Posts from the ‘U.S. Politics’ Category

Crimea and I

My  “commentary”  on today’s news:  Crimean war and rumours.

 

 

 

Krim i Moi

             2 March, 2014

 

 

I’m scared. Again.

Not as usual, but again.

 

I want to write “September 1, 1939,”

but really don’t even want to think that.

I’d like to hold a candle to Auden,

but not sit in some dive reflecting

on a newish, dishonest jackbooted cybersnooping

Hellfire droning millennium.

 

Do Putin’s crewcut minions wear jackboots? Overcoats?

(Gogol’s usually there when you need him.)

Does it matter that I’m Jewish

and haven’t made a minyan since before

our Iraq war.

 

I sit in a dive my own dining room.

On the table, by tart coincidence:

Inferno…1939-1945 (My dad was there,

barely got singed, unlike mom’s family —  ashes.)

The Collapse of Complex Societies (Do we have time

to fall apart, for global anaphylactic carbon, or will it be

we dinosaurs, monster asteroid, Sakharov cocktail?)

and This Is Your Brain on Music ( O tempora! O B-flat sonata,

Oh neuroscience and Mercedes Sosa.)

 

Munich Potsdam Yalta (There it is: Stalin-Churchill-

Roosevelt in their Black Sea overcoats, Sochi

Olympics just ended another resort. The human race

courting of last resort but for us and our exceptional

President “endangered species” means the middle class.

How quaint. How fatal. An angle

to make the lovely First Lady obtuse.)

 

Budapest, 1956.

 

Forgive me e.e. Cummings and Allen Ginsberg.

I presume to sit in a dive with you and Auden

crying in my beer for Wilfred Owen.

 

Forgive me, my fellow- humans,

one way or another

refried-beans-to-be.

 

Forgive us our trespasses

as we have forgotten how to forgive

those who have institutionalized

their fear, avarice and violence.

Give us this day our vision within

the translucent scrim of lies.

 

For if we can forgive the unforgivable,

we may also forgive ourselves

for the fathomless wound we have made

and allowed fashionable in our name.

Amen. God freaking damn.

World without end

or otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Life, Music… and Difficult Memory

 

 

 

There was a man who kissed me the day we met. He was already 90; his musician wife stood smiling beside him.

 There was a woman whom I never met. One day I saw the words “Music saved my life,” and I knew that we were connected, close. That was this winter. Last week I found a DVD on my disorderly desk, and got to know “The Lady in Number 6” a bit better.

 Harry Jagoda, 100, and Alice Herz-Sommer, 110, both died this week.

 

 

 

 

Lady6PHARRY_J

 

 

 

 Although it visits us all, grief is a strange, strange bird – different at each appearance. Perhaps because I knew neither of them intimately, perhaps because of the Holocaust, I am grieving publicly. Certainly because of music.

 In Italy a lifetime or two ago (few years before I was born) Sgt. Harry Jagoda had an employee named Flory. Her mother, her first music teacher, put her on a train saying Don’t talk with anyone; just play your accordion.

Flory Accordion Her mother’s last words were like a charm. No one asked the charming accordionist if she was Jewish. She made it to Italy. Soon the Gis were presenting their sergeant  with wedding dress, made from a parachute, for his new bride.

 Meanwhile Alice, already a concert pianist, was sent with her son Raphael to the showcase Nazi camp at Terezin. Her husband was put on another train, and disappeared into Dachau. “Every day in life is beautiful,” said Alice a few years ago, in Malcolm Clarke’s beautiful and modest documentary about her life. [ http://nickreedent.com/ ] She had earned the right to say that,  in a way we would wish on no one. Yet her voice rings more true for that.

 My grandmother, no musician, sang songs like the ones Flory Jagoda still sings and writes. One day I will ask Flory if Harry fell in love with her songs, when he fell in love with her. Sixty years later I was fortunate to become a minor voice in that counterpoint of love. Even now, in grief that the rest of us can barely guess at, Harry and Flory are circled’ round with love.

 My grandmother sang “Los Bibilicos” and the other songs because she, like Flory, grew up singing and speaking Ladino, Djudeo-Espanol, the language of those Jews who thrived in Al Andalus (Muslim Spain) and fled the Inquisition at the end of the 15th century. Their descendents were, like my grandmother’s family, thriving in Greece in the 1930s. And in Bosnia like Flory’s family. (When Their Catholic Majesties declared the Expulsion in 1492, the Ottoman Sultan welcomed Jews into his North African and Mediterranean empire.)

 As I said, I am writing this because grief is a strange bird. My grandmother survived a stillborn child, her entire family from Salonika swallowed by the Holocaust, and years later her only granddaughter. But after a minor accident she told me, her only grandson, that she had had enough. She died two days later.

 In 1955, I think, we all shared her one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx. We shared it with a couple from grandma’s home town. I was eight, and I didn’t know what the blue numbers on their arms were for, the tatooes that enrolled them at Auschwitz.

 While my father– another sergeant –served in t North Africa and Italy, the world of European Jews ( like his fathers Polish parents and his wife’s Greek ones) came to an end. Although blissfully or willfully ignorant of that fate, other Americans in 1941 were looking at the possibility that Hitler’s war of conquest would succeed – and maybe that the world as they knew it would also end.

 “You don’t have to be Jewish” to believe in 2014 that are entire world, our planet itself, is in deep danger. Political violence and climate change are both products of human arrogance and domination, that now appear in the clothing of corporatist transnational Power.

 Some will say that to mix politics and personal grief is a sin, a desecration, or at best a sad delusion.

 But I reject all pious complacency, all denial – however sympathetic and understandable –- of the magnitude of our danger. Harry and Alice both lived long, beautiful, life-affirming lives. They chose affirmation as does Flory, in her life and her music. They know at what cost the preciousness of life is maintained.

 They knew and know (I imagine Alice Herz Sommer nodding here) what Franz Schubert somehow composed  before dying at 31. What the young officer and poet Wilfred Owen left us before the last guns of World War I stopped his mouth.

 Goodbye Harry whom I knew for a few mere hugs and kisses. Goodbye Alice whom I knew only as a voice, an image, a smile. Who said we should thank Bach and Beethoven and Schubert for making us happy.

 Through my tears I say thank you Harry Jagoda and Alice Herz Sommer. You are gone and you remain, while we remain.

Lay6cara

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/alice-herz-sommer-concert-pianist-and-holocaust-survivor-dies-at-110/2014/02/26/f3f38f40-9e6a-11e3-a050-dc3322a94fa7_story.html

The Map of Syria: Another Graveyard?

In Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, a ghostly old couple adopt a baby that has been in desperation left in their cemetary. Thus the dead again care for the living – as we must care for the dead. Neither of “us” have done such a good job.

Such were my thoughts after reading Liz Sly’s brutally comprehensive front-page Washington Post piece this morning. on the history of the “map” – political, sectarian, religious – of the former Ottoman empire. After three years of war and no end in sight, Syria is of course the focus.

Here are some quotes taken, but re-arranged,  from the article. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/syrias-civil-war-tests-whether-borders-drawn-less-than-a-century-ago-will-last/2013/12/26/6718111c-68e2-11e3-997b-9213b17dac97_story.html)

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We never had borders…. a long time ago, the French came and drew these lines. —  Mohammed Shamas,  shopkeeper near the line between Syria and Lebanon

If Syria is partitioned, there will be war for 100 years to come. The Alawites will have the coast, the Kurds will have the oil, and the Sunnis will be in the middle with nothing. — Abu Zeid, 37, Syrian refugee.

They made sure when those borders were drawn to maintain trouble between us forever. —  Mohammed al-Jamalhis farm in Syria and Lebanon.

The wars will change, but there will always be wars. — Issam Bleibeh, deputy mayor of Hermel, Lebanon-Syria.

The only solution is to share everything. Abu Zeid.

…it is all very difficult to predict.  Fawaz Gerges, London School of Economics.

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Inaugural

Presidential Politics
 
In 2008 I worked hard to elect him.
In 2009 I was heartbroken,
in 2010 — numb.
In 2012 I “threw my vote away”.
 
On inauguration night, 2013, I dreamed of Barack Obama.
It was anxious, conflicted, and short.
Second chances? Maybe.
But I am again heartbroken,
that even now  my dreams
are strangers to audacity.
 

Limbaugh nabbed by Epic Poet!

Noetic Justice

When Dante Alighieri arrived in the  21st century, he found in Washington one institution, and one fortuitous circumstance, that gladdened his exile’s heart. The institution was the Supreme Court; the circumstance was named Rush Limbaugh.

Dante had become, as ages had passed, saddened by something he had in fact helped popularize: the practice of consigning to Hell persons who were still nominally alive. He also noted that 700 more years had not improved the fruits by which the self-professed pious could be known.

But Dante did not wish to cease passing judgment on the living: He had simply learned a modicum of compassion, and needed a mechanism to temper his judgments. That mechanism was Rush Limbaugh.

Our poet had observed the contemporary practice of tagging everything from transportation to software with the word “express”. Just what he needed, for a world with always-on computers and an always-on news cycle. Thus Rush Limbo was added to the 2009 edition of the Divina Commedia, revised.

What could a master of moral epic do, for example, when conservatives both nerdy (Newt Gingrich) and not (Limbaugh) branded a Supreme Court nominee a “racist”? Or when a journalist (whose writings had dignified a U. S. President ‘s speeches) accused a sitting Supreme Court Justice of  “simplistic pro-choice rant”? And that the objects of both of these slanders were women? Even Dante had to blush.

Dante put Socrates here; the neighborhood has since deteriorated

Dante put Socrates here; the neighborhood has since deteriorated

It is said that God needs merely to think something, for that thought to become reality. Authors claim the more modest capacity to turn their thoughts into books. As much as some citizens could wish to whisk Limbaugh, Michael Gerson, or most of the Republican Senate leadership off to an insane asylum, this is not feasible. (Indeed, liberals had closed many of those institutions in the name of compassion. The ranks of the homeless then swelled with an influx of former psychiatric inmates.)

But neither venomous pundits nor legislators risk homelessness, nor lack of medical care or other material comforts. With poetic justice, however, Dante Alighieri now hustles these malefactors onto the Limbo Express, which takes them almost instantly to the land of the undead, the Rush Limbo, where they can do no further harm.

A Dream Deferred?

Maybe an official of some Asian consulate has read Harold Meyerson’s column on the President’ s untapped army. “A paper tiger,” the bored functionary sighs.

What is... and what should be

What is... and what should be

That reader might be more perceptive than anyone at present realizes.  An e-mail  list is not an army. A year ago millions of people like myself were indeed “fired up and ready to go” knocking on doors,  and telephones,  and credit cards. Electronic networking was a terrific tool for turning ferment  into  political mobilization.  But I believe that Obama’s first six months in office has demobilized —  or at least immobilized — a significant part of his army:

Health care — If a “government option” is the extreme left of the debate (possibly even to be sacrificed through negotiation, and subject to mixed messages from the administration) the battle is already largely lost. Sure I favor single payer, but if it’s not even in the discussion, then the “progressive” side is at the mercy of insurance companies and related forces.

The Economy — The effort and money devoted to saving capitalism from itself dwarfs everything done for everyone else.  ’nuff said on the subject, except that…

War and Peace issues are  proceeding as promised, with a shrinking mess in Iraq and a growing one in Afghanistan/Pakistan. The economics of this “smarter”  superpower warfighting will cripple  progressive domestic initiatives, i.e.,  those that get past the snarls of Republicans, blue dogs, and the lobbyists they pay attention to.

Hope, by its nature, never entirely dies. Obama tapped into and became the symbol of a pwerful impulse. In office, he has blunted it.  Meanwhile the raving Right has increasing become the respectable opposition. This foretells failure at the top and dangerous mass polarization below. I do not want this to happen. But it seems that at this point Obama’s vaunted confidence  has led him into dangerous waters, and perhaps blinded him to necessary corrections of course. Read more…

The Washington Post and Israel

Today’s lead Washington Post editorial rejoices over the withdrawl of the putatively pro-Arab Charles Freeman as appointed head of Obama’s National Intelligence council. As the post now has online “debates” with the editorial board, I jumped in to say “shame on you” to the Post:

First read Post editorials every day, noticing the even tone and careful writing, even on positions you oppose. Then notice the patronizing slop that begins with “latest failed nominee peddles a conspiracy theory” in this editorial

Why? Because all debates start with assumptions of what is reasonable and respectable. And the best “spin” is that which reinforces a desired environment of assumptions.

It is only in the past few years that challenging what the Israeli Government and AIPAC et al. say is good for Israel has become even half-respectable. That is why the editorial can smugly equate the Israel Lobby (supporting muscular democracy — for Israeli Jews) and “Americans who support Israel” (I am one), going on to call Freeman’s statement “grotesque libel”.

And so the usually impeccably dressed editorial board drops its pants on this issue. It’s a good sign that consummate professionals and old-timers like Pincus and Broder can keep their heads — and belts — when the topic is Israel/Palestine.

The real story is a vicious tragedy in which the leaders on both sides embrace arrogance, hatred, and violence. American cheerleading for “Israel” a la the Post editorial makes things worse — but American political support and money have almost always sustained the catastrophe.

Perhaps Freeman meant “change” on this fundamental level. Then perhaps he was unseated by the combination of fear, influence and self-righteousness that can reasonably be called “the Israel Lobby.”

CABERNET OBAMA and the Grapes of Education

Vintage Clinton. Chateau Gates. Estate-bottled Geithner. Finding Obama’s appointments hard to swallow?  Well, take a deep breath and try these for the scoop on Arne Duncan, our Secretary-of-Ed to be:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/12/16/81510/577/681/673600

http://www.truthout.org/011909L

and follow that by looking on Truthout for  Marc Ash’s “Be the Change,” which is probably the last word on where “progressives” now stand ( as I stand inside the rain…), and certainly better than what I could write. But exactly what I’m trying to say.

Peace When?

Hope springs...

Hope springs...

Well, here we are, soon to elect a new President. Among folks I know there are about as many supporting Cynthia McKinney as supporting John McCain. For the vast majority, the question has become How much — or how little — can we expect from an Obama presidency?

That begs the question, How much courage will Barack have to lead? We already have a crisis nearly everyone failed to even imagine — the economy — plus the ones many remain in denial about  — the planet, and war/peace. During the campaign, Obama has not shown that much courage;  many explain this as the compromises necessary for him to get elected.

I reject that reasoning,  even though  my expectations are not too different from those Obama-supporters who use it.  And with apologies to the ghost of Nadezha Mandelshtam, I have to say that the prospects for great things AFTER an Obama victory are a case of “hope against hope”.

But it’s not over until the fat lady sings — and the skinny lady concedes. So I am actively campaigning for my very intelligent and cautious candidate.

All Empires Rise and Fall: How about US?

We Americans think we’re different. Or that even if all empires are mortal that

a) we are not an empire, and
b) there is no reason to think life will be very different anytime soon. Soon is your lifetime if your under 40, otherwise what your kids might live to see.

Wrong on both counts. American democracy has many virtues, but a willingness to forego power, wealth or control has not been one of them. We were flexing muscles in the Spanish-American War and before, but two World Wars and their aftermath proved decisive. After World War II we were content to make pragmatic deals that gave Josef Stalin some latitude for his own (Soviet) empire-building.

But by the time Eisenhower was elected, we had The Global Struggle of Good vs. Evil 1.0. Fighting Communist expansion became the rational for all-out economic war. The Marshall Plan rebuilt — and stabilized —  Western Europe and beyond. But decades before anyone had heard of Salvador Allende, the CIA arranged the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, and so replaced the British in the oily heart of the British Empire.

Attack Iran? Bad idea.

When we talk about terrorists, it’s good to realize that the United States has often played a despicable role in the affairs of relatively poor and small nations. This does not justify or create terrorists, but it provides the environment from which terrorists are recruited, and in which they draw varying degrees of support. It is well worth reading Kinzer’s book and its treatment of  “the roots of Middle East terror” alone, although it also provides serious historical and cultural depth on Iran in general.

Such reading might also allow any non-dogmatic person to understand how fatuous it is for US to make self-righteous demands on the Iranians, about nuclear matters or otherwise.

War. Terrorism. The world economy. The election campaign has been bitterly disappointing with respect to all these issues and more. . Would anyone like to do the homework, a la Kinzer, on why shifting our warfighting  priority to Afghanistan is a poor idea? It’s been done already. Use the Truthout link at the right, or perhaps Google Prof. (formerly Colonel) Andrew Bacevich.

As for the myth of the status quo, it is unfortunate that it’s replacement now (Oct. 2008) is fear of a new Great Depression. Will this be seriously discussed in tonight’s Obama-McCain debate?  ‘Nuff said.

My Own Private Election Campaign

My Own Private Election Campaign

I lost again.
The editorial electorate voted overwhelmingly against my poems.
Most of the rest of the universe was oblivious.
The tolerant few mingled with fewer listeners.

This is the place for the obvious.
Maybe sad, maybe the loss
of something I never had.
But as my TV ad said:

I promise
to do my best
to do my duty
to God and country
and obey the laws of the pack.

I will end garbage collection as we know it
but not garbage.

If nominated I will swerve;
If elected I will run like hell.

I am David Shmavid
and I approve this canard.

Two Poems from the Hedge Fund

*
*
I wrote these  poems last winter. Amazingly, no one used them  to prevent the crisis of credit and confidence among banks and others.

I,  for better or worse, still remain fully invested in poetry/music. I wouldn’t be surprised if David Petraeus, who has a pretty wide-ranging mind, has already read Brian Turner’s  2005 collection,  Here, Bullet.  It’s probably the best report from wartime Irag that we have — but only in the sense that the human race (as opposed to, say,  poets or English teachers) still doesn’t heed the ghost of Wilfrid Owen.

The talented Petraeus  — for better and worse — has a job to do. To do it well, he must even use the long view in service of the short- or medium-term view. Despite the PR, I don’t think he’s a surge type.

My job?  Well make what you may of this. Perhaps thinking of the shorter one as a quasi-synopsis of the longer (first) poem will help….

*
*
Death: The Return

.

Was he ever gone? you ask.

No blame. Who can complain
if worldly characters consume
The Post rather than Prokofiev  or Poe?
Sergei Who? Tu Fu? Anna Akhmatova? We know
of Rwanda, Cambodia, Buchenwaldia,
Stalin and all the rest of the dirty laundry
beneath the suits of tasteless leaders.
Compare us not, they bark, to puny commuters
lost in that Post or worse American idylls.

Worldly. Death
is not as Darfur away as we thought.
Kennst du das land?
It is hiding in your genes, off
the Arctic shelf, and in all the other
usual suspect places. No news there.

You are discerning,
yet you are disappearing
as one by one farmers die,
journalists die, schoolgirls die,
soldiers not one by one, babies,
spiritualists, realists and corporate crooks.
Nor will the irascible Bob Dylan
be with you when the deal goes down.
All the satellite sports channels
will go down simultaneously,
and later all the rest, one at a time.
The remote will lose control.

Things are that bad.
The positioned among us
will hop a plane to Vegas, the crafty
become entrepeneurs of crisis.
Anasazi ghosts will not comment on this.
What will I do?
I cannot say, nor even what I:
My tongue is crusty and when
the aliens come, it will be lunch meat.
I wanted to ask John Coltrane, John Constantine,
and Cavafy, but they too were lunchmeat.

I waited; the bell tolled; John Donne rose up
and yelled songs unfit for a family newspaper.
Death strolled through the renovated town homes
and ghost towns smiling like a realtor, whistling
a tune that Mozart ripped out of his Requiem.

*

*

The Burning of the Moon

.

It was near the end
of the year 2007
of the common era.
(Ay, madam….)

The Tower of Babel had been prologue.
The Industrial Revolution, precondition.

The new common era had begun
with World War One,

reaching a climax
with Polish smokestacks
and mushrooms clouding Japan.
The world did not stop turning.

We are moving on
in common direction,

and still
you be asking
Why is the night red?
Why is the moon burning?

Democracy: We get what we (sort of) deserve

Disclosures

1. For Marc Ash’s essential “Are we ready for change?” use the  Truthout link or http://www.truthout.org/article/are-we-ready-change. My (edited) response appears below

2.  For someone who is more optimistic about how we and Barack Obama may evolve than I am, Nancy Pace’s  thoughtful “epharmony”  can be reached from my Blogroll on the right.

HOPE? Michelle Obama spoke about this….

what should be, from what is

what should be, from what is

.

Now… The Bush administration almost self-destructed in 2004

Dear Marc Ash:

Tanks so much…oops, an honest typo is more real than “reality”.

Besides, you hardly need thanks for your 9-15 piece in Truthout. It happens that I read it after seeing Part 2 of the Washington Post’s excerpts from Bart Gelman’s Angler.  Now all of “us” know that we almost got a self-destruction of the Bush administration just before he was elected to another term. Here’s my summary: The Prez was out of the illegal wiretapping loop, as Cheney led the charge  for uncritical “renewal” of the President’s authority. The director of the FBI, along with the entire leadership of the Justice Dept.was about to resign over this. Bush was saved at the last minute when Condoleeza Rice, herself mostly out of the loop, managed to warn him via a top reluctant resigner, aka a high Republican official with principals. Read the original at

washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/14/AR2008091401974.html?hpid=topnews

You cut to the “real” chase saying we will get from Obama only what we demand. Shakespeare, as usual, got there first, when Hamlet tells a scheming courtier “use every man after his desert, and who should ‘ scape whipping?”

A lot of good it would not do to be “right” about a country that votes against its own democracy and prosperity. I guess I’m just frightened. I’m the guy who thought Obama was good enough to take his cue from people like you, me (included for comic relief) and Cornel West — and the person who thought issues like your “Why 4,153 US Soldiers are dead and tens of thousands maimed for life? Why hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead?” could reasonably be an important part of this election campaign.

But I’m also one of the folks you had in mind when you wrote “Washington is Washington so don’t expect miracles.” Problem is, I’m not sure much less than miracles can prevent a version of what 1911 -1945 represented for so-called Western Civilization. The shadow of nuclear weapons, America as the new bully on the international block, and Dick Cheney have been nightmare enough.

I’m posting this — and inviting the advice of anyone who reads it. How can we help get a President Obama who does not represent the pragmatism and truth-avoidance of the campaign as it now stands. If issues like the basics of the economy or war goals are not seriously debated during the campaign, how will Barack be much more than a useful update on Bill? Granted that is “devoutly to be wished” (Hamlet again) but perhaps far less than an environment-economy-multipolar-world conjucture requires.

Fourth Amendment in Trouble

OPEN LETTER: Obama and the Democratic leadership have ‘compromised’ the Fourth Amendment

I submitted the following “comment” to the Obama campaign on July 9, as well as e-mailing it to a few dozen people.

“Obama/Dem capitulation on FISA:

Unconscionable by any reasonable perspective I can imagine.

Far more disturbing than much other “shift to center” stuff I’m also unhappy about.

If someone like myself concludes (certainly possible by now) that despite all his intelligence and moral depth, Barack has chosen to pair the rhetoric of hope with catastrophic “realism” (only way to get accepted, elected blah blah blah)….

…then its likely that many more centrist or even conservative-but-potential-Obama voters will suspect he is a slick faker, or has shaky principles at best.

If that happens, then his most pragmatic and realistic advisors will not only undermine any serious possibility of change, but perhaps even help elect John McCain in this seemingly most anti-Republican of times.

I hope someone out there is still listening, because there is a completely different way to put this: Barack must LEAD. That does not mean saying things I agree with. It does mean taking certain risks in using the campaign to promote serious democratic debate — about nasty realities from Irag/Afghanistan/Iran/Pakistan to hardcore poverty to uncivil liberties to the planetary economy.

These discussions can not be based on just what people already know, or think they know and believe. The worse things become, the more “triangulation” becomes pandering becomes incompetent (at best) leadership. That I should be raising these questions in reflecting upon the Obama campaign is already a deeply disheartening reality.

Please. How bad must things be before you act from an understanding that “transformation” is not some stupid lost-cause idealism, not some equivocal Clinton-like policy, but where the walk will meet the talk?

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