Thursday, July 27, 2017

Zombies v Vampires


The Republican attempts to kill healthcare and millions of Americans along with it have several times been given up for dead, but they keep coming back, led by McConnell, a description of whom as "reptilian" gets us in the ballpark but understates the reality, as abetted by the snarling Homegrown Hitler. A new poll this week shows that HH is dangerously close to being weakly approved by one-third, with his strong base down to 25%, a few ticks away from Nixon's at the moment he resigned. He has lost ground in all the battleground states he won, and half of those polled don't believe he'll make it to the end of his term. In other words, politically he's dead. And yet, there he is.

And there he or someone like him will always be, because they are one version of the living dead. They are the Vampires.

Vampires, from their earliest 19th century emergence in popular storytelling, were always aristocrats: Count Dracula and so on. Even in more recent imaginings in decadent New Orleans or among suburban teens, they are among the 1% or so. Blood-sucking capitalists, vampire capitalism. Today they are the Plutocrats--a perfect name for them. Pluto the god of the underworld, where the gold is, and the dead, so he is the god of both wealth and death.

The very rich have always pulled the strings but now the US has an officially plutocratic government of billionaires. It used to be that the laws against conflicts of interest kept the very wealthy out of government, but it turns out there are no such laws after all, and the wealthy get to keep their businesses  and use their high government positions and access to the federal coffers to make more money. As Jonathan Chait points out, our apprentice dictator defines conflict of interest as not swearing loyalty and fealty to him.

Presiding over all this is the adult family of the apprentice dictator, all of them pretty obviously vampires. I mean, look at them.  (But not here--none of their photos have appeared on this site since election day, nor any of their names except within quotations.  Nor will they ever.  I'm not feeding them their lifeblood if I can help it.)

The other undead are the zombies. As reimagined by George Romero--who died last week--they are the living dead who swarm in huge groups, eager to eat the brains of the living, turning them into zombies.

 Zombies have captured the popular imagination in recent years, and no wonder. If vampires are the 1%, zombies are the 99%, fighting each other for the dregs. Zombies are "the precariat"--holding precariously onto some semblance of respectability-- or those who have already fallen off the precipice. To be joined by 16 to 26 million of the precariat, depending on which Republican unhealthcare bill eventually becomes law, if any.

So who are the brainless living dead out to eat everybody's brains? We're tempted to suggest they are the people who show up at Homegrown Hitler's rallies. The adults at least--turning the Boy Scouts into Homegrown Hitler Youth I hope was not as real as it was scary.

Here the origins of the zombie myth is instructive. It comes from Haiti, where through sorcery, plantation bosses were able to dig up fresh corpses and turn them into slaves to work the fields, or commit crimes if needed.  Zombies were portrayed as mindless slaves of their masters in stories before Romero's Night of the Living Dead.  And though it seems to have created the template for all the succeeding zombie dramas, nobody called them zombies in that movie. They were mostly called ghouls.

In political and economic life, the rich few have been able to expand power by getting the unrich many to fight their wars, and to keep power by somehow convincing them their plight was caused by others even more unrich than they.  The Vampires have been using their Zombie armies for centuries, and their Zombie voters.

Romero actually made a related political point in Night of the Living Dead (as Brent Staples pointed out recently) by showing the living in endless squabbles and conflict when confronted by the relentless undead, and the hero who leads them --a black man--is shot dead by someone in the posse, who assumes he is a zombie.  Staples:

"But for Mr. Romero, these effects were incidental to his broader theme: how mutual contempt and tribal self-interest so often prevent people from banding together in the face of a mortal threat. The flesh-eating dead, at least, come together in mindless self-interest. But the embattled residents of the farmhouse bicker and betray one another even as the darkness closes in. Mr. Romero viewed them as a metaphor for a society so deeply invested in petty enmities that it failed to see it was being swallowed alive."

The metaphorical equivalence of Vampires as the plutocratic wealthy and Zombies as the unrich came to me some months ago, as it must have to others--like s/f writer Kim Stanley Robinson, who came up with roughly the same formula and actually trademarked the title Zombies V. Vampires.

Right now it seems the Vampires still have a tight hold on their Zombie followers, but they know that could change, and recently a self-identified Plutocrat came out in public and said so. Nick Hanauer in Politico:

"Since Election Day, I’ve been overwhelmed by anguished calls, emails and conversations from you, my wealthy friends, who, for the first time, are confronting the real possibility that our cozy utopian, urban, pluralistic lifestyles may be in peril. I share your fear. And with good reason.


Three years ago, in these pages, I warned you that the pitchforks were coming. I argued that 30 years of rising and accelerating inequality would inevitably lead to some sort of populist revolt that would disrupt the fantastic lives we elites enjoy. I cautioned that any society which allows itself to become radically and indefensibly unequal eventually faces either an uprising or a police state—or both.  And here we are."


All the rich may fear an uprising, but not all of them, I fear, fear a police state.  Though given ample opportunity to see a more equal society works better for all, many of them can't stop sucking all the blood they can get.  If there's a tax they must avoid it or end it.  There isn't a wage that can't be lower. There isn't a lie that can't be spread if it means a destructive industry can squeeze out more money for a little longer. And if there's a way to even temporarily keep raking in the blood with slave labor overseas, they do it, and pretend it's not their fault, it's that dreaded Invisible Hand, against which they are powerless.

Now the Vampires, pretending to be on the side of the Zombies, are in power, and the comparative economic quiet could well be deceiving--it's only been six months but with the progress made by the Obama administration being reversed, and even older institutional structures being smashed, the damage may be suddenly obvious, and it could be quite bad quite quickly.  It may take more than the promised industrial jobs not materializing, but even that could make the Vampires sweat, if the Zombies get restless.

Then we'll see, but Zombies v. Vampires may not be a fantasy after all.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

My Book House

These days I live in a house of books.  There are book shelves in nearly every room, and in the two rooms where I spend the most time alone, overflowing bookcases line several walls in each, from floor to nearly the ceiling.

Growing up most of a continent away, there were always some books in our house (though none in most other homes I visited), and I always had books to hold and look at.  I had Golden Books of the 1950s, and other child-size books like Little Toot and The Little Red Caboose.  But I also had a library of particular book-size books.  My first house of books was My Book House.

Officially called The Book House For Children, they were illustrated anthologies of verse and prose edited by Olive Beaupre Miller and published under its own imprint in Chicago.  The first set came out in a series beginning in 1920, and some version would continue to be published until 1971.

The set that I grew up with was published in 1943.  The prior 1920s editions were six thick volumes but by the 40s the same basic material was in twelve volumes of more than 200 pages each. They were deep blue, thinner but larger in size to better accommodate illustrations.

We had fifteen books in all, for the set included a Parents' Guide Book and two extra volumes, the orange Tales Told in Holland and the lighter blue Nursery Friends From France, both unchanged from 1927, when they accompanied the original sets as "My Travelship."  There was a third Travelship volume called Little Pictures of Japan, but I don't recall we had it, possibly because it wasn't offered in 1943 since the US was at war with Japan.

Our set must have been acquired at my birth in 1946.  I believe my mother's sister Antoinette, who was a teacher, either gave us the set or advised my mother to buy it.  It became central to my childhood and that of my sisters, Kathy and Debbie.  I have the set now, and evidence of each of us survives in the books themselves: my scrawls of the alphabet and attempts to print my name in pencil and crayon, a number of blank endpapers in the Parents' Guide volume decorated with Kathy's drawings, and a clutch of napkins stuck in one volume upon which Debbie wrote and drew--and signed, when she was seven.

We were not the only ones who grew up with these books, of course.  In recent years they've become a favorite of home schoolers. Writers remember them. Novelist Jim Harrison mentioned the Book House set several times in his fiction and nonfiction.  Larry McMurtry writes a few words about it in his autobiographical Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, which I've recently read and which prompted these musings on my early experience with books.

For me now, the color, slight shine and heft of these volumes, the very touch of their cool surfaces, still define "books."  As I view their contents, browsing by the light of the floor lamp that had once been in my grandparents' living room, now nearest to the shelves where these books repose, I can be taken back to earliest impressions, especially by the relationship of these evocative, colorful and now singular illustrations to the text.  


The content is comprised of verse and prose, often by (or adapted from) classic authors from many countries. The twelve volumes were arranged in a graduated sequence of readings for children from babydom to early adolescence.  This approach is codified in a general way by the Parents Guide Book titled In Your Hands.  It provides advice and information in a direct and informal tone, like the then wildly popular books by Doctor Spock.

Once I'd learned to read I don't recall my mother offering any guidance as suggested, but she seems to have heeded some of the suggestions on reading to babies.  (I have the advantage of having my own very real memories confirmed by watching her with my younger sisters, particularly Debbie, who was born when I was 8.)

For example, the book suggests how to hold a baby's arms and clap while mother recites "Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man" (which sounded more like "patty-cake" to me) and how to play with the babies toes for "This little piggy went to market." It's exactly how my mother did it, although she sometimes added a rhythmic bouncing as she held me on her knee, which I believe was important in showing me that whatever else words in such arrangements were about, they were first of all about rhythm and music.  


Since my mother's own babyhood was in Italy and the Italian language, and I was the eldest child of two eldest children in the vanguard of my generation,  I believe she was following this book's instruction, including gradually getting me to chant along, and to anticipate the words and rhymes.  The rhythmic bouncing, however, was probably homegrown. Since I remember my grandmother doing that with us, she probably had done so with my mother. But other instruction she ignored, just as we ignored many of the other selections in that first volume, In the Nursery.

I know that we used this book even for these common nursery rhymes because I remember poring over the illustrations.  Many of the illustrations were comical, many quite literal, many romantic in a 19th century style.

When I look at them now, I feel the resonance of their magic then. Like the animals around a music stand under the verses about the sounds they make ( Bow-wow," says the dog; "Mew, Mew," says the cat; "Grunt, grunt," goes the hog; And "Squeak!" goes the rat.)  Or the cow flying over the moon accompanying "Hey diddle diddle," the subject as well--as my mother once pointed out to me--of our cookie jar.

After fifty pages of common nursery rhymes, there are successive sections of short rhymes from Scotland, Wales and Ireland; Norse, Italian, Spanish, Swiss, South American, Mexican, Polish, Swedish, Chinese and East Indian nursery rhymes, and one Japanese lullaby, before national and regional rhymes from America, including American Indian Songs.

Then another set of short sections of German, French, Dutch, Czechoslovakian, Canadian, Russian, and Hungarian rhymes, and a Roumanian lullaby.  Rhymes from Finland, Africa; rhymes from Shakespeare, verse from Keats, Robert Burns, Tennyson, Christina Rossetti, Robert Lewis Stevenson.

Some of the verses get longer before the book turns to prose, and explores childhood experience in a neighborhood, on a farm, in a big city and so on, sometimes in stories similar to those found in an early grade reader, sometimes adapted from authors like Hans Christian Andersen.  Ending up with tales from Greece, Rome and the Bible.  All in this first volume.

This resolute international inclusiveness, the combination of folk stories, myths and work of classic authors, set one pattern for further volumes.  Olive Beaupre Miller would change the mix over the years, but this edition seems to preserve some authentic cultural fragments, perhaps otherwise lost, with no apology for how puzzling many selections were and are.


Volume 2 is appropriately named Story Time because it introduces stories rather than anecdotes and descriptive narratives, including fables (Aesop and otherwise), folk tales from many cultures (one retold by Tolstoy), Bible stories ("Noah's Ark") and classic tales (Peter Rabbit, the Nutcracker) interspersed with verses, including two by William Blake, one ("Owl and the Pussycat") by Edward Lear, and one by the Indian poet Tagore.

Some stories have morals and messages, but they aren't all "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Little Engine That Could" (which are included.)  The one that stayed with me is "The Gingerbread Man" (who in the story is called the Gingerbread Boy.) The Gingerbread Boy comes to life, leaps out of the oven and over 8 madcap pages inset with illustrations, he laughs and outruns everybody.  Until the last page when he reaches the river, still being pursued, and accepts the fox's offer to carry him across on his back.  As the water gets deeper the fox counsels him to jump up on his shoulder and then his nose, until the fox eats him.

Not exactly a strive and succeed sort of story, but the impact of it hit me with the final illustration.  Most of the figures had been cartoonish, except the fox in the final one, which is rendered with startling realism.  I'm surprised now to see how small this illustration is, down at the bottom of the page, because it made a big impression on me, when my mother read me the story.

The illustration in this book I most loved however was of the Sandman holding his wondrous umbrella over a sleeping child.  The umbrella reminded me of a similarly shaped and decorated lampshade on a table lamp at my grandparents.  (I believe my sister Kathy has it now.)


Volume 3, Up One Pair of Stairs was transitional--I remember reading parts of it myself.  I learned to recognize words on my own, but didn't really read until taught to do so in first grade, where I was in the Rosebuds reading group, the most advanced one.  We started with the classic Dick and Jane readers, though possibly a Catholic edition.

This volume of My Book House has more and longer prose stories, and the illustrations have changed.  In the first two volumes the colors were bright and varied, with variations of reds.  Though I believe they all were done with a four-color process (illustrations using similar colors appeared together), the palate mostly became restricted in this and subsequent volumes to shades of blue and orange as well as black and white, and more like art deco.  They were less prominent usually, deferring to the text, but not always.

Both my sister Kathy and I especially remember the final selection, "Water Babies," with verses based on the story by Charles Kingsley.  A kind of fairy tale that I can now see is touching upon issues of innocence, socialization and nascent sexuality, its illustrations probably seemed daring to us, as they modestly portray the nudity implied in the text.

By volume 3, the books in my set are also in better shape, showing less handling than the first two.  Now I seem them as treasuries, but at the time they competed with schoolbooks and later with comics and library books.  But I did read selections in all of the volumes, often in bed and especially when restricted to bed by my many childhood illnesses (mumps, chicken pox, measles twice as well as colds, flus, etc.)

In volume 4 (Through the Gate) I'm sure I read about Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, Johnny Appleseed and the Fisherman and His Wife, a cautionary tale about greed.

Volume 5 (Over the Hills) wove in more history, with several pieces about Abraham Lincoln (and the Gettysburg Address verbatim), along with Jack and the Beanstalk, a poem by Emerson, and William Dean Howell's "The Pony Engine and the Pacific Express" (I especially loved stories about trains, like those I could see a few blocks from my grandmother's house.)


Volume 6 (Through Fairy Halls) emphasizes magical worlds, though hewing close to impressive classical sources, such as libretto for operas, a tone poem by Debussy, Shakespeare (prose telling of A Midsummer Night's Dream) and Dickens, and stories about Leonardo da Vinci and composer Felix Mendelssohn.  The versions of stories we would know in more popularized form like Hansel and Gretel and Sleeping Beauty are closer to original sources.  Again, a mix of international tales, including Alaskan, Hawaiian, Northwest and Winnebago Native tales, and  poems by Basho and Eugene Field.

Now when I browse subsequent volumes I see poems, excerpts and rewritten tales from authors and works I've since read.  If I read these as a child, their influence was subconscious, but then much of education is.  There are bookmarks left in them (one indicating 1962) by one or another of us.

The one volume I remember best is the eighth: Flying Sails.  At some age--perhaps 11 or so--I became passionately interested in tales of ships and the sea, and voyages.  And of all the stories in this volume, the one I recall definitely reading first there is "Gulliver's Travels to Lilliput."

 Comparison to Jonathan Swift's text shows this to be only lightly edited and condensed, so Swift's voice is preserved as well as the now classic story.  Again I remember reading it here because I recall the illustrations.  But these illustrations are not so numerous, and the story lasts for some forty pages.  The point being that while I was transported by the wonder of the story, I was given the opportunity to absorb its literary merits as well.


Volume 12 (Halls of Fame) is devoted largely to biographical sketches of authors, including authors of famous fairy tales with suggestions of their hidden historical references.  It notably includes a long, illustrated retelling of Goethe's Faust.  This final volume ends with an index to the entire set, plus a child development index that sends the parent or reader to appropriate pages for views on bravery, courtesy, imagination, shyness etc.

These books existed in my life within a context that prominently included movies (especially Disney), radio (early on) and television, as well as phonograph records.  (I still have my battered 78 version of Tubby the Tuba.)   But the point is that books were represented, and not just picture books or school books (which barely registered as books.)  My Book House provided living examples of what books are, and the template for my further and continuing explorations of these nurturing, magical objects.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

But Us Chickens (Everything is Broken)


A certain level of prophesy is not that hard.  In fact, it's an indispensable part of making decisions about the future, which we all do every day, and specifically on election days.

It wasn't that hard for me to see the disaster that George W. Bush was going to be, when the smart people were making jokes about Gush and Bore in the 2000 campaign.  It was even easier for me to see what a total catastrophe was going to quickly ensue after the election results of 2016, as much for what the outcome said about the electorate, the media and the other swells as the candidate.  As I wrote at the time, when the voters elect the candidate that 60% of them say in exit polls is unqualified to be president, there's a lot that's badly broken.  Both of these elections ushered in prolonged and very painful dramas, and of course, one of them is far from over.

But far easier than either of these, were the prophesies--made by many others as well as me--that greeted the so-called Reagan Revolution in the early 1980s: the era of "privatization," tax cuts supposedly leading to instant prosperity along the Laffer curve (and what a laugh it was),  the superior morality and even heroism of getting rich by any means possible, with the corresponding devaluing of public service and starving of the public sector.  Despite the repeated failures of these ideas, they continue as Republican gospel, and continue to dominate how things are done in the United States.

The consequences we all predicted have come true, over and over, until here we are: a broken country, in just about every way.

Witness Jonathan Kay's musings in the Atlantic, prompted by what should be a shocking situation: a bridge between the US and Canada is falling down, a bridge that carries over $200 billion worth of commerce each year.  Canada is calmly rebuilding their half.  But the US is too paralyzed--and the city of Detroit too broke--to rebuild theirs.  So Canada is footing the bill for the whole bridge, including the customs station on the US side.

Kay acknowledges other problems presided over by Canada's government.  But the question he addresses is: what has happened to the United States?  His answer:

"The United States is falling apart because—unlike Canada and other wealthy countries—the American public sector simply doesn’t have the funds required to keep the nation stitched together. A country where impoverished citizens rely on crowdfunding to finance medical operations isn’t a country that can protect the health of its citizens. A country that can’t ensure the daily operation of Penn Station isn’t a country that can prevent transportation gridlock. A country that contracts out the operations of prisons to the lowest private bidder isn’t a country that can rehabilitate its criminals."

The problem is the most basic one identified in 1980, using all of the knowledge gained in grade school arithmetic: you get what you pay for, and in public infrastructure and services, that means taxes.  Kay continues:

"It’s really quite simple: When Canadian governments need more money, they raise taxes. Canadians are not thrilled when this happens. But as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. put it, taxes are the price paid “for civilized society.” And one of the reasons Canada strikes many visitors as civilized is that the rules of arithmetic generally are understood and respected on both sides of the political spectrum."

Tax cutting and tax avoidance have become unshakably sacred in America, despite the fact that they benefit the very wealthy the most.  Kay suggests that the US could have at least as robust a public sector as Canada does--including universal health care--with a raise in the average tax burden of 10%.

Apart from the magical thinking of Reaganist Republican economics, there are deeper questions of the public good and how to address it.  Privatization of prisons and schools were supposed to work because, the theory said, private companies would have incentives to do a good job in order to make money, whereas public servants have no incentives at all.  Apart from the insult to teachers etc., it turned out that the only incentives were to make profits at the expense of everything else, including by both illegal and immoral behavior,  just don't get caught.

Gradually the cultural context changed so much however that elements of our shared lives that had always been recognized as a public good became profit centers.  In a New York Review of Books piece, Jerome Groopman and Pamela Hartzband summarize the great and tragic change in American healthcare that has made human suffering into a money-maker.

From the days not so long ago that most medical insurance was underwritten by the nonprofit Blue Cross/Blue Shield to today's profit-centered system, regulated at last to some degree by Obamacare, it is clear that apart from the consequences in suffering, we've rather nicely corrupted ourselves, and don't even seem to know it.

I grew up in a United States that used taxes to build highways and airports, water and sewage systems, in which water, gas and electricity were public utilities.  I grew up with Blue Cross and nonprofit hospitals.  It was far from perfect, but it was better than this cacophony of hype and hypocrisy, merciless monopolies and unapologetic profiteers, presiding over a broken country.

Playwright Arthur Miller used to say that a drama begins at the moment the chickens come home to roost--that is, the moment when past actions and inactions present consequences.  But there have been many such moments since the 1980s, and we don't notice them, or not for long.  Yet the consequences are all around us, with no solace to those who foresaw them.  And there's nobody here but us chickens.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Notes on a Scandal

The revelations surrounding a meeting of members of the apprentice dictator's family and campaign with a Russian government representative who claimed to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton still reverberate, as the scandal grows.  But just before this news began to surface, there was that meeting between the a.d. of the US and the actual dictator of Russia.  Here's one evaluation of it by
Molly McKew in Politico:

"Donald Trump needed to accomplish two things this week during his visits to Poland and the G-20 Summit in Hamburg. First, he needed to reassure America’s allies that he was committed to collective defense and the core set of values and principles that bind us together. Second, he needed to demonstrate that he understands that the greatest threat to that alliance, those values, and our security is the Kremlin.

Trump delivered neither of these. In very concrete terms, through speech and action, the president signaled a willingness to align the United States with Vladimir Putin’s worldview, and took steps to advance this realignment. He endorsed, nearly in its totality, the narrative the Russian leader has worked so meticulously to construct."

This is one even darker side of the scandal, that American interests will be sacrificed and Russian interests advanced, for which there was already some evidence--and there has been more since.  If anything like this had happened a decade or two ago, some prominent Republican would be making angry speeches accusing the president of selling the country out to the Russians, which this one may be doing quite literally.

Another darker side or consequence of denial is vulnerability of our election system to further Russian interference.  The alarm has again been sounded by Richard Clarke.

As to the possible cooperation between the R campaign and Russian efforts to throw the election their way, the leaking of information obtained by Russian operatives to the campaign may well violate campaign finance laws and other statutes, but the whole area is too murky for most voters to see it as a major transgression.

Something perhaps more serious and maybe even more resonating has once again surfaced in a McClatchy report that: "Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation – overseen by Jared Kushner – helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016."  This would require more detailed and continuous cooperation between elements of the campaign and Russian operatives.

As to where the scandal is leading politically, many look to the precedent of Watergate.  I suggested some context in this regard simply from my recollections, but at New York, my former editor Frank Rich has gone back and refreshed his memory with contemporaneous readings.  He wrote about it in a magazine piece, and has commented a couple of times in interview form.

As I did, Rich cautioned that it took a long time for the investigative and impeachment process and especially for the public to pay attention and see the matter as serious.  He notes that the White House then claimed loudly that media reports were the equivalent of "fake news."  In subsequent interviews he emphasized that even as he resigned, Nixon kept his core support, which was around 22%.  And because there were powerful southerners still in the Democratic party back then, the fact that the Dems controlled Congress was not so important as we might suppose.

Though some of us remember courageous Republicans, Rich says that they were mostly just as partisan and resistant to the emerging facts.  But he says that this time around,  Republicans will be looking hard at the a.d.'s support as the 2018 election season rolls around.  And even though they haven't won high profile special elections, the Dems have overperformed in them and others.  Meanwhile the Dem Senators in states that went overwhelmingly R in 2016 are all pretty popular.

Meanwhile, the scandal just gets uglier and darker.  Now there's an unnatural death--an apparent suicide in the mold of both conspiracy theories and the way the Russians are known to operate.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Pleasures


The first look out of the window in the morning,
The old book found again
Enthusiastic faces
Snow, the change of the seasons,
The newspaper
The dog
Dialectics
Taking showers, swimming
Old music
Comfortable shoes
Taking things in
New music
Writing, planting
Traveling
Singing
Being friendly.

Bertolt Brecht: “Pleasures”

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Kindness


Sometimes a word or a concept jumps out when I see or hear it repeatedly over a short time.  So if I were still a popular culture journalist, I'd be all over "kindness."  Is "kindness"a thing?

Maybe, but in any case I've noticed it more recently, as the formulation of a virtue that is newly prominent.  For me it probably started with President Obama's last talk with his last group of young White House interns when he counselled them: "Be kind, be useful, be fearless."  Such a homely word as "kind" was striking, especially as advice for ambitious young people.

Maybe it's because kindness is not usually on the list of attributes for those who want to be successful.  Ruthless or (more gently) "focused" is more likely.  It seems weak or at least too idealistic and spiritual, as in the "loving-kindness" that the Dalai Lama talks about.

But it seems to be getting better press lately.  A research project found that the key to actual lasting relationships is in fact kindness and generosity.   Last year it was revealed that Harvard considers evidence of kindness as important in prospective students.

Bill Nighy says in an interview somewhere that in theatre and on movie sets, nothing is more important for a project's success than kindness.  And for absolute cosmic affirmation there's the recent speech by a Time Lord, the Doctor: in the season finale which was also the last regular episode for Peter Capaldi as the Doctor:


“Winning? Is that what you think it’s about? I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone … or because I hate someone or because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it’s right. Because it’s decent. And above all, it’s kind. It’s just that. Just kind." 


Clearly a lot of recent emphasis on kindness, including the Doctor's, is in reaction to the current regime in the White House and our apprentice dictator's policies as well as his words.  In an Independence Day Maris/PBS/NPR poll, about the only thing that the bisected American electorate could agree on is that civility in public discourse has fallen into a black hole since he took office.  And when Make American Kind Again makes it onto demonstration posters, it qualifies as a thing.

In an era of grandiosity, kindness is the most modest of virtues.  It's not as lofty as love, nor as searing as compassion.  It's not as abstract as altruism or as thoughtful and emotive as empathy.  It's not as formulaic as courtesy or fairness.

Although kindness can be reflected in public policy and social norms, it's an attribute for any individual under any circumstances.  Anybody can be kind, in any given moment.  An act of kindness may pass unnoticed. Yet it can make such a difference.  You see this in Dickens---his characters can be evil or weak or mean or dishonest in a dozen ways, but his good characters are good most often because they are kind.  Dickens' central characters survive the forms of evil because they cross paths with people who are kind.

What Dickens knew and our social "scientists" are learning is that kindness is just as much a part of human nature--with a vital role to play in our evolution--as the usual characteristics associated with survival of the fittest, and even the phrase "that's human nature."

But as the Doctor said, each act of kindness is not about winning.  It's just where you stand in life, who you are.  It is above all the act and commitment of an individual.  When it operates socially, in concert with others, it becomes the basis for civilization, which I maintain is all in the phrase "you'd do the same for me."

The present chaos is a preview of the future if as a society we can't deal with new dangers and conditions without hiding in denial and acting out helplessly and violently.  But even if as a society we don't straighten out--and we might--everything, including survival of anything we'd care to call human, will depend on virtues as large as courage, but also as simple as kindness.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Definitions of Independence


The Fourth of July: Independence Day. As a country today however, we are in some ways dangerously and stupidly dependent.

We are far too dependent on a vulnerable Internet and satellites (especially GPS) for far too much, without alternatives or adequate redundancy.

 We are way, way too dependent on other nations for our food and goods.  We are especially dependent on the smooth operation of complex transportation systems over great distances that are vulnerable in any number of ways.  Political instability, natural disaster and other foreseeable but ignored circumstances in key countries could set the entire house of cards tumbling down.

All of this is unnecessary in its scope and threat.  Laissez faire is how the attitude is described: leave it to the massive corporations maximizing profit to determine our dependence.  The sound of those French words suggests what is at the heart of it: laziness.  We are too lazy, too distracted to take sensible measures and precautions to protect our independence.  We could have local food sources and more manufacturing within the country, but we don't even discuss it except in the bullshit of the liar now in the White House who doesn't know how to approach the problems and never intended to anyway.

But in other vital ways, our independence depends on understanding our dependence on the whole: on the natural systems of the planet, and the international efforts that are necessary to address threats to everyone's life and liberty, far into the future.

The Fourth of July weekend is considered the first big holiday of summer.  And in most of the world, it is hot.  It is very hot.  In too many places, it is dangerously hot.

It was hot already in early June.  In Europe, the June heat waves were linked directly to the climate crisis.  Until recently, scientists could not attribute individual events like a heat wave to the climate crisis, although such events were predicted in climate crisis models.  But now they can.  And last month they did.

A new study suggests where in the United States the climate crisis will have the largest effects, but for the moment let's stay with Europe.  The heat there has the full attention of government leaders, and some statements by German chancellor Angela Merkel did not get the attention they deserve, because they were quite ominous.

In advance of the G20 meetings, in which our apprentice dictator is scheduled to take part, Merkel took a step farther than her previous suggestion that Europe needs to look to its own affairs without expecting outside help.  Her new statements are a warning--at these meetings and in general, Europe is going to be dealing with what they need to do to confront and address the climate crisis, and anybody who isn't interested in that agenda will simply be ignored.

On this issue in particular, Europe is declaring its independence (although more than willing to listen to Governor Jerry Brown and other state, city and regional U.S. leaders who are serious people with serious ideas about addressing the causes and consequences of the climate crisis.)  And if they were willing to indulge the a.d. on anything, his last series of appalling tweets have given the Europeans plenty of motivation to simply turn their backs on him.

That's not the only likely drama of those meetings.  Regarding the U.S., it will be how much damage our a.d. will do, childishly miffed by being ignored by all but his mentor in Russia, Putin, with whom he is meeting (though as usual without much of an agenda or reason to meet.)

Meanwhile, thousands of Americans have declared their independence from their own president and his regime, with rallies over the weekend in dozens of cities (but especially in L.A., NYC and San Francisco) in support of his impeachment.

I wrote back in January about mourning for the presidency, but it's worse now to be watching the presidency being drawn and quartered in the public square.  The integrity of the government, such as it was, is also being torn limb from limb, as the president and his family profit from office and openly corrupt government officials--notably the EPA--do the bidding of corporations.

These are ugly, sickening sights and sounds.  Contemplating the history and hopes associated with Independence Day may remind us, however grimly, of the country we should have.  For these days the only independence is resistance.

Update: On this Independence Day the big news is North Korea's first successful test of a missile capable of reaching the U.S., although not yet the lower 48. (This Times piece linked above is a good short summary of the total situation, which would test even a very good president.)  Another Times piece notes that analysts believe that even with this test, North Korea is several years away from being capable of launching an ICBM with a nuclear warhead capable of reaching a U.S. target.

The a.d.'s response was alarmingly disengaged, with a joke most a stand up comics would reject.  His past bluster has not only been ineffective, it shows him up as a bluffer with little credibility. 

  This is shaping up to be the critical situation that was bound to happen sooner or later.  It brings into sharper relief his unfitness for office--as in this oped entitled The greatest threat facing the United States is its own president, and contrary to some I have no more confidence in the foreign policy people of  his regime.

Final Update: To round out this Independence Day: When NPR tweeted the Declaration of Independence line by line, some supporters of the apprentice dictator trolled them for anti-a.d. propaganda.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Head Lines


In recent years it's become my tradition to hike the Trinidad Head on my birthday.  It's not the only time I do it, but it's become a ritual of that day.  It's the first time this year though, and the first time since President Obama declared the Trinidad Head a National Monument, along with other features on the Pacific coast.

Hasn't changed anything--the trail is still rocky and narrow, which is reassuring in a way. This year on 30 June it was cloudy but bright when I started, and I could see the fog coming in as I headed up.



By the time I reached my favorite bench, you couldn't see the ocean anymore.  I went on to the top just to make it official.  My windbreaker and glasses were wet by the time I got back down.

A Spanish ship sailed into Trinidad Bay in June 1775, named the place Trinidad because it was the feast of the Trinity, and sailed away.  The Yurok lived near here, and they were left in peace for another 75 years.  But once the 49ers came, it took only a decade or so before their way of life for thousands of years was destroyed forever.  Their descendants are nearby.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Distractions from the Ominous

There are two interpretations of the malicious tweeting and pervasive lying by the apprentice dictator in the White House.  The first and the most frequent is that he is out of control, impulsive and unhinged.  Richard Wolffe's column represents this point of view,  but he is one among many.  Some suggests this mania has increased since inauguration.

The other point of view is expressed most eloquently by Rachel Maddow.  She proposes that his attention-getting outrages are strategic, unleashed when the a.d. needs media attention to move away from more damaging stories, such as the latest in the Russia connection, or the sordid healthcare bill mess.

Update: There is a second "strategy" that has also been mentioned recently: the political one of playing to his base, which is fairly small, but it multiplies by being the core of the Republican party which reflexively follows it.  This strategy makes the most sense when filtered through Fox News and the rabid right radio rants.

The question also can be raised about most of the current regime's actions.  By and large they have been bumbling, so badly structured that major pieces of them fall apart immediately, or totally deceptive in that they are at best p.r. releases, not actionable orders or legislation.

For instance, the White House commission request to obtain detailed data on all individual voters in all the states.  For various reasons, including contradictory statements on how this data will be used (made public?  locked up tight?) most states have so far refused--some colorfully:

The pushback was bipartisan: The Mississippi secretary of state, Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, said Friday that he had not received a request from the commission, but colorfully suggested he would not honor one if it came.

“My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” Mr. Hosemann said in a statement. “Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”

The stated intent of gathering this information is to investigate whether there was widespread fraudulent voting in the last election, for which there is zero evidence and which only the apprentice dictator believes happened.

Is this omnivorous demand for data just another product of pique (to justify the absurd assertion that he would have won the popular vote but for fraud) in the usual blunt overkill manner?  Or is it strategic?  And to what end?

The reason many see is to further the GOP crusade to suppress voting when it might be against them. There are other possibilities just as sinister and perhaps even more so.  What if this detailed data is funneled only to the GOP, to target misinformation and other political dirty tricks to the most vulnerable?  Such an operation is reportedly part of the Russian connection investigation.

On an even larger scale, besides being a goldmine for thieves that should outrage everyone (for the request includes last four digits of S.S. #) is it a database for more general suppression?  It is the kind and extent of information a dictator needs for his secret police.

So which is it--insanity or strategic genius?  There's no way to know, so it's best to concentrate on what the actual effects are--that is, for the effects that don't depend on knowing the answer.  Because in a sense it doesn't matter.

Whether outrageous tweets are designed to change the subject, they in fact do, and that must be resisted.  People can point out the shocking and deeply sad damage to the presidency and the country that they cause, but the subject doesn't have to dominate every news and cable show for several news cycles, nor need it be the subject of every opinion column and analysis.

Similarly, the resistance to this outrageous demand for voter data--backed by the apprentice dictator's Nixonian, HUAC, dictator-like statement (what are they hiding?)--is necessary for whatever the reason for it was.  The attention should be, as it has been so far, on the possible effects that cannot be risked.

And it is important to go back and find those stories that have been obscured, as Rachel did when she also mentioned the defunding of the federal Election Assistance Commission, which is the only federal agency working with the states on cybersecurity of voting machines and other aspects of the election process.

Another related, undercovered story is that Homeland Security has refused to check voting machines to see if any were hacked during the 2016 election, even as concern over Russian interference increases.

These acts, when taken together and placed beside the suspicions still being investigated concerning collusion with a foreign dictatorship to determine an electoral outcome, are ominous fragments suggesting a very dark future for U.S. democracy.

Devilish Details

Sometimes the devilish details are small but irksome.  Nevertheless they change or obscure meanings, and that always means something.

A little verbal sloppiness seems to intrude more often on Internet posts than they used to in print.  I wonder if this is part of some weird Internet ethic that says you can't have editors or editing.  There is this tradition now that every time a post is changed, the change has to be noted.  Why?  I edit posts for clarity any number of times. As I believe I should.

The esteemed Jonathan Chait is trenchant as usual in his column on the week's major revelation about the Russian connection.  But near the beginning there's this sentence:

That line of defense is likely to disappear now that The Wall Street Journal has reported that Peter Smith, a Republican opposition researcher who said he was working for Michael Flynn, colluded with Russian hackers to try to obtain stolen emails from Hillary Clinton.

But that Flynn "colluded with Russian hackers to try to obtain stolen emails from Hillary Clinton" is not what he meant--at least I don't think so. If I'm correct, they didn't try to obtain anything from Hillary Clinton.  They tried to obtain emails that were stolen from Hillary Clinton. There's a big difference, and while his meaning may be eventually clear in context, the sentence is needlessly confusing.  It stopped me cold anyway.  (And Chiat wasn't the only one to make this mistake.)

Or the group of moderate Republicans that issued an important statement on the R budget, as reported by Politico.  They concluded: “[A]bsent such a bipartisan, bicameral agreement, we are reticent to support any budget resolution on the House floor,” the letter reads.

"Reticent" is an odd word to use, since it usually means not inclined to speak.  While not speaking in favor of the resolution is part of the meaning, the more accurate word to describe what they mean is "reluctant."  They are reluctant to support the budget resolution.  That's plenty mealy-mouth for politicians without being bewildering as well.

But devilish details can also be quite big.  For instance, a lot of verbiage can obscure some important numbers.

In an eloquent column on the Republican healthcare proposals, Paul Krugman provides a broad if shocking understanding of the basic cruelty at the heart of Republican policy.  But several numbers he uses to make his case deserve to stand alone, especially as they are not usually included in stories about the Senate bill.

The numbers are these:

Percentage of tax cuts in this bill that will go to Americans with incomes of over $1 million:  40%

Percentage their income will rise due to these tax cuts: 2%

Estimate of the number of otherwise preventable deaths that will be caused by provisions of this bill:  200,000

Friday, June 30, 2017

My 71st Year


My 71st Year

After surmounting three-score and ten,
With all their chances, changes, losses, sorrows,
My parents' deaths, the vagaries of my life, the many tearing
   passions of me, the war of '63 and '4,
As some old broken soldier, after a long, hot, wearying march,
  or haply after battle.
To-day at twilight, hobbling, answering company roll-call,
   Here, with vital voice,
Reporting yet, saluting yet the Officer over all.

Walt Whitman

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The New American Flag

Click to enlarge. Captured from the Washington Post

Another Article of Impeachment

In the almost universal condemnation of our apprentice dictator's latest tweets, many people--especially Republicans--used the phrase "beneath the dignity" of the presidency.

It's worse than that, and eventually these tweets are going to appear in an article of impeachment, or should, under the charge "conduct detrimental to the presidency."

If such articles are written, there will likely be others of more obvious weight, such as obstruction of justice and dereliction of duty (for failing to confront Russian interference in American elections) as well as some fancier way of saying profiteering from the presidency.

But this will be one, or should be.  Because destroying the credibility of the presidency, the representative of our country to the world, is no laughing matter.

Fred

Ever since his post on May 10 about Hospice help on his Fred's Humboldt Blog, I've checked local sites and googled his name every week or so, but for some reason I didn't see his June 1 obituary until today.

I never met Fred Mangels and didn't know him personally, only as a Humboldt blogger.  He and I were in the first group of bloggers hereabouts.  Fred reached out to the rest of us and stayed interested---the last time he commented on a post here was just a few months ago.  It was a small group back then, and such was Fred's standing that a half dozen or so of us contributed to buy him a new computer when he sorely needed one.

Fred inspired a certain affection even among those of us who really didn't share his politics.  His blogging voice was unaffected and direct, his approach personal and sincere.  He wrote mostly about local politics and libertarian issues, but he also wrote about daily concerns and other local matters.

In recent years Fred and I had a teasing relationship.  He changed the name of my blog on his blogroll to "Bill's Obama blog."  I changed his on mine to "Fred's Climate Crisis Denial blog."  When he commented here on an Obama post-presidency post, I promised regular posts on the subject just for him.

I may be wrong but Fred and I may have been the only bloggers left of that original group.  Fred's blog was more of a local institution and got aggregated locally.  His blog and his voice will be missed.  May he rest in peace.


Two Books That Changed The World

2017 is an anniversary year for two novels that changed the world in recent times.  It's intriguing to consider them together.

Although it would not be until the early 1970s that One Hundred Years of Solitude created a sensation in English speaking countries, the novel in Spanish by Gabriel Garcia Marquez published as Cien Anos De Soledad fifty years ago in 1967 began its conquest of the world in his native South America.

 In his recent Vanity Fair article, Paul Elie writes:
"The novel came off the press in Buenos Aires on May 30, 1967, two days before Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, and the response among Spanish-language readers was akin to Beatlemania: crowds, cameras, exclamation points, a sense of a new era beginning."

"Eight thousand copies sold in the first week in Argentina alone, unprecedented for a literary novel in South America. Laborers read it. So did housekeepers and professors—and prostitutes: the novelist Francisco Goldman recalls seeing the novel on the bedside table in a coastal bordello. García Márquez traveled to Argentina, to Peru, to Venezuela, on its behalf."

But that was just the beginning. Eventually One Hundred Years of Solitude was translated into 37 languages, and had the same effect almost everywhere.  "It’s the book that redefined not just Latin-American literature but literature, period,” insists Ilan Stavans, the pre-eminent scholar of Latino culture in the U.S., who says he has read the book 30 times.

Its broad appeal to that first South American readership--from the literati to laborers, was echoed everywhere.  I remember discussing it with Ted Solotaroff, then editor of the New American Review and a renowned champion of new writers.  His face lit up, and neither of us could keep from smiling.  For the next several years, when young women, from artists to waitresses asked me to recommend a book (partly because I was the book review editor for the Boston Phoenix and taught a course on new books) I always named this one.  I gave copies as gifts.  It never missed.  Never.

This is a book that created rapture.

"Unofficially, it’s everybody’s favorite work of world literature and the novel that, more than any other since World War II, has inspired novelists of our time," Elie asserts.  His article quotes several writers on their response.

Marquez won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 and wrote many other distinguished books.  His voice remains unmistakable throughout.  But One Hundred Years of Solitude remains unique, with the same power to amaze and enchant new readers fifty years later.

Twenty years ago a novel for children was published in England called Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by a new author, now known as J.K. Rowling. While almost immediately successful, the book itself assumed a special significance as the beginning of a series that became an unparalleled global phenomenon.

It also reached a breadth of readers, most notably in terms of age.  First and foremost the Harry Potter books were enormously popular with children, who grew along with Harry and the series.  But soon--perhaps with the second or third book--adults became readers almost as fanatical.  Margaret and I were introduced to the series by adult friends, and like them, we made a ritual of reading them aloud to each other.  Eventually we awaited each new volume with our version of the same enthusiasm as young readers.

These were books that created rapture.

One Hundred Years of Solitude and the Harry Potter series share some fascinating aspects.  Both stories came to their authors all at once, on moving vehicles (Marquez in a car, Rowling on a train.)  Both combine the ordinary with the magical, the recognizable with the mythic.  Both have memorable characters, memorable incidents and scenes, and strong stories.  They contain the major milestones of life--birth, marriage, children, death--and the major relationships--parents or parent figures and children, lovers and friends.

 Though one is a kind of cosmic tragedy and the other a comedy (ending in marriages, as Shakespeare's comedies do) in which good triumphs over evil at a cost, they both create capacious, credible worlds that include the incredible.  Their worlds in general conception are strikingly imaginative and unique, bringing the new back to the novel. Moreover within these worlds the narrative reveals one surprising invention after another, in details, characters and story, that have captured the imaginations of readers for as long as they've been books.

 Both deal with big themes and with the larger world, including the political world, its issues and consequences.  But even in their worlds apart, they do so through characters who are not in positions of power.

Both are literary works, with debts to many earlier writers (Marquez idolized Faulkner and thought of himself as a journalist, Rowling reminded me first of the British children's writer E. Nesbit and in later books, as her characters got older and the world more sophisticated, I thought of Jane Austen and others.)

A teenager visiting Arcata from England became
the Harry Potter stand-in for the midnight release party
at Northtown Books for the last Potter book.
And yes, I was there. 
But above all they each have an unmistakable and individual voice--the rhythm of words and sentences and paragraphs, the narrative tone--that carried the writer and then the reader forward as a confidant.

Like all major successes, timing and luck and the right people helping them played a part.  But above many others, these two books argue for the undeniability of work so transcendent that its success seems only natural if not inevitable.  In a world with more than enough horror, these are welcome wonders. I'm grateful to have them, and to have been there to see them happen over their lifetimes so far.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Tipping Point of Cruelty



Update 6/27: Senate Republican leadership withdrew their Kill Obamacare and the People It Serves bill from immediately going to the floor for debate and a vote when it became clear that not enough Rs supported this first step.  The next opportunity comes in two weeks, after negotiations with key Senators may result in a revised bill.  The nail in the coffin of this bill appears to be the Congressional Budget Office estimate that 22 million Americans would lose coverage.  Meanwhile opposition is growing, both from healthcare related organizations, including the American Medical Association, and voters, who may have the opportunity to move their demonstrations from Senate offices to the home districts during the Fourth of July break.  Laurence O'Donnell and guests on his show suggest that the bill actually had the support of from 5 to 20 or 30 Republicans, which would seem to make getting to 50 an uphill climb.

This piece of video is amazing, one of the best sequences I've ever seen on Rachel Maddow.  It starts as a mundane story about the upcoming Fourth of July weekend, and what happened in Denver in 1978 on a similar weekend, with the 4th on a Tuesday.  It then becomes a story of a successful social justice campaign, that over a scandalously long time, won rights for the disabled--providing them the liberty of free movement on public transportation.

Then it comes up against the current Senate Kill Obamacare and the People It Serves bill, specifically the draconian cuts in Medicaid which will devastate the lives of a large proportion of the disabled.

The climax of this piece is a bit of video of disabled demonstrators outside the offices of Senator McConnell that is heartbreaking and haunting.  The woman being dragged away while pleading "Don't touch Medicaid!" is very powerful video.

This segment illustrates and suggests why this bill is the tipping point of cruelty.  If it passes, it will change America more than any single act of this regime, and tips the future into a very ugly place.

Medicaid is the insurer for a third of disabled adults and 60% of disabled children (and 40% of all children.)  Medicaid insures nearly half the births in America.  Medicaid is by far the largest health insurance provider in the United States--75 million Americans--much bigger than Medicare.

And here's what Republicans are trying to do:

Washington Post:
"Congressional budget analysts plan to issue their projections as early as Monday on the legislation’s impact on the federal deficit and the number of Americans with insurance coverage. Already, proponents and critics alike are predicting that the Senate proposal would lead to greater reductions through the Medicaid changes than the estimated $834 billion estimated for a similar bill passed by House Republicans last month."

This is almost incredible, as most observers assumed the Senate bill will moderate the crude brutality of the House bill.  But this one is worse, particularly on Medicaid.

 Medicaid is not only enormously important, it is also popular with the American public.  The Post again:

"Part of the pressure the moderates now face is that Medicaid consistently draws widespread support in surveys. A poll released Friday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that three-fourths of the public, including 6 in 10 Republicans, said they have a positive view of the program. Just a third of those polled said they supported the idea of reducing federal funding for the expansion or limiting how much money a state receives for all beneficiaries.

Even among Republicans, the foundation found, only about half favor reversing the federal money for Medicaid expansion."

The money that the federal government won't pay into Medicaid goes directly to a tax cut for the wealthy.

America's first social programs may not have been purely or even largely motivated by compassion.  In the 1930s, even the bankers worried about revolution.  But FDR's programs, including Social Security, put social justice on the agenda, and gave permission to politicians to act decently.

When Michael Harrington published his landmark book on poverty in the early 60s, he estimated that a fourth of the population was below the poverty line.  Dwight McDonald, in his review of the book in the New Yorker, suggested that in practical terms it was more.

Harrington's book caught the attention of President Kennedy, who had already proposed the program that became Medicare.  Kennedy identified poverty as the domestic issue he would emphasize in his reelection campaign in 1964.  Following his lead and using his memory to get it passed, President Johnson got enacted the programs that made up his War on Poverty.

For awhile, poverty did decrease. But with the additions and subtractions of programs and especially the rapid changes in the economy affecting jobs and incomes, poverty--especially child poverty--has increased, and many Americans are living so close to the edge that nearly 40% could not sustain an emergency costing just $400.

The expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare was the single most important social justice effort in decades, as it provided medical care for the most vulnerable, especially poor and disabled Americans.  The Senate bill erases the expansion, and limits Medicaid in ways certain to decrease coverage and increase harm.  Here's a pretty good summary from, of all places, Cosmopolitan.

The Senate version, should it become law, will directly threaten the independence and the very lives of the disabled and the elderly requiring care beyond Medicare.  Many more will be hurt.  In the long run it will increase poverty in America.

Harrington's book is called The Other America. Poverty in the 50s and 60s was hidden outside the mainstream, in urban ghettos among people of color, and in isolated rural areas--in Appalachia for instance--where poverty was often white.  (Even today most welfare and Medicaid beneficiaries are white.)

Today there is homelessness everywhere that would have been a scandal in the 50s but which has become invisible except as nuisance or threat.  Major parts of cities like Detroit look like the bombed out streets of European countries after World War II.  And rural poverty is widespread again, if it ever abated.

But as two new books from Princeton U. Press (reviewed here and in the June 22 issue of New York Review of Books) describe the greater extent of economic vulnerability.  Because of volatility in jobs and incomes, fully a third of all Americans are living below the poverty line for at least one month of the year. Costs of necessities have risen enormously in just the past decade.  Social programs are generally not flexible enough to respond.  They need to be improved, not destroyed.

Social justice movements made injustices painfully visible.  With this Senate bill it may be happening again.

If this bill passes, it will pave the way for more self-defeating cruelty in the proposed Republican budget.  But more immediately, this Senate bill will devastate not only the lives of the most vulnerable, but the American soul.