Thursday, December 22, 2011

Democracy In Action, GOP Style

In my opinion, the GOP’s political positions, cultural attitudes and active policies are in likely danger of literally destroying this country.  Currently, this effort is coming very strongly from Speaker John Boehner’s unbelievably deceptive (and so far successful) effort to kill the extensions of cuts in middle-class payroll taxes and much-needed unemployment insurance extensions.

Boehner claims this is because the 60-day extension isn’t long enough; Father Teresa, well known nationwide for his concern for the poor, believes the extension should cover a full year.  And so it should!

But what Boehner and most of the media are not saying – and relying on the politically lazy American public not to notice – is that Boehner’s “generous” year-long-extension counter proposal has as many extraneous rotten policy links tied to it as Jacob Marley’s ghostly chain.

Top among these encumbrances is the ability to con- struct the environmentally-dangerous Keystone oil pipeline.  And, to add a little indignity to his so-called concern for the middle-class, unemployed and elderly, Boehner’s proposal calls for shorter extensions for
unemployment insurance, along with mandatory drug testing to get unemployment insurance at all.

Boehner’s compassionate plan also calls for severely cutting back Medicare payments to medical providers (in addition to such cuts already in place for 2012); and a law that forbids the use of Food Stamp electronic cards in “liquor stores and strip clubs,” since, as everyone knows, countless children are starving because their degenerate caregivers are blowing the food benefits on lap dances.

However, as reprehensible as Santa Boehner’s Clause may be, it can be filed under “21st century politics s.o.p.”  What is even worse is the GOP’s ongoing, nationwide effort to prevent people from voting in 2012 – specifically, the people most likely to vote for that foreign-born, Muslim/ Socialist, Barack Obama.

This is an issue that should be of great concern to all Americans, regardless of your political beliefs, because what stops the vote for your adversary this time around may stop the vote for you next time around!

For your thorough edification, I’m reprinting the following article (italics are mine), which I dearly hope you will read in full.  Afterwards, I hope you’ll contact U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at the Justice Department and let him know you demand that these voter suppression efforts be stopped (which the DOJ has the power to do).  Here’s the article:


If you live in a state where voting is becoming tougher, plan ahead to register, to get the right ID and to know where you can vote.

Reprinted from AlterNet, December 20, 2011, by Steven Rosenfeld, who covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting (AlterNet Books, 2008).

If you are a member of a racial minority, student or young voter, working poor, elderly or disabled, your ability to vote may be a lot harder in 2012—especially if you live in states that have a history of racial repression during the Civil Rights Movement.

Simply put, the Republican Party knows which segments of society helped to elect President Obama and other Democrats in 2008, knows tens of millions of these people did not vote in the 2010 midterms, and has worked very hard to stop these people from voting again next year.
Their strategy has been simple: raise the barriers by complicating the rules to register to vote, to get a ballot, to vote early or speedily. What follows are seven major trends that will affect you if you live in a state with new rules.

Republicans know that most people do not pay attention to the fine print of election law. They get excited in the final days before presidential votes. But that may not be good enough in 2012.

Whether you are encouraged, discouraged or something in between about the coming presidential season, if you want to vote, look at the trends described below, see if you live in one of these states, and plan ahead: to register, get the right ID, and know where you can vote.  If you don’t, the Republicans may silence your vote and voice.

“Heading into 2012, we are seeing the largest assault on the right to vote since the post-Reconstruction Era,” said Denise Lieberman, senior attorney with Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization.

“This is an unprecedented attack on voting that could affect more than 5 million voters in 2012 in states that represent nearly two-thirds of the electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Twenty new laws and executive orders in 14 states stand to turn back the clock and make it harder to vote. In 2011, two-thirds of the states introduced legislation that could impede voters and more is on the horizon for 2012.”

Tactic One: Toughen Voter ID Requirements

Before this year, most states allowed voters to use all kinds of identification, even utility bills, to get a ballot. Not anymore. Now a non-expired, state-issued photo ID is needed in eight states: Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

Looking at 2012, similar bills or ballot measures to toughen ID rules will surface in New Hampshire, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Jersey, Maine, Minnesota and Missouri, where legislation already has been filed.

Before 2011, only two states, Georgia and Indiana, prevented voters from casting ballots if they did not have a government-issued photo ID. In 16 mostly southern states with a history of Jim Crow laws, the Justice Department must “pre-clear” or approve any change to voting laws before they can take effect. The ID laws in Alabama, South Carolina and Texas have not yet been cleared.

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder gave a major voting rights speech opposing all voter suppression tactics. But the Justice Department has not yet made a determination about these and other new voting laws in “covered” states.  

Here’s why this is such a devious strategy. The GOP knows most Americans have little sympathy for people who lack photo ID.  Polls by Democrats show that. There is a class divide here, where minorities and lower-income people, including students, disproportionately lack state-issued photo IDs. College ID cards are not the same. The GOP also knows that recent presidential elections [have] often come down to very close votes in a handful of states, and many people in those states will want to vote next fall, but will discover they cannot.  

The voting eligible population of Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, which all have new ID laws, is 29 million. Of that, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School has reported that 10.3 percent – or 3.2 million voters – lack a state photo ID. In those states, Lieberman said, the number of voters without the requisite photo ID is larger than the margin of victory in the 2008 presidential or U.S. Senate (Texas) races.

In other words, with one change in law, the GOP will require Democrats and Independents to do “a better job” turning out voters in 2012 than they did in 2008 when electing Obama. 

Tactic Two: Create Hurdles To Get Required ID

It takes time, money, patience and determination to get the required photo IDs. In some states, state budget crises have led to shortening the work weeks at the state agency, notably motor vehicles, or even closing branch offices—such as in Wisconsin, Tennessee and Texas — where people need to go to get the ID.

The ID itself may cost between $10 and $30, but there can be hidden costs if other forms of identification are needed to verify one’s identity and residency necessary to get a state ID. For example, not everybody has a birth certif- icate, marriage license, passport, divorce record or other documents, adding a complicating and time-consuming factor.  

The requirements for secondary IDs, if available, can cost upward of $200 (for naturalization papers, not passports), and 17 states require a photo ID to get a copy of a birth certificate, which by itself can take weeks or months. Many elderly people born at home simply do not have these underlying papers, transportation, or funds to get the required voting ID. These bureaucratic steps amount to a poll tax, a notorious tactic used to stop African Americans and poor whites from voting.    

Tactic Three: Intimidate Voter Registration Groups

The Republican Party knows that the majority of people who register to vote in registration drives tend to be in minority and low-income communities, and are likely to vote for Democrats, if they vote at all. They also know that voter registration drives can be sloppily run, with errors on as many as one-third of all the applications turned in, although local election administrators are well-versed in weeding out bad forms (although they resent the last-minute workloads).

As a result, seven states tried to add new restrictions on groups and their members doing voter registration drives in 2011, and these laws passed in Florida and Texas. The restrictions in these populous states must be pre- cleared by the Justice Department, which has yet to act.

But the impact of these laws—which, in Florida, creates a more rigorous schedule to turn in applications and imposes stiff fines for errors—has already discouraged some groups, such as Florida’s League of Women Voters, from even getting started for 2012. In addition to Florida and Texas, Michigan is also considering legislation to more aggressively regulate the registration drives.

Tactic Four: Try To Eliminate Same-Day Registration

In recent years, states have tried to make the voting process easier—not harder. One of the most convenient ways to help people to vote is to allow them to register at the polls or county offices and then vote.

In 2011, Republicans in Maine and Ohio eliminated same-day regis-tration, although citizen-led organizing overturned the Maine law on Election Day this past November and put a ballot initiative on the November 2012 Ohio ballot, suspending a package of draconian election laws until that vote.  Meanwhile, North Carolina's legislature will consider a bill ending same-day registration next year.   

Another hurdle concerns proof of citizenship. Arizona was the first state to require proof of citizenship to register to vote, but the law has been tied up in court. Meanwhile, bills requiring proof of citizenship passed in 2011 in Kansas, Alabama and Tennessee. Only Alabama's law has to be cleared by the Justice Department, which has yet to act.

Tactic Five: Curtail Early Voting

In recent years, states have also tried to make voting easier for people by creating or expanding the option to vote before the first Tuesday in November. In 2011, five states — Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia—passed laws rolling back early voting options.

Florida’s law reduces early voting from 13 days to seven days. That is potentially very damaging to minority communities, as nearly a third of all Floridians cast early ballots in 2008, with African Americans doing so at twice the rate of whites.  

In Ohio, the law—which has been put on hold by a ballot initiative that will appear in November—would have eliminated voting on the Sunday before Election Day.

In Georgia, the law reduced early voting from 45 days to 21 days; and in Tennessee from 15 days to 13 days. The changes in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee must be pre-cleared before they can be implemented. However, the Justice Department has yet to make its determination in those states. 

Tactic Six: Ban Felons From Voting

Many people remember what the Florida Secretary of State did in 2000 with erroneous lists of convicted felons in her state: she intentionally purged tens of thousands of legal voters, which was one of many factors leading to George W. Bush’s victory in that year’s presidential battleground state. That tactic’s ghost has risen in Florida and Iowa, where governors have issued executive orders either delaying or revoking the rights of former felons to regain their right to vote.

Across America, there are 5.3 million people, dispropor-tionately people of color, who cannot vote because of felony convictions.

Tactic Seven: Bleed Election Administration Budgets

This may be the least-understood and most far-reaching barrier as people try to vote in 2012. Already, tight state budgets have given cover to political decisions in Tennessee, Wisconsin and Texas to limit the operating hours of, or [to] close, the state offices where residents can obtain required photo IDs.

As a result, waiting times in the offices that remain open have grown longer in Tennessee and Wisconsin. In Texas, there are 34 counties with no Department of Public Safety Offices, including four counties where the Hispanic population is more than 75 percent. 

Limiting access to voter-related services before Election Day creates very troubling precedents for Election Day, when longtime polling places might be consolidated and moved with little public notice, or under-staffed by poll workers, who are volunteers — not professional election administrators. In other words, not only do would-be voters in many states have to get their credentials in order, it may take them much longer to vote, because poll workers will have more work to do to process voters.

In Madison, Wisconsin, County Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said the time it will take to process voters next November “has at least doubled.” In Florida, 30 percent of voters in 2008 voted early. If that state’s law stands, cutting the period in half, that means perhaps an additional 15 percent of the states’ voters will have to be processed on Election Day, doubling waiting times at peak hours. Meanwhile, as states have to spend millions to produce new voter identification documents, that will cut into promotional messages alerting voters about changes in the process.

And Where Is Obama’s Justice Department?

The biggest variable that may curtail or blunt these various voter suppression tactics is [the] Justice Department taking any number of steps to reject laws limiting or complicating the right to vote in the 16 states covered by the federal Voting Rights Act—which are mostly in the Old South. Attorney General Eric Holder gave a major speech last week in Texas where he criticized the laws aimed at discouraging voters and suppressing votes.  

However, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under Obama has not been very assertive in protecting voting rights. In its first two years, it filed fewer lawsuits than the administration of George W. Bush. While it has the power under the Voting Rights Act to reject many of the draconian laws passed by some of the biggest states — notably Texas and Florida—it has yet to do so and the 2012 political season is about to begin. 

“The Justice Department plays a very important role,” said Advancement Project’s Lieberman. “Not only are they required to clear new voting laws in states that are subject to this pre-clearance requirement, generally 16 states in the South, but they also have the ability to bring affirmative lawsuits in any state under Section Two of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits laws that have a discriminatory impact on voting. They can also intervene in other lawsuits alleging Constitutional violations.” 

The attorney general’s speech last week decried many of the new hurdles to voting. But civil rights lawyers want action—not words—and are nervous about the Depart- ment’s reticence to act. Last week, the Advancement Project delivered 120,000 petitions to Attorney General Holder urging the DOJ to do just that: enforce these federal voting laws.  

In the meantime, the very people targeted by Republicans—racial minorities, young voters, the working poor, the elderly and people with disabilities—should not take any chances. They should get their identity papers in order, be sure to register before state deadlines, and look for online tools to find polling places. In other words, they need to know and assert their voting rights, because the system may not help them in 2012.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Playing the Race Card

Last night, a friend who lives in the boondocks of a middle-American state, a peace-loving woman with hardly a harsh thought in her heart, told me she had to firmly resist hitting someone upside the head, because she saw a bumper sticker on a car that made her see red.  It showed a [normal] picture of Obama and read: Don’t Re-Nig in 2012.

It took her a while to fully digest what “re-nig” was clearly meant to imply, because she just couldn’t believe what she was seeing.  “I wanted to wait for the owner of the car to come back from wherever they were, but they’re all armed out here, and I was afraid.”  Not chicken, just sensible, particularly in a place where more people have gun racks in their cars than baby seats.  But it sure was a reminder that race (as in racist) was a player in 2008 and is rearing its hooded head again in 2012.

In fairness, many people genuinely dislike and distrust Barack Obama, because they truly believe he’s a Socialist (primarily in reaction to what they like to call ObamaCare), a tax loving/blood sucking Democrat who wants to steal from the middle class and redistribute to the poor, and the man who nearly bankrupted the nation by bailing out Wall Street and the auto industry.

There are many who strongly object to his pro-choice position on abortion (baby killer!) and his acceptance of gay rights and gay marriage (even though Mr. Obama has made clear he supports same-sex unions, not marriage, but so what: he supports sodomy!).

There are also those who think he’s arrogant, anti-Semitic and just plain unqualified for the job.  And there are those of us on the Left who, while understanding what he’s been up against since taking office, still feel very betrayed by his Republican Light behavior in a futile attempt to foster bipartisan cooperation in Washington.

That said, I can’t help but feel that lots of people are resisting seeing – or at least talking about – the obvious element of racism in at least a considerable portion of the Far Right’s disrespect of America’s first black president.  While I was somewhat shocked by the bumper sticker my friend saw, it was only somewhat, because I’ve had no doubt that racism is the 600-lb. gorilla in the political room that nobody wants to acknowledge.

Many folks feel it would be counter productive.  I disagree.  I think one of the big mistakes the President has made is not bringing up the issue of race since his splendid speech on the subject during the 2008 campaign.  Contrary to some popular belief, just because we have a black president does not mean that racism in America is a thing of the past; indeed, this achievement has only brought the reality of racism closer to the surface – but not any closer to meaningful discussion.

I told my friend that, in a way, I was glad the racist messages were starting to come out, because it shows what an important role racism plays in the country’s resistance/refusal to accept the President’s legitimacy.  The birther craziness, the claims that Mr. Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim not an American-born Christian, the sneering attitude towards his background as a community organizer, the inability to understand the First Lady’s apparently unforgivable statement in 2008 that for the first time she felt proud of her country (!!!), and, just last week, Rush Limbaugh calling Mrs. Obama “uppity,” are all intertwined with racist sentiment.

The presence of Herman Cain among the current Republican presidential hopefuls is supposed to demonstrate that the Right doesn’t object to black people per se; as Conservative poster girl Ann Coulter observed, “Liberals can’t stand that our blacks are better than their blacks.”  (You can’t make up shit like that.)

But the simple racist reality is that even if Cain wasn’t a know-nothing blowhard and an alleged sexual harasser, there is no way that both major parties would put up a black candidate.  Many white people’s heads would explode from coast to coast.  And the fact that Cain doesn’t seem to know (or at least acknowledge) this racist reality adds another level of political naivety to his other idiocy that completely boggles the mind.

Anyway, I did an extensive Internet search for the “re-nig” bumper sticker and couldn’t find it.  Perhaps it was a custom job; a number of the Web sites that sell hundreds of anti-Obama bumper stickers (and T-shirts, mugs, etc.)  give customers a chance to write their own messages.  But I did find the following bumper stickers, available individually for very reasonable prices and at bargain basement rates in bulk:
Obama To Tax Aspirin – It’s White And It Works!
Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For The White Guy
If He Wins, Can We Still Call It The White House?
Obama Loves America Like O.J. Loved Nicole
Hey Obama, Yo Mama!
King Had A Dream, We Have A Nightmare
Big Brotha Is Watching Us
Obama: White Guilt 2012
High Five For Failure
If You Get Close Enough to Obama’s Ears, You Can Hear
     The Ocean
No Mo’Bama
Give Tiger A Break, Obama Is Screwing 
     The Whole Country
I’m Not Racist, I Hate His White Half, Too
Obama’s Chillin’ While The Oil’s Spillin’
Welcome To Economic Slavery
Don’t Tax Me, Bro
We Shall Overcome [with Obama’s “O”
     logo as both letter Os]
Rush Is Right
I’m Not Racist, I Don’t Like Biden, Either
Mo’ Drama Bama.

The photo above is my personal favorite of the racist visuals available; others include the always-popular Obama as a monkey, Obama in caricature with huge lips and ears, and of course, Obama as Hitler (and Mao, and Marx, etc.), Obama as the devil, and, in a bow to the Democratic Party as a whole, Obama as a donkey.

We on the Left would do well to start including race in our political conversation, not as a way of dismissing the President’s shortcomings or his opponents fiscal and “moral” objections, but in order to demonstrate how unbalanced and ignorant and personal so much anti-Obama feeling is.

It’s a reminder that no matter how disappointed we are about how he handled his first term, he must have a nothing-to-lose second term, in which he will, hopefully, live up to the Right’s greatest fears and our greatest hopes.  We can't afford to permit Teabag Republican heartlessness, self-righteousness and ignorance to take hold.  If it does…Lawdy, Lawdy, what we gonna do?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Contemplating Thanksgiving

It seems to me that, over time, liking Thanksgiving has become politically incorrect and it pisses me off.  I presently know people (and knew others in the past) who hate Thanksgiving, because they feel it’s an insult to the memory of Native Americans who were culturally brutalized, materially ripped off and physically destroyed practically to the point of extinction by Europeans who came here in search of their manifest destiny.  And of course, all that is true.

More recently, people object to Thanksgiving as a celebration of gluttony.  “We have a holiday where we stuff food into other food,” Bill Maher (an unapologetic non-foodie) once said.  (I guess no one’s had the heart to tell him that there are many dishes that involve stuffing food into other food.)  Maher also criticized Thanksgiving on the grounds of history, saying (and this is the quote as I can best remember it):  “It’s just so us in our denial of our true history to celebrate the one nice moment we had with the Indians.  It’s like a date rapist saying, ‘Let’s not dwell on that, let’s think about the lovely dinner we had earlier in the evening’.”

Nonetheless, I’m not ashamed to say that I love Thanksgiving and have since childhood.  It was always my favorite holiday – partly because it meant wonderful food (I am an unapologetic foodie), but mainly because it was a non-religious holiday, which I greatly appreciated in dealing with my awkward bi-religion/bi-racial circumstances.  And I adored the Thanksgiving Day Parade – in the years before TV producers decided it would be a good idea to add corny, lip-synched entertainment in front of an entrance to Macy’s, which has since rendered the parade unwatchable.

I have no recollection of being taught in school that Indians were bad.  In fact, I have a clear memory of a happy fourth grade Thanksgiving play in which I recited a portion of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s endless epic, The Song of Hiawatha while another kid played a tom-tom drum: “By the shores of Gitche Gumee / By the shining Big-Sea-Water / Stood the wigwam of Nokomis / Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.”  That’s all I remember and I’ve since learned that the poem bears no relation to any Indian history whatsoever.

Indeed, the classic Thanksgiving myth isn't true, either.  Members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe were not invited to the Pilgrims' "First Thanksgiving," which the transplanted Brits thought of purely as a harvest festival, not a special occasion of giving thanks.  The Indians basically crashed the party -- but politely, bringing substantial food to share.

Anyway, I digress.  America’s actual history with Indians was never mentioned in our elementary school history books (for obvious reasons…) – except for that nice dinner we had with them earlier in the evening.  For that matter, our history with the Indians, along with the detailed brutality of slavery and the World War II national encampment of the Japanese (legal immigrants, second-generation-American-born Japanese and others) was left out of the curriculae too.  Remember, this was the 50s to mid 60s and books offering corrected, expanded history didn't yet exist below the college level.

No, what taught me that Indians were bad were movie and TV westerns in the 50s and 60s, because the Indians were always ablaze with war paint, whooping and swooping down on settlers and pioneers to scalp them, burn their homes, forts and wagons, and steal white women.  It wasn’t until I discovered Buffy Saint Marie in my early teens and later read Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee and saw the film Little Big Man that I learned the horrible truth about what white European Americans did to Native Americans.    

However, none of this has lessened my love of turkey with gravy, dressing, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie.  Perhaps this means I’m putting my stomach ahead of my politics, to which I say: "Ahh, not really; please pass the cranberry sauce."  Besides, being introduced to these new arts and history sources came about the same time that I realized the contemporary Thanksgiving has nothing to do with Pilgrims and Indians and all that came after.  It’s about gathering with friends and family if possible, but whatever the circumstances, genuinely acknowledging the blessings and tender mercies in our lives.

And it’s about the food.  And it’s about football.  And it’s about the prelude to Christmas which, for most people, thank goodness, has no more to do with the birth of Christ and Christianity’s crazy, bloody history than Thanksgiving is about Pilgrims and Indians.  Mass majority Christmas is about the food and Christmas trees and Christmas presents and Christmas music, both secular and religious.  I was in a big choir in high school and every year we sang the “Hallelujah Chorus,” which was wonderful to be part of (I was still an angelic first-soprano) and delightful to hear.  So I guess my point is: lighten up ya’ll.  We have little enough to celebrate these days, and if we choose to delight in these traditional holidays in our own, somehow-meaningful way, that's a good thing.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be alone – for the first time by choice.  I won’t have to travel or dress up and I'm not doing much cooking, but sweet potatoes will be involved.  I won’t watch the parade or football.  What I will do is sleep late, then look for the original Miracle On 34th Street on TV.  I’ll light two Yahrzeit candles, one for my departed loved ones -- and one for the Indians.  I’ll think about and speak out loud what I’m grateful for and offer thanks to the general universe for my largely good fortune.  I will have a Happy Thanksgiving and hope you do, too.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Old Modern Man

I miss George Carlin terribly.  I think of him often.  I wonder what he would have said about our sick, wacky times.  Carlin was never a political comedian in the sense that he commented on politics and politicians; he thought it was all bullshit and that voting was pointless.  But he certainly spoke knowingly and critically of our age, always being funny and usually wise and eloquent, as well.  I miss him because his honesty and intelligence, as well as his humor, comforted me, acknowledged me, justified me.  George made me feel proud to be an outsider because he was King of the Outsiders and he made that pretty cool.

I got to interview George Carlin twice, both times by phone.  The first time was when I worked for HBO and one of his specials was coming up.  The second time was when I did some freelance work for the producers/ creators of Shining Time Station / Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends and George was the lovable Mr. Conductor.

Carlin, especially in his post-heart attack years, was reputed to be difficult to deal with (for producers, suits and such, which was probably true) and no easier to interview.  But on both occasions, which were about five years apart, he was pleasant and easy-going; willing to answer any question I put to him; and generous with his time.  Maybe it was because I wasn’t a journalist but instead just a p.r. hack trying to do her job; Carlin always respected ordinary working folks.  I think it was because he was just a decent guy who sometimes gave greedy or bossy or nervy people a hard time.  After all, he was George Carlin.

If George were here now, he’d probably be quietly, maybe anonymously, sending food and blankets to assorted Occupy Wall Street sites.  He would be talking about the legitimacy of gay marriage, tax and income inequality and the danger wrought by the Religious Right’s slow, steady, disciplined 30-year-climb from minor local politics to the less-than-hallowed-halls of Congress, the Court and the White House.  He would be angry, brainy and funny as ever.  And he would be a sane voice in crazy times.

A couple of hours ago, I saw a re-run of the Mark Twain Prize ceremony that honored George Carlin a few months after his death at the age of 71 in June, 2008.  It ended with Carlin’s complete performance of his magnificent routine, “A Modern Man.”  Whether you recall it fondly or never heard it, I present it here for your enjoyment and edification:

“I’m a modern man, digital and smoke-free; a man for the millennium.  A diversified, multi-cultural, post-modern deconstructionist; politically, anatomically and ecologically incorrect.  I’ve been uplinked and downloaded, I’ve been inputted and outsourced.  I know the upside of downsizing, I know the downside of upgrading.  I’m a high-tech low-life.  A cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, bi-coastal multi-tasker, and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond.  I’m new-wave, but I’m old-school; and my inner child is outward-bound.  I’m a hot-wired, heat-seeking, warm-hearted cool customer; voice-activated and bio-degradable.  I interface with my database; my database is in cyberspace; so I’m interactive, I’m hyperactive, and from time to time I’m radioactive.

“Behind the eight ball, ahead of the curve, ridin’ the wave, dodgin’ the bullet, pushin’ the envelope.  I’m on point, on task, on message, and off drugs.  I’ve got no need for coke and speed; I’ve got no urge to binge and purge.  I’m in the moment, on the edge, over the top, but under the radar.  A high-concept, low-profile, medium-range ballistic missionary.  A street-wise smart bomb.  A top-gun bottom-feeder.  I wear power ties, I tell power lies, I take power naps, I run victory laps.  I’m a totally ongoing, big-foot, slam-dunk rainmaker with a pro-active outreach.  A raging workaholic, a working rageaholic; out of rehab and in denial.  I’ve got a personal trainer, a personal shopper, a personal assistant, and a personal agenda.

“You can't shut me up; you can't dumb me down.  ‘Cause I’m tireless, and I’m wireless.  I’m an alpha-male on beta-blockers.  I’m a non-believer, I’m an over-achiever;  laid-back and fashion-forward.  Up-front, down-home; low-rent, high-maintenance.  I’m super-sized, long-lasting, high-definition, fast-acting, oven-ready and built to last.  A hands-on, footloose, knee-jerk head case; prematurely post-traumatic, and I have a love child who sends me hate-mail.

“But I’m feeling, I’m caring, I’m healing, I’m sharing.  A supportive, bonding, nurturing primary-care giver.  My output is down, but my income is up.  I take a short position on the long bond, and my revenue stream has its own cash flow.  I read junk mail, I eat junk food, I buy junk bonds, I watch trash sports.  I’m gender-specific, capital-intensive, user-friendly and lactose-intolerant.

“I like rough sex; I like tough love.  I use the f-word in my e-mail.  And the software on my hard drive is hard-core—no soft porn.  I bought a microwave at a mini-mall.  I bought a mini-van at a mega-store.  I eat fast food in the slow lane. I’m toll-free, bite-size, ready-to-wear, and I come in all sizes.  A fully equipped, factory-authorized, hospital-tested, clinically proven, scientifically formulated medical miracle.

“I’ve been pre-washed, pre-cooked, pre-heated, pre-screened, pre-approved, pre-packaged, post-dated, freeze-dried, double-wrapped and vacuum-packed.  And I have unlimited broadband capacity.  I’m a rude dude, but I’m the real deal.  Lean and mean.  Cocked, locked and ready to rock; rough, tough and hard to bluff.  I take it slow, I go with the flow; I ride with the tide, I’ve got glide in my stride.  Drivin’ and movin’, sailin’ and spinnin’; jivin’ and groovin, wailin’ and winnin’.  I don’t snooze, so I don’t lose.  I keep the pedal to the metal and the rubber on the road.  I party hearty, and lunchtime is crunch time.  I’m hangin’ in, there ain’t no doubt; and I’m hangin tough.  Over and out.”

Friday, November 18, 2011

There’s Somethin’ Happenin’ Here – And What It Is Is Exactly Clear!

Today marked the two month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement.  Since it began, OWS events have sprung up in cities and towns across America – 1,000 locations in all.  OWS has struck a chord among an increasing number, and an increasing diversity, of Americans in the “99%.”  And how was this anniversary celebrated?  With police…shall we say, “over-zealousness.”

It would appear that mayors from coast-to-coast have been on conference calls together (so says the grapevine) trying to figure out how to “handle” OWS – and have concluded that a paramilitary use of their police forces is the way to go.  Sharp, progressive, creative thinking, eh?

OWS – despite its lack of a “specific” agenda, blah blah blah – has been remarkably disciplined in its commitment to non-violence, all the more remarkable because, unlike during the Civil Rights movement of the ‘60s, they have not been formally trained in non-violent tactics.  Nonetheless, the original group in New York has been dispossessed from Zuccotti Park, their personal belongings confiscated, and their persons subjected to outright violence by heavily armed and shielded police.  (I guess it was too cold for fire hoses and all the dogs were busy elsewhere trying to sniff out marijuana.)

Has the OWS been messy?  Yes.  Have they inconvenienced and interfered with the normal comings and goings of others?  Yes.  Have there been legitimate concerns about public health and safety?  Yes.  Have municipal governments done anything to positively, non-violently and economically address these issues (allowing port-o-potties, for example)?  No.  And what has been the result?  Greater determination plus increased and more focused action by OWS.  Today was a National Day of Action for OWS; from sea to shining sea they left their campsites and marched, and occupied other locations, like banks and subways. 

The far-right has declared that OWS is dead, but they’ve already demonstrated considerable confusion about what constitutes life and death.  Indeed, OWS is very much alive, growing, maturing, and attracting increasing participation and media attention.  More than 30,000 people (including a lot of organized labor) marched in Manhattan tonight and nearly 300 were willingly arrested.  I know it’s been a while since we’ve seen one, so we may not immediately recognize it – but this is the beginning of a New American Revolution.

Something else happened yesterday that is also revolutionary.  Six representatives from a group of 200 very rich people known as The Patriotic Millionaires met with tax phobic troublemaker, Grover Norquist, begging him to release Republicans from their “no new taxes ever” pledge and finally increase taxes on those earning $1 million (or more) annually – acknowledging the disparity between their contributions and those of the 99%.  Norquist dismissed them as “Democratic Party hacks.”  They suggested that Norquist move to Somalia.   

The photo above is the iconic picture that has come to define the infamous Kent State Massacre, an Anti Vietnam War protest held at Kent State University in Ohio in May, 1970.  During that event, National Guardsmen responding to the “uprising” killed 4 students and wounded 9 more – and America was up in arms.

“Kent State” inspired Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s song Ohio, and, Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth, which was actually written in 1967 in response to the LAPD’s assault on  hippies, over time has also become associated with Kent State.  Currently, the song’s lyrics* have been used as a denotation for OWS.  The message is simple: don’t respond to legitimate protest with military force; don’t dismiss earnest Americans as socialists/communists; don’t accuse sincere political activists of being dirty, drug-sodden, sex-crazed loonies; don’t demonize Americans demanding reasonable economic, political and social change.  In short, don’t allow Fox News to shape your views about what’s happening.

* There’s somethin’ happenin’ here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down…

…Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down…

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

What Constitutes Personhood?

This past August, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney got a lot of heat for his assertion that “corporations are people, too” while speaking at an Iowa State Fair.  The audience did not appreciate this millionaire’s personification of corporations; I didn't either.

Now, the idea of what constitutes personhood is coming from another familiar quarter.  Some segments of the anti-choice movement – which has been trying to reverse the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973 –  is trying to redefine personhood in their effort to re-criminalize abortion.

As reported in the New York Times on October 25th:  “A constitutional amendment facing voters in Mississippi on Nov. 8, and similar initiatives brewing in half a dozen other states including Florida and Ohio, would declare a fertilized human egg to be a legal person, effectively branding abortion and some forms of birth control as murder. With this far-reaching anti-abortion strategy, the proponents of what they call personhood amendments hope to reshape the national debate.”

What makes this effort even more horrific than it seems at first glance is its attack on contraception, definitely including IUDs and morning-after pills, but potentially capable of affecting all forms of female birth control (nobody’s saying a word about condoms), as well as stem cell research – and we thought that battle had been fought and won!

In case you’re wondering (as I did for the longest time) why anti-choice proponents object to contraception, the very thing that prevents unwanted pregnancies, is this: as much as they object to abortion, they are equally opposed to what they define as “fornication,” meaning, any sex outside of marriage by both sexes whatever their age, and, engaging in recreational sex, even within marriage, rather than having sex solely for procreation.  In short, they don’t just want to make abortion a crime, they want to make sex a crime.  Welcome to the 21st century, where once again Puritans rule! 

Interestingly, as the Times also notes: “The drive for personhood amendments has split the anti-abortion forces nationally.  Some groups call it an inspired moral leap, while traditional leaders of the fight, including National Right to Life and the Roman Catholic bishops, have refused to promote it, charging that the tactic is reckless and could backfire, leading to a Supreme Court defeat that would undermine progress in carving away at Roe v. Wade.”

The two things I find most appalling about these initiatives is (1) they are based on religious definitions of morality/sexually-appropriate behavior, which is completely unacceptable in a secular society, and (2) they are trying to extend the definition of personhood to include a spec of microscopic goo, which is what a fertilized egg is.  In short, this is totally crazy.

However, maybe we as a society would not be poised at this ludicrous juncture if pro-choice advocates had, from Day One, been willing to face the secular moral and legal aspects of our position.  In this regard, I am again motivated to quote the always-interesting Camille Paglia, who wrote on during the 2008 campaign:

“Let’s take the issue of abortion rights, of which I am a firm supporter.  As an atheist and libertarian, I believe that government must stay completely out of the sphere of personal choice.  Every individual has an absolute right to control his or her body…  But the pro-life position, whether or not it is based on religious orthodoxy, is more ethically highly evolved than my own tenet of unconstrained access to abortion on demand.  My argument…has always been that nature has a master plan pushing every species toward procreation and that it is our right and even obligation as rational human beings to defy nature’s fascism… 

“…Hence I have always frankly admitted that abortion is murder…  …I [also] support the death penalty for atrocious crimes (such as rape-murder or the murder of children).  I have never understood the standard Democratic combo of support for abortion and yet opposition to the death penalty…

“…Not until the Democratic Party stringently reexamines its own implicit assumptions and rhetorical formulas will it be able to deal effectively with the enduring and now escalating challenge from the pro-life right wing. Because pro-choice Democrats have been arguing from cold expedience, they have thus far been unable to make an effective ethical case for the right to abortion.”

Fair enough.  So, I will now attempt to make an effective ethical case for the right to abortion:

When a woman becomes pregnant, whatever the circumstances, the fetus within her is in the process of developing into a human being.  But at least until the 7th month of pregnancy, that fetus is unable to survive outside the woman’s body and fully develop on its own.  Therefore, while it is understood that a fetus is a living human being in development, it does not have legal, independent personhood status until birth.  The unborn do not have a “right to life” that supersedes the rights of a born, autonomous woman.

While a fetus is within a woman’s body and is not capable of surviving outside of it, the fetus is an integral part of that woman’s body.  As such, the woman has the right to do with her body what she sees fit, including the removal, the killing, of the fetus, thereby preventing its full gestation and birth.

While this may be distressing to some people, their distress does not alter a woman’s right to control her own body, including whether or not she becomes pregnant, and if so, whether or not she chooses to bring the pregnancy to term. 

The justification for killing the fetus is the same as society’s justification for killing in self-defense, in defense of one’s family and home, in the course of war, in the course of law enforcement when necessary, and as a form of judicial punishment for heinous crime.  Society recognizes that killing, however repugnant, is sometimes necessary, and a secular society recognizes a woman’s right to abortion as one of those necessities, because giving birth to a child that one does not want or is unable to care for is patently irresponsible and cruel.

Those who object to abortion on religious or other personal moral grounds should not have them, and the law should not attempt to coerce them into doing so.  Similarly, those with moral objections to abortion – much as those who object to participation in war – have no moral or legal right to prevent another person’s abortion.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rediscovering George

I’m pleased to take a welcome break from discouraging politics to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed the new documentary portrait of musician/singer-songwriter/film producer George Harrison, entitled George Harrison: Living in the Material World.  It debuted on HBO this month, and if you are or ever were a Beatles fan, not to mention a Harrison fan, it’s really worth seeing.  It features some familiar Beatles footage as well as Beatles material I’ve never seen, and, a lot about (and with) George individually.  Directed by the indefatigable Martin Scorsese and produced by him and George’s wife of 30 years, Olivia Harrison, the film also offers interviews with her and their son, as well as an assortment of music and film notables, including old friends and family.

I must admit that after the Beatles broke up, I didn’t pay much attention to Harrison’s ongoing career (I was wrapped up in John & Yoko), nor did I realize how many popular Beatles songs were written by him, rather than the famous Lennon & McCartney duo – among them “Here Comes the Sun,” “If I Needed Someone,” “Blue Jay Way” and “Something (in the way she moves)”; I did recall “Don’t Bother Me,” “I, Me, Mine,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Savoy Truffle” and of course, “Tax Man.”  Apart from the Beatles, Harrison released numerous albums and generated such hits as “All Things Must Pass,” “Beware of Darkness,” “Wah-Wah” and “My Sweet Lord,” to mention a few.

I also forgot that it was George Harrison who produced “The Concerts for Bangladesh” – the concerts, the album, the film – which was the very first rock- star-studded event to serve a charitable cause, pre-dating “We Are The World,” Live Aid, all the other Aids, and all of Bono’s good work.

Now all this may say more about my foggy memory than George Harrison’s show biz prominence, but I also forgot that it was he who assembled The Traveling Wilburys, which began as musical fun among friends: he and Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne.  I knew he had produced Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, but I didn’t know he mortgaged his house to do it, or that he formed a film company that produced other Python movies, along with an impressive list of other well-respected films.

I knew it was George Harrison who discovered Hindu spirituality for himself and turned the other Beatles onto it as well.  I didn’t realize how strong a part it played in his life right up to the end, long after his band mates left it behind, or to what great extent his musical teacher, Ravi Shankar, was his spiritual teacher, as well.

Despite all I’ve written here, you’ll find much more to learn – and admire – about George Harrison, the man and the artist, in this new documentary.  It’s a reminder of how much the Beatles gave us, together and individually, how much we’ve lost – and how much they left us.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Noble Occupation

I’ve been paying close attention to the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement since Week 2 and I have to say, as a counter-balancing relief from the babble of the current herd of Republican hopefuls, OWS is refreshing and encouraging.

What has surprised me is the number of people – mostly on the Right, but the Left and Center, too – who keep trying to dismiss (or smear) this socio-political phenomenon, because they haven’t stated clear goals, or provided a manifesto or list of demands.  It’s like listening to someone blurt guttural screams for HELP! and standing aside, asking, “Yes, I understand you want assistance, but can you please clarify exactly what it is you want help for; and if you don’t mind, could you put your request in writing so that it can be studied by the proper committees?”

Talk about you-don’t-get-it!

Remember the 1976 film Network (written by Paddy Chayefsky, directed by Sidney Lumet) starring the late, great Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway and William Holden?  It’s set in the 1970s, when the three major networks still ruled television, and tells the story of a grand old broadcast newsman left over from the salad days of grand old broadcast newsmen, a la Edward R. Murrow.  One day, Howard Beale (played by Finch) comes to the studio to do his nightly newscast and instead he gives a sermon of desperation that is eerily pertinent to our times, even though it’s 36 years later.  The following is taken directly from the script:

            “I don’t have to tell you things are bad.  Everybody knows things are bad.  It’s a depression.  Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job, the dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter, punks are running wild in the streets, and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it.  We know the air’s unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit and watch our tee-vees while some local newscaster tells us today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  We all know things are bad.  Worse than bad.  They’re crazy.  It’s like everything’s going crazy.  So we don’t go out any more.  We sit in the house, and slowly the world we live in gets smaller, and all we ask is please, at least leave us alone in our own living rooms.  Let me have my toaster and my tee-vee and my hair-dryer and my steel-belted radials, and I won’t say anything, just leave us alone.
            “Well, I’m not going to leave you alone.  I want you to get mad – I don’t want you to riot.  I don’t want you to protest.  I don’t want you to write your Congressmen.  Because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write.  I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the defense budget and the Russians and crime in the street.  All I know is first you got to get mad.  You’ve got to say:  “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more.  I’m a human being, goddammit.  My life has value.”  So I want you to get up now.  I want you to get out of your chairs and go to the window.  Right now.  I want you to go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell.  I want you to yell: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!”  Things have got to change.  But you can’t change them unless you’re mad.  You have to get mad!”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what the OWS is about.  Beale’s rage against the machine and call-to-expression is one of the greatest in modern cinema, and I wanted to reprint it for those of you who have never seen the film (or haven’t seen it in a long time).  OWS is about everyday people being mad as hell with the economic and political system, with being ripped off, pissed on, treated like children, and being completely excluded from the bounty of the 1%.  What’s the mystery?

Network remains pertinent, timely, throughout.  At first, the network powers-that-be are furious.  But when they discover that millions of people from coast to coast are in fact yelling out their windows, they realize that Beale has hit a nerve – and they can capitalize on it!  They take Beale off the nightly news and give him a show of his own.  They call him “The Mad Prophet of the Airwaves.”  And the old man comes out each week, gives a powerful rant, then swoons into a dead faint as the audience cheers.  Reality TV 36 years before its time!

But in art as in life, one day Beale goes too far.  Voicing the rage of the common man (which can always be ignored…) is one thing – but challenging the machinations of BIG big business is quite another.  Here’s what Beale says that gets him into trouble:

            “All right, listen to me!  Listen carefully!  This is your goddam life I’m talking about today!  In this country, when one company takes over another company, they simply buy up a controlling share of the stock.  But first they have to file notice with the government.  That’s how C.C. and A. – the Communications Corporation of America – bought up the company that owns this network.  And now somebody’s buying up C.C. and A! Some company named Western World Funding Corporation is buying up C.C. and A!  They filed their notice this morning!  Well, just who the hell is Western World Funding Corporation?  It’s a consortium of banks and insurance companies who are not buying C.C. and A. for themselves but as agents for somebody else!  Well, who’s this somebody else?   They won’t tell you!  They won’t tell you, they won’t tell the Senate, they won’t tell the SEC, the FCC, the Justice Department, they wont tell anybody!  They say it’s none of our business!  The hell it ain’t!”

This is the daily business reality that affects all of us.  This is the chicanery that OWS is mad about.  What’s the mystery?

Beale can’t be allowed to go on telling that kind of truth.  So Arthur Jensen himself (beautifully played by Ned Beatty), the corporate honcho of C.C. and A., takes Beale into an imposing conference room and reads him the corporate riot act.  Doesn’t this, too, sound very much like the global economic present – the era that OWS is mad about?  Just substitute China for Russia and the corporations of today for those of yesteryear and it’s enough to make you shiver.

Jensen says:
            “You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it, is that clear?!...You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples.  There are no nations!  There are no peoples!  There are no Russians!  There are no Arabs!  There are no third worlds!  There is no West!  There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and… interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars! petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars!, Reich marks, rubles, rin, pounds and shekels!  It is the international system of currency that determines the totality of life on this planet!
            “That is the natural order of things today!  That is the atomic, subatomic and galactic structure of things today!  And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and you will atone!  Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale?
            “You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen, and howl about America and democracy.  There is no America.  There is no democracy.  There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon.  Those are the nations of the world today.  What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state – Karl Marx?  They pull out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories and minimax solutions and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments just like we do.  We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale.  The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business.  The world is a business, Mr. Beale!  It has been since man crawled out of the slime…”

This post has gone on long enough I think.  I hope you’ve enjoyed these golden snippets of Network and suffice it to say that you should think twice about the invectives being hurled at the OWS: they’re radicals, they’re killers, they’re anti-Semites, they’re a bunch of dirty hippies taking up space.

No.  They’re you and me and everyone in the country, who, for one (or more) countless reasons is mad as hell and won’t take it any more.  I hope New York has a mild winter.