Scout’s Honor

If my son was raised in a loving home with me and a female partner, then I would not be allowed to wear the uniform. If I preferred soft breasts to hard chests, the Scouts would disapprove, and I would not be invited to be a leader.

I’m going to preface this by saying that I am no Angelina Jolie.  While you might find yourself tempted to draw comparisons between me and that sexy orphan-saving woman of the world, try to remember that although there are some striking similarities, I’m just your average, you know, soccer mom.

But where Angie and I overlap is in how we’ve sacrificed in our daily lives in deference to a greater cause.  Whilst Angelina had put off her wedding to Brad Pitt until every citizen of the United States could exercise their own equal rights to marriage (I would totally have done that too – Brad would just have to wait for me), I too forfeited personal advancement in pursuit of the greater good.

September has always acted as the start of the New Year in our household and this September I began the school year with some resolutions.  I would be a better, more organized, more involved mother.  I would make my kids proud.  I would volunteer at bake sales, join committees, show up to PTA meetings, and sign on as class mom. My daughter started Kindergarten this year and was excited for her first year of cheer, which met for practice twice a week from August through November.  My son played soccer, attended religious school, and moved up from Tiger to a Wolf Scout.  Since I work from home, I have the luxury (on good days, I call it that) of taking them to and from each practice, game, event, and meeting.  By the end of December, I’d stuck to my resolutions, for the most part.

It turns out some people had noticed.

At the December monthly den meeting for the Boy Scouts, speeches were given at the beginning, per usual.  We were all a little anxious for the leaders to finish about fund raising results and for belt loops to be given to mark accomplishments in bowling and good manners.  Santa Claus was expected to ride in on the town’s shiny red firetruck with presents for the kids, and they were all rowdy as a result.  My daughter was practically vibrating next to me, so I was only half-listening when they called for a new committee chairperson.  It seems some of the Webelos will be moving up to Middle School next year, and they’re taking their parent volunteers with them.

In between the Scout Master’s disappearance and Santa’s magical appearance, my son’s Scout leader turned to me.  “He was talking to you, you know,” she said.

I looked to either side of me.  “To me about what?”

“To be the next committee chairperson,” she said, a smile on her face atop the beige scoutmaster button-down she wore, decorated with patches and buttons, each marking progress made by our troop.

“What does a committee chairperson do?” I asked her, for two reasons.  The first was to stall, and to process what was being asked of me.  The second was also to stall.

“They organize all of the den meetings, coordinate activities, that sort of thing,” she told me. And then she waited, expectantly.  I looked at the current committee chairperson, a gentleman dressed impeccably in his own beige uniform.

I shook my head.  My throat constricted a bit as I realized that I could not ever consider taking a leadership role of any kind in the Scouts.  That meant that I was breaking the resolution I’d made early in the year. But there was a stronger resolution inside me that knew, with certain finality, that participating would break something in me.

“You can’t be a leader if you’re gay,” I said to her.

Her eyes widened, as if I’d just come out.

I hadn’t.

“Are you gay?” she asked me.

“No,” I said.

She shrugged as if to say, “Then it doesn’t matter.”

But it does matter.  If my son was raised in a loving home with me and a female partner, then I would not be allowed to wear the uniform.  If I preferred soft breasts to hard chests, the Scouts would disapprove, and I would not be invited to be a leader.  The fact that the Scouts approved of me, deemed me safe even as news of a 23 year old scout leader from Garden City was arrested for possession of child porn, filled me with discomfort. It seemed that “safety” and “straight” were synonymous to the Scouts.  I didn’t feel like I deserved some kind of extra bonus for inclusion into their club just because I happened to prefer men over women, sexually.  And if my son ever voiced a preference for the same sex, he would be unceremoniously rejected, no matter his prowess in bowling, or his sparkling manners (the sparkle might be the first tip off), or years of service to an institution that has shown him only the merits of community, hard work, and honor.

I tried to explain this to my son’s leader, and realized I sounded overly serious in the festive atmosphere.  She said she would probably agree with me, if she stopped to think about it.  My conclusion was that she didn’t.  Maybe most of them didn’t.  I didn’t believe that I was in a room of hard-hearted bigots.  Most of them probably felt the same affection for their gay brothers and sisters as I do.  I took a look at the leaders around me, decorated with badges and pins.  The women didn’t seem especially feminine, nor the men masculine.  They pronounced “we-blow” without any sense of irony. They just seemed like people who loved their kids.

Like I do.

So why then, do I feel so conflicted?  If my son wasn’t so excited to be a part of the Scouts, didn’t enjoy the camping trips and the projects so much, if the kids weren’t so cute and earnest, if the leader didn’t introduce so many interesting projects, I would have pointed my kid way away from an organization that has taken such a strong anti-gay stance.  But he does.  And I do too.

But I cannot put on that uniform, to wear that badge that says I support their bigotry.  I don’t. And for the first time this year, in breaking the resolution that I would get more involved in my children’s activities, I felt like it was working.  My cupcakes were found lacking at the bake sale and my class-mother duties suffered because it turns out creative craft ideas are not my strong suit.  Yet, I finally felt like I was a mother my kids could be proud of.

As for Angelina, she ended up marrying Brad Pitt after all, at the behest of their children, despite the lack of nationwide same sex marriage legislation. Just like me, her kids propelled her to an institution where not all were welcome.

Chalk that one up to another in our long list of similarities.

Jaime Answers Your Sequestions

I’m as sick as anyone hearing about the fiscal cliff and I’m guessing Congress was as well, which is why they set up the sequester as a looming bipartisan disaster to force their hands into creating a workable budget.

A day is fast approaching in which Democrats and Republicans, lefty liberal commies and right-wing tea party gun nuts will break ground in something we have not seen in recent memory: they will agree on something.

Put away your party hats and pause kumbaya, however, because agreeing that the upcoming sequester means disaster for programs that serve the American populace and agreeing on what to do about it are two very different things. So different, in fact, that the indiscriminate cuts that will galvanize so many important programs might be unstoppable.

“Sequester” was once a fairly obscure word in American political jargon, its use reserved mostly for those who worked in and around the government. Because we are the recipients of a fear-based media template, the term has entered the mainstream lexicon via the newsreels. But that doesn’t mean we all understand what it means. At least, I didn’t.  So I looked it up so as to educate myself. I share it with you here as your President’s Day gift.

You’re welcome.

From what I’ve discerned, the sequester was put in place during the debt ceiling negotiations in 2011. I’m as sick as anyone hearing about the fiscal cliff and I’m guessing Congress was as well, which is why they set up the sequester as a looming bipartisan disaster to force their hands into creating a workable budget. I can relate to this, even if I’m disappointed that this is what it needed to come to. I used to do the same thing in college: levy some kind of punishment like an guillotine over my head in order to make myself turn a paper in by deadline. If I didn’t get my work done, that’s it: only well drinks for me. In this case, the hangover didn’t fit the crime.

In a similar fashion, President Obama and House speaker John Boehner helped to author the sequester in order to motivate both sides into passing a workable budget. They made the alternative so unappealing to both parties so as to force them into compromise mode.

Shit’s getting real.

Instead of promising a party with martinis and cupcakes to reward the acts of doing their jobs, we’ve moved onto phase two: punishment if they don’t.  Mom is on the top of the steps counting one…two…You know you’re in trouble if she ever reaches three.  For the purpose of this metaphor, the part of mom will be played by Leon Panetta, who is warning that the sequester could undermine national security.  According to the New York Times, “the cuts to already pared-down domestic spending will set back critical needs like cancer research; Head Start, the preschool program for low-income children; and funding for the Border Patrol. The U.S. economic recovery would be impeded, at a cost of as many as 750,000 jobs.”

The shit hits the fan precisely on March 1st in form of across the board cuts of ten percent of the budget, affecting defense and domestic spending. The right is digging in their heels, saying that cuts need to be made to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. The left wants to extend the tax increases for the wealthy. The right is determined to decrease spending to make a serious dent in the deficit, while the left maintains that sensible spending in needed programs will increase revenue in the long term.

Recommendations have been sent forth by institutions like the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission that suggest concessions by both parties as an alternative to the sequester. Bowles-Simpson recommends a $350 million dollar cut to Medicare that affects only the most affluent of recipients. S-B (lucky for acronym makers that Simpson got top billing) also allows for more tax increases (including the ending of Bush’s tax cuts for those making over $250,000, as well as taxing capital gains and dividends on normal income) and increases the age of Social Security eligibility to 68 in 2050 and 69 in 2075. There’s also a fifteen-cent raise in gas tax.

While it seems politicians on both sides of the aisle pay lip service to Simpson-Bowles, it has been accepted and rejected in equal parts by both parties who fear not only economic Armageddon, but personal political hell. How they duke it out from here on out, taking tips from Simpson-Bowles or The Center for American Progress, will be entertainment for us to watch as the clock ticks toward deadline.

We’ll just hope that the party is worth the hangover.

Watergate-gate

Even though some of us were not yet born, the scandal that was Watergate is embedded in the American subconscious for the foreseeable future.  Is it because the secret recordings and spying on enemy parties was of a higher level of evil than we had ever seen in American politics thus far? Because it resulted in the first resignation of a President, thus proving the fallibility of our highest office? Or is it really because we have yet to move past adding the suffix “-gate” to anything remotely scandalous American culture?

We all remember “Nipplegate,” when Janet Jackson’s breast flashed during the Superbowl halftime show a few years back. And who can forget “Dopegate” which eventually brought cycling champion Lance Armstrong’s career and legacy to a pitiful and shameful end.  Political scandals are rife with “-gates,” from “Weinergate,” the Twitpic heard ‘round the world when then NY House Representative Anthony Weiner accidentally broadcasted what was supposed to be a private penis shot to a constituent.  There are three “Troopergates” on record, one involving Bill Clinton, one Eliot Spitzer, and the Sarah Palin brouhaha where she allegedly fired the state safety commissioner for failing to fire her brother-in-law when she was the Alaskan governor.  Palin countered that claim with “Tasergate,” claiming that her brother-in-law had used the weapon on his ten-year-old son.

I’ll say this for the American media machine, we know a good thing when we see it.  Like producers of reality television series’, using the same exact plot scenarios to release the same exact television show year after year to unsuspecting viewers, our collective vernacular has varied little since 1974.  We beat the proverbial dead horse.

And I, for one, am sick of it.

I’m sick of pundits keeping close eyes on political figures not because we need to hold their feet to the fire and hold them accountable to anything like, say, doing their jobs, but for the one tiny misstep that we can pounce upon.  This past election season alone produced so many distractions with “-gates” that the substance of choosing the most qualified human to take the most powerful position in the whole freaking world was reduced to “Big Bird” and “Binders of Women.”   Immediately after Joe Biden stated, “With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey, because not a single thing was accurate,” when he systematically destroyed debated Paul Ryan in their Vice Presidential debate, #malarky trended on Twitter.  Six minutes into the State of the Union Address by President Obama, a Twitter account with the name @JoeBiden’sGlasses was created with hundreds of followers instantly onboard.

Which brings us to Marco Rubio’s rebuttal.  The fact that he had crafted a speech that answered to exactly not one thing the President spoke about was not the most talked about story of the day.  Not his claim that the President wanted to raise more taxes, or the untruth that cutting taxes for the wealthy boosts the economy.  No, the blogosphere and the Interwebs were ablaze with the gif of Mr. Rubio, who, whilst never losing eye contact with the American people, made a desperate grasp for a Poland Spring bottle and nervously gulped it down, as if by keeping us in a hypnotic stare we might not compare his awkwardness to Obama’s smooth delivery.

The memes were created.  The puns abounded, like Jon Stewart’s headline: “Water for Elephants.”  People claimed on Facebook threads that it was his “thirst for power” and the need to “water down his rhetoric.”

But I just think it’s lazy.  I think we need to look beyond the insignificant gaffes of our public officials and to finally move forward, past the silly wordplay that haunts us from almost forty years ago. And I know that you do too. That’s why I think we should band together and demand that with the final sip of Rubio’s water bottle, we end the nonsense of silly political jargon. Let this human error, this nervous tic that was almost downright adorable if we look at it objectively, not define us as a people, not become the next, oh I don’t know, “Watergate.”

Let this be the last straw.

 

Gun Control: Something Bigger

We define ourselves by our singular identity, instead of in the context of community. That makes it easier to shoot those neighbors, and to stomach it when they shoot each other.

It seemed unfair and even cruel to open brightly wrapped presents by the fire this past Christmas when there were twenty sets of parents in Connecticut grieving and devastatingly un-merry.

With the gun control debate taking over the national conversation, l’ve forced the writer in me to look at the issue critically, to reconcile the far-left idea of gun control with conservative fears of a too far-reaching government.  But it was the mom in me who “liked” The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and as such, has been drawn into debate with right-leaning friends through social media.  “It’s not the gun laws,” I’ve been chastised.  “It’s the culture.”  A culture of violence based on a departure of religious celebration in deference to political correctness, a culture of video games that have taken over parental duties in what are now the new normal: broken families.  And a culture that celebrates violence in song lyrics that brags about gun murder and echo misogynist sentiments of “hoes” and “bitches.”  It’s the natural progression of the deterioration of this country, so I’m told.

It would make theoretical sense that exposure to violence in films and the pretense of shooting people in violent video games would desensitize children to violence in actual reality.  In practice, however, the research suggests otherwise. A ten-country comparison reported by the Washington Post shows little correlation between video games and gun murder.  In fact, the countries that tend to have the highest rate of video game consumption rank lowest in gun murders, seemingly because these countries are richer and more fully developed.  So the economy tends to affect the purchase and use of video games, but that statistic doesn’t carry over to gun violence.  Simply put, video games don’t create killers. As a friend recently told me, “I’ve been playing Grand Theft Auto since I was ten and I’ve never had the urge to pistol whip a prostitute.”

We know that the Japanese play violent video games, yet their fire-arm related death rate is the second lowest in the world. Violent movies like Trainspotting, Hellraiser, and the slew of Guy Ritchie films originate in the UK. The British are a violent people as well, as their history and crime rate will show you, but due to strict laws, gun violence is not an issue there.   It’s embedded in us here.  In our culture.

It must be something bigger.

Is it in the parenting?  In Nancy Lanza’s case, that certainly seems to be a fair assumption.  She bought semi-automatic assault weapons, introduced them to a child of nine who seemed to have been showing signs of disturbance, and had them within reach of that son. Yet, this wasn’t the case with the parents of the Columbine shooters, or others.  My  own son unwrapped a Nerf Hail-Fire rifle this Christmas.  It shoots out 200 foam bullets at lightning speed.  He was nothing less than ecstatic at uncovering this bounty.  But it made me feel uncomfortable, in light of recent events.  Am I complicit in the expansion of this violent culture?  Is this how it starts?  What exactly is the appeal of such a toy gun?  What is he thinking in his mind when he aims it at his little sister, who screams in delight for at least having captured his attention for a few spare minutes, even if it is only to be his target?

If I had withheld the toy guns, might this have fostered an obsession, something like forbidding sweets to a child who grows up to be a Type-2 diabetic candy fiend?  How can you know?  These are the complexities of parenting, the second-guessing, the regret and the unknowing.  But as parents we move forward, and if we are lucky, we get to learn from our mistakes.  We allow ourselves to build on the successes of our past and learn from the missteps of others.

Can the disintegration of “family values” be the source of the corrosion of society? Or is it dangerous to mark non-traditional families as a pock on society? I know families with gay parents that are filled with the same love and discipline that I strive to have in my own two-parent heterosexual home.  Single mothers have raised two of the last three Presidents. And only heterosexual parents have ever bred American mass murderers. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that heterosexuality is the cause.

Pop music today has some blatant sexual references, designed to shock parents, but if you think that’s a new phenomenon, ask your grandparents about what their parents thought of their music.  The modern equivalent of the chicken or the egg conundrum seems to be the question of whether violence in our art is the cause or the reflection of what we see.  And although we can find examples of how art and literature can change the world (Catch 22, for example, or the writings of the Harlem Renaissance that helped to spur the Civil Rights Movement), the answer seems to lie in the after.  Like Monet’s water lilies or Van Gogh’s sunflowers, the artists of the world are painting what they see before them, in the mediums that are available: television, film, song writing – especially rap lyrics. And it’s there on Twitter, on Facebook, in blogs and advertising and gaming.

So how did it get there?

Michael Moore cites one of the main problems with this country to be the “Me” syndrome, a culture that translated from “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps” to a separation where we don’t care about our neighbors’ problems: poverty, lack of healthcare, education.  We blame the poor for their own missteps and misfortunes, their lack of success.  We define ourselves by our singular identity, instead of in the context of community. That makes it easier to shoot those neighbors, and to stomach it when they shoot each other.

That gun owners are motivated by fear is apparent.  The argument for unrestricted weaponry appears to be the threat of a government overcome by tyranny.  Background checks and registration lists that can be cross-checked inspire a fear that the government is compiling a master list from which to work when they come to confiscate all guns (and then enslave us.)

But what if believing that this is fear motivated is too charitable?  What if it stems from our uniquely American sense of ownership and entitlement, reflected and distorted by US policy?  Noam Chomsky chronicles the attitude that has informed the American zeitgeist since World War II, when the United States was the global power that we pretend it is today. In his book “Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire,” Chomsky discusses an event in 1949 in which the U.S. “lost China.” That China’s emancipation was independent of the U.S., who in fact, cannot “lose” something it doesn’t own, was lost on American leaders. It bred fear that we might “lose” the Middle East or Latin America. Our ownership of the entire planet, its resources, people, economies is so engrained in our collective psyches that it informs so much of who we are as people, and what we tolerate from our own government. Is it possible that our tacit consent to the United States throwing its weight around the world, under the guise of “nation building,” informs our domestic egos and our intolerance for dissenting opinions?

Our rights have become our righteousness.

We infringe our notions of “freedom” and democracy in the world unilaterally, at gun point, in oil-rich deserts only because of this sense.  This is how we justify indefinitely detaining prisoners in Guantanamo without due process, though we pride ourselves on due process as a distinction from other countries and as a way to prove how civilized we are.  This is what allows us to justify unmanned drone strikes that don’t have nearly the precision we’d like to believe they do, that cause death and destruction to people in countries we cannot pronounce, yet we bow our heads and cry when one of our schools gets shot up.

We laugh about global warming.  We ridicule Al Gore and his wishy-washy environmentalism, preferring our version of badass representatives who kill, sometimes without provocation. We gobble up the resources of the planet as our birthright. That sense of entitlement – the we “lost China” syndrome – is uniquely American. The fear that the government is coming to take our guns – to take away our rights to protect ourselves with high-capacity rifles, shotguns, AR-15s, our right to shoot someone thirteen times without reloading, stems from this American ideal.

My right to kill you is stronger than your right to live.

From foreign policy to individual rights, we hail from the promised land, the chosen country whose rights supersede all others.  It makes sense that who we are as a country informs who we are as citizens. This naturally includes our attitude about immigration, global warming, and gun ownership. This is the culture from which mass murder is committed – atrocities far and wide. Blaming video games, rap lyrics, and divorce is lazy. And dangerous.

What divides us from all other countries?

Both the writer and the mother in me fear that it just might be good PR.

Let’s Talk 2016! What? Too Soon?

With the love-fest that was the 60 Minutes co-interview with President Obama and the outgoing Secretary of State, it looked to me to be the groundwork of the 2016 election season.

President Obama was inaugurated just over a week ago, and here we find ourselves, a relatively teensy snippet of time into his second term. With immigration reform and the debt ceiling pressing, the gun control debate spiraling into ever more shrill pitches, and pointed looks into his use of drone strikes, now is of course the time to project into an uncertain future and remark on who might be the next guy to take his seat.

“Guy” of course, is a euphemism to a mean either “man” or Hillary Clinton.  With the   love-fest that was the 60 Minutes co-interview with President Obama and the outgoing Secretary of State, it looked to me to be the groundwork of the 2016 election season. In the way that Bill Clinton almost single-handedly ignited Obama’s reelection campaign, Obama is publicly repaying that favor, recycling the loving stare that Mitt Romney employed during each of their Presidential debates.

The Secret Service couldn’t contain Joe Biden during the inaugural parade as he constantly ducked around them to shake hands and kiss babies. Coming from his successful negotiation with Senate leaders to avoid the fiscal cliff, it’s looking good for Joe in 2016 as well.  His goal for the short term: help secure the economy and wind down the war in Afghanistan.  Long term: distance himself from Obama. 

Obama’s inaugural speech was unprecedented in that he included a multitude of social ideas that had never been thus far voiced by a politician of his stature:  gay rights, gun control, climate change.  Boom.  But when he said “Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone,” there was a disconnect between his version of events and the reality of his last term. 

According to Conor Friedersdorf of The Altantic, “Obama favors greater central authority in health care, energy, education, gun regulation, and occupational safety. His underlings have actively undermined state efforts to decentralize marijuana policy. And on national-security matters, he has worked to centralize authority in the executive branch.”

Here’s where Joe comes in.  Whereas Obama can scarcely contain his contempt for Congress (and who can blame him?) Joe steps up.  The negotiations that mark the makeup of deal-making are his bread and butter – he knows them, he gets them, and by the reflection coming off of his shiny whites, he loves them.  He can be what Obama simply cannot – the bridge between the Senate and the Oval office and the beginning of taking this country back to its federalist roots, putting power back to the states. 

If Obama is the elitist who doesn’t trust the states to do what he deems is right, then Biden does, as long as there is effective leadership.  This is evident from his thirty-six year tenure in the Senate, as Chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee to his work on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Hillary has markedly less experience in the Senate and once proved to be as polarizing a candidate as one could possibly be.  Yet she brings with her the heavyweight status of Secretary of Statesmanship and the badass reputation that resulted from her tenure, traveling to 112 countries and transforming Benghazi from what the Republicans wanted to paint as her 9/11 (really?) but will be etched in the hearts of the public as the righteous smack-down of Ron Johnson and Rand Paul.  What it really comes down to is what the state of the country is like four years from now: will the focus be on foreign policy, where Hillary’s experience reigns, or will we see an America fed up with partisan bickering and looking for someone like Biden, who demonstrated that he can lay down the boxing gloves long enough to make a dance partner with the likes of Mitch McConnell?

This could all be null and void if New York’s own Andrew Cuomo continues on the upward momentum of his liberal agenda.  He’s already succeeded in passing gay marriage legislation, and led the country with the first and so far strictest gun control laws, effectively limiting the number of bullets magazines can hold here.  After recouping the state from the inept Governor Patterson after the dramatic step-down of Eliot Spitzer, Cuomo has the advantage of being high profile politician-bred in a powerful state in need of constructive change. (I’m still not ready to talk about Spitzer.  It still hurts.  He should know that he and I are not on speaking terms, though I read him on Slate, and love every sensible smart word that comes out of his mouth.) 

For Cuomo, he’s placing his bets on jobs and education as his “one-two punch” for economic development. If he can reinvigorate the economy and pass more laws to give him top-notch Progressive street cred (Women’s Equality Act, protecting the right to choose and legalizing pot, anyone?), both Hillary and Joe will see some serious competition.  Especially if he can channel the Obama the Orator the way he did in his State of the State address:

 “Our state Capitol is restored to its original majesty in many, many ways.  We set out two years ago to bridge the divide. We needed to bridge a divide from yesterday to tomorrow; from what was to what can be; from dysfunction to performance; from cynicism to trust; from gridlock to cooperation to make the government work. And we are, literally and metaphorically.”

“You people in the media are incorrigible,” Obama chastised 60 Minutes‘ Steve Kroft. “I was literally inaugurated four days ago and you’re talking about elections four years from now.”

That’s why I waited all the way until now to bring this up.

The Next Chapter in our Immigration Story

Have the immigrants changed or have we? There is the part in us that, having edged our way into this society, wants to close the door firmly behind us.

Reports  are trickling in now, via a leak to Politico, that the right is now ready to compromise and come together to pass immigration reform.  It seems divisiveness is a thing of the past and this new Congress is ready to roll up its sleeves and get shit done or as James Wolcott of Vanity Fair put it: stop “legislative constipation.”

Or…

During the RNC Presidential election post mortem—you know, the one where they sat around looking at each other, at the ground, then at each other again, knowing full well that something’s gotta give if they don’t want to remain losers from this point forward—Republicans realized it was time for “Operation Woo the Latinos”.  Marco Rubio will offer up his face as the beacon that sheds light on the Hispanic population, saying “See? We’re with you.”

The Hispanic share of the electorate grew to 10% in 2012. The hard truth that the right had to face, undoubtedly accompanied with some aged and very strong scotch, was that while Romney shored up the white vote just as Reagan did before him, it wasn’t nearly enough.  The Hispanic vote is now five times what it was in Reagan’s time.

And so – immigration reform. Turning a kindly eye to the brown people. Extending a hand.  The main objective behind this bipartisan Senate deal put together by the self-proclaimed “Gang of Eight,” led by Chuck Schumer, would be to offer undocumented workers a path to citizenship.  But will their constituents on the right follow or will they use their votes to slap back Republican candidates in the midterms? If gun control is a hot button issue with right-wing Americans, try selling them on ingratiating themselves to the Hispanic community.  And watch gun sales skyrocket even more, if that’s even possible considering the spike we’ve seen in the weeks following the Newtown tragedy. Americans are arming themselves at a historic pace in anticipation of stricter guns laws.

But expect the gun debate to take a back seat as Facebook memes are undoubtedly being created to vilify the lowest class of non-Americans.  Prepare for talk of more welfare recipients, those “taking advantage” of our system, and well-paying jobs being whisked away right under our noses.  Pay no mind to the fact that these are counter-arguments to each other. One cannot be a lazy freeloader while simultaneously working so hard as to steal work from others.  Watch for this: the folks who decried Obamacare as socialist and unconstitutional  might start looking at it differently in this context.  Might “illegals” be here to take advantage of our healthcare system?  It doesn’t matter – this is an emotional issue, much like gun control, and the arguments are rarely based in thought and sense and has its roots, like so much else, in our collective American culture.

When we broach the subject of immigration, I find that what infuriates us the most is the lack of assimilation. You know the story. Our grandparents worked hard to come here and adopt American customs and spoke quietly and seldomly for shame of their accents.  They taught our parents English and wished for them to be above all else, the picture of white American success. Business owners, college graduates, home owners. Yet, somewhere along the line, we separated into groups with distinctly drawn boundaries and identities.  These lines are drawn along socio-economic and racial lines. And they are etched ever deeper now, instead of dissolving into the melting pot of this country.

It might serve us all well to question why.  Have the immigrants changed or have we?  We talk about American exceptionalism, sometimes as a boon to our nation and sometimes as a scourge.  There is the part in us that, having edged our way into this society, wants to close the door firmly behind us. The part that believes to let others in might dilute what makes us stand out among the world as strong, singular, unique. Have we lost the distinct pride of country and if so, when?  Or is it that because the country is colored differently from our grandparents’ generation, we fail to recognize it as our own? Could the strides that we made in civil rights have opened the floodgates of criticism by giving a microphone to people who said things we did not want to hear?

The voices of the smallest among us are growing louder.  They are issuing demands and asking for consideration.  And it just might be too much. Equal rights and opportunities are to be earned, we chastise.  I picture in my mind the high school bully holding the head of his victim in the bathroom toilet, where he cannot breathe but for foul-stench water.  When he is let up for air, the bully expects profuse thankfulness and deference and is shocked, utterly shocked – to receive that toilet water spit into his own face.  Now the anger is multiplied and the blurry random victim is given a face to direct it to.  Now it’s personal.

Where is the roadmap back?

Could it start with a gang of eight senators, each with an agenda of his own, whether it is a hungry ego that needs his name front and center on a bill, or the strategy of one party that knows it must sacrifice some of its “sure thing” voters in lieu of a growing population?

I’ll wait for the memes to let me know.

 

 

Women: In Front and Behind Enemy Lines

As a secret that has become more difficult to keep under wraps, the truth about sexual violence against women within the military is reaching the forefront of American consciousness.

In a landmark move that propels women’s equality another step forward, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced yesterday that by January 2016, the ban on women in combat will be lifted.  This is big news.  A major step.  Yet, in actual combat missions, little changes: women have been in active combat in both Afghanistan and in Iraq. According to The Daily Beast, the distinction was in the name: “attached” to a combat unit, instead of being “assigned.” The real significance lies in the “tens of thousands of additional jobs, allowing women to compete for higher positions and promotions previously denied them.” So chicks in the military are square now, right?  Well, the Internet is abuzz with references to the combat military women have already been experiencing for years: sexual violence.  If it comes from your own battalion, do we call it “friendly rape?” Surely Todd Akin could help us out with the appropriate terminology.

This historic announcement comes on the heels of a hearing by the House Armed Services Committee on sexual assault.  As a secret that has become more difficult to keep under wraps, the truth about sexual violence against women within the military is reaching the forefront of American consciousness, thanks to more women speaking out against their attackers and those in the media who have listened.  The Academy-Award nominated documentary “The Invisible War” depicts this ugly reality.  By interviewing female soldiers who have undergone the physical sexual assault by members of their units, their trauma compounded by threats by the powers that be to fail to acknowledge and prosecute the assailants, “The Invisible War” shines a light on the layers of suffering some women in the military face.  Imagine this: a female military officer is violently raped by her immediate supervisor.  The regulated course of action for her?  The chain of command insists that she report the rape to her immediate supervisor who has jurisdiction to decide if the case warrants an investigation and prosecution, or not. 

Yeah, the same guy who raped her gets to decide if he should put himself on trial.  In 2011, there were 3192 (According to the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office) reports of MSA (military sexual assault).  The amount that made it to trial: 240.

Why?  Is it the overwhelming culture of violence?  The scarcity of non-violent sexual opportunity?  An influx of violent men into the military?  Is it the hierarchy, the rank and file that automatically pit women as lowly esteemed compared to higher ranking men?  Is sexual assault part of the way female soldiers are broken down? Might it be that in  war, when the task at hand includes the killing of other humans, a disconnect between some people’s humanity and morality becomes so wide that the distinction between right and wrong disappears? Or could it be the code among men, the time-honored system of protection within the military of those who commit heinous crimes? 

I don’t know.  I do know that in an all volunteer military that has seen near constant war since 2001, we have a ways to go to honor the sacrifices made by every single enlisted soldier. I know that by bringing the trauma – that counts among it sexual violence on top of war scenarios that see death and violence in more capacities I can ever know – to light, we might be able to stem an ugly tide.  And that with the opening of every single military position soon to be available to women, there is likely to be greater advocacy for women within the military.  A friend in a leadership role?  Yes, please. Might a military that offers equal opportunity for women promote greater respect for the women within it?  Could this be the beginning of a shift in culture that will render women less underlings and more equals? 

At my most optimistic, I want to believe that equality – even if it’s mostly symbolic –  might breed a lessening of sexual violence.

Then we can get back to the task at hand: more war.

Bill O’Reilly Was Right

Congress, under the watchful and exhausted eye of John Boehner, has to reprioritize, since denying Obama a second term has failed in spectacular fashion. Now they just have to pull out any stops to defeat his legacy.

On the eve of the President’s inauguration, I can safely let the sigh escape from my chest, a deep exhale of relief that we escaped a Romney/Ryan administration and their consequent taking of the country back(wards).  From the administration of Reagan onwards, momentum has been building in a movement to revert the country to its constitutional origins: of, for, and by monied white men.  And while this is certainly nothing new, candidates and elected officials of the past at least had the decency to pretend to equality.  Not so anymore.  With the election of our first black President, it seemed like the country was turning a chapter entitled “post-racism.” Yet what resulted was quite the opposite, with the right digging in their heels and ushering in the “Philosophy of No” and culminating in Mitt Romney’s address to the NAACP in July, blatantly dismissing an entire segment of the population because they could offer him little political capital.   The right said “No” to anything the President proposed, be it fair pay for women or compensation for the first responders of September eleventh.  We could argue that the divisiveness has roots beyond the specific kink of Mr. Obama’s hair, and some of it might be, but not all of it.  Not by far.

It can’t be easy for the Romneys, blindsided by their loss as they were.  The Fox pundits as well, though they’ve had time to recoup now, to double down on their anti-left propaganda.  And Congress, under the watchful and exhausted eye of John Boehner, has to reprioritize, since denying Obama a second term has failed in spectacular fashion. Now they just have to pull out any stops to defeat his legacy, to deny him any legislative victories, and if it continues to come at the expense of the constituency that voted them in, so be it. They have an endgame in mind; they’re looking at the big picture.  If all goes right (right, get it?), they won’t have destroyed the country beyond repair.  And when they get back into office, the magnitude of their success will be two-fold: they can blame the destruction on the Obama administration and exact greater power in creating positions to help clean up the mess.  Hey, it will create jobs, right?  Right?

What stuck in my mind in the days after the election were not necessarily the sputtering of Karl Rove or the disingenuous conciliatory speech of Romney, but a statement uttered by Long Island’s own Bill O’Reilly.  “Obama wins,” he spit, “because it’s not a traditional America anymore.” He went on to speak about the white establishment losing its position in the majority, about the black and hispanic votes, women.  His face mourned the loss of a country he’d known.  I felt for him.

Because he was right.

Traditional society had walls.  It was segregated into sects with borders, color-coded in socio-economic terms.  We had the pride of a country whose leaders were for the most part homogenous and our brown people were cared for as best we could.  But we had expectations: they needed to speak our language, to buck up and to thank the establishment for the spoils of what it meant to be American. Yet, somehow, that wasn’t enough. Some people started to feel “entitled.”

The Internet age ushered in the modern era where people began to see over the walls separating “us” and “them.”  A global economy brought with it the unintended consequences of a global society, multi-languaged, multicolored and multi-ethnic.  The model of success wasn’t the white-bread version of the trust fund baby boy being inducted into his father’s fraternity based on donations to the alumni association, making inbred connections among the masters of the universe.  The pool so small, in fact, that the name Bush is being floated as we speak as a 2016 candidacy. It started to look more Horatio Alger than anybody ever intended.  Black leaders in business and politics started to pave a way, but was America ready for a black man in the white house?

Gone now is the pretense to the political correctness of Clinton’s nineties.  Clinton, whom Nobel prize winner Toni Morrison deemed “America’s first black President” due to the ferocity with which he was hunted and treated by the establishment during the Whitewater scandal, ushered in a time when derogatory language went underground and was whispered behind the backs of hands.  Now, twenty years after he first took office, the culture has shifted so decisively that it is a faux pas not to utter a racist slur, but to accuse someone else of racism.  With commentators like Rush Limbaugh feeling comfortable making statements like, “The NAACP booed Romney because he’s white,” and Bill O’Reilly lamenting the diluting of the power of the white vote, we find ourselves at a crossroads.  We can take this country back(wards) or, as Obama supporters shouted from streets and eaves and stadiums, we can move “Forward.”

Because once upon a time, a brown child of a single mother on welfare with an un-American father, who was raised on a far-away island and spent some formative years in Indonesia, dared to think that maybe this was his country too.  He thought that maybe he had something to offer this modern America, that is neither black nor white, Eastern or Western, monied or in need, but all of it. All of it.

And so America begins a new tradition.  And the Bill O’Reillys of the world live unhappily ever after.

A Sensible Approach to the Gun Debate

Let’s look instead to the government that we have, the one created by the same founding fathers who listed both gun ownership and freedom of speech as inalienable rights.

The tragedy in Sandy Hook has brought the national conversation to gun violence, which inevitably leads to the seemingly insurmountable differences between those who advocate for gun control laws and those who vow that the only way to get their guns from them is to “pry them from their cold, dead hands.”  The facts that the only cold dead hands increasingly seem to belong to those of the innocent, unarmed variety only serves to cement their case: the answer, according to Wayne LaPierre, is to arm more good guys with weaponry in order to combat the bad guys with weaponry.  That this makes sense to anyone who isn’t a comic book writer illustrates the huge disconnect we feel with society, and each other.

Sensible arguments about passing legislation to restrict high capacity magazines are met with staunch opposition from many on the far right.  The argument goes back to the wording and the intent of the second amendment.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

In order to secure a free state, according to gun advocates, it’s necessary to enter into what has become a domestic arms race.  When the Constitution was written, goes the argument, the people had access to the same types of assault weapons as the government.  They all had muskets.  Yet, as the technology of weapons had become increasingly sophisticated it is up to the general public to keep up in order to ensure their freedom against a tyrannical government.  To leave ourselves unarmed, or un-heavily-armed – is to be vulnerable to the Hitlers and Stalins of the future.

The voices of those who echo this argument have turned deaf ears to the counter-argument that the American government has accumulated more weapons of mass destruction than the entire world over, and that no amount of AK-47s is going to stop them if they are so inclined to turn them on their own people if they are taken over by hostile tyrants.  The right to amass weapons to protect themselves is ingrained as a fundamental right and a threat to that right is perceived as a threat to their freedom.  And freedom is the cornerstone of this country, a source of pride to our citizenry, and a distinct part of our culture.

It isn’t going away.

Instead of alienating each other at this point, instead of yelling and trying to paint the opposing side as stupid, ignorant, or downright wrong, why don’t we come up with some constructive action that would serve to unite us and to become a rightful source of pride?  The fear of a tyrannical takeover might be dismissed by those who pass it off as a paranoid delusion of a gun nut.  They would be wrong.  Political takeovers happen, sometimes supported by this country for our own political gain, masked under the cloak of promoting worldwide “freedom.” Those who believe it could never happen here might have also believed that we were insulated from terrorists.  9/11 changed that game.

Yet, arming ourselves to the gills doesn’t seem to be the answer.  Firstly, because the government has much bigger gills and secondly, because with the proliferation of semi-automatic weapons, tragedies like the one in Sandy Hook have a greater chance of happening.  And no one, including Wayne LaPierre, wants that.

Let’s look instead to the government that we have, the one created by the same founding fathers who listed both gun ownership and freedom of speech as inalienable rights.  Let’s consider this experiment of a country that we have inherited and honor it by contributing to it in a meaningful way.  The best protection against a tyrannical government is not to load up the country with rifles (ask Somalia).  It is to participate in our democracy to make sure we have the strongest, most efficient government.  This includes electing a congress who serves the people, rather than solely focuses on an obstructionist political agenda.  The best protection is to make sure our government is functional, to hold our politicians responsible for governing.  This includes voting out those whose sole function is to make others fail.  This includes changing the notion of success in government from meaning to step over the bodies of those we have defeated by ugly and dishonest means.  It means supporting laws that restrict unlimited corporate donations to politicians in order to further corporate interests at the expense of the people in the name of “free speech.”  It means to make sure our children are educated, that it is for the good of the people to invest in making government function and cooperate, to stand united, to pick up the smallest and weakest of us, to actually leave no child behind.  This is the way we honor that magnificent document and the legacy we were born into.

And if we can come together and have a productive conversation without alienating each other, name calling, ridiculing – and demand that our elected leaders do the same – might we find our fingers slowly retracting from triggers?