Thanksgiving Sonnet

Our family renamed Thanksgiving “Indigenous Murdering Day.” I know. We are snarky. Yet really, the true origin story of this holiday isn’t pretty. However, I do think it is a good idea to be thankful and to have a day to put emphasis on this. Unfortunately, the consequence for the planet is a lot of death, especially for turkeys.

Our turkeys are lucky. They are happy and healthy, albeit a little muddy (the poultry pen has gotten really wet in the last few weeks). There is a dry house to go into, but the turkeys would rather roost in the trees even if they get rained on. Silly turkeys! They are free to roam our property, but they like to stay close to home and to us. Feeding time is their favorite. I have to give Clove a little pile of his own while I feed everyone else, otherwise he is climbing on my feet and into my lap and acts like a little greedy monster!

They are truly wonderful creatures. They’re smart and fun. They follow us around and pip at us while we work. When I ride my horse down in the pasture arena next to their pen, they come wait by the fence and pip at me while they dig in the soil for grubs.

Every year I post the sonnet I wrote back in a college poetry class about turkey genocide on this day. I think last year was the first year I didn’t post it. I didn’t forget this year. In the past, I tried to find different words to make the syllabic setup for a sonnet exact, but I haven’t been able to without losing the meaning. I would also like to provide, to those who are interested, the link to a wonderful documentary about turkeys called My Life as a Turkey. It is a fascinating story about a man who lived with some turkeys. It’s well worth your time. View it HERE.

And now, without further ado, here it is the turkey genocide day sonnet:

Thanksgiving Sonnet
Perspiring hormones, Tom Turkey stares with one sad eye at a crumbling chimney tower belching death in putrid smoke, blackening holiday skies. Annihilating light.

Bodies, bones. None remain unfrozen. With elaborate precision he’s taken apart; neck, gizzards tied in a bag between his ribs, head ground neatly into pink hot dog slabs.

Holiday skies are crowded with turkey souls, ascending to heaven like deflated balloons.

Turkey

Pepper peeking around the gutter I was installing.

Turkey

Clove says, “Hello!”

My Spam Rubber

Akismet has protected my site from 284,202 spam posts already. They roll themselves out to protect me from spam venereal disease. Oh, I’m so popular with the algorithm machines. They tell me I’m writing “most great best post” and I can “learn sell many item on special marketing plan.” For some reason, it’s not enough to tempt me. I don’t even see them anymore. Years and years ago when this started, I’d get them in my inbox. This was back in the day when people actually read blogs and wrote real comments on them and you could actually meet people in faraway places and become friends with them. Nowadays, people “like” blogs so you’ll go read theirs and “like” them back so they get followers because having followers and being liked in this way is more important than reality and in fact some people kill themselves because they don’t have enough of them. Tragic. It’s all fucking marketing and I fucking hate it. I’d rather have spam than that shit. I can’t stand the commodification of everything–EVERYTHING. It’s all facebookified. Gag, spit, puke, blurbppprtth. NO.

When I get comments now, they are to tell me to go look at someone’s blog on how to “market” myself. Hard as it is to believe, I have no desire to market myself, and if I did, it wouldn’t be through my blog. So the blog goes unused, but the spams keep coming, only I don’t have to look at them.

I wrote to wordpress and asked about taking back my domain. I claimed and bought it years ago and they “kindly” set it up to pay them for it each year. Well, they sold it on to the domain monopoly. They didn’t ask me. They didn’t make it clear what they were doing. I didn’t sign anything. They just took it. Now if I want it the domain monopoly wants thousands of dollars. For my own fucking name. That I bought and didn’t say anyone could have. This is the world we live in. Creaky, greasy, greedy end of empire.

Have you noticed that internet searching has changed? Type in anything (into startpage because I don’t want my searches monopolized either) and good ol’ greedy Amazon will be at the top. I’ve taken to typing in a minus amazon when I want something. Or type in something you just want to know about and the first sites are those selling something. Just want information? Good luck with that. I often put in site:edu so I get education sites.

I’m PROTECTED. Akismet as prophylactic. “Do you want a condom with that?” We are getting to the point where existing in culture requires we sheathe ourselves in rubber. I don’t want spam, likes, marketing, electronic billboards, being tracked to sell me stuff, any of it, so I wrap myself in a metaphorical rubber to keep it all out by staying off the blog I used to enjoy, never searching on the google, refusing to enter “contests” for a “chance” to win, having no television, never turning on a radio, going into the settings buried deep in my phone and turning off location services and tracking and following and notifying and bugging and bothering. It’s like being followed by a pack of blood-sucking gnats all the time, a little cloud of them surrounding us trying to suck out our blood and marrow and life. No wonder everyone is so exhausted. Late stage capitalism is a fucking vampire.

How did I get here? Not where I intended to go. I just thought it was funny that I’ve had 284,202 spam messages, and “115 are still in my inbox.”

Time Passing in the USA

I was driving through Springfield. I saw the sign for Thurston High School. It reminded me of the shooting there. I struggled to remember the boy’s name. Kit? Kid? Kip. Kip Kinkel. I was driving. I asked my 18 year old to look up the date Kip Kinkel shot up Thurston High School. It was May 20, 1998, nearly twenty years ago. He only killed two, and wounded 25. Then came Columbine with its bloodbath of deaths and it is used as the yardstick against which we measure, and Springfield and Thurston High are largely forgotten, as are so many where only a handful are killed. Shortly after the shooting in Florida, an article was going around on social media challenging the allegation that there have been 18 shootings since the first of the year because in some cases no one died, or in others, the shooting was a suicide. I guess if lots of people don’t die or there isn’t outward hate then it doesn’t matter. What a fucking joke.

After Sandy Hook I wrote Safety is a Straw Man. In it I argued that the reason gun control legislation has nothing to do with safety or infringing on rights really, but the profits of the gun industry. Since I wrote that, a few others have said the same thing, but this topic never really comes to the fore. Those who don’t want control put out their memes on social media claiming guns don’t kill people, people do. Those who want gun control put out their memes about how fucking useless are the platitudes on thoughts and prayers. Meanwhile, the politicians and power mongers do nothing because ultimately they know there isn’t a damn thing the population can do about it. If we could, we would have. They keep their place of power, the gun manufacturers keep making their fortunes, and they all laugh at us fighting with one another on their way to the bank.

Yeah, I’m cynical.

I was in my twenties when a mentally ill 15 year old, white, male killed two children and wounded 25 other people in Springfield. I did not have children yet. Now my oldest daughter is 18 and in college and my youngest in school. I have acquired my teaching degree and license, and I have spent hours learning how to react if a school shooting occurs, all the procedures and codes and charts that are essentially about how not to get murdered and to know how and when to hide. A lot of damn time has passed and still nothing has been done. Calls for action. Horrible, heart-wrenching speeches. Hand wringing. Thoughts and prayers (which, if this shit worked, would have by now, one would think). Nothing changes.

To me all of these mass shootings are just another symptom of the brutal dysfunction of the United States. Everything this country stands for is a lie. Our military bases populate the world because the US is the world’s biggest warmonger (Are there German military bases in the US? Are there Japanese military bases in the US? Then why are our military bases there?). It is the bastard child of the almighty imperialist abusers, and it took the lessons of its forebears to heart. Still to this day if those in power want something they take it. The average citizen might not agree with stealing native American burial grounds for oil, but so what? If those in power want it, they take it, and they have the police and enough citizens to agree with them to get it done. The average citizen might know they are suffering under enormous medical debt, but those in power refuse to give up their profits so we can medically take care of ourselves. Average citizens might not want to blow off the tops of mountains or reroute rivers or kill wolves and polar bears, but those in power want what is under the mountain or the water in the river or the land where the wolves and polar bears live, and they take it. Rugged individualism is the lie that one by one, sitting in our bunkers with our guns, we can thrive. On an individual basis, most people in this country are decent and good, but also damaged and traumatized, and victims of damage and trauma have to spend their time taking care of themselves as best they can. They don’t have the ability or confidence that they can stop the almighty US of A and its narcissistic bullying. They know, have been taught since birth, have been brought up and propagandized to believe there is nothing they can do.

So here we sit, twenty years after a damaged boy damaged countless other lives, and it will happen again and again because hand wringing, thinking, and praying doesn’t stop those in power who take what they want when they want it. Guns make a profit. Controlling those guns will slow that profit and those in power will make sure this never happens. This way of being is a cancer on the soul of an ugly nation and an even uglier civilization with a long, ugly history of taking what it wants when it wants it. That we have a “leader” who symbolizes this isn’t an accident. The individual traumas that go unhealed, the wounds we carry and pass on, have created a collective that has metastasized into a place where children are shot up in schools every week, where children are stolen from their parents because they are brown and then shipped to countries they have never been to, where going to have a broken arm fixed costs a month’s wages, where a month’s wages won’t buy shelter and food, where mountaintops are blown off, where oil is sucked and spilled on the ground, where rivers are rerouted, where men can beat and rape their wives and children, but if those women or children kill them in defense, they will spend their lives in prison, where police murder black people just because they are black and suffer no consequences, where…

I could go on and on. The list is so long, the dysfunction of this culture and this country is so pervasive and complete that it is the norm. It shuts people down. It creates more of the same: rampant, hideous narcissism and the consequential dysfunction and trauma. We can only address it if we bring it down to a much smaller level.

Yesterday I saw an article that told the story of one teacher who is stopping gun violence in schools. She isn’t packing a pistol or learning how to better hide. She isn’t doing anything that is a band aid to the problem created by this sort of violence. Daily, she pays attention to her students. She asks the students who they want to sit with and has them write it down. She also asks the students to write little excerpts about how they are feeling. She then analyzes the information on a regular basis to determine which children are being left out, which children are likely the lonely ones, and she addresses these issues individually. One by one, she is trying to find the children who are hurting or lonely, and then goes to them individually to try and assuage their pain. She is bringing down these problems to an individual level to help and heal pain. It isn’t easy, but why should this kind of work be easy?

All of us can do this. In each moment, we can react to that moment, and work not to react to previous moments of pain. Anyone who isn’t so stuck in their own pain and trauma can help those who are. Those who are stuck in pain and trauma can try to heal themselves so that they don’t create pain and trauma for others. We can resist the tyranny of this culture in every way possible. I’m not trying to offer platitudes and comfort for the downtrodden in a single blog post, but I do believe that if enough people stopped hand wringing and blaming and participating in a culture that creates isolation, rage, and damage, we can make some small difference, and this has to be better than what we have now.

Animal Farm on Steroids

A small boy’s father abuses and rapes his mother. This goes on for years until the mother kills herself. The boy can’t imagine being a man. Men hurt. He doesn’t want to be one so he changes his name, his clothes, his hair, and becomes a girl. Girls might get hurt, but they aren’t rapists.

A girl is molested by her uncle. For years he sneaks into her bedroom and rapes her. Finally, at age thirteen, she decides to tell her father, hoping he will stop his brother from doing these things. She works up her courage and goes to him. He looks at her like she is insane and tells her to stop making up stories. He tells her that if any of what she says is true, it’s because she asked for it. He tells her that girls are for men to have sex with so she should just grow up and go with the flow. Feeling destroyed, she determines that she will not be a woman. She changes her name, her clothes, her hair, and becomes a man. If she isn’t a girl, then she can’t be hurt.

A young boy feels alienated from his peers. His parents divorced when he was five, and he hasn’t felt quite right since. His mother and her new husband are extremely conservative. They make him go to church four times a week, which he hates. The church tells him homosexuality is a sin and that homosexuals will die in the fiery bowels of hell. He knows he likes boys, and is scared that he might go to hell. His father is more supportive, but he only gets to stay with his father every other weekend. There is a group of kids at his school who tell him that he doesn’t have to be a boy. He can become a girl. He can change his identity. He decides to do this. At least if he becomes a girl then he won’t end up in hell for liking boys.

There are many reasons why biological males wish to be female and vice versa. For many, the desire to be something different comes from a place of pain and trauma. The change in identity becomes a way to deal with the hurt, an attempt to heal a wound that feels almost too deep to ameliorate. It is difficult not to sympathize with the person in this situation, to feel empathy and compassion for their pain. It is from this place of compassion that most people support identity changes. It is automatically assumed that someone who is making such a change must need to (otherwise, why would they do it?), and why not support this?

What has followed is that well-meaning people, in an attempt to show compassion for victims of trauma, label their bathrooms for “those who identify,” or cheer in victory when a trans person is elected or appointed into a place of power. Yet I very much doubt that when Unitarian churches added “or those who identify” to their female bathrooms they gave much thought to the female who had been raped and didn’t want to share an intimate space with a male, even if that male was traumatized as well. I very much doubt it was their intention to sweep thousands of years of male oppression under the rug when they allowed males into this female-only space. Unfortunately, though, that’s exactly what they did. And this is a problem.

What is essentially eliminated in these actions are the thousands of years of normalized violence against females (usually by heterosexual males). (There has been so much hand-wringing and exclaiming over the sheer numbers of #metoos, when really, what should be surprising is if there are any women left who haven’t experienced some form of violence or oppression.) The real tragedy is that oppression and violence are common. It is normalized in most places. It results in continuing trauma and violence against anyone who doesn’t conform to strict norms and often excused by systems that exacerbate and were created to keep things the way they are. Most of the time, the need to change one’s sexual identity is because of this normalized violence and oppression. If we didn’t live in a world where fathers raped mothers, or people think homosexuals should burn in hell, or uncles (or fathers or brothers and on and on) molested children, there would likely be no need to cut off breasts or penises to escape the pain.

Yet some men decide they want to become women, and although they may be doing so because they were the victims of violence, for whatever reason they use their reaction as an excuse to be controlling and violent. This very vocal and very abusive group of males who call themselves trans women are violent and abusive to anyone who supports female-only spaces or anyone who calls for an end to violence against women, or even anyone who has the temerity to suggest that they have experienced sexual violence, as if the violence of the trans person is the only violence that counts, and if they speak out about their own personal experiences, they should have more violence done to them. These trans activists have managed to get all the progressives to agree with them, using the compassion people feel for those who have suffered trauma and pain to get them to automatically jump on board with anything trans, without really putting any kind of critical thought into what is being done. Any statements questioning the means of acceptance of trans people are automatically labeled transphobic. Any questions on the subject are automatically shut down. Any attempt to engage or explain is stopped through force with name calling, threats of violence, and in some cases, actual violence. Any stories of one’s own experiences of pain and trauma are belittled and shamed. These perpetrators of violence and threats are males who have decided that they are female and therefore they want access to female experience and female spaces, and they don’t like being told no. When females question their intrusions into female experiences and spaces, their response is decidedly male when they start talking about committing rape or murder against those who would dare to question them.

Here are some examples:

A long time social justice activist, socialist, Green, and civil rights lawyer was cyberbullied on social media by a group of trans-activists and their supporters. The bullies called her a TERF (“Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist”). They called her a “Nazi.” They called her a “rapist.” They called her a “racist.” They called her a supporter of “genocide” and a hateful bigot who deserved to die. Several people contacted her employer in an unsuccessful attempt to get her fired from her job. The reasons for these hateful actions were that she had written that people who are born as female are oppressed on the basis of being female, and that males often do not recognize this. That’s it.

A woman ran for the school board in Minnesota, hoping to fix problems like lead in drinking water and improving the quality of education. She also took a strong stand against school bullying, including on the basis of gender identity. Because she expressed gender-critical views, within 24 hours of announcing her candidacy, bullies began attacking her. On social media she was called a “loathsome snake” who spreads “venom” and “hate.” One person told her to go home and masturbate. She was threatened with death. Ultimately, she dropped out of the school board race because she couldn’t focus on the issues that were important to her.

The reality is that women have experienced violence at the hands of men for as long as there has been civilization and men pretending to be women are no exception when it comes to perpetrating violence.

What has happened is that a rather large number of people who support these people who have attempted to change their biological sex identity, in their attempt to be “supportive,” automatically presume that anyone who questions the policies and actions of trans persons must automatically be “transphobic,” and that they can have no valid purpose or argument. The efforts to be inclusive have turned truly bizarre. Major midwife groups have changed their guidelines to take women out of their language, changing “woman” to “person” in order not to exclude transmen (women who consider themselves men (as if somehow they are no longer women, so using the word woman would exclude them)). Young males decide to become females and are then allowed to participate in sports as females, their male physical bodies and strengths notwithstanding. A city in Canada passed an ordinance where misgendering someone can get you fined. Parents give children as young as four irreversible sex hormones because the child thinks they might be a boy instead of a girl or vice versa (apparently a child can make a decision this drastic this young, but they don’t have the judgment to drink alcohol before they’re 21?). It is the world of Animal Farm on steroids. Say it is so and it is so, even when reality says otherwise.

When actress Rose McGowan spoke out about the abuse she suffered and that millions of women suffer daily, a trans woman screamed her down. He disagreed with some remarks she had made in the prior year stating that the experiences of trans women are not the same as biological women. Essentially, his argument was that his experiences and those of others like him should override all others’ experiences of trauma and abuse. Rather than support McGowan in her willingness to come forward and describe her experiences as an assault survivor, Seattle Arts and Lectures cancelled her speech. In today’s world, speaking one’s truth about an experience that half the population lives with on a daily basis isn’t enough. That experience must be truncated by the male experience and if it isn’t, it will be silenced.

We must not conflate the taking care of those who have been traumatized with the desire of abusers to act with violence and cruelty against those they want to control. The mistake so many well-meaning people make is to assume that because someone is trans that they are automatically to be supported and that their version is the only truth. People must stop claiming that speaking out for women, calling for protection of female-only spaces, and ending violence against women is transphobic. Just because someone calls a person a transphobe doesn’t mean that person is a transphobe. People must stop believing that describing our experiences somehow negates those of a trans person who has been harmed. It is possible for the two to exist simultaneously. It is even possible to understand that the two are sides of the same coin. However we will never get to that discussion as long as those who have some genuine criticism to offer are automatically shut down (or shouted down, or beaten down, or shut out). There are real issues around transgenderism that should be discussed without fear of repercussion against those who think there are major problems with allowing men into women-only spaces, with making biological changes to children, and with erasing women by claiming that biological sex is a choice and social construct and not biological reality. This doesn’t discount those who have experienced abuse and trauma, it just adds a sorely needed dose of reality to a world that increasingly seems hell bent on insanity.

Turkey Genocide Day Sonnet

In honor yet again of Turkey Genocide Day, here is my annual sonnet. I would also like to provide, to those who are interested, the link to a wonderful documentary about turkeys called My Life as a Turkey. It is a fascinating story about a man who lived with some turkeys. It’s well worth your time. View it HERE.

Thanksgiving Sonnet
Perspiring hormones, Tom Turkey stares with one sad eye at a crumbling chimney tower belching death in putrid smoke, blackening holiday skies. Annihilating light.

Bodies, bones. None remain unfrozen. With elaborate precision he’s taken apart; neck, gizzards tied in a bag between his ribs, head ground neatly into pink hot dog slabs.

Holiday skies are crowded with turkey souls, ascending to heaven like deflated balloons.

Identify with Truth

We live in an alternate reality, a reality where if we say up is down and down is up then it must be so, and anyone who dares question this better run for the hills because they will come for you. In today’s reality, the child who pointed out that the emperor was naked would have been stoned for pointing out the obvious because pointing out the obvious and stating the truth means that the child is infringing on the rights of the emperor to identify as wearing fancy clothes.

Yesterday I stumbled into one of these modern “conversations” (if you could call it that) that was stepping into a rabbit hole of this modern insanity. I honestly don’t even know what got things going. I did not read through the entire thread. I just saw that someone had posted that The Midwives Alliance of North America was saying that if someone claimed men cannot give birth, then that person was “transphobic” and their words were “hate speech.”

Genuinely baffled, I asked the question, “How is it that stating the obvious is transphobic? What does phobia have to do with any of it?” I do know that the use of the word phobic has been attached to any kind of group hatred, when it really isn’t a phobia, but the label can suit. However here, I could not see how the label suited. How is saying men can’t give birth hatred of trans people?

I also pointed out that in claiming that men can give birth, it is  a complete dismissal of my experience as a female who has carried a child in my body and has given birth, and all of the attendant experiences of being a female outside of birthing and mothering. I said, “Please tell me how it is “transphobic” to point out something that is simply true? Where is the phobia in this? I don’t think it’s fair that a man can compare his body to mine. He has not and will never give birth. He has not and will never experience carrying a child in his womb; indeed he has no womb. He has not and will never experience what it is to be female, even if he cloaks himself in all that a female would experience. He will never experience menstruation and everything associated with it. Why is it considered “transphobic” to state this very obvious fact? It dismisses and diminishes my pregnancy and birth experience. It dismisses and diminishes the legacy of being a woman. It is thievery to try and take this away.

In response, I was called a TERF and some other acronyms. I was called a transphobe. I was told my words were “hate speech,” and told by one person that they “knew several men who had wombs and had given birth.”

I sat and stared at my computer screen in complete and utter bafflement. WTF? Had some scientific calamity worse than cloning happened whereby humans decided they wanted men to have wombs and give birth so now it is so? Seriously? Are they transplanting them? How are they doing the hormones? Again, WTF?

Then it dawned on me. Oh! I get it. It’s a labeling thing, a language problem. The person who gave birth was actually a biological female. She just called herself a man and lived as a man so she is a man–or rather he is a man–so therefore men gave birth. What a fucking clusterfuck.

So I said so. I said, This is a label thing. You’re labeling biological females as men, so then men can give birth. I get it. Then I got online screamed at for stating this, telling me that it isn’t a “label” thing, but an “identity” thing, said very sarcastically because I’m clearly not in the know and I’m infringing on someone else’s rights by failing to label the identity thing the identity thing by calling it a labeling thing.

Honestly, before this, I thought I got it. I figured someone wants to identify as something else, more power to them, but it doesn’t change their biology. I also knew that there are some very rabid and abusive biological men who call themselves transwomen who verbally abuse and threaten violence on anyone who dares to question this identity, regardless of biology. Apparently there are also those who know “transmen” and who are “transmen” (biological females calling themselves men) who will also verbally assault and threaten violence on anyone who dares question their reality, too. This is a rabbit hole, and a scary one at that. On college campuses across the US, this “reality” is taught as reality called “Queer Theory,” and anyone who questions it is shut down, often viciously, including losing their livelihoods. This is insane. What is more insane is that the Midwives Alliance of North America, a group that purportedly exists to help females give birth, a group specifically by and for mothers, is filled with those who buy into this nonsense.

The people “yelling” at me for daring to question their identity reality asked me why I thought it was offensive that men could step in and take over my female experience. They asked how in the world does this impact me?

My response was that first, it is intellectually dishonest to on the one hand claim that individuals who want to identify as something biologically impossible can’t be questioned about this, but when I claim as an individual that I find it offensive for a man to co-opt my experience as a woman and as a mother, I am being abusive. At every avenue they shut down any discourse. Because many people who identify as something other than their biology have often been the victims of horrible abuse, those who support them see any questioning of their choices as abusive, too. They can’t see their own abusive behavior however, quickly jumping to the offensive while believing themselves on the defensive in protection of these victims who identify.

My second response was to say that I have decided that I am going to identify as a black woman. I have kinky hair; I’ll just dye it black. I will go and tan until I’m dark brown and wear brown contact lenses. I will change my name to Lakeisha and hang out with my homies. I’ll listen to Beyoncé and Rihanna because they are my sistahs. I’ll wear a lot of bling. I can share in the black experience of exploitation and slavery. I can fight to ride on the front of the bus, holding the deaths of Hayes and Mary Turner in my heart because their experience is my experience because I want it to be and therefore it is so.

All of this identity bullshit, and yes, I’m beginning to consider it all bullshit, is just co opting stereotypes. It is fully buying into the culture that creates the stereotype. If you aren’t a part of the dominant culture that creates the stereotype then you wouldn’t have a stereotype to co-opt because the stereotypes come from the dominant culture.

If I want to identify as a black woman, I’ll take the stereotypes of what it means to be a black woman and appropriate them, tell everyone that this is how I identify, and then it is true. If anyone questions me, then they are being hateful and infringing on my rights. I am changing my identity in response to abuse by the patriarchal system and the dominant culture, so as a victim of this system, I have a right to do so.

How is this in any way different than co-opting the stereotypes of the biology of male and females and then abusing anyone who questions it? It isn’t. A biological male who wants to claim my experience as a female who has carried children in my womb and given birth and is a mother and has experienced all there is to experience as a female is offensive. My saying so isn’t hate speech, it’s truth. Those who call truth hate speech are just the same as abusers in every other situation: they are projecting onto their victims what they are and what they do. Threatening me, verbally abusing me, trying to shut down these words is abuse.  Considering the dominant culture is completely abusive and well, domineering, none of this is surprising. It is the product of the people of the lie, where lies are truth and the truth is a lie. Keep everyone guessing so no one knows what is real anymore.

I used to work in an office with a sociopath. For the first six months, I thought everything was hunky dory. Gradually however, I started to question what was right in front of my face. Am I insane? I wondered. Wait, did I just experience that, or am I losing my mind? Over and over, I questioned reality and my sanity. When I finally reached out and asked a women who was becoming my friend if the insane reality I was experiencing was indeed reality, she confirmed it. No, you are not insane. Yes, what you are experiencing is true. Yes, the person causing all of this is an abusive sociopath.

This is how it is in this culture. It is a sociopathic, insane system where up is down and down is up and if you question it then you are the bad guy. Little children may not point out that the emperor is naked.

We must all resist this. We must all continue to speak the truth even if those who would co-opt and change and act like the sociopaths that they are would try to shut us down and threaten us with violence. Identify with truth, even if it kills you. It is only in refusing to participate in the house of mirrors madness they would have us believe is reality can we have any hope of shutting it down.

The Split Begins Early

The Eagle Creek fire is destroying forests all around Mt. Hood in Oregon and across the river in Washington. There are many fires raging, but this one is particularly wretched because it is known that it was begun by a teenager playing with fireworks. The woman who reported his action and the actions of the other teens with him described them as non-reactive to the likelihood they had started a fire in a very dry forest (see the story here). She said the girls were giggling and that they all were encouraging his behavior. They filmed it, like it was something fun to put on SnapChat or something. The woman’s description of these kids sounded like children who are very disconnected from their actions and the consequences for those actions.

In My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization, Chellis Glendinning describes the split, the dissociation from the self, that occurs in humans when they become “civilized.” Civilization is built on abuse and destruction. We began by destroying the land in order to grow things according to our own will. This led to abuse upon abuse upon abuse, to the point where abuse is the norm. Derrick Jensen, in The Myth of Human Supremacy, describes how in western civilization, we are indoctrinated from the moment of birth into a belief system whereby humans rule everything and that all the world is at their disposal. To my mind, the original sin was that of humans leaving the earth to “tame” and control it, bending it to their will, first through agriculture and on to the world we have today, where every aspect of the world is under human control. The Garden of Eden was the world before humans decided that they were “special” and that everything should be as humans decree. Thus, the split was born. Humans disconnect first from their selves, then from others, and finally from the world around them. Humans are the most invasive species, and the world is suffering because of it.

Today, that indoctrination begins practically before a child is born. It is not uncommon in this country for doctors and parents to schedule births induced by chemicals. That such births often result in the death of the fetus or the mother, or in an invasive surgical Caesarean section is no matter; it is a given that in most western births, induction of some sort will be the norm. Those of us who choose to have children at home with no drugs or medical intervention are considered bizarre and dangerous, as if the control of the hospital and the intervention of drugs is the more safe, and therefore, more sane route to childbirth. We are the wild west parents, putting ourselves and our delicate children in danger rather than having a birth controlled by chemicals and machines (or a doctor’s golf schedule).

Once the child is born, it is immediately placed into a system designed to disconnect it from anything remotely resembling connection to the self or its parents. The split is encouraged early. A “good” baby is one that sleeps all night as young as possible, without interrupting its parent’s lifestyle. One of the most common early questions of new parents is whether their child is sleeping through the night (because a baby who isn’t sleeping through the night makes it impossible for parents to sleep through the night, and discomfort of any kind is to be avoided at all costs in civilization).

Thousands of books have been written on the subject of getting children to sleep through the night alone. Doctors create systems such as that of Dr. Richard Ferber, whereby parents let their tiny infants scream and cry until they learn that their cries bring nothing and they finally give up and shut up. It is the ultimate in teaching children from a very early age not to trust that the world around them will be safe and welcoming. The parents hover outside, periodically going in and patting the child, then retreating to let it cry even further, viewing the action from a monitor in another room. It is pure insanity.

Children cannot tolerate sleeping away from their parents, and small babies need to be fed more frequently than once every eight hours, but never mind this. Parents still do it in western culture. Children are placed in cages in separate rooms away from their parents to sleep alone within days of birth. The parents hover over electronic monitors and cameras, rather than have their children in the same room or indeed, even in the same bed as them. In western civilization, a child who sleeps with its parents is considered to be “spoiled,” like a piece of meat gone bad. I have often wondered how bizarre it would be if wolves and bears laid their cubs in separate caves far from their mothers. What if mice placed each bare infant in multiple holes far from their warm breasts? Mammals have breasts for feeding infants. Only human mammals place their children in cages far from their breasts forcing them to ignore their own needs and call it normal (it’s an entire other subject and outside the scope of this rant how our language encourages all this crazy nonsense).

In addition to putting children in cages and ignoring their basic needs, parents feed them fake milk from plastic nipples rather than from their own breasts. In spite of multiple studies showing that this is bad for babies, bad for mothers, and even bad for the economy (which I could care less about, but which is a major force in this culture), breastfeeding children as long as nature intended remains a rare thing indeed among western mothers.

By the time children are two or three years old, they are already completely desensitized from what they were meant to be biologically. With the advent of iPads and other screen devices that further entertain and rewire the brain (see here, and here, and here), screens as babysitters are the norm. It’s no wonder that by the time some children are teenagers, they can toss firecrackers into a dry ravine and giggle as a fire begins to rage.

I could go on and on. This culture is crazy. Civilization is not how life is meant to be on this planet. We are the Earth. The Earth is us. Yet we continue to pretend we are separate and above it even as the obvious fact that we are not and that our attempts to control everything do not work. Mama Nature knows what is best. Sadly, we seem unable to see what is right in front of our faces and senseless destruction is the result.

Why I’m Not Voting

My essay got published on Huffington Post. However, I must admit that since they changed their platform, it is much easier to do. All of my prior articles were approved by editors. This time they just published it, so maybe it’s not such a big deal. In any case, I wrote it.

Why I’m Not Voting
by Lara M. Gardner

I used to be a good little Progressive. I was out stumping for the vote, actively pursuing participation by everyone, doing my best to get everyone to work for change. After the 2008 elections, I partied for Barack Obama, I cheered in the streets with millions, certain his election promises would be just what everyone had been waiting for. In spite of some obvious problems staring me right in the face, I believed.

You may continue reading here.

Mass Shootings and Profit

After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, I wrote this article for Huffington Post about the reason we can’t get changes in gun legislation is profit. The profiteers exploit the fear of citizens to ensure legislation never passes and the deaths continue. Here we are again over three years later! and STILL no changes. Every time one of these shootings happen, the weapon profiteers make a killing.

I get the fear of our government. I understand the anger and frustration Americans feel as those in power take from all of us, but gun protection legislation needs to happen. Stopping it just keeps the wealthy coffers full and decent people end up dead.

To read the article, go here…

A Society of Bodies Running Around with No Heads

I realized today thinking about writing this that I have not had television in my home in over a decade. I have not missed it, and in fact whenever I’m around it, it makes me jumpy. I do not like it. It’s invasive and disconnecting. This is interesting considering what I was thinking about writing about, which is this feeling of disconnection at the end of a long, extremely busy period.

Over the last several weeks, I have found myself noticing things and thinking to myself, “How did I forget about that?” I would see tire marks in some mud along a curb with bits of gravel smudged into it, or a brown bird sitting on a wire cheeping, or thick grass swaying in the wind and rain, and I would stare at whatever thing it was in that moment and marvel, wondering, “How could I forget this?” After a time I started putting these noticings together and became curious as to their origin. “What is wrong with me?” I’m running too much, going too fast, too disconnected from the world. How did I forget the way that the color of the bark on a tree is darker and lighter, the depth of hue changing with the texture in the tree’s outer covering?

One afternoon driving home from the high school where I have been student teaching, I was sitting at a traffic light waiting for it to turn green when I turned and noticed a car sitting next to me also waiting for the light to turn. The car was older and kind of dirty. Faded mud streaked the metal behind the front wheel well. The tire had no hub cap. I glanced inside the passenger side window and saw faded upholstery. The sun was warm and I could imagine the smell inside that car. I sat there in those moments staring, and it was as if time had slowed down. Again, I had that sense of remembering, recalling this physical thing and thinking, “I forgot that, too.”

It dawned on me then that I was disconnected from earth. Before I began this grad program, I would have days where I felt like I was running and getting nowhere, usually related to driving to picking up my daughter, then driving to get the other daughter, then driving to get to some activity, then driving to go see my horse, then driving home, hastily throwing together a meal while picking up the house, taking care of the pets and children, setting things up for the following morning, then doing it all again. But there would be time in between this when I could reconnect, get back in the garden, head out into the woods for a hike, or spend enough time at the stable that I could pull the string holding my balloon head out from my body and drag it down and reconnect it to myself again, like an astronaut connecting the helmet to her spacesuit. Turn and click.

The master’s degree on top of that changed everything. I added days of classes on top of student teaching on top of working on top of parenting and animals. Activities got whittled down to nothing. My horse got almost no attention from me. Writing all but disappeared.

And here I am now and the string holding my head is long and thready. I am not attached to my body. I am not grounded. I feel like I’m falling apart. My attention has gone to hell. I want a vacation, but that would require more effort than I can muster. As was always the case in the past when I had long periods of intensity and then a break, I am getting sick. Today is my last day of student teaching and I can barely keep my head up. Three weeks ago I sprained my ankle. Last week I fell down my basement stairs. I am so disconnected, my body is just going on without my head and it’s not a good thing.

For me, television puts me in this place without even having to have grad school on top of an already too busy life. It makes me feel that same disconnection. I really hate it. I wonder if it disconnects other people as well, but they’re too disconnected to notice it. I’m sure it does. We are a society of bodies running around with no heads.

Yesterday I had acupuncture followed by a chiropractic adjustment. I needed both. Usually in acupuncture, I fall into a semi-comatose sleep that leaves me dazed but reconnected. I never got there. My daughter was in the appointment with me, and while she was somewhat distracting, it was more the head rest that was just uneven enough from the table to hurt the neck and shoulder that already hurt after my tumble down the stairs. My gown kept falling off my right butt cheek and the chill wasn’t pleasant. My nose filled then dripped. Isabel got me a tissue. I reached around with my less needled arm and stuffed it into the dripping nostril. This made my face fill, pressure building under my eyes and through my cheeks. All of this coupled with the uncomfortable head rest kept was so disagreeable that I finally gave up, pulling the tissue out and letting the mucous fall on the floor. Drip. Drip. Drip. I let the head feel misery in the face rest. I held my arm out to an angle to relieve the ache in the shoulder. I let my ass freeze in the air conditioning always too cold.

Lying there, I realized that I cannot remain this disconnected. I have to slow down. I can’t live in a city where the traffic app on my phone is solid red every single night and getting anywhere takes four times as long as it should. There are too many humans in this same state and I fear that too many of them are not even aware that they are zombies with helium heads. It’s scary for me imagining being in a place where so many people are so cut off from themselves and the earth they inhabit. It makes it easier for them to do things thoughtlessly with all the other zombies in their path. We are all a bunch of crazy pinballs banging into one another, the strings from our heads getting tangled and torn. It’s no way to live. Something has to give or the giving will be me. I’ll be at the end of my life, my children will be grown, and I’ll have no idea what happened along the way.

Population Reduction

I read another article today about how humans need to change their eating habits if we are going to survive. In it, the author presumed a human population of 10 billion by 2050.

What I would like to know is why the population numbers are taken as a given and considering reducing population numbers is never even explored. If humans really want to make a meaningful impact, we are going to have to do more than change our eating habits. We are going to have to reduce our populations to much smaller numbers. We are going to have to accept that some of us cannot have children. That is the price we all have to pay in order to have any possibility of survival (which is slim anyway, considering our many destructive impacts on this planet).

Of course, any time anyone brings up the possibility of reducing population everyone starts screaming and jumping up and down that we are going to infringe on rights or force poorer populations to stop having families, but overreacting and assuming the worst-case scenario doesn’t alter the current trajectory and distracts from the reality that if we don’t do it, nature is going to do it for us, and it’s going to do it in a much crueler manner than we could. Death by starvation is not pretty. Humans cannot continue living as they have. Humans with greater resources cannot continue living like their needs are the only needs, and ignoring the entire planet in the process.

It’s a fact–the planet is not limitless and living like it is will ensure its destruction.

Building Credit

I hear it all the time in my practice. People say they want to “build their credit.” Every time I hear this phrase I cringe. It’s held up like a badge of honor, building credit or having good credit. “I want excellent credit!”

Yet really, what does this mean? Building credit means creating debt for oneself and paying it back, not all at once, but in bits and pieces, so some secret algorithms can spit out a high number that allows one to become even more in debt.  This is insane.

Seriously. Building credit is building the ability to be in debt. This is what many Americans strive for. I want a good credit score! Why? So that I can borrow money and be in debt. Having a good credit score means having the ability to be in debt. Is this something one should really strive for?

Here’s a concept: how about building the ability to be debt free? Rather than constantly worrying about paying the debt that good credit score bought, how about saving money so that you don’t have to be in debt?

Many of my clients after bankruptcy will ask about building that score back up. I ask, “Do you really want to build the ability to be in debt again?” Most look at me like the thought has never crossed their minds. Many then get a little Aha! look in their eyes and consider the possibilities of not worrying about their credit score and not being in debt.

If everyone who is actually able to pay their creditors took the money they spend on paying debt and put that money in the bank, they would have the money necessary to pay for an emergency if one arises. The “emergency” excuse I hear the most often from people wanting to get another credit card. What if I need money for an emergency?

My answer to that question is that if you are in an “emergency” that requires money, then using a credit card is going to make that emergency bigger and the amount of money necessary larger as well. If you pay a loan shark to borrow money (and make no mistake, credit cards are legalized loan sharks), then you’re going to end up owing and paying a lot more for that emergency than if you used your own money. How? Because you’ll pay interest on the money needed for that emergency. If you didn’t have the money to pay for the emergency in the first place, you’re going to have to make payments on that credit card (or loan). You’ll pay interest on the payments. This means that a percentage of your payment will pay back the loan, but the rest will line the pockets of the bank. You borrow $2000, you end up paying much more than that. If instead you use your own money from your own savings, you’ll just be putting your payments back in your own account and all of the money will be yours for future “emergencies.”

Further, often “emergencies” are expenditures that should be planned for, such as car repairs or a new furnace. If you set aside money each month to pay for these periodic expenditures as they arise, they won’t be an emergency and you won’t have to pay a loan shark to deal with them.

Of course I realize that many, many Americans do not make enough money to even pay minimum dues on credit cards or loans, so they certainly won’t have enough to set any aside. There are many struggling with this scenario and there are no easy or pithy answers. These are the people that the serious loan shark lenders prey upon, payday loan lenders and places like Springleaf Financial. The only way out of this situation is to bring in more money (not easy) or lessen expenditures (also not easy). This situation is not one I am going to solve in a blog post, but I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Yet these people near the bottom economically are not usually the ones who are begging me to tell them how to increase their credit scores. No. The beggars are the ones who have enough discretionary income to want a good credit score. They are the ones who want to have the ability to be in debt. Having a good credit score means you can be in debt, and really, this is not something to be proud of.

Depopulation Events

“A total world population of 250-300 million people, a 95% decline from present levels, would be ideal.” — Ted Turner, in an interview with Audubon magazine

“The Planetary Regime might be given responsibility for determining the optimum population for the world and for each region and for arbitrating various countries’ shares within their regional limits. Control of population size might remain the responsibility of each government, but the Regime would have some power to enforce the agreed limits.” — John P. Holdren: from Ecoscience

“The elderly are useless eaters.” — Henry Kissinger: from “The Final Days.”

Does anyone else worry that a bunch of rich people are just planning to kill the rest of us? There is evidence out there that a bunch of corporate leaders are planning a world depopulation event. Maybe a few. Good times. Listen here if interested.

Portland is so Friendly

Portland is so friendly. There is a show about how hip and nice everyone is. Lots of people are moving here. But shhh, don’t mention that the livability everyone raves about is virtually gone. Rents are sky high. Traffic is abominable. Food prices remain stagnantly high even though the price of gas has been consistently low for years. Jobs are scarce and wages are below national averages, but hey! We have a great t.v. show named after us and that’s just swell, right? If we told the truth about how Portland really is, all the people who think it is so wonderful might not make the move and the city “leaders” would lose all that commerce kickback and that would be bad. Other Americans watch the special show and see the Subarus at the stop signs waving one another through, and the friendly restaurant customers making sure they know the chicken’s history before they will eat it, and think Oh! I want to be in a place like this!

Let me you in on a little secret: It’s all an act. Portlanders aren’t really so friendly; they just want you to think they are friendly. It’s friendliness for an audience: I’ll speak really loudly in the grocery store offering you the cantaloupe we both reached for so everyone knows how friendly I really am; I’ll wave through the car in front of me so all the cars at the stop sign can see I’m friendly while ignoring the 18 cars stuck behind me; I’ll drive really slowly behind the bike in the middle of the road going 4 miles per hour because Hey! I’m chill with with it. Nevermind that the biker isn’t friendly at all and will chase you down and flip your ass off if you dare go around him because “sharing the road” means people driving cars are all assholes who deserve to die while bikers are revered Gods who can do whatever they want. They get a pass from the courtesy rules of Portland because they are riding bikes and that is better for the planet, right?

If I seem sarcastic (and how could I not, because I am being incredibly sarcastic), it is because I have lived in Oregon my entire life and Portland off and on since 1988 and I know that the marketing campaign that paints Portland as it is is complete bullshit. I’ve known this for years. Anyone who has lived here most of their adult life knows it is bullshit. We talk about it being bullshit. So why now am I suddenly discussing the bullshit on my blog?

I live in the Overlook neighborhood of north Portland. I don’t live in the Overlook neighborhood proper overlooking the ridge for which the neighborhood gets its name. I live over toward Arbor Lodge. It is less ostentatious, more racially diverse, and less economically advantaged over here, but that is changing rapidly.

Mine is currently a BadAss neighborhood. A few years ago, some guys made a Portland Badassness Map. They put together all the little things they thought made the different neighborhoods in Portland cool and hip, that is Badass. See it here. My neighborhood is moving up that list. I think their criteria included the ability to walk to bars, beers, food carts, strip bars, and coffee, but really it comes down to the most gentrified and expensive. (They could have sorted it by which neighborhood had cast out the most poor and colored people and replaced them with white educated people and it would have kept the same parameters. The Pearl (and these italics are so that the name is stated with a hint of sarcasm) is a “Hella Badass” neighborhood, the Pearl being the most stolen-from-the-poor-and-given-to-the-rich-neighborhood of all and one of the reasons all those people keep flooding in.)

I realize that in my neighborhood I am one of the gentrifiers. I didn’t know I was doing it when I did it. I just wanted a house I could afford and when I bought my tiny little house that had been a rental for 20 years I had no idea that my neighborhood would soon be a hotbed of coolness and that the value of my house would nearly double within three years, but such is the nature of gentrification. One of the things I valued about the neighborhood when I bought it was the fact that there were many brown faces walking by. Lately, the brownness is disappearing. I also valued the fact that all of the children in my daughter’s school weren’t wealthy. I’ll bet that will disappear too as the prices continue to climb.

But I digress. I was on a rampage about the Overlook Neighborhood Association. I never did go there, did I?

So I live in the Overlook neighborhood and there is an Overlook Neighborhood Association. They hold meetings and print a paper that is favorable to building ugly cement monstrosities along Interstate Avenue that don’t fit with the character of the city or the neighborhood. Basically, I think they may be a bunch of rich assholes who moved here from somewhere else. All of the meetings have been when I have either had to work or could not find a babysitter so I haven’t gone, though it is my goal to attend one, especially since they have decided to vehemently oppose the homeless camp at the bottom of the overlook ridge. They claim they would like the camp to be “managed responsibly,” but really that just means they want to move them out. Here is a quote from one of the emails I get from the association:

The Overlook Neighborhood Association Board at its monthly meeting on Tuesday discussed the homeless camps at N Greeley Avenue near N Interstate Avenue. Board members expressed particular concern that the city has neither communicated with the neighborhood nor followed through on its promises to manage the camp responsibly.

Therefore, the Board today sent the following letter to Mayor Charlie Hales and members of City Council asking that the city immediately close the camp, exercise emergency authority to open humane shelters throughout the city, and help campers relocate into them or other more suitable places.

Yes. Get them out of here. We don’t like the way they are, all homeless and whatnot, because homeless people don’t act like we do. They live in tents and are dirty and all that. They pee outside! So we want you to shut them away somewhere else. If you can’t do that, then we will just have to do this:

About 75 people attended the Overlook Neighborhood Association special meeting on Wednesday to discuss the homeless camps on N Greeley Avenue near N Interstate Avenue. The OKNA Board heard from a couple of representatives of Hazelnut Grove and about two dozen neighborhood residents. They provided thoughtful, compassionate ideas about how the neighborhood association should respond to the current city plans for the homeless campers.

After the neighborhood testimony, the board discussed the options and voted to take two steps in parallel:

First, we will send a letter to the city reiterating our opposition to allowing the camp to exist on a site that is unhealthy and unsafe. If, over the neighborhood’s objection, the city chooses to issue a permit for the camp, we request that it include provisions that will address concerns raised by neighbors and will improve health and safety for all. Among them, we will ask:

That campers be required to register under their legal name as residents so that the city and neighbors know who is living there. That there be a cap on the number of campers allowed. That a firm deadline be established by which the camp will shut down no later than the expiration of the city’s emergency declaration in October 2016. The mayor’s office has repeatedly stated that this is a temporary, short-term solution. It’s time to define what that means. The full letter and list of requests is in the works. It should be available early next week. The Board will post it to the OKNA website and send it out to our email list.

Second, we will consult with an attorney regarding our legal options to address the city’s plans through litigation if necessary. We remain deeply disappointed that the city has refused to engage with us in any meaningful way and regret that legal action seems to be the only course forward to have our concerns addressed by the city.

Essentially, this is the thoughtful and compassionate view of my neighbors who care: that we get to know everyones’ names (even though we don’t know all of our own neighbors’ names, but hey, homeless people are all criminals), they have to leave by next year (because money and jobs are plentiful in beautiful Portland and they block our view), and since you haven’t done what we want all along, we are hiring a lawyer to sue your asses and send those skanky homeless people packing. They ruin our view of the industrial wasteland along the river! But if we say we are compassionate, we are, and that’s what counts, right?

The City of Portland gave Hyatt Hotels something millions of city dollars to build an ugly hotel by the convention center so more people could come and stay here before moving here and making the city ever less livable by the second and so that the NBA would hold an all star game here, because THAT is important (more traffic, more people, more homeless hidden away in outer Gresham or somewhere). The City cares about its rich friends who build hotels. They are busy! They are important! They invest! The City is too busy being busy and important to be spending the money of its gentrified citizens making sure that people without money have a warm and dry place to live or food in their bellies. Most of those gross homeless people are probably mentally ill too, so the truly compassionate thing to do would be to just kill them because they aren’t able to fully participate in the capitalist dream anyway. Although I did discover in attempting to find links to back up this claim that there are lawsuits trying to block the payment to Hyatt. I am heartened that some people can see that it is fully insane, but my cynical self supposes it has less to do with any real compassion and more to do with hubris.

Meanwhile, in Iran, part of the Axis of Evil, residents have created spaces where those in need can take the excess from those who have too much. See the BBC article here. These spontaneous charity drives were created to help those in need. Interestingly, as these charity walls increased in number, the citizens saw them as evidence that their government wasn’t doing enough to help people in need. Imagine that, expecting those who govern us to take care of everyone rather than making sure their views aren’t sullied or that hoteliers have a free rein to build.

I can see such walls popping up in Portland. However, here citizens would not see such charity as proof of lack by their government, but as proof of how good we are. We could make a Portlandia episode out of it. Portland, the do-gooder city, gets rid of its old clothes and helps out the poor! Aren’t we wonderful? Why don’t you move here and join us? When you get here, make sure to kick out the homeless people you probably displaced when you drove up the costs of living because such an eyesore would ruin the image you have created of yourself as friendly and compassionate. Welcome!

Thanksgiving Sonnet

Here again, my annual posting of the sonnet I wrote in college about turkey murder on our holiday. I’ve gone back and tried again and again to get the exact syllabic format for a completely proper sonnet, but could not find words to replace those here that would maintain the imagery and metaphoric content that I want, and so it stays the same.

Thanksgiving Sonnet
Turgid turkeys, strained into rickety wooden coffins, exit four-by-four from a ten-ton hearse. Into the turkey mill: mutilation, holocaust.

Perspiring hormones, Tom Turkey stares with one sad eye at a crumbling chimney tower belching death in putrid smoke, blackening holiday skies. Annihilating light.

Bodies, bones. None remain unfrozen. With elaborate precision he’s taken apart; neck, gizzards tied in a bag between his ribs, head ground neatly into pink hot dog slabs.

Holiday skies are crowded with turkey souls, ascending to heaven like deflated balloons.

ChickensTurkeys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A lovely film that all should watch is My Life as a Turkey. Watch it online here.

There was only one time in US history when refugees actually did wipe everyone out—and we’ll be celebrating it on Thursday.” — John Oliver

When Ice is Fire

Humans, humans. Going about their business. Living their lives. Making their sounds. Taking up more than their share of space everywhere. Assuming they are the center of everything. Ignoring the meteor heading right toward Earth.

Ah, there she goes again, getting all caught up in that climate change hype again.

Yeah, that’s me. Certain our future at this point is a ball of fire headed in a trajectory straight toward the center of the planet. I keep leaning toward the possibility of something else, then turn my face toward the sky and see that meteor hell bound for us and feel that reality forcing me to acknowledge its existence. I feel that meteor’s heat upon my skin. I see the path it is burning and it is impossible not to feel a little frightened, not to feel overwhelmed by the probability of it all, not to feel ashamed for my race, not to feel desperate to do something, anything besides sit back and let it happen.

A huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting a glacially slow, unstoppable collapse. Alarmed scientists say this means even more sea level rise than previously expected.

Genius, humanity. Good for you.

Bully Nation

Bully Nation  (Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission)
by By Yale Magrass and Charles Derber, Truthout | Op-Ed

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has appropriately been called a bully. This has implications well beyond Christie. His calling out has the potential to shift the growing public conversation about bullying from a psychological narrative about abusive individuals to a new discourse on institutionalized bullying, carried out by ruling institutions and elites.

The current focus on bullying – like much of the discussion about guns and gun violence – has tended to focus on individuals and mental health. It is a therapeutic narrative. Bullying is seen primarily as a psychological problem of individuals. The victim needs therapy, better communication or adaptation skills. Bullies are characterologically flawed and need therapy or perhaps legal punishment.

But there is little or no discussion of larger social or cultural forces in the United States and the American institutions or leaders who bully other countries or workers and citizens at home. Institutionalized bullying is endemic to a capitalist hegemonic nation like the United States and creates death and suffering on a far greater scale than personal, everyday bullying, as important and toxic as the latter might be.

Moreover, much of the everyday bullying that is the current media focus must be understood as the inevitable consequence of a militarized corporate system that requires a popular mind-set of bullying to produce profit and power. The individual bully is the creation of the bully nation.

The United States openly views itself as the world police force, a benign hegemon morally ordained to impose its interests and values on the rest of the world and justified in the name of freedom, human rights and antiterrorism to do to weaker countries what it wants. It spends more on weapons than its next 20 largest competitors combined. President Obama proclaimed “[S]o long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will sustain the strongest military the world has ever known.” To peasants living in small countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia – where the United States has sent armed forces, used drones to bomb, and often overthrown the government – polls show that a majority of people see the United States as the greatest threat to their security, and fear it. Hegemony here seamlessly unfolds as morally sanctioned, institutionalized bullying.

America makes heroes of bomber pilots like John McCain and offers them as role models for children and adolescents to emulate. They see the media applaud the bullying behavior of their own government that dispatches police, soldiers, FBI and CIA agents into foreign nations to kill and wreak havoc – from Afghanistan to Somalia to Columbia. If you kill enough, whether in a just war or not, you may win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

If bullying brings esteem to a nation, then surely that is a behavior to strive for. Potential recruits for an aggressive military need to be immunized against scruples over violence and bullying. This becomes an implicit part of their education, whether or not it is ever publicly admitted. Accordingly, schools and adult authorities often turn a blind eye toward bullying. After two world wars, the Army lamented that a majority of combat soldiers never fired a weapon. They called for a change in the training of soldiers and the education and upbringing of children to correct that. By that measure, they have been successful. In Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, the majority of combat soldiers killed.

Sports has played a vital part in preparing children for institutionalized aggression, bullying and combat. In football, the goal is to attack the opponent and knock them down, a hard hit that keeps the opponent dazed on the ground is sometimes encouraged by coaches and cheered by the crowd. In schools and campuses, the athletes are often the popular heroes and also the bullies, involved too often in sexual violence or drinking binges in bars that lead to fights or crimes.

Only recently would they expect sanctions against bullying. Indeed, the more they bullied, the more popular they would be. Even before World War I, President Theodore Roosevelt insisted that elite universities like Harvard would have to enhance their football teams if America were to dominate the world. He declared: “We cannot afford to turn out college men who shrink from physical effort or a little physical pain.” For the nation needed men with “the courage that will fight valiantly against the foes of the soul and the foes of the body.”

The aggression and competitiveness of bullying pervades civilian life as well as military. As the beacon for the rest of the world to emulate, the culture the United States wishes to export is capitalism. Capitalism’s staunchest defenders proclaim competition to be its fundamental operating principle. The monopolistic corporations and the wealthiest 1% have been the most aggressive, bullying anyone who stood in their way by outsourcing their jobs, lowering wages, stripping away benefits and firing those seeking to organize unions.

The bully demonizes their victim. In American capitalism, elites have long defined the losers in the competitive struggle with the words used by Mitt Romney to defame the 47%: undeserving “moochers.” They are weak and lazy and don’t have the stuff to prevail. As victims, they deserve their fate and must submit to the triumphant. Those, like the wolves on Wall Street who bully their way to the top, should be there; those who couldn’t or don’t, belong where they are.

Bullying is the means through which the corporate empires were built. Carnegie and Rockefeller intimidated and threatened their rival capitalists to cede them an ever-larger share of the market. They brought in Pinkerton goons to beat striking workers into submission. Workers were forced to either sign “yellow dog” contracts and pledge not to join unions, or be thrown into the street. Similar bullying practices continue today. Corporations warn entire communities they will shut down factories and undermine the local economy if they do not accept low wages and minimal regulations. Banks entice consumers to borrow through predatory loans and then raise interest rates and threaten foreclosure. The corporations are clear they have the power and will not tolerate challenges from weaklings who fail to know their place.

Bullying enhances the ideology that the strong are strong and the weak are weak, and each deserves to be where they are. This attitude pervades America’s culture, government, military, corporations, media, schools, entertainment, athletics and everyday life. The first step to a solution is shifting the conversation to institutional bullying, moving beyond simply a therapeutic narrative to a political one aiming toward transformative social change. As long as the United States embraces militarism and aggressive capitalism, systemic bullying and all its impacts – abroad and at home – will persist as a major crisis.

It’s About Winning

This article has been published at the Huffington Post and can be seen here.

What I realized yesterday after I saw the cover of a newspaper filled with cheering American faces at the capture of the Boston suspect is that the reason these crimes are ignored and expanded is that Americans as a whole (for the most part, minus some small dissent) agree with the policies. Ours is a bloodthirsty, punitive, and judgmental nation. Full of hypocrisy, we pound our chests in glory at the murder of those we feel have sinned against us, while concurrently seeking to murder ourselves, using revenge as justification, regardless whether there is accuracy in those beliefs, and in spite of our own atrocities against other nations. Our leaders are simply symbols for all of us.

To keep reading, click here.

America’s Grave Double Standard

If 3 Americans are killed in a sporting event, it is an act of terrorism. The US kills children with drones, and it is collateral damage. Our country MURDERS CHILDREN! I am not a wingnut conspiracy theorist. This is a fact. We, the unholy abusers, scream so foul when anyone dares harm an American, but we have no problem killing the children of brown people in nations where we have the holier than thou audacity to decide it is okay to MURDER CHILDREN, claiming somehow it is justified in our “war on terror.” WE are the terrorists!

How would you feel if some country came and killed your child? Some country that doesn’t even have the guts to allow an actual human to place that child in its sights? Instead we let some “soldier” sit in an air-conditioned room and murder children from afar, kind of like a video game. How would you feel? No wonder people in these countries want to terrorize us. I understand their sentiments. It isn’t Islam, it’s humanity. If someone killed my child for some fucked up, power grab, political reason, I would want to destroy them. Let’s just maintain the war machine. Killing their children ensures their rage, ensures new terrorists, keeps the war machine growing.

I admit it. I don’t want to be a part of this country, the greatest abusers on earth. We should be ashamed. We should all be ashamed of the terror we inflict on innocent people so that a few plutocrats can buy some more yachts. In our complicity, we are responsible. Letting this happen and refusing to speak out makes us accomplices.

If you can stand to look at the sad picture of a toddler lying dead in the sand, read THIS ARTICLE. I have taken from it the names, ages, and genders of children killed by the United States. It should turn your stomach. Is it okay to kill a child of 2 if her last name is Mohammed, is that it? Is it okay because she is brown? What is your justification? I don’t have a justification, you might say. It isn’t me! But if you support our military, if you support our government, if you support OBAMA, you must somehow justify this murder. Read these names. Read their ages. Then ask yourself if any of it is okay. If your answer is yes, at least be honest and admit it that you support murder.

PAKISTAN

Noor Aziz, age 8, male
Abdul Wasit, age 17, male
Noor Syed, age 8, male
Wajid Noor, age 9, male
Syed Wali Shah, age 7, male
Ayeesha, age 3, female
Qari Alamzeb, age 14, male
Shoaib, age 8, male
Hayatullah KhaMohammad, age 16, male
Tariq Aziz, age 16, male
Sanaullah Jan, age 17, male
Maezol Khan, age 8, female
Nasir Khan, male
Naeem Khan, male
Naeemullah, male
Mohammad Tahir, age 16, male
Azizul Wahab, age 15, male
Fazal Wahab, age 16, male
Ziauddin, age 16, male
Mohammad Yunus, age 16, male
Fazal Hakim, age 19, male
Ilyas, age 13, male
Sohail, age 7, male
Asadullah, age 9, male
khalilullah, age 9, male
Noor Mohammad, age 8, male
Khalid, age 12, male
Saifullah, age 9, male
Mashooq Jan, age 15, male
Nawab, age 17, male
Sultanat Khan, age 16, male
Ziaur Rahman, age 13, male
Noor Mohammad, age 15, male
Mohammad Yaas Khan, age 16, male
Qari Alamzeb, age 14, male
Ziaur Rahman, age 17, male
Abdullah, age 18, male
Ikramullah Zada, age 17, male
Inayatur Rehman, age 16, male
Shahbuddin, age 15, male
Yahya Khan, age 16 |male
Rahatullah, age 17, male
Mohammad Salim, age 11, male
Shahjehan, age 15, male
Gul Sher Khan, age 15, male
Bakht Muneer, age 14, male
Numair, age 14, male
Mashooq Khan, age 16, male
Ihsanullah, age 16, male
Luqman, age 12, male
Jannatullah, age 13, male
Ismail, age 12, male
Taseel Khan, age 18, male
Zaheeruddin, age 16, male
Qari Ishaq, age 19, male
Jamshed Khan, age 14, male
Alam Nabi, age 11, male
Qari Abdul Karim, age 19, male
Rahmatullah, age 14, male
Abdus Samad, age 17, male
Siraj, age 16, male
Saeedullah, age 17, male
Abdul Waris, age 16, male
Darvesh, age 13, male
Ameer Said, age 15, male
Shaukat, age 14, male
Inayatur Rahman, age 17, male
Salman, age 12, male
Fazal Wahab, age 18, male
Baacha Rahman, age 13, male
Wali-ur-Rahman, age 17, male
Iftikhar, age 17, male
Inayatullah, age 15, male
Mashooq Khan, age 16, male
Ihsanullah, age 16, male
Luqman, age 12, male
Jannatullah, age 13, male
Ismail, age 12, male
Abdul Waris, age 16, male
Darvesh, age 13, male
Ameer Said, age 15, male
Shaukat, age 14, male
Inayatur Rahman, age 17, male
Adnan, age 16, male
Najibullah, age 13, male
Naeemullah, age 17, male
Hizbullah, age 10, male
Kitab Gul, age 12, male
Wilayat Khan, age 11, male
Zabihullah, age 16, male
Shehzad Gul, age 11, male
Shabir, age 15, male
Qari Sharifullah, age 17, male
Shafiullah, age 16, male
Nimatullah, age 14, male
Shakirullah, age 16, male
Talha, age 8, male

YEMEN

Afrah Ali Mohammed Nasser, age 9, female
Zayda Ali Mohammed Nasser, age 7, female
Hoda Ali Mohammed Nasser, age 5, female
Sheikha Ali Mohammed Nasser, age 4, female
Ibrahim Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 13, male
Asmaa Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 9, male
Salma Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 4, female
Fatima Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 3, female
Khadije Ali Mokbel Louqye, age 1, female
Hanaa Ali Mokbel Louqye, age 6, female
Mohammed Ali Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 4, male
Jawass Mokbel Salem Louqye, age 15, female
Maryam Hussein Abdullah Awad, age 2, female
Shafiq Hussein Abdullah Awad, age 1, female
Sheikha Nasser Mahdi Ahmad Bouh, age 3, female
Maha Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, age 12, male
Soumaya Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, age 9, female
Shafika Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, age 4, female
Shafiq Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, age 2, male
Mabrook Mouqbal Al Qadari, age 13, male
Daolah Nasser 10 years, age 10, female
AbedalGhani Mohammed Mabkhout, age 12, male
Abdel- Rahman Anwar al Awlaki, age 16, male
Abdel-Rahman al-Awlaki, age 17, male
Nasser Salim, age 19

Law School is a Sham — Salon.com

This article was shared from Salon.com and can be found here.

Law school is a sham

Excerpted from “The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession In Crisis”

“In the spring of 1974 — purely speculatively, I told myself — I took the Law School Admissions Test.
— Scott Turow, “One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School”

Unlike Scott Turow, I always wanted to be a lawyer. Once I entered law school in 1976, it never occurred to me that using my JD to earn a living would be a significant challenge, or that my student loans from college and law school—roughly $50,000 in 2012 dollars—would be anything other than a minor inconvenience. I’d heard stories about unemployed lawyers driving taxicabs, but they were irrelevant to the life I’d planned. In that respect, I was similar to most of today’s prelaw students, who are convinced that bad things happen only to someone else. The difference is that the current prospects for law graduates are far worse than my contemporaries’ and mine ever were. Over the past two decades, the situation has deteriorated as student enrollments have grown to outpace the number of available new legal jobs by almost two to one. Deans who are determined to fill their classrooms have exploited prospective students who depend on federal student loan money to pay tuition. The result has been an unsustainable bubble.

Law school applicants continue to overwhelm the number of places available for them, ignoring data that on their face should propel most aspiring attorneys away from a legal career. Only about half of today’s graduates can expect to find a full-time position requiring a legal degree. Meanwhile, law schools have grown in number and size to accommodate demand without regard to whether there will be jobs for their graduates. The first part of the equation— student demand—is the product of media images projecting the glamour of attorneys’ lives, the perception that a legal degree ensures financial security, and law school’s status as the traditional default option for students with no idea what to do with their lives. The second part of the equation—the increase in law school supply—was made possible by a revolutionary change in the method of legal education more than a century ago. It gave educators an easy way to transform law schools into profit centers for their universities. Decades later, student loans would provide the funding.

Today there’s a lawyer for every 265 Americans—more than twice the per capita number in 1970—but for future attorneys, there won’t be enough legal jobs for more than half of them. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that for the ten-year period ending in 2018, the economy would produce an additional 98,500 legal jobs. In 2012, after the Great Recession decimated the market for attorneys, the BLS revised that estimate downward, to 73,600 openings from 2010 through 2020. Another prediction considered attrition in combination with the number of anticipated new attorneys on a state-by-state basis and concluded that through 2015 the number of new attorneys passing the bar exam would be more than twice the expected number of openings. Whichever of these statistics turns out to be closest, there’s little doubt that law graduates are already feeling the crunch. Fewer than half of 2011 graduates found jobs in private practice. Nine months after graduation, only 55 percent held full-time, long-term positions requiring a legal degree.

Along with their degrees and dubious job prospects, 85 percent of 2010 graduates from ABA-accredited law schools carried debt, and the average debt load was almost $100,000. Average law school debt for the graduating class of 2011 broke six figures, and that number has been growing in tandem with unemployment rates for new graduates. Even if a career in law turns out to be the right path, the financial burden can be staggering. If the law ends up being the wrong path, then debt becomes the rock that Sisyphus had to push uphill for the rest of his life.

* * *

For most lawyers, the idea of pursuing a legal career comes early in life. One-third of respondents to a survey of recent applicants said that they had wanted to attend law school since childhood and, while still in high school, made the decision to apply after college. Another third made the decision as undergraduates, in either their freshman or sophomore year. One reason for this phenomenon is the media: popular images make a legal career look attractive to young people long before they get to college. Any middle school student who reads “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1960) or “Inherit the Wind” (1955) takes in an image of the admirable lawyer-statesman. Recent portrayals include the CBS hit series “The Good Wife,” which continues a legacy of noble lawyers in television dating back to Perry Mason and proceeding through “The Defenders,” “L.A. Law,” “Law & Order,” and others. Every week, an episode of “The Good Wife” focuses on junior associate Alicia Florrick, a single mom who was raising two teenagers by herself until her philandering husband, a former state’s attorney, got out of jail near the end of the first season. Regularly she finds herself in tense courtroom scenes cross-examining key witnesses in high-stakes trials. While making a lot of money, she finds clever ways to unearth critical facts, reveal truth, and vindicate clients. Then she goes home every evening in time for dinner with her kids.

There are negative images out there, too, most notably in the work of John Grisham. For example, no pre-law student should want to emulate the crooked attorneys in “The Firm,” his 1991 best seller about lawyers who operate their enterprise as a front for the mob. But they also should be wary of identifying with the novel’s protagonist, Mitch McDeere. He follows the very track to which most of them aspire: he graduates from a top law school and joins a high-paying law firm to earn big money. However, he gets swept away by the billable-hour culture, which deprives him of sleep and a home life, and his marriage deteriorates. These pressures, which nearly destroy him, are wholly apart from the underlying criminality that his firm’s partners pursue.

Yet most pre-law students ignore the persistent warnings. Somehow those negative images can’t compete with the positive ones. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel Prize in economics, may have a partial explanation. Kahneman researches and writes about a universal human characteristic: clinging to preconceived notions, even as contrary information and unambiguous data undermine them. The phenomenon is a variant of confirmation bias, the tendency to credit information that comports with established beliefs and jettison anything that doesn’t. In the context of the legal profession, most prelaw students think they’ll be the exceptions—the traps that ensnare people like Mitch McDeere won’t get them.

* * *

Another reason that people become lawyers is to make money. But if prospective lawyers allow themselves to be dazzled by headlines about the wealthiest attorneys, such as the partner who recently left one big firm to join another where he’d earn a reported $5 million a year, they’re making a mistake. Nine months after graduation, members of the law school class of 2009 fortunate enough to have any full-time job had a median salary of $72,000, comparable in buying power to the $50,000 median salary for new lawyers in 1990. That may not sound bad, but even that number is misleadingly high, as it masks a skewed income distribution. Each year 10 to 15 percent of graduates get jobs in big law firms, where the starting salary can be as high as $160,000. But those firms constitute only a tiny slice of the profession, and it’s shrinking. Furthermore, the median salary has been falling. For all law firms, the median starting salary for the class of 2011 was $85,000; for all lawyers who graduated that year, it was $60,000 (a 17 percent drop compared to the $72,000 median starting salary for the class of 2009). Even those numbers overstate new graduates’ financial reality for another reason: they’re based solely on salary information for the 65 percent of graduates reported to be working full-time in a position lasting at least a year.

For most employed lawyers, the money gets better. The median annual income of all practicing lawyers in 2010 was $112,000—double that of all US households. The nagging problem is that the seemingly decent (but shrinking) payoff usually isn’t sufficient to justify the enormous investment in time and money. Professor Herwig Schlunk of Vanderbilt University Law School calculates that for the vast majority of graduates, getting a legal degree will never yield a return equal to the financial cost of becoming a lawyer.

* * *

Some people go to law school because it’s the last resort of the liberal arts major who doesn’t know what to do next. In that respect, the decision to enroll has long resulted from a process of elimination that proceeds something like this: being a member of a profession is the ultimate achievement, but medical school requires science-oriented interests and talents that don’t fit most students in the humanities; postgraduate degrees in history, philosophy, English, and the social sciences are for future professors; business school is for those whose principal ambition is to make lots of money. That leaves law school, which offers students a three-year reprieve from the world while they pursue a noble course that presumably creates even more options. Sometimes that plan works out okay; for too many others, it leads to a place where dreams go to die.

Proof that law school is a default solution for the undecided lies everywhere, even in newspapers’ sports pages. In the fall of 2011, twenty-six-year-old infielder Josh Satin made his major league debut for the New York Mets. An article about him included this line: “After graduating as a political science major from Cal, Satin was selected by the Mets in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. And like any number of 20-somethings with a liberal arts degree and nebulous career prospects, he kept law school applications at the ready.”

* * *

On the supply side of the lawyer bubble, some of the necessary conditions for its creation date to a nineteenth-century innovation in legal education—the case method. Credit for that development goes to former Harvard Law School dean Christopher Columbus Langdell. Prior to 1890, no other law school used the case method of instruction that he pioneered; today it’s pervasive.

Langdell didn’t set out to create what became an essential basis for the current mass production model of legal education. Rather, he was simply pursuing his penchant for thoroughness. He viewed the law as a science and believed that its ultimate truths could be discovered through the study of primary specimens, namely, the decisions of appellate court judges. Law students could divine general principles that, once mastered, would enable a graduate to practice anywhere. As Langdell saw it, differences in state law were inconsequential to the overall jurisprudential picture.

The large body of common law itself created a challenge for Langdell’s approach. No student could read every reported decision going back to Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, an eighteenth-century treatise that first summarized the English common law as part of a unified system. For his Harvard contracts course, Langdell instead collected a selection of reported cases (there were more than two thousand at the time) from which an entire classroom of students could induce general legal principles.

The Langdell case method was a radical departure. Previously, prospective attorneys had learned the law from secondary sources as rules to memorize and skills to hone before engaging in one-on-one apprenticeships. For example, after a year of study consisting of the traditional lecture and drilling at the University of Michigan in the 1870s, Clarence Darrow received on-the-job legal training while working for an attorney in rural Ohio. He then proved his competence to a few lawyers before whom he literally sat to be examined for the bar. Darrow passed. A system that required students to learn specific legal rules and then receive training with practicing attorneys constrained the number of new lawyers admitted to the bar each year.

Langdell changed that model with what he regarded as a noble aim. Practical aspects—simply learning the rules—weren’t the key. Instead, a true lawyer’s most important work was to understand the governing principles so as to “be able to apply them with consistent facility and certainty to the ever-tangled skein of human affairs.” One by-product of the approach was that large groups of students could receive simultaneous legal training from a handful of instructors. The system became an early building block in the current business model of legal education.

Langdell’s new teaching protocol didn’t create the current lawyer bubble, but it provided an essential foundation that facilitated the mass production of attorneys. From 1890 to 1916, the number of law schools doubled from 61 to 139, but the schools themselves became larger, so the number of law students increased fivefold—from 4,500 to almost 23,000. As recently as 1963, there were still only 135 law schools, but total JD enrollment had doubled to 47,000 students.

During the next decade, baby boomers made their way into higher education as the Vietnam War popularized three-year law school deferments from the draft. Enrollment doubled again to 100,000 by 1972, but there were still fewer than 150 law schools. As the last of the boomers made their way through law school, enrollment leveled off, hovering around 127,000 through the 1990s. On a per capita basis, the United States had 1.58 lawyers per 1,000 citizens in 1960; by 1980, the number had grown to 2.38 lawyers per 1,000. But that was only the beginning.

In the 1990s, U.S. News & World Report’s law school rankings began to gain in popularity and became a key element in the competition for new students. Meanwhile, as applications to first-year classes rose generally, universities increasingly saw law schools as profit centers worth expanding. Recently the Maryland Department of Legislative Services concluded that the University of Baltimore School of Law sent 31 percent of its 2010 revenue back into the general university budget. For private schools the data are difficult to uncover, but the University of Baltimore report corroborates a widely held view that universities in general impose a “tax” amounting to between 20 and 25 percent of their law schools’ gross revenues.

Law school enrollments climbed even as tuition rose faster than at undergraduate colleges. In 2003, there were more than ninety-eight thousand applicants to the first-year class that enrolled about forty-eight thousand students nationwide. Average annual tuition for private law schools was $26,000. By 2010, it had increased to more than $37,000. Even as law school applications declined sharply after 2010, private law school tuition went up annually by 4 percent—more than twice the rate of inflation—to an average of $40,585 per year in 2012. Public law schools have followed an even steeper curve: for in-state residents, average tuition doubled from $11,860 in 2003 to $23,590. In 2012 alone, it went up by more than 6 percent.

When U.S. News published its first rankings in 1987, total law school enrollment in the 175 ABA-accredited institutions had remained around 120,000 for a decade. Since then, twenty-five more law schools have come on line and enrollments have steadily risen to more than 145,000. By 2010, there were more than 1.2 million lawyers in the United States—almost 4 for every 1,000 citizens. In the United Kingdom, the comparable number is about 2.5 per 1,000; in Germany, it’s slightly more than 1.5.

* * *

Law school deans defended the growth and proliferation of law schools after 2000 as a market reaction to student demand. After all, an excess of applicants over available spots sent an unambiguous signal: consumers wanted more openings in law schools. Anyone running a business would respond as most deans did: raise tuition, increase profits, and add capacity. Wrapping themselves in the rhetoric of free markets and individual choice, even deans at some of the best law schools avoided important disclosures, including meaningful employment and salary data for their recent graduates. After all, better information about the limited opportunities actually available to new attorneys might reduce student demand.

Of course, some of the widespread career dissatisfaction among attorneys is the fault of college students making shortsighted and unsound judgments about their future. But bad information shares the blame for what turned out to be a poor career choice for many of them. Law schools operating on the outer perimeter of candor to fill their classrooms worsened the problem. But without free-flowing student loan money for which law school deans never have to account, the entire system would look much different.

The law school business model permitted (and still permits) a perverse market response—increasing tuition in the face of declining demand for lawyers—for two reasons: student demand for law school still exceeds supply, and students have little difficulty borrowing whatever they need to cover the cost of a degree. For decades, lenders faced no risk of default because the federal government guaranteed the loans.

Then in 2008, out of concern that the credit market freeze would leave insufficient financing for student loans, the government essentially took over most such lending directly. Two years later, it completed the transition from insuring all loans to issuing the vast majority of them. Meanwhile, revisions to the bankruptcy laws essentially bar students from ever discharging public or private educational debt. In its totality, the current regime insulates law schools from the problem of graduates who can’t find jobs needed to repay their student loans, while giving schools no incentive to control tuition costs. Of the various parties involved—students, government, private lenders, and law schools—only the students and, to a growing extent under new income-based repayment programs, the federal treasury bear any significant risk that such borrowing might turn out to have been imprudent.

The combination of irresponsible lending and inadequate law school accountability has been deadly for many attorneys and the profession. It’s a story of good intentions gone awry.

The origins of the government student loan program generally date to 1958, when Congress followed the recommendation of economist Milton Friedman in creating a system of direct federal loans for higher education. When it expanded the program in 1965, existing federal budget accounting rules required booking direct student loans as total losses in the year made, regardless of whether they would be repaid in full with interest. But the rules also provided that a loan guarantee didn’t count as a federal budget cost item—not a penny. At the urging of economists, Congress finally revised the budget rules in 1990, but the most important feature remained: federal guarantees of all private and public student loans.

For lenders, such guarantees mean no risk of nonrepayment because the government picks up the tab for any shortfall. For students, they mean the growth of another industry that will chase them forever: debt collectors. When someone defaults on a student loan, the government turns it over to private collection agencies. In 2011, the US Department of Education paid more than $1.4 billion to such companies. Summarizing that industry’s attitude, a business consultant described his thoughts in 2011 as he watched Occupy protesters at New York University wearing T-shirts with the amounts of their student debt scribbled across the front: “I couldn’t believe the accumulated wealth they represent—for our industry. It was lip-smacking.” His article included a picture of some students in their T-shirts, including one with “the fine sum of $90,000” and another with “a really attractive $120,000.” Another consultant suggested that student loans might be the accounts receivable industry’s “new oil well.” Something is terribly amiss in a society where policies and incentive structures make debt collection a growth business.

In addition to government guarantees, private lenders gained another layer of protection against losses from their student loan portfolios. As noted previously, today such debt almost always survives a young lawyer’s bankruptcy filing. The cumulative impact of these policies is becoming clearer. As one recent graduate observed, a federally guaranteed student loan may be “the closest thing to debtor prison that there is on this earth.”

It wasn’t always so. In the early 1970s, the federal student loan program was still relatively new and the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare sought to avoid any negative public image that might tarnish the young system. The agency proposed making government student loans nondischargeable in bankruptcy unless a borrower had been in default for at least five years or could prove “undue hardship.” Enacted in 1976, the undue-hardship requirement placed student loans in the same category as child support, alimony, court restitution orders, criminal fines, and certain taxes. No data supported the suggestion of a student loan default problem, but anecdotal media reports of isolated abuse carried the day.

The concern was moral hazard—the fear that graduates on the verge of lucrative careers would avoid responsibility for the federal educational loans that had made those careers possible. But as the legislative history makes clear, the basis for such concerns was “more myth and media hype than reality.” A lead editorial in the July 25, 2012, edition of the Wall Street Journal reveals the enduring power of that myth thirty-five years later: “After a surge in former students declaring bankruptcy to avoid repaying their loans, Congress acted to protect lenders beginning in 1977.” That’s simply not true. Although a House of Representatives report and analysis from the General Accounting Office had confirmed that abuse was “virtually non-existent,” the provision found its way into the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978.

In 1990, Congress extended the requisite five-year default period, requiring a seven-year wait as a precondition to relief from educational debt. In 1997, the Bankruptcy Reform Commission found no evidence to support claims of earlier systematic abuse. Even so, in 1998 Congress amended the statute to provide that no amount of time would render federal educational debt dischargeable in bankruptcy. In 2005, Congress extended nondischargeabilty to private lenders as well, although, as Senator Dick Durbin asked in 2012, “How in the world did that provision get into the law? It was a mystery amendment. We can’t find out who offered it.” A fruitful place to begin the search might be with lobbyists for the banking industry.

Apart from the unwillingness of any legislator to claim responsibility for the now orphaned provision, there was little factual justification for it or the earlier revisions that eliminated bankruptcy relief from federal loans in the first place. Nonfederal loans accounted for only 7 percent of all student borrowing in the 2010–2011 academic year. Repeated legislative inquiry yielded no empirical evidence to validate stated fears about systemic abuse for either private or government loans. But now that the limitations are in place, some have theorized that returning even to pre-2005 rules could lead to a parade of horribles, including higher interest rates for all students, reduced affordability, and tighter credit requirements throughout the system.

Two recent examples of the undue-hardship requirement illustrate the daunting task facing a debtor who seeks relief from educational debt today. In May 2012, a sixty-three-year-old Maryland woman had more than $330,000 in school loans dating back to her enrollment at the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1992. She didn’t graduate. Later, she received a master’s degree from Towson University and a PhD from an unaccredited online school. The judge decided that the debtor’s Asperger’s syndrome qualified her for relief from student loan debt. Expecting that she could “ever break the grip of autism and meaningfully channel her energies toward tasks that are not in some way either dictated, or circumscribed, by the demands of her disorder would be to dream the impossible dream.” Even the debtor’s attorney expressed surprise that his client had succeeded in discharging her debt under the demanding undue-hardship standard.

In July 2012, a sixty-four-year-old woman who had worked on an assembly line earning $11 an hour until she received a layoff notice obtained discharge of loans she had first taken on in 1981, when she was thirty-three and enrolled in Canisius College. After pursuing a five-year partial repayment plan under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code, she’d whittled only $2,400 from her loan balance and still owed more than $56,000, most of which was accrued interest on her original $17,000 loan. The court concluded that the debtor was “at the end of her ‘rope’ at age sixty-four, facing job loss and no prospects other than Social Security,” and ordered her loans discharged.

Such cases in which students get relief from burdensome student loan debt are unusual. In fact, the applicable legal standard for discharge isn’t even consistent across the federal circuits. Some appellate courts require judges to predict the future and conclude, as a prerequisite to discharge, that a debtor will never be able to repay the loans—that is, the “certainty of hopelessness.” One attorney described how he jokes about the absurdity of the standard: “What I say to the judge is that as long as we’ve got a lottery, there is no certainty of hopelessness. They smile, and then they rule against you.”

More attorneys are finding themselves in plights similar to that of the thirty-four-year-old lawyer with more than $200,000 in school loans and a job that would never pay enough to retire them: “It’s a noose around my neck that I see no way out of.” It takes little imagination to foresee the domino effects as she and similarly situated others become unable to fund their children’s higher education. The accumulating social costs over generations could haunt America for a long time.

* * *

As a consequence of these dynamics, some not-so-funny things happen to many of those who choose law school for the wrong reasons—or for no particularly good reason. The promise of a secure future at a well-paying job is often illusory. The persistent problem of lawyer oversupply rose to crisis level, and the market for new talent has remained weak. Compounding the difficulties with which they began law school, newly minted, less-than-passionate, and deeply indebted lawyers are now having trouble finding the secure, well-paying, and exciting work they thought would be waiting for them when they graduated. For most of the nation’s forty-four thousand annual graduates today, those positions were never there at all.

Because students rely on rankings to choose a school, such listings are now a critical element in the prevailing law school business model. U.S. News & World Report publishes what everyone regards as the gold standard. As a consequence, deans use its methodological criteria to run their institutions. Single-minded self-interest in selling a law school education—and the failure of colleges and law schools to offer a competing perspective that challenges students’ assumptions about most lawyers’ actual lives—has disserved many graduates and damaged the profession. But try telling that to deans who pander to the annual U.S. News rankings.

Excerpted with permission from “The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession In Crisis” by Steven J. Harper. Available from Basic Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group.  Copyright © 2013.

Boiling Frogs

The problem with these tissue-thin t-shirts and other items of clothing being manufactured these days is that they’re pure crap. The retailers claim they make them this way to layer, but that is a lie. They make them that way because first, you do need to layer so no one can see through them, thereby requiring one to purchase two shirts instead of one, and second, because these items of clothing disintegrate at a much faster rate than their thicker cousins, thereby requiring us to purchase new items much sooner and also keeping us from reselling them because they’re too junky to last long. I won’t even get into how ridiculous layering multiple shirts looks past the age of 20.

We’ve all been boiling frogs on this. Fabrics have gradually gotten thinner and thinner, while the price has crept ever northward. I keep clothes I like forever. I dug out an old t-shirt I bought 20 odd years ago. It isn’t anything special, it had just gotten stuffed into a box of keepsake things during a move years ago, and I hadn’t seen it in forever. The thing is THICK. You can’t see a hint of light through it. It’s solid and well-made. And it probably cost me 20 bucks in the early 90s. You can’t even find t-shirts like this now. Even the high-end retailers sell these tissue-thin shirts that last maybe two years with regular wearing.

Nuts. Why don’t we all rebel?

This Punitive Society

I want to be on the stand and say to them: What did she do? What did she do wrong? She chose the wrong men, and for this you want to punish her, as our society punishes women who let men abuse them, as if it was a choice. We forgive the wrongdoer and attack the victim, because we hate victims, even as we are victims. You should have known better! You should have made a better choice! Your choice was wrong, and we as judges, juries, and executioners know this! You should not have made these mistakes and for this, we judge you. For this, we sentence you and punish you for your sins, for your flaws. You were a good mother, but that is not good enough because you never would have been a mother if you had not chosen men who would abuse you. Of course, this line of reasoning falls apart because she could very well have been a mother if she had not chosen these men. But of course she would not have these children. These children will be harmed because of her choices. These children will be harmed too because of their abusive fathers, but we don’t hold the fathers accountable, only the mothers. These abusive men didn’t know any better, but she did. She knew and she chose wrong and for this, she shall pay with their loss. Their pains are her pains. She will suffer for her sins and so will they.

This society is so fucking fucked and fucked up. I can hardly bear it. We are so punitive, so judgmental, so holier-than-thou, such critics.  Critics. We all sit and judge. Our whole culture. We love to annihilate victims for having been victims. In doing so we can ignore the victims in ourselves. We get to be the rescuer in our judiciousness. I will save you from your victimhood, you fool.

It all just makes me want to scream.

The United States of Aftermath

The United States of Aftermath.

Shared from Truth-Out, by William Rivers Pitt.

It’s hard to say grace and to sit in the place
Of someone missing at the table
Mom’s hair sprayed tight
And her face in her hands
Watching TV for answers to me
After all she’s only human
And she’s trying to find her own way home, boys
She’s trying to find her own way home

My legs ache
My heart is sore
The well is full of pennies

– Tom Waits

Ten years ago on this day, my life was a blur of frantic activity. The week before, tens of millions of people had taken to the streets in more than 600 cities around the world to protest the looming invasion of Iraq, an attack that had been pursued with single-minded ferocity by the administration of George W. Bush. As the author of the book “War on Iraq”, which had been published in October and argued Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction or al Qaeda connections to the September 11 attacks, I was one of the voices crying out in the wilderness of the “mainstream” news media trying to make it clear that the whole thing was a sham, and a disaster in the making. I did as many television, radio and print interviews as I could – at one point, CNN interviewed me in the gymnasium of the high school where I was still teaching, because that was the only time I had available – in an attempt to halt the calamity in its tracks.

One month later, I and every other person who tried to stop it encompassed the totality of our collective failure as we watched huge swaths of Baghdad be incinerated by the “Shock and Awe” bombing campaign that heralded the opening festivities of America’s nine-year debacle in Iraq.

As the ten-year anniversary of the invasion approaches, all the news networks will carve out some time to report on the decade of war endured by the people of Iraq and the people of America. Rachel Maddow recently broadcast an hour-long documentary on the selling of the war by the Bush administration. Maddow’s program began with the attacks of September 11 as the reason for the Iraq invasion, a starting point that in all probability will be repeated by the other networks, but that starting point is not factually correct. The roots of the Iraq war trace back to the founding in 1997 of a Washington DC think-tank called The Project for a New American Century (PNAC).

The core mission of PNAC was to establish what they called “Pax Americana” across the globe. Essentially, their goal was to transform America, the sole remaining superpower, into a planetary empire by force of arms. A report released by PNAC in September of 2000 entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” codified this plan. Author Norman Podhoretz, a PNAC signatory, quantified the other aspect of the PNAC plan in the September 2002 issue of his journal, “Commentary.” In it, Podhoretz noted that the Mideast regimes “that richly deserve to be overthrown and replaced, are not confined to the three singled-out members of the axis of evil. At a minimum, the axis should extend to Syria and Lebanon and Libya, as well as ‘friends’ of America like the Saudi royal family and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, along with the Palestinian Authority, whether headed by Arafat or one of his henchmen.” At bottom, according to Podhoretz, war against Iraq was about “the long-overdue internal reform and modernization of Islam.”

PNAC was the driving force behind the drafting and passage of the Iraqi Liberation Act in 1998, a bill that essentially turned their desire for war into American law. PNAC funneled millions of taxpayer dollars to a group called the Iraqi National Congress, and to the man they intended to be Iraq’s heir-apparent, Ahmed Chalabi, despite the fact that Chalabi was sentenced in absentia by a Jordanian court to 22 years in prison on 31 counts of bank fraud. Chalabi and the INC gathered support for their cause by promising oil contracts to anyone who would help overthrow Saddam Hussein and put them into power in Iraq.

After the Supreme Court gifted the presidency to George W. Bush in December of 2000, the members of PNAC – once on the outside looking in – soon found themselves walking the halls of power and holding positions of enormous influence. Among these members were Vice President Dick Cheney; Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; National Security Council member Eliot Abrams; Undersecretary of State John Bolton, who also served as America’s ambassador to the UN; and Richard Perle, chairman of the powerful Defense Policy Board.

On September 11, 2001, as America and the world watched in horror, these men went to work implementing their plans for war against Iraq. That day presented, for them, the opportunity of a lifetime, and they wasted not a moment. Within a year after the 9/11 attacks, Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith had established the Office of Special Plans (OSP) in the Pentagon, ostensibly to deal with raw intelligence on the state of Iraq’s armaments. In truth, OSP’s main task was to manipulate that evidence to exacerbate the threat posed by Iraq, and to quash any information that augured against the necessity for war. Those who spoke out against this manipulation of evidence were dealt with harshly; former ambassador Joseph Wilson penned an editorial in the New York Times trashing the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq had sought “yellow cake” uranium from Niger. Soon after, the Bush administration retaliated by blowing the cover of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA operative tasked with tracking weapons of mass destruction, ending her career.

George W. Bush, during his State of the Union address in January of 2003, looked solemnly into the television cameras and told the American people that Iraq was most assuredly in possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 30,000 munitions to deliver the stuff, mobile biological weapons labs, and uranium from Niger for use in their “robust” nuclear weapons programs. One month later, Colin Powell stood before the United Nations and fleshed out these claims in an address that will go down in history as one of the biggest bag-jobs ever perpetrated by anyone, ever.

A year after the attacks of September 11, Osama bin Laden had gone from being enemy #1 to being Mr. Who Cares About Him, and six months after that, “Shock and Awe” was unleashed. Maddow and her friends in the “news” media will, in the coming weeks, give us their various interpretations on how it came to happen, but none of them will bother to delve into the question of why it happened. The answer to that is too simple, and cuts too close to the bone: the war in Iraq cost more than three trillion dollars ($3,000,000,000,000.00) to execute. Every bullet fired, every bomb dropped, every MRE eaten, every helicopter shot down, every missile fired, every truck destroyed by an IED, every oil well guarded, every uniform worn, and every body bag filled translated into a slice of that money going to a company connected to the PNAC members of the Bush administration, who lied us into that war as an expression of their personal principles and in fulfillment of their dreams. Halliburton, KBR, United Defense, the Carlyle Group, independent military contractors like Blackwater and a crowd of American oil companies are still counting the riches they earned from their participation in the carnage.

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The profit motive behind why the war happened is not limited to the corporations that directly cashed in on the conflict. The “mainstream” media went along for the Bush administration ride with a bull-throated roar, pitching everything the administration was selling with graphics and music, gleefully aware of the money they were making thanks to increased viewership, and be damned to contrarian voices. Phil Donahue’s show on MSNBC came and went like a summer storm entirely because his pre-war contrarian views cut against the network’s martial grain. I summarized the reality of America’s pre-war media landscape in an October 2002 article titled, “I See Four Lights”:

One of the main reasons the dismal truths of business and economy in present-day America go unreported is the fact that we have us a war coming on. CNN, MSNBC and Fox have crafted various permutations of a ‘SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ’ graphic, coupled with suitably dramatic music. This is a boon to the media – stories of financial ruin and stock schemes that bilked investors of billions are complicated. Compared to grainy images of explosions, fluttering American flags, and stalwart American troops preparing to step into harm’s way, the economic news is plain boring. People were changing the channel back in July and August because it was too painful, and because it was not sexy. Now, with the war graphics in full cry, they are back. CNN’s viewership increased by 500% after September 11th, and you can bet the executives down in Atlanta noted that well. War is good for the media business.

Over the last few years, MSNBC refashioned itself as the progressive news alternative to networks like Fox and CNN by giving Keith Olbermann an opportunity to do actual journalism on television for a few years, and by putting people like Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz front and center. Even Chris Matthews, the human weathervane, appears to have gotten the memo. But I remember a phone call I got from an MSNBC producer in February of 2003. Hans Blix and his weapons inspectors had not been in Iraq for 100 hours when this woman called me on my cell, told me she’d read my book, and asked me to appear on the network. There was, however, one caveat: she told me I was expected to argue that Blix and the inspectors were doing a terrible job and should be ignored, which just happened to be the exact line being peddled at the time by the Bush administration. I told the producer that I did not agree, that the inspectors needed to be given time to do their jobs, and that undermining them might lead to a devastating war. The MSNBC producer chuffed a cigarette-roughened laugh into my phone and hung up on me.

That happened – I remember the details not only because of how gruesome the conversation was, but because when she hung up on me, I almost lost control of my car and nearly wound up in the Charles River – and the fact of it tells you everything you need to know about MSNBC and the rest of the alphabet-soup cohort that is America’s “mainstream” news media. I did not do what that MSNBC producer asked me to, but you can bet all the money you have that she found someone who would a few phone calls later. You might have even seen it on TV.

MSNBC and the rest of the “news” networks can level a finger of blame at the Bush administration until the sun burns out, but the rock-bottom fact of the matter is that every one of those networks are equally to blame for the catastrophe that was, and remains, the war. No questions were asked, no push-back was offered; when the war cry went up, they made that cry their own, and they have as much blood on their hands as Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of that PNAC crew.

The war against Iraq, in the end, was nothing more or less than a massive money-laundering operation that took American taxpayer dollars, soaked them in blood, and redirected them to Certain Friends In High Places. It was, as I said years ago, a smash-and-grab robbery writ large, aided and abetted by an American “news” media which had its own profit motive, and which made a nifty sum off the whole deal. Even better for them, today they get to enjoy the ratings and advertising dollars to come when they broadcast their somber “documentaries” about how terrible it all was, how many lies were told, how many mistakes were made, and all without ever looking inward at their own enormous complicity.

They say the war is over now, but Halliburton is still getting paid to “rebuild” Iraq, the military contractors are still there, bombs are still going off all over the country, the hundreds of thousands of civilians who were killed are still dead, the hundreds of thousands of civilians who were wounded and maimed are still scarred, and many of the millions who were displaced are still not home. Almost 5,000 American soldiers are still dead, nearly 40,000 more are still scarred, and the VA is utterly incapable of dealing with the aftermath.

Three trillion dollars of taxpayer money was laundered away, and today we have squadrons of politicians who voted for the war and made sure it happened now talking about cutting Medicare, about cutting Social Security, about how we can’t afford decent health care or the United States Post Office, without even a blink of acknowledgement toward their own overwhelming share of blame for what has happened to the nation.

Ten years ago, they used 9/11 against us, with the happy help of the “news” media, to unleash butchery for a payday, and broke the country in the process.

So you remember, so you never, ever forget, this is how they did it.

“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”
– Dick Cheney, Vice President
Speech to VFW National Convention
8/26/2002

“There is already a mountain of evidence that Saddam Hussein is gathering weapons for the purpose of using them. And adding additional information is like adding a foot to Mount Everest.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Response to Question From the Press
9/6/2002

“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
– Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Adviser
CNN Late Edition
9/8/2002

“Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.”
– George W. Bush, President
Speech to the UN General Assembly
9/12/2002

“Iraq has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons, and is rebuilding the facilities used to make more of those weapons. We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons – the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have.”
– George W. Bush, President
Radio Address
10/5/2002

“The Iraqi regime … possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas.”
– George W. Bush, President
Cincinnati, Ohio, Speech
10/7/2002

“And surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.”
– George W. Bush, President
Cincinnati, Ohio, Speech
10/7/2002

“After 11 years during which we have tried containment, sanctions, inspections, even selected military action, the end result is that Saddam Hussein still has chemical and biological weapons and is increasing his capabilities to make more. And he is moving ever closer to developing a nuclear weapon.”
– George W. Bush, President
Cincinnati, Ohio, Speech
10/7/2002

“We’ve also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.”
– George W. Bush, President
Cincinnati, Ohio, Speech
10/7/2002

“Iraq, despite UN sanctions, maintains an aggressive program to rebuild the infrastructure for its nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile programs. In each instance, Iraq’s procurement agents are actively working to obtain both weapons-specific and dual-use materials and technologies critical to their rebuilding and expansion efforts, using front companies and whatever illicit means are at hand.”
– John Bolton, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control
Speech to the Hudson Institute
11/1/2002

“Iraq could decide on any given day to provide biological or chemical weapons to a terrorist group or to individual terrorists … The war on terror will not be won until Iraq is completely and verifiably deprived of weapons of mass destruction.”
– Dick Cheney, Vice President
Denver, Address to the Air National Guard
12/1/2002

“If he declares he has none, then we will know that Saddam Hussein is once again misleading the world.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
12/2/2002

“The president of the United States and the secretary of defense would not assert as plainly and bluntly as they have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction if it was not true, and if they did not have a solid basis for saying it.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Response to Question From the Press
12/4/2002

“We know for a fact that there are weapons there.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
1/9/2003

“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.”
– George W. Bush, President
State of the Union Address
1/28/2003

“Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.”
– George W. Bush, President
State of the Union Address
1/28/2003

“We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Remarks to the UN Security Council
2/5/2003

“There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more. And he has the ability to dispense these lethal poisons and diseases in ways that can cause massive death and destruction. If biological weapons seem too terrible to contemplate, chemical weapons are equally chilling.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Address to the UN Security Council
2/5/2003

“In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world – and we will not allow it.”
– George W. Bush, President
Speech to the American Enterprise Institute
2/26/2003

“So has the strategic decision been made to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction by the leadership in Baghdad? I think our judgment has to be clearly not.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Remarks to the UN Security Council
3/7/2003

“Let’s talk about the nuclear proposition for a minute. We know that, based on intelligence, that has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. He’s had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”
– Dick Cheney, Vice President
“Meet the Press”
3/16/2003

“Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”
– George W. Bush, President
Address to the Nation
3/17/2003

“Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly … all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
3/21/2003

“One of our top objectives is to find and destroy the WMD. There are a number of sites.”
– Victoria Clark, Pentagon Spokeswoman
Press Briefing
3/22/2003

“I have no doubt we’re going to find big stores of weapons of mass destruction.”
– Kenneth Adelman, Defense Policy Board Member
Washington Post, p. A27
3/23/2003

“We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
ABC Interview
3/30/2003

“We still need to find and secure Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities and secure Iraq’s borders so we can prevent the flow of weapons of mass destruction materials and senior regime officials out of the country.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Press Conference
4/9/2003

“You bet we’re concerned about it. And one of the reasons it’s important is because the nexus between terrorist states with weapons of mass destruction … and terrorist groups – networks – is a critical link. And the thought that … some of those materials could leave the country and in the hands of terrorist networks would be a very unhappy prospect. So it is important to us to see that that doesn’t happen.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Press Conference
4/9/2003

“But make no mistake – as I said earlier – we have high confidence that they have weapons of mass destruction. That is what this war was about and it is about. And we have high confidence it will be found.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
4/10/2003

“Were not going to find anything until we find people who tell us where the things are. And we have that very high on our priority list, to find the people who know. And when we do, then well learn precisely where things were and what was done.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
“Meet the Press”
4/13/2003

“We are learning more as we interrogate or have discussions with Iraqi scientists and people within the Iraqi structure, that perhaps he destroyed some, perhaps he dispersed some. And so we will find them.”
– George W. Bush, President
NBC Interview
4/24/2003

“We’ll find them. It’ll be a matter of time to do so.”
– George W. Bush, President
Remarks to Reporters
5/3/2003

“I’m absolutely sure that there are weapons of mass destruction there and the evidence will be forthcoming. We’re just getting it just now.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Remarks to Reporters
5/4/2003

“We never believed that we’d just tumble over weapons of mass destruction in that country.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Fox News Interview
5/4/2003

“I’m not surprised if we begin to uncover the weapons program of Saddam Hussein – because he had a weapons program.”
– George W. Bush, President
Remarks to Reporters
5/6/2003

“U.S. officials never expected that ‘we were going to open garages and find’ weapons of mass destruction.”
– Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Adviser
Reuters Interview
5/12/2003

“We said all along that we will never get to the bottom of the Iraqi WMD program simply by going and searching specific sites, that you’d have to be able to get people who know about the programs to talk to you.”
– Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense
Interview with Australian Broadcasting
5/13/2003

“It’s going to take time to find them, but we know he had them. And whether he destroyed them, moved them or hid them, we’re going to find out the truth. One thing is for certain: Saddam Hussein no longer threatens America with weapons of mass destruction.”
– George W. Bush, President
Speech at a Weapons Factory in Ohio
5/25/2003

“They may have had time to destroy them, and I don’t know the answer.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations
5/27/2003

“For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction (as justification for invading Iraq) because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.”
– Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense
Vanity Fair Interview
5/28/2003

“The President is indeed satisfied with the intelligence that he received. And I think that’s borne out by the fact that, just as Secretary Powell described at the United Nations, we have found the bio trucks that can be used only for the purpose of producing biological weapons. That’s proof-perfect that the intelligence in that regard was right on target.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
5/29/2003

“We have teams of people that are out looking. They’ve investigated a number of sites. And within the last week or two, they have in fact captured and have in custody two of the mobile trailers that Secretary Powell talked about at the United Nations as being biological weapons laboratories.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Infinity Radio Interview
5/30/2003

“But for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong, we found them.”
– George W. Bush, President
Interview With TVP Poland
5/30/2003

“You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons … They’re illegal. They’re against the United Nations resolutions, and we’ve so far discovered two … And we’ll find more weapons as time goes on.”
– George W. Bush, President
Press Briefing
5/30/2003

“This wasn’t material I was making up, it came from the intelligence community.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Press Briefing
6/2/2003

“We recently found two mobile biological weapons facilities which were capable of producing biological agents. This is the man who spent decades hiding tools of mass murder. He knew the inspectors were looking for them. You know better than me he’s got a big country in which to hide them. We’re on the look. We’ll reveal the truth.”
– George W. Bush, President
Camp Sayliya, Qatar
6/5/2003

“I would put before you Exhibit A, the mobile biological labs that we have found. People are saying, ‘Well, are they truly mobile biological labs?’ Yes, they are. And the DCI, George Tenet, Director of Central Intelligence, stands behind that assessment.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Fox News Interview
6/8/2003

“No one ever said that we knew precisely where all of these agents were, where they were stored.”
– Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Adviser
“Meet the Press”
6/8/2003

“What the president has said is because it’s been the long-standing view of numerous people, not only in this country, not only in this administration, but around the world, including at the United Nations, who came to those conclusions … And the president is not going to engage in the rewriting of history that others may be trying to engage in.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Response to Question From the Press

“Iraq had a weapons program … Intelligence throughout the decade showed they had a weapons program. I am absolutely convinced with time we’ll find out they did have a weapons program.”
– George W. Bush, President
Comment to Reporters
6/9/2003

“The biological weapons labs that we believe strongly are biological weapons labs, we didn’t find any biological weapons with those labs. But should that give us any comfort? Not at all. Those were labs that could produce biological weapons whenever Saddam Hussein might have wanted to have a biological weapons inventory.”
– Colin Powell, Secretary of State
Associated Press Interview
6/12/2003

“My personal view is that their intelligence has been, I’m sure, imperfect, but good. In other words, I think the intelligence was correct in general, and that you always will find out precisely what it was once you get on the ground and have a chance to talk to people and explore it, and I think that will happen.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Press Briefing
6/18/2003

“I have reason, every reason, to believe that the intelligence that we were operating off was correct and that we will, in fact, find weapons or evidence of weapons, programs, that are conclusive. But that’s just a matter of time … It’s now less than eight weeks since the end of major combat in Iraq and I believe that patience will prove to be a virtue.”
– Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Pentagon Media Briefing
6/24/2003

“I think the burden is on those people who think he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction to tell the world where they are.”
– Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Press Briefing
7/9/2003

Autumn — Chapter 17

Read Autumn — Chapter 16

The day Autumn died, I woke up and did not immediately know this would be the day. She was lying in the living room, half on the hardwood floors and halfway on the rug. She barely looked up to acknowledge my entering the room, a sure sign something was off, but she had been listless for days because of the unusual heat.

The night before, she had been so hot. So hot that after I removed her from the tiles on the bathroom floor and placed her in a cold bath, the place where her tummy had been touching the floor remained warm for hours. Literally hours. A sick and dreadful feeling filled my stomach when I walked into that bathroom so long after putting her in that bath and could feel the warmth in the floor where she had been.

The heat of those summer days finished her off, I have no doubt of it. She could not withstand the hundred degree temperatures. The last few days before she died, I would come home and find her inert with exhaustion. She would not move. Her stomach would feel like an iron. I would then run a bath of cool water and lay her in it. This perked her up because she needed that cooling off. I don’t know whether her body was incapable of regulating its temperature anymore. The diabetes did so much else to her body; I could see it killing her thermometer too.

That morning, she was lying there and I didn’t immediately register how badly she was doing. I began to get ready for work, roused Milla out of bed, was busily doing my thing, when I made a horrific discovery.

Neon green ooze had leaked of Autumn. It looked like she had peed and was lying in it, but it was not yellow. The color was not anything I had seen from a living thing before, the color of a summer lime popsicle. My entire body went cold upon seeing that ooze. I carefully cleaned it up and moved Autumn into the kitchen. She was more listless than ever. She could barely stand. My throat was tight. It was beginning to dawn that she would not reach her twelfth birthday.

What was that, the desire for her to reach another birthday? All along while dealing with this wretched disease, I had wanted her to reach another birthday. After her initial diabetic episode, I was not sure she would ever reach her eleventh birthday. Then it was Christmas. Then I began to think maybe she would just keep living through a few birthdays, just looking like a skeleton.

I realize now she was gradually worsening, but having her there with me every day I did not notice the decline. Up until three weeks before her death she still liked chasing things. She couldn’t see while she was chasing things, so we had to accommodate, but she still liked doing it. She even seemed to enjoy looking for the ball or stick or toy she could not see.

That’s the trouble with living with a degenerative disease; you don’t notice the degeneration because you’re so busy managing it. And when the good days completely outweigh the bad, which Autumn’s did, it is easy to forget that the one you’re taking care of is on her way out of this world.

And for some reason I had arbitrarily decided that Autumn had to make it to August 16 and her twelfth birthday. It was like that day could save her somehow, even though I knew in my gut it was not true.

While lying in the kitchen, more neon green ooze came out and she just laid in it. It was this that made it clear to me that Autumn was finally really dying. I gave her an insulin shot. I tried to feed her, but she would not eat. She would not even eat wet food. More dread. More tightening in the throat and drying in the mouth.

I knew.

I debated taking her to work with me, initially deciding against it. Then as I bustled about, fitting into the routine that made forgetting easier for the moment, I realized that if I did not take her to work with me I would not see her this last day and I could not do that.

I worried about the office, whether anyone would care that I dragged in my skeleton dog. I worried about her needing to go potty. I finally decided to bring a towel and tell anyone who cared that this child of mine, my first baby I picked out the day she was born, was dying and if that person was heartless enough to tell me to take her away I would tell them to go to hell, but no one did. No one said a word. If I hadn’t had clients, I would not have gone, but I’ve figured out working on my own that I am the only backup, the biggest drawback to self-employment.  The clients who came to see me that day were extremely sympathetic.  One woman who came in shared a similar story of losing her own beloved pet.

I still have the bowl Autumn drank from the day she died. I cannot bear to put it back in the office kitchen. The day I returned to the office after she died I bawled when I saw that bowl. I had heard people speak of feeling “raw” and I now know what they meant. I felt absolutely exposed those first days after she was gone, like nothing was protecting me. Vulnerable. Words I had heard and sort of experienced, but not like this. No, this was worse.

Watching someone gradually die is the epitome of the expression a blessing and a curse. You are blessed with having your loved one there with you, but you are cursed with their disease. One minute you are wishing they would just finally go, the next minute you are thrashing yourself for the thought, the guilt a cloak you wear constantly. When they finally go, those moments creep up on you, those moments when you had ardently wished the afflicted would die, and you curse yourself, wondering whether your wishes contributed to their demise, knowing intellectually this is not possible, then reasoning emotionally that perhaps the dying one felt your anger and this brought their death sooner. Guilt:  a horrible, ugly poison.

I know guilt is not one of the traditional stages of grieving, but they ought to add it to the list for those of us who have lived with someone who has a degenerative illness. It has to be there for all of us. I cannot imagine anyone being a one-hundred percent perfect nurse to a degenerative patient, and those moments when you are not perfect come back to haunt you. Maybe only a little bit, but they are there. I like to think I’m an emotionally healthy person. I’ve managed to talk myself out of those moments, but they came up nonetheless and they can be brutal during the first days after the loved one dies. Like little bits of acid spray on the raw wound of grief.

Mostly though, I remember Autumn with tenderness and affection. Her body was so decrepit in the end, such a mess. A few months after her death, I watched a video I took of her two weeks before that day and her body was an emaciated skeleton. So sad. I took the video that morning because I thought that was her last day, rather than the day she actually died.

Throughout her life Autumn followed me wherever I would go, no matter how trivial or short the trip. Going into the kitchen for a glass of water?  There was Autumn, at my side. Going for a short visit to the toilet?  Autumn would rise from wherever she had been lying, follow me in, sighing heavily as she laid down next to me, then rising again thirty seconds later to follow me back to wherever I had been.

On that last day, when work was over, I picked Milla up from school and we headed south out of town for Dr. Fletcher’s in Albany. Debbie and Robert maintained a phone link, planning to be there for me in the end. I called Dr. Fletcher as well, to let him know we were on our way.

It was a warm day, hot and yellow. Autumn lay on the front seat, curled up. I kept petting her and sobbing. During those moments I kept thinking to myself that in an hour and a half, she would not be there anymore, that I would drive home without her, that I would never see her again. Ever. The finality was like a cement brick to the head. I could barely drive through my tears.

When Autumn was little and she rode in the car with me, she would lay her head across my forearm as I held the gear shift. As we drove, I placed my arm on the seat next to her and she rested her head there, our last moment a microcosm of our life together, our last hour.

The sun was still fairly high when we arrived at Dr. Fletcher’s near 6:00 that evening. The air outside the car was hot, so I left Autumn in the air-conditioning while I went inside to let Dr. Fletcher know that we had arrived. Debbie and Robert had already arrived and were waiting for us.

It’s odd. Since that evening, I’ve had many moments of extreme stress where my body felt like it could barely handle taking another step, but my mind knew it had to and forced it to keep going, but that night I had not experienced anything like that in my life before, and it felt overwhelming, that forcing myself to go when I did not want to.

I returned to the car and carefully lifted Autumn from the seat. I held her close and walked over to a grassy spot next to the parking lot. She was so light, barely fur and bones. I held her closely in my lap. She did not lift her head or try to walk around as she had the many times she’d been there before. I just held her, and pet her, and told her how much I loved her. Milla crouched at my side, her hand on Autumn’s neck. Autumn had been a part of her life since birth. Debbie and Robert stood next to us, and Robert snapped a couple of photos.

Dr. Fletcher held a large syringe filled with pink liquid as he walked from his office and across the lot to us. He did not say anything, he just walked up and put the needle in her forearm, then whispered to me to talk to her.

She died almost immediately. I pictured her spirit fleeing that prison of a body, flying off into the ether, she left so fast.

Earlier that year, my mom had to put her dog to sleep. It took him several minutes to die. Autumn died so quickly, it just seemed like an escape. I truly imagined her flying away.

Dr. Fletcher helped me to place her body in the wooden box I had brought to bury her in. It’s a strange experience, carrying a box with you to hold the body of someone who is alive when you start out, but whom you know will be dead, so you carry a place to put them when it’s over.

I buried her in Debbie’s back yard. I wanted her in a place I knew I could come to for as long as I lived. I wrapped her in a special blanket and covered her with a shirt of mine. She looked curled up, like she was sleeping. I have seen a dead human once; that person did not look asleep to me, but very dead. Autumn was not like this. I know it sounds almost trite, but she just looked peaceful, resting. Useful words to describe how it is.

It took a long time to dig the hole, longer than I expected, plus it was hot and the ground was really hard. I had to pick with a pickaxe, then dig with a shovel, then pick again. It was after dark by the time the digging was complete.

Before I lowered the box into the hole, I opened it, and pet and kissed Autumn goodbye, even though she was not really there. I knew once she went into the ground, I would never, ever see her body again. Months later I would imagine losing control and going there, digging up the grave, and opening the box, just so that the last time I saw her wouldn’t have to be.

I found a perfect chunk of stone to place at the head of her grave. I surrounded it with bricks. A couple of weeks later, I came back and planted flowers all over the spot, a floral island in Debbie and Robert’s weedy back landscape.

When I visited the grave the following spring ten months later, the yard was full of wild and brown grass and weeds. Yet Autumn’s grave was covered with green, a grass that was a foot taller than the rest of the grass in the yard. It was a soft, green rhombus, Autumn’s little bed in the middle of the field.

Epilogue
Autumn’s was the first major death in my life that I actually remember.  My grandma died when I was two, and apparently I missed her, but obviously a death at that age is nothing like death as an adult, or even as an older child.  The only other death I have experienced since Autumn is Robert’s, which broke my heart.  He died five years after she did, nearly to the day, of complications due to kidney failure.

Having now experienced the death of a close human, I can honestly say that Autumn’s loss was no less for me.  I grieved her closely for years.  Eight months after she died, I wrote in my journal that I was still mourning:

I ask myself why this grief can return so fresh eight months after her death. Then I realize that if she had been human, no one would begrudge my feeling this way, and I’m questioning the depth of my feelings because she was a dog.

I sat on the floor last evening near the couch and thought of Autumn and realized again that she will never be here. Ever. I hate the finality of that. I hate missing her so much. I hate the way it makes my heart hurt. I hate that I’m not allowed to feel this much pain because she is a dog and not a human. I loved her so much. I loved her more than any human until Milla was born. She was my first child. Of course I grieve. And I should not question that it has been eight months, or that she was a dog.

The idea for a book about her life tickled my brain shortly after she left me, and so I wrote down my memories of her death and illness while the pain was still fresh so I would not forget.  Then I had to put the book aside.  I could not write about her as a puppy without crying so profusely that I could not continue. Every so often I would remember something and take a note:  Don’t forget this about her! the note would read, whether it was the way she hopped up and down when I toweled her dry after a bath, or how she liked to hunt beetles.  Autumn, killer of domestic bugs.

Autumn’s death was the first in a series of life events that nearly brought me to my knees, metaphorically speaking.  Sad but true, the timing of her death in relation to everything else was actually fortuitous.  Things went rather south with Bjorn once he entered a new relationship, and we suffered a rather protracted court battle for the better part of a year.  During that time, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Bjorn’s new partner filed a bar complaint against me that lasted nearly a year.  The area of law I practice changed laws and my earnings plummeted to zero.  Rather than lose the lovely little house into which I had poured so much of my energy, I sold it shortly before the economy crashed.

I am not so sure I could have managed Autumn’s illness while handling so many difficulties of my own.  Yet perhaps I underestimate myself. It is amazing what one can endure when one has to, simply by placing one foot in front of the other, from one day to the next.  Perhaps too, in living with her various degenerative ailments, I acquired the discipline necessary to meet further challenges.

Two months before Autumn died, I adopted an older greyhound.  Her name was Edna, and surprisingly, she was a source of comfort in the months after Autumn’s death.  She came to us having spent the bulk of her life in a kennel on racetracks.  She had raced eight times and failed miserably at it, whereupon she was turned into a breeding dog.  Edna had no idea how to traverse stairs or eat anything but kibble in a bowl.  Teaching her these things and watching her make new discoveries was an utter delight.  She brought us joy during those sorrowful days after Autumn’s death.

In April 2009 Molly suffered a severe seizure. The seizure was horrible.  When I woke to her twisted body writhing on the floor, her eyes rolling in two different directions, feces and urine everywhere, I thought for sure she was dead.  But she did not die.  Three hours later, to the surprise of everyone who had seen her, especially the vet, Molly was 95% better.  And she stayed better.  The vet warned me that more seizures were to come, that she likely had a brain tumor and would continue to seize until one of them killed her, but that never happened.  She never had another seizure.

Then four months later, Molly seemed to deteriorate before our eyes.  She fell down the stairs to my boyfriend’s basement.  She had been having difficulty with stability on slippery floors for some time and those stairs were covered in linoleum.  She stopped wanting to eat.  We thought maybe hard kibble was bothering her so we bought wet food for her.  Molly gobbled that up like a starving beast and we thought things would improve, only the next day she did not want to eat wet food either.  We fed her some by hand and she ate that, but the next day she wanted even less.  Two days later when we took her outside to go to the bathroom, she slipped and fell going up the back porch steps, and the next day when she went out to go to the bathroom, she urinated, then lay in it.  Clearly something was dreadfully wrong.  My dear, sweet, fastidious dog would never go anywhere near her urine if she could help it.  We bathed her and I made an appointment with our vet.

Molly died the next morning.  The vet said she had a large tumor in her spleen that had burst and her belly was full of blood.  She said we could operate to remove the tumor, but Molly would likely not survive any surgery — there would have been no benefit in trying to save her life.  She was fourteen years old.  Her body was old and worn out.  Trying to keep her alive would have been selfish and cruel.

I am so blessed this creature was a part of my life for almost twelve years.  She was always there, quietly in the background.  Molly loved a lot of people.  She was always so excited to see my mom or my good friends.  She loved my boyfriend and enjoyed his company, following him around the house for a snack or to have her rear end scratched.  She took a bit of time to warm up to a person, almost like she was sizing them up to determine whether they were worth her friendship.  Yet once she decided she liked you, she always liked you and would remember someone after months or even years of an absence.

Upon hearing of her death, a close friend of mine said to me, “She was such a good friend and such a polite and gentle dog.  What a blessing to have had her for so long – she loved you all dearly.”  These words were simply true.  I am grateful Molly came to us. In her quiet way she was a fixture in my life for over a decade.  Of the hundreds of dogs I could have chosen from the humane society that cold, winter day, I am so thankful I chose her.

In winter of 2009 I moved to New York.  I had been telling Milla for months that after school let out for the summer, I would get her a small dog of her own.  During the school year, we would prowl shelters and pet stores, seeing what was out there, looking for a new friend.

One afternoon in April, we stopped in a dog store after going out to a movie.  While there, a small, impish, white maltipoo greeted me with enthusiasm and delight.  She climbed up on the railing to the display area, hanging over the bars begging me to pet her.  She was utterly charming.

The store owners brought the little dog into a fenced area in the middle of the store so we could play with her.  Milla and I sat and enjoyed her company for a half an hour before she wore herself out and settled in for a nap.  As we rose to leave, I reached over the bars and lay my hand on her side.  Something traveled between us in that moment.  I felt her entire body relax beneath my fingers. She sighed and stretched her legs.

After we left I could not get the little dog out of my head.  She was ridiculously expensive and I had determined we would be adopting a shelter dog.  However, I kept thinking of her and early the next morning, which was Easter, I decided that I would call the pet store.  If they were open, I would offer them less than half their asking price for her, the same price I would pay to adopt a dog in New York.  If they accepted, I would go and get her. I called the store, they were open, and they accepted my price immediately.  Milla and I rode the subway north to Washington Heights and brought her home with us. I named her Ava.

I fell immediately in love with this delightful creature.  There are some just dog things, such as the way they trot in front of you with their ears back, heading where you’re heading, that I adore in this dog of mine.  I love how wherever I go in the house she follows me, like Autumn did.  It was one of the hardest things to lose when she died.

Ava also has her own unique quirks that I specially love about her.  She sits on my feet.  If I am in a place and standing and talking or sitting and talking to someone else, she perches on my foot.  She will do this when I am saying goodbye to Milla as she leaves the house to go do something and I am staying home.  Ava sits there on my foot, as if to say I am staying here with herYou go have fun.  We will be here when you get back. Then as I move into the house to do whatever, she follows me.

She likes to sit on the corner of my bed look out the window or watch me while I’m sitting at my desk.  She hovers with her paws over the edge of the bed frame, her head rested on them, looking at me.

Ava makes distinct faces all her own.  The most common is what I call her happy face, her mouth slightly open, tongue out, eyes bright, often one ear cocked.  She’ll turn her head slightly as if to ask Do you want to play? In these moments I stop what I’m doing and play with her.

In the morning, when she wakes up, she has the most incredible bed head.  Her eyes are all sleepy, her hairs all akimbo.  She’ll crawl to the top of the bed, as if the effort is more than she can bear, then sigh and relax as we snuggle and pet her.

Later, wild dog comes out, chasing bears and fozzies, rattling them mightily from side to side until they are dead.  Sometimes she brings them to us and requests that we throw them.  We do, because watching her little sheep butt run away to get them is one of life’s greatest joys.  She does not like these stuffed creatures to see anything.  Within a half an hour of getting a new stuffed toy she removes its eyes.  Perhaps she does not want it to see her remove all its innards piece by piece.  More likely she loves that the pieces are hard and fun to chew.

After Ava has a bath she runs through the house like she’s on fire, ears back, bolting from room to room. What is that, dogs running after baths?  I understand their desire to rub themselves dry on the floor, but the running around after, I wonder why.  Almost every dog I have ever owned has gone running after getting a bath.  However, none of them have run like Ava does.  The others have all just gone for their run to dive into their rubs.  This one just runs like a bat out of hell from room to room, then comes and stares at me with the happy face, tongue lolling out, eyes bright. Then off she goes again to make another round.  It’s hilarious.

Ava isn’t thrilled with the bath itself.  She is actually one of the more obnoxious dogs I have had to bathe.  It’s a good thing she is small and easy to hold down because she really hates it and tries to escape.  Yet she is intrigued by the bathtub, or rather, people showering or bathing.  When Milla takes a shower, it is a guarantee that Ava will be in the bathroom standing on the edge of the tub, peeking around the shower curtain, her little sheep butt wagging its mini tail.  When either of us bathe, she comes and stands and looks in.  Maybe she is curious why we would want to do something so hideously awful.  Or perhaps she just wants our company.  Maybe it’s a little of both.

Ava truly loves to snuggle.  She is thrilled at her ability to jump on the bed.  She could not always do it by herself, but she grew and figured it out, and now seems to take great pleasure in both jumping on and jumping off. I can jump on the bed!  I can jump off the bed!  See?  I launch myself many feet past the bed!  Aren’t I skilled?

She will jump on the bed if I am lying there and come and lie across my neck and sigh.  She’s my little doggie stole.  She’ll snuggle there a while and get kisses from me, and strokes and rubs.  She knows I do not like her to lick me.  She does not even try anymore.  My ex-boyfriend lets her kiss him — I think it’s gross — but Ava knows he doesn’t mind so she licks him all over.  The only time she licks me is when I get out of the shower.  She will come in and lick the water off of my feet  until I dry them.

This dog makes me happy.  That’s the simple fact of it.  She came along when I was very sad.  There were so many reasons, many of them huge, for my sadness.  One the biggest was grief over the loss of the dogs who had lived with me.  I would have dreams about them, dreams they were still alive or still lived with me.  Vivid dreams.  Then this little dog came to live with me and I suddenly felt the desire to laugh again.  I laugh every day living with her.  She’s a happy, wonderful little spirit.  Frankly, I’m completely smitten.

Years and years ago, I may not have even been out of my teens, I read The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck.  I don’t remember much of it at all.  I read it because it was a bestseller, and I don’t even recall its premise beyond the title.

However, I remember one thing vividly.  Peck argued that humans can never really love a dog, or any other animal, because to love as he defined it requires reciprocation in kind.  My feelings in response to his position are unchanged:  I wholeheartedly disagree.  Life is full of different kinds of love.  Some loves are equally reciprocal, usually with the person we choose as a mate, but also with certain friends or even family members.  By Peck’s definition, I could not truly love an infant or a small child or someone who does not love me back in the same way and with the same articulation.

What a limiting view of human capacity.  I absolutely loved my dog.  It did not matter that her adoration of me was different.  My love for her was there, and it still is.  Autumn was a gift and I will love her forever.  She helped to teach me selflessness.  She brought me joy.  She increased my humanity.  For this and so much more, I will be forever grateful.

Autumn

Autumn's Last Day

Autumn’s Last Day

Do we Have to Destroy Ourselves?

I sat down to work on my book and took a couple of minutes first to look at Facebook. First I saw a photo of a dead child in Afghanistan whose body was badly burned. Then I saw the story about the person who went on a murderous rampage there, killing women and children, mostly girls under six. Now I can’t write. I’m sickened and horrified. My heart hurts for these people. All we do in the name of our imperialistic superiority makes me completely ill. I can do nothing except object, and this is not enough.  When the fuck are humans going to stop allowing this to happen, all in the name of greed and power? We need to LEAVE this country! We do not belong there, at least in the capacity as a marauding military. We can’t even take care of our own. Every day when I walk through my city, even to the grocery store, I am confronted with the consequences of allowing greed and power to destroy our race and this planet. Women and children. Men and children. Women and men. Homeless. Living on the streets. Begging for food. It’s obscene. There is enough to go around if we stop allowing the greedy and powerful to steal it from us, if we stop killing and maiming and destroying and robbing our world blind. Enough already! Do we have to destroy ourselves to get it to end?

Rick Santelli is an Idiot…Still

I posted this a while back.  See it here.  I was responding to this moron the first time he opened his idiot face and let venom spew.   Of course, since he’s still slithering around out there, the post continues to garner hits, over two years later.  I reread what I wrote, and I can’t really improve on it.  All I said is still true.  So I’m posting it again.

Rick Santelli is an Idiot

I can’t believe this guy.  I heard him spouting off about how Americans shouldn’t pay for their neighbor to have one more bathroom.  I wanted to reach into the screen and slap his ugly head.  What an idiot.

Here’s a clue, Mr. Smarty Pants:  People who are in foreclosure are in foreclosure because the system is a mess, not because they are “deadbeats” and want a free ride from the government or their neighbors.  Want to point fingers, idiot?  Point them at the banks that overvalued properties in the first place to get people into questionable loans so brokers could collect bigger fees.  Point those fingers at the lenders for telling consumers that their ARM loan wouldn’t be a problem because they would be able to refinance in three years when the rates change (and hey, rates have been going down forever, so  why shouldn’t this continue? Your payment will be lower!) while simultaneously neglecting to point out there would be no way in hell any traditional lender would refinance property that is mortgaged for more than it is worth.  And oh, be sure to keep it a secret from the borrower that refinancing will not be an option if you lose your job.  How about pointing the fingers at lenders who convinced people to take out that second mortgage or a HELOC to “consolidate their debt” without pointing out that trading unsecured debt for secured debt would make bankruptcy pointless should the need arise?  How about pointing fingers at the pathetic and useless Bush administration who drove us into an economic crisis and higher unemployment than we have seen in decades?  Let’s just blame the victim for losing their job.  They should have known to move to China or India ten years ago so they would be there when their jobs were shipped overseas.

I heard the jerk in an interview claim that buyers should have hired lawyers.  Guess what?  Lawyers aren’t free.  And assuming someone could afford $225 an hour to hire one, a lawyer wouldn’t hire an appraiser to know that the bank overvalued the property.  Plus hiring an attorney when you buy a house is theoretically unnecessary anyway.  Mortgage brokers and lenders have a fiduciary duty of care to their clients.  This means they are held to a higher standard of care in dealing with the public.  They are expected to act EXTRA honest because it is expected that they have greater knowledge about the mortgage industry than consumers.  How does this work, Mr. Santelli?  Are the consumers supposed to suddenly educate themselves so they can catch dishonest bankers and brokers?  Would you hold a patient to the same duty before going to a doctor?  Am I supposed to go get an MBA before I go to a financial expert to ensure they are upholding their fiduciary duty?  Should I get an MD before going to the doctor?

I can’t stand the mentality that we are not obligated to help one another.  Guess what?  We are all in this together.  We can sit in our foreclosed bunkers with our guns aimed at our neighbors and barbed wire wrapped around our hearts to protect us from the enemy, ensuring we keep that property because, hell, it belongs to us, right?  We don’t need to share.  Or we can grow up and realize that society at its heart means social.  It means taking responsibility for one another.  It means what we do for each other we do for ourselves. It means we care for and protect one another and when someone is down, we offer them a hand up.  Taking care of one another is the stuff life is made of.  The alternate choice is to live like Rick Santelli, cold and alone with his gun pointed at everyone, dragging his loot into the afterlife.  Good luck with that, Buddy.

P.S. Being a stock-broker might be a high risk financially, but it is not hard work.

It Continues Unabated

I have believed my entire life that good will prevail, that the greed of imperialism and corporatism would fail, that eventually in the battle against those who seek power for its own sake, who destroy this lovely planet for their own narrow gains in the moment, would all lose in the end and we would embrace one another and our home as sacred.  I have believed that the selfishness of the individual who isn’t at the top of the corporate or power ladder would somehow dissipate and there would be more balance between feminine and masculine energies.  Even though imperialism has spread from one place to another and destroyed entire populations on every continent, leaving nothing but destruction in its wake, I thought ultimately, those who seek harmony with our earth and one another would ultimately prevail.

Yet I realize that it continues to get worse, as it always has–Europe stole Africa, North America, South America, the South Pacific, India, and Australia. Europe’s North American protege steals from Asia and the middle east. Imperialism has taken the entire planet.  My country is killing people all over the world.  My country takes what it wants and cares not for the consequences to the people from whom it takes or the planet from whom it takes.  My country steals from this planet, all in the name of greed and power, regardless of the long term result.  My country does all this while waving its flag claiming its superiority over everyone and everything.  What a mockery of true superiority.  What a mockery of all that is decent and good.

The reality is that imperialism and greed have won, are winning, will continue to win until there is nothing left.  Our race learns nothing from the mistakes of the past, because we as individuals did not experience them.  The last victims of the Holocaust are dying off even as new versions of it have continued, nearly unabated.  In spite of all evidence to the contrary, America and its citizens continue to ignore global climate change, pretending it isn’t man-made so they can continue to live as they want unabated because making any changes beyond clicking a button on a mouse or sorting out some recycling is the limit of what they are willing to do.  We take from the Mexicans through imperialism and corporatism, leaving nothing for them in their home place, then beat their citizens in whatever way possible to keep them from trying to escape. We take from China and southeast Asia through imperialism and corporatism, allowing anything that makes us more money, while ignoring flagrant human rights violations.  We take from our oceans. We take from our land.  We take and take, and on, and on.

I look around at the world and, while I recognize that giving up hope of stopping what we are doing to one another and to the planet would be akin to joining the dark forces, I simultaneously realize that those who wish for something different are fighting a losing battle.  I suppose there is some miniscule percentile of a possibility that we can stop them, but reality is grim.  I fear it is going to take a global Holocaust, not just of people, but of the planet, to force people to realize that the pursuit of wealth and greed will destroy us.

Have Mercy

I’m probably a lone wolf in saying this, but I don’t think we should cheer the murder of anyone, even someone like Bin Laden.  Be grateful, perhaps, but cheering and flag-waving over the death of another is tasteless and crude.  I felt the same at the death of Saddam Hussein, and also at the execution of Ted Bundy.  There is just something vulgar about exuberance over the death of another, even one who has caused much harm.  We should with mercy and grace acknowledge his passing, and be grateful that he can no longer harm another, but it is simply not the time for a party.

Corporate Tax Dodgers

Go to this link to sign a petition to congress requesting that they stop all corporate tax havens.  I doubt they will care (I’m a cynic in that regard), but hey, it can’t hurt, right?

Groupon Does Business with Pure Med Spa

After several commenters noted that Groupon in Dallas is giving out a Groupon on Pure Med Spa (aka Beauty Med Spa–same name, no difference), I sent them an email saying that they really ought to reconsider promoting a company that has done so much harm.  Here was Groupon’s response:

Hi Lara,

Thanks for your feedback and sorry for any inconvenience this has caused.
We do our best to feature businesses that see Groupon as an opportunity to gain loyal customers as well as advertise their services.

We stand by all of the businesses we feature and the deals we offer, but if you ever feel let down in any way when using your Groupon, we’ll be more than happy to work with you towards satisfaction! Also, thanks for the information! I will be passing this on to the right people.

Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Regards,

Sarah M.

support@groupon.com

I told them that I am not going to be let down, but others will be.  Who wants to be a loyal customer to a business that has stolen thousands of dollars from customers, burned people with lasers, caused one woman to require surgery because they damaged her legs, and on and on. They are being investigated by several state attorneys general and have been profiled on many television news programs for the harm they have caused.

It’s a shame that this is Groupon’s response considering the negative publicity associated with this company.  Groupon is promoting thieves and hucksters.  Send Groupon a letter letting them know if you have been harmed and what happened.  Maybe if enough people contact them, they will change their policy.

The Sad Truth

The sad truth is that rich, power-mongers have been stealing and raiding from the earth and the rest of us for thousands of years.  It only seems more imminent now because of globalization and easier access to information.  The Romans invaded and stole all of Europe (and others raided and stole on a smaller scale before that), then Europe expanded and stole the rest of the world.  At some point, the rest of us are going to have to go much more global than simply Egypt or Tunisia or any other small uprising and say Enough is enough! If we do that however, we can’t rise up and take their place.  That story is old too.

This is what humanity does.  Are we going to ever actually change it or keep letting it happen and lamenting when it does?

As an aside, I keep trying to stop drinking chai teas from Starbucks.  I get there for a while, stopping for months. Then I get cold or whatever and drink one. Then I think one more won’t hurt. The next thing I know I’m back craving the damn things all the time again.  Like right now.  Insidious crap, caffeine.

Mexico: The House the US has Set on Fire

This article has been published on OpEd News.   If you like it, rate it and share it.  You can see it here.

Mexico: The House the US has Set on Fire

By Lara Gardner

opednews.com

Mexico is a house the US has set on fire, then covered its doors and windows with bars, allowing the people inside to burn alive. Fueled by easy access to weapons from their neighbors to the north, drug lords have infiltrated all sectors of society, and now Mexico is arguably the most dangerous country in North America and one of the most dangerous in the world. Deregulation, privatization of government services, liberalized trade, and the “war on drugs” have made life and poverty in Mexico so unbearable that Mexican citizens risk their lives to try and escape the burning conflagration and come to the United States. The US created this mess, and, through “border reform,” seeks to keep Mexican citizens from attempting to escape.

Even more so than in the US, the rich have gotten richer on the backs of the Mexican poor. Thanks to corporate America’s demand for low wages, Mexicans confront American sweatshops, pollution, congestion, horrible living conditions, and no resources to deal with the increasing violence. As in the United States, agribusiness has destroyed the family farm. Wal-mart has put thousands of small, local businesses out of business. Free trade was sold as a means to improve the lives of Mexicans and Americans. It has led only to greater exploitation. American jobs were sent to Mexico to take advantage of cheap labor with little or no safety or environmental oversight. The “war on drugs” has made outlaws wealthy and created a dangerous and corrupt police state where no one is safe. Mexicans want to escape–how can we blame them?

Immigration reform is constantly on the US agenda, yet it isn’t really about reform; it is about racism, ignorance, and fear. Americans, suffering from decades of the same economic policies that are leading to greater poverty in Mexico, blame their woes on Mexico’s victims of those policies. The smoke and mirrors illusion that the rising level of poverty in the US is caused by liberal systems, government socialism, and immigrants is part of the same lie that keeps Americans blaming and fighting one another. As long as everyone is fighting each other, the bulk of the population won’t focus on the true causes of economic disparity taking over the planet.

While it is highly unlikely that this approach will happen, Americans need to reach out and support Mexicans and Mexico. Rather than turning immigration reform into a battle at the border, the US must eliminate trade policies that benefit only the wealthy. The US also needs to help Mexico build its infrastructure, providing access to basic services such as clean water and functional sewer systems, decent transportation, and a healthy environment. We must help it form a strong education system so its citizens can achieve their dreams. We need stronger gun regulations of our own so drug dealers on both sides of the border cannot get cheap and easy access to weapons. Finally, we must end the failed “war on drugs” that has made outlaws unimaginably wealthy and forces millions to live in fear for their lives every day.

Unless the US is willing to embrace difficult solutions to a complex problem, there will be no true immigration reform. Killing, jailing, or sending back those who seek refuge here is not any answer. Real reform is formidable and ambitious, but it is also possible. True immigration reform would make the citizens of Mexico want to stay in their homeland rather than escaping to a place where our worst is still the best they can hope for.

I Hope We Get You, Pure Med Spa, Britesmile, et al

I have completed the article and begun submitting it to magazines. It is my goal to get the issue as much widespread attention as possible.  I would also like to educate women about how to keep from getting taken by companies like Pure Med Spa.  They keep opening (and closing) under different names so consumers can’t keep up with who is legitimate and who is a thief.  There are steps consumers can take to keep from getting harmed by any med spa company, and especially this company run by these crooks.

Not Best Picture

This was published on Huffington Post.  See it here.

It is movie awards time. The Golden Globes were just handed out and the Oscar race is nearly on. I could not believe Avatar won the Golden Globes award for best picture. Why is it that if a movie is filled with spectacular special effects it is considered a best picture candidate?

Asking this question is some evidence that I think a best picture is one that actually contains characters who show some complexity, or a story that is unique in some way beyond what the film looks like. I simply do not consider as best picture a movie that is unique only on a visual scale. There were so many deliciously brilliant films this year, I’m frustrated that a film whose only merit is visual is sweeping the awards yet again.

If Avatar had been set on earth, with humans riding horses in their beautifully lush jungle, the imperialists coming to destroy the land for profit, it simply would not have been possible best-picture fodder. I doubt it would barely climb out of B-movie-land. The story has been told, and it has been told better. The Mission comes to mind. Even Australia, which had some predictability and overwrought elements, but visually stunning panoramas, was a better film. At least it attempted character development.

However, Avatar is a visually stunning movie, and for that reason alone, everyone is going to see it and it is winning awards. Give us a few years and its effects will not be quite so grand after we’ve seen the same sort of thing a few hundred times. Remember Jurassic Park? The first time I saw that movie I was awestruck. I saw it again recently and while it is moderately entertaining, the dinosaurs are no longer quite so spectacular because I have seen giant CGI creatures so often, I am used to them. Not such a thrill these days.

Halfway through Avatar I was already frustrated by its bland formula and dialogue. The characters on Pandora lacked anything unusual other than what they looked like. Sure, James Cameron spent years creating this “other world,” but that world certainly looked awfully earth-like to me. The characters were prototypical natives, down to their bare feet, the beads in their hair, and feathers in their arrows. There is the tribal chief queen and the royal children destined for marriage. There is the natives’ intrinsic harmony with that land. And let’s not forget their natural-world deity (native Americans, anyone?). Even their alien steeds, both land and air versions, look like horses — albeit with some extra legs and wings, and reins that could connect to their riders’ minds. Yes, in some of the details, the Na’vi were clearly aliens, but nothing about them was unique to the point they were unrecognizable as fundamentally human, something one might expect would occur on a planet somewhere far from earth.

And the human characters, don’t even get me started. They were such caricatures, I could hardly stand to watch some of them. The bad guys were Very Bad. We knew they would be Very Bad the moment they showed up onscreen. The early dialogue in the film was unrealistic, managing to give us all the background we needed in the span of ten minutes. Hyper bad Marine colonel. Check. Scientist who wants to save Pandora and empathizes with the natives. Check. Evil corporate greedy guy. Check. Main character who will save the day. Check. Sexy native woman who is won over by main character. Check. And on and on. None of them had any depth beyond a mud puddle.

I suppose I should not be surprised that a picture so visually breathtaking while simultaneously lacking any depth is considered by many to be the best picture of the year. Spectacle seems to be the theme in so much of America these days. Rather than intelligent debate regarding complex issues, politics has been reduced to screaming sound bites and accusations. The worse the behavior, the more attention it gets. Reality television has mostly replaced anything resembling more complex programming. Spectacularly bad behavior replays constantly where the most loud and obnoxious wins, at least to the extent that the winner gets their face plastered all over the tabloids, their hideous behavior played out ad nauseam.

I liked Avatar. I did. I was moderately entertained when I wasn’t squirming in my seat at the made-for-t.v. movie dialogue. The visual effects were cool. But I just can’t see it as a best-picture candidate. Best means superlative of good, surpassing all others in excellence. Avatar may be the best today for visual effects, but in all other areas it was barely average. No matter how you cut it this just isn’t what a best picture should be.

I Just Can’t Stand It

I’m so frustrated with this country.  I wish I had never heard the results of the Massachusetts election.  I can’t stand the stupid, short-sightedness in this country.  If anyone thinks Republicans are going to do anything to fix anything, they are fucking crazy.  This country would not be in this mess if it weren’t for decades of conservative thinking.  It never works.  People think the middle of the road Democrats need to fix things immediately or they will just vote in the bastards who created the mess in the first place, and things only get worse.  Problems take years to accumulate and they want changes to happen in minutes.

Conservative thinking has made a concerted effort to make Americans believe government is the problem, then they set out to gut government in order to back up their goals, getting people to believe that laissez-faire, market-driven capitalism is in their interests.  After their jobs have been sent overseas, their homes taken from them, no healthcare, no food, gutted schools, and no social programs to speak of, Americans blame government for the problem, rather than blaming the tiny elite who manipulated them in the first place using issues like abortion and same-sex marriage to get people to vote against their economic interests.  It’s terrifying.  In reality, governments work well in many countries, countries that let governments run effectively and don’t let big money run loose to do as it pleases.

I find it ironic that the same people who lament the giant banks and their big bonuses and corrupt business practices vote in the same people who ensure these policies stay in place and their actions will become even more blatant.  It makes me crazy.  People listen to uneducated fools like Sarah Palin, think she’s “like them,” in spite of the fact her bank account is nothing like theirs and she makes our nation look like a country of fools.  They get caught up in the hateful ire of Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, without considering the motivations of these very wealthy, very hateful men.  They blame Obama for the bailouts, and he wasn’t even president when it happened!  I’m so sick of the ignorance, I can barely manage to follow politics in this country anymore.

I know the people I admire urge me to continue to try and make the world a better place, that in giving up hope, those hateful bastards win.  But seriously, how is one supposed to cope knowing things are only going to get worse and knowing I have two children for whom I want the world to be a better place, and for whom I want a planet for them to live on and prosper?  It almost makes me ashamed for having brought them into this place.  I love them more than life itself.  I only hope there is a planet for them to live on that isn’t as bleak and horrible as it seems doomed to be.

Let’s Put an End to Pat Robertson

This article can be seen here on Huffington Post.  If you like it, Digg It or Buzz it Up.

Pat Robertson has been getting a lot of attention for his hateful, insensitive remarks about the victims of the earthquake in Haiti (and the victims of 9/11, and the Christmas Day tsunami, and Hurricane Katrina). This is understandable. Those of us with anything resembling a moral compass are shocked that he could believe such things and that he has the audacity to spew them in the wake of such tragedies.

Yet as horrendously mean-spirited as Robertson’s statements are, we should also be upset that his opinions receive national attention. Why? Because broadcasters choose to air his program. If broadcasters refused to air his nastiness, no one would have to hear about it. The way to keep him from getting national attention is to get broadcasters to stop airing his show.

Viewers can control what is shown by boycotting advertisers who fund his offensive program. If we want to stop hearing Pat Robertson, we need to make sure the broadcasters who air his program are not paid for it, thereby removing their incentive to air him.

The primary network airing The 700 Club is the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Call the CBN and tell them to stop airing this show. Call networks and tell them to stop airing the show. Tell them if they do not pull the show, you will boycott their advertisers. Then call their advertisers and tell them you will not buy their products if they advertise on networks that air The 700 Club, or if they advertise on the CBN until the network pulls the show.

The CBN should drop Pat Robertson and The 700 Club. He does not espouse Christian values (or any values at all), such as compassion, kindness, generosity, humility, or selflessness. Let’s all do our part to ensure the next time tragedy strikes, Pat Robertson’s ugliness receives zero attention because none of us have to hear it.

Move Your Money

I’m very excited about a movement brewing to move money out of the big four banks (Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America) and into smaller, community-based banks.  The big banks took our bailout money, then earned record profits, returning to the same practices that caused the collapse in the first place.  In spite of their profits, they have cut lending by 100 billion dollars in spite of the bailout money that was intended to get them lending again.

In the meantime, local community banks, most of whom avoided the corrupt practices of the big banks, are having difficulty getting by, and government policies that keep propping up the big guys are making things more difficult for banks who have followed the rules.

A group of people came up with an idea to help the little banks while simultaneously sending a message with teeth to the greedy, corrupt thieves who caused the meltdown in the first place.  The idea is simple.  If enough people move their money out of the big four and into smaller, local, solvent institutions, the system will become more balanced so it can be stronger, more stable, and productive, working for economic growth instead of against it.

You can get more information at the website www.MoveYourMoney.info.  The site will have a page where you can enter your zip code to find a highly ranked local bank in your area.

Move your money.  Let’s show those banks who think they are too big to fail that we aren’t putting up with their corruption any longer.

I’m the Poster Child for Public Healthcare

I was published on Huffington Post last week.  To see the original story, click here.  If you like it, please share on Facebook or twitter, and feel free to buzz me up.

I’m the Poster Child for Public Healthcare
by Lara M. Gardner

I am a poster child for public health. Why do I say this? Because I live in a state where there is a low-income, public healthcare option. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was able to utilize this option for my treatment. It worked, and it worked extremely well.

Uninsured and unemployed after job-hunting for over a year in late 2006, I discovered a lump in my breast. The lump turned out to be benign, but the mammogram of that lump showed early breast cancer. The nurse-practitioner who ordered the mammogram knew about a federal program for treatment of breast and cervical cancers in low-income women. I applied for the program and was accepted for my mammogram and subsequent biopsy. Once the biopsy showed that I indeed had cancer, the Oregon Health Plan kicked in, along with the federal program, to treat my cancer.

The care I received was phenomenal. I was able to choose my doctors. My surgeon and oncologists were all brilliant, amazing physicians. All of the staff in every facility treated me with kindness and respect. Throughout the process I was a partner in my care, everyone explaining procedures at a level commensurate with my education and understanding. Never once was I made to feel like a second-class citizen because of my public health status. I completed radiation treatments and, because I take an estrogen-blocking drug, have continued on the public-health program.

As part of my care, I was required to pay $3 for doctor visits. I had two surgeries for a biopsy and lumpectomy, a needle biopsy, radiation, multiple mammograms, and attended countless doctor appointments with various practitioners. The only bills I ever received were for the $3 fees. Not once did I suffer through multiple bills, trying to sort out which my insurance company had paid, who had been billed, who was owed what. I was spared all of this thanks to public healthcare.

Since the healthcare debate has come to the fore over the last year, I have read and heard story after story of women with cancers like mine who were “covered” by private health insurance. Over and over, I have heard of the trauma and stress these women experienced at the hands of their insurance companies at the same time they were dealing with the pain, fear, and exhaustion of their illness. Each time I heard these stories, I felt grateful that I was covered by a public health plan.

Part of the health care debate has included the old canards about the Canadian and British health systems. “You can’t choose your doctor.” “You have to wait for months to get treated.” These claims have been widely discredited, and I saw nothing in my experience with American public healthcare that was lacking. I chose all of my doctors. I was served immediately.

I sincerely hope our legislators can get their act together and create a health plan that provides health care for every American so all of us can experience true and complete care, as I did. It can work. It does work. We all deserve nothing less.

Reality Check

This article has been published on Huffington Post and can be seen here.

I saw several articles on 9/11 debating whether the US is safer, particularly since we went to Iraq.  That 9/11 is even connected to Iraq as somehow making us safer as laughable, especially considering the only relation between the two is that 9/11 was used as an excuse to get into Iraq.  Any suggestion that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11 has been roundly proven to be non-existent.  Yet the myth remains.

Ironically (or not considering the climate of this country since the year 2000), in the so many “arguments” against healthcare reform, the reason most often posited against any public option by those purporting to be reasonable is the cost.  This is ironic mainly considering these same naysayers have not been arguing against the obscene cost of the Iraq war.  Even if the government took over 100% of healthcare, owned every medical facility, hired every medical professional, and owned all of the equipment, the cost still would come nowhere near what we have spent and continue to spend on the Iraq war.

Supporters of the Iraq war have long used the argument that being there keeps us safe from terrorists.  This of course is in spite of evidence against any connection between Iraq and terrorism, at least before we got there.  We may now have created more terrorists in the way we have handled and treated the citizens in Iraq.  But to the supporters of the war, spending money in Iraq is spending money to combat terrorism.

Yet let’s be realistic here.  Suppose we actually were doing something to fight terrorism by being in  Iraq.  Would the cost still be justified?

Ask the average American how their life or the lives of their family members have been touched by terrorism.  It is more likely that this person has been struck by lightening five times than it is they have been personally affected by a terrorist attack.  Yes, it can be scary for some people to contemplate.  But seriously, it is extremely rare any of us will endure anything terrorist related that affects us personally.

Ask the same average American how their life or the lives of their family members have been affected by the healthcare crisis in this country.  It is more likely that they or a family member have been affected personally by the healthcare crisis than not.  Nearly everyone has some story to tell.  And even if a citizen hasn’t yet been affected, the possibility they will be affected if they lose their job (a much higher possibility even in a good economy than being affected by terrorism), then the lack of affordable healthcare will affect them.

We have spent billions and continue to spend billions in Iraq based on the dubious possibility we might be fighting terrorism, something that affects so few people, yet most of us cannot point to anyone who has been personally affected by it.  At the same time, we have politicians and citizens arguing against a public option because they claim we can’t afford it, even though most of us are affected by it every day.

We need a reality check.  The next time a politician claims we can’t afford public healthcare, ask them to stop spending money in Iraq and spend it here on healthcare instead.  Even if we could afford Iraq (we can’t), and even if being in Iraq protected us (it doesn’t), the reality is we should stop spending that money there and spend it here at home on something that affects all of us every day.

Racism is Alive and Well in America

The following article is taken from The New York Times and can be located here.

Think Again
by Stanley Fish

Henry Louis Gates: Déjà Vu All Over Again

I’m Skip Gates’s friend, too. That’s probably the only thing I share with President Obama, so when he ended his press conference last Wednesday by answering a question about Gates’s arrest after he was seen trying to get into his own house, my ears perked up.

As the story unfolded in the press and on the Internet, I flashed back 20 years or so to the time when Gates arrived in Durham, N.C., to take up the position I had offered him in my capacity as chairman of the English department of Duke University. One of the first things Gates did was buy the grandest house in town (owned previously by a movie director) and renovate it. During the renovation workers would often take Gates for a servant and ask to be pointed to the house’s owner. The drivers of delivery trucks made the same mistake.

The message was unmistakable: What was a black man doing living in a place like this?

At the university (which in a past not distant at all did not admit African-Americans ), Gates’s reception was in some ways no different. Doubts were expressed in letters written by senior professors about his scholarly credentials, which were vastly superior to those of his detractors. (He was already a recipient of a MacArthur fellowship, the so called “genius award.”) There were wild speculations (again in print) about his salary, which in fact was quite respectable but not inordinate; when a list of the highest-paid members of the Duke faculty was published, he was nowhere on it.

The Associated Press Henry Louis Gates, Jr., during a book signing in 2006.

The unkindest cut of all was delivered by some members of the black faculty who had made their peace with Duke traditions and did not want an over-visible newcomer and upstart to trouble waters that had long been still. (The great historian John Hope Franklin was an exception.) When an offer came from Harvard, there wasn’t much I could do. Gates accepted it, and when he left he was pursued by false reports about his tenure at what he had come to call “the plantation.” (I became aware of his feelings when he and I and his father watched the N.C.A.A. championship game between Duke and U.N.L.V. at my house; they were rooting for U.N.L.V.)

Now, in 2009, it’s a version of the same story. Gates is once again regarded with suspicion because, as the cultural critic Michael Eric Dyson put it in an interview, he has committed the crime of being H.W.B., Housed While Black.

He isn’t the only one thought to be guilty of that crime. TV commentators, laboring to explain the unusual candor and vigor of Obama’s initial comments on the Gates incident, speculated that he had probably been the victim of racial profiling himself. Speculation was unnecessary, for they didn’t have to look any further than the story they were reporting in another segment, the story of the “birthers” — the “wing-nuts,” in Chris Matthews’s phrase — who insist that Obama was born in Kenya and cite as “proof” his failure to come up with an authenticated birth certificate. For several nights running, Matthews displayed a copy of the birth certificate and asked, What do you guys want? How can you keep saying these things in the face of all evidence?

He missed the point. No evidence would be sufficient, just as no evidence would have convinced some of my Duke colleagues that Gates was anything but a charlatan and a fraud. It isn’t the legitimacy of Obama’s birth certificate that’s the problem for the birthers. The problem is again the legitimacy of a black man living in a big house, especially when it’s the White House. Just as some in Durham and Cambridge couldn’t believe that Gates belonged in the neighborhood, so does a vocal minority find it hard to believe that an African-American could possibly be the real president of the United States.

Gates and Obama are not only friends; they are in the same position, suspected of occupying a majestic residence under false pretenses. And Obama is a double offender. Not only is he guilty of being Housed While Black; he is the first in American history guilty of being P.W.B., President While Black.

Who are the Real “Activists”?

I absolutely agree with the premise of this article, that if we are going to define a judge’s decisions as activist, it should be based on the numbers of times the judge went against the laws designed by congress and signed into law by the president.  It certainly should not be based on the holdings in certain cases.  Most people on both sides of the fence have no idea what goes into a judicial decision and make the assumption that a judge is activist just because they don’t like the result in a case without really having any idea what the core issue was or how the ruling was reached.  They just pick the party they like and if that party doesn’t win, call the result activism.  This article argues from a more coherent, critical thinking perspective.

The link to this article can be found here.

July 6, 2005
So Who Are the Activists?
By PAUL GEWIRTZ and CHAD GOLDER

Correction Appended

New Haven

WHEN Democrats or Republicans seek to criticize judges or judicial nominees, they often resort to the same language. They say that the judge is “activist.” But the word “activist” is rarely defined. Often it simply means that the judge makes decisions with which the critic disagrees.

In order to move beyond this labeling game, we’ve identified one reasonably objective and quantifiable measure of a judge’s activism, and we’ve used it to assess the records of the justices on the current Supreme Court.

Here is the question we asked: How often has each justice voted to strike down a law passed by Congress?

Declaring an act of Congress unconstitutional is the boldest thing a judge can do. That’s because Congress, as an elected legislative body representing the entire nation, makes decisions that can be presumed to possess a high degree of democratic legitimacy. In an 1867 decision, the Supreme Court itself described striking down Congressional legislation as an act “of great delicacy, and only to be performed where the repugnancy is clear.” Until 1991, the court struck down an average of about one Congressional statute every two years. Between 1791 and 1858, only two such invalidations occurred.

Of course, calling Congressional legislation into question is not necessarily a bad thing. If a law is unconstitutional, the court has a responsibility to strike it down. But a marked pattern of invalidating Congressional laws certainly seems like one reasonable definition of judicial activism.

Since the Supreme Court assumed its current composition in 1994, by our count it has upheld or struck down 64 Congressional provisions. That legislation has concerned Social Security, church and state, and campaign finance, among many other issues. We examined the court’s decisions in these cases and looked at how each justice voted, regardless of whether he or she concurred with the majority or dissented.

We found that justices vary widely in their inclination to strike down Congressional laws. Justice Clarence Thomas, appointed by President George H. W. Bush, was the most inclined, voting to invalidate 65.63 percent of those laws; Justice Stephen Breyer, appointed by President Bill Clinton, was the least, voting to invalidate 28.13 percent. The tally for all the justices appears below.

Thomas 65.63 %
Kennedy 64.06 %
Scalia 56.25 %
Rehnquist 46.88 %
O’Connor 46.77 %
Souter 42.19 %
Stevens 39.34 %
Ginsburg 39.06 %
Breyer 28.13 %

One conclusion our data suggests is that those justices often considered more “liberal” – Justices Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens – vote least frequently to overturn Congressional statutes, while those often labeled “conservative” vote more frequently to do so. At least by this measure (others are possible, of course), the latter group is the most activist.

To say that a justice is activist under this definition is not itself negative. Because striking down Congressional legislation is sometimes justified, some activism is necessary and proper. We can decide whether a particular degree of activism is appropriate only by assessing the merits of a judge’s particular decisions and the judge’s underlying constitutional views, which may inspire more or fewer invalidations.

Our data no doubt reflects such differences among the justices’ constitutional views. But it even more clearly illustrates the varying degrees to which justices would actually intervene in the democratic work of Congress. And in so doing, the data probably demonstrates differences in temperament regarding intervention or restraint.

These differences in the degree of intervention and in temperament tell us far more about “judicial activism” than we commonly understand from the term’s use as a mere epithet. As the discussion of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s replacement begins, we hope that debates about “activist judges” will include indicators like these.

Correction

Because of an editing error, this article misstated the date the court started. Its first official business began in 1790, not 1791.

Paul Gewirtz is a professor at Yale Law School. Chad Golder graduated from Yale Law School in May.

Bombing the Moon

Ever since I heard about NASA’s intention to bomb the moon (see the story here), thoughts and reactions to the news have been flittering in and out of my head.  There are so many, I have had difficulty articulating what one definitive thing bothers me the most about it.  Yet conclusively, my overall sense is that it is WRONG. s_full-moon

Cost:  Why is it we spend billions on crap like this, chasing water on the moon, when we can’t (or won’t) spend the same amount here to conserve water?  Senseless stupidity.  I won’t even get into the waste of money when unemployment numbers are higher than ever and we are in two wars…

No Choice:  NASA does what it wants.  We might vote in a mostly new Congress every two years, but we have such little control over how they spend our money, ultimately, what difference does it make?  Legislators on both sides of the aisle are unwilling to underfund NASA.  I’ve heard all the arguments about how NASA research benefits us all, and I’m sure there are aspects of their research that do, but this is just silly.  There might be the claim they are looking for water, but it’s really a bunch of grown kids who think it’s cool to go bomb the moon and there isn’t a damn thing any of us can do about it.  If they really wanted to conserve water, just as much would be spent on the very real climate and water problems we are experiencing right here on earth.  Plus, as silly as it sounds, the moon belongs to all of us, collectively.  What right do a few have to go and harm that which isn’t theirs?  They don’t.

The Unknown:  Scientists can conduct all the earth bound tests they want to.  The simple fact is there is no way of knowing what ramifications this will have on the moon and the earth.  These planets are inextricably linked.  The earth and moon are connected gravitationally and energetically.  Messing with these forces could alter our tidal patterns, weather patterns, and who knows what else.  It’s just foolishness.  And dangerous.

I don’t know.  If enough people feel about this as I do, then perhaps we could turn public opinion against it enough to get the government to stop it.  My inclination is though, that a bunch of idiots who like movies by Michael Bay would think it’s “AWESOME” and think that naysayers like myself are just a bunch of fuddy duddies.  American ignorance is so prevalent on so much else, I would not be surprised.  On most issues, I consider myself very forward thinking.  I’m willing to try most things.  But not this.  Bombing the moon isn’t only silly, it is scary and wrong.

Watch Out for the Big, Bad Pig

So a week ago I published a blurb about the swine flu thinking everyone was freaking out for nothing.  For a few days after, I wondered if maybe I got it wrong.  Now however, I’m back to my original premise.  I was also right about the foolish overreacting that would take place.  Some ountries have banned travel to Mexico.  Others have killed off a bunch of pigs.  Everyone is still all freaked out.  Yet the numbers of deaths have remained quite small and very contained even though the flu itself has shown up in many places.  Craziness.

The killing of the pigs really bugs me.  In spite of assertions by doctors and other scientists that this flu isn’t caught from eating pork, nor can it be transmitted from pigs to humans, Egypt killed over 300,000 pigs.  In response, the WHO came out with a statement that the name needs to be changed because killing pigs is unnecessary.

All the news organizations went nuts when a toddler died from the flu outside of Mexico, the first case outside that country.  EGADS!  It’s spreading!  Someone outside Mexico died!  We’re all going to get it!  It’s pandemic! We’re all dead!  Um, yeah.  Lost in the uproar was the fact the child was Mexican and had just been in Mexico.  It wasn’t like the flu came crawling across the border, snaking its way north in ever increasing tentacles.  Yet that is what the media worldwide seemed to want people to believe.

The actual truth is that most of the people who died had not gotten treatment when they should have.  For everyone else who has contracted the flu, their illnesses have been sh0rt-lived and they have recovered.  The trick was early detection and intervention.  It would be nice if the news media could find a nice balance between letting people know they should do something and acting like lunatics.  Unfortunately they usually lean towards lunacy.

The nasty right-winger radio hosts have used the swine flu as an opportunity to spread their hate mongering, lies, and racism.  They blatantly lie, claiming that we’re all going to get sick from Mexicans and we better close our borders further.  It’s disgusting.  Maybe any idiots who believe their bullshit will lock themselves in their homes with a gun and stop wandering the streets. If this happens, I guess in a twisted way the hate mongerers have performed a public service.

I Gave a Man an Apple

I gave a hungry man an apple yesterday and I keep thinking about it.  I don’t want to trivialize it, but I wanted to write about him.  I keep seeing him at the other end of the subway car gnawing the apple as if his life depended on it.  And maybe it did.  I thought of him this morning in my insomniac hours.  I thought about the homeless families I read about in the New York Times and I wanted to write and comment about what homelessness is, but that seems so boring and unlikely to change anything.  People read me, but no one is going to read what I have to say about homelessness and change anything.  I don’t know what would remove the image of that man from my brain.  I don’t know that I should remove that image.  I just keep thinking about it.  So many times I have sat on the subway car and a person comes on and says, Excuse me, Ladies and Gentlemen, apologizes, and then proceeds with their spiel.  So many times I have been slightly annoyed by the interruption, yet felt guilty at the same time.  I simultaneously realize how close to precarious is my own financial situation, yet I acknowledge that we are nowhere near completely homeless and there are people in our lives who would ensure true homelessness is a most unlikely possibility.  I know also how pitiful and useless would be the change in my pocket.  And honestly, I am slightly resentful at being asked even though it isn’t fair to feel this way.  So I do nothing.  But there have been times when I have had food, times before moving to New York, when I would give food to people asking for it.  This time I had an apple, he asked for food, why not?  He told his sad story and I handed him my apple, then thought nothing more of it until I looked up minutes later to see him devouring that apple like he hadn’t eaten in days.  It was ginormous and red and beautifully ripe, a sort of dream apple.  It makes me weep to think of his hunger, swallowing the pieces so quickly he could not have had time to enjoy much of its fragrant sweetness.  It makes me wonder what would happen if I ever gave into the urge I have had in the past to ask the person to sit down and talk to me.  Sometimes I am afraid because the person seems to be mentally ill. I don’t want to be screamed at.  Other times I just don’t do it.  I’ve never done it.  But the urge has been there over and over.  I have wanted to stop my car (back when I had and drove a car) and ask the person holding the sign What happened?  How did you get here? But I haven’t done it.  I wonder if I ever will.

Tell it Like it Is: Torture

I read a story on the BBC website today.  The story is repeated in its entirety below.  What struck me after reading the story was the BBC’s willingness to relate the torture described by Mr. Binyam Mohamed, a man held by the US for just under 7 years and released last February, all charges against him dropped.  US mainstream media is completely unwilling to tell it like it is, preferring instead to describe the fringes, keeping the hard truth from reaching our eyes.  Chickens.

Americans need to read and see what torture means.  The word torture isn’t horrific anymore.  We hear a bit about waterboarding, or see the most sanitized photos from Abu Ghraib, but unless we’re looking for it, we’re not hearing what our country did to people.  It’s appalling.

Last week I read an article on Mr. Marri, the man who has been held without charges or trial for years.  It was an online article, which meant anyone could comment.  Some guy commented that “torture works.”  Really?  How is that?  Does that mean that if I hold a lighter to your balls while you are tied to a fence in neither a sitting or standing position and ask you whether you raped my mother you will continue to deny it, even if I set your balls on fire?  Is that evidence of torture’s “success”?

Read this BBC story and judge for yourself.  Ask whether you could hold out under such conditions.  Ask whether you would say anything to get someone to stop drowning you, or cutting you, or leaving you hanging by chains in the dark with music so loud you cannot hear.  Then tell me whether torture works.

The link to this story can be found here.

Demands for MI5 ‘torture’ inquiry

Binyam Mohamed getting off his plane

Mr Mohamed arrived back at RAF Northolt in London in February

MPs have demanded a judicial inquiry into a Guantanamo Bay prisoner’s claims that MI5 was complicit in his torture.

In a Mail on Sunday interview, UK resident Binyam Mohamed claims MI5 fed his US captors questions which led him to make a false confession.

His allegations are being investigated by the government, but the Foreign Office said it did not condone torture.

Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve said the “extremely serious” claims should also be referred to the police.

‘Dark prison’

Mr Mohamed told the paper he was held in continual darkness for weeks on end in a prison in Kabul, Afghanistan.

He has claimed that while in US custody in 2002, he was rendered to Morocco for interrogation and torture.

Now he has released what he said were two telegrams sent from British intelligence to the CIA in November 2002.

In the first memo, the writer asks for a name to be put to him and then for him to be questioned further about that person.

The longest was when they chained me for eight days on end, in a position that meant I couldn’t stand straight nor sit
Binyam Mohamed

The second telegram asks about a timescale for further interrogation.

The legal organisation Reprive, which represents Mr Mohamed, said its client was shown the telegrams in Guantanamo Bay by his military lawyer Lieutenant Col Yvonne Bradley.

Mr Mohamed claimed he acquired the telegrams through the US legal process when he was fighting to be freed from Guantanamo Bay.

Daniel Sandford, BBC Home Affairs correspondent, said Mr Mohamed’s claims would be relatively simple to substantiate.

“As time progresses it will probably become quite apparent whether indeed these are true telegrams and I think it’s unlikely they’d be put into the public domain if they couldn’t eventually be checked back.”

The Conservatives have called for a police inquiry into his allegations of British collusion.

Mr Grieve called for a judicial inquiry into the allegations.

“And if the evidence is sufficient to bring a prosecution then the police ought to investigate it,” he added.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey said there was a “rock solid” case for an independent judicial inquiry.

Labour MP Andrew Dismore, who chairs the joint committee on human rights, said he would asking the home and foreign secretaries to explain how Britain’s policy against torture is being implemented and monitored.

Shami Chakrabati, director of campaign group Liberty said: “These are more than allegations – these are pieces of a puzzle that are being put together.

“It makes an immediate criminal investigation absolutely inescapable.”

Former Conservative shadow home secretary David Davis accused the government of “stonewalling” by referring the claims to the Attorney General rather than the Director of Public Prosecutions.

“What appears to have happened is they have been turning blind eyes,” he added.

‘Wrong-doing’

Mr Mohamed told the paper the worst part of this captivity was in Kabul’s “dark prison”.

“The toilet in the cell was a bucket,” he told the paper.

“There were loudspeakers in the cell, pumping out what felt like about 160 watts, a deafening volume, non-stop, 24 hours a day.

We abhor torture and never order it or condone it
Foreign Office spokesman

He added: “They chained me for eight days on end, in a position that meant I couldn’t stand straight nor sit.

“I couldn’t sleep. I had no idea whether it was day or night.”

Mr Mohamed spent just under seven years in custody, four of those in Guantanamo – the US’s camp in Cuba.

He was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 as US authorities considered him a would-be bomber who fought alongside the Taleban in Afghanistan.

But last year the US dropped all charges against him, and he was released in February.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We abhor torture and never order it or condone it.

“We take allegations of mistreatment seriously and investigate them when they are made.

“In the case of Binyam Mohamed, an allegation of possible criminal wrong-doing has been referred to the Attorney General.

“We need now to wait for her report.”

Rick Santelli is an Idiot

I can’t believe this guy.  I heard him spouting off here about how Americans shouldn’t pay for their neighbor to have one more bathroom.  I wanted to reach into the screen and slap his ugly head.  What an idiot.

Here’s a clue, Mr. Smarty Pants:  People who are in foreclosure are in foreclosure because the system is a mess, not because they are “deadbeats” and want a free ride from the government or their neighbors.  Want to point fingers, idiot?  Point them at the banks that overvalued properties in the first place to get people into questionable loans so brokers could collect bigger fees.  Point those fingers at the lenders for telling consumers that their ARM loan wouldn’t be a problem because they would be able to refinance in three years when the rates change (and hey, rates have been going down forever, so  why shouldn’t this continue? Your payment will be lower!) while simultaneously neglecting to point out there would be no way in hell any traditional lender would refinance property that is mortgaged for more than it is worth.  And oh, be sure to keep it a secret from the borrower that refinancing will not be an option if you lose your job.  How about pointing the fingers at lenders who convinced people to take out that second mortgage or a HELOC to “consolidate their debt” without pointing out that trading unsecured debt for secured debt would make bankruptcy pointless should the need arise?  How about pointing fingers at the pathetic and useless Bush administration who drove us into an economic crisis and higher unemployment than we have seen in decades?  Let’s just blame the victim for losing their job.  They should have known to move to China or India ten years ago so they would be there when there jobs were shipped overseas.

I heard the jerk in an interview claim that buyers should have hired lawyers.  Guess what?  Lawyers aren’t free.  And assuming someone could afford $225 an hour to hire one, a lawyer wouldn’t hire an appraiser to know that the bank overvalued the property.  Plus hiring an attorney when you buy a house is theoretically unnecessary anyway.  Mortgage brokers and lenders have a fiduciary duty of care to their clients.  This means they are held to a higher standard of care in dealing with the public.  They are expected to act EXTRA honest because it is expected that they have greater knowledge about the mortgage industry than consumers.  How does this work, Mr. Santelli?  Are the consumers supposed to suddenly educate themselves so they can catch dishonest bankers and brokers?  Would you hold a patient to the same duty before going to a doctor?  Am I supposed to go get an MBA before I go to a financial expert to ensure they are upholding their fiduciary duty?  Should I get an MD before going to the doctor?

I can’t stand the mentality that we are not obligated to help one another.  Guess what?  We are all in this together.  We can sit in our foreclosed bunkers with our guns aimed at our neighbors and barbed wire wrapped around our hearts to protect us from the enemy, ensuring we keep that property because, hell, it belongs to us, right?  We don’t need to share.  Or we can grow up and realize that society at its heart means social.  It means taking responsibility for one another.  It means what we do for each other we do for ourselves. It means we care for and protect one another and when someone is down, we offer them a hand up.  Taking care of one another is the stuff life is made of.  The alternate choice is to live like Rick Santelli, cold and alone with his gun pointed at everyone, dragging his loot into the afterlife.  Good luck with that, Buddy.

P.S. Being a stock-broker might be a high risk financially, but it is not hard work.

My Response to a Comment

I received a comment from a reader of my post yesterday.  I have posted the writer’s comment here and responded individually to specifics.

“You might think that the fact that you use words as “vilify” makes you an authority on something which you obviously know nothing about.”

By phrasing your opening line with the words that I “might think” something, you limit logical denial.  However, while I “might think” using the word vilify makes me an authority on something, I don’t.  My use of the word is as a verb to describe behavior of certain people.  How is it you prove I have no “obvious” knowledge, because I did not give a history of religious bigotry in an opinion piece?  I need not give such a history; your own letter proves my point in its last line.

“You vilify Christians in the same breath you claim we vilify you.”

Show me where I say anything about Christians and show me where I vilify anything.  I am making a valid criticism of organized religion.  You jump to conclusions and take it further, ascribing my criticism to Christianity, then claim I am vilifying, all in the same breath.

“You don’t understand us, but yet we are supposed to understand you.”

Again, this comes from nowhere.  My fundamental thesis requests that we look hard at religion, that we seek understanding.  You miss this point entirely and as you do in your entire letter, making assumptions and jumping to unjustified conclusions.  You state I want “you” to understand me; does this mean you think I am in a minority and want religions to understand me?  Is it something else?  I offered an opinion, I did not ask for religious tolerance of what I had to say.

“It seems that whenever any group of people creates a movement with the same rhetoric you espouse, you want to play with a different set of rules and on a different playing field.  Your attitude and language mirrors that which you abhor in Christians.”

What rhetoric is it that I espouse, that we should look at religion’s place in furthering intolerance and bigotry?  I suppose you are right that I want to play with a different set of rules on a different playing field because I am not arguing we use intolerance and bigotry in making this examination.  And again, where in anything do I specifically mention Christians?  Where do I show abhorrence?  In asking we stop intolerance and bigotry?  Is that abhorrence?  It seems you are the one with the attitude, as well the one who is jumping to conclusions and making assumptions.

“Have you thought about that?”

Why yes.  See my previous response.

“You make leaps and bounds and speak with hyperbole, and use circular reasoning to prove your point.”

Ironic, considering this exactly what you have done through this entire diatribe. Making leaps and bounds?  You have done so by assuming I speak only of Christians.  I said religion.  Does this mean only Christianity qualifies in your narrow mind?  And where exactly is my hyperbole, in claiming religion is used as an excuse in most bigotry?  This is not overstatement; it is truth.

“I don’t think you’re going see people give up on religion.”

Did I make such a request?  No.  I said we need to look at religion honestly to see its place in bigotry.  I did not say do away with it.  Read my words, don’t jump “leaps and bounds.”

“After all, religion is a word that people don’t understand.  What we really focus on is a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

As is typical with those of your ilk, you think the only religion is yours.  There is no response to your narrow-mindedness.

“You don’t have to understand us or believe the way we believe, especially with regard to sin and our own sinfulness.  But, then again, we don’t have to understand you or believe the way you believe, either–even if you don’t want to believe that there is such a thing as sin.”

Again, as with this entire pointless rant, you make assumptions based on your own beliefs, not based on anything I have said.  And again, there really isn’t much one can do to respond to your own imaginings.

“So, I will respect you and let you live the life you want to live; but, please, respect me and let me live the life I want to live without the name-calling and generalizations.”

Name calling?  Where in what I said did I call anyone any names?  You are deluded.  And if this entire letter is your being respectful, I would hate to see what you consider disrespect.

“The proposition was voted, and unfortunately for you, you are in the minority.”

Yes, thanks to religion and the hatefulness of most people like you, bigotry is alive and well.  Thank you for proving my point.