Plaid Adder's Journal - Archives
This morning, my wife was taking the fat envelopes I'm mailing off to the federal and state revenue services today, and my daughter PJ saw them. She said, "Is that a present for me?"
I said, "No, sweetie, it's a present for the government."
We started trying to explain, in a way a 2 and 3/4 year old can understand, what taxes are. "You see, the government does a lot of things for us, and so once a year we give money to the government so they can pay for all these things. Like the streets. You know the streets we cross and walk along? And the stoplights and the flashing red hand and the walking man that you love so much? (PJ loves traffic signals. She wants them on her next birthday cake.) The government takes care of those. And..."
As we searched for another illustration, I recalled that the toll road looming largest in my life was actually now being owned and operated by a private company to which it had been given a very long-term lease, and that the tolls had increased quite a bit since then.
"And the schools that...a lot of kids go to," said my wife.
PJ isn't school-age yet, but the day looms when we will have to decide whether she will enter the Chicago Public School system or whether, like most of the middle-class parents we know, we will put her into a private elementary school. Before Obama put Arnie Duncan in charge of education in this country, he ran the Chicago Public Schools, and the results he got were, shall I say, mixed. Duncan was 'successful in engineering a situation in which a great deal of attention and money is directed to a few desirable schools while the rest are left to their own devices.
For those kids who do very well academically, there is a decent chance of testing into a good public high school. Elementary school is a different story. There are, of course, a few charter and magnet schools which are highly sought-after by parents who have the time and resources to navigate the CPS's labyrinthine ways. We visited one of them, a Montessori school a 20-minute drive from our neighborhood. We thought it was OK, not fabulous, but figured we'd put PJ in the lottery for their preschool. Got the letter from them finally. We're 64th on the waiting list.
If your kid doesn't happen to be one of the elect who makes it into one of these schools, then chances are Duncan's magic isn't going to work for her. The elementary school in our attendance area is on No Child Left Behind's Most Wanted list. It has been abandoned by all the white and/or middle-class parents in our neighborhood. Most of the people we talk to take it for granted that we would never consider sending PJ there. They all want to know whether we're sending her to the Lab School. The Lab School is where Obama sent his kids. It's also, apparently, where Arnie Duncan sent his kids. It's an astronomically expensive private school affiliated with the University of Chicago. I'm sure it's excellent. The fact that the head of the @#$! public school system sent his kids to Lab, though, does tell you something about both him and the CPS.
Some friends of ours who are also a two-mom family have told us they're thinking about sending their kids to our (failing) public elementary school. They've got four kids and they can't do private tuition for all of them; and for them as for us, Catholic school, which is a common resource for parents of somewhat more modest means who are opting out of the public system, is out of the question. ("Mommy...what does 'inherently disordered and intrinsically evil' mean?") They contacted the school to ask for a tour. The folks in the administrative office had never heard of such a thing. For most of the kids at this school, there are no other options, so there's no point in visiting the place ahead of time.
I've often thought that actually fixing the public education system would be the best stimulus package you could ever hope to create. There are thousands of urban households paying tens of thousands of dollars a year to put their kids in private school for the sole reason that they refuse to trust their kids in the public system. Some of that's racism; some of it's wanting your kid to have a good experience with school. Make the public school system one that works *for everybody*--both the kids who are 'stuck' with it and the kids whose parents could afford to go private--and in addition to ameliorating a lot of social problems, you would put millions of dollars back into other sectors of the economy.
But nobody seems to believe, in the political world, that public school can work *for everybody.* The best Duncan seems to believe anyone can do is to make a few schools work for a few people. And indeed, making the public system work *for everybody* would require radical change--the kind of change I have to say I don't hope to see in my own lifetime.
To break this depressing train of thought, I said, "So...what else does the government do for us?"
My wife said, "Well, the police...the firefighters...and the parks! They take care of the parks!"
Now we were finally talking PJ's language. We don't have a backyard. But our neighborhood does have many parks, and they are well-maintained, and PJ loves them. She meets all kinds of other kids there and we meet their parents and the result is that for the first time in our adult lives we actually feel like we are part of the place where we live. The park is where PJ learns how to do things like share, take turns, not throw sand, and so on. It's public space doing what it's supposed to do--not only giving kids who don't have their own real estate a safe place to play, but creating a community. In many of the parks PJ goes to, there are toys that have been donated or left behind for communal use--so that the park is one of the few places where you can say about an object, "That belongs to everybody."
My wife went off to work with my presents for the government. I did not tell PJ that much of that 'present' is going to pay for a war in Afghanistan and an occupation in Iraq that I had never wanted, had protested against, and had thought I was voting to end when I voted for Obama. I might have got round to telling her that the government was now going to pay for health care for more people, but by the time I was saying, "You see, PJ, in a country like ours, the way it works is..." she was off to the playroom.
The way it works is, every year you send the government money, and the government spends it on things which are supposed to benefit everyone. Sometimes it's spent well, sometimes it's spent badly. Typically there is a lot of money spent on certain things that politicians really care about and not enough money spent on things that the rest of us care about. But we give the government our money because if we didn't, there wouldn't be anything in this country that was public--from the post office to the parks. We're already losing public space and public infrastructure to privatisation--ask anyone in Chicago about what's happened to our municipal parking meters--and when that happens we lose money too, we just don't send it all off in an envelope. It gets nickeled and dimed out of us bit by bit and goes off to corporate profitland where we never see it again.
The way it works is, you pay taxes because it's the right thing to do. Because sharing is what makes civilization possible and life bearable. Because despite your personal failings and selfishness you do want everyone to have some basic things that human beings shouldn't have to be without and you are willing to pay for that even if you are not willing to mount the barricades and work for it yourself. And of course because you'll be arrested if you don't--I mean, unless you are a politician, or a large corporation with clever accountants and a big bucket of 'tax incentives.'
One reason I don't post a lot here now is that nothing is as clear-cut for me as it used to be. I'm glad for the opportunity to stop hating my government the way I hated it when it was in thrall to the vicious and greedy thugs of the Bush regime. But the war is still there. All the problems I hated before, they're mostly still there. I'm still paying for them.
Some things are getting better. It's pretty much always going to be a mixed back from now on. But I guess that beats a big ol' bag of unadulterated evil.
So, it's a beautiful day here, and off we went to the park. PJ loves the swings. They make her feel like she's flying. Tax day is a good day, all in all, out here in Plaidderland, as I continue learning to take the bad with the good.
Happy tax day,
The Plaid Adder
So I hear from Yahoo! news that Newt Gingrich has informed us all that Obama is the "most radical president ever" and the mastermind of a "secular, socialist machine."
(I will pause while the Critique From The Left contingent convulses with bitter ironic laughter.)
You know what, Newt? STFU. You're done. You had nothing to offer but obstructionism and hatred back in the Clinton era and clearly not a single atom of your heart, mind, or hair has evolved in any way since then. (I suppose that is only to be expected, given your base's stance on that whole question.) All that bullshit you pulled out during the "Contract for America" days--or, as we old-timers used to call it, "The Contract On America"--well, you guys had 8 years to execute your master plan for the salvation of the United States of America and its collective soul under your idiot king George W. Bush. You guys happy with how that worked out? No? Well, a) you had your shot b) you blew it and c) wouldn't this maybe suggest to you that your master plan was a load of crap?
Still no, you say? Well, that's what the Bush administration years suggested to a lot of *other* Americans who used to think you were awesome.
So, you know, go ahead and spew what's in you all over whatever media outlets you can reach; but don't expect people to care. Cause all you've got to offer is the same shit that didn't work last time, and the only difference is that you're now 15 years older and less telegenic than you were when you first brought it forth.
While I'm on the subject: Karl Rove, do you *seriously* think anyone's going to buy your memoirs and read them thinking, "Ah, at last, the truth!"? Seriously now. In this economy, who's shelling out their hard-earned dough to pay for the kind of boldfaced lying we used to be able to get for free?
But you know what, Newt, go ahead and run. Cause the whole old-cranky-conservative with no new ideas thing worked out so well for you last time. Oh, sorry, I meant it worked out so well for *us.*
The Plaid Adder
I kind of gave up writing abotu the war after Bush exited. But I guess since Obama is now determined to plow millions of dollars and thousdands of lives into "finishing the job," there are still some things that need to be said:
This kind of job cannot be "finished." It can only be abandoned. A nation-state is not a muffin; there is no moment at which you can say that it is 'done' and take it out of the oven. Likewise you cannot destroy "al Qaeda;" you can only destroy that portion of al Qaeda that exists at a given moment in time. It, or something like it, will be back after you're gone. It may take 10 years or 20, but eventually, the backlash will come.
So I'm not sure what the thinking is on this. I'm not even sure how it makes sense politically. Are we just trying to prove, at this point, that we really, REALLY tried?
Bush was an ideologically blinded idiot being manipulated by people who thought they were smarter than he was but were often proved tragically wrong. I don't know WTH Obama's excuse is.
ah well. I guess we'll hear it tonight.
The Plaid Adder
I heard about Fort Hood this morning on the radio. One thinks first, of course, about how horrible this is for the victims, for the families of the shooter and the killed and wounded alike. I know there are people here who have family in the military who might be at Fort Hood right now and I am hoping for your sake that they are all OK.
Initially the thing that most surprised me about the story was that the shooter was a psychiatrist. I know it's a cliche that psychiatrists are themselves supposed to be kind of messed up. Nevertheless, one would think--one would hope--that a psychiatrist might recognize the early signs of a 'snap' coming on and seek help before it got to this point.
After that, the thing that surprised me most was that a bunch of American Muslim groups were releasing statements distancing themselves from the shooter and protesting their loyalty to America and how much they love this country, etc. And just as I was thinking, "What a shame that they feel they have to do that," the third thing that surprised me was getting onto the computer and seeing that this shooting was already being represented in the media as a potential terrorist attack.
I guess I may as well say it, since someone's going to: If Hasan had been a white Christian people wouldn't be asking these questions. He'd just be one more American guy who one day 'snapped' and, since he had access to weapons, decided that as long as he was going to commit suicide he would take a couple dozen people with him. The fact that it happened at an army base would fit right into the dominant narrative about this kind of shooting. The search for the motive typically uncovers some sort of frustration or humiliation or other catastrophe--often it's the loss of a job, sometimes it's a divorce, sometimes it's a paranoid fantasy about why the shooter *doesn't* have something he wants and who's at fault for that--which is cited as the cause for the shooter's "snapping" and unleashing this kind of violence. I figure knowing you're about to be sent to Iraq would cause a lot of people to snap. My partner said this morning that she had heard that 3-4 people in the armed forces were committing suicide *per day* these days. But you don't, of course, hear much about suicides--unless they incorporate homicide.
But for the American media, when it's a Muslim shooter, the meaning of "suicide" shifts. I believe we will eventually find out that Hasan's confessional status has inspired the media to make too much of the analogical similarities between suicide-by-shooting-spree and a "suicide bombing." What the two scenarios have in common is an individual at the center of it who has chosen to commit suicide via a method which will deliberately take the lives of an unknown number of other people. The difference is in the explanatory narrative. The shooting spree scenario is typically attributed to an individual psyche under stress. The suicide bombing is typically attributed to an individual's participation in a larger ideological/ethnic/religious war. To me, Occam's Razor says to read the Fort Hood shooting as part of the first narrative rather than the second.
Every time a thing like this happens there's the scramble for a motive. Every time, I feel like no matter what they come up with, it's insufficient. Every time I something like this happens I feel like the same shadowy evil thing has once again poked its head up above the surface of the water and it will soon subside back under before we can see what it really was. But I have to say that my gut is not expecting that this is going to turn out to be anything other than the action of one highly disturbed and highly desperate individual who really, really, really fucking didn't want to go to Iraq.
Why desperation translates into homicide for some people and not others--and why those people are pretty much always men*--I do not know. I will never know, and I am abotu ready to give up trying to figure it out. It just mainly makes me sad for everyone touched by this tragedy--which will probably include a lot of Muslim-Americans who had nothing to do with it but will take shit from other people about it nonetheless.
The Plaid Adder
*On edit, it occurred to me that the only exception that springs to mind is that of women who kill their children before killing themselves. I guess the distinctive thing about the mass-shooting suicide/homicide, apart from the involvement of guns, is that the other victims are strangers.
Some of you may remember that a couple months ago, after the Department of Justice filed that brief defending DOMA, I sent Obama a letter about that with a picture of our family, and encouraged others to do the same. After a while I assumed it had gone straight into the memory hole. However, last week I got a letter back from the White House. Here's what it says, in its entirety. My comments are after the letter.
* * * * * *
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I appreciate your perspective.
Every American deserves equal protection under our laws, and neither Federal nor state law should discriminate against any American. The issue of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights has all too often been used to divide our country. We must treat all of our citizens with dignity and respect, and stand united in our protection of equality--a founding principle of our Nation and a moral imperative.
I continue to oppose a Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and support the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. We must also extend the over 1,100 Federal marital rights and benefits to same-sex couples, because every American should be able to visit a loved one in the hospital, transfer property, and receive equal health insurance and other employment benefits.
My Administraiton is committed to addressing a full spectrum of issues important to the LGBT community. We can reduce discrimination by strengthening hate crimes statutes; supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; ensuring adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation; and opposing discrimination in public accommodations. To combat HIV/AIDS, we need policies that support people living with this illness and increased funding for prevention, care, and research. I also support repealing the current Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy in a sensible way that strengthens our Armed Forces an our national security. Please join me online to learn more about my civil rights agenda at: www.whitehouse.gov/agenda/civil_rights .
Together, we can create a more open and tolerant society that protects and values all people. Thank you again for writing.
* * * * * *
First of all, it must be acknowledged that no Republican president would ever have written that letter, let alone Obama's Predecessor Who Shall Not Be Named (hereafter OPWSHNBN). It must also be acknowledged that on an issue like this, to some extent, talk itself does actually matter. By that I mean that there is a material difference between having a president who implicitly and explicitly encourages public hatred of you and your kind, and having a president whose public pronouncements on the issue start from the premise that LGBT people are human and should have human rights.
Nevertheless, I cannot help thinking that this letter reads more like a campaign statement than like a letter from a sitting president. It does not talk about what his administration has done; nor does it say anything specific about what his administration will do, or when. It talks a lot about things that his administration "supports" or "opposes" and things that we "can do" (but of course haven't yet done). And so one does think, at the end of it, "You're the President of the United States. If you 'support' all this stuff, shouldn't you be making it happen?"
All in all, there's nothing in this letter to give me any reason to believe he'll do much for us. And in that, as I have said before, there is nothing new. We are important enough to help these guys get elected but we are clearly not important enough for them to take political risks over.
Is it possible that I am misjudging him, and that time will prove me wrong? Sure. It's possible. Indeed I hope I am wrong. But it should be understood that I, and I'm sure many of my GBLT Democratic brethren and sistren, will continue to hold this view of him and his administration *until something is actually done.*
The Plaid Adder
So, I wake up to the sound of NPR telling me that Obama just won a Nobel Peace Prize. My first thought was, "Damn, that was quick."
The morning goes along, I wonder why they would give it to him so early, blah de blah, then I get online and because AT&T is my ISP, to get to my email I have to look at their stupid 'news' splash screen and there, right across the top, is this headline:
"How Nobel Prize Could Hurt Obama"
Hey, you know what, AT&T Yahoo front page? Fuck you. Seriously. Every time I see an Obama headline on that page, it's negative. Even when something good has just happened. Cash for clunkers working? No, "Cash For Clunkers Working Too Well." Every time. So, you know, I expect that, and any time I see an Obama story on their portal I just ignore it.
But still. It really does take one's breath away. They actually managed to make having won a Nobel peace prize a negative.
You know, argue all you want about whether it was deserved. But what's not up for debate is the fact that there are a lot of people lurking in the bowels of the big news machine who are just never going to have a good word to say about Obama, no matter what happens.
The Plaid Adder
I've now been inactive here for so long that most of you have probably forgotten who I am. The birth of our daughter back in the summer of 2007 led to a drastic decline in the amount of free time I had to piss away on the internet, and then I sort of went on sabbatical from politics after Obama's inauguration. I'm still not sure why. I just lost my desire to put the time and effort into my political writing. Who knows, maybe I just needed a rest.
But, like just about everyone else in the USA, I have a health care story. It's not one that I have had a particularly burning desire to tell. It's unlike most other health care stories in that it doesn't have a lot to do with the insurance industry per se. But I do think it might offer some insight into why it's health care, in particular, that seems to have popped the top off this country's can of carbonated craziness.
This past spring, as our daughter PJ approached her second birthday, my partner and I started talking about having a second child. It had always been our plan for me to carry #2. We knew this would involve fertility treatments because since the age of 18 I had had a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome, one of the symptoms of which is that you don't ovulate regularly. So I went to the doctor, and he sent me off to do a series of tests. Based on the results of the first test I was scheduled for an endometrial biopsy. My ob-gyn assured me at the time that it was probably just hyperplasia (overgrowth of the uterine lining, something I already knew I had) and not cancer, because after all I was only 40 and endometrial cancer is a disease of older women.
A few days later my ob-gyn called with the results of the biopsy. And that was the end of my life before cancer.
A few weeks later I was unconscious in the OR while a five-armed robot removed my uterus, cervix, and ovaries. For a month after that I was not able to do much apart from lie there and try to heal. I had been directed not to lift anything heavier than 5 pounds for 4 weeks, which of course would rule out lifting my 25-pound toddler. That was very difficult for both of us, but we got a calendar and we marked off every day until we got to the first post-operation checkup. The doctor said I had healed well, and that I could pick her up now, and that in a couple weeks I could resume all my normal activities.
Throughout the whole process, my doctor was very pleased with how everything went. My ectomied organs indicated that the cancer had not progressed beyond the lining of the uterus, and that it was almost certainly entirely removed by the operation. The operation itself apparently went perfectly. I healed up with no complications. All of this, of course, was an immeasurable relief to both of us. We got a lot of support from family and friends and from our church. All of this makes me very lucky. That, and the fact that I have health insurance.
My insurance paid for about 95% of all this. I am still, however, out several thousand dollars, what with deductibles and copays and medication and whatnot. This is worth pointing out. Your insurance, typically, will pay *most* of your medical bills. It does not pay all of them. If I had been living closer to the brink of ruin, as many people are these days, this crisis would have created some serious financial problems for me on top of the existential ones.
What existential ones, you say. Well, here's the main one: I've finally realized that I'm going to die.
I'm most likely not going to die of endometrial cancer. Endometrial cancer has a very good survival rate and mine was caught early. But going through what I went through around this brought me face to face with mortality in a way that nothing else ever had. Intellectually, of course, I always knew that humans are mortal and that I will not live forever. But I didn't understand it emotionally and psychologically until now. And I have to say, I'm finding it surprisingly difficult to integrate this knowledge into my regular life. Being aware, as I am now, that my life is of unknown but definitely finite duration, ought to make me more dedicated to making every moment of it count. And yet, I still have to go to work, I still have to cook and take care of PJ and pay bills, I still have to do all that stuff we do because we are thinking of the future and which little by little steals the present moment away from us. I mean look at me now, sitting here typing up this thing.
What's even worse: everyone I love or care about is going to die too.
It seems like since I got my diagnosis, the whole world is coming down with cancer. An old friend of mine has had a breast cancer recurrence after 8 years. An old friend's father has suddenly been diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma. An old friend of my mother's is dying of lymphoma. And on and on. Some of them will recover and some of them won't. But we'll all be living the rest of our lives in Cancerland, where the illness we're surviving--for the time being--hisses through our brains in all its metaphorical malice, reminding us that no matter where we are or what we're doing or how we feel, deep within our bodies, death can always break out. And one day, it will.
Anyway, going through this mess while the health care debate is going on has suggested to me something that I don't think I've seen anyone talk about yet: that as much as we all talk about money, at the bottom of it all, a lot of the craziness around health care reform has to do with Americans' collective and, I think, peculiarly intense fear of death.
The panic about "death boards" is perhaps the most concrete example of this. But I think that underneath a lot of the resistance to "rationing" (yes, I know, private health care is rationed too, you don't have to convince me, moving on now) health care is driven by panic about the end of life. I think that one of the elements of our culture's dominant capitalist belief system is the deluded assumption that if you spend enough money, you need never die. As long as you can afford the best health care money can buy, then your body can be kept alive indefinitely. Spare no expense, and you can always extend your time one more week, one more day.
Of course many people realize they don't have that kind of money, right now. But that doesn't matter. Politics are what they are in this country because so many of those without money identify so strongly with those who have money. They believe that one day, they too will become rich. And even if they donn't, surely when it came to a crisis like this, the money would somehow be found to pay for that expensive life-saving treatment. The only thing to fear would be a system in which that magical treatment was not available to them because the evil government was trying to enforce its socialist pseudo-equality by preventing people from paying for special expensive live-saving treatments not covered by the government's diabolical insurance plan.
It sounds crazy, perhaps. But I think there are a lot of Americans out there convinced that right now they can buy eternal life, and that if health care becomes a public rather than a private enterprise, then eternal life won't be for sale any more. Because we all know that in a government-run economy, all the *good* stuff gets forced into the black market.
It's not an idea that can have any political utility; and maybe that's one reason I haven't been wanting to write about politics these days. It's a purely philosohpical argument: that our culture would be wiser, and our politics healthier, if we all truly understood what it means to be mortal. But that's what I've been thinking about, while I sit here not posting.
I'll tell you what I do know, coming out of this, which I think does have a political application.
Some cancers have good survival rates and some are pretty much going to kill you. But for cancers that start out in organs that aren't considered vital--the uterus, the cervix, the breasts, the ovaries, the skin--it's always better for the patient (and, for those who care, cheaper for the system) if you detect it early, before it spreads and when it's still operable. The only way you are going to detect these cancers early is by getting regular checkups with your doctors and going through regular screenings for cancers that you're at risk for. And if you cannot afford routine medical care, as most people who are uninsured or underinsured can't, and you develop cancer, it's a good bet you will not find it until it's no longer curable. And that's before we get into the question of how, if you're uninsured or underinsured, you pay for cancer treatment even if you *do* find it in time.
I'm alive now, and almost certainly cancer-free, because I have health insurance. If I had been unemployed last year, I would never have found this in time and it might well have killed me. And that's just fucking wrong. Why should I live, and someone else with the same cancer die, just because I have a job with benefits and she doesn't?
I hear a lot of talk about single payer this and public option that and Republican support my ass and so on and so forth. I have not yet had the patience or fortitude to dedicate myself to following the conversation closely enough to enter it. All I can say is what I know: We cannot defeat death, but it's not impossible that someday we may eventually defeat injustice. Universal health care would be a big step. And as far as I'm concerned, if the business of health care remains in the hands of private insurance companies and for-profit hospitals, then whatever changes are made, that will not be "health care reform." That will come under the heading of "yet more of this bullshit."
It's my hope, anyway, that Obama's team recognizes this and that they will pull through in the end. Meanwhile, I have to figure out how to make the rest of my finite life meaningful, and that's a job in itself. But I'm still here, and I'm not dead yet, and I hope the rest of you are well.
The Plaid Adder
I encourage others who are affected by the Defense of Marriage Act to do the same. I figure it might help make more of an impact if they can see who they're hurting.
Note that on the White House official site, they explicitly ask that you NOT send "personal items such as family photographs" because they will only be chewed up during the security procedures. However, I don't think there's any reason they can object to an image printed directly onto the letter, which is what I did. All you have to do, if you have a digital copy of your photo, is insert it into your MSWord document (or whatever WP program you use) and then print it on a color printer.
Here's the physical address to which you can send your letter:
President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
My advice, FWIW, is to refrain from using inflammatory or hostile language and try to express your feelings more on the "saddened and disappointed" end of the spectrum. I figure that by writing a letter I am tacitly agreeing to at least pretend that someone in the WH might theoretically care about what I have to say, so that dictates to some extent the tone of the letter.
The Plaid Adder
I doubt that the DOJ guys who wrote that brief were intentionally dredging up the most inflammatory language they could find. I think the "language" Dean was complaining about can be explained by something very simple:
The point of the brief was to defend DOMA. There is no way to defend DOMA without resorting to offensive language (and offensive reasoning). Thus, given the fact that someone decided this brief had to be written, it was inevitable that it would contain offensive language.
Why? Because there are only two arguments that can be made in favor of DOMA, and both are deeply offensive.
Argument #1: Same-sex marriage contravenes the word of Holy Scripture and any country that legalizes it is riding the hellbound exptress.
Argument #2: Same-sex marriage is bad for society and therefore should be prohibited by federal law.
Obviously unless you work for a bunch of batshit crazy theocrats you cannot make argument #1 in a legal brief. So you are forced to fall back on #2, which involves explaining why same-sex marriage is antisocial. There is no non-offensive way to do that. In fact, the invidious comparisons are all but inevitable, because the only way to justify prohibiting same-sex marriage is to lump it in with all the forms of sexuality that are explicitly delegitimized because they *are* social evils--such as incest and pedophilia. (In right-wing rhetoric bestiality usually puts in an appearance at this point, but this is a legal brief we're talking about; perhaps there was no relevant caselaw.)
Anyway. My point is, there would have been no way for the DOJ's lawyers to come up with a DOMA-friendly brief that was NOT offensive. DOMA is in itself offensive to GBLT people and so is the act of defending it. Because to assume that marriage needs to be "defended" from people like me, you must first posit that uniting people like me and my partner in legal marriage will somehow corrode the very foundations of our society. Which...oh, forget it, I'm not even going to start.
I asked my partner tonight, "Do you ever wonder whether Obama just plain doesn't care for gay people?" She said, "I think it'd be more accurate if you replace 'for' with 'about.' " Which I think is about right. Like Clinton before him--who signed this fucking law in the first place, let us remember--Obama will do exactly as much for his GBLT supporters as he is forced to do, and no more. I'd say it was disappointing, but really, my expectations on this front were pretty low even before he was elected. So the only thing we can do to bring about 'change' for ourselves is to put as much pressure on him as possible.
Well, there's more ranting stored up in me, but I may as well put it into the letter I'll be writing to Obama tomorrow. For now, let me say this: Yeah, it sucks. It doesn't suck in any kind of new, special, unheard-of way, though; it's just run-of-the-mill court-me-and-then-betray-me straight Democratic politician sucking. So an apocalyptic view of this matter is really not necessary, nor is it that helpful. It's not the end of the world. It won't be the end of same-sex marriage, either. I mean, Iowa, for God's sake. The people are leading, and eventually, the leaders will follow, kicking and screaming all the way.
The Plaid Adder
You all haven't seen much of me since the election. Nobody online has. Since PJ's birth, my internet life is one thing that has had to be cut back. Along with that, I have been spending a lot less time talking about politics to people, except to participate in other people's conversations about how glad they are that Obama won and how great he is. I don't have the whole crush thing going on with him that a lot of my friends seem to have, but it makes them happy, so I let them gush. For me, I mainly feel a kind of exhausted relief. The emergence of new evidence that the Bush team was trying to turn the country into a dictatorship does not surprise me or evoke much new in the way of emotions. I knew that was what was happening, just as I knew before the Iraq war started that there were no WOMDs in Iraq. It's nice that everyone else has the evidence now. But I basically have been more or less taking the opportunity to relax a little bit. Constant vigilance and all that, I know, I am grateful to everyone who's still keeping the fires burning, but mine have sort of died down for a while.
Then, at some point yesterday, apropos of something else, I found myself talking about torture.
Look, I said. It's easy enough to argue about the injustice of something when you can point to the innocent people who have been subjected to this kind of treatment even though they don't deserve it. But what keeps places like Guantanamo operating is the belief that somewhere out there, there *is* someone who deserves to be tortured, who *needs* to be tortured, and so we need to be able to do that to *those* people. It's a shame that innocent people get drawn into this sometimes; but all the same it's necessary. Whereas, I said, the argument against torture and for human rights is based on a really simple core principle: If you are a human being, you are entitled to a basic level of humane treatment, period. Whether you are innocent or not. You cannot end the torture of innocent people until you are committed to the idea that it is never acceptable to torture anyone.
I've made this argument a billion times. I discovered, this time, that while I was making it, I could feel myself starting to get agitated. And I was glad the conversation ended pretty soon after that point, because I was almost shaking.
Wow, I thought. I guess it's still bothering me.
It seems so obvious to me. A human body with a human soul in it is entitled to certain rights and the right NOT to be tortured is one of them. No matter what you may have done, you do not forfeit your humanity, and no human agency on earth has the right to strip you of it. If you lose sight of those principles then you start telling yourself all kinds of lies about what being human really means, and that's what leads to things like Guantanamo. And there's no point to closing down Guantanamo if we're not also going to shut down the bullshit that propped it up. If we don't recommit to the principle that torture is always and everywhere wrong, then we're just going to be beating the shit out of people in a different set of locked cells in some other hellish limbo that none of us know about yet.
I think I had it again, yesterday, during that conversation: the feeling that this place is not a place I belong to, that if I get even an inch below my surface I will discover that the world I normally think I'm living in does not in fact exist any more, and that all the things that I thought we all believed about life and freedom and the good are merely private delusions of mine.
I hope that's not actually true any more. I hope that was just a moment of haunting and that in time, it will finally sink in that Bush's world has passed away and that we're moving into a new one now where there are some truths that people still hold to be self-evident and the inviolability of human rights is one of them. But dang. If I thought I was over it, well, clearly I'm not.
So, I think it is maybe a sign that I need to get back in the game. It's Lent, after all; it's as good a time as any to be trying to figure out what I can do to make torture un-American again.
The Plaid Adder
Sorry. I'm still getting used to this.
You remember what it was like under the Bush regime. Every time he got up there to make a "major speech" his PR machine would crank up and everyone would be talking about how it was going to transform everything with fresh new bold ideas...and then when he gave it, it would be the same recycled crap. The only thing that ever changed was his delivery, which deteriorated rapidly--especially during his second term. In a crisis, the possibility that Bush would ever say or do anything that might have any positive effect was always zero.
One does not expect much from a political speech. But I think it is possible that this one might accomplish *something;* and that's really kind of hard to wrap my mind around after the past 8 years. Whatever else happens, change will certainly be coming to all those old DU State of the Union drinking games.
The Plaid Adder
Bush and Cheney are out of office.
Driving to work and listening to NPR I was struck by the difference between the way the media covers this inauguration and the way I, at least, experience it. And this time, I am not sure that my way is any better than their way. It is just different. For them, it's the historic election of the first African-American president, day of change, jubilation, and so forth. What you do not hear in their coverage, except in very muted tones, is what is certainly screaming in my head today:
OH MY GOD, THEY'RE FINALLY GONE.
In general I think it's better, healthier, etc. to look at a situation like this in terms of the positive good coming in (i.e., Obama and what that means) rather than in terms of the vicious wastrel going out. But I can't help it. I respect Obama and am glad that his election has made so many people happy who never felt like they had a stake in the political process. But personally, for me, before I get to being happy about Obama _per se_, I have to get through a whole lot of
JESUS CHRIST, THAT BASTARD IS FINALLY OUT OF THE WHITE HOUSE.
They kept interviewing bystanders about why this election was so exciting, and a lot of the time you could hear that they were trying very hard to talk about just Obama and NOT about the debacle that his inauguration ended. But you could still hear it. You could hear it in the way they described Obama's intelligence, temperate personality, willingness to listen, knowledge of the world, and so forth, as if it was a miracle that such qualities should be found in an individual who managed to become president of the United States. And I do not mean to take anything away from Obama, to whom I am grateful for many things, including his ability to win this election decisively. But in addition to the excitement he generates all by himself, when that crowd started losing its shit when he showed up, well, some of that was eight years of Bush/Cheney talking.
I have been trying to stay detached from all this somehow--maybe because I couldn't really believe that it would all eventually be over some day. But it is. It's over. What Bush wants or what Cheney thinks is necessary DOESN'T MATTER ANY MORE. They don't get to run my country.
Yes, they were retired 8 years too late. Still. They're gone. Thank God.
I hope Obama justifies every single piece of hyperbole anyone has ever slung about him. I really do. Because that's what it's gonna take to get us out of the hole we're in.
So, I will sign off now, and go practice hoping that.
Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard and so long to make this moment happen. And thank you DU, for seeing us all through 8 of the worst years this country has ever seen.
The Plaid Adder
A good friend of mine got laid off last week. We discussed the fact that it's hard to find a "sorry you got laid off" card in the Hallmark aisle. She's always wanted to have a second career as a writer of cheesy Hallmark greeting cards. So in her honor, I wrote this "sorry you got laid off" card for George W. Bush. Please reply with your own thoughtful message!
TO A VERY SPECIAL PRESIDENT
You mutilate my language,
You lie and steal and cheat;
And when we face a crisis,
You run like you've got cleats.
Your war is a disaster;
Your "policies" were theft;
We'd offer you a parting gift
But we've got nothing left.
And so we send this card
On your special day,
To say, "Too bad you got laid off--
Now GO THE FUCK AWAY!"
I have a tear in my eye just thinking about it,
The Plaid Adder
My partner has a theory about Obama's slogan. She believes that "change we can believe in" really means "not very much change." Because *big* change would be difficult to believe in, at this point.
Well, here's one thing that hasn't changed: a Democratic politician deciding that he can afford to piss off the GBLT segment of the base, and that it's worth it to him in order to court some other constituency.
I don't think his invitation of Warren was a "mistake." I think it was a calculated political decision. One thing that is happening over there on the Christian right is that the selection of issues they care about has expanded to include stewardship of the environment and humanitarian causes in Africa (including HIV/AIDS). He wants them on board. This is one way of signaling that.
It also signals to his GBLT supporters that he really doesn't give a shit about us. Which is disappointing, but it's not surprising, and it's not new. Clinton (Bill) took the same approach: all I have to be is better than the Republicans, and they will support me. And sadly, we will, and we do. Because what the hell else are we going to do?
I knew when I voted for Obama that he would not be willing to take risks on behalf of my rights. That was clear from the campaign. I didn't know that he would pick someone like Warren to have an important symbolic role in his inauguration; but from what I know about how his campaign operates politically I guess it makes sense. It will be good for him, from a political capital perspective, to be seen to be pissing off "the left," and it won't hurt him either that this underlines his lack of support for same-sex marriage. I mean, it'll hurt him with GBLT Americans and their straight allies, of course. But not enough to make them not support his agenda--because we actually support those policies for their own sake, regardless of how pissed off we might be at the people putting them forward.
So it is pretty much politics as usual, where we are concerned. And it sucks. Especially because, despite the evidence, a lot of us expected better from him.
I have not a whole lot more to say about Obama's decision--it's disappointing, it's painful, it does not augur well for things to come. I want to point out the single thing which I think accounts for the vast differences in response from GBLT DUers (and straight DUers who make GBLT rights a priority) and those who don't see this as a problem:
Obama's justification for Warren's invitation keeps talking about his "views" on homosexuality. He keeps going back to the language of "viewpoint," "opinion," "diversity," "disagreement," and so on. And this is what sets me off and will no doubt have set off a lot of Obama's GBLT supporters: his language indicates that he believes (or wishes people to think he believes) that homophobia is not hatred or bigotry, but a legitimate "point of view." This is one of the biggest obstacles that GBLT Americans still face in their fight for equal rights. A person who states that non-whites are inferior to and not deserving of the same rights and privileges as white people is not treated as someone expressing a "view" or an "opinion;" he is treated as a bigot whose prejudice renders his "perspective" on this topic (and pretty much anything else) invalid and indefensible. A person who states that GBLT people are inferior to and not deserving of the same rights and privileges as straight people--and that IS what you are stating if you oppose same-sex marriage--is treated, at least by Obama at this moment, as someone expressing a valid and valuable "viewpoint" which needs to be included in the Great Conversation that Obama wants to have with all of us Americans.
In other words: one thing this whole incident reminds us is that bigotry against GBLT people is still not recognized by a lot of other people in this country--including our president-elect--as bigotry. It is instead a point of view which deserves respect. And to GBLT people, the fact that Obama is endorsing that idea so publicly is not just deeply offensive; it's dangerous. Because that "opinion" gets expressed in ways that materially hurt us; so the more that "opinion" of us is respected and protected, the worse our lives, overall, are going to be.
Obama's election is still an amazing thing in a lot of ways, and I look forward to seeing him make this country better for a lot of us. But as far as GBLT rights are concerned...well, this is a lack of change that unfortunately I have no trouble believing in.
The Plaid Adder
Posted by Plaid Adder in General Discussion: Presidential (Through Nov 2009)
Tue Nov 25th 2008, 04:44 PM
I've decided now is a good time to transition back out of GD : Presidential and into General Discussion. Here's my last GD : P post for the 2008 election cycle.
Shortly after the election, I talked to my mother. I mentioned that it was weird to finally be on the winning side of something. She said, "I know! You won't be able to complain any more!" I said, "Oh, sure I'll be able to complain!"
She was surprised. "What could you have to complain about?"
I said, "Well, my guess is that Obama will disappoint me by not being progressive enough. Also I don't think he's going to be that good on GBLT rights. So that's probably what I'll complain about, mainly."
I still expect to be disappointed on both counts. But I have discovered that actually, I don't spend a lot of time complaining about the Clinton retreads, the Hillary for SoS pick, and all that whatnot. I've been thinking about why that is, and it comes down to a few things:
1) I have accepted the fact that persons whose politics match up with mine cannot be elected to the presidency of the United States.
2) Having noted that Obama was far more successful following his own strategies in the general election than he would have been if he had executed any of my brilliant ideas for how to win, I have come to the conclusion that when it comes to how politics works, he knows a shitload more about it than I do.
3) My free time is less plentiful than it used to be, and some things are not worth the investment any more. Second-guessing cabinet picks falls into that category. I'm not yet detached enough from reality to believe that anyone in Obama's administration is going to recommend against choosing someone based on what they read in my piss-ant DU journal.
4) I believe that Obama has earned the benefit of the doubt.
I want to talk about #4 because it connects to something I have been thinking about on and off lately. We are coming out of an 8 year period of stunningly bad government. I mean bad in every way--corrupt, malicious, incompetent, dishonest, and deeply, deeply stupid. I know that living through the past 8 years has made me disgusted, cynical, and intensely suspicious of everything the government does. Indeed, I now berate myself for having been stupid enough not to realize that Bush's bailout plan could not possibly have had any chance of success. After all, after 8 years of failure, why should I have believed for a moment that someone in that administration might have come up with a good idea?
But change is not something that a politician brings *to* you. You have to make it happen; and one of the things that has to change, if things are going to get better--is our own attitude toward our own government. I'm not suggesting that we all start working on hymns of praise to be sung in mass chorus at the inaugural parade. But I do think that we are going to become part of the problem, rather than part of the solution, if we don't all work on getting ourselves *out* of the dark, bitter, paranoid place that the Bush administration put us into.
With that in mind, it might be worth thinking about what will be exiting the White House on January 20th, and what we will be able to let go once that happens.
Now buried beneath the critiques du jour are the stories that were floating a couple weeks ago about what Obama is planning to do about Guantanamo. At least in the stuff I read, everyone took it as read that Guantanamo will be closed. The question still to be worked out is what to do with the inmates. Many of them will be released; many of them will be tried; but some of the guys on Obama's legal team are apparently working on developing some kind of "special" judicial process for inmates who "can't" be tried in public because it would create "national security issues." The object, apparently, is to create something which is more like a jury trial than Bush's bullshit "military tribunals," but which would not require the public exposure of CIA operatives, informants, double agents, etc. etc. etc.
So, I read this stuff. My eye is inevitably drawn to the "special" judicial process. I think, great. More denial of civil/legal/human rights, more attempts to circumvent due process in the name of national security. Of course I want everyone to have a fair trial in public and for all the shit that has happened inside that horrible place to be brought to light. Of course this is not a perfect solution.
But my eye should perhaps also linger on something else: the question of this second-tier judicial process arises because Obama is going to close down Guantanamo.
And perhaps it will not do me or the nation any harm if I take a moment to say: Obama is going to close down Guantanamo. That is fucking AWESOME.
Christ almighty, how long have I been hating that place? For how many years and in how many ways has the knowledge of what is being done to people in my name in that place been haunting my conscience and infecting my imagination? The day I finally know that it actually has been shut the fuck down, that nobody is being held there any more, what buried anger, shame, grief and guilt is going to finally break through the layers of concrete that I've had to lay down over my raw emotions during the past 8 years just to keep myself functional?
This is just one example. It happens to be an example I care about, but anyway, I think it's going to be a pattern repeated for a lot of us: a good thing will happen, and there will be something bad embedded in it. It is of course our duty as citizens to recognize the bad and to continue fighting it. But it is also our responsibility to recognize positive change when it happens, and not to reject and dismiss it because it doesn't conform to our ideals or because we have just forgotten that government can do something other than damage.
I really don't think I have even begun to assess how much damage living in Bush's world has done to me as a person. I think figuring out the right way to adjust myself to Obama's world is going to be an interesting process. And I also think that what people here (including on occasion myself) have attacked as negativity, pointless bitching, etc., is also the evidence of how difficult that adjustment will be for many of us to make. Blind trust is not healthy, nor is it something most of us are temperamentally capable of offering anyway. But I do think that Obama has earned and indeed needs from us some measure of trust--that though he may not always share our ideologies, he at least has decent intentions, a lot of intelligence, and a much better understanding of how politics works than, for instance, I do.
After January 20, 2009, George W. Bush will be gone. Someone else will be president--someone who, no matter what you may believe, is much more fit for the job and much more likely to do some good with it than W. ever was. If, after that transition takes place, we persist in acting and feeling as if nothing has changed, we are only hurting ourselves.
During these past eight years it felt, to me anyway, as if I had crossed through the looking glass into a new and horrifying world from which there would never be an escape. But in fact, the Bush years are not going to last forever--unless we refuse to leave him behind.
To prepare myself for this day, I sometimes practice saying goodbye to him. I imagine him skulking out of the White House with his bag of golf clubs and loading them into the back of his non-union moving van and driving away in silence while Obama's inaugural parade marches joyfully and boisterously down the street. History has left you behind, George. We are all stuck grappling with your dark, vile, catastrophic legacy. But don't you stick around; you'll be no help at all. We're all headed out to do what has to be done to clean up your mess, and hopefully to build something new, something that can measure up to the joy and hope everyone felt that night they discovered that another world was possible. Go on back to your darkness, you little, little man, and leave the world to those of us who know how to love it.
I'll see y'all over in General Discussion,
The Plaid Adder
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