Time to Retreat

All this grimness.

A shutdown.  Name-calling in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.  Plots and games.  Finger pointing and standoffs.  A public reading of Green Eggs and Ham on the taxpayer dime by Harvard grad and newly minted Senator Ted Cruz.  All of it resulting in our legislators stumbling home from their government offices stinking drunk and depressed beyond all normal measures.

Okay, I made up that last part.

But you gotta admit, things are bad.

No one is getting along.  The Republican Party is a model of turmoil, its Tea Party butting heads with, well, pretty much everyone, including moderate colleagues.  Democrats are ridiculing the entire lot.

Hmmm.   What to do?

Perhaps a retreat?  I know we’re in the midst of a crisis but if we don’t invest in a little levity in the hopes of uniting factions then the possibility of progress seems unlikely.

A retreat would take place in the wilderness, far from cameras and reporters. Luckily, I am meticulously familiar with retreat culture and thus can offer descriptions on how such a gathering would look:

No Social Media: If you’re going to get all zen and cozy with the enemy, the first rule is to disconnect. Brrreeaatthhee.  Hug a tree!  (Some Congress members actually do this, which is kind of funny and makes me wish a photographer would have gone.) Congress members and Senators abandon their trusty internet connections, Facebook accounts, and twitter feeds for a whole weekend, except for Senator John McCain, who is addicted to his poker app., has a big tournament scheduled, and is really good at concealing his phone via a camouflage case. Hardly anyone hyperventilates over this rule, although a few retreat to their alcohol stashes. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who is known to openly text during Presidential addresses suffers severe withdrawal, as does special guest Anthony “Text My Wiener” Wiener.  Both are spotted entering the “medical” tent, which one rep claims is a casino.

Yoga: House Speaker John Boehner refuses to abandon child’s pose as well as his mega gavel. The Speaker softens when Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi adopts a warrior position, the single stance he finds inspiring.  He admires her from his balled-up crouch, now sobbing uncontrollably.

Campfire basics: It’s not a retreat if you don’t learn to start a campfire. And what’s wrong with a little healthy competition?  The soft-spoken Arizonan Senator and Majority Leader Harry Reid thinks he’s a cowboy so he enters the fray but quickly tires without a podium to lean on. Ultimately, Lynne Cheney, new resident of the Wild Wild West, a.k.a. Wyoming, wins by distracting fellow competitors with bird calls she learned from her father; she then flicks her Bic at a pile of dry leaves. Cheney’s staff poses the winner near the burgeoning fire, a fake bearskin rug — complete with fake bear head — clenched in her fist.  This, they cheer, will make an excellent 2016 campaign poster.

Skeet shooting with Dick Cheney: Speaking of the elder Cheney, he makes a limited appearance to demonstrate the “skill” of skeet shooting.  During the demo, Cheney fires bullets into the hat brims of two newly elected Democrats.  The former Vice thinks this is the height of hilarity, given the hoopla over his prior hunting mishaps.  The rookie legislators dash off as Cheney guffaws and makes chicken sounds, showing off a bird call most people assumed he knew but no one knew he knew for sure. The brimless Dems wait until they are literally out of the woods before turning and calling Cheney a wise-ass blow hard who owes them new Hope and Change caps.

Campfire stories: The first evening, legislators circle up and share stories, as stories are known to foster bonding.  They make s’mores, too, as s’mores are known to be delicious and make the lawmakers feel even more like kids than does their usual behavior. The long-winded Ted Cruz is made to tell his story last, after the keg has been tapped.

Where is Waldo: Saturday morning, participants are given maps with clues aimed at helping them discover the whereabouts of Congressman Paul Ryan, last year’s budget wizard who mysteriously disappeared during this year’s financial talks. Clue: He is likely not running a marathon.  He could be. If he lied about it.  Or if a marathon was defined as p90x.

Wilderness Survival: Ted Cruz demonstrates (but only to other Ivy League grads) how to sneak an RV into prohibited areas so as not to have to camp with the “common man.” He elaborates on how to use adult diapers when facilities are scarce or you just have a whole lot to say or you are plotting to shut down the government. McCain, who is roughing it in a sleeping bag and eating raw snails, skips this presentation, calling Cruz a wilderness lightweight.

Sing along: Music is the theme of the second evening, even though House Republicans had pushed for a discussion of Obamacare. Camp songs, including the often-unifying Kumbaya, are featured.  A handful of legislators mistake the lyrics for “Come buy us.”  They love these lyrics so much they want to tweet them, but alas the rules prohibit this.  They drink instead, singing louder and more off-key.  Happiness reigns but Boehner says it must end at midnight.

Final Words: No preachers or benedictions here.  Instead wildly popular New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who blames the shutdown on the President (whom he can skunk in arcade games, just sayin’) is tasked with motivating his federal counterparts before they head back to Washington. “It’s simple,” says the Gov, who reportedly aspires to be more than Gov.  “Grow a pair!”  His voice expands to a growl, his face reddens until it seems he might inflate and sail off like a hot air ballon.  “Be a man! That goes for you women, too.  Do your f-ing job!”

Yeah, that’ll work.


From Petty Politics to a People’s Pope

Some things that don’t make sense:

1.Gun-related deaths:

Nearly 90 Americans die each day as the result of gun violence. Ninety.  Each day.  The number of mass shootings is on the rise.  What’s perhaps more senseless is the fact that we as a nation — and especially our legislators — are failing to engage in meaningful and sustained dialogues over how we can lower the fatality rate. We are failing to stay with the discussion until something is done, until things get better. It’s as though talking about guns will create an ownership ban or a hunting ban, at least that appears to be the worry of the National Rifle Association and like-minded folks. Watch the NRA’s Wayne Lapierre spread untruths and refuse to budge again this Sunday, when he appears on Meet the Press in the aftermath of the Navy Yard shootings in D.C.

Let’s be clear: the Right to Bear Arms will always be.  But perhaps we might discuss — just discuss — what kinds of firearms average citizens should be able to purchase, whether there should be a registration process and testing similar to the system that’s in place for motor vehicle operators, how many guns one individual should be able to own (right now, there are more guns than citizens in the U.S.), whether some type of background-check system might be feasible. Certainly, there are acres upon acres of middle ground where both sides could meet. It’s not a stretch to say that we Americans are beginning to look like citizens of the most blood-thirsty, violence-addicted nation on the planet.

It’s time to talk.  It’s been time for a long time.

2. Threatening a government shutdown: Republican legislators are threatening to  shut down the government and risk our nation’s credit rating — again — over their distaste for Obamacare, (which, by the way, is law) and over their own party’s infighting.  Look.  We need to pass a budget and the continuing resolution — or CR — to fund the government.  We can’t have a nasty drawn-out debate every time this issue comes up.  It should be dealt with as it had pre-Obama — as regular business. We need to pay the bills we’ve incurred.  It’s simple math.  If Congress balks and refuses to allow the government to live up to its spending obligations it will not hurt them — they spend something like six months a year in Washington, actually working, and get paid handsomely for their minimal efforts. But it will hurt the rest of us.  It surely will cripple the economy. We need to insist that our representatives get this done.  On time.   The House has attempted to defeat Obamacare 40 times.  It hasn’t worked.  Enough.

3. House passing GOP plan to cut 39 billion dollars from food stamps: Republicans claim the bill will spur able-bodied and able-minded folks to get back to work. House Majority Leader Eric Canter said the bill will prevent middle-class Americans from paying for people who take advantage of the system.  What?  Take advantage of a system that doles out something like 4 or 5 measly dollars a day to eligible folks? Have you tried eating on 4 or 5 bucks a day? This thinking is so ignorant, cruel, and messed up that I am nearly speechless.  Denying this funding amounts to taking food out of the mouths starving families. It is heartless.  But I guess, if you have no conscience, know no poor people, and make north of $175.000 a year with vacation time virtually every month, you can afford to trim a little here and there — FROM THE DINNER PLATES OF OTHERS.

The thread that winds through all of these narratives is the Tea Party branch of the House of Representatives, an obtuse group that, simply put, is akin to the class bully. The Tea Party, which thankfully does not represent all Republicans, operates the way we teach our kids NOT to behave — via blatant disregard for others and the common good. It is homogeneous and sees diversity as the enemy. It abhors compromise. It feigns concern over mass shootings but won’t broach the idea of altering a single regulation. It threatens government shutdowns to achieve its ends. It adopts the terminology of the faithful yet its “deeds” speak of wealth, exclusion, and selfishness. It is, by and large, a shameful bunch.

Sometimes, to give them the benefit of the doubt, I imagine Tea Party Congress members are dumb SOBs, or, at least, people with limited life experience and restricted national and world views. Then I see the maneuvering they do; I see former Tea Party Congressman Ted Cruz, now a Senator, introducing the club’s unique brand of obstinance in that branch of legislature.  Then, I know this isn’t about dumb or daft. This is about immoral and spineless.  It’s about a bunch of wealthy guys drunk on power who are out to trample the poor, the struggling, even the middle class. To them, this is all a game. Their pawns are their fellow Americans — including their own constituents.

On the things-that-make-sense side — because with all of this depressing news — there must be a bright spot, right?  Enter Pope Francis.  You remember this guy.  When he entered the Pope-dom he refused the fancy digs, the fancy pope-mobile. He shook the hands and washed the feet of the down-trodden and the average folks.  He was as self-less and down-to-earth as they come.  Flash forward a few months and Francis’ manner is not just fascinating people, it’s inspiring them. The Pope spoke recently about inclusivity and welcoming all to the church.  He encouraged church leaders to not divide people by hammering traditionally divisive issues such as abortion, contraceptives, and gay marriage.  On the gays and others who have previously been outcast by the church, Francis championed a welcoming and merciful approach.  He urged love over exclusion and condemnation.

He is reaching out to the most marginalized ; that is love.

That is hopeful.

That is so very cool.


Marching Until…

Thousands congregated on the National Mall this past Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, one of this nation’s largest political rallies for human rights.

The original march had the theme of jobs and civil rights for African Americans and is widely credited with contributing to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  The highlight was Martin Luther King Jr., standing before the Lincoln Memorial, delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech.

“It was very moving,” said Regina Kinnard, 69, who attended the anniversary march with her family.  Kinnard, who lives in the District, recalls taking a day off of work to attend the first rally on August 28th, 1963. “You didn’t really know what you were walking into, given the mood of the times.  But once it started, it was almost spiritual.”

Tomorrow, on the actual anniversary of the Aug. 28, 1963 March on Washington, Presidents Obama, Carter, and Clinton will speak at the Lincoln Memorial. Large crowds are expected.

The view on Saturday was moving. A sea of people surrounded the reflecting pool and washed up to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where leaders such as Rev. Al Sharpton, Attorney General Eric Holder, Martin Luther King III, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, shared words of wisdom and encouragement.

For the most part, T-shirts and shorts replaced the business suits and crisply pressed dresses captured in black and white photographs of that first historic rally. And Saturday’s event lacked the fiery and poetic oration of one gifted and wise-beyond-his-years civil rights leader.

But you had the feeling he was there in spirit.

The celebration wasn’t lacking in conviction, participation, civility, or the desire to keep on keeping on. It was a more diverse crowd.  What’s more, the attendees were, like their forefathers, politically astute.

Every person I encountered conveyed a feeling that, while civil rights have expanded dramatically over the past five decades — with more African Americans serving in government, seeking higher education, and having access to housing, for example — some hard-won freedoms are being threatened.

Wherever I strolled along the Mall, there was a murmur of deep concern regarding factors ranging from the exclusionary politics of the Tea Party to the U.S. Supreme Court’s stunning 5-4 decision to gut a section of the Voting Rights Act. The court’s recent action has resulted in attempts by several states to enact voter I.D. laws and restrict early voting, making it tougher for poor, minority, and elderly voters to participate.  Even college-age voters are being targeted, with legislatures aiming to end on-campus voting. The restrictions are backed by Republican governors and legislators.  All run contrary to the tenants of democracy, which encourage full and open participation by all eligible voters.

Also referenced was the phrase, “taking our country back,” a canned line frequently uttered by House Republicans as well as by newly minted Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz.

Back to what?

Rally attendees seemed to have more than an inkling of what the what stood for but most were too gracious to spell it out.  So I will: back to a time when whites ruled in business, government, and society.

Here’s a news flash:  Whites still pretty much rule.  They hold more positions of authority than minorities.  They have greater rates of employment, lower rates of arrest, and more access to healthcare.  And they are rarely ever profiled.

“It all comes down to the vote,” said Gabi Martinez, a young Planned Parenthood organizer from Annapolis, Md. “‘Injustice to one is injustice to all.’  That’s what (civil rights activist) Fannie Lou Hamer said.”

The Trayvon Martin case was mentioned this past weekend.  Martin’s mother spoke briefly.  There were concerns about the proliferation of guns and gun violence and the warped rationale behind Stand Your Ground laws.  The motivation for such destructive legislation might be better understood if the measures were labeled based on what they actually allow whites to do: Stand Your Ground Against Minorities and People of Color.

Regina’s husband, Matthew Kinnard, who missed the 1963 rally because it was his first day of work at the National Institutes of Health, made sure he didn’t miss Saturday’s event. Kinnard, a retired neuroscientist, held the hand of his five-year-old grandson, as he existed the Mall.  He identified the recklessness of conservative commentators such as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter as contributing to threats against civil rights.

I thought of Kinnard’s observation the day after the rally as I watched Fox News Sunday.  A panel of “experts” dissected the anniversary march, although it was telling that Fox didn’t invite a single participant of Saturday’s event or the 1963 march to its table.  At one point, a discussion of affirmative action surfaced. That’s when a clearly flabbergasted Chris Wallace, blurted, “At what point do you say (to blacks) you’re on your own?”

Permit me to answer:

We are the United States of America, which means we stand with one another.  We strive to make it possible that ALL have a shot at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  And we strive until. 

Until a black man can catch a taxi cab as easily as a white man. Until an African American teen strolling home from a 7-11 with candy and a soft drink cannot be stalked and killed. Until the citizenship of the first black president of the United States is not repeatedly questioned and shameful calls for his impeachment cease. Until Rush Limbaugh stops speaking in what he refers to as his “negro dialect” when speaking of Al Sharpton or our President, among others.  Until conservatives stop reacting with knee-jerk anger and partisan rhetoric every time a civil rights issue is raised and start examining their own hearts.  Their Christian hearts, I might add.

Some on the right are encouraging compassion — former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele; former Secretary of State Colin Powell; former election manager for John McCain, Steve Schmidt.  But it’s not enough.

President Obama, in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman trial, spoke eloquently of his experience growing up as a black man of average means in America.  He said he could have been Trayvon, a matter-of-fact admission that the Right, its back perpetually up, jumped on. The President had something to say, a message that was meant to educate and inform, not to ridicule or judge. The Right knows this and it irks them.

The President recalled hearing locks on car doors click whenever, in his younger years, he walked down a street at night, or seeing women hug their purses more tightly whenever he stepped into an elevator.

If you are white and still have such reactions: you feel an overwhelming urge to cross the street when you see a black man heading your way; you become angry or frustrated when the talk of black rights or gay rights or women’s rights comes up; you immediately decided that Zimmerman was innocent and Martin was guilty; you’ve never actually sat down with your black friends to hear their stories or attempted to understand their struggle; you have no black friends….

If any of these circumstances apply then maybe you could stand to think about racism and civil rights a while longer, focusing on “the other,” considering what it might feel like to walk in different shoes.

We are at a critical point.

We have once again arrived at what Dr. King referred to as “the fierce urgency of now.”

Is Political Ideology Embedded in Your DNA?

Could biology be responsible for our individual political views?  Could the tendency to be a liberal or a conservative be embedded in our DNA?

It’s a fascinating question and one that’s beginning to garner attention from psychologists and neuroscientists. It’s also raising the which-came-first, chicken-or-the-egg debate.

“The challenge..is that when looking at our brains, neuroplasticity can muddy the waters, calling into question the direction of causality,” says a statement by Academic Earth, an open-education provider that is currently entertaining the biology question on its website, AcademicEarth.org. “In other words, does our brain structure cause us to be conservative/liberal, or does our conservatism/liberalism cause our brain structure to change?”

Several studies suggest the former.  In 2005, for instance, researchers found that identical twins were more likely than fraternal twins to find agreement on political hot-button issues such as unions, divorce, abortion, and school prayer.  In 2006, research suggested that an adult’s political affiliation could be predicted based on personality traits he or she exhibited at age three.

Most recently, and perhaps most significantly, research from 2011 indicated that MRI brain scans of people who identify as conservative show distinct differences  from those who identify as liberal, and vice versa.

To be sure, more study is necessary.  Meanwhile, you can check out a roundup of what scientists have uncovered thus far in the short and entertaining video, “Born Republican? Born Democrat?”. Here’s the link: http://academicearth.org/electives/born-republican-born-democrat

“In the spirit of intellectual curiosity, we encourage our audience to share these provocative videos and launch their own discussions and debates,” Academic Earth representative Lisa Miller wrote in an email.  “We believe that only through questioning the world around us, can we come to better understand it.”

So, what do you think?  Is it nature or nurture, a combination of the two, or something else entirely that makes us liberals or conservatives?  (Or independents? What about Independents?) What accounts for your own political views? For those of your friends and family?

If the hypotheses of the studies mentioned in the video hold true, it may not be coincidence that we, as a nation, typically seem to be made up of roughly half Democrats and half Republicans.

It might be due to an evolutionary event that benefits society as a whole by keeping opposing forces in balance, posits Academic Earth.  And when this balance is harmonious — Remember the good old days of debate and compromise in the House of

Representatives and the Senate? — this “natural” dichotomy may be the critical force that moves us forward.  As one nation.

Or at least keeps us from capsizing.

Or not.


Departing for Fantasy Island

Imagine if honestly and decency and common sense ruled:

Then, women’s bodies wouldn’t be fodder for political debate.  A woman’s body and issues pertaining to it — pregnancy, birth control, disease, and preventive medicine — would be the business of a woman and her doctor.  The suspect medical opinions of paternalistic men in leadership wouldn’t matter.  Advancements in women’s health would become priorities, like they have been for decades in men’s health.  And if male elected officials dared to revert to the practices of old, then our female leaders — who, if common sense ruled, would be represented in significant numbers — would respond by, well, taking away their Viagra and subjecting them to mandatory prostate exams.

Then, fundamentalist-leaning religions and their respective followers, who regularly plead for tolerance, would start to show some themselves.  All faiths would be sources of goodness, acceptance, equality, and love-thy-neighbor compassion, not triggers for war and divisiveness or know-it-all judgments.  People of faith would embrace all as equals — gay, straight; male, female; rich, poor; atheist, believers; black, white, and purple.  Fights over who has the right to be protected from rape and domestic violence, who has the right to marry, and who can join or lead the Boy Scouts of America would fizzle.  Accepting another and treating him or her as an equal doesn’t imply you see eye-to-eye.  It does mean you are giving understanding a chance.  It does mean that you are acknowledging that each person has the right to make his or her own choices, as long as such choices don’t harm another.  It means that you are choosing peace and love over conflict and hatred. Way to go, Girl Scouts of America, by the way, for remaining above the fray.

Then, all poor American citizens would not reflexively be labeled as lazy.  The majority of the poor want to work and be productive; they don’t intend or want to be poor.  Many do work — two and three jobs but still can’t afford basic essentials, like electricity, healthcare, and groceries. Some who have no jobs have fallen on hard times: they’ve been laid off in middle age, lost the ability to afford mental-health services or medications that keep them well and functioning, been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or have a child who has fallen ill, or have never had a chance to go to college or afford training that would enable them to seek higher paying work.  Many are hungry. Some live on the streets; others live in their cars or in tent cities.  Tent cities.  In America. We should be appalled.

It’s funny how rich and middle-class Americans often turn their brains off when it comes to the poor and the suffering.  Especially when the poor are immigrants. They point and say, “Those people,” and turn their noses up.  But those people are us or our parents or our grandparents.  We all came here from somewhere else.  It’s mind-boggling how folks who are enjoying the good life and the pretty good life can’t imagine how things might have turned out differently, how they might have lost traction or might still.  They forget the dues their forefathers paid. They forget the help they received along the way, some of it provided by the government. They insist they conquered the mountain on their own.  They view “poverty” as an ugly disease rather than a sad reality of well-meaning people. They scoff at the thought of raising the minimum wage yet they believe CEOs should receive staggering bonuses and pay no taxes.  They believe in entitlement. They want to be served in restaurants, work in office buildings and stay in hotels that are clean and well-managed.  They order room service, employ yard workers and nannies, shop in clothing stores and grocery markets, and park in public garages. They depend heavily on a blue-collar labor but refuse to lobby on its behalf, refuse to pay a living wage.  Instead, they seek to bust unions and frame the lower class as lazy, rather than recognize these workers as the backbone of this country.  Government programs to help laid off, injured, and unemployed workers recover and retrain are ridiculed.  Under a decency rule, such initiatives would be lauded.  And your waiter and waitress, your babysitter, your car washer, would be treated with the utmost respect.

Then, bridges wouldn’t be collapsing and roads would be smooth. A crumbling infrastructure would be a source of shame (and new jobs) rather than a political pawn. America is rusting and creaking toward oblivion while much of Europe is looking more sleek, efficient, and polished. Calls for impeachment would never be made until or unless an investigation warranted such proposals.  A gun registry and background checks would be no brainers. The National Rifle Association would be seen as what it is: a bully with deep pockets and no conscience. Budgets would be approved and factions that attempted to stand in the way would be called out by their colleagues.  Tenure in the once esteemed U.S. House of Representatives and the once revered U.S. Senate would be about getting stuff done — big stuff — and not about repeatedly saying no to the party holding the White House. Leaders would stop bashing a president whose skin is darker than that of former presidents.  They would stop calling him arrogant. Funny how black men in leadership are arrogant and white men are just good ol’ boys doing their job with passion and personality. You want to know the epitome of arrogant?  Google Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, who has already predicted that President Obama will be impeached.  Under a decency rule, Reince and his posse would stop saying we “need to take the country back.”  Back to what?  A country led by all-white, all-straight, all-rich men who call themselves Christian but whose actions strongly suggest otherwise?  We are a diverse country where everyone has the right to participate and everyone has the right to pursue a dream.  If we were honest and decent, there would be no place for favoritism and childish emotions of cowardly politicians who care about little else than protecting their own longevity.

If honesty and decency and common sense ruled, as they should and could, Priebus and his ilk — Limbaugh, Beck, and other extremists motivated by greed — would be en route to their very own Fantasy Island. They would be announced by the short-statured Tattoo, who climbs into a watch tower and, upon spotting the prop plane, points skyward and utters his famous phrase, “De plane.  De plane.”  Only in this case, the plane would be arriving not for a vacation, but for an eternity.  That way, folks who can’t acknowledge the diversity and complexity and real struggles of this country could live out their odd fantasies, whatever they may be, far away from the real world.

Shame on Congress

Shame. On. You.

Patricia Maisch had it right when she yelled those three words from the gallery following the Senate’s defeat, 54-46, of a background checks bill on gun purchases.  Maisch was present two years ago in Tucson when a gunman with an assault weapon killed six people and wounded 13, including former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

By agreement of Senate leaders, a 60-vote majority was needed for approval.

It’s fair to say that a lot graves were walked on yesterday.  Graves that should never have been dug in the first place.  Graves of those lost way too early — of children, teens, college students, and adults killed by gun violence at Virginia Tech and Columbine; in Aurora, Tucson, Newton, Chicago, and countless other communities.

The grave stomping was committed by 41 Republican Senators and four Democratic Senators who stubbornly and cowardly refused to support a basic bill on background checks that repeated polls showed 90 percent of Americans supported.

Those who voted “no” were 90 percent of Republicans and Democrats Mark Begich of Alaska, Max Baucus of Montana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.  That’s Begich, Baucus, Heitkamp, and Pryor.

Of the Senators who voted “nay,” Erica Lafferty, the daughter of the principal at Sandy Hook, who was killed along with 20 children — first graders — and five other educators, said: “The next time there’s a mass shooting and they’re asked what they did to prevent it, they’re going to have to say nothing.”

If that isn’t enough, imagine the nerve.  The nerve of so-called leaders who knew what was right but instead voted to protect their paychecks and to remain deep in pockets of the filthy rich and cold-blooded gun lobby. “Leaders” who voted no with Newtown families and their former colleague, Giffords, in their midst. If that doesn’t turn your stomach, I don’t know what will.

To be a leader requires the ability to empathize. If a person can only understand the depth of a tragedy when it happens to him and not to his fellow citizen, he is not a leader.  If a person cannot see a problem with guns when 20 terrified first graders are mowed down in cold blood, she is not a leader.  If people cannot look into the eyes of a colleague who was nearly killed and can no longer function in Congress, and still not see a need for drastic changes, they are not leaders. They are cowards.

But make no mistake.  There is passionate resolve on the part of those who desire stricter gun laws.  The Newtown families aren’t going away.  Gabby Giffords isn’t backing down; just take a look at her editorial in today’s New York Times. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, the Democratic co-sponsor of the background checks bill has pledged to continue his push. (Although his Republican co-sponsor Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, sadly, has said he is moving on to other business.) The folks in Colorado aren’t giving up — that state and Connecticut recently passed stricter gun laws.

We are not giving up.  As President Obama said: this was just Round One.  Cowardice doesn’t win in the end. What is Right does.

Your voice is needed.  You must contact the officials who opposed this legislation and tell them they will not have your vote. If they don’t have your back and the backs of our babies, why should you have theirs? Go to www.senate.gov Click on the red “senators” tab and find your representative.  Then, write an email, leave a voice mail.  Do it again.  And again.  Make it the issue of the 2014 election.

More regulations — sensible regulations of which we are in dire need after losing hundreds of thousand — will happen. Comprehensive background checks.  Restrictions on magazine sizes.  Perhaps even an assault-weapons ban.

All are common-sense measures.  No brainers.

Shame on Congress if it takes another tragedy before they do their jobs.


The Time to Speak is Now

You know how you wonder whether your one vote and one voice can make a difference?  Today’s mission is to convince you that they can. The trajectory of day-to-day politics is becoming more and more about the little people, i.e. “us,” especially given the rabid intransigence of the Conservative block of the House of Representatives.

Democrats aren’t off the hook.  More than a handful in the Senate remain opposed to marriage equality and other issues of fairness. The only way either faction will act is if they are pushed by We the People.

What should we expect from our “leaders”?

For starters, we might expect them to take the pulse of their constituents and the nation and then to act in a way that is fair and compassionate to the majority, not merely to safeguard themselves or their financial backers.  We should expect our elected officials to be willing to put their jobs on the line for what they know to be right and just.

Three measures are urgently in need of your voice:

  1. Gun Control: Ninety percent of Americans believe there should be background checks on gun purchases. Seven of 10 members of the National Rifle Association support such action, in defiance of the obstinate and morally corrupt NRA leadership. In fact, the public is way ahead of Congress and the NRA leadership on this. A significant number of Americans also favor the restriction of large-capacity magazines.  FEARMONGER ALERT: This is NOT an attempt to eliminate the Second Amendment.  Hunt to thy heart’s content! Buy a handgun for protection. Buy two! But assault-style weapons?!  High-capacity magazines like those used in the slaughter of babies and their teachers in Newtown and other schools, not to mention in daily shootouts in urban centers nationwide?! C’mon.  Where does it end?

Advanced weaponry belongs in the hands of the military and law-enforcement officers, not in those of untrained, violence-loving, rogue and delusional cowboys who fancy themselves quasi federal agents.  Municipal police forces are perpetually upgrading their weaponry — at the taxpayers’ expense — in order to keep up with the crazy man-on-the-street’s latest obsessions in ammo and artillary.


Enough of the killing.  It’s time for compassionate heroes to step forward, to change the image of America from that of a violent, blood-soaked nation to that of a warrior for peace. If you need more evidence, look no farther than the hollowed and pained face of Neil Heslin, whose six-year-old son Jesse died in the Sandy Hook massacre.  “I just keep reliving my loss,” he said.

His reality is devastating.  What’s more, it’s senseless.

If you’d like to be part of the solution, call your Congress members and insist on stiffer gun laws. Give a minute for those who lost their lives. It could be the most important thing you do all year!  Congress is expected to vote on gun measures next month. Find a contact list for your state at www.house.gov.

2.  Rape/Women’s Rights: During the past year, debates over rape — from failed Senate candidate Todd Akin’s ridiculous “legitimate rape” tirade (question: what’s an “illegitimate” rape???) to the disturbing circumstances surrounding the violation of a high-school girl by two Steubenville, Ohio football stars — the subject has been pushed to the forefront.  Maybe that’s okay.  These were not isolated incidents. There are many Akins, many Steubenvilles. We desperately need to have a national conversation about rape, or at least, many, many smaller ones.  We must educate children, as well as many adults, as to what constitutes rape and sexual assault.  We must make clear that rape doesn’t always involve intercourse or violence. But it is always about power. It is always a crime. We must rebuff the myths, such as that someone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs can somehow give consent or somehow deserves to be raped. No one deserves to be raped. We must increase the services and compassion offered to survivors and stop making excuses for perpetrators.  We must insist on more leadership, quickly enacted protections, and immediate prosecutions. So educate yourself, then talk to your friends and family.  Rape crisis and domestic violence centers nationwide would welcome your involvement and are good places for both men and women to learn as well as to become advocates in the campaign to stop sexual assault. Here in Washington, the DC Rape Crisis Center offers volunteer opportunities for area residents as well as multiple types of support and resources for survivors. Visit them online at www.dcrapecrisiscenter.org or email them at dcdcc@dcrcc.org.

3.  Gay Marriage:  In 1958, Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were sentenced to a year in a Virginia prison for marrying each other.  The marriage violated the state’s the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited marriage between people of different races. Hard to imagine, huh?

In 1967, the Lovings brought their case to the Supreme Count, which unanimously decided that Virginia’s statute was unconstitutional.  This ruling ended all race-based restrictions on marriages nationwide.

This week, the Supreme Court heard arguments on two cases dealing with same-sex  marriage.  The underpinnings of the cases echo those of Loving v. Virginia.  Both are about fairness and civil rights, nothing more. It’s hard to tell whether the court will make any changes just yet. But the arguments have catapulted the conversation and spotlighted injustices that have been felt by those in gay unions. This is good. Perhaps, in a decade or two, the fact that such discriminations occurred over gay relationships will seem as senseless as the unfairness the Lovings encountered seems to us today.

Congress has the power to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act so you might nudge lawmakers on this issue, too.  Then pat yourself on the back.  You are a hero to more of your fellow citizens than you know!


What Is More Fun than SOTU Analysis?

It’s time to ask the astute political questions following Tuesday’s State of the Union Address:

Q: Why did shock rocker and hard-right conservative Ted Nugent, who attended President Obama’s annual address, tell CBS News afterwards: “My reaction? I’m not allowed to do that because I’m supposed to keep my pants on.”

A: Nugent’s brain is located in a nether region, beneath his pants.

Q: Why did Marco Rubio, the talented Florida Congressman who gave the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address, pause mid-speech to sip from a bottle of water?

A: Who cares?  It’s not like he was doing vodka shots.  Was he?

Q: Why would legislators travel to their home states next week, knowing that, without Congressional action, teachers, federal employees, emergency workers, and our military will be at risk when the sequester, a.k.a. “Ruthless and Ridiculous Cuts No One, Except Maybe Mitch McConnell, Wants,” goes into effect in March?

A: Legislators are really a bunch of surfer dudes.

Q: Why must the President cajole and congratulate lawmakers for working toward an immigration plan, even though it’s clear there will be much feet dragging on the part of Republicans, despite the fact that they, like the rest of us, ended up here because of…well…immigration?

A: The aforementioned Republicans have amnesia.

Q: Why did Speaker of the House John Boehner oppose the President’s call to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour when one in three American families are living in poverty?

A: He’s earning a maximum wage.

Random Musing: If the splintered and quickly tanking Republican Party truly wants to win over minority voters and women, the Speaker might reconsider his decision.  Just sayin’.

Q: Why do the National Rifle Association and many legislators — Republicans and Democrats — refuse to agree to common-sense measures to reduce gun violence?  (Hint: Answer has nothing to do with the second amendment.)

A: An utter lack of conscience. More than 1,700 people have died due to gun violence since the December 14th slayings in Newtown.

A. Second reason: $$$$$$

A. Third reason: $$$$$$

Q: Why must it take so long to transform the Violence Against Women bill into law?

A: Although the Senate has finally approved the bill, the House is nitpicking. Again. Members are arguing over the definition of “woman”.

Q: Why do Republicans refuse to acknowledge global warming?

A: They like making up their own science, stuff like, “We just got 18 inches of snow in New England!  What global warming?!”  Don’t get them started on evolution.

Q: What is more fun than SOTU analysis?

A: Gotta go with the vodka shots again.


Calling All Heroes

I’ll give you a minute to fill your glass with your holiday beverage or cocktail of choice.  Go on. I’ll hum carols while we wait….

You back?  All set?

Raise your glass!

Here’s to seeing more heroes emerge in Washington, D.C. in 2013!

(Glasses clink “virtually” as we toast.)

Way to toss back that martini, merlot, or cola!

What?! Spiked eggnog?!  Sounds yummy, if a little heavy, but, what the heck. It’s the holidays. Calories, schmalories.  We can start the diet-exercise regime in the new year, right?


Hold on.

Mind re-filling those glasses?

What?  No humming this time?  Alright. I’ll just plug in the tree lights. But, I’ll have you know I was a member of my junior-high chorus!

Ready? Let’s try a Take Two because I’m suddenly stressing over the likelihood of procrastination.  Huh? No, not in terms of your fitness regimen.  I know you’ll hit the gym on Jan. 1. You’ve done it before.  The mojo will happen, especially when you discover you can’t zip those new leather pants under the tree.

I was referring to our elected leaders. We can’t give them until 2013. Procrastination is their mantra. We can’t allow it. Not when they haven’t completed their 2012 responsibilities. Not when they have failed to avoid the fiscal drop off, fiscal slide, or whatever you want to call it. Not when our country’s economic recovery is at stake.  I mean, we can hope for better leadership and cooperation in the new year. Better yet, we can insist upon it. Did you happen to see Wayne LaPierre on Meet the Press this past weekend?  Talk about an anti-leadership and anti-cooperation mindset! But I digress.  More on that in a second….

We need to demand that heroes in our government step forward. This minute! A deal on taxes, expenses, and our fiscal future must be approved before the new year if we are to avoid risking destruction to our financial markets akin to those that occurred last year, when irresponsible Congress members  — mostly the obtuse Tea Party faction — refused to compromise on the debt ceiling.

The bigger the deal the better.  Why must every bill that’s ultimately approved be a scaled-down, watered-down version of WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN?

Spokespersons for fruit-cake-stuffed and hung-over Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, all of whom are hunkered down in their comfy tax-payer-funded homes, are murmuring about maybe having a conference call today.  You know, if the spirit moves them.  The leadership promised its members that it would give 48 hours notice if it wanted members to return to work.  So far that hasn’t happened.  So the earliest we could see Congress in action is Friday.

They need to be here yesterday.  They need to sacrifice their remaining holiday to address vital interests of our nation.

Sacrifice. Not sure our elected leaders know its meaning. It’s what heroes do.

Compromise.  They do this, too.

President Obama is cutting short his Hawaiian Christmas tonight to return to the White House. He, House Speaker John Boehner, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid need to demand that ALL members of Congress return. Immediately. Forget the 48-hour pledge. What about 24 hours?  Twelve? Zero???

Leaders lead.  Heroes sacrifice.  They get the job done.  On time.

Even if we wanted to lower the bar, which we don’t, adults compromise and avoid childish blame games and power plays aimed at promoting their own agendas. If our kids behaved the way our elected officials do they’d be in timeouts until they graduated high school.

Here’s to growing the F up!  (You can toast this. Sorry it wasn’t phrased more eloquently.)

Honestly! On the fiscal cliff.  Each side had been so close you could practically smell a deal.  Then poof, everything crumbled.

THE CURRENT MAELSTROM: On the Right, Speaker Boehner, he of the failed Plan B (what the hell was that?!), hasn’t demanded compliance.  He’s been too weak to propose a bill that would depend on votes from both Dems and Republicans.  He’s failed to say to factions of his caucus (yes, you, Tea Party), that he’s willing to disappoint them, to forge ahead without them.  He’s failed to convey a sense of urgency. He’s failed to risk his own ass.

On the Left, the White House has been too proud to schedule another meeting with Boehner to convince the leader that the more moderate members of each party are ready to act. That they are too close to a deal to back down now.

You won the election, Mr. President.  Stop bowing down; you’re allowing others to dictate the process.  You’re even allowing Republicans to direct appointments to your cabinet.  Seriously?! Channel Nike and Just. Do. It.

Now…to the violence debates that have re-emerged since the Newtown tragedy.

Neither a heroic vibe nor a sense of sacrifice were evident in answers provided by National Rifle Association CEO and Chief Lobbyist Wayne LaPierre when he was interviewed by David Gregory on NBC this past weekend.  LaPierre refused to throw into the mix of possible school-massacre solutions — along with his (and other’s) proposed mental-health initiatives, security upgrades in schools, studies of violent films and video games — any gun-related reforms. First-graders are capable of more common sense and compromise.

LaPierre seemed so sure that no change would come from banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, tightening gun-owner qualifications, or increasing background checks that he wouldn’t even risk putting such issues on the table. Hmmm. There’s a hero for you.

More like a Coward. One more to add to the mix on Capitol Hill. One more whose selfish, shameful, and moronic defiances we can no longer tolerate.

If you truly believe assault-weapon bans or restrictions on high-ammo magazines won’t help, Mr. LaPierre, why not prove it by backing a test ban that’s more inclusive (assault-style weaponry and high-capacity magazines) than the short-lived one passed during the 90’s?

Step up.  Real men and women don’t hide behind their machine guns.

Real heroes are willing to try anything and everything to safeguard their children and their country.

Let us demand heroic action. Quickly. Noisily.

Even among ourselves, the average citizens.

Here’s to calling and emailing one’s federal representatives and demanding action on fiscal matters and on safety from violence in schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, movie theaters, post offices, office buildings, and college campuses.

Before it’s too late.  Again.


The Obtuseness and Insensitivity of the NRA

They called it a press conference.  But what the National Rifle Association conducted today in Washington could be better termed a commercial.

Wayne LaPierre, the group’s top lobbyist, stood before media representatives and called for placing armed officers in American schools. If the President and other leaders are deserving of armed protection, so are our children, he reasoned — the underlying message being that we need more guns, not fewer.

What stood out almost as much as packages under the Christmas tree for children who are no longer alive to unwrap them, was the bull-headedness of this organization and its unwillingness to channel real change.

The whole affair was a giant cop-out. The NRA did nothing unexpected.  Nothing courageous.

Mr. LaPierre spoke of violence in our movies and video games, issues of mental health, and parenting problems.  He blamed the media.  He blathered.  He danced around the truth. He repeatedly put forth the idea that the only solution to bad guys with guns is good guys with guns.

He failed to propose any meaningful discussions or solutions surrounding military-style weapons.  Let alone an assault weapons ban.

It was business as usual.  The NRA demonstrated it is willing to protect its brand and its pocketbook, not our children.  LaPierre refused to risk possible financial setbacks to the organization in order to safeguard our kids.  His plan calls for a more militarized society.  To say he and the NRA don’t get it is an enormous understatement.  Talk about dense.  Talk about selfish.  Talk about cold.

He might as well have stood behind the podium hugging a machine gun.

Mr. LaPierre took no questions, and QUESTIONS are what make a press conference a press conference. Just sayin’.

But, make no mistake, there will be questions.

Apparently, Mr. LaPierre hasn’t followed recent polls in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy. Americans are not willing to settle for the same-old ignorance and short-sighted solutions.

We owe the victims and their families more.  Much more.