Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Good Music, Bad Backstories

As we ease up on what would have been Molly's 69th birthday I find myself continually hearing music in my head. Sometimes I hear Marcia Ball's rousing rendition of "Great Balls of Fire," played at Molly's memorial service. Sometimes it's Marcia, sometimes it's Jerry Lee Lewis. I should have known "Great Balls" wasn't about politics, which is probably why Molly asked that it be played at her memorial service: an end run around sadness. I was only mildly surprised to realize what it was really about.

You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain
Too much love drives a man insane
You broke my will
But what a thrill
Goodness gracious great balls of fire!


Moving on six years.

The whole time we shouted and stomped, chanted and cheered for Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte and Mary Gonzales and Judith Zaffirini in the Texas Senate -- part of a small but strong pod of female Democrats who had the courage to stand up to bullying religious zealots -- another song took up residence in my brain. 

 Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

No matter what I did for the rest of the second special session whenever I saw an orange "I Stand With Texas Women," t-shirt I heard that fabulous anthem midway the first act of  Les Miserables. I got so crazy at one point I was passing the lyrics out to anyone who would accept the paper they were printed on. This, I insisted, should be our anthem, only instead of storming staged barricades, women, men and children from all across the state stormed that bully pulp. Both the real and the theatrical revolutionaries made an impression. Demonstrations at the Capitol went viral and made international news.Texas was finally on the map for something other than executions and football.  

Even more recently, as I read about yet another school scare, another homicide/suicide, another hate crime, that extraordinary piece of work by Rodgers and Hammerstein penned for "South Pacific" surfaced. It was excruciating to recognize its 21st-century relevance: 

You've got  to be taught to hate and fear
You've got to be taught from year to year
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear 
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid 
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
Of people whose skin is a different shade
You've got to be carefully taught

You've got to be taught before it's too late
Before you are six, or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You've got to be carefully taught.

I thought about Molly and how she would have had a way to turn those lines and all the others into a battle cry for political change in a state that often seems to have lost its grip on reality.

I mean, where to start -- with a governor who can't keep straight which border city is in Texas and which one is in Mexico?

A lieutenant governor who (allegedly) drunk-dialed a suburban cop in a failed attempt to intercede on behalf of a relative who (allegedly) failed to pay for $57 worth of groceries?

A candidate for state comptroller who can't pronounce the office he seeks but wants to abolish the IRS, which he can pronounce?

A smirking junior U.S. senator who bogarts media attention with the kind of lunatic enthusiasm usually associated with Donald Trump?

A state representative who sponsors one of the nation's most draconian anti-abortion bills, but then, in public hearings and on the House floor, can't answer a single question about the bill's contents?

Or last, but by no means least,  a U.S. representative who famously argued  that "kids don't need to learn about (sex), because "mankind has existed for a pretty long time without anyone ever having to give a sex-ed lesson to anybody." He clearly missed the memo about Texas having the nation's fourth highest teen pregnancy rate AND the highest repeat teen pregnancy rate.

Worse yet, this same right-wing twerp -- through his well-honed facility for mismanaging accurate information -- has thrust the United States into a diplomatic boondoggle. In a domestic news clip picked up and broadcast in strife-torn Egypt, the one and (thank God) only Rep. Louis Gohmert did something precious few of us have been able to achieve in Texas: Egyptians took one of his anti-Obama diatribes seriously. As a result a dissident faction now believes that Obama is in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood.Who ever in the world could envision Gohmert influencing political action halfway around the world. Who? How?

I guess this is just a long-winded way of saying "You're six years gone, Mol, and those of us who knew your voice still miss your special gift for stirring it up."

Mary Tyler "Molly" Ivins:  August 30, 1944 – January 31, 2007

Monday, August 12, 2013

Something's Happening Here; What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear

Almost 50 years ago a prescient Buffalo Springfield recording captured a mood that's creeping across the country today. That spirit is alive in Texas, Missouri, California, Oklahoma -- well, almost anywhere reactionary forces are doing their best to stifle dissent, silence women's voices and demonize those who follow the beat of the different drummer. 

And once again, as we ease up on Molly's Aug. 30 birthdate I pine for her voice, knowing she would have a better way of dealing with oday's swirl of events.

I managed to stave off apoplexy while reading a David Brooks column a while back, excoriating Edward Snowden, who spilled the beans on wholesale government-sanctioned information gathering. As was the case with Bradley Manning, his biggest crime seems to have been embarrassing the government, not divulging state secrets -- at least as far as we know. Reading Brooks column moved me to trot out a t-shirt I received a couple of years ago as a bonus for subscribing to The Nation. It said, simply, "Secrecy Breeds Tyranny."

By now there can't be anyone unfamiliar with the tragic Sanford, Florida death of Trayvon Martin -- or other black men who have been fatally wounded by law enforcement officers since then.  But lest we forget, abuse at the hands of those ostensibly designed to serve and protect is not reserved exclusively for black men -- even though it often seems that way. 

What we have done to our own boggles the mind -- and we didn't need Bradley Manning or Anthony Snowden to tell us about some of the cases that have surfaced.

Take the case of Daniel Chong, a California university student who almost died in police custody last year. He recently won a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Agency, but how will he recover psychologically from being handcuffed in a federal holding cell for nearly five days without food or water -- and spending time in intensive care as a result? 

Will Trayvon Martin's parents get anything close to that?

Chong was detained in the spring of last year in conjunction with a San Diego drug raid. After it was determined that he was not involved in illicit activity, a member of the task force that conducted the raid put him in a cell and apparently forgot about him. For days. By the time he was found he was suffering from severe dehydration, muscle deterioration, hallucinations, liver and kidney failure, and extremely high levels of sodium. One of his attorneys was quoted as saying, “What happened to Daniel Chong should never happen to any human being on the face of the planet.” 

He might never be the same, but at least he's alive to tell the tale.

Marissa Alexander is also alive, but, one might ask, so what? Until her recent Florida (again!) Marissa Alexander had no criminal record, no history of violence and no brushes with the law before she fired a warning shot into a wall in response to an advancing abusive husband.

Oh, did I omit the part about him being at her house despite the fact that she had a restraining order?

She received a  20-year sentence  for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. . He's still walking around loose. A judge dismissed her "stand your ground" claim, noting that she could have run back into the house to escape her husband. Instead she got a gun. Alexander, obviously erroneously anticipating a rational outcome,  rejected a plea deal that would have resulted in a three-year prison sentence and chose a jury trial. It deliberated 12 minutes before convicting her. After, all the judge said, she could have run.

We have a war of terror right here.  We can talk big game about protecting other countries from tyranny, but we destroy civilian lives in a tyrannical war against women, the poor and ethnic minorities. We lie about the number of innocents we kill in the name of an invisible enemy called "terror," but we ignore the terror blacks, browns, gays and poor whites experience daily.

We continue to trot out tired iconic has-beens like Rudy Giuliani, whose post 9/11 rhetoric has long since lost its potency, to persuade us that the war on you-know-what forces us to be ever vigilant. We conjure up scary color-coded "threat levels" that keep otherwise sensible citizens just where a manipulative government wants us: frightened.So we lose focus on what's happening under our local noses.

So allow me to trot out a notion I fully support: eternal vigilance is still the price of freedom, but not at the expense of constitutional guarantees; not at the expense of having conversations, emails and personal correspondence of  every Tom, Dick and Henrietta exposed to government scrutiny in the name of protecting us from terrorism; not with the passage of inflexible draconian laws that  turn around and bite civil rights on the butt; not at the expense of keeping state governments out of women's vaginas.

So now I'm back to the closing stanza of "For What It's Worth," the Buffalo Springfield song that became an antiwar anthem in the 1960s:

                  Paranoia strikes deep 
                  Into your life it will creep 
                  It starts when you're always afraid  
                 You step out of line, 
                 The man come and take you away 

They took Manning away and rigged his courts martial so only dribs and drabs of the bizarre proceedings against him could reach us. The Justice Department might or might not take a second look at George Zimmerman's pathetic gun love. A benevolent justice system might eventually show Marissa Alexander justice. Daniel Chong might be OK, and yes, the $4 million might help, but it's gonna take a while..

Lots of maybes, lots of mights. 

It remains to be seen what will happen them all, just as it remains to be seen what's really happening here, 'cause what it is ain't exactly clear.