Monday, September 28, 2009


Last Saturday evening, I had the privilege of having dinner with a handful of true patriots and their families. These men—veterans of PT boat service during WWII—volunteered in their youth for the Navy’s riskiest jobs. After months of intensive training, they boarded tiny wooden ships and went up against the Japanese Navy, German submarines, and in some cases, the worst weather on the planet. The stories they tell are breathtaking.

There’s the one about the 15-year-old who was accepted into the war-time Navy because he had priceless ham radio experience. By the time he was 19, he’d survived the Bataan death march, two bayonet wounds, and over two years as a Japanese prisoner of war. There’s the guy who lost sight of another boat as they went to battle against Japanese war ships in Surigao Strait in the Philippines. Sixty years later, he met a man who’d been aboard the other PT boat, and they identified one another by the numbers of their boats. Each had discovered a fellow sailor he’d thought had been lost on the other boat. They fell into each other’s arms and wept with joy that both had survived. One fellow laughed as he described trying to cook frozen Spam during winter in the Aleutian Islands.

What makes these men patriots? Their actions. Patriotism isn’t an emotion, it’s a commitment. It’s not just “feeling the love”—it’s doing something about it. It’s more than a hand over the heart during the National Anthem or a ribbon displayed on the butt end of an automobile.

As we left the dining hall, I was pondering what I can do, in all my pampered safety, to be a patriot. One of the elderly warriors happened to be standing by the door, gazing at some photos of President Obama, the Commandant of the Navy, and other top military officials. I saw him reach his hand up and touch the bill of an imaginary cap.

Following his gaze, I asked, “Are you a Democrat?”

“No,” he said, “I’m a Republican. But that man’s my Commander in Chief. That’s all I need to know.”

Friday, September 25, 2009


Here's a good discussion about why America is so volatile right now.

When fire danger is high, responsible people don't toss out matches.

Follow Citizen Jane on Twitter.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones . . . But Words Can Kill

For some reason, there hasn’t been much in the news about the horrific, violent death of Bill Sparkman, whose body was found yesterday near Manchester, Kentucky. The 51-year-old substitute teacher and part-time census taker was found hanged, with the word “Fed” scrawled across his chest.

I guess his death wasn’t very important—compared, say, to the 168 dead and almost 700 wounded in Timothy McVeigh’s 1996 attack on the federal government. But try telling that to Bill Sparkman’s mother.

People have always groused about taxes, things left undone by the government, and— ironically— interference by the government in their everyday affairs. “It’s just words,” some say. “People like to complain.”

Well, words can kill—and they do.

Just ask the 11-year-old son of Stephen Johns, the guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., who was shot down in June by a white supremacist. Or the families of the hundreds of police, federal office workers, and national park employees who suffer violence each year at the hands of people inflamed by the kind of hate-filled, anti-government propaganda so prevalent on FOX News and conservative talk radio.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps track of these things, reports that membership in hate groups is up by more than 50% since the year 2000—a time frame that coincides, not coincidentally, with the rise of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage (whose pseudonym, interestingly enough, he chose himself).

But I’m not blaming Rush, Sean, or Michael for the atmosphere of violence that is clearly building in this country. Every one of us who willingly listens to these hate-mongers, allowing them to stoke the sentiments of negativity and rage in our hearts, is to blame. Every one of us who mindlessly supports radical organizations that use basically good ideas to support broad, radical ideologies (yes, NRA, I’m talking about you) is to blame. Everyone who habitually bitches about the government without doing something constructive to improve it is to blame.

We in America are not very far removed from the days when hundreds of people were hanged in the South every year because of the color of their skin. We’re only months past the days when people were routinely tortured by Americans in the name of national security. We still live in a country where those who serve our collective interests—that is, anyone who wears a badge or a uniform—may become a target of generalized, anti-government hatred and violence.

There is so much good that needs to be done—and for the next Bill Sparkman, so little time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Citizen Jane is now on Twitter!

Please join me at

The New House Un-American Activities Committee

Throughout the fifties and sixties, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was the House version of what eventually became known as McCarthyism—the modern witch hunt that destroyed untold numbers of lives and careers in the name of “Americanism.” Like its historical Salem counterpart, this “witch hunt” was based on paranoia, ignorance, and intolerance. Sometimes its victims were targets of someone mean and clever enough to use the power of politics against a rival. Sometimes the destruction was completely impersonal—the result of politicians “counting coup” in order to get attention and be perceived as powerful warriors in the cause of so-called “justice.”

Some of the members of the HUAC and the hundreds who testified in its hearings were vicious and consciously evil. Others were merely ignorant and easily led. Still others were genuinely deluded by the notion that insidious forces were working to take over the minds of America. In any case, it was those tarred with accusations by the HUAC that were thought to be “un-American," not—at the time—the committee members themselves.

Now, however, it seems evident that plenty of things are going on in the House itself that could be called “un-American” by almost any standard. So here, from among many qualified candidates, are my nominations for a new HUAC—one composed of House members bent on destroying the soul and undermining the strength of this great nation:

  • John Boehner (R-OH), a lead obstructionist opposing anything that might move America forward, from the financial stimulus to climate control measures; lead liar claiming, among other things, that health care reform would result in “death panels”

  • Michele Bachman (R-MN), frequent user of inflammatory language to promote rage, revolution, and a citizenry that is “armed and dangerous”

  • Patrick McHenry (R-NC), whose stated purpose is not to make good legislation but to undermine the duly elected government, to “bring down to the approval numbers for . . . Democrats.”

  • Eric Cantor (R-VA), rude and relentless standard-bearer for the GOP (General Opposition Party) who flamboyantly ignored the president during a joint session of Congress and tries to undermine his authority, even on foreign soil

  • Ron Paul (R-TX), Libertarian leader who has inspired many of the best minds in America to adopt a cynical, anti-government point of view and withdraw from public affairs rather than being leaders for constructive change.

With august nay-sayers and anger-mongers such as these, presidential heckler Joe Wilson--who at least had the good grace to offer a half-assed apology—doesn’t even make the list.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Citizenship Day

Today is a federal holiday with the rather absurd and confusing dual name of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. The purpose of this holiday isn’t entirely clear, but the date is significant as the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of the United States on September 17, 1787. That is certainly an historical event worth pondering.

The Constitution defined what it means to be a citizen. Two centuries later, it’s worth asking ourselves a few relevant questions, such as, “What does a good ‘citizen’ of the United States do?”

Does a good citizen vote?

In recent decades, the largest turnout of eligible voters for national elections has been about 60%. That means at least 40% habitually choose not to exercise their most basic right and responsibility to participate in national decision making.

Is a good citizen well informed?

As of July, according to, nearly 60% of the members of one of the two major political parties weren’t sure if the current president was born in the United States. (Some were deluded by one of many rampant conspiracy theories, and others may have forgotten that Hawaii is a state.) Besides this and similar trivial matters so dear to the national media, there are much more serious issues on which a very large number of Americans are either ignorant or misinformed—from the meaning of “socialism” to the causes of global climate change.

Does a good citizen bargain in good faith about issues important for the health of the country?

Ask Max Baucus, who stood alone yesterday as he delivered the conclusions of the long-awaited “bipartisan” health reform proposal produced by the so-called “Gang of Six.” It’s abundantly clear to most observers—although perhaps not to Senator Baucus himself--that he’s spent several months of this life presiding over a very public charade, enacted to appease the 40% of the Senate who want to preserve the status quo and will go to any lengths to oppose constructive change.

It seems that on many possible measures of good citizenship, the best we can do as a nation is a feeble 60%. On this day, perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider what we can do to improve those numbers.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Progressive and Proud

Thanks to decades of successful right-wing propaganda, the word “liberal” has become so laden with negative connotations that no one in America can claim it any more without apology. Sometime within the past two years or so, I remember being amazed to see a bumper sticker on the back of a sedan that said, “Liberal and Proud of It.” I stared in admiration at the ordinary-looking woman—a middle-class housewife, perhaps—who got out of that car and headed into the store. In mainstream America these days, it takes guts to advertise something so politically incorrect.

It’s the nature of language to evolve. I recently tried rereading Games People Play, which was something of a cult classic when it first came out forty years ago. It’s so full of masculine pronouns, stereotypes, and antiquated attitudes that it’s almost impossible for a modern reader to absorb its meaning without being distracted by the language. It’s like walking into a house and trying not to notice the orange shag rugs and avocado-colored appliances. So it is with the word “liberal,” which can no longer be uttered without either squirming or sneering. (Think Sarah Palen enunciating the equally abused word “socialist.”)

So those of us who believe that making the world a better place is a worthwhile purpose for one’s life, and who believe that government should have a place in that endeavor, can no longer call ourselves “liberal.” And perhaps that’s just as well, because the world is a very different place than it was back in the days when Kennedy was president and it was sexy to be “liberal.” For one thing, the stakes are higher.

The difference between liberals and conservatives used to be more or less a matter of what kind of lens one chose to use with which to view the world. Liberals were focused on the individual—on what was good and fair for the individual human being. Conservatives were concerned about the macrocosm—what was good for impersonal, collective entities, such as banks, businesses, and the Republican Party. There were plenty of people on the conservative side of most arguments who seemed to have a good moral compass—who sincerely believed that what was good for the nation was good for the individual.

That’s all changed now. Those of us who might have been “liberal” during the Kennedy era are no longer starry-eyed and idealistic. The spectrum of what used to be called “conservatism” has diminished to the point that the word has become synonymous with radical, right-wing extremism. “Conservative” now means willfully believing in lies, such as “death panels” and the notion that rapid and dramatic global climate change is just part of the earth’s natural cycle. It means being cynical, negative, and willing to shout down the opposition any time a member of that opposition seems to be making good sense.

The word “progressive” is the up-and-coming way to describe the “other side” these days—those of us who are focused on making positive changes in the world. The progressive attitude is the polar opposite of the “just say no” philosophy of the GOP (General Opposition Party), who are struggling mightily to preserve a status quo that, among other things, made the very rich even richer and duped the poor into believing that Wall Street and big business had their best interests in mind.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Class Warfare, Circa 2009

This weekend has been a study in contrasts. Friday’s news was filled with inspiring stories related to President Obama’s call for National Day of Service in memory of those who lost so much—their lives, their loved ones, their sense of security—on September 11, 2001. On every news channel (with the possible exception of Fox—I didn’t check that one), there were vignettes about positive, cheerful, compassionate people doing things in service of others—lighting candles to defeat a little of the darkness in the world.

Then on Saturday, there were images of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., filling up with cynical, angry, hostile people in response to the rallying cries of Glenn Beck and others who use bitter rhetoric to whip certain segments of the population into paroxysms of raw, unmitigated rage. With the masses teaming in front of the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument in the background, I was reminded at one point of the crowds storming the Bastille during the French Revolution. No heads are being lopped off in 21st Century America, of course, but there are those who wouldn’t mind if they were.

Like similar “tea parties” elsewhere, Saturday’s gathering in Washington was a “just say no” event composed of few misguided “fiscal conservatives,” a few paid agitators bused in by their companies, and a whole lot of rudderless people who are just generally pissed off. Among those interviewed by the media, some were anti-Democratic, many were anti-government, most were anti-taxes, and a few were anti-war. Clearly, “tea-party” organizers—conservative extremists and special interest groups of various stripes—hope to use the power of angst to foment change in their favor. But at this point, it’s hard to say where, if anywhere, all this may lead.

There was a time when the tension between the left and right in America was all about money. But it’s not anymore. Wall Street has lost its way. From the nearly fatal refusal of American car companies to make fuel-efficient cars instead of SUVs to the 2008 melt-down of the entire financial system, the wheelers and dealers have been off the mark. They’ve lost credibility, along with the political party that represented their interests so well for so long.

Now it’s all about power. And the big winners right now aren’t Obama and the Democrats, who inherited a wide range of problems they’re working hard—against all obstacles—to fix. The big winners are the conservative pundits—the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters—who are enjoying high ratings, six-figure book deals, and the adulation of the marginalized masses who see themselves as having nowhere else to go.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

South Carolina Must Be Very Proud

The nation has been hugely entertained in recent months by the antics of South Carolina Governor Mark Sandford, who abandoned its business, on the pretext of taking a long nature walk, to visit his mistress in Argentina. He lied about it, and when that didn’t work, he defended his actions with a maudlin speech about how much in love he was—as if that had anything to do with his commitments and responsibility to the citizens of his state.

Such “logic” must work in South Carolina, though, at least to some extent. The man is still governor.

Then there’s Senator Jim DeMint, who might earn at least a couple of points for honesty. He’s the right-winger that declared that he and his cronies would “break Obama” over the issue of health care. With over 16% of the citizens of his state entirely uninsured and a child poverty rate that exceeds 20%, DeMint didn’t hesitate to tell the world where his priorities lay: in “winning” at political gamesmanship, while his people lose out on good health, prosperity, and security.

And now there’s Representative Joe Wilson, who emerged from obscurity last night to go down in history as the hysterical extremist who heckled the president of the United States during a joint session of Congress. In all fairness, it must be said that the apparent poverty of ideas on his side of the so-called health care “debate” must make it very difficult to listen to a lot of reasonable, constructive, and practical ideas from the other side. But just as on a playground, frustration is no excuse for infantile behavior.

These are not the kind of people I’ve met when I’ve been in the South. However, it seems clear that many more of the gracious, hard-working, reasonable, and responsible citizens of South Carolina and other Southern states need to get themselves out the door on voting day.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"That Is One Classy Lady"

Those were the words of my husband upon hearing Laura Bush's comments on Obama's then-upcoming speech to American school children. "There's a place for the president of the United States to talk to school children," she said. Then she added, "It's really important for everyone to respect the president of the United States."

A year ago, I was in a classroom when I heard Mrs. Bush's own comments broadcast over the intercom; like the president did today, she encouraged students to work hard and stay in school. Students can't hear that often enough from successful adults. No one groused about it's being a political ploy, despite the fact that a hotly contested presidential election was just two months away.

When he was informed about the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, George Bush was meeting with a group of second graders. I don't recall hearing any fuss then--no Democratic parents pulled their children out of the classroom, fearing that Bush would somehow infect them with his diabolical "Republicanism."

Now an ardent Obama supporter, my husband is a former life-long Republican--from back in the days when the "GO" in "GOP" stood for something other than "General Opposition." The paranoia, negativism, and general hysteria of today's right-wingers leaves him cold, as it does so many Americans who well remember when there was such a thing as a "moderate" Republican.

It seems that America's children have survived the anticipated onslaught of leftist propaganda from the president today, in which he encouraged them to work hard and prosper. Or will we hear tomorrow on FOX News that the president somehow planted subliminal messages that will hatch in the brains of our nation's children and turn them into socialist automatons. . . ?

Stay tuned!