Is It Really Silly Season So Soon?

January 1, 2019 and the horses were out of the gate, their hoofbeats assaulting our already over-taxed patience. The political horseplay began with a vengeance - before the new Congress set foot in Washington and before anyone had formally declared they were running for President next year. The new year promised the American public, and the world, a long and rocky race as all eyes, arguments, and predictions focused on the 2020 election.


Some pundits say the palaver is right on time. But most of us would probably concur that it’s way too early to begin the non-stop spewing and sputtering when we don’t even know who the serious contenders will be, or what they have to offer.


Still, the mainstream media dug in its heels and to the exclusion of reporting real and urgent news, they started having a field day. The New York Times, for example, ran a piece with this over-written, somewhat hysterical headline: "Rashida Tlaib’s Expletive-Laden Cry to Impeach Trump Upends Democrats’ Talking Points"!  "Expletive-Laden Cry"? She said one bad word at a private event and got caught on tape. The M-F- word, it seems, is enough to ruin a woman’s budding political career, but a guy who says publicly that he likes to “grab pussy” gets a pass and becomes president?

Dancing while Female?  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez danced, beautifully and joyfully, while in college, mimicking a famous movie dance scene. Someone taped it. A right-winger posted it, and hey presto, she's the bad "little girl."  

Elizabeth Warren went public first and she's immediately "unlikable." Sound familiar? Not only was Hillary Rodham Clinton tagged “unlikeable,” her headbands and hairstyles were scrutinized ad nauseam, as was Michelle Obama’s choice of sleeveless dresses, now the norm in women’s fashion.


Common denominator? Fear of powerful women, i.e., misogyny, and it needs to be called out every single time it rears its ugly head, whether in Congress, in conversation, or by TV pundits, social and print media, among the worst offenders for stoking this kind of sexist nonsense. Women like Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters know that game when they see it, and they aren't afraid to confront it, making them superb role models.

Moving on, how fair is it to be polling for favorite 2020 candidates and reporting on outcomes when most potential candidates have not yet declared? How in the world can anyone know who they are inclined to vote for until they hear what frontrunners have to say, never mind time to scrutinize their experience and policy perspectives?

It was nothing short of shocking to hear potential candidate Terry McAuliffe, former governor of Virginia, do a self-serving pre-stump speech critical of the progressive agenda of the Democratic party’s left in which he revealed how out of touch he is with what just happened in the mid-term election. Similarly, California Senator Dianne Feinstein didn’t get what the Blue/Pink Wave was all about. With all due respect to Joe Biden, Sen. Feinstein, and Mr. McAuliffe, the election was not about same old white guy-driven policies and agendas that don't speak to the new generation of Democratic constituencies. It was about inclusivity, relevance, and effectiveness in a 21st century political world.


That world is culturally, ethnically, and economically diverse, moving toward progressive ideas and goals, deeply committed to social justice, the earth’s survival, a democratic future, and other critical issues of our time. People like Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke and others deserve their chance as McAuliffe, Feinstein and Biden have had theirs.


Messages about economic gains for the middle class (which means mostly white people) no longer resonate at a time when the U.S. government is caging and killing kids, when our water and food is no longer safe and children are dying because of rolled back regulations, when adults and seniors are dying prematurely because they can’t afford their medicines (like insulin) and can’t access health care, when Americans can’t earn a living wage, when people get killed just for being black and hate crimes are on the rise, when the planet we share is in real danger of dying, when ethical and moral behavior in Congressional offices and chambers no longer exists, and when we are on the brink of serious disasters, man-made and natural, with no one at the helm or in government agencies who understands or cares so long as their coffers are full.


This is not a time to be politically regressive. Our full attention, our intellectual faculties, our conscience and compassion have never been more important or more necessary. They must be exercised by each of us to the fullest degree if we are to survive as a nation and as citizens of a morally and physically safe world.


Everyone must commit to that effort, including those who have served as our political voice in the past, and those who want to find their way and use their voices to offer appropriate legislation and new, important ideas, knowing that they will be heard and that their ideas will be considered carefully, not judged on what they say privately, what they wear, or how they dance.


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Elayne Clift writes about women, politics, and social issues from Saxtons River, Vt.


Time to Get Behind Hillary

Now that she is the Democratic candidate can we give Hillary Rodham Clinton her due?

She may not be perfect. What politician, or human being, is?  But she has taken more heat than anyone running for office should have to, and now the time is here to “put a sock in it,” as the British say.  Or as my high school typing teacher taught us, “Now is the time to come to the aid of the party.”

Like lots of others I’ve had issues with Hillary.  For a start I don’t like political dynasties no matter which side they represent.  I think she made a mess of health care reform during her husband’s tenure and I don’t like that she stood with him for punishing welfare reform. Some of her senatorial votes, especially regarding military intervention, were clearly questionable. Recently I could have throttled her as she pandered to AIPAC in her unconditional support of Israel with nary a mention of that country’s transgressions against the Palestinian people. I get that she sometimes acts as if she were exempt from the rules. And I wish she had donated her Wall Street speaking fees.

But Hillary is a woman of extraordinary intelligence, sound judgment, and experience that runs wide and deep. Her “skill set” is amazing. So is her patience and her cool in the face of contempt. (Think Benghazi and emails.)  Much of that contempt derives from her being a woman.  A lot of old white guys don’t like smart, powerful women, and sadly neither do some women.  Hillary has shown real fortitude as she’s faced unfounded attacks on her character, personality and ability.  It’s time we gave her credit for that.

I can say with some authority that she is also nicer than people give her credit for.  The first time I saw her up close and personal was at an event honoring the late, great feminist leader Bella Abzug. Hillary greeted the audience warmly, her big blue eyes and wide grin a portrait of genuine friendship.  She joked about Bella’s hats and told tales about their shared experiences. When her remarks grew serious she moved us all, speaking passionately about issues she and Bella cared deeply about, women’s rights and children’s welfare topping the list. We felt her real concern and commitment to these and other matters, witnessing how they moved her. We saw in her the ability to act forcefully on behalf of others less fortunate than those of us in the room that day. We left inspired.

Several years later I was in another room with Hillary.  It was an auditorium in Hairou, China, site of the 1995 non-governmental forum at the Fourth World Conference on Women.  She was America’s First Lady, but that didn’t stop her from speaking truth to power in Beijing’s political halls. A few days earlier she had declared to China’s leaders and the world, “Women’s rights are human rights! And human rights are women’s rights!” It was a stunning and courageous statement. When she came to the NGO forum to speak she was no less forceful and daring. Her words about the denial of women’s human rights all over the globe resonated to the 3,000 women lucky enough to have gained access to the auditorium, to the more than 35,000 conference participants who heard or read her speech later, and to all the world’s women waiting in homes and huts to learn what was happening at that awesome event.  The power and passion in that speech was unforgettable.

I’m not suggesting that I’m on Hillary Clinton’s Rolodex. I’ve never broken bread with her nor have we had personal exchanges. But having been in close proximity to her on a few occasions, I can say that she has been treated unfairly, mythologized, unduly doubted, diminished, and insulted without cause. It’s time for all that to stop.

For far too long now – indeed through the ages – women have been punished for revealing their intellect and their agency. They’ve been pilloried for being political, privately and publicly. Many have been silenced, tortured, murdered for daring to speak their minds or make their own choices. (Just a few days before I wrote this piece, a young Middle Eastern woman died in an honor killing for refusing to marry the man her father had chosen. Elsewhere a teenager died as a result of forced female genital cutting.)       

The world must come to realize that women, who constitute the majority of the earth’s population, deserve to have a seat at the tables of decision-making and conflict resolution, and to rise, with demonstrated competency, to positions of leadership. Here in our own country, we must acknowledge that women like Hillary Clinton deserve to be taken seriously, treated with respect and honesty, and recognized for their immense abilities, especially in critical, dangerous and divisive times.

It’s time now for us to have Hillary’s back, and to have her back in the White House. She may not be perfect, but she is perfectly capable of leading the country forward, and yes, carrying with her the best of the Obama legacy.

Who could possibly say that about her dangerous, and dare I say deranged opponent?



Thoughts From a Disillusioned Democrat

It’s hard being a news junkie and something of a political activist, especially in an election year. Despite my daily resolutions to divert from rehashed polls reported ad nauseam on CNN and MSNBC to the pleasures of Turner Classics, or recordings of Jon Oliver’s brilliant show Last Week Tonight, I still can’t resist channel surfing back to presidential pundit-speak and crawlers, which invariably get my dander up.

One thing that drives me bonkers is the frequency with which major news stories from here and abroad are totally overlooked, or texted in crawlers by American networks and cable news outlets. You’d think there was no world out there. With Aljazeera America gone, there’s only the BBC to turn to, and often their coverage is questionable.

Here’s an example of something that unnerves me when I click on the news, which segues with my disillusionment with Democrats. A crawler reads, “Toddler kills mother with handgun.” The next day it’s “Four-year old shoots two-year old sister.” Gun violence is a major crisis and an urgent public health issue in this country. So why aren’t the Dems – and media’s talking heads – addressing the issue more urgently? Why haven’t interviewers held Bernie’s feet to the fire on the matter? We already know he has a D- rating with the NRA. That’s irrelevant to the question of why his voting record on gun legislation is so inadequate, nor does it tell us what he plans to do to address gun violence if elected.

Why, too, does Bernie keep harking back to Hillary’s Wall Street speeches along with other redundancies? How about they cut a deal: she releases her speeches when he releases his tax records, so we can all move on to the really important issues. (According to Facebook, Jane Sandersproposed this idea last month, putting the onus on Hillary first.)

And where was Bernie’s condemnation of his spokesperson’s term “Democratic whores”? Or his strong statement admonishing supporters for throwing dollar bills at his opponent? Given that his adversary is a woman, these were particularly insulting and troubling terms and actions; they smacked of the kind of misogyny Hillary Rodham Clinton is routinely subjected to and they should be roundly rejected by anyone vying for leadership.  It is not going too far, I think, to suggest that such language and actions smack of Trump tactics.

Hillary Clinton also has some explaining to do to this Democrat. Why, for example, did she make no mention of Israel’s responsibility toward peace in the Middle East when she addressed – or pandered to – AIPAC? It’s one thing to be a supporter of or an ally to Israel, but surely their government should be called out by ours for continuing to build illegal settlements, and for their brutal behavior toward Arabs living in ghettos in Gaza and the West Bank.

Further, according to many of her supporters, she has donated her Goldman Sachs speaking fees. Why then has she not been able to say that during the debates? If it’s true I’d also like to know to whom funds were donated. And while I agree that it’s important to support “down stream Democratic candidates,” how smart was it to hold a Hollywood fundraiser in primary season that cost over $300,000 to sponsor and over $30,000 to attend?  Could you shout “one percent” any louder?

The escalating negativity and hostility on display during recent Democratic debates was also deeply troubling. What ever happened to the promises of civility and mutual respect that both candidates promised and deserve? I’m tired of sandbox politics overall, but I’m especially distressed to see two people I respect in my party behaving like children throwing temper tantrums, being on the shady side of the truth, making false or hyperbolized accusations, and generally acting as if they are willing to win at the cost of their own integrity.

This election is, I believe, one of the most important ones we will have faced in our lifetimes. Its outcome matters deeply, dramatically and for the long term. Nothing illustrates that more than the Democracy Spring movement that emerged following the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements.

Something is happening in America, as in other countries that will shape our individual and collective futures in ways we have yet to realize.  Not since the Populist movement that followed the Gilded Age have Americans seen such a frenzied plea for social justice and social change.

 It is the responsibility of all politicians, but especially Democrats – as well as the media – to hear what is being articulated by the 99 percent, to understand the critical underpinnings of their call for meaningful reform, and to respond to such calls with intelligence, compassion, clarity, honesty, strategy, and the sense of urgency the message demands.  There are vital connections to be made with respect to class, race, gender, poverty and more.  That leaves no time or taste for nasty attacks, minimalist crawlers, or meaningless and repetitive banter.

The time for mean-spirited exchange, empty slogans, and dumbed-down discourse is over. It’s time for civility and sensible action.  The question is: Can the Democrats, and the news media, rise to it? 


Time for a Second Look at the Second Wave

In light of emerging demographics within the American electorate, by which I mean the growing youth vote, and the fact that young women are flocking to Bernie Sanders - and in view of the brouhaha about remarks made by Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright – I’m concerned.  I’m not as bothered by the Steinem and Albright remarks as others are, although I was shocked by both utterances. Anyone, in a moment of frustration or fatigue, can make thoughtless or insulting comments they regret the moment the words leave their mouth.

My cri de coeur is about how Hillary Clinton and her spokespeople are failing miserably in addressing a fundamental point that needs to be made to young, idealist women because none of them has one clue about what life was like for females before HRC and other Second Wave feminists crawled into the trenches and fought like hell for women’s rights. They have no sense of women’s history and how it affects them.

Alice Paul and other women were tortured trying to secure women’s right to vote. How dare young voters, especially women, say they will stay home if Bernie isn’t the Democratic candidate? Contraception was illegal in Connecticut, even for married women, until the 1960s. Want to think about what it was like to miss a period before Roe v. Wade? (If you were wealthy you flew to Puerto Rico for an abortion; poor women used hangers.) Know what it was like when nursing, teaching or being a secretary were your only options? It goes on and on. For a full picture, read Gail Collins’s book When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present (2009), which begins with a young woman being sent home from traffic court because she was wearing crisply ironed trousers and includes stories like the one about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was told she should give up law school and make babies.

Since no one reading this column is likely to run out and get Collins’s informative book, here are a few examples of what life was like for females in my day. When I bought my first car in the 60’s the bank insisted my father – who was in bankruptcy to the same bank, sign my loan agreement. Once I got married, only my husband’s credit mattered. And when I went to graduate school I was assessed out-of-state tuition fees by the University of Maryland because although I met every criteria for in-state fees, I didn’t earn half our family income, so legally as they saw it, I was my British husband’s dependent, just as if I were his child.

Why don’t Hillary and her deputies respond to media questions about why women aren’t voting for her by noting that young women don’t know any of this stuff, and don’t realize how threatened their futures are if the wrong man wins? Do young voters know that women have been arrested for feticide following miscarriage in this country, or that even if raped they could be forced to carry a pregnancy to term? Do they get that lack of pay equity means they will have substantially smaller pensions or social security checks in old age than men? Do they even care that there is a tax on tampons or that Viagra was covered by medical insurance when birth control wasn’t?

When late term abortion comes up why don’t Hillary’s folks tell it like it is: Third trimester abortion happens very rarely when a woman (and her partner) find out, after 20 weeks of pregnancy, that their much wanted unborn child has a horrific anomaly, perhaps a missing brain or other organs. These parents have made the agonizing decision to terminate out of a very deep love for that child and the quality of its life. No woman – not one – flippantly decides she doesn’t want the kid that late in pregnancy, and it reveals the deepest disrespect for women to accuse them of such mindlessness.

Don’t get me wrong: This is not a pro-Hillary vs Bernie argument. It’s a plea to young women and to the political campaigns that want to include them.  The idealism driving young women voters to the Sanders campaign is a good thing. But Bernie, too, needs to speak to these issues, at least once in a while, so that his female followers can think through their voting decisions with a full deck of cards.

On the Clinton side, young women need to know about and appreciate the direct experience, skill set, and yes, scars that Hillary brings to the arena, especially if they are concerned about their future as females in an extremely challenging time, economically, socially and politically.  This could be the most important election of their lives. The time leading up to it should not be reduced to simplistic sound bites, silly squabbling, incomplete or out-of-context information, or serious omissions of fact and history. There is just too much riding on knowing as much as we can and voting wisely.

As for Gloria and Madeleine, give them a break. What they said was inappropriate and in the fullest analysis troubling. But they have given us all – women and men – so much to appreciate and be thankful for and they’re basically terrific role models. Let’s not diminish them, outstanding elders both, on the basis of a bad day or an unfortunate slip of the tongue.


What's Missing in Dialogues About Poverty?

When six Republicans met in South Carolina recently to discuss combating poverty their focus was predictable. Marco Rubio talked about broken families, dangerous neighborhoods, substandard housing, failing schools, and drug dealers, all while rejecting the idea of raising the federal minimum wage. He argued that welfare should be turned over to states, especially those that have recipient work requirements.

Jeb Bush, who agrees with Rubio on states taking over welfare, blathered about giving Americans the “right to rise.” Ben Carson said that “some people hate rats, some hate roaches, I hated poverty.” And Chris Christie warned against drug addiction as the gateway to incarceration.

Rubio invoked his parents, a bartender and a maid, to extol rising above poverty. But they had jobs which presumably they could get to without too much hassle, steady incomes, and, it would seem, someone to watch the kids.  Bush’s comments smacked of not wanting the problem in his neighborhood, and Carson seemed to equate poor people with vermin.

It reminded me of Paul Ryan and the accolades he received when he said he “could not, and would not, give up [his] family time” to serve as House Majority Leader. But does he hold to that ideal for people who spend hours waiting for several buses to get to two or three minimum wage jobs, worried that there is no “angel in the house” to take care of the kids, and no decent day care? Does he realize, as Judith Shulevitz pointed out in a recent New York Times op ed., that there are more than four times as many American families run by single moms as by single dads, and that a third more households are headed by women on welfare than those run by men?

The fact is the competing Republicans don’t get the reality of poverty. They’ve never lived it and they don’t like it. The only emotion it seems to raise in them is pity. God knows it’s never empathy. Nor do they get the interconnections between major federal issues in need of urgent attention and poverty alleviation.  Shove punitive, top-down, us/them welfare problems back to the states is their mantra. They don’t want to see it and they don’t want to deal with it, because dealing with it means addressing really big issues, and then funding them.

Transportation infrastructure is one example. None of the naysayers has ever had to get to work without a car (and often a driver). How willing would they be to rise in the wee hours of the morning to catch several buses in any kind of weather? How many of them have ridden sophisticated transportation systems in other countries, where wait times are almost nil and connections are well planned so that people who really work for a living can be moved about by the millions with relatively little hassle?


How many of the Horatio Alger guys have had to worry about quality, affordable, accessible daycare? Hey People on the Hill: Poor folk don’t have nannies!  They don’t have stay at home spouses. They don’t even have enough food to feed their kids half the time and some of you want to cut food stamps?

Speaking of nutrition, it’s a big part of staying healthy so you can work. So is affordable, accessible, quality healthcare.  It might be worth factoring that into the equation for ending poverty while you’re trying to gut Obamacare or avoid universal health care.

I wish Republicans who talk in clichés would understand important connections like these.

Judith Shulevitz raised an interesting approach in her Times piece. She pointed out that a number of countries are contemplating a “universal basic income” or U.B.I. A proposal in Finland, for example, would experiment with giving every adult 800 Euros (about $870) a month. Switzerland and Canada are among other countries calling for similar experimentation.

The rationale is that it’s a way to reimburse people who lead productive lives, like mothers and other caregivers who don’t receive money for what they contribute to society.  (About thirty years ago a social scientist figured out that if women were remunerated for all they do their worth would be something like $40,000 annually. Imagine what that is in today’s economy!) The U.B.I. also reflects “a necessary condition for a just society,” as Shulevitz puts it. It’s seen as a general entitlement in this framework. It’s also been called “a floor below which nobody need fall.”  

Basic income proposals like this one from both right and left are not new but they are complex. It’s something to think about while good folks genuinely strategize around ending poverty in our rich country. Of course, the Republicans who flap their cake holes about poverty would never consider such an idea.

The thing is, maybe it can help move them toward more rationale, responsible thinking about poverty alleviation. At least they might not dump it all on the states as nothing more than a local problem loaded with society’s detritus.


Overcoming the Politics of fear


Sometimes when I am contemplating a commentary events conspire to help me reflect more deeply on the subject at hand. Such was the case when, after Donald Trump’s outrageous suggestion that Muslims in America should be registered and no more Muslims should be allowed to enter the country, I began to write about the politics of fear. 

I first recalled what Franklin D. Roosevelt told Americans during World War II: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” the president said. He was cautioning a frightened population against fear-induced paralysis. It was an especially important message given that considered, decisive action and not passivity was urgently needed to defeat evildoers like Hitler. Perhaps he was also warning us not to cower in the face of demagogues and not to yield to unacceptable language that serves to fuel heinous deeds. Quite possibly he was also cautioning against becoming inured to a kind of evil that can invade our collective psyche so that seemingly innocuous words like “normal,” “necessary “and “needed”  begin to justify a nation’s dangerous, destructive, shameful behavior.

While I was thinking about this I happened to be reading an extraordinary novel by the Russian-born writer Paul Goldberg. The Yid is about Stalinism, anti-Semitism, racism and more in 1950s Russia and it struck me as incredibly relevant. Goldberg’s protagonist, for example, compares political purges to epidemics that “start out with a small, concentrated population, then expand their reach nationally, even globally.” Epidemics of infectious diseases, he says, “can reach a peak” before inevitably receding. He concludes that Fascism is an infectious disease and Stalinism is a plague. Neither can survive, but in their long brutality many people suffer and die.

I can’t be the only one to read this book and think of Donald Trump’s vicious talk and insidious proposals when it comes to Muslims or immigrants and refugees.

Goldberg’s character was right to say that epidemics – even political ones - can become global. The growth of France’s right wing party or for that matter the far right voters in the UK, Poland, and elsewhere demonstrate that. Never has there been a more urgent time to ask ourselves, as Goldberg does, “What are we dealing with? Is this outburst of ignorance and hatred akin to systemic disease? What if you could find a way to intervene and neutralize it?”

Then something else happened as I was tossing all of this around in my mind.  I attended an amazing non-denominational religious service in which a gifted minister spoke about fear and what it can do to us. Without ever mentioning refugees, immigrants, Republicans, or Muslims, and using only Good Samaritan stories to make his point, this good, compassionate, intelligent man hit the nail on the head. 

Fear, he said, leads to hate and hate leads to demonizing people who may be different than we are. We need to see past those differences. We must be global citizens and good neighbors. We must recall and reclaim our national shame in remembering what America did to Native Americans, to Japanese Americans during the war, to the Jews we turned away when they were desperate to escape Nazi atrocities, to the multitudes of Black Americans who died hanging from trees or attacked by dogs when they fought for civil rights, to HIV/AIDS or Ebola victims – all because we saw these human beings as “they,” The Other, the Outsider, the threat that fueled our fear. We need also to reclaim our own Good Samaritan stories if we are to survive, the minister reminded us. We must reject the fearmongering of Biblical literalists who often forget that to be human is to behave humanely.

So, no more polemicists like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson who preach fear and hatred from their pulpits.  No more demonizing of others by right-wing zealots in Congress or elsewhere. No more Trump travesties or political poison born of bigotry. No more foul-mouthed, unfounded accusations. No more letting fear dominate our decisions and behavior. No more fear defining our national character so that other nations no longer want to engage with us.

The time for proclaiming with our voices and our vote that we are not going to do it anymore is now. The time is here to say clearly that we reject fear as our future. Instead, let us see past challenging times in order to survive as a unified, dignified nation. Let us be a country whole and healthy. Let the fearmongers slink away and find their own place in the world, but let it not be ours.    

He Said, She Said: An Election Dilemma

Like a lot of other politically active liberal Democrats, I’m in a pre-primary quandary. Hillary or Bernie? One day I’m for one candidate, the next I’m leaning toward their contender. Both make a lot of sense to me and represent my world view. But both have done things (or not) that make me wonder about their ability to lead the country (and the world) in a way that makes me feel totally comfortable and confident.  

I’d love to see a woman president in my lifetime, but I voted for Barack Obama the last time Hillary ran because I have reservations about her that persist, and I don’t like political dynasties. And I like what Bernie stands for, but he’s troubled me on a few issues, and I wonder if he has the personality, patience and negotiation skills required to get things done on the Hill and around the world, progressive ideology notwithstanding.

The Democratic candidate who emerges will have my full and active support. I will go to the mat to ensure that whichever Republican is nominated has no chance of wreaking the havoc each of them has promised. But here are some things I need to see in a Democratic frontrunner in order to be a proud American again, and to feel that there is hope for the future of our country, our world, and our planet.

First, at the national level, I need to know that serious, enforceable gun control legislation will be among the new president’s priorities.  I need to stop seeing daily reports of senseless gun deaths, reports so ubiquitous that we are no longer shocked by them because they are as common as a bad weather report. We have become our own killing field and an enigma to the civilized world. It’s time to understand the 18th century intent of the Second Amendment and to question its relevance today. It’s time to tell the NRA to take a hike.

I also need to see reforms within our justice system, our prison-industrial complex and our approach to incarceration overall. Enough of people like Carlos Mercado, a 45-year old diabetic man who died after 15 hours at New York’s notorious Rikers Island for lack of medical attention as guards stepped over him as he lay dying. Enough of women like Sandra Bland dying in prison for not using a turn signal. Enough of white- collar criminals walking away while black boys and men waste away in lockup. Enough of the torture of solitary confinement and of innocent people incarcerated for years and sometimes put to death by the state. Enough of police brutality, bad lawyering, powermongering parole boards, and judicial corruption. Enough of swat teams in place of community-based policing and sufficient mental health services.

I need to see serious attention being given to rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure before it literally falls down around us. Whether its endangered bridges, potholed roads, a ridiculous Amtrak system instead of high speed rail and mass transit like the rest of the developed world has, or up-to-date air traffic control technology, it’s time we stopped gluing ourselves back together, or ignoring altogether disasters waiting to happen. Instead of building walls to keep people away or devising ways to take a one-way trip to outer space perhaps we could make life safer and more comfortable for folks moving around in our own neighborhoods and cities.

With a view to the wider world, I need to know that the next president grasps the reality and urgency of climate change. It’s imperative that he or she gets the fact – the indisputable fact - that we are on the cusp of extraordinary, irreversible disaster if we don’t act now to save our planet. Reports by multiple, credible scientists of sea changes and weather events driven by global warming - including water shortages that could result in insufficient food, new migrations and conflicts over water - are already here. What will it take for naysayers to get the severity of the issue? One answer is a president who prioritizes climate change and acts responsibly along with other global leaders.

Clearly, anyone in the Oval Office needs to be absolutely dedicated to human rights – which include women’s right to agency over their own bodies and lives – and to making such dedication clear and operational.  That means ensuring that quality health care and education is accessible and affordable for everyone. It means having a viable strategy for helping the world’s refugees, people of color, and those from other ethnic or religious backgrounds to feel safe and to live dignified lives.

Finally, I need the president to be absolutely savvy about foreign affairs and to have the kind of experience, advisors, and negotiating skills that give all of us the best chance of living in a world in which armed conflict is reduced and terrorism is eliminated without the slaughter of innocents.

It’s a tall order. But Hillary and Bernie have a year in which to convince me which one of them is up to the job. Until then, I’ll just have to live with uncertainty. 



A Vote for Hillary May be Hard but Consider the Alternative

Last year when author Marianne Williamson posted an open letter to Hillary Clinton, many left-leaning Democrats nodded in agreement.  “I want a woman president,” Williamson wrote, … “and you’d know what to do from Day 1. … But none of that is enough to get the vote of a lot of people …Stop cozying up to the banks, the chemical companies, the military-industrial complex, the party machine, and all the various financiers who make up the plutocracy now ruining this country,” she continued. “If we have a sense that you’d be just another puppet of the elite, then I don’t believe you will win.”

Williamson’s message resonated. I’d chosen Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton when he won his first term, much to the consternation of my feminist friends. But in addition to being against political dynasties, right or left, there was too much about Hillary that worried me, including her relationship to corporations, Wall Street, and an inbred group of “experts” who would likely become her advisers.

I was reminded of that time of testy political discourse during a recent online conversation with a group of women I hold in high regard. One woman wrote, “We’ll never get out of the two-party system and we’ll never get out of big-money politics unless we can demonstrate that we will no longer play their game. I get frustrated hearing that I ‘have’ to vote for the Dems or else the Reps will win. It just continues to support the current paradigm. We have to re-frame the game…”

Another woman added, “Not even entertaining the idea of another party, or independent, is why we are in this mess. If we don’t change how we do things, we are doomed to the same result. Change is needed: Truth to Power!”

I appreciate the point these women are making. But as I responded, “I just shudder to think of having one of the Republican Neanderthals as president. I would like to see Hillary get elected [if she is the Democratic nominee now that Bernie Sanders is running] and then hold her accountable to the choices she makes as President. In light of current realities, that’s the time to hold her feet to the fire, in addition to asking tough questions when she is campaigning, but we just can’t lose this one!”

After more comments ensued, I added, “I really get scared when progressives (like me) divide the vote because of what I will call ‘political posturing’ at crucial times, thus handing the result to Republicans. That’s how we got a Republican governor in Vermont, and it’s how we got a disastrous Republican president when Gore lost.

“It’s so important to be realistic about the political world,” I continued. “Yes, we need to change the system and I hope we can somehow, but the fact is that we are a two-party system (controlled by big money). In light of that reality we must be smart about how and when we work for change. A desperately important election is not the time to take risks because we always lose ‘the game!’ Please, let’s be careful. In my view neither Bernie Sanders nor Elizabeth Warren has a chance of winning and we need to keep the White House!”

To those arguments I would add that we are living in a time when dangerous demagogues are rattling sabers, revealing incipient racism and other prejudices, and exerting a newly malicious misogyny. The actions of some Republican governors and members of Congress during recent weeks and over the course of the Obama administration shine a terrifying light on what would likely become law in America should a Republican win the next election. And it’s not just about the legislative branch of government. We would be choosing federal judges and Supreme Court justices. We would be voting on the future of the planet. We would be deciding not if but when to go to war, and where. And that’s just for starters.

That’s why I am pleading with my progressive friends to be realistic and to get behind Hillary assuming she does emerge as the Democratic candidate. This is not a time for political polemics. Neither is it a time to be divided among ourselves or to engage in brinksmanship. Rather it is a time to be forward thinking, street–smart, united and decisive. That may be an argument for the lesser of two evils but we don’t have a lot of choice right now. The time to take on Hillary and her party will come, and it should. I just hope we don’t end up shooting ourselves in the foot yet again before then.

Like Marianne Williamson, “I’d love to clamor for [Hillary], to work for [her], to cheer [her] on,” and to see her “name the real problems so we can trust [she’d] provide some real solutions.” But I too have reservations. 

I just have a lot more of them when I envision any of the Republicans on the horizon moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The very thought of it chills me to the bone.


The Real Stunner in the Midterm Elections

The day after the election, after I picked myself up from the floor and stopped pulling my hair out, I had a fantasy that went like this:  Michelle Obama walks to a podium, somber and clearly containing her anger.  She pans the room, pauses, and says, “I’m going to take a risk. Many of you won’t like what I have to say. My handlers will hate it. But I’m going to throw away my script and speak from the heart.” 


“My husband did not deserve the terrible, bruising rebuff he suffered in the election. No president in modern history has had to suffer the levels of disrespect and attacks on his character and abilities, nor has any president I can recall had so many crises to deal with simultaneously.  And no president in our history has been subjected to the incipient racism that is part of America’s underbelly.  Whatever you think of him, or his policy decisions and actions, he did nothing to warrant the horrific way he’s been treated, and he did not deserve to be betrayed by his fellow Democrats such that Republicans – many of whom should have their characters and abilities examined – swept into unquestioned power, something I think we will all come to regret.”

The First Lady could not say this, much as she might have fantasized doing so.  But those of us who are not public figures can. And we should, because what happened in the election was unconscionable. It was also deeply dangerous because it has led us one step closer to the demise of democracy, and the rise of an American oligarchy.  Anyone who thinks that won’t happen, or doesn’t matter, will learn too late that they got what they didn’t vote for.

Less than 40 percent of Americans voted in the midterm elections. That’s not surprising if you consider the history of midterms, but it is alarming: History also tells us that passivity is the path to the abuse power.

Why did people vote against their own interests?  Why did they re-elect those who screw them out of needed support systems? Why do they endorse politicians who are in trouble with the law?   

Here’s what I really don’t get.  Why did Democrats run so far from their president and the values he represents?  Why not campaign on those values, and tout the president’s achievements?  What was the Democratic debacle, that huge and ugly betrayal, about?

Here are just some of the achievements I wish the Dems had campaigned on and that voters should have been reminded to consider. President Obama reduced the unemployment rate from over 10 percent when he took office to 5.8 percent. There are now over three and a half million private sector jobs that didn’t exist during the Bush recession and there is huge reduction in the deficit. The U.S. auto industry still exists. The president also stood up to Wall Street and helped avert a global financial collapse. Under his administration, the tax rates for average working families are the lowest since 1950; the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act cut taxes for 95% of America's working families.

The president has understood that women and gays are people too.  He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act instituting equal pay for women. He expanded funding for the Violence Against Women Act and appointed two pro-choice women to the Supreme Court. He repealed “Don’t ask don’t tell” and appointed more openly gay officials than anyone in history. He also extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees and changed HUD rules to prohibit gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination in housing.

President Obama also made us a little safer.  He eliminated Osama bin Laden, disrupted Al Quaeda terrorist plots, toppled Gadhafi, ended two wars, and helped restore America's reputation around the world. He signed an Executive Order banning torture and put the U.S. in compliance with the Geneva Convention.

He addressed education and health care head on.  The president increased funding for student financial aid, cut banks out of the process by reforming student loan rates and expanding the Pell Grants program providing opportunities for low income students. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act he invested in all levels of education, including Head Start.

With the Affordable Health Care Act, President Obama expanded health insurance coverage to 30 million more people, expanded Medicaid and reduced Medicare costs. He increased federal support for biomedical and stem cell research. He increased the number of children covered by health insurance by four million and extended COBRA health coverage for the unemployed.

The president may not have addressed climate change adequately but he strengthened environmental protection through new laws and policies. He fast-tracked regulations to increase fuel efficiency standards and ordered energy plants to plan for producing at least 15% of all energy through renewable resources.

It would take another column to record all the Obama administration has done to make our country safer, healthier, better educated, more economically sound, and more respected within the international community.  Still, these facts alone should have been enough to keep Democrats from abandoning a president who like all former presidents, and human beings, is not perfect.

That they behaved so badly is the truly stunning surprise of the 2014 midterm elections.

Is America a Failed State?

As we say in New England, it’s been a wicked bad time lately. What with Ebola, ISIS, climate change induced weather crises, the situation in Ferguson, MO, the Secret Service scandals and more, we all feel shaken and fearful for the future.


It’s not only Americans who are feeling less secure and more frightened about what lies ahead. Worldwide, there is a growing sense of insecurity, anxiety and vulnerability. Still, I can’t help noticing the ways in which the U.S. is moving in dangerous directions, revealing flaws so serious that one wonders what separates us from countries that we like to call “developing countries.”  “American Exceptionalism” – a term that smacks of superiority – may no longer imply what is best in our national culture.  Now it may stand for all that is exceptional in negative ways in American life and politics.


Think about the growing corruption in our electoral system, typical in “less developed countries.” The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision dealt a terrible blow to our political process when it ruled that essentially corporations are people. The rise of Super PACS and the power afforded individuals like the Koch brothers will have alarming consequences in the 20016 elections.


Anonymous political giving is growing exponentially. Voters are increasingly accosted by advertising from groups with seemingly benign names and dubious agendas.  These groups are required to disclose their finances only on federal tax returns, and the names of donors are exempted.  Approximately 55 percent of broadcast advertising has been paid for by groups like this recently.  Then there is gerrymandering and changes – attempted or achieved - to voting laws designed to keep certain people from voting the way some folks want them to. 


Then there’s police brutality and our deeply broken justice system. I’m not only talking about what happened in Ferguson or St. Louis or other places where black kids are shot to death by white cops, which obviously has a lot to do with the abysmal state of race relations in this country.


I’m talking about stories that seldom make the news, although the case of Lisa Mahone and her boyfriend Jamal Jones did get coverage. Mahone and Jones were rushing to the hospital where her mother was dying when they were stopped by police because Lisa wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Before the whole thing was over, police had drawn their guns and Jamal was tasered because he didn’t have an ID and was too afraid to get out of the car.   All of this occurred with two terrified children in the back seat of the car.


The police are simply out of control. They have turned into militarized forces and SWAT teams because they’ve been trained to act like they work in a war zone by people who have done exactly that, many of whom are now cops on the beat. 


Police departments and drug task forces have been allowed to take millions of dollars from Americans under federal civil forfeiture laws with which they buy Humvees, automatic weapons, night-vision scopes and sniper gear, according to the Washington Post. The Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program allows local and state police to keep up to 80 percent of assets they seize, even without charging anyone with a crime. In order to retrieve their assets, victims must prove that the seized money or property was acquired legally. Mainly used by the Drug Enforcement Administration or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, there have been 62,000 cash seizures since 9/11 without search warrants or indictments. 


As for the justice system, take the case of teenager Courtney B. who was falsely accused by another teen of unwanted sexual touching, an accusation invented by a mother who wanted to sue a school district for money.  Courtney was arrested in Arizona without due process, held without bail for 66 days, and wrongfully convicted of child molestation by a judge. Sentenced to 11 years, she is required to register as a sex offender upon release. Despite proof that the alleged crime never happened, the county attorney, disbarred after copious alleged ethics violations, refused to admit he’d made a mistake. So this young woman languishes in jail - like so many others with similarly tragic stories, and many exonerees who finally make it out.


Clearly, we are failing as an exceptional, First World, democratic country in many ways.


In a recent column in The New York Times related to the Secret Service debacle, Thomas Friedman put his finger on something important and relevant. “Just look at Washington these days and listen to what politicians are saying,” he wrote. “Watch how they spend their time. You can’t help but ask: Do these people care a whit about the country anymore?”


We should all be asking that question with all due speed and gravity before we too become known as a “less developed country” struggling with political and moral corruption.