Getting Real

First of all, I’d like to apologize to those of you who decided to follow me trusting I would provide you a relatively steady diet of food for thought. In this I have failed all of us.

It has been a while since I shared my thoughts with you, and even longer since I shared my life. But, well, sometimes things happen that push us to do that which we are loathe to do.

I know that some who know me will not agree with what I am about to do, because you will consider it a commission of one of the deadliest of sins: the airing of one’s dirty laundry. I don’t see it that way. Regardless of outward appearances, I long ago came to the conclusion that my most likely mission in life is to be a warning to others: the quintessential “Ms. Don’t Bee.”  I have accepted – and even embraced – this as my lot in life.

You see, I have a son. I have a troubled son. And the only thing that keeps me from being 100% angry at myself right now is that he is adopted, and I did not birth him into this screwed up world that has no use for him past making itself feel better at his expense.

I could give you a lot of reasons for his being “troubled.” I could – and most likely would, were it not for my therapist – tell you that my son is troubled because I failed to be SuperMom. But the fact of the matter is that my son – my adopted son – was probably doomed from the start. He is the biological offspring of a veteran of the first Gulf War. He is the product of a toxic gestational environment: a  toxic environment created by the United States government. However, because of his demographic profile, it’s just easier to “Blame it on the Boogie.”  Because we all know that adopted babies are throw-aways, and African American adopted babies are the worst throw-aways of all. By definition, they have to be drug babies. Imperfect people. A drag on society. Pariahs.

It became apparent fairly early on that all was not right with Quen. He simply would not settle in. He was fussy and needy and had a persistent case of thrush and endless ear infections. And then the seizures started. And after the seizures, the medication to control the seizures turned him into an entirely different child.

I could recount all of our troubles in painstaking detail, but that would do no good. Suffice it to say that his toxic gestational environment has significantly impacted his central nervous system: a fact that the Veterans’ Administration refuses to acknowledge, my pretty expensive healthcare insurance refuses to address (or authorize treatment for), and the penal and mental health systems refuse to pursue. I can only commend them on their freedom to choose.

I could tell you, like I tell myself several times each hour of every single day, that Quen’s problems are my fault. I failed to be an adequate mother and advocate. But, realistically, no matter how hard and often I try to convince him that he should go right, I cannot over-ride his lying, damaged central nervous system telling him every minute of every hour of every day that he really does want to go left. And that liar has finally won out.

As I write this, my baby is sitting in the El Paso, TX County Jail. It’s not the first time he’s been there, but I fully intend for it to be his last. On November 12, 2013 he was sentenced to 30 days for evading arrest/detention. That’s it. And the worse part of it: he was arrested a full three days after he had been released from the same jail for other offenses.

I won’t post the copy of the the complaint here, because it’s not my place to disclose his private information. But I can tell you that the arresting officer claimed  he chased my son through a number of yards and over a number of fences because, while he was in search of an armed robbery suspect, he saw my son jay walk. Yup. My son ran across a street, outside of a designated pedestrian crosswalk, and that prompted a law enforcement officer to abandon his search for an aggravated armed robbery suspect to draw both his fire arm and his taser on my 5’9″, 150lb. son. Nothing but the Grace of God prevented that asshole from killing my boy.  And you know what the kicker is??? The only charge my son faced was evading arrest. You would think RoboCop would have at least had the presence of mind to write him up for jaywalking. And you would think the judge would have had sufficient presence of mind to question the entire situation. But no. Because, you see, ever since the people of America had the unmitigated gall to elect a black man as president, the national war on Black Men that had been previously partially underground went  all the way live. And since that fateful night in 2008, every person with brown skin has been made to pay the price in one way or another. And I, for one, am sick to death of it. Because, you see, if all of these ill-read, ill-bred buttheads had any awareness of the true history of this country which they so adamantly claim as their exclusive dominion, they would realize that the primary reason these United State of America is anything other than a barren wasteland is due solely to the exploitation of peoples of color. Europeans, inarguably, stole the land from the initial inhabitants, and then used the stolen and uncompensated labor of other people of color to improve that land. In fact, our current tenuous economic status continues to rely heavily on the  exploited labor of less-than-fully-documented people of color.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not racist by nature. I am, in fact, probably one of the whitest black people you will ever meet … with the possible exception of my children. But when I read that my child had a police officer’s weapon and taser drawn on him because he jay walked  over 1,700 miles away from me, I – as a 40% disabled veteran – have no choice but to ask WTF???!!! Where is the thanks for my service, or  – for that matter – his sacrifice? Where is the dignity that is implicitly guaranteed him as a U.S. citizen  as a part of his inalienable rights of  “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness?” And, as long as I’m ranting, where is the logic in a Texas Hispanic law enforcement officer, whose ancestors have suffered centuries of indignities and discrimination, acting in the same, despicable manner … which I can only see as an excuse for those oppressors to further justify their past and continuing transgressions? I fail to comprehend how a country that vehemently declares itself to be a Christian nation consistently fails so miserable to adhere to one of the most basic and simplistic teachings of Jesus Christ, that being “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?”  While I have never been a large champion of the whole “turn the other cheek” mentality, I do believe that those of us in this country who have been subject to generational oppression have an obligation to – when afforded the opportunity – prove that “we are better than that.”  In my mind, when we find ourselves in  positions of power and opt to act with vengeance vice integrity, we only reinforce the wrong-minded mindset of our former oppressors that we were deserving of the treatment to which our ancestors were subjected.

Hopefully, my son will be on his way out of El Paso soon. Hopefully, he will realize that no good will come to him there; that the people he calls “friends” are not, and that them being Hispanic in a majority Hispanic town give them an advantage over him that not even true friendship could counterbalance.  I want him far away from there, where he can find some measure of self-respect and self-worth. Where he can escape the vicious cycle of hopelessness and helplessness in which he now lives. I want him to be able to hold his head high, knowing that he is a responsible, productive member of society, who has been endowed by his Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I want him to understand that he, too, has a right to claim the American Dream, because his American-ness has been bought and paid for several times over with the blood, sweat, and tears of his ancestors and is not something that others can deny him or that he should thoughtlessly relinquish.

Yes, dystopian literature appeals to me…here’s why

I admit it. This non-teenager is obsessed with the Hunger Games trilogy. I can hardly wait to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire the weekend after Thanksgiving. This sequel to The Hunger Games opens tonight.

I’ve read the series multiple times since receiving the box set last Christmas. I also purchased the DVD of The Hunger Games. One may ask in disbelief, or perhaps disgust, “Why would anyone, especially a woman, be interested in reading about children fighting each other to the death?” That’s a valid question. Following are some answers.

The setting is Panem, a future America pretty much destroyed by war and environmental destruction. Panem is the country where the Hunger Games take place and is run by the Capitol, whose citizens live in luxury. Here with plenty of food, comfortable homes, and all the necessities of life, residents have become frivolous in their priorities, clownish in their appearance, and callous to the plight of their fellow citizens struggling for survival and suffering hardships—starvation, rudimentary medical care, etc.—out in the districts.

Dystopian literature, in particular The Hunger Games, resonates with me because I see it as a warning of a future in which the accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a few come at great expense to the masses. Wait, that sounds vaguely familiar. It is already happening. Today, many people in the United States and around the globe are hungry and lack medical care. Inequality has always existed and likely always will to some degree. So I can envision an America similar to Panem as the wealth inequality gap in our country grows ever wider, although I pray future generations will be spared the cruelty of the ruling class portrayed in The Hunger Games. However, it is in societies such as this that heroes are born.

Cover of "The Hunger Games"

Cover of The Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins inserts into her tale a young girl, Katniss Everdeen—and I love that the protagonist is a girl. Katniss is a reluctant hero who, after winning the 74th Hunger Games, becomes the symbol of the rebellion, unbeknownst to her. The victor of the games is rewarded with riches for the remainder of their lives, and their district benefits from the victor’s prosperity for the next year as abundant supplies of food arrive each month.

Before winning the Hunger Games, Katniss spent most of her childhood providing for her mother and sister. After her father’s death, Katniss’s mother had a mental breakdown and it was up to Katniss to make sure none of them starved because her mother was incapable of caring for her children, much less herself. Katniss knew how to hunt; her father had taught her well. She became a survivor, embodying independence, resourcefulness, adaptability, and resilience—characteristics I see in myself and admire in others.

The Hunger Games is at its core a story of overcoming oppression and confronting the rich and powerful who have enriched themselves while impoverishing the districts and extracting and hoarding their natural resources. The struggle to right this brutal world appeals to me because it is about achieving equality, justice, and the chance for a better life. The basic ideas of justice and equality of opportunity are at the very core of who I am, so yes, the series resonates with me.

Lastly, there is the entertainment factor. It is a character-driven story; even the Capitol is a character. As an actor, this excites my imagination. I can experience a world vastly different from the one in which I exist. When cast in a role, I most enjoy bringing to life deeply flawed characters. All actors enjoy exploring the dark side—at least I’ve not met one who hasn’t. Why? Because it is boring to always play characters similar to oneself, there is no challenge in it. Even when playing the most repulsive character, an actor searches for redeeming qualities to create a multi-dimensional role. All human beings possess light and dark sides although one or the other dominates. In these disturbing dystopian worlds our imaginations can run wild. It can be a thrilling adventure to live vicariously through these characters in the safety of my environment. Some people may find it unsettling, yet who are we to judge the interests of others? Of course, most of us frequently judge others’ tastes, myself included.

The Hunger Games and other dystopian works won’t appeal to everyone. Nonfiction is my preferred genre, but reading these fantasy-filled books provides a break from the seriousness of the policy-related and current events topics that occupy most of my reading time. Dystopian literature fascinates me, especially when good conquers evil and the oppressed are freed from their bondage.

The Divergent trilogy is what I am currently reading, and a co-worker told me about Maze Runner, so my dystopian literature well will be filled for a while. I was telling my mother about The Hunger Games a while back. She asked, “And why would you enjoy reading that?” I laughed because it does sound pretty awful, but I gave her the above explanation, in fewer words. Many scenes in the books are violent, and yes, there are some very creative and distrubing ways of killing detailed in them. Still, I am excited to see Catching Fire and am not ashamed to admit it. Let the 75th Hunger Games begin!

Related articles:

Harry Reid did what? A little filibuster reform

In light of today’s vote in the Senate, I am reposting a piece published on April 30 (and no, it is not about gun control, but filibuster reform). Today’s action taken in the Senate applies only to the President’s nominees to fill executive posts and judicial vacancies, excluding nominees to the Supreme Court. It is a small, but significant step in the right direction.

April 30, 2013 by

Gun Control Background Check Legislation Defeated…Blame the Filibuster

On Wednesday, April 17, the Senate voted down gun background check legislation. This was defeated with 54 ayes and 46 nays. What? Defeated with a majority? You bet, thanks to the filibuster, which requires a 60-vote supermajority before legislation can move forward.

Slate.com’s Dave Weigel put the blame directly on the Democrats’ shoulders for a variety of reasons.  He makes a good case, but the filibuster remains the major culprit. Even if the Democrats who voted no had voted yes, they would’ve still been one vote shy of the 60-vote threshold.

The filibuster has been a handy little procedure for senators of both parties to use when in the minority. However, the GOP senators have escalated its use to a whole new level of obstruction. Here is a little history:

  • 107th Congress (2001 – 2002, Dem minority)— 71 cloture motions filed:
  • 108th Congress (2003 – 2004, Dem minority)—62
  • 109th Congress (2005 – 2006, Dem minority)—68
  • 110th Congress (2007 – 2008, GOP minority)—139
  • 111th Congress (2009 – 2010, GOP minority)—137
  • 112th Congress (2011 – 2012, GOP minority)—115
  • 113th Congress (2013 – 2014, GOP minority)—11

A filibuster is an attempt to extend debate on a proposal in order to delay or completely prevent a vote on its passage. If cloture (a 60-vote supermajority) is not attained, the legislation will not receive an up or down vote. Historically, the filibuster was used in limited circumstances such as to override a presidential veto, expel a member from the Senate, or convict a federal officer of a federal offense.

Furthermore, the filibuster was a talking one. Jimmy Stewart’s character filibustered, quite dramatically, in the 1939 film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In March, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) held a talking filibuster, which hadn’t happened since Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) took to the floor in December 2010 to protest a tax law. Today, talking filibusters are rare.

If legislation is going to be held up, then the senator(s) doing the blocking should stand before their colleagues and the American public to argue their point rather than merely stating their intent to filibuster. No pain is associated with obstruction nowadays; it is far too easy.

The Brennan Center for Justice’s 2010 Filibuster Abuse report provides a thorough accounting of how this procedure contributes to Senate dysfunction, compromises the system of checks and balances, and degrades transparency and accountability in government. The report highlights the fact that “Senate procedures have increasingly been used to prevent decision-making rather than to promote deliberation and debate.”

cloture_size

In 2012, the Brennan Center for Justice released a follow-up report, Curbing Filibuster Abuse. The authors found as of October 2012:

  • The 112th Congress had enacted 196 public laws, the lowest output of any Congress since at least World War II;
  • Senate passed a record-low 2.8 percent of bills in that chamber;
  • Cloture motions have skyrocketed since 2006;
  • On average, it took 188 days to confirm a judicial nominee, creating 33 “judicial emergencies.”

The authors state that rules reform is a must and suggest some “minimal, commonsense reforms:”

  • There should be only one opportunity to filibuster any given measure or nomination;
  • Senate rules should require at least 40 votes to sustain a filibuster as opposed to requiring a supermajority to break a filibuster, and senators should be required to remain on the floor and debate, as in the past;
  • Safeguards should be put in place to ensure members of the minority can offer amendments.

There have been attempts to reform, if not eliminate, the filibuster, even as recently as January. Reform is difficult. One reason is that the filibuster allows the minority in the Senate to have some say over and to slow down legislation. Therefore, even though Democrats have had a majority in that chamber, seven years now, many of them don’t want to change or eliminate it because they fear finding themselves in the minority again and when that happens, will want the option to filibuster.

The filibuster serves a purpose, and should be maintained on a limited basis, used for very specific circumstances as enumerated previously. However, filibustering has become a means for the minority to override or disrupt any legislation the majority tries to pass and hold up political appointments. This is wrong. Elections matter and when the minority dictates what the majority does, that is a problem for our democracy, especially when those filibustering have no desire to compromise and negotiate. It’s their way or no way. They become obstructionists and policymaking in this country grinds to a halt. Any legislation or political appointment, no matter how benign, is nearly impossible to enact or approve.

The filibuster’s accomplice is often the secret hold. The 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act should’ve halted the secrecy component of holds. However, since no enforcement mechanism was included, it has largely been ignored. There is no reason a legislator should not be held to account for why she/he is holding up legislation. Transparency is crucial to democracy. If a senator is going to stop a bill or political appointment, we the people have every right to know who it is and why they are doing it, whether we agree with them or not.

Capitol 2

Until our legislators have the guts to make some simple changes to Senate rules, government impotence at the federal level will continue. That does not bode well for the health, security, and growth of our country. Filibuster reform is a must.

Read the Brennan Center for Justice reports:

Health Care “reform”: My response to Obama (from 3 years ago)

NB: I wrote this quickly on March 22, 2010, after reading Obama’s speech. The ACA had just been passed. I couldn’t listen to his speech the previous night. I think I made it to the third paragraph of his speech before I grabbed my “comfort book” (Epictetus, thank you) and went upstairs to read in dim light.

Good evening, everybody. Tonight, after nearly 100 years of talk and frustration, after decades of trying, and a year of sustained effort and debate, the United States Congress finally declared that America’s workers and America’s families and America’s small businesses deserve the security of knowing that here, in this country, neither illness nor accident should endanger the dreams they’ve worked a lifetime to achieve.

This sounds so good, President Obama.
Does this mean that I can get affordable health insurance for some pre-existing
conditions now?

No? Okay, so I guess I can just keep on dealing with these awful migraines because I can’t afford the $500.00 a month it would cost to get a preventative medication that might work. I won’t find out, because, you know, I have to feed my family first. That’s cool, I understand.

Call this me taking one for the American people. Every time I vomit water or plain bile because I’ve been unable to keep food down for more than 24-hours due to a mere migraine, I’ll just think of it as my sacrifice for the Good of the Country.

So, God forbid (you do invoke Him several times) I get sick, my husband and my daughter would be left without me, or we’d be bankrupt, or…?

That’s so comforting.

Tonight, at a time when the pundits said it was no longer possible, we rose above the weight of our politics. We pushed back on the undue influence of special interests. We didn’t give in to mistrust or to cynicism or to fear.
Instead, we proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things and tackling our biggest challenges. We proved that this government — a government of the people and by the people — still works for the people.

I must disagree, politely but vehemently, with any sort of claim that “we” have “proved” that the “government…still works for the people.”

The government works for some of the people. Hurray for some!

And kudos for us to returning to the failed ways of Ancient Greek oligarchies—this bill has proven more than anything that we are ruled by corporations.
All right, though, I will grant that the Supreme Court recently did rule that corporations are people, too.

Maybe I will change my name and incorporate myself. I could start as an S-corp, sell some stock, and let my investors decide what I should do with my life. That does seem to be one way for me to “get ahead” in America, at this date and time.

I want to thank every member of Congress who stood up tonight with courage and conviction to make health care reform a reality. And I know this wasn’t an easy vote for a lot of people. But it was the right vote. I want to thank Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her extraordinary leadership, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn for their commitment to getting the job done. I want to thank my outstanding Vice President, Joe Biden, and my wonderful Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, for their fantastic work on this issue. I want to thank the many staffers in Congress, and my own incredible staff in the White House, who have worked tirelessly over the past year with Americans of all walks of life to forge a reform package finally worthy of the people we were sent here to serve.

To those of you who struggled with voting yes, go fuck yourselves. Yes, seriously. You have health insurance. Many of us don’t.

What the hell is wrong with you? Do you think we lack health insurance because we don’t want it?

So if you found doing the RIGHT thing was hard, then maybe you should retire from any sort of public life until you’ve gotten in touch with yourself and let go of some of your financial obligations.

And you should also read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”—it’s mild, but it’ll remind you (maybe) of what we need. Of what true courage and conviction is.

Today’s vote answers the dreams of so many who have fought for this reform. To every unsung American who took the time to sit down and write a letter or type out an e-mail hoping your voice would be heard — it has been heard tonight. To the untold numbers who knocked on doors and made phone calls, who organized and mobilized out of a firm conviction that change in this country comes not from the top down, but from the bottom up — let me reaffirm that conviction: This moment is possible because of you.

I have never felt like more of a failure with my activism work than when I read this paragraph. I haven’t been heard, that’s clear. I’ve been working for single-payer for years. No, I haven’t been heard. And hundreds of others I’ve encountered during my activism haven’t been heard, either.

Most importantly, today’s vote answers the prayers of every American who has hoped deeply for something to be done about a health care system that works for insurance companies, but not for ordinary people. For most Americans, this debate has never been about abstractions, the fight between right and left, Republican and Democrat — it’s always been about something far more personal. It’s about every American who knows the shock of opening an envelope to see that their premiums just shot up again when times are already tough enough. It’s about every parent who knows the desperation of trying to cover a child with a chronic illness only to be told “no” again and again and again. It’s about every small business owner forced to choose between insuring employees and staying open for business. They are why we committed ourselves to this cause.

Tonight’s vote is not a victory for any one party — it’s a victory for them. It’s a victory for the American people. And it’s a victory for common sense.

The only victory I see is that maybe, maybe Rush Limbaugh MIGHT leave the country. [And that didn’t happen, dammit.] But has he not said this sort of crap before and stayed? And honestly, even if he did leave, he’d still go on with his show.

There is no victory, Mr. President and members of Congress. This, if anything, is a time to mourn your failures.

Now, it probably goes without saying that tonight’s vote will give rise to a frenzy of instant analysis. There will be tallies of Washington winners and
losers, predictions about what it means for Democrats and Republicans, for my poll numbers, for my administration. But long after the debate fades away and the prognostication fades away and the dust settles, what will remain standing is not the government-run system some feared, or the status quo that serves the interests of the insurance industry, but a health care system that incorporates ideas from both parties — a system that works better for the American people. <

I don’t give a shit about the frenzied analysis. I want change. I want it NOW. I’m sick and tired of living in fear, Mr. President and members of
Congress. What do I fear? I hate that I live in the shadow of a migraine that will inevitably strike me. I hate that I live in fear of falling down the stairs. How could I pay for a broken bone, never mind something more “serious?”

If you have health insurance, this reform just gave you more control by reining in the worst excesses and abuses of the insurance industry with some of the toughest consumer protections this country has ever known — so that you are actually getting what you pay for.

25994_10100187621531793_2478648_tI am so distrustful of the health insurance industry, and I have total faith that they will find a way to continue to make obscene profit off of sickness.

If you don’t have insurance, this reform gives you a chance to be a part of a big purchasing pool that will give you choice and competition and cheaper prices for insurance. And it includes the largest health care tax cut for working families and small businesses in history — so that if you lose your job and you change jobs, start that new business, you’ll finally be able to purchase quality, affordable care and the security and peace of mind that comes with it.

Wow, great. Our country can pay billions of dollars a day to go to other countries to kill other people, but I have to pay for the basic human right to, you know, live?

Thanks.

This reform is the right thing to do for our seniors. It makes Medicare stronger and more solvent, extending its life by almost a decade. And it’s the
right thing to do for our future. It will reduce our deficit by more than $100 billion over the next decade, and more than $1 trillion in the decade after that.

Anyone else alarmed that extending the life of Medicare by a decade is progress? What the f, people?

So this isn’t radical reform. But it is major reform. This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system. But it moves us decisively in the right direction. This is what change looks like.

I cannot argue that this isn’t change. I certainly won’t argue with the first line there, that this isn’t radical reform. It’s not.

Our healthcare situation, as it stands now, is hemorrhaging. And the doctors, the government, have decided a band-aid will do the trick. And I’m not talking decent-sized or even normal band-aids. I’m talking about one of those silly round band-aids that doctors will sometimes put on you after taking blood.

In the end, what this day represents is another stone firmly laid in the foundation of the American Dream. Tonight, we answered the call of history as so many generations of Americans have before us. When faced with crisis, we did not shrink from our challenge — we overcame it. We did not avoid our responsibility — we embraced it. We did not fear our future — we shaped it.

I’ll wait and see what the outcome is, Mr. President. I’ll get back to you in a decade or two.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll have some sort of health insurance then.