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.

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:

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.

Transporting Myself

As I’ve moved eastward, I’ve become more suburban. Though I still consider myself a city girl, loving the amenities of urban life, I do admit the suburbs have some benefits, especially when kids are in the picture.

Today I came across a blog dedicated to researching and writing about smart transit. It got me thinking about my own progression from living in San Francisco using mostly my feet, bicycle and relatively reliable public transit for getting around to living in a suburb of a post-industrial Midwestern city where the garage doors go up, the cars go in and the garage doors go down. Now I drive every day. I have to make it a point not to drive to run errands, though it is hard to do when surrounded by sprawl. In San Francisco I rarely left my neighborhood except to go to work.

Coming clean, I don’t do a whole lot of blog surfing. I’m always pleasantly surprised when I do to find some real jewels. This blog, called Progressive Transit, is maintained by an electrical engineer who is passionate about the ways we get around.  He posts this:

Cars do not belong in cities.  A standard American sedan can comfortably hold 4+ adults w/ luggage, can travel in excess of 100 miles per hour, and can travel 300+ miles at a time without stopping to refuel.  These are all great things if you are traveling long distances between cities.  If you are going by yourself to pickup your dry cleaning, then cars are insanely over-engineered for the task.  It’s like hammering in a nail with a diesel-powered pile driver.   To achieve all these feats (high capacity, high speed, and long range driving), cars must be large and powered by fossil fuels.  So when you get a few hundred (or thousand) cars squeezed onto narrow city streets, you are left with snarled traffic and stifling smog.

Before moving to the Midwest in 2006, I walked or rode to the grocery store, local restaurants, bars and coffee shops and even took walks around the neighborhoods I lived in for exercise. I loved being mobile by foot or bike, not dependent on our single car other than for long trips.

When we moved to Iowa I continued to try to walk and ride my bike to run errands as much as possible, but it became more difficult on roads with heavy traffic, no bike lanes or poor or no sidewalks. Car transportation was so dominant, I regularly was the only pedestrian or bicyclist out and about. I tried to commute by bike to work a few times a week and walk to the grocery store when the weather permitted.

Now in Ohio, time transporting myself on my feet or by bike has sharply decreased. My neighborhood is safe, and the neighbors keep to themselves. The schools are good and though most everything we need is within a 10-mile radius, ditching the car has been harder than ever.

Destinations are so spread out here, and the roads aren’t very friendly to non-vehicle traffic. I often felt safer riding through the chaotic streets of San Francisco on my bike than navigating through the suburban sprawl of my town.

But, with everything, one needs balance and compromise. We traded a smaller carbon footprint for good schools, a safe neighborhood and plenty more time in the car. Still, we can work to reduce our impact on the environment, but it’s good to be reminded that I can still try harder to live a life less tied to my car.

Occupy the Kids?

Should I or shouldn’t I get the kids involved with the Occupy movement?

We visited Occupy Detroit in early November with the kids and mother-in-law.

This is a question I have been grappling with since the Occupy Toledo encampment set up shop downtown. My immediate reaction was, of course I’ll take the twins down there to see what it’s all about. But this was before the movement sparked police violence and protesters in larger cities were getting pepper sprayed, cracked on the head and dragged off to jail.

I grew up in a politically active family. My dad was a labor union organizer for 25 years and spent a lot of his time on picket lines in candlelight vigils. He marched against the Gulf War in the early 1990s and brought my brother and me along. In San Diego, where buildings were wrapped in yellow ribbons to support the troops, protesting the war was not a popular act. As a girl coming of age there, I just wanted to fit in, and I did not appreciate the exposure he was giving to me.

Until I grew up.

I feel such solidarity with the Occupiers across the country and the world, though I have not physically participated in much of the goings on. Most of my decision to refrain from joining the movement with my presence at the camp in downtown Toledo has to do with my kids. While I would like to expose them to the issues Occupy raise and show them first-hand this amazing show of democracy, kinship and protest against the raging inequities among the classes, I don’t want to inadvertently expose them to any voilence that could erupt.

Granted, Occupy Toledo has been small and peaceful, and the police presence minimal–especially compared with what is going on elsewhere where police have donned riot gear and clashed with protesters with grisly outcomes. But mostly, I have preferred to stay on the sidelines of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, sharing information and keeping up with the news.

I have friends in Oakland, where we once lived, who took their kids to the Occupy encampment, and they had no problem with violence. We also visited the Occupy Detroit encampment earlier in the month and enjoyed talking with people and feeling the good energy there.

I have driven past the Occupy Toledo space a few times with the kids. They tell me they don’t want to “go to the protest.” I won’t push them. But I do want to expose them somehow.

I read this article today asking readers if they would take their kids to any Occupy protests. It raises some good points about indoctrinating kids on the parents’ principles.

So, I’ll do what I can, and expose where I can, but I also know that pushing the kids too far in one direction can often backfire.

 

Update on the Cats

Thanks to everyone who shared their advice and comments and voted in the poll about our newest members of the family–our two cats.

The bolder one of the two has been spotted at night and during quiet times of the day (when the children are not around) exploring the house, eating food and hiding under the bed. The shyer cat has yet to be seen, but there was a tell-tale sign of its existence: its fur was stuck to a vertical scratching post we bought. They are alive, and they are watching us.

It was three full days after they came to us that the bolder cat was first spotted. Now it has been nine days. We are all patiently waiting for our new friends to emerge. The kids are especially being patient and are very interested in the rare spotting of the bold cat.

We will be in this house for almost three more year, so they have plenty of time to adjust. I just  hope that when it is time to move to our next–and hopefully final–home, that the cats will have fully integrated into our family.

The New Normal

Life in Ohio is returning normal, though what is normal is still being defined.

The kids are in school, I am not working at an 8-5 job, my husband is on the crazy roller coaster that is residency, and I am figuring out what this new normal is for me.

Having time to think, to write, to be good to myself: this has not been normal, but I like it.

Networking online and offline, meeting people, having flexibility and time to enjoy those around me.

Volunteering at my boys’ school and looking for more opportunities in the community.

Holding up the fort at home and feeling happy to do it.

These are the things that are making me happy. After what happened to me on 9/11 in Detroit, I am also paying more attention to others who are being targeted and experiencing humiliating detainments or removals from flights in San Diego, in Indianapolis in New York and elsewhere around the country.

I’m paying attention to Occupy Wall Street and participating where I can. This movement is gaining wings because it is resonating with those of us who are tired of the status quo, of feeling like we don’t matter in Washington, in statehouses and in corporate boardrooms.

I’m continuing to work with the ACLU in Detroit, and progress is being made there but I have nothing new to report as of yet.

As for settling in to our new life in Ohio, I’d say it’s a work in progress.

After the Post

I wrote this for Yahoo! News to describe what has been happening in my world after I published my blog post, Some Real Shock and Awe: Racially Profiled and Cuffed in Detroit, on Monday.

Things are beginning to calm down on this end, and I am now working with the ACLU on the matter.

Again, thank you for all the support out there. Maybe there will be some positive outcome to all of this.

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