Sunday, April 12, 2015

As Long as There is a Constitution, The GOP Can't Win

It's been a while, but here I am.  Illnesses and the vagaries of the gypsy life have taken a toll, frazzled my brain, and, if you can believe it, have led me to thinking about things other than the state of the nation.  During my enforced R&R I read a few novels, watched a few movies, spent time with friends, marveled at scenery, and all-around de-fragged.  I hung around on the edges of the political debates, but found myself thinking the unthinkable:  "Who cares?"

Now I'm back.

So. . .

What the devil has gotten into those Republicans?  Are there no grownups left in that party? It's as if, this past January, they all just got out of juvie, where they were plotting their mischief, and now's the time to put their malicious but childishly goofy plans into action.

They're fussing about bakers having to bake cakes for gay weddings, or, worse, cater the damn things.  Entire Republican-oriented states are busy working up laws that'll put a stop to it without looking like they're trying to put a stop to it, because, you know. . .discrimination.     It's all the media talked about for days.  As if the future of our country rested on whether or not gays are entitled to food or dry goods sold by, you know, Christians.

(About those Religious Freedom Restoration Acts:  Presumably they mean restoring religious freedoms to those given the Pilgrims before they fled Britain's shores and headed for what would become the land of the free and the home of the brave.  Because who has more religious freedom than Americans?)

Meanwhile, the latest polls show more Americans (many, many, many of them Christians) favor gay marriage than don't.  It's getting to the point where, one of these days, the mainstream media might have to recognize a dead issue when they see it and stop pandering to the bigots for stories that bring the greatest ratings.

And speaking of great, the great state of Tennessee is moving toward making the Bible the State Book.  (What is a State Book, you ask?  It's a book any state designates as a State Book.  Notice the caps. That makes it official.)  The closest I could come to finding other state books is a whimsical, non-binding list Kristen Iversen put together for Brooklyn Magazine last October.  Interesting selections--so interesting I forgot I was writing a blog and spent an hour over there, mulling them over, looking some of them up, arguing against some choices and cheering others on.  (Eudora Welty would have been a good choice for Mississippi, and Garrison Keillor for Minnesota, but in Michigan, my Michigan, it's Elmore Leonard all the way.  And what's with New York City having a place of its own among the states?)

As wonderful as some of those books might be, none of them is on a scale with The Bible.  No getting away from it, The Bible is a Big Book in some circles.  It's been at the top of the best seller lists for so long it's no longer even listed.  But we know it's there.  (Brooklyn Mag's choice for Tennessee, by the way, is Cormac McCarthy's "Child of God."  Gives you chills, doesn't it?)   But good luck, Tennessee.  (You do realize you're a state and not the protestant equivalent of the Vatican, right?)  By the way, Mississippi is thinking about it, and Louisiana gave this same thing some thought last year and then scrapped the whole idea.  But don't let that stop you.  Please.

Food stamps are a big issue these days.  According to the Republicans, nobody should be on food stamps, but since they can't stop it entirely, the next best thing is to shame the recipients into dropping out voluntarily.  Turn the masses against them.  Make them grovel for what little they get.  Pretend they're using it for lobster and filet mignon and Haagen Daz.  But understand this:  Since children should be unseen and unheard, except for those in the womb, tightening the food stamp belt will have no affect on the little kiddies.  None.  None at all.

To this new and nasty bunch of GOPers, welfare and Medicaid are tools of the devil, causing huge deficits in our coffers because the poor would rather live off the taxpayer's teat than work at any kind of job.  (What?  What's that you say?  Some people on welfare and Medicaid are working? At jobs?  I can't HEAR you!)

As Dana Milbank wrote in The Rush To Humiliate The Poor:
Last week, the Kansas legislature passed House Bill 2258, punishing the poor by limiting their cash withdrawals of welfare benefits to $25 per day and forbidding them to use their benefits “in any retail liquor store, casino, gaming establishment, jewelry store, tattoo parlor, massage parlor, body piercing parlor, spa, nail salon, lingerie shop, tobacco paraphernalia store, vapor cigarette store, psychic or fortune telling business, bail bond company, video arcade, movie theater, swimming pool, cruise ship, theme park, dog or horse racing facility, pari-mutuel facility, or sexually oriented business . . . or in any business or retail establishment where minors under age 18 are not permitted.”

The Kansas legislators must be pleased that they have protected their swimming pools from those nasty welfare recipients. But the gratuitous nature of the law becomes obvious when you consider that it also bans all out-of-state spending of welfare dollars — so the inclusion of a cruise-ship ban is redundant in landlocked Kansas.
Now we're hearing that some states are officially banning climate change talk in any state agency having to do with the environment where they might, on the off-chance, find themselves discussing that sort of thing.  They're not even making it a secret.  It's as if they don't know it's something no normal government body would do.  It's as if they think nobody has ever heard of their sugar daddies, the Koch brothers, and their vested interests in the fossil fuel industries. (I wonder what happens to anyone who defies that ban?  Boiled in oil?  Stretched on a rack? Tongues cut out?)

Oh, there's more.  Of course there's more.  Misogyny, racism, collusion, corruption, adultery, Downton Abbey. . .it never ends.  But what might save us is not the Good Book but our country's most important document.  As Thom Hartmann reminds us in a brilliant article called Why the Right Hates American History, our rights are, in fact, inalienable, not because we're Americans or Oklahomans or Kansans or Michiganders, but because we're humans:
The simple reality is that there are many “rights” that are not specified in the Constitution, but which we daily enjoy and cannot be taken away from us by the government. But if that’s the case. . .why doesn’t the Constitution list those rights in the Bill of Rights?

If you know your history, you know that the reason is simple: the Constitution wasn’t written as a vehicle to grant us rights. We don’t derive our rights from the constitution.

Rather, in the minds of the Founders, human rights are inalienable—inseparable—from humans themselves. We are born with rights by simple fact of existence, as defined by John Locke and written by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” the Founders wrote.

Humans are “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights….” These rights are clear and obvious, the Founders repeatedly said. They belong to us from birth, as opposed to something the Constitution must hand to us, and are more ancient than any government.

The job of the Constitution was to define a legal framework within which government and business could operate in a manner least intrusive to “We, The People,” who are the holders of the rights. In its first draft it didn’t even have a Bill of Rights, because the Framers felt it wasn’t necessary to state out loud that human rights came from something greater, larger, and older than government. They all knew this; it was simply obvious.
Thomas Jefferson, however, foreseeing a time when the concepts fundamental to the founding of America were forgotten, strongly argued that the Constitution must contain at least a rudimentary statement of rights, laying out those main areas where government could, at the minimum, never intrude into our lives.
We can't stop now.  I can't stop now. Not as long as the Republicans insist on doing their nasty work out in the open, for everyone to see. They're trying to create a new and terrible normal, using dirty money given to them by people who seek to profit by bringing our country down.

Hands on the Constitution, by the power vested in us, we cannot let it happen.

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Christian Guy talks up rape and murder of Atheist Wives and Daughters at Prayer Breakfast. More Coffee, Anyone?

Phil Robertson, the Duck Dynasty actor and self- professed loyal follower of Jesus Christ, Son of God--the same guy who's been in trouble before for saying bad stuff he heard straight from God's mouth--had this to say at a prayer breakfast the other day:
"I’ll make a bet with you. Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’ "
The audience cheered, applauded and laughed.  YaHOO!  Those good ol' boys was havin' them some fun.  Nothin' wrong with a good old fashioned poke at them godless ones. . .  Let 'em know what worthless POS they are.  Just doin' God's work. . .

You're thinking since I'm as close to a non-theist as it gets without making a formal announcement, and a woman besides, I should be so offended I can't stop bawling my eyes out over this. 

You're thinking this is going to be a rant against Phil Robertson and all those fundamentalist Old Testament phonies who get their pants in a big old bulge by fantasizing about wicked sexual stuff being done to helpless women.

You're thinking I'm thinking that maybe a prayer breakfast wasn't exactly the place to be saying things like that out loud.

Well, on that last one, maybe I am, but it wasn't my prayer breakfast.   (We don't have prayer breakfasts.  remember?  I don't really know what goes on in those places, except for that silly one the president has to go to every year. The one Ol' Phil probably shouldn't get invited to, if everybody knows what's good for them.)

Naw. I'm letting it go.  I think it's pretty hilarious. That Phil!  You and I both know this isn't the real Phil.  The real Phil is a savvy businessman turned dubious actor who makes scads of money by being Phil the bearded camo-christian bible-thumper.  In addition to marketing Duck Dynasty camo baseball caps, hoodies, tee-shirts, beach towels, key chains, mugs, mouse pads, Monopoly games, and baby Onesies, he publishes his own bible.  (The original King James version apparently leaves a lot to be desired.  Too much New Testament stuff.  And all the gory, sexy parts aren't underlined.)

*A question for another day:  If there is one true bible, why are there so many bibles?

I don't want Phil banned or boycotted or even bobbed.  Down there.  I want him to say more.  Get it all out.  I'm on a mission to figure out if God actually tells Phil these things or if Phil is maybe a bit dyslexic and he's sort of fouling those words up.  I've heard so many strange things this God has supposedly said to people I'm now hopelessly, unhealthily obsessed by the whole Telephone Gameness of it all.

I'm on the outside looking in--an impartial observer--and from my side it's not looking good for God.  (What? I'll go along.)  Lord knows He tries, but if He's so omnipotent, so omniscient, so perfect, how is it that He can't get his followers to repeat after Him and get His message out in clear, coherent (that is to say, non-nuts) sentences?

Whatever happened to the Beatitudes?  The Psalms?  The Lord's Prayer, for God's sake?  They're all in the Old Testament--the book the Fundies love to haul out while they're swooning through their sacred hatefests.

How is it that God allowed His primer, the Bible, to get so fuzzy whole chapters of it are up for grabs in the interpretation department?  Murder! Mayhem! Misogyny! Miscegenation! Homosexuality! Obama!

All I can say is, if You're out there anywhere, God, You've got Your work cut out for You.  Time for some smiting, Big Fella.  These guys aren't getting You or Your Only Begotten Son at all.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Not "The Onion": GOP Senators Tell Iran Obama's Not The Boss, They Are

In a stunning open letter to the leaders of Iran, 47 Republican senators let it be known that, while Barack Obama might occupy the White House and temporarily hold the title of President and Commander-in-chief of these United States, it is Congress--most especially the Republican Congress--that holds the cards when it comes to any kind of nuclear deal.

The letter--did I mention it was addressed to the leaders of Iran?--was written by Tom Cotton, freshman senator from Arkansas, and signed by all but seven Republicans in the United States Senate.

It began like this:
An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran:

It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.  Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution — the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices — which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress.

Does that paragraph seem a little strange to you?  Who, outside of Monty Python, or maybe your local HOA, writes, "It has come to our attention. . ."?

Who, besides a newbie Tea Party senator (or a hotshot American Constitution 101 student) thinks it's a good idea to publicly school the leaders of another country about the laws of the United States?

Who, for that matter, writes an open letter to leaders of a country with which we're negotiating nuclear agreements, telling them they shouldn't be negotiating anything with this particular president when it's this particular congress that will ultimately have to approve? 
From the letter:  "For example, the president may serve only two 4-year terms, whereas senators may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms.  As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then — perhaps decades.
"What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.  The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time."
 Who writes this without knowing that congress only approves and does not ratify a treaty?
"First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them.  In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote.  A so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate).  Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement."
Who does that without knowing that it's not just our country in negotiations with Iran, but a UN coalition made up of five other countries--the UK, Russia, China, France and Germany?

Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, did his own schooling yesterday:
"I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law.
The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfill the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.
I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement 'with the stroke of a pen', as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law."

So how did Tom Cotton get 46 other senators, many of them senior senators and wannabe presidential candidates, to sign their names at the bottom of that misdirected, miscalculated, misinformed mess? 

I can hardly wait to hear from the signers--the ones who woke up this morning, as if from a hangover, thinking, "What in hell? Where am I?  What did I do?"

The seven Republican senators who didn't sign:
1. Flake (AZ)
2. Collins (ME)
3. Corker (TN)
4. Murkowski (AK)
5. Alexander (TN)
6. Coats (IN)
7. Cochran (MS)


And, man, oh, man, (Got that from Biden) didn't the shit hit the fan?  It did.  In great steaming gobs.  So many are responding at so many different sources, it's impossible, even at this early stage, to link to them all.

Bernie Sanders accused the signers of sabotage.  And Joe Biden said this:
“In thirty-six years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which Senators wrote directly to advise another country--much less a longtime foreign adversary–that the president does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them,” Biden wrote. “This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments-a message that is as false as it is dangerous.”

To which, Tom Cotton, the author of the now infamous letter, who, at this writing, has no foreign policy or national security experience whatsoever, responded:
“Joe Biden, as [President] Barack Obama’s own secretary of defense has said, has been wrong about nearly every foreign policy and national security decision in the last 40 years,” Cotton said Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” in a reference to former Pentagon chief Robert Gates, who ripped Biden in a tell-all memoir after leaving office.
And on it goes.  There is no end to the disrespect and outright hatred for this president.  The caterwauling against him raises by a thousand decibels each year he is in office.  The haters, including those members of congress who have made it their mission to take him down by any means necessary, aren't finished yet.  If this doesn't work--and it won't--they'll move on to something else.
It's worth noting that this all came down on the same weekend the country was recognizing the sacrifices made by the Civil Rights marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago in Selma, Alabama.  On Saturday, the same day the Open Letter to the Islamic Leaders of Iran became public, our president, Barack Obama, gave the speech of his life at the entrance of the "Bloody Sunday" bridge.

In his speech President Obama said,
"The Americans who crossed this bridge were not physically imposing. But they gave courage to millions. They held no elected office. But they led a nation. They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, and countless daily indignities – but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.  

What they did here will reverberate through the ages. Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible; that love and hope can conquer hate." 
 And this is why the haters, even those members of congress who will never give this president the legitimacy he deserves, will lose.  We've made too many sacrifices in too many places at too many times to give in and give up and let them win.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Liberaland

Friday, March 6, 2015

Yes, Virginia, There Really Are Unicorn Hunters

There is a real Unicorn Hunters Society in the United States, in case you hadn’t heard.  It was formed in 1971, even though, as you know, unicorns have been around forever.  The society is based at Lake Superior State University (hereafter known as LSSU) in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan (pronounced “soo saint Marie, hereafter known as The Soo).

The Soo is at the northern terminus of I-75, just beyond the 46th parallel, an hour north of where I live most of the year.   Up in the north woods hunting is a traditional activity, but until unicorn hunting was established only certain of us believed they existed.  The Unicorn Hunters Society, knowing what chaos would ensue once word got out about the mythical creatures’ activities, wisely set up a list of regulations.
From their Unicorn Quest list:
    1. Only one Unicorn per month. A success ratio higher than this often results in a form of euphoria, which of course requires a mental truss. This is highly undesirable.
    2. Female unicorns may not be taken. Since no one has ever sighted a female unicorn it is believed that males reproduce asexually.
  • TERM OF SEASON. All days of the year except St. Agnes’ Eve. This exception is to protect hares who limp trembling through frozen grass from being trampled by running unicorns. Bow and arrow season is Oct. 1 – Nov. 14, then Dec. 1 – Jan. 1.
  • APPROVED QUESTING DEVICES. Unicorns may be taken with:
    1. Serious Intent
    2. Iambic Pentameter
    3. General levity
    4. Sweet talk
(See complete list of regulations here.  Download a Unicorn Quest license here.)

The society was founded by W.T (Bill) Rabe,  a Public Relations mischief-maker from Detroit who later became the resourceful PR Director at LSSU.  He was looking for something unique that would put the obscure little university on the map, and, for reasons obscure, he came up with The Quest for Unicorns.

It got some attention.  Who could resist? But for Rabe it apparently wasn’t enough. At a New Year’s Eve party a few years later, in 1975, he and some of the other Unicorn Hunters got together and began writing down the words or phrases they most hated that year. (Must have been some boring party is all I can say.)  They saw right then and there that unicorn hunters made the most perfect wordsnobs wordsmiths, and the idea for the First Annual Unicorn Hunters List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness was born. (Hereafter known as the Banished Words List.  Or List.  Or list.)

Bill Rabe, old PR expert that he was, chose New Year’s Day, 1976, for the list’s debut date.  He knew from experience that January 1 is traditionally a slow news day, and the media, always hungry for tidbits on that day, would snap up the whimsical back story about the unicorn hunters and help to promote the Banished Words List.

Some of the words from that first list:  At this point in time, detente, macho, scenario.  (See 1976 list here.  See archive of all the words here.)  Now the voting is open to everyone and the words or phrases that show up most often will get to the top of the list.

Last year’s list included Selfie (no surprise), twerk/twerking, hashtag, Twittersphere (or Twitterverse, as someone corrected.) and Obamacare.

This year  they added BAE (a new word for me until my niece explained it), polar vortex, skill set, cra-cra, and my own favorite candidate, enhanced interrogation.

Well, certain people took umbrage (whoa–a candidate right there) with the Unicorn Hunters.  They didn’t see this as just so much fun; they saw it as a bunch of stuffy university types forcing people to stop using words or phrases of their choosing.   One commenter wrote, “Nobody is going to tell me what words I can use.  Not gonna happen. Bite me.”  (Oy.)

I’ve perused (all right, read) the whole damn list from A to Z and I’m pretty sure I’ve used at least a third of those words and phrases.  (Except bromance” and “chillaxing”. Typing them here for the first and last time.)

I literally (Literally! Ha!  Not on the list!) love lazy phrases and cliches, but only when I’m using them.  I hate it when other people take the easy way out and use them, too.  Amateurs!

I’ve followed the Unicorn Hunters for years and I love these lists, but at the end of the day (1999), they’re just words, right?  So far it’s not a crime to use them, right?  So will I try to mend my ways?

As if! (1997)

(Cross-posted at Constant Commoner)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

CPAC! A Fond Look Back on the Circuses That Were

It's CPAC time!  I almost missed it!  (My invitation no doubt was lost in the mail.)  Since 2009, shortly after I first started writing this blog, I've been fascinated by the dizzy doings over at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference).  I admit that before I took to writing a political blog, I didn't know much about what turns out to be a venerable old conference designed to highlight the Conservative (and now Tea Party) leanings of the Republican Party.  It's the coming-out party for potential presidential candidates and has been on the scene for over 40 years.  (Honestly? Since 1973? And I thought I was paying attention.)

The main speakers this year are about the same as the main speakers from several years past:  Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Donald Trump, Sean Hannity, Carly Fiorina, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio,  Rick Santorum, --oh, and Jeb Bush. This year they've added Phil Robertson of "Duck Dynasty" fame, but once again it looks like a snub for Rush Limbaugh. (Heh)

Here is the complete schedule of festivitiesA warning:  Some of the session titles are chilling.  Hitch up your britches and grab a stiff drink before proceeding.  But I like this one:  Good Guys Reception, sponsored by the National Rifle Association and Freedom Alliance.  By invitation only.

(There are numerous spots where you can pick up a live feed, so as not to miss anything crucial.  C-Span is as good a place as any.) 

So since this is a big weekend for the Republicans, I thought I would take a look back on the blogging I've done about CPAC since 2009. 

2009: Crazy With Fear: CPAC 2009. My first trip down the rabbit hole.  What an adventure!

2010Square Deal, New Deal, Fair Deal, Raw Deal . Alas, but a mere mention.  I don't know what was going on that year but CPAC obviously wasn't a priority.

2011: Friday Follies:  Mother Jones, Feral Pigs, Palin, Bachmann, Simpson and Da Yoopers. An even tinier mention, having to do with Michelle Bachmann, but the rest of the blog is pretty good.

2012Thank You, Cal Thomas. Mighty Big of You.  I wrote back then that Cal Thomas could probably kick himself for getting involved with that bunch.  Silly me.  He's on the roster again this year.

2013CPAC 2013. Wingers Just Want to Have Fun.  But not too much fun.  The dress code--an entire poster full of dress code--says no-no to the nightclub look and to Walmart wear.  Conference-goers are required to look like they mean business, even if there's funny business going on.
But they did allow zombie costumes at "The Walking Dead, Obama Zombies on Parade" bash.  So that's cool.
2014 Hail, CPAC! Silly Season is Upon us. Can Spring be Far Behind? Wherein Ted Cruz puts on his McCarthy face and Christine (I am not a witch) O'Donnell does a book signing along with Callista Gingrich, one of Newt's wives.  Good times.

So that's it, then.  I'll probably be following along on Twitter and Facebook when I think of it, looking for the fun stuff.  I just hope there is some fun stuff.  I don't know.  The Republicans have been letting me down in the fun department lately.  Ever since they took over the entire federal government, except for that one place where that foreign squatter with the funny name lives.

I hate it when they do things that don't make me laugh.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog, Freak Out Nation, and LiberalandFeatured on MBRU at Crooks and Liars)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Yes, Rudy, It Was a Horrible Thing To Say. Thank You.

According to an article in Politico, former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani told a group of Republicans gathered to pay some sort of attention to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker that it's his belief that President Obama doesn't love them, him, or even the entire United States of America.

This is what he said:
I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.
Well, the pundit class went nuts!  The progressives could barely speak and had to hiss, they were so mad.  The Republicans haughtily explained that there was no need to explain:  What Giuliani said was very, very, very close to the truth.

Giuliani went on Fox News and said well, yes, Obama is probably a patriot but he keeps saying bad things about America, something no other president before him ever did.  He doesn't believe in American exceptionalism, blah, blah, blah.
"I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being," [Obama] said at West Point in 2014. "But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions."

Then Giuliani went on the air wherever he could and kept at it and kept at it and kept at it.  The theme:  Obama is not like us.  He doesn't understand America.  He is, okay, let's just get it out there--the Other.

But Rudy wasn't being racist.  Oh, no.  Far from it, according to Giuliani:
“Some people thought it was racist — I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people,” Mr. Giuliani said in the interview. “This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.” 
And, bizarrely, apropos of nothing, "President Obama didn't live through 9/11, I did."

So at the end of the day, you know who comes out smelling like a rose?  Obama does.  Because every person not so inclined toward stupid--Republican, Democrat, Independent, and Other--will now have to come out and defend the president. They'll have to condemn such remarks and remind the Americans that we're all Americans.  Even Obama.  Some of them--those who know November, 2016 isn't that far away--will have to hold their noses to do it, but do it they will.

The punditry will be grabbing at Obama quotes to prove he does love his country, he does love you and me, he doesn't love Muslims more than he loves Christians, he's not a Communist or an anti-colonialist, he doesn't just say bad things about America.

And all President Obama has to do is sit back and let it happen.

So thank you, Rudy.  Well done!  Now come on over here and let me give you a big 'ol hug.

(Read it at Dagblog and Freak Out Nation)

Monday, February 16, 2015

An Education By Fits And Starts But Not Degrees

My formal "college" consists of 26 community college credits, half of them in ceramics.  I took two classes in cultural anthropology, fell in love with Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart", and decided anthropology was my life's calling--until my husband called my attention to the want ads in our big city paper.  Not a single call for anthropologists anywhere, and since we were among the almost-poor, and I still had kids at home, I had to think inside the box.

I took a business class taught by a one-handed pianist who should have stuck to his night job.  He invited our class to his concert and, even with one hand, his performance was flawless.  When it came time to evaluate him, none of us could do the honest thing and point out his flaws as a teacher of business.  We gave him high marks for personality.

nouveau girl reading books 1909 I took two creative writing classes taught by an old pot-smoking hippie who wore chains and earrings and orange tennis shoes and who told us right off that he didn't care what we wrote as long as we wrote something.  I thought the guy himself was ridiculous, trying as he did to be George Carlin and Jack Kerouac, all in the same skin, so it took me a while to realize how much I had actually learned there.   It came to me much later, when I was putting together materials to teach my own adult-ed creative writing classes:  What he gave us was a setting where we could write and fail and get a huge kick out of what we were doing.  He was a teacher without judgement but with a knack for finding what could be fixed.

I took a modern literature class taught by a woman I don't remember at all--not her name, not her face, not her teaching technique.  But through her I met Eudora Welty, Joseph Conrad, Langston Hughes, and Flannery O'Connor--writers I might have overlooked if she hadn't brought them (and so many others) to my attention.

And that was the end of my formal education.  Whatever else I've learned, I've learned either by happenstance or serendipity. Being in the right place at the right time.  Stumbling across something that got me curiouser and curiouser and led me to something else that led me to something else.  Unless I got distracted; then it was something else altogether.

 Living near Detroit, I had the advantage of meeting some exceptional writers and thinkers and I latched onto them like a parasite on a host.  I tried to drain them of everything they had to give--quietly, of course, without drawing blood.  I went to readings and workshops and lectures.  I joined groups where professional writers gathered.

They taught me a trade, but it's a haphazard way to get an education.  It's not an education, in fact.  Whatever it is, it's full of holes.  Great gaping holes.  Great gaping embarrassing holes.  (I couldn't find Iraq on a map if you gave me a hundred bucks to do it. I don't know what Pi is and I'm afraid I'm missing something meaningful.  I only recently found out that Goethe is pronounced "Gurt-uh".  Good thing I never had occasion to say his name out loud.)

Now President Obama is pushing for free two-year community college for everyone.  It'll be an uphill battle, but I'm right there beside him, rooting him on.  I don't want anyone to have to take on the task of educating themselves.  It can't be done.  They need teachers.  They need campus life.  They need to argue and debate, to be challenged, to be opened up to directions they might never have taken and ideas they might never have formed on their own.  They need to be pushed and pulled and exposed to a world wholly outside of themselves.

 They need to prepare for jobs, and we as a country need to pave the way.  We need to build again, creating good-paying jobs for them to fill.  We need to smarten up, and the best way to do it is through education.

We know that now.

 Pretty sure we do.

But I could be wrong.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

We Need Paid Sick Leave Because Workers Are Humans First

There's a fuss going on in Michigan over whether the state should mandate paid sick leave for all workers.  It's the Democrats who are proposing it but the Republicans dominate the government, so at this point it's not a question of winning the issue, it's a question of how far their bill gets before it fails.  (The sad backstory:  This same bill was first introduced in 2012.  The Republicans made sure it didn't get to committee for consideration. It was reintroduced in 2013.  Same story.  Now, in 2015, the Dems, bless their hearts, are trying again.)

I'm a pessimist when it comes to the Republican mode of governing anything, but I'm also a realist.  The Republicans (and, to be fair, some Democrats) will always come down on the side of business whenever the issue of worker equity comes up.  That's because business is where the money lies and money begets power. It's the climate we're in until we decide on climate change.

Source:  Wikimedia Commons
The quick statistics are these:  Just under half of all workers in Michigan now have to take sick days without pay.  The new law, if passed, would affect more than a million workers, both full and part time.  The Democratic bill about to be introduced in both the Michigan Senate and the House "would require  employers to offer one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours a person works. For somebody working 40 hours a week, that would equate to 69.3 hours or 8.7 standard eight-hour work days of sick leave per year. It would apply to both part-time and full-time employees."

We're talking, at best, about nine paid sick days a year. One nasty bout of flu could take up half of them.  It's not an outrageous proposal. 

The Republicans saw this coming and came up with an answer to the bill--the House Republican Action Plan.  The first order of business, following the governor's "relentless positive action" ( their words, not mine) is to kill the state's prevailing wage law.  (I admit I'm shocked this law is still in effect.  It guarantees certain workers the same wages and benefits as their union counterparts. I can't imagine how it was overlooked when Michigan became a Right-to-Work state, but never mind:  They've caught it now.

Their second O of B was to address paid sick days/leave:
Eliminating Local Ordinances That Hinder Job Creation:  Municipal ordinances governing wages and benefits known as "sick pay ordinances" institute rules and regulations on local employers in providing sick pay to their employees.  Many job providers are fearful such local actions hinder job creation.  Legislative efforts will be taken to ensure local ordinances are not more restrictive than state standard. 

So the state, as if there isn't enough to do, is now taking on the task of eliminating any local job ordinances that don't fit their idea of "none is good".   If, let's say, Solidarity City decides to consider the fact that most employees are human beings and not machines and comes up with a plan where those human beings can't be penalized for having messy lives that might require their being at home instead of at work, that's a good thing, right?  We're all for home and families, right?

As might be expected, business owners are lining up behind the Republicans, expressing their outrage at such a blatant attempt to strip them of their earnings by forcing them to pay sick people while they're sick!  (I'll just insert here the fact that there were decades upon decades wherein most employees were guaranteed paid sick days.  But we had unions then.)

In this AP story out of Lansing:
The Michigan Restaurant Association says it opposes "one-size-fits-all mandates." The group says restaurants have "thrived without the added costs and intrusions of labor unions."   

To which I say, wouldn't it be great if slavery were still in vogue?  (Hard to take any restaurant association seriously when they're A-okay with waitstaff working for $3.10 an hour plus tips.  So we'll move on.)

So let's talk a minute:

Employees, we can agree that if you need this job you're pretty much screwed if your kids get sick or if you get sick or your partner gets sick or your house burns down or someone in your family dies and your employer not only won't pay you for the days when you need to be at home, but says, "I need you here at work, and if you can't do the job I'll find someone else who can."  So hang on a minute while I go talk to your employers.  Be right back.

Employers, when you hired these employees you must have seen, the moment they entered your space, that they were living, breathing human beings with lives that fill each 24-hour period completely.  If you know anything about yourself, you could probably, if you wanted to, relate to their humanness. You have a family, they have a family.  You get sick, they get sick.  Something happens that keeps you from coming in to work.  Something happens that keeps them from coming in to work.  But here, you insist, the similarities end.  You get paid for the days you're away.  Too bad about them. 

But that's not enough, is it?  You expect such loyalty from your workers you allow yourself to believe that any calamity that might befall your employee is a direct insult to you.  How could they do this, especially now, when they know you need them right here, right now!

Where is your loyalty to them?  You've built a business that you can't run on your own.  You hire people because you need them. They come to work for you because they need you.  They don't become your personal property because you've hired them.  You have entered into a mutual agreement and that agreement requires a mutual commitment.  An obligation.  You're both human and all your good intentions may fall be the wayside now and then, but the mutual agreement still stands.  You need them and they need you.  You're in this together.

So get over yourself and open your eyes to the needs of the people who work for you.  Pay them what the job is worth and never make them have to decide between pressing personal needs and their paycheck. Trust them.  The majority will always do the right thing.

Workers, are you still with me?  There are groups that are working to get this bill passed.  They need your help.  They want your input, your stories.  Are your sick days paid?  Unpaid?  What has happened to you because of it?  Take a minute, please, and show them some support.  They're working hard for you.

In Michigan:

Mothering Justice


Paid Sick Days

National Partnership

(Guest-blogged at Eclectablog.  Cross-posted at Liberaland, dagblog, and Freak Out Nation)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Things We Leave Undone While We Sweat The Small Stuff

Photo: America
In this country millions of children are going hungry.  There are as many reasons as there are hungry children, but not a single one of them is the fault of the child.

This year's count puts the homeless at nearly 600,000. Many of them are our veterans, come home from wars with wounds that won't heal.  Nearly a third of them live on the streets.  Some cities work diligently to keep them off the streets, not by sheltering them but by making their attempts to sleep outdoors more difficult.

Our public schools are barely holding together, as funding, along with creativity and our ability to see our children as our future, declines.  Their future is in jeopardy, and there are some who see that as a good thing.

Men and women in their middle years are now taking jobs normally held by teens or retirees.  $20 and $30 an hour jobs are long gone for the masses.  A $10-an-hour job is now classified as a goal to reach instead of a hurdle to jump over.

People who were promised adequate retirements are finding, 30 years after the pact, that nothing was written in blood.  The money they worked for and counted on has been stolen away and they have no choice but to accept it.  As criminal as it seems, it's just the way it is when times are bad and we all (well, almost all)  have to tighten our belts.

Our need to keep health care obscenely profitable is responsible for shortening lives and causing needless pain.  We seem not to be able to make the connection when ad campaigns by insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and hospital chains bombard our airwaves.  Someone is paying for those ads.  We try not to think about who that might be.

Our roads and bridges and buildings are crumbling and we're supposed to believe there is no money to fix them.  We wait for the inevitable disaster that will open the vault to the funds hiding there all along.  Large numbers of people will have to die as a sacrifice before more can live.

Private interests are carpet-bombing the land of the free and the home of the brave.  We say we don't know how to stop them, apparently not even noticing that we've made a habit of nurturing and promoting politicians who make no secret of their allegiance to them.

But I'm not telling you anything you didn't already know.

So why aren't we talking about these things all day every day until something gets done about them? Why aren't we seeing periodic updates on these insults to the human spirit on the news?

A hungry child wonders where he'll be sleeping tonight.

A good person working hard to build a safe future suddenly finds herself jobless with no comparable employment in sight.

A man nearing retirement age finds that the equity in his house is worth a third of what it was 10 years ago, and his retirement package is worth even less.

A person gets sick.  The illness becomes chronic.  Work is out of the question, but the costs to stay stable have risen and are now beyond reach.  Next step: bankruptcy.

Tent cities are springing up, then being torn down.

And so on.

These stories get published and most of us react the way the writer intended, but the big news takes over and the stories, sad as they are, get lost.

Big news like (you knew this was coming) sports world scandals, Sarah Palin doing anything, God's personal messages to certain GOP leaders, the hurtful words one public person used against someone else, and the interminable, advertiser-driven, celebrity happenings.

When was the last time the news media was so captivated by a story about any of the abuses I've listed, they made it "Breaking News" and stayed on it for days on end, without regard for regular programming?

When was the last time the public went on a rampage against those abuses, protesting in numbers so powerful they couldn't be ignored until change finally came?

Never.  It has never happened.  Which is why we're still where we are, and the perpetrators are still where they are--growing stronger in a place where they need not be afraid.

There are powerful factions out there working to build our country to their liking.  They welcome the distractions, and often manufacture them in order to divert our attention away from their efforts to take us down.  After decades of practice, the demagogues have fear-mongering down to an art form.  It's no accident, for example, that Ted Cruz looks, acts and sounds like Sen. Joseph McCarthy.  Or that Rand Paul confuses libertarianism with liberty.  Or that a vengeful, gun-toting God has suddenly become the Right's co-pilot.

They understand the media better than we do.  They know that religion, bigotry, and misogyny push the right buttons and keep the noise going.  They know enough of us are easily distracted and will believe anything but the truth.  Those people are their ace in the hole.  They couldn't win without them.

Our mission, if we choose to accept it, is to bring the dialogue back to the bigger issues and keep them front and center.  Our story is the story of the masses.   We owe it to us all to get it right.

(Cross-posted at dagblog, Daily Kos, and Freak Out Nation.  Featured on Crooks & Liars MBRU)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Vandals, I Don't Get You. Can We Talk?

noun: vandal; plural noun: vandals
  1. 1.
    a person who deliberately destroys or damages public or private property.
    "the rear window of the car was smashed by vandals"
    synonyms:hoodlum, barbarian, thug, hooligan, delinquent, despoiler, desecrator, saboteur
    "vandals defaced the front steps of the church"
  2. 2.
    a member of a Germanic people that ravaged Gaul, Spain, and North Africa in the 4th–5th centuries and sacked Rome in AD 455.

When I was around seven years old I wandered over to our neighbor's roadside mailbox and stole the mail out of it.  There was a vacant lot between their house and ours and I remember sitting in the weeds opening that mail. (The mail that, at seven, I doubt I could even read) Then I got scared.  I tore it all up into little pieces.  I got caught--I don't remember how--and my mother marched me over to our neighbors, where I had to apologize for stealing their mail and tearing it up.

What I learned through my tears was that one piece of that mail--the pretty one with the red and blue stripes around the edges--was a long-awaited letter from their soldier son who was fighting in the war overseas.   That was seven decades ago and I still cringe at the memory.  They were sweet people, those neighbors, and they were kind enough to accept my apology, but I've never forgotten how I felt when I had to admit, to them, to my mother, and to myself, that I did a terrible thing.  What was I thinking?  What would make me steal and then destroy something that didn't belong to me?  I didn't do it to deliberately hurt our neighbors but the end result was that I did hurt them.

But even though I was a vandal myself--no getting around it--I've never understood acts of vandalism.  I've heard all the excuses-- pent-up rage, drunkenness, group dynamics, an extreme sense of privilege--but every act of vandalism is a criminal act.  Deliberate, wanton destruction is a crime.  It's not cute, it's not cool, it's not ever justified, and it can't be considered anything less than what it is, just because the people who do it aren't your ordinary criminals. 

So last week this happened:  University of Michigan frat members took over 45 rooms at a Michigan ski resort and over the course of a couple of days did more than $50,000 in damage:

Treetops Resort manager Barry Owens said the students were escorted from the premises by Michigan State Police last weekend after causing $50,000 in damage. The resort is in Dover Township near Gaylord.
Owens said Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity members caused significant damage to furniture, carpet, walls and ceilings.
Sigma Alpha Mu Michigan chapter President Joshua Kaplan says his members "are embarrassed and ashamed of the behavior" of some members. He says the chapter "accepts full responsibility" and "will be working with the management of the resort to pay for all damages and cleaning costs."
"This behavior is inconsistent with the values, policies, and practices of this organization," Kaplan said in a statement. "We will work within our own organization and with university officials to hold those who are responsible accountable for their actions.
Kaplan said there will be no further comment from his chapter or organization.
"They caused an excessive amount of damage," Owens said. "The rooms were just a pigsty. Unfortunately, I've been in this business for 30 years and it's the worst condition of rooms that I've ever seen. There were broken ceiling tiles in the hallway, broken furniture, broken windows. There's carpet that's going to need to be replaced."
Owens said there were more than 120 people, men and women, in about 45 rooms.
"A lot of the rooms were just very, very dirty," he said. "There were holes in the walls and different things like that. They were very disruptive to additional guests that were here."
Owens said prior to the students being removed, resort staff attempted to rectify the situation.
"We tried to address it with them, but we made a mistake and took these people at their word when they said they would change their behavior," he said.
The resort is considering its options, including pursuing criminal charges against the fraternity. Owens said the resort also has a meeting planned with university officials.
What about the criminal charges against the students? What happened after the Kids Just Want to Have Fun Gang were "escorted from the premises" by the State Police?  Were they fingerprinted and then thrown into as many cells as it took to fill?  Are they still there?

I haven't heard, but you know they're not still in jail up there in Gaylord. Who are they?  Give me their names.  Let me talk to them.  Let them try to explain why they did what they did.  I want to know how they're feeling right now.  Not how they're feeling about getting caught or being blamed or  about whether or not they'll still have a fraternity.  I want to know how they're feeling about themselves.

(And whether, at some future date, they're going to be thinking about running for public office. . .)

Treetops Resort damage - Photo credit:  Detroit Free Press/Keith Wilkinson

(Cross-posted at Dagblog, Constant Commoner, and FreakOutNation)