Friday, July 25, 2014

Taking the Easy Way Out


Sometimes, I wish that every domestic political story would simply disappear from the television, from newspapers and magazines and from the internet. Instead, there would simply be a neutral recital of whatever congress was debating along with a list of how each one voted on each issue (perhaps on C-Span). Don't even add the D's and R's behind their names. Let us decide based on what we think, without being influenced by party. Just cut away all the crap of reporters explaining to us the political ramifications ("they had to vote this way to please their "base").

Put the text of each bill and how it is to be paid for right up there on the screen for those who care enough to read it, along with any amendments that go with it. I'm always hearing things like "the Republicans voted it down because the Democrats added 'pork'" or vice versa. Just tell me what it is and I'll determine whether I think it is "pork" or not. (Is repairing a bridge that is falling down in Ohio pork? - is research into why honey bees are dying pork?) Pork is in the eye of the beholder.

Just give us the facts without all the hyperbolic bullshit. All the "yeah, buts" as in -

Questioner: "Do you support Equal Pay for Equal Work?"

Answer: "Yeah, but....I couldn't vote for it because...."

Questioner: "That will be all, thank you, we have the wording of the legislation on the screen so people can decide for themselves if they approve of the bill or not."

I wonder how many of us would change our minds if we weren't able to simply follow our party? If we didn't depend on Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow to help us know what to think? If we didn't stick to our own prejudices and read both Breitbart and the Daily Kos and gave what they had to say equal consideration instead of reflexively supporting one and rejecting the other?

The media even tells us how we feel. I often read on the conservative blogs about something that I, as a card-carrying liberal, am "foaming at the mouth" or "enraged" or "have gone ballistic" about when I'm not even close to foaming at the mouth or being enraged or going ballistic. I may disagree with whatever the issue is but it isn't "foaming at the mouth" disagreement.

Or I see that some Tea Party type has "schooled" or "smacked down" or "crushed" President Obama but when I watch the video clip that not what I see at all.

I'm sure conservatives can come up with examples of the same thing on their side and they are welcome to do so. I'll be glad to post their comments here but that's up to them, I'm not going to do their work for them.

I admit to my own biases but I believe the conservative side is way more dug into staying in their own ivory tower world and refusing to even consider that they may be wrong about anything whatsoever than liberals. I have blocked exactly two people on Facebook and in neither case did it have anything to do with their rabid political views (which I'll gladly debate all day long) but that they both descended into personal attacks. Meanwhile, I have been blocked by several Republican/conservatives simply because they couldn't stand to hear my thoughts. They aren't interested in debate, they just want to sing with their own choir. (Of course, there are liberals like this too...just not as many.)

You have to believe that some issues would simply be a given for working people - minimum wage, equal pay, expanding unemployment, even healthcare, if politics didn't rear its ugly head. Who thinks any family can live on $7.25 an hour? And yet facts (there are still some realities, believe it or not) prove that states that increase their minimum wage experience job gains not losses. So how could anyone not be for it? Well, because their political leaders tell them not to be.

We do not even recognize our own inconsistencies. We don't want the minimum wage increased (socialist interference in business, don't you know), yet we want fewer people on food stamps.

My conservative debaters tell me over and over what terrible shape America is in. In fact, it is barely even America anymore. We are descending into tyranny with our freedoms being taken away right and left. It's just awful. We might have to have another revolution. Terrorists and illegal immigrants are descending on  us in hordes, threatening to destroy us. And President Obama is encouraging them. In fact, you know, Obama has never done one single right thing since he's been president. Literally, everything he has ever done has been wrong. Even things you might have thought on the surface that seemed good, killing Osama bin Laden, for instance, really wasn't when you know the true story. Rescuing our soldier from the Taliban wasn't a good thing, it was actually treason! Finding the first Fort Hood shooter guilty and sentencing him to the death penalty wasn't a good thing because they called him by the wrong name!

So, the economy is still in the bottom of the pit, according to them, but those lazy moochers on unemployment could get a job if they really wanted to.

Conservatives remind me of Lewis Carroll who told Alice, "I try to believe six impossible things before breakfast."

What do I think about the shape America is in? I'm 67 and trust me, I've lived through worse times. It's not perfect but on the other hand, I look around and I don't notice that the sky is falling. I can't think of a freedom I've lost. I still have my guns. None of my friends have been hauled off to a FEMA camp. The Tea Partiers still seem perfectly free to say what they want, no matter how scurrilous it may be. Ditto, liberals.

It's interesting to imagine how our thought processes would change if we weren't swayed by parties or labels....not that we'll ever find out, of course.



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Five Generations of Sliding Downhill

My mother had a phobia about little old ladies who shuffle. She always used to tell me, "if you see me shuffling, you tell me, 'pick up your feet, Jane', you're shuffling." Until the very last, she made a heroic effort not to shuffle.

I, personally, don't have that much of a fixation about shuffling. If I'm home, I'm barefoot and I guess being barefoot is not conducive to shuffling.

My father's pet peeve was women who didn't get dressed in the morning. He thought remaining in a robe was the epitome of shiftlessness. As a consequence, thirty years after he died, Mom still got dressed as soon as she finished her first cup of coffee. Meanwhile, I've been known to hang out at the computer in my robe, coffee and cigarettes at my side, until noon or later. Each generation seems to become more self-indulgent. Lazy robe-wearer that I am myself, I'm always kind of shocked when I see the next generation of girls at Village Pantry in their pajamas.

My grandmother was an immaculate little old lady. You never saw her that her (blue) hair wasn't styled. Her clothes matched her shoes which matched her purse which matched her jewelry which matched her fingernails. We cousins laughed about her penchant for color coordination sometimes.

"Who are you trying to impress, Grandma?" we'd ask.

"I'm not trying to impress anyone. I do it for my own sense of pride," she would say haughtily.

She often told the story of her mother. My great-grandma committed the sin of sins - she fell in love with and married the hired man. Her family disowned her for this stain on the family honor but her father allowed the young couple to live in a fixed up chicken house on the farm. They eventually had several children. Rough as their living conditions were, my grandma made the point that none of her kids ever saw their mother not fully dressed with her long hair done up in a pompadour.

"She never left her bedroom until her toilette was complete."

The story did have a happy ending. One Christmas, great-great-grandpa told his wife, "I can't stand it anymore, Addie, those are our grand-children and I'm taking them Christmas."

So, he loaded up the sleigh with food and toys and other presents and rode down to where they lived. It took a while longer for his stiff-necked wife to give in but eventually she did and great-grandma was accepted back into the bosom of the family.

I always wondered if there was lingering bitterness that they allowed her and her husband and children to live for so long in a chicken house or if she was simply joyful to be part of them again. I asked Grandma but she didn't know.

But there you go - the history of self-discipline writ in five generations. A woman living in an old chicken coop with several children but who never let her own family see her en deshabille. To a woman who was perfectly dressed and coifed at all times. To a woman who worried about shuffling. To a shiftless barefoot robe-wearer. To a girl who feels comfortable wearing her p.j.s to the store.

Apparently, as females, we live in an era of lax intestinal fortitude. On the other hand, hardly any of us nowadays would cast out our daughter for marrying the hired man.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Beware the Terrorist Children.


Not since Bowe Bergdahl has any issue torn at my heart like this one. It's like picking a scab to keep discussing it when I know it is hopeless to change anyone's mind but I keep worrying it, thinking, "they surely don't really mean what they are saying, they can't be that heartless." But, yes, they answer again and again....they do mean it and yes, they are that heartless.

Typical was a demonstration against a supposed busload of refugee kids heading for a temporary home in a school for at-risk boys in Oracle, Arizona. Protesters were there to meet them with screams and signs and guns. "We don't want you here! You're not welcome!"

It turned out this was not a busload of refugees but rather a YMCA bus carrying American kids to an event. Oops. When they realized what the situation was, the protesters, of course, backed off. They stopped shouting and lowered their signs to smile and wave instead. In the video, one of the protesters could be heard saying, "we're going to scare these poor kids to death."

If good old Americans kids with nothing to fear were going to be scared to death, imagine how terrified refugee kids would feel? They've often left their parents behind to make a horrendous journey from their home country, through Mexico, possibly being beaten or raped along the way, to finally make it to the U.S. only to be met by people as scary and hostile as the gang and drug cartels at home.

And that was the point of the demonstration, wasn't it? The kids themselves have no autonomy. They were in the hands of the authorities who made the decisions for them so letting them know how despised and rejected they were would only accomplish one threaten and frighten them. Wow, terrifying children - makes you proud to be an American, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, those two courageous macho men, Rick Perry and Sean Hannity are floating down the Rio Grande in a boat bristling with guns, single-handedly protecting us from 7-year-old kids. Some of my Facebook correspondents do believe that's the answer to this crisis - more guns, more tanks, more drones. I asked how they would handle it? Would they mow down anyone who tried to cross? Would they only shoot the adults, leaving the kids to fend for themselves on the Mexican side? If you're going to make these kinds of declarations, you have to think through how it would work, right?

One friend took me to task for insisting on referring to all the border crossers as children when obviously, they are not and I agreed that was true. I did tend to do that because the kids are my primary concern. But she is equally guilty of denouncing them all as gang and drug cartel members when obviously they are not that either. Many of my debaters simply refuse to believe that the information we get about the conditions in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala is not bogus. (Some kind of Obama plot).

I think the difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives are simply incapable of putting themselves in another's shoes to say, "what would I do if....", at least, with anything approaching reality.

Question: - "What would I do if my child was shot my a wannabe cop coming home the convenience store?"

Answer: - "That could never be my kid because he's not a thug."

Question: - "Can you imagine how horrible circumstances at home must be for a mother to be desperate enough to send her children off on such a terrible journey, never knowing if she'll see them again or whether they'll survived the trip (many don't)?"

Answer - "I would never do that."

I asked some of these people - "You guys claim to be Christians and often ask, WWJD. What do you think Jesus would do in this situation?"

One response: - "he'd build a goddam fence!"

It makes me think of the Berlin Wall. People who are desperate do desperate things and many people were killed trying to climb or fly over or tunnel under that wall in a bid for freedom. When the wall came down, people flooded across from East Germany to find a better life in the West. We all celebrated that event but if it happened today on America's Mexico border, I guess we'd line our side with tanks and shoot them as they came across. We probably should have droned and drowned the Mariel boat people trying to escape from Cuba instead of making them all welcome.

America has never been as perfect as some people want to believe. Our history is one that includes both generosity of spirit mixed in with some truly shameful behavior. But through it all, I still thought of America as being the leader in enlightenment. Given time, we usually did the right thing.  We encouraged other countries to deal with their refugees with humanity and respect. We extended civil rights and worker's right. We cared for our poor and vulnerable. We helped write the Accords that banned torture. We outlawed "cruel and unusual" punishment and put our faith in due process.

And there are lots of us who still believe in all those American principles but many, it seems, no longer do. This cruelly conservative America is a country I don't even recognize anymore.

After all, unless you're a Native American, we're all just immigrants here.



Sunday, July 13, 2014

Animals Are People Too



I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. So much of it is adversarial and acrimonious. It shows us just how divided into contentious enemy camps we have become in America. (I freely admit that I jump into those political wars with all four feet so I contribute to that problem).  People expound, what seem to me, to be fantastical conspiracy theories. I'm sometimes stunned by the cold-hearted cruelty some of my friends exhibit on Facebook. These are people I know to be kind and generous in "real life". Some play out their emotional dramas on the computer screen for all their friends to see.

On the other hand, Facebook has been the source of education and inspiration as well. I've learned about the most fabulous places in the world I never knew existed. I've discovered gorgeous flowers and birds and animals I'd never seen before. I've seen awesome talent that likely never would have been discovered without Facebook. I've  read incredible stories of heroism and hope. As I scroll down my newsfeed, my faith in human nature is first plunged to the depths and then raised to the sky from one post to the next.

If I had to select the most positive benefit of Facebook, I would say that has helped us see that animals are really often not so different than humans. For all of mankind's existence, we have held them to be far lesser creatures than ourselves and, therefore, we had no responsibility to treat them as sentient beings.

 "Oh, animals don't love the way we do."

"Animals don't hurt the way we do."

"Animal behavior is dictated by instinct and not consciousness."

We have come to see that none of that is true. Through pictures and videos, we've found that they do love and they do hurt and they do think.

Animals are loyal. Raise an orphan lion, release him to the wild, go back and find him long after and he will be overjoyed to see you. He will hug you and lick you and bring his mate to meet you.

Wild animal mothers will conquer their fear of people to come find a human to help rescue a trapped baby.

Save a whale or dolphin from the nets that have bound him and he will exhibit what certainly seems like gratitude in the ways that are possible to him. And sometimes these same animals will save you if you are in a bad situation.

Animals are capable of bonding with those we would normally consider their natural enemies as illustrated by the pictures above (and you can find many, many more). They suffer when they are separated from their friends and from their babies. Animal mommas will happily adopt infants not of their own species.

I have friends who operate an exotic bird rescue. (Shout out to Deb and Mark at Frosty and Friends!) I learned from them that the most supposedly vicious bird is usually a product of its inhumane environment. Mark and Deb have such rapport with them that they respond and soon become loving companions. Thanks to Facebook, Frosty and Friends has been able to get the word out to those interested in helping in ways they couldn't have BF (Before Facebook). So have many other animal rescue sites.

We still have a long way to go to have our consciousnesses raised regarding animals. Some will still insist, in their human arrogance, that it is all right to keep sows in tiny crates because they don't feel discomfort like we do. It's all right to eradicate wolves because they have no value to humans. It is all right to keep mares pregnant, then remove their foals, to produce our hormones. Circuses are all right and zoos are all right and marine shows are all right. Wiping out wild horse bands is all right because, after all, we need their range for our cows.

Anthropomorphism, or attributing human characteristics to animals, used to be derided as foolishness but more and more, we are finding that animals do, in fact, harbor many of the same qualities we pride in ourselves. Of course, acknowledging that truth means that our traditional definition of "stewardship" may mean something more profound.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Conservatives Supremes....Thy Name is Cynicism


I'm convinced that the conservative Supremes have abandoned all pretense of being judicial. Chief Justice John Roberts doesn't even appear to care about the ultimate legacy of the Roberts Court anymore. They don't know how long it will be until there is another Republican president so they have to strike while the iron is hot and they still have a majority. Therefore, they are simply accepting cases in which they can move the pendulum rightward as far and as fast as they can. Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Scalia are a right-wing radical's wet dream, having never met arch-conservative idea they didn't like. 

The Big Daddy decision of the conservative court was Bush v Gore, of course. That was when we first saw shockingly naked partisanship in action and got a glimpse of the future. The rationale for declaring George W Bush president never made sense. "Hanging" chads versus "dimpled" chads. Yep, that's a great excuse for deciding an election of president of the United States, all right. But they already knew how they were going to vote and that was as good a reason as any. 

Since then, we've had the infamous "corporations are people" and "money is free speech" decisions that have turned the election process upside down and sold democracy to the highest bidder. 

We had the gutting of the civil rights act because "they aren't trying to stop African-Americans from voting, they're trying to stop Democrats from voting and hey, that's not our problem." Naturally, before this ruling was hot off the presses, the red states that had previously been targeted for past discriminatory behavior, jumped in with onerous new restrictions. North Carolina and Texas were practically screaming, "nyah, nyah, nyah, the Court is on our side now! What are ya' gonna' do about it?"

In this year's docket, the conservative court ruled against unions in Harris vs. Harris. The Court held 5-4 that the government could not force home care personal assistants to pay union dues if they did not wish to join the union. Put together with earlier decisions, the right-leaning Supremes have weakened union rights all along the way.  

At the same time, of course, is the Hobby Lobby decision and that goes back to that original bugaboo that corporations are people. Alito argued that corporations are really the humans who own them and thus, able to have religious beliefs. The conservatives did stipulate "closely held" corporations but the majority of corporations are "closely held", including Walmart, the largest of them all. 

The Court carved out a very narrow exemption. It only applies to contraceptives. The denominations that don't believe in transfusions cannot rely on this opinion. The corporations that may be opposed to vasectomies (because, after all, sex is only for pro-creation) cannot use this opinion. Men who count on erectile dysfunction products for satisfying sex lives are safe. Nope, it only applies to women's issues, say the five Catholic males who dominate all of our lives. Their ruling was based on "religious freedom" but obviously, some religious freedoms are more equal than others, depending on the justices own personal views.

Narrow though it may be, I see this decision as the camel's nose under the tent. If corporations can justify not following the law on one issue, there will surely be more tests coming down the pike involving others, such as the "religious freedom" not to hire LGBT employees. 

Of course, to any normal human being not swayed by politics, corporations are definitely not people. They become corporations to protect themselves from the liabilities of being people. If the corporation goes bankrupt, the people who own it can walk away. If the corporation is sued for negligence, the people who own it can shrug it off. Why did the people who practically took down the American economy with their shoddy business practices get off scot-free? Because it was their corporations that screwed up, not them personally. Now though, the people who own businesses have the best of both worlds - the shield that being a corporation provides while still being counted as people when they want to discriminate.

It used to be that Supreme Court justices bent over backwards to maintain their public neutrality in order to protect the people's faith in the court as an impartial arbiter but they don't bother with that anymore.  

As Media Matters reports: Ginni Thomas (wife of Clarence Thomas, who will probably go down in history as the worst Supreme Court Justice in American history) was the founder and leader of Liberty Central, a political nonprofit “dedicated to opposing what she characterizes as the leftist ‘tyranny’ of President Obama and Democrats in Congress.” The group was funded by Harlan Crow, frequent patron of the Thomas’ projects and causes and a financial supporter of right-wing campaigns such as the “swift boat” attacks on then-presidential candidate John Kerry and the advertising push to confirm President George W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominees. Crow also serves on the board of the American Enterprise Institute, whose Edward Blum brought the two most recent attacks on the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action before the Supreme Court. Justice Thomas favored Blum’s positions against progressive precedent on both civil rights issues.

Alito and Scalia frequently speak to conservative groups, making no bones about their politics.

We frequently talk about the partisan divide in this country as epitomized by Congress but that is to be expected in the political realm. We expect more from the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, what we are getting is more of the same from the almighty bench.  


Friday, June 27, 2014

All Men Are Created Equal.....


Wow, who would have thunk that my state of Indiana, my backward crimson red state, would ever have allowed gay marriage? I would have assumed we'd be one of the very last to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century!

Of course, our controlling Republican legislature didn't do it of their own free will. It took the actions of federal judge, Richard Young, to rule that our ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional (which incidentally is the same decision of every judge who has heard these suits across the country). And, of course, our attorney general is going to appeal the decision, and hoping for a stay while that process is going on.

But in the meantime, gay couples are filling the county clerks' offices in Indiana. And the majority of counties are performing same-sex marriages. These couples could find themselves in a legal limbo if the attorney general wins his appeal but bless those who are plowing forward - the more weddings that are performed, the harder it will be to regress. Even if it happens, I can just about guarantee that the governing powers will only win temporarily. They are on the wrong side of history and the culture so it is only a matter of time.

Because marriage is a civil right. The United States Declaration of Independence states as follows:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  
I don't know a better definition of the Pursuit of Happiness than being able to declare your love for another through the sanctity of marriage.

And it's not like many straight couples aren't exactly role models for that sanctity, honoring it mostly in the breach, as they cheat and beat their spouses and get divorced as easily as going through a revolving door. So maybe it is a question of glass houses......

I've read many articles and blog posts about how fundamentalists believe they have copyrighted marriage and only they have the right to use the term or define who may or may not have their couplings blessed by God. That's fine. They have the right to believe whatever they choose but they do not have the right to force others to live by those beliefs.

In fact, the first recorded evidence of marriage occurred 4,000 years ago in Egypt. Back then, marriages were mostly done for the consolidation of power and wealth as high-ups married their daughters off to the sons of other prominent and affluent families.

Male bonding ceremonies used to be common, particularly in the Mediterranean areas. They included marriage prayers, holding hands at the altar and ended with a ceremonial kiss.

Religion didn't really enter in to marriage much until the collapse of the Roman Empire when church ceremonies took over for civil courts. As the Church grew more powerful in the Middle Ages, it claimed marriage for its very own.

In early America, marriages were extremely lop-sided. Men were the masters while women were considered property. Weddings were less about love and more about financial negotiations. (This is still true, of course, in many parts of the world). As women began fighting for equal rights, marriages eventually became the pairing of equals.

So conservative Christians don't "own" the concept of marriage. They can refuse to bless gay marriage. Their own churches can refuse to perform them but they can't mandate that other churches follow their lead. They are going to lose in the end as younger Americans....and even many of us old ones....don't see the big deal.

The future is here in Indiana. There may be some bumps in the road but they will only be temporary setbacks and to that I say, "yes, ALL men are created equal"!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Peace, Please


I don't care. I don't care about Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria or Iran or Saudi Arabia or Libya. I don't care what kind of government they have. I don't care if they go to war with one another. I don't care how many of each other they kill.

Of course, that isn't exactly true. If there was something we could do to make a real impact, I might be in favor of doing it, but I don't think there is such a thing. And I don't think they appreciate our interference, just as we wouldn't appreciate it if one or more of those countries came over here and said our own philosophical division was getting entirely too hate-filled and threatened to bomb us if we didn't get it together.

Religion has been a catalyst for wars since mankind has existed. Even when we find a wise man who preaches that violence isn't the way, and proves it, be it Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha or Gandhi or Martin Luther King, we find torturous ways to explain why they didn't really mean it..but yes, actually, I think they did. We find the Muslims more...what?...barbaric in their sectarian hate but don't forget, until recently Protestants and Catholics were blowing each other up in Ireland....good old western European white people were just as eager to send their kids out to die in the name of religion as Muslims.

I can only think of a couple reasons to go to war. One is in self-defense, of course. And I mean, self-defense in the most elemental terms not the perversely twisted definitions of the term from those who want us back in the Middle East. Did Afghanistan meet the criteria for self-defense? Yes, in the beginning when were after bin Laden and Al Qaeda, but not later, when we stayed on and on for reasons no one seemed to be able to explain.

The second legitimate rationale for war is defense of our most strategic and trusted allies. Thus, we were justified to go into World War II. We had to help save Britain and France. We may have to go to war someday for Israel's sake, although Israel has done everything it can possibly do to ensure that they can take care of themselves. Do you think Israel's troops would shed their uniforms and run in the event of an attack as the Iraqi Army did? No, I don't think so either.

What about Vietnam? Could we articulate why we thought it was necessary to see 58,000 of our young men slaughtered in South East Asia? No way! Korea, despite a somewhat better outcome than Vietnam, I say no.

Some people will ask, "well, what about defending the world's precious oil supply?" and I say it would be a good thing in the long run if that supply became expensive and unstable. It is probably the only way, we will face the fossil fuel crisis head on. I have enough faith in America to think if the chips are down, our scientists and technologists and engineers, who are the world's best, would work day and night to replace oil with renewable resources. We are starting to do that now. Some countries, such as Germany, are already well on their way to having achieved that goal. How often have we intervened in Africa compared to the Middle East although there are just as many vicious dictators and hungry refugees and children dead of brutality or disease as there are in Iraq and Syria? Why do we care so much more about one part of the world than another? The answer is oil, of course. The sooner we are independent of the Middle East for our energy, the better.

Religious differences are even at the heart of our own growing mistrust and loathing of one another here in America. Muslim fear is at the heart of the whole plethora of "Obama wasn't born here; he isn't a Christian; he's a secret Muslim mole who wants to destroy America and you're a traitor if you support him" lunatic conspiracy theories. It's strange how hate works like that.

So I say, let the Middle East figure out it's own fate. When the dust settles, we can try to initiate diplomatic relations with the winners....or not.