Saturday, February 26, 2011

It's Time to Get ANGRY!!!

I had decided to stop paying attention to the Republican’s culturally-punitive, draconian, and penny wise/pound foolish budget cuts, trusting that the Senate would create a better proposal and, if not, the President would veto stupidity run amok. Now, however, I’ve decided that may not be wise, since all of Congress (which includes the Senate…), as well as the Chief Executive, appear to have their own agendas and none appear to have the American public’s best interest at heart.

Let me first address the Budget conundrum: the federal government has been spending money like the proverbial drunken sailor for many years now. Some of the things money was spent on – like enhanced prescription coverage for those on Medicare – were deserving, sensible. Other things, like unproductive wars, were not. It’s fair to blame the Republicans for a lot of this, but the Democrats, who can’t seem to agree on a lunch menu, let alone a party policy, have done their fair share to contribute to the mess.

At this point, assessing blame is beside the point; we’re in a pickle and there’s no denying it. Both the national debt (money the government has borrowed from other countries) and the national deficit (the difference between what the government spends and what it takes in) are both enormous and genuinely threaten the nation’s functioning. The question is: how should our leaders address these very real financial problems without endangering the welfare of the nation?

Keep in mind that more than 75% of federal funds go to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – what the Republicans like to refer to as “the entitlement programs,” because in their hearts of no-heart, they don’t believe anyone is entitled to anything. Every sane person knows these three programs are vital to the day-to-day survival and health of millions of Americans. However, it is also well known that the administration of these programs is deeply flawed and rampant with fraud, waste and mismanagement. Also keep in mind that the government has depleted its income, its revenue, by not taxing the richest 2% of the population in a manner proportionate to their incomes.

Common sense would seem to indicate that the way to resolve our financial dilemma would be to overhaul the three vital social service programs and increase taxes on the richest Americans. (Finally legalizing marijuana would also make a lot of social and financial good sense...) Unfortunately, if not surprisingly, Congressional Republican representatives don’t see it that way. They want to (so far) avoid the infamous “third rail” of government spending (“the entitlements”), as well as refuse to raise taxes on the rich. Instead, they’ve aimed their cutting shears at programs within the 20% of government spending that remains. And they are using this opportunity – in the name of fiscal responsibility – to attack funding for things they’ve long disapproved of, particularly in the areas of women’s rights and education (which includes public broadcasting).

An editorial in today’s New York Times, “Waging War On Women,” does an excellent job of summarizing all the ways in which Republicans want to try to balance the budget on the backs of women and children – particularly poor women and children. This threat to funding for family planning, access to abortion (which is still legal in the USA, not so's you'd notice) and nutrition is very real and just another reminder of how much Conservatives hate the poor and fear independent women.

In addition, a post by PBS President, Paula Kerger, that appeared on The Huffington Post this week, details the educational importance of public broadcasting. The Republicans want to cut all funds for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which they have long believed is a tool of the Radical Left. Keep in mind that PBS’ NewsHour is the most respected, most trusted, and most watched evening news program in America; countless polls have shown this. Also remember that PBS offers cultural programming that is unparalleled anywhere else on television.

The Republicans also want to kill another of their pet bogeymen: The National Endowment for the Arts (another left wing tool, of course). The elimination of the CPB and NEA would kill public broadcasting and other national arts funding. As if we weren’t already an ignorant, boorish nation.

Indeed, all of the Republican budget targets aim to diminish health, personal freedom, education, cultural development, environmental and energy initiatives, foreign aid, and anything else that contributes to quality of life, personal growth, national stability, and international leadership.

I beg you to read the two pieces I’ve linked, to check out just what Congress has sent (and is still yet to send) to the Senate, and contact your senators, as well as the President, and let them know this is not in the best interest of the country and not what you want as a civilized, voting, American citizen.

I know things are falling apart worldwide and the end is relatively nigh, but do we have to end in social darkness and misery and pain? Let’s all of us, please, do what we can to prevent this. It's time to get angry!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Racial Identity: What Does It Mean To Be Biracial?

Writer Clay Cane at the e-zine The Root just wrote an article entitled “Halle Berry and the Resurgence of the Tragic Mulatto,” which, as a mulatto myself (tragic or otherwise), I was naturally interested in.

The subhead to Cane’s piece claims: “The furor caused by Berry’s assertion that her daughter is black reminds us how confused Americans remain about race.” I have to say I found Cane’s article itself confusing, since it’s based on comments the actress made in the March 2011 edition of Ebony Magazine, including: “I feel like she’s black. I’m black and I’m her mother, and I believe in the one-drop theory.”

Berry had her now-three-year-old-daughter, Nahla Ariela Aubry (pictured above), by her former boyfriend, Canadian male model Gabriel Aubry, a white man. According to show biz buzz, Aubry, who is currently suing Berry for joint custody of their daughter, has gone ballistic when his daughter is referred to as black, and he also is supposed to have called Halle a nigger at some time or another, none of which speaks well for him if it’s true.

Cane is technically biracial, but he dislikes both the term and what it stands for and emphasizes that he identifies as black. He cites other biracial people in the public eye, including “Barack Obama, Faith Evans, Jasmine Guy and even the late, great Bob Marley,” who also identify as black. He has less than kind words for the likes of Tiger Woods and Mariah Carey, who prefer to identify as persons of mixed race.

Cane believes, as many people of color do, that those who identify as biracial are basically race traitors, trying to disassociate ourselves from black folks and the inherent discrimination they experience. He also seems to think that there’s a whole new population of such racially mixed and confused people, that we’re all the rage (like hula-hoops…), and this isn’t a good thing.

I’ve been looking for a biracial community for years and have yet to find it. But never mind. The plain fact is, racism is based on color. If you look non-white, that’s how you’re treated and generally that’s with at least some measure of prejudice. If you look white – whether you are or not – that’s how you’re treated and whether you seek it or not, you benefit from white privilege to one extent or another. This creates a special blend of problems for biracial people.

As you can see from my photo (right, sidebar), I’m very white-looking. So, apparently, is Baby Nahla. I was raised by my white mother and black father to think of myself as black – actually: Colored, Negro, Black and Afro-American, in that order, over the years. Based on what I saw when I looked in the mirror, I found this very confusing. I had no problem with “never be ashamed of what you are,” but I instinctively felt that what I was was a racially mixed person. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for with that idea. When I first discovered the word mulatto, my parents told me not to use it, because it was a negative term; indeed, Cane describes it as “deeply offensive.” Can you imagine what it was like to be told that the word that describes exactly what I am is a slur? This didn’t do much for my self-esteem, whatever I was, whatever I looked like.

Over time, experience has taught me that white people will assume I’m white and will, to greater or lesser degrees, be somewhat discomfited when I tell them I’m not. When I was a kid, black people seemed to know I wasn’t white, but they didn’t give me any points for trying to identify as one of them. Over the past 30 years or so, blacks give me a cursory glance and assume I’m white. I know that says something about race perception and how it’s evolved (or devolved) over time, but I’m not sure what it says.

What I do know is that identifying as a person of mixed race – which is what you are when your parents are of different races – is a legitimate identification and I don’t care whether black people like it or understand it or not. Berry says she believes in the “one drop theory,” which is not a theory but a racist construct created by slave owners to increase their herds without importing new stock. It became law in Dixie that you were black if you had “even one little drop of Nigra blood,” and a whole vocabulary grew up around that, racially categorizing people based on the race of one’s parents, grandparents, great-grandparents – etc. (The Nazis did the same kind of categorization of Jews, which should give blacks and whites alike something to think about.) Blacks bought into this notion as well as whites.

Today, there are many light-skinned blacks who have two black parents (maybe light, maybe dark) but who undeniably have white blood somewhere in their background. Conversely, there are more white folks out there than you would think who have black blood in their background and don’t even know it. The fact that we are a very racially-mixed but none the less racist society is just an ironic joke we all live with.

The reason that identifying as mixed race or biracial is important is that, for those of us who do, it contributes to our sanity. Identifying this way is also (ironically) primarily the white-looking privilege of white-looking biracial people; as I said, if you look even remotely non-white, you get the color tag whether you want it or not. But another reason it’s important for society to recognize and accept the biracial category is that slowly, over time, our mere existence can help break down all racial categorization and hopefully lead to a color blind culture. In the here and now, biracial people uniquely have the experience of intimate connection with people of different races and it…colors…the way we see others and the world.

I’ve said before on this blog that while Barack Obama is considered America’s first black President, it’s important to understand that, regardless of his self-identification, he is biracial and that broad experience with people on both sides of the racial divide is often the reason he thinks the way he does and does the things he does. His unwavering determination to find common ground with Republicans is an example of this. Being biracial means being, by definition, a conciliator (no matter how futile that effort may be).

Anyway, Cane is right when he says Americans are confused about race: confused, fearful, and full of strange ideas about the “other.” For myself, I can only say that identifying as biracial has not solved my racial identity problems, but I’ve made my peace with the idea that I will probably never stop feeling conflicted in some way or another. So it goes. In the final analysis, I feel like my mother, who was fond of saying: “I can’t wait until everyone is equal so I can hate whoever I want to with impunity.” Amen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Day in the Life of the World

It’s been a busy, explosive, perhaps game-changing day on Planet Earth.

For starters, for reasons I don’t know, Congress is in recess this week, which strikes me as odd, considering that we’re in danger of a government shut-down next week, but perhaps legislators feel they can more effectively stir-the-shit in their respective home bases.

President Obama took advantage of their absence to announce that he will no longer instruct the Justice Department to defend the homophobic Defense of Marriage Act, calling it unconstitutional. Will this lead to the federal legalization of gay marriage? White House spokespeople say the President’s position is evolving; encouraging, if not reason for wholesale celebration.

Today’s he said/she said discussion column by David Brooks and Gail Collins in the New York Times (Budget Wars or Culture Wars) reminded me why I have such affection and respect for Brooks. Conservative though he may be, his intelligence, insight, fairness, civility, and sense of humor make him a constructive and valuable pundit. Brooks and Collins take on the events in Wisconsin, each making important points when they say:

Gail Collins: None of this is about budgets. It’s about crushing enemies. Unions. Government programs. The social safety net. Abortion. Contraception.

David Brooks: See how quickly budget issues turn into culture wars? That’s the road to gridlock. We have to keep in mind that these issues are ultimately about money even though the combatants always like to pretend they’re fighting for morality. It’s possible to split the difference on how much people contribute to their health insurance. Things will turn rotten as we start to see this as a holy war. (Italics are mine: MizB)

Well said. In Wisconsin and in other states where protests are being held in response to additional budget holy wars, as well as Congress, where it’s been less about budgets and more about Conservatives killing their favorite cultural bug-a-boos (government programs, the social safety net, abortion, contraception, among others), it’s been impossible for the Left and Right to find accord, because no one is focusing on the biggest budget busters: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. I myself am on Social Security and receive Medicare, so I have a personal stake in what happens to them. However, I can’t deny that fraud, waste and mismanagement are making these important programs unsupportable. I want them to survive – so I want them to be improved. If everybody was focused on this sensible goal, we might actually resolve our national financial woes.

Meanwhile, throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa, huge public protests, no doubt inspired by the victory in Egypt, are threatening long-ruling despots: men who have oppressed the people and robbed their countries blind for decades. Regrettably, America’s stock market is only responding to its fears about rising oil prices and the Dow took a 100-point dive today. These people make me sick. What would happen if the market rose in response to worldwide calls for democracy and freedom. Might not such patriotism serve everybody, including investors? But once again my naivety is showing…

Way on the other side of the world, New Zealand is trying to recover from an earthquake that has so far killed nearly 100 people and caused billions of dollars in damage. Indonesia isn’t doing too well either, thanks to natural disaster. Seems either politics and rebellions are pulling the rug out from under people, or Mother Nature is pulling out the very earth. Perilous times, perilous times.

The main story of the day, of course, is the meltdown of Libya’s Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, certainly one of the world’s ugliest real-life portraits of Dorian Gray, as he desperately tries to hold on to his fiefdom. He’ll likely lose. And then what?

And as I write this, the History Channel plays across the room, re-running its series on Ancient Aliens, a theory I believe, and about which this series makes a strong, plausible case. Given what’s going on these days, I long for contemporary aliens – providing they wish us well and can help us fix what we can’t seem to fix ourselves. Here’s hoping.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Rape: A Tool of War and Terror

I must take a break from our nation’s bullshit budget battle and comment on the horrific epidemic of gang-rape as a war and terror tactic around the world – ever increasing in viciousness and frequency.

The issue was brought to the fore of U.S. consciousness, sort of, when CBS correspondent Lara Logan was attacked on February 11th in Tahrir Square during the Egyptian uprising. Media reports repeatedly described her experience as “a brutal and sustained sexual assault,” a term so sanitized that it doesn’t begin to conjure the image of a group of frenzied men repeatedly raping a woman for reasons only they can justify. And in this case as in thousands of others, it isn’t “just” a matter of rape, but of beating, torture and the deliberate inflicting of often irreparable physical, as well as emotional, harm. Logan was hospitalized for a while and is now recuperating in her Washington DC home. It will be interesting to see what she has to say next, especially since news of her attack was met by some folks back home with derision and a distinct lack of sympathy.

A number of journalists have noted that Lara Logan’s going public about her attack is breaking through a long-established wall of silence on such matters on the part of women journalists, particularly those working in conflict arenas. The women have been afraid that they will stop getting such assignments if they make an issue of their experiences – which is ironic, because one of the things they’re trying to inject in news reports is the high incidence of violence against women in these war-torn, terror-prone areas.

Since time immemorial, rape has been a constant part of war, whether to terrorize, intimidate and humiliate the enemy, or just for fun. Now, in the 21st century, it is also being used to remind women of their proper place, to get them to conform to social norms, to punish them for their appearance, behavior (and very existence). War Rape is inflicted on women of all ages, all health conditions, all strata of society – in a social context that blames the women for their own attacks (the old “she asked for it” routine), then results in their being shunned by family, former friends, and society as a whole. Girls as young as two are subject to the same violent treatment and social response. In those instances where women are not killed by their attackers, they are horrifically wounded, traumatized, and often left with one or more sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

In Congo, rape has been an especially horrific epidemic as a part of tribal and civil warfare. In South Africa, gang-rape of lesbians is on the rise in order to “turn them into normal African women,” the twisted logic goes. In Haiti, where rape has always been a huge problem, it has become even more massive in the 1,300 “tent cities” scattered throughout Port-au-Prince and the surrounding countryside. The police and government claim to be helpless in doing anything about it, which can’t be proven since they don’t even try.

Lara Logan, who was working on a report for 60 Minutes, planned to talk about the gang-rape of women by corrupt police and other pro-government thugs as a way of diluting the spirit of the Egyptian revolutionaries; very little has been said about this in the media. And if you don’t recall the use of rape as a tactic of war in Bangladesh, Bosnia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Darfur, among other 20th-21st century locales, it may be because it was only minimally reported – even though “rape and sexual slavery are now recognized under the Geneva Convention as crimes against humanity and war crimes,” explains Wikipedia.

Violence against women – particularly sexual violence – occurs in different cultures for somewhat different reasons. Women in America are not immune; every two minutes, somewhere in America a woman is raped [U.S. Department of Justice], although it’s not always gang-rape and here we’re not talking about rape as a tactic of war. But given the uptick in sexual/domestic violence in recent years, particularly against teenage girls in relationships with teenage boys, I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t part of a backlash against feminism, a reaction that’s been brewing over the past 30 years.

The subject of rape is a hot button for most women, me included. Last night, after reading a lengthy article about rape in post-earthquake Haiti, I was terribly unnerved. Not even ice cream and Britcoms on PBS could calm me down, and I felt both guilty about my own general comfort and safety, and furious at my feelings of helplessness about this issue. I went to sleep early; I couldn’t bear being awake.

There are non-profits and NGOs around the world trying to deal with War Rape and rape in general, but they’re not getting very far. Rape is an historically under-reported crime and even when it is reported, a victim’s nightmare is often dismissed, ignored, or turned on her as the cause. I feel like a voice yelling into the dark – and as a horror movie trailer once admonished, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” I don’t know what any of us can do, even collectively, about this terrible problem – but at least being mindful of it is surely a beginning.

(Note: the photo above is of a Haitian tent city at night – the witching hour for roving rape gangs.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Long May She Wave?

Last night, a friend told me about an article in one of her local papers (local to Boise, Idaho), that said a number of companies placing Help Wanted ads are closing them with the message: “Unemployed need not apply.” As someone who’s worked in human resources nee Personnel most of her life, she thinks it’s because companies are being deluged by thousands of responses to every ad and they can’t handle it. It’s hard, I know. Back in 1991, when I was director of a corporate editorial services department, I received more than a thousand replies to an ad for a junior copywriter and it was quite overwhelming. But it was my job to cope with it and I did the best I could.

Those who are paid to sort out candidates for jobs must do that; that’s their job. But just as importantly, where is business’s responsibility as corporate citizens? We’re in the middle of the deepest recession since the Great Depression and some businesses don’t want to be bothered with interviewing the unemployed? Are you kidding me?

And speaking of corporate citizenry, why is it okay for companies to outsource millions of jobs in the name of “business goes where labor is cheapest”? Is profit more important than keeping America working, staying vital in the international marketplace, solving its economic problems? The Republicans/Conservatives who tout the importance of business/capitalism/free-market-enterprise are the same people who wave their flags the highest and talk about patriotism the most. But what’s patriotic about outsourcing and “unemployed need not apply”? What’s patriotic about government subsidizing the oil and agriculture industries when, for them, business is very good? What’s patriotic about short-sightedness, in not seeing the national importance of having a healthy, well-educated, competition-capable population?

Indeed, what’s patriotic about recoiling at the mere mention of taxes; taxes are what support the country!

It’s the same disconnect as screaming “Support the Troops!,” then resisting adequate government funding for their health care and re-entry into civilian life. (Whatever happened to G.I. bills?)

And why is the state of corporate philanthropy so feeble?

Many of those who can afford retirement seem to believe that those who can’t were just lazy or frivolous with their money. This reminds me of one of All In The Family’s Archie Bunker’s greatest lines. While on the phone with an investment counselor seeking his business, he replies: “I can’t make no investments. All my money’s tied up in staying alive.”

For many very hard working people, investments are not an option; all their money is truly tied up in staying alive. They and their fathers (and mothers) before them used to work for a single company most all of their lives, and their loyalty was repaid with corporate appreciation and pensions. Then came the 1980s and downsizing and 401-K plans instead of pensions and massive layoffs, because it became too expensive for American companies to employ American workers. But of course, that’s what working folks get for unionizing and demanding a livable minimum wage (so greedy!). How can profit-making businesses handle that?

Here’s how: by making less profit. I’m not saying no profit, just less. Must every business-owner be a multi-millionaire? Must every CEO make hundreds times more than the average worker (instead of 40 times more, like 40, 50 years ago)? Is the all-mighty dollar always the bottom line, always more important than everything – including people and the state of the union?

Why should I – or anyone – care about the needs of American business if American business doesn’t give a damn about America or Americans? Why should I bow to empty cries of patriotism when the idea no longer includes sacrifice, compassion and responsibility? So long as “unemployed need not apply” is even remotely acceptable, we will continue to have our national efforts at reigning in our economy be as productive as re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic – no matter what is cut out of official budgets across the land.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Decency, Honesty and Common Sense Have Left the Room

I’d like to mention a few things about the American past – which feels particularly important at a time when many Americans have no sense of history, even when it’s fairly recent.

After Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 by the vast silent majority that thought Jimmy Carter was the root of all evil, he instituted a new era of “trickle down” economics, the theory that if rich folks at the top of the food chain (individuals and companies) do well, a good portion of their bounty will trickle down to the rest of us. It didn’t work, never happened. But through both Democratic and Republican administrations since Regan, “trickle down” has been the active policy.

In addition, it was Regan who began chipping away at core US revenues – taxes – and also did something that has important ramifications to this day: he included all those in military service among those who were employed in the country. This created a greatly lowered perception of how many Americans were unemployed. That policy has never changed, so when we’re told now that unemployment is below 10%, it doesn’t reflect the actual number of those unemployed. Additionally, unemployment statistics don’t count those who are unemployed but no longer receiving government Unemployment Benefits, or those who are underemployed: persons working for far less than they used to earn, whether through one fulltime job or several part-time jobs.

Lastly (for the purposes of this discussion), it was Reagan who initiated great changes in Welfare benefits, a policy maintained and furthered by Clinton and the Bush Dynasty. That’s because there are still millions of Americans who genuinely believe that Welfare is a gravy train that permits the “so-called poor” to buy Cadillacs and huge-screen TVs. Welfare benefits vary from state to state. New York has long been considered (and still is) among the most generous. Just as a reality check, I want to acknowledge here that I was on Welfare (for the first and only time in my life) for a few months in 2004 as I awaited permanent Social Security Disability benefits to come through. On Welfare, my rent was paid, I got $150 per month in Food Stamps, received $67 every two weeks for all other expenses, and Medicaid was my health insurance. Oh how the good times rolled!

And speaking of Bushes, it was #43 who turned the budget surplus he inherited from Clinton into the monumental deficit we have now. He did this by never including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in his budgets; he fought those wars off the books, thereby essentially bankrupting the nation. Simultaneously, he provided enormous tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and virtually stripped the financial industry of all pesky government regulations. Despite recent “reforms,” the tax cuts are still in place and banks & Wall Street are having a banner year. Also celebrating their good fortune are oil companies. Exxon/Mobile, for example, earned $19 billion in profits in 2010 and paid $0 (yes, zero) in Federal taxes. Apparently, this is acceptable.

Now, our assorted leaders are creating federal, state and local budgets. Since taxes has become a dirty word and tax increases are now deemed as heinous as child molestation, the Feds, the States and the Cities, all of whom are broke, are proposing budgets that totally eschew tax increases and call for service/benefit cuts in areas that make no sense in a country that prides itself on being the greatest in the world – deep cuts in benefits for indigent women and children, education, police and fire protection, infrastructure repair, all forms of R&D, the arts and public broadcasting, and on and on and on. At every governmental level, the message seems to be “let them eat cake,” except we’re not supposed to eat cake, because we’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic…but that’s okay, since nothing produces weight loss like starvation.

Ladies and gentlemen – whoever you are out there – we are living in an age of Unparalleled Stupidity, the imposition of Puritan values, and an undeclared but very real Class War. I’m speechless with incredulity and concern. So I ask you as I ask myself: Whataya gonna do about it? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Left and Right Realities

My Conservative friend (I only have one…) sent me an email after reading my last post, “If You Cut Us, Do We Not Bleed?” He said that my view/understanding of America’s economic reality is naïve, which amuses me. It always amuses me when people counter differing views with “you’re naïve” or “you’re unrealistic,” because it’s just a polite way of saying “Stupid, you understand nothing.” I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; it’s certainly how I feel about Republicans and Conservatives. And for the record, I feel similarly about many Democrats; I no longer know who or where Liberals are, but I’m not sure I’m in sync with them either.

Here’s what I do understand – at a very basic level. Republicans/Conservatives do not believe in government, especially “big” government. They don’t like it, they don’t trust it, they don’t see the purpose in it. Democrats/Liberals do believe in government – and taxes to support it, including more taxes from the rich than the middle class, working class or poor. Dems and Libs want government to help people and further civilization; Repubs/Conserves think people should help themselves and civilization should be left alone to find its own footing.

Paul Krugman, in his Op-Ed piece “Eat the Future” in today’s New York Times, is witty and sage in his observation that Americans want to cut whatever doesn’t have an impact on them personally, and, we as a nation are remarkably ignorant about how much money we actually spend and on what. He calls the Republican proposal “a plan that would save remarkably little money but would do a remarkably large amount of harm. But perhaps he’s being naïve.

I believe in big government. I believe in “socialized medicine,” free education (from K-12 to a PhD), generous benefits from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. I believe in hearty support for public housing, the arts, new energy research and initiatives, climate change initiatives, and meaningful foreign aid. I believe in the Feds helping states and cities. I believe in the rebuilding of broken infrastructure. I believe in taxes, especially on those who have a shit-load of money. I believe companies that outsource American jobs should be penalized, and that non-documented workers should be given citizenship and the right to work. In short, I believe in all the things Republicans/ Conservatives oppose, from free abortions for the poor to climate change initiatives to free and open media, including the Internet. I’m not naïve in these beliefs, I’m simply opposed to the imperatives of profit-based and free-market-oriented capitalism. I think there’s too much profit at the expense of decency, and being just and humane. I think we should share the wealth. I think I’d rather be dead than alive in the America that Conservatives want to create. I believe in being well informed, voting, and being active in civic affairs. I believe in doing the right thing – by which I mean caring more about people and their welfare than about what’s good for business.

The upcoming budget battle will provide ample opportunity for us to become familiar with the federal budget and how it actually works, what percentages are in fact applied to what areas of concern, endeavor and responsibility. I encourage all of us to do so, and let our senators and Congressional representatives know what we know and what we want. Most of all, I encourage all of us to be naïve, if being naïve means being caring. If we lose that, everything else is just a countdown to a bad ending.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

If You Cut Us, Do We Not Bleed?

Lest we get too caught up in the joy and concern wrought by events in Egypt, we should not forget to pay attention to what’s happening at home. For those of us who care about American democracy, the budget cuts currently proposed by the Republicans should give us serious pause.

A recent fundraising plea from Planned Parenthood advises us: “The attacks on women's health have already begun. Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) has introduced legislation that would take away insurance coverage for abortion from millions of women. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) has pledged to defund Planned Parenthood health centers, removing federal dollars for family planning, contraception and basic preventive care. And in state after state, newly elected governors and legislatures are pursuing a dangerous anti-choice agenda that threatens to turn back the clock on reproductive rights.”

Yesterday, as Egyptians celebrated what they hope will be new freedom in their country, ours attempted to take a step back as Republicans rolled out “historic cuts in federal spending.” The newly empowered Conservatives are demanding that Congress cut $100 billion from the nation’s current budget – without even waiting to see what President Obama proposes. Because what they want to do is what they’ve always wanted: to disempower women and, as reported in yesterday’s New York Times: “Republicans take aim at some of their favorite targets in the measure, reducing financing to the Environmental Protection Agency by $3 billion — an almost 30 percent cut from current levels. The measure would also block the agency from implementing new emissions regulations, and it would cut more than $100 million in spending on climate change programs. Housing, energy and transportation spending is also trimmed substantially. Dozens of programs, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, are eliminated.”

Naturally, the Republicans are leaving Defense off the chopping block, because there’s absolutely nothing in the Defense budget that could be vastly improved by reduction, reallocation, or an examination of fraud, waste and mismanagement. Instead, as usual, the Republicans are looking at things – like public housing, health care and the arts – that have a direct impact on the lives of ordinary people, rather than challenging the stupidities of the Republican status quo. They are sincerely trying to fulfill their “Pledge to America,” as stated during the November, 2010 election. If we want to foster the real, more compassionate, and more sensible changes proposed by President Obama during the 2008 election, we can’t afford to be passive. Our rights, privileges and the best of American society depend on our speaking out.

Indeed, if ever there was a time to write to your Congressional representative, especially if he or she is a Republican, it’s now. There’s going to be a battle about this plan and the opportunity for line-item vetoes by the President may again be an option. But public opinion must be heard, and loudly, for harmful, people-hurting cuts to be avoided or opposed. Our phones and our email are our Tahrir Square. May we assemble quickly, because the votes will be taken next week!

Independence Day in Egypt

I whole-heartedly congratulate the Egyptian people on their non-violent revolution – successfully deposing their despotic, thieving “president” and creating the opportunity for new lives in a free country. Watching your joy as you celebrated in the streets made me feel so happy for you. Thank you for giving the world something to admire and feel hopeful about. I wish you luck during what will likely be a difficult transition. And I hope, for your sake as well as Israel’s, that your future will give you a secular democracy, rather than new oppression by an Islamic Fundamentalist theocracy. You deserve to be rewarded for your courage, for giving up the devil you knew. You don’t deserve new devils!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Life On Mars (Not Really, I’m Confused)

One of my local public television stations (WLIW-New York) is currently re-running the original British version of the cop-drama Life On Mars (there was recently a US version on ABC, but I never saw it). It’s about a contemporary young police detective in Manchester, England, who has a car accident and “wakes up” back in 1973. Has he gone mad? Is he dead or in a coma? Or has he actually gone back in time? He doesn’t know which. So, while being tormented by sounds and visions from his past (in the future…), he tries to make the best of it in the `70s, coping with crooked, violent cops who don’t play by the rules and who are severely hampered by a lack of high technology. The show is very trippy. It’s very good. And the first song on its soundtrack is David Bowie’s 1973 hit Life On Mars, which is also trippy and good, even though I have no idea what it’s about.

And I like the series a lot, in part because it’s star, John Simm, is very appealing, but more because I, too, feel like a displaced person, lost in time, transported back and forth among the past, present and future, horrified and amused by the culture and events around me.

As of an hour ago in Egypt (3:00 a.m. their time), the massive crowd in Tahrir Square, Cairo, were beyond themselves with anger and despair, wondering what part of “Leave now!” Mubarek doesn’t understand (actually, just won’t accept). They’re calling for 20 million Egyptians to protest in the streets nationwide tomorrow, and wouldn’t it be an amazing thing if that happened? Those in Tahrir Square are talking about storming the palace – storming the palace, for godsakes, in 2011. It feels medieval and futuristic at the same time.

Back in the USA, the Puritans in Congress are doing everything they can (once again and apparently ever more) to make abortion essentially illegal once again and trying to slash funds for family planning and sex education. Meanwhile, three men from Indiana have created an iphone app for Catholic confession (“Forgive me, Father, for I have linked,” quipped Maureen Dowd in today’s New York Times); a grandmother and her boyfriend in New York were discovered to have been keeping their granddaughter locked in a bathroom for the last four years; a nurse in Minnesota took a pre-op patient’s pain pills away (she’s addicted to them), then told him to “man up” when he squirmed and moaned during surgery; a school bus matron beat up an autistic kid; a hooker who had become a NYC school teacher is preparing her memoirs; a married Congressman has resigned over sending a beefcake photo to some love-seeking woman on Craig’s list; baseball’s spring training is about to begin (isn’t it February??); and many, many folks are getting ready for a romantic Valentine’s Day.

Watching the news has become like reading The National Enquirer when I was a kid, when its front page news was once about someone boiling a baby. Like I said, medieval and futuristic at the same time. I feel frightened and useless and sad. I’m worried and anxious all the time. Food prices are going up, and every time I go the market I feel like I’m making a major investment. We aren’t quite midway through the month, and I’m not sure I can afford to go shopping again before March. My hands and feet are cold. Sometimes my vision blurs. My skin is dry and the sky is falling. I miss the `70s, though I clearly remember not liking them while they were happening. But at least I could smoke a cigarette on a park bench, which I can no longer do in NYC (in case you’re wondering, I make my own, which is very cheap; I can’t afford ready-made cigarettes and soup). If there is life on Mars, I’d like to check it out.



(music, lyrics and vocal by David Bowie)

– click here to see/hear video –

It’s a god-awful small affair
To the girl with the mousy hair
But her mummy is yelling "No"
And her daddy has told her to go
But her friend is nowhere to be seen
Now she walks through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view
And she's hooked to the silver screen
But the film is a saddening bore
'Cause she's lived it ten times or more
She could spit in the eyes of fools
As they ask her to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man! Look at those cavemen go
It's the freakiest show
Take a look at the Lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man! Wonder if he'll ever know
He's in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?

It's on Amerika's tortured brow
That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow
Now the workers have struck for fame
'Cause Lennon's on sale again
See the mice in their million hordes
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads
Rule Britannia is out of bounds
To my mother, my dog, and clowns
But the film is a saddening bore
'Cause I wrote it ten times or more
It's about to be writ again
As I ask you to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man! Look at those cavemen go
It's the freakiest show
Take a look at the Lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man! Wonder if he'll ever know
He's in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?