Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Book Report: "Really the Blues," by Mezz Mezzrow

"Really The Blues" demonstrates how it's good having something to do.

Talk about alternative paths. Milton "Mezz" Mezzrow blazed one through the jungle of conformity, "went black," lost time to drugs, fomented early 20th century jazz, became too familiar with jail, but remained focused on a vision.

Were it not for the journey New Orleans jazz made up the Mississippi to Chicago in the early paces of the 20th century, Milton Mezzrow would have had, like all of us, a story to tell, but no audience.

His story stands on three sturdy and utterly novel legs.

One was a total adhesion to all things African-American, or Negro, as they said in his day. A second was the aforementioned passion for a very specific jazz the came up out of the Crescent City and got amplified by his friend, Louis "Pops" Armstrong. The third was a commitment to the manifold virtues of marijuana or, as he alternately referred to it: golden leaf, gauge, muta, and -- highwayscribery's favorite -- muggles.


Raised on Chicago's south side, "Mezz" landed in jail early. More stupid than criminal, his interest in the clarinet and saxophone kept the young Jewish jailbird on the up-and-up; focused and ennobled his misbegotten adventures.

His story really takes form upon moving to New York with Gene Krupa and a tiara of future jazz-era jewels in an attempt at storming the music industry's gates with their hot new toy.

Settling in Harlem, establishing his base at the intersection of 133rd Street and Seventh Ave., Mezzrow became the "white mayor," the "link between the races," ambassador for muggles, purveyor and recorder of a unique argot -- the poetry of the proletariat -- "jive."

The Mezz was an influential fellow in his moment and this jive the dominant tongue at the intersection of Cool Street and Downbeat Avenue.

"Really the Blues," came out when Jack Kerouac was digging the music Mezz expounds upon, and it's no fantasy to surmise that the beat poet's jazz-infused prose are not heavily influenced by this book and the way it is told.

We're suggesting, without a hint of accusation, that Kerouac borrowed heavily from, or at least riffed on, the Mezzrow's mostly forgotten text. It's called research and is born of the writer's anthropological duty.

Colorful or operatic, Mezzrow's life was rarely easy, but he kept blowing horns, in and out of jail, searching for a soul-state firmly rooted in his beloved New Orleans jazz.

An uncompromising commitment to the style finally bore fruit in his savoring of Sidney Bechet's "Blues of Bechet" and "The Sheik of Araby."

He describes the epiphany thusly:

"It meant: Life gets neurotic and bestial when people can't be at peace with each other, say amen to each other, chime in with each other's feeling and personality; and if discord is going to rule the world, with each guy at the next guy's throat, all harmony gone -- why, the only thing for a man to do, if he wants to survive, if he won't get evil like all the other beasts in the jungle, is to make that harmony inside himself, be at peace with himself, unify his own insides while the snarling world gets pulverized."

The next natural and positive step for Mezzrow was to team-up with Bechet.

In a publication called "The Record Changer," reviewer Ernest Bornemen said that these tracks, "went back beyond Louis and beyond Bunk Johnson and beyond Buddy Bolden, to the very roots of music, to the cane and the rice and the indigo and the worksongs and the slave ships and the dance music of the inland Ashanti and the canoe songs of the Wolof and Mandingo along the Senegal River."

The review represented Mezz's crowning moment. Not as a professional poo-bah, but as proof that he had reached an important milestone in his musically inspired drive for spiritual wholeness.

Mezzrow closes his by relating how writer Bernard Wolfe convinced him to cough-up an autobiography. Wolfe's word's best describe what's on tap in "Really the Blues."

"Not very many people have gotten a good look at their country from that bottom-of-the-pit angle before, seen the slimy underside of the rock. It's a chunk of Americana, as they say, and should get written. It's a real American success story, upside down: Horatio Alger standing on his head.

"In a real sense, Mezz, your story is the plight of the creative artist in the USA. -- to borrow a phrase from Henry Miller...It's the odyssey of an individualist, through a land where the population is manufactured by the system of interchangeable parts. It's the saga of a guy who wanted to make friends, in a jungle where everybody was too busy making money an dodging his own shadow."

Mission accomplished, Milton.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Told You So

Told you so.

Jerry Brown, outspent 6-to-1 by ebay bazillionaire Meg Whitman, made it look easy in returning to the office he left 27 years prior.

Moonbeams ago, we suggested in "Jerry Brown: The Chessman Cometh," that the former Governor-Mayor of Oakland-Treasurer-Attorney General's lackadaisical campaign was born of a sublime knowledge about how the California mind works.


Meanwhile Whitman, as we also forecast, spent nearly $180 million in an effort that downgraded her status to late-night joke punchline.

In California, where we happily take stimulus money and give our state a facelift; where we recognize an oil industry-financed campaign against the laws enacted to limit the crap in our air; where we don't allow candidates who accept corporate funding to delude us with cant about liberty and freedom; in California, Democrats won every major state office.

Barbara Boxer, whom highwayscribery never believed was in any kind of trouble, beat a discredited Hewlett Packard executive rather easily, because her actions matched her commercials' claims of standing up for the little guy/gal.

Kamala Harris, defeated L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley, because L.A. politicians don't fair well statewide and because Cooley's a jerk who spent too much time making hay on the marijuana issue in a place where smoking marijuana's not an issue.

A guy like that isn't going to beat a gal named after the courtesan lover of "Siddhartha" from Herman Hesse's classic novel.

Not in Cali.

Nationally, highwayscribery's prediction the Democrats might hold onto their majority was impacted by this same Blue State insularity and a cash windfall from undisclosed sources that would make Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito blush, if he had any shame.

Which he doesn't.

But it doesn't really matter. Scott Brown's election to the U.S. Senate last autumn, by the otherwise sane people of Massachusetts, effectively ended the Democrats' ability to halt Republican obstruction in that dysfunctional institution.

In the end, a House majority means squat without a similar advantage in the upper house and the White House.

Two houses beat one every time.

John Boehner can run his legislative paper mill day-in-day-out, passing tax cuts for the rich, de-funding the health care bill, and neutering American unions, but those measures won't get any farther than that chamber's portal.

In an environment befouled by an economic crash that started on the prior administration's watch, the House Democrats lost seats in places where Republicans reliably roost, but withstood challenges in the Senate from low-grade Tea Party picks like Ken Buck in Colorado.

The Tea Party, for all the breathless analysis it has spawned, was a wash last night (though you won't read, hear, or see that anywhere). Yes, Rand Paul won in Kentucky and good luck with that Mitch McConnell.

Kentuckians should only be slightly less ashamed of voting-in a guy whose supporters step on ladies' heads than the Louisianans who reelected a man (Sen. David Vitter) who enjoys a good bordello stop between filibusters.

Can you say political metaphor?

Christine O'Donnell lost in Delaware, where the GOP had a chance to grab a Senate seat until the Tea Party stuck its runny, juvenile nose into the mix. And Joe Miller is losing up in Alaska to someone whose name you had to find on six pages of write-in candidates, consisting mostly of his ornery supporters.

(Don't ask).

Yes, Marco Rubio won in Florida, but, even as a Democrat, the highway scribe would have to admit he was the most compelling candidate in that race.

Parties are good, and loyalty to them useful, but you should always vote for the smartest guy/gal on the ballot.

The founding fathers were kind to minorities. And so it looks like so much thunder on the right, because those voting where less people reside went GOP, while states where everybody lives, and which generate most of the national wealth, ie., New York and California, stayed emphatically Democratic.

In short, this is simply not the end of the world.

As the "Washington Post's" Ezra Klein noted, "A few dozen politicians" lost their jobs last night, but the country won in the long run.

Wrote Klein, "[I]f you see the point of politics as actually getting things done, the last two years, for Democrats, have been a stunning success. Whatever else you say about the 111th Congress, it got things done."

highwayscribery recommends you read his beautifully crafted laundry list of accomplishments.

A "New York Times" conservative stand-in, Ross Douhat, mostly agreed with Klein, to whose article he linked his own post-mortem entitled, "Was It Worth It?"

"Politics," he wrote, "often gets covered as though the legislative sessions are just a long prelude to the real action of election season. But for all the breathless horse-race coverage, elections only matter to the extent that they produce (or forestall) actual legislation. And where the policies of the United States government are concerned, all the ground the Republicans gained tonight doesn't change the fact that what liberals achieved in Barack Obama's first two years in office was more consequential than any conservative victory in recent memory."

It's hard to envision the GOP and its single house delivering like results to a fickle and impatient people in the 12 months before media outlets begin shaping perceptions for 2012.

Congratulations on those new seats, Republicans, but don't get too comfortable.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

We Can All Use a Laugh

When the highway scribe was living in Andalusia, roaming narrow, flower-strewn streets, frequenting bullfights, and writing his novel "Vedette," a wonderful occurrence transpired in the Andalusian Parliament.

A debate had lasted into the wee-hours of the morning and a deputy from the conservative "Partido Popular" found something funny in the proceedings. She could not bring herself under control and yielded to another member of her caucus, but by then it was was too late. A collective fit of laughter had swept the chamber and Diego Valderas, the communist president of the camera, was forced to suspend the session.

See it here and have a laugh of your own.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Book Report: "Anarchism and The City" by Chris Ealham

Anarchism and the City: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Barcelona, 1898-1937 decodes Barcelona's urban landscape for reasons behind the unlikely rise to power of anarchist elements in those years preceding the Spanish Republic and the civil war that consumed it.

Chris Ealham brings an urbanist's tools to this interesting proposition, positing sometimes insightful, other times idealistic, explanations to questions about the Confederacion Nacional de Trabajo's (CNT) season of sway over Europe's then-most productive city.

Academic in style, "City," serves up enough good stuff to offset the loss of momentum resulting from the historian's job of stringing evidence from various sources and affixing them to each other with footnote glue.

Ealham documents the geographic reordering of Barcelona as undesirable immigrants from the south of Spain swelled its working class in an era when the city was considered "Europe's factory."

Viewed as something "other" (the author proposes), as fomenters of vice and carriers of disease, this surging class of workers was subjected to a bourgeois reordering of the urban terrain that isolated and marginalized.

Ealham's view is that, left unto themselves, the working class folk of Barcelona wove themselves into a collection of tight units clear on what the issues facing them were and how to address them.

For a while, the anarchist policy guys showed real prowess in organizing neighborhoods, winning their loyalty to the CNT unions' causes, and channeling a universal resentment against the existing order.

Then they put that existing order to work for them:

"Making full use of improvements in the transport system and the growing availability of bicycles, and backed by the Barcelona CNT's paper, Solidaridad Obrera, which played an essential auxiliary role, advertising union meetings, talks and social activities across the city, the local federation would receive feedback from, and send instructions to, the comites with the great speed. This enabled the CNT to respond swiftly to events on the ground and generally mount a more sustained and coordinated opposition to capitalism."

A big policy winner for the CNT was embracing the despised Andalusian and Murcian migrant laborers, and other groups not found on the industrial shop floor.

"Ever ready to mobilize beyond the factory proletariat," Ealham writes, "the radicals applauded street gangs as a vanguard force in the fight against the police."

Harassed ambulant street vendors and the unemployed alike also responded when the
CNT called for action; action that transcended the workplace and transformed the streets.

The union and its minions expanded public space, cultivating working class interaction that produced a dense web of community relations only a civil war could sunder.

As its title suggests, this is about the CNT in Barcelona, even though the union's influence stretched well-beyond Catalonia's borders. There the organization thrived under the conditions so painstakingly detailed by Ealham, and did so in its own way.

Resorting to violence didn't hurt.

The author quotes one source as saying, "This was an original type of criminality that was typically Barcelonese. The anarchist robbers of Barcelona are nothing less than the Catalan equivalents of Al Capone...Today it is the fashion among all thieves, pickpockets and swindlers to pass themselves off as anarchists."

"Anarchism and The City" was published by AK Press, an anarchist imprint, and Ealham, while maintaining a balanced tone throughout, is okay with the idea that, at some point, a people being exploited have the right, are obligated by the dictates of survival, to kill the guy who is killing them.

It's a chicken-or-the-egg quandary. For Ealham, the question of whether the anarchists and their constituency had any choice in the matter of violence is worthy of a deeper consideration.

In his examination of how the loosely structured union federation interacted with the working class barris, the relation to and impact of the Federacion Anarquista de Iberia (FAI) upon the CNT, and how shadowy associate groups used the gun to "appropriate" banks and erase political enemies, Ealham's efforts are first-class.

It's fascinating stuff that renders Spanish anarchism more understandable, if not completely dispelling the notion the rank-and-filers were a little nutty, or appear so thanks to their disparate ideas for reorganizing society.

Noting that the anarchist revolution was the first of its kind in the automotive era, the author observes how workers were seized by an "irrationality" after appropriating the cars of the merchant and capital classes.

"But revolutionary motoring possessed its own logic," Ealham writes. "In the first instance, the destruction of cars reflected a desire to usher in a new set of spatial relations as well as resistance to the attempts by the local and central Republican authorities to impose a new urban order of controlled consumption, consisting of new rules of circulation and traffic lights designed to improve the flow of capital and goods."

Or not.

Rather than ushering in new spatial relations the armed workers may have just been having a crazy time in cars. It happens, you know.

He observes that, "On the day after the birth of the Republic, as a gesture of solidarity, the Barcelona CNT declared a general strike that affected all branches of industry apart from the essential food and transport services."

The Republic/Spanish Civil War epoch is akin to a family fight and the multi-sided affair can tug at one's loyalties depending upon which side's version is being aired.

Read the well-written diaries of Republican leader Miguel Azana and savor the portrait of a rational, intelligent and literate man burdened with allies and governing copartners bent on overthrowing the enterprise he's been elected to lead.

It's hard to imagine Azana viewing the general strike as a gesture in solidarity.

While sympathetic, Ealham is not so blind as to ignore the fact that, as anarchists and their allies launched a revolution in red Asturias they hoped would catch on throughout Iberia, "Francisco Ascaso, 'Nosotros' member [an anarchist affinity group] and secretary of the Catalan CRT, issued a call to the Barcelona proletariat to return to work from a radio station controlled by the Spanish army."

My revolution, not yours, you see.

The anarchists thrived for a season as the CNT, FAI and related groupings were wonderful at forging a cohesive culture and strategy for the beleaguered barris residents. But Ealham lifts the lid on the corner committee meeting and details the inner-workings, the feuds, and fault lines that hampered the movement.

Ealham spends less time on the CNT's temporary reign over the streets of Barcelona after fascist generals rose up to destroy the Republic. And he does well in eschewing too detailed a rendering of those events, because that is much-tilled terrain.

The real triumph of "Anarchism and The City" is its fulfilling the title's pledge. Showing how a metropolis's geographical configuration, industrial bent, and raw social arrangements made a bed comfortable enough for some very unique individuals to sleep in.

Friday, September 03, 2010

The scribe's tired: Listen to His Album

Happy Labor Day, everyone. the highway scribe is tired and heading south to Encinitas for surf, barbecue, and salmon-colored sunsets. Since there is no writing to read, go ahead and listen to his album, Ladybugs or Lovesongs.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Jerry Brown: The Chessman Cometh

Were he sympathetic, Bill Clinton might tell everybody to “chill out” and enjoy Jerry Brown in action.

It is possible that Brown is old and that his seemingly lax campaign is a sign that he is past his time, stuck in the halcyon days of 1976. One California blogging outfit refers to him as "Krusty."

He may, in fact, not know what he is doing. But Brown deserves everybody's indulgence, because he has earned it.

Too many Gov. Moonbeam characterizations have obscured the fact it was Brown's iconoclasm and independence that earned him the disdain of the Sticks-in-the-Mud Club.

So, until he demonstrates otherwise, Brown must be taken for a man with a plan. And we can expect that plan to diverge from the conventional wisdom.

Brown can’t help himself, never could. And he has been called many things, rarely "stupid," more often “brilliant.”

He’s a thinking guy. He doesn't have to be recognized for the novelty of his ideas for them to affect our existences because they have in so many facets of California, and even national, life.

His long-standing presence in government as governor of California, mayor of Oakland, state attorney general, secretary of state, and whatever else, has produced that rare bird who knows the state from basement to helipad.

All the money in the world, or even Meg Whitman's, can't substitute for total comprehension of the system in play, let alone partial responsibility for its construction.

And so we have an article in the, “Los Angeles Times,” by Seema Mehta, taking worthy note of the fact that, as the autumn beckons, Brown is essentially tied with his free-spending opponent.

The former e-bay chief executive officer has spent $104 million of her own money in an effort to blanket the airwaves and "put Brown so far behind by Labor Day that he would never catch up. That scenario has failed to materialize," wrote Meta.

"Since winning the primary in June, he has spent almost nothing, has rarely appeared on the campaign trail and has yet to air a single ad against Republican Meg Whitman."

That can't be a simple oversight.

One theory is that, with all the flack flying around the cable-sphere, maybe Brown sees a different shelf-life for a candidate than has been traditional. The longer you're out there, the more slings and arrows of misinformation you can be hit with.

Ask Whitman.

As low-key as he has played it, the attorney general has still dodged a few swift-boatings, because when somebody spends $20 million telling countless people over and over again that you're a sow-sucker, it's probably going to stick.

Another possible explanation is that the content of Whitman’s media “buys” are low-grade. It should not come as a shock that getting elected entails more than a quest to run the most commercials.

It helps, but it's not everything.

highwayscribery finds the Whitman spot that claims "Meg has a plan" for solving California's problems, pretty disingenuous.

Either it’s a big secret to be revealed after voters reward you with the bill of sale on your purchase of high office, or it's something we're entitled to weigh on its merits. Kick it around, as it were, before we decide.

Brown's early pitch already runs counter to the media-juiced "anti-incumbent" fever. And he mostly gets a pass on the charge, because you can't attack a guy as being wacky and a deadbeat officeholder at the same time.

Nobody will ever accuse Brown of the being an "old boys" network guy, and therein his lasting appeal in a state that marches to its own drum.

Brown, like highwayscribery, doesn't seem to be buying the whole anti-incumbent narrative, because he has out-and-out said his experience, the actual breadth of it, makes him better qualified than Whitman to solve the state's woes, as this highwayscribery post on an early campaign event attests to.

It's a message that has got to resonate.

The passe' notion of a "business leader" coming in to run government the "right way," Whitman's leitmotif, has been tried and tried until we've figured out business and government aren't the same animal.

Meg’s actually the second e-bay politics spin-off. Steve Westley, a former board roomer at the online retailer, crapped-out against the hapless Phil Angelides in the last gubernatorial sweepstakes.

The business-person/politician has lost its allure ever since Americans became aware of how a greedy merchant class squandered the nation's financial patrimony.

The great conservative attempt to prove self-interest and market efficiency were part of a spontaneous synthesis found in nature failed. Smart, educated people in suits can act with the same instincts the guttersnipe 100 floors below in the street shadowed by the corporate tower.

It boggles the mind that Wall St. is angry about the Obama gang’s “anti-business” policies. Proven buccaneers, they oddly expected to again be handed the keys to the economy without adult supervision.

"Salon's" Andrew Leonard cites a report by ProPublica's Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein documenting how, "even as the housing boom collapsed, Wall Street's biggest investment banks continued to furiously sell each other crappy mortgage-backed securities. No one who was paying any real attention wanted to buy collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) constructed out of imploding subprime mortgages, so the originators of the CDOS simply unloaded them on their co-conspirators. In the process, no economically useful service was performed, other than the enrichment of a small coterie of bond dealers and managers. The eventual damage caused, of course, was beyond enormous."

Says Leonard, "These jokers are annoyed at the prospect of wealth redistribution? What do they think they were doing over the last couple of decades, aside from sucking wealth out of the 'real' economy and redistributing it to themselves. And now they are are upset about higher taxes? What they should really be nervous about is the prospect of 20 years in prison."

Whitman is selling her work days in that overheated and false economy as proof she can effectively wrangle legislators from San Francisco and south Orange County alike.

Brown clearly thinks conceding the point links her to a bygone and discredited model of business star.

Mehta quotes him saying, “There are two things unprecedented in American political history. One, the $100 million plus that Whitman has paid on her campaign, most of it from her own pocket, and two, the virtually know effect it’s had.”

Whitman’s toeing a fine line between the ‘Triumphant March” from Aida, and becoming a colossal joke. The grotesque proportions of her spending demonstrate a certain overheated approach to big projects when sobriety would seem the order of the day.

The dynamic sets the table for an opponent to mark differences between herself and regular folk. Most Democrats are afraid to accept this inherent gift woven into American politics.

Brown’s not one of them.

Machiavelli, whom Sir Moonbeam has probably read inside-and-out, noted that a prince needs a certain degree of fortuna to prevail at court and with the public.

Brown has had his fair share of late.

First, the assertion his campaign has spent no money on advertising camouflages the fact other groups are running ads in his stead, narrowing the apparent gap in airwave time purchased by the two campaigns.

Second, the article pointed out how, “Notable stories -- the arrest of a suspect in the Grim Sleeper serial killings in Los Angeles and the pension and pay scandal in Bell -- allowed Brown to stay in the spotlight in his day job as attorney general."

Mystified by Brown's low-key, "rope-a--dope" campaign, pundits and opinionmakers are hedging their bets the attorney general is blowing it. They might make for more entertaining columnists and talking heads if they treated Brown's drive, or lack thereof, as interesting political chess worthy of watching.

Most media have painted themselves into a box by sowing the image of Brown as some kind of nutbox. Because who's going to listen to a nutbox?

But here he is, still toe-to-toe with a bottomless paid announcement machine named Meg Whitman. Now the real game begins and Brown can take advantage of debates, his thin coffers, the state's Democratic majority, and whatever else he has up his sleeve, to make a real run at the job he held in another, different time.

Fascinating (Maybe).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Birthday Card For Tina Modotti

Pure your gentle name, pure your fragile life,
bees, shadows, fire, snow, silence and foam,
combined with steel and wire and
pollen to make up your firm
and delicate being.

--Pablo Neruda

Today's is Tina Modotti's birthday.

She would have been 114, but during her short 46 years, Modotti lived a century's-worth.

highwayscribery admires Modotti, not just for an unparalleled commitment to working people, but for the rich texture she wove into her existence, and a willingness to embrace not just what came her way, but the trouble she looked for and found.

By way of birthday card for the fabulous lady, we will sketch a resume of her brief, but full-fledged, engagement with the World.

Modotti was born in Udine, Italy. Her real, first name was Assunta. Poppa was a craftsman who followed the currents of work through the western factory world, so that she spent some years in Austria before taking off, as a teen, for San Francisco.

There she worked as a seamstress in factories while Momma fed her pasta and Poppa the rantings and songs of the anarchist-inspired International Workers of the World -- the Wobblies.

Modotti liked the theater and, at some point during her development into a first-class vixen, was tapped by a Hollywood talent scout to go south and settle in Los Angeles.

There she played the exotic and foreign siren in a number of A-list productions such as "The Tiger's Coat" and "I Can Explain."

Tina married and fell in with a bohemian crowd that counted among its numbers Edward Weston, a still-renowned photography pioneer at whose knee she learned the craft, while simultaneously having an affair with him.

She was, by any measure, a seductress with a strong sexual appetite.

Her husband tempted Tina into visiting post-revolutionary Mexico. Weston followed. There she stayed and delved into that wonderful and beleaguered nation's cornucopia of colors, sounds and flavors, honing her craft into a portfolio much-admired even today.

Modotti mixed with muralist Diego River and his wife (not Frida, the first one), Siqueiros and other figures of the Mexican left until her commitment grew enough to join the communists' feeble efforts to overthrow an already corrupt regime.

When her first husband died Modotti became lover to a Cuban Marxist named Julio Mella, who was shot as he walked with her down a Mexico City street. She was accused as an accomplice in the murder.

Surviving the legal inquest, she nonetheless acquired the sobriquet, "The Bloody Tina Modotti."

Sooner than later, the revolution melded seamlessly with her own life. After somebody tried to kill the Mexican president, Modotti was tossed from the country and into a wanderer's existence served exclusively on behalf of the worker's cause.

Her art was dedicated to the same cause, but unlike socialist realism and other products of the era, Modotti never took up a cudgel. There is nothing bombastic or cloyingly heroic about her photographic subjects.

Rather than impose a communistic view onto the world, Modotti found natural instances, bits of workerist filigree that she highlighted with a Graphlex lens and whatever light was at her disposal.

The compositions are often exquisite.

Berlin, Austria, Paris...Modotti served as a spy in the service of the communist movement. Like many well-meaning progressives, she wasted her countless and life-threatening efforts on the schemes of wicked Joe Stalin.

Few knew what Stalin was until it was too late, that's what is said. Still, it was not necessary, this falling into the trap of losing God only to replace him with the leader of Russia's Communist Party, good or bad.

But we all make mistakes. The swoop and sweep of our lives can be ennobled by their smaller embellishments.

Modotti was dispatched to Spain along with her lover Ennea Sormanti, where she worked as a nurse for the international communist medical auxiliary, staying until the Spanish Republic's tragic demise, squiring beleaguered refugees across the icy Pyrenees mountain in the winter of 1939.

Tina floated the world over on a barge for a while, no country willing to take her in. Mexico finally relented. She died there in a cab a few years later, her life only partially rebuilt.

Elena Poniatowska, Mexican author of the definitive biography, "Tinisima," crafted a quiet expiration brought on by a life of high-drama and chain-smoking.

Others speculate her life on the political and romantic frontlines might have spurred someone to murder La Modotti.

Either way, the mystery befits a woman who led an uncommon existence, following her bliss, seeking a higher purpose, molding life itself into a work of art.

The Donkey Business Done

In progressive politics, no good deed goes rewarded.

(or something like that)

Carl Hulse's piece in the "New York Times" (Aug. 15) says congressional Democrats find themselves on the "political defensive" despite having done everything they promised voters in 2008, save for delivering on a climate change bill.

Republicans, the article reads, "grudgingly concede that Democrats compiled a record perhaps unrivaled since the Great Society programs of President Lyndon Johnson were passed during 89th Congress or the New Deal programs were pushed through they 73rd Congress by President Franklin D. Roosevelt."

And that, Hulse noted, was with considerably more opposition than those two earlier executives faced. By contrast, The Obama/Reid/Pelosi "victories were wrenching, partisan and procedurally ugly, but they were victories."

As White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel told Hulse, "He said what he was going to do, and he did it."

"He" being the president.

No wonder the American people are furious! They're not used to seeing things get done and when you throw in the fact a lot of these measures are about improving our lives long-term, rather than froth designed to deliver votes in November, they should rightly be flummoxed.

For years now, they've grown accustomed to "divided government." Having blessed the Republicans with the one guy they needed to filibuster Washington D.C. into its habitual inactivity, the words of Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell should be disheartening.

He told "The Times" that he was "amused" that his caucus's endless caviling, holding, stalling, and fingers-up-their-buttings should be criticized.

"I wish we had been able to obstruct more," McConnell said. "They were able to get the health care bill through. They were able to get the stimulus through. They were able to get financial reform through."

And we didn't need any of those things. We needed nothing and lots of it!

Out on the hustings, Obama called the Republicans the "no we can't crowd" and correctly noted that they are "more concerned with the next election than the next generation."

The minority leader says the Democrats will pay for pushing such "sweeping measures" in the face of public opposition.

The GOPers often forget they represent a single region of the country and that, love Dixie though we all do, it simply does not represent a majority any more than the Republicans do.

Hulse's piece quotes Democrats lamenting that they don't know "how to celebrate" and that's why November is going to bring THE END OF THE WORLD! (as we know it).

Not sure what else the Democrats could do. It would be nice, for them anyway, if the Hulse piece, instead of being buried on page 20, were on the cover and crowned with a headline like, say... "Democrats Have Compiled Record Unrivalled Since FDR."

But there's no point complaining about the media anymore. People are either smart or stupid and that extends to their choice of news source and their literacy when it comes to consuming it.

It's a matter of cold and hard politics and with more than a year of gloom and doom forecasts, "The Times" also noted that, unlike in 1994, the Democrats are prepared and taking those steps necessary to prevent the no-nothings from storming the gates (again).

Should they fail, those of us who support the president and his cohorts might be content with the record they've pieced together and the easier task of stopping GOP efforts at repeal.

Wither goest thou America, forward or back?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Letter to China's Ambassador Zhang Yesui

August 12, 2010

650 South Sweetzer Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Zhang Yesui
Chinese Ambassador to the United States
3505 International Place N.W.
Washington D.C. 20008

Mr. Ambassador,

This letter is in response to a most disturbing article in the August 12 edition of the "The New York Times," about the impending prosecution of the Tibetan writer Tragyal.

We here in the United States know that somebody being prosecuted in China is going to jail, because you have no concept of individual rights and such politically motivated processes usually result in conviction.

Why don't you let this gentleman go? I'm not well-informed on the politics of Tibet and China, but, like Tragyal, I'm a writer who gives free reign to his thoughts about governance, and mis-governance, both in my country and around the world.

You and I, it is understood, hail from different cultures, but I'm unwilling to accept the idea that in certain places, the thoughts, emotions, and intellectual productions of a human mind have no right to expression in the public sphere.

One thing is jailing somebody for violence against the state, but to snuff them out for writing a book strikes me as beyond the pale.

More importantly, I do not understand how it is your government can destroy the lives of people who circulate their thoughts and opinions regarding the Chinese government's performance.

Is it flawless, your government? Do its many officials, to a person, never make a mistake?

I'll be frank Mr. Ambassador. I tire of reading about the torture, disappearance, summary execution, and long-term incarceration of people whose only difference from me is that they had the misfortune of being born under a system your government finds beyond reproach.

I frequently put-off letters like this, because another article, about another person with the temerity to question the Chinese government's way of doing business, is published to take its place in my catalogue of outrages against human freedom.

So while I'm at it, let me put in a good word for Hu Jia, winner of the Sakharov Price for Freedom of Thought, and Liu Xiaobo another writer for whom I feel truly sorry.

And I extend the same sentiments to other forlorn victims of your repressive state. You know their names better than I.

Your government ought to be embarrassed with the way it deprives China‘s best citizens of the fundamental right to breathe freely, and by extension, with the way it instills fear into each and every citizen.

A child is not a grown up because he wears an adult's clothes, Mr. Ambassador.

And China is neither a modern or humane country simply because it successfully shills cheap goods to people around the world.

Shame on you.

the highway scribe

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tuesday's Results: The Dirt(y)

Another series of primaries done and highwayscribery is still waiting for the big "anti-establishment" revolt at the polls that will crush the Democratic majorities and usher in another era of shoddy governance.

Let's see, the guy backed by the president in Colorado won. Jeff Zeleny's piece in the "New York Times," noted that Senator Michael Bennett's victory, "interrupted the story line that all incumbents are doomed by voter discontent."

These damn primaries keep interrupting the same story line but the media, which can't be "mainstream" if perpetually wrong, continues to peddle it.

Some guy named Ken Buck beat up on the Republican establishment's candidate of choice, which only confirms what we've been saying about Tea Party types since the last round of primaries/elections: These people are dividing the Republican Party.

Rand Paul, the Tea Party guy from Kentucky, can't get anything right and may give the Democrats a chance at stealing a seat they have no business contesting.

Sharron Angle, the Tea Party gal picked by Nevada Republicans has done more to resurrect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's career than anything President Obama might have.

The Connecticut GOP is going with a former wrestling executive, effectively snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Dan Quayle's kid Ben, not content with the mess his daddy made of the family name, got nailed on some old posts he wrote for "The Dirty" (Scottsdale, Ariz. edition).

highwayscribery doesn't think that should disqualify Quayle fils, but that's because he's a Democrat out of the Kennedy tradition who thinks presidents and other political fauna should be allowed to have testes.

But Quayle's neither running on a blue ticket or in a blue state so he's got some explainin' ta do at the next church social.

And, of course, the shelf-life of Sarah Palin continues to grow as stale as the Democrats-are-doomed meme we've been hearing since, oh, the Republicans came up with the cockeyed idea of saying no to every Obama effort at fixing what ails the country.

"The Washington Post" has a great graphic charting the success of Palin's self-proclaimed "Mamma Grizzlies."

It is understandable that you might not click-through given her increasing irrelevance, but suffice it to say, 10 candidates she endorsed won, and eight have lost, which is mostly a wash, just as her run for the vice presidency and half-term as governor of Alaska were.

There is no difference between what the Republican Party is enduring and the trials undergone by their Democratic counterparts in the 1980s when the liberal wing, of which the scribe was an active member, forced uncomfortable and unpalatable positions on the likes of people like Michael Dukakis.

'Nuff said.

And while the Democrats have picked up baggage by adopting long-term fixes and strategies for our declining country, the Republicans offer no alternative, since there is little change to what or who they, in truth, care about and represent.

To wit: Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator ever, just died as he lived: in a plane crash on his way to a corporate junket...even though he's been out of office for a few years now.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Book Report: "Mr. Sammler's Planet" by Saul Bellow

"Mr. Sammler's Planet" (Penguin Classics)makes the case for sticking with an author's big hits before delving into their more exotic offerings.

Saul Bellow, of course, is/was a famous writer whose big triumphs were "The Adventures of Augie March (Penguin Classics)" and "Herzog (Penguin Classics)."

highwayscribery decided upon "Mr. Sammler's Planet," thanks to its being mentioned in a column by David Brooks of the "New York Times."

In "Children of the '70s," Brooks sought to put a damper on recent enthusiasms for 1970s New York as a dangerous, but freewheeling and artistically sympathetic urban landscape that, on balance, was much better than the white flight and capital disinvestment that characterized it.

highwayscribery, who grew up in that New York, indulged just such a flight of fancy in his post memorializing the recently deceased downtown poet, Jim Carroll.

Brooks noted in his piece that, when the city tried slum clearance on the upper West Side, "Crime did not abate. Passivity set in, the sense that nothing could be done. The novel, 'Mr. Sammler's Planet,' by Saul Bellow captured some of the dispirited atmosphere of that era -- the sense that New York City was a place of no-go zones, a place where one hunkered down."


"Mr. Sammler's Planet," to the extent that it is about anything, fleshes out the post-Holocaust relationships between Jewish folk in New York: their mutual aid toward one another and the friendships forged by their unique and tragic recent history.

It is, briefly, about a pick-pocket Sammler watches and with whom he later experiences an unfortunate encounter. It is about the pending death of a close friend and benefactor. It is about his wacky daughter and her personal quest to make a father whose claim to fame is a long-ago relationship with H.G. Wells relevant to fast-changing times.

But these story threads are a skimpy skeleton upon which Mr. Bellow hung a lot of issues swimming around in his mind. It almost works until he gets into a discussion with Dr. Govinda Lal from whom his daughter Shula has stolen a manuscript.

The exchange is characterized by long-winded discourses from both men on the nature of things, which, to their minds, cannot be described in elementary terms. The two gents hold court with only the rarest authorial interjections to remind us these are characters talking and not just a stream of raw, unplugged Bellow.

The author was a Nobel Prize winner whose thoughts are novel and well-expressed. There is certainly valuable currency in "Mr. Sammler's Planet," but less of a story than one might expect from someone quite so celebrated.

Bring on "Herzog."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Possessors of the Ball, Owners of the Universe

Below is the translation of an article written by Jesus Alcaide from the Madrid-based daily "El Mundo" on the Spanish selection's winning the prized World Cup. Two years ago, when the same group of "mozos" won the European Cup, the highway scribe wrote "Spain is Cool," as an expression of those sentiments aroused by a stunning land that has given him enough beauty to fill a 360-page epic novel, and memories aplenty to entertain him in old age. After Johannesburg, these feelings return and almost overwhelm.

Possessors of the Ball, Owners of the Universe

That's it. Spain, World Champion. It is not a dream, it is real. In decades to come an entire country will remember the decisive action. The pass by Cesc, the delicate control of Inieista and the finish from a kid of Albacete who uplifted 46 million Spaniards after 117 minutes of continuous domination, of chiseling away at rock to bring down a fortification that resisted heavy artillery with dark arts that stained an illustrious orange jersey.

Yes, the World Cup comes to Spain after 90 long years of waiting, of seeing how the good ones were always somebody else. In the end, this curse was ended thanks to the best generation in history, artists in love with the ball who avenged the memory of so many others who never reached the river bank. From Zamora to Zarra, Gento to Luis Suarez, Butragueno to Raul. So many that tried and never even came close to that river bank. This bunch did. But most importantly, they did it with an identifiable style, beautiful, the envy of those who like their soccer clean, offensive, joyous, and without malice. Yes, this time we were the good ones. And this time, soccer was not capricious, instead tipping its hat to those who merited it, to those who overcame the tricks, dirty play, and knifings of a rival that, Dutch coat-of-arms on their jersey not withstanding, looked more like Nazi officials overunning Poland. They were taking no prisoners, only corpses, and counted on the collaboration of an English referee who had more in common with the great conciliator Chamberlain than the visionary Churchill. A referee who permitted the crunching of legs, only remembering the red card in his pocket during overtime.

But this Spain, the red ballet that revolves around Xavi with the divine collaboration of Saint Iker Casillas in the dire moment, forced every rival to admit their inferiority before the possessors of the ball, owners of the universe, those who now have a star on their jersey. Let's go for another. God, what an orgasm. Viva Espana. Long live the mother who birthed you, oh heroes, and thanks Don Vicente.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Material Girl Lands

Here's a link to the Web site for the new Material Girl fashion line. The scribe's wife is part of the design team that has brought this sartorial confection from Madonna's daughter Lourdes (Lola) to Macy*s stores everywhere.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Kennedy on Poetry

Those who know the scribe personally understand how he has been guided by conflicting lights over the years: Jack Kerouac and Jack Kennedy. He has essentially chosen a path hacked out of the cultural forest by the former, but now and again allows himself a lapse into fantasy about public service so remarkable in the latter. Having lived longer in years than both, the highway scribe is now stuck with a process of self-invention for the remainder of the journey, or wondering if these choices in men-models were not ill-advised.

In any case, here are some thoughts Kennedy had about poetry from a speech given at Amherst College in honor of Robert Frost in September 1963. For one moment, at least, the President sounds a little something like Kerouac.

It ran in an issue of the “Atlantic Monthly” from whence it was transcribed.

A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.

The men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the nation’s greatness, but the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they determine whether we use power or power uses us...

When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones for our judgment. The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, “a lover’s quarrel with the world.” In pursuing his perceptions of reality he must often sail against the currents of his time...

If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, make them aware that our nation falls short of its highest potential.

I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him...

In free society art is not a weapon, and it does not belong to the sphere of polemics and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But in a democratic society the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist, is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation...

I look forward to a great future for America – a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral strength, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose.

I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future.

I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens.

And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world, not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.

And I look forward to a world which will be safe, not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tuesday's Results: Some Thoughts

In Pennsylvania, the Democrat beat the Republican in a congressional race, the Democrat beat the Democrat who was really a Republican in the Senate primary and, down in Arkansas, neither Democrat could beat the other Democrat in another Senate primary.

That makes the Democrats look almost…unbeatable.

highwayscribery lacks the time, funding, and staff to check up on such things, but MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow does, and she said the congressional pickup represents the seventh consecutive special election victory for the Democrats since 2008.

These results jibe exactly with what we’ve been saying over the past few days and months: that anti-incumbent sentiment cuts both ways and that the GOP isn’t ready to govern just because their opposite numbers have made some tough choices about the country's needs.

The “New York Times,” which doesn’t openly admit to reading this blog, was forced to finally soften its dyed-in-the-wool narrative of a coming Democratic debacle in November:

“For Republicans,” wrote Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny, “the failure to take an open seat that they made great efforts to capture was interpreted as a warning to curtail talk of how many seats they will win in November.”

They should have included themselves in the chastened grouping, but heck, it’s the “New York Times”!

The pundits are still talking about a scared, freaked-out electorate, because otherwise they’d have to admit how wrong their recent prognostications have been.

An occupational hazard.

But Tuesday’s elections remind us that local issues are more important to such contests than those trying to read the nation’s tea leaves in them dare admit.

Straining to divine national implications in Sen. Arlen Spector’s (D-Penn.) defeat at the hands of Joe Sestak (pictured), the media geniuses may be missing a simple reality: Sometimes you gotta go. Especially if you’ve held a seat for 30 years, beaten cancer twice, and are up against a younger, more energetic fellow who deserves a chance.

Just a thought.

In the Pennsylvania Congressional 12th contest, a working class, non-latte drinking crowd went with the last guy’s chief-of-staff, which makes the electorate seem not as angry, scared, or rabid about incumbents as we’re still being told it is.

Meanwhile, an Indiana Republican, Rep. Mark Souder, resigned his seat thanks to his affair with a married staffer.

We’ve never heard of him, but “The Times” assures us Souder is “known for his push for stronger drug penalties and abstinence-only sex education for teenagers…”

Which only goes to show that even the people who advocate such policies don’t truly believe in them.

Such paper-thin righteousness is hardly the stuff a party might expect to ride a national wave to power upon.

And good riddance.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Boilerplate Bunk

Unsurprisingly, nobody listens to highwayscribery.

On May 14 the “New York Times,” once again, peddled the “death of the Democratic majority” narrative in a prominently placed piece.

This time, it was written by Katharine Seelye, and uncovered the strong “shift of ground” in a Massachusetts congressional district currently represented by Niki Tsongas, a Democrat.

With no poll numbers to boost its contention the incumbent is in trouble, the story sticks, after the Republican/conservative fashion, to the unscientific and anecdotal; mostly impressed with the fact Ms. Tsongas is watching eight Republicans of zero stature savage one another for the right to oppose her.

You’ve read this piece before and will continue to read it for months to come as the conventional wisdom slowly petrifies into the institutional kind nobody dares challenge.

(exceptin’ us!)

Particular to all these stories is what highwayscribery calls the “boilerplate” paragraph.

Seelye uses it, as all the reporters to do, to explain the over-ballyhooed “anti-incumbent fever” which, she claims, “is rooted in anger over the federal economic stimulus package, the new health care law, and the succession of bailouts, as well as a desire by voters to feel empowered.”

That last one is a phenomenon of her own invention and not part of the classic boilerplate paragraph.

The bailout was bipartisan and accrues to the debit side of every incumbent’s account, Republican or Democrat, although it is not often presented in those terms

The rest is pap about the stimulus package and health care reform being the stuff of Democratic debacles

We are told a majority thought the stimulus unnecessary. Like numbers feel health care reform is something that, as Republicans repeated ad nauseum in their ill-fated effort to Kill-The-Bill, “was shoved down the throats of the American people.”

Rarely, if ever, is there an article focused on the millions of folks, bit-players in the current governing coalition, who fought for health care reform.
Nobody wanted it you see. Representatives and senators did what they damn well pleased because they don’t listen to or need votes.

There is a dearth of articles interviewing happy teachers who kept their jobs, parents whose kids’ schools stayed open, or construction workers relieved to be laboring on infrastructure projects funded with stimulus money.

highwayscribery does not believe this is because such stories don’t exist.

Similarly, few are the stories about where, and on what, the stimulus package is being applied.

The overall impression is that health care reform will cost Americans much, but offer them nothing while the stimulus money was poured down some black hole of unaccountability when, actually, the opposite is true.

Certainly, a goodly portion of Americans opposed these measures, but the coverage we’re talking about here renders them a majority, which is to regurgitate a Republican talking report rather than practice sound journalism.

The oft-predicted Republican resurgence set for November occurs on the commentariat’s chessboard where all things remain equal and the opposition party holds its own in spite of a pathetic performance over the course of the Obama reign.

But there are telling exceptions.

In Sunday’s “New York Times,” an interview with the former chairman of Bear Stearns,
Alan C. Greenberg confessed that, “I was a Republican for years. After the way the Republican leadership acted when the health care bill was passed, I changed my affiliation to Democrat.”

Election-year coverage, to date, suggests he is utterly alone in these sentiments.

We doubt it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Reform This!

Three filibusters and out.

That was fast. The "New York Times," reported that the Republicans had "relented" in the face of considerable pressure the likes Goldman Sacks be brought to heel. This means the party is very NOT relentless and Mr. Peebles, otherwise knows as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, just the opposite.

You can't judge a nerd by his glasses.

The Republicans' was a great performance in legislative self-gratification and another example of the neutered Republicans' over-reliance on the filibuster.

As "Times" reporters David Herszenhorn and Edward Wyatt, or one of them anyway, pointed out, "While the Republicans can still filibuster, they are at a disadvantage during the floor debate given the Democrats' 59 to 41 majority. And the decision to allow floor debate appeared to be a significant retreat by the minority, reflecting a calculation that further delay was politically untenable."

You can say that again!

"And the decision to allow floor debate appeared to be a significant retreat by the minority, reflecting a calculation that further delay was politically untenable."

Hurts so good.

The Republicans don't want President Obama to succeed at anything regardless of what that thing means to the country. It's a clumsy posture forcing the GOP into uncomfortable, pretzel-like political positions:

"Among the challenges for Republicans, "The Times" writers write, "was explaining how they could participate in an oversight hearing on Tuesday criticizing Goldman Sachs executives and proclaiming the need to tighten regulation of Wall Street, but then go to the Senate chamber and vote to block debate of the financial regulatory bill."

"Salon" has a problem with some of the ensuing coverage, which grants the President's party a victory without being sure of what has been won. But it's "Salon's" self-appointed to be whine about Democrats in between election seasons and support them when the line outside the polling place starts taking shape.

Speaking of polling, that same outlet's Joe Conason parses an upturn in Democratic support out of a new sampling of voters from the "Washington Post."

It's a question of whether you believe in polls or not. highwayscribery does, like all of us, when they confirm his beliefs.

Conason quotes the survey which concluded, "The public trusts Democrats more than Republicans to handle the major problems facing the country by a double-digit margin, giving Democrats a bigger lead than they held two months ago when Congress was engaged in the long endgame over divisive health legislation."

There's more. President Obama's numbers are up and, despite all the "anti-incumbent" sentiment we are told is out there, the Republicans come off much worse in the poll.

Proof of highwayscribery's hard-earned lesson that you must be more than AGAINST something to win an election.

we told you so four months ago, and four days (or so) ago as well.

Same goes for our prediction that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist would leave the Republican Party and run as an independent, thereby increasing the Democrats' chances of taking that Senate seat.

Tea anyone?

Naturally you are wondering, "How can highwayscribery be getting it so right?" But we must confess that has not always been thus. In fact, back when the scribe's belief in the minimum wage left him "outside the mainstream of American politics," he confused his anger with that of everybody else's in the country, much the way Tea Party people do now.

But the presidential election of 2004 fixed THAT.

Now, the scribe is a piece of particulate matter in the same political class around which the President has built his core support, demographically, many measurements.

So much so, that he was offered to apply for a job with Organizing for America, the Obama crowd's grassroots storm-troop group.

the highway scribe declined.

Our support is contingent upon specific policies we are, for the most part, getting from Barack Obama. Plus, we don't do propaganda. If the Obama administration wants to subpoena a reporter over his resources, for example, we observe how the policy runs counter to the First Amendment and our hallowed free press traditions.

And besides, the job requires relocating to D.C., where there are no waves for surfing.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Book Report: "A Magnificent Catastrophe," by Edward Larson

Ambitious people don't always come off too well in literature, and "A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign" shows that our hallowed founding fathers were no exception.

The "Founding Fathers" are usually presented as an archetype of monolithic cohesion; high-minded patriots, with a nascent American polity's well-being the driving force behind their every action.

There is a wistful, almost universal, sentiment that says, “they just don’t make them like that anymore.”

But this book establishes that they were monolithic only in their desire for independence from England, and thereafter took radically different positions.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward Larson's portrayal of names as revered as Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the not-so-revered, Aaron Burr or Thomas Cotesworth Pinckney, leaves hardly a hair of difference between the high- and low-minded amongst them.

These gentlemen were, in the end, politicians. And like all specimens of that species, they craved power and stepped on people to get it.

Alexander Hamilton comes off particularly bad, or good, depending on your politics.

As a member of the "high Federalist" faction, which ruled before the presidential election covered here, Larson marks him for a pro-British, almost monarchical, presence on the American political scene. A guy who managed to finagle his own standing army out of the Federalist majority and was known as “General Hamilton.”

And he wasn’t the only founder with aristocratic tendencies.

Larson writes that the aforementioned Pinckney, “fought the Revolution to preserve what he, as a South Carolina patrician, viewed as the traditional rights of Englishmen, which for him included the God-given right to enslave Africans -- a right that prewar legal developments in Britain appeared to threaten.”

"Liberty or Death!" indeed.

It comes as quite a shock, in fact, that beacons such as Hamilton, John Adams, and other Federalists in power at the time had a strong aversion to, well, democracy.

They didn't like it, feared it, figured it for a precursor to the mobs, massacres, and guillotines that were all the rage in France at the time.

In fact, they made it a practice to tar Thomas Jefferson's Republican Party (not THAT Republican Party) as "Jacobins," after the unruliest faction of the tumultuous French political scene. Much the way today's Republicans go on about the Democrats being "socialists."

There is, perhaps, something calming in all of this. A vote of confidence for those who shrug at today's Washington shenanigans, confident that our Republic shall survive this, too.

The debate so marvelously detailed here traces the pedigrees of our current political divide.

It may come as a surprise, for those who went into paroxysms over the Bush administration’s scant deference to the rule of law, that such behavior has roots in the guy gracing our ten dollar bill.

Concerned that changes in Maryland’s election law would deliver the presidency to Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton wrote a fellow Federalist, “I am aware of strong objections to the measure, but if it be true, as I suppose, that our opponents aim at revolution and employ all means to secure success, the contest must be unequal if we not only refrain from unconstitutional and criminal measures, but even from such as may offend against the routine of strict decorum.”

In blog-ese, Hamilton is saying, “If we don’t act unconstitutionally or criminally, and risk offending everyone’s sensibilities, we’ll lose the election.”

Al Hamilton, meet Karl Rove.

This book makes clear that today’s rabid partisanship is hardly a new phenomenon.

As the complex election of 18000 is being resolved, things in Washington are at fever pitch. Members of the warring parties no longer socialize as they did up in Philadelphia and Massachusetts Federalist Harrison Gray Otis writes his wife to say, “I have concluded to go to no more balls. I do not enjoy myself with these people.”

Seeking to forge some kind of bipartisan sentiment, the victorious Jefferson is obligated to point out that, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.”

Sound familiar?

Well, the founders reacted in much the same way their legislative offspring do today, and they didn’t need Fox News or the Internet to slime far and wide.

Messenger on horseback was sufficient to spreading a rumor that the mostly forgotten Pinckney, a frequent and viable presidential candidate in those days, had gone to England in search of four mistresses for sharing with John Adams, who quipped in response: “If this be true, General Pinckney has kept all for himself and cheated me out of my two.”

There isn’t enough of such stuff in “Magnificent Catastrophe.” It's a dense, if worthwhile read.

That’s not Larson’s fault. The people he’s researching did what they did and said what they said, and the business of resolving the dangerous partisan rift was indeed a grim one.

In fact, “Magnificent Catastrophe,” suffers from its almost exclusive focus on the inside ball associated with the party politics that followed the death of George Washington who preferred that grand and national coalitions conduct the country’s business.

Readers may yearn for a wider portrait of America, such as that rendered in the account of John Adams’ time on the hustings, when an agrarian, English-styled nation filled with country villages surfaces, if only too briefly.

“Magnificent Catastrophe” doesn't quite live up to its grandiose title. The founding fathers’ low-brow dealings are anything but magnificent, and the catastrophe was ultimately averted.

But it is a revelatory document detailing the way presidents were chosen in the nation’s early days, and dissecting the numbers, myriad votes, and concomitant conniving employed to affect them, in a tense political season that might have doomed the country.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ahead of the Curve

You read it here first. Or at least before you read it on "Politico."

In his April 21 post, "Democrats Banking on Reform," the highway scribe called the Tea Party movement, "the biggest white elephant in American politics."

The post noted that you might be distracted from the divining the true tenor of our country's politics by "an endless barrage of mentions" about that particular group. This was followed-up there by a few details about how damaging the Tea Party might actually be to the efforts of those hoping to topple President Obama.

Well, the next day, while highwayscribery's entry was traversing the global system of flows, an infinitely more potent outfit, "Politico," published, "The Tea Party's Exaggerated Importance."

The online powerhouse concluded that nothing succeeds like excess and the media has succumbed to this formula in its Tea Party coverage, noting that, "In fact, there is a word for what poll after poll depicts as a group of largely white, middle-class, middle-aged voters who are aggrieved: 'Republicans'."

highwayscribery's riposte said: "Essentially Republican voters, the only thing that would make this 18 percent segment of the population newsworthy is if they actually turned on the GOP and helped consolidate Democratic control."

The point?

highwayscribery is special!

"Politico" noted that the Tea Party has "failed to make a dent so far in Republican primaries."

In "The WikiLeaks Massacre," this blogger observed that in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, he marched with "crowds much larger than anything the Tea Party ever cooked up. Unlike that self-centered bunch of hysterics, we were confronted by police sent out to bash heads, because of our opposition to exactly this kind of horror."

Or as "Politico" authors Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith put it: "And just a few years ago, hundreds of thousands of Americans turned out to rally against the Iraq war. Now, veterans of those protests -- covered largely as spot news and spectacle -- wonder why they didn't get the weighty, anthropological treatment assigned to the tea parties."

(They forgot the part about police knocking the snot out of the anti-war crowd).

The "Politico" piece notes that the group's Tax Day crowds [promoted by Fox News as they were] "were not representative of a force that is purportedly shaping the country's politics. About a thousand people showed up in state capitals like Des Moines, Montgomery, and Baton Rouge, and even fewer in large cities like Philadelphia, Boston and Milwaukee."

Their reward? The article enumerates a blogger "The Washington Post" hired to cover the "movement," CNN crews that joined the Tea Party Express bus tours, polls in the "New York Times," addressing their importance, and "CNN" (again), and their own outfit.

Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism noted that the Tea Party competed for attention with the Iceland volcano and beat out health care in terms of coverage garnered.

The upshot, the reporters say, is that, like Sarah Palin, who couldn't wait to glom onto the Tea Party poopers, they are symbols "that outweigh their actual impact."

Exactly our point (again).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Democrats Banking on Reform

Even as its business model is shredded to smithereens by the Internet, our mainstream media persists in propagating a wisdom utterly conventional.

Why the information industry's foot soldiers insist the Democratic Party is headed for doom in this year's elections, and bury an article headlined "Democrats Top GOP in Fund-Raising for Midterms" is anybody's guess.

Hee Haw!

Back on January 10, in "Dem Dead Dems," the highway scribe said the Democrats' problems were relative and the Republicans were in no position to take advantage of them.

Although highwayscribery hates repeating itself, the popes of American news do not, and so we are obligated in our gadfly's mission to follow suit, repeat, and refute this widespread fallacy.

We are not going to serve up a bunch of stuff you are supping on daily, just a few recent examples of the aforementioned popular pap.

The "San Francisco Chronicle," which ought to know better, put a California spin on things.

The state's Democrats just adjourned their convention and the reporter wonders how they're going to rev things up to 2008 levels of excitement, which, of course they can't.

This begs the question of whether a governing party needs to generate the energy of historic, watershed elections every time voters are convened to settle the polity's direction.

We would suggest there is margin for error and that, in the wake of the health care debate, the Democratic Party is holding its own, hardly imploding as the present-day narrative strains to assert.

At the national level, "Salon" throws in the towel on the mid-terms, too. Then it sugar-coats things for its liberal audience with some high-falutin', demographically based hoo-hah about how 2012 will be better for Democrats.

The article only affirms the highway scribe's hypothesis that journalists think way too much before arriving at like conclusions.

Our editorial board's take, honed over years in opposition, is that Republicans will not fare well just because folks are unhappy with the other guys.

It's a cyclical analysis of American politics that sees parties rise to power, expend themselves of ideas, crash on the shoals of a popular clamor for change, engage in internecine policy purges, and then start hatching ideas anew.

In today's speedy world, this takes less time than before, but it's still a process that requires some years unfold.

highwayscribery's prediction is that, as the premier and dominant figure on the American political landscape, Barack Obama remains the focus of our national narrative by holding serve in 2010, slowly wearing down the opposition, and imposing those programs he was elected to affect.

We predict he gets reelected in 2012 for lack of fresh Republican talent, coupled with a bruising 24-hour cable-news-ified primary season on the right, before getting his hat handed to him in 2014.

If that comes as cold dousing given what you've been reading and watching, witness the flailing Republicans push each other to the right, waffle over keeping or dumping their ineffectual party chairman Michael Steel, while slowly losing their ability to gum-up the legislative works.

Here, an article in the "New York Times," about the Democrats effectively moving on nominations held-up by the GOP for nine months.

It notes that, "Under the threat of late-night sessions, Republicans have agreed to allow votes on two federal judicial nominees, and Democrats hope to force votes on two others this week."

From which we can only surmise that Republican legislators are willing to surrender their ideological bona fides for an early ride home.

Here's another "Times" piece about follow-up health care legislation regulating insurance premium increases.

No GOPers are predicting the end of freedom as we know it this round. So either they've accepted socialist enslavement or don't think that line of reasoning worked too well for them.

The Republicans bet everything on the health care debate. It was a careless wager against something a lot of people have been clamoring decades for.

There was never a clear policy from the opposition.

We never knew if they were against the drug companies, who backed the measure, the insurance companies whom Obama had wisely co-opted early on in the process, the medical community, or the American people themselves.

What they were clearly against, was President Obama's achieving anything.

As Tom Friedman noted in "Everybody Loves a Winner," one needn't be Machiavelli "to believe that the leaders of Iran and Venezuela shared the barely disguised Republican hope that health care would fail and, therefore, Obama's whole political agenda would be stalled and, therefore, his presidency enfeebled."

Now, the highway scribe and countless leftists wanted and worked for much the same in the case of George W. Bush. But he stole an election.

As Frank Rich recently noted, the problem for Tea Partiers, who are otherwise "doing fine," is that Obama is black.

That is less an offense than rigging an election in your big brother's state. Except in the south, the regional rock to which Republicans cling for a modicum of relevance.

As Democrats continue their efforts to keep us healthy at a cheaper price, we'll see how the world did not come to an end and that their positive labors in this area will match their good deeds in the credit card business.

Have you seen your statement lately? It tells what you've forked over in fees and interest for the year to date, maps out your future expenses at current rates of payment, and details alternative sums that wipe out your debt sooner.

The changes are due to new laws, not some new predisposition on the part of big banks who want to be your friend.

They really don't.

And as the "New York Times," noted on April 19, the Democrats have seized a great combination of populist ire at banks and fancy pants investment houses, and their opponents' predilection for all things financial, to make hay at the GOP's expense.

You have to hand it to the Republicans. They know what they stand for and they don't back down when the political climate is searing their values on the grill.

They like banks. The lunch with banks. They want to help banks. They tell bankers not to worry about congressional staffer "punks" harassing them.

Obama was out here in Los Angeles raising money for Sen. Barbara Boxer; someone who is supposedly vulnerable in November, which is not likely.

The President informed his audience about where his opposite number, politically speaking, has been of late. That would be Mitch McConnell, Senate minority leader whom, the president noted, recently convened a little confab including Wall Street Brahmin, himself, and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.

"Now, the Senate Republican leader, he paid a visit to Wall Street a week or two ago," the president narrated for his partisans. "He took along the chairman of their campaign committee [that's Cornyn]. He met with some of the movers and shakers up there. I don't know exactly what was discussed, all I can tell you is that, when he came back, he promptly announced he would oppose the financial regulatory reform. He would oppose it. Shocking. And once again he's threatening to tie up the Senate with a filibuster to block progress."

The health care debate turned McConnell's once obscure tools of obstruction into household words so that now "filibuster" is officially a dirty one, unless you're the kind who ties teabags to your NASCAR baseball cap.

The Senate minority leader explained that he was on Wall Street, "gathering information" regarding peoples' views on the proposed reform.

Which is fine, but highwayscribery is still waiting to talk with McConnell so he can air some views, too. He hasn't heard from Mitch yet.

Have you?

While the Obama crowd and their suddenly cohesive cohorts in Congress were working to get financial reform on the Senate floor within a week (the House has already passed a bill), the federal government sued Goldman Sachs for fraud.

The firm just posted another $zillion quarterly profit and word has it the government's case is a tough sell, but the timing's right, isn't it?

If you think it's a mistake an Obama Department of Justice filed the lawsuit around the same time the administration would like the Senate to take up financial regulatory reform, than you're one of those people who thinks the president is stupid.

You are invited by a supporter of the administration to keep doing that.

McConnell is backtracking, because his threat to kill legislation reining in predatory financial institutions, while railing against predatory financial institutions, is fooling nobody and he can't get the 41 votes he needs.

The strategy of gridlock is being affected by a law of diminishing returns and financial reform represents the second big loss in a month's time for Republicans.

And this time it wasn't even close.

By now you should see where things are heading, but might be distracted by flack from an endless barrage of mentions about the Tea Party. The biggest white elephant in American politics since Ross Perot.

Essentially Republican voters, the only thing that would make this 18 percent segment of the population newsworthy is if they actually turned on the GOP and helped consolidate Democratic control.

And it is happening.

They've made Florida's Marco Rubio a poster-boy for the new conservatism, and a dumping ground of Sunshine State Gov. Charlie Crist's political career.

The feckless Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), in a dog-fight with a newly, self-identified Tea Partier, J.D. Hayworth, just "distanced" himself from Crist.

Ham-handed and craven, the Republican establishment has treated one of its proven and successful moderates so roughly that Crist is threatening to run as an independent.

Can you say "split ticket?"

Michael Gerson, a right-leaning columnist with the "Washington Post," thinks McCain's in trouble. The operative phrase to his piece is, "in an environment where anything can happen to an incumbent."

Which is one of our points here. If the electorate is still in a foul mood seven months from now -- something that is open to dispute -- it won't be the President's party alone that pays the price.

With the pain equitably distributed, the Democrats can be expected to hold onto power.

Bank on it.