Politics: Don't Tread on Me

It’s time we stopped worshipping the Constitution and our “founding fathers”

For our founding fathers, “people” was a euphemism” that meant “rich white men.” Sadly, the same is true for many of our current leaders.

It’s been a momentous couple of weeks. Obamacare won a key victory, and as a result it’s going to be much harder for Republican politicians to roll it back in the future. There is a great deal wrong with the Affordable Care Act, to be sure, but at least it represents the acknowledgment that the general health of the nation’s citizens is a legitimate government concern.

The Confederate flag – specifically, the famous Stars & Bars battle jack – and the deeply ingrained racism it represents took a major ass-whipping. No, striking a symbol of treason and prejudice won’t make racism go away – any more than electing a black president did – but it’s a meaningful symbolic victory in a long cultural war. If that flag flies on the grounds of the statehouse, it’s an express acknowledgement to everyone that it’s okay to celebrate a “heritage” built on slavery. Continue reading

CATEGORY: CATEGORY: ArtSunday

James Street’s The Gauntlet: that old time religion…

James Street’s The Gauntlet, a novel about the trials of a young Southern Baptist minister in the 1920’s, will ring true, sometimes painfully so, for anyone who ever experienced small town church life….

The Gauntlet by James Street (image courtesy Goodreads)

From the literary efforts of arch poseur Jerzy Kosinski to the earnest writing of James Street is a pretty far leap, but I made it last week. I added this work to my “Southern, mainly North Carolinian” section of the 2015 reading list because I stumbled upon an account of Street’s untimely death in Chapel Hill, NC, in 1954 at the age of 50. That’s probably a rather macabre reason for adding a writer to a reading list, and certainly Street’s literary reputation is that of popular novelist rather than “serious” literary artist. The times we live in have pretty much eviscerated giving any form of art consideration by any other measure than “the marketplace,” however, and almost all of Street’s 17 novels were bestsellers in their time, so by current standards of literary excellence I can easily justify including him among those whose literary reputations might be more admired by the litfic crowd (of whom I’m a proud, card carrying member) whose achievements (and rewards) are too often intangible.

Besides, truth be told, Street is an able writer and The Gauntlet is a pretty good book that rings true in its depiction of small town church politics. Continue reading

Politics

Hillary breaks bad on Wall St. and the 1%, but why should we trust her (or any of the Democrats, for that matter)?

People keep telling me I have to be realistic. But step one of being a realist is acknowledging reality.

I have been pretty vocal in my criticism of Barack Obama over the past seven years. I have reamed the modern day Vichy Democratic party every chance I have gotten. I have stomped on Bill Clinton and Al Gore, the architects of the “new” GOP Lite Dems and lately I have made clear that I can’t imagine a scenario whereby I would vote for Hillary Clinton. I’m tired, I have said, of voting for lesser evils, of voting for people who at best are playing not to win but to lose by less and at worst are just playing for themselves.

None of this is knee-jerk and I have not arrived here in the absence of a great deal of thought and analysis, as my “Shootout at the DC Corral” post from five years ago makes clear. Continue reading

neil-young vs donald-trump

Candidates ought to study copyright law before using artists’ music

Even if they buy licenses and win in court over artists’ objections, they’ll lose in the court of public opinion

neil-young vs donald-trumpby Carole McNall

Welcome to the 2016 season premiere of the popular reality show, “Stop Using My Music in Your Campaign.” This episode features Donald Trump, newly announced (as of June 16) presidential candidate, and Neil Young, crusty rocker and songwriter. The two swapped statements after Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” provided the soundtrack for Trump’s triumphant entry to his announcement event.
(The announcement event can be seen/heard here.)

My immediate reaction when I heard a news item about the announcement (including a bit of “Rockin'”): “This will not end well.” It didn’t. And it didn’t take long. By June 17, Young had issued a lengthy statement. It can be summed up in this paragraph, quoted on rollingstone.com:

“Music is a universal language, so I am glad that so many people with varying beliefs get enjoyment from my music, even if they don’t share my beliefs. But had I been asked to allow my music to be used for a candidate — I would have said no.” (Emphasis mine)

Oops.

One day later, Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told Rolling Stone, “We won’t be using it again … Continue reading

trump

Donald Trump angers Neil Young in latest GOP song appropriation gaffe

trumpThese are probably not the sort of stories that Donald Trump wanted to start off with:

The New York real estate mogul arrived on stage at his campaign kickoff announcement Tuesday as the sounds of Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” blared through the atrium at Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan. . . .

“Donald Trump was not authorized to use ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ in his presidential candidacy announcement,” a statement from Young’s team read. “Neil Young, a Canadian citizen, is a supporter of Bernie Sanders for President of the United States of America.”

But, then again, The Donald seems to be of the school that believes that any publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right. Continue reading

bernie

War and economics: where is Bernie Sanders’ 12th step?

There’s much to like about Bernie Sanders, but can he really help us kick the war habit?

Occupy Democrats and US Uncut have a handy macro going around that highlights Bernie’s 11 point economic agenda. It’s big. It’s important. It’s to be lauded. And if we’re not to have Bernie, it’s to be emulated. But we’ve also seen the devastating effect war has had on our economy, to say nothing of the lives lost to our wayward military adventurism. Below you’ll find my own reasons for supporting this 11-point economic plan as well as some serious consideration of his missing 12th point. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Guns

NRA: the global arms trade’s best friend

AK-47s kill more in a year than nuclear weapons have in all of history. But NRA lobbying against the Arms Trade Treaty helps keep the pipeline of death flowing.

by David Lambert

CATEGORY: GunsIn the isolated northeastern corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo sits a small town called Dungu. Not too far away from the borders of South Sudan and the Central African Republic, Dungu is in one of the poorest, most volatile regions in the world. A few years ago, the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), a psychopathic band of predatory rebels notorious for kidnaping children, began regularly tormenting villagers, prompting the international humanitarian community to take a fleeting interest in Dungu.

But the residents of Dungu are tragically familiar with this sort of thing. Even before the LRA moved into the neighborhood, a particularly high number of child soldiers, under the command of feuding warlords in constant, slow burning conflict, lived throughout the area. Continue reading

From the warmth of its people to the oppression of its government, Iran is a nation of polarities. Pictured: the Holy Shrine of Abdulazim. (Photo: David Stanley / Flickr Commons)

Jason Rezaian: Iran’s nuclear hostage?

Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian’s trial may be an attempt by reactionary forces in Iran to upend the Iran nuclear deal.

From the warmth of its people to the oppression of its government, Iran is a nation of polarities. Pictured: the Holy Shrine of Abdulazim. (Photo: David Stanley / Flickr Commons)

From the warmth of its people to the oppression of its government, Iran is a nation of polarities. Pictured: the Holy Shrine of Abdulazim. (Photo: David Stanley / Flickr Commons)

Recently my wife and I were watching an old episode of CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown in which, after years of trying, he managed to gain entry into Iran. As the show revealed, aside from the food (as heavily meat-based as any country’s), which he liked, Iran is a nation of huge dichotomies. Bourdain claimed the people were the most welcome he had ever met. But many Iranians filmed for the show, in interviews and in public spaces, seemed as if they were restraining themselves from demonstrating their love of life lest they catch of the Revolutionary Guard’s paramilitary basij forces.

At one point Bourdain conducted a lengthy interview with an Iran-American journalist for the Washington Post and his Iranian wife. They were both clearly in love with Iran. Wait, I thought, is that…? Yes, as Bourdain explained in a postscript at the end of the show, Jason Rezaian had since been arrested, along with his wife. Continue reading

SCotUS

Elonis vs US: SCotUS should have provided guidance to lower courts

by Carole McNall

I rarely agree with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. But in his dissent in Elonis v. U.S., decided June 1, I found this pair of lines that had me nodding “yes:”

“Our job is to decide questions, not create them. Given the majority’s ostensible concern for protecting innocent actors, one would have expected it to announce a clear rule – any clear rule.”

The clear rule the Court doesn’t really provide is the answer to this question: If someone posts comments online that appear to be “true threats,” does he have to intend his comments as threats to be convicted of violating federal law? Continue reading

Politics: Don't Tread on Me

A poll says we’re fed up with big money in politics, but will it end?

From a New York Times story this week:

Americans of both parties fundamentally reject the regime of untrammeled money in elections made possible by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and other court decisions and now favor a sweeping overhaul of how political campaigns are financed, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.

A ray of hope? A touch of sunshine? Can our long national nightmare of billionaire-bought elections be ending?

Yeah. Right.

And by a significant margin, they reject the argument that underpins close to four decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence on campaign finance: that political money is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. Even self-identified Republicans are evenly split on the question. [See the poll questions.]

Continue reading

Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

To your favorite politician, you are merely marketable data

I have given my last dollar to a politician. I will never again “like” a politician. I will never again click the “donate” button. Hell, I won’t even click a link to a politician’s website. I will stop following and friending politicians.

I’m just data to politicians, and they can and do sell me.

Headline from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Political fundraising campaigns manage debts by selling data
Continue reading

ArtSunday

Kobo Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes: life – and sometimes literature – is an illusion…

“Repetition of the same patterns, they say, provides an effective form of protective coloring. If he were to melt into a life of simple repetition, there might possibly come a time when they could be quite unconscious of him” – Kobo Abe

The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe (image courtesy Goodreads)

Kobo Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes is one of those books that leaves one feeling as if one has read a textbook on how to combine schools of literary fiction of the 20th century into an amalgam – a brilliantly executed amalgam, but an amalgam nonetheless. One has the sense of oppression and confusion of a Kafka work like The Trial; the sense of determination to hold onto sanity in the face of absurdity like Camus’s The Plague; and the sense of existentialist grimness in a Sartre work like No Exit. (For good measure feel free to consider works by your favorite existentialist or absurdist author – Beckett, Ionesco, Pinter. et. al.)

This is not to say that the work is not engrossing (in a relentlessly depressing way) or that Abe is not a fine writer (he is). For me, however, this selection  from the 2015 reading list does not have the resonance of the earlier selection I read, The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari  Kawabata. That book engages us deeply in Japanese life as actually lived, especially in the years after WWII even as it engages profound questions of national and cultural guilt; Abe’s book is a nightmarish fairy tale set in a bizarre dystopia (yes, I know, dystopias are sooo cool – but I’ve made myself clear on my lack of enthusiasm for such settings as the stuff of serious literature) that posits its hero, the only named character in the book, as a victim of – name your 20th century angst and anxiety inducing trend in human behavior.

In other words, The Woman in the Dunes is a beautifully, complexly written put up job. Continue reading

How can we best honor our fallen heroes on Memorial Day?

Honoring those who died in service doesn’t mean forgiving those who put them in harm’s way.

Today America honors its war dead, those who gave their lives in the service of freedom – not only ours, but in many cases they died to save innocent people in far-flung corners of the globe. This isn’t idle rhetoric, either. Ponder what the world might have been like had the Allies lost World War II.

Unfortunately, in recent years I have grown more cynical about “freedom” and those who died for it. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Book Review: Derail this Train Wreck by Daniel Forbes

What Forbes is after is not easily achieved: he seeks to portray both a society in crisis and the life of a person who, in crisis himself, still strives to draw public attention to the social crisis in hopes of saving, if not himself, at least that society. Derail This Train Wreck is a ray of light in a world going dark.

Derail This Train Wreck by Daniel Forbes (image courtesy derailthistrainwreck.com)

Derail This Train Wreck is a book of our times. It has elements of the near future dystopian tale so popular in our times. Its political satire veers between the somberly apocalyptic vision of a Truthout piece and the tongue in cheek irony dripping humor of an article from The Onion. And its domestic/romantic plot line (a failed relationship and the struggle of the parties to reorient their lives) is the stuff of which our lives and those of many we know is made. That Daniel Forbes has been able to weave these disparate elements into a narrative that is not simply cohesive but compelling is to his great credit – and the reader’s delight. Continue reading

Internet and Social Media

Eight seconds — why the NYT caves, and Facebook wins

An impatient audience wielding smartphones says, ‘We want it NOW.’

Eight seconds.

Count with me, please: one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four, one thousand five, one thousand six, one thousand seven, one thousand eight.

Eight seconds. That snippet of time, about 1/300,000,000 of an actuarial life, has driven The New York Times (among others) into the inviting arms of a Facebook lusting for revenue. Eight seconds. That’s the time Facebook says a user endures after she clicks on a Facebook link to a third-party site like nytimes.com.

About 15 percent of The Times’ digital traffic arrives via Facebook. Continue reading

NC Senator Bob Rucho Stabs Democracy, Leaves It Bleeding On Senate Floor

Image courtesy of the Raleigh News & Observer

The following is a Facebook post from NC Senator Josh Stein.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Bob Rucho flouted the democratic process yesterday to ram an anti-clean tech bill through committee.

We considered a House bill to curtail the development of solar and other renewables. Before we took the voice vote, Sen. Blue called for division, which is a process where members raise their hands to be counted. The Senate Rules are explicit. When a member calls for division, the chair “shall” do so.

Sen. Rucho refused saying he was exercising his authority as chair. He has no such authority. It was a rank abuse of power. Continue reading

Congress

Alcee Hastings can kiss my working class lily-white ass

Don’t understand me too quickly. It’s because of the way he disparages black Americans

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), thinks that Congress and its staffers deserve a raise. First, to be sure, entry-level staffers make less than $30,000/year, but they hardly represent all staffers, many of whom do very well for themselves. Congresstitutes, on the other hand, make $174,000/year plus some rather enviable benefits.

For that matter, on a list of the ten poorest Congresstocrats, good ol’ Alcee comes in 8th poorest with a net worth of $2.23 million, to say nothing of that teeny weeny salary of his. Poor Steve Scalise, hobnobber with Duke-inspired hatemongers that he is, at least has the decency to get by as the poorest of the poor with a net worth of only $671,000.

Can we all please cry these folks a river or three? Continue reading

Politics

Revolving door spits out a Koch lobbyist for McConnell’s ‘policy chief’

The road to personal riches and political influence in Washington, D.C., is well trod. From Congress to K Street and back. From the White House to K Street and back. From numerous executive branch appointments to K Street and back. It’s called “the revolving door.” (If you’d like a close look at how many former government employees and members of Congress have been seduced by the fat purses at K Street, the good folks at the Center for Responsive Politics will provide you details.)

Yes, I know: This isn’t news. It’s historical; it has happened for generations. It rarely draws the attention it ought to. (Hear that, CNN? New York Times? Washington Post? Network news? Get off the dinner party circuit, risk losing your access to the powerful, and dig into these people.)

But every now and then, a door revolves and disgorges something so egregious that any hope, any last shred of hope, that decent, fair, legislatively productive government is possible fades to black.

Meet Hazen Marshall (here and here). You can see in his LinkedIn profile that he’s “revolved” before.

Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Jose Saramago: Baltasar, Blimunda, and The Flight to Happiness

“…the longer you live the more you will realize that the world is like a great shadow pervading our hearts. That is why the world seems so empty and eventually becomes unbearable.” – José Saramago, Baltasar and Blimunda

Baltasar and Blimunda by Jose Saramago (image courtesy Goodreads)

After taking longer than I should have (and mewling and puking about it in the process) I have finished Portuguese Nobelist José  Saramago’s masterful Baltasar and Blimunda from the 2015 reading list. It’s a powerful novel as both a tale of the mystery of love and as a novel of ideas. Saramago’s genius is his ability to wed these very disparate sorts of stories (romance, political statement). Saramago’s gift to readers is that he does both of these in a subtle, even elliptical way, introducing themes, spinning them out, spinning away from them, then gradually winding us back to them when we have all but forgotten them. Like a Scarlatti sonata, Baltasar and Blimunda is part entertainment, part education, and part expression of the artist’s view of the world.

More about the power of the imagination to do both good and evil than any other theme, Baltasar and Blimunda asks us to consider why we allow others’ ideas to control our destinies…. Continue reading