Category Archives: Politics

Friends of the Earth?


Every spring, right around Earth Day, I am astonished, astounded and humbled by how Mother Earth pushes forth new growth. Despite everything we do to her. Despite all that we take for granted. Despite the perpetual spew of carbon into the atmosphere and so on and so forth. In my collage, above, I try to convey that feeling.

However, the Lizard King, Jim Morrison, said it best—this from the Doors’ song, “When the Music’s Over”:

“What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down…”

Here’s one of the best videos of the Doors performing the song:

BP: Beep Peep

BP: Beep Peep


Exxon will forever be linked with the Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska that netted a record fine and still taints the formerly pristine waters and shores there 25 years after the fact. This is as it should be, of course.

However, British Petroleum (BP) caused an even bigger environmental disaster in American waters only three years ago at the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, a leak that was as horrific as the attempt to plug it was botched. While Exxon is no friend of the environment, its record since the Valdez spill has been far better than BP’s, which has a history of environmental crimes, cover-ups, corruption and just plain lies.

Who can forget BP’s then-CEO Tony Hayward’s pity party over the blowback from the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Poor guy, just wanted his life back.

Now, after a veritable slap on the wrist, BP has been cleared to begin pumping oil out of the Gulf of Mexico again. Greg Palast, an American investigative journalist based in Great Britain, has followed the trail of tears left behind by weepy Tony Hayward.

Conclusion: The arrival of electric cars can not come any sooner.

Free Junk


Do you need to furnish a new apartment or even an entire house? Do you need to BUILD an apartment or even an entire house? How about a lawn mower, slightly used, to go with these projects? And a plastic sandbox and a bicycle in need of a wee bit of elbow grease? Garden hose? A stuffed animal or three hundred?

Well then, please come to Cheshire in the springtime, because April is the coolest month for junk hereabouts. The town has, after a three-year hiatus, revived its bulky waste pickup program. Consequently, every home in the town has emptied out the contents of their basement and put the detritus at the curb.

In theory, the material awaits pickup from the trash hauling company contracted by the town. But, in practice, enterprising trash pickers arrive from miles around and leave Cheshire with their salvaged loads tottering like the Clampett family in Beverly Hillbillies.

Come join the fun. It’s the ultimate in recycling and reusing and it goes on all month.  Do NOT let this stuff end up in the landfill when it can FILL your house!

Whither the Late Night News?


Interesting that the day after he announced his retirement, the Associated Press prepared a list of nine “possible successors” for his Late Show. (It ran in the Hartford Courant and many other papers.) The next day, CBS announced a successor, and it wasn’t any of those nine.

It was Stephen Colbert of course, whose Comedy Central news-satirist colleague Jon Stewart had made the AP list. Before Stewart took over The Daily Show, he indeed had his own talk show (syndicated by MTV) and I remember him doing a bang-up job subbing for Tom Snyder, who had the Tomorrow Show when Letterman had Late Night on NBC.

Rachel Maddow was one of the few commentators to speculate that Colbert—even though he won’t be doing the new show as the same Conservative character he’s developed on Comedy Central—might bring some needed political commentary to late night talk shows. That actually seems to already be happening with Seth Meyers, who, on one of his earliest episodes of Late Night, brought on New Yorker David Remnick to talk about the situation in Crimea. Jimmy Fallon is doing a less newsy monologue than Jay Leno did, but Meyers is doing more of one, and going deeper into current events than Leno ever did. On other networks, Craig Ferguson certainly has opinions on world events. But more would be great. Otherwise, someone might have to revive Nightline.

Japan Before The Last War

Shigeru Mizuki

Shigeru Mizuki is one of Japan’s masters of animation and cartooning. He specializes in yokai, cultural anthropology tinged with the supernatural and filled with animals thought to possess magical powers, some of them taking the form of monsters (think: Mothra, Godzilla, etc.). At age 92, however, Mizuki has turned his gifts on the even larger, stranger animal of his homeland, to create a four-volume portrait of twentieth-century Japan thousands of pages in length (this volume alone has 560 pages). Daunting as that sounds, Mizuki is as playful as he is thorough, using a narrator named Rat Man, who serves as his guide through the wreckage.

Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan, the first volume of this epic, has just been published by Drawn & Quarterly, which published his stunning look at World War II from behind Japanese lines, Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, two years ago. That book was drawn almost entirely from his own experiences during the war, in which he lost his left arm to an Allied bombing, nearly died from malaria and was a prisoner of war on New Guinea.

Showa is as brilliantly drawn and meticulously footnoted as Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths. It is also a chilling reminder of the relentless plodding toward world war that began as early as the aftermath of the “Great War” (World War One). Showa takes Japan right up to the brink of Pearl Harbor.

Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki, Drawn & Quarterly, 560 pages, $24.95,

Thank You, Bart


During the eight-year reign of Bush the Dumber, only a few things stood between us and complete and paralyzing despair. David Rees’ Get Your War On comic strip, Steve Gilliard’s News Blog (, Media Whores Online ( and Digby’s Hullabaloo spring readily to mind. Rees’ strip is no more (it served its purpose), Gilliard is dead, Media Whores disappeared into the ether but, thankfully, Digby is still plugging away. Here’s a link to her indispensable blog:

Now we have to add one more to the loss column: Bartcop. This may be the biggest loss of all. Bartcop, the longest running political satire site on the web, was an inspiration, if not a template, for hundreds of other progressive blogs that came in its wake. “Bart,” whose real name was Terry Coppage, died last week after a many-year battle with leukemia. Somehow, day in and day out, week in and week out for nearly 20 years, from his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Bart kept the hammer going, skewering the pompous lying bastards in Washington and the corporate media that enabled them. He took particular glee in savaging Bush, whom he memorably nicknamed The Murder Monkey, and “Darth” Cheney, and the caricatures of both that appeared on Bartcop were delightfully inflammatory.

Bart the man and Bartcop the website were like anchors in the constantly shifting currents of the Internet. There was no one else as fearless. Just knowing he was out there, even if you didn’t check the site every day or even every week, was as consoling as knowing that that Grand Canyon and Big Sur were out there, though you hadn’t laid eyes on them.

Here’s a link to Bartcop’s site. Check Bart’s “Last Word” and then explore the back issues. You have hours of fun ahead of you.


Gissing Cousins

George Gissing

No matter which novel of his you tackle, the criminally under-appreciated writer George Gissing (1857-1903) forces the reader to think about money. He was British, and Victorian, so his money thoughts are inextricably woven into the byzantine fabric of the class system, every nuance of which is obvious to all others caught up in it.

American readers can easily substitute “money” for “class” and be swept up in the plots of Gissing’s amazingly prescient and still subversive novels. New Grub Street is Gissing’s best-known work of fiction, but any of his 23 novels will explain why another great English George—Orwell—was so smitten with him. At his death, among his many unfinished project, Orwell was planning to write a biography of Gissing.

 Will Warburton was Gissing’s last novel, written while he was slowly dying of lung disease (like Orwell) at age 46 (like Orwell). Warburton is a Victorian gent with a sunny if sardonic bent of mind who is conned out of his life’s savings by someone he thought was a friend. Rather than end in the gutter, he scrapes together enough money to secretly buy a grocery shop and survives behind the counter there under an assumed name (Jollyman) lest his former friends find out. Alas, he is found out and it’s as if he has leprosy in their eyes. It’s a devastating chronicle of snobbery and self-deception and the desperation surrounding the getting of money—those without scraping and scheming and those with too much never feeling they have enough.

In short, Will Warburton is a perfect novel for 2014, when billionaire “venture capitalists” can compare criticisms of the rich to Kristallnacht and demand that the wealthy be given more than one vote at the ballot box.




Inside Dave Van Ronk

Dave Van Ronk

For those who “got” the Coen Brothers’ excellent film Inside Llewyn Davis—which chronicles a week in the life of a struggling folkie in Greenwich Village in 1961—you owe it to yourself to read the source material. The title character in the film is largely based on Dave Van Ronk, who was, himself, a bit larger than life.

Before he died of cancer in 2002, Van Ronk, an irascible and witty raconteur, talked his way through his life and career to fellow musician Elijah Wald. They were ultimately collaborating on a giant, if not definitive, book about what really happened during the “Great Folk Scare” of the early 1960s.

Unfortunately, Van Ronk died and Wald was left with hundreds and hundreds of pages of transcripts, notes and archival material. Somehow, he was able to patch together an engrossing and entertaining memoir, called The Mayor of MacDougal Street, and it is that book that inspired the Coen Brothers to create the character Llewyn Davis and put him through some of the same paces, highs and lows that Van Ronk encountered during the early years of his career.

Van Ronk comes off as more of a hipster than a folkie. An exceptionally well read, self-taught man (he dropped out of high school in Brooklyn at 15), he loved to argue about politics and music and stayed true to his socialist convictions. Every page of this book contains some new twist on that cultural epoch known as the 1960s that forces readers to reexamine their own preconceptions. You can’t ask more from a book than that.

 Da Capo has wisely just reissued the memoir in a handsome trade paperback edition, with an explanatory postscript by Wald. Perhaps future editions of this will come with a CD compilation of Van Ronk’s songs, culled from his more than two dozen albums.

Visit Elijah Wald‘s website to learn more about Van Ronk, order the book, and listen to some of the “Mayor’s” music.


GMO Wars: A Congressional End Run?

Anti-GMO rally in Hartford.

Anti-GMO rally in Hartford.

Connecticut made news last year by passing a “sort-of” requirement that most products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) be labeled that way. (The “sort-of” qualification is there because the requirement won’t actually take effect unless a whole bunch of other stuff happens.)

Other states are moving in the same direction, and a few big corporations like General Mills have made some concessions on the GMO front in an effort appease consumers who want such labeling.

So Big Food and Big Agriculture are again looking to work their lobbying magic in Congress. They want a federal law that would create a standard for “voluntary” GMO labeling, which would presumably undercut state legislative campaigns on the issue.

Most polls show overwhelming public support for GMO labeling, despite the insistence by federal officials and the food/agriculture industries that there is no health risk to eating genetically modified food.

Critics argue not enough is known about those risks, and point out that GMO crops can also have a significant impact on the environment.

The ferocious opposition to labeling from major food and agriculture industrial giants also raises questions about why, if there’s no real difference between GMO foods and non-GMO foods, are they so opposed to simple labels.

The answer to that is money: U.S. companies dependent on GMO crops, seeds, related pesticide applications, and the corporations who sell GMO foods are terrified American consumers will end up rejecting those products.

Europe already has basically done that, and similar actions have been taken in other nations around the world.

All of which explains why Big Food and Big Agriculture are counting on the congressional route, despite recent victories against anti-GMO efforts in California and Washington.

Those industries clearly have some devoted supporters in Congress, including various farming-state legislators who killed a pro-GMO labeling amendment during the debate over the latest federal farm bill.