How Do You Solve A Crisis? By Closing the Door and Ignoring It

At its essence, the United States is a country that has been and continues to be built upon immigrants. Someone from nearly every nation in the world has crossed the borders of the U. S. and given up their birthright citizenship, with those immigrants in pursuit of what the signers of the Declaration of Independence penned more than two centuries ago, the pursuit of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Furthermore, there are those that have come to the U. S. of no desire of their own as refugees due to dangerous situations that are occurring in their home countries.

These refugees come to the United States usually because of warfare that either targets an ethnic group (such as the situation in the 1990s in Bosnia) or a religious or political conflict. The ongoing civil war in Syria is the latest in these myriad of situations where the world has found it necessary to take in those forced out of their home country due to the deteriorating conditions on the ground. Another situation, however, has now sprung up threatening those refugees even more.

Blame for the terrorist attacks in Paris have, by some conservative outlets, been laid at the feet of those Syrian refugees after someone opined that a member of ISIS (who has taken responsibility for the attack) infiltrated Europe with a refugee group from that country. Despite the fact that this has been debunked by officials on the ground in France, this irrational fear has sent a sizeable chunk of the U. S. and one of the two parties in its political system into a frenzy. It has also presented the dilemma of how do you solve a refugee crisis…if you’re a part of that group in the United States previously mentioned, it seems you handle it by closing the door and ignoring it.

The sheer inhumanity of some of the statements coming out of those running for the GOP nomination for President of the United States in 2016 is appalling. Speaking to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie started off the blowhard bluster by saying he “wouldn’t even let 5-year old Syrian orphans into the country.” Christie believes that the United States, the richest nation on the planet, can’t support any orphans and they shouldn’t be admitted because they have no family. Oh, by the way, he also “doesn’t trust the administration” to make sure any refugees coming in aren’t a terrorist threat. Governor, would that be different if there were a Republican in the White House?

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, his own father a refugee himself from the power struggle in Cuba decades ago, upped the ante with his opinions. On the campaign trail Cruz espoused a “religious test” to determine who would be able to come in. Of course, no Muslims would be able to pass that test, but Christians would be given the proverbial “cheat sheet” because “there is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” To be fair, one of Cruz’s fellow Senators, 2008 GOP Presidential nominee John McCain, blasted Cruz for this viewpoint.

Another player in the GOP race that is struggling to make any headway, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, chided the Obama Administration in pushing his denunciation of accepting refugees because of their Muslim faith. “The #1 job of the President is to protect America, not protect the reputation of Islam,” Huckabee said as he condemned an entire religion on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” He continued with his derision of the Muslim faith in making a similar statement that Cruz made in that “Christians” wouldn’t commit acts of terror and should be let in freely.

The stupidity coming out of the GOP continues even today. Beside the factor that Dr. Ben Carson can’t seem to grasp the idea of foreign policy and Donald Trump believes we should just “bomb the shit out of ISIS” and close a few mosques to thwart terrorist threats, there aren’t many voices that are looking for a reasonable solution. There are some calls for sanity, most notably from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and current Ohio Governor John Kasich, but they lack any concrete approach to solving the issue. Meanwhile, more than two dozen Governors across the U. S. have said they won’t accept any refugees from Syria (tough shit, guys; according to the Refugee Act of 1980, the federal government can put the refugees anywhere they want) and conservatives across social media are vehemently against allowing any Syrian refugees into the U. S.

This is all an outrageous embarrassment to U. S. citizens, not only as a country but also on our alleged “faith-based” background.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that we’ve been down this path before. Instead of living beside several Indian nations in the 19th century, the answer by the U. S. government was to round up those tribes by force and send them 1000 miles from their homes, removing them from their tribal lands in the southeast U. S. In 1838, the “Trail of Tears” (a term coined by the Choctaw Nation in 1831 when they were moved west and since applied to the overall plan of removal), the forced march by military units of the Cherokee Indian nation (the final tribal removal), would result in roughly 5000 people dying on the trip, something that is a crimson stain on this country’s reputation and history.

Even in the 20th century, the shortsightedness and intolerance to others by U. S. citizens was apparent. In what some might find to be a shocking statement, U. S. citizens were against taking in Jewish refugees from Europe prior to the start of World War II. In evidence uncovered by Historical Opinion and tweeted throughout this week, some of the same claims used against the Syrian people and their refugee situation were used against the Jewish people.

Then there is the fact that, as many are wont to say, that the U. S. is a nation founded on “Judeo-Christian” values. Besides the fact that the Founding Fathers wanted the U. S. to be as far away from a theocracy as humanly possible, if those principles were put into effect it would be a good step. Respect for your neighbor, reaching out to assist the poor and needy, looking out for your fellow man…all great tenets of most religions, not only Christianity. The reality is that the “religious” in the U. S. aren’t even close to this mission statement.

Accepting in the downtrodden is something that is a traditional statement in the Bible. There are a host of scriptures that state a follower of Jesus Christ should take in those that need help, provide shelter for those that are threatened. Instead of reaching out to help those in need – and the Syrian refugees definitely fall in that category – some of these “Christians” turn their backs on those people when they need the help the most.

Finally, what does the very statue that many of our ancestors saw when they immigrated to the U. S. say about the subject? On the Statue of Liberty (ironically a gift from France on the U. S. centennial), the poem of Ezra Lazarus defines the base thought that should be held by every citizen of the U. S.:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I life my lamp beside the golden door.

This is what the United States is based on. Freedom, the “unalienable rights” of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the ability to come to this country with nothing and become anything…this is the basis of who we are, the thread that holds the fabric of the United States together. If we are to start unthreading that fabric by deny those principles to those looking for entry to the United States – to those very people that perhaps need it the worst – then the dream of what the United States truly is and the beliefs that it is built on have been pissed down the gutter in the name of “security” and “tranquility.”

We do not uphold the traditions of this country – nor of our founding fathers or even our religious figures – if we cannot find it within ourselves to assist those in life-and-death situations. Sure, we have to screen the people coming into the country, but it is also said in today’s Wall Street Journal by former U. S. Ambassador to Syria Ryan Crocker that “the U. S. vetting system is strong.” Crocker also puts in the second caveat, something that all U. S. citizens should remember:  “So is (the U. S.) tradition to welcome the oppressed.”

The current response of many people in the U. S., including those in one of the two major political parties, is a monumental embarrassment to citizens of the U. S. It is time to make a return to what this country once was – a country that was strong, that didn’t cower to terrorist’s threats, that stood for those we might not agree with in their time of strife – otherwise that “shining city upon a hill” that Ronald Reagan once spoke of has been extinguished and is nothing more than a bland political posture point that hypocrites can hang their hat on.

What’s the Problem with Gambling? The U. S. Was Built On It!

(Author’s note:  With the uproar over daily fantasy sports – or DFS – in the news right now, there are folks discussing the issue of gambling. This is something that I wrote slightly more than a year ago that is as true now as it was then.)

One of the best ways to learn about whatever country you live in is to take a lengthy drive. Last month, as part of a move from the Midwest to the East Coast, I sat behind the wheel of the family’s Mercedes-Benz and did just that, covering about 1000 miles along the way. When the only conversation that you can have in a sports car is the cat that is riding along with you (after the first ten minutes of meowing, they tend to go to sleep and, even if they are listening, aren’t exactly someone to bounce ideas off of), you have time to notice some of the oddities of the United States.

As I went by such strange things as the Creation Museum (would have loved a stop there for just the simple comedy), roadside vegetable sales and various Appalachian curios, one of the things that I noticed as the miles began to pile up was the roadside billboards that popped up as I drove. Easing out of Illinois into Indiana, I was hit with those billboards from many of the popular gaming destinations in the Hoosier State. A quick hit into Ohio saw those billboards change over to the new destinations that have been opened in Cincinnati. In Kentucky, the billboards changed over from casino gaming to racetracks and horse farms that promoted the Bluegrass State’s main industry. Even in Tennessee (where there isn’t a casino scene), the billboards promoting North Carolina’s Harrah’s Cherokee casino disturbed the natural beauty that the Great Smoky Mountains provided.

Mind you, it wasn’t just one billboard. There were more than a hundred of them, ticking down the miles until you reached the exit of said casino/racetrack/etc. It got my mind thinking (as my cat companion slumbered quietly in the passenger seat)…what’s the problem with gambling? The United States was (and is) built on it!

All you have to do to reach this conclusion is have a basic understanding of U. S. history. The very first gamble was performed from the European continent as several explorers including Leif Erickson in the 11th century and Christopher Columbus in the 15th century, decided that there was “something” where the sun was setting and (in Columbus’ case) that the earth just didn’t drop off into the Great Unknown. Erickson’s gamble was a bit bolder in that he bankrolled himself for the trip; Columbus, on the other hand, was able to get Spanish Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand II to pay for his trip (potentially the first act of “backing” in a gambling setting).

As the “New World” began to garner attention, even the bastions of religious piety showed they weren’t above taking a chance. England was the location for this as first the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke (the ultimate gamble as the residents “disappeared” in 1590) was settled. Following that, the Puritans – who were so religious they were considered more restrictive than the Church of England and whose very name means ‘against pleasure’ – rolled the dice and settled at Plymouth Colony in 1620.

By the end of the 17th century, the Colonies were thriving and so was gambling. Lotteries were the prevalent form of gambling (and were used to fund several prominent colleges such as Yale, Harvard and Princeton), but dice, cards and horse racing were also popular (even the more unpalatable gambling escapades as cockfighting and dogfighting had their audience). As the rumblings of revolution came to a head in the mid-18th century, our country’s Founding Fathers – most notably George Washington and Benjamin Franklin – enjoyed a good card game. Playing cards was so popular that the Stamp Act (one of the catapults for the American Revolution) included a clause that taxed every deck of cards.

After the Revolution, however, some of the old “puritanical” ideas began to set in. Gambling was banned in some of the fledgling states, but legal (and illegal) lotteries still flourished. The lotteries even came under attack, however, so that by the time of the Civil War, only three states permitted them. The “War Between The States” would prove to be the next catalyst for gambling in the United States.

Locked in a battle for the soul of the country, both Union and Confederate soldiers would pass the time playing poker (a recent immigrant to the United States through the port city of New Orleans) with their brothers in arms as they waited for the next wager for their lives. After the conclusion of the Civil War, that gambling mentality continues as citizens pushed westward and poker came along for the ride. Nearly every Western town could be found to have a casino (legal or otherwise), where a game of faro or poker would be ongoing, and the Mississippi River bustled with commerce and the “riverboat gamblers” that plied their trade on the paddleboats.

Although it was attempted many times, gambling still found a way around banishment. The actions of Prohibition in the early 20th century saw gambling and alcohol usage pushed underground and into the hands of organized crime. Laws to make gambling illegal in the Eastern part of the U. S. saw those organized crime figures move westward to Nevada and California, with the first casinos opened in 1931 as the Boulder Dam was being built near Las Vegas. Today, only two states (Hawaii and Utah) don’t have some sort of casino or card room in their jurisdictions.

Presidents of the United States have actively taken up the game of poker and, for some of them, been advocates for the game. Harry Truman’s “The Buck Stops Here” is directly related to his love of a game of poker. Richard Nixon allegedly financed his first political campaign with money won from playing Seven Card Stud. Even Barack Obama is thought to have an affinity for the game, playing in a weekly Senate poker game prior to entering the White House.

This is only looking at gambling as it relates to cards, dice, table games, etc. U. S. citizens have taken a gamble throughout the country’s history, dating from the Puritans to the signers of the Declaration of Independence (a bold gamble, you might say) to the westward expansion of the country into areas once thought to be foreboding and unsuitable for human habitat. Americans start businesses, sometimes failing but, most of the time, successful (Henry Ford, the Wright Brothers, the Rockefellers and Bill Gates (to name a few) ring any bells?). Americans gamble on innovations that have improved the world through industry, scientific discovery and even traveling to space. Even war, the most unfortunate invention of human society, has been impacted by American gambles.

Gambling is as inherent to the American persona as the flag, our National Anthem and our basic premise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Without that inner drive to take a risk, to take a chance on an unknown outcome, much of what the country has become today would have not been achieved, let alone even attempted. The United States – and much of the world, to be honest – always has to have those “dreamers,” “schemers” and gamblers to move society forward, otherwise we stagnate and, eventually, devolve.

So, as my drive ended by pulling up to our family’s new house, once again I’ll ask…why do we, not only as U. S. citizens but as an evolving species, have a problem with gambling?