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Thoughts and prayers … or how I don’t want to hear about your love of guns

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Photo credit: The Christian Post

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I am not going to tell you about the need for gun control. I am going to tell you how much campaign cash the following Republican senators have received from the NRA:

John McCain, Arizona   $7,740,521
Richard Burr, North Carolina   $6,986,620
Roy Blount, Missouri   $4,551,146
Thom Tillis, North Carolina   $4,418,012
Cory Gardner, Colorado   $3,879,064
Marco Rubio, Florida   $3,303,355
Joni Ernst, Iowa   $3,124,273
Rob Portman, Ohio   $3,061,941

Our kids are killing each other, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t care just now to hear the love-songs about how you grew up with guns, how you hunted with your daddy and forged “an unbreakable bond,” how your granddaddy passed down the family tradition, or that you simply love the architecture and beauty of guns.

There have been 18 school shootings so far this year.

The year is 45 days old.

The first mass school shooting — Columbine — happened two decades ago. But sure, let’s stick with the abundance of “thoughts and prayers” because it is obviously working.

I do not want to hear that you’re an avid deer hunter and deer are a scourge so we should all be thankful and you are doing our community a favor by thinning the herd and we should say thank you thank you so very much for your service.

American suicide methods, as documented by the Centers for Disease Control:
Poisoning: 6,808        Suffocation: 11,407       Firearms: 42, 826

The Vegas concert shooter killed 58 and injured 851 in less than 10 minutes. Tell me again how a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun.

I don’t want to hear about your patriotism, your beloved Second Amendment. You, personally, are not what our founders meant by the words “well-regulated militia.” If you want to make a real argument about why you need your guns, don’t hide behind a Constitution that I doubt you have ever read.

46,445:  that’s the number of Americans killed by guns between 2012 and 2016.

I am not going to tell you about gun control, because you’ll want to call gun violence a mental health issue. Do countries with sensible gun laws and low gun mortality rates not have mentally ill people? Please explain.

Five years ago, twenty 6 and 7 year olds were massacred at Sandy Hook. We did nothing. We will continue to do nothing.

Yesterday, a 19 year old walked into a Florida school and killed 17 kids. I am not going to tell you about the need for gun control because I don’t care to hear about your need for freedom.

You are free. Just say you love your guns and be done with it. I’ll send thoughts and prayers.

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All the president’s (abusive) men

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Photo Credit: The Los Angeles Times

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Turns out there are sick people everywhere this winter, even in the White House, only it is not the flu that’s getting them down. It is the piling up of violence against women, of harassers and abusers, of sick men.

Last week we learned staff secretary Rob Porter flunked his security clearance, but that did not stop him from working in the West Wing, handling the most classified information. When the president learned of Porter’s violent history — there is a photo of his first ex-wife with a black eye; the second ex-wife filed a restraining order against him — the president was enthusiastically sympathetic. For Porter.

“It’s obviously a very tough time for him,” President Trump said. “It was very sad when we heard about it. He says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent.”

He’s innocent. He said it very strongly.

Prior to his election, Trump often assured us, “I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people.” And yet, he maintains a sickening pattern for excusing men who abuse women. Recall his outright dismissal of child molestation and rape allegations against Alabama’s Roy Moore (a man he does not even know). “He denies it. In fact, he totally denies it,” Trump told reporters. “He says it didn’t happen.”

He totally denies it. Says it didn’t happen.

Trump has a habit of throwing his unquestioning heft behind credibly-accused men in his orbit: Cory Lewandowski, Andy Puzder, Steve Bannon. When Roger Ailes was forced out at FOX News, Trump’s response? “[Women] are saying these horrible things about him. It’s very sad because he’s a very good person.” And when Bill O’Reilly left FOX following multiple allegations of sexual harassment and doling out millions in settlements, Trump stood by him, too, saying, “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong. He is a good person.”

I don’t think he did it. He is a good person.

Abusers are sick, like drug addicts are sick. They defend, lie, obfuscate, and excuse. They lay blame everywhere but at their own feet. This is how they justify being abusers themselves.

President Trump has often said, ”I have great respect for women. Nobody has more respect for women than I do.” Yet 19 women have credibly accused him of sexual harassment and assault; he told Billy Bush on the Access Hollywood Tape, “You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. When you’re a star they let you do it”; he tweeted that a sitting U.S. senator (Kirsten Gillibrand) offered him sexual favors for money; he once told radio host Howard Stern it was okay to call his own daughter a “piece of ass” adding, “if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her. Isn’t that terrible? How terrible? Is that terrible?”

He joked, when his wife Melania was five months pregnant, that he’d seen “beautiful women that for the rest of their lives have become [a] horror” after giving birth. You know, they gain like 250 pounds. It’s like a disaster,” adding he’d give his wife a week to lose the baby weight. He then reportedly paid a porn star $130,000 to deny the Vegas sex-romp they had in the weeks after Melania gave birth.

But he totally denies it. Of course he does. He is a good person.

Chief of Staff John Kelly recently stood before the White House press corps and reminisced, “When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor.” Yet after seeing photo evidence of spousal abuse, and knowing for months about the FBI report, Kelly still called Porter “a man of true integrity and honor.”

There is a pandemic in and around this White House, and it has nothing to do with the flu. As many as 40 staffers and appointees cannot be granted proper security clearance, making them national security risks, vulnerable to blackmail. And our president is Patient Zero.

Too bad there’s not a flu shot for abusers and their enablers.

After Porter left his post at the White House, another unrelated allegation. The ex-wife of speech writer David Sorensen informed the press that she reported his violent history to the FBI, that he ran a car over her foot, put out a cigarette on her hand, threw her into a wall, and more.

I suspect the president and his Chief of Staff will say he is innocent, a good person, a man of true integrity and honor.

Aren’t they all.

Roe v. Wade is not about abortion, it’s about power

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Mom and Butchie 1972 - Version 3

My mother, at 27

 

On January 22, the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, protesters marched on the mall in Washington D.C. and House Speaker Paul Ryan addressed the crowd. “Can we just thank God,” he said, “for giving us a pro-life president back in the White House?”

The president whom, until he ran for president, was not pro-life. But the crowd cheered anyway, and waited for the president to speak to them, to cheer his voting base on.

I was seven years old in 1973, the day the Supreme Court overturned a Texas law and made abortion legal in the United States. Roe v. Wade stated that a woman had the right, the choice, to privately end a pregnancy. By then my mother, age 27, had already given birth to three children. And for her first two pregnancies, she was unmarried and had to get married, twice, to men who would go about destroying her life.

I have often heard people say my mother had a choice, that if she did not want to chance getting pregnant, she should not have had sex.

It’s funny, I have never once heard anyone say those words about the men who got her pregnant.

It is easy to forget, after 45 years, what life was like for women before Roe v. Wade. Women threw themselves down stairs and off horses. Girls were sent away under false pretenses, like “visiting a sick aunt,” only to return with a shameful, lifelong secret, never knowing what happened to their babies. Wealthy families sent their pregnant daughters overseas for secret, expensive abortions, with no one the wiser. You could only get birth control if you were married.

Women had no rights. Women had no choices. And women died.

More than 90% of abortions, we know statistically, “take place within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute. When they happen after that, it’s likely due to problems in a much-wanted pregnancy [because fetal anomalies] aren’t noticed until the second trimester due to screening and testing schedules.”

And yet, on Jan. 29, Maj. Ldr. Mitch McConnell shunned statistics, facts, and common sense, and brought his fight against women’s rights to the Senate floor, demanding a vote — a vote he knew he would lose, and did lose 51-46 — to ban abortion after 20 weeks.

There was no reason for this vote. Informed people, including McConnell, know that “women who have abortions after 20 weeks are often those who have pregnancy or health complications, partially because most don’t get their first ultrasound until around then, according to [Dr. Elizabeth Case, an OB-GYN who works and lives in Kentucky]. ‘We routinely don’t do our ultrasounds until 20 weeks, and that’s going to leave women no option for how to proceed if they have a baby that’s not going to survive,’ Case said.”

There was no reason for the vote, excepting McConnell’s shameless political need, on the eve of the president’s first State of the Union, to distract from sordid stories about the man “God put in the White House.” The man who joked on the radio, when his wife was five months pregnant, that he’d seen “beautiful women that for the rest of their lives have become [a] horror” after giving birth. You know, they gain like 250 pounds. It’s like a disaster,” and that he’d give his wife a week to lose the baby weight. The man who reportedly paid a porn star $130,000 to deny the romp they had in the weeks after his wife gave birth.

Sadly, pro-life proponents would not need the likes of McConnell or the president if they supported organizations like Planned Parenthood who offer free birth control, prenatal, and well-baby care. When Colorado clinics offered free birth control, they saw a 42% drop in teen abortion rates and, in turn, “the infant caseload for Colorado WIC, a nutrition program for low-income women and their babies, fell by 23 percent.”

With efforts to close clinics like Planned Parenthood, pro-lifers defeat their own cause. Which begs the question: is being pro-life about babies being safely born, or is it, primarily, about the right to claim moral superiority? The right to righteousness.

Roe v. Wade did not create abortion. Women have always had, and will continue to have, abortions. Roe v. Wade ensured women’s safety, gave women the right to make difficult, private medical decisions, and gave poor women the same rights as wealthy women who had the cash for a good doctor and a week in Rome to recover.

When President Trump addressed his supporters at the pro-life rally on the mall last week, he said, ”Americans are more and more pro-life, you see that all the time.” But in the latest Gallup poll, only 18% of voters believe abortion should be illegal.

The fight to overturn Roe v. Wade is not about abortion, just as McConnell’s fight for a 20-week ban is not about protecting the unborn. These fights are about power, who has it and who does not.

Just two months before the Roe v. Wade decision, my mother gave birth to her third child, and what I remember most about those days is the tension in our tiny house: the screaming matches over lack of money (for food, childcare, rent); the late-night brawls between my young, trapped, furniture-throwing parents; the mornings filled with fear and regret, a crying infant, and the sweeping up of broken glass.

What happened to my mother is what happens to the poor, to the powerless, to women who do not have rights. Remember that when you watch powerful men like McConnell, righteously, take the Senate floor.

Picking our battles: on Bible class and Trump’s wall

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It’s just a shirt. That’s what I kept telling myself on the silent-treatment ride home after back-to-school shopping with my teen daughter. We’d just gone a few rounds at the mall over her having to have a particular, oversized, $90, blue and green flannel shirt.

All mothers of teenagers know this scene. There was no way, no way on earth, I was paying for that ridiculous, unnecessary, overpriced shirt. No way, until I pulled out my credit card and bought it. We have to pick our battles.

I feel the same about President Trump’s border wall. His wall is ridiculous; his wall will cost billions of dollars we don’t have; his wall is a structural impossibility along the border terrain and will not keep anyone out. But so what. Let’s give him the money. Let’s let him have his wall.

We have smaller but important battles closer to home, like the latest about whether or not to teach Bible literacy at our public high school. You can’t throw a rock in this county without hitting a church, and don’t most of these churches have youth groups and Bible study and Sunday school and church camp?

Setting aside the obvious incendiary arguments, let’s take on the practical. Who would we hire to teach such a class, who would be acceptable? Do we have a religious preference, because what happens when the Baptist teacher we’ve hired gives his or her take on a Bible story, and the Catholic, Methodist, or Evangelical kid goes home and tells Mom and Dad it’s not the same as what he learned from grandma or their longtime pastor?

If we’re going to teach the Bible at our public high school, will we also be teaching math at church? Of course not, but in the Jan. 17 issue of this newspaper, Superintendent Sheila Mitchell said, “What we’re waiting on is some information from the department on how to determine guideline standards for the curriculum if we were to create one.”

What information are we waiting for exactly, besides how much controversy such a class will inevitably create?

And Principal Chris Glass said, “[We’ll] see where we go after the water clears. I like to give our kiddos options.”

If it’s real options we’re after, why wouldn’t we consider options our kids can’t get at our local churches — classes that could make them more knowledgable, understanding and tolerant (more, in theory, Christian) — like the study of Judaism, Buddism, Islam, Hinduism, Atheism?

As odd as it sounds, the national debate over President Trump’s wall and our local debate about whether to teach the Bible at our public high school germinated in much the same way: a possibly well-intended concept that is neither needed nor practical, and what is the cost in both implementation and fallout?

Trump’s wall, the story goes, was never even Trump’s idea. A “wall” was simply the metaphor used by his earliest advisers as they schooled the real estate mogul on the basic concepts of border security. “Look at it like this, sir,” you can almost hear them saying, “you’re a builder. Imagine building a big, impenetrable wall to keep the bad guys out.”

Excited about the concept, the metaphor fresh on his mind, Mr. Trump belted out at his next campaign rally, “I’m going to build a big, beautiful wall!” The crowd erupted with cheers. To keep the cheering going, he followed it up, “And Mexico will pay for it!” and the cheers grew louder.

But now he’s the president. And Mexico’s not paying. And he’s stuck. For three years he’s promised a wall, but how does one border wall keep out bad guys arriving by air, by sea, through our computers, social media, power grids? It can’t. Of course it can’t. As a friend recently said, it’s a 3rd century solution to a 21st century problem.

The president’s $20B wall, much like my daughter’s $90 shirt, is more symbol than substance. It’s just a wall. As any mom of a teenager knows, we have to pick our battles. To keep the peace, let’s let him have this one and move on.

Here in Anderson County, we can’t afford enough teachers, but we’re talking about adding Bible class? All due respect, we don’t need more information, and we don’t need more options. We need to pick better battles, like how to attract and keep the best, most qualified teachers, and how to pay them every dollar they deserve.

The merit of dreamers

Father Deported

Landscaper Jorge Garcia hugged his wife, Cindy Garcia, and their two children at Detroit Metro Airport on Jan. 15, moments before boarding a flight to Mexico. Garcia, who had was brought her as a child and lived in the U.S. for nearly 30 years, was deported to Mexico. Niraj Warikoo – Associated Press

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I met my birth father at my mother’s funeral. He’d skipped town before my first birthday, and though we met briefly when I graduated high school, I did not know his people, and I did not recognize the man who approached me at my mother’s casket to offer condolences.

On my mother’s side, my German great-grandmother Anna came to the U.S. at age 16. She’d intended to accompany her sister, two years older, but the sister fell ill in the weeks before the trip. Anna was brave, she boarded the ship alone, and she never saw her parents or her siblings again.

Unless you’re Native American, you come from a family of refugees, immigrants, or slaves, most of whom arrived in this country without elite skills or education. But in a FOX News interview this week, selling the Trump Administration’s latest salvo on chain (aka family) migration and merit-based immigration, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “What good does it do to bring in somebody who’s illiterate in their own country, has no skills, and is going to struggle in our country and not be successful?”

California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher responded on Twitter: “My father never never finished school in Mexico. He came to the US to pick & pack your food, opened a small business, bought a restaurant, purchased property—employed folks & paid a lot of taxes. His kids became a teacher, a lawyer, and a legislator.”

What good does it do?

Tony Fratto, a former Treasury official and deputy press secretary under President George W. Bush, said it best in a long series of tweets that read, in part: “A benefit to family migration is that immigrants are brought into supporting communities, extended families serving as a ready safety net. In fact, to bring relatives to the US, the resident is required to demonstrate sufficient financial means to support the incoming immigrant. Family-migration is also limited by caps. I wish the caps were way higher, but they’re not. They exist & the result is it can take decades — averaging 13-23 years —for queued family members to actually migrate to the US. That’s a really long time. But poorer immigrants form communities & commit to self-support. They’re patriotic, and they serve their country, go to church & start businesses at higher rates than native-born Americans. In many ways they’re the Republican beau idéal!”

With merit-based immigration, I consider my own (lack of) merit. I know little about my ancestry. Disinterested in school at age 18, I scored an embarrassing 1.8 GPA on my first college try, so I quit and went to work, circling back to college in my thirties to earn a Bachelor’s Degree weeks before my 40th birthday. What skills would I, as a young person, have had to offer?

That day beside my mother’s casket, the father I never knew handed me his business card. It indicated he worked in a lumber yard. And I know little about his parents, excepting they were both orphans.

On my mother’s side, great-grandmother Anna spoke only German on her arrival at the port of New York. She was uneducated. She waitressed and took in sewing until she met and married a young Austrian immigrant and built a family in southern Illinois.

What good was their struggle?

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day — as President Trump spent yet another sunny day on his golf course, and as Congressmen debated whether he’d referred to African countries shitholes or shithouses in an Oval Office debate on immigration — a hardworking, taxpaying landscaper in Michigan said goodbye to his wife and children and boarded a plane for Mexico, deported from the only country he’s ever known.

What good, I ask AG Sessions, does this cruelty, this destroying of a family do?

Does it make us better, safer?

Does it even, we must ask, make us American?

The “very stable genius” presidency

 

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An excerpt from Wolff’s Fire and Fury. h/t Kyle Griffin

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“Michael Wolff is a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book. He used Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!”

That’s the President of your United States, grudge-tweeting late Friday night from Camp David. He ostensibly holed-up there with Congressional leaders to make plans for our future. Instead he’s online, whining about Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury, which paints the president as a childish tantrum-thrower lacking impulse control.

We don’t need a book to tell us the president is infantile. He proves it almost daily on Twitter. If the president had any other job — teacher, office manager, police officer, nurse, grocery clerk, programmer, construction foreman — his public degradations and hissy fits would be grounds for immediate termination.

Yet his toadies inexplicably cheer him on — “Trump Train, woo hoo!” — with their ever-vague “Make America Great Again!” mantra. Which means what exactly?

Meanwhile, the president has not held a proper news conference in 11 months. He does not talk to the American people. He tweets.

What might a real president have done this weekend instead? He might have expressed his profound respect and sadness that the body of 20 year old Spc. Avadon A. Chaves, who died in Iraq, was returned to his family for burial. He could have told the heroic story of Private Emmanuel Mensah, home for the holidays, who rescued 4 neighbors from an apartment fire and died while trying to save more. He could have thanked the family of Sgt. 1st Class Mihail Golin, gunned down in an Afghanistan firefight on New Year’s Day, for his service and their sacrifice.

But as usual, he was too busy staring in the proverbial mirror, tweeting about his own bruised ego.

Come Saturday morning, the president had still not let the Wolff book go, tweeting, “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star…..to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!”

Is this what making America great looks like? A grown man name-calling, belittling, and threatening everyone from Steve Bannon to North Korea?

A senior Trump aide recently told The Daily Beast, “It’s a running joke [in the West Wing] that nuclear war could start from the private residence during Fox primetime.”

Nuclear war.
A running joke.
In the White House.

This is the man you trust to send your kids to war?

His Make America Great Again slogan is nothing but a long con. America was great long before Donald Trump arrived, and this “very stable genius” continually disgraces the Oval Office, proving himself both dangerous and a global embarrassment.

Maybe it’s time we stop clutching our pearls about athletes kneeling before a football game and start demanding our president put down his phone, and grow up.

On deleting myself from Facebook

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In the run-up to 2018, I wore out the delete key. I erased old addresses, unsubscribed from email lists, and deleted contact info for people who are toxic or whom I no longer know. Then I deleted myself, my whole account, from Facebook.

This obsession with the delete key, and my decision to leave Facebook altogether, started at my niece’s wedding in a refurbished old barn. Before the dancing started, my dad pushed back his metal folding chair and said, “Hey kid, come on outside for a sec.”

At 52, I am no kid, but until today my dad and I have not seen nor spoken to each other in almost two years. So I got right up, a little bit afraid, and trailed him out the door.

Our falling out happened in February 2016 when my dad posted a Facebook meme of the Ku Klux Klan, following weeks of posts where he’d posited that President Obama was born a Kenyan monkey, that Planned Parenthood dissected and sold baby parts, and that he was waiting, still, for black people to thank white men for freeing them from slavery. Then came the KKK.

I’d had enough. I demanded he take the post down. He first responded with a string of question marks (what? who? me?) then he simply went silent. And the next time I tried to pull up his Facebook page, I discovered I’d been blocked. Unfriended. Deleted.

I’ve always assumed my dad to be a conservative — he owns guns, listens to Rush Limbaugh, watches FOX News — but I do not recall him ever talking about his political or religious beliefs. I could not tell you if he has ever voted. I have never once seen him, with the exception of weddings and funerals, in a church. But a dyed-in-the-wool racist?

Yet once Donald J. Trump threw his red, Make America Great Again hat into the presidential ring, it was like my dad had joined some insular, political cult. And that cult’s name, with pages like “God Emperor Trump,” was on Facebook.

If you think calling Facebook the c-word sounds too strong, consider some simple questions:

Do you feel angry, personally offended, when a friend disagrees with one of your posts?

Do you feel pressure to hit the “like” button, whether you like a post or not, to prove your loyalty?

Have you ever logged off or deactivated your Facebook account, thinking you might need a break? How many days did you last? How many hours?

Do you sometimes wake with a panic in the night, worried you’ve made a post or comment you’ll regret, hoping you can delete it before your “friends” see it?

If you need proof we’ve become more cult-like, more tribal, look no further than your own carefully-curated Facebook page, where everyone is your “friend” and “like” every word you say.

Still not convinced? How many friends have you stopped following, or have stopped following you, since the 2016 election?

We ridicule colleges for creating so-called safe spaces so students do not have to experience differing views, but what is your Facebook account if not the ultimate safe space?

There is the cliche that Facebook displays the phony perfection of our lives, not unlike Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Woebegone, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” But there are stories of real misery, too. A good friend has not spoken to her very close family in over a year because they all voted for Trump. Another friend no longer invites those who disagree politically to Thanksgiving dinner. One person I know unfriends everyone who does not “like” his posts because he feels hurt, certain he is being singled-out, punished, purposefully ignored.

Facebook can be light and fun, but it can also put you one-click away from breaking your own heart.

In her famous essay “Why I Write,” Joan Didion wrote, “there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.”

On Facebook, we are all writers. On Facebook, we are all secret bullies. On Facebook, I tried to impose my sensibilities and bully my dad into submission, and lost.

Outside the barn door of my niece’s wedding reception, between a row of trucks and under flood lights, my dad lit a cigarette, and I waited for him, frankly, to lie: to blame me, to call me a snowflake, to question why I haven’t called in so long, to rib me about how great President Trump is doing and how thankful I should be that he hasn’t put Crooked Hillary in prison where, by God, she belongs.

Instead, he took one long drag and paused long enough for me to worry. “Oh man,” I said. “You’re going to tell me something really bad, aren’t you?”

He half-chuckled before spinning out the latest family gossip. Had I heard that so-and-so is splitting up after 25 years of marriage? Did I know this one is having an affair with a married woman at work, or that that one has gotten some old gal pregnant down in Alabama? With twins!

Through the walls of the reception hall, we could hear the music start. Newlyweds’ first dance. Mother-son dance. Father-daughter dance. And the longer my dad talked, the longer he pretended like two years had not passed in punishing silence, my plan to let him have it in-person—to challenge his every racist, misogynistic, hateful post — faded, for the moment anyway, like the smoke from his cigarette under the bright flood lights.

As our family and the wedding party celebrated inside without us, the band’s music muted by the barn’s old wood wall, my dad lit another cigarette. And I chose to simply stand there and listen, to see if I recognized us anymore without our Facebook masks, without the cult. To stop being a bully long enough to let him be my dad.