Monday, October 15, 2012

The Woman Issue

Since we’re just three weeks from Election Day, I think now would be a good time to remember that there are other important considerations besides The Economy (unemployment/debt/deficit/taxes) and the country’s biggest-ticket-items: Defense, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and health care.  Of course all this is critical – especially since the Presidential opponents have significantly different ideas about how to handle them.

But the “ancillary” issues that are dismissed in some quarters as "distractions" are in fact very important.  They literally define what our country is now and what it will be in the future: our culture, our values - not in some uptight religious sense, but having a collective, humane agreement about what matters.  Most of these issues have something to do with women, because the category of "woman" overlaps or underpins almost everything else.

All the major stuff, plus:
the future of the Supreme Court, green energy, effective foreign policy, youth and adult education, poverty, hunger, homelessness, the erosion of hard won civil- and voting-rights, Gay Rights and Marriage Equality, immigration and the Dream Act, progressive science, the environment, infrastructure, reforms and regulations, the arts and humanities, fighting voter suppression and the lie of voter fraud - all the things that are the essence of our democracy and literally civilize us and make us great.

Women’s rights, woes, and unbalanced status in America and around the world personify the very real culture clashes that define our times.  And it's an outrage that it's happening here in America.  After decades of struggle to earn the right to vote, not to mention personal autonomy, property ownership, professional opportunity, pay equity and more, women are now in real danger of losing control of our own bodies due to a growing lack of basic and preventive health care, and access to legal abortion and contraception, some of which require enduring intrusive, unnecessary medical procedures and stressful waiting periods.  The repeal of Roe v Wade is a very real possibility in a Conservative/Republican administration.

However, the greatest problem women face – to a much lesser extent here in America but to a vast extent around the world (particularly but not exclusively in the Muslim World) – is atrocious oppression, abuse and violence.  You’re no doubt aware of the 14-year old Pakistani girl who was recently shot in the head by a Taliban terrorist because she wrote a blog and spoke out against the Taliban and advocating education for women.  According to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, “The United Nations mission in Afghanistan says it verified 34 attacks against schools in just the first six months of this year, ‘including cases of burnings of school buildings, targeted killings and intimidation of teachers and school officials, armed attacks against and occupation of schools, and closures, particularly of girls’ schools’.”

And let us not forget the routine honor killings, stonings, cutting off women's noses, acid attacks, indentured servitude, sexual slavery and rape as a tactic of war and cultural intimidation that are central to radical Islamic Shariah Law.  In addition, throughout Africa and elsewhere, female genital mutilation is traditional.  More recently, the gang rape of lesbians in order to “turn them into proper African women” has become common, as well as the rape of young girls (including infants and toddlers) because it’s believed that sex with a virgin will cure or prevent AIDS.

While most of this behavior is not an American issue per se, some of it is.  Rape, sexual slavery (of children and women) and severe domestic violence are very much American problems – particularly growing violence against girlfriends by teens and young men.  And there are millions of educated-but-ignorant young women who cluelessly ignore these matters and truly believe they're living a solid post-feminist reality.  The have no real understanding of history and are contributing nothing to the existing, still-valiant struggle - because "feminist" has become an old-fashioned, bad word.  They're the Starbucks Generation.

Which feeds in (you should pardon the expression) to America's benefits for the poor that so many people seem to bitterly resent: Welfare and Food Stamps.  Separately or combined, they barely provide the ability to survive.  Although many Americans picture Welfare recipients as burly black men laying around the house watching 60” televisions, and Food Stamps recipients as people using these benefits for non-nutritional purposes, like buying booze and frequenting strip clubs.  These stereotypes couldn’t be farther from the truth.  The vast majority of people on Welfare and Food Stamps are white women and their minor children and their lives are brutal.  These women are generally unskilled, under-educated to the point of illiteracy, and plagued by severe mental/ emotional problems, too.  (Abject poverty, constant worry and social disdain can do that to a person.)

Which brings us back to the fact that women’s health, safety, freedom and prosperity are very much an important part of the 2012 campaign – domestically and as a foreign policy issue.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made great efforts and some strides in the area of women’s rights by vocally supporting education, professional opportunity and personal freedom, and forcefully speaking out against horrific violence and oppression of women.  Republican John R. Bolton – George W. Bush’s ambassador to the U.N. and a specialist on security and arms control – is said to be Romney’s top contender for Clinton’s post should he win the Presidency.  Do you imagine Bolton would make the crises and needs of women a top priority as he travels the world?

How women's issues are addressed – and whether they are addressed at all – will, for years to come, be a revealing part of what kind of country we are and strive to be.  I don’t believe that Romney/Ryan support heinous violence against women here or abroad.  But I also don’t think they have the awareness, sensitivity, and concern we need in the White House, Congress and Senate.  For example, important legislation that would have helped combat extensive sexual slavery in America has been defeated numerous times by Republicans.  They want small government, but they want it to be just big enough to control women, especially sexually.  How long can women here and abroad be denied, defiled, and controlled by men with much power and little compassion?

Human beings are more important than money, but ironically, a greater empowerment of women in all ways would be a genuine boon to our economy and those of developing countries who are nonetheless determined to keep women in the Dark Ages.  So gentlemen, please don’t forget your mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, and all the other women in your life when you vote next month.  And ladies, don’t forget the life and liberty you protect may be your own – and perhaps those of our sisters worldwide.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Just Give Us Some Truth

Note: Sheer vanity about my political insight forces me to tell you that I wrote this post last night before I watched Washington Week, Rachel Maddow, Bill Maher, and a couple of other news analysis programs.  If you saw them, too, you understand why…

As much as I’m angered by political apathy on the part of many of my fellow citizens, I can’t deny the rationale for their disengagement, given the current “we’ll do whatever’s necessary to get your vote” political climate.  I’m rather aggravated (read: enraged) that in some quarters of the Right, when the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Monthly Jobs Report announced a national decrease in unemployment – down to 7.8% in September from 8.1% in August – this modest but meaningful improvement was deemed manipulated by “those Chicago guys,” implying the President and/or his “corrupt” cohorts in the Windy City had cooked the Labor Department’s stats.

I’m also downright insulted that Mitt Romney had the chutzpah to say he was “completely wrong” about his description of 47% of the public; not that he described an idea “inelegantly,” but just plain wrong.  And we’re supposed to believe he really means this!?

When I began writing this post, I heard John Lennon’s song, “Just Gimme Me Some Truth” running through my head (check out the lyrics) and I had a sense of political déjà vu all over again.  So, let’s take it from the top.  The Right so despises Barack Obama that they will try to discredit anything that even slightly indicates his policies are having a positive impact on the economy.  Accordingly, when the Jobs Report showed unemployment at its lowest point since Obama took office – and also revised the July and August numbers as down by an additional 40,000 and 47,000 respectively – the Right smelled conspiracy like a dead mouse behind the refrigerator.  The Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis, dismissed this implication as “ludicrous” and, indeed, there was no evidence of any irregularity.  But the Right remains unconvinced.  They’re also not entirely sure the sky is blue, but that’s another matter…

Then, in his ongoing effort to turn his well-coiffed head any way the wind blows, Mitt Romney disavowed what he clearly believes in his heart-of-hearts.  To be fair, on the tape of Romney’s speech to funders, his 47% statement is clearly a reference to campaign strategy: that a large segment of the population isn’t worth his pursuing for votes.  In that regard, “it’s not my job to worry about those people” is true.  Where he screwed up was in his vehemently warped, insulting, unguarded description of “the 47%” as people he clearly doesn’t like, respect, understand, or have the ability to change.  His tone and message are obviously genuine.

Politics has never been the sport of gentlemen, and smart people understand this and view the game as crooked overall – but still worth watching and taking sides on.  That’s because Democracy isn’t a spectator sport, it’s a serious game that actually affects people’s lives.  But when the usual bullshit increases exponentially and fair play is callously cast aside – through outright lies and voter suppression, for example – it has an effect on Americans opposite to the one desired: instead, interest and ticket sales (votes) plummet.  Who wants to watch a viciously rigged game played without the restraint of general rules?  To much of the public, politics in the main has the stench of that dead mouse behind the refrigerator and all it inspires is the desire to eat out.

For his part, the President’s debate passivity followed by his campaigning indignation is further proof that he doesn’t want to be perceived as an “angry black man” – which he is and has every right to be.  I keep fantasizing that he’ll come out for the next debate wearing a dashiki and a huge Afro wig – just to scare the “BeJesus” out of his opponent and already-frightened White America.  But of course, he won’t; he can’t.

So we’re confronted with two politicians who aren’t being fully truthful: one by outrageous commission, the other by pragmatic omission.  Either way, it’s not being straight with the public, which is a sad and perilous state of political affairs.  Just give us some truth – and please give us a break.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Ich Bin Ein Berliner Redux

No fair-minded, honest, political junkie can deny that Mitt Romney’s assertiveness, vigor, and semi-specifics stole the show in last night’s first Presidential Debate of the 2012 campaign – much to the consternation of we on the Left who were hoping (and expecting) that President Obama would wipe up the floor with his clueless, wealthy, Conservative opponent.  Alas, he did not.

Rather than brimming with the passion, energy, and details he has demonstrated on the campaign trail, the President came across as passive, petulant, exhausted, disengaged, and either unwilling or unable to challenge Romney on several of his glaring departures from his ultra-Conservative, bumbling, stump speeches.  Anyone who saw last night’s contest but hasn’t been paying attention to this endless horse race until now, could easily come away with the notion that Mitt Romney is a strong, reasonable alternative to Obama.  It doesn’t matter that this isn’t so; appearances are everything.

Indeed, as I watched the Obama-supporting pundits last night and early this morning tear their hair out over the fact that Mr. Obama didn’t challenge Romney’s doesn’t-add-up tax plan, hit him over the head with the revealing 47% fiasco, remind the proud businessman that a nation isn’t a corporation, or mention any of the vital social and cultural issues (women’s issues, in particular) that are a critical part of this campaign, I was reminded of an amusing historical moment and comedian Eddie Izzard’s comments about it.

In June of 1963, President John F. Kennedy addressed a huge, adoring crowd in Berlin.  In an effort to convey his spirit of solidarity with post-WWII West Germany, he told them “Ich bin ein Berliner,” intending to mean “I’m one of you.”  The crowd went wild – even though “Ich bin ein Berliner” literally means “I am a doughnut,” referring to the popular German dessert.  The correct phrase would have eliminated the “ein.”  But as Eddie Izzard has said, “It proves once again [that in public speaking] it’s 70% how you look, 20% how you sound, and 10% what you say [that matters].”

Last night’s debate proved anew that this formula is true, in large part, I believe,  because  the President couldn’t politically speak truth to aspirational power.  He couldn’t say “I saved this country from falling into another Great Depression after GWBush fucked everything up,” or “It’s a miracle that I was able to get anything done when, from Day One, your party was dedicated to having me fail and getting rid of me,” or “I’ve had to govern while being continually accused of being an anti-business Socialist, not being a Real American in my understanding of this country, not being a native-born citizen, and being a Muslim who’s trying to have the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood take over the White House.”  And most of all, he couldn’t say “What really burns your ass is that a black man is in charge, and you’d like to ‘take the country back’ to the multitude of inequities of the 1950s.”

Until a few years from now, when the post-presidency “a look into the Obama White House” books come out (yes, I know there are already a few), we probably won’t know why the President chose to handle the first debate as he did – and it had to have been a deliberate decision, because there’s no doubt that Mr. Obama has a mass of facts at his fingertips.  For example, during a speech in May of this year at the NanoTech Complex at the State University of New York in Albany, Mr. Obama said: “Companies get tax breaks for moving factories, jobs and profits overseas.  They can actually end up saving on their tax bill when they make the move.”  This is something that Mr. Romney claimed to know nothing about last night, despite his own business history of considerable outsourcing.

So, I encourage my fellow Obama supporters to not lose heart.  There’s still plenty of time for Romney to put his foot back in his mouth while speaking out of both sides of it.  And, there are still three more debates (two presidential, one vice-presidential) to come, during which, I’m confident, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden will land hard punches on the Far Right that Romney alternately embraces and rejects, depending on who he’s talking to.  It ain’t over ‘til the proverbial fat lady sings – and I’m not even humming…