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Blood, so much blood.

Did the Syrian civil war begin with George W. Bush?

Who started it? Americans don't like looking back, but when the subject is a war without end and a complete failure to address it, or the damages that continue to mount up internally, the question has a real and present urgency.

All of the wars in the middle east for the past 15 years (and which, by definition of the umbrella 'War on Terror', have no foreseeable end) will forever be the shame of this country. Both political parties, and, apparently, most Americans, have affirmed them and adopted them as their own.

At least to the extent that we have not demonstrated against, or at least vocally opposed these wars from the beginning, and regardless of the fact that we are not the specific, immediate agents of the death and destruction, we are all responsible for their creation, and for their continuing horrors,

This is true also of the formation of ISIS, and the character of the civil war in Syria. The Bush regime's obsession with Iraq, and its decision (with the concurrence and assistance of others inside the country and abroad) to invade that nation, was the fundamental impetus for ISIS, and the continuing civil war in Syria.

In this May, 1915 New Yorker piece, Dexter Filkins makes the connections, but unfortunately he begins with the invasion of Iraq as a given, pretty much absolving the Bush regime of the blame for ISIS and Syrian horrors.

If Bush gets off scot free, then obviously nobody did anything wrong, and nobody is still doing anything wrong.

Shit just happens.

It was conceived as an important visual document, accessible to the public and to institutions, which would describe the faces of a community and a moment whose memory is already fading from our consciousness.

The Kickstarter for the project needs a real boost as it winds down now, with less than three days to go. If the book doesn't get published, I think it will be a genuine loss for activism today.

Of course if it does get published, it won't mean a cure for AIDS. Also, to be sure, "The AIDS activist project: A new book of portraits of AIDS activists from around the globe" is not a vanity project for the artist, Bill Bytsura, or for those members of the historical ACT UP whose beautiful portraits will be a part of it.

Its importance is greater than the authors of the project or the subjects included in the book.

Pictures are important for understanding a past and inspiring a future, but pictures assembled in a context are still more important, and take on a life of their own. ACT UP was a movement which exploded in the late 80s, and burgeoned through half of the next decade, responding creatively, and often heroically, to a life and death crisis which was being ignored by an establishment which appeared to be unmovable.

Its people and the community they formed, along with the AIDS crisis which galvanized them, may be ancient history to a generation struggling today worldwide with an indifference among the powerful arguably even broader in scale - if, perhaps, less deadly. There is much to be gained today from looking at the devices employed, their successes - along with their failures, by a movement which flourished twenty and more years back. There's also the courage and nobility of so many of its members, and the anger and the love which was always a part of the movement.

Bytsura's book would give a face to an entire generation of activists (although in fact people of all ages were included in its membership), and it could serve an entire new generation as both muster to resistance, and powerful inspiration for effective resistance. Please help to breathe life into it, and consider contributing to its publication.

Full disclosure: Billy has been a friend since the days of ACT UP at it peak, and Barry and I have several of his beautiful non-activist photographs in our collection. There is also this portrait of a very young me, at 50, in 1990.

Eduardo Leandro leading members of Ensemble Pi in Kristin Nordeval's "Three Character Studies"

On Saturday Ensemble Pi [Ensemble Π] presented "What Must be Said", its 7th annual Concert for Peace at The Cell, a jewelbox non-profit theater space carved out of the bottom floors of a handsome, early-19th-century Chelsea townhouse. I was delighted to be able to record some images from the concert. By the way, I've decided that the hardest part about photographing performances may be the thing about trying hard not to annoy the rest of the audience.

The evening was one of the most extraordinary and profoundly-moving musical performance events I have ever experienced. The concert was conceived and presented with an intelligence and compassion which intensified the independent merits and beauties of the (seven?) works scheduled. The pieces included were by one writer and three composers all of whose work performed that night, as described by The Cell in its press release, "addresses some of the 'silences' enforced or suggested by governments or the media". All of the works were compelling for their historical and contemporary relevance, brilliant in their composition, and interpreted with consummate elegance by an ensemble which has adopted the most generous of missions.

The collective describes itself as "a socially conscious new music group dedicated to performing the music of living and undiscovered composers", but that description doesn't do justice to the sincerity and bravery of what the group, under its artistic director Idith Meshulam, has been doing for eleven years.

One constant in its programming, perhaps unique among both musical groups and performance venues, is its addressing of serious ideas about which there is not universal consensus even among progressives, and, just as important, the discussion of those ideas. Designed at least partly towards that end are the ensemble's regular collaborations with visual artists, writers, actors, and journalists.

Airi Yoshioka and Idith Meshulam playing Susan Botti's "Fallen City"

On Saturday and Sunday the program began with Susan Botti's "Lament: The Fallen City", for violin and piano, which, the program describes, "reflects upon the fall of Troy as a metaphor for modern cities that have experienced natural or human-made disaster (i.e. Baghdad; New Orleans; Pisco, Peru; or Greensburg, Kansas)". I've never heard some of the kinds of sounds Airi Yoshioka (violin) and Idith Meshulam (piano) were able to produce in this affecting piece, but they were always as eloquent as they were anomalous.

Kai Moser reading Günter Grass' "What Must be Said"

Günter Grass' controversial poem on Israel, Iran and war, "Was gesagt werden muss" [What Must Be Said], from which the evening took its title, was read in German (with an English translation projection) by Kai Moser. Grass has gotten hell for what he wrote, not least because of his earlier, late-life confession that he had been part of an SS tank division (drafted at 17) near the end of the war.

Kristin Nordeval singing "Ask Me", from her "Three Character Studies"

The concert began a transformation into intimate musical theater with the performance of "Three Character Studies", excerpts from composer/soprano Kristin Norderval's opera in progress, "The Trials of Patricia Isasa". Both Emily Donato and Daniel Pincus sang beautifully, Donato in the role of the teenage Isasa, and Daniel Pincus as the federal judge convicted for his role in the torture and kidnapping of many Argentinians, including Isasa. Norderval herself was the superb soloist in the the third section (as the adult Patricia, now a media figure), accompanying herself with some sound processing on her laptop near the end.

This beautiful and very moving piece could be staged as a mini opera on its own right now, and I very much look forward to hearing the completed opera, which will boast a powerful libretto by playwright Naomi Wallace.

a scene from An den kleinen Radioapparat [to the little radio]

from Und es sind die finstern Zeiten in der fremden Stadt [the times are dark and fearful]

the concluding, concentration camp scene, Harte Menschheit, unbewegt, lang erfror'nem Fischvolk gleich [people hard and impassive, like fishermen long at sea]

The evening continued with the premiere of "Eisler on the Go", a beautiful, animated puppet show by the New York collaborative, Great Small Works, on the life of Hanns Eisler. The composer's studiedly-accessible music, his personality and his loyalties, his proletarian activism, and his sad fate (beginning long before he was expelled from the U.S. as a communist), has been something of an obsession for me ever since I first came across his music and his story a number of years ago; I'm very happy to find lately that his fans are now becoming legion.

The tiny-theater show animated three of the most familiar of Eisler's many songs, each sung by Nordeval. They were: "Song von Angebot und Nachfrage", "An den kleinen Radioapparat", and "Und es sind die finstern Zeiten in der fremden Stadt" [the links are to three awesome videos, with three very different performers; enjoy].

After the Puppenspiel Meshulam played the first movement of the composer's "Piano Sonata No. 3" and his "Klavierstück Op. 32 no V and VI", gently bringing the chamber back from the darkness, the anger and the funk - brilliantly.

The program was repeated the following night.

Elihu Vedder Corrupt Legislation 1896 oil on canvas [installation view]

despite the "hot hand" he was dealt, [Obama] represents one of the greatest failures in the history of postwar political leadership - Robert E. Prasch

To the critics of my own recent verbal and written rants, which were nothing when compared to the extended broadsides of a number of much more public and articulate voices which included Glenn Greenwald, Matt Stoller, the Black Agenda Report, and Robert E. Prasch (all of whom have also been badly bruised by angry Obama sectaries):

I won't say that I won't say I told you so.

In fact I started four years ago, repeatedly speaking and writing about the failures of the Obama administration as they unfolded, and what appeared to be the reinstallation of the disastrous regime which had preceded it. Apparently we were considered inconsequential, certainly ineffectual. Many members of what passes today for a Left didn't scream in high dudgeon at me or Obama's many other critics until it was time to decide whether to award our current president four more years in order to finish a nasty job.

If the presidential compaign wasn't just a ruse arranged by a corporate class, the most amazing aspect of the fearmongering we witnessed, and certainly the most telling, is the fact that only four years after Bush Junior there could possibly be any danger from another totally absurd Republican candidate, and from the party which had itself dealt the "hot hand" Obama had inherited. But we've all watched as the ground was prepared over those four years, some of us to great dismay.

Some of my own blog history on the subject of this president:

  • February 4, 2008 (primary time) Should I be embarrassed, reading it now, that this post shows I had clearly been suckered in a bit?: "a vote for Obama is not really a rational choice; it's a vote for a dream"

  • October 28, 2008 (just days before the election) I wrote of my doubts that Obama would do the right thing: "we have nothing but our fragile hopes"

  • November 7, 2008 (3 days after the election) My blog was showing that I was concerned, and the fundamental questions had already begun: "Freedom ain't a tower."

  • November 25, 2008 (3 weeks after the election) I asked whether Obama's talk about hope and change was all fake: "a seemingly inexorable reintroduction of the polices and personnel which created the colossal messes both inside and outside our borders"

  • September 7, 2009 (seven and a half months into Obama's term) I listed 29 (and still counting) separate indictments against the Obama administration: "Obama is a disaster."

  • October 7, 2009 (eight and a half months into Obama's term) I had come to realize our wars were intended as endless wars to prolong war endlessly, and they had now become Obama's wars: "[they] have been programmed from the very beginning to go on forever."

The conclusion is self-evident, so the only question remaining is whether we're talking about incompetence or evil. I can't imagine it isn't both.

Of course critics of our corrupted system, which has tamed and suppressed a genuine Left in the U.S. for at least a century, are nothing new and their voices have not always been uncelebrated. The legendary W.E.B. Dubois became increasingly radical as he aged; late in his life (he was born, remarkably, just after the Civil War, during the Reconstruction Era) he wrote in The Nation about his choice not to vote in a presidential election:

No 'two evils' exist. There is but one evil party with two names.

Introducing its September 4, 2012 post on his "Why I Won't Vote" essay, Black Agenda Report explains: "Dubois condemns both Democrats and Republicans for their indifferent positions on the influence of corporate wealth, racial inequality, arms proliferation and unaffordable health care.explained persuasively why he was not voting in the upcoming 1956 presidential election."

We can hardly do less today.

Dubois himself concluded:

Is the refusal to vote in this phony election a counsel of despair? No, it is dogged hope. It is hope that if twenty-five million voters refrain from voting in 1956 because of their own accord . . . this might make the American people ask how much longer this dumb farce can proceed without even a whimper of protest.

. . . .

I will be no party to it and that will make little difference. You will take large part and bravely march to the polls, and that also will make no difference. Stop running Russia and giving Chinese advice when we cannot rule ourselves decently. Stop yelling about a democracy we do not have. Democracy is dead in the United States. Yet there is still nothing to replace real democracy. Drop the chains, then, that bind our brains. Drive the money-changers from the seats of the Cabinet and the halls of Congress. Call back some faint spirit of Jefferson and Lincoln, and when again we can hold a fair election on real issues, let's vote, and not till then. Is this impossible? Then democracy in America is impossible.

[image from Wikipedia entry, "political corruption"]


ADDENDUM: May Day 2012 actions specific to, or related to, OWS Arts & Labor initiatives

It's in the nature of these events that not everything planned around them can, or should, be known in advance, but the OccupyWallStreet site has extensive information on both 'permitted' and 'unpermitted' actions anticipated in New York City this Tuesday, May Day 2012.

It also includes a link to known actions in some 125 cities around the country.

I don't have a link for actions outside the U.S., but there is this link to an interactive map showing 1400 Occupations across the globe.

All of this of course is just for starters. Expect a very interesting day. The 1% is on the run.

[I can't credit the origin of the flier I photographed and uploaded here, except to describe it as the most minimal - and commanding - of several available in one of the cooler galleries participating in the very cool Dependent Art Fair two months ago]

adding them up

Today marks the end of a full decade for this blog.

As I have been more than a little slow in posting over the past year (probably from having discovered more of the outside world - and of course Twitter), I felt I didn't deserve a real number on this anniversary; instead of a 10 I've gone for three numbers which add up to 10.

I can't predict what, or how much, will show up in the blog over the next year, but It's not going away. In the meantime this is a brief description of its history, in pretty much the same words I used a year ago:

The blog began when, finding myself totally frustrated with the idiocy and brutishness of my country's response to the events of September 11 and feeling almost totally isolated in my disgust, I started sending a series of emails to people I knew well, sharing my thoughts and my anger. A few months later I started, intending it to be a more structured - and more widely broadcast - form for the kinds of unelicited rants with which I had been testing the patience of my friends. It was also intended to include ruminations on subjects in which I thought others might share my interest.

Almost from the start there were entries on politics, the arts, queerdom, history, New York and the world, and within a year they began to be accompanied by images and photographs. Many of the latter have been my own.

April 27 is another anniversary for me, much more precious and infinitely more important than the launch of this modest little blog: I met Barry, my perfect partner in everything (and Wunderkind webmaster) exactly twenty one-years ago today.

[the image is that of the modernist numbers above one of the entrances of the building two doors down from us, a very sturdy structure which incidentally houses the National Office of the American Communist Party USA]

the Karsan V1, with just about everything going for it, really would be the 'Taxi of Tomorrow'

Although the very modern, beautifully-designed, extraordinarily-roomy and fully-accessible Karsan V1 was hailed by New Yorkers (65.5 percent of those polled) as their favorite "Taxi of Tomorrow", the city ended up choosing the least popular entry, the hideous Nissan NV 200, to which Motor Trend's Frank Morris referred, somewhat generously, as "a dorky looking van that's being converted to taxi duty".

New York City initiated the competition in 2007 to find a replacement for the unmourned, unlovely, and antediluvian Ford Crown Victoria. Its Dearborn manufacturer had announced that it would discontinue the vehicle by 2012; otherwise, it's likely we would still be enduring its discomforts and its aesthetic and environmental assaults decades from now, even though it was based on an automobile platform first introduced in 1978.

As it had with the proposals it sought and received for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site, the city ended up ignoring the results of its own vaunted "Taxi of Tomorrow" contest: In the end it settled on the one design most people didn't like; it was also the design which least satisfied the requirements of the commission.

While the Nissan was certainly the most conservative response to an important challenge, in the end it will prove to have been the most impractical choice, and therefore the most radical, given the parameters of the search: Of the three finalists it responds the least well to current taxi needs, and its environmental and accessibility inadequacies, among others, will look be even more grotesque as time goes by. In picking the barely-adequate, ungainly and unlovely Nissan "they" struck out once more, embarrassing New Yorkers who actually care about the city's ability to get things right (both better than and before others do, if possible). And then there are the aesthetics: The brutal, armored-truck lines of the obscene American SUV fetish object seems to have inured even certain New Yorkers to the gross plug-ugliness of this vehicle.

For what it's worth (and in a supposedly post-industrial and post-Wall Street world i think it's worth a lot) the Karsan is the only vehicle of the three finalists which would have been manufactured in the U.S. To be specific, it would have been assembled in the home country, Brooklyn (Sunset Park).

In an article today, the New York Times doesn't seem quite persuaded by Nissan or the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission that a hired French designer can tart it up enough with a special horn, speckled flooring, and altered paint color to get us to think of the bulky Nissan NV 200 as their promised "Taxi of Tomorrow". I don't believe New Yorkers, or at least those paying attention, will buy it, but then I think of those junky Crown Victorias and, more recently, the cramped hybrid sedans, and ridiculous climb-up SUVs we're dealing with now.

I'll leave the French Designer with the last word, pulled from the Times piece, where it is the last word:

"New Yorkers are so used to their cab rides," [Francois Farion of Nissan] said, "that they sometimes forget how it could be better."

the Karsan: roll up your chair, bike, stroller, or hand truck from a built-in ramp on either side

The Ford Europe's Transit Connect is a very decent "Taxi of Today" and some are NYC rides now*

The dumpy, malformed Nissan NV 200, introduced in 2007, is barely even the "Taxi of Yesterday"

the one seen here sighted at Madison Square last October

[first and second images Motoring Dreams; third image blogger's own; fourth image fyidriving]

Galileo Galilei's 1633 recantation: Science did not wait 350 years for the Church's halfhearted apology, and women and queers aren't waiting now

I received a letter today from Robert Niehoff, S.J., the president of John Carroll University, a small Midwestern Jesuit liberal arts university where I matriculated in 1958. The letter was addressed to the university community at large, and I soon learned that it was apparently a response to a February letter written to Niehoff, in his official capacity, by a number of faculty members (approximately a quarter of the total) who were concerned about the Catholic Church's intransigence over the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act of 2010.

I'm not Greg Smith (I've had no connection to my own addressee in 50 years) and John Carroll University is not Goldman Sachs (for starters the school is presumably a not-for-profit institution), so the letter I wrote in response, copied below, will not have much impact on anything. I still want to broadcast it however, because I believe the subject itself is important.

Dear Father Niehoff,

The position of most of the contemporary American Catholic hierarchy on the issue of contraception (an issue which, by the way, I am certain you are aware was virtually unknown in previous ages both more and less benighted than our own), is one which has been manufactured by late-20th-century Catholics and other absurd fundamentalist cults--in an unworthy, nay, disgusting, collusion with opportunistic political neanderthals.

Beyond all reason and, yes, beyond all issues of genuine morality, it is an offensive which, with the possible exception of the Church's virulent campaign against the rights, dignity, and physical survival of hundreds of millions of homosexuals (I count myself within their number), has been singularly, aggressively and continuously prescribed and launched against both its own members and, most grievously, all of those who do not recognize its domain or its primitive postulates.

It is just one of the reasons I have been unable to have anything to do with my undergraduate college for the past half century.

James Wagner
Class of 1962

Niehoff's letter, to which the above text was a response, is reproduced below. The still earlier JCU faculty letter can be read here.

To: The John Carroll Community
From: Robert L. Niehoff, S.J.
Date: March 16, 2012
Re: Religious Liberty and Public Policy

By now I am sure you are aware of the public policy issues surrounding the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act of 2010 and the controversy these new regulations have caused related to Church teachings.

As part of a broad effort to increase access to healthcare for all Americans, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new set of norms for health insurance provided by all employers--including the nearly 250 Catholic colleges and universities like John Carroll. In particular, HHS generated significant attention by mandating contraceptive coverage for all health plans, which many in the Catholic community regard as disrespectful of its teachings and as an infringement on religious liberty.

On February 10, an "accommodation" was announced by the White House stating that institutions like ours would not be required to pay for this new coverage--however, insurers would have to make it available (at no cost) for those within our health care plans.

I want to reaffirm what I have stated publicly, that "our values are important to us, and our religious freedoms are fundamental to our mission at John Carroll University." Further, I have stated that "we share the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' concerns about religious liberty and church teachings, and we will continue to work with them and with other Catholic colleges and organizations toward a constructive outcome with the Department of Health and Human Services."

In the midst of our national debates about public policy and values, there are two key points that I ask all of us keep in mind:

1) The need for civil discourse, which at its core is a respect for those with whom we disagree, is essential to who we are as an institution and our Catholic and Jesuit character.

There are many tensions surrounding this issue. I understand the strong feelings that many have for this particular subject. Let me make it clear that our University must be a place where this issue--like any other--can be discussed in an environment of mutual respect.

2) The public policy situation is far from being resolved.

I am engaged in this national dialogue together with the leadership and members of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU). I continue to stay in touch with Bishop Lennon concerning the conversations between those institutions, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The issues related to the HHS mandate are significant and it is unclear that the mandate can survive the legal challenges, which have already begun. At this time when our nation is engaged in a very politicized election period, this issue--among others--will receive considerable attention. It will be the center of much debate, and various points of view will be presented.

Again, I encourage all to remember that our University is at its best when we engage in a respectful dialogue.

[image from the University of Chicago Press]


Barry and I were a part of a large - but very polite and stunningly geeky - crowd of, eventually, one to two thousand people gathered today (Jan. 18) in Midtown.

We were outside of the Manhattan offices of senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer. Both are co-sponsors of the latest egregious Congressional attack on the Internet, the tech industry generally, and, in its ultimate implications, the basic right of free speech: It's a Senate bill called the Protect Intellectual Property Act, or PIPA. The House has its own version, called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA,.

Both bills were actually written by Hollywood and the recording industry, which together have thrown millions at a Congress whose members have admited that the voters have not actually asked for their personal and quite extraordinary ministrations in this area of critical national interest. If the two houses were to agree on its terms and a bill were signed into law it would essentially mean the corporate privatization of the Internet.

The protest had been called by New York Tech Meetup, a group founded in 2004 to represent professionals from all parts of the technology industry in the New York community. Along with many other sites, Wikipedia and New York Tech Meetup went black today to protest SOPA/PIPA, but in a very quick search I found 1stwebdesigner, only one of many useful sites able to provide information useful especially to those less than completely technically fluent.

Why were we all there this afternoon?

Those of us who use the Internet know the difference between fair use and piracy, but an unrepresenative government owned exclusively by the super rich and the wealthiest corporations - including legacy media - a government which can't figure out how to keep people from being thrown out of their homes, a government which worships secrecy while it engages in torture, wars of aggression, and political assassination, which enshrines gun ownership as something of a Constitutional sacrament while erasing habeas corpus, due process, the rights of assembly and free speech, and prohibitions against indefinite detention without trial, is a government which absolutely cannot be trusted to make the right call if it gains the powers contemplated by SOPA and PIPA.






I'm always excited to see theatrical or dramatic elements introduced into political activism, and sine this was a pretty staid crowd, I was particularly delighted when a man stepped into the crowd near where we were standing listening to the scheduled speakers, unwrap a large stash of blank all-black cardboard sheets, and then quickly distribute them to strangers. Most of them accepted their assigned role in representing conceptually an internet blacked-out by government censorship. Others immediately picked up on the image of blank screens they had formed and whipped out their cameras to capture it. The action's creative director appears in the center of this picture.


Nov 12: outside of Princeton someone stops their car to offer food to the marchers on their way to D.C.

The march from Occupy Wall Street in New York has now arrived in D.C. I expect we will be hearing more from them, although the holiday no one can escape in this country may be responsible for a small delay.

Several days ago NYCmarch2DC posted this long account covering five days of their march from Liberty Park in New York to McPherson Square in Washington D.C. The text had been, as they wrote, "composed by multiple marchers and so contains distinctly different writing styles", but it isn't the different styles which the reader will notice; it's the immediacy and intensity of the different emotional notes struck - from very high to very low - in this very candid narrative of their experiences as they marched between Trenton, New Jersey and Havre de Grace, Maryland.

I should point out that the section of the journal I'm talking about includes the moment in Philadelphia when they learned that the police had destroyed the encampment in Liberty Park. I remember reading earlier, on November 17, this tweet from @NYCmarch2DC: "The majority of us from #OWS are refugees. You can see it in our eyes. We are sad, grieving and hurt. We lost our homes while we were away."

When I first clicked onto the NYCmarch2DC site for what would have been the latest account of the march it was very late at night, and as I started I wasn't sure I wanted to read very far; soon I was pretty sure I'd be going through to the end, but not so sure I wanted to share it with anyone else (it was not entirely an upbeat story); finally, and now sitting on the edge of my seat, I decided that I absolutely had to show it to anyone whom I might persuade to read it. It's that good, and that powerful.

It's like Occupy Wall Street itself.

The strength of its simple odyssean prose, generated by some not-so-ordinary people who represent just one modest segment of the one of the most remarkable movements in modern history, will survive both as a document of a great moment and an inspiration for many more.

UPDATE 11/24/11: NYCmarch2DC, continuing the account of the march all the way to its conclusion, has just uploaded this entry, covering the march from Havre de Gras to D.C.

A footnote: I was educated as an historian in the old century, and I've worried for many years about how that profession was going to cope with our modern distaste for letter writing. I don't worry about it any more; we have the internet.


[image by Stephanie Keith from Flickr]

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