Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Thank You, Maya Angelou, for Your Magical Words. And for Being You.

We got word that Maya Angelou died today.  When her picture flashed on the TV this morning I held my breath, hoping it wasn't bad news.  When they announced that she was gone, I shouldn't have been shocked, considering her age (86) and ill health, but it took me a few minutes because it never occurred to me that she might someday leave this earth.

Hers was a presence so strong troubles fell by the wayside when she spoke. For me, it was as if she drew me to her breast and comforted me.  Her voice, her words, her delivery--slow, drawn out, emphatic, often impish--gave her the kind of authority that stripped cliche out of her message of love and kindness and acceptance.

She overcame and transcended a horrific early life that might have broken a woman without her capacity to overcome.  Her strength came in forgiveness--of herself and of her tormentors.  Childhood trauma and abuse rendered her mute for five years, from five and a half until she was almost 13.  She was a single mother at age 16.  Hers should have been a story of unfulfilled dreams; a life made ordinary by her own circumstance.

But she found art as her great release and, remarkably,  discovered an innate and glorious ability to communicate.  She was a singer of songs, a poet, a teller of stories, and as a Civil Rights activist she put those talents to use.  Her breakout came from her brutally honest and beautifully written memoir, "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings".  Millions of women everywhere fell in love with her and never let go.  And she never let us down.

She supported us, mentored us, showed us how it could be done.  Because of her we wanted to be writers; we wanted to be activists; we wanted to right the wrongs and change the world. She did it with laughter and joy, with love and kindness, with acceptance of our weaknesses and frailties, with a voice that might have been silenced forever but gained strength, took wing, and flew with the angels.

She was some woman.

Still I rise
by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Flag Is What We Make It

In the 21st century controversy over the legitimacy of the 19th century Confederate battle flag, one question remains unanswered:  What does it mean to those who want to fly it?

The answer:  Anything they want it to mean.

When we run our American flag up the flagpole at our house, it means we love the idea behind it, we love the look of the stars and stripes; we love how it waves in the breeze, telling us the wind direction, giving us an indication of the velocity.  (A perk, I know.)

We believe the stories about Betsy Ross and the Star Spangled Banner.  We love the image of the flag-raising over Iwo Jima.  We pledge allegiance to our flag whenever the occasion arises. (Without endorsing the wholly unnecessary Red Scare defense "under God", it should be said.)

My husband the Marine will not allow the flag to touch the ground and replaces it with a new one when it begins to look tattered.

But there are other Americans who use that same flag to make some pretty awful points.  Hate groups bent on destroying the present government use it as a backdrop for photo ops.

George Lincoln Rockwell - American Nazi Party

Cliven Bundy uses it to try and save his ranch after refusing to pay his government lease for more than 20 years,

enlisting militiamen hostile to the government to protect him from eviction.

The American flag is a symbol for every American, but, as symbols go, the symbolism is in the eye of the beholder.

So it goes with the Confederate flag.  The KKK uses it interchangeably with the American flag.  Militia groups and White Supremacist groups use it interchangeably with the American flag.  Many Southerners fly it from their homes and stick it on their cars.  It flies on public buildings, much to the displeasure of certain groups who see it as an affront.

Is it offensive?  Is it racist?  It can be, and to some it ever will be.  Vile racism is, at the very least, inappropriate, and if a historic flag is co-opted to endorse hate, it wouldn't be the first time.

For many years we've spent our winters in South Carolina.  The confederate flag is everywhere and, as a Northerner indoctrinated in the offensive nature of what we called the Rebel flag, I found each instance shocking.  But their heritage, I came to realize, is not my history, and nowhere am I more aware of it than when I wander through an old Southern cemetery.

These are their ancestors.  Hundreds of thousands of their countrymen died fighting for a cause they may or may not have even understood.  Were those young men--often just boys--fighting to ensure that wealthy plantation owners could keep their slave labor?  Doubtful.  More likely they saw themselves as freedom fighters making sacrifices in order to save their homes and form their own union.  They fought in a terrible civil war and their side lost.  Because real people in real families were affected forever, this is not a part of their history the modern South is willing to forget.  And we as a nation have no right to ask it of them.

It's not our place to decide what the Confederate flag means and who should be able to fly it.  We've allowed our own American flag to be used and abused in such a way that by rights it should be nothing more than a meaningless piece of cloth.  It's much more than that because it means much more than that to each of us.

At different times in our history, parts of our country belonged to the English, the Spanish, the French.  We fought them and won, and we still fly their flags in remembrance.  It's a part of our history.

The South once fought to belong to the Confederacy.  They had their own flag.  How can we recognize that part of our history without recognizing their flag?   The answer is, we can't.  And the truth is, we shouldn't.

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

Friday, May 9, 2014

Monica, Bill and the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

Monica Lewinsky is now 40 years old.  In the late 1990s, when she was barely into her twenties, she met  Bill Clinton, flirted a bit and caught his attention.  Before long she was having an affair with the President of the United States.  Heady stuff for a bedazzled young girl and of course she had to tell somebody.

As we all now know, she confided in her friend Linda Tripp.  Tripp, a Republican who hated Bill Clinton even before she knew about the affair, took Monica's story to Lucianne Goldberg, a literary agent specializing in conservative authors.  Goldberg had once tried to sell Tripp's book proposal on the differences between Bush 41's keeping dignity in the White House compared to Clinton's appalling misuse. It never went anywhere, but this time would be different.  This was big.

Goldberg encouraged Tripp to tape-record her phone conversations with Monica, and Linda apparently seeing nothing wrong with betraying a friend, went along willingly.  The man, after all, was an animal.

In a 2012 interview for the PBS American Experience production, "Clinton", Lucianne Goldberg recounted their roles in what was to become the most bizarre impeachment proceeding in the history of not just this, but possibly any country:

Producer: Did you have a sense. . .that this could be ruinous to his presidency?

Goldberg: Oh sure -- I knew it very likely would impeach him, and I was glad about that. That didn't bother me at all.
Producer: Why were you interested in either [Michael] Isikoff or [Matt] Drudge having the story?

Goldberg: Well, in the first place I wanted Newsweek to have it. Because it was mainstream media and I wanted it. You know, I wanted the story to get out because I'm selling a book. You have to understand that. It was that as much as it was a political thing. It was nice that it was a political thing, because I didn't happen to agree with the Clinton administration. But I wasn't doing it for that reason. I was doing it because I was selling a book. I was representing a client.

Producer: But the hope was that by leaking a little of it or some of it to an Isikoff or a Drudge, it would generate interest for the buyer.

Goldberg: That was the whole idea. To get the story out, use that as a hook to get publishers interested, and sell a book. It was that simple.

Producer: But before this breaks, let's say, does Linda become preoccupied with the Monica relationship and what she's hearing? I can't imagine she wouldn't be. But, I mean, characterize how big a part of her life this became.

Goldberg: An enormous part of her life. But by the time Drudge broke the story, that was it. The taping stopped. I mean, the cat was out of the bag, Monica knew what Linda had been up to.

Producer: That part stops a lot of people cold. They're willing to understand why Linda might want to publicize this out of outrage, out of political motivation, whatever it is, but what it was going to do to Monica is where people begin to wonder. Did you think about that, did you talk about that with her?

Goldberg: Yeah, I don't think we thought it was going to be harmful, that harmful to Monica, really didn't. It made Monica a star, and if she had wanted to handle it differently if she had -- had she been a different kind of person -- I mean look at the girls that were being paid to sleep with Tiger Woods, they're going to have their own TV shows, and Monica could have been, you know, could have been just about anything she chose to be.

Producer: But it was at a minimum a betrayal of her confidence.

Goldberg: Yeah, sure.   
Linda Tripp then turned the tapes over to Ken Starr, the star prosecutor in the subsequent impeachment trial.  Feeling that the tapes were not enough, that they needed more evidence of lying and cover-ups, his bunch wired Tripp and had her meet several more times with Monica, feeding her leading questions in order to get her to put the last nails in Bill Clinton's coffin.

The intern had an affair and she told about it.  The president had an affair and he lied about it.  So far, nothing unusual in either of those responses.  Happens all the time with affairs.  They're never tidy.  But when you're the president and you have a vast Right Wing conspiracy already conspiring to take you down, the last thing you want to do is to provide them the ammunition.  Clinton the Unfathomable practically hand-delivered it.

So the president was impeached because he lied under oath about his affair.  He went on to serve out his term and would later become a revered senior statesman, building a new reputation as a person to go to for wise counsel and decisive action.

His wife, Hillary, humiliated beyond anything she deserved, went on to become a U.S. Senator and later, a formidable presidential candidate.  She may well be our next president.

Their daughter Chelsea, her own innocence shattered at such a young age, went on to college, built a satisfying career, married, and is about to become a mother.

No such good fortune for Monica.  She says in a blockbuster article in the latest Vanity Fair that, while she has had offers, they've all been based on her past notoriety.  Her goal was to work in the non-profit world but every interview told her they would be hiring her for her name and not her abilities.  Whether or not that was true, that was how she perceived it.

Photo credit:  Vanity Fair

She says she wants a private life.  She wants to work with groups helping people struggling with the effects of shame.  She is an expert on the subject and would be an asset to any like-minded group. I hope she can find her place there.

I have nothing but sympathy for Monica Lewinsky.  She was vulnerable and victimized by so many people, used and betrayed in ways so vicious it's a miracle she can still look back on it with anything resembling clarity.  She made bad mistakes but did nothing beyond being young and naively romantic to deserve what happened to her.

But why use a magazine like Vanity Fair to press her case?   Why do it this way?  Why now?

She has once again exposed herself to endless, ruthless analysis and cruel ridicule and everyone has to wonder why?  Who convinced her to open up Monicagate again?  The rumors are already flying; the pundits are already salivating, the haters are sharpening their talons.

She says in the article, "I am determined to have a different ending to my story. I’ve decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past. (What this will cost me, I will soon find out.)”

The ending of her story is whatever she makes it.  I only hope for her sake she gets it right this time.

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

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Derange Wars: The Cliven Bundy Story

You might have heard about this:  (Kidding.  Of course you have.) There is a rancher out in Nevada named Cliven Bundy who has been using government land to graze his cattle.  His family has been doing it for what seems like ages, always paying their grazing fees to the Federal government, until some 20 years ago, when the Feds told Cliven he had to move his cattle off a section that was protected land.  He quit paying his fees in protest but never quite got around to moving his cattle.

His Mormon family homesteaded that land way back near the end of the 19th century, long before there was such a thing as a damned protected turtle.  The rules obviously didn't apply to him.  It wasn't just our land, it was his land.  In Nevada.  And since Nevada is a state, states' rights apply because the federal government--come on!--has no actual authority.

So what a surprise all these years later when he finds out that's not going to work.  In the eyes of the G-men he's a slacker, a scofflaw, damn near a criminal.  Those fools actually think he stiffed them, and all these years later they're finally making good on nearly 20 years worth of threats to confiscate his cattle and fine him big money (at last look about a million dollars, but hey. . .) for being a durned squatter.

As if!

But, dang!  They came and got his cattle!  So Rancher Bundy called in about a thousand of his militia pals (because states rights)  and held a stand-off.

Cliven Bundy, Right, with Militia volunteers.  Photo:  Steve Marcus

 And. . .whoa dogies!. . .it worked!  The Feds actually brought his cattle back!  Ha!

From Newsweek, April 23, 2014:
On the weekend of April 12 to 13, over 1,000 anti-government militia groups and Bundy supporters converged on his ranch to defend him from the encroachment of federal agents and demand the return of his cattle. Around 10 a.m. Saturday, Bundy issued an ultimatum to the Clark County sheriff: He had one hour to disarm all federal agents on the property, return the cattle and remove the BLM from Bundy’s land.
At 11:10 a.m., Bundy got on a megaphone and told his supporters to go get his cattle back. Local ranchers on horseback, militiamen in pickup trucks and others rode toward the corral where the cattle were being held. BLM agents, decked out in full riot gear, pointed guns at the anti-government group. The two sides jostled.
With the situation nearing the boiling point, the BLM blinked.
“For the anti-government patriot right, this is a major success,” said Ryan Lenz, an eyewitness to the standoff on the Bundy ranch and a writer and researcher with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “They stood against an armed, fanatical federal government and got them to back down—in their view.”
Then Bundy called in the really big guns--the press--to let the world know that he won!  Yeehaw!  Did he talk about his Mormon family and how they settled that land?  Did he talk about how little anyone should care about the desert tortoise, the creature who started this war?  Did he talk about how mighty fine it was that the Feds actually backed down?  Maybe.  But what everybody jumped on was his lesson to us all about "the negro."  It came about, please note, in the presence of one reporter and one photographer.  But it hit the New York Times  and that's all she wrote:
“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

 “And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.” 
And you thought he was all hat, no cattle.  The guy's deep.  (Oh, honey, you're so right.  It has nothing to do with the standoff at the ranch.  Your point?)

But I'm not telling you anything you don't know already.  It's been all over the news.  You're probably wondering why I'm just now getting around to giving this story some attention?  Well, I'll tell you, no story is dead until it's actually buried.  Now--and I mean currently--it's not just Bundy’s Militia against the U.S. Gov’mint, it’s Bundy’s Militia vs. those other patriotic patriots, the Oathkeepers.

In case you missed it, militia volunteers from all over the country have been out there guarding the Bundy ranch, setting up road checkpoints on public highways, acting like any self-respecting Second Amendment Rights folks, by God, should.  The Oathkeepers, seeing their chance to put their motto, "Guardians of the Republic" to use, joined up.  Before long, word spread that Eric Holder was getting ready to send out drones to settle this thing once and for all.  Bundy’s Bunch swore to stand their ground, but the Oathkeepers, in what might forever have been called a brilliant strategic move if Holder had actually sent out drones, ordered their troops to move the heck out of the “Kill Zone”.

The Militia guys, true to their military nature (because, you know, a well-regulated militia) were outraged.  They used words like “cowardice” and “treason” and one guy thought those Oathkeepers-in-name-only should all be shot in the back like any deserters on the battlefield.

It's this kind of thing that keeps me on the edge of my seat. Who besides me is thinking movie script right now?  I’ve already got my title:  ©Derange Wars: The Cliven Bundy Story. 

Chuck Norris, Western Guy

I’m hoping to line up Chuck Norris to play Cliven.  He’s the only one I can think of who could play Bundy straight in a comedy.