Friday, December 3, 2010

Rappers for the Rich

So the Republican blockade of bills that might actually help the middle class and the poor continues—all held hostage to the party’s demand that tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires be extended. You have to hand it to Republicans, they know how to practice togetherness. Not one independent voice among them. Tweedle-Dee, Tweedle-Dum, and Tweedle-Dee-Dum—the Boehner, McConnell-Cantor corporate rap trio – lead their faithful lackeys in their continuing assault on government for the American people. It’s nothing new. Ever since President Obama took office, Republicans have turned their backs on the people whom they were elected to represent and have instead refused to participate in governing. President Carter called their behavior “irresponsible” in an interview with NPR’s Diane Rehm on Tuesday, November 30th. Along with raw sewage and flesh-eating microbes, Republicans are right up there with the most toxic elements in public life. Never before in my lifetime – and I’m a senior citizen – have I seen an entire political party work single-mindedly to bring down the country in order to bring down the President.

Congressional Republicans have become the most destructive force in American life. Their efforts to create more economic disaster to gain political advantage in the 2012 election displays disrespect for the Presidency and contempt for the American people, for democracy and for our Constitution. As if their actions hadn’t revealed their seditious strategy right out front, corporate rapper McConnell proclaimed the Republicans’ agenda baldly: “The single more important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” he said in an interview with the National Journal’s Major Garrett on October 29, 2010. Note: not a single word about the good of the country or the American people. Now McConnell has sent his ultimatum letter to Senator Harry Reid basically saying, “It’s our way or the highway.” In the ultimate display of arrogance and hypocrisy, the Boehner/McConnell/Cantor trio refused to extend unemployment benefits for the 2 million Americans whose benefits expired midnight December 1st. For the past two years, this gang of naysayers has voiced support for only one thing – tax cuts for the super rich. In case you don’t remember, these are the Bush tax cuts that raided the U.S. Treasury, squandering the budget surplus left by President Clinton and creating the largest redistribution of wealth from the middle class to millionaires in the nation’s history. No matter that extending these tax cuts will add $700 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years. Well, you know, the country can afford a deficit that goes to “feeding” millionaires but not an $18 billion (the cost of extending unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed) deficit that goes to put food on the tables of people who’ve lost their jobs. Recall Rhett Butler’s line to Scarlet O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

It’s all so simple really – not all deficits are equal. Although the “party of No” proclaims cutting the deficit is the single most important thing that Congress must do, this deficit addition that will be created if Congress allows itself to be bullied into extending the millionaire tax cuts doesn’t count. Under a Democratic President, Republicans are for reducing the deficit; under a Republican President, they’re for racking it up. And rack it up, they did, creating the largest deficit in the history of all previous administrations put together. But that was THEN, you know, under the Bush/Cheney team of good ol’ corporate boys.

If the Tea Partiers, or anybody else who voted the new crop of Republicans in office, believes Republican propaganda about working for the American people, they should pay close attention to what Republicans have voted against during these past two years. Then decide what people Republicans are working to help. Here’s just a partial list of what Republicans have blocked, stalled and tried to kill altogether:

- No to regulating the big banks and investment houses, the very institutions whose fraudulent manipulations brought the country to the brink of another Great Depression.
- No to equal pay for women.
- No to requiring oil companies to fully pay for oil spill damage.
- No to increasing bank loans to small businesses.
- No to the health reform bill, which will reduce the deficit by $143 billion over the first 10 years and by $2 trillion in the second 10 years.
- No to expanding health coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans.
- No to eliminating pre-existing conditions as insurers’ pretext for dropping coverage.
- No to closing the Medicare prescription “donut hole.”
- No to giving seniors in the gap a 50-percent discount on brand-name drugs in 2011.
- No to allowing children to remain on their parents’ health insurance policies until age 26.
- No to eliminating co-payments for preventive health under Medicare.
- No to prohibiting health insurers from placing lifetime caps on coverage.
- No to banning annual limits on coverage.
- No to reforming student aid.
- No to expanding eligibility for the State Children’s Health Insurance Fund (SCHIP)
- No to increased infrastructure spending for roads, bridges and power plants
- No to consumer financial protections

No. No. No. That’s all Republicans have contributed to government over the past two years. It’s a tribute to President Obama that despite Republican attempts to bring down the government, more legislation has been passed during these first two years of his administration than under any other modern President. Yes, Republican opposition has caused some of this legislation to be weaker than it could have been, but it’s out there. Despite Republicans’ refusal to act in a bipartisan manner even after President Obama offered numerous – perhaps too many – attempts to reach across the political aisle, landmark legislation, such as the Health Care Reform Bill, was passed.

The message of Republicans’ behavior has been loud and clear. Their constituency is not the people who elected them; it is the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies, the big banks, the investment houses, and the two percent of the wealthiest Americans. Anybody who thinks any differently is in denial. If Republicans have their way and are enabled to carry out their corporate agenda, American’s middle class will sink to the level of the poor in Third-World countries, becoming just a cheap labor pool ripe for exploitation. Maybe China will give them jobs. The Republicans surely aren’t.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Ferocious Madness of Hate

When President Obama was elected, I was prouder of my country than I have ever been. I dared to think that Americans had finally grown up and turned a corner on the poisonous hate of racism – and, in truth, half the electorate has. But too many of our citizens made a U-turn back into racist muck.

The hate-mongering began during the presidential campaign. Who can ever forget the McCain/Palin rally where Palin was trying to whip the crowd into a frenzy by demonizing Obama as a terrorist. She succeeded. “Kill him,” a member of the crowd shouted.

Since President Obama took office, racism has continued steaming up like swamp gas from every Republican/Tea Party/right-wing fundamentalist rabble-rousing orifice. So pervasive is the hate-Obama campaign that the entire Republican contingent in Congress turned its back on this nation and set a seditious agenda to bring down Obama’s Presidency by obstructing, blockading, stalling, misrepresenting, lying and saying “No” to whatever this administration wanted to accomplish.

Anyone who has studied history recognizes the bullying scenario: Appeal to the most primitive human fear—fear of the “Other.” Demonize Obama into a fearsome “other”—someone unlike “us.” Enlist a propaganda agency—in this case, the misnamed Fox News—and a few willing hate-mongers who command large audiences to spread the word. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin slide neatly into those slots. Then spread lies about Obama designed to scare people to death. So the lies proliferate about Obama’s birth, his citizenship, his political philosophy, and his religion. In February 2009, Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing tabloid, the New York Post, published a racist cartoon that depicted Obama as a chimpanzee being shot by cops. More recently, Tea Party signs depict him as Hitler and Lenin.

In September 2009, the Rev. Steven L. Anderson of Tempe, Arizona, preached a sermon he titled, “Why I Hate Barack Obama.” During the sermon, Anderson said, “When I go to bed tonight, Steven L. Anderson is going to pray for Barack Obama to die and go to hell,” So much for the reverend’s Christian love and peace.

Also in September 2009, during Obama’s address to Congress about health care, South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson shouted, "You lie!" Afterwards, former President Jimmy Carter said Wilson’s disrespectful outburst was "based on racism" and ran "deeper" than mere policy opposition. "There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president," Carter said.

It’s ugly. More than ugly, there’s madness afoot. As we near the November elections, the exhortations to hate are becoming more frenzied, more dangerous. The most recent ploy is to gain a “twofer”—whip the crowd into anti-Muslim hate and propagandize Obama, a devout Christian, as a Muslim. The trigger for this propaganda is the proposed mosque two blocks from “Ground Zero,” site of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York City. Protests and heated opposition seared by hate and fear have dominated the airways. Incredibly only a few politicians or either party have stepped forward to defend our country’s separation of church and state. Have they all been bought?

The most eloquent statement came from New York City’s Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Aug. 3, 2010: “Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question – should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions, or favor one over another. . . . We would betray our values – and play into our enemies' hands – if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists – and we should not stand for that. For that reason, I believe that this is . . . as important a test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime – and it is critically important that we get it right.”

The only other prominent Republican to come forward and defend our precious Bill of Rights was Congressman Ron Paul of Texas: “The fact that so much attention has been given the mosque debate, raises the question of just why and driven by whom? . . . In my opinion it has come from the neo-conservatives who demand continual war in the Middle East and Central Asia and are compelled to constantly justify it.

They never miss a chance to use hatred toward Muslims to rally support for the ill conceived preventative wars.”

Not surprisingly, some Republicans are now trying to paint Congressman Paul as a left-wing ally of Democrats.

Where are other voices speaking out against the madness of hate? Where are Republicans who should know better? Where are Senators Olympia Snowe Susan Collins? Where are the Democrats -- Senators Barbara Boxer, Russ Feingold, John Kerry and Sherrod Brown? Not even Minnesota Senator Al Franken has raised his voice. Why haven’t they rushed to defend the 1st Amendment to our precious Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion, speech, the press, peaceful assembly and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Does anybody believe in democracy anymore? Did anybody, going back to the founders, ever believe in it? Since the Nixon and Reagan administrations, and accelerated by the Bush/Cheney administration, we have seen our Bill of Rights shredded and the “freedoms” our politicians talk about so piously, curtailed. Al Qaeda can see it, too. We are ripe for the picking. Money has replaced democracy.

Meanwhile, the bloviators haven’t hesitated to spew their racist venom. Hate-rouser-in-chief, Rush Limbaugh, referred to President Obama as “Imam Obana,” and added he’s “the best anti-American President the country’s ever had.”

The campaign of lies is taking hold. According to an August 2010 Pew Research poll, nearly one in five Americans (18 percent) say Obama is a Muslim, up from 11 percent in March 2009. Roughly one-third (34 percent) of right-wing Republicans say Obama is a Muslim.

The hate madness is dangerous—not only to the President but to our country. One of the extremist Republican Tea Party politicians, Sharron Angle, senate candidate in Nevada, issued a call to armed rebellion. During a radio interview on June 16, 2010, she said, “ I feel that the Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms for our citizenry. This not for someone who's in the military. This not for law enforcement. This is for us. And in fact when you read that Constitution and the founding fathers, they intended this to stop tyranny. This is for us when our government becomes tyrannical... it's to defend ourselves. And you know, I'm hoping that we're not getting to Second Amendment remedies.”

In case anyone has forgotten, our Supreme Court interpreted the second Amendment to mean that individuals have the right to carry guns. We saw footage of men toting guns among groups protesting President Obama’s speeches in Phoenix, Arizona, and New Hampshire. In the state of Virginia, the General Assembly voted to allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns in restaurants that serve alcohol as long as the pistol-packing daddies and mamas don’t drink. Good Luck! Frankly, I will avoid Virginia restaurants. I don’t want food seasoned with bullets.

Step-by-deliberate-orchestrated step, the fanatics, the crazies, the hate-baiters are setting up the United States to become a fascist state. So far, the campaign of the corporatists is spreading, persuading tens of thousands of gullible Americans to give up their liberties for “protection” from those “others” who are to blame for our woes. Don’t underestimate the awful power of hate pitting tribe against tribe, religion against religion. When reason is abandoned and hate fueled by fervor, the consequences are genocidal.

History is replete with awful examples: From 1885 to 1908, King Leopold II of Belgium conducted a reign of terror in Congo Free State. Depending on whose estimate you accept, between eight and 10 million Africans were whipped, raped, tortured, shot or worked to death as slaves. Leopold ruled the Congo as his private fiefdom to extract rubber and ivory.

Between 1915 and 1923, the Muslim Ottoman Turk empire systematically slaughtered some 1.5 million Christian Armenians. During World War II, German Christians embracing Hitler’s Nazi racism slaughtered more than 20 million human beings, including 6 million European Jews, some 10 million Slavs, and millions of Poles, Czechs, French, Dutch, Slovenes and others. From 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot slaughtered 1.7 million Cambodians. The 1990s saw rampaging Hutu extremists slaughter some 800,000 people in Rwanda. The Hutu blamed the Tutsi minority for the country’s increasing social, economic, and political pressure. Sound familiar?

Then there are the murderous policies that lasted for decades: the USSR’s murder of about 41 million citizens from 1917 to 1987; the Chinese government’s slaughter of about 35 million of its citizens from 1949 to 1987; and what the Religious website calls the “longest lasting genocidal campaign in human history”—the systematic extermination of Native Americans that began with the arrival of Columbus in San Salvador in 1492 and continued as Europeans invaded North America. In the early 18th century, the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey promoted genocide of local Native Americans by imposing a “scalp bounty” on dead Indians. This bounty continued into the 19th century until ended by the public. George Washington compared Indians to wolves, “beasts of prey,” and called for their total destruction.

History is clear: No religion, no ethnic group, no country is immune from hate. We’re all terrorists. It’s what makes us equal.

Hate spreads like a lethal virus unless citizens and politicians assert their better selves, call on our compassion and use our reason to see through the lies and resist the fear and hate manipulators. We do not have to spend our short lifespan killing each other. Our evolutionary history shows we would not have survived without using our nurturing, cooperative capacities. These are the traits that make us truly human—traits we desperately need to summon and exercise. It’s well to remember that no other animal treats members of its species with such murderous ferocity as humans.

In her brilliant book, Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding, anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy warns: “To all the reasons people might have to worry about the future of our species—including the usual depressing litany of nuclear proliferation, global warming, emerging infectious diseases, or crashing meteorites—add one more having to do with just what sort of species our descendants millennia hence might belong to. If empathy and understanding develop only under particular rearing conditions, and if an ever-increasing proportion of the species fails to encounter those conditions but nevertheless survives to reproduce, it won’t matter how valuable the underpinnings for collaboration were in the past. Compassion and the quest for emotional connection will fade away as surely as sight in cave-dwelling fish.”

If the United States goes down in the current environment of fanaticism, ignorance and madness, it will not be due to Al Qaeda, or illegal immigrants, or any religion, or any outside power; it will be because Americans turned on each other, destroying the great promise and hope of our country with hate.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Epitaph for a Family Tree

Recently we had to have a great Southern red oak tree in our backyard cut down. It was like losing a member of the family. Thus this epitaph, which was published in our local newspaper, The Smithfield Times.

We are in mourning for a member of the family--a gnarled southern red oak tree that shaded our backyard for more than two centuries. Three generations of my family enjoyed its majestic beauty. Our grandfather tied his mules under that tree when he came to the house for the midday ”dinner” common on farms. My brother, sister and I played beneath its sheltering branches. I collected acorns, placing them on the tiny plates of my tea-set for a pretend meal that would have been a real meal for squirrels.

But we had to take it down. Trees age as people do but in tree time, not human time. Two weeks ago, the tree suffered a fracture as one of its enormous limbs crashed to the ground during the night. After consulting with local tree services, we had to recognize the tree was dying, and we had to put it – and us – out of our misery. The old tree was no longer a protective organism but a danger to life and human limb.

So the tree comes to the end of a life stretching back beyond my family, connecting us to a deeper history with the greater human family and the land. Its acorn may have spouted when Native Americans hunted on this land and paddled their canoes along the “creek,” as we affectionately call the Pagan River that flows along the back of the property. We know Native Americans were here because my nephew has found many projectile points in the fields.

Saying goodbye to this botanical member of our family has been painful and morbidly fascinating. Using ropes, crane and saw with surgical expertise, the highly capable Wade Brothers cut off the tree’s massive limbs one by one until it stood like a giant amputee with bare stubs. Finally, they felled its great trunk with an earthquaking roar as it struck the ground and lay like a wounded prehistoric beast.

It came to my generation to let it go. My brother Vasco Batten will enjoy its warmth as he burns oak logs in his fireplace next winter. We’ll spread oak-chip mulch to nourish our gardens. Now there’s only a gap in the sky where its 100-foot crown once spread its leafy branches. The tree enriched our lives. If not blood kin, it was sap kin. Humans share with trees, and other plants, the same four chemical building blocks that make up our DNA—our legacy of life on Earth. We’ll miss it.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Today is the 37th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v Wade decision, the most important decision for women's rights since the 19th Amendment extended voting rights to women in 1920. Yes, we've come a long way since then, but we can never take reproductive choice for granted. There is still a strong anti-woman faction in the U.S. that is trying to turn back the clock and take away our right to control our own bodies. The anti-choice movement is the American equivalent of the Taliban.

As I wrote in my book, SEXUAL STRATEGIES: HOW FEMALES CHOOSE THEIR MATES, "Although we now live in the 21st century, superstitions, practices, and attitudes from a prescientific era are still with us. Even in technologically sophisticated countries like the United States, women's reproductive autonomy is threatened by fanatical groups that would turn back the clock on contraception, ban abortion and, in effect, make women's bodies property of the state. . . . In line with male subversion strategies in other species, the antiabortion movement is driven largely by fundmentalist religious groups led predominantly by men. . . . In today's world, opposition to reproductive choice is the human equivalent of male insects' copulatory plugs and toxic sperm. . . . Among humans, females' evolutionary right to choose their mates extends to the right to choose whether to give birth."

We have to continue being vigilant and support pro-choice candidates. The current right-wing leaning of the Roberts Supreme Court and the continuing anti-choice assault on reproductive choice is a very real threat to our most intimate right.

In her 1981 book, THE WOMAN THAT NEVER EVOLVED (reprinted in 1999 with a new preface), anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy ended on this note:
"The female with 'equal rights' never evolved; she was invented, and fought for consciously with intelligence, stubbornness, and courage. But the advances made by feminists rest on a precarious framework built upon a unique foundation of historical conditions, values, economic opportunities, heroism on the part of women who fought for suffrage, and perhaps especially technological developments which led to birth control and labor-saving devices and hence minimized physical differences between the sexes. This structure is fragile. Should it collapse, it is far from certain that the scaffolding needed to surmount oppressive natural and cultural barriers could ever be pieced together again.

To assume that women today are regaining a natural preeminence, or reinstating some original social equality, belittles the real accomplishment and underestimates its fragility. However well-intentioned, these myths pose grave dangers to the actual progress of women's rights. They devalue the unique advances made by women in the last few hundred years and tempt us to a false security. Injustices remain; there are abundant new problems; yet, never before -- not in seventy million years -- have females been so nearly free to pursue their own destinies. But it won't be easy."