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 There would be no Federal income tax, and all American troops would be withdrawn from overseas.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."