Category Archives: government

The Last Eight Years: Things That Didn’t Happen

After the stress of the last eight months or so, we may be tempted to forget what happened in the last eight years – and what didn’t.

I just want to point out:
• No one outlawed guns. This has been predicted every single year during the last eight. If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s always bound to tomorrow. But in fact, even when there is a national tragedy involving guns, various half-assed solutions get batted about (along with thoughts and prayers), but no one with the power to do so ever suggests outlawing guns.
• No one took away everyone’s guns. The corollary. It sounds all gutsy and macho to say that no one will ever take your guns. But think for a minute. Even if this were the law, how would it be enforced? Would jack-booted thugs go from door to door, saying, “Give us all your guns, or else!” There aren’t enough jack-booted thugs in the country, not to mention who would be crazy enough to sign up for that particular duty?
• There were no death panels. If you want to stretch a point, we have the same death panels we’ve always had – faceless insurance bureaucrats who get to approve or disapprove drugs, treatments, and procedures. But government committees who get to decide whether to pull the plug on Granny? No. Just no.
• There were no FEMA reeducation camps. Again, the infrastructure to do this would be impossible: building the camps, rounding up all the ideologically incorrect, recruiting re-educators. Like the Democrats could get that organized. Don’t tell me it happened in Nazi Germany. Reeducation camps didn’t happen here, with eight years to get them rolling. And when there were Japanese internment camps, the U.S. had to apologize and pay reparations. Speaking of which…
• White people did not have to pay slave reparations. Can you imagine getting this past the Supreme Court (as it would surely be challenged), given the conservative majority and decisions like Citizens United and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act? Can you imagine the tax revolt that would ensue? It’s little wonder that no one even suggested this, much less tried to accomplish it.
• No one attacked Texas via tunnels under Walmart. C’mon, people. Get serious. Not even Tom Clancy or Jerry Bruckheimer would buy this premise. It wouldn’t even make a good summer action thriller, much less actually happen.
• No state seceded. They didn’t during the last eight years, and they’re not going to now. For one thing, that was the spark for the actual Civil War, and no one has time or resources for another one now (although it might make a dent in the unemployment problem). The facts are that any state that seceded, besides being in open rebellion against the government, would lose all their federal subsidies, grants, and other monies, leaving the state to fill in the gaps. Massive state tax increases would surely ensue, and you know how well that would go over.
• Secret weather machines and chemtrails have not affected us. Again, c’mon. We’re into tin foil hat and James Bond supervillain territory. All we need is a fluffy white cat with green eyes to look down its nose at us. Besides, government scientists are too busy responding to Zika mosquito and Ebola threats.
• Osama bin Laden is not still hiding in a cave. Nope. Still dead. (Personally, I think Obama’s press secretary should have had him open every press conference with this.)
• The country did not become a dictatorship run by czars. Looking back on the last eight years, does anyone really believe the Democrats could have pushed through a dictatorship, czar-run or otherwise? Oh, wait, Obama was supposed to do that with the stroke of a pen by canceling elections. Did that happen while we weren’t looking? Or while I was standing in line for an hour to vote?

Doesn’t anyone feel the least bit silly?

I’d say that now we’re going to see similar fears and threat assessments from the liberals, but they don’t have Frank Luntz, linguistic spin doctor extraordinaire, on their side. Can America ride out the new administration the way it did the last one? There may be – will be – have been – incidents of hate and violence and ugliness. There will certainly be protest movements (though I hope they pick a better name than “teabaggers”). Neighbors and families and politicians are not going to get together, hold hands, and sing “Kumbayah.”

But we got through the last eight divisive years. And the eight divisive years before that. I know many people fear mass deportations, internment camps, and war, either civil or nuclear. Are those fears reasonable? Will they come to pass?

Meet me back here in four years.

The Never-Ending Election

Vote ConceptI’ve been longing for the political season to be over – for the election and the vote counting and the inauguration, so that at least by January, we can all get back to normal life, whatever that is.

Then I realized that this election will never be over.

That’s been the trend with the last several elections. Even after the outcome should have been long settled, the sloganeering and mudslinging continue.

It may have begun back during Bill Clinton’s presidency, when roadblocks were slammed in front of his attempts at health care reform (and is it any wonder, considering that Hillary was put in charge of that instead of beautifying drug-free literate America or something similar?). Then came the calls for impeachment, which Bill prompted by sexual misconduct and lying about it, an age-old practice that no doubt more than a few members of Congress had also pursued. But that was about it for getting anything done that term.

The rhetoric was vicious. Once I was playing a party game in which you had a famous person’s name on your back and had to guess who you had based on comments and questions. The person with the Bill Clinton tag was told, “I hope you rot in hell.”

George W. Bush’s administration was not immune to the plague of hatred, though he had the advantage of calling anyone who opposed him unpatriotic because of terrorism and war and helping the enemy. There was lots of trivia to mock – mispronunciations and shoe-throwing incidents. But there were also more serious accusations that dogged him throughout his administration – that he had stolen the election, even though the Supreme Court said he hadn’t, and the “My Pet Goat”  blank response on 9/11.

And then there came Barack Obama. Commentary and opinions were vicious, both from political pundits and the general public. Some of it was intensely silly – the claim that he and Michelle shared a “terrorist fist bump” and that he had his very own dictatorial flag (which was actually the flag of the State of Ohio, which does feature a large “O,” standing for, well, “Ohio”). But more of it was appalling – comparisons to apes and Hitler, calls for lynching and assassination, and then, when Obama was duly elected, vows from members of Congress to make him a “one-term president.”

Cooler heads called for at least respecting the office, if not the person holding it (though I know at least one person who referred to George W. Bush as “Chimpy McWhistleAss,” then called for respect for “Mr. Obama”). Passing any legislation through Congress proved next to impossible, calls for impeachment were rampant, and Obama was castigated for everything from appointing various “czars” (a common practice and the usual name) to vacationing in the foreign land of Hawaii. Count the number of times he has been called unpatriotic, ignorant, treasonous, tyrannical, obstructionist, poorly educated, racist, Islamic, and evil. I can’t.

So I have not little hope, but no hope that after the election in 2016, the political rhetoric will simmer down. No matter who is elected, governing will be nearly impossible. If Trump wins, his opponents will still call him a failed businessman, tax cheat, and serial womanizer who is unprepared for presidential responsibilities and has stupid hair. If Clinton wins, she will continue to be called a cheat, liar, and traitor, and will be stuck with the nicknames “Hitlery” and “Killary.” There have already been calls for her impeachment before the election is even decided. How can either of them govern with all that baggage to tote?

Will anything substantial be done in the next President’s term in office? Will Congress back down from its obstructionism? Will America be great again or be respected by other nations? Will ordinary citizens stop seeing the government as their enemy and their neighbors as fools? I think we all know the answer to that.

I fear our political system is broken. It was once hoped that the aftermath of 9/11 would bring us together as a nation, but instead we are more divided than ever. What will it take to heal these wounds, inflicted from both without and within? Can anything short of revamping our entire political system, from candidate selection to campaign funding to the electoral college, make us whole again or even patch the cracks?

It would take an extraordinary president, a retreat from partisanship, a calming of the waters, a shift in values – a lot of work from a lot of people who are right now tearing our country apart. Frankly, I don’t see it happening any time soon. But how much more of this division and ugliness can – will – America stand?

Make America Great Again: What Does It Mean?

If you’ve been conscious for the last few months, you’ve heard this slogan from the Trump/Pence political campaign.

But what does it mean?

I’m not a political junkie; I’m a word nerd, so I thought I’d approach the phrase from the perspective of language. I’ll leave the verb out of this discussion (if anyone wants to make a run at it, go ahead). I’ll concern myself with the terms “America,” “Great,” and “Again.”smiling woman with text bubble of american flag

America. What do we mean when we say “America”?

First, and perhaps obviously, we don’t all mean the same thing. Some people define America as “the greatest nation that God ever put on the planet.” But we’ll get to great later. Let’s stick to America for now.

The geography of America really is great. We’ve got those amber waves of grain, mighty redwoods, rocky shores, gorgeous beaches, and a really grand canyon. But that’s just real estate. Without people, all you’ve got is empty space.

So. People. Americans. Now comes some of the language theory. Whatever comes without a hyphen or adjective is considered the norm – standard, real, if you will. Anything with a hyphen or adjective is considered outside the norm and must be defined by that – African- American, Mexican-American, Muslim-American. The language involved implies that true Americans need no hyphen or adjective, and that’s apparently what many people believe –that if you’ve got a hyphen or an adjective, then you’re not really an American, or at least not as American as someone without an adjective or hyphen. Ironically, this means that the original Americans, the people who lived here before the rest of us immigrated, are no longer what is considered standard American. They need an adjective – Native American.

But America is all its people. not just those without hyphens. Immigrants too, which except for the Natives we all are. If the immigrants are illegal, they may not be considered real Americans, but they are part of the American workforce, doing the jobs that other Americans don’t really want because of low pay and unpleasant working conditions – gardening, child care, domestic servants, agricultural workers, and so on. Without their work and their contribution to the American economy, America would be a very different place. Many of them desperately want to become citizens, but even if they do, they’re still hyphenated Americans.

Should they be considered Americans? Right now any of them born in the United States are simply and legally U.S. citizens. The Constitution says so. If that needs to change, so does the Constitution, and that’s no simple matter. What the Constitution really says is to me something that ought to be taught in every American school, in every grade, until the people understand such apparently perplexing concepts as what freedom of religion really means and how difficult it is to change or amend the Constitution. Maybe this was supposed to have been taught, but evidently it didn’t stick with many former students.

For example, the President cannot by himself (or herself) change the Constitution. If anyone wants an amendment that would not grant citizenship to everyone born on U.S. soil if they were born to illegal immigrant parents, or to cancel the Second Amendment (to choose two not entirely random examples), there is a long, difficult process involving not just Congress, but the states. A certain number of states must approve – ratify – the new Amendment and have only a limited time to do so. It’s harder than you think. That’s the kind of thing that ought to be taught in school. No one just waves a hand and takes away birthright citizenship or guns.

Great. All of that leads us to the question of what great means, in the context of America. I think it’s great that America can add new amendments to the Constitution when they think of a great new idea (like Prohibition) and repeal amendments that turn out to be really bad ideas (like Prohibition).

Other things that are great become not-so-great when you take them too far. Strength is great; being a bully isn’t. Free speech is great; terrorist or assassination threats, not so much. (Free speech is another idea that ought to be taught in school. It doesn’t mean what many people seem to think it means. But that’s a discussion for another day.)

The thing is, you don’t get to be great simply by saying that you’re great. That’s like calling yourself a karate black belt or a tenured professor or a Senator or even a McDonald’s manager. Those are things you have to earn. You have to do great things, like joining other nations in defeating Hitler, or having ideas like “no taxation without representation,” or saying things like “all men are created equal” – and putting them into practice. That’s the tricky part.

Let’s face it, we’re never going to all agree on what “great” means. I may be a great poker player, but to someone else that’s not great, it’s being good at a silly, materialistic game. Another person may scoff at a parent who’s great at planning birthday parties – but that parent is showing love of family and creating something great for others. Is a chef great? Is a food bank volunteer? Is a pro athlete great? Is a high school coach? Many times it’s in the eye of the beholder.

So, is America’s greatness in the eye of beholders? Are we saying great things but not putting them into action? Do the opinions of the rest of the world count? Because a lot of other people and other countries – and some Americans – seem to think that America falls short in some aspects of greatness. Refusing to abide by treaties we have signed. Quibbling over the meaning of “torture” instead of just not doing it. Not doing right by our veterans in terms of housing, health care, and jobs.

Some other countries are greater than we are in certain areas – mathematically, provably so. Many other countries’ education systems produce students who outscore ours in math and reading. Some unexpected countries such as Estonia and Singapore have lower maternal death rates than America does. Are not educational achievement and maternal health great things, and do we not fall short in them? Or is America always great in all things?

Again. The word “again” implies that there was once a time when America was great, but that we no longer are. It used to be that saying America isn’t great was a serious political mistake, but apparently now it’s okay.

To say “make America great again,” (once we’ve figured out “America” and “great”) we must define a time in the past when America was great, that we now need to return to.

So when was that time?

As a character in Seanan Maguire’s novel Once Broken Faith says, “Anyone who says the past was perfect is a liar and wasn’t there.”

What about at the founding of the country? Wasn’t America great then? Yes, it was a great time of great ideas to build the foundation of a great nation. But it wasn’t so great for anyone who wasn’t a white, male adult landowner. Those were the only people who had much say in what America would be and what would make it great. Imagine if today no one who rented a house or apartment were allowed to vote; if women were the property of their husbands; if there were no laws against child labor and child abuse; if an entire segment of society suffered the cruelties of enslavement. Not so great, eh?

What about the Fifties? Ozzie and Harriet and Father Knows Best? (Never mind that those were Hollywood fictions, not documentaries, and no more real than The Walking Dead or Modern Family.) Again, not great for everyone – domestic abuse victims, children targeted by sexual predators, drug addicts, the mentally ill (which at the time included homosexuals, according to the DSM, the psychiatric “Bible”, and too many others to name. These are not recent phenomena. We just didn’t have names for some of them then, or kept them behind closed doors, unspoken and ignored.

The Sixties? The Eighties? Any decade – any year – you look at, is a mixture of great things and not-so-great things. Can we really go back to the great ideas, accomplishments, institutions, without going back to the wars, injustices, and problems that co-existed with them? Even if we have learned from our errors so we wouldn’t repeat them (a dubious concept at best), can we really believe that the world – that America – would exist in a stasis of greatness with no new difficulties and horrors to face?

Make America Great Again. It’s a great slogan, until you look at it more closely. As always with slippery language, there’s a lot lying hidden under the surface. Let’s drag it out and talk about what it means, and how we really can improve America.

Wouldn’t that be great?

 

Hungry Children: A One-Act Play

Sharing food with the needy

[Setting: The Halls of Power]

Guy in Suit: The media keep saying that there are hungry children in America.

Other Guy in Suit: Let them eat dinner.

Bleeding-Heart: That’s the problem. They don’t have dinner to eat. Or even breakfast maybe.

GIS: We already give them lunch at school. That’s five days a week.

B-H: Unless they’re absent or on vacation or a snow day.

OGIS: Then it’s the parents’ problem.

GIS: Why do schoolchildren have so many vacations, anyway? We don’t get all those vacations.

B-H: Uh, yes you do.

GIS: Oh. Well, never mind that now. We were talking about tax cuts…uh, job creators…uh, feeding children. That was it.

OGIS: Suppose the media are right?

GIS: The media are never right unless we tell them what to say.

OGIS: Well, just suppose. For a minute. OK? The problem I see is that it looks good for us to feed poor, hungry, starving American children. By the way, are they as pitiful-looking as poor, starving foreign children?

GIS: Probably not. You were saying?

OGIS: If there are hungry children, and we do need to feed them, how are we supposed to do that without feeding the lousy, lazy, good-for-nothing moochers at the same time?

GIS: Ah, yes, the parents. If we give the parents anything, it should be one bag of rice and one bag of beans. And — hey — they could feed their kids that too.

B-H: But children need good nutrition — fruits and vegetables and vitamins and minerals and enough to keep them full and healthy.

OGIS: Hey, we have plenty of minerals left over after fracking. Won’t those do?

B-H: No.

GIS: But if we give kids all that fancy food, what’s to keep the parents from eating it?

OGIS: Or selling it for booze or cigarettes or drugs?

GIS: Think about that! The drug dealers would be getting all the good nutrition. Then they could run faster from the police.

OGIS: We can’t have that, now can we?

B-H: But…the hungry children? Remember? Eating at most one meal a day, five days a week, when school is in session?

GIS: That’s plenty. I heard American children are obese, anyway. They could stand to lose a little weight.

[Curtain]

 

I thought it was time to revisit this post when my husband and I visited IHOP for their No Kid Hungry promotion, which raised money for www.nokidhungry.org. (You can donate at their website. I did. Besides buying all those pancakes.)

I was also reminded of a conversation I had with someone who works in the education sector. She was at a conference, talking with a group of teachers. One of them mentioned how many snow days they had that year and my friend responded, “Oh, boy! I bet the kids loved that!” There was an awkward silence. Finally, one of the teachers spoke up. “On a snow day,” she said, “many kids don’t get to eat. The only real meal that they get is at school.”

My friend had never thought about that, and neither had I. We both came from times and places when there was always food in the fridge and a hot dinner on the table. Sometimes we forget that life isn’t like that for everyone.

In this election year, we’ll hear a lot about welfare and funding for schools and improvements in educational policy. Childhood hunger may not be mentioned, but it is intimately tied up with all those issues.

You can donate to local food banks and charities. You can work with nokidhungry.org. Or you can leave it up to the Guys in Suits, for whatever they think it’s worth.

A Little Means a Lot

You know those pictures you see of a celebrity presenting an oversized novelty check to some person or organization? Well, I had that experience once – as the giver, not the givee.

At the time I was the editor of a magazine called Early Childhood News, which was for child care center owners and operators. It included articles on legal issues, safety and hygiene, playgrounds, food, self-esteem, volunteers, and more – polls on interesting topics and annual toy awards, to name two.

It was a small magazine (in terms of circulation), so our author payments were not extravagant.

Once I asked a person who was quite well known in the field to write an article, and asked whether I should send his check to his home or university office.

When I told him how much (or rather, little) it was, he said, “Just donate it to a Head Start program.”

So I called the Dayton Head Start program and told them that I had a $200 donation for them, courtesy of the professor.

To say they were flabbergasted would be an understatement. When I came to present the check (a normal-sized one), they figuratively rolled out the red carpet for me. I toured the facility, I met all the administrators and teachers. I had my picture taken presenting the check. (I was glad that I had worn my good green dress that day.)

Until that moment I never realized how such a relatively small sum could have such a big effect. It meant they could buy supplies without caregivers having to dip into their own meager funds. Or provide a special treat or party for the kids. Or purchase books that would enrich children’s minds for years to come.

To me it was modest compensation for what was an ordinary transaction in my business. For the professor, it was an amount too small to bother with. For Head Start it was a windfall.

I think we sometimes fail to realize what even our smallest good deeds – or ordinary actions – can mean to people and groups that struggle. I still had a lot to learn.

That fact was again brought home to me again when I heard someone tell a story about an educational conference she attended. When the topic turned to snow days, she said to the teachers, “I bet you really look forward to those.”

She was met with a profound, awkward silence.

Finally, someone explained it to her: “On snow days, we know that some of our students won’t get a good, nutritious breakfast or a hot lunch. They’ll go hungry.”

It’s a bit embarrassing to think about. To most of us, a snow day means relaxing with hot cocoa, staying in bed an extra hour, or baking cookies with the kids. To teachers and the children they serve, it may mean something a lot less heart-warming.

I’ll admit that I hadn’t thought of that effect of snow days either. Like the woman at the conference, I thought of snow days the way they had been for me in my childhood – a break, virtually a vacation. Because that was all I saw, I thought that was the norm. And for well-off suburban kids like me, it was.

A free or reduced-price school lunch program, or a local food pantry, can mean the difference between hunger and a full tummy to a child. A small donation can help a nonprofit service fulfill its mission to improve children’s lives. In this time of talk about budget cuts for social programs and safety nets that become “hammocks” of dependency (as Paul Ryan believes), let’s spare a thought – or even a small check – for people, especially children, to whom hot, nutritious food; safe and loving care; and enrichment for the mind are luxuries.

It’s something we often think about during the Christmas season, but need is year-round.

Where Music and Politics Meet

This land is your land,
This land is my land,
From California to the New York Island,
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters,
This land was made for you and me.

This, the chorus of Woody Guthrie’s famous American ballad, is all that most people know of the song. It is repeatedly sung at patriotic events, civic occasions, and celebrations of American holidays.

According to Wikipedia, Guthrie wrote the song “in critical response to Irving Berlin‘s ‘God Bless America,‘ which Guthrie considered unrealistic and complacent.”

If people know any more of the song, then they know one or two of these verses:

As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway,
I saw below me that golden valley,
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and I rambled, and I followed my footsteps
To the sparking sands of her diamond deserts,
All around me a voice was sounding,
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, then I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving, and the dust clouds rolling,
A voice was chanting as the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me.

There are other verses, though, that aren’t commonly sung or even remembered. In them Guthrie spoke of the plight of ordinary people caught in the aftermath of the Dust Bowl and the economic crisis that afflicted the whole nation. These verses are usually left out because of their political/economic message, which were deemed sympathetic to communism.

One bright sunny morning, in the shadow of the steeple,
By the relief office I saw my people,
As they stood there hungry, I stood there wondering if,
This land was made for you and me.

Was a big high wall there that tried to stop me,
Was a great big sign that said, “Private Property,”
But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking my freedom highway,
Nobody living can make me turn back,
This land was made for you and me.

Another verse, added by Guthrie’s friend, folksinger Pete Seeger, takes the political/social message even further, and includes a Bible reference:

Maybe you’ve been working as hard as you’re able,
But you’ve just got crumbs from the rich man’s table,
And maybe you’re thinking, was it truth or fable,
That this land was made for you and me.

With the political season heating up, Woody Guthrie has been much on my mind lately. Politicians have been quick to use popular songs in their campaigns based on their titles, but ignoring the lyrics. “This Land Is Your Land” was used in 1988 by George H.W. Bush. Guthrie, being long dead, couldn’t complain.

Other choices have been, well, problematic. In 1992, independent candidate Ross Perot used Patsy Cline’s version of “Crazy,” a song about hopeless love. In 2000, George W. Bush was threatened with a lawsuit by Tom Petty to stop the candidate from using the singer’s “I Won’t Back Down,” and was criticized by other performers for using their tunes. (Primary candidate Mike Huckabee was also asked in 2008 to stop using Boston’s “More Than a Feeling.”)

As The Washington Post reported,

The most famously misread song may have been Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” During his 1984 reelection campaign, President Reagan praised Springsteen’s “message of hope” during a stop in New Jersey. It wasn’t clear which song, or songs, Reagan meant (and there’s no record of Reagan’s campaign actually playing the song), but many assumed he was referring to “Born,” the title track of Springsteen’s best-selling album at the time. The song, of course, is about the opposite of hope; it’s the anguished cry of a Vietnam veteran, returning home to bleak prospects (“I’m ten years burning down the road/Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go”). Springsteen later expressed irritation at being made an implicit part of Reagan’s morning-in-America reelection rhetoric.

Nor is this a phenomenon whose time has passed. Although the election season has barely started, there has already been at least one controversy. Canadian singer/songwriter Neil Young (who of course can’t vote in American elections) can still express his opinions of them.

Young objected when Donald Trump’s crew played “Rockin’ in the Free World” during Trump’s trip to the podium to announce his campaign for President. As breitbart.com noted (http://www.breitbart.com/big-hollywood/2015/06/23/after-shaming-trump-neil-young-allows-bernie-sanders-to-use-campaign-song/), “an official statement from Young’s camp immediately responded, “Neil Young, a Canadian citizen, is a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for President of the United States of America.” He had not authorized Trump’s use of the song, though the candidate’s campaign manager asserted that they had paid for the rights to do so. (Rights to use a song can usually be purchased from the music publisher.)

Back in the ’60s and ’70s, folksingers wrote songs specifically about the various issues that arose in elections (“The Draft-Dodger Rag,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” CSNY’s “Ohio,” “National Brotherhood Week”). That song trend was satirized in Tom Lehrer’s “The Folk Song Army” and is rarely seen these days, except perhaps on open mic nights at local bars and coffee shops. The day of protest songs sung by thousands at rallies or played on the radio has largely given way to the shouting or chanting of slogans (“Feel the Bern”) or general feel-good patriotic pop or country-pop songs. “God Bless the U.S.A.” might just replace “The Star-Spangled Banner” as our national anthem. (It is easier to sing.)

God, I miss Woody Guthrie! I bet he’d have a thing or two to sing about this election cycle.

By the way, what do you suggest? Let me know what you think would be a good campaign song – for either side.

Post-Feminism: Back to the Future

Now that we’ve got the marriage equality question settled for all time (1), I think it’s time we turned to a brand-new, never-before-contemplated issue of social concern – women’s rights.

That’s right. We women want rights.

What rights, you ask?

Well, I dunno. There are so many.

The right to fair wages. The right to be believed when reporting a rape. The right not to be abused by a partner and to get something more than a restraining order that doesn’t work. The right to affordable, good-quality child care. The right to be represented in groups that make decisions about women. The right to have children or not, as we decide. The right to health care, mental health care, places in homeless shelters. The right not to be assaulted by fellow service members.

I could go on. So could you, I bet.

But, just as we’re now living in a post-racial society (2), I’m told we’re living in a post-feminist society.(3)

I’ve also heard that one of the reasons the Terrifying Gay Agenda (4) is having such current success is that they found a specific issue to organize around – marriage equality. Not “Treat Us Like Human Beings” or “Don’t Discriminate in Jobs and Housing” or “We Want Equal Rights.”

And those are some of the problems with the women’s movement – we’re not organized, we don’t have just one issue that we can knock off the list above, and “Change Society” is too vague.

So let’s narrow it down to one. For myself, I’d like to be mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. And that means the Equal Rights Amendment.(5) All we have to do, according to the experts at http://www.equalrightsamendment.org/, since the one proposed in 1972 was passed (6), is just get enough states to ratify it to put us over the top – three whole states.

The ones that haven’t ratified are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. I figure Illinois is a good place to start. Then, I don’t know – Nevada? North Carolina? Virginia? What do you think?

But let’s do it. Then see what happens with all those other issues. I’m betting the ERA will have a good effect on many of them, and more besides.(7)

What’s that? It isn’t a good time to bring up women’s rights? The climate in the country isn’t conducive to the issue? There’s no chance of it happening?

Well, was it a good time to bring up marriage equality? Was the climate of the public discussion in favor of that? Was the country ready for it? Take a look at all the strict constitutionalists scrambling to figure out a way to defy the Constitution (8), and you tell me.

And to those who say that it’s an empty gesture, that an Equal Rights Amendment will make no real difference in women’s lives, think about what happened once black people were mentioned in that foundational document. No, it didn’t change everything for the better right away. But it sure got the ball rolling.

And I don’t know about you, but I sure would like to see some ball-rolling on behalf of women.(9)

(1) *snerk*
(2) *snerk* again
(3) I had a t-shirt that said “I’ll be post-feminist in the post-patriarchy.” My husband and I both wore it until you couldn’t see the letters anymore. I’d get another one if I could remember what catalog we found it in.
(4) As the joke goes, it includes brunch at 11:30, decorating committee at 4:00, and a dance at 9:00. It’s probably the dance that terrifies people.
(5) Here’s the full text:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Fifty-two whole words. Scary, isn’t it?
(6) Yes, the ERA actually passed, although almost no one remembers this. It was the ratifying that did it in.
(7) Back in the day, when the ERA came around the last time, it was sneeringly referred to by some as the Equal Restrooms Amendment. Which is actually a topic that still needs addressing. Women’s bathrooms in public buildings need more stalls than men’s to achieve parity. Women need a stall for each excretory (and hygiene) function. Men conserve space using urinals; for some unfathomable reason, they’re willing to pee without walls and doors.
(8) And/or the Supreme Court. And/or the President, for that matter. Anything mentioned in the Constitution, really, except the Second Amendment.
(9) yet more *snerk*

The Already Lost Generation

We talk about banks that are too big to fail, and car companies, and such. We say that schools are failing, but really we think that schools are too big to fail – that if we take reform seriously and rebuild schools from the ground up – we’ll “lose a generation.” But we’ve already lost them.

When students drop out, we’ve lost them.

When students graduate and can barely read, we’ve lost them.

When students are still segregated by race, we’ve lost them.

When students must choose home learning over being bullied…

When female students routinely lose self-esteem and interest in math and science…

When students are valued more for athletics than academics…

When students learn to take tests instead of to think and question…

When students are denied accurate science and health lessons…

When young artists can’t learn to develop their talent…

When students with disabilities must have advocates and lawyers to make progress…

When students who do graduate can’t afford higher education…

When classes are so big that struggling students disappear in the crowd…

When technology is plentiful only in the wealthiest districts…

When school funding is dependent on location…

When school curriculum is dependent on location…

When school buildings are unfit to house students…

When new teachers are sent to the worst schools…

When teachers must use their own money for classroom supplies…

When teachers and students both cheat on tests…

When school boards and government ride their personal hobbyhorses…

When three states determine the whole nation’s textbook content…

We’ve already lost them.

We have failed the students more thoroughly than a grade on a report card ever can.

Mental Illness in the News: Some Questions

One of the notable headlines last week that wasn’t about a celebrity celebrity, ridiculous politician, or even the passing of a great and inspiring actor, concerned mental disorders and how society treats those who have them. Those of us who have or care about people with mental disorders may have noticed this story online:

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/02/truly-barbaric-florida-deputy-drags-mentally-ill-woman-through-courthouse-by-shackled-feet/#.VOyTNKh2Gbc.facebook

For those of you who haven’t read it or seen the video, here’s the gist. A woman, Ms. Rios, was declared mentally incompetent at a hearing for a minor offense and not allowed to say goodbye to her mother. She wanted to sit on a bench and cry for a bit. When she did not go promptly with the officer, he dragged her through the courthouse by her shackled feet. A video was taken on a cellphone camera by a lawyer who happened to be present, but had nothing to do with Ms. Rios’s case. If you watch the video clip you can see and hear her distress.

As the headline says, this was barbaric.

But there’s lots neither the headline nor the story says. I have questions.

What is the woman’s mental illness? Or why is she mentally incompetent? The stories vary, usually calling her “mentally ill,” which is shorter for the headline writers, but so far I have seen nothing more specific. One could get the impression that in the mind of the media – and therefore their readers – that the two terms mean the same thing. Was she medicated or unmedicated or off her prescribed meds? Does she have a developmental disability? An autism spectrum disorder? An emotional or behavioral disorder? We don’t know. But does whatever label make her automatically suspected of potential violence? The woman did not behave like an animal even when she was treated like one.

I think we all know people who have mental disorders but are still mentally competent to conduct their own affairs, up to and including court proceedings. In fact, I know you know one – me. I have bipolar disorder, type 2. But who among us, even the sanest and most stable of the general public, wouldn’t have needed to sit on a bench and cry before going to wherever the officer thought we should go? Who wouldn’t yell and protest and try to hold on to a table if we were dragged anywhere by our shackled feet?

Is that the way to calm someone who’s upset?

No?

Why is the officer’s action called “truly barbaric”? I’m not saying it wasn’t barbaric. But how was it more barbaric than other things routinely done to the incarcerated mentally ill (or incompetent)? Could it be “truly” barbaric instead of just regularly barbaric because the officer’s actions were caught on tape? How many everyday barbaric actions aren’t? And putting aside simple human compassion (which he did), didn’t the officer’s actions create a larger, potentially more dangerous disturbance with someone being dragged and thrashing about?

Why did the other officers present do nothing? You can see them on the video. They are spectators. No one says, “Hey, do you have to do that?” or “Give her a minute to calm down” or “Here, let me take care of this” or “You know, there are other ways to handle this” or even “Are you sure you want to do that with the camera rolling?” Nothing. Nada. Zippety. Doo-dah.

Why weren’t the officers and other courthouse personnel trained to handle situations like that? They obviously happen occasionally. Officers are (supposedly) trained to handle situations involving dangerous felons (which Ms. Rios wasn’t), domestic violence, and how to restrain suspects properly. Some even get sensitivity training on race, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. Where’s the training for interacting with the mentally ill (or mentally incompetent)? For de-escalating a situation instead of throwing gas on the fire? How about anger management before incidents like this one happen instead of after? Shouldn’t every law enforcement official be able to control or channel his or her anger and not take it out on the public?

Why the hell aren’t police officers required to wear body cameras – and have someone whose job it is to, oh, I don’t know, review the tapes occasionally? Certainly when there’s been a complaint, but spot checks might also do some good. Why are civilians subject to increasing surveillance, while law enforcement personnel – who are also civilians, by the way – perform their jobs with minimal oversight.

And why is the Golden Rule suspended when the “others” have a mental disturbance? I’d really like to know.

Let’s Call a Truce on Christmas

I wrote this over a year ago, but it still seems relevant.

Time to choose sides again, folks. There’s a war on Christmas, says Bill O’Reilly. No there isn’t, says Jon Stewart. Christians are being persecuted. Christians are the ones persecuting. “Merry Christmas” is forbidden. “Merry Christmas” is mandatory. The Constitution forbids manger scenes. The First Amendment protects manger scenes.

I hate war metaphors. There are too many of them and they encourage a martial mindset. War on Terror. War on Poverty. War on Drugs. Cupcake Wars. My least favorite hymn is “Onward, Christian Soldiers.”(1) So let’s dispense with the whole “War on Christmas” thing. Until automatic rifles and tactical nukes are involved. Then I’ll be willing to call it a war.

What side am I on, I hear you ask? To quote Tolkien’s Treebeard, “I am not altogether on anyone’s side because nobody is altogether on my side….” (If you promise not to say “the reason for the season,” I will admit that crass commercialism and greed are, I believe, the real forces that threaten Christmas.) So, for what it’s worth, here’s my two cents.(2)

Christians are being persecuted. Yes, they are, and it’s appalling, indecent, and shameful. Christians are being persecuted in Iraq. In North Korea. In India. In China. In other countries around the world. They are being killed or driven out of their homes and towns. They are jailed for preaching and handing out Bibles.

None of that is happening in the U.S., most likely because Christians are in the majority here. Christians are persecuted in places where they are in the minority. If you think you’re being persecuted by being asked to say, “Happy Holidays,” think again.

Christians aren’t allowed to say “Merry Christmas.” Well, sure you can say “Merry Christmas.” Say it to your friends and relatives. Say it to passersby and people in the streets. Say it to Jews and Muslims and Buddhists if you want. The one place saying “Merry Christmas” is frowned on is in the workplace.

Let’s think about this a minute. There are all sorts of things that employers don’t want employees to do in the workplace. Some of them don’t allow facial hair. Some insist that tattoos be covered. No one wants you to come to work with dirt under your fingernails.(3) They don’t allow you to call customers granny or bro or stink face. Why? They want you to show respect, so that customers will keep returning and spending money. Flip it. If every store that Christians went into greeted them with “Happy Hannukah” or “Joyous Eid,” would they feel welcome and respected and want to come back? No?

America is a Christian nation and should follow Christian laws. Here’s where things get sticky. It’s true that many of the founders were Christians.(4) And many of them were getting the hell out of countries that told them what kind of Christians they had to be – Catholics or Protestants. Or Calvinists or Presbyterians. Or nonbelievers.

So it shouldn’t be any surprise that in the U.S. Constitution, the very first Right in the Bill of, it says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”(5)
Simply, the government can’t tell you what religion to be – Christian, Baha’i, Sikh, Jewish, or none of the above. And the government can’t stop you from practicing that religion, or none.(6)

And that’s it. The government can’t show preference to ANY religion, because the founders knew personally how easy it is for that to be abused.

My Freedom of Speech means I can say “Merry Christmas” if I want to. Yes, it does. The government can’t tell you not to, or punish you if you do. But the government also can’t forbid people to say “Joyous Kwanzaa” or “Enjoy the holiday of your choice.”(7) But, as noted, while the government can’t do that, many businesses ask employees not to. Blame them or boycott them if such be your inclination. Just don’t drag the government into it.

But we can’t put up manger scenes in public places. Sure you can. Have the biggest one you want in front of your house or your church or your private school or even your restaurant (if you don’t mind driving away non-Christian customers). But, again, the government wants to stay hands-off. No manger scenes in front of public buildings that everyone of every religion gets to use. Yes, all are welcome at the court building, the IRS offices, and the public schools.(8)(9)

So, that’s the story. It’s government places that have to call things “holiday” this-and-that. Many people and businesses think that’s a good idea and do likewise. Others object, and the government can’t tell them not to. It’s got enough headaches.

But it’s also the government that can’t say a thing about how you choose your holiday or celebrate it or decorate for it or speak about it. And if anyone tries to stop you, the government will tell them to cut out that nonsense.

So when former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) decried anti-Christian persecution in America, comparing it to Nazis and the Holocaust, you can just ignore him. No one here is heating the ovens, and he probably just wanted to get his name in the papers, or votes, or something. Besides, whoever mentions Nazis first, loses the argument. That’s a rule.(10)

Peace, everyone. Can we all agree on that?

(1) We’ll leave the Salvation Army out of this. For now. Except I have to say that I like the ones that play saxophones instead of ringing bells.
(2) Two cents. It’s worth exactly two cents. Duh.
(3) Except for mechanics. They can probably get away with it.
(4) Or at least deists.
(5) In this sentence, “respecting” means “about.” No law about establishment of religion.
(6) Unless you break fundamental laws, like about not beheading people. They get kinda cranky about that.
(7) My favorite. It offends either no one or everyone.
(8) You know, the ones that local, state, and federal governments (that aren’t allowed to mess with religion) let you send your children to for free.
(9) A personal plea: If you do set up a manger scene somewhere, PLEASE don’t do the kneeling Santa thing. It was thought-provoking the first 7,000 times, but now it’s merely provoking.
(10) Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies. It’s in the Third OED, which is authority enough for me.