Saturday, January 24, 2015

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

van·dal
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)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

John Kennedy's Death And How It Changed Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Monday, November 10, 2014

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

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

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

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

But, okay. 

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, October 27, 2014

On The Internet Mean Streets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Saturday, October 4, 2014

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


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

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

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

Can we stop doing that?  Please?    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, September 22, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

Okay, we'll move on now.

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

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

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

_______________________

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