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I’m tired of children dying

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From The Editors Desk Emily WootenStrolling through a shopping mall one December years ago, joyfully preparing for our daughter’s first Christmas, I stopped at one of those kiosks in the middle where they personalize Christmas ornaments. I selected one that said baby’s first Christmas and had her name and the year painted on it. Then I selected another ornament, this one with all three of our names painted on it along with the year.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, that was the start of what would become a family tradition for us. Each year, I select a couple new ornaments for our Christmas tree, usually to commemorate something significant from the previous year, whether it’s our family vacation or just something we’re “into” that year. I always purchase two of whatever the selection is. My plan is that when our daughter grows up and leaves our home for her own, she’ll have a complete set of Christmas ornaments that basically chronicle her life, and we’ll have our set.

There are cute little airplanes that recall her first plane trip. There are the pretty peacocks that recall when she played the part of a peacock in a children’s program at church. There are ornaments from Sea World, LegoLand, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas and New Orleans, among other places. We have Dora the Explorer ornaments, Hello Kitty ornaments and winky-face emoji ornaments. We have Houston Astros ornaments and Houston Texans ornaments, although this past Christmas my husband forbade me from putting the Houston Texans ornaments on the tree for reasons we won’t go into here.

My team and I were preparing a newspaper to go to press late Tuesday when we learned of the tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde – the senseless massacre that left 19 children and two teachers dead.

The following morning when we received our regular post-production email from our publisher, Kelli Barnes, it started, “I just found out from the publisher of the Uvalde Leader-News that one of his reporters lost their child in the shooting. We were already feeling how close to home this tragedy struck, but this makes it even more personal.”

And she’s right. It does.

Austin Lewter, director of the Texas Center for Community Journalism, expressed it perfectly. “Community newspapers cover tragedies firsthand when the victims are often people they know. They are there when the network news trucks leave. They are there when no one else is paying attention anymore.”

I read an article this week by Mike Hixenbaugh, a senior investigative reporter for NBC News, based in Houston. He’d interviewed a teacher from Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School. The article stated, when she heard gunfire explode down the hall, she knew exactly what it was. She shouted for her kids to get under their desks and sprinted to lock her classroom door. The children did exactly as they were told, she said. “They’ve been practicing for this day for years,” the teacher said.

My body turned cold as I re-read that horrifying statement. “They’ve been practicing for this day for years.”

It never even occurred to me that perhaps my own daughter, a high school student, has been practicing for years also, a terrifying thought that crossed my mind one morning in the shower.

When I knocked on her bedroom door later, asking, “Of all your years in public school, have you ever participated in active shooter drills?” I don’t know what I expected her answer to be, but when she answered, “Oh yeah, many,” I was again left cold – cold and speechless.

Many times this week my thoughts have shifted back to that December afternoon in 2012. The one where we learned of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. in which 26 people were killed, 20 of whom were six and seven-year-old children.

I remember sitting in the breakroom attempting to eat lunch with my friend and co-worker, Daphne, as the TV continued giving updates and showing the precious faces of those children. We were seated side by side at a table and there was so much silence – other than the TV – that it was practically uncomfortable. When we finally looked at each other, our faces mirrored each other’s. We both had eyes filled with unshed tears. We couldn’t speak for the giant lumps in our throats.

All I could think of was my own baby girl. Just two months shy of her sixth birthday, she was the same age as these children. I thought about walking her into Livingston Montessori School that morning and helping her put her backpack and jacket in her cubby. I tried to imagine the parents who had dropped their own children off at school that morning, having no way of knowing that they wouldn’t be picking them up that afternoon.

That Christmas when it came time to select that year’s ornaments, I was stumped. With that horrific tragedy still so fresh on my mind, I guess my heart just wasn’t in it. But then one day, I saw and knew. I happened to stumble across some peace symbols, in hot pink and teal no less, which just happened to be my daughter’s very favorite colors at the time. Of course, she was too young to know about the shooting or understand the significance of the ornaments, she just thought they were pretty. Yet every year when I put those hot pink and teal peace symbols on our tree, I think about those children and their parents, silently giving thanks for my own daughter.

I don’t know what the answer is. What I do know is that I’m tired. I’m tired of people in positions of power – people who can make a difference – doing absolutely nothing but grandstanding and spouting empty words. I’m tired of the talking heads on TV and their theories. I’m tired of the ad infinitum talk about gun control and mental illness. But more than anything, I’m tired of children dying.

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Tales from the precipice – politics of outrage

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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To D_ Dead by Her Own Hand

My dear, I wonder if before the end
You ever thought about a children’s game—
I’m sure you must have played it too—in which
You ran along a narrow garden wall
Pretending it to be a mountain ledge
So steep a snowy darkness fell away
On either side to deeps invisible;
And when you felt your balance being lost
You jumped because you feared to fall, and thought
For only an instant: That was when I died.
That was a life ago. And now you’ve gone,
Who would no longer play the grown-ups’ game
Where, balanced on the ledge above the dark,
You go on running and you don’t look down,
Nor ever jump because you fear to fall.

by Howard Nemerov

The poet Howard Nemerov wrote these lines after the suicide of his sister, photographer Diane Arbus, at age 48. A brilliant photographer, Arbus’ life was tumultuous, her images helping to normalize marginalized people.

Today there were four stories in my Twitter feed urging me to be outraged at one issue or another. That’s not unusual on social media. The last seven or eight years have seen social media become an outrage machine. And there are plenty of things to be outraged about.

I’m outraged that a mentally ill young man killed a bunch of kids at an elementary school. I’m outraged that the school had an active shooter plan and didn’t implement it. I’m outraged that law enforcement stood outside the school and didn’t rush in to save kids. I’m outraged that the same law enforcement officers prevented parents who tried to get in to help from doing so.

I’m outraged that our country is well on its way from democracy to fascism. I’m outraged that state governments are making laws based on religious belief and imposing them on all their citizens. I’m outraged that those same governments are reaching into women’s uteruses and violating their constitutional rights. I’m outraged that the U.S. out of fear didn’t directly intervene militarily when Russia illegally invaded a sovereign country.

I’m outraged that racism against people of color still exists in this country, despite the reality that we are all part of a single race, the human race.

And my outrage is righteous. But it’s also a way to manipulate me to play the grown-up game where, balanced in the darkness on the precipice of a dying culture, I keep on running, never taking the time to understand the motives behind that manipulation, and riding the outrage because I have been made so afraid by it that I fear to fall if I look down.

The outrage machine was created to control us. We are constantly running because the folks we have put in power to act for us refuse to do so. They don’t want to solve the problems. That would take away their power. And that is what they seek most. Power.

Disclaimer: Jim Powers writes opinion columns. His views are his own, and do not necessarily represent the views of Polk County Publishing Company or any of its publications.

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Government unable to fix its mess

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
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Like many of you, I’m a parent, and I’ve been through the trials and tribulations of all parents, that being feeding time.

Feeding time is whenever a baby squalls that certain way and you know it’s time, regardless of whatever the clock says.

With us, and also like many others, the babies could not be breastfed, so formula was the way to go. We instinctively knew where the baby food aisle was in every grocery store within 50 miles (diapers, too, cause one leads to the other) and even had rotating gallon bottles, cause nobody put baby’s meals on hold.

(I remember with crystal clarity the first time we put cereal in the formula. The look I got saying “why has this been hidden from me” is etched forever in my mind.)

It would have been insanity squared if we could not come up with formula; squared in that where we lived was at least 100 miles away from any major city, and there was no such thing as UberEats.

I can only imagine the anxiety and frustration of parents that is connected with the current shortages of formula plaguing the country. I can understand their plight; what I can’t understand, though, is how our country was led to this.

I say led, because there was a specific chain of events causing this dilemma, starting with the economic shutdown forced on us through the COVID years, which then cause production delays, then the country’s unfathomable reliance on China for goods leading to supply chain issues, then rampant inflation causing delivery problems, and then come to find out that only four — as in 4 — companies in the country produce formula, one of which was shut down in Michigan for contamination but never allowed to reopen once the issues were rectified.

In response to what obviously was caused by the government in the first place, the government has invoked the Defense Production Act, which means formula manufacturers get first dibs on necessary ingredients and equipment. In my mind, that’s one step away from nationalizing the infant food industry, which is perilously close anyway, since the single, No. 1 consumer of baby formula is … the government, where all this started.

See, the government decided what is safe manufacturing methods, and then through the FDA and OSHA implemented those methods, then brought the hammer down when a plant did not live up to those regulations. 

See, also, that studies show that whatever formula company is contracted to government’s USDA and WIC programs to provide formula also gets top billing in grocery store shelves, which is de facto government pushing its preferences down our shopping carts.

See, even moreso, that these and many problems are the result of unelected bureaucrats deciding to fix a problem that may or may not have existed by issuing stricter guidelines than were currently in place, beginning a spiral effect that continually worsens until the government throws up its hands, says its all a mess, and takes things over completely.

For examples, look at Social Security, health care, WPA, etc. All of the government programs that were started with the best of intentions but because the government doesn’t play by any set of rules, nor does it have any real knowledge of the things it intends to regulate, as well as trying to appease any and all fringe or activist groups what believe they need a slice of the government pie because of years of being ignored or some such nonsense, all of them are either failed or on their last legs.

Of course there are the arguments that the government exists not only to legislate, but to protect its people. The government can protect the borders, sure, but protecting people from themselves is not their purview.

Since the government is insulated from the effects and consequences of their own meddling, nothing gets any better.

Free markets can and will determine production and costs, and it has done that quite well without Uncle Sam deciding what’s good for us.

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Guns…Again

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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Here we are again. A bullied kid turns into an angry teen who buys a couple of guns on his 18th birthday and takes out his frustration on children in an elementary school. And with a mid-term election fast approaching, politician’s outrage is raising to a fever pitch.

The events are awful. Shouldn’t have happened. Heartbreaking. Of course, the senseless loss of life is maddening. But, as usual, renewed demand for gun control overwhelms any hope of solving the real problem of disaffection in our society.

I’m an old guy. I grew up in a different world. One common denominator though was that the world I grew up in was awash with guns. And, it was a lot easier to buy a gun.

Walk into one of the popular GI Surplus stores in East Texas during the 1960s and you would find barrows scattered around the store stuffed with military surplus rifles from various countries.

In one barrow would be Italian Carcano rifles in 6.5 caliber, in another variations of the British Lee-Enfield in .303 caliber, and on and on.  Not locked up behind a counter. I bought both as a teenager, just picked one out of the barrow, plunked down $10 bucks, and walked out the door. Nothing to sign, no background check. I would get home with the gun, hang in on the wall loaded in an open gun rack, without concern.

If the difference isn’t the availability of guns, which are much harder to legally own these days, it’s hard to blame the guns. But blaming the guns is easier than dealing with the real problems of our society. What are those problems?

One factor in the rise of gun crimes is population. The U.S. population in 1960 was 180 million. It is now 329 million. People are more crowded together, and as the population grows, the number of bad guys grows with it.

Another factor is the difficulty in this country of accessing mental health care. Unless you regularly fantasize about buying a couple of rifles and killing a lot of elementary school children, you understand that your average well-adjusted person isn’t a mass murderer, even if he has access to a hundred guns and thousands of rounds of ammo.

And then there is the Internet and social media, where mental health challenged people are regularly radicalized by constant bombardment with bizarre and dangerous conspiracy theories.

Yeah, I get it. It’s easier to ban gun-shaped objects than solve the social and mental health issues plaguing our country. And it’s a convenient rallying cry for politicians seeking office or re-election. But the gun control debate is only a distraction from solutions to heal our sick society.

Restricting my rights to to own guns will not make you safer. I was never a threat to you. Passing laws that effect everyone in the hope of keeping a bad guy from getting a gun does not make you safer, it makes the rest of us weaker. Cops outside the school saved none of the kids. 

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Do not put faith in men

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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"To the members of the survivor community, we are grieved by the findings of this investigation. We are committed to doing all we can to prevent future instances of sexual abuse in churches, to improve our response and our care, to remove reporting roadblocks." 

The quote above is part of a statement released by the Southern Baptist Convention following a damning report released Sunday by a third-party firm tasked with investigating the way the SBC over decades intimidated sexual abuse victims, pushed back on attempts to reform the convention and mishandled allegations of sexual abuse within the convention.

Sadly, the failure of the leadership of the SBC is the result of decades of hubris and a hard-right swing that accelerated during the 1980s and 1990s, resulting in that leadership becoming increasingly more misogynistic and paternalistic. They are only engaged in this weak mea culpa because they got caught.

The report, commissioned by messengers to the convention last year, concluded that the cover up was primarily driven by leadership and staff’s engagement in avoiding any potential liability for the SBC. Leadership also argued that there was no way to create a database of staff or pastors accused of sexual abuse to warn other congregations about these people because the Convention has no direct control over member churches, while at the same time maintaining such a database in secret.

I’m not going to go into the sordid details here. You can read the story on CNN, Washington Post, and other media outlets. But I think the point I want to stress here is that we should not put our faith in political or religious leaders, or anyone else for that matter. They are flawed human beings just like us. I’ll just leave you with this.

Psalm 146 - KJV

3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.

4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.

5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God,

6 the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them-- the LORD, who remains faithful forever.

7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free,

8 the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous.

9 The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

10 The LORD reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD.

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