Monday, May 24, 2010

Protesting a protest

At a local community center, there is a monthly presentation of documentary films, usually with a strong advocating, progressive bent. The name of the film series is "Conscientious Projector," which really tickles me. I think it’s a terrific, even beautiful, clever take-off on conscientious objector.

But there are times when progressive advocacy and action isn’t so clever and terrific. It is often not beautiful, it is often downright ugly, but there are times when it is just silly and foolish. Such was the case on two Sundays ago.

It was Commencement Weekend here in Claremont, when the colleges held their graduation ceremonies. The speaker at Pomona College’s event on Sunday morning was Janet Napolitano, the former Democratic governor of Arizona and current director of homeland security under President Obama, and I decided to go by and hear her after attending Quaker meeting.

I thought I would get there in time to hear Ms. Napolitano, but as I approached the site, I heard considerable noise, like a large crowd cheering or clapping. Was I too late? Did Ms. Napolitano already speak, and were the diplomas already being handed out? It was only about 50 minutes into the ceremony.

When I was able to see what was going on, it turned out there was a big crowd, but it was not cheering or applauding. The people - a few hundred of them, according to reports that I read later - across the street from where the graduation was taking place were chanting and drumming, and they were not happy or celebrating. They were quite angry and all fired up.

Maybe it was because I was coming from the silent meeting for worship, but I was shocked and confused. Then I saw their signs about Arizona.

Of course. They were protesting the new Arizona law requiring state and local police to request proof of U.S citizenship from anyone they stop and suspect is an illegal immigrant, and they were targeting the director of homeland security, Ms. Napolitano, the morning’s honored guest and speaker. Perhaps I should have known.

But I was still shocked. Perhaps I was just not ready for such a large, noisy and angry protest. There was also a bunch of police, and it didn’t help that I had to go through a small contingent of supporters of the new law. Yikes!

And, more significantly, I was still confused.

When I made it into the graduation area, I saw that I had made it in plenty of time to hear Ms. Napolitano speak. I heard a few others speak before her, including honorary degree-recipient Robert Towne, the screenwriter of such highly regarded films as "Chinatown" and also a 1956 Pomona graduate. Hearing them was no problem, but there was definitely no escape from the relentless, furious noise from the protesters. I was exhausted just wondering how they kept it up. I was also wondering why they were doing it.

It’s not that I didn’t agree with what the protects were saying. Like them, I think the new Arizona law will lead to racial profiling and is discriminating and divisive. I also strongly believe in speaking up and protesting. But it seemed to me these people were barking up the wrong tree - and being unnecessarily obnoxious about it, to boot.

Sure, Ms. Napolitano and President Obama are operating with some of the old immigration policy from the Bush and previous administrations, but both have said that it has to be changed and made fairer, and both have strongly and clearly condemned the Arizona law. President Obama has directed the Department of Justice to see if the new law is unconstitutional, and Ms. Napolitano has said that if she was still governor, she definitely wouldn’t have signed the bill.

So why were these people angry at her? It occurred to me that they were perfect examples of liberals who are angry at Obama for not being the miracle-making Jesus that they expected.

More significantly, I was frustrated - yes, mad - at being made to feel bad for wanting to hear Ms. Napolitano. It was like I was guilty, like I supported the Arizona law. Moreover, although the college official who introduced Ms. Napolitano, who also received an honorary diploma, said that it was very exciting and a great honor that the day’s speaker was playing such a critical role in a vital national issue and also noted that many in attendance were wearing white ribbons in opposition to the law (if I’d known, I would have worn one), I felt bad for the graduates and their families and friends, whose big day was being marred.

I do wish Ms. Napolitano talked a bit more about policy. Instead, she veered more toward traditional commencement sentiments - being secure in one’s knowledge and values, having conviction and courage. In any case, I noticed that by the end of the speech, the protesters had left.

I left after the speech, I ran into a friend who had taken part in the protest and who was helping carry away a large sign. I was asked what I was doing there. "Are you protesting discrimination?" I laughed and said yes as they walked past me. If there had been more time, I would have explained that I was there to protest discrimination and also to listen to Ms. Napolitano.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bad bad news

I’m being held hostage.

At least I was. I may or may not still be held hostage. Which, more or less by definition, means I’m being held hostage.

Last week, in the Los Angeles Times, there was a prominent article - big, section-leading headline - saying that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was considering the elimination of certain programs assisting the poor and disabled in debt-swamped California. The article noted that the governor was about to unveil his revised budget proposal (the "May revise") after the April tax revenue was even more abysmal than expected and that one of the programs that Schwarzenegger was thinking about ending was funding for in-home personal care attendants for the disabled.

That’s ending. Elimination. Not cutting. Schwarzenegger, who last year literally jumped to do a photo-op to save an apartment complex for the developmentally disabled, was arguing that he had to end these programs, because the courts had ruled that the programs can’t be cut. Yes, you’ve got it. The courts didn’t say that programs can’t be eliminated.

This would have been a hysterical farce, a beautiful example of Orwellian logic. Except that my stomach was being churned inside out. Except that it was my life that was poised to be eliminated.

What was even more upsetting and frustrating about the article is that it didn’t answer any of the questions that were screaming to be answered but that nobody thinks to ask. Questions like what does Schwarzenegger think people like me will do without the money to pay our attendants who get us out of bed, help us use the toilet, feed us, etc.? Does he think that our attendants, who need to make a living, will work for free, out of the kindness of their hearts? Does he think we’ll rely on family - even when, as in my case, they are too far away or aren’t able to help? Is he saying we should be forced into nursing homes, which is not only barbaric but far more costly? Or are we to be left to rot in our beds or on the sidewalk?

In a way, this is nothing new. Every year, for the last decade or two, when it comes time to pass a budget on July 1 (a deadline rarely not missed), there is some talk like this, and I worry. I worry for my life.

But this was the most drastic talk I’ve ever heard in such a flat, matter-of-fact way. Even as I knew it was just talk, even as I knew there is no way that the attendant-funding would end, I couldn’t help thinking the most drastic thoughts and worrying all the more. This was bad news told in the worst way.

Indeed, two days later, after Schwarzenegger had presented his updated proposed budget, the L.A Times story reported that it included cuts in - not the elimination of - the attendant-funding program. (Other programs, like the Cal-Works welfare-to-work program, are slated to end.) I don’t know what happened - perhaps Maria, with her Kennedy/bleeding-heart-Special-Olympics background, threatened to withhold sex from him if he terminated it. And hopefully the courts will hold their ground and not let the program be cut.


(A p.s for faithful readers: At about the same time I was reading about the state budget and wondering also about Medi-Cal, I found out that Casa Colina Hospital only recently submitted the request for the Vmax speech device I have been writing about lately. I thought this was done weeks if not a month ago and that the response would be coming before too long. Hopefully, the delay was due to the therapists being extra careful in making a strong case and crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s for the notoriously nit-picking Medi-Cal. Keep those fingers and toes crossed!)

Friday, May 7, 2010

The politics of giving

There’s a new film out called "Please Give." I haven’t seen it yet, but the title itself is plenty provocative and controversial these days of program slashing and fomenting tea-partiers.

I was struck by two recent letters to the editor. One appeared in my hometown paper, the Claremont Courier, thanking those who attended and contributed to a fund-raiser for a local public elementary school. The other, appearing in the Los Angeles Times, had to do with a large donation by Hugh Hefner which will enable land next to the iconic Hollywood sign to be purchased, so that builders can’t develop it. The letter read, in part, "We have more homeless, unemployment is rising, education is suffering and our police and fire departments lack funding - and yet we have money for a sign. Yes, the sign is a monument of Hollywood, but so are the people of L.A. How about taking care of them?"

Maybe Mr. Hefner doesn’t care about the homeless and thinks the unemployed should fend for themselves. Maybe he rather save the Hollywood sign. Or maybe he already donates to the homeless, the unemployed, the schools, etc. After all, he has enough cash to spread around far and wide.

At about the same time that these two letters appeared, there was a massive free health clinic going on in a sports arena in Los Angeles. Thousands attended and got treatment, and while not as many were turned away as when the clinic was in L.A for the first time last year, some people did have to be turned away. Why? Because there still weren’t enough doctors and dentists volunteering during the week-long clinic.

Were there doctors and dentists who didn’t care or who didn’t want to take time off from their lucrative practices and work for free? On the other hand, there were doctors and dentists from other states wanted to come and volunteer and were frustrated that there are laws requiring a state’s license to work in a state.

The bottom line is that charity and volunteering are great and well worth cheering, but they can’t be relied upon. People are likely to give to a museum but probably not to the police or the sewer works. Or they may give to one school and not others. As if public schools should have to beg and rely on donations.

One argument that I heard constantly in the furor over healthcare insurance reform was, "I pay for my health insurance, thank you very much. Why should I pay for others’?" There are also thorny issues like some people not wanting to contribute to the public funding of abortion and others not wanting to fund war or the death penalty.

Putting these questions aside - if that’s possible - I have a question: I always hear people complaining about politicians who "tax and spend." Forgive me if I’m being naive, but why is it so wrong for government to "tax and spend?" I thought this is the purpose of government - to collect money from its citizens and then spend it where it is needed. Yes, there is abuse, which needs to be taken care of, but why would there be a government if it couldn’t tax, and why wouldn’t it spend the tax money?