Tag: violence

Stats for the Holidays

Just a quick post this week to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and give thanks that we all live in the greatest country in the world.

Well, actually, there is no “greatest country in the world,” at least in the sense of some objective standard or measurement. We just all say “greatest country in the world” and assume we’re talking about the USA because, I mean, come on, who are we kidding?

Of course, if we did use objective stats to analyze how well America is doing, how absolutely A#1 amazing we are, we might pull out this one:

“The US has the second-highest rate of poverty among rich countries,” and for black and Hispanic American children, “the poverty rate is even higher.”

Hmmm… that statistic isn’t so great, is it? Well, how about this one:

“The US has the highest income inequality of all rich countries.” And of course, that just got worse with today’s massive GOP tax cut for the wealthy.

OK, this isn’t going so well. Let’s try again.

Although “Americans spend enormously” on healthcare, we remain “in relatively poor health.” For example, America “has fewer physicians, hospital beds, and psychiatric care beds than most other economically advanced countries, ranking towards the bottom in each of these parameters.” And as if we all didn’t already know, the United States “remains the only advanced economy in the world not to have full health coverage of its population.”

But look on the bright side, we’re also the most obese industrialized nation in the world.

About now, you’re probably wondering where I’m getting all those disturbing statistics.

Well, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) put together a report that found “the US performs dismally in most areas — such as healthcare, education, and violence.” In fact, the analysis “proves that, while Americans may be doing relatively fine, ‘best country to live in’ is a serious stretch.”

Yes, according to the OECD, “child mortality is higher in the US than any other advanced economy, and adult Americans also live shorter lives.”

Hey, if you want to live longer, move to Japan or one of those fancy, effeminate European countries where they simply don’t understand that dying young just proves how tough you are and is clearly the patriotic thing to do.

The OECD gets a little personal when it claims that America “stands out as one of the only countries in the world where maternal mortality has increased, rather than decreasing, over the past 15 years.”

But of course, that’s just one of the ways in which it sucks to be an American woman. Because according to the report, the “share of US women who experience violence in their lifetime is much higher than the OECD average,” and “the gender wage gap is also bigger in the US.” But don’t worry, because another thing we have going for us is the fact that America is “one of only two countries in the world that do not mandate paid maternity leave.”

How’s that for American exceptionalism?

Now, my intention is not to bring you down this holiday season.

It is simply to point out that much work needs to be done, and shouting how we’re the “greatest” isn’t going to accomplish anything.

We cannot address our problems if we refuse to acknowledge them, or if we dismiss disturbing facts as fake news, or if we insist that we have nothing to learn from any other nation because we’re just the damn best.

We’re only 200+ years old. Maybe we have some growing up to do.

 


Who’s Next?

As I’ve mentioned before, my family is from El Salvador. I’ve never been there, but I hear that it’s nice.

Actually, I don’t hear that at all. In fact, I hear the direct opposite.

My mom and aunt came to America decades ago, and they have surprisingly little positive to say about their childhoods in El Salvador. One of my cousins came to the United States when he was a kid. He has vowed never to set foot in El Salvador the rest of his life, because the place holds such dark memories for him. And my brother has lived in that country for years now, and he has told me about the struggles of raising a family there.

So no, this isn’t going to be an up-with-the-motherland kind of article.

Because in addition to my family’s subjective experiences, there is also the fact that El Salvador is arguably “the murder capital of world.”

And that is definitely not a phrase to put on the travel brochure.

You see, the legacy of U.S. intervention, a horrific civil war, and a stagnant economy are all major reasons for the country’s problems. And of course, “violence by so-called maras – gangs that originated in the United States and spread to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – is thought to be the major push factor” in propelling the tiny nation into “a lethal cycle that the government’s current rhetoric and strategy will not be able to break.”

In short, it’s a messed-up place.

What’s interesting is that, as bad as El Salvador would be under most circumstances, a couple of stray variables have turned a horrific situation into a pure cataclysm.

Back in 1999, the government thought the best way to fight the skyrocketing crime rate was to arm its citizens. It was that whole fantastical scenario of a good guy with a gun coming in to save the day. Well, that didn’t exactly work out.

The laws “permitted the private possession of heavy weapons. Instead of reducing violence,” however, these laws “fuelled its escalation.”

Another factor in El Salvador’s demise is its hyper-religious culture. The Catholic Church has such sway over the inhabitants that abortion is “illegal in all circumstances, without exception, punishable by up to eight years in prison. Sentences of up to 30 years have been handed down when a judge determined that ‘homicide’ rather than abortion had occurred.”

When women are denied basic rights over their own bodies, the culture notices. And today, “El Salvador is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women,” with “the highest rate of femicide in the entire world.”

Now, you might say that this is all very depressing, but that’s life in the third world — right?

Well, look at some of those factors again: a country where citizens are heavily armed, religion is all-powerful, abortion is illegal, and strongmen run the place.

This is the dream of everyone who voted for Roy Moore yesterday. Fortunately for America, they were outnumbered… this time.

For all the fear and paranoia that white right-wingers have about Latinos, they seem absolutely hell-bent to adopt the very worst ideas of Hispanic culture.

Perhaps El Salvador has bottomed out, and can only improve.

But the United States, if handed over to zealots, can get a lot, lot worse.


Pick a Side

Good news — there is a 35 percent chance that the country will descend into open civil war within the next decade.

Now, you may ask, why is that good news?

Well, personally, I thought the odds of a second Battle of Antietam erupting within the year were around 50/50. So a risk of just 35 percent is positively optimistic.

Hey, nearly four out of five Americans “believe the nation is divided on the most important values.” And some experts claim that the nation is really a mash-up of almost a dozen different cultures where people “increasingly sort themselves into like-minded communities.” And, of yeah, in recent years, residents of both Texas and California have sincerely endeavored to secede from the union.

Naturally, we’re all wondering about the root causes of this internecine madness. Well, as is usual when nations start rotting from the inside, the main problem is the age-old malady of bigotry.

Yes, many social scientists have concluded that America is “vulnerable to racism, tribalism, and conflicting visions of the way forward for our nation.” And it certainly doesn’t help that our deranged president “modeled violence as a way to advance politically,” which feeds right into the narrative of the hardcore right wing and fuels talk of armed conflict.

Indeed, ever since the protests at Charlottesville, it should be perfectly clear to even the most idealistic person that “white fear of demographic change is a powerful force” and that “there are several lines of evidence converging on the idea that America is becoming a more hostile place for immigrants and outsiders.”

If you need further proof, “research does find that in the age of Trump — the age that started with an assertion that Mexicans were sending rapists to the US — it’s becoming more acceptable to be outwardly prejudiced.”

It’s all very depressing, of course, and we are correct to wonder how America has so quickly devolved into a nation where racists feel pretty good about themselves, and hatred toward Muslims is shrugged off a conservative value.

Hell, there was a time (not so very long ago) when “psychologists feared that ‘social desirability bias’ — people unwilling to admit they’re prejudiced, for fear of being shamed — would prevent people from answering questions about prejudice truthfully.” But in this terrible new America, “people will readily admit to believing all sorts of vile things. And researchers don’t need to use implicit or subliminal measures to suss it all out.”

This willingness to be horrible only verifies what progressives and ethnic minorities have been saying for years about a large subsection of America.

And yet, many media outlets still indulge in delusional thinking about Trump and his supporters. Despite mountains of anecdotal evidence — and in some cases, actual data-driven research — many commentators still dance around the issues of racism and xenophobia that characterizes Trump’s most ardent fans.

I mean, how many more studies do we need that show fictional “discrimination against whites was a core concern of Trump’s base”? No, it wasn’t a weak correlation or a side issue. It was a “core concern” of Trump’s support.

How often do we have to hear that “changing racial demographics of America contributed to Trump’s success as a presidential candidate among white Americans whose race/ethnicity is central to their identity”?

The truth is that there are millions of Americans who dream of an all-white country, one that is presumably 100 percent straight and Christian as well.

These are people who have never faced governmental or cultural oppression, and “who sat through the unit on the Second World War in their history class and looked at images of concentration camps and gas chambers and burning books and Anne Frank’s attic and still thought, well, hang on, maybe those Nazis had some interesting ideas.”

And they are all for Trump — to the point that he can no wrong and will never lose their support.

Now, in contrast to the bizarre enthusiasm that Trump supporters have of their man’s performance so far, more than half of all Americans and more than two-thirds of Latinos disapprove of the guy.

These are fundamental differences. One might even say that they are irreconcilable.

And since we’re using that kind of language, let’s admit a basic fact — one that may help us avoid open warfare.

We’re 240 years into this marriage, and maybe it’s time to admit that we’re no longer happy in the relationship. We have clearly grown apart. In fact, it’s worth asking if we ever really got along, because after all, there have been more than a few rocky times and bumps in the road over the decades.

Perhaps everyone would be happier if we called it quits and promised to stay in touch — you know, to negotiate intercontinental trade deals and stuff like that. But this whole idea that we are a unified nation and a cohesive culture… well, come on.

Who are we kidding?

 


A Grim Start

Well, here we are in 2017, and a new era of hope and peace and love and…

What’s that?

The cycle of hatred that crescendo in 2016 continues to careen onward, claiming new victims in ghastly ways?

Yes, scratch that opening line.

We are not even a week into the new year, and we have a fresh horrific example of humankind’s malevolence, courtesy of Chicago.

That’s where some Trump-hating teenagers assaulted a man, live on Facebook, while yelling slurs about white people.

I’m not going to show the video because, frankly, there’s too much violence porn out there already.

But I will point out that conservatives have responded with a certain sort of glee, thrilled to finally have some evidence that ethnic minorities are beating up on white people. And liberals have responded with outrage tinged with defensiveness.

I’m not going to get into all that, primarily because it should be perfectly clear that everyone — regardless of political affiliation or ethnicity — is repulsed by these acts. So there is no need to state the obvious about how grotesque these morons are. It’s like denouncing the Ebola virus.

Instead, I just want to point out that hatred feeds upon itself, and it is a base universality of human nature that many people will use the fact that they are being oppressed as perverse justification for their sick abuse of others.

It is Orwell’s vision of the future: Imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

Happy New Year…


Look Back in Horror

I am the child of an immigrant. My mom is from El Salvador, so I grew up with the tastes and influences of a typical American teenager, all mixed with a strong awareness of Latino culture and history. I’m pretty grateful for the combo.

You know who else is the child of an immigrant? Omar Mateen, the psychopath who murdered 49 people in Orlando a few nights ago.

orlando-shooting-0612-large-169

Mateen and I clearly had different interpretations of the dichotomies that come with being members of the first generation to be born in America. For example, I blended a love of hamburgers with an appreciation for pupusas, and I gave the music of my mother’s homeland a fair listen before popping in a Soundgarden album. It was a bit of a mezcla.

But Omar Mateen wasn’t interested in mixing cultures. He found it easier to just embrace the problems, prejudices, and anger of his parents’ country. Mateen latched onto his father’s homophobia and the religious mania that is widespread in his family’s homeland. And in so doing, he set out to be more culturally authentic than his parents ever were.

This is not an issue of assimilation or integration, as so many people believe it to be. No, it is more of a cultural mindset.

It is a mindset that provokes young men, born and raised in America, to adopt the radical politics of their parents’ homelands. It is a mindset of fear and fury.

The massacre in Orlando — and the fact that so many of the victims were Latino — got me thinking about how this cultural perception forms one of the many roots of bigotry and violence.

Let’s ask, why are there no Latino terrorists, going on shooting sprees or strapping on bombs to avenge the pain and misery that the United States government has inflicted upon El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and other Latin American countries?

Indeed, there is ample reason for Hispanics to be more than a little pissed about our treatment and standing in the United States.

And yet, survey after survey shows that Latinos are more optimistic about the future and more positive about life in general than just about any other American demographic. We are pretty much the last people to use the injustices of the past to justify abhorrent behavior.

One reason for this is so obvious that it borders on the simplistic. But here it is: Latinos tend to look forward.

We pack up and move to new countries in search of better lives. We assume our kids will do better than us. We have faith that circumstances will improve.

And this forward-thinking mindset, this cultural tendency to dismiss the woes of the past, helps us to maintain optimism in the face of economic and political tribulations. It helps us to set aside our pain and disappointment, rather than hoist them upon our backs for all to see.

In contrast, angry and hate-filled people tend to look backward, toward some vague past, and then they threaten to make America, you know, “great again.”

And other people, like Omar Mateen, not only look backward — they glare at it with a white-hot obsession and rage. They believe that their culture’s best days are long behind them, that the present holds nothing more than humiliation and despair, and that someone — maybe American society or gays or left-handed dentists or whoever — is to blame.

Omar Mateen, in addition to being a pathetic and homicidal loser, was an unimaginative, scared person who had no faith in the future. And someone taught him that mindset, inculcating him with the belief that it was reality.

As for his victims — people with names like Almodovar and Guerrero and Rios and Flores — they most likely had great hopes for tomorrow and next year and the next decade. But that optimism and those dreams were cruelly taken from them by a furious man who could do nothing better with his life than stare backward into the distant past.

 


The End of All the Horribleness?

If there is one thing that the candidacy of Donald Trump has taught us, it is to never count him — or his followers — out.

The man emerged as a joke candidate last summer, who was supposed to have collapsed into his own hubris by August… or October… or Christmas at the latest… but certainly no later than spring 2016… right?

Well, despite recent troubled times for his campaign, Trump is still the unquestioned frontrunner for the GOP nomination.

Therefore, we must be skeptical of the latest analysis that “without an extraordinary reversal — or the total collapse of whoever becomes his general-election opponent — Mr. Trump could be hard-pressed to win more than 200 of the 270 electoral votes required to win.”

However, let’s assume that sanity will finally grip the American people, and they will decline to elect a megalomaniacal racist with misogynistic tendencies who has no idea of how the government actually works.

Whew — that was a close one!

But then we will have to confront another issue, which is “where will all that anger, which has been slowly building among America’s white working class for half a century, go once it is left without a viable political outlet?”

It’s a valid question, and one that has led some commentators to theorize that “we may already be getting a chilling preview of a possible post-Trump future in the spasms of seemingly random gun violence” and that we may be forced to endure “a flood of white violence and anger” starting in 2017.

skinheads

OK, that doesn’t sound so good.

Unfortunately, it’s also quite possible. As we know, Trump rallies are to violence what Taco Bell is to college students with late-night munchies.

And when it comes to guns, studies show that “racial prejudice influences white opinion regarding gun regulation,” implying that bigoted people are more likely to be carrying.

So will we see hordes of angry racists strolling around cities, taking shots at ethnic minorities?

Maybe, but probably not.

You see, another possibility — the far more optimistic one — is that we are witnessing the final pathetic spasms of overt bigotry in American life, or at least prejudice on a grand scale.

Yes, racism will always be with us. Trump losing isn’t going to make it magically disappear.

But I’m talking about the death of right-wing demagoguery that baldly appeals to Americans’ worst natures. After Trump’s expected flameout, will any other candidate seize upon the man’s failed ploy to inflame racial tensions? More likely, the GOP will finally listen to the advice of political experts who point out that the infamous Southern Strategy has reached the end of its obnoxious lifespan.

With the GOP of 2020 playing nice, right-wingers may finally realize that the game is over, and that all their efforts to “take America back” are futile.

Once they see they are outnumbered and cannot win elections against moderates and those damn liberals, they may finally give up and accept a changed America, albeit with an angry and sullen fury that makes teenage girls seem like calm and rational debaters. Reduced to a dwindling demographic of cranky elderly people who miss the good old days, they will, with each passing year and each fresh batch of multiethnic babies, become less relevant, to the point of political and cultural impotence.

It bears repeating, of course, that most of Trump’s supporters aren’t racists. But the man’s appeal to white supremacists is undeniable, as is his connection to Americans who have issues with blacks… and Latinos… and Muslims… and a few others.

It is those individuals, the proudly prejudiced and the so-called politically incorrect, who will pack up their Make America Great Again signs and whimper off into oblivion.

Well, that’s the hope, anyway.

 


Help Is (Not) on the Way

I’ve never been in therapy. I don’t say this as a boast, just as a simple acknowledgement of luck.

You see, I’m fortunate in that I’ve haven’t been afflicted with depression or addiction or any of the myriad issues that arise when brain chemicals go all kabloowy. Nor have any of my personal traumas been so severe that I had to address the PTSD of it all.

But as we all know, many people aren’t so lucky. It’s estimated that around one in five Americans suffers from mental illness at some point in their lives.

And now comes news that for Latino youth, the numbers are on the rise. A recent study showed that “an alarming rise in the psychiatric hospitalizations of Latino children and young adults in California, even compared to the youth of other ethnicities.”

Between 2007 and 2014, the rate of mental health hospitalizations of young Latinos (age 21 and younger) jumped 86 percent.

upward-graph

Why is this?

Well, researchers believe that “a number of social issues play a part in the trend, including the recession, separation and disintegration of families, and the trauma of escaping the violence in their home countries.”

In addition, a “lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate psychiatric services available” means that young Hispanics often don’t get help addressing their festering problems, with the result that they eventually blossom into full-fledged crises that require hospitalization.

Also, one has to wonder if being constantly demonized gets under the skin of young Latinos. But this very fact — that so much of America despises Hispanics — provides another reason why this issue is unlikely to get better any time soon.

It’s a vicious, and rather sick, circle.


Big News

I’ve written hundreds of blog posts — enough words to fill one huge book or two medium-sized ones.

So I figured, why not go ahead and write a novel while I’m at it? And I’d make it a real one, with a plot and characters and themes and stuff like that. Wouldn’t that be great?

Yes, it would. So I’m happy to announce that my debut novel, Barrio Imbroglio, is now available on Amazon.

Walk on a roof edge

What’s it about? Well, here is the official synopsis:

“Abraxas Hernandez never wanted to be a detective. But when his cousin is murdered, Abraxas is dragged into a frenzied investigation that takes him from the mean streets to the corridors of power in City Hall to a tequila-fueled pool party that turns deadly.”

The novel is a black comedy / mystery, and it builds off my writings about Latino culture. Oh, and the story is full of violence, vulgarity, homicide, and stray jokes about Immanuel Kant.

So please grab a copy (just $3.99) and let me know what you think of it.

Thanks in advance.

 


And Another Thing…

I recently found out that I have distant in-laws who live in Ferguson. They are my wife’s extended family, and I met them once in passing about a decade ago. That is my only personal connection to the city that has joined the short list of places whose very name signifies tragedy and/or disaster (e.g., Newtown, Chernobyl, etc).

In any case, there is not much I can add to the national debate over police brutality and systemic racism. I have never claimed to speak for all Hispanics, and I certainly can’t claim to speak on behalf of blacks. Maybe Charles Barkley can handle that.

barkely

But I just want to reiterate a couple of points that many people seem to have forgotten during all the chaos in Ferguson and the outrage over Eric Gardner’s death.

First, claiming that Brown, Gardner, et al were no angels is irrelevant. It only implies that you think cops have the right to execute people in public, without a trail or even a charge. You should rethink this position. Really.

Second, changing the subject to black-on-black crime is also irrelevant. There’s also more white-on-white crime than interracial crime. What does any of that have to do with whether cops are out of control or not?

Third, claiming that racism doesn’t exist is just idiotic and/or self-serving. Similarly, claiming that you don’t see color is either a lie or a tremendous delusion. It’s been scientifically proven that you do see color, so just drop the above-it-all attitude.

Fourth, stop insisting that if ethnic minorities just behaved, they would not have issues with cops. This is not only insulting and condescending, but laughably naïve. There is a whole trending item about how the police perceive white people differently. Check it out.

Lastly, go ahead and condemn violence and the looters. But don’t let that distract you from the real issues here. And those issues are legion.

 


Bang

A few weeks ago, the head of the NYPD criticized Latinos and blacks for tolerating gun violence. Commissioner Ray Kelly’s timing could not have been more exquisite, for as we all know, some nut in Colorado has decided to take part in that most American of activities: the mass shooting of strangers.

Although it’s true that “America’s Hispanic population suffers from firearm violence at rates far greater than the U.S. population overall,” the idea that Latinos are more accepting of violence is darkly hilarious. After all, most of the mass shootings that grab headlines have taken place in predominately white small towns and suburbs.

To continue reading this post, please click here. 

 

 


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