Virgil Speaks

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Transiting Wisconsin

Last Tuesday night, as the planet Venus slowly crawled across the sun for its one and only transit in our collective lifetime, Scott Walker sped to victory in Wisconsin, riding upon the Koch Brothers' millions. And, as the right-wing calliope sounded loudly yet again, the Supreme Court's Citizens' United decision of two years ago--to allow unlimited spending by anonymous donors and corporations to influence elections--finally came into full feather. Democrats were suddenly outspent 7 to 1. While the rest of us picked up our dinosaurs and tried to get out of the room, conservatives bounced their latest hero on Tea Party shoulders, and gloated. Walker would not only keep his job as governor; his personal stock had just gone through the roof. Come 2020 (after Rom Mittney's two terms), Walker could be looking positively presidential.

In all the commentary that followed, nobody even noticed the inspectors who had been duly standing by in expectation of an all-night recount operation. Nobody blinked when the result was hastily announced--a mere one hour after the polls had closed. Personally, I found the silence afterwards eerie and was creeped out by it. But only when I read Tom Degan's blog was the possibility of rigging even raised by anyone. "I'm damned-near speechless--but hardly surprised," he wrote on The Rant. "Could the election have been tampered with? We'll never know," he added. "Democracy today is at the mercy of easily hackable, computerized voting machines, not to mention unlimited money for paid propaganda and misinformation. A strange new world. It took 1984 twenty-eight years to finally get here."

Tom's friend Jacqueline, who had been very active in the recall movement, told him that there was reason to believe the election was rigged. She makes a good case, he said: "The numbers do NOT make sense. There were NO exit polls that were made available. They are usually adjusted to match the "official" totals, but last night, for the first time ever, unprecedented really: THE UNADJUSTED EXIT POLLS WERE NOT MADE AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC...The electoral process is corrupted," she wrote. The machines are riggable and the criminals go undetected. Stolen elections are eating democracy."

Move over Cairo. Hi there Afghanistan, Iran, and Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan: America wants to join you in electoral dysfunction. There'll be no more bottled summer bliss over here in Dandelion Wine Country, now that organized labor has been given a death blow by the Koch Brothers in their million-dollar red capes--in what David Koch deemed a "critically important" fight to bring down the unions. As Rachel Maddow asked on MSNBC, "what happens if you kill off the unions?" (Warning: you may not like her answer.) "If Republicans can use policy at the state level to kill unions, there will no longer be two sides competing when it comes to big money in elections. It will be all Republican money, no matter who the candidates are, no matter what the election year is, no matter what the specific office is. Republicans will be running essentially unopposed. Forever. All across the country."

In other words, prepare for wall-to-wall Republicanism as far as the eye can see. Prepare, thus, for disinformation, disenfranchisement, deregulation, and dystopia until death do us part. Until then (and it won't be long now), expect no jobs or grand bargains--because until they have reached their goal, rogue Republicans like John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Mitch McConnell will do nothing but contemptuously laugh at the monthly job numbers. It's all part of the right-wing coup.

Virgil and I have been tracking the right-wing coup obsessively for several years now, trying to bring it into focus ever since the Citizens United verdict was passed back in 2009. But now we have found a new friend--a kindred spirit and well-known compatriot--Robert Reich, who wrote this on his blog after the recall:

"I'm not a conspiracy theorist...but I fear that at least since 2010 we've been witnessing a quiet, slow-motion coup d'etat whose purpose is to repeal every bit of progressive legislation since the New Deal and entrench the privileged positions of the wealthy and powerful..,.Its technique is to inundate America with a few big lies, told over and over (the debt is Obama's fault and it's out of control; corporations and the very rich are the 'job creators' that need tax cuts; government is the enemy, and its regulations are strangling the private sector; unions are bad; and so on), and tell them so often they're taken as fact. Then having convinced enough Americans that these lies are true, take over the White House, Congress, and remaining states that haven't yet succumbed to the regressive right (witness Tuesday's recall election in Wisconsin)."

Reich adds that he desperately hopes he's wrong about this, despite the growing evidence--but Virgil and I both know for sure that he is right. We're glad to have some serious company at last. And just in case you have noticed that my blogs over the past couple of months have been MIA and wondered why, it's because I am having bad eye troubles. Cataract surgery is scheduled for this week. And God said, "Let there be light."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

This Is the Truth If I Say So

Back when I was in my twenties and living in New York, I remember an art event that briefly shook up the art world. Robert Rauschenberg responded to a request by a French art dealer for a new work by him that she could include in a group exhibition in Paris by sending her a telegram, which said "This is an art work if I say so." The telegram was duly framed and hung on the wall with the rest of the art.

I doubt Mitt Romney has ever heard of Rauschenberg's subversive gesture--implying that anything can be art if the artist says it is. Nevertheless, Romnney seems to be playing the same game politically, each time he acts as though anything can be the truth--all he has to do is say so. For instance, he never mentions Obama's name without attaching the epithet of "failed president' to it. Romney seems to believe that if only he can say the word "failure" often enough in relation to Obama, it will become so. in the selfsame vein, John Boehner has declared that "Nobody wants to vote for a failure." Breaking news to Boehner and his ilk: failures don't edit the Harvard Law Review and go on to become President of the United States. Didn't your mommies ever tell you that? As for me, shut the front door: I plan to vote for the "failure."

It may well be that you can transform something that is not art into art--as Duchamp famously did when he signed a urinal "R. Mutt" and then exhibited it in an art exhibition--but you can't transform a lie by merely declaring it to be the truth. "A lie is a lie is a lie," as Gertrude Stein once nearly said, but didn't quite. In today's political situation, Democrats are upset that Romney tells lies about the President, and Republicans are upset that the President tells the truth about Romney. Speaking in December on MSNBC, Rudy Giuliani called Romney "a man without a core," "a man without substance," and "a man that will say anything to become president of the United States." And during the recent Republican primaries, Newt Gingrich, went straight for the jugular. Asked by an interviewer if Romney was a liar, he answered "Yes." Does it matter that both of these men have gone on to endorse Romney?

In doing so, they have also endorsed the Ryan budget, which would give $3 trillion in tax cuts to billionaires and pay for it by radically cutting Medicaid funding over the next ten years, thus depriving (according to an Urban Institute study) 27 million poor, disabled, and elderly Americans of their healthcare benefits over the next decade. It seems not to matter to Republicans that, in polling, a clear majority of Americans support the Buffett Rule that proposes raising taxes on the rich to help ease the economy out of the doldrums. Warren Buffett may be unhappy at paying less tax than his secretary, but Senate Republicans filibustered the bill, blocking debate and preventing a simple "up or down" vote. Hooray! a win for the creeps.

In addition to supporting the Ryan budget, Romney has also signaled his willingness to go to war with Iran, to eliminate public financing for Planned Parenthood and public broadcasting, to overturn Roe v. Wade, and to ban gay marriage with a constitutional amendment. He has also stated that he "favors" justices like Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas for the Supreme Court and that he finds the appointment to the Court of the first Hispanic, Sonia Sotomayer, "troubling."

But don't take my word for it, because here comes my trusty, crusty alligator-muse, Virgil, who has had a crush on that feather-boa queen of American literature, Gertrude Stein, ever since forever. "In fact," he says, "we had tea together just the other day in one of the halo'ed places I occasionally frequent. Gertrude confided to me that she has never really cared for Mitt Romney, even when they used to run into each other on the Cayman Islands. She thinks the way Republicans say no to everything, even to the color of the sky, is pretty disgusting. And since somebody needs to prick their unholy self-importance, she asked that, now and forever, let it be her. Gertrude said that in better times it may have been true that 'a rose is a rose is a rose,' but in the case of unsavory Mitt, we need a new adage, and this is it: 'a douchebag is a douchebag is a douchebag.' "

Any smarty who is worth his salt would tell you the same.
P.S. Sorry folks, no illustration. My computer is acting strange, so it's justtext until I can get it sorted out.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The New Black Death

Previously on "Survivor," as they say on TV, I never used to give a rat's fink about tornadoes. But now these death-dealing black funnel clouds have become a threat in this country that rivals the Black Plague during the Middle Ages in Europe. Last week another 39 people died in tornadoes that swept across a number of southern states, largely wiping out an obscure town called Henryville, in Indiana. I found this account by a blogging housewife who lives there while I was looking for tornado pictures on the Net. She claims she always had a secret plan to write a book about Henryville so people would know what this little-known place was like-but now she says she doesn't have to. The town hardly exists anymore.

"March 2nd was an absolutely beautiful March day. The temperature was in the low 70s and the sun was shining all day. Even though the weather forecasters had been warning us that there were storms headed our way, it wasn't something that seemed too concerning. This is Indiana... we get little tornadoes all the time. You get to your shelter just in case, but very rarely does anything come of it. In fact, I had laughed at the newscasters earlier in the day, telling my younger daughter, who schools at home, that they are so dramatic and nothing ever happens. My oldest daughter [Caitlin Soard] is a senior at the local high school...."

Her daughter did make it home safely that day from school, but only in the nick of time, and later returned to take the above photograph of what remains of her school. "The sound was a bit like a train, but louder and with an ominous rumble," her mother continued. "The hail that followed right after was the size of tennis balls. I wondered if it was going to come through the ceiling. I am 42 and I've never seen a tornado that big in Indiana or hail that big. Our dogs were going nuts and barking and the cat had huge eyes and hunkered down in the mud room with us."

No one has been able so far to make any absolute correlation between the black plague of tornadoes we are experiencing in the U.S. and climate change--but Republicans, of course, are are determined that we never will. They do not support even the possibility that climate change is the result of man-made activities. So I was interested to come across an essay in the current (March 12) issue of Time, which has the chilling title "Nature Is Over." The author, Brian Walsh, argues that our relentless expansion as a species upon the earth has finally created a situation where "there may simply be no room for nature, at least not nature as we've known and celebrated it--something separate from human beings--something pristine." "For a species that has been around for less than 1% of 1% of the earth's 4.5 billion-year history, Homo sapiens has certainly put its stamp on the place," he writes

The picture he goes on to paint of that stamp is not pretty, but it is one that most sane people are already aware of: the fact that human activity now shapes the earth more than any other independent geologic or climatic factor. As Walsh describes it, we've stripped the original forests from much of North America and Europe and helped push tens of thousands of species into extinction. Even in the vast oceans, areas of the planet uninhabited by humans, our presence has been felt thanks to overfishing and marine pollution. Through artificial fertilizers...we've transformed huge amounts of nitrogen from an inert gas in our atmosphere into an active ingredient in oiur soil, the runoff from which has created massive aquatic dead zones in coastal areas. And all the CO2 that the seven billion plus humans on earth emit is rapidly changing the climate--and altering the very nature of the planet.

We've been living for 12,000 years now, since the last ice-age ended, in the Holocene epoch, and enjoyed conditions favorable to human existence. But some scientists believe that era has ended, and we've entered a new epoch they call the Anthropocene, in which human dominance of biological, chemical, and geological processes on earth has become an undeniable reality. Human growth and its impact on the environment has been characterized by E.O. Wilson as "more bacterial than primate." Our culture of extraction has indisputably altered the balance of nature, to say nothing of the radioactive fallout introduced by nuclear power. How we manage the uncertain conditions we have created will decide whether human beings continue to thrive or flame out.

Speaking of flaming out, there was one bit of great good news this week: Rush Limbaugh has flamed out. His vile, misogynistic comments about Sandra Fluke finally crossed a line that caused his advertisers to flush him. The radio station proceeded after that to cancel his contract, for good. One major piece of toxic, radioactive bacterium polluting the earth is gone!
Champagne, anyone?

Photo credit (tornado) Skip Talbot

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The View from the Cuckoo's Nest

"If God wanted us to vote he would have given us candidates." This is a great quip by Jay Leno, but don't fall for it. You might think, while watching the GOP candidates soil themselves, trash the president, and light the fuse to this country, that Jay Leno is right. Across the board, politicians are a disgusting lot, cut from the same sorry cloth--so at this point, it's all bread, and voting for any of them would be a waste of time. If that is where you are coming from or where you are headed, I'm here to say please, please, don't go there. There is still a big difference between the parties.

The situation is nothing less than dire. Republicans only need to win four seats in 2012 to grab the majority in the Senate, and if they get them, we won't recognize this country when they are done. Meanwhile, given the lack of a convincing presidential candidate, many of the GOP-allied super PACs and their billionaire backers are focusing their attention on capturing these four senate seats. With the help of Citizens United, these hooligans, racists, bigots, and homophobes could just push this whole democratic experiment off the cliff. American voters can either vote out the do-nothing Congress, or they can watch the ideal of democracy crumble around them. And make no mistake: it is a dead heat as to what will happen.

If the GOP wins the Senate this year, Republicans would have an open season to advance their policies: demolish workers' rights. dismantle Medicare, repeal "Obamacare," eliminate vital government services and replace them through the "private sector," remove environmental protections, deregulate the banks, along with the financial and corporate sectors, extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich, and wipe out a woman's right to choose.

If Ron Paul were to become the next president--fortunately unlikely--we would have no Departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, or the Interior. Bailouts would become impossible as the Federal Reserve would be eliminated and the country would be returned to the gold standard. There would be no Federal income tax, and all American troops would be withdrawn from overseas. You think it couldn't happen? Paul is seventy-six, which is a little old to embark on a presidency, but waiting in the wings is his son, with a similar libertarian platform, the newly elected senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, who would be quite happy to accept a VP position brokered by his father's electoral votes. Rand Paul is a chip off the old block except for one thing: he is a really mean dude, utterly lacking in his father's good humor and sunny disposition.

Imprisoned as all of us now are in a rotting and criminal political system, the truth is that, unlike Republicans, Democrats still aspire to a condition of music. They are not hell-bent on destruction. Democrats actually believe in global warming; they are committed to a workable health-care plan; they support planned parenthood and helping the poor and the unemployed; they support alternative forms of energy and eliminating subsidies for Big Oil. They want regulations on banks and on Wall Street; more education and infrastructure; fair taxes that balance income inequality; and, not least, a clear separation between church and state. And, they don't resort to the ideologically offensive methodology of systematic lying.

To be candid, there really is no choice here, because with Republicans in power, the only things we can look forward to are dung and death. So hopefully you will bear with me if I have a message to give away. In this post I have presented some of the low-down reasons why Republican agendas must not dominate the field. Reject the theory of false equivalence. Democrats and Republicans are NOT just more of the same thing.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine Vigil: "Occupy" the Heart of the World

I have a wonderful friend, Paulus Berensohn, a potter living in Penland, North Carolina, and I am so lucky to be on his greeting card list. Paulus honors every holiday with a handmade card, and this year his valentine arrived a bit early. It contained a message that resonated so strongly with me, I decided to use it for my blog:

"Occupy" the Heart of the World. Valentine Vigil.

It was definitely the best thought I encountered this week. Since "Occupy" has become the word of the year most bound in ribbons and bows, I checked in to see what the Thesaurus offered by way of further illumination. I found multiple calibrations of the word that built wildly and musically on each other, piling up inexhaustibly glorious possibilities:
"join, piece together, restore; dwell in, inhabit, haunt, install oneself, come to rest; give one's attention to, take pains, make important, miss nothing; make better, cultivate, lay claim, assume ownership." So, is this what it would mean to "occupy" the heart of the world?

A second really rum idea surfaced yesterday in Tom Friedman's Sunday column in the New York Times. Basically he proposed that the Republicans should fold their tents and recuse themselves from the coming election: "Watching the Republican Party struggling to agree on a presidential candidate, one wonders whether the GOP shouldn't just sit this election out--just give 2012 a pass." This was not some sardonic vision stated with bitter humor; it was a straightforward suggestion. No matter that it was a bit like asking a compulsive arsonist to please hand over his matches. Friedman was being dead serious.

He went on to liken their scramble to come up with one viable candidate to a scrabble game in which you look at your seven letters and you've got only vowels that spell nothing. "You throw your letters back," he explains, "and hope to pick up better ones to work with. That's what the Republican primary voters seem to be doing. They just keep going back to the pile but still coming up with only vowels that spell nothing. The reason for this is that their pile is out of date. It's an incoherent mix of hardened positions, none of which are constructive or helpful: anti-abortion advocates, anti-immigration activists, social conservatives worried about the sanctity of marriage, libertarians who want to shrink government, anti-tax advocates who want to drown government in a bathtub. When he looks at America's greatest challenges today, Friedman says, he can't see the Republican candidates offering realistic answers to any of them.

"How's that for a Valentine surprise?" I ask Virgil.

"It beats chocolates and flowers," he replies, stepping briefly out of the swamp that birthed him. If only Tom Friedman were half-brother to Houdini, he could wave his magic wand or hold up a red cloth, and they would all disappear. Now you see them; now you don't. In the aggregate, however, lacking as they are in the prime requisites of imagination and ability, those Republicans will certainly spurn his advice and continue to play on with their meaningless vowels. And Sarah will continue to rake in the catcalls,"

Then, wading off into the threadbare dampness, my lovely alligator-muse pauses to wave. "How would you like to be my Valentine? Together we could save the Republic." he asks, demurely.

"You really want me to open it over the phone?" I answer. And then, with my best Art Deco flair, I blow him an air kiss.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Banana Republicans

Mitt's back. By that I mean, he's way back in front again. (Promise to savor the irony of that phrase.) Meanwhile he and Newt have officially become each other's trampolines. Last week we got to see the brown beetle, Mitt, march over the broken weeds of Newt. But Newt claims he's not going anywhere. Whatever happens he will campaign on through the next 46 states. Like the girl in the story of "The Red Shoes," Newtie is stuck in a pair of dancing slippers that won't come off. When last sighted, however, he was seen driving around Nevada strapped to the roof of Mitt's car.

So, while Mitt was serenading verses of "America the Beautiful" to retirees and seniors in Florida, Newt declared that he will have the first permanent base on the moon by the end of his second term, with launch areas capable of launching multiple spacecrafts in a day, like an airport. "Does that mean I'm a visionary? You betcha," he said. (I hate to be perverse, but last time I tuned in, conditions on the moon were not really conducive to human life--but hey, why make a mountain out of a molehill? Flying to the moon could give a boost to the economy, upgrade U.S. prestige, and take care of some pollution problems, says Newt.) By the way, he also wants U.S. presidents to stop bowing to the Saudi king. After hearing these pronouncements, and speaking with great pride and excitement, Herman Cain reappeared on the scene and endorsed Newt.

Not long after that, Mitt Romney accepted the endorsement of Donald Trump, the man who made “You’re fired!” his television catch-phrase. But this week, when Mitt said he wasn't concerned about the very poor in this country, "he jumped in the pickle barrel and went over the waterfall," Charles M. Blow wrote in the New York Times. While "we celebrate this victory [in Florida]," Mitt said, "we must not forget what this election is really about: defeating Barack Obama." So beyond their giddy world of patriarchal privilege and power--beyond the fantasies of building colonies on the moon and "repairing" safety nets for the poor--these guys actually seem to have a plan. Dismissing complaints about his income and privilege as "the politics of envy," Romney has promised "to stuff capitalism down President Obama's throat." Welcome to the world of Banana Republicans, where even dogs have learned not to come too close, and Republicans themselves are not all that happy with their choices. Maybe some of them realize, deep down, though they would never admit it, that (to quote the words of an anonymous reader in the New York Times) "none of them are fit to shine Obama's shoes." You have to love the reverse racism of that!

I wish I could claim authorship of the phrase "Banana Republicans," but I stumbled across it by chance on the Internet--only to discover that it is actually the title and subject of a book written by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber and published in 2004. "Banana Republicans: How the Right Wing Is Turning America into a One-Party State" is about how the GOP maintains its hold on power--by systematic manipulation and gerrymandering of the electoral system and of the courts, through lobbyists and its right-wing media machine, and by relentless demagoguery and smearing. Let's not omit the most current version of all that: the endless, in-your-face LIES. Republicans don't want discourse; they want dominance. They want, according to David Horowitz, a political strategist for the right, "to wipe them [Democrats] off the face of the planet."

It's not just the candidates celebrating meanness and inhumanity as they crisscross the country that is so disheartening and downright chilling. It's also the crowds at these GOP events, who revel in extremism, cheering wildly on cue for the death penalty, the right to torture, the return of child labor, or for letting those without health insurance just die. These audiences salivate with unhinged excitement any time a disrespectful remark is hurled at our "Kenyan-born, terrorist-sympathizing, socialist president," to the point where even Fidel Castro was heard to say, all the way from Cuba, commenting on the U.S. GOP primaries: "The greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that has ever been."

The only bulwark I can offer in this depressing election year are some spiritually enlightened words uttered by the Dalai Lama, a man from whom the self-aggrandizing religious fanatics on the right could learn a thing or two: "My religion is kindness."

Kindness! Could it really be that simple? "Sure," says Virgil, but sometimes, you just gotta let Rome burn."

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I Smell a Rat

I ended my previous blog floating the possibility that Newt Gingrich had dealt a mortal blow to Mittens wihen he exposed the kinds of practices Romney was engaged in while running Bain, a venture capital firm that buys and sells businesses for investors' profit. But at that point Mittens had already won Iowa and was well on the way to winning in New Hampshire. He was also ahead by double digits in South Carolina, and it was said that if Romney wins again in South Carolina, three times lucky, he will have sewn up the nomination.

It was a bit of a shock, then, when I turned on the radio the other morning and heard that not Romney, but Rick Santorum had been declared the winner in Iowa, finishing ahead of Mittens by 34 points. O migod! I thought. ("It seems to me, I've heard this song before...") And then, big time, I smelled a rat. Barely out of the gate, Republicans had already messed with the voting results. My right-wing-coup tentacles were wriggling like there's no tomorrow. The Des Moines Register reported on that day that votes from eight precincts had gone permanently missing and would never be counted--"so the ultimate tally remains inconclusive." Mitt's rolling hoops as "the inevitable frontrunner" were no longer rolling.

The weird thing is, once the idea of "inconclusive" had been floated, nobody even flinched at the retraction. There was not a whiff of backlash, no accusations, no questions, no uproar. Not one single eyelid batted. Then, after no sign of any push-back from any direction, within two more days, Rick Santorum was simply declared the "real" winner in Iowa. Even then, not one eyebrow was lifted. Am I the only one who smells a rat and thinks what's happening is sinister? Or are my fellow Americans just too weary to care? Maybe Republican voters are so dissatisfied with their choices, they don't give a damn who wins or loses. They all suck royally, so what the hell?

Meanwhile it looks like Newt is mounting the engines in South Carolina. Instead of one frontrunner, by tomorrow we will have three--or none, depending on how you figure. Nobody gets to walk off yet with the prize though: the coveted nomination. Virgil and his airborne warriors are predicting that when Newt emerges as the victor in South Carolina, he will appear with a rooster and a small blonde, and they will all crow together. And, as someone remarked on the net about these ridiculous caucuses, it "kind of makes you reminisce about the America of our youth where the worst thing they threatened us with was global annihilation."