Thursday, August 31, 2006

Broken Congress: I call 'em as I schism

Sara Robinson tells us that within authoritarian leadership:

...schisms are so frequent as to be almost comic. Jealousy between leaders runs high, egos are prickly, tempers volatile, emotional intelligence not much in evidence. The more followers they get, the less stable alliances become. This internal instability is predictable...
Sara's analysis explains Kristol's criticism within the blood-thirsty neocon camp and his potshots at Rumsfeld. Under the weight of the disaster in Iraq, even William F. Buckley, "the father of modern conservatism," recently characterized the war as a failure and rejected Bush's interventionist foreign policy:
"If you had a European prime minister who experienced what we've experienced it would be expected that he would retire or resign."
I never thought I would agree with a quote from Buckley so Earth's missing glaciers must be on holiday in Hell. Last fall, Brent Scowcroft, Poppy Bush's personal friend and the former president's national security advisor, broke his silence to go on the record with his dissatisfaction in the Bush II Administration and the "revolutionary utopianism" of neocons in power. From Jane Hamsher I learned that Scowcroft had publicly called Junior a buffoon. Most of the right-wing rhetoric has centered around Bush, his failures, and that's plenty to wag about. But what of the legislative branch, the rubber-stamp Republicans who have followed the Bush WH in lockstep as if they had enlisted in a partisan army?

A new book, Broken Branch, co-authored by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, reverberates with the clanging of an alarm bell. Congress is broken. Very broken. Dysfunctional and ineffective. Admittedly, I don't know Norman Ornstein to assume if he has been a leading contender in the con-apparatchiki but I tag him as part of the conservative wing that's awake, e.g., Kevin Phillips and John Dean. My reservation is that Ornstein hails from the American Enterprise Institute, a GOP spin tank. His cohort, Thomas Mann, comes from the Brookings Institution as a scholar of Governance Studies and may best be described as centrist. Alan Wolfe at WaMo distinguished both as "fair-minded." To his credit, Ornstein joined former Reagan deputy attorney general Bruce Fein in portraying Bush's NSA wiretapping program as an impeachable offense. Perhaps he's migrated out of the swamp of Republican radicalism if ever he were stuck in its mire. I dunno. One thing for certain, Mann and Ornstein excoriate the Republican-dominated Congress among others. A CNN interview with Ornstein and Mann (with emphasis):
PILGRIM: You know, I think we have a quote from the book that really sums up a lot. And let's take a look at it. In your book you say, "Congress has had its ups and downs in realizing the intentions of the framers. Sadly, today it is down, very much the broken branch of government."
Now, how is this Congress failing the American public?
NORMAN ORNSTEIN, AUTHOR: Well, it's failing it in a lot of ways. One is in the process. The regular order is something we call the kind of web of rules and norms that govern any institution. Now they're stretched beyond belief. Votes that are supposed to take 15 minutes take three hours. There's no sense of bringing a bill to the floor after people have taken a look at it, 1,000, 2,000-page bills come up in the middle of the night [under the Vampire Congress] with nobody having examined them beforehand.
There's no oversight of what the executive branch does. And bad process in this case leads to bad policy, whether it's the Medicare prescription drug bill, the bankruptcy bill, or the Congress operates in protecting Americans in a variety of places.
PILGRIM: It does on occasion seem quite chaotic. Why is this? Why suddenly?
MANN: Well, it didn't develop overnight. The seeds of the problems of the broken branch were planted decades ago. Certainly near the end of the democratic reign in the House, many of these same problems were emerging, but they took on a sort of special form when we had the first united Republican government since Dwight Eisenhower.
The focus was on passing the president's program and nothing else mattered. So the major leaders in Congress saw themselves as lieutenants of the president, not as custodians of the first branch of government, the lynch pin of American democracy, and so they didn't look out for how that process ought to operate, how they ought to stand up to the executive.
PILGRIM: So we can clearly blame our elected officials for not representing the American people?
ORNSTEIN: You can certainly blame them, you bet. This is not a way to operate. And what Congress has done is to in this year in particular, we have the smallest number of days in session. Every day on this show you talk about the important problems facing this country: the squeeze on the middle class, immigration. We've got Iraq, we have the war in the Middle East. Less than 100 days in session out of the 365. Here in most of those days for only a couple of hours, they don't do deliberation. They don't do debate. They're not addressing the policies that matter for the country.
PILGRIM: You know, it's -- what should the American public do? They can't just throw up their hands and say what can you do with these people, can they?
MANN: Well, it all begins with the American voters because we can talk about rules changes, procedural changes in Congress and we have a lot to suggest. But in order to get the attention of the leaders in Congress and the members, you have to have a public that's energized, that's angry, that threatens to throw the rascals out if they don't act in a responsible and accountable fashion.
It all has to start with the voters. But it's not just this populist attack on the institution. We love the Congress. It is an institution we've admired for years. We need the public to be nuanced to say, "We don't want you back here all the time campaigning or raising money. We want to you spend some time doing serious work. Talk about policy and grapple with these problems. Don't engage in these games with us."
PILGRIM: Well you certainly have spent enough time looking at the system to know that some shifting could be done in terms of rules. Is there anything that you can suggest?
ORNSTEIN: Well, there are a lot of things. We need ethics and lobbying reform desperately. And Congress has just given the back of the hand to that. We need to have a series of clear rules when it comes to earmarks, which have just careened out of control and frankly create a corrupting atmosphere, waste an enormous amount of money and don't set priorities.
Even starting with disclosure of who is sponsoring these things and where the money is going and even resistance to that. We've got to get back to doing some oversight. But just as much as we need these kinds of rules, reforms, we have got to have members of Congress who will say that we're going to abide by the rules that we have. Frankly, we need a press corps that is even more vigilant that holds them to account, their feet to the fire. We haven't had as much as we need, in the last few years.
PILGRIM: Do you believe that's true that the press has not done their job?
MANN: I think that's right. Listen, local reporters in some cases have done quite a good job. Look at those in California who uncovered Randy "Duke" Cunningham's real estate transactions. Just looking at the core real estate documents back home, which set in motion a whole series of further investigations.
So the press needs to be tough, not just scandal-mongering, but holding Congress to account to see that it runs and conducts its own business in a way that's faithful to its rules and to the grand design of the framers of our constitution to have this really be the core of our democratic system.
ORNSTEIN: Kitty, the most important point here is this is not just something for wonks like us who have been immersed in Congress for a very long time. This is of vital interest to every American. Every day there are policies that shape our lives. For older people who have to go and get pharmaceuticals, for people who are concerned about the borders, for issues whether we're actually going to be able to deal with Iraq, for the spending that we do, all of us are affected. And if Congress doesn't operate, if it's dysfunctional, as it is now, deeply dysfunctional, then it is not just something that affects the two of us. It affects everybody.
Tell us something the liberal Netroots hasn't already articulated. Welcome aboard the blogofascist bandwagon. Better late than never, I suppose, although the book releases at an opportune time as we head toward the midterm elections.

So let me sum up. Voters must throw the bums out and remain involved in political life. Check. Effective ethics and meaningful lobby reform. Check. Oversight and accountability. Check. Respect the separation of powers and quit kowtowing to the executive branch. Exclamation point! Replace the lapdog press with pitbull publishers. Uh-hm. Now what's missing? I can't quite scratch the itch in my brain. But it's something important. Hmmm. Anyone?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Katrina wake-up call

The evil that men do. Gaia's gonna git you.

Deaths from global warming will double in just 25 years -- to 300,000 people a year.
Global sea levels could rise by more than 20 feet with the loss of shelf ice in Greenland and Antarctica, devastating coastal areas worldwide.
Heat waves will be more frequent and more intense.
Droughts and wildfires will occur more often.
The Arctic Ocean could be ice free in summer by 2050.
More than a million species worldwide could be driven to extinction by 2050.
I'm glad I'm on good terms with the Goddess.

The return of the authoritarians

Continuing her series on authoritarians at Orcinus, Sara Robinson, in Tunnels and Bridges, Part I: Divide and Conquer, reminds us through the words of our founding fathers that democracies must:

...[re-create themselves] continuously as each generation reasserts its freedom against fresh generations of would-be rulers. It's an ongoing conversation about liberty, equality, and power that's re-negotiated – sometimes more peacefully, sometimes less -- every day.
...High-social-dominance (SDO) authoritarian leaders are always among us, always pushing, always scheming, always looking for their next chance. There is no opportunity to take control, legally or illegally, that they won't fail to exploit, as long as the gains promise to outweigh the costs. As Edmund Burke did not say (but usually gets the attribution for anyway): all that's required for them to succeed in this endless quest for power is for the rest of us to do nothing.
We can't sit on our laurels lest:
the day comes when you've got a fundamentalist school board trying to teach your kids young-earth creationism; or militia guys jackbooting up Main Street at noon and performing blitz redecorating on the local synagogue at midnight; or a born-again president trying to bring on Armageddon for the profit of the oil companies and the acclaim of his Rapture-minded followers.
We have witnessed the above come to pass. Now what do we do? Sara proposes we understand the three classes of authoritarians.

First, (1) SDO leaders are virtually all male in ruthless pursuit of their own goals. They never change or relent in using all possible means including the thwarting or changing of law and decisions that kill people, e.g., the Iraq War. What's the best counter-measure remedy besides recognizing who they are? Isolate them.

Next, (2) hard-core right-wing authoritarian (RWA) followers reared in "authoritarian homes" or brainwashed with a lengthy adult indoctrination rarely give up their ways. Don't expect them to change. Just move on.

Last, (3) “soft-core” RWA followers:
...[they] probably came to authoritarianism during an episode of major life stress, or were seduced into it with heavy propaganda from friends and right-wing media. This group may form as much as half of the current authoritarian voter pool in America. These people usually weren't always authoritarians; and they're the ones we have the greatest hope of bringing back around to a full embrace of democratic principles.
Now for the game plan. Sara navigates us through approaches to all three types. For (1) SDO authoritarian leaders, it's best to "identify and isolate" them. Sara recommends books such as John's Dean's, Conservative Without Conscience, to heighten one's skill at spotting traits and modus operandi. To isolate them, expose them publicly with proof. Luckily, the
predictable amorality of high-SDO authoritarian leaders means they've got piles of bones buried in their back yards -- many of which can be dug up with surprisingly little effort, especially in these days of electronic public records and global Web access.
These guys leave victims behind, people who can testify, laws that have been broken. Document it.

Second, exploit schisms:
In most authoritarian groups, whether religious or political, schisms are so frequent as to be almost comic. Jealousy between leaders runs high, egos are prickly, tempers volatile, emotional intelligence not much in evidence. The more followers they get, the less stable alliances become. This internal instability is predictable -- and exploitable, in the hands of a smart opposition. (According to one experienced activist, if you've got good dirt on one leader, make sure it first gets into the hands of his most ambitious co-consipirator – then sit back and watch the fun begin.)
All we need to do is stick together better than they do. For some of us, that's not always easy; but victory belongs to the last team standing. Sometimes, with these guys, it's just a matter of waiting for their own hubris to finish the job for you.
For (2) the RWA follower, don't "count on their outrage" when their leaders have been discredited although they "usually just fade away quietly into the woodwork."
However, be sure you get their names before they go: the odds are good that you'll see them again, years later, emerging under the banner of another charismatic leader....
...This is the group most likely to commit political violence. As these followers move away from their discredited leaders, it's especially important that strong community voices make it absolutely clear that aggression will not be tolerated -- and will be prosecuted, either in the court of law or the court of public opinion. In particular, they need to be told in no uncertain terms that, in the larger community, there is no such a thing as a righteous or acceptable violent act. We know who they are; we regard them as troublemakers; and they will not enjoy our support or mercy if they continue to create problems within our community.
For the last group, (3) “soft-core” RWA followers, arrives the best news-- they are "more likely to be sensitive to public embarrassment." When their leaders become discredited, they can feel betrayed.
Their leader has exposed them to the jeers of their peers, and made them look personally ridiculous. For people who believe in their deepest hearts that they are more moral and righteous than others, the public and humiliating loss of moral authority within the community can lead to a moment of re-direction.
During that shift, many of them will be looking for stronger, more stable authority to lean on. Remember that RWA followers respond to legitimate authority -- and for most of the soft-care, that usually still includes the cops, courts, and clergy. It's critical to have these authorities standing by to provide the rules and structure these followers crave, and who can model constructive behavior.
Sara's excellent work does not end here. In Tunnels and Bridges, Part II: Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself, she examines the need to minimize fear:
Taking fear reduction to the community and national scale is pretty much the same process. The ground rules are: find and build from our common ground; appeal to authorities they're bound to respect; and speak from strength, always avoiding weak and ambiguous language.
Click the link for a detailed breakdown about family, moral common ground, credible authorities, passionate speech, and other tactics.

In Tunnels and Bridges, Part III: A Bigger World, we learn about the abysmal state of civics knowledge among high school graduates, the lack of liberal education, cultural isolationism, and the failure of the Democratic Party for its rural flight from small-town America.

Sara's series will continue with Landing Zones. So stay tuned or visit Orcinus for the next installment.

PREVIOUSLY on this series at RealSpiel:
Authoritarians: who are they?
John Dean on authoritarians
Recovering from authoritarianism
Authoritarian follow-up
Helping authoritarians change

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Cult leaders at it again

Warren Jeffs, the leader of a breakaway Mormon sect, was finally arrested on charges of sexual misconduct after running from law enforcement for two years. Believe it or not, this sex offender has been on the loose for a dozen years when he led a sect of patriarchs who believe it is god's will to "marry" underage girls.

What's interesting about this case is that local authorities in Arizona and Nevada have known about the sect for years, and the official Mormon Church has remained silent about its operation. We're talking about dozens and dozens of girls being married off to creepy older men.

The girls are indoctrinated at a young age into being subservient to men, to believe that men are the rulers over their minds and bodies. This isn't ordinary sex offense; this is evil mind control in the service of patriarchy.

When Mormon feminists were active in lobbying for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, the Mormon Church excommunicated them, and also campaigned hard to defeat the amendment nationwide. One reason the ERA lost by such a narrow margin was because of the Mormon Church. Sonia Johnson, an ex-Mormon ERA activist and feminist visionary, documents this in her groundbreaking book, From Housewife to Heretic. Perversely, I found this wonderful book in a bookstore in Salt Lake City in 1985. For those of you who haven't read Sonia Johnson's books, I highly recommend them.

I find it interesting that this same Mormon Church never spoke up forcefully against Jeffs and his followers. We do have this old boys club, and they do protect each other. I've noticed that when the mainstream press interviews Mormon leaders, the questions are never tough enough about their woman-hating theology.

I'm amazed how women accept this, and it makes me realize that even the larger Mormon Church really is a patriarchal cult. This "theology" is deadly to women and girls, and as long as women support these institutions, we're going to have old men molesting young girls.

As Mary Daly put it so eloquently in Gyn/Ecology:

"As we move further on the metapatriarchal journey, we find deeper and deeper layers of these demonic patterns embedded in the culture, implanted in our souls. These constitute mindbindings comparable to the footbindings which mutilated millions of Chinese women for a thousand years. Stripping away layer after layer of these mindbinding societal / mental embeds is the a-mazing essential to the journey."

Just think of the collaboration between Warren Jeffs and local police who looked the other way when obvious sexual abuse was going on. Think of the Mormon Church's silence about these renegade groups. Only when women start shining the spotlight on these practices, and when they decode the message of male supremacy, do "authorities" finally take action and make arrests.

What can we learn from all of this? Women have to be alert to patriarchal mind control, and women have to get a good feminist education. We now have a huge body of academic and visionary work out there, and this renaissance of women's soul writing and philosophical analysis is the golden labrys that can cut through the male-stream to freedom.

It's up to women to make use of this knowledge, and be alert, so that we can be free.

You can't assume that the police or the male-controlled churches will ever be just in the cause of women, nor do they care when creepy old men take on many underage girls as sexual slaves.

Urbanization explosion

BBC News provides an interesting interactive map on urban growth around the world. By moving a slide bar along a dateline, you can graphically compare urban population from 1955 to the projected density for 2015. Mouse over a plum-colored dot and a box pops up with the population statistic by city. I grabbed two charts. The first from 1985 (above) shows:

In the 1980s Asia sees a resurgence of growth in cities as urbanisation gathers pace again in China. Growth rates have slowed globally, however, particularly in Latin America, although they remain high in Africa. There are now [2 billion] urban dwellers worldwide. The worlds' biggest city, Tokyo, has reached [30 million].
Fast forward 20 years later to 2015 and the map looks like this...

The world's urban population is expected to hit [4 billion] between 2015 and 2020, about the same time as China becomes more than 50% urbanised. Most of the growth will happen in Africa and Asia, with Africa's urban population growing fastest in percentage terms and Asia seeing the biggest volume of growth.
SOURCE:UN DESA(2005)
Holy cow, people. Within 20-25 years, about one generation, the urban population doubles. Think of the implications: economics, transportation, real estate, health care, infrastructure such as water and energy, and more. What are we going to do with all the people?

Media and GOP talking point parrots

...[E]ach new suggestion ...had filled up a patch of emptiness and become absolute truth, and when two and two could have been three as easily as five, if that were what was needed. ... --George Orwell, 1984

Media Matters reported:
On the August 24 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer again left unchallenged Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Ken Mehlman's false assertion that the American public does not support a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq. Moments after asking Mehlman about a CNN poll [PDF] conducted August 18-20 that showed that 52 percent of respondents believe the Iraq war is a "distraction," Blitzer allowed Mehlman to assert that the American people "understand the last thing we want to do is cut and run on a political timetable, which would give a huge victory for the enemy." However, the only two polls to ask a question about withdrawing troops from Iraq in August found that a majority of Americans support a timetable for withdrawal. [click for poll links].
That was on Thursday, Aug. 24. Then on Sunday:
An August 27 article by Washington Post staff writers Jim VandeHei and Zachary A. Goldfarb misrepresented recent polling to depict the American public as "evenly split" on the issue of withdrawal from Iraq. Similarly, National Review Washington editor Kate O'Beirne falsely claimed on the August 27 edition of NBC's Meet the Press that the public does "not support leaving prematurely, and a timetable to do so." In fact, several recent polls have found that a majority of Americans support setting a timetable for withdrawal.
So the American public supports Democratic proposals--a timetable for troop withdrawal. Well, can't have that! Out fly parrots squawking the same line to propagandize the GOP position and to obscure the facts. Someone's faxed GOP talking points to the con-apparatchiki again. Just follow the cracker-crumb trail. Ha!

Have the so-called liberal media always been a figment of "manufactured reality" like those mythical creatures--unicorns and fairy godmothers? *Sigh.* When will media quit acting as the coordinated mouthpieces for conservatives? Perhaps hoping for a free press might be wishful thinking in these days of media consolidation. Two + two = three. Or five. Depends on the RNC talking point memo du jour.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Katherine Harris: Separation of church and state is a lie

Conservative U.S. Rep Katherine Harris, who as former Florida Secretary of State helped deliver the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush, leaps back into the headlines. CNN/Jack Cafferty just aired a segment on her based on an interview she granted to the Florida Baptist Witness. A few days ago, the Sun-Sentinel quoted the interview in which Harris says that the separation of church and state is a lie:

...God did not intend for the United States to be a "nation of secular laws" and that a failure to elect Christians to political office will allow lawmaking bodies to "legislate sin."
How does Harris know God's intentions for America and who can say definitively what is sin? The "sin" concept is a matter of freedom of religion. My beliefs, I daresay, differ greatly from Harris' and other Christians of her ilk. Did she get an email announcement from God, your God, my God, everybody's God on her revelation? What of atheists' non-god? There's more:
In an interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention, Harris described her faith, saying it animates "everything I do," including her votes in Congress.
She warned that if voters do not send Christians to office, they risk creating a government that is doomed to fail.
"If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin," she told interviewers, citing abortion and gay marriage as two examples of that sin.
We have a Congress full of Christians and yet that doesn't seem to protect Americans from corruption and bribery schemes. Tom DeLay and Duke Cunningham, anyone? Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Ralph Reed know a lot about "sin" as well. The Republican-dominated Congress, many of whom are Christians, defeated the anti-gay marriage amendment. And what is sin? The Quakers thought the Iraq resolution passed in Congress was a horrific sin. And that's the bigger point. In Harris' specific religious denomination, gay marriage is a sin. Other Christians do not agree. According to my Creator, gay marriage is a blessing being denied to America's lesbian and gay couples and that's a sin! Also, abortion may be a mistake for some, but not for all, and it certainly isn't the hellfire and brimstone idea of sin that Harris believes in. But that's my religious belief as protected under the Constitution.
Doing so, she said, "will take western civilization, indeed other nations because people look to our country as one nation as under God and whenever we legislate sin and we say abortion is permissible and we say gay unions are permissible, then average citizens who are not Christians, because they don't know better, we are leading them astray and it's wrong..."
Ha! She really needs to catch up on some reading. World opinion polls cite America as a bigger problem to world peace than Iran. U.S. credibility and image needs a comeback after Bush's disastrous misadventures in Iraq. Check with American opinion about Bush's standing with foreign leaders too. And then there's a matter of the president's poor approval ratings. Bush says he believes in God and certainly makes a lot noise about it. So, Ms. Harris, your point about U.S. world leadership would be? Are you trying to say George is a hypocrite and that's why the world and most Americans don't approve of him?
Harris said that Americans "have internalized" the "lie" that church and state must not be mixed. In reality, she said, "we have to have the faithful in government" because that is God's will.
Separating religion and politics is "so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers," Harris said. "And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women," then "we're going to have a nation of secular laws. That's not what our founding fathers intended and that's (sic) certainly isn't what God intended."
Well, perhaps Ms. Harris' and the SCOTUS' role in choosing Bush in 2000 was an act of God in her mind. But I wonder if Ms. Harris has ever read the Constitution that the founding fathers wrote. In a democracy, we elect representatives, not rulers, and they are accountable to the people. Ever heard of impeachment? Cornell Law School explains (with emphasis):
Two clauses in the First Amendment guarantee freedom of religion. The establishment clause prohibits the government from passing legislation to establish an official religion or preferring one religion over another. It enforces the "separation of church and state. Some governmental activity related to religion has been declared constitutional by the Supreme Court. For example, providing bus transportation for parochial school students and the enforcement of "blue laws" is not prohibited. The free exercise clause prohibits the government, in most instances, from interfering with a persons practice of their religion.
Favoring Christians over Jews or Muslims or Wiccans is not what the founders scribed or intended if one reads the Federalist Papers. Frankly, I think Harris has lost her mind and is one of those wannabe SDO authoritarians infused with religiosity and demagoguery that Sara Robinson has written about. Good news is she lags far behind in polling so her chances of being elected in the GOP Senate primary grow dim. Let me pause and give thanks to the Goddess!

Real wage failure

In the November midterm elections, I hope Democrats can capitalize on the war against the middle-class. If you're a millionaire, you probably love Bushian voodoo economics. However, Republicans have failed as stewards of the economy for the overwhelming majority of Americans (with emphasis):

With the economy beginning to slow, the current expansion has a chance to become the first sustained period of economic growth since World War II that fails to offer a prolonged increase in real wages for most workers.
[..]
The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity — the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation’s living standards — has risen steadily over the same period.
As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s. UBS, the investment bank, recently described the current period as “the golden era of profitability.”
[..]
Economists offer various reasons for the stagnation of wages. Although the economy continues to add jobs, global trade, immigration, layoffs and technology — as well as the insecurity caused by them — appear to have eroded workers’ bargaining power.
Trade unions are much weaker than they once were, while the buying power of the minimum wage is at a 50-year low. And health care is far more expensive than it was a decade ago, causing companies to spend more on benefits at the expense of wages.
Together, these forces have caused a growing share of the economy to go to companies instead of workers’ paychecks. In the first quarter of 2006, wages and salaries represented 45 percent of gross domestic product, down from almost 50 percent in the first quarter of 2001 and a record 53.6 percent in the first quarter of 1970, according to the Commerce Department. Each percentage point now equals about $132 billion.
Total employee compensation — wages plus benefits — has fared a little better. Its share was briefly lower than its current level of 56.1 percent in the mid-1990’s and otherwise has not been so low since 1966.
Over the last year, the value of employee benefits has risen only 3.4 percent, while inflation has exceeded 4 percent, according to the Labor Department.
In Europe and Japan, the profit share of economic output is also at or near record levels, noted Larry Hatheway, chief economist for UBS Investment Bank, who said that this highlighted the pressures of globalization on wages. Many Americans, be they apparel workers or software programmers, are facing more comptition from China and India.
In another recent report on the boom in profits, economists at Goldman Sachs wrote, “The most important contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in labor’s share of national income.” Low interest rates and the moderate cost of capital goods, like computers, have also played a role, though economists note that an economic slowdown could hurt profits in coming months.
For most of the last century, wages and productivity — the key measure of the economy’s efficiency — have risen together, increasing rapidly through the 1950’s and 60’s and far more slowly in the 1970’s and 80’s.
But in recent years, the productivity gains have continued while the pay increases have not kept up. Worker productivity rose 16.6 percent from 2000 to 2005, while total compensation for the median worker rose 7.2 percent, according to Labor Department statistics analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group. Benefits accounted for most of the increase.
“If I had to sum it up,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the institute, “it comes down to bargaining power and the lack of ability of many in the work force to claim their fair share of growth.”
Nominal wages have accelerated in the last year, but the spike in oil costs has eaten up the gains. Now the job market appears to be weakening, after a protracted series of interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve.
Unless these trends reverse, the current expansion may lack even an extended period of modest wage growth like one that occurred in the mid-1980’s.
The most recent recession ended in late 2001. Hourly wages continued to rise in 2002 and peaked in early 2003, largely on the lingering strength of the 1990’s boom.
Average family income, adjusted for inflation, has continued to advance at a good clip, a fact Mr. Bush has cited when speaking about the economy. But these gains are a result mainly of increases at the top of the income spectrum that pull up the overall numbers. Even for workers at the 90th percentile of earners — making about $80,000 a year — inflation has outpaced their pay increases over the last three years, according to the Labor Department.
“There are two economies out there,” Mr. Cook, the political analyst, said. “One has been just white hot, going great guns. Those are the people who have benefited from globalization, technology, greater productivity and higher corporate earnings.
“And then there’s the working stiffs,’’ he added, “who just don’t feel like they’re getting ahead despite the fact that they’re working very hard. And there are a lot more people in that group than the other group.”
In 2004, the top 1 percent of earners — a group that includes many chief executives — received 11.2 percent of all wage income, up from 8.7 percent a decade earlier and less than 6 percent three decades ago, according to Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, economists who analyzed the tax data.
Yeah, folks we turned the corner headed toward a redux of the Gilded Age. Middle-class workers must fend for themselves--YOYO Republican style.

Now for a bit of propaganda from the right-wing side:
Republicans counter that the tax cuts passed during Mr. Bush’s first term helped lifted the economy out of recession. Unless the cuts are extended, a move many Democrats oppose, the economy will suffer, and so will wages, Republicans say.
Oh, sure. The Republican cult of corruption has a vested interest in keeping the gravy train rollin' via the top 1-percent-ers. Republicans have been scamming the public by advertising that tax cuts would pay for themselves, another propaganda ploy to tamp down objections to Bushian voodoo economics. How come Republicans aren't fessin' up to the facts? As Dana Milbank revealed, "groups such as the Congressional Budget Office have reported that the Bush tax cuts have shifted the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class."

Of course, wages will suffer. But whose wages? CEOs? As if middle-class earnings haven't already been strangled! The Bush Administration and congressional Republicans put a choke hold on a minimum wage increase, attacked overtime pay, eroded working class jobs with outsourcing, lax immigration, you name it. Corporate masters have been handed a carte blanche billy club to bludgeon labor costs sending jobs to cheap labor markets overseas, kicking pension plans to the curb, cutting health care benefits, and to gouge consumers by goosing prescription drugs into the stratosphere, deriving historical profits on oil and gasoline. In the "golden era of profitability," who's your daddy, Mr. CEO? Bush and his Rubber-stamp Republicans are. Whose side were Republicans on when Bush's prescription drug bill prohibited government from securing the most competitive drug prices possible? And who handed out billions of dollars to Big Pharma, corporate welfare subsidized by American taxpayers? As far as the economy's alleged lift, how much ignition was gained from big federal government borrow-and-spending courtesy Republicans and Bush? War profiteers have nearly printed money for themselves with no-bid contracts and negligible accountability. You've got to appreciate real con man genius: The tab for Bush comes after he leaves office brought to you by congressional Republicans who stamped every appropriation with a crooked smile.

So naturally, Republicans never met a Big Lie they didn't like. Rally the troops quick before Americans catch on to dubious economic flim-flammery:
But in a sign that Republicans may be growing concerned about the public’s mood, the new Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., adopted a somewhat different tone from Mr. Bush in his first major speech, delivered early this month.
“Many aren’t seeing significant increases in their take-home pay,” Mr. Paulson said. “Their increases in wages are being eaten up by high energy prices and rising health care costs, among others.”
At the same time, he said that the Bush administration was not responsible for the situation, pointing out that inequality had been increasing for many years. “It is neither fair nor useful,” Mr. Paulson said, “to blame any political party.”
Ha! Fair? How fair is it to have had a Clinton budget surplus obliterated by Republicans who campaigned as fiscal conservatives? Give me a break. Pull out the miniature violin quartet and play Paulson a tune. Go cry me a river and then clean up the mess Republicans have made. Better yet, let Democrats clean up the mess. They know how to use a mop and a broom in understanding America's working class.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Don't marry a man

By Guest Columnist Genet

A satire poking fun at male chauvinists... or is it a revelation?
You may laugh until it hurts.
(2:20 minutes)

It looks like the male-dominated financial press -- The Wall Street Journal and Forbes magazine no less -- is at it again with articles attacking Cindy Sheehan and women who have careers.

Outrage is flying all over Blogland, or to paraphrase Oklahoma, "Outrage is busting out all over!" Catchy tune to hum as the Lesbianati sharpen their double-headed axes.

What amazes me is that the collaborators (AKA as straight women) never seem to get that there is a war on women, a big backlash, and only now and then do the boys tip their hand and reveal how they really feel about women.

Well, the tipping point is now a reality yet again. I have a solution to all of this, of course -- women should not marry men. Period. Think of the joy of women marrying women. You'll have a partner who really cares about your career success, and as the British Economist reported awhile back, lesbians make more money than straight women. Wow, we make more money! I love that.

Now why is this? Well the Economist said it's because we have more control over when we have children, and we don't take time out from jobs and get behind. Genet, of course, is horrified at the thought of any lesbian having children -- geez, we are Amazon warriors for goddess sake! But I know there a few sisters out there who seem to think the hetero-imitative life is still the bees' knees. Oh, well, at least Genet can carp and whine about it.

Other psychological studies say that lesbian relationships are the most egalitarian of all the couples out there -- straight or gay male. So even when two men live together, they still can't create equality. That proves that men are incapable of living the very concept of equal partnership period. Cynical me, I don't care if men oppress each other in the home but I don't ever want women to suffer this again. I suppose that is hypocritical and so un-kumbaya-let-there-be-peace on earth-ish, but, hey, I'm petty and vengeful, and honest about it!

Petty, vengeful, and enjoying a good fight with my enemies at the drop of a hat. Sometimes, we lesbians get too wimpy and just too damn "fair" all the time. We could use a little outrage, anger and song, and rejoicing at our enemies' defeats and humiliations.

Straight women, hear my words: Men always want women out of the work world and stuck in the home. They don't really want you to make more money or have more power -- no, that is too threatening to them. Now why is this? Mainly because the pathetic Paleolithic pigs haven't carved out a new role for themselves. They've had 30 years of modern feminism to do this but all they can still think about is woman in home, god as a man, and the Bible as man's special document. They haven't invented now roles for themselves the way women have done over this same period of time.

Men are conservatives, conservatives always want things the way they were. Time for a little sing along here...Zzz! Zzz! Zzz!...the sound of a labrys sharpening. So they are not going to change. Why would you change as a man? You want the servant in the home, your name stuck all over your property, ahem, I mean children, and you don't want women as equals. Men don't even want to listen to women's ideas at all in fact. Think male dominance, think smoke-filled rooms, they don't want women doing anything for themselves. Men want to be the hogs of the public sphere, the dominators of the earth, the gods who preach from raised platforms.

That is the nature of man! So don't marry men. Women, you are perfectly able to earn your own money, have children artificially, and lead a rich and adventurous life on your own. Men have nothing to offer you at home.

As angry as I am at the oppressors, I can grant men a few crumbs of recognition. Gay men are delightful, they are usually easier to work with and they are more emotionally present than straight men. Generation X men show significant improvement over any man who is over 45 years of age probably because their mothers worked full time, so they are more clued in. There are exceptions and straight women always like to tell me about these male needles in the haystack.

Will lesbians become 50% of the female population? Well, they could. We don't need to add a lot of people to the earth now or we'll destroy the environment. Six billion and counting is not helping anyone. So that great "be fruitful and multiply" heterosexual cheer is getting a bit outdated.

Forbes editors and Wall Street Journal articles attacking women with careers and moral anti-war agency...mainstream male-stream publications thinking...they can do this and get away with it. Women, cancel your subscriptions to the WSJ and Forbes now! Flood them with angry letters, emails, and take up those signs and march! Women employees of both publications (Are there any women who work at these places?), really, give the guys who wrote those articles a very hard time.

How about a new movie called, "Snakes in Men's Mercedes?"

Think of what would have happened to those men if they had called African-Americans hysterical or had written an article, "Don't Marry a Black Woman." Think of how this would look in a racial context. Get the picture. Make woman-hatred such a punishment publicly in Blogland and everywhere that the sexist Paleolithic pigs run in fear back to the La Brea tar pits where they belong. Genet says, "Remember, you haven't changed men. They can't be changed!" But you can gather your self-respect and beat them into swords, or is it ploughshares?? You can kill them with words, you can cancel subscriptions, and you can storm their corporate headquarters. You can boo the owners at every public event they attend.

You can make those bad, bad boys feel pain! Women, it's time to sharpen the axes and whistle while you work!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Our treasured stories

By Guest Columnist Genet


One of the things I most love about lesbians and gay people is our stories. We have a tradition of storytelling, from the groundbreaking "coming out" stories that were so powerful in the '70s and '80s, to the stories of Dyke Drama.

Straight people never want to hear our coming-out stories, nor do they ever ask us personal questions. Have you ever noticed this about straight people?

Since our history as lesbians is completely separate from the rest of the world's history, these stories take on a much more poignant aspect. I get quite cynical at times about what the world considers "important news." I get down right mean at times too; so mean that it would shock people.

I hate being forced to have emotional reactions to things I feel nothing for. As a lesbian I deeply resent having to look at straight people's wedding photos, for example. I hate it when straight women blather about "grandchildren." What a nightmare.

Which brings us to the topic of lesbian friendships. Our friends carry our memories.
If the world doesn't honor all our work as lesbian feminist activists, our friends remember all the workshops we went to, all the books we read, all the protests we showed up for, and all the potlucks we attended.

In the '80s, we had several women's retreats in San Francisco, and those stories get told and retold amongst my old friends. We even have our own Christmas stories, like the time Christmas Eve when a mentally unstable gay man had a chunk of plaster fall on him from the ceiling of a gay church. He yelled, "It's the devil, the devil's going to get me," and was genuinely terrified. Just another Christmas Eve in San Francisco. We all tried to comfort him.

Jesse was special. He had some mental illness, but there he was every Sunday saying, "Give me some sugar," a kiss and a hug. At our going away party, Jesse was the last to leave. He was desperately poor, but he managed to scrape together money to buy us two lovely blue and smoke colored cooking pots. We still have these gifts. Jesse died, probably of AIDS, and the funeral parlor conveniently "couldn't find" his insurance policy. They flat out cheated him out of burial money for a funeral. It was so awful; I have never been able to tell this story out loud. He's in my wedding album; he's smiling away in our goodbye photo album. His memory is alive every time I cook something in those pots!

We had heroic things to attend to too. Women on the verge of suicide, women in hospitals, and we'd all go to visit them. Once a senior vice president of a major bank helped find homes for two homeless women because they, too, were a part of our little lesbian community. Remember the parties we had where all women were welcome? That's right, once we were all together -- bank SVPs, homeless women, and everyone else in between. Now we are so class divided, and yet we seem not to notice.

Once, when I was going through a terrible period of unemployment, I got help from one of the least likely sources. For some reason, a woman who had multiple personality disorder, whom almost everyone shunned, reached out and helped me get a job. It changed my life and got me back on track. When we had a goodbye party, she stood next to me, and a tear from her eye fell on my right hand. It was an unforgettably tender moment. We had many friends back then, but Lisa was the one person who we maybe helped the most, and her grief at our leaving was tangible.

How many people really care about you? How often do we just shrug our shoulders when women leave town as if they didn't really matter at all? I think we often tune out the fact that straight people are so completely closed to our most personal and meaningful life experiences. They just don't give a damn. Of course, they deny this, they pretend to be liberally accepting, but it's not the same thing.

I rather suspect African-Americans feel this around white people all the time. We are so uninterested in African-American life and this is truly awful. I find the life of African-American struggle deeply meaningful because freedom to me is a tangible thing.

Every once in awhile, I am caught off guard just struck down by freedom in a visual form. I connect to this as a lesbian and it reminds me of the great lengths we have to go to achieve freedom from all the homophobic awfulness of the straight world that is a daily occurrence. Women tune out these slights all the time. We don't even know men all around us are treating us with condescension. We don't even know that the gender police (AKA straight women) are blowing their silent dog whistles every time we show up in classic lesbian attire. I am well acquainted with the socially hostile acts of straight women against lesbians, and I must admit, over the past year, I am finally (as they say in California) "getting in touch" with my explosive anger at straight women! That's right, you've been very, very bad Ms. Straight Woman!

One of those ah ha freedom moments came when I was channel surfing. I believe it was a CNN lecture by Princeton professor Nell Irvin Painter that caught my attention. She was speaking about a book she had just written called, Creating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings 1619 to the Present.

What made the lecture extraordinary is that Prof. Painter illustrated her historical lecture with African-American art through the ages. One painting by Faith Ringgold was titled, We Came to America, 1997. It depicts the Statue of Liberty as a black woman, and her torch is burning a slave ship in the distance. The sea is filled with Africans celebrating their freedom by the thousands.

The painting hit hard. I almost started crying, because it got at my disenfranchisement as a lesbian in a classic American symbol. It made me realize how we as a lesbian people are being constantly written out of history. So this book is a must, because it is historical, it has fabulous art, and the idea of freedom is so powerfully illustrated in its pages. We need to see freedom in art so that we have a theme and variation on freedom's ring. One ringee dingee!

I like to read about how others got freedom, because the cause of lesbian freedom is invisible even today. Maybe that's why my friends' stories of my life are so important to me; only they really appreciate my life.

I'd like to see straight people actually sit down and listen and ask questions about our lesbian lives for once. I'd like to see them care when our attempts at marriage in San Francisco get so degraded and attacked by the straight press. Imagine if the religious right crashed your wedding party, for example. How would you feel about that? How would you feel if your family photo album was burned by right-wing ideologues? How would you feel if the president of the U.S. attacked your relationship? I have yet to have a straight friend acknowledge what is going on in America. No one said, "I am so sorry those right-wing idiots attacked your weddings in San Francisco," for example. Straight people said nothing at all to me about these events.

I don't think straight people have much idea of how our personal lives are so ignored and degraded, just as men don't realize how they always hog the spotlight and denigrate women's history.

This toxic hatred or blatant neglect by straight society often causes me to feel distantly contemptuous of straight people. I have a cynical contempt for all they hold sacred. Remember the wedding party that was blown to bits in Jordan by suicide bombers several months ago? The mainstream press was screaming in outrage over this desecration. Me, I was sitting back and thinking, "Oh, boo hoo, a straight wedding." If it had been a gay wedding, they would have celebrated, just as Fred Phelps showed up and attacked Matthew Shepard's funeral.

I could provide other examples of my smoldering contempt for straight sacred cows and occasions, but I believe my anger would be too much even for the blog world. Suffice it to say, that every straight person I have ever met, has really showed no interest in my life and times. Yet, they expect us to listen to them.

There isn't much change on a personal level. It's why you can have Mary Cheney flying on Air Force Two. All the while, the entire campaign goes on about the evils of gay and lesbian marriage. She can sit next to Rumsfeld and his wife and yet remain silent about the persecution of lesbians and gays in the military. One wonders what this might feel like emotionally.

When I saw the slave ship burned by the Statue of Liberty's torch, it was a stunning metaphysical moment. We can create a body of visual art that chronicles our road to freedom as lesbians. We can create spaces to tell our stories, and we can honor each and every personal story a lesbian cares to tell.

I am often in situations where lesbians talk to me, and I listen. Sometimes, I listen for hours as a 75-year-old lesbian tells me her life story, for example. You only get these windows of opportunity now and then. Be open to lesbian sacred storytelling, because when a lesbian tells you a story, it is sacred text more precious than Shakespeare, more real than the Bible, more holy than holy.

If you really want to aid the cause of liberation, I invite my straight readers to actually sit down and hear the stories of your gay and lesbian friends. You might try a sympathetic nod to their real lives. You might want to include them in the family album of America. You might want to be a little more careful the next time you whip out those dreadful baby pictures, because the next time that happens, I might just take a torch from Lady Liberty and burn them!

IMAGES: At the top, a graphic interpretation of Genet's story about Jesse as a book with pressed flower in loving memory. Second, Nell Irvin Painter's book, Creating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings 1619 to the Present. Last, artist Faith Ringgold's We Came to America, 1997, acrylic on canvas, painted and pieced border, 74.5 x 79.5", from the series, The American Collection, #1.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Hate speech of the week

Sexism alert! Back in 1885-90, before discrimination and sexual harassment against women became U.S. law, the term, hysterectomy, was invented. Through the eyes of men, women were perceived as too emotional. So male doctors removed the uterus to alleviate female hysteria. To this day, the medical misnomer based on the male-conceived misdiagnosis continues to be used in our language but the surgery has nothing to do with hysterics. Permit me to don my sarcasm cap for a moment: Perhaps I could understand the word's current usage if overwrought women were to commit hysterical acts by invading countries over WMDs when none were there. Or wringing their hands over fictional Nigerian uranium asserted to have been bought by Saddam to reconstitute Iraq's nuclear program. Who has hyped terror, terror, 9/11, and more terror? Tell me, who shakes in his boots over gays in the military?

I have had enough of negative stereotyping of "emotional" women by men. This week's hate speech designation goes to a man arrogant enough to viciously nip at an antiwar female protester who underwent a hysterectomy. The recipient? James Taranto:

In his August 24 "Best of the Web Today" column, Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal.com editor James Taranto used reports of anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan's recent hysterectomy to joke that Sheehan underwent the procedure as a cure for hysteria.
Taranto wrote:
It's All Ova but the Shouting
OK, I'm already offended by the title of Taranto's post. Callous, adolescent, and crass spring to mind. This is the WSJ, folks, an allegedly (and I'm using the adverb allegedly with exclamation marks!!!) esteemed national business journal. You would think the newspaper would know about best practices in the workplace and get a clue that women, you know, now work, are CEOs, senior and middle managers of companies, and might be subscribers. What is the WSJ? Is it a corporate chauvinistic locker room where snickering sexist tripe gets rewarded with a byline? Here's the rest of Taranto's toxic sexism courtesy Media Matters of America:
"Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan was recovering Wednesday at Providence Health Center in Waco after undergoing a hysterectomy on Tuesday," reports Waco, Texas' KWTX-TV.
In an article titled "Atrocities Performed Upon Women in the Name of Science," Dr. John R. Christopher observes: "The hysterectomy was originally performed upon women to cure them of hysteria." It seems some people still have backward ideas about women's health.
OK, first of all, the KWTX-TV news report made no reference whatsoever about hysteria and hysterectomies. Zero. The addition of the link to the doctor's article was a James Taranto concoction. Are you understanding the belittling slant he attached to the Sheehan story and to women in general who have had the surgical procedure? From the linked article with additional sentences Mr. Taranto left out (with emphasis added):
The hysterectomy was originally performed upon women to cure them of hysteria. So the word for the operation was not uterectomy or ovariectomy, but hysterectomy. Truly a male chauvinist term.
Taranto stretches this story to dubiously claim that "some people still have backward ideas about women's health." Still? This term originated in the 19th century and has been disavowed so speak for yourself, Mr. Taranto. What is the value of James' malicious absurdity in linking the women's issues column to Cindy Sheehan? Nothing but male chauvinism implicitly attempting to ankle-bite a vocal ("shouting") antiwar, anti-Bush activist by maligning her for being a hysterical woman in need of having her uterus removed. Sexism in the form of Bush-ism runs amok.

I want Taranto fired. Pronto. If I worked at the WSJ, I would file a sexual harassment complaint immediately. How do the women who work for the WSJ feel about sexist innuendo? Do you think there are any women at the WSJ who have had hysterectomies? How do they feel to read a colleague's sexist piffle approved as worthy to publish? I don't like Taranto's un-funny joke one bit and I will voice my disdain not only to the contacts that Media Matters provides (see below), but to the WSJ's human resource department as well. I encourage all women and female-affirming men to do the same.

I'm so outraged I am ready to write WSJ advertisers especially their employment classified advertisers. Just try running an ad that states, Women who haven't had hysterectomies may still be considered hysterical by backward people. Applicants beware. The advertising veep would refuse to run such an ad. I would bet big money on it. What makes the WSJ's editorial board think its online op/ed pages can eviscerate women verbally and that it's OK? So what's next? Racist watermelon insults aimed at African-Americans who oppose the Iraq War or Bush?

Here's the contact info at the WSJ. Give me some time to locate the human resource department contact in an update. For now, write and express your objections:
Wall Street Journal
WSJ Editorial Staff: wsj.ltrs@wsj.com
WSJ Feedback: wsjcontact@dowjones.com
Anybody have any ideas on symbolic "gifts" we can mail to the WSJ in protest? Leave suggestions in comments or email me. Please, think of a cheap item to communicate the shoddiness of the WSJ's lax stewardship. Maybe sanitary napkins would hint how Taranto is no longer necessary, ought to be shed, and what a "rag" the WSJ has become for allowing such insidious hate speech.

Swing the labrys, women! I want to promote a Fire Taranto campaign until he has been given the axe. Cancel your subscriptions until the WSJ cleans up its editorial staff. Suggestions are welcome. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Queer eye for the straight woman

By Guest Columnist Genet

We have a long history of straight women and their interactions with gay men. And with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, we have a long running T.V. show in which gay men "improve" straight men.

But we have yet to have a dialogue about lesbians and how they interact with straight men, and nothing really about straight women and lesbians. Since we don't live with men, we see them only in their public roles. Lesbian commentary in the blog world on this subject is pretty scarce.

This lack of literary and social attention to the strengths and culture of lesbians is quite typical. Women are ignored in discourse of all kinds. It often doesn't look like it, because seemingly, there are so many visible women in the media, in political life and amongst authors. But look again. Looks are deceptive.

As an outsider to the straight world, I often see things that straight women overlook. I see their financial vulnerablity, I see them overworking, and I see them missing the big picture of patriarchy.

What could straight women learn from lesbians? One thing they could learn is how to speak up more in public, and to rise to conversational challenges. I've seen women avoid any kind of controntation. They fear strong opinions a lot of the time. I rarely see straight women come out with strong opinions, unless they are in the field of ideas. For example, straight women journalists will speak up, because it's their job, women's studies professors will critique society because it's part of their job.

Women who don't have "opinion jobs" often have no opinions, and this is what often amazes me about straight women. Lesbians, on the other hand, can be real estate agents, and they'll have political opinions, or they'll be contrarian in public -- not afraid to upset apple carts.

Straight women want to believe there has been social change and then you read Jane Fonda's recent book. She was fighting for Native American Rights, supporting the Black Panthers, and working to end a war -- her cause, the cause of women, was something she didn't discover until much later. She was the thrall of three husbands and would bend to their lives. She finally did come to a feminist stance but in her personal life she still struggled with being a people pleaser -- a disgusting "disease" that women are very susceptible to.

She is very honest in admitting how hard it is for women to break through to a real self that is not a male pleaser. It was a life long struggle for Fonda to do this. Her book provided useful keys to the peculiar way in which straight women are in denial about their servitude to men.

You'll see survey after survey saying men still don't share housework equally in the home, and yet straight women think they can "change" men. Let me put this as Lesbianati bluntly as I can: YOU CAN'T CHANGE MEN! Get over that fantasy.

What you can change are your own rules of engagement. You don't have to live with men and get stuck doing any menial work for them, for example. You cannot have children and concentrate on developing fully your mind. You can look at the world and overpopulation, and decide to get out of the child care business altogether.

You can know that your intellectual development comes first, and not any man's. Men may be clever patriarchs but they'll also give in if women demand change and stick to their demands. Men in my office never utter sexist jokes now because they know I'll come down on them like a ton of bricks, and they'll be subject to punishment in the corporation. They know this. I'm not fooled by their silence. I know they operate out of fear of punishment.

Fear of punishment is about the only thing men really understand. I'm not interested in their "inner change." I'm only interested in their silence. They can be sexist underneath but I don't care. I know they will be bad till the day they die. But that silence is wonderful because it means women have won a battle to shut up men in the work place. And shutting them up is delightful. I enjoy their silence and I love to hear them whine about political correctness -- which is their resentment at being told they have to shut up or get hit with a harrassment suit.

Straight women always defend men. When I challenge men publicly, straight women whimpily come to their rescue! It disgusts me.

Straight women are in bad shape and they refuse to wake up. They fear being called feminists, they fear lesbians, they fear being powerful in public. They fear confrontation.

What I've discovered in my interactions with the enemy, and men are the enemies of women worldwide, is look at what they do, not what they say. Look at male-led wars, male rape in war, male treatment of women in public. Take a hard look at what men do to women in cities. Take a look at what they do in public space. They're a bad lot and they don't intend to change.

No amount of evidence can wake straight women up for some reason. But women worldwide really should take a hard look at the earth because we are going down if we don't get rid of male dominance worldwide. This dominance is destroying the earth. Fundamentalism of all kinds is really about the rise yet again of patriarchy and male dominance. That's its real agenda.

All terrorist groups are really men's clubs gone nuts. So what are women of the Middle East doing? Women are half the world's population, and yet, most women still feel afraid of even offending men at a dinner table. I, on the other hand, delight in offending men. I like to give them a taste of their own medicine. But if I do this, some dopey straight women will whine, "Well, men are oppressed too." I'd put this in a southern accent but it could offend Becki Jayne.

Just once, I'd like to see a straight woman stick her neck out and give the man a verbal knockout punch too. Just once, I'd like to see them roar with anger at the next man who even dares to call a woman a "bitch."

The social politeness of straight women will be the death of the planet. Maybe I just call men's bluffs. I know that I can demand my freedom without giving a damn about my oppressors. I don't apologize to men, I call them on their evil. And worldwide now, their terror is evil, their fundamentalism is evil, their churches are schools of woman hatred. But despite all this evidence, I can still hear the whining sound of straight women, "Oh, please, Mr. Man, my man is different, my man is like MLK, my man is like Gandhi, my man is a freedom fighter, my man is Hezbollah...whine, whine, whine."

If you look at the personal lives of all these so-called "great men" you'll see the same old sexist idiots. Why don't we judge men's personal lives as harshly as we do women's? Why don't we call male freedom fighters on their absolute hypocrisy? They aren't freedom fighters in their own home ever!

If you don't have equality in the home, you are never free! Never. Men will never work in the home to the degree that women do. Men will never attend to child care with the same concern as women. Never ever. I don't really care what arguments people use to explain the sexism of men and the stupidity of women for giving in to it, but I do know that once you set a strong course for your intellectual life, and your life of the mind, you'll succeed.

When you change the rules of the game, then men will go along. They are essentially cowards in the personal realm. When women stop attending woman-hating churches, then we'll see change, for example. Maybe straight women are so used to the male command voice, that they go to Catholic Churches and Mormon Churches like sheep. Do African-American men go to churches that talk about how blacks should be silent in the church, and how they should obey their slave masters because Jesus never objected to slavery? But women will go to churches and listen to men tell them how to be submissive to men, submissive to husbands, and they'll sit in those pews and stay in those pews.

When women get as angry about sexism as African-Americans get angry at racism, then we'll see real progress. A question I often ask straight women is, "Where is your passionate anger, and where is your desire to walk out of patriarchy the way Mary Daly did?" Just what is it about those woman-hating churches that you so love? It makes no sense to me.

I want to challenge straight women out in Blogland to read this column and answer my questions. I dare you to rise to the occasion, but I bet you'll be so tempted to defend the poor helpless men. You'll be tempted.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sullivan's dilemma

By Guest Columnist Genet

Andrew Sullivan is a brilliant gay male writer whom I've always loved. On a personal level, he writes about gay marriage and male friendship from a deeply passionate place.

As a political man, however, he falls short. I believe the key problem is that he still longs for white male privilege. You can tell this because he seems to have no connection to lesbian feminism or even Christian feminism. No lesbian texts are cited in his books, for example.

He'll now and then mention the oppression of Islamic women, but you can tell that he's just doing this to justify war in Iraq or the "war" on terrorism.

The day the Irag war began, I was at a gay and lesbian play rehearsal. Every one of us opposed the war. We even had Muslims from the Arab world in our group. Sullivan only now realizes he was wrong about Bush and the war but why was he so fooled by this?

Gay male conservatives are pretty strange. It must be hard for them because our movement is leftist by nature. There is often little point of intellectual contact between gay male and lesbian writers. One of my gay male friends had never seen a lesbian play or cultural event before last year.

I'm one of the few lesbians out there who reads hundreds of gay male books each year and who fully supports the generosity and kindness of gay men and their beautiful culture. They show no similar interest in lesbian culture and this saddens me.

Sullivan doesn't get a lot of things but then he's also a victim of homophobia too. I call him the Clarence Thomas of gay people. He is free today because of a leftist militant gay and lesbian movement that has now gone mainstream. But in many ways, he doesn't understand that conservative straight people hate him and only want to use him for their own ends.

He is a victim of male supremacy, and one Catholic priest once wrote that men will forever be a part of this system and they can't escape it. Since women were never Catholic priests in the first place, we have nothing to gain from that institution. As a lesbian, I would never attend a church that discriminated against African-American men, for example. But Sullivan has no conscience in attending churches that refuse to ordain women.

What would Nelson Mandela say? Apartheid is bad except when it comes to women? Racism is bad but why isn't sexism condemned with the same fervor? Sullivan is trapped. I would invite him to get to know the Lesbianati, but I suspect he lives in an all male world, and like a lot of gay men out there, he still misses straight male privilege.

I think he gets wounded by attacks and slights from the gay community. I want to honor him as a great writer, but I also want him to publically support women's freedom. I want him to tell the Catholic Church goodbye, until women are admitted to the club, just as any white person of conscience would never support racist institutions. Racism and sexism are exactly the same thing. Both need to be condemned. Just as gay conservative men need to get a clue and be honest about it.

Sullivan is a treasure because he writes so beautifully. He is a deeply caring and compassionate man who lost so many of his great loves to AIDS. We must always treat our own with tender kindness and try to gently ask them to be consistent in a desire for peace and freedom. I want my gay male writers to see the whole picture just as I wish they'd actually get to know lesbian thinkers and activists on a personal level.

I'd like them to see how war is a male concept and that patriarchy continually drives it. We should allow all our leaders to make mistakes, to backtrack, to get new insights. But we should demand honesty and integrity in our political ideas.

We can do this with complexity but it won't be easy. Solidarity with people unlike ourselves is often a challenge. I can support Sullivan the brother, and like a family member, I can both love and hate him at the same time, but he's still a brother!

NOTE: Originally, Genet's column was posted here. Some edits have been made. Andrew Sullivan's book, Virtually Normal, is available at Amazon.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Lesbian power at its best

By Guest Columnist Genet


Over the weekend, I had the good fortune of attending a lesbian business event. Several organizations joined together for networking, a pool party, and conversation.

We had over 50 women attend from women's studies professors to lawyers to financial planners to real estate investors. Clearly, the lesbian world is gaining in economic power, and I'm pleased with this state of affairs.

But what we now have to watch out for is the big picture. When women's liberation hit in the '60s and '70s, we had passion, we had protests, and we changed laws. When I look back on these events, I find myself reflecting on all the lesbian feminist activists I once knew. Almost every one of those women is no longer doing anything for the movement. They have all dropped out to raise children, rescue bunnies (I'm not kidding), or they seem dead to the world or dead literally. Alcoholism has hit older lesbians hard!

When one of my old international feminist buddies called out of the blue the other day, I was worried. At 73, Gretchen is still going strong, still a lesbian cheerleader, and now with a new companion of six years. She sounded great, but ten years ago she was on the verge of poverty, and times were very hard for her. Gretchen was a very special mentor to me when I was in my 20s and she was in her 40s. She was one of the first lesbian Christians I had ever met, and I believe her strong faith has truly helped her. She was the first lesbian AA member I had ever met. I liked knowing she still had passion for the lesbian cause, but others of our tribe have gone elsewhere.

So when I went to the big lesbian networking event over the weekend, I was impressed with the wealth and power in the room. Yahoo, I loved to see lesbians buying million dollar homes, and displaying beautiful artwork. I loved to see success in the material form. It was a time to celebrate.

But I wondered, would we divide into classes? Would we forget that we had work to do changing the world?

I looked at the two hapless women's studies professors at this event, and I asked them if they were engaging the financial world and the world of business in their critical studies classes. They seemed stunned at my commentary. They had fought the good fight, to preserve lesbian culture within the academy, but they remained isolated from the world of real estate brokers, attorneys and financial people that were so well represented at this event. I had the feeling that they were disturbed that I knew as much about their women's studies and history department as I did about finance and real estate. I consider lesbian feminist theory instrumental in my approach to business, for example. It bothers me that women's studies and finance is separate.

It is crucial for us to move in all worlds, and it is our duty as lesbians to encourage and "uplift the race." I've long admired African-Americans for doing this. I've long respected all ethnic groups who advance in America.

When I looked around that mansion, I saw incredible artwork from Asia, beautiful colors, and no one in the room was smoking. Most women were drinking healthy bottled water. They seemed fit, and not once did I experience a woman who "pulled a lesbian" -- overreacted to a social comment out of proportion to the actual situation. I'm not southern, but manners are important to me. I believe in old-fashioned charm, and I don't like it when women use vulgar words. They were a polite group, and that made me look off into the hills, and comment dreamily, "Rudolph Valentino's ghost is smiling at us." I often say these romantic things in conversation, but this commentary can be disturbing to lesbians. We are not a romantic species these days, and the women I spoke these words to didn't even know that Valentino was gay. Oy vey! But overall, it was the first time I had ever seen that kind of social adeptness among such a large group of lesbians. Everyone was being a best self that day, and I greatly enjoyed this. It was impressive.

The trouble with success is that it can seduce you, or it can isolate you from your sisters worldwide. Wealth is not significant unless it can be passed on and shared. I want us all to succeed. I want us all to use this wealth not only for lesbian disaster relief, but to be the lesbian Intelligentsia, the lesbian Medici, the lesbian patrons of art. Our community has fundraisers, but again, it's about battered women or breast cancer or disaster relief. Plenty of agencies are doing disaster relief, but romantic me is interested in funding the arts, in building the shining city on a hill.

Our success can enhance beauty, and literally give us a view from the mansion on the hill. We need to achieve and dream big, and then complete the lesbian revolution in the process. We need to continue to name patriarchy as worldwide enemy number one, just as racism is continually attacked.

I am concerned that older women aren't mentoring younger women. I see the difficulty in social class and cross-class interaction. The women who led the feminist revolution are now in their 70s. They didn't take over the government the way Jefferson, Washington and company did, and maybe therein lies the contradiction. The women who brought us workplace parity, were not the same people who rose in the corporations. So the corporate lesbians didn't really see the connection to rising in a system, and changing the system.

If I have any role at all in the world, it is to encourage and uplift the lesbian race, to demand that sexism be as serious a matter as racism, and to encourage lesbians to support our artists. Art is important, because art is the visionary engine of uplift and inspiration. When I have art, I can make leaps of brilliance in my own field, and I can move beyond tepid "theology" to something more radical in seeing lesbian moral agency in the world.

There was real beauty in the Spanish revival home, there was sunshine coming through the trees late in the afternoon, and a beautiful Indian Buddha sat serenely across from a pool table in the front room. I could only smile, and know that I was on the right track, and that lesbians really are gaining economic power. But we will need our artists and visionaries even more than ever! We will need to resist the temptation to be Mary Cheneys, and if we don't realize how we can cooperate, collaborate and support each other's visions, what good is having a mansion or even seeing Rudolph Valentino's ghost in the fading summer light?

IMAGES: The photo collage at the top of this post is an imaginary interpretation of Genet's wonderful description in the last paragraph of her column. Next is the legendary silent film star, Rudolph Valentino, followed by a painting entitled, Judith and her Maidservant, by master painter of the post-Renaissance, Artemisia Gentileschi.

The crucifixion of Madonna

When I saw the news reports about Madonna's mock crucifixion, I had to smile. She has some moxie. Sure, I have some quibbles about the Material Girl but her faux crucifixion isn't one of them. Overall, I admire Madonna. She's one helluva of an entertainer and I love her provocative style. She makes people think as artists should.

When religious critics denounced her for Christ-bashing and "an act of bad taste," I thought how odd. On any given Easter, someone with a beard climbs up on a cross to play Jesus in Christian pageants across America. So what's the problem? Do people really think that Jesus was the only person in history to have been crucified? Can't they appreciate the metaphor that symbolizes who's been nailed to the cross of scorn and condemnation? I can think of some groups of people who have been persecuted, scourged, and murdered just for being who they are. Can't you?

As Madonna hung from the fake cross during her concert, she performed the song, Live To Tell, which contains some appropriate lyrics, a tribute of sorts to the downtrodden, to victims of hate crimes, and to martyred innocents:

The light that you could never see
It shines inside, you can't take that from me

But then I read a disturbing report about Russian mobsters who were planning to kidnap Madonna and her kids allegedly over her "controversial mock crucifixion, in which she wears a crown of fake thorns while performing on a mirrored cross." Whoa! When folks take religion so seriously that they react violently and criminally with threats of bodily harm, their intimidation is reminiscent of fanatical extremists, or dare I say, religious terrorists. Life imitates art when zealous thugs menace Madonna and her children over a staged drama. Who has condemned these mobsters?

Hunting in the right blogosphere for voices who defended the Danish cartoons that set the Muslim world on fire with outrage at westerners, Digby found hardly a word uttered in Madonna's defense. When Muslims vehemently protested and condemned the cartoons, on the conservative side...

They all agreed that free speech and a free press were fundamental western values and that simply because certain religious people somewhere might be offended by certain images, it was no reason to withhold them. Indeed, it was reason to publish them, which many of these right wing bloggers did, with no compunction about offending the muslims in their own communities or around the world.

But strangely, I saw nothing about this Madonna thing. Perhaps they just haven't heard about this affront to liberal western values yet. But then, they have some rather strange ideas about what political speech should be defended and what should be condemned, don't they? They went crazy when Jane Hamsher posted a satirical image of Joe Lieberman in blackface and didn't even blink an eye at their own intellectual inconsistency. At the time I looked around for some of their stirring defenses of the Danish cartoons and found many. It was a certifiable cause in the right blogosphere, all done in the name of western liberal values.

Jeff Goldstein, for instance, wrote this:

This battle over the Danish cartoons highlights all of these philosophical dilemmas (which I have argued previously are the result of certain linguistic misunderstandings that are either cynically or idealistically perpetuated); and so we are brought to the point where this clash of civilizations—which in one important sense is a clash between theocratic Islamism and the west, but in another, more crucial sense, is a clash between the west and its own structural thinking, brought on by years of insinuation into our philosophy of what is, at root, collectivist thought that privileges the interpreter of an action over the necessary primacy of intent and agency and personal responsibility to the communicative chain—could conceivably become manifest over something so seemingly trivial as the right to satirize.

Digby had more to say about the controversy Jane Hamsher ignited over a blackfaced Lieberman. But let me pick up on the salient point (with emphasis):

The hysterical rightwing response to the graphic, however, was a laughable exercise in rank hypocrisy. The same people who ranted for weeks about the Danish cartoons and the principle of free speech even when it is offensive were the first ones to wring their lacy designer dew rags about leftist racism and bad taste when the opportunity came along.

I actually partially agree with Goldstein (hey, even a stopped clock is right twice a day) when he says some of this intolerance of controversial speech comes from the mistaken notion that the feelings of an interpreter of an action take primacy over the intent. (Hate crimes, for instance, are all about intent, although I doubt seriously that Goldstein agrees with me on that.) But the idea that it is the sole province of "collectivist" or liberal philosophy is ludicrous. It's the province of dogmatic thinkers everywhere, but it occurs far more often on the right, I'm afraid, and particularly among religious fanatics of all stripes who seek to silence anyone who doesn't adhere to their beliefs.

So true. And that, my dear friends, is one of the reasons I write narratives about my queer Christ iconography--not as an apologia but for clarification of my intent--not to wound, but to include, inspire, and heal those marginalized by blind religiosity. Artistically, a few critics have ridiculed me for leading the viewer to a particular understanding of a painting or drawing rather than letting them experience the artwork for themselves. Well, viewers still can and do. Far more people look at the pictures than read the narratives. But in these days of character assassinations and death threats from religious militants, creating a record preemptively declares my intention behind the artwork although such statements may not protect me from risk. At least I have articulated an objective--not to take the Bible literally--but to seek inclusiveness in a quintessential ministry about love. Truthfully, in the case of the historical Jesus, no one can factually prove with absolute precision if he was hetero, bisexual, gay, celibate, married, asexual or a hermaphrodite. All we have are assumptions, theories, and stories, some of which aren't too accurate. I, for one, believe it's time for new stories. People have gotten too hung up on who Jesus was rather than what he had to say.

As an artist, I can't control the reactionary impulses of threatened homophobes and narrow-minded traditionalists who have an idealized image of Jesus based on what is--sorry to point it out--mythology. We have no videotape, no live interviews, no reputable documentaries for examination to validate institutional presumptions. But some people will grab up torches and microphones to scorch anyone who dares to interpret a story differently. And when they do, they abandon free speech and freedom of religion to impose their versions of faith sometimes harshly and unfairly upon others who disagree. Wasn't this country founded on the principle of freedom of religion by people who desired to express their faith and speak freely without fear? Are western liberal values to be shared or hoarded by the religious right? Sometimes I wonder. Madonna's Live To Tell lyrics ask:

How will they hear
When will they learn
How will they know

Based on the malignant absurdity and derogatory tongue-wagging over Madonna's mock crucifixion, the answer is not now but hopefully soon.