Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Huma Abedin is not Anthony Weiner

There is a part of the American feminist movement that drives me nuts.  It's the part where all women who call themselves feminists have to be smart and sassy and so damned tough any public sign of vulnerability or weakness, particularly where men are involved, is reason enough to drum them out of the corps.

The unwritten compact says women warriors do not stand by any man who shows himself to be a shit.  I would submit that that description applies to every man.  It also applies to every woman.  We've all been total crapheads many times over the course of our lives.  We're all imperfect in ways the rest of the animal world can't even imagine.  The rest of the animal world goes on the attack mainly because the victim looks tasty and they're hungry.  We, on the other hand, have devised a million different ways to make our victims feel bad about themselves before we chew them up and spit them out.

So, about Huma Abedin. For reasons many of us may not be able to fathom, she has chosen, at least for now, to stay with and profess love for Anthony Weiner.   She has a child with Weiner.  They have a marriage.  Weiner is running for mayor of New York City.  In a press conference that most of us will agree went terribly, terribly wrong, Abedin took to the podium and tried to ease the city's fears about Weiner's abilities to do the job. She said she forgives him, she loves him and she believes in him.

She might as well have built her own bonfire, doused herself with gasoline, stood in the middle of the pile and struck the match.  She is toast.

Because, Huma Abedin, you see, is no ordinary wifey.  She is smart and sassy and strong.  She knows Hillary Clinton so well there are hints that Huma went to Hillary, a victim of her own husband's maddeningly public sexual exploits, for counsel when the story broke about Anthony's underwear undoing.  And because she knows and has worked closely with Hillary, she is. . .what's the word?


So there has to be more to her devotion to her husband than she's telling.  She wants to live in Gracie Mansion. She loves living in the public eye and has her sights on her own political career. She, beautiful, gracious Huma Abedin, couldn't possibly love a man like Anthony Weiner.

Sound familiar?  Yes, they're the same arguments we heard so many years ago about her friend and mentor, Hillary Rodham Clinton. The same Hillary Clinton who shares a successful and seemingly happy life with the man who, by all accounts, including hers, put her through hell.  Somehow, Hillary and Bill have learned to live with the constant reminders of that trumped-up impeachment trial over Bill's embarrassing sexual hijinks in the Oval Office, reported down to the last icky detail. 

Hillary Clinton stood by her man but still became her own woman, going on to become a U.S senator. a formidable presidential candidate, and, by all accounts, an effective Secretary of State.  Still, she speaks highly of her husband.  She stands with him when she stands beside him.  I have no doubt that Hillary loves Bill and that Bill loves her back.

I don't know what will happen with Huma and Anthony, but I do know this:  Whatever happens has to happen between them.  Huma didn't open the floodgates into a deep and thorough analysis of their personal lives by announcing that she believes him, she loves him and she believes in him.  The press did.

This from Sally Quinn in the Washington Post:
Up until Weiner’s cringeworthy news conference Tuesday, I had felt sorry for his wife, Huma Abedin, even though I couldn’t understand how she was able to condone his online antics in the first place. I have nothing against Abedin. I like her: She is a lovely, gracious, intelligent woman. I ache for her need to come to the rescue of this man who has betrayed her so often and will likely do it again. I ache for all women who find themselves in this position. And yet, there she stood in front of the cameras, this modern American career woman, by her man, saying she had forgiven him, loved him and believed in him. Just what exactly does she believe in? The only thing she can believe in for sure is that he will continue his infidelity.
Though her friends say she is strong and resolute and defiant, sadly she makes all women look like weak and helpless victims. She was not standing there in a position of strength. It was such a setback for women everywhere
From Lisa Bloom over at CNN:
Isn't it time to call the spectacle of the suffering political wife, standing by her man in the media glare as he admits to his latest sexual offense against her, what it really is: spousal abuse?
Huma Abedin has the right to make any decisions she wants about her life, just as a victim of domestic abuse has the right to return for more -- but we don't have to stand silently by and condone it.
And this incredible bit of reasoning from Maureen Dowd:
WHEN you puzzle over why the elegant Huma Abedin is propping up the eel-like Anthony Weiner, you must remember one thing: Huma was raised in Saudi Arabia, where women are treated worse by men than anywhere else on the planet.
Hogwash, hooey, and bullshit. Those few words she spoke publicly didn't give any of us permission to judge her or to give her advice about her personal life.  I don't live in New York City and have no stake in this race.  Turns out there are about 305 million of us who don't live in New York City.  So why is the marriage of Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin so important to so many people?  For days now that's all we've heard--and it's more about Huma than it is about Anthony. At some point we have to ask ourselves why we care so much.

Why do this to Huma?  What buttons is she pushing that causes this much anger at her?  She is not her husband.  She is her husband's helpmate, but beyond that she is a smart, sassy woman tough enough to withstand the expected onslaught she knew would come when she stood by him.  I have nothing but admiration for her.  That took guts.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Hey, Detroit. It's Only Art

Safe to say that ever since the news broke that the entire city of Detroit was filing for bankruptcy hundreds of thousands of us Detroiters and ex-Detroiters and Michiganders everywhere have been biting our nails, gnashing our teeth, pounding the walls, spending partially-sleepless nights worrying about the fate of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA).

Detroit Institute of Arts

The DIA, our beautiful jewel of an art museum, is wholly-owned by the city.  The city of Detroit.  Yes, they own it.  They used to say the people owned it, but apparently, as with "By, For, and Of the People", it's all in the interpretation. 

So what's the first thing we hear after that awful news about going bankrupt?  The VERY first thing?  (Even before we heard that the state was going to put up $285 million to build a new stadium for the Red Wings.) We hear that if things don't go right all or part of the DIA's extensive, expensive, exquisite art collection could be up for grabs.

This is how Bill Nowling, spokesman for Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr so delicately put it:
"We went to the DIA two months ago and told them that we thought, should the city be forced by its creditors into Chapter 9 bankruptcy, that the assets of the city could be vulnerable."
The folks who manage the DIA as a public, non-profit institution successfully parsed that particular end-phrase and have already contacted lawyers. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says the works can't be sold because they're held in a public trust.  Others aren't so sure.  The creditors could put up a real stink if they find out Detroit is swimming in assets over at the Purty Pitcher place.  It's a mess.

Then we find out that appraisers from Christie's Auction House invited themselves in and have already been there measuring the nudes and stirring up the dust.  I mean, could you be any more insensitive?

Well, yes, it turns out you can.  Ever heard of Peter Schjeldahl? He's the art critic for the New Yorker.  He lives in New York City.  He's never been to the DIA.  Still, he felt compelled to blog all over the place that it's no skin off his nose if the DIA has to sell off some of our art.

See if you can read the following and give a rodent's patooty about this guy's opinion of what's best for the DIA.  (Lots of hoity-toity words like "ineluctable" and "deaccessions" and "demur" and "abjure".  Just warning you.  And "solicitude".  Right at the end. "Solicitude".)
Art works have migrated throughout history. Unless destroyed, they are always somewhere. It’s best when they are on public display, but if they have special value their sojourns in private hands are likely temporary. At any rate, they are hardly altered by inhabiting one building rather than another. The relationship of art to the institutions that house and display it is a marriage of convenience, with self-interest on both sides, and not an ineluctable romance. I demur from the hysterical piety, among many of my fellow art folk, that regularly greets news of museum deaccessions—though I do wish museums would have the guts to abjure that weasel word for selling things off. (Paging George Orwell.) A museum may thereby maim itself; but the art takes no notice. Protest as we should a local institution’s short-sighted or venal behavior, we must admit at least a sliver of light between such issues and art’s immemorial claims on our solicitude.
In Schjeldahl's stuffy, sniffy piece he pokes a little fun at New Republic writer Nora Caplan-Bricker, who wrote a counterpoint called, "In Defense of Crumbling Museums: Why Detroit Should Keep Its Art".  (Happily, Caplan-Bricker manages to do it without using a single one of those words in quotes above.  And with paragraphs.)

So I'm over there at the New Republic hoping to wallow a while in some commiserating comfort when Nora whaps me silly in the second paragraph with a quote from a writer over at Bloomberg who, if it's possible, is an even bigger smarty-pants than that guy Schjeldahl.

Virginia Postrel's piece is called, "Detroit's Van Gogh Would Be Better Off in L.A".  Yes.  I am serious.  I read it three times.  The title, if you can believe it, is the least cutting of all.  (You might want to sit down for this one. Unless you're already thinking by the title you'll be agreeing with Ginny.  In that case, just stand there, you idiot.)

So Virginia, (yes, a Los Angeles resident) says:
If I lived in Detroit, I’d want to keep these artworks, too. And if I were a museum employee, I’d be particularly demoralized. The DIA has in recent years shown itself a responsible financial steward, and last August won voter approval in three surrounding counties for its first dedicated property-tax funding.
Well, isn't that special?  But wait. . .
Parochial interests aside, however, great artworks shouldn’t be held hostage by a relatively unpopular museum in a declining region. The cause of art would be better served if they were sold to institutions in growing cities where museum attendance is more substantial and the visual arts are more appreciated than they’ve ever been in Detroit. Art lovers should stop equating the public good with the status quo.
And then she says:
In fiscal 2012, which ended June 30, the Detroit museum attracted just fewer than 489,000 visits -- barely 1,000 more than it drew in 1928. With admission now free to residents of the tri-county area, the numbers are up this year, to about 526,000 through April. (These numbers count visits, not individuals; if you come five times, it counts as five visits.) By contrast, last year the Getty Center attracted 1.2 million visitors to a collection whose most impressive asset is the building in which it is housed. (The attendance figure doesn’t include visitors to the separate Getty Villa, which houses Greek and Roman art.)
The museum’s director, Timothy Potts, is charged with adding major works. Last month, the Getty announced the purchase of “Rembrandt Laughing,” a self-portrait of the young painter discovered in 2007, and a Canaletto view of the Grand Canal in Venice. But a young museum can only buy what’s for sale. 
And in conclusion Virginia earnestly suggests that:
Letting the Getty add the Canaletto view of the Piazza San Marco now in Detroit wouldn’t constitute a rape or a bonfire of the vanities. Hanging Van Gogh’s self-portrait [also in Detroit] alongside his “Irises” at the Getty or Bellini’s Madonna [also in Detroit] near his “Christ Blessing” at the Kimbell would not betray the public trust. It would enhance it.
Because they're L.A (or New York)?  Because they have the Getty (or the MOMA)?  Because at our art museum every person, rich or poor, big or little, can wander up and down and through our grand halls, our wondrous rooms, studying, sighing, swooning, breathing it all in, feeling like a million bucks, like there isn't anybody luckier at this very moment,  for free?

Deliver us, please, from unctuous snobs and make them stay where they are.  We're Detroit and they're not.  And we like it that way.

Rivera Court, DIA (Not the murals destroyed at Rockefeller Center, NYC, after Diego Rivera dared to include a figure of Lenin.  We kept ours, it should be noted.)

Addendum:  Mr. Schjeldahl at the New Yorker has had a change of heart.  Click here.

(Cross-posted, as always, at dagblog)

Friday, July 19, 2013

If Texas cared about Babies, they would take care of the Babies they have

The Good Ol' Boys in Texas have decreed that they're in charge of women's reproductive decisions, and the little ladies just gotta take it.  If it was just making abortions more difficult for women that would be one thing. (We expect that sort of thing when privileged men get together to use their power.) But they want to make sure women are ground down even more by setting impossible standards for reproductive clinics, by forcing ultrasounds and by banning the Morning After pill--a most merciful choice for avoiding unwanted pregnancies.  Why do all that?  Because you just can't punish women enough for having sex with men.

Men?  Really?  What do men have to do with making babies?  In certain circles (read Texas legislature this time) absolutely nothing.  Only women can get pregnant, so the responsibility for that pregnancy lies squarely on the women.  Here's a thought:  If those men bear no responsibility for those pregnancies, then how about we take away their right to make decisions for women who find themselves pregnant? 

What happened in Texas does not protect women, it punishes them.  It does not protect babies.  There is no provision in that Texas law (Or any other Texas law, apparently.  See below) for the care and feeding of the babies they're demanding to be carried to full term.  Poverty is rampant in Texas and women and children suffer terribly.  I'll believe they're concerned about all living children when I see them taking care of all living children.

Rick Perry signing abortion law in Texas, surrounded by the wimmenfolk because. . .luv, luv, luv those wimmen.



    Texas has one of the highest poverty rates in the country with nearly four million people living at or below the poverty line.

    Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show Texas poverty rate at 16.9% – well above the national average of 13.3%.

The poor are concentrated in the state’s largest  cities and in the Texas-Mexico border region. Poverty rates are also much higher for the state’s large and growing Latino population and for African-American Texans. 

Child poverty, particularly among young children, is significantly higher in Texas than in the nation as a whole.

(Cross-posted, as always, at dagblog)

Friday, July 12, 2013

You Just Can't Get Good Help These Days

(Note:  In case you missed it, this is a repeat of a post I wrote in August, 2011.  Yesterday, the House passed a farm bill without a provision for food stamps--an omission that should not go unnoticed. (It passed without a single "yea" vote from the Democrats.  Yay, Democrats.) Some of us were talking last night about the ridiculous wages we pay our Congress people, considering they do almost nothing for us.  I went back to look at the statistics I had gathered, and thought maybe this would be a good time to re-evaluate their wages.  Are they worth it?  You tell me.)

Here's the thing about those occupants of the White House, the Capitol complex, and all other elected taxpayer-paid tenants of taxpayer-built edifices all across the country. Once they're in office they tend to forget their place on the organizational chart, so here's a reminder: 

We, the people, are on top.  We are the employers and they are the employees.  We pay their wages and their benefits, give them cushy offices and take care of their every need.  We pay it all, knowing that to do so is, ipso facto, giving them serious control over our lives.

Congress Freshmen 2017

In Congress,  if the electeds are still employed by us after five years in office, we are required to pay every solitary cent that goes into their retirements.  Consider that: They only have to work for us for five years to get a guaranteed lifetime retirement based on an average of the best three years of employment.  That means a House member would have to be re-elected twice to qualify, but a first-timer serving a full six-year term in the Senate will thereafter be eligible for retirement at our expense until death or until the coffers run bone-dry, whichever comes first.

There's no chance that their employers -- that's us -- can arbitrarily decide that we don't feel like paying it anymore. We can't say we want more of our money to go to us and not to them.  When it comes to shared sacrifice, we seem to have exempted them. We're locked in. We will pay their retirements, no matter what we might have to let slide in order to do it. 

This one crucial fact sometimes gets forgotten in the day to day back-and-forth about whether or not our elected officials are doing their jobs in a way that the majority of the employers -- that's us -- will find acceptable: They don't even have to do their jobs well. 

Once they're in, they're in.  We can't fire them for laziness, carelessness or insubordination. There's no such thing as chronic tardiness or too many sick days. They can vote to strip jobs and take away retirements from the very people who have put them in office, all the while knowing they're safe from the same kind of unfair action. 

Once they're there, sitting comfortably in their catbird seats, they can, in fact, make and/or enforce laws that will actually damage and/or destroy a good segment of the very people who pay their way

It's as if they have the best damned labor union in the country (that's us) looking out for them.  Ironic, isn't it,  considering how little use most of them have for labor representation?
Under both CSRS [Civil Service Retirement System] and FERS [Federal Employees Retirement System], Members of Congress are eligible for a pension at age 62 if they have completed at least five years of service. Members are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, or at any age after completing 25 years of service. The amount of the pension depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary.
As of October 1, 2006, 413 retired Members of Congress were receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service. Of this number, 290 had retired under CSRS and were receiving an average annual pension of $60,972. A total of 123 Members had retired with service under both CSRS and FERS or with service under FERS only. Their average annual pension was $35,952 in 2006.
Like most of us, they now pay into Social Security and will be eligible to collect on it after age 62 -- unless that changes, too.  (The young'uns might want to remember that before they get too hasty about killing it.)

Today regular members of the House and Senate each make $174,000 per year, with additional funding going toward staff and office wages, travel and other incidentals. (The leaders, of course, make more.)  Their staffers can make almost as much as they do, and they're entitled to anywhere from 20 to 60 support staffers.  We pay to keep all of them working.
  • Representatives' staff allowances can be used to hire up to 18 permanent and four non-permanent aides divided between the members' Washington and district offices. Up to $75,000 of a representative's staff funds can be transferred to his or her official expense account for use in other categories, such as computer and related services. The maximum salary allowed House personal staffers in 2005 was $156,848 (2001: $140,451)..
  • Senators' personal staff allowances vary with the size of the members' states. Senators may hire as many aides as they wish within their allowance; typically this ranges between 26 and 60, depending on the size of the state and the salary levels offered to the staffers.
    • The maximum salary allowed to Senate personal staffers in 2003 was $150,159 (1999: $132,159); for Senate legislative staffers the maximum salary in 2005 was $153,599.
Capitol.net, has a full compilation and history of wages and perks going back to 1789, when Congressional salaries were six dollars a day, with no limit on honoraria.  They could accept all the booty and swag they wanted in those days.  Now they have to choose between booty or swag.   (No, I'm kidding.  Actually, it says they cannot accept honoraria these days.  Absolutely verboten.  No can do, people.  Forget about it. Got it?   But corn dogs are okay.)

As employers go, we're really lousy at this.  Knowing how committed we're going to have to be toward ensuring a lifetime of benefits to our electeds, we really ought to do a better job of hiring them in the first place. It's not like we haven't studied their resumes.  It's not like we’ve neglected the interview process.  It costs us millions of dollars and requires a multitude of days bringing us interminable boot-licking, back-slapping, chest-thumping speeches to get us to the point of hiring these people.

Could we just try and remember these four magic words before we give any of them the honor of a job with lifetime benefits?   

For the common good.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day: We do Have Something to Celebrate

"The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men." ~ Samuel Adams

Somewhere along the way we stopped calling our most popular summer holiday "Independence Day" and went simply with "The Fourth of July".  We love our Red, White and Blue, but this is the day we pull out all the stops.  Flags fly everywhere, the stars and stripes adorning everything from porches to paper plates to Uncle Sam hats to the holiday advertising pages of every newspaper.  Flags dress floats and bicycles and baby carriages in every parade in every little town in America.  

We love this day--the day to remember our liberty, our exceptionalism, our prosperity.  Those were the days, weren't they?

So what happened?

Not to be a downer on our very favorite day of the year, but I can't shake the feeling that "independence" is one of those words we're starting to look back on with nostalgia.   Does anyone even care that we're not independent anymore?

Our dependence on foreign oil and on anti-American big business and on the production and importation of goods from dubious nations across the globe is not what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they declared us an independent country and gave us our working papers. 

It started on July 4, 1776 when 56 men signed a paper declaring a dissolution of the 13 united states of America from England, the mother state.  Eleven years later, in 1787, a constitution, the wording hard-fought and brainstormed to death, became the law of the land.   The signers mulled over the first paragraph, realizing, I'm sure, that it needed some oomph if people were actually going to understand the motives behind it. 

They didn't start off with, "WE, the wealthy landowners, in order to keep our fiefdoms going. . .", or "WE, the 39 undersigned, in order to preserve our station and ensure a healthy profit margin. . . ".  

No, they began it like this:

WE, the people. . .of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America  

It all came out of a yearning for independence so strong an entire country was created, and in the course of a couple of centuries we became a model for democracy throughout the world--a force to be reckoned with.  You couldn't find a prouder nation anywhere.  We were going places.

That was then. 

Today, we're in turmoil. It's as if the promises made, the lessons learned, the reasons to form a more perfect union are long gone and long forgotten.  We are as divided as we've ever been since the days of our Civil War, 150 years ago.  We cannot, it seems, find common ground.  We see our America through different eyes, with different fears and different goals.  We don't like what we see, but from entirely different angles and for entirely different reasons.  We try to interpret what our Founding Fathers had in mind for us, but we come at it with our own biases, our own prejudices, trying to mold our purposely vague constitution to fit our own wants and needs.

But on this one day we come together, and it's our love of this beautiful, challenging, imperfect country that brings us to detente.  It's a day when, no matter what's going on outside, the sun is warm, the breeze is balmy, and the shade of the old oak tree brings a delicious coolness.  A lemonade day.  A day for feeling good. The parade is about to start and there is no more beautiful flag in the world than the American flag.

Tomorrow we'll begin again.  Toward a more perfect union.  Toward more than just a day of domestic tranquility.  Toward an independence we, the people, have promised to preserve.

(Note:  If some of this looks familiar, it's because it's an adaptation of my Independence Day post from 2010.  Be well and be kind on this day that is ours and ours alone.)