Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Newts & Grizzlies (2)

Today, the Roanoke Times ran an editorial called "The Party of Crazy," about how the Tea Party is driving the GOP very far to the Right--and wondering if anyone is paying attention. Most people still aren't, even though we are now fully launched into a corporate right wing coup against the government. The RT editors refer back to the moment in 2008 when John McCain was campaigning in a town hall meeting, and a weird, stricken look appeared briefly on his face when a woman in the crowd shouted that Obama scared her, because he was an Arab. McCain hastened to reassure her that, no, he wasn't. (Would he even dare to do that now?)

Spreading fear about Obama's "un-Americanness" and seeking to establish his illegitimacy as president, has burgeoned from a cottage industry of "birthers" to an industrial-strength anti-Obama, anti-Muslim culture war of crisis proportions. Last week one of the most outrageous examples of Republican Swiftboating ever seen occurred when former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich creamed in his jeans over an anti-Obama essay written by Dinesh D'Souza for Forbes magazine. The article is based on D'Souza's soon-to-be published book entitled "The Roots of Obama's Rage." (Obama's rage? Did I hear that correctly? Isn't everyone always complaining about Obama's inability to express rage?)

Anyway, Dinesh D'Souza (whom Maureen Dowd has irresistibly called "Ann Coulter-in-pants") puts forward the stunning thesis that Obama's policies are an inherited, genetic carryover from his African father. D'Souza suggests that the U.S. is now being ruled "according to the dream of a Luo tribesman of the 1950's...[a] philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, [and] is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.” Is this supposed to be taken seriously?

Obviously Gingrich thinks so. He has wholeheartedly endorsed D'Souza's goonish thesis, declaring it "the most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama." Newt claims D'Souza shows how the Prez "is so outside our comprehension" that you can only understand him "if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior." OMG. Newt is one of the crazies out there, hoping and plotting to replace Obama in 2012. UGH.

I cranked myself up and went to Wikipedia to see what I could learn about newts that might be useful. Many newts, I found out, produce toxins in their skin secretions as a defense mechanism against predators. Some newts of the Pacific Northwest produce enough tetrodotoxin to kill an adult human and poison their enemies. Should you come in contact with a newt, proper hand-washing techniques should be followed due to the toxins they produce and bacteria they carry.

As the professed author of this blog, Virgil suggests you stop reading now and go wash your hands. Just to be on the safe side, I'm going to do that, too.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Midterm Madness: Newts and Grizzlies on the Rise

Virgil wants to know, how much do you really understand, or care, about what's happening politically in this country? Because once a system tumbles off a ledge and goes catastrophically bad, he says, it is very hard to return it to its earlier state. Usually it's impossible. Indeed, it may already be too late. However, my beloved alligator assistant is definitely sounding the alarm. Watch out, he says, because the newts and grizzlies are taking over. Not paying attention while this is happening is the equivalent of drinking hemlock. Metaphorically speaking, recent midterm nomination results have produced a new gusher that could well destroy the country, much as the unstoppable oil threatened to do for months in the gulf. Virgil says you can't let the bad wipe you out, but if our government snaps, which it shows every sign of doing, it will remain snapped forever.

I was glad to see that President Obama was imnmediately on to the danger. In his weekly radio address this Saturday, he also sounded the alarm--although I fear few people were paying much attention:

"Back in January, in my State of the Union Address, I warned of the danger posed by a Supreme Court ruling called Citizens United. This decision overturned decades of law and precedent. It gave the special interests the power to spend without limit – and without public disclosure – to run ads in order to influence elections. Now, as an election approaches, it's not just a theory. We can see for ourselves how destructive to our democracy this can become. We see it in the flood of deceptive attack ads sponsored by special interests using front groups with misleading names. We don't know who's behind these ads or who's paying for them. Even foreign-controlled corporations seeking to influence our democracy are able to spend freely in order to swing an election toward a candidate they prefer."

This was my first thought as well, once the election results were in. The real story playing out in front of us all in real time, is that the Tea Party, meant to be seen as an outsider and leaderless insurgency haphazardly run by "we the people," is actually being orchestrated and bankrolled by wealthy individuals, powerful lobbyists, and corporations who want nothing less than to take the government down. (So what else is new?) Only this: given that the Tea Party just ate the Republican Party for breakfast, it now has the Democratic Party on the menu for lunch. Does that worry you? Maybe not, but it definitely worries me.

For some Democrats, the election by Republicans of patently unqualified and rogue candidates like Christine O'Donnell to run against them in November was an occasion for positive rejoicing. The question being bandied around all week was whether or not this represented an "implosion, or fracturing, of the GOP (and was therefore good for Democrats), or whether something more sinister is going on-- the ascendancy, for instance, of Sarah Palin as the new leader of the Republican party and a sharp shift in its center of gravity to the Far Right. It was, after all, her endorsement of these various rogue candidates that seemed to carry them to victory.

In Senate races, Tea Party candidates were winners in Nevada, Colorado, Utah, Alaska, Kentucky, Delaware, and Florida, all of them overcoming rivals, like the moderate Republican Mike Castle in Delaware, who is well liked in the state and had the full backing of his party. Most Republicans still consider Palin unelectable, though her staffers, it seems, are working under the assumption that she's running. And make no mistake: if a nobody like Christine O'Donnell can win the Republican nomination for Joe Biden's old Senate seat in Delaware, well, nothing should be beyond our wildest imagining. (Look for more on Christine O'Donnell in the next installment of my "Newts and Grizzlies" thread.)

Time magazine's latest cover story on the Tea Party depicts a giant tea cup with a limp GOP elephant slumped inside, its trunk dangling perilously over the side. The elephant looks to be nearly drowning. (A perfect image, I thought, of co-optation.) Now that the Tea Party has taken over the GOP, its motto (as put forward by Rush Limbaugh) is: vote for the person farthest to the Right.

Former master-mind strategist for the Republican party, Karl Rove, was openly aghast when O'Donnell (who looks and sounds just like her sponsor, Sarah Palin) actually won the nomination. "She's nutty," he said, adding that she would lose the seat, and maybe even possible control of the Senate as well, for the party. Palin then took care of him sweetly, in one of her better barracuda moments, sending this sugar-coated message straight to the jugular: "Bless his heart," she declared. "We love our friends there in the machine...I say 'Buck up.'"

She's right, Karl. I think you should buck up, because things are not all that bad out there for your crowd. You've trained your minions so well that within twenty-four hours, they had all (including even you) closed ranks in support of every Tea Party candidate and their radical agenda. "Let there be no mistake," announced Senator John Cornyn, "the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and I personally as the committee's chairman, strongly stand by all of our Republican nominees." After which he promptly sent a check for $42,000 to her campaign. Meanwhile, John Boehner has already invited Tea Party activists to help "drive the debate" in Washington and help shape the legislative agenda. Inside the tea cup, Republicans are hanging on for dear life.

Karl, you and I both know there is no individual GOP candidate. There is only the lockstep party you created, committed to Obama's failure even at the expense of the country. So take heart from the words of your fellow Republican, David Brooks:

"It doesn’t matter that public approval of the G.O.P. is now at its all-time low. It doesn’t matter that the Tea Party rhetoric is sometimes extreme. The poll suggests that roughly 50 percent of Americans haven’t thought about the Tea Parties enough to form an opinion. They’re not paying attention because they don’t see it as one of the important dangers they face. Who knows? Maybe they even sort of like the fact that a ragtag band of outsiders is taking on the establishment and winning."

Enjoy your hemlock, folks. And while you're at it, don't forget to buy the tee-shirt.

Monday, September 13, 2010

It Feels Like a Real Fight to Me

David Plouffe wants us [Obama supporters, that is] to "tell our communities" what it will be like if the Republicans regain control of Congress. Since my mind freezes at the mere prospect of that rancid possibility--which, according to pundits and pollsters, is a reality coming at us with the force of an avalanche--I am going to use my blogging time here to respond to that request. It's what I was planning to write about about anyway, because should things should turn out as currently predicted, I believe our country will be dead in the water. Toast. So it behooves us to start paying serious attention, unless we are willing to write our own obituaries. And I'm not.

"If this life not be a real fight, in which something is eternally gained for the universe by success, it is no better than a game of private theatricals from which one may withdraw at will. But it feels like a real fight," wrote William James.

It feels like a real fight to me, not political theater, to the point where anybody who is not fully engaged is signing up for the biggest mistake of their lives. America is facing death by Republican kryptonite. With or without his former tan, John Boehner (otherwise known as "the orange man") is positively itching to ally himself more fully with Mitch McConnell in dismantling the U.S. government and whatever inventions and richnesses it may have accrued over the years. This is the project that excites them above all else: causing the entire structure of government to collapse and then disappear. Can it be done? I think it can. So if you are someone who is feeling acute Obama fatigue and disappointment, who thinks the Democrats deserve to lose power, you need to get over it, right now.

Because if the GOP takes over in November, we can look forward to fewer services and even fewer jobs, a platform of constant phony investigations, and repeals of every piece of legislation passed during the Obama presidency so far. Plus a possible pre-emptive strike on Iran, privatized Social Security, deregulation of corporations and of the whole financial industry. Wherever you happen to live, you will see Sarah Palin and Mama Grizzlies and Tea Partiers from your front porch.

This Sunday in the New York Times. Maureen Dowd wrote about how her sister Peggy--a Republican-leaning voter who switched her allegiance in 2008 in order to support Obama--is now disaffected and has jumped ship again and will probably vote for Mitt Romney, eek, if he runs. As is usual with Dowd, it was a fun piece to read, but it got its punch at Obama's expense. Obama-bashing, in my view, has now become a luxury this country can no longer afford. One reader of Dowd's essay commented back eloquently, saying that he, too, was disappointed in Obama's performance as president. But he added:

"I will vote for him because I am afraid. I am afraid of what the Republicans and their Blue Dog cohorts will do to this country. I ask myself: Do I want equanimity or John Boehner? Do I prefer the pretense of economic populism to an unabashed bludgeoning by water carriers for the rich and powerful? Do I want corporations to begin to fully and freely exercise their rights as citizens? Further: Have I been hankering for a repeal of health care reform or does coverage for pre-existing conditions still seem like a good thing? Am I pleased that Elizabeth Warren was at least in the game?"

"No. It's not about inspiration anymore; it's about survival. The Republicans seem to have convinced a large part of the populace that throwing water onto a drowning man is a good thing (The Hard-Hearted Hannah Policy). Well, it's not. (One could look it up if one wanted to take the time). I believe that after considering the respective merits between and among an inner tube, life jacket, beach ball, flotsam, jetsam, empty beer keg, milk carton, Chinese take-out container, and a hero sandwich, President Obama would come to a well-considered decision and he would not throw water on a drowning man." You may find this a feeble reason to support someone, but really it's not--not when you realize you are, yourself, that drowning man.

Today, Republican columnist for the Washington Post, Kathleen Parker, used her column to send a letter of apology to the Muslim world. "Dear Muslim World," she began, "I am writing you today as an American citizen who is deeply embarrassed by current events in my country." She then referred to the controversy over the Islamic Center near Ground Zero, and to the Dennis-the-Menace pastor in Florida who had threatened to burn Korans last Saturday. As it turned out, no Korans got burned, but that is no longer likely to stop the hate-America rallies unleashed by these events in Muslim countries. Nor is it likely to placate the sad American Muslim boy I saw briefly interviewed on TV, who claimed he was now being horribly taunted and harassed by his school mates.

Somewhat naively, Parker suggests to the Muslim world that it should "ignore Pastor Terry Jones, because he's nobody," and no one except his tiny congregation cares what he says. Even though many of us would like for him to crawl back under his rock and stay there, she says, "alas, our laws do not forbid stupidity." (What Parker calls stupidity, I call treason.) I can't help wondering how many of the raging Muslims I saw protesting on TV, both here and in the Middle East, will read Parker's article and be appeased. "I am sorry," she writes, "that we [in the news media] handed [Pastor Jones] a megaphone, and I apologize. Please be patient. In a few days, he will be forgotten." Sure, right. No problem.

Apologies can certainly soften enmities and take the edge off distress, but somehow, I doubt that Parker's tender talk and regrets are likely to mitigate the unwholesome rage that has been triggered everywhere. That said, I had almost forgotten to check in with the irrepressible Virgil, who has mastered the animal art of healing with his paws. Pushing his wet nose against my ear, he whispers something. I can't quite believe what I'm hearing. "It sure makes a change from schnitzels," he says, as his loose cheeks balloon into a guffaw.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fanning the Flames of Jihad

I usually check in with the opinion page of the New York Times online every day. Some of the regular columnists-- Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd and Bob Herbert, for instance--are like dark chocolate, perfect for a political chocaholic like me. Often, when I enjoy an article I've just read, I will follow up by reading some of the readers' comments that follow, to see how others have responded. One reader wrote something recently that was so intensely stark and fierce and brief, I have not been able to get it out of my mind. "What's next?" the person wrote (it was in the context of a discussion about where the country was headed.) "WW III. Obama is the last president the United States will ever have."

I prefer writing blogs when I am either fired up or wigged out--horrified or excited by something. I'm not in the business of simple reportage. I prefer digging among ashes, probing for synchronicities with blunt instruments, recognizing the kind of hidden connections you can't take your eyes off of once you've spotted them. This week, it was the sudden appearance of a semi-obscure but menacing pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Florida, Terry Jones, who proposes to "commemorate" the terrorist attacks of 9/11 by burning copies of the Koran. He has been collecting them from supporters for some time, and is planning a big bonfire on the ninth anniversary of 9/11. which is this coming Saturday, god help us all.

Not a good idea, declared General Petraeus; a provocation that could undermine the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, and seriously threaten the safety of our troops. Afghan protesters have already staged a "death to America" rally and flag-burning in Kabul in advance of the event. The photo above shows Afghans burning an effigy of Pastor Jones in a demonstration against the U.S. on Monday, September 6th. The protesters were also calling for the death of President Barack Obama.

Jones says he's praying on it, having been called on to desist by the likes of the Pope and Hillary Clinton, the White House and heads of many religious organizations, and even Mitt Romney. Public book-burning is more a Nazi than a Christian thing: it won't play well, according to everyone. Remember when a U.S. interrogator at Guantanamo Bay prison flushed a Koran down the toilet and set off a rash of riots across the Muslim world? Remember the devastating conflagrations that tore through Denmark when their national newspaper ran a cartoon about Mohammed wearing a bomb in his turban? But the Pastor, instead of being tried for treason, or viewed as a threat, is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Burning books, in this country, is not illegal.

Once again we are proving ourselves as the best recruiters for Islamic extremism around the world. Welcome to the surreal world of U.S. national security. On this evening's news, it was announced that the Pastor has decided to go through with his plan, despite the many entreaties from people begging him not to. He has been "called by God" to do this.

Something very deadly, according to my intuition, is incubating here--but I don't want to be the one who scratches in the first faint marks of the dawn of World War III.