Category Archives: Books

An Ode to Woody and Jack

Road Trip

Autobiography: back in high school I was moved to a new state and a new school. I didn’t take to it too well and ended missing the last half of my sophomore year. I just never showed up. The new school didn’t know who I was and never even bothered find out where I was!

Looking back, ironically, it was during that period that I acquired what turned out to be a most influential education–  I began reading what I wanted to read rather than what someone else wanted me to read. And some of the first books I picked up–  Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and Dharma Bums and Woody Guthrie’s Bound For Glory— changed my life. After that all I wanted to do was hit the road, and so I did. I spent much of the next five years ramblin’, by thumb, by Hound, and with friends, traversing much of the country and western Canada. I made it to nearly every state, many of the national parks, and a ton of concerts and festivals along the way. With countless hours and miles of two-lane blacktop under my feet I learned what an amazing place this country really is– equal parts beautiful, intimidating, scary and awe-inspiring. So here’s to Woody and Jack:

Take it easy, but take it” — Woody Guthrie

Billionaires: Don’t Fear The Pitchforks, The Kansans Have Your Backs

640px-Pyramid_of_Capitalist_SystemIt’s not often that a member of the .01% leaves the comfy fold and commits heresy by adopting a populist message. It takes some guts after all to turn on the dapper fellows down at the country club. But that is exactly what billionaire capitalist Nick Hanauer has done. In fact Forbes magazine has gone ballistic over it, directing all sorts of derisive epithets his way, including “ignorant” and “insane.” So what he is saying, and who he is, must have them really spooked:

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/the-pitchforks-are-coming-for-us-plutocrats-108014.html#.U8HyMI1dVqp

But never fear you members of the leisure class, the fix is in for the suits in America’s board rooms. It’s not just those at the top of the wealth pyramid that stand in the way of leveling the economic playing field. In actuality the bulk of their firewall is comprised of millions of folks who will never come close to being well-off. So why do so many people, predominantly rural and struggling, consistently vote against their own economic interests? Why do so many of those who should be first at the gates of the plutocratic castles instead fight to languish in a version of modern day feudalism? How are they so easily relegated to second-class economic citizenship (at best)? What spell has been cast that possesses them to disregard their own wallets and instead spend their precious votes opposing things that barely affect most of them– gay marriage, abortion, immigration and assault weapon laws– and some things that are designed specifically to help them- Obamacare, welfare, food stamps, minimum wage and student loans?  A most interesting, and quite entertaining, account of how this all came about can be found in “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” by Thomas Frank:

http://www.amazon.com/Whats-Matter-Kansas-Conservatives-America/dp/080507774X

It’s a story about natural selection in reverse, survival of the un-fittest–  in fact, those “Kansans” who man the ramparts, millions of whom don’t believe in evolution, may themselves be the single best argument out there against the theory. But, as in the case of Nick Hanauer, the plutocrat with a heart,  it usually takes an inside job, a mutation from within, that causes an evolutionary leap. For instance, it was likely a mutation in the gene for the jaw in apes that forced them to switch to a less coarse diet, thus relieving the need for huge muscles for chewing, which allowed the skull to expand and the brain to grow. OK..so it might take millions of years to save those Kansans, but we have to start somewhere. Go Nick!

And this from NYT the following day…right on cue:

‘Kansas’ Ruinous Tax Cuts’

Prelude to Freedom Summer – Hubert Humphrey 1948

Hubert_H_Humphrey--1948_Democratic_National_Convention--Watched “Freedom Summer” on TV the other night. It was based on Bruce Watson’s excellent book that came out a few years ago. Although the documentary didn’t break any new ground it is nevertheless a worthy treatment of a watershed moment in American history. And there was some footage that I had not seen before, from the personal collection of Richard Beymer, an actor from Hollywood who went to Mississippi with the students and filmed.* But like many other treatments of the civil rights movement, it left out a discussion of the many previous attempts to pass civil rights legislation in the US over the years, attempts that were always squashed by the southern dominated Senate. No civil rights legislation was passed into law in this country between 1875 and 1957! In fact, did you know that LBJ voted against civil rights legislation many times early in his career?

Arguably the most important early event in the chain that ultimately led to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the 1960s, now largely forgotten, occurred at the 1948 Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. A young Hubert Humphrey, then mayor of Minneapolis and relatively unknown nationally, gave an impassioned and eloquent speech in support of a civil rights plank. He was pressured by the Democratic establishment not to give it, they said it would alienate the south and hurt Truman’s chances. But he was forward-looking and realized that, in addition to being the morally right thing to do, African Americans would soon be a powerful constituency in the north, and one day everywhere, and needed to be brought in to the Democratic tent. So he stood up and gave the speech. It is only 10 minutes long, but one of the great speeches I have ever heard. Much of the South walked-out, they formed the Dixiecrat Party under Strom Thurmond. But it turned out that they couldn’t stop the tide, they did carry a few southern states but not enough to save their cause, and Truman won. It was a turning point as the speech inspired many northern and western legislators who heard it. When Truman won the election, many realized that they could support civil rights and still survive politically.

“The time has arrived for the Democratic party to get out of the shadow of state’s rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights”

Read the text and listen to the speech here:

Humphrey Speech – Philadelphia 1948

* In addition to being a film maker, Richard Beymer was an actor of some renown. Among his credits are major roles in West Side Story and The Diary of Anne Frank, and a significant part in The Longest Day. He also starred in the television serial, “Twin Peaks.”

Book Review: Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus

 

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By Rick Perlstein. Essential reading for those interested in understanding the creeping divergence in American politics over the last 50 years. This detailed description strongly challenges the dominant narrative among many historians that there was a widespread coalescence around progressive, liberal, political solutions in the country under JFK and in the early years of LBJ. And that those tendencies represented the spirit of the age, only to come crashing down in the jungles of Vietnam. On the contrary, Perlstein shows that through it all there was a strong conservative reaction gestating just out of plain sight. He posits that LBJ’s landslide victory in 1964 was as much a product of a bumbling Goldwater campaign, bad timing and a devious opposition as it was a statement of national political consensus. The Goldwater revolution was just put on hold temporarily only to burst into the open sixteen years later with the coming of Ronald Reagan. In many ways Goldwater’s shadow is as long today as are those of JFK and LBJ. Highly recommended. RF