on and a “rock” to lean on. Mothers are capable of incredible compassion and consequently, of having their hearts broken. What makes a Mother “special” is patience, understanding, tolerance, a certain amount of discipline and of course- LOVE. Mothers have a “special” bond with their children that I don’t think anyone, including a Father, can quite understand. Yes, Fathers love their children just as much but there is a certain “something” that a mother seems to have for her children.

My Mother has had a level of patience that is totally foreign to me. Her years of patience with me alone, have been part of what so endears her to me. When I think of the amount of patience that I’ve needed with certain people in my life, I wish that I could have summoned half of the patience with them, that my Mother had summoned with me. A Mother’s patience allows a child to make the mistakes in life that a child needs to make so that they learn and grow. That being the case, the amount of patience my Mother needed for me should have allowed me to “learn” enough to be as smart as Einstein and “grow” enough to be as tall as Shaq. Her patience should be considered legendary. When I think back, over the years, there are certain times that I know that my brothers and I tried the patience of my mother well past the breaking point and yet, she never broke. Oh yes, we were punished, but we never once felt the she didn’t love us. I know what everyone’s thinking... a little bad behavior shouldn’t change the way a Mother feels about her children, and you’re right. I’m not inferring that my Mother is special because she still loved us even though we misbehaved. I’m inferring that my Mother is “special” simply because she is my Mother.

Understanding and tolerance, borne out of experience, wisdom and the teachings of her Mother, are also her indispensable traits. These traits are what she passes along in the hopes that her children become compassionate and humble individuals. We live in an imperfect world. Compassion allows us to be charitable to the people who have less than us, the homeless and the disadvantaged. Tolerance gives us the courage to accept the people who are different, people of a different religion or individuals in the LGBT community. Our Mothers know that the world is made up of all kinds of people and that’s what makes EVERY INDIVIDUAL “special”, including their own children. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, which was a time of incredible prejudice towards African-Americans. I remember specifically, my Mother teaching me that African-Americans deserved the same respect that anyone else deserved. She NEVER let up on that continual dose of acceptance that I needed to hear. I grew up in a neighborhood not known for its acceptance of ANYONE different from us. For years, I remember having to fight the “pressures” from my friends to conform to the same prejudices as theirs. Unfortunately, there were times that I succumbed to their “pressure”, times that I am now ashamed of. Yet, with the Mother that I had, I was fortunate enough to finally understand just how right she was! These are the moments when a Mother’s strength AND perseverance become indispensable to a young, impressionable child. I thank you, Mom!

As this Christmas arrives, take the time to let your Mother know just how “special” she was AND is in your life. If your Mother has, unfortunately passed, take the time to let your children know just how “special” she was to you. Tell them how her influence has made you the person you are and how it is making them the individuals they are. We only have this one life to live and it’s our Mother’s influence that helps us become the individuals that we become. Mom, thank you for being you! Thank you for your understanding and tolerance. Thank you for your continued lessons in life as well as your patience. Mom, thank you for making me the person that I am.
Merry Christmas, I Love you Mom.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

President Obamas Speech at Nelson Mandela’s Memorial

President Obama, today, spoke at the Memorial Service held for Nelson Mandela. As is always the case at ANY public event that the President attends, all eyes were upon him. Let’s discuss the event’s fallout.

I used the word “fallout” because as we all now know, someone will take a shot at just about any little gesture that the President makes, whether there is any meaning behind it or not. Notice that I didn’t say, “...any meaning INTENDED behind it...” There doesn’t need to be any intention behind what he says or does for his detractors to jump on him. Believe me, I can be just as critical of the President as the next guy but when you hear the things that they say at times, you realize that they don’t even give him the basic right to exist! Really, they don’t believe Barack Obama has the right to be President and if you listen carefully, you can hear them tell their friends just how “uppity” he can get at times.

I was really proud to be an American today. I’m actually ALWAYS proud to be an American but more so today than usual. Watching how that crowd responded to OUR President as he walked onto the podium was an inspiration. Yes, we have a lot wrong with our country, but the mere fact that America’s first African-American President was giving the “keynote speech” at Mandela’s memorial shows that America has the ability to change and grow and move past their earlier injustices. That’s in spite of the fact that many people believe that the President didn’t deserve to be there in the first place.

As I watched and listened to his speech, I didn’t hear anything that the President’s critics could use against him. In fact, the President’s speech was a moving tribute to a man who was willing to die for what he believed in. A man who withstood years of indignity as the unrepentive, convicted guest of a regime that refused to allow him his freedom whether it was inside a cell or out. A man so dangerous to South Africa’s government, that they kept him behind bars for over twenty-five years. No, my friends, I didn’t hear anything that Obama said today that the Republican’s, the Tea Party or ANY rational human being could use against him.

What I did hear today was a man, a man honoring another man. I heard a man, who despite the ugly indignities hurled at him for the last five to six years, speak with dignity and represent a country which only 150 years ago, treated his ancestors the same way South Africa treated Nelson Mandela. As President Obama spoke about the changes Nelson Mandela was able to make in South Africa, you could hear if you listened closely enough, the fading and dying sounds of that old southern song, “Dixie”. A song that symbolized the travesty of slavery much like the word “Apartheid” symbolized the injustices committed in South Africa. As Obama continued, you could almost forget that he was speaking of one individual and realize that the beliefs and actions used to tear down “Apartheid” are the same beliefs and actions that every man needs to have for this world to be a better place to live in. These “morals” never change for they’ve been talked about and practiced for generations. When the President said, ‘It took a man like Madiba (Mandela) to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you’, he was also reminding us that Lincoln’s policy after the Civil War was to be one of inclusion and not one of punishment. A fundamental requirement if both the oppressed AND the oppressors are to become free. He goes on to say, ‘that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion and generosity and truth.’ Unlike Mandela’s and South Africa’s immediate “inclusion”, America’s “inclusion” took more time but with Obama’s election to the Presidency, we certainly can say that we’ve come a long way towards making it complete.

In regards to President Obama shaking hands with Raul Castro, we really need to realize that today was a memorial and that most decent people are not there to create attention for themselves but to honor the individual being memorialized. President Obama simply shook the next hand that was to be shaken, no more, no less. Like I said before... there wasn’t any meaning behind it, intended or not. If anyone doubts the President’s commitment to fundamental human rights, he also had this to say; ‘There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s (Mandela’s) legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s (Mandela’s) struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. No folk’s, President Obama isn’t signaling any kind of change towards Cuba by his handshake with Raul. Yes, I know that after hearing that speech today, the people who hate the President have to grab onto something with which to hit him. After all, they certainly couldn’t use that speech; there simply wasn’t anything controversial about it, unless, of course, you disagree with freedom, justice and equality. Oops, I just remembered who were dealing with... Republicans, Tea Partyers and Conservatives.

And that’s, “As I understand it now... ‘til it changes”.
Let me know what you think.

Michael K. Stichauf

Saturday, December 7, 2013

NSA and Snowden activity have changed our online and telephone habits

I’ve just read a terrific article written by Suzanne Nossel from CNN. She discusses how the NSA and the Snowden affair have already changed the way that the public and writers have curbed what they discuss on the phone and what they put out over social media. I want to discuss the implications of the NSA and Snowden’s actions with everyone.

I don’t have an opinion on the actions of Mr. Snowden. I see pros and cons in the whole affair. What does bother me is the effect that it seems to have on the public and the press.

I agree with Ms. Nossel that Snowden probably had no idea that the fall-out, from his actions, was going to be this bad. Maybe he figured, naively, that it would get the administration to change their tactics in their intelligence gathering. To be sure, no one can read his mind. What we can discuss are the after effects and how they have changed people’s actions.

Nonetheless, there have been International repercussions that have embarrassed the United States. With the discovery that Heads of State, Angela Merkel for one, were having their cell phones gleaned for information, the International community has come to realize that a lot of this was done under the guise of mining for terrorism information. Because of these revelations, the United Nations has started an investigation into the U.S.’s actions. Yet, with the fact that we run the United Nations, NOTHING OF SUBSTANCE WILL EVER COME OF THIS INVESTIGATION.

Going into the time when Mr. Snowden revealed all his information, we all know that a good many of us were concerned over just what it was that the “G” was collecting and from whom they were collecting it. As the years went by, small “bits” of information were getting out that “Islamic fundamentalists” weren’t the only people the N.S.A. was “bugging” for information.  Initially, I think just about everyone was “on-board” with the new legislation that was enacted in order to fight the “War on Terror”. Yes, the A.C.L.U. was against the legislation, but that’s what they do. Believe me; we all should be glad that that is what they do. We need somebody to act as the “devil’s advocate” for things such as this. What most of us didn’t think about though, was the fact that once the “G” takes something away, WE NEVER GET IT BACK! NEVER! As much as we came to accept these laws, and as much as we figured that they were here for a while, I don’t think a lot of us understood that they weren’t coming off the books. Slowly but surely, Americans started to change what they said on the phone and what they posted on their favorite social networking sites. Most of us never even realized that it was happening. Over time, this “surveillance” has changed the way U.S. citizens express themselves! As the saying goes, “doing something for seven days makes it a habit” and most of us now don’t even realize that we “self-monitor” what we put out to even our closest friends. It’s automatic now.

According to a PEW RESEARCH survey, about half of Americans support the NSA programs of surveillance! Many people in favor of these programs seize on a survey like this to point to the fact that the American public is behind the NSA on this topic. What they forget is the fact that, if half the public supports these programs, the OTHER HALF DOESN’T SUPPORT THEM! Many of us realize that the information that is needed in this “War” could be seized with the same laws that we had in place BEFORE 9/11. This includes the “F.I.S.A.” law, which has been in effect since 1979. What we need to understand is the fact that over the last 15-20 years, the public has given up on trying to fight the Government. We’ve become complacent when it comes to issues that oppress us, the stealing of our Civil Rights. As Ms. Nossel so beautifully writes, ‘Some Americans' relative nonchalance toward the government prying into e-mails and calls we long thought were private may stem in part from knowing that we have already ceded so much of our privacy voluntarily. Social media, online shopping, and simple browsing have become semi-public acts. It's hard to know who can see what, and worrying about it can stand in the way of buying a birthday present, posting a great photo or getting your taxes done.’(under-lining added) And she’s right. But, just because I’ve decided to relinquish my right to privacy, doing something that I enjoy, doesn’t mean that I should accept the Government taking those same rights away because they want to keep tabs on every Tom, Dick and Jane that they chose! Furthermore, the chance that any average Joe will ever find out whether they were denied something, anything, because of what they’ve tweeted or posted to a social networking site are nil. We were lucky that the Church commission was able to uncover the information that the F.B.I. was keeping on people they considered radicals. Believe me; the government will NEVER make that mistake again.

Another point that Ms. Nossel makes is this; she writes, ‘When the Snowden story first broke, Obama claimed that the newly exposed programs had foiled 50 terrorist plots. After reading through a classified list of the thwarted assaults, Sen. Patrick Leahy called the figure "plainly wrong.”  In the few cases where details have been released, journalists and intelligence experts have argued that the evidence gathered through surveillance could have been obtained in other ways, or wasn't crucial.’ This again goes to the point that all the information that we need to fight this “War” can easily be done with the laws that were in place at the time of 9/11. What needed to be done was to put to an end the rivalries and the childish bickering that was occurring between the different intelligence agencies that were tasked with collecting this information. There were even rivalries between different F.B.I. offices that were thwarting the sharing of information that could have stopped this attack BEFORE it even took wings! A great example of this is the story of an agent in one of the western offices who sent a memo to a department head about certain men of “Arab” decent who were taking flying lessons. One of these men was so bold as to tell his instructor that he only wanted to learn how to take-off and fly the plane. He didn’t NEED TO KNOW HOW TO LAND THE PLANE!! Well, the instructor thought that something wasn’t right about this guy and he called the F.B.I. After 9/11, it came to light that this memo was left on the dept. head’s desk and never sent to the people that it needed to be sent to. All we needed was a re-vamping of the way all the info was collected and sent to the right people.

Let’s now discuss what these “surveillance” issues have done to writers and journalists. Many journalists have admitted to turning down assignments because they might be subjects that are too sensitive. They are afraid that something that they write about might be gathered in by the N.S.A. and they may be the subject of some kind of investigation. Now, many of us might say, “They are writers; they’re protected by the rights of the press.” Let me remind you of one of the tactics used by the police or any other agency that has the ability to take away your freedom, for weeks at a time, before you see a judge. They know that people don’t like to be inconvenienced. Therefore, these agencies threaten to arrest (even if they know you are innocent) anyone doing OR writing anything that they don’t like. With the fact that there is often no bail on any kind of “terrorism” charge, it could be weeks before that individual would see a judge who MIGHT throw the case out but most likely will be told NOT to do that AND not to impose a bond so that the person stays behind bars! Who, but some of the most incredible people of our time (Rosa Parks, M.L.K.), are willing to have their freedom taken from them like that. Believe me, it will and probably has happened. Journalists are the most important people in our society when it comes to keeping the “G” honest. When things like this are threatened, nobody is safe.

We know that most journalists have stronger constitutions (character) than the average person because exposing wrongdoing is what they’ve chosen as a career path. There are tons of examples, over the years, where the courts have protected the journalist from individuals or institutions wanting to curb their right to “free speech” or from having to expose their sources. Unfortunately, over the last 12 years or so, journalists have had these protections slowly vanish. The dangers of these new attacks on the press are starting to show. There are now subjects that some journalists simply refuse to examine. Who knows what the outcome will be, over time, as we “forget” about these situations that normally would have been exposed because of our unique protection of speech.

During the 2008 and 2012 elections, I honestly thought that electing another “old white guy” wasn’t going to change the culture of deceit that had become the Government of the United States. I also honestly thought that electing Obama would go a long way towards changing THAT culture of deceit. Boy, was I wrong! I simply FORGOT about ALL THE OTHER “OLD WHITE GUYS”, in the congress, THAT WEREN’T GOING TO ALLOW THAT CHANGE to happen! What I find so repulsive is the fact that, when you think about it, OUR government has lumped US in with the likes of IRAN, NORTH KOREA and the TERRORISTS! The citizens of the United States have their phones tapped and their social network sites monitored just like the Taliban! Because of our INITIAL sense of patriotism, we’ve slowly allowed our government, OUR GOVERNMENT, to highjack our rights. Rights, which we’ll never get back again. So much for, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people...”

And that’s, “As I understand it now... ‘til it changes”. Let me know what you think.

Thank you, Michael K. Stichauf