Monday, August 29, 2016

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Photo:  Jesse Walker
 Trump again. I know. I'm obsessed with who he is, how he got here, where he's going, and who's going down with him. Day by day, in every way, it's as if the planet has tilted and those of us still upright are experiencing an existential vertigo.  (In other words, "What the hell is happening??")

In a matter of a precious few months Donald Trump vanquished more than a dozen barely worthy but infinitely better opponents and now he's as astonished as anyone that it's looking less like a political coup and more like a damned junta!

He's the general in charge of an army of rapscallions and scalawags just itching to start the looting and pillaging. But forget all that!  He, Donald J. Trump of Donald J. Trump fame, gets to be the general!

It's the power of positive thinking gone ballistic. It worked! The man is at the top of his game--a bigger con game than even he, Donald J. Trump, could imagine, and he'll do anything to stay up there. It's not about them. It's not about us.  It's about him, him, a thousand times him.

So let's talk about how he got here. (This won't take long.) He got here because the American press and the TV pundits put the last remnant of journalistic ethics in mothballs in order to whoop it up with a goofy blowhard who could be counted on to give them stories that practically wrote themselves.

When Donald Trump won his party's presidential nomination and promised to go after Hillary Clinton with a vengeance the world has never seen, nobody-- not even the alert, ever-ready (cough cough) press corps--thought he actually meant "with a vengeance the world had never seen."

When he took to calling her "crooked Hillary" everyone on his side got a huge laugh out of it, while  our side--the Hillary side--did a kind of "ho-hum, that's all you got?"

It was the press that wouldn't let it go, the press playing the willing foil to Trump's childish attacks on them, the press settling in and going along, no matter how low the road would take them.

Now Trump's attacks have moved from the silly "crooked Hillary", from the astonishing "Hillary Clinton is a bigot", to the outright bald-faced lie, "the Clinton Foundation is a scam".

Just last week, Trump, struggling to follow along with the hated teleprompter, said, about the Clinton Foundation, that "access and favors were sold for cash." That's a lie.

In the same on-the-cuff speech he said, "Clinton used her private email to cover corruption".  That's a lie.

Everyone, including the press, knows by now that any words surrounding "I", "I'm", "she", "they", and "the people" will form as if by magic into outrageous, slanderous lies.  He lies.  Of course he lies.  But the crowds!  The polls!  The ratings! 

Not so with Hillary Clinton.  They grab onto every word, waiting for the moment when what they're hearing can be pulled out and molded into something you might expect from the murky Hillary character they've so carefully crafted over a quarter of a century.

Nobody could be happier than Donald that he gets away with it while Hillary doesn't. So it's not surprising that Trump would latch onto a recent Associated Press story about the numbers of Clinton Foundation donors who were able to have an audience with Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State and claim he knew it was crooked all along.

The article began like this:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money - either personally or through companies or groups - to the Clinton Foundation. It's an extraordinary proportion indicating her possible ethics challenges if elected president.  (My bold)
The perception, the article explains, is that Hillary Clinton has been selling access to the State Department, the price being a substantial donation to the family foundation. The AP has been on this for a long time, it said, working to bring out the truth about how the Clintons might have profited by using both the State Department and the Clinton Foundation for their own personal gain.

There is nothing in the article to suggest the two reporters working on the story found the answer.  Nothing that would raise new questions about the Clinton's ethics or bring to light the need for such a lengthy investigation. (The Clinton Foundation is a 501(C)(3) not-for-profit foundation. Their records are public.)  But Donald Trump, ever the opportunist, weighed in on it as if the evidence against the Clintons was obvious.  From that same AP article: 
Trump fiercely criticized the links between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department, saying his general election opponent had delivered "lie after lie after lie."

"Hillary Clinton is totally unfit to hold public office," Trump said at a rally Tuesday night in Austin, Texas. "It is impossible to figure out where the Clinton Foundation ends and the State Department begins. It is now abundantly clear that the Clintons set up a business to profit from public office."
Well, no, this story does not prove Hillary Clinton is unfit to hold public office, and it's not abundantly clear that the Clinton Foundation was set up for anyone's profit. What's unclear (with abundance) is the reasoning behind the AP's decision to publish an article devoid of any actual research, based solely on what it might look like.

Nancy LaTourneau writes in the Washington Monthly:
But here is where the AP blew their story. In an attempt to provide an example of how this becomes an “optics” problem for Hillary Clinton, they focused much of the article on the fact that she met several times with Muhammad Yunus, a Clinton Foundation donor. In case you don’t recognize that name, he is an economist from Bangladesh who pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance as a way to fight poverty, and founded Grameen Bank. For those efforts, Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.
The connection the AP tries to make is that SoS Clinton met with Yunus because he was a Clinton Foundation donor. What they didn’t mention is that their relationship goes back over 30 years to the time Hillary (as first lady of Arkansas) heard about his work and brought him to her state to explore the possibility of implementing microfinance programs to assist the poor.

(Note: I'm taking bets on how many times the anti-Hillary opportunists will use that original AP story against her.  Add it to the long list of dubious ammunition.  File it under "I got nothin. Hey! What's this. ..?")

But where is the mea culpa from the press? When will they admit they had a hand in building up Trump's popularity and an equal hand in creating Clinton's unpopularity?  The press reports and the people listen.  We depend on them to give us facts to help us make decisions. Politics can be entertaining but there's a reason it's not categorized as "entertainment".

(I leave you with this breaking news: Hillary Clinton's top aide, Huma Abedin has just announced she is separating from her husband, Anthony Weiner, presumably over another sexting incident. At MSNBC, Andrea Mitchell is asking Ann Coulter what she thinks Donald Trump will make of this, while. at CNN, a four-person panel is waiting for the commercial break so they can discuss what Donald Trump will have to say about this. Seriously. Or not.)

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Crooks and Liars)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

I'm Offended by my Country



As a denizen of the Internets given to spouting personal opinions I'm not easily offended.  I can't afford to be. It's hard enough to write without having to do it curled up in a fetal position, tears in my eyes, sucking my thumb.

But I'm offended by my country.

I'm offended by the very idea of a Donald Trump in the role of public servant, and even more offended by the narcissistic, asocial blowhard billionaire himself.

I'm offended by the Republican party for opening up the deep, dark hole Donald Trump felt encouraged to slither out from.

I'm offended by the press, whose idea of good journalism is the elevation and celebration of a madman who believes he can be president of the United States.

I'm offended by voters who hate our government system so thoroughly they're working to punish the entire nation by electing officials whose qualifications are limited to a mutual need to make us pay for our supposed sins.

I'm offended by my own Democratic Party for allowing this to happen.  We're supposed to be the party of the people and we've let the people down.  Our leaders wimped out and didn't fight hard enough for the people whose age, race, gender, religion, income, or health kept them down and sometimes out. 

The Dems didn't show enough interest in the economy, in our public lands, in our public schools, in our public roads and bridges, in the very water we drink or the air we breathe.  They didn't care enough about the health and welfare of the occupants of our beautiful nation. That's not to say they didn't show any interest. They cared far more than the Republicans ever did. But that's not saying much.

More people now have health coverage but too many are bogged down by crushing deductibles and copays.  We still have not capped the price of pharmaceuticals.  We still have not lifted the cap on Social Security.  We still have not figured out how to convince half the country that helping the least of us is what makes us wholly American.

The stock market is up, the deficit is down, but we're not feeling it.  We've cauterized the job cuts so that more people are working, but  too often they're among the working poor. We're winding down our military presence in countries that are not ours but our pantries still go empty while our war chest fills up. We've allowed our prisons to become for-profit industries.  We don't worry enough about other peoples' children.

We're in thrall to the one-percenters, we're leaning toward a church state, we're ripe for a demagogic takeover. 

I'm offended by my country when it stops being proud of what it can be and reverts to being ashamed of what we've become. We're in a mess of our own choosing, which means we can fix it if we choose to.  Now we have to choose to.  Because this sure as hell isn't us.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Crooks and Liars)

Monday, August 1, 2016

Coming Soon: The Trump Show Finale

"Donald Trump has asked why I did not speak at the Democratic convention. He said he would like to hear from me. Here is my answer to Donald Trump: Because without saying a thing, all the world, all America, felt my pain. I am a Gold Star mother. Whoever saw me felt me in their heart."

Ghazala Khan, grieving mother of Army captain Humayun Kahn, killed in action in Iraq trying to save his soldiers and innocent civilians.

Photo: Getty Images
 I can say without reservation, without even checking Google, that this country has never had a presidential candidate like Donald Trump.  The Republicans are stuck with a man who knows nothing about our history, nothing about our government, nothing about our people, nothing about the world we live in, and nothing about common decency.

And he's okay with that.

Donald Trump is a monster of his own making, so comfortable on his solid gold pedestal, so sheltered by his own defensive barriers, there's no chance his hardened heart will ever melt.

He likes it that way.

He thrives on schoolyard bullying, answering every plea to stop his irresponsible childishness with insults meant to slice deep, to leave lasting scars. He brags about taking the gloves off, as if he ever had them on.

He draws huge crowds hungry for blood, ready to jeer at anyone, even people they don't know, when Donald Trump gives the signal. It's a form of entertainment in no danger of being confused with actual leadership.

He would rather be king, but demagogue suits him, too.

He sees his unprecedented, astonishing popularity as a sign that he has at last found his niche. Holding the highest office in the land would give him gravitas.  Nobody, including and maybe especially President Obama, could ever make fun of him, could ever diminish him again.  He would be the top dog, the big cheese, the holder of the keys to his cockamamie kingdom. The people who hate him would be forced to respect him.  He would show those bastards once and for all.

See that quote at the top of the page?  That quote is from a mother who is still grieving after six long years following the death of her hero son.  Her psychic wounds, still so raw, have been opened up again, not by the enemy in a far-off land, but by a lone man right here in the United States who still insists he wants to be president of the country her son died defending.

Mrs. Khan's husband, Khizr Khan, a Muslim, spoke eloquently, near tears, at the Democratic convention, begging Donald Trump to try to understand how painful his words are to Muslims who want simply to live in peace in the country they, too, love. He offered to lend Trump his copy of the Constitution so he would at last understand the purity of our goals, the need to include and not exclude.  Khan's words resonated in such a way they were repeated over and over in the recap of the four-day convention.

Donald Trump could not, of course, let it go.  He went on the attack, accusing the slain captain's father of saying mean things about him, justifying the vengeance he was cooking up, because nobody--but nobody--gets away with insulting Donald Trump.

And then the expected happened: instead of apologizing to the parents of Captain Khan, Trump gave a few seconds of lip service to the heroism of their son and then went on to talk about his own sacrifices.  Honest to god, in a conversation concerning a slain soldier, Trump told George Stephanopoulos he had sacrificed, too:
“I think I've made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I've created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I've had tremendous success. I think I've done a lot.” 
In that same interview, Trump bragged about his work with vets--another example he thought would serve as a "sacrifice". When Paul Rieckoff, the head of the 200,000 member Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, got wind of it, he reacted:
"For anyone to compare their 'sacrifice' to a Gold Star family member is insulting, foolish and ignorant. Especially someone who has never served himself and has no children serving," Rieckoff said. "Our county has been at war for a decade and a half and the truth is most Americans have sacrificed nothing. Most of them are smart and grounded enough to admit it."  
"Smart and grounded" are not words anyone would use to describe Donald Trump. He's a classic braggart, a manchild without boundaries.  He's a flim-flam man, a showman, an actor so hungry for an audience he'll debase himself in gross, disgusting ways in order to keep them coming.


There is one thing he is not.  He is not a candidate for president of the United States.  He pretends he is because he knows if he drops the act his fans will go away. The presidency is the furthest thing from his mind.  He drops hints that he might not take the job if he wins.  He used his son as a surrogate to warn potential vice presidential candidates it'll be a much bigger job than they might think: they'll be doing the day-to-day job of the president, taking care of policy, both foreign and domestic, while Trump will be--and I quote--"making America great again".

Trump is a showman and this season's show is called "The Presidency".  When he loses--and he will lose--a whole new career will open up for him.   He'll become the anti-president--the man who could have got it done, if only.  Every zany, unworkable idea he ever had will balloon to colossal size, now lost to us because of the shortsightedness of the entrenched establishment who, if you can believe it, were terrified of his power.

He'll become Citizen Mussolini, an anachronism with bulging chest and jutting chin and a mouth in a perpetual pout. For a while he'll think he has power just on the strength of his name. He'll be laughed at and ridiculed and then he'll be irrelevant. The cheering crowds will move on.  Except for a loyal few, he'll be alone.

That's my dream, anyway.


(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Crooks and Liars)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Burning Hillary at the Stake: A Race Like No Other


On Tuesday, July 19, the second day of the 2016 GOP convention, Donald Trump, the inexperienced, inarticulate, potty-mouthed, dubiously reputable business man turned anti-government carnival barker officially became the presidential nominee of the Republican Party. 



Surreal as that nomination appears, even in the topsy-turvy world of 21st Century Republicanism, it came about because the Party hardliners were helpless to stop it. The people--their people--had spoken. Unwittingly, unintentionally, they had managed to churn up their portion of the masses so effectively they made it easy for a fast-talking charlatan like Trump to pounce on this most golden of opportunities, winning vast numbers of hardened hearts and brainwashed minds.

Trump's early showing in the polls, hard as those rising numbers were to believe, gave the party regulars plenty of time to go through the seven stages of grief (disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance), put on their happy masks, bite the bullet, and rehearse their lines. ("It could be worse!  It could be Hillary!")  From the beginning, Trump made it clear he wouldn't be needing them to win.  He had a history of smashing people who got in his way.  These guys would not be immune.

Fast-forward to the convention:  It would be a Trump family affair, make no mistake. Trump would be the decider and it would be a show like nothing the world has ever seen outside of Hollywood or maybe Siam. Party platform, that boring old thing, would have to take a back seat to the main event--the coronation of The Man.

 What to do, what to do? Talking up Trump is hard, especially when he wasn't their first, second, third, or even seventeenth choice.  

Aha!  Hillary! Of course!

Both Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, the titular heads of the Republican Party, gave speeches that barely mentioned Donald Trump.  Celebrities like Willie Robertson, the "Duck Dynasty" star, and Chachi (Scott Baio) took up the slack, praising Trump to the highest skies, knowing for an absolute fact that Donald Trump will MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! GOD BLESS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!

But the award for Best Preview About How It's Going to Be had to go to Chris Christie, Donald's chief-enforcer-apparent, who took to the stage and whipped the crowd into a frenzy with a speech that had nothing to do with Donald Trump (mentioned only four times by name, once in a sentence that went like this: "But this election is not just about Donald Trump."), and even less with fixing the state of the nation, focusing instead on a bizarre, cringe-worthy mock trial of the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, one Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"As to Hillary Clinton, putting herself ahead of America guilty or not guilty? [Chorus: Guilty!]

Hillary Clinton, lying to the American people about her selfish, awful judgment guilty or not guilty? [Guilty!]

Time after time the facts, and just the facts, lead you to the same verdict both around the world and at home.

In Libya and Nigeria. guilty! [Guilty!]

In China and Syria, guilty! [Guilty!]

In Iran and Russia and Cuba, guilty! [Guilty!]

And here at home on risking America's secrets to keep her own and lying to cover it all up, guilty! [Ditto!]"
Throughout Christie's speech the crowd never let up. The cameras caught their snarling mob-faces, their raised fists, their calls for Hillary's head: "She's guilty! Get her! Lock her up!"

It shook me to my core. In my mind's eye I saw Gestapo tactics, jackboots, the rise of a police state.


I thought about Arthur Miller's play, "The Crucible", ostensibly about the Salem Witch Trials but in reality an allegory reflecting the mood of the times--the Red Scare, the McCarthy hearings, the many lives and careers ruined by one man on a mission to make a name for himself by creating fear where there was none. (Three years after his play was produced, Miller himself was brought before the committee and ordered to name names of communists he might know.  He refused and paid the price.)

So how did Christie's speech strike the press, the ever-vigilant press, the press so ready to protect our freedoms they're still reporting on the controversy over Melania Trump's plagiarized speech?  Barely a nudge. They reported it as if it were a typical speech at any old political convention.

So it wasn't just the speech that horrified me, it was the reaction--or the non-reaction--of both the public and the press. We've been here before. Once the McCarthy era fires burned out and the ashes cooled we vowed "never again".

As a country, we vowed never again.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Crooks & Liars)

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Reflecting on the Fourth of July

 "The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men." ~ Samuel Adams


Somewhere along the way we stopped calling our most popular summer holiday "Independence Day" and went simply with "The Fourth of July".  We love our Red, White and Blue, but this is the day we pull out all the stops.  Flags fly everywhere, the stars and stripes adorning everything from porches to paper plates to Uncle Sam hats to the holiday advertising pages of every newspaper.  Flags dress floats and bicycles and baby carriages in every parade in every little town in America.  

We love this day--the day to remember our liberty, our exceptionalism, our prosperity.  Those were the days, weren't they?

So what happened?

Not to be a downer on our favorite summer day, but I can't shake the feeling that "independence" is one of those words we're starting to look back on with nostalgia.   Does anyone even care that we're not that independent anymore?

Our dependence on foreign oil and on anti-American big business and on the production and importation of goods from dubious nations across the globe is not what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they declared us an independent country and gave us our working papers.

It started on July 4, 1776 when 56 men signed a paper declaring the independence of the thirteen united states of America from Great Britain, the mother country. ("We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.")

Eleven years later, in 1787, a constitution, the wording hard-fought and brainstormed to death, became the law of the land.   The Preamble read like this: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

They didn't start off with, "We, the wealthy landowners, in order to keep our fiefdoms going. . .", or "We, the 39 undersigned, in order to preserve our station and ensure a healthy profit margin. . . ".  

No, they began it like this:
WE, the people. . .of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America  
It came out of a yearning for independence so strong an entire nation was created, and in the course of a couple of centuries we became a model for democracy throughout the world--a force to be reckoned with.  You couldn't find a prouder nation anywhere.  We were going places.

That was then. 

Today, we're in turmoil. It's as if the promises made, the lessons learned, the reasons to form a more perfect union are long gone and long forgotten.  We are as divided as we've ever been since the days of our Civil War, 150 years ago.  We cannot, it seems, find common ground.  We see our America through different eyes, with different fears and different goals.  We don't like what we see, but from entirely different angles and for entirely different reasons.  We try to interpret what our Founding Fathers had in mind for us, but we come at it with our own biases, our own prejudices, trying to mold our purposely vague constitution to fit our own wants and needs.

But on this one day we come together, and it's our love of this beautiful, challenging, imperfect country that brings us to detente.  It's a day when, no matter what's going on outside, the sun is warm, the breeze is balmy, and the shade of the old oak tree brings a delicious coolness.  A lemonade day.  A day for feeling good. The parades are about to start and there is no more beautiful flag in the world than the American flag.



Come Tuesday we'll begin again. Toward a more perfect union. Toward domestic tranquility.  Toward the society we, the people, have promised to promote and preserve.

Until then, be well and be kind on this day that is ours and ours alone.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When the Democrats Seized the Day

In the three and one-half years I've been here, we have not been allowed ONE VOTE, NOT ONE VOTE on matters of gun safety. This was why we had to protest."-
- Rep. John Larson, Sit-in ringleader whose Connecticut district is near Sandy Hook.


On June 23, around 11:25 AM, Democrats in the House of Representatives, fed up over the lack of action on simple, common-sense gun control measures after years of failed attempts, and led by Civil Rights icon John Lewis, announced a sit-in on the floor of the House chamber, and then, one by one, sat themselves down on the hard floor in front of the speaker's podium.  (Watch it here.)

As Vera Bergengruen wrote for McClatchy DC:
“Where is our soul? Where is our moral leadership? Where is our courage?” Lewis shouted Wednesday when he began the sit-in, his preacher’s voice loudly echoing in the House chamber. Brow furrowed, he angrily pounded the podium.
“This is the time,” he cried. “Now is the time to get in the way. The time to act is now. We will be silent no more.”
He paused for a moment, the chamber silent.
“The time for silence is over.”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/article85641732.html#storylink=cpy
 For some of them, getting down on the floor wasn't easy.  Some were older and arthritic, some were women in short skirts and high heels, and one of them, Tammy Duckworth, a former Blackhawk helicopter pilot whose legs had been shot off over Baghdad, had to work her way out of her wheelchair and remove her prostheses in order to sit on the floor with her compadres.

Speaker Paul Ryan quickly shut the place down, calling for a short recess until the Democrats came to their senses, and, as is the rule when the sessions are in recess, the microphones went dead; the chamber cameras went dark.

Then, as if the revolt by the Democrats in the form of an actual sit-in wasn't extraordinary enough, something even more amazing happened.  Several House members, using their smart phones, began live-streaming the event via Twitter's Periscope. Before long C-Span, against House rules and entirely on their own, picked it up and began broadcasting the live-stream.

It had its glitches. As phone batteries went dead, C-Span hosts ad-libbed, filling in the minutes until borrowed battery packs could be installed or someone else picked it up and fed it to them live.  People kept bumping into or standing in front of the cell phones, but they were quickly righted and put back into action.

Within seconds after John Lewis announced the sit-in, Twitter and Facebook exploded.  News spread that something big was happening on the House floor (literally), and for one brief shining moment even Donald Trump couldn't draw media attention away from the disobedient but mostly civil Democrats who had finally had enough.

It was a sit-in that felt like a loose version of a filibuster. A long line of representatives took turns standing before the dead microphones,  passionately begging for the chance to vote on sensible, common sense gun control, hoping the cell phones would pick up their voices and send their message afar.

Within a few hours, several senators came in to offer their support.  Elizabeth Warren sat on the floor  for a time, left, and then came back again, this time with donuts.  Al Franken, Bernie Sanders, Gary Peters, and a number of other senators made appearances.

Some time during the day Paul Ryan acknowledged the sit-in at a news conference.  He called it nothing more than a publicity stunt. (Newsflash: All demonstrations are publicity stunts, Paul.) He took pains to remind everyone that the sitters were breaking rules.  (Again, Mr. Speaker: civil disobedience)

It went on for more than 26 hours, with a few bathroom breaks and cloakroom naps. Elizabeth Warren bought donuts. Cases of bottled water arrived. Someone else ordered pizzas.  For more than a full day those of us who have been waiting a long time for something like this sat riveted.  It was awesome.

Did it change even one single mind on the Republican side?  No. Will the NRA stand down and stay out of government business?  Of course not.  But we saw democracy in action.  We saw the Democrats acting like Democrats.

It did my heart glad.

(Edit to add:  Speaker Paul Ryan says he won't allow any more sit-ins.  No word on how he plans to stop them, short of police action.  Should be interesting.) 

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Crooks & Liars)

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Worst Mass Shooting in U.S History Happened Today. Hello, NRA. Are you There?

Today we woke up to news of another mass shooting, this time in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  The facts about it are sketchy but it looks like a hate crime, an obvious act of terrorism.  The horrific news, coming in bits and spurts, is that 50 people are dead and 54 have been injured.  It's being classified as the worst mass shooting in U.S history.

The shooter's name is Omar Saddiqui Mateen, an American on the FBI watch list thought to be inspired by Isis.  The motive, it appears, is a murderous hatred of gays, but the ease of owning military-style assault weapons gave him an opportunity to act on it. It was about as carte blanche as it gets.

Details are sketchy; it's early yet, but it's a fact that a single shooter murdered 50 people and injured as many more. I'm not shocked--mass shootings have become regular occurrences--I'm outraged.  I'm sick of living in a country known for our violence, our casual acceptance of assault weapons--big guns manufactured for military use but romanticized and propagandized by the NRA and their spawn, American-style militias, as proof of our God-given, constitutional liberties.

I'll wait to see how the NRA reacts to this.  If they don't condemn the wide-spread ownership and unregulated use of guns that are nothing more than killing machines, I want to know how they're any different from any other terrorist organization.  No excuses.  No outcries about the right to own guns, about liberties, about how the fault lies in the killer's motives and not in the guns he used.  He found a way to get those guns, to get that ammunition and nobody stopped him.  Nobody.

Days after the school shooting at Sandy Hook, in December, 2012, I wrote a piece about our love affair with guns and what it's doing to us.  It sickens me that everything I wrote back then still stands:

Yes, it's about Guns, because Treating Guns like Favorite Toys is Killing Us

December 17, 2012 - After every major gun-inflicted tragedy we're told by the pro-everything-that-shoots bunch that it's too soon to be talking about gun control.  We hear again that guns don't kill people, it's the people misusing the guns who kill people.  We hear that they could just as well be using knives or garrotes or box cutters or poison or 3,000 pound vehicles.

On Friday we awoke to another unspeakable mass murder, this time involving our precious children, and I have to believe it is, at last, sadly, the turning point we've been waiting for.  We'll be having the conversation we should have kept going before, and this time something will get done.  We will not stop until we get control over our fascination with owning military-type weapons.

On Friday, December 14, 2012 a 20-year-old man killed his mother, took guns from her collection, along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School and deliberately shot it up, killing six adults and 20 children, most of them First Graders.

He took three guns into that school and methodically shot and killed 20 (yes, twenty) small children. He used weapons more suited to combat than to hunting or self-defense and he was able to do that because in the United States of America private citizens are allowed--even encouraged--to own combat weapons.

These are the types of guns he used:

Photo:  New York DailyNews

It's a solid fact that the United States--either through outright permission or through cowardice in the face of bullying opposition--has declared guns to be free agents, not subject to any but the most basic, toothless laws regarding safety or security or limitations.

How could that be?  It could be because so many people, including politicians who are supposed to be up on those things, want to believe that one single clause in our constitution--the grievously misunderstood Second Amendment--says so.
This one:
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.

There is nothing in the Second Amendment about an individual's right to keep guns.  Not unless that individual becomes a well-regulated state Militia of One.

There is nothing in the constitution that gives copyright rights to the National Rifle Association (NRA), allowing them to drop important words that tend to get in the way of their mad, skewed interpretation.  ("A well-regulated Militia" sticks in their craw,  undermining their entire premise, so it's out).

Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune

We want to believe our constitution is not for sale, but, in fact, the NRA has found a way to own an entire amendment.  It's now impossible to think of the Second Amendment without making a connection to the National Rifle Association.  They use it to convince the gullible that the government is coming to take their guns and the only way to stop them is to invoke their "constitutionally guaranteed citizens' right to bear arms."

They've co-opted and corrupted a constitutional amendment and turned it against the very government that instituted it and implements it. (The original meaning, that is--having to do with giving the states the right to organize a militia--or, as we've come to know it, the National Guard).

The fact is, even if the Second Amendment were abolished, guns would not be banned in this country.  Gun ownership is a long-established right, almost universally accepted and woven so tightly into our fabric there's no danger of a Great Unraveling.  It won't happen.

Where we differ--often mightily--is in what kinds of guns should be legal for private citizens to own and how they should be regulated.  Whenever a fresh gun-induced tragedy strikes, the argument starts all over again.  Those on my side pick up the fight for smaller calibers and stricter gun control and the "assault weapons are guns, too" crowd digs in and buys more firepower, just to prove they can.  It's now a multi-billion dollar industry, and the NRA, thanks to the politicians they own (along with--let's not forget--the Second Amendment), will go on daring us to try and do something about it.  They have no fear, and why should they?  They've never lost a battle yet.

I say let's take that dare.  Right now.  Today.  While the memory of 20 little first graders and the six adults who died trying to protect them is still so raw it's making our hearts bleed.

In voices as loud as those gunshot booms resonating throughout the halls of the Sandy Hook Elementary School, we can demand the end to the sales of military weapons and the ammunition that goes with them.  We can force the licensing of firearms, demand oversight at gun shows, and find a way to follow the paper trail for every gun owned in this country.

We don't need to ban all guns in order to get the assault weapons craze under control.  The collectors want those big guns because they want them and they think that's reason enough to make it a right to own them.  It's not.

The NRA has been pretty silent the last few days.  In fact, they're downright invisible. They took down their Facebook page and they're not answering their Twitter-phone.   If they're regrouping, trying to come up with some good reason why assault weapons shouldn't be banned, I can save them some trouble:  There is no good reason.

Wanting to own one because its big and bad and exciting is not a good reason.  Wanting to own one because you think the government is going rogue and you might need it to protect yourself and those around you is insanity.

Tom Toles, the Washington Post

In case you missed the latest craziness coming out of my state, Michigan, I'm ashamed to report that on the day before the mass shooting in Newtown, our legislature passed a bill allowing guns in classrooms.
The legislation is the largest rewrite of Michigan’s concealed weapon law since lawmakers made hard-to-obtain permits much easier for adults to receive beginning July 2001. Applications exploded. There were 351,599 permit holders as of Dec. 1, one for every 20 adults.
Most of the attention on the new bill has focused on provisions allowing hidden handguns in places where they are now forbidden, such as schools, university dorms and classrooms, and sporting stadiums.
The time for talking is over.  Now we act.  We get it done.

Friday, June 10, 2016

When Hillary Cracks the Ultimate Glass Ceiling, For Some of Us It’s Personal



On June 7, 2016, after a hard-fought landmark election, Hillary Clinton became the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. She's the first woman in the history of the United States to even come close to that pinnacle. It only took 227 years to crack that thickest of glass ceilings. (She'll have actually broken it when she wins.)

 If the goal in the coming days is to try and diminish this triumph, you'll fast realize how many of us are in the vanguard, protecting and supporting this woman, this former First Lady, this former Senator from New York, this former Secretary of State, this mother, this grandmother, this perennial choice for most disliked, distrusted famous American who still has the confidence and the audacity to run for president, not once but twice.

And here I'll get personal. I can't speak for the millions like myself who have faith that she'll make a damn good president, but my reasons make sense to me.

 I was born in 1937, the year after FDR was re-elected to his second term. My mother was 19 years old when she gave birth and I’m told it was no hardship for her to have to give up her five-year career as a housemaid in order to take care of me. Her eighth grade graduation marked the end of her schooling, and no amount of begging would change her father's mind. It was time for her to go to work, and employment for a 14-year-old girl in the 1930’s was limited in the main to cleaning houses. When she married my father at 17 any ambitions, any dreams she might have had were stuffed into a quiet place, nearly forgotten.

 I was the same age, 19, when I gave birth to my first child in 1957. I had no ambitions beyond being a wife and a mother, no illusions about where my life would take me. It would take me where my husband led me. It's true that I could not buy property without my husband as co-signer, could not get a credit card unless he agreed and signed for it, had to sign my name as Mrs. His Name, but I didn't feel stifled, I was not unhappy. It was the life I chose. It was the way it was.

Other women were not so lucky, and, as oblivious as I seemed to be about barriers to my own latent potential, I was acutely aware of the struggles, the burdens of so many other women, both inside and outside my circle.

The smart ones struggled to become educated, and then, once they'd climbed that hurdle, struggled to be able to use their talents to build meaningful careers.

The talented ones, the clever ones, the eccentrics, struggled to bring meaning to a natural creativity bursting to be free, to be recognized, to be celebrated.

The meek ones struggled to get through the day with their bodies and souls intact.

And then, in 1963, Betty Friedan wrote "The Feminine Mystique". It was, to put it mildly, an awakening. I hadn't realized until then that I was asleep, too. I can't say I became a full-fledged member of the Feminist Movement, but I sat up and took notice. I was a charter subscriber to Ms Magazine, paying for my subscription even before the first issue came out.

No woman came out of that mid-20th century era without scars. Some were deeper than others, but none of us escaped the efforts to dismiss us, to demean us, to turn us into children or dehumanized objects.

 By the time the movement came along, I was a housewife and a mother, struggling like everyone else to make sure the month didn't end before the money, but I wasn't so wrapped up in my own life that I wasn’t fully aware of the reasons for a revolutionary feminist uprising.  I wasn’t in need of liberation, but millions of other women were. I couldn't turn my back on them.

We went through the first few years struggling to explain the need to be liberated, to be treated fairly, to be seen, and a few more decades of outwardly insisting. It should be obvious to everyone that we're not there yet. Which brings me to Hillary Clinton.

 During the 2008 presidential election, I supported Barack Obama over Hillary. My initial image of Hillary was as the embattled First Lady who messed up our chances at universal health care, and as the woman who said she would never just stand by her man like Tammy Wynette, but then, when Bill’s philandering became a reason for impeachment, she did. I had heard enough about her to believe she wasn't trustworthy, she wasn't real, she wasn't ready or fit to be president. I barely remember the arguments for her. I vividly remember the arguments against her. They’re the same arguments we're seeing this time, updated to include her time as Secretary of State, adding another seven years' worth of grievances.

When I saw she was planning another run for the presidency I wondered what the hell was wrong with that woman. Only a flipping masochist would want to be put through that wringer again.

 I thought I would be supporting Bernie Sanders. His ideas were much closer to mine. He seemed far more heroic, our idealistic Don Quixote, our everyman, one of us. His message,"We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore", struck the exact right notes after so many years of near-stagnation. But I couldn't get Hillary out of my mind. Her reasons for running had to be more than raging ambition, more than the ultimate power trip, more than a golden opportunity for payback.

Then I watched the Benghazi marathon, the interrogation set up solely to once and for all humiliate and bring down this exasperating, uppity woman. I watched the entire 11 hours, banging away on my laptop, searching out the truth, the real truth, about Hillary. How did I not know she was a feminist? How did I not know of her work with women and children all over the world? I saw that much of the work she did for so many of us went unsung. She was all about the work and not all about the glory. She took the slings and arrows and flung them aside. She never let them get in her way.

 Even before the hearing was over I knew I would support her and not look back. It took a few days before I was ready to admit it in public, but I did it, to the dismay of some who thought I couldn’t possibly be serious. And to others who saw me as a turncoat, a traitor, a goddamned vagina.

We tend to forget that Hillary Clinton is a consummate politician. She thinks like a politician, she acts and reacts like a politician, she eats, breathes and sleeps in the midst of politics. She is not perfect, she has made big mistakes, she’s not always nice. She’s not like you and me. She has spent her entire adult life working toward this moment and now she’s at the door, working to push it open, wanting to see that ceiling come crashing down. And I’m right behind her, wanting to see it, too. She’s not the only one who’s been waiting a lifetime for this.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

On Blackmail, Abortion,and Mercy: A Michigan Tale

Lee Chatfield is a Freshman Republican representing a district in Michigan that includes my low income county, Chippewa, along with some of the richest counties in the state.  His heart, he says, is with God, so naturally he ran as a Tea Party candidate.  He works with the Republican majority to undermine crucial social programs in our beleaguered state because, I don't know--tough love, boot straps, nanny state, the poor don't need it, the rich do, sin, punishment, retribution, all of the above.

He's young, good looking, clean-cut, has four small kids, a beautiful family, a nice life.  He doesn't look mean or judgmental or even clueless.  But he's a Republican in a state where meanness and intolerance are expected from his kind, so from what I know, he's toeing the mark, following the line, giving it all he's got to ignore the plight of the people he represents, justifying instead the GOP/Koch/ALEC/Mackinac Center assaults on the poor and the disenfranchised.

But something happened that should, by all rights, make him reconsider the need to go on the attack against innocent people whose backgrounds he couldn't possibly understand:  Last week his wife became the victim of a potential blackmailer.

On Friday, Lee announced on Facebook that his wife, Stephanie, had a secret that was about to be exposed.  When she was in high school she had an abortion. She went to a party, she doesn't know what happened, she became pregnant and she panicked.  She had an abortion and she's regretted it ever since.

I'm not here to judge Lee Chatfield's wife.  This is her own personal business and she deserves the right to keep it quiet.  But it's out in the open now and she and her husband handled it as well as could be expected.  In the statement included on Chatfield's Facebook page, his wife Stephanie talked about the shame she felt and still feels.  She talked about how her faith helped her through it. She talked about her pro-life stance and how it has made her more empathetic toward women who might find themselves in her shoes but who now need the kind of guidance that would keep them from having to abort their own babies. She asked for understanding.

What she didn't talk about was the fact that her husband is a hard-headed proponent of killing off Planned Parenthood.

Candidate Lee Chatfield at a Planned Parenthood protest.


Another protest view
 Last year the 26 year old Christian school teacher ran on a platform that included stopping Medicaid payments associated with the ACA, dropping protections for the LGBT community, and making good on a promise to defund Planned Parenthood.

In August, he headed a protest rally in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Petoskey, bragging it up about putting an end to the evils going on in there.

In November he won the election against Jim Page, the Democrat who ran on a platform of increasing funding to public education, increasing the minimum wage, ending Right to Work in Michigan, addressing environmental issues, and improving health care for all.  He won it by attacking all of those ideas, using the defunding of Planned Parenthood as the icing on the cake.

Lee Chatfield's wife has lived for years with her own perceived shame over an abortion. She has that right. It's her life. But when she joins her husband in his attempts to shut down Planned Parenthood, an organization celebrated for its work in helping millions of women with their reproductive needs, she infringes on the rights of other women.  While Planned Parenthood doesn't advocate abortion as the only outcome for an unplanned pregnancy, they do add it to their list of options. Options. They're not in the business of killing babies.  They don't sell baby parts. They don't deserve these wrong-headed, dishonest attempts to shut them down.

Stephanie Chatfield didn't deserve to be outed over her very private decision to have an abortion, either. I hope, when all this blows over, she can empathize with women finding themselves in her shoes and can finally understand that our lives cannot be subject to someone else's decisions about them.

Out of misery comes mercy.

I read that somewhere.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Crooks & Liars)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bernie Sanders' Ugly Break Up with the Party He Wooed




Yesterday, four days after a small riot took place at the Nevada State Democratic Convention over what Bernie Sanders' supporters say were rule changes depriving Bernie of FOUR DELEGATES and a win that was never going to happen because he had already lost Nevada in FEBRUARY, Bernie Sanders issued a statement warning the Democratic Party that there's a new sheriff in town and they've been really, really bad so whatever happens, it's on them, not him.

Considering that Roberta Lange, the hapless state party chairwoman who got herself into a bit of a mess over party rules, was being bombarded with harassing phone calls at all hours of the day and night, not to mention DEATH THREATS, some of us thought maybe Bernie would call for his people to just calm down.  Don't go there.  I'm telling you.

But, no, Bernie instead took it as an opportunity to blast the Democrats for not listening to him when he told them there was a revolution going on.  What did they expect would happen?  It's a revolution, dammit! R.E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N!!

Now, okay, the Democratic Party--my party, if I haven't told you often enough--is in bad need of a shake-up.  I'll be the first (okay, maybe not the first) to admit that. We strayed away from many of the foundations FDR built for us more than three quarters of a century ago, and, in the process, allowed the Republicans to ride rough-shod over the entire country.

We didn't fight hard enough against them, which means we didn't fight hard enough for the people who counted on us. We thought we could work with those guys--constitution, common good, our country tis of thee, something, something--even though ever since Eisenhower they've made it clear they would just as soon grind us into guano as look at us.

But here's the thing about us Democrats. We're still better than they are. Way better. So much better, Bernie Sanders, the Independent Democratic Socialist Revolutionary, didn't feel the least bit ashamed about joining up with us in his quest to become the One and Only Democratic Party presidential candidate.

Bernie, as much as he would now like to disclaim any affiliation with us, or even affection for us, made the first move.  HE joined US.

He has a message and it's a good one: Let's do all we can to help people who are hurting, either  because of governmental policies now in place, or because of a lack of protective governmental policies. Who couldn't get behind that?  I myself applauded him for getting the message out loud and clear.  We, the Democrats, haven't done a good enough job.  Now we're in a position to change that, and Bernie wants to help us. Yay!

That was when the Democrats were still "we".  Now we've become "they". The accusations are flying; neither side wants to admit any wrongdoing.  Looks like we're heading for a divorce.  It could get ugly.

But wait!  Is that reconciliation I see around the corner? Bernie Sanders' go-to guy, Jeff Weaver, just said on national TV that no matter how much it looks like Sanders is trashing the Democrats, calling them corrupt dishonest establishment whores bought and paid for by Wall Street, and, even worse, "low energy", of course he'll do what he can to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.

Of course. Because if Bernie Sanders is anything, he's a uniter, not a divider. And if the Democrats don't agree, well, screw 'em.