Religious Freedom Is Only For Christians

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 1, 2016 in News & Opinion |

There are, in theory, two great bastions of religious freedom, going by what their governments, constitutions or laws claim: the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Both of these countries have experienced religious persecution in the past – indeed, the North American continent was initially colonized by people wishing to get away from religious persecution in England and Europe – and have fought to prevent such persecution occurring ever again.

Of course, there have been many incidents of intolerance over the centuries; it is impossible to wipe such actions out of society completely as there are always those who firmly believe that their religion, despite the law and many proclamations from their religious leaders, is the one and only with no other religion capable of being tolerated. Statistics, however you wish to take them, appear to show that religious tolerance is beginning to wear thin once more, on both sides of the Atlantic. This Tweet came to my attention the other day: an English supermarket requesting tolerance when it comes to religious beliefs and food, copied by an American organization – which one can assume is of the extreme right (we’re not supposed to say alt-right any more) – with a clear call to soil the food, by association with ‘unclean’ food, of others.

Religious Hatred

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Rebellion Report / Ann Coulter

I wouldn’t normally have found this posting with any ease, neither account is on my watch and read list, but for the fact that it had been reposted by someone who is on that list. Someone who believes in American values to such an extent that she constantly demands actions which go against both the Constitution and the laws of the land as much as true social values and moral principles: Ann Coulter.

In other words, if I may assume that this retweet is as close to an endorsement as you can get, Coulter is suggesting that Americans attack people of a non-Christian religious belief. She is putting our society back to the position it was in before the Mayflower set sail, when our forefathers were persecuted, attacked, tortured and killed. Something which the founding of the United States of America was designed to prevent for evermore.

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USA: Not My President

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on November 28, 2016 in News & Opinion |

You can go back all the way through history and study every single country which has an elected officer at its head, and you’ll find exactly what we have in the United States today: a group of people claiming that this person is not their person, because they did not vote for him. We’ve had it during Barack Obama’s presidency from Republicans; during the Bush years from Democrats; we’re going to have it during the Trump years.

Not My President

Photo Source: Matt JohnsonCreative Commons

So many people who have not understood how the democratic will works – even with an Electoral College such as in the States – the person elected is President for all, even when some did not vote for him to her. There will always be someone who voted for the other candidate, but that doesn’t stop the elected person from being the one taking office, and from being the one who should represent all citizens, regardless of their political leanings.

The fact that the Electoral College is not an ideal form of democracy, since it can easily happen – as this year, once again – that the most popular candidate, the one with the most votes, does not achieve election, is something which must still be addressed by Congress. But the President is still ‘our’ President, whether we voted for him or not, whether he wish to accept him or not.

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Education: Is This Our World?

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on November 23, 2016 in Immoral Conversations |

I’ve seen quite a few videos on YouTube recently where a television presenter has interviewed ordinary people on the street, asking them a series of easy general knowledge questions. The answers have been, to put it mildly, disappointing. Then I also spent some time reading through lists of Tweets, Facebook updates, Yahoo Questions and similar, all of which had to do with general knowledge and intelligence. Amusing, but also scary.

To be honest, most of the videos discussing Tweets, and all the other social media spoutings, used exactly the same examples time and time again, as if there are either very few to choose from, or the presenters couldn’t be bothered to find their own. I tend toward the latter, having been on Twitter for a long time now, and having seen many examples on my Timeline.

It’s not difficult to find examples of a lack of general knowledge – or downright dumbness – on the Internet. No one needs to check through other posts on the subject to bolster their own entries or videos, there is enough original content out there to keep the genre alive for a long time to come. However, it is not just the standard stupid comments which come out, when you look, but prejudices too. And a lot more besides.

That the Statue of Liberty could be confused with the Mona Lisa might be acceptable, in pre-kindergarten. There are several liberal arts subjects – such as Art and Music – which are being neglected in our school system, and other ones which concentrate too much on the prejudices of an educational board, rather than real knowledge and facts. There are even people who cannot accept what they see right in front of their own eyes, having a prejudice against it. Diet is one good example, and I know this from personal experience having been a vegetarian all my life and, if those who were there at the start are to be believed, having had no chance of survival beyond my third birthday.

Of course, when it comes to diet, you need to know what you’re doing. Taking one form of nutrition out of your diet without replacing it isn’t going to work in the long run. Interesting to see, however, that the American Heart Association recommends dropping red meat from your diet and cutting back on all other forms of meat in order to remain healthy. A good selection of vegetables, fruit, nuts take a higher priority than any form of meat here, and they must have some idea of what they’re talking about.

Leaving aside the health problems, I can well understand how a child might be confused about sugar and salt. If we learn in chemistry class that two different chemicals cancel one another out, why should that not apply to cooking too, since sugar and salt are, effectively, chemicals too. These are things which need to be taught, cooking doesn’t come naturally, and here it is more of a failing on all sides when a 13-year-old doesn’t know. But when do we first learn how to cook? How many people see all the fresh products in their supermarket or grocery store, and still go for the less-than-healthy ready-made products, not so much out of convenience, more because they do not know how to make a meal themselves?

I am a Millennial, I guess, going from my birth date. That is, one of these people who doesn’t converse with other people because I am always looking at my cell, who doesn’t wish to buy a house because holidays are more important, who expects rapid advancement to management without having earned it, and so on. I don’t know how many different prejudices against Millennials I have seen in the press, and I’ve lost account of the number of accusations about what I / we do and do not do simply because of when we were born. I’m sure Generation X, the Baby Boomers and all the others experienced exactly the same in their time. But I do tend to agree it is hard to have a decent conversation with some people of my age unless it is by text. With some I am sure it would require a major surgical procedure to remove their cell from their hands, and I’ve often wished I could just slap one across a room when I see a group of young people out eating or as a group elsewhere, but with their cell taking all their attention.

This is education. One of the questions asked in these general knowledge interviews was how many stars are on the American flag. Another asked where the Boston Tea Party took place, in which city. I’ve seen Tweets from people looking forward to leaving the United States because they’re traveling to New York or Alaska to live. Even one from a woman who was upset to discover that Alaska is not an island, but attached to the mainland. She blamed the maps, of course, which show something else.

Then there are those who know better, even better than someone who has been doing a job all their adult life. I heard recently of a man who took his date to a Sushi restaurant – I think it was a live-Tweeting event from someone at the next table – and proceeded to show his total macho-ignorance right from insisting that he didn’t need to see a menu to order, and would also order for his date without consulting her. Doomed to failure.

I’m also sure it has happened to all of us that we’ve mis-read something, be it a menu or something else. In London – all that time ago – I was taken to a quality restaurant near Harrods in Knightsbridge, and my partner ordered fish to eat. That’s what she got, fish. No vegetables or salad, no sauce or bread. Just fish. Because that’s what was on the menu, and that’s what she ordered. She, however, didn’t try to place the blame on anyone else; we laughed it off and learned.

This language thing is something which is going to come to the fore more and more in the future: why, in an English-speaking country, must we have signs and descriptions in other languages? Why do people talk to each other in foreign tongues? Aside from the fact that the first European language in the United States was Spanish – before it became the United States – and a second was French, we should remember that the first or original languages here are ones which no one learns any more. Native American. Perhaps we should all learn these languages. Better still, of course, would be to learn a foreign language regardless, then we might appreciate how difficult it is for some of our neighbors to learn English, be more understanding and helpful to them.

Or we could take a look at some of those people leaving our education system right now, whose parents and grandparents were born in the United States, who have no other language other than English, and still cannot manage to speak and write it.

Look how well we know those nearest and dearest to us. The above took place in France, but might just as easily have happened anywhere in the world. Fidelity, trustworthiness, honesty, all seem to apply to everyone else and not to us. I doubt that the woman involved here was too helpful with giving hints on a suitable name for the baby, but I can well imagine she had some ripe and interesting names for other members of her direct family!

Not everyone has children, and I can understand well enough why some do not wish to be ‘blessed’ by the patter of tiny feet at all hours of the day and night. For some a pet – more likely to be a dog or a cat than a parrot – is enough family for them, and everything that can be done to make their life perfect is done. Not that I would necessarily sacrifice my life-style for an animal, and I’d certainly not come up with such an excuse to return something to the store. Whether the return was accepted or not I leave to your own imagination.

The burdens of a society which insists on women – and men to a lesser extent – conform to certain standards. Cleanliness, being polite, knowing what you are doing, these standards I can accept without batting an eyelid. Why, though, do we have to cover our faces with chemicals and risk illness through a lack of real sunlight on our faces just because society has a catwalk model picture of what a woman should look like? Why are celebrities who allow themselves to be photographed without make-up called brave? When was the last time we accepted someone for being who they are, blemishes included?

Google is your friend, it used to be said. Before that we had books and things. Nowadays even checking the Internet to find out something is too hard for some people. Had they bothered, this is probably what would have come up first:

This is what the Bible says about Noah’s wife beginning in Genesis 7:7. The Bible does not give her name, however, according to Jewish tradition her name is Naamah – the sister of Tubal-cain, a descendant of Cain, the son of Adam and Eve (see Genesis 4:22). Why Tubal-cain’s sister (a daughter of Lamech by his wife Zillah) should be specifically mentioned is unknown. Jewish tradition made her Noah’s wife. Her name, meaning “the beautiful” or “the pleasant one,” reflects the worldly mind of the Cainites, who looked for beauty rather than for character as the chief attraction in women. (Source)

No relation to Joan of Arc, of course, who fought against the English for the French and was executed. And it is clear why most Christians wouldn’t know the name of Noah’s wife; women play a very minor, inferior role in the Bible, often as slaves or vassals and without a soul.

Doesn’t history class in the United States include European history, just as a quick sketch? I seem to remember hearing about Joan of Arc, about Martin Luther, about Oliver Cromwell and Napoleon Bonaparte. American history didn’t start with Christopher Columbus or the Mayflower.

This one, about a teacher who has to be right because he or she is the teacher, strikes a note with me. I remember reading a note from a teacher to a parent about a child who had corrected the teacher, and was right. The teacher complained about the correction, even though the child was right, because his standing in the class was of more importance than the child’s education.

School education systems which do not keep up with the times. Here in Germany there are about three days in the school year where teachers have to attend their own educational courses, and they are expected to keep up to date with changes in their own field, partially so that they can teach and partially so that they know which textbooks to recommend for the following year. Isn’t this the same in the USA? I thought it was. Then I remembered that the school courses are decided upon by an educational board, for each individual State, and the people sitting on these boards, well, we all have our own opinions about such lay-people.

You see, it’s not just Americans who have a problem with geography; although I would have expected a customs officer charged with doing passport control to have a slightly better world-knowledge than this one appears to have.

There are thousands of similar postings across the Internet, and in real life too. We could probably spend our entire lives laughing over the apparent stupidity of other people – and they over our ignorance – and never come near the end of possibilities for further mirth. Or, better still, some of those people in charge of educational standards – and a good few parents too – could take a few notes, see where there are problems, and react accordingly. A good basic knowledge of the world is essential, since we live here and are going to meet up with countless other people from elsewhere, even if we don’t leave the comfort of our own State or county. Good education makes for better understanding. Travel makes for even better, but education comes first and is a must; we can catch up on the travel side of things with National Geographic from the comfort of the couch.

As far as I know all of these are originals, not used by anyone else on YouTube or elsewhere. It’s not that difficult to find new ones, we don’t need to regurgitate the same things over and over again just to get the number of clicks on our videos or websites higher. These example all come from one site, which I highly recommend for its amusement factor, and to show that your life is not that bad. There’s always someone having a worse day than you are, and humor works wonders.

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Bad News Sells Better

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on November 18, 2016 in News & Opinion |

Fake news is in the news, but not all fake news makes it to the forefront, not when it comes to highly thought-of and well established concerns who have been in the business of reporting for many years, rather than just having had a Twitter account since last June.

This form of fake news, however, is one which has been used by countless different branches of the media since news first became news: playing with facts and figures to either meet an agenda, or to sell. It is faking news by selection: taking one aspect of the news which is, to all intents and purposes correct, but which would be viewed in a different manner if more was added to it, if the rest of the story made it to the headline and first paragraphs too. So here, from Bloomberg, with the family fortune of the Waltons.

Bloomberg Calculations

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Bloomberg

This headline is very selective indeed. It is true, the Walton family fortune did shrink by just over three billion dollars over a period of two or three days. They have indeed become poorer. Take a look, through, at the right hand section of the graph which has not been highlighted. This shows us that the three billion was only ‘earned’ in the last week or so, and that the fortune of the Walton family is still slightly more than it was ten days previously.

Such selection of the facts is as much faking news as creating a news story from scratch and adding a few tidbits and false statistics to make it more believable. But it sells. No one is really interested in knowing that the Walton family is several billion richer than they were back in October. But that they have lost money, that brings a smile to everyone’s face: serve them right! Even though the gains and losses are on paper, and no gain or loss at all, and I don’t think anyone in the family will be losing too much sleep over such variations.

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The Problem With Banning Fake News

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on November 15, 2016 in News & Opinion |

After a certain amount of pressure from outside, it looks as if Facebook might consider reacting to the number of fake news stories propagated on its servers, some of which are claimed to have influenced the recent presidential election in the United States. Google has also indicated that such an action might follow from their side, and others could follow suit in the future. It is a piece of news which should delight many, but which is severely limited and, despite this limitation, could have consequences beyond what is desired.

The limitation at the moment is that both Google and Facebook have said they will limit advertising from fake sites. They will limit the ability of such sites to promote themselves and gain a higher place in the trending topics or front pages of both services. This will not necessarily cut back on the amount of publicity such spoof sites gain, merely their placing on the commercial section of both services; that section which clearly says a site is advertising which many of us overlook. Neither one has said that they will cut back on promoting fake news stories which have achieved high-ranking through other forms of promotion, such as backlinks and shares. A fake news story which is popular will still gain a higher place in the rankings than a real story on the same subject which has had lesser readers, clicks or thumbs-up.

Banning Fake News

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Fortune

In fact it is almost impossible to dampen or somehow limit the spread of such stories once they have caught the public imagination. You only need to look at the plague of postings on Facebook about the change to their Terms and Conditions, which raises its ugly head continually, to see this. Or the constant complaints when certain true and necessary stories or images – such as a burnt firefighter, or victims of the Vietnam war – are censored. People who create and market such stories have become more adept at their job; they no longer ask people to share a story since this can be removed at source. They tell unwary fools to copy and paste, thus creating a new story each time, one which has to be deleted along with hundreds of other ‘original’ copies individually.

The other danger which it is possible to foresee is that to humor and satire sites who produce articles and posts specifically designed to amuse rather than mislead. The limited number of human beings sitting in front of computers, probably in India and Bangladesh, who are tasked with making a decision on a flagged item, are not necessarily going to be able to understand the difference between a realistic fake and a realistic spoof or a piece of satire. No amount of education can build humor or the understanding of humor in a person, especially when that humor is created in a foreign language with all the nuances and subtleties of language built up over generations.

It is like trying to stop abusive Tweets on Twitter, the attempt is doomed from the start. For Twitter it is a case of ease of production and sheer mass: anyone can create a new account and start afresh, concentrating their abuse against one person or a group of people and then, when caught, moving to a new account and starting from the beginning again. The only way is to educate people again, to the dangers of the Internet, to the likelihood that what they are reading could be biased or falsified. But here we are playing on the bias of the human beings themselves, what they wish to read to confirm their own prejudices. And this is something we are never going to be able to combat.

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USA: The Two Faces Of Politics

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on November 14, 2016 in News & Opinion |

The first clear indications of how the new government are going to be acting have been revealed. The Wall will probably be a real thing, separating Mexico from the USA. Deportation will probably be a real thing, although it may be limited to criminals initially. Protection of those in power will probably be a real thing, but limited to those in real positions of power such as Donald Trump and Mike Pence.

This is all taken from what has been said and done since the election results were made public. Donald Trump’s lawyers say he should not have to answer any of the lawsuits raised against him – estimated at over seventy – because, as President, he will be too busy. And Mike Pence is beginning the process of preventing what happened to Hillary Clinton happening to him, by protecting all of his mails.

The Two Faces

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Blake Hounshell

There cannot be fair government without public scrutiny: we all know this and we have seen it often enough over the last decades. Without public scrutiny, without government being answerable to the public for their actions, the USA would be a dictatorship.

That Mike Pence feels the need to protect his mails from public scrutiny, after the manner in which all mails from and around Hillary Clinton were publicized through WikiLeaks, only serves to tell us that he, too, has skeletons in his cellar which should come out into the light. The thing is, WikiLeaks is unlikely to fulfill their promise in this case, and this fact was obvious prior to the election. We, the people, will probably only find out the truth when it is already too late, and that is a bad thing.

Hopefully the courts and the FBI will deal with Pence in the same manner as they dealt with Clinton, if they are truly interested in justice, by revealing and investigating now it is clear Pence has something to hide. Anything else would be a travesty, a slight against our openness, against fairness and justice.

But I’m not holding my breath on this one either.

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USA: The Media Post-Mortem

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on November 13, 2016 in News & Opinion |

It’s going to be a very long time before we have this election – both the campaign and the results – out of the news headlines. The coming two months until the inauguration are going to be full of what could have been, what might be, what will be. There are going to be accusations thrown in all directions, and not just in the political arena but also in families and the media, but very few answers.

At the moment the media seems to be divided between two stories: what went wrong; what will go wrong. Claims that the GOP is imploding, prior to the election results, have been replaced with tales of the Democrat party imploding. Stories of misogyny, sexual assault, rape and countless illegal activities, have been replaced with worries about who is being appointed to which position in the transition government and the government to come. Justifications for bad or inaccurate polling have been replaced by breakdowns of who voted according to ethnicity, education, gender, work, religion.

Trump's American Racism

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Chris Cillizza

And the bulk of it is generalization. It is impossible to say why individuals among the roughly one hundred thirty million voters voted as they did, not that this is stopping some media outlets. People are being lumped together according to where they live, according to what they do or who they might be. A fruitless and pointless task. Aside from asking each individual voter, we will never know their reasoning.

Does it all matter now? Will it make a difference? I doubt it. Only the coming months and years will show whether the  voters – either the popular majority or the electoral college – were right or wrong. The election is over, apart from the counting of the last million votes or so, and there is precious little which can change the result.

Now it is time to look to the future for the United States, for the people themselves. Leave what cannot be changed as it is, and move on to what can still be saved, influenced, changed, made better.

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Selfies: The Best Arrangement

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on November 12, 2016 in Internet |

I was trying to find something to take my mind of the present problems in the United States, and avoid the constant post-mortem of this party, that slogan, those actions, which are coursing through the Internet at the moment – the blame passing and so on – in favor of something a touch more inspiring. Many ideas ran through my mind, but I decided to take something simple but, at the same time, thought-provoking. Something which is of interest to millions. Something which happens each and every minute of the day without a second thought – mostly – being wasted.

The post title says it all, of course, so I hardly need string it out any further: selfies (again).

Steven Tsai - Selfie

Photo Source: Steven TsaiCreative Commons

After that it got more difficult. What can be said about selfies that hasn’t already been said, posted, written about, laughed over, ignored or thought of? Probably nothing, but I’m writing anyway. And I gained my inspiration from this first photograph by Steven Tsai because it has something many other selfies simply do not have: a point of interest. That is, a point of interest other than the main subject matter which would normally be the person, the self. His camera.

He’s clearly taken some time planning this, not just simply snapped quickly in a toilet or bedroom where there is a mirror, but thought, set up and then tested. I works. The two points of focus are good, it says something more than just a face can. It has a good arrangement, even if there are many professional photographers who would cut it down for this or that.

LaVladina - Selfie

Photo Source: LaVladinaCreative Commons

And then there is Daniela Vladimirova, whose composition captures the classic – can you say that? – design of a selfie, but cuts out all the background distractions, concentrates on the person, and throws questions out about her. Especially when you look at her smile, and those eyes.

Andrés Nieto Porras - Selfie

Photo Source: Andrés Nieto PorrasCreative Commons

And, of course, the bathroom shot with Andrés Nieto Porras, but with the wonderful difference. Not a dirty mirror where you can see anyone else who happens to be using the facilities, or the mess around a sink, but a real composition, drawing the eyes across to the tiny shaving or make-up mirror. Simple, but with harmony in its composition.

Good distractions from the problems in the world, if you wish to be distracted, and even if it is only for a few moments. And they bring a few ideas with them, how we should perhaps be looking to ourselves now, for the future. We are the ones who will be shaping it, no matter what happens. If we can understand ourselves and work on ourselves as easily as we can take our own photograph, then there is hope.

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USA: The President Elect Is Learning

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on November 11, 2016 in News & Opinion |

It’s not going to be easy, jot for the president-elect, nor for the citizens of the United States of America. It is going to be a trial and error time, a time when everyone must learn, must adapt, compromise. Simply saying that something is going to happen, without knowing the background, without having a concrete plan, is not going to work.

And it appears, now that Donald Trump has been given back his access to Twitter – presumably – that this learning process has already begun. It is a Right for the people to be able to voice their opinion, whether it be through demonstrations, which will hopefully return to a peaceful nature, or by other non-violent means. One of the great Freedoms of the American people is this ability to express their opinion, to make known where things are going wrong and what is wanted or needed. It is something which should neither be underestimated, nor blocked.

The Learn Process

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Ryan Struyk

Prior to his election, Donald Trump was vocal about demonstrating of opinions: he called upon his followers to demonstrate their beliefs; he called upon them to protect their Rights. He also said, and did, many other things which we must all hope will never rear their ugly heads again, but this is a matter for the future. Here, for once, he appears to be learning, and that is a good start, a good sign.

Now it remains for him to project the character of a man worthy of the office of President of the United States of America, for the People, no matter who they may be. It is time for him and his entourage to take note of what the People desire, what they are concerned about and how he and his future government can help them. He should now turn his attention to the real problems in America, such as Flint, such as poverty, such as inequality, and leave the good things from his predecessors intact. It is a time for reform and improvement, not a time for destruction. Only through close attention to needs and reality does he stand any chance of making America great again.

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USA: Unify, Work, Heal?

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on November 10, 2016 in News & Opinion |

The elections in the United States are over and both sets of figures have been counted, tallied up, and passed to the public. Donald Trump will be the forty-fifth President, and there is nothing that can be done about it. The American form of democracy, where the popular vote is second to an electoral system, has co me through again, but not everyone is happy with it. In fact, it is fair to say that more than half of those who voted – the popular voters – are not happy. The USA has, however, an electoral college, and that is the way the system works and has worked for many, many years. This is the system which Trump himself called rigged, but which has brought him to the White House. I am sure he no longer considers it rigged, but that is understandable. He has come out as the winner in a system he derided, so we needn’t expect any changes during his administration.

But as thousands of people take to the streets across the country, we do need to take a step back and look not just at the system, but also at ourselves. Some people are inclined to say that we’ve been given just what we deserve, but they said that when George W. Bush was re-elected too, and when Bill Clinton won, and probably many times before. It is our society which elected him, and our society which now needs to come to terms with that election and accept it, as we have done before. The election of Donald Trump is a clear indication of what the values of the American people really mean, and of what we should be concentrating on, remedying, correcting, improving.


Photo Source: João MartinhoCreative Commons

The man who has been elected is, for millions, not one whose values we wish to have portrayed as our own. His attitude towards women, foreigners, workers is, for many, abhorrent and unacceptable. His actions have come in for much criticism, especially when it comes to sexual assault and to his business dealings, to his denigration of minorities, his professed plans for the future of the United States of America. It remains up to us, the people, to show that we do not share these values, that we are a society steeped in other principles, following a different ethical and moral path. We will not be able to do that by taking to the streets and destroying, setting fires, assaulting others. We will only be able to do this by using our time-honored political, legislative and judicial processes to ensure that all which is bad is banished, that that which can cause harm is never enacted, never enforced.

If we cannot do this, if we cannot heal the ills of our society, then we are on the same level as the principles which Donald Trump, his supporters and followers, have professed, and that is not America. At least, not the America our forefathers planned, fought for, and created.

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