Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When the Democrats Seized the Day

In the three and one-half years I've been here, we have not been allowed ONE VOTE, NOT ONE VOTE on matters of gun safety. This was why we had to protest."-
- Rep. John Larson, Sit-in ringleader whose Connecticut district is near Sandy Hook.

On June 23, around 11:25 AM, Democrats in the House of Representatives, fed up over the lack of action on simple, common-sense gun control measures after years of failed attempts, and led by Civil Rights icon John Lewis, announced a sit-in on the floor of the House chamber, and then, one by one, sat themselves down on the hard floor in front of the speaker's podium.  (Watch it here.)

As Vera Bergengruen wrote for McClatchy DC:
“Where is our soul? Where is our moral leadership? Where is our courage?” Lewis shouted Wednesday when he began the sit-in, his preacher’s voice loudly echoing in the House chamber. Brow furrowed, he angrily pounded the podium.
“This is the time,” he cried. “Now is the time to get in the way. The time to act is now. We will be silent no more.”
He paused for a moment, the chamber silent.
“The time for silence is over.”

Read more here:
 For some of them, getting down on the floor wasn't easy.  Some were older and arthritic, some were women in short skirts and high heels, and one of them, Tammy Duckworth, a former Blackhawk helicopter pilot whose legs had been shot off over Baghdad, had to work her way out of her wheelchair and remove her prostheses in order to sit on the floor with her compadres.

Speaker Paul Ryan quickly shut the place down, calling for a short recess until the Democrats came to their senses, and, as is the rule when the sessions are in recess, the microphones went dead; the chamber cameras went dark.

Then, as if the revolt by the Democrats in the form of an actual sit-in wasn't extraordinary enough, something even more amazing happened.  Several House members, using their smart phones, began live-streaming the event via Twitter's Periscope. Before long C-Span, against House rules and entirely on their own, picked it up and began broadcasting the live-stream.

It had its glitches. As phone batteries went dead, C-Span hosts ad-libbed, filling in the minutes until borrowed battery packs could be installed or someone else picked it up and fed it to them live.  People kept bumping into or standing in front of the cell phones, but they were quickly righted and put back into action.

Within seconds after John Lewis announced the sit-in, Twitter and Facebook exploded.  News spread that something big was happening on the House floor (literally), and for one brief shining moment even Donald Trump couldn't draw media attention away from the disobedient but mostly civil Democrats who had finally had enough.

It was a sit-in that felt like a loose version of a filibuster. A long line of representatives took turns standing before the dead microphones,  passionately begging for the chance to vote on sensible, common sense gun control, hoping the cell phones would pick up their voices and send their message afar.

Within a few hours, several senators came in to offer their support.  Elizabeth Warren sat on the floor  for a time, left, and then came back again, this time with donuts.  Al Franken, Bernie Sanders, Gary Peters, and a number of other senators made appearances.

Some time during the day Paul Ryan acknowledged the sit-in at a news conference.  He called it nothing more than a publicity stunt. (Newsflash: All demonstrations are publicity stunts, Paul.) He took pains to remind everyone that the sitters were breaking rules.  (Again, Mr. Speaker: civil disobedience)

It went on for more than 26 hours, with a few bathroom breaks and cloakroom naps. Elizabeth Warren bought donuts. Cases of bottled water arrived. Someone else ordered pizzas.  For more than a full day those of us who have been waiting a long time for something like this sat riveted.  It was awesome.

Did it change even one single mind on the Republican side?  No. Will the NRA stand down and stay out of government business?  Of course not.  But we saw democracy in action.  We saw the Democrats acting like Democrats.

It did my heart glad.

(Edit to add:  Speaker Paul Ryan says he won't allow any more sit-ins.  No word on how he plans to stop them, short of police action.  Should be interesting.) 

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Crooks & Liars)

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Worst Mass Shooting in U.S History Happened Today. Hello, NRA. Are you There?

Today we woke up to news of another mass shooting, this time in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  The facts about it are sketchy but it looks like a hate crime, an obvious act of terrorism.  The horrific news, coming in bits and spurts, is that 50 people are dead and 54 have been injured.  It's being classified as the worst mass shooting in U.S history.

The shooter's name is Omar Saddiqui Mateen, an American on the FBI watch list thought to be inspired by Isis.  The motive, it appears, is a murderous hatred of gays, but the ease of owning military-style assault weapons gave him an opportunity to act on it. It was about as carte blanche as it gets.

Details are sketchy; it's early yet, but it's a fact that a single shooter murdered 50 people and injured as many more. I'm not shocked--mass shootings have become regular occurrences--I'm outraged.  I'm sick of living in a country known for our violence, our casual acceptance of assault weapons--big guns manufactured for military use but romanticized and propagandized by the NRA and their spawn, American-style militias, as proof of our God-given, constitutional liberties.

I'll wait to see how the NRA reacts to this.  If they don't condemn the wide-spread ownership and unregulated use of guns that are nothing more than killing machines, I want to know how they're any different from any other terrorist organization.  No excuses.  No outcries about the right to own guns, about liberties, about how the fault lies in the killer's motives and not in the guns he used.  He found a way to get those guns, to get that ammunition and nobody stopped him.  Nobody.

Days after the school shooting at Sandy Hook, in December, 2012, I wrote a piece about our love affair with guns and what it's doing to us.  It sickens me that everything I wrote back then still stands:

Yes, it's about Guns, because Treating Guns like Favorite Toys is Killing Us

December 17, 2012 - After every major gun-inflicted tragedy we're told by the pro-everything-that-shoots bunch that it's too soon to be talking about gun control.  We hear again that guns don't kill people, it's the people misusing the guns who kill people.  We hear that they could just as well be using knives or garrotes or box cutters or poison or 3,000 pound vehicles.

On Friday we awoke to another unspeakable mass murder, this time involving our precious children, and I have to believe it is, at last, sadly, the turning point we've been waiting for.  We'll be having the conversation we should have kept going before, and this time something will get done.  We will not stop until we get control over our fascination with owning military-type weapons.

On Friday, December 14, 2012 a 20-year-old man killed his mother, took guns from her collection, along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School and deliberately shot it up, killing six adults and 20 children, most of them First Graders.

He took three guns into that school and methodically shot and killed 20 (yes, twenty) small children. He used weapons more suited to combat than to hunting or self-defense and he was able to do that because in the United States of America private citizens are allowed--even encouraged--to own combat weapons.

These are the types of guns he used:

Photo:  New York DailyNews

It's a solid fact that the United States--either through outright permission or through cowardice in the face of bullying opposition--has declared guns to be free agents, not subject to any but the most basic, toothless laws regarding safety or security or limitations.

How could that be?  It could be because so many people, including politicians who are supposed to be up on those things, want to believe that one single clause in our constitution--the grievously misunderstood Second Amendment--says so.
This one:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

There is nothing in the Second Amendment about an individual's right to keep guns.  Not unless that individual becomes a well-regulated state Militia of One.

There is nothing in the constitution that gives copyright rights to the National Rifle Association (NRA), allowing them to drop important words that tend to get in the way of their mad, skewed interpretation.  ("A well-regulated Militia" sticks in their craw,  undermining their entire premise, so it's out).

Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune

We want to believe our constitution is not for sale, but, in fact, the NRA has found a way to own an entire amendment.  It's now impossible to think of the Second Amendment without making a connection to the National Rifle Association.  They use it to convince the gullible that the government is coming to take their guns and the only way to stop them is to invoke their "constitutionally guaranteed citizens' right to bear arms."

They've co-opted and corrupted a constitutional amendment and turned it against the very government that instituted it and implements it. (The original meaning, that is--having to do with giving the states the right to organize a militia--or, as we've come to know it, the National Guard).

The fact is, even if the Second Amendment were abolished, guns would not be banned in this country.  Gun ownership is a long-established right, almost universally accepted and woven so tightly into our fabric there's no danger of a Great Unraveling.  It won't happen.

Where we differ--often mightily--is in what kinds of guns should be legal for private citizens to own and how they should be regulated.  Whenever a fresh gun-induced tragedy strikes, the argument starts all over again.  Those on my side pick up the fight for smaller calibers and stricter gun control and the "assault weapons are guns, too" crowd digs in and buys more firepower, just to prove they can.  It's now a multi-billion dollar industry, and the NRA, thanks to the politicians they own (along with--let's not forget--the Second Amendment), will go on daring us to try and do something about it.  They have no fear, and why should they?  They've never lost a battle yet.

I say let's take that dare.  Right now.  Today.  While the memory of 20 little first graders and the six adults who died trying to protect them is still so raw it's making our hearts bleed.

In voices as loud as those gunshot booms resonating throughout the halls of the Sandy Hook Elementary School, we can demand the end to the sales of military weapons and the ammunition that goes with them.  We can force the licensing of firearms, demand oversight at gun shows, and find a way to follow the paper trail for every gun owned in this country.

We don't need to ban all guns in order to get the assault weapons craze under control.  The collectors want those big guns because they want them and they think that's reason enough to make it a right to own them.  It's not.

The NRA has been pretty silent the last few days.  In fact, they're downright invisible. They took down their Facebook page and they're not answering their Twitter-phone.   If they're regrouping, trying to come up with some good reason why assault weapons shouldn't be banned, I can save them some trouble:  There is no good reason.

Wanting to own one because its big and bad and exciting is not a good reason.  Wanting to own one because you think the government is going rogue and you might need it to protect yourself and those around you is insanity.

Tom Toles, the Washington Post

In case you missed the latest craziness coming out of my state, Michigan, I'm ashamed to report that on the day before the mass shooting in Newtown, our legislature passed a bill allowing guns in classrooms.
The legislation is the largest rewrite of Michigan’s concealed weapon law since lawmakers made hard-to-obtain permits much easier for adults to receive beginning July 2001. Applications exploded. There were 351,599 permit holders as of Dec. 1, one for every 20 adults.
Most of the attention on the new bill has focused on provisions allowing hidden handguns in places where they are now forbidden, such as schools, university dorms and classrooms, and sporting stadiums.
The time for talking is over.  Now we act.  We get it done.

Friday, June 10, 2016

When Hillary Cracks the Ultimate Glass Ceiling, For Some of Us It’s Personal

On June 7, 2016, after a hard-fought landmark election, Hillary Clinton became the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. She's the first woman in the history of the United States to even come close to that pinnacle. It only took 227 years to crack that thickest of glass ceilings. (She'll have actually broken it when she wins.)

 If the goal in the coming days is to try and diminish this triumph, you'll fast realize how many of us are in the vanguard, protecting and supporting this woman, this former First Lady, this former Senator from New York, this former Secretary of State, this mother, this grandmother, this perennial choice for most disliked, distrusted famous American who still has the confidence and the audacity to run for president, not once but twice.

And here I'll get personal. I can't speak for the millions like myself who have faith that she'll make a damn good president, but my reasons make sense to me.

 I was born in 1937, the year after FDR was re-elected to his second term. My mother was 19 years old when she gave birth and I’m told it was no hardship for her to have to give up her five-year career as a housemaid in order to take care of me. Her eighth grade graduation marked the end of her schooling, and no amount of begging would change her father's mind. It was time for her to go to work, and employment for a 14-year-old girl in the 1930’s was limited in the main to cleaning houses. When she married my father at 17 any ambitions, any dreams she might have had were stuffed into a quiet place, nearly forgotten.

 I was the same age, 19, when I gave birth to my first child in 1957. I had no ambitions beyond being a wife and a mother, no illusions about where my life would take me. It would take me where my husband led me. It's true that I could not buy property without my husband as co-signer, could not get a credit card unless he agreed and signed for it, had to sign my name as Mrs. His Name, but I didn't feel stifled, I was not unhappy. It was the life I chose. It was the way it was.

Other women were not so lucky, and, as oblivious as I seemed to be about barriers to my own latent potential, I was acutely aware of the struggles, the burdens of so many other women, both inside and outside my circle.

The smart ones struggled to become educated, and then, once they'd climbed that hurdle, struggled to be able to use their talents to build meaningful careers.

The talented ones, the clever ones, the eccentrics, struggled to bring meaning to a natural creativity bursting to be free, to be recognized, to be celebrated.

The meek ones struggled to get through the day with their bodies and souls intact.

And then, in 1963, Betty Friedan wrote "The Feminine Mystique". It was, to put it mildly, an awakening. I hadn't realized until then that I was asleep, too. I can't say I became a full-fledged member of the Feminist Movement, but I sat up and took notice. I was a charter subscriber to Ms Magazine, paying for my subscription even before the first issue came out.

No woman came out of that mid-20th century era without scars. Some were deeper than others, but none of us escaped the efforts to dismiss us, to demean us, to turn us into children or dehumanized objects.

 By the time the movement came along, I was a housewife and a mother, struggling like everyone else to make sure the month didn't end before the money, but I wasn't so wrapped up in my own life that I wasn’t fully aware of the reasons for a revolutionary feminist uprising.  I wasn’t in need of liberation, but millions of other women were. I couldn't turn my back on them.

We went through the first few years struggling to explain the need to be liberated, to be treated fairly, to be seen, and a few more decades of outwardly insisting. It should be obvious to everyone that we're not there yet. Which brings me to Hillary Clinton.

 During the 2008 presidential election, I supported Barack Obama over Hillary. My initial image of Hillary was as the embattled First Lady who messed up our chances at universal health care, and as the woman who said she would never just stand by her man like Tammy Wynette, but then, when Bill’s philandering became a reason for impeachment, she did. I had heard enough about her to believe she wasn't trustworthy, she wasn't real, she wasn't ready or fit to be president. I barely remember the arguments for her. I vividly remember the arguments against her. They’re the same arguments we're seeing this time, updated to include her time as Secretary of State, adding another seven years' worth of grievances.

When I saw she was planning another run for the presidency I wondered what the hell was wrong with that woman. Only a flipping masochist would want to be put through that wringer again.

 I thought I would be supporting Bernie Sanders. His ideas were much closer to mine. He seemed far more heroic, our idealistic Don Quixote, our everyman, one of us. His message,"We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore", struck the exact right notes after so many years of near-stagnation. But I couldn't get Hillary out of my mind. Her reasons for running had to be more than raging ambition, more than the ultimate power trip, more than a golden opportunity for payback.

Then I watched the Benghazi marathon, the interrogation set up solely to once and for all humiliate and bring down this exasperating, uppity woman. I watched the entire 11 hours, banging away on my laptop, searching out the truth, the real truth, about Hillary. How did I not know she was a feminist? How did I not know of her work with women and children all over the world? I saw that much of the work she did for so many of us went unsung. She was all about the work and not all about the glory. She took the slings and arrows and flung them aside. She never let them get in her way.

 Even before the hearing was over I knew I would support her and not look back. It took a few days before I was ready to admit it in public, but I did it, to the dismay of some who thought I couldn’t possibly be serious. And to others who saw me as a turncoat, a traitor, a goddamned vagina.

We tend to forget that Hillary Clinton is a consummate politician. She thinks like a politician, she acts and reacts like a politician, she eats, breathes and sleeps in the midst of politics. She is not perfect, she has made big mistakes, she’s not always nice. She’s not like you and me. She has spent her entire adult life working toward this moment and now she’s at the door, working to push it open, wanting to see that ceiling come crashing down. And I’m right behind her, wanting to see it, too. She’s not the only one who’s been waiting a lifetime for this.