Tuesday, August 01, 2006

It's that time of year again: My Weird Weekend at the Bohemian Grove!

[This account was written in 2004. Nothing's changed. You might substitute Condi Rice lying to the UN instead of Colin Powell but basically nothing's changed -- except that my daughter no longer lives at home]

"Wanna go to the Bohemian Grove with me this weekend?" asked my friend. I can't! Why? Because I'm not a billionaire, I'm not a man and I'm not a Republican! And besides, I have nothing to wear.

"We can fix that," said my friend. "From now on, you are going to be Fred Armitage, GOP super-tycoon billionaire!" Fred?

Then my friend started handing me stuff. "Identification?" Check. "Hong Kong-tailored sweatpants?" Check. "Chest binder, voice deepener, toupee?" Check. "Limo driver?" Check. I felt like James Bond.

The Bohemian Grove is where fantastically rich men from all over the world go each year -- with one goal in mind: To learn new and better answers to that age-old question, "What can we do to screw America?"

Once up in the Russian River area, we turned off the highway, drove three miles into the Grove and passed through a bunch of checkpoints. Security was tight here. They stopped just short of giving me a retinal scan. I had been expecting a castle. There were redwood trees everywhere.

"This is it? This is where the power brokers of the world wheel and deal? The fat cats' Mecca, Xanadu and Nirvana? These little...cottages?" They all looked like the Swiss Family Robinson tree houses at Disneyland. Hide the Armanis, guys. We were clearly roughing it. "Hey! Look! There's Antonin Scalia, Sandra Day O'Connor's husband and Clarence Thomas!"

Chris Matthews from Hardball strolled by. There's Henry Kissinger. There's Clint Eastwood. "Nice knee socks, Chris!"

Just then George Bush Senior ambled over, wearing a...sarong? And there were a couple of white-robed Saudi princes too. "I didn't realize that everyone here would be wearing table linen," I said. "I thought they were all going to just run around nude." Sorry, Jane. That only happens when they can't find their sheets.

After a quickie tour of the encampment, I schlepped off to my very own non-electrified chalet/hunting lodge/wet bar. On my right were a bunch of newly-elected Republican governors -- all of whom have already failed their campaign promises miserably. Special interests? Absolutely! On my left were a whole bunch of cottages occupied by the matching billionaires of Carlyle.

About 2,400 men come to the Grove each summer. "The Grove is divided into over one hundred camps. Each camp has a theme." Just like the Boy Scouts! I sat in on some of the "focus groups". One seminar was on how to get Americans to buy more junk food. If I sit all the way through it, will I get a free Big Mac?

Over near the steam baths, I thought I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger pumping iron with some former Enron executives. That would certainly explain the Grove's lack of electricity!

At one camp frequented by Rumsfeld, Baker, Powell, Cheney and even Dubya himself before he was elected, Henry Kissinger was holding forth. "I support George Bush 100%" Why not? You have so much in common. Killing, outrageous profits and fake Texas accents. I think that I heard him say, "Fear is good for Americans. It makes them vote Republican." But maybe I just misunderstood.

Speaking of Georgie, the one small glitch in the generally self-congratulatory mood at the Grove was the latest report that GWB and Tony Blair were seen holding hands at the latest G-8.

Who else did I see? Bob Weir and Mickey Hart? What in the world where they doing here? Maybe they took a wrong turn on their way to Burning Man?

At a "'Lakeside Talk" on the Federal Reserve, it was clearly obvious that no one had read "The Civilizing of the United States" by John Machado, who has stated that, "when your government borrows money, it removes from the kitty the dollars that would have been available to businesses for start-up, growth, research, testing, innovation and invention." No, the Federal Reserve was not overly concerned about preserving the American economy.

Then Colin Powell dropped a bombshell. "Seven out of twelve of our naval carrier strike groups have just been deployed off the coast of China." What! Bush is at war with half the Middle East and our naval backup is over ruining diplomatic relations with China? What's with invading China? Doesn't the Bush Gang know that China has already won the war with us? Their workers went up against our workers. We lost. But this economic disaster for America had no effect on the Grove boys. In fact they are doing quite well as they help collect interest on our six hundred billion dollar debt to the Chinese.

The main theme of the Bohemian Grove was money and power. Lots of money. Lots of power. How to get it. How to keep it. I thought about my measly little nest egg of $200. I thought about being continually out-maneuvered by the two-year-old next door. "I want money! I want power!"

Sorry, Jane. No money for you. And definitely no power. You keep thinking that life's winners are the pure of heart. Forget that. It's all about who you know. "One guy came up here last year. His business was failing. So what did he do? He networked! This year he is a millionaire. They told him what to invest in and when." There's a lot of insider trading going on here.

What else did I learn? Toupees and chest binders suck? That America is ripe for the picking? How to slit my country's throat and sell the corpse while it is still warm? Like Sherman marching through Georgia, the Grovies are taking America by storm.

Did you know that within 20 years, 1% of America will hold 90% of America's wealth? At the Grove, these guys are getting a big head start.

But enough of talk. I was getting bored. There's no problem with boredom at the Grove. "Bring on the Bacchanalia! Bring on the whores!" So they DO allow women here.

What did a weekend at the Grove teach me? That what the wealthy men of America have in mind for us commoners is NOT some simplistic, level-playing-field, up-by-your-bootstraps, no-child-left-behind bull dookie. No, sir. I learned that the world is run by secret men in secret clubs behind closed doors. I learned that the rich dudes of the world are NOT willing pay taxes here -- even as the price for doing business in our great country -- when it is so easy to avoid it. (Is it easy for US to avoid paying taxes? Ha!)

I learned that these men of great wealth and power have no desire at all to share this wealth with the likes of you and me or even to do what they must to not kill America, the goose that is laying their golden eggs.

And I learned that fabulous chefs from all over the world are flown in to the Grove to cook for these fat cats while they are divvying up the spoils. Which brings up the moral question of temptation. Exactly how far would I be willing to go in order to be fed by the best chefs of the world? Would I be willing to join these so-called Bohemians and to sell my soul? Well, the creme brulee really was good....

As the limo dropped me back at my housing project in south Berkeley this Sunday, I was really, really glad to get home. How much power is enough power? How much money is enough? There's never enough. Yet for all their money and power, the Bohemian Grovies could never buy the happiness I felt when I took off my Armanis and hugged my son and daughter. "Honey! I'm home!"