“Activism is not a journey to the corner store; it is a plunge into the dark.” ~ Rebecca Solnit

                   

I was fortunate enough to come across a posting on tumblr that featured selected passages from an exemplary essay by Rebecca Solnit. The subject? Hope.

I am  not reprinting the entire essay here; rather, I have chosen passages from each of the essay’s five sections, passages that I felt were particularly well written, but more importantly, passages that really struck a chord within me. The link to the original article is included at the end.

I hope that you enjoy this as much as I did.

From “Acts of Hope: Challenging Empire on the World Stage,” by Rebecca Solnit

What We Hope For

Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal, “The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think.” Dark, she seems to say, as in inscrutable, not as in terrible. We often mistake the one for the other. People imagine the end of the world is nigh because the future is unimaginable. Who twenty years ago would have pictured a world without the USSR and with the Internet? We talk about “what we hope for” in terms of what we hope will come to pass but we could think of it another way, as why we hope. We hope on principle, we hope tactically and strategically, we hope because the future is dark, we hope because it’s a more powerful and more joyful way to live. Despair presumes it knows what will happen next.

Unending Change

A lot of activists expect that for every action there is an equal and opposite and punctual reaction, and regard the lack of one as failure. After all, activism is often a reaction: Bush decides to invade Iraq, we create a global peace movement in which 10 to 30 million people march on seven continents on the same weekend. But history is shaped by the groundswells and common dreams that single acts and moments only represent. It’s a landscape more complicated than commensurate cause and effect. Politics is a surface in which transformation comes about as much because of pervasive changes in the depths of the collective imagination as because of visible acts, though both are necessary. And though huge causes sometimes have little effect, tiny ones occasionally have huge consequences.

The world gets better. It also gets worse. The time it will take you to address this is exactly equal to your lifetime, and if you’re lucky you don’t know how long that is. The future is dark. Like night. There are probabilities and likelihoods, but there are no guarantees.

Writers understand that action is seldom direct. You write your books. You scatter your seeds. Rats might eat them, or they might just rot. In California, some seeds lie dormant for decades because they only germinate after fire. Sharon Salzberg, in her book Faith, recounts how she put together a book of teachings by the Buddhist monk U Pandita and consigned the project to the “minor-good-deed category.” Long afterward, she found out that when Burmese democracy movement’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was kept isolated under house arrest by that country’s dictators, the book and its instructions in meditation “became her main source of spiritual support during those intensely difficult years.” Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Walter Benjamin and Arthur Rimbaud, like Henry David Thoreau, achieved their greatest impact long after their deaths, long after weeds had grown over the graves of the bestsellers of their times. Gandhi’s Thoreau-influenced nonviolence was as important in the American South as it was in India, and what transpired with Martin Luther King’s sophisticated version of it has influenced civil disobedience movements around the world. Decades after their assassinations they are still with us.

Victories of the New Peace Movement

In the name of the so-called war on terror, which seems to inculcate terror at home and enact it abroad, we have been encouraged to fear our neighbors, each other, strangers, (particularly middle-eastern, Arab, and Moslem people), to spy on them, to lock ourselves up, to privatize ourselves. By living out our hope and resistance in public together with strangers of all kinds, we overcame this catechism of fear, we trusted each other; we forged a community that bridged all differences among the peace loving as we demonstrated our commitment to the people of Iraq.

The Angel of Alternate History

American history is dialectical. What is best about it is called forth by what is worst. The abolitionists and the underground railroad, the feminist movement and the civil rights movement, the environmental and human rights movements were all called into being by threats and atrocities. There’s plenty of what’s worst afoot nowadays. But we need a progressive activism that is not one of reaction but of initiation, one in which people of good will everywhere set the agenda. We need to extend the passion the war brought forth into preventing the next one, and toward addressing all the forms of violence besides bombs. We need a movement that doesn’t just respond to the evils of the present but calls forth the possibilities of the future. We need a revolution of hope. And for that we need to understand how change works and how to count our victories.

The world gets worse. It also gets better. And the future stays dark.

Nobody knows the consequences of their actions, and history is full of small acts that changed the world in surprising ways.

Not Left But Forward

This is earth. It will never be heaven. There will always be cruelty, always be violence, always be destruction. There is tremendous devastation now. In the time it takes you to read this, acres of rainforest will vanish, a species will go extinct, women will be raped, men shot, and far too many children will die of easily preventable causes. We cannot eliminate all devastation for all time, but we can reduce it, outlaw it, undermine its source and foundation: these are victories.

I’m hopeful, partly because we don’t know what is going to happen in that dark future and we might as well live according to our principles as long as we’re here. Hope, the opposite of fear, lets us do that.

This article first appeared on OrionOnline.org. To see Orion magazine’s illustrated version of the piece click here.
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“There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

Pentagon War Dead

Fallen Troops on Transport Plane Arriving at Dover Delaware

“War is wretched beyond description, and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality.” ~ John McCain

“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” ~ Jose Narosky

(Yes, I—screaming liberal that I am—have begun my post with a quote by John McCain. I know that this choice probably surprises those of you who have read me on a regular basis and know how much I opposed McCain’s bid for president. That being said, I will in no way dishonor the service that Senator McCain gave to this country, nor diminish the sacrifices that he and his family made. And as I was searching for the perfect quote to begin my post, I happened upon this one by McCain. I believe that his quote, spoken as someone who has seen war firsthand, sums up exactly what I am trying to say.)

Yesterday was Good Friday. I did not post. I was absorbed in my own little world, sitting outside, enjoying the sunshine and reading a book. Days like that are meant to be enjoyed and appreciated. And that is what I did.

But then, I went to bed early as I was not feeling well. How many times have I written that in this blog, “not feeling well”? I’ve lost count.

Today when I finally got myself moving, I was trying to think about what I wanted to post. What’s on my mind? What am I thinking about? What might catch a reader’s interest? So I sat down and began my usual routine by reading my comments first, always something from Maureen on White Orchid, and an interesting comment by my friend Sarah. Then I went to My Comments section in my dashboard.

This section on Word Press lets you keep track of threads of which you have become a part. So I was thinking about how aggravating it is to continue to see comments on a thread in which I have absolutely no interest, when I saw a thread from WillPen’s World (http://willpen.wordpress.com/), one of my favorite blogs.

“I finally saw that the story was not about the media at all. It was about honoring the heroes who sacrifice their lives to serve us all. ” ~ Courtney Kube

The comment made in the thread, which was regarding a previous post on WillPen’s site, was posted by regular visitor, Starshine, who always shares interesting tidbits and feeds to good posts. But this one brought me up short. It was a link to two different Daily KOS posts, both about U.S. casualties in the wars.

The first post, by greenies, was entitled IGTNT: With A Family’s Permission We Bear Witness. IGTNT, which stands for “I Got The News Today,” marked a bittersweet anniversary with this post: five years of posts in memory and gratitude to our fallen service members and their families.(http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/4/9/718378/-IGTNT:-With-a-Familys-Permission,-We-Bear-Witness).

The second post, entitled No One Could Have Asked For A Better Brother, was by noweasels (see link below), and although quite long, it was heart wrenching. Nevertheless, I would strongly recommend both posts to anyone who cares about our troops. The post brought to mind that the first anniversary passed in February of the death of one of my friend’s fiances. He was a U.S. Navy Seal, and he had already been in Iraq and Afghanistan far too many times. But it was what he did, what he loved to do, and he died serving his country in the company of his brothers, his Seal unit.
 

 

“In war, truth is the first casualty.” ~ Aeschylus

military-flag-draped-caskets1In February of this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the lift of the 18-year ban by the Pentagon on media coverage of the flag-draped coffins of war victims arriving at Dover Air Force Base. The ban was imposed by Bush senior during the first Iraq war. Many people argued that the ban was the administration’s attempt to hide the very human cost of war so that the country would stand behind the president’s actions.

Others, Republicans and Democrats, have argued vociferously that the ban should be lifted: “We should honor, not hide, flag-draped coffins,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. “They are a symbol of the respect, honor and dignity that our fallen heroes deserve.”

Sunday, April 5 marked the first time that the media was allowed to witness the ritual of returning the remains of fallen U.S. service members.

While I have long been vocal about how this imposed cloak was a disservice to our fallen warriors, there are others who are still opposed to lifting the ban, citing the possible misuse of the images for anti-war propaganda. Apparently, those families who do not want any pictures to be taken or any videos shot will have the final say in their participation. I can respect that need for privacy and hope that the media does as well.
 
Courtney Kube, Pentagon Producer for NBC News, movingly comments that “While the family witnesses the event just a few yards away from the media, the Dover rules strictly prohibit the media from taking any photos of them. Even though we all do our best to avert our eyes and give them their privacy, their presence is palpable and heartbreaking.”  (http://fieldnotes.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2009/04/08/1885755.aspx).

“If we let people see that kind of thing, there would never again be any war.”  ~ Pentagon official explaining why the U.S. military censored graphic footage from the Gulf War

But we must remember, the images of war help to educate the public. During the Viet Nam war, the images sent back home from war photographers and the footage beamed into American living rooms became the initiation of the American public to the stark realities of war. No heroic songs. No heroic slogans. Only young men dying in a brutal war that divided the nation in every conceivable way: class, race, and politics to name but the obvious.

That is why I was completely dismayed by the continued non-coverage during this Iraqi war and the war in Afghanistan. My belief is that if the people in our society and societies of other countries participating in these wars—regardless of political party affiliations— see the ultimate sacrifices made, then the war will cease to be an abstract idea, something thousands of miles away in a distant land that doesn’t really affect our day-to-day lives.

“In peace, sons bury their fathers; in war, fathers bury their sons.” ~ Herodotus

But war isn’t distant. It isn’t abstract. War is ugly, and it is brutal. And it should affect our day-to-day lives. As Americans, we should always be mindful of the prices paid to keep our country free, that these prices affect families in our own hometowns and neighborhoods every day of every week of every year that we are involved in battle.

The following statistics are taken from a Daily KOS post by noweasels:

To date, 4266 members of the United States military have lost their lives in Iraq. The death toll thus far in 2009 is already 45. More than 31,000 members of the military have been wounded, many grievously. The Department of Defense Press Releases, from which the information at the start of each entry in this diary was drawn, can be seen here. The death toll among Iraqis is unknown, but is at least 200,000 and quite probably many times that number.

To date, 676 members of the United States military have lost their lives in Afghanistan. The death toll thus far for 2009 is 46. 452 members of the military from other countries have also lost their lives. (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/4/10/718820/-IGTNT:-No-one-could-have-asked-for-a-better-brother).

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

army-bugler1
Army Bugler at Military Cemetery

My father’s own casket was draped with the U.S flag at his funeral. He had a 21-gun salute. A veteran of World War II and Korea, and a non-military veteran of Viet Nam, he fought for a country that was not his original homeland. He earned a Bronze Star with valor. He earned the right to that flag-draped casket and that salute. And as much as it tore my heart out, he earned the right to have “Taps” played when he was laid to rest.

Fading light
Dims the sight
And a star
Gems the sky
Gleaming bright
From afar
Drawing nigh
Falls the night.
 
 

Major General Daniel Butterfield

“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” ~ Hugo Black, Supreme Court Justice

The wars in which our country has been immersed since Bush 2’s declaration of victory continue today. Tomorrow, someone may have a knock on the door that they never could have foreseen and have prayed intently against ever hearing.

For too long, the citizens of this country have not been allowed to grieve collectively about our fallen military men and women. Without imposing upon the rights of their families, I believe that the lift of this ban could be healthy for our country. As one person commented on Kube’s story:

When you cry for and mourn a fallen soldier (especially one that you didn’t know), I believe that you are really mourning all of the soldiers who have given their lives for our freedom. I think that witnessing and really feeling these moments allows us to realize just how much the sacrifices these men and women have made actually mean to us.

and another:

I caught myself wanting to stand during the ceremony in my den.  This is something that this country has been missing since the war in Iraq started—honoring those who have given their lives.  We need never forget the sacrifices of the fallen heroes and their families.

“If we don’t bear witness as citizens, as people, as individuals, the right that we have had to life is sacrificed. There is a silence, instead of a speaking presence.” ~ Jane Rule

boots-and-rifles-memorial
Soldier's Cross: Boots, Rifles, Helmets, and Dogtags of the Fallen

We must continue to bear witness, as painful as that may be. We must continue to hold in our hearts and our thoughts our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, friends and school mates. It is the very least that we can do.

So the next time I complain about not feeling well, about having a headache, or how my back is in so much pain, I need to remind myself that I am here in my house, writing what I want to write, when I want to write it because of the men and women who haven’t had a real shower in weeks, who sleep without pillows and soft mattresses, who wear the same dirty clothes day after day, who carry with them the smallest of talismans to remind them of home.

I must admit that they are doing what I could not. Many are over in that desert for the third or fourth time. Living in a community filled with military families, I am aware that people all around me are waiting for their loved ones’ safe return, and hoping against hope not to get  the letter and the knock on the door.

And so I will leave you with this quote by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a video to remind you that your bad day will never be as bad as those who have been sent to war:

I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.

 

 

If the content on this post has offended anyone in any way, I apologize.

More later. Peace be with you and yours.

The Silence of a Falling Star Lights Up a Purple Sky

falling_stars800

The Silence of a Falling Star Lights Up a Purple Sky

I’ve Never Seen A Night So Long

Emotionally Raw, Tired, and Overwhelmed

I’m really tired tonight, emotionally exhausted. Trying to write my Grace in Small Things list for today was really hard. I took on a hard topic last night, and it’s still with me. Any one of the three stories that I found would have been pretty bad on its own, but to put all three together—I think that it was just too much.

I cannot get out of my head the image of the 93-year-old man who froze to death inside of his house because of a bureaucratic decision. I cannot forget about the two EMT’s who made the decision not to resuscitate a man based on the condition of his house. My god, if they came into my house right now, this very moment, if anyone who worked for social services or the city government came into my home right now they would think that I’m a terrible mother, that my children are deprived, that my house should be condemned, and most certainly, that I am not worth saving.

My house is a complete and total mess. I have cobwebs because I cannot reach them with my ostrich feather duster to clean them. The last time that I tried to do that, I pulled my back. My living room still has two dining room chairs in boxes because my eldest son refuses to take the ornaments off the Christmas tree. It has become a point of downright contention. My youngest son’s room is neat and tidy.

My room is relatively organized, but dusty. The kitchen looks like a disaster, but is wiped down daily with disinfectant spray, and the sink is scrubbed with liquid bleach. Clothes are washed and dried daily. Everyone bathes daily. I personally clean the bathroom on my hands and knees with a cloth and spray disinfectant because I don’t trust my sons to do it right, and Corey has enough to do around here. I can’t walk after I do it, and I have to get in bed and take my muscle relaxers afterwards, but it’s clean.

Regardless, the house still looks terrible because there are things everywhere from where we pulled things out to start the remodeling. Boxes, furniture, all sorts of things in the wrong places. Would that mean that I wouldn’t get the needed attention from an EMT because it wouldn’t look as if I deserved it? Who were these people to make this decision. I am completely flummoxed.

And then there is the story of the two children: Sage and Bear and their father. I have tried all day to put them out of my mind and find that I cannot because there are too many stories of too many children like Sage and Bear. I just came across another story of a 19-year-old and her boyfriend who beat to death her two -year-old daughter for not saying please, but she did manage to keep saying “Mommy I love you” while they beat the very life out of her.

There are too many stories like this for my heart to hold. I do not know how the men and women who work in these professions can do it, can go to their jobs everyday and hear about these children, or on the opposite side, hear about these monsters. I don’t know how social services can try to work with families who are so obviously dysfunctional but the courts say that placement with the biological parents is preferable. I don’t know how the doctors and nurses can look at the shattered bodies who are brought to them in the aftermath of parental and spousal warfare. I don’t know how the EMT’s can go into a house and remove the body of a 93-year-old man who died on a technicality.

Think of all that this man had survived: two world wars, the Great Depression, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, the Twin Towers, desegregation, women getting the vote, a man landing on the moon, cars, television, and telephones. He saw great inventions and terrible creations of mass destruction. He saw all of the wonderful things that our country celebrated: the end of wars, ticker tape parades, the first step on the moon, the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and he saw all of the evil of the world: Pearl Harbor, Nazi Germany, Waco, 9/11, and all of the rest. And the final helplessness of dying of hypothermia in his own home.

To all of the people who do the hard jobs that I know that I would like to do but cannot, I offer my sincere gratitude. You walk into houses. You look for the lost children. You do not stop until you find the monsters. You live with the monsters, carry them with you, tucked away in you back pockets so that they do not touch the sanctity of your own families, but they are always with you until you can pass them along to the next link in the chain.

And some of you are never able to let go of the monsters, even when they are dead and gone. That is their heinous legacy to those whose lives they have stolen.

Newest Statistic That I Never Needed To Know

So today I learned from one of the Veterans’ websites that everday approximately 18 American war veterans commit suicide; every month, almost 1,000 veterans receiving care from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs attempt suicide (http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/05/11/8868).

This startling statistic is news to most Americans because the Bush administration did not want this news to be made public to Americans. It has taken a law case, officially known as Veterans for Common Sense vs. Peake, for this news to reach the American public. This case is a class action lawsuit brought by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for United Truth on behalf of 1.7 million veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under the conditions of the case, the VA had to produce a series of documents.

In one letter from Dr. Ira Katz, former head of the VA’s Mental Health Division, Katz opens his key e-mail with “Shh!” Katz advises a media spokesperson not to tell CBS News that 1,000 veterans receiving care at the VA try to kill themselves every month.

Another shocking number is 287,790—the actual number of American veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who had failed VA disability claims since March 25 2008. Other casualty statistics not normally revealed:  Number of American troops wounded in Iraq: 31,948;  Number of troops “injured” in Iraq”: 10,180; Number of  troops “ill” in Iraq: 28,451.

back-of-angel

Those three number total represent soldiers who are so damaged physically that they have to be evacuated to Germany. By splitting the numbers into three categories, it makes the number of casualties appear to be lower. Or, at least that was the thinking in the Bush administration.
 
Personally, the number manipulation just makes it that more tragic. These numbers are people, not numbers. If the American people were aware of just how many of its warriors were dying not only on foreign soil, but also on American soil, after they have come home, after they have been taken out of combat, if they only knew just how its veterans were waiting years for decisions on their benefits, perhaps they would be less complacent. If only we had seen the flag-draped coffins sooner, perhaps the reality might have moved beyond our periphery sooner.
Perhaps tomorrow will be a better day. More later. Peace.

“The Ultimate Exit Interview”

gw_bush_disappoint_0112
George W. Bush at His Final Press Conference

W.’s Final Steps in Rewriting His Legacy

He walked in affable and waving. After all, it was going to be his moment. He greeted the Washington Press Corps as if they were old friends about to have a final chat. The amiability was short and sweet. The first question hit like a boxing glove, and George W. Bush’s plans for a friendly get together took it right on the chin.

“I hope the tone is different for him than it was for me . I’m disappointed by the tone in Washington, D.C. . . . It’s just that the rhetoric got out of control, declared George W. Bush during his final press conference of his administration. And I think that it’s a very telling quote. George W. Bush is still in denial. The press made everything so negative for him, and his response was “disappointment.”

But let us pause her a moment to reflect with the 43rd president. His disappointment was over things such as the abuse of prisoners (torture) at Abu Ghraib, the response to Hurricane Katrina, and the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Well, okay. I believe the American people are disappointed over Abu Ghraib, the response to Hurrican Katrina, and the fact that we were led into a war because of the loud declarations of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The difference? Bush’s disappointment seems to be that things did not go as he expected or as he wanted. The use of torture was made public, and can be chalked up to a few rogue people. The response to Katrina was very slow in coming, and if only there were WMD in Iraq, he could say, “I told you so.”

Our disappointment with the same things but for different reasons: The ire of Abu Ghraib wasn’t over the few people involved, it was over the use of torture and that use being condoned by those in positions to make those decisions. The response to Katrina was very slow in coming: Looking down from an airplane on the mass destruction below is not a president being on the scene, and by the way, how are the levees coming? And WMD, we didn’t believe in them in the first place.

For example, while discussing one of the worst storms to hit the country in history, Bush said that he debated as to whether or not he should land when flying over Katrina but decided that he did not want to “burden” local officials with his presence. Why does he still not understand that at a time of crisis as encompassing as Katrina, the President of the United States needed to be seen and heard, but more than that, he needed to be reacting in a timely way.

 The record shows how poorly the administration reacted even though they were warned in advance that the landfall was going to be devastating. But don’t say that to President Bush: “Don’t tell me the federal response was slow when there was [sic] 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed.”

(And by the way, people who fly helicopters are called pilots, not drivers, but as the president pointed out: “Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake.”)

What’s amazing is that W. still doesn’t understand that coming clean doesn’t necessarily mean that you understand what you did wrong. Confession may be good for the soul, but confession without self-realization is wasted rhetoric. For example, take his comment on Abu Ghraib: “I don’t know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were — things didn’t go according to plan, let’s put it that way.” And the plan was to make sure that the public did not find out about the torture? Or was there another plan?

Also very telling was W.’s preface to many answers with phrases such “the challenge was,” “the problem was,” and “the question is.” No, Mr. President. The point of the press conference is to talk about your administration’s answers and solutions. 

Bush’s biggest problem has always been the perception of his intentions. Believe it or not, I don’t think of W. as an evil man, certainly nowhere in the leagues of Dick Cheney. I just think that the current president has always been just one step out of sync with just about everything that he has done, right down to choosing the people who advised him—Cheney and Rumsfeld anyone?

Again, in the department of admissions of things that went wrong, Bush mentioned the huge “Mission Accomplished” banner: “Clearly, putting `Mission Accomplished’ on an aircraft carrier was a mistake,” he said. You think? It was that whole cowboy mentality that so many people found shocking just two months after the war in Iraq had begun, especially in light of the fact that the U.S. was still suffering casualties even as the president was declaring victory. How does a nation’s citizenry reconcile two such disparate images?

Bush’s demeanor during the press conference ranged the gamut from playful (“It’s a pretty cool job”), to regretful (on the “Mission Accomplished” banner: “It sent the wrong message), to self-deprecating (answering question about critics: “Sure. You know any?”), to downright defiant: “I strongly disagree with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged,” when responding to a question about America’s standing in the world. “But people still understand America stands for freedom; that America is a country that provides such great hope,” he continued.

In the end though, George Bush still came across as a man who really does not know or cannot accept how the world sees him, declaring at one point, “You know, presidents can try to avoid hard decisions, and therefore avoid controversy. That’s just not my nature. I’m the kind of person that, you know, is willing to take — to take on hard—hard tasks.”

And then a few minutes later saying, “One thing about the presidency is that you can make—only make decisions, you know, on the information at hand . . . You don’t—you don’t get to have information after you’ve made the decision. That’s not the way it works. And you’re—you stand by your decisions and you do your best to explain why you made the decisions you made.

Crystal clear.

Self-justification, hostility, defiance, imagined self-pity to take the glare of the real self-pity . . . It wasn’t great oratory, but it lasted over 46 minutes, and Bush gave us more of his real legacy in this 46 minutes than he realizes. All attempts at legacy refurbishing at this point are meaningless. After all, W. himself said, “You know, where does a president’s—did a president’s decisions have the impact that he thought they would—or he thought they would, over time?”

And in conclusion: “My view is is that most people around the world, they respect America. And some of them doesn’t like me—I understand that—some of the writers and the, you know, opiners and all that. That’s fine. That’s part of the deal.”

Was2113186
President Bush Leaves His Final Press Conference

I would have to say, though, that there was one point about this press conference that I truly enjoyed: Its conclusion. It’s the last press conference with a president that we’ll hear in quite a while in which the English language is turned on its ear.

For anyone wishing to check my use of Bush’s quotes, I direct you to the source: the actual transcript of the press conference, which can be found at http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/01/12/raw-data-transcript-bushs-white-house-press-conference/. (I deliberately used Fox News for the transcript lest I be accused of relying too much on MSNBC.

And that gentle folks, leaves us with 7 more days in which George W. Bush can attempt to persuade us that all is well and has been for eight long years, in spite of 9/11, two wars, natural disasters, rising unemployment, and a fiscal crisis bordering on the Great Depression.

Of course, there will be more later. Peace.

Right of Conscience Rule is All Wrong

Dear President Bush,

Please Keep Your Laws Off My Body.king-george

Two days ago, the man who-would-be-president decided to sign one of the foulest pieces of legislature in his eight years of office, knowing that it will take some work by President-elect Obama to undo this last-minute attempt to circumvent basic rights for women: It’s called the Right of Conscience Rule, and it goes into effect the day before W. leaves office, part of the legacy.

But what people don’t realize is that this rule goes far, far beyond abortion rights into very murky waters in a galaxy not so far far away. This rule will allow refusal of AIDS treatment, blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses), in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, stem cell research, psychiatric treatment instead of prayer (Christian Scientists), even in extreme cases, the selling of condoms to minors.

This rule basically allows people in any position, not just physicians and pharmacists—but receptionists, cashiers, nurses, even the people who clean the instruments post operatively—to deny service if their consciences are against it. And I call that a great big bag of Bush bullshit. Let me clarify. If a cashier at a pharmacy is a Roman Catholic, and you come through her line with your monthly prescription of birth control pills, she can refuse to ring up said pills because she does not condone birth control pills. To her, these pills represent the killing of babies. And under this rule, she cannot be punished by the store’s management for refusing to give you service.

Let’s take another scenario: If a woman who has been raped goes to a drugstore and asks for the morning after pill because she does not want to report the rape, but she just wants to make sure that the rape does not cause her to become pregnant, and the pharmacist is a strict Fundamentalist Christian, he can refuse to supply her with this non-prescription drug that any woman can ask any pharmacist for. What’s more, said pharmacist can tell the woman why he doesn’t believe she should have this pill. The woman, who is already traumatized, will have to be humiliated and traumatized again.

Let’s take another scenario: A couple has a very sick child who needs antibiotics for his infection and fever. They don’t have a car, so they call a cab. They ask the cab driver to take them to the Children’s Hospital. The driver refuses on the grounds that he is a Christian Scientist and does not believe in medical treatment and offers to pray with them. Far-fetched? Probably. Possible? Who knows?

Latest true scenarios: In Virginia, 42-year-old woman was refused morning-after pill by pharmacist and as a result became pregnant. In California, a lesbian couple was refused artificial insemination. In Nebraska, a 19-year-old female with a life-threatening embolism was refused an early abortion at a religiously-affiliated hospital.

What’s the common thread here? All females. And who will be affected by the Right of Conscience Rule? Predominantly females and gays and lesbians—the populations who usually are underserved medically. Will straight men be refused Viagra? On what basis? My conscience does not want you to have better sex . . .

In an article in the Los Angeles Times, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt is quoted as saying, “This rule protects the right of medical providers to care for their patients in accord with their conscience.” With this rule, providers, ” including hospitals, clinics, universities, pharmacies and doctor’s offices — can be charged with discrimination if an employee is pressured to participate in care that is ‘contrary to their religious beliefs or moral convictions.’Violators would lose their federal funds.”

bush20frustratedOne of the fears of opponents to this regulation is the withholding of information from patients. For example, an emergency room doctor who does not believe in emergency contraception does not have to provide information about this contraception to a rape victim if it goes against his or her beliefs. Or an antiabortion doctor in a federally-funded clinic does not have to tell a patient if she is carrying a fetus with severe abnormalities if he doesn’t believe that she should have an abortion.

Okay, let’s stop for a moment and look at the far-reaching implications here. First of all, why am I in the medical profession if it is not to provide health care? Is it my place to pass moral judgments on my patients? Did I become a pharmacist only to decide which medicines I will and will not dispense even though a customer has a prescription? If a woman has been raped, who am I as a man to decide that she should not receive emergency contraception? As a patient, do I now need to screen all of my doctors to find out what religion they are before I begin treatment with them to make sure I don’t hit any bumps down the road, just in case? Do I need to find out if the local Walgreen’s has people on its registers who will ring me up without any problems or cause me any embarrassment before I go back in for a prescription I’ve been getting for years?

These are not silly questions any more, not under this new rule. Let’s take it a step further. Will any of my gay or lesbian friends be refused treatment because the medical staff believes that homosexuality is a sin? If Eamonn goes to college and has too much to drink and is taken to the emergency room, will they refuse to pump his stomach because drinking is wrong? If my daughter became pregnant and had an infection and needed a D and C, would she be refused because she isn’t married? These are things that you think about when you hear about the sweeping broadness and open-endedness of this new law.

bush_shrug2But I also have to ask, exactly when did George Bush get a conscience? Over 4,000 of our troops have been killed in an unjust war? We have—on the record now—used torture as a relatively ineffective means of gaining information on an, as yet, unknown number of people. We have acted without honor for the past seven years and lost the respect of numerous other world leaders—all on George Bush’s watch. Our veterans have come home to reduced benefits; they have been subjected to loopholes that have decreased their treatment options, and we have more veterans living on the streets and more warriors doing repeat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, all so that W. could prove to his daddy that he is a man.

Well, I have a conscience, too. And mine says enough paying for Bush’s mistakes. My conscience says that we should have universal health care by now. My conscience also says that we should be much farther along in alternative energy. But most of all, my conscience says that way back in 2000, George Bush should not have been allowed to steal a national election and get away with it. And the same could be said of the election in 2004. Enough already.

Go to this link to see the complete Federal Regulation HHS FRDOC 0001-0042:http://www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/component/main?main=DocumentDetail&o=09000064807e2d39. You can download a PDF.

Not a good rule. Certainly not a good Christmas present from the current president. More later. Peace.

On The Wings of an Eagle*

golden-eagle

Golden Eagle in Flight

We Dare to Dream Again of Friendly Skies As We Give Thanks

Okay. I’m going to do it. I’m going to write a blog about what I’m thankful for. A Charlie Brown blog, if you will. I debated whether or not this subject matter would be too trite, too overdone in the blogging world, but then I decided that my cynicism would prevail, especially in light of my recent entries, which admittedly, have been a tad on the nostalgic side. I’ve decided to write about unlikely things for which we, as in the collective we, can be grateful, in spite of the dire times we seem to be facing.

Here goes:

  • The nation’s first president of color, a man of incredible presence, intelligence, and insight. I can only hope that the fates are good to him and surround him with good karma. If he runs his presidency with just one half of the calm, executive demeanor that surrounded his campaign, then there is hope that his White House will never be likened to a college fraternity without any adult supervision.
  • A new administration, one headed by a president who won’t mangle the English language. No matter what your political leanings are, you have to be grateful for a man who is articulate
  • An apparent real goal for an end to the Iraqi war, or at least a major draw down of troops in that country, even if it means that we will have an increase of troops in another country
  • An attempt to provide access to some kind of health insurance for everyone in the country, even if it takes a couple of years. Hillary Rodham Clinton first attempted this during Clinton’s first term in office and was roundly criticized for not sticking to her role as first lady. After that aborted attempt, nothing has ever been done nationally until now.
  • A chance to regain our status in the world as a nation that can be respected as a leader
  • A chance to turn our economy around and stop the practice of “Trickle Down Economics.” The plan, of course, was that everything would trickle down in an equitable manner. Um, so sorry, but WRONG. When Ronald Reagan took office, our country could be described as a diamond, with most of the country falling in the middle of the socio-economic ladder. What we have now is an hourglass, with almost no middle class, an upper class and a very bottom-heavy lower socio-economic part of the ladder. Anyone who tells you that America is a class-less society is still in their naive idealistic phase.
  • A commitment by an administration and apparently a nation to harness alternative energy and preserve resources. A long overdue wake-up call has finally been answered, and more and more people are doing what they can, in big ways and in small, to help the environment. As someone who has been recycling for over almost two decades, it is refreshing to see the changes all around. I don’t care if it’s trendy, as long as it makes an impact.
  • More awareness of post traumatic stress disorder as a real problem with far-reaching issues that can affect people for years
  • The fact that Sarah Palin and her family are back in Alaska, at least for most of the time, but the governator still can’t seem to find enough work to do as governor, so she hits the road every other week.
  • A big win in the House and Senate, but the pressure is on to deliver. Remember: with great power comes great responsibility Spider Man.
  • Law & Order, the original, is back on Wednesday nights.
  • Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC is kicking butt big time.
  • Virginia went blue for the first time since 1964, and Thelma Drake lost her seat in Congress to newcomer Glenn Nye thanks in large part to a grassroots effort.
  • The first amendment allows people like me to write things like this whenever I want, which still makes this the best country in the world in which to live.
  • colorado20river20from20deadhorse20point
    The Colorado River from Deadhorse Point
  • With any luck, President-elect Obama will be able to reverse some of the more egregious laws that Bush has signed into law, in particular, those that allow drilling near state parks in Utah and Colorado, and those that ease pollution laws. Because after all, it would be nice to leave a legacy to our children, you know, something like majestic trees, clean rivers, the Grand Canyon, some Golden Eagles, and maybe some uranium-free land. Or maybe I’m being naive and full of youthful idealism in spite of my age.
  • And finally, with any luck, the next few years we will see some glimpses of that hope we held onto so tightly when we stood in line to get into those rallies. When we stood at those rallies waiting to hear the words we needed to hear. When we heard those words of hope and better days and we actually allowed ourselves to dare to believe, even when our cynical hearts did not want to. Yes, we can dare to hope. Yes, we will believe.

These are the things that I am thankful for as an American this Thanksgiving. Perhaps I’ll write about what I’m thankful for personally later, or maybe not. But it’s nice to think that maybe this time next year, there will be a change a coming.

Peace be with you.

*On the Wings of an Eagle, song by John Denver

“You Can’t Be Forever Blessed” or No One Gets Away Unscathed

Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken

“And many times confused
Yes, and often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’
m alright, I’m alright”

“I’m just weary to my bones”

I wrote about a commercial right before the election that featured words from Paul Simon’s song “American Tune,” and then a few nights ago, Simon himself was on “The Colbert Report” talking about his new book, Lyrics: 1964-2008. I have a real appreciation for Simon’s lyrics. In fact, when I used to teach English, I would always incorporate, “Sound of Silence” in my poetry selections because it is a wonderful lyrical poem, as are many of Simon’s songs.

But “American Tune” is haunting me these days for a number of reasons—politically and personally.  So I was not at all surprised that when Colbert said that Simon was going to sing a song at the end of the show, the song turned out to be “American Tune.” For me, it was one of those signs to which I allude occasionally. Simon’s voice unaccompanied is weaker than in years past, but of course, he is older; as are we all. But his scratchier voice was the perfect sound for this soulful song.

“I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered

I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees”

Do any of you know anyone who hasn’t been affected in some way by what’s going on, with what’s happening out there? I mean, stop and think for a minute. If you don’t know someone who isn’t out of work, surely you know someone who has been affected by the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. Is someone you love over there? Have you lost someone you know or love? Is someone you know on the brink of losing their home because they are behind on their mortgage payments? Do you have a friend who is gay who has a longtime partner? Do you know someone who doesn’t have health insurance but has an ongoing health problem? Does your child have someone at his or her school who is homeless?

Did your retirement account lose a significant amount of its worth and now you are having to reconsider when you actually stop working? Do you have a child with special needs? Have you had to curb your spending in any way? Are you thinking of trading in your car for something that uses less gas? Were you thinking of buying a big ticket item, but now you are delaying the purchase because, well, it might be more prudent to wait and see? Are you bringing your lunch more and eating out less?

See. No one can claim to be untouched. It’s like the six degrees of separation. Even if you are on the periphery, it’s still touching you somehow. That is, unless you are part of that uber elite, and then you can turn your head and pretend that it’s not out there. But really, how can you? How can you live in your bubble world so completely oblivious to the suffering of others? But then, why do I bother to ask because as Fitzgerald said: “The rich get richer, and the poor get children.” I suppose that’s how it’s always been.

“Oh, but it’s alright, it’s alright
For we lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the
Road we’re traveling on
I wonder what’s gone wrong

I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong”

I wonder every day what’s gone wrong, and last night, I felt as if I were dying. I felt as if my soul rose and was looking back down on me and was wondering what in the hell had gone wrong. What’s goes wrong in a country in which a 19-year-old teen commits suicide in front of a live audience on a web cam that he had been blogging with for 12 hours. How could no one notice over that 12 hours that he was getting progressively worse from a drug overdose? Are we so obtuse collectively that we just do not notice what is literally in front of our faces?

“And I dreamed I was dying
I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly

And I dreamed I was flying”

I used to cry a lot more, and then, for a while, I hardly ever cried.  Someone sent me one of those e-mail updates, and it had a question that asked when I had last cried, and I honestly couldn’t remember. But in the last three months, it seems that I cry all of the time. I think that it’s a combination of the larger things and the smaller things. For example, Obama’s speeches make me cry. I cried when the Democrats took Virginia. Obviously I cried when Obama won the presidency. But I also cried when I saw the “American Tune” commercial. I cried when I read about Addie Polk shooting herself in the chest so that she wouldn’t be evicted. I cried over last week’s episode of “ER” and the entire last few episodes of last season’s “House,” which devastated me. I couldn’t even delete the shows from my DVR for weeks. It was too personal.

slow-boat-to-the-moon
Slow Boat to the Moon

So last night, I had one of those cathartic cries that came out of nowhere and resulted with my body curled into the fetal position and my face in a pillow. Then, I finally realized that today is the seventh anniversary of my father’s death. November absolutely sucks for bad anniversaries for me.  Unlike with my daughter, I wasn’t with my father when he died, something that I will probably always regret.

But I still feel my dad’s presence often, not in that wacky, seance kind of your father is here, knock on the table kind of way. But at times, I know, just somehow know, that my dad is still with me. But not last night. So I had my little breakdown, which led to this entry on an “American Tune,” because in the end, even with all of the weariness and displacement of which it speaks, in the end, it’s all right. And I like the fact the we come on “a ship that sailed the moon.”

“We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the a-ges most uncertain hours
And sing an american tune
Oh, and its alright, its alright, it’s alright
You can’t be forever blessed”

There will be more later. Peace.