Tuesday, December 11, 2012

California in November


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Like countless other San Francisco transplants, I came west for the vibrant culture, a personal re-boot, and mild weather year-round. 

Before I moved to California, my imagination centered on stimulating elements of city life:  art, music, food, diversity, a new, sprawling canvas of neighborhoods and people and activities I was hungry to explore. I didn't appreciate California's rich natural world until I'd been here for a while.  

Over a recent weekend, I re-acquainted myself with a small slice of this physical beauty, which tends to be out of sight, out of mind when you're in the middle of a dense urban area

A Sunday trip started at Sutro Baths (below), once "the world's largest indoor swimming pool establishment," according to Wikipedia. The structure was removed some decades back. Here's a view of what's left from up the hill:    


(Click on photo to enlarge)




The next stop was the Marin Headlands, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.

A trowel-like cloud formation appeared over the road which climbs to the highest vantage point:



Here's a view of the Headlands around back, with Mount Tamalpais edging the horizon,




and while I took in that grandeur, I found two little birds, kissing in a tree:




Winding east are stairs, 




and back at the front of the Marin Headlands, we find San Francisco,




the Golden Gate Bridge, with Alcatraz poking out from the left side of the frame,


San Francisco behind the fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge, 

(Click on photo to enlarge)

and the long view:  San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Headlands all in one.





***





Over the years, I've heard ex-pats from the East Coast and upper Midwest whine about the lack of clearly-defined seasons in the Bay Area. 

I can understand missing spring. After you've been cooped up indoors for several months, it's really uplifting to see the snow melt, to be able to go outside whenever you want in just one or two layers of clothes, to feel life re-emerge writ large. There's no such catharsis in San Francisco, because of its narrow temperature range

Not to mention, Christmas isn't the same when it's sixty degrees and sunny outside, with palm fronds rustling in the breeze.  

But we do have a wonderful Indian summer, and fall colors, including yellow, 




green,



red,


and amalgams thereof.

And we have a pure blue sky 
whose frequent, friendly presence  
draws legions to the Golden State, 
and keeps many of us out here.
Other "Truth and Beauty" photo essays:

"On a clear day you can see forever" is a guided tour through San Francisco on a beautiful Indian Summer day

"Gone but not Forgotten" is a tribute to a friend who left this world all too soon 

"Random San Francisco" has 46 photos which range from 
ornate architecture to street scenes to vistas to murals

"A Sunny* Monday in San Francisco" is a day tour of the city, 
from Mission Street to the Pacific Ocean

"The Golden Gate Bridge as seen from the Marin Headlands

                 "Vintage Cars" is an evening tour of old automobiles in the Mission District

Monday, December 3, 2012

Honest Abe makes sausage


“If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”

-Otto von Bismarck


I had mixed feelings when I  found out that Steven Spielberg was making a movie about Abraham Lincoln. The history junkie in me was excited, but I feared that Spielberg's penchants for extraneous special effects and telegraphed melodrama (cue:  John Williams' soaring strings) could muddle one of the most important chapters in our national narrative. 

Fortunately, curiosity and strong reviews propelled me to a multiplex to see "Lincoln," where I found that my misgivings had been unwarranted.

Despite its grand historical scope and long running time, "Lincoln" has a tight storyline. The entire movie takes place in January of 1865, and most of the scenes are closed-door discussions between powerful men with a lot of facial hair. "Lincoln" would be a natural fit for the stage, which is not surprising, since the screenplay was written by Tony Kushner, who won a Pulitzer Prize for "Angels in America."

Daniel Day-Lewis is a subdued, subtle Abraham Lincoln. Other than a handful of instances where he's pushed to assert himself, he remains calm, almost retiring, and frequently leavens tense moments with humorous anecdotes. Yet behind his relaxed exterior is a stubborn willfulness to do the right thing, political expedience be damned. 


Though the developments of January 1865 were clearly more momentous than the changes of the past four years, a number of historical parallels with the present are embedded in "Lincoln." 

The movie is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "Team of Rivals:  The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," which told how Lincoln - like Barack Obama after him - surrounded himself with independent-minded advisers, as he placed a higher premium on problem-solving than ego-stroking and blind loyalty. And Lincoln's combination of a first-class temperament and a focus on the long game bears an unmistakable similarity to our current president, another Illinois politician of limited experience and big visions who arrived in the White House at a perilous moment. The two men were even sworn in for their first terms on the same Bible (above).

The plot revolves around Lincoln's full-court press to move the 13th Amendment (to end slavery) through the House of Representatives before the close of the Civil War.  Early on, William Seward (Lincoln's Secretary of State, played by David Strathairn), tries to convince Lincoln that he should give up on the amendment in exchange for the South's imminent surrender. Key political ally Preston Blair (leader of the conservative Republicans/Hal Holbrook) has the same advice. Lincoln patiently hears them out and proceeds to ignore their half-a-loaf thinking, as Obama did after the 2010 election cycle, when some of his cabinet officials suggested that he abandon comprehensive healthcare reform in favor of incremental measures.  

While trying to placate allies on his right, Lincoln also works on Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) to secure liberal Republican votes on his left. Stevens, head of the House Ways and Means Committee, is an ardent, outspoken abolitionist who thinks Lincoln is timid, and not moving fast enough (a criticism Obama has repeatedly gotten from the left, though he has done more for social progress than any president we've had in four decades).

Throughout the movie, Lincoln engages in the kind of tactics that lead faux populists to see all politicians as a morally inferior, self-serving breed:  he obscures important life-and-death information (about his stalling the Civil War peace process) from friend and foe alike while paid surrogates alternately issue threats and offer plum appointments to representatives to secure their votes

Undoubtedly, some politicians have little or no concern for the human condition, but all politicians are not created equal. "Lincoln" shows an exceptional leader performing a very delicate dance (under tremendous pressure) among competing interests for the greater good of humanity.    

And though ending slavery - like creating a national healthcare system - was an urgent moral imperative, Lincoln (and Obama) had to overcome hardcore obstructionism from congressional reactionaries backed by powerful and parasitic economic interests. In both cases, Americans a century-and-a half removed from these battles will scratch their heads and wonder "What the hell took us so long?"




Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It was 70 years ago today: an appreciation of Jimi Hendrix


Jimi Hendrix would have turned 70 today. 

As we fly our freak flag high in tribute, let's take an audiovisual peek at one of America's greatest artists.

The first video below was filmed at the Monterey International Pop Festival, the capstone of 1967's Summer of Love. At this point in his career, Hendrix had made it in England, but he wasn't well-known in his home country.

Though the general American public wasn't yet hip to Hendrix, rock musicians on both sides of the Atlantic were aware of his otherworldly skills and sound. Legend has it that Hendrix and Pete Townshend almost came to blows backstage over who would go first at Monterey, as neither band wanted to follow the other. The Who won the coin toss and set the bar high with their usual balls-out show, which ended in ritual instrument destruction.

Remarkably, Hendrix took the stagecraft even further at the end of his set by burning his guitar, in a performance that would put him on the map in the United States.  

Below is the Experience's opening song at Monterey, the Howlin' Wolf classic "Killing Floor." Note the hyperkinetic drumming, matching Afros, and white-hot rhythm guitar intro.


                                                 (Click box in lower right for full screen)

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was released that same summer. Hendrix was a Beatles fan, and within days of the album's release he tipped his hat with a live version of the title track:

By the time Woodstock rolled around (1969), Jimi Hendrix had attained superstar status. The promoters scheduled him on the final day, presumably to save the best for last, but the audience had thinned by the time he came on thanks to rain, mud, and insufficient accommodations for the hundreds of thousands who attended. 

Those who stayed until the end of the three-day festival were witness to Hendrix's most renowned musical moment, his interpretation of "The Star-Spangled Banner." It's possible that Jimi's time in the military may've contributed to his uncanny talent for eking dive-bomber sounds out of this pretty white Stratocaster. 


Last, but not least, there's the New Year's 1970 "Machine Gun." 

Ted Nugent once claimed that Hendrix didn't have it at the end, that he was burned out. But just nine months before his untimely death, Jimi fathered this sonic masterpiece, a heavily-improvised epic that could qualify as telepathic guitar playing. The titanic feedbacking bend that starts this solo (below) deserves its own place in the Electric Guitar Hall of Wail. 



"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace"

-Jimi Hendrix

***

Other "Truth and Beauty" guitar hero essays:

          Click here for "The Second Coming:  Stevie Ray Vaughan," a first-hand                                                                                account of Vaughan's final concert

                     
  here for "Link Wray's 'Rumble'"          
                  
here for "Great Guitar Solos, #1:  Eddie Hazel (Funkadelic)"

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #2:  Frank Zappa"

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #3:  Hiram Bullock" 

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #4: Dweezil Zappa Nails 'Eruption'"

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #5:  Alvin Lee"

and here for "Great Guitar Solos, #6: Neil Young's 'Hey Hey, My My'"

Monday, November 26, 2012

"Waiting for the Sun," revisited

"Waiting for the Sun" was conceived and birthed in three weeks. The website I wrote/edited for needed another article for the June 1, 2007 issue, so I set to work in early May with nothing but a basic premise - the disconnectedness between people in a crowded urban setting.

Armed with a strong intuition of the mood I wanted, but no clear direction of how to convey that mood, I began with several freewrites (done while riding the bus around San Francisco).

The most evocative passages from the freewrites formed the backbone of a rough draft; from there I had about a week to build and strengthen the transitions and do as many revisions as I could before deadline.

Surprisingly, considering the compressed time frame, my original vision was largely realized in the finished draft. The cold side of city life - people in physical proximity walled off from one another, caught up in their own little worlds - came through vividly. And there was a leisurely pace, a fully-fleshed atmosphere,  and a poetic voice that hadn't come out in my other non-fiction writing.

Though I liked the piece, my audience was mostly indifferent, for any number of reasons. The essay was too depressing. Or too realistic. And it lacked a formal plot. 

I quickly moved on to my next assignment with the presumption that this creative ship had sailed. 

And yet, a few of my regular readers loved "Waiting for the Sun." One of these readers recently re-published it at a new website, Secessio, a postmodern journal of political essays, poetry, and philosophy. Take a look, and while you're there, check out this interesting article about Antonin Artaud.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Great Guitar Solos, #3: Hiram Bullock

“I think he was the greatest guitar player ever, with the exception perhaps of Jimi Hendrix. Nobody was ever better.”

-Paul Schaffer, on Hiram Bullock


In a perfect world, Hiram Bullock would be a household name. 

From the mid-'70s until his death in 2005, Bullock was an active session musician who straddled the jazz-funk-pop/rock genres.  

Bullock's credits included work with notable jazz figures Art Farmer, Dizzy Gillespie, Carla Bley, Jaco Pastorius, and David Sanborn, with whom he had a long-standing collaboration.

Bullock supported pop acts Burt Bacharach, Kenny Loggins, and Paul Simon, and played on some really big albums:  "Gaucho" by Steely Dan; Billy Joel's "The Stranger"; and the soundtracks to "A Star is Born" and "The Blues Brothers." He also did the solo on Sting's cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing."

In addition, Bullock was one of the original members of David Letterman's band, and had several releases of his own. 

In the video below, Bullock supports Bootsy Collins on David Sanborn's show, "Night Music," at some point in '89-'90. There's much to love about this performance, including (but not limited to) Bootzilla's regal blue costume and star-shaped bass, and the synchronous booty-shaking of the many people onstage. A friend I forwarded this video to echoed my thoughts when she said, "I want to be in that room."



Bullock's solo comes in at 3:34, and right away you know he means business. The opening pick slide is lascivious - in the best sense - and seamlessly morphs into a sweet, sweet bend joined to an ecstatic expression that could come off as overblown in lesser hands, but fits perfectly here. 

Many rock solos in '89-'90 were played by twenty-something men who crammed as many notes as possible into an agreed-upon number of measures. This technique-for-technique's-sake trap too often buried the melody/theme of the song, rather than supporting it.

By contrast, this solo is pure blues feeling. Hiram builds on the deep groove and makes every note count - and barely looks at his hands as he does it.   

After an explosive climax, Hiram steps back into the shadows, once again invisible. 

Such is the life of the sideman. 


**Click here for "Great Guitar Solos, #1:  Eddie Hazel (of Funkadelic) and here for "Great Guitar Solos, #2:  Frank Zappa

p.s. for more details about Hiram Bullock and the above video, see Jon Leon Guerrero's comments below

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Basking in the Afterglow: Scenes from the 2012 Campaign

(Click on photo to enlarge)

One of the many bright lights from the 2012 election was the time I spent at Obama's San Francisco phone bank. 

There was a buzz in the office that intensified as election 

day drew near, and a commonality of purpose. Though the diverse group of people under that roof had many different opinions on individual issues, we were all of the mind that Romney-Ryan represented an ugly future best avoided

From the first person I spoke with at the sign-up desk to the people at the phone bank check-in, the phone script trainers, and the folks distributing call lists, all the staff were upbeat and grateful for our time and effort.         

After coming in, phone bank volunteers were handed a script and given instructions in groups. 

The calls went to the five-ten swing states unfortunate enough to be deluged with attack ads every four years. Elections can't be won on attack ads alone, so Team Obama focused heavily on voter contact. The basic idea was that we'd dial from our geographic remove (California is not a swing state) while volunteers who lived in the targeted areas knocked on doors and interacted with voters in public.


Fresh phone bank recruits
Fortunately, the people on the call lists were mostly friendly - i.e. registered Democrats or people who had volunteered for Obama in 2008. 

The calls weren't intended to win skeptics over. We weren't arguing with anyone or trying to change their minds. 

We were simply smiling on the phone and asking likely supporters of the president to commit to vote. Our trainers said that people who talked to one of us were 2% more likely to vote, and those who committed to a time to vote were 4% more likely to make it to the polls. (A recent piece in the New Yorker went into more detail about the science behind Obama's aggressive ground game.)

Once trained, we were walked out to the call center - several rows of long tables with folding chairs - given a list, and left to do our thing. 

The script was two pages of if-thens, but I've never been a script-reader, so for me the chat boiled down to:



"Can I talk to (name of voter)?"

If they didn't hang up, I followed with "Hi, this is Dan from Barack Obama's grassroots campaign. I'm calling to see if we can count on you to support the president?"

If they said "Yes" (as opposed to "None of your business" or "No, I'm voting for Romney"), I continued with "Great. When do you plan to vote?" 

We gently encouraged people to vote early to avoid long lines, and offered a ride to the polls, if necessary. 

The closing was "Thank you for your support. Have a nice day."

When the whole call list had been dialed, you raised your hand. Someone took your list, then came back with another one. 

Sometimes the phone bank directors asked everyone to stop what they were doing, and we'd switch to a different state. The call list data came in from the main office in Chicago, and priorities shifted depending on time zones and breaking opinion polls.


The president's likenesses greeted us on the way out. Plenty of critics on the left (to say nothing of the frothing guttersnipes on the right) would scoff at the superman outfit, at the iconization of Barack Obama, but a precondition of stepping through the front doors was suspending disbelief and embracing the sober, adult assessment that the incumbent was both a good president - warts and all - and worlds better than the alternative.

And if anyone can be compared to Superman, why not the man who defied the odds to become the first black president in a majority-white country by soldiering through two years on the road and running a near-perfect campaign which stomped all over the pernicious Republican machine, in the process bringing enough Democratic senators on his coattails to pass healthcare reform (and a lot of other progressive legislation), pull the economy back from the brink of disaster, save the auto industry, and snuff out Osama bin Laden in the bargain?


***

In 2008, I was in a hotel ballroom with several hundred wildly enthusiastic people when Barack Obama's victory was announced. I hoped to have a similar experience this time around.


If Obama won - which wasn't a foregone conclusion on election day - I wanted to share the ecstatic moment with a big group of the like-minded.

Upstairs from the phone bank, at right,  was the expansive room where the election night volunteer party would be held. When I saw this space the Monday before the election and imagined the crowd it would host, I knew this was where I wanted to be when the 2012 election was called for Obama, if the 2012 election was called for Obama.

But circumstances intervened, and that magic moment happened across the street, in a bar with fifty or so souls. 


(Click on photo to enlarge)

Tears and smiles broke, fists pumped, and whistle cheers went out, as



once again, the liars, haters, and de-humanizers met their match in Barack Obama. 


E pluribus unum

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Link Wray's "Rumble"

A few months ago I caught two sets of Jinx Jones. I was kind of surprised I hadn't heard of Jones before that night; he is an incredibly talented guitarist who channeled rockabilly, jazz, swing, surf instrumentals, and country over the course of the evening, through a clean Telecaster sound. 

Rockabilly was what stuck with me, as Jones had black clothes, a ducktail, and a stand-up bassist who backed his peregrinations. Jones's aesthetic made me think of Link Wray, so when I got home that night, I looked Link Wray up on YouTube.

I lucked out and found exactly what I was looking for (though I had never seen this video before I logged on) with minimal searching:   



The resolution is poor, but within seconds - cued in by the sunglasses, 
leather jacket, slicked back hair, prominent lambchops, and whammy-barred feedback - I knew this was the one. 

"Rumble" is Link Wray's biggest song, and a great example of less being more, as one would expect of a spontaneous composition. It's basically a major-chord blues progression spruced up by tasty dynamics:  crushing volume that leaks feedback in on an as-needed basis, an ominous bass line, a little blues lick (at :56) to glue the first two verses together, and a chordal goosing at 1:48 to take things up a notch before Link drops back into the thunderous main riff. 

In its original incarnation the song moved along relatively briskly. But by the time the above video was made, twenty years later, "Rumble" had become a major anthem adorned with extra touches. In this version, Link Wray gave "Rumble" a walk-don't-run treatment - dragging out the the first crashing D-D-E chords - and a grand flourish at the end that wasn't in the original.

"Rumble" has appeared in at least three movies (that I'm aware of). Ry Cooder's interpretation served as the backdrop for a big motorcycle gang battle in "Streets of Fire." The song plays on the jukebox in "Pulp Fiction" as Uma Thurman and John Travolta sip milkshakes. Jimmy Page listens to a 45 of the original pressing in "It Might Get Loud."

And "Rumble" is an appropriate theme song today, Tuesday, November 6, as voting Americans choose their president.

May the best man win.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Yet another reason to vote for Barack Obama

Yesterday I received my first hate mail, in response to "Romney-Ryan's Road to Perdition." 

Here, in microcosm, are many of the lizard brain tendencies that dominate the Republican Party in the 21st century. This post could be helpful to future historians (and anthropologists) as they try to wrap their heads around the fact that this election - between one of our better presidents, a self-made man of sterling character, and a plutocratic sociopath with a grim Dark Ages agenda - was so close. 

I've left the original comment fully intact to maintain the authenticity of expression:

"this article is a bunch of bs writtin by satanists to protect the false prophet ... obama is a traitor who practices Taqiyya ... Obama's Ring - Declaration of Islamic Faith - 'There is no God except Allah' is inscribed ... Wake the fuck up Americians ...I will NOT accept this destroyer of OUR COUNTRY, OUR CONSTITUTION OUR BILL of RIGHTS, Are you so dull, so insipid, that you would support this NWO puppet, based on what, his partial color ? You are obviously an intellectual midget, and as such, an absurdity to engage in debate." 

-Anonymous  


Monday, October 8, 2012

Romney-Ryan's Road to Perdition


“Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen”

-Woody Guthrie


The contrasts between the recent political conventions were very telling. As befits a party that has embraced diversity for several decades, the Democratic Convention was a big happy extended family, a rainbow coalition in the crowd and onstage. Antonio Villaraigosa, the Latino mayor of Los Angeles, chaired the event. Tammy Baldwin (running to become the first open lesbian in the Senate) had a turn at the lectern, as did many other strong, independent women, including Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, who had a prime-time speaking slot.  

The faces at the Republican Convention were predominantly white, other than a small number of token minority speakers with little or no power in the party. Female speechmakers mouthed the same ideological platitudes as the males, and gays and lesbians were out of sight, out of mind. The monochromatic nature of the GOP’s convention unwittingly revealed a 21st century political party at war with America’s changing demographics and social evolution that stubbornly clings to the dying paradigm of straight white male Christian rule.

Though there’s no evidence of serious voter fraud in the United States, Republican state legislatures across the country have made a coordinated effort to put the future on hold with laws to restrict voting rights. These laws (written by the right-wing corporate lobbying group ALEC) disproportionately impact Democrats:  students, the disabled, low-income Americans who move frequently, and in particular, racial minorities.

Disenfranchising voters makes Wisconsin Republicans smile
This is no coincidence. As Bob Greer (the former chairman of Florida’s Republican Party) recently testified, GOP strategists in his state openly discussed strategies to keep blacks from voting in private meetings.  If implemented, these laws would disenfranchise millions of Americans, including 700,000 minority voters under the age of 30, according to the Black Youth Project. 

To make matters worse, a Koch Brothers-funded Tea Party group called True the Vote plans to swarm swing states on election day, to dispute voters’ identification and generally gum up the works in crowded urban (read:  minority) districts.

The Obama Administration’s Justice Department has challenged many of the Republican voter suppression laws, but a Romney-Ryan Administration would gladly stand back and let millions of American citizens be robbed of one of their most fundamental rights.

Republicans in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, and South Carolina have also attacked people of color with harsh anti-immigrant laws.  The Obama Administration has gone to court to blunt these brazen plays to white resentment, and taken executive action (since conservative Republicans in Congress have blocked the DREAM Act immigration reform bill) which allows more than 800,000 residents - people with clean records, who came to the U.S. as children - to avoid deportation and get driver’s licenses, work permits, and student aid.  

Where Barack Obama wants to assimilate immigrants in the grand American melting pot tradition, Mitt Romney gets excited about a big, impenetrable, very expensive high-tech fence on the border. Romney’s lurch to the right in the Republican primaries gained him the endorsement of Kris Kobach, author of the Arizona law which allows police officers to check Latino residents’ papers without cause. Following the endorsement, a gleeful statement appeared on Romney’s website: “I’m so proud to earn Kris’s support…I look forward to working with him to take forceful steps to curtail illegal immigration and to support states like South Carolina and Arizona that are stepping forward to address this problem.”

Romney has also vowed to veto the bi-partisan DREAM Act if it crosses his desk.

In another bid to cozy up to the bigot wing of the Republican Party, Mitt Romney is scapegoating gays and lesbians. While running for the Senate in left-leaning Massachusetts in 1994, Romney told the LGBT publication Bay Windows that he would be more supportive of gay rights than his opponent, Ted Kennedy. 

But Massachusetts Mitt discarded tolerance as he began the transformation into Presidential Candidate Mitt. In 2004, after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage, then-Governor Romney “[resurrected] a 90-year-old state law, aimed in part at preventing interracial marriage, to keep same-sex couples from flocking to Massachusetts for weddings,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Earlier this year, Romney marginalized his gay foreign policy spokesman, Ric Grenell, for fear of upsetting the religious right. Romney supports a Constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage, which - if passed - would be the first time our founding document has been used to take a right away. Romney-2012 even opposes civil unions, and mines the lowest common denominator with the claim that Obama wants to “force gay marriage on America.”

By contrast, Barack Obama has been a watershed president in the area of LGBT rights. He has named more LGBT appointees in less than four years than any president in U.S. history. He signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and allowed military chaplains to perform same sex marriages. He inked a hate crimes bill (opposed by Paul Ryan) that includes protections for gays and lesbians, and became the first president to openly support gay marriage. His Employment and Opportunity Commission ruled that discrimination against transgender employees violates the Civil Rights Act. And Obama supports a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that prohibits job discrimination against gays and lesbians; Massachusetts Mitt supported this legislation in 1994, when running for the Senate, but Presidential Candidate Mitt is comfortable with employment discrimination      

Republican dehumanization of “the other” also extends to the 51% of Americans who happen to be female. After the Republican landslide of 2010, hundreds of barefoot-and-pregnant bills appeared in Republican state legislatures, from attacks on Planned Parenthood to countless laws restricting reproductive choice, in some cases without regard for rape, incest, or the health of the mother. 

Like their Republican brethren around the country, Romney-Ryan believe that women’s most personal decisions should be made by white male legislators. 

In 2009, Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan co-sponsored a "personhood" bill with current Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, who recently claimed that women couldn’t get pregnant from rape. The personhood bill would have given fertilized human eggs legal standing, a backdoor tactic to eliminate a woman’s right to choose. Ryan and House Republicans also tried to weaken the Violence Against Women Act, which funds domestic abuse programs, and robbed thousands of women without healthcare coverage of contraception, and breast and cervical cancer screenings, by gutting federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Should Mitt Romney assume the presidency, any or all of these measures could become official United States government policy. Massachusetts Mitt, who "Invested in [a] Medical-Waste Firm That Disposed of Aborted Fetuses" in 1999, was firmly pro-choice. Pro-choice Mitt said “You will not see me wavering on [the right to choose]” in large part because his cousin had died from a botched abortion before Roe v. Wade.   

But Massachusetts Mitt took a 180-degree turn on reproductive rights when he became Presidential Candidate Mitt. Romney-2012 is against a woman’s right to choose other than in cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother. As president, he would back draconian state laws and ensure more unwanted pregnancies by doing his part in the Republican War on Contraception. He has said he will “get rid of” Planned Parenthood. He has also promised to re-impose a global gag rule that blocks U.S. family planning assistance for millions of desperately poor women abroad, if the aid organizations "[provide] information, advice, referrals or services for legal abortion....even [with their own money]."     

President Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

President Obama has taken a very different tack. 

The first bill Obama signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (opposed by Paul Ryan), which lifted rigid statutes of limitation on equal-pay lawsuits. Obama’s Justice Department has increased enforcement of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act to keep abortion protesters from disrupting clinics, and his administration has fought state and congressional efforts to de-fund Planned Parenthood. Moreover, Obama’s healthcare reform measure, the Affordable Care Actprovides a host of benefits to women, including universal contraception. 

In addition, Obama has appointed a record number of female judges, including two pro-choice female Supreme Court justices, equaling the total number of women appointed to the high court by the 43 previous presidents. Obama would continue to appoint pro-choice judges in a second term, which would save Roe v. Wade if any of the five pro-choice Supreme Court members (such as 79-year-old cancer survivor, Ruth Ginsburg) retires in the next four years.

On the other hand, if Mitt Romney chooses the next justice, Roe v. Wade could be overturned, which would allow red states to return to the days of back alley abortions.

Judicial appointees will be critical in many other policy areas where the current five-vote Republican majority on the Supreme Court have been extreme. Two years ago, the Republican Five handed corporations an even tighter chokehold on our democracy with the Citizens United decision. In the recent term, they further eroded 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure with a 5-4 decision to "[allow] strip searches for any arrest," and supported the Chamber of Commerce 100% of the time.  

A Romney Supreme Court appointment would push the U.S. further off the deep end, giving even more control of our legal system to corporations and Big Brother.

***

“…it was Republican policies during the Bush administration that brought on the sickness and Republicans in Congress who have denied the economy an adequate dosage of the cure. Now they want to implicitly blame President Obama for causing the recession and the failure of stimulus to fix the problem, asserting that fiscal stimulus is per se ineffective.

There is a word for this: chutzpah.”

-Bruce Bartlett, a former employee of Republicans Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Jack Kemp, and Ron Paul


Apart from racism, the one thing in Romney’s favor is the state of the economy. But the entirety of his case for how he would turn things around is his libertarian shibboleth that “Washington has become an impediment to growth,” though experience shows the opposite is true.  

In the midst of the 2008 crash, Senator Obama supported the bailouts of the banks and General Motors. Romney, who had benefited from the bailout of Bain Capital in 1990, opposed the rescue of GM, a wildly successful government action which saved 1.45 million jobs.

As the new president, Obama quickly signed The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - a stimulus bill that extended tax cuts to 95% of Americans and helped struggling states fund first responders, teachers, and infrastructure projects. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the stimulus bill created as many as 3.3 million jobs.

The Obama Administration also conducted stress tests to keep tabs on the financial health of wobbly American banks.

Together, these measures reassured investors and pulled us back from the brink - a leadership feat of major magnitude - but Romney is trying to exploit voters’ short memories and understandable frustration that the economy hasn’t rebounded more vigorously.

It isn’t for lack of trying on Obama’s part. The Recovery Act was smaller than necessary and heavily tilted toward tax cuts with little stimulative effect because Obama needed Republican votes.  And as growth stalled in 2011, Obama submitted a bill estimated to create up to 1.9 million new jobs. Republicans blocked it.

After nearly doubling the cumulative debt of the first 42 presidents during George W. Bush’s presidency with two tax cuts for the rich, two wars, and a lavishly expensive pharmaceutical company-written prescription drug entitlement, congressional Republicans took a fervent interest in the national debt when they assumed control of the House of Representatives in January 2011.

The United States can’t starve its way out of a deep recession - as austerity measures which prolonged the Great Depression proved. But facing a Democratic president whose re-election depends to a large degree on the state of the recovery, House Republicans have passed extreme austerity budgets, and even jeopardized American’s credit rating over a routine debt ceiling increase.

Paul Ryan shows his concern for the disadvantaged
by scrubbing a clean pan at a soup kitchen photo op
The public face of the GOP’s 11th-hour concern about our fiscal future is none other than vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. Though Ryan's budget numbers don't add up, he has been drooled over by gullible/lazy members of the mainstream media for his “seriousness” about our long-term debt.

Ryan is a very odd choice for the budget austerity pin-up boy. During George W. Bush’s presidency, this future deficit hawk voted for the two tax cuts, two wars, and prescription drug entitlement that are responsible – along with the recession itself - for most of our deficit. At the time, Ryan defended the debt spending as necessary to jump-start a slumping economy, but when Obama inherited a far grimmer economic picture, Ryan radically changed public personas (while privately asking for $20 million in stimulus funds for his home district.
 
Ryan is an equally bizarre choice for an anti-government tribune. He went to a public high school, a public college, and received Social Security survivor benefits which helped pay his college tuition. He hails from a well-to-do family whose fortune was largely made from government contracts, and has received a paycheck and comprehensive health benefits most of his adult life from the U.S. federal government. He profits from investments in energy companies whose subsidized tax breaks he has protected as head of the House Budget Committee. It would be hard to find a 42-year-old legislator in the history of Congress who has spent more time clamped to the government teat.

Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan - a foreign policy greenhorn with little life experience outside of Washington - hints that Ryan’s avowed congressional budgets are a good indicator of the budget priorities we could expect in a Romney Administration.

Barack Obama has proposed deficit-slashing measures that cut both social services and our trillion-dollar annual defense/security budget (nearly half the total defense spending in the world), and has asked for limited sacrifice from wealthy Americans. Ryan, a strict Catholic on social issues, is a libertarian sadist on economic issues with a Race to the Bottom agenda. Almost two-thirds of his budget cuts come from underfunded safety net programs used by those on the bottom economic rungs, which only increases America’s near-third world rates of child poverty, infant mortality, number of uninsured, and income inequality.

Democratic control of the White House and the Senate have tempered House Republicans’ Social Darwinist impulses to some degree, but if Romney wins, and the Republicans take over the Senate, Ryan’s Dystopian vision is likely to become a reality.


Millions (including poor, pregnant women and underprivileged children) would go hungry through cuts in food stamps and the Women and Infants Nutrition program. Tens of thousands of disadvantaged children would lose Head Start. A social services block grant given to states to cover child care, foster care, Meals on Wheels, and other programs for the elderly could be eliminated. Benefits for the disabled – including disabled veterans – would be on the chopping block. The long-term unemployed (whose numbers are at a 60-year peak) would have their meager checks reduced or cut off altogether.

Whereas Barack Obama has taken many steps to help college students - such as doubling Pell Grants, making college more affordable by removing banks from the federal loan process, and instituting income-based repayment - Paul Ryan’s budget cuts would rob one million students of Pell Grant funding and increase the hardships of local school districts already struggling with brutal budget cuts. Romney-Ryan would add insult to injury by allowing private banks back into the federal lending process for their pound of flesh.


Ryan’s budget also takes a sledgehammer to Medicaid, negatively impacting the poor and the disabled (14-28 million people would be abandoned under Ryan’s plan, according to the New York Times). Piggy-backing on this thought, Romney supports the long-time Republican dream of ending Medicaid’s nationally uniform entitlement standards - which guarantee health coverage for people who meet specific criteria - in favor of state block grants.

The block grant would be a lump sum sent to states with no strings attached, increased just one percent per annum. Medicaid costs tend to increase by much more than one percent annually, meaning millions would lose their health coverage, including many seniors who are dual-eligible for Medicaid and Medicare.

Given a Republican Congress, Romney-Ryan might also try to turn Medicare into Vouchercare. Seniors on fixed incomes would receive a set amount of money, regardless of healthcare inflation, inevitably leading to increased out-of-pocket expenses and an inability to pay for medically necessary care.

The Romney-Ryan healthcare nightmare doesn’t end there. Romney has also promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a measure very similar to the bill Massachusetts Mitt signed as governor. He has made vague promises to “replace” the law, but in order to repeal ACA, he’d need Republican majorities in both bodies of Congress, and if Congress was Republican-controlled, Romney would be unlikely to get any kind of health reform passed.

Repeal of the Affordable Care Act (sections of which are being implemented, or have already gone into effect) would be an administrative nightmare. Not only that, but arbitrary annual and lifetime caps and pre-existing condition discrimination that punish people who need care the most would return. Seniors would face increased out-of-pocket costs for premiums and prescription drugs. Premiums for families in non-group coverage would roughly double, according to a study by Families USA. Insurance companies would no longer have to justify rate increases or spend 80% of their budget on patient care. Taken together with Romney-Ryan’s Medicaid cuts, 45,000,000 fewer people would have coverage than under ACA, according to a Commonwealth Club study. 45,ooo Americans would continue to die each year for because they had no coverage.  

And after a brief, great step forward, the United States would once again have the dubious distinction as the only developed country without a national healthcare system.

Apart from the cruelty of kicking people when they’re down, Romney-Ryan’s Race to the Bottom agenda – if enacted as written - would kill four million jobs over the next two years, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In fact, the combination of Ryan’s budget cuts and Republican opposition to economic stimulus have been so radical that conservative stalwarts like the Wall Street Journal and the American Enterprise Institute have chimed in about the harm GOP austerity measures have done to our economy.

***

We're not going to beat Barack Obama with some guy who has Swiss bank accounts, Cayman Island accounts, owns shares of Goldman Sachs while it forecloses on Florida, and is himself a stockholder in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while he tries to think the rest of us are too stupid to put the dots together to understand what this is all about....People matter more than Wall Street." 

-Republican Newt Gingrich, talking about Mitt Romney, on January 26, 2012



Mitt Romney and his fellow Bain Capital predators in a light moment 
Where President Obama has supported tax cuts for the middle-class and modest increases for the wealthy, Romney-Ryan would do everything in their power to increase America’s skyrocketing income inequality by shifting the burden of government taxation onto the beleaguered middle class.

Even as he plans to stick it to our most vulnerable citizens with grim cuts to social services, Mitt Romney proposes five trillion dollars in income and investment tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit the rich - especially the upper .1% who got half the capital gains in 2011. If this plan passed, Romney - who already shelters untold millions in the Cayman Islands - stands to profit handsomely, as would multi-millionaire Paul Ryan.

Romney hasn’t explained how he’d pay for the tax cuts because his math doesn’t add up. As the Washington Post recently pointed out, “…we are back to counting on magic — to ‘dynamic scoring,’ the voodoo economics of the Reagan era, the wishful thinking of President George W. Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts that helped turn a surplus into the deficit now weighing the nation’s economy.”

Romney-Ryan claim these tax cuts we can’t afford would increase job growth, but history is not on their side. George W. Bush slashed taxes on the wealthy twice and we had the most anemic job growth of the last sixty years. Bill Clinton raised taxes on the upper 1.4% and presided over as many new jobs in two terms as were created in the five terms of Ronald Reagan and both Bushes combined.  A recent headline succinctly stated the facts:  “Tax Cuts Don’t Lead to Economic Growth, a New 65-Year Study Finds.” 
Why Mitt Romney wants to repeal Dodd-Frank, in one chart
(Click on graphic for close-up)

And though the 2008 crash was clearly the result of too little government oversight of financial markets, vulture capitalist Mitt Romney vows to do the banks’ bidding by curtailing regulation.   

In 2010, Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank law, which was intended to pre-empt another bubble-and-crash of the kind we witnessed in 2008. Like healthcare reform and the stimulus plan, Dodd-Frank was watered down in the legislative process because the Democrats had to get sixty votes to overcome a Republican filibuster, but it’s a substantial step in the right direction. Dodd includes protections for homeowners from predatory mortgage loans and transaction fees, limits on credit card fees, more transparency in derivatives trading, stronger capital requirements, and oversight of debt collectors and credit agencies.

These policies, as well as Obama Administration steps to sue banks for selling bad mortgage securities, investigate Standard & Poor (over the rosy ratings they gave toxic securities in the run-up to the crash), and enforce Dodd-Frank’s consumer protection measures, would be dead or severely weakened if Mitt Romney took office.  He has vowed to repeal Dodd-Frank, which would let the crash’s perpetrators off scot-free and give them license to gamble with our economic future once again. 

If Romney-Ryan can’t kill Dodd-Frank, they’ll just underfund it. House Republicans, led by Paul Ryan, have already undermined Dodd-Frank by withholding funds necessary to enforce the law from the agencies that oversee Wall Street.

Hostility to regulation in a Romney-Ryan Administration would extend across many areas of government. IRS enforcement would be cut back, mainly for the benefit of tax-dodging corporations and multi-millionaires.  On-the-job safety would decline under a gelded OSHA. The Environmental Protection Agency would likely be staffed with pollution-and-extraction industry lobbyists, and efforts to combat climate change would be dead.  

As governor, Massachusetts Mitt eagerly supported a cap-and-trade bill to combat climate change, and collaborated with eight other East Coast governors on a regional initiative. But he sharply reversed course on the issue when he decided to run in the 2008 GOP presidential race, where hostility to science was a virtue. Not coincidentally, Romney declared his sudden opposition to the regional initiative and his decision not to run for re-election as governor of Massachusetts (so he could focus on the 2008 presidential race) on the same day.

Romney-2012 continues to cling to climate change denial. Just weeks ago, on “Meet the Press,” Romney expressed his indifference to the future of human civilization with the words “I'm not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or heal the planet.”

More specifically, Romney opposes Barack Obama’s regulation of carbon dioxide. Last November on the campaign trail, making light of record temperatures, droughts, and the decline of our oceans, food stock, and forests, a jocular Romney said "I exhale carbon dioxide" and "I don't want those guys following me around with a meter to see if I'm breathing too hard."

And if Romney has a Republican Senate and House, he would likely sign the bill House Republicans just passed, which lowers gas mileage standards and lets coal companies pollute to their hearts’ content.

In other words, Romney-Ryan's regulatory policies would be more or less a reprise of the look-ma-no-hands Bush Administration approach that fouled our air and water and tanked our economy.

***


“This is a man without a core. This is a man without substance. This is a man that will say anything to become president of the United States."

-Rudy Giuliani, the former Republican mayor of New York City, on Mitt Romney (November, 2011)



During the last presidential campaign, Mitt Romney ridiculed candidate Obama for suggesting a unilateral strike into Pakistan in search of Osama bin Laden. 

Fortunately, Obama ignored Romney’s sniping, acted on intelligence, and achieved in just over two years what George W. Bush had failed to do in seven - kill Osama bin Laden. In the process, the U.S. snared massive amounts of vital information about al Qaeda’s plans and whereabouts, which significantly weakened their operations.  

President Obama also got al Qaeda’s number two, Abu Yahya al-Libi, and Anwar al-Awlaki, another major al Qaeda figure, in an aggressive drone operation along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, al Qaeda’s planning hub. These successes have made it more feasible for the U.S. to finally withdraw from Afghanistan. It’s hard to imagine a president doing more to fight terrorism. 

Faced with Obama’s very public accomplishments, Romney has been reduced to Republican foreign policy tactics that never get old:  jingoism and macho posturing. Whether pandering to the British by promising to return Winston Churchill’s bust to the Oval Office or lying about the timing of our Libyan embassy’s apology to Muslims for maximum political leverage, Romney’s primary foreign policy language has been trash talk. 

Upon taking office, Obama signaled a new direction from the previous administration by ending torture and making respectful gestures and speeches on the international stage (while also stressing that his number one priority was U.S. national security). When run through the Republican spin machine, Obama’s civilized, diplomatic tone represented an “apology.” In the World According to Mitt, being American means never having to say you’re sorry; Romney even shoehorned this shabby talking point into the title of his recent foreign policy book, “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.”

At the Republican Convention, Condi Rice and John McCain were wheeled out to verbally emasculate the president who spiked Osama bin Laden and trumpet the manliness of the candidate who counter-protested against the Vietnam War protesters while getting four deferments.

Rice and McCain posed as hard-headed foreign policy experts, though they were among the biggest and most flagrantly dishonest cheerleaders for a completely unnecessary invasion that greatly weakened American interests abroad. One would be hard-pressed to name a bigger post-Vietnam foreign policy fiasco than the invasion of Iraq, which stretched our military to the breaking point, re-empowered the Taliban in Afghanistan, gave Iran a Shiite ally next door, and pissed away three trillion dollars just as Baby Boomers started to retire (to say nothing of the four-five million refugees, hundred thousand-plus dead civilians, four thousand-plus dead troops, and the tens of thousands of walking wounded).

Rather than making a clean break from his party’s Iraq catastrophe and treating international affairs with the nuance and care they deserve, Mitt Romney is doubling down. Romney, who supported the invasion of Iraq in 2002, has attacked President Obama (who had the good judgment to oppose the invasion) for withdrawing troops from Iraq, as he’d promised to do. And Romney has repeatedly accused Obama of being soft on Iran (a country Romney invests in), though the president has taken shrewd steps - such as backing sanctions, isolating Iran in the world community, and brokering a peaceful dialogue - that get a lot more bang for the buck than an invasion which could be disastrous on many levels.

Romney also regularly flexes his muscles by criticizing Obama for proposing deficit-reduction cuts to our trillion dollar defense/security budget. Romney’s minion, Paul Ryan, is of the same mind. Earlier this year, the austerity pin-up boy publicly called General Martin Dempsey’s honor into question because he supported Obama’s modest defense cuts. Romney-Ryan are proposing two trillion dollars in spending that the Pentagon “hasn’t asked for.”


Continuing a hallowed Republican tradition of recycling their garbage, Romney is staffing his foreign policy brain trust with many of the same people who pushed pre-emptive war on Iraq and torture, which might be re-instituted by a Romney Administration.

The takeaways: Romney won’t make us any safer than Obama has, and may entangle us in a futile, bloody war with Iran. But on the bright side, he promises to exponentially increase flatulent rhetoric about America’s greatness so we can feel good about ourselves. And we’re sure to feel safer knowing that Winston Churchill’s bust has been returned to its rightful place.

---

It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe” 

- from Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult, by Mike Lofgren, a long-time Republican staff member in Congress



Four years ago, America was in the toilet. Our economy was in freefall, bleeding hundreds of thousands of jobs a month. There were concerns that the bottom would drop out, as it did during the Great Depression, when America had ten-fifteen years of economic stagnation and unemployment reached 25%.

We were stuck with the lamest of lame ducks, a laughingstock president out of steam and out of his depth who’d helped husband yet another catastrophe by giving banks dangerous amounts of leverage, appointing financial industry servants to oversee Wall Street, and passively standing by for months as economic storm clouds formed on the horizon. 

We had no national healthcare system, seemingly interminable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a disgraced image abroad, and Osama bin Laden was alive and well, plotting to kill more innocent human beings. 

Rarely has the question “are you better off than you were four years ago?” been so easy to answer, but this is still a close election. Due to a national outbreak of Stockholm syndrome, roughly forty-five percent of Americans – including many of modest means - think it makes sense to give the party of McCarthyism, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and bloodbaths based on imaginary WMDs more power. A more astute and diverse forty-five percent want the United States to continue to heal and evolve. 

To the ten percent left, who may decide the election, there’s a simple choice.

If you want a divided and rancorous America that treats women like second-class citizens, bars minorities from the ballot box, handcuffs immigrants who don’t have their papers, shoves gays and lesbians back in the closet, and kicks the elderly and poor to the curb while lavishing windfalls on millionaires and defense contractors, led by a callow, reactionary vice president and a plastic, comically out-of-touch patrician president with no core principles, then Romney-Ryan are your men.

If not, vote for Barack Obama on November 6.




 © Dan Benbow, 2012