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 it...to 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.