Saturday, March 25, 2017

Friday's GOP Defeat and Empty Victory

For America and its people, it was the best news of the calendar year: the  arrogantly slapped together, cynically altered and altogether horrendous Republican replacement for Obamacare died a hidden but ignominious death, because it couldn't get enough Republicans in the House (where they have a 44 seat advantage) to pass it by majority vote.

Then surprisingly, the White House regime and the R leadership announced that it would not be revised or revived.  The threats to healthcare are over for the foreseeable future.  It's too bad that sensible improvements won't be made in the current system, but that is far outweighed by the virtues and advantages that will remain, and that would have been ended or crippled, with vast consequences to a lot of people and eventually the American economy.

Obamacare, celebrating the 7th anniversary of its passage, remains the law of the land, with its highest number of insured and its highest poll numbers as well.

While most of the attention for the past several days was focused on the rabid right conservatives in the House opposed to the bill for not destroying enough, several accounts on Friday agree that the nails in the coffin--not just for this go-round but the near future--were hammered by "moderate" Rs and Rs from blue states, all fearful of these consequences to their constituents, especially the changes demanded by the rabid right and granted by the desperate House leadership and White House.  For example, the Atlantic:

And as opposition mounted, Republicans representing swing districts and Democratic states began to pull their support, worried about cuts to Medicaid, a broader projected loss of insurance coverage, and a potential backlash from voters in the midterm elections next year. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the proposal would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 24 million people over a decade, and a Quinnipiac University poll showed that just 17 percent of potential voters supported the plan, with 56 percent opposed."

It was widely reported as a serious defeat for the Rs and specifically for the apprentice dictator in the White House.  With the media's track record, that might be taken with a grain of salt, but there are some interesting numbers, for whatever they are worth.  The LA Times added:

"A Quinnipiac University poll published this week said that 56% of voters disapproved of how Trump was handling his job; only 37% supported him. Other polls have shown similar numbers. Worse for the president, some of the voter groups that have most strongly backed him have begun pulling away, the poll indicated.

“We’ve been polling for 24 years and have never seen anything like this,” said Timothy Malloy, the assistant director of the poll. “Far and away, the worst numbers ever seen in a president."”

The LA Times story echoed an observation I read earlier in the week, that part of the failure of Homemade Hitler to seal the deal with House Rs was his inability to defend what was actually in the bill--even to them.  That could definitely recur.

Repealing Obamacare was the national Rs main campaign promise; another was building the Keystone XL pipeline, which would add about fifty permanent US jobs while churning up a lot of carbon--perhaps enough to doom civilization--and lacerating habitat for threatened animal species down North America from the Alberta wastelands.  

The current regime announced Friday that it was approving this project, an apparent victory.  But several articles (in the Forbes business magazine, an oped in the Baltimore Sun newspaper as well as EcoWatch) said there were several reasons that the pipeline would not be built immediately and probably not at all.

The reasons range from litigation, state and local permits still needed, and the distinct possibility that the Canadian government might well not give its permission, in order to meet its Paris Agreement commitments on carbon waste.

 But the most compelling reason given may be that the expense of building the pipeline versus the much weaker market for coal sands oil as well as the overall steep drop in oil prices since it was first proposed, will mean that the company itself will drop out, because the damn thing won't make anybody any money.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Editor

What a hard week: the death of three irreplaceable voices and icons of the age, all in their late 80s.  And joined by a fourth: Robert Silver, who died on March 20 at age 88.

Silver was the surviving founding editor of the New York Review of Books, itself an irreplaceable element in global intellectual life as well as in domestic politics since it began in the 1960s, which is also when I started reading it.  I can add little to all the praise by those who knew him and were edited by him, except that I was and remain envious of the experience and the relationship.

He did email me once out of the blue--or had his assistant email me, since he didn't do it himself. He wrote about piece I did on NYRB, specifically on the articles in the then most recent issue. So my one and only communication from Robert Silver was this: "I was touched by what you said about the paper. During 46 years, I’ve never read a piece in which a writer said what was actually in an issue." 

I notice now that in several of the remembrances, writers note that Silvers always referred to the NYRB as "the paper." But at the time, I was astonished that no one had ever written about a specific issue before, as well as that he would write me about it.  Or even that he saw it--this was not even an article in the San Francisco Chronicle or other publication, but on Daily Kos (and here at the Daily of course.)  I assume the same assistants who handled his email found the online piece, and printed it out for him.

There are remembrances online at the NYRB site, and several others at the New Yorker site: here, here and here.  Read just a few and you'll see why Bob Silver was the paradigm of Editor.

I can only echo one of those quoted, famed editor and NYRB writer Robert Gottlieb: “The loss to all his writers is profound, and the loss to our poor imperiled world, incalculable.”

May he rest in peace.  The good he did lives on, and let's hope the example he set does, too.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

March for Survival

Today the NY Times cataloged the ways in which the current White House regime is planning to stop US efforts to address the climate crisis.  It is more than sobering.

It also contradicts what US citizens tell pollsters they want done, although the poll cited also shows a lack of urgency.  People don't believe it will affect them.  It will, but not as much as it will affect people now alive but too young to be asked, and their immediate and distant descendants.

There are a number of ways to think about this.  First, the die was cast on election night, and at minimum the time lost in more aggressive actions to confront the climate crisis will make the future worse.  Perhaps that time can be made up, but perhaps not.  Recent information on the oceans and coral reefs suggest that any lost time could be fatal, and that it might be game over anyway.

Plans are underway for big Earth Day demonstrations, under the banner of the March for Science.  The climate movement and its leaders (and its mavericks) have done some great things in focusing the topic and bringing it to public attention.  But they've also blown the nomenclature and generally failed to find a way to make the issue urgent.

Everybody understands the basic problems--the climate crisis is (in a variety of complicated ways) almost invisible to most people, and it is (or has been publicized as) a problem affecting the future, not so much the present.  So other stuff gets priority and attention.

There's also growing concern that an onrushing mass extinction event is even more urgent, and it involves a different set of solutions, though the two crises share a lot in cause and effect.

But all that considered, and for all the good things that have been done with a relatively low key approach, or even by not mentioning the climate crisis, this isn't likely to work.  The climate crisis was not an urgent issue in 2016--as it has never been in a presidential election--and so here we are.

I see the p.r. value and the constituency for a March for Science.  It is basic in a way, and certainly plays to the constituency that is already convinced.  Marches pretty much are about how big the choir is that you are preaching to.

Science is a set of tools for addressing the climate crisis.  Science is necessary, and symbolically, it's another way of drawing your line in the sand.  But it is not the main objective.  The main objective is survival.

Until there is an Earth Day March for Survival, we won't be really confronting the urgency of these tasks.

Truth and Consequences

On Monday FBI Director James Comey became the latest official to deny there is any truth to the Homemade Hitler's wiretapping accusation.   That the Dictator Apprentice is a liar is not exactly news.  But now it's official.  One consequence is succinctly summarized by David Leonhardt in the New York Times:

"When Donald Trump says something happened, it should not change anyone’s estimation of whether the event actually happened. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. His claim doesn’t change the odds."

It's also now well accepted that, apart from pathology, the Big Lies as well as all the little lies are part of the authoritarian playbook, which is why they are never withdrawn even when contradicted.  As Paul Krugman wrote: "This administration operates under the doctrine of Trumpal infallibility: Nothing the president says is wrong, whether it’s his false claim that he won the popular vote or his assertion that the historically low murder rate is at a record high. No error is ever admitted. And there is never anything to apologize for."

Krugman sees this also as part of a trend for politicians and others: right wing economists, for instance, who continually predicted dire consequences to everything President Obama did, and never admitted that these disasters did not come to pass.

There's a political psychology to this, which is that the important thing is to keep repeating the lie, and alot of people are going to believe it's true--or why else would people keep repeating it?  Even the people who repeat it in order to say it is a lie, add to the cumulative effect.

Nevertheless, there are two things going on here.  First, the current Republican regime is fumbling and floundering.  Courts have twice blocked its xenophobic travel bans, though Homemade Hitler's immigration and travel police are creating chaos for no real reason.  The FBI is actively investigating unlawful ties to Russia, and so on.  If the heathcare bill that the Rs are rushing to vote on doesn't even get out of the House, that's a thundering defeat.

Second, White House credibility is being shredded.

What will be the result?  The weaker this regime gets, the more likely it will attempt large scale military action, either war against another country or as response to a terrorist incident.

But what happens if nobody believes them?  Then we're in uncharted territory.  

Monday, March 20, 2017


Jimmy Breslin, author and most of all, New York City reporter and columnist, died on Sunday at the age of 89.  He was the Charles Dickens of New Journalism in the 70s, a Damon Runyon who caught the color but throughout his career also championed the downtrodden in substantive ways.

He was a columnist for the New York Daily News when I was writing a half-dozen articles or so for the paper's Sunday magazine.  I worked out of the Daily News offices (and so did Clark Kent, at least when he was Christopher Reeve.) I passed Breslin in the halls and we exchanged greetings.  One of those semi-vicarious moments of feeling like journalists together.

We weren't very much alike as people, journalists, writers, but still... I just re-read one of my articles from those mid 1980s issues, on the New York Lotto game, and it had the kind of street description and interviews, plus the pov and a few low-key flourishes, for which Breslin set the standard.  He was a big personality in New York--he used to be on TV a lot--but he was rightly proudest of being a writer.

Here's a short piece on him from the New Yorker this week; Jonathan Alter's tribute in the same pub;  He was--as I was to a lesser extent--a member of an endangered species that in some senses is already extinct.  Which is not to dispute that he was one of a kind. Alter ends his piece:

There are still columnists and reporters doing great work (especially on Trump since the Inauguration), though not as many are getting out of the office and “climbing the tenement stairs,” as Breslin described the essence of his craft. But, toward the end of his life, I found him surprisingly sanguine about the chances of these human stories surviving the demise of tabloids and being told online. Were he writing now, he would be seeking out stories on the personal consequences of Trump’s health-care and budget plans. And he would tell those stories with a little more fun and a lot more rage.

 May he rest in peace.  His books live on, and his memory.


"There's an African proverb: 'When death finds you, may it find you alive.'  Alive means living your own damn life, not the life that your parents wanted, or the life some cultural group or political party wanted, but the life that your own soul wants to live."

Michael Meade
from an interview in The Sun Magazine, quoted in the 40th anniversary issue, 2014.

Generations Chuck

Chuck Berry begat the Beatles and Stones, and so in the 70s Chuck Berry and John Lennon played together, a not terribly inspiring performance on daytime TV, but still.  Then in the 80s, Berry played some gigs with Stones guitarist Keith Richards (and got into some famous onstage arguments.)  But this collaboration begat a third generation, as John's son Julian Lennon sang the hell out of Johnny B. Goode, sounding like his overawed and nervous father should have in the 70s, with Richards blazing on guitar.  Also check out the audience--the older man somewhat self-consciously responding, followed by the young boy shaking his head in uninhibited joy.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Chuck Berry and School Day Memories

I never liked Elvis Presley.  When he emerged in 1956, I thought he was ridiculous.  At the age of 11 I was possibly not yet hormonalized enough, but in fact I never liked him even after that.  (He did have a good voice, however; something he's not often given credit for.)

There were tunes that intrigued me even earlier, by Fats Domino for instance, that forecast the big change in popular music.  But in 1957 I was ready for rock and roll.  Sixth grade was accompanied by Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Dion and the Belmonts, the Elegants and other do-wop groups.  The first 45 I bought was a guitar instrumental called "Raunchy" by Ernie Freeman in 1957.

In March 1957, exactly 60 years ago, "School Day" by Chuck Berry was released. It wasn't his first hit, but it was the first I remember clearly.  I probably saw him lip synch it on American Bandstand, the Dick Clark program from Philadelphia on TV every school day afternoon.  Or maybe I saw him on the local version on Saturdays, hosted by Pittsburgh DJ Clark Race.  Or probably both.

The tune eventually led off an EP --an Extended Play 45 rpm record--of six songs featured on American Bandstand, and so it was the first Chuck Berry song I owned, and listened to over and over.

The song mixed familiar elements of my world with a kind of (for me) teenage dream world.  It's about a school day, starting off: Up in the mornin' and out to school/ The teacher is teachin' the Golden Rule...

Although my teachers were teaching more rules than that at the Cathedral School. My Catholic parish was still catching up to our Baby Boom numbers, and so my class from St. Paul's was moved for 6th and 7th grade up to the much larger Cathedral School on Main Street, across from Greensburg High School.  It was my first experience with lots of kids (by 7th grade, some of our classes had 60 students, and were complete chaos) and with big school features like a cafeteria.

And Chuck Berry even sang about that: Ring, ring goes the bell/The cook in the lunch room's ready to sell/You're lucky if you can find a seat/You're fortunate if you have time to eat...

The song was basically about school as a pressure cooker (Back in the classroom, open your books/Keep up, the teacher don't know how mean she looks)

Then suddenly there's release: Soon as three o'clock rolls around//You finally lay your burden down/Close up your books, get out of your seat//Down the halls and into the street

And that's where any similarity to my experience ended, and the teenage fantasy world began: Up to the corner and 'round the bend/ Right to the juke joint, you go in.. 

There were no juke joints, or malt shops, or any of the teenage fantasy places we saw on Ozzie and Harriet and other TV shows.  Sure, there were places with juke boxes.  But there was never any place around where kids would dance in the afternoon: The best we could do is go home and watch other kids dance on American Bandstand. All day long you been wantin' to dance,/Feeling the music from head to toe/ Round and round and round we go...

Not that any of us could dance, or could overcome the self-consciousness of being shorter than the girls (who somehow during the summer between 6th and 7th grades, all grew breasts), and with our voices changing and pimples sprouting.  So losing inhibitions and joyously dancing at the juke joint was as much a fantasy world as the world of romance.

Still, I could feel the music, feel that it was particularly mine, and so rejoin Chuck Berry's ecstatic words to end the song: Hail, hail rock and roll/ /Deliver me from the days of old/Long live rock and roll /The beat of the drums, loud and bold/ Rock, rock, rock and roll/The feelin' is there, body and soul.

That was Chuck Berry's subject: the music itself.  From Roll Over, Beethoven to Johnny B. Goode and Rock & Roll Music.

  I think it was Chuck Berry who killed Your Hit Parade, the TV show in which a stable of singers performed that week's top hits.  Dorothy Collins, Snooky Lanson and the others might get through songs about true love and broken hearts, and the occasional novelty song, but there was no way they could dramatize Chuck Berry's teenage anthems to the life of rock & roll.

Chuck Berry was a musical innovator in what he put together: rhythm and blues and country music principally, but he also knew how to construct a pop song.  He said the guitar riff opening to "Johnny B. Goode" was inspired by the Glenn Miller Orchestra opening to "In The Mood."  There were lots of black artists whose songs were hits mostly when recorded by whites.  But Chuck Berry's songs couldn't be imitated.  Only a decade later were there new versions by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, among others.

He had seemingly several careers, popping up with a new hit or playing on TV with John Lennon, never looking or acting much older.  I saw him live at an oldies show in the 70s, when he had his last and biggest hit, "My Ding-a-Ling," not among his best.

Chuck Berry had a strange life, suggested by just one fact: three days after he performed at the White House for President Jimmy Carter, he was locked in a federal pen for tax evasion.  But he had a long life, too.  He died on Saturday at the age of 90.  May he rest in peace.  His work lives on.