Thursday, February 27, 2014

Don't Call It Religious Freedom; It's Bigotry, Period!

Now that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has vetoed that state's "anti-gay" bill, I thought I would chime in with my nickel's worth of wisdom on the matter.

If you thought the feud between conservative and liberal Christians during the last few years on economics and how best to deal with the poor was titanic, the divide over gay marriage is enough to make the Grand Canyon look like a pot hole.

Even some Christians who otherwise would be sympathetic to liberal positions on most issues, go practically ballistic when the topic is brought up. Out come the Scriptural references - all seven of them, if my math is correct - along with shouts that their religious freedoms are being taken away. Any and all attempts at "discussion" are thoroughly dismissed. The Bible, they say, is quite clear: homosexuality is an abomination. 

To sum up, the Arizona bill, had it become law, would've allowed businesses to deny services to gay people on the grounds of "deeply-held religious beliefs." That the state already has a law that protects the rights of churches and other religious institutions - the Religious Freedom Restoration Act - is beside the point to defenders of the bill. They cite examples such as a photographer in New Mexico and a baker in Oregon who were sued because they refused to cater to gay couples.

While such cases are indeed unfortunate, they are also quite the exception. The idea that homosexuals are lining up to take their revenge against the heterosexual community for centuries of oppression is not only an unlikely scenario, it smacks of the rankest form of paranoia. Though ironically, if ever a group had a right to exact revenge, next to African Americans and the indigenous population (I refuse to call them native Americans), it would be the gay community. If you think terms like nigger or redskin are offensive, try faggot or dyke on for size.

No, the more I think about it, this has absolutely nothing to do with religious freedom any more than separate but equal had anything to do with states' rights. This is nothing more than a group with a persecution complex - that would be the Christian Right - hiding behind the Constitution to defend their bigotry. Signs that read "No gays allowed" are an anathema to the teachings of Jesus, who commanded his followers to love all people, even our "enemies." Note, there are no exceptions to that command.

I have heard and had enough of this group mouthing off on nonsensical issues like the "war on Christmas" and decrying the end of Christendom every time a Mosque goes up in one of their precious communities. They are quite adept at stating what they're against (gay marriage, abortion, contraception, global warming, government assistance to the poor), yet, when it comes to proclaiming the love of Christ, they are more often than not MIA.

Of course when they aren't moaning about the imagined loss of their hegemony, they're busy rewriting American history to suit their myopic and warped interests. And some of these "geniuses" actually wonder why people leave the Church or prefer not to join in the first place. Rachel Held Evans summed up the "plight" of these Christians perfectly:

Evangelical Christians in America enjoy incredible religious freedom, perhaps more than any other group in this country. Christians remain the religious majority in the U.S. Every American president has identified himself as a Christian, and Christians make up the overwhelming majority in both the House of Representatives and Senate. If you are a white evangelical Christian in the U.S. you are unlikely to be “randomly” screened by the T.S.A. every time you try to board an airplane.  It is unlikely that you will face protests and governmental obstruction when you attempt to build a new place of worship, which is a reality faced by many of our Muslim citizens. 

For the life of me, I cannot understand the mindset of these Christians who actually believe that just because gays and lesbians now have the right to live as equal human beings among us in this country that all of a sudden their faith is threatened. How small must their God be for that to happen? But then I still can't wrap my head around the ridiculous notion that just because a few white people once in a while lose out to a minority for a job promotion they thought was theirs, that that automatically means the only racism in America is reverse racism. When white men are found swinging from a tree with a rope around their necks, I'll believe that drivel.

Until then, let me just say to all my white Christian friends who are having a rough time of it in this ever-changing, multicultural country:



Sunday, February 23, 2014

Idiots' Delight

Well February certainly had its fair share of idiots; in fact, so crowded was the field, I was starting to worry that we might actually end up with the equivalent of a typical NHL playoff format. For those of you not familiar with hockey, that would be 16 entrees. Thankfully, I was able to narrow the field to a more manageable five.

Unlike prior months, there's no particular order of importance. Let's just say all of these "winners" were on equal footing in my book. Instead, I chose the order based either on when they happened or when I first knew of them.

The overreaction to the Coca Cola Super Bowl ad. For those who actually bothered to watch the game - all 50 of you - this otherwise innocuous ad has taken on a life of its own. In case you missed it, the ad featured America the Beautiful sung in several foreign languages which, to the overwhelming majority of people in this country, went virtually unnoticed.

But to the wingnuts on the Right, it was like lighter fluid on a barbecue that's been cooking for well over a decade. They simply can't accept the fact that America is becoming a multicultural nation and that the world they know is rapidly coming to an end. By the middle of the century, whites will be a minority in this country. Nothing can stop it. That realization hasn't sat well with some. Predictably they went ape-shit over the ad which, for them, only rubs salt in their make believe wounds.

For which I can only say, amen. Take a good look at your future. It's closer than you think.

Laura Ingraham's racist comments about Justice Sotomayor. It's hard to keep up with all the ridiculous and obnoxious comments that come out of the mouth of this Ann Coulter wanna be, but her latest rant about Sotomayor is one for the books, even for her. Here's what she recently said on her radio show:

"Why do we have a Supreme Court justice whose allegiance obviously goes to her immigrant family background and not to the U.S. Constitution?  Her duty is to defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America. And that's what she says?"

What was it that Sotomayor said that put Ingraham over the edge? She used the term undocumented immigrant instead of illegal alien. Yeah, that was it. That was what caused her conniption. Some would call this semantics, but to people like Ingraham, Sotomayor might as well have burned the American flag in broad daylight.

Forget that Sotomayor was born in the Bronx, which by default makes her a U.S. citizen and NOT an immigrant, the fact that she believes that terms like illegal alien are "insulting," doesn't disqualify her from being a Supreme Court justice, anymore than Ingraham calling herself a conservative doesn't mean that all conservatives are idiots. 

David Gregory's mud-wrestling match between Bill Nye and Marsha Blackburn regarding Global Warming.  Now here's a novel way to treat one of the greatest threats facing the planet. Invite a scientist whose specialty isn't global warming and a politician who knows absolutely nothing about science at all to "discuss" their views on the issue. Of course the fact that 95% of climate scientists agree that man is responsible for the planet's rise in temperature over the last century is irrelevant to Gregory. So long as both sides are "represented" that's all that counts. That he would so haphazardly handle such an important topic as this in such an amateurish manner is disgraceful.

Since taking over the reigns of Meet the Press a little over five years ago, Gregory has done his utmost to destroy what Tim Russert spent over a decade building: credibility. This latest episode should accelerate the show's slide into mediocrity. Gregory's next feat no doubt will be refereeing a steel cage match between a Rhodes scholar and a high-school dropout on the merits of a college education. I can just see the caption now: "Are brains really all that necessary." If you're David Gregory, apparently not. 

The Arizona anti-gay bill. I plan on dealing with this issue in more detail in another post. Suffice to say if you thought all those voter suppression laws were horrendous, you won't believe what Arizona is cooking up. If passed, the law would ostensibly allow businesses to discriminate against the gay and lesbians communities on the basis of "religious freedom." All it needs is Governor Jan Brewer's signature to bring it to life.

Operating under the pretext that tolerating homosexuals somehow threatens their way of life, the Christian Right has successfully launched a campaign that paints them as victims of discrimination for, I hope you're sitting for this, gays forcing their agenda down their throats - pardon the pun.

In a move that would make Vladimir Putin proud, Arizona is poised to do the unthinkable: to do to the LGBT community what decades of Jim Crow laws did to African Americans. This isn't a religious issue; it's a civil rights issue, but try telling that to these modern-day Pharisees. 

MSNBC for piling on over the Chris Christie Bridgegate scandal. I honestly don't know if Chris Christie knew about the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. For all we know, he might've planned the whole thing. And, yes, unlike Benghazi and the I.R.S., this is a real scandal that before it's over might well end up bringing down the governor.

But the way MSNBC has handled this scandal has been shameful. For over a month, it has been the network's number one story. To be frank, they've beaten it to death. It's one thing to report the news; it's quite another to drool over it. And, let's be honest here, nothing would delight liberals more than a disgraced Chris Christie out of contention for the Republican nomination. Virtually every poll taken before the scandal broke showed Christie as the only viable threat to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I have no problem with a liberal point of view and I'm certainly not implying that MSNBC has been guilty of fabricating news stories to suit an agenda - they're not Fox News - but one can be liberal without frothing at the mouth. Engaging in this kind of behavior only lends credence to the ridiculous claim that the Left is just as bad as the Right.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Keystone Quagmire for Obama

Now that the State Department has basically backed President Obama into a corner with its report on the Keystone XL pipeline, what next?

Before we get to that, it's important to mention that the report did NOT say the pipeline wouldn't pose great risks to the environment, only that building it would not worsen carbon pollution. That's because, regardless of what Obama decides, it's going to be built. The only question is whether it goes south through the States to the Gulf of Mexico or west to Vancouver. There is no way the Canadians are going to give up that much revenue, even if it does destroy millions of acres of their pristine land. And you thought America was the only country that could take that much of a dump on the environment.

And then there's the issue of employment. By all accounts the pipeline would net somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 permanent jobs. CVS hires that many people every hour its doors are opened. And, so far as the actual oil being pumped through the pipeline, the overwhelming majority of it will never see its way into American cars or homes. The most likely destination will be foreign countries that have the refineries to convert it. With all the talk about "drill baby drill," the sad fact is that U.S. refineries are at or near peek capacity. They couldn't handle the Keystone oil if they wanted to.

So, with that in mind, what should Obama do? He could say no, which would appease his base and piss off the GOP (like they really needed an excuse to be pissed at him). He could continue to drag his feet and hold off making a decision until after the midterms, which many political pundits believe is the safe play.

But, in my opinion, the smart and only play is to deal and deal now. One way or another that pipeline is getting built, so Obama still holds all the cards for the moment. That gives him leverage. With the Republicans finally agreeing to raise the debt ceiling through the beginning of 2015 and with a two-year budget deal in place, Obama can start to push through some of his agenda. Immigration reform is still a dream that is achievable. A number of establishment Republicans in both Houses have backed it. The Senate bill is still waiting for a vote in the lower chamber. The only thing holding it up is the Tea Party faction, but dissatisfaction with them is growing within the leadership. And then there's the matter of the extended unemployment benefits that expired at the end of last year.

Now is the perfect time for Obama to put on his Monty Hall hat and make a deal with the GOP. You want the Keystone pipeline, okay, here's what I want. Let the Senate immigration bill get an up and down vote in the House and pass a one-year extension of unemployment benefits and I'll sign the authorization to let the pipeline go through the country. Turn me down and I'll let that authorization die of old age.

Now I know that most of you are shrieking at such a suggestion. How could I be in favor of building a pipeline that increases carbon emissions, you ask? Actually, I'm not; the Canadians are. And while it may be a little difficult for environmentalists to hear, they have no jurisdiction or sway on events north of the border. Like I said, the pipeline is going forward; the only question is which direction it takes. If Obama lets this opportunity pass him by, he ostensibly resigns himself to pretty much a wasted year legislatively. And, if the GOP ends up taking the Senate in November - even money at this point - he will be worse than a lame-duck president. He won't be able to buy a ball point pen for the last two years of his second term.

Obama doesn't need to see additional reports on Keystone to make a decision. All he needs is the resolve to extract something positive out of a negative; a talent he has been sadly lacking throughout most of his five years in the Oval office. Now would be a good time to reverse that trend.

Like the old saying goes, when life deals you lemons, you make lemonade. Obama had best start building that lemonade stand while he can.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Enjoy Every Sandwich

Three months have passed since that memorable weekend my wife and I spent with Henry before he got sick. That Saturday we took him to one of his favorite places: Garvies Point. He was in his glory. Neither of us knew at the time it would be his swan song. Less than two weeks later, he would lose his battle with cancer. Well, with the weather so unseasonably mild, I decided to go back and retrace our steps. It was bittersweet to say the least, but it gave me the chance to do some reminiscing.

Sometimes it's the little things that stand out most.  Like the time he went right up to one of my speakers in the den, lifted his leg and pissed on it. Right in front of me! Then he just trotted off down the hall into the kitchen, like nothing happened. I was stunned and speechless. I couldn't believe my eyes.

Henry was famous for doing things that often left you dumbfounded, apparently impervious to what he had just done. The word that best described him was oblivious. No matter the circumstance, you just shook your head in disbelief. You couldn't stay mad at him, no matter how much trouble he got into or how out to lunch he was.

Like the time he had been chasing a squirrel in the backyard and after a couple of minutes of running the length of the back fence several times, with the squirrel safely scampering on the top, mind you, he finally gave up the ghost, walked to the middle of the yard and laid down. That wasn't the strange part. What was strange was that the squirrel was right behind him staring at him. You could say he was mocking him, but Henry was completely clueless. Even when I yelled at him to turn around, he just ignored me, yawned and put his head down.

Of course the mischief he got into was the stuff of legend. He had a penchant for my wife's cherry tomato garden and he always managed to get into it, no matter how many barricades she put up. One day, I ran out onto the deck to yell at him to get out of the garden. It was too late. He had plucked a couple and was proudly holding them in his mouth as he pranced about in the yard. I wish I had my camera with me as he stopped to enjoy his little feast. Adorable didn't begin to describe it.

Then there were the moments he would start digging his way to China in the backyard and my wife and I would have to scrub him down in the kitchen sink. The worst was when it was raining outside. His paws would be filled with mud. The challenge was stopping him from traipsing it all over the house. Every time he got groomed, we'd have to watch him closely to make sure he didn't undo what took two hours of pain-staking work to accomplish. Imagine a baby all dressed up eating a bowl of cereal. Yeah, that was Henry.

As I've mentioned before, our cat Puffin was not terribly fond of Henry and never let an opportunity go by without making his feelings crystal clear. But there were moments when the two of them reached a certain d├ętente. Puffin even managed to let his fur down now and then and play with Henry. Actually, it was more like teasing him. Henry would chase Puffin behind a piece of furniture while he barked incessantly for his "pal" to come out and play, his tail wagging a mile a second. Then, all of a sudden, this ball of black fur would leap out and jump over Henry. Talk about cat and mouse. Henry was always the cat.

But sometimes, Puffin didn't jump out. Sometimes he would just wait out Henry, which only made Henry that much more determined. The Christmas before last, my wife caught the two of them in such an exchange on her iPhone. It remains one of our favorite memories of the two of them.

Sometimes, though, Henry wasn't all that crazy about Puffin, especially when Puffin was laying in my wife's lap. Henry became so jealous, he did all he could do to wiggle his way between the two of them. It was hysterical looking at my wife surrounded by two pets competing for her lap. You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried. I actually have a picture of the three of them. Out of fear for my life, I have wisely decided not to post it. Trust me, it's a doozy.

But Henry always saved his "best" for when guests came over. Every time someone sat down, our faithful companion just couldn't resist coming up to them and (I swear I'm not making this up) humping their leg. You had to see it to believe it. It would always mortify the two of us. Of course, when he wasn't humping someone's leg, he would jump up and plant a slobbering kiss right on their mouth. No matter how many times we yelled at him, he remained undeterred. Thankfully, our guests were understanding.

Dinner time was always an adventure. I can count on one hand the number of times we managed to eat a whole meal without Henry demanding his "fair" share of grub. Anyone who has a two year old already knows the futility of saying "no." Imagine having to say that for nine plus years. Every time was the same. We'd sit down to eat and Henry would sit right beside us looking up and waiting. First came a whimper, then a bark, followed by a hailstorm of barks, until, finally, the "parents" relented and threw down a morsel or two or three or four. Sometimes, we'd just put down a whole plate and let him eat right off it. Wasn't it Bill Cosby who once said that parents weren't interested in justice, they wanted quiet? Truer words were never uttered. Henry had us trained but good.

And speaking of trained, Henry always knew when it was time for us to take him out for a walk. Basically, it was anytime he felt like it. Usually right before bedtime or in the middle of the night. Timing was not his strong suit. And it usually fell to me to take him out. He was always so happy to see that leash. No matter the time of year or temperature outside, a walkie poo was a treat extraordinaire for the little guy.

Once business was concluded, both figuratively and literally, Henry would stroll into the bedroom and whimper until my wife picked him up and put him on the bed. On those nights when I stayed up late to watch some TV, I would come to bed to find Old Yeller sound asleep on my pillow. Trying to move him without waking my wife proved a herculean task. Sometimes the best I could manage was getting him to the foot of the bed. I looked like a contortionist trying to get into my own bed while Henry slept comfortably. Again, oblivious.

I miss those moments. Now that I think about it, they weren't so little after all. They defined Henry. Scarcely a meal goes by that we don't look down expecting to see him waiting for us to feed him. The leash he loved so much still hangs by the back door patiently waiting for a moment that will never come again. And it seems ages since I had to squeeze my 5 foot 6 inch frame into a 3 foot space just to go to bed. What the hell, a good night's sleep is overrated anyway, right?

Once more, Puffin is the king of his castle with no one to challenge him, chase him or egg him on. And, best of all, he gets sole dibs on my wife's lap. Our other cat, Skye, has taken to Henry's old bed. She looks good in it. It gives my wife and I some comfort knowing that something of Henry survived him.

Recently, I had a chance to see Warren Zevon's last appearance on Letterman. Zevon was dying of lung cancer and Letterman was asking him how he was dealing with it. "You learn to enjoy every sandwich," was his reply. It still amazes me that a man facing a death sentence could be that open, honest and courageous. The more I think about it, though, his words should be a warning to all of us. When you get right down to it, life is really nothing more than a bunch of sandwiches strung together for us to enjoy. Those we discard are lost to us forever. We never get the chance to go back and reclaim them.

I'm sure there were a few such sandwiches involving Henry that I passed on that are now gone forever. That is my loss. Gratefully, there are far more sandwiches which I enjoyed and will always savor. He was, and always will be, our fella. My wife and I were blessed to have him in our lives. And though we miss him terribly, we cherish each and every memory, even the embarrassing ones. We wouldn't trade any of them for all the gold in the world.

So, one last time, let me say, "Time to go sleepy bye, Henry. Go sleepy bye. Daddy loves you very much."