If I could vote in the Presidential election…

Barack Obama
Barack Obama (Photo credit: jamesomalley)

It would not be for Mitt Romney.

If this means a stampede to the exits from some of you, sorry.

But that’s how I feel.

I have a “green card”, (pink actually), that allows me to work and live in the U.S. But, for a variety of reasons, I do not have citizenship. I can easily get it, and retain my Canadian cititzenship as well. I just have not made that choice.

So I can’t vote for anyone.

I watched President Obama’s speech, and those of his VP Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton — who I’ve seen a few feet away in a local restaurant, as we live about a 15 minute drive south of his home.

I came to the U.S. to live in 1989, writing on the consular application “better job opportunities” as my reason. It’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed.

That, and two American husbands (not simultaneously.)

It’s been a really rough four years and I’m terrified that Obama is not going to be re-elected. Not because I think he’s done such a great job, hamstrung by partisan politics.

But the notion of Mitt Romney, and his dressage-horse-owning wife, his $250 million fortune, his absolute disregard for the middle class (and below) — and his Mom jeans — in the White House is making me look at my Canadian passport with longing.

Would I leave if he won? It’s not that simple.

But I would want to.

I’m a self-employed, middle-aged feminist. Republicans care not a whit for anyone in those three categories.

Every week another insane-o Republican politician, usually male, tosses some red meat into the cage by offering up yet another way to control our reproductive rights. As many of us have noted, Republicans loathe government intervention into any aspect of their lives — but they love telling American women what to do with our bodies. It’s my uterus, boys. Back off!

A third of American workers now look like me: self-employed, permalance, temp or contract. That means the only way to get health insurance is to marry someone who has it or buy it, at whatever price is on offer, on the open market. For anyone living in New York, you’re looking at $600-1,200 a month, easy. You can go bankrupt paying for health insurance or you can go bankrupt with enormous medicals bills. Now that’s my kind of economic freedom.

I’m also weary of the fantasy that the wealthy are “job creators.” They’re not. Right now, American corporations are earning record profits, (often having pounded their desperate, un-unionized workers into lower wages and worse working conditions), and are stuffing their pockets with that dough. They are not hiring or giving raises, promotions or bonuses.

The latest job numbers are terrible — only 96,000 new jobs were added here in August.

And the two largest areas of job growth?

Foodservice and retail, the subject of my memoir of working 27 months as a sales associate.

Dead-end jobs for lousy pay.

From The New York Times, August 30, 2012:

The occupations with the fastest growth were retail sales (at a median wage of $10.97 an hour) and food preparation workers ($9.04 an hour). Each category has grown by more than 300,000 workers since June 2009.

Some of these new, lower-paying jobs are being taken by people just entering the labor force, like recent high school and college graduates. Many, though, are being filled by older workers who lost more lucrative jobs in the recession and were forced to take something to scrape by.

“I think I’ve been very resilient and resistant and optimistic, up until very recently,” said Ellen Pinney, 56, who was dismissed from a $75,000-a-year job in which she managed procurement and supply for an electronics company in March 2008.

Since then, she has cobbled together a series of temporary jobs in retail and home health care and worked as a part-time receptionist for a beauty salon. She is now working as an unpaid intern for a construction company, putting together bids and business plans for green energy projects, and has moved in with her 86-year-old father in Forked River, N.J.

“I really can’t bear it anymore,” she said.

Either can I.

Americans’ slavish devotion to the “free market” is killing the hopes and lives of millions. People who can’t find a job and can’t afford to go back to school to re-train (again) because — funny thing — they’re already in debt from the crappy mortgage they bought or they ran through savings in the years it took to find their last job or because getting the next costly credential is no guarantee that anyone is going to hire you.

For those of you who live outside the U.S., the defining mythology here is that of the boot-strapper, that each of us is fully able, from birth onward, to create and define and shape our lives.

Regardless of race, education, family background.

I’ve spent a lot of time, as a reporter, talking to people whose lives make this a lie:

— A woman who shot her husband dead because the police were unable or unwilling to stop him stalking her.

— The 19-year-old raped in the dark, dirty hallway of the public housing where she lived.

— The family who showed me a quilt with the images of their mother and father, both killed violently, woven into it.

— The contractor who had to fire half his staff because he could not afford to keep them.

— The businessman paying $1,000+ every month to buy health insurance for his family.

— The student terrified to be job-less because she’s carrying $30,000+ of student loan debt.

The U.S. is a great place to live if you’re smart, strong, well-educated, healthy, socially connected. Don’t get sick. Don’t need help. Don’t have dependent family members who can’t earn their own way.

If someone tries to crawl into your lifeboat — say the Republicans — beat the oars on their frozen hands and tell them to save themselves. No one ever needs help. It’s their own fault!

If you’re unlucky enough to be ill, old, physically weak, in debt, financially illiterate…you’re Republican carrion.

If the Republicans win the White House, I fear, deeply and genuinely fear, for the well-being of all but the winners at the craps table of laissez-faire free-market capitalism.

How are you feeling about this election?

Do you plan to vote?

Dancing At The White House — Finally!

Cover of "Billy Elliot"
Cover of Billy Elliot

Great story about Michelle Obama yesterday inviting a disparate group of professional dancers — and students — to perform at The White House:

Dancers of all types — ballet, modern, hip hop and Broadway — take over the room, first for an afternoon workshop, during which students from around the country will have the chance to work with some of the biggest names in dance.

Then, after a short break, the students return to see their mentors perform in an hour-long, star-studded show. Even Broadway’s young “Billy Elliot” will be there — four Billys actually, from the show’s rotating cast.

But the main attraction is the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and that’s because its celebrated artistic director, Judith Jamison, soon to retire after two decades in the job, is the honoree of the event.

“What a rare opportunity, to be invited by your country’s first lady to be honored like this,” Jamison said in a weekend interview. “I’ve been to the White House a couple of times before, but this event is totally unique. It’s so terribly important to recognize this art form and to understand how important it is to the fabric of this country.”

I’ve been studying dance — ballet and jazz — for decades. Right now, class is off-limits because of my arthritic hip, and I miss it terribly. Once you have studied dance, the world looks different. You carry yourself with grace and strength. You learn the amazing things your body can do, and its limitations. You hear a piece of music and wonder how you might choreograph it.

I once performed in Sleeping Beauty at Lincoln Center, a production by the National Ballet of Canada, as an extra. It was one of my life’s greatest thrills, not to mention being able to use the stage entrance!

Unlike music, easily and cheaply downloaded on iTunes and available free on any radio or Internet stream, dance remains less visible, less understood and, sadly, less appreciated for the skill, stamina, artistry and dedication it requires.

Watch La Danse, a great new documentary by Frederick Wiseman, a portrait of the Paris Opera ballet company, and you’ll get a great primer in this complex, challenging world.

I loved this recent piece in The Wall Street Journal about one of my favorite ballets, ever, Balanchine’s Serenade:

As the heavy gold curtain rises at the start of “Serenade,” 17 girl dancers in long, pale-blue gowns are arranged in two adjoining diamonds, tethered estrogen. We do not move, grip gravity, feet parallel, pointe shoes suctioned together side by side, head tilted to the right. The right arm is lifted to the side in a soft diagonal, palm facing outward, fingers extending separately, upwardly, shielding as if from some lunar light. This is the first diagonal in “Serenade,” a ballet brimming with that merging line: This is female terrain.

From this opening choir of sloping arms flows an infinite number of such lines, some small, some huge. There is the “peel,” where 15 dancers form a full-stage diagonal, each body in profile, slightly in front of the last, and then, one by one, each ripples off into the wings, creating a thrilling wave of whirling space. In later sections, there are off-center arabesque lunges, drags and upside-down leaps, a double diagonal crisscrossing of kneeling, pushing and turning, and then finally the closing procession heading to high upstage. Ballet is live geometry, a Euclidean art, and “Serenade” illustrates a dancer’s trajectory, a woman’s inclined ascent.

If you have never watched a live dance performance, go! Try modern, tap, ballet, hip-hop. Anything. It will — I hope — change your life as well.

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Christiane Amanpour — A Tough TV Talk Show Host? About Time!

Christiane Amanpour at the Vanity Fair celebra...
Image via Wikipedia

I never watch the Sunday morning talk shows. Terrible admission from someone who needs to be in the know.

The idea of listening to a bunch of middle-aged white guys opining gives me a migraine. Don’t we get enough of that already?

Now Christiane Amanpour, one of my idols for her passionate intelligence, is hosting a new talk show. Writes Alessandra Stanley in The New York Times:

Ms. Amanpour [has]…a range of international experience that is hard to match. More important, she has panache and a no-nonsense briskness.

She gave a somewhat lame rationale for taking over a Washington-based news show, telling viewers that she was “thrilled” to have the ABC job because “after 20 years covering the world, the story in this country is turning into one of the most fascinating.” …

But for viewers Ms. Amanpour’s outsider status comes at an opportune time. The country is sick of its elected officials, and it has never been all that keen on the Washington press corps. If Ms. Amanpour can bring some of the nerve and authority she had covering foreign affairs to a program that has until now had a clubby, old-boy focus on domestic news, she will certainly stand out. She may even be good.

I am deeply weary of smooth, clubby, old-boy journalism, a contradiction in terms if I ever heard one. It’s all about the log-rolling.

But to win so high-profile a gig as Amanpour’s means being aggressive enough to look serious, but not such a bitch no one wants you on their team. By the time you’re within reach of journalism’s coveted brass ring — the chance to rattle the largest and most powerful of cage, the Capitol, the Pentagon, the White House — your own has likely become so gilded you don’t dare jeopardize it. No one wants to be shut out of the best dinner parties, the right invitations, Davos, Aspen, TED, whatever.

Biting the hands that feed you requires a well-controlled jaw.

Which is why so much “reporting” and “analysis” is bloodless and anodyne — when it’s not fanged and clawed and insanely intemperate. Everyone is desperate to be heard, heeded, quoted, Tweeted.

How about….respected? I wish Ms. Amanpour the best of luck with her new venture. She will, no doubt, kick ass the best way possible.


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Get The Flame-Thrower! Two People Need Six Hours to Clear Out Ten Years' Worth Of Crap?

Storage Unit
Image by Penningtron via Flickr


We started this morning at 9:30 and simply gave up in weary surrender at 2:30, running to KFC for a little disgusting junk-food solace.

So much crap. Two career journos who like to read: photos, negatives, framed artwork, furniture and cookware he kept when he moved into my small apartment 10 years ago.

I did find some very dear treasures, from the cat hand puppet of my childhood to a photo of me in January 1994 on Ko Phi Phi, a remote island off of Southern Thailand to my sketchbook from 1998 with my watercolors of Melbourne and New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula. Then there were the engagement photos of me and my ex-husband and even the seating chart for our wedding dinner.  Former beaux cropped up in numerous photos.

Some of it was sad and painful — lots of cards from and photos of the woman who was my closest friend for a decade, who dropped me forever after she married. I found tons of art supplies: pastels, sketchbooks, my colored pencils and watercolors. I loved seeing my paintings from Mexico — where I took an afternoon art class in Spanish in Coyoacan, a suburb of Mexico City. Serendipity turned up some materials that exactly fit my current needs, from a book on handling arthritis pain to a labor study from a week-long journalism fellowship in September 2001; I was on a suburban Maryland college campus on 9/11.

We also, eerily, found a color postcard of the World Trade Center — the day my partner was to move from his Brooklyn apartment into mine was 9/11. Instead, he edited photos for his newspaper job from his apartment and I spent the day in Maryland wondering if he was alive or dead.

My sweetie found a ton of memorabilia — like the color photo of him with Larry Hagman dressed as Santa Claus with Nancy Reagan, in a typically red suit, laughing behind the three of them. Or him posing with George H.W. Bush and Barbara. (White House annual holiday party, open to all members of the White House Press Corps.) A deeply mushy note from an ex? Torn to bits. Ouch!

He’s a Buddhist, but boy do we have a lot of crap. We barely got through half of it today so next Saturday is devoted to finishing the job. Out forever will go the four-foot high stereo speakers as we try to compress everything left into a much smaller, cheaper space. It makes me crazy to spend good money to store…junk. It’s not junk, but what is it? Memories. Stuff, for now, we’re not ready to toss entirely.

I’d flame it all, but I treasure my mother’s typewritten letters, photos and negatives and slides dating back decades and, yes, my bloody clips. His life, like mine, has been filled with adventure, sports, travel and some historic news photos, by him and by others. I adore the 1959 black and white photo he found of his Dad — a Baptist minister long-dead who I never met — complete with those wavy 1950s photo edges. In it, he’s wearing three pairs of eye-glasses at once.

I’d never pictured his Dad being goofy and playful so this is a new image, and one worth framing.

Next week…who knows?

Quote Of The Day From Liz Carpenter, Former Journalist, Johnson Aide, Feminist

“Charge hell with a bucket of water.”

That’s my new motto.

Liz Carpenter died this week at 89 in Austin, Texas of pneumonia.

From The New York Times:

A dedicated feminist, Ms. Carpenter was a founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus and joint chairwoman of ERAmerica, an organization that unsuccessfully fought for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.

Before joining the White House staff, she had covered Washington as a reporter for a news service she founded with her husband, Les Carpenter.

Widely known for her caustic and sometimes bawdy wit, Ms. Carpenter was irreverent about herself and her access to power during the Johnson years in Washington. She was also one of the few White House staff members who had no qualms about giving as good as she got, no matter the source.

“Why don’t you use your head?” Mr. Johnson once bellowed at her. She bellowed back: “I’m too busy trying to use yours!”

Reported the Houston Chronicle:

Feminist Gloria Steinem also recalled Carpenter with love. “She has always been a touchstone, the kind of original, irreplaceable friend about whom one thinks in good times and bad, ‘What would Liz do?’ or ‘I wish Liz were here,’ or ‘I’m going to call Liz,’ ” Steinem said. “I don’t want to think about a world in which she’s not at the other end of the phone.”

Carpenter is a member of the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, chosen by the three-campus Texas Woman’s University. One of the nation’s greatest resources, for anyone interested in women’s history, is their library in Denton, where I did some research for my book on women and guns. It was astounding, and moving, to sit in a room whose stacks were entirely devoted to books by and about women.

I wish I’d met her. She sounds like feisty, fiery fun.

The White House Gate-Crashers Need To Get A Life — And Bravo Needs To Smarten Up

The White House (Washington DC)
Not just another reality TV location...Image by ~MVI~ via Flickr

It’s hard to find the words — bad news if you’re a journo — to express my visceral disgust with the morons, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who thought the White House’s first state dinner would make a great backdrop for their bid to get onto a Bravo reality TV show.  The pair, who seem to have an insatiable appetite for attention, blustered their way into the White House and posted photos of themselves with Vice-President Biden, and others, on Facebook.

She’s skinny, blond and wore a red sari. Would she have even made it in without the trophy wife look and the snotty attitude to go with it?

Beyond the heads likely rolling at the Secret Service for the security breach that allowed them in, what’s it going to take for this insanity to stop? Do you really hunger deeply for yet another reality TV show about skinny-rich-vapid-overspenders? Or do you admire their chutzpah?

The idea that a state dinner at the White House — like some Hawaiian beach or Tuscan terrace — is just one more scenic backdrop for a pair of social-climbing assholes who want to be on TV is so deeply offensive to me. In their world, Narcissists-‘R-Us, it’s just another pretty room filled with people in fancy clothes useful as a rung on their aspirational ladder, a piece of stage scenery, even as the President of the United States welcomed Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India, a nation with whom  good political and economic relations actually matter.

And why, exactly, does being “famous” mean so much to these people? If you’re broke and it might bring you wealth, it’s a tempting means to an end.

If you’re “just” addicted to attention, you need a shrink. And you really need to get a life.