Friday, October 30, 2015

How The Benghazi Committee Led Me To Hillary

Last week, on the morning of the latest in a long line of House Select Committee hearings on Benghazi, I was finishing up a blog post in which I hoped during the next few months Progressives/Liberals would all just get along.  At that point, on that morning, I thought I was still neutral about the two front-runners.  (Joe Biden has announced he's not running and Martin O'Malley, the only other viable candidate, is so far behind he's almost invisible. It's early yet, but unless someone else shows up, it's going to be either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.)

I finished up just before the hearing began, hit the "publish" button, and settled back to watch what I already knew would be a win-win for Hillary.  How could it not be?  After all this time, the Republican Benghazi committee members are the only ones on the face of the earth who refuse to believe there's no there there.

Credit:  Caroly Kaster/AP
Well, I'm here to tell you, that wasn't just a win, that was a whomping!

They can't say they weren't warned.  The Democrats on the  committee begged them not to do it. Members of their own party begged them not to do it.  But do it they did, and as the hour grew late, after 11 hours of gotcha questions followed by Hillary's infuriatingly calm responses (and the interception of some formidable Democrats, Elijah Cummings chief among them), Committee chair Trey Gowdy, soggy as an old dishrag, stopped the madness cold, even after promising certain panel members they would get another chance at interrogating the witness.  Stopped it dead.  Th-th-th-that's all, folks.

Hillary the interogatee showed no signs of exhaustion and instead hung around long enough to give hugs and air kisses before flitting away, off to spend the evening partying with friends.

I realize now I've been leaning toward Hillary for a while, but it wasn't until last week, when I saw her strength and grace under fire, that I decided I could happily support her.  No one in public life has been more scrutinized than Hillary. Barack Obama may come a close second, bless his heart, but his public life can be counted in years and not in decades.  Hillary has been under the microscope since she was a young woman.  That relentless scrutiny is bound to turn up discrepancies--even a pack of lies.  She has spent her entire public life having to defend her every move, her every decision--from hair styles and pantsuits to why she did, in fact, stand by her man.

She's been a First Lady, a Senator, a Secretary of State.  She did all that while being under constant fire from haters on the Right and on the Left.  Is she  deceitful?  Is she reserved?  Is she less than transparent?  I'll bet she's been all three.  Intense, unrelenting public scrutiny will do that to a person.  But her kindness, her friendships, her work for women's and children's causes is almost never acknowledged.  She is an adoring grandmother now, and her charity work is well known.

She held herself back for years, thinking, wrongly, that she needed to show strength and not softness.  Now she knows better and it's driving her enemies crazy.  They so want to keep believing she's a ruthless she-devil war-monger in the pockets of the rich.

Is she too cozy with Wall Street? She was, after all, the Senator from New York. It's no secret she takes campaign funds and Clinton Foundation donations from Wall Street donors.  There aren't many who don't.  (It's a tribute to Bernie Sanders that he can manage a campaign without super-PAC funds.  I wish him luck.)

Her vote on the Iraq War is ancient history.  It was wrong-headed, as she admits today.  I would be more concerned if she were still insisting she did the right thing.

Is she a war-monger?  She was tough as Secretary of State, keen on aiding oppressed human beings, not keen on retreat, but she showed no signs of Condi Riceing us into a reckless sustained war.

Am I leaning toward her because she's a woman?  That's part of it.  I was born when FDR was president and I've lived through 12 more presidents--all of them male.  I would love to see a woman in the White House but I'm not choosing Hillary simply because of her gender.  I choose her because I think she'll do the best job of anyone running.  (I've been a long-time Bernie Sanders admirer and I love his passion for the causes I believe in.  I think domestically--as senator or maybe governor--he's outstanding.  I don't see him in an international role as president. His temperament, an asset when he's leading a cause, is worrisome when applied to "leader of the free world".)

There will be mountains of evidence against Hillary as the months go by.  Some of it will be disturbingly on the mark.  She has made her share of blunders--some of them calculating.  There were times when she was not even "likable enough".  But I see her as a woman under siege.  I marvel at her courage as she deals with it while still building a remarkable life.

She's a pragmatist. She has a history of wanting desperately to win at anything she tries and she's not above pandering to do that.  I want her to be as liberal as I am, of course.  I want her to be as liberal as Bernie Sanders.  I believe she'll be more liberal than Barack Obama (there are others who believe she may even be more liberal than Bernie Sanders), but her presidency will not be FDR's Second Coming.  (Neither would Bernie Sanders', no matter how much he might wish it.)

We need a president who can stand up to the Tea Party Republicans, who understands foreign policy, and knows intimately the workings of Washington.  I don't believe for a minute that she'll be a corporate pawn.  She also won't be Obama's--or her husband's--keeper of the flame.  There's a reason she's so feared by the other side.  It's because she's her own person and no matter what they do to her she doesn't break.

It'll take real balls to lead us through the next decade.  Hillary may be just the woman to get it done.

(Can also be seen at The Broad Side and Crooks & Liars)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

So it's Clinton vs. Sanders. Can't We Just Be Frenemies?

Yesterday Joe Biden stood in the Rose Garden with his wife Jill and President Obama and announced he wouldn't be running for president. (Thank you, Joe, you did the right thing. I love you.) It's still early in the election season (WAY early.  Did you know Canadians can only campaign for 78 days? Must seem like a damned eternity, right?) but unless a dark horse comes up from behind, it looks like it'll be a run between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Way back in 2007-08, Hillary Clinton was one of the two front-runners as she battled it out with Barack Obama for the top Party position. The fact that neither of them were white men made the whole contest especially interesting, but the unofficial skirmishes between the Clinton supporters and the Obama supporters were, let's just say, spectacular!  (I learned bad words I didn't even know existed.)  The miff factor was so strong, so relentless, you can still hear echos today.  Some have never forgotten, never forgiven.  And they're b-a-a-a-c-k. . .

I have to admit, they scare me.  Now they're Hillary and Bernie supporters--fervent, passionate, TYPING-IN-ALL-CAPS supporters--and if that's not bad enough, (Not that either Bernie or Hillary are bad. . . No, I will NEVER say that. I've seen bad and they're not it.) they're on Twitter and Facebook.  And so am I.

Facebook and Twitter, I don't have to tell you, are like vast out-of-this-world megalopoli full of creatures who may or may not be what they seem.  On Facebook we "like" people we don't even know.  We do the same on Twitter except we don't "like" them, we "follow" them.  Sometimes we actually grow to like the people we "like".  Ditto the people we follow.  It works magnificently as long as we don't talk about religion or politics or the Kardashians.  (I'm kidding.  We don't talk about the Kardashians.  We don't even know who they are.)

I, a known political junkie, have chosen to "like" a whole lot of people whose topic of choice is politics.  We do the happy stuff, sharing cute pet memes, taking those tests to show how smart we are, but that's because it's hard work trying to save an entire country. Sometimes we need a break.

Most of the time, when we're on the topic of politics, we agree on almost everything, including the right to disagree.  We're liberals and progressives, Democrats and Independents, religious and not, with a few conservatives, Republicans, and agnostics mixed in, just for flavor.

Until now, it's been good.  But now we're getting into presidential politics.  The big time. The elections aren't until November, 2016, but we've already begun to get testy.  I see trouble ahead.

I've been defending Hillary as if she's an underdog and needs my kind of help.  I've been looking for any little thing to prove that Bernie isn't a saint.  I hate myself already and it's not even Christmas. (By the way, I'll be taking a short break from politics around Christmas to fight for our right to say "Happy Holidays". I'll be back some time after December 25.)

It's early yet.  So far the barbs are polite:  "I'm disappointed to hear you say that."  "I know you're smarter than that."  "You can't really mean that!"  "Sad. . ."  

But we're reaching the point where we're setting up camps and gearing up for battle--against each other. Whichever candidate we're behind is the absolute best.  The obvious choice.  Anyone who can't see that is. . .(fill in the blank, the rougher the better.)

I wish I could just sit one this out.  (I can't, of course.  I couldn't.)  I like the people I "like".  I want us to stay friends, but I can see already that as the months go by our affection for each other, our respect, will dwindle. I don't know if we'll ever get back what we had before.

When the primaries are finally over, one of two people, either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, will be the Democratic candidate.  If the candidate we wanted doesn't win we won't pick up our toys and go home.  We'll stifle our fury and do what we have to do--we'll work to make sure our next president is a Democrat.

It's not enough to win the argument.  We have to win this election.  I hope we can remember that.

(Also published at Dagblog and Crooks and Liars.)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

What If The Second Amendment Didn't Exist?

Once upon a time, long before The National Rifle Association stopped being a reasonable, responsible hunter's association and became the NRA, the Second Amendment was looked on, if at all, as a remnant of the olden days, when the writers of the Constitution saw fit to assuage the fears of the newly-formed states by assuring them they could form their own militias in case the federal government got too bossy, thinking they owned the place.

These days, even though nothing about it has changed, the Second Amendment is the one and only part of the Constitution actually seen as constitutional by the Right Wing.  (Causing nearly every politician, Republican or Democrat, right or left, to keep repeating the magic words, "Second Amendment", as if the Second Amendment says what the NRA says is says.)

I, and millions like me, say the Second Amendment doesn't guarantee rights to gun owners.  They, and millions like them, say it does.

After the Supreme Court gave in to the NRA's demands to ignore that part about the well-regulated militia and give gun owners the seeming right to own any kind of weapon known to man, former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens, in an April, 2014 WaPo Op-Ed, proposed the addition of five words to the Second Amendment, clarifying what Stevens believes the original writers meant.  Stevens' revised Second Amendment would read like this:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed."
To which I say, forgive me, Sir, but. . .what militia, now?

I'm nowhere near Justice Stevens' level of intellect but if that amendment is simply there to address a non-existent militia, it isn't much of a reach to conclude there's no longer a need for a Second Amendment.  (The National Guard may be the closest we come to a state militia, but it's not made up of a motley band of citizens called up whenever the rascally Feds get out of line.  It's an essential branch of the military, an adjunct of the Federal government, enlisted as needed during national emergencies. )

We could resolve these arguments once and forever by repealing the Second Amendment.  Amendments aren't written in stone.  They can be amended and they can be repealed.  Our government repealed the Eighteenth Amendment in 1933, some 13 years after a few rabid anti-liquor folks thought it would be a good idea to do away with alcoholic beverages completely.  (As if!)

So what would life be like without a Second Amendment?  Who, besides the NRA and the gun manufacturers--the wave riders--would be affected negatively by the loss?  Would the arguments for and against regulations and background checks change in any way?  Would each state or municipality have to rethink their local gun laws? Would the Federal government see its chance and confiscate all guns?  Would we be less safe?  Would we be safer?

Once it was gone, who in their right mind would take it to mean their gun rights went with it?  I submit we could lose it tomorrow and it would never be missed.  Nothing would change.  So why is it such a big deal?


(Also seen at Crooks & Liars)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Obama Says He'll Politicize Guns. NRA, Fox, GOP Say No Way, That's Our Job.

". . .And, of course, what’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue.  Well, this is something we should politicize.  It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.
. . .This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America.  We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.  When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work to make mines safer.  When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer.  When roads are unsafe, we fix them to reduce auto fatalities.  We have seatbelt laws because we know it saves lives.  So the notion that gun violence is somehow different, that our freedom and our Constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon, when there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country who could hunt and protect their families and do everything they do under such regulations doesn’t make sense."  - President Obama, October 1, 2015, yet another speech after a mass shooting His 11th.

We've had another mass murder, this time on a community college campus in Oregon, where nine students and the shooter are dead. We're outraged, we're grieving, we're looking for answers.  We've been through this before, and the worst part is, we know for a fact we'll go through it again.

Those on the right, when they're not blaming mental health, are blaming liberals in general and Obama in particular.  Those on the left are blaming the NRA and an out-of-control gun culture.  There is enough goddamned blame to go around, but I blame Congress.  They're in control.  They can read the same impossible numbers  that I can.  They can twist arms.  They can make laws.  They can declare the gun epidemic a moral crisis--a national disaster--and go at it full force.  But they're cowards and they won't.

When it comes to gun murders we're so far ahead of any country on earth, there's no danger of any of them catching up with us.  And still we do nothing but argue about it.  We're so good at rehashing the same old stuff, we've become experts at it.  Not at finding solutions, just at rehashing.

I wish I knew what else to do.  I don't. So let me rehash.  This is the column I wrote after the Republicans in Congress voted down what should have been a slam-dunk reform move after the Sandy Hook massacre at Newtown, Connecticut. Congress had all the public support it needed to grind to a halt the bloody mess our love affair with guns has caused.  They wouldn't do it.  They still won't do it.  And without them, we can't do it.  (It's long, I know, but there are voices there that deserve to be heard again.  As you read this, keep in mind that the vote happened more than two years ago.  We've had an election since then and many of those same congressional culprits have been re-elected.)

April 18, 2013:

Politicians out of control on Guns: Never Forgive, Never Forget

Yesterday 46 members of the Senate voted down a proposal that would have been a logical first step to gun control--universal background checks.  They were able to vote it down, even though 54 members voted for it because they rigged the way the votes count now.  Voting it down for no good reason is bad enough but they did it through cowardice, lies and cheats. The whole process was despicable, made even more so by the fact that it happened in the chambers where expectations of fairness and fidelity used to run quite high.

These public servants ignored the wishes of at least 90% of Americans and caved, instead, to willful profit-oriented special interests.  They lied about the content of the bill and insured their success by forcing a 60-vote approval instead of a fairer, more honest majority vote.

In a sane world, this would be enough to cause those who voted against the wishes of the people some actual discomfort, if not some actual punishment.  Our outrage (those of us who have sense enough to be outraged) comes today because we know nothing will happen to them.  They will go on for another day and another day after that making bad decisions that will affect all of us in one way or another, and all we can do is shout about it.

We are outraged.  The parents and families of the Newtown School massacre are outraged.  Gabrielle Giffords is outraged. The president is outraged.  The Democrats (all but four senators) are outraged. Certain members of the press are outraged.  But our rage at these 46 members of the United States Senate who voted to keep guns out of our control is, in the end, no more than hot air.  Rage, like hot air, dissipates.  It weakens to anger, and anger, when it is not satisfied, weakens to a sigh.  We're exhausted.  We'll inevitably leave it behind and go on.

They get away with these undemocratic actions once again because we have neither the authority nor the strength to stop them.  And they know this.

The president gave a masterful speech yesterday, designed to both clarify his rage and to shame them for their actions.  They don't care.

A portion of what the president said:
Families that know unspeakable grief summoned the courage to petition their elected leaders –- not just to honor the memory of their children, but to protect the lives of all our children.  And a few minutes ago, a minority in the United States Senate decided it wasn’t worth it.  They blocked common-sense gun reforms even while these families looked on from the Senate gallery.

By now, it’s well known that 90 percent of the American people support universal background checks that make it harder for a dangerous person to buy a gun.  We’re talking about convicted felons, people convicted of domestic violence, people with a severe mental illness.  Ninety percent of Americans support that idea.  Most Americans think that’s already the law.

And a few minutes ago, 90 percent of Democrats in the Senate just voted for that idea.  But it’s not going to happen because 90 percent of Republicans in the Senate just voted against that idea.
A majority of senators voted “yes” to protecting more of our citizens with smarter background checks.  But by this continuing distortion of Senate rules, a minority was able to block it from moving forward.
Gabrielle Giffords wrote an impassioned editorial in the New York Times yesterday, designed to show her rage and to shame those senators.  They don't care.

From Gabby:
Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.

James Fallows wrote a great piece in the Atlantic yesterday called "For the Love of God, just call it a Filibuster".    They don't care.
  1. Today a provision that would increase background checks for gun purchases was blocked in the Senate, even though consideration of the bill was supported by 54 senators representing states that make up (at quick estimate) at least 60 percent of the American population.
  2. The bill did not fail to "pass" the Senate, which according to Constitutional provisions and accepted practice for more than two centuries requires a simple majority, 51 votes. Even 50 votes should do it, since the vice president is constitutionally empowered to cast the tie-breaking and deciding vote, and Joe Biden would have voted yes.
  3. It failed because a 54-vote majority was not enough to break the threat of a filibuster, which (with some twists of labeling) was the real story of what happened with this bill. Breaking the filibuster would have required 60 votes.

The Twitterverse clogged the place yesterday listing one by one the names of those senators who voted "no".  They don't care.

Journalists, essayists, bloggers, and hundreds of thousands of enraged activists took to their preferred soapboxes and shouted out in anguished rage.  The senators ignored us all.  They don't care.

They're counting on our inattention, our tendency to be distracted and manipulated, our refusal to believe our elected politicians could turn against us so cruelly, so blatantly, and so often.

This is our chance to show them how much we care.  We can't forget.  We must not forgive.  We will not let them get away with this latest insult.  They should not be allowed to win again.  Not if we are who we think we are. 

So that was then.  This is now.

(Also at Dagblog and Crooks & Liars)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Pope's Parting Gift to Bigotry

While much of the country was still coming off of the Papal Visit high last week (it was a trip, wasn't it?), that parade was not only rained on yesterday, it was deluged.  

Less than a week after Pope Francis the Terrific thrilled the country with a visit that filled our very souls with joy (Right?), the Papal love-fest is threatening to become a veritable wash-out.  How did this happen?  How could it happen?

Two words:  Kim Davis.  (No, I'm serious)  Kim Davis, the homophobic county clerk who went to jail rather than obey a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, somehow wrangled a private visit with the Pope.  Her people arranged it with his people and it happened.  Millions of faithful followers who ordinarily would give their left livers to have an audience with the Pope are now left wondering if  it's such a big deal after all.

The rest of us are left wondering.  And not secretly, either.  The internet went nuts yesterday, far into the midnight hour.  The Faithful tried to deny it happened, ever wishing it was so.  The more cynical among us said, "See?  I told you."  Sadness and disappointment reigned.  And the LGBT community went back to business as usual.

The argument from the followers is that the Pope sees saints and sinners alike and doesn't judge.  He went into prisons and blessed the sinners there.  He washed the feet of the undeserving poor.  He does these things.  No big deal.

Here's why it's a big deal:  Kim Davis is not following any sane religious conviction by discriminating against gay partners who want to marry.  Her religious liberties are not endangered because a civil court judge ordered her to do her job.  But the main reason it's a big deal is because Kim Davis's flock will use the Pope's private visit as tacit approval for even more bigotry.

It doesn't matter what he said to her or even if he knew who she was.  (Hard to believe that he wouldn't since the meeting was set up more than a week before the Pope landed on our shores.)  What matters is the optics.  The meeting took place.  It was a privilege and an honor not bestowed on just anyone.  It's an anointment by the Pope, perhaps the most famous and powerful of all religious leaders.

Having a private meeting with the bigoted clerk whose claim to fame is that she would rather go to jail than sign her name to a legal marriage license for same-sex couples does, in fact, show the Pope is judging.  He may not be judging her, but by giving her permission to stay strong in her attempts to discriminate, he is judging every loving same-sex couple wanting to be married in that county.  He has given the bigots all the ammunition they'll ever need.  If we can be led to believe that even this loving Pope makes exceptions when it comes to same-sex couples, their struggles grow exponentially.

It's not just a mistake, it's a tragedy.