Saturday, June 27, 2015

Women, Gays and Barack Obama's Ear -- A Repeat

Yesterday the Supreme Court shot down state bans on same-sex marriage, effectively making marriage a federal affair, free from the capricious natures of the various legislatures or the rigid mandates of those who want to ignore the fact that legal marriage isn't of the bible, but is a civil, official, yes, secular matter.

The fuss against the ruling is about what you would expect, and it's all out there, of course, but here I want to revisit the evolution of the president; how he came to see that when two adults who love each other want to commit to marriage it's not a sin or a crime, it's a reason for celebration.

This piece was first published on May 10, 2012:

The big news yesterday -- no, the HUGE news -- was President Obama's interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, set up specifically so that he could air his own personal views about gay people being able to marry their same-sex partners:  After much soul-searching and a couple of decades of "evolving", he was finally ready to say out loud that he's all for it.

He did go on to say that it should be left to the states to decide their own policies concerning the legalities of such unions, but the die was cast; the mold was formed:  A sitting president took a positive, personal, public stand on the issue of gay marriage.

As might have been expected, the fundie leaders in the Right Wing Religiousphere took it hard.  Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council was all over the airwaves protesting the president's comments.   (Kudos to CNN's Soledad O'Brien, the product of mixed-race parents who married when most states outlawed such marriages, for turning an interview into a real debate, thus punching bloody holes in Perkins' many lame arguments.)

Small-government advocate and current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney came forward like the good soldier he is and said, no ifs, ands, or buts (for now) -- no, no, no to gay marriage, or even civil unions, or anything else that might require Big Government (that would be him if he wins) to step in and make more rules disregarding civil rights.

 Leaders of states that probably weren't going to go Obama's way in November anyway jumped in to remind him that he was committing political suicide over this.

Some Black church leaders voiced their opposition to Obama's views, sending a message that might possibly still resonate in November.

So, yes, even though his comments to Robin Roberts won't amount to a hill of beans in the legal world and won't change a thing in the states that are rabid about banning gay marriage (Two days ago, North Carolina became the 30th state to ban same-sex unions), Obama's admission of his own personal feelings is the stuff dreams are made of.   Both sides will see it as a world class political haymaker.

But what made the president's comments so memorable was the fact that, while he would have preferred to sidestep this particular bombshell of an issue forever if need be, it appears it was his wife and his daughters who ultimately convinced him that, while he might be president of these United States -- an all-powerful position requiring the wisdom of Solomon and the unbiased judgment of, say, the theoretical Supreme Court, his earlier published views on the subject were about as wrongheaded as it gets.

They talked to him about love and how it works in mysterious ways, and his daughters let him know how much it hurt them that, by his own admission, the best he could come up with was that he was still 'evolving' on that particular issue.

There were many juicy quote-bites one could pull out of that interview, but this one got me right where my heart beats loudest:
"You know, Malia and Sasha, they've got friends whose parents are same-sex couples. And I-- you know, there have been times where Michelle and I have been sittin' around the dinner table. And we've been talkin' and-- about their friends and their parents. And Malia and Sasha would-- it wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently. It doesn't make sense to them. And-- and frankly-- that's the kind of thing that prompts-- a change of perspective. You know, not wanting to somehow explain to your child why somebody should be treated-- differently, when it comes to-- the eyes of the law." 
 Okay, I'm a sucker for a good dad, no matter what kind of house he lives in, so it's understandable why I might latch onto that one particular part of the conversation.  But I watched the entire interview; I watched the body language and listened to the tone of voice.  I saw an everyman wrestling with his ethos, not a politician striving to convince, and I rejoiced.

 But--I'll grant you--it didn't hurt that Joe Biden, our beloved, wacky veep, got to gushing about his own feelings on gay marriage on Sunday's "Meet the Press".  The next day the Washington Post's Dana Milbank called it a "gaffe" (a word that seems to cling to Biden as tightly as his own shadow) and the press took off running.  (Note to Joe:  It's far better to be gaffe-prone than to be mean-prone.  So far, you're okay, man.)
The vice president said he is “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage, committing the classic Washington gaffe of accidentally speaking the truth. This bit of straight talk made Obama’s position — neither for nor against such unions but in an evolutionary state, not unlike the Galapagos finch — all the more untenable. On Monday, Biden took off for a campaign event in Tennessee, leaving Carney on cleanup duty. But the more Carney swabbed the mess, the more it spread. 
I frankly don't get it.  How exactly did Joe Biden's own personal views on gay marriage conflict with anything the president might have said about that same issue?  There is no actual blending of the pair, simply because they're Leaders One and Two.  They aren't contractually obligated to agree personally on all issues.  I didn't see it as "one-upping" the president, I saw it as Biden being Biden.  Especially when he got to the part about "Will and Grace".  (Debra Messing ("Grace") says it's right up there in the top five moments of her life, so you see, it's striking chords everywhere. )

Well, apparently even the president felt that Joe had overstepped "his skis" or some such.  But publicly he's okay with it, and I get the feeling that he, like me, loves old Joe, gaffes and all.  (And who wouldn't?)

Immediately after the Sunday news hours, it was out there, people were talking, and the entire White House had to grind to a halt and address the elephant in the room.  Does the president support gay marriage or doesn't he?  So on Wednesday, President Obama sat down with Good Morning America's Robin Roberts and talked at length about the issue he had so studiously worked to avoid.

Yes, it was calculated and ultimately political, but the essence of it, the way the president chose to address it, was as much heaven to me as it had to be hellish for his political opponents, those so intent on ousting Barack Obama they have no problem casting him as evil incarnate--the devil himself

I saw a man who might finally understand that there are times when it's not only essential but soul-satisfying to separate the thoughts of the person from the decisions of the presidency.  And that "evolution" doesn't work as a handy substitute for equivocation.  And that sometimes political expedience isn't all it's cracked up to be.

My mother was Finnish-Lutheran and my father was Italian-Catholic.  They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary just nine months before my mom died, and they loved each other to the end.  What if the powers-that-be had arbitrarily decided that Finns and Italians couldn't marry?  Or that Lutherans and Catholics couldn't marry?  How different is that from deciding that blacks and whites couldn't marry or that same-sex partners couldn't marry?  They're all consenting adults with the capacity to love one another, and if marriage is the desired tie that binds, it's a sad and sorry law that seeks to outlaw fidelity instead of celebrating it.

I think the president always got that.  He only just now, thanks in part to the women in his life, found the cojones to say it out loud.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Goodness and Mercy and The Charleston Massacre

On Wednesday evening, June 17, a 21-year-old White Supremacist sat for an hour in a prayer meeting with the good people of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and, when the hour was up, opened fire with his .45 caliber Glock.  He slaughtered nine innocent church members for no other reason than that he held such a deep, abiding hatred for blacks he wanted to be the one to kill them.  His goal was to start a race war.

Later, after he was caught, he admitted to the police that the parishioners were so nice to him he almost didn't do it.  It was the twist of the knife for those of us already grieving over his murder victims.  One single second of conscience, one deviant drop of human kindness, and the people who welcomed him into their fold might have been saved.

He deliberately targeted the "Mother Emanuel" African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, a revered historic black church, in service both publicly and secretly since 1822--the oldest of its kind in the south. A landmark. A haven. But if he thought his actions would destroy the church, he was as delusional as he is evil.

After Roof was caught, surviving family members were given the chance to talk to him about their losses, about what he did to them when he took the lives of their loved ones.  Roof stood silently, barely moving, as each one took the microphone.  He must have been expecting the screaming rage I would have felt had he killed one of mine.  He no doubt could have identified with that. But what he got instead was forgiveness.  Merciful forgiveness.

One by one, the mourners, still in shock at what he had done, described to him how they felt, and then, one by one, they offered their forgiveness. Their goodness and mercy finally broke through.  This morning Roof is on suicide watch.  There are reports that he is remorseful.

The pity of it is, it doesn't matter now.  He can't bring back the nine people he murdered, no matter how much he may wish it.  And he'll never be anything but what he is: a vicious racist murderer.  He planned it, lived for the chance to do it, bragged about doing something hurtful to blacks, because he is a white supremacist and white supremacists are honor-bound to act on their hatred toward people of color.

The black community in Charleston is in mourning.  In this country where racism keeps rearing its ugly head, we are grieving, too. We show it in our anger, in our determination to avenge these deaths, in our renewed resolve to do something about guns in this country, in our attempts to force our leaders to call this massacre what it was: a racist hate crime.  But the people closest to the attack are honoring their dead by singing freedom songs, by celebrating the lives of the dead, and by calling for forgiveness. They are the reason this one event, horrific and tragic as it is, will be a catalyst for change.

Just as the September, 1963 bombing of the 16th Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, causing the tragic deaths of four young girls attending a Sunday school class, gave the Rev. Martin Luther King a more authoritative voice and moved the Civil Rights Movement forward, so will this latest attack on innocents bring about the kind of dialogue that demands change.

We can't be distracted by calls for better gun control or more attention to mental illness.  We'll get to them.  For now, the conversation has to stay on racism.  We need to work on eliminating it.  Not just diminishing it or hiding it under the carpet, but eliminating it.

It'll take all of us who care  We have to do it in a way that honors those who have died, and in a way that is satisfactory to the mourners left behind.  We have to do it in such numbers there is no question that those who oppose racism are in the majority.  We have to do it now.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Liberaland)

Friday, June 12, 2015

No More Making Fun of the Iowa Straw Poll. Except This One Last Time

Just got the news that Iowa has decided to dump their traditional GOP fundraiser, their presidential-hopeful-quasi-indicator-of-nothing, their old-fashioned, hilariously awful Iowa Barbecue and Straw Poll .  I thought I would be happy when they finally took my advice and got rid of that thing, but now I feel sad.  I've laughed so much over their shenanigans, I feel the way I do whenever a favorite comedy show bites the dust. Sad, but so glad for the memories.

Here, then, is my memory of the 2011 Iowa Straw Poll festivities, first published the day after the Party's big party. 

There will always be Iowa. . .

Political Tiddly-Winks in Iowa.  The Corn Dog Won

Good God and Lordy, people, is there anything more ludicrous on the political scene than what happens in Iowa whenever the Republicans don't have a Grand Poobah candidate for President?  This year it was a big barbecue in Ames where just under 17,000 people 16 1/2 years old and over got to pay their $30 to "vote" for a candidate and then party afterward.  Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul were the "winners".  And, not surprisingly, the emperor wore no clothes.

The main function of the Iowa Straw Poll is to draw in money for the Republican Party and for the towns in Iowa that hold the straw polls.  That should be enough for those folks, but even given proof of the historical insignificance of the poll and it's non-role in the winning of presidencies, the press falls all over itself to turn it into something it's not now and never will be.  As a political forecaster, it's record is pitiful.  Rarely if ever does the Straw Poll winner win the Iowa Caucus, much less the presidency.  So let's just get over the "importance" of yesterday's vote in Ames, Iowa and have a little fun with it, okay?

Andy Borowitz in the New Yorker:
Calling the results of today’s Iowa straw poll “alarming,” Standard and Poor’s took the unprecedented action of downgrading Iowa’s IQ.

While the effects of such an extraordinary measure are hard to predict, experts say the IQ downgrade could result in Iowans having difficulty completing sentences or operating a television remote.
“This downgrade would be very upsetting to Republicans in Iowa,” said an S & P spokesman.  “Fortunately, there’s no way they’ll understand it.”
 At the Fairgrounds, where the Big Barbecue was going on, Ron Paul had something called the "Prosperity Playground", where you could slide down the "Sliding Dollar" slide and just be a kid again.

Ujala Sehgal writes about it and more in this piece in the Atlantic.  Man, those kids had fun!

The Ames Patch took to judging the candidates' tent sizes. (Link no longer available.)  Thaddeus McCotter's may have been the smallest, at an embarrassing 30x30 feet,  but Tim Pawlenty's took the prize as the largest, at 200 sq. ft. over Michele Bachmann's 10,000 foot air-conditioned whopper.

I'm hearing rumors this morning that Pawlenty is already thinking of dropping out of the race, so I hope he had a great time there in Ames.  Something should come out of all that effort, at least. (News flash:  It's true.  Pawlenty has dropped out.  Of the entire presidential race! All because of the Iowa Straw Poll!  Am I going to have to rethink this whole thing?  Am I just not getting it??)

Okay, I started this out absolutely refusing to even consider including that truly awful, truly obscene un-Photo-Shopped photo of Michele Bachmann deliriously munching a very long corn dog, but I changed my mind.  Here it is:

(NoteChanged my mind again.  I couldn't stand the picture any longer so I took it down.  It's here.  If you're interested.

And here's a bonus.  Marcus Bachmann with that same corn dog.  I WILL NOT comment.  No.  I mustn't.

(NoteDitto the shot of her husband.  It's here.  Go for it.

But I will say this:  What happens in Iowa should have the decency to stay in Iowa.  Really.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Liberaland)

Friday, June 5, 2015

What's Next For Caitlyn Jenner?

Olympic gold medal winner Bruce Jenner, known more recently as the beleaguered stepfather to the Kardashian clan on the reality show, "Keeping up with the Kardashians", has begun the transition to become a woman, choosing "Caitlyn" as her female name.

News of the transition was, let's be honest, mind-boggling.  Some saw it as nothing more than a weird cry for attention.  Jenner was, after all, the odd man out on a reality show based almost solely on sheer vanity.  Female vanity.

I know almost nothing about Bruce Jenner's past history and I've never watched more than 10 minutes of the reality show, but if Jenner says she never felt comfortable as Bruce, I have no reason to doubt it.  It could be that, now, at age 65, the need to be the person she really is became all the more compelling.  As we age we look forward, not back.  We get it that time is running out.  If we're ever going to do the things we've always wanted to do, we should have started yesterday.

It takes guts to open up to the need for a gender change. It means a complete and total make-over, the likes of which most of us can't even imagine. Intensive psychological testing is required, often for years, before the last radical change--genital surgery--takes place. But the transition begins the moment the candidate accepts that their birth gender is not and never has been who they are.

Hormone therapy begins the transition and the results can be startling.  The voice changes, the body begins to transform, the mind gets comfortable with this new person.  But, because they live among other people, and because what's happening will require some explanation, it's the beginning--the coming out--that requires the most courage.  Not everyone will understand.  Some will laugh at such a thought.  Some will be sickened by the whole idea.  Knowing this, many of the mis-gendered will take the steps to change, anyway.  It's hard enough for folks who aren't famous, but, for someone like Jenner, the public transition requires skin as tough as hide.

Caitlyn Jenner is on the cover of this month's Vanity FairBuzz Bissinger wrote the story.  Annie Leibovitz took the photos in a session kept secret until the photos were released just days ago. Jenner has breasts and a sculpted waist.  She has long hair and feminine cheek bones.  She looks like, and is, a beautiful woman.

So why am I troubled by the Vanity Fair feature?  Maybe because I had hoped for a piece that might have celebrated Jenner as a whole woman and not just a sex symbol.  I understand wanting to feel feminine and sexy--even or especially after having to hide that part of you for over six decades.  I'm not suggesting a modest cover-up until the world gets used to the idea.  The part of the world that isn't used to the idea will never get used to the idea.  But am I the only one who saw the cover and immediately thought "Ack! Kardashian"?

I read that Annie Leibovitz was in tears at the end of the photo session.  She wanted to get this most important unveiling right and in the end she felt she nailed it.  Leibovitz is a brilliant photographer and the photos are beautiful.  But there is still, for me, an uneasy feeling that unless Caitlyn moves in another direction her appearance will be all there is.  And it won't be enough.

I was in high school in 1952, when George Jorgensen went public with the news that he had undergone multiple sex-change surgeries in Denmark and was now a woman.  Her new name was Christine.  The New York Daily News cover story was headlined, "Ex-GI Becomes Blond Bombshell". The circus that followed was unrelenting, and the poor woman became the subject of ridicule and outright hatred far beyond what should happen to a person whose life had caused nary a single hurt to another living soul.

It dogged her for the rest of her life.  She wondered at one point if the doctors had made her a woman or a freak, and that line became the headline on a poster advertising the dreadful 1970 movie about her life.  She opted for glamour and was always photographed perfectly dressed, perfectly coiffed, perfectly made up.  Being a woman was her full time job.

But it turned out she was much more than that.  She was a pioneer in transgender awareness and acceptance.  There have always been gender identity issues, but Christine Jorgensen allowed every aspect of her transgenderization to go public, not for titillation but for science.  She wanted people to understand both the need and the process, and there is no doubt that her honest approach opened the doors and made it easier for others to follow.

I began working at the University of Michigan Hospital soon after they opened their first gender clinic in the mid-1970s.  We shared offices for a few months while ours were being renovated and there I met many of the men and women seeking to find their gender fit.  The doctors were heroic mavericks, constantly fighting against both personal and funding threats in order to establish that gender identity is not fixed in stone; that God and/or Mother Nature can get it wrong.  I never saw such longing, such determination, such bravery.

What Caitlyn Jenner needs to understand is that there is more to being a woman than the sum of her outward parts.  True womanhood isn't what is shown on a reality show featuring beautiful creatures obsessed with how they project themselves to a sector obsessed with outward beauty and not much else.

For all intents, and because she says so, Caitlyn Jenner is a woman, but what will she do now?  How will her womanhood manifest itself?  Who will she become now that she knows who she is? 

A reality show is already in the works.  On the trailer, Caitlyn says, "Isn't it great that maybe someday [I'll] be normal?  Just blend into society. . ."  A voice off camera:  "You are normal."  Caitlyn:  "Put it this way:  I'm the new normal."

It's all up to you, Caitlyn.  Now it's up to you.

(Cross-posted at The Broad Side.)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Beau Biden: What Might Have Been

I awoke yesterday to the news that Beau Biden has lost his battle with brain cancer.  The pain I felt, even though I didn't know Beau Biden personally, was a visceral as if I had lost a dear friend.  It's no secret that I adore his father, Joe, and much of what I'm feeling, I'm feeling for him.  (I wrote about him here.)  The grief, the sorrow, must be awful.  He lost his first wife and his small daughter in a tragic car-truck accident, and nearly lost Beau and his brother, Hunter. He should not have to endure another loss of a beloved child.

I grieve for Beau's family--his wife, his two daughters. A good man, loved by many, is dead at age 46.   But I've been thinking about this:  I grieve for all of us. We've lost a man who, under the right circumstances, might well have risen through the political ranks and helped to bring goodness and mercy to our besieged land.

He saw combat in Iraq.  He was a JAG lawyer.  He played it fair in every aspect of his life, and, as far as I know, never sought to harm anyone.

In 2011 he gave a speech to the law school graduating class at his alma mater, Syracuse University.  He titled it,  "The Means Matter".  In it, he said this:
Nearly ten years ago, an assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice wrote a now famous memo that defended his client’s desire to use ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ as the means to achieve an end that was indisputably important.

At [the] same time, military lawyers (jags)—those who not only know our interrogators but also know the American troops who could one day be interrogated by the enemy—disagreed with their client’s desired means and wrote a strong repudiation of these techniques.

Together, these two legal opinions, from very smart and patriotic lawyers, form an excellent lesson: it is exactly when the stakes are the highest that the means matter most.

Or, as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, himself a military lawyer said at the time, ‘That there are certain corners you cannot afford to cut because you will wind up meeting yourself.’

The question of ends versus means is presented all the time in the practice of law. When the world thinks of lawyers, not everyone thinks of Atticus Finch, but they should. We want counselors who fight for what’s ‘right,’ but we live in a culture where lawyers too often fight for what the client demands, and the more powerful the client the more compelling the demand. Our ability to rationalize cannot be underestimated.

As Senator Graham, and the military lawyers know, if the rules are not clear, a slope has been oiled. And when slopes are oiled, you can only ride them in one direction. Do not rationalize.

He was on his way and he was on our side, and now he's gone. My hope is that we'll remember him as a true public servant--a hero for the working class, for the disadvantaged, for the misunderstood, for the people he spent his short life working to protect--and keep his legacy alive.
"That was the most striking thing about him. He was just innately kind. He had a complete aversion to ever hurting anyone's feelings," said Terry Wright, who worked for Joe Biden as a special assistant and has known Beau since 1982. "Politics is a rough business and Beau just never wanted to hurt people's feelings.
Rest in peace, dear man.  May your goodness shine on.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Liberaland)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Breaking (Old) News: Bush and Cheney Lied us into Iraq.

In a startling conversation on Tuesday--three days ago by my calendar, not that you would know it by the mainstream media coverage--Chris Matthews, bless his passionate, irritating bulldoggedness, pulled the truth out of Michael Morell, George Bush's CIA intelligence briefer during the lead-up to the Iraq war: the Bush White House lied about WMDs in order to get us into a war with Iraq.

It was not bad intelligence, as every Republican alive in Washington--and some Democrats--still keep repeating. The intelligence that there were no WMDs was, in fact, presented to the decision-makers, and the decision-makers--Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld,Wolfowitz, Rice, and so on--lied and said their experts were telling them otherwise. That was in 2003.  This is 2015.  For 12 years most of the people in the loop who know the truth have kept it hidden.  They've said nothing.

There are exceptions:  Richard Clarke, GWB's former counterterrorism coordinator, appeared on PBS' Frontline in 2006 and, in an interview riddled with bombshells, dropped this one, which, along with the others, sadly but predictably didn't detonate:
"Yes, the intelligence community made mistakes in erring in the direction of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. But the president, the vice president, the national security adviser, they went a lot further in their public remarks than the intelligence analysis had gone.
There's nowhere in the intelligence analysis that says there's imminent threat and that we have to do something right away. Yet the president, the vice president, the national security adviser all tell the public, tell the Congress: 'Got to act right away! Something's about to happen!'"
In that same interview he said this:
"I remember vividly, in the driveway outside of the West Wing, Scooter Libby, from the vice president's office, grabbing me and saying, 'I hear you don't believe this report that Mohamed Atta was talking to Iraqi people in Prague.' I said, 'I don't believe it because it's not true.' And he said: 'You're wrong. You know you're wrong. Go back and find out; look at the rest of the reports, and find out that you're wrong.' I understood what he was saying, which was: 'This is a report that we want to believe, and stop saying it's not true. It's a real problem for the vice president's office that you, the counterterrorism coordinator, are walking around saying that this isn't a true report. Shut up!' That's what I was being told."
Immediately afterward, the White House attack machines went after Richard Clarke, trying to make him out to be the liar and not the other way around.  Poor Richard. He's still trying to tell the truth about what he and others knew then, but preaching to the choir has its limitations.  A whole lot of tsk-tsking goes on but nothing really gets done. The Bush/Cheney gang still runs free.  Cheney, the man we'll always believe was the oily kingpin behind the whole operation, is so unafraid of consequences he still rambles on publicly about the benefits of torture against our supposed enemies.

Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's right-hand-man during his tenure as Secretary of State, rails against the Iraq warmongers every chance he gets, admitting that both he and Powell got sucked in by them, but he stops just short of calling the misinformation falsehoods.
"It's a mess, to be sure," Wilkerson says, "a mess we largely created -- 'we' being George Bush and Dick Cheney and all their minions, myself and Powell included, however reluctantly. I'm fairly certain that no one knows now how to extricate us from that mess. So, most do not want to have that ignorance exposed."

They were lies, Larry.  Lies.

Why Michael Morell decided to play Hardball with Matthews (besides hawking his new book) is something only Morell knows, but once he got there it was Katie bar the door! Matthews was gunning for him.  From David Corn in Mother Jones:
MATTHEWS: So you're briefing the president on the reasons for war, they're selling the war, using your stuff, saying you made that case when you didn't. So they're using your credibility to make the case for war dishonestly, as you just admitted.
MORELL: Look, I'm just telling you—
MATTHEWS: You just admitted it.
MORELL: I'm just telling you what we said—
MATTHEWS: They gave a false presentation of what you said to them.
MORELL: On some aspects. On some aspects.
"That's a big deal," Matthews exclaimed. Morell replied, "It's a big deal."

Soon after the attack on 9/11 the White House began diverting our attention from Afghanistan to Iraq.  It was such a crazy idea nobody believed anything would ever come of it.  The craziest part was that the press--the guardians of truth, the defenders of liberty--walked away from their duties and went AWOL. 

It wasn't because the hawks were itching to get into battle--the war against Al Qaeda was legitimate; it was justified. We as a nation knew who the enemy was.  We understood the need.  We never intended to send our sons and daughters to a battleground that didn't involve a real enemy, yet we did just that, and nearly 4500 of them didn't come home.  Another 32,000 suffered injuries; lost their limbs, their eyes, and, too often, the part of them that allows them peace.

As Andy Borowitz said yesterday on his Facebook page, "No one could have known that invading Iraq would be a disaster, unless you count the millions of people who protested against it."  Our protests were ignored.  That war was an unnecessary disaster and we know who to blame, but the time for inquiries is apparently over.  There are no planned hearings on the responsibility for the Iraq War, even though we're faced every day with the consequences of a murderous, trillion-dollar war built on lies.

Contrast that with the Republicans' need to know what happened in Benghazi, when our embassy was attacked and four Americans were killed under then-Secretary-of-State Hillary Clinton's watch. So far the Republicans have held 13 hearings, 50 briefings, and have produced 25,000 document pages on the events surrounding the attack.  The blame rests on Clinton's shoulders and to their minds she has much to answer for.  She'll be required to answer to them at least until November, 2016, when the next presidential election is held.  If she wins that election, she'll be required to answer for Benghazi until 2020, assuming she'll decide to run again.  If she wins that election, Benghazi will be her ball and chain until Hell freezes over.

But Dick Cheney and George W. Bush have nothing to fear, nothing to answer for.  Dick Cheney can appear on dozens of political programs and slake his thirst for war and profit, his hatred for our current president, his disdain for Democrats in general, without a care in the world about the misery his own recklessness has caused.

A furious Chris Matthews left Michael Morell with this thought:
Let me explain to you my position as an American. and why this infuriates me.  I knew people in this business who were very objective people who finally went for the war--and we were arguing about it here--because they believed Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons. And you couldn't argue with that once you believed that this final piece of the sales pitch is what did it.  And to know, and now hear it from you, that that wasn't based on fact or any evidence or any intel--that it was just made up--that's the case for why I'm so angry about that war. . . I think we got talked into a war by people who weren't being honest.
We didn't get talked into that war, Chris  We knew all along it was a dishonest pitch made by dishonest people. Those who could have done something at the time didn't fight hard enough to stop them. Without the press, without members of congress, without the movers and shakers, the millions of us who protested were whispering in the wind.  There is plenty of blame to go around but the blame lies squarely on George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

The least we can do for the Iraq war casualties, both foreign and domestic, is to keep this alive:  We went into a war based on deliberate lies. The perpetrators walk among us without fear, but we know.  We can't forget.  We won't forget.

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

Thursday, May 14, 2015

William Zinsser: Writing Well Is The Best Legacy

I came to what I call professional writing fairly late.  I didn't take it seriously until real life eased enough for me to give some attention to what I might want to do with the rest of my days.
After dabbling in every artistic expression of my day--needlework, crochet, macrame, pottery, ceramics, drawing in charcoal and pastels, painting in oils, acrylics, and watercolor--none of which I did well--I finally realized that my early love, writing, was the creative outlet I had been looking for all along.
I joined a local writing group and there I found William Zinsser, their anointed guru.  They couldn't stop talking about his book, On Writing Well.  It was their bible and I, more interested in hamper-free, no-rules writing, was having none of it.  I didn't want to be told how to write, I wanted to be told I wrote well, even when I didn't.  That was the whole point of joining a writing group.  Or so I thought at the time.
Zinsser, when I finally opened up to him, taught me otherwise.  Good writing takes skill.  There is no easy way to acquire it and the sooner the novice realizes it, the easier it is to look at the beginnings as school--lessons, grades, apprenticeships.  And then you go to work, where you find that you don't know everything after all, and that, as in any other profession, the learning never stops.
I'm still a dummy when it comes to grammar and sentence structure.  I'm always imagining the "Oh, God, no" reactions from the more knowledgeable people who take on the task of reading what I write.  I don't always get it--what can I say?  But William Zinsser gave me the reasons to write. Yes, he was a stickler for grammar and sentence structure, but his main focus was not so much on doing it right as on doing it well.
In honor of his life and skills, in sadness at his passing, here are a few passages from "On Writing Well" (Fifth Edition):
Trust your material if it's taking you into unknown terrain you didn't intend to enter but the vibrations are good.  Adjust your style and your mood accordingly and proceed to whatever destination you reach.  Don't ever become the prisoner of a preconceived plan.  Writing is no respecter of blueprints--it's too subjective a process, too full of surprises.
Writing is hard work.  A clear sentence is no accident.  Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time.  Remember this in moments of despair.  If you find that writing is hard, it's because it is hard.  It's one of the hardest things people do.
The good writer of prose must be part poet, always listening to what he writes.  E.B White continues to be my favorite stylist because I'm conscious of being with a man who cares about the cadences and sonorities of the language.  I relish (in my ear) the pattern his words make as they fall into a sentence.  I try to surmise how in rewriting the sentence he reassembled it to the end with a phrase that will momentarily linger, or how he chose one word over another because he was after a certain emotional weight.  It's the difference between say, "serene" and "tranquil"--one so soft, the other strangely disturbing because of the unusual n and q
Writing is not a contest.  Every writer is starting from a different point and is bound for a different destination. Yet many writers are paralyzed by the thought that they are competing with everyone else who is trying to write and presumably doing it better.
Decide what you want to do.  Then decide to do it.  Then do it.
Mr. Zinsser, I wish I had said this before, but you'll understand if I feel the need to say it now.
Thank you. It didn't always take (living proof), but you gave it your best.  You never stopped trying.  And that's what counts.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sarah Palin: Out. Carly Fiorina: In

In 2007, the story goes, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and a few GOP movers and shakers went on a cruise to Alaska  and met a certain Sarah Palin, then-governor of that great state.  It's safe to say she knocked Kristol's socks off (and his head cockeyed, though he didn't know it at the time).

The word is that Kristol fell head over heels--as much as a Republican operative can--for the sassy, smart-assy former cheerleader and did a little cheer-leading of his own.  This woman, he told anyone who would listen, will be the next Vice President of the United States!  It seemed a simple matter (maybe not to you and me. . .) and somehow they convinced John McCain, the then-presidential candidate, that if a woman would be a good choice, this woman would be spectacular!

And so it went.  McCain didn't become president and Palin didn't become vice-president, but that didn't mean Sarah Palin would just fade away.  No, indeedy.  She's still around, still giving rah-rah speeches, still going for the anti-liberal, anti-Obama laughs.  But nobody is looking to her to be the first female to sit behind the Oval Office desk.  Not anymore.  She has a semi-permanent role as the gal who dishes the diss and keeps 'em rolling in the aisles.  She never wanted to be a politician anyway.  No big bucks in it and besides that, it's work!  (For further discussion, see Game Change.)

For several years post-Palin, there were no other GOP women who showed even the slightest interest in running the country. Then along comes Carly Fiorina, with no political experience save for a couple of CPAC appearances, and it's look out, Hillary!

Carly's best CPAC line about the former U.S Secretary of State:
"Like Hillary Clinton, I too have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe, but unlike her, I have actually accomplished something. Mrs. Clinton, flying is not an accomplishment, it’s an activity. I have met Vladimir Putin and know that it will take more to halt his ambitions than a gimmicky red ‘Reset’ button."

I love watching Carly Fiorina put on her haughty face, purse her lemony lips and smile her regal smile.  I love the "air quotes" thing.  I love it when she uses her I-mean-business voice to tell us why she would make the best president of the United States of Corporate America.

 Carly has given a lot of thought to what works best when a woman goes after the highest job in the land.  First of all, forget she's a woman.  Well, not totally.  It would be cool to be the first woman president!  If you must, think tough hard-knocks broad who can slam-bang with the best of them.Take no prisoners!  Get it done!  Enough with those liberals!  They'll be the ruination of us all! (Carly to her cohorts:  Honestly, don't they want us to own this country?)

Consider her thoughts on the California drought crisis:
Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett Packard CEO, failed 2010 GOP nominee for U.S. Senate, and friend of the fossil fuel industry. . .who is considering a presidential bid, told Glenn Beck that the California drought is a “man-made disaster.” And by man-made she means it has been caused by “liberal environmentalists” who have prevented the state from building the appropriate reservoirs and other water infrastructure.
“In California, fish and frogs and flies are really important,” she said. ” … California is a classic case of liberals being willing to sacrifice other people’s lives and livelihoods at the altar of their ideology.
Says the same presidential candidate who called off-shoring "right-shoring"; the same candidate who bragged about moving parts of Hewlett-Packard out of the country in order to avoid having to pay high taxes here; the same candidate who micromanaged the lay-offs of some 30,000 workers, sending most of their jobs overseas, labeling the move "streamlining".  The same candidate who was fired from said job for questionable practices and for losing the company, and thus the stockholders, tons of money.  ("Not so," says Carly.  But who you gonna trust?)

Carly is all business.  She sees that as a good thing.  Our political system is too full of politicians, she says.  What we need is a female president who understands management, who understands technology.  Carly says she does. (She's against net neutrality--something 80% of Americans are for.) What we need, she says, is a female president who isn't Hillary Clinton.  Don't get Carly wrong; Hillary has given her life to her work. She's just. . .

  "Hillary Clinton must not be president of the United States, but not because she's a woman. Hillary Clinton must not be president of the United States because she is not trustworthy."



But, aside from building businesses by quashing government interference, what does Carly have in mind for her presidency, should she, um, win?  I think she's probably pretty smart.  (That's a plus when you want to be president, but it's not a qualification written in stone.) I'm pretty sure she knows she won't just be the CEO of a company, she'll be the CEO of the whole damn United States.  Of America.  That's--count 'em--50 states.  Big ones.  Lots of people. 

She must have thought beyond just being the anti-Hillary, as she's depicted (and as she no doubt relishes), but has she thought beyond being the CEO? There is a whole contingency (almost everybody) who think Carly made a lousy CEO while at HP, but Carly isn't one of them.

In her announcement video, she makes no mention of her qualifications (showing she has a sweet side), and to her credit she left out the Demon Sheep. (She lost to California Senator Barbara Boxer in 2010--by 10 points--thereby giving rise to the notion that it might take more than a phony red-eyed sheep to pull the wool over some peoples' eyes.)  But Carly thought the sheep ad was a good one.  "Some people thought it was funny," she said.

Well,  yeah, we all thought it was funny.  But was it wise?

But never mind. Carly says it might have looked like she lost big time but, in fact, she only slightly lost because in the primaries she outshone every other GOP hopeful.  She won the primary.  She WON.  The primary.)

Despite the high marks she gives herself, Carly Fiorina will not be the next president of the United States.  Carly knows that as well as I do, but what I'm seeing from Carly is a much bigger ambition:  She really, truly wants to knock that ditzy Sarah Palin off her high horse, climb onto that bejeweled saddle, and be The Witty Smart Spokeswoman for The New GOP.

Good luck with that, Carly.  But hang around for awhile, won't you, honey?  Strictly for laughs, of course.  You make it hard for us to take you seriously.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog, Liberaland, and FreakOutNation. Featured at Crooks and Liars MBRU)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

No Excuses: Angry Thugs and Looters are Still Thugs and Looters

I know you might hate this, but I'm going to do it anyway.  I'm going to write this as a mother, as a grandmother, as a card-carrying citizen of the United States, as a goddamned human being.

I'm white, but if you dare hold that against me you're no better than those who hold color against anyone.  We're going to talk about those stupid vandals who rampaged through their own Baltimore neighborhood the night before last, looting, burning, destroying nearly everything in sight.  They were black kids and they used the funeral of a young black man as an excuse to raise so much hell we'll be adding Baltimore once again to the list of the worst riots in the U.S.

So far, as of this writing, there have been no reported deaths--thank the light above for small favors.  But vicious, creepy thugs willfully savaged an entire neighborhood, and I submit the only thing poor Freddie Gray's funeral had to do with it was opportunity.  It was their big chance to blaze their way in, using righteous protest as a flimsy excuse to riot.

Rumor has it that they were mainly teenagers, that they used social media to get the word out, that a movie fueled their fervor for vengeance.  There are reports that the police themselves showed up at the school campus in riot gear and wouldn't let the kids get to their buses to go home.  They went to the neighborhood instead.

Some of the people who have lived through the cop-on-black violence in West Baltimore abhorred the rioting but tried to find ways to explain it beyond simple vandalism.  TaNehisi Coates knows the area and the police activities well.  He writes:
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is "correct" or "wise," any more than a forest fire can be "correct" or "wise." Wisdom isn't the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.
 But it wasn't just the police and the politicians pleading for nonviolence.  Freddie Gray's family begged for it.  The preachers in the community prayed for it.  Neighborhood families hoped against hope for it.

If the thugs had stuck with setting police cars afire, with throwing bricks at police officers, I might have understood, but still not condoned, that kind of disrespect.  They see the police as the enemy. But they didn't stop there.  They didn't even start there.  Their intent was to riot.  To disrespect the community.

 For 48 hours, since the riot began, we've heard non-stop talk about the reasons why.  I won't go into all of them, except to say that the Baltimore police are known pigs who seem to thrive on punishing black people, and Freddie Gray, the young man who didn't deserve to die at their hands, did die at their hands.  Horribly.  They broke his spine, curled him up into a ball and stuffed him into their paddy wagon.  They ignored his need for immediate medical care. He died in their care and nobody but him has so far paid the price.

If I lived in that neighborhood and knew what I knew about the police and about this case and about the hundreds of other cases where justice was as cruelly denied, I would want someone's hide.  Not literally, of course, but I would want retribution.  I would want somebody to pay.  I would protest.  Loudly.  I would not shut up.  I would be just like the thousands of people in that neighborhood who finally have had enough and want something done now. But I, along with those thousands of others, would have respected Freddie Gray's grieving family enough to grant their wish for peaceful protest.

Freddie Gray's funeral sparked the riots, even though his parents and his twin sister begged for peace.  Begged for it.  Said it out loud many times:  "Please.  No violence.  Please."

But within hours of Freddie's funeral the mourners' remembrances of the slain young man took a back seat to the nightmarish witnessing of a full-blown incendiary riot.

The rioters (do not call them protesters) busted out windows and doors of small businesses, made off with the goods inside, and looted and vandalized a CVS drug store.  They commandeered a police car, severely injured the occupants, and set the car on fire. They rampaged through a liquor store and a check-cashing store. The CVS went up in flames. More cars burned. Then more buildings. Through the night, fires roared.

And--get this--when the fire truck arrived to put out the fires in this neighborhood where families live, one of the punks pulled out a knife and spiked the hose. Twice. The water meant to put out the fire spewed like a swell fountain into the air, far from its directed target.  I'm guessing the punks around him thought it was pretty cool, too.  Nobody--I mean nobody--said, "Uh, not the fire hoses, idiot."

Yesterday the community came together to clean up their streets.  Mothers, fathers, small children.  The elders.  They're trying to put their lives back together again. They're heartbroken.  They're ashamed.  They're angry.  They know how this will look.  NBC news correspondent Rehema Elllis reported that she saw women standing in front of the burned-out CVS store weeping--weeping--because they spent years trying to get a pharmacy to put down roots in their neighborhood. What are the odds that CVS--or any pharmacy--will build there again?

This is the harm that riots do.  Riots aren't protests. There is no good outcome from riots.  They're remembered into eternity as the crazed response to a bad situation, and when it happens in a black community it's the black community that has to answer for it.  The thugs, the vandals, the looters need to get that message.  Making excuses for their criminal behavior doesn't just let them off the hook, it gives them license to keep their destructive anger alive.

Toya Graham, the mother who whupped her son in front of the cameras yesterday to keep him from joining the looters showed us the way well-placed anger wins the day. Her raw desperation, hard as it is to watch, is about as heroic as it gets.
"'That's my only son and at the end of the day I don't want him to be a Freddie Gray'. . .
 'Graham says after she got her son home they both watched news coverage of the demonstrations and riots on television. As images of her reaction started to go viral, Graham says comments started appearing on her son's Facebook page, many in support of her.
'Friends and everybody making comments and saying you know, you shouldn't be mad at your mother, you should give her a hug,' said Graham.  [She] hopes the incident will serve as a teachable moment for her son."

Thugs will be thugs and to hell with them.  They almost destroyed this community.  Almost.  But the beauty of it, if there is such a thing, is that the people who live there aren't about to let them.  If something positive finally gets done in the community of West Baltimore, don't thank the rioters, thank the people in the neighborhoods who, in spite of the destruction, choose to rise from the ashes and work to build anew.

Addendum 4/30/15.  Since I published this yesterday I'm getting all kinds of flak about the use of the word "thug".  Yes, I must be living in a cave because I had no idea that word was now seen as some sort of code word for "black".  "Thug" is a word that has been around for over a century and is used appropriately to describe troublemakers.  There has never been a hint of color attached to it that I know of, and it's not my intent--or the President's, I'm sure--to offend anybody but the looters.

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

Sunday, April 12, 2015

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

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

Now I'm back.

So. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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