My writing about politics and current events has been in a long summer drought. I didn’t check out of the info stream because I was so consumed with summer vacations and fun, I just stopped writing about it.

It got too heavy. I got discouraged.

This happened back when Clarence Thomas was confirmed despite the testimony about his character from Anita Hill. I took it personally and went into a funk of refusing to pay attention to news.

In hindsight being personally hurt by the treatment of Anita Hill at the hands of the Senate (and the world) was out of proportion. However, there’ll never be enough Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s for Joe Biden to escape his culpability in the long, L-O-N-G term effect that his fear of being called a racist in 1991 has on SCOTUS today.

Now Robin Williams’ unfortunate suicide has snapped me back into writing about current events.

In the work that I do the phrase “Mountains are mole hills piled one on top of each other” is used to describe the cumulative effect of  the slights, attacks, and subtle obstacles that make the person complaining about the mole hills look like they are crazy or overreacting.

Like Anita Hill trying to explain all the ways Thomas’s behavior added up to harassment.

Anyway, the relentless “molehills” of, among other things – abortion clinic closings, the Hobby Lobby ruling, Jill Abramson getting fired, and wars! wars! wars! – added up to a mountain of silence for me. So I stopped writing or even commenting on current events.

My mountain, in the very low stakes arena of blogging, is nothing compared to the final teaspoon of dirt that makes someone feel like the only escape is to kill themselves.  How can suicide be the answer to any question? What makes the weight of the mountain unsustainable?

I am not writing to judge, but to understand.  How can we accept depression and mental illness openly enough that we have more warning when someone is considering suicide? Is it a stigma issue? Do we fear our own vulnerability? I have not experienced a suicide personally but I know people who have. I can’t begin to imagine what they feel. The shock of unexpected death is horrible enough, so the magnitude of the shock when the death of a loved one is by their own hand is unfathomable.

That molehill/mountain metaphor provides an alternate perspective on the accusation “You’re making a mountain out of a molehill”, but doesn’t it doesn’t do much with the fact that we’re still left with a mountain.

It doesn’t seem to matter if that solid, heavy sucker was created one teaspoonful at a time when the result is still enormous. So how do we cope when things feel too hard, too big, too overwhelming? How do we dismantle our mountain so we don’t feel like the only option is suicide?

There’s all kinda ways to cope with or check out under pressure. Denial, avoidance, escapism (drugs, TV, drinking, books – the selection here is extensive), silence. Suicide.

I kept coming back to the idea that I need a better way to take it apart when I feel overwhelmed. A teaspoon against the mountain is just too much to think about. And my twisty mind arrived at monkey bread.

Monkey bread is made by rolling pieces of dough into balls and piling them on one another in a baking dish. Then, when its baked, you can tear off one piece at a time. You can’t see molehills once they become a mountain because all that dirt just slides together, monkey bread still has enough definition that you could manage one chunk at a time.

Less pressure.

This is a lousy, rambly comparison between my being depressed into writing silence by the state of the world, and Robin Williams being depressed into believing his only choice was to end his life, but there it is. My first post back after a break is usually ugly, so apologies.


I am so sorry for anyone touched by suicide.

I can only hope that because Williams was such a high-profile, successful person his unfortunate death will help shine a light on how anyone can suffer from major depression.

 

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It is disheartening how little impact the mass murder of 20 elementary school children has had on gun regulations. Increased background check legislation stalled, restrictions on automatic weapons and military grade ammunition not happening. I guess the horror fades for some folks if it’s not your kid, and the political will to take on the gun lobby is clearly nonexistent.

In fact “In the 12 months since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., almost every state has enacted at least one new gun law“, however, of the 109 laws passed 70 eased restrictions and expanded the rights of gun owners.

Unbelievable in the wake of the unspeakable.

Below is what I wrote a year ago in reaction to the massacre of 20 children and the 6 teachers trying to protect them.

December 21, 2012

It is such a short trip to the land of fear. It’s a place you can get to from just about anywhere.

The predictable response from the NRA to the massacre in Sandy Hook was to blame every other societal ill beside gun proliferation. And of course to advocate for more guns because “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre points to our “blood-soaked culture” as reason for the violence rather than the ease of obtaining military grade weapons equipped with high-powered ammunition. One of many arguments based on the idea that our culture has disintegrated, youth are desensitized, music videos glorify thug life, and we are not safe.

What we are is a gun culture. And the easiest way to perpetuate the need for guns is through fear.

After it happened, we talked with our daughter about Sandy Hook. She talked about the intruder drill they had at school the next week and how unsatisfying it was. She said she didn’t feel safe with this one particular teacher, and that the room had too many windows. The drill had kids hide under the desks, and most of them are too big to fit, which doesn’t matter anyway because it’s about as useful as  “duck and cover.”

When she identified other rooms and teachers she’d rather be with if “something happened for real”, I asked her to imagine what she’d do if she was in charge of that classroom. She had an immediate answer. I said if something “real” ever did happen, she should trust herself if she didn’t think the adult could keep her safe. This is a dangerous thing to say, but I don’t know how better to clarify that we trust her to trust herself.

This conversation was actually Part 2 of an earlier conversation about fear. We were in a run down neighborhood and she remarked that she always felt a little afraid in poor neighborhoods but then she feels bad because she is afraid that’s racist. (I think the DSM-V should consider including this as “The White Folks Dilemma.”) We teased apart what she was afraid of and why, and it was clear that none of the reasons were because the people were black. Poverty scares a lot of people. It can look like desperation, potential crime and violence.

What I was afraid of with The White Folks Dilemma was that she would talk herself out of her instincts. Our bodies always know danger faster than our minds. And our minds are trained to overrule all sorts of useful signals. It’s useful to be afraid sometimes, it heightens your awareness. It’s not useful to be afraid all the time because, again your mind is overruling instinct.

It’s so easy to give in to fear. Its much easier than joy, or love or trust. But that kind of “the world is a dangerous place” fear, seems implausible to me. I’m much more afraid of easy access to semi-automatic handguns than I am of a shooter going in my daughters school. Or randomly shoot me through the floor to ceiling windows in my office, which just occurred to me today after 8 years in this office.

I don’t have any solution except to keep reminding myself and others that fear is just one of our emotions. And I will continue to stumble stupidly through the world believing that humans are inherently good. I am a Platonist at heart – “To know the good is to do the good”.

Now we just need to teach the NRA the meaning of “the good”.

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The other night I watched a movie about lateterm abortion. It was a documentary called “After Tiller” that followed four doctors who were colleagues of Dr. George Tiller the abortion provider that was murdered by an anti-abortion activist in May 2009. These four doctors perform abortions at 25 weeks and later.

The procedure is controversial because a baby might be considered “viable”, or able to survive outside of the uterus, after about 27 weeks. But viable is a word with a lot of room for interpretation.

The movie showed the women, often with their baby’s father, seeking this procedure because their baby had horrific fetal anomalies discovered through testing. I remember from when I was pregnant that bone-deep fear during scans if the technician hesitated a moment too long.

These women were living that nightmare fear.

They were grieving and distraught and very relieved there was a clinic and a doctor that could help them. Everyone who knows me knows that I am not just Pro-Choice, I’m Pro-Abortion. This movie reinforced those beliefs and made me notice where and when my judgement kicked in. When I thought a woman was making a bad choice, or a doctor should have been more authoritative, or what I would have done.

That’s what the question always comes down to when we cut through the rhetoric. What would I do in that situation? My answer won’t be the same as yours. My decision today may be different than what my decision would have been 10 years ago.

And why exactly should my decision about my life and my baby have any impact on your decision? I will never understand that bit.

The thing that really struck me about what I saw going on in those clinics was the mercy and compassion offered to these women in profound need. A stark contrast to the judgement and ugliness they passed through on the sidewalks outside the clinic.

You hear people say sometimes “No one wants an abortion” but I think that’s backward. What no one wants is an unplanned pregnancy. What no one wants is a baby with profound complications. Lots of women want an abortion.

And when they do want an abortion, for whatever reason or no reason at all, having a kind, compassionate doctor trust that they can make their own decision is a mercy.

See “After Tiller” if you can.

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I am very disheartened. I can’t even muster any rage at the Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act today.

Representative John Lewis called it “a dagger in the heart” of the act but it feels to me like a dagger in the heart of the nation. I am struggling with the evidence that we are more and more a country without compassion for its citizens. The purported Christian foundation that drives conservative politics applies only to the individual, not the group. The willful rejection and/or obfuscation of facts is standard operating procedure. There is much analysis to be read on this ruling, and endless spinning to be endured in the coming months. The two quotes below capture what I would be ranting about if I had the energy.

John Lewis reminds us that rights now unprotected are continuously threatened and abused, not historical:

“I remember in the 1960s when people of color were the majority in the small town of Tuskegee, Alabama. To insure that a black person would not be elected, the state gerrymandered Tuskegee Institute and the black sections of town so they fell outside the city limits.

This reminds me too much of a case that occurred in Randolph County in my own state of Georgia, when the first black man was elected to the board of education in 2002. The county legislature changed his district so he would not be re-elected.

I disagree with the court that the history of discrimination is somehow irrelevant today. The record clearly demonstrates numerous attempts to impede voting rights still exist, and it does not matter that those attempts are not as “pervasive, widespread or rampant as they were in 1965. One instance of discrimination is too much in a democracy.”

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a personal hero of mine, speaks to the flawed reasoning of the current SCOTUS. Mother Jones culled the most notable from her dissent:

“In my judg­ment the Court errs egregiously by overriding Congress’ decision…Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Alito’s contemptuous, disrespectful eye rolling and grimacing at Ginsberg while she read the dissenting opinion should be grounds for a reprimand from Roberts. Alito leaves no illusion that the court is now a place where political insult can be offered without dignity.

Too many daggers for one day.

The Supremes: Justices Sotomeyer, Ginsberg and Kagan

My husband and I were talking about the BRCA gene mutation the other day after a visit from a cousin. She has the gene, got breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. While she only had cancer in the one breast, the odds of developing it in the other are so high with the gene that she prohalactically chose to have the other breast removed as well.

I said I would instantly do the bilateral prophylactic mastectomy and reconstruction. If my insurance covered it. My husband asked if my insurance covered the test and I didn’t know.

Genetic testing is a relatively new field, but becoming more common. People are already familiar with paternity tests and prenatal tests and now with Angelina Jolie talking about her surgery, the BRCA test may run a close third.

BRCA was in the news before Jolie because it’s the topic of a case the ACLU argued in the US Supreme Court recently. A company (Myriad) has patented the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes. The ACLU says these patents (2 of the 20,000 patented genes!) violate the constitution and prohibit free speech. I was shocked when I read about this case and saw that the gene patents keep scientists other than the owners from studying the gene without permission, controls what mutations they are allowed to study, and most importantly controls the market and the cost for all testing which must be done through the gene owners labs. That cost is $3,000 if your insurance company does not pay for it.

Again I dont know if my insurance company pays for this but you can bet I’ll ask my OB/GYN at my next appointment. I do know that ACA is supposed to cover the test when/if it is fully in effect in the US (repeal vote 37 – do I hear 38? Anyone? Anyone? Buehler?)

Gajillions of dollars are at stake in this formerly obscure Supreme Court case because of the potential to bill the federal government for the testing. And since its their gene they prohibit any cheaper labs from competing. Its called a monopoly. Myriad, the company with the BRCA patent saw their stock spike with Jolie’s unusually well-timed People Mag cover and NY Times Op-Ed.

If one were inclined to consipracy plots, one might speculate as to the decisions around Jolie’s outing herself a month before the SCOTUS decision on the patent case is due. One might even speculate that the Jolie/Pitt portfolio could feature Myriad stock, among a broad spectrum of other health related investments of course.

One might even go so far as to say that Myriad – and a lot of other folks – are very heavily invested in making sure that they continue to control the price of BRCA testing, soon be available through ACA. A PR campaign with a movie star fits the bill nicely.  

I am very happy Jolie was able to get the BRCA test she wanted, choose her treatment, and afford her reconstruction. I would be a lot happier if her “brave narrative” included statements about how no one person (or corporation), should be able to restrict this kind of important research or testing by “owning” a human gene. I might be holding my breath on that one.

The ACLU should put out a call for their own fiesty star to out herself about her bilateral prophylactic mastectomy and reconstruction to make some noise about this patent case. Keeping my fingers crossed for the decision in June.

Stimulating the economy is the only possible silver lining for the level of political spending that is going on right now, in July, of an election year.

When the Koch Bros. will be spending as much this year as McCain did in his whole campaign we have passed ludicrous and are now sitting somewhere south of crazy-town. (In case you need a refresher on the dangers of Koch, in its purest, uncooked form, this New Yorker profile from two years ago will fix you right up.) Maybe they will bankrupt themselves trying to buy the election in an effort to maximize profits. One can only hope.

This is not a rant about Citizens United. I don’t like the Citizens United ruling, but I think it will ultimately create a David v. Goliath situation and force citizen journalism, citizen action and citizen involvement in politics which are “good things”. And for you literal folks out there you will not find David v. Goliath on the SCOTUS blog.

The way that savvy activists and the Outraged Everyman are using social media is beginning to pay off. It may not be as dramatic as revolution in Egypt or Libya, but a sleepy US population seems to be waking up because of the outrageousness of super-pacs. I know the super-pacs have all the money, and by all the money I mean ALL the money, but they can’t control the twitter feeds & fb posts. If they could figure out how, they would of course, and when they do it will be too late because there will be a new something or other. There is hope yet for civil society and democracy.

Small-time warfare:
Take a bite out of the Koch wallet by buying Seventh Generation or Green Forest paper products. Stop buying Brawny towels, Angel Soft or Quilted Northern tissue, Dixie brand paper plates etc., Mardi Gras napkins. The Koch brothers own and make a lot of other stuff too, but paper products are easy to remember. Make your voice heard two dollars and eighty-nine cents at a time.

Apropos of social power – I was reading an article about social media and blog traffic and discovered that to be really relevant I would need to post pictures of my cat or my cooking. So.

Here is my cat. He is not named anything political like Mao, Stalin or Nixon or even ironic like Fido. His name is Nic.

Here is a cake I once baked. It is a Margarita Cake with Tequila Lime Glaze. It was good.

There. I have officially joined the legions in the “Age of Participation”.

As much as I would like to be talking about music, I am instead compelled to write about the 33rd house vote to repeal health care reform (that’s ACA to liberals and Obamacare to conservatives). I thought it was the 31st, but I stand corrected. This kind of political theater makes my head hurt.

We are asked to believe that the vote demonstrates Republican commitment to principles (e.g. opposing “government takeover”) rather than just reminding their constituents that they are against all things Obama. Empty symbolism, a try for the Guinness Book of World Records, how ever you look at it its a time waster. Which is a less elitist word for obstructionist.

I would love to see that hard line, unified style come back to bite when folks realize that standing in the way of something is not the same as doing something. Maybe Trent Lott is right and there should be events like Seersucker Thursday in the House for team building and civility. Oh wait, the Senate just discontinued that tradition because it’s “frivolous”. I guess rope courses and communication seminars won’t make it to Boehner’s “Ways to Get to Compromise” list.

I am now seeing and hearing stories about how much it costs to stage one of these symbolic votes, which used to be occasional before they became regular, and $2 mil is a pretty symbolic number. Thats what it costs to run Congress every day. And there are no refunds, just voting day.

Michele Bachman on Fox News said the repeal vote was a “foretaste of what’s going to come this fall” which I mistakenly read as “foreskin”.  Freudian slip as I contemplate a Romney presidency I guess. Bachman also noted that house republicans have “so many positive plans to bring down the price of health care. We can’t wait to do it! I think all of us have plans up on our Web site. We have so much that we can do. That’s what we can’t wait to do is just unleash it all after this fall’s election.”

Since neither Bachman nor Boehner has proposed a bill to replace ACA, we will be in for more “showcase” votes to quote Bachman again.

A musical interlude as they (and we) gird loins for vote number 34. How can they resist? They’re really good at it now.

I am so disappointed in the way the Supreme Court case over Affordable Health Care Act is playing out. There is nothing good coming out of this discussion.

As is my habit when national events are irritating me I try to pull back and do something local so I can pretend I have impact as a citizen. Today I went to a policy lecture on Sex Ed in public schools. This semester my daughter is subjected to Health at school. This is an annual “mandatory” and progressive 6-week curriculum that they start in 5th grade with the news that you body is about to change in disturbing ways.

Nothing they have discussed in health comes close to what we talk about at home. And I would bet that the text they use is much less explicit than “Our Bodies, Our Selves” or even the cartoon-ish “Care of Me” books from American Girl (that is a Cult for a different post). What I was hoping to hear from the policy wonk today was why sex ed is so polarizing. And I did.

Seems I have been misreading all the political polarization lately. Contraception, abortion, health care, sex ed, its all about he same thing. Identity. Who are we as country, what is our morality. I chewed on this for a while, as he presented arguments and research, and thought well this is true for the religious right and conservatives in general, but liberals and progressives are not about morality. But I’m not so convinced anymore.

When you look at it from the point of identity liberals (using the label for a widely variable swath of US population) and conservatives (ditto), want the same thing – to define who we are as a country.

We are a country that takes care of its citizens is the core idea that supports health care, welfare benefits, re-training, disability, immigration policy, Pell grants, you name it. Its all about defining ourselves as doing the right thing collectively.

We are a country that protects the morality of its citizens is the core idea that supports the authority of God, prohibiting the “homosexual agenda”, protecting the unborn, dismantling social programs so people will stand on their own two feet. Its all about defining ourselves as doing the right thing individually.

That is why it fails to make sense to me why anyone would want to restrict contraception, which helps prevent babies, AND eliminate abortion because it supposedly kills babies. The position is perfectly in line with protecting morality of citizens who are obviously too stupid to do it themselves. But my world view does not work that way, so the position does not appear to have any internal logic.

In my world abortion is a medical procedure that is part of a woman’s reproductive health just like contraception, pap smears and mammograms. My morality is as tightly wound into my position as any protester outside a clinic with a nasty sign. I just don’t bring any God into it.

So I ended up thinking about national politics today anyway. I can feel the meta idea of moral identity (especially the liberal duo Equity & Care) burrowing into my brain in a new way.

To the library!

I spend some of my time at work helping people brilliant in another field understand emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, I am less Master and more Grasshopper when it comes to implementing these principals in my own life.

I tend to provoke. Or maybe incite, I’m not sure.

I am starting to suspect that its intellectual tenaciousness + gadfly impulses that cause me to not realize that I am the only one relishing the hot button topics I raise. I am willing to talk about anything with anyone, not just for arguments sake, but because its FUN! to hear others reasoning and dissect my own around issues. I always learn something.

Hence, the column written for the school that I truly thought was mild and benign, was in fact, a powder keg the school district had no interest in holding a match to. Thank goodness my husband is willing to gently point out when “benign” is actually provocative. I also don’t take offense that the school didn’t want to run it, they make choices for a range of reasons and I respect that. I don’t need to be privy to the formula unless its a freedom of speech issue.

The most recent benign, teaching moment I am embracing is the abortion story line in Doonesbury. Garry Trudeau is a genius with a conscience. He redeems our comic pages which still run Beetle Bailey, Mary Worth and two dead cartoonists (Keane and Schulz). I suggested K Chronicles when they asked readers to weigh in on new strips to run, but no go.

The controversy Trudeau is the center of stems from not just his strip content – which highlights the insanity of the anti-abortion religious right influencing laws – but from newspapers censoring the strip for reasons of “civility and decency”.

All very provocative.

I hope this keeps abortion restrictions in the news where they belong. I hope it makes people WAKE UP! and realize that you can’t take anything for granted.

Rights you don’t fight for slip away.

Discussions about free speech come up regularly in our house. We all have strong opinions, follow politics and current events, which leads to wide-ranging topics.

The most recent was prompted by the plans of Westboro Baptist Church to protest at the funeral of the slain Chardon students. Trying to explain why these Christian people think that every bad thing that happens (from 9/11 to hurricanes) is “Gods way of smiting fag America” is difficult enough. Going on to explain why their right to protest military funerals and other events has to be protected takes even more patience.

In many ways it is preferable to talk to a teenager about free speech because they still have a grasp of the “fairness” we all start with that dilutes as we age and settle into our thinking grooves. The explanation that protecting free speech means everybody, and especially those people you disagree with, made more sense to our 13-year old than to most adults I have discussed it with.

Folks usually want to add a “Yea, but…” for whatever they think is exceptionally offensive. Like carrying signs that say “God Hates Fags” at a student’s funeral. It’s hard to support their right to say it without appearing to support their message. Part of the problem may be the You’re Either With Us or Against Us attitude which is reinforced by our simplistic, sound-bite news cycle. I blame Bush for taking us down this road in the post 9/11 war mongering.

The letters to the editor in our local paper (I can’t seem to stop myself from reading them), continue to be inflammatory, reactionary and just plain ignorant. One person referred to the shooter as “the genuine face of evil”. My daughter, outraged by this for a jumble of reasons, understood he had a right to his opinion just like she has a right to respond to his letter by writing one herself. I don’t know if she will write one but she cut his out and left it on her desk.

I could have just as easily called this post “Doublespeak” or “Having your cake and eating it too”, but I am too irritated to be literary or historical right now.

I was listening a report on the Massey Big Branch mine settlement and a US Attorney said “Its a corporation. It’s not a life, it’s not a being. It can’t go to jail”.

I beg to differ. Corporations are just people you can’t touch.

Corporate Personhood has been a legal status for a long time in the US and the definition was stretched last year by the Supreme Court to show that corporate political donations are protected free speech (see First Amendment, Bill of Rights). The same free speech the West Virgina miners had access to before they died.

So which is it? Is the corporation a person with rights and protections, or an amorphous “thing” that can’t be punished. I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but I can appreciate Justice Stevens dissent on the ruling that fertilized the seed that turned into the Occupy Movement. Thats campaign finance reform in case the last sentence was too obtuse.

“At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558)

There is no amount of money that will satisfy the families of the dead miners. Corporations think in dollars, so Massey skimped on safety, people died and they pay a fine. That’s no kind of justice.

It is a strange time indeed.