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


 ________________________________________________________________________


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)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Charles Koch Schools Us on How to Keep His Family the Second Richest In The Country

The gazillionaire Charles Koch, the Right Wing benefactor whose father was a co-founder of the John Birch Society,  the same Charles Koch who, along with his brother, David, works tirelessly against any sign of government interference when it comes to health care, public education, infrastructure, climate change, or  aiding the pitifully down and out, and who most generously funds any person, politician or party promising to fight along with them on the Kill the Government Before They Kill Us battleground--that very same Charles Koch has just written a whopper of an op-ed in USA Today extolling the virtues of "real work" and "real values" (surprise!) and decrying the existence of anti-business government regulations. (Double-surprise!)

Every now and then--as if we don't get enough of him second hand--he comes out of the shadows and into the light and says publicly what he and his brother, through their various foundations, including the anti-government, pro-them organization, Americans for Prosperity, have been pressing their free-market screw-the-poor minions to go along with for many dozens of years. 

A sampling of his USA Today piece:
"When I was growing up, my father had me spend my free time working at unpleasant jobs. Most Americans understand that taking a job and sticking with it, no matter how unpleasant or low-paying, is a vital step toward the American dream. We are in for more trouble if young people don't find that all-important first job, which is critical to beginning their climb up the ladder.

Finally, we need greater incentives to work. Costly programs, such as paying able-bodied people not to work, are addictive disincentives. By undermining people's will to work, our government has created a culture of dependency and hopelessness. This is most unfair to vulnerable citizens who suffer even as we say they are receiving 'benefits.'

I agree with Dr. Martin Luther King. There are no dead-end jobs. Every job deserves our best. 'If a man is called to be a street sweeper," King said, ' he should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.'"
 Dibs on the throw-up pot.  And let me just sit a spell; I'm feeling pissed faint. 

This from a man who has advocated his entire adult life for the total destruction of a system of government purportedly hindering the ability of any citizen to make his or her fortune.  Never mind that his family is ranked the second richest in the entire country.  Their net worth is $89 billion

Wage inequality has become so lopsided the top one percent owns 40 percent of our wealth.  Our once-vibrant middle class has dwindled to a precious few, with the union-starved working poor making up the majority of our work force now. 

But beyond that, Charles Koch, in his phony bid to convince Americans that the poor are simply lazy and the free market will work for everybody no matter what we've heard, cites Martin Luther King, of all people, as an example of a person who understood how these things work.

This same Charles Koch:
"Charles Koch was not simply a rank and file member of the John Birch Society in name only who paid nominal dues. He purchased and held a "lifetime membership" until he resigned in 1968. He also lent his name and his wealth to the operations of the John Birch Society in Wichita, aiding its "American Opinion" bookstore -- which was stocked with attacks on the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, and Earl Warren as elements of the communist conspiracy. He funded the John Birch Society's promotional campaigns, bought advertising in its magazine, and supported its distribution of right-wing radio shows.
 Charles and David Koch came by their Bircherish notions naturally.  In Claire Conner's chilling memoir, Wrapped In A Flag (a recounting of Conner's life as the daughter of founding members of the John Birch Society growing up in a house where her parents' every waking moment was devoted to the destruction of Communism and the government that was in cahoots), she had this to say about the Koch brothers' father, Fred Koch, whose fortunes began while traveling across Russia overseeing the installation of 15 oil refineries for the Soviets:
"In 1960, a little over a year after he became a founding member of the John Birch Society, Fred published A Businessman Looks at Communism, a harsh critique of the Communist system.  The book became a hit in the growing anti-Communist movement . . . . .Koch's book outlined the steps the Communists planned to take over America:  'Step One:  Infiltration of high office of government and political parties until the president of the U.S is a Communist. . .even the Vice presidency would do, as it could be easily arranged for the president to commit suicide.'
Step Two was a general strike, which 'could bring our country to its knees.'  Wrote Koch, 'Labor unions have long been a Communist goal. . .the effort is frequently to make the worker do as little as possible for the money he receives.  This practice alone could destroy the country.'"
 I doubt if any newspaper in the country would turn down an op-ed submission from someone like Charles Koch (I wonder if they had to pay him?), and USA Today is no exception.  This had to be the catch of the year for them, and it's paying off big time in exposure.  But where was the rebuttal for such an obvious propaganda piece?  USA Today often publishes "the other side", giving someone else the chance to take the opposite view.  (Say, from Bernie Sanders?)  Not this time.

From now until November we'll be seeing Koch-inspired disinformation with a vengeance.  They've even found us up here in the north woods, where hardly anybody lives.  (Though the ones who do, I'm sorry to say, are mainly Republicans.  Many, many, many of them are on unemployment, are underemployed, are on food stamps, and rely on Medicaid for their health care, but they've bought into the lie about the government coming to take away their rights.  I don't know how to explain it, and I don't even try.)

This is an example of the primary election materials that came to our mailbox just this last month.  All endorsed and paid for by The Americans for Prosperity.  This is just the beginning.  They have more money than dozens of small countries across the globe and they're willing to spend it to get what they want in November.



Charles Koch and those like him will go to any lengths to create the oligarchy they've always dreamed of.  We have the knowledge and the wits to stop them but there is no question that they can outspend us.  They can use their power to buy airtime (and stations), to have open access to op-ed pages (and buy newspapers), to get their message across in a million different ways while working, in ways that are staggeringly effective, to suppress ours.

If money can buy anything, we're in trouble.   Our job now is to prove that it'll take more than huge semi-loads of cash to get us to give up on a country we've worked so hard to build.  They don't own us.  Not yet.  There's still time.

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


Saturday, August 2, 2014

George Will's Backhanded Tribute to Sherrod Brown

I don't know what to make of George Will lately.  It's as if George Will the Good has been working his way out of George Will the Bad's closet, escaping for a few minutes of sunlight before his evil twin GWTB discovers him and throws him back in.

George the Good surfaced on Fox News one recent Sunday and had this to say about  the children crossing our borders from Central America:
 "We ought to say to these children, 'Welcome to America, you're going to go to school, and get a job, and become American.  We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 per county."

He went on to shock his Foxhole buddies by adding,  "The idea that we can't assimilate these 8-year-old criminals with their teddy bears is preposterous."

 I know!  George Will!  The same George Will who got himself in hot water this June by refuting the reported numbers of sexual assaults on American college campuses, and then refusing to back down.

The same George Will who went after government-sponsored scientific research on climate change, basing his conclusions on what he sees as silly liberal science.  (The ice caps didn't melt when Al Gore said they would.  End of story.)

The proof that there are two George Wills battling against each other comes in this morning's Washington Post piece about Democratic senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.  Today both George Wills are out in the open, and while GWTB gets more print space, GWTG manages to sneak in some swell stuff about our man Brown.  I suspect GWTB allowed it to stay because it was a perfect counterpoint to what he had to say about Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren  (Very first paragraph):

"If Ohio's senior senator were named Sharon Brown instead of Sherrod Brown, progressives would have a plausible political pin-up and a serious alternative to the tawdry boredom of Hillary Clinton's joyless plod toward her party's presidential nomination.  Drop one of Brown's consonants and change another and a vowel, and we might be spared the infatuation of what Howard Dean called "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" for Sen. Elizabeth Warren. "
But both George the Good and George the Bad must have worked on this:
"Brown, however, looks, sounds and acts like a real, as opposed to faculty club, leftist.  Although he is a Yale graduate, he has the rumpled look and hoarse voice of someone who spent last night on Paris barricades, exhorting les miserables to chuck cobblestones at the forces defending property.  And he is not just talk."
(That's a compliment, right?)

Will goes on to talk about Brown's campaign to seat Janet Yellen instead of the president's first choice, Larry Summers, as chairman of the Federal Reserve, complimenting him for managing to get 20 senators to sign a letter in opposition to Summers.  That was a good thing.

He praises Brown for working to end the crazy notion that banks can be too big to fail.  All good.

But then he says, in his inimitable georgewillian style, 
"He is impeccably wrong, meaning progressive, about free trade.  He is for fair trade, a.k.a. protectionism disguised in Pecksniffian sanctimony demanding that less-developed nations adopt stronger labor and environmental standards." 
("Pecksniffian sanctimony"! Score one for George the Bad!)

I may not say it often enough but I think Sen. Brown is such an asset to the country--and to the Democratic Party--if he decided to move up and run for president some time in the future, I would drop everything (within reason, of course) and work my tail off to get him into the White House.   I would do the same for Elizabeth Warren.  They are both liberal populists, and, contrary to what Will might believe, Brown and Warren do, in fact, work well together

 Sherrod Brown is not an unknown entity among Democrats, as Will would have us believe.  There are plenty of us, among the hoi polloi, and among the Big Guys,  who have been paying attention to him and like what we see.  There has been talk of a Clinton/Brown ticket in 2016.  Brown is having no part of it--for now. But if Hillary Clinton is our candidate, Sherrod Brown will be right out in front with us supporting that choice, working hard to make that happen. 

The Will Boys end the piece like this:
"Are progressives so preoccupied with gender that they prefer Clinton's risk-averse careerism, or Warren's astonished tantrums about the obvious dynamics of big government, to Brown's authentic progressivism?  Yes."
Well, no.  I would hardly call Hillary Clinton's checkered career "risk-averse".  And  Warren's "astonished tantrums" are not the female version of Brown's "authentic progressivism".  (Nice one, GWTG)  They're one and the same.  Both Brown and Warren are known populists working to lead us out of this mess and millions of us are working to make sure they succeed.

But thanks for the attention, Mr. Will.  And a High Five to George the Good.  See you again sometime?

______________________________

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Teddy Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Brought Us Progressivism

So much of Theodore Roosevelt's life comes to us now in what seems like caricature:  The Rough Rider, the bellowing bull, the hearty back-slapper, the rugged outdoorsman--all images the man himself would be happy to know we've kept alive.  The handle-bar mustache, the pince-nez, the rakish explorer's hat, the exaggerated movements of a stage actor. . .all carefully created and nurtured by a man who saw himself as destined for American greatness and struggled to make it happen.

He is credited today with preserving our public lands and starting the movement to establish a National Park system.  He preserved natural wonders like the Grand Canyon and the petrified forest, and is memorialized on Mt. Rushmore, along with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.  He was a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and without him there might never have been a Panama Canal.  He is the "Teddy" our beloved American Teddy Bear was named for.

He built himself into a character so much larger than life, we tend to ignore the impact his actions as a progressively Progressive Republican president made on a country just entering the 20th century; a country badly in need, after a period of rapid, seemingly uncontrollable industrialization, of some common-sense reforms.

In Michael Wolraich's new book, "Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics",  Roosevelt's journey from an accommodating ally of the top American industrialists to a reluctant but pragmatic Progressive leader is spelled out in prose as rousing as the tale itself. 

And what a tale it is:  Roosevelt's story has been told many times and is, on the surface, familiar, but "Unreasonable Men" tells the backstory of the men who guided, prodded, and influenced the president, effectively splitting the Republicans into two factions--the Standpatters and the Progressives.  TR worked both sides, trying to stay above the fray, but found himself leaning more and more toward the progressives.

"Fighting Bob" La Follette, the raging populist senator from Wisconsin, along with militant progressives like Gov. Albert Cummins of Iowa and Senator Joseph Bristow of Kansas, and Muckrakers like Lincoln Steffens,  Ray Stannard Baker and Ida Tarbell, all played significant roles in the demise of the Standpatters (conservatives of the day) and the rise of American Progressivism.

Fighting Bob's unstinting tenacity as he fought to bring his progressive agenda to the forefront of his Party's platform both frightened and amazed Roosevelt.  They became unlikely partners in the battle for the people, but eventually, as might have been predicted, whatever relationship they once had crashed and burned.  The fact that they both wanted to be president--La Follette for the first time and TR for the second--didn't help.

 La Follette never had a chance--too many bridges left burning behind him--but TR, though he didn't win,  got a second chance to be a leader again.  In August, 1910, a few months after Roosevelt, then a private citizen, returned from England to find crowds of well-wishers clamoring for him to lead them again, he jumped back in and gave the speech of his life standing on a kitchen table in an old battlefield near Osawatomie, Kansas.

From Unreasonable Men:
"Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War," [Roosevelt] proclaimed, "so now the great special business inerests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit.  We must drive the special interests out of politics."

With these words, Roosevelt turned a corner.  In one rhetorical stroke, he eliminated the middle ground on which he had balanced for his entire political career.  By framing the political conflict as a historic conflict between privilege and democracy, he left no place for conservative-progressives, rendering them as improbable as royalist-patriots or pro-slavery-abolitionists.  And by praising John Brown--the wild-eyed fanatic of an earlier era--he implicitly made common cause with the "demagogues" and "agitators" whom he had so long condemned.
He was running against William Howard Taft, the incumbent he would eventually lose to at the Convention in Chicago in 1912, bringing TR to the establishment of a third party--the Progressive, or "Bull Moose" Party.  Both he and Taft lost to the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson. (Wilson confessed during his campaign that he didn't know how to run against TR. "When I sit down and compare my views with those of a Progressive Republican, I can't see what the difference is.")

The intrigues, the betrayals, the cautious, often spitting relationships between men who banded together to thwart the oligarchs and worked to build a nation for the people--it's all in there, along with the intricate, often inadvertent or serendipitous machinations of both houses of Congress and the courts.

And, as it is, it's impossible not to draw parallels between then and now.  Wolraich's book comes along at a time when we're on that same threshold:  Do we give in to the oligarchs or do we fight for Democracy?  "Unreasonable Men" doesn't provide the answers, but it could well be the guidebook on how to get it done.

Because those uncommon men of the people fought hard against all odds, and, at least for a time, got it done.

___________________

Additional reading:

Washington Post review of "Unreasonable Men".

Excerpt at The Atlantic by Michael Wolraich

Excerpt at National Memo

Q&A with Michael Wolraich at Salon.

Michael Maiello:  Unreasonable Men and the Art of the Political Long Game


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