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.