It started with lesbian couples in Vermont in the mid-90s, freaked out they’d lose their babies. Vermont Freedom to Marry was born, and is now the most powerful Democratic organization in the state, most certainly responsible for the victory of Gov. Peter Shumlin, elected in Nov 2010 and, nine months later, the first sitting governor in the United States to preside over a same-sex wedding ceremony.
Fairly early on, gay marriage lobbying groups realized that whatever else, they had a gigantic money-raising machine on their hands. Not long thereafter, the right wing realized the same thing. John Scagliotti, maker of Before Stonewall, says he reckons gay marriage is so potent a fundraising tool because whereas it’s hard to visualize anti-discrimination, it’s not at all hard to visualize two men or two women saying “We do.”
So Obama didn’t really have too much of a choice and it was essentially risk-free anyway. “Obama’s gay marriage stance sets off money rush” was the headline in the Chicago Tribune. According to Lawrence O’Donnell, one out of six of Obama’s fundraisers is gay. Now they’ll be toiling with tripled ardor, and Thursday’s huge Hollywood fundraiser hosted by George Clooney probably saw a last-minute surge in big contributions. Cynics suggest that the timing of Obama’s announcement that “I’ve just concluded that — for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that — I think same-sex couples should be able to get married” might have had something to do with that event.
I think gay marriage is an incredibly boring subject, though I do like to hear right-wingers say that it will bring the whole edifice of western civilization crashing down. It’s hard these days to find such messages of good cheer. I don’t yearn for such a union, so have no personal stake in the issue. Occasionally my gay friends tell me they’d got married, perhaps remembering my denunciations some years ago of the whole campaign for being essentially conservative.
So the liberal progressives glory in Obama’s “courage” and many a doubting heart about the President’s betrayals is lighter and more forgiving. Trashing the constitution, green-lighting torture, claiming the unilateral right to order the execution of anyone, anywhere on the planet… wiped clean off the windscreen.
Romney the Bully
Start with the classic schoolbully, Flashman, of Hughes’s Tom Brown’s Schooldays:
“Flashman, be it said, was about 17 years old, and big and strong of his age. He played well at all games where pluck wasn’t much wanted, and managed generally to keep up appearances where it was; and having a bluff, off-hand manner, which passed for heartiness, and considerable powers of being pleasant when he liked, went down with the school in general for a good fellow enough. Even in the School-house, by dint of his command of money, the constant supply of good things which he kept up, and his adroit toadyism, he had managed to make himself not only tolerated, but rather popular amongst his own contemporaries; … Flashman was a formidable enemy for small boys. This soon became plain enough. Flashman left no slander unspoken, and no deed undone, which could in any way hurt his victims, or isolate them from the rest of the house.”
So now we find that while at Cranbrook, an elite prep school in Bloomfield Hills, Romney recruited a small gang to ambush a schoolboy called John Lauber who had died his hair bleached-blond. Led by Romney they threw him to the ground, and Romney forcibly trimmed his hair. Then, after this assault, they swaggered off in triumph to Romney’s room. Four of the ambushers contacted by the Washington Post remembered the episode with shame. Lauber died in 2004. In a chance encounter with another Cranbrook alumnus who had witnessed the ambush Lauber said, “It was horrible… It’s something I have thought about a lot since then.”
Romney’s campaign initially said that the Gov hadn’t a mean bone in his body and it didn’t sound like him. Later Romney said he didn’t remember the incident but apologized for pranks he helped orchestrate that he said “might have gone too far.” By bullying standards of the early 1960s in some British schools, the Lauber episode was par for the course. Romney seems to have had a thing about hair. Later he organized another prank at Stanford which involved kidnapping some UC students, shaving their heads and painting their skulls red. There is a nasty streak in the man. I’m not surprised one of his kids ratted him out on the dog episode, which won’t go away because it symbolizes so much about the Mormon millionaire.
A tumbril (n.) a dung cart used for carrying manure, now associated with the transport of prisoners to the guillotine during the French Revolution
My brother Patrick sagely observes:
In the wake of the Hollande victory there may be excessive demand for tumbrils in Paris to cope with those partisans of the Sarkozy regime unwise enough to delay too long their flight across the Rhine or to the Channel ports. This is a frustrating time, of course, for Fouquier-Tinville, wishing to push ahead with his good work, but perhaps a moment also for reflection and even a more “nuanced” approach on his part. For instance, were all those condemned in the past equally guilty? The phrase “bottom line” is overused, but is there an alternative carrying the same meaning? “Please come to a conclusion” sounds too starchy and dull, “Get on with it” too rude. Perhaps there should be a separate category of words and phrases in danger of the fatal blade but might still be saved. There is “nuanced,” as used above, which was a perfectly good word until journalists started using it to suggest (with a slight touch of self-preening) that there might be more than one reason why something is happening. “Remnants” had been doing no harm until it was used in phrases like “the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime” or “al-Qaeda remnants” to explain why people whom Washington had claimed were dead and buried still seemed to be in business. For F-T, surely, not just a challenge but an opportunity.”
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In our latest Newsletter we print Vijay Prashad’s terrific Libyan Diary. From the opening paragraphs:
“For over a week, the oil workers of the Arabian Gulf Oil Company (Agoco) have been on strike outside its offices in Benghazi, Libya. Fifty workers and unemployed youth brought their frustration with the new Libyan authorities to the gates of Agoco, a subsidiary of the National Oil Company. This is not the first protest in Benghazi. In January, protestors occupied the National Transitional Council’s headquarters, trapping its chairman, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, in the building. Last month, fighters from Zintan captured the Tripoli Airport to highlight their demand for jobs. The protests at Agoco have forced the oil company to cut back on oil production by almost 100,000 barrels per day. Indications are that if the protests continue, Agoco might be forced to shut down all production.
“Early in the rebellion, in March of last year, Agoco’s leadership hastened to the side of the rebels. They pledged to allow production to continue as quickly as possible and to use the oil revenues to finance the rebels. “Agoco is now part of the revolution,” an official told the Financial Times on March 10, 2011, “so, we are trying to get money from the oil.” A year later, the former rebels are back at the gates. This time their grouse is not with Tripoli but with Agoco itself. They have come to redeem the promises made by the oil bureaucracy to them. Unemployed youth and exploited workers believed that their blood would produce a new dispensation in Libya. It has not come to pass.”
Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian dissect arguments for the death penalty, old and new. Sample, from a political scientist of high reputation:
“In 1979, political scientist Walter Berns told us Mill needn’t have worried. The issue, Berns said, wasn’t whether or not the death penalty deterred crime or whether or not it could be administered fairly, but rather that the death penalty lends majesty to the law because it is the only punishment in the criminal justice armamentarium that is absolute and irreversible. The accidental execution of someone guilty of nothing, said Berns, is small price to pay the death penalty’s ratification of a procedure that demonstrates the majesty of the law so well.”
Carmelo Ruiz Marrero digs into one of the most deadly operations in the world in the past few years:
“Between June 2010 and June 2011 world grain prices almost doubled. Wheat went up 70 per cent between June and December 2010, and by June 2011 its price was 83 per cent higher than one year before. During the same 12-month period corn went up 91 per cent…
“This does not affect everyone in equal measure. The average American family spends no more than 10 per cent of its budget on food, whereas the world’s poorest two billion spend between 50 per cent and 70 per cent of their scarce income on food.
“The political consequences of these price hikes can be explosive. During the 2010-2011 period several governments around the world were overthrown, there were riots in cities from Kyrgyzstan to Kenya, and three wars started in the Middle East: Syria, Yemen and Libya.
“The ‘Arab spring’ has not been just about democracy, but also about access to food. The rise in wheat prices between 2010 and 2011 was simply devastating for Egyptian families, who on the average spend 40 per cent of their income on food.”
And finally, as a new French president takes over, Serge Halimi evokes the glorious and successful mutiny of Argentina against the world’s most powerful financial institutions.
Alexander Cockburn can be reached at email@example.com.