Saturday, November 22, 2014

John Kennedy's Death And How It Changed Us

John Kennedy, even with his publicly reported physical frailties, was a man with an almost mythical presence.  He was young and vibrant, he had a beautiful wife and two small children, and, true or not, we perceived him as the peoples' president--as close to being one of us, his wealth notwithstanding, as we were likely to get.  He was the FDR we had been wishing for.

 It was accepted, we thought, that modern American presidents didn't die from assassin's bullets.  It was unthinkable. But John Kennedy did.  Walter Cronkite broke the news to us and we were forced to believe it:  At 1:00 P.M. Central Standard Time, on November 22,  1963, in Parkland Hospital, Dallas, Texas, the president died .

Not long after the announcement my seven-year-old ran into the house, wild-eyed and gasping.  "The principal said we had to go home," my daughter told us.  "They said to hurry.  I was so scared."

My little girl ran all the way, a half-mile from the school to our house.  Her fears were local;  she couldn't fathom that much commotion unless it meant that something bad had happened to her family.  The death of a president was not something she needed to worry about, but the sight of her sobbing mother made her knees buckle and she joined in, crying because I was crying.

I cried for three days; not continuously, since we had two small children who needed reassuring, but my daughter, middle-aged now, remembers that for the first time in her life she felt fear in her own house.

The TV was on from morning until night.  We watched Lyndon Johnson being sworn in as president aboard Air Force One.  Too soon.  Too soon! We're not ready to call him president.  Impossible to avoid the bloodstains on Jackie's pink bouclĂ© suit as she stood silent nearby.  It seemed such a brave, foolish, poignant thing to do, to continue to wear that suit still showing traces of her husband's splattered brain.  Even those who had seen the First Lady as a bit of an extraneous butterfly now held her to their hearts.

We watched the funeral--the riderless horse; Jackie in her heavy black veil, eyes hollow, staring straight ahead as John's grieving brother, Robert, held her arm; John-John, sweet little boy, saluting his father's casket.  We watched as a procession of dignitaries followed along behind, someone's somber voice announcing their names as they passed by the television cameras.  For a few brief moments we found respite in trying to identify the Washington celebrities by sight before they were announced.  But, as happened many times throughout those terrible days, reality set in:  Our president, Jack Kennedy, had been murdered.

Later we watched the assassin Lee Harvey Oswald enter the jail, arms held by two armed guards, and then watched in horror as a man, later identified as Jack Ruby, lunged in front of the camera and shot Oswald dead. 

Rumors flew;  it was a conspiracy and not the work of a lone gunman.  Oswald knew too much.  Ruby had ties to the mob.  Castro had orchestrated this from Cuba.  The Soviets were involved.  Others would die. Nobody was safe.

We didn't lose our innocence on that day.  We hadn't been living in a fairy tale world.  We had lived through WWII, had feared the Hydrogen Bomb, had been glued to the TV during the Cuban Missile Crisis, had watched as our country botched the invasion at the Bay of Pigs.  U.S troops were in Vietnam and anti-war rallies were sprouting up all over the country.  The civil rights movement was growing and with it came long-hidden truths about the institutionalized brutality against blacks.

We lived with uncertainty, but it was tempered and presented to us in black and white on our televisions and in the pages of Life Magazine.  We had no 24-hour-a-day news channels.  No internet. Our newspapers were thick with other things to distract us. We could turn it on and turn it off.

But on November 22, 1963 everything changed.  We were embarking on a journey with a new president nobody wanted and nobody trusted.  Our fear turned to cynicism and instead of a country held together by the pain of an assassination, we became a country torn apart by anger and distrust.  The Warren Report, the exhaustive study of the Kennedy assassination, brought more doubt than closure.  Three civil rights workers were murdered the following year in Mississippi and the South became a furious battleground.  Vietnam war protesters took to the streets by the thousands as the war escalated and the draft forced our children into deadly battles they couldn't believe in.  The underground drug culture came up for air and flourished.  And in 1968, five years after John Kennedy was killed, we lost two more good men to assassins' bullets--Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. 

We'll never know where we would be today if on that fated day in November those bullets fired from the Dallas Book Depository hadn't hit their mark, but we do know we didn't get over it.  We couldn't close the book; we couldn't change the channel.  Our president had been assassinated and for far too long afterward our world was an ugly place.

Now, 51 years later, we're hearing about White House breaches where people with weapons are getting too close to our president before they're stopped and the same fear surfaces from a half-century ago.  I'm afraid for Barack Obama. 

The level of murderous hatred toward this man is far beyond anything I've ever witnessed in my lifetime.  I would like to think much of it is an act, made easier because one can remain hidden and anonymous and penalty-free on the internet, but I know all it takes is one lone gunman hell-bent on killing the president.

I want every person who ever publicly threatens the president, or wishes out loud for his death, to be found and questioned and made to prove he or she has no real intentions.  I want those threats to be taken seriously.

I want us to stop interpreting the First Amendment to mean there are no consequences for advocating for the death of the President of the United States.  We have given the highest honor in the land--the presidency--to a man named Barack Obama.  He is a good man, but even if he weren't, we, as citizens of the country he was elected to head, have an obligation to make sure our president is kept safe.  This president.  Any president.


(Cross-posted at Alan Colmes' Liberaland and Dagblog.   Featured on MBRU at Crooks and Liars.)


(The 50th Anniversary post, November 22, 2013)

Monday, November 10, 2014

So It Happened And It Was Bad. No Quitting Now.

It's been almost a week since the mid-term elections and you may or may not have noticed that this space has been empty.  Deserted.  Lights out.  Nobody home.

It wasn't because I'm chicken about expressing how I feel about what happened last Tuesday.  That's not it.   I kept trying, but I honestly had nothing coherent to say about it.  I wrote an entire blog post on Wednesday morning and almost hit the "Publish" button before I realized that it was nothing but one big whine.  A total waste of time.  We didn't just lose an election, we lost in such a devastating, humiliating slam-dunk of a rout, I felt as if I have been physically beaten.  I couldn't catch my breath, it hurt so bad.  The only thing I could think to do was to lay low and do nothing.

It worked out that there were other things going on in my life that distracted me enough so that going off the deep end wasn't an option.  For the first two days I deliberately stayed away from the blame games, the prognosticating, the clueless reporting of the results--as if it wasn't the worst thing in the world that the Republicans skunked us.  All across the country.  The undeserving bastards SKUNKED US!!!!

But, okay. 

I was not the only one to take the loss personally.  A whole lot of cussin' going on out there.  And blaming.  Mostly at the Democrats who apparently let this happen, either by choosing bad candidates, by running hopelessly out-of-touch campaigns, or by being pseudo-Democrats who pretended they cared but didn't feel the need to actually go out and vote.

For once it wasn't Obama's fault, it was the fault of the Democrats who moved away from Obama in order to have a chance at winning in Obama-hostile states.  Unless you believe it was Obama's fault for not giving those Dems reason enough to want to include him in their quest, as representatives of his party, to win a seat on the Democratic side.

There is plenty of blame to go around and all of the principals deserve a portion of the flak, but the bottom line is that the Republicans are now in charge of everything but the executive branch of our government, and the big unknown is how the executive branch will handle it.  The truth is, President Obama doesn't follow a predictable path.  He doesn't even follow a Party path.  He is the epitome of the Big Unknown.  Will he now suddenly become our 21st Century FDR?  I wish.  But no, he won't.

Will the Republicans suddenly come to their senses and realize they have two years to attempt to fix the damage they've already done, hoping that by 2016 we'll forget that they're the enemy and give them a chance at owning the entire government?  No to the first part but yes to the last.

I want to quit.  I'm tired and mad and demoralized and hurt.  But it's like voting.  If I stay home, deciding my vote won't count, it won't.  If  I decide my voice won't count, it won't.  My singular voice doesn't count, but if I add it to the thousands of others who can't and won't give up now, we might just make a difference.

It's the hopeless optimists the Republicans have to fear.  We've always been their undoing.


Monday, October 27, 2014

On The Internet Mean Streets

There is a picture making its way around the internet of a grossly overweight woman standing in what looks like a cafeteria line.  She is wearing a pair of shorts that are several sizes too small and the fat rolls at her stomach and bottom are pushed up and exposed. I don't know who the woman is or where the picture came from, but from what I can tell, it's a picture that both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, men and women, Americans and non-Americans, feel perfectly at ease making fun of.

There is another one of an obese man sitting on a motorcycle, butt crack exposed.

And yet another one where a woman's breasts and belly have been photo-shopped to look like a huge, green Ninja Turtle.  

Wander around Facebook or Twitter on any given day and you'll find FB friends and Twitter followers who have posted dozens of pictures like this; where the only purpose for posting is to make raucous, profane fun of a mostly undeserving subject. 

Everyone in the public eye can expect to be the subject of speculation and/or ridicule, simply by being in the public eye.  When Britney Spears had a public mental breakdown, the internet couldn't get enough of it--not to empathize or commiserate, but to shame her and make her misery complete.

More recently, Renee Zellweger may have had an eye-lift but so far she's not admitting it.  Now we're forced to spend hours and hours and hours discussing this important issue, to the neglect of other even more important things. Like whether Monica Lewinsky's entry into the Twitterverse is all about embarrassing Hillary so close to her presidential campaign or is really about the advantage her own experiences might bring during a campaign against cyber-bullying.

After speaking to groups about slut-shaming and cyber-bullying, Lewinsky joined Twitter last week in order to open up the conversation.  This is her focus now, she says.  After 16 years of having almost universal hatred and ridicule directed at her, who would know better about what that kind of unwanted attention does to a young life?   What happened next wasn't surprising: The cyber-bullies came out in full force against her.

The anonymity of the internet allows anyone with a cruel streak and access to Wi-Fi a safe haven for vicious intolerance. Now no one is immune and the meanies are everywhere, hiding behind usernames that keep them safe from the same kind of public scrutiny they're so rabidly enforcing.  

Even the websites I normally go to for mostly true news and views profit from sidebar links to photo-stories about former child stars who are now ugly, about celebrities who smell bad, about ridiculously awful plastic surgeries, about female stars with cellulite or without makeup. 

Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube build their numbers to sky-high status whenever hatred and ridicule goes viral.  The comments and re-tweets are nightmarish, and if I think too long on what kind of people are out there gorging on this stuff I find myself questioning whether, as a civilization, we're even worth saving.

And we're not even talking yet about politics and politicians.

The destructive politics of, say, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, or Chris Christie are enough to be the centerpiece of any conversation.  Their looks don't hurt us, their policies do.  But whenever their political activities cause some major ruckus, the comment sections invariably devolve into jokes about their personal appearance--as if the only way they can be hurt is by making fun of weight, chin, or skin.

As a political blogger, I'm not above enjoying the hell out of ridiculing certain Right Wing pols whose own meanness goes beyond hurting individuals and leans more toward causing heartache and dismay to multitudes.  They deserve it.  But going beyond their politics to make fun of their looks, or their spouses' looks, or their children's looks doesn't add to the conversation--it doesn't fix anything.  It's a cruel way to get a laugh.


Inflicting personal, psychic pain for the pleasure of an audience isn't anything new.  The concept of making fun of other human beings is centuries old.  But spreading  ridicule to the ends of the earth electronically in a matter of seconds is new.  And chilling.  Anyone with a camera or a smart phone can snap a picture of someone who looks funny--without them even knowing it--and post it to the internet.  Once the deed is done it's out there forever.  No taking it back.  Forever.

We hear about teen suicides nearly every day.  The direct cause of far too many of them is cruel, senseless public shaming and/or bullying on the internet.  It's time the shamers take the heat.  They're miserable excuses for human beings, made even worse by the fact that they know they can inflict that kind of harm anonymously.  They're heartless cowards, blameless as long as they can stay nameless.

The broad scope and openness of the internet is a gift, but when it's used as a tool for abuse we have an obligation to self-regulate it.  We have to pay attention.  We are the grown-ups here.


(Cross-posted at Dagblog, Daily Kos, and Alan Colmes' Liberaland)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Hey, Democrats, You Want To Win? Try Being Democrats


The mid-term elections are less than a month away and there's a good chance the Republicans will hold the House and possibly take the Senate.  Stunning as that probability possibility is, considering the shoddy business the Republicans have been engaged in ever since their guy, Mitt Romney, lost to Barack Obama, the truth is, it looks like half the country's voters are still more than willing to vote for that particular party.  

You hear that, Democrats? The Republicans could win.  I mean, WIN.

Here's the part that really irks me:  The Republicans get off on making things terrible for the rest of us and if we let them win again, there's no chance they'll even say "thank you".  First they'll gloat and then they'll make us pay for being so stupid as to let them win. They're out to hurt us and we have a history of making it easy for them.

Can we stop doing that?  Please?    

Don't even get me started on the Supreme Court and Citizens United, the Koch Brothers' factions, insane-to-the-point-of-hilarious-if-you-find-that-sort-of-thing-funny gerrymandering, corporate vs. social welfare, insurance-mandated health care, tax breaks for the rich, the attempted murder of public education, the killing off of unions in order to keep labor poor and grateful for just any job, the ongoing crusade to keep women barefoot and on their knees,  the effort to pretend hungry kids aren't really hungry--not to mention the sanctioned takeover of our airwaves so that only the rich can survive to tell their stories.  All brought to us by the Republicans.

We're just under a month away from the elections and once again, sorry to say, we Democrats have failed to make our case.  We have a platform that says the major focus for Democrats is, very simply, to ensure equality, to lift up the lower and middle classes, to keep our bodies healthy and our environment safe, to never be Republicans.

We're humanitarians (definition: concerned with or seeking to promote human welfare), which means we're liberals, and we used to be proud of it.   Not anymore.  We've become pathetically careful about blowing our own horns lest someone think we're bragging.  Or smug.  Or condescending.  Or--oh my God--elitist.  We fall for that shit every time.

We're such suckers.  No wonder so many people have lost respect for us.  During the Reagan years the Republicans deliberately built the lie that it's bad to be good and damned if we didn't fall for it.  Even those of us who knew better.  (One small example:  Some of us dropped the word "Liberal" because people were making fun of us.  A dark moment in our history, but one I won't forget.)

Suddenly the Teflon president could do no wrong and anyone who went against him--including the last of the investigative press--were deemed doltish.  Arrogant.  And just not nice.  So because we got suckered into feeling bad about doing good stuff, they got away with demeaning anyone on welfare (welfare queens in Cadillacs), with calling ketchup a vegetable in order to save money on poor kids' school lunches, with convincing workers they didn't need unions, with starting the ball rolling on outsourcing, and with moving the country Rightward when moving to the Right meant moving backward, not forward. 

It's not that Republicans don't care about people--some--maybe even a lot of them--sincerely do.  It's that their method of "helping" is to keep on boosting the rich, buying their phony claims against the government (that's us) that taking away those awful tax burdens and pesky regulations would save us all, because, you know, Trickle Down theory.  (Because Ronald Reagan SAID it would work, that's why.)  But as long as we let the wealthy build their fortunes in this country without having to share it here, there is no chance it will ever trickle down.  It can't and won't work that way.  They take but they don't give back, and they're as proud of that little coup as the voters are oblivious to it.

 Their buddies in the House and Senate know that as long as they keep the hot-button issues like abortion, religious "persecution", gun rights, and gay marriage going, they'll get the votes.  The money will keep rolling in for those so-called public servants, they'll get to keep their taxpayer-paid jobs and, if they stay in office long enough, they'll get--courtesy of us--a dandy lifetime retirement package, safe from the vagaries of depressions, recessions, or greed.  No matter what they do to us, they'll have it made and we'll go on paying them.  For the rest of their lives.  Knowing, of course, that they will never return the favor.  Because we're suckers and they're not.

We Democrats are here to put working people first.  Our job as Democrats is to work tirelessly to keep people safe, to build a strong middle class, and to put the people who ruined our economy out of business.   And if we can't bring ourselves to do that, we should at least have the good sense to stop rewarding them.

I'm worried about my party.  Our representatives aren't listening to us.  Some Democratic politicians are breaking away, on the lookout for better friends.  I, on the other hand--I'm on the lookout for better politicians.  Politicians are elected to represent the party that supports them.  We, the Democratic voters, are the party.  Our politicians are temporary and expendable.  Our party is, or should be, forever. 

I've been a Democrat for multiple decades--so many, you could say I'm entrenched.  So when elected men and women who say they're Democrats don't act like Democrats, I take it personally.  I know what I am and they're not it.

Democrats are not Republicans.  Democrats lean liberal.  (Republicans, you might have noticed, don't.)  Democrats are Democrats because we believe in people, not corporations.  Corporations are not now and never have been people, and Dem politicians should be screaming their heads off over that one.  Five members of the Supreme Court have opened the doors to allowing those with the most money to own our country.  That's nuts.  We Democrats are the only ones who might be in a position to change that, but we have to win elections first.

So listen up, politicians:  If you don't know (or don't care) that being a Democrat means you're expected to lean liberal/progressive, then do us a favor and get out.  Stop pretending you're one of us.  We have work to do and you're not helping.  We need universal health care, strong unions, smooth-running social programs, massive infrastructure funding, the dehumanization of corporations, and an end to deadly trillion-dollar wars.

The people who caused this mess need to be held accountable.  If you think nothing can be done, you're not one of us.  We don't need you.  We need tough people who don't shrink from stupid insults or fall for false promises.  The Republicans are our enemy and they're comfortable in that role.  We can't reason with them or force them to compromise, because they like things the way they are.  They get paid big bucks to keep it this way.  And honestly, Dems, six years of unrelenting obstruction and recalcitrance should be proof enough that they're serious about wanting to destroy us.  What else could they possibly do to convince you?

So just stop, please.  Take a breath.  You're Democrats.  Act like you're proud of it.


(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland )

Monday, September 22, 2014

Should I Die At 75? Oh, Wait. Too Late.

On September 17, the very day--I mean, the exact day I turned 77, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel's essay, "Why I hope to Die at 75" appeared in The Atlantic magazine.   You could have knocked me over with a feather.  Really?  (We old people say, "really?" while you say, "seriously?".  There's one difference right there.)

Emanuel is a bioethicist and breast oncologist who is for Obamacare and universal health care and against euthanasia for the aged.  Nevertheless, he apparently believes that because most people over 75 are no longer as vibrant as most people under 75, and many of them have insurmountable health issues, there should be an arbitrary cut-off date after which any reasonable human being would do humanity a favor and go find themselves a nice iceberg somewhere and float off into the darkness. Singing.

I have admired Zeke Emanuel for. . . I don't know. . . a long time now. I can't remember.  (Don't kill me!)  I always thought that of all the Emanuels, he had his head on straightest.  But it could be that on the very day I turned 77 my brain read Emanuel's piece, took notice that I was exactly two years past the cut-off date, and got confused about what it was supposed to do now.  Whatever happened, I don't get this guy.  Not this time.

He said:
By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life. I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown and in the midst of their own rich lives. I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions, important or not, I am going to make. And hopefully, I will not have too many mental and physical limitations. Dying at 75 will not be a tragedy. Indeed, I plan to have my memorial service before I die. And I don’t want any crying or wailing, but a warm gathering filled with fun reminiscences, stories of my awkwardness, and celebrations of a good life. After I die, my survivors can have their own memorial service if they want—that is not my business.
Ooooh. . . weeping here.  So sweet!  (Except for that part about "dying at 75 will not be a tragedy".   Easy for him to say.)

And then he said:
. . .the fact is that by 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us. . . This age-creativity relationship is a statistical association, the product of averages; individuals vary from this trajectory. Indeed, everyone in a creative profession thinks they will be, like my collaborator, in the long tail of the curve. There are late bloomers. As my friends who enumerate them do, we hold on to them for hope. It is true, people can continue to be productive past 75—to write and publish, to draw, carve, and sculpt, to compose. But there is no getting around the data. By definition, few of us can be exceptions. Moreover, we need to ask how much of what “Old Thinkers,” as Harvey C. Lehman called them in his 1953 Age and Achievement, produce is novel rather than reiterative and repetitive of previous ideas. The age-creativity curve—especially the decline—endures across cultures and throughout history, suggesting some deep underlying biological determinism probably related to brain plasticity.
Hold on a minute.  Old Thinkers.  Processing. . .

. . .

Okay, we'll move on now.

There are people who are still brilliant--or at least special--long past the time most of us would have given up and moved on.  They're Emanuel's exceptions and the older these people get the more they become potential national treasures.  It's because they've beaten the odds and are living proof that, even at such an advanced age, they still have much to contribute.  It's also true that younger admirers have put themselves in their place and feel better about their own chances of making waves for that long.  But too often they stop celebrating that person's achievements and begin celebrating their longevity.  Any mention of them from then on ends up being a eulogy. As if whatever they were is in the distant past and now they just are.  This sort of thing doesn't help.

A cut-off date of, say, 75 when even Emanuel, the chooser of the cut-off date, admits that nobody ages in the same way during the same time-frame, is so dumb all I can figure is that he needed an attention-getter to make a few points about how terrible it will be when he's no longer at the top of his game.

Take it from me, Zeke.  You'll get over it.

_______________________

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland.  Featured on Mike's Blog Round-up at Crooks and Liars.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Making Excuses For Spanking: Adding Insult To Injury

Every few months--sometimes less--a story about child abuse hits the airwaves and everyone takes it to the top and talks about it.  Everyone agrees that child abuse is bad.  How could they not?  Child abuse IS bad.  This time it's an NFL player who admitted to switching his four-year-old until the welts rose and the blood flowed.  His excuse was that it was a spanking and it's how he knows to discipline his kids because it was how he was disciplined.  Until he agreed to therapy he saw it as no big deal.  He honestly seemed not to get it that raising welts on a child and drawing blood was not the way to parent.

While all this was going on, NFL Hall of Famer Cris Carter took to the cameras on ESPN and talked emotionally about our entrenched but wrong-headed views on discipline.  (Thank you, Mr. Carter. You have my eternal respect and gratitude) :
"This goes across all racial lines, ethnicities, religious backgrounds. People in disciplining their children. People with any sort of Christian background, they really believe in disciplining their children," Carter began. "My mom did the best job she could do raising seven kids by herself. But there are thousands of things that I have learned since then that my mom was wrong. This is the 21st century. My mom was wrong. She did the best she could, but she was wrong about some of that stuff she taught me. And I promised my kids that I won't teach that mess to them. You can't beat a kid to make him do what you want to do."

Let's be honest:  spanking is just a fancy word for hitting.  The word is kind of cute. Spanking.  It's used to make the actions of the hitter seem more benign, but hitting is hitting and when there is hitting, someone is going to get hurt.  That's the objective.  Behavior modification by inflicting pain. 

Spanking is what parents and caretakers do to kids when they've lost their tempers and the only road to relief is to hit somebody.  Sometimes it's instant and spontaneous, but sometimes--this makes me shudder--it comes after a delay; a cooling-off period when the adult about to do the hitting would have time to think about it and just not do it.  Then it isn't a matter of losing control, it's a matter of gaining control by hurting someone.

Kids get spanked or switched or whacked or smacked all the time.  We brag about it, joke about it, and make excuses for it:  It's part of our history, our culture, our destiny.  A good spanking never hurt anybody.  Or so we would like to believe.

I have smacked a padded butt or two, pulled on a little arm, and forcibly, not gently, removed a child from a situation that was dangerous or had gotten out of hand.  We parents are not perfect; nor, you might have noticed, are our children.  Obedience is not something that comes naturally to them.

Every new parent wants to believe from the get-go that they've got this--all it takes is smarts and patience and a loving heart.   Every new parent learns quickly that whatever assets they thought they were bringing to this whole parenting thing are just so much oatmeal when it comes to applying them to real, live kids with minds of their own.

So because we all know that kids don't always cooperate when it comes to guidance and discipline, and because nobody seems to know which method, if any, will work, we tend to want to stay out of other peoples' parenting efforts.

It's far easier to believe that spanking is okay while hitting isn't and not recognize that the two are one and the same.  Whatever you want to call it, kids are being hit by adults.  Some of them are beaten, bruised and bloodied to the point where even seasoned spankers are horrified. But that's the problem:  There is no clear definition for spanking.  We can use the word without really knowing what we're talking about.

The term "child abuse" is out in the open now.  That wasn't true even 30 years ago, when the first child abuse hotlines began to appear.  We're better informed and we know abuse when we see it, but we're still not willing to include spanking in the "abuse" category.   It needs to be there.  We can't control the methods or degrees of spanking.  There is no effective way to monitor spanking to make sure it doesn't go too far.  The way to control it is to make sure it doesn't happen.

Every adult who spanks is not a child abuser, but every adult who spanks has to recognize that spanking is intended to hurt, and hurting a child, any child, is something a healthy society needs to address.  We can't talk out of both sides of our mouths.  Either we believe children need to be protected from deliberate hurt or we don't.

(For further reading, an earlier post:  "A Simple Plea:  Do Not Lay Hands Upon Our Children".)
 

The National Child Abuse Hotline number is:
1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)



(Cross-posted at Alan Colmes' Liberaland and Dagblog. Linked at Mike's Blog Roundup at Crooks and Liars.)


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

He Hit Her. And She Went Down.

The big domestic story this week is the suspension of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice after a video surfaced showing him inside an elevator punching his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, so hard he knocks her out cold.  She falls on the floor, unconscious, and when the elevator door opens he is seen dragging her out of the elevator, kicking her to get her dead weight away from the doors, never once seeming to worry about the fact that she is not moving.

This happened months ago, in February, and when the first video came to light--the one where he is seen dragging her out of the elevator, kicking her, etc.--the NFL gave the bad boy a slap on the wrist; a two-game suspension.  Yesterday a new video came out showing the actual knock-out punch.  Now it's a fact.  This guy, Ray Rice, hit a woman--the woman who loves him--so hard she fell to the floor, unconscious.  He hit her that hard.

Let me repeat:  He hit her hard enough to knock her out.  And then he dragged her--dragged her--out of the door.  He did not try to awaken her or comfort her or appear to be the least bit concerned.

That's the story we should be talking about, but instead the big story is that, even after that, the woman who says she loves him went on to marry him and is now defending him and blaming the media for ruining their lives.  She has a problem, no doubt, and every one of us hopes she comes to her senses and leaves this jerk right now.  But it's her abuser who has the bigger problem.

He can't get away from who his is.  He can make excuses and promise never to do it again.  (Which, in Rice's case, he hasn't done--at least not publicly.  At his press conference, he apologized to the NFL, to his fellow players, to his fans, to everyone except his wife--the woman he knocked out cold in the elevator.) He can agree to some sort of counseling and he may even do it.  But in the end, he is in charge of his ability to care enough about another human being so as not to do her harm.  He, and only he, can control himself.

Nearly everyone who has been involved in abusive relationships--the victims themselves or the clinicians who care for them--have said, on seeing the tape, that this is not a one-time "mistake".  Rice's careless disposal of this woman, his fiancee, rendered unconscious by the application of his fist to her face, indicates a history of violence.

He is the problem.  She is the victim.  If she decides to seek help, there will be many experts ready to help her.  If she's lucky, she'll break the bonds that attached her to a violent abuser and her life will take a new and better turn.

But Ray Rice will still have to live with himself.  He will either have to come to terms with the horror of what he has done or he will go on insisting, even to himself, that he didn't mean to do it, that they were both angry, that she lunged at him, she spit at him, and what could he do?  That for that split second he was out of control and it'll never happen again.  That this isn't who he is.

Every abuser believes this.  Every abuser has to believe this, because anyone who systematically uses fists or a weapon to injure someone weaker is living in the body of a monster.  And nobody wins when the monster wins.

(Cross-posted at Alan Colmes' Liberaland and Dagblog. Featured on Mike's Blog Roundup on Crooks and Liars.)


Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Labor Day Round Up: Let's Hear It For The Workers

Thomas Perez has been Secretary of Labor for just about a year now, having been sworn in on September 4, 2013.  He missed giving his first Labor Day pronouncement by two days, so this year's pronouncement is his first.

Here's what he had to say:

Statement on Labor Day by US Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez

WASHINGTON — Each year, Labor Day gives us an opportunity to recognize the invaluable contributions that working men and women make to our nation, our economy and our collective prosperity. It gives us a chance to show gratitude for workers' grit, dedication, ingenuity and strength, which define our nation's character. At the Labor Department, it also provides an opportunity to reflect on how we can best serve and honor workers in return.

This year, we're honoring workers by investing more than a $1 billion in job-driven training programs to give Americans the skills employers need. We're honoring workers by promoting quality apprenticeships that will enable more people to "earn and learn." We're honoring workers, at President Obama's direction, by developing new rules to give more workers access to overtime pay and increase the minimum wage for private-sector workers hired under federal contracts. We're honoring workers by implementing a new life-saving rule to limit miners' exposure to coal dust and move us closer to eliminating black lung disease and by taking the next steps toward protecting workers from inhaling high levels of crystalline silica.

But as a nation, we can do more to lift workers up, and to ensure that all hardworking people are able to climb ladders of opportunity and reach for the American dream. It's time to raise the national minimum wage, so that no one working a full-time job has to live in poverty. It's time to update our workplace policies to reflect the realities of the 21st century labor force and to support modern working families. It's time to continue our nation's long commitment to supporting unemployed workers by extending emergency unemployment compensation.

Our nation is in the midst of a strong economic recovery. Job growth has topped 200,000 for six consecutive months — the first such stretch since 1997. Businesses have added nearly 10 million jobs since February 2010, with 53 consecutive months of growth. I'm optimistic about where we're headed — and I know we wouldn't be where we are without the resilience, commitment and strength of American workers.

This Labor Day, let's remember that hardworking men and women are the backbone of our country, and let's redouble our efforts to uphold our nation's great promise to them: that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can make it in America.
 The emphasis is mine and here's why:  This is Labor Secretary Perez's first Labor Day speech--a fine tradition continued by Labor Secretaries for decades now, and this one, by most standards, is not bad.  It says what you would expect from the Labor Secretary.  Workers are great and we're doing all we can to make sure they know that so they'll keep on working. 

But really, Secretary Perez?  Couldn't you have mentioned unions and the labor movement at least once?

Labor Day is an American holiday created by labor unions.  It became a national holiday in 1894, and since then it has been celebrated on the first Monday in September, without fail.   We celebrate the labor movement on Labor Day each year because working hard and playing by the rules (whose rules?) was not and never has been a ticket to success in America.  It took the labor movement to gather enough strength to make sure hard working, rules-playing workers got a fair shake in the workplace.

So let's look at what others are saying on this 160th anniversary of the American Labor Day weekend:

Robert Reich, Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton, created a video with cartoons for his Labor Day contribution.  He mentions unions.   (Bonus:  PBS Frontline interview in which he talks about his job as Labor Secretary.)

Richard Reeves takes this time to call Labor Day "a farce".  He has his reasons.

Richard Trumka asks a question this Labor Day, and the AFL-CIO offers printable "Thank a Worker" cards

 AFSCME president Lee A. Saunders gets tough on politicians who scapegoat unions.  (It happens.)

Even Forbes gets in on it, with an essay by Steve Dunning entitled, "The Shame of Labor Day".  (Hint:  Ronald Reagan started this mess.)

And, as I seem to do every year, let me just drag out a few of my own Labor Day columns.  Whatever I might say today I've already said here and here and here.

But, hey, not everybody wants to celebrate.  The Freedom Foundation (Not just any old Freedom Foundation, THE Freedom Foundation) is boycotting Labor Day by going in to work!  Here's CEO Tom McCabe: 
"I can't think of a problem in society that can't be traced in some way back to the abuses of organized labor, and it would be hypocritical of us to take a day off on its behalf."

Well, yeah!  That'll show us!

Hope your long weekend was a smash hit.  If you were lucky enough to have all three days off, don't forget to thank the union movement.  Without unions fighting for your rights, you might never have had a day off, let alone a paid day off.


(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland)


Monday, August 25, 2014

Five Years Later I miss Ted Kennedy Even More

May it be said of our Party in 1980 that we found our faith again.
And may it be said of us, both in dark passages and in bright days, in the words of Tennyson that my brothers quoted and loved, and that have special meaning for me now:
"I am a part of all that I have met
To [Tho] much is taken, much abides
That which we are, we are --
One equal temper of heroic hearts
Strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end.
For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.
Senator Edward Kennedy, August 12, 1980


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Note:  Today marks the fifth anniversary of Ted Kennedy's death.  Here I repeat the post I wrote on the day we lost this great senator and friend to those who had almost given up on a government of, by and for the people.  I miss his huge voice, his huge heart, his ability to cut through the crap and get to the simple truths.  We could use you now, Teddy.  We could use you now.
__________________________

August 25, 2009:

I woke up this morning to the news I've been dreading for weeks now.  Ted Kennedy, the Good Man of the Senate, has died.  He has been on my mind a lot lately, as we wage this battle for the common good, because what I fear most now is that our progress will suffer badly without his counsel, without his presence.

For more than 40 years he has consistently been on the side of the people without power.  As former senator Bob Kerrey said on "Morning Joe" today, "If you're getting the shaft, you ought to be weeping today because Ted Kennedy was your best friend."

The list of his accomplishments, the bills he worked so tirelessly to get passed, the people whose personal stories tell the tale of a man of high privilege coming to understand his role in the negation of human misery--are all part of our history we will never forget.

But no matter how much we would prefer to concentrate on the triumphs of his life, on the undeniable good he has done for his country, the specter of Chappaquiddick will never stop casting a long shadow over it all.

Already, this early in the morning, it comes up in the remembrances of those who knew him and are now before the cameras talking about his life.  It happened--we know it happened.  The facts are that Mary Jo Kopechne's life ended on July 18, 1969, after  drowning in a river on Chappaquiddick Island.  It was late at night and she was a passenger in a car driven by Sen. Edward Kennedy.  They were heading toward the ferry to the mainland after a victory party when the car skidded off a bridge and crashed into the water. Kennedy survived, but Mary Jo didn't. She was just days away from her 29th birthday.

There is no question that Ted Kennedy panicked and swam across to the mainland, leaving Mary Jo in that car in that river.  Did he try to save her?  He says he did.  He says he was going for help, but it was hours before anyone found the car with Mary Jo's body inside.

Leaving the scene of an accident is a crime, and there were a lot of us--maybe most of us--who wanted to see him, at the very least, serve time in jail.  His sentence was eventually suspended, a seemingly contemptuous judicial act that stunned us all.  No punishment for running like a coward, allowing a young woman to die?  Why?  Because the rich and famous are exempt from having to pay for their sins?

For years I didn't want to ever hear the name Ted Kennedy again.  For years I heard the stories of his drinking, his carousing, and I wondered how the good people of Massachusetts could go on electing him.

He ran for president against Jimmy Carter and campaigned badly.  Again, we counted him out.  Then he gave his concession speech, his "the dream shall never die" speech, on the night of Jimmy Carter's primary victory.  There were a number of us in the room that night watching the returns, but I can still remember how quiet it was as we listened to the final moments of his speech..  I remember that none of us expected much from him by that time so when he started we were barely listening.  When it ended, we all looked at one another and someone said, "Why in God's name did he have to wait until now to give that speech?"

I've heard people say that he campaigned badly because, after Chappaquiddick, he felt deep down that he didn't deserve the presidency.  I can't begin to look into Ted Kennedy's soul at the time, but after that defeat he was a different man.  He went to work to fight for the causes his liberal heart told him were the most important, and he never looked back.
 
Already I'm seeing the hatred toward the Liberal Lion, the greatest senator of our times, bombarding the boards.  I won't repeat them here because I choose to celebrate Ted Kennedy's life.  It's a life that is ultimately deserving of praise.  Many of the people who are without a doubt going to go on the Hate Kennedy rampage today will laugh at the idea of a plea for forgiveness,  so I'll say this in words that most of them can understand:

Luke 17:3 - Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

To forgive is not to forget.  I'm not alone in wondering where Mary Jo's life would have taken her.  From all accounts, she was good, decent, smart, loving.  She was on Robert Kennedy's staff, even helping to write a speech he gave against the Vietnam War.  Who knows what kind of career she would have chosen?  Where she would be today?

I've always wondered if it's possible that Ted Kennedy chose to give his life over to helping people who couldn't help themselves because the one time he might have actually saved a life, he failed.  A noble act of repentance.

If I weep for Ted Kennedy today, it is not for all the things that might have been, it is for all the things that were and now will be no more.

Ramona

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Long Dark Sadness Claims Another Victim

The news that comedian Robin Williams has succumbed to deep depression is sparking thousands of conversations on the airwaves and throughout the internet.  Once the shock is over, once the tributes and the memories and the RIPs have been delivered, the talk turns, as it always does when someone commits suicide, to what it was that could possibly make someone do such a thing. He had everything going for him and it still wasn’t enough. . .  Suicide is a selfish act. . .  A cowardly act. . . Look what he’s done to his family. . .

I come from a long line of depressives. The disease—dirty, rotten infiltrator that it is--hasn't skipped me, my children, or even my grandchildren.  In both my immediate and my extended family there have been suicides, hospitalizations, therapies and drugs—drugs that have worked miracles and drugs that have been disappointing failures.
 
At times not of our choosing an unrelenting sadness washes over us and we have to struggle to keep from going under.  It may seem to others that we're weak or self-indulgent or self-destructive or stubborn or just wet blankets. From the moment it hits, it demands--and gets--all of our attention. Happiness is momentary, a fleeting teaser--a whiff and then it's gone.

Those who have never had to deal with chronic deep depression are understandably impatient.  Because our illness is not obvious on the outside and because we can get pretty crazy with it--seeming to fight every attempt to help us get well--it's easy to give up on us.

I haven't felt that kind of depression for several years, but I still say "us" because I know from experience the depression bug is lurking somewhere and could rear its ugly head at any time, in any place, without my permission. 

I have been suicidal.  Depression is exhausting.  It winds us down and makes us weary.  It takes away any feeling of worth and no matter who is telling us we're loved, we're good, we deserve to be happy--we know better.  We're feeling something else.

We are a burden not just to ourselves but to everyone around us.   Love (or the lack of love) has nothing to do with it.   When we're in a depressed state we have turned inward and our demons have locked the door.  We put on our outside face and pretend.

 The people taking turns to comfort us, to soothe us with just the right words, might as well be talking to themselves.  We indulge them, we nod our heads, we pretend for their sakes that their words are magically healing, are just what we needed, but when they've left it's as if they were never there.

We work sometimes at convincing ourselves the people we care about would be better off without us because, if it ever comes to that, the leaving will be easier.

The common perception is that we are our own worst enemies, when, in fact, the enemy is within us and is messing with us in ways too cruel to even fathom.  It takes all our energy to act casual while our inner demons are keeping us wedged in our darkest places. We know, even as the depression drops a curtain over our feelings and drives us down, that we must appear normal for the sake of those often at their wit's end trying to figure out what they can do to make us happy again.

Depression doesn't work that way.  While tender loving care is a welcome and necessary aid, it's not a treatment and it's not a cure.  Depression is an illness as real and as insidious as cancer.  It's a cancer of the psyche, eroding and destroying our self-worth.  It takes with it our ability to appreciate even the smallest joys. Every depressive I've ever known carries a burden of guilt.  We should be happy.  Why can't we make ourselves happy?

You might wonder how I got over it.   I wish I knew.  Then I might know how to avoid it the next time.  I might know how to help the people I love who still suffer.  I don't know.  I could say it was many things--true love, living in a place of beauty, thinking happy thoughts--but that would be giving in to the myth that clinical depression is based on tangibles.  It is a chemical imbalance of the brain.  There are modern pharmaceutical concoctions that do, in fact, work miracles for some, but the frequency of depression-based suicides tells us there is still much to learn, still much to do.

We could move light years ahead if we removed the stigma from every form of mental incapacity and treated it all as the physical illness it is.  We could make life easier for the survivors of suicide victims if we stopped looking to them for answers and looked, instead, toward treating depression as a disease that kills as surely and as swiftly as any other malignant disease.  We've lost too many to it already.  We need to try something different.
__________________________

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland)