Thursday, January 31, 2013

Gabby Giffords Spoke and Some of Us Listened

Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords appeared at the Senate judiciary hearing on gun violence yesterday to try and convince lawmakers that we have a major problem with guns in this country and gun control must be addressed.  This is what she said, in its entirety:
"Thank you for inviting me here today. This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats, and Republicans.  Speaking is difficult but I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying - too many children. We must do something. It will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be Courageous. Americans are counting on you. Thank you."
 Seventy two words.  Most people could say what Gabby said in about 30 seconds (I timed myself doing it.  Thirty two seconds.)  But because Gabby was shot in the head two years ago in Tucson by an assassin who killed six people, including a Federal judge and a nine-year-old girl, and injured 16 others, giving that 72-word speech required hours of rehearsal so that every word would come out exactly the way she hoped it would. 

This is how Gabby looked and sounded when she spoke at that hearing.

I watched that video at least eight times yesterday and I'll watch it again and again, and then again.  I wish I could tell Gabby that it doesn't matter if Wayne LaPierre, the NRA, or the committee members planning to vote against any new gun laws were moved by her words and her efforts to speak them.  What matters is that she did it. It was hard but she did it, and she did it for us. Not for them.

She showed us what courage is all about, but beyond that, she reminded us of the realities behind a single act of gun violence--the long haul to recover, the probability that full recovery is not possible, the willingness to overcome the nightmarish horror and the anguished aftermath and move on.

I put her words and her video on my page not simply because I admire her so completely--I do--but to remind me that the way we fight for something as obvious as universal background checks and total banning of assault weapons is to never claim victimhood.

We just get out there and work to get this thing fixed.

Because NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, also invited to testify at the hearing, is neither a victim nor a hero.  He is a paid shill for an industry that pushes its weight around in order to keep producing and selling military-style weapons designed solely to kill or maim human beings.

And because the millions of pawns who follow the NRA and help to spread the lies about Second Amendment protections need to see what courage in the face of that kind of opposition to common sense gun laws looks like.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Nothing You can do when You need the Job

Workers are repairing the facade of the building where we rent our winter apartment.  They started on the 17th floor on January 2 and today they've finally made it to the fourth floor, and right now they're drilling and chiseling and scraping away the old finish right outside the window next to my desk.

We've gotten to know them over the days we've been here and they're funny and polite and happy and at least two of them have pretty good voices when they sing.  I don't want to think like this but I'm way south of the Mason-Dixon line, so here goes:  Even though they're white, I'm reminded of the old plantation slaves.  Not because they're funny and polite and happy and can sing -- no, that would be stereotyping -- but because my husband just came in, spitting with rage, to tell me that they're working out there in the cold (and in the heat when it's hot), on a swaying scaffold, working a 79 1/2-hour work week, and they're getting no overtime.

It started like this:  My husband went out to kibitz and said, joking, "Don't you guys ever have a day off?"  (Because this has been going on non-stop every day since we got here, including Saturdays and Sundays)  And one of the guys said, "Ha!  You got it! I worked 79 1/2 hours last week."  And my husband, joking, said, "Wow, you better be getting some good overtime."

And the guy looks at him like he's from Michigan or something (the old Michigan, not this new one), and says, "There's no overtime."

And my husband says, not joking now, "They can't do that.  It's against the law.  You're entitled to overtime if you work more than 40 hours, and they could get in big trouble if they don't give it to you."

And one of them says, "Yeah, we know. But if we complain we could lose our jobs."

So that's that.  They're out there singing.  And I'm writing this on the dining room table because I can't think in there with all the noise.  And it turns out I can't think out here, either, because, try as I might, I don't know what I'm supposed to say now.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hillary Clinton takes those mugs on and wins! (So what's new?)

So yesterday was the day Hillary Clinton finally testified on the Benghazi tragedy at hearings in both the House and the Senate.  The Republicans have been after her for months now to get it done, but things happened, including Influenza and her fall and subsequent hospitalization for a concussion in late December. (A clear stall, wicked lady. Hmmpph!)

No surprise, was it, that if the Republicans pushed that hard to get her on the stand, it would be theater less like Shakespeare's Globe and more like Gonzo Gaiety.  Satisfying, isn't it, that they didn't disappoint?

I don't know about you, but they far exceeded my expectations.  Those rascals did what they set out to do and the results were pretty much as predicted (by some of us.  Yea, verily, most of us).  Hillary the Indomitable chewed them up and spit them out, one by one.  I watched in horrified awe as they each entered the arena--impatient, it seemed, to become her next victim.  What were they thinking?

Kentucky's whippersnapper-in-residence, Rand Paul, probably couldn't know that lecturing in slow-drawl ("I'm glad that you're accepting responsibility. I think ultimately with your leaving that you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11. And I really mean that"), was about as effective as my then-six-year-old assuming some sense of superiority by shouting, "I hate you!"

He must not have been looking at Hillary when he said it, because, already oblivious to his own sense of proportion when it comes to tragedies (Really, Randy? 'The worst tragedy since 9/11'?? Let's just look.), he went on:  "Had I been president and found you did not read the cables from Benghazi and from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post. I think it's inexcusable."

Well, now, sonny, you'd best get hold of yourself.  "Inexcusable" is a mighty strong word.  It's been known to come back 'round and bite a busy body in the ass.

Ron Johnson, Republican senator from Wisconsin, harped on and on about the initial protest reports until Hillary forcefully reminded him, "With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk that night who decided to kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator."

(Johnson the senator later told a radio host, "It was theatrics.  She didn't want to answer questions so she makes a big show of it.")

Later, John McCain tells Hillary her answers are "unsatisfactory" and then goes back to questioning why the State Department called the attacks "a protest" way back in September when it turns out they weren't.  (Note to John:  See Hillary's answer to your good friend and colleague, Ron Johnson, above. Now get outta here.)

These hearings were not set up to get answers to the Benghazi raid, they were set up to get Hillary.  Everybody inside and outside those rooms knew that--the Republicans bent on bullying her; the Democratic Greek Chorus determined to defend her, the millions of watchers hoping to see a catfight.

Everybody got what they wanted.

And in the end Hillary took the blame, told the truth and won the day.  Because she's Hillary and they're so not.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog, as always.)

Monday, January 21, 2013

On this Second Inauguration: Our Chance to Hope Again

Monday, January 21, 2013 - 7 AM:
As I'm about to begin the fifth year of my blog on this morning of Barack Obama's second Inauguration (held on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's birth, a most appropriate and fitting confluence), I feel I should write something so powerful, so moving, so wise, nothing anyone ever writes about this day will even come close.

But anyone who regularly reads my blog knows that's probably not going to happen.  What I plan to do on this most auspicious day is to record the small stuff and leave the big stuff to the writerly biggies.  This will be a happy post, since this is a happy day for me.  (If even reading those few words sends the heat rising to the top of your head and you're threatening to blow, well, buh bye.  We'll talk again some time.)

(7:10 AM:  Joe Scarborough just said, "I don't want to be known as the conservative party or the moderate party, I just don't want to be known as the stupid party".  A delicious example of Joe's inability to speak in sentences that don't include the word "I", making the whole sentence double-funny. Nothing to do with today's festivities, just an aside.  We'll move on.)

I can barely conjure up how I felt on the day of Obama's first Inauguration, but I can go back and read that first blog post and there it is.  I can go back to the second and the third and the fourth anniversaries of that big day as well to see how I felt each time it rolled around.

And today, after more than a year of much wringing of hands, going between high hilarity (the Republican presidential candidates, one and all) to My God, Romney/Ryan could win and ruin everything, my president, Barack Obama, is about to re-enact the official swearing-in as the next and current president of the United States. (Re-enacted because January 20 fell on a Sunday this year and apparently we're not allowed to inaugurate on the Sabbath. But the president has to be sworn in on January 20, no matter what, so Chief Justice Roberts did the honors yesterday in a private ceremony (except for the cameras) and today it's being repeated at the Big HooHaw, anti-climactic as it might seem to the purists--who probably aren't going to be pleased about anything today, anyway.)

And, of course, there's Joe Biden--the icing on the cake.  Four more years of Joe--could I get more giddy?

11:50 AM.  Barack Obama has just taken the oath of office again and now he is giving his inaugural address.

12:12 PM.  I am moved to tears.   It was a speech to remember.

And now I'm weeping again, as Kelly Clarkson sings "My Country Tis of Thee."

And again, as Richard Blanco reads his splendid poem, "One Today".

And Beyonce sings the National Anthem. . .

And now the benediction by Pastor Luis Leon.  A perfect bookend to Medgar Evers' widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams' Invocation.

(Okay, before you ask. . .I, the professed heathen, have no real problem with invocations and benedictions at government functions.  I may not understand the necessity, but I'm pretty sure a couple of simple prayers is not going to be enough to turn the government theocratic. )

And after an hour or so, it's done.  We have a president (and a vice president) for four more years.  In my case, I have the president (and the vice president) I wanted to have, but because we have elections that aren't completely off the wall there are some people who can't say that.  I've been there before and now I'm not. That means I'm happier than they are today, but never fear--if I live long enough, they will have their turn.  (Not that they'll deserve it, damn them.  Smiley face)

3:55 PM.  The president and the First Lady have made their stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue and are now back in their limousine, and I have to admit, I'm relieved.  I've never seen so many Secret Service agents in one place.  I'm sure there were sharpshooters stationed up on the roofs.  (I wish it weren't so, but in these times, with this president, we have reason to worry.)

We'll have four more years to debate the good and the bad of this presidency.  Time enough to start it up in the days to come.  I reserve today for celebration.  And tomorrow and tomorrow.

I'm that happy. 
 It is now our generation's task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm. 

President Barack Obama, Inaugural speech, January 21, 2013.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog, as always)

Monday, January 14, 2013

NRA "disappointed" in White House visit. Current Occupants refuse to Budge. Could get Ugly

For weeks now, since the tragic murders of 20 sweet children and six dedicated educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, (one month ago today, and that is some sad anniversary) we've been in the middle of some serious, long overdue gun control arguments.  The gun nuts see any form of gun control as "an infringement of their right to bear arms". (Oh my God, I can barely type that one more time. It's so stupid.  Even in quotes, it's stupid.  But I must go on.)

The others, those who understand the need for gun control--gun owners and non-owners alike--are the ones who aren't nuts. (Just so we're clear.)  But then we have the NRA.  The National Rifle Association.  The organization that began life in the 1870's as a mainstream group dedicated to conservation, aligning themselves with hunters and marksmen and Boy Scouts, fagawdsake.

Nobody remembers that old NRA, and nobody's happier about that than the new NRA. That old bunch were pansies compared to this new bunch.  Now it's not so much about puny single-shot, short range rifles and self-protection pistols as it is about end-of-the-world weapons and beyond--those big guns necessary to overthrow a rogue government when the time comes. (And apparently it can't come soon enough.)

The evolution of the NRA from a friendly sportsman's club to staunch supporter of weaponry worthy of Armageddon is recounted in a chilling, eye-opening  Washington Post article titled, "How NRA's true believers converted a marksmanship group into a might gun lobby",written by, and ,

One small part (my emphasis):
After years of lobbying by the NRA, Congress passed the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, which, among other gun-friendly provisions, eased restrictions on interstate sales of firearms and expressly prohibited the federal government from creating a database of gun ownership.
A huge NRA triumph, the media declared. Some lawmakers said off the record that they would have voted against the act but feared retaliation from the gun lobby. And yet the Second Amendment fundamentalists were furious. The NRA endorsed the act even though it included a last-minute amendment pushed by gun-control advocates that further tightened the restrictions on machine guns.
So today's NRA has positioned itself as the go-to authority on all things that shoot but are only harmful if they do actual bodily harm.  It's not the fault of the weapons, it's the fault of the bad guys (or even the good guys) who get hold of them and use them in a dangerous manner--namely by pulling the triggers.

Then, of course, there's that whole fuzzy Second Amendment thing, made ever so much clearer when the Supreme Court declared the words "well-regulated" and "militia" just so much filler on the way to giving individual citizens carte blanche to own any weapon ever manufactured in this country or elsewhere, and to buy ammunition for said any weapon known to man, and to do it without having to give up even a smidgeon of privacy by having to divulge names and addresses .  (This was the very same Supreme Court majority that gave corporations the right to be ordinary people if it meant they could screw the rest of us and make piles of money doing it.)

So in the aftermath of the school shootings, the White House decided it would be a good idea to attempt to make nice with the NRA, considering how much more powerful they are than the people calling for some semblance of gun control sanity.  They called on good old Joe Biden to meet with the mighty NRA and a handful of lesser gun groups, thinking (I'm guessing) that good old Joe could maybe talk the talk without having to, you know, walk the walk.

Lord knows what went on behind closed doors, but when the Gun Guys ("gun ban activists" they like to call themselves) came out and said they were "disappointed" in the meeting, I went on such a cheering jag. . .

Joe, bless his heart, didn't cave.  He thought the meeting was "productive." (Ouch)  He said something will be done. (Oouuch)  And the NRA is not happy.

Their full statement:
The National Rifle Association of America is made up of over 4 million moms and dads, daughters and sons, who are involved in the national conversation about how to prevent a tragedy like Newtown from ever happening again. We attended today's White House meeting to discuss how to keep our children safe and were prepared to have a meaningful conversation about school safety, mental health issues, the marketing of violence to our kids and the collapse of federal prosecutions of violent criminals.
We were disappointed with how little this meeting had to do with keeping our children safe and how much it had to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment. While claiming that no policy proposals would be "prejudged," this Task Force spent most of its time on proposed restrictions on lawful firearms owners — honest, taxpaying, hardworking Americans. It is unfortunate that this Administration continues to insist on pushing failed solutions to our nation's most pressing problems. We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen. Instead, we will now take our commitment and meaningful contributions to members of congress of both parties who are interested in having an honest conversation about what works — and what does not.
Awww.  What a genteel word, "disappointed".  So much more grown-up than "pissed."   But did you catch that last part?  Where they say, "[W]e will now take our commitment and meaningful contributions to members of congress of both parties who are interested in having an honest conversation about what works — and what does not."

So it's another buying spree, is it?  They think they can buy the hearts and minds of certain members of congress and that'll be the end of all this nonsense?  It's a simple method, tried and true, with scads of past successes, but here's hoping when it comes to sane gun control we really mean it this time.

The press latched onto the White House meetings with the NRA with barely a mention of the other meetings also held as part of the task force on gun control.  Biden and White House staff members met with educators, medical groups, victims organizations and other proponents of tougher gun laws in an effort to let all voices be heard on an issue as important and seemingly intractable as this one.  This was not a privileged meeting afforded to the NRA only, and I doubt they were the only ones who were "disappointed."

It could be that "disappointed" takes on a whole new meaning when you're entering a White House presided over by occupants not bearing your stamp of approval.  The NRA fought hard to move the Obama team out of the White House, and there were moments when they must have thought they had it in the bag.  They should have been holding court in a more receptive Romney White House, but there you are.  Things happen, no matter how heavy the artillery against it.   

In the February, 2012 issue of the NRA magazine, American Rifleman, NRA president David Keene wrote,
"We are all going to have to work from now until November to help Wayne LaPierre make Barack Obama a one-term president.  We have defeated anti-Second Amendment presidential wannabes before.  Remember Al Gore?  After the 2000 race, then-President Bill Clinton lamented that his Vice President would not be moving into the White House because you and I and millions other supporters of the Second Amendment cost him the electoral votes of at least five states--and therefore the Presidency.  We did it then and we can do it again."
That myth about Gore's loss thanks to the NRA is more bluster the true believers keep on pushing, and members of congress keep on believing.  But what the NRA can't ignore is that Barack Obama won a second term in spite of their best efforts.  

And what the rest of us can't ignore is that the NRA will not take that lying down.  They'll be up in arms big time over that one.  (Proof positive:  Gun sales have spiked. Skyrocketed, in fact, with sales of the AR-15, the gun used in the Sandy Hook shootings, right up there among collectors fearing likely banning)

Be warned--the NRA may never, ever forgive us for Obama.

NRA magazine cover, February, 2012.  Depends on what they mean by "All In."
(Cross-posted, as always, at Dagblog)

Monday, January 7, 2013

An already belligerent 21st Century enters its Teens

Just two weeks from today, on the 21th of January, 2013, Barack Obama will be inaugurated for the second time as president of these United States.

Obama, as you may remember, is our first half-black president and the man so loathed by his political archenemies, for four full years jillions of dollars destined for desperately needed domestic growth have been held hostage while those jackals were busy working at destroying his presidency.  All so that he would never, ever get a second chance at under-privatizing America.

Last year, in 2012 (A most hectic and flabbergasting year. There's no chance anything like the Republican campaign to nominate a presidential candidate and get him elected will ever come our way again. Right?) we learned one thing for sure:  Never turn your back on your enemies.  Or your front, either.  They're everywhere.  But what the enemy side learned in return after spending an unprecedented three or four or maybe five billion dollars to put a Republican in the White House is that money can't buy you love.  (Fear, yes, but love. . .uh uh.)  Barack Obama won a second term handily.
Let me write that again:  Barack Obama won a second term handily.

But, while it's true that my guy won and that other guy lost, and I'm so glad 2012 is over and done, I'm already getting nervous about 2013. The 21st century, a century already not known for it's kindness or consideration, is becoming a teenager.  If we thought we had seen enough of our new century's oblivious silliness, misdirected angst, and uncontrollable rage, just wait until those hormones really kick in.

If we thought we had to be vigilant before, I submit that our tasks are just beginning. We can't be everywhere all the time and it's natural that things will get by us, but we should keep in mind that in order for any century to continue along a good and healthy path, it has to learn good and healthy habits in its formative years.   This is a duty that must not be shirked, and, of course, it's our side that knows just how to do it.  Ahem.  And Aha.

Remember the last century?  The notorious Twentieth?  It had its ups and downs--lots of downs--but who could have predicted that in the 21st Century we would be looking back with fondness on so many elements of the one that came before? Not me. I thought by the 21st century we'd be looking back and thinking, "How quaint. We won't be doing that again."

But here we are, fighting many of the same domestic battles against poverty, health care, education, women's issues, labor issues, and inequality of every shape and form.  Are we strong enough to finally make the changes necessary to make us a true government of the people?  I think so.  I hope so.  Sure we are.

When I started this venture four years ago, on the very afternoon of Barack Obama's first inauguration, I didn't have a clue about what I was doing.  (Oh, yeah?  That obvious, huh?)  I called my website "Ramona's Voices" because I knew my opinions wouldn't count for much without some backup, either undeniably expert or profoundly convincing.  I'm constantly surprised by the things I've missed while others could see them coming a mile away  Every now and then I can see things early, or at least not last, but what this all tells me is that we need each other to make sense of what's going on out there. 

I plan on keeping on with this.  I'm apparently enjoying the misery of it all way too much to stop now.  But there are changes coming, including a possible move to Wordpress.  I'm thinking about changing my blog name, too, if it won't cause too much turmoil (on my part, not yours).

What do you think?  Be honest, now.  You're my focus group.

But whatever happens in this tumultuous teen year, I'm hoping to share it with a roomful of company.  LOUD company.  Boisterous company.  Smart and funny, too.  Because lord knows, I'm not up to doing this all by myself.

(Cross-posted at dagblog, as always.)