The Retail Politics of Reality Island Elections

Tuesday, August 11

So Joe Biden picks Kamala Harris. This is like a rerun of Al Gore picking Joe Lieberman. Or Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro.

Everyone who has ever suffered from 24 percent and up interest rates on credit card debt can count on Harris to make Biden feel terrible about having facilitated that exploitation. And any college graduate floundering under student debt can count on Harris to make Biden feel equally bad about having retained that imposition when bankruptcy laws were revised.

Say what? — Just seeing if you’re paying attention.

Take note that it was easy enough in the primary debates for Harris to attack Biden about busing. You’ll notice she said nothing about his corporate allegiances. And that’s because she is even more firmly an advocate of economic exploitation.

Biden is proud of how he has kicked working people to the curb. Just like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

What choice do working people have at this point? Not much.

Trump is a monster. An illiterate monster. I found him utterly repulsive when he was a “reality TV star,” and he has only transmogrified in the years since.

On the other hand, both Biden and Harris are the opposite of Shirley Chisholm, who was “unbought and unbiased.” (When I typed that phrase, the computer changed it to “unsought and unbiased.”) The Big Banks are perfectly happy with the Democratic ticket in 2020. Unlike 2008, when Obama’s campaign might have given them a few sleepless nights, Biden and Harris will reassure the Big Banks from the start that they have nothing to fear.

The disappointment is not surprising.

What’s surprising is that I allow myself to feel disappointed.

* *. *

According to the L.A. Times, I am not alone in my disappointment.
Both Tony Jolly, whose enterprise is the Hot and Cool Cafe in Leimert Park, and Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, wanted Biden to pick Karen Bass. I would say that all of us who wanted Biden to pick Bass are consoled by the fact that at least he made a choice that will improve his chances of defeating Trump.

My Recommendation for Biden’s VP Pick: Karen Bass

Monday, August 10, 2020

I hear that a statement has been signed by 100 African-American men telling Joe Biden that if he does not select an African-American woman to be his running mate, he will lose.

I agree.

If a woman with the qualifications of Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar cannot be elected president at this point, then this country should at least do the right thing and elect a woman vice-president in 2020. And given the number of African-American women who are qualified to hold that post right now, that woman should be African-American. Of the four who are most prominent on that list, I would select the top three as being Val Demings, Karen Bass, and Susan Rice. While certainly Kamala Harris is more qualified than Dan Quayle to be vice-president, she does not bring the particular strengths that the three I named would bring to the ticket.

I am going to cut to the chase. Biden should choose Karen Bass, and the main reason is that the VP is the presiding officer of the Senate (and the tie-breaking vote). If the Democrats take the Senate, or if it ends in a 50-50 split, you want someone in that spot who knows how legislation gets done, and who has an extraordinary sense of political ambidexterity. Because of her long experience as a legislator and as a member of the House of Representatives, Bass will be able — as President pro tem of the Senate — to work with Pelosi to craft legislation that Biden will not hesitate to sign.

Yes, signed, sealed, and delivered. Let’s hear it for Karen Bass!

I hear rumors, by the way, that she has spoken at socialist forums. In case people have forgotten, a lot of individuals who voted for Sanders in the primaries are needing reassurance that their issues matter in this campaign.

Sanders, by the way, should he have won, would no doubt have chosen an African-American woman as his running mate.


Susan Rice or Val Demings would be very fine choices, too. Demings brings electoral value to the ticket, in terms of coming from Florida. Rice would be able to be for Biden, what Biden was for Obama: a foreign policy representative able to log hundreds of thousands of miles of global travel in the rebuilding of international alliances. Granted, I am always suspicious of the corporate Neo-imperalisms (plural, deliberately) that mark the Clinton-Obama administrations, but such is the embroiling nature of governments at this point that contretemps must be vigilantly addressed to prevent catastrophe from catching us off-guard.

As for 2024, don’t be surprised if Tammy Duckworth makes a run for it.

The Collected Poems of Eugene Ruggles

Friday, August 7, 2020

ROADS OF BREAD: The Collected Poems of Eugene Ruggles (edited by Delia Moon; Petaluma Press, 2009)

The one and only time I met Gene Ruggles was in the Fall of 1982, when we gave a reading at the Intersection in San Francisco. Ruggles was in his late 40s and was best known for his prize-winning first book of poems, The Lifeguard in the Snow, which had been published in June, 1977 by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Several hundred libraries purchased copies, and Ruggles seems to have savored his success with alcoholic excess. I knew nothing about him other than his book when I agreed to read with him. I remember that I read first, and that there was a constant undercurrent of loud conversation and personal bantering between Ruggles and the friends he had brought along to the reading. When I asked Ron Silliman afterwards why the reading was so noisy, he informed me that Ruggles was well known for bringing a rowdy crowd along.

I didn’t stay in touch with Ruggles, who apparently hewed to a path of inebriation: “the demon of heavy drink” was the phrase used in a newspaper article about him shortly before he died. As he aged, he found himself surviving on disability, and by the late spring of 2004 needed a walker to get around. By 2004, he had a one-two punch of open-heart surgery and eviction from his hotel room in Petaluma, California, which he had occupied for 15 years. According to a newspaper article, his landlord had given him several weeks to find new accommodations, but within less than ten days after the article, Ruggles had died.

Five years later, ROADS OF BREAD: the Collected Poems of Eugene Ruggles was published by Petaluma River Press. In addition to reprinting his one and only book, this volume includes two subsequent manuscripts. I cannot speak of how much effort Ruggles made to get these manuscripts published, but perhaps it gives some indication of his indifference to po-biz success and acclaim that one of which was found in an abandoned cabin in which Ruggles had once lived. On the other hand, it may be simply a case of someone who believes that one book is sufficient to establish oneself as a worthy poet, and that one’s life need not be spent striving for the panorama of whimsical reputation.

At some future point, I hope that an anthology of poets who lived and worked for a significant amount of time on the West Coast will be assembled by some dedicated editor. Perhaps the project should wait for another 20 years, so that the book encompasses a century (1940-2040). Ruggles will not be the only poet who will be in danger by that point of being forgotten. How many people can say that they are familiar with the work of William Witherup, who also lived a picaresque existence, and who also wrote with a vivid imagistic brush.

ROADS OF BREAD includes the work from two unpublished manuscripts as well the final drafts of a few unfinished poems. It is likely that this writing would not have become available to readers unless Delia Moon had made a fairly heroic effort to get this book out. It deserves to be in more libraries, if only to demonstrate that there were poets for whom the politics of race stayed central to their imaginative inquiries into social power. When Ruggles was writing the poems that went into his final manuscript twenty years ago, few other poets were concerning themselves with DuBois’s”problem of the color line.” One could read several of Ruggles’s poem within the current context of Black Lives Matter, but we should remember that Ruggles did not have that context to encourage to write such poems as “Busing Justice Through Freedom Summer” and “You May Do That,” which is dedicated to Rosa Parks; and “You and Rodney King.” Nor is he an outsider to the community of the disaffected and marginalized; he, too, has waited for the meager share allotted to those without a claim to property:

The lives of the poor and the sick
are recorded in the history of lines.
So many millions upon millions have gone
to their deaths in lines, waited for bread in lines.
You will not find the names of wealth
and power in the history of lines.
(“The Line at the Social Security Disability Office in Santa Rosa, California”)

Ruggles is more than a poet of stark, direct protest, however. There is most certainly a critique in poems that come out of his experiences working in the merchant marine:

Overhead the moon
has thrown open a sack of tides
and the waves reach upward,
this wind tied to their backs.
The ship falls between them
running in a. thick underbrush
of spray and salt.
Her propeller turning
without a footfhold of water,
trying to climb what moves
toward us like a landslide.
Beneath her cuts of rust
are tons of oil.
Remembering a long body
and pouring itself at a steel cave.
And the sea has our smell.
(The Chase – Oil Tanker in a Storm”)

Ruggles retained a skill with figurative language throughout his life as a itinerant poet who eventually washed up near the Petaluma River. That this book has salvaged work that might otherwise have gone lost, and the book is worth your effort to find it. Imagine a version of James Wright who lived outside of the academy, and who associated with poems aligned with the Beat movement, but was not himself a Beat or of their kind, and you have a hint at the poems that await you. If Ruggles’s poems are not part of the avant-garde, neither can they be accused of being complicit with the school of quietude. He earned his place in the anthology of major mavericks, and I can only hope that a future editor cultivated the friendship of those who have long memories.

*. *. *

Note: The newspaper article depicting Ruggles near the end of his life can be found online. “A room of one’s own / Pioneer poet Eugene Ruggles faces hard times with illness, search for a new home” by John Geluardi, Special to The Chronicle Published 4:00 am PDT, Friday, May 28, 2004

Covid Cartoons

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

I scripted a cartoon called “Trump in a Hazmat Suit” a couple weeks ago, and since then other ideas have continued to arrive. Once again, you’ll have to do the drawings in your head.

Number One:

A MAGA-hatted crowd, with T-shirts reading “I”m C-19 Positive,” cheers Federal troops who are launching tear-gas at BLM protestors:
“Make those anarchists stop wearing masks!”

**** ******. *******.

Number Two:

Beach scene: Young, lithe bodies, scantily attired.

An old woman, wearing a mask, says to a young woman stretched out on a beach blanket, “The virus is glad to see that your face has less covering that your breasts.”

Would this be considered a sexist cartoon by feminist scholars?

One way to understand the privilege of patriarchal culture is to consider the entire “communication circuit” of the Cold War’s containment culture. If this pandemic had happened in 1975 or 1985, I can imagine a cartoonist pitching the editorial staff at Playboy magazine with the same drawing, but with a man wearing a mask, and holding binoculars in one hand. The caption in that case would read one of two ways: “Too bad your face has less covering than your tits”; or, “Too bad your tits have more covering than your face.” Regardless of the caption, the gaze of and at the audience reinforces the access to domination represented by the allure of representational power.

*. ****. ******

Number Three:

Trump in a baseball locker room, holding up his jersey (Number 45): “Of course they should retire ny number.”


The Presidential Hall of Fame Statistics

Average Presidential Hall of Fame Statistics:
Number of Innings: 2,500 innings (accounting for terms cut short by assassination or illness)
(“Innings” reporesent one day in office)
Number of Earned Runs Allowed: 450
E.R.A.: 1.50
HRs Allowed: 275
Wild Pitches: 35
WAR (Win above Replacement: 60.50

Number of Innings: 1,461
Number of Earned Runs Allowed: 2,945
E.R.A.: (Too painfully high to calculate to the final decimal point, but over 18.00)
Wild Pitches: 873
Hit Batters: 382
HRs Allowed: 1,368
WAR (Win above Replacement): Minus 44

If I end today’s post with a baseball locker room cartoon, it is in part because I read in the L.A. Times on-line, on Wednesday evening, July 29th, that the Miami Marlins has had more than half of their active roster test positive for COVID-19. I have had that report confirmed:
“Major League Baseball has officially paused the season of the Miami Marlins until Monday now that half the active roster has tested positive for coronavirus.”

Over two and a half months ago, President Donald Trump said that “(Covid-19) is going to go away without a vaccine. …. You may have some — some flare-ups …. Maybe not. … We’ll be able to put them out. …. eventually, it’s going to be gone….. that doesn’t mean this year, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be gone, frankly, by the fall or after the fall. But eventually, it’s going to go away.”

This is called playing footsie with the facts of how epidemics work.

Crystal Ball: Trump’s “Concession Speech” _- November 4, 2020

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Now that we are officially less than 100 days away from the national election on Tuesday, November 3, it’s time to look into the crystal ball of my computer screen, and view how it plays out the day afterwards.

Date: November 4, 2020
Time: 8 p.m. (West Coast Time)
“Place”: MSNBC TV studio
Rachel Maddow on the screen, speaking to the camera

“Good evening. The polls have been closed for 24 hours. It is Wednesday, November 4th, 8 p.m. East Coast Standard Time, and we have yet to hear from President Trump. His campaign has announced that Vice-President Pence will be speaking soon at Trump’s re-election headquarters.

“The current results show a national vote total of 67,396,072 votes for Joe Biden and 61,048,753 for Donald Trump. It should be noted that Biden’s vote total is more than one million votes greater than Barack Obama’s winning vote total in 2012 as well as more than one million votes greater than the total number of votes cast for Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College. Donald Trump has so far received one million less votes than he did in 2016. His campaign simultaneously claims that a huge number of mail-in ballots in his favor remain to be counted, and at the same time that the mail-in ballots constitute the most egregious instance of voter fraud in electoral history.”

(Rachel Maddow continues speaking as the cameras shift to a POV shot of the stage and central podium of the Donald Trump re-election headquarters. The tops of heads of some of the audience are visible in the foreground.)

“We go now to Trump’s re-election headquarters, where his son, Donald Trump, Jr., is about to introduce the Vice-President.”

(Crowd noise: “Forty More Years! Forty More Years!” Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” plays in the background.)

Donald Trump, Jr. strides to the podium: “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.” (He repeats these three sentences sixteen times.) Crowd continues to chant: “Forty more years! Forty more years!”

“I will begin…

(crowd continues chanting… “Forty more years! Forty more years!”)

“I will begin…. (Crowd begins to calm and the noise level slowly subsides.) I will begin this evening by asking all of you to join me in saying the Pledge of Allegiance and I am sure there is no here tonight who will take a knee and act ashamed of being an American citizen. Let us all stand straight and tall.

“”I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

“We also pledge allegiance to elections free of fraud, deceit, and manipulation. My father and I have had a chance to review the ongoing results of the reelection of Donald Trump and found even more massive amounts of brazen irregularities than we anticipated, especially in the states that constitute the swing vote in the Electoral College. We have filed demands for recounts as well as legal reviews of all of these attempts to subvert the will of the people and will be monitoring the outcome until we satisfied with the final report.

“My father has given his all to the cause of American renewal and unprecdented prosperity. I can assure you that he is not going away. You remain utmost in his thoughts. I now call upon Vice-President Pence to address you about plans to hold rallies in the next two weeks. At these gatherings, which you will have to present proof of non-vaccination in order to be admitted, the President will speak about our efforts to insure that no future election will ever have to endure such perverse treason by those who claim to be citizens, but who hate our country. May God bless all of you who love this country, and may He keep this nation ever in His care. God doesn’t back down, and neither do we!”

Vice-President Pence takes the stage….
“Our President both needs and wants your prayers. In specifically asking for this tonight, he hopes that God will guide him in the coming weeks, as he undertakes to save this country from succumbing to the deceptive campaign and falsified voting totals being touted by a poltical party known for its self-serving, radical left-wing, socialist agenda.”

Etc. Etc.

(Stay tuned.)

“GET USED TO IT”: Cartoons to Keep Our Dour Spirits Buoyant

Friday, July 24, 2020

IF SF Publishing announces a new book! Available from SPD (Small Press Distribution):


by Muriel Schneps

Is this description or praise? A poet once called a poem, “the brain braining”. The same might be said of Muriel’s ‘cartoons’, as so many of them tap into that unmapped territory of consciousness that has suddenly awoken from a deep sleep, only to be thrust into human wakefulness, able to x-ray the fantastically strange funny-bones of each.

Is Muriel a comic? I think so, having seen these pieces now many times and laughing again every time I see them. A social critic? Definitely. An artist? Yes, only an artist could render her subject matter with such deadly humorous precision. ‘Get Used to It’ is not only the personal record of highs and lows of recovery from life threatening circumstances, it’s the comi-tragic tale of our times.

-Brooks Roddan, IFSF Publishing

Carrot-19 Test: Shelter-in-Place Positive

July 20, 2020. — “Trust. but verify.”

Are you shelter-in-place positive? Maintaining vigilant social distance, and when you go outside, do you wear a mask? Or are you negative? If you’re shelter-in-place positive, you won’t be afraid to take the Carrot-19 test: what is the smell of a raw organic carrot? If you can’t smell it, you probably are one of the majority of people in Long Beach, CA who are NOT wearing masks.

I have bad news for those of you who think that Trump is going to be defeated this November. Just last night, in fact, watching a movie about Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Project, I realized what Trump is truly up to. As some footage of the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution skittered into the recollections of a musician in exile, I thought to myself, “Yeah. Trump wants to be the Ayatollah of America.” Well, in truth, it’s Pence that wants that job the most, but Trump is happy to accommodate him as long as he gets enough flattery and adulation in return.

The polls are wrong. Biden is not leading; or, let’s put it this way: if the same people are doing the political polls as canvassed the rate of mask wearing, then the polls are totally off. According to polls, 80 percent of people in L.A. County are wearing their masks when they go outside. Not in my neighborhood. I’d say it’s closer to half that number: maybe 40 percent.

Meanwhile, I hear the governor of Missouri wants the schools open because he believes that children get better from covid-19 fairly quickly, so what’s the problem?

Excuse me, Governor Mush-for-Brains: The disease can be spread by a child who has just gotten infected and is contagious, but not yet ill enough or showing enough symptoms to warrant sending the child home. In a classroom, the disease will then be spread to adults, such as teachers, who will then take it home and spread it to their parents. This is how a virus operates. I am not a M.D., but I don’t think one needs to have attended medical school to understand the basic velocity of a virus.

Of course, maybe this governor believes that a miraculous vaccine will appear in the next two weeks. Not only is a medical miracle not going to happen, I wish I could say that I had as much confidence in the vaccines that corporations are rushing to produce as I do in their primary motive: the profit-margin. I’m more confident in their motive than their product; if you think a pharmaceutical corporation sees any of us as other than a slab of meat to be processed in its accounts payable, you need to check the fine print of the social contract in the United States.

Does this mean that I don’t believe that a vaccine tested in the next two to three months will be efficacious? No. The vaccine might well work for a very high percentage of the population. It might very well be able to protect me from the pandemic.

I know, however, that the corporations are only willing to work on this project because they see a chance to make a great deal of money.

Trust, but verify.

Trust the vaccine, but verify (and tax) the profits.

Cut the Pentagon Budget by 10%

The following information is being broadcast by the School of the Americas Watch, which I share with you out of a desire to reduce the carbon footprint of conflicts “resolved” by state-facilitated homicidal violence. However, this reduction will only become efficacious if ALL nations reduce their military budgets. Our demand should be that China and Russia engage in equal reductions. To ask less is to pretend that Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are less mendacious than Trump in having encouraged the global economy of the war-machine. “Local” protest is of course of prime importance, but focusing our attention only on our government will not bring a reduction in the death wish of humanity, which has been extraordinarily strong the past 500 years.

*. *. *.

“Within the next week, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are expected to vote on amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, which would cut the Pentagon budget by 10%. Representatives Barbara Lee and Mark Pocan in the House and Senator Bernie Sanders in the Senate have introduced these amendments to cut the 2021 fiscal year budget of the Department of Defense by 10% — which amounts to $74 billion of the record-breaking $740 billion Defense budget. The amendment would use this money to create a grant program to fund human needs, such as education, healthcare, and more for communities with a poverty rate above 25%.

“Take action: Call both your Senators and your Representative today and ask them to support the amendment to cut the Pentagon budget 10%. You can reach them all by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. You can also e-mail them by clicking here.

“SOAW joins numerous other organizations in supporting this important initiative. The enormous Pentagon budget funds U.S. military intervention around the world and must be cut. While $74 billion is far shy of the $350 billion in annual military spending cuts identified by the Poor People’s Campaign Moral Budget, it is a start. Furthermore, the need to redirect funds to human needs has never been more urgent given the COVID-19 crisis. A vote on the amendment in the Senate is expected the week of July 20 (next week!) and the House vote is also expected very soon.

“Take action today!

1. Call both your Senators (find them here or call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121) and ask them to support Senators Sanders’ amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to cut the fiscal year 2021 Department of Defense Budget by 10%.

2. Call your Representative (find your Rep. here and call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121) and ask them to support the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act introduced by Representatives Barbara Lee and Mark Pocan to cut the fiscal year 2021 Department of Defense Budget by 10%.

3. E-mail your Senators and Representative here.

“Thank you,”

— SOA Watch

The SOA refers to the School of the Americas, a U.S. government project that became so infamous that it was decided to change a name change was necessary in order to escape the aura of its main purpose: to train those who foment military coups and paramilitary torture prisons. It should go without saying that anyone endorsing such an equivalent watchdog organization in Russia or China would find themselves in great peril. If I speak about this, I do so with an infinitely greater chance of waking up tomorrow in my residence and not in a prison cell. On the other hand, reports are coming in that squads of unmarked cars in Portland are kidnapping protestors involved with the movement to hold police accountable for their actions. IF Trump is re-elected, it is likely that the use of such covert forces will exponentially increase.

I don’t expect things to get much better, regardless of the outcome of the election. Nevertheless,….

“Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will.”

Galway Kinnell: “When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone”

July 17, 2020

After the marriage to my first wife, Cathay Gleeson, ended, we still stayed in touch. Towards the end of the last century, I remember one afternoon that she called to ask me if I knew of the poet Galway Kinnell. “Since the spring of 1968,” I told her, “when I got his book, BDOY RAGS.”

“Do you know a poem of his with the title ‘When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone’?” she asked.

“No, I don’t. In truth, I haven’t looked at his work in a while.”

“You should look it up. I was watching the PBS evening news yesterday and they had him on as a featured poet, and that was the poem he read. It’s a great poem, Bill.”

Cathay was not one to seek out poetry; she preferred dance and visual art. Poetry was welcome, however, if it showed up at her door, as it frequently did when we lived together. Afterwards, too, she was a generous host to its presence. The first time that I read Kinnell’s poem, I instantly saw why it spoke to her so profoundly.

I often thought of that conversation the next 20 years, and now it seems more poignant then ever. In my sorrow for her passing, I like to think that its rhythms gave her comfort in the all the years after she first heard that poem, and recognized in it her self-determination to achieve some embodiment of its theme of arduous joy.

……………. one knows,
after a long time of solitude, after the many steps taken
away from one’s kind, toward the kingdom of strangers,
the hard prayer inside one’s own singing
is to come back, if one can, to one’s own,
a world almost lost, in the exile that deepens,
when one has lived a long time alone.

The 40th and Final Issue of CALIBANonline magazine

July 16, 2020

Lawrence R. Smith has just posted the 40th and final issue of the online version of CALIBAN magazine, which in turn was the successor of the 20th century print culture edition. I was saddened to learn in the issue of the death of the artist Ellen Wilt (1921-2020), who continued to work until the very end.

The final issue is the usual very fine blend of poems, prose poems, and visual art; in particular I want to mention the art work of Janet Kauffman (“The Book of Nials”) and the poems Karen Garthe and Tim Kahl. The issue opens with piece that is both critique and resilient incantation (“The Ethos of Capital: Reductive Possibility”) by the indefatigable Will Alexander. I will quote part of Jim Grabill’s statement at the end of the issue as a way of summing up the appreciation of all contributors and readers of CALIBAN over the years:

“Thank you, Lawrence Smith…. You’ve valued work that lives outside the frame, that corresponds with 20th century outbreaks of surrealism, liminal imagism, anfractuous thalassic personism, bio-associative cultural ethicism, and other unnamed thoracic and often spontaneous poetic forms ready to handle bonanzas of disparity and scrupulous estates on the field of integration.” — James Grabill

ALL 40 ISSUES WILL REMAIN ONLINE INTO THE INDEFINITE FUTURE. Now for the re-visions of reading to begin!