Wednesday, November 21, 2012

PAULA vs JILL -- And Feminists Cringe Worldwide

Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley – two women we had never heard of before the current General David Patraeus scandal.  I like to think of Paula and Jill as the Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz of the post-feminist movement. What’s the post-feminist movement, you ask? That depends on who defines it for you, but overall post-feminism is really the next plateau of the feminist movement.  Think of it this way: The iconic cultural feminist of the 1970s expressed herself publicly by burning her bra. The post-feminist of the new century would simply say her bra is not up for discussion and has nothing to do with the socio/political structure of the world.

Whew! Heavy. Or not. You see, in the 1970s, in order for women to advance in politics, the corporate system, in the workplace, in the family and in their chosen disciplines, many often mirrored the traditional (albeit not terribly flattering) behaviors of men, who were already in positions of power in all of the above. I know this because as a young 20-something American new college grad, I had to work for such women. I sometimes looked at some of the women I worked for and wondered, if I hadn’t met them under these occupational circumstances, would they be more inviting as humans than they appeared to be in the workplace? In the workplace, I reported to women who demonstrated inordinate aggressiveness and a certain desperation to succeed (at least according to the traditionally male definition of success).  

By the 1980s we had our first female Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor (left). We also saw the first woman ever to head a major Hollywood studio, Sherry Lansing at 20th Century Fox.
Sally Ride became the first woman in space,serving on two shuttle missions. I could go on, but the point is that by the latter part of the 20th century women were movin’ on up, and some of the goals of the feminist movement were being realized. And while the leaders of the feminist movement were still passionate about their causes by the 1990s, women in America were not quite as demonstrative or emotionally invested in the movement as they had been in mid-20th century years. 

Today, what has become known as the “post-feminist” movement really still incorporates some of the basic tenets of the original movement – socio/political equality, equal pay for equal work, fair opportunity for advancement in various strata of society, and respect based on individuality, rather than gender.  Please understand – I do not claim to be an expert or a student of feminist doctrine.  I’m just an observer who lived through the most active years of the movement, and now observes the fractured state of feminism in America. 

Enter Paula and Jill. In a nutshell, it goes like this:   Paula gets a sweet gig writing a biography of one of the most powerful military men in America, General Patraeus. She spends about five years working on it, with his full cooperation, and reportedly they develop a personal and sexual relationship.  Meanwhile, Jill,
an alleged social climber from Florida, is friends with the General, and seems to like to mix and mingle with other powerful men, including General John Allen,(right) Nato's commander of foreign troops in Afghanistan.  It seems Jill and the General were into exchanging racy emails. Speaking of emails, apparently Paula sent Jill emails that instructed her to keep her mitts off of General Patraeus.  Jill felt so threatened by Paula’s directives that she reported her to the FBI. Oh God, why am I telling you this? If you haven’t been in a coma for the past two weeks you know all about this already, right?

So, why do I call Paula and Jill the Lucy and Ethel of post-feminist America? Because just like two junior high school girls, they evidently got into a verbal sparring match (via email) about the big man on campus, David P.
Never mind that David doesn’t look much like a BMOC. Power trumps pecs and abs in the grown up world.  Here we have two mature (?) 40ish, MARRIED, educated, outwardly refined women rolling in the digital mud over a married military official. Does junior high ever end? Really. And do women of this caliber not understand that their behavior goes against everything their older sisters and mothers fought for in the heat of the mid-20th century? 

Paula Broadwell could live another 50 years and write some of the finest material of her time, but when she dies, her obit will certainly recall the days of her affair with the General and her catfight with a woman she perceived to be a threat to her hold on him. Jill Kelly could live another 50 years and hobnob with whomever she feels can help her climb the much-coveted social ladder, but forever more she will be identified as the married socialite who conducted an ongoing digital flirtathon with General Allen. Each of them can flash their credentials in neon on the side of their homes, if they choose, but their educational and occupational accomplishment will forever be overshadowed  by their public junior highschoolishness. 

I picture Betty Friedan and Bella Abzug rolling over in their graves, as I envision Gloria Steinem (below, right) holed up in her Manhattan townhouse mixing another pitcher of Grey Goose martinis to ease her pain.
The purely feminist idea was to enable women to get to positions like Broadwell’s and use them to honor all women. It wasn’t to sleep with the General so that her ego could roll in the luxury of knowing she slept with the General.  The feminist idea was to enable women like Kelly to make the choice to climb the social ladder if that was their desire, and while doing so to hold their own intellectually and socially with smart  power brokers. The idea was not to exchange emails with a military official that talked about the joy of a secret slap and tickle under the sheets.  Get it? That’s what makes Paula and Jill the modern-day Lucy and Ethel.  They are not modern women – they are 1950s stereotypes of women who use their “wiles” to lure men and manipulate them. 

Expect the Paula/Jill/David/John drama to continue in the media for another few weeks until we all find a new societal psycho-drama to focus on. Maybe other anti-feminists will make headlines.  Maybe Kim will finally get her divorce and marry Kanye.  Maybe Dina Lohan will take some more pills. Maybe Bravo will debut “The Real Housewives of Pentagon City.” Or….maybe Holly Patraeus, the General’s missus, will slap Paula Broadwell into next week. Now that would be worthy of pay per view TV!  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


When I heard that upwards of 30 states have filed papers with the White House, seeking to secede from the United States, I immediately thought of September 11, 2001.  In those days after 9/11 the country was uncharacteristically cohesive.  We were all the country and the country was all of us. I had only felt that once before, and that was when John F. Kennedy was killed in 1963, but I was so young at the time that I did not get the full implications of that nationalistic moment.  Those two times, 2001 and 1963 were what we all really want the country to be about.  But this moment, when 30 states are taking this largely symbolic mega-step to withdraw from the country – well, this moment is unprecedented, and not in a good way.

I am surprised how affected I am by this.  That so many people would cavalierly sign their names to petitions to secede just seems thoughtless to me. Do you trade off your country that swiftly and mindlessly?  Do you deliberately damage the international profile of your country simply because you are angry at the outcome of one presidential election? Do you that easily dishonor your entire civic heritage? I just don’t think so.  It is appalling to me to see this. 

Those who would withdraw from their country are petitioning the government through the We thePeopleprogram at the White House website.  In honor of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees citizens “the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” the web site invites Americans to express their civic desires. Each of the petitions requests to “peacefully grant the state” the right to withdraw from the union.

To those who have signed their names to this, I want to ask you a few questions.  First, let’s take Louisiana, for example, where I live.  As of this writing about 20,000 Louisianans have signed on to this ill-conceived movement to secede.  What happens if the
Port New Orleans, the fifth largest in the nation (right) is attacked by international forces? It’s not beyond the realm of possibility. It’s a highly vulnerable spot on the Southern edge of the country. With no affiliation with the federal government, and as an independent entity, who will protect you? It’s not as if the state is even populated enough to produce a military force.  Has anyone even considered that during their misguided quest to claim independence?

How many of those Louisianans who signed their names are on Medicare, I wonder? Were the states to stand alone, unaffiliated with the U.S. government, Medicare stops. Even if you’re not on Medicare, let’s talk health insurance. Not widely publicized is the fact that in March of this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
intervened on behalf of nine states, including Louisiana, when it found that two health insurance companies had proposed double digit rate increases.  HHS investigated and determined the rate increases were not reasonable. So, without this particular federal entity, those insurance companies may have steamrolled their way into Louisiana and price-gouged thousands of citizens with increase of up to 24 percent. It’s this kind of issue that the secessionists are overlooking. Their lack of patriotism notwithstanding, their ignorance of the consequences of secession is stunning.

About those consequences: Did you know that if your state secedes from the union that your money in the bank is instantly no longer covered by FDIC? Oh, and did you know that your state’s sections of interstate highways will no longer be funded by the US government, and where exactly will the money come from in your state to take care of those roads? You can forget about federal funding for unemployment compensation, and your state clearly cannot afford to take up the slack. So, if you lose your job, there will be no money available for you.  What about those hard-fought laws that protect your civil rights?  Those are federal laws. Without them, you’re on your own. Are your ready for that? I don’t know about your state, but our state legislature in Louisiana moves at a snail’s pace, and little gets accomplished for the people. I can only imagine the chaos that would ensue if Louisiana had to suddenly create its own currency, farm subsidies and disaster relief plans. 

And what about the U.S. Constitution?  If a state secedes from the United States, it no longer falls under the protection and order of the Constitution. So that much beloved freedom of speech
and religion we enjoy as a nation – chances are it gets eighty-sixed. Oh, and that right to bear arms? Maybe, but maybe not. Don’t count on the previous protection of the fourth amendment; you know, the one that prevents unreasonable searches and seizures? It seems apparent that those who have drafted these petitions to secede have never really read the Bill of Rights. If they want to know why the feds are not their natural and forever enemy, I suggest they read it until they get it. 

Social change will never happen without its detractors. Here we have a president who was so bold in his first term that he said on national television that he believes gay people should have the right to be married. That statement was every bit as life affirming and respectful of humanity as the day that President John Kennedy ordered openly racist Governor George Wallace to comply with federal court orders allowing two African-American students to register for the summer session at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Obama’s courage to formally recognize gay citizens and also enable gay military personnel to serve openly, and Kennedy’s desegregation of Alabama were both met with severe resistance from large population segments. It comes with the socio/political territory.

Those detractors live in a culture that supports their right to disagree and express it. But in no way are American people so thin-skinned that they simply quit on their government because they disagree with something it does. So I want to say to those who would secede, you all need your country. And oddly enough,
your country needs you, because it is the ongoing and spirited mix of ideas that makes us what we are here. So I’m baffled why so many tens of thousands of Americans want to walk away from the national conversation at a time when the exchange of ideas is so critical to our well-being. My take on this whole thing? I believe most of the citizens who signed these petitions did so in a knee-jerk reaction to the recent presidential election, and very few have thought through the ramifications of their act. Stay put and fight the good fight that has always defined America. You are, for better or for worse, Americans.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


I love the title of this piece. It does sound like a Woody Allen flick, doesn’t it? It’s not. I spent last weekend in New York, just days after the storm that changed millions of lives on the Eastern seaboard. I stayed in midtown Manhattan, and if I hadn’t seen news reports of Hurricane Sandy, I would never have known there was a storm just days earlier.

Therein is the irony that is New York and surrounding areas right now. In Manhattan it’s life as usual, except for the blocks-long lines at gas stations. Those lines will diminish as power is restored to regional refineries, and reports are that many of them have already been re-energized. So that means that if you happen to be inland from where the storm hit, you can still shop, cocktail, dine, catch a show, pick up groceries and even catch the subway in most locations.

 Meanwhile, if you’re in Staten Island, or New Jersey, your life has effectively come to a halt. You have no home, or if you do have a home, you have no heat or electricity and no real indication when utilities will be restored. For those of us who experienced Hurricane Katrina in 2005, this is déjà vu. Slow governmental response, ineffective FEMA assistance, lack of supplies, ill-equipped shelters, ongoing threats from weather and elements, widespread fire damage, waterlogged furnishings and belongings, shuttered businesses, humiliating living conditions and frustration to the extreme. One woman interviewed on a NYC newscast described her hard hit neighborhood as “Beirut.” A New Jersey man said, “Where’s FEMA? Where’s Obama? Where’s God?” Watch this CNN report from late last week:
While those in outlying areas maneuvered through the sludge that surrounded their decimated homes, in upper Manhattan Lincoln Center was abuzz with the National Chorale’s gala opening concert, the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Turandot, and Jazz at Lincoln Center’s John Coltrane festival. Men in pricey suits and women in fake furs and sky-high Christian Louboutins raced up the avenues to meet their friends for dinner.

At the same time in Staten Island, Borough President James Molinaro is just hoping to get power restored to the former Arthur Kill Correctional Facility, a former detention facility for medium-risk prisoners. If he can do that, several hundred displaced citizens could use it as a shelter, since some of them can’t even get into their cars since their neighbors’ houses are resting on top of them.

So, let’s review: Uptown: furs, heels, fun, concerts and foie gras. Coastal areas: homelessness, depression, freezing cold, hopelessness and fear. It is astounding how polarized life can be among those who live just miles apart from one another.

Heroes emerge: Famously hot-headed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (below, right with President Obama) has maintained a cool, controlled demeanor and worked tirelessly to reassure his constituents
that help is on the way and that they are not alone. He even risked the wrath of his own Republican party by praising President Obama on his response to the catastrophe. In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has maintained a steady, authoritative voice and strong leadership. Not everyone is in his corner: tens of thousands of runners from as far away as Dubai, Japan and Russia were in the city for the annual NYC marathon, when Bloomberg cancelled it at the last minute. Had he done so when the storm’s devastation became evident days earlier, many of them could have saved the time and money they spent to get to the city for the ill-fated race. The citywide anger at his tardiness was palpable.

Those of us who have been through this nature-infused horror can generally predict what
those most affected by the storm will endure in the coming months and years. Celebrities will rally and raise millions of dollars, but most of those who lost homes, cars, belongings and such will never really see any of that money. In fact, many will question where those millions went.

Legislators in Washington will make crude, insensitive comments about how impractical it is to rebuild along coastlines like the Eastern shores. They will question whether it makes any sense for people to consider living there since they are constantly going to be in harm’s way. They have already started. Here is what Rep. Steve King (R-IA)(right)
had to say just days after the storm, about governmental assistance to victims of the storm:  "I want to get them the resources that are necessary. ... But not one big shot to just open up the checkbook because they spent it on Gucci bags and massage parlors and everything you can think of in addition to what was necessary." More reasonable legislators might focus their comments and efforts more on how to immediately relieve those in need. Not Mr. King.

And there’s more: Here is what former FEMA director Michael Brown (“heck of a job Brownie” - below, left) had to say about President Obama’s rapid and immediate response to Hurricane Sandy: “"Why was this so quick? At some point, somebody's going to ask that question. ...
This is like the inverse of Benghazi." He also had this to say: "Hurricane Sandy should teach us to be prepared, willing to live without the modern conveniences of elevators, computers and refrigerators. Hurricane Sandy should teach all of us to chill." Presumably Michael Brown is indeed living with the above-mentioned “conveniences” while storm victims suffer. Since when are communication and food conveniences?

Crackpots will come out of the woodwork and gain media attention with their far-fetched, generally hateful rhetoric. Already Rabbi Noson Leiter from upstate NY publicly stated that hurricane Sandy happened because of New York’s passage of legislation that made gay marriage legal. He truly said that.

The difference between Sandy and Katrina is that Katrina affected the whole city of New Orleans. There was damage everywhere. Not so in New York. It was pretty much life as usual last weekend where I was. The problem with that is that over time it may become easier for citizens of the largest city in America to live in semi-denial about the plight of those
just a borough away. If all is well in Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea and the meatpacking district and upper Manhattan, will it be too easy to forget about those in Staten Island, Hoboken, Atlantic City, Coney Island and Westchester County? I hope not, but I know when the headlines die down, so will much of the country’s attention. I saw that here in New Orleans. We became yesterday’s news much sooner than any of us expected.

Meanwhile, by mid week the highly anticipated nor’easter hit hard, actually knocking out power to many of those whose electricity and heat had just been restored after Sandy. Climate change scientists and others [read: Al Gore] are predictably pointing to this crisis as clear evidence of global warming, and rightfully questioning why this issue never saw the light of day during the entire Presidential campaign. The drama is just beginning. You can help. Click here to make a donation online. It takes less than one minute. Or, you can text to 90999 to automatically donate $10 to Red Cross hurricane relief, which will be added to your wireless bill. Come on. Just do it.