Saturday, December 29, 2012

Happy Holidays - There, Take That!

I always dread the months of December, January and most of February. First, because there is no NASCAR and life without NASCAR is, well, like a day without sunshine. Second, television programming sucks during this period. I watch NASCAR and news and that's pretty much it for me and television. In December and January, regular programming is more often than not preempted. Guest hosts fill in for the vacationing regulars with whom I've grown comfortable. News stories focus on a lot of soft stuff, like how to cook a Christmas ham and what gifts children want most and inspirational bits, such as young Christmas carolers serenading shut-ins.

During the Christmas portion of this period, there are many religious shows, which is natural, of course, but not my cup of tea, so I skip them. Fox News invariably rails about the so-called War on Christmas....a non-issue if ever there was one. Christmas has never "belonged" to any particular religion, despite what Christian fundamentalists believe.

Pagans were celebrating the winter solstice clear back in the mists of time. Probably even Neanderthals, whose lives revolved around the weather, recognized with joy when they were on the downhill side of winter. Our own Christmas was very likely deliberately created as a direct reaction against the Roman holiday, Saturnalia. Saturn being the God of Agriculture and the winter solstice when he was paid homage.

No one knew for sure when Jesus was born so why not proclaim his birthday, December 25, and give Christians something holy to celebrate rather than being tempted to engage in the drunken revelry that characterized Saturnalia.

So, Christmas with all its various trappings was borrowed from one generation to another and one country to another and one religion to another, despite Fox News and the rigid Christians wanting to claim it for their very own. It would be easier to believe in the sincerity of the Christian warriors if they confined themselves strictly to what they say they believe Christmas represents....Christ's Mass...a time of spiritual renewal. But, they buy into Christmas trees and Santa Claus and elves and mistletoe and wrapping paper and ribbons and decorated cookies....

Instead, they've now turned Christmas into something to be anxious about. I used to abbreviate Christmas to Xmas when I wrote long messages in cards (X, after all, being chi in Greek, the first letter in the Greek word for Christ, Xristos) but now I'm afraid I'll offend my correspondent if I do that....causing them anger instead of pleasure...defeating my purpose entirely. I used to use the terms Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays interchangeably (the word holiday, after all, meaning Holy Day) but now I'm afraid some outraged Christian will hit me if I inadvertently use the wrong greeting.

What a bunch of nonsense it all is. I'm happy if anyone wishes me glad tidings whatever form they take. Christmas should be about love and friendship and family and the generosity of giving from the heart. It should be a joyful state of mind. It shouldn't make you worry that you've stepped out of some person's cramped little view because they own it and get to be the ones to define it.

Happy Holidays, everyone!  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

No Middle Ground

Well, Christmas is over. My kids are back in Florida. We had a bit of a snowstorm - nothing major compared to some of the blizzards I've lived through but it was enough to make me appreciate retirement and being able to sit at home and watch it from the window. It was my little Pekinese, Chantilly's, first experience with snow and she loved it. She raced across the yard through all the pristine white, dove into it, tried to catch in her mouth, scooped it up with her nose and flung it everywhere, then came in wet and panting and happy. It was fun to see her get so much joy from snow.

During the Christmas stuff, I took a break from the news. Well, it would be more accurate to say the news took a break from me. Most of the normally-news networks featured religious programming or human interest stories. So, now it's back to real life and I tune back in to find that we're still teetering on the edge of the fiscal cliff but oh, well, the House of Representatives has gone home for the holidays. I guess they figure they'll worry about their responsibility for America's economy later...sometime....maybe.

My son and I watched the Wizard of Oz together while he was here. I told him the Republicans in Congress remind me of the Tinman, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow, all rolled into one. They have no heart, no brain and no courage. I have followed and written about politics for 30 years and while there have been political differences, huge debates, even impeachments during that time, I don't ever remember our political "leaders" being so much the victim of their own dysfunctional behavior.

They make me think of the Sandy Hook shooter. They have broken into the government with their assault rifle and extra clips, driven by an incomprehensible rage at the president and all of us who dared to vote him back into office, seemingly determined to force us to see their mentally unhinged light by raining death and destruction down upon us. Let us go over the cliff; let the markets collapse, let our credit rating tank, refuse to increase the debt ceiling so America can't pay its bills, let taxes go up and allow government employees be furloughed and the unemployed lose their checks. Let us look like immature idiots to the rest of the world. Sometimes you have to destroy the village to save it and they seem ready to destroy our national village if we, the president and the Democrats and even the sensible Republicans (what few are left) don't agree to give them their way. Forget the election and what they people voted for. As with their religious beliefs, they are so cosmically sure they are right, they can justify using any means to reach their ends.

And running counterpoint to their kind of political "no middle ground" game, is the NRA doing exactly the same. Gun lovers couch every argument as if those of us who support sensible gun control legislation want to send out the storm troopers to confiscate every gun in America. They have to argue that case because if they told the truth, people would see the reasonableness of banning assault rifles and high capacity magazines and closing the gun show loophole. Most people would probably agree that just maybe it might be wise for the Republicans to finally confirm a Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for the first time in six years or allow the ATF to computerize its database so that if cops are trying to track down a gun used to commit a crime, ATF employees don't have to search manually.

But, this is the Republican party circa 2013. There is no such thing as meeting halfway. You can tell a gun fanatic - "so, okay, I'm willing to try Wayne LaPierre's suggestion of putting armed guards in school if there is even the slightest possibility that it might prevent the next massacre". Are you then willing to try my way...banning assault weapons and high-cap mags based on the same possibility? Let's work together on this.

Oh, my God, no. No way! You give 100 percent; I give zero. That's the way it works in crazy Republicanville.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Semantic Games About Gun Control

"Guns don't kill people, people do." - If ever I have been sick to death of hearing a simplistic freakin' excuse for why we can't even attempt to make the slightest changes to gun laws in an effort to cut down on gun violence, it is this one. Some people on Facebook rush to make their point about the inviolability of firearm ownership even before posting the 20 stars meant to represent the children shot to death in the Sandy Hook Elementary School and the beautiful pictures of God welcoming them to heaven. It is, in effect, a shrug of the virtual shoulders - "of course, it's terrible, horrific but (shrug)...but there's nothing we can do. Let's change our avatars and turn off our Christmas lights for a night and then move on....until the next time.

"People get killed in automobile accidents, but we don't ban cars." That's another good one. No, we don't ban cars but we do have to take a test to get a driver's license - proving at least minimal qualifications to operate a vehicle, such as knowledge of laws and signs and ability to read an eye chart. We have to carry a photo i.d. to prove that the State has given us their stamp of approval. If we violate the laws, our licenses may be suspended. We can even be designated Habitual Offenders and garner a lifetime suspension if we persist in disobeying. We are all entered into a national database so that if we get a speeding ticket in Florida, we'll lose our Indiana license until we make things right with Florida. And, in addition, our vehicles must be registered. We pay taxes on them. We have to insure them. So, no, we don't ban cars but the government does do a lot to regulate them.

Some say that the difference is that driving a car is a privilege but owning guns is a constitutional right. Ironically, the same conservative types who are foaming-at-the-mouth militant that we should never submit to having our names entered into a gun registration database are the most approving of having to provide our Bureau of Motor Vehicle identification in order to vote, the most elementary of all of our constitutional rights. Go, figure. It appears they have seriously conflicting opinions about the acceptable use of power by Big Brother.

The same people who post on Facebook about the powerful God they serve, then theorize that this is all happening, these massacres, because we removed God from the schools. Seriously? We "removed" God from the schools? And this powerful God supposedly just slinked obediently away like a whipped pup? And is he a vengeful God who then said, "they made me leave so too bad about those kids but I'm out of it." Come on, people. If there is a God, such as the one you tell me you revere, He is surely not this weak...or this petty. You are imputing to him all-to-human attributes.

Aurora, Colorado - Jovan Belcher - a mall in Oregon - a Sikh temple in Wisconsin - a school in Connecticut - and who know how many other less-publicized gun homicides in that same time period. Are we ever going to reach a critical mass of anguish and at least begin a rational discussion about gun laws and what basic changes we might all agree to? Closing the gun show loophole so every single sale of a firearm requires a background check? Is that too much to ask. How crazy is it that we obsess over illegal aliens crossing our border and stopping potential terrorists from boarding planes but once here, insist, that there should be no method of stopping them from going to gun shows to buy weapons.

Mother Jones did a study on gun violence in America. Some of what they found:

1) Since 1982, there have been at least 61 mass murders by means of firearms in the US. They've happened in 30 states and in most cases, the shooters obtained their weapons legally.

2) Eleven of the worst mass shootings in the last 50 year took place in our country.

3) America is one of the world's most violent countries....but our rate of violence has been going down.

4) The South is the most violent region in the U.S.

5) Believe it or not, from what what you read, gun ownership in America is going down.

6) More guns lead to more gun homicides....which would seem to be self-evident, even if the NRA tries to convince you that it isn't so.

7) Further, states with stricter gun control laws have fewer death from guns. Duh.

I support closing the gun show loophole. I support re-instituting the ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. (And please don't cry to me about how you absolutely need these things for your own personal pursuit of happiness. For what?) I support anyone applying for a gun permit having to take a class and a test to show they have at least a passing knowledge of the proper use of firearms.

The NRA and the right-wingers profess a profound belief that we need our guns to prevent our very own government from staging a coup and taking our freedoms by force. People, I hate to tell you but if the government ever decides to to do such a thing, your little Glock and mine won't stop them.  The military has bombs, for Pete's sake. They have drones. They have fighter jets and the most sophisticated forms of intelligence beamed to them by satellite. They have biological and chemical weapons they can put in the water supply or spray into the air.

On the other hand, there are a gazillion guns in America. It would be an impossible task to confiscate them all even if Obama and the United Nations truly wanted to, which they don't. No one is going to come knocking at your door to demand you hand over your weapons. Most cops would refuse to obey such an order, even if it ever came, which it won't. Most soldiers would refuse, as well.

So, isn't the slaughter of twenty innocents by one man with guns enough of a reason for us to forego our knee-jerk reactions and rationally discuss what, if anything, we might do to lessen the possibility that it will happen again?

Monday, December 3, 2012

No Guts, No Glory

No Guts, No Glory

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off the cliff we go!

I feel exactly the same as I did the two times in my life that I voted to go on strike. I was so tired of being pushed around, I was ready to walk out and let the chips fall where they might. On both of those occasions, I was overruled by the majority of more fearful employees. On both occasions, the result was that labor got royally screwed by management. If the president and the Democrats back down from the Republicans this time, the middle class will get royally screwed....again.

It's not as if this current situation isn't a tired re-run of the same old bad movie we've been forced to sit through already. It's not as if we believe that this time it will, magically, have a happy ending.

We've watched the Republicans dominate through obstructionism for the last four years. We watched them kowtow to Grover Norquist. We watched them suck up to the greedy corporate interests while throwing the middle class under the bus. We've watched them stand in front of cameras and microphones and declare that white is black and black is white. We've watched them perfect the ploy of political blackmail via the filibuster. We watched them piss and moan about the president's unwillingness to compromise when we knew it was flatly the other way around. They even told us their agenda, right out loud. It wasn't a secret...their first priority was ensuring that Barack Obama was a one-term president. They went all out to do that - both in Congress and on the campaign trail - at the expense of the country's best interests.

For the first time ever, raising the debt ceiling became an issue although Congress had routinely upped it numerous times before under presidents, Republican and Democrat. "Czars" became an issue, as if naming a czar to oversee an issue was something Obama invented. He didn't....Ronald Reagan did. Executive privilege became an issue, executive orders became an issue...even the president's freakin' vacations became an no other president had ever claimed executive privilege, signed an executive order or gone on vacation before!

After eight years of spending money like crazed jackpot lottery winners, the Republicans were suddenly hysterical about deficits. It was if they woke up from a coma as soon as Obama took office and wanted something doneimmediately, although their own purchases they'd run up on America's credit card were still racking up on-going charges - two wars, huge tax cuts, Medicare Part D. For the first time, in their four-year-long fit of venal pique, they allowed our credit rating to be downgraded. They've tried to make something out of nothing with their endless hearings about Fast and Furious. All the cabinet members they've treated with utter contempt and destroy have been African-Americans - Eric Holder, Shirley Sherrod, Susan Rice. Imagine that. Streams of crocodile tears flood down their cheeks at the allegation that they are racists - even as their racism jumps out and socks you in the gut, add in there, homophobia and misogyny for good measure. Oh, and they don't like working people and poor people very well either.

Who does that leave? The same groups the Republicans will always go to the mat for - the rich and corporations. They'll let interest rates on Pell grants go up, leaving students in the lurch, while fighting tooth and nail not to regulate the same bankers who practically broke us (talk about your fiscal cliffs). They'll let payroll tax cuts expire while charging to the front lines for oil company rebates. They'll move heaven and earth to protect lower tax rates for the top 2 percent while sticking a shiv in old people who depend on Medicare and social security. Down with Equal Pay for Equal Work, Violence Against Women, Planned Parenthood, Head Start, free lunches and food stamps and up with rescinding the Death Tax, zero taxes on dividend income, rebates for taking jobs overseas!

Well, you know what? We had a campaign. They got to present their side and we got to present ours. The American people voted and we won. That means we're in charge. You got that Obama and Democrats? It's time to go balls to the wall for our principles. If that means going over the cliff, then hold your breath and jump!