Archive for the ‘The Good Fight’ category

La Lucha Continua…With A Sideways Reason To Keep Fighting From The (A) Good Doctor

November 6, 2014

Serendipity works sometimes.  My friend David Dobbs publishes a near-daily newsletter of three or four fascinating essays or articles to read.  (You can sign up here.) Today he took me to a writer I’ve only occasionally glanced at in the past, Sadie Stein, (may have to change that)  for a piece that comes to a climax with a vision of a young, fictionalized Joyce Carol Oates, TA-ing her first class.  Trust me; it’s worth a look. (It’s over at the Paris Observer, itself a venue I chance upon more than seek out — might want to change that too.)

Contemplating the various joys of full-body immersion in student fiction was fun, enough so that I clicked through to Stein’s archive, and there, just below the bon-bon of a post to which David had directed me, I came upon her entry for Tuesday.  Mostly (though not entirely) she hands the microphone over to William Carlos Williams, and a poem, which, thus acknowledged, I herewith steal:

Election Day

Warm sun, quiet air

an old man sits

in the doorway of
a broken house–

boards for windows
plaster falling

from between the stones
and strokes the head

of a spotted dog

George_Wesley_Bellows_-_Man_and_Dog_(1905)

The dog and the man deserve better.  The struggle continues. It will not end easily, as Tuesday’s results remind us.  But to mix references and speakers of very different histories, the arc of the moral universe is long.  But that we can conceive of the idea of justice allows us to bend that arc towards the just end.  (And yes, I’m feeling my Anselm just a bit today.)

Image:  George Wesley BellowsMan and Dog, 1905.

Stupid..and Smart

July 25, 2014

Here’s a yin and yang post for your afternoon delectation.  I’m still trying to get some time to do a big honker post for y’all, but day job and a true 1st world problem — the start of a massive kitchen remodel on Monday — mean that I haven’t two thoughts to rub together.

So, given that we all need good stuff at which to foam at the mouth, I thought I’d just clip a couple of pieces to give us all a really good look at why its so much better not being a Republican.  Just imagine trying to defend this.

In an intensely awkward congressional hearing Thursday, freshman Rep. Curt Clawson misidentified two senior U.S government officials as representatives of the Indian government.

The two officials, Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, are Americans who hold senior positions at the State Department and Commerce Department, respectively. Although both Biswal and Kumar were introduced as U.S. officials by the chairman of the Asia and Pacific subcommittee, Clawson repeatedly asked them questions about “your country” and “your government,” in reference to the state of India.

Arthur_William_Devis_-_Emily_and_George_Mason_-_Google_Art_Project

“I’m familiar with your country; I love your country,” the Florida Republican said. “Anything I can do to make the relationship with India better, I’m willing and enthusiastic about doing so.”

Apparently confused by their Indian surnames and skin color, Clawson also asked if “their” government could loosen restrictions on U.S. capital investments in India.

Face, meet palm.

Head, meet desk.

America, meet your legislators.

Oh, and Florida? Thanks.  Thanks a lot. (Sorry Betty.)

On the other hand, sometimes you just get to kvell* when you read something at once smart and beautifully rich on snark.  Here’s Kareem Abdul Jabbar opining at Time.com on unionizing college athletes (an obviously good and just idea, IMHO):

new survey finds that 60% of incoming college football players support unions for college athletes. The horror! Were such unions allowed, our glorious cities would crumble to nothing more than shoddy tents stitched together from tattered remnants of Old Glory; our government officials would be loin-cloth-clad elders gathered in the rubble of an old McDonald’s passing a Talking Stick; our naked children would roam the urban wilderness like howling wolves, their minds as blank as their lost Internet connection. We would be without hope, dreams, or a future….

…Most Americans agree that the athletes are being short-changed. A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll concluded that 51% of Americans believed that universities should be required to cover medical expenses for former players if those expenses were the result of playing for the school. A whopping 73% believed athletic scholarships should not be withdrawn from students who are injured and are no longer able to play.

But when it comes to these same student-athletes forming a union, an HBO Real Sports and The Marist College Center for Sports Communication poll showed 75% of Americans opposed to the formation of a college athlete union, with only 22% for it.

Why such a difference between wanting equity and supporting the best means to achieve it? Despite 14.5 million Americans belonging to labor unions, we’ve always had a love-hate relationship with them.

The Love: Unions can be like a protective parent arguing with an arrogant teacher over their child’s unfair grade. The Hate: Unions can be like a bossy spouse who complains about all the work they do for you while shoveling corn chips into their maw from the La-Z-Boy.

Our relationship with college athletes is much clearer. We adore and revere them. They represent the fantasy of our children achieving success and being popular. Watching them play with such enthusiasm and energy for nothing more than school pride is the distillation of pure Hope for the Future.

But strip away the rose-colored glasses and we’re left with a subtle but insidious form of child abuse.

Go read the whole thing.  It’s righteous, vicious, and above all, smart.

Discuss.

*I’m guessing WordPress doesn’t do the Sabbath on Saturday.  It wanted to change “kvell” to “knell” — which is really not the meaning shift you want.

Image:  Arthur William Devis, Emily and George Mason1794 or 1795.

My New Favorite Mayor…

July 20, 2014

…would be Her Honor Kimberley Driscoll, chief executive of the town of Salem, MA, now caught up in a  dispute with Gordon College.   Gordon is a Christian school with an educational mission it describes thusly:

The best foundation for Christian higher education is the narrative of Scripture, and the goal of Christian higher learning is love—for both God and neighbor.”

That love does not extend to all neighbors.

Thomas_Eakins_-_Swimming_(1895)

The college recently requested an exemption from President Obama’s LGBT anti-workplace-discrimination order, a decision that caught the attention of Salem officials.  In response, the city  ended a contract it had with the school to manage its town hall.

That caught the attention of, among others, Glenn Beck, who warmed up the usual suspects to object to Salem’s decision.   In a letter posted to her Facebook page on Wednesday, Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll said her office had received more than 50 calls that day from supporters of Beck and “right-leaning” blogs result,  many of them…how to say this?…not what you would call civil:

Driscoll said the callers expressed “some patently offensive views regarding LGBT individuals.”

No surprise there. But what came next turns this from a conventional story of conservative/religious push-button rage that the exercise of the their first amendment rights were not without consequences into a lovely moment, courtesy of Mayor Driscoll:

So to fight back, she said she planned to donate $5 for every phone call to the North Shore Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (nAGLY).

Hee!

You go, Madam Mayor.

Image:  Thomas Eakins, Swimming/The swimming hole, 1885

Up Next: The General

April 30, 2013

So — we know what’s coming up next in Massachusetts: Ed Markey vs. Gabriel Gomez.  Markey’s a 36 year veteran in the House; Gomez is an alledgedly “pure” non politician with all the attributes the national Republican Party wants to see — Latino, a former Seal, private-equity “job creating” vampire.

We’ve seen how this can play out even in not-as-liberal-as-our-rep Massachusetts.  Remember Senator Coakley?

There are real, big differences this time of course.  No Obamacare debate, nor teabagger summer of 2o09.  We’ve seen the Republican party in its howling glory a lot in the last two and half years, and Massachusetts Democrats are profoundly committed to not seeing Scott Brown II play at any multiplexes next year.  Not to mention Ed Markey isn’t Martha Coakley, for which I’m grateful indeed.  But I’m deeply mindful of what about a dozen of us heading out to canvass for Markey on Sunday heard from this guy:

Dukakis crop

Mike Dukakis was a damn good governor, and he would have made a much better president than Bush the elder.  Dukakis is particularly admirable because, in the tradition of the good guys, he hasn’t dropped out of public life or public service just because he’s not running for anything anymore.  And boy does he know his home town.

I’d never met him before, and so after we chatted for a while, he asked me where in Brookline I live.  I’m on a truly minor one block long street which boasts a grand total of, I think, seven houses that actually have addresses on our road (we’ve got a couple more on the corners that the larger through streets claim).  I said the street name and started to explain where it was and he stopped me.  “I know them all,” he said, and I believe the man.

So what did he say?  He told us to get out and knock on every door — not just Sunday, but as much as we could before today, and then again, as much as we can, over and over again between now and June 25th, the day of the general election.  We’ve seen what happens when we don’t, he reminded us — and the he said not to pay any attention to the numbers.  “I’m the guy who was 40% ahead of Ed King with five weeks to go and lost that election.”  (Quoting from memory, backed up by this interview.)

The point is obvious, right?

Ed Markey is a hard core, old fashioned liberal.  The kind of senator we need right now, in ever greater numbers.  He’s going to start out with a substantial lead.  About three times as many Democrats as Republicans voted in this primary.  Markey’s vote total alone exceeds the GOP vote for all three of their candidates.  And he can lose.  If he doesn’t campaign better than Martha Coakley did, he may well lose.  He won’t, both because I think it is actually physically impossible to do a worse job in an election than Coakley did, and because he’s not stupid.  He’s not a charismatic guy at all, but he works and works and works.  Which is all good.

But there are no guarantees.

So my wife and I will be handing over a few more bucks, and we’ll be hitting the phones and knocking on doors.  The state party’s a lot smarter than it was when it let Brown blindside everyone three years ago, and the national party isn’t going to let this one slip either.  But if any of y’all are in the area, we could use your help.  Ask Mike Dukakis.  He’ll tell you.

Sermons in Stones

January 22, 2013

Plenty of folks have responded to what seems to me to have been an extraordinary Second Inaugural address by President Obama.  See two Jim Fallows posts for starters.  It was, as Fallows says, a striking speech on at least two levels:  that of content, with the president’s clear and unequivocal declaration of liberal intent; and that of rhetoric with its phrases infused with historical intent, American civic scripture, and compact, elegant, present-day exegesis.

But the symbolism within the speech did one aspect of the speech that hasn’t got much (any?) notice — perhaps because Chuck Schumer told the story, not Obama.

That is:  the setting of the president’s speech, the porch of the US Capitol, provided a visual and material rhetorical grace note to the claims on history and present urgency that President Obama expressed in words.

Here’s the background: design work had begun on a new dome  for the building in 1854, following an expansion of its two wings of the Capitol, completed in 1855.  That work was nowhere near complete on 4 March, 1861, the day of Lincoln’s first inauguration:

LincolnInauguration1861a

Work on the dome — or rather payment for the work — ceased for most of 1861.  The lead contractor on the project had $1.3 million worth of building materials on site — I’m not 100% sure, but I believe that you can see some  of the construction materials for the dome in the foreground of the image above — and decided it was better to keep going and hope that the federal government would pay up in time, which they did.  As the Historian of the Capitol, William Allen, notes the story that the new president himself  [PDF] ordered the continuation of the work is a myth — but the symbolic significance of the project didn’t escape Lincoln either.

The exact form of the Lincoln quote in reply to a question as to why spend money on architecture in the midst of war seems a bit apocryphal to me, but there seems to be a pretty broad recollection that he said something like  “if people see the Capitol going on, it is a sign we intend the Union shall go on.”  Certainly, when I interviewed him for this film, Allen emphasized how potent the ongoing construction was for the troops from all over the Union who mustered on the Mall before marching off to the forward positions of the Army of the Potomac.

The dome wasn’t quite complete in March, 1864, but it looked mostly as it does now — that towering white, grandly neo-classical confection, its domed shape a recognized symbol of the cosmos as a whole — of the order of heaven — in a bit of architectural iconography established at least as far back as the Emperor Hadrian, who so pointedly staked his claim of divine sanction in one of the foundational statements of western architecture.

And of course, to play a little of the political numerology so beloved of pundits, that means that the first Second Inaugural to play out against the backdrop of the dome was Abraham Lincoln’s.  The most recent, complete with language deliberately echoing Lincoln’s, came yesterday.

Schumer’s anecdote played on that connection — that Lincoln asserted the claims of union against the forces of disunion and authoritarian oppression, while Obama yesterday advanced the notion that we are a society, not an atomized cloud of individual secessionists.

We’ve lived a to-me unprecedented four years in which the opposing party has challenged not just the policies or politics of the administration, but its legitimacy, the right to exercise power conferred by democratic choice.  The echoes of race, of secessionism, of the authoritarian claim that the consent of the governed is tolerated only so long as hoi polloi make the right choices are all distant (and not always so muted) echoes of 1860 and 1861.  And yet the black man with the funny name just took the president’s oath for a second time, directly beneath what we might, not quite accurately, nonetheless call Mr. Lincoln’s dome.

This is how rhetoric engages historical change. The meaning of the dome is not the same as it was in March, 1865.  Still, it connects.  And even if President Obama’s opponents cannot bring themselves to accept the blunt reality of a Democrat, an African American, and  a mainstream-progressive (if that characterization makes sense, and I think it does) not just winning, but holding power, the dome is there to remind them of a lesson very similar to what the traitors of 1865 learned to such cost: that the union is not merely the property of entrenched power.

That’s the chief significance of the visual language of Obama’s greying head beneath that wedding cake of dome.  It’s sufficient.

But there is actually one more thing.  Somewhere — it may have been a Balloon Juice comment thread, actually — I read someone quip that with all of Obama’s talk of internal improvements, infrastructure and investments in the future, the man sounded like a Whig…just like that railroad lawyer, the young Abe Lincoln.  In that context, the Capitol dome is a perfect symbol of the innovation and swelling ambition of the nation, then and now.

For the dome is a glorious lie.  It may look like shining marble, a masonry structure just like the grand baroque domes of Europe, St. Peter’s and the like.  It’s not.  The entire thing, inside and out is a jigsaw puzzle of cast iron, painted to fool the eye.  I’ve had the exceptional good fortune to climb inside the dome, between the inner shape you see from the rotunda and the familiar gleaming confection that stands over the mall.  When you do you climb up the stairs there you duck through the ribs that hold up the outer skin and from which rods connect to the (self-supporting) inner one, each made of plates bolted together.

kknine

(Don’t be fooled — all those coffers on the inner dome that appear to be pale carved stone in the drawing above are cast iron too, painted a dull grey on the side the punters don’t see.)

The iron segments that accrete into the dome were cast — in NY, I believe, though I’m on the road, away from my notes, and my memory may be playing tricks.  The material was shipped to Capitol Hill and assembled there, like a giant erector set.

The meaning — or at least a meaning?

You see in the fabric of the building at least two connected thoughts:  an object lesson in the sources of the defeat of the Confederacy:  already, by the 1860s, the American metal working industries — largely concentrated in the loyal North —  were advancing to and past the capabilities of the world leader, Britain.  And in our Civil War, Yankee industrial power and skill beat an economy based on the theft of human labor.  Paying attention to science, to technology, to the skills needed to play in the big leagues actually made a difference in that war, logistically, the difference.

Such attention is still all-in-all. . Hence the significance of that portion of President Obama’s campaign and inaugural address that spoke and speak to the need to invest in the brains and the technologies that matter right now.  And all the while he spoke, the dome stood behind him, granting historical assent.

Material objects have always been able to serve as both things and symbols. That China has just opened the longest high-speed rail line in the world is of obvious practical consequence for that nation.  No one doubts it has rhetorical significance as well.  The Mars rover Curiousity is so much more than a go-cart.  And so on.

Symbols as they age change:  they gain resonance; that accumulate layers of meaning, perhaps even some that complicate each other.  The Capitol Dome was completed as an element in the argument over what kind of country the United States could hope to be.

The second inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama, performed under that great structure, advances the cause of union and of this Union at this precise moment in time.  It is altogether fitting and proper that it should do this.

*Actually, the first dome was a visual disaster all on its own, one of Charles Bulfinch’s least impressive efforts — though it must be admitted that he didn’t have an entirely free hand in his design.

Get Me To The Church On Time

October 18, 2012

Good news out of the 2nd circuit. A second appeals court rules on DOMA:

We conclude that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act violates equal protection and is therefore unconstitutional. Judge STRAUB dissents in part and concurs in part in a separate opinion.

I know that Dinesh D’Souza is a boil on the ass end of a louse infesting Eric Cantor’s sheets, but still, the juxtaposition of his story with this gives me a chuckle.  And when you read the opinion, It Gets Better:  Dennis Jacobs, Chief Judge for the circuit and a George H. W. Bush appointee, writing for the majority, handed the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (aka BLAG)* its collective head:

BLAG argues that, unlike protected classes, homosexuals have not “suffered discrimination for longer than history has been recorded.” But whether such discrimination existed in Babylon is neither here nor there. BLAG concedes that homosexuals have endured discrimination in this country since at least the 1920s. Ninety years of discrimination is entirely sufficient to document a “history of discrimination.”

More:

The question is not whether homosexuals have achieved political successes over the years; they clearly have. The question is whether they have the strength to politically protect themselves from wrongful discrimination…

David Lat, writing at Above the Law, pours an extra pinch of salt in BLAG’s wounds:

It would appear that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), which is defending DOMA, has now lost at least six cases in a row — and spent about $1.5 million doing so.

Your taxpayer dollars at work.

One last thought:  Lat points to commentary by Chris Geidner at BuzzFeed (where you can find the full text of the opinion) who notes what seem to me to be a couple of very important elements to the court’s ruling. For one, as Jacobs wrote:

Because DOMA is an unprecedented breach of longstanding deference to federalism that singles out same-sex marriage as the only inconsistency (among many) in state law that requires a federal rule to achieve uniformity, the rationale premised on uniformity is not an exceedingly persuasive justification for DOMA.

And for another, perhaps yet more significant determination, Geidner writes:

Beyond striking down the law itself, the most significant development in today’s ruling is that the Second Circuit held that laws that classify people based on sexual orientation, like DOMA, should be subjected to a heightened form of scrutiny when courts examine the government’s claimed reasons for such laws. The holding that “intermediate scrutiny” applies makes the Second Circuit the first federal appeals court to do so. The First Circuit did not apply heightened scrutiny in its earlier decision striking down DOMA.

The Second Circuit, however, held:

“In this case, all four factors justify heightened scrutiny: A) homosexuals as a group have historically endured persecution and discrimination; B) homosexuality has no relation to aptitude or ability to contribute to society; C) homosexuals are a discernible group with non-obvious distinguishing characteristics, especially in the subset of those who enter same-sex marriages; and D) the class remains a politically weakened minority.”

I Am Not A Lawyer, so I’ll leave it to those members of the commentariat that are to weigh in on the significance of those aspects of the ruling.  But naively, it seems like a big deal to me.

All of which to say:  good times.

And to celebrate such, how about a couple of tunes?  The first, sent to me by a member of the BJ community, is a  sweet (perhaps too much so for some of you jackals) love song, purposed now to support same-sex marriage rights in the various referenda up for grabs around the country:

And the second? Well, consider it an antidote to any excess of sentiment above:

*BLAG is, of course, hardly bipartisan.  With three GOP members to two Dems, it is the vehicle for the House leadership to bother themselves with what American citizens do in their private lives.  It took up this case after the Obama administration decided it could not defend DOMA’s constitutionality.

Image:  Augustus Leopold Egg, The Travelling Companions, 1862.

Don’t (Diss) Party Like It’s 1999….

July 31, 2012

The other day I posted on Mann and Ornstein’s It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. I’m just about through that book, and I’ll do a direct follow-up in a day or so.  But here I want to take issue for a moment with a really powerful work that I finished reading on Saturday, Chris Hedges’ and  Joe Sacco’s Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.

That’s a riveting book, an important one, and I commend it to you all.  You can’t read it without being radicalized, in a good way.  Hedges and Sacco travel to the most destroyed, exploited, misery-infused places in the United States and document both wrecked lives and those lived in opposition to the various arrangements of power that have extracted the last scrap of cash out of their communities.  If ever there were a document that drove home the need for a true transformation in the relationship of our government to private capital, this is it.

There’s a corollary to the stories Hedges and Sacco deliver:  in their telling it becomes clear that the government we have is complicit with the particular individuals and/or corporations that have wrought and continue to wreak havoc on the people they encounter.  And so, near the end of his text, Hedges writes this:

We must stop being afraid.  We have to turn our backs for good on the Democrats, no matter what ghoulish candidate the Republicans offer up for President. All the public disputes between candidates in the election cycle are a carnival act.  On the issues that matter there is no disagreement among the Republicans and the Democrats.

Bullshit.  Pure and deadly dangerous nonsense.

Tell that to Caleb Medley.  The status quo will most likely — and the Republican health care plan would definitely leave him, his wife and his newborn daughter in debt peonage for the rest of their lives. Obamacare, though it leaves much yet to be done, would not.  That matters deeply at least to the ~30 million Americans who now lack health coverage, but will get it, if and only if Obama wins re-election

Tell that to any woman who believes that they have agency over their own bodies (and all the men who agree with them, of course), who have to confront rulings like this one.  This matters really to all Americans, I would say, but surely at least to that (slightly) larger half that possess two Xs.

Tell it to all those who got stiffed by their credit card company, and actually are going to get some payback, thank you very much — thanks to something only a Democratic President and Congress would have approved, and the GOP is still actively trying to kill.  That one case alone translates into stolen money returned to two million Americans, which is nothing to sneeze at, and which would not occur under a Republican regime.

And there’s more, of course, all issues that matter in for-real, tangible ways to lots and lots of people.  No arbitrarily begun and ended list of accomplishments or crucial acts of opposition can capture the full impact of the choice to be made here.

Sure, it’s true, monied interests buy stakes in both parties.  But it is also true that not all those with resources are the same, and a party that depends on the Kochs and the Adelson’s of the world is demonstrably worse than one that doesn’t.  What’s more: one that is capable of appointing judges who, for example, know that Citizens United was a crock — not to mention health care reform and all the other quite remarkable list of Obama legislative victories — is not the lesser of two evils but is rather an unequivocal (if not unmixed) good.

And anyway — if we are in our defiant moral certainty must reject the Democrats as being insufficiently less evil than the GOP, what do Hedges and Sacco think we should do to advance the cause of of all those who so clearly need real change?  Hedges again:

We have to defy all formal systems of power.  We have to create monastic enclaves where we can retain and nurture the values being rapidly destroyed by the wider corporate culture and build the mechanisms of self-sufficient that will allow us to survive.

I’ve not edited either of the two passages quoted above.  In the text, they form a single paragraph, running from the bottom of page 266 through the top of 267.  So really that’s it:  in the face of all the ills of the American present he and Sacco have so powerfully documented, and facing the potential catastrophes of its near-future, Hedges would have us head for the hills, pace our cloisters and tend our gardens, secure in the purity of a life lived in seclusion, day following day according to whatever rule to which we submit.

To hell with society; to hell with the very fellow citizens whose awful circumstances Hedges and Sacco have spent 260 pages making real for their readers.  Let it all go down while we seek a “survival” that seems to me to be merely acquiescing in loss.

Don’t get me wrong.  Almost all the way through Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is a hugely courageous book, and I have no doubt of the bravery, moral and physical, of its two authors — in excess of mine, I have no doubt.  In fact, most of the last thoughts of the book belie what Hedges has written here. For example, he sees in the Occupy movement a real possibility for useful action.

But here, this call to inaction is to me worse than an error.  This election counts.  The differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are real.  There are consequential differences in the America and the world my son will inhabit that will come down to what happens on November 6 — and of course, what happens after, what we do to inside and outside the conventional power apparatus to force the change whose necessity Hedges and Sacco make crystal clear.

Do not party, or Party, as if it were 1999.  It’s 2012, and there is a decision to be made.

Images:  Elihu Vedder, Corrupt Legislation, mural in the lobby to the main reading room, Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Bldg. 1896.

Edmund Körner, In the Convent Library, c. 1910


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