The Whale in the Room

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February 28, 2010 | Comments

In the spirit of my affinity for mama Grizzly Bear, I have a great passion for all animals — the world’s wild predators in particular. Having had the great honor of writing about them professionally and catching glimpses of them in their home territories, I am, needless to say, heartbroken by the events surrounding the death last week of a trainer by an orca at Sea World in Florida.

I never would have witnessed a spectacle like this myself, as I am one who avoids like the plague “shows” that feature the ability of whales of any kind – orcas, dolphins, belugas – to tolerate life in small concrete tanks, coerced at specified times to jump through hoops or “kiss” the faces of young spectators. Seeing such magnificent animals humiliated in this way is nothing short of, as I said, heartbreaking.

As for the case at hand, we know now that this is the third death attributed to orca Tilikum. Third. This beautiful, tragic animal — a wild animal, mind you, a wild predator — has done everything he can to convince our so-called “superior” species, that he is not cut out for life as a trained clown. Indeed, I believe that none of these animals should be sentenced to such a fate. And I am not alone.

Through the years, thanks both to writing assignments and personal passion, I have had the great privilege of spending time with marine-mammal trainers and caretakers who have lived and worked with orcas and dolphins (dolphins being the smallest members of the whale family) – many ultimately turning against their vocation, once they realized that they were in fact abusing animals of such sensitive, intelligent souls, and, as the statistics bear, shortening the animals’ lives significantly.

And now here we are, faced with yet another so-called “mishap,” in which an orca was simply being an orca – a large, wild predator (also known as “killer whale” for legitimate, biological reason). The public really can’t be blamed for the mass misconception, given the rosy portraits painted by those who seek to make a buck off of whales, proclaiming them to be sweet, gentle giants driven to dedicate their lives to humans. How else do we explain the playful smile on the dolphin’s face or the orca’s wish to be ridden by a salmon-wielding trainer? The same holds true, I suppose, of other predators — lions, wolves, tigers, cuddly bears of all species — all of whom have at one time or another been convicted of crimes committed because of their true, though misunderstood, natures.

When the news broke about this most recent orca attack last week, debate erupted over what should be done to/with the whale. When further news broke that this was his third offense, attention actually turned from the whale’s culpability to the grossly irresponsible decision on the part of those who own him to keep him performing despite his record. I only hope that Dawn Brancheau, the trainer who lost her life, knew of Tilikum’s past and made her decision to partner with him voluntarily and out of love for him. If she didn’t, well, that’s an issue for her family to handle now that she is gone.

Tilikum the whale, however, remains with us, a public-relations nightmare destined now to become not the elephant in the room, but the whale in the room. Sea World has benevolently announced that he will retire from show business and live out his days in leisure. His fate, then, is to become a curiosity, “that whale that killed those people.” Either way, captivity is a torturous existence for an animal created to roam the open oceans with his pod, his family, hunting, procreating and navigating underwater mysteries with only other whales and his superior mind to guide him, without benefit of cheering crowds or artificial reward systems.

I can only hope that someday our own species, in the wake of these repeated and tragic events, will hear the whales’ message and realize it’s time to stop relegating these creatures to those mind-numbing concrete tanks and the show-biz humiliation that comes with them. In that sense, I have found last week’s public support of this animal heartening. Maybe we’re starting to hear the whale’s song at last.

Betsy Siino | Comments

The Health Care Summit

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February 25, 2010 | Comments

I’m not sure what to say about the summit today. I didn’t watch the whole thing (did anyone?), but what I saw…well…like I said, not sure what to say.

What I did see made me laugh. I can say that. The congressional representatives in attendance took the opportunity to regale whoever their audience was with well-scripted statements and talking points, while, with or without audio, the President, a man who seems capable only of giving campaign speeches and calling summits (beer and otherwise), looked bored, petulant, perturbed.

The President seemed downright annoyed, sometimes angry. This wasn’t part of his plan. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. He figured months ago that all he needed to do was mesmerize us with his voice as he painted a beautiful picture of his oh-so-compassionate plan to take control of our health care. According to his plan, it would all proceed seamlessly, without protest, with very little attention to detail even. But it didn’t. And now, if we’re lucky, it may not happen at all.

Way back when, this President promised us that health care, and every issue tackled by his administration, would be presented publicly and transparently. They haven’t been, and he has been called on it. Again and again. Not his fault, of course. America just wouldn’t cooperate. So today, he had to follow through with that promise of televised transparency. And he was not happy about it. Didn’t want to be there. Didn’t want to share the microphone. Didn’t want to share the camera. He was miffed. Even though it was his idea.

The bright side, I would say, was that the conservatives in attendance decided not to play nice-nice, not to reach across the aisle. They took the opportunity instead to publicize their previously arrogantly-ignored ideas — tort reform, insurance portability – and their abject opposition to the presidential/congressional attempt to seize control of America’s health care system.

Other high points:

Republican Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) stacking 2400 pages worth of House and Senate health-care-bill pages before him on the summit table – and the President chastising him for bringing “props” to the summit.

The endless sob stories presented by attending democrats to illustrate the critical need to turn the control of our health care and, thus, the most intimate details of our private lives over to the government. Their attempts to outdo each other with tragic tales became laughable.

In response to charges that democrats were given the floor more than republicans (ultimately confirmed by the democrats’ 233 minutes to the republicans’ 114), the President commented in the classic arrogant tone to which we have all become so accustomed: “I don’t count my time, because I’m the President.”

So what was accomplished at the summit? Well, on its face, nothing I guess, other than finally giving voice to republicans and conservatives (not necessarily the same) and their health-care ideas that have been conveniently ignored by those on the other side of the aisle since January of 2009. I suppose we should be grateful that nothing legislatively was accomplished. We simply can’t afford it, and those who supposedly represent us in Washington are finally having to hear our call.

Thanks to we the people; thanks to the voices raised by those courageous Americans at the town halls last summer; thanks to viewpoints presented on the internet that have drowned out the agenda promoted by the so-called mainstream media; and thanks to the voters of Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, we will not and cannot be ignored any longer. Those who wish to “fundamentally transform America” are being forced into the spotlight to plead their case, along with those who may not share the full force of their agenda, but, for whatever reason (threats perhaps?), have voted for it anyway.

So, viewed in this light, I suppose today’s summit can legitimately be labeled a success for those of wish to see this would-be attempt to socialize and ration America’s health care defanged, destroyed and forgotten once and for all. Yet I frankly doubt many people even watched the summit. I would imagine there were chunks of time when even the participants (el presidente included) wished they could have been somewhere, anywhere else but at that table at the Blair House. Indeed as he looks back at the proceedings of the day, I have a feeling even the President himself is wishing he had never come up with this “brilliant” idea in the first place.

So for now, stay tuned. There will be more to come, I’m sure. And we must remain on our guard.

Betsy Siino | Comments

Betrayal in Austin

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February 18, 2010 | Comments

This morning our nation fell victim to what appears to be an act of domestic terror, when a disgruntled American, Joseph Andrew Stack, crashed his private plane into a building in Austin, Texas, flashing us all back in a heartbeat to that terrible day in September of 2001.

The attack was preceded by the alleged perpetrator’s online posting of a manifesto outlining his anger at the United States government in a day and age when “taxation without representation” is epidemic. He then lit the home occupied by this wife and daughter on fire, and went on to crash his plane into a building that apparently housed an IRS office. Much is yet to be learned about this event, which occurred just a few hours ago, but we do know that his wife and daughter, and most of those in the office building (thanks to amazing acts of heroism for which Americans are legendary) survived. Stack is counted among the casualties, yet he carried out his mission intending to take as many souls as possible with him.

In the rambling pages of his online rant, we learn that, for whatever reason, life has been difficult for Joseph Stack. Seeking a source to blame, he insists that he lives in “a country with an ideology that is based on a total and complete lie,” chastising the American public, who “buy, hook, line, and sinker, the crap about their ‘freedom.” He speaks of the storm raging in his head, concluding that “violence is the only answer.”

It’s safe to say that anger is indeed prevalent in this nation today in light of what is being done to our country. Not prevalent, thank God, is the Joseph-Stack brand of that anger, which justifies attempts on the lives of one’s own family, attacks on innocent Americans, and the violation of the pure ideology and heroism on which this country was founded. Such actions are the ultimate betrayal committed by a very sick man, who has left us with a collective anger now even more palpable because of what he has done to our people and our country.

Stack’s act of terrorism has undermined the mission of modern-day patriots who share a fury at the federal government and the war declared upon our freedoms. Our shared anger, and thus our energies, are now directed toward this man, who would take our cause and use it to fuel his attack on his fellow Americans. It makes as much sense as the White House declaring this was no act of terrorism, but we Americans know terrorism when we see it, and our founders knew it, too.

The patriots who founded and fought for this nation knew well the anger ignited by oppression and unrepresented taxation. But they did not use this anger to attack and destroy each other, as Joseph Stack did today. In time we will probably seem this man written off as a victim of self-delusion or insanity or circumstance or whatever, but what he has done has damaged our nation and those who take seriously the cause of freedom during a very dangerous and precarious time. Those who oppose us in this mission, those who truly are trying to undermine our freedoms, will find some way to paint patriotic Americans in his same light and use his actions against us. And we do not need that right now. Or ever.

So yes, a sad day for America. Another sad day. May God bless those this man took from us today and the families they leave behind. And may God bless the heroes, about whom we are just starting to hear, whose courageous acts ensured that fewer would be taken.

Betsy Siino | Comments

Generations of Sacrifice

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February 16, 2010 | Comments

I’ve received some interesting, not entirely unexpected, feedback in regard to my most recent post on Patrick Kennedy’s (D-RI) decision not to seek reelection to his seat in the House of Representatives this year.

As we all know, the Kennedy legacy (or mythology) is alive and well, and we are all entitled to our own opinions and interpretations of it. What puzzled, and even saddened me, as I read the feedback opposing the opinion I presented in the February 12th post, was the generalized statement that no family has sacrificed more for this country than the Kennedys.

I’m sorry, but that simply is not true.

The history of the United States is graced with countless families that for generations have sacrificed everything to build, protect and maintain this great nation of ours. From the pioneers who first carved out an existence on the eastern coastal regions of the United States, then moved westward, facing unspeakable hardships to create our notion of “sea to shining sea;” to immigrants who brought to life such wonders of the world as railroads, skyscrapers, tunnels through the Rockies, and their own proud multi-generational dynasties and traditions in the promised land that is America; to slaves that made the ultimate sacrifice to claim freedom for their children; to those military families that for generations have devoted themselves to the protection of our nation and our Constitution….each has demonstrated the extraordinary brand of sacrifice that has for centuries set this country apart from every other nation on earth.

So please don’t insult or belittle these families, some renowned, some not, that have made America what she is and always has been. Most families cannot boast Presidents and Congressmen among their ranks, and, thankfully, most have never experienced political assassination. Yet virtually every family has experienced its own victories and injustice, and, like the Kennedys, its own brand of tragedy, self-made and otherwise. In other words, all have sacrificed, and in a land where all are created equal, all families that have sacrificed for this nation are worthy of honor – even if they don’t have powerful public relations teams and unbridled wealth behind them to tell their stories.

America is the product of these families, some who have been here from the very beginning, others who came later, all lured by the legendary promise of a nation unlike any history has ever witnessed. So go ahead and tell me precisely why a certain individual of a certain family may be deserving of a certain honor, reputation or office (more than merely a name, please) – and I may or may not agree with you. But let us also agree that the heart and soul of this nation are the many, many families who have made this country what she is, families that I believe remain devoted to that same mission today. I remain forever grateful to them, even if I don’t happen to know their names.

Betsy Siino | Comments

End of an Arthurian Era

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February 12, 2010 | Comments

I was in the middle of writing a piece on Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) last night, when the news broke that he would not be seeking reelection to the House of Representatives in 2010. Perfect timing.

Kennedy’s poll numbers have apparently been slipping – no surprise, given the tsunami threatening to hit the democratic Congress come November. On a more personal level, last month he watched the sacred Massachusetts Senate seat long-held by Ted Kennedy, his late father, go to Scott Brown – a man Patrick Kennedy describes as “a joke.” This upset threw a road block in the passage of his father’s pet project: nationalized, socialized, rationed health care, a mandated plan that would be the exempted Kennedys’ legacy to we the little people.

When Patrick steps down, Congress will be Kennedy-less for the first time since 1962. I frankly don’t consider this much of a loss. If indeed first impressions offer our most illuminating insight into the people we encounter, my first impression of this guy was right on target.

I first noticed Patrick Kennedy pre-Congress, when his cousin William Kennedy Smith was standing trial on rape charges in Florida in 1991. Because Patrick was out partying with his cousin and dad Teddy on that fateful night (Good Friday, by the way), he was called to testify. Jittery and sweating, TV cameras rolling, he stuttered his answers, his eyes darting, voice cracking, desperately seeking, it seemed, that “special treatment” to which his family is so accustomed. Dangling out there alone, I thought he would burst into tears at any moment.

Three years later, at age 26, Patrick was elected to Congress. His legislative career since has been anything but extraordinary, his name making headlines primarily in connection with mind-altering substances: repeated stints in drug rehab, come to mind, as well as his collision with a security barrier in the wee hours one morning in DC (at least he was driving alone). His failed attempts to convince authorities that he was on official business ultimately morphed into a more truthful tale, in which prescription drugs and impaired sensibilities played the starring roles.

In recent months, Patrick Kennedy has made valiant attempts to reach out and grasp daddy’s baton to claim the title of heir apparent. First, he scolded the Catholic Church for refusing to support the democrats’ socialized health-care bill — and, by extension, abortion and rationed care for the elderly, the imperfect and the critically ill. (It would seem a return to chatecism for a refresher course might be in order).

But when, during a post-Massachusetts-special-election hissy fit, Patrick referred to now-Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) as “a joke,” he let slip his spoiled-brat gene – conduct unbecoming, I’d say, of a 42-year-old Congressman. Come to think of it, though, like so many in the political spotlight these days, little in Patrick Kennedy’s life experience has offered him the challenges and obstacles necessary for the transformation from child to adult.

I’ll never forget seeing that “child” in a photo taken at one of his early campaign events in 1994. Shaking the hand of an older woman who could have been his grandmother, he seemed as gawky and uncomfortable in his own skin as he had in that Florida courtroom three years prior. But the woman whose hand he touched…she was in tears, sobbing, it seemed, as though she were touching the hand of a god. It sent a chill up my spine. Given her age, though, and thus her many years exposed to the Arthurian mythology of the Kennedy dynasty, in her mind, perhaps she was touching a god, willingly ignoring the warts and the scandals and the arrogance that have followed that god’s family through history and damaged so many of its young.

Almost 20 years later, it seems that wisdom and clarity are finally beginning to trump the blind infatuation that has protected a name many have considered royal for decades. We saw this in the election of Massachusetts republican Scott Brown. We saw it when Caroline was denied New York’s vacant U.S. Senate seat and an ambassadorship to the Vatican last year. And we see it in the eyes of Patrick Kennedy, who rode into Washington on Kennedy coattails that have now been whipped out from under him. We the people will be better off for the shake-up. Perhaps the esteemed Congressman Kennedy will be better off, too.

Betsy Siino | Comments

Agnostic?

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February 12, 2010 | Comments

For the many months leading up to his election, one of the primary promises repeated by the President was that he absolutely will not raise taxes on families that earn less than $250,000 a year. No way. Won’t happen. Don’t even think about it.

Well, earlier this week — in a flip-flop worthy of comparison to the first George Bush’s “no new taxes” — when asked by Bloomberg BusinessWeek about the inconsistency of this promise with the crippling multi-trillion-dollar federal budget released last week, the President said:

“What I want to do is to be completely agnostic in terms of solutions.”

Huh? Agnostic? What exactly does that mean, Mr. President? If you didn’t mean to say “antagonistic,” does it mean you don’t plan to commit one way or another? Given your habit of voting “present,” I’ll assume you’re voting present here, as well.

Betsy Siino | Comments

Seize the Snow Day!

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February 11, 2010 | Comments

As we all know, the East Coast is being pelted by a series of record-setting blizzards, unlike any the people there have seen since such weather has been recorded (caused, of course, say the true believers, by global warming – but what isn’t?).

As a veteran of this global-warming phenomena myself, I grin as I hear the short sound bites that have punctuated the news coverage of this epic event:

“I just finish shoveling, and then I have to shovel again!”

“Everything is closed, so I stayed home and had a snowball fight with my daughters!”

“I can’t drive anywhere, so I’m going sledding with my son!”

What makes me grin is the common thread of pleasure and excitement running through these speakers’ voices. While we know frigid cold and snow can be violent and destructive, especially for those who are unprepared or unable to withstand its potential wrath, I hear in these exuberant voices their acknowledgement that this is a special, unexpected time in their lives, and they intend to cherish it. Every minute of it. And I say, good for them.

Speaking from experience, I have personally mourned for people stuck in snowbound cars on freeways, cringed at the news of children stuck at school overnight (or longer), assisted friends and neighbors with flooded basements and broken windows, and shuttered at the howls of 60-mile-an-hour winds that seem intent on ripping the roof off my house. But so have some of my most poignant family memories come from those times when Mother Nature blankets us with crippling depths of snow and frigid climes that will chill a bottle of wine in minutes (very romantic, by the way).

I wouldn’t trade for a moment the sweet, warm memory of sitting before a sparkling Christmas tree while that wind battered the windows, or giggling with kids and dogs as we leap through snow as deep as we are tall. Kids don’t forget these moments either. Indeed as many families are learning this week for the first time, there is no sweeter music to a kid’s ears than those golden words: “snow day.”

So to those currently experiencing Mom Nature’s surprise, if you have heat and light and food and find yourself housebound, take this time to enjoy your family, to enjoy your kids, to enjoy what you may someday look back upon as one of your warmest and coziest of your family memories.

Betsy Siino | Comments

A Brilliant Mind for Business

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February 10, 2010 | Comments

UPDATE/CORRECTION:  In regard to my post earlier today, it’s been brought to my attention that yesterday the President said not that the goal of small business owners is to take loans out to “meet” their payrolls, but rather to “boost” their payrolls. Sorry about that, but this frankly doesn’t change the gist of my thoughts (or my son’s) on the subject. In fact, I think it makes it worse. This President’s idea of “creating jobs” thus consists of his notion that all a business needs to do is borrow money and “create” a job. Mission accomplished. Of course the rest of us know this is not how it works in the real world. It is, however, how it works in the welfare/socialist/non-capitalist world. –Betsy

February 10, 2010 | Comments

It’s no secret that we have a President who has never held what we might call a “real” job. He has never worked the counter at McDonalds or 7-11. He has never swung a hammer on a construction site, waited tables at Chili’s, or assisted customers at a sporting goods store. Sure, he has organized communities (not entirely clear on what that means, but I have a good idea) and given lectures to students and to the American people. But I see no evidence here of any experience that might lead to an understanding of economics, budgeting, shelf stocking, investing, or even operating a cash register and making change.

Yesterday, the President’s lack of business experience was displayed front and center when he thrilled the Washington press corps with a surprise press briefing (something for which the corps has been clamoring since July).

Now, as we know, this Pres doesn’t work off teleprompter with impromptu questions, a weakness he attempts to mask with an arrogant smirk and condescending tone of voice that utters repeatedly such phrases as “move forward,” and “look…” But yesterday, some concrete questions came up that required a little more meat, a little more substance. ABC’s Jake Tapper, for one, dared to ask the President if he is concerned that small business owners are hesitant to hire because they fear such economically crushing policies as cap and trade and health care in the future.

The President predictably responded that no, small business owners don’t have that fear (a surprise, I’m sure, to the small business owners I know, that we all know, who are indeed worried that future policies from this administration’s agenda would destroy them financially). Then he continued, and here is where the business “brilliance” kicked in. In a nutshell, according to the President of the United States, the true worry among small business owners is their inability to get credit so they can take out loans to meet their payrolls.

Again, according to the President of the United States, all small businesses need and want to do is take out loans so they can pay their employees.

And that will lead to more jobs and hiring, Mr. President? Really? Have you ever actually held a job in a place of business, small or otherwise? Have you ever managed a payroll or even glanced at a business budget? Never mind, we already know the answer to that one.

I had just picked my teenage son up from school when we heard the President utter these words on the radio. “What!” shouted my son. “Did he really just say that?”

Yes, he did.

“You don’t take out a loan to make payroll!” my son continued ranting. “Anyone knows that! If you can’t make payroll, you can’t pay back a loan. If you can’t pay your people, you have to lay them off. And you know where I learned that? From “The Office!”

So there you have it, Mr. President. According to the teenager in my car, and I’m sure from teenagers working fast-food counters and helping customers at malls everywhere, maybe you need to watch some episodes of “The Office” and get some business training from Dunder Mifflin’s own Michael Scott.

If nothing else, I was left smiling, knowing that at least my son is on the right track. Let’s just hope we still have a country left where he, and all our children, can someday practice their own brand of business brilliance (and common sense).

Betsy Siino | Comments

Happy Birthday, Boy Scouts of America!

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February 8, 2010 | Comments

Today the Boy Scouts of America celebrates its 100th birthday. As a scout mom, I thank the BSA for all it does to promote character, loyalty and patriotism in the young men of our nation. Here’s hoping it continues to deflect the efforts made to undermine its foundation in this crazed world of ours, so it may celebrate 100 more years in February, 2110. Cheers!

Betsy Siino | Comments

You Get What You Vote For…

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February 7, 2010 | Comments

A question to all who voted for this President back in November of 2008, to all who voted for a man who made it clear that he would be soft on terror, that he could seduce and pacify all who seek to kill our children and destroy our nation with nothing but his golden words (his “gift,” he calls it). So how about it? How has it worked out for you? Are you feeling all warm and fuzzy now that your kids are safe and secure within the new world this man’s “gift” has given us?

Maybe you are feeling warm and fuzzy, but I have to tell you, I’m not feeling it. One year after this man’s magnanimous coronation, it appears that those who wish to kill our children and destroy our nation have not been so pacified, so seduced. Indeed we have been repeatedly attacked by terrorists on our own soil since this President was sworn in back in January, 2009. As we all know, this hit a crescendo on Christmas Day when the so-called “underwear bomber” made his attempt to bring down a plane over Detroit. Fortunately, his fellow passengers embodied more courage than what we find in our current administration, and they refused physically to permit this man’s success.

Not to be overshadowed or influenced by that courage, the administration stayed its course. The “alleged” terrorist was interrogated for a mere 50 minutes, and then, ostensibly by order of Attorney General, Eric Holder, the suspect was read his rights as though he were an American citizen. (Just a note here: Contrary to what the White House and Holder may claim, no one in this or any administration takes such drastic action without approval from the President, whether we speak of reading a terrorist his rights or trying terrorists in civil court on American soil.)

Whatever the “alleged” terrorist said during those 50 minutes caused the leaders of the United Kingdom to place their country on high alert. What did we do? We made sure the “alleged” terrorist got properly lawyered-up.

This was only the beginning of the terror landscape we face for 2010, for last week, as part of an annual briefing on the threats to our national security, Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), asked Dennis C. Blair, retired Admiral and Director of National Intelligence:

“What is the likelihood of another terrorist-attempted attack on the US homeland in the next three to six months? High or low?”

The Admiral’s response: “An attempted attack, the priority is certain, I would say.”

His four fellow members on the panel, which included CIA Director Leon Panetta and FBI Director Robert Mueller, agreed.

So no, not feeling the warm fuzziness. Rather, as I’ve said before, elections have consequences, and I see no clearer evidence of this than in the current state of our nation’s security — or lack thereof. For future reference, let’s all remember: Be careful who you vote for. He or she may just get elected. And I think even those swept up in the fervor a year ago are starting to see how devastating the consequences can be.

Betsy Siino | Comments