30 Days of Gratitude: 2013 Edition (November 26, 2013)

Yes, I have seen this meme work its way across Facebook over the course of November. I thought about participating, but my brain is usually too stream-of-consciousness for that level of daily content commitment, and I refuse to violate my personal rule of one status update per day (any more than that and I run the risk of the dreaded newsfeed “block” by bored connections). So with that in mind, here’s a month’s worth of people, events and phenomena for which I am grateful over the course of 2013, all in one shot.

1.Occupying the top spot with good reason, I am grateful for April’s reconciliation with my sibling and her family. Life is a lot less funny and loving without my baby sis.

2.Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, recently described by funny man Stephen Colbert as a “possessed Cabbage Patch doll,” I thank you for two things: reminding North America that the USA does not have the monopoly on mentally challenged local politicians, and for instilling waves of nostalgia for the comedic stylings of Chris Farley.

3.Early summer period of unemployment: I salute you. Were it not for the unexpected job loss, I would not be happily ensconced as a Marketing Manager with a wonderful company in downtown Chicago.

4.I am grateful that pompholyx eczema, while challenging and painful, has thus far limited itself to my hands. In many cases, the feet are also affected, ushering in a whole new wave of debilitating restrictions.

5.Early Fall welcomed Act III with the love of my life. We’re making it work this time, applying the lessons of the past with strategic guidelines for a balanced future. That might sound more business jargon than romantic sweetness, but I’ve finally learned that hard work and commitment are every bit as important as passion. And we’re lucky enough to have that too.

6.I’m grateful that the Illinois Woman’s Press Association chose me as their 2013-2015 leader. Together we’ve grown membership by 20 percent in six months, introduced dynamic new programming and collaborations with other communications organizations. The era of siloing and membership bleed is over. This makes me proud.

7.Thank you to the rollerblading ukulele player and singer who often greets me as I alight from the Red Line stop near my apartment. The sight of you gliding in circles with perfect tune and pitch never fails to put a smile on my face.

8.I cannot stress enough how much I love my de facto stepdaughter Amber and four year-old grandbaby Chloe. I leapt right over motherhood into a full and diverse family life as unexpected as it is treasured. Our growing bond is a source of continual joy.

9.Dr. T: You with your string of pearls, pale blonde hair and Stepford Wife looks. You may not have been the ideal of how my perfect therapist should appear, but when you echo my angry “f” bombs, I never feel more understood.

10.Salt Lake City: As an atheist from an all-business metropolis, I never expected to find your exceedingly friendly locals, natural cultivation and Mormon-culture appealing, but your $4 beer and shot specials, clean streets and sincerely helpful citizens won me over.

11.Breaking Bad: Thank you for five seasons of jaw-dropping storytelling and acting. I held my breath, I cried and I was angry. You shall never be duplicated. Thank you as well for leaving the party long before you got stale.

12.Mr. Roger Ebert: Your April death provoked a sense of public loss I had not experienced since the 2008 premature passing of NBC’s Tim Russert. My sincere gratitude for your thoughtful, diverse body of work and the opportunities to bond with a father who was and remains, mostly incomprehensible.

13.Thank you soft, black doughnut cushion (February 2013 – August 2013) for making hours of sitting bearable as my poor, busted tailbone slowly healed. Thank you also for doubling as a comfy Metra train sleeping pillow. I apologize for carelessly leaving you behind in the Salt Lake City airport. I like to think you are enjoying a second life comforting the buns of another injured soul.

14.Epsom salts: I just wrote about you last week, but it bears repeating. For your affordable, diverse ability to treat and soothe so many conditions, this Bud’s for you.

15.My growing adoration for the NFL, despite its imperfections and the perennial so-so-ness of the Bears, is the reason I do not entirely succumb to Seasonal Affective Disorder each Fall.

16.The Republicans behind the late-Fall government shutdown: grazie for providing a much-needed, if temporary distraction from the abominable rollout of Obamacare.

17.President Obama: Thank you for breaking with eight years of W’s “Cowboy Diplomacy” to show the world that we are capable of talking and negotiating our way to a more peaceful world. Thank you also for being tough enough to stand up to warmongers who love to try to settle scores with bombs, yet failed to learn from the Iraq and Afghanistan examples that getting in is a lot easier than getting out.

18.I regret the coming conclusion to PBS’s Downton Abbey, but am grateful for the modern-day Austen void this society drama has filled.

19.Red wine: You’ll be on this list every year, you angel/devil, you.

20.The Boston Marathon bombing was tragic, frightening and a terrible blow to the assumed security of community events, but it taught the nation a couple of critical lessons: don’t assume Islamic terrorists are brown-skinned folks from distant lands and most of all, DON’T mess with the Boston PD.

21.Pope Francis: Like I said I am an atheist, but I am a huge fan of the compassion, good sense and humility you’ve unleashed on the Vatican thus far. There may be hope for a modern, relevant Catholic Church yet. I still can’t believe you made it through the Conclave given your radical ideas about poverty and tolerance, but I’m glad you did.

22.Not a fan of Edward Snowden, but I’m grateful for the public conversations about privacy and surveillance his shenanigans invited. It can easily be argued that we would not be having them otherwise.

23.Paul Krugman: For keeping Keynesian economics alive and mainstream and for standing up to destructive austerians and “deficit scolds” on the regular. Your brilliance, approachability and determination demonstrate why they don’t hand out Nobel Prizes to just anybody.

24.I thank the National Federation of Press Women for seeing fit to bestow my second first place national writing award in four years. The fact that my 2013 prize was for last year’s work on this very blog makes the victory that much sweeter. This page is me.

25.I am grateful for my diverse, eclectic neighborhood of Rogers Park, and the multi-faceted benefits of lakefront living.

26.Zipcar: Thanks to your affordable membership prices and pickup location plentifulness, I don’t miss vehicle ownership one whit and shall never purchase an automobile again.

27.I don’t know whose decision at CNN it was to allow Newt Gingrinch to assault the airwaves on a weekday basis, but thank you. I now have a place to channel my sweaty hate whilst running on the treadmill.

28.Much love to PK and his painful, awful craniofacial massage techniques that have helped the Great Migraine Crisis of 2012 seem like a distant memory.

29.Wendy Davis: Your June, 11-hour filibuster badassery in the Texas Senate may not have killed the State’s assault on abortion rights, but your honey badger determination announced a new leader for women’s issues – and spiked sales of pink sneakers.

30.Last but not least, I am grateful that I have been given another year on this planet upon which to reflect.

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How DADT Makes America Less Safe (November 30, 2010)

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This morning as I booted up the computer, I took my typical perusal of the Yahoo headlines, and came across this feature from the Associated Press:

Pentagon Study: Gays Could Serve with No Harm

Ladies and gentlemen, we have just wasted 10 months and untold millions of taxpayer dollars “investigating” good common sense. While badly needed unemployment insurance extensions are in the process of being hijacked AGAIN by Republicans lobbying for the retention of Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy, we have no problem dithering and wasting scant resources “researching” an issue which almost every other democratic society has resolved by now. In short: if you are fighting two long, costly and unpopular wars, with brave soldiers who have been on three, four and five tours with little rest, you need all the enlisted men you can get and it shouldn’t matter who they’re shagging when the lights are off.

But will the release of this study finally be enough to silence the pandering savants in Washington, such as Senator John “Shill” McCain, who has appeared on every Sunday talk show and it’s brother arguing that a lift of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell restrictions could be “dangerous?” The former Maverick has repeatedly called pressure to promote equality within the armed forces “politically motivated.” Yet how is forcing well-trained and patriotic men and women underground on the basis of pleasing homophobic voters any less so?

As a matter of fact, the outdated debate surrounding this issue of basic human respect is what’s becoming a danger to our national security.

Multiple sources, including The Wall Street Journal, are reporting that Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, who may have jeopardized a number of international relationships with his document dump to WikiLeaks, is a gay soldier “frustrated” over the treatment of homosexuals by the U.S. military. Now I don’t mean to suggest that this was his sole reason for releasing the documents, but it doesn’t seem that DADT and an open culture of harassing closeted gays helped make us safer in this situation. By all accounts, until his recent break with military code, Manning was a young and brilliant soldier, exactly the kind of man of which recruiters dream.

Or how about former Army infantry officer, Lt. Dan Choi, an openly gay solider who served two distinguished years in Iraq combat operations before being transferred to the New York National Guard? America can no longer avail itself of Choi’s loyal services, because after coming out on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, the Lieutenant was summarily discharged. In response, Choi penned an open letter to President Barack Obama and Congress where he queried not only the morality, but the wisdom of the policy, “a slap in the face to me. It is a slap in the face to my soldiers, peers and leaders who have demonstrated that an infantry unit can be professional enough to accept diversity, to accept capable leaders, to accept skilled soldiers.”

How are we safer by releasing sharp, intelligent and passionate people because of some archaic, uninformed and backward looking trepidation that gay sex will overtake our army bases and combat zones? It’s ludicrous, and I have news for fear mongers like McCain and the Fox News crew: they’re queer and they’re already here. Manning and Choi are nowhere near the first or only Friends of Dorothy to don combat fatigues.

Although military recruitment numbers are climbing, owing in large degree to a terrifically anemic job market, we as a nation simply can’t afford to let a policy that seemed ill-advised even in 1993 stop our armed forces from functioning at their highest capability. And to that, we don’t need divisiveness or discrimination. We have enough problems on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s like cutting off our nose to spite our face.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a travesty. I was disappointed with Bill Clinton’s cave to the right wing to pass it, even as a 15 year-old high school student. Now a 32 year-old woman, I am disappointed in President Obama’s heavy footed failure to show it the door. Mr. President, listen to the Pentagon, listen to your conscience, listen to the pragmatic good sense you seem to cherish so much.

The Real America (August 26,2010)

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It seems that the modern political trend is to never unchain ourselves from the madness of American election cycles. The moment the ballot box is emptied and the winner declared, campaigning starts anew. This leaves little time for say, governing and serving the people, which is the ostensible job of legislators. More and more it seems that our politicians look at messaging, photo ops and pandering toward the “middle” as their full-time jobs.

Thus every couple of years, we are treated to divisive, nonsense “issues” that are designed to unite each respective party’s base and distract the electorate from the truth – that since the last time we cast our votes, in effect, nothing has changed. In 2004, we were treated to Republican rhetorical humdrum about attempting to rewrite the Constitution to formally outlaw gay marriage. This was a lot easier than having to account for the systemic intelligence failures and increasing body count of the Iraq war of choice. Though the effort to insert discrimination into the Constitution would never have worked, Republic strategists got what they wanted. Their base, newly mobilized and energized by the terrifying thought that the mechanics of romantic partnership might be above their pay grade, turned out in droves to re-elect W. Because nothing, not the impending burst of the housing bubble, the long practice of corporate off-shoring that disemboweled opportunities for the American work force, or the hundreds of billions of dollars wasted on unnecessary combat, is scarier than same sex couples running around willy nilly without the blessing of the far right.

I know I am coming off rather partisan here, and admittedly I lean pretty far to the left in comparison with the right-hooking trend of today’s voter. But I am equally disgusted with Democratic leadership. As it was in 2004, they have assumed the defensive position (has nobody told them they actually WON both houses of Congress in 2008?) and allowed their foes across the aisle to determine the talking points.

Instead of using the run-up to the November elections as an opportunity to clarify their positions, to explicate the complicated pieces of legislation passed in the last two years – really important work in the areas of health care and financial reform that John and Jane Q. Public have yet to fully comprehend – they are allowing the conversation to veer once again toward disharmony. Thus instead of conveying in clear bullet point fashion what health care reform really means for the average American family, how their lives and balance sheets will improve incrementally, Obama and the Democratic leadership are permitting themselves to be dragged into the Tea Party trenches. When conversation turns toward repealing the 14th Amendment say, or the current outrage du jour – the “Ground Zero” mosque plans, Democrats inevitably fumble. How happy was I when Obama stood up and declared that the planned center was the very essence of freedom of religion and unity that makes this nation great? Yet how soon that pride turned into sadness the following morning when the President flinched, bullied by Fox News into clarifying that he was not commenting on the “wisdom” of following through with the planed mosque.

Sometimes it gets so that I lose my sense of reality. Following the news cycle, reading punditry online, watching the President who was elected in a wave of “change” enthusiasm, punt on the potentially politically unpopular, it is easy to get sucked into a demoralizing listlessness. Have we all become so angry and dogmatic that there is no room for a true dialectic anymore?

However I was witness to ample evidence this past weekend, in my own backyard, that perhaps many of us are just tired of talking. It appears that if there’s one thing we can all get behind, in a mutually respective and tolerant way, it is the right to party. I watched the happenings of a two-day street festival from the comfort of my balcony. Rather than experience the event on the ground, my bird’s eye view of party goers acted as nectar for the writer’s muse.

I live in a rather eclectic and diverse community by any standard, one of the northernmost neighborhoods in the City of Chicago. The vibrant area is marked by a huge population of recent African immigrants, Latinos, artists, musicians and a sizable LGBT enclave. I wondered, given the toxic socio-political environment in which we wade, if any of the current intolerance and anger would find its way to the streets of Rogers Park. I sat for two days like an armed sentry guard, on high alert for the first signs of unrest. I was people watching until my eyes hurt. I was determined not to let anything escape my notice.

You know what I saw instead of the looked for disharmony? Good fathers with healthy children of all races and sexual orientations, with excited youngsters running into their arms. I saw older men of every religious bent drinking too much and embarrassing their wives with outdated dance moves. I saw an energetic member of the counterculture perform an impromptu rhythmic hula hoop routine to the delight of the neighborhood children. I saw kids of every conceivable background, uniting to do what kids do: chase each other around and throw trash into large puddles of water. No angry, bigoted word emerged from any corner of this raucous event.

And that’s when I wished with all my heart for recording equipment and my own national TV station. I wanted to capture this colorful embrace of summer, and life itself, and make this the headline story on the evening news. “This just in! People still know how to get along and have fun! Film at 11.” Sadly, this has become the untold story in a nation that has lost its appetite for setting the standard of civic engagement in the free world. But maybe, just maybe if we could release ourselves from the chokehold of politicians and the media, the habit of being told who we are and what we want, we could learn to enjoy each other again. Maybe if the rancor were cleared from the air, we could begin to start solving the numerous problems facing our nation. The energy is out there, and some of it, lo and behold, is hate free.

Media Finally Pivots Away from Repetitive Deficit Scare Tactics and Notices Surging Populism (December 30, 2013)

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The conclusion of a calendar year before the inception of a fresh one is both a literal and metaphorical time of hope: a chance to wipe the slate clean and welcome new ideas, goals and attitudes. While any period of transition lacks clean orderliness, the end of December is perhaps the one time in twelve months where an opportunity is presented to  stop, think and even change the most important mind of all – your own.

It was just two months ago, in the midst of October’s bogus and pointless government shutdown, that I was pretty much resolved to throw in the political towel. Despite a surprisingly strong spine shown by President Obama and Congressional Democrats in refusing to help lunatic Republicans save face, it seemed as though we had beamed an unmistakable message across the globe: “The United States has jumped the shark. A minority of conservative radicals is in charge, holding the rest of us hostage. And mainstream ‘liberals,’ perpetually preoccupied with the next election cycle have forsaken economic and social stewardship. We will continue to lurch from one manufactured fiscal crisis to another. We have stopped caring about the middle and lower classes. We will continue to ignore the growing incidence of mass gun violence, dismantle the social safety net. Give us another decade to complete our transformation to banana republic.”

But just when all seemed utterly and completely lost, a series of fortunate and promising events occurred. The GOP was pummeled in the public court of good opinion over the two-week shutdown, effectively neutralizing the party’s oft-stated talking point that its actions reflected the will of the people. They completely capitulated, the government reopened and there was good reason to believe that Boehner and the bunch would be loathe to attempt any similar monkey business in the near future.

Next we received the holiday gift of a bipartisan budget agreement. And though it was at best an imperfect plan which does nothing to aid the struggling, invest in the future (infrastructure, education) or bolster job creation, the final resolution was a glorified nod to the retreat of deficit panic as our defining government ideology. The cherry on top was the subsequent inter-Republican bickering, punctuated by Speaker Boehner’s repeated admonishment of right wing advocacy groups like the Heritage Foundation. The grumpiness appeared to be little less than the opening shot of the Republican civil war that for years appeared as necessary as it was unlikely.

And now, finally, at the conclusion of 2013, the conversation is turning. Yes, the change is beginning to take root in “liberal” media outlets such as The New York Times, but it’s happening. Time was you couldn’t get anyone but Nobel Prize-winning economic Paul Krugman to steer off the GOP sound bite course. And bless his heart, the stalwart solider of good sense is back at it this week with a column entitled, Fiscal Fever Breaks. But I wasn’t about to get excited until a major story made the front page.

The headline is neutral enough: Democrats Turn to Minimum Wage as 2014 Strategy. But the statistics referenced within the piece are the real story: “Sixty-four percent of independents and even 57 percent of Republicans said they supported increasing the minimum wage, according to a CBS News poll last month. Some 70 percent of self-described ‘moderates’ said they supported an increase.”

The movement away from “serious” economic butchering that only serves to enrich the wealthy and kick the troubled when they’re down, no longer holds the same appeal – for the White House, for papers of record and, most importantly of all, for the people. A large cross-section of ALL of the people. 2014 might just be the year of resurgent democracy, of empathy and of a modicum of policy sanity. Yes, we can.

Republicans Confront the Reality That America Just Isn’t That Into Them (February 26, 2013)

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There is so much to talk about this week. Those of us not living under a rock are well aware that the budgetary disaster otherwise known as sequestration will go into effect this Friday in the absence of a bipartisan Congressional resolution. I am going to take a rare break from my genuine, liberal defensiveness and point the finger at both parties for allowing it to come to this.

It is unfathomable that playing the blame game as to who must own responsibility for developing the plan has taken precedence over coming up with a viable alternative. Further, it now seems that Democrats and Republicans may just take their chances with the sequester and let the voting public decide who’s most at fault. The theory goes that the party who is assigned the largest portion of accountability will have to scream “uncle” and ultimately compromise their position.

Well these types of tactical moves may play well in Poker and Risk, but this the real world. Real people stand to lose real jobs, and a fledgling U.S. economy just starting to show signs of life may be sent back to the precipice from which it stood in late 2008. Shame, shame, shame on this pathetic excuse for representation of the peoples’ will. I am about ready to declare big picture, long term planning completely obsolete on Capitol Hill.

And while we’re on the subject of regressive thinking, the GOP continues to wrestle with a four-month old question to which finding the answer would change nothing. The Republican Party is still wasting time and resources trying to figure out why it is that Mitt Romney lost the 2012 Presidential election in the first place. The party of fantasy, having gotten nowhere blaming voters for their unfathomable desire to put their own economic survival ahead of big business interests, and the settled question of a woman’s right to control her own body, have found a new target: technology.

Mitt Romney’s former top strategist, Stuart Stevens, has been everywhere in the media in recent days. Stevens has canvassed print and television news outlets, defending himself from the latest charges directed at the Romney campaign, to try to account for what many Republicans still view as a incomprehensible rejection of their chosen candidate. Conventional right wing wisdom has reevaluated the Obama’s mastery of viral messaging across social media, YouTube, and campaign websites and come up with one conclusion: the Romney Team’s dearth of tech savvy cost them the vote.

Sounding more common sense than reactionary, Stevens has challenged the party to look deeper for its failure to connect with the electorate. Among other arguments Stevens made in an Op-Ed published in The Washington Post earlier this week, the strategist called upon his partymates to admit that the answers are not that simple. He wrote, “There seems to be a desire to blame Republicans’ electoral difficulties and the Romney campaign’s loss on technological failings. I wish this were the problem, because it would be relatively easy to fix. But it’s not.”

Instead Stevens joins a growing chorus of GOP leaders who seem to be waking up the simple unpopularity of the party platform. ABC News summarized the operative’s view as follows: Stevens “argue[s] that it was a generation and message gap that ailed the GOP last year and ultimately paved the way for President Obama’s victory over Romney. The Democrats’ superior technology – and Republicans’ weaknesses in this area – was only part of the problem.” Ya think?

Leave it to the modern Republican Party to turn anywhere to avoid the obvious truth: Americans just aren’t that into you anymore. Stevens went on to caution the right against adopting the belief that more effective Tweeting and the right software package would be enough to convince alienated voters to give the GOP another try. He said, ” “Technology is something to a large degree you can go out and purchase, and if we think there’s an off the shelf solution that you can with the Republican Party it’s wrong.”

We know by now that the 21st century Republican ilk retreats from facts and logic when it comes to pursuing its own agenda, but it seems that they’ve only really succeeded in fooling themselves. If they haven’t learned by now that continued legislative intransigence and a loose relationship with reality is a strategy destined to fail, may they be reminded during the 2014 midterm elections.

 

Sane GOPers Tell the Crazy Republicans to Stop Talking to Themselves (January 31, 2013)

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Although I respect the intellect of New York Times columnist David Brooks, particularly his application of humanistic psychological and sociological research to the formation of public policy views, there are many times when I throw my hands up in frustration. While professing a moderate approach to the role of government in American society, he often ends up sounding much like a Republican mouthpiece. I am thinking of his implausible regard for Paul Ryan’s endless circumstantial flip-flopping on budget and deficit responsibility (pro-spending under George W. Bush, austerity principles during the Obama regime) as just one example.

At the risk of welcoming angry comments and hate mail, I do believe that a sound and rational two-party system is essential to the health of our cherished democracy. No one is served by a insulated majority free of checks and balances, closed to new ideas, no matter which end of the political spectrum that party should occupy.

I would assert that underlying much liberal anger is a genuine wish that those of the right wing persuasion would embrace modern reality and take part in a honest conversation about the direction in which the country needs to move if it is to face current challenges, including but not limited to: immigration and health care reform, globalization, fiscal balance, entitlement spending, the tax code and a whole host of other issues. Unfortunately, an increasingly radicalized GOP has brought little to the table in recent years beside anger, corporate kowtowing, backward social thinking and obstructionism.

With this in mind, there are elements to admire vis a vis Brooks’ column for the Times this week, entitled “A Second G.O.P.” In it, Brooks writes “On the surface, Republicans are already doing a good job of beginning to change their party. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana gave a speech to the Republican National Committee calling on Republicans to stop being the stupid party, to stop insulting the intelligence of the American people….But, so far, there have been more calls for change than actual evidence of change.”

Well said. If the results of the 2012 Presidential election taught us anything, it’s that the Republican Party platform increasingly falls outside of mainstream views. Continuous disregard and disrespect for the middle and working classes, the social safety net, female reproductive rights and immigrants cost Mitt Romney the popular vote in a big way. Almost every GOP leader woke up the need for more inclusive messaging, but to Brooks’s point, how does that translate into real policy reform? Thus far, it hasn’t. In order for the right to begin taking steps toward relevancy, it must do more than talk to itself about change. It must actually make that change palpable.

Brooks goes on to observe, “In this reinvention process, Republicans seem to have spent no time talking to people who didn’t already vote for them.”

In other words, as the GOP seeks to rejoin productive policy dialogue, it must move away from navel gazing and the equivalent of empty locker room pep talks to doing the actual work required to attract new members. President Obama has made it clear over the last four years that he would love to count upon constructive Republican input when it comes to solving the nation’s problems – with disappointingly few results. As the title of Brooks’ column implies, the GOP needs to reverse course in the form of a total break with a failed platform.

It has been an interesting feature of 2013 that the direction of the Republican Party has been the subject of much internal criticism. Will that criticism be co-opted into sincere course correction? Stay tuned…