|According to my handy online dictionary, there are several ways to come to a reckoning.
One is to settle accounts, to deliver on things we have promised. Another is to calculate where we are going by charting a precise course based on where we have been.
On Tuesday, November 6th, we will have a day of reckoning in this country.
By choosing between two presidential candidates, we will be charting a precise course for the future of this country, based on where we have been--and we, the voters, will be deciding exactly where it is we want this country to go as we head more deeply into the 21st century.
The templates for this choice are very clear--more clear than ever before.
Republican Mitt Romney has surrounded himself by many of the same people who closely advised President George W. Bush for eight years, and he and his running mate, Paul Ryan, have embraced the same style of governing: tax-slashing (mostly for the wealthiest Americans); wide-open unregulated Wild West free markets (where business, big banks, and the stock markets are trusted to police themselves); contempt for most forms of government (George W. Bush appointed Party loyalists and industry insiders to run regulating agencies, which is how a horse show manager wound up directing FEMA and handling the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina); scorn for most any form of environmental protection and whole-hearted embrace of Big Oil (the vice-president conducted a secret meeting of all the big oil company CEOs in the White House right after the Inauguration and it was those guys who set the administration's energy policy); and an aggressive "preemptive strike" foreign policy that launched two wars and alienated much of the world (appointing one of his loudest, most in-your-face advisers, John Bolton, as ambassador to the U.N.).
The whole post-9/11 mindset out of the Bush White House was of a hunkered down, Cold War mentality, where individual terrorist cells were imbued with the same command-and-control structure as the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, and feared with the same single-minded paranoia.
They even held their convention to renominate Bush ON September 11, 2004, IN New York City, claiming, repeatedly, that Bush had "kept us safe."
As if 9/11 itself had not occurred on his watch, well into his first year in office.
The upshot of all that was not just the squandering of a balanced budget and a surplus, but actually bankrupting the country.
The Bush administration refused to include the costs of two wars in the annual budget, preferring to tack them onto "emergency expenses" year after year, which amounted to racking up almost a trillion dollars on the nation's credit card, which meant that the national debt skyrocketed.
By the time he left office, the economy was in a death-spiral, hemorrhaging almost a million jobs every single month. The stock market crashed, losing thousands of points and wiping out people's retirement funds.
When Bush left office, and for several months following his exit, this country lost around 700,000 jobs A MONTH, while, at the same time, a record number of home foreclosures sent millions into the streets.
Overseas, we are still at war a decade later, with 4,500 Americans killed in Iraq and 2,000 dead in Afghanistan; tens of thousands wounded, and tens of thousands more suffering from post traumatic stress--to the costs of billions more in veteran's care (none of which was allocated during Bush's term in office beyond the original 2000 budget amount). That does not count the hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians who have been killed in bombing strikes and in battle, or the hundreds of thousands of American military families who have paid a terrible price for repeated deployments of their soldiers and Marines--soaring divorce rates, higher rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, and child abuse--and a criminally high rate of suicides among active-duty troops.
Meanwhile, on the homefront, recovery from Hurricane Katrina took years, and the suffering provoked by FEMA's ham-handed response has been seared onto the national consciousness.
By the time President Bush left office, our nation was in such despondent disarray, and his successor, Barack Obama, had inherited such a catastrophic crises, that to this day, his own Party refuses to invite President Bush to their presidential nominating conventions. In the Republican convention that just ended, his name was not mentioned ONCE. Not once. Not by a single speaker.
Think about that.
But, even as his name is not mentioned, his party aperchiks are busy behind the scenes, like the Death-Eaters of Voldemart, advising subsequent Republican nominees for president, jockeying for positions in a new Republican White House, and, like Karl Rove, raising hundreds of millions of dollars to achieve the goal of having another Bush administration--preferably with the luxury he enjoyed for six whole years, which enabled him to "accomplish" so much of his agenda--a cooperating Republican House and Senate.
In all that time, by the way, George W. Bush, the so-called "fiscal conservative"--who had a Master's degree in business from Harvard and whose supporters fondly referred to as the nation's "First CEO"--never vetoed a single spending bill sent to him by Republicans. Not a single one. It took them very little time to spend the country deep into the red.
At the time, Vice President Cheney, former CEO of Halliburton, said, "Deficits don't matter."
Since Mitt Romney has come to the forefront of Republican Party politics, he has surrounded himself by many of the same people who worked for the Bush administration. Consequently, several times on national news programs, more than one Romney adviser has blurted out that the Soviet Union is still our greatest foe--even though it has not even existed for more than 20 years.
Romney has announced that he thinks it was a "mistake" for President Obama to end the war in Iraq, and that he believes we should remain indefinitely in Afghanistan--which means years more of open-ended, unpaid-for war.
Meanwhile, Romney has indicated repeatedly that he backs an Israeli war with Iran and has leaned toward going to war with Iran ourselves. Some of his advisers have even openly discussed going to war in Syria.
Romney has made it clear that he wants to bear down on George W. Bush's economic policies and even doubling up on them by not only slashing taxes on the top 1% of our nation's wealthy, but by eviscerating government programs for the struggling middle class and the poor.
With his vice president, Paul Ryan, Romney plans to voucherize Medicare, giving seniors, basically, a fixed check for their medical expenses. As those medical expenses skyrocket--the way they've been doing for decades--the seniors must dig into their own pockets to make up the difference, which will mean thousands more per year for each senior.
He wants to repeal health care reform altogether, which would mean that women would no longer have their preventative care needs, such as mammograms and pap smears, paid for by insurance companies. It would mean that seniors would have much higher prescription drug costs, because the so-called "donut hole" in coverage would be returned. It would mean that families who have been able to cover their college-aged kids on their own health insurance (up to age 26), would lose that privilege and have to scramble for poorly-providing, excessively expensive individual programs for those young people (or leave them uninsured.) It would mean that insurance companies would once again have the right to refuse coverage due to any preexisting condition they chose, with no recourse for the patient.
So when you hear, "REPEAL OBAMACARE!"--think about just what, exactly, that will mean to your family.
Romney and Ryan's eventual goal is to privatize social security--George W. Bush's wet dream--by having younger people start retirement "savings accounts," (meaning, investing in the stock market) which would put all Americans at the mercy of a volatile stock market which, at the end of the last Republican administration, lost almost *8,000* points and wiped out hundreds of thousands of retirement plans.
Romney also wants to repeal the Pell Grant assistance that President Obama put into place, claiming in one speech that, if a young person wants a college education, he or she need only "borrow the money from their parents."
Apparently, it never occurred to the man that not everyone's parents HAVE the money to pay for their kids' college educations.
When the United States auto industry was in the process of going completely under, Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed for a Detroit paper in which he said, "LET DETROIT GO BANKRUPT." He basically said, leave it up to the free markets to correct.
Think where this country would be if Mitt Romney had been president that day.
On social issues, a President Romney would roll back all the progress that has been made in the 21st century: gays could no longer serve openly in the military--Romney has stated he would turn back that provision--and he backs a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage anywhere in this country.
At the same time, Romney has also backed a Ryan-created constitutional amendment that would give "personhood" status to a fertilized egg, at conception. What this would mean is that all in-vitro fertilization would then be ILLEGAL, as would many forms of birth control, including the birth control pill.
Meanwhile, even as American women would lose access to many forms of birth control, abortion would be made illegal for any reason whatsoever, even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.
And if you are counting on a Supreme Court to preserve Roe vs Wade--keep in mind that whoever gets elected president will, most likely, be appointing two more Supreme Court justices. A President Romney would appoint justices who adhere to the personhood standards, because even if Mitt Romney really believes, as he says, that he thinks abortion should be maintained as a choice in cases of rape, incest, or to preserve the life of the mother--I think he would not be able to risk pissing off the wing of the Party (including his vice-president) who proposed the constitutional amendment for "personhood in the first place." (Call them "Tea-Publicans.") For that reason, he would support draconian controls on women's reproductive health decisions, in order to get himself reelected.
Romney has also made it clear that he would slash funding to Planned Parenthood, so not only would women lose their preventive health care from their insurance companies, but they would no longer have access to help from Planned Parenthood. This would increase the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and cancer.
In some ways, a Romney presidency would not just re-chart our course BACK to the George W. Bush years, and not just BACK to the Twentieth Century, but all the way BACK to the Nineteenth Century, when women had little control over their bodies; men made many of the major decisions about their lives; and gays would be forced deep back into the closet.
In foreign policy, our course would be re-charted BACK to the Cold War, when a major military-industrial complex pumped billions into weapons designed to fight entire countries in conventional wars for "freedom."
In the economy, a President Romney would take us BACK to the very policies that sent this nation into a death-spiral in the first place--only this time, there would be no one around to grab the controls and level us out again.
THIS IS ONE CHOICE WE WILL HAVE ON THE DAY OF RECKONING.
Is this the course we wish to see charted for our great nation? Are THESE the promises we want to see delivered upon in the coming decade?
We have another choice of a course we wish to see charted.
Again, but in a different way, that course will be charted for the future based upon what has been traveled in the past.
For one thing, as soon as newly-inaugurated President Obama signed into law the dreaded $700 billion stimulus, our economy began its slow recovery. Whereas the stock market low point under George W. Bush was 6,626 points, it finished just last Friday at OVER 13,000 POINTS.
This is a miraculous bounce-back in just three and a half years. Some who saw their life-savings wiped out under the Republican policies of George W. Bush have seen them rebound under the stewardship of the Democratic policies of Barack Obama.
Starting in April of 2009, as the stimulus began to take effect, the country lost fewer and fewer jobs, and by one year after Obama's election (that's ELECTION, not inauguration)--we began to ADD jobs, and we have had almost three consecutive years now of jobs ADDED to this economy.
I have had family members directly impacted by these policies: getting laid off, going two whole years without a job, getting hired at a fraction of what they had earned before, and then--happily--being hired back into their field, making much the same as what they had been making before the Great Recession.
IT TAKES TIME TO TURN THE TITANIC AWAY FROM THE ICE BERG.
The Gross Domestic Product, which was shrinking at more than 8% when Obama took office, is now growing by 1-2% every quarter. It could be better, and it WILL be better, but considering how far we've come, it is amazing.
Meanwhile, inflation is FOUR POINTS below what it was in July of 2008, and the national debt has been reduced by half a trillion dollars.
HALF. A TRILLION.
Meanwhile, going against the counsel of his advisers, President Obama oversaw the bail-out of the United States auto industry. Consequently, EVERY DIME WAS PAID BACK to the government by the auto industry, and eventually, it is now the STRONGEST it has been in its history, and hundreds of thousands of jobs were preserved, as were many communities which had been dependent upon that industry.
Candidate Obama promised to tackle health care reform in 2008, and against the advice of every staff member he had, he did so. The Affordable Care Act closed the "donut hole" for prescription drug coverage for seniors on Medicare; provided preventative health services for women free of charge; permitted millions of young adults to be covered on their parents' health care plans, and covered millions more who had preexisting conditions. Insurance companies were forced to pour 80% of their profits back into patient care--no more extravagant CEO perks and salaries--and rebate checks were sent out to customers who had been cheated. Medical records are being streamlined and brought into the 21st Century by being transferred into digital forms.
More benefits will be provided in the next few years, as the law takes full effect.
President Obama made a MASSIVE investment in alternative energy sources, creating more than 75,000 jobs in wind and solar energy, and creating a whole new American manufacturing base for electric-car batteries. Along with these new energy investments has been a subsidiary investment in a grid to bring that energy to the areas where it is most needed--and in so doing, reducing our dependence upon foreign oil.
Speaking of foreign oil, candidate Obama promised to end the war in Iraq.
President Obama DID end the war in Iraq.
End of story.
President Obama has reduced the fighting forces in Afghanistan by more than 30,000, and promises to bring that war to an end as well. He has proven that his word on that regard can be trusted.
If you don't believe it, I'll let you talk to my son, the former Marine, who did two combat tours to Iraq and voted for Obama so he would never have to go back. President Obama has kept his promise to my son and thousands like him.
Candidate Obama promised that, if we had actionable intelligence that terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden could be found in Pakistan, he would act on it and see the man dead.
Fellow candidates John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton soundly mocked Mr. Obama, calling him reckless and naive.
But when President Obama received actionable intelligence as to the whereabouts of the man directly responsible for the greatest act of terrorism on American soil--against advice from everyone on his staff, including Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton--he ordered the Seal Team raid that killed America's Number One enemy.
In so doing, the Seal team also recovered incalculably valuable computer hard drives that revealed a network of terrorists and helped break up many plots-in-progress against Americans at home and abroad.
President Obama, while restoring our badly damaged reputation around the world, has regarded terrorism not from the faded lens of the Cold War, but from a 21st Century lens, using predator drones in surgical strikes to take out dozens of terrorists, crippling al Qaeda--and unlike his predecessor--KEEPING US SAFE from another big attack on American soil.
In the time being, President Obama has overseen the integration of gays into the military without their having to hide who they are and who they love even as they fight our country's wars.
And in the first act of legislation he ever signed, the Lilly Ledbetter Act, women must now be paid equal wages for equal work.
According to the Pulitzer Prize-winning, nonpartisan, Tampa Bay Politifact.com, which tracks these things, SEVENTY-FOUR PERCENT (that's, 74%)
of the campaign promises that President Obama made have either been kept, are in the works to be kept, or he has made strategic compromises with the most obstructionist Republican congress in history to keep them.
The thing is, HE'S NOT FINISHED YET.
If we, the voters, can return to him a congress he can work with, there is so much that this president wants to accomplish that he would be able to accomplish. It is common knowledge now that the entire Republican congressional delegation held a meeting on Inauguration Day, and vowed that they would refuse EVERY initiative he proposed, fight him on EVERY policy, filibuster EVERY law--even the ones they had, at one time, supported--thus proving that their duty and loyalty was to their Party and to being reelected, NOT to governing this country.
To that end, they have blocked President Obama's American Jobs Act, which would create millions of jobs in this country, OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN.
Think about that, the next time you are prepared to blame the president for not doing enough to create jobs.
Even as they voted down jobs acts, Republicans in congress not only did not propose any of their OWN solutions, but spent their legislating time naming post offices after their friends and passing THIRTY-THREE bills to regulate women's reproductive health--not one of which even passed the Senate, and all of which President Obama threatened to veto.
Republicans have also blocked the president's initiatives on behalf of Hispanics. A second-term President Obama will most certainly tackle immigration reform, and the president has already used the power of executive order to go over the heads of the recalcitrant Tea-Publicans to offer help to immigrants who were raised here and think of themselves as Americans.
Barack Obama has a VISION for how he sees this country making its mark in the 21st Century.
It's a streamlined, technologically savvy, young-thinking, economically sound, peacetime nation that comes together as a community, offering a helping hand to our weakest and most vulnerable, and rewarding those who sacrificed so much in the service of this country. It will be a country where all men and woman truly ARE created equal, where equal rights will be afforded no matter what your race, creed, or sexual orientation.
And it will be a nation where those who have received the most blessings will, in turn, pay their fair share towards maintaining the goods and services we all rely on: transportation infrastructure, national defense, protection of our food, drugs, and environment, and care for our elderly and our sick.
It will be a country where people will no longer have to bankrupt themselves for medical expenses because they were rejected by insurance companies over a "preexisting condition," or because, for instance, a woman couldn't afford a mammogram and wound up paying hundreds of thousands for breast cancer treatments.
One reason President Obama has been unable to fulfill promises he made, for instance, to his base, is that the problems he encountered upon taking office were so cataclysmic, so catastrophic, that it has taken virtually his entire presidency just to stabilize this sinking ship of state and set it back on a proper course.
This has disappointed some on the Left, who had hoped to see more "hope and change" from this president, but what they must understand is the tremendous undertow which has been dragging him under: a staggering economy, two unwinnable wars, rampant joblessness, a spiteful opposition congress, and a dispirited nation.
Those who say they will punish him by not voting at all are being ridiculously naive about just how legislating works, just how great the extent of the resistance he faced, and just how overwhelming the problems were that required his immediate and ongoing attention.
If they give him a renewed chance, particularly if they reward him with a Democratic congress and Senate, President Obama, freed of the constraints of another looming campaign, can at last deliver on the rest of the promises that he made.
THIS IS THE CHOICE BEFORE US.
What kind of nation do we want? Do we want to be forward-looking, modern, inclusive, tolerant, prosperous, healthy, with a strong sense of community, and at peace?
Or do we want to REVERSE COURSE ENTIRELY, turning the ship of state back around, heading for that field of icebergs full-speed? Do we want to take up the old standard of George W. Bush--not just economically, but overseas as well?
Do we want to ROLL BACK hard-fought rights for our men and women in military and for those of us who happen to love someone of the same gender?
Do we want another DECADE OF WAR?
On November 6th, we're not just casting a vote. WE ARE CHARTING A COURSE FOR THE NATION.
November 6th will be a DAY OF RECKONING.
What kind of country do you want?
More than at any other time since 1860, this election will chart a course for the future of our country that will be DRAMATICALLY DIFFERENT depending upon who we put in the White House.
Which way do you want to go? Backwards toward the 19th century, or FORWARD to the 21st and 22nd centuries?
Do you cherish health care reforms that have helped your senior parents, your college-aged children, or your chronically ill loved ones?
Have you welcomed home a loved one from a combat zone and rejoiced in knowing they will never have to return?
Have you watched a loved one struggle with unemployment, but finally found work, or kept from losing their homes, and you have known, in your heart of hearts, that things really are getting better?
Do you have a friend or family member who is gay, and it has hurt you when people speak of denying them basic civil rights?
Are you a woman who cherishes your independent freedom to make your own health care decisions?
I could ask these sorts of questions all night. Ask them for yourself. Think about it.
MAKE A RECKONING.
|Posted by Deanie Mills at | | |
UPDATE posted at end.
It's hard out there for a woman.
"This is scary!" cried a conservative woman friend of mine. "Listening to these Republicans scares me."
She was referring to the many and various anti-woman policies coming out of the Republican party, the knee-jerk support automatically being pronounced by the leading Republican candidates for the presidency, and now, the poisonous venom being directed toward women everywhere from the Right-Wing media.
I have seen backlashes against women's rights in the past; certainly in the 80's following the many strides that had been made by women in the 70's. And I saw it when Bill Clinton became president and made the remark that he fully intended to involve his wife in his work because she was brilliant--something, by the way, that she has proven many times over--but the hysteria that poured forth from the Republican Party in response, the Hillary-hatred I witnessed then, was unbelievable.
But what I have seen in the past two weeks, the concerted effort to oppress, bully, humiliate, and shame women that has not only been promoted by the Republican Party and their candidates, but has not even garnered so much as ONE man or woman of courage to step up and denounce the worst of it, is unprecedented in my lifetime.
Then I saw an entire political party and all their spokesmen attempt to deny women access to birth control, not from the STATE, but from their own employers!
In Texas, at least a dozen--and more every day--Planned Parenthood clinics have been closed in recent months. I know women who rely on those clinics to get pap smears, mammograms, STD testing, and birth control--women who have no interest in getting abortions. Those women are now shut out of any access to reproductive health.
So, say they do get health insurance from their employer. Say they work for a local, rural, small-town hospital. Say that hospital gets into financial trouble. Say it is bought by a chain of Catholic-run hospitals.
And say the new owners now refuse to permit their employer-based health insurance to cover birth control or other reproductive health procedures--such as tubal ligations, vasectomies, dilation and cuterage for ectopic pregnancies, emergency abortions to save the life of the mother, and so forth.
What then? Where do families go? What do they do?
Polls reveal that some 98% of CATHOLIC women do not follow the precepts set by the old white men who run their religion. That means that 98% of Catholic women use some form of birth control. Local priests know this, and they look the other way.
In fact, some six-in-ten of those polled, including Catholics,
support the contraception rule put forth by the Obama administration, especially with the new compromise that puts the responsibility on the insurance companies rather than the employers.
I am not a Catholic, and I do not live in a Catholic-leaning area. I do, however, live in a rural area. I have friends who are nurses, and they are Protestants. Some attend church and some do not.
Why should the CATHOLIC CHURCH tell THESE WOMEN what to do with their own bodies? How to plan their own families?
As former conservative anti-abortion crusader, Frank Schaeffer, pointed out in the Huffington Post,
this is the same church--and these are the same Catholic church bishops--who covered up decades--if not centuries--of sexual molestation and child abuse at the hands of Catholic priests, who were merely moved from diocese to diocese rather than removed from the ministry, which created many more thousands of victims. Some of these same child-molesting priests were even promoted. How many became bishops?
And not only that, but I know many women who do not rely on the birth control pill to prevent pregnancies, but because their physicians have prescribed them for other medical problems. Some women have highly irregular periods, and they go on the pill for a few months so that they can get them regulated, which would help them to become pregnant when they are ready. Some women are literally crippled by menstrual cramps every month, and rely on the pill for relief.
What are THESE women to do?
The law recently put forth by Republicans, however, the Blunt-Rubio amendment, went MUCH FURTHER than just preventing a woman from having health insurance cover her IUD. Instead, it said an employer could refuse health insurance coverage for ANYTHING they considered against their "MORAL CONVICTIONS."
Let's examine that for a moment.
What if an employer of a small business believes that AIDS is caused by immoral behavior, and therefore, prevents his employees for receiving treatment through their health insurance policies?
What if an employer is a Jehovah's Witness, and their religion forbids blood transfusions? Would that mean that employer could refuse insurance coverage for life-saving blood transfusions for their employees?
What if an employer believes that poor physical fitness leads to weight gain, and so refuses a whole slew of policies, for treatment of diabetes, heart disease, or even breast cancer?
It's worse than that, though.
Somehow, the idea has taken hold in the consciousness of Right-wingers that the only women who want and need access to birth control are unmarried young women. Rick Santorum is on the record opposing birth control as "against the natural way of things." If he is opposed to birth control for MARRIED COUPLES--then what do you think he, and his rabid followers, think about single women who use birth control?
I'll tell you what they think. They think exactly what their primary Party leader and spokesman has said on the air in his radio show to MILLIONS of listeners.
He seemed to take some personal umbrage to this brave young woman, who is a law student at Georgetown University, and proceeded to behave as if HE were being asked to pay for her birth control.
According to Ed Schultz on The Ed Show, Limbaugh's program is broadcast to something like 600 radio stations, and 20 MILLION listeners.
Think about that.
In other words, Keep your legs shut, you whores, you sluts. Because if you are a young woman having sex, you are obviously a whore.
By the next day, Limbaugh asked the woman, again by name
, "Who bought your condoms when
you were in the sixth grade?"
THIS SHOULD BE A WATERSHED MOMENT FOR THE REPUBLICAN PARTY.
On June 9, 1954, Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, after 30 days of hearings on the infiltration of Communists into all aspects of American life, demanded from Joseph Welch information on a young lawyer from his firm
, who, like Welch, was a graduate of Harvard Law. As McCarthy openly accused the young man of being a Communist, Welch bristled, saying, "Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do injury to that lad."
When McCarthy pressed the case, Welch insisted they go no further, claiming the young man's entire life was being compromised and saying, "Let us not assassinate this young man further."
But when McCarthy steadfastly ignored Welch and continued to harrangue him for further information, Welch said loudly, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
That moment was not just a watershed moment for the country, it was also a death-knell for McCarthy's career. Within three years, he was dead of alcoholism, and the witch-hunts for Communists under every rock ceased.
This should be such a moment.
The policies that deny women and the men who love them all dignity and decency are bad enough.
But for this standard-bearer of the Republican Party to be allowed to continue his despicable, reprehensible attacks on an innocent young congressional witness WITHOUT ONE REPUBLICAN COMING FORTH TO DENOUNCE HIM OR HIS WORDS...THAT, in itself, should tell the American people everything they need to know about the Republican party as they choose statehouse representatives, U.S. congress people and senators, and the president of the United States.
REPUBLICANS: HAVE YOU NO SENSE OF DECENCY?
Are you all so terrified of this bully that you would cower in the corner and permit him to destroy an innocent young woman--and thereby, besmirch the names of women everywhere--and SAY NOTHING???
DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THAT WOMEN WILL NOT REMEMBER THIS?
Do you really think that by claiming it's a matter of "religious freedom," that people of good conscience and integrity would forget this assault on the character of this country?
HAVE YOU DEGENERATED SO FAR AS A PARTY THAT YOU CANNOT EVEN DEFEND THE HONOR OF A YOUNG WOMAN WHO IS BEING DAILY, SYSTEMATICALLY, TORN ASUNDER BY YOUR OWN RINGLEADER?
Why is this man still on the air?
Clearly, like Joe McCarthy, he feels invincible, indestructable, untouchable.
But even Rush Limbaugh needs sponsors. It's time we learned who they were. It's time we wrote to those sponsors, signed petitions against those sponsors, boycotted those sponsor's products.
It's time women everywhere RISE UP against these unfair, unwarranted attacks, RISE UP against verbal abuse and bullying, RISE UP against policies that would deny us freedom to discuss our own health with our own private physicians, paid for out of our own pockets to our own health insurance companies, RISE UP against invasive procedures dictated by the state that basically amount to rape.
This is a come-to-Jesus moment for the Republican Party.
There can be no excuses for what is happening right now that diminishes, disrespects, and demeans women.
And if the Republican Party cannot police its own in defense of women everywhere, then they most certainly do not need to remain in the kind of power that dictates women's health and personal freedoms to them.
Make no mistake. This has nothing to do with religious freedom.
It has everything to do with women's freedom.
And right now, the only freedom we've GOT is in the voting booth. EXERCISE IT.
also has a list of sponsors who have either pulled their ads or are considering it; the difference is that ThinkProgress has printed their comments when doing so.
Here is where
you file a complaint with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission)'s Consumer & Government Affairs Bureau. It's very quick and easy.
|Posted by Deanie Mills at | | |
As first Nebraska, then Louisiana, then Texas, then Iowa, then Virginia, then Alabama--and no doubt others I don't know about yet--either passed transvaginal ultrasound laws or submitted the bills to committee or scheduled votes on them; and as first Mississippi and then Georgia and then Oklahoma and others I probably don't know about tried to pass so-called "Personhood" laws or amendments or put them up for popular vote (which would give full rights to a fertilized egg and consider any kind of birth control that would keep the egg from attaching to the wall of the uterus to be, basically, murder and therefore banned); and as first Wisconsin and then Florida and then several other states started putting forth legislation that would bust unions...if you are like me, you began to wonder...What is this, the domino effect?
Do these states pay so much close attention to one another that they are copying each other's legislation?
Like...to the LETTER?
Or could there be another explanation...Nah...that would be too paranoid, wouldn't it?
I mean, the Right wingnuts are always sending around hysterical viral e-mails chock-full of conspiracy theories (Obama is a secret Muslim!)--and we don't want to be crazy like them, do we?
Wasn't it embarrassing enough that we had Truthers who were lumped into the same crazy-category as the Birthers, right? So we have to be sensible and quit conjuring monsters where there are only shadows.
I mean, there's not REALLY a "vast, right-wing conspiracy"...is there?
Never mind that when now Secretary of State, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton first made that notorious statement on a morning television program, Newsweek magazine came out a couple of weeks later with a chart detailing the nefarious connections between various Right-wing millionaires, functionaries, and politicians that all led to the same end: Removing Bill Clinton from the Oval office before his second term ran out--whether the majority of American voters who had put him there wanted them to or not. And they almost succeeded, but for one vote, cast by Vice President Gore.
Such howling and caterwauling arose from the Right after Ms. Clinton's remark that it was eventually tossed off as a joke by most in the media.
But the cascade of Right-wing legislation that is being funneled through statehouses all over the country and eventually into the United States House of Representatives--which is controlled, at the moment, by the extreme Right-wing of the Republican Party--and the stark similarities between the bills begs the question:
Is there a central clearing-house, run by uber-conservatives, that literally writes model bills, submits them to friendly Republican legislators who are fluffed-up beforehand by generous campaign contributions, aids the legislators in streamlining the model bill for his or her own state, and then smooths the way in advance for the bill's passage?
This is the vision of ALEC as stated on their website:
A nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty. Their vision and initiative resulted in the creation of a voluntary membership association for people who believed that government closest to the people was fundamentally more effective, more just, and a better guarantor of freedom than the distant, bloated federal government in Washington, D.C.
Although ALEC insists it is "nonpartisan," the truth is that ALEC was started all the way back in 1973 by Paul Weyrich, who co-founded the Heritage Foundation and is responsible for coining the phrase, "Moral Majority."
Nothing non-partisan about THOSE guys.
In fact, of the 23 members of ALEC's Public Sector Board, only three are Democrats. And of the 72 state chairmanship seats--only THREE are held by Democrats.
I guess this is how they get away with claiming "non-partisanship."
Originally, ALEC was created to help defeat the Equal Rights Amendment (mission accomplished!), but over time, he grew into a very clever boy.
Over the years, ALEC’s mission evolved from promoting a socially conservative agenda to advocating for pro-business, free market doctrines. ALEC began courting corporations and their contributions, touting its ability to bring legislative leaders and corporate executives together.
As the mission of the organization changed, Weyrich’s name was dropped from references to the group’s beginnings, and ALEC subtly moved away from some of its more extreme stances on social issues. Instead, ALEC executives focused on the issues concerning the corporate sponsors with the deepest pockets, mainly tobacco, energy and pharmaceutical companies.
Today, Washington, D.C.-based ALEC serves as the ultimate smoke-filled backroom, where corporations gain access to legislators and get the laws they write enacted throughout the country. Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, a major force in ALEC’s rebirth as a corporate front, outlined the process, saying, “I always found new ideas and then I’d take them back to Wisconsin, disguise them a little bit, and declare that it’s mine.”
Corporations pay up to $50,000 for membership to ALEC, and legislators as little as $50. They are wined, dined, treated to vacation trips, and handed model legislation that they can submit without doing any kind of research or other work. In one case, a state congress woman simply handed in the model legislation to the committee without even bothering to tailor it for her own state--thus revealing the true source of the proposed law.
As ALEC has grown in size and power, the organization has set up ten Task Forces. The American Association for Justice enumerates them:
These task forces include Civil Justice, Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development, Education, Health and Human Services, International Relations, Natural Resources, Public Safety and Elections, Tax and Fiscal Policy, and Telecommunications and Information Technology. In each task force, “[l]egislators welcome their private sector counterparts to the table as equals, working in unison to solve the challenges facing our nation.”
According to ALEC’s 2010 Legislative Scorecard, 826 pieces of ALEC legislation were introduced in statehouses around the country in 2009 and 115 were enacted into law.
As more ALEC laws are passed, more state legislators are courted. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, ALEC actively chases after conservative lawmakers with more than just "dinner and a movie"--they also donate MILLIONS to campaigns. Donations that come from ALEC originate with such corporations as Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Chevron, BP North America, Koch Industries, and many others.
Not only does ALEC cultivate state legislators, but they put forth presidential candidates as well. Rick Perry, for one, according to the Institute on Money in State Politics, was a former member and alumni of ALEC:
The American Legislative Exchange Council has given more than $2 million to support Gov. Rick Perry and a total of more than $3.8 million to 21 Texas elected officials, all Republicans, according to an analysis by the National Institute for Money in State Politics. Of the $516.2 million given over the past 20 years, corporate donors spent $228.3 million on campaigns in support of issues on ballots in various states. Another $202.1 million went to candidates and $85.8 million went to almost exclusively Republican state committees. Perry was, by far, the most popular donor target in Texas.
Texas is not the only state bought and sold on the auction block by ALEC, of course. Ohio, for example, according to PR Watch, "runs deep" with ALEC influence. Common Cause identifies Minnesota as another state owned by ALEC. I think you can safely assume that if a state is dominated by a Republican government, either in the gubernatorial office, and/or in the statehouse, then ALEC is a major player in submitting and passing conservative legislation such as the union-busting laws we've seen in Wisconsin and Florida and the anti-immigration laws in Arizona and Alabama. In Texas so far, Progress Texas, People for the American Way, and the Center for Media and Democracy have put together a list of specific laws passed in Texas, pretty much under the radar, that were engineered by ALEC--the most eye-opening of which is the new Voter ID law, which has been repeated nationwide in other Republican statehouses. ALEC laws cover a broad spectrum, and one of these is in the field of education. ALEC has sponsored a number of laws nationwide that force schools to teach climate denial. The course materials provided are put together by Exxon-Mobile, among others. The Natural Resources Defense Council has put together a complete report on ALEC's meddling in not just environmental matters, but any kind of conservative legislation favored by the Right Wing of the Republican Party:
Nonetheless, most Americans undoubtedly would be shocked to learn that many of the state laws under which they live and work have actually been written by major U.S. corporations not by the state legislators they have elected to represent them. As this report documents, this approach to lawmaking at the state level has been championed and carried out over the years by the American Legislative Exchange Council. Through ALEC, corporations pay to have their special-interest legislation promoted to state legislators across the country.
And if you suspect that the Koch brothers have more than just a $50,000 membership in ALEC, you would be right, as reported in The Nation:
The Kochs have not just multiplied the wealth of their dad; they’ve repackaged and amplified his worldview. David’s latest venture, Americans for Prosperity, subsidizes the Tea Party movement, which repeats this “socialist” smear. Charles is a member of the exclusive Mount Pelerin Society, inspired by Frederic von Hayek’s antisocialist polemicThe Road to Serfdom. Through the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the Institute for Humane Studies administers the Hayek Fund for Scholars and sister programs to fund academics and staffers for like-minded groups across the country. “Charles G. Koch Fellows” and interns stock ALEC, and have gone on to direct ALEC task forces.
A recent editorial by the New York Times details the flood of Right-wing legislation coming out of state houses, suppressing voter ID, making guns plentiful just about everywhere, and erect legal obstacles and challenges to President Obama's Affordable Care Act that reformed health care in this country. Nearly all the states have had laws submitted nullifying the one requirement that would enforce health care reform--the mandate. These laws are based on models put together in the ALEC corporate headquarters in Washington, D.C.
There is nothing illegal or unethical about ALEC’s work, except that it further demonstrates the pervasive influence of corporate money and right-wing groups on the state legislative process. There is no group with any comparable influence on the left. Lawmakers who eagerly do ALEC’s bidding have much to answer for. Voters have a right to know whether the representatives they elect are actually writing the laws, or whether the job has been outsourced to big corporate interests.
The fact that there is no group on the Left with anywhere NEAR this kind of power says that there is only one way that we can effectively fight this scourge on our democracy, and that is by exercising our vote, by working for Democratic candidates who, while they may accept corporate donations to their campaigns, are not so cookie-cutter owned by the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy that they simply automatically accept model bills put before them, rubber-stamp them, and turn them into laws that ruin life for the rest of us.
We can volunteer for Democratic candidates for state representatives as well as United States representatives from our states, and United States senate candidates who have not been bought and sold on the Koch Brothers auction block.
Now, at the opening of this blogpost, I mentioned the vomit-wave of anti-women legislation being regurgitated from various Republican statehouses in recent weeks--legislation referred to by a friend of mine as "staterape."
A cursory check of the ALEC website reveals no legislation specific to transvaginal ultrasounds or other anti-abortion bills.
But you have to look CLOSER.
Success, as they say, breeds success. Whether fostered and funded by ALEC, I do not know, but an organization calling itself the Bioethics Defense Fund (Law in the Service of Life)--has followed the blueprint put forth by ALEC on the corporate level and applied it to the Right-wing Right-to-Life legion.
Like Alec, BDF offers not just "models" for the kinds of oppressive laws we've seen in the past few weeks, but also offers legal guidance in order to enable a cooperating state legislator to tailor the model law to that of his or her own state:
The law, according to BDF, "gives women two chances to choose life."
After her forced transvaginal ultrasound, the state must provide women their "second chance" to "choose life"--they can be forced to view the ultrasound images, or they can be forced to hear a description of what is on the screen, or they can be forced to accept a picture of the ultrasound image.
Check your own state--especially if it has a Republican-dominated House. See which option YOU get to "choose."
Some of you may be saying, What MORE can we do to fight this takeover of our democracy by Right-wing theologians and corporate robber-barons? How can we fight such entrenched interests?
After all, we're only The People.
A group that has grown out of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which calls itself Shut Down the Corporations, has called for a National Call to Action tomorrow, February 29, 2012.
Their website details many actions that have been successfully undertaken by activists throughout the decades who have taken on entrenched corporate interests and managed to wrestle our democracy back into our own hands.
See if you can find an action to join in an area near you.
There are dramatic actions that can be taken--strikes, blockades, shut-downs, and sit-ins, and there are more quiet actions that simply do what the media has failed to do for the past 38 years--SHED LIGHT ON THE COCKROACHES.
This website, ALEC Exposed, is the most thorough and complete resource you will need to find out exactly what is going on, not just in our nation, but in your own state. There are links, Tweet-feeds, Facebook pages, in-depth articles from all kinds of media outlets, information, and guidance provided by ALEC Exposed. Much of the information I got for this blogpost came from this resource.
I must admit, that while putting this together, I started to feel overwhelmed and depressed, feeling like David against a humongous Goliath, wondering if we would EVER be able to make possible the impossible task of undermining this Right-wing juggernaut and bringing sanity and sound democracy back to our country.
And then I got to thinking about how impossible it had seemed that a black man with the middle name of "Hussein," who was running against the most sophisticated political machine of our generation--the Clintons--just for the nomination--how impossible it seemed that he would ever become president.
The speech is a half-hour long, and worth every minute, but in the final moments, the president leaned over the podium and said, "If you've got just an ounce of fight left in you, I've got a TON of fight left in me."
And I thought, yeah, every fight we've waged--from health care reform to ending the war in Iraq--has seemed impossible at the outset.
But we joined together, and not just Democrats, but Independents and moderates and disgruntled Republicans and people who just supported Barack Obama and had no particular affiliation--we all joined together and we FOUGHT for what we knew was right.
We can win this fight. I'm in it to win it. How about you?
|Posted by Deanie Mills at | | |
According to a law passed by a Tea-Bagger Texas statehouse and signed as an "emergency measure" by Governor Rick Perry,
and mis-presented to the public at the time the bill was passed, along with the 5th Circuit's decision
that this procedure CAN proceed even as the law itself is being appealed--women can now be legally raped in the state of Texas if they see a physician about getting an abortion.
By "rape," I mean that the sonogram which is required by this law for all women seeking abortions in the first 10 weeks--which nearly all women now do--is not a "jelly on the belly" procedure, as State Rep. Carol Alvarado
pointed out, in which you take off your clothes, put on a flimsy gown, climb up onto a cold table, have some colder jelly smeared on your stomach, and then wait while a technician or doctor rolls the wand around and interprets the picture that appears on the computer screen.
At the time this bill was being debated and passed, the Texas media simply reported that women would be required to get a sonogram if they wanted an abortion. As a Texas woman, I wasn't pleased about that but I wasn't rendered apoplectic the way I was today when I found out that the sonogram which is required is actually a "TRANS-VAGINAL" procedure.
I have had a trans-vaginal sonogram. My gynocologist requested it when, during a pelvic exam and yearly pap smear, she thought she might have encountered a uterine tumor, and we needed to find out for sure. Of course, I agreed. In a trans-vaginal sonogram, first of all, you have to go without urinating for hours in advance so that the image is more clear. This is extremely uncomfortable. It means that you have to show up at the hospital, take off your clothes, put on a flimsy gown, and climb up onto the table while, at the same time, urgently feeling the need to urinate.
Then, they shove that sonogram wand UP YOUR VAGINA and dig it around in there while you try frantically not to pee on the technician. It is painful. It is uncomfortable. It is embarrassing. In my case, I had a male technician, and a female nurse did not accompany him into the sonogram room. Now, I must say that he was incredibly kind and very professional, but it was a STRANGE MAN who was sticking a COLD WAND up into my vagina and poking it around inside of me
while he looked at the computerized images on the screen and I ground my teeth to keep from wetting myself.
Let's say you are a 13 year old girl and you were raped by your uncle. You and your parents agree that an abortion is the best thing for your situation. YOU HAVE TO BE SUBJECTED TO YET ANOTHER FOREIGN OBJECT BEING SHOVED UP YOUR VAGINA--possibly by a strange man.
Even if your reason for getting an abortion is not related to rape or incest--let's say you have been, at one time in your past, a victim of rape yourself. Let's say that, in the attack, the rapist shoved a beer bottle or a broom handle up your vagina as part of the attack. NOW, you are being forced to have a plastic bottle-like object poked into your vagina AGAIN.
As to the matter of cost. DOES THE STATE PAY? I can't find an answer to that question with a cursory Google-search, but if they DON'T, then what do you do if you do not have health insurance?
If you live in the state of Texas, where a full 25% of the public do not have health insurance,
the odds are good that, should you be subjected to this medically unnecessary procedure against your will and without your consent (which meets the definition of rape), you will have to pay hundreds of dollars because it is considered an outpatient surgical procedure, since you have to have it done at a hospital.
So...let's say they are triumphant! You decide not to have the abortion. DOES THE STATE OF TEXAS GIVE A FLYING DAMN WHAT HAPPENS TO THAT BABY ONCE IT EXITS YOUR WOMB?
The state of Texas, which insisted that abstinence-only be taught in sex-education classes at the high school and junior high level, has ONE OF THE HIGHEST RATES OF TEEN PREGNANCY IN THE COUNTRY.
It has one of the lowest rates of CHILDREN'S HEALTH INSURANCE in the state. It has one of the highest rates of poverty, the highest rates of minimum-wage jobs that do not provide health insurance benefits and do not support a family, and one of the lowest standards of education in the country.
The Republican statehouse that insisted on ramming through this obscenity of a law, also slashed the state's budget for WIC--Women's, Infants, and Children's nutritional programs, food stamps, Aid to Dependent Children, Children's Health Insurance, and Medicaid--all programs which are designed to help pregnant women and young mothers.
Rick Perry was so damned and determined to show that he had balanced the state's budget when he launched his doomed presidential race that he forced through massive budget cuts in areas that could ill afford it, plunging MILLIONS into premature poverty--including many, many mothers of young children.
Most of the jobs he likes to brag were created in his state are minimum-wage jobs, so if a mother wants to support her children and can't find a decent job, she must work two or three minimum-wage jobs to feed her family, and who provides child care? Not the state, which slashed that budget as well.
So, WHAT IF SHE WANTS TO PREVENT AN UNPLANNED PREGNANCY in the first place? Shouldn't that make all those so-called "PRO-LIFERS" happy? Not if she can't afford hundreds for a visit to the OB/GYN and birth control pills or devices. Her only option is to go to Planned Parenthood for her women's reproductive health needs--her pap smears, STD tests, pregnancy tests, birth control, and PRE-NATAL CARE.
But Gov. Perry, aided and abetted by the sanctimonious, self-righteous Republicans in the statehouse, CLOSED PLANNED PARENTHOOD CLINICS all over the state
and have vowed to eventually close them all.
It's just a matter of time before these religious zealots close in on various forms of birth control as well as abortions--already, pharmacists who have religious views against birth control do not have to fill prescriptions for birth control pills, and more and more evangelicals are considering birth control itself to be against the laws of God. As one spokesman
from the World Congress of Families put it, "American evangelicals have unwittingly traded the Virgin Mary for Margaret Sanger."
REALLY? So, if you take the Pill, you are desecrating the VIRGIN MARY???
At least one evangelical Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, has already vowed that, if elected president, he will outlaw federal funding for birth control, and several of them, including Mitt Romney, have supported various "Personhood" amendments, which state that any effort to prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to a womb wall, such as IUD devices or some birth control pills, are considered on par with abortion and are banned in that state.
One of my Facebook friends described this as "religious persecution." When you think about it, that's exactly what it is. A small minority of far-right evangelical Christians have rammed through an obscene violation of a woman's privacy between herself and her physician in the most intimate of ways, and if allowed to continue, will eventually ban even a woman's right to prevent pregnancy.
Because this law in Texas and other states does not stop with having a wand shoved up a woman's vagina--AGAINST HER WILL AND WITHOUT HER CONSENT
--no. The doctor THEN has to force her to listen to his or her description of what he or she is seeing on the computer screen, force her to listen to the heartbeat if there is one, and then, there are scripted remarks he or she is required to say.
Doctors have challenged this in court. God forbid we infringe on a doctor's paternalistic relationship with his or her patient. Lower courts have ruled that they don't have to say what the Republican statehouse demands.
But they still have to DO it. Women, they say, don't have to listen. I'd like to know how that could be. A noisy iphone and earphones, perhaps? She lies there, naked and vulnerable, her legs spread, a technician's hand up her vagina, and somehow she's not supposed to listen to remarks scripted for the guy by Republicans in the state capitol.
So that she can obtain a CONSTITUTIONALLY LEGAL PROCEDURE.
It is an OBSCENITY. It is a VIOLATION. It is STATE-SANCTIONED RAPE.
Women in this state and others who have rammed through or are considering such a measure should RISE UP AND BE HEARD. They should FIGHT BACK. And for the love of God, VOTE.
ELECTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES, AND SOMETIMES, THEY CAN RESULT IN YOUR HAVING SOMETHING SHOVED UP YOUR VAGINA AGAINST YOUR WILL AND WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT.
Vote Democratic and stop this madness and mysogeny.
|Posted by Deanie Mills at | | |
[Note: This blogpost is quite long, like a lengthy but juicy piece in Vanity Fair. I suggest you bookmark or favorite the piece, read what you can of it, then return when you have more time, unless you've plenty of time now. I guarantee it will be worth the trouble.]
"It looked as if a night of dark intent
Was coming, and not only a night, an age.
Someone had better be prepared for the rage."
When President Obama announced that the "long war in Iraq will be coming to an end by the end of this year," he promised "another season of Homecomings," as all remaining deployed troops would be reunited with their families at some point during the holidays. That would include one of my nephews, who is currently back in-country for a second deployment. This bring to EIGHT, the total number of deployments for my family members to Iraq and Afghanistan--seven of them in Iraq. My son and three of his cousins have all served honorably in combat roles in the Marine Corps, Army, and Army Special Forces, with ranks ranging from Marine corporal to Army major--and that does not count one family member who also did a tour in Afghanistan in the very early months of the conflict, as a brigadier general with Army Special Forces, before he retired.
My son and one nephew--with five deployments between them--have now completed their four-year active-duty commitments to the Marines, as well as their four-year Reserves commitments, and are living busy civilian lives. My other two nephews are making the Army a career. My nephew Mike was deployed with the Marine 3/7 to the Anbar province in April, 2004, when Blackwater private contractors were attacked by a mob in Fallujah, beaten, shot, and set on fire, dragged through the city behind pickup trucks, and finally, hanged from the bridge that soon became known as the Blackwater bridge. His unit fought the insurgents in an attempt to regain control of the city, but took heavy casualties and were called back until the Powers that Be could plan a more coordinated attack and give innocent civilians time to flee the city before the push.
That major battle, the Battle of Fallujah, which took place in November of 2004, included my son in his first deployment with the Marine 3/5. He, his buddies, and thousands of Army and Marine troops were held outside the city for days until after the presidential elections, because President Bush knew there would be massive, bloody American casualties during that horrific battle, and he did not want to risk his chances of getting reelected by having so much bad war news smeared across the TV-news screens every night.
Three days after the elections, he ordered the attack, and my son, his buddies, and so many other sons and some daughters (mostly medical staff) fought block-by-block, street-by-street, house-by-house, and room-by-room for days, taking more casualties in that month than in any other month of the entire war--a bloody number that still stands, seven years later.
The November Battle of Fallujah, (known as the Second Battle of Fallujah by the Marines because of the April battle by my nephew's unit, the 3/7), was detailed in a compelling book, NO TRUE GLORY, a Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah, by Bing West, a former Marine who humped it with 10,000 troops during those harrowing days, taking the reader from tense command posts to the chaos of battle. Tom Ricks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning former Washington Post war correspondent and author of the seminal book, FIASCO, The American Military Adventure in Iraq, pronounced No True Glory, published in 2006, as the best book on the war in Iraq up to that time. Truly, this battle, the largest one for Marines since Khe Sanh in Vietnam, dominated every newspaper and news magazine for weeks. We subscribed to Time and Newsweek here at home. When my son was deep in the thick of battle, the new Newsweek landed in our mailbox, depicting three Army soldiers in full combat gear on the cover with the words: The Slog of War: Why Fixing Iraq Will be Harder Than Bush or Kerry Told You--and inside, a two-page photo depicting Marines, with the title, Hell to Pay. A couple of weeks later, Time arrived, with a close-up of a Marine yelling something to his buddies, and the words: Street Fight: Inside the Battle for Fallujah. Inside, a two-page photo spread of an army unit, and the title, Into the Hot Zone.
The first words of THAT article, by Michael Ware, were "WE'RE NOT GOING TO DIE!" as the platoon takes machine-gun fire.
Although I do come from a military family, there were many things that I did not yet understand while that horrendous battle was taking place in terms of military casualties. My son had explained to me that if the news media reported "soldiers" dead, that it was army. "Marines are always called Marines, never soldiers," he said.
You'd be surprised how much that simple designation helped over two deployments.
I knew that troops were prevented from contacting relatives for 24 hours following a death, in order to give the military time to notify the families. I did not know that, if the news blared that "nine Marines were killed in Fallujah today," it meant that the families had already been notified. Every time a Marine died in Fallujah, during both my son's deployments, I lived in a 24-hour Zone of Agony.
My biggest fear was that the Marines would not be able to find us. When I Google-earth my own address, I cannot tell where my house is on the topographical map. It is remote West Texas ranching country, and unless you've got a sprawling estate or ranch headquarters with several houses and barns, a solitary country house does not stand out, not even one with barns nearby. The instructions we have to give people who visit can be convoluted. I remember, when my nephew Michael was driving home to Dallas for his post-deployment leave from Camp Pendleton and planned to spend a night here--he and his buddies traveled 1100 miles, but had to pull over not two miles away because--for the first time--they were lost.
So this was not a neurotic concern for me--it was real. My worst nightmare was that I would get a phone call from a Marine sergeant who had driven a hundred miles from the airport in a rented car to notify us of our son's death, and had gotten lost, and I would have to give him directions to the house so that he could tell me what I had obviously already figured out. I could not get my city-type friends to understand why this was such a concern to me. They would laugh and say, "They're the Marines! They can find anyone!"
And I would explain how UPS and Fed-Ex were not able to find our house, even with GPS, and often had to phone for directions. Still, no one understood.
No one understood.
There is so much that people who are not living this heart-in-your-throat, I-can't-breathe daily nightmare do not understand.
They don't understand, for example, how you are utterly, completely, TERRIFIED every moment of every day your loved one is in a war zone--especially if he is part of a combat unit. (Women cannot, as yet, serve in combat units. This does not mean that women have not fought--and died--honorably in these wars, but when you refer to a combat or Infantry unit, you say "he.")
They don't understand how you can be pushing a cart down a grocery store aisle, spot a rack of beef jerky, and burst into tears.
They don't understand that you have to ship Christmas gifts in October.
They don't understand how, when you have a child in harm's way, you don't want to hear things like, "Well, at least we're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here,"--when you are standing there KNOWING that they, themselves, not only never served, but their healthy kids did not, either. So you don't want to hear their fucking empty useless cliches.
And when it comes to Marines and army Infantry, they REALLY don't understand how it's not like the neat little news broadcasts that depict sprawling bases with Burger Kings, huge mess halls, and tidy air conditioned buildings housing, say, two soldiers at a time, with big banks of phones and computers (if they didn't bring their own laptops), so that they can e-mail or call home almost every day.
Even when not in combat, a Marine like my son and nephew is out on missions for up to three weeks at a time--10 days is average--sleeping in burnt-out buildings or around desert campfires, eating MREs for days on end, going without showers for two weeks or more, and once in a while, passing around a beat-up old SAT phone so that each Marine can call home for maybe two or five minutes--IF the satellite stays positioned long enough. Once every two weeks, they'd get to go spend 24 hours on one of those big bases--long enough for a couple hot meals, a shower, a good nights' sleep, and a 30-minute phone call home, which they would sometimes split with wife or girlfriend and parents.
Those lengthier phone calls were my only signal that we had 24 hours of time where we did not have to worry, because our son was alive and relatively safe. We would sleep better then, too.
People don't understand that you learn to love your son's buddies through the stories he's told, even if you have never met them, so that when one dies, you are as devastated as if you'd lost a family member, and you grieve.
People don't understand about the condolence letters. When a Marine dies from your child's unit, many of the other Marine's family members write condolence letters to his family, either a wife and kids or set of parents. You write these letters to someone you will likely never meet, and you try to think of something to say that is not a shallow, empty slogan like, "He died for his country," or "his death was noble"--you know, the stuff you'd hear the president say in his many photo-op speeches about war.
You'd write the letters while your own heart was not just grieving for that lost boy, but shredded with fear for your own, who was still in harm's way. You'd write the letters knowing that you could be the next one to receive condolence letters yourself.
Every morning I would go out back if the weather was nice, or in my living room, and do Yoga in an attempt to control my stress, but all through the workout, tears would stream down my face.
Some family members chose to deal with their son's deployment to battle by not watching any news or discussing anything about the war. But my reasoning was that, if I blanked out the war from my knowledge, then when he got home, he would be that much lonelier because he would know that he could not discuss with me the things that had happened to him. I wanted him to always feel that he could talk to me about whatever he needed to whenever he needed to do it, without being worried that he had to protect me from anything.
So I absorbed war news like a sponge--anything and everything I could get my hands on--newspaper and magazine articles, blogposts, books, TV broadcasts and documentaries. I discussed it at length with my brother-in-law, the general--impressing him, I think, with my knowledge. I found other Marine moms and dads I could gather with online, huddling over the computer or phone on bad days, seeking news of where the boys might be and what they might be doing.
My son knew that this was my way, but when he called home from war, we did not discuss the war very often, because that is not why a soldier or Marine calls home. They call home to hear funny stories about family and friends, or to hear news of pets or, if they have them, their children, or common, everyday LITTLE things from a world so very far from their own. They call home so that, for a few minutes, they can close their eyes, hear a warm, loving voice on the other end of the line, and be safe at home.
So, when I had to go see a cardiologist to see if something might be wrong, (because, as I pointed out earlier, I couldn't breathe--turns out it was just stress and fear, not heart trouble), we didn't tell our son. And when his granddad was hospitalized, we kept that from him too. There was nothing he could do about either of those worries, and he did not need the distractions. Thinking of other things can get a Marine killed.
So many things can get a Marine killed. Every day that he was not secure on-base, my son and nephews were getting shot at or blown up. When they were not doing that, they were going up in helicopters or driving in Humvees that were getting shot at or blown up.
Day after day. Week after week. Month after month.
The Mills family has had one family member or another in Iraq or Afghanistan virtually every year in the past ten--skipping a year now and then, for more war-training.
My son was in his final week of deployment in 2005, when his superiors seemed to find it necessary to inform the guys that his unit was being REdeployed, back to Iraq, seven or eight months after they got home from THIS deployment. They didn't even let the guys have the unmitigated joy of going home, because they knew the whole time that they would be going back. In the intervening months, what did they do? They trained for war out in the Mojave desert.
My son said that one night, camping in a tent in the Mojave during a training exercise, he had a terrible nightmare that the camp was being overrun by insurgents. He leapt to his feet and grabbed his rifle--but it was not loaded--then he flung open the tent flaps to find...the desert. It was disorienting, disturbing, and damnable, because they redeployed in January of 2006, back to Fallujah.
It doe not get any easier, these repeat deployments. Not for the troops and certainly not for the families. The old terrors return. You hug him tightly at the airport with your heart cracking wide open because you are so afraid that it will be the last time you ever see him. He reaches the top of the airport escalator on the way to security, and turns and gives you a big brave smile and a hearty wave, and you wave back, and then when he turns away, you burst into sobs, and you cannot stop crying for hours. For days, really.
Every time he calls home, you think it might be the last time you ever hear his voice.
Every time a Marine in his unit dies, you are frantic with grief and sorrow and terror. You struggle to write condolence letters even as you try and think what to say to him when he calls and even as you know there is NOTHING you can say, not to him, and not to his buddy's mama.
My son's second deployment was even worse than the first. "It wasn't a matter of IF someone would get blown up," he told me later, "or WHEN. It was a matter of WHO."
Every single day, they went out on patrol, and SOMEBODY got blown up or shot by snipers. My son loaded buddies onto Medevac helicopters missing limbs or bandaged up; he attended memorial services for those who were going home in body bags, telling me, "Our company commander," (that would be a young captain probably not yet out of his twenties), "would kiss them on the forehead, then zip 'em up and ship 'em home."
Then one day, it was my son's turn. The improvised explosive device hidden in the road blew up under the Humvee he was driving, tearing out part of the front end and sending him staggering to his knees. He was medevacced out of the combat zone, checked over in a base hospital, pronounced a rough-tough-real-stuff Marine, then flown back to his unit.
A couple of days later, a sniper shot Dustin's good buddy, Lance Corporal Rex Page, in the head as he ran up onto a roof, with Dustin two steps behind. Cpl. Page died soon after.
At some point...somewhere along the line...I lost my mind.
Just a little bit, mind you. Nobody had to commit me or anything, though I'm sure they wondered from time to time. I was able to function (barely). But the relentless stress, grief, fear, and worry drove me off of some mental ledge somewhere, and I went into freefall.
There aren't a whole lot of Marines in West Texas. They are a seagoing branch of the military, and all their bases are on coasts. So, there aren't a whole lot of fellow Marine families. And in a rural area 100 miles from a mall, there aren't ANY therapists around to listen to descriptions of your nightly nightmares and daily obsessions--not that they would have understood.
I know a Marine dad whose son served with mine who IS a psychologist, working at a clinic, and he said that even though his colleagues were all exceedingly kind, and all willing to help, "There is no one who could possibly understand what this is like," he told me, "unless they have been through it."
We decided, during one lengthy phone call while our sons were in a Very Bad Place, that obsessive thoughts, nightmares, insomnia, irritability, depression, hair-trigger temper, and catastrophizing were NORMAL behaviors for those with family members deployed to war.
He had just told me a tale of how, when his son's platoon was camped in an abandoned building, his son had gotten jolted awake from a sound sleep when the building came under heavy fire. He had had raced to the roof, clad only in boxer shorts, flip-flops, and his helmet, to engage the enemy.
It was a brave, foolish thing to do, but it is the kind of thing brave, foolish young men DO in war. We laughed, we two parents, because what else could we do? When you are terrified, that is one thing you do to keep from crying all the time--you laugh. And so we laughed.
In all those years--from 2002, when George W. Bush started talking up the Iraq war at fund-raisers, (who sells a war at fund-raisers unless, of course, they view that war as political; as the perfect campaign slogan) of all places--to 2011, when Barack Obama called an end to the madness--there was only one thing I could do.
I could write.
It is a terrible thing, to find that a war you oppose with every cell and fiber of your body and soul, could be the very instrument of the death of your own beloved child.
Dustin, like his nephew Mike and so many thousands of idealistic young people, enlisted following 9/11. Because Dustin was so close to college graduation, the Marines held a slot open for him and waited for him to complete his studies. The attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon had shaken him deeply. (His uncle, the brigadier general, was working at the Pentagon that day, and one of his cousins was a guard at the Tomb of the Unknown in Washington, D.C., and had raced to help remove bodies from the burnt-out wreckage of the building, not knowing if his dad was among the number or not.)
Dustin wanted to step up, do his part to serve and protect this great nation. "I think I'd rather be one of the protectors," he told us, "than one of the ones who needs protecting."
He thought he would be chasing terrorists through the mountains of Afghanistan, not fighting insurgents in the streets of Fallujah.
I didn't think that the Taliban should be allowed a safe haven to continue to train terrorists in Afghanistan indefinitely, so military action in that country seemed sensible to me. I am not the kind of peace activist that is opposed to all wars, everywhere, for any reason whatsoever. Those who did not fight the Nazis, for example, were eventually taken over by them.
Sometimes ya gotta fight.
But Iraq was a whole other matter, and I was vehemently opposed to what I considered a war that was ill-conceived, ill-planned, and illegal. I was appalled at the haphazard way troops were flung into that conflict poorly armed and armored, with no exit strategy or end game in sight, chasing after ghosts based on nonexistent evidence made up out of whole cloth to be served up to the media swathed in the flag.
I deeply resented the strict media control, the wholesale co-opting of all news outlet by trading access for propaganda--I'll give you an interview with Dick Cheney if you write a friendly piece; but if you write anything we don't like, we'll cut off all access altogether, for the duration. Even the New York Times fell for it--a real coup for the liars in the White House.
I hated the way the war-dead were hidden from the public.
But more than anything else, what drove me wild was the cunning and deliberate way that anyone who dared speak out against any of Bush/Rumsfeld/Cheney's plans were branded traitors, or at the very least, people who did not love their country, were not patriots, were not "true" Americans, and were worthy of nothing but scorn, derision, and mockery--not to mention full-on hatred.
When Max Cleland--MAX CLELAND--was driven from office by being portrayed as unAmerican, a man who'd left half his body in Vietnam, I was outraged beyond my ability to express. When people at the 2004 Republican convention sported mocking "Purple-Heart Band-Aids" and called into question John Kerry's heroic service, I was apoplectic.
At first, before we had access to high-speed Internet service, and our dial-up was so notoriously slow, I wrote journal entries, one of which I posted years later on my blog, about the night before our son deployed to war, called, "This is Why They Call It Leave."
I was tormented by my anti-war feelings when so many in my family were fighting in that same war. I was warned by just about every conservative on my e-mail list that even just THINKING those thoughts about the war in Iraq was hurting my son.
My son was a 26-year old grown-up. He knew how I felt about the war but he also knew that I loved and respected him and was deeply proud of him. He and his nephews were well acquainted with the weekly funny cards they got from me, along with Care packages and letters. They knew how I felt about things but for the most part, I kept my views to myself because when you get deployed to a war, you don't get much choice in the matter. There was nothing they could do about their tours in Iraq, so they didn't need any preaching from me. The closest I would ever come to mentioning politics was to say in a card that I was praying for them and then tease, "Let's see if God listens to the prayers of a Democrat."
But I fretted enough about it to track down the late, very great, Col. David Hackworth, or "Hack," as he was known, who was the most-decorated soldier of the Vietnam war and who worked tirelessly on behalf of soldiers and Marines in every war. Hack smelled a rat with the Iraq war, and was outraged when he heard Rumsfeld tell a poorly-armored soldier, "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish you had."
I found Col. Hackworth and asked him, point-blank, if it was possible to "love the warrior but hate the war."
He told me ABSOLUTELY it was possible, and that furthermore, most of the soldiers and Marines he'd talked to hated the war also and wanted out. They could not speak about their feelings on the war while they were in uniform, without risking getting into trouble with the brass, so Hack became their voice until his untimely death from cancer just a few weeks after our e-mail exchange.
But that one e-mail gave me courage. Hack helped me see that you could do both: you could support your loved one in the fight, and you could fight to end it at the same time.
It gave me someplace to put the rage.
Last April, a series of wildfires came across our ranch property, burning up everything in sight except for our home, which was spared because my husband fought back the flames by hand. Sometimes, I think of the rage that swept over me during the worst of the war years as a fire that consumed me.
Many times, one person or another would say I was "obsessed" by the war--but NEVER, not ONCE, did anyone from a military family say that to me. We were ALL obsessed, because that is what war does to a family--it consumes it. Either a troop is deployed or training for the next deployment, or preparing to deploy soon, or coming down from a deployment.
The whole family deploys, in that sense. When you're not living in fear, you are living in dread.
And when you see the commander-in-chief and his minions spreading happy-talk about how great the war is going while, at the same time, seeing up-close, first-hand, what your loved one is going through that puts the LIE to the happy-talk claims...it DOES something to you.
Deep inside, on some fundamental, spiritual, soul-level, it CHANGES you.
There wasn't a lot I could do about it early on, but during my son's first deployment, my computer died. We had already cannibalized parts from other computers--three different times--and this time, it was DEAD. When my son found out about it, he called me from Iraq and said, "Mom, I'm going to buy you a computer with some of my combat pay when I get home. You wait until then. I want to get you something really nice." I sputtered and argued, of course, but he held firm. For the next four months, I used my husband's laptop when he was home, on an e-mail basis only.
We learned to go to gettyimages.com and look up our son's unit, down to the Lima Company designation, and then we could find war photographers who were embedded with 3/5 Lima. In this digital age, they would post dozens of photos every day as they moved with the unit through the streets of Fallujah. That gave us a bird's-eye view--for better or worse--of what our son was doing in Iraq. Every day we pored over the pictures, looking for a glimpse of him. Most of the time, we would think we'd found him, only to discover later that we were wrong.
I'd go to news sources, read what I could find, print them up, and put the articles in files for him to see later.
I sent Dustin three disposable cameras also, and he'd carry one around with him in his pants pocket. Whenever he could, he'd yank out the camera and take a snapshot. Weeks later, he'd wrap up the cameras in brown paper and send them home. I'd get them developed, keep one copy of prints, and send another to him. Some of his photos could have been printed in Time or Newsweek. I know, because sometimes, I'd be looking at almost identical prints--one in a newsmagazine, one in my hand.
Like the one of a building door upcoming--he was maybe three troops behind the one going in, and spray-painted in red on the side of the building were the words: DEAD BODY INSIDE, with a long arrow pointed at the doorway my son was about to enter.
The pictures were grim, sobering. He never sent home pictures of dead bodies or anything, but what he did send home was war at its rawest--the destruction, the suffering, the silliness. Before he came back, I bought a very fine leather photo album and had a brass plate made with his battalion, company, and platoon designation and the dates and place engraved on it, and presented it to him as a gift on his return. To this day, it is one of Dustin's most prized possessions, one he does not share readily with anyone but a select few.
In other words, you don't get to see those pictures unless you appreciate the seriousness of them. War is not a video game, or a movie, or a TV show, or a 3-minute newscast. It is a tragedy of monumental proportions that displays mankind at his very worst and at his very best; and once you have beheld the reality of it, you are never again the same. Never. If you are not the sort of person to linger over the photos, asking him to explain what this is or who that is or to tell you the story behind each one, then you are not worthy of seeing them.
I've seen him show the scrapbook to one cousin, but not another, this friend but not that one. Only someone who has been through this either first-hand, or with a loved one, can possibly understand why that is.
When my brother-in-law was out for a visit, following his retirement from the Special Forces, and Dustin was still in the Marines but had left his special photo album at home, I showed it to the general. He lingered over each and every page, not saying anything, not asking anything. I knew that I didn't need to explain things to him, anyway.
Then, he looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said, "These guys...They always did everything I ever asked them to."
He didn't mean the Marines, of course, but he meant ALL of them, all the men and women who fight in all the wars that generals send them to fight. My brother-in-law had commanded many fine young men like my son and his two, and we both knew that there are no politics when your heart is bursting with pride and worry for them.
Later that year, one of his two boys would be deployed to the deadly Diyala province as part of George W. Bush's so-called "surge." His son, a company commander for an army Stryker brigade at the time, would have to tell his men two weeks after they arrived in-country that their deployment had already been extended by three months. During the 15 months he was in Iraq, he lost many brave young men, a sorrowful fact he struggles with to this day.
Dustin's first deployment was an eye-opener of political manipulation versus reality. He and his buddies would stumble into the base mess hall after a typical two-week mission, filthy, dusty, bloody, and exhausted, and would stand dumbstruck, gazing up at the television tuned to Fox News, and hear all about how well the war was going that they had just been fighting.
"It was lies," he told me. "All lies. We had no business being in that country. They lied about why we had to go in, and I bought it. But there were no weapons of mass destruction. Nothing they had told us turned out to be true."
He came home consumed by his own rage, bought me a brand-new Hewlitt-Packard desktop computer with all the bells and whistles, and said, "I want you to use your gifts to speak out. I want you to do everything you can from your end to bring this war to an end. I don't want to die in Iraq, and I don't want any more of my buddies to die there."
I told him I was worried that, since I wrote under my own name, I might get him into trouble by protesting the war. He said, "You let me worry about that. I don't care what they do to me."
That spring, we finally got a satellite Internet connection, and I started blogging, first at Blue Inkblots, a free Blogspot site, and then at Deanie's Blue Inkblots, at a paid website. Some of the blogposts were intensely personal, like this one from June of 2006: "3 a.m. Phone Calls Home from War: It's Not Just Politics." That was the night Dustin called clearly distraught, but uncommunicative. He just wanted to hear from home. I found out later that Rex had died that day.
In others, like this one from April of 2006: "Military Mutiny: 'I Will Never Trust Them Again'," I would rage, saying, "I am the mother of a Marine Corps fighting man, and I will call out my outrage, I will speak truth to power, I will be counted, I WILL NOT BE SILENT...I will be a word-warrior for the real warriors, I will fight for the fighters...until the politicians who pulled off the greatest scam in this country's military history are not only drummed out of office...but properly burn in hell."
With high-speed Internet I was able to read the New York Times, the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, the U.K. Guardian, the Military Times every day, as well as peruse major websites, some of which were just getting started, like Talking Points Memo and Huffington Post. I came to know the best war correspondents by name--those who embedded with combat troops and risked their lives every day to bullet and bomb--and to watch for their articles, which I printed up and filed. I watched for their inevitable books and bought them as soon as they came out.
More than anything else, I was looking for something GOOD, something that would match the happy-talk, because I thought if I could find something good, some development that would make it all worthwhile, it would help me not be so afraid.
But there was nothing.
I would print up my posts and file them, putting the most recent posts in front of the last ones. In the end, I had file drawers full of printed up and torn-out articles from news publications, and 1,000 pages of blogposts on the war in Iraq.
One Thousand. Pages.
Sometimes my posts were tied to current events and recent developments. Sometimes I would compile a dozen or so articles on one particular subject regarding the war and post on that. Sometimes I would refute the happy-talk or some lies out of the administration or from the latest Right-wing viral e-mail with the TRUTH, backed by facts.
Sometimes, I would reference literature, as I did in what was possibly my best--certainly my most recirculated--blogpost, from May of 2007, "A Black Matter for the King That Led Them To It," in which I quoted Shakespeare's King Henry V, Act IV, Scene 1:
"But if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make when all those legs and arms and heads chopped off in battle shall join together at the latter day and cry all, 'We died at such a place'--some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poorly behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeared there are few die well in a battle, for how can they charitably dispose of anything when blood is their argument? Now if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it, whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection."
In that piece, I talked about the reality of what troops must deal with when, say, a Humvee gets flipped and set on fire by a roadside bomb, saying, "For all the patriotic flag-waving and yellow-ribbon magneting, there is nothing particularly patriotic or romantic about death in combat."
I talked about the heavy price being paid by men and women "barely out of his or her teens."
I blogged about the use and abuse of troops, the "back-door draft," and other dirty tricks being played on them to force them to war when they did not want to go again and should not have had to, the arbitrary lengthening of deployments, the "Russian Roulette" those who sent them back and back and back again played with their lives and the terrible toll it takes on them.
I blogged about military families and the stress these policies had on them, the skyrocketing divorce rate, suicide rates, drug and alcohol abuse rates, child abuse rates, and post-deployment deaths by such means as motorcycle wrecks.
I blogged about how oblivious most of the American public was, how the United States was not at war--only 1% of Americans were actually at war. The rest had been mesmerized by video games, cable TV, and a commander-in-chief who basically wanted everyone to forget about the war unless he could use it as a campaign ad photo-op background.
I blogged about the outrageous, insensitive remarks made to the press by Right-wing politicians and their enablers, like the time Laura Bush had said, "No one has suffered more" over the Iraq war than she and W had. In the April 2007 post, "Oh,Give Me a F**king Break, Laura Bush," I reeled out the reality of maimed and disabled veterans trapped at Walter Reed, or family members taking care of their traumatic brain-injured soldier or Marine, or mothers staring empty-eyed as the tri-corner flag was placed in their arms at the funeral of their son or daughter. I also took on the Left-Wing peace activists who seemed to have no compassion or even the slightest understanding of what it meant to serve in the military, as in two posts I wrote in April of 2007, "Let's All Blame the Troops for the Mess They're In," in which I explained WHY so many men and women enlist (to get help with their education--not because they think it would be fun to kill people), and "Just Because You're Born in This Country Doesn't Mean You Deserve It's Privileges," in which I talked about why military families are proud of their service, even if others don't understand. I blogged about speaking out against the war, whether you were military or not, and how my blog had been blocked on military bases in Europe, but how, "They'll Have to Shut Me Down to Shut Me Up."
Over on TPM Cafe, with Talking Points Memo, I copied over my Blue Inkblots blogs and I also wrote just for them, things like, "Our Voices Have Been Lost," and "I Write."
My posts were always well-sourced, but they never left the personal. It was my aim to show that the POLITICAL can be PERSONAL, and how every vote counts.
In "Homecoming," which I did exclusively at TPM Cafe, I talked about the reality of post-deployment leaves, and how I once stood outside my son's bedroom door in the pre-dawn one morning and listened to him cry out in his sleep from nightmares, trying to decide whether it would be better to go in and wake him or leave him to his demons.
I talked about the poignant midnight right before he went back to Pendleton, when we sat out under the stars, and he told me heartbreaking things he had seen--the worst things. I remember how honored I felt, as if I'd been given a sacred trust. To this day, I have told no one what my son said to me that night, nor will I ever. I am so grateful that he felt secure enough that he could talk about it to me, and I will never betray that trust.
Years later, one of Dustin's Marine buddies told me that reading my blog, "It felt like you were my voice," he said. "Like you were speaking for me. You said things that I either couldn't say, or I didn't know HOW to say." He talked about the strength he'd drawn from the blogposts, how he'd forwarded them on to his family.
Nothing anyone has ever said to me about my work has ever meant more.
In my blog, when I wasn't talking to military families or on their behalf, I was taking on pundits and politicians. I raged and fought to get out the truth.
But through it all, I felt hopeless, powerless, helpless, driven nearly mad with frustration.
And then, for Christmas of 2006, my sister gave me a copy of The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama. Like everyone else with a thinking mind, I had been blown away by his speech at the Democratic convention in 2004. But as I read the book, I found myself underlining whole pages. Never in my life had I felt so in sync with a politician--I loved everything he said, whether it was about pragmatic politics and the necessity of compromise, or taking on sacred cows even in his own party, or the specifics of what he had in mind for education, health care, the environment, and so on--I would find myself with tears tracking slowly down my cheeks; that was how deeply affected I was by what I was reading.
I had known that he had spoken out against the Iraq war, all the way back in 2002, but I had never seen or read the speech in its entirety. So I looked it up, and what I read changed my life. I had printed up the speech, and I didn't even realize that I was underlining every line in it.
It was as if this man had crawled into my soul and was speaking with my voice.
By the time I got to the end, I was sobbing, face in hands, full-out breakdown time.
I well remembered the political climate of 2002, how anyone who dared to speak out against the Iraq war was destroyed politically. It had taken BALLS to do what he did. Guts I'd never seen in a politician.
I bought a copy of Dreams from My Father, and in the reading, came to know that this man had done the soul-work necessary to know himself well--something George W. Bush would never do.
I waited eagerly for Senator Obama to declare his candidacy, and when he did, I was one of the first few HUNDRED to sign up to donate money every single month to his presidential campaign--all the way back in February of 2007.
From that point on, I knew that the only way to REALLY have any hope whatsoever to bring the Iraq war to an end was to put this man in the White House. Other than the cartoon-character candidate, Ron Paul, NO ONE was talking about ending the Iraq war in early 2007.
At the time, Barack Obama was 30 points behind Hillary Clinton. Nobody took him seriously. She had been anointed queen and nobody cared about the skinny young upstart black guy from Chicago.
I did, though. I followed every speech and policy paper he did on everything from international relations to health care to education to the economy. I printed them up, read them, filed them. I paid particularly close attention to his speeches on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I can tell you now that, pulling those speeches out of the file folders, rereading them--HE HAS KEPT EVERY DAMN PROMISE HE MADE REGARDING BOTH WARS. If you don't believe it, then you weren't paying attention, or maybe you just heard what you wanted to hear, but he has done everything he said he would do, and he has done it in the time he said he would do it.
Although I continued to blog about the war and the returning troops and their problems, as well as things which affected them, such as the fight for the new G.I. Bill, I blogged tirelessly for Barack Obama, in Blue Inkblots, TPM Cafe, and on the Huffington Post as part of their "Off the Bus" program.
I stood in the rain down in Austin, Texas (five hours from here), for, oh, something like five hours, so I could be on the rope line after the candidate Obama gave his speech there. I was covering the event for HuffPo, but I did not go with the press up on stage, though I was invited. I wanted to be in the crowd, I wanted to feel their energy. When he came down off that stage, the crowd surged forth with such power that I wondered if I might get trampled.
Fighting to put Barack Obama in the White House was the most empowering thing I ever did. My whole family supported him
People loved to make fun about Obama's promise of HOPE. Oh, how they mocked and derided him--his opponents, from Hillary to Sarah, certainly, but also pundits and pontificators and even those in his own party who just didn't see it happening.
But I am here to tell you that it was not funny to ME. To this Marine mom, Barack Obama offered the first HOPE I'd had since the war began. I trusted him. I believed in him.
The night he was elected, my phone rang off the wall--husband, son, daughter, friends, people from all over the country called to say how wonderful it was, but I could not stop crying.
I cried for three days.
I'd be going about my housework, tears sliding down my cheeks. They were happy tears, to be sure, but they were real.
The FIRST DAY Obama was in office, he directed the Pentagon to come up with a plan that would withdraw 100,000 troops from Iraq in 16 months.
Pentagon generals, scornful of another Democratic president who had not served, and disconnected from the enlisted men and junior officers in the field who had supported their new commander-in-chief, thought they could push the new guy around. They leaked out documents to select press, with the distinct impression of stirring things up, making him look inept and inexperienced, like someone who needed to pay attention to his generals.
Perhaps they were also accustomed to his predecessor, who had big crushes on people like Gen. Petraeus, and who romped around them like a happy lap dog, giving them whatever they wanted since Rumsfeld had ignored them the first six years.
But they underestimated their new boss. In a show of respect, HE went to see THEM at the Pentagon, but once there, he made it clear: These were their orders, and they were to execute them, and he intended to see no more childish leaks in the media.
By the time 16 months had passed, the president had overseen the withdrawal of 100,000 troops from Iraq, including every single Marine.
At that time, he promised to withdraw the rest of the troops by the end of 2011.
The campaign to support Senator Barack Obama for a year and a half until his election, and every day since, was for me a watershed in my life. For years I had raged and raged, burning like a fire that was consuming every aspect of my life. I felt so trapped and hopeless and filled with frustration at what I saw the previous administration doing, not just to that country, but to the men and women who served our country with such pride and courage.
Time after time after time I saw the deployments of close family members into that hellhole, and endured their dangerous absences with daily prayers and an anvil on my chest.
I couldn't breathe.
In one of his speeches, the then-candidate Obama spoke about how one woman had approached him at an event and said that her nephew was deployed to Iraq and, "I can't breathe."
He said he thought of that woman every day.
It wasn't me, but it could have been, and just knowing that he was thinking about us all, and working to end this travesty brings tears to my eyes, still, to this day.
On Friday, President Obama announced that he would keep his promise, and he would bring home all the troops from Iraq, (including my nephew), before the end of the holiday season, and that soon, we would begin to draw down in Afghanistan, as well. As he said, "The tide of war is receding."
What this means for me is that I will continue to blog on behalf of the military and veterans as they transition to a peacetime nation and, for many, the challenges of civilian life.
And I will continue to fight, with every breath in my body, to see to it that President Barack Obama is reelected for a second term.
This man kept his word. He gave hope and peace of mind to a terrified, rage-filled Marine mom. He did it in a sensible, practical way that provides the best security to the retreating American troops as well as to the Iraqi people.
I'm not blogging as much as I once did, obviously. Facebook and Twitter enable me to do the same kind of networking in a more efficient manner. I'll keep doing it, though, as the campaign fight heats up, the rhetoric grows more inflamed, and sparks fly.
I'm very much aware that this blogpost is ridiculously overlong, that some of my readers had to bookmark or favorite it and read it in installments. This does not bother me.
This was a story I had to tell.
To my son, Dustin, and nephew Mike, semper fidelis, Marines. I thank God for every moment of every day you are safe and happy.
And to my two nephews who still serve and fight, God bless you and keep you. Aunt Deanie never forgets you or your sacrifices.
To those who have stayed with me, reading my blogposts over the years--particularly those who have also sent loved ones off to fight--I can never thank you enough for your support, your laughter, your tears, and your love. Some of you still have sons in the fight, some saw them safely out of the service. God bless them all, our brave warriors.
To those who served in an earlier time and who have read and supported my work, I thank you all for your service and your courage.
And to my husband and daughter, who suffered through the worst of my crazy-time but never once withdrew your support and love, you are my heart and soul.
We made it, didn't we?
|Posted by Deanie Mills at | | |
|Before I say a word, I want you to take three minutes out of your life and watch this clip, because it shows more eloquently than I could ever say, the truth for anyone who doubts this president is on fire.
Now, in case some of you are just too damned impatient to sit through a 3-min clip, then read a few of these words:
“With patient and firm determination, I’m going to press on for jobs. I’m going to press on for equality. I’m going to press on for the sake of our children. I’m going to press on for the sake of all those families who are struggling right now. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I’m going to press on. I expect all of you to march with me, and press on. Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes, shake it off, stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying, we are going to press on, we’ve got work to do.”
TAKE OFF YOUR BEDROOM SLIPPERS, PUT ON YOUR MARCHING SHOES, SHAKE IT OFF, STOP COMPLAINING...WE ARE GOING TO PRESS ON, WE'VE GOT WORK TO DO.
Them's fightin' words, bubba.
And that ain't all.
In this speech before the Congressional Black Caucus, Obama's call to arms rang with the cadence and rhythms of an old-time preacher-man, and believe me, he was not preaching to the choir. Liberals have long complained that Obama was catering too much, going too far to compromise, giving too much to the Righ-Wing lunatics that have taken over the Republican asylum.
After giving some examples of "bad kind of crazy," such as Republicans demanding that the poor and Middle Class pay more taxes while the rich go free (sometimes, literally--G.E. paid NO income tax last year)--Obama spoke for a minute on what he called "the good kind of crazy":
“Throughout our history, change has often come slowly. Progress often takes time,” he said. “It’s never easy. And I never promised easy. Easy has never been promised to us. But we have had faith. We’ve had that good kind of crazy that says, ‘You can’t stop marching.’”
I NEVER PROMISED EASY.
This is true. If you go over speech after speech the president has given, both before he was elected, and since, particularly when speaking to his supporters, he has repeated often the refrain that we inherited a tsunami of economic ruin from his predecessor, and it will take time to dig our way out of it. He's also always been honest with his supporters--from back in the day when the biggest dragon to slay was Hillary Clinton's primary-fight juggernaut--that it would not be easy for any of us.
And Lord knows he was right on that score.
This is not the first speech the president has given of late that leaves scorch marks on the ears of his listeners. He signaled the New Obama at the speech he gave to a joint session of Congress on the American Jobs Act, in which he repeated the refrain, "Pass this Jobs Bill" 16 times, and the word "jobs" some 45 times.
In this speech, he called upon Congress to set aside petty partisan political differences--what he called, "the political circus," and come together for the greater good:
"As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us – watching to see what we do with this moment; waiting for us to lead.
"Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern in extraordinary times. It is a tremendous burden, but also a great privilege – one that has been entrusted to few generations of Americans. For in our hands lies the ability to shape our world for good or for ill.
"I know that it is easy to lose sight of this truth – to become cynical and doubtful; consumed with the petty and the trivial.
"But in my life, I have also learned that hope is found in unlikely places; that inspiration often comes not from those with the most power or celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations of Americans who are anything but ordinary."
Almost immediately, Obama supporters--both loyal standbys and disgruntled former fans--knew that this speech was not just flowery words, but a departure from his previous tone and method, as pointed out by Jonathan Capeheart in the Washington Post:
"[H]e sold it hard. The refrain, “Pass this jobs bill,” went from being a repeated line in a speech to a hammer over the head of Congress."
And he didn't just stop with the speech. The very next day, the president hit the ground running, going straight to areas not only hardest-hit by Bush's Great Recession--but were represented by some of his most powerful rivals in the Republican House and Senate.
As Jonathan Cohn points out in the New Republic, it's not just that the president is hitting economically vulnerable areas sensitive to Republican manipulations, and it's not just that he keeps repeating, "Pass this Jobs Bill" at every stop, and repeating key elements of the speech he gave to Congress--it's also that when he talks about such things as putting on your "marching shoes," he is reaching out over the heads of most casual listeners and straight into the hearts of his supporters, reminding them that he cannot do this alone. He needs our help, and he needs the help of all Americans who think this plan is a good one, and it turns out, a whopping majority do.--74% to 21% according to some polls, and even 56% in the most Conservative-run polling.
As Cohn says, we can do our part to help:
"The only hope for getting something through Congress -- or making an effective political statement, if the Republicans block action – is to apply pressure."
This is all well and good, Liberals say, but what took him so long? Liberals have done a great deal of moaning and groaning over the fact that the president has not sounded this tone sooner.
As usual, they are not looking at the Big Picture. I could explain it, but I'll let Jonathan Capeheart of the Washington Post have another shot:
"[H]e did try to follow through on his promise to do things differently. He tried hard to work with congressional Republicans. As a gesture of good faith, Obama far too often made concessions to the GOP before getting to the negotiating table. Moves that enraged his base, especially when he got nothing in return. As many have noted, he tried over and over again to be the reasonable guy at the table, the adult in the room. And it got him — and the country — nowhere."
So WHY DO IT AT ALL? howl the Liberal faction of the Democratic Party.
Because he HAD to. President Obama is not the president of the Democratic Party, as much as Michael Moore and others like him want him to be--they often complain that he didn't do what George W. Bush OF ALL PEOPLE did when he came into office.
Remember that, Libs? How he came in after the U.S. Supreme Court selected him president and behaved as if he had some kind of sweeping mandate to impose Right-Wing Rule on the country? Remember how he used executive orders to erase and/or ignore parts of laws that he didn't like--more than any other president? Remember how he used it to ram through the tax cuts for the wealthy that have added more than a trillion bucks to the national debt? Remember how he immediately overturned anything of Clinton's he didn't like--such as birth control being included in women's health care in Third World countries we were helping?
Let's not even START on how he finessed two wars, among other delights.
I felt like a prisoner of war during those years, like some kind of hostage being held in an unfriendly country. I was horrified at every single thing that administration did. I felt helpless and hopeless and filled with rage--and it was the very boneheadedness of the Bush administration and their flat-out refusal to admit that there was anything whatsoever going wrong with their Big Glorious War in Iraq that ushered in the Democratic takeover of the House and Senate in 2006.
So. Now you think President Obama should behave in just that way. Imagine how HALF THE COUNTRY would feel if he did?
He HAD TO TRY.
No one could have anticipated that the Republican Party would set as their primary agenda, spending four years doing everything in their power to get rid of Barack Obama. They have shown, time and again, that they do not care about this country or what happens to her people--all they care about is Stopping Obama.
Now, he could have whined and complained every time he was in front of the cameras about how mean the Republicans were being, or as Cohn pointed out, he could do his damndest to at least try to find some kind of middle ground.
SOMEBODY had to be the adult!
These great battles are being played out in a country-wide tableau--not just on Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann but everywhere.
And the American people are watching. If they did not GET IT before as to just what the GOP Teapublicans were trying to do, it came through loud and clear during the debt ceiling fight. It made no difference whether you had heard the term before or had a clue as to what the hell it meant, but one thing did reverberate from that crises: THE REPUBLICANS WERE WILLING TO ALLOW EVEN THE MILITARY GO WITHOUT PAY IN ORDER TO MAKE THEIR PARTISAN POLITICAL POINT.
This provided the president just the public scenario he needed--not just to permit himself to show the anger he's tried to keep in check for more than two years--but to go over the heads of Congress and straight to the hearts of the American people with his message--and they are listening.
"After the Democrats lost control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections, emboldened Republicans blocked Obama at every turn, even on measures the GOP once supported. The heart-stopping fight to raise the debt ceiling — and the inability of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to garner support in his caucus for the “grand bargain” he was cobbling together with the president — marked the end of Obama 1.0."
In spite of what some pundits would have you believe, what you see in Obama now is not a cynical ploy to rev up his disgruntled base. If he has proven one thing time and again, he has proven that he is president of ALL the people, and he knows that these obstructionist tactics of the Right-Wing lunatics who've taken over the Republican asylum are hurting EVERYONE in this country, not just HIM.
Plenty of Tea-Baggers, for example, depend upon Social Security and Medicare and/or Veterans benefits to survive. They can bark at him and howl at the moon all they want to, but if the candidates they support take over this government, the security they count on will disappear, and the corporations really will take over the country.
You have to understand--this isn't just a fight to re-elect President Obama. This isn't about reaching out to his "base" and garnering more votes.
This is a struggle--a life-and-death STRUGGLE--for the soul of America.
Again and again in his speeches, from the beginning of his presidency, Obama has said that these hateful policies that bleed the poor at the behest of the rich "are not who we are as Americans."
Again and again, he has pointed out that although America is a land known for rugged individualism--it is also a country known for working together, collectively, to achieve great things, not just for this country and her people, but for the whole world.
It was Americans who rebuilt Europe after World War II, through the Marshall Plan.
It was Americans who stopped the genocide in the Balkans.
I could go on and on but I hope you see my point here--we come together for glorious things like putting a man on the moon or whipping the Nazis--but we also come together as a great nation to hold one another up and to see to it that our poor and struggling are not kicked to the curb as they are in so many Third World countries.
That's not who we are.
The Republican debates, on the other hand, have drawn a clear picture of the Tea Bagger America they support, and it is an ugly place.
And I'm not talking about the candidates who are running--a field of crazies if I ever saw one--I am talking about the crowds who support them. There are three well-known examples, but just in case you live in a cave and have somehow missed this glaring evidence of the kind of soul America would have under a President Perry or a President Bachmann, here are three--a new one practically every week:
At the first Republican debate, the moderators pointed out that under Governor Rick Perry's reign in the state of Texas, some 234 inmates have been put to death--more than ALL THE OTHER STATES COMBINED. While Perry preened, the crowd cheered wildly. Never mind that the Innocence Project has overseen the release of dozens of Death Row inmates across the country who were wrongly convicted, or even that Perry himself not only oversaw the execution of a man who was almost assuredly innocent, but then hurried to squelch and cover up the resulting investigation into the wrongful death. To the Tea Bagger crowd at the debates, Perry was a hero. A week later, a debate moderator asked the potential Republican candidate, Ron Paul, if he would allow a 30-year old man in a coma to die if he was without health insurance. Before Mr. Paul could even respond, the crowd began to cheer, and a couple of loud voices cried out, "Yeah!" and "Let him die!"
What was not mentioned at that point, since apparently the debate moderator, Wolf Blitzer, didn't know, was that Ron Paul's own former campaign manager had died of cancer without health insurance, while still in his 40's, leaving his wife and children destitute. The Paul campaign had had a fund-raiser for the man, to help with the staggering medical bills.
But the real topper came in the last Republican debate, in which a video was shown of an American soldier who was, at the time, deployed to Iraq, who admitted on-camera that he was gay, and asked if HE should be kicked out of the military for that, even as he served his country in combat in a foreign land.
As candidate Rick Santorum rambled through his incoherent response, the crowd BOOED THE SOLDIER and then, cheered the nonsensical remarks of Mr. Santorum, which included statements along the line that "sex doesn't belong in the military"--a fact which should come as a surprise to the men and women service members who are married to one another.
These are the same people, by the way, who trashed the honorable record of Senator John Kerry in the 2004 campaign and viciously attacked ANYONE who even so much as QUESTIONED the Bushian justifications for the Iraq war because they were not "supporting the troops."
So...we're only supposed to support those troops who we approve of?
As Ana Marie Cox points out in the U.K. Guardian, these disturbing--and disgusting--examples of the Teapublican crowd mentality reveal something far deeper and darker about this struggle for the soul of America:
"What the hell is happening out there? Polls show that Republican voters aren't that excited about their candidates. Then is the exuberance that would be applied to an individual campaign spilling out into indiscriminate exclamations over policy? If so, how come we can't get more vocalising on behalf of the party's less ugly philosophies: three cheers for reducing the corporate income tax! When I say "state", you say "rights!"
"But what should concern the GOP is how their audiences' reactions distort platforms and campaigns. A 2007 study showed that cheering influenced positively – and measurably – a viewing audience's perception of a candidate's performance. If the campaigns proceed and profit from these unruly, even uncivilised outbreaks, the party will get pulled further and further from the core of its appeal to moderates, which used to be that Republicans are the people who will let you be."
Yes, the GOP SHOULD be concerned by those things, but they are not.
They pandered to the Tea Bagger vote in 2010 and now, they seem to have allowed a small handful of freshmen House members--the lowest politicians on the totem pole in normal times--take over the entire government, signing pledges to unelected Right-Wing pontificators that they honor ahead of their own oaths to uphold the Constitution of the United States--and ahead of their own constituents. (Believe me, none of these guys won by landslides, and most will only serve one term.)
So, because of this cockeyed insanity on the part of the party in opposition to the President, the entire country is being held hostage to the most extremist of views on things which affect all of us.
The president had to show the country that he was willing to do whatever it took to do his job, keep the government running, and work with the crazies--and in return, they took this country to the very brink of economic catastrophe.
THIS woke people up. THIS made them realize that this is not what government is supposed to be. Over and over again, polling showed that the American people wanted even their elected Right-Wingers to compromise in order to keep government functioning, and over and over again, the wishes of the majority of the American people were IGNORED in favor of the insanity that now reigns in the Republican party.
THIS is when the president stepped up. THIS is when he said, "ENOUGH."
THIS is when he got his mojo back.
He is fighting for all of us, you see, not just his Party "base." He is fighting for the soul of this nation. He knows we are better than this. We are not the kind of people to allow a young man to die just to prove a partisan political point, or to boo a soldier who is fighting for his country in a foreign land. We are not the kind of people to slavishly sacrifice the Better Good of millions of people in order to satisfy the greed a few hundred of the wealthiest Americans.
As Paul Begala wrote so eloquently in Newsweek/The Daily Beast, there are many things about the United States government that perform splendidly, that we all rely on each and every day.
So, the president knows that he is fighting for all of us--and it's working.
"According to a CNN poll released on Wednesday, a plurality of Americans approve of the President’s jobs plan. Two thirds believe we should cut taxes for the middle class and rebuild America’s roads and bridges. Three quarters believe we need to put our teachers and first responders back to work. More Americans trust the President to handle the economy than Congressional Republicans by a margin of 9 points."
So the American people are solidly behind their president--even as Republicans dig themselves in deeper, refusing even to sign on to disaster relief until huge cuts are made in programs that are popular to Democrats--and threatening, for the third time this year, to shut the government down over their recalcitrance.
The American people know this is not right. They know that only a small sliver of the populace supports these draconian tactics. They know the president has bent over backwards to work with these people, to no avail.
And they know that he is fighting for them. And so should we be, too. The man needs SOMEBODY to have his back against the constant, relentless onslaught of criticism from the opposition party:
"I’m going to press on for the sake of all those families who are struggling right now. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I’m going to press on. I expect all of you to march with me, and press on. Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes, shake it off, stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying, we are going to press on, we’ve got work to do.”
THIS is the struggle for the soul of the American people. Who are we, as a nation and as a people? Who do we want to represent us on the world stage? Who do we want to know is working for us, each and every day, from the White House?
At this point, it makes little difference who the Republicans nominate. They have already demonstrated their character and beliefs. They will let people suffer and die and will boo men and women in uniform if it means they can protect the rich and give religious zealots the final say in how our country is governed.
This is not who we are. Barack Obama knows that. He's got his mojo back, and so do we, my friends. So do we.
|Posted by Deanie Mills at | | |
|I'm assuming many, if not most, of my readers have to pay some sort of mortgage or rent every month for your residence.
So...I have kind of a personal question. I'm not trying to pry or anything but...What are you paying each month?
The reason I ask is that, well, I've been paying close to $10,000 a month, and that seems kind of steep to me, so I thought maybe if I checked with some of you guys and did a comparison of sorts--
What's that? You want to know if I live in a mansion. HA HA--not unless you count a 107-year old tumbledown rock farmhouse as a mansion. We don't even pay a mortgage on that place. We make land payments. The house was on the land when we bought it.
Oh! I see your confusion. No, I guess I wasn't being very clear. I don't PERSONALLY pay close to $10,000 a month on an Austin rental house, but as a Texas taxpayer, MY MONEY goes toward paying just that very rent, every month since 2007, for Rick Perry and his family.
You're asking if the governor's mansion in the state of Texas is that expensive to maintain...? The answer is no--but Perry doesn't deign to live in the governor's mansion.
He and his wife, Anita, decided it needed major renovations some years ago, so they moved out of the governor's mansion--which costs the state nothing per month--and into this 4,600-square foot, $1.85 million home that sits on 3.25 acres of prime west Austin real estate, complete with a heated pool and custom-designed gourmet kitchen (something the governor's mansion definitely did not have). And while the governor's mansion was undergoing those renovations, it seems there was a mysterious fire. Damn near gutted the house. Fire investigators pegged it as arson but they never did make an arrest.
You can't make this stuff up. There's no need! Hell, this is TEXAS.
So, wouldn't you know? That meant the poor governor and his family had to keep living in that dumpy rental house until the governor's mansion could be repaired from the mysterious arson. That was five years ago. It must have been a REALLY bad fire, because apparently, the house isn't livable yet.
That means I--er, WE Texans--get to pay to MAINTAIN this little gem of a rental house, (over and above the rent of $8,500 per month), monies that we would not normally have to pay were the royal family--I mean, the governor's family--to actually live in the house the state already provides, like:
*$18,000 "consumables" such as cleaning supplies
*$1,001.46 for window coverings from Neiman Marcus
*$1,000 "emergency repair" of the governor's filtered ice machine
*$700 clothes rack
*$70 for a subscription to Food and Wine Magazine
*$8,400 to maintain the pool
*$44,000 lawn maintenance
Now, keep in mind that I'm taking these figures from an article that was published in 2010, so up to THAT point, we'd shelled out almost $600,000 for Perry's rent-house upkeep. And I'm not entirely sure that covers the salaries of the mansion personnel--the full-time and part-time chef, cleaning staff, and so forth. Six of them, I believe. There used to be more but Perry laid off the mansion manager when he got criticized for never making any austerity measures of his own.
And no, I'm not making this up. I told you! This is Texas!
Don't know what it has cost us, since then.
At first, nobody complained, because we were told it would only last for about a year. But then came that terrible mysterious fire. You know, you just can't help it when life throws you a curve ball, can you? I mean, a lot of people are losing their homes these days. I'm sure many of them are having to make do with a rent-house.
Perry says, not to worry--we're not paying for ALL of his expenses!
His fat-cat campaign donors have a separate fund called "Mansion Fund," and stuff like the cable bill--which costs hundreds a year due to "special events" and movies--gets picked up by the Mansion Fund, to the tune of close to a quarter-million so far.
This is helpful, since the governor's $150,000 a year salary isn't NEARLY enough to pay for his kingly lifestyle.
I'm telling you. You can't make this stuff up.
At the most recent GOP debate, Perry protested when Michele Bachmann accused him of his usual quid pro quo when it came to the executive order he signed that would force all parents in the state to have their 13-year old daughters vaccinated with the HPV vaccine--a new, relatively untested vaccine put out by Merck. Perry's chief of staff and advisor on this issue was a Merck lobbyist. After Perry signed the order, Merck PAC made a campaign donation to Perry of $5,000.
To Bachmann, Perry said, "I've raised $30 million. Merck made a donation of $5,000. If you think I can be bought for $5,000, I am offended."
Which raises an interesting question, Mr. Perry: If you can't be bought for $5,000, then what WOULD it take to buy you?
In fact, Merck has made MANY donations to Rick Perry over the past decade--some $28,500.
Can Rick Perry be bought for $28,500?
Considering the fact that he tried to ram through this state requirement with an executive order because he knew his conservative Republican statehouse would never go along with it--it IS a question worth considering.
(Public hullabaloo made him back down on the issue. Eventually.)
Political donation laws in Texas are so ridiculously lax that you can pretty much live like a king on campaign donations, and even ethics boards can be coerced into backing down when challenging you.
Over his years as governor, he has accepted 22 pairs of handmade, custom-designed cowboy boots (estimated cost per pair: $500), belt buckles, hats, cuff links, and at least nine high-dollar hunting trips.
Perry explains away all this largess by saying that he has a lot of friends.
And they're ALL RICH.
Rick Perry's "friends" have sent him and his family, by private jets, all over the world, from the Bahamas (where his traveling buddy, Grover Norquist, says he was an avid scuba diver) and Key West, to China, Sweden, France, Israel, and Qatar.
These trips are, ostensibly, to attract business to Texas and are paid for through a shady group known as Texas One, which is supposedly a fund set up to enhance business prospects in the state but which mostly seems to enhance Rick Perry.
Perry also does a great deal of "business" all over the United States, at such events as the Rose Bowl, NBA finals, football, basketball, baseball, and hockey games.
All paid for through Texas One.
As for this miserable Texas heat that has set this state on fire throughout the hottest summer in recorded meteorological history--with temperatures soaring above 120 degrees and some two or three months, in some areas, of daily temperatures over 100 degrees--why, there was no need for King Perry and his family to swelter!
I am SURE that meeting MUST have had something to do with Texas business and NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with Perry's impending run for president of the United States.
But I digress. I was discussing all of Rick Perry's many friends who fly him all over the world with his family, staying at five-star hotels and eating at top restaurants, traveling by private jets, and so on--who have, collectively, donated more than $100 million to Perry for his various political campaigns--a tad bit more than what he admitted on television during the latest GOP debate. ("$30 million"??? Really, Perry?)
In fact, almost HALF of the money Rick Perry has raised for his three campaigns for governor have come from donors who contributed $10,000 or more, including one guy who has so far given Rick Perry $2.5 million. Others have given a million or a measly half a million. Don't think these are all rich Texans, either. Perry is serving a second term as chairman of the Republican Governor's Association, which has enabled him to cannily, and cunningly, accumulate rich donors from all over the country who have long been building up the coffers for him to run for president.
But. Rick Perry's rich friends all LIKE him because he is a friend to THEM, too!
Here's how it works:
*First of all, if you would like to have a seat on an influential board or commission in the state of Texas, it's EASY. All you gotta do is donate handsomely to the governor, and the seat is yours. (On the other hand, if you hold an influential seat on a board or state commission that was a gift from Perry, and you don't do as you are told by him, you lose that seat. Quickly.) *Secondly: Let's say you want to build a radioactive waste facility, and other states are giving you grief over it. No problem! Just make a few LARGE donations to Rick Perry or his various little cloudy PACs, and before you know it, one Texas state law gets passed that overrules some pesky regulation or other that has tied your hands in other states; then, a second law gets passed that says that under the new law, they can only issue, say, ONE license. All ya gotta do then, is apply for that license! You'll be the only one, since nobody else knows about it! And VOILA! You've got your radioactive waste facility in Texas, which will earn you roughly $2 billion profit on your campaign investment. *Third: Say you're willing to give the Perry kids a job in your company. And fly Rick Perry to various sporting events. And a few other things. And you've got some pretty heavy investment in that company. Before you can say, "Gig 'em, Aggies!" your company gets $2.75 million from the Texas State Emerging Technology fund--which happens to be overseen by, you know, Rick Perry.
Pay to play, baby.
That's just the general gist of it. If I went into complete detail, this blogpost would be 10,000 words long, and that's only because so much of what Perry does is behind closed doors and so we really don't know the full extent of it.
What we DO know is this:
Rick Perry has gutted the state of Texas during his years as governor.
While he has been quietly amassing a private fortune, living high off the hog on the state government trough, giving his family the high life in private jets and five-star hotels and 4,600-square foot rental homes--here is only ONE example of the high cost of having Rick Perry as the head of our state:
Most of you are aware of the tragic wildfires that have swept across the state of Texas during this record-heat summer. Since the spring--when our own small ranch burnt to the ground--more than 3.5 million acres have been destroyed by fires that continue to burn as of this writing.
The last fire, which was concentrated in the town of Bastrop, about 30 miles outside of Austin, has so far consumed more than 1,300 homes and more than 100,000 acres. The people there are devastated.
Yes, that's right. (You can read more about it in my previous blogpost: Rick Perry, Writ Large.
He also cut the Texas Forest Service budget by one-third.
This means that, as so many hysterical families pointed out to those media outlets who bothered to ask: There were no TRUCKS. There was no MANPOWER. There was no EQUIPMENT to fight these fires.
They were gutted by Rick Perry, with the casual stroke of a pen, before he left for another huntin' trip. Or fund-raiser.
But the firefighters, many of whom lost their jobs in the budget-slashing pre-presidential campaign rampage of Rick Perry--did what they could to help.
And even after they showed up--at their own expense--to help out, they complained that Perry's budget cuts had kept them from getting proper training.
Not just that. Budget cuts also kept counties from FIRE PREVENTION tactics often employed during the dry Texas summers. Building fire-guards, for one thing.
In other words, not only could some of these fires have been stopped--with proper equipment and manpower--but they could have been prevented altogether, if not for Perry's maniacal insistence that the budget be balanced. Even if he did have to take federal Stimulus funds that had been earmarked for such things, and use them instead to make the numbers in the books add up.
Then, of course, pitch a fit in front of the TV cameras, blaming FEMA and the federal government for not responding as quickly as Perry seemed to think they should.
In other words: (1) He slashed the state fire-fighting budget 75% then (2) expected the federal government to make up the difference with FEMA and other assistance then (3) bitched that they weren't doing it fast enough and then (4) spent the rest of his on-camera time talking about how the federal government is useless and should, basically, be dismantled.
It's genius, really. He balances his state's budget on the federal government's back and the backs of suffering Texans, then runs for president on the strength of his state's balanced budget and his hatred of Big Government.
But--Just imagine what would happen if a PRESIDENT Perry slashed the FEMA budget by 75%. What then?
Bottom line: It makes Rick Perry look good in campaign ads, and that IS what counts, isn't it?
Texas ranks at the very bottom in areas such as education and health care, and at the very top in areas such as people living in poverty and infant mortality.
Now, one question which I am frequently asked is, "Why do you idiot Texans keep voting the man into office?"
That's easy. When you've got three hard-headed Texans running against the man instead of one, and not one of them drops out of the race no matter how bad their poll numbers, then that makes it a four-way race, which is how it has been the past two elections.
And Perry is able to win with only 39% of the vote.
Texas, by the way, ranks last in the country in voter participation.
This is probably because so many of the jobs that HAVE come about in this state in the past decade are minimum wage jobs, which means people are working two and three jobs in order to pay their mortgages and rents, because the state doesn't pay THEIR rent the way it does Rick Perry's.
So far, one of the perks of being Perry is never losing an election. Not once. Ever in his life, not even for agricultural commissioner. Or Aggie Yell Leader, for that matter.
Make no mistake--Rick Perry has spent the better part of the past decade building a power base of millionaires and power-brokers across the country. He will SAY anything, DO anything, BE anything to WIN.
I see an alarming trend among Democrats, progressives, liberals, and Independents, and that is that they don't take the man seriously. They take his cornpone aw-shucks shtick literally and think he's stupid. They look at his college grades from Texas A&M--not so great since he spent all his time on Corps of Cadets activities like Yell Leader and Bonfire--and assume it's proof-positive the man's an idiot.
Do so at your own peril, Dems.
This man is cunning, crafty, and craven. He makes George W. Bush look like a piker.
He's been coiled for years, like a rattlesnake, biding his time, building up his venom.
He promised Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison he wouldn't run for governor a third term, but as soon as she threw her hat in the ring, he struck--"suddenly" changing his mind, dispatching of her quickly in the primaries with his Tea Bagger rhetoric because it was a mid-term election for the rest of the country and turn-out was going to be low. In Texas, that means white seniors, mostly, who happen to make up the bulk of the Tea Party demographic.
Some think that same extreme talk would cost Perry the general election--yet another reason not to take him seriously. This is because they are assuming he won't soften up, change his colors, shuffle and smile and move more toward the middle when it suits his purposes.
This is based on the assumption that the man actually has principles.
The only principles Rick Perry has, is Rick Perry. He has engorged and enriched himself at the pork-trough of state funding and campaign donors while at the same time, impoverishing the state so that it would make him look better politically.
He likes the perks of being Rick Perry. He's a master manipulator at getting his hands on them.
And just imagine how much bigger and better those perks would be for a President Perry.
|Posted by Deanie Mills at | | |
I tell ya, as a Texan, I sit up and cock my head to the side like my own dog does when I say something puzzling to her, whenever I see Rick Perry--our very own governor of the past endless decade--swaggering across the world stage, then dropping everything to rush home and declare that "the visuals are powerful" in his own state when it pretty much burns to the ground thanks in large part to his own policies.
Since the wildfires that destroyed every acre of our own small ranch--and would have our home if my husband had not battled the blaze, hand-to-hand, with the help of a couple of cotton farmers and a neighboring rancher, back on April 15 of this year (ironically, tax day)--as documented in my two previous blogposts--Texas has seen more than 3.5 million acres go up in flames in the worst drought and extreme heat conditions in recorded history.
Over the past few days, more than 1,000 homes in the Austin/Bastrop area of Texas have been destroyed by the ravaging fires, which provoked the curious comment from our garrulous governor. I suppose the "visuals" would be "powerful" if you were viewing them from a posh hotel or your own luxury taxpayer-funded home (which costs many times more than the governor's mansion he refuses to live in)--rather than if, like my husband, you were fighting them yourself with a garden hose, buckets, burlap sacks, and shovels.
Because the truth is that this is what most folks have had to fight these fires with. You see, in the whole sprawling state of Texas, there are only 114 paid fire departments. Most firefighting--particularly the kind that eats up country acreage--is done by volunteer firefighters: some 879 departments.
He also cut the Texas Forest Service budget by more than a third--they're the ones who come in with the helicopters and the big planes bringing firefighting chemicals and big loads of water, without which these fires simply cannot be stopped.
And as you can see, they are not being stopped.
So, Gov. Perry is doing what all state governors--even secessionist-spouting Tea Bagger governors do when they have slashed their own budgets to the bone only to face disasters beyond their ability to bullshit--they beg for FEMA money. You know. GOVERNMENT money. Like, from the FEDERAL government. The very government money they claim to hate and want to put a stop to, should they actually become president.
Perry was asked about that, and his answer was pure Rick Perry: slick as a puddle of oil on a truckstop parking lot in the rain--looks like a rainbow but stinks up close:
"The issue is taking care of these people right now," Perry insisted. "We can work our way through any conversations about how to make agencies more efficient...There are a lot of issues we can talk about, but the fact of the matter is now is not the time to be trying to work out the details of how to make these agencies more efficient. Let's get people out of harm's way."
Let's take a closer look at that statement, shall we?
"THE ISSUE IS TAKING CARE OF PEOPLE RIGHT NOW."
Yes, isn't it?
Back when George W. Bush, the previous Texas governor who was responsible for making Perry governor in his place when HE went on to become president, appointed a top fund-raiser of his to run FEMA, as a little reward dontcha know--he wasn't thinking much about taking care of people, was he? Then of course along came Katrina, and he had to think about it, but it was too late, then.
Governor Perry knows a little something about appointing cronies to sit on prestigious state boards and commissions and run various state agencies or get special dispensations to do as they please in the state, so he'll be an old hand at it when it comes time to run the country.
You can expect him to do exactly the same thing nationwide--just as his predecessor, George W. Bush, did--and with the same sorts of results.
"NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO WORK OUT THE DETAILS OF HOW TO MAKE THESE AGENCIES MORE EFFICIENT..."
Oh, it's simple. I'll tell you how Rick Perry makes government agencies more efficient. He slashes their budgets to the bone and leaves them to die, then he takes government money that was earmarked to shore up those same struggling agencies and uses it to "balance" the budget, so he can brag about it in campaign ads, THEN, he denounces that SAME government money as somehow evil and pretends that he hates it.
(But he doesn't tell the local school budgets how they must find those budget cuts. They have no choice but to lay off hundreds of thousands of teachers. He then makes straight-faced speeches stating that HE is not responsible for teacher lay-offs; that it was a "local decision.")
Then we got the Smoke and Mirrors tactic, see.
This is when Perry obfuscates what is happening by grandstanding and throwing media attention off the REAL problem by complaining about something ELSE, as when he complains that the federal government isn't acting FAST enough to bring Texas the help they so clearly need. The help, you know, that he has denied them for a decade or more. The same federal help he has slammed in ads, on websites, in speeches, in his book, and in interviews--now he claims it's not coming fast enough. Or, there's not enough of it. This shifts the attention from the dismal state of affairs HIS mismanagement has caused and focuses it on something else for the media to chase after rather than HIM. If the reporters are doing their jobs, though, they're talking to people besides just Rick Perry, like the Los Angeles Times staff who reported heartsick homeless victims crying, "They didn't have the trucks, they didn't have the people, they didn't have the equipment. They didn't have anything," as they watched their home burn to the ground.
You see, what these slash-and-burn no-tax freaks refuse to face is that our tax dollars pay for services we all enjoy, from police officers who protect us to fire fighters who save our lives and property to our armed forces who fight for us to our hard-working school teachers who educate our young each and every day--to the disaster agencies who swoop in to rescue us when the hurricanes and tornadoes and catastrophic fires come along.
And that doesn't even COUNT the highways that connect our cities and towns, the bridges that span our waterways, or the railways that carry goods across this great nation--all on taxpayer-funded biways.
A certain tax base is GOOD and NECESSARY for our country to FUNCTION.
To work from the premise that ALL taxes are evil and ALL tax cuts are good is INSANE.
There is no income tax in Texas. We've gotten by with this through the years because of all the oil money flowing through our commerce-veins. Oil businesses pay property taxes, and so on. So we haven't needed an income tax. But that oil business has slowed down in recent decades, and with it, the tax base. And 16 long years of Republican rule has refused to consider any other way to run the government than constant tax cuts, deregulation, and budget-slashing.
Well: YOU HAVE TO CONSIDER THE CONSEQUENCES.
It may sound all well and good on a campaign ad or a badly-lettered posterboard rally sign that budget cuts are the only way to run a government, but I'm here to tell you that WHEN YOU CUT 75% OF THE BUDGET OF YOUR FIRE FIGHTING FORCE YOUR FUCKING STATE BURNS DOWN.
I would dearly love to see how FEMA would function when ITS budget gets cut 75% in a President Perry budget-cutting frenzy. Where would he turn THEN when the next natural disaster strikes?
Similarly, when you cut $4 billion from education in a state where the education budget has never been cut, hundreds of thousands of teachers are laid off in every school district in the state, adding to the unemployment you refuse to admit even exists.
Unemployment? In the "miracle state"???
Oh yeah. But that's another blogpost.
One of many. Because there is no end to the sleight of hand, the smoke-and-mirrors, the bait-and-switch, the lickety-split that is Rick Perry.
FOR A COMPREHENSIVE, BUT BRIEF & EASY TO UNDERSTAND ARTICLE ON JUST HOW THE FIRE FIGHTING BUDGET CAME TO BE NOTHING MORE THAN AN ACCOUNTING TRICK TO BALANCE RICK PERRY'S BUDGET, READ THIS HUFFINGTON POST PIECE. UPDATE: If you would like to help in relief efforts for the victims of the Texas wildfires, particularly if you live in that area, but even if you only have access through social media, here is an excellent site to get you started: Bloggers Without Borders.
|Posted by Deanie Mills at | | |
It's been well over two months since I posted a blog and I have struggled with what to say. Certainly there has been political news galore, but the distractions from closer to home have prevented me from sounding off as readily as I might once have done. It seems the euphoria over the fact that our home was miraculously spared by the West Texas wildfires of April has given way to the depressing reality of living in the midst of a burnt-out fire zone in a rural area where once you beheld natural beauty and wild animals out your doors and windows and now...only a blackened graveyard of dead trees and skinned earth.
The fires which swept across Texas and which still burn in some places, have so far destroyed almost 3 million acres. Even worse are the extreme drought conditions that have caused every county in the state to be declared a natural disaster area. Freeway signs into and out of cities warn of extreme wildfire conditions which remain in effect--most of them called off July 4th fireworks displays. And a heat that can only be described as hellish has gripped the area where I live like Satan's vice--We are now in the eighth straight week of daily temperatures over 102 degrees--soaring at times up to 110.
High winds as hot as a blowtorch sweep across land once lush with grass and thick with brush, but now covered only with a fine layer of soot, ash, and sand. Several times a week, I must clean the soot off of every surface in the house--even lampshades and furniture. You can't keep the stuff out of a leaky 107-year old house.
For more than a month following the fires, we could still smell smoke and a smoky haze layered the horizon. Looking out over scorched, ruined pastures, cleaning soot, smelling smoke--it was impossible to ESCAPE the trauma of what had happened. Sometimes my husband would have nightmares that he was fighting the fires again. Even our dog, Maggie, was depressed. For two months, you could not entice her to play. She would lie down, put her nose on her front paws, and look at you with bereft brown eyes, and there was little you could do to comfort her.
Even sadder was the reality of what grass fires do to the animals who make their homes in the wild. Living as we have for the past 30 years in and amongst wildlife of all kinds, we were sensitive to the changes almost immediately. Like, how we no longer heard the coyotes. How birdsong virtually stopped, only to start again at a distance from the house where I could no longer see them. How, instead of seeing a flock of 20 wild turkeys, we were lucky to see one or two. How, rather than a busy covey of quail scurrying across the pasture, we might spot three or four. How we seldom see deer anymore. How one wild hog somehow lost his family, and comes foraging alone all the way into the barn--unheard of before the fires. But there is just nothing for them to eat out there.
Heartbreaking, too, was the sadness in my son's eyes when he came for a visit. Standing with him in the burnt-out empty space behind the house where the horse barn once stood, buffeted by hot winds and blazing sun, soot whipped up into dust devils, he mused to me, "This reminds me of Iraq."
It is devastating to me to think that the one place my son has always been able to come to as a refuge and sanctuary now resembles a war zone.
My husband kept reassuring me that it WOULD rain again, and that the plants would regrow and the wild animals would return. But as the months passed, I soon found myself unable to be comforted by that. When the thermometer in your kitchen window reads 108 degrees at 10:30 in the morning, it's hard to believe in rain.
Even with all of that, one particular rite I had assiduously avoided was hiking down to the Chinaberry grove to see the damage. On this small ranch of a hundred acres, the Chinaberry grove is like our own personal miniature forest, a completely private sanctuary where, through the years, we have hiked, ridden horseback, camped, led family devotionals, taken friends, picnicked--the kids ran and played out there like little wild creatures, swinging from ropes in the tall trees and building leaf forts in the fall.
It had been my daughter's plan to marry there one day, in the autumn, when it is at its most beautiful. We'd planned to take guests to the site in horse-drawn carriages for the ceremony. She had even taken a boyfriend or two down there to show him the place and "test" his reaction. If he didn't like the Chinaberry grove or thought the idea of anybody getting married down there was stupid, he was on his way out!
When our son knew that he had found something special in one young lady that could develop into a lifetime together, he brought her out here and took her hiking. It was important to him that she knew what this place meant to him, and that she might love it too. She did, and he married her.
For me, it was a soul-home. Sooo many times over the years I had traipsed down to the Chinaberry grove with a notebook and pen, or a pocket camera, or book, or a backpack with all three--and sat on my favorite broad "restin' rock" to look up through the leaves and think, pray, write, WORK THROUGH whatever challenge faced me. I tromped down there through deep snow and waded through in heavy rains and sprawled out on the ground on lazy summer days, cooled by the shade and kept company by the cacophony of bird chatter. I even did Yoga down there from time to time.
Once, after the kids were grown and gone, Kent and I had made love in the Chinaberry grove.
My son has always loved Henry David Thoreau, and Walden is one of his favorite books. When he was deployed to Iraq with the Marines, I had kept a journal for him that I called, "Camp Springs Walden," cataloging for him the many mysteries of nature that were on abundant display right there in the Chinaberry grove. Every couple of weeks, I'd mail him an installment.
If ever there was a place in the life of our family that could be called "sacred," that would be it.
In the days following the fires, Kent and our son, Dustin, had made the trek to the Chinaberry grove, and Kent had taken photographs that, when I saw them on the computer, made me physically ill. The fires that had devoured our land had been unusually hot and particularly voracious--even seasoned firefighters said they'd never seen anything quite like it--as Kent had said, the fire would move through, then would come back and get whatever it had missed the first time. And the worst, hottest part of the fires had completely engulfed the Chinaberry grove.
As the weeks passed and my gloom worsened, Kent suggested I visit the Chinaberry grove and, as he put it, "have a good cry and move on."
I doubted it would work in quite that way but I just didn't know if I could bear it. I hadn't even been able to watch the destruction of the big tree in the movie, Avatar! It's true! How could I bear this?
My family had been urging me to start on a book of memoirs about a big-city girl marrying a cowboy and raising two children in the boonies, and I had even written the first chapter, but after the wildfires, I did not know what to say anymore. Was it all gone? Was it all lost? How was I to write about THAT?
One day, sorting through papers on my desk, I came across a copy of the Camp Springs Walden that I had kept for myself. I picked it up and began to read. In order for you to fully comprehend the meaning of this place--of this land--to me and to my family, you must read at least this small excerpt from a letter I had sent to my son while he was engaged in a terrible war thousands of miles away, written in October, 2004:
One of the reasons I'd really been wanting to go all this month is that this is the time of the migration of the Monarch butterflies, who pass straight through here on their way to Mexico. One time several years ago, I was walking back from the Chinaberry grove, and came upon what looked, at first, like a large bush covered with fluffy yellow blossoms--but when I drew near, I could see it was butterflies. Oh, it just took my breath away.
Other years, I've sat on the restin' rock, and watched ten or twelve of them flit around me.
But a few years ago, there was a terrible out-of-season storm in Mexico that caught the Monarchs and caused the deaths of literally billions of them. Since then, I haven't seen nearly that number out here. All the same, I knew it was late in the season to get to see any, and I was right.
At first, I was a little disoriented and wasn't sure if we were close to our Chinaberry grove, but our old dog Bart suddenly took a sharp left turn and headed straight that way, to the fence and under it. Sometimes he can be just plain spooky.
So I clambored up and made my way to the restin' rock, and the first thing I saw was this incredible butterfly--not a Monarch--but the amazing thing about it was that its wings looked exactly like the leaves of a Chinaberry tree when changing color. Right down to delicate veins that looked like veins of a leaf. I watched it alight on a scaffolding of leaves, close its wings, and disappear. I took a step closer with the fantasy of getting a photograph, and it flew away.
What was especially neat about that is that falling leaves would catch on silver spider webs, and the wind would cause them to go into a twirling flutter that looked just like the movements of a butterfly. So you couldn't tell even when they were airborne, whether they were butterflies or leaves.
The moist ground smelled, well, earthy, for lack of a better word, and I tilted my face and gazed up at the sky, and it was the most spectacular shade of sapphire blue, and the sun backlit the leaves like piles of glittering gold coins spilled out over blue silk cloth--only, more beautiful,you see, because of the gold of the leaves still tinged with green.
Soft white puffs of cloud would drift across, and all you could hear was the hushed breeze through the leaves. I thought about the bittersweet perfection of nature. Of course, nature is not perfect. It's gloriously messy. But what I mean is that, on this perfect day, I had a son who was thousands of miles away at war.
That kind of bittersweet.
I was thinking about you then, at the very moment that you were e-mailing me, telling me that the day was a bit cooler, and it felt so good that you and your buddy almost forgot where you were--until you could hear the sounds of explosions and mortar rounds. Which is very much what I was thinking at that moment.
I didn't know, of course, that you were sending the e-mail, but I did think about you over there, and I thought about how utterly, completely SAFE this place, the Chinaberry grove, is. Of course, you have to watch out for snakes and things, but you can sit there, entirely alone, and not hear traffic, or worry that someone may suddenly cross your path, the way they might, say in a public park.
Every now and then, a lilting breeze would glitter the golden leaves against the warm buttery glow of the sun, and it was a place of peace.
The only interruption I had, in fact, was the persistent caw, caw of a crow or blackbird. I couldn't see him and didn't know where he was, but I could hear him, loud and clear.
Ravens, of course, have all kinds of magic in Native American traditions. Some tribes fear the cry of ravens, thinking it brings death, but actually, raven mythology is much richer and more varied than that. In truth, ravens are extremely intelligent birds. They can be taught to speak, like parrots. And both in the wild and in laboratory experiments, ravens use tools to crack nuts or reach seeds or fruits or whatever it is they want. They are smart and wary and are not intimidated by other animals or birds.
In every Native tradition, ravens are considered to be creatures of great magic...According to a book I have at home, Animal Speak, the Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small, ravens can teach us "how to stir the magic of life without fear." The author, Ted Andrews, himself an Indian, is an expert in animal behavior and an authority on animal symbolism in cultures the world over. He goes on to say, "If raven has come into your life, expect magic. Somewhere in your life, magic is at play...linking your will and intention." He talks about how you should use the energy of raven to be creative, and bring forth from your own dark nights of the soul...light.
Well, I could certainly use a little light these days, some creative energy and spark. But that wasn't what I was thinking as I stretched out on the moist ground, Bart at my side, my head making a pillow of the restin' rock, gazing at the turquoise sky through glittering gold leaves.
What I was thinking was that, I couldn't imagine how the real Walden could have possibly been any more beautiful than this.
(I can't get the link to go through, so if you'd like to see the book by Mr. Andrews on animal symbolism, you can find it here:
Not all loss is the same, certainly. The loss of a child or spouse has to be the worst kind of loss. Loss of beloved parents. Loss of cherished friends. Loss of a home itself. Even the loss of your health and vitality is a blow, as is the loss of a job or a career one loves.
Over the years I had often worried about losing any one of those--in fact, I did bury loved ones and friends, had dealt with chronic illness, had lost a career I treasured--so I was no stranger to grief. Lord knows I was driven nearly wild with fear and anxiety for my son when he was fighting in a terrible war. I worried about my daughter, pursuing her dreams in huge metropolitan areas all the way across the country. I fretted because my husband traveled so much, driving tens of thousands of miles every year. And I was always afraid whenever tornadoes passed uncomfortably close to our home.
But in all that time, it never once crossed my mind that we could lose the LAND, that places we held dear, like the Chinaberry grove, might be destroyed. I wasn't prepared. I wasn't BRACED.
It took about an hour--maybe two--for trees and plant life that had been growing for decades or even centuries to be scrubbed off the earth by the flames of the fire, for barns, fences, and pens to be vaporized in the intense heat, for wildlife to be rendered either homeless or killed. I watched it happen, standing numb and in shock.
Over the following weeks, I'd dealt with the aftermath.
But I hadn't gone to the Chinaberry grove.
Every day, I ventured a bit further out into the pastures, scattering seed for the birds even though I could only rarely enjoy watching them out the window as I had once done routinely. I searched for trees that still had some leaves, trees that had somehow been spared the worst of the flames, and I would scatter seed on the ground beneath those trees. If there was any place fairly sheltered--not many, anymore--I'd scatter seed there for the quail.
No longer did I have to wear jeans and boots to protect myself from brush and cactus. Now I just wore a plain pair of slip-on canvas shoes with rubber soles and shorts. There was no longer anything to scratch my legs. As for boots, which we usually wore as protection from rattlesnakes, the truth was that we had seen not a one in the months since the fires.
One morning, for some reason, I just kept walking. It was as if some gigantic magnet was pulling me.
Walking across the pastures was like walking across the moon. Grasses, brush, cactus, bushes, and other growth had been skinned off, leaving the earth exposed and bare. So much of the soot and ash had blown away by now, revealing soil that was leathery, cracked, and dry dry dry. Sometimes it was just sand, fine as on a beach. I could walk easily in my slip-on shoes. There were no animal tracks, I noticed.
The Mesquites still stood, their trunks and limbs black and skeletal, what leaves remained were brown and shriveled. Some of them had been broken right in half by the sheer heat of the fires. On one black dead limb far out in a pasture, I found a section of our horse barn roof, wrapped around it like a hot dog bun around a weiner, where it had been powerfully blown by the high scorching winds engendered by the fire.
Even the wind sounded different. Where once it would sough through the trees in a sigh you could hear coming for a mile or two, making a gentle shshshshsh sound--now it whistled like the sound of the wind you hear in an old movie Western--whheeeeewwww--kicking up dust devils that whipped across the pasture.
A desert, now.
I knew I was approaching the Chinaberry grove but still I kept walking, that same numbness heavy in my chest.
Like the Mesquites, the trees still stood, but their barks had been split off completely, as if they had been skinned, leaving the smooth bare skin of the inner tree bare and exposed, its leaves burnt off. I ran my hand over the surface of one tree, searching for any sign of life. There were no tree ants. No spiders. I leaned against the trunk, putting my cheek against the smooth naked skin of the tree, and I embraced it, whispering, "I am so sorry. So sorry this happened to you."
Underfoot was only black. Black soot, black ash, dead black leaves. No delicate webs connected the graveyard of trees, no insects or butterflies. "What will the Monarchs do this year?" I wondered. "Where will they go for rest, shelter, and food?"
I also noticed that there were no birds. The silence was so complete and so PROFOUND that I could literally feel it pressing against my eardrums. The sound of death.
I found the restin' rock and sat down in my old familiar haunt. It was blazing hot from the sun, because there was no longer any shade to shelter it.
But sprouting out from the base of every single dead tree was a brave new Chinaberry sapling--a jarring shock of dazzling green against the gloomy black. In spite of the fact that we had had virtually no rain since the fire, some of the saplings were already chest-high to me. I ran my hands along their tender leaves and murmured to them, "Be strong."
Leaving the Chinaberry grove, I trudged up the rise of land, marveling at all the exposed whorls, holes, and mounds of the earth itself--long hidden by brush and grass. In the uppermost southeast corner of the land, where I had hiked many times to gaze out over the valley--a surprise awaited me.
A stand of Cedar trees. For some unfathomable reason, the fire had missed that one small section. Everything around it, and across the fence in the neighbor's pastures, was burned. This was a particularly thick stand of Cedars, where deer had often sheltered. It was here that I found rabbit droppings and deer tracks, signs of life.
Signs of hope.
As I headed back home, I noticed that new Mesquites were also growing--again, at the bases of their dead parents--their green leaves in shocking contrast to the black all around. A good soaking rain could work miracles, no question.
My son, worrying about the state of my mind, had urged me to read a book by one of his old college psychology professors, David Rosen, M.D., called, Transforming Depression, Healing the Soul Through Creativity.
For some maddening reason, I can't get the link to work, so you can find the book here:
Dr. Rosen says that whenever we experience loss of any kind, or what he calls "Bad News," we experience a feeling of helplessness that leads to hopelessness. You feel profoundly shaken.
It feels, he says, as if "your soul has been lost."
This was a particularly poignant metaphor where the Chinaberry grove--and the rest of our place--was concerned because it had, for so many years, nourished my soul.
The "despairing soul" he says, "merely exists."
How true this is. After all, we still have to perform our daily routines--pets or children to care for, jobs to go to, bills to pay, laundry to get done--or for those who have lost their homes, packing up to do. We may sob the whole time we are doing these things, or walk around as if there is an anvil on our chests, but they must still be done.
You can go about the daily business of living while, at the same time, feeling dead inside.
"Loss of morale," says Dr. Rosen, "is generally associated with a collapse of a person's spirit, will, or courage."
He uses several analogies to describe depression--a dark tunnel, a dark cave--but the one feature these metaphors all seem to have in common is the word "dark." After a loss, we go to a dark place. Since Rosen is a Jungian psychiatrist, he goes into the Shadow Self, and I'm not going to go into that much detail. Suffice it to say that when hopelessness takes over, we see little light in our lives.
This is not all a bad thing, according to Dr. Rosen. After all, one can seek sanctuary in a cave, a place to rest, recover, and begin to rebuild.
But something else that takes place deep underground is that seeds from a dying plant, he points out, can germinate.
The wild land around us has proven that to me with the crazy shock of green sprouting at the base of each dead tree. Were we in a wetter climate, we would be seeing much regrowth in our pastures by now, but this is not going to be the case as long as this horrible drought lingers. However in spite of all odds against them, the trees seem determined to grow.
And so it is with the human spirit.
Hopelessness, Dr. Rosen points out, is the best predictor of suicide. (I've read that, so far, eight farmers who lived in the vicinity of the Fujikama nuclear reactor, which leaked radioactivity into flood waters that covered their farms following the tsunami--have committed suicide.)
Hope of any kind, however, should be the light that we focus on when we find ourselves in that dark tunnel or dark cave or dark underground--whatever we swamp around in during a depression following loss.
"That light," he says, "is hope, faith, and love." He calls them "the three antibodies."
"A person's depression," he says, "cannot be resolved until that person finds and reconnects with his or her lost soul, so that the candle of hope can be relit."
It can be, at times, very very hard to find that hope, to reconnect with our "lost soul." For me, cleaning soot off my lamps while the hot wind thunders against the house in 105 degree heat--it's hard to light any of those little soul-candles Dr. Rosen is talking about.
There are simple ways to find help, though, that you don't need therapy or medication for--such as seeking laughter, bonding with friends or family, or even crying.
Or reading books like this one.
Dr. Rosen also encourages us to seek a "transformation of the self" through creativity--artwork, photography, music, dance, writing (hence, this blog)--whatever form of creativity that appeals to us--which can help us to express not just our loss, but what meaning we hope to find in it.
Because if we can find some sort of purpose or meaning in our soul-challenges and our loss, if we can find some way to make it all make sense, then we are on our way to finding hope again, to lighting that little candle in our souls.
For all of us, I think, there comes a time in life when we go through something so searing, so devastating, that it is as if our souls have been scorched. Like the fire-ravaged pastures--we are skinned, raw. Like the charred trees--our masks have been stripped away and we feel exposed to the world.
Sometimes we've been consumed by the fires of grief, or even rage. Some may feel that rage following a company lay-off, or a divorce. (For me, I felt it when my son was sent to fight in a war I thought should never have been waged in the first place, and was being so badly managed that I knew he could die there. I raged with a ferocity that worried some in my family, and did not feel a sense of serenit until President Obama began bringing troops home from Iraq and my son completed his four-year term of service.)
Sometimes these spiritual wildfires consume our very Selves, and we emerge from them not even knowing who we are, anymore.
Because the land has been a part of me for so long--and I, a part of the land--I will take my lessons in survival from her. I watch as the animals come in from the wild to drink at the sources we have provided for them, and I see the birds come close to get the seed I've put out. I watch the newly sprouted trees struggle to thrive in the worst of circumstances, and rejoice at any new signs of life--the song of the coyotes that returned one evening after a two-month absence, the colorful new birds at our feeder, the bees swarming at the water-pan, Maggie chasing her ball with joyful abandon, a coachwhip snakeskin that had been shed, showing at least one ground-creature made it through the holocaust.
I watch for these signs. I write. And I wait for rain. As my husband says, it always rains again.
|Posted by Deanie Mills at | | |
|The fires started on the Cooper Mountain Ranch, some 18 miles from here, and for three days we thought they were going to miss us. It's been a terribly dry year--even the Texas bluebonnets that sprouted up this spring looked oddly stunted and faded, nothing like the glorious display they normally put on. The rugged ranch country, thick with dry grasses, brush, prickly pear cactus, Mesquite trees, and broomweed would have been an excellent source of fuel for any self-respecting grass fire, but what exploded into an inferno were the cedar trees that dotted the landscape. (I am not using the term "exploded" as a literary image--I mean it literally. A dry cedar tree will explode into flame once a fire reaches it, like a small bomb.)
High, dry winds turned the flames into a blowtorch, but even then, Texas Forest Service fire fighters were doing a fair job containing it with water and chemical transport planes and water-scooping helicopters, while county maintainers built fire guards to halt its relentless progress.
And then it hit the canyons.
What separates West Central Texas from the High Plains of the Panhandle or the deserts of far Western Texas are the arroyos, cedar breaks, rugged creek beds, mesas, and canyons. Some of those canyons can be 200 feet deep.
It's a beautiful, if formidable, landscape. Wildlife of all kinds thrive here: bobcat, coyote, quail, deer, lizards and snakes, raccoons and skunks, badgers, hawks--there isn't enough space to list them all. The Sand Hill Crane pass through here on their migratory patterns, as do the Monarch butterflies as they make their incredible journey from Mexico to Canada and back again.
So, it's not just FLAT, the way you see even in far south Texas on the Mexican border or in the desert country that approaches El Paso. It's also not mountainous, like the Big Bend country.
It has its own personality--not hostile to settlers, necessarily, but wary. "You can live here," it seems to say, "but you gotta be tough."
Hiking through pastures, one would be wise to wear thick jeans and boots, because every plant that grows here naturally has a weapon of some sort: spikes, stickers, thorns, jagged edges, or leaves that have hair-fine tines that wind up bristling from the palms of your hands.
If you plan to plant a garden, you must be prepared for ground as hard as cement and, when you kneel down--grass burrs that gouge your knees and hands. In a dry year, grasshoppers will eat whatever grows in your garden down to the dirt. When rain does come, it's as likely to flood, or bring hail, or winds that simply flatten the plants.
When we first moved into this place, I tried for four years to grow a garden. One year the grasshoppers got it. One year hail beat it down. One year it was flooded. The fourth year, all I wanted was tomatoes. I planted them in the most prize place I could find--next to my roses, safe up against the front porch. We did every single thing any gardener knew how to do to foster those plants.
The plants, in fact, grew tall and massive. But they only produced one tomato a day.
I gave up after that.
A few miles from our house lies a tiny country cemetery, long forgotten by all but a handful of lifelong residents. It is very old--well over 100 years. There is nothing manicured or maintained about that place; the graves are simple, with headstones that say things like, "Mother and Child."
There is nothing around the cemetery but sweeping pastures and a modest fence. Most of the graves are decorated with wildflowers rather than funereal flower arrangements or flags. They belong to pioneers who came west from overcrowded places back east, people who'd heard that there was far more land than people and that it was rich cattle country.
Some thought they could tame it, wrestle it down, plow it under, plant crops, change its essential nature.
They were punished for this folly.
No one had prepared them for the howling orange dust storms so thick back then, an old newspaper article stated, that toddlers wandering outdoors were lost. No one knew that a single bite from a brown recluse spider could rot a man's arm off without proper treatment--even today, skin grafts are usually required to recover the damage. They didn't know about the rattlesnakes. Or the droughts. Or the terrifying tornadoes.
Or the grass fires.
The Cooper Mountain Fire took a flying leap into the deep canyons on the ranch that traveled for miles across several counties, and it powered up into monster proportions. Fire fighters could not get to it; fire guards were useless; and the planes couldn't begin to carry enough water.
Fire fighters began flying in from all over the country--20 states--and from all over Texas. By the time the fire reared up out of the canyons it was a great roiling fearsome beast covering thousands of acres of ranch land. Most people don't realize that a big fire creates it own wind--a hot howling breath of death whipped into a raging frenzy by West Texas winds gusting over 40 mph.
Within 24 hours of the fire's birth, we could smell smoke out at our place even though it was still a good 10 miles away and the wind was blowing in the complete opposite direction. Water transport planes and water-scooping helicopters began flying directly over our home and heading in the direction of the fires.
During thunderstorm and tornado season, every county in the country has all sorts of built-in warning systems. Local TV news stations run crawls across the bottoms of screens or little area maps in the corners, in order for viewers to be able to track storms. Weathermen break into regular broadcasts with updates on a storm's progress, and if a tornado hits, towns sound sirens.
But for big fires that spread across several counties at a time?
It only makes the evening news if a town is evacuated, and then, all they do is send bloodthirsty reporters out to interview traumatized residents and ask them how they feel on-camera.
God forbid they put up the weather map and show you the progress of the fire; give you wind-direction forecasts; warn residents in the fire's path the way they do when tornadoes strike.
In our case, we went to the Texas Forest Service website and to their Google Earth link. They did post updates on the fire's progress, but only once a day, in the morning. In West Texas, the wind was shifting direction so often and so quickly that those updates were usually irrelevant in a few hours' time.
By about 36 hours into the fire, I went out to the front yard, and there was not only a powerful smell of smoke in the air, but between our house and the nearest ridge west of us, smoky haze was so thick you couldn't see the mile and a half to our mailbox, and the huge wind turbines on the distant horizon had vanished.
My husband, Kent, was on his way home from a trip, and I called him and asked what I could or should do. I didn't know where to go online to see if we were in danger or not. He said he was close to getting home but that he'd heard the fires were heading northeast of us and told me not to worry.
Exactly forty minutes later I went back out on the front porch and the smoke was gone. Sky blue and clear. Wind turbines whirling away. I looked toward the northeast and saw no fire. Only a pearly haze.
Whew. THAT was weird, huh?
Kent called a number of clients and friends he has in the area of the fire, got updates, and then when he got home, he drove his pickup to the highest ridge a couple miles from our home and watched the fire with binoculars. He reported that it was about eight miles away and moving in the opposite direction. Then, he called up Google Earth and showed me where the fire was in relation to our house.
Thank goodness. WAY far from us. Plus--a few cotton fields in the way, and cotton crops have already been stripped and sent to the gins. The stalks have been plowed under--a perfect fire guard.
So we had nothing to worry about.
About 48 hours into the fire, the town of Rotan, some 16 miles northeast of us, suddenly had to be evacuated. Of course, THAT made the evening news. Hapless reporters coughed through smoke and ash so heavy that it looked as though a volcano were erupting nearby.
Some of our closest friends in the WORLD--old Aggies who went to college with my husband (one was our best man)--live on farms on the outskirts of Rotan. We could not get ahold of them.
Only a few hours after the evacuation, the townspeople were permitted to return. Those cotton fields had done their job and the fire had been turned away from the town.
Whew. ANOTHER close call.
But it frightened us, of course. Kent made frequent trips to his hilltop vantage point and visited neighboring ranchers to discuss options.
I asked him if I needed to pack up anything, and he said, "Not yet."
But the smell of smoke had returned, and now the whole sky was hazy. I started to play a game with myself: If our house were destroyed, what things would I look back on six months from now and wish I had? What things would I most regret losing?
What things could not be replaced?
The next morning, Kent worked in a home office and fooled around on the computer. We had been planning to shop for a new car, believe it or not. The old Chevy Prizm I drive used to belong to my mother. When she'd become unable to drive, I'd taken over the payments--ten years ago. It now has more than 150,000 miles on it and is reaching the point where repairs are becoming prohibitively expensive. We'd been browsing the Consumer Reports website, discussing what we wanted and what we could afford and so forth.
Kent said, "I don't think we should go into town today."
We finally heard from Kent's former best man, Raford. He told us terrifying tales of trying to get down the rural road to his son's house, where he knew the young man had stayed to fight, only to run up against a roadblock. He'd sat, helplessly, while car after car passed by--none of them his son's. Then, unbelievably, here came 20 firetrucks hauling ass OUT of the road, away from his son--who, he finally learned, had survived and saved the house.
Then he'd driven another friend of ours up to a roadblock. "I don't know if my house is still standing or not," the friend told Raford.
So Raford took his pickup truck and drove past the roadblock and straight through a cotton field in order to get to the house. They discovered that the fir had burned "right straight up to the front door"--and then inexplicably stopped.
Relaying the story of trying to get to his son, our friend's usually calm, matter-of-fact voice was high-pitched, his speech fast. Clearly, he had been traumatized.
That's when it started to become real to me.
Kent drove out to the hilltop again, returned, and said, "It's about eight miles from here, but the wind is blowing in the opposite direction. We should be fine, but..."
"But if the wind changes direction..."
I asked, again, if I should pack up some things and he said, again, "Not yet."
We checked the Texas Forest Service website but there were no new updates.
The smell of smoke was growing stronger. Outdoors, the light had a coppery hue to it--not quite like a sunset or a solar eclipse--just something not RIGHT. Something I had never seen before.
I wandered the house, uncertain what to do. Anxious and on edge. I posted updates on Facebook simply because I was frightened and the sense of community was immensely helpful while my husband was away from the house.
Before lunch, he made another trip to the high point, came back, and said, "So far everything is holding."
Overhead, the trips from the planes and helicopters had taken on a more urgent edge--back and forth, back and forth.
Out back, the northeastern corner of the sky was an ominous brown-gray, like gathering storm-clouds.
We were eating lunch when, all of a sudden, Kent sprang to his feet and went outdoors. He came back in, set his lunch aside, grabbed his hat, and said, "I'm going to go check on the fire again."
This time, I paced the floor in a dream state, a "this-can't-be-happening" state.
When he returned, he said, "I think you should pack up a few things, just in case we have to leave. JUST IN CASE," he emphasized. "Right now the wind is still pushing it northeast."
By this time, the entire eastern half of the sky was nasty brown-gray, the wind whipping my hair in my eyes.
I pulled on jeans and shoes and bra (which I only wear when I have to leave the house), and began dragging out our overnight cases, tossing in the kinds of things you take on a weekend trip.
Because we were going to be coming back, weren't we?
An hour or so later, he left to go fire-watch again. I took hang-up clothes out of the closet for both of us and laid them on the bed. I remembered his 91-year old dad, who's just been put into an assisted-living center after breaking a hip and was not doing well.
"We might need nice clothes," I thought. "If anything happens to Dad, we wouldn't want to go to his funeral in jeans." So I set out the clothes I'd just picked up from the dry cleaners--the clothes we'd worn to our son's wedding two weeks before. Grabbed what few medications we needed; made sure I had plenty of ibuprofin, tossed those things into the bag.
After all, Kent has a 17" neck, 36" sleeves, and 40" inseams. You can't just run down to Wal-Mart or someplace and grab him up something to wear. And Western long-sleeved shirts are expensive, so I made sure to grab up a pretty good selection for him.
Jotted down a note to myself that, since we'd be taking the cats, we'd need a litter box, litter, and a scoop as well as food. Set out Maggie's leash. Gathered up her food and water dishes and some for the cats. Set those aside.
The pickup returned. Kent hurried into the house and said, "We've got to leave. Pack up anything you want to keep. Hurry! The wind shifted and it's heading this way."
The wind, in fact, had not just "shifted." It had done a complete about-face.
"How far is it now?" I asked.
"Maybe two miles," he replied.
In Texas ranching country, two miles is NOTHING. Hell, it's a mile and a half just to my MAILBOX.
For the first time, all my careful denial fell away and I realized that we were probably going to lose our home. We've lived in this 107 year old house for 30 years. My babies grew up here. They showed horses in 4-H horse shows; we went on family rides. They loved this old place like a second mother.
If you have one hour to pack up your whole life, what do you take?
I abandoned the overnight bags and headed straight for the hallway bookshelf/cabinet that holds a lifetime of photo albums and scrapbooks.
Next to that cabinet was a Rubbermaid storage container with 50 author's copies of my book, Faces of Evil, a true-crime I'd written with Lois Gibson, a Houston P.D. forensic sketch artist.
Tearing off the lid, I dumped out the books onto the carpet and began stacking scrapbooks and photo albums into the container.
Those albums contained my childrens' whole lives, carefully documented by me over the course of their preschool, school, college, and professional lives. There were theater programs from my daughter's plays along with ticket stubs and snapshots of her in costume. There were newspaper clippings from my son's deployments to Iraq, along with priceless photos he'd sent home in disposable cameras. There were articles cataloging my career as an author, and mementoes from my husband's work each summer with youth wildlife camps.
We'd been storing up stuff in a back room which Kent had converted into an office; we were trying to make more space for his work product. Those containers were all up-ended. Favorite stuffed toys from my kids' childhoods, commemorative plaques given to my husband from the wildlife camps, framed headshots from Jessica's acting career.
From shelves, walls, corner tables, I grabbed up armsful of framed family photographs, a painting of the Chinaberry Grove done by my friend Karen, two of my mother's needlepoints, the comb my son's bride had worn in her wedding that was adorned with my grandmother's cameo.
The smell of smoke was overpowering now. My hands began to shake. I broke off every fingernail at the quick in my rush--and I don't wear girlie fingernails. No manicures, no polish. I wear them trimmed fairly close and practical. They STILL broke off.
The framed invitation to the Obama Inauguration. The hand-written letter to me from feminist icon, Gloria Steinem. The letter to me from Wilma Mankiller, first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, for my book, Ordeal. The letter from bestselling author, Dean Koontz, encouraging me to keep writing.
The framed copies of my first four book jackets.
Then I went around my office, gathering up one copy apiece of all my published books: hardcover, paperback, foreign-language. Those books, alone, took up one whole box.
"Is this ready to go?" Kent would ask. "Is this ready?"
I kept expecting him to chastise me, to say, "We can't take all this crap. Take what you need and go!"
But he never did. Not once.
When I started to whimper, trying to stuff something into a box that wouldn't fit, he gently took it from me and said, "Let me do this."
The bronze statue of two kids clamboring aboard a patient horse with the brass plate title, "The Babysitter," that had been given to us by our daughter. The shadowbox my son's then-girlfriend, now-wife had given to me our first Christmas together. (She'd made it herself: a miniature hay bale, a photograph of Dustin and Jessica at two and five, riding their Shetland pony, Chiggar, and a copy of one of my "Country Life" columns--all in a beautiful little arrangement.)
A Mother's Day card Kent had made for me himself, just last year, on his computer.
Needlepoints my kids had made in grade school when one of their teachers taught them how.
But oh! The choices! There was only so much space in a Chevy Prizm, you know?
Cat carriers. They take up a lot of space.
When Kent left with a box in his arms, sweet little Lady dashed out between his legs and would not come to me no matter how often I tried to retrieve her. I ran out into the pasture after her, calling. She would scamper about, let me get within a foot then dash off playfully. I tried repeatedly to snatch her up.
"Let her go!" my husband yelled. "THERE IS NO TIME!"
I had two cat carriers.
Teddy, who I'd hand-raised from a tiny kitten when his mother abandoned him, and to whom I was particularly attached. Nikki, a real sweetheart, who we'd taken from my sister when she moved into an apartment that disallowed pets.
And Annabelle, the large, gnarly, evil-tempered cat my daughter had brought home from college.
I'd thought I could fit two cats in the large carrier, but Teddy has grown into a big cat. He and Nikki took up the two carriers.
Perhaps another cat could have been put in the car loose, but you can't even pick up Annabelle. When we take her to the vet, they have to sedate her in the carrier before they even try to treat her.
Considering how many times I've threatened to kill that cat, I didn't expect to cry at the prospect of leaving her behind, but for all the grief she gives me daily, she is a living creature who trusts me with her care. I petted her head for a moment or two--before she bit me--told her I was sorry that I had to go, and left her in the back room with plenty of food, water, and a litter box. She was lounging on the bed, oblivious to her impending peril, happy because that is Nikki's lair and she had successfully stolen it from her.
I still hadn't finished packing the overnight bag. By this time, there was no time left.
I could not think or plan. Bottles of ibuprofin, Excedrin, and Benadryl got thrown into the cooler with water bottles and blue-brick cold things.
The small diamond-and-ruby earrings Kent had given me for my 40th birthday got zipped up in a plastic bag and crammed down into a paper sack containing stuffed toys.
Hair scrunchies went into the backpack that held all our electronic chargers and my Kindle, as well as the back-up device for my desktop PC.
The first chapter of my new book manuscript got stuffed, along with bills and Netflixes I didn't want to have to replace, into a box of photo albums.
Bag packed. Hang-up clothes loaded. Kent's laptop whisked away.
I started scooping things up as I left each room: from off my desk, the miniature Dungeons & Dragons figures hand-painted for me by a guy who'd helped me research LOSERS, WEEPERS, the Don't Give Up paperweight I'd had my entire career, a miniature framed photo of the Chinaberry Grove in full fall regalia--all those things got stuffed into my jeans pockets.
Put the cats' sheepskin beds in the carriers. Crammed yowling struggling cats inside.
"You have to go!" Kent yelled. "NOW!"
Grabbed down the small plaque my late, great mother-in-law had made: she'd decoupaged a hand-written recipe for sugar cookies from Kent's great-grandmother onto a wooden plaque and it had hung in my kitchen for 30 years. Barely managed to bury it into my wildly overstuffed purse.
A miniature bunny rabbit Easter decoration of a mama bunny pushing a baby bunny in a stroller with a tiny butterfly on a spring. Yanked it up, wrapped it in a paper towel, put it in with the electronic chargers.
Kent loaded the cats in the front seat, Teddy balanced on top of the gear-shift knob. Every available inch of space was filled.
Smoke was everywhere. By this time, the entire sky was brown-gray with it, and to the northeast, boiling plumes of smoke.
He told me that Rod and Mary were waiting for me at their ranch.
I stepped outside. Satchmo, the sweetest little barn kitty in the WORLD, who always comes to greet me, follows me cheerfully out to the pasture to set out seed for wild birds, sleeps on the front porch with Maggie--Satchmo bounded up to me for a pet.
And I lost it.
Satchmo was going to die. As was Rocky, his front-porch kitty-buddy who we'd cut out of the rock wall of the house when he was only a few weeks old. All the other barn cats were going to die.
The quail and rabbits, the cardinals and deer, the raccoons and the rattlesnakes--all the wildlife who kept us company and tolerated our presence in their midst were doomed. I had even raised an orphaned baby bunny once, and had set him free in a bed of clover beneath a thatch of Mesquite trees behind the horse barn.
Gone. All gone.
This old house, this sanctuary, this refuge, our HOME, was about to burn to the ground.
For the first time, the full finality of what was about to happen hit me in the gut. I bent over, sobbing. Arms tight against my body, I blubbered and cried--and then Kent took me by the shoulders, made me stand up straight and look him in the eye, and said, "Stop it! You have to be strong! You have to have your wits about you! I need you to be strong, Deanie. We all need you."
Then he hugged me tight, and said, "Please, go. Hurry."
I said, "PROMISE ME you won't do anything dangerous that risks your life."
Swiping tears from my eyes, I fondled Maggie's ears, then got into my overstuffed car and headed down the road, Nikki crying steadily and Teddy mute beside me, panting shallowly.
I managed to spend an hour at Mary's kitchen table while her husband Rod came in and out.
She kept making small talk and serving brownies, God bless her. She was scared.
I was screaming inside.
The phone rang, startling us. It was Kent, who told me that the fire had passed just east of the house, but that there was another one coming from the north.
"When will you know if we're going to lose the house?" I asked.
"About an hour," he said.
I called my son, but Rod and Mary don't get any better cell service out here in the boonies than we do, and it was a nightmare of a conversation while I roamed all over the house, then stepped outside to find a signal.
When I hung up, I looked in the direction of our house. Black smoke.
Grass fires usually burn white.
An official-looking man in a white pickup drove up, cruised around the house, and told Rod and Mary that their house was probably going to be all right but that it wouldn't hurt for them to leave.
I said, "I'm Deanie Mills." I described where my house was.
He said, "I'm sorry. Your house is lost. The worst of the fire is coming straight out of the north and there is no way it's going to miss your house. I'm sorry."
Your house is lost.
I'll never forget those words, or the no-nonsense way he delivered them. He was sorry but he was too busy to deal with frantic women. I refrained from comment or emotional display and asked if he was sure.
This is the country. You deal with the heartbreaks in life in a matter-of-fact manner. You deal with them. You help your neighbors deal. And you move on.
He said, "The wind is pushing straight down out of the north, and it's eating up everything in its path. Your house is directly in the path of this fire. I'm sorry."
And he left.
Frantically, I tried to call Kent. No response.
I told Rod and Mary, I'm outta here. I have to go see if Kent is all right. I have to go see if our home is still standing.
At their mailbox, I angled the car left--toward the north--to return to at least my mailbox, so I could see if my house was there or not.
A white pickup with hazard lights blinking flashed past me, and the driver stuck his arm out the window, gesturing, "WRONG WAY! WRONG WAY! GET OUT! GET OUT!"
I turned left.
The sky north and east was nothing but billowing smoke.
At the mailbox, the smoke was so thick that I could see nothing, so I drove down halfway to a spot about a half-mile from the house.
All four pastures on all four sides of the house were ablaze, flames shooting 30 feet in the air. I could not see my house. I could not reach my husband by cellphone.
A woman sat in a pickup there. I thought she was checking on the cattle in a neighbor's pasture that was unthreatened by the fire because of wind direction and the fact that it was a cultivated field with short grass. I told her who I was. "That's my house," I said.
My voice sounded hollow and unfamiliar, so I repeated it. "That's my house."
She got out of the pickup, an elderly, kind-faced woman. She enfolded me in a giant hug and said, "I'm so sorry. So very sorry."
She said her husband had gone down to the house to help Kent, but she was certain they had left.
She said, "He drove down the road."
I stared at her and said, "Ma'am, there IS no road. I mean, this is our private ranch road."
Pointing toward the holocaust, I said, "This road ends at the house."
I turned back, and then, like some sort of slow-motion movie or maybe a dream--it was, in fact, very similar to the opening scene in the Hitchcock movie, Rebecca,--a small window seemed to clear itself in the midst of the smoke for just a split-second, and there was my golden-cream front porch, gleaming in the afternoon sun.
And there, moving about purposefully in the yard, was Kent.
It simply was not possible. How could that BE?
Flames roared into the sky from the horse barn; the hay barn was completely invisible (so I assumed it was gone), and the fire was raging through the pastures like a freight train.
HOW could that house still be standing?
A state trooper drove up, and I told him my husband was at the house. "He needs to leave," he said, and as he said it, the trees at the bend in the road leading to the house exploded into flame so furious that when the trooper tried to get down to the house, he had to turn back.
He was a young man, that trooper. My son's age, maybe. He watched as I tried in vain to reach my husband. I kept saying, "He promised me he would not put himself in danger. He PROMISED."
With the saddest look I have ever see in a man's eyes, he said, "Ma'am, I am so sorry. There is nothing more I can do here. Would it be all right with you if I go and warn some other families?"
The wind generated by that fire was so ferocious at this point that words were snatched from us before we could speak them.
I shouted, "I've been married to that hard-headed Aggie for 37 years and he's not going to change now. Yes, of course, go and see who you can help."
Then, I blew him a kiss--the wind was so hellacious, the fire so hot and horrific, that I did not know any other way to express to him my gratitude for his kindness and concern.
I tried to reach Kent again, and though he did answer the phone--he was wearing his Bluetooth--the wind was whipping around him so violently that he could not hear me and I could not hear him.
At a moment in time like that, you stand suspended, in a dreamlike limbo where nothing you see is as it seems in your brain. The disbelief is so overpowering that your regular emotions are erased by a certain calm numbness.
Everything we had worked for and built together in the 30 years we'd lived on this place was being scorched off the earth in less than an hour.
You can't wrap your mind or your heart around such a truth just then. It is too unreal.
It can't be happening. It just can't be happening.
I introduced myself to the lady and she to me. She told me they had lost their ranch but that they no longer lived on it and their house was safe. I said, "I can't believe your husband is risking his life to help save our house."
She shrugged, raised her hands, and said in that simple country way, "It's what you do."
Once the monstrous beast had finished savaging the trees at the bend in the road and moved on to devour the Chinaberry Grove in a explosion of flame, I saw my husband's pickup heading our way.
It was only later that I learned that, although county maintainers had built fire guards around several neighboring ranch houses, they had missed ours; either in haste, or forgetfulness, or maybe because they believed what that fire guy had said to me, "I'm so sorry. Your house is lost."
Only later that I learned that five young men from Rotan, several farmers, one a cotton gin assistant manager, had found us somehow--they were driving around with a big water tank--the kind that tractors use--with a pressure hose. Using that high-pressure water, they had thoroughly soaked the house, the yard around it, the hay barn, the propane tank, the back and side yards, and a rickety wooden shed where we have stored, not just tools and things, but storage containers with some of our kids' childhood toys.
Kent said that you could hear the fire as it approached, that it ROARED like a massive beast, that you could hear the trees popping, but that those boys stayed until their water ran out.
He caught the name of a couple of them, but neither of us knew those kids.
Young heroes, they were.
And Kent had kept his promise to me. He'd loaded Maggie into the front seat of the pickup when the first train of flames approached, and driven a quarter-mile away to a rise in the road, where he sat, hands shaking, and watched as it literally reared up above our house like a prehistoric monster.
To keep from breaking down, he had taken up his camera and started snapping pictures of the destruction.
But the monster got distracted by the horse barn and attacked there first, moving on east of the house to gobble up the pastures.
Kent was so astonished that the house had been spared, that he drove back. He thought, "Maybe I can fight this thing."
Leaving Maggie in the pickup, he watched, then, as the second roaring line of flames came straight at him from the north--traveling, he said, at least 40 mph.
Our friend Rod joined him for a bit, (while I was still with his wife Mary), and the two of them fought back the flames with shovels and a garden hose, beating it back when it got bored with the horse barn and headed for the house.
Years ago, I once researched arson and fire suppression for a book, Torch. I had been permitted to go into a training fire in full turn-out gear with fire fighters. They had put me on the nozzle of the hose, and I'd learned then that when you fight a fire--it really is hand-to-hand combat. Kent says it feels like being in a battle, and afterward, it looks like a warzone.
At one point, Mary called Rod, in a panic to leave--apparently while I was talking to my son--and he left to get her. Then this older gentleman who'd already lost his ranch, came down the road to help Kent.
"The reason it looked so bad when you got there," Kent explained, "was because this was the third wave, and it was west of the other two. What you saw was the pasture west of the house burning--we were not in danger at that point."
"So you kept your promise to me."
"I kept my promise to you."
Kent and the man, Dwaine, fought back the third attempts of this voracious beast to devour our house, by beating it back from the west and south.
We thanked that couple--if there is such a thing that you can actually do--I hugged Dwaine--and then Kent and I headed back to the house, where our horse barn had collapsed and still actively burned, and small fires leapt to life from ashes all around us.
When I got out of the car, who should bound up to say hello but Satchmo!
I gathered him into my arms and cried again.
Rocky was sprawled out in the mud room, not a singe-mark on him.
Over the next few days, we were able to find all the barn cats--none injured--and discovered little Lady cowering in the attic. She's now inside with us.
In a 360-degree area, every acre on our small ranch, and 162,000 other acres--so far--burned to the ground. We lost all our fences, horse barn, and pens.
But encased in a bubble was our house, most of the yard, and the hay barn. As darkness fell, the horizon in all four directions glowed red from fires.
Right now, there are at least half a dozen big fires still ongoing in Texas. So far, at least 1.5 million acres have been destroyed, and numerous homes. The governor has just requested permission to declare the entire state a natural disaster area. [UPDATE: As of mid-July, almost 3 million acres in Texas have been destroyed by wildfires, which still burn in various places. Due to severe drought conditions, every single county in the state has been declared a natural disaster area. Drought conditions are expected to remain for the foreseeable future. Here in West Texas, we have now had eight straight weeks of daily temperatures over 102--soaring up to 110 at times, which has heat-stressed what grasses did try to grow following the fire. We have had virtually no rain. Most days our humidity level is in the 1% range.]
Our son drove up from College Station to help out. He and my husband both said it looks, and smells, like a battleground.
Dustin carried in all the boxes with my hastily hoarded treasures and helped me put back the stuffed toys, the scrapbooks, the photo albums, the framed photos and momentoes.
There is a sadness in his eyes I can't describe. Grief, surely, for the loss of the place that fostered a childhood he'd told his wife had been "magical." But also, watching me hang the plaque back up in the kitchen and unwrap the little bunny-mama, I think touched his heart in a way neither of us can describe.
"What are all these books doing piled up here on the floor?" he asked. "These copies of Faces of Evil?"
"I dumped 'em in order to make room for these albums," I said. "It's your childhood, your college years, your time in the Marines, your wedding. It's your LIFE. I wasn't about to sacrifice that for a few books."
What is the sum total of our lives, anyway?
That one box full of one copy apiece of each of my books--that was 20 years of hard work, of dreams, of frustrations and intense joy. It was my life's work.
Those boxes stuffed with photo albums, pictures of the Chinaberry Grove in spring and fall, pictures of snowfall, rainbows, horses and dogs and cats, childhood friends, parties, and many Christmases.
You can lose those things and you still have your memories. Tsunami victims can testify to that. You still have each other.
But when I had one hour in which to pack up my whole life, I didn't worry about what was most valuable in terms of what we paid for things.
I didn't worry about practical things like dishes or pots and pans or even bath towels.
I packed some clothes, jackets, Kent's best cowboy hats, which can be very expensive to replace.
Pets and sustenance for them.
In my one hour to pack up my whole life, I put my whole life into that packing. But I didn't really reflect upon it until I started to UNpack.
In bad moments, I'd think: "THIS is all you've got to show for your WHOLE LIFE? Some scrapbooks and photos, a box of books?"
Other times I'd look around, see something I'd overlooked, and wince, thinking how much I'd've missed it if it was gone.
But the truth is that my whole life is NOT in those boxes.
My whole life came driving down the road with Maggie in the front seat beside him. My whole life walked in the door from College Station and hugged me so tight I couldn't breathe. My whole life called me from California and cried.
In the end, things are, indeed, things.
But if you could be assured that your loved ones would be all right in the end, then what would YOU take?
If I had it to do all over again--God forbid--I would not change a thing, at least, in terms of what I stuffed and crammed into those Rubbermaid storage boxes.
Because I knew that if we had to start all over again in a trailer or rented house or motel or whatever--in some strange, unnatural place--I would have photos of my beloveds around me; familiar things from my home. And that would MAKE a new home.
We know we have been unbelievably lucky, or blessed, or protected by the Hand of God, that we still have our home and Kent was unhurt. That goes without saying.
But the loss of cherished places like the Chinaberry Grove and other treasured landmarks where we've ridden horseback, hiked, watched children play...is a loss--in many ways, like losing a family member-- and we grieve that loss.
Some of it will grow back, to be sure, but it will take a great deal of rain to return it to its former glory, and that's likely to take years. At our age, lost years are hard to get back.
After all, it's a lot harder to start all over again when you are 60-something rather than 30-something. That will also take time.
For now, I awaken each morning and mentally list the things we still have, rather than the things we have lost. And I know that, as long as we all still have each other, then anything remains possible.
|Posted by Deanie Mills at | | |