Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Baby Palins: Feminism, Republican Style

The eye-catching name of Regis Giles (see her photo above) first came to my attention via an article in Elle magazine. Called "The Best and the Rightist" by Nina Burleigh, it delineates a new, up-and-coming, voting demographic of conservative women, ages 18 to 35--in her article Burleigh refers to them as "Baby Palins"--who deride liberal-style feminism and have a real passion for guns. Regis Giles is 20 years old, owns a spear and a CZ 550 rifle, and already has acquired an impressive kill sheet: one white-tail deer, one black buck, one giant bear, one antelope, a behemoth buffalo, and the wild boar she regularly spears on the shores of Florida's Lake Okeechobee. In large part because of her extraordinary hunting prowess, Giles has emerged as the new face of conservative womanhood: "thousands of young women in cocktail dresses who profess their love for guns, low taxes, and red meat."

Many of these women were to be seen at the recent Conservative Political Action Committee Conference [CPAC], an annual gathering of 10,000 political activists, more than half of whom are college-age, and nearly all of whom are white. Giles was there and made a provocative speech in her distinctive nasal drawl. "I'm sick and tired of seeing defenseless girls being abducted in broad daylight. My company stands for those girls who've decided to arm themselves with a gun that will pump lead into an attacker at 1,200 feet per second." No kidding! Talking this way at conferences causes her audience to stomp, whistle, and cheer, and she usually, effortlessly, brings the house down.

Regis Giles claims to be at her happiest when she's hunting. "I'm driven to hunt by the love of the sport, the thrill of the kill--hunting rejuvenates my soul. It's an awesome experience," she states. But she isn't a Palin clone, having been trained since the age of 9 to hunt by her father, Doug Giles, a conservative radio talk-show host and pastor of his own "clash church," long before Palin ever emerged on the scene. And she frequently donates her kill to a local homeless shelter, where the meat is fed to the needy. This young, Republican, female political activist may look like she just stepped out of a pre-Raphaelite painting, but rest assured, she does not spend her time decorating with crepe paper or building miniature windmills.

"Regis' niche," according to Burleigh, "is as the ambassadress of the polished trigger finger." Her website, Girls Just Wanna Have Guns, currently offers a variety of t-shirts, buttons, and coffee mugs for sale. Next year, however, at 21, she will be eligible to get a federal license to sell guns. Thanks to the 'Palin effect,' female membership in the National Rifle Association has risen by 20 percent.

The same issue of Elle magazine also contains a contrasting article, profiling a Democratic activist named Louisa Kamps, from Wisconsin. Kamps describes her conversion into activism thusly: she was driving out of town when she heard on the radio that Wisconsin's new Republican governor, Scott Walker, had announced a surprise plan to strip unionized workers (primarily nurses and teachers) of their collective bargaining rights. Horrified and appalled, she turned the car around and came back home to join the battle lines of irate protesters converging in hordes around the capitol building. Kamps claims that although she never voted for Walker, she hadn't realized his sinister union-busting intentions, or how deeply he was in cahoots with anti-regulation conservatives like the Koch brothers, who are among his biggest financial backers. The realization changed her life dramatically; it wasn't long before she became a revolutionary.

"We have a long history," she states in Elle, "of looking out for each other here in Wisconsin, birthplace of the nation's largest public-sector union and the first state to create worker's compensation and unemployment insurance....I never dreamed a year ago I'd be where I am now....I'm up late at night writing Republicans to register how strongly I oppose cuts to services such as recycling, public transportation, and libraries....Over a brutal couple of weeks recently, the Republicans passed legislation that will make it harder for students and seniors, who typically lean Democratic, to vote, and they introduced bills to roll back child labor laws and make it simpler to carry concealed weapons." She thanks Walker for one thing, however. "He's taught me exactly what I don't want government to look like, and how fervently I must work as a citizen activist if I want to live in a place that reflects my values."

So I put these two contrasting profiles together, feeling they were significant, and wondering where I needed to take them next. What was the punch line here? Then I began reading more of James Gilligan's book, "Why Some Politicians Are Worse Than Others," [see my previous blog about how levels of violence rise significantly during Republican administrations], Chapter 6 of Gilligan's book maps out the radically different cultures between Red States and Blue States. These differences, Gilligan suggests, are not merely differences in political agendas, but reflect different personalities and attitudes in relation to core indices of violence--such as guns, militarism, torture, capital punishment--that differentiate Republican voters from Democratic ones.

Gun ownership, he asserts, is much more prevalent among Republican groups (especially social conservatives), citing a Pew Research Center study which claims that nearly 60 percent of Republican groups have guns in their homes, in contrast to 23 percent of Democratic ones. (Eighty percent of social conservatives have a favorable view of the NRA.) So, not only do Red states have statistically higher rates of violent behavior, but the gun is deployed by Republicans as a moral and culturally potent icon that serves to breed contempt for non-violence and to encourage punitiveness, like public support for lynchings, capital punishment, and the concealed carrying of weapons. It is why "civility" candidates like Jon Huntsman and Barack Obama are ultimately met with contempt by hard-core Republicans for their "stupid altruistic urges." (The phrase is Ayn Rand's.)

And then suddenly, the goose laid its golden egg: I had a positively golden insight into why Obama's presidency has not succeeded the way so many had hoped it would. (Of course there is the obvious reason, that Republicans, come hell or high water, will never let that happen.) But beyond the obvious, there is also something else, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Obama was elected in large part because he stood on tiptoe on the misty mountaintop and proclaimed there were no Red States or Blue States; there were only American states. We all hoped to god it was so, and In a note to himself, he vowed to become our first post-partisan president. Obama has failed to deliver on this, but not because of his personal inadequacies. He has failed because that core conviction has proven itself to be just plain WRONG. Not Obama, but Sarah Palin, was the one who got it right: there are really TWO Americas, and ne'er the twain shall meet. Sadly for us, the noble vibration of unity Obama so badly wanted and gallantly pursues, has not proved to be a winning hand in American politics. To believe there aren't Red States or Blue States at this point in time is a bit like driving through a plate glass window you didn't know was there--until it shatters, and there is broken glass everywhere.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Brushing My Teeth with Whiskey

I kid you not--this is what my horoscope recommended I should do this month: brush my teeth with whiskey, Jack Daniels to be exact. I'm absolutely good to go. The only problem is that I'm a gin girl at heart, but never mind, I haven't let that stop me from doing what a girl's gotta do. The horoscope also suggests that at least for the next two weeks or so, it wouldn't be totally crazy to keep myself more or less permanently in a party mood. This is not a bad suggestion either, given that Texas Governor Rick Perry is now the Republican frontrunner, ahead of Romney, according to the latest Rasmussen poll, and the stock market continues to wobble dangerously.

Within hours of declaring his candidacy, Rick Perry managed to turn a sleep-inducing race into a demolition derby with a single, atomic remark. Referring to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Perry said:, "If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y'all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treasonous in my opinion." Nice going, Ricky.

So, I took me to the nearest whiskey bar, and like Greta Garbo, made that a double, and brushed furiously. (Then a friend of mine called from Arizona to say she'd been to a local gay bar for the first time, at age 75, and driven through a 100-foot dust storm, in order to get free line-dancing instruction--hoping to accelerate her exercise routine, she says. She had a blast.)

Coincidentally, or synchronistically, I happen to be reading a book by James Gilligan entited "Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others." Gilligan claims to have discovered a devastating truth that has been "hiding in plain sight" for the past century--namely, that whenever Republicans gain the presidency, rates of suicide and homicide consistently skyrocket, and inequality, unemployment, recessions, poverty, bankruptcy, homelessness all balloon to epidemic proportions. They then remain at epidemic levels until the more liberal party, the Democrats, regain the White House, reducing the amount of deadly violence by diminishing the magnitude of the economic distress that has been causing it.

This pattern, the author shows, has been documented since 1900, when the U.S. government first began compiling vital statistics on a yearly basis. Not only is this not just a coincidental correlation; Gilligan statistically proves that there is a specific causal relationship between the political parties in power, their policies, and the violent death rates. Yet the conventional wisdom is that Republicans are the ones to vote for if you want economic growth, whereas Democrats stifle growth, But the facts, he claims, show otherwise.

As someone who has uncovered these patterns of statistical truth--namely, that from 1900 through 2010, the country suffered approximately three times as many months of recessions when Republicans were governing the country--the author confesses to astonishment at his own findings: "I was genuinely surprised--I would even say shocked--to discover that the reputation of the Republican party appears to be the diametric opposite of what the numbers show. I am referring to the numbers gathered and published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which is hardly a liberal or left-wing think tank."

Another unexpected discovery in Gilligan's book is that recessions began during Republican presidencies seventeen times, and only six times during Democratic ones (and these were mostly inherited, as in Obama's case). Republicans were four times as likely as Democrats to "bequeath" a recession that had begun during their own administration to their successors (which happened to Wilson, FDR, Kennedy, and Obama). As for the Great Depression of the 1930s, Republicans showed themselves incapable of reversing it throughout the entire forty-three months in which they were in office (19290-33). When FDR took office, he immediately reversed it and began a period of economic expansion that lasted uninterruptedly for the next fifty months.

The fact that statistics show that unemployment has increased and lasted longer during Republican administrations, with recessions occurring much more frequently and lasting longer, prompted Giiligan, a professor of psychiatry (formerly from Harvard Medical School, now teaching at NYU) to formulate the central mystery of his book, which is summarized on page 9 as follows:

"Why is the party that proclaims itself to be the party of prosperity and economic growth and of public safety and law and order, the party that mounted the 'wars' on crime and drugs, associated with higher rates of lethal violence and of poverty, unemployment, and recession? And if the party is consistently inflicting a greater degree of economic stress and distress upon the American public and achieving a lower level of prosperity and economic security than the other party is, and in that sense achieving economic failure rather than success, how could it continue to win elections and remain a viable party?"

Yo, I have only read half the book thus far, so I'm not sure how, or if, Gilligan finds answers to his own questions. But if you have any, then please send them on--you might even win a free bottle of whiskey from me. Meanwhile, if I were in charge of the universe, I'd make it a rule that EVERYONE NEEDS TO READ THIS BOOK! And then, brush their teeth with whiskey.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Michele Bachmann Parts the Red Sea with a Corndog

If you want to know what is really happening to this country, I've already said it many times before: the right wing of the Republican Party is staging a full-frontal government coup. It's been going on for some time now, one of the first signs of it going way back to the election of 2000, when Al Gore's Florida win was posted, and then suddenly withdrawn minutes later, from the electoral map board. Foul play then followed upon foul play and ultimately, the Supreme Court handed over the presidency to George W. Bush.

If you don't want to believe me that we are having a coup d'etat in the U.S., I recommend you watch the movie "Jesus Camp." Republican right-wingers have been training themselves and their children as Christianist warriors to take over the government for a long time. They make a big show of talking about the Constitution, but in reality, it's the Bible that is their final authority, the absolute, infallible word of God. The Bible is not just a book; it's "the total truth." If you saw snippets of Governor Rick Perry's "prayer meeting" just before he announced his campaign for the presidency, it was a scene lifted straight out of "Jesus Camp": people with their arms raised beseechingly in the air, eyes swooning upwards, tears streaming downwards. Don't think it can't happen.

"The man who laughs," Bertolt Brecht once wrote,. "just hasn't heard the terrible news." Michele Bachmann won the straw poll in Iowa. Maybe, like me, you didn't know whether to laugh or cry--and find yourself pointlessly wondering what the Beatles would make of this latest incarnation of their old fluff song "Michele"? Bachmann's current claim to fame, however, is probably fated to be a 15-minute, Andy-Warhol, ephemeral affair--ending almost as soon as it begins--now that the fiery Rick Perry, arch-conservative, big-guns governor of Texas, and Secessionist who deems social security unconstitutional, has made his grand entry into the race, upstaging her. Perry, who is definitely not Santa Claus, officially declared that he is coming to town--so you better not cry, I'm telling you why. To become a Republican president now means you have to NOT walk softly and you have to carry a Christianist big shtick. And, like it or not, Perry's shtick is definitely bigger than Michele Bachmann's. So wait for the sparks to fly.

Of course, as the cover story on her in Newsweek points out, Bachmann clearly flipped "the other middle-aged drab men running for the nomination" right off the board. So maybe she'll manage to flip Perry off as well. But meanwhile, if you want the really scary scoop on Bachmann, you need to read Ryan Lizza's profile of her in the August 15th New Yorker. He provides the context and background for Bachmann's meaty fundamentalism:

"Christians, and Christians alone, are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns," writes Sara Diamond, the author of several books about evangelical movements in America. These movements, to whom Bachmann is now central, believe that a Biblical world view should suffuse every aspect of one's life. According to Lizza, while enrolled in 1979 at the O.W. Coburn School of Law at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Bachmann imbibed the fundamentalist content of essays published in the school's Law Review, and was inspired by writers like John Rushdoony, who has called for a pure Christian theocracy in which Old Testament law--execution for adulterers and homosexuals, for instance--would be instituted. (Sharia, anyone?) Lizza quotes Rushdoony condemning the secularization of public schools:

"With the coming collapse of humanistic statism, the Christian must prepare to take over, he must prepare for victory." Lizza adds that the success of Bachmann's campaign will rest partly on her ability to keep these influences, which she has talked about for years, out of the public discussion. In the end she refused, when he tried, to talk about them with him.

But since then, she was all over the talk shows on Sunday, looking beautiful and smooth as satin. True, she didn't breath a word about any of this theocratic takeover, and her answers were so practiced and predictable that, after a while, I was able to mouth them to the interviewers myself, along with Bachmann. After she won in Iowa, Steve Clemons wrote on the Huffington Post that "This straw poll result shows that a group of people are willing to place bets on people who have virtually no chance of really winning on a national ticket. My view anyway."

I wish it were mine, too, but it definitely is not. The way things are going, I think Obama has quite a decent chance of losing the election to one of these crackpots.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

No More Days of Wine and Roses

I got a flyer in the mail this week from the Pacifica Graduate Institute in California, inviting me to join writer and therapist Ginette Paris for a "heartbreak clinic," intended to "understand what happens in the brain when we are heartbroken," and to develop strategies for navigating the darkness and beginning the healing process. But it was one particular statement that really set me thinking--which was that, in the psychic realm of mourning, the brain does not distinguish among various types of loss. Whether it happens to be loss of love, professional identity, country, vocation, health, youth, or wealth, loss is loss. The unexpected insertion of the word "country" on this list is what got my attention and struck a chord. I realized that I am now grieving the loss of my country.

Truth is, over a long lifetime, I have actively experienced all the other losses on this list at one time or another. And since these days I no longer have a salary and currently survive mostly on income from investments, I am also bracing for an imminent loss of wealth. If/when the stock market crashes, my clean, well-lighted days of wine and roses will also come to an abrupt and unkindly end. I expect I will endure these losses as I have previously endured all the others, and certainly when it comes to wine and roses, I have had my fair share. (Item: I once received three dozen long stemmed red roses from the writer Michael Crichton, after he had dined at my house in London, having been invited by Jasper Johns, who was staying with me at the time. Jasper became very cross when he discovered that I had no suitable vase to put them in.)

But this time, unlike others in the past, the failure to come to an appropriate congressional agreement may just sink the global economy, which is already on life support. This time the growth economy will probably not come back. Stock portfolios will not rebound again in the foreseeable future.

That said, we really didn't have to lose our triple AAA credit rating, and along with it, the respect and trust of the world. Before the rotten deal was struck, credit agencies had warned the president exactly what was needed to avoid a downgrade: at least $4 trillion in deficit cuts, and some revenues on the table. The president knew it, and John Boehner also knew it. The deal they put together followed those guidelines. But the Teasies and their corporate backers wanted to make a stink. They wanted to show everyone who was boss. Some of them even salivated over default as a good and great thing. In the end, they would only allow passage of a smaller, weakened bill that would not fulfill the necessary parameters. It was a given that this bill would not stave off a downgrade in our credit rating.

Along with everyone else, Standard and Poor's took note of the mayhem and were duly appalled. In the end, America was downgraded, not because of the size of its debt, but because of its political brinksmanship--and a perceived inability on the part of the U.S. government to come together and rectify its problems. The political brokenness was on full view, for all the world to see, Extreme polarization had resulted in paralysis. The lack of any remaining moderates, of the sort who used to engineer compromises, was obvious to all.

On page 4 of the official Standard & Poors' report on what they did and why, published on August 5th as the explanation for why they believe Congress--and even the as yet unformed Gang of Twelve--will be unable to actually deal with the US debt crisis, states: “We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act.”

The final outcome, however, now provides Republicans with the perfect opportunity for attacking Obama's leadership, To blame the Tea Party, if you are a Republican, is absolutely off limits, a recipe for sudden death, and nobody is willing to risk it.

And so, the new GOP mantra issues daily from the rancid mouth of Mrs. Electrico (and wannabe presidential candidate) Minnesota Republican Michelle Bachmann: "President Obama has destroyed the credit rating of the United States through his failed economic policies and his inability to control government spending by raising the debt ceiling. He is destroying the foundations of the U.S. government one beam at a time." You better believe it!

In an essay that appeared recently on (which is also where I found the illo for my blog of today), Noam Chomsky has this to say: "Another common theme, at least among those who are not willfully blind, is that American decline is in no small measure self-inflicted. The comic opera in Washington this summer, which disgusts the country and bewilders the world, may have no analogue in the annals of parliamentary democracy.
The spectacle is even coming to frighten the sponsors of the charade. Corporate power is now concerned that the extremists they helped put in office may in fact bring down the edifice on which their own wealth and privilege relies, the powerful nanny state that caters to their interests."

So, if the market tanks, and Michelle Bachmann becomes president of the United States, I expect I'll be jumping off my roof--that is to say, if at that point. I still have one.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Democrazy in the Scapehouse

"Above all, sicken me not unless you show me the way to the ship's rail....
Even beasts know when it is good and proper to throw up."
Ray Bradbury

I had to hang out at the ship's rail in slum paradise many times this week, not least after an encounter with that grievous article by Washington Post columnist Peggy Noonan. Entitled "They've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," Noonan confides to the world her astonishing discovery about Obama, never before seen in politics with any other president. Although he has many supporters, bundlers, contributors, and voters aplenty, she asserts, the support is "all grim." The truth is, nobody really loves him, This she knows, because of personally having talked to many people. (What ho! she hasn't talked to me.) "The secret of Mr. Obama is that he isn't really very good at politics...because he doesn't really get people." Not only that, she adds, he never offers a plan.

He never offers a plan? What about that "grand bargain," the truly large budget deal he pieced together with John Boehner a few weeks ago--until Boehner had his Judas Iscariot moment and, at the midnight hour, chose to betray the president's trust in him? Was that not arguably a good-faith plan, better than the one they have now ended up with? ("I stuck my neck out a mile to try to get an agreement with the president...I tried to lead....Put something on the table, Mr. President," a red-faced Boehner howled on television after his betrayal, perhaps in some twisted bid for the Nobel Prize in hypocrisy, or maybe a write-up in the annals of American shame.)

But back to Noonan. She clinches her piece with yet another outrageous assertion: "[Obama's] not a devil, not an alien, not a socialist. He's a loser. And this is America, where nobody loves a loser." It was a shot heard around the world.

Memo from the ship's rail to anyone who's listening: our problem is not America's lack of love for Barack Obama. Our problem is that Republicans are orchestrating calculated chaos as part of a long-term coup d'etat to change the balance of power in Washington. First they got the Supreme Court, and now they are after the Executive. In January 2010, the same folks shot down democracy in the Citizens' United case, when the Supreme Court judges, controlled by a conservative majority of one vote, awarded First Amendment rights to corporations, allowing them to have unlimited financial (and thus policy) influence on elections. I wrote at that time:

"Make no mistake, on January 21, 2010, we lost our country, A velvet coup took place in the Supreme Court....The Swiftboating of Obama by impugning his motives--implying that he is something destructive to America and opposing everything he does--is but one segment in a planned takeover of the whole political system." The next segment of this extensive co-optation--an artificially contrived debt-ceiling crisis enacted with unbelievable callousness and cunning--is happening right now. And once again, what I wrote in January 2010 could have been written today:

"We are now in a world-wide economic crisis because of excessive deregulation. Popular faith in government as playing any constructive and necessary role in constraining market excesses has collapsed. Extreme polarization renders our nation ungovernable. With ridicule and lies as the new form of social control, politics has been reduced to 'a war of nerves.' "

Mitch McConnell's slick appearance on Face the Nation yesterday was quite shocking. Suddenly the normally vicious, mean-spirited, take-no-prisoners wolf, known for his determined dedication to Obama's demise, appeared disguised in sheep's clothing and sporting a sneer of satisfaction. He was now the "go-to" guy, the primary broker of a deal, reassuring everyone that there WOULD BE A DEAL. "The country will not default on its obligations," he declared. "This is America where people like to compromise."

It was cynicism at its apogee, coming from the very man whose whose far-right radicalism is determined to never cut a deal with anyone. I felt I was witnessing a blatant case of identity theft; McConnell morphed into the president's doppleganger to emerge as the last man standing, the most reasonable one in the room. All the chaos he and his colleagues had orchestrated during the past month was over, the dirty work finished, at least for the time being. A knock-out blow had been delivered to the economy sufficient to keep it reeling backwards through the 2012 election. There will be impact to state and local governments from spending cuts. Many more people will lose their jobs. And then, we can wait for the next titanic struggle, when the extension of unemployment benefits runs out in December.

In a recently published novel, John Sales has one of his characters speak lines in a disturbing scene that are verbatim quotes from an actual speech by South Carolina Senator "Pitchfork" Ben Tiilman. He tells a crowd at a political rally, "We of the South have never recognized the right of the Negro to govern white men and we never will."

The Senate Majority Leader is from Kentucky. The day after tomorrow is Barack Obama's 50th birthday. Paul Krugman writes in the New York Times today that the president surrendered--showed himself unwilling or unable to stand up to blackmail on the part of right-wing extremists. Instead, he has chosen to demonstrate the opposite. What we are witnessing here, Krugman claims, is a catastrophe on multiple levels. "This is a shameful day to be a Democrat and a shameful day to be an American," one reader responds. Another, more sympathetic, states "Unless a president has a majority of Senate and House Representatives willing to vote in support of his programs, he has NO real power."

One has to wonder what kind of birthday the president is likely have this year. The mood can't be very celebratory, but he plans to be in Chicago.