Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mourning Senator Kennedy

Yesterday morning, I was rushing out of the house to go to work. I put the outgoing mail in the mailbox, stuffed my notebook PC and purse in the car, strapped my son in the car seat and grabbed the paper off the driveway to toss into the front seat. I caught a glimpse of the headline, and much to my surprise, began crying. "Ted Kennedy Dies."

Given the brain cancer he was battling and his absence from public view during the recent debate on the issue dearest to his heart, health care, we all could surmise the end was near. Somehow, the event itself is still a devastating blow.

I had to analyze why I was actually moved to tears by the death. Not that I was surprised I was sad, just how sad.

Is it the passing of the Kennedy era? Ted Kennedy is the last of three brothers who changed our country. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, their sister and the founder of the Special Olympics, recently passed away as well. Hearing the tributes to her was a reminder of how much this family of great privilege valued public service and giving back to the community. It is a family that has seen great glory but also great tragedy.

Is it the fact that Teddy won't be able to vote on health care reform, an issue he has been working on for decades? I was hoping he would be able to be that deciding vote, swooping in to be the hero and save the day.

Is it that the Democratic party has now lost one of its strongest leaders at a time when they appear so weak and divided over the health care debate?

I think it is all of the above, a mourning of the past, a frustration over the present, and a fear for the future. Ultimately, it is the the loss of a person we all felt we knew so well from a terrible disease. My heart goes out to his family at this time, because to them he is their beloved father, husband, uncle. And that is what makes it so very sad.

And here comes the tears again! What is up with that?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Get the Facts on Health Care Reform

It's amazing how with all the coverage of health care reform, the focus has been on town halls and the uncivil discourse and yet, hardly any coverage is pointing out what is fact vs. what is fiction. Here are some useful links for finding the truth:

Hear it directly from White House. Here is the official website for setting the record straight.

Here is a useful summary from of the myths and how to dispel them.

Hearing a lot about "death panels"? It is complete hypocrisy on the part of the Republicans. The provision being referred to is about providing so-called "end-of-life" counseling. Now, this does not mean counseling people near the end of their life. It means getting people to put in place things like a living will, detailing one's wishes on medical treatment when something happens. Nobody wants to end up like Terri Schiavo -- having parents and husband fight for years over what you would have wanted. Here are two articles pointing out how many Republicans have voted for and supported this type of provision in the past, including the queen of hypocrites: Sarah Palin.

And finally, read about how the Republicans have no qualms about destroying a man's reputation. Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel has a sister with cerebral palsy and has opposed euthanasia for his entire career. Yet the Republicans have no problem completely mischaracterizing his positions and selectively quoting out of context. (See Sonia Sotomayor for further evidence of such practice).

The health insurance and pharma industries have been spending a whole lot of money to destroy health care reform, and the Republican Party is doing its best to do their bidding -- lying, mischaracterizing, flip-flopping, and worst of all, inciting people to such rage and anger that I am truly afraid that something very bad could happen.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Making Sense of the Gates Story - Two Must-Read Articles

So now that the "beer summit" is over, what can we learn from the whole Henry Louis Gates/Sergeant James Crowley arrest story? And what can we learn from the way some have reacted to it? When I see white pundits and commenters on blogs blaming Gates for the whole thing and freaking out when President Obama spoke the truth by famously saying that the Cambridge police acted stupidly by arresting Professor Gates in his own home, I just can't get over how reluctant all of these people are to put themselves in someone else's shoes for just a moment. I think it's because to do so would be to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, there is unfairness in the system and that yes, whites do have an unfair advantage. This may be a blow to the ego to realize that one's successes may not be 100% attributable to amazing abilities and talent alone. But instead, we have Glenn Beck having the audacity to call Barack Obama racist. I'm sorry, but any time you have a white male accusing someone of color of being racist, you know that guy is as racist as they come. (I find it interesting how racism is seeping out in not-so-thinly-veiled ways with the election of our first black President, e.g. the birther controversy -- but I digress.)

And why are these same pundits not finding any fault with Sergeant Crowley's actions? Aren't the police supposed to diffuse situations? Once he knew Professor Gates was in his own home, why did things escalate further? Why are there inconsistencies in his police report? Apparently, we can't bring up any of those nuances to the story.

I read two articles that helped me make sense of the whole story with clear and powerful explanations of what it is really all about for African-American people.

First, is a column by Ta-Nehisi Coates that was published in Time Magazine, "When Race Matters" discussing how even the most accomplished, well-educated black men are still vulnerable to racial profiling and unfair treatment from police. Here is a particularly interesting passage:
There has been a temptation to use the Gates arrest as a metaphor for the plight of all black people. And yet much of what we think of as "black issues" doesn't really affect most black people. We too easily conflate the words disproportionate and majority. While a disproportionate number of black males are in prison, the majority of us have no experience with hard time. Black people are overrepresented in the ranks of impoverished Americans — but most of us are not poor. Affirmative action may ignite all sorts of racial tensions — but a lot of black people will never apply to a college where such a program exists. What we often term "black issues" are really "American issues" that affect an uncomfortably large number of black people. For activists looking to rally around race, this has presented a problem over the past few decades: there simply is no single issue that unites blacks with the visceral power of segregation and its accompanying "Whites Only" sign.

Mistreatment by the police, however, remains a shared experience for many African Americans. And it's members of the black upper class — people like Gates and Obama and Ford, black America's most credentialed social stratum — who are most sensitive to overzealous policing and racial profiling. When it comes to encounters with law enforcement, they are uniquely aware of how quickly their accolades can be rendered irrelevant.
The second article "Why Obama Could Relate..." is by amazing columnist, Leonard Pitts Jr., who really strikes home with the point that police mistreatment of minorities happens often and thus becomes a part of the shared experience and "baggage". What this article pointed out to me was that for white people to claim that Gates overreacted and should have just shut up or that Obama was "racist" for leaping to a conclusion that the arrest was stupid shows ignorance and a complete unwillingness to understand the background, history and context or why Obama said what he did to stand up for black people everywhere. Key passage:
Are we supposed to believe it coincidence that the men this happens to always happen to be black?

Some of us do. Some of us have the luxury of never connecting the dots, seeing instead one discrete incident over here and tsk tsk, how terrible that is, and another discrete incident over there and tsk tsk again. And then move on and leave it behind.

But others don't have that luxury, don't get to move on and leave it behind. Others carry it like luggage, wear the residue like sweat, into every encounter with every cop, both good and bad: not always memories of what did happen, but fear of what could.

Unnecessary fear? Sometimes; there are many great cops out there. Perfectly valid fear? All too often.

Here, then, is the take-away of the Gates affair: apparently every black man knows what that fear is like, be he professor, preacher, pundit.

Or president.
I don't pretend to have a perfect understanding of what it's like to be black in America. I have a closer view than most white people, but I still have eye-opening moments. I just hope others can open their eyes, hearts and minds enough to hear the other side and try to make sense of what happened.