Oh, February!

Even though it's annoying, winter can be pretty in Toledo.

Even though it’s annoying, winter can be pretty in Toledo.

Again, the shortest month of the year feels like the longest. Oh, February, why? Why?

Cold, dreary, gray, snowy, windy.

It happens every year, but it didn’t used to be so awful. Of course, that was before moving to the Midwest and discovering what real winter feels like. I gotta say, I don’t much like it.

I know I have plenty of companions in my complaining about February. Some people get through it better than I do. A former coworker would look out my office window at the February bleakness, snow piling on the sidewalk, gray clouds overhead, barren trees bending in the icy and unrelenting breeze, and he would say, at least it’s February. Spring is almost here.

I try to keep that in mind as I’m winding my heavy scarf around my neck and chin, slipping on my gloves and mentally preparing to face February out of doors. I bite my lip, and I get through it. But I’ll tell you this, I won’t be sad when February is over.

Step Two: The Lawsuit

This week, the ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit on my behalf to hold the parties responsible for arresting and detaining me on 9/11/11 for “suspicious behavior” on a flight from Denver to Detroit.

That “suspicious behavior” seems to mean having an Arabic last name and sitting next to two men of South Asian descent. Nothing more. You can read about the experience I had in a previous blog post.

The ACLU, working in tandem with lawyers from the national ACLU office and private attorneys from two firms, have made the claims through the lawsuit that my constitutional rights were violated and I was racially profiled. You find a summary of the claim at the ACLU’s website.

Here’s an excerpt:

Through public records, the ACLU discovered that Hebshi was removed from the flight because she was seated next to the men and because of her ethnic name. A small number of passengers noticed the two men go to the bathroom in succession and complained to the flight crew. The two men were cleared of any wrongdoing and were also released from custody later that evening.

The complaint cites a number of violations, including unreasonable search and seizure prohibited by the Fourth Amendment, and discrimination prohibited by the federal civil rights laws. The lawsuit was filed against Frontier Airlines as well as officials with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Wayne County Airport Authority, Detroit Metro Airport Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

We held a press conference in Detroit on Tuesday announcing the case and explaining the reasons for taking action. I made a statement, which you can read in full on the ACLU’s blog here.

Here’s an excerpt:

This, certainly, was a difficult day for me, but I also recognize that many others have experienced similar horrors because of racial profiling. Through this lawsuit, I hope to reclaim the dignity that is taken from us when racial profiling trumps the American values of fairness and equality.

I appreciate the tremendous support I have received from friends, family and strangers who feel as outraged as I am that this happened. And I hope that through this lawsuit not only will public awareness grow of this issue, but some changes will be implemented into the system so innocent people are not targeted as criminals.

Here are some of the media reports since Tuesday’s press conference:

 

Too good not to share

Too good not to share

Got this from a friend on Facebook. Happy MLK Day + Inauguration Day, and a day to reflect on how far we’ve come, yet how far we still need to go.

Where to go next?

As my family and I have made our way eastward across the United States, curiously along Interstate 80 from San Francisco to Oakland to Des Moines, IA, to the Toledo, OH, area, we often joke that we’ll continue our eastbound route and end up in Pennsylvania or New York next.

But, neither my husband nor I want to settle farther east. We want to return to the West, possibly to California where we have spent most of our lives and where our families live, or possibly to a new state, like Idaho or Colorado. The problem is that now that we’ve left California and seen it from the outside—the high cost of living the damage a ruinous legislature and ineffective governor has had on state services like public education—it’s harder to return than anticipated.

We live now in a quiet suburban town outside of Toledo, which is a former industrial city famous for supporting Detroit’s nearby auto industry. But much of the manufacturing has left the area, as it has in so many cities across the country, and there are elements of despair and abandonment that hover over this place.

In our little neighborhood, people seem content and settled in their lives. They mow their lawns, wash their cars and walk their dogs with regular routine. They drive shiny cars and take their kids to baseball games. The schools are good, and one of the high school’s hockey team just won the state title. But this neighborhood is in a bubble. Life here is easy.

It’s nice not to have to listen to screaming firetruck sirens racing down your street at 2 a.m., and not to walk out the front door and find a homeless man has defecated on your front stoop. It’s nice to not battle flocks of dirty pigeons nesting on the porch or to weave between globs of phglem-tinged loogies and equally disgusting pigeon poop on the sidewalk. Of course I’m talking about the streets of San Francisco, but I still miss those streets.

So as we look to where we will land next, we have to take into account the benefits and detractors of every possible place. Surely most our decision will depend on where the best job offer comes from, but we do have more of a say in this move than in either of our two prior moves. Taking all this into account, it’s clear we’ve learned a thing or two in our years abroad (in the Midwest).

  • Cost of living is important. We would rather not have to shell out several hundred thousand dollars to buy a house just because it is in a prime location. We want to live comfortably, but not excessively. We don’t want to be in debt.
  • Prime public education. That is almost an oxymoron in itself. But there are places where a solid public school still exists. We live in such a place now, and we are hoping that we can find good schools in a Western state that hasn’t been desecrated by privatization and budget cuts.
  • Work/life balance. There’s nothing that can compare to life as a medical resident. It is a tough road. My husband has been sleep deprived since he started med school in 2006, and we’re very much looking forward to having a balanced life again. Here in the Midwest, people seem to achieve that more than life on the West Coast. People are less busy here. They don’t schedule events months on end. It’s a slower pace, and it seems more sustainable.
  • Proximity to family and friends. Relationships are key. And beyond our own nuclear family, we miss being around our extended family members and old friends. It’s been hard to miss births, deaths, anniversaries, retirements…all the life moments that are huge and small. We’ve been gone for so long. We’ve learned how to live without that support network, but it can get lonely, and I often feel disconnected. Getting back into the fold would be a great additive to our move.
  • Beautiful surroundings. Some argue that the Midwest is beautiful. I agree that there are some parts I consider to be nice. But nothing compares to the jagged cliffs of the Northern California coastline, or the soaring redwood trees. Overlooking the ocean from a cliff in San Diego, watching pelicans glide in the breeze and surfers wait for a set to roll in is truly beautiful. Enjoying the mountains, the rivers, the lakes and everything in between…we miss that.

It’s exciting to think about the next phase of our lives as a family, and where we will end up. But more than anything I am yearning to put down roots, to settle in a spot and stay put. In my twenties, roaming the world and having adventures sounded like the best idea. Now I just want to develop community. I want to get to know my neighbors and feel invested in a place and in people and friendships. I want to plant a garden, knowing I’ll be there the following year to tend to it.

Life can be fleeting, and while I struggle to stay in the moment and be grateful for what life presents me each day, I still can’t wait to move on to the next chapter. We’ve got a year and a half to figure out where that will be, and until then, I’ll be trying to figure out what makes the most sense for a long-term commitment to home.

An education in firearms

I heard the news of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., while sitting in a plastic child-sized chair outside my sons’ second-grade classroom. I was waiting for a student to come out and read a poem to me, as I do every Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. The alert came over my phone from the New York Times, and my heart sunk.

When I finished going through the roll of students, I packed up my things and walked down the hall where I ran into a teacher whom I know. We talked for a moment about the tragedy unfolding. All I could think was, what if this were the school? What if someone had come in to my children’s school and opened fire? It was entirely plausible—all too plausible.

I climbed in my car and turned on the radio. A reporter started sharing details of the scene in Newtown. The town sounded similar to the town where we live: suburban, upper income, safe. Even here, in what I’ve come to call Pleasantville, we are not safe from this kind of horror. This kind of terror.

And why?

Guns.

When we moved to Iowa from California, I knew no one who hunted or boasted about guns. My stepfather had a gun for a while that he hid in a top drawer of his dresser, but he soon got rid of it. Guns were not a part of our culture. They were violent and unnecessary and scary. They hurt people.

During the opening of deer hunting season in Iowa, my small boys and I were at a sporting goods store and there were hoards of people—mostly men and their sons—shopping for guns, ammo, camouflage gear and other hunting necessities. I was shocked, but I realized that this was the culture. When hunting season begins in Iowa, people go shopping, then they hit the open lands and shoot away.

I befriended a co-worker who took week-long hunting trips during deer season and turkey season. He liked to taunt me with photos of his trophy carcasses. I learned what a twelve-point buck was, and what it looked like hanging upside down and then made into a string of jerky.

Sharing his love of hunting with me was not meant to traumatize me but to share his culture with me, to share something that made up a part of who he was as a person, as a man. We’d argue about the virtues and pitfalls of hunting, of having guns, of the death of innocent animal lives and the service hunting provides, as many see it, in controlling a species’ population.

But I was not swayed by his passion. I remained confirmed in my beliefs that hunting is wrong in most cases and that guns are not something to be celebrated or paraded. Iowa introduced me to gun culture.

And then there was the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 that killed 33 people. The public was outraged. Memories of the horrific scene at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., resurfaced. Since that 1999 tragedy that left 12 students and one teacher dead, it would have seemed prudent to analyze the country’s position on gun rights. But then there was a deadly shooting in an Omaha, Neb., mall. The public again was outraged. But nothing changed. The mantra: “Guns don’t kill people, people do,” rang out. The National Rifle Association continued its stranglehold on politicians moral compasses, and life went on.

When President Obama entered office 10 years after Columbine, gun-owners were concerned about their rights. They feared the new “socialist” president would repeal the Second Amendment that gives Americans the right to bear arms. I interviewed a gun shop owner in northwest Iowa who shared his concerns with his perceived Obama’s anti-gun sentiments. He said the gun owners he knew were all bracing for the worst and stocking up on ammo and guns while they could.

We moved to Ohio last year, and I had become complacent. When someone talked about going hunting or going to the shooting range, I no longer flinched. I guess I was assimilating.

And then the shooting in Aurora, Colo., happened. Again, public outrage surged. But still no talk of real gun control. We were on the brink of a presidential election. The subject was too charged. Some media outlets called it disrespectful to bring up gun control. Yet, people continued to believe that if Obama was re-elected, he’d repeal the Second Amendment.

And now this. Twenty children, six adults killed in a suburban Connecticut elementary school. The 20-year-old gunman who suffered from mental illness is also dead.

Senseless.

And now we’re talking about gun control. Activists have been calling on Obama to stand up to the gun lobby today. A group held a candlelight vigil outside the White House. The people are ready to talk. But is Washington ready to listen? There is a great difference between repealing the Second Amendment and enacting serious gun control to make it harder for people to obtain weapons and ammunition. This is not about our constitutional rights, it’s about reality and protecting innocent lives. We can try to prevent another massacre. We can try to do what’s right.

The Washington Post writes that the increase in public support for gun control arises after a mass shooting—incidents that happen too often in this country. The United States is an outlier in gun violence among developed countries. And while gun ownership is declining in America, violence is not, and these senseless acts of violence and death come upon us all too often.

This could have been my kids’ school. This could have been my children. This could have happened anywhere. We are not immune to the violence. But we can rise up to stop it.

Read more:

A change in the weather

When we lived in San Francisco, we befriended several people from Wisconsin and Minnesota who had moved to the Bay Area. At one point or another, each of these friends would opine about missing the seasons, the snow, the fall, the spring.

Granted, California has seasons—it just depends where you are in the state to experience them. June in San Francisco is like winter in Seattle. October in Fog City is like late summer in the Midwest. And San Diego is just pure bliss, nearly every day of the year. A yearlong season of bliss.

After living in the Midwest for six years, I am beginning to understand why someone who grew up with seasons would miss them. The bursts of color in the fall and spring; the snow and crispness of winter that promises sledding and snowball fights. And then there are the long, hot, humid days of summer that seem unbearable but come mid-winter it’s the only thing I long for. It’s nice to have the change, though each season has become less predictable each year we’ve lived here.

Still, I am a Californian at heart and in my bones. Growing up in San Diego must have programmed my body chemistry to reject temperatures below 68 degrees and above 74 degrees. It’s a small window, and it gives me lots of grief. I am still apt to complain when the mercury rises or falls below my minimal comfort zone.

But I do surprise myself from time to time. It was 50 degrees out today and sunny. I wore only two layers instead of three or four, as I would have a few years ago. I even went sockless while running an errand. I might be getting tougher after all.

It’s been one year…

A year ago I was sitting on a plane flying home from San Francisco after a weekend visiting friends and family. When my flight landed in Detroit, after a layover in Denver, a routine trip turned into a shocking event that changed my life.

It was the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I had expected a quiet flight, but instead I was accused of acting suspiciously during the flight along with two Indian men sitting in my row. In Detroit the three of us were forced off the plane by armed guards, handcuffed and taken to the airport police station where we were strip searched and interrogated for four hours by the FBI, Homeland Security and airport security.

It was a horrifying experience for me, and you can read about it in a post I wrote the following day. Now a year later, I am glad it is behind me.

In the year that’s passed, I have learned a lot about Americans’ fears, media spotlights, civil liberties, constitutional rights and legal recourse available. I am continuing to work with the ACLU in the hope that public awareness can help deter another incident like this. I am writing in depth about the incident and about the changes in our society since that tragic Tuesday morning, now 11 years ago, in which almost 3.000 people lost their lives.

We’ve entered into two wars seen as retaliation and spent trillions of dollars on those operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’ve lost 6,700 Americans who have fought in those two wars, almost 50,000 U.S. military personnel have returned from the Middle East with physical and emotional wounds.

Meanwhile, the U.S. economy is struggling to find its footing and the national unemployment rate is seemingly holding steady around 8 percent. We’re looking toward a November election that will determine a president and many congressional seats, and the issues being batted around are the economy, jobs and antiquated social issues, like contraception, a woman’s right to choose and equality for gays and lesbians. There’s very little talk about the wars in the Middle East, the ongoing suspicion of Muslims in America and the violence that sometimes occurs because of latent hostility toward those who look Middle Eastern.

Just last month, six Sikhs died at their temple in Wisconsin, when a man with ties to neo-Nazi groups and who served in the U.S. military, opened fire while they were praying.

Today we remember those who died 11 years ago in the attacks that forever would change our country, but we also need to look to the future and decide how best to heal those wounds and move toward compassion and peace. This country has had its share of racial strife. From its founding, only white, land-owning men were given the power to have their voices heard in government. Oppression has found its way into every crevice of our society, and members of every ethnicity that makes up this melting pot of a country has felt the effects of discrimination at one time or another. But, as the constitution says, our goal is to continually mold the united states into a “more perfect Union.”

We can take today and make tomorrow better. We can always look forward to making tomorrow better.

Obama and Civil Liberties

Obama in Toledo

President Obama speaks to a crowd gathered at Scott High School in Toledo on Labor Day. Photo/The Toledo Blade.

President Obama was in town today to deliver a stump speech at a Toledo high school. I found out about it this morning on Twitter. I find out a lot of things on Twitter.

Most of me wanted to go hear the president speak, but after doing some searching I discovered there had been 3,000 tickets available for his talk and they were all taken. I wanted to take the kids, show them the motorcade, talk to them about doing our civic duty by voting and encouraging our political leaders to do what’s best for the people of this country. But they didn’t want to go. They didn’t want to drive downtown, and I didn’t want to push them into it. I figured he’d be back again before November. That’s one of the side-effects of living in a battleground state during a national election.

So, I turned back to Twitter, hoping to get some photos or personal stories from the scene downtown. I found a few posts—fewer than I thought I’d find. And then I came across a post that really caught my eye.TwitterCivil Liberties and Obama: a topic I’ve been curious about since he inserted language in the 2012 defense bill giving him executive power to interrogate and hold any person suspected of terrorism, even U.S. citizens, without due process.

I also like John Cusack. What could he have to say about this topic?

I clicked the link and was taken to a blog written by Jonathan Turley, a legal scholar who teaches at George Washington University and is really into constitutional law. He’s also really good friends with John Cusack.

The blog post was a Q&A, with Cusack asking Turley his thoughts about Obama’s poor record on preserving Americans’ civil liberties and how easily he has gotten away with their erosion.  I’ll highlight some interesting points.

TURLEY: … President Obama has not only maintained the position of George W. Bush in the area of national securities and in civil liberties, he’s actually expanded on those positions. He is actually worse than George Bush in some areas.

CUSACK: Can you speak to which ones?

TURLEY: Well, a good example of it is that President Bush ordered the killing of an American citizen when he approved a drone strike on a car in Yemen that he knew contained an American citizen as a passenger. Many of us at the time said, “You just effectively ordered the death of an American citizen in order to kill someone else, and where exactly do you have that authority?” But they made an argument that because the citizen wasn’t the primary target, he was just collateral damage. And there are many that believe that that is a plausible argument.

CUSACK: By the way, we’re forgetting to kill even a foreign citizen is against the law. I hate to be so quaint…

TURLEY: Well, President Obama outdid President Bush. He ordered the killing of two US citizens as the primary targets and has then gone forward and put out a policy that allows him to kill any American citizen when he unilaterally determines them to be a terrorist threat. Where President Bush had a citizen killed as collateral damage, President Obama has actually a formal policy allowing him to kill any US citizen.

I hate to think of Obama as outdoing former President Bush, but Turley makes the point that Obama bends the law for convenience’s sake, and Attorney General goes along with it. And, Turley, adds, just because Obama was a constitutional lawyer does not mean that Obama upholds the constitution.

TURLEY: Well, there’s a misconception about Barack Obama as a former constitutional law professor. First of all, there are plenty of professors who are “legal relativists.” They tend to view legal principles as relative to whatever they’re trying to achieve. I would certainly put President Obama in the relativist category. Ironically, he shares that distinction with George W. Bush. They both tended to view the law as a means to a particular end — as opposed to the end itself. That’s the fundamental distinction among law professors. Law professors like Obama tend to view the law as one means to an end, and others, like myself, tend to view it as the end itself.

And, Turley goes on to say that while Obama has tampered with our constitutional rights since being in office, it ultimately is up to the voters to hold him accountable. However, in our two-party, red-state/blue-state system, there are not a lot of options.

The Republican and Democratic parties have accomplished an amazing feat with the red state/blue state paradigm. They’ve convinced everyone that regardless of how bad they are, the other guy is worse. So even with 11 percent of the public supporting Congress most incumbents will be returned to Congress. They have so structured and defined the question that people no longer look at the actual principles and instead vote on this false dichotomy.

Now, belief in human rights law and civil liberties leads one to the uncomfortable conclusion that President Obama has violated his oath to uphold the Constitution. But that’s not the primary question for voters. It is less about him than it is them. They have an obligation to cast their vote in a principled fashion. It is, in my opinion, no excuse to vote for someone who has violated core constitutional rights and civil liberties simply because you believe the other side is no better. You cannot pretend that your vote does not constitute at least a tacit approval of the policies of the candidate.

Yes, Houston, we have a problem.

Read the entire Q&A on Turley’s blog here.

Living in the Battleground

Did you know Joe the Plumber is running for Congress? He is, and guess what? He’s running in my district.

You remember Joe, aka Samuel Wurzelbacher. He had his 15 or 16 minutes of fame during the last presidential contest in 2008 when he questioned Obama about his tax policy. Back then, like now, Obama was talking about his plan to raise taxes on those making more than $250K a year. Joe didn’t like that. Obama’s opponents, Sen. John McCain and Sarah Palin, made “Joe the Plumber” an example of the hard-working Americans Obama wanted to exploit with his tax plan.

Joe has since written a book and gone on to become a conservative activist and is now, like I said, running for Congress in my district. He’s running against Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Democratic incumbent, who is serving her 14th term in the House.

Now, I haven’t been following politics much since our move to Ohio a year ago, but one thing I find interesting is that living in this state, and in our previous state of Iowa, we have been afforded a glimpse into the political machinery of our two-party system. Both states are considered battlegrounds. In Iowa, we had the privilege of caucusing in 2008. That was a memorable and exciting experience. That state is still hotly contested. Media outlets in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, are raking in a lot of money from political ads.

Today, as I drove north from Toledo to Ann Arbor, I saw a billboard that read: “Obama supports Gay Marriage & AbortioGOP billboardn. Do you? Vote Republican” That was the second time in three days I’d seen that billboard. Well, I happen to agree with civil rights and a woman’s right to choose, so I’m not going to vote Republican. But, I liked how it laid out the GOP platform so straightforwardly. It’s so black and white. And so short-sighted.

There is a lot of money being spent in Ohio trying to sway voters to either side. It’s been apparent to me that the Republicans have more money because I’m seeing more ads. During the Olympic coverage on NBC about 3/4 of the ads I saw during the broadcasts I watched were political ads. The Republican ads blasting Obama and trying to unseat Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown were far more numerous than ads against Republican candidates. It was clear to me that the Democrats are being outspent.

All those emails I’m getting from the Obama campaign telling me so were not lying. Democrats are losing the money race. Just like in Wisconsin a few months ago. There, outside Republican money from wealthy donors like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, fueled the effort to defeat the campaign to recall Gov. Scott Walker. I have had faith that money could not buy an election. But when Walker retained his seat, I was disheartened. Apparently if voters hear a message often enough, even if the facts are muddled, they will believe the message to be true.

And all that money now — including $10 million from Adelson — is going toward ads, like the billboards I saw around town.

When we lived in San Francisco, we saw a few very interesting political upheavals, including the recall of Gov. Gray Davis that put Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarzenegger in the governor’s seat. It was the first successful recall of a California elected official. And it opened up a whole new can of worms for that state. We watched California’s state government take a free fall from dysfunctional to non-functional, and then we packed up and moved to Iowa.

And now, living in the battleground of Ohio, I feel like my vote really counts. My  neighbor, unmoved by neither Obama nor Romney, disclosed she might not vote in this election. I can’t think of a worse outcome than that. And think of all that money wasted!

A Midwest Childhood

A Midwest Childhood

For my two boys (and their friends), living their early lives in the Midwest has given them the opportunity to explore their environments without the hassle of busy streets and shady characters roaming around. They live a relatively happy and carefree existence.

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