Monday, June 11, 2018

Why it Means Something When De Niro Says it

You could spend many wasteful hours going back through at least 30 years of my public utterances--blogs, essays, articles, comments--but you'll never find an F-bomb in any of them. That's not me. It's not my most hated word--that would be the C-word--but it's right up there.

I shake my head a lot, signalling uninvited disgust at the thousands of times I see it on Twitter, on Facebook, in blogs, in real life. I don't get how "F--- you!!!" adds to any argument, other than making the user feel mighty, mighty good. It's used so much it's lost whatever luster it might have had.  As slings and arrows, they're even kind of laughable.

But last night at the Tony Awards Robert De Niro dropped the F bomb--twice--against Donald Trump, and I, an audience of one in my own living room, found myself cheering like a maniac.

So what's the difference? The difference, as I see it, is in context, power, and visibility.

Context: Trump had just come off of a lunkheaded one-man burlesque at the G7 Summit held in Canada. At the meeting where leaders from the top industrialized countries gather to work on equitable alliances,Trump's dual roles as chaos creator and spoiled brat became clearer with every word and deed.  The Ugliest American embarrassed us once again, and put us in a far weaker position world-wide than any president had ever done before.

Trump is headed today for talks with the North Koreans. It's a clown show, with Dennis Rodman as the frontman. Trump will know in seconds whether or not it's going to work, because "It's what I doooo." The two dictators will have a private 45-minute sit-down, again unprecedented, the need for secrecy way too suspicious.

Then there's that whole flap about refugee kids in cages, literally torn from their parents' arms, all in the name of "new and tougher immigration policy". The program is so rotten the UN's Human Rights Commission felt compelled to condemn the United States of America for "arbitrary and unlawful separation of family life...a serious violation of  the rights of a child".

It adds up.

Power: Robert De Niro is a world-famous actor known for his no-bullshit take on our politics. Every one of us would have been surprised if he had taken the stage and said nothing. He did what he came for, and he did in New York City, where businessman Trump is and always has been a pariah. De Niro did it in front of an audience of creative mavericks there to celebrate the freedom to dream, to endure, to interpret the human condition. Trump--no surprise--is the antithesis of all they hold sacred.

Visibility: De Niro got a standing ovation. How awful if he hadn't, coming off of that powerful performance by the still-grieving students from Parkland--those same students now working to bring the NRA to its senses before more children are killed, and getting ugly heat, even from members of Trump's administration. The optics were inescapable: De Niro could have been every furious parent, every furious student, every furious human being capable of horror at the violence perpetrated on us all.

The ceremonies are broadcast all around the world. Millions of people saw De Niro pump his fists and say those words, and, for everyone who sniffed "blasphemy", claiming, bizarrely, that it could only help Trump, there were countless others who did as I did--cheered the hell out of it. Pumped! We were pumped.

We need that kind of anger, that kind of power, that kind of visibility, and let's face it--it means more when it comes from a celebrity than when it comes from a policy wonk or a relative nobody. Celebrities have sway. They get quoted. Their names and faces mean something. Witness the fuss this morning over what De Niro said. We're talking about it. Not just the words but the reasons for them.

And that, my friends, is a Big Effing Deal.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Democrats, Get Fierce

President Roosevelt signing the Social Security Act, on August 14, 1935. Attending were: (L-R) Representative Robert Doughton (D-NC), Senator Robert Wagner (D-NY), Representative John Dingell (D-MI), Representative Joshua Twing Brooks (D-Pennsylvania), Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, Senator Pat Harrison (D-MS), and Representative David Lewis (D-MD). (Library of Congress)

Five months from now, on Tuesday, November 6, we Democrats will have what may be our one and only chance to slow down the runaway Trump train. Maybe even--and this is just a "maybe"--stop him dead in his tracks. It could happen. It should happen. But will it?

Living in the real world as I do most of the time, I'm frantic, I'm worried, I'm hyped, I'm scared. Some days I'm beside myself with anxiety. Most of it comes from the awful realization that Trump is still president and the GOP is still pretending everything is hunky dory, but much of it comes from the Democrats and their wistful insistence that TrumpCo is so bad it can't possibly go on much longer.

I'm a life-long Democrat, but whenever I'm wistful it's because I'm longing for the good old days, when Dems were primarily the protectors of the poor and disenfranchised, the champions of the working class, the supporters of unions, the caretakers of our lands, and the nemeses of the power brokers.

The people who took on those tasks weren't wimps, they were fighters. Fierce fighters who knew their missions were the right ones and didn't veer from their convictions. Sometimes they won the battle, sometimes they lost, but we always knew where they stood. They stood with us.

The Democrats spent decades, starting with the Great Depression in the 1930s, working to better the lives of the lower and middle classes, while the other party, the Republicans, didn't. Every social advance came from the Democrats, against a predictable onslaught of opposition from the Republicans. And it goes on. So how is it that the Republicans now OWN us, and are--true to form--working against us? How is it that the Republicans are winning?

I'm no expert but I submit the Republicans are winning because the Democrats are losing. And the Democrats are losing because they've lost touch with the very people they traditionally fought for. If people think you're not fighting for them, they're going to look somewhere else for help. Even the people who brag about pulling themselves up by their non-existent bootstraps want to see strength and purpose in their leaders.

Strength and purpose, as we've seen, can work against them--it's what every bully has going for him-- but they'll take it over the pathetic bleatings of even the most goodhearted wimps.

We should know that by now, yet over on Twitter our Democratic leaders spend a lot of time warning us about what Trump and the Republicans are doing, making it seem as if it's OUR problem and not THEIR problem. Last I looked, we elected them to be the leaders. We chose them and we're paying them far more than most of us make. We expect them to work at taking care of this.

I want our Democratic leaders to get over their inferiority complexes, their need to mind their manners, and get fierce. FIERCE. Instead of hiding behind that hill over there, lobbing threats, they need to put on their battle gear and go headlong into the front lines.

They remind me of the commercial where robbers take  over a bank and the guy telling the customers they're being robbed isn't there to help them, he's only there to tell them a bank robbery is in progress.

This current American regime is so corrupt our mouths hang open 24 hours a day. Our hearts race, our blood pressure rises, and those sputtering variations of WTF, our reactions to everything coming out of the White House, are beginning to sound canned.  

And the Democrats wring their hands and shake their fists and wail along with us.

Trump, no secret, disdains the work that goes along with being president, but he's crazy about his role as Grand High Poobah. His performances are comedic nightmares, black with bile, but it's the crowds he's after. He puffs, they cheer, he drinks in the star power.

His ignorance is astounding, his every Twitterance is maddening, his love affair with Russia is dark and dangerous; his followers, including all but a handful of Republicans in congress, are deliberately oblivious...
 and still the Democrats have to worry about winning elections.

The Democrats should never have to worry about winning elections. The Democrats are US. The Republicans are THEM.

So my message to my party is this: Democrats, get fierce! This battle is worth fighting. Don't be distracted by mosquitos buzzing around your ears. There be dragons out there. Swords at the ready. Attack!

I mean it!


(Note: This isn't the first time I've had to say this. I challenged my Dem family in October, 2014, showing them the error of their ways. Long before Trump. Did they listen? Well, not to me. But you'll notice I don't give up. You shouldn't, either. Winning this time isn't an option. Our lives really do depend on it.)

Monday, May 7, 2018

Let's be Honest. Anti-Abortion Doesn't Make You Pro-Life.

I'll get right to it: I'm on the side of every woman who chooses abortion as a solution to what she considers a problem in her life. I don't need to know her story. I don't need to insert myself in her decision-making. I don't need to be judge and jury as she goes through the act of aborting a fetus.

I do need to support her decision against those who chant "Abortion is murder" and "Baby killer!" I need to let her know her worth is not any more, any less because her choices about motherhood are different from someone else's.

 I can  do this without hesitation, without equivocation, and I do it as a woman who worked hard at conceiving my three children, never once considering abortion as a solution for an unwanted pregnancy. I can do this because it's not about me. My own life, my own feelings, my own sense of right and wrong, has nothing to do with any woman's decision to abort.

So let me speak directly to those who throw out that phrase "pro-life", as if aborting a fetus is the be-all,end-all of life as we know it here on earth. If you insist on inserting yourself into any woman's life, deciding for her that she must carry a fetus to term, you can't, in all that's holy, stop there.

If you force a woman to bear a child she doesn't want, it should be on you to insure health, wealth, and happiness to both. The real sin is in turning your back on her once your interference brings about the outcome you were hoping for.

Children don't raise themselves. Women don't suddenly become Mother Mary at the birth. Real life doesn't suddenly become wondrous or heavenly on the appearance of a baby.

You can't possibly understand the factors in a woman's life that would bring her to a decision to abort. It's clear you don't care. That's how you lose your case. You don't care.

 We could spend the rest of our days defining life: When does it start? What makes it precious? Who gets to decide? None of it helps the woman who finds herself pregnant with an unwanted child.

You need to stop. I'm a mother who loved that life--reveled in it--and I'm begging you to stop.

Too many of you have used abortion as the single issue bringing you to the voting booth, and, for the most part, your choices have been piss-poor. You've put people in power who are intent on controlling our lives from birth to death, who are working to deconstruct every comfort, every gain, every protection, and you've done it without any deep thought beyond putting an end to abortion.

Abortion won't end. Closing clinics, forcing women to wait, to get permission, to endure indoctrination--none of it will stop abortions. Praying won't stop abortions.

You know what affects abortions? Free, readily available contraceptives for both men and women, economic stability, sex education, free or inexpensive child care, work schedules allowing for parenthood, a promise to value every single life, regardless of color, creed, or nationality. All of that. In many cases abortion is more than a right--it's a necessity. Whatever the reason, the woman and her doctor get to choose. You don't.

You must know by now that Planned Parenthood provides essential services to millions of women and families who wouldn't otherwise have access to obstetric or gynecological health care. You know that abortion or abortion education is an infinitesimal part of their work. You choose to believe the lies. You cheer when clinics close. You need to stop.

If you voted for Donald Trump or any other slug purely because you thought they would bring an end to Roe v Wade, you need to recalculate. How is the sanctity of life better under them? If your personal life is okay, what you do about the suffering of others under this regime is now your obligation. It's on you to prove all life is precious.

If you can watch poverty programs disappear and health care become increasingly for-profit, knowing it's the children who will be harmed most, you need to tell me how you can do that and still insist you care about the child.

If you can watch mothers and children being torn apart, separated, because the mother dared to want a better life in America for her kids--if you can watch that and do nothing, you've lost any chance at staking a claim for decency.

Life begins in the womb but can thrive only in a culture where kindness and humanity are the norm. If we were ever there, we're swiftly moving away. You must see that. If you care more about fetuses than you do about the lives of people trying to exist, to survive, in a world turning against them, you need to stop. This can't be who you really are.


Cross posted at Crooks &Liars.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Earth Day: A revisit

Today is Earth Day in America.  The first, 48 years ago, was a big deal.  It was 1970.  We were in the mood to celebrate the earth and to warn against the destruction of our natural places.  Now we're watching again as our supposed caretakers are licking their lips at the thought of all that land open to rape-for-profit.  

I wrote and published this piece eight years ago so you'll note some outdated references.  I present it again today as a history, a warning, and a celebration of Earth Day.  (You'll notice I've avoided updating it to reflect the Trump administration's wholesale attacks on our lands and our environment. It sickens me to a point so far beyond the usual heartburn I'm admitting here and now that I'm just not up to it.)

The earth is our only home.  We owe it to her--and to ourselves--to keep her healthy. At some point we have to heed the warnings. We're at the stage now where the earth would be better off without us.
On April 22, 1970, 20 million people, 2,000 colleges and universities, 10,000 grammar and high schools and 1,000 communities mobilized for the first nationwide demonstrations on environmental problems. Congress adjourned for the day so members could attend Earth Day events in their districts. The response was nothing short of remarkable, and the modern American environmental movement took off.
My major objective in planning Earth Day 1970 was to organize a nationwide public demonstration so large it would, finally, get the attention of the politicians and force the environmental issue into the political dialogue of the nation. It worked. By the sheer force of its collective action on that one day, the American public forever changed the political landscape respecting environmental issues.

Sen. Gaylord Nelson, Dem. Wisc - Founder of Earth Day.
Created by Walt Kelly for Earth Day, 1970

I remember that first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.  The scope of it was astonishing and really surprising. It was a grassroots movement in the best sense of the phrase, and we all felt good about it.  (Most of us, that is. The day after, The Daughters of the American Revolution branded  the Earth Day commemoration "distorted" and "subversive".  (It didn't help that the first Earth Day happened to fall on the 100th anniversary of Vladimir Lenin's birth.)

What Gaylord Nelson originally proposed was a nationwide teach-in on school campuses.  He chose April 22 because it would fall after Easter break but before final exams.  It was spring.  The earth was renewing itself.  Environmentalism was gearing up and in motion, and it was a fine time to give the earth a day.  Richard Nixon was president and, while he didn't participate in any of the day's events (maybe because a damned Democrat came up with the idea), he was actively talking about attacks on the environment and the steps the government would need to combat them.  Pollution was a big issue already, and steps had been taken to de-smog the cities.  It was working.  (Nelson had actually talked to JFK in the early 60s about the need to draw attention to the environment, and a day to commemorate had been thrown out there then. Nothing happened.)

Industry was king, and the environmentalists, alarmed at water, ground and air pollution levels, were talking to brick walls (when they weren't batting their heads against them).  In 1962, the year Rachel Carson published "Silent Spring", 750 people died in London's smog.  In 1965, four days of inversion held down a cloud of filthy air that killed 80 people in New York City.  In 1969, Cleveland's Cuyahoga River caught fire. Earlier that year, an oil platform six miles out from Santa Barbara, California, blew out, spilling 200,000 gallons of oil, creating an 800 square mile oil slick that settled on 35 miles of California shoreline.  Almost 4,000 birds were killed, along with fish, seals and dolphin.

Enough had finally become enough, and under Lyndon Johnson and a congress that could see clearly now (even though the rest of us were still lost in a choking, eye-watering, salmon-colored, man-made smog), we saw a Clean Air Act, a Clean Water act, a National Wilderness Preservation System, a Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a National Trails System Act, and, for what it was worth, a  National Environmental Policy.

That all changed, of course, when Ronald "A tree is a tree" Reagan became president.  For the Department of Interior, he chose James Watt, a notorious anti-environmentalist, to head it. He chose Ann Gorsuch, another determined anti-earthling, to head the Environmental Protection Agency.  What a laugh that was--or might have been, if it weren't so serious.  They were chosen for the same cynical reasons George W. Bush chose his department heads--so that regulatory agencies could, from the inside, be forced to stop regulating.

Gale Norton, GWB's choice for Secretary of Interior was called "even worse" than James Watt, by the Defenders of Wildlife.  I shuddered over that one.  I remembered James Watt, and I thought nobody could cause as much havoc on our little section of the earth as that little man did.  I thought we had learned something along the way.  I thought all those Arbor Days and Earth Days and global warming warnings had taught us all something.  Some of us obviously weren't listening.

But now we're in the era of Obama and former Colorado senator Ken Salazar is the Interior secretary.  The jury is still out on him; his voting record was either for or against the environment, depending on what I'm assuming was the alignment of the stars or the fullness of the moon.  I don't know.   But he's showing signs of bucking the oil industry, and he isn't necessarily doing what his naysayers thought he would, so I'm willing to cut him some slack for a while.Lisa Jackson is the current head of the EPA. She's a chemical engineer, which seems like a start, and she said this in Newsweek:  "The difference between this administration and the last is that we don't believe we have an option to do nothing."  I like that.  But she seems to think there's no cause for alarm over offshore drilling.  That makes me more than a little nervous, considering the above-mentioned Santa Barbara incident, and the 11-million-gallon Exxon-Valdez incident, and today's oil-rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana.  (I hope she remembers that the EPA is 40 years old this year, too.  In fact it's a few months older than Earth Day--all the more reason for it to be the designated caretaker.)

This Earth Day,40 years after the first, got a lot of play in the news and on the internet, but I was hoping to see crowds out there giving it their best.  I didn't expect teabags, of course, but what I wouldn't give for a sea of tie-dyes and peace signs and flower garlands. . .

The aroma of Pachouli...

All those things I thought were pretty silly in the day are looking downright good to me as I take note of the day we promised to give Earth a chance.

Sunset where I live

 "Sometimes I wonder if Lewis and Clark shouldn't have been made to file an environmental impact study before they started west, and Columbus before he ever sailed.  They might never have got their permits.  But then we wouldn't have been here to learn from our mistakes, either.  I really only want to say that we may love a place and still be dangerous to it.  We ought to file that environmental impact study before we undertake anything that exploits or alters or endangers the splendid, spacious, varied, magnificent and terribly fragile earth that supports us.  If we can't find an appropriate government agency with which to file it, we can file it where an Indian would have filed it--with our environmental conscience, our slowly maturing sense that the earth is indeed our mother, worthy of our love and deserving of our care."
Wallace Stegner, Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

In the Year of the Woman We're Going to Need Each Other

Women's Liberation protest, 1971
Enlightened women of America, if I say we're at our most vulnerable right now, right this minute, and our gains are becoming losses, would you be tempted to smack me down?

Would you rush to remind me of the Women's Marches, the "Me Too" movement, the multiplying numbers of women seeking public office?

Would you send me links to maybe a dozen men whose careers have now ended, thanks to women coming forward about sexual abuse just last year alone?

I hear you. Now hear me:

Donald Trump, a serial sexual abuser, is our current president. Congress, led by a Republican majority, is still overwhelmingly male, many of them open chauvinists. ( Out of 535 members of Congress, only 106 are women--22 in the Senate, and 84 in the House.)

We're the only gender who can make babies, yet it's still left to men to decide how we control the process.

Red states outnumber blue states and women's rights are in danger in every one of them. Free contraception is looked on as a sin or a waste of good money. Kentucky could become the first state without a single abortion clinic. Many others are down to one or two. Planned Parenthood is under siege and may not make it this time.

Dismissing and disrespecting women's lives is back in vogue. It happens every time we gather in large groups and make too much noise.

And yet there are millions of women who don't or won't see what the fuss is all about.

If you ask Republican women why they vote the way they do, their answer, overwhelmingly, is "abortion". Nothing else matters, as seen by their approval of Donald Trump, the poorest choice for president this country has ever seen. Trump, the former pro-choice advocate, saw early on where the sun does shine and did a complete 180. The women still supporting Trump refuse to believe he lied for their votes.

We could argue all day long about the shortsightedness of protecting fetuses while ignoring the needs of our living children, but the fact is, millions of women will vote for inadequate, unqualified, impossible men as long as those men say the magic words: "Pro-life".

Even proof of sexual abuse and domestic violence isn't enough to sway them. Even threats to give to the rich and sell out the poor won't slow them down. They see nothing beyond abortion.

We should hate those women for their blind loyalty to the forces working against us.

We should hate the women who didn't vote for Hillary for opening the door to Trump.

We should hate Hillary for not winning.

We should hate that our decades-long work on equality and worth is about to become so much dust in the wind.

But if we waste even a minute honing our hatred to such red-hot degrees, we use up energy we're going to need going forward. With all the bad news, with all the setbacks, we're gaining momentum. Women's voices are being heard.

If we divide into factions, we'll lose.

This is not white women against black women, it's not progressive women against centrist women, it's not young women vs old women. It's all women against the forces that work to hold us down.

We're going to have our differences. We're going to want to steer each conversation our way, to stress what's important to us. To you, to me, to her. We can't do that yet. It'll have to come later. Right now we have to work together, without bias, without prejudice, without ego.

And we're going to need leaders. No movement ever succeeded without strong, mission-oriented leaders. The ones we choose won't be perfect. They shouldn't have to pass purity tests--we've had enough of that--but they're going to have to speak for us in inclusive, powerful, charismatic ways.

They don't have to be celebrities in their own right, but they'll need to be wise, articulate and, most of all, riveting. They'll be competing with shlockmeisters and celebrity noise--those folks the mainstream media lust after, no matter how much they claim otherwise.

I don't know who they'll be and I'm not up to making predictions. We'll know them when we see them and we'll raise them up--but not so high the mission will get lost in their celebrity. They'll have to weather brutal storms, assaults on every aspect of their past, a constant parsing of their every word.

 My choice, for that reason, would be someone already seasoned--already past all that--but I'm open to new voices, to new ideas. We need to talk about this now, reasonably and honestly, and we need to keep the anger down.

It's the Year of the Woman. Momentum is on our side. Now we get to prove who we really are.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

While Trump is Stealing the Show his Cronies are Stealing us Blind

I'm sick of hearing Trump, seeing Trump, laughing at Trump, agonizing over Trump. I'm sick of Donald J. Trump, the squatter in the White House, making a mockery of our presidency.

He's a president like a third rate comic spoofing the highest job in the land would be president. His stake is only in drawing an audience; he has no feeling for what the real job would be like. It's  beyond his capacity to get that deep into the role, and nothing says he has to. He revels in his "free to be me" rhetoric and the crowds keep on coming.

A president, no matter his politics or biases, has to, at some point, recognize he's the leader of a country and not just the spokesman for his base. Donald can't do that. He snuggles into his base, comfy and worry-free, and if there are people screaming for his head on the outside, they're really, really bad, aren't they?  (Chorus: We love you, Donald! Donald: Thank you! Thank you very much! Me, too!)

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call,Inc.
He came into politics as a reality star and he'll go out as a reality star. One quick read of his off-the-wall, stream-of-consciousness, look-at-me, CPAC speech the other day cements any claim that his main concern is, always has been, and always will be how people react to Donald Trump. (The transcript is here.)

  He's not speaking to his country. He's not even speaking to all Republicans. He's rallying his fans.

This one small section, distilled in a couple of paragraphs, is the essence of Donald:
"So, thank you, everybody. You’ve been amazing. You’ve been amazing. What Matt [Schlapp] didn’t say, when I was here 2011, I made a speech. And I was received with such warmth and they give, you know, they used to give, I don’t know if Matt does that, he may not want to be controversial, but they used to give the best speech of CPAC. Do they still do that? You better pick me, or I’m not coming back.

But — and I got these — everybody, they loved that speech. That was, I think, Matt, I would say that might have been the first real political speech I made. It was a love fest, 2011, I believe the time was. And a lot of people remembered and they said, we want Trump, we want Trump. 
And after a few years, they go by, and I say, 'Here we are. Let's see what we can do.'"
Trump runs his 24-hour-a-day clown act as a distraction, and the GOP loves him for it. While he's on stage they're free to go about their business--which has nothing to do with our business. They're putting in place right wing judges who hold life-time positions, cozying up and giving unprecedented power to gun lobbyists like the NRA, dissolving long-standing protections for women, children, minorities, the sick, the poor, and the working class. We barely recognize ourselves anymore.

We have real problems that need grown-up intervention. Trump is not going to be that grown-up. They can slap any label they want on him, including POTUS, but he'll never be anything but a callous showman doing a bad imitation of a real president.

November is coming. We need to work on getting our people elected and throw those bums out.

We need to work at ending the obscene profits currently the deciding factor in every aspect of our lives, including health care.

We need to repair our crumbling structures, our roads and bridges.

We need to convince our allies we're capable of more than saber-rattling and meaningless flag waving.

We need to work at keeping our children safe from killers with assault weapons.

We need to have some pride.

We don't have time for the kind of mind-numbing side show Trump, the GOP, and yes--the Russians--have been forcing on us. The media's fascination with Trump's silly shtick has to stop. I don't care what he says, I care what he does. When he's not trying to destroy programs and departments we've held sacrosanct for half a century or more, he's busy filling every top cabinet job with agenda-laden, know-nothings famous for their cruel streaks. His administration holds the record for the most scandals ever to come out of the White House, and barely a year has gone by.

We have to stop treating Trump like the best copy ever and get back to reporting on the things that matter to Americans with the most to lose. He's a distraction we can't afford. He's a joke gone on too long.

(Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The NRA is Killing Us and their Weapon is the Second Amendment

Another massacre. Another killing field. Yesterday, sixteen kids and one teacher at at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida were murdered by a teenager blasting away with a semi-automatic weapon. So today we're in mourning--crying, howling, ranting about the unfairness. How could this happen? Why is this happening? Something must be done!

The same old shit. Nothing happens. The families whose lives have been devastated by their losses have our sympathies and we do them the supreme honor of allowing them to weep on TV, or seating them in a prominent place beside politicians at public speeches, but we don't give them what they really want: A promise that it'll never happen again.

The unbelievable numbers of gun deaths in America are more than a national scandal, they're the product of mass insanity. I don't know how else to explain it. The statistics on American gun deaths are so outrageously skewed compared to other civilized nations, some of us (but obviously not all of us) work frantically to make it stop. We have no power beyond our words, and, even as we're blasting our thoughts into the vast Web we know words won't do it.

It goes on and it goes on because the leaders of this country are in thrall of the NRA and they allow it to go on. They're the only ones who can stop the rampages and they refuse to do it.

The words "I believe in the Second Amendment" are killer words, designed to give permission to any nutcase who needs an excuse to use a gun as a final solution .

When pundits or government leaders preface their rants against violent gun deaths with "I believe in the Second Amendment, but..." I stop listening. It's insane to say they believe in a corrupted version of a constitutional amendment deliberately misused and abused by the NRA, when they of all people should know better.

The NRA is nothing more than an industry promoting and selling deadly firearms, and they do it by seducing Americans into believing gun ownership is fun, cool, deliciously subversive, and an absolute goddamn right.

The NRA and their brothers-in-arms, the gun manufacturers, have built a multi-billion dollar industry off of that crazy talk and our own government has done everything in their power to encourage it. Gun lobbyists spend billions of dollars in Washington alone to keep that murderous myth going. The NRA "donated" hundreds of millions of dollars to Donald Trump's campaign. Many more millions went to dozens of members of Congress. Money over lives. They took blood money.

The second Amendment goes like this:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
I've written about the misuse of this amendment before--not that it does any good--but let me repeat: The second amendment does not say what the NRA or certain government leaders say it does. It was designed to give the states the right to build their own militias. Nothing more, nothing less.

(And, before you even go there, the Supreme Court's 2008 Second Amendment decision, District of Columbia vs. Heller, did not give a free pass to the country's big gunners.

This, from Antonin Scalia:
"It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. 
Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms.  Miller (an earlier case) said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those 'in common use at the time'. We think that limitations is fairly supported by the historic tradition of prohibiting the carrying of 'dangerous and unusual weapons. ' "
In order to keep the deadly gun industry going, the profiteers want us to go on believing it's the phrase, "the right of the people", that protects gun owners from....

...from what? A rogue government itching to take away their guns and turn them into slaves? That's crazy talk. That's NRA-promoted crazy talk. That's the kind of simplistic drama you might expect from an apocalyptic movie of the "B" kind.

The killing has to stop and it won't stop until this government, right now, right this moment, decides along with us that it has to stop. They have the power. They can do this. And if they don't, the blood of our children, the next victims, is on them.

But one more thing: Whatever happened to the federal bump stock laws? Another promise broken, with more to come. A full 90 percent of the country wants background checks, and more than 50% want better gun control laws, but our government will not take on the NRA, a private but powerful group holding us hostage, whose sole purpose is to profit from the sale of guns

It's on our government to take this on.

It's on them.

Never let them forget, it's on them.

(Crossposted at Crooks and Liars)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The President is a Damned Nuisance. We Get it. Can we Move On?

It's been over a year now, and the squatter in the White House, that odd, clunky, rich guy who said of the presidency, "How hard could it be?"; that sleazy showman who, early on, saw merit in making fun of people whose only sin was in disagreeing with him (Congress, judges, the FBI, the press, TV pundits, Gold Star parents, Heads of State, heads of social name it); that ignorant, irresponsible do-nothing who promised jobs where there weren't any, who boasted he would fix whatever ailed the country single-handedly, all by himself, because nobody on EARTH--no politician, no scientist, no scholar--was smarter than he was...

That guy?

That guy is still there.

If we haven't had enough of him, shame on us. We're supposed to be the adults here, yet we let this increasingly silly Peter Pan (I don't wanna grow up) dominate our every breathing moment.  Seconds after witnessing that hilariously awful image of an imperious Donald Trump descending on his golden escalator, we should have known the only response to such a spectacle would have been a collective, "Yeah, get outta here, ya big galoot".

But, no. We ate it up. What chutzpah! How gutsy! It was like watching a second-rate horror show, a black comedy, a bizarre but highly entertaining version of the worst politician EVER.

Even now he revels in the absolute power of his naughtiness. He cannot be schooled, he cannot be humiliated, he cannot be convinced that he is not God. And why should he change? Nothing fazes him. He is obsessed with building a wall between the U.S and Mexico and nothing will move him away from it--not Mexico saying they won't pay for it, not the rest of us giving him grief over it, not Congress dodging with, "well, hold on now, let's think about this...".

He knows nothing of diasporas or despair, sees little value in aid and charity, has an uncommon fear of black and brown people--even those who do nothing more than kneel. He's a dream come true to White Supremacists and faux Christians; a recurring nightmare to our Dreamers.

A year in and he still doesn't understand why he--the Great and Powerful Oz--can't just snap his fingers and make it happen. No, he can't let the Vice President do all the work. No, he can't stop the presses when they publish unkind stuff about him. No, he can't fire a judge who happens to be Hispanic. No, he can't wring loyalty oaths out of the FBI. No, he can't cozy up to Russia. No, he can't use our nuclear weapons to annihilate North Korea...

He can't stop Robert Mueller's investigation or force Ruth Bader Ginsberg to retire, either.

And, boy, it pisses him off.

So just last week he accused Democrats who didn't stand and applaud his State of the Union speech of being unAmerican. Treasonous, even. How DARE they? And instead of the press questioning how it is that a President of the United States had never seen a State of the Union address before (else he would have known that's how the damned thing works--the opposition always sits it out), they glommed onto the treason comment and completely ignored his abominable ignorance of American politics.

And here's yesterday's Breaking News: Ever since Trump sat through France's Bastille Day extravaganza last July 14 he's been lusting after his own Tanks and Rockets and Stuff Like That parade, Soviet/North Korea style. He kids you not. He pictures it going right down Pennsylvania Avenue, looking something like this:

Soviet Military Parade, Moscow, 1984
The Pentagon guys are madly trying to stall--red tape, lost memos, the logistics behind hauling our country's heavy weaponry to the steps of the White House--the usual--but Trump has spoken. It'll happen. Nobody will be able to talk him out of it. Thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars later, it'll happen. Because, you see, the president has tantrums.

We know all of this in dizzying detail because our media falls all over itself to suck in and blast out every word, every gesture, every twitterpated "How great am I?" brain fart emanating from this hopeless dunderhead who, through no fault of mine, managed to become, of all the crazy things, President of the United States.

Every week the majority of us watching this debacle say to ourselves, "Well, he's outdone himself this time. It can't get any worse." But it does. It does because Trump revels in this stuff. He wallows in attention-getting controversy. Chaos is his Ecstasy. He just can't quit it, and he won't as long as we go on satisfying his craving.

I'm as guilty as anyone, wasting heaps and heaps of time in shuddery fascination, but the bright new thing is that I've finally become bored with it. The President is getting repetitive and tiresome. His antics aren't hilarious or even mildly funny anymore. Nothing shocks me, and that's a bad sign for a showman.

If he can't entertain us, what good is he? That's the position he's in now. He's done nothing to show us he can be--or even wants to be--presidential, and it's clear, after a year without any real leadership, that we don't need him.

Our focus now must be on the Republican majority in Congress. When they're not enabling Trump, a man they know full well is woefully unqualified and has no business in the White House, they're defending his behavior. ("Nothing to see here, he was only kidding, that's not what he meant, he's what the voters want..."). No mystery there. They're hoping for enough time to undo the few things they weren't able to obstruct during the Obama administration; enough time to kill off any other long-term rules and regulations designed, obviously, to obliterate, or at least irritate, the super-rich.

Their unfettered freedom renders them reckless and giddy. (At last! Can't stop us now!) Trump's antics are distractions they're anxious to keep afloat. It's not Trump who bears watching, it's that bunch in the majority who see democracy as an obstacle to their real goals. We're on to them and they know it. The question now is, how much damage can they do between now and November? The answer comes in how watchful we are.

Let Trump be Trump, but without the bright lights and the fanfare. Get him off the stage. Curtain down. Spare us the second act.

(Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars)

Friday, January 19, 2018

Our Bleeding Hearts Might Have Saved Us

Today marks the anniversary of the Dread Fiend Trump's official entry into politics, not as dog catcher, not even as city clerk, but as President of these United States.

A year has passed and as much as we've spit and hollered, as often as we've watched the evidence of corruption pile up, Donald Trump is still president. He is every bit as bad at the job as we imagined. You might even say he's far worse. But on the bright side, North Korea hasn't nuked us yet, the Grand Canyon hasn't been filled in and paved over, and neither ermine robes nor jeweled crowns have replaced Polo shirts and MAGA caps.

Court jesters are filling the Capital and kowtowing is back in vogue but so far no guillotines have appeared in any town squares. Nevertheless, good people are being banished from the realm by the thousands--families torn apart, falsely accused of unworthiness--and countries that were once our friends now look on us with pity and/or disgust. Many of them can't stop laughing.

We're in a fine mess, with no rescue in sight. If there be heroes, they're mighty scarce and awfully damned quiet.

The Democrats, except for a gallant few, are performing their usual cowardly moves. They sit behind the barricades yelling and shaking their fists, but when it comes to doing battle--twisting arms and bloodying noses--they're outta there.

So here's a radical thought: Let the liberals do it. Give us a chance to show how it could be done.

Liberals, you say, are the classic political nerds, not worth bothering with unless it's to give us our daily wedgies or noogies. Quaint, naive little do-gooders lost in a world of ruthless cruelty without weapons adequate enough to bruise a flea. (That's what they said about Hobbits, too, you know.)

In the 1980s, around about the time the actor Ronald Reagan,friendly Midwestern liberal turned hard-hearted California conservative, was solidly in there as POTUS, the word went out that liberals--those ridiculous "for the people" gadflies--were ruining the country by helping too many undeserving, impoverished leeches, by insisting that workers be represented by hard-nosed unions, by tightening, enforcing, or inventing regulations that were or would be anathema to the gold-plated entities they targeted.

It wasn't hard to convince the many millions that health, wealth, and happiness could only come from a government without teeth, from the benevolence of ridiculously powerful corporations, and, if all else failed, from that venerable standby, Old Testament God.

All that stood in the way were those damned Liberals.

Liberals became such pariahs an entire bloc jumped ship and took on a new name: Progressives. (I would describe them for you here, but I admit I don't know the difference. I hear they're mainly friendly.)

But what we liberals have that others don't are hearts that gush blood whenever injustice rears it's massive, ugly head. We see a bleeding heart as a badge of honor. The same with tears. We cry when things move us, and we don't hide from our emotions. Our anger stems from compassion, our outrage roars at cruelty. We wear our hearts on our sleeves and we don't care.

Liberals have a long history of getting things done. We pulled the entire country out of a great depression by hiring our citizens to do meaningful busy-work, by using our charitable might, by giving dignity and hope back to a country mired in poverty and hopelessness.

We built the unions and gave workers a voice. We put an end to child labor. We fought to give every adult citizen the right to vote, no matter gender or color. We helped the poor and the elderly by creating Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. We passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Clean Air act, and the Clean Water Act. We ended a recession that nearly destroyed the middle class.

We did all that and more against the wishes--and the might--of fat cats and right wingers who sorely wanted what we're heading for today: a country ruled by non-contributing despots whose only interests are power, greed, and self-preservation.

We are not that country and we never will be. The Trump phenomenon is an anomaly, destined for the history books, a long chapter on how close we came to letting our democracy die.

We're still a majority of the good and, thankfully, most of us aren't ashamed to show it. It's our time now and there's much to do. They're out there waiting for us and they have heavy weapons. The obstacles are scary and formidable.

And here we go.
A personal note: Today also marks this blog's ninth anniversary. I wrote my first blog post on  January 20, 2009, on the afternoon of Barack Obama's first Inauguration, celebrating hope and sanity with a smidgen of skepticism. No miracles expected, none received.

(Cross-posted at Crooks & Liars)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

On Feeling the Holiday Spirit at Christmas

On Christmas Day, 1914, only four months into the brutality of World War I, a spontaneous miracle happened on the Western Front.  On that day German and British soldiers laid down their arms and gathered together in No Man's Land to share food and cigarettes, sing Christmas carols, and play a few games of football.

On other battle lines along the front, "Merry Christmas" signs were hastily constructed and held up to cheers from the other side. Without orders and in spite of warnings from their superiors, the soldiers on both sides declared a truce for, at the very least, one magical day.  For some, the truce lasted for days into weeks, or until new troops replaced those who had been involved. There are reports that it happened the next year and the year after that and each year on Christmas Day until that terrible war ended.

For generations, Christmas has held that kind of good will magic. No matter who we are or where we are or how we got there, that holiday spirit endures. 

For a few days out of the year millions of us do our best to take kindness to a whole new level.  We wake up with a song in our heart, feeling good.  We want to do things.  Not to others but for others.  For a precious few days near the end of the year we like people.  We really, really like them!

Unless we don't.  Unless we're those few "It's Merry Christmas, Dammit!" people and someone nearby has the nerve to either ask for some life-changing help or to say "Happy Holidays!" out loud.

"Happy Holidays!"  That simple phrase, known for what seems like forever throughout the world as a perfectly acceptable seasonal salutation (preferable in almost all circles to the truly lifeless "Season's Greetings"), turns out to be a secret code for declaring war on Christmas

I'm out of the woods and in the big city now, and I'm happy to report that "Merry Christmas" is everywhere.  So far nobody is showing signs of preparing for battle against Christmas. Our December has not suddenly turned gray. Tanks are not on the move anywhere. There are no soldiers in freezing, muddy trenches in America. The War on Christmas is a lie. So who's making this up?  The Scrooges. The Grinches. Those nasty, wasty Grinches who don't have a clue about the true spirit of Christmas. That's who.

The why of it is more elusive.  There are dozens of reasons, none of them good, but Fa La La and Fiddle-de-dee,  who cares? It's Christmas and 'tis the season!

Still, I feel the need to say this plain: I, a secular-liberal, love my Christmas. Christmas is in my blood, pagan as my blood may be, and  I've been celebrating it for what seems like an eternity.  Through new births, and great losses, through times thick and thin, this is the one Happy Holiday season that I wouldn't ever want to miss.

I love Christmas carols as much as I love sweet secular Christmas songs and it's okay because it's Christmas.

As much as I love the Chinese Restaurant scene in "The Christmas Story",  it's also possible to really, really look forward to interpretations of  The Bible's nativity scene.

So when I say I want to wish you Happy Holidays and a very Merry Christmas, you'll just have to trust that I mean it from the bottom of my heart.