Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Company We Keep

The Company We Keep

Yesterday (5/20/2012) offered U.S. voters an interesting, relatively non-histrionic study in contrasts.  On the one hand, Barack Obama hosted the Presidential Medal of Freedom awards ceremony.  On the other hand, Mitt Romney attended a campaign fundraising event.

I’m not comparing the events, or their gravitas quotients.  Only an incumbent president can hand out presidential awards, and all candidates must and do participate in fundraisers.  What’s interesting is who Obama and Romney chose to mix and mingle with . . . and what those choices might suggest about each candidate.

The headliner for the Romney event was Donald Trump, the P. T. Barnum of birtherism, self-styled rich-equals-smart poster boy, and coy participant in the Republican presidential primary opera bouffe.  The undercard was penguin-bitten lobbyist-turned-zoologist Newt Gingrich, whose exit from the aforesaid primary seems to have flattened a little of his crazy fizz.  Governor Romney was somewhere in attendance.  Extras were played by . . . well, what did you expect?   Random wealthy Republicans.

The Obama event headlined the medal recipients.  The list is pretty impressive and fascinatingly diverse, at least in terms of what the awardees have accomplished and in what fields they’ve sown their accomplishments.  The undercard was President Obama, who got to hand out accolades and interact, to some extent, with the real stars of this show.  Extras were played by . . . random Democrats for the most part, wealthy and somewhat less so.  Plus the gaffers and best boys and foley artists:  the press (the Romney event was closed to the fourth estate). 

What makes these events comparable (other than they happened on the same day, and were orchestrated to greater or lesser degrees by this year’s presidential candidates)?  In both cases, the candidates actually chose the company they kept.  Mitt Romney chose to appear with Donald Trump, and Barack Obama chose the honorees (these awards, which Harry Truman initiated, are the president’s personal selections of civilians [usually, but not necessarily U.S. citizens; usually, but not necessarily, alive] who’ve made extraordinary contributions to the country). 

One might think that Governor Romney – on the night he clinched the Republican nomination – would have elected to surround himself with valued members of his party, with his pleasant and telegenic family, or even with his ground operatives in Texas, the state that yesterday pushed him over the top.  But no.  He flew to Las Vegas to kowtow to Donald Trump, the man whom the respected conservative columnist George Will memorably and correctly called “a bloviating ignoramus” just a few days ago . . . the man who spent most of yesterday spreading his birther schtick on every media outlet that turned toast-side up.

President Obama also made choices.  No one would argue that these are not largely political choices, but they are choices all the same.  Bob Dylan, Madeleine Albright, Toni Morrison, John Glenn, Juliette Gordon Low, Dolores Huerta, John Paul Stevens, Pat Summitt:  most sentient Americans recognize these people as cultural, political, and legal icons.  Yet there are more unusual and/or less recognizable designees as well:  John Doare, a leader of federal efforts to protect and enforce Civil Rights during the 1960s; Dr. William Foege, former director of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention; Gordon Hirabayashi, activist against forced Japanese interment during World War II; Jan Karski, hero of the Polish Underground; Shimon Peres, ninth President of Israel.

What do these choices tell us about Barack Obama?

It’s clear that there’s a tilt towards champions of the downtrodden.  It’s also clear that there’s a true appreciation of women’s talents and agency.  Both conclusions are reinforced by everything we know about the President’s life experiences.  In addition, the list includes a musician (was it hard to select Bob Dylan in place of Al Green?) and a sports luminary (from the basketball world, natch, and women’s basketball at that) – both awardees representing what seem to be genuine Obama interests/hobbies/passions. 

What do Mitt Romney’s choices reveal?

Among all the campaign-friendly people Romney could have spent yesterday with, he selected The Donald.  Since Governor Romney has never shown interest in gambling, television celebrity branding, trophy wives, hair weaves, real estate development, or (to be fair) birtherism, one has to conclude that the choice here was based not on affinity but on the most stinky level of political scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours-ism.

But was it?

President Obama chose to keep company yesterday with people whose principles and vocations he admires.  Maybe Governor Romney has done the same thing.  What he and Donald Trump have in common is . . . vast wealth. 

If we think through the past political year, a dominant thread in the Romney tapestry has been being very, very rich – and understanding the world only through that lens.   Even though Mitt Romney and Donald Trump seem to have radically different styles and personalities, perhaps (in Romney’s mind, at least – it’s easy to suspect that Trump’s current birther barrage is intended to sabotage Republican presidential chances, for reasons that are not presently apparent) they’re joined at the financial hip in a way that would make Chang and Eng feel like free-floating monads. 

Yesterday’s choices give us a big hint about what sorts of people the candidates have or would like to have as friends.  What sorts of people they feel comfortable with, look up to, get a kick out of, enjoy shooting the breeze (or hoops) with.  For President Obama, such people would be athletes and singers, political activists and public servants, plus the woman without whom the world would be deprived of Girl Scout cookies.  For Governor Romney, such people would be aging gazillionaires of the White male persuasion.

Thus I’d like to suggest a variation on the now-hackneyed “Who would you rather have a beer (or a Coke-Zero) with” question asked in regard to presidential candidates.  Instead, try:  “Whose at-home barbeque or dinner party would you rather attend?”  Answering this question makes one think not only of the principal player (Obama, Romney) but also of his all-important and often elusive supporting cast.  Which candidate’s actual friends would you prefer to hang out with?  

This November, try considering your vote as an RSVP to a get-together hosted by the presidential candidate and attended by his BFFs.  Which company would you prefer to keep?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Natural Born Citizens

Natural Born Citizens

You gotta love Arizona.  It must harbor one of the wackiest packs of right-wing politicians going, from her Supreme Rudeness Jan Brewer to let’s-house-inmates-in-tents-in-the-sweltering-desert Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  Plus ALEC golems and folks for whom Herman Cain’s plan for a double electrified fence edged with an alligator-filled moat would be only a baby step toward controlling ‘illegal aliens.’

Speaking of baby steps:  Arizona has just contributed another wing nut to the extreme right’s all-kinds-of-crazy toolbox.  Its Secretary of State, Ken Bennett, announced a few days ago that he might strike Barack Obama from the Arizona presidential ballot in November.  And that would be because?  There are serious questions about whether he was born in the United States and, thus, is legally qualified to be president. (Late yesterday, he retracted this threat after it received broad national news coverage.)

Similarly, the Iowa GOP Platform (released Monday, May 21, 2012) includes a plank interrogating President Obama’s legitimacy on the grounds that he’s not a ‘natural born citizen.’

Say what?  Weren’t we finished with this birther nonsense? 

Let’s take a short historical detour to consider some Republican presidential candidates and their ‘natural born citizen’ status, the only requirement for the presidency (other than age) imposed by the United States Constitution.

Mitt Romney’s father George ran for President back in the 1960s.  He was born in Mexico, in a Mormon colony established a generation or so earlier by LDS people escaping new strictures against polygamy.  George Romney didn’t come to the United States until he was five years old.   One might think that he would have been unqualified to become the president of the United States.  But when one looks at the Constitution and at legal rulings about what ‘natural born citizenship’ means, one sees that the phrase signifies not only being born on U.S. soil (even to alien parents) but also being born abroad to at least one citizen-parent.  Because his father had not renounced American citizenship, George Romney was a ‘natural born citizen’ – as was Barry Goldwater, born in the Arizona Territory before it became a state, as is John McCain, who was born in the Panama Canal Zone to American parents.  There were minor controversies about citizenship legitimacy regarding all three of these White men, but the contestations never went very far.

In the case of the mixed-race Barack Obama, no one disputes that his mother was an American citizen.  Even if he had been born in Kenya, Indonesia, or Paris (where Lowell Weicker – a Republican candidate for president in 1980 – was born), he’d still be a ‘natural born citizen.’  Even if Hawaii had been a territory, not a state, in 1961, he’d still be a ‘natural born citizen.’  That his father was a British citizen (Kenya did not achieve independence until 1963) makes no difference, according to the overwhelming preponderance of federal and state legal decisions.  After all, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison were born to British subjects (and, for that matter, born on British colonial soil).  There’s simply no way that Barack Obama is not a ‘natural born citizen,’ even if his birth certificate were somehow shown to be the product of a clairvoyant master forger.

In most parts of the country, opponents of President Obama have abandoned embarrassingly spurious birther accusations in favor of broader accusations (socialist, unprepared, ‘in his heart not an American’ [that would be Colorado Republican Congressman Mike Coffman last week], or Manchurian Candidate-like empty vessel-ness [that would be Sarah Palin and the entire Fox News Network last weekend]).  Even the stunningly insane Orly Tate, terrifying birther cheerleader and law-suit-bringer, has blessedly sunk into media oblivion (at least for now).  But Arizona bucks the tide and continues the birther crusade.  Sheriff Joe Arpaio is still ‘investigating’ the President’s birth bona fides (using taxpayers’ money).

Honestly, I have no gripe against Arizona.  I’ve visited the state, briefly, and thought that the Hoover Dam was awesome in a man-made way, and that the part of the Grand Canyon I saw was also awesome in a nature-made way.  I can’t recall any conversations with Arizonans in situ, and there were certainly no unpleasant encounters. So when I started digging around the net for information pertaining to an earlier blog (“Pieces of a Conspiracy Theory”) and kept uncovering disconcerting Arizona-grounded right-wing oddities, it surprised me. 

I wish I could offer a cogent theory about why Arizona appears to be such a petri dish for extremist politics.  I can’t.  Nor can I figure out why the otherwise well-behaved state of Iowa turns all rabid prairie dog every four years. Instead, let’s consider what’s behind the contemporary birther phenomenon and why it has the evolutionary lifespan of a cockroach.

Actually, understanding the birther movement doesn’t take much more consideration than stomping on a bug that’s scuttled into one’s house. A small segment of United States citizens are convinced that Black people are inferior to Whites, and that in the normal course of events, no Black man could be elected President without wholesale chicanery. For another (and often overlapping) segment, his exotic name brands Barack Hussein Obama as a foreigner and a Muslim (one maybe related to deceased Iraqi dictators) – who can argue with that?  Particularly after 9/11?  Nomen est omen.

Evidently, President Obama’s first-term tenure has only exacerbated doubts about his legitimacy (in all senses) among a fearful and ignorant minority.  Given the economic problems that still beset this country, one would think that anti-Obamaists would have more productive ways to slam the incumbent.  And, of course, they do.  Yet birther politicians keep popping up.  Sane politicians, journalists, commentators, and average citizens have to play Whack-A-Mole on steroids.  It’s a hard game to win, both because birther Moles surface quickly and unexpectedly and because there are Mole-Moles – less overt birthers who nonetheless tap into birther paranoia, such as Newt Gingrich and his fairly recent comments about President Obama’s ‘Kenyan Mau-Mau’ world view.

It’s the Mole-Mole contingent that’s the most dangerous and in many ways despicable, because they know exactly what they’re doing:  making thinly disguised, phantasmagorical, and cynical appeals to the true-believer Moles.  For example, the ungrounded charge that President Obama is the ‘most divisive’ president in U.S. history (voiced as recently as this week by VEEP-wannabe Marco Rubio, in the middle of his second-fiddle try-out tour) is cross-fertilized by Republican assertions (including Candidate Romney’s) that Barack Obama ‘just doesn’t understand’ American exceptionalism and ‘goes around apologizing’ for his country.  Simply said, he ain’t one of us.

In addition, birtherism is cross-fertilized by charges of ‘posing and preening’ (that would be Republican Governor Chris Christie this past weekend, echoing attacks about the President’s ‘celebrity’).  Such charges conjure up not only ‘inauthenticity’ but also ‘Black Dandyism’ (which, before the Civil War, was outlawed in many Southern States by White legislators who thought that ‘Free Blacks’ – particularly those of mixed race – should be forced to dress, work, and congregate like their enslaved brethren, in order not to confuse god-given racial and citizenship distinctions via behavioral and sartorial uppity-ness). In other words:  President Obama is not a ‘true’ American.  In other words:  he’s a false American.  In other words:  his presidency is based on a trick or a lie or both.  In other words:  Birtherpalooza!

I also believe that there’s a lizard-brain connection between birtherism and anti-birth-control-ism.  And maybe with the entire sexual pucker that’s characterized the Republican Party this year.  (See many of my previous blogs!)  It intersects with White racism rather neatly, as the emblematic racist nightmare is the sexually uncontrollable Black man and the existential threat he poses to White women.  Emmett Till?  Willie Horton?  Birther of a Nation?  (Or re-read Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks.)  The fact that President Obama is a devoted family man uncontaminated by sexual scandal cannot counteract this id-driven specter of illegitimate and threatening sexual power.

Well, I’m a long way from Arizona (except it’s got lizards) and on the verge of psycho-theoretical analytics (would those be like jumbo shrimp?) ill-suited to a general-audience blog (or maybe to anything else).  Obviously, birtherism makes me so crazy that I want to stick my head in the oven.  But as friends have reminded me, I have an electric stove, so I can’t do a proper Sylvia Plath.  All I can do is write about the absurdity, stupidity, and utter illogic of birtherism . . . and urge everybody to keep the Whack-A-Mole mallets at the ready.

Friday, May 18, 2012



I’ve been treating these blog entries like traditional journalistic op-ed pieces, writing stuff hard on the heels of what crosses my radar.  Yet events and information continue to unfold.  So here are some random updates:

Pieces of a Semi-Conspiracy Theory (May) 
The FBI is investigating notorious Maricopa County (AZ) Sheriff Joe Arpaio on racial profiling allegations.  A Mesa, Arizona, high school baseball team won the State Championship because the opposing team forfeited the contest on the grounds that the Mesa squad included . . . a girl! Sidebar to my tentative theory about contraception and white supremacy:  last year, for the first time, there were more non-white births in the U.S. than white births.  I imagine this statistic (released May 17, 2012) is sending some elements of the far, far right into paroxysms of rage and I-told-you-so panic.

False Equivalence (April)
There’s a new book by (bipartisan political scientists) Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein that absolutely reinforces my point.  And it came out AFTER I wrote my little blog.  Hooray for me!  In It’s Even Worse Than It Looks:  How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism (published May 1, 2012), Mann and Ornstein assert that false equivalence has obscured the fact that, in reference to Congressional gridlock and related issues, Republicans have been much, much, much more responsible than have Democrats.  And that the ‘false equivalence’ fallacy has muddied or buried accurate reporting.

Catfish, Cheesy Grits, and the Question of Authenticity (March);
The Official Mitt Romney High School Behavior Quiz (May)
Now that Mitt Romney has secured the Republican Presidential nomination, he should be able to be more authentic, more himself.  The jury’s out on whether this is happening, or if it is, whether it’s helpful to his candidacy.  On the one hand, ‘authentic’ details . . . such as his high school bullying career . . . do not endear him to most voters.  (Plus they put his wife’s claim that he’s really a ‘wild and crazy guy’ in a rather unfortunate light.)  On the other hand, he remains unable to talk naturally about things that seem to be honestly important to him, such as his Mormon faith (see his recent commencement address at the ultra-Christian-fundamentalist Liberty University, in which he couldn’t even mention the name of his church).

The Trayvon Martin Case (April)
The ALEC-sponsored block-the-vote legislation in Florida is having the desired effect . . . almost 100,000 fewer new registered voters this year than in 2008.  Governor Rick Scott has vetoed legislation to ban concealed weapons at the upcoming Republican Convention (don't worry:  you can still be jailed for carrying a water gun).  George Zimmerman was arrested for Martin’s murder but is out on relatively low bail, amid controversy that he committed perjury about his purported indigence. Some recently released medical evidence can be interpreted to support Zimmerman’s version of events. In the mean time, Marissa Alexander, a young African American mother – who shot a gun into the ceiling to try stopping her husband (with a history of domestic violence) from attacking her (no one was harmed) – claimed protection under Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law but was convicted a week ago and sentenced to twenty years in prison.

Santorum Keeps Marching Along  (April)
He didn’t.  As predicted, he ‘suspended’ (read: quit) his campaign right before the potentially embarrassing Pennsylvania primary.  Santorum’s much delayed endorsement of Mitt Romney was many degrees south of tepid.

Elegy on a Country’s Wild Card (March)
Newt Gingrich also ‘suspended’ his campaign.  Ditto the last sentence, above.

The Little Rocket that Couldn’t (April)
After investigating more closely the science underpinning the Unha-3, I realized that I hadn’t made one thing clear (because it hadn’t been completely clear to me).  There is/was no way that North Korea’s ‘communication/weather satellite’ launch was anything but a (failed) test drive of ICBM delivery technology.  Reason?  North Korea has no tracking stations and therefore could not adjust the satellite’s orbit (in this case, a polar one rather than the now standard geosynchronous [more or less equatorial] one). Even for countries with advanced technology, it takes weeks, maybe months, to nudge a satellite into its desired orbit.  Without tracking stations (either its own or ones ‘borrowed’ from allies), this essential step cannot be accomplished because no one can locate a satellite that simply has been hurled into space (so no one can correct its course).  North Korea’s previous attempts to launch such ‘satellites’ have not only been failures but have also been invisible to the vast existing systems of tracking stations (systems unavailable to North Korea), which suggests that they were never programmed to reach orbit heights.  In contrast, ICBMs are more or less flung toward a target, in the way that resembles a giant slingshot.  They don’t need tracking systems or in-orbit adjustments (they don’t go into orbit).  When they blow up seconds after launch, all we can conclude is that the missile-delivery systems being tested remain fatally flawed.

George Gershwin and N.C. Amendment One (May)
Amendment One passed, and North Carolina looks really, really backward and bigoted.  The next day, however, President Obama endorsed gay marriage.  I suspect that a big reason (despite Vice President Biden’s jumping-the-gun) for this endorsement’s timing was the N.C. vote.  Mitt Romney has been widely criticized for not condemning outrageousness when it’s smacked him in the face (a supporter saying that the President should be tried for treason, for example; Rush Limbaugh’s lubricious slurs against a young woman advocating the health aspects of contraception).  Because the Democratic Convention will be held in North Carolina, President Obama was honor-bound to call out the chosen convention state for its retrograde vote, even if in a somewhat elliptical but probably more game-changing way.  

Ritual Humiliation (March)
Somehow, Republicans in Congress cannot figure out that it might be a good idea to authorize the previously bipartisan ‘Violence Against Women’ act.  As far as I can understand (and it’s hard), the major sticking points are that reauthorization would include possibly ‘illegal’ immigrant women and women not in a traditional marriage.  Maybe even (gasp!) gay men.  Plus American Indian women (here the problem is in part jurisdictional).  [Cross-reference with ‘George Gershwin and N.C. Amendment One.’]

Beer in the Bullpen (March)
Alas, and yet again, and again  . . . this appears NOT to be the Cubs’ year.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Official Mitt Romney High School Behavior Quiz

The Official Mitt Romney High School Behavior Quiz

Last week, The Washington Post disclosed a hazing incident involving a teenaged Mitt Romney.  It alleged that Romney led a group of boys at Cranbrook School (a prestigious and expensive Michigan private academy) in attacking a new student who had long blonde hair that the ‘guys’ found effeminate, different, and therefore an affront (to their masculinity? their conformity? their fashion sense?).  The bullies ambushed their target, pinned him down, and Romney sheared off his hair amidst his struggles, tears, and cries for help.

There are certainly worse bullying incidents on record – and happening today.  But this one was ugly enough.  It evidently scarred the victim and most of the attackers, who remember the incident with embarrassment and shame. 

Except Candidate Romney.

His first reaction to the story was (to be charitable) nervous laughter and a claim of amnesia.  He didn’t remember this incident at all (even though everyone else involved had).  He did ‘remember,’ though, that the issue of homosexuality would not have been operative, as he didn’t think in those terms back then.  As the day that the Post story broke wore on, Romney attempted to express some sort of remorse, although he continued to assert that he didn’t recall the event.

What do we make of this?  Are grownups eternally responsible for every dumb or mean thing they did when they were teenagers? 

In order to try to answer such questions, I’ve devised a high-school-behavior quiz.  I don’t have the technology to record answers automatically, so I invite readers to take it and to record their A/B/C/D/E/F answers.  At the end of the quiz, I’ll disclose the scoring system. 

Pick the answer that MOST ACCURATELY describes your attitudes and behavior.  Here goes . . .

I.  When I was in high school, I:

[A] Thought I was cooler than most people.

[B] Thought I was smarter than most people.

[C] Thought I was more athletic/prettier than most people.

[D] Thought I was a non-conformist.

[E] Thought all my classmates were my equals.

[F] Thought I was a loser.

II.  When I was in high school, I mostly chose my friends:

[A] Because they were popular.

[B] Because we were in the same extra-curricular activities.

[C] Because their parents went to the same church or same country club as mine.

[D] Because they were friendly to me.

[E] Because they needed friendship.

[F] I didn’t.  I didn’t have any friends.

III.  When I was in high school, I:

[A] Talked disparagingly about kids who weren’t in my group of friends.

[B] Ignored kids who weren’t in my group of friends.

[C] Bullied or beat up kids who weren’t in my group of friends.

[D] Didn’t stand up for kids when I could have.

[E] Tried to befriend kids who seemed to have no friends.

[F] Was tormented by just about everybody.

IV.  When I was in high school, I:

[A] Called kids ‘gay’ because they were geeks.

[B] Called kids ‘gay’ because my friends called them gay.

[C] Called kids ‘gay’ because I thought they were and didn’t like it.

[D] Didn’t really know what ‘gay’ meant, so I didn’t call anyone ‘gay.’

[E] Tried to support ’gay’ students.

[F] Was gay.

V.  Now that I’m an adult, I:

[A] Regret some things I did as a teenager, but I -- like most teens -- was a jerk.

[B] Regret some things I did as a teenager, but standards were different then.

[C] Don’t think I should be held accountable for what I might have done in the past.

[D] Wish I could apologize.

[E] Believe I tried to be a good person in high school.

[F] Am glad I’m alive, after the torment of high school.

VI.  Now that I’m an adult, I:

[A] Think that traditional marriage is between a man and a woman.

[B] Could be in favor of civil unions for non-straight couples.

[C] Believe that anything other than one-man-one-woman marriage should be illegal.

[D] Don’t understand how gay marriages threaten straight marriages.

[E] Am in favor of gay marriages.

[F] Don’t understand why anyone would want to be married.

VII.  Now that I’m an adult, I:

[A] Have self-identified as a Republican.

[B] Have self-identified as a Libertarian.

[C] Have self-identified as a Tea-Party person.

[D] Have self-identified as a Democrat.

[E] Have self-identified as an Independent.

[F] Don’t vote.

VIII.  One piece of advice I’d give to today’s young people is:

[A] Don’t be on FaceBook: it could eventually bite you on the butt.

[B] Join Facebook under an alias (but let good friends know what it is).

[C] Don’t worry about Facebook and texting – you’re just a kid.

[D] Be wary about everything you send via social media – it’s not going away.

[E] Use social media to disseminate views you believe in.

[F] Go off the grid.


Every [A] check = 5
Every [B] check = 3
Every [C] check = 7
Every [D] check = 2
Every [E] check = 0
Every [F] check = 1

Here’s the scientific analysis, calculated to within micro-fractional accuracy, of what your score reveals about you, compiled by a panel of media psychologists including Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Dr. Laura, Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, Phineas and Ferb, the pollster Frank Luntz, and an assortment of FBI profilers.

0 - 6.  You were a high-school student whom I suspect many of us now wished we had been – strong, egalitarian, ready to stand up for the downtrodden.  I also suspect there are very few people in this category, whether we’re talking about today or back-in-my-day.  In fact, I don’t believe your answers!

7-13.  You were either a gay teenager or a ‘different’ teenager with no supportive peer group.  These years must have been horrible. But opting out of contemporary civic participation may not be your most productive option.  Advice:  get over seeing yourself as a victim.

14 - 20.  You wanted to be accepted in high school but had lingering anxiety about your peer-group status.  You did – and still do – put up with a lot in order to be a welcomed member of the peer-group you’d like to be part of.  Sure, pat yourself on the back for the times you spoke up and maybe derailed something hurtful.  But also be honest about the times you didn’t.  Use that lingering shame, a shame in part created by fears about how close you too came to being ostracized, as a motivation to action.

21- 27.  As a teenager, you were neither mean nor courageous.  You were comfortable with your friends and with your place in the high-school pecking order.  Your teenage experiences have not consciously impacted how you function as an adult.  So become conscious.  Just because you didn’t frequently harass vulnerable high-school classmates doesn’t give you a pass.  You were wired in enough to stop some of this, and you didn’t. You owe it to yourself, and certainly to your less fortunate/less mainstream acquaintances, to stand up now for kindness and equality.

28 and up.  At best, you were an aider and abettor, and you know it.  You may not care.  You may think that the aggressive, egocentric traits you honed in high school have helped you succeed as an adult. You may think that you’ve always been loyal to your in-group, and that’s what’s important. You may think that compassion is for weaklings because those who haven’t succeeded have only themselves to blame.  You may be a Republican candidate for president.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pieces of a Semi-Conspriacy Theory: Contraception, Immigration, Murder, and More

Pieces of a Semi-Conspiracy Theory:
Contraception, Immigration, Murder, and More

The rambunctious Republican Primary is over, and there’s time to ponder whether anything occurred that’s really worth thinking about.  I keep returning to the politically counterproductive Republican assault on contraception.  Why did this become an issue?  Who benefits?  Is there a long-term agendum that trumps the short-term electoral losses of championing such a broadly unpopular cause?

In the past few weeks, some seemingly random things caught my attention.

--A disturbing TV ad claiming that illegal immigrants were a leading cause of pollution, sponsored by ‘Californians for Population Stabilization’ (CAPS).  Actually, I first thought it was a parody.  Mexicans crossing the border leaving huge carbon footprints like El Sasquatcho?  Once I realized it was not a parody but a ‘serious’ advocacy ad, I experienced a visceral (as opposed to a rational or intellectual) queasiness.  There’s something profoundly wrong with claiming that a population sector causes ‘pollution.’  It’s the claim about Jews that Hitler made in Mein Kampf, and that Nazi ideologues like Julius Streicher continued to make until they were silenced for good.  Poking around on the internet, I found that CAPS based its ad on ‘research’ by the Center for Immigration Studies, founded by John Tanton, a man with strong connections to contemporary White supremacist, anti-Semitic, and eugenic movements.

--A multiple murder/suicide in Arizona.  On May 2, 2012, in Gilbert, Arizona, J. T. Ready shot his girlfriend, her daughter, the daughter’s boyfriend, and their baby, then shot himself.  Unfortunately common domestic violence?  Probably so.  But because of the magnitude of the slaughter, the story has been reported nationally.  And some interesting things have been revealed about J. T. Ready.

            ***One.  J. T. Ready was a proud and loud Neo-Nazi.  Congruently, he was virulently anti-Semitic.
            ***Two.  J. T. Ready reorganized his followers into the ‘U.S. Border Guards’ (not affiliated in any way with official U.S. or Arizona law enforcement), with the self-appointed mission of protecting Arizona from the unwashed and distressingly fertile hordes threatening his home state.
            ***Three.  J. T. Ready was active in Arizona Republican politics.
            ***Four.  J. T. Ready believed that the Aryan/White ‘race’ in North America was threatened with extinction because the non-Aryan/White ‘race’ bred prolifically.  Projected demographics spelled doom.

--The Arizona ‘Papers Please’ law that’s now before the Supreme Court.  No one can deny that the purpose of this law (Arizona SB 1070) is to harass Spanish-speaking people, no matter what the Supreme Court ultimately decides about its constitutionality.  The desired outcome of this law, then, is to make it easier (1) to deport south-of-the-border types; or (2) to create such an oppressive atmosphere that prospective immigrants (legal or illegal) would stay (or return) home.  In both cases, the result would be fewer Latinos in Arizona, thus retarding the ‘browning’ of the state’s complexion.

The power behind this law was Russell Pearce, then the state’s House Majority Leader. 

--Arizona Republican Politics.  Last year, Russell Pearce was recalled, the first such state office-holder to be so chastised.  His punishment:  assuming the Vice Chairmanship of the Arizona Republican Party.  And despite being ingloriously booted out of the legislature, he’s running again for the Arizona State Senate.  Last week, the J. T. Ready massacre/suicide happened, as did news exploration of connections between J. T. Ready and Russell Pearce.

These connections include:
***Many Republican Party events that featured both of them (and often Republican Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of pink-pantsuited prisoner, presidential birth certificate ‘investigation,’ and extreme anti-immigrant-measures fame).  There are pictures!
***Pearce’s support of Ready’s candidacy for Mesa City Council in 2006.
***Pearce’s sponsorship of Ready into the Mormon Church in 2004.  Under Pearce’s imprimatur, Ready was accepted as a Mormon elder.
***Pearce’s statements, last week, that he didn’t really know J. T. Ready, they weren’t friends, any allegation to the contrary was a smear tactic, yadda yadda.)

--Democratic National Strategy.  Arizona is now one of the states ‘in play.’

--ALEC.  As the Trayvon Martin case has exposed, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been behind many reactionary initiatives in now-Republican-dominated State houses.  These initiatives include anti-immigration measures and anti-contraceptive measures (such as the ‘personhood’ laws, which would effectively outlaw most common forms of contraception).  They also include ‘stand your ground’ laws, voter restriction laws, and educational ‘reform’ bills, among which are some containing what appear to be eugenically motivated exclusions of physically, emotionally, and mentally disabled students.  ALEC has been extremely active in drafting legislation for Arizona, among which are the ‘Papers Please’ law and the bill authorizing employers to pry into workers’ sexual lives in order to exclude contraception from health insurance, a bill sponsored by Rep. Debbie Lesko, who is also the ALEC Arizona State Chair.  Stochastic aggregate? (Sorry – can’t resist a new vocabulary word!)

--The NRA.  The NRA supports everything possibly connected to gun ‘rights.’ That means it supports – with lots and lots of money – almost every group that espouses the sacrosanct nature of the 2nd amendment, no matter what sort of odious baggage the group drags in its wake.  The NRA has funded ALEC, it has supported Arizona’s ‘Papers Please’ legislation, it has supported ‘personhood’ measures, and it has supported individual political candidates on the far, far fringes of ‘political’ thought.  Including Russell Pearce, at least as implied by his website.

So these are some Conspiracy Theory pieces.  If there were a gun to my head (thanks, NRA, for seeing that scenario as an imaginable possibility), I’d be tempted to put them together this way:

My Tenuous Semi-Conspiracy Theory

A significant (not dominant, thank God) number of ‘White’ Americans seem seriously threatened by changing demographics.  Ways to counter this threat?  Purge the nation of non-whites.  Because this is difficult to do vis-à-vis African Americans, many of whom can trace their families’ ‘American’ roots as far, or farther, than can most ‘White’ Americans, the purgation target now centers on Latinos.   On another front (and just go onto Neo-Nazi or Aryan Nation sites to confirm [if you have a strong stomach]), ‘White’ Americans should ‘breed’ prolifically in order to outstrip the uninhibited breeding of ‘Non-Whites.’  And it goes without saying that all law-abiding (read: White) citizens should have tons of guns to protect themselves from marauding immigrants and people of color in general.

Anything (such as accessible contraception or minority populations’ voting rights) that impedes this demographic race-to-dominance is anathema.  Because of the snaky coils of organizations such as ALEC and the NRA, the reasons for opposing accessible contraception are blindingly obscured.  And many people/organizations that support this or that conservative idea may honestly not know what they’re backing, as has been the case, evidently, with a good number of ALEC ‘s corporate sponsors and with Mississippi’s defeat of its initially popular ‘personhood’ amendment.

Does a connecting thread sew together race fears, gun rights, anti-immigrant measures, anti-contraception initiatives, voter suppression efforts, denial-of-women’s agency bills, ‘modern eugenics,’ and Republican far-right politics?

Conspiracy theories are not my thing except for their use in providing plots for TV shows.  I do accept that U.S. astronauts walked on the moon.  I don’t believe that aliens laid out the Nasca lines or that extra-terrestrial corpses are preserved in Area 54.  I don’t think that the Bush II administration planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks in order to create a pretext for invading Iraq.

Neither do I think that there’s a single evil mastermind or cabal (The Protocol of the Elders of White Supremacy?) orchestrating recent and current right-wing Republican politics.  I suspect it’s more like a multi-dimensional Venn diagram, in which there’s just enough intersection of various interest groups and ideologies to form a dangerously toxic kernel of convergence.  And yet . . .

Acknowledging that the six-degrees-of-separation principle can link just about anything with anything, I’m seriously troubled by the tangled web I’ve attempted to piece together here.  Does it trouble you as well?  Do these pieces seem to fit together?  Or am I just journeying into tin-foil-hat land?  I seriously welcome your feedback.

Selected References:

Stephen Lemons, “Russell Pearce Lies Again About Ties to J. T. Ready,” Phoenix New Times, May 3, 2012

Meet the National Rifle Association Leadership, “Ken Blackwell (Board Member),” Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, 2012

Michael Muskal, “Border guard founder J. T. Ready blamed in Arizona murder-suicide,” L.A. Times, May 3, 2012

Maia Newley, “Mssrs. Eugenics and Indoctrination Are Visiting Florida,” Daily Kos, Feb. 4, 2012

Emily Osborne, “Arizona’s ALEC Leader Wants Your Boss to Make Decisions About Your Contraception Coverage,” PR Watch, March 19, 2012

Pearce for Arizona website, “Past Endorsements.”  (2012).

John Rudolf, “JT Ready, Arizona Border Vigilante Blamed for Mass Murder, Had State Republican Party Ties,” Huffington Post, May 3, 2012

Felicia Sommez, “Russell Pearce, Arizona immigration law author, says Romney’s ‘policy is identical to mine,’” The Washington Post, April 5, 2012

Southern Poverty Law Center, “John Tanton,” SPLC website, 2010.

 Southern Poverty Law Center, “The Nativist Lobby:  Three Faces of Intolerance,” SPLC website, Feb. 2009.

Vanessa, “Connection between HB 462 Mandatory Ultrasound Bill and ALEC: Delegate Kathy Byron,”  #f29/Occupy Virginia, February 20, 2012.

[I have not linked to any Neo-Nazi or White supremacist sites, for obvious reasons.  But I did (gag) look at (too many of) them.

I realize that some of the links included here are not what one would call ‘unbiased’ sources.  But honestly, mainstream sites usually play it safe and, if anything, have embedded links to less mainstream sites that they’ve vetted as acceptable sources.  I’ve tried to follow those links – in other words, starting research with mainstream sites, then drilling down (plus doing a variety of Google searches in various key term combinations). 

Just as I’d welcome feedback about the substance of this blog entry, I’d welcome feedback about best practices re internet research for current events.  As an academic, I was trained in actual-paper research, and this is what I still am most comfortable with.  But trying to comment upon breaking news in a non-academic environment makes internet research not only convenient but also necessary. At this point, I try to rely on internet sources I know and, relatively, trust; cross referencing as much as possible, and; having at least two (preferably more) confirming sources.

 In this particular blog entry, I’ve listed only the sources I found most information-useful.  Behind each listed source are more websites that confirm ‘facts’ presented in the included references.]

Thursday, May 3, 2012

George Gershwin and N.C. Amendment One

George Gershwin and N.C. Amendment One

When I was about ten years old, I fell madly in love with George Gershwin.  It didn’t matter that he was many years dead. 

He was my ideal man: massively talented, urban, tall-dark-and- (to me at the time) handsome – someone who spanned classical and popular styles and had an exceedingly sweet smile.  Not to mention a man who’d composed some of the most flat-out gorgeous and exhilarating music ever.

While my grade-school girlfriends swooned over the equally dead James Dean or the alive throbs-de-jour like Elvis or Frankie Avalon, I honed my pre-teen fantasy life on scenarios of meeting George Gershwin and becoming welded in music and passion, forever.  When I practiced Gershwin’s compositions on the piano, his face beamed from the sheet music and his beautiful long hands tried to guide mine. 

Between futile attempts at stretching my fingers so they could accomplish tenths on the piano, and therefore play Rhapsody in Blue or the Preludes successfully, I read everything I could about him.  This task was challenging given the limited public library to which I had access in Northern Wisconsin, but I finally scored an illustrated biography.  The book included a picture of George Gershwin ‘on a date’ with an actress named Simone Simon.  When I saw this photograph, my heart broke:  George Gershwin had loved someone else.  Could he love me as sweepingly, and exclusively, as he had in my dreams?

I decided that I’d have to fight for him (in some weird revenant space inhabited by George Gershwin, a grown-up me, and unspecified starlets).  I practiced more, and by age eleven could play a passable Rhapsody in Blue, two of the Preludes, and all of the Porgy and Bess score.  Then I found another book.

The new (to me) biography suggested that, despite Simone Simon and other publicized flings, George Gershwin was a homosexual.  I didn’t know exactly what that meant, so I asked my parents.  I recall the discussion pretty well:

            (Me); This book said Gershwin was a homosexual. What’s a homosexual?
            (Mom and Dad): A homosexual is a man who loves other men.
            (Me):  Like Ira?  Of course he loved his brother; and Ira wrote the words for George’s music.
            (Mom and Dad):  Not really.  It’s more like a man who would like to date or marry another man.
            (Me):  [Silence.]

I was devastated.  Even if George Gershwin came back from the dead, he would never love me.  I thought I could beat out random Hollywood sex kittens, but I realized, even then, that I couldn’t triumph over something I didn’t really understand but knew was alien to me. What George Gershwin (if he were indeed gay) wanted and needed in his intimate life was something I could never supply, under any circumstances. 

This was my first conscious encounter with ‘homosexuality.’  Growing up in a small town, when I did, I had no idea about people’s sexual preferences (or that there were such things as sexual preferences.)  Maybe I had relatives and family friends (and my own-age friends) who were gay, but I had not been aware of such possibilities. Such things were not talked about casually.

I continued to work on playing George Gershwin’s music, although my fantasy personal connection with him was severed. It wasn’t that I found his rumored sexual choices repulsive or sinful (and I thank my parents for raising me in a relatively non-judgmental, non-dogmatic household).  Instead, I found them disturbing because they excluded me.  What I had thought as universally normative sexuality (men liked women and vice versa) was obviously not true.

Fast forward:  North Carolina 2012.  Amendment One. For readers who aren’t North Carolina residents, here’s the salient wording:
“Marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”

This proposal is both asinine and redundant.  My state already refuses to recognize gay marriages.  Moreover, the amendment would disallow both gay civil unions (which, according to polls, a majority of this state’s voters support) as well as domestic partnerships between straight people.  It could put at risk children of non-married parents and jeopardize the rights of adults who choose not to marry or who are prohibited from doing so by laws such as North Carolina’s.  (And don’t get me started on the wrongheadedness of subjecting basic human rights to a plebiscite.)

I will proudly vote against this supremely stupid amendment.  But I’m not sure I would have done so ten years ago (I‘m pretty sure I wouldn’t have voted for it, but I’m not confident that I would have made the affirmative effort to vote at all in an otherwise uninteresting May primary election).  It’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to see that initiatives such as Amendment One diminish everyone, not just those in or with very close ties to the LGBT community.

My own journey to what I hope is a fuller understanding of the issues underlying marriage equality began decades ago, with discovering the whispering campaign surrounding George Gershwin.  On the one hand, it was my introduction to the sheer fact that homosexuality exists (although not necessary vis-à-vis Gershwin . . . biographers continue to disagree about his sexual preference or to finesse the question by assuming he was so consumed by his music that he didn’t have the additional emotional resources needed to form an enduring loving alliance with anyone).  On the other hand, my feelings of alienation (as opposed to the feelings of betrayal engendered by Simone Simon) made me realize, even way back then, [1] that I was a heterosexual and that it wasn’t a choice – it was just who I was; and [2] that if I was born ‘that way’ (i.e., straight), other people could just as logically be born ‘another way’ (i.e., gay). 

Obviously, more adult life experiences also play a huge part in how we think about sexuality.  For me, over the years, such experiences have included warm relationships with gay roommates, gay colleagues, gay friends.  Not to mention a cultural shift – not tsunami-like, but not glacial, either – that has made it blessedly possible for people to be who they are, without Simone Simon beards.  That ongoing shift owes an immense amount to people brave enough to challenge received norms, to fight for dignity, and to educate their fellow citizens.

We choose whom we love, but in most cases we don’t choose the ‘pool’ from which we choose whom we love.  And appeals to ‘tradition’ (religious, cultural, historical) ring increasingly hollow. These days, one-man-one-woman marriage has shown severe fractures – with an approximately fifty-percent divorce rate in the United States, who in this country could honestly argue for the civilization-upholding strength of traditional marriage? What about older partners for whom ‘marriage’ might spell economic peril?  (This blog entry is already too long, so I won’t rehash religiously shaky justifications or historically false assertions about the eternal verity of heterosexual monogamy.)

I suspect that some of Amendment One’s support involves economics – for example, employers don’t want to/believe they can’t afford to pay for more benefits for more workers (sexual preferences not really being the primary issue).  Fine.  Let’s treat all family benefits equally.  Restrict benefits if necessary, but restrict them equitably.  Two adults who’ve chosen to blend their lives and incomes and future aspirations are a family, it seems to me. And their children (‘natural,’ in-vitro, adopted) are part of that family. Further, I’m not in the least convinced that North Carolina’s economic big picture is helped by bigoted laws that would make the state less attractive to many relocating or start-up businesses dependent on talented (and educated) young workers. 

So I’ll go to the polls on May 8 with George Gershwin in my heart. 

The man who wrote some of the most enduring American music of the 20th century, who brought Black music ways into the White mainstream, who blended classical and vernacular idioms, and who may have had to conceal his sexual identity . . . my man’s NOT gone now.  George Gershwin – whose whole life was dedicated to creative synthesis – would never have voted for an amendment that divided and disenfranchised people.

Neither will I.  Neither, in my opinion, should you.

Vote against Amendment One.

If you live elsewhere, fight against similar measures that would de-legitimatize, prohibit, or criminalize fundamental human rights.  We inhabit a globally connected world, so we should be invested in securing fairness for women and children, for religious and ethnic minorities, for political and cultural dissidents everywhere.  If we don’t, we put not only our compatriots but also ourselves in grave peril.

In 1926, George and Ira Gershwin collaborated on a wonderful song, “Someone to Watch Over Me.”  George died in 1937, before the horrific consequences of not watching over our fellow men and women became terrifyingly evident (horrifying consequences that probably would have included the extermination of the Russian/Ukranian-Jewish Gershwin family if they had remained in Europe).  We should know, by now, that fighting discrimination and repression . . . and standing in solidarity with more vulnerable populations . . . is an ethical imperative. We always need to watch over each other.  One way to do so is to vote down measures like North Carolina’s Amendment One.