Current Trends

Ah yes that time of year is once again upon us, graduation season; whether it’s your little tike donning their first cap and gown in a pre-school or kindergarten graduation, making them feel like big kids, and us whimsically or confusedly remembering our one prom, one graduation hoping our kids make it to the one that matters. Perhaps you’ve been conscripted to attend a middle school or Jr. High graduation marking their entrance into high school, or maybe it’s your big day along with your child’s. No more long nights over history reports, messy volcanoes, models of the solar system, dress like your hero, famous president, historical figure day; your young one is graduating high school! Could you be experiencing bitter sweet nostalgia knowing your baby is about to walk across that stage one last time before going out into the real world, concurrently of proud your son or daughter and remembering when they were 8, wondering where time has gone; your little one is graduating from college, presenting themselves at a ceremony to commemorate their accomplishments, hearing final words of encouragement before taking the world by storm. And with college graduation comes notable commencement speeches, done by everyone from entertainment celebrities, other famous faces, former presidents, to political operatives, up and coming candidates, former alumni meant to inspire before sending the next generation out to achieve their dreams and better their world. In recent years coming too, controversy; political candidates using it as a platform to unofficially announce their candidacy, people forging new ideas who should be celebrated by higher learning rejected, denied once offered honorary doctorates. Hints how Rutgers University recently found itself in hot water when, after select students and faculty protested, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice declined their invite to speak at commencement. Conservative media pouncing on it saying it was yet another symbol of the leftist, liberal intolerance citing everything from this is what happens when morons are charge, to highlighting the suppression of first amendment rights on college campuses, particularly because some students were barred from setting up the nation’s debt clock in a free speech zone and upon closer scrutiny one university decided to resend a speaking invite and honorary doctorate to another person after discovering possibly inflammatory comments. But is all this really as sign of intolerance or evidence of free speech, democracy and exchange of ideas in action?

Of course conservatives would have us believe the former dredging up incidents from the IRS scandal to how often conservative students are devalued for their opinions, the obligatory uproars over invoking god  in a public high school, college graduation speech, even how many of said speakers are democrat, liberal, independent, but rarely conservative. Yet on the tolerance barometer so called liberals’ protest of Ms. Rice’s commencement appearance is no different than the systematic conservative war on women using freedom of religion as a means to deny them complete access to healthcare including all birth control methods on the market, abortion as an option; their seemingly utter inability to distinguish between the two, the function of contraception vs. abortion. Conservative mouth pieces like Rush Limbaugh calling student Sandra Fluke a slut, saying she was having so much sex she wanted the government to pay for her birth control because she dared explain and expose students needing birth control to treat a variety of medical conditions, their obstacles in getting doctor prescribed medication via insurance to a congressional panel on women’s issues. To say nothing of the right’s long held stance on gay rights coopting Christian religious leaders to support initiatives like DOMA (the defense of marriage act), when it was really an elaborate maneuver to avoid paying out government benefits to same sex couples now married under the law change, potential bills like SB1062 that would have allowed religious business owners in Arizona to refuse service to customers on religious grounds, primarily impacting the gay community when it comes to wedding cake makers, photographers, other wedding venue operators able to turn them away, superseding adjacent towns anti-discrimination statutes including language on sexual orientation. Doesn’t hold a candle to immigration platforms given by conservatives looking to deport every illegal person, deny them jobs, housing even those who have resided here undisturbed 10-20 years, people exemplified by the man below who was granted a status under our government’s handling of Cuban exiles, went on to serve this country, a country he believes is his country, in war, only to find he isn’t a citizen when he tries to obtain a passport for vacation almost 50 years later. Immigration policy causing a mass exodus of legal immigrants from cities nationwide enacting stringent new restrictions, largely conservative politicians blaming all immigrants for a bad economy, Governor Jan Brewer’s “misspeaking” linking an uptick in violence to illegal immigrants and drug cartels responsible for supposed beheadings on U.S. soil.

Politicians whose solution to our “immigration problem” is an electric fence with a sign warning border crossers it could kill them, demonstrated on film at least once inside the campaign headquarters of one Steve King, politicians who rejected presidential initiatives like the dream act meant to give young illegals brought here as children work/student status. It hardly makes a blip in light of shutting down the government to stop Obamacare, which is shaping up to be an overall success, nearly in spite of itself; still Ted Cruz is a republican hero. It pales in comparison on the silly meter ranking less than the stir caused when President Obama wanted to address the nation’s school children, push them to be active and involved in their own educations; parents, conservative parents at that, fearing it was a stab at indoctrination with a liberal agenda on school grounds. So much so some were willing to keep their children home, and yes I wrote an article myself detailing their view, how they possibly came to it. Then I heard the speech like everyone else wondering what the fuss was about, found myself with a different set of concerns; namely, a tone deaf president who thought the greatest obstacles to children doing well were attitude, TV and X box, not hunger, homelessness, no access to school supplies, schools literally falling apart on their heads. Protests against Condoleezza Rice are nothing put up beside the Georgia state legislature member who held a meeting, complete with slideshow, on how Obama used cold war mind control tactics to win reelection or the Maine RNC chairmen alleging voter fraud based on how many African Americans turned out on election day to vote, running candidates who made their dog chief of staff or said masturbation was akin to adultery.  It registers about the same on the oops maybe we made a mistake scale as the NAACP poised to honor Donald Sterling for his contributions to basketball and thus the African American community until, his caught on tape, racist rant exposed years of racism and discrimination involving his team and other properties owned. It’s on par with conservatives holding up Cliven Bundy as a type of folk hero until he grabbed microphones and blamed black welfare recipients on never learning how to pick cotton.

     But liberals are suddenly the most intolerant political group possessing the most intolerant mindsets hindering America today, pushing the get on the progressive bandwagon or shut up concept. Would it change perceptions to note many of the protesting students were Muslim, likely coming from regions, countries like Iraq, Afghanistan who were either themselves displaced or who have immediate family, extended relatives, acquaintances, old school friends who were, knew/know people who were killed in the fighting? Facts it took Fox News days to report after announcements were made Condoleezza Rice would not be speaking; the same Condoleezza Rice who stood up as sectary of state bedside her boss and talked about WMD (weapons of mass destruction), weapons that were never found. Condoleezza Rice who was lock step with her boss on advanced interrogation techniques i.e. water boarding, probably projecting the attitude that lead to Abu Ghraib, here is where the filmed young woman gets the idea calling her a war criminal and she does indeed know what she’s talking about; because, like President Bush, many believe Rice is a criminal who should be charged with war crimes among other things. Some staff, students and observers caught on to the fact had she attended, had she accepted she would have been presented with an honorary doctorate, in law of all things; inappropriate in their minds considering her performance during the Bush administration, the accurate information we now have. Would it be shocking too to learn this upheaval is months old, going all the way back to March when the initial invitation was issued, only appearing back on conservative radar when she came to a decision?  Why are we unduly shocked people directly negatively impacted by war are speaking out against it, don’t want a staunch supporter held up as a positive example, given an honor; why are we unpleasantly surprised white American citizens, who possibly did not agree with the war in the first place, horrified when the cold hard reality came out, would stand beside people they feel have been dealt a tragic injustice?

Truthfully their claims possess more merit than Donald Trump, another conservative wingman, alongside the rest of the birther crowd to this day insisting the president was born in Kenya, asserting a certificate of live birth is not the same thing as a birth certificate, following up their fear for America stating he was educated in Muslim madrasas, is/remains Muslim because of his middle name. Totally forgetting religious conversions can and do go both ways, or again, are incapable of discerning the difference between family tradition and a religious faith. Their protest grounds hold more substantive value than Newt Gingrich’s crass suggestion to the NAACP that African Americans demand paychecks not food stamps, mangling his facts on poverty, specifically black poverty, who is actually on welfare, those ethnicities predominately on food stamps, equating overwhelming poverty to young people who possess no habit of working, see no one in their lives holding a job. Not say negative stereotypes generated and perpetuated by statements just like his severely limiting their already strangled opportunities because their poor families can in no way afford college, often can’t afford school supplies, their children are getting a substandard education either because of urban blight, officials forgetting about those areas, those people or teachers writing them off, employers who don’t want them; it couldn’t be that could it?  Or that his solutions of turning kids into janitors, cafeteria workers and librarians won’t solve the problem either. Simultaneously, to be absolutely clear, Rutgers did not resend their offer to have Ms. Rice be their commencement speaker in 2014, they did not dis-invite her owing to the protests calling on her not to come; they would have been perfectly happy had she decided to grace them with her formidable presence. Condoleezza Rice made a choice not to participate in their commencement proceedings not wanting to be a detraction away from what the day was really about, students who have put 4 long years into earning a degree. Telling is when we have a problem with people not wanting to make a spectacle of themselves, who are willing to take the high road rather shift the focus wrongly to themselves.  

Others take issue with the speakers, entertainers accepted by Rutgers in light of their rejection of Rice, i.e. Snookie from Jersey Shore paid $32,000; implying she is what you get paying $60,000 for an education, a TV star paid more than Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison to give a “lecture” on partying and hair. Except hold on, Snookie was hired in an entertainment venue people were free to attend, abstain, not billed as a commencement speaker, an event to which every graduating student and their families will want to come requiring guests have a certain amount of class, refinement, something profound to offer. Bringing us to a point analysts also brought out, this is a commencement speech, not a symposium, seminar, lecture, debate forum on ethics in war, morality under pressure, in the high profile, shaping the free world kind of job she had, all of the above they believed she would fit well into, be invaluable to contribute to; lining up as a countermand to conservative opponents  who framed it differently, who supported Rice’s decision, still wanted to speak, whole heartedly wanted her to change her mind and explain her decisions, regardless apparently of, if a commencement speech was the right place to do that. Neither is this about shouting down people you don’t like, being so agitated and aggravated by people you don’t agree with “you refuse to hear them speak, want to silence them;” nor is “leftist intolerance” the new McCarthyism, new fascism, examples showcasing colleges, universities teaching sensitivity over tolerance, giving students the idea should people say things that cause you to be uncomfortable you can complain, potentially get them in trouble, fired, forced to recant their beliefs. It goes fundamentally to what a commencement speech, commencement ceremony is supposed to be, positive, hopeful, upbeat, encouraging, memorable in a good sense, lasting, profound; again, in that good sense. Without question college campuses should be places for free thinking, supporting a rage of thought, difference of ideas; Rutgers’ willingness to invite a plethora of people from Snookie to Toni Morrison as well as extend an invitation to a conservative like Condoleezza Rice exemplifies them doing just that.

Curious conservatives tout Rice as one of the most accomplished African American women but when “the left” dares so much as mention achievements of President Obama, another black liberal they are playing the race card; plus if she is so accomplished, represents a pillar to women everywhere, why didn’t she walk in there and find a way to defend her position during the Bush years simultaneously giving an upbeat, inspirational, hope filled speech to remember decades into the future?  Perhaps because she’s not, perhaps because her motivations behind not speaking are not completely altruistic; maybe it has more to do with finally distancing herself from former president Bush, being on the board at Dropbox, moving past those years and not wanting to go back, not wanting to remind people of her involvement. Confronting money involved, Snookie stands as the liberal equivalent to a conservative group paying the 4-6,000 dollar speaking fee of Pam Stenzel to “slut shame” a gymnasium packed with West Virginia high school students, calling them impure if they had ever had sex; her context being, willing sex between teenagers, not sexual abuse, incest, varying degrees of sexual assault, rape. Not that she effectively communicated that perception to her audience, all the while misrepresenting the undisputed facts on sexual reproduction, STD’s/STI’s, infertility. Concurrently the principal barred the obvious choice to give such an informative talk, the school nurse, from not only doing the logical extension of her job, but from giving students information on birth control upon request. Which is more insidious, paying for an entertainment venue at least some students will enjoy or paying a guest speaker, a supposed expert to openly skew facts on a topic as important as sexual health, reproduction and disease transmission?  For full details on Stenzel’s high school address (

Further the Fox panel’s examples indicating liberal intolerance are complex, carrying many facets to whether or not they are appropriate for a commencement, explaining what happened to them reading as intolerance. From the beginning the Mozilla controversy involving CEO Brendan Eichwas centered around his, matter of public record, donation to the anti-gay campaign, proposition 8 in California, not a mere thought he had and never vocalized; nor is it fascism, unheard of for a CEO to A- be the face of the company and, to that end held, to a specific higher standard and B- find themselves pressured into resigning amid scandal. Such has been public relations for decades; forgotten too is, certain ideas should not be tolerated in a civilized, educated, forward thinking society. It’s the same impetus behind pushing Donald Sterling out of Clippers ownership; racism shouldn’t be tolerated, likewise the concept you can, not be hired for being gay, your status as a homosexual affects your ability to create software, run marketing. The fact your boss has a religious objection to gay people could affect your employment, chances at promotion is not ok, is not the face you want on your company. Next look at the climate this decision was made in, in the shadow of SB1062, Uganda issuing new laws forcing neighbors to report gay people or face jail, rendering life sentences for so called repeat offenders who dare to be openly gay, dare to engage in consensual gay sex, fear for gay athletes at the Sochi Olympics in Russia amid new laws and increased violence cracking down on the LGBT community and the fact we don’t want to go there. Fox News itself doing a story on a Palestinian support group actually spreading anti-Semitism on campuses, across the country; anti-Semitism a phenomenon we have fought for years and were largely winning against. RegardingAyaan Hirsi-Ali, maybe they didn’t want something as important as a commencement speech turned into a reason to insight Jihad, becoming a magnet for violence here considering that, although Islam is unarguably violent, peaceful Muslims reside here and wish to remain peaceful. Continuing religion, Islam or another, may not be, probably wasn’t the defining percept of her experience with female genital mutilation, beatings, an arranged marriage, rather tribal long held tradition in her birth country Somalia;scenarios playing out in India and other tradition centric nations across the globe. Interesting they mention freedom of speech and the first amendment repeatedly when protesters were simply exercising theirs; they had a right to assemble, they had a right to protest, they broke no laws either legally or in terms of social etiquette by doing so.

 Let’s also clarify the caliber of free ideas and free thought they, conservatives, want let loose on college campuses in the name of tolerance; we aren’t talking Galileo, learned minds in Columbus’ day saying the earth was round rather than flat, Darwin’s search for a scientific answer to ours, and the earth’s creation, as opposed to a religious one; hints his theory of evolution in its original form. Incidentally confirming 130 years ago what DNA has today, the 2% genetic difference between humans and some gorilla species, independent of if he is wrong about the origin or reason. Colleges in the modern era aren’t shunning their generation’s Einstein, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, pioneers of social justice, societal betterment; in fact these are the people most likely to be shouted down, to quote Tucker Carlson, when taking on Judeo Christian values, their misguided applications hindering progress on issues of tolerance, discrimination. They are rejecting conservatives’ bid for tolerance that insists on treating gays the way they do, people, politicians, famous faces so fixated on how old the earth is they can’t agree to policies making sure we, our children and grandchildren have a planet to live on; they reject local legislatures, school boards so paranoid about kids learning the facts of sexual reproduction they scale back science curriculum in anatomy and biology. They are summarily rejecting leading figures willing to defund the national science foundation to satisfy their brand of religious fanaticism, so enamored with their view on the causes of abortion they can’t see the true human reality, rehearsing their circular arguments at the expense of all else. Lastly it coincides in directly addressing the obvious gap between conservative and democratic/other commencement speakers, do we really want Rick is he over medicated, does he need medication Perry appearing as commencement speaker; the guy who signed into law the most restrictive abortion legislation in the land shutting down nearly every women’s clinic in the state, the guy who brags about how many criminals his state has executed?  Take a moment to assess the feasibility of the other famous political Rick, Rick sanitarium Santorum, asked to give a commencement address at a prominent medical school still linking the amniocentesis to increased abortions, still asserting that’s why it should not be covered for women under the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare.

Is that what commencement speeches are now, places where quotas on fairness, bipartisanship and tolerance have to be met; should schools suddenly be wheedled into issuing a dual invite to Lindsey Graham and John McCain to weave theirBenghazi witch hunt theories? Is our stated goal for republican supporters, al-a Clint Eastwood, to reprise his monologue to a chair imaginatively containing president Obama as part of a commencement speech; should Rush Limbaugh expound on why he continues to believe Sandra fluke is a slut, Karl Rove explain his theory on Hillary Clinton’s “brain damage” stemming from a health scare the network he loves to appear on (Fox News) thought was a joke, to appease the tolerance police, begging tolerance not for a group of people, an ethnicity, a religion but for downright insane, echo chamber unsubstantiated nonsense?  Moreover, do we seriously expect a Todd Akin, a Richard Mourdock be invited, allowed to speak at a women’s college considering both their comments on rape, Mr. Akins complete misunderstanding of basic reproductive education and a woman’s body?  How bout a Mike Huckabee willing to bash Natalie Portman as a single mother to be while ignoring a much more public, drama inducing Bristol Palin, reality TV shows essentially glorifying teenage parenthood, his actual target for criticism; surely mama Sara and her pal Michele Bachmann would be welcome, provided they could keep their historical facts straight, stand the laughing of history majors in the audience, make it through obvious objections to the notion the best thing a woman can be is a wife and mother, barefoot and pregnant, things really were better under slavery because of increased two parent homes. The above proving these people aren’t wanted on college campuses, aren’t being invited, would be justifiably booed off stage, not for their conservatism, their religion, but because no learned institution would want their inaccuracies, their skewed views prompting sexism, racism, Xenophobia, supporting going backwards on civil rights, women’s rights, gay/transgender rights endorsed on accredited, respectable campuses. As for commencement speeches, no matter who is speaking where, what celebrity, known face anyone manages to get, sure to go down in history will be the commencement speech from space, broadcast from the international space station.