To Protect and To Serve

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July 30, 2009 | Comments

What a ridiculous day to be an American.

It began on Tuesday with the image broadcast on every news channel of a lone picnic table sitting next to the White House swing set. This was the lucky picnic table chosen as the site of the illustrious “beer summit,” to be hosted by none other than the President of the United States, the celebrated leader of the free world. The camera doesn’t move. The media swoons. Press secretaries and reporters alike report on the beer choices likely to make appearances on the picnic table as seriously as if they are discussing the latest death toll in Afghanistan.

And the world watches. The world laughs. Today we are their fools. Again.

By now we are all plenty familiar with the events that led to this day: Witness sees two men seeming to break into a Cambridge home, witness calls 911, police answer call, police ask for identification from one alleged perpetrator who is a Harvard professor, professor (an African-American) lives in the house, professor cries racism, professor berates police, police officer (not African-American) arrests professor for disorderly contact, charges are dropped, reporter asks question at presidential press conference, president states the police acted “stupidly,” president calls it an obvious example of racial profiling, police cry foul and support sergeant, public cries foul and doesn’t support president….like I said, we all know the story.

So things just got a little out of hand in Cambridge that night, the political/PR/media machine tells us now.  Okay.  But today we made it all better, right? The three men, equally at fault (according to the president and the media, so no apologies necessary, none offered), sat down at what was changed from picnic table to cheesy white patio furniture and have a beer. The president was awarded his much-coveted photo opportunity, the professor footage he can use someday for lectures or documentaries or whatever. The president showed us what a regular guy he is, just having a beer with three other guys (VP Joe joined in, too). He got that regular-guy moment captured on camera, simultaneously mending race relations for all time. I just don’t happen to think the real regular guys out here are going to buy it.

Indeed we “regular guys” have been awarded embarrassment as we witness this lame attempt to mend what has become the president’s personal public-relations nightmare. How I wish Officer Crowley had politely declined the invitation to participate in this awkward spectacle – or at least received an apology. The officer was simply doing his job that night. I trust he left that day for his shift just as he and his brethren do every day, hoping and praying that at the end of the night he would return home, alive and well, to the family waiting for him.

When I was quite young and living in California’s San Fernando Valley, a neighbor came home late one night and saw a suspicious car parked in front of my family’s house. She called the police. When the police arrived the suspicious car took off, as did a suspicious someone who had apparently been hiding in the bushes near the house. I am forever grateful to that neighbor and to the LAPD, and any PD, to whom I would gladly shown my ID if asked. But now in the wake of what the president has called a “teachable moment,” maybe I won’t be asked. Maybe the 9-1-1 call will never even be made in the first place.

And that, perhaps is what we have learned from the president’s “teachable moment,” a term implying we are children, waiting at the hem of his robes for the pearls of wisdom only he can provide. We now know that the president has no intention of admitting that, though he knew nothing of the facts, maybe he had no business injecting himself into local police business. We have also learned to think twice before calling 9-1-1, but I’m still rather unclear about who is doing the teaching here, and who the learning. Explain that to me, would you please. Or, better yet, please don’t. I already know what I need to know.

Betsy Siino | Comments

Blue Dogs, Yellow Dogs, Bobblehead Dogs

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July 29, 2009 | Comments

So, the committee Blue Dogs have cut a deal on the health-care debacle – or at least are apparently willing to do so. Senator John McCain (somewhat of a Blue Dog himself, unfortunately) warned us last night not to allow our expectations to get the better of us, and he was right.  When the announcement was made this afternoon, you could practically hear the moans emanating from conservatives – and even not-so-conservatives – from coast to coast.

In a flash these would-be heroes apparently sacrificed the proud Blue Dog mantle for that of a more yellowish hue, thus eliciting comments from an angry (and I believe majority) public about blackmail, the Chicago way, bribery, threats, and family hostage-taking. I personally picture a passel of dark-suited bobblehead dogs, their silly loose noggins, complete with phony simpering smiles, nodding in unison in agreement to whatever the democratic leadership tells them they will now believe and execute. Never mind the voters, comes the mantra. Never mind the polls. Never mind liberty, whatever that is. We know what’s best for the masses.

Not all the Blue Dogs are on board with this, God bless ‘em. At the moment a few have expressed disappointment with their colleagues, and several democrats, Blue Dogs or not, have said they will not vote for this bill. I’m just left wondering what were those colleagues thinking? Burdened with a monstrous bill that virtually no one other than the public has read, what could have been changed that would suddenly make it palatable, affordable, humane and ethical to the Blue/Yellow/Bobbleheads? Has the path to euthanasia been excised?  Or worse, accepted? Was torte reform suddenly injected into the text? Has mandatory end-of-life counseling been carved out and discarded? Has the truth been told about the dominance of the public option? Have the representatives en masse decided that yes, for the good of public opinion, they will abandon their Cadillac congressional coverage and enroll in this wonderful bill, as well? Did the committee members decide that perhaps the term “mentally retarded” should be deleted from the bill? Somehow I doubt much has been changed, because how can one edit and alter a document that he or she has not even read?

No, I have a feeling this has more to do with party loyalty, party leadership and strong-arm tactics. I envision wayward reps being called one by one into a small beige room, a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. One by one each is told that his or her political future hangs on a speedy “yes” vote on this very-critical bill that, like the stimulus, multiple bail-outs, and cap-and-trade, will save America. Yes political futures do indeed hinge on these votes, but not, perhaps, in the way I envision these representatives are being told. I would think a “yes” vote on such a twisted, dangerous and vilified bill would itself be signing the death warrant on one’s political career, and I believe, regardless of what has been threatened or promised, they know that. Why, then, would this ostensibly more conservative-minded bunch choose to fast-track that fate when they could have been, and have been, heralded as heroes courageously defending the realm?

The bright side, I suppose, is that the Blue/Yellow/Bobbleheads’ previous persistence at least resulted in a postponement of the House vote on the bill, ensuring that the President and the House leadership’s goal of ramming it through before the August break will not be realized. Time is on the side of those of us who fear for the future of our country. The longer this awful thing is out there, the more that is revealed about the insidious content within its pages, the more illumination the American public is offered about its consequences. And the more opportunities American voters have to let their opinions be known. Their Representatives may try to ignore the emails and phone calls flooding into their offices, they may try to ignore the eruptions at town-hall meetings from sea to shining sea, but we know they are listening. Fingers jammed into ears block out only so much sound.

I don’t envy these men and women when they return next month to their home districts to the people responsible for sending them to Washington in the first place. It will be a stark reminder to them that it is these everyday people who are responsible for their jobs, not party leadership. Even if they decide for whatever lame reason to forego town-hall meetings or ribbon cuttings this time around, unless they lock themselves into their homes or catch a private jet to the Arctic Circle, the people will find them. At restaurants, grocery stores, shopping malls and movie theaters, the people will find them. And they are choosing to be the silent majority no more. I’ve witnessed this myself in more peaceful times; I can only imagine how dramatic it will become come August as they are reminded of just who it is they are representing.

Betsy Siino | Comments

Harry’s Back

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July 16, 2009 | Comments

Last night my son and I attended an opening-night screening of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth installment of the legendary series much beloved by our family and just about every other family we know. We wanted to see it before all those other families started talking about it.

Now from the perspective of the morning after, I can’t stop thinking about what I saw last night – the true sign that a film has gotten under my skin. I’m sorry to say I didn’t feel this way after the previous installment — Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — (the film, not the book, of course). That time around the film makers sacrificed worthy in-depth attention to the fascinating new adult characters brought into the fold for an increased focus on the kids’ silly crushes and flirtations. How lovely that this time around they have acknowledged my disappointment and gotten everyone back on track.

With Half-Blood Prince, the film makers knew just where and how to focus the lens, capturing the perfect tenor of dark beauty and foreboding in preparation for the devastating events that we who love this story know are waiting up ahead in installment seven. The actors do all they can to take us there, as well. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) remain perfectly focused throughout, isolating themselves somewhat from their fellow students, as they take the swords that have been thrust into their hands for the singular, diametrically opposed, missions they must undertake. Even our beloved Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), his hand mysteriously burned and damaged, sheds his customary levity, when he warns the students he welcomes back for the new school year that “every day, every hour, this very minute, perhaps, dark forces attempt to penetrate this castle’s walls.”

Because I am how I am, I can’t help but make the connections and reflexively assume that somehow Dumbledore is also speaking to us beyond the darkness of that theater. I can’t help but imagine that Harry’s singular purpose mirrors the challenges that are facing those of us who happen to believe that in our own magical time, every day, every hour, dark forces are attempting to penetrate the walls of our castle, as well.

Back when the fifth Harry Potter book – Order of the Phoenix – was released, my idealistic young son was one of the millions of kids who grabbed the book still warm from the presses and devoured every word. As he neared the end he suddenly slammed it shut and threw it on the kitchen table, proclaiming he hated Harry Potter, he hated this book, he hated all the books, and he would never read them again. As Harry fans have no doubt guessed, he had reached the sad and shocking moment in that book when we lost someone near and dear, and he was not going to stand for it.

Recognizing the need for immediate intervention to ensure my son would not indeed abandon Harry, whose destiny was still two books away, I asked my own near and dear what he thought these fictional events and his very genuine reaction to them might mean. Think about what this story is, I said. Fundamentally what is it about? As each book was becoming progressively darker, more dangerous and complex, together we determined that when all was said and done, it would culminate in the ultimate battle between good and evil. And, unfortunately, I told him, I think we have to assume that these characters, these people we have grown to love so much…well, not all of them are going to survive the battle. But they would be fighting the good fight, so they would not die in vain. My son understood. He picked up the book, and he kept reading. So did I. And when I read it, I can readily think of my country’s own good fights and her own good people who have never hesitated to answer her call.

Whether found in personal musings on citizens and country, or within the pages of a well-loved book, the message of good and evil resonates, because yes, both do exist in our world, and there is no shame in acknowledging that. In fact, there is safety and security in acknowledging it.  Those of us who love Harry’s story view it as a series meant to be read, re-read and read again. I am now plowing through the books again, this time with my young daughter, knowing that very soon we will be arriving at that same shocking moment of devastating loss in book five.  We will soon thus be having that same talk I had with her brother not all that long ago, that same exploration of good and evil, courage and sacrifice, pain and loss. And she will understand just as her brother did, for it is in our DNA to understand. And it is in our DNA to be forever grateful to those who keep us safe from the dark forces we hear at this very minute rumbling outside our castle walls.

Betsy Siino | Comments


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July 4, 2009 | Comments

Welcome to Still the USA.

This, the first post of my blog, is my “Hello World.”  As an author, not a computer expert, I hope you’ll bear with my attempts to follow the proper guidelines here in the blogosphere and to get this site running in a clear and accessible manner.

First step: I invite you to take a look at my “About” page for an idea of where this blog has come from.  As for where it’s going, I will be following the many challenges that are facing our country today, at the same time looking at our culture, our history and our people – victories and mistakes and all — to understand where we need to go if we are to preserve the precious gift given to us by our founders.  In other words, I hope these pages will serve as a reminder to us all that no matter what problems, challenges and threats we face, we are still the USA, and we must never lose sight of what that means to freedom-loving people everywhere.

Please feel free to contact me with your own thoughts, your own comments about our country and her people.  Looking forward to hearing from you….

Be well,

Betsy Sikora Siino | Comments