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We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

We're Not in Kansas Anymore

One of the iconic lines from The Wizard of Oz occurs when Dorothy first takes a gander at Oz after the twister transports her house into Munchkinland. Holding her dog in her arms, she gasps “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

We use that line ourselves from time to time when we find ourselves in a situation or place that is different, bizarre or unsettling. I think the statement is perfect for the American political landscape (although, from a political standpoint, Kansas isn’t in Kansas anymore but more on that later). Our nation has become politically bipolar, fiercely divided upon party lines and completely paralyzed.

Does anybody besides me get the feeling that it has become more important to be right than to find solutions? Part of the problem is that we’ve stopped listening to each other. We’re so sure that we’re right – our opinions buttressed by media pundits like Bill O’Reilly, Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity – that even entertaining compromise is like becoming a traitor to our cause.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone else is. It’s no secret that my political leanings bend to the left. It is also no secret that I have several friends who feel more comfortable on the conservative side of things. Some of them I am able to have intelligent conversations about our viewpoints with whereas others are basically all caps shouting matches on Facebook whenever one of us posts a political meme on our walls. I think that’s pretty much true for anybody these days. We all seem hell-bent on convincing others to the righteousness of our cause while at the same time being completely intractable for our own. It’s a recipe for disaster.

That disaster has come to pass. We now have a government that is completely dysfunctional. Both sides seem far more willing to score political points than to actually accomplish anything that might help the majority of the citizens who elected those running our government. Bills that benefit the very rich seem to get quickly and quietly passed.

Sure, there are a few politicians out there who I think are worth something – Elizabeth Warren, for one. Chris Christie for another (I’m willing to give props to anyone who will stand up to their own party in order to help citizens in need regardless of what party that is). Most of them however seem far too concerned with their own self-interest to devote any time or attention to the interests of their constituents.

There are times when I think both sides of the political spectrum are tails being wagged by the extremist whacko dogs on both sides of the aisle. While one side screams “Benghazi!” the other one yells “Racism!” We seem to be paying attention more to sound bites than to actual legislation. Whoever shouts the loudest must be right, I guess.

Remember when Kansas used to be sensible Midwesterners who could be counted upon for stability  (although some Missourians would argue that point) and common sense? Now they are rapidly becoming known for being the home of the Westboro Baptist Church as well as the State that essentially outlawed abortion literally citing the Bible as their legal source. Excuse me? I’ll bet these are the same yahoos screaming about Sharia law during the last election.

Back in the day the term “the Silent Majority” was coined to denote the millions of Americans who neither protested the War nor advocated it; they were if anything on the conservative side but mostly, they just wanted to be left alone to live their lives in peace and really didn’t want their sons marching off to some Asian hellhole just so Bell Helicopters could keep their military contract humming.

Today the Silent Majority still exists but they have seen the advent of the Tea Party and the Christian right, both of whom claim to represent them. I’m here to tell you that they do not. Today’s Silent Majority is a bit more liberal than they were 50 years ago; they’re all for gay marriage and stricter background checks on gun sales but in no way shape or form do they want guns banned. They want the deficit reduced and the budget balanced but they don’t want their entitlements (i.e. Medicare and Social Security) touched.

The Silent Majority is what they’ve always been – moderate. Unfortunately, moderate politicians seem to be about as numerous as wheelchair hockey players and with a future as bright as that of the polar bear. We have gotten to a point in our history where in order to get noticed a political candidate must come off as extremist. Once again, it’s the person who shouts the loudest who gets our attention. I often wonder if someone like Dwight Eisenhower could have been elected president in 2012. I doubt he would have gotten past the first round of Republican debates.

We have entered the era of the whacko. Where wild-eyed Michelle Bachmann and wild-mouthed Rick Perry can provide political satirists with plenty of material for their monologues but provide little in the way of legislation that creates desperately needed jobs, repairs a rapidly deteriorating infrastructure or helps improve our education system. The only education legislation that seems to be going through is that which allows banks to charge higher interest rates on student loans but who is going to pay those loans off when there are no jobs to go to after graduation?

This is our fault. We’ve become too lazy to care enough to actually listen. We’d rather have things boiled down into a six or seven word statement we can get behind and go back to surfing the Internet. How many of us have actually looked at a candidate’s platform? How many of us have listened to an entire speech, or read a piece of legislation? The last of these is understandable; most bills are so convoluted and poorly written that even a well-trained lawyer who understands the legal terminology within has a hard time following what’s being said.

I’m not sure what the solution is but this much I think is clear – things are going to be a lot worse if we don’t get our collective heads out of our collective derrieres. We need to stop shouting at each other and start listening to each other. Most importantly, we have to stop electing extremists on both sides and start getting moderates like Christie and Warren into office. We have to pay attention what the scoundrels in Washington and our own state capitals are doing. And we need to stop holding our politicians up as demagogues and understand that not everything promulgated by the right is evil, not everything that the left proposes is perfect and vice versa depending on your point of view. In other words, we need to start working together. To paraphrase one of our founding fathers, we must all work together or fall separately.

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Convergence

We are at a convergence, a place where historic tides have swept us to a place where things can go in either direction. Our vote this November will do one of two things; swing the country into a conservative direction or hopefully, turn the tide back to a liberal path.

I know a lot of conservatives think that President Obama is some sort of anti-Christ who has bankrupted the country with his socialist policies but that simply isn’t so. The facts are there; the economy has improved in his four years – apparently it hasn’t improved enough. It took a hell of a lot longer than four years for us to get into the situation we’re in and it is going to take longer than four years to get us out – then-Senator Obama warned as much during his 2008 campaign which, I imagine most conservatives ignored since it didn’t come from Bill O’Reilly.

We are at a tipping point, not just with our economy but with our environment. The United States remains the lone major global power to have taken no steps to reduce carbon emissions and help combat the climate changes that are now fact, although some conservative pundits continue to deny that it is taking place even as we come off the hottest summer on record, even though the polar ice caps are at 25% of what they were twenty years ago, even though 99% of all scientists who study planetary climate have come to agree that the climate change we are experiencing is largely man-made in nature. Neither candidate seems to be leaning in the direction of joining the world community in trying to preserve our planet for our children and their descendents, which to me is scandalous. It’s outrageous and in fact criminal. I wish there were a gutsy lawyer who would be willing to sue the government for failure to act, naming the United States Congress, the President and maybe a few dozen corporations and PACs who have consistently thwarted pro-environmental legislation. I hear Al Gore used to be a pretty fair lawyer at one time.

Our country needs to get its head out of its ass – not just the politicians but the people. Too many people have no clue what’s going on and get all their information from Fox News, internet blogsites and other spurious sources. As Americans, we have a responsibility to not only vote but vote responsibly. That means taking a few moments out of our busy days posting on Facebook, playing videogames, blogging about nothing and generally wasting time and actually read.

That’s right, read. Use your brain – that big grey thing inside your skull that you don’t like using. There are plenty of places to find information, some of it even broken down into easy-to-understand terms  – sites like moveon.org, facts.org, factcheck.org and whitehouse.gov/omb (the site of the non-partisan Office of Management and Budget which analyses the real fiscal impact of legislation) among others.

But most of us aren’t willing to do that. It takes too much time. It’s inconvenient. I’ve already made my mind up. Yes, all those sixty second sound bites are plenty of information to make up your mind, aren’t they Jethro? But the reality of it is too many people in our country are ignorant. Too many people look down upon education as something to be regarded with suspicions. Too many people think that it’s much easier to be told how to vote rather than to think for themselves. Too many people don’t deserve the liberty and freedom that they have – which is why they are losing it, bit by bit, piece by piece, ay by day.

Well, I deserve mine. I and a lot of people who take the time to figure out who to vote for and not because some talking head on television told us to. I’m not voting for Obama because I’m a Democrat and so is he – I’m not voting for him because Bill Maher said I should either. I’m certainly not voting for him because Fox News thinks I shouldn’t – although that’s tempting.

No, I’m voting for him because I’ve taken the time to look up what he’s accomplished, what he wants to accomplish and what he might have accomplished had not Republicans turned his first term into a filibustering circus, blocking bill after bill, many of which would have created hundreds of thousands of jobs. I’m voting for him because Romney and Ryan’s plans – those of them they’ve chosen to share – are going to be devastating for the middle class and for the environment. The jobs that Romney intends to create will be at the expense of the environment. He intends to do more drilling, particularly in places where drilling is forbidden, for oil. That will create thousands of jobs all right – and wipe out entire national parks. And when that oil runs out? We’ll still be in the energy mess that we’re in now, only worse – we’ll have lost valuable time to develop clean, environmentally friendly renewable sources of energy. Even worse we’ll have gone past the point of no return when it comes to saving our planet from climatic disaster.

We have reached a convergence of points and everything points to election day as a day that will have dramatic ramifications on generations to come. But don’t listen to me – decide for yourself. That means not listening to the other side either – go and search out the facts for yourself. Besides the places I’ve mentioned, there are plenty of non-partisan think tanks that have websites that will give unbiased analysis of the positions of the candidates and what they think the ramifications of those policies will be if enacted. You might open your eyes – and you might just start doing something no government really wants its citizens to do. Think for yourselves, that is.

Cats are Liberals, Dogs are Conservatives

In this season of political posturing and gamesmanship, of mudslinging and misdirecting, it’s hard not to get disillusioned. Romney said this, Obama did that, he’s a liar, he’s a jerk, he eats children, blah blah blah. It’s enough to make you want to change the channel.

It’s gotten so I see politics in everything now. From movies to television shows to reality television, I’m suspicious of hidden political agendas. As in “Survivor” has a conservative Darwinist agenda in which the strong are betrayed by the weak, but the strongest end up winning. As in The Lorax is an ultra-liberal anti-business pro-ecology diatribe aimed at our children.

I see it in our pets too. Dogs are actually conservative in their behavior; cats are liberals. Think about it. Dogs like the status quo. They get upset by change and if you make changes, they’re likely to pee on the carpet. Dogs are possessive. Give them a bone and they’ll go bury it. Give them enough bones and you’ll have a yard full of ’em.

Cats, on the other hand, do their own thing and don’t like to be told what to do. They roll with change; they encourage it. The like keeping you on your toes. Cats do nothing to earn their meals; they just expect someone is going to pay for it, but certainly not them. A cat may occasionally rub against you and purr like they adore you, but it’s an act. They don’t think you’re capable of taking care of them properly so they have to tell you how to do it.

Dogs need to be on a leash to get around. Cats run wherever they bloody well please. Dogs will crap anywhere but where they sleep. Cats need their own special place to crap – paid for at your expense. Dogs are loyal to their masters, even if they abuse them. Cats, well, they’re loyal to whoever feeds them.

Dogs like to earn their keep by watching out for burglars and illegal immigrants, at whom they’ll bark at until they’re hoarse. In fact, dogs are for building an 80 foot high electrified fence around the house with machine guard turrets with armed dogs manning them. Cats prefer a pampered existence in which nothing is required of them and they can get on the computer and watch videos of other cats, and occasionally play video slots.

Dogs believe in the sanctity of family and are welcoming to all guests; by way of welcoming you they’ll hump your leg. Cats are barely aware that you’ve taken a month’s vacation; as long as the water bowl was full and the food kept on coming they don’t care whether you come or go. Dogs believe in worship – after all, dog is god spelled backwards. Cats don’t believe in anything. Cat spelled backwards is tac and they think they got a raw deal because of it.

Dogs will eat anything, the worse for them it is the better. As a matter of fact, they prefer their chow to be manufactured in a third world country – it’s less expensive and tastier that way. Cats only eat homegrown organic cat food that has been prepared by migrant workers who are paid at a reasonable rate. Why shouldn’t they? You’re the one paying for it mister.

Dogs will yap all day and say absolutely nothing, kind of like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. Cats will say nothing all day and leave you wondering if they’re as wise as they make themselves out to be, like Barack Obama.

Dogs like sex but only for procreation. Cats watch kitty porn on the Internet and masturbate while you’re not looking. Dogs prefer order and structure but little interference from the powers-that-be. Cats want the powers-that-be to provide them with an expensive kitty playground that they’ll sleep on once and never use again.

Dogs will lick your face with the same mouth they just ate their own poop with. You’ll have to chase down your cat and tackle it in order to get any sort of affection. A dog believes in traditional values. Cats think we should think for ourselves and develop our own values.

Dogs are territorial and will attack anyone who violates their borders. Cats are neutral and will glare at anyone who comes to rob the house but will do nothing about it. Dogs are like elderly people who make up so much of the conservative electorate; they sleep all the freaking time. Cats are like young people who make up so much of the liberal electorate; they go out until the wee hours of the morning and then they won’t tell you where they’ve been.

Dogs are into security; cats are into freedom. Dogs believe in fair trade (“go in the kennel for a Milk Bone? Sounds fair to me…”) while cats believe in shared wealth – as long as all the wealth belongs to them. Dogs like looking out at the world – from the safety of their living room. Cats prefer to go out and explore themselves, and might just defect to that excellent Brownstone on Elm Street if they feed him better.

Dogs believe in the American dream; cats are atheists. Sarah Palin is a dog – well, she’s a bitch. Bill Maher is a cat; doesn’t his hair look like someone licked it into place? A dog will walk into the room, yawn, stretch and then forget why he went in there in the first place. A cat will kill Osama bin Laden and then drag his carcass to the glass door in the back of the house so you can see his handiwork. Dogs are pro-business; cats are pro-regulation. Dogs do their duty; cats want to form a committee to discuss the nature of what their duty is before they’ll consider it.

So forget your elephants and donkeys; those are outdated symbols anyway. Cats and dogs are much more relatable to the general public anyway. I don’t know what it says about me that I’m a liberal who loves dogs but I suppose that means I can see the conservative point of view. Some of these examples might stretch credibility just a bit but one thing is certain; cats and dogs are more likely to work together to make things better for those around them than conservatives and liberals are these days.

Bully Market

 

First of all, let’s get one thing straight; bullying is the route of cowards. It is a function of ignorance and fright, the refuge of those who, deep down, are terrified that they don’t measure up, or that they are what they fear most. There is nothing good or positive about bullying and I fully support any reasonable effort to eradicate it.

 That said, I have to respectfully but emphatically disagree with Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper in how they’re going about it. For those who are unaware, they expressed their displeasure with the trailer (preview) for the movie The Dilemma. During the course of it, Vince Vaughn, one of the movie’s stars, is giving a business presentation of some sort during which he says “Electric cars are gay. Not homosexual gay, my parents chaperoning the dance gay.”

 Now, I’ve always been bothered by (mostly young males) referring to things as “gay” in a derogatory manner. I’ve always thought it ignorant, juvenile and insensitive in the same way that generally the same people refer to things as “retarded.” However, it is a free country that gives people the right to express themselves any way they wish to, and I took some comfort that the people who used such terms were, for the most part, idiots.

 However, on Ellen’s talk show, she and journalist Anderson Cooper, who are incidentally two people I respect very much, took the filmmakers and the studio to task for allowing that joke to appear in the trailer, particularly in light of recent events where several incidents of bullying of gays has led to tragedy. They both urged the studio to remove the joke from the trailer and expressed their displeasure. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) have also urged the studio to remove the reference completely from the film.

 First of all, as anyone will tell you, I disagree strongly with “political correctness” in terms of limiting speech. I don’t believe anyone has the right to tell you what you can and cannot say. The only limits should be situations where people can be hurt (such as yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater) or intentionally using falsehoods to ruin the reputation of another (as in defamation of character or libel). The constitution allows us to express ourselves freely; it does not protect us from being offended. Frankly I think that being offended from time to time is a good thing; it gives us pause (or at least it does me) to examine why we are feeling offended and gives us license to examine our beliefs and, occasionally, making some changes.

 Now, I’m not advocating that one should start making derogatory remarks about others just to offend them; there is such a thing as courtesy and it should be used properly. However, I have to wonder that in the case of the trailer for The Dilemma that perhaps some well-meaning people are sending the wrong message.

 I don’t believe for a moment that excising the offending dialogue is going to give a single person who regularly uses gay as a pejorative any motivation to discontinue that behavior. What I do believe is that Cooper, DeGeneres and GLAAD are sending a message that the filmmakers can’t use the reference, even though they are seeing the dialogue out of context; even if the Vince Vaughn character may be the sort that regularly refers to things as gay (as many people do). It is a way of scolding the individual without dealing with the underlying behavior. Maybe the character will have reason to regret his use of the word “gay” later on in the film – personally I hope so but even if he doesn’t, even though he’s merely a character in a film he should still have the right to express himself inappropriately. I often see women referred to as “bitches” in movies and that’s just as inappropriate but just because it’s an unpleasant way of referring to women doesn’t mean that it should be barred from all film dialogue, any more than the word “gay” should be.

 After all, let’s face it; it’s a bit ironic for the homosexual community to be complaining about the use of a word which they essentially usurped. We all know that “gay” meant something completely different forty or fifty years ago than it does now. These days, we all snigger when the Flintstone theme song is played and the chorus sings “We’ll have a gay old time!” Words sometimes evolve over time; who knows, fifty years from now the word may end up being a deadly insult and gay men may commonly refer to themselves as “stylish” instead.

 Maybe the proper way to deal with the kind of negative reference is instead of dealing with it in a negative way (i.e. deleting it from movie dialogue) is to deal with it in a positive manner instead. If someone tells me that electric cars are gay, I respond “If by gay you mean stylish, economical, environmentally friendly and in general a better choice than what came before it, then it’s RuPaul on wheels. It’s an episode of Project: Runway in a steel chassis. Color me Jeff Gordon in a Prius.” What I’m trying to say is that words only have the power you allow them to have.

 However, it would be downright foolish of me not to acknowledge that words can sometimes contribute to an atmosphere of intolerance that can lead to bullying. I’m thinking that the battlefield for that is in the hearts and minds of potential bullies, not in the latest Vince Vaughn comedy. As far as putting an end to bullying – not only of gay people but of all people – I am proud to march alongside Ellen, Anderson, GLAAD and any others who feel the same way.

 The function of comics is to say things that can be outrageous and insensitive. Sometimes, it makes a point about societal behavior and sometimes it points out things in ourselves that are ugly. I don’t believe in limiting how comics express themselves because that is a slippery slope. I don’t necessarily agree with everything Lisa Lampanelli, Bill Maher, Will Durst or even commentators like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly say and there are times they say things that may be hurtful to some, but that is part of how the world works. I would never EVER presume to abridge anyone’s right to say something wrong, even if it is hateful, obscene or inflammatory. That’s against everything I believe in. So, yes, sometimes people will say things that I disagree with. Sometimes people will make jokes about overweight people that I find offensive or even hurtful. That’s all right.

 You don’t beat bullies by becoming one, and by saying “You will express yourself the way that I think you should express yourself, now remove that offensive line of dialogue because you are NOT ALLOWED to say it” is in fact being a bully, even though the cause be just. Saying something is gay demeans the one who says it more than the thing they’re referring to; by reacting to it the way that it has been reacted to ascribes further power to those who use the word that way and will only create a more difficult pathway in changing the behavior in the long run.

 That’s the goal, I think; to change the behavior of those who create an environment of bullying. You don’t change an environment by dictating terms; you change it with dialogue. You change it with love. You change it with humor. You change it by demonstrating how alike we are, not by reinforcing that we are unalike. You can stop bullying by showing bullies that while it is easy to tear down, it is far more rewarding to build up. It’s a far more positive means of dealing with the situation than by being negative – by telling people what they can’t do.

 Bullying has existed for a very long time in human history and, I suspect, is going to exist for a long time to come. I don’t know that we can ever truly eradicate it but I wouldn’t mind it if we did. I know bullying first hand, having been bullied for my ethnicity from elementary school through high school. I know how badly it made me feel, how much pain that was inflicted and how frustrated I felt. I can empathize with those who are in similar situations, whether it be for their own ethnic background, their sexual orientation, their religious beliefs or simply the way they dress. Society, particularly among young people, wants us to fit in and those who don’t often pay the price. That’s something that should be addressed, but not by lashing out at a movie. There are far more effective ways to deal with it, and I hope that in the days and months to come, we will all stand up with the bullied and show compassion for the bullies (who are often victims of abuse and bullying themselves). In the end, that is how we show the best part of ourselves, and that’s something we can all agree on – and strive for.