Be Better Than Fear

My last two posts were pretty bleak. I admit it. I don’t believe the world is ending just yet, but there are definitely signs of doom for democratic ideals.

The fear and loathing can’t be divorced from the current President, his administration and the mockery that is being made of fair governance. Basic human decency should be an occupational requirement. But it’s not.

Although actual progress on any part of the Trump agenda has been mercifully slow, change is very much in the air, dredging up fear on both sides of the aisle. It’s just being channeled and processed differently. On the left we’re seeing authoritarian activities we believed were ancient history once again in vogue – and we’re resisting. On the right…I honestly don’t know what we’re seeing. But the Party of No is gunning for women’s health, civil rights and immigration.

At the center of both reactions lies fear. For some conservatives, it’s fear of what America’s changing demographics look like, particularly in post-9/11 America. On the liberal left, there’s panic that we’ll never make it three and a half more years of Trump.

Fear drives ignorant, shortsighted behavior, such as a school teacher handing out a “Most Likely to be a Terrorist” certificate to a seventh grader (as a “joke”). In what universe is branding someone at the most turbulent stage of their life as a terrorist, funny? Or even remotely appropriate? It’s harassment, an attack on a child’s mental state, creating a hostile environment for the entire community. We can’t have the people entrusted with our kids damaging their mental health and creating a bullying culture from the top down.

That same fear of the “other” contributed to North Carolina’s racist voting district gerrymandering efforts. These moves placed large groups of African-Americans into the same few districts, concentrating their votes. In effect, gerrymanderers split representatives 10:3 in favor of traditional, white republican representation in areas where black voters skew democratic. This approach was struck down by the Supreme Court with the uncharacteristic support of Justice Clarence Thomas, rarely to be found on the “liberal” side of a case.

SCOTUS’ ruling in the North Carolina case is one of the few moments of clarity and bipartisan unity we’ve seen in recent months, an indication that black votes, voices and lives matter. There is hope to be found in the system of checks and balances, no matter how delayed.

There’s also reasons for optimism as courts across the country slap down Trump’s proposed travel ban time and time again. In fact, just this last weekend Following another terrorist attack in London, Prime Minister Theresa May called for action to restrict “the safe spaces it needs to breed.” Trump’s travel ban and May’s preference for a police state are responses of fear, because they do not understand the bigger picture.

The proposed ban exists to discriminate against six majority Islamic countries as a show of nationalism (not to be confused with patriotism). Somehow Trumpsters and their supporters fail to realize reducing all Muslims to terrorists is like conflating all Christians with the Westboro Baptist Church.

May, while having a legitimate cause for concern (this is the third attack on British soil within three months), is reacting to radical elements of Islam. She’s looking to penetrate so-called self-segregated communities and be “less delicate of their sensitivities.” It’s panic that targets civilians.

When we hear the word “terrorism,” it’s disturbing  to observe the automatic jump of many to Islam. We need to remember that terrorism isn’t a religion; it’s a tactic. A tactic founded upon bullying, sadism and sociopathic tendencies to control people through threats, intimidation and violent action.

Terrorism does not exist “over there.” Look no further than America and Breitbart’s hate-filled agenda, the constant stream of cultural ignorance (yes, those are different links) thrown at those who look or believe outside of hetero, Caucasian, Christian paradigms. Consider Betsy Devos’ anarchist, hands-off approach to education. Every day on the job, she’s developing a hostile experience for future generations.

There is a lot of negativity to weight us down at present, but we also need to look beyond our own fear. By doing so, we’ll learn how to advance together. By way of example, there’s the One Love Manchester concert benefiting victims of the second U.K. attack. There’s also the aforementioned Supreme Court ruling against gerrymandering, and the unprecedented number of women running for public office. There’s human decency and intelligence visible everywhere – if you know where to look. 

Allowing paralysis or backward movement under the weight of fear does no one any good. The ability to look forward is what will distinguish leaders matching the global, human challenges of these times.

Match Your Toilet Paper with Your Principles (January 28, 2015)

Last weekend, I reclined against the couch deep in pleasant reverie. Rhett, a gentleman I am newly dating, had stepped away to the restroom while I nursed a buzz influenced by several factors – the champagne glass in my hand and the adrenaline pump of early attraction among others. Though we’re just beginning to get acquainted, Rhett is well aware of my passionate political liberalism, as I am aware of the delight he takes in poking at self-seriousness.

It’s against this backdrop that I was shaken from my stupor by the sound of a booming slow clap, emanating across the short hallway between the bathroom and sofa. I looked up to see burly yet gentle hands moving in front of a faux smug, yet still frustratingly handsome face. The clap was followed by these words:

“Well done lady. You had me fooled. I really believed you were a lefty until I saw this.”

A second later I was totally confused. Rhett brandished an unopened pack of Angel Soft toilet paper in my direction. What on Earth did my political leanings have to do with bathroom tissue? As it turns out, quite a lot.

Very quickly I was made to understand that Angel Soft, a bargain-priced paper, is produced by a company owned by none other than….the Koch Brothers! Yes! Those infamous opportunists of the Supreme Court’s ill-conceived Citizen’s United decision, which allows private funds to flow unchecked through our nation’s political process. The demon siblings spent upwards of $290 million of their own personal fortune in a failed 2012 attempt to get Mittens Romney into the Oval Office. The fact that they belly flopped doesn’t make many angry democracy lovers despise them less.

Before Rhett teased me into enlightenment however, I went through all seven stages of grief in instantaneous succession:

1.Shock & Denial –“Stop! You’re kidding me. It can’t be true!”

2.Pain & Guilt – “Have I been unwittingly supporting an evil empire just to save a few pennies?!”

3.Anger & Bargaining – “I suck! I’ve been buying Angel Soft for four years. Four years I say! I don’t really believe in you Jesus, but I might start if you can make this go away. What do you say?”

4.Depression, Reflection & Loneliness – “It’s no use. No one can save me. I am officially a failed liberal. PoliticusUSA is going to vote me off the left wing columnist island.”

5.The Upward Turn – “Well hold on a minute. Yes, I have been wiping my bum with the products of interclass warfare for a leap year. But it’s never too late to change course.”

6.Reconstruction & Working Through – “Ok, I’ve been drinking so I will need to use this nefarious TP once more. But then it’s going into the trash never to be seen again.”

7.Acceptance & Hope – “Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho. It’s off to the store I go. Won’t use the can with contraband. Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho.”

Naturally Rhett wasn’t privy to this 2015, Ally McBeal-style inner monologue. But I believe he grasped that my mind had been working overtime. Because I marched straight over to the coat rack and put on my winter gear. All joking came to a screeching halt. As I adjusted my cap, I looked him dead in the eye and said:

“We have to go right now. In the first place, we’re out of champagne. And in the second, I no longer have any toilet paper. I tossed the Angel Soft.”

Rhett hesitated for a moment and searched my eyes. Apparently satisfied that I would not be deterred, we reviewed the website Boycott Koch before heading out into the night. I had been ignorant once in my consumer packaged good selections, but would not make the mistake a second time. I was relieved to discover that the only purchasing crime committed was in the paper product category. I returned to my apartment (rather ironically, in retrospect) squeezing two packages of Charmin as though my entire identity depended upon them.

I wrote this post for three very different reasons. The first motivation is a public cleansing of sorts. My name is Becky and I am an imperfect citizen. Though I strive to walk the liberal walk (and not just do the talk/write component), this one got by me entirely. I’ve admitted it, bought new bathroom tissue and am now ready to forgive myself.

The second impetus is a self-mocking plea to fellow anti-Kochians: check your medicine cabinets, pantries and refrigerators. These bastards are pretty deep in the consumer products world. Arm yourself with information available at the hyperlink above.

And the third catalyst is to share an observation that occurred to me after the triumphant return to toilet paper respectability. I don’t think Rhett expected I’d seek to redress political wrongs immediately. But once it was clear that’s exactly what I needed to do to be able to look in the mirror again, he offered full physical and psychological support. And there’s nothing shitty (Ha! All the potty jokes! I kill me!) about that.

America’s Health Care System is Still Broken Part II (April 24, 2012)

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I will keep writing about this because I am one of the lucky ones. I will keep screaming about the system’s inherent abusiveness because I can and I must – for all those who are sicker, less financially solvent and don’t have a forum in which their voices may be heard.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote this post, recounting the stress of divorce compounded by unexpected health news of the unfavorable kind. After being diagnosed with Stage 2A cervical cancer, I learned that I was considered persona non grata by prospective health insurance providers until I was in remission. At the time, I received the core-rattling news that none of my women’s health needs would be covered for 3-5 years, or until the part of Obamacare that forbids insurance companies from playing pre-existing condition roulette with people’s lives takes over in January 2013.

Since I wrote the first post in this series last year, a few important events have occurred:

  1. I underwent a successful procedure in June, 2011 that completely removed all cancerous cells from my body – no chemo or radiation required. A six-month checkup in December found no evidence of irregular growth.
  2. I have since gotten into the healthiest shape of my life. I was already no slouch in the exercise department, but have taken the upkeep of my temple in whole new directions. I have learned, through therapy and hard work, to better manage stress. I am invested in a romantic partnership that brings untold levels of peace and satisfaction. I am more careful about what I put into my body and my approach to preventive medicine has changed completely.
  3. I am officially divorced, no longer on my ex’s insurance plan and employed full-time at a housewares manufacturer with great benefits.

As I have already indicated, I was fully prepared for my women’s health coverage to be excluded for 2012. Whether I think the situation is fair or not (not) is irrelevant. You know the saying, “it is what it is.” I was planning to bide my time, and though I am not religious, ask Mother Earth to keep the cancer at bay. My single-adult premiums on the new policy amount to $6,000 annually and while I felt forced into a “cross your fingers” strategy as pertained to the cancer, at least I would be covered under all other circumstances right? Wrong.

The new Big Brother in my healthcare decision-making world, a company that will remain nameless but rhymes with Dew Toss, Dew Field of Iroquois, has declared a blanket “pre-existing condition clause” that covers EVERYTHING for which I have ever been treated. Surprise! This clause runs the full calendar year, so I have the honor of forking over $6,000 in the event I am shot or hit by a bus (neither of which has ever happened), but if I need therapy (you know because I was depressed about having cancer), antibiotics, birth control or my first annual cancer screening – all of that must come out of my pocket. My doctor and I jumped through numerous hoops and made many arguments, to no avail. A girl who rides her bike 68 miles to work and back, under the age 35 with the bad luck to get a little spot of cancer last year, is reduced to nothingness until 2013.

And as we all know today, the conclusion above represents the best-cased scenario. Subsequent to the decision by a bunch of corporate bureaucrats that I am too risky for any sort of benefits, though my money is still welcome, a bunch of mostly old ,white men on the Supreme Court will sit in judgment of my fate beyond this calendar year. By June we are told, the ladies and gentlemen of the jury will decide whether to throw the baby out with the bathwater on health care reform, because a few hundred lobbyists and Tea Party crackpots chafe against the individual mandate portion.

So we can make car insurance as a condition of vehicle ownership law, but this is somehow different? Can they really declare that no part of the reform benefits the American people? What about the part where, I don’t know, insurance companies can’t refuse you access to ALL TYPES OF HEALTHCARE because you had a treatable cancer that was cured in one shot?

If the Supreme Court overturns Obamacare, I am out in the cold for 5 years, perhaps longer if an emboldened insurance syndicate decides so. I can’t believe this is America.

About the Supreme Court’s deliberations, the Daily Beast remarked in November of last year, “By agreeing to rule on the issue of national health care, the Supreme Court foolishly politicizes its deliberation process and needlessly damages its own reputation.”

But this is about more than a simple PR misstep, the negation of jurisprudence. This is about American rights and lives. I think I have a patriotic duty to protest my provider’s current right to kill or bankrupt me in the unfortunate event that my cancer recurs, or that I come down with the flu and need antibiotics and a short hospital stay. I want the Supreme Court to consider that with the same fervor with which they seem to regard a libertarian’s right to refuse health coverage when that refusal burdens everyone else.

Supreme Court Son of a Guns (July 1, 2010)

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I am both pro-Bill of Rights, and anti-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. While the latter has done much to beautify and invest in the City’s downtown/lakefront infrastructure, his tenure, at 21 years and counting, has gone on way too long, and is one of the best arguments for term limits I have ever encountered. While Daley Jr. has ushered in the reversal of a decades-long pattern of affluent urban flight, he has presided over the all-but-crushing of the City’s poor who no longer find transportation, housing, City fees, parking, gas and a whole host of other necessities within their reach.

Having been born and raised in the Windy City, I can clearly remember a time when middle class families (my father a clerical worker, my mother a nurse) could buy a single family home on the Northwest Side, and make plans to get ahead. This is a distant dream for that same class in 2010. The cause of this can be traced to one very complicated factor: systemic corruption, waste and incompetency at the highest levels of the Daley machine.

Yet that said, and despite my rampant distaste for the Mayor, we find ourselves on the same side of a very important issue: gun control. As you may be aware by now, the Supreme Court on Monday cleared a path to overturn the City’s ban on handguns — among the toughest in the U.S – by remanding an earlier Federal Court decision to uphold the law back to its source for reconsideration.

As I mentioned in the first sentence, I am a big fan of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that acts as the centerpiece to protecting our civil liberties. I understand that one of those rights, whether I choose to exercise it or not, is the right to bear arms, protecting my person and my property. Whether I feel that this right is as necessary in 2010 as it may have been in the late 18th century is another argument for another time. I accept that the Bill of Rights is for eternity, and that is as it should be.

However, I can’t help but find myself in agreement with Chicago Alderwoman Freddrenna Lyle, who was quoted as saying, “If the City can pass a dog ordinance that can protect the public from a dog bite, we should be able to tighten handgun regulations.” Well said, Ms. Alderwoman. Dogs are not illegal, but as they can be somewhat unwieldy under the wrong circumstances, they must be regulated: leashes, licenses etc. Why is the same not applicable to potentially lethal weapons?

Word on the street is that Mayor Daley, an outspoken critic of gun access, reacted “angrily” to the Supreme Court decision, motivated by reasons for once loftier than simply having his unchecked authority questioned. Our Mayor is not a well-spoken or gracefully mannered man. I would have given a year of my life to be a fly on the wall for the initial outburst.

But I digress. Chicago, need I tell you folks, is a violent City, and growing more so all the time. Rampant gang activity and a debilitating economy breed a sense of despair and hopelessness which quickly morphs into lawlessness. In 2009, the Windy City’s murder rate was approximately three times higher than that of New York City. That is a very telling statistic in a calendar year in which lakefront citizens were unable to buy handguns. This of course begs the question: once these weapons are available on the open market, what then?

State and local governments already squeezed budgetarily do not have the resources to step up the pursuit of violent criminals. Are we naïve enough to believe that predatory crime syndicates are not ten steps ahead of the rest of us, preparing to use this development to advantage?

So what is the answer? I don’t have it, and clearly, neither does Mayor Daley, and the Supreme Court justices deliberately chose to be hands off. Their job is to locate legislation that doesn’t jibe with the Constitution and undo it. Fine. Understood. Be that as it may, we are all, at the end of the day, responsible to a degree for each other. That is another foundation of the loose confederation of these States.

Children playing in the streets of Chicago are already being killed at an alarming rate. How do we explain to them that grown-ups have the right to own any kind of gun they like, even ones that have no use for other than killing, and they just may have to get used to the occasional death of a friend?

Seems Un-American. The Bill of Rights offers some implicit right to safety, does it not? By protecting our rights to speech, arms, and against unreasonable search and seizure – these fall under the umbrella of security. The Supreme Court’s black and white interpretation of Chicago’s ban against handguns makes all of us in the Windy City less safe.

State of the Union (January 28, 2010)

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I listened to every moment of the President’s address before the joint houses of Congress (and a very dour and censured looking Supreme Court) last night. In many respects, I thought Obama did a great job. He said a lot of tough things that needed to be said, that most of us are aware of, but rarely hear come from the mouths of our elected leaders. Such as the fact that he has increased deficit spending in the last year, but felt that given the choice of two evils: letting America go belly up or adding to our long term monetary problems, he had no option but to go with the latter. He also reminded us, as God I have wanted Obama to do so many times in recent months, that a great reason everyone is so panicked about the deficit is because of the fine legacy of fiscal “conservative” George W. Bush.

In general, I thought our President came off as committed and firm, aware of his mistakes, but ready to get out there and keep trying, because damn it that’s what we elected him to do and America has some serious problems that need fixing.

As one of my young co-workers eloquently stated over happy hour beers last evening, “I don’t trust government, but I do trust Obama.” I think that about sums it up for me too, so while I felt somewhat re-energized after the President’s address, I felt the keen sense that his commitment to change is only as good as the worthless Congress whose help he requires to get things done. I am as liberal as they come, but I would be remiss here if I lay the blame solely at the feet of the minority Republican coalitions in the House and Senate.

In fact, the ironic feature of Obama’s address last night was that we could not, for one visual moment, get away from the symbol of Democratic incompetence and arrogant gamesmanship – that would be House Leader Nancy Pelosi. This woman is as guilty of anyone else on the Hill of misleading, disappointing and delaying the life improvement of so many Americans. As much as I wanted to let go and get into the rhythm of the diverse messages the President was disseminating (are we REALLY near the end of the hateful “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”), it was hard to do with the constant presence of the elected official who failed to pass anything of strength or importance in the House this last year, despite the benefit of an overwhelming majority.

In fact I found that I was more attuned to the resurgence of hope that Obama was trying to engender when I left the room to fold my laundry and ready my things for the next work day. Eddie always watches the TV at top volume, a habit that normally irritates the beejesus out of me. However, on this occasion, Eddie’s hearing loss enabled me to take most of it in from the opposite side of the house, free of Nancy’s mystifyingly smug and empowered visage.

Joe Biden is pretty useless too. His penchant for foot in mouth PR gaffes has relegated him to status as the 21st century’s answer to Dan Quayle. However, it is his very lack of being able to affect anything that renders his image benign. Let him stand behind Obama and smile like the Ed McMahon to his Johnny Carson. But for the next State of the Union, can we find another seat for Pelosi?