politics


I know its been a while, but allow me a brief political post today, friends. I just read this brilliant Washington Post piece and felt compelled to offer some thoughts.

One hundred years ago today, 136 NYC factory workers, mostly young women, were forced to leap to their deaths from the 9th floor of a building in flames. In the absence of enforced government regulation, the factory owners denied union demands for sprinklers, hired goons to beat up organizers, and locked the only exit that might have let the workers out. Since that time, laws have been enacted which protect workers’ rights, and it is THESE laws which are currently being threatened by the willfully-ignorant-of-history, “every-man-for-himself-but-put-CEOs-first” charade which so-called “Libertarians” continually defend. Bells will commemorate the victims all around the country at 4:41pm today, but let’s remember that they did NOT die in vain.

Incidentally, I’m on the list-serve of NYC-based singer/songwriter Allison Scola, and I thought I’d just copy and paste news of an event she’s participating in which is being held in NYC today to commemorate the victims. This strikes me as just one more example of how artists can (and should) connect to larger societal issues. Wish I could be there to show my solidarity!

I’ll be spending this day walking the paths of victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911.

The morning will begin early. I will be “chalking” the sidewalks of of victims Josephine Carlisi (31 years old) and Frieda Velakofsky (20 years old) both who lived around the corner from my old apartment in the East Village (a Sicilian enclave 100 years ago).

At 10:30 AM I will be part of a procession of ceremonial shirtwaists (blouses) in honor of victims. I will be carrying a shirtwaist representing Michelina Nicolosi (21 years old) who lived in a tenement directly behind my old building and next to the East Village’s Shrine to the Black Madonna on East 13th Street. Michelina was from a small town in the hills of Sicily, about 2 hours away from where my grandparents were born. She had been in the United States for just over two years before the fire.

The procession will make its way from Union Square down Broadway to the Brown Building, formally the Asch Building, at Greene Street and Washington Place, where at noon there will be a memorial ceremony and reading of the victims’ names.

At 4:41 PM bells will ring throughout the United States in recognition of the time the fire broke out and reminding all of us of the deep legacy left by this tragedy–safer working conditions, increased fire regulations, and so many other benefits to us in the workplace and beyond.

Saturday, March 26th, 2011
Labor of Love: A Story with Music Based on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 – 4:00 p.m.
Westchester Italian Cultural Center

One Generoso Pope Place
Tuckahoe, NY 10707
914-771-8700

Price: Members $25, Non-Members $30; Fa

LABOR OF LOVE
A story with music based on the Triangle Factory Fire of March 25, 1911
Presented by Ti Piace, Italian American Presentations, Inc.

A collaborative effort by and performed by the Ti Piace Performers featuring Tre Bella with Allison Scola, Anthony Tolve, Mary Ellen Toomey, Deborah Longino, and Dimitri Minucci

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Dear readers: this post is one of many which grew out of Facebook conversations, one in this case which was actually about something else. I was asked for my opinion about this hot-topic issue and this slew of writing poured out. I think the stuff that needs to come out is always the best stuff, anyway, right? Let’s hope that’s true.

And let’s talk about this so-called “Ground Zero mosque,” shall we?

FREEDOM AND OTHER LOOSE NOTIONS
I think first off, we need to ask ourselves whether all these slogans and cliches we’re always hearing about our country actually mean anything. Like, do we “actually” have freedom of religion in the US? ‘Cause if we did, that would mean that any religion could be practiced by anyone, at any time, anywhere, so long as laws weren’t being broken. And to their credit, I think most of the conservative commentators have admitted this – Sarah Palin isn’t going around trying to say that its “illegal” or “unconstitutional” to build a mosque close to the towers, only that she finds it “distasteful.” Yet aren’t there also fast food joints, bars, and even strip clubs (!) that are closer to the site than this proposed center would be? Would she find the World Trade Center Memorial Strip Club “tasteful?” (It’s not really called that, but it is closer to Ground Zero than this proposed center would be.) I think more accurately, she – and other conservative politicians gearing up for the upcoming elections – are using this as a wedge issue to mobilize voters to get to the polls. We’ve seen this happen in the past (gay marriage, abortion, gun rights, to name but a few), and it’s really scary.

THE ‘RELIGION’ THING
But why would this issue be so important, so emotionally compelling for people? Clearly it touches a nerve and re-opens a nine-year old wound that won’t ever quite heal, but what is it specifically about the issue that irks people? Without question, it’s the religious element, more specifically the fear of the unfamiliar. (Isn’t it always?) It’s the assumption that somehow this “mosque” would be a tribute to the evil, fundamentalist lunatics who commandeered those planes, and that the families of people who died that day who visit the site might have some strange, foreign religious clerics wearing turbans celebrating behind them as they mourn. Nothing could be further from the truth. The man who is proposing this center, blocks away from Ground Zero, has repeatedly denounced the tactics of the fundamentalist terrorists, and wants to set up this center as a reminder that real Islam is a peaceful religion, and that Muslims who seek to kill “in the name of Allah” are blaspheming the Koran. Which is a claim made by none other than George W. Bush (to his credit!), who repeated it numerous times after 9/11. Sadly, we’ve barely heard anything along those lines from Republicans since those days. Why? It’s simple: because it might cost them votes.

THE TRUE DANGER: FUNDAMENTALISM IN ANY FORM
And it’s worth repeating: what the 9/11 terrorists were to the Muslim faith are equivalent to what the KKK is to Christianity – a tiny, extreme, whacko-fundamentalist, fringe minority who happen to shout very loudly and use violence to achieve their goals. And sadly, because of how the media tends to present only the loudest voices, what many Americans who might not know any Muslims personally believe is that 9/11 was caused by “the Islamic faith.” (I have Muslim friends and have worked alongside Muslims, and the shocking revelation I’ve come to is that they’re just as boring as the rest of us!) Psychologists and sociologists have proven many times – as human beings we fear the “unknown,” and to millions of people who don’t live in cities where multi-culturalism is an expectation of daily life, the “unknown” poses a major psychological threat. But the reality is that the vast, vast majority of Muslims want the same things Christians want – to provide for their families, the ability to worship in peace, and to maintain their traditions. But again, because most images which the media presents of Muslims amount to scary terrorists hiding in mountain caves with automatic weapons, many Americans who don’t personally know any Muslims take these images and use them to fill in the empty image spaces for that “Muslim other” in their minds. It’s an entirely mistaken, “straw man” assumption. Not surprisingly, American history reveals this very same “image plug-in” has occurred in many manifestations: the struggles of both African-Americans and gay Americans, and the battle over Latin-American immigration all offer strikingly parallel examples.

What is a danger, and one which extends across cultural and geographical boundaries, however, is fundamentalism. Timothy McVeigh was “supposedly” a Christian, yet did anyone “blame Christianity” for this so-called “Christian’s” heinous acts in blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City? (No, in fact thousands of people prayed to their Christian God immediately after!) The vast majority of Christians would respond by saying that McVeigh wasn’t a very good Christian, right? Just as the vast majority of Muslims would (and have) denounced the September 11 attacks. So the more accurate issue at hand is the dangers of fundamentalism, be it Christian OR Islamic, and the insistence that “my way is the ONLY way”… which in fact, is not very far from Sarah Palin’s way of thinking. So if you’re going on the assumption that “Islam” caused 9/11, the protesters might have a point, but that’s not only an entirely mistaken assumption, but also playing directly into what the terrorists (who sought holy war against the West) wanted! Fundamentalism caused 9/11, just like fundamentalism caused the Oklahoma City bombing. Yet in that case no one started protesting Timothy McVeigh’s Christian church, because Christianity is infinitely more familiar to Americans, and somehow Christian fundamentalism is seen as “safer” than Islamic fundamentalism, which is patently ridiculous. Either way, innocent people died, and I bet the innocent victims of the Oklahoma City bombing could care less which brand of religious fundamentalism ended their lives.

THE ‘ACTUAL’ MOSQUE
And let’s talk about this “mosque” a bit. In fact, let’s stop calling it that! What is actually proposed is closer in intention to a YMCA, to a community center (remember, language matters!) with a basketball court and swimming pool, than some sort of terrorist training camp. This center is no more a “mosque” than a YMCA is a “church,” even if both are affiliated with religious faiths. One of the intentions of this center is to foster positive dialogue and peaceful discussion between Muslims and non-Muslims. Seems to me that’s a GOOD thing, right? What’s more, if the center gets nixed on the grounds that its “offensive,” imagine what an incredible recruiting tool that becomes for the actual fundamentalist terrorists, who are convinced that they’re fighting a holy war with the West, and that America at best finds Islam “offensive,” and at worst hates the entire religion and its followers. Let’s not hand them that easy ammunition.

WHAT SAY YE, NEW YORK?
Yet another angle, and one which I remember well from my days living in the world’s craziest, most intense city. I experienced 9/11 on the island of Manhattan, scared out of my wits, not sure if we were all going to be blown to bits or going to trample each other in a rush to the bridges. I turned down a temp job which would have put me in the tower that day. And I’ve seen the bumper stickers on vehicles (mainly large trucks with plates far from New York) driven by people who I’m guessing weren’t there. (Obviously 9/11 was a national event, yet I think the major reason it gets “claimed” by folks who live outside of New York is that it allowed people to have a concrete event on which to pin their confusion and mistrust over a world spinning out of control. But that’s another blog post.) Look, no one needs to “remind” me to “remember” that day; it is seared into my memory, as it is in the memories of millions of New Yorkers. Yet in all of this discussion over the Islamic center, no one – least of all Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck – seems very concerned about what New Yorkers themselves (and their leaders) think – the people who actually experienced this tragedy quite literally in their own backyards! Shouldn’t their voices count at least as much, if not more, than those of the Kansas housewives? After all, it’s THEIR city? (How much say do New Yorkers have over monuments in Topeka? Very little, and frankly, they don’t make monuments in Kansas their business!) And of course, the reason why Palin and Beck don’t touch this is that many New Yorkers are in favor of the center. Which isn’t surprising, given the open-minded and tolerant nature of the world’s most multi-cultural city.

THE ‘RESPECT’ THING
So ultimately it comes down to a question of taste, or “respect,” right? I don’t think it’s being “disrespectful” for people to want to practice their faiths in a peaceful manner, and to demonstrate to people that Islam is in fact a peaceful religion. (In fact, what could be MORE respectful?) As Americans, what could be more “tasteful” than demonstrating to the terrorists and to the rest of the world that ours is a loving nation, one borne of acceptance and not hatred, of true freedom, not popularity contests, of multi-culturalism and acceptance of foreign cultures, not fear of the unknown, and that the very things which these fundamentalists fight to death to end are the very things which we embrace. Let us never underestimate the power that symbolic gestures carry. After the calamities of the Bush years, we certainly have some damage control to do to restore our standing in the world, and I can’t imagine a more “tasteful” tribute to the thousands who lost their lives on that day than erecting a purposeful, living monument to religious tolerance and peace.

Also, here’s a terrific piece by Nick Kristof in the New York Times discussing how the anti-mosque protesters are in fact ‘taking bin Laden’s side’ which underscores a lot of what I’ve said. So… enough for now. Thanks for keepin’ tabs, campers.

This post is cobbled together from my recent engagement in one of the thousands of Facebook scuffles going on about the current direction of the country. Saw a poll the other day which astonishingly offered that 64% of US citizens feel that America is headed in the wrong direction. Clearly, Republicans have been extremely successful at winning the battle of rhetoric, and if Obama is going to accomplish anything, and stand any glimmer of hope of being re-elected, he needs to start fighting. Now.

OBAMA’S PERFORMANCE?
Let’s discuss what one commenter called “the extremely dismal performance of the Obama administration to date.” But here’s some context: President Obama, who was elected on a platform of change, hope, and vision, has had literally every major agenda point which he ran on, which most Americans supported to an overwhelming degree, deliberately stymied by anti-American, lowest-common-denominator Republicans who spread fear and lies to obstruct the goals of this administration. Let’s remember, Repubs have no vision of their own to pursue – their sole motivation and marching orders are to BRING THIS MAN DOWN. Whatever Obama says, they will oppose. (Many of them don’t even believe he’s actually an American!) This is their only plan right now, because a strategy of turning the country against Obama (which obviously is working) is the only thing which will lead to them regaining the White House. Which obviously is their end goal. Republicans have zero interest in “progress” or “change” or any other wimpy liberal catch-phrases. SO… trying to engage and mollify them (i.e. what Obama has been doing) is a zero-sum game… these people just aren’t interested.

A LOSING STRATEGY…
Sadly, this single-minded, obstructionist strategy has worked, is working, and will continue to work. With no strong motions coming out of the White House to counteract conservative rhetoric, we’re witnessing a tremendous shift in public attitudes toward Obama, who has committed a tactical mistake which he absolutely could have avoided. Unlike his predecessor, Obama does listen to those with alternate viewpoints, however rather than proceed forward with strength (like GWB) on the agenda which he was elected to enact, he’s made the crucial error of trying to appease these people. (Remember, people who are not interested in being appeased!) Which is why we’re ending up with a healthcare plan which isn’t worth the paper its printed on, tied up with bows and ribbons to the insurance companies. Obama – or perhaps more accurately, weak-kneed, apologetic Congressional Democrats – have had to make so many concessions to the minority party (whose know-nothing agenda during the Bush admin directly caused the state of the job market and current economy), that the hope and vision he once promised now seems unreachable. And make no mistake, this is a direct result of Republican intervention and the spreading of fear and lies, and it’s the most anti-American, anti-progress agenda I’ve ever witnessed.

GREAT ARTISTS DON’T BORROW, THEY STEAL.
What Obama needs to do is learn from GWB. To realize that when it comes to implementing large-scale policy, catering to the other perspective doesn’t help – it just gets in the way. (In Bush’s case, these policies were evil, e.g. invading a country preemptively; in Obama’s case the policies are more along the lines of “what can we do to help Americans who can’t get a break?” Which conservatives have been very successful at contorting into some sort of evil, foreign brand of Socialism.) Obama needs to say “Don’t like it, conservatives? Fuck off. You guys messed things up beyond belief, and now it’s our turn.” But going halfsies on this doesn’t work; Obama just looks like a waffler who can’t back up his vision with rhetorical leadership.

If Obama weren’t doing so much appeasing, we might begin to recognize the guy so many of us worked so hard for during the campaign. Did GWB ask permission of the liberals when he marched off to war? No, he fucking DID it, and the country followed. Clearly GWB was misguided, ignorant, and evil, but he knew how to lead with strength, and Obama desperately needs to heed this lesson. I appreciate that Obama is trying to appeal to Republican citizens; it’s admirable and obviously his political gregariousness was one of the things that many of us found most appealing about him. But Obama is losing the war of rhetoric, in inexorable, catastrophic fashion. And time is running out. The end result of this (after the inevitable blowback of the swiftly approaching midterms) is that Obama will not be re-elected, and all of that “hope and change” stuff is going to be shuffed off as impossible idealism – unless our president starts making some bold moves, and soon. Right now he’s coming off as Republican-lite, and this is shocking to those of us who believed he would do what he promised to do.

On a related note, my friend Jen passed on this excellent clip of Rachel Maddow and Michael Beschloss discussing Obama’s first year. I used to watch Rachel every night, before my free MSNBC tragically went away with the digital transition. (Still get dumbass Fox though.)

And finally, if you haven’t read Arianna Huffington’s MASTERLY article (“Hope” Has Been a Bust, It’s Time For Hope 2.0), you MUST read it. I label very few things as “essential” reading, but this absolutely qualifies. Cheers, all.

My little brother is WICKED SMAHHT! (A repost from Danny’s Facebook profile…)

Dan McCool will be making a 400-mile round trip journey to vote for Martha Coakley in Massachusetts on Tuesday. This is not merely a vote for Coakley, or for the Democratic Party, or for Massachusetts, but for my country, for Ted Kennedy’s legacy as a ferocious defender of progress, justice, and equality for half a century, and for my president, whose promise of change will take more than a year to institute after the horrific policies of the last decade. This is not the perfect candidate. But politics is the art of the possible and it is possible right now to make a difference in people’s lives by allowing Obama to do the hard work he pledged to do during his campaign. Brown has pledged to filibuster the health care bill and will be THE deciding vote in the Senate, thereby killing any possibility of reform. We have a long history in this country of countless political figures espousing faux populism for the sake of maintaining the status quo. Don’t believe Brown when he cynically spouts “it’s us against the machine” as if he’s Zack de la Rocha. If he wins on Tuesday, make no mistake, tens of millions of Americans will continue to be denied medical and mental care in the most powerful country in the the world, which is embarrassing as an American. Don’t let your impatience get the better of you. The bill is not perfect, but the arguments you are now hearing against it are the same ones that were made against public schools, child labor laws, social security, Medicare, and a host of other programs that aren’t perfect either, but which have undoubtably advanced the lives in some way of you, your parents, your grandparents, and your friends. If you have a few minutes before Tuesday and you care about slowly eradicating the damage done by the Bush years, if you care about progress, if you recognize that lasting change that benefits the lives of millions requires hard, grueling, incremental steps, please do your part and make some calls. I’ll be doing the same. Get out and vote in Massachusetts Tuesday and bring some friends to vote too. Let’s stop whining about her campaign and get to work:

http://www.marthacoakley.com/get_involved/Neighbor-to-Neighbor

Sitting here at Tryst in AdMo, which according to my target demographic new roommate is the place for DC hipsters to be hip. Which I knew five years ago, but it’s always nice to have a reminder. Gotta say there’s something about being in a room full of noisy strangers, all busy being, accompanied by the music of clanging dishes and warm, bass-driven techno grooves. My head bobs as I dig for words. Oddly I feel much further in a creative zone than I would feel at home, that these sounds which might seem distractions only push me further into a state of wanting to work and imagine. I have no idea what this blog post wants to be, but I’m well aware I’ve been a sporadic writer along the birthing period of this blog and it feels good to ramble.

Mmm, Coldplay. “Look at the stars, see how they shine for you.” I forget how much I love this song.

Jazz and politics, right? Tonight, politics.

As I blog, just a couple miles from where I sit, lawmakers are casting votes on the healthcare bill that could affect so many of our lives. (Unless of course we get another postponement, which is a very real possibility that only speaks to the urgency of acting now, IMHO.) In the process of making around 30 phone calls yesterday on behalf of MoveOn, I had a conversation on the phone with a woman in California and thought it might be good to write about that for a bit. Her name was Edwina and she was 61, a small business owner. We spoke in mostly heated tones for close to 30 minutes; I could hear in her voice a sense of desperation, a strangely confident confusion, but mostly an urgent need to be heard, to speak her peace and feel like someone was listening. Which I tried to do. Didn’t make me agree with her, in her mistrust of the government and easy scapegoating of “the illegals” who clog her local emergency room, asking for free government handouts and not playing by the rules, but it was still an exercise in trying to reason with “the other side.” She came back many times to the point that unless I had read the entirety of the health care bill currently up for vote, then I had no business throwing in my support for it. She claimed to have read one of the previous incarnations of the bill, something like 1,100 pages worth, and was really upset about the so-called “pork” projects (she mentioned school playgrounds) that she thought was weighing down the bill. I countered that I’m sure there had been policies she had supported in the past which had been based upon bills she hadn’t actually read. This point, like many of her arguments, seems Fox-inspired; it’s understandable that people might be upset by a fear that the government writes complex, bloated, deliberately confusing bills, and in the midst are trying to get away with some sort of bureaucratic triumph on the march toward Socialism. But I guess like many of the left, I don’t see government as a big bad wolf who can’t do anything right. I do think many government projects can be excessively bureaucratic and often are mishandled, but also this has more to do with their being improperly funded, rather than innately misguided.

To her credit, I did find her personal investiture and passion on the issues fairly remarkable. It made me question my factual knowledge about the Democratic plan for healthcare; at this stage, like just about everyone I know, my feelings about it have more to do with an innate “trust” of Obama and the new wave of change and liberal pride, with lots of the leftover positive vibes from this time last year, rather than concrete knowledge regarding the inner workings of the bill. And I’m not going to fault myself for this – providing universal health care is probably the most convoluted issue facing America today, and I think I’m probably more well read than the average man on the street. I know that I’m willing to make a change for the sake of change, that clearly the inequities in our current system, along with the absolutely obscene profits the insurance companies are pulling in, profiting off of sickness and disease, necessitate a new approach. Which I believe the Democrats are trying to craft; while the Republicans, 100% in the pockets of insurance companies, are much more in interested in the status quo; it seems they do just say “no” to whatever plans the Democrats come up with. (The plan they submitted a few weeks ago had NO financial data whatsoever! Can you imagine?) Edwina had no answer when I asked how someone who doesn’t have insurance and also can’t afford its exorbitant cost might be able to avoid catastrophic loss in case of a medical emergency. She agreed that change was needed, but was so vehemently against anything resembling government intervention, that I don’t think she’d be happy unless the insurance companies themselves were crafting the bills. Which obviously isn’t going to get us anywhere.

Could write lots more but let’s call it an evening for now. Off to see a play by one of my favorite writers, David Ives. No relation to Charles, as far as I know. Although they absolutely share a similar irreverence and cheeky approach to creation. Which is something to aspire to in my own work, for sure.

PS – As I post this the following afternoon, am so happy that the House did the right thing and barely… barely passed the healthcare bill. I wonder if within the pool of Democrats who voted for the bill were any reps whose offices were called by any of the folks I called the other day. Probably not, but it’s nice to imagine I’ve participated in this wonderful democracy.

Also, a quick plug for the terrific show I saw last night, A Flea in Her Ear, put up by DC’s hot young company Constellation Theatre. I’ve never driven a Lamborghini, but I imagine I might fell something like what it felt like to sit in that audience; the pitch-perfect ensemble executed some incredibly technically difficult stuff and really knocked the piece out of the park! Now someone needs to privately fund them so they can replace the canned 30s-era jazz music with some real live jazz players!

I’ve decided to re-post these comments I made on a Boston.com article discussing Rep. Barney Frank’s excoriation on who I call “Michelle Bachman’s fact-free minions.” A woman posted a comment calling out Frank for what she saw as “his recent arrogant and belligerent attitude towards those who disagree with him.” Here’s my response:

Mr. Frank’s initial comments were made as a RESPONSE to a woman who was holding up a photograph of Barack Obama which had been altered to look like Adolf Hitler. So this was NOT a simple case of “someone disagreeing with him,” but WAS just one example from a pattern of extremely radical and inflammatory attacks from the know-nothing right wing press, which has mobilized its legions, shockingly, to somehow equate the desire to provide healthcare for all Americans with the extermination of 6 million Jews. HUH?!?

As a Jew himself, Frank was WELL within his bounds to excoriate the woman. I mean, imagine her audacity – how DARE she make such a bizarre, patently untrue comparison in front of someone whose ancestry deserves dignified respect? I was actually quite impressed by his restraint, and happy that for once a politician felt confident enough to use humor and grace to counter the ridiculous nature of the woman’s claim. We can have a civil discussion of the issues at hand, but unfortunately, since the Repubs have no serious plan of their own (the one they submitted a few weeks ago actually had NO budgetary data at all! can you imagine?), they’ve resorted to the same tired cliches about big, bad government and liberalism somehow equaling communism.

And Frank’s recent comments about Michelle Bachman and her eager troupe of fact-free minions, although admittedly on the incendiary side, are spot on true. These people are doing a DISSERVICE to their country, and are NOT patriots, but are (sadly, unknowingly) fighting battles directly on behalf of the multi-millionaire insurance company CEOs. Present a “fact” to any of these people, and it simply bounces off. As one protester said: “I don’t let facts get in the way of my opinions!”

The times they are a-changin’, folks. The only question is: do you want to be on the right side of history, or like Southern plantation owners in the 1860s, desperately clinging to the idea that slavery was a mandate from God?

PS – Did anyone catch this terrific story about the “tea baggers” protesting government-run healthcare in DC yesterday, a few of which needed medical attention?

http://bit.ly/3bKqvY

Apparently they DIDN’T turn down the medical care that was offered to them on the spot, even though… wait for it… it was GOVERNMENT-RUN HEALTH CARE! (Ooooh…) Don’t they realize that by accepting it, they are now Communists? Hail, comrade!