Too much to ask

My mother is sick with the flu (after getting the H1N1 vaccine some weeks ago–and I thought H1N1 was the only flu going around this year), so I took some stuff to the Graton post office for her.

It was closed. For lunch.

Now I understand the one man running the Graton Post Office needs to take a lunch. And he needs Saturdays off. But eccentric hours disrespect my time. The fact I’m unemployed is irrelevant. It is still disrespect. So I was pissed. In disgust, I walked back to my truck and drove to the Sebastopol Post Office, checked my mail at the mail box place across the street, and got most of my mother’s postal errands done. But I was still fuming while I was driving there.

Because with all the unemployment in this country and all the lying that’s embedded in the statistics to make the economy seem better than it is, the Postal Service can’t hire a second person to man the Graton Post Office and keep it open regular hours. Instead, my stepsister in Stockton, a single mother working for the Postal Service worries about her job. The Postal Service is cutting back, she says, closing branch offices and reducing staff. She’ll probably be okay because she has enough seniority.

Obama’s been trying to spur hiring in the private sector with massive infrastructure projects. It hasn’t worked. And the job creation statistics from his stimulus package are flawed. The stimulus package is just one more example of Obama’s fine-sounding promises that are somehow supposed to substitute for the cruel reality of his deeds.

Now, I know that asking Obama to do actually something real to help people, that is other than bailing out the military-industrial complex; bailing out the health insurance industry; bailing out the banks; and reinforcing the Bush regime of secrecy, torture, and domestic spying is unreasonable. Something about the “politics of the possible,” governing being different from campaigning, corruption compromise being a sign of maturity, and all that.

There are a lot of working class people working for the Postal Service. If Obama can’t do any good, the least he can do is to avoid doing harm. But looking at what he’s doing in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, I guess even that’s too much to ask.

Rewriting history: the TARP legislation

I’ve been harshly critical of Barack Obama for bailing out the banks and leaving homeowners and the unemployed to twist in the winds of a harsh recession. Something that keeps appearing in the mainstream media, however, is that Obama inherited the Toxic Assets Relief Program from the Bush administration. This is true.

But it is only part of the story and it is somewhat amazing to see how quickly the details of how TARP passed have been obscured. First, we should remember that this was a program passed by a Democratic Party-controlled Congress. In the prelude to passage, on September 18, 2008, Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said, “I think we saw the best of the United States of America in the Speaker’s office tonight.” The Speaker of the House of Representatives, then as now, was and is Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from San Francisco.

That’s high praise coming from a bitterly divisive presidential administration. And it is a little astonishing to look back at just how controversial the plan was.

At a meeting of then-President Bush, then-presidential candidates McCain and Obama, and congressional leaders at the White House, on September 25, to gather support for the bailout, Republicans refused to support the bill, possibly to allow McCain more time to appear as a “consensus-maker,” but given that they ultimately voted against the bill, maybe not.

Obama told CNN he still thought a deal could be reached, though he acknowledged that “I still think there’s still some work that needs to be done.” McCain tried to paint himself as a consensus-maker, telling ABC News “I believe we’ll reach a successful conclusion. Members are aware of the crisis situation that we’re in.

My own recollection, though I can’t now find the story, was that Obama, astonished by the failure of Bush to marshal support from his own party, said something to the effect that they (Republican members of Congress) just didn’t get it.

The House of Representatives defeated the bill on the first attempt, on September 29. “133 Republicans and 95 Democrats voted against it (with 65 and 140, respectively, voting in favor).” On October 2, Representative Brad Sherman (Democrat–California, 27th District) complained that some members of Congress were threatened with huge drops in the Dow Jones (which happened anyway) and with martial law if they did not vote for the pork-laden $700 billion bailout for the financial industry and concentration of new powers for the Secretary of the Treasury. Under the circumstances, the possibility that a coup had been threatened could not be ruled out. The Senate passed the bill that same day, partly to shame the House into acquiescence. On October 3, 2008, the bill passed with 263 votes (172 Democratic, 91 Republican) in favor and 171 (63 Democratic, 108 Republican) against.

That’s right, more Republicans–and fewer Democrats–got this right in a Democrat-controlled House. And possibly the most ugly aspect of the bailout was when AIG, an insurance company, was included. As for Obama:

“The fact that we have reached a point where the Federal Reserve felt it had to take this unprecedented step with the American Insurance Group is the final verdict on the failed economic philosophy of the last eight years,” Obama said. “While we do not know all the details of this arrangement, the Fed must ensure that the plan protects the families that count on insurance. It should bolster our economy’s ability to create good-paying jobs and help working Americans pay their bills and save their money. It must not bail out the shareholders or management of AIG.

“This crisis serves as a stark reminder of the failures of crony capitalism and an economic philosophy that sees any regulation at all as unwise and unnecessary,” Obama continued. “It’s a philosophy that lets Washington lobbyists shred consumer protections and distort our economy so it works for the special interests instead of working people; a philosophy that says we should give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to the rest. Instead, the pain has trickled up – from the struggles of Main Street all the way up to the crises on Wall Street.”

Obama was spinning the AIG bailout as a repudiation of Republican economic policy, but seems to have accepted it as necessary. And with over a year’s hindsight, having watched the emasculation of health care reform and of finance reform, Obama’s hypocrisy is more than a little stunning.

But to claim that Obama inherited the bailout from Bush is to ignore his own support for the bill, his party’s support for the bill, and their support for its implementation even before the election.

Boobs on Facebook

It’s out of stock.

But when I saw this patriotic-themed burqa, I couldn’t help but think of the discourse on women’s bodies in the United States. This became news when a Facebook movement sprang up recently seeking publicity about breast cancer. Utterly without explanation, mostly women began setting their statuses to a single word, a color. It turns out this was supposed to be the color of their bras. I think Tracy Clark-Flory, writing for, mostly gets it right:

So it goes with breast cancer activism as of late. First, there was that “Save the Boobs” public service announcement featuring luscious bouncing breasts and then there were those silly clips of famous dudes (who also happen to be boobs) talking about saving women’s totally awesome knockers. Both came off as valuing big bazoombas over the life of the human being they’re attached to. This bra color movement seems a similarly desperate attempt to get guys to simply give a crap about breast cancer by making it sexy and flirtatious, which I find not only embarrassing to women but insulting to men.

I’m having a hard time imagining that “guys” don’t “give a crap about breast cancer.” Any who don’t surely deserve the insult. But there is another, considerably less benighted reason for men to hold their tongues.

In our society, men tend to drown out women. This is one reason for the persistence of women’s colleges. Moreover, our discourse entails an epistemology that Lorraine Code spends an entire book, What Can She Know?, debunking. I’m not a philosopher, so I’m not even going to attempt to summarize her work here, but the way we think we know needs to change–and men’s dominance of women is at the heart of the problem.

This is particularly apparent in the area of women’s medicine, where male physicians and medical researchers have diminished, demeaned, dismissed, and discounted women’s health problems for decades. And that’s actually an improvement. According to Barbara G. Walker, in The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, “In the United States, the last recorded clitoridectomy for curing masturbation was performed in 1948–on a five-year-old girl.” In the vernacular, that’s female genital mutilation, not in Africa, but right here in what so many of us think of as “a shining city on the hill” for the world.

More recently, British researchers declared that the G-spot–a region in the front of a woman’s vagina reputed to be particularly sensitive–doesn’t exist. That’s quite a surprise to many women who have found pleasure in their G-spots for quite some time. The researchers’ method relied on female twins, whose genetic similarity they thought should produce identical answers about sexual experience. Phrasing it the way I have gives it away. According to Martha Lee, writing for Carnal Nation, “[Beverly] Whipple dismissed the findings of the British study as ‘flawed’, saying the researchers had discounted the experiences of lesbian or bisexual women and failed to consider the effects of different sexual technique. ‘The biggest problem with their findings is that twins don’t generally have the same sexual partner,’ said Whipple.”

To say the least, men’s discourse about women’s bodies is problematic. From Plato on down, men have often required women to dress modestly. In this masterful logic, not only are women themselves incapable of philosophizing, but with their appeal to men’s sensual instincts, they distract from “higher” thinking. Of course the premise that privileges philosophy over sexuality is placed beyond challenge. But it is to this that Jack Holland, in Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice, traces a hatred and suppression of women that persists to the present day. A large proportion of us would rape women if we were convinced we would get away with it, leading Catharine MacKinnon to conclude that there is no way to distinguish a “normal” male from a rapist. And particularly when we’re wealthy and powerful, an awful lot of us have an awful lot to say about a woman’s right to choose an abortion. It’s hard to argue with a feminist criticism that many men see women’s bodies as places for others, that is, (especially male) babies, male penises, and male control.

So when women demand that men speak up about breast cancer on Facebook, I’m sorry to say their request is simplistic at best. Because this isn’t just about breasts. It isn’t just about health. It isn’t even just about sex. It is the entirety of our discourse that needs to change.

While Obama was bailing out the banks and widening the wars

I have revised this entry because I just found the statistics going back to 1940. I’m only going back to 1947, however, because between 1940 and 1947, the Bureau of Labor Statistics counts civilian, non-institutionalized population 14 and over, rather then 16 and over. (In 1947, they counted both ways.)

Also, there will be a benchmark adjustment applied in next month’s statistics that is expected to make the employment picture look considerably worse than it does right now.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers released Friday, of all these years, 2009 was the worst. There are over 6.4 million fewer employed people at the beginning of 2010 than there were at the beginning of 2009. That drop is about half again as bad as any previous year. There are nearly three million more people excluded from the labor force. And in that time, the civilian non-institutionalized population grew by about three million.

In essence, employment has gone off a cliff since the recession began in December 2007. And claims that we are bottoming out are speculative at best.

But Barack Obama, who rushed to aid the banks, who is continuing exorbitant spending on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who is widening those wars to ever more countries, said of job creation, “We all know there are limits to what government can and should do even during such difficult times.”

John B. Judis, writing for the New Republic, has offered an admiring comparison: Barack Obama is the new Herbert Hoover.

Purity and Realignment: Why 2010 is much more than just your typical midterm horse race

It’s the season–and particularly a year–for forecasts for the next year or the next decade. Of those I’ve read, the most interesting appeared on TomDispatch by Michael Klare, who focuses on how international power is shifting from the U.S. to China, the increasing importance of the “global south,” and the increasing likelihood that climate change will become more apparent. All these forecasts, with a reflex borne of experience, caution as to the hazard of attempting to foretell the future. But it is hard to argue with Klare’s forecasts because they aren’t so much forecasts as expositions of already extant trends.

In a similar vein, I want to point to a major realignment in U.S. politics that in my view undermines both major political parties. Regular readers of this blog will know I think that the Democratic Party will never again represent progressives, that we should support–probably–the Green Party and turn it in to a viable political force that can subvert a political dichotomy that so easily and so persistently discounts our views.

Such readers also know I have looked with alarm on developments in the Republican Party, seeing its strategy for attaining power as not an electoral strategy and therefore as a strategy leading to a coup d’etat. The Obama administration’s betrayal of progressives means that many of us may fail to turn out this November; its betrayal of the unemployed and of the lower and middle classes against a backdrop of diminishing U.S. power pissed away at the expense of urgent domestic needs abandons the working class to its already observed bigotries against people of color (especially immigrants) and women. This is a recipe for a fascist uprising and it is hard to look upon what was, last September, called a “Town Hell” but now is called a “Tea Party” uprising with its unmistakably racist undertones as a prelude to anything else.

But other things have happened as well. While Sarah Palin bridges the apocalyptic eschatology of evangelical Protestantism with the secular red-baiting (against “socialist” Barack Obama) of Rush Limbaugh and of Glenn Beck, while the Stupak and Nelson amendments to the health care bill recall the abortion issue, and while Orren Hatch managed to revive federal funding for abstinence-only sex education in that same bill, evangelical Protestantism hardly appears in national debate.

As the health care bill enforces a stigmatization of abortion coverage which will surely mean that abortions will be even harder to get, as abstinence-only education refuses to die, as Obama had Rick Warren offer the inaugural benediction and preserved federal support for faith-based initiatives, evangelical Protestantism seems to have been quietly institutionalized in a way that George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan could never manage. Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald has–in what I think is one of his more important columns–called attention to a failure to recognize the alignment of Jewish Israel with the Christian United States in brutality against the Muslim Gaza Strip as a motivation for attacks against the United States fueling a vicious circle of perpetual war.

In Cairo, Barack Obama said of relations between the U.S. and Islam that “this cycle of suspicion and discord must end,” that he had “come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition.” But one of my former professors, Agha Saeed, chairman of the American Muslim Alliance, had his briefcase “stolen” and quickly recovered but returned only after an inspection of its contents which lasted several days–because he is Muslim; his video studio was apparently subjected to a sneak-and-peak search (a burglary committed by law enforcement and sanctioned under the Patriot Act); and partly as a result, his organization joined in a nationwide call for Muslims to limit their cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As many Muslims around the world now understand, the al Qaeda casting of the so-called “War on Terror” as a war on Islam in fact bears at least some truth. And what many of the rest of us need to understand is that this war is in fact a revival of the Crusades, that NATO soldiers in Afghanistan and remaining “coalition of the willing” soldiers in Iraq die not just for empire and not just for oil, but for Christianity and for Zionism.

These developments mean that evangelical Protestants, beset by a series of sex scandals, can for the moment keep their heads down. But they will surely reappear by 2012 as Republican front runners Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, or Sarah Palin vie for their party’s presidential nomination. Palin placed relatively poorly among conservatives, but her ability to attract the working class, the facts that she 1) looks like white working class males want her to look and 2) says what they want her to say, while 3) Obama has so conspicuously thumbed his nose at the working class, have to make her an important candidate for a purified Republican Party.

That call for purity–which I have interpreted as a losing electoral strategy signaling that the Republican Party no longer seeks electoral success–has exposed divisions within the G.O.P. that visibly came to a head last year in New York’s 23rd District, as the Party abandoned its own candidate, Dede Scozzafava, in favor of a more conservative Doug Hoffman, who lost a district held by Republicans since the Civil War. If there is no room for progressives in the Democratic Party, we are also seeing that there is no room for relative moderates in the Republican Party. As Republican South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint said, “I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.”

In 2010, Democrats need to re-energize their progressive base–or they will lose–and Republicans need to avoid driving away their so-called moderates–or they will lose. And what makes this midterm election more interesting than your typical mainstream media horse race is the question of what happens to the extent neither party does what it needs to do.

While many have criticized the Republican Party for contemplating a “purity” test, the Democratic Party has demonstrated in the fiasco surrounding the health care bill the failings of a “big tent” approach that accommodates too much diversity of views. Republicans might be criticized for fascist tendencies, but Democrats can be said to stand for nothing but election. Democrats have been desperately shifting right since the 1984 defeat of Walter Mondale. And 2009 has made that plain to all but the most determined Obama backers. The sensible thing would be for progressives to split off, to leave the Democratic Party to so-called moderates including those who fail the Republican purity test. Democrats would then likely be unable to govern without cooperation from progressives, whose support they could no longer take for granted. Progressives need to seriously consider this possibility, and my question is whether or not we will.

Eating our way to extinction

One of the things that Riane Eisler left unclear–at least to me–in The Chalice and the Blade was what led to the transition from what she calls a partnership-oriented society, which is somewhat more egalitarian, to a dominator-oriented society, which features rigid hierarchies and war. In The Real Wealth of Nations, she explains what happened to the Sahara Desert and the Middle East, that these were rich grasslands and a garden of plenty.

They were over-grazed. The quest for grassland led to deforestation and conquest. Women became prizes of war. Livestock aren’t just bad for the planet–and the ecosystem upon which we all depend–today. They have always been bad, they have led to the subjugation of approximately half of humanity on gender alone, they have led to war and conquest as a way of life.

Eisler points out how much of our resources are diverted to making war and to further enriching the already rich while scarcity is imposed on the rest of the population to rationalize the dominator orientation. She severely criticizes the valuation our society assigns to care-giving roles associated with feminine gender roles. She extends this logic to our attitude towards the planet on which we live.

Now, humanity is threatening to destroy the ecosystem of the entire planet. We face increased desertification, the spread of tropical diseases, famine, and the melting of glaciers upon which hundreds of millions of people depend for water. And we pollute a lot of the water that many of the rest of us depend upon. The single greatest cause of this, by far, is the livestock industry.

We know all this. But we keep on eating meat.

And as shortages become more widespread and deprivation becomes more acute, it seems inevitable that there will be more war. And I’m guessing that the last gasp of some defeated societies will be nuclear.

But we keep on eating meat. Not only that, but our population continues to increase and as patterns of wealth shift away from the United States to Asian countries, an increasing portion of our world population is eating more meat.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was a meat and potatoes eater. I remember saying that if I ever had to stop eating meat, I would starve to death. It’s now been a year and a half since I went vegan. Dan Piraro (creator of the Bizarro comic strip) explains the reasons well. Poverty stemming from unemployment has meant I don’t get to drive around as much and I don’t get to go in to coffee shops as much as I used to. But even if I were, the combined impact of a fully-funded decadent lifestyle could not outweigh the impact of my decision to go vegan.

But we, as a species, go on eating meat. The Doomsday Clock, which “conveys how close humanity is to catastrophic destruction–the figurative midnight–and monitors the means humankind could use to obliterate itself” stands at five minutes to midnight (UPDATE: The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved the clock back to six minutes to midnight on what I think are dubious grounds). Will we stop eating meat?