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 Liberaland.)

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)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Cowardly Liberal Talks About Strength

About once a year or so I have a confidence crisis.  When it happens I'm able to convince myself that I can't go on writing about politics and hate and fear and unfairness.  This year it was even worse, brought on by the very real fact that the dreaded Republicans swept the elections last November and are now in almost complete control of our lives.

The Republican rout is depressing and demoralizing, setting in rock-hard concrete, as it does, the image of us liberals as big, fat losers.  We had such a beautiful message--and we lost.  We had such plans for a kinder, more equitable future--and we lost.  We're such nice people--and we lost.

But we will survive and go on.  I know that. Our problem is local and, so far, not lethal.  In the bigger world outside, unfathomable horrors persist. A barbaric group of subhumans get away with slaughtering some 2000 Nigerians, mainly women, children, and the elderly, for--who knows what?  Two lone radical terrorists murder 12 journalists in a Paris cartoon magazine office as retribution for blasphemy.  A murder spree in a Paris kosher market is seen as a ghastly punctuation mark.

It's as if there is an overload switch that goes off whenever I'm at a point where I begin to believe half the world is mad and the other half is pure evil. (There is a tiny percentage who are good but their numbers are so small they barely register.  Or so it seems when I'm in this state.)  I shut down.  I read  Dave Barry.  I curl up on the couch and watch the Hallmark Channel.

I admit there are times when I am a coward, but sometimes I relish those cowardly moments.  I understand now how video snippets of precious kittens could hit the billion watcher mark.  It's R&R, it's therapy, and, in a world like ours, it's necessary.

So I was all set to just not think about all this for a while, but then I came upon an article by Edwin Lyngar. The writer, a former right winger now turned liberal, warns us liberals that in order to defeat these people we have to take a page from their playbook and "learn to talk big and fight dirty."

He says:
When I lived conservative values, I attended many events with like-minded people. Conservative movements foster a herd mentality. Even when someone stood up to “lead,” he or she often regurgitated well-accepted talking points while crowds nodded in unison. Listen to talk radio or watch Fox News, and you can barely tally the number of times you hear, “yes, I think that’s true.”
A perfect example of thoughtless regurgitation is when callers on talk radio mention “Saul Alinsky Democrats.” Still others like to sling the insult of “Obama’s Chicago political machine,” with no context whatsoever. I’m going to make the obvious point that few if any of these callers have read one word of Alinsky, and fewer still have any direct, pointed or even third-hand knowledge of “Chicago politics.” These goofy phrases have become totems of the insider, and like children, these listeners mindlessly repeat what someone else has said as if they had insight.

Now that I’ve been in the liberal camp for a few years, I’ve noticed the complete opposite with the politically engaged left. They often identify as “contrarian.” They question everything and have a hard time taking a firm stand, even when 70% of the public is with them (on minimum wage, for instance). In an ideological battle, the tendency toward inclusion and reflection can become a handicap. As a side effect of all this soul-searching, the left becomes ineffectual at fighting even the worst excesses on the right. I’m boiling this down to a false dichotomy to illustrate a point. Of course there is every gradation of political belief on the right and left; yet our system itself is incapable of nuance, because only one side has even heard of the word.

It's true that liberals of all stripes tend to over-think things and strive to a fault to consider what's best for everybody.  We--or, at least, I--do try to reason with the wingers, and waste a lot of valuable time trying to figure them out.  But, as much as I admire most of what Edwin Lyngar had to say, when it comes right down to it, I don't want to get down and dirty with them.

I want to understand their tactics so I can head 'em off at the pass, but I sure as hell don't want to emulate them.  They're nasty.  They're hateful.  We don't need a double dose of that.

At the same time, we're heading into a new and dangerous era, with right wing politics and fundamentalist religion at the forefront, and no cute kitten image is going to obscure what is absolute fact:  The Republican takeover will put in place unprecedented barriers to our constitutionally-endowed liberties.

After promising to do it for decades, they will finally be in a position to dismantle any signs of what they tout as liberal Commie secularism.  They're already giving essential, science-based committee chairs to avowed anti-science legislators.  They're doing it as an in-your-face gesture--a joke on us--with no regard to our health or the planet's future.  They'll work overtime to try and overturn Obamacare and Roe v. Wade.  The rich will get richer and the poor, poorer.  Our infrastructure will continue to crumble, but not to worry.  Public lands will be sold off to private interests and we'll be the better for it.  Pollution will turn out to be good for us.

The chambers in congress now ring with Old Testament bible passages proclaiming the advent of God in his proper place as lawmaker.  Dozens of representatives were elected almost exclusively on the strength of their religious views, and they see their elections as a mandate from their Maker.

We're in for many battles on many fronts, and Edwin Lyngar is right that we need to study our enemy and get strong.  I'm pretty sure I can do it without calling anybody a Shithead, as he suggests, but if that's your thing, I'll defend to the death your right to say it.

But we're not them.  We'll never be them.

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

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Resolved: To Make 2015 A Year To Remember. If I Don’t Forget

Here it is 2015 (Where did the time go, right?) and let me say once again that New Year’s Resolutions are a fun way to pass the time but are meaningless in the real world.  Not meaning to burst your little bubble on the very first day of the new year;  just telling you, in case you woke up this morning actually believing that all it takes to do something life-changing before the next year is out is to sincerely resolve to do it on New Year’s Day.

Some people believe a resolution is not legit unless you say it out loud to someone who might actually remember–and care–later on.  I’ve done it myself in the days when I couldn’t have started the year without a list of resolutions.  It was a good luck gesture I really believed in.  Sort of like not stepping on a crack to avoid breaking your mother’s back.

But over time I realized the surest way to disappoint myself in the worst way possible was to promise myself (most sincerely, because no other way would do) that I wouldn’t be a complete failure again.  This year I would finally do what I’ve been meaning to do, and this time I mean it.
Sometimes I would even make a list–actually write things down:
Lose 20 pounds.
Make a lot of money with my writing.
Travel to that place I’ve always wanted to go.
Okay, lose 10 pounds.
Okay, make any money with my writing.
Okay, at least get out of the state.
Then, thankfully, I would lose the list, and any remnants of any long ago resolution would drift away, never to be heard from again.

Well, okay, not never.  By the next New Year’s Eve those long-ago resolutions would come back and hit me like a ton of bricks.  I promised!  I resolved!  I said them out loud!  I didn’t do any of them!  (Except to get out of the state.  I did manage to do that.  But who couldn’t when you live 20 miles from the border?)

So this year you could follow my lead, save yourself a lot of headaches, and just bypass that tradition.  The world won’t come to an end.  The year will start, the days will go by, one by one, and nobody will notice that you didn’t make a resolution.

I didn’t know that when I was young.  I went along, sheep-like, because everyone else did.  I honestly thought I was the only one who didn’t keep her resolutions.  I know better now.  It’s the most freeing thing in the world to know my promises to myself are meaningless and therefore totally unnecessary.
You too can be free.  Just say no.  No resolutions!  (If you think you can’t do it, write me.  I’ll talk you down.  I’ve been there.  I know.)

So Happy New Year!  Health! Prosperity!  Love!  Joy!

Carry on. . .

Saturday, December 20, 2014

It's Hard to Be Merry At Christmas When It's "Merry Christmas" Or Else

The last time I wrote about Christmas I thought I was being pretty polite, considering the message I was getting from my friends and relatives and neighbors.  To wit:  How DARE you even THINK about not wishing me a Merry Christmas!  Which, of course, led me to respond by pleading "not guilty"--which caused me to tell a lie at Christmas since I didn't feel the least bit guilty. Why would I?

I say "Merry Christmas" quite a bit at Christmas time.  I've been saying "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" ever since I could say the words, which, I'm guessing, was around December, 1939, when I was just over two years old.  Sometimes I say "Have a great holiday!" without mentioning which holiday I mean when I say that.  There are times when I say "Happy New Year!", forgetting to say "Merry Christmas", even though it may be several days before Christmas.  I can't help it.  It just comes out.

 For weeks now I've been getting those admonishing Facebook posts and emails about keeping Christ in Christmas by saying "Merry Christmas". (As if, if we don't keep repeating those words, everyone will forget who Christ was.) 

I hadn't planned on writing yet another blog about the "war" on Christmas.  Even Bill O'Reilly himself is getting bored with it. I can tell.  (He has now declared the war is over and he won it.) But today I received the email that was the straw that finally broke it.

It was an email from a dear friend and the subject line read, " MERRY CHRISTMAS!"  The picture that topped it was an old fashioned Currier & Ives etching with digital snowflakes falling, falling, falling.  A colorful "Merry Christmas" banner arched over the top with a bright red ribbon wreathed with holly and ivy.

So lovely. . .

And this is what it said:

I will be making a conscious effort to wish everyone

a Merry Christmas this year ...

My way of saying that I am celebrating

The birth Of Jesus Christ.

So, I am asking my email buddies,

if you agree with me, to please do the same.
And if you'll pass this on to
Your email buddies, and so on... maybe we can prevent one more
American tradition from being lost in the sea of "Political Correctness".

What. On. Earth.  Really??  At risk of never receiving another Merry Christmas greeting from any of you ever again, I'm going to say this and I hope you will take it in the spirit in which it is given:

What is wrong with you people?

It's Christmas!  Millions of us love this season.  We look forward to it, we read about it, we sing about it, we who are parents can't wait to experience it with our children.  We plan, we decorate, we bake, we go shopping, we party.  We find a million different excuses to hug each other.  We hang mistletoe just so we can kiss under it.  

We fill food baskets and donate money because it's Christmas and there is nothing sadder than the thought of someone not enjoying the holidays.  Our happiness is so acute we smile at perfect strangers and wish them good tidings.  Joy, my friends, is busting out all over.

Many of us only go into a church at Christmas time;  some of us not at all.  I love the story of the baby Jesus.  I love Christmas carols. (Last night I watched the St. Olaf Choir Christmas Concert from Norway on PBS.  It was beautiful--a mix of the sacred and the secular--like Christmas.) I love the happy faces.  The candles.  Nice.  All nice.

But let's talk about Christmas tradition:

December 25 is closer to the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice than it is to Jesus' birth, which most Christian scholars put nearer to summer, based on historic events.

The Christmas song "O Tannenbaum" was based on a 16th century tune, put to secular lyrics in 1824. 

Charles Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol" in 1843. While it ends with, "God bless us, every one!", it's a morality tale about the rich holding terrible power over the poor.

Irving Berlin, a Jewish songwriter, wrote "White Christmas" in the late 1930s and it became the most popular Christmas song of all time.

Charles Schultz's "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was released in 1965 and has been shown every year since.

We love "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and "Let It Snow" and "Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas".  We love red and green and silver and gold.  We love twinkly lights and Santa and snowmen.  And elves.  We love elves.  WE LOVE CHRISTMAS!

And you're spoiling it for us.

It takes all the fun out of it when you think you get to decide for us how we're supposed to spend Christmas.  For you, Jesus is the reason for the season. Amen to that.  For us, it's a wonderful, happy holiday that is open to so many interpretations you could get the idea it's mainly about peace on Earth, goodwill toward mankind.

But we would never know it now, what with this sudden ruckus about putting Christ back in Christmas--as if there were sinister factions out there trying to erase him for all eternity, the main weapon being two words: "Happy Holidays".

If Christmas means Christ to you, there is no better time than the Yuletide to celebrate him.  But you simply cannot butt into our celebrations, Grinch-like, throwing wet blankets all over our happy days.  If there is a war on Christmas, it's a one-sided battle and it's coming from you. You can have it.  For me, it's the happiest, happiest time of the year.  I feel love in the air and I plan on enjoying every minute of it.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and a joyous New Year.

(Cross-posted at Alan Colmes' Liberaland and dagblog.  Featured at Crooks & Liars.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Say What You Will About Torture, It's Still Torture

Last week the Senate Intelligence Committee released their report on the CIA's detention and interrogation program, and, while much of it had already been hashed over soon after the events at Abu Ghraib, there are enough new revelations within the report's 525 page summary to cause us to get stirred up all over again.

We know now, for example, that the CIA outsourced our entire interrogation program to two psychologists who had no real experience, yet managed to bill and receive some 80 million dollars for their services before someone thought to question their (or our) wisdom in such matters.

We know, too, that the CIA agreed to an indemnification clause that would protect those two from any mean thing we might want to do to them when we found out.

From former navy lieutenant commander Ryan Casey:
By 2005, the psychologists, James Mitchell and John "Bruce" Jessen of Spokane, WA, had formed a company specifically to contract with the CIA. The agency, in turn, outsourced virtually all aspects of the program to Mitchell, Jessen & Associates in the form of a contract with options totaling more than $180 million.
Despite having no experience or training in actual interrogation, Mitchell and Jessen personally interrogated many of the CIA's most significant detainees. To the degree there was any effort to assess the effectiveness of the interrogation program, Mitchell and Jessen graded their own work.
By 2009, the psychologists had collected $81 million on the contract when the Obama Administration abruptly terminated it. The Senate report also notes that in 2007, Mitchell, Jessen & Associates received a multi-year indemnification agreement from the CIA to shield the company and its employees from legal liability arising out of the program. So far the CIA has paid out more than $1 million pursuant to the agreement.
Sen. John McCain, a former torture victim himself, set aside politics for the moment and eloquently defended the Senate Committee's report--a report in the making, by the way, since 2007, and which contains some 6700 pages, most of them still classified :
“We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily.

“Our enemies act without conscience. We must not. This executive summary of the Committee’s report makes clear that acting without conscience isn’t necessary, it isn’t even helpful, in winning this strange and long war we’re fighting. We should be grateful to have that truth affirmed.
“Now, let us reassert the contrary proposition: that is it essential to our success in this war that we ask those who fight it for us to remember at all times that they are defending a sacred ideal of how nations should be governed and conduct their relations with others – even our enemies.

“Those of us who give them this duty are obliged by history, by our nation’s highest ideals and the many terrible sacrifices made to protect them, by our respect for human dignity to make clear we need not risk our national honor to prevail in this or any war. We need only remember in the worst of times, through the chaos and terror of war, when facing cruelty, suffering and loss, that we are always Americans, and different, stronger, and better than those who would destroy us."
So, of course, former Vice President of the United States Richard "Dick" Cheney, having to explain for the umpteenth time that approved interrogation methods are not torture! weighed in:
"The report is full of crap, excuse me," Cheney said during an interview on Fox News.

Before the report was made public, George W. Bush appeared with Candy Crowley and had this to say about it:
"I'll tell you this," Bush said after clarifying that he hadn't read the Senate report yet. "We're fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf. These are patriots. And whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country it is way off base. I knew the directors, the deputy directors, I knew a lot of the operators. These are good people. Really good people. And we're lucky as a nation to have them."

No further word, now that the report is out, from Bush, who, the reports suggest, was either uninformed, misinformed, disinformed, or mutton-headedly obtuse on the subject of torture.  (Except for that one time when he "expressed discomfort" on hearing about a prisoner chained to the ceiling who had to defecate himself, but luckily was wearing diapers at the time.)  

We've been talking about torture for decades, but we got temporarily serious about it again after we were forced to concede that the images coming out of Abu Ghraib were not fictions put out by people who hate us, but were real and horrible and, my God, who are we?

But it went on, and we kept hearing about innocent prisoners who were being tortured along with the bad guys--none of whom, we now know, told us anything that might have justified their torture. Collateral damage.  It happens.

We still talk about torture as if there are grey areas yet to be examined; as if there are circumstances under which the deliberate inflicting of horrific pain, soul-wrenching terror, and dehumanizing humiliation can be justified, explained away, given a special dispensation from an otherwise sane moral or ethical code of conduct.

We want to believe we're not that bad, and the only way to convince ourselves is to fool ourselves into believing there are circumstances under which torture is necessary.

There are none.

There are no circumstances under which torture will ever be okay.

We should have shut that program down after Abu Ghraib, but we didn't.  We should have investigated every corner of the globe where we were using "enhanced interrogation" to determine exactly what "enhanced interrogation" meant.

We should have known that outsourcing our torture program wasn't going to allow us to disavow what was being done in our name.

It shouldn't have taken seven years for a Senate Committee to finally publish a report that states the obvious:  We systematically sanctioned a system where gruesome torture techniques were used against human beings, and even after we knew it we didn't do enough to stop it.

If we allow torture, we are a country that tortures.  And if, after this Senate report has gone public, nothing but howling gets done about it and we're still a country that tortures, we will always and forevermore be known as a country that condones torture.

There are punishments that are justified against evil-doers.  We need to show the world we know how to do this.  We need to make our own perpetrators pay.  And it's not as if we'll need to employ enhanced techniques to figure out who they are.  They are the people we thought they were.

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