Sunday, December 22, 2013

You Might Be Worried about Phil but He Isn't Worried About You

Well, I guess I have to write my obligatory article about all the hoo-hah surrounding an article in GQ Magazine in which Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Duck Dynasty clan, was interviewed. Sounds like Ole Phil stirred some shit and made a lot of people upset to the point of A&E suspending him. I really don't care very much. My world will go on just fine, with or without Phil Robertson.

Incidentally, here's a link in case you want to see for yourself what all the uproar was about - Duck Dynasty.

I will say, this has absolutely nothing to do with the First Amendment which has never protected us from repercussions by our employer should they believe we are tarnishing their brand as many athletes, television anchors, actors and others have discovered that to their dismay. It is worse for celebrities because they get so much attention. It is part of the downside for all that money and fame. But if you think it can't happen to you, go out and say something that puts your employer's business at risk and see what happens to you.

It also has nothing to do with religious freedom. Phil has a right to say what he thinks; gays have a right to react to what he said. It's a two-way street.

My takeaway from all of this is to wonder why in the world so many poor or near-poor people are so intensely concerned about rich people. We went through this back during the Paula Deen fiasco. Oh, my God, people on Facebook howled about what they characterized as Paula's unfair mistreatment. They signed petitions; they sent her messages of support; some of them sent her donations!

A lot of these folks probably wonder how they are going to make the house payment every month. It is a budgetary crisis when the car needs new tires but what are they worried about? Poor Paula's bank balance dropping from $100 million to only $50 million. Oh, the unbearable pain of it!

And now we have Phil and the same scenario. The Duck Dynasty family is rich, people, and they will continue to be rich whether they stay with the show or leave it. They were rich even before they became television stars. They don't really need us to boo-hoo over Phil's supposed victimization.

Conservative politics seems to have taught many of us that money equals value. We are worth as much as we have in our Cayman Island tax shelter. Our top one percent are the top one percent precisely because God approves of them more and so that means we should reward them more too. Bigger tax breaks, more subsidies. Hey, there, Mitt Romney up on your pedestal!

We cry and whine over Paula and Phil Robertson and yawn when Congress cuts food stamps and unemployment benefits because you know, those people wouldn't be in the position to need them if they'd just get off their lazy asses and go to work. And if their kids suffer right along with them, well, they should have thought of that.

Why is it, do you suppose, that we shrug off the serious problems of the poor and working class (to which most of us belong) while becoming obsessed about Paula Deen and Phil Robertson who, trust me, will be just fine without us. And that's a fact, Jack.    

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Nazis

I've never been much of a Christmas person to start with. I never got off on putting up Christmas trees or decorating the house with Christmas wreathes and candles and salt and pepper shakers and place mats. I didn't especially like shopping and I hated wrapping. 

One thing I did enjoy though was sending out Christmas cards.....that is before the Christmas Nazis took over and ruined it.

I always preferred boxes of mixed cards, rather than all of one kind, because that way I could mix and match the sentiment to the person I was sending the card to. I had religious friends so I chose for them the ones of the Wise Men. I had Jewish friends so I made sure to pick out a generic Happy Holidays card for them. My animal-loving friends got the precious pictures of kitties and puppies in front of the holiday bedecked fireplace. I gave a lot of thought to who would get the peace dove, the beautiful country scene, the old-fashioned Victorian one.

And I always wrote short letters in all of them. Some people I saw all the time but Christmas is the season for telling people how much you care for them. I enjoyed letting co-workers know how much I appreciated spending my working days with them. I liked connecting with cousins or far-away friends with whom I wasn't in frequent contact.

It never occurred to me that I might be inadvertently offending people to whom I thought I was simply sending affectionate regards and best wishes. I never realized that some people probably snarled when they received my Seasons Greetings or Happy Holidays card because it didn't say Merry Christmas instead.

And, oh, my God, I frequently shortened Christmas to Xmas in my many letters! I had no clue that this was anathema to the truly devout.

I  honestly never considered that Christmas cards and greetings could be a source of resentment instead of pleasure.

In fact, I never really thought that any one religion "owned" Christmas. I didn't dream that the holiday came with rules and regulations that had to pass their muster to be valid. Of course, I knew it had special connotations for Christians but I thought the all-encompassing holiday had expanded to include everyone who wanted to share the beauty of its larger meaning, that of peace on earth, good will to all.

Santa and elves are not particularly religious. Neither are snowmen and bells and decorated trees and plowing over your neighbor at the mall to get a $2 waffle iron.

And now we are in fight about what color Santa is and once again, the fundamentalist breed of Christian assumes their right to dictate. Santa is white....end of story. He's ours and we ain't sharing.

And Jesus has been brought into this ethnic battle as well although Jesus was a Semitic Jew and the chances are that the little blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus that you see in the manger on your Christmas card isn't true at all.

Anyway, the right-wing Christmas police have made it all so ugly, I quit sending cards although I think it is sad that this holiday should deteriorate into a time of division and hard feelings, the exact opposite of what it is meant to be.

To those of you who appreciate the spirit behind holiday greetings however they are couched - Seasons Greetings, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa, Heartfelt Hanukkah and Felicitous Festivus.

Friday, November 29, 2013

"Corporations are People, my Friend"

As Mitt Romney so infamously said. But are they? Are corporations people? The right-tilting side of the Supreme Court seemed to say yes with the Citizens United case in which they deemed that corporations have free speech rights just like people. Furthermore, they decided, not only are corporations people for the purposes of politics but money is the same as free speech.

Why do most people incorporate their businesses? Well, when my friends and I opened our pizza store, we became a Limited Liability Corporation for the purposes of insulating ourselves against the possibility of failure. We didn't want to be personally responsible for the debts left owing if the business went under, which a majority of small, new businesses do. The government wanted to encourage people to take chances on starting new businesses, which are the lifesblood of the nation's economy, so they made incorporation a way to eliminate the fear that if the company went down the toilet, the owner's personal lives wouldn't be flushed right along with it.

So, corporations were given special privileges that real people don't have but, in return, the owners of the corporation lost some rights too. The company now had to put their personal feelings aside and abide by the laws that dictate what corporations may and may not do.

At least, they have been until now. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases that deal with the right of corporations to dictate their employees health care decisions on religious grounds. The Affordable Care Act requires that businesses must provide contraception to their female employees. In the first case, Sebelius v Hobby Lobby, the company objects to providing its employees with certain forms of contraception that prevent a fertilized egg from implanting into the uterus (the sponge, the morning after pill, IUDs), which it considers abortion. In the smorgasbord of family planning choices, the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, picks and chooses for itself what it does and does not approve of. A lower court favored Hobby Lobby.

In the second case, the Mennonite-owned Conestoga Wood Specialties, Inc. does not want to provide its employees with any type of birth control. The lower court sided with the government in this case.

Now the Supremes must sort it out. Will the same justices who declared that corporations are people for purposes of politics consider them people whose religious consciences must be honored?

In 1990, Antonin Scalia pooh-poohed the idea that Native Americans who were terminated for smoking peyote as part of a religious ceremony should be reinstated. It will be curious to see if he feels the same about providing contraception - or is it only his own religion which deserves such deference?

If the court's ruling is, once again, that corporations are people, where is the bottom of that slippery slope? Can a Muslim corporation mandate that its employees pray five times a day, while bowing to the east? Can it order its female employees to wear burkas while at work? Can a Jewish corporation insist that its employees not bring pork into the company cafeteria? Can a company owned by Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to pay for blood transfusions? Do those Indians fired for smoking peyote get their jobs back?

My own opinion is that the Supreme Court made an enormous misjudgment in ever declaring corporations even remotely like people. Corporations exist simply for the purpose of commerce. They are unfeeling, emotionless entities, their existences are simply law-created words on paper. It is not against the law to "kill" corporations (about which, Mitt Romney himself should be very glad since Bain Capital killed many of them). At the point owners choose to take their businesses public, they too lose the right to religious and political freedom. That's not to say they can't contribute to organizations that promote political parties or churches, but they themselves must be neutral. They must follow the laws of the land....all the laws of the land.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Good-bye Mom

My mother died yesterday after a hard three years during which she began experiencing dementia that got progressively worse. I finally retired to stay home with her. She had quit driving and she could no longer be trusted to cook. She forgot where her clothes were. She filled sacks with stuff and begged me to take her "home" though she's lived here with me in this house for over 20 years. It was heartbreaking for both her and me. She was 94 years old.

When I think of my mother, I think of the quintessential American. She grew up on a homestead in Arizona, riding her horse to school in a railroad car. At every seat, an Anglo child sat with a Latino child, both learning the other's language. They traded homemade bread and white bean sandwiches for refried beans wrapped in tortillas. (Life was simpler than, huh? The Mexicans were the ones who'd been there the longest.) When my grandfather died, my grandmother abandoned the ranch and brought her five children back to Illinois. She went to school to become a nurse.

Economic times were still hard then. Mom, the oldest, went to work in a Chinese laundry at 14 and gave all her money to Grandma to help feed the family. She still managed to complete high school although it took her a couple of extra years. During the war, she was one of the original Rosie the Riveters, working in an aircraft plant while the men were fighting. When they returned, they said, "okay, you gals can go on home now," but women like Mom, who'd found financial independence said, "not so fast".

My father was a rolling stone, a genius with machinery. He never filled out an application but simply said, "give me a machine, a piece of metal and a blueprint, then tell me if you have a job for me." He always got the job but he never stayed long. He loved moving on and traveling in trains and staying in hotels. My whole childhood was a series of moves from one end of the country to the other and back again - Philadelphia and Birmingham, Cheyenne and L.A., Phoenix and Chicago and Denver.

Mom got a job everywhere we went. Finally, after years of following him, she began working for the Department of Defense and when he's said, "let's go," she said, "no." She spent the rest of her career working as a Quality Assurance Representative. She gave her total commitment to that job although, back then, women were often treated as second class citizens. Once she took a course with generals and other military higher ups. She got the best score but they told her, "you know, Janey, we just can't say that you beat out our best and brightest," so in the newsletter, it said, "General So and So gets high score in course."

I remember a Captain who told her during Vietnam, "we have a shortage of rifle stocks and we need them desperately. I'll get down on my knees if it means getting them early." Mom told him, he didn't have to get down on his knees, she would guarantee he got them by the requested date and he did. I recall her getting up in the middle of the night and going out in a snowstorm to approve a lot of parts the company needed to ship to make its payroll. When she retired, she lost hundreds of hours of leave she'd never taken.

People seem to hate the government now but Mom was always tremendously proud of working for the military of the United States.

The thing was though, when she retired and got a part-time job in a video store for minimum wage, she gave them the same level of commitment she'd given the Department of Defense. That work ethic was simply part of her nature.

And she was the same as a wife and mother. She was the kind of Mom who if you forgot until bedtime to tell her you needed cupcakes for the next day of school, you could go on to bed and go to sleep in absolute confidence that cupcakes would be waiting in the morning. If you brought home a puppy, then didn't live up to your vow to feed and water it, she would take care of it. If anyone needed a shoulder to cry on, they came to Mom. If they needed a meal, they came to Mom. She fed everything - orphan birds and kittens and puppies and people. If you came to my house and she found out your favorite was stuffed pork chops, every time you came, she'd have stuffed pork chops for you. All my friends called her Mom; all John's friends called her Grandma.

My father and I were shouters. When we argued politics, we yelled and cussed. I don't remember my Mom ever raising her voice in anger but Dad always used to say about her, "your mother is like a termite; she works from within" and it was true, in her own gentle but obstinate way, she would undermine your foundation until you collapsed.

She was a student of religion without a religion. She could quote the Bible to you as well as any preacher and the Koran as well. She had a large collection of Bibles - Catholic Bibles and Protestant Bibles, Amish Bibles and Mormon Bibles, Jewish Bibles - and she compared passages from one to another.  But her own faith boiled down pretty much to the Golden Rule and she came closer to abiding by it than anyone I knew.

She never missed registering to vote no matter how many times we moved. Even when her mental capacity was diminishing, she paid attention to the news and knew who she wanted to vote for. The last time, I had to help her press the buttons she wanted but she voted. She was always proud of her country, and especially the military she spent 30 years working for. The last few years left her aghast at how hateful and divided America had become. "What's happening to our country that we're all turning on one another?" she asked me. "I don't know, Mom, I guess its a phase we're going through."

She was a NASCAR fan and more especially, a Jimmie Johnson fan. One of the last things she asked me was, "did Jimmie win?"

Her last two months were especially bad. She always declared that she wasn't a quitter. "Sometimes, it's okay to quit, Mom," I told her, "just let it go and go kiss Daddy for me." They told me for four nights that she couldn't live 'til morning but in that quietly stubborn way she had, she defied their predictions.

She'd made her own arrangements long ago. She willed her body to the Indiana University Medical Center. "I'd like to make one more contribution before I go. How do we expect young doctors to learn if we don't give them the resources they need?" She wanted no memorial service nor any obituary. "Anyone who cared about me will know through you."

So, she left me with nothing much to do except cherish the memories of a very special lady.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Contrary to Popular Belief, I Don't Hate All Republicans

Over all, election night was a win in my eyes. My most passionate interest was in the Virginia's governor's race. Thank God, McAuliffe overtook Cuccinelli! The Cooch was my idea of the most unacceptable kind of candidate...way, way, way to the right, particularly on women's issues.

The polls indicated Chris Christie would win in a landslide in New Jersey and in fact, that's what happened. If I'd been a New Jerseyite, I'd have voted for his competition but I can live with Christie, who is a sensibly conservative Republican, willing to compromise when its in the best interests of his constituents.

Alabama was one I watched closely as an indicator for what is happening with the Republicans. I take it as a positive sign that the more moderate candidate beat the off-the-wall Tea Partyier. Bill De Blasio, an out and out liberal will take over as Mayor of New York City. That will be interesting to watch after the Bloomberg Years. I think Bloomberg was good for New York over all, though a little too Big Daddy for my taste.

Northern Colorado defeated a measure to secede from the rest of the state. This was largely a statement vote and nothing would have come of it but it failed even at that.

I didn't know enough about the candidates in Boston to have a favorite. At any rate, they are both Democrats. Detroit will have a white Mayor for the first time since 1994....and what a daunting job he will have. For one thing, the city is bankrupt (though whether bankruptcy is the best scenario for trying to heal Detroit's wounds is another issue). Secondly, since Republicans in Michigan have basically banished democracy, the people's choice won't have much power seeing as how Detroit is being run by a City Manager, appointed by the governor.

In New Jersey, along with Governor Christie, voters approved a $1 an hour increase in the state minimum wage - a win. Washington State rejected labeling foods containing GMO ingredients. I see this one as a loss. South Portland, Maine voted down the ban against an bringing tar sands oil through their city. Another loss. But Portland, and three Michigan cities (Lansing, Jackson, Ferndale) voted overwhelming to legalize small amounts of marijuana (this now makes 14 cities in Michigan that have done the same). Win.

Apart from the election, the Illinois House approved Marriage Rights for LGBT Americans. Soon, only the most solid of red states will still outlaw gay rights. Big win.

In every election, some go your way and some don't but I'm generally satisfied with the outcome of this oneelection.

I have often been accused of being a lemming, a sheeple (whatever the code word of the day happens to be), blind to the weaknesses of my own party...a hater of Republicans based on general principles.

Contrary to popular belief among my conservative Facebook friends, that has never been true. I would like nothing more than for the Republican party to go back to its roots as a socially moderate, fiscally conservative party. I think the country is way better off when there are two equally strong parties fighting it out. We, the people, are more likely to get good legislation and positive leadership when both sides have to compromise and meet somewhere in the middle.

But, in my view, the years of the ultra-right-wing Tea Party types have been disastrous for both the U.S. and the Republican Party itself. Their ultimate goal seems to bring down the government rather than to make it better. Rather then working together, they prefer to stonewall and obstruct. They seem to believe that preventing anything from happening is a positive outcome.

So, we've stumbled along from one economic catastrophe after another as they refused to enact legislation that would help the economy grow. The House keeps cutting back on the number of days they work. Why? Because they don't plan on doing anything....not immigration reform, not a farm bill, not a jobs bills, not an infrastructure bill. The Tea Party-controlled House of Representatives has been tremendously destructive for the entire country. Their main purpose appears to be conducting witch hunts and hearings that go nowhere, sequester, government shutdowns. They rule through the blackmail of fiscal cliffs and default.

They decided on their tactics to bring down Obamacare from Day One. It would be their main priority. Republican governors would refuse to set up their own exchanges, leaving it to the feds to do....a huge task when you're talking about 27 states. They would refuse to accept the funds to expand Medicare even if it left tens of thousands of their poorest citizens uninsured. They would decline to sponsor information programs to help their constituents learn about the Affordable Care Act, decline to hire navigators to assist people trying to discover how Obamacare would affect them. They would reject spending the money to improve the system. In fact, they wouldn't even discuss the changes they thought would make it better. They didn't want it to be better. They simply wanted it to fail.

The Tea Party Republicans have essentially engaged in democracy nullification. If they didn't like the choices made by the voters, they simply tried to go under, over and around those choices. They impeached Bill Clinton and they'd like to do the same with Obama. Don't like the way voters vote? Figure out ways to keep them from going to the polls or being allowed to vote once they get there. Redistrict yourself into non-competitive seats. Don't like the court's ruling on reproductive rights? Create restrictions that close down clinics or make having an abortion a traumatic and humiliating event for desperate women. Don't like gun laws? Make it a crime for federal agents to enforce them. These are the Constitutionalists who get to decide for themselves when the Constitution applies and when it doesn't.

It's not Republicans I is a certain breed of radical right-wing Republicans. So is this election the tiniest light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe. I hope so.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Obamacare - Time Will Tell

Obamacare is like religion. Everyone has their own dogma they fervently adhere to, and although there is no hard evidence that what they believe is true, they'll stick by it to the death. The fact is that's there no proof on either side. No one knows for sure whether the Affordable Care Act will be a huge success or a catastrophic failure but we all think we know....and both sides are working as hard as they can to ensure that what they think is going to happen is what happens.

Do you not find it strange that the anecdotes you read on Facebook all follow the same pattern? Liberals tell positive stories of people who are thrilled to be able to afford healthcare for the first time. Meanwhile, every conservative has had a negative experience - their premiums went up, their deductibles went up, their coverage went down. It hardly seems as if that this could simply be coincidence, does it?

Right-wing millionaires spend millions to spread misinformation and their followers buy into it hook, line and sinker, vowing to allow themselves to be crucified on the cross of socialism rather than "submit" to purchasing health insurance (which is another form of slavery, don't you know?) The Koch Brothers, the richest duo in America, try to convince young people not to fall into the Obamacare trap. Evidently, they believe it is better to get sick and die for the cause, not that they'll ever be put in that situation, of course. They'll let others sacrifice for their principles, thank you very much. Republicans lean on professional sports leagues not to help Obama try to sell the ACA. "Hey, NFL, if you expect us to support your subsidies next time, back off." Sean Hannity  interviews three couples who had bad experiences with Obamacare and happily told us all about it but when a real journalist follows up, he discovers none of their stories were true.

Liberals are not quite so biased. The left-leaning media has been every bit as hard on the mucked-up Obamacare roll-out as conservatives. Unlike Fox, liberals have no qualms about ripping their own. But our millionaires are spending their money, just like the other side, to persuade people to give the ACA a chance.

None of this would be necessary if the media and politics were neutral. They could simply tell us the real pros and cons and let us decide for ourselves whether it was working or not (much as was done with Medicare Part D). Had this not become a ideological battle of almost Biblical proportions, we'd just go along and either discover that Obamacare provides us a benefit or it doesn't. Either it would be popular or it would fall away from lack of interest.

That's ultimately what will happen anyway. Despite the 43 votes to repeal it. Despite shutting down the government to de-fund it. Despite walking up to the edge of a government default to deny it. Despite Republican governors scorning it. Despite our hero, Ted Cruz, riding into town on his white horse to save us from it. None of that is going to happen. The Democrats in the Senate would never allow it. Obama would veto it.

By the time the president is out of office, the ACA will have had a few years to become part of our lives. Either we will be signing up in droves and it will have proven its worth or we will decide it hasn't been able to accomplish what it was intended to accomplish and it will fall of its own weight.

In the end, the people will decide based on real time experiences, not anecdotal "evidence" on Facebook.....which is as it should be.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Oh God, I'm so sick of talking about shutdowns and fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings and sequesters. I'm so tired of living with crisis management. I'm worn out seeing our President and First Lady portrayed as Nazis, Muslim terrorists and chimpanzees. The smug, self-righteous arrogance of Ted Cruz exhausts me. I just shrug when I'm called a kool-aid drinking moronic lemming. I've heard it too many times for it to have much effect.

In reality, this is the same war as all modern wars. The rebels against the establishment. The guerrillas against the army. The insurrectionists against the status quo.

The only difference is in tactics. So far, (most of) the ones who see themselves as freedom fighters in throwing off the yoke of tyranny have confined themselves to verbal accusations and political dirty tricks. They haven't yet resorted to weapons although they threaten to do just that on Facebook every day where you see constant calls for a New Revolution and Secession and Taking our Country Back.

Do you suppose that is the Tea Party's strategy? To simply wear us down until we give up and say, "what the fuck ever"? Most of us just want to live our lives in peace. We want to work and take care of our families and buy houses and send our kids to college and eat out at Applebee's every now and then and go to church and watch football. We don't really want to man the ramparts with Old Bessie in our hands.

We wish Ted and his cohorts in the Tea Party would just go away so life would get back to normal, the way it used to be when we all pretty well liked each other and if we weren't always thrilled with our government, we didn't despise it either. Even if the president wasn't our favorite, we didn't think he was a alien, Muslim, terrorist who wanted to destroy the country.

Usually, it is the guerrillas who have the energy and the wild-eyed passion on their side and that's so in this case. The rest of us see them with confused dismay as they shout their cries for revolution. What the hell are they talking about?

If you ever read Ayn Rand then you have some idea of their philosophy of what the world should be. Law of the Jungle. Every Man for Himself. Sink or Swim. Of course, they ignore the fact that Ayn was an atheist who was swayed not at all by the kinder, gentler teachings of the Christ they claim for their very own. I haven't read Ayn since high school....I had rather an idealistic crush on her heroes then. Perhaps I should revisit Atlas Shrugged to recall exactly what kind of a society the Tea Party envisions in its ultimate fantasy.

I'd be glad to host a guest post if any Tea Party person would like to explain it from their point of view.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

There Is Only One Truth

There Is Only One Truth

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 10.38.30 AM

In my younger years, there was such a thing as truth. We all listened to the same news. If Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley said it, we accepted whatever it was as fact. If the scientific community vouched for a theory, we assumed they knew more about thermonuclear dynamics...or whatever...than we did. We didn't agree with all of our politicians, of course, but most us believed that they had the country's best interests at heart so that when the chips were down, after they'd fought the good fight, they'd come together in a compromise that moved the country forward.

I never doubted for a minute that Everett Dirksen and Howard Baker and Bob Michel, et al, were statesmen and patriots. Hell, I never even questioned Richard Nixon's innate patriotism. It was only his extreme methods that were unacceptable.

Unlike other countries that were informed by media that flat-out lied, like Pravda, we could mostly depend on our investigative journalists to bring us actual facts about actual events. Our mainstream media felt a responsibility to research and verification before printing a jaw-dropping and nefarious allegation.

Looking back, I guess it was the ever-increasing popularity of talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, in particular, that began the change. On-line bloggers pushed the process forward. And the advent of Fox News completed the triumvirate of "you have your truth and we have ours".

The reality is, of course, that there cannot be two truths. The truth stands alone.  If you are told two diametrically opposing stories, one of them is wrong. Either Barack Obama is a native-born American or he isn't. There isn't a conservative truth and a liberal truth. Either the polls showing Barack Obama consistently ahead in the 2012 election are right or the polls showing Mitt Romney winning in a landslide are right. Either climate change, driven by mankind, is a reality or it is a hoax on the part of a hoard of dishonest scientists.

But, today, it seems there are two completely different truths and it is up to every individual which one to believe. If you like one better than the other, you simply select the option you prefer. If it somehow makes you feel better to buy into a "truth", such as "Obama killed Breitbart, Clancy", hey, go for it. Don't worry about nonsense such as evidence. Don't concern yourself with whether a self-proclaimed ex-C.I.A. agent was really a C.I.A. agent. "That scenario plays into my world view about Obama, I choose to believe it." Yeah, just like you believed that Bill Clinton was a drug-dealer who had people killed and Hillary murdered Vince Foster. (Oddly enough, upstanding citizens that they are, Republicans never, ever play into these "your president is a killer" accusations).

If you think the 43rd time the Republicans vote to repeal Obamacare is somehow going to be the charm, there's nothing I can do to stop you. If you think your Jesus would approve of cutting food stamps and lowering the taxes on corporations, that's on you. If you think women who have sex and use birth control are sluts and prostitutes, that's your right. If you think the Affordable Care Act is somehow going to be the end of America as we know it and that there are Obama death squads roaming the U.S. and they'll be coming for your guns any minute now, so be it. Some of you might want to be a little more careful about what you post on Facebook though if you truly believe that the NSA is listening and the administration is out to get you.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously said, "every man is entitled to his own opinion but he isn't entitled to his own facts". That appears to be true in America no longer. Today, we all believe we are entitled to our own facts.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Surprising New Radicals


I have watched the most amazing thing happen in the last few years - friends who used to be normal Americans have become radicalized. These are people I've known for years. They raised kids, worked at regular jobs, went to church, looked forward to vacations on the beach. They sometimes bitched about the decisions made by their government but, like most of us, they mostly shrugged it off and hoped the next batch of politicians would be slightly better. They had their own lives to lead and what went on in Washington or the Statehouse was only of passing interest. 

After 911, we all woke up to the shock of terrorism. The Al Qaida jihadists who hit us weren't really that much different than they'd been for years but this time, they actually struck us and that made all the difference. We were horrified at the unreasoning violence of suicide bombers, crazies who would hurt thousands of innocent people for some religious principle we didn't understand. Muslims whose hatred for us was so bone-deep, it excused any excess. 

September 11, 2011, alone, was enough to start some of us down the path dictated by fear and vengeance. But then, ah, couple that with the election of an African-American (or at least half African-American) president with the name of Barack Hussein Obama and if you're already tilting in that direction, that giant clue sends you hurtling into certainty. 

My formerly sensible friends are now convinced that the Muslims are trying to do by stealth what they couldn't accomplish with bombs. They have somehow inserted an alien Muslim mole into the White House and he is quietly seeding our entire government with Muslim Brotherhood plants. 

In the meantime, the death squads are on the roads and the black helicopters are in the air. Barack Hussein (geez, people, how stupid can you be not to see the real story when its right there in front of your eyes!) is destroying our country and ripping our Constitution to shreds line by line. His government is only waiting for precisely the right moment to come for our guns and then we'll be screwed royal.

So, what is the answer? We have to become as single-mindedly militant as they are. You can tell how frustrated my friends and their fellow travelers are that the majority of Americans don't see it. We ignore their hair-on-fire right-wing warnings. (If Breitbart says it, it must be so). We have a foreign Muslim right there in the White House and we naively and blithely go on about our business! We actually believed it when he showed us his obviously forged birth certificate, fools that we are. 

But, by Gosh, they aren't going to let that happen. They've bought more guns, more powerful guns, and they are ready for the fight at the OK Corral when it comes. Them and their AK against the forces of the United States military (although, of course, some of the military will side with them so who knows how that will turn out). 

The definition of radical is: "advocating drastic reform of existing institutions". That's how the New Radicals view their support of government shut-downs and fiscal cliffs and debt ceiling fights and sequester and a possible default on America's debt. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Sometimes, you have to destroy the village to save it and sometimes you have to destroy the country to save it. If you have to resort to a record-breaking number of filibusters to stymie the government (because, you know, when you only control one house of congress, you have to do what you have to do), if you have to refuse to negotiate on the budget, if you have to shut down the whole freakin' government using as your excuse a law that was duly passed and is in effect, so be it. If you have to post lies and vile accusations and scummy cartoons on Facebook, well, all is fair in love and war and this is war in case you haven't noticed. 

And most of us haven't noticed. We thought it was just politics as usual, albeit a little more vicious than we've seen before. No, it's not. It's a war for the heart and soul of America and the other side believes absolutely any means are justified for the end they want to reach. And I suggest that our side had better enter into the war with the same intensity and passion the New Radicals are exhibiting if we want to save it in the same incarnation we've always known America to be. 

The U.S. has always had contempt for those countries that rip themselves apart in the name of Holy War. We weren't like that, at least, not for over 200 years since the civil war. Sure, we've had our problems and flare-ups but mostly we were tolerant and reasonable. Mostly, we lived together in peace. We watched Sunnis try to wipe out Shia and Protestants bomb Catholics and Hutus perform genocide on Tutsis and shook our heads in dismay. 

But this is how it happens. The New Radicals have decided that their mission is to "save" America for the rest of us kool-aid drinking lemmings even if it has to be against our will. The rest of us are stunned at the lengths they seem willing to go, lengths that have already shut down the government and impacted hundreds of thousands of Americans negatively. If they follow through with refusing to pay our bills, it could result in the devastation of the American economy, hell, the world economy. 

The most surprising thing is that the New Radicals shock troops aren't young, wild-eyed freedom fighters, they are middle-class middle-aged Americans whose lives, so far as I can see, haven't changed a bit since Barack Hussein Obama became president. They still raise their kids, go to work every day, go to church on Sunday and go to Florida on vacation. They are all insured, thanks to their employers subsidizing most of the cost. They all have cars and houses and credit cards. They obviously aren't seriously afraid of death squads or they wouldn't have nerve enough to post the violence-inciting things they do on Facebook.

But they are ready to man the ramparts as soon as their leaders give the word. They are our long-time friends and neighbors. How committed do you suppose they really are?    

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Projection - Who Is Really the Lemming?

lemmings photo: Lemmings lemmings.jpg

Projection, in psychological terms, is defined as: "a defense mechanism that involves taking our own unacceptable qualities and feelings and ascribing them to others".

In that vein, in my debates with conservatives, the name I'm most often called is lemming (second is kool-aid drinker). Supposedly, lemmings are hamster-like creatures who periodically follow their leader off of cliffs, falling to their deaths. In fact, Lemmings aren't suicidal. This, like so many ideas Republicans cling to, is a myth.

But, speaking of political lemmings, who are the lemmings here? Who has been ready to follow their political leaders off of fiscal cliffs, over and over again? It's not Democrats and liberals like me. It's conservatives. Who has yelled "right on" as their representatives have wasted $60 million to vote over and over again in the totally hopeless mission of repealing Obamacare. (Which brings to mind another definition: "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result"). Who has spent their (relatively limited) work time in Washington holding hearings to try to gin up scandals that all dwindle into nothingness?

My conservative friends tell me they are outraged about the way things are going in Washington. Their precious tax money shouldn't go to paying for slutty girls to get obtain birth control....or incidentally, to feeding the children of those slutty girls (boys having, obviously, no part in the conception of children). But where do they get off thinking they're special in that way? Do they believe my precious tax money hasn't gone to lots of things I didn't agree with? The Iraq War, for one.

It's called democracy. The people vote and by their votes, collectively, we live with the consequences. If they vote for George Bush, we go to war. If they vote for Barack Obama, we get healthcare. No one political party or political faction gets their way all the time.

They don't get to throw themselves on the floor and hold their breath until they turn blue because they lost. But this is what the Republicans are doing, except with a lot more serious consequences than holding their breath. They appear to be willing to risk America's entire economy.

What they've already done is bad enough, forcing us to live under the uncertainty of crisis management ever since Obama became president - fiscal cliffs, sequesters, debt ceilings and now, shutdown, perhaps with default on our debts right around the corner. They've already slowed the progress we would have made had they cooperated, even a little.

In the last year and a half, Patty Murray, the head of the Democrat's budget committee, has asked the House Republican to have a conference on reconciling the budget 18 times. The Republicans refused 18 times.

After the government actually shut down, videos showed the Republicans laughing and high-fiving one another. They tweeted about how they were "giddy" from the experience, how "excited" they were, how "fun" it was to shutter the government. Michelle Bachman tweeted how happy she was because the Republicans "finally got what they wanted". This is actually something Republicans have been talking about and planning for since Obama was elected.

And then, with the most breathtaking dishonesty, they go on television, trying desperately to wipe the grins off their faces, as they lament about how "it's all Obama's fault". They certainly never wanted this to happen.

And when Fox screams about how awful the shutdown is (although they call it a "slim down"), what is it that they are incensed about? Why it is closing the national parks. Not WIC, the program for Women, Infants and Children, who may go hungry without it. Not paychecks for furloughed workers who desperately need them. Not closed Veteran's Center. No, they are outraged because they wanted to go see Herman the Sturgeon and now they can't.

The Chinese actually meant it as a curse when they said, "may you live in interesting times" and we are living under that curse right now. Normally, if you're dealing with rational people, you can see an end game. What is it that they want and how far are they willing to go to get it? But with this new breed of conservatives, the shutdown (and perhaps default) seems to be end game. I have no clue what it is that they want and I'm not sure they do either except to throw a gigantic tantrum and burn the entire government to the ground. And where is their end? No one knows that either because we're trying to delve into the minds of people who have a completely different, and destructive, agenda than any government representatives I have ever seen in my lifetime.

They have that whole "we must destroy the village to save it" mentality going. Will they be happy with anything short of being surrounded by rubble that used to be our government?

I don't know but here is what I think: they've got a away with murder for almost 5 years now. Their own party has been held captive by them and seems not to have the balls to wrest control back from them. The Democrats have been held hostage by them as well because they are unwilling to sink to depths to which the conservatives are joyful to go. But, it's time to put an end to it. As a sometimes liberal, sometimes moderate, mostly Democrat, I want my party and my president to stand firm. No negotiations. No kissing their ass. No trying to talk sense into people who have no sense. If going down with the ship means taking them down with us, then anchors aweigh, Boys.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Two Small Signs of Hope - Francis and Rouhani

I become so despairing sometimes about things that are going on in the world. The ugliness toward one another that makes up a large chunk of Facebook. The increasing nastiness of the political posts. One American political party that seems determined to bring the country down if that's what they have to do to destroy the president they despise. One news station and a host of websites that are more propaganda than fact. The negativity of NASCAR fans, who'd rather boo drivers they hate than cheer their own guy on. The cruelly uncharitable attitudes of so many who profess to be Christians but use religion as a blunt weapon. The loathing of and contempt for the poor that has overtaken so much of America.

I saw on one of the auto-racing websites that Sebastian Vettel won the Singapore Gran Prix. Vettel is a perennial winner and multiple former champion. Out of curiosity, I clicked on to "comments" to see if F1 fans we as hostile toward Vettel as NASCAR fans are to Jimmie Johnson (five-time Sprint Cup champion). It turns out they are. You could change the names and put the NASCAR comments on F1 and vice versa. The conspiracy theories and accusations of cheating were exactly the same.

But with all of that, I see two little bright spots on the horizon and even though I'm not totally naive about the potential, I'm hoping they represent a sign of things to come.

The first is the new Pope Francis. Again, I don't expect miracles (well, miracles from my point of view, of course). I don't imagine that he will suddenly become a raging liberal, throwing centuries of church dogma overboard. He will still support the Catholic view of birth control, abortion and homosexuality - but he at least seems interested in changing the Church's focus to one of welcome and inclusion rather than harsh intolerance. It appears that one of his passions is caring for the vulnerable. He did away with the red Prada shoes and the limousine and the luxury apartment in favor of being a Pope of the people. I always thought the previous Pope was characterized by a kind of arrogant Ivory Tower-ism but Pope Francis comes across as humble and sincere.

I don't know how popular that will make him with the church hierarchy.

Second, is the new president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, who seems a completely different kind of man than the previous posturing blowhard, Ahmadinejad. What that means for the west, we don't yet know, but there are some positive signs. For one thing, he tweets! And he has used Twitter to engage with the Israelis, wishing them a Happy Rosh Hashanah.

For another, he has firmly but courteously warned the Revolutionary Guard to back off and stay out of politics.

For a third, he has stated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons. It remains to be seen if this is true but we can all certainly keep our fingers crossed that he means it.

President Rouhani will be traveling to Washington this week and it has been announced that he and President Obama will talk. Of course, this has ignited outrage among the conservatives who think the only way to deal with Muslims is through threats and, hopefully, bombs. (The only good Muslim being a dead Muslim in their eyes). Being willing to cautiously engage with the Iranian president is a sign of weakness to the right-wing.

I don't see it that way. Reagan had the courage of his convictions to talk with Russia when they were our greatest enemy and look at what flowed from that? We should never be afraid to give diplomacy a chance because we don't know where progress may come from. The people of Iran elected Rouhani. Many of them were sick of the irrationality of Ahmedinijad. It appears many Iranians would prefer their government concentrate its efforts on bringing prosperity and being respected citizens of the world. The jury is still out of whether they can make that come to pass.

And I don't know how popular Rouhani's more progressive attitudes will make him with the hard-core religious in Iran.

The hopes that rest on these two men are like tender buds rising from under the spring leaf mold. We're not quite sure what they will become. Or if they will even survive the bishops and mullahs who prefer the status quo.

But there seems to be the tiniest cause of optimism that they could bring the dawn of something different and more positive for the world.