We Cannot Afford the Death Penalty for a Number of Reasons

by David T. Bruce

death penaltyTroy Davis, convicted of the fatal shooting of police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989, was put to death on September 21, 2011 in the state of Georgia.  Davis was convicted, although no gun was found, and no DNA evidence was produced unquestionably linking the accused to the crime.

A recent Reuters news article pointed out that in 2009 the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that Davis receive a new hearing to examine new evidence that would support his innocence.  Furthermore, “former FBI Director William Sessions called for Davis’ sentence to be commuted to life in prison, saying the case was ‘permeated in doubt.’”  The new evidence, however, was rejected by the U.S. District Court in Georgia a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the review.  Last-minute appeals to the county court and pardons board were likewise rejected.  With significant cause to doubt the validity of Davis’ conviction, why were the survivors and the Georgia officials hell-bent on executing a potentially innocent man?

An article in the Huffington Post describes an incident reported in the New Yorker that shows an innocent man was wrongly accused of a murder and subsequently executed following 12 years on death row.  The investigative reporter, David Grann, points out that “experts who testified [against the accused] should have known” that the forensic evidence was “completely invalid.”  A forensic research consultant submitted data from the Death Penalty Information Center illustrating that prior to the 1972 Furman moratorium (overturned in 1976), approximately 14,489 executions were recorded, and since 1977, 1,118 (1,267 as of September 18, 2011) have been executed.  Of those sentenced to death since 1977, 139 have been exonerated; an estimated 39 inmates found to be innocent were wrongly executed.  Based on data collected in 2009 approximately 11% of the people convicted of a crime warranting the death penalty have been found to be innocent.  Such a failure rate suggests that the system is flawed, and this also suggests that the fate of Troy Davis is not isolated nor the argument in favor of his innocence uncalled for.

A brief review of recent statistics related to the death penalty illustrate that the United States is the only industrialized nation other than Japan that tolerates the death penalty, and seemingly in spite of evidence suggesting innocence or mental retardation.  Thirty-four states currently allow for executions, typically by lethal injection; however, the use of the electric chair is legal.  How can this be, when according to a Lake Research Partners 2010 poll, 61% of voters believed that a punishment other than the death penalty should be used against those convicted of murder?

I cannot begin to fathom the grief that survivors must endure when a loved one is murdered.  At the same time, I cannot reconcile in my own mind how we can present ourselves to the rest of the world as a society and a country that is evolved and against cruelty to man, while we can put a person to death based on circumstantial evidence.  How can we as a nation persistently tout the rights of the unborn child, while we look the other way as inmates are put to death for crimes that may not have committed?  Frighteningly, how many of us can look onward as those on death row are executed?  How many of us demand retribution?  Why were the Georgia officials and the survivors hell-bent on the execution of Troy Davis?

Revenge.

Is this human emotion understandable?  Yes.  Does this help us understand why officials looked the other way or ignored evidence suggesting the innocence of the convicted?  No.  Should we search for an alternative to execution?  Yes.

If we cannot rationalize the moral and ethical implications associated with the death penalty, then let’s talk about something that we can rationalize: the cost, especially as the fate of our global economy is also in question.  The average cost of defending a trial in a federal death case is $620,932, about 8 times that of a federal murder case in which the death penalty is not sought.

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice reported that an additional $90,000 is spent per inmate sentenced to death per year, compared to that of inmates serving life sentences. The 670 inmates on death row in California cost the state an additional $63.3 million annually.  The commission estimates the annual cost of the current death penalty system to be $137 million. With suggested reforms, that cost would rise to $232.7 million per year. To impose a lifetime of incarceration instead of the death penalty would cost $11.5 million per year. That’s a savings of $125 million or more per year, just in California.

During a period of time when our nation is struggling to make ends meet, we have no valid fiscal excuse for executing prisoners.  Not that we have a good excuse to begin with.  “An eye for an eye” has a nice barbaric ring to it, but we as a society must find some resolve for our need for revenge.  We are not doing ourselves any justice by putting someone to death.  A piece of us is lost when we turn our backs to this bias. There must be far better punishments than the death penalty.

Lawfully convicted murderers should live with their crimes and suffer a lifetime of incarceration without hope for parole.  This is obviously a less expensive alternative.  Execution is more expensive, sets convicted murderers free (death can indeed be construed as freedom), and presents the risk of executing an innocent person (thereby committing murder – who answers for that crime?).  Ultimately, execution is for the benefit of the survivors.  We are giving in to the basest part of ourselves, and we are kidding ourselves by arguing otherwise.

An innocent man was executed on September 21, 2011.  Many innocent people have been executed before him, and many more will follow.  We speak of change.  This is a change we must make – for our own humanity.

The United States Government – A Burden on Society

by David T. Bruce

A recent article from the Associated Press asks the question: Is it the responsibility of the government to fix the economy? Presidential candidate hopefuls maintain that if the federal government steps back, “[t]he economy will thrive.” If the government would learn how to balance a budget and manage its own spending, we could argue that we would not be suffering the crisis that we are today.  As much as the majority of the Republican Party would like to deny association with the constituents they so proudly embrace every two to four years, our government and the people are intertwined.

If people are employed and prospering financially, then the government does well. This can be measured by an increase in spending and a subsequent increase in tax revenue. We recently had a brief reminder of what might happen were the government to shut down: military veterans and social security recipients may not receive benefits, and many federal employees may find themselves temporarily unemployed. We rely on the government, and the government relies on the populace. As is asked in the AP analysis, “[w]hat is the right balance?”

When debating about balancing the budget, the question is not whether or not our nation has money. The question is what to do with the money we have. We obviously have money enough to engage in at least two (arguably three) land conflicts. An analysis by Chris Hellman illustrates that the funds requested for nuclear weapons in 2007 surpassed “the average amount spent by the Pentagon during the Cold War, for a military that is one-third smaller than it was just over a decade ago.” Bill Boyarsky points out in his study that “the total bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, according to CostofWar.com, is now $1.24 trillion.” Adding the cost of movements in Pakistan, the cost to Americans for these conflicts will total between $3.2 trillion and $4 trillion. We have enough money to wage war perpetually.

We also have money enough to bail out businesses that fail in their professional and fiduciary responsibilities. Bailout figures show that $2.7 billion was spent in 2009, while $445 billion was spent in 2007 and $1.7 trillion was spent in 2008 under Republicans. These numbers and the numbers illustrating expenditures on military endeavors over the past several years demonstrate that the government does not want to give money to help the voting constituents they feign to adore. They do, however, want to provide money in abundance to the big companies, thereby securing the votes for which they truly care.

When our elected officials gather together to balance the budget, a gesture on their part to balance how these billions and trillions of dollars are allocated would be a step towards truly appreciating those people who are the foundation of America. Certainly, there are those people (of the smallest minority) that make bad decisions and choose to live solely under the umbrella of services that local and federal governments provide. The majority, however, are suffering as the result of bad decisions made by our elected officials.

Is it the responsibility of these officials to fix the economy? Yes! They screwed it up!

I am tired of the government reneging on what they think citizens are not entitled to, while they give companies trillions of dollars in entitlements, rewards for making bad choices.  I think many Americans feel the same way.  As citizens of this country, we are expected to manage our affairs in such a way that we do not become a burden on society. This election year, and every election year from now on, our mandate to Capitol Hill must be that our elected officials keep their houses in order.

Judging from what we are witnessing, they are the burden on our society.

Enough is enough. Stop bickering. Start doing your jobs. Fix your mess. Fix the economy. Step down from your pedestals and podiums and get your hands dirty. This is not about you and the next election. This is about today, and this is about the future of our country.

You Don’t Have to be Rich or Blind to be a Patriot but It Sure Helps

by David T. Bruce

As a fan of the rock band KISS and as one who respects what Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley represent in terms of the American dream and the power of the individual to succeed, I have to rebut Mr. Simmons’ recent essay published in August 17, 2011 edition of The Washington Times.

Mr. Simmons tells us that being patriotic has become politically incorrect, referring to the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the national anthem.  On the contrary, being one who is often politically incorrect, to be so risks being branded as unpatriotic.  To raise a voice against any of the military choices of the past several years (wholly unrelated to the attacks of 9/11) and to suggest that maybe some of the billions of dollars spent on the military in support of not-less-than three conflicts opens the person behind such remarks to verbal assault and public scorn.

I am genuinely pleased that other immigrants have found success in America, as have many citizens of this country.  However, the achievements made and enjoyed by Mr. Simmons in particular are without argument the exception and not the rule.  According to statistics compiled by Jim Hanas, a person’s chances of becoming remotely famous are 1 in 62,986.  In comparison, the chances of lightning striking a person are found to be 1 in 83,930, and your chances of being legally executed are 1 in 58, 618.

Undoubtedly, the odds of a person achieving the level of notoriety that Mr. Simmons has is statistically far more remote.  Yes, he has worked hard for what he has earned.  At the same time, we have to admit to ourselves that luck plays a part in success.  As well, once a person has money, it becomes easier to make more money.

Very little effort is required to find valid, irrefutable statistics that support that the minority of Americans make the majority of the money in this country.  My regards go to those that have found the right combination of ancestry, education, skill, and luck to bring them to the top of the financial heap.  I do not think many of us desire to strip success away from anyone or show disregard or disrespect for those that work hard for their triumphs.  At the same time, I take great exception to being told how I should feel when the America Mr. Simmons describes is indeed a dream when compared with the America that most citizens are familiar with.

Many of us are born into a country in which you must have a diploma to prove that you are competent in a given field.  Having paid for this document, you may or may not find employment.  Such is the America many people live in now.  If a person happens to be elderly or disabled, you may or may not qualify for adequate medical care.  You may or may not enjoy healthy food in an America where it costs less to eat fast food and junk food than it does to eat fruits and vegetables.  This is the reality of the twenty-first-century America.

Mr. Simmons, I respect you and your accomplishments in many ways.  At the same time, you represent a part of America that is either blind or refuses to see beyond money.  Money does not represent the foundation of America; people do.  Those people are forgotten or ignored unless money is somehow involved.  I am proud of my country, for what it is supposed to stand for.  I am forever proud of our soldiers, those that do sacrifice their time, their families, and their lives for the American dream.  I am as equally ashamed of our government, and of those representatives who care for no one or no thing unless they see dollar signs.  They have not sacrificed a damned thing.

In Order to Form a More Perfect Union

by David T. Bruce

independencedayOur family enjoyed watching the local fireworks display this Independence Day, and I enjoyed watching my children’s faces as the colors from the bursts reflected in their smiles.  At the same time we celebrated the day, I questioned the reality of what we were supposedly celebrating.

As a good parent, I share with my children the significance of Independence Day, and I try to instill a measure of patriotism within them.  As a citizen, I wrestle with how we tend to define patriotism following the terrorist attacks of September 2001.  If a person speaks out against a policy that is in any way tied to our military or military support, that person is considered to be unpatriotic.  If a person finds a measure of government support beneficial, that person is considered to be socialist.  Corporate bail-outs are acceptable, however.

For the right to have super department stores, credit cards, MP3 devices, and cell phones, we have pawned our right to speak freely against a government that repeatedly reveals itself to be as corrupt as that government we declared independence from over 230 years ago.  In 1776, we invoked the people’s right of revolution against a corrupt government, for “it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.”  The Declaration of Independence provides for this right, yet like so many of our rights, we do not exercise the right to vote or speak out against possible and obvious government corruption.  What I find most chilling is that the choice to speak out is often discouraged by our peers and to some degree, depending on what community a person lives in, by local governments.

When we celebrate Independence Day, we celebrate a moment in time that was profound and inspirational.  We also celebrate a continued freedom.  I wonder, however, if we are examining closely the price of freedom, not in lives sacrificed in conflicts, but in rights sacrificed on the home front.  How ironic that for the sake of freedom, we tend to look the other way from government corruption related to business and religious conviction, thereby forsaking our rights.

I am proud of where America comes from and what America stands for in that context.  I am pleased that I have the opportunity to share these words today with an audience that may or may not be forgiving of my criticism.  I am guarded and fearful, however, of a government that is systematically forging a regime that forsakes the individual, giving allegiance only to collectives with the heaviest coffers.   Instead of resting on our laurels, perhaps we should look to the future, observing Independence Day as an affirmation of what the day is intended to signify and as a reminder of the work we, the People, still have to do.

Unemployment in America is Not a Joke, Mitt Romney

by David T. Bruce

er-unemploymentWith at least $250 million dollars in assets, Mitt Romney cannot afford to practice his stand-up comedy routine to an audience of Americans who struggle daily to remain sheltered, clothed, and nourished.  With one third of children in America covered under the Medicaid program, with over 44 million American’s on food stamps, and with over 9 percent of Americans still unemployed, American citizens cannot afford to remain complacent in terms of learning more about who they support for any office, let alone the presidency.

Make no mistake. The vast majority of politicians are not altruistic. Even with the best of intentions, the person that earns (collects?) the majority of constituent votes enjoys a lifestyle that may likely blind them to the realities of living as most Americans live. They will not want for the basic necessities of life, and in all likelihood, they will enjoy a life style with an abundance of cultural and academic opportunities. Severance pay for our each of our elected officials may run in the millions of dollars, assuring our retired or fired senators and representatives that they will never have to worry about being unemployed again.

The palpable fear of being unemployed is a daily reality for over 60 percent of Americans as they live paycheck to paycheck. The political and corporate machines feed off of one another.  In a tag-team effort, these two machines prey on the American public for their survival, leaving them just enough scraps to enjoy the moment and to forget that tomorrow we may not have a home or clothes or food. The majority of Americans do not have assets from which to draw, as Mitt Romney does. For him to compare his station, even in jest, with that of the typical American shows a profound disconnect with the reality of living in America in the twenty-first century.

At some point, we as a society need to recognize that the current corporate and political structures are set up to safeguard themselves and not the American public. Both establishments present themselves as entities whose nature is to serve their constituents, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Both establishments are self-sustaining, pandering to the American public for votes alone. They want nothing nor need anything else from the average American. Therefore, every three to four years, politicians such as Mr. Romney attempt to build bridges, comparing their reality with the reality of twenty-first century America. They make meager attempts at levity to lighten the mood and engender a sense of openness. We must recognize these façades and charades for what they are.

Mitt Romney tells President Obama that Americans “are not just statistics.”  Mr. Romney, Americans are not just a punch line either. The reality of America today is not funny, and neither are you.

Big Oil Subsidies Squeeze the Middle Class

by David T. Bruce

oil_earthIn a recent Congressional debate, the majority of Republicans argued that the five largest oil companies were entitled to a $2 billion annual subsidy to offset the $35 billion they earned (?) in the first quarter of 2011.  One particular senator sarcastically stated that making money in America must now be unacceptable, specifically targeting the Democrats’ proposal to eliminate these subsidies.

According to a recent article in The Washington Times, wages in America are up 1.7%, whereas the rate of inflation is up 2%.  Statistically, households with the lowest income in the United States spend approximately twice as much on food, relatively speaking, as households with the highest income.  Obviously, the dramatic increase in the cost of fuel limits the spending power of the average American.  It is estimated that the tax cuts recently approved by Congress will be absorbed by the increased cost of gasoline.  Yes, apparently making money in America is indeed no longer acceptable . . . unless you live and work on Capitol Hill or unless you are a CEO or COO of the aforementioned oil companies.

Recent polls show that public opinion in favor of Congress is significantly low.  According to recent Gallup polls, Congress has achieved an approval rating as low as 13% over the past year.  If this is indeed the case, then perhaps as a society, we should consider placing more emphasis on the state representatives we elect and less emphasis on the executive office that is often provided with speed bumps and road blocks by the opposing party anyway.  We must give careful consideration and close scrutiny to those people we elect at the state level, who are charged to represent the interest of their constituents.  Right now, many representatives seem to represent only the interests of the oil companies (and other major industries) and by extension their own individual interests, forsaking the interests of those that elected them to office. For example: the only three Democrats to side with the Republicans in the Oil Subsidy vote were from Louisiana, Nebraska, and Alaska, all big oil states.

The greater majority of the voting public has not made a substantial living in years.  While our government bails out the banking industry and subsidizes the oil industry, that which is left of the middle class struggles daily to raise a family and support their communities, as they slowly merge with the lower class.  How can the majority of Republicans dare to compare the plight of the average American with that of the incomparable benefits that the corporate giants enjoy with the blessings of Congress?

In fairness to Congress, we as a society share a measure of responsibility in creating this dependence on fuel.  Many Americans insist on the value of SUVs, 4X4 pickup trucks, and similar gas-guzzling automotive apparatuses.  We are not sending the message that we care about fuel consumption, fuel waste, or the environment.  We continue to put money into the coffers of the oil industry instead of alternative energy sources.  We continue to pursue off-shore drilling instead of cultivating wind farms or solar power.  We can respond to the oil companies by supporting alternate energy options, and we can respond to our representatives by sending them home.  Maybe then they will understand what it really means to not make money in America.

Make Every Day an International Day of Compassion

by David T. Bruce

Image courtest of Baby Boomer Yearbook
Image courtest of Baby Boomer Yearbook

Inspired by Dr. Patch Adams, today has been set aside for bloggers to unite for compassion, with the hope of eclipsing the pervasive global violence that has become a staple of our collective cultures.  Following in the footsteps of the Dalai Lama, the impetus for this movement is to encourage each person to show compassion for another.  The Dalai Lama said that “true compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason.”  He also said that “our prime purpose in this life is to help others, and if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”  If we are to learn anything from this movement, it should be that if we embrace this sentiment, we can all show compassion, at least passively.

Much of the momentum behind the writing in Ethical Revolutionist is a response against the aforementioned violence that is most often justified by religious or corporate dogma.  Our various cultures (the United States included) strike or condemn in the name of God (or other deity); we colonize other lands under the guise of guardian; we extract and extort from one another to acquire various resources.  These are not compassionate behaviors.

Without argument, our society has been wronged.  We have been unfairly attacked and judged.  We have responded accordingly, understandably with a combined measure of arrogance and dignity.  I do not suggest that we should turn the other cheek, nor should any society that has been unjustly mistreated.  Justice demands to be served, and honor needs to be satisfied.  Such is our nature.  At the same time, we must choose at some point to embrace other cultures, setting aside our differences, allowing others to live their lives as they choose.  And if we cannot embrace them, at least we should not deface them.  This is compassion.

If we cannot walk outside of our homes and help one person with an act of compassion for whatever reason, we can choose to not hurt a person.  This is compassion.  “If you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”  Yes, we are currently locked in a dogmatic, moralistic confrontation with various political and societal constituents of the Middle East.  At one point, however, do either of our cultures or both of our cultures make the choice to leave the other to live as they choose, keeping our opinions and our ways of lives to ourselves?  When and how do we decide to stop? Such a choice is a show of compassion.  We will truly follow in the footsteps of Dr. Patch Adams and the Dalai Lama when we choose every day, not just today, to at least not hate if we cannot love.

The late Leo Buscaglia, a professor at the University of Southern California, once said:

I believe that you can control your destiny, that you can be what you want to be.  You can also stop and say, No, I won’t do it, I won’t behave his way any more.  I’m lonely and I need people around me, maybe I have to change my methods of behaving and then you do it.

We cannot control the destiny of another; we can only control our own destiny.  Compassion starts with each of us.  Today is a good day to start.

An Unrealistic Vision of Reality

by David T. Bruce

911As on the day that al-Qaeda terrorists took over 3,000 lives, my heart today – the day that Osama Bin Laden, the founder and leader of the al-Qaeda was assassinated in response to these attacks – goes out to the family members who mourned the loss of those they were close to.  Maybe today they will find some peace of mind, some peace within.  I truly hope they do.  For the rest of us, I worry.

Those families who lost loved ones sought justice, at least in an honorable sense.  I struggle within myself as to what the rest of us America sought.  Is our pride so easily wounded?  Our response to the successful attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (and the failed attack on the White House) was a knee-jerk reaction.  Up until the terrorist attacks on our country, we lived behind a veil, submersing ourselves in “reality” shows, living a fantasy funded by credit and caprice.  Al-Qaeda opened our eyes to true reality.  This reality, however, is not one that can be turned off or pre-empted.

While we can enjoy a measure of success and comfort in at least incapacitating the Al-Qaeda by permanently removing Bin Laden as the head of the terrorist organization, we are foolish to believe that we have stopped al-Qaeda or any other extremist group.  Like the multi-headed Hydra, a new leader for al-Qaeda will replace Bin Laden, and the cycle of events pitting one ideology against another will begin anew.

We must ask ourselves “what have we gained by assassinating Bin Laden?”  Outside the Capitol, citizens chanted “USA, USA,” reacting to the news they had heard about the death of Bin Laden.  How is this different from the throngs of people in the Middle East who cheered at the collapse of the World Trade Center towers?  Do our different ideologies, religions, skin color, or clothes make us all that different?  We are all still human, and the taking of any life diminishes us as humans.  The celebration of taking a life strips us of our souls.

Hypocritically, to some extent, I do feel a sense of relief that this chapter has come to an end.  Almost ten years to the day that Americans were reminded that they were a part of a larger community, we may enjoy some closure.  At the same time, I feel a sense of apprehension that we will again become complacent, retreating into our “reality.”  Will we learn from this chain of events?

The al-Qaeda will not turn the other cheek, and their convictions will carry them into the future.  We must adapt to this reality, not necessarily fighting a war that we cannot win by conventional means, but instead living cautiously, with our eyes wide open instead of wide shut.  We do not need to remain on the offensive to remain safe; we do have to safeguard our home by adopting a lifestyle and strategy that deters future terrorist attacks.  We have Guard and Reserve units who may best serve their country at home, not in the Middle East.  By conducting ourselves proactively instead of reactively, we stand the best chance of winning the war against terrorism every day.

Domestic Nonlethal Assistance Repealed

by David T. Bruce

discretionary-spending-2011
Source: Mother Jones

As a society, we may have become numb to the reality that we have spent almost ten years in the Middle East, engaged in conflicts with Afghanistan and Iraq.  Now we find that we are compelled to join NATO in support of Libyan rebels.  To support our troops (an admirable incentive) and our habit, billions of dollars must be allocated for defense.

According to information provided by the National Journal, the Pentagon has requested $708.3 billion for this year, including $159.3 billion to continue our campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.  During the first day of operation in Libya, the United States spent approximately $100 million.  Following the initial attacks on the forces of Colonel Gaddifi, we have recently pledged additional military assistance by sending armed drone aircraft into Libya.  This amounts to an additional $25 million of “nonlethal” [really?] military assistance.

At the same time, our representatives want to eliminate $1 trillion from the Medicaid program over the next ten years, or $84 billion a year.  This suggests that much of the money once used for healthcare in the United States is to be reallocated to support the habits of the Pentagon.

We have money enough to send “nonlethal” assistance to foreign countries, while we simultaneously propose cutbacks in what our representatives call “entitlements.”  The result of denying the disabled, elderly, and low-income citizens of America from having these “entitlements” is indeed lethal.  Apparently, saving lives of citizens in other countries is humane, while saving the lives of Americans at home is an entitlement.  Yes, we need to make changes to the Medicaid (and Medicare) programs, but perhaps the fault of the misuse or abuse is less of an indictment against the patients.

It is remarkable and yet interesting to journey down Constitution Avenue in Washington D. C.  Observe and take note of the buildings that line either side of the street: the Federal Trade Commission, the National Archives, the Department of Justice, the National Museum of Natural History, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Commerce, the National Aquarium, the Federal Reserve, the Albert Einstein Memorial, and . . . the American Pharmaceutical Association? . . . yes, the American Pharmaceutical Association.

Is it possible that the problem is not abuse of the system by the patients and more of an abuse of the system by providers and pharmaceutical companies?  Many incidents may be cited in which service was provided for no reason other than the bill was covered by Medicaid.  The cost of medication is on the rise, and I question whether or not pressure is being put on the pharmaceutical companies to keep their costs down.  Instead, patients are targeted.  At some point, voters must realize that our elected representatives lobby for large businesses when they should be lobbying for their constituents.

America – A Dream to Some, A Nightmare to Others

by David T. Bruce

dc-3My family and I just returned to our small village after spending four days visiting Washington D.C.  During our visit, we enjoyed the exhibits of a few Smithsonian museums, and we toured the obligatory streets and malls of the district in which resided the various presidential monuments and federal buildings, to include the Capitol and the White House.

Admittedly, I felt a sense of awe as we entered the District of Columbia via the George Washington Memorial Parkway and saw the Washington Monument behind a screen of haze and setting sun.

During our stay, I rekindled fond memories of the Apollo lunar program, satisfied the child within by exploring decades-old pop culture artifacts, and explored the history of the area that is our nation’s capital.

As a parent, I patted myself on the back for fostering the development of my children, introducing them to a history they had only skimmed in a text book or glimpsed in a Hollywood movie.  At the same time, as a citizen, I became more cynical as each day passed.

While the architecture is beautiful, the streets are clean and well cared for, and the transportation system is exceptional, I became increasingly sensitive to the disparity between what the District of Columbia represented versus what the reality of America is for the better share of the population of this country. While our family toured a region of America symbolic of freedom and democracy, our Representatives and Senators, perpetually embroiled in a debate over how to spend tax payer dollars, were gridlocked to the point in which the government is at risk of being shut down.

As I conclude this writing, the two disparate halves of our government have somehow come to a consensus that allowed for the budget to be passed and the federal government to continue doing business. Of highest concern, however, are those items that contributed to the heated debate: budget cuts that most affected elderly, disabled, and low-income Americans.  At the same time I and my family contribute tourist dollars to the District of Columbia economy, as our elected representatives and their families enjoyed the luxury of private schools, exceptional transportation, and an environment in which money is obviously no object, at least half of our nations representatives had the impudence to propose cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and Planned Parenthood programs, directly affecting those who have little or no means to help themselves.

While the federal government proposes that funds be cut from the budget that, funds that support the elderly, disabled, and low-income citizens of America, and as the federal government proposes that states and the private industry (entities who are already in financial distress and have shown themselves to be incapable of providing adequate, affordable services) take over programs for the same, our government has exhibited little or no concern for these that have, as I say, no means to help themselves.  Those representatives that have raised their hand in support of such measure should be ashamed.

As an American and a father, I too feel shame, as I lead my children around a part of American they should be proud of.  Instead, these monuments and museums become mere shadows of what was and what could have been.  Today, there is to evident truth that all citizens are created equal.  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are for those fortunate enough to be young, healthy, and God-fearing.  As a nation, we must come to grips with the reality that we will not survive as a nation divided.  At some point in time, we must all realize that “live and let live” means we must embrace our neighbors and offer a helping hand regardless of where they come from or where they are born.  Our government must begin to set the example by cutting the budget for everyone, by living within their means (as families do across the country), and by showing compassion for those who do not enjoy a fraction of the American dream that they do.  If America can spend in excess of $100 billion per year to take away lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, then perhaps they can spend at least that amount to help promote the health and welfare of America’s elderly, disabled, and low-income families.  The American dream is becoming a nightmare for many.