Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire. Aug. 12, 2012.
All hate crimes equally contemptible
What if a man in a turban had killed six white worshipers at a church in suburban Milwaukee last Sunday?
The immediate public outrage would have been palpable. There would have been cries for restrictions on Muslims, Sikhs or other people from the Middle East and South Asia. Media pundits — who routinely express their suspicions about non-Christian houses of worship being built in the United States, whether in Tennessee or New York City — would have whipped themselves into a lather over the terrible hate crime targeting Christians. To them, this act of terror would be yet another example of the violence inherent in non-Christian, non-Western cultures. Such "outsiders" would be condemned and fingers would be wagged at Sharia law or Sunni-on-Shiite violence in the Middle East.
In reality, of course, the senseless murders a week ago today in Oak Creek were of Sikh worshippers at their temple, and the perpetrator was not a man in a turban but a 40-year-old white supremacist named Wade Michael Page. Because he turned his gun on himself, Page's motives may ultimately remain unknown. But it's clear Page stewed himself in hatred.
We know he was a member of a skinhead group and was an active participant in Internet forums for skinheads. He played in white-power bands with names such as Definite Hate and End Apathy. His body was covered in tattoos containing coded racist messages. Before the massacre, Page's activities were on the radar of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups and described Page as a "frustrated neo-Nazi."
Whether motivated by racism or not, Page's horrific act isn't representative of average Wisconsinites or Americans. And yet it sheds light on something we'd rather not acknowledge: That there are veins of hatred and violence in our society and state. As much as those of us in the North would like to believe it, bigotry and racist violence in the United States didn't end when Southern police stopped siccing dogs on civil rights protesters in the 1960s. Relations between people of different races, religions and ethnicities in our nation may be better than they were in the past, but all too often hatred and discrimination still run beneath the surface. We must take every opportunity to change that, especially when the hatred bursts into view.
Bigotry isn't confined to any part of the world or to people of any skin color or religion, and hate crimes by members of Group A against Group B are as contemptible as those of Group B against Group A. In the past, for instance, turbaned Sikh men in the U.S. have been the victims of hate crimes because they have been mistaken for Muslims. It's tempting to say the bigots who perpetrate such crimes need an education on the differences among religions, yet as one Internet sage noted, we shouldn't have to know the difference between a Muslim, a Sikh, a Christian or a Jew to know that killing any of them is wrong.
Oshkosh Northwestern. Aug. 9, 2012.
Boomers face tough road to retirement
There was very little in the way of surprises in a recent survey of Baby Boomers conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons or AARP as it is more widely known. But there are lessons to be learned from the headlines produced by the survey.
Boomers, who are on the cusp of retirement, are more anxious about the future than they are about the current state of the economy. Of course the current state of the economy contributes significantly to their concerns about the future.
Simply put, Boomers, who range in age from 48 to 66-years-old, are more concerned about being able to afford living in retirement than they are about getting a job with benefits.
The poll showed that Boomers are most worried about:
— Prices rising faster than inflation, 67 percent
— Having to pay too much in taxes, 61 percent
— Not having financial security in retirement, 57 percent
— Having unaffordable health expenses, 56 percent
The angst being felt by Boomers stems from the political uncertainties facing Medicare and Social Security, two cornerstones of retirement planning. Adding to the anxiety reflected in the poll retirement is the fact that Boomers have largely ignored individual responsibility for their retirements.
Many Boomers are entering their retirement years with very little in the way of savings. Past generations could count on defined benefit pension plans funded by the company for which they worked, many for a lifetime. Boomers saw most pension plans switched from defined benefits to defined contributions as companies sought to shed the expense of retirement plans. That meant that Boomers (and future generations) bore the responsibility of saving for their retirements, most commonly in 401(k) savings plan which offered a modest match by employers.
The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates that the average worker will need $900,000 in personal savings for retirement. Yet the institute says that "people within 10 years of retirement have saved an average of only $78,000."
To be sure the recession took a bite out of many retirement accounts but the fact remains that Boomers saved too little too late. The inevitable end result has two outcomes: 1. Many Boomers will retire into poverty or 2. Other Boomers will extend their careers into their 70s.
The lessons Boomers pass on to their children and grandchildren are: Do not count on government programs to finance retirement and begin saving for retirement now and if a 401(k) account is available, contribute at least enough to earn the employers match.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Aug. 8, 2012.
We stand together, united, to overcome hate
In a sense, this is like the aftermath of any death in a family. Relatives and friends come together to support each other, weep together, remember the departed and turn to face a future that's emptier because of the loss. It's just that in this case, it's a much bigger family. It's all of us.
The outpouring of support for the Sikh community in the wake of Sunday's shootings in Oak Creek is perhaps extraordinary in its breadth and depth. The attendance at the candlelight vigils and memorials; the messages of support on social networks; the displays of support at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, the letters this newspaper has received from the Milwaukee community and from across the country all attest to the fact that this heinous attack has touched all of us.
It's also a testament to what Journal Sentinel columnist Jim Stingl pointed out in a Wednesday column after attending a memorial service at the Sikh temple in Brookfield Tuesday night: "On this night, we were all Sikhs, shoulder to shoulder across the room." As Stingl also noted, that's a fact Wade Michael Page, who killed six innocents before being shot and then taking his own life, would have hated.
The support for the Sikh community here and elsewhere really does outshine the hatred that may have driven Page to his terrible act. Just as it eclipses the hateful comments that have come from the white supremacist community, the larger cesspool from which Page sprung.
At the same time, none of this is extraordinary because this is who we are. While we may sometimes forget this in ordinary times, we do stand with each other in times of loss and crisis; we recognize that we are all part of the same community regardless of belief or politics or dress. Page and his supporters are the aberration, the anomaly, the ones who don't fit.
This community is represented by the sentiments expressed Tuesday night by some of its leaders: U.S. Attorney James Santelle said the nation stands with the Sikh community and "our hearts break with yours." Gov. Scott Walker: "We support you. We support you." Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch: "We wrap our loving arms around you." In a news release, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said, "The Sikh community is an important part of what makes that happen in Milwaukee County, with a long tradition of standing up for and supporting others. Now we need to stand with them."
Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, president of Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice, wrote, "When one faith community is attacked, the whole faith community feels attacked." And, going by the evidence of the past several days, that applies to the entire community.
The support has gone well beyond the community's leaders. In a letter to the editor, Darlene Martin Rose of Elm Grove wrote, "Borne of tragedy, we stand with them, as well as with the dedicated officers and responders." In another, Francis Pauc of Oak Creek wrote, "In a way, the shooter wounded us all."
That's who we are. We are Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Republicans, Democrats, people of all faiths and beliefs who all have been wounded and who all stand together now to face an uncertain future and face down hate - together.
Green Bay Press-Gazette, Aug. 13, 2012.
Weary world embraces Olympic athletes
Every four years, hundreds of millions of people follow the exploits of some of the most highly skilled, fittest people on the planet: the athletes of the Summer Olympic Games. It's easy to get caught up in the exhilaration of competition — the grace and sheer strength of gymnasts, the willpower and speed of swimmers, the precision of synchronized diving, the power of weightlifting and more.
These athletes, for the most part, make it look simple. Of course, they've trained and practiced for years, sacrificed other aspects of their lives and pushed themselves well beyond limits most of us can't comprehend.
For Americans, many amazing stories have arisen from the 2012 Olympic Games :
— Swimmer Dana Vollmer won two gold medals, four years after failing to make the team in Beijing after first appearing in the 2008 Olympic Games at age 16.
— Skeet and trap shooter Kimberly Rohde became the first American to win an individual sport medal in five consecutive Olympics, winning the gold in skeet this year.
— The women's gymnastic team easily won its first gold medal since 1996.
— Katie Ladecky — just 15 years old — won a gold medal in the 800m freestyle
— Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh won their third consective gold medal in beach volleyball.
— And of course, swimmer Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian in history. He's won 22 over the course of three Olympics — including 18 gold.
Of course, the glory goes beyond Americans: Usain Bolt won the 100m and 200m dashes for the second straight Olympics. China dominated synchronized diving. A young Chinese swimmer crushed the world record in one event. And in an astonishing feat of strength, a 123-pound North Korean lifted more than three times his body weight in the clean and jerk.
There's been plenty of drama on the sidelines as well: The International Olympic Committee's steadfast refusal to recognize the slaughter of Israeli athletes at the Munich games 40 years ago, Twitterverse complaints about NBC's coverage, American athletes upset about the U.S. Olympic Committee's rule against mentioning or displaying the logos of sponsors who aren't official Olympic sponsors.
Congress has even gotten into the act, as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida introduced a bill to make prizes won by Olympians tax-free. We can debate the wisdom of that proposal another time.
Not subject to debate, however, is that at least for a few weeks every four years, the world can gather and share in event that at once espouses world unity and elicits national pride.
Weary from recession, civil war in Syria, Eurozone economic malaise, strife in Africa, mass shootings and an awfully hot, dry summer, Americans — and people around the world — surely appreciated the kind of excitement and drama provided by the spectacle of the Olympics.