Saturday, December 20, 2008

San Diego Show, Jan 11.

Omar Torrez and the Stephen Siciliano will perform 'Vedette Does La Danza' at La Gran Tapa in downtown San Diego on Sunday, Jan 11, at 5 p.m and 7 p.m. La Gran Tapa (6th and B streets) is a downtown institution dating back to 1984 with an elegant, woodsy interior, delicious Spanish menu, and a regular stream of performers. We hope you'll join us for a unique presentation.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Chicago Sit-In: Final Take

As "victories" go, severance pay and vacation coupled with two months of health insurance (get sick quick!), it isn't much.

Michael Luo and Karen Ann Cullotta of the "New York Times" finished up what Monica Davey started with her coverage of a sit-in at a Chicago window factory conducted by Local 1110 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of American (UE).

As we noted in "A Resurgence of Things Past," the labor coverage, especially of a factory takeover by an infamous and radical union, is a rarity from our mainstream media and perhaps symbolic of a change in the tenor of the times.

Defrauded by Wall Street's payback for years of fawning coverage, media types seem most fascinated with this new toy of industrial relations the current national troubles have thrust under their noses.

Luo and Cullotta's coverage makes clear that, in the real world, our own goals are usually at odds with those who employ us, because we want more pay for the service we're rendering and they want to hold the remuneration down.

The coverage depicts the ways in which union representation brings a certain degree of clout and specific know-how where waging this venerable battle is concerned.

In the case of Republic Windows and Doors, the company's sly moves toward disinvesting itself of a nearly 50-year old factory and the 250 people who manned it, did not go unnoticed to the untrained eye, according to the piece:

"But a few of the factory's union leaders had been anticipating this moment. Several weeks before, they had noticed equipment disappearing from the plant, and began tracing it to a nearby rail yard."

Luo and Culotta then note that reps from an old industrial gladiator like the UE have specific remedies for just such situations:

"And so in secret, they had been discussing a bold but potentially dangerous plan: occupying the factory if it closed."

And then further application of industrial knowledge expressed by "groove cutter" Melvin Maclin.

"We knew keeping the windows in the warehouse was a bargaining chip."

UE also knew how the workers' peremptory dismissal reduced their options by eliminating any chance to formulate personal survival plans, which played into their hands. To wit:

"I ain't got no other choice," Alexis McCoy, 32, a driver's assistant, said later. "I have a newborn. I have to take care of my family."

Hailed as symbols of something larger afoot in the land, the workers said all they wanted was what they had coming to them under the law: 60 days severance pay and earned vacation time.

So they took over the factory and the negotiations began.

The company's Chief Executive Officer, Richard Gillman, "demanded that any new bank loan to help the employees also cover the lease of several of his cars -- a 2007 BMS 350xi and a 2002 Mercedes S500 are among those registered to company addresses -- as well as eighth weeks of his salary, at $225,000 a year."

To quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me..."

The UE people did not know that the factory's owners had set up a new company and purchased a window and manufacturing plant from Red Oak, Iowa, where it planned to employ 102 nonunion employees.

The news about the cars and the new plant were not common and widely available knowledge, but the result of good investigative reporting.

highwayscribery would like to point out that this kind of thing -- justice, in a name -- happens when two endangered civic institutions, unions and the American newspaper, thrive.

So the whole sit-in/takeover thing resulted in something of sorely needed triumph for organized labor and a updated primer for many beleaguered Americans on the virtue and uses of trade unionism.

The "Times" asked Bob Bruno, director, labor studies, University of Illinois at Chicago, to put it all into perspective:

"If you combine some palpable street anger with organizational resources in a changing political mood, you can begin to see more of these sort of riskier, militant adventures, and they're more likely to succeed."

That remains to be seen.

Mr. Bruno's perspective is a somewhat, shall we say, Ivory Tower one. the highway scribe can say so because he lives and works in the Tower, too.

Here's a crucial paragraph explaining why things went the way they did instead of the way they usually go:

"Local politicians discouraged the police from arresting the workers [the usual] Exasperated company officials decided not to press the matter as the news media began arriving in droves" [the unusual].

the highway scribe thinks the mass media is less likely to hop around from factory sit-in to plant takeover if this sort of thing becomes epidemic.

He would also note that, as we were recently reminded, Chicago politicians are somewhat a breed apart and replication of their response to the sit-in should not be expected elsewhere in the country.

"The Times" never did get into the UE's more radical-than-thou-history and communist pedigree, but maybe that's a good thing. Maybe had they done so the scribe and other laborites would be questioning the relevance of a union's politics from 60 years ago while accusing the reporters of red-baiting an honest-to-goodness effort.

In all, the coverage was certainly welcome and even over-generous to the workers, whom are pictured above, in declaring them "victorious."

For theirs was the kind of victory we treasure in our mediatic culture: victory in the arena of public relations, because of the way we reduce all things to products for consumption whether they be a blender, a book, or a strike.

The strikers' "story" sold better than the malicious management team's and so they gain the trophy.

But true victory would have involved a company commitment to close the new plant it purchased and which we can only assume still represents its near future.

A true victory would have involved Bank of America ponying-up some of the money it had received in the federal bank bailout to relieve existing management's crushing financial problems.

Or better still, it might have financed a new worker-owned (gasp!) and run entity at the same location.

Those workers clearly know what they're doing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

highwayscribery launches "Vito's Page"

Today is the birthday of former Rep. Vito Marcantonio. Today the scribe launches a My Space page to commemorate the great man. highwayscribery has written about Marcantonio as part of a series known as "Vito Says..." wherein the progressive congressman's mid-twentieth century political positions were linked with issues of relevance today.

The page is meant to serve as what they call a "platform" in the book business for the scribe's upcoming fictionalized account of Marcantonio's life, "The Goodfather." The platform is a way of identifying and contacting potential markets, sales "positioning," and general public relations for the project.

For now there is some basic information about Mar, a great series of photos, and blog re-posts of "Vito Says..." Later, as they are ready, chapters from "The Goodfather," will be deposited on the site.

"Vedette Does La Danza" and London

"Vedette Does La Danza" has placed second in the "audio books" category" at the Do-It-Yourself London Books Festival. It is the second kudo in as many months. The flamenco-infused spoken word/musical presentation of the scribe's novel "Vedette," to cuts from Omar Torrez' albums "La Danza en Mi Corazon," and "Dynamisto," won the "abridged fiction audio books" category in the USA Book News Awards contest last month.

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Resurgence of Things Past

The winds of political fashion are not so whimsical as those that blow the hemlines of the apparel industry up and down, but they are more enduring and significant.

About two months ago, an online personality at the writers community This Is By Us, who goes by the handle of Xigent, took the time to watch a video presentation of "Vedette Does La Danza."

Among other interesting and kind things Xigent had to say about this musical/spoken word collaboration with Omar Torrez, was "Attendance to performances like these will really pick-up considerably during the coming Depression, you'll see."

What seemed a light-hearted quip about our nation's dire economic circumstances turned out to be prescient. Daily plays at the "Vedette Does La Danza" My Space page have jumped considerably of late.

"Vedette," the novel from which all this musical material is drawn, is essentially the tale of young flamenco singer's engagement with anarchists (of the kind pictured) who assume control of the town in which she lives at the Spanish Civil War's outset.

It is full of direct action politics including an attempted takeover of a rich bullfighter's ranch, the declaration of free love in an Andalusian village, collectivist experiments, and atheistic tropes, all of which left the highway scribe sitting, in literary terms, where he sat for years regarding things political...

... way outside.

Back in February we posted "highwayscribery on Super Tuesday" a full-throated endorsement of then-Sen. Barack Obama.

There was nothing novel in this. Since he was old enough to vote the scribe has backed the leftish guy in the Democratic Party primaries (Ted Kennedy '80, Jesse Jackson '84 and '88, Jerry Brown '92) only to suck it up, hold his nose and pull the lever for the likes of Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and yes, Bill Clinton, in the general elections.

Then a weird thing happened. the scribe's first choice won the nomination and then, to his complete and enduring shock, the general election.

Clearly something had changed in the American psyche, which is very closely linked to its wallet. So much so that sales of "Vedette" actually began to pick up. They are not mass sales, but they are much better than zero and unlike anything enjoyed before.

Which brings us to the sit-in by union factory workers in that city du jour, Chicago.

Monica Davey of the "New York Times" reports that some 250 workers at Republic Windows and Doors have begun to stage a sit-in of the type favored by Vedette's comrades, after learning their jobs were being terminated... with three days notice.

There are class rumblings in all this that are related to the ever-growing distance between rich and poor in this country.

For some 30 years now it has been fashionable to declare the antagonism between classes an historical oddity substituted by dreamy soft-sells like the Bush administration's short-lived "ownership society" or the popular "team concept" of industrial relations hatched in Japan and imported to American projects like General Motor's "Saturn."

Not that class warfare is a good thing or its termination undesirable, but the unrelenting greed of international capitalist class did everything it could to fan the dying embers and now we've got the desperate poor resenting the extremely well-heeled across a divide once occupied by the conflict-absorbing middle-class.

The result is events like the Chicago sit-down, which is a plant takeover by any other name, where the workers, according Davey's piece, are not buying claims the decade's-old company is in financial straights, "and they suggested that it would reopen elsewhere with cheaper costs and lower pay."

There's ample precedent for this thinking, of course.

Which brings us back to the President-elect. There has been some hand-wringing of late in progressive circles as Obama casts about for people with experience in the business of government and settles upon a number of Clinton holdovers.

But asked about the plant takeover in his hometown, rather than dredge-up tired bromides about the rule of law and imply police action in private property's defense, here's what Obama said:

"The workers are asking for the benefits and payments they have earned. I think they're absolutely right and understand that what's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across the economy."

As a long-time and professional observer of labor relations in the United States, the scribe can assure you that Obama's position represents change of the most dramatic kind.

How important are his pronouncements?

President Bush made it clear that whatever you have at the top, such as disdain for democratic traditions, you have throughout the government, and ruling cliques the nation over.

And so, picking up on the President-elect's position, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) said the state would do no more business with Bank of America until it restores credit to Republic Windows and Doors.

Davey is doing a nice job of covering the sit-in, but she may lack experience covering American labor.

the highways scribe, who does not, can tell you that the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America - "UE" to those in the know - are an old and radical left-wing union thrown out of the Congress of Industrial Organizations in the 1950s for its alleged communist ties.

the scribe covered their convention some 20 years ago, a time of yellow-dog contracts and picket-line retreat everywhere, and was quite taken aback at one UE leader's threat that, "We can and will do economic harm to any employer who thinks the Bill of Rights ceases to apply once one of our members passes through the factory gates."

Later, the delegates at that same convention enjoyed an address from a leader of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union , which shared a like pedigree, and whom spoke on "The Meaning of Left-Wing Unionism," fondly recalling the rate of syndical affiliation during the "New Deal."

"It was a thing to behold," he waxed nostalgiac.

The resurfacing of such groups and sentiments are the kinds of things that happen when the powerful lord too much over those who have not, pry away hard-earned things, and back them into corners.

This Is By Us, by the way, is closing February due to lack of advertising revenue.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Kudos for "Vedette"

First of all, the highwayscribery would like to announce his return to blogging after a post-election respite. There is much to comment on in this tremendous and amazing world we've created and the juices are flowing anew. the scribe took a break after the Obama triumph not to recharge so much as to work on his journalism job ($), research a new novel about Vito Marcantonio, and read a bunch of books.

Speaking of books, we told you some time ago "Vedette or Conversations with the Flamenco Shadows had been recipient of an Eric Hoffer Award, which was an honor except for when they threatened him for posting a "copyrighted" picture of Hoffer on highwayscribery.

But that's all in the past.

The Hoffer people put out an annual collection of "Best New Writing" and the 2008 edition says of the novel:

Siciliano's "Vedette" is a fantasy, brilliantly intertwined with the myth of flamenco and the history of the Spanish Civil War. Vedette is part Lolita and mostly a survivor, and much to the author's credit, her story is told in shaded points of view that only increase the mystery. Like the people she supposedly haunts, Vedette's story frequents your thoughts long after reading.

All of which we are totally in agreement with.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Being Right from the Left

The purpose of this blog has always been to write what the big boys would not write.

It was a task born of media obsequiousness during the deepest darkest days of the Bush administration when no one dared point out the emperor's nakedness.

highwayscribery was a way for one angry leftist scribe to find catharsis while using the leveling and democratic graces of the Internet to disseminate a counter-message.

So with the whole world spewing ink about Barack Obama, we abandon our mission by doing the same.

Forgive us.

highwayscribery's particular stake in the Obama candidacy is obvious and the few regular readers we have accumulated during three-plus years of blogging will come looking for the particular flavor we sell here.

Obama has been a favorite since "Dreams of My Father," was reviewed circa June 2006, wherein we expressed our pleasure at the excellence of the writing and subtle thought that curious book proffers.

We correctly foresaw new American realities that would reveal themselves throughout the election year in "Considering Barack Obama."

We wrote with urgency about the need for the change then-Sen. Obama represented in "highwayscribery on Super Tuesday."

Blogging's promise was fulfilled with "Kristol's Ball," which involved a single-handed, successful campaign to get a crucial "correction," announced in the conservative columnist's "New York Times" piece, applied to other newspapers where it had been syndicated.

In the campaign's most perilous moment, the overblown "Jeremiah Wright controversy," the scribe wrote with passion, desperation even, against the concerted effort to bring down this uncommon man in "Damning Ourselves."

One hundred dollars were given in dribs and drabs thanks to the campaign's unique technology that took any size contribution, through the Internet, especially when the news seemed bleak and the cause needed a bucking-up.

Eyes on the prize of real change, we criticized the Illinois senator's vote to expand domestic spying as a form of counterterrorism in, "Obama: Wrong of FISA," as no change at all.

But in the end, it seemed the country was lucky enough, for once - all cultural considerations aside - to have the smartest guy in the room offering his unique services.

And we think that is what swayed the election.

But the economy, or Iraq, large as they are, seem mundane before the size of our nation's accomplishment.

It is an accomplishment rooted in self-correction. A demonstration to the rest of the world that we agree with them; that we recognize how our country has been a rogue idiot and how they have paid the higher price.

It is an accomplishment as demonstration; demonstration of the ways in which we have changed, matured, and evolved as a nation.

We do not wave the flag often here, but we do so today. There is hardly a country on this planet that has force-fed itself the consideration of ugly issues associated with native racism and come out smelling quite so good as the Unites States of America.

Yes world, our president is your president, and for once we have synchronized your interests with our own. We have imprinted a new American icon.

Relate to us through him.

Most touching of all is the immeasurable effect upon the black community, which has been, unwillingly at first, a part of the American story for over 400 years.

"Immeasurable" because there was no black citizen, asked following Obama's victory, who did not begin their remarks with, "It's hard to find the words..." "Words escape me..." "It's hard for me to explain what I'm feeling..."

Words, of course, were not necessary where faces glowed, eyes shimmered with tears, and shoulders slumped as if relaxing from a centuries-long struggle.

Finally, and back down on the cold, hard ground, there is the satisfaction of having been right.

Twenty-eight years ago, in a college dorm room at Old Dominion University, this budding scribe watched America make a philosophical decision that had its apotheosis in George W. Bush's unfortunate 2004 reelection.

The ensuing era saw the likes of worthwhile public servants with names like Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry, and two future Nobel Prize winners Gore and Carter, skewered upon the altar of anti-intellectualism and a politics that stopped at the border between the individual and everybody else surrounding.

It was an era in which government pulled out of a handshake first offered the common man by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

It was an era that redistributed income upward as if it were morally correct. An era which decimated unionization and that crucial element to industrial democracy - the most relevant kind of democracy - collective bargaining.

It was an era that tore the country apart with its support for war over talk in every instance, in its elevation of the rural over the urban, in its consecration of base emotion against reasoned logic.

An era that is over.

Congratulations America, congratulations world.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Audio Book Award to highwayscribery and Torrez

Stock market goes down, scribe goes up (sort of).

"Vedette Does La Danza," a musical/spoken world collaboration with guitarist Omar Torrez based upon the scribe's novel "Vedette" has been named sole, top, and singular winner of the USA Books News Award in the "Audio Book Fiction Abridged" category.

The contest is one of the more substantial ones open to independent and self-publishers, largely because it is not restricted to those sectors of the publishing industry, but includes the big boys, too.

In spite of his complete anonymity and neglect as a writer, the scribe would like to take five minutes before picking up the kid from kindergarten and starting to prepare dinner, to note that he's had a pretty good year with "The Sidewalk Smokers Club" novel placing in the Los Angeles DIY and London Book Festival contests, and "Vedette" being designated a 2008 Hoffer Award winner.

Torrez, for his part, has just finished a successful tour as guitarist for entertainer extraordinaire Tom Waits.

the scribe had coffee at Omar's Venice, Calif., digs last week and learned of the impact that Waits' genius had upon him and you can hear it at Omar's My Space page in the reworked "St. Vladimir's Cross," "Dog Heart," and the new "Fishin' Hole."

Here is a cable television production of our work together in the award-winning "Vedette Does La Danza."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Colin Powell does not have a lot of friends left, but last Sunday he spoke to those who remained.

The value to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) of the former Secretary of State's endorsement has been much debated the past few days.

highwayscribery submits that those debates miss the rather totemic importance of what Powell did.

Endorsements are probably overstated in terms of their impact. Powell's served mostly as another nail in a coffin that will never be quite closed until all the votes are really counted, because the corpse it carries is Republican.

The Secretary's Sunday morning talk show intervention had a value richer than any resulting impact on the electoral ebb and flow.

Mr. Powell's speech was directed at the only people left who believe in him, because they still believe the Iraq war was the right thing to do, and because they still believe that George W. Bush's presidency was an excellent one sabotaged by a revolt of the egg-heads.

Mostly discredited, first by a turn as lackey in the sell-job the administration tried and failed to dump on the United Nations, and second, by his ensuing impotence before the craven drive of Messrs. Cheney and Rumsfeld, Powell still has a red state constituency.

And what he did on Sunday morning was take that constituency to task for ignorance demonstrated throughout the presidential campaign (and before).

We reach this conclusion by paraphrasing, which is nothing more than saying what somebody has already said...a different way. More interpretation than science it is yours to agree or not.

Powell told his party pals that they were traipsing the borders of stupidity by conflating an association between William Ayers and Barack Obama to some alchemical point where the latter became a terrorist sympathizer (if not one himself).

He reminded them that you are not untrustworthy by virtue of the fact you are an Arab and that those like the lady who stood up at a McCain rally to announce her distrust of Obama because he's "an Arab" are not thinking very inclusively, democratically, or, well, intelligently.

Pretty basic stuff, yes, but losing elections, lust for power, or the refusal to admit errors can make people say some pretty dim things.

Powell reminded the country-firsters that they are not the only Americans by virtue of their Christianity, white skins, or small-town addresses, nor do they top any list of purity because of these traits.

A Muslim who lies in Arlington National Cemetery, he seemed to say, has a greater claim to the title "American" than the jingo-jangle crowd rattling at the tail of McCain's campaign.

He used the language of reason and logic, something to which his last followers appear inured. And Powell used it to highlight the absurdity of a certain Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann's (R) remarks about "anti-American" legislators in the United States Congress.

Powell put an end to his own collaboration, by party association, with Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh, and FOX News, and everybody else who thinks there is only one kind of American - the American they understand themselves to be.

It was an admonishment.

It was a cry that enough is enough. That no matter how much they reject Obama's challenge to join in a national healing, the challenge remains, and that real Americans will heed it, not for Obama's benefit, but for their own.

One can only hope they listened.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

McKeating: The Creation of Trust and Its Betrayal

The Obama campaign has pulled a slickly produced video out from its bag of tricks, which takes us back to the great savings & loan failure of the late 1980s.

It is a simple production that wraps Senate Ethics Committee hearing clips - featuring a younger John McCain - around an interview with William Black.

Black was a regulator with the Federal Home Loan Bank Board from 1984 to 1994; an appointee of Republican President Ronald Reagan.

He does a fairly straightforward job in laying out the process by which over 700 financial institutions failed. The taxpayers, of course, picked up the tab.

Sound familiar?

The central figure was, in the words of Black, a "very nasty and fraudulent man" by the name of Charles Keating.

Keating took exception to a new federal rule prohibiting the direct investment by savings & loans in property, because it limited his ability to play with the money regular citizens had entrusted to his Lincoln Savings & Loan.

Keating was on the hook for "control fraud" - looting his savings & loan - to the tune of over $615 million.

Fraud is defined by Black as, "the creation of trust and its betrayal."

It's not a labyrinthine, complicated story. Keating gave a lot of money to five legislators, including McCain, and then asked them in a private meeting not to enforce the direct investment rule against him.

Black describes the two men as "confidants and mutual political supporters." McCain received $112,000 over a few years from Keating along with paid vacations for his family in the Bahamas.

You could probably fill in the rest, but anyway, the senators at the meeting caved to Keating, the problem spread, and the crisis went nationwide. The government, or you (depending upon your politics), applied a $3.4 billion band-aid.

Said Black: "Sen. McCain knew the facts because we briefed him. He knew this was a criminal enterprise. He knew that what was being done was improper. He knew how much undo pressure his words brought to bear. He was uniquely in a position where he could have protested this. Stopped it. Stopped this loss. But he did nothing."

Now, this is certainly a backward reach for a campaign of "Hope" and "Change." It is certainly the "old" brand of politics Sen. Obama rails against.

But with the unfortunate Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) squeaking about the "unrepentant domestic terrorist" William Ayers in a desperate effort to distract the electorate from its own economic woes, the Obama campaign was not interested in doing the John Kerry noble loser thing.

It's tit-for-tat and it's working. For every dutiful parroting of Palin's charge by the media, which was predictable, there is an equally slavish mention of the Keating Five, which on the whole, is a more severe indictment of McCain's judgment than the Ayers flap is to the Illinois senator's.

That certainly was the conclusion of the Senate Ethics Committee's report. which said, and we quote, McCain had demonstrated "bad judgment."

McCain is saying this was all a long time ago.

Not as long ago as Bill Ayers' turn with The Weathermen.

Monday, October 06, 2008

"Comics Trip": a poem by highwayscribery

Tore off a hit of Superman
stuck it under my tongue
flew a krypton dreamworld
concentricities around the sun

Were I not in the
armchair of my father
no farther than the living room

Silver Surfer slaked
his thirst for thrills
downskiing our worn
rug stairway.

Flexing himself heroically
for the queen
of the airway
still Lois Lane loyal
to that man who said
"fly me"

the original
under my tongue

"Golly Clark you must be spent!"

"No, not with
friends like these:
Aquaman, Drabble, Judge Dread and Hulk.
It’s allies Jimmy

That’s the bulk of the matter
in the philosophy of
the way out
comics trip."

At dinner Dad said there were
no more heroes
that Plato, Aristotle and Homer
were all dead.

Maybe he just doesn’t
Hidden in the funny pages
are this age’s sages.

And in class the teacher
she scolds me a daydreamer
I retort with hypernatural tongue:

"What is this noncommital
dreamscape fluff you’re
showing me? This little boy
‘see Scott run’ stuff?

"Get your head out
of the clouds and
take a gander.


"Follow me now and
my superfriends somewhere
over uncharted domains of

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Palin's Perils: A Literary Analysis

"Has the country sunk so low that the likes of Sarah Palin would come within a heart's beat of the presidency?"

You've heard this talk in recent weeks, even if you're on the conservative side of the aisle.

the scribe's mother is mortified "this woman" has risen to the undeserved station she has in the blink of an eye.

And to be sure, there has been no shortage of articles in recent days laying out the depth of
Palin's Perils, the Republicans' great Palin panic, and other devastating judgments as to Lady Alaska's suitability to govern at the highest level of the nation, indeed, the planet.

Has the talent pool sunk so low, the American public so numbed by political advertisements, the Republic so frayed that only intellectual maladroits of the Bushian ilk can deign to lead us?

If "Democracy," a classic from Henry Adams, is any indication, we're rising to our natural level and being true to our bluest nature in election season.

highwayscribery picked up "Democracy" after George Will mentioned it in a great tete a tete with Stephen Colbert about six weeks ago.

Will's plug was not the first to which the scribe has been exposed, but he was late in getting around to it thanks to a vague confusion regarding the James and Adams clans: the very same Adams(es) that brought you a great HBO miniseries and John Quincy.

But you don't care about that. What you care about is the way in which this depiction of post-Civil War Washington D.C. informs our present-day reality.

So here's the set-up: A prairie statesman, a senator from Illinois by the name of Ratcliffe, is robbed of his rightful place at the top of the party ticket by some convention machinations that elevate an unknown from Indiana in his stead.

Ratcliffe's enemies, Adams writes, "had laid aside their principles and set up for their candidate a plain Indiana farmer, whose political experience was limited to stump-speaking in his native state, and to one term as governor. They had pitched upon him, not because they thought him competent, but because they hoped by doing so to detach Indiana from Ratcliffe's following, and they were so successful that within fifteen minutes Ratcliffe's friends were routed, and the presidency had fallen upon this new political Buddha."

Sound familiar?

Today, of course, conventions are done-deals so that, McCain, upon arriving in Minnesota, was already playing for the general election. He pulled the Palin card in an effort to "detach" Hillary Clinton's female supporters from a surging Obama, while reaping the added benefit of "changing the conversation" and denying this contemporary Illinois senator his moment in the news cycle sun.

The move seems to have garnered short-term benefits at the expense of McCain's long-term chances at the presidency.

But Back to "Democracy."

The Indiana governor, prior to engaging politics, had worked as a stone-cutter in a quarry. And this fact is trumpeted as virtue; a vocation separate and distinct from the lowly crafts practiced in the nation's capital, much in the way Palin's commitment to
moose murder was sold as a mark of distinction between herself and your run-of-the-mill vote-chasing lawmaker.

Among the press-ready monikers lavished upon the newcomer were "The Stone-cutter of Wabash," "the Hoosier Quarryman," and "Old Granite."

The other party, and what passed in those days for the "liberal media elite," attacked Old Granite's resume as insufficient to the high-stakes game of national politics, "But these violations of decency and good sense were universally reproved by the virtuous; and it was remarked with satisfaction that the purest and most highly cultivated newspaper editors on his side, without excepting those of Boston itself, agreed with one voice that the Stone-cutter was a noble type of man, perhaps the very noblest that appeared to adorn this country since the incomparable Washington."

That's nineteenth century straight talk for the coded marketing-speak associated with Palin's ability to "connect" with the regular, good, and"hard-working" people of our morally infallible country.

And like Palin, the Hoosier Quarryman was willing to buy the campaign swill put forth on his behalf.

"Owing nothing, as he conceived, to politicians, but sympathizing through every fiber of his unselfish nature with impulses and aspiration of the people, he affirmed it to be his first duty to protect the people from those vultures, as he called them, those wolves in sheep's clothing, those harpies, those hyenas the politicians; epithets which, as generally interpreted, meant Ratcliffe and Ratcliffe's friends."

But what happens next is that the Stone-cutter of Wabash finds himself in over his head.

"No maid-of-all-work in a cheap boardinghouse was ever more harassed. Everyone conspired against him. His enemies gave him no peace. All Washington was laughing at his blunders, and ribald sheets, published on a Sunday, took delight in printing the new Chief Magistrate's sayings and doings, chronicled with outrageous humor, and placed by malicious hands where the President could not see them."

Overwhelmed with public business he turns to...

...Ratcliffe and "breathed more freely than for a past week."

The prairie statesman relieves his burden to an extent that surprises the erstwhile reformer who had come, ostensibly, to shake-up Washington:

"[Ratcliffe] knew everybody and everything. He took most of the President's visitors at once into his own hands and dismissed them with great rapidity. He knew what they wanted; he knew what recommendations were strong and what were weak; who was to be treated with deference and who was to be sent away abruptly; where a blunt refusal was safe, and where a pledge was allowable."

Sound familiar? If not, here's a hint: (Dick Cheney).

In 10 days Ratcliffe has taken control of a government, with the title of Treasury Secretary, that was elected to tame him.

highwayscribery has yet to finish "Democracy" and would not normally issue one of its famed "Book Reports" prior to completing a self-appointed duty. But tonight is the debate between vice presidential candidates and the piece seemed timely.

And while Henry Adams may yet have a surprise in store, the scribe felt the tale told in "Democracy," seemed exceedingly, well, familiar.

It's not easy to get "experience" at leading companies, newspapers, and countries. But as "Democracy" makes clear, the stories of our world and the things we think so new in it, are to be found in the great books, and perusing them is the next best thing to a hands-on schooling.

That's why making a blessing of Dame Palin's intellectual shortcomings represents something of a double-whammy, because she is doubly inexperienced in the ways of the world: first of action, and then of contemplation.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Vito Marcantonio: Civil Rights Pioneer

There is a kind of joyous amnesia to our measuring Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill) expansion of the electoral map for his usually hapless party, to the daily, cool dissection of his potential for governance.

Not long ago, only months ago perhaps, such considerations seemed most unlikely.

Still longer ago, 1902 to be exact, a kid was born in New York City who became infected with the idea that African-Americans were entitled to the same rights as everybody else. The odd thing is that the kid was Italian-American.

Vito Marcantonio grew up in the crowded slums of East Harlem and, at the age of 18, stunned a guy named Fiorello LaGuardia with a speech in defense of government protection for the aged.

LaGuardia, “the Little Flower” would eventually become mayor of New York. “Marc” would graduate from NYU Law School and eventually assume LaGuardia’s congressional seat, representing that same East Harlem district, earning his own sobriquet, “the Bread of the Poor.”

Penning a pamphlet for Marcantonio’s 1946 reelection campaign, writer Howard Fast urged voters to, “love him for the enemies he has made. For there is no better assessment of Marc than to catalogue his enemies.”

Chief among them was a Mississippi Republican, Rep. John Rankin, who in 1943 accused Marcantonio of, “harassing the white people of the Southern States,” with his “rump organization,” the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC).

And it was true.

Aiming to root out discrimination in hiring and industrial relations, Marc first introduced FEPC in 1942 and continued to do so, year in, year out.

The FEPC, Marcantonio said on the House floor in 1950, began with the establishment of slavery in America, a struggle evidenced in the Declaration of Independence and the claim that all men were created equal.

It was a claim, he said, that had been “whittled away” by newfound profitability in sugar and cotton, and finally the Dred Scott decision which, “stated that no Negro had any rights that any white man must respect. Today this doctrine is the real basis of white supremacy, utilized again for the exploitation of the Negro people.”

FEPC, he said, “is the emancipation proclamation in the industrial life of the nation.”

Although his constituency was largely Italian and Puerto Rican, Marc’s greatest efforts were in the area of civil rights.

He introduced the first anti-poll tax bill in 1942 and did so every year he served. He proposed legislation barring discrimination against blacks in the military, offered amendments prohibiting race-based discrimination on projects funded with federal monies, and supported Adam Clayton Powell’s legislation calling for desegregation of public facilities in the nation’s capital.

In 1945, he sponsored a resolution directing the Secretary of Commerce to investigate the employment practices of major league baseball and determine whether it was discriminating against African-Americans; paving the way for Jackie Robinson’s ultimate triumph.

“I know a lot of people are annoyed and disgusted that Marcantonio should be repeatedly offering these civil rights amendments,” he said in 1950, “but I am going to keep on offering them as long as I am here and until we win this fight; because I conscientiously believe, and it has been my guiding political philosophy, that no white man is free in America as long as the Negro is subjected to discrimination and Jim Crow and segregation.”

Jazz great Sonny Rollins recalled, “Coming from the neighborhood, there was also a Communist person who was a big hero in our house, Vito Marcantonio. He was a Communist, and he came from that part of Harlem, Italian Harlem. Vito Marcantonio was a very liberal person. See, these lines are blurred, because to be in favor of treating a black person as an equal, some people would say, ‘Oh well, he’s a Communist,’ automatically. This is the thinking that prevailed, as you know, in many parts of the country. Vito Marcantonio was great, and he was from where we went to school, that area.”

Others were rarely so kind. In its Oct. 25, 1948 issue, Time lamented the fact Marcantonio, “the sardonic, sallow little man who has long been the Communists most zealous congressional spokesman,” would likely be re-elected, thanks to the diligence with which he served his constituents: “Sitting in his grimy First Avenue headquarters, assisted by a battery of secretaries, he put in long hours defending everything from eviction cases to felony raps for the Negroes, Italians and Puerto Ricans who make up almost half the district’s voting lists.”

The question of whether Marcantonio was a communist provided much grist for his enemies. It is worth pointing out that he won both Republican and Democratic primaries alike when necessary; and oftn, both at the same time.

But he was a member and, for a time, leader of the American Labor Party (ALP), which had been formed by New York’s needle trades unions.

Joshua Freeman, author of “Working Class New York,” observed that the ALP was a “key vehicle” of the 1930s “Popular Front” strategy which saw communists helping liberal democratic parties in an effort to stave off creeping Fascism.

Marcantonio traveled with the communists when they were of use to him, left the ALP when they became a burden, and never allowed himself to be red-baited. The charge, he said, “was the red herring to conceal the lack of pork chops.”

In fact, he leaned heavily upon the words of the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson in particular. Where progressives today see “dead white Europeans” in the American revolutionary leaders, he saw democratic radicals fighting the very same forces he was.

Battling the House Committee on Un-American Activities persecution of radicals in 1947, Marcantonio turned his gaze to the Alien and Sedition Acts’ passage. “Jefferson and the followers of Jefferson were subjected to the appellations of Jacobin and Republican. They were...called foreign agents, because they maintained at the time that the future of liberty in the world depended upon collaboration between the Republic of the United States and the New Republic of France.”

He provided the sole House vote in opposition to the war resolution plunging U.S. armed forces into the Korean Conflict. “You only live once,” he said in the debate, “and it is best to live one’s life with one’s conscience rather than to temporize or accept with silence those things one believes to be against the interests of one’s people and one’s nation.”

In that moment, his lonely struggle was symbolic, but his single-handed efforts, applied with the knowledge and skill of a master parliamentarian, could yield real results.

An April 2006 piece by John J. Simon in The Monthly Review, noted that, “Today, with the city’s highest concentration of public housing, due almost entirely to Marcantonio’s legislative skill, the [East Harlem’s] population remains almost entirely Hispanic and people of color.”

In this instance a lone radical did craft a counterculture of public urban development in the very belly of a larger privately-driven economic system.

In the end, it took a coalition of the Liberal, Democratic, and Republican parties in New York to pry him from office. He did not stop or retreat. As a lawyer for civil liberties he represented W.E.B DuBois and other members of the Peace Information Center charged with failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. He fought for union leaders and leftists under siege in the red-baiting hysteria of the times.

Planning to run for Congress anew, Marc dropped dead of a heart attack on lower Broadway. The date was Aug. 9, 1954 and he was just fifty-one-years-old. Cardinal Francis Spellman denied him a Catholic funeral, but thousands packed the streets of East Harlem to say goodbye.

In eulogy, Dubois said Marcantonio “believed in America when it would no longer believe in itself.”

His agenda of integration would become the respectable politics of a future era and the legislation of equality he furiously advocated bore fruit, too.

In our own time, when threats from without and within, actual and otherwise, motivate some to limit the ability of Americans to think and speak independently, his words still provide remedy: “In a period as trying as this, the test of democracy lies in the ability of that democracy to maintain its liberties and to have more freedom rather than less freedom.”

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bailout Blues

It's not every day highwayscribery finds itself cheering Rep. Darrell Issa (D-Calif) on some cable news program.

Issa was telling someone from MSNBC why he didn't vote for yesterday's $700 billion sop to Wall Street.

He was responding to a claim, generally disseminated in the wake of the House of Representatives' stunning vote, that "the government is broken," "the people have given up on their political leadership," and similar dross.

Issa, a fairly right-wing conservative from San Diego, was occupying the same page the highway scribe was with his insistence the public had lost faith in Wall Street, not the government.

The government, by contrast, actually worked - barely - and thanks to the design of our miraculous Founding Fathers.

For the 10 days we watched Democrats, who've spent the past eight years rolling over for the Bush Administration do everything they could to deliver it, and the lamentable Sen. John McCain (D-Ariz), another legislative victory.

The way Democrats will join the administration when its own party has gone AWOL is incomprehensible. And there they were, yet again, sweating pills in an effort at rounding up votes to buttress Bush's plan and buck-up a financial sector that treats them as some Trotskyite legacy.

Folks, it's not socialism when the money goes to the wealthy. It's fascism.

Again, the familiar bipartisan "consensus" seemed to be forming in the usual inexorable way those of us on the outside find inscrutable.

Calls to Congressional offices were running 10-1 against the bailout, but our noble legislators were ready to save the likes of Lehman Bros., while further empowering Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a gentleman who helped concoct this noxious dish.

The markets melted. Credit is going to be hard to get. A lot of guys in wing-tipped shoes will be out of work.


That's how grown-ups deal with things; excepting the consequences of their actions. And while highwayscribery is no fan of unfettered markets, it certainly favors a correction that is richly deserved by a people that wants cake and to eat it too, a people that approves wars while passing the associated expense onto the young and unborn.

For reasons that aren't worth going into, some Democrats and some Republicans on the fringe of things listened to their constituents and opted to can this thing, or "Punish the country," as Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass).

Indeed many Americans, including the goofs who accepted wacky loans on houses they couldn't afford, the lowly agents who duped them for commissions they knew were not commensurate with the service rendered, and the Wall Strett fancy pants who concocted financial instruments for generating nonexistent wealth...are getting their deserts.

Screw Wall Street. The companies that sink will be replaced by those with a more sober and responsible approach to finance. Let them fail the way the highway scribe would have to fail for mismanaging his finances and his business.

If the country has to suffer short-term, that's better than suffering long-term.

People didn't like this bill because they see the healthy and wealth getting a break their government has been philosophically against giving to them for 28 years now.

Hats off to those representatives who had the courage to see this thing for what it was and may they hold firm as the economic news gets worse.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Moose Murder

The only investigation worth heeding is one conducted by your friends.

That has been the Bush administration's modus operandi for eight years now. Not even a congressional subpoena can bring its wayward and lawless elements to heel.

They literally ignore Congress.

Of course, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) has been tapped by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to end all this stuff. A reformer, she's coming to Washington and when she leaves it will be free of corruption and responsive to the rule of law.

Just as in Alaska where she is under investigation for something to do with her brother-in-law. the scribe doesn't care what, just the mention of "brother-in-law" speaks volumes about her governing capacity and the great stuff she's occupied with up there.

Palin agreed to an investigation back in July, but now that she's on the GOP A-Team, and charged with making a moribund candidate president, there's a whole new air blowing out of her...campaign.

According to the Associated Press, she'll no longer be cooperating with the bipartisan entity set up to sniff her brother-in-law problem out.

Which begs the question: When you "field-dress" a moose, do you flip it on one side before you flop it to the other?

Her husband Todd, who turns out to be quite the unelected official, according to "Salon," will likely challenge a subpoena issued Friday "to compel his cooperation."

Comes news today that Sassy Sarah's allies in the snowy state have filed a lawsuit to stop the investigation, or at least put it off until her run at the vice presidency is completed, which would sort of defeat the point, don't ya think?

Parroting Bush toady U.S. Attorney General Robert Mukasey, the Alaska Attorney General (name irrelevant), a Republican, has said state employees will not honor any summons, issued by investigators, related to "Troopergate."

the highway scribe sees a potential change of faces in Washington under McCain-Palin, but little variation in the way governance is practiced.

highwayscribery thought it wrong for MomsRising, and NARAL, and MoveOn, and all the usual suspects to conduct a Palin pile-on before much was known about her. It is fair and good that important nominees be given a chance to tell their story.

And highwayscribery thinks the liberal, knee-jerk reaction played into Republican hands, and that's because they know their enemy well.

But the scribe has heard and read enough. Yes the liberal folk, Bob Hebert, Frank Rich,Tom Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Eugene Robinson have all weighed in with intelligence and verve.

It has not been pretty for the pretty lady, but in a climate wherein we all act upon are own set of facts, it is more noteworthy that Conservative pundit David Brooks also sounded the alarm.

The "New York Times" columnist does a fine job of detailing the way in which, "destroy the establishment" was born on the political left only to move ever rightward until Sarah Palin became possible.

"Palin is the ultimate small-town renegade rising from the frontier to do battle with the corrupt establishment," he writes. "Her followers take pride in the way she has aroused fear, hatred and panic in the minds of the liberal elite. The feminists declare that she's not a real woman because she doesn't hew to their rigid categories. People who've never been to Wal-Mart think she is parochial because she never summered in Tuscany."

Brooks continues that he'd have more sympathy for governance by "rough and rooted people like Palin," if he hadn't sat through the disaster of the outgoing regime she and Rex Harrison claim they want to change.

Governance, he observes, requires prudence, which he defines as an "ability to grasp the unique pattern of a specific situation. It is the ability to absorb the vast flow of information and still discern the essential current of events - the things that go together and the things that will never go together. It is the ability to engage in complex deliberations and feel which arguments have the most weight."

Palin, Brooks concludes, has many virtues, but prudence is not one of those virtues.

Among those in her possession are Palin's staunch defense of Second Amendment rights, which Republicans feel really turns the worm on American feminists by showing that "real" women are just like "real" men.

"Dissident feminist" Camille Paglia wrote that Palin, "represented an explosion of a brand new style of muscular American feminism. At her startling debut on that day [of the GOP convention] she was combining male and female qualities in ways I have never seen before."

the scribe would contest the point. Women's success in the masculine sphere has often come at the expense of traditional female qualities, which left-feminism has always asserted were byproducts of male domination; behavior rooted in subjugation and submission.

the scribe's not saying what's desirable or not, just noting that modern feminism has gauged success as the achievement of male status and jettisoned a prior and long-standing concept of the feminine.

Liberal feminists pretend to still brandish a few of the "gentler" qualities, those of the Republican stripe, we now know, are pleased to be represented by a moose murderer.

In a charming piece done for the "Los Angeles Times," novelist Paul Theroux notes that, "Moose hunting is now seen as a possible Republican vote getter, especially as the moose hunter in question is a slightly built and bespectacled mother of five."

The author of "Mosquito Coast" and "Ghost Train to the Eastern Star" contrasts the blood-curdling yodels of the Republican campaign under Palin's rising star with passages from Henry David Thoreau's "The Maine Woods."

When he hears cheers of delight at former Tennessee Sen. Thompson's celebration of Palin's ability to field dress a moose, Theroux quotes Thoreau's detailed observation of the same:

"Joe [his Penobscot guide] now proceeded to skin the moose with a pocket knife, while I looked on, and a tragical business it was; to see that still warm and palpitating body pierced with a knife, to see the warm milk stream from the rent udder, and the ghastly naked red carcass appearing from within its seemly robe."

The other great virtue Palin possesses, and which blinds normally keen political observers of conservative ilk, is that she is "pro-life."

Theroux only sees Thoreau and the great web of life which we are part of, rather than stand apart from:

"A pine cut down, a dead pine, is no more a pine than a dead human carcass is man. Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he understands it aright will rather preserve life than destroy it."

We are two Americas. Rather than war across a cultural divide, one prefers to nervously await the second's evolution toward kindness and love.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Other Places (Part III) Italy, India, Indonesia: Book Report; "Eat, Pray, Love"

"Eat, Pray, Love"is an argument in favor of the American Woman.

Author Liz Gilbert starts out making an argument against the American Woman, against Liz Gilbert, and ends up losing her benefit.

If you follow.

There is much to hate in Gilbert, especially if you're a writer - and you're not alone - because she hates herself while spinning her rather loathsome and self-indulgent tale of relationship angst while globetrotting on the publisher's dime.

Those noble few who frequent my blog know full-well the extent to which the highway scribe dislikes self-referential writing; so much so he refers to himself as somebody else thanks to the double-edged anonymity of the Internet.

So Gilbert's perpetual "I this," and "I that," were doing much to prevent him from finishing her self-story.

Yes, yes, you're saying, "highway scribe, you pretentious, left-leaning weenie, you'd never approach this popular dross with any seriousness anyway!"

Not true.

Good writers read everything, because they are, or should be, good listeners to be successful themselves. The scribe is in the habit of finishing off a popular slab such as, "The DaVinci Code" - the ending for which he did not quite understand - and then washing it down with a little Tennyson, which he doesn't always get, either.

"Understanding": that's another way of saying "truth," because the truth is already out there, but you've got to decipher it.

Gilbert is in search of truth, too. Actively fleeing a failed marriage and a botched follow-up relationship into what ends up being some very nice travel writing.

Why Americans have to go overseas to heal is something of a mystery, but here you have it. Abroad, her own personal basket seems to shrink before the wonders abounding and those of you who've done an expatriate turn know this to be something of a rule.

In Italy, she begins her transformation from neurotic, underfed wreck, to a well-stuffed denizen of Rome, where her yoga mat remains underneath the bed because, Rome, it turns out, "doesn't do yoga."

But it eats and eats well. In Italy, when you walk down the streets of a city or town, the scent of food mugs you, the sight of it attractively displayed in windows designed for the purpose of seducing completely.

In a forgiving environment where everybody's on the same culinary tip, Gilbert allows herself to put on a bunch of pounds and settle comfortably into the fleshy cushion she has morphed into.

She makes being chunky sound sexy and, as such, begins to win the reader over.

And though there is no string of adjectives that can successfully convey the magic of the Italian cucina, the authoress manages to make us hungry through her writing.

And that's no mean trick.

In India, Gilbert settles into an Ashram, becomes a little thinner, and struggles with the regimen of chants; one in particular she can't seem to conquer.

"Eat, Pray, Love," is the ultimate globalization sampler. Only in today's crazy culture mash-up could a guy named Richard from Texas, who refers to her as "Groceries," do more to move the narrator's self-realization along than the absent Yogi boss-lady.

The scribe is a sworn secular, a militant non-believer who has adopted Luis Bunuel's response to all questions about religion: "Still an Atheist Thank God."

Sneering and snarling at Gilbert's religious quest, the scribe found himself aligned with the author by the end of the trip's India phase, because in all that chanting and fasting she hits upon the power found in "resisting our urges" and unwittingly applies her writer's discipline to life's other areas.

Writers will recognize these while watching Gilbert come to realize them for herself.

Well-nourished, more spiritually balanced and happy, the the lady heads onto Bali, Indonesia, where she does some fine cultural writing. Perhap's it's just as good as that she does in the other two places, but Bali is an interesting study: a Buddhist isle in a massive Muslim archipelago with a strict social code where everyone operates from a strong clan base and shares the same name, or two.

Here is where Gilbert won highwayscribery's heart. Her self-loathing over, it's hard to loathe her in turn. Confident after a year in other countries, she finds her American-ness in time to keep a woman whom she's helped in a remarkable way from turning the whole thing sour with a scam.

In this new-found strength, she relocates her sexuality and nowhere is the American woman's sexuality more to be admired than in traditional settings.

By way of related digression, the highway scribe can tell you he went off to Spain years ago both to write his novel "Vedette," and land a Spanish wife.

On earlier, shorter journeys he'd found the dated femininity of Spanish women completely winning, their Madonna-like (the virgin, not the singer) discretion a safe most worthy of cracking.

But once committed fully to Spanish life he couldn't crack the safe without surrendering his independence and direction to the ladies' families. He could not pry them loose from their clamshells. It was all of them or it was...


After a while it was shocking to learn how, in Andalusia, so few women had their own cars, how impossible it was to find a single one not being escorted by their brother, mother, or some other, how mothers beat their daughters with brooms into the house when he walked down calle Larga.

And so it is with Gilbert who tries a few shoes on before settling on the right fit, an older Brazilian fellow, who is an exotic choice chosen on an exotic journey.

Gilbert understands the rules of Bali, but is proactive in the most positive American sense, when she tries to infuse a little modernity into a situation that is working, and harshly so, against a local she has come to love.

She sticks her nose into things and, as an American, you like seeing her do it, because we'd like to respect local customs, if we only had some of our own to guide us.

Gilbert heads home finally happy with essentially the same person she left as, but one she understands better.

And while some of the hip gab and dated material work to the detriment of her tale's shelf-life, it delivers in the knowledge, fun, and wisdom departments.

And that makes for a Good Read.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The GOP's Dwindling Base

Growing older gets a little better when you've hung around long enough to see a political trend culminate in your team's favor.

If you noticed the white, regional entity the Republican Party has become during its convention, the "bounce" McCain-Palin have enjoyed in weekend-based polls shouldn't upset you much.

David Frum, noted in a recent "New York Times" article, "As America becomes more unequal, it also becomes less Republican. The trends we have dismissed are ending by devouring us."

"The Vanishing Republican Voter," was a tough article for Frum to write. He's basically saying that the disparity of wealth in America is the result of successful GOP policies.

To wit: There is now more inequality within nations, because there's less among them.

"Today," he notes, "the lifestyles of middle-class Chinese increasingly approximate those of middle-class Americans, while the lifestyle of upper and lower Americans increasingly diverge."

With all their flag-waving it was hard to tell the Republicans were working for the Chinese middle-class (unless you were really paying attention) all these years.

Frum takes a strange turn when he generates numbers showing that the wealthiest Americans actually vote Democrat and observes how good that's been for the Bill O'Reillys of the world who portray themselves (and the GOP) to middle class Americans as bulwarks against "liberal elites."

Now incomes are "flat-lining" and the mood of middle-class Americans has "soured," he says.

His pieces depicts the state of affairs in once solid and Republican Fairfax, Virg., which thanks to growth fueled by Republican policies, is now plagued with increasingly urban problems and going Democrat in response.

The analysis inverts the Democratic quandary of the 1980s where decades of New Deal policies had lifted the unionized, manufacturing working class into the solid middle and, in doing so, made them Republicans.

The Democrats, it was argued at the time, had been so successful in improving peoples lives that they'd shrunk their own base.

Reduced to a rump party, prospective candidates were forced to reckon with an influential left wing that could not be ignored but, conversely, alienated the great mainstream of American political thought (such as it is) come general election time.

Frum's article tells us that Republican success in putting space between rich and poor, while shrinking the middle, has left the party with a conservative core out of touch with that same and great mainstream America.

"In short, the trend to inequality is reality, it is large and it is transforming American society and the electoral map," he writes. "Yet the conservative response to this trend verges somewhere between the obsolete and irrelevant."

Thomas Frank sees much the same reality in a Sept. 10 piece by the "Wall Street Journal."

Revisiting Sarah Palin's treacle-laced convention speech about "our hardworking small-town people," he sees naught but cynicism:

"Leave the fantasy land of convention rhetoric and you will find that small-town America, this legendary place of honesty and sincerity and dignity, is not doing very well. If you drive west from Kansas City, Mo., you will find towns whose main street is largely boarded up. You will see closed schools and hospitals. You will hear about depleted groundwater and massive depopulation.

"And eventually you will ask yourself, how did this happen? Did Hollywood do this? Was it those 'reporters and commentators' with their fancy college degrees who wrecked Main Street, U.S.A.?

"No. For decades now we have been electing people like Sarah Palin who claim to love and respect the folksy conservativism of small towns, and yet who have unfailingly enacted laws to aid the small town's market enemies."

He goes on to say Republicans, in some form of power or other for the last 28 years, have never raised "an anti-trust finger" to help the family farmer in his battle with "the big food processors."

The "Wall Street Journal" columnist spoke with the president of the Kansas Farmers Union to give his piece a little spine. The guy gave Obama a 100 percent rating on farm issues.

McCain got a zero.

"If any farmer in the Plains States looks at McCain's voting record on ag issues he would not vote for him," the Farmers Union president said.

Frum, for his part, reasons that the Republican policies at issue led to wage growth of almost 25 percent, "Yet almost all of that money was absorbed by the costs of health insurance, which doubled over the Bush years."

A simple cause to a rather complex problem.

Undeterred, he asserts that Republicans who look at health care as "not our issue" are courting electoral disaster: "Conservatives need to stop denying reality."


Frum's struggle to reconcile Republican "success" with the country's current state of affairs matches the confusion of a McCain candidacy that promises change from a guy who has worked in the Dirksen Senate Office Building for more than two decades.

Frank concludes that McCain, "seems to think that small-town people can be easily played. Just choose a running mate who knows how to skin a moose and all will be forgiven. Drive them off their land, toss their life chances into the grinder of big agriculture and praise their values. The TV eminences will coo in appreciation of your in-touch authenticity and the carnival will move on."

The question is whether or not the American people - that mysterious franchise which brought you eight years of George W. Bush - will follow those TV eminences into another thicket of character assassination and faux issues.

So far, the GOP is crowing loudly, so good.

A Writer in Trouble

The highway scribe is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, which maintains a special Writers Emergency Assistance Fund for those who find themselves under economic duress.

We all chip in, usually with a $15 addition to our annual dues, and imperiled freelancers make requests for a few thousand dollars that tide them over until better times.

The Fund blasted a special request a few days ago. It involves the case of Lori Steele.

Lori, to quote from the missive, "is a single mom battling ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and chronic Lyme disease, who faces the loss of her home to foreclosure within days because she's too sick to work. She has medical bills totaling more than $50,000, which may ultimately reach $120,000. She has a seven-year old son, and prior to the devastating neurological disease that has left her paralyzed and on a breathing machine, wrote over 3,000 published articles. She is 44, and determined to fight this disease with all her strength."

The ASJA is not permitted to give Lori any more than it already has and requests small contributions be sent to her at:

Lori Hall Steele
223 W. 7th Street
Traverse City, MI 49684

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Carrying a Palin of Water

Sometimes you'd like to see the convention for yourself rather than the "experts" assembled by your favorite media outlet telling you what you just saw.

the highway scribe is entering his 25th season playing for the media team and he's here to tell you those network commentator jobs are the best... if you can get them.

The actual life of the "ink-stained wretch" (true even in the era of computers) is spent contacting protagonists on issues or narratives of note, and taking their accounts for the record.

Al Franken does it in his books to demonstrate how rare the practice of fact- or source-checking has become.

Sometimes, we'll call an academic, or some emeritus on the topic at hand, to lend a little perspective where narratives are dueling, since our own paragraph of "opinion" is sure to be cut by a sneering editor.

Were they to follow this this journalistically respected pattern of coverage, NBC, MSNBC, FOX, CNN and the rest would necessarily aim cameras at speakers occupying the convention dais and party delegates on the floor, and let the action flow mostly without interruption.

Late into the night, after you'd had a chance to savor the actual players' debates and opinions, somebody like a Joe Gergen - who worked in White Houses both Democratic and Republican - might be called upon to provide a little of the aforementioned "perspective."

But we suffer the inverse from those whom "New York Times," columnist Frank Rich calls the "bloviators."

These titans of verbal diarrhea make up a third force that does not mediate goings-on, rather tells us what we will see, what needs to happen, and finally, whether it happened or not.

The great thrill to this campaign season, Rich noted in his Sunday piece, is that the pundits have been getting it wrong since, oh, about January when Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) punctured Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-N.Y.) "inevitable" march to the Democratic nomination for president.

To watch the Democratic convention last week was to endure the "bloviators" hour-after-hour while real speakers ranted in the background and real delegates met in conference rooms where real business was done.

None of which you saw.

You got speeches for which the table was set in terms of what the speaker "needed" to do in order to placate some journalistically divined demographic (supposedly) crucial to their party's chances in November

Immediately after the speech, you were told by people, "selected" from across the political spectrum, whether these normative, a priori benchmarks had been met or not.

Olberman: "Pat Buchannan, did Hillary do enough to unite the Democratic Party we ourselves divided in search of ratings and as a way of making sense out of something we're not actually covering?"

Buchannan: "Absolutely not Kieth. This party's never going to be united and I found a lack of sincerity in her remarks that viewers might never have picked-up on where it not for my years of expert opinionating cultivated in Georgetown restaurants."

Olberman: "Jim Carville? What's your take?"

Carville: "Oh she absolutely hit it out of the park as I knew she would. This job is so easy it's hard for me to believe they pay me to do it."

Neither can we Jim, which is somewhat the point of this post: You're not a reporter and never were.

Of course, there's a potential chicken-and-egg argument for the hatching here (sorry).

Why should the outlets strive for real news coverage if, when the few actual reporters on the convention floor are patched-in, you get the same talking points answers from the Texas guy as the gal from Maine serves up?

"Oh we're united and nothing has or ever could divide us when you consider the hell-fire and shit-rain to befall us should the other guys get in."

Now it's the Republicans' turn and they're all about a Man who puts "Country First," as if that were an extraordinary trait from a guy who wants to lead the country.

The GOPers have put up a woman for vice president and it is a real riot to hear them cry "sexism," the existence of which they normally deny, because Gov. Sarah Palin (D-Alaska) is being run through the same gauntlet anyone with the chestnuts to stand for national office is subjected to.

You know Republicans are in trouble when they start playing the victim card. That's our bit!

highwayscribery will not discuss the merits of McCain's choice of this particular governess for his running mate since, like everyone else, we know very little about her and have cringed at the way our guardians of truth in the media have handled the Obama introduction.

How can we say we truly know the candidates with all of this posturing and spinning? Even the "No Spin Zone" gives you motion sickness.

It goes on, not only during conventions, but throughout the year on political shows and news hours where, in the name of balance, we get trained spokes-dogs from both sides attacking each other without surrendering a shred of truth.

The reporter in these events serves less as a referee than a circus animal trainer cracking a whip, driving things to a frantic and fevered pitch.

Everybody is fibbing in the hopes the best fib wins when, really, the convention, or the Congress, or the hearing is usually conducted for public consumption, compliments of our Founding Fathers.

How many following events in Minnesota know about local police raids on demonstrators' lairs and the incarceration of "Democracy Now" producer Amy Goodman?

How many know who Amy Goodman is?

Rather than "tell us what it all means," our media stars might encourage us to go out and watch, listen, or learn a thing or two on our own.

Or, barring such civic involvement, they might provide a little more variety across channels instead of devoting every last man, woman, and opinionator to the same discourse (at the same damn time).

Why this imperial privilege over what's information, what's not, and how it should be cooked up for serving?

By now you may have heard the off-screen but on-mic comments of two Republican pundits bemoaning the Palin pick.

A former McCain operative, Mike Murphy, says "it's over," and he doesn't mean with a victory lap.

The other, a very tenacious and brighter-than-the-norm conservative commentator named Peggy Noonan, calls the choice "political bullshit."

Given her immortal utterances, the same qualification might be made of Noonan's column in the "Wall Street Journal" on the same day.

In that column, she declared Palin, "a clear and present danger to the American left, and to the Obama candidacy."

We're all looking for a niche in the great free marketplace of ideas and services. Some people clean toilets, others do pedicures, and Peggy Noonan, as one of the lucky ones, earns a buck making war, not love, with the "American left."

Far be it from her to deviate publicly from this particular task; even if it's what the lady truly believes, because IT'S NOT WHAT SHE'S PAID TO DO.

For those of us on the American left, Noonan's remarks are something of a revelation, because the right wing always seems so goose-steppy in its uniform discipline of message.

Turns out that Republicans talk about their party just the way we talk about "ours," such as it is.

She says, "I think they went for this, excuse me, political bullshit about narratives. Every time Republicans do that, because it's not where they live and it's not what they're good at, they blow it."

Democrats have the same kinds of conversations (although we don't say "excuse me" before swearing among intimates) when "convention organizers" turn what is a decidedly secular party into a perpetual prayer meeting.

It's not where we live, and it's not what we're good at, but Like Noonan, Democrats suck it up and assume that the bloviators are correct; that somewhere out there exists a decisive mass of voting Americans who pray before and after everything they do, even though we've never met them and find the behavior personally off-putting.

With matchmakers like these, how do we know who we're every really "marrying"?

Rush Limbaugh calls it "carrying water," and is honest about the fact he's the biggest waterboy in Republican circles.

But they exist on both sides and, thanks to Noonan, we're reminded of how refreshing a splashy spill can be.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

mute expression

Our larks in the hollow are not singing

The lynx’s pure purr tantalizes
by its absence

Our love is making

Take care.
There is nothing
without void.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Even in desert ranges
Far from where you
I can’t sleep well
I’m an empty seashell
On a

Free Obama Button

MoveOn is giving away free Obama buttons. Click here if you like Obama, or buttons, or both.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Omar Torrez on the Tom Waits Tour

highwayscribery wanted to update readers as to the progress of friend and poetic collaborator Omar Torrez as he winds his way through the American heartland and Europe as Tom Waits' guitarist on the "Glitter and Doom Tour."

These excerpts and links are taken from Omar's blog on his my "My Space" page.

Thank you Jacksonville ...

"The magic in the evening didn't solely belong to Waits himself, he's anchored by guitarist Omar Torrez and Vincent Henry, who played on double sax ...Torrez and Henry made the second half of the show, including Real Gone standout "Hoist That Rag," filled with Spanish guitar licks and jazz movements."

And from Columbus, Ohio:

"Before I start raving about Tom Waits, I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge his backup band. They were truly wonderful, and it wouldn't have been the same show without them. In particular, the guitarist and the reed man stole the show - or, at least, stole as much of the show as Waits let them have.

Omar Torrez handles a guitar like he's just releasing sounds that really want to come out - sounds that have been around longer than you or me, and which will continue to reverberate until long after we're gone. When he plays he doesn't even look like he's trying - he looks humble, unassuming and serene. His fingers are a blur and at times his sound carries the entire ensemble - and yet he manages to blend into the background as he plays. Waits couldn't have picked a better guitarist to play with him."

Also weighing in were:


"Omar Torrez, who kept his utterly delightful nastiness buried previously, started "All the World is Green" with a dextrous Spanish guitar intro. "


"Omar Torrez, the newest member of the band, seems to have learned every guitar part from every record, and then said quietly to himself, "Fuck you, Ribot, Verlaine and especially G.E. Smith. Here's how it really goes." And his acoustic guitar work on "All the World Is Green," as the red velvet backdrop changed to blue, was its own chromatic world of wonders."


"The versatile Omar Torrez added Spanish-style guitar solos and Italian-folk mandolin runs without stepping on Waits' toes or overstaying his welcome."


"New find Omar Torrez is another in a tradition of superlative guitarists to join Waits' band."


"Omar was fantastic, in my opinion. He isn't afraid to play Ribot-style and the songs are much better because he can pull it off. But he still adds his own touch and style to the overall sound. I was shocked to not see Larry Taylor behind the bass."


"The bowler hat seemed to take Tom and his unreal crack band to new heights. Tom out in front with enormous spastic energy and voice…Omar Torrez a huge standout in the band with a flamenco guitar style along with Vincent on double sax, etc. Front row, section A…I will never be the same."


"A beautiful flamenco intro by guitarist Omar Torrez led it in that, though it had little to do with the main section itself, was breathtaking enough that it didn't matter. The talented but shy guitarist of last night shone brighter today, feeling his way into bolder solos and riffs that eluded him before."


"Next up a recent live favorite among fans, Hoist That Rag off of 2004's Real Gone. Tom led it in with some hard-shook maracas, and it was the first show spot for new guitarist Omar Torrez. His off-beat solos and wildly unpredictable runs recalled old sideman Marc Ribot in the best way possible."