Behold, Ichiro. Then notice the puss that the wily man from Japan is sporting in this picture that signals his new deal with the Marlins. This is not the look of a man who is HAPPY about his new $2M deal. It is the look of a future Baseball Hall of Famer who is doing what he must to extend his stellar career and rack up those hits/milestones. Kudos to the Marlins for flying to Tokyo for the press conference. We just want to know right now what the Hall of Fame officials have in store for Ichi-balls' induction plaque cap. Yankees or Mariners? It better be the M's!
7:58 p.m. January 26. #JUNO -- Port Washington, NY -- It's early yet, but a creeping sense of disappointment might be setting in. A few good, solid inches of real snow has fallen. We have shoveled our walkway and driveway, vowing to keep ahead of the historic and record-breaking snowfall. The plows of the Town of North Hempstead have cleared our street not once, not twice, not three times but four! Our tax dollars so efficiently at work -- whoops -- here they come! Five times! Five times now the plowman has come barreling down our street, gamboling 57 mph, running stop signs as the driver howls into the wind. Sparks fly from the lowered blade into the luminous night air -- a feat only possible when the asphalt of the road has already been rendered bare due to overzealously clearing. My friends in Seattle and upstate NY are posting on Facebook how the Mayor of New York has preached pestilence and fear all in the name of shutting down all transit in order to preserve life and liberty. Grocery stores are scenes of great rioting and blatant disregard of the surgeon general's warnings about daily allowances for fat, sodium and microbrews. Meanwhile, back at home here in the Little Town of Port Washington, the household lights are all on, the computers and laptops and TVs are all ablare and ablaze. The microwave and stove are churning out for us hot plates of storm-night obligatories -- beef chili, no-bean chili and turkey chili. Candles sit squat and new on the counter, forlorn and cold and dark. We all had such great expectations but so far ... (to be continued)
10:54 p.m. January 26. #JUNO -- Port Washington, NY -- It is now officially six minutes before the government shutdown of our streets clicks into place. No one's on the road. Not even -- the snowplow! A great lull has come over the town. You can't hear anything, nothing, except a faint spin of wind occasionally scattering some of the frozen kernels of snow that are almost as restless as us! Where is our storm? Given the lack of speeding SUVs and the silence of police and fire sirens and the absence of train commuters who normally shuffle down our street, we have been left here to confront the glaring truth that we really wanted a lot more ... drama. Like, the kind of natural drama that exceeds the collective entertainment and "wow" factor of "Empire," "Idol," "OITNB," "House of Cards" and "Property Brothers" mixed in with a little "Transparent." We stocked all manner of snack foods in our shelves, our pantries, our 4K Liebherr fridges and our larders -- as if we even know what a larder is! This is Port Washington 2015, not Dickensian London. We have come a long way from larders. The point is: We did everything everyone told us to do in order to SHELTER IN PLACE ahead of this vast, east-coast weather conspiracy. We did so in the expectation (given the SALES PITCH) that we would be "rewarded" with a broken branch to take down a power line; a gale-force wind to shimmy Infinity Triple Play On Demand for $139 a month for 2 years into submission. We would settle for a ruptured water main pipe that would transform Irma Ave. into an Olympic luge run. This was the bargain in exchange for our reading tide charts and graphing the areas where the so-called coming storm surge would eat whole other sections of the Atlantic seaboard like it was a big, sandy piece of New York cheesecake. We have been prepped for an End Times N'or Easter; we have been commanded to heed the warnings of state, local and federal officials; we have been told the National Guard and extra technicians from National Grid are ON THE SCENE, at the ready. But for what? Not much. And instead of being grateful that we have not been assigned a night of shivering discomfort and of wandering the halls by candlelight in search of a half bath complete with Scott's toilet paper, we continue to feel slightly played. ...
8:01 a.m. #Juno Port Washington -- Andrew Cuomo on the radio speaking in that strange cadence and elocution of his that is almost like his father's speech pattern. Cuomo telling us travel ban over. So, everyone better get the hell ready to get to the office by 11:47 a.m. The guilt tripping by employers and scrambling by employees now set to commence. And oddly this is the only press conference where Gov. Cuomo is taking questions. Someone ought to ask him about the Port Authority. Now he's justifying his call to shutdown transit due to the obliteration of Buffalo a few weeks back. He will not criticize weather forecasters.
12:43 p.m. #JUNO Port Washington -- It is my belief that all across the Northeast (i.e. New York City media outlets) the second-guessing has begun. DeBlasio and Cuomo getting hammered with great rounds of skepticism and snark for their decision to SHUT DOWN the Empire State. Despite my own sense of disappointment that the winds did not howl and the snow reached only 9 inches and the lights never flickered, I have moved into a new phase of pleasant afterglow: This was rather quaint. Granted, some will rip the overreach of our GOVERNMENT officials (ie Democrats and the RINO C. Christie in Jersey) who took the exceptionally cautious route on calling this storm preparedness. And others will grouse that when you shut down one of the biggest metro areas in the world, it takes a lot to crank it all back into gear. But guess what? So what?! From what I hear, only one person died, and he was an unfortunate teenager in Huntington who slammed his sled into a telephone pole. The storm moved east, and north, keeping the worst itself for Montauk and New England. In the scheme of things, a day off and all the shenanigans it took and takes to stop and start a city ... it's good to know it can be done. Despite my own bitter tendency toward skepticism and snark: The next time the situation calls for a NYC Storm Shutdown, I am going to take it just as seriously. Sure, I find the snark kind of amusing. I personally posted one of the pathetic Internet meme photos of a ruler standing on bare asphalt under the headline "Never Forget." But that was a fleeting tilt towards immaturity that, while I don't regret, I will over-ride with more MATURE take-away. Besides, we already have the extra, unused candles and a few extra bags of potato chips.
So within hours of becoming the new governor of Pennsylvania by defeating one-term Gov. Tom Corbett, Tom Wolf has done what everyone was hoping would not be done. He started a fight that appears to be about politics when, in fact, Wolf might have been trying to make a statement about his commitment to ethics and transparency.
To which anyone sick of politics trumping governance and/or policy says "Ugh."
Now everyone is scratching their head, or, if you're a Senate Republican, you're calling bullshit on Wolf's apparent decision to try and retroactively govern. That IS the problem that Wolf has created for himself, and it's kind of a big one, given that first impressions mean a lot. No wonder Sen. Jake Corman and other GOP legislators are wondering how come Wolf thinks his term started the day he won election and not the day he was sworn into office. In between those few weeks, Corbett surprisingly announced that former Open Records Director Terry Mutchler was out at the office she helped turn into a national model for governmental transparency and that Erik Arneson was in.
This is standard-operating procedure among all kinds of executive governmental leaders. Most governors or presidents or mayors attempt to extend their influence into the next administration, especially if the new administration represents a party change. But it appears Wolf not only thinks this is not moral or ethical, he is willing to test the legality of the appointments in order to make a bigger case. I suspect that case is one about transparency, about not shoving things down the throats of the electorate, or about doing shady things behind closed doors where no sunshine falls.
I suspect Wolf thinks that in some way there is no better venue to challenge politics as usual, because the Office of Open Records is the only place in state government where the sole mission is to keep things open and honest. It's like ... META! A fight about transparency in appointments and government in the very office that champions that cause. Wolf said he is eager to have this fight and who knows, maybe he has the kind of wisdom and verbiage to convince a majority of people that this action he took was for a greater cause. I think that is what he's trying to say.
By firing or rescinding the appointment of Arneson as director to the Office of Open Records just hours after he took office, Wolf appears to have wanted to make a statement that the last-minute appointments made by Corbett were not ethical. Hence, he has said he also will pull back the names of 27 other last-minute appointments made by Corbett but as yet unconfirmed by the state Legislature. In the case of Arneson and Open Records, the courts are now going to have to decide the fine points of whether or not the director is an at-will employee or whether changes in status about directorship appointment is beyond the control of the sitting governor. And the taxpayers will pay for all that legal wrangling, thank you very much.
What makes this fight more difficult is that the Office of Open Records was created in a way to firewall its director from exactly the kind of political retribution that would have a governor fire the director for disagreements. To gut that aspect of the set-up almost eviscerates the power of the Open Records office. That is not really a fine point, which is why Wolf''s decision to go Rambo on Corbett's appointment power wont sit well with many people, even his own champions.
What is hard to understand is why Wolf and his administration would want to start a fight that on the surface and by any measure can be painted by the Republicans as political on Wolf's part? Was there another way for Wolf to make the point that what Corbett did by making 11th-hour appointments was sleazy and piling on of the same tactics we've come to expect from power-hungry politicians who care more about protecting their turf and ideology than handing over the reins in a transparent fashion. Wolf is trying to UNDO the poor ethics of Tom Corbett and fix the ethics that existed prior to Wolf's swearing in. What he should have done was denounce the Corbett's methodology, and promise the people of Pennsylvania that going forward, he is going to act differently according to his moral code.
This is not about Terry Mutchler, whom Wolf could have more heartily endorsed and championed all during his campaign, this delivering a warning to Corbett that given a Wolf gubernatorial victory, it would be Wolf's intention to retain Mutchler. But the campaign did not do that, so Corbett was even more emboldened in the 11th hour to make the change. Then again, this is not about Erik Arneson, who is a respected and fair Republican legislative director who helped author the Open Records law during his time with former Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi.
This is Tom Wolf's fight to show people he wants to do things different from the inscrutable and politically-gamed ways they have been done. Unfortunately, while making his case and taking what he must believe is the moral high ground, he may lose the legal battle to rescind the other guy's sneaky appointments. What's worse in the meantime is that Wolf's moral high ground is very easily obscured in the blur of political name-calling and power-broking. Wolf has not earned the right, not yet anyway, to just DO things because he thinks it's right. That comes with time and some trust. And that is why squandering the goodwill and political capital he earned this campaign season is alarming to anyone who really DOES want change to come to Harrisburg.
Wolf may be right. But his actions were, in the dawn of his own reign, difficult to differentiate from the wrong way things have been perpetrated in the past.
Who's The Next Poet Standing Whose Work Has Been Broadly Influential Beyond Diehard Readers of Poetry?
It has been a brutal year for deaths among the most decorated and published poets. Maya Angelou, Mark Strand, Carolyn Kizer, Seamus Heaney, Galway Kinnell and, most recently, the 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner Claudia Emerson, who succumbed to cancer last week at age 57. Some of the air has been sucked out of the atmosphere -- a void that sparked a question for me about the state of American poetry.
When Kinnell passed away in late October, The New York Times ran his obituary on the front page. Not only was Kinnell's death a sobering bit of news, I found myself struck by the fact that Kinnell's poetic legacy was so potent that he merited front-page treatment by the paper of record. To me, the front-page story was also news. The Times efficiently laid out the case for why Kinnell had surfaced for air, and a resounding public airing, upon his death at age 87 from leukemia.
Kinnell had established himself as a key figure in the lineage of American poets whose work represented, if not an entirely new canon, at least a significant turn and shaping of the art form.
His front-page obit followed a little more than two years that of Adrienne Rich, pictured right, whose own front-page remembrance on March 29, 2012 by The New York Times was titled "A Poet of Unswerving Vision at the Forefront of Feminism."
In addition to the obituary, the Times took Rich's passing as an opportunity to review her work and place in the literary canon with at least two other pieces, including the obligatory investigation by David Orr of how, given how politics influenced Rich's work, one was supposed to read her poetry.
American poets rarely become public figures, and those who do --Allen Ginsberg, Robert Frost — usually pay a price for it. Sometimes that price is measured in a temporary decline in their literary reputation (other poets find fame hard to forgive), but more often it’s a simple matter of becoming papered over with expectations. The more the public looks at a poet, the harder she becomes to see.
Adrienne Rich was an accomplished and important poet from early on in her career, but her turn toward her own voice and vision left critics nowhere to turn except the inevitable comparisons to Sylvia Plath and the poetry of feminist rage -- a box that Rich more that adroitly defended by refusing to be defensive.
With Rich and Kinnell gone, and their posthumous places a little more fixed in the galaxy of poetic stars, I found myself wondering who among the living poets would, upon their deaths, merit similar levels of commemoration in the more mainstream media outlets.
It was a question fueled by a sense that poetry, as an art form, had been blown up and sent scattering to various niches and corners in part by the very likes of Kinnell, Rich and other poets born in the 1920s whose work was "radicalized" by the explosive changes that took place in this country, particularly in the 1960s, when these poets were gaining the height of their creative power. Civil rights, anti-war protest, post-war urbanism, post-modernism, confessional poetry, post-confessional, politics as personal ... poetry was blown to smithereens by these formidable writers who worked in these combustable times, leaving the next generation of poets to wander down so many forked paths that assessing different schools, let alone individually great poets, has become far more challenging.
Naturally, the most keen critics and keepers of poetry took me to task for framing the question about poetic lineage and legacy as I had, especially the notion that outside of Billy Collins or Mary Oliver, it was difficult to foresee who next might merit front-page consideration by the Times or other major mainstream publications.
"That's a little bit morbid,'' was the pointed rebuke I got from Robert Polito, president of The Poetry Foundation, who pointed out that in the three generations of poets now working, we haven't come to the end of anything when it comes to who are the next standard bearers or gatekeepers or game changers in poetry.
Polito questioned the premise, and gave a wide-ranging survey of the writers and reasons why poetry is as vibrant today as it ever has been: Louise Gluck, Robert Pinsky, Frank Bidart, Collins, Natasha Threthewey, Mark Doty. There are three million unique users to the Poetry Foundation website. Book sales and web-based publishing has broadened the audience. Universities are enrolling large numbers of poets in MFA programs.
Those sentiments were echoed by Pinsky, who all but lamented the premise that with Kinnell's passing we'd be hard pressed to identify another singularly important poet whose body of work would stand up to time as a game changer.
"I revere Galway, Adrienne, others, but -- I suggest you take a look at Joan Shelley Rubin’s book Songs of Ourselves, an historian’s meticulous, lively history of American readership of poetry.
She tells how when the Fireside Poets began dying off, many many public forums featured laments that the great age of American poets was ending. (Whitman and Dickinson had no such role.) Then, among others, the college classmates Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams . . . I repeat— I mourn these recent losses of poets I esteem highly. But . . . " Pinsky said.
Pinsky also rejected the idea that poets like Rich and Kinnell were as important as they were because they set up real work for themselves to write against tradition.
"As to 'urgency to break the mold,' the first books of that generation— Rich, Wright, Levine, Merwin— were mostly in rhyme and meter,'' Pinsky said, implying that it is way too early, or impossible, to determine in real time those poets whose work and legacy will indeed stand up to generational scrutiny.
For some moral support, I called Alan Michael Parker, a poet who I grew up with in Port Washington, NY and who has gone on to publish many critically acclaimed books as well as hold a prestigious teaching post at Davidson College in North Carolina.
"I'd say John Ashbery, Sharon Olds, Billy Collins & Mary Oliver all still enjoy the kind of affection that subsequent generations might still consider life-changing,'' Parker said.
"Nonetheless, I'm intrigued by the notion that the radicalization of the aesthetics contributed to the cultural sway of these poets. Perhaps that's the moment that's passed, when the avant-garde offered a legacy that cut across disciplines within the arts. Perhaps, too, the poets born in the 1920s reached the peak of their powers during a radical moment in the culture—the 1960s—when art and politics dovetailed more conspicuously, or when artists had more to contribute to political discourse,'' he said.
Poetry may be alive and well and enjoyed if not written by more people than ever, but the question wasn't really one about popularity so much as it was about ground-breaking, about a poet who, as Ezra Pound implored, makes poetry truly new.
Polito agreed that there are certain new categories of poets these days. The confessional and experimental or language poets have given way to "anti-creativity" poets like Kenneth Goldberg, or "documentary" poets. Fitting into this category these days is Claudia Rankine, whose new book "Citizen: An American Lyric" is garnering a great deal of appropriate acclaim. In the opening paragraph of The New York Times review of Rankine's National Book Award finalist entry, the very question of the state of American poetry is characterized by its "lack of urgency." Rankine brings that to her work and this new text, but is urgency, or an identifiable breaking of the mold, really being executed by another living poet who is aiming to seize the medium, if not the day?
Perhaps it's unfair to try and find identify the next Kinnell, just as it is to try and find the next Walt Whitman, who seized upon poetry as nothing less than a tool to not reflect America, but to save her.
As a 53-year-old, apparently unemployable woman who once traveled all over the country and world to write about sports and later became a political writer who rubbed elbows with Ed Rendell, Arlen Specter, Sen. Bob Casey and had worked in cities like Baltimore, Seattle and capital cities like Harrisburg, PA and Albany, NY, the perfect article showed up this month in The Atlantic called "The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis."
The piece airs extensive research and anecdotes about this thing called the U-Curve, a documented swing into unhappiness, or dissatisfaction about life, sometime between 39 and 57. It's a story with a happy ending, of sorts, in that emerging from the U-Curve shows how people settle into lesser expectations about life and therefore find their satisfaction levels rise. Family, friends, more centered and wise choices make for a more realistic and rich experience going forth in the later years.
That was good news, considering that one researcher found that the U-Curve showed how much more difficult it was to feel satisfaction during the middle years of your life, and another found that the U-Curve brought on feelings equivalent to about one-third the feelings brought on by involuntary job loss. For a 53-year-old with no prospects for ever working again in journalism, I could more than relate to what this article was presenting. It also made me realize more clearly why, somewhat unexpectedly, we have just moved from Seattle back home to my home state of New York.
Seattle is a great place to be older, with its easy day-to-day living, accessibility, walkability, low-key access to theater and the arts, a great university, low taxes and an array of cheap and not-so-cheap eats. But it wasn't a good place for us to get older, for a few reasons, mostly the fact that our families are all back in the Northeast and, more glaringly, the tech business boom via Amazon and Google and Facebook and Microsoft and several other new-era startups (Zillow) that has flooded the city with more and more younger people. Millenials, I think they're called. Or, as they say in Brooklyn, hipsters.
Was it a midlife crisis that drove us from Seattle? That notion, in itself, would seem to be the ultimate admission of such a predictable and lonesome human condition. But at age 53 and 58, me and my partner had grown increasingly aware of our middle age, especially in a city brewing with 20 and 30-somethings, many of whom make no bones broadcasting their belief that us oldsters should just move out of their way. What we see as experience, caution, historic or at least institutional knowledge that helps stake out a broader view, especially in the workforce, is seen by the new generation as millstones of time hanging around their line-less necks. The new generation, blessed with good brains stuffed with all kinds of Information Age input, wants a clear lane to exercise their free will unencumbered by anyone who might protest grammatical errors or lack of historical context.
While a job opportunity was the impetus for the move, the underlying sense that a shift was taking place for us had been brewing for a few months, if not years. Our relationships with friends -- many of the primary ones based on the fact that we all had had young kids in school together -- changed. So did our sense that the city and the world was a great, unopened oyster. In recent years, the generation gap between us and the newcomers to Seattle widened. We went out to restaurants or music clubs and felt not so much like we were out of touch, but that these younger people were out of touch, and yet they seemed to rule the world with their styles, attitudes, trends and habits.
Perhaps the epiphany took place when we dined with a friend of ours, a beloved 77-year-old neighbor with hearing loss, in a very popular restaurant. As cool and welcoming as Seattle had always seemed, and really IS at the heart, the new breed and greater density of young people had done its part to push us to the margins. At least that's how we felt.
In an act of defiance, the last tickets we bought to events in Seattle were to the play "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" at Seattle Rep and a concert by James Taylor at Key Arena. In the crowd among the other 50- and 60- and 70-somethings there was a palpable and victorious air that we the oldsters had won the night. This in the city of Mud Honey. In the city of Grunge. In the city of too cool for school and best places to live and ...
So what if Albee's play is dated and nowhere near worth watching without Dick Burton and Liz Taylor! So what if James Taylor presents his great American songbook in rather dull and predictable fashion. The U-Curvers were out on the town, trying to get through this difficult passage of life, free of the reminders that our time has allegedly passed.
The new lesson is not how to keep up. The new lesson is how to scale back, settle down, settle in.
Literary pilgrimages are best saved for internal musing, since the drive to go stand inside the homes where the great poets or other artists lived stirs up deep sediment that doesn't really serve anyone else except the primary visitor. It is a personal matter. I mean, which writer among us can really properly convey the feeling and meaning of just being there in the same room where Walt Whitman was born? Hell if it's going to be me.
However, I would like to just note it for the record: Standing in the room where Whitman was born on May 31, 1819, which is the downstairs bedroom of the farmhouse Walt Whitman's father built in the West Hills area of Huntington on Long Island in 1816, exceeded my own expectations.
I've stood in front of or been in houses where Edgar Allen Poe lived; where Emily Dickinson wrote in genius seclusion; Hawthorne was born Salem; where the poet Charles Olson pumped out his Gloucester poems; where James Baldwin, Gertrude Stein and Anais Nin worked in Paris ... but there is something more fundamental about Whitman, at least for me, not only because of his humanism, progressiveness and his marriage of personal and political, but because he hailed from Long Island, my birthplace.
That the farmhouse still stands is the first miracle. What was once a 60-acre farm in the middle of other farmland is now one acre set inside high fencing to secure the historical site from the suburban sprawl of shopping centers and housing development. Another part of Walt Whitman's legacy, among the most seminal and iconic and landmark artists in American or literary history, is that his name is born on the shopping mall that stretches down Route 110 (Walt Whitman Road) in Huntington across from the poet's birthplace. Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's, Williams-Sonoma: These may not be any of the things Whitman catalogued in his newspaper accounts or verse, but there these big box stores sit, surrounding the sedate grounds where the Whitman house stands.
And while it's definitely weird trying to find the Whitman Birthplace site amidst the clutter and clatter of modern-day (i.e. car-addled/store-riddled) Long Island, it turns out to be OK.
For the poet who celebrated himself and gave ample, sprawling voice to the burgeoning song of Democracy, the scrum and mess of society blithely whizzes around and past the former pastureland where Whitman was birthed. Thanks to efforts in 1949, when the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association was formed, and continued advocacy and fundraising via former Newsday newspaper publisher Alice Patterson, the site was preserved from the fast-encroaching suburban development. The state of New York helps administer the site along with the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association, which has erected a statue of the poet and a modern loft-like building that houses a shop and reading space.
The entire site and experience is worth the trip and the $6 for the guided tour of the house. On the crisp November day I visited, an enthusiastic guide led me across the lawn and into the home, which Walt Whitman Sr. grandly built as a model home to show prospective clients just what he could build for them, too. We entered the foyer, then the parlor, with its wide-plank wood floors and custom, built-in cabinets and large windows. Then, we walked through to the bedroom where, the guide said: "And this is where Walt Whitman was born."
Whatever sense of being in a semi-sacred space that I had had just walking through the front door of the home was, in that instance, amplified. Most of it came from the striking realization that for everything Whitman did, everything he became and remains, started in one room. I was in a real place that stands in concrete confirmation against the decades and centuries of the Whitman who became the poetic father and god and enduring definition of a hearty, heralded strain of the new American poetic canon.
In a world of shopping malls and cars and democracy under siege, the sanctuary of the Whitman home was palpable. It was made even more so by my profound sense that, stripped of the noise and the Internet and the virtual world I have come to inhabit for great chunks of time, Whitman walked from Long Island to Brooklyn to Washington to the Civil War battlefields and hospitals to Camden, NJ and witnessed his world, his America, unfolding in real time. Our songs of ourselves these days ... hard to not see them by comparison as wanting. But at least the visit got me reconnected to some time and some place distilled of distraction, distilled to its essential point and purpose.
I Pity The Poor Fool Who Tries to Sing The Judy Collins Cover of Bob Dylan's Song Because Her Lung Capacity is Sick
I challenge anyone to try and hold the notes as long as Judy Collins does at the end of the lines of this Bob Dylan cover of "Pity The Poor Immigrant." I think this is one of my favorite Bob Dylan covers, so when I'm driving and it comes on and I try and sing it, I almost pass out from depleted oxygen supply. Not sure there is another Judy Collins song in which she seems to so deliberately demonstrate that she has the biggest pipes of any singer this side of the Metropolitan Opera.
Here's a reading assignment designed to induce a nasty case of political bipolar disorder: Elizabeth Warren vs. The Koch Brothers.
For the past week or two, I've been alternating between two books on the nightstand that clearly spell out the primary ideological war taking place in this country. It's enough to make your head spin, given the stark opposition of these ideologies.
One is Elizabeth Warren's "A Fighting Chance," which gives a deceptively folksy account of the brutal pillage and plunder that the American economy, and the middle class in particular, suffered when the U.S. Treasury and White House bailed out the banks and predatory mortgage lenders, all while forsaking individual homeowners and workers.
It's no secret that for the New Deal-embracing wing of the Democratic Party, Warren's takedown of Tim Geithner, Larry Summers and even President Barack Obama over the generous protection of too-big-to-fail banks has propelled her to the top of the 2016 presidential wish list over the presumptive Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. Warren is the one who likes to remind the Koch brothers that the $115 billion-a-year private industry empire they created was done so on the backs of the infrastructure, tax breaks, workers and consumers they've availed themselves to here in America. It's the crux of the national corporate takeover of American government.
Meanwhile, while Democrats try and rally a winning strategy and re-engage the young and minority voters who gave Obama the presidency in 2008 and 2012, the Republicans have their own inner ideological war to battle between now and 2016. That's because the Republican Party that's about to control both houses in Congress is no longer the Republican Party. At least it's not until the establishment Republicans demonstrate that they can thwart the activist, Tea Party wing of their party. Until then, the GOP is ready to play its role as a free-market advocacy cabal that aims to dismantle the tentacles of the federal government, all in the name of freeing us from a welfare state whose final destination is collectivist thumb sucking, bed wetting and liberal use of food stamps.
How these anti-government governors, U.S. senators and congressmen have commandeered the Republic is what makes so fascinating Daniel Schulman's book, "Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty." No matter how many references you've read to the Koch brothers, or how many articles have attempted to show the scope of their influence, "Sons of Wichita" makes plain the genealogy of not only the Koch Industry family, but also the anatomy of a libertarian infiltration of our two-party system.
Since 2008, the Koch brothers' influence on American politics has been on display in the guise of the Tea Party. The anti-Obama protests and "grassroots" uprisings against big government may seem like a spontaneous combustion against an "other" kind of Democratic president, especially after the economic meltdown caused by our dear old friends the bankers, but they're not. "Sons of Wichita" makes it clear that the Koch brother's march toward infiltrating and tearing down the U.S. government has been a steady 40 years in the making.
Schulman details how, by 1965, Charles Koch -- already steeped in deep anti-communism activism by his industrialist father and founder of Koch Industries, Fred Koch -- was well on his way to embracing and promoting Libertarian view far right of even the John Birch Society. According to Schulman, Charles became “a full-throated libertarian evangelist. It was an extreme ideology, in which the role of government was nearly non-existent, and one that fell well outside the traditional left-right poles of political thought.” Government, according to Charles Koch, "is to serve as a night watchman, to protect individuals and property from outside threat, including fraud. That is the maximum.”
After the Nov. 4 elections, with its widespread Republican victories, it was somewhat intriguing that Sen. Mitch McConnell's first message after winning re-election in Kentucky was that he and House Speaker John Boehner would not allow another government shutdown, or sink the country's economy by defaulting on our debt. McConnell is now the most-watched man in Washington; the most powerful Republican in the country whose aim is to continue to nullify the Obama presidency. But no matter how obstructionist McConnell has been, and continues to be, the real issue for Congressional GOP leaders is just how much of the Koch brother's anti-government, Libertarianism-on-steroids agenda they're going to try and carry out.
Those of us neophytes who aren't students of American political influence may choose to see Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Scott Walker as newfangled embodiments of libertarianism, creatures given life and breath in direct reaction to the ascension of Obama the Other. But the seeds for this stark division have been in the political ground for decades. The installment of anti-government, anti-union, anti-regulation candidates in state and federal government has come courtesy of the Koch brothers' 40-year effort to strip the federal government of much of its regulatory power.
The "purity" of the Kochs uber-libertarian vision dovetails splendidly with Koch Industry's insatiable appetite to extract, refine and transport all manner of oil, gas and other natural resources and commodities. Toss in Citizens United and the decision to let campaigns be financed by corporations and the Kochs are now sitting atop their perfect storm of political victory of, again, the national corporate takeover. I shudder to imagine that McConnell and Boehner can do anything given the tensions within their own party.
For Warren to be able to incite a broader, populist uprising against the corruption that the monied class has commanded of our financial, governmental and political institutions, more "regular" i.e. working class and middle class Americans are going to have to buy into a future where shared interests underlie government policy. This is the case she emphatically makes, drawing ire and steam from her first-hand witness of the bank bailout and her call to arms over the economic policies that favor the industrialists, bankers and the 1 percent.
There's little question that the ideological divide between the Elizabeth Warren wingers vs. the anti-government crusade of the Koch brothers will be resolved any time soon. Heck, given the odds, a direct collision course between the Kochs and Warren will not likely take center stage. If nothing else, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush may muddy the ideological waters just in time for 2016. For now, though, in the "quiet" hours after the 2014 elections, the political battle can be distilled -- or dizzyingly revealed -- in the pages of Warren's "A Fighting Chance" and Schulman's book on the Kochs, "Sons of Wichita."
North Brother Island
I thought about what to tell the others,
how we could ferry over and pick our way
through the shoreline vines and brambles
into the interior of North Brother Island,
with its stark-raving buildings
ringing the inner forest like Easter Island stones --
Tuberculosis Pavilion, the Nurse's House --
walls aching from neglect,
gaping portals where the glass is gone
but the iron bars still grip for dear life
against the ghosts this sanitarium.
Dear, dear life.
You have been my greatest pathogen.
You are the cruelest of diseases, cycling between
proliferation and dormancy, epiphany and stupor.
Others fret over ways to extend you,
or rather, how to extend into you.
But you know better, taking so many
in convulsive waves, bodies in the streets,
the slyly perpetrated ruse of dignity exposed
for what it is: The ultimate indignity, the mess.
Imagine! Tom Corbett's Former Top Prosecutor Afraid Porn Emails Would Be Used To Intimidate Him and Silence Others
We're not going to see former Pennsylvania prosecutor Frank Fina or any other Tom Corbett associate doing the perp walk. Sending pornographic emails to each other isn't a crime, just an ethics breach and a sign of a little juvenile depravity. What's a little risky business among a bunch of powerful men with subpoena power acting out their greatest fantasies?
No, when it comes to perp walks, Tom Corbett and his goodfellas gave Pennsylvania a clean sweep by arresting such hardened "criminals" as Al Bowman, the poor staffer for PA. Senate Whip Brett Feese, who was put through the ringer before finally having many of the charges dropped in exchange for Corbett's desired results: A GOP gubernatorial victory in 2010. In securing this brass ring, all Corbett and his buddies in the AG's office had to do was scare the crap out of dozens of legislative staffers, officials and political operatives -- except for Jane Orie -- and threaten them with indictments.
Oh, Tom Corbett cleaned up Harrisburg, all right, just in time to claim the throne, thanks to the backing of PAGOP leaders like Rob Gleason, Bob Asher and Leroy Zimmerman. Corbett was THEIR GUY, even as Corbett and his zealously aggressive AG prosecutors spent years and millions throwing a few people in jail, all so Corbett could take control of the state of Pennsylvania and, for four years with total control of the state, do absolutely nothing.
But here's the rich part, which must be filed in the "What Goes Around, Comes Around" department. Because this week, with PornGate still sorting itself out, out comes news from the Philadelphia Inquirer that Fina successfully got a court order against new PA AG Kathleen Kane preventing her from naming Fina among the list of porn email recipients she uncovered in a probe of another quirky bit of case-making by Corbett and his AG henchmen.
Why did Fina need a court order to protect himself? It seems he was afraid of having done to him what he and his colleagues did to dozens of PA legislative staffers and elected officials who were mercilessly intimidated into testifying in the Bonusgate investigation.
Numerous people with knowledge of their quarrel - including sources close to both - have said Fina participated in the exchange of X-rated e-mails.
If anyone in Pennsylvania has any question that the only thing wrong with the Corbett administration and the reason the current one-term governor is down 17 points in the polls against Democratic challenger Tom Wolf is because that Corbett is inept, it's not that simple.
Corbett and his "administration" is inept. They spent four years enacting absolutely none of the reforms they promised back when they were campaigning and slamming political opponents in jail. But in addition to inept, and inconsequential, Corbett and his crew were also dangerous.
I know. I know. Selective prosecution is not grounds for dismissing charges against the likes of Brett Cott or Al Bowman or some of the others Corbett & Co. punished in a selective prosecution of political hacks who abused state office to win more elections. However, it doesn't make how Corbett went about "winning" office he was unqualified to manage any less nauseating.
Say anything you want about how much of a career Kane has in front of her. She has certainly caused her share of consternation and head-scratching for the way she has dismissed cases or leaked information or handled staff turnover. She had a trump card to play with the pornographic email chains that zipped around the great men who ran the OAG and staffed some of the state's highest judicial offices. I'm happy to know that under the surface of the surly, unaccountable personas of those who staffed Corbett's OAG office were, indeed, men who are as truly repugnant as they appeared to be. It's like .. mystery solved.
But the irony here is that in being exposed for being a porn email perpetrator, Fina and others in Corbett's army are outraged -- OUTRAGED! -- that anyone in a position of prosecutorial authority might, indeed, move to intimidate them.
Certainly, the many people who were reeled into the Bonusgate case, and the dozens more who were threatened and given immunity or dragged before grand juries, have a ton of things to tell about the way Corbett & Co. ran that operation. They feared for their freedom, their families, their pensions, not because they were completely innocent, but because they knew plain as day that people in charge of cleaning up Harrisburg were among the worst at political gamesmanship, power hungry and abusing the system in the same way for which others went to jail.
The end of the Corbett error is coming. Many are breathing sigh of relief, and having the last laugh, quietly, out of the spotlight, happy to see that what comes around, goes around. I mean, these were the people who called on Twitter to give them information on account holders tweeting bad things about Corbett and his abuse of power.
As for whether or not the PAGOP has learned anything from all this humiliation and embarrassment? Rumor has it that Jim Cawley, the lt. gov., is the top pick for the GOP's next gubernatorial candidate. Good to know they are really analyzing their problems. Good to know they really care about quality leadership, policies, action.