Populism is good, actually

There’s a movement afoot, an etymological land-grab, that involves centrists shouting at every opportunity: “eh, Sanders and Corbyn, Trump and Bolsano, they’re the same. Populists. The only people you can trust are … centrists.” It’s not a NEW movement, God knows, but the distortions that Trump has brought to the national discourse have led centrists to sense that they can seize this opportunity to lock out any significant deviation from full spectrum dominance. The weirdness of Facebook and Twitter’s intervention in the Hunter Biden laptop kerfuffle show just how emboldened they’ve become to block conservative AND progressive voices from access to what have become de facto All the New That’s Fit platforms.

This Guardian dispatch, for example, celebrates Jacinda Arden’s victory in New Zealand over the weekend, and manages to drag the words populist and populism through the mud with no little gusto. The author associates these words exclusively with the Right-Wing Murdochian populism, which doesn’t really involve actual populism and instead stands for the diametrical opposite of the powerful populist movement America has experienced on and off for more than a century. Monied interests, then as now, saw fit to trash the Good Kind of populism with every dirty trick in the book, including, I guess, by describing it it in this dishonest way.

Google Thomas Frank, for God’s sake, or watch/listen to Frank’s fascinating and entertaining guest appearance on Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper’s insanely great Useful Idiots podcast.

I know. This is a two-hour episode. But the time will absolutely fly by.

Want the tldr; ? Well, actually: we should never forget that Populism Is Good. Centrism, the game of footsie played by two (and only two) corrupt nihilistic parties, is what has given us our world. Precarity, disease, scarcity, the threat of nuclear Armageddon always present, and now on the brink of complete ecological collapse.

No, we can’t have populism. Anything but that.

I got so fussed over the besmirching of the fine word “populist” that I started googling around about Thomas Frank, our age’s foremost defender of the term, and found that he has written just a spectacular essay for Le Monde Diplomatique. I’m guessing he tried placing it in outlets more easily accessed by American readers, but the op-ed pages of major media platforms were stuffed to the gills with all the Fear pieces Frank describes here so well. And so funnily. Read this.

Friday miscellany: a good thread and The Absence of God

This song doesn’t have anything to do with the above, except maybe the title?

It’s a peculiar joy of our era, when you are randomly reunited with a band you once listened to obsessively, but then got out of the habit. Such was the case with Rilo Kiley and this amazing tune, which showed up on my Daily Mix #4 on Spotify last week, I love the guitar arpeggios (if I have the word right) that call to mind Ventura Highway, and Jenny Lewis is such a great emotional singer. And this song titled The Absence of God (!), blows me away.

We could be daytime drunks if we wanted
we’d never get anything done that way baby…

That’s some catch….

I’m 2/3 the way through the six-part Hulu adaptation of Catch-22. There are good things and bad things about it. The crews have incredibly stressful and dangerous missions, but they also have some absolutely incredibly photogenic R&R opportunities. Sometimes I think I’m watching a Calvin Klein underwear ad….

Major thing that bothers me is that, yeah, let’s be sympathetic to these young american men who are in an awful position, but they are in the business of dropping bombs and I wonder if the series is ever going to have them face to face with the destruction they’re causing.

(I’m happy to go back on this if the final two episodes take things in this direction. Honestly can’t remember from the book, which I read in grade school)…

I always keep in mind that the historian Howard Zinn, a bombardier in the Euro theater at the tail end of WWII (his unit dropped napalm on a French seaside resort, pour rire, in April 45), exposed a lot of the lies we as Americans tell ourselves and the world….

“I suggest that the history of bombing—and no one has bombed more than this nation—is a history of endless atrocities, all calmly explained by deceptive and deadly language like ‘accident’, ‘military target’, and ‘collateral damage’.”

Whenever we think of horrible violence within our borders and say, “that’s so unamerican,”–I’d say the problem is that it’s all too American.

no lying in that beef… no insincerity in those potatoes… no deceit in the cauliflower

The Heartbreak Kid is another film I re-watched for the first time since I saw it in 1973! Jeannie Berlin is director Elaine May’s daughter, which I didn’t know, and didn’t seem to be a fact used to promote the film. Cruel mama had scads of humiliation in store for her girl. All that egg salad and sun cream!

Of course May was part of a comedy team with Mike Nichols thru the early 60s, and there are big similarities between this and The Graduate, which Nichols directed. Charles Grodin was offered the part of Ben before Dustin Hoffman took it on.

Not surprisingly there are some really hilarious scenes, and a bunch where the camera keeps rolling through the most cringe-worthy situations.

When I saw it, in ’73 at age 14, I only (sort of) knew the world of the Corcorans (as seen through the curtains). I might have caddied for the Eddie Albert character at the Minikahda Club, who likely would have been a jerk who gave me a “needs training” for not keeping up. Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams”, a soft-focus story of a caddie dreaming of an unattainable girl, loomed large in my consciousness back then, and it lurks in the background in this film.

As a simple midwestern lad, raised Catholic, I really knew nothing about the New York milieu from which Grodin and Berlin’s characters sprang. Novel by Bruce Jay Friedman, script by Neil Simon. Gold standard! I could have/should have written a paper on this for Art Geffen’s great Jewish-American fiction grad seminar at the U of M.( I did Portnoy’s Complaint, so not far off….. That genius paper burned in the fire, alas).

Richard Brody in a 2016 retrospective review praises May’s portrayal of “the implausibly boundless sense of wonder, possibility, and entitlement of a time when even a self-proclaimed schmuck like Len, endowed with little but the gift of gab, attempted daring feats of self-liberation.” I would add that, from the ever-more precarious perspective of 2020, it’s striking to me that Lenny’s character is a two-bit salesman who can somehow afford a convertible sports car.

Final overly literal comment: Lenny parks his rental car right next to Northrup Auditorium to stalk Kelly. The closest parking spot is half a mile away!

You Love to See It. Ro Says “Hell, No!”

Good to see some pushback from Ro Khanna on the DNC Platform, which tosses in a few potentially decent scraps of proposals, but which also goes backwards on lowering the Medicare eligibility age, and–egregiously, and of course–fails to endores Medicare for All, in spite of overwhelming support for MFA among Dems and ALL voters, which you would think would be an important consideration. But you’d be thinking wrong.

Continuing its grotesque retreat from supporting any proposals of value to, oh say 80 percent of Americans, the slogan of the party this time around, in a climate of precarity and suffering that would have been shocking to even contemplate six months ago, is

  • Get In Line
  • Shut Up and Vote for Us
  • You’ll Get Nothing and Like It
  • Trump is a big baby yellow Cheeto!

That high-handed contempt for the voices of all but the donors and lobbyists and apparatchniks running (ruining) the party, worked so well for the Clinton campaign that the Dems are going with it again.

All but a couple of the Dem presidential candidates supported Medicare for All going into the primary. Hell, the Vice Presidential nominee co-sponsored Bernie Sanders’ MFA bill in the Senate!

A different time, a different (moral) universe, apparently

Doesn’t take a tinfoil hat to conclude that the main purpose of that grotesque, farcical spectacle was to quash support for MFA–which is supported by nearly 90 percent of Democrats!

Ro Khanna’s statement of why he will not support the DNC Platform is worth reading:.”

Yet history teaches us that the Democratic Party has sometimes faced an issue so great that it alone should be the yardstick for measuring the wisdom of voting for or against the platform. This is one of those times.

In 1948, there was going to be a split in the Democratic Party regardless of the national convention’s vote on civil rights. Those who stood up and demanded a plank for civil rights in the platform fundamentally changed our party’s direction.

Likewise, in 1968, I also believe that I would have stood up and not supported a platform that failed to clearly call for ending the U.S. warfare in Vietnam.

In my view, 2020 presents us with another such issue. 

I believe that moving away from a profit-based healthcare system is the moral issue of our time. And in the final analysis, because of that belief, I could not vote for a platform that lacks a clear statement supporting Medicare for All.

I have heard the arguments made as to why I, or any other delegate, should just get in line and vote for the platform. Two of those arguments resonated, and I would like to address them.

“With Trump in the White House,” some might say, “we need 100 percent unity, and anything that would chip away at unity is dangerous to undertake—including a no vote on the platform.”

No doubt, the specter of four more years of Donald Trump is a compelling argument for unity—but the thing is, I see a vote of conscience against the platform as an ultimate show of unity. A party that cannot embrace honest debate and differences of opinion would be too rigid to learn or to grow wiser.

Some may ask: “Why does the left have such a hard time understanding that you don’t get 100 percent of what you want, that the truly great gains are made incrementally?”

To this I say, nobody understands the realities of incrementalism better than progressives. Harry Truman ran and won on universal healthcare in 1948, and it was part of Democratic Party platforms until 1980. Thirty-six years later, the 2016 platform merely called for lowering the eligibility age for Medicare to 55. The 2020 platform proposes raising the goal to 60. That is not incrementalism; that is moving backwards.

This tweet sums it all up rather nicely.

Related: Déjà vu all over again, from four years ago

Tony Bennett–cool guy pacifist singer–turns 94 today

Tony Bennett

Happy 94th birthday to Tony Bennett!

Here’s a great performance of a Duke Ellington song you may not know… from Tony’s “Bennett Sings Ellington: Hot & Cool,” which has occupied a nearly permanent slot on my car cd player since I bought it for a dollar!

Not everyone knows that Tony fought in WW2 and has been a pacifist ever since, which to me is a rare and brave (and correct) position for a member of the so-called Greatest Generation…

“The first time I saw a dead German, that’s when I became a pacifist….

“Anybody who thinks that war is romantic obviously hasn’t gone through one…. Actually the war comedies like M*A*S*H and Catch-22 are probably a more accurate depiction of war than the ‘guts and glory’ films, because they show how pathetic the whole enterprise is…Every war is insane, no matter where it is or what it’s about. Fighting is the lowest form of human behavior…No human being should have to go to war, especially an eighteen-year-old boy.”

Opening Night

My wife’s family runs a summer theater and last night was the much-delayed opening night (usually they open early June), but it was raining and they couldn’t move the show inside as they usually do because of … well, you know. They have been in business for 70 years, and I have been coming to shows since 1990, and can’t remember them ever cancelling.

So we served dinner to about 15 people, and sent everyone else home. I am–and I guess will be–the bartender for these two weeks or so. Last night I served four freebies and no paid drinks.

That’s me in the picture. “Welcome back to the Overlook Hotel, Mr Torrance!”

Then we had the opening night party, much more sparsely attended than usual. Still it was nice sitting there in the dark, drinking and chatting at a socially appropriate distance, almost like olden days.

One of the young actresses did a playlist that impressed this greybeard: Paint it black and Young folks by Peter Bjorn and John!

Mitt Rommey: Still a Monster. Deficit Fret: Still Nothing But an Austerity Con

A peculiar and enraging thing I see on my Twitter and, especially, FB timelines: this attempt to sanitize and, gosh, even beatify asshole Republicans just because they say Trump Bad.

Mitt Romney remains an absolute monster. Pay attention people.

Deficit screamers are about one thing: austerity. They think ordinary Americans have it too good, and all the wealth of the country should only belong to the already wealthy. This scare tactic has ALMOST worked in the past. OBAMA (yes! him!) wanted to reach a “Grand Bargain” with the GOP to cut entitlements. Bill Clinton too! Thank God for Monica Lewinsky!

Joe Biden! Don’t get me started.

People are waking up to the austerity con, as evidenced by the popularity of Stephanie Kelton, Pavlina Tcherneva, and Nathan Tankus, whose work is praised by smart writers for Bloomberg and Barron’s and the stodgy-ass NY Times (see yesterday’s Manjoo column). The old evil jerks in both parties really have one last chance, and at the moment they are being led by the Democrats’ favorite Republican. They think they can pass awful legislation like this under cover of relief. Read the ugly details in today’s Unsanitized, from the always excellent David Dayen.

Remember, the deficit hysterics–and that is most everyone of a certain age and rank in Washington DC, including (and especially) leaders of the Democratic party–look at this animated gif and think the flattening middle still has too big a share of the nation’s wealth!

I would like to see an updated version of this tbh….

The Power of the Purse belongs to all

For years now, I have been a zealous shouter about the MMT insights Stephanie Kelton describes with such clarity, wit, and authority. Just about through my first pass through her amazing book, The Deficit Myth, and will no doubt be sharing more thoughts in coming days.

This is imo the most important book to be published in recent years. Its insights have been called Copernican (by Kelton herself–and she’s right).

This passage right here is about as important a paragraph as any of us are likely to come across. Read, re-read, mull it over. Tell your friends. Order Kelton’s book.

It’s OUR FUCKING MONEY.

+++

Nostalgia nugget

These guys have been grinding away, playing what Pitchfork dubbed their “Poco meets the Faces sound” (a heady brew for sure) since, well, since my Minneapolis residency, post-college, in the early-to-mid 80s.By a striking coincidence this video time warps to that very era, in a rusted vintage Gremlin with mag wheels and a Mondale/Ferraro sticker. Pull up to the 7th Street Entry festooned with Black Flag posters, cutting footage of the band back in the day with their current bad selves.To adore this video as much as I do … Maybe you need to have aching nostalgia for the time, the place, and maybe you don’t. But the song is cool as hell imo.As a more general concept, nostalgia during a quarantine year (years?!) becomes almost unbearably powerful, I find.

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