Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Looking Forward To Torture

When President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for "all offenses against the United States," he stated that it was out of concern for the "immediate future of this great country."  He should have considered the longer term.

Inevitably, next came Iran-Contra. While the Republicans stacked the joint legislative committee undertaking the investigation with the conservative wing of their party (e.g., then-Representative Cheney), the Democrats relied mostly on moderates, and thus the committee members were skewed toward those who were disinclined to probe vigorously.  By rashly granting immunity to key witnesses such as Ollie North, the committee undermined prosecutions by an independent counsel.  The Iran-Contra Affair culminated in the pardon by first President Bush of several participants who had been implicated.  The lesson was that the president and his circle had nothing to fear from abuse of power. 

With the next Bush came more abuses, including the use of torture (and, by the way, illegal wiretapping).  But President Obama refused to seek any meaningful investigation, much less prosecution, of those who authorized or committed torture.   Much like President Ford, Obama claimed that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”  And more recently, he appeared to rationalize away the use of torture against "some folks" given the stress our "folks" were under in the wake of 9/11. 

The Senate Intelligence Committee's report, which has just laid out in gory detail the CIA's many shades of torture as well as making the case that these techniques were ineffective and counterproductive in obtaining useful intelligence, is perceived as a partisan attack on patriotic Americans who were trying to keep us safe.

In response, former Vice President Dick Cheney and his co-conspirators in the Bush Administration were permitted to flood the airwaves, where they were able to lie, literally with impunity.  They applauded torture's efficacy and provide the most offensive and amoral justifications for it without the kind of meaningful rebuttal that is anathema to network television.  Cheney was not merely unrepentant; he was positively boastful, gleefully acknowledging that despite 1/4 of tortured detainees being innocent of wrongdoing, no "seed of doubt" was planted in his soulless mind.  Indeed, he said, “I’d do it again in a minute.”

And as vile and odious as Cheney is, the Republican leadership (John McCain being the notable exception that proves the rule) has essentially endorsed his repugnant world view -- that anything to keep Americans out of danger as long as it isn't worse than what the terrorists did to us on 9/11 is morally acceptable, and that despite all evidence to the contrary, torture worked.  In essence, they would all "do it again in a minute."  (Significantly, Obama's CIA Director, John Brennan, isn't far from this position.  While he acknowledged the "shortcomings" of the torture program, he insisted that it resulted in obtaining intelligence that "saved lives.")

Thanks to the torture-enablers media blitz and Obama's acquiescence, a recent Washington Post poll showed that "by a margin of almost 2 to 1 . . . those interviewed said that they support the CIA’s brutal methods, with the vast majority of supporters saying that they produced valuable intelligence." 

President Obama came into office and, giving in to his bipartisan fetish, insisted on looking forward, not backward.  But, of course, we are not moving forward.  Without a true reckoning that confirms once and for all the immorality and illegality of torture, a reckoning that holds those responsible accountable, we remain stuck in a debate framed by self-serving Bush officials and their fellow travelers in the Republican Party about its efficacy.  And the winners of the debate will be whoever happens to inhabit the White House next.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

It Is A Privilege To Ignore The Race Thing; A Duty To Engage With It

There is a brilliant scene towards the end of an old Curb Your Enthusiasm episode where Larry David (having earlier in the show mistaken a well-dressed black man for a valet) parks his car, walks away and after a black man happens to pass him, turns back towards his car and clicks on his car alarm, causing a beep.  The black man turns around and asks, "think I'm gonna steal your car?"  Larry protests:  "No, no, I just forgot to, to put the alarm on. It's not you.  It's no race thing! No, no race thing."

Of course, the bit would have made no sense if it had been a white man passing by.  A white man would be unlikely to even notice the alarm going on and even if he did, would never assume that the actions of locking a car could be a knee-jerk response to seeing him. 

And there's your white privilege.

As Sally Kohn wrote in a piece for the Washington Post:
Privilege is like oxygen: You don’t realize it’s there until it’s gone. As white folks, we can’t know what it’s like to go through life without racial privilege because we literally haven’t. You may have heard stories about black friends being monitored in department stores or seen the research that black names on resumes get half as many job interviews as white names on the same resumes. Maybe you know that a black man or boy is killed every 28 hours in America by police or vigilantes. Maybe you’ve read the studies on implicit “shooter bias” — how we’re all more likely to pull a simulated trigger on unarmed black men than unarmed white men — and maybe you know that even the most egalitarian Americans harbor unconscious negative attitudes about black people. The studies and the stories are overwhelming. Just this week, police shot and killed a black 12-year-old for holding a BB gun.
To believe that this country has moved beyond race is to be wedded to denial and a romanticized view of America that never existed -- that while we might have sanctioned slavery long ago, it had little to do with our growing power and economic wealth; that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and thereby removed our Nation's moral taint; that any residual racism was quashed during the Civil Rights Era; and that the election of Barack Obama provided the ultimate proof that we are a post-racial society.

To find resonance in the views of a vicious hack like Rudy Giuliani, who responded to the outrage over police killings of unarmed black men by decrying the lack of an equivalent reaction to black-on-black violence, is, as Jamelle Bouie wrote, a failure to see this "an attempt to avoid the fundamental difference between being killed by a citizen and being killed by an agent of law."  Of course, as Michael Eric Dyson put it, "black people are[] weary of death ravaging [their] communities." The difference is that black murderers "often go to jail, unlike the white cops who kill blacks with the backing of the government."

To discount the thousands of nonviolent protesters while focusing on the small minority of more destructive ones that get all the media attention is to ignore the justifiable anger and despair engendered by putting hope, energy and time into government institutions ostensibly established to ensure justice for all that invariably prove to be arbitrary, biased and unfair.  As Michelle Alexander wrote, explaining the "pain, sadness and rage" underlying the setting of fires and breaking of windows is not condoning it.  At the same time, it is important to understand that "when people have been hurt over and over, and rather than compassion or understanding you’re given lectures about how it’s really all your fault, and that no one needs to make amends, you can lose your mind." 

An unassailable rebuttal that we are now a colorblind society comes from Ta-Nehisi Coates, who detailed in The Atlantic Magazine the relentlessly destructive impact of institutional racism that persists to this day:  "Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole."  As Coates summarized in an interview with NPR, "the legacy of slavery extends in the policy of the American government, in the policy of the states in the deep South, in the policies even of cities and states in the north long past slavery, for 100 years after. And the effects are there. And the people who suffered those effects are the people who were redlined, the people who suffered job discrimination, the people who suffered from educational discrimination are very much alive and still with us."

Another one comes from Michelle Alexander, who wrote so powerfully in The New Jim Crow about the mass incarceration of black men in the so-called war on drugs:  "Today there are more African-Americans under correctional control — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. There are millions of African-Americans now cycling in and out of prisons and jails or under correctional control. In major American cities today, more than half of working-age African-American men are either under correctional control or branded felons and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives."

We don't need to feel guilty for being white or from benefitting from a culture that makes it a whole lot easier to be safe and successful if you're white.  But, as Sally Kohn pointed out, "responsibility isn’t the same as culpability." 
Being a constructive part of America’s necessary discussion on race and racial bias means acknowledging how bias and privilege may shape your own life even if you don’t want it to. It is not your personal fault that Michael Brown was shot and killed or that we have deep and structural racial bias in America. But that bias is nonetheless a reality, and so you do have a responsibility as to whether you are part of the problem or part of the solution. Just like you’re mistaken if you don’t think white is a race, you’re mistaken if you think you can remain neutral.
Thus, we ignore race at our own peril.  Michael Eric Dyson is absolutely right:
More than 45 years ago, the Kerner Commission concluded that we still lived in two societies, one white, one black, separate and still unequal. President Lyndon B. Johnson convened that commission while the flames that engulfed my native Detroit in the riot of 1967 still burned. If our president and our nation now don’t show the will and courage to speak the truth and remake the destinies of millions of beleaguered citizens, then we are doomed to watch the same sparks reignite, whenever and wherever injustice meets desperation. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Little Audacity Goes A Long Way: Immigration Reform and the Folly of Bipartisanship

David Brooks and other delusional stalwarts of the pundit class continue to believe that the Republican Party cares about governing and is capable of compromise.  Ignoring GOP efforts since the dawn of the Obama Administration to thwart every moderate proposal supported by the White House, they are excoriating the President for finally eschewing attempts at illusory bipartisanship for the sake of having a direct, positive impact on millions of people.

President Obama's executive order will allow "four million undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years to apply for a program that protects them from deportation and allows those with no criminal record to work legally in the country."  Another "one million people will get protection from deportation through other parts of the president’s plan to overhaul the nation’s immigration enforcement system, including the expansion of an existing program for “Dreamers,” young immigrants who came to the United States as children."  (Of course, it wouldn't be an Obama plan without some compromise -- so, farm workers won't receive special protection and there will be no federal subsidies for health care.)

The predictable response, not just from the rabid right, but from the pointless middle, is outrage and disappointment that Obama won't give Republicans a chance to act decently.  According to Brooks, "White House officials are often misinformed on what Republicans are privately discussing, so they don’t understand that many in the Republican Party are trying to find a way to get immigration reform out of the way."  Sure.

Remarkably, neither he nor anyone else seems to recall that a bipartisan immigration bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate in the summer of 2013.  It was scuttled in the House, where the Speaker refused to bring it up for a vote, knowing that the nativists in his Party would reject it because of its provision of a path to citizenship.  Although, according to David Brooks, this was really because they were working on their own secret plan. 

Notwithstanding that prior presidents acted unilaterally on immigration (including Reagan and both Bushes), and that Obama's executive order has been sanctioned by conservative legal scholars, Republicans are now threatening to either shut down the government or initiate impeachment proceedings over Obama's move. At minimum, according to Brooks, "Republicans would rightly take it as a calculated insult and yet more political ineptitude. Everybody would go into warfare mode. We’ll get two more years of dysfunction that will further arouse public disgust and antigovernment fervor." 

Thus, the groundwork has been laid to further blame Obama and the Democrats for gridlock despite the unprecedented recalcitrance of the Republicans who -- according to Brooks and others -- are ready to make nice, roll up their sleeves and govern responsibly if only Obama would meet them half way.  So, in addition to that secret immigration plan that Republicans have been working on that surely would have helped millions of immigrants remain in this country, they are also working on a secret health care plan that could replace Obamacare after they repeal it and provide tens of millions with health care as Obamacare has done.  And, they must also have a secret plan to combat climate change all teed up, as soon as they approve the Keystone XL pipeline and thwart the historic pact over carbon emissions that Obama made with China.

President Obama is going to have to tamp down his instincts towards compromise and moderation these next two years while Republicans block judicial and administrative nominations, attempt to deregulate Wall Street and the EPA, and pass unconscionable bills aimed at gutting the safety net and getting the government out of the way of Big Business.  This will be increasingly difficult in the face of cries from the mainstream media (and moderate Democrats) who believe that bipartisanship is a worthy end in itself.  But what is worthy is ensuring that 5 million immigrants will not be deported and separated from their families and their homes; that at least 10 million people have health insurance that they did not have before; that carbon emissions are reduced.  Given the extremist state of the Republican Party none of this could happen by compromise -- it could only happen by exercising a little audacity.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tom Seaver aka "The Franchise" Is 70 Years Old


"There is actually a good argument that Tom Seaver should be regarded as the greatest pitcher of all time ... Seaver pitched for eight losing teams, several of them really terrible, and four other teams which had losing records except when Seaver was on the mound."  —Bill James, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, 2001
Tom Seaver turns 70 years old today.  I'm not sure if that makes him feel old, but it certainly makes me feel old.  He was my favorite player when I was growing up and I treasured pretty much every start, diligently recalculating his E.R.A. after each one.  My favorite memory is being at Shea Stadium on April 22, 1970, when he tied what was then a record of 19 strikeouts in a game and set a record for striking out the last 10 in a row.

Seaver was the greatest Met player of all time and one of the greatest pitchers in Major League history.  His pitching form was a thing of beauty -- both powerful and graceful.  He was called "The Franchise" because of how central he was to the Mets' identity, leading them from a laughingstock to a world championship in 1969.

Even with the miraculous World Series win in 1969, the Mets continued to be a feeble-hitting team (some things never change), and Seaver had to consistently pitch flawlessly to keep his team in games, often losing heartbreakers 2-1 or 1-0.  Typical was 1971, when he led the league in ERA (1.76) and strikeouts (289 in 286 innings), pitched 21 complete games and still lost 10 games, going 20-10. Overall, Seaver made 108 starts for the Mets in which he pitched 9 or more innings and allowed 1 run or less -- he lost 3 of those games and had 12 no decisions.  Had Seaver played with a decent team for the bulk of his career, his remarkable numbers would be off the charts.

Seaver continued to pitch brilliantly for a mostly awful team, and then, on June 15, 1977, came the "Midnight Massacre" -- the worst in a very long list of dismal management decisions.  The penurious Mets refused to renegotiate Seaver's contract and shipped him off to the Cincinnati Reds for a collection of mediocre players -- Pat Zachry, Steve Henderson, Doug Flynn and Dan Norman.  I attended his return to NY as a Red, when he faced another of my favorite pitchers, Jerry Koosman.  Along with the rest of the crowd, I was cheering for Seaver, who beat the Mets that day.   

Seaver continued his great career (looking quite strange in a Reds uniform).  And then came some measure of redemption.  Seaver was traded back to the Mets for the 1983 season.  It was indescribable to see him pitch a shutout on Opening Day.  After that he didn't have a great year -- and neither did the Mets -- but with Seaver wearing his familiar number 41, the Mets seemed like a team on the rise, with promising young pitchers, a Rookie of the Year in Darryl Strawberry, and the acquisition of Keith Hernandez.

But it was not to be. The Mets would have to rise without Seaver.  Incredibly, before the 1984 season began, the Mets left the 40-year old Seaver off the protected list, assuming no other team would want him.  The White Sox quickly scooped him up, leaving Met fans distraught once again.  Seaver won 15 games for the White Sox in 1984 and 16 in 1985, including his 300th.  In 1986, he finished an injury-plagued season with the Red Sox.  (A bad knee prevented him from playing against the Mets in the World Series.)

The Mets tried to atone once more, hoping to bring Seaver back to the Big Apple to finish his storied career where it began.  But after pitching a few exhibition games in June 1987, Seaver realized he had nothing left and announced his retirement. 

3 Cy Young Awards, 311 wins, 61 shutouts, 3,640 strikeouts and a 2.86 E.R.A.  In 1992, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and has the only plaque with a New York Mets cap.  A career of remarkable moments and incredible milestones marred only by stupid, short-sighted management decisions.  That's your Franchise.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Democrats Can Run But They Can't Hide: Lessons From Another Brutal Election


Senator-Elect and Wingnut Joni Ernst:  "We are headed to Washington and we are going to make them squeal.”

I believe it was  Adlai Stevenson who said, "in a Democracy you get the government you deserve."  But do we really deserve the latest batch of truly loathsome extremists, misogynists, climate-change deniers and out-and-out lunatics who will more fully populate the Senate and House?  A more fundamental question:  after Citizens United, do we really have a Democracy?

Voters succumbed to mind-numbing campaigns from GOP candidates who disingenuously downplayed their support for personhood for fetuses as well as corporations while stoking fear of terrorists, Ebola, and  immigrants who might be terrorists carrying Ebola.  They engendered overwrought anger by distorting the President's actions and inaction.  (From the remarkably ineloquent Joni Ernst, for example:  Obama "is just standing back and letting things happen, he is reactive rather than proactive.  With Ebola, he’s been very hands off . . .  [but] so many of the actions that he proposes taking are actions that should be done by Congress. Not by the president. He is our executive. He is our leader. He is our president. Congress should be making the legislative actions.") 

These efforts were critically abetted by unending pools of dark money courtesy of the Koch Brothers and their right wing cohorts, while hapless Democrats provided little in the way of rebuttal.

It is admittedly a little early for a post-mortem, but here a few things we already can know with confidence:

1.  Democrats can run, but they can't hide from the fact that they are Democrats and that their leader is the President of the United States. They come off as weak and unprincipled by trying to distance themselves from Obama -- and they are going to be tied to him anyway -- so they might as well embrace him and the positive aspects of his presidency, like an improving economy and the unprecedented expansion of health care coverage.

2.  The Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United has proven incredibly destructive to democratic principles.  As Senator Bernie Sanders says: "Money unleashed by Citizens United . . . and other court decisions have turned voting into what feels more like an auction than ‘one person, one vote.’ Because the Supreme Court says money is speech and big business can buy all it wants, corporations are trying to drown out the voice of anyone trying to speak out against them, whether in Congress or a state legislature, on a judge’s bench or in city hall."

3.  The corporate media failed to provide anything close to a countervailing balance to grossly misleading campaign ads fueled by corporate spending.  Its superficial coverage on or complete avoidance of issues left the populace remarkably uninformed.  We got sensationalist fear-mongering about Ebola and Isis while income inequality, climate change, women's right to privacy, voter suppression efforts and the influence of dark money in elections went undiscussed. 

4.  Meanwhile, Democratic candidates played their usual tepid defense, shying away from these and other populist themes and progressive proposals that should have been at the forefront of their campaigns.  While there was isolated support for important issues such as minimum wage increases and equal pay, what was sadly lacking, as pollster Celina Lake explains, was a comprehensive economic message:  “Our number one imperative for 2016 is to articulate a clear economic vision to get this country going again.”

5.  It is going to be a long two years in Washington. It is hard to imagine any judicial or executive branch nominations will get through the Senate unless Obama makes an unpalatable Faustian bargain. Keystone XL pipeline will likely finally get Congressional approval, and, as Peter Dreier points out, "Republicans will certainly seek to weaken environmental laws and to remove the EPA’s ability to regulate the coal industry."  They will also try to water down Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, oppose efforts to raise the federal minimum wage and pass an immigration bill strong on border security but without a path to citizenship. The President luckily has veto power, which he will have to use to thwart these and other egregious bills.  An important question is whether Obama will hold fast or cave for the sake of bipartisan "compromise."  There will be more pointless efforts to repeal Obamacare, plenty of saber-rattling with calls for more military action, and more investigations at taxpayer expense of faux scandals. Meanwhile desperately urgent issues from climate change to real immigration reform will go unheeded.

6.  I am very thankful that I live in Berkeley.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I Stand Against The Death Penalty Because ...

it dehumanizes the condemned and condemners, fosters rather than abates violence, and is inherently arbitrary, discriminatory and unreliable.

As described in the New York Times, photographer Marc Asnin asked his fellow photographers to upload self-portraits with a caption of 140 characters or fewer describing why they oppose capital punishment.  The result is a powerful combination of pictures and words that convey the myriad reasons the death penalty is so abhorrent. 

With this inspiration, I decided to join the effort.  Here's the link to add your own selfie against the death penalty and to support this project.

Friday, October 10, 2014

America's Soundtrack of Hysteria

Guest Post by Tom Engelhardt

It happened so fast that, at first, I didn’t even take it in.
Two Saturdays ago, a friend and I were heading into the Phillips Museum in Washington, D.C., to catch a show of neo-Impressionist art when we ran into someone he knew, heading out.  I was introduced and the usual chitchat ensued.  At some point, she asked me, “Do you live here?”
“No,” I replied, “I’m from New York.”

She smiled, responded that it, too, was a fine place to live, then hesitated just a beat before adding in a quiet, friendly voice: “Given ISIS, maybe neither city is such a great place to be right now.”  Goodbyes were promptly said and we entered the museum.
All of this passed so quickly that I didn’t begin rolling her comment around in my head until we were looking at the sublime pointillist paintings of Georges Seurat and his associates. Only then did I think: ISIS, a danger in New York?  ISIS, a danger in Washington?  And I had the urge to bolt down the stairs, catch up to her, and say: whatever you do, don’t step off the curb.  That’s where danger lies in American life.  ISIS, not so much.
 
The Terrorists Have Our Number

I have no idea what provoked her comment. Maybe she was thinking about a story that had broken just two days earlier, topping the primetime TV news and hitting the front pages of newspapers.  On a visit to the Big Apple, the new Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, claimed that his intelligence services had uncovered a plot by militants of the Islamic State (IS, aka ISIS or ISIL), the extremists of the new caliphate that had gobbled up part of his country, against the subway systems of Paris, New York, and possibly other U.S. cities.

I had watched Brian Williams report that story on NBC in the usual breathless fashion, along with denials from American intelligence that there was any evidence of such a plot.  I had noted as well that police patrols on my hometown’s subways were nonetheless quickly reinforced, with extra contingents of bomb-sniffing dogs and surveillance teams.  Within a day, the leading officials of my state, Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, were denying that they had any information on such a plot, but also taking very public rides on the city’s subways to “reassure” us all.  The threat didn’t exist, but was also well in hand!  I have to admit that, to me, it all seemed almost comic.

In the meantime, the background noise of the last 13 years played on.  Inside the American Terrordome, the chorus of hysteria-purveyors, Republican and Democrat alike, nattered on, as had been true for weeks, about the "direct," not to say apocalyptic, threat the Islamic State and its caliph posed to the American way of life.  These included Senator Lindsey Graham (“This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed here at home"); Majority Leader John Boehner, who insisted that we should consider putting American boots on Iraqi and perhaps even Syrian ground soon, since “they intend to kill us”; Senator Dianne Feinstein, who swore that “the threat ISIS poses cannot be overstated”; Senator Bill Nelson, who commented that “it ought to be pretty clear when they... say they’re going to fly the black flag of ISIS over the White House that ISIS is a clear and present danger.” And a chorus of officials, named and anonymous, warning that the terror danger to the country was “imminent,” while the usual set of pundits chirped away about the potential destruction of our way of life.

The media, of course, continued to report it all with a kind of eyeball-gluing glee.  The result by the time I met that woman: 71% of Americans believed ISIS had nothing short of sleeper cells in the U.S. (shades of “Homeland”!) and at least the same percentage, if not more (depending on which poll you read), were ready to back a full-scale bombing campaign, promptly launched by the Obama administration, against the group.

If, however, you took a step out of the overwrought American universe of terror threats for 30 seconds, it couldn’t have been clearer that everyone in the grim netherworld of the Middle East now seemed to have our number.  The beheading videos of the Islamic State had clearly been meant to cause hysteria on the cheap in this country -- and they worked.  Those first two videos somehow committed us to a war now predicted to last for years, and a never-ending bombing campaign that we know perfectly well will establish the global credentials of the Islamic State and its mad caliph in jihadist circles.  (In fact, the evidence is already in.  From North Africa to Afghanistan to Pakistan, the group is suddenly a brand name, its black flag something to hoist, and its style of beheading something to be imitated.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Do Not Vote Republican

It is not true that all politics is local.  Voting for a Republican congressperson or senator means you are aiding and abetting a national party that is little more than a collection of far right wing lunatics who don't believe in man-made climate change (much less in mitigating it), the minimum wage (much less in increasing it), recklessness of Wall Street (much less in regulating it), immigration by people of color (much less in reforming it), gun control (much less in legislating it), or a woman's right to her own choice (not only to terminate a pregnancy but to use birth control).

The first one -- disbelief or even being agnostic on climate change -- should be enough to disqualify anyone from office.  It is the single most critical issue of our time and you can't find one Republican candidate who is willing to admit the problem even exists much less willing to proffer a solution.  A recent study found that 3% of current Republican members of  Congress accept that climate change is real and caused by human beings.  Think about that. Virtually every Republican in Congress and Republican hopeful refuse to accept the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community on climate change, often with the ridiculous refrain that they are not scientists themselves so how could they know.  It really shouldn't be controversial to insist that our leaders rely on expertise in determining government policy.  But I would venture that far more Republican members of Congress believe in the Biblical prophesy of End Times than they do in man-made climate change, and that's a big problem.

So what do they believe in?  They believe the unemployed are lazy. They believe that terrorists are around every corner.  They believe in deregulating Wall Street, and that all regulation is an anathema except when it comes to women's health.  They believe that corporations are people too.  They believe that advancing LGBT rights poses a threat to their way of life.

A sampling from a New York Times article on the rightward shift of GOP candidates is telling:
One nominee proposed reclassifying single parenthood as child abuse. Another suggested that four “blood moons” would herald “world-changing, shaking-type events” and said Islam was not a religion but a “complete geopolitical structure” unworthy of tax exemption. Still another labeled Hillary Rodham Clinton “the Antichrist.”
Worried yet?  Given demographics and gerrymandering, the House is sure to remain in Republican control for the foreseeable future.  And without a late get-out-the-vote surge, it looks like the Senate may be in Republican hands for at least the next two years.

What would a Republican majority actually mean?  Certainly we would have more gridlock, which if Republicans are passing bills would not be a bad thing.  Whatever disastrous legislation reached the President's desk would thankfully get vetoed.  On the other hand, Republicans would likely attach unacceptable riders to critical spending bills, creating even more chaos.  Ezra Klein speculates that one thing that might pass is the Keystone XL pipeline, given its support among some Democrats.  Not a problem, I suppose, if you don't believe in climate change.

With nothing better to do, we are sure to see more symbolic efforts to repeal Obamacare and, of course, the inevitable hearings on faux scandals.  Can you say "Benghazi"?

An area in which a Republican Senate would make a significant difference is with Presidential nominations.  While Obama in the past year has been successful in pushing through judicial nominations to fill vacancies and redress the imbalance in the judiciary caused by years of Republican intransigence, that would abruptly end.  Most importantly, if a Supreme Court vacancy opens, Republicans would have the power to block any nominee who didn't meet their litmus test, which would be anyone to the left of Antonin Scalia.

So, even if you are a registered Republican, don't do it.  Even if you aren't fond of your Democratic candidate, don't do it.  Even if you believe in limited government, don't do it.  Even if you oppose much of Obama's vision, don't do it.  Voting Republican means voting for a dystopian world of ever-worsening environmental degradation, widening inequality with no safety net, more scandalous behavior from Wall Street and the prioritizing of fundamentalist Christian values for everyone.  Don't do it.

What you must do, however is vote, and regardless of what the pundits say, this is a critical election.   David Dayen has much more on why.  And as he concludes:
The biggest stakes in this election concern what lessons will be drawn from it. It’s actually easy to call this a Seinfeldian election about nothing, because Democratic candidates have been so reluctant to stand for anything. They have offered little hope to a public made insecure by stagnant wages, soaring inequality and an economy insufficient to their needs. Implicit in this insecurity is the helplessness so many Americans feel about a political system that doesn’t seem within their grasp to affect, unless they have a spare billion dollars lying around.

When government fails for whatever reason, the perceived defenders of government suffer. And if those perceived defenders react by running away from any effort to use government levers to improve people’s lives, we will descend further into a Reagan-era miasma of market fundamentalism and corporate power.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Barbara Lee Continues To Speak For Me

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons -- Authorization for the Use of Military Force ("AUMF")
After the attacks of 9/11, Congress gave President Bush carte blanche to use military force.  Only one member of Congress -- one -- had the integrity, the courage and the wisdom to just say "no."  Congresswoman Barbara Lee -- my Congressperson I'm proud to say --warned her colleagues to be "careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target" and explained that the AUMF "was a blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the September 11 events—anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation's long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit."

Congresswoman Lee, as we now know, was prescient.  Neither President Bush nor his successor, I'm afraid, could be trusted with such authorization, which has been used to justify warrantless wiretapping, indefinite detention at  Guantanamo, various and sundry military actions, armed drones and, most recently, airstrikes against our newest terrorist enemy.

Congresswoman Lee has issued a statement expressing grave concern "about the expansion of U.S. airstrikes into Syria and continuation of airstrikes in Iraq." 
It is clear we are rapidly becoming more involved in another war in the Middle East.

President Obama has put together a strong international and regional coalition to address the ISIS threat. We must now leverage this regional coalition to achieve the political solution that will end this crisis. Only a political solution that respects the rights of all Iraqis and Syrians will ultimately dismantle ISIS

I have called and will continue to call for a full congressional debate and vote on any military action, as required by the Constitution. The American people deserve a public debate on all the options to dismantle ISIS, including their costs and consequences to our national security and domestic priorities.

he rapid escalation of another war in the Middle East underscores the danger of the blank check for endless war passed by Congress in 2001. I could not support this blank check for endless war or the 2002 blank check for war in Iraq. I have introduced legislation to repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force and continue to build bipartisan support for their repeal.

There is no military solution to the crisis in Iraq and Syria. In fact, continued U.S. military action will result in unintended consequences. We must remember the roots of ISIS - President Bush’s ill-begotten war.Congress needs to debate the political, economic, diplomatic and regionally-led solutions that will ultimately be the tools for U.S. and regional security.
Barbara Lee was right in 2001.  She is right in 2014.

Walling In Or Walling Out?

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
-- Mending Wall, Robert Frost


As the Mets put the finishing touches on their sixth losing season in succession, there is a gnawing sense that Met fans will we have to endure more disappointment next year -- despite the emergence of some wonderful young players (e.g., Jacob DeGrom, Zack Wheeler, Juan Lagares) and what should be the hopeful return of Matt Harvey.

The team's remarkable run of medical malfeasance has taken its toll again -- this time on David Wright's shoulder -- which should have been correctly diagnosed and repaired rather than played through and further damaged.  Terry Collins, a lousy manager who has admitted he would rather play mediocre veterans than develop talented youngsters, will be back at the helm.  And ownership - still plagued by Madoff-related debt and recently stung by a Neanderthal-inspired sex discrimination lawsuit -- is without the wherewithal to spend on a big bat (or two) necessary to complement the emergence of a promising young pitching staff.

So, instead of getting the hitters they need, the Mets will try to enhance the warning track power of the hitters they have by bringing in the fences.  ESPN reports that Citi Field will undergo "a modest reconfiguration in right and right-center field" this offseason to help the power numbers of Curtis Granderson and David Wright.

After 2011, the Mets changed the stadium's dimensions (as pictured above) and the team still lost more games than it won.  Unless the Mets can bring in the fences when they are up at bat and push them back when the opposing team hits, I'm not sure another retweaking is really the answer to the Mets' woes.  And it raises the troubling question:  What is management walling in or walling out?

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Wheel Turns, the Boat Rocks, the Sea Rises: Change in a Time of Climate Change

Guest post by Rebecca Solnit

There have undoubtedly been stable periods in human history, but you and your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents never lived through one, and neither will any children or grandchildren you may have or come to have. Everything has been changing continuously, profoundly -- from the role of women to the nature of agriculture. For the past couple of hundred years, change has been accelerating in both magnificent and nightmarish ways.

Yet when we argue for change, notably changing our ways in response to climate change, we’re arguing against people who claim we’re disrupting a stable system. They insist that we’re rocking the boat unnecessarily.

I say: rock that boat. It’s a lifeboat; maybe the people in it will wake up and start rowing. Those who think they’re hanging onto a stable order are actually clinging to the wreckage of the old order, a ship already sinking, that we need to leave behind.

As you probably know, the actual oceans are rising -- almost eight inches since 1880, and that’s only going to accelerate. They’re also acidifying, because they’re absorbing significant amounts of the carbon we continue to pump into the atmosphere at record levels. The ice that covers the polar seas is shrinking, while the ice shields that cover Antarctica and Greenland are melting. The water locked up in all the polar ice, as it’s unlocked by heat, is going to raise sea levels staggeringly, possibly by as much as 200 feet at some point in the future, how distant we do not know. In the temperate latitudes, warming seas breed fiercer hurricanes.

The oceans are changing fast, and for the worse. Fish stocks are dying off, as are shellfish. In many acidified oceanic regions, their shells are actually dissolving or failing to form, which is one of the scariest, most nightmarish things I’ve ever heard. So don’t tell me that we’re rocking a stable boat on calm seas. The glorious 10,000-year period of stable climate in which humanity flourished and then exploded to overrun the Earth and all its ecosystems is over.

But responding to these current cataclysmic changes means taking on people who believe, or at least assert, that those of us who want to react and act are gratuitously disrupting a stable system that’s working fine. It isn’t stable. It is working fine -- in the short term and the most limited sense -- for oil companies and the people who profit from them and for some of us in the particularly cushy parts of the world who haven’t been impacted yet by weather events like, say, the recent torrential floods in Japan or southern Nevada and Arizona, or the monsoon versions of the same that have devastated parts of India and Pakistan, or the drought that has mummified my beloved California, or the wildfires of Australia.

The problem, of course, is that the people who most benefit from the current arrangements have effectively purchased a lot of politicians, and that a great many of the rest of them are either hopelessly dim or amazingly timid. Most of the Democrats recognize the reality of climate change but not the urgency of doing something about it. Many of the Republicans used to -- John McCain has done an amazing about-face from being a sane voice on climate to a shrill denier -- and they present a horrific obstacle to any international treaties.

Put it this way: in one country, one party holding 45 out of 100 seats in one legislative house, while serving a minority of the very rich, can basically block what quite a lot of the other seven billion people on Earth want and need, because a two-thirds majority in the Senate must consent to any international treaty the U.S. signs. Which is not to say much for the president, whose drill-baby-drill administration only looks good compared to the petroleum servants he faces, when he bothers to face them and isn’t just one of them. History will despise them all and much of the world does now, but as my mother would have said, they know which side their bread is buttered on.

As it happens, the butter is melting and the bread is getting more expensive. Global grain production is already down several percent thanks to climate change, says a terrifying new United Nations report. Declining crops cause food shortages and rising food prices, creating hunger and even famine for the poorest on Earth, and also sometimes cause massive unrest. Rising bread prices were one factor that helped spark the Arab Spring in 2011. Anyone who argues that doing something about global warming will be too expensive is dodging just how expensive unmitigated climate change is already proving to be.

It’s only a question of whether the very wealthy or the very poor will pay. Putting it that way, however, devalues all the nonmonetary things at stake, from the survival of myriad species to our confidence in the future. And yeah, climate change is here, now. We’ve already lost a lot and we’re going to lose more, but there’s a difference between terrible and apocalyptic. We still have some control over how extreme it gets. That’s not a great choice, but it’s the choice we have. There’s still a window open for action, but it’s closing. As the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Society, Michel Jarraud, bluntly put it recently, "We are running out of time."

 New and Renewable Energies

The future is not yet written. Look at the world we’re in at this very moment. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline was supposed to be built years ago, but activists catalyzed by the rural and indigenous communities across whose land it would go have stopped it so far, and made what was supposed to be a done deal a contentious issue. Activists changed the outcome.

Fracking has been challenged on the state level, and banned in townships and counties from upstate New York to central California. (It has also been banned in two Canadian provinces, France, and Bulgaria.) The fossil-fuel divestment movement has achieved a number of remarkable victories in its few bare years of existence and more are on the way. The actual divestments and commitments to divest fossil fuel stocks by various institutions ranging from the city of Seattle to the British Medical Association are striking. But the real power of the movement lies in the way it has called into question the wisdom of investing in fossil fuel corporations. Even mainstream voices like the British Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee and publications like Forbes are now beginning to question whether they are safe places to put money. That’s a sea change.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Purist's Take on Improving the National Pastime

Rob Manfred will take over as the new Commissioner of Baseball from the ex-Wisconsin car dealer Bud Selig who, having presided over the Steroid Era, the advent of interleague play, and the malfeasance of Met ownership, is retiring after this season.  It is unclear what new ideas Manfred might have but change, when it comes to baseball, is generally not a good idea and any tinkering with tradition should be done, if at all, with great care.  That said, I have a few humble suggestions, pretty much all of which harkon back to those halcyon days of yore (i.e., after Jackie Robinson, before Ron Blomberg).

1.  Do away with the Designated Hitter Rule.  The DH is wrong for so many reasons: it upsets the traditional symmetry of 9 players on a side all of whom field and hit; it eliminates late-inning strategy; it allows players past their prime and one-dimensional players to keep playing.  It is also the product of racism.  This was the subject of one of my very first blog posts: The Designated Hitter:  The Legacy of Racism.

2.  Speed up the game.  Games have been getting longer over the last few decades.  There is no reason for a 9-inning game to last more than 3 hours and here are some ways to avoid it:  (1) prohibit batters from stepping out of the batters box after every pitch; (2) limit the amount of times the catcher and other players can approach the mound to talk to the pitcher; (3) cut the time between innings; (4) do away with instant replay (see below)

3.  Eliminate instant replay.  I am ok with the original instant replay rule, which was designed to review home runs.  New fangled ballparks with unusual angles and idiosyncratic seating make it much more difficult to discern with the naked eye when a ball was actually hit out of the park.  But the success of the original rule has led to the inevitable slippery slope -- expanded replay into many more areas of the game.   These rules which seek to eliminate human error are applied by human beings, resulting in ... plenty of human error.  More problematic is that exciting, close plays are immediately challenged, stopping play, upsetting the flow of the game at pivotal moments.  Instant reply is causing delay, uncertainty and more bad calls.  We need to accept that baseball is a game of imperfection.

4.  Outlaw the shift.  With more advanced statistical measures, teams can now discern where hitters are most likely to hit the ball.  They are increasingly using this data to employ an extreme infield shift to shut down the effectiveness of left-handed pull hitters.  A shift was occasionally used in the past, most notably against Ted Williams, but it is becoming routine in today's game.  The shift has played a role in the reduction of offense this year.  It isn't fair to lefties.  It also looks weird to have players so out of position.  And do we really want to see Big Papi and other lumbering sluggers lay bunts down the third base line to defeat the shift as opposed to swinging for the fences?

5.  Play the Fall Classic in the Fall.  Because of the increasing amount of playoff games, the World Series is now played in late October, early November.  Baseball is a game that should be played in warm weather, not snow.  To get back to an early October World Series, I would reduce the regular season from 162 games to its pre-1961 level of 154, and include scheduled double-headers, which are now only used to make up for rain outs. The reduction in games can be accomplished by eliminating interleague play.

6.  No interleague play.  If the Yankees and Mets want to play each other, let them go back to playing the Mayor's Trophy Game.  Inter-league play dilutes some of the mystique of the All Star Game and World Series, which used to be the only times when players in each league played each other.  It forces National League teams to use a designated hitter when the AL team is at home, and forces American League pitchers who never otherwise hit to do so when the NL team hosts.  And since not all teams can play each other, it gives an arbitrary and unfair advantage to teams who get to play lesser teams in the other league.

7.  Turn down the noise.  I went to Fenway Park this summer and was struck by how quiet it was.  There was no blasting of music or sound effects during the game, leaving us with the sounds of the game itself and the crowd.  It was delightful, and quite the contrast to the mind-numbing cacophony at most ball parks.

8.  Reinstate Pete Rose.  It has been 25 years since Rose has been banished from baseball for gambling.  He is 73 years old.  One of the greatest, most exciting players in history has paid his debt and should be let back into the fold.

9.  Just "play ball."  Let's do away with the National Anthem before the game and God Bless America during the 7th Inning Stretch.  I wrote about this here awhile back.  It has never been clear to me why we must reaffirm our love of this country -- including the 1/3 of  Major League Baseball players who are foreign born -- not once, but twice during a baseball game.  It seems to me that we show our faith in what is great about the United States by enjoying the American game itself, and I truly believe there are few things more patriotic than standing up during the 7th Inning Stretch and singing about "peanuts and crackerjacks" at the old ballgame.

10  Appoint an independent commission to investigate whether Mets ownership should be forced to sell the team.  Ever since the Wilpons were 'victimized' in the Bernie Madoff scandal they have survived thanks to their friendship with Commissioner Selig, by obtaining emergency loans and relying on a very reduced payroll.  Granted when the Mets do have money they spend it stupidly.  (See Mets or Bust.)  But a team with New York's market is acting like a small market team, alienating fans and squandering what little good will they have left.  And, now, with new allegations stemming from a sex discrimination lawsuit, an investigation is even more urgent.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reverse Barometers and Perpetual War


General Custer to officer:  Anything that man tells me will be a lie.  Therefore, he will be perfect reverse barometer. . . .
Custer to Jack Crabb:  What should I do, mule skinner? . . . . Should I go down there, or withdraw? . . .  What's your answer, mule skinner?
Crabb:  General, you go down there.
Custer: You're saying, go into the coulee?
Crabb:  Yes, sir. 
Custer:  There are no Indians there, I suppose?
Crabb:  I didn't say that. There are thousands of Indians down there, and when they get done with you, there won't be nothing left but a greasy spot. . . . You go down there if you got the nerve.
Custer:  Still trying to outsmart me, aren't you, mule skinner? You want me to think that you don't want me to go down there, but the subtle truth is you really don't want me to go down there. . . Men of the Seventh! The hour of victory is at hand!  Onward to Little Bighorn and glory!

* * *
Near the close of the movie Little Big Man, General Custer (played by Richard Mulligan) realizes that Jack Crabb aka Little Big Man (Dustin Hoffman) who he hired as a scout, hates him so much that he will purposely give Custer the wrong advice.  Custer therefore treats Crabb as a "reverse barometer," doing the opposite of whatever Crabb tells him.  As the passage above shows, Crabb gets Custer completely flustered to the point where he is able to trick him into making the disastrous decision to attack at Little Bighorn. 

Dick Cheney, John McCain and their fellow War Mongers have much in common with Custer, as he was portrayed in this movie -- arrogant, unfettered by facts, unshakably stubborn and unable or unwilling to reverse a decision or admit a mistake.  They have been wrong about everything, particularly when it comes to terrorism and the Middle East.  But rather than being shamed into silence and appropriately shunned, they continue to seize center stage.  They plague us with their latest ideas for the latest crisis which, invariably, is the same wrong advice that got us into these messes in the first place: perpetual war.

In this way they should provide a useful service as reverse barometers.  Whatever they say, President Obama should enact the reverse.  When they insist that we stay in Iraq, rely less on diplomacy, employ troops on the ground and more bombs from the air in more places, we should do the opposite.  But it seems that, as in the movie, the reverse barometer can sow confusion.  And so after being relentlessly bombarded with the need to act quickly, decisively and, above all, militarily, the President, as William Greider puts it, "is embarking on another Long War in the Middle East."

The fact that we are only committed (for the time being) to air strikes with a limited amount of advisers on the ground is far from comforting.  Greider explains:  "President Obama’s vague assurances are doubtless sincere, but he has left a lot of open space to revise and reinterpret his intentions. If everything does not go well in Iraq, Obama will be pressured to escalate. War enthusiasts in the reserve army of pundits are already clamoring for him to do so. White House sources are already assuring reporters that Islamic State targets in Syria will be bombed. What happens if they don’t fold? The president will be pressed to send more troops—if not in regular uniforms, then as Special Forces, who will use clandestine methods."

Similarly, David Corn notes why it is difficult to "put the case for war back in the box" after commiting us to renewed military action even with a more nuanced approach than his predecessors:  "If US air strikes can make a difference, if other nations join in, if the Iraqi government gets it acts together, if the Iraqi military can do its job, then the United States will use its military might in a limited way to vanquish ISIS. A conditional case for war does not easily sync up with the stark nature of such an enterprise. If any of these ifs don't come to be, will Obama be cornered and forced by his rhetoric to do something? After depicting ISIS as a peril warranting a US military response—and with much of the American public convinced of that—can he then shrug his shoulders and say, "Never mind"? Will he provide the hawks an opening for political attacks and demands for greater military intervention? In his speech, the man who ran for president with the pledge to end the Iraq War declared, "We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq." But what if all else fails?"

Onward to Little Bighorn and glory!

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Pros and Cons of Voting for Hillary Clinton (A Work in Progress)

There are essentially two reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton if she chooses to run for President and secures the nomination of the Democratic Party.  Both are hugely important. 

First, a Republican President would be devastating for the environment and any hope to combat climate change, for the economy, for immigration policy, for civil, criminal and human rights, for foreign policy, and for the federal judiciary.  With an aging Supreme Court, the next President likely will have an opportunity to nominate at least one and probably several new justices.  Republican nominees would solidify a right wing majority for at least another generation with disastrous consequences. 

The second reason to support Hillary Clinton is that she would be the first woman president in U.S. history, a critically important  milestone that is way past due. 

Now, the reasons against voting for Clinton.  Here's a start.

1.   Iraq.  Hillary Clinton not only voted for one of the worst foreign policy decisions in our nation's history she repeatedly went in front of the cameras to cheerlead in the run up to it.  My stomach still turns when I think about her and her cohort John McCain on the TV, arrogantly making the case for war.  23 Senators voted against the Iraq resolution.  Clinton was not one of them.  Whether it was a crass political move or an honest belief in the need to overthrow Saddam Hussein, this one is unforgivable. 

2.  Clinton's apology was lame. "I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had.  And I wasn't alone in getting it wrong.  But I still got it wrong."  No, she wasn't alone in getting it wrong.  But there were some who were getting it right.  As Peter Beinart points out, Clinton, like many others who "got it wrong," failed to read the full classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction -- a report that convinced, for example, Senators Leahy and Graham to vote against the Iraq War resolution.  The failure to do due diligence before the vote to ensure that she did, in fact, have the best information, makes her subsequent apology meaningless.

3.  You can judge a lot about a person by her friends.  Henry Kissinger is one of the most villainous U.S. political leaders of the 20th Century.  His role in the Viet Nam War, from undermining the Paris peace talks prior to Nixon's election to directing the massive clandestine bombing campaign in Laos and Cambodia, which indiscriminately killed and displaced millions of civilians, should be enough to disqualify Kissinger from polite company, much less make him a sought-after foreign policy consultant. Of course, there is plenty more, including his planning of the overthrow of Salvador Allende, Chile's democratically elected president.  But in reviewing Kissinger's new book, Hillary Clinton says this: "Kissinger is a friend, and I relied on his counsel when I served as secretary of state. He checked in with me regularly, sharing astute observations about foreign leaders and sending me written reports on his travels. . . . what comes through clearly in this new book is a conviction that we . . . share: a belief in the indispensability of continued American leadership in service of a just and liberal order."  WTF

4.  Wall Street.  Speaking of friends, it is hard to imagine Hillary Clinton being the voice of the 99% or taking on the financial industry given her close ties to Wall Street.  She has been paid $200,000 a pop for speaking engagements before investment banks and private equity firms, including Goldman Sachs twice.  Yes, Goldman Sachs, one of the Wall Street firms responsible for the last financial meltdowns, which, by the way, also donated between $250,000 and $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation.

5.  Big Dog in the House.  Bill Clinton, leashed or unleashed, is not the man I would choose to have the ear of the next president.  When I think of the Clinton Presidency, I am reminded of his support for the war on drugs, habeas reform, welfare reform, and deregulation of the financial industry.  I have never heard Hillary disavow any of these disastrous policies.

6.  DOMA.  President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law in 1996.  Hillary has only very recently changed her views (along with Bill) on gay marriage.  She claims she has evolved with the rest of us (kind of like her Iraq excuse), but Andrew Sullivan provides the context and it isn't pretty:  "She was not just another evolving American.  She was the second most powerful person in an administration in a critical era for gay rights. And in that era, her husband signed the HIV travel ban into law (it remained on the books for 22 years thereafter), making it the only medical condition ever legislated as a bar to even a tourist entering the US. Clinton also left gay service-members in the lurch, doubling the rate of their discharges from the military, and signed DOMA, the high watermark of anti-gay legislation in American history. Where and when it counted, the Clintons gave critical credibility to the religious right’s jihad against us. And on the day we testified against DOMA in 1996, their Justice Department argued that there were no constitutional problems with DOMA at all (the Supreme Court eventually disagreed)."

7.  Dynasty.  Should our country really have two families (Bush and Clinton) running the country for all but 8 years since 1988? 

Do the pros outweigh the cons? To be continued.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Green Ribbon Wouldn't Have Saved Robin Williams

Guest post by Heidi Pie Aronson

Breast cancer used to be a shameful secret. Now everybody knows what a pink ribbon stands for. It’s less well-known that green ribbons signify depression awareness, along with Lyme Disease and pedestrian safety. But a green ribbon wouldn’t have saved Robin Williams’ life. Our vague ideas about celebrities’ “struggles with depression” don't reveal how lethal or how omnipresent it is.

Depression is dangerous because it is hidden. Depressed people are ashamed. We keep it secret, and we don’t ask for help. We don’t think we deserve help. A recent Canadian study found that 24% of patients who had attempted suicide "reported not receiving care or even perceiving the need for care." This is why our friends and family don’t know what to do for us. And end up keeping quiet themselves.

Let's run full-page ads in magazines educating readers about depression's warning signs. And not ads with a woman gazing wistfully into her cup of tea. Depressed people don't see those ads and think "Poor lady, she's sad. I am, too, maybe I'd better get some medical attention." Instead we think, "How pathetic (I am)." Or "I hope I'm hiding it better than she is." No, let's run an ad with a noose hanging in a bedroom doorway. Or a drawer in a morgue, with a handmade Mother's Day card taped to it.

I wouldn't even mind a drug company sponsoring the ads. Anti-depressant medication not only saved my life and saved my daughters from losing their mother (saved my younger daughter from not being born at all, in fact)--it gave me my life. It made my glass look half-full rather than half-empty, until I could hold fast to the idea that I was worth fighting for. But let's not argue over the drugs. Not all depression is treated with drugs.The point is to let the secret out. This is not a case for green ribbons, but for ACT UP. Depression Kills! Fight Back!

Or we can just state the facts,courtesy of the American Psychiatric Association:

"Major Depressive Disorder is a medical illness that affects how you feel, think and behave causing persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. Depression can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. It is a chronic illness that usually requires long-term treatment."

Then let's list the warning signs. Have you or someone you love:
*   ...felt sad, empty, or hopeless most of the day, nearly every day, for the last two weeks?
*   ...lost interest or pleasure in normal activities?
*   ...lost a lot of weight in the last month? lost your appetite?
*   ...had trouble sleeping, particularly with waking up too early? Or been sleeping a lot more?
*   ...been physically agitated, or noticeably slowed down?
*   ...felt especially fatigued or low-energy?
*   ...felt worthless or excessively guilty, nearly every day?
*   ...had trouble thinking, concentrating, and making decisions?
*   ...had recurrent thoughts of death, or thoughts or plans about suicide?

An"official" diagnosis of Major Depressive Episode requires five of the nine symptoms, but let's not get hung up on details. The more symptoms you have, the more severe your illness. It is an illness.You wouldn't say "I'm okay, don't worry about it" if you had breast cancer--then you would die. If you or someone you love is ill, get help right away.

Let's hang these ads in every library, police station, school and doctor's office. Let's hang them in restaurants--more people die of depression than of choking. And if you think you've never been out to dinner with a depressed person,who smiled at the table but snuck off to sob in the bathroom, think again. A sign might just change what we do after we dry our tears and walk back to our seat.

Dying of depression should be unacceptable, and it is up to us to decide to make it so. Depression is not preventable, but it is treatable, and it is all around us. Some of your friends and neighbors--as Robin Williams was our neighbor--are depressed right now. They aren't wearing green ribbons,though. We have to find them in the darkness, and keep them safe.